Dec 012017
 
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Edward S. Curtis Mosa Mohave girl c. 1903

 

The Mean Reverting History Of Profit Growth (Roberts)
US Household Debt Is Rising 60% Faster Than Wages (ZH)
We Give Up! Government Spending And Deficits Soar Everywhere (Rubino)
Lemmings In Full Stampede Toward The Fiscal Cliff (Stockman)
Brexit Risks Leaving Banks on the Hook for Impossible Contracts (BBG)
I’m Glad Morgan Stanley Has Warned Us About Jeremy Corbyn (Ind.)
US Senate Suspends Tax Bill Votes to Friday Morning (BBG)
Australian Banks Face Public Inquiry Amid String of Scandals
Gold Trader Implicates Erdogan In US Sanctions Breaking Case (BBC)
From The Caucasus To The Balkans, China’s Silk Roads Are Rising (Escobar)
Paris – The Financial Capital Of West And Central Africa (Gefira)
Chinese Satellite Closes In On Dark Matter Mystery (AFP)

 

 

Another great set of graphs from Lance Roberts, who just keep churning them out. I picked these two to show how dependent economies have become on suppressing wages. Problem is, that threatens economies. You need money rolling at the ground level to keep your economy going.

The Mean Reverting History Of Profit Growth (Roberts)

Since 2000, each dollar of gross sales has been increased to more than $1 in operating and reported profits through financial engineering and cost suppression. The next chart shows that the surge in corporate profitability in recent years is a result of a consistent reduction of both employment and wage growth. This has been achieved by increases in productivity, technology, and off-shoring of labor. However, it is important to note that benefits from such actions are finite. (Note the acceleration in profits starting with the Reagan Tax Cuts in the 1989’s. There is no evidence that cutting taxes for corporations leads to higher wages for employees.)

Given the economic landscape of recent years, large offsetting sectoral deficits and surpluses are not surprising, but they should not be taken as evidence that the long-term profitability of the corporate sector has permanently shifted higher. Stocks are not a claim to a few years of cash flows, but decades and decades of them. By pricing stocks as if current profits are representative of the indefinite future, investors have ensured themselves a rude awakening over time. Equity valuations are decidedly a long-term proposition, and from present levels, the implied long-term returns are quite dim.

Read more …

And then you get this…

US Household Debt Is Rising 60% Faster Than Wages (ZH)

The good news: total mortgage debt has decreased since 2008, to $8.743 trillion from $9.29 trillion, but as of the third quarter of 2017, still accounts for 67.5% of overall consumer debt. The bad news: since 2008, the growth in total debt has been attributable to the auto loan and student loan sectors. Auto loan debt has increased by 50% since 2008, to slightly over $1.2 trillion from approximately $800 billion. The most dramatic growth rate, as Zero Hedge readers know well, has been in student loan debt which has grown by 122% since 2008, to $1.357 trillion from $611 billion. But a bigger concern flagged by DBRS is that the growth in consumer debt is raising concerns when viewed in the context of the existing wage stagnation hampering the current economic environment.

The rating agency cites a paper published in October 2017 by the Harvard Business Review which stated that the inflation-adjusted hourly wage has grown by only 0.2% per year since the mid-1970s and labor’s share of income has decreased to its current level of 57% from 65%. Meanwhile, in the second quarter of 2017, wages were only 5.7% higher than they were a decade earlier. In comparison, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York/Equifax data shows that consumer debt growth over the same period was 9.3%. In other words, the purchasing power of US households has been largely a function of rapidly rising debt, which over the past decade has risen 60% faster than wages. There is another concern: while overall delinquency rates have stabilized in recent years, the one stubborn outlier remains student debt, where 90+ day delinquencies have risen to more than 10%.

Read more …

“Obviously debts of this magnitude can’t and therefore won’t be repaid. Which means the coming decade will be defined by how — and how quickly — we end up defaulting.”

We Give Up! Government Spending And Deficits Soar Everywhere (Rubino)

A recurring pattern of the past few decades involves governments promising to limit their borrowing, only to discover that hardly anyone cares. So target dates slip, bonds are issued, and the debts keep rising. This time around the timing is especially notable, since eight years of global growth ought to be producing tax revenues sufficient to at least moderate the tide of red ink. But apparently not. In Japan, for instance, government debt is now 250% of GDP, a figure which economists from, say, the 1990s, would have thought impossible. Over the past decade the country’s leaders have proposed a series of plans for balancing the budget, and actually did manage to shrink debt/GDP slightly in 2016. But now they seem to have given up, and are looking for excuses to keep spending.

[..] To put the above in visual terms, here’s an infographic from Howmuch.com that shows per-capita government debt for the world’s major countries. Note that a Japanese family of five’s share of its government’s debt is close to $450,000 while in the US a similar family owes $300,000. That’s in addition to their mortgages, car loans, credit cards, etc. Obviously debts of this magnitude can’t and therefore won’t be repaid. Which means the coming decade will be defined by how — and how quickly — we end up defaulting.

Read more …

More of that same story.

Lemmings In Full Stampede Toward The Fiscal Cliff (Stockman)

The lemmings are now in full stampede toward the cliffs. You can literally hear the cold waters churning, foaming and crashing on the boulders far below. From bitcoin to Amazon, the financials, the Russell 2000 and most everything else in between, the casinos are digesting no information except the price action and are relentlessly rising on nothing more than pure momentum. The mania has gone full retard. Certainly earnings have nothing to do with it. As of this morning, the Russell 2000, for instance, was trading at 112X reported LTM earnings. Likewise, Q3 reporting is all over except for the shouting and reported LTM earnings for the S&P 500 came in $107 per share. That’s of signal importance because fully 36 months ago, S&P earnings for the September 2014 LTM period posted at $106 per share.

That’s right. Three years and $1 of gain. They talking heads blather about “strong earnings” only because they think we were born yesterday. What happened in-between, of course, was the proverbial pig passing through the python. First, the global oil, commodities and industrial deflation after July 2014 took earnings to a low of $86.44 per share in the March 2016 LTM period. After that came the opposite—the massive 2016-2017 Xi Coronation Stimulus in China. The new Red Emperor and his minions pumped out an incredible $6 trillion wave of new credit, thereby artificially stimulating a global rebound and a profits recovery back to where it started three years ago.

The difference of course is that $106 of earnings back then were priced at an already heady (by historical standards) 18.6X, whereas $107 of earnings today are being priced at a truly lunatic 24.6X. After all, nothing says earnings bust ahead better than an aging business cycle, a cooling Red Ponzi, an epochal shift toward central bank QT (quantitative tightening) and a massive Washington Fiscal Cliff. Yet every one of those headwinds are self-evident and have made their presence known with a loud clang in the last few days.

Read more …

For good measure, let’s throw in some Catch 22.

Brexit Risks Leaving Banks on the Hook for Impossible Contracts (BBG)

As far as Brexit headaches go, John McFarlane, who chairs Barclays and London’s bank lobby, says that while his firm is on top of job moves, he’s more concerned about rewriting “hundreds of thousands” of contracts. He’s not alone. Andrew Bailey, head of the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority, said “contract continuity” was among the biggest potential disruptions from a no-deal, no-transition Brexit. Both men were testifying to lawmakers Wednesday. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and ECB President Mario Draghi have also expressed concern about the issue and the dearth of time left for a fix. A week ago, data from the European Banking Authority showed the scope of the issue, and that money is already on the move for precisely this reason: European banks have slashed their U.K. assets by $425 billion, driven by a 35% drop in derivatives exposures.

Insurance policies are affected too: Carney estimates about 20 billion pounds of insurance liabilities in Britain could be affected without swift action. The issue arises because one side or the other of a contract can meet its obligations only thanks to an authorization that’s set to disappear once the U.K. leaves the European Union in 2019. This might result in a firm being obliged by contract law to do something that regulation prohibits it from carrying out, and impossibility generally isn’t a defense against non-performance of a contract, said Simon Gleeson at Clifford Chance in London. “A bank which enters into a contract which becomes illegal to perform by reason of Brexit may well be liable in damages for its non-performance to the counterparty,” said Gleeson. “Dealing with this is so much in everyone’s interest that I’m amazed it hasn’t been addressed.”

[..] Cross-border revolving credits – credit lines that can be drawn down, repaid, then drawn down again – are among such contracts. Many of these are issued to EU companies by syndicates with members based in the U.K. For example, lenders to Volkswagen Financial Services’s €2.5 billion ($3 billion) line include London-based entities for Bank of America and Citigroup, as well as the U.K. units of the major British banks, data compiled by Bloomberg show. A lender that lost its authorization but made an advance to the company under the revolver might find itself in breach of local law in jurisdictions including Germany and France, according to Clifford Chance. On the other hand, it might be in breach of contract if it failed to make the loan.

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Because Morgan Stanley exposes itself this way. As Corbyn himself said: Yes, we’re a threat. To you.

I’m Glad Morgan Stanley Has Warned Us About Jeremy Corbyn (Ind.)

This week, Morgan Stanley claimed that “Corbyn would be more of a danger to markets than hard Brexit”, something which I saw as supremely ironic. Because the actions of Morgan Stanley, and others like it, laid the foundations for Leave because of their role in the financial crisis: a crisis of capitalism, which ushered in seven years of austerity, falling wages and insecure work. Precisely the conditions that would encourage the majority of British people to vote against the status quo and opt for Leave. Morgan Stanley’s role in the financial crisis cannot be understated; and, given describing things as a “danger to markets” appears to be in fashion right now, let’s remind ourselves what they got up to just over a decade ago.

Essentially, they packaged up sub-prime mortgages as something called Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDOs), got credit ratings agencies – who were entirely conflicted as their clients were the investment banks – to rate these absolute garbage CDOs triple-A investments. Morgan Stanley then misled investors who bought them. Because they knew what those investments were actually worth, Morgan Stanley’s traders bought what are known as “credit default swaps” on those CDOs – effectively amounting to a bet on it defaulting. You can buy or sell a credit default swap even if you don’t own the investment. They did this thousands of times.

[..] the right-wing press, which gleefully reported on this Corbyn/Brexit warning, clearly has a short memory about what really happened. After all, the lie that Labour caused the financial crisis, and not investment banks like Morgan Stanley, was a convenient pretext for maintaining the economic status quo while cutting to public spending. This forced ordinary working people to pay for a financial crisis they did not cause. It’s little wonder that people voted Leave having been totally shafted by the system. But the opportunity to do so only arose because the narrative that “Labour crashed the economy” helped secure David Cameron a majority in 2015 on a manifesto that promised a referendum.

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Make it 2018.

US Senate Suspends Tax Bill Votes to Friday Morning (BBG)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said votes on the tax bill will resume at 11 a.m. on Friday as the collapse of a key compromise to win a majority for a Senate tax overhaul left Republicans scrambling to salvage the legislation. Debate over the bill may continue into the evening, McConnell said. It’s unclear when the unlimited amendment vote series known as “vote-a-rama” would begin. After seeming to gain momentum during the day, the GOP’s tax cut plan smacked into a decision from the Senate’s rule-making office that said a so-called trigger proposed by GOP holdouts didn’t pass procedural muster. At least three Republicans – Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona and James Lankford of Oklahoma – had tied their votes to the mechanism, which would have increased taxes if revenue targets weren’t met.

The trio is now demanding that leaders agree to other changes in the bill to avoid a huge deficit increase. Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate and can only afford to lose two members if they want to pass the tax bill without Democratic support. Adding to the difficulty was a ruling by a key fiscal referee that the tax plan would blow a $1 trillion hole in the nation’s debt – even after accounting for economic growth. The day’s events left GOP leaders contemplating a variety of potentially unpalatable measures — including making some tax cuts on the individual and corporate side end within six or seven years. The current version of the Senate bill would sunset individual breaks in 2026.

Read more …

Wait till home priced start to plummet. That’s when the scandals will break.

Australian Banks Face Public Inquiry Amid String of Scandals

Australia’s banks will be subject to a wide-ranging public inquiry after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull bowed to pressure to address scandals besetting the industry. The yearlong royal commission will examine the conduct of the nation’s banks, insurers, financial services providers and pension funds, and consider whether regulators have enough power to tackle misconduct, Turnbull said Thursday. He pledged the inquiry would not put “capitalism on trial.” The announcement came just minutes after Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Australia & New Zealand Banking, Westpac and National Australia Bank dropped their opposition to an inquiry, saying in an open letter to the government that months of political squabbling over the issue risked undermining offshore investor confidence.

More than A$8 billion ($6 billion) was wiped off the market value of the big four lenders in early Sydney trading, with Commonwealth Bank declining as much as 2.7%. “Ongoing speculation and fear-mongering about a banking inquiry or royal commission is disruptive and risks undermining the reputation of Australia’s world-class financial system,” Turnbull said. The inquiry will “further ensure our financial system is working efficiently and effectively.” The main opposition Labor party has for months been demanding a royal commission into the finance industry, amid a string of scandals ranging from misleading financial advice, attempted rate-rigging and alleged breaches of anti-money laundering laws. Pressure was growing on Turnbull to hold an inquiry, with some lawmakers in his Liberal-National coalition threatening to force a vote in parliament next week.

Read more …

A big problem for Erdogan. The US takes its sanctions seriously.

Gold Trader Implicates Erdogan In US Sanctions Breaking Case (BBC)

A controversial Turkish-Iranian gold trader has told a US court that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally approved his sanction-breaking deals with Iran. Reza Zarrab, 34, is a key witness in the criminal trial of a Turkish banker whom he allegedly worked with to help Iran launder money. Mr Erdogan has denied that Turkey breached US sanctions on Iran. The case has strained relations between Ankara and Washington. In his testimony, Mr Zarrab implicated Mr Erdogan in an international money laundering scheme that he and the banker, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, ran between 2010 and 2015 that allegedly allowed Iran to access international markets despite US sanctions.

He said that he was told in 2012 by the then economy minister that Mr Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time, had instructed Turkish banks to participate in the multi-million dollar scheme. Mr Erdogan said earlier on Thursday that Turkey did not breach US sanctions on Iran, Turkish media report. His government has described the case as “a plot against Turkey”. The Turkish president is yet to respond to the new allegations about him made in court. Mr Atilla has pleaded not guilty. Nine people have been charged in total. Mr Zarrab was arrested by US officials in 2016 and accused of engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the Iranian government, money laundering and bank fraud. But he decided to cooperate with prosecutors and is now their star witness in the New York trial.

On Wednesday, he told the court he paid Zafer Caglayan, then Turkey’s economy minister, bribes amounting to more than €50m to facilitate deals with Iran. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bekir Bozdag, responded to the allegations, saying that Mr Zarrab had been “pressured into committing slander”. Speaking to state-run news agency Anadolu, Mr Bozdag called the trial a “theatre”. The Turkish government had previously said that Mr Caglayan acted within Turkish and international law.

Read more …

Overcapacity export.

From The Caucasus To The Balkans, China’s Silk Roads Are Rising (Escobar)

The 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress made it clear that the New Silk Roads – aka, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – launched by President Xi Jinping just four years ago, provides the concept around which all Chinese foreign policy is to revolve for the foreseeable future. Up until the symbolic 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, in 2049, in fact. Virtually every nook and cranny of the Chinese administration is invested in making the BRI Grand Strategy a success: economic actors, financial players, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), the private sector, the diplomatic machine, think tanks, and – of course – the media, are all on board. It’s under this long-term framework that sundry BRI projects should be examined. And their reach, let’s be clear, involves most of Eurasia – including everything from the Central Asian steppes to the Caucasus and the Western Balkans.

Representatives of no fewer than 50 nations are currently gathered in Tbilisi, Georgia, for yet another BRI-related summit. The BRI masterplan details six major economic “corridors,” and one of these is the Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor. That’s where Georgia fits in, alongside neighboring Azerbaijan: both are vying to position themselves as the key Caucasus transit hub between Western China and the European Union. [..] The action in the Caucasus was mirrored in Europe earlier in the week as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban opened the sixth “16+1” summit, involving China and 16 Central and Eastern European nations, in Budapest. “16+1” is yet another of those trademark Chinese diplomatic “away wins.”

Some of these nations are part of the EU, some part of NATO, some neither. From Beijing’s point of view, what matters is the relentless BRI infrastructure and connectivity drive. Beijing may have invested as much as US$8 billion so far in Central and Eastern Europe. China is having a ball in the Western Balkans – especially in Serbia, in Montenegro, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where EU financial muscle is absent. China has invested in multiple connectivity and energy projects in Serbia – including the much-debated Belgrade-Budapest high-speed rail link. Construction of the Serbian stretch started this week, with 85% of the total cost (roughly €2.4 billion) coming from the Export-Import Bank of China.

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Dream of power are always costly.

Paris – The Financial Capital Of West And Central Africa (Gefira)

France’s current zone of influence in Africa is the result of the policies of President Charles de Gaulle, who was unable to come to terms with his defeats in Indochina (1954) and Algeria (1962) and therefore sought to achieve the dominance of France in his former colonies. After de Gaulle, however, other presidents did not refrain from using military force and violence in Africa to defend their interests, on the pretext of protecting human rights and democracy. The French often achieved the opposite, because they made the same mistakes in their military actions as Americans made elsewhere in the world: they supported people who later became their enemies or violated human rights.

For example, it was the regime of Juvenal Habyariman in Rwanda that was supported by Paris: the French supplied Hutu combat groups with weapons, thus contributing to the Tutsi massacre. Hollande, who in Paris and Europe was perceived as a weakling, showed the face of a warrior and sent heavy units and fighter planes to Mali in 2013. This would not have been necessary if French President Sarkozy and the USA had not overthrown Qaddafi. It was Sarkozy that initiated the NATO led airstrikes against Libya. The removal of Colonel Qaddafi gave rise to the creation of the Caliphate with the help of Tuaregs in the north of Niger and Mali. After a few years since the start of the mission in Mali one wonders: has it made Europe safer?

Has the flow of migrants been stopped through Sahel countries? Are the Jihadists of African descent a lesser threat in Europe? The cost of the military action in Mali in 2013 amounted to €650 million. Operation Barkhane (as it is called) continues to this day and costs the French budget €500 million per year. Of course, democracy in Mali is a top priority for most Europeans, right? A total of 9,000 French soldiers are currently stationed in Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gabon, the Central African Republic and Djibouti. The growing military presence is intended to support the fight against terrorism and crime, in fact it is about the French elites extending their power to the south, reaching for cheap raw materials and outlet markets.

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“..if we can identify it is dark matter for sure then that is very significant. And if not, it is even more significant because they would be fresh new particles that no one had predicted before..”

Chinese Satellite Closes In On Dark Matter Mystery (AFP)

Scientists have detected cosmic ray energy readings that could bring them closer to proving the existence of dark matter, a mysterious substance believed to comprise a quarter of our universe, a study revealed on Thursday. Likely made up of unknown sub-atomic material, dark matter is invisible to telescopes and can be perceived only through its gravitational pull on other objects in the universe. Beijing’s first astronomical satellite launched two years ago detected 1.5 million cosmic ray electrons and protons, the study said, and unprecedented measurements found curiously low-energy rays. The team of researchers from China, Switzerland and Italy, who published their first results in the journal Nature, said the data may cast light on “the annihilation or decay of particle dark matter”.

“This new unseen phenomena can bring breakthroughs,” Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said at a briefing. “After collecting more data, if we can identify it is dark matter for sure then that is very significant. And if not, it is even more significant because they would be fresh new particles that no one had predicted before,” Bai added, to applause from fellow scientists. The Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) is now collecting more data from space to help researchers figure out what it could be. DAMPE was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi desert in December 2015, after nearly 20 years in development. Its designers boast that DAMPE is superior to its US counterpart, the AMS-02 (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer) that NASA installed on the International Space Station in 2011.

“Our cosmic ray detection range is 10 times that of AMS-02 and three times as accurate,” said DAMPE chief scientist Chang Jin. “Proving the existence of dark matter takes a lot of time. Now we have worked out the most precise spectrum, but we are not 100% sure that this can lead us to the location of dark matter,” he said.

Read more …

Sep 012017
 
 September 1, 2017  Posted by at 9:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Vincent van Gogh Seine with Pont de Clichy 1887

 

Monetary Stimulus: How Much Is Too Much? (Lebowitz)
Yes, You Should Be Concerned With Consumer Debt (Roberts)
Why We’re Doomed: Stagnant Wages (CHS)
US Fuel Shortages From Harvey To Hamper Labor Day Travel (R.)
Wells Fargo Says 3.5 Million Accounts Involved In Scandal (AP)
World’s Biggest Wealth Fund Reveals Bleak View on Global Trade (BBG)
New Math Deals Minnesota’s Pensions the Biggest Hit in the US (BBG)
Six Big Banks To Create A Blockchain-Based Cash System (R.)
Putin Warns Of ‘Major Conflict’ Over North Korea, Urges Talks (AFP)
Trump, Nuclear War And Climate Change Among Gravest Threats To Humanity (PA)
Greece Doesn’t Want Any More Rescues – But It Does Need Something Else (CNBC)
Hurricane Irma Turning Into Monster (ZH)

 

 

Take their power away or else.

Monetary Stimulus: How Much Is Too Much? (Lebowitz)

The amount of monetary stimulus increasingly imposed on the financial system creates false signals about the economy’s true growth rate, causing a vast misallocation of capital, impaired productivity and weakened economic activity. To help quantify the amount of stimulus, please consider the graph. Federal Reserve (Fed) monetary stimulus comes in two forms. First in the form of targeting the Fed Funds interest rate at a rate below the nominal rate of economic growth (blue). Second, it stems from the large scale asset purchases QE) by the Fed (orange). When these two metrics are quantified, it yields an estimate of the average amount of monetary stimulus (red) applied during each post-recession period since 1980. It has been almost ten years since the 2008 financial crisis and the Fed is applying the equivalent of 5.25% of interest rate stimulus to the economy, dwarfing that of prior periods.

The graph highlights that the Fed has been increasingly aggressive in both the amount of stimulus employed as well as the amount of time that such monetary stimulus remains outstanding. Amazingly few investors seem to comprehend that despite the massive level of monetary stimulus, economic growth is trending well below recoveries of years past. Additionally, as witnessed by historically high valuations, the rise in the prices of many financial assets is not based on improving economic fundamentals but simply the stimulative effect that QE and low interest rates have on investor confidence and financial leverage. Now consider the ramifications of a Fed that continues to increase the Fed Funds rate and moves forward with plans to slowly remove QE.

Read more …

America: the House that Debt Built.

Yes, You Should Be Concerned With Consumer Debt (Roberts)

First, the calculation of disposable personal income, income less taxes, is largely a guess and very inaccurate due to the variability of income taxes paid by households. Secondly, but most importantly, the measure is heavily skewed by the top 20% of income earners, needless to say, the top 5%. As shown in the chart below, those in the top 20% have seen substantially larger median wage growth versus the bottom 80%.

Lastly, disposable incomes and discretionary incomes are two very different animals. Discretionary income is what is left of disposable incomes after you pay for all of the mandatory spending like rent, food, utilities, health care premiums, insurance, etc. According to a Gallup survey, it requires about $53,000 a year to maintain a family of four in the United States. For 80% of Americans, this is a problem even on a GROSS income basis.

This is why record levels of consumer debt is a problem. There is simply a limit to how much “debt” each household can carry even at historically low interest rates. It is also the primary reason why we can not have a replay of the 1980-90’s. “Beginning 1983, the secular bull market of the 80-90’s began. Driven by falling rates of inflation, interest rates, and the deregulation of the banking industry, the debt-induced ramp up of the 90’s gained traction as consumers levered their way into a higher standard of living.”

“While the Internet boom did cause an increase in productivity, it also had a very deleterious effect on the economy. As shown in the chart above, the rise in personal debt was used to offset the declines in personal income and savings rates. This plunge into indebtedness supported the ‘consumption function’ of the economy. The ‘borrowing and spending like mad’ provided a false sense of economic prosperity. During the boom market of the 1980’s and 90’s consumption, as a%age of the economy, grew from roughly 61% to 68% currently. The increase in consumption was largely built upon a falling interest rate environment, lower borrowing costs, and relaxation of lending standards. (Think mortgage, auto, student and sub-prime loans.) In 1980, household credit market debt stood at $1.3 Trillion. To move consumption, as a% of the economy, from 61% to 67% by the year 2000 it required an increase of $5.6 Trillion in debt. Since 2000, consumption as a% of the economy has risen by just 2% over the last 17 years, however, that increase required more than a $6 Trillion in debt.

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Doomed growth projections.

Why We’re Doomed: Stagnant Wages (CHS)

Despite all the happy talk about “recovery” and higher growth, wages have gone nowhere since 2000–and for the bottom 20% of workers, they’ve gone nowhere since the 1970s. GDP has risen smartly since 2000, but the share of GDP going to wages and salaries has plummeted: this is simply an extension of a 47-year downtrend. [..] .. our system requires ever-higher household incomes to function–not just in the top 5%, but in the top 80%. Our federal social programs–Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid–are pay-as-you-go: all the expenditures this year are paid by taxes collected this year. As I have detailed many times, the so-called “Trust Funds” are fictions; when Social Security runs a deficit, the difference between receipts and expenses are filled by selling Treasury bonds in the open market–the exact same mechanism ther government uses to fund any other deficit.

The demographics of the nation have changed in the past two generations. The Baby Boom is retiring en masse, expanding the number of beneficiaries of these programs, while the number of full-time workers to retirees is down from 10-to-1 in the good old days to 2-to-1: there are 60 million beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare and about 120 million full-time workers in the U.S. Meanwhile, medical expenses per person are soaring. Profiteering by healthcare cartels, new and ever-more costly treatments, the rise of chronic lifestyle illnesses–there are many drivers of this trend. There is absolutely no evidence to support the fantasy that this trend will magically reverse.

Costs are skyrocketing and the number of retirees is ballooning, but wages are going nowhere. Do you see the problem? All pay-as-you-go programs are based on the assumption that the number of workers and the wages they earn will both rise at a rate that is above the underlying rate of inflation and equal to the rate of increase in pay-as-you-go programs. If 95% of the households are earning less money when adjusted for inflation, and their wealth has also declined or stagnated, then how can we pay for programs which expand by 6% or more every year? The short answer is you can’t.

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Are we going to add this to the cost of Harvey?

US Fuel Shortages From Harvey To Hamper Labor Day Travel (R.)

Travelers and fuel suppliers across the United States braced for higher prices and shortages ahead of the Labor Day holiday weekend as the country’s biggest fuel pipelines and refineries curb operations after Hurricane Harvey. Just six days after Harvey slammed into the heart of the U.S. energy industry in Texas, the effects are being felt not just in Houston, but also in Chicago and New York, and prices at the pump nationwide have hit a high for the year. Supply shortages have developed even though there are nearly a quarter of a billion barrels of gasoline stockpiled in the United States. But much of it is held in places where it cannot be accessed due to massive floods, or too far away from the places it is needed. Some of it is unfinished, meaning it needs to be blended before it can go to gas stations.

Harvey has highlighted another weakness in the system: pipeline terminals typically only have a five-day supply in storage to load into the lines. Some of the biggest pipelines in the United States, supplying the northeast market and the Chicago area, have already shut down or reduced operations because they have no fuel to pump. “Gasoline is very much a ‘just-in-time’ fuel, for as many million barrels as they think we have,” said Patrick DeHaan, petroleum analyst at GasBuddy. “Sure, they are somewhere, but they still have to be mixed and blended together.” At least two East Coast refiners, including Philadelphia Energy Solutions and Irving Oil, have already run out of gasoline for immediate delivery as they have rushed to send supplies to the U.S. Southeast, Caribbean, Mexico and South America to offset the lack of exports since Harvey.

Read more …

Lock them up!

Wells Fargo Says 3.5 Million Accounts Involved In Scandal (AP)

The scope of Wells Fargo’s fake accounts scandal grew significantly on Thursday, with the bank now saying that 3.5 million accounts were potentially opened without customers’ permission between 2009 and 2016. That’s up from 2.1 million accounts that the bank had cited in September 2016, when it acknowledged that employees under pressure to meet aggressive sales targets had opened accounts that customers might not have even been aware existed. People may have had different kinds of accounts in their names, so the number of customers affected may differ from the account total. Wells Fargo said Thursday that about half a million of the newly discovered accounts were missed during the original review, which covered the years 2011 to 2015.

After Wells Fargo acknowledged the fake accounts last year, evidence quickly appeared that the sales practices problems dated back even further. So Wells Fargo hired an outside consulting firm to analyze 165 million retail bank accounts opened between 2009 and 2016. Wells said the firm found that, along with the 2.1 million accounts originally disclosed, 981,000 more accounts were found in the expanded timeline. And roughly 450,000 accounts were found in the original window. The scandal was the biggest in Wells Fargo’s history. It cost then-CEO John Stumpf his job, and the bank’s once-sterling industry reputation was in tatters. The company ended up paying $185 million to regulators and settled a class-action suit for $142 million. New managers have been trying to amends with customers, politicians and the public.

But it’s been tough, as new revelations keep coming. Wells Fargo said last month that roughly 570,000 customers were signed up for and billed for car insurance that they didn’t need or necessarily know about. Many couldn’t afford the extra costs and fell behind in their payments, and in about 20,000 cases, cars were repossessed. Other customers have filed lawsuits against Wells Fargo saying they were victims of unfair overdraft practices. Wells Fargo is also still under several investigations for its sales practices problems, including a congressional inquiry and one by the Justice Department. Wells Fargo said Thursday that of the 3.5 million accounts potentially opened without permission, 190,000 of those incurred fees and charges. That’s up from 130,000 that the bank originally said. Wells Fargo will refund $2.8 million to customers, in addition to the $3.3 million it already agreed to pay.

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Wise.

World’s Biggest Wealth Fund Reveals Bleak View on Global Trade (BBG)

Yngve Slyngstad, chief executive officer of Norges Bank Investment Management, as the fund is known, says the heyday of cross-border trade is probably behind us. “The question investors are asking themselves is if the easy wins already have been made,” Slyngstad said in an Aug. 29 interview from his office on the top floor of Norway’s central bank in Oslo. “The global supply chains have in a way had a one-time gain primarily through outsourcing of multinationals to China.” Norway’s wealth fund owns 1.3% of globally listed stocks, spread out over almost 80 countries. And with interest rates at record lows, the investor has cut its long-term return expectations to about 3% from 4%, even after winning approval from parliament to raise its share of equities to 70% from 60%.

Slyngstad, who became CEO in 2008 just as the global economy was sinking into the worst crisis since the Great Depression, noted that back then the fund rode out the turmoil by dumping bonds and buying stocks. “I don’t expect that we will act differently in any similar crisis in the future,” he said. During a recent conference on globalization, the fund’s chief strategist, Bjorn Erik Orskaug, suggested the world might be at an “inflection point” in trade, with shallower value chains and less cross-border production. And then there’s the protectionist agenda some governments are pursuing. “Is there also a political situation that could make it more challenging?” Slyngstad said. “Time will tell, but there’s of course a risk on the horizon.” He says the wealth fund’s extremely long-term investment timeline allows it to look past the noise coming from governments that come and go.

The fund will probably stay over-weighted in Europe, where it’s more of an active investor. But the only two economies that really matter are the U.S. and China, Slyngstad said. [..] As the fund approaches $1 trillion in value, its stated goal is to safeguard today’s oil wealth for future generations of Norwegians. It has surged in size since its inception two decades ago, generating an annual nominal return of 5.89%. Norway’s government last year started taking cash out of the fund for the first time, to make up for lower oil revenue. Withdrawals are set to hit about 72 billion kroner ($9.3 billion) in 2017, and remain at that level in coming years amid stricter fiscal rules.

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Once the creative accounting is removed, there won’t be much left.

New Math Deals Minnesota’s Pensions the Biggest Hit in the US (BBG)

Minnesota’s debt to its workers’ retirement system has soared by $33.4 billion, or $6,000 for every resident, courtesy of accounting rules. The jump caused the finances of Minnesota’s pensions to erode more than any other state’s last year as accounting standards seek to prevent governments from using overly optimistic assumptions to minimize what they owe public employees decades from now. Because of changes in actuarial math, Minnesota in 2016 reported having just 53% of what it needed to cover promised benefits, down from 80% a year earlier, transforming it from one of the best funded state systems to the seventh worst, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “It’s a crisis,” said Susan Lenczewski, executive director of the state’s Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement.

The latest reckoning won’t force Minnesota to pump more taxpayer money into its pensions, nor does it put retirees’ pension checks in any jeopardy. But it underscores the long-term financial pressure facing governments such as Minnesota, New Jersey and Illinois that have been left with massive shortfalls after years of failing to make adequate contributions to their retirement systems. The Governmental Accounting Standards Board’s rules, ushered in after the last recession, were intended to address concern that state and city pensions were understating the scale of their obligations by counting on steady investment gains even after they run out of cash – and no longer have money to invest. Pensions use the expected rate of return on their investments to calculate in today’s dollars, or discount, the value of pension checks that won’t be paid out for decades.

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Everybody wants their share of the pie.

Six Big Banks To Create A Blockchain-Based Cash System (R.)

Six new banks have joined a UBS-led effort to create a digital cash system that would allow financial markets to make payments and settle transactions quickly via blockchain technology. The group aims to launch the system late next year. Barclays, Credit Suisse, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, HSBC, MUFG and State Street have joined the group developing the “utility settlement coin” (USC), a digital cash equivalent of each of the major currencies backed by central banks, UBS said on Thursday. The group is in discussions with central banks and regulators and is aiming for a “limited ’go live’” in the latter part of 2018, UBS’s head of strategic investment and fintech innovation told the Financial Times.

The Swiss bank first launched the concept in September 2015 with London-based blockchain company Clearmatics, and was later joined on the project by BNY Mellon, Deutsche Bank, Santander and brokerage ICAP. The USC would be convertible at parity with a bank deposit in the corresponding currency, making it fully backed by cash assets at a central bank. Spending a USC would be the same as spending the real currency it is paired with. Blockchain works as a tamper-proof shared ledger that can automatically process and settle transactions using computer algorithms, with no need for third-party verification. Because it does not require manual processing, nor authentication through intermediaries, the technology can make payments faster, more reliable and easier to audit.

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Better talk with him.

Putin Warns Of ‘Major Conflict’ Over North Korea, Urges Talks (AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Friday of a “major conflict” looming on the Korean Peninsula, calling for talks to alleviate the crisis after Pyongyang fired a missile over Japan this week. “The problems in the region will only be solved via direct dialogue between all concerned parties, without preconditions,” Putin said. “Threats, pressure and insulting and militant rhetoric are a dead end,” a statement from his office said, adding that heaping additional pressure on North Korea in a bid to curb its nuclear programme was “wrong and futile.” Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years after a series of missile tests by Pyongyang.

Early on Tuesday, the reclusive state fired an intermediate-range Hwasong-12 over Japan, prompting US President Donald Trump to insist that “all options” were on the table in an implied threat of pre-emptive military action. The UN Security Council denounced North Korea’s latest missile test, unanimously demanding that Pyongyang halt the programme. US heavy bombers and stealth jet fighters took part in a joint live fire drill in South Korea on Thursday, intended as a show of force against the North, Seoul said. Putin said he feared the peninsula was “on the verge of a major conflict” and called for all sides to sign up to a mediation programme drawn up by Moscow and Beijing. He echoed comments by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who in a Wednesday telephone call with US counterpart Rex Tillerson “underscored… the need to refrain from any military steps that could have unpredictable consequences.”

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Prime candidate for worst report ever. The Independent tweeetd: “12 Nobel Prize winners just warned Trump is one of the gravest threats to humanity “. But that’s not what the article by the Press Association says. It says two.

Trump, Nuclear War And Climate Change Among Gravest Threats To Humanity (PA)

Nobel Prize winners consider nuclear war and US President Donald Trump as among the gravest threats to humanity, a survey has found. More than a third (34%) said environmental issues including over-population and climate change posed the greatest risk to mankind, according to the poll by Times Higher Education and Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. But amid rising tensions between the US and North Korea, almost a quarter (23%) said nuclear war was the most serious threat. Of the 50 living Nobel Prize winners canvassed, 6% said the ignorance of political leaders was their greatest concern – with two naming Mr Trump as a particular problem. Peter Agre, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2003, described the US President as “extraordinarily uninformed and bad-natured”. He told Times Higher Education: “Trump could play a villain in a Batman movie – everything he does is wicked or selfish.”

Laureates for chemistry, physics, physiology, medicine and economics took part in the survey, with some highlighting more than one threat. Peace Prize and Literature Prize recipients were not canvassed. Infectious diseases and drug resistance were considered the gravest threats to humankind by 8% of respondents, while 8% cited selfishness and dishonesty and 6% cited terrorism and fundamentalism. Another 6% spoke of the dangers of “ignorance and the distortion of truth”. Despite high-profile figures Elon Musk and Professor Stephen Hawking expressing concern about the dangers associated with artificial intelligence, just two of those surveyed identified it as among the biggest threats facing humans.

John Gill, editor of Times Higher Education, said the survey offers “a unique insight into the issues that keep the world’s greatest scientific minds awake at night”. He said: “There is a consensus that heading off these dangers requires political will and action, the prioritisation of education on a global scale, and above all avoiding the risk of inaction through complacency.”

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Stockholm Syndrome?

Greece Doesn’t Want Any More Rescues – But It Does Need Something Else (CNBC)

Greece wants nothing more than to avoid another bailout — which means it needs debt relief. And so far, that’s the sticking point. “There is now light at the end of the tunnel,” Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said hopefully in June. After months of wrangling, the European Union and International Monetary Fund had just agreed to release more rescue funds to the perennially troubled nation, bringing the total from its third bailout alone to €40.2 billion ($47.75 billion). Euro zone finance ministers took very light steps toward debt relief at that time — they said they were willing to keep deferring interest on financial assistance Greece had already received — but those measures fell short of the relief Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was pressing for.

The current bailout program is set to end in September of next year. Greece has been wracked by perennial financial crises since 2010, and it even appeared at risk of leaving the euro zone altogether in 2015. Tsipras’s objective is to re-gain full market access to international bond markets and to leave institutional help behind, so the subject of long-term debt is one that will continue to dominate discussions as it draws closer to September 2018. In July, Greece dipped into bond markets after a 3-year hiatus, issuing 5-year debt at an average yield of 4.66%. Greece is expected to return to the market again in the next 12 months. But Greece’s debt isn’t manageable in the long-run without being either extended or forgiven, according to the IMF, which is pressing for easier budgetary targets for Greece while simultaneously undertaking reforms.

Its European creditors currently require it to achieve a primary surplus before debt service of 3.5% of gross domestic product. The ECB has also been emphatic that it will not include Greek government bonds in its own debt-buying mechanism, the Public Sector Purchase Program. In a June letter, ECB President Mario Draghi ruled out that possibility, saying the central bank’s staff wasn’t in a position to fully analyze Greece’s public debt. Analysts at Barclays have estimated that the inclusion of Greek debt into ECB’s bond-buying program would entail monthly purchases of around 115 million euros ($136.5 million).

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Not looking good.

Hurricane Irma Turning Into Monster (ZH)

Hurricane Irma continues to strengthen much faster than pretty much any computer model predicted as of yesterday or even this morning. Per the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) latest update, Irma is currently a Cat-3 storm with sustained winds of 115 mph but is expected to strengthen to a devastating Cat-5 with winds that could top out at 180 mph or more. Longer term computer models still vary widely but suggest that Irma will make landfall in the U.S. either in the Gulf of Mexico or Florida. Meteorological Scientist Michael Ventrice of the Weather Channel is forecasting windspeeds of up to 180 mph, which he described as the “highest windspeed forecasts I’ve ever seen in my 10 yrs of Atlantic hurricane forecasting.”

In a separate tweet, Ventrice had the following troubling comment: “Wow, a number of ECMWF EPS members show a maximum-sustained windspeed of 180+mph for #Irma, rivaling Hurricane #Allen (1980) for record wind”. The Weather Channel meteorologist also calculated the odds for a landfall along the eastern seaboard at 30%. Meanwhile, the Weather Channel has the “most likely” path of Irma passing directly over Antigua, Puerto Rico and Domincan Republic toward the middle of next week.

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Jun 252017
 
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Marc Riboud Paris 1953

 

Dems Push Leaders To Talk Less About Russia (Hill)
UK Housing Crisis Threatens A Million Families With Eviction By 2020 (G.)
The Answer Is Wages, Not Capital (Angusto)
Not All Fossil Fuels Are Going Extinct (BBG)
Reclaiming Public Services (TNI)
Contagion from the 2 Friday-Night Bank Collapses in Italy? (DQ)
Health Spending In Greece Down 40% In 2009-2015 (Amna)
Moody’s Raises Greece’s Sovereign Bond Rating After Bailout (AFP)
Greece, A Guinea Pig For A Cashless And Controlled Society (MPN)
Monsanto And Bayer Are Maneuvering To Take Over The Cannabis Industry (WT)

 

 

Endlessly ironic that publications like the Hill write on this. They are more responsible for all the nonsense than any politicians are.

Dems Push Leaders To Talk Less About Russia (Hill)

Frustrated Democrats hoping to elevate their election fortunes have a resounding message for party leaders: Stop talking so much about Russia. Democratic leaders have been beating the drum this year over the ongoing probes into the Trump administration’s potential ties to Moscow, taking every opportunity to highlight the saga and forcing floor votes designed to uncover any business dealings the president might have with Russian figures. But rank-and-file Democrats say the Russia-Trump narrative is simply a non-issue with district voters, who are much more worried about bread-and-butter economic concerns like jobs, wages and the cost of education and healthcare.

In the wake of a string of special-election defeats, an increasing number of Democrats are calling for an adjustment in party messaging, one that swings the focus from Russia to the economy. The outcome of the 2018 elections, they say, hinges on how well the Democrats manage that shift. “We can’t just talk about Russia because people back in Ohio aren’t really talking that much about Russia, about Putin, about Michael Flynn,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) told MSNBC Thursday. “They’re trying to figure out how they’re going to make the mortgage payment, how they’re going to pay for their kids to go to college, what their energy bill looks like. “And if we don’t talk more about their interest than we do about how we’re so angry with Donald Trump and everything that’s going on,” he added, “then we’re never going to be able to win elections.”

Ryan is among the small group of Democrats who are sounding calls for a changing of the guard atop the party’s leadership hierarchy following Tuesday’s special election defeat in Georgia — the Democrats’ fourth loss since Trump took office. But Ryan is hardly alone in urging party leaders to hone their 2018 message. Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) has been paying particularly close attention to voters’ concerns because he’s running for governor in 2018. The Russia-Trump investigation, he said, isn’t on their radar. “I did a 22-county tour. … Nobody’s focusing on that,” Walz said. “That’s not to say that they don’t think Russia and those things are important, [but] it’s certainly not top on their minds.”

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Elections it is then. A rudderless society.

UK Housing Crisis Threatens A Million Families With Eviction By 2020 (G.)

More than a million households living in private rented accommodation are at risk of becoming homeless by 2020 because of rising rents, benefit freezes and a lack of social housing, according to a devastating new report into the UK’s escalating housing crisis. The study by the homelessness charity Shelter shows that rising numbers of families on low incomes are not only unable to afford to buy their own home but are also struggling to pay even the lowest available rents in the private sector, leading to ever higher levels of eviction and homelessness. The findings will place greater pressure on the government over housing policy following the Grenfell Tower fire disaster in west London, which exposed the neglect and disregard for people living in council-owned properties in one of the wealthiest areas of the capital.

The Shelter report highlights how a crisis of affordability and provision is gripping millions with no option but to look for homes in the private rented sector due to a shortage of social housing. Shelter says that in 83% of areas of England, people in the private rented sector now face a substantial monthly shortfall between the housing benefit they receive and the cheapest rents, and that this will rise as austerity bites and the lack of properties tilts the balance more in favour of landlords. Across the UK the charity has calculated that, if the housing benefit freeze remains in place as planned until 2020, more than a million households, including 375,000 with at least one person in work, could be forced out of their homes. It estimates that 211,000 households in which no one works because of disability could be forced to go.

Graeme Brown, the interim chief executive at Shelter, said: “The current freeze on housing benefit is pushing hundreds of thousands of private renters dangerously close to breaking point at a time when homelessness is rising.” A total of 14,420 households were accepted by local authorities as homeless between October and December 2016, up by more than half since 2009 – with 78% of the increase since 2011 being the result of people losing their previous private tenancy. Local authorities are under a legal obligation to find emergency accommodation, such as in bed and breakfasts.

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A kernel of truth does not a good reasoning make.,

The Answer Is Wages, Not Capital (Angusto)

As in any other religion, faith lies behind capitalism. Faith that capital is a panacea always and in any situation: to push economic growth or to help less developed countries to catch up. Yet the fact is that the EU countries that were the main receivers of cohesion funds, before the extension to the East, later became rescued countries – and we have never before had as much capital on tap along with current low growth.

Both these facts should be enough to break the faith in capital or, at least, to recognise its limits. Let’s see those limits in the above-mentioned causes. The virtue of capital transfers to help low developed countries is based in old Marshall Plan history, which attributes the successful German recovery after WW2 to USA loans. Sure, those loans helped, but the necessary knowledge was already there and the capital transfers allowed the Germans to rebuild their supply capacity. Conversely, in the EU rescued countries, entering the EU came with a local supply capacity destruction, in Schumpeterian terms, for which cohesion funds were unable to compensate. As a result, their domestic demand outstripped internal supply and trade deficits became recurrent until the financial crash.

The key element was not capital but knowledge and its absence or availability in both situations; something very obvious but all too often forgotten. If capital has any virtue it comes from its origin: the capacity to produce output sufficient to recover the inputs used, to satisfy consumption needs and to save a part to be invested as new inputs for raising future output. It means that the virtue is not in the savings/capital itself but in the capacity to generate it. That’s why capital transfers that simply increased the receivers’ inputs provision, without increasing the output/input ratio –or system efficiency–, were in the end wasted money. To avoid this, it would have been necessary to increase the receivers’ efficiency, which is much more correlated with parameters like educational levels than with capitalization! Again, knowledge is the key question.

Furthermore, capital on its own is not only unable to help less developed countries catch up on their wealthier peers but it’s also unable to propel economic growth on its own, as we are now seeing. After years of letting profits grow at the cost of wages, hoping that greater capital would bring greater growth, now we hear companies claiming that they do not invest because they do not have sufficient demand to justify the investment. The clear solution would be to increase wages, but no single company will do it out of fear that the others won’t follow suit. In fact, what any company hopes is that the others increase wages and salaries but not itself. That’s why a global agent is needed: trade unions and the public administration! The latter to increase its spending to guarantee full employment and the former profiting from full employment to bargain higher salaries.

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Bloomberg’s valiant attempt to make you see it doesn’t understand energy. Well done!

Not All Fossil Fuels Are Going Extinct (BBG)

Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s latest New Energy Outlook points the way to a sunny, windy future for the global electric power industry. That doesn’t mean that fossil fuels (or nuclear power) will vanish. It also doesn’t mean that all fossil fuels are the same. The future of natural gas and coal is a tale of two resources — one a story of rising fortunes, the other of slow decline. The latest outlook on natural gas is brighter than ever: BNEF’s forecast for gas shows a higher estimate for consumption in 2040 than in previous years, with a short decline at the end of this decade.

Coal is a different matter. Coal demand is expected to peak late next decade, then decline almost every year to reach a low of 3.1 billion metric tons in 2040, about 25% lower than at its peak.

This long-term outlook is nuanced, as it should be. The aggregated demand for each fuel from 2020 to 2040 has not changed much in three successive New Energy Outlook reports. Total gas consumption has only increased 6% since the 2015 report, while coal consumption from 2020 to 2040 – despite the plunge that is now expected, as noted above – has only changed 3.5%, and was exactly the same in 2016. However, the shape of that coal curve is still important, even if the volume hasn’t changed much. A coal mine that opens today could have a 60-year life, but it is likely to be one fraught with oversupply and competition from other coal producers, as well as other technologies. So how does the 2017 New Energy Outlook for gas and coal compare to how major oil companies and the International Energy Agency see it? For gas, everyone agrees: Consumption grows. Shell expects gas consumption to more than double and, perhaps not surprisingly, Exxon Mobil and BP also expect consumption to increase at least 50%. BNEF’s expectations are a bit more muted.

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Looks a tad hippyish, but as I’ve said a million times, no society should ever sell its basics to anyone. It’s lethal.

Reclaiming Public Services (TNI)

Reclaiming Public Services is vital reading for anyone interested in the future of local, democratic services like energy, water and health care. This is an in-depth world tour of new initiatives in public ownership and the variety of approaches to deprivatisation. From New Delhi to Barcelona, from Argentina to Germany, thousands of politicians, public officials, workers, unions and social movements are reclaiming or creating public services to address people’s basic needs and respond to environmental challenges. They do this most often at the local level. Our research shows that there have been at least 835 examples of (re)municipalisation of public services worldwide since 2000, involving more than 1,600 municipalities in 45 countries.

Why are people around the world reclaiming essential services from private operators and bringing their delivery back into the public sphere? There are many motivations behind (re)municipalisation initiatives: a goal to end private sector abuse or labour violations; a desire to regain control over the local economy and resources; a wish to provide people with affordable services; or an intention to implement ambitious climate strategies. Remunicipalisation is taking place in small towns and in capital cities, following different models of public ownership and with various levels of involvement by citizens and workers. Out of this diversity a coherent picture is nevertheless emerging: it is possible to build efficient, democratic and affordable public services. Ever declining service quality and ever increasing prices are not inevitable. More and more people and cities are closing the chapter on privatisation, and putting essential services back into public hands.

Ulli Sima, Vienna City Councilor for the Environment and Wiener Stadtwerke: “As early as 2001, Vienna protected drinking water with a constitutional decision. Municipal services must remain public and should not be sacrificed to private profit. We want to ally with other cities for strong municipal servicest.” Eloi Badia, the Barcelona Councilor for presidency, water and energy: “It is important to demystify the process of privatisation that has been launched in recent years by several governments, because it’s a model that has not proved its efficiency, failing to offer a better service or a better price.”

Célia Blauel, President of Eau de Paris and Deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of the environment, sustainable development, water and the energy-climate plan: “Bringing local public services under public control is a major democratic issue, especially for such essential services as energy or water. It means greater transparency and better citizen supervision. In the context of climate change, it can contribute to leading our cities toward energy efficiency, the development of renewables, the conservation of our natural resources, and the right to water. ”

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Yesterday I wrote: “To paraphrase Juncker: “When things get serious in Europe, no rules or laws are immune to lies.”

Today, Don Quijones says: “..when things get serious in the EU, laws get bent.”

That ends to the Cyprus model before it was even truly inaugurated.

Contagion from the 2 Friday-Night Bank Collapses in Italy? (DQ)

When things get serious in the EU, laws get bent and loopholes get exploited. That is what is happening right now in Italy, where the banking crisis has reached tipping point. The ECB, together with the Italian government, have just this weekend to resolve Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, two zombie banks that the ECB, on Friday night, ordered to be liquidated. Unlike Monte dei Pachi di Siena, they will not be bailed out primarily with public funds. Senior bondholders and depositors will be protected while shareholders and subordinate bondholders will lose their shirts. However, as the German daily Welt points out, subordinate bondholders at Monte dei Pachi di Siena had billions of euros at stake, much of it owned by its own retail customers who’d been sold these bonds instead of savings products such as CDs. So for political reasons, they were bailed out.

Junior bonds play a smaller role at the two Veneto-based banks. According to the Welt, the two banks combined have €1.33 billion (at face value) in junior bonds outstanding. They last traded between 1 cent and 3 cents on the euro. So worthless. Only about €100 million were sold to their own customers, not enough to cause a political ruckus in Italy. So they will be crushed. The good assets and the liabilities, such as the deposits, will be transferred to a competing bank. According to a rescue plan apparently drawn up by investment bank Rothschild that surfaced a few days ago, Intesa Sao Paolo, Italy’s second largest bank, would get these good assets and the deposits (liabilities), for the token sum of €1, while all the toxic assets (non-performing loans) would be shuffled off to a state-owned “bad bank” – and thus, the taxpayer.

According to the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore, the bad bank would be left holding over €20 billion of festering assets. “Intesa gets a free gift, the state takes on all the bad stuff and the taxpayer pays,” said at the time Renato Brunetta, parliamentary leader for former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. It is testament to just how desperate the situation has become in Italy’s banking crisis. The country’s largest lender, Unicredit, is in no position to help out: it had to raise €13 billion of new capital earlier this year just to keep itself afloat. Whether the deal with Intesa is still possible after the ECB’s decision to liquidate the banks, and what form this deal, if any, will take, and how much the taxpayer will have to fork over, and how to sugarcoat this in the most palatable terms is what the Italian government is currently trying to hammer out in its emergency meeting.

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How anyone can label this anything but ‘criminal’ is beyond me.

Health Spending In Greece Down 40% In 2009-2015 (Amna)

Health spending in Greece plunged 40% in the 2009-2015 period, Deloitte said in a survey released on Thursday. According to the survey, health spending fell to €14.1 billion in 2014, hit by a significant shrinking in medical/pharmaceutical coverage by the state and the social insurance system. It also stressed that this sharp decline mostly hit pharmacies and other professionals in the health sector and less the country’s hospitals. Hospital spending fell to €6.2 billion in 2015, from €9.0 billion in 2009, for an average annual decline of 6.0%, while average annual decline in the retail sector reached 7.0% and 9.0%, respectively. Deloitte said the state social insurance system covers 59.1% of total health spending in Greece, with patients covering 35.5% -a %age significantly higher compared with other European countries (UK 9.5%, France 6.7%, Italy 21.7%).

3.7% of total health spending is covered by private insurance contracts. Private hospitals were also hit during the 2009-2015 period, leading to more consolidation as the number of private hospitals fell by 6.0% and their size grew by around 1.0%. The total number of private and state hospitals in Greece was 283, mostly in Attica, offering 45,900 beds. The survey said that the number of beds surpassed demand by at least 18%. The survey noted that health spending recovered slightly to €14.7 billion in 2015 and stressed that international investors were showing strong interest for business deals in Greece.

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Want Moody’s to be nice to you? Slash your health system by 40%.

Moody’s Raises Greece’s Sovereign Bond Rating After Bailout (AFP)

Credit ratings agency Moody’s late Friday raised Greece’s long-term issuer rating to “Caa2” from “Caa3” after eurozone governments extended a credit lifeline to the country. Moody’s also changed its outlook to “positive”, up from “stable” previously, saying it saw signs that the heavily indebted country’s economy was stabilising. It pointed to a mid-June agreement reached by Greece’s creditors to relaunch an aid plan to the country, which had been blocked for months due to disagreements between eurozone countries – especially Germany – and the IMF. The move reduces the spectre of a short-term crisis, after eurozone governments agreed to give Greece a new credit lifeline of some €8.5 billion ($9.5 billion). Moody’s said it expected Greece’s debt ratio to stabilise this year at 179% of GDP, adding that growth should return to the economy this year and next.

Greece returned to growth in the first quarter of 2017, with a 0.4% increase in GDP, according to figures revised upwards in early June. “It is too early to conclude that economic growth will be durable,” Moody’s said. The IMF, which links financial aid to debt relief, has also signed an “agreement in principle” to allow immediate assistance that avoids a payment crisis in Athens this summer. It said Thursday that negotiations with creditors for debt reduction had “made progress”. “If we did not think there was a good chance of reaching a debt deal, we would not have chosen that route,” an IMF spokesman said. Moody’s also raised the long-term country ceilings for foreign-currency and local-currency bonds to B3 from Caa2.

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Another kernel of truth that proves writing articles is not that easy.

Greece, A Guinea Pig For A Cashless And Controlled Society (MPN)

The IMF, which day after day is busy “saving” economically suffering countries such as Greece, also happens to agree with this brave new worldview. In a working paper titled “The Macroeconomics of De-Cashing,” which the IMF claims does not necessarily represent its official views, the fund nevertheless provides a blueprint with which governments around the world could begin to phase out cash. This process would commence with “initial and largely uncontested steps” (such as the phasing out of large-denomination bills or the placement of upper limits on cash transactions). This process would then be furthered largely by the private sector, providing cashless payment options for people’s “convenience,” rather than risk popular objections to policy-led decashing.

The IMF, which certainly has a sterling track record of sticking up for the poor and vulnerable in society, comforts us by saying that these policies should be implemented in ways that would augment “economic and social benefits.” These suggestions, which of course the IMF does not necessarily officially agree with, have already begun to be implemented to a significant extent in the IMF debt colony known officially as Greece, where the IMF has been implementing “socially fair and just” austerity policies since 2010, which have resulted, during this period, in a GDP decline of over 25%, unemployment levels exceeding 28%, repeated cuts to what are now poverty-level salaries and pensions, and a “brain drain” of over 500,000 people—largely young and university-educated—migrating out of Greece.

Indeed, it could be said that Greece is being used as a guinea pig not just for a grand neoliberal experiment in both austerity, but de-cashing as well. The examples are many, and they have found fertile ground in a country whose populace remains shell-shocked by eight years of economic depression. A new law that came into effect on January 1 incentivizes going cashless by setting a minimum threshold of spending at least 10% of one’s income via credit, debit, or prepaid card in order to attain a somewhat higher tax-free threshold. Beginning July 27, dozens of categories of businesses in Greece will be required to install aptly-acronymized “POS” (point-of-sale) card readers and to accept payments by card.

usinesses are also required to post a notice, typically by the entrance or point of sale, stating whether card payments are accepted or not. Another new piece of legislation, in effect as of June 1, requires salaries to be paid via direct electronic transfers to bank accounts. Furthermore, cash transactions of over €500 have been outlawed. In Greece, where in the eyes of the state citizens are guilty even if proven innocent, capital controls have been implemented preventing ATM cash withdrawals of over €840 every two weeks. These capital controls, in varying forms, have been in place for two years with no end in sight, choking small businesses that are already suffering.

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Inevitable. Chemists go where they smell money.

Monsanto And Bayer Are Maneuvering To Take Over The Cannabis Industry (WT)

You may remember hearing back in September that Bayer, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, made a deal to buy out Monsanto for $66 billion. Although Monsanto was voted the most evil company in the world in 2013 and its reputation has continued to fall since, Bayer still went ahead with the buyout. A merger between these two companies is unsurprising, as though they both have long histories of involvement with Nazism and chemical weapons like agent orange which have devastated Vietnam since the war. In fact, Bayer began as a break-off company of the infamous IG Farben, which produced the chemical weapons used on the Jews during the Nazi reign. After the war, Farben was forced to break up into several companies, including BASF, Hoeschst, and Bayer.

Soon after at the Nuremberg trials, 24 Farben executives were sent to prison for crimes against humanity. However, in a matter of just 7 years each of them was released and began filling high positions in each of the former Farben companies, and many of them began working for the Russian, British, and American governments through a joint intelligence venture called “Operation Paperclip”: (“IG (Interessengemeinschaft) stands for “Association of Common Interests”: The IG Farben cartel included BASF, Bayer, Hoechst, and other German chemical and pharmaceutical companies. As documents show, IG Farben was intimately involved with the human experimental atrocities committed by Mengele at Auschwitz. A German watchdog organization, the GBG Network, maintains copious documents and tracks Bayer Pharmaceutical activities.” – Alliance for Human Research Protection)

After all these years, Bayer is now richer and more powerful than their predecessor company I.G. Farben ever was. According to Big Buds Magazine, Monsanto and Scotts Miracle-Gro have a “deep business partnership” and plan on taking over the cannabis industry. Hawthorne, a front group for Scotts, has already purchased three of the major cannabis growing companies: General Hydroponics, Botanicare, and Gavita. Many other hydroponics companies have also reported attempted buyouts by Hawthorne. (“They want to bypass hydroponics retail stores…When we said we won’t get in bed with them they said, ‘Well, we could just buy your whole company like we did with Gavita and do whatever we want.’” – Hydroponics Lighting Representative) Jim Hagedorn, CEO of Scotts Miracle-Gro, has even said that he plans to “invest, like, half a billion in [taking over] the pot business… It is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen in lawn and garden.”

He has also invested in companies such as Leaf, which grows cannabis in an electronically regulated indoor terrarium accessible via smartphone. It is logical that Bayer, being the parent company, would work together with Monsanto in order to share secrets which would advance mutual business. Many people in the cannabis industry have been warning about this, including Michael Straumietis, founder and owner of Advanced Nutrients. (“Monsanto and Bayer share information about genetically modifying crops,” Straumietis notes. “Bayer partners with GW Pharmaceuticals, which grows its own proprietary marijuana genetics. It’s logical to conclude that Monsanto and Bayer want to create GMO marijuana.” – Michael Straumietis)

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Sep 282016
 
 September 28, 2016  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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DPC Heart of Chinatown, San Francisco, after earthquake and fire 1906

Small Army Of Fed Speakers, OPEC On Tap For Wednesday (CNBC)
“Negative Growth” of Real Wages is Normal for Much of the Workforce (WS)
Grocery Prices Are Plunging (BBG)
EU Banking Mayhem, One Bank at a Time, then All at Once (WS)
Deutsche Bank Troubles Cast Long Shadow Over European Banking (BBG)
IMF Warns Central Banks Could Lose Deflation Fight (AFP)
A Legal Barrier to Higher US Interest Rates (WSJ)
Global Container Volume on Track for Worst Year Since 2009 (WSJ)
Wells Fargo Executives Forfeit Millions, CEO To Forgo Salary (G.)
Worries Grow Over Greek Economic Forecast (WSJ)
Germany’s Hypocrisy Over Greece Water Privatisation (G.)
China Wants GMOs. The Chinese People Don’t. (BBG)
Single Clothes Wash May Release 700,000 Microplastic Fibres (G.)

 

 

And the MH17 report that lost all credibility long ago. Got to keep the customer entertained.

Small Army Of Fed Speakers, OPEC On Tap For Wednesday (CNBC)

A flurry of Fed speakers, including the Fed chair, will keep markets busy Wednesday. There are also mortgage applications at 7 a.m. EDT, durable goods data at 8:30 a.m. EDT and oil inventory data at 10:30 a.m. EDT. OPEC, meanwhile, is meeting in Algeria and could continue to create volatility in oil prices after headlines from there triggered a near 3% plunge Tuesday. Fed Chair Janet Yellen appears before the House Financial Services Committee at 10 a.m. on supervision and regulation. The Fed chair was personally criticized in the presidential debate Monday night by GOP candidate Donald Trump, who said the Fed’s decision to keep rates low was political and that it’s creating a bubble in the stock market.

“It has to worry the markets that potentially you could have a president getting into a nasty dispute with the chairman of the Fed in early 2017. That’s something the market would not like to see. I think the Fed has not done a very good job communicating. It’s a cacophony of confusing comments. There’s reason to criticize the Fed, but the personal attack on Yellen is unprecedented,” said Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments. Traders are watching to see if Yellen is in the political hot seat on banking regulation and supervision when she appears before the committee.

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One side of US deflation is falling wages…

“Negative Growth” of Real Wages is Normal for Much of the Workforce (WS)

The chart below shows the%age change of real wages (left, y-axis) as these men aged (horizontal, x-axis). As young adults, their wages soared by up to 10% a year. Then the rate of growth fell off sharply. When the men in this cohort turned 40 in the 1990s, wage growth disappeared. By around the year 2000, the real wage peak in the US, when the oldest men in this cohort turned 50, wages had begun to decline for most of them. By the time these men were in the mid-50s, their wages across the board were heading south – and for many of them, rapidly. Hence this colorful, drooping spaghetti:

This “negative real wage growth” – devastating as it may be for those experiencing it – is nothing special, according to the New York Fed. And it crushes not just white men, but everyone: “Real wages tend to rise early in a worker’s career, flatten out mid-career, and then decline as the worker approaches retirement. This inverted U-shape pattern is a well-established feature in the labor economics literature.” The report explained it further: “Labor economists explain the rapid real wage growth early in a worker’s career as a combination of on-the-job learning and better matching of workers to jobs. A large portion is due to job matching as workers change jobs in search of a position that better utilizes their skills. As workers age, the decline in the pace of their real wage growth reflects a diminished incentive to invest in new skills (because their remaining work life is shorter) and fewer job changes (because they have found a good job match).”

The report divides life for its purposes into three phases, terms of wage growth: • Fast growth, up to age 40, • Flat growth, ages 41-54, • “Negative growth,” age 55 and older. Now there’s another problem mucking up the overall and ever-elusive real-wage growth miracle everyone has been counting on: demographics. The US population is aging. There are more people aged 40 and over in the workforce, and their incomes are now flat or declining. The portion of the population in the first phase when wages are growing fast has plunged from close to 60% in the 1980s to the mid-40% range currently. And the portion of workers with wages in the “negative growth” phase has ballooned. Given the demographics, real wage declines among workers over 50 will continue to hammer the national averages.

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…and when wages are falling, so must prices.

Grocery Prices Are Plunging (BBG)

Call it the Great Grocery-Store Giveaway of 2016. In Austin, Texas, Randalls slashed prices for boneless beef ribs by 40%, to $3.99 a pound. Not to be outdone, the H-E-B grocer down the street charged $1 a pound less. Not long ago, Albertsons advertised a deal you don’t normally see on your finer cuts of meat: “buy 1 get 1 free” specials on “USDA Choice Petite Sirloin Steak.” And what does $1 buy these days? In North Bergen, New Jersey, you could pick up a dozen eggs at Wal-Mart. OK, the price was actually $1.14. A mile away, check out Aldi, the German supermarket discounter, which can actually break the buck – 12 eggs for 99 cents. A year ago, you would have paid, on average, three times that price.

In a startling development, almost unheard of outside a recession, food prices have fallen for nine straight months in the U.S. It’s the longest streak of food deflation since 1960 – with the exception of 2009, when the financial crisis was winding down. Analysts credit low oil and grain prices, as well as cutthroat competition from discounters. Consumers are winning out; grocery chains, not so much. Their margins and, in some cases, their stock prices, are taking a hit. Eggs and beef have have grown especially inexpensive, and it isn’t only an American phenomenon: In England, Aldi recently offered its prized 8-ounce wagyu steaks from New Zealand for about $6.50 – a little more than the price of a pint of beer. “The severity of what we’re seeing is completely unprecedented,” said Scott Mushkin at Wolfe Research, who has studied grocery prices around the country for more than ten years. “We’ve never seen deflation this sharp.”

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“The can has been kicked down the road for years. Now negative interest rates appear to have inadvertently crushed the can.”

EU Banking Mayhem, One Bank at a Time, then All at Once (WS)

Here are the 29 banks in the ESTX Banks Index of Eurozone banks (so Swiss and UK banks, for example are not included). It shows the percentage drop from their 52-week high. But for some of these banks, particularly for Italian and Portuguese banks, that 52-week high was just about last year’s 52-week low, so relentless has their decline been over the years. Some of them had already been reduced to penny stocks years ago, and for them, in euro terms, the biggest losses occurred back then. So these mayhem banks, color coded by country:

If a bank stock plunges from €0.04 to €0.01 over the 52-week period, such as Banco Comercial Português in Portugal, it has been toast for longer than 52 weeks, and the percentage plunge is essentially meaningless because shares were worthless to begin with. The shares of five of these banks trade under €1. Another 8 banks trade under €3. These 29 banks form a big part of the European financial system. It includes some of the world’s largest banks, such as Deutsche Bank, Societe Generale, and BNP Paribas. It includes a slew of other “systemically important financial institutions,” such as Unicredit, ING, and Santander. They’re troubled at the same time. The can has been kicked down the road for years. Now negative interest rates appear to have inadvertently crushed the can.

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Deutsche won’t go alone. Just like saving only Deutsche is far from enough. The dominoes suppart each other.

Deutsche Bank Troubles Cast Long Shadow Over European Banking (BBG)

The turmoil swirling around Deutsche Bank has brought simmering concerns about the health of Europe’s banks back to a boil. Germany’s largest lender extended losses to a record low this week, dragging down European financial stocks, after the U.S. Department of Justice requested $14 billion to settle claims tied to fraudulent mortgage-backed securities. While the bank said it won’t pay anywhere close to that amount, the dust-up fueled doubts over its capital levels and refocused investors on the industry’s faults. “One word – Deutsche,” David Moss at BMO Global Asset Management in London, said when asked to sum up the recent slump in European banks. “That’s the biggest thing – it’s reignited the risk around regulation, fines and litigation.”

Dismissing concern about the bank’s finances, Chief Executive Officer John Cryan told Bild in an interview published late Tuesday that capital “is currently not an issue,” and accepting government support is “out of the question for us.” Deutsche Bank has tumbled almost 20% this month, while Royal Bank of Scotland – which also faces a looming Justice Department fine – fell 13%, and Italy’s UniCredit slumped 12%. The Bloomberg Europe 500 Banks and Financial Services Index has declined 4.2% in September, making it the worst month since June, when Britain’s vote to exit the European Union roiled markets and sent bank shares plunging.

[..] European banks are grappling with tougher regulatory requirements, sputtering economic growth and negative interest rates, which squeeze lending margins and crimp investment returns. In Italy, where banks are burdened with some €360 billion of soured loans, UniCredit is working on a plan to boost capital that may include asset sales and a stock offering, according to people familiar with the matter. In Germany, Commerzbank scaled back its full-year profit goals and may announce thousands of job cuts this week,

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They already have.

IMF Warns Central Banks Could Lose Deflation Fight (AFP)

The IMF warned Tuesday that central banks are struggling to beat back deflationary forces and that governments need to spend to help them succeed. In a new assessment of global economic conditions, the IMF said many countries worldwide are battling disinflation – low and slowing inflation – due to weak global economic growth.If central banks around the world cannot halt this stall, and if companies and people increasingly believe they can’t halt it, their economies risk sinking into a deflationary spiral – where prices generally start to fall and companies and consumers hold back spending and investment, stalling the economy. In this case, “countries can’t afford to be complacent,” the Fund warned. The report said deflationary pressures in many countries are coming from abroad, in the form of sinking prices of both commodities and manufactured goods.

“The breadth of the decline in inflation across countries and the fact that it is stronger in the tradable goods sectors underscore the global nature of disinflationary forces,” the IMF said. Weak inflation challenges central banks’ ability to use monetary policy to stimulate demand, the IMF notes, because interest rates are likely to already be very low, giving them little room to cut further. That has been the case with top central banks including the Fed, the ECB and the BOJ, with the latter two already having taken some interest rates negative. “Eventually, ‘persistent’ disinflation can lead to costly deflationary cycles – as we have seen in Japan – where weak demand and deflation reinforce each other, and end up increasing debt burdens and hindering economic activity and job creation.”

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How to politicize the Fed?!

A Legal Barrier to Higher US Interest Rates (WSJ)

Defending the Fed’s recent decision to put off raising interest rates again, Fed Chair Janet Yellen told reporters last week that she and other Fed governors wanted “to see some continued progress” before taking that step. Politics, she insisted, had nothing to do with it. What Ms. Yellen didn’t say is that the Fed couldn’t raise its rates without breaking the law. Since when are Fed rate increases illegal? Since the 2007-08 subprime meltdown and financial disaster, actually. Until then the Fed could set any target it liked for the federal-funds rate—the interest rate banks pay for overnight loans of cash reserves. To keep the fed-funds rate from rising above target, the Fed pumped more reserves into the banking system. To keep it from dropping below, it took reserves away.

But after Lehman Brothers failed in 2008, the Fed’s efforts to keep the fed-funds rate from dropping below its target proved futile. To set a floor on how far the rate could go, the Fed started paying interest on banks’ reserve balances with the Fed, taking advantage of the 2006 Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act giving it permission to do so. Alas, it didn’t work. Government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks, which also kept deposit balances at the Fed but weren’t eligible for interest on reserves (IOR), started making overnight loans to banks at rates below the IOR rate. In effect, this turned what the Fed hoped would be a floor on the fed-funds rate into a ceiling. To raise rates now, the Fed increases the rate on reserves.

So what’s to keep the Fed from raising rates this way again? The 2006 Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act is what. For that law only allows the central bank to pay interest on reserves “at a rate or rates not to exceed the general level of short-term interest rates.” The rub is that the Fed’s IOR rate of 50 basis points (0.5%) already exceeds the closest comparable market rates: those on shorter-term Treasury bills. At the start of this month, the four-week T-bill rate was just 26 basis points; since then it has slid even lower, all the way down to 10 basis points. Judging by these numbers, the Fed is already flouting the law. Another hike would mean flouting it all the more flagrantly. Lawmakers will be duty-bound to object. The law can only be stretched so far. Unless “general short-term rates” rise markedly, Congress can be expected to question the legality of any Fed rate increase. If it comes to that, Ms. Yellen will find it very hard to dissemble her way out of it.

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2016 will be known as the good old days.

Global Container Volume on Track for Worst Year Since 2009 (WSJ)

Global container volumes are on track for zero growth this year, which would mark the sector’s worst performance since the 2009 economic crisis and a sure catalyst for further bankruptcies and possible acquisitions in the beleaguered shipping industry, shipping executives said. Freight rates, the predominant source of income for shipping companies, fell 20% in the benchmark Asia to Europe trade route this week compared with last week to $767 per container. Rates have mostly stayed well below $1,000 since the start of the year and operators say anything below $1,400 is unsustainable. They aren’t expected to turn around soon.

China’s Golden Week holiday starts at the beginning of October, marking the slow season for operators as many Chinese factories cut production levels after an output frenzy in the summer months when western importers stack up products for the year-end holidays. “The industry faces its worst year since the Lehman Brothers collapse,” said Jonathan Roach, an analyst at London based Braemar ACM. “Demand is around zero and any moves to increase freight rates will likely fail.” Hanjin, South Korea’s biggest operator and the world’s seventh largest in terms of capacity, filed for bankruptcy protection last month and is under court order to sell its own ships and returning chartered ships to their owners. Container operators, which move everything from clothes and shoes to electronics and furniture, are burdened by 30% more capacity in the water than demand.

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And they’ll keep their jobs?

Wells Fargo Executives Forfeit Millions, CEO To Forgo Salary (G.)

Wells Fargo executives will forfeit millions of dollars in the wake of revelations that the bank’s sales quotas led to the creation of more than 2m unauthorized accounts. The bank’s chief executive John Stumpf will forgo his salary for the coming months as independent directors launch a new investigation into Wells Fargo’s retail banking and sales practices. Last year, Stumpf made about $19.3m. Stumpf will also forfeit unvested equity awards worth about $41m. Carrie Tolstedt, who oversaw the retail banking at Wells Fargo while the unauthorized accounts were opened, was slated to receive as much as $124.6m after retiring this summer, according to Fortune. The bank said on Tuesday that she would not receive an undisclosed severance and would forfeit about $19m in unvested awards.

Less than three weeks ago, Wells Fargo announced that it had agreed to pay $185m in penalties after an audit found that its employees opened as many as 1.5m deposit accounts and 565,000 credit card accounts without customers’ consent. The accounts were opened by the bank’s staff in hopes of meeting their monthly sales quota and earning their incentive bonuses. Wells Fargo workers have tried to draw attention to the “unreasonable” quotas before – some even staged a protest in front of the bank’s headquarters last year. When Stumpf testified in front of the US Senate last week, he drew ire from US lawmakers. Many of them called for the bank to recoup pay from Stumpf and Tolstedt and hold them accountable.

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The EU has made Greek recovery impossible. Spending power has been murdered, and a whole generation of younger people is 50-60% long-term unemployed. It makes no difference what anyone forecasts.

Worries Grow Over Greek Economic Forecast (WSJ)

Greece’s economic recovery is proving elusive, challenging the forecasts of the country’s government and foreign creditors still counting on growth reviving this year. The IMF said last week that the economy is stagnating, in the first admission from creditors that Greece’s recovery is off track again. Growth will only restart next year, the head of the IMF’s team in Greece said on a conference call with reporters, without offering details. Of particular concern is that exports, which are supposed to lead Greece out of trouble, are on a slow downward trajectory, hampered by capital controls, taxes and a lack of credit. “There is no chance we will see a rebound unless we see some bold political decisions that would introduce a more stable business environment,” said Dimitris Tsakonitis, general manager at mining company Grecian Magnesite.

The bailout agreement between Greece and its German-led creditors assumes rapid growth from late 2016 onward, including an official forecast of 2.7% growth in 2017. Private-sector economists believe next year’s growth could be closer to 0.6%. Weaker growth would undermine the budget, likely leading to fresh arguments with lenders about extra austerity measures. Greece is still grappling with the measures it has already agreed to. Late on Tuesday the country’s parliament approved pension overhauls and other policy changes that have been delayed for months, holding up bailout funding.

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Good to note. Berlin buys back its water, and forces Athens to sell it. “It’s not any more a democracy or equality in the EU. It’s a kind of business..”

No society should ever agree to sell its basic needs to foreigners. Leaders who do that anyway should be fired.

Germany’s Hypocrisy Over Greece Water Privatisation (G.)

Greek activists are warning that the privatisation of state water companies would be a backward step for the country. Under the terms of the bailout agreement approved by the Greek parliament today, Greece has pledged to support an existing programme of privatisation, which includes large chunks of the water utilities of Greece’s two largest cities – Athens and Thessaloniki. There is ongoing debate about water privatisation and the role of business. Across Europe a wave of austerity-driven privatisation proposals has led to protests in Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain. At the same time, some of northern Europe’s largest cities, including Paris and Berlin, are buying back utilities they sold just last decade.

President of the Thessaloniki water company trade union George Argovtopoulos said a move to a for-profit model would raise prices for consumers and degrade services. “It’s not any more a democracy or equality in the EU. It’s a kind of business,” he said, adding that austerity measures that require water privatisation smacked of a “do as I say, but not as I do” approach from Germany. “We know that in Berlin, just two years ago they remunicipalised the water there, although they paid just under €600m to Veolia [to buy back its stake]. It’s clear that the model of privatisation of water has failed all around the world,” he said. The German finance ministry refused to comment ahead of a Eurogroup meeting in Brussels on Friday where the third bailout deal looked set to be signed.

[..] Austerity-led changes to water supply have been fiercely resisted across Europe’s most indebted countries. In Dublin this year, huge protests erupted over plans to directly charge water users who previously paid for water through their taxes. This was seen as a first step towards selling off Ireland’s water supply. A water privatisation push by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was crushed by a 95% referendum vote in 2011. A similar referendum in Thessaloniki last year delivered a 98% vote against. A 2014 report by the Transnational Institute’s Satoko Kishimoto found that across the world 180 cities had bought back (or remunicipalised) their water supply. She said this was a response to almost universally higher water prices and the loss of control over a fundamental resource.

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Another author claiming that “..the scientific consensus within and outside of China is that GMOs are safe..”

China Wants GMOs. The Chinese People Don’t. (BBG)

The latest food safety scandal in China might be its most damaging. Earlier this week, a former doctoral student at one of the country’s national testing centers for genetically modified organisms went public with allegations of scientific fraud, including claims that records were doctored extensively, that unqualified personnel were employed under illegal contracts and – most seriously – that authorities refused to take action when his concerns were aired privately. On Wednesday, China’s Ministry of Agriculture responded to a social media storm by suspending operations at the center. That might take care of the current scandal, but the Chinese public’s hostility toward GMOs won’t go away so easily.

Those concerns have only grown over the past decade as the government has increased its support of GMOs, including approval of the state-owned ChinaChem Group’s $43 billion takeover offer for the Swiss seed giant Syngenta. These efforts have galvanized a very public opposition that transcends China’s typical political fault lines, and created one of the government’s most intractable headaches. Feeding China’s huge population has never been easy. But over the last three decades, the challenges have become considerably greater as urbanization devoured farmland, and pollution made even more of it unusable. Today, the government is faced with the task of feeding 21% of the world’s population with 9% of its arable land. Its reliance on foreign goods has made China the world leader in imports since 2011.

Officials now fear the country could become dependent on foreigners for its food supply and the government remains committed to maintaining self-sufficiency in rice, wheat, and other key grains. As a result, the political pressure to increase yields is considerable. In fact, this pressure is centuries-old. Domesticated rice first appeared in the Yangtze River Valley at least 8,000 years ago, and Chinese farmers and scientists have been innovating ever since. In 1992, China became the first country to introduce a GMO crop into commercial production, when it sowed a virus-resistant tobacco plant on 100 acres. Since then, the government has issued safety certificates for a wide range of GMO crops, ranging from chili peppers to petunias. Yet, so far at least, only cotton has gone into wide cultivation. Other GMOs – especially rice, a staple of the Chinese diet – are still awaiting approval to be domestically cultivated.

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The blessings of plastic.

Single Clothes Wash May Release 700,000 Microplastic Fibres (G.)

Each cycle of a washing machine could release more than 700,000 microscopic plastic fibres into the environment, according to a study. A team at Plymouth University in the UK spent 12 months analysing what happened when a number of synthetic materials were washed at different temperatures in domestic washing machines, using different combinations of detergents, to quantify the microfibres shed. They found that acrylic was the worst offender, releasing nearly 730,000 tiny synthetic particles per wash, five times more than polyester-cotton blend fabric, and nearly 1.5 times as many as polyester. “Different types of fabrics can have very different levels of emissions,” said Richard Thompson, professor of marine biology at Plymouth University, who conducted the investigation with a PhD student, Imogen Napper.

“We need to understand why is it that some types of [fabric] are releasing substantially more fibres [ than others].” These microfibres track through domestic wastewater into sewage treatment plants where some of the tiny plastic fragments are captured as part of sewage sludge. The rest pass through into rivers and eventually, oceans. A paper published in 2011 found that microfibres made up 85% of human-made debris on shorelines around the world. The impact of microplastic pollution is not fully understood but studies have suggested that it has the potential to poison the food chain, build up in animals’ digestive tracts, reduce the ability of some organisms to absorb energy from foods in the normal way and even to change the behaviour of crabs.

Read more …

May 062016
 
 May 6, 2016  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »
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NPC Sidney Lust Leader Theater, Washington, DC 1920

Asian Stocks Sink to Four-Week Low as Yen, Dollar Gain (BBG)
Broker CLSA Sees China Bad-Loan Epidemic With $1 Trillion of Losses (BBG)
China Regulator Tries Again To Rein In Banks’ Shadow Assets (WSJ)
China Produces Most Steel Ever After Price Surge (BBG)
Wages’ Share of US GDP Has Fallen for 46 Years (CH Smith)
Deutsche Chief Economist: ECB Should Change Course Before It Is Too Late (FT)
UK Economic Recovery Is ‘On Its Knees’ (Ind.)
The Book That Will Save Banking From Itself (Michael Lewis)
Shift In Saudi Oil Thinking Deepens OPEC Split (R.)
US Crude Stockpiles Seen Rising Further to Record (BBG)
Fort McMurray Fires Knock One Million Barrels Offline (FP)
Canada’s Wildfires Grow Tenfold In Size (G.)
Turkish Power Struggle Threatens EU Migrant Deal (FT)
Merkel Warns Of Return To Nationalism Unless EU Protects Borders (AFP)
Quarter Of Child Refugees Arriving In EU Travelled Without Parents (G.)

The last steps up for the yen?

Asian Stocks Sink to Four-Week Low as Yen, Dollar Gain (BBG)

Global stocks dropped, set for the biggest weekly loss since February, and the yen rose before key American jobs data that will help shape the U.S. interest-rate outlook. Australia’s currency slumped and its bonds surged after the nation’s central bank lowered its inflation forecast. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index and the MSCI Asia Pacific Index both lost ground, as did S&P 500 futures. Shanghai shares tumbled the most since February as raw-materials prices sank in China. The yen rose against all 16 major peers. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index gained for a fourth day, buoyed by comments from Federal Reserve officials that a June rate hike is possible. U.S. crude oil sank below $44 a barrel and industrial metals were poised for their biggest weekly loss since 2013. Australia’s three-year bond yield fell to a record.

A retreat in global equities gathered pace in the first week of May as data highlighted the fragile state of the world economy. The Reserve Bank of Australia joined the European Union in trimming inflation projections this week, after the Bank of Japan on April 28 pushed back the target date for meeting its 2% goal for consumer-price gains. Economists predict U.S. non-farm payrolls rose by 200,000 last month, a Bloomberg survey showed before Friday’s report. “With the U.S. jobs report coming up, investors are holding back,” said Masahiro Ichikawa at Sumitomo Mitsui in Tokyo. “They’re watching the yen very closely.” Four regional Fed presidents said Thursday they were open to considering an interest-rate increase in June, something that’s been almost ruled out by derivatives traders. Fed Funds futures put the odds of a hike next month at around 10%, down from 20% a month ago.

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Losses in shadow banks are consistently underestimated.

Broker CLSA Sees China Bad-Loan Epidemic With $1 Trillion of Losses (BBG)

Chinese banks’ bad loans are at least nine times bigger than official numbers indicate, an “epidemic” that points to potential losses of more than $1 trillion, according to an assessment by brokerage CLSA Ltd. Nonperforming loans stood at 15% to 19% of outstanding credit last year, Francis Cheung, the firm’s head of China and Hong Kong strategy, said in Hong Kong on Friday. That compares with the official 1.67%. Potential losses could range from 6.9 trillion yuan ($1.1 trillion) to 9.1 trillion yuan, according to a report by the brokerage. The estimates are based on public data on listed companies’ debt-servicing abilities and make assumptions about potential recovery rates for bad loans. Cheung’s assessment adds to warnings from hedge-fund manager Kyle Bass, Autonomous Research analyst Charlene Chu and the IMF on China’s likely levels of troubled credit.

The IMF said last month that the nation may have $1.3 trillion of risky loans, with potential losses equivalent to 7% of GDP. CLSA estimates bad credit in shadow banking – a category including banks’ off-balance-sheet lending such as entrusted loans and trust loans – could amount to 4.6 trillion yuan and yield a loss of 2.8 trillion yuan. CLSA cites a diminishing economic return on stimulus pumped into the economy as among the reasons for a worsening outlook, with Cheung saying at a briefing that bad loans had the potential to rise to 20% to 25%. “China’s banking system has reached a point where it needs a comprehensive solution for the bad-debt problem, but there is no plan yet,” he said in the report.

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Beijing can’t regulate shadow banking, since it let it grow far too big, but it can try to pick favorites. It’s relevant to ask who has the power in China these days. Local governments are neck deep in shadow loans, and Xi can’t afford, politically, to let them go bust. But can he afford to support them, financially?

China Regulator Tries Again To Rein In Banks’ Shadow Assets (WSJ)

In the pursuit of order in its financial markets, China’s banking regulator has tended to be one step behind in keeping up with a decade-long dalliance between commercial banks and the country’s non-bank lenders, called the shadow banking sector. Its latest directive suggests the government might finally be trying to get ahead. Bankers and analysts say the China Banking Regulatory Commission issued a notice to commercial lenders last week, taking aim at a shadow-banking product that has allowed banks to hide loans, including bad ones, from their books. The watchdog has tried cracking down on similar arrangements in the past. But this time, it appears to have taken a more nuanced approach in order to more effectively get at banks that originate the loans underlying these products.

In its crosshairs is a relatively obscure instrument called credit beneficiary rights, a product that is derived from shadow-banking deals and can then be sold between banks. The CBRC’s new directive in part takes aim at this practice by calling for banks to stop investing in credit beneficiary rights using funds raised from their own wealth management products. In China, shadow banks’ dexterity and relentlessness at product innovation have regularly pushed them right to the edge of what their regulators can tolerate. The CBRC directive, known as Notice No. 82, is the latest in a cat-and-mouse game that banks have played with regulators for years. Beneficiary rights are themselves an innovation to circumvent a CBRC clampdown in 2013 and 2014 on banks directly buying trust products in a similar arrangement to disguise loans, and then developing a lively interbank market for these rights transfers.

There have been regulatory interventions on variations of the practice every year since 2009. The commission hasn’t publicly released the directive. Analysts say the regulator is likely now huddled with banks to gauge how hard they will push back and how thoroughly the regulator can implement the requirements. Beneficiary rights confer on the buyer the right to a stream of income without ceding actual ownership of the underlying asset. That asset is often a corporate loan, which may or may not have already soured, though it could also be anything that generates an income stream, such as a trust, a wealth management product or a margin financing deal.

When one bank sells credit beneficiary rights to another, the transaction allows the first bank to use the accounting change to turn the underlying loan on its books into an “investment receivable.” The rules require banks to set aside about 25% of the receivable’s value in capital provisions, compared with 100% had it been a loan. The deals get more complex as layers are added to further disguise the loan. Banks will have third-party shadow financiers extend the actual loan to the company, in exchange for the bank’s purchase of beneficiary rights to the loan’s income stream.

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And where would you think steel prices are going?

China Produces Most Steel Ever After Price Surge (BBG)

China, maker of half the world’s steel, probably boosted production to a record in April as mills fired up furnaces and domestic prices surged to 19-month highs, according to Sanford C. Bernstein. Average daily output may have eclipsed the previous high of about 2.31 million metric tons in June 2014, said Paul Gait, a senior analyst in London. Producers ramped up supply as demand rebounded and prices jumped as much as 69% from their November low, generating the best margins since 2009.

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1970 is a reasonable guess for peak of prosperity. It’s not the only one, but it’s right up there.

Wages’ Share of US GDP Has Fallen for 46 Years (CH Smith)

The majority of American households feel poorer because they are poorer. Real (i.e. adjusted for inflation) median household income has declined for decades, and income gains are concentrated in the top 5%:

Even more devastating, wages’ share of GDP has been declining (with brief interruptions during asset bubbles) for 46 years. That means that as GDP has expanded, the gains have flowed to corporate and owners’ profits and to the state, which is delighted to collect higher taxes at every level of government, from property taxes to income taxes.

Here’s a look at GDP per capita (per person) and median household income. Typically, if GDP per capita is rising, some of that flows to household incomes. In the 1990s boom, both GDP per capita and household income rose together. Since then, GDP per capita has marched higher while household income has declined. Household income saw a slight rise in the housing bubble, but has since collapsed in the “recovery” since 2009.

These are non-trivial trends. What these charts show is the share of the GDP going to wages/salaries is in a long-term decline: gains in GDP are flowing not to wage-earners but to shareholders and owners, and through their higher taxes, to the government. The top 5% of wage earners has garnered virtually all the gains in income. The sums are non-trivial as well. America’s GDP in 2015 was about $18 trillion. Wages’ share -about 42.5%- is $7.65 trillion. If wage’s share was 50%, as it was in the early 1970s, its share would be $9 trillion. That’s $1.35 trillion more that would be flowing to wage earners. That works out to $13,500 per household for 100 million households.

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When you start with statements like this, what’s left to talk about? “The Bundesbank and Federal Reserve, for example, are respected for achieving monetary stability..”

Deutsche Chief Economist: ECB Should Change Course Before It Is Too Late (FT)

Over the past century central banks have become the guardians of our economic and financial security. The Bundesbank and Federal Reserve, for example, are respected for achieving monetary stability, often in the face of political opposition. But central bankers can also lose the plot, usually by following the economic dogma of the day. When they do, their mistakes can be catastrophic. In the 1920s the German Reichsbank thought it a clever idea to have 2,000 printing presses running day and night to finance government spending. Hyperinflation was the result. Around the same time, the Federal Reserve stood by as more than a third of US bank deposits were destroyed, in the belief that banking crises were self-correcting. The Great Depression followed. Today the behaviour of the ECB suggests that it too has gone awry.

When reducing interest rates to historically low levels did not stimulate growth and inflation, the ECB embarked on a massive programme of purchasing eurozone sovereign debt. But the sellers did not spend or invest the proceeds. Instead, they placed the money on deposit. So the ECB went to the logical extreme: it imposed negative interest rates. Currently almost half of eurozone sovereign debt is trading with a negative yield. If this fails to stimulate growth and inflation, “helicopter money” will be next on the agenda. Future students of monetary policy will shake their heads in disbelief. What is more, as purchaser-of-last-resort of sovereign debt, the ECB is underwriting the solvency of its over-indebted members. Countries no longer fear that failure to reform their economies or reduce debt will raise the cost of borrowing.

Six years after the onset of the European debt crisis, total indebtedness in the eurozone keeps on rising. Badly needed reforms have been abandoned. As a result the eurozone is as fragile as ever. Safe keepers of our wealth, such as insurance companies, pension funds and savings banks barely earn a positive spread. Inflation is just above zero, well below the ECB’s defined target. And with growth anaemic, debt levels in some countries, such as Italy, are not sustainable. Worse still, the ECB is failing in its other mandated duty – to promote stability. Popular opposition to low and negative interest rates, when combined with continuing high unemployment, is fomenting anger with the European project. Even if current policy eventually results in an overdue recovery, political pressure is unlikely to abate.

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It’s like one of those oracle-type questions: ‘how can something be on its knees that doesn’t exist’?

UK Economic Recovery Is ‘On Its Knees’ (Ind.)

The latest survey of the UK’s dominant services sector has today rounded off a dismal hat-trick of disappointment for the British economy. The Markit/CIPs PMI Index for April came in at 52.3. That’s above the 50 point that separates contraction from growth. But it’s also the weakest reading since February 2013, when the economy’s recovery was just starting. And it follows two pretty desperate readings this week from the equivalent PMIs for the manufacturing and construction sectors, which both showed the feeblest levels of activity in around three years. Put all these three readings together and one gets the “composite” PMI which can be used to roughly approximate to GDP growth in the overall economy. And combine these two metrics in the chart below (from Pantheon Macroeconomics) and you get this grim picture:

The blue line (left hand scale) shows the level of the composite PMI. The black line (right hand scale) shows the % quarterly rate of GDP growth. They track reasonably well over time. And the decline in the composite reading suggests GDP growth, which weakened to 0.4% in the first quarter of 2016, could be heading down to zero in the second quarter. What’s going on? Samuel Tombs of Pantheon says business and consumer jitters emanating from uncertainty about the outcome of the Brexit referendum has “brought the recovery to its knees”. More economists are now seriously talking of the possibile need for macroeconomic stimulus to get the recovery back on track. “The deterioration in April pushes the surveys into territory which has in the past seen the Bank of England start to worry about the need to revive growth either by cutting interest rates or through non-standard measures such as QE” said Chris Williamson of Markit.

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Lewis paints King a tad too much like a cross between Einstein and Mother Theresa, if you ask me. He presided over a period when debt was already rising like there’s no tomorrow.

The Book That Will Save Banking From Itself (Michael Lewis)

One of my favorite memories of my brief life on Wall Street in the late 1980s is of Mervyn King’s visit. A year after Professor King – as I still think of him – had been my tutor at the London School of Economics, he was tapped to advise some new British financial regulator. As he had no direct experience of financial markets, either he or they thought he’d benefit from exposure to real, live American financiers. I’d been working at the London office of Salomon Brothers for maybe six months when one of my bosses came to me with a big eye roll and said, “We have this academic who wants to sit in with a salesman for a day: Can we stick him with you?” And in walked Professor King. I should say here that King’s students, including me, often came away from encounters with him feeling humored.

He was gentle with people less clever than himself (basically everyone) and found interest in what others had to say when there was no apparent reason to. He really wanted you to feel as if the two of you were engaged in a genuine exchange of ideas, even though the only ideas with any exchange value were his. Still, he had his limits. The man who a year before had handed me a gentleman’s B and probably assumed I would vanish into the bowels of the American economy never to be heard from again saw me smiling and dialing at my Salomon Brothers desk and did a double take. He took the seat next to me and the spare phone that allowed him to listen in on my sales calls. After an hour or so, he put down the phone. “So, Michael, how much are they paying you to do this?” he asked, or something like it.

When I told him, he said something like, “This really should be against the law.” Roughly 15 years later, King was named governor of the Bank of England. In his decade-long tenure, which ended in 2013, the Bank of England became, and remains, the most trustworthy institutional narrator of events in global finance. It’s the one place on the inside of global finance where employees don’t appear to be spending half their time wondering when Goldman Sachs is going to call with a job offer. For various reasons, they don’t play scared. One of those reasons, I’ll bet, is King.

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They’re all very nervous. What happens when oil prices start falling again?

Shift In Saudi Oil Thinking Deepens OPEC Split (R.)

As OPEC officials gathered this week to formulate a long-term strategy, few in the room expected the discussions would end without a clash. But even the most jaded delegates got more than they had bargained with. “OPEC is dead,” declared one frustrated official, according to two sources who were present or briefed about the Vienna meeting. This was far from the first time that OPEC’s demise has been proclaimed in its 56-year history, and the oil exporters’ group itself may yet enjoy a long life in the era of cheap crude. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s most powerful member, still maintains that collective action by all producers is the best solution for an oil market that has dived since mid-2014.

But events at Monday’s meeting of OPEC governors suggest that if Saudi Arabia gets its way, then one of the group’s central strategies – of managing global oil prices by regulating supply – will indeed go to the grave. In a major shift in thinking, Riyadh now believes that targeting prices has become pointless as the weak global market reflects structural changes rather than any temporary trend, according to sources familiar with its views. OPEC is already split over how to respond to cheap oil. Last month tensions between Saudi Arabia and its arch-rival Iran ruined the first deal in 15 years to freeze crude output and help to lift global prices. These resurfaced at the long-term strategy meeting of the OPEC governors, officials who report to their countries’ oil ministers.

According to the sources, it was a delegate from a non-Gulf Arab country who pronounced OPEC dead in remarks directed at the Saudi representative as they argued over whether the group should keep targeting prices. Iran, represented by its governor Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, has been arguing that this is precisely what OPEC was created for and hence “effective production management” should be one of its top long-term goals. But Saudi governor Mohammed al-Madi said he believed the world has changed so much in the past few years that it has become a futile exercise to try to do so, sources say. “OPEC should recognize the fact that the market has gone through a structural change, as is evident by the market becoming more competitive rather than monopolistic,” al-Madi told his counterparts inside the meeting, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

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And how could prices rise in the face of record reserves?

US Crude Stockpiles Seen Rising Further to Record (BBG)

U.S. crude inventories will expand to a record 550 million barrels this month before starting their seasonal slide, according to a forecast by Citigroup. Stockpiles rose 2.8 million barrels to 543.4 million last week, the most in more than 86 years, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Inventories reached the highest ever at 545.2 million barrels in October 1929, according to monthly EIA data.

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Record stockpiles with a million barrels missing. Prices are already dropping again.

Fort McMurray Fires Knock One Million Barrels Offline (FP)

The shut down of energy facilities accelerated Thursday, taking off line about one million barrels – close to 40% – of Alberta’s daily oilsands production, as a wildfire that started near Fort McMurray spread south to new producing areas. Meanwhile, oil companies poured their resources into the firefighting effort — from sheltering evacuees to helping with medical emergencies. Overnight Wednesday, the raging fire forced the evacuation of smaller communities south of Fort McMurray, where many evacuees fleeing the flames this week had taken shelter. They joined residents of Fort McMurray, who were ordered to leave their homes earlier in the week.

“Based on press releases and our discussions with producers, the fires have impacted oilsands production by an estimated 0.9 to 1 million b/d – disproportionately weighted towards synthetic crude oil,” Greg Pardy, co-head of global energy research at RBC Dominion Securities, said in a report. “This would constitute about 35% to 38% of our 2016 oilsands outlook of 2.6 million b/d.” Steve Laut, president of Canadian Natural Resources, said it was difficult to gauge the long-term impacts of the crisis because it was still evolving. “It’s devastating to the city of Fort McMurray,” he said Thursday after addressing the company’s annual meeting. Many production facilities are located away from the fire, but “it’s really the workers at the mines and the plants who live in Fort McMurray who are impacted,” Laut said. Canadian Natural said its operations at the Horizon mining project were stable.

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How is it possible that no-one died yet? They must be doing something very right.

Canada’s Wildfires Grow Tenfold In Size (G.)

A catastrophic wildfire that has forced all 88,000 residents to flee Fort McMurray in western Canada grew tenfold on Thursday, cutting off evacuees in camps north of the city and putting communities to the south in extreme danger. Authorities scrambled to organise an airlift of 8,000 people from the camps on Thursday night and hoped to move thousands more to safer areas as the fast-moving fire threatened to engulf huge areas of the arid western province of Alberta. Officials said 25,000 people had taken shelter in the oilsands work camps when the fires engulfed the city. The remaining 17,000 would have to wait until fuel reserves were refilled and the opening of a main highway to drive themselves south. The out-of-control blaze has burned down whole neighborhoods of Fort McMurray in Canada’s energy heartland and forced a precautionary shutdown of some oil production, driving up global oil prices.

The Alberta government, which declared a state of emergency, said more than 1,100 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 air tankers were fighting a total of 49 wildfires, with seven considered out of control. Three days after the residents were ordered to leave Fort McMurray, firefighters were still battling to protect homes, businesses and other structures from the flames. More than 1,600 structures, including hundreds of homes, have been destroyed. “The damage to the community of Fort McMurray is extensive and the city is not safe for residents,” said Alberta premier Rachel Notley in a press briefing on Thursday night, as those left stranded to the north of the city clamoured for answers. “It is simply not possible, nor is it responsible to speculate on a time when citizens will be able to return. We do know that it will not be a matter of days,” she added.

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Merkel bet on the wrong horse again. And this one, too, will put people’s well-being in danger. “..It’s time the EU starts to connect the dots and see it for what it is.” Oh, they see it alright.

Turkish Power Struggle Threatens EU Migrant Deal (FT)

A pivotal deal to staunch the flow of migrants from Turkey into the EU, masterminded by Angela Merkel, German chancellor, is in doubt after Turkey’s pro-European prime minister resigned. Ahmet Davutoglu, who personally negotiated the deal with Ms Merkel, quit on Thursday following a power struggle with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The premier’s departure imperils an agreement credited with sharply reducing the influx of asylum-seekers into the EU – and rescuing Ms Merkel from a potentially fatal political backlash. The deal enables the EU to send migrants arriving illegally on the Greek islands back to Turkey in exchange for visa requirements on Turkish visitors being eased and financial aid. However, President Erdogan has responded coolly towards the agreement struck by his premier and has shown increasing hostility towards the EU.

Without reforms to Turkey’s antiterrorism and anti-corruption laws, which Mr Erdogan has angrily resisted, Brussels may be unable to grant some of the most important concessions in the deal — a move that Ankara has already warned would cancel its obligation to curtail refugee crossings into Greece. “We’ve made good progress on the agreement with Turkey,” Ms Merkel said in Rome on Thursday. “The European Union, or at least Germany and Italy, are prepared and stand by the commitments that we’ve agreed to. We hope that’s mutual.” To keep the pact on track, Ankara must still meet several benchmarks, including major revisions to its antiterrorism legislation to ensure civil liberties, that Mr Erdogan has been loath to support.

EU officials are now concerned that Ankara will backtrack on reform commitments. “It’s certainly not good news for us,” said the EU official. “Erdogan would be very ill-advised to throw this out of the window and think this is now a matter of horse-trading. He thinks it’s 50% wriggle room, and the rest is all arm-wrestling.” Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat at the Carnegie Europe think-tank, said that Mr Erdogan had been “much more categorical” in resisting changes to the antiterrorism law, adding that, with his AK party and parliament in disarray, the chances of reforms being passed in time for a June deadline was becoming increasingly unlikely. When Ms Merkel set out to persuade sceptical EU countries to back the migrant deal, one of her central arguments, according to diplomats, was that it would shore up the pro-European faction in Ankara, led by Mr Davutoglu.

Instead, the deal hastened the demise of her main Turkish ally and left the pro-Europeans seriously weakened. President Erdogan saw Mr Davutoglu’s increasingly close relationship with the EU as a threat. A rift between the two men turned into a power struggle which the prime minister lost. [..] European lawmakers who must now approve the deal say they are becoming increasingly wary. “If this was an isolated incident, you could say it’s just an internal affair,” said Marietje Schaake, a Dutch liberal who has become a leading voice on Turkey in the European parliament. “But we’ve seen a series of incidents that are clearly a pattern towards authoritarianism. It’s time the EU starts to connect the dots and see it for what it is.”

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Merkel has lost it: the EU, in order to survive, needs to start protecting people, especially children, before protecting borders. It’s the only thing that could still save the Union.

Merkel Warns Of Return To Nationalism Unless EU Protects Borders (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday urged European leaders to protect EU borders or risk a “return to nationalism” as the continent battles its worst migration crisis since World War II. As Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi kicked off two days of talks in Rome with Merkel and senior EU officials, the German leader said Europe must defend its borders “from the Mediterranean to the North Pole” or suffer the political consequences. Support for far-right and anti-immigrant parties is on the rise in several countries on the continent which saw more than a million people arrive on its shores last year. In Austria, Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party is expected to win a presidential run-off on May 22 after romping to victory in the first round on an anti-immigration platform.

Merkel told a press conference with Renzi that Europe’s cherished freedom of movement is at threat, with ramped-up border controls in response to the crisis raising questions over whether the passport-free Schengen zone can survive. With over 28,500 migrants arriving since January 1, Italy has once again become the principal entry point for migrants arriving in Europe, following a controversial EU-Turkey deal and the closure of the Balkan route up from Greece. In previous years, many migrants landing in Italy have headed on to other countries – but with Austria planning to reinstate border controls at the Brenner pass in the Alps, a key transport corridor, Rome fears it could be stuck hosting masses of new arrivals. Renzi lashed out at Austria on Thursday, describing Vienna’s position as “anachronistic”.

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Child refugees have to be the no. 1 priority. A Europe with no morals has no future either.

Quarter Of Child Refugees Arriving In EU Travelled Without Parents (G.)

A quarter of all child refugees who arrived in Europe last year – almost 100,000 under-18s – travelled without parents or guardians and are now “geographically orphaned”, presenting a huge challenge to authorities in their adopted countries. A total of 1.2 million people sought asylum in the EU in 2015, 30% of whom – almost 368,000 – were minors. The number of children arriving in Europe last year was two-and-half times that recorded a year earlier, and almost five times as many as in 2012. But the most staggering statistic is that a quarter of the young arrivals were unaccompanied. In all, 88,695 children completed the dangerous journey without their parents – an average of 10 arriving every hour. The highest proportion of child refugees last year were Syrian, followed by Afghans and Iraqis. Together these three nationalities accounted for 60% of all minors seeking asylum in the EU.

In absolute terms, Germany received the highest number of child refugees, taking in more than 137,000 in 2015. However, as a proportion of population Sweden took in the most. Half of the unaccompanied minors came from Afghanistan, and one in seven were Syrian. More unaccompanied minors hailed from Eritrea (5,140) than from Iraq (4,570). Sweden took the highest number of lone children, 35,000 in total, two-thirds of them from Afghanistan. It also recorded the highest number of unaccompanied minors per head of population, followed by Austria and Hungary. It is not possible to get a full picture of how many children have sought asylum in Europe so far in 2016, as several countries have not yet published figures for the first quarter of the year. But the number of child asylum applicants recorded in Europe in January and February already far exceeds that recorded in the same months of 2015.

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May 242015
 
 May 24, 2015  Posted by at 11:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing F.W. Grand store, Washington, DC 1925

Mario Draghi made another huge faux pas Thursday, but it looks like the entire world press has become immune to them, because it happens all the time, because they don’t realize what it means, and because they have a message if not a mission to sell. But still, none of these things makes it alright. Nor does Draghi’s denying it was a faux pas to begin with.

And while that’s very worrisome, ‘the public’ appear to be as numbed and dumbed down to this as the media themselves are -largely due to ’cause and effect’, no doubt-. We saw an account of a North Korean defector yesterday lamenting that her country doesn’t have a functioning press, and we thought: get in line.

It’s one thing for the Bank of England to research the effects of a Brexit. It’s even inevitable that a central bank should do this, but both the process and the outcome would always have to remain under wraps. Why it was ‘accidentally’ emailed to the Guardian is hard to gauge, but it’s not a big news event that such a study takes place. The contents may yet turn out to be, but that doesn’t look all that likely.

The reason the study should remain secret is, of course, that a Brexit is a political decision, and a country’s central bank can not be party to such decisions.

It’s therefore quite another thing for ECB head Mario Draghi to speak in public about reforms inside the eurozone. Draghi can perhaps vent his opinion behind closed doors, for instance in talks with politicians in European nations, but any and all eurozone reforms remain exclusively political decisions, even if they are economic reforms, and therefore Draghi must stay away from the topic, certainly in public. Far away.

There has to be a very clear line between central banks and governments. The latter should never be able to influence the former, because it would risk making economic policy serve only short term interests (until the next election). Likewise the former should stay out of the latter’s decisions, because that would tend to make political processes skewed disproportionally towards finance and the economy, at the potential cost of other interests in a society.

This may sound idealistic and out of sync with the present day reality, but if it does, that does not bode well. It’s dangerous to play fast and loose with the founding principles of individual countries, and perhaps even more with those of unions of sovereign nations.

Obviously, in the same vein it’s fully out of line for German FinMin Schäuble to express his opinion on whether or not Greece should hold a referendum on euro membership, or any referendum for that matter. Ye olde Wolfgang is tasked with Germany’s financial politics, not Greece’s, and being a minister for one of 28 EU members doesn’t give him the liberty to express such opinions. Because all EU nations are sovereign nations, and no foreign politicians have any say in other nations’ domestic politics.

It really is that simple, no matter how much of this brinkmanship has already passed under the bridge. Even Angela Merkel, though she’s Germany’s political leader, must refrain from comments on internal Greek political affairs. She must also, if members of her cabinet make comments like Schäuble’s, tell them to never do that again, or else. It’s simply the way the EU was constructed. There is no grey area there.

The way the eurozone is treating Greece has already shown that it’s highly improbable the union can and will last forever. Too many -sovereign- boundaries have been crossed. Draghi’s and Schäuble’s comments will speed up the process of disintegration. They will achieve the exact opposite of what they try to accomplish. The European Union will show itself to be a union of fairweather friends. In Greece, this is already being revealed.

The eurozone, or European monetary union, has now had as many years of economic turmoil as it’s had years of prosperity. And it’ll be all downhill from here on in, precisely because certain people think they can afford to meddle in the affairs of sovereign nations. The euro was launched on January 2002, and was in trouble as soon as the US was, even if this was not acknowledged right away. Since 2008, Europe has swung from crisis to crisis, and there’s no end in sight.

At the central bankers’ undoubtedly ultra luxurious love fest in Sintra, Portugal, where all protagonists largely agree with one another, Draghi on Friday held a speech. And right from the start, he started pushing reforms, and showing why he really shouldn’t. Because what he suggests is not politically -or economically- neutral, it’s driven by ideology.

He can’t claim that it’s all just economics. When you talk about opening markets, facilitating reallocation etc., you’re expressing a political opinion about how a society can and should be structured, not merely an economy.

Structural Reforms, Inflation And Monetary Policy (Mario Draghi)

Our strong focus on structural reforms is not because they have been ignored in recent years. On the contrary, a great deal has been achieved and we have praised progress where it has taken place, including here in Portugal. Rather, if we talk often about structural reforms it is because we know that our ability to bring about a lasting return of stability and prosperity does not rely only on cyclical policies – including monetary policy – but also on structural policies. The two are heavily interdependent.

So what I would like to do today in opening our annual discussions in Sintra is, first, to explain what we mean by structural reforms and why the central bank has a pressing and legitimate interest in their implementation. And second, to underline why being in the early phases of a cyclical recovery is not a reason to postpone structural reforms; it is in fact an opportunity to accelerate them.

Structural reforms are, in my view, best defined as policies that permanently and positively alter the supply-side of the economy. This means that they have two key effects. First, they lift the path of potential output, either by raising the inputs to production – the supply and quality of labour and the amount of capital per worker – or by ensuring that those inputs are used more efficiently, i.e. by raising total factor productivity (TFP).

And second, they make economies more resilient to economic shocks by facilitating price and wage flexibility and the swift reallocation of resources within and across sectors. These two effects are complementary. An economy that rebounds faster after a shock is an economy that grows more over time, as it suffers from lower hysteresis effects. And the same structural reforms will often increase both short-term flexibility and long-term growth.

And earlier in the -long- speech he said: “Our strong focus on structural reforms is not because they have been ignored in recent years. On the contrary, a great deal has been achieved and we have praised progress where it has taken place, including here in Portugal.

So Draghi states that reforms have already been successful. Wherever things seem to go right, he will claim that’s due to ‘his’ reforms. Wherever they don’t, that’s due to not enough reforms. His is a goalseeked view of the world.

He claims that the structural reforms he advocates will lead to more resilience and growth. But since these reforms are for the most part a simple rehash of longer running centralization efforts, we need only look at the latter’s effects on society to gauge the potential consequences of what Draghi suggests. And what we then find is that the entire package has led to growth almost exclusively for large corporations and financial institutions. And even that growth is now elusive.

Neither reforms nor stimulus have done much, if anything, to alleviate the misery in Greece or Spain or Italy, and Portugal is not doing much better, as the rise of the Socialist Party makes clear. The reforms that Draghi touts for Lisbon consist mainly of cuts to wages and pensions. How that is progress, or how it has made the Portuguese economy ‘more resilient’, is anybody’s guess.

Resilience cannot mean that a system makes it easier to force you to leave your home to find work, but that is exactly what Draghi advocates. Instead, resilience must mean that it is easier for you to find properly rewarded work right where you are, preferably producing your own society’s basic necessities. That is what would make your society more capable of withstanding economic shocks.

Still, it’s the direct opposite of what Draghi has in mind. Draghi states that [structural reforms] “.. make economies more resilient to economic shocks by facilitating price and wage flexibility and the swift reallocation of resources within and across sectors.”

That obviously and simply means that, if it pleases the economic elites who own a society’s assets, your wages can more easily be lowered, prices for basic necessities can be raised, and you yourself can be ‘swiftly reallocated’ far from where you live, and into industries you may not want to work in that don’t do anything to lift your society.

Whether such kinds of changes to your society’s framework are desirable is manifestly a political theme, and an ideological one. They may make it easier for corporations to raise their bottom line, but they come at a substantial cost for everyone else.

Draghi tries to push a neoliberal agenda even further, and that’s a decidedly political agenda, not an economic one.

There was a panel discussion on Saturday in which Draghi defended his forays into politics, and he was called on them:

Draghi and Fischer Reject Claim Central Banks Are Too Politicised

The ECB president on Saturday said his calls were appropriate in a monetary union where growth prospects had been badly damaged by governments’ resistance to economic reforms. Mr Draghi said it was the central bank’s responsibility to comment if governments’ inaction on structural reforms was creating divergence in growth and unemployment within the eurozone, which undermined the existence of the currency area. “In a monetary union you can’t afford to have large and increasing structural divergences,” the ECB president said. “They tend to become explosive.”

He even claims it’s his responsibility to make political remarks….

Mr Draghi’s defence of the central bank came after Paul De Grauwe, an academic at the London School of Economics, challenged his calls for structural reforms earlier in the week. Mr De Grauwe said central banks’ push for governments to take steps that removed people’s job protection would expose monetary policy makers to criticism over their independence to set interest rates.

The ECB president [..] said central banks had been wrong to keep quiet on the deregulation of the financial sector. “We all wish central bankers had spoken out more when regulation was dismantled before the crisis,” Mr Draghi said. A lack of structural reform was having much more of an impact on poor European growth than in the US, he added.

De Grauwe is half right in his criticism, but only half. It’s not just about the independence to set interest rates, it’s about independence, period. A central bank cannot promote a political ideology disguised as economic measures. It’s bad enough if political parties do this, or corporations, but for central banks it’s an absolute no-go area.

Pressure towards a closer economic and monetary union in Europe is doomed to fail because it cannot be done without a closer political union at the same time. They’re all the same thing. They’re all about giving up sovereignty, about giving away the power to decide about your own country, society, economy, your own life. And Greeks don’t want the same things as Germans, nor do Italians want to become Dutch.

Because of Greece, many EU nations are now increasingly waking up to what a ‘close monetary union’ would mean, namely that Germany would be increasingly calling the shots all over Europe. No matter how many technocrats Brussels manages to sneak into member countries, there’s no way all of them would agree, and it would have to be a unanimous decision.

Draghi’s remarks therefore precipitate the disintegration of Europe, and it would be good if more people would recognize and acknowledge that. Europe are a bunch of fairweather friends, and if everyone is not very careful, they’re not going to part ways in a peaceful manner. The danger that this would lead to the exact opposite of what the EU was meant to achieve, is clear and present.

Apr 102015
 
 April 10, 2015  Posted by at 10:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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G. G. Bain Navy dirigible, Long Island 1915

It’s A Crime To Be Poor In America (MarketWatch)
US States Are Not Prepared for the Next Fiscal Shock (Bloomberg)
Why Your Wages Could Be Depressed for a Lot Longer Than You Think (Bloomberg)
The Fed’s Calamitous Corruption Of Corporate Finance (David Stockman)
U.S. Consumers Will Open Their Wallets Soon Enough (Bloomberg)
We Traveled Across China and Returned Terrified for the Economy (Bloomberg)
Lagarde Warns of ‘Bumpy Ride’ as Fed Prepares for Rates Liftoff (Bloomberg)
Wall Street Fees Wipe Out $2.5 Billion in New York City Pension Gains (NY Times)
China Seeks Dominance in Athens Harbor (Spiegel)
Varoufakis: The Three Critical Elements of a Good Deal for Greece (Bloomberg)
Varoufakis Says Greece Not Looking to Russia to Fix Debt Crisis (Bloomberg)
Greece Met Its Latest Debt Payment, But Where Did The Money Come From? (Ind.)
The Changes To Russia’s Business Environment That Flew Below The Radar (Forbes)
Here’s How Iran Could Prevent A Rebound In Oil Prices (MarketWatch)
Shell Shareholders Less Than Impressed With $70 Billion Bid For BG (Ind.)
Ukraine Creditor Group Has Plan to Avoid Writedown in Debt Talks (Bloomberg)
Homeowners In Auckland’s Fringe Saving Up To $50,000 A Year (NZ Herald)
New Zealand Unlikely to Deliver on 2015 Budget Surplus Promise (Bloomberg)
Japan To Pledge 20% CO2 Cut (Guardian)
Dying at Europe’s Doorstep (Bloomberg)

“In many states, offenders are expected to finance the justice system, including court costs, room and board while incarcerated, probation supervision and drug-treatment programs.”

It’s A Crime To Be Poor In America (MarketWatch)

In America, you’re presumed innocent until proven guilty. Unless you’re poor, that is. Increasingly, it’s a crime to be poor, and the punishment is often further impoverishment. Fifty years ago, Chuck Berry sang about a brown-eyed handsome man who was “arrested for the crime of unemployment.” Little has changed since then. For poor people, even minor scrapes with the law can have major consequences, including prison time, probation, endless debt and permanent joblessness. For people of means, those same legal problems are a nuisance, but they aren’t life-changing events. More cities and states have realized that poverty can be a profit center.

Not for poor people, of course, but for government treasuries and for private companies hired to handle the influx into the criminal justice system of people whose only crime was the inability to pay a traffic ticket or a misdemeanor fine. Cash-strapped cities like Ferguson, Mo., count on fines and court-imposed fees to balance their budgets, and that reliance on the revenue from petty violations was cited by the Justice Department as a contributing factor in Ferguson’s high rates of traffic stops and arrests for minor crimes and misdemeanors. In many states, offenders are expected to finance the justice system, including court costs, room and board while incarcerated, probation supervision and drug-treatment programs.

For anyone living paycheck to paycheck, even a $100 fine can be a challenge, and paying off the debt to the court and to the privatized probation company can be impossible, especially if the arrest has led to the loss of a job or a driver’s license. Just being arrested can be devastating: Half a million people are languishing in jail awaiting trial because they can’t afford to pay the bail. People who are let out of prison are often said to have “paid their debt to society.” But in most cases, they haven’t paid their debt for the costs of their imprisonment and probation. More than 80% of people let out of prison leave owing money, according to an investigation by NPR and the Brennan Center for Justice. Those of us who live sheltered middle-class lives often wonder why anyone would run away from the police or resist arrest.

Running away can cost you your life, as what happened to Walter Scott. Why would he risk being shot in the back by a police officer? Perhaps he feared that an arrest for a minor traffic violation (the tail light on his car was out) would lead to a downward spiral of fines, jail time and permanent joblessness, as it has for others. According to relatives, Scott was behind on his child-support payments, and he may have feared that he’d be jailed for his failure to pay. Which, of course, would have cost him his job and any chance he and his family had of a future. So he ran, and he died.

Read more …

Hanging on by their fingernails.

US States Are Not Prepared for the Next Fiscal Shock (Bloomberg)

U.S. states, still grappling with the lingering effects of the longest recession since the 1930s, are even more vulnerable to another fiscal shock. The governments have a little more than half the reserves they’d stashed away before the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009, according to a report last month by Pew Charitable Trusts. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Arkansas have saved the least. Skimpier rainy-day funds have implications for the national economy, which is in its sixth year of expansion. States would have to cut spending or raise revenue by a combined $21 billion in the event of a recession, exacerbating economic weakness, Moody’s found in a stress test of state finances. Reserves take on added importance for governments balancing obligatory pension and health-care costs with swings in tax collections, said Daniel White at Moody’s.

“What the Great Recession has shown is that things have fundamentally changed in terms of the way that state fiscal conditions are determined,” White said. “They need to be much more prepared for very volatile fiscal conditions than they had been in the past.” Investors are monitoring states’ fiscal balances after seeing how reserves helped some governments weather the recession, said John Donaldson at Haverford Trust. California won credit upgrades and saw borrowing costs shrink after voters in November agreed to bolster rainy-day funds. With Fitch Ratings lifting California to A+ in February, its fifth-highest level, the state has its highest marks from the three biggest rating companies since at least 2009.

Bond buyers demand about 0.3 percentage point of extra yield to own 10-year California munis instead of benchmark debt, close to the lowest spread since 2007, data compiled by Bloomberg show. “We’re looking for stability and credit quality,” said Richard Ciccarone at Merritt Research. “A rainy-day fund is a symbol of conservative financial management.” States were unprepared for the last recession. In 2009, budget gaps totaled $117 billion, about twice the level of reserves, according to Pew, a research group. With more of a cushion, they would’ve cut fewer jobs, White said. The governments employ about 5.1 million nonfarm workers, about 140,000 fewer than the 2008 peak, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show.

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Because the whole shebang is imploding.

Why Your Wages Could Be Depressed for a Lot Longer Than You Think (Bloomberg)

As if watching your paycheck stagnate for the last couple years hasn’t been bad enough, Federal Reserve researchers are out with more (potentially) bad news: Unless we get some big shifts in global economic forces, your wages could be weak for a while. Longer-term changes including soft productivity growth and labor’s declining share of income are at the heart of the problem, Filippo Occhino and Timothy Stehulak at the Cleveland Fed find. These two macroeconomic shifts, which result from broad themes such as globalization and technology, are felt all the way down to the U.S. worker. Productivity is important because it fosters faster economic growth without generating higher inflation. Companies can pay their workers more while still seeing their earnings increase.

Labor productivity — measured as the amount of goods or services produced by an employee in one hour — has averaged 1.5% growth in the 10 years ended 2014. That compares with 3.6% from the second quarter of 1997 to the end of 2003 — the salad days of American productivity. Gains in productivity have been slow to come by as companies hold off on investing in new capital equipment. Some economists such as Robert Gordon have argued that the U.S. is doomed to stagnant growth, with the low-hanging fruit of big technological innovations, such as the steam engine, all picked.

Another factor keeping wage growth depressed is labor’s declining share of income, the Fed authors note. While it’s been on the downtrend for years, “the evolution of the technology used to produce goods and services, increased globalization and trade openness, and developments in labor market institutions and policies” have exacerbated it since 2000, likely holding down wage growth, they wrote. The faster decrease since then has shaved 0.4 percentage point each year from average real wage growth, compared to the period before 2000.

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“..only savings from current production and income generate additional primary capital that can foster future wealth.”

The Fed’s Calamitous Corruption Of Corporate Finance (David Stockman)

Central bank financial repression results in the systematic and severe mispricing of financial assets. And that has sweeping consequences far beyond the munificent windfalls it bestows on the thin slice of mankind that frequents the casinos of Wall Street, London, Tokyo and Shanghai. The fact is, the prices of money, debt, equity, traded commodities and all their derivatives comprise a vast and instantaneous signaling system that cascades through every nook and cranny of the real economy. When these signals are systematically falsified by a few dozen central bankers they cause hundreds of millions of ordinary businessmen, workers, investors and entrepreneurs to alter their economic calculus. And not in a good way. False signals lead to mistakes, excesses, losses and waste.

They ultimately reduce economic efficiency and productivity and lower the rate of economic growth and real wealth gains. Since the Greenspan age of financial repression incepted in the late 1980s, for example, the returns to savings have been obliterated while the rewards for speculation have soared. That’s important because only savings from current production and income generate additional primary capital that can foster future wealth. By contrast, leveraged speculation merely causes existing financial assets to be re-priced and a temporary redistribution of paper wealth from the cautious to the gamblers. In an honest free market, in fact, there is no excess return to leveraged speculation at all.

Natural market makers arbitrage out the spread between the costs of carry and the returns to carried assets such as long-dated futures contracts, term debt and various and sundry forms of equity and other risk assets. A relative handful of market makers can make a decent living arbing an honest market, but the mass of investors can not speculate their way to wealth. The latter can happen only when the central bank has its big fat thumb on the financial scales, pressing the cost of carry – that is, leveraged financial gambling – toward the zero bound.

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Dumbest piece so far this year? Then again, competition is fierce.

U.S. Consumers Will Open Their Wallets Soon Enough (Bloomberg)

People are constantly exhorted to save, but as soon as they do, economists pop up to complain they aren’t spending enough to keep the economy growing. A new blogger named Ben Bernanke wrote on April 1 that there’s still a “global savings glut.” Two days later the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the weakest job growth since 2013, which economists quickly attributed to soft consumer spending. The U.S. personal savings rate—5.8% in February—is the highest since 2012. “After years of spending as if there were no tomorrow, consumers are now saving like there is a tomorrow,” Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial, wrote to clients in March. Saving too much really can be a problem when spending is weak.

There are only two things you can do with a dollar, after all: spend it or save it. If you spend it, great—that’s money in someone else’s pocket. If you save it, the financial system is supposed to recycle your dollar into productive investment with loans for new houses, factories, software, and research and development. But if no one’s in the mood to invest more and interest rates are already as low as they can go (as they are in much of the world), the compulsion to save can sap demand and throw people out of work. For the U.S. economy, the good news is that the jump in the personal savings rate is probably no more than a blip. Three economists from Deutsche Bank Securities in New York explained why in a March 25 report called U.S. Consumers: Still Shopping, Not Dropping.

While noting a “deceleration” in consumer spending, they wrote, “we think that concerns about the outlook for the consumer are overstated.” Their model of the U.S. economy predicts the savings rate will fall to 3% to 3.5% by 2017. Other economists have also concluded that the spending dropoff is temporary, which is why the slowdown in job growth, to just 126,000 in March, didn’t set off many alarm bells. “Consumer spending is starting to look more and more like a coiled spring,” says Guy Berger, U.S. economist at RBS Securities. One sign that consumers aren’t retrenching: On April 7 the Federal Reserve reported that consumer credit rose $15.5 billion in February, in line with the recent past.

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And yet, still persisting in that 7% growth prediction?

We Traveled Across China and Returned Terrified for the Economy (Bloomberg)

China’s steel and metals markets, a barometer of the world’s second-biggest economy, are “a lot worse than you think,” according to a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst who just completed a tour of the country. What he saw: idle cranes, empty construction sites and half-finished, abandoned buildings in several cities. Conversations with executives reinforced the “gloomy” outlook. “China’s metals demand is plummeting,” wrote Kenneth Hoffman, the metals analyst who spent a week traveling across the country, meeting with executives, traders, industry groups and analysts. “Demand is rapidly deteriorating as the government slows its infrastructure building and transforms into a consumer economy.”

The China Steel Profitability Index compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence barely rose in March, a time after the annual Lunar New Year when demand would usually surge, and so far this month has resumed its decline. Steel use this year is down 3.4%, after slumping as much as 4% in 2014, according to BI. It had steadily risen for more than a decade. Prices for commodities from iron ore to coal are sinking as China’s leadership tries to steer the economy away from debt-fueled property investment and smokestack industries, embracing services and domestic-led consumption. At the same time, President Xi Jinping is stepping up efforts to combat pollution, further squeezing industry. Deteriorating economic data has led traders and analysts to speculate that China’s central bank will act to revive growth.

The bank has said it will keep an “appropriate balance between loosening and tightening” of interest rates. It has cut interest rates twice since November and lowered lenders’ reserve-requirement ratios once. Economists are forecasting 7% growth in China for this year, in line with government targets and down from 7.4% in 2014, according to the median of 59 estimates compiled by Bloomberg. That’s about half the last decade’s peak rate of 14.2% in 2007. The slowing steel and metals activity suggests the outlook could be grimmer. “There is a big fear this is going to get worse before it gets better,” Hoffman said in an interview. “It’s as bad as the data looks, if not worse.”

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She sounds like The Automatic Earth: “..liquidity can evaporate quickly if everyone rushes for the exit at the same time..”

Lagarde Warns of ‘Bumpy Ride’ as Fed Prepares for Rates Liftoff (Bloomberg)

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde says the world could be in for a “bumpy ride” when the Federal Reserve starts raising interest rates, with overpriced markets and emerging economies likely to take the biggest hits. While risks to the global economy have decreased over the last six months, threats to the world’s financial system have actually risen, Lagarde said on Thursday ahead of next week’s spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington. A long period of low interest rates in the U.S. and other advanced economies has fostered a higher risk tolerance among investors, “which can lead to overpricing” and could pose “solvency challenges” for life insurers and defined-benefit pension fund, she said.

Lagarde, 59, warned that “liquidity can evaporate quickly if everyone rushes for the exit at the same time – which could, for example, make for a bumpy ride when the Federal Reserve begins to raise short-term rates,” she said the text of a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington. The turbulence could be especially rough for commodity-exporting emerging economies, which may find themselves caught between falling prices for their goods and a stronger dollar, which increases the burden of dollar-dominated debt, she said. Lagarde’s warning comes as Fed policy makers led by Chair Janet Yellen consider when to raise their benchmark lending rate amid a strengthening labor market, which has pushed U.S. unemployment to the lowest level since May 2008.

The dollar has appreciated 19% over the last year as the U.S. economy has strengthened. The risk is that a surging greenback and higher interest rates will make it harder to service U.S.-denominated debt held outside the country by non-bank borrowers. This debt is estimated at $9 trillion by the Bank for International Settlements. Lagarde urged policy makers to take steps to ensure that markets have enough liquidity, improve prudential policies for non-banks, and follow through on regulatory reforms such as shielding “too-big-to-fail” institutions.

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This is repeated all across the nation, if not the entire world.

Wall Street Fees Wipe Out $2.5 Billion in New York City Pension Gains (NY Times)

The Lenape tribe got a better deal on the sale of Manhattan island than New York City’s pension funds have been getting from Wall Street, according to a new analysis by the city comptroller’s office. The analysis concluded that, over the past 10 years, the five pension funds have paid more than $2 billion in fees to money managers and have received virtually nothing in return, Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said in an interview on Wednesday. “We asked a simple question: Are we getting value for the fees we’re paying to Wall Street?” Mr. Stringer said. “The answer, based on this 10-year analysis, is no.” Until now, Mr. Stringer said, the pension funds have reported the performance of many of their investments before taking the fees paid to money managers into account.

After factoring in those fees, his staff found that they had dragged the overall returns $2.5 billion below expectations over the last 10 years. “When you do the math on what we pay Wall Street to actively manage our funds, it’s shocking to realize that fees have not only wiped out any benefit to the funds, but have in fact cost taxpayers billions of dollars in lost returns,” Mr. Stringer said. Why the trustees of the funds — Mr. Stringer included — would not have performed those calculations in the past is not clear. Mr. Stringer, who was a trustee of one of the funds when he was Manhattan borough president before being elected comptroller, said the returns on investments in publicly traded assets, mostly stocks and bonds, have traditionally been reported without taking fees into account.

The fees have been disclosed only in footnotes to the funds’ quarterly statements, he said. The stakes in this arena are huge. The city’s pension system is the fourth largest in the country, with total assets of nearly $160 billion. It holds retirement funds for about 715,000 city employees, including teachers, police officers and firefighters. Most of the funds’ money – more than 80% – is invested in plain vanilla assets like domestic and foreign stocks and bonds. The managers of those “public asset classes” are usually paid based on the amount of money they manage, not the returns they achieve. Over the last 10 years, the return on those “public asset classes” has surpassed expectations by more than $2 billion, according to the comptroller’s analysis. But nearly all of that extra gain — about 97% — has been eaten up by management fees, leaving just $40 million for the retirees, it found.

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Solid read.

China Seeks Dominance in Athens Harbor (Spiegel)

One could argue that China’s long path to Piraeus, Greece, began on April 27, 1961. It’s the day Mao Zedong founded the communist state’s first freight company, the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO). The Great Leap Forward, Mao’s plan for industrialization, had proven to be a disaster at the time, leaving millions dead or starving. With Cosco, China had its eyes on overseas markets. Almost 54 years later, the company is steering toward a major prize in Greece. After lengthy wavering, the Greek government – comprised of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, his far-left Syriza party and the right-wing populist Independent Greeks – has announced it will be selling the majority of its share in Athens’ Piraeus Port Authority. So far, Cosco is the most promising bidder.

Throughout, Fu Cheng Qui, or “Captain Fu,” as the chief executive of Cosco’s Piraeus subsidiary is called by those who know him, will be closely monitoring the bidding process. Fu has already been in Piraeus for a long time with the company, and he is determined to stay. He has placed the bid on behalf of his company and has little doubt it will be accepted. In his position, 65-year-old Fu is the guardian of China’s gateway to Europe. He may soon control the container piers, cruise-ship terminals and ferry quays of Greece’s biggest port. “The government has changed four times since I have been in Greece,” Fu says. “They all always talk a lot. But what counts? Actions count. Actions! Only actions!”

On the way to the cargo port, a small sign indicates a fork in the road – with one route leading to OLP and the other to PCT. Each to a different world. Pier I belongs to the primarily Greek state-owned OLP port authority. These days, though, most trucks take the other route, to PCT, to pier II and pier III, which is run by Piraeus Container Terminal, a subsidiary of Cosco. “Just look,” Fu says as he steps up to the window. Then the show begins. On Pier II, 11 container gantry cranes are in constant, powerful movement. All are new and made in China. Trucks move across the ground at an interval of only minutes.

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“.. we are prepared to make all sorts of compromises, we are not prepared to be compromised.”

Varoufakis: The Three Critical Elements of a Good Deal for Greece (Bloomberg)

In an interview with Bloomberg TV at the Institute for New Economic Thinking earlier today, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said he is confident that an agreement will be reached later this month. He identified three pre-conditions for such a deal.

• “Prioritize deep reforms that will deal with the malignancy of the Greek social economy, of the Greek state.”

• “Deal with the ill effects of a five-year catastrophic recession.”

• “A resolution of long term, sustainable fiscal plan that involves three elements. One has to do with appropriate primary surpluses, so we need primary surplus. We never are going to fall back into primary deficits again, but at the same time this should not be excessive because it will crush the private sector. We need a sensible policy for crowding in private investment and that must involve a package of public investment..from some kind of European authority or institution that will help with the process of crowding in private investment..and a rationalization on the different slices of the Greek debt without any haircuts for anyone but in a way that maximizes the amount of value that our creditors will get back from the Greek state.”

He ended the interview by saying that compromises are to be expected, but he is not ready to be compromised. “We wouldn’t be fit for the purpose if we were not prepared to take the political costs which are necessary to stabilize Greece and lead it to growth, but let me be very precise on this, we are prepared to make all sorts of compromises, we are not prepared to be compromised.”

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“We should be very clear: our bailout fallout needs to be dealt with in the European family..”

Varoufakis Says Greece Not Looking to Russia to Fix Debt Crisis (Bloomberg)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said his country isn’t looking outside Europe to resolve its financial crisis, adding that he’s confident of reaching an agreement with European partners this month. Asked about a meeting between Prime Minster Alexis Tsipras and Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday, Varoufakis denied any links with talks Greece is holding with euro-area governments that are the country’s creditors. “We should be very clear: our bailout fallout needs to be dealt with in the European family,” Varoufakis said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Paris. “This government is not seeking an extra-European solution to a European problem.”

Greece, Europe’s most-indebted state, is negotiating with euro-area countries and the IMF on the terms of its €240 billion rescue. The standoff, which has left Greece dependent upon ECB loans, risks leading to a default within weeks and the country’s potential exit from the euro area. The ECB approved a €1.2 billion increase in the emergency funds available to Greek lenders Thursday, a person familiar with the decision said. The Governing Council raised the cap on Emergency Liquidity Assistance provided by the Bank of Greece to €73.2 billion in a telephone conference, said the person who asked not to be named because the decision is confidential.

Greek officials said this week they are targeting an April 24 meeting of euro-area finance ministers as a deadline for approving new money. A looming cash crunch in the summer, when the ECB needs to be repaid, means a new bailout deal will be needed before then.
“I am very confident,” Varoufakis said, when asked about the talks. “The negotiations are proceeding quite well. It is in our mutual interest to strike a deal by the 24th and I’m sure we will.”

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With all the next payments coming up, it’s more interesting to wonder where the money WILL come from.

Greece Met Its Latest Debt Payment, But Where Did The Money Come From? (Ind.)

Greece met a loan payment of €459 million to the IMF on Thursday, according to reports, as the EU discusses whether the country has reformed enough to merit a further cash injection. “The payment order has been given,” a finance ministry source told AFP. But no one is quite sure where the money came from – a consequence of the opaque Greek finance system. There are few trained accountants in the country and they do not adhere to international accounting standards, so records are thin and many citizens do not pay tax. Poor accounting standards are blamed by some for the uncertain numbers that have come out of Greece regarding the country’s debt.

Athens is aware of the tax problem. It promised to hire tourists and cleaners as part time tax inspectors in a recent round of reforms drawn up to meet EU criteria for further cash. The latest IMF payment was ordered at the same time as Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras met Putin in Moscow to discuss co-operation between the two orthodox Catholic nations. While both parties denied that Greece had financial aid had been requested, the two sides are said to have talked about extending a Turkish natural gas pipeline through Greece and relief from Russian sanctions on European food produce. Russian investment in key Greek infrastructure, including the port of Thessaloniki, is also in discussion.

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said during a visit to Washington this week that Greece would meet the April 9 payment and every other until the debts are cleared. He still has some way to go – next month, Athens owes a further €950 million to the IMF. Over €2 billion euros in six- and three-month treasury bills are also due to mature on April 14 and 17 – though they should roll on to the next maturity without incurring further cost. This week Athens raised another €1.14 billion in six-month Treasury bills and announced a further sale of €625 million next week. The country is dependent on such short terms bonds to raise cash, but the takers are mostly domestic investors because Greece is shut out of international debt markets.

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Bit dull perhaps, but potentially powerful.

The Changes To Russia’s Business Environment That Flew Below The Radar (Forbes)

Companies doing business in Russia have been on a roller coaster ride for the last year. The combination of Western sanctions, a weakened currency and continued geopolitical uncertainty have threatened even the most robust of balance sheets. Yet amid these headline-grabbing harbingers of new challenges in Russia’s business environment, one seems to have gone largely overlooked: last September, Russian lawmakers passed unprecedented changes to their country’s corporate legislation. The aim was to update business legal frameworks and to extend additional protections to minority corporate stakeholders, but it remains uncertain whether the law will have the desired effect. The sweeping changes generally affect the rules for how companies and their stakeholders interact. They also overhaul the different classes of legal entities that are permitted to do business. Some highlights:

• All Russian legal entities are reclassified. Previously, entities were conceptually seen as either for-profit and “commercial” or “non-commercial,” today all organizations are split between the “unitary” and “corporate” categories. A “unitary” organization’s founder does not directly participate in the business’s affairs or ownership, while the founder of a “corporate” entity retains the right to remain a shareholder or manager.
• The rules for joint stock companies have changed. Companies were previously classified as open or closed, according to whether new shareholders could legally enter the company’s ownership structure. Now they are classified as public or non-public. The option to publicly trade their securities or shares distinguishes the former, who must accordingly include the word “public” in their name. All other corporation types, including the non-trading joint stock companies, are non-public by default and face no need to alter their names. Notably, the obsolescent open and closed joint stock companies do not have to reclassify themselves by the new guidelines until they have to alter their charter documents, but must comply with the new rules regardless.

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“.. Iran would be able to grow production and exports by 300,000 to 400,000 barrels a day within weeks of a final deal.”

Here’s How Iran Could Prevent A Rebound In Oil Prices (MarketWatch)

Investors looking for a bottom in oil prices argue that a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program and ease sanctions against the country won’t flood the market with more unwanted crude. But one analyst thinks Iran’s return to the market would continue to keep a lid on prices. Oil futures plunged Wednesday as U.S. crude inventories rose yet again. But oil had rallied earlier this week on ideas that fears Iran would soon be able to dump more supply on the market had been overdone. After all, a final deal isn’t due until June 30—and that deadline could easily slip. Moreover, Iran’s degraded infrastructure is likely to keep a lid on production even if a deal is struck, analysts said.

Of course, the likelihood of a deal remains up for debate. Iran’s supreme leader declared Thursday that there was no guarantee of a final agreement, saying world powers couldn’t be trusted to negotiate in good faith. Vikas Dwivedi, a Houston-based oil and gas strategist at Macquarie Capital, sounds far from convinced that a return to the market by Iran would be taken in stride. Making a pun on a 1982 New Wave hit, Dwivedi wrote a note this week entitled “Iran Not So Far Away, Dwivedi argues that Iran would be able to ramp up production significantly in the weeks after the final approval of a deal. But the real pressure, he says, might come from how Arab Gulf producers respond.

Dwivedi says Iran would be able to grow production and exports by 300,000 to 400,000 barrels a day within weeks of a final deal, but that the need for substantial capital upgrades to Iran’s reservoirs means it would take another six to nine months to ramp up production by the 1 million barrels a day needed to recapture the level of output seen before the sanctions.. Meanwhile, Arab Gulf members of OPEC would probably prove themselves unwilling to cede market share to accommodate rising Iranian output, Dwivedi writes. That means OPEC 2015 production could reach 32 million barrels a day or higher versus a previous call of 28.2 million, Dwivedi said. OPEC supply rose to 30.63 million barrels a day in March, according to a Reuters survey.

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“To make it pay, Shell really needs the oil price to move up to $90, and quickly.”

Shell Shareholders Less Than Impressed With $70 Billion Bid For BG (Ind.)

The City is slathering with excitement at Shell’s £47bn bid for BG group. Its shareholders are less than impressed. The problem for them is that the price represents a 50 per cent premium to where BG shares languished prior to the deal’s announcement. To make it pay, Shell really needs the oil price to move up to $90, and quickly. The question its investors have to ask themselves is whether Shell could pick up something like BG’s portfolio, the opportunity it represents and the earnings stream it generates, with its existing assets and resources. Even if they think it can, and such an outcome won’t be quick, they still have to ask if they’d be happy for someone else to have BG, the profits of which will at least help to power the generous dividend Shell pays them. A dividend that represents a welter burden to their company.

What is certain is that this will not be the last mega-deal to be done in the energy sector, as its giants seek cheaper alternatives to risking cash they’re not earning on exploration. It likely won’t be the biggest either. BG’s most likely suitor was long rumoured to be Exxon, the American giant, which represents the most likely threat to this deal’s completion. But Exxon may have it’s eyes cast in the direction of an even bigger B in the form of BP. BG’s drift had become sufficiently aimless that its board felt the need to risk shareholders ire by offering an appalling £25m with nary a condition attached to lure Helge Lund from Norway’s Statoil. He’s now going to sail off into the sunset in a boat filled with cash.

BP’s board might wish it had only that to worry about. For the US lawyers ranged against it, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is the gift that keeps on giving. The company is more than half owned by Americans, it is run by one (Bob Dudley), and it has substantial operations in the country. But they still insist on referring to it as “British” Petroleum across the Atlantic. The logic of putting it formally into American hands via the mega-deal to end all mega-deals with Exxon is that it could take an awful lot of feet from off its neck.

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Let me guess: what’s that plan? Make the people pay?

Ukraine Creditor Group Has Plan to Avoid Writedown in Debt Talks (Bloomberg)

Five creditors that own about $10 billion of Ukraine’s bonds are working on a debt-restructuring deal that won’t involve a reduction to their principal holdings as the government seeks to change the terms of its external debt. The committee is working on a plan that “provides Ukraine with the necessary financial liquidity support,” the group said in a statement released by Blackstone. Franklin Templeton, Ukraine’s biggest bondholder with about $7 billion of the nation’s debt, hired Blackstone to represent the creditor group in mid-March, according to Blackstone. Ukraine needs to reach an agreement with creditors by the end of May to save $15.3 billion over four years as a condition for receiving the next tranche of a $17.5 billion IMF loan.

“For sure, the creditors will try to achieve” a deal with no principal reduction, “but realistically it is not viable,” Michael Ganske at Rogge in London, said. “Ukraine’s debt-to-GDP is much too high and the economy is shrinking.” Public-sector debt is set to rise to 94% of gross domestic product this year, according to the IMF, after a yearlong conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the nation’s east crippled its economy. Output shrank 7 to 10% in the first quarter, Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko said on March 24. The country is seeking to restructure at least $21.7 billion, data compiled by Bloomberg News. A price of about 40 cents signals creditors will face writedowns to their principal holdings of about 20%, Bank of America said in March.

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Think I’ll keep my New Zealand theme going for a bit.

Homeowners In Auckland’s Fringe Saving Up To $50,000 A Year (NZ Herald)

Buying a house on the city’s outskirts can save Aucklanders up to $50,000 each year in mortgage repayments, despite the added commuting costs, new figures reveal. The research, carried out by real estate firm Bayleys, factored in the cost of mortgage repayments as well as the cost of travel from the respective areas. Lower house prices in outlying suburbs – like Papakura, New Lynn, Sunnyvale and Manukau – meant even with transport costs homeowners were still paying significantly less than those in city-fringe suburbs. Bayleys calculated the first-year mortgage repayment costs for different suburbs based on median house prices from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) and the ANZ variable rate of 6.74%.

It found the annual cost of servicing a mortgage for a median priced Orakei or Remuera home ($1.35 million) was $84,060 in the first year. In Pukekohe, where the median price of a home is $500,000, the annual mortgage repayment in the first year would be $31,128. Even factoring in the $4032 annual cost of commuting from Pukekohe to the CBD by train on the At Hop card system – as well as the $768 public transport cost from Orakei to the city – living in the southern suburb was about $50,000 cheaper. Bayleys Research manager Ian Little said even if a Pukekohe resident commuted by car and chose to park in the central city, it was still cheaper.

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Elected on a promise, and then back out with feeble excuses? Tar and feathers!

New Zealand Unlikely to Deliver on 2015 Budget Surplus Promise (Bloomberg)

New Zealand’s government is unlikely to return its budget to surplus this year as it promised ahead of an election in 2014, Finance Minister Bill English said. “Lower inflation, while good for consumers, is making it less likely that the final accounts in October will show a surplus for the whole year,” English said in a statement Friday. The budget showed a NZ$269 million ($203 million) deficit in the eight months ended Feb. 28, the Treasury Department said earlier Friday. Prime Minister John Key won a third term last year, campaigning on his economic management and pledging to post the nation’s first budget surplus in seven years in the 12 months ending June 30, 2015.

In May last year, English projected a surplus of NZ$372 million for 2014-15. The Treasury in December said low inflation, which curbs nominal economic growth and tax revenue, suggested the budget would remain in deficit. English, who delivers his next annual budget May 21, previously said that the Treasury forecasts may be proved wrong by the time the full-year financial statements are prepared in October. Consumer prices rose 0.8% in the fourth quarter from a year earlier and were down 0.2% from the prior three-month period – the first quarterly decline in three years. The central bank last month forecast annual inflation would fall to zero in the first quarter.

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Only possible with more nukes.

Japan To Pledge 20% CO2 Cut (Guardian)

Japan will promise to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from 2013 levels ahead of a global summit on climate change this year, a report said Thursday, despite uncertainty over post-Fukushima energy policy. The government will likely announce the new target at the G7 summit in June in Germany, the leading business daily Nikkei reported, citing unnamed government sources. In a separate report, Kyodo News said Tokyo will set a target of cutting gas emissions “by at least 20% by 2030, from 2005 levels.” Japan is one of the few leading polluters that has not yet declared a target on emission cuts, as the world works towards a new framework for combating climate change, to be finalised at December’s COP 21 gathering in Paris.

A total of 33 countries – including the no.2 emitter the United States, the no.3 emitter the European Union, and Russia, ranked fifth – submitted their reduction goals to the UN secretariat by the end of last month. The US has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% over 2005 levels within the next decade, while the EU said it will cut its pollution by 40% by 2030 from 1990 levels. Russia said it could drive down emissions by up to 30% compared to 1990 levels, subject to conditions. In earlier rounds of climate talks, Tokyo pledged it would reduce its greenhouse gas output by 25% by 2020 from 1990 levels. But that target was slashed to a 3.8% cut from 2005 levels in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, which led to idling of the country’s entire nuclear stable.

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Finally US media are catching up to this story?

Dying at Europe’s Doorstep (Bloomberg)

For people who court danger in foreign lands, Chris Catrambone is a good guy to know. Originally from Louisiana, he made his first $10 million before age 30 investigating insurance claims and lining up medical care for injured workers in some of the world’s most violent places, especially contractors of U.S.-owned companies operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008, at 27, he moved his two-year-old multinational company, the Tangiers Group, to Malta, the island nation in the central Mediterranean that’s been vital to various empires for more than two millennia, and where moorings are as common as parking spots. Tangiers Group’s portfolio includes travel insurance, up-to-date CIA World Factbook-type reports on emerging markets, and hospitalization and evacuations for expats.

In the summer of 2013, with his wife, Regina, and stepdaughter, Maria Luisa, Catrambone chartered a yacht for a trip to the coast of Tunisia with a stop on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a popular vacation spot. It’s also a landing point used by migrants trying to enter Europe illegally. As the Catrambones left the harbor, Regina spotted a parka floating on the waves. It struck her as incongruous—a winter coat being carried by the warm tide—and she asked their captain about it. He replied that it had almost certainly belonged to one of the thousands who’ve attempted a water crossing to Lampedusa from Libya in inflatable dinghies—one who didn’t make it. “Lampedusa has a beach called Rabbit Beach, and every year it’s rated as one of the top beaches in the world, so of course we wanted to visit it,” Chris says.

“But then we learned that there are bodies of refugees literally washing ashore on this most beautiful beach. So what, you’re going to have a nice swim in the same water where these people are dying? Is that right?” That afternoon, and well into the night, he and Regina discussed what Pope Francis, on his first visit outside the Vatican, had described as “the globalization of indifference” to the plight of refugees at sea. “Papa Francesco said that everyone that could help, should do it, [and] with his own skills,” says Regina, who speaks English as well as her native Italian. “So we start to think, what are our capabilities? We have a good background in helping people in trouble.”

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Mar 262015
 
 March 26, 2015  Posted by at 8:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Jack Delano Residents of rooming house for rail workers, Clinton, Iowa 1943

US Economy Heads Toward Zero Growth in Q1 (WolfStreet)
US Home Prices Are Surging 13 Times Faster Than Wages (Bloomberg)
UK Household Debt Soars By 9% To Hit A Record £239bn (Independent)
ECB Bond Buying To Continue Till Inflation Reaches 2%: Draghi (WSJ)
Europe Blocks Desperate Greek Attempt To Stay Afloat (Telegraph)
Eurozone Said to Give Greece Five Days to Deliver Plan (Bloomberg)
Greek Central Bank Governor Stournaras Says Grexit Isn’t An Option (WSJ)
A Murky, Sloppy Muddle: How Greece’s Exit From Euro Could Happen (Bloomberg)
Athens Raids Public Health Coffers In Hunt For Cash (FT)
Greek Government Takes Desperate Measures In Battle To Stay Afloat (Guardian)
How Low Can Interest Rates Go? (BBC)
US Risks Epic Blunder By Treating China As An Economic Enemy (AEP)
China’s European Shopping Spree Shows No Signs Of Slowing (Ind.)
US Couldn’t Corral AIIB Due To Soaring Chinese Investments In Europe (Atimes)
Putin Security Council Slams Obama Attempts At “New World Order” (Zero Hedge)
The Central Banker Who Saved the Russian Economy From the Abyss (Bloomberg)
Banking Enclave of Andorra Shaken by US Accusations (Bloomberg)
Meet The Kagans: A Family Business Of Perpetual War (Robert Parry)
After a Twelve Year Mistake in Iraq, We Must Just March Home (Ron Paul)
We’re Treating Soil Like Dirt. It’s A Fatal Mistake (Monbiot)
No One Must Go Thirsty: Water In Public Hands Is A Right (Beppe Grillo)

Want to bet the ‘real’ number will be way above zero?

US Economy Heads Toward Zero Growth in Q1 (WolfStreet)

The consistency with which nearly every report on the US economy has deteriorated over the last few months is astonishing. Only the jobs report has been spared that sharp downdraft. So we blame the weather, which in parts of the US was truly atrocious, while in other parts, particularly in California, it was gorgeous. Too gorgeous. This is supposed to be our rainy season, but every day the sun is out as we’re heading into our fourth year of drought. Yet the drought isn’t what keeps people from shopping or companies from ordering equipment. So out here, we’re baffled when the weather gets blamed. Today’s durable goods report for February was another shot at this wobbly edifice of the US economy.

New orders for manufactured durable goods dropped by 1.4%, the Census Bureau reported. It was the third decrease in four months. Transportation equipment fell 3.5%, also the third decrease in four months. Excluding transportation, new orders – “core” durable goods – fell 0.4%, down for the fifth month in a row. And Core Capital Goods New Orders, considered an important gauge of business spending, fell 1.4%, down for the sixth month in a row. The weather is really hard to blame for this, so folks blamed the strong dollar and slack demand in the US and globally. The data was bad enough to push the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow model of the US economy down another step toward zero growth in the first quarter.

The Atlanta Fed started the model in 2011 to offer a more immediate picture where the economy is headed. It takes into account economic data as released and adjusts its GDP forecast for the quarter as it goes. The model is volatile. It reacts to incoming monthly data that are themselves volatile and subject to sharp revisions. So a few strong releases for March could turn this thing around on a dime. But we’re still dealing with the reality of January and February; the data has been crummy, and the Atlanta Fed’s “nowcast” is increasingly depicting an economy that is losing its struggle with growth.

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SO what exactly did the Fed purchase $1 trillion in mortgage-backed securities for? Riddle me that.

US Home Prices Are Surging 13 Times Faster Than Wages (Bloomberg)

For most people, buying a home is no cheap venture. That’s especially the case when the growth in U.S. home prices is beating wage increases 13 to 1. Wages climbed by 1.3% from the second quarter of 2012 to the second quarter of 2014, compared to a 17% increase in home prices around that time, according to a new report from RealtyTrac. The real-estate data provider used the Labor Department’s weekly earnings data to measure wage growth, while home prices were derived from sales-deed data in December 2014 and compared to December 2012 on the hypothesis that a change in average wages would take at least six months to affect home prices.

Using localized earnings data, RealtyTrac also found that 76% of housing markets posted increases in home prices that exceeded the wage growth there during that time frame. How could this happen? Enter the investor. In many markets, the housing recovery has “largely been driven over the last two years by buyers who are not as constrained by incomes – namely the institutional investors coming in and buying up properties as rentals, and international buyers coming in and buying, often with cash,” Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac and author of the report, said in an interview.

For demand from traditional buyers to improve, “either wages are going to need to go up or prices are going to need to at least flatten out and wait for wages to catch up,” he said. “You might say the third alternative is interest rates go down so you give people more buying power with their wages, but interest rates are about as low as they can go.” The trend illustrates the limited impact of the Federal Reserve’s decision to include mortgage-backed securities in its unprecedented asset-buying program. The Fed bought more than $1 trillion of those securities to prop up the housing market after it collapsed and helped trigger the worst recession in the post-World War II era.

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How Britain fell back in love with debt.

UK Household Debt Soars By 9% To Hit A Record £239bn (Independent)

The average UK household is set to hold close to £10,000 in unsecured debt by the end of 2016, according to a leading accountancy firm. The forecast, by PricewaterhouseCoopers, was made after 2014 saw a sharp rise in unsecured debt, which bounced back to an all-time high of £239bn. The 9% rise in borrowing last year brings the average to close to £9,000, but PwC reckons that will grow. That would mean households will be closing in on the £10,000 figure if trends continue. The household debt to income ratio is projected to reach 172% by 2020, exceeding its previous peak set before the financial crisis. It includes mortgages and other debt secured on property.

Most banks all but ceased lending during the 2007/2008 shock. While mortgage lending is more strictly controlled than it was, the tap has gradually loosened when it comes to unsecured debt. PwC’s Precious Plastic: How Britons fell back in love with borrowing, published today, finds that most consumers are confident that they can manage their debt, with fewer worried about job security and pay rises as the economy improves. But the report says that despite consumers’ confidence, affordability will increasingly be called into question as the debt to income ratio steadily increases over coming years.

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To get inflation to 2%, people would need to massively raise spending. They won’t.

ECB Bond Buying To Continue Till Inflation Reaches 2%: Draghi (WSJ)

The European Central Bank will purchase large amounts of public and private debt for at least 18 months and until it is convinced that inflation will stabilise near annual rates of 2%, the bank s president Mario Draghi has said, underscoring the ECB’s willingness to flood the eurozone with freshly minted money far into the future. In testimony to European parliament, Mr Draghi also urged Greece to commit to fully honouring its debt obligations. Its government also must be specific about areas of economic and fiscal reforms where it is in agreement with its international creditors and, where there is disagreement, how (the reforms) are going to be replaced has to be specified , he said.

Referring to the ECB s bond purchase program, now entering its third week, Mr Draghi said: We intend to carry out our purchases at least until end-September 2016, and in any case until we see a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation which is consistent with our aim of achieving inflation rates below, but close to, 2% over the medium term. Mr Draghi’s testimony comes two weeks after the ECB launched a program to purchase more than €1 trillion in bonds mostly government debt by September 2016. The purpose of the program, known as quantitative easing, or QE, is to raise inflation rates closer to the ECB’s target of near 2%.

The ECB has said it would buy bonds at a monthly clip of €60 billion and that the purchases could even extend beyond September of next year. The Governing Council will take a holistic perspective when assessing the path of inflation. It will evaluate the likelihood for inflation not only to converge to levels that are closer to 2%, but also to stabilise around those levels with sufficient confidence thereafter, Mr Draghi said. Consumer prices were down 0.3% from year-ago levels in February, the third-straight decline on an annual basis.

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Say uncle first!

Europe Blocks Desperate Greek Attempt To Stay Afloat (Telegraph)

The Greek government will not receive €1.2bn in European rescue funds after officials ruled the Leftist government had no legal claims on the cash. Athens requested a return of the funds it said were erroneously handed to creditors from Greece’s own bank recapitalisation fund, the Hellenic Financial Stability Facility (HFSF). The transfer was originally arranged by the previous Greek administration. But eurozone officials have blocked the claim, saying it is “legally impossible” transfer the money back to the debt-stricken country. “There was agreement that, legally, there was no over payment from the HFSF to the EFSF,” said a fund spokesman. Germany’s finance ministry was also reluctant to allow the release, claiming there was “no reason” to make the transfer.

The decision is a further blow to the Greek government’s attempts to stay afloat over the next few weeks. Athens has been scrambling to make repayments to its creditors and continue to pay wages and pensions. The government now faces another €2.4bn cash squeeze in April, including a €450m loan repayment to the IMF on April 9. As part of its efforts to stay solvent, the Leftist government has also requested a €1.9bn transfer of profits held by the European Central Bank, from the holdings of Greek government bonds. So far, the ECB has rebuffed all Greek pleas to alleviate their cash squeeze. The central bank has moved to officially ban the country’s banks from increasing their holdings of short-term government debt.

Greek banks are being kept alive through the provision of an expensive form of emergency liquidity (ELA) which is rapidly being used up as capital flees the country. The ECB decided to incrementally raise the limit on ELA to €71bn – a bigger hike than in previous weeks.
Speaking in London on Wednesday, the ECB’s chief economist Peter Praet declined to comment on the Bank’s actions, saying it was important to exercise “verbal restraint” in moments of crisis. Worsening deposit flight has placed the squeeze on Greek lenders, who are only eligible for ELA as long as they are deemed to be solvent. Mr Praet said the country’s banks remained counterparties in their operations with the ECB, suggesting they remained healthy enough to continue receiving ELA.

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One plan after another.

Eurozone Said to Give Greece Five Days to Deliver Plan (Bloomberg)

Greece has until Monday to show how it will follow through on reform commitments after the euro area ruled out speedy access to aid funds, three officials said following a conference call of finance ministry deputies. The euro zone’s other 18 members were adamant on Wednesday’s call that Greece needs to deliver specific plans to see any more bailout cash, the officials said. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras needs to show that Greece can rebuild trust in its promises, they said. Finance deputies left the door open to €1.2 billion that has been allocated to aid the banking system, as the deputies concluded that Greece can’t tap those funds on a technicality.

As a result, Greece will have to show it will move ahead with the changes its creditors are seeking to get the bank-aid money or other bailout funds. Greece won some financial breathing room Wednesday when the European Central Bank raised the ceiling for Emergency Liquidity Assistance to Greek banks by more than €1 billion to more than €71 billion, according to two people with knowledge of the decision who asked not to be named. The ECB’s move alleviates some near-term cash needs in the banking system while keeping pressure on Tsipras to find a longer-term solution. European officials have said that Greece could default on its obligations within weeks unless there’s a breakthrough.

Greece needs to act faster so its actions can be more effective, Eurogroup Chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who heads the euro-area finance ministers’ group, said in Rotterdam on Wednesday. “The main problem is the same in every country in Europe: getting things done.” Monday will be a test of whether Greece can convince its peers that it will meet their demands for an economic overhaul, the officials said. Once Greece submits its next documents, they’ll need to be reviewed by the country’s official creditors and then the finance ministry deputies in the first few days of next week, ahead of Easter holidays, one of the officials said.

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Oh, yes it is.

Greek Central Bank Governor Stournaras Says Grexit Isn’t An Option (WSJ)

Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras said Wednesday that ditching the euro and exiting the single currency union is “not an option” for Greece. Mr. Stournaras told an audience at the London School of Economics that a Greek exit–dubbed “Grexit” in financial markets–risks triggering another severe downturn in the stricken Mediterranean economy. Greece has already improved its global competitiveness by driving down wages and prices, he said, and growth is returning. “Grexit would deliver no benefit, but a lot of pain,” Mr. Stournaras said. Quitting the eurozone would probably lead to even deeper austerity than Greece already has implemented, he said, while the adoption of an alternative currency would risk fueling runaway inflation.

His remarks come a day after the ECB instructed Greece’s biggest banks to refrain from taking on anymore short-term Greek government debt, adding to the pressure on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s leftwing government in Athens to reach a deal with creditors over the terms of the nation’s €240 billion bailout package. Mr. Tsipras was elected in January on a pledge to reverse many of the budget cuts and other economic reforms demanded by Greece’s creditors in exchange for financial aid. But he has struggled to persuade lenders led by Germany and the IMF to back down, raising the specter of a disorderly Greek exit from the eurozone.

Greece now has just weeks to secure a deal to unlock billions of euros in badly needed funds to keep paying public-sector salaries and service the nation’s debts. Mr. Stournaras said Greece’s government has a unique opportunity to implement bold economic reforms and forge a durable recovery. “This is in my view a historical opportunity which should not be missed,” he said. He added that he’s more optimistic that Mr. Tsipras’s government is serious about reform than he was a month ago.

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Scenario’s.

A Murky, Sloppy Muddle: How Greece’s Exit From Euro Could Happen (Bloomberg)

With the fight to keep Greece in the euro now in its sixth year, everyone is running out of patience. More importantly, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government in Athens is running out of money. While bond yields suggest investors expect Greece to stay in the euro, economists such as UniCredit Bank AG’s Erik Nielsen say it may be just a matter of time before he’s forced to print a new currency. Adopting the euro was always supposed to be a one-way ticket, so there is no legal precedent or political roadmap for an exit. If you’re waiting for a formal announcement of a clear resolution, you may be waiting a long time.

Next steps for Greece range from retaining the euro to catastrophic divorce; half-measures like having multiple currencies circulate, with aid recycled to repay foreign-currency debts, are also in the cards. Equally unclear is who would tell the world – and how – that Greece has entered an economic afterlife. Possible messengers include Tsipras, the ECB, EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, among others.

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Strip mining.

Athens Raids Public Health Coffers In Hunt For Cash (FT)

Greece’s government has raided the coffers of its public health service and the Athens metro as it widens a hunt for funds to keep itself afloat and service debts. Athens faces a €1.7bn bill for wages and pensions at the end of the month and then a €450m loan payment to the IMF on April 9. Greek government and eurozone officials believe Athens does not have funds to cover both. In another constraint on Greece’s ability to raise cash, the ECB decided to impose stricter curbs on the issuance of short-term government debt. EU officials expressed hope that a marathon Monday night meeting between Alexis Tsipras and Angela Merkel, would spark long-stalled talks over economic reforms Greece must implement to unlock €7.2bn in frozen bailout aid.

Athens has promised to deliver a list of reforms to eurozone authorities by Monday. But officials cautioned that the list would still have to be agreed with bailout inspectors before eurozone authorities could make progress on any deal to free up new funding. Though Mr Tsipras discussed his reform plans with Ms Merkel on Monday night, there were few signs that talks in Athens with bailout inspectors had become more active following the Berlin meeting. “The big ‘if’ is that they seem to move at such a glacial pace,” said an official. Greek authorities have also been seeking €1.2bn in funding that they believe was wrongly taken out of the country’s bank recapitalisation fund by eurozone authorities.

But EU officials said a quick decision on the matter was unlikely and even if Athens was awarded the cash it could only go towards bank rescues, not general government coffers. In the absence of progress, some EU officials were accelerating their preparations in case Athens runs out of cash before it agrees a reform programme. In Brussels, European Commission officials have begun looking again at EU law governing capital controls in case the growing uncertainty, or a non-payment to the IMF, spurs a renewed run on bank deposits.

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“They are scraping the bottom of the barrel for everything they can find.”

Greek Government Takes Desperate Measures In Battle To Stay Afloat (Guardian)

The Greek government is resorting to increasingly desperate measures to keep afloat amid dire warnings the debt-stricken country could go bust within weeks. In a balancing act not seen by any European administration in recent times, the cash-strapped coalition has sequestered the reserves of public bodies, seized EU subsidies destined for farmers and postponed all payments for state supplies in the scramble to continue servicing its debt and paying salaries and pensions. Pension funds have been raided to raise money for Treasury bill auctions. “It is clear we are reaching the end and very soon won’t be able to pay,” former finance minister, Stefanos Manos, said. “They are scraping the bottom of the barrel for everything they can find.”

To cover the credit crunch, corporations in which the state has a majority stake, including the Athens Metro, have been tapped. The scheme of repo transactions – where government bonds are used for short-term borrowing requirements – is believed to have raised upwards of €600m in recent weeks. Earlier this month the leftist-led coalition suspended some €300m of EU subsidies for farmers to help pay €1.7bn in public sector wages and pensions due next week. Greek subsidiaries of multinationals have also been approached for loans.

The last-resort measures came as Deutsche Bank warned that Athens was at risk of being pushed into default on 9 April when it must meet a €450m debt repayment to the International Monetary Fund. The precarious state of Athens’ finances has been exacerbated by a precipitous decline in tax revenues – more than €1bn below target since January – said the bank’s economists. Deposit flight has also ratcheted up the pressure. More than €20bn has fled the country since the beginning of the year as savers rush to withdraw funds, worried about Greece’s ability to remain in the euro. “The risk of capital controls continues to rise,” noted the Deutsche report.

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“..the nearer Bank Rate approaches zero, the bigger the squeeze on the profits banks earn from borrowing and lending.”

How Low Can Interest Rates Go? (BBC)

The Bank of England’s website says that the “effective lower bound” for the interest rate it sets, Bank Rate, is the current rate of 0.5%. This is the level, according to the Bank, “below which it cannot be set” – the lowest practicable official interest rate. But on this important issue the website is behind the thinking of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, which sets Bank Rate as its main tool to keep inflation on target. Because just over a month ago, the Bank’s governor said that if low inflation were to begin to depress expectations of inflation and wage growth, the MPC could “cut Bank Rate further towards zero”.

And with inflation well below the 2% target at zero, the Bank’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, has said – as a personal rather than institutional view – that there is a meaningful chance that Bank Rate will be cut. So what has happened to demonstrate to the Bank that 0.5% is not the practicable minimum. Partly it is the example of central banks – the European Central Bank and those of Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark – whose official rates are negative: banks that place funds with them are having interest deducted from their deposits, rather than receiving interest. Their rates are less than zero. The other contributor to the fall in the effective lower bound is the recovery of Britain’s banks.

This matters because the nearer Bank Rate approaches zero, the bigger the squeeze on the profits banks earn from borrowing and lending. Think of it this way. Competition between banks should bring down the interest rate on loans when Bank Rate is cut towards zero. But savings rates would be kept by competition above zero. So the gap between the interest rate paid and received by banks would narrow: the profits on this most basic of banking activities would fall. Also the windfall received by banks from all those interest-free deposits the banks hold would be significantly cut.

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“China must recycle its trade surpluses and its $3.8 trillion reserves by one means or another. It can buy US Treasuries, Bunds, or Gilts, perpetuating a global bond bubble.”

US Risks Epic Blunder By Treating China As An Economic Enemy (AEP)

The United States has handled its economic diplomacy with shocking myopia. The US Treasury’s attempt to cripple the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) before it gets off the ground is clearly intended to head off China’s ascendancy as a rival financial superpower, whatever the faux-pieties from Washington about standards of “governance”. Such a policy is misguided at every level, evidence of what can go wrong when a lame-duck president defers to posturing amateurs in Congress on delicate matters of global geostrategy. Washington has enraged Britain by trying to browbeat Downing Street into boycotting the project. It has forced allies and friendly countries across the Far East to make a fatal choice between the US and China that none wished to make, and has ended up losing almost everybody. Germany, France, and Italy are joining. Australia and South Korea may follow soon.

The AIIB is exactly what the world needs. China must recycle its trade surpluses and its $3.8 trillion reserves by one means or another. It can buy US Treasuries, Bunds, or Gilts, perpetuating a global bond bubble. It can make surgical investments abroad to acquire technology for its champions and pursue a narrow national interest. Or it can recycle the money in concert with other members of the AIIB – with a start-up capital of $50bn – for sewage projects, clean energy, ports, roads, and railways in Asia, helping to plug a $700bn shortfall in infrastructure investment that the World Bank is too small to cover and which is of collective benefit to the world. Britain recycled its surpluses in the 19th Century by building the world’s railways.

America did so in the 1950s through the Marshall Plan. China must do likewise, and it is hard to see why the AIIB is considered such a villainous variant. American officials castigated Britain for breaking ranks and embracing the project, as if it were kowtowing to an enemy. “We are wary about a trend of constant accommodation of China, which is not the best way to engage a rising power,” one US official told the Financial Times. One is left breathless at the historical folly of such a view in any case. As Henry Kissinger told Caixin magazine this week, the greater danger is that the US fails to accommodate the rise of China in an enlightened fashion, repeating errors made by the status quo powers faced with a prickly Germany before the First World War.

There are echoes of the Korean War in this Atlantic spat, though thankfully the stakes are less violent today. Britain tried to restrain General Douglas MacArthur and Washington’s hawks as they sent US forces charging through North Korea to the Yalu River and the Manchurian border in 1950, warning that it would force China to respond. MacArthur’s contemptuous riposte was to liken British reflexes to the betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich, of “desiring to appease the Chinese Communists by giving them a strip of Northern Korea.” The British experts were right. China threw four armies across the Yalu. America had arrogantly stumbled into a shooting war with the Chinese revolution, a cataclysmic mistake.

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More strip mining.

China’s European Shopping Spree Shows No Signs Of Slowing (Ind.)

A planned takeover of the Italian tyre maker Pirelli by ChemChina is the latest in a string of Chinese acquisitions in Europe, topping up total foreign investment from China worth $18 billion in 2014, double 2013. Pirelli, the world’s fifth largest tyre maker, will be in Chinese hands after ChemChina confirmed a $7.7 billion bid on Sunday. The deal will give Pirelli a slice of the Chinese tyre market and could see its global market share rise to 10%. It’s one of the biggest European acquisitions by a Chinese company yet. But that’s unlikely to be the case for long. Chinese investors have shown increasing interest in Europe as a centre for investment in the last year, spurred on by the cheap euro and the opportunity to invest in legacy brands.

“Chinese investment in Europe has become much more diverse in recent years and is now extending into all parts of Europe.” said Thomas Gilles, Chairman of the EMEA-China Group at Baker & McKenzie. “What we’re seeing is the maturing and normalization of Chinese investment processes in line with the international economy.” The UK is top of the list. Last year, Chinese investors acquired several billion-dollar British investments. Pizza Hut went for a cool £940 million ($1.4 billion), while property bought by Chinese firms includes Chiswick Park for £875 million ($1.3 billion) and 10 Upper Bank Street for £497 million ($740 million).

Last week it emerged that a Chinese company backed by billionaire Guo Guangchang is looking acquire 18 buildings in Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz square, in what could be the biggest German property sale since 2007. Last year France sold Peugeot for £740 million ($1.1 billion).

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“.. the yuan has increased in value against the Euro almost 25% in one year..”

US Couldn’t Corral AIIB Due To Soaring Chinese Investments In Europe (Atimes)

Stopping a stampede isn’t easy – as that old cowpoke Uncle Sam’s discovering as more European nations bolt to join China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The weak Euro’s drawing a conga line of Chinese investments to Europe. The money’s being plunked down not only in “typical” Chinese sectors of historic interest like resources or transportation. It’s focusing geographically across the entire European opportunity and capability spectrum. The uplifting effects of this investment hasn’t been lost on the European countries who are now eager to climb aboard China’s AIIB. Ever since Europe embarked on their QE, and China has maintained stability in the yuan.

As we have noted, this is viewed as pre-condition for the non-convertible yuan to join the IMF’s SDR currency basket later this year. And the yuan has increased in value against the Euro almost 25% in one year – a trend likely to continue through the year with the long-term policies of the respective central banks likely to stay in place for the foreseeable future. According to the EU Observer: “Even before the crisis, these flows surged, tripling from less than US$1 billion per year in 2004-8 to roughly $3 billion in 2009-10. As the Eurozone crisis kicked in, Chinese investment tripled again to $10 billion in 2011. And last year, Chinese investors doubled their money in Europe to a record $18 billion.”

Chinese capital’s typically poking around for each European country’s relative market advantages. In the UK as with many foreign investors, the Chinese have focused on prime property, while in Germany they look for advanced technology. “The UK is the top destination for Chinese investment at $5.1 billion, followed by Italy at $3.5 billion,” the Observer said. As the capital needs of Southern Europe grow, Chinese capital has focused on privatisations and distressed opportunities, from the Greek ports connecting to their new Silk Road to Europe, to Portugal’s Espirito Santo Bank and Spain’s real estate foreclosures.

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They’re on to us.

Putin Security Council Slams Obama Attempts At “New World Order” (Zero Hedge)

Moscow – which may or may not have to nuke Denmark – says the US has adopted a national security strategy that is decidedly anti-Russian. Although attempts to prove how “isolated” Putin truly is on the geopolitical stage haven’t fared very well of late (what with Russian bombers refueling at former U.S. air bases and Putin plotting Eurasian currency unions) and although Washington’s experience with China’s AIIB membership drive seems to indicate it may be the US that is in fact isolated, The Kremlin doesn’t think The White House is likely to give up on its attempts to ostracize Russia any time soon. From a Russian Security Council statement entitled “About The US National Security Strategy”:

In the long term, the United States, in cooperation with its allies will continue the policy of political and economic isolation of Russia, including limiting its ability to export energy and the displacement of all markets for military products, while making it difficult for the production of high-tech products in Russia.

Putin’s security council then proceeds to deliver a remarkably accurate description of Washington’s foreign policy aims including the desire to show off NATO military capabilities (on full display along the Russian border currently), installing puppet governments and propping them up with financial and military support (which is precisely what’s going on now in Ukraine as the US is set to provide military assistance and also financial assistance via a Ukrainian bond issue back by the full faith and credit of the US government), and preserving US hegemony by taking unilateral action across the globe at Washington’s behest (something the US does all the time):

The Strategy emphasizes the US desire to proceed with the formation of a new global economic order. A special place in this order should take a Trans-Pacific Partnership and transatlantic trade and investment partnership that will enable the US central position in the free trade zones, covering two-thirds of the world economy. The armed forces are considered as the basis of US national security and military superiority is considered a major factor in the American world leadership. While maintaining the continuity of the plans to use military force unilaterally and anywhere in the world, as well as to maintain a military presence abroad…

Significant efforts by the US and its allies will be directed to the formation of anti-Russian policy states, with which Russia has established partnership relations, as well as to reduce Russian influence in the former Soviet Union. Continue the policy of preserving the global dominance of the United States, increasing the combat capabilities of NATO, as well as to strengthen the US military presence in the Asia-Tihokeanskom region. Military force will continue to be considered as the primary means of ensuring national security and interests of the United States. Becoming more widespread to eliminate unwanted US political regimes acquire advanced technology “color revolutions” with a high probability of their application in relation to Russia.

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“Russia would no longer fight the market. Speculators needed a cold shower, she said.”

The Central Banker Who Saved the Russian Economy From the Abyss (Bloomberg)

Panic reached the inner sanctum of the Russian central bank. It was Dec. 16 – the day Russian traders would later christen Black Tuesday – and the ruble was in a freefall.“Intervene! Intervene!” a central bank official shouted. Governor Elvira Nabiullina watched the currency on her tablet screen react to her emergency rate increase. No, she said, not this time: Russia would no longer fight the market. Speculators needed a cold shower, she said. That daring decision, related by two people with knowledge of the meeting, has begun to pay off for Nabiullina, 51, and her patron, President Vladimir Putin. Despite sanctions meant to punish Russia for its foray into Ukraine a year ago, the ruble has stabilized. Since Black Tuesday, when it plunged to a record low, the ruble has rebounded 19% against the dollar, the most among 24 emerging-market currencies.

Russia still confronts a painful recession brought on by the collapse in oil, and many of its banks are hurting. But for now, at least, the economy has stepped back from the abyss. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov last week declared the worst was over. Inside the central bank, near Red Square, the lull passes for victory. Nabiullina no longer has to squander foreign-exchange reserves in vain attempts to prop up the ruble. Now she faces the equally daunting task of binding up the wounded economy. While her central bank is nominally independent, analysts agree Putin is ultimately in charge. Yet Nabiullina has emerged as a power in her own right, with a direct line to the president.

Nabiullina isn’t afraid to speak up. When aides urged Putin to impose capital controls last year, she fought against the move and pushed for a freely floating ruble, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Putin heeded her advice — and then let Nabiullina sort out the details. “It was a historic moment because she convinced Putin to accept a market solution to a problem that threatened the whole banking system,” UBS AG Russia Chairman Rair Simonyan said. Russia might well have veered into economic isolation, he said. What Nabiullina came up with turned out to be one of the biggest financial gambles of Putin’s 15-year rule. First she raised interest rates to punishingly high levels, lifting the benchmark rate to 17% from 10.5% in one stroke. Then she stepped back from intervening on the currency market.

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“..a primary money-laundering concern..”

Banking Enclave of Andorra Shaken by US Accusations (Bloomberg)

Juan Ovelar made a quick decision when he heard the U.S. government had accused his Andorran bank of money-laundering, and immediately withdrew most of his funds. “I’m worried that everyone will do the same as I did and there will be a knock-on effect that could affect other banks,” said Ovelar, 27, a computer expert from Argentina, in an interview outside the headquarters of Banca Privada d’Andorra in the capital Andorra La Vella. The U.S. Treasury named Banca Privada d’Andorra, the country’s fourth-largest bank, a “primary money-laundering concern” on March 10. That led to its seizure by Andorran authorities, the arrest of the chief executive officer and a run on customer funds at the lender’s Spanish unit.

The bank’s fate sent tremors through Andorra, a 181-square-mile (469 km2) Catalan-speaking microstate in the eastern Pyrenees with an economy based on skiing, tax-free shopping and banking. The scandal raises risks for its financial industry, which makes up almost a fifth of the €1.8 billion economy and is too big to be bailed out by the state, said Xavier Puig, a professor at Barcelona’s Universidad Pompeu Fabra. Customers lined up at the bank’s branches to take out their money after it limited cash withdrawals to 2,500 euros a week, starting March 16. The bank’s new management, appointed by local regulators, imposed the limit after international banks severed credit lines, a person with knowledge of the situation said.

Andorra’s government is trying to convince international banks to open credit lines so customers won’t be cut off from funds, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. Options under consideration for the bank include the sale of assets or liquidation, the person said, adding that officials are seeking a quick solution to limit the effect on other banks. “The government is acting quickly to find a solution because the consequences can be very serious,” said Puig. “They need to amputate this part so that the gangrene doesn’t extend to the rest of the body.” Fitch Ratings put the three largest Andorran banks on watch for a possible downgrade on Monday because of “potential spill-over effects.”

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A comprehensive overview of behind the scenes US war mongering.

Meet The Kagans: A Family Business Of Perpetual War (Robert Parry)

Neoconservative pundit Robert Kagan and his wife, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, run a remarkable family business: she has sparked a hot war in Ukraine and helped launch Cold War II with Russia – and he steps in to demand that Congress jack up military spending so America can meet these new security threats. This extraordinary husband-and-wife duo makes quite a one-two punch for the Military-Industrial Complex, an inside-outside team that creates the need for more military spending, applies political pressure to ensure higher appropriations, and watches as thankful weapons manufacturers lavish grants on like-minded hawkish Washington think tanks.

Not only does the broader community of neoconservatives stand to benefit but so do other members of the Kagan clan, including Robert’s brother Frederick at the American Enterprise Institute and his wife Kimberly, who runs her own shop called the Institute for the Study of War. Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution (which doesn’t disclose details on its funders), used his prized perch on the Washington Post’s op-ed page on Friday to bait Republicans into abandoning the sequester caps limiting the Pentagon’s budget, which he calculated at about $523 billion (apparently not counting extra war spending). Kagan called on the GOP legislators to add at least $38 billion and preferably more like $54 billion to $117 billion.

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“..the greatest strategic disaster in US history.”

After a Twelve Year Mistake in Iraq, We Must Just March Home (Ron Paul)

Twelve years ago last week, the US launched its invasion of Iraq, an act the late General William Odom predicted would turn out to be “the greatest strategic disaster in US history.” Before the attack I was accused of exaggerating the potential costs of the war when I warned that it could end up costing as much as $100 billion. One trillion dollars later, with not one but two “mission accomplished” moments, we are still not done intervening in Iraq. President Obama last year ordered the US military back into Iraq for the third time. It seems the Iraq “surge” and the Sunni “Awakening,” for which General David Petraeus had been given much credit, were not as successful as was claimed at the time.

From the sectarian violence unleashed by the US invasion of Iraq emerged al-Qaeda and then its more radical spin-off, ISIS. So Obama sent the US military back. We recently gained even more evidence that the initial war was sold on lies and fabrications. The CIA finally declassified much of its 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was the chief document used by the Bush Administration to justify the US attack. According to the Estimate, the US Intelligence Community concluded that:

‘[W]e are unable to determine whether [biological weapons] agent research has resumed…’ And: ‘the information we have on Iraqi nuclear personnel does not appear consistent with a coherent effort to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program.’

But even as the US Intelligence Community had reached this conclusion, President Bush told the American people that Iraq, “possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons” and “the evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.” Likewise, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s “bulletproof” evidence that Saddam Hussein had ties with al-Qaeda was contradicted by the National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that there was no operational tie between Hussein’s government and al-Qaeda. Even National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice’s famous statement that the aluminum tubes that Iraq was purchasing “are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs,” and “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” was based on evidence she must have known at the time was false. According to the NIE, the Energy Department had already concluded that the tubes were “consistent with applications to rocket motors” and “this is the more likely end use.”

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“..soil in allotments contains a third more organic carbon than agricultural soil and 25% more nitrogen..”

We’re Treating Soil Like Dirt. It’s A Fatal Mistake (Monbiot)

Imagine a wonderful world, a planet on which there was no threat of climate breakdown, no loss of freshwater, no antibiotic resistance, no obesity crisis, no terrorism, no war. Surely, then, we would be out of major danger? Sorry. Even if everything else were miraculously fixed, we’re finished if we don’t address an issue considered so marginal and irrelevant that you can go for months without seeing it in a newspaper. It’s literally and – it seems – metaphorically, beneath us. To judge by its absence from the media, most journalists consider it unworthy of consideration. But all human life depends on it. We knew this long ago, but somehow it has been forgotten. As a Sanskrit text written in about 1500BC noted: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”

The issue hasn’t changed, but we have. Landowners around the world are now engaged in an orgy of soil destruction so intense that, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world on average has just 60 more years of growing crops. Even in Britain, which is spared the tropical downpours that so quickly strip exposed soil from the land, Farmers Weekly reports, we have “only 100 harvests left”. To keep up with global food demand, the UN estimates, 6m hectares (14.8m acres) of new farmland will be needed every year. Instead, 12m hectares a year are lost through soil degradation. We wreck it, then move on, trashing rainforests and other precious habitats as we go. Soil is an almost magical substance, a living system that transforms the materials it encounters, making them available to plants.

That handful the Vedic master showed his disciples contains more micro-organisms than all the people who have ever lived on Earth. Yet we treat it like, well, dirt. The techniques that were supposed to feed the world threaten us with starvation. A paper just published in the journal Anthropocene analyses the undisturbed sediments in an 11th-century French lake. It reveals that the intensification of farming over the past century has increased the rate of soil erosion sixtyfold. Another paper, by researchers in the UK, shows that soil in allotments – the small patches in towns and cities that people cultivate by hand – contains a third more organic carbon than agricultural soil and 25% more nitrogen. This is one of the reasons why allotment holders produce between four and 11 times more food per hectare than do farmers.

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Bravo.

No One Must Go Thirsty: Water In Public Hands Is A Right (Beppe Grillo)

“Why is the water bill so high? In the last few years, have you ever tried to understand why something that should be a right is now something that makes a big hole in your savings? Someone would like to ruin the results of the 2011 referendum, in which a massive majority of the Italian people said “no” to every law that could place the handling of public water into private hands. However, in Italy, strange things are happening: water is cut off indiscriminately and without warning on a regular basis, the price of water has gone up by 95.8% in the last few years, the profits of the municipal companies are no longer being reinvested to reduce leakage but to maximise profits. Basically, those who are now managing water resources are today thinking more about making profits, rather than about providing a service.

The money we are paying in water bills is going to enrich the shareholders with generous dividends. This is a camouflaged privatisation and it is going against what was expressed as the will of the people. The 5 Star MoVement is taking to the European Parliament one of its historical battles: that of defending one of its five stars, keeping water in public hands. The proposal is simple: NO ONE MUST GO THIRSTY The World Health Organization has done the calculations: for an individual’s minimum needs between 50 and 100 litres of water a day are required. This amount must be guaranteed for all. This is why the 5 Star MoVement is proposing a service that provides a guaranteed minimum water supply for each person. It’s not acceptable to get rich by trading in water. That’s the message from the European citizens that have signed a petition asking European institutions NOT to privatise water.

1 million 800 thousand signatures for the first example of direct democracy in Europe. The Commission’s response has been disappointing because it hasn’t put forward any new legislative proposal. The principles contained in its communication are sacred but these need to be reinforced with laws, not just words. Furthermore, as regards the dreaded liberalization of public water, the Commission has underlined that it is up to the member States to make the laws. in particular, it has emphasised that the supply of water is the responsibility of the local authorities within the member State, and it is up to them to make the decisions as to whether to manage the supply directly, indirectly or by using private suppliers.

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Mar 212015
 
 March 21, 2015  Posted by at 6:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Jack Delano Freight operations on the Indiana Harbor Belt railroad 1943

Wages Haven’t Been This Crucial to US Economy in 50 Years (Bloomberg)
American Underwater Homeowners “Here To Stay” Zillow Says (Zero Hedge)
Here’s the Next Biggest Threat to Global Crude Oil Prices (Bloomberg)
Global Oil Glut Set To Grow As China Slows Crude Imports (Reuters)
Debt Is Oil Patch’s Four-Letter Word (Bloomberg)
Shocking Austerity: Greece’s Poor Lost 86% Of Income, Rich Only 17-20% (KTG)
Of Greeks and Germans: Re-Imagining Our Shared Future (Yanis Varoufakis)
Legal Experts: Greece Has Grounds for WWII Reparations (Greek Reporter)
It Really Looks Like Greeks Are Hiding Cash Under the Mattress (Bloomberg)
EU Offers Funds In Return For Urgent Greek Reforms (Guardian)
EC Head Juncker Offers $2 Billion In Unused Funds To Greece (RT)
EU Bank’s Lack Of Transparency ‘Like A John Le Carré Novel’ (Guardian)
Japan Pensions Sell Record $46 Billion Bonds to Buy Stocks (Bloomberg)
The Central Banks Will Not Be Able to Control the Dollar Carry Trade (Phoenix)
US Sets First Fracking Standards in More Than 30 Years (Bloomberg)
Ukraine Sends Request For Proposals For US Taxpayer-Guaranteed Bond (Reuters)
US ‘Aggressively’ Threatened Germany Over Snowden Aylum (Glenn Greenwald)
Inhofe’s Snowball Fight With NASA, US Navy, CEOs And The Pope (Paul B. Farrell)
Monsanto Weedkiller Roundup Is Probably Carcinogenic, WHO Says (Bloomberg)
The Lion Hugger (BBC)

Why? Because people refuse to go deeper into debt: “In an environment where credit is not being used in a material way, the fate of wages matters..” But that still sounds far too much like it’s a voluntary thing. It’s not.

Wages Haven’t Been This Crucial to US Economy in 50 Years (Bloomberg)

When it comes to U.S. economic growth, wages may never have been this important. The link between earnings and consumer spending has been tighter in this expansion than in any other since records began in the 1960s, according to calculations by Tom Porcelli at RBC Capital Markets. Wages have become even more critical as households, still shaken after being caught with too much debt when the recession hit, remain unwilling or unable to tap home equity or let credit-card balances balloon to buy that new television or dishwasher. By not overextending themselves again, Americans are only spending as much as their incomes will allow, meaning that 70% of the economy is riding on how fast pay rises.

“In an environment where credit is not being used in a material way, the fate of wages matters,” Porcelli said. “They’re doing all of the driving from a consumption perspective.” The correlation between growth in wages and consumer spending adjusted for inflation stands at 0.93 since June 2009, when the recovery began, according to Porcelli. A reading of 1 means they move in the same direction all the time, zero means there is little relationship and minus 1 means they continually diverge. Porcelli tracked wages through the index of aggregate weekly payrolls for private production workers, which takes into account hourly earnings, the length of the workweek and changes in employment for about 80% of the labor force. Records go back to 1964, longer than the measure for all employees that includes supervisors, which dates back only to 2006.

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“The days in which rapid and fairly uniform home value appreciation contributed to steep drops in negative equity are behind us..”

American Underwater Homeowners “Here To Stay” Zillow Says (Zero Hedge)

A few weeks back we commented on the rather disturbing news that repeat foreclosures jumped in January: “According to Black Knight Financial, both new and repeat foreclosures hit a 12-month high during the first month of the year with repeats (i.e. the borrower was rescued but has since entered the foreclosure process again) jumping 11% M/M. More troubling is the trend in repeat foreclosures which accounted for only 15% of total foreclosures during the crisis but now make up a startling 51%.” Here’s what the trend looks like:

Now, a new report from Zillow seems to offer further evidence that the US housing market may not be the picture of health after all (as if we needed more proof after housing starts cratered 17% in February). The%age of homeowners underwater in the US was flat from Q3 to Q4 which doesn’t sound all that terrible until you consider that this figure had fallen for 10 consecutive quarters. Things look particularly bad in Florida and the midwest where Zillow notes more than 25% of borrowers are sitting in a negative equity position. Here’s more:

In the fourth quarter of 2014, the U.S. negative equity rate – the%age of all homeowners with a mortgage that are underwater, owing more on their home than it is worth – stood at 16.9%, unchanged from the third quarter. Negative equity had fallen quarter-over-quarter for ten straight quarters, or two-and-a-half years, prior to flattening out between Q3 and Q4 of last year… More than a quarter of mortgaged homes are underwater in some markets in Florida and the Midwest…

Zillow goes on to note that we have entered a new era in the US housing market: the era of the underwater homeowner. Even better, the report goes on to note that in a number of cases, borrowers will likely be “in negative equity forever”:

…this represents a major turning point in the housing market. The days in which rapid and fairly uniform home value appreciation contributed to steep drops in negative equity are behind us, and a new normal has arrived. Negative equity, while it may still fall in fits and spurts, is decidedly here to stay, and will impact the market for years to come.

In fact, some homeowners trapped very deeply underwater may essentially be in negative equity forever. And those homeowners are much more likely to own America’s least expensive homes. Making matters worse, many homeowners in the bottom home value tiers are not only underwater, but very far underwater. Consider, for example, homeowners of the least expensive homes in the Detroit metro area. These homeowners are 29 times more likely to owe twice as much than their house is worth compared to a homeowner at the high end of the market.

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Darn! Trumped by teapots again!

Here’s the Next Biggest Threat to Global Crude Oil Prices (Bloomberg)

The next big threat to oil prices isn’t from OPEC or Bakken shale. It’s Russian samovars, or teapots. Simple refineries that process crude into fuel oil are scaling back, because when oil prices slump, the government reduces the discount that these refiners – known as teapots to those in the industry – get for exporting fuel. They use less crude, freeing it up for sale abroad, which in turn adds to the global glut. Russia may increase oil exports by as much as 250,000 barrels a day this year, according to James Henderson, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies who’s followed the country’s energy industry for more than 20 years. That would equate to 5% growth in shipments, the most in at least a decade.

“The pain Russia is feeling from low oil prices has made more crude available for export,” Henderson said by phone March 18. “Quite a few of Russia’s simple refineries could reduce their runs.” Rising shipments from Russia, which ranks with Saudi Arabia and the U.S. as the world’s biggest oil producers, would put more pressure on crude, already down more than 50% from last year. Falling energy prices and U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed last year in response to the Ukraine crisis have pushed Russia to the brink of recession, damping demand for refined fuel products in the country. Crude loadings from Russian ports are 9.5% higher in the first quarter year over year, according to shipment schedules obtained by Bloomberg.

Teapot refineries processed as much as 800,000 barrels of crude a day last year, Igor Dyomin, a spokesman for Russia’s state-run pipeline operator, Transneft, said by phone March 19. A teapot refinery is one that produces mostly fuel oil rather than more premium fuels, according to Dyomin. Seven simple plants with a combined capacity of 1.2 million barrels a day are most at risk in the current price environment, according to Henderson.

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As seen from a mile away.

Global Oil Glut Set To Grow As China Slows Crude Imports (Reuters)

A global oversupply of oil is set to rise as China pauses in the build-up of its strategic reserves and Asian refineries slow crude imports ahead of the spring maintenance season, putting more downward pressure on prices. China’s purchases to fill its strategic petroleum reserves (SPR) had been one of the main drivers of Asian demand since August of last year, with the No.2 oil consumer taking up cheap crude to fill its tanks despite slowing economic growth. Yet China could pause its reserve purchases soon as tank sites reach their limits and new space only becomes available later this year. Little is known about China’s SPR levels.

The government seldom issues data, but its plan is to reach around 600 million barrels, about 90 days’ worth of imports. Most estimates put the SPR stocks currently to be 30-40 days’ worth. “I don’t think there is much (SPR) space left to fill,” a Chinese storage executive said under the condition of anonymity. In the Zhoushan area of Zhejiang province – site of two SPR bases and major commercial storage facilities – tanks are brimming, the executive said. “They are so full that one VLCC tanker owned by a state refiner has had to wait for almost 15 days to discharge,” he said. Adding to downward pressure is the expectation that Chinese refiners could process less crude oil in the second quarter as demand is dented by tax hikes and an economy growing at its slowest in 25 years.

Thomson Reuters data also shows that Asian imports overall have fallen 5% since peaking in December, when China’s purchases hit an all-time high at 7.2 million barrels per day. In India and Japan, crude imports for the most recent month are down 20% and 11% from a year ago, respectively, mainly due to the approach of the spring refinery maintenance season.

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“Just as fracking helped production soar in America’s oil fields, the debt boom is now magnifying the slump in prices..”

Debt Is Oil Patch’s Four-Letter Word (Bloomberg)

The 60 percent plunge in crude oil prices since mid-2014 isn’t just about increased production and slower global growth. Debt may be the four-letter word when it comes to explaining the extent of the energy sector’s collapse, a paper in the Bank for International Settlement’s Quarterly Review shows. While production has certainly increased and consumption cooled, current estimates of both are little changed from previous forecasts. This stands in contrast to the last two periods of similar oil-price declines in 1996 and 2008, which were attributed to big reductions in demand and/or a surge in production, according to the paper.nThis time, low borrowing costs, a product of easy Federal Reserve monetary policy, are a new wrinkle.

Cheap financing has made it easier for exploration and production (E&P) companies to finance operations and expand rapidly as the era of hydraulic fracturing kicked into high gear. Debt in the global oil and gas industry reached $2.5 trillion in 2014, 2 1/2 times what it was eight years earlier, according to the BIS paper. Just as fracking helped production soar in America’s oil fields, the debt boom is now magnifying the slump in prices as E&Ps boost current and future sales of crude to make sure they can fulfill their debt obligations. The direct effect on the economy is a sharp cutback in capital spending plans, already evidenced by plummeting rig counts.

At the same time, production continues to march higher. Deteriorating balance sheets encourage companies to keep pumping from existing wells even as the value of the assets (the oil) backing those securities declines. That explains the blowout in spreads between high-yield energy bonds and risk-free counterparts. “A sell-off of oil company debt could spill over to corporate bond markets more broadly if investors try to reduce the riskiness of their portfolios,” the BIS authors write. “The fact that debt of oil and gas firms represents a substantial portion of future redemptions underlines the potential system-wide relevance of developments in the sector.”

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Just to show you what Samaras and the Troika did to the country. And what the EU etc. want to continue doing.

Shocking Austerity: Greece’s Poor Lost 86% Of Income, Rich Only 17-20% (KTG)

Greece’s unbalanced austerity and drastic increase of poverty. The poorest households in the debt-ridden country lost nearly 86% of their income, while the richest lost only 17-20%. The tax burden on the poor increased by 337% while the burden on upper-income classes increased by only 9% !!! This is the result of a study that has analyzed 260.000 tax and income data from the years 2008 – 2012.

According to the study commissioned by the German Institute for Macroeconomic Research (IMK) affiliated with the Hans Böckler Foundation:
– The nominal gross income of Greek households decreased by almost a quarter in only four years.
– The wages cuts caused nearly half of the decline.
– The net income fell further by almost 9%, because the tax burden was significantly increased
– While all social classes suffered income losses due to cuts, tax increases and the economic crisis, particularly strongly affected were households of low- and middle-income. This was due to sharp increase in unemployment and tax increases, that were partially regressive.
– The total number of employees in the private sector suffered significantly greater loss of income, and they were more likely to be unemployed than those employed in the public sector.
-From 2009 to 2013 wages and salaries in the private sector declined in several stages at around 19%. Among other things, because the minimum wage was lowered and collective bargaining structures were weakened. Employees in the public sector lost around a quarter of their income.

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“In 2010, Greece should have borrowed not one euro before entering into debt restructuring procedures and partially defaulting to its private sector creditors.”

Of Greeks and Germans: Re-Imagining Our Shared Future (Yanis Varoufakis)

Any sensible person can see how a certain video[1] has become part of something beyond a gesture. It has sparked off a kerfuffle reflecting the manner in which the 2008 banking crisis began to undermine Europe’s badly designed monetary union, turning proud nations against each other. When, in early 2010, the Greek state lost its capacity to service its debts to French, German and Greek banks, I campaigned against the Greek government’s quest for an enormous new loan from Europe’s taxpayers. Why?

I opposed the 2010 and 2012 ‘bailout’ loans from German and other European taxpayers because:
• the new loans represented not a bailout for Greece but a cynical transfer of losses from the books of the private banks to the weak shoulders of the weakest of Greek citizens. (How many of Europe’s taxpayers, who footed these loans, know that more than 90% of the €240 billion borrowed by Greece went to financial institutions, not to the Greek state or its citizens?)
• it was obvious that, at a time Greece could not repay its existing loans, the austerity conditions for giving Greece the new loans would crush Greek nominal incomes, making our debt even less sustainable
• the ‘bailout’ burden would, sooner or later, weigh down German and other European taxpayers once the weaker Greeks buckled under their mountainous debts (as moneyed Greeks had already shifted their deposits to Frankfurt, London etc.)
• misleading peoples and Parliaments by presenting a bank bailout as an act of ‘solidarity to Greece’ would turn Germans against Greeks, Greeks against Germans and, eventually, Europe against itself.
In 2010 Greece owed not one euro to German taxpayers. We had no right to borrow from them, or from other European taxpayers, while our public debt was unsustainable. Period!

That was my ‘controversial’ point in 2010: In 2010, Greece should have borrowed not one euro before entering into debt restructuring procedures and partially defaulting to its private sector creditors. Well before the May 2010 ‘bailout’, I urged European citizens to tell their governments not to even think of transferring private losses to them. To no avail, of course. That transfer was effected soon after[2] with the largest taxpayer-backed loan in economic history given to the Greek state on austerity conditions that have caused Greeks to lose a quarter of their income, making it impossible to repay private and public debts, and causing a hideous humanitarian crisis. That was then, in 2010. What should we do now, in 2015, that Greece remains in crisis and our people, the Greeks and the Germans, have, regrettably but also predictably, descended into a mutual ‘blame game’?

First, we should work towards ending the toxic ‘blame game’ and the moralising finger-pointing which benefit only the enemies of Europe. Secondly, we need to focus on our joint interest: On how to grow and to reform Greece rapidly, so that the Greek state can best repay debts it should never have taken on while looking after its citizens as a modern European state ought to do. In practical terms, the 20th February Eurogroup agreement offers an excellent opportunity to move forward. Let us implement it immediately, as our leaders have urged in yesterday’s informal Brussels meeting. Looking ahead, and beyond current tensions, our joint task is to re-design Europe so that Germans and Greeks, along with all Europeans, can re-imagine our monetary union as a realm of shared prosperity.

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“Greece was not asked, so the claims have not gone away.” “The German government’s argument is thin and contestable. It is not permissible to agree to a treaty at the expense of a third party, in this case Greece..”

Legal Experts: Greece Has Grounds for WWII Reparations (Greek Reporter)

A growing number of legal experts are supporting Greece’s demands over the German war reparations from the country’s brutal Nazi occupation during World War II. Despite the official German refusal to address the issue, legal experts say now Athens has ground for the case. The hot issue is expected to be brought up by Greece’s newly elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during his official visit to Berlin on Monday, where he is scheduled to hold a meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The tension between the two countries have recently rose to unexpected levels and a series of events with the Finance Ministers of Greece and Germany, Yanis Varoufakis and Wolfgang Schaeuble respectively, and the war reparations issue — mainly by the Greek side — has significantly affected the already negative climate.

The Greek leftist-led coalition government has repeatedly raised the issue causing Germany’s firm reaction as expressed by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who recently warned Athens to forget the war reparations, underlining that the issue has been settled decades ago. Central to Germany’s argument is that 115 million deutschemarks have been paid to Greece in the 1960s, while similar deals were made with other European countries that suffered a Nazi occupation. At the same time, though, lawyers from Germany and other countries have said the issue is not wrapped up, as Germany never agreed a universal deal to clear up reparations after its unconditional surrender.

The German answer on that is that in 1990, before its reunification, the “Two plus Four Treaty” agreement was signed with the United Kingdom, the United States, the former Soviet Union and France, which renounced all future claims. According to Berlin, this agreement settles the issue for other states too. “The German government’s argument is thin and contestable. It is not permissible to agree to a treaty at the expense of a third party, in this case Greece,” international law specialist Andreas Fischer-Lescano said, as cited by the Reuters. Mr. Lescano’s opinion finds several other experts in agreement. One of them, the Greek lawyer Anestis Nessou, who works in Germany highlighted that “there is a lot of room for interpretation. Greece was not asked, so the claims have not gone away.”

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Obviously. But still, that money did not leave the country.

It Really Looks Like Greeks Are Hiding Cash Under the Mattress (Bloomberg)

It is no secret that banks in Greece have been losing deposits in recent months. The question that is somewhat open, though, is where Greeks have been moving their deposits to. Have they been transferring the cash to other banks, or have they been squirreling it away under the mattress—and under bathroom tiles? At first glance, data from the Bank of Greece seem to point to the deposit transfer option rather than the cash-under-mattress option as the “banknotes in circulation” line item on its balance sheet hasn’t shown any big spike in recent months. This, however, does not tell the full story. The banknotes in circulation item on the Bank of Greece balance sheet only shows the amount of cash Greece has been allocated under its share of overall euro-area banknote circulation.

Any extra cash needs of the Greek economy are accounted for elsewhere on the Bank of Greece balance sheet under the rather drab headline of “net liabilities related to the allocation of euro banknotes within the Eurosystem.” This extra cash was zero before the start of the Greek crisis in 2009, climbed above €22 billion in the months leading to the 2012 Greek political crisis, and had been falling steadily since. Until December of last year, that is, when the Greek political crisis reemerged following the collapse of the Samaras administration. We can now clearly see there has been a €10 billion increase in cash in Greece in the three months to the end of February 2015. That is a lot of mattresses.

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Impossible conditions: “only on condition that Tsipras’s left-wing government had persuasively shown it was committed to enforcing austerity..” That directly contradicts its mandate.

EU Offers Funds In Return For Urgent Greek Reforms (Guardian)

Greece’s eurozone creditors are considering bringing forward a financial lifeline for Athens by a few weeks after Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, told EU leaders the country would be insolvent by the end of April without assistance. In a key three-hour meeting in Brussels that ended in the early hours of Friday, Tsipras informed his creditors if they wait until the end of April before releasing funds, it will be too late for Greece. According to an account of that meeting policymakers are now discussing whether they can supply emergency funding earlier than previously agreed. Tsipras was also advised to treat the Eurocrats working in Athens with more respect and ensure their safety. Under the terms of an agreement on Greece’s bailout last month, some €7.2bn in rescue funds were not to be disbursed until the end of April and only on condition that Tsipras’s left-wing government had persuasively shown it was committed to enforcing austerity in the country.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany concluded a two-day EU summit in Brussels on Friday by stressing Tsipras had to present a “comprehensive” reform package urgently and this would need to be endorsed by the Eurogroup of finance ministers before Greece could access any of the funds. Merkel’s remarks came after the crucial meeting, that ran until 2am on Friday, when Tsipras came face-to-face for the first time with the leaders of his key creditors – Merkel and Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank. The other five present at the crisis talks were the French president, François Hollande; the presidents of the European Commission and Council, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk; Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the committee of eurozone finance ministers; and Uwe Corsepius, a senior eurocrat who has just been appointed Merkel’s EU adviser.

Tsipras had requested the meeting and had been confrontational in the days preceding it. According to an authoritative account of what took place, he started the negotiations by making it clear he expected urgently needed bailout funds released without giving very much in return. According to the account, he was disabused of that notion within 10 minutes and the meeting then ran smoothly, except for an episode where the new Greek leader was upbraided by Draghi, who is furious at the way senior EU officials monitoring the terms of the Greek bailout are being treated in Athens. According to senior officials in Brussels, the Tsipras government has been orchestrating a campaign of intimidation against the eurocrats in Athens, frustrating their work and refusing all access.

Visiting Athens this week, they were confined to a luxury hotel and denied access to government ministries. Their whereabouts were leaked to the media and “aggressive” demonstrations were staged outside the hotel. One of the top officials needed two bodyguards. Draghi was said to have read Tsipras the riot act, while the others demanded cooperation with the creditors. Merkel was said to have soothed things by telling Tsipras that, when International Monetary Fund officials go to Berlin, they are granted access to everything they need, even when it is a little humiliating.

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Narrative: it’s for the poor.

EC Head Juncker Offers $2 Billion In Unused Funds To Greece (RT)

The European Commission has made $2 billion of unused funds available to Greece to help the country avert a cash crunch, EC head Jean-Claude Juncker says. The offer was made a day after crisis talks between Greece’s new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and European leaders on Greece’s EU-IMF bailout. Greek authorities said on Friday they were gradually moving towards meeting the requirements of international creditors on a more detailed reform plan, after Prime Minister Tsipras said his coalition would intensify work to avert the country’s bankruptcy. Austerity policies have been the focus of a standoff between Greece and its troika of creditors.

Promises to end the era of drastic cuts helped Tsipras win power two months ago, but since then his stance has weakened. Greece’s western creditors have been insisting the country needs to reform its economy and start cutting its own expenses, if it wants to get new money for its ailing economy. Austerity policies have been the focus of a standoff between Greece and its Troika of creditors. Promises to end the era of drastic cuts helped Tsipras win power two months ago, but since then his stance has weakened. Greece’s western creditors have been insisting the country needs to reform its economy and start cutting its own expenses, if it wants to get new money for its ailing economy.

The Troika of creditors said in February they were ready to extend the current bailout program until June 2015, but a general agreement hasn’t been reached yet. Tsipras has sharply criticized the Troika methods calling them arm-twisting. He blames them for his country’s unprecedented recession. Greece received two bailouts from the EU in 2010 and 2014 totaling €240 billion. Having taken on austerity measures, Greece saw its economy losing a quarter of its value, with a third of Greeks living below the poverty line and unemployment exceeding 30%. Experts say the money Greece has now will only last till the end of March.

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Bizarre story.

EU Bank’s Lack Of Transparency ‘Like A John Le Carré Novel’ (Guardian)

The EU watchdog has accused the union’s bank of flouting its own transparency rules and hiding what it knows about allegations of tax avoidance by a Zambian mining firm largely owned by the Swiss commodity trader Glencore. On Tuesday, Emily O’Reilly, the European ombudsman, said she was not satisfied with the European Investment Bank’s claims that, despite an internal investigation, it had been unable to establish whether Mopani Copper Mines had avoided paying local tax running into tens of millions. Ten years ago, the EIB – which is owned by EU member states – loaned Mopani $50m (£30m) for the renovation of a smelter to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions.

Six years later, after a leaked audit report suggested that Mopani had avoided paying tens of millions of dollars in local tax, the bank announced an investigation into the company. It also halted loans to Glencore because of “serious concerns” about its corporate governance. Glencore has always denied the allegations, which it maintains are based on “fundamental factual errors”. Mopani repaid the EIB loan in full in 2012.

After the EIB refused to release the findings of its investigation, the charity Christian Aid referred the bank to the European ombudsman, who was granted access to the internal report. In her ruling, O’Reilly disputed the bank’s assertion that “it was not possible to comprehensively prove or disprove the allegations” made in the leaked audit report. She said: “The ombudsman considers that this statement does not adequately reflect the information contained in the [EIB] investigation report on this issue.”

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Someone should stop Abe and Kuroda. This will be a huge disaster.

Japan Pensions Sell Record $46 Billion Bonds to Buy Stocks (Bloomberg)

Japan’s public pension funds, which include the world’s biggest, accelerated their push to dump local bonds and invest the money abroad to a record pace. The $1.1 trillion Government Pension Investment Fund and its smaller peers almost doubled net sales of Japanese government bonds to 5.56 trillion yen ($46 billion) in the fourth quarter, the most in Bank of Japan figures dating back to 1998. They bought an unprecedented 2.39 trillion yen of foreign stocks and bonds. Selling of JGBs and buying of overseas securities has continued for six straight quarters.

GPIF posted its largest investment gain in almost two years last quarter after shifting more money into stocks from Japanese bonds, as it came under government pressure to boost returns to cover payouts for the world’s fastest-aging population. The Federation of National Public Service Personnel Mutual Aid Associations, last month said it will boost its investments in foreign stocks and bonds and cut exposure to domestic debt, matching the plan by GPIF. “It seems like three other civil service funds have yet to move,” Takafumi Yamawaki, the chief rates strategist in Tokyo at JPMorgan, said referring to data from the BOJ and and GPIF. “That means there is still some room left for the shift to take place.”

Japan’s public pension funds raised domestic stock holdings for a fifth quarter, adding a net 1.73 trillion yen, the most since 2009. They held 5.6% of a record 1.023 quadrillion yen of outstanding JGBs at the end of December. The biggest holder, the BOJ, owned 25% of the total as of then, it said Wednesday in Tokyo. GPIF hired four external managers of domestic and overseas stocks as it moves to boost equities to half its assets. It made a 5.2% return in the fourth quarter, the most since the period ended March 2013, according to a statement last month. Domestic shares returned 6.2% in the quarter, while local debt returned 1.9%. Foreign bonds returned 9.4%, and overseas stocks gained 10%.

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” The US Dollar carry trade is north of $9 trillion… literally bigger than the economies of Germany and Japan COMBINED..”

The Central Banks Will Not Be Able to Control the Dollar Carry Trade (Phoenix)

The biggest issue facing the finacial system today is the US Dollar rally. The Fed and other Central Banks are trying to maintain the illusion that they have everything in control by talking about interest rates, but the reality is that the US Dollar carry trade is ABOVE $9 trillion in size. That is almost as big as ALL of the money printing that occurred between 2009 and 2013. And it’s imploding as we write this. Globally, the world is awash in borrowed money… most of it in US Dollars. The US Dollar carry trade is north of $9 trillion… literally bigger than the economies of Germany and Japan COMBINED. When you BORROW in US Dollars you are effectively SHORTING the US Dollar. So when the US Dollar rallies… you have to cover your SHORT or you blow up.

And the US Dollar has been rallying… HARD. Indeed, the move that began in July 2014 is already larger par in scope with that which occurred during the 2008 meltdown. Moreover, this move has occurred with little to no rest. The US Dollar barely corrected 2% after rallying a stunning 16+% in a matter of months before beginning its next leg up. You only get these sorts of moves when the stuff hits the fan. CNBC and the others are babbling about the Fed’s FOMC changes, but all of that is just a distraction from the fact that a $9+ trillion carry trade, arguably the largest carry trade in history, has begun to blow up. Rate hikes, QE, all of this stuff is minor in comparison to the carnage the US Dollar is having on the financial system. Take a look at the impact it’s having on emerging market currencies.

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It’s all about timing.

US Sets First Fracking Standards in More Than 30 Years (Bloomberg)

The Obama administration issued the first federal regulations for fracking since the drilling technique fueled a domestic energy boom, requiring extensive disclosures of the chemicals used on public land. After years of debate and delay, the Bureau of Land Management on Friday said drillers on federal lands must reveal the chemicals they use, meet well construction standards and safely dispose of contaminated water used in fracking. The rule had been highly anticipated by drillers, who oppose added regulation, and by environmentalists who have raised alarms about water contamination. Both sides had complaints with the outcome: groups representing the oil and gas industry sued to block its implementation and an environmental group said the regulation favored industry over public health.

“This rule will move our nation forward as we ensure responsible development while protecting public land resources,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said on a call with reporters. “As we continue to offer millions of acres of America’s public lands – your lands – for oil and gas development, it is critical that the public has confidence that robust safety and environmental protections are in place.” Domestic production from more than 100,000 wells on public lands accounts for about 11% of U.S. natural-gas production and 5% of oil production. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a technique in which water, chemicals and sand are shot underground to free oil or gas from rock. It is used for about 90% of the wells on federal lands.

The rule, which is set to take effect in three months, triggered criticism from environmental groups, which said the regulations put industry interests ahead of public health, and from congressional Republicans the oil and gas industry. The Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Western Energy Alliance filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department, saying the regulations are the product of “unsubstantiated concerns,” and lack evidence necessary to sustain them. The group asked in a lawsuit filed Friday in a U.S. court in Wyoming to have the new rules declared invalid.

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Can it get any crazier?

Ukraine Sends Request For Proposals For US Taxpayer-Guaranteed Bond (Reuters)

The Republic of Ukraine has sent out a request for proposals (RFP) to banks for a new US government-guaranteed bond, according to three sources. This is the second time the US government has thrown its financial backing behind a Ukrainian international bond issue. In May 2014, the US guaranteed a US$1bn Ukrainian bond maturing in 2019 through the US Agency for International Development. That bond was given a credit rating in line with the US sovereign at Aaa by Moody’s, AA+ by Standard & Poor’s and AAA by Fitch. This is a far cry from Ukraine’s credit rating, which stands at Caa3, CCC and CC with the same three agencies.

The RFP comes just over a week after Ukraine agreed a new four-year US$17.5bn bailout facility with the IMF. As part of the IMF agreement several institutions – including the EU, World Bank and US – have agreed to provide around US$7.5bn between them, according to analyst estimates, to the war torn country. It is not clear whether the US-backed bond forms part of the US contribution. Meanwhile, Ukraine is obligated under the IMF agreement to restructure at least US$15.3bn of outstanding debt. Ukraine’s finance minister Natalia Yaresko confirmed during an investor call last week that bondholders will see haircuts to principal, as well as maturity extensions and changes to interest payment.

Russia, which holds US$3bn of Ukrainian debt that comes due in December this year, will not be exempt from the cuts, Yaresko said. A clause in the debt owed to Russia allows it to accelerate bond payments if Ukraine’s debt-to-GDP ratio breaches 60% – a number that has been passed largely because Ukraine’s industrial power centre Donbass has ground to a halt under sustained conflict. Russia has repeatedly said that it would not accelerate the debt.

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Not surprised.

US ‘Aggressively’ Threatened Germany Over Snowden Aylum (Glenn Greenwald)

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (above) said this week in Homburg that the U.S. government threatened to cease sharing intelligence with Germany if Berlin offered asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden or otherwise arranged for him to travel to that country. “They told us they would stop notifying us of plots and other intelligence matters,” Gabriel said. The vice chancellor delivered a speech in which he praised the journalists who worked on the Snowden archive, and then lamented the fact that Snowden was forced to seek refuge in “Vladimir Putin’s autocratic Russia” because no other nation was willing and able to protect him from threats of imprisonment by the U.S. government (I was present at the event to receive an award).

That prompted an audience member to interrupt his speech and yell out: “Why don’t you bring him to Germany, then?” There has been a sustained debate in Germany over whether to grant asylum to Snowden, and a major controversy arose last year when a Parliamentary Committee investigating NSA spying divided as to whether to bring Snowden to testify in person, and then narrowly refused at the behest of the Merkel government. In response to the audience interruption, Gabriel claimed that Germany would be legally obligated to extradite Snowden to the U.S. if he were on German soil.

Afterward, however, when I pressed the vice chancellor (who is also head of the Social Democratic Party, as well as the country’s economy and energy minister) as to why the German government could not and would not offer Snowden asylum — which, under international law, negates the asylee’s status as a fugitive — he told me that the U.S. government had aggressively threatened the Germans that if they did so, they would be “cut off” from all intelligence sharing. That would mean, if the threat were carried out, that the Americans would literally allow the German population to remain vulnerable to a brewing attack discovered by the Americans by withholding that information from their government.

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“..if it’s really God’s plan, does He also pay the bill?”

Inhofe’s Snowball Fight With NASA, US Navy, CEOs And The Pope (Paul B. Farrell)

The Tulsa World newspaper recently reran a heated Washington Post editorial headlined: “Sen. Jim Inhofe embarrasses GOP and U.S.” The Senate’s top climate-science denier’s snowball throwing stunt in the Senate chambers was more offensive to his Senate colleagues and the liberal media than his official denier’s bible he wrote calling it “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.” But what if Oklahoma Sen. Inhofe is right? What if “God really is in charge” of the global warming mess? And what if “humans cannot change climate,” as he warns America? Get it? Humans cannot reverse the climate damage. The biggest “hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think that they are so powerful.”

But humans can’t change climate. Humans are powerless to change it, not RiskyBusiness.org nor 350.org, not Big Oil nor the GOP. And if God is in solely responsible, humans are just bit players in a grand drama, but can’t affect the outcome one way or another, either accelerating it or halting it. And no matter what capitalists or environmentalists do, or plan, or legislate, or oppose, or spend, God’s plan is “The Plan,” and we may just make matters worse, and waste a lot of money … $60 trillion. Economic shocker. A ScientificAmerican team did a research study on the cost of fixing the global warming and climate-change problem. Bottom line: $60 trillion. That’s one helluva price tag. A whopping $60 trillion on our planet – where the total global GDP is only $75 trillion.

And if it’s really God’s plan, does He also pay the bill? Now add this to the economic equation: Is Inhofe speaking for God? He’s hardly neutral, a huge chunk of Oklahoma’s state revenue is generated by Big Oil. And he’s received well over a million bucks in campaign donations from fossil-fuel interests. Worse, no states, nations nor businesses, nobody has a master plan for dealing with climate change … yes, lots of conflicting, piecemeal technologies … but no tested, reliable grand solution … no guarantees anything will work.

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Monsanto has more clout than the WHO.

Monsanto Weedkiller Roundup Is Probably Carcinogenic, WHO Says (Bloomberg)

Monsanto’s best-selling weedkiller Roundup probably causes cancer, the World Health Organization said in a report that’s at odds with prior findings. Roundup is the market name for the chemical glyphosate. A report published by the WHO in the journal Lancet Oncology said Friday there is limited evidence that the weedkiller can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lung cancer and convincing evidence it can cause cancer in lab animals. The report was posted on the website of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, the Lyon, France-based arm of the WHO. Monsanto, which invented glyphosate in 1974, made its herbicide the world s most popular with the mid-1990s introduction of crops such as corn and soybeans that are genetically engineered to survive it.

The WHO didn t examine any new data and its findings are inconsistent with assessments from the U.S., EU and elsewhere, Monsanto said. We don t know how IARC could reach a conclusion that is such a dramatic departure from the conclusion reached by all regulatory agencies around the globe, Philip Miller, Monsanto vice president for global regulatory affairs, said in a statement. The evidence in humans is from studies of exposures, mostly agricultural, in the USA, Canada, and Sweden published since 2001, the WHO said in the report. In addition, there is convincing evidence that glyphosate also can cause cancer in laboratory animals. The WHO said exposure by the general population is generally low.

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Feel good story.

The Lion Hugger (BBC)

In 2012 Valentin Gruener rescued a young lion cub and raised it himself at a wildlife park in Botswana. It was the start of an extraordinary relationship. Now an astonishing scene is repeated each time they meet – the young lion leaps on Gruener and holds him in an affectionate embrace. “Since the lion arrived, which is three years now, I haven’t really left the camp,” says Gruener. “Sometimes for one night I go into the town here to organise something for the business, but other than that I’ve been here with the lion.” The lion he has devoted himself to is Sirga – a female cub he rescued from a holding pen established by a farmer who was fed up of shooting animals that preyed on his cattle. “The lions had killed the other two or three cubs inside the cage, and the mother abandoned the remaining cub. She was very tiny, maybe 10 days old,” Gruener says.

The farmer, Willy de Graaf, asked Gruener to try to save her and so he took her to a wildlife park financed by de Graaf and became her adoptive mother, “feeding her and taking care of her”. “You have this tiny cute animal sitting there and it’s already quite feisty,” he says. “It will become about 10 times that size and you will have to deal with it.” She’s much bigger now, but when Gruener opens her cage she still rushes to greet him – ecstatically throwing her paws around his neck. “That happens every time I open the door. It is an amazing thing every time it happens, and it’s such a passionate thing to do for this animal to jump and give me a hug,” says Gruener. “But I guess it makes sense. At the moment she has no other lions with her in the cage and I guess for her I’m like her species. So I’m the only friend she’s got. Lions are social cats so she’s always happy to see me.”

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 January 13, 2015  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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DPC Madison Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee 1906

America’s Going to Lose the Oil Price War (Bloomberg)
Oil Extends Drop Below $45 as US Supplies Seen Speeding Collapse (Bloomberg)
Here’s Why Oil Is Such A Problem For Corporate Earnings (CNBC)
Oil Crash May Whack Earnings Of Top US Home Builders In Texas (MarketWatch)
Falling Oil Reveals The Truth About The Market (MarketWatch)
U.A.E. Sticks With Oil Output Boost Even as Prices Drop (Bloomberg)
US Manufacturing Comeback Myth ‘Tortures The Data’ (RT)
US Wages Will Rise This Year Toward Yellen’s View of Normal (Bloomberg)
UK Retailers Have Worst December Since 2008 (Guardian)
ECB Threatens to Choke Off Funding to Greece Prior to Election (Bloomberg)
RBS Bets ECB Blitz To Reach €4.5 Trillion And Reignite Asset Boom (AEP)
Ifo’s Sinn Says ECB Using Deflation Risk as Excuse for QE (Bloomberg)
Greece Could Exit the Euro by Accident, Warns Finance Minister (Bloomberg)
The Snake Eats Its Tail: China’s Small Cities Buy Up Their Own Land (FT)
Chinese Car Dealers Find Days of ‘Printing Money’ Ending (Bloomberg)
Car Sales Growth Halves In China (BBC)
The Clash of Civilizations (Jim Kunstler)
Peculiarities of Russian National Character (Dmitry Orlov)
Russia Says Paris Terror Acts Show Need for ‘Urgent’ Cooperation (Bloomberg)
Lessons from Paris (Ron Paul)
Charlie Hebdo to Print 3 Million Copies With Muhammad Cover (Bloomberg)
The Goats Fighting America’s Plant Invasion (BBC)

It’ll take a long time for production levels to fall. Inertia is a major factor. And producers will be inclined to increase output, not cut it.

America’s Going to Lose the Oil Price War (Bloomberg)

The financial debacle that has befallen Russia as the price of Brent crude dropped 50% in the last four months has overshadowed the one that potentially awaits the U.S. shale industry in 2015. It’s time to heed it, because Saudi Arabia and other major Middle Eastern oil producers are unlikely to blink and cut output, and the price is now approaching a level where U.S. production will begin shutting down. Representatives of the leading OPEC countries have been saying for weeks they would not pump less oil no matter how low its price goes. Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi has said even $20 per barrel wouldn’t trigger a change of heart. Initial reactions in the U.S. were confident: U.S. oil producers were resilient enough; they would keep producing even at very low sale prices because the marginal cost of pumping from existing wells was even lower; OPEC would lose because its members’ social safety nets depends on the oil price; and anyway, OPEC was dead.

That optimism was reminiscent of the cavalier Russian reaction at the beginning of the price slide: In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin said “none of the serious players” was interested in an oil price below $80. This complacency has taken Russia to the brink: On Friday, Fitch downgraded its credit rating to a notch above junk, and it’ll probably go lower as the ruble continues to devalue in line with the oil slump. It’s generally a bad idea to act cocky in a price war. By definition, everybody is going to get hurt, and any victory can only be relative. The winner is he who can take the most pain. My tentative bet so far is on the Saudis – and, though it might seem counterintuitive, the Russians. For now, the only sign that U.S. crude oil production may shrink is the falling number of operational oil rigs in the U.S. It was down to 1750 last week, 61 less than the week before and four less than a year ago.

Oil output, however, is still at a record level. In the week that ended on Jan. 2, when the number of rigs also dropped, it reached 9.13 million barrels a day, more than ever before. Oil companies are only stopping production at their worst wells, which only produce a few barrels a day – at current prices, those wells aren’t worth the lease payments on the equipment. All this will eventually have an impact. According to a fresh analysis by Wood Mackenzie, “a Brent price of $40 a barrel or below would see producers shutting-in production at a level where there is a significant reduction in global oil supply. At $40 Brent, 1.5 million barrels per day is cash negative with the largest contribution coming from several oil sands projects in Canada, followed by the U.S.A. and then Colombia.”

That doesn’t mean that once Brent hits $40 – and that is the level Goldman Sachs now expects, after giving up on its forecast that OPEC would blink – shale production will automatically drop by 1.5 million barrels per day. Many U.S. frackers will keep pumping at a loss because they have debts to service: about $200 billion in total debt, comparable to the financing needs of Russia’s state energy companies. The problem for U.S. frackers is that it’s impossible to refinance those debts if you’re bleeding cash. At some point, if prices stay low, the most leveraged of the companies will go belly up, and the more successful ones won’t be able to take them over because they will have neither the cash nor the investor confidence that would help them secure debt financing.

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Best name ever for an analyst firm: Fat Prophets.

Oil Extends Drop Below $45 as US Supplies Seen Speeding Collapse (Bloomberg)

Oil extended losses to trade below $45 a barrel since amid speculation that U.S. crude stockpiles will increase, exacerbating a global supply glut that’s driven prices to the lowest in more than 5 1/2 years. Futures fell as much as 2.6% in New York, declining for a third day. Crude inventories probably gained by 1.75 million barrels last week, a Bloomberg News survey shows before government data tomorrow. The United Arab Emirates, a member of OPEC, will stand by its plan to expand output capacity even with “unstable oil prices,” according to Energy Minister Suhail Al Mazrouei.

Oil slumped almost 50% last year, the most since the 2008 financial crisis, as the U.S. pumped at the fastest rate in more than three decades and OPEC resisted calls to cut production. Goldman Sachs said crude needs to drop to $40 a barrel to “re-balance” the market, while SocGen also reduced its price forecasts. “There’s adequate supply,” David Lennox, a resource analyst at Fat Prophets in Sydney, said by phone today. “It’s really going to take someone from the supply side to step up and cut, and the only organization capable of doing something substantial is OPEC. I can’t see the U.S. reducing output.”

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“Energy is $7.7 billion/$9.1 billion = 84% of the decline in the dollar value of the earnings decline we have seen in the past five weeks. See why the market is so focused on oil for the moment?”

Here’s Why Oil Is Such A Problem For Corporate Earnings (CNBC)

Oil and natural gas are sliding again to multi-year lows, and once again it is having an influence on stocks.What’s important is to understand the outsized influence this near-daily drop in oil (six months and running!) is having on corporate earnings. Even though the energy sector is only roughly 8% of the market capitalization of the S&P 500, the decline in earnings in that sector has been so dramatic that it is affecting earnings estimate for the entire S&P 500. On December 1st, analyst anticipated that Energy earnings for Q1 2015 would decline 13.8% compared to Q1 2014, according to S&P Capital IQ. As of Monday, analysts expect Energy earnings for Q1 2015 to decline 41.0%. Think about that: in 5 weeks, earnings expectations for the entire Energy group have gone from down 13.8% to down 41.0%.

That is the biggest drop in earnings for any sector since the bank stocks collapsed in Q4 2008. What does this mean for earnings for the overall S&P 500? On December 1, analysts were expecting Q1 earnings for the entire S&P 500 to be up 8.6%. As of Monday, they’re expecting earnings to be up only 4.6%. From up 8.6% to up 4.6%. That is a drop of 4 percentage points in just 5 weeks. That is a lot, and most of it is due to the decline in Energy. Here’s another way to look at it: Q1 earnings for the Energy sector were cut by $7.7 billion from December 1 through today. The S&P 500 as a whole saw a cut of $9.1 billion during the same period. So Energy is $7.7 billion/$9.1 billion = 84% of the decline in the dollar value of the earnings decline we have seen in the past five weeks. See why the market is so focused on oil for the moment? If oil keeps dropping, estimates will be lowered even more.

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This is turning into a game of whack-a-mole.

Oil Crash May Whack Earnings Of Top US Home Builders In Texas (MarketWatch)

Crashing oil prices will hurt housing demand in key Texas markets this year, shaving profits for national builders, according to a Monday analyst note. As energy companies cut spending on jobs and exploration-and-production projects because of tumbling oil, U.S.home builders will see housing demand drop, RBC Capital Markets analysts wrote. The slump will lead builders to start 5% fewer single-family homes this year in the Lone Star State, according to RBC analysts, who lowered earnings estimates for the country’s top home-construction companies. “We believe that this assumption fairly balances the effect of a decline in oil production on state employment levels with our view that improved productivity should limit vast swings in production-related employment,” according to RBC analysts. Under one scenario, Texas housing starts could fall by as much as 10%, RBC added.

“We expect that layoffs and the ripple effect on support services will have a decidedly negative impact on housing demand in Texas,” RBC analysts wrote. While Texas is just one state, here’s why real estate trends there could hit national builders’ earnings. Texas markets, led by Houston, Dallas and Austin, make up about 16% of total U.S. home-construction plans among builders. That’s true for both single-family and multi-family home-building permits, data show. When it comes to real estate, oil’s impact won’t be limited this year to new-home building. Dropping energy prices are also expected to hit home-price appreciation. The shock from dropping oil may take some time to show up in companies’ earnings. Later this week, KB Home and Lennar, two of the country’s largest home builders, could both report fourth-quarter earnings that at least meet Wall Street consensus estimates. But forward-looking investors should listen specifically to executives’ comments about how the energy crash is hitting housing demand in Texas.

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Or you could just read my The Price Of Oil Exposes The True State Of The Economy from November 27.

Falling Oil Reveals The Truth About The Market (MarketWatch)

It seems like every day some pundit is on air arguing that falling oil is a net long-term positive for the U.S. economy. The cheaper energy gets, the more consumers have to spend elsewhere, serving as a tax cut for the average American. There is a lot of logic to that, assuming that oil’s price movement is not indicative of a major breakdown in economic and growth expectations. What’s not to love about cheap oil? The problem with this argument, of course, is that it assumes follow through to end users. If oil gets cheaper but is not fully reflected in the price of goods, the consumer does not benefit, or at least only partially does and less so than one might otherwise think. I believe this is a nuance not fully understood by those making the bull argument. Falling oil may actually be a precursor to higher volatility as investors begin to question speed’s message.

Given the extent of which oil has fallen, one would think that consumer-sensitive stocks would be skyrocketing. Cheaper oil should mean more demand for stuff sold around the country. Indeed, retail stocks have been strong, but the magnitude of their outperformance is no where near as significant as it should be. Take a look below at the price ratio of the SPDR S&P Retail Index relative to the S&P 500. As at reminder, a rising price ratio means the numerator/XRT is outperforming (up more/down less) the denominator/SPY. Note that the ratio is still below it’s 2013 peak, and that while the trend is up, the speed is not an inverse crash of oil.

Maybe this is because wage growth is faltering and that is offsetting oil’s decline, or maybe it’s because oil is a signal of some kind of economic slowdown ahead. Regardless, oil is revealing the truth about the current state of markets, as junk debt falters, long-duration Treasurys counter Fed hope for reflation, and defensive sectors actually act as defense as opposed to offense starting 2015. Our alternative inflation rotation and equity-beta rotation mutual funds and separate accounts are positioned in the near term in their respective defensive positions given our quantitative models. If oil’s crash isn’t enough to cause consumer stocks to skyrocket, one needs to indeed question the narrative against inter-market movement. I welcome volatility, which is not fear, but rather doubt about current prices relative to changing growth and inflation expectations. Truth be told.

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They have no more choice than the Saudis, or anyone really. With the possible exception of the US.

U.A.E. Sticks With Oil Output Boost Even as Prices Drop (Bloomberg)

The United Arab Emirates will stick with a plan to increase oil-production capacity to 3.5 million barrels a day in 2017 even as an oversupply pushed prices to the lowest in more than five years. “In this time of unstable oil prices, we are showing in Abu Dhabi and across the country that we remain dedicated to reach our long-term production goals,” Energy Minister Suhail Al Mazrouei said in a presentation in Abu Dhabi yesterday. “Our investments remain there.”

Oil fell to the lowest level since March 2009 yesterday after Goldman Sachs and Societe Generale cut their price forecasts. Venezuela called on OPEC producers to work together to lift prices back toward $100 a barrel. The U.A.E., the fifth-largest OPEC member, produced 2.7 million barrels a day last month and has a current capacity of 3 million barrels a day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Oil slumped almost 50% last year, the most since the 2008 financial crisis, amid a supply surplus estimated by Qatar at 2 million barrels a day. OPEC is battling a U.S. shale boom by resisting production cuts, signaling it’s prepared to let prices fall to a level that slows American output, which has surged to a three-decade high.

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“.. we’ve added 520,000 jobs in manufacturing in the last three years .. But that compares to 2.5 million jobs lost between 2007 and 2009.”

US Manufacturing Comeback Myth ‘Tortures The Data’ (RT)

The ‘rosy scenario’ of so-called recovery in US manufacturing is a hyped media myth, and is more fiction than reality. A new study says it offers a dangerous sense of complacency to business and the public, as America faces a $458 billion trade deficit. “A lot of people are desperate for positive economic news, so articles suggesting that there’s a revival of manufacturing get a lot of traction,” Adams Nager and Robert Atkinson, from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, said in Monday’s report.The Washington DC-based think tank is non-partisan and not for profit, according to the group’s website. The authors claim that many reports “torture the data” by masking the decline in manufacturing output between 2007 and 2013 in order to claim a miraculous ‘recovery’.

Though employment and output are both growing, they are not at a fast enough rate to declare a US manufacturing renaissance, the report says. “Much of the growth since the recession’s lows was just a cyclical recovery instead of real structural growth that will improve long-term conditions, and there is a strong possibility that manufacturing will once again decline once domestic demand recovers,” it says. American manufacturing has lost over a million jobs net and over 15,000 manufacturers since the beginning the recession, which took hold in 2008. Based on these numbers, the US only added one new manufacturing job for every five that were lost. “It’s true that we’ve had four straight years of growth, and that we’ve added 520,000 jobs in manufacturing in the last three years,” says Nager.

But that compares to 2.5 million jobs lost between 2007 and 2009. These figures can be accounted for due to the big turnaround in the automobile industry. The study focuses on hard numbers instead of anecdotal evidence, outlining five main myths of the US manufacturing narrative, including rising Chinese wages and the gas shale revolution, “We have stretched six cool examples [of the rebirth of manufacturing] into a whole news trend,” the authors of the report wrote. By the end of 2013, real manufacturing value added was still 3.2% below 2007 levels, even though GDP grew 5.6%. The study argues that the best measure of the health of US manufacturing is real value added. “In short, it is unwise to assume that US manufacturing will continue to rebound without significant changes in national policy,” the authors conclude in warning.

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Chapter 826 in the narrative for rate hikes.

US Wages Will Rise This Year Toward Yellen’s View of Normal (Bloomberg)

The bigger wage gains that have so far eluded American workers probably will begin to materialize this year as the job market tightens, according to economists polled by Bloomberg. Hourly earnings for employees on company payrolls will advance 2% to 3% on average, according to 61 of 69 economists surveyed Jan. 5-7. They climbed 1.7% in the year through December. While still short of the 3% to 4% increases Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has said she considers “normal” with 2% inflation, it would be another sign that the labor market is making headway. A jobless rate that’s quickly approaching the range policy makers say is consistent with full employment will mean employers will need to pay up to attract and keep talent.

“By mid-year we should start to see more meaningful wage gains,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, whose firm projects wage growth just below 3% this year. “We’re absorbing a lot of this slack quickly.” Wages were one disappointing element in an otherwise brightening jobs market last year. Employers added an average 246,000 workers a month to payrolls, the best performance since 1999. The jobless rate sank to 5.6% in December, the lowest since June 2008 and just shy of the 5.2% to 5.5% that the Fed has defined as full employment.

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But .. But .. Cheap gas gave them all that extra cash!

UK Retailers Have Worst December Since 2008 (Guardian)

Britain’s retailers have suffered their toughest Christmas since the financial crisis struck, according to industry figures that showed sharp discounting continuing to take its toll. Capping a tough year on the high street, the value of December sales dropped by 0.4% on a year earlier in like-for-like terms, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) – the worst December performance since 2008, when sales had tumbled 3.3% in the aftermath of Lehman Brothers collapse. However, the trade group noted that food sales picked up in December, rising for the first time since April. There was also some support for non-food items in end-of-season sales. The figures came after mixed trading reports so far for the industry’s most crucial month. Marks & Spencer has admitted to a dismal Christmas, while Next and John Lewis saw strong sales. Debenhams and Morrisons update investors on Tuesday.

The BRC director general, Helen Dickinson, talked about a “positive performance” overall in December. “It’s clear that targeted discounting has worked for the UK’s retailers – prices have been cut just enough to encourage customers through the doors, but not so much that sales growth has been completely choked off,” she said. The BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor showed there was a 1% rise in total sales, which are not adjusted to strip out the effect of changes in floor space as shops open and close. That was also the weakest December performance since 2008. David McCorquodale, head of retail at the report’s co-authors, KPMG, highlighted the growing role discounting has played in the runup to Christmas. He said the US-inspired Black Friday of flash sales was followed by a “challenging lull in spending” as consumers waited for future bargains. “This difficult stop/start sales environment has been undoubtedly challenging, but most retailers have managed to achieve a flat, but respectable, sales performance this Christmas. Time will tell on margins,” he said.

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Back in character?

ECB Threatens to Choke Off Funding to Greece Prior to Election (Bloomberg)

The European Central Bank is threatening to choke off funding to Greece’s lenders in the hope it won’t actually need to. Parliamentary elections on Jan. 25 hinge on whether Greek voters are willing to accept a strings-attached successor to the country’s international bailout package. Under President Mario Draghi, the Frankfurt-based ECB has made its position clear: No program means no guarantee of cash from us. Draghi is reprising an ECB tactic honed in the Irish and Cypriot stages of Europe’s debt crisis, where the prospect of vanishing central-bank funds helped prod politicians into action. Amid anti-austerity promises by the Syriza party, which leads in polls, the ECB is signaling a willingness to withdraw 30 billion euros ($35 billion) of finance even if it tips Greece into a crisis that ultimately sees it leave the single currency.

“While these things might be threatened, bandied around, it would be remarkable if such a step were actually taken,” said James Nixon, chief European economist at Oxford Economics Ltd. in London. “The negotiation starts off with the threat of mutually assured destruction. But to actually withdraw funding from Greek banks is the sort of thing that would mean Greece is well on the road to exiting the euro.” Since 2010, the ECB has accepted Greece’s junk-rated government debt and state-backed securities as collateral in its refinancing operations as long as the administration complies with austerity measures and reform pledges in its international aid agreements.

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This could become an even bigger threat to the EU than the Greek elections.

RBS Bets ECB Blitz To Reach €4.5 Trillion And Reignite Asset Boom (AEP)

The European Central Bank will be forced to boost its balance sheet to €4.5 trillion in a colossal monetary blitz to prevent deflation engulfing the eurozone, economists at RBS have warned. The figure is the most aggressive forecast issued so far by any major bank and implies quantitative easing (QE) of at least €2.3 trillion, two or even three times the level suggested so far by ECB officials. It comes amid a blizzard of leaks from Frankfurt over the size and shape of QE as the ECB prepares for a pivotal decision next week. Most analysts say sovereign bond purchases are almost certain after the currency bloc slumped into deflation in December, though legal and political barriers complicate the picture.

The RBS report, entitled “Deflation Motel: you can check in, but you can’t check out”, said the buying spree will drive 10-year yields to near zero or even lower in the core countries. The German Bund yield will continue to smash historic records, dropping to 0.13% by the end of this quarter, pulling Italian yields down to 1%. “It is very easy to make a case over coming months for negative 10-year Bund yields. We are increasingly asking ourselves the question, who on Earth is the ECB going to be buying them from,” said Andrew Roberts, the bank’s credit chief. “It is Japanification no longer. It goes even further.” Germany plans a budget surplus this year that will cause Bund issuance to dry up. The report said Germany’s debt agency will cancel a net €18bn of bonds next year with maturities from five to 30 years.

This scarcity of new debt will continue since a constitutional amendment is coming into force that makes a balanced budget obligatory. The Bundesbank may have to find other ways of conducting QE, opting instead to buy the debt of the German Lander or the state development bank KfW. The report said the first blast of QE to be unveiled next week – though not necessarily enacted immediately – will fail to stop the slide towards debt-deflation as powerful deflationary pressures from Asia and the global effects of China’s excess capacity overwhelm Europe’s defences.

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“Quantitative easing “would give the ECB the function of lender of last resort toward individual states” in the euro area ..” Eh, I don’t think that’s legal.

Ifo’s Sinn Says ECB Using Deflation Risk as Excuse for QE (Bloomberg)

European Central Bank policy makers are using the specter of deflation as an excuse to help the euro area’s weaker nations, said Hans-Werner Sinn, head of Germany’s Ifo economic institute. The argument by central bankers that the ECB needs to act because inflation is below its goal of just under 2% isn’t covered by the treaty governing the currency union, Sinn said in a phone interview. Consumer prices in the euro area posted an annual decline in December for the first time in more than five years, though core inflation rose. “The risk of deflation is just a pretext for quantitative easing, for hammering out a bailout program for southern Europe,” Sinn said. The decline in inflation is due to lower crude prices and “there’s no need for ECB action,” he said.

Buying investment-grade government bonds is among the options that staff presented to ECB policy makers last week before a meeting on Jan. 22 at which they will consider further stimulus, according to a euro-area central bank official. The bank is already buying asset-backed securities and covered bonds, part of unprecedented measures announced by ECB President Mario Draghi since June that include negative deposit rates and four-year loans to banks. To ward off deflation, the ECB intends to expand its balance sheet toward €3 trillion ($3.55 trillion) from €2.2 trillion now. Complicating Draghi’s task are Greek elections on Jan. 25 that polls suggest may be won by the Syriza alliance, which wants to restructure the nation’s debt.

Quantitative easing “would give the ECB the function of lender of last resort toward individual states” in the euro area, said Sinn, who advocates an international conference to write down Greek debt. While Bundesbank head Jens Weidmann, lawmakers in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition and economists such as Sinn criticize the ECB’s expanding role, Merkel hasn’t opposed Draghi publicly. The chancellor on Jan. 7 backed keeping Greece in the euro area as long as it fulfills its austerity commitments, saying she has “always” sought to keep the euro area from splintering.

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Them’s your fighting words?! The Greek government seems reluctant to go after SYRIZA too hard, lest it costs them votes. The EU will have to throw the punches.

Greece Could Exit the Euro by Accident, Warns Finance Minister (Bloomberg)

Greece could stumble out of the euro by accident if a new government fails to reach an agreement with international creditors soon after this month’s election, Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis said. The main challenge facing whichever government emerges from the Jan. 25 vote will be to close the stalled review of Greek progress in meeting the terms of its financial rescue by the euro area and International Monetary Fund, he said. If that government is led by Syriza, it would be “prudent” to reverse its stance and negotiate an extension to the bailout before the aid supporting Greece expires on Feb. 28, Hardouvelis said. The prospect of “leaving the euro area is not necessarily a bluff,” Hardouvelis, 59, said in a Bloomberg Television interview in Athens yesterday. “An accident could happen, and the whole idea is to avoid it.”

Opinion polls show the opposition Syriza party of Alexis Tsipras with a slim though consistent lead over Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy. Tsipras has said he’ll roll back the austerity measures tied to the bailout and seek a write down on some Greek debt, putting him on a collision course with the so-called troika of creditors including the European Central Bank, which have kept the country afloat with €240 billion ($284 billion) of loans pledged since 2010. Tsipras’s commitment to keep the country in the euro area hasn’t stopped New Democracy from stoking concerns during the campaign that a Syriza victory could force Greece out of the currency bloc. The yield on Greece’s benchmark 10-year bond, which breached the 10% mark for the first time in 15 months last week, fell the most since October yesterday, suggesting investor perceptions of Syriza may be shifting.

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A bubble popped: “Local government budgets, especially in smaller cities, rely heavily on land sales, which in turn are dependent on strong property demand and prices.”

Snake Eats Its Tail: China’s Small Cities Buy Up Their Own Land (FT)

Local governments in some of China’s smallest cities are snapping up an increasing amount of their own land at auctions, in a destructive cycle designed to prop up property prices but which is ravaging their own finances. Local government financing vehicles in at least one wealthy province, Jiangsu, which borders Shanghai, accounted for more land purchases than property developers did in 2013 — the last year for which data were available — according to research collated by Deutsche Bank. The data signal that already cash-strapped local governments are switching money from one pocket to another rather than booking real sales.

“China faces a severe fiscal challenge in 2015,” as local governments are forecast to record the first contraction in revenues since 1994 and total government revenues grow by the smallest percentage since 1981, Zhang Zhiwei, Deutsche Bank’s chief Asia economist, said on Monday. Although Deutsche Bank only reviewed data for four provinces, concerns about the health of property markets in third-tier cities across China are mounting. Local government budgets, especially in smaller cities, rely heavily on land sales, which in turn are dependent on strong property demand and prices.

A glut of new building combined with tougher credit markets has cooled interest in all but the largest cities, forcing local governments to step in and prop up their own land prices. and sales account for about a quarter of local government revenues on average across China but there is a “huge range”, said Debra Roane of Moody’s rating agency. “The issue is that land as a source of revenue is highly volatile.” LGFVs appeared about six years ago. Created to fund Beijing-mandated stimulus projects in the wake of the global financial crisis, they quickly exacerbated concerns over rising levels of local government debt. Use of the vehicles to prop up land prices would further stoke those concerns.

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Big fight looming between local dealers and global car manufacturers.

Chinese Car Dealers Find Days of ‘Printing Money’ Ending (Bloomberg)

China’s car dealers are in open revolt over industry practices that have slashed profits, threatening growth prospects for companies such as General Motors and Volkswagen in the world’s biggest auto market. Retailers are banding together under the state-backed China Automobile Dealers Association to demand lower sales targets and a bigger share of profit from vehicle sales. BMW’s agreement last week to pay 5.1 billion yuan ($820 million) to its dealers has emboldened distributors for VW and Toyota to demand similar concessions. The rising tensions means companies like VW and GM will face the choice of narrower profit margins or slower growth in China, a market that increasingly determines the fortunes of global automakers.

China vehicle sales in 2014 rose at half the pace of the preceding year, a “new normal” according to BMW after surging growth in past years triggered by government subsidies. “We can’t just keep on sucking it up,” said Richard Li, 40, a Toyota dealership owner who lost about 300,000 yuan last year after offering markdowns of as much as 16% on some models. “We have to negotiate with them and defend our rights. I will stop buying cars from them unless they step up their financial support.” Total vehicle sales are forecast to rise 7% this year, little changed from 2014, because of cooling growth and as more cities impose purchase restrictions to fight pollution, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

Almost all retailers in the country are offering discounts and selling some models at losses to meet sales targets set by automakers, according to a survey by the China Auto Dealers Chamber of Commerce. Sales targets are crucial because dealers must meet them to qualify for year-end bonuses, which account for more than half of their annual profit from selling cars, according to the trade group. “When auto sales were booming in China, dealers would do anything the automakers asked them to do in order to gain their authorization to sell cars,” said Han Weiqi, an analyst with CSC. “With the expected slowdown in demand growth, manufacturers and dealers will have to find a way to make peace and secure their common interests.”

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And this won’t help.

Car Sales Growth Halves In China (BBC)

Growth in vehicle sales in the world’s largest car market, China, halved last year as the country’s economic expansion slowed. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said that sales rose by 6.9% in 2014, compared with growth of 13.9% a year earlier. The industry body also expects the market to expand by 7% this year, in line with China’s economic growth. Global carmakers have been grappling with slowing sales in China. On Sunday, Volkswagen, which is Europe’s biggest carmaker and the top selling global brand in China, said its sales in the country rose 12.4% to 3.67 million vehicles last year, compared with growth of 16% in 2013. Japanese carmaker Toyota missed its full-year sales target in China last year, selling 1.03 million cars compared with its aim of 1.1 million. However, despite the cooling of the car market in the world’s second-largest economy, its size is still much bigger than that of its closest competitor – the US. More than 23 million vehicles were sold in China last year, compared with an estimated 16.5 million in the US.

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“The banking armature that is the dwelling place of all that debt is coming apart just as surely as the 20th century Muslim nation-states that were largely a creation of the West. The long war underway is a race to the bottom where the human project has to re-set the terms of a life above savagery.”

The Clash of Civilizations (Jim Kunstler)

The big turnout in Paris was bracing but it also might reveal a sad fallacy of Western idealism: that good intentions will safeguard soft targets. The world war underway is not anything like the last two. Against neo-medieval barbarism, the West looks pretty squishy. All of the West is one big fat soft target. Recriminations are flying – as if this was something like a Dancing with the Stars contest — to the effect that the Charlie Hebdo massacre should not be labeled as “France’s 9/11.” It’s a matter of proportion, they say: only 12 dead versus 2977 dead, plus, don’t forget, the shock of two skyscrapers pancaking into the morning bustle of lower Manhattan. Interesting to see how the West tortures itself psychologically into a state of neurasthenic fecklessness. The automatic cries for “unity,” only beg the question: for or against what? The same cries went up in the USA after the Ferguson, Missouri, riots and the Eric Garner grand jury commotion, pretty much disconnected from the reality of ghetto estrangement, as if unity meant brunch together.

The demonstrators quickly reminded everybody that Homey don’t play brunch. If French politicians think that some magical overnight state of fraternité will congeal between the alienated Islamic masses and the rest of the citizenry, they’re liable to be disappointed. If anything, mutual distrust is only hardening on each side, and, anyway, I think that is not the kind of unity they have in mind. Over in Germany, they don’t have to travel very far psychologically to recall the awful efficiency of Hitler in purifying the social scene according to some dark cthonic principle that remains essentially unexplained even after all these years and ten thousand books on the subject. It happened that he picked on a group that wasn’t disturbing the peace in any way; if anything, the Jews were busier than anyone contributing to Western culture, knowledge, and science.

It is at least well-understood that there are seasons in history, but they seem to have a mysterious, implacable dynamism that mere humans can only hope to ride like great waves, hoping to not get crushed. In the background of the present disturbances are not only the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, but the imminent collapse of the machinery that boosted up the greater Islamic economy of our time: the oil engine. It was oil and oil alone that allowed the populations of the Islamic world to blossom in a forbidding desert in the late 20th century, and that orgy of wealth is coming to an end. So will the ability of that region to support the populations now occupying it. The violent outreach of Islamic wrath is actually a symptom of the region’s death throes, already obvious in the disintegration of one nation-state after another across North Africa and the Middle East. Saudi Arabia will only be one of the last dominoes to fall because it is so stoutly girded by desperate American support.

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“.. the opaque and ponderously bureaucratic nature of Russian governance, which the westerners, who love transparency (if only in others) find so unnerving ..”

Peculiarities of Russian National Character (Dmitry Orlov)

Recent events, such as the overthrow of the government in Ukraine, the secession of Crimea and its decision to join the Russian Federation, the subsequent military campaign against civilians in Eastern Ukraine, western sanctions against Russia, and, most recently, the attack on the ruble, have caused a certain phase transition to occur within Russian society, which, I believe, is very poorly, if at all, understood in the west. This lack of understanding puts Europe at a significant disadvantage in being able to negotiate an end to this crisis.

Whereas prior to these events the Russians were rather content to consider themselves “just another European country,” they have now remembered that they are a distinct civilization, with different civilizational roots (Byzantium rather than Rome)—one that has been subject to concerted western efforts to destroy it once or twice a century, be it by Sweden, Poland, France, Germany, or some combination of the above. This has conditioned the Russian character in a specific set of ways which, if not adequately understood, is likely to lead to disaster for Europe and the world.

Lest you think that Byzantium is some minor cultural influence on Russia, it is, in fact, rather key. Byzantine cultural influences, which came along with Orthodox Christianity, first through Crimea (the birthplace of Christianity in Russia), then through the Russian capital Kiev (the same Kiev that is now the capital of Ukraine), allowed Russia to leapfrog across a millennium or so of cultural development. Such influences include the opaque and ponderously bureaucratic nature of Russian governance, which the westerners, who love transparency (if only in others) find so unnerving, along with many other things. Russians sometimes like to call Moscow the Third Rome – third after Rome itself and Constantinople – and this is not an entirely empty claim. But this is not to say that Russian civilization is derivative; yes, it has managed to absorb the entire classical heritage, viewed through a distinctly eastern lens, but its vast northern environment has transformed that heritage into something radically different.

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The west won’t solve anything in the Arab world, ever, without Russian help.

Russia Says Paris Terror Acts Show Need for ‘Urgent’ Cooperation (Bloomberg)

France’s worst terror attacks in more than half a century show the need for “urgent” cooperation between Russia and the U.S. and Europe, Russia’s top diplomat said. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized a continued freeze in anti-terrorist ties imposed over the Ukraine conflict, telling reporters in Moscow today that such a key matter shouldn’t be based on “personal emotions and grievances.” Lavrov also rejected conditions for a lifting of what he said were “illegitimate” sanctions against his country, including handing joint control of the border between separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine and Russia to Ukrainian forces.

While Russia has condemned the attacks, which started with an assault on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7 that killed 12 people, its expression of solidarity hasn’t eased tensions with its former Cold war foes. Lavrov was the most senior Russian official to join the largest march in French history yesterday in Paris along with leaders from dozens of countries. He said the militants behind the terror spree had ties to Islamists seeking the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who’s also a target of the U.S. and its allies. Russia, which says the U.S. and Europe have encouraged the spread of militancy by their efforts to oust Assad, is locked in the worst geopolitical standoff since the Cold War over the fighting in Ukraine that’s killed more than 4,800 people since April.

Russia, a Soviet-era ally of Syria, has supported Assad through weapons sales and by blocking punitive action against him at the United Nations Security Council. Alexei Pushkov, a senior pro-government lawmaker in Moscow, said in comments published today that Europe is guilty of “double standards” in its attitude toward terrorism and Ukraine, where Russia accuses the government in Kiev of using force to suppress Russian speakers. Europe is heading toward a conflict of civilizations through the publication of cartoons mocking the Muslim prophet Muhammad in Charlie Hebdo, Pushkov, head of the foreign affairs committee of the lower house of parliament, said in an interview with Izvestia newspaper.

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“.. the US and its allies have deliberately radicalized Muslim fighters in the hopes they would strictly fight those they are told to fight. We learned on 9/11 that sometimes they come back to fight us.”

Lessons from Paris (Ron Paul)

After the tragic shooting at a provocative magazine in Paris last week, I pointed out that given the foreign policy positions of France we must consider blowback as a factor. Those who do not understand blowback made the ridiculous claim that I was excusing the attack or even blaming the victims. Not at all, as I abhor the initiation of force. The police blaming victims when they search for the motive of a criminal. The mainstream media immediately decided that the shooting was an attack on free speech. Many in the US preferred this version of “they hate us because we are free,” which is the claim that President Bush made after 9/11. They expressed solidarity with the French and vowed to fight for free speech. But have these people not noticed that the First Amendment is routinely violated by the US government? President Obama has used the Espionage Act more than all previous administrations combined to silence and imprison whistleblowers.

Where are the protests? Where are protesters demanding the release of John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on the CIA use of waterboarding and other torture? The whistleblower went to prison while the torturers will not be prosecuted. No protests. If Islamic extremism is on the rise, the US and French governments are at least partly to blame. The two Paris shooters had reportedly spent the summer in Syria fighting with the rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Assad. They were also said to have recruited young French Muslims to go to Syria and fight Assad. But France and the United States have spent nearly four years training and equipping foreign fighters to infiltrate Syria and overthrow Assad! In other words, when it comes to Syria, the two Paris killers were on “our” side. They may have even used French or US weapons while fighting in Syria.

Beginning with Afghanistan in the 1980s, the US and its allies have deliberately radicalized Muslim fighters in the hopes they would strictly fight those they are told to fight. We learned on 9/11 that sometimes they come back to fight us. The French learned the same thing last week. Will they make better decisions knowing the blowback from such risky foreign policy? It is unlikely because they refuse to consider blowback. They prefer to believe the fantasy that they attack us because they hate our freedoms, or that they cannot stand our free speech. Perhaps one way to make us all more safe is for the US and its allies to stop supporting these extremists. Another lesson from the attack is that the surveillance state that has arisen since 9/11 is very good at following, listening to, and harassing the rest of us but is not very good at stopping terrorists.

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But what about after this week?

Charlie Hebdo to Print 3 Million Copies With Muhammad Cover (Bloomberg)

Charlie Hebdo will print 3 million copies of a special issue of the satirical magazine, depicting the Prophet Muhammad on the cover, a week after an attack at its headquarters left a third of its journalists dead. Publishers of the weekly magazine will put the copies on newsstands worldwide in 16 languages on Jan. 14. The issue will feature a cartoon of Muhammad, crying, on a green background, holding a board saying “Je suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie.” Above his image is written “All is Forgiven.” Millions of people in France and across the world rallied in marches in the past week to show support for the Charlie Hebdo victims. The killings by self-proclaimed jihadists are the deadliest attacks in France in half a century. France has been on the highest terrorist alert since the first attack.

More than 15,000 special forces are being deployed to protect sensitive sites across the country, including Jewish schools, tourist landmarks and Charlie Hebdo’s new headquarters in Paris. This week’s magazine will have six or eight pages instead of the usual 16. “This won’t be a tribute issue of some sort,” Richard Malka, Charlie Hebdo’s lawyer and spokesman, told France Info radio Monday. “We will be faithful to the spirit of the newspaper: making people laugh.” mThe magazine’s circulation has dropped over the years. While issues with covers depicting Muhammad sold about 100,000 copies, the magazine often printed 60,000 copies and sales sometimes didn’t exceed 30,000. After the attack, French Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin pledged €1 million ($1.2 million) of state money to help the publication. Google promised to give €250,000, U.K. daily The Guardian €125,000. The French press association opened a bank account which is attracting donations from the public.

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“I joke that I drive the bus, but they’re the real rock stars ..”

The Goats Fighting America’s Plant Invasion (BBC)

Each country has its own invasive species and rampant plants with a tendency to take over. In most, the techniques for dealing with them are similar – a mixture of powerful chemicals and diggers. But in the US a new weapon has joined the toolbox in recent years – the goat. In a field just outside Washington, Andy, a tall goat with long, floppy ears, nuzzles up to his owner, Brian Knox. Standing with Andy are another 70 or so goats, some basking in the low winter sun, and others huddled together around bales of hay. This is holiday time – a chance for the goats to rest and give birth before they start work again in the spring. Originally bought to be butchered – goat meat is increasingly popular in the US – these animals had a lucky escape when Knox and his business partner discovered they had hidden skills. “We got to know the goats well and thought, we can’t sell them for meat,” he says.

“So we started using them around this property on some invasive species. It worked really well, and things grew organically from there.” They are now known as the Eco Goats – a herd much in demand for their ability to clear land of invasive species and other nuisance plants up and down America’s East Coast. Poison ivy, multiflora rose and bittersweet – the goats eat them all with gusto, so Knox now markets their pest-munching services one week at a time from May to November. Over the past seven years, they have become a huge success story, consuming tons of invasive species. “I joke that I drive the bus, but they’re the real rock stars,” says Knox, who also works as a sustainability consultant. Typically, chemicals and/or machinery are used to clear away fast-growing invasive plants, but both methods have their drawbacks. Chemicals can contaminate soil and are not effective in stopping new seeds from sprouting.

Pulling plants out by machine can disturb the soil and cause erosion. Goats, says Knox, are a simple, biological solution to the problem. “This is old technology. I’d love to say I invented it, but it’s been around since time began,” he says. “We just kind of rediscovered it.” One of the reasons goats are so effective is that plant seeds rarely survive the grinding motion of their mouths and their multi-chambered stomachs – this is not always the case with other techniques which leave seeds in the soil to spring back. Unlike machinery, they can access steep and wooded areas. And tall goats, like Andy, can reach plants more than eight feet high. A herd of 35 goats can go through half an acre of dense vegetation in about four days, which, says Knox, is the same amount of time it gets them to become bored of eating the same thing.

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