It’s the final call, say scientists, the most extensive warning yet on the risks of rising global temperatures. Their dramatic report on keeping that rise under 1.5 degrees C states that the world is now completely off track, heading instead towards 3C. Staying below 1.5C will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. It will be hugely expensive, the report says, but the window of opportunity is not yet closed. After three years of research and a week of haggling between scientists and government officials at a meeting in South Korea, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a special report on the impact of global warming of 1.5C.
The critical 33-page Summary for Policymakers certainly bears the hallmarks of difficult negotiations between climate researchers determined to stick to what their studies have shown and political representatives more concerned with economies and living standards. Despite the inevitable compromises, there are some key messages that come through loud and and clear. “The first is that limiting warming to 1.5C brings a lot of benefits compared with limiting it to 2 degrees. It really reduces the impacts of climate change in very important ways,” said Prof Jim Skea, who is a co-chair of the IPCC.
“The second is the unprecedented nature of the changes that are required if we are to limit warming to 1.5C – changes to energy systems, changes to the way we manage land, changes to the way we move around with transportation.” “Scientists might want to write in capital letters, ‘ACT NOW IDIOTS’, but they need to say that with facts and numbers,” said Kaisa Kosonen, from Greenpeace, who was an observer at the negotiations. “And they have.” The researchers have used these facts and numbers to paint a picture of the world with a dangerous fever, caused by humans. We used to think if we could keep warming below 2 degrees this century then the changes we would experience would be manageable.
Society would have to enact “unprecedented” changes to how it consumes energy, travels and builds to meet a lower global warming target or it risks increases in heat waves, flood-causing storms and the chances of drought in some regions as well as the loss of species, a U.N. report said on Monday. Keeping the Earth’s temperature rise to only 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) rather than the 2C target agreed to at the Paris Agreement talks in 2015, would have “clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems,” the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said on Monday in a statement announcing the report’s release.
The IPCC report said at the current rate of warming, the world’s temperatures would likely reach 1.5C between 2030 and 2052 after an increase of 1C above pre-industrial levels since the mid-1800s. Keeping the 1.5C target would keep the global sea level rise 0.1 meter (3.9 inches) lower by 2100 than a 2C target, the report states. That could reduce flooding and give the people that inhabit the world’s coasts, islands and river deltas time to adapt to climate change.
The lower target would also reduce species loss and extinction and the impact on terrestrial, freshwater and coastal ecosystems, the report said. “There were doubts if we would be able to differentiate impacts set at 1.5C and that came so clearly. Even the scientists were surprised to see how much science was already there and how much they could really differentiate and how great are the benefits of limiting global warming at 1.5 compared to 2,” Thelma Krug, vice-chair of the IPCC, told Reuters in an interview. “And now more than ever we know that every bit of warming matters,” Krug said.
Carbon emissions from the energy sector are on track to grow for the second year running, in a major blow to hopes the world might have turned the corner on tackling climate change. Preliminary analysis by the world’s energy watchdog shows the industry’s emissions have continued to rise in 2018, suggesting that an increase last year was not a one-off. The finding comes as the world’s leading climate scientists issue a landmark report on whether the world can meet a tougher global warming target, of limiting temperature rises to 1.5C.
Dr Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), told the Guardian: “When I look at the first nine months of data, I expect in 2018 carbon emissions will increase once again. This is definitely worrying news for our climate goals. We need to see a steep decline in emissions. We are not seeing even flat emissions.” Emissions largely flatlined in 2014–16 after climbing for decades, raising hopes that global action on climate change was beginning to turn the tide – but in 2017 they grew by 1.4%.
On Tuesday, the [IMF] will update its World Economic Outlook and has already warned that the effects of rising debt and trade wars are affecting the global projections. Last week, the IMF’s head, Christine Lagarde, said the outlook “has become less bright”, despite projections during the summer that there would be 3.9% growth for 2018 and 2019. [..] Adding to Lagarde’s comments, there were warnings last week in the IMF’s global financial stability report, which said there was a risk of another financial meltdown because both governments and regulators have failed to put in place needed reforms to protect the system. Lagarde said that while expansion of the global economy was running at its fastest rate in seven years, there were signs of slowdown.
In September, factory activity dropped as a result of changes in trading with the US – and Donald Trump did not escape (admittedly veiled) criticism. The growing use of trade barriers had resulted in a drop in imports and exports, Lagarde said, and investment and manufacturing output had also been hit. Trump has consistently championed unilateral trade deals in an effort to further his “America First” agenda. “History shows that, while it is tempting to sail alone, countries must resist the siren call of self-sufficiency – because as the Greek legends tell us, that leads to shipwreck,” said Lagarde. Also central to the concerns about the future of the global economy are debt levels, currently well above those seen at the time of the 2008 crash. The IMF warned that there was a risk that unregulated parts of the financial system could trigger a panic.
The rise of unregulated “shadow banks” and the lack of restrictions on insurers and asset managers were pinpointed as concerns – as was the growth of global banks to a scale larger than 2008 and the fear that they are again “too big to fail”. Lagarde has said she is concerned that the total value of global debt has risen by 60% in the last 10 years to reach an all-time high of £139tn. As central banks in more advanced economies raised interest rates, attracting investors back to them, she said, developing countries were suffering. “That process could become even more challenging if it were to accelerate suddenly. It could lead to market corrections, sharp exchange rate movements, and further weakening of capital flows.”
U.S. inflation is the world’s most important economic variable. That proposition is explained by its corollary: Rising inflation is the only problem the U.S. Federal Reserve cannot solve by increasing its money supply. The Fed can deal with structural problems in credit markets by means of enhanced supervision, regulatory provisions and, all else failing, by open-ended lending in cases of systemic threats to the financial system’s stability. But none of those measures are applicable to situations of accelerating inflation and a deteriorating outlook for the value of fixed-income assets. That is a problem the Fed must address with sustained liquidity withdrawals, increasing credit costs and the ensuing growth recession of the U.S. economy.
[..] U.S. inflation has reached a point in an accelerating economy where the Fed needs to step in with a prompt and credible action to anchor inflation expectations. Markets are signaling that such measures are long overdue. The Fed is now well beyond the stage where it could think of fine tuning the economic activity in an environment of stable costs and prices. The U.S. economy is moving along at twice the rate of its noninflationary growth potential. That is unsustainable. As in the past, the restoration of American price stability will lead to a growth recession of unknown amplitude and duration.
The global reach of the dollar, and of the American financial system, are direct and powerful channels through which the Fed’s rising interest rates will affect demand, output and employment in the rest of the world. Those who think that they can avoid the impact of U.S. monetary policies should think again. The dollar remains an irreplaceable linchpin to the international monetary system. And that’s the way it will be for the foreseeable future. There is simply no viable alternative to the dollar’s global role as a unit of account, a means of payment, a transactions currency and a store of value.
Ron Paul believes the bond trading pits are giving investors a dire message about the state of the nation’s economy. According to the former Republican Congressman from Texas, the recent jump in Treasury bond yields suggest the U.S. is barreling towards a potential recession and market meltdown at a faster and faster pace. And, he sees no way to prevent it. “We’re getting awfully close. I’d be surprised if you don’t have everybody agreeing with what I’m saying next year some time,” he said last Thursday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.”
His remarks came as the benchmark 10-Year Treasury yield, which moves inversely to its price, rallied to seven year highs, intensifying fears over rising inflation. It may be beneficial for personal savings accounts, but it could deliver irrevocable damage to those in adjustable mortgages, or for auto buyers looking to finance a new vehicle. “It can be pretty well validated by looking at monetary history that when you inflate the currency, distort interest rates and live beyond your means and spend too much, there has to be an adjustment,” he said. “We have the biggest bubble in the history of mankind.”
Chinese stocks led weaker action across Asia markets on Monday, as traders returned to work after a weeklong holiday, brushing aside the latest rate cut by the People’s Bank of China. Chinese stocks returned from the Golden Week holiday with opening declines of 2% after last week’s wide selling in Asia and a U.S.-listed benchmark of mainland companies falling nearly 5%. The major indexes in both Shanghai and Shenzhen were last down around 3%. On Sunday, the PBOC made a one percentage-point cut in banks’ reserve-requirement ratios. The central bank was widely expected to cut the metric again before year-end amid ongoing stimulus efforts.
But Monday was expected to be an up-and-down day as investors try and price in not just what’s happened so far this month but also what continues to lie ahead on the trade front. “This monetary policy tweak is the fourth in 2018 and despite the weakening Yaun and the Feds embarking on a more aggressive rate hike tangent than expected, suggests the Pboc are putting their greatest energies behind stimulating the flagging economy as opposed to the U.S.-China trade wars or Fed policy for that matter,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading APAC, at OANDA. A survey of China’s service sector came in mixed, with the sector expanding at a faster pace in September, but a subindex of employment abruptly contracted, falling to its lowest level since March 2016.
To declassify or not to declassify? That is the question, when it comes to the FBI’s original evidence in the Russia collusion case. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI have tried to thwart President Trump on releasing the evidence, suggesting it will harm national security, make allies less willing to cooperate, or even leave him vulnerable to accusations that he is trying to obstruct the end of the Russia probe. Before you judge the DOJ’s and FBI’s arguments — which are similar to those offered to stop the release of information in other major episodes of American history, from the Bay of Pigs to 9/11 — consider Footnote 43 on Page 57 of Chapter 3 of the House Intelligence Committee’s report earlier this year on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Until this past week, the footnote really had garnered no public intrigue, in part because the U.S. intelligence community blacked out the vast majority of its verbiage in the name of national security before the report was made public. From the heavy redactions, all one could tell is that FBI general counsel James Baker met with an unnamed person who provided some information in September 2016 about Russia, email hacking and a possible link to the Trump campaign. Not a reporter or policymaker would have batted an eyelash over such a revelation. Then, last Wednesday, I broke the story that Baker admitted to Congress in an unclassified setting — repeat, in an unclassified setting — that he had met with a top lawyer at the firm representing the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and received allegations from that lawyer about Russia, Trump and possible hacking.
It was the same DNC, along with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, that funded the unverified, salacious dossier by a British intel operative, Christopher Steele, that became a central piece of evidence used to justify the FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign in the final days of the election And it was the same law firm that made the payments for the dossier research so those could be disguised in campaign spending reports to avoid the disclosure of the actual beneficiaries of the research, which were Clinton and the DNC. And it was, in turns out, the same meeting that was so heavily censored by the intel agencies from Footnote 43 in the House report — treated, in other words, as some big national security secret.
The bloc may expect a “political earthquake” after the 2019 European Parliament election, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio warned. Di Maio said he believes that what happened in Italy after the general election in March 4, when the popular vote brought an unlikely coalition of two anti-establishment parties to power, will happen in the whole Europe. The pro-EU centrist parties shrank significantly as a result of the latest Italian parliamentary elections. With the plebiscite that is scheduled for May next year “there will be a political earthquake at the European level,” Di Maio, who is also the Minister of Economic Development and the head of the Five Star Movement (M5S), stated. “All the rules will change,” the Italian high-ranking politician promised.
The Italian government and the EU authorities are at loggerheads over Rome’s targeted budget deficit at 2.4 percent of the GDP that exceeds the limits set by the EU. Rome believes that the forthcoming elections would favor the opponents of austerity. “The Europe of bankers, founded on mass immigration and economic insecurity, keeps on threatening and insulting Italians and their government? Relax, in six months 500 million voters will fire them. We keep going,” Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said.
Rome has still not reached an agreement with Berlin on the repatriation of asylum seekers who had first registered in Italy, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said, vowing to close airports to German flights transferring refugees. “If someone in Berlin or Brussels thinks of dumping dozens of migrants in Italy via unauthorized charter flights, they should know that there is not and there will be no airport available,” Salvini said in a statement, adding that Italy will “close the airports” just as it earlier closed its ports to NGO vessels carrying migrants rescued in the Mediterranean. His sharp statement comes in response to the rumors first circulated by the Italian La Repubblica daily that Germany plans to speed up repatriation procedures ahead of the regional elections in the state of Bavaria, the home state of the Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.
The first charter flight carrying asylum seekers from Germany to Italy is reportedly scheduled for Tuesday, October 9, the media reported. Other media reports set the date of the flight on Thursday, October 11. Germany’s refugee and migration agency, the BAMF, allegedly already sent “dozens of letters” to the would-be repatriates informing them about the planned transfers to Italy, according to La Repubblica. Earlier, the German dpa news agency also said that such a flight is scheduled for “the coming days.” This information, however, was neither confirmed nor denied by the German authorities. Rome fears that Germany might eventually attempt to send back to Italy as many as 40,000 people, who arrived there from the southern European country, the Italian media report.
Greece, which endured a slump longer and deeper than the Great Depression in the US, was forced by the so-called troika of the IMF, the EU and the ECB to cut health expenditure at a time when other European countries were raising theirs. Under Greece’s bailout, health spending fell from 9.8% of GDP in 2008 to 8.1% in 2014, a time when national output was contracting rapidly. The country’s death rate had risen by about 5.6% in the decade running up to the first bailout in 2010 but then jumped by 17.6% in the six years that followed. The rate rose three times faster than the rate in Western Europe overall.
[..] The troika’s austerity programme helped French and German banks avoid losses on their loans but at the expense of a rising Greek death rate. That has resulted in 50% less public hospital funding in 2015 than 2009, hospitals being left without basic supplies, the long-term unemployed stripped of their health insurance and those on low pay finding drugs more expensive because of a 20% cut in the minimum wage. The number of individuals with unmet healthcare needs has nearly doubled since 2010, with a considerable fraction reporting cost as the main reason for not receiving the recommended healthcare services.
Greece is not short of healthcare expertise. It has the second highest number of doctors per 1,000 people in the EU but that medical workforce has been forced to watch impotently as the health system has descended into chaos and people have died when they could have been saved. For the past eight years, Greece has been used in a laboratory experiment to test out a theory. The evidence from the report in the Lancet could hardly be clearer. Austerity kills.
Greece is about to launch a campaign to claim €280 billion ($323 billion) in war reparations from Germany, reports Der Spiegel. The German magazine notes that as long as Greece was dependent on EU support, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had avoided raising the issue. But now, after the end of the third bailout program, Athens is ready to take initiatives to claim the money, it says. The issue is resurfacing a few days before the official visit of Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to Athens where he will meet the President of the Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Tsipras. Der Spiegel says it is no coincidence that the two highest ranking Greek politicians have both raised the issue in the last few days.
It marks the beginning of a long campaign, which, according to the German magazine, will start in November. The Greek Parliament will endorse an audit report ready since August 2016, according to which Greece is entitled to €269.5 billion of repairs from the Second World War. In addition, Greece demands the repayment of a €10.3 billion occupation loan. The report remained under wraps throughout the last two years, but Tsipras seems ready to bring it back to the surface and start a campaign for war reparations, says Der Spiegel. In the second phase, Greece intends to present its arguments at world organizations such as the European Parliament, the European Council, and the UN.
[Dewayne Johnson’s] award of $289m, which included $250m in punitive damages, is a game-changer for the 46-year-old, who will leave behind a wife and three children. But Monsanto is fighting to keep it from him. “It’s a big red flag for the company,” said Jean M Eggen, professor emerita at Widener University Delaware Law School: “It brings more people out who might not otherwise sue.” Roughly 8,700 plaintiffs have made similar cases in state courts across the country, alleging that exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides led to various types of cancer. The impact could be huge if Monsanto continues to fight and lose in jury trials, and an accumulation of wins could force the company to consider settling with plaintiffs. “It could become very costly,” said Eggen, comparing the fight to the tobacco industry, which aggressively fought cases in court but eventually decided settlements were the best option. “It’s really a business decision.”
Monsanto may ultimately consider changing the labels to warn consumers about cancer risks and work to settle with consumers who have had high exposures, said Lars Noah, University of Florida law professor: “It’s sort of a wake-up call that their strategy was unrealistic.” Of the thousands of cases, there are more than 10 trials on track to start in 2019 and 2020, with court battles ramping up in California, Montana, Delaware, Kansas City and St Louis (where Monsanto is headquartered). Farmers, gardeners, government employees, landscapers and a wide range of others have alleged that Monsanto’s products sickened them or killed their loved ones. “This is a tremendous number of trials for one year and will allow plaintiffs to get critical evidence in front of juries – evidence not seen before,” said the attorney Aimee Wagstaff.
China is implementing new tariffs on meat, fruit and other products from the U.S. as retaliation for American duties, heightening fears of a potential trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Beijing’s latest move, announced by its finance ministry in a statement dated April 1, is direct retaliation against taxes approved by President Donald Trump on imported steel and aluminum. Chinese officials had been warning over the last few weeks that their country would take action against the U.S. The tariffs begin on Monday, the finance ministry statement said. China’s Customs Tariff Commission is increasing the tariff rate on pork products and aluminum scrap by 25 percent. It’s also imposing a new 15 percent tariff on 120 other imported U.S. commodities, from almonds to apples and berries.
All told, the extra tariffs will hit 128 kinds of U.S. products, multiple outlets reported. The list of new duties matches the proposed list released by the government on March 23, according to Reuters. At that time, China said the affected U.S. goods had an import value of $3 billion in 2017 and included wine, fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts, steel pipes, modified ethanol and ginseng. The decision to target $3 billion in U.S. imports is significant, but it’s widely seen as a drop in the ocean given the size of the bilateral trading relationship. U.S. goods exported to China in 2016 totaled $115.6 billion, according to official data. China’s retaliation is “a statement of intent … but it’s not an escalation in our opinion,” Steve Brice, chief investment strategist at Standard Chartered Private Bank, told CNBC on Monday.
After a seemingly unstoppable surge higher for years, March was a tough one for tech stocks, as the curtain was lifted exposing Oz-like machinations behind the scenes that spooked investors enough to pop the bubble of delusion so many were living in. After a magnificent 2017, Cryptocurrencies also started 2018 off poorly as yet another ‘bubble’ popped. However, there was one ‘asset’ that had a tremendous 2017, and has gone on to greater and bubblier things in 2018. Spot the real bubble in financial markets… Bitcoin has bust, FANG stocks are FUBAR, but The SNB is accelerating.
As we noted previously, The SNB made 32 times more than 85 Swiss private banks… and owns a record $100 billion-plus of American stocks… $11,589.01. – That’s the US dollar amount of American stocks the Swiss National Bank owns on behalf of every man, woman and child in Switzerland. Let that sink in. A Central Bank has taken on itself to expand its balance sheet and invest in the proceeds, not in gold, nor sovereign debt – heck not even in corporate bonds. Nope, the SNB has taken it upon itself to “invest” that money in another country’s most risky part of the capital structure – equity. And don’t think it’s a small number. It’s almost $100 billion US dollars.
In a strange twist of fate, the Swiss National Bank is not only Switzerland’s Central Bank, but also a publicly traded security. And that ‘security’ has had a great year so far – up a stunning 93%…
However, as Holger Zschaepitz notes, the market cap of the Swiss National Bank remains below CHF1bn amidst a profit of CHF54.4bn. But that didn’t stop investors piling in to The SNB in March as a ‘safe haven’ as the rest of the world collapsed… As Macro Tourist’s Kevin Muir concluded previously, I worry that right now, Central Banks are being rewarded for keeping their balance sheets as big and risky as they can stomach. It appears to be a trade with no cost, and in fact, helps out by both keeping their currency weak, and in the meantime, making some money. It encourages them to be extremely slow easing off the accelerator. The idiocy of Central Banks taking this sort of risk is beyond description, but no sense arguing about it – it is what it is.
I don’t think there has ever been an entire sector that skyrocketed as much and collapsed as quickly as the cryptocurrency space. The skyrocketing phase culminated at the turn of the year. Then the collapse phase set in, with different cryptos choosing different points in time. It doesn’t help that regulators around the world have caught on to these schemes called initial coin offerings (ICOs), where anyone, even the government of Venezuela, can try to sell homemade digital tokens to the gullible and take their “fiat” money from them and run away with it. There are now 1,596 cryptocurrencies and tokens out there, up from a handful a few years ago. And the gullible are getting cleaned out.
And it doesn’t help that the ways to promote these schemes are being closed off, one after the other. At the end of January, Facebook announced that, suddenly, “misleading or deceptive ads have no place on Facebook,” and it prohibited ads about ICOs and cryptos. On March 14, Google announced that it will block ads with “cryptocurrencies and related content,” including ICOs, cryptocurrency exchanges, cryptocurrency wallets, and cryptocurrency trading advice. Its crackdown begins in June. On March 26, Twitter announced that it would ban ads of ICOs, cryptocurrency exchanges, and cryptocurrency wallet services, unless they are by public companies traded on major stock markets. It will roll out its policy over the next 30 days.
On March 29, MailChimp, a major email mass-distribution service, announced that it will block email promos from businesses that are “involved in any aspect of the sale, transaction, exchange, storage, marketing or production of cryptocurrencies, virtual currencies, and any digital assets related to an Initial Coin Offering.” This broadened and tightened its policy announced in February that promised to shut down any account related to promos of ICOs or blockchain activity. The overall cryptocurrency space, in terms of market capitalization, peaked on January 4, when market cap reached $707 billion, according to CoinMarketCap. Less than three months later, market cap has now plunged by 65% to $245 billion. $462 billion went up in smoke.
It’s hard to accept that your entire country is pushing up daisies. But you got to sell your paper. So you get a real heavy headline, and then quote someone saying: “..the numbers were “generally pretty good news for retailers”..
The gloom on Britain’s high streets deepened over the Easter bank holiday weekend as heavy rain in many areas drove people to seek the shelter of shopping centres or simply stay at home. The number of shoppers on UK high streets on Easter Sunday morning slumped by over 12% compared with 2017, according to retail intelligence firm Springboard. That followed a disappointing Good Friday, when high street footfall fell by 9.6%. Saturday was little better, with footfall down 6.9% year-on-year. This weekend had been billed as the most anticipated weekend for retail since Christmas, but Springboard said bad weather in some parts of the country had “definitely hit high streets”, and pulled the overall result for all UK shopping destinations down into minus figures.
A week ago Springboard predicted that this Easter weekend’s UK retail footfall could end up 2.4% higher than last year’s, though it had said this assumed “normal weather”. It added that if freezing conditions similar to those caused by the “beast from the east” returned, all bets were off. In the event wet weather sent a chill through the high streets, meaning footfall across all shopping destinations was down 2.4% on Good Friday and 3% lower on Saturday. However, retail parks and shopping centres typically enjoyed better fortunes than they did last year. Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director, said the rain kept many people away from their local high street shops. But “at the same time, people did go shopping” rather than staying at home and browsing the web.
She said the numbers were “generally pretty good news for retailers”, many of whom would be quite heartened by the numbers of shoppers out on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. With predictions of snow in some parts of the country for Easter Monday, many retailers will be crossing their fingers and hoping that conditions are not too challenging. Last week it emerged that high street sales had slumped at the fastest rate for early spring in at least five years, as cold and snowy weather kept people away from the shops. Wehrle said of Easter Monday: “If it starts off dry in the morning, that will shape the day. If people wake up and it’s snowing, that will be it.”
Trump is going after Amazon; Congress is after Facebook; Google is too big, and Apple is short of new products. Is it any surprise that sentiment toward the tech industry giants is turning sour? The consequences of such a readjustment, however, may be dire. The past two weeks have been difficult for the tech sector by every measure. Tech stocks have largely driven the year’s stock market decline, the largest quarterly drop since 2015. Facebook saw more than $50bn shaved off its value after the Observer revealed that had harvested millions of people’s user data for political profiling. Now users are deleting accounts, and regulators may seek to limit how the company monetizes data, threatening Facebook’s business model.
On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission confirmed it was investigating the company’s data practices. Additionally, Facebook said it would to London to appear in front of UK lawmakers, but it would not send the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, who is increasingly seen as isolated and aloof. Shares of Facebook have declined more than 17% from the close on Friday 16 March to the close on Thursday before the Easter break. Amazon, meanwhile, long the target of President Trump’s ire, saw more than $30bn, or 5%, shaved off its $693bn market capitalization after it was reported that the president was “obsessed” with the company and that he “wondered aloud if there may be any way to go after Amazon with antitrust or competition law”.
Shares of Apple, and Google’s parent company Alphabet, are also down, dropping on concerns that tech firms now face tighter regulation across the board. For Apple, there’s an additional concern that following poor sales of its $1,000 iPhone X. For Google, there’s the prospect not only of tighter regulation on how it sells user date to advertisers, but also the fear of losing an important Android software patent case with Oracle. Big tech’s critics may be forgiven a moment of schadenfreude. But for shareholders and pension plans, the tarnishing of tech could have serious consequences.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has warned that Google and Facebook are becoming too big to be governed and could face being dismantled. Internet giants could be forced to pay for the disruption they cause in society and submit to French or European privacy regulations, he suggested. In an interview with the magazine Wired, the president warned that artificial intelligence (AI) would challenge democracy and open a Pandora’s box of privacy issues. He was speaking after announcing a €1.5bn (£1.32bn) investment in artificial intelligence research to accelerate innovation and catch up with China and the US.
Mr Macron said companies such as Google and Facebook were welcome in France, brought jobs and were “part of our ecosystem”. But he warned: “They have a very classical issue in a monopoly situation; they are huge players. At a point of time – but I think it will be a US problem, not a European problem – at a point of time, your government, your people, may say, ‘Wake up. They are too big.’ “Not just too big to fail, but too big to be governed. Which is brand new. “So at this point, you may choose to dismantle. That’s what happened at the very beginning of the oil sector when you had these big giants. That’s a competition issue.”
Authored by “Ehsani” – a Middle East expert, Syrian-American banker and financial analyst who visits the region frequently and writes for the influential geopolitical analysis blog, Syria Comment.
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The Mideast is doomed. Egypt alone needs to create 700,000 jobs every single year to absorb the new job seekers out its 98 million population. A third of this population already live below the poverty line (482 Egyptian Pounds a month, which is less than $1 a day). The seeds of the vicious circle that the Mideast region finds itself in today were planted at least 5 decades ago. Excessive public spending without matching revenues were the catalyst to a faulty and dangerous incentive system that helped to balloon populations beyond control. A governance system that was ostensibly put in place to help the poor ended up being a built-in factory for poverty generation. Excessive subsidies helped misallocate resources and mask the true cost of living for households. Correlation between family size and income was lost.
Successive Mideast leaders are often referred to as evil dictators. I see them more as lousy economists and poor users of simple arithmetic and excel spreadsheets that can help demonstrate the simple, yet devastating power of compounding. Unless you are a Gulf-based monarchy enjoying the revenue stream from oil and gas that can postpone your day of reckoning, the numbers in nearly every single Arab country don’t add up. t is important to note that excessive population growth is not fundamental the issue here. Japan and many parts of Europe are suffering from too little population growth. The problem in Arab societies is lack of productivity stemming from weak private sector and overburdened bankrupt public sector. As students of Economics know, “Potential” Economic Growth of a country is derived by adding the growth rate of its labor force to the growth rate of the economy’s productivity.
High labor force growth therefore ought to be a plus for the “Potential Growth”. The Arab World’s problem is that it suffers from shockingly low levels of “productivity”. This may seem like a fancy word but the concept encapsulates everything that Arab economies and societies suffer from. Why does the Arab world have such low productivity? The answer lies in everything from excessive size of public sector, subsidies and overbearing regulatory system leading to corruption. As public sector liabilities grow, education, healthcare & infrastructure funding suffers. Why is the size of the public sector coupled with excessive subsidies the problem? Because what starts as the noble cause of helping the poor ends up masking the true costs of raising family size. Governments soon go broke. Services suffer. Anger rises. We know the drill now.
A GoFundMe for former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired two weeks ago by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has raised over $400,000 in less than a day. Another way to say that would be that a former officer from the US intelligence community, who is married to a successful physician and will surely receive a book deal worth millions of dollars, just had a charity drive which in less than a day raised an amount of money it would take the average American years to earn. Meanwhile, an impoverished American recently died because his GoFundMe failed to raise enough money for his insulin and an FBI whistleblower was just arrested for trying to bring transparency to the Bureau’s secret domestic surveillance practices while banks receive massive bailouts, global fossil fuel subsidies total trillions of dollars, and Amazon paid zero federal taxes last year despite earning billions.
Even leaving aside the reasons for McCabe’s firing and the shady dealings he was accused of, this is a very solid illustration of everything that is sick about the United States of America. In America you have socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. You have government secrecy for the powerful and surveillance for the powerless. You have charity for wealthy establishment lackeys and rugged individualism for ordinary human beings. Those at the top are uplifted even further, while those on the bottom are stomped through the floor.
Julian Assange is currently under siege in the Ecuadorian embassy, deprived of mobility, sunlight and healthcare, and now internet, phone calls and visitors, all because he dared to bring some transparency to the powerful. Meanwhile the intelligence and defense agencies who serve as the armed goon squad of the wealthy and the powerful are able to kill, destroy and pillage from behind the opaque walls of near-total government secrecy in the name of “national security”. And instead of defending the single defenseless man who speaks truth to power, mainstream media reporters around the world are spitting on him in near-unanimity because he hurts power’s feelings.
This is how we end up with John Bolton, people. This is the “kiss-up, kick-down” pathway to success that elevates bloodthirsty psychopaths like John Bolton, the worst of the worst, the ones willing to do the most killing on behalf of the powerful and the most stomping on the powerless to get to the top. This has become the unquestioned pathway in every sphere of public life. We have a situation now where the highest echelons of power are not the wisest among us, but the wiliest. The fourth estate is full of everyday people who at one point presumably believed they were there to bring truth to power, stomping on the silvery head of one who does, while sucking up to the very power that he regularly embarrasses with his leak drops.
Limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius will not prevent destructive and deadly climate impacts, as once hoped, dozens of experts concluded in a score of scientific studies released Monday. A world that heats up by 2C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) – long regarded as the temperature ceiling for a climate-safe planet – could see mass displacement due to rising seas, a drop in per capita income, regional shortages of food and fresh water, and the loss of animal and plant species at an accelerated speed. Poor and emerging countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America will get hit hardest, according to the studies in the British Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions A.
“We are detecting large changes in climate impacts for a 2C world, and so should take steps to avoid this,” said lead editor Dann Mitchell, an assistant professor at the University of Bristol. The 197-nation Paris climate treaty, inked in 2015, vows to halt warming at “well under” 2C compared to mid-19th century levels, and “pursue efforts” to cap the rise at 1.5C. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday said climate change was “the most systemic threat to humankind”. With only one degree of warming so far, Earth has seen a crescendo of droughts, heatwaves, and storms ramped up by rising seas. Voluntary national pledges made under the Paris pact to cut CO2 emissions, if fulfilled, would yield a 3C world at best.
The treaty also requires that – by the end of the century – humanity stop adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than oceans and forests can absorb, a threshold known as “net zero emissions”. “How fast we get to a 2C world” is critical, Mitchell told AFP. “If it only takes a couple of decades, we will be in trouble because we won’t have time to adapt to the climate.” [..] Researchers led by Felix Pretis, an economist at the University of Oxford, predict that two degrees of global warming will see GDP per person drop, on average, 13% by 2100, once costly climate change impacts are factored in. A 2ºC world will also “show significant negative impact on the rates of economic growth,” Pretis told AFP.
According to a recent report by the Washington Examiner, President Trump will declassify the controversial four-page memo that reportedly details surveillance abuses by the Department of Justice and FBI, and send it back to House Intelligence for a Friday morning release. The news comes just days after President Trump’s State of the Union address, where he was overheard stating that he would “100%” release the memo. The Examiner further reports that FBI Director Wray continues to oppose the release of the memo to the American public, citing: “grave concerns about the memo’s accuracy.” However, as the Wall Street Journal reports, it is important to remember that the FBI knows and has known what is in the memo for a long time, as the Bureau had, “refused to provide access to those documents until director Christopher Wray and the Justice Department faced a contempt of Congress vote.”
The Journal further relates that: “The FBI’s public statement appears to be an act of insubordination after Mr. Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tried and failed to get the White House to block the memo’s release. Their public protest appears intended to tarnish in advance whatever information the memo contains. The public is getting to see amid this brawl how the FBI plays politics, and it isn’t a good look.” Members of the Democratic Party have also expressed their opposition to the release of the memo. For example, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), has also come out against the release of the memo to the public.
Last week, Schiff and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), wrote a letter to Facebook and Twitter, in which they expressed their fears that the top trending hashtag “#ReleaseTheMemo” was being pushed by Russian bots as part of a propaganda effort seeking to “attack our democracy”. However, much to their dismay, it was revealed that the top trending hashtag was not the work of Russian bots, but originated organically by fellow Americans. This news did not deter a California duo from penning a second letter to Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday, in order to raise awareness about potential abuse of their platforms by “agents of foreign influence”.
Japanese government bond prices recovered from earlier losses after the Bank of Japan acted decisively on Friday to curb a rise in bond yields, offering “unlimited” buying in long-term Japanese government bonds. Heavy buying of JGBs raises the price of bonds to force down their yield, an essential element of the BOJ’s ultra-loose yield curve control (YCC) policy. It was the first time in more than six months that the BOJ has conducted special operations to buy bonds to achieve the yields it wants to see, rather than the auctions used in regular operations – a powerful show of force to direct the market. On top of that, the BOJ increased the amount of its planned buying in five- to 10-year JGBs to 450 billion yen from the 410 billion amount it has favored since late August.
Following the BOJ’s operations, the price of the 10-year JGB futures rose to as high as 150.31 from the day’s low of 150.09. It was up 0.11 on the day. The benchmark 10-year cash JGB yield edged down to 0.090%, the same level as its previous close, from 0.095% touched earlier. JGB yields have risen in recent weeks, in line with global peers, on rising expectations that the world’s central banks are increasingly leaning towards winding back stimulus as the global economy gains momentum. Investors have started to speculate that the BOJ could also be moving towards an exit from ultra-easy policy, although BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has denied that he was considering such a major policy adjustment in the near future.
Significant shift: “The country’s waning frenzy has been reflected in declining activity on domestic exchanges. Data compiled by CryptoCompare.com show that volumes have dropped by about 85% from December highs.”
Bitcoin’s brutal start to the year is proving especially painful in South Korea. While prices for the cryptocurrency are falling on major exchanges around the world, nowhere have the declines been faster than in Asia’s fourth-largest economy. The losses have erased a 51% premium for Bitcoin on Korean venues, sending prices back in line with those on international markets for the first time in seven weeks on Friday. The so-called kimchi premium had been so persistent – and so unusual for a large country – that traders named it after Korea’s staple side dish. While its disappearance is partly explained by selling pressure from arbitragers, it also reflects a dramatic reversal of investor sentiment in one of the world’s most frenzied markets for cryptocurrencies.
Bitcoin has tumbled more than 60% from its high in Korea after the nation’s regulators took several steps over the past two months to restrict trading and said they may ban cryptocurrency exchanges outright. Policy makers around the world have been moving to rein in the mania surrounding digital assets amid concerns over excessive speculation, money laundering, tax evasion and fraud. “The bubble in crytpocurrencies has burst” in Korea, said Yeol-mae Kim at Eugene Investment & Securities in Seoul. The kimchi premium began shrinking in mid-January as fears of a regulatory clampdown escalated. Selling by arbitragers – who have been buying Bitcoin on international venues to offload at a higher price in Korea – also played a role, although the country’s capital controls and anti-money-laundering rules made it difficult to execute such transactions in bulk.
Bitcoin traded at about 9.1 million won ($8,449) in Korea on Friday morning, according to a CryptoCompare index tracking the country’s major exchanges. That compared with the $8,601 composite price on Bloomberg, which is derived from venues including Bitstamp and Coinbase’s GDAX exchange. When the kimchi premium reached its peak in January, Bitcoin’s price was about $7,500 higher in Korea. The country’s waning frenzy has been reflected in declining activity on domestic exchanges. Data compiled by CryptoCompare.com show that volumes have dropped by about 85% from December highs.
Chinese stocks are down for the fifth day in a row (something that hasn’t happened since May 2017) with the tech-heavy Shenzhen Composite is now down 5% YTD and the Shanghai Composite is tumbling back towards unchanged. The decline is happening at the same time as Bitcoin is in freefall… And chatter about bankers using WeChat to ask for Deposits. In other words – a liquidity crisis. And that anxiety is only increased by the latest report from Reuters that cash withdrawals at Hong Kong ATMs have surged, prompting scrutiny from monetary authorities, the banking industry, and police amid media reports that mainland Chinese are withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars using up to 50 cards at a time. China has battled to curb capital outflows for years. A move that took effect on Jan. 1 caps overseas withdrawals using domestic Chinese bank cards.
The gambling hub of Macau last year introduced facial recognition technology at ATMs to target illicit outflows from mainland China, a move that Hong Kong’s central bank told Reuters could increase cash withdrawals in the financial center. “The HKMA is aware of media reports about people using multiple mainland cards to withdraw cash at ATMs in Hong Kong,” the central bank said in a statement, adding that it was “monitoring the situation and is in discussion with the banking industry and the police about this issue”. A local banker said some commercial banks have stepped up monitoring of cash withdrawals. Hong Kong police said they were working closely with the HKMA and banking industry to respond to any changes in financial crime trends. While this is as much to do with money-laundering and capital flight, the liquidation of stocks, cryptocurrencies, and now mass ATM withdrawals suggests more is going on that the usual pre-new-year liquidity hording.
UK house prices rose at the fastest annual pace in 10 months in January, bolstered by a lack of new homes coming on to the market, according to Nationwide. The average price of a home reached £211,756 last month, according to the building society’s monthly survey. Property values were up 0.6% from the month before, the same monthly gain as in December, but the annual growth rate picked up to 3.2% from 2.6%, the highest since March 2017, when it was 3.5%. Robert Gardner, Nationwide’s chief economist, said: “The acceleration in annual house price growth is a little surprising, given signs of softening in the household sector in recent months. Retail sales were relatively soft over the Christmas period, as were key measures of consumer confidence, as the squeeze on household incomes continued to take its toll.”
But he added: “The flow of properties coming on to estate agents’ books has been more of a trickle than a torrent for some time now and the lack of supply is likely to be the key factor providing support to house prices.” Many forecasters predicted the housing market would continue to slow to about 1% this year. This would mean property values falling in real terms. Nationwide is still forecasting price growth of 1-1.5% this year.
Chris Scicluna, an economist at Daiwa, said: “With real wage growth remaining below zero and consumer confidence still subdued, house price growth appears unlikely to extend this upward trend over coming months and quarters. However, a similar pace could well be maintained on the back of very attractive mortgage rates, limited supply, record high employment, and the strong likelihood that consumer price inflation is likely to moderate.” Home ownership in England remained at a 30-year low last year. The government’s latest English housing survey showed that of an estimated 22.8m households, 14.4m – or 62.6% – were owner-occupiers in 2016-17, compared with 62.9% in 2016. This was similar to the rate seen in the mid-1980s and down from a peak of 71% in 2003. Of young adults aged 25 to 34, only 37% owned their home.
The typical cost of buying a home in a UK city has reached its least affordable levels in a decade, a report has found. The average house price across cities equated to seven times typical annual earnings in 2017, the Lloyds Bank Affordable Cities Review found. This is the highest house price-to-income multiple since the average city home cost seven and-a-half times earnings in 2007. In 2012, the average city home cost around 5.6 times wages. But over the past five years, the average house price across UK cities has surged by over a third (36%), reaching £232,945 in 2017.
Over the same period, average city earnings have risen by 9% to £33,420. Oxford was found to be the least affordable city in the study, with average property prices there equating to 11-and-a-half times average annual earnings. Stirling in Scotland was identified as the UK’s most affordable city for the fifth consecutive year, with average property prices at around four times annual earnings. Six cities in the study have house prices commanding at least 10 times the average earnings of residents.
Labour is considering forcing landowners to give up sites for a fraction of their current price in an effort to slash the cost of council house building. The proposal has been drawn up by John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, and would see a Jeremy Corbyn-led government change the law so landowners would have to sell sites to the state at knockdown prices. Landowners currently sell at a price that factors in the dramatic increase in value when planning consent is granted. It means a hectare of agricultural land worth around £20,000 can sell for closer to £2m if it is zoned for housing. Labour believes this is slowing down housebuilding by dramatically increasing costs. It is planning a new English Sovereign Land Trust with powers to buy sites at closer to the lower price.
This would be enabled by a change in the 1961 Land Compensation Act so the state could compulsorily purchase land at a price that excluded the potential for future planning consent. Healey’s analysis suggests that it would cut the cost of building 100,000 council houses a year by almost £10bn to around £16bn. With the “hope value” removed from the price of land, the cost of building a two-bed flat in Wandsworth, south-west London, would be cut from £380,000 to £250,000, in Chelmsford it would fall from £210,000 to £130,000 and in Tamworth in the West Midlands, where land values are lower, it would drop from £150,000 to £130,000. “Rather than letting private landowners benefit from this windfall gain – and making everyone else pay for it – enabling public acquisition of land at nearer pre-planning-permission value would mean cheaper land which could help fund cheaper housing,” said Healey.
A newly filed lawsuit against six major investment banks contends they worked together to prevent a startup company from competing in the vast and lucrative stock-lending market. The complaint, filed Tuesday in a New York federal court, follows a suit brought last summer against the same institutions by three pension funds who accused the banks of conspiring to keep their stranglehold on the roughly $1 trillion market. The litigation brings increased scrutiny on the stock-loan business, an opaque, over-the-counter market that is a crucial but behind-the-scenes cog in Wall Street’s trading machinery. At issue are stock-lending transactions, in which pension funds, insurance companies and other investors lend their shares to brokerage firms whose customers, such as hedge funds, borrow stock to offset other positions or make bets against companies in trades known as short sales.
Asset managers receive a fee for the stock they lend depending on borrower interest in it. The suit was filed by QS Holdings, the parent of Quadriserv, which was formed in 2001 and built an electronic trading platform. Called AQS, the platform gave stock-loan participants access to real-time prices on trades that reflected actual bids and offers. Transactions on AQS were executed anonymously and centrally settled; the system was registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Securities and Exchange Commission. But it never gained traction and was sold in a distressed sale in 2016. On Jan. 26, the six firms — Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and UBS— filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed last summer by the pension funds.
In that filing, the firms said the allegations were meritless, noting that “none of the plaintiffs’ allegations identified ‘direct evidence’ of conspiracy.” In the stock-loan business, investors borrowing shares from brokerage firms also pay, sometimes steeply, for the service. When many traders want to borrow a company’s shares, its stock is known as “hard-to-borrow” and fees associated with the transaction are far higher. The middlemen in these trades often are Goldman, J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley. They make trades in an over-the-counter market where prices are typically given privately to customers. It thus is difficult for them to determine whether they are getting appropriate prices.
The middlemen typically keep most of the fees collected on the most lucrative trades, and critics say that amount would be far lower if borrowers and lenders met in a centralized market where pricing was transparent, like the AQS.
Thanks to the Senate confirmation of his selection for chairman of the board, Donald Trump now owns the Fed, too. The former number two man under Janet Yellen, Jerome Powell will be running the Fed, come Monday morning, February 5th. Established in 1913 during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, the Fed’s official mission is to “promote a safe, sound, competitive, and accessible banking system.” In reality, it’s acted more like that system’s main drug dealer in recent years. In the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, in addition to buying trillions of dollars in bonds (a strategy called “quantitative easing,” or QE), the Fed supplied four of the biggest Wall Street banks with an injection of $7.8 trillion in secret loans. The move was meant to stimulate the economy, but really, it coddled the banks.
Powell’s monetary policy undoubtedly won’t represent a startling change from that of previous head Janet Yellen, or her predecessor, Ben Bernanke. History shows that Powell has repeatedly voted for pumping financial markets with Federal Reserve funds and, despite displaying reservations about the practice of quantitative easing, he always voted in favor of it, too. What makes his nomination out of the ordinary, though, is that he’s a trained lawyer, not an economist. Powell is assuming the helm at a time when deregulation is central to the White House’s economic and financial strategy. Keep in mind that he will also have a role in choosing and guiding future Fed appointments. (At present, the Fed has the smallest number of sitting governors in its history.)
The first such appointee, private equity investor Randal Quarles, already approved as the Fed’s vice chairman for supervision, is another major deregulator. Powell will be able to steer banking system decisions in other ways. In recent Senate testimony, he confirmed his deregulatory predisposition. In that vein, the Fed has already announced that it seeks to loosen the capital requirements big banks need to put behind their riskier assets and activities. This will, it claims, allow them to more freely make loans to Main Street, in case a decade of cheap money wasn’t enough of an incentive.
As the United States approaches a record 10.04 million barrels of daily production, trading volumes of so-called “WTI” futures exceeded volumes of Brent crude in 2017 by the largest margin in at least seven years. A decade ago, falling domestic production and a U.S. ban on exports meant that WTI served mostly as a proxy for U.S. inventory levels. “There was a time when the U.S. was disconnected from the global market,” said Greg Sharenow, portfolio manager at PIMCO, who co-manages more than $15 billion in commodity assets. Two changes drove the resurgence of the U.S. benchmark. One was the boom in shale production, which spawned a multitude of small producers that sought to hedge profits by trading futures contracts.
Then two years ago, the United States ended its 40-year ban on crude exports, making WTI more useful to global traders and shippers. U.S. exports averaged 1.1 million barrels a day through November 2017, rising to an average 1.6 million bpd in the final three months. That compares to just 590,000 bpd in 2016. As U.S. production and exports grow, global firms that increasingly buy U.S. oil are offsetting their exposure by trading in U.S. financial markets. That also gives U.S. shale producers more opportunity to lock in profits on their own production.
Taxpayers’ total overdue debts to the state soared to a record 101.8 billion euros at the end of December, in a clear indication that society’s taxpaying capacity is at breaking point due to overtaxation. In December alone, when 2018 road tax and an installment of the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) came due, new expired debts amounted to 1.3 billion euros. According to data released on Thursday by the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, the new expired debts added last year came to 12.9 billion euros, concerning all tax obligations that went unpaid, from income tax and ENFIA to tax penalties and value-added tax. The phenomenon has major consequences for taxpayers. The figures also showed that confiscations and debt settlements brought 5.07 billion euros into the state coffers in 2017, of which 2.69 billion concerned old debts (dating before 2017). More than 1 million taxpayers have already had assets confiscated over debts to the tax authorities. Their number grew by 14,871 in December to reach 1,050,077 at the end of 2017.
The authority’s data reveal that 4,068,857 taxpayers – or more than half – have expired debts to the state, and that this figure would have been 138,260 higher had those people not settled their dues in December due to fears of repossessions. At the moment taxpayers can enter a tax payment program involving 12 to 24 monthly installments, even for dues that are not classified as expired. The online platform also allows them to add new debts to the fixed plan each month. Taxpayers who want to enter such a payment plan can visit the authority’s website and choose which of their debts that are not overdue they want to add to the 12-installment scheme. The picture regarding expired debts is set to change drastically once the bailout obligation for arrears clearance is completed, separating collectible dues from those that cannot be collected. It is estimated that just 20% of expired debts are collectible.
Fulminating against the 1923 Lausanne Treaty is easy populist fodder for Erdogan. His gamble is that Turkey’s bust-up with the US in Syria, and the threat to NATO because of it, will allow him to take Greek territory.
Chief advisor of Turkish President Erdogan, Yigit Bulut, has threatened Greece over the disputed islet of Imia in the Eastern Aegean Sea. “Athens will face the wrath of Turkey worse than that in Afrin,” Bulut said in a Television show of a private network. “We will break the arms and legs of officials, of the Prime Minister and any Minister, who dares to step on the Kardak/Imia islet in the Aegean,” he claimed. Bultu’s threats come just a couple of days after Defense Minister Panos Kammenos sailed to Imia and threw a wreath into the sea to honor the three fallen soldiers during the Imia conflict in 1996. Ankara does not miss a chance to challenge Greece’s sovereignty in the islets and islands of the Aegean Sea, escalate tension around Imia and risk an ugly incident that could bring the two neighboring countries at the verge of an armed conflict like two decades ago.
Polar bears could be sliding towards extinction faster than previously feared, with the animals facing an increasing struggle to find enough food to survive as climate change steadily transforms their environment. New research has unearthed fresh insights into polar bear habits, revealing that the Arctic predators have far higher metabolisms than previously thought. This means they need more prey, primarily seals, to meet their energy demands at a time when receding sea ice is making hunting increasingly difficult for the animals. A study of nine polar bears over a three-year period by the US Geological Survey and UC Santa Cruz found that the animals require at least one adult, or three juvenile, ringed seals every 10 days to sustain them.
Five of the nine bears were unable to achieve this during the research, resulting in plummeting body weight – as much as 20kg during a 10-day study period. “We found a feast and famine lifestyle – if they missed out on seals it had a pretty dramatic effect on them,” said Anthony Pagano, a USGS biologist who led the research, published in Science. “We were surprised to see such big changes in body masses, at a time when they should be putting on bulk to sustain them during the year. This and other studies suggest that polar bears aren’t able to meet their bodily demands like they once were.” Pagano’s team studied the bears in a period during April over the course of three years, from 2014 to 2016, in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska.
They fitted the bears with GPS collars with video cameras to measure activity levels. Blood chemistry was also taken from the bears. Previously, polar bears were thought to expend relatively little energy during days where they often wait for hours beside holes in the ice, which seals emerge from in order to breathe. But the researchers found that they actually have an average metabolism 50% higher than prior estimates. With previous studies showing recent drops in polar bear numbers, survival rates and body condition, scientists said the new research suggests the species is facing an even worse predicament than was feared.
A recent widely-shared video of an emaciated polar bear is a “horrible scene that we will see more of in the future and more quickly than we thought,” according to Dr Steven Amstrup, who led polar bear research for 30 years in Alaska. “This is an excellent paper that fills in a lot of missing information about polar bears,” said Amstrup, who was not involved in the USGS research. “Every piece of evidence shows that polar bears are dependent on sea ice and if we don’t change the trajectory of sea ice decline, polar bears will ultimately disappear. “They face the choice of coming on to land or floating off with the ice as it recedes, out to the deep ocean where there is little food. We will see more bears starving and more of them on land, where they will get into trouble by interacting with humans.”
The takeaway from this is not in the numbers. It’s in the certainty that we will not stop the process. All we have is a Paris agreement spearheaded by politicians who see their polls and businessmen who see a profit.
The UK’s meteorological agency has forecast the global temperature might flicker above 1.5C within the next five years. That would be within a decade of the Paris climate deal setting 1.5C as an aspirational limit on global warming. The Met Office’s decadal forecast said the global average temperature was “likely” to exceed 1C between 2018-2022 and could reach 1.5C. “There is also a small (around 10%) chance that at least one year in the period could exceed 1.5C above pre-industrial levels,” the office said in a statement on Wednesday. “It is the first time that such high values have been highlighted within these forecasts.” Met Office scientists were quick to point out that this would not actually breach the Paris Agreement, as that limit refers to a long term average, rather than a yearly reading.
The office’s chief scientist, professor Stephen Belcher, said: “Given we’ve seen global average temperatures around 1C above pre-industrial levels over the last three years, it is now possible that continued warming from greenhouse gases along with natural variability could combine so we temporarily exceed 1.5C in the next five years.” The Paris climate deal, agreed by 197 UN member states in 2015, set a global goal for keeping temperatures “well below 2C”, aiming for 1.5C. The lower goal is considered by many of the most vulnerable countries, especially low-lying island nations, to be the upper limit for their homelands to survive. Coral scientists also predict that more than 1.5C of warming would wipe out most coral reefs.
Central bankers are gingerly trying to take away the punch bowl without interrupting the party. Led by interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve and the People’s Bank of China, central banks around the world shifted toward a tighter monetary stance this week. Yet the moves were either so well-telegraphed, or so tiny, and the language about future action so hedged, that there was barely a ripple in financial markets. “They’re terrified of upsetting the markets,” said Paul Mortimer-Lee, chief market economist at BNP Paribas. So “they’re all exiting quite slowly from emergency settings” on monetary policy. The likely result of this leisurely approach: another year of synchronized global growth in 2018.
Indeed, both the Fed and the ECB revised up their forecasts for the growth of their respective economies next year even as they signaled that they would be slowly scaling back the stimulus they are providing. “The global economy is doing well,” Fed Chair Janet Yellen told reporters on Wednesday after the U.S. central bank raised interest rates for the third time this year. “We’re in a synchronized expansion. This is the first time in many years that we’ve seen this.” [..] Policy makers though played down fears that asset price bubbles were building that could threaten the financial system and the economy. “When we look at other indicators of financial stability risks, there’s nothing flashing red there or possibly even orange,” Yellen said.
[..]“Central banks, who’ve been pumping money into the system for the past decade or so, are going to be removing it,” said Iain Stealey, fixed-income portfolio manager at JPMorgan Asset Management in a Bloomberg Television interview on Thursday. “It’s going to be slow to start with, very gradual, but it’s going to be a real change in rhetoric.”
There’s one area where there’s been huge growth in the U.S. — the gap between the rich and poor. The divergence in the levels of inequality has been “extreme” between Western Europe and the U.S., according to the 2018 World Inequality Report, released by the World Inequality Lab, a research project in over 70 countries based at the Paris School of Economics, and co-authored by the French economist Thomas Piketty. “The global middle class has been squeezed,” it said. In 1980, the U.S. and Western Europe had similar levels of inequality. And today? Not so much. While the top 1% of earners made up just 10% in both regions in 1980, it increased slightly to 12% in 2016 in Western Europe, but doubled to 20% in the U.S. “Since 1980, income inequality has increased rapidly in North America, China, India, and Russia,” it said.
“The income-inequality trajectory observed in the U.S. is largely due to massive educational inequalities, combined with a tax system that grew less progressive despite a surge in top labor compensation since the 1980s,” it found. In Europe, tax and wage inequality was moderated by educational and wage-setting policies that were more favorable to low and middle-income groups. In the U.S., out of 100 children whose parents are among the bottom 10% of income earners, only 20 to 30 of them actually go to college. However, closer to 90 out of 100 children go to college if their parents are within the top 10% earners. What’s more, research has shown that when elite colleges open their doors to students from poor backgrounds, academic performance at the institution doesn’t decline.
Here’s a little secret, “Animal Spirits” is simply another name for “Irrational Exuberance,” as it is the manifestation of the capitulation of individuals who are suffering from an extreme case of the “FOMO’s” (Fear Of Missing Out). The chart below shows the stages of the previous bull markets and the inflection points of the appearance of “Animal Spirits.” At the peak of previous bull market advances, the markets have entered into an accelerated phase of price advances.
Since “the price you pay day is the value you receive tomorrow,” as famously noted by Warren Buffet, it should not come as a surprise that “value investing” is lagging the “momentum chase” in the market currently. But again, this is something that has historically, and repeatedly occurred, during very late stage bull market advances as the “rationalization” for a “never-ending bull market” is promulgated.
Given the length of the economic expansion, the risk to the “bull market” thesis is an economic slowdown, or contraction, that derails the lofty expectations of continued earnings growth. While tax reform legislation may provide a bump to earnings growth in the near-term, it is the longer-term growth rates of the economy that matters. Furthermore, while providing a tax cut to corporations will certainly boost their bottom line, there is little evidence, historically speaking, “trickle-down economics” actually occurs. If it did, wages as a share of corporate profits wouldn’t look like this.
With an economy that is 70% driven by the 90% of the population who don’t benefit from corporate tax cuts, the long-term effects of a deficit and debt busting tax bill should be worrying investors. But, for now, that is not the case as the rise in “animal spirits” is simply the reflection of the rising delusion of investors who frantically cling to data points which somehow support the notion “this time is different,” a point recently made by Sentiment Trader: “We’ve discussed a multitude of momentum studies in the past month or two, with an almost universal suggestion that the types of readings we’ve seen this year are rare and hard to bust. This unrelenting bid has been one of, if not THE, most compelling bullish argument, and it shows little sign of stopping.”
For years, the bond industry argued that price-disclosure requirements in MiFID II were unsuited to the market and would hinder trading. With less than 1% of notes affected when the rules kick in on Jan. 3, that lobbying seems to have paid off. The European Securities and Markets Authority said last week that 566 bond instruments out of 61,761 it analyzed were sufficiently liquid to fall under the pre- and post-trade transparency rules in the MiFID II package. Most were sovereign bonds, which are used as collateral in everything from repurchase agreements to derivative trades. About 150 corporate securities made the list, issued by financial firms such as CaixaBank, Italian power giant Enel and telecommunications company Wind Tre. But the small number of securities initially captured by MiFID II means the law’s goal of shedding light on the market may not be achieved anytime soon.
“ESMA’s approach will contribute very little towards improving transparency in this notoriously opaque market segment,” said Christian Stiefmueller, who’s in charge of banking for Finance Watch, a public-interest watchdog in Brussels. “ESMA’s approach is a present to market makers, i.e. traders at the major investment banks, who thrive on a lack of transparency.” As part of its efforts to prevent another financial crisis, the EU is implementing rules designed to shift trading on to exchanges where regulators can track it, boost transparency to protect individual investors and level the playing field for professionals. MiFID II transparency rules require market operators and investment firms that run a trading venue to make public “current bid and offer prices and the depth of trading interests at those prices” continuously during trading hours for some bonds and other non-equity securities.
MarketWatch: I want to make the bridge from your findings to the economy. You have said that white working class workers are facing a loss of their way of life.
Deaton: This is much more hypothetical because of course, you are saying “what is doing this?” Tying it to the economy is tricky because it is certainly not true that it was the Great Recession that made this happen, for example. And in fact even if you go back to the late 1990s, the patterns of income and so on are not that different across groups. They don’t match up. Any simple story that said “it is the economy stupid,” is stupid. So we trace this back sort of a long way, and if you look at birth cohorts it is like each successive birth cohort is doing worse. They are more susceptible to these deaths throughout life, and the deaths rise with age more rapidly for younger cohorts, so we’re attracted by this idea that there is a cumulative process going on which is steadily getting worse over time. And, you know, the destruction of the way of life of the white working class is maybe a good way of thinking about this.
I mean we are very attracted by that. You know, the ultimate poison may be in the labor market, but, it works through a lot of other bad stuff that is going on — like the decline in marriage rates, the increase in out-of-wedlock childbearing, and all those sort of things. It is those things that get to middle age and your life has not worked out the way you thought, not just in terms of the salary you earned, but also your marital relationship, your kids who you may not know anymore and who are living with someone else. So there are a lot of people who in their 50s that find that their life has just sort of come apart. One story is just that there has been this slow loss of the white working class life. There has been stagnation in wages for 50 years. If you don’t have a university degree, median wages for those people have actually been going down. So it is just like that model, whereby American capitalism really delivered to people who were not particularly well-educated, seems to be broken.
Ever since the financial crisis, the European Union has grappled with how to solve the so-called sovereign bank doom loop – the phenomenon whereby weak banks can destabilize governments that support them and over-indebted governments can push banks holding their bonds over the precipice. The widely touted solution is the European Banking Union, which the European Commission wants completed by 2018. New rules introduced European bank supervision, a new resolution framework that limits sovereign support and a pan-EU deposit insurance scheme as a means of breaking the interdependence between banks and sovereigns. The first problem with this approach is that it’s actually not possible to break the doom loop. The second is that trying to do so through the banking union may actually increase risks in the European Union.
Euro zone banks, who are legally required to hold safe and liquid assets, often buy disproportionately large chunks of their home country sovereign debt because these are often the most familiar safe assets, and the sovereign yield curve is used as a baseline for pricing most credit. However, if the price of these bonds plummets – or, worse, if these bonds have to be restructured – banks get into trouble, as Greek banks found. The doom loop works in other ways too. Rating agencies have a separate methodology for rating banks wherein the possibility of state support raises bank ratings between one and six notches above what these would be on a standalone basis. A weak government means that investors discount the ability of the sovereign to support a bank in times of trouble, so a bank’s rating will also fall.
That explains why, during the euro zone crisis, badly run German landesbanken (a group of state-owned banks) had a better credit rating compared to Santander, one of Europe’s best-run banks, headquartered in Spain. Sometimes the bill for bailing out banks is so large that an otherwise healthy sovereign itself needs to be bailed out, as Ireland found out. Finally, the doom loop can kick in if depositors doubt that governments can honor their guarantees. Rumors of a bank being in trouble can be self-fulfilling, leading to the withdrawal of short-term funding and deposits. It was a fear of such a run on deposits in Spanish banks that prompted ECB President Mario Draghi to say the ECB would do “whatever it takes” to stem the crisis. Deposit guarantee schemes are important in reducing the risks of such a run on the bank. But these guarantees are only as good as a government’s ability to pay.
Famed short seller Jim Chanos took another shot at Tesla on Thursday, saying the company’s equity is worth nothing. “Let’s just say Tesla and Mr. Musk have a broad interpretation of the truth,” Chanos, founder of Kynikos Associates, told CNBC’s Kelly Evans. “There have been all kinds of announcements that this company has made … that turned out not to be true.” Chanos mentioned the unveiling of Tesla’s electric Semi truck and roadster last month as examples. The short seller noted that Tesla CEO Elon Musk said “the Semi would be available in 2019 and the roadster in 2020. Where is he producing those? Those production lines have to be up and approved years before we get into production.”
Chanos has been short Tesla for a long time. On Nov. 14, he said he added to his short position against the electric vehicle maker throughout the year. However, Tesla shares are up sharply this year, advancing nearly 60%. “To me, where the stock is now is not the story,” Chanos said. “I don’t care that it came from $30 or $200 or $300. That’s just meaningless.” “We think the equity is worthless,” he said in the interview on “Closing Bell.”
A British tribunal has recognised Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks as a “media organisation”, a point of contention with the United States, which is seeking to prosecute him and disputes his journalistic credentials. The issue of whether Assange is a journalist and publisher would almost certainly be one of the main battlegrounds in the event of the US seeking his extradition from the UK. The definition of WikiLeaks by the information tribunal, which is roughly equivalent to a court, could help Assange’s defence against extradition on press freedom grounds. The US has been considering prosecution of Assange since 2010 when WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of confidential US defence and diplomatic documents. US attorney general Jeff Sessions said in April this year that the arrest of Assange is a priority for the US.
The director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, after leaks of emails from the US Democratic party and from Hillary Clinton, described WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”. He added Assange is not covered by the US constitution, which protects journalists. But the UK’s information tribunal, headed by judge Andrew Bartlett QC, in a summary and ruling published on Thursday on a freedom of information case, says explicitly: “WikiLeaks is a media organisation which publishes and comments upon censored or restricted official materials involving war, surveillance or corruption, which are leaked to it in a variety of different circumstances.” The comment is made under a heading that says simply: “Facts”.
The tribunal’s definition of WikiLeaks comes in the 21-page summary into a freedom of information case heard in London in November. An Italian journalist, Stefania Maurizi, is seeking the release of documents relating to Assange, mainly in regard to extradition, and had lodged an appeal with the tribunal. While the tribunal dismissed her appeal, it acknowledged there issues weighing in favour of public disclosure in relation to Assange. But it added these were outweighed by a need for confidentiality on the matter of extradition.
Two years after the Mediterranean migrant crisis blew a hole in the European Union, a tentative effort to patch up differences over what to do with refugees underlined continuing rifts among the bloc’s leaders. A free-wheeling discussion over a Brussels summit dinner that began on Thursday night and spilled into the wee hours of Friday was intended to clear the air and see if there was a way to reconcile opposing views on how to reform defunct asylum rules. But leaders emerging from nearly three hours of talks made clear that while there was little of the angry passion of 2015, when a million people flooded into Greece and headed for Germany, the “frank and sober” discussion failed to blunt sharp rifts pitting some eastern states against many of the rest.
“We have a lot of work to do,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. “The positions have not changed.” Divisions over how to share out relatively small numbers of refugees have poisoned relations in the EU, complicating efforts to present a united front in talks with London on Brexit and to agree an EU budget out to 2028. New Polish and Czech leaders stuck to lines shared with Hungary and Slovakia that their ex-communist societies cannot accept significant immigration, especially of Muslims. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis called the debate “quite stormy” and told reporters that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had been “quite aggressive.” But, he said, the eastern allies would not let the majority impose obligatory refugee quotas on them.
Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni were among those who demanded that all countries take in a mandatory share of people requiring asylum, who have been concentrated on the Mediterranean coast, or after chaotic movements across Europe, in the richer northwest of the bloc.
The tiny Pacific island nation of Palau has introduced a new law requiring visitors to sign a pledge not to harm the environment before entering the country. The pledge will be stamped into the passports of international arrivals from this month. Visitors will be required to sign before proceeding through immigration, making a formal promise to the children of Palau to “preserve and protect your beautiful and unique island home”, and to “tread lightly, act kindly and explore lightly”. Almost 6,000 people signed in the first two weeks. It’s the first time such a pledge has been written into a country’s immigration policies, but Palau has long been vocal about the environment. The country has already reported larger tides and an increase in severe tropical storms. The sea level around its 700 islands has risen by about 9mm a year since 1993, almost three times the global average rate.
President Tommy Remengesau is a vocal environmental campaigner. He told a United Nations climate forum in 2014 that if the world failed to act to curb its carbon emissions, “our global warming doomsday is already set in stone”. In 2015 Palau created the world’s sixth-largest marine sanctuary, protecting 80% of its maritime territory, an area of tuna-rich ocean the size of California, from both fishing and oil drilling. Remengesau said he hoped that requiring visitors to sign a pledge to protect the environment would create a cultural shift among tourists and make them aware of the fragility of the environment. “While Palau may be a small-island nation, we are a large ocean-state and conservation is at the heart of our culture,” he said. “We rely on our environment to survive and if our beautiful country is lost to environmental degradation, we will be the last generation to enjoy both its beauty and life-sustaining biodiversity.”
Climate change in the Arctic has “outrun” a computer designed to measure it. So rapid was the temperature change at a weather station in Alaska, the computer analysing the data detected an error and stopped recording the correct temperature. In a blog post, US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate scientist Dr Deke Arndt explained the recent incident, referring to it as “an ironic exclamation point to swift regional climate change in and near the Arctic”. The weather station is located in Utqiagvik, the most northerly town in the US. Low levels of sea ice in the region caused the air temperatures to rise quickly. The computers NOAA use to automatically record climate data have in-built algorithms that ensure the information they record is accurate.
This algorithm is meant to be triggered if the instruments measuring temperatures are damaged, or if there is an artificial change in the environment surrounding them. In this case, the temperature change was such a shock to the system that the computer “disqualified itself” from the Alaskan temperature analysis. This left northern Alaska “analysed a little cooler than it really was”, wrote Dr Arndt. The data from the station was missing for all of 2017, and the last few months of 2016. “In this case, instead of a station move, or urban sprawl, or an equipment change, it was actually very real climate change that changed the environment, by erasing a lot of the sea ice that used to hang out nearby,” wrote Dr Arndt. The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the global average, meaning the effects of climate change are felt particularly keenly in polar regions.
Here is a myth that just won’t seem to die: “Cash On The Sidelines.” This is the age old excuse why the current “bull market” rally is set to continue into the indefinite future. The ongoing belief is that at any moment investors are suddenly going to empty bank accounts and pour it into the markets. However, the reality is if they haven’t done it by now after 3-consecutive rounds of Q.E. in the U.S., a 200% advance in the markets, and now global Q.E., exactly what will that catalyst be? However, Clifford Asness summed up the problem with this myth the best and is worth repeating:
“Every time someone says, ‘There is a lot of cash on the sidelines,’ a tiny part of my soul dies. There are no sidelines. Those saying this seem to envision a seller of stocks moving her money to cash and awaiting a chance to return. But they always ignore that this seller sold to somebody, who presumably moved a precisely equal amount of cash off the sidelines. If you want to save those who say this, I can think of two ways. First, they really just mean that sentiment is negative but people are waiting to buy. If sentiment turns, it won’t move any cash off the sidelines because, again, that just can’t happen, but it can mean prices will rise because more people will be trying to get off the nonexistent sidelines than on.
Second, over the long term, there really are sidelines in the sense that new shares can be created or destroyed (net issuance), and that may well be a function of investor sentiment. But even though I’ve thrown people who use this phrase a lifeline, I believe that they really do think there are sidelines. There aren’t. Like any equilibrium concept (a powerful way of thinking that is amazingly underused), there can be a sideline for any subset of investors, but someone else has to be doing the opposite. Add us all up and there are no sidelines.”
Margin debt levels, negative cash balances, also suggest the same. Cash on the sidelines? Not really.
The erosion of yields on government debt is generally thought to push investors into riskier assets as they seek out higher returns. That’s true, argue Credit Suisse analysts in a new note, but only in the ‘first phase’ of a negative yield world. That is, when yields on government bonds with shorter-durations dip below zero, total returns on riskier assets such as junk-rated corporate debt do trump returns on German bunds. That tendency disappeared, however, as yields on longer-dated government debt also fell into negative territory — at least in Europe.
“The defining characteristic of Phase One is a strong outperformance of high-yielding credit assets versus low-yielding credit assets and government bonds, i.e. a strong hunt for yield trend. Nothing unusual so far,” write Credit Suisse’s William Porter and Chiraag Somaia. “However, more interestingly, Phase Two, still characterized by negative yields, actually sees an outperformance of government bonds versus both low- and high-yielding credit assets, i.e. any hunt for yield over the past 2.5 years as a whole has been an unsuccessful strategy.” The trend is shown in the below chart, where total returns on German government bonds have bested high-yield and investment-grade corporate debt.
“For now, we think ever-falling yields represent an overall risk aversion and/or verdict on economic policies that is not overly friendly to yieldier assets despite the obvious incentives they carry in this environment,” conclude the analysts. “So yield-hunting behavior is not always and everywhere wrong – this summer may treat it favorably – but any outperformance has subsequently been counter-trend in the past 2.5 years.”
The U.S. government asked a federal appeals court on Thursday to block the release of a report detailing how HSBC is working to improve its money laundering controls after the British bank was fined $1.92 billion. In a brief filed with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Department of Justice sought to overturn an order issued earlier this year by U.S. District Judge John Gleeson to make public a report by the bank’s outside monitor. “Public disclosure of the monitor’s report, even in redacted form, would hinder the monitor’s ability to supervise HSBC,” the government’s court filing said, adding that bank employees would be less likely to cooperate with the monitor if they knew their interactions could be released.
HSBC concurred with the court’s finding. “HSBC also argues that the Monitor’s report should remain confidential, as have the Monitor, the UK Financial Conduct Authority, the US Federal Reserve and other HSBC regulators,” HSBC said in a statement. “The effectiveness of the monitorship is dependent on confidentiality.” The filing comes a week after U.S. congressional investigators criticized senior officials at the Department of Justice for overruling internal recommendations to criminally prosecute HSBC for money-laundering violations. Instead, the government in 2012 fined HSBC and entered into a five-year deferred prosecution agreement that stipulated all charges would be dropped if the bank agreed to install an independent monitor to help improve compliance. In the 2012 settlement, HSBC admitted to violating U.S. sanctions laws and failing to stop Mexican and Colombian cartels from laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in drug proceeds through the bank.
On July 14, when America’s biggest bank by assets reported its second quarter earnings, this headline ran at the New York Times: “JPMorgan Chase Has Strong Quarter as Earnings Top Estimates.” CNBC, a unit of NBCUniversal, used the same criteria in its headlines to report the earnings of Citigroup, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley — putting a positive spin in the headline because the earnings had topped what analysts were expecting – rather than the far more meaningful, and traditional, measure of whether earnings had beaten the same quarter a year earlier. CNBC’s headlines read: Citigroup earnings handily top Wall Street expectations: CNBC-July 15, 2016 Bank of America earnings top expectations: CNBC-July 18, 2016 Morgan Stanley solidly beats earnings expectations: CNBC-July 20, 2016.
This is hubris of the highest order. Publicly traded companies simply guide research analysts toward lowered expectations on their upcoming quarterly earnings so that the companies can surprise on the upside and get these kinds of misleading headlines in the all-to-willing New York media – which has a vested interest in making everything appear rosy in the Big Apple. (New York media is dependent on fat Wall Street profits to boost the price of their own publicly traded shares since ad revenue in New York is linked to the health of Wall Street.) One would never know by these headlines that big bank earnings were actually down year over year – and in some cases, down dramatically. JPMorgan Chase earned $6.2 billion in the second quarter of 2016 versus $6.29 billion in the second quarter of 2015.
The news was far worse at Citigroup, despite the rosy headline at CNBC. Citigroup’s second quarter profit fell 17.5% year over year, to $4 billion from $4.85 billion in the second quarter of 2015. Its revenues were the lowest in 14 years according to S&P Capital IQ. At Bank of America, profit fell to $4.23 billion from $5.3 billion in the second quarter of 2015, a sharp decline of 20%. Morgan Stanley reported a year over year decline of 8%, with profits in the second quarter of 2016 falling to $1.67 billion from $1.82 billion in the second quarter of 2015. Now news of jobs cuts is spilling out with the Wall Street Journal reporting that Bank of America will make “$5 billion in annual cost cuts by 2018 as part of its strategy to deal with persistently low interest rates that are eating away at lenders’ profitability.”
The New York Post is calling job cuts at Goldman Sachs the worst since the financial crisis in 2008. Fortune’s Stephen Gandel reported two days ago that Goldman had slashed a whopping “1,700 positions in the past three months.” Something else one won’t find in those smiley-face headlines is the fact that Wall Street is not only bleeding profits and jobs but it’s also bleeding equity capital – the only thing that separates the word “bank” from the word “bankruptcy.” While the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Standard and Poor’s 500 Indices may be setting new highs, the big Wall Street banks are decidedly not.
Over the past 52 weeks, Goldman is down from a share price of $214.61 to an open this morning of $162.55 – a decline of 24%. Bank of America is off 22% from its 52-week high, based on today’s open. Morgan Stanley and Citigroup are in decidedly worse shape with declines of 28% and 27%, respectively, from their 52 week highs versus their share price at the open of the New York Stock Exchange this morning. Add this all up and you’re talking about tens of billions of dollars in equity capital vaporizing.
Denmark is in the same position as dozens of other countries: “..there’s a real risk that housing prices can see a dramatic fall, even though we’re not seeing a bubble in the classical definition of the term..”
Denmark’s biggest mortgage bank is warning there’s a risk the housing market may get “out of control,” especially around cities, as long-term negative interest rates make borrowers complacent. “To be concrete, there is a danger that Danes go blind to the risk of rates ever rising again,” Tore Stramer, chief analyst at Nykredit in Copenhagen, said in an e-mail. “That raises the risk of a major housing price decline, when rates at some point or other start to rise again.” Denmark’s central bank has had negative interest rates for the better part of four years. Thomas F. Borgen, CEO of Danske Bank, says his managers are operating under the assumption that rates won’t go positive until “at least” 2018, with Britain’s departure from the EU adding to the risk of an even longer period below zero.
With no other country on the planet having experienced negative rates longer than Denmark, the distortions the policy is wreaking may provide a preview of what other economies face should they go down a similar path. Danes can get short-term mortgages at negative interest rates, and pay less to borrow for 30 years than the U.S. government. Apartment prices in Denmark are now about 5% above their 2006 peak. Back then, the country’s bubble burst and apartment prices slumped about 30% through 2009. “It’s worth remembering that there’s a real risk that housing prices can see a dramatic fall, even though we’re not seeing a bubble in the classical definition of the term,” Stramer said. Denmark’s negative rates are a product of the central bank’s policy of defending the krone’s peg to the euro. Its main rate was minus 0.75% for most of last year, though the bank raised it by 10 basis points in January in an effort to normalize policy.
The number of dormant crude and natural gas wells in the U.S. stopped growing in the first quarter – and may all but disappear in the nation’s biggest oil field should prices hold steady. As of April 1, there were 4,230 wells left idle after being drilled, a figure little changed from January, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence. While some explorers have continued to grow their fracklog of drilled but not yet hydraulically fractured wells, others began tapping them in February as oil prices rose, the report showed.
Crude in the $40- to $50-a-barrel range may wipe out most of the fracklog in Texas’s Permian Basin and as much as 70% of the inventory in its Eagle Ford play by the end of 2017, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Andrew Cosgrove. While bringing them online is the cheapest way of taking advantage of higher prices, the wave of new supply also threatens to kill the fragile recovery that oil and gas markets have seen so far this year. “We think that by the end of the third quarter, beginning of the fourth quarter, the bullish catalyst of falling U.S. production will be all but gone,” Cosgrove said in an interview Thursday. “You’ll start to see U.S. production flat lining.”
For the fourth month in a row, China produced more steel than all other nations combined in June. According to data released by the WorldSteel Association on Wednesday, a group that accounts for approximately 85% of the world’s steel production, China produced 69.5 million of crude steel in June, dwarfing production in all other nations which came in at 66.5 million tonnes. At 136 million tonnes, total global output in June was unchanged from the levels of a year earlier.
While down 1.4% on the 70.5 million tonnes produced in May, Chinese crude steel production is now 1.7% higher than the levels of June 2015, fitting with the splurge in state-backed infrastructure investment seen in recent months. Despite the recent uplift in steel production, shown in the chart below supplied by WorldSteel, global steel production came in at 794.8 million tonnes in the first half of the year, down 1.9% on the same corresponding period in 2015.
China has no reason to devalue the yuan, as economic fundamentals remained strong, with growth at 6.7% in the first half, the country’s Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao told CNBC. Zhu’s comments came shortly before Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump lambasted China again, this time for what he said was “devastating currency manipulation. [..] “The yuan has been trading around five-year lows recently, as concerns over the state of the economy fueled capital outflows. Investors have also expressed concerns over the level of debt built up in the economy. China suffered almost $700 billion worth of capital flight in 2015. The surge in outflows late in 2015 sparked market concerns that China’s foreign reserves weren’t sufficient to stabilize the currency by buying yuan over the long term.
Meanwhile, the greenback has strengthened against most major currencies as investors reacted to negative interest rates in Japan and Europe, as well as the possibility the Federal Reserve would continue on its rate-hiking path. On Friday the dollar/yuan traded at 6.6683 on-shore and 6.6754 off-shore. China fixes its currency against the dollar every day. In August, China shifted the market mechanism for setting the daily fix, saying it would set the spot rate based on the previous day’s close, theoretically allowing market forces to play a greater role in its direction. That resulted in an effective 2% devaluation in the currency, a move that sparked fears of a “currency war” to make Chinese exports more competitive.
Apple’s revenues in China could be down 20% in China in its quarterly earnings report, according to research by Baidu, the so-called “Chinese Google.” As part of its online suite of products Baidu offers mapping software and a search platform. It has about a 70 to 80% market share in search in China and logs billions of location requests on Baidu Maps. Using this so called “big data” from the use of its map and search products, which is all anonymized, Baidu said it could predict employment and consumer trends and their impact on a company’s revenues. It used these tools on Apple’s retail sales in China, selecting a list of flagship Apple stores in mainland China and the counting the volume of map queries of all the stores.
Baidu found that in the last quarter of 2015, map query volumes were up 15.4% year-on-year, which corresponded with a 14% rise in Apple’s China revenue in that same period. But in the first quarter of 2016, map queries declined 24.5% year-on-year, which was parallel with a 26% decline in Apple’s China revenue. “The impressively strong correlation indicates that map query data provides possibilities for us to ‘nowcast’ the company’s revenues and reveal the future trends. Based on our analysis of latest data, we project that the Apple’s revenue in China of second quarter of 2016 may be down around 20% on a year-over-year basis,” Baidu concluded. The “second-quarter” that Baidu references is Apple’s fiscal third-quarter and will be announced on July 26.
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) has announced its worst performance in seven years. Its meager rate of return for the fiscal year ending June 30 just managed to squeak by .6%, not even beating our current meager rate of inflation. After two successive years of tepid returns, long-term fund averages have sunk far below the critical 7.5% benchmark. It’s bad news for California taxpayers, because if returns don’t soon show a long-term average of 7.5%, they’ll be the ones who will have to make up the difference. Ted Eliopoulos, the fund’s chief investment officer, admits the massive pension fund’s long-term returns are well below anticipated levels, telling the Los Angeles Times, “We’re moving into a much more challenging, low-return environment.”
Yeah. Average returns are now barely over seven% for a twenty-year period, and returns over ten and fifteen years now average less than 6%. These changes are not just a blip on the investment horizon, as we assume bond yields and stock dividends will improve. According to the Milliman pension consulting firm, many public pension funds have had to adjust their expectations to accommodate lower returns overall. CalPERS needs to adjust its own expectations accordingly, even though doing so would drive up costs for state and local government agencies covered by the big pension firm. “We quite clearly have a lower return expectation than we had just two years ago,” Eliopoulos said. “That will be reflected in our next cycle. We are cognizant that this is a challenging environment for institutional investors.”
Thus, while the Times reports this dismal turn of events as a new development, it’s apparent Eliopoulos and CalPERS have been struggling for a while. What’s more, financial observers have been voicing concerns about pension fund depletion for at least as long as bond yields and stock dividends have been anemic. [..] The bad news is: If you’re a California public employee, you’re going to take a hit. But even if you’re not a public employee, but merely a California taxpayer, you’ll also take a hit. In addition, while private employee pension funds don’t pose the same financial risk to non-participants, their members run a similar risk; after all, they’re toiling in the same universe of stocks and bonds.
Johannes Hahn’s job title sounds a little incongruous these days: he’s the EU commissioner for European neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations. The job title was created in the late 1990s during a period of optimism and expansion. But now, thanks to the will of 52% of British voters, the EU looks set to contract rather than enlarge for the first time in its history. There are still six candidate countries for EU membership, in the process of making formal applications to join the bloc, as well as a number of other countries with various levels of association. But with many in the EU wary and sceptical of further expansion, the only enlargement negotiations going on at the moment are about managing the expectations of countries that want to join.
Hahn was in Kiev last week, meeting Ukrainian government officials and chairing ministerial meetings of the EU’s Eastern Partnership, a programme linking the EU with six former Soviet countries, which was launched as a response to the Russian war with Georgia in 2008 and was implicitly meant as the first step towards EU membership for the nations. “Don’t believe that the unfortunate decision of Brexit will have any influence on our relationship – quite the opposite,” he told a meeting of the group’s foreign ministers.
But in reality, the initial Eastern Partnership plans are in tatters, as both enlargement fatigue inside the EU and a stick-carrot combination from Russia has pushed a number of the countries away from wanting further integration with the EU. Two of them, Belarus and Armenia, have joined Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union, an explicit challenge to the EU, while nobody seriously speaks about Ukraine or Georgia as members any more.
The earth is on track for its hottest year on record and warming at a faster rate than expected, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Thursday. Temperatures recorded mainly in the northern hemisphere in the first six months of the year, coupled with an early and fast Arctic sea ice melt and “new highs” in heat-trapping carbon dioxide levels, point to quickening climate change, it said. June marked the 14th straight month of record heat, the United Nations agency said. It called for speedy implementation of a global pact reached in Paris last December to limit climate change by shifting from fossil fuels to green energy by 2100.
“What we’ve seen so far for the first six months of 2016 is really quite alarming,” David Carlson, director of the WMO’s Climate Research Program, told a news briefing. “This year suggests that the planet can warm up faster than we expected in a much shorter time… We don’t have as much time as we thought.” The average temperature in the first six months of 2016 was 1.3° Celsius (2.4° Fahrenheit) warmer than the pre-industrial era of the late 19th Century, according to space agency NASA. [..] “There’s almost no plausible scenario at this point that is going to get us anything other than an extraordinary year in terms of ice (melt), CO2, temperature – all the things that we track,” Carlson said. “If we got this much surprise this year, how many more surprises are ahead of us?”
[..] Aedes aegypti presents a threat to some 4 billion people across the globe. The world long approached the Aedes agypti plague as though it were a storm that would soon blow over, but it has now become a fixture in large cities in the tropics. If nothing is done, experts say, more and more people will die as a result. And it has also become clear that some of the tropical diseases carried by this insect are coming to Europe. Partly, that is the result of rising temperatures on the European continent. In the southwestern German city of Freiburg, for example, scientists have determined that a population of Aedes mosquitoes survived the German winter for the first time. It used to be that only those who traveled to the tropics were at risk of becoming infected with tropical illnesses.
But now, many in Europe must face the prospect of the tropics coming to them. It was images from Brazil that sent a jolt of fear around the world at the beginning of this year. Across the country, babies were suddenly being born with heads that were misshapen and too small. When indications mounted that this curious increase in cases of so-called microcephaly was connected to the Zika epidemic that had stormed across Brazil in the previous months, the WHO declared an international emergency. Brazil mobilized 220,000 soldiers for the battle, sending them through bathrooms, yards and garages to eliminate standing water where female Aedes mosquitoes lay their eggs. But the campaign did little to reduce the threat. In the first four months of this year, officials registered 100,000 additional cases thought to be Zika.
In addition, almost a million people were infected with dengue fever, more than ever before in such a short span of time. There is no vaccine against the Zika virus and there is no medicine that can prevent people from becoming infected. In March, medical researchers said that Zika can also be transmitted via sexual intercourse and, as if that weren’t enough, 151 health experts wrote an open letter in May demanding that the Olympic Games – set to kick off in Rio in two weeks – be postponed or moved. Taking the risk of holding the games as planned, they said, would be irresponsible. The city is expecting a half-million visitors. If only a tiny fraction of them become infected by the virus, these games – intended to crown Brazil’s climb to economic power status – could mark the beginnings of a catastrophe.
America’s wealth grew by 60% in the past six years, by over $30 trillion. In approximately the same time, the number of homeless children has also grown by 60%. Financier and CEO Peter Schiff said, “People don’t go hungry in a capitalist economy.” The 16 million kids on food stamps know what it’s like to go hungry. Perhaps, some in Congress would say, those children should be working. “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” insisted Georgia Representative Jack Kingston, even for schoolkids, who should be required to “sweep the floor of the cafeteria” (as they actually do at a charter school in Texas). The callousness of U.S. political and business leaders is disturbing, shocking. Hunger is just one of the problems of our children. Teacher Sonya Romero-Smith told about the two little homeless girls she adopted: “Getting rid of bedbugs, that took us a while. Night terrors, that took a little while. Hoarding food..”
America is a ‘Leader’ in Child Poverty The U.S. has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world. As UNICEF reports, “[Children’s] material well-being is highest in the Netherlands and in the four Nordic countries and lowest in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and the United States.” Over half of public school students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies, and almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty.
$5 a Day for Food, But Congress Thought it was Too Much. Nearly half of all food stamp recipients are children, and they averaged about $5 a day for their meals before the 2014 farm bill cut $8.6 billion (over the next ten years) from the food stamp program. In 2007 about 12 of every 100 kids were on food stamps. Today it’s 20 of every 100.
For Every 2 Homeless Children in 2006, There Are Now 3 On a typical frigid night in January, 138,000 children, according to the U.S. Department of Housing, were without a place to call home. That’s about the same number of households that have each increased their wealth by $10 million per year since the recession.
The US: Near the Bottom in Education, and Sinking The U.S. ranks near the bottom of the developed world in the percentage of 4-year-olds in early childhood education. Early education should be a primary goal for the future, as numerous studies have shown that pre-school helps all children to achieve more and earn more through adulthood, with the most disadvantaged benefiting the most. But we’re going in the opposite direction. Head Start was recently hit with the worst cutbacks in its history.
Children’s Rights? Not in the U.S. It’s hard to comprehend the thinking of people who cut funding for homeless and hungry children. It may be delusion about trickle-down, it may be indifference to poverty, it may be resentment toward people unable to “make it on their own.” The indifference and resentment and disdain for society reach around the globe. Only two nations still refuse to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: South Sudan and the United States. When President Obama said, “I believe America is exceptional,” he was close to the truth, in a way he and his wealthy friends would never admit.
Global debt has expanded by $35 trillion since the credit crisis and as Lacy Hunt exclaims, “that’s a net negative, debt is an increase in current consumption in exchange for a decline in future spending and we are not going to solve this problem by taking on more and more debt.” Santelli notes that debt will actually keep growth “squashed down” and points out the low rates in Europe questioning the ability of The ECB’s actions to save the economy which Hunt confirms as “longer-term rates are excellent economic indicators” and that is not a good sign for Europe. “This process is far from over,” Hunt concludes, “rates will move irregularly lower and will remain depressed for several years.” Santelli sums up perfectly, “we’re all frogs in boiling water,” as we await the consequences of central planning.
The laws of the global economy should be written by the United States and not by the likes of China according to President Obama, as concern over China’s influence is growing. Washington hopes a Pacific free trade pact will curb Beijing’s investment bank. “When 95% of our potential customers live abroad, we must be sure that we are writing the rules for the global economy, not a country like China,” Obama said in his special message to Congress on Thursday, RIA reports. The statement comes after an agreement by US lawmakers to fast-track international trade bills earlier on Thursday. The White House is now looking forward to completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement this year to remove trade barriers between the participating nations which account for 40% of the global economy and more than a third of global trade.
“Our exports support more than eleven million jobs, and we know that exporting companies pay higher wages than others. Today we have the opportunity to open even more new markets to goods and services backed by three proud words: Made in America,” Obama added. Meanwhile, the US and Japan are the largest economies in the 12 Pacific nations bloc and view it as a strategic economic partnership. The two countries have been voicing concerns over China’s increasing influence in Asia and did not join the Chinese Investment bank (AIIB). The AIIB is expected to challenge the Washington-based World Bank and rival Japan’s Asian Development Bank. It currently has 57 countries from 5 continents as founding members including the biggest European nations. International trade and investment institutions are the latest contest issues between Beijing and the Washington-Tokyo alliance for influence in Asia.
Greece’s major creditors are not ready to let the country drop out of the euro as long as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras shows willingness to meet at least some key demands, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Chancellor Angela Merkel will go a long way to prevent a Greek exit from the single currency, though only so far, one of the people said. Every possibility is being considered in Berlin to pull Greece back from the brink and keep it in the 19-nation euro, the person said. For all the foot-dragging in Athens, some creditors are willing to show Greece more flexibility in negotiations over its finances to prevent a euro exit, the second person said. The red line is that the Syriza-led government shows readiness to commit to at least some economic reform measures, said both people, who asked not to be named discussing strategy.
“Our view is that Greece is not going to exit the euro,” Stephen Macklow-Smith at JPMorgan Asset Management in London, said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Friday. While both sides have “very entrenched positions” in the negotiations, “if you look at the way the euro-zone crisis has developed, in every case what you’ve seen is in return for firm action you get concessions.” The brinkmanship has sent Greek government bonds heading toward their worst week since Tsipras’s election in January at the head of an anti-austerity coalition. While the public rhetoric has escalated amid a standoff over releasing the last tranche of aid, creditors are willing to cut Greece some slack, the second person said.
Euro-area finance ministers are next due to discuss progress on Greece at their meeting on April 24 in the Latvian capital, Riga. Greece’s government remains confident an interim agreement with its creditors allowing disbursement of bailout funds can be reached by the end of April, a Greek official told reporters in Athens on Friday. “We’re of the view that Greece will hold to the commitments it made to the institutions,” Georg Streiter, Merkel’s deputy spokesman, said when asked about the chancellor’s stance. A deal won’t be ready by April 24 and could come together in the following weeks, Dutch Finance Minister and Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem told reporters in Washington. “I don’t believe in this game-of-chicken rubbish,” Dijsselbloem said. “We don’t know what the risks are.”
Greece is bankrupt and should default, well-known investor Marc Faber told CNBC Friday, arguing that a “geopolitical game of chess” was being played out in the region. The comments by Faber, the editor of the “Gloom, Boom & Doom Report,” came at a time of heightened tensions between Greece and its international creditors. The organizations overseeing the country’s two international bailouts – worth a combined €240 billion – have said the country will not receive a last tranche of aid, worth 7.2 billion euros, until it makes far-reaching reforms. But Faber, a bearish investor known as “Dr. Doom,” said the country’s fiscal situation was unsalvageable. “Even if Greece grows at 10%per annum for the next ten years, it will not be able to pay its debts back,” he told CNBC.
“It’s bankrupt. We better face the reality and not kick the can the can down the road. Greece should default.” Faber said that while Greece could leave the euro zone and adopt a parallel currency, there that geopolitics were coming in to play and there was no appetite in Europe to let the country exit from the single currency bloc. “I personally think it’s not so much of an economic issue as a political issue,” he told CNBC Europe’s “Squawk Box.” “Europe, and in particular NATO and the U.S. do not want Greece to leave (the euro zone) because if they do, other people are going to knock on Greece’s door – like the Russians or the Chinese maybe. It’s very much a geopolitical game of chess that’s being played.” Greece and its creditors disagree on which reforms should be implemented, however, and as such the much-needed aid remains under lock and key.
T his has prompted speculation that the country could soon run out of money and default on its forthcoming debt repayments to the IMF and ECB, which could, in turn, result in the country leaving the euro zone. Greece denies this is the case and ECB President Mario Draghi said earlier this week that he has not even considered a default. On Friday, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis will meet Draghi and IMF officials in Washington. The ECB stands to lose a lot if Greece does default, Faber argued, and thus Greece was in strong position to negotiate better terms for its bailout program and debt repayments. “I think that the ECB and European banks will have to take huge losses on their loans to Greece and bond purchases they have made (if it defaults),” he said. “I think Greece is in a very strong negotiating position. If they don’t want to pay what are you going to do, invade and hang them all up?”
“We’re not actually in a rules based world here, we’re in a politically determined one. If the other eurozone members think that keeping Greece solvent , in the euro and functioning is sufficiently important then they will do that.”
It’s long been true that welshing on debts to the IMF is just something that a civilised country just doesn t do. Thus there’s little surprise when Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, points out to Greece that there’s really no mileage in that country thinking about not paying the IMF back the money it s owed. Because, you know, that s just not something that civilised countries do. There is however a sting in the tail here. For there’s no formal method of dunning a country that does fail to repay the IMF on time. It takes at least a month after the payment doesn t appear for the IMF to go through its own internal reporting processes and then another couple of weeks for it to declare actual default.
And there’s politics in there as well: they can, quite happily, say that, well, they re trying to pay, they ve paid a bit perhaps, so we ll not actually say that they are in default. The point being that the rules aren’t hard and fast. What really matters is what other people think of a skipped IMF payment and here it’s the ECB that is most important. Here’s Lagarde:
IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde warned that she wouldn’t let Greece skip a debt payment to the lender, shutting down a potential avenue to buy the Greek government some financial leeway. We never had an advanced economy actually asking for that kind of thing, delayed payment, Lagarde said in an interview Thursday in Washington with Bloomberg Television. And I very much hope that this is not the case with Greece. I would certainly, for myself, not support it.
It’s almost ritualistic, her saying that of course. But that it has been said does bind in a way future actions. Having gone public with said statement then the IMF can’t really turn around and say Well, it doesn’t matter if Greece is late with a payment.
Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, said the IMF is worried about the liquidity situation in Greece but made it clear that the institution would not give the country any leeway on ¨ 1bn of debt repayments coming due in early May.
This is almost like the Kremlinology of old of course, looking for the runes in such remarks, but by the standards of these things it’s a fairly firm statement. But it’s really the ECB that matters here. Assume that Greece did delay the IMF payment (as one minister has said they would, if faced with a choice of paying the bank or paying the country s pensions). Not a great deal would happen immediately as a direct result. What would actually matter is what the ECB did:
With Greek sovereign yields blowing wider on Thursday (and pretty much staying there), it s worth revisiting what exactly might happen if, say, May 1 arrives and Greece fails to pay the €200m due to the IMF that day. Received wisdom has it that the ECB will withdraw the ELA emergency liquidity assistance currently propping up the Greek banking system, which will promptly collapse; Tsipras and Co would then be forced to bring back the Drachma (or similar) and Greece would exit the eurozone. But what do the rules here say?
Well, actually, the rules are written in such a flaccid manner that the ECB could do anything it liked. They could conclude that it’s temporary, no biggie, and keep supporting the Greek banks. Or they could conclude that it’s not, it is a biggie, and close them down and thus force default and Grexit. But the point is that a putative default to the IMF doesn’t really change that situation. Because the rules are sufficiently flaccid that pretty much anything can be interpreted as being a reason to withdraw EULA support: or nothing. We’re not actually in a rules based world here, we re in a politically determined one. If the other eurozone members think that keeping Greece solvent , in the euro and functioning is sufficiently important then they will do that. If they don’t they won’t: there’s really no rules here that can insist that they go either way.
Neighboring countries have effectively quarantined Greece in a bid to minimize the consequences on their credit systems in case of a Greek “accident.” Kathimerini understands that the central banks of Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania, Serbia, Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have all forced the subsidiaries of Greek banks operating in those countries to bring their exposure to Greek risk (bonds, treasury bills, deposits to Greek banks, loans etc.) down to zero in order to shield themselves and minimize the danger of contagion in case the negotiations between the Greek government and the eurozone do not bear fruit. This quarantine was deemed necessary after the aggressive rhetoric of the new Greek government – particularly in the first few weeks after the election – regarding a debt restructuring, the non-completion of the creditors’ assessment and so on.
Special care was taken for the subsidiaries of Greek lenders, which have a major presence in neighboring states, to make sure that they would not proceed to new positions in Greek bonds, T-bills, deposits in Greek banks or interbank funding. The Greek government recently put press pressure on banks to think how they could get around the ECB’s ban on the acquisition of more T-bills. Another concern for local bank groups is the threat of a reduction in the Greek element of their subsidiaries in neighboring countries in case of turmoil in Greece. Don’t forget that the Cypriot-owned bank branches in Greece changed hands virtually overnight in March 2013 during the Cyprus bank bail-in process.
US President Barack Obama spoke with Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis on the sidelines of an event at the White House honoring Greece’s Independence Day with the former stressing the need for flexibility from all sides in ongoing reform negotiations between Greece and its creditors, according to sources. The conversation between Obama and Varoufakis lasted for around 12 minutes, according to sources who said Varoufakis asked Obama to keep pressing European leaders so that a solution is found to Greece’s problem. Varoufakis agreed with Obama that all sides need to show flexibility and also highlighted the need to remain focused on the goal and on the process that Greece is involved in with its creditors. The event at the White House was also attended by US Vice President Joe Biden and Greek Archbishop Demetrios.
Varoufakis is to meet on Friday with US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew at 10.30 p.m. Greek time following a scheduled meeting at 6 p.m. with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. On Thursday, in a speech at the Brookings Institution, Varoufakis underlined the difficulties in Greek negotiations with its creditors but said Greece was more keen than anyone for a deal to be reached. Nevertheless, Greece will not approve more austerity, he said. “We will not sign up to targets we know our economy cannot meet by means of policies that our partners should not wish to impose,” he said. “We will compromise, we will compromise and we will compromise in order to come to a speedy agreement. But we are not going to end up ‘being’ compromised. This not what we were elected for.”
The IMF has urged EU negotiators to slim down their list of demands in debt talks with Greece amid fears that time is running out to reach a deal. The intervention by one of the country’s three main lenders came as the UK chancellor, George Osborne, said the impasse posed the biggest immediate threat to the global economy. Poul Thomsen, head of the IMF’s European department, said the reforms being demanded from Athens in exchange for a vital €7.2bn (£5.2bn) in rescue funds should be simplified and slimmed down. European finance ministers and senior officials have warned that Greece is running out of time to secure the payment and avert a disorderly exit from the eurozone. Osborne said the situation in Greece was “the most worrying for the global economy”.
Speaking at the IMF’s spring meeting in Washington,he said discussions about Greece had “pervaded every meeting” and that “the mood is notably more gloomy than at the last international gathering”. He added: “It’s clear now to me that a misstep or a miscalculation on either side could easily return European economies to the kind of perilous situation we saw three to four years ago.” Osborne’s German counterpart, Wolfgang Schäuble, repeated his criticism of the radical left Syriza government’s negotiating tactics and warned that it was harming the economy. He said Greece was in a “very difficult situation” after Syriza demanded a new deal with its creditors – the IMF, the EU and the ECB – which had delayed reforms and hit the country’s already struggling economy.
Schäuble said it was unlikely that next week’s deadline for Athens to submit reform proposals would be met. The reforms are scheduled to be discussed at a meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Riga, Latvia next Friday, followed by a further gathering in Brussels on 11 May that is being seen as the crunch point for Athens. Greece is scheduled to make a €747m repayment to the IMF on 12 May and there are fears that Athens will be unable to meet the deadline as cash runs out of state and domestic bank coffers.
The ECB has analysed a scenario in which Greece runs out of money and starts paying civil servants with IOUs, creating a virtual second currency within the euro bloc, people with knowledge of the exercise told Reuters. Greece is close to having to repay the IMF about €1 billion in May and officials at the ECB are growing concerned. Although the Greek government has repeatedly said that it wants to honour its debts, officials at the ECB are considering the possibility that it may not, in work undertaken by the so-called adverse scenarios group. Any default by Greece would force the ECB to act and possibly restrict Greek banks’ crucial access to emergency liquidity funding.
Officials fear however that such action could push cash-strapped Athens into paying civil servants in IOUs in order to avoid using up scarce euros. “The fact is we are not seeing any progress… So we have to look at these scenarios,” said one person with knowledge of the matter. A spokesman for the ECB said it “does not engage in speculation about how specific scenarios regarding Greece could unfold.” One Greek government official, who declined to be named, said there was no need to examine such a scenario because Athens was optimistic it would reach a deal with its international lenders by the end of the month. Greece has dismissed a recent report suggesting it would need to tap all its remaining cash reserves across the public sector, a total of €2 billion, to pay civil service wages and pensions at the end of the month.
The conundrum that Greece presents for most investors is simple, but troubling. It is either mostly irrelevant, or one of the biggest threats to markets this year. The war of words over Greece and its attempts to strike a deal with its partners in recent days has deepened. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble warned that time was “running out” for Greece to strike an accord over its bailout program. European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said talks were nowhere near the point where money could be disbursed. And IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde on Thursday advised Greece to “get on” with fixing the economy. Greece has so far kept up with debt service, and retained access to very short-term market funding. But some very chunky payments come due in the summer months.
Standard & Poor’s this week cut Greece’s rating to triple-C-plus, warning that without deep reforms or further relief, Greece’s obligations would become unsustainable. Fears of a eurozone exit are building again. Financial markets are beginning to feel the jitters. Thursday, Greek bonds fell sharply, with two-year yields rising above 26%. Yields on Italian, Spanish and Portuguese bonds rose, widening the gap with Northern Europe. German bond yields fell to record lows, partly due to the European Central Bank’s bond-buying program, but partly due to nerves about Greece. As long as Greece stays in the eurozone, most investors can afford to pay it little attention. It accounts for just 1.8% of the currency bloc’s economic output.
The lowly rating on Greece’s bonds means they are off-limits for most funds; the volatility of Greek stocks will have deterred others from dipping into the market. The bigger factors affecting markets have been the ECB’s actions, the pickup in eurozone economic data, and the moves in currency markets. But if Greece leaves, all bets are off. The initial impact is probably containable, again due to Greece’s relatively small size economically. The ECB’s bond-purchase program should help stem financial-market contagion. But the second-round effects and political fallout are unknowable. UBS’s economists, for instance, warn that the apparent lack of bond-market concern over Greece is an unreliable indicator of calm; they argue that the real risk would come from bank runs in other highly-indebted countries. Undoubtedly, the remaining members of the eurozone would seek to circle the wagons and declare Greece unique once more, but the credibility of that effort might fall short.
A three-bedroom North Shore “do-up” has earned its owner nearly $1000 a day – just shy of the salary of a High Court judge – in Auckland’s red-hot property market. A Weekend Herald investigation into soaring house prices comes amid warnings from the Reserve Bank about the housing market and calls for immediate action by the country’s chief human rights watchdog. Stuart Duncan sold his 1982 fibre-cement home at 116 Oaktree Ave in Browns Bay in November 2013 for $751,000. Now the new owners have on-sold for $1,205,000 – despite doing little work on the property – giving them a 16-month profit of $454,000 – about $940 a day. “I’m still in shock,” Mr Duncan said after learning how much his old property fetched. “It’s just disbelief. “It was an 80s house, three-bedroom do-up. Where is the market going? God help New Zealand.”
The Weekend Herald has analysed annual house sale figures and compared them to wages earned in the country’s 12 regional council areas to calculate whether people’s homes are earning them more than they get from working. In Auckland, the average house earned nearly $230 a day in the past year – about twice the average worker’s pay. That’s about the same as an entry-level doctor or high school head of department with responsibility for 10 teaching staff. The one-bathroom Browns Bay property has a CV of just $800,000 and comes with a garage and carport. It sits on 1043sq m freehold and is zoned for Rangitoto College. Barfoot & Thompson agent Eve Huang said though the vendors had done little work on the property, they had obtained resource consent for the large section to be subdivided into two lots, which increased its value.
Mr Duncan said he couldn’t believe how the market had taken off, and blamed foreign buyers with deep pockets for what was fast becoming a housing crisis. “Every auction you go to, if they want it they just don’t give up. It’s a bottomless pit. It just doesn’t seem right. We’re going to end up with a generation that don’t own property.”
A much-anticipated return to surplus somehow metamorphoses into yet another unwelcome deficit; dairy prices slump ever lower; the New Zealand dollar keeps rising ever higher; the overheated Auckland property market makes the South Sea Bubble of the 1700s look like an exercise in financial probity. Is this the so-called rock-star economy? Or the rocky road to recession? It is not raining on John Key and his colleagues. It is pouring. Still smarting at the mass defection of erstwhile supporters which the party took for granted in the Northland byelection, National is currently exhibiting the self-absorbed demeanour of someone who cannot quite work out what is happening to himself or herself and is not sure what to do about it.
Not that National can do much anyway to halt the rise in the currency or stimulate the international milk market. In the past week the Prime Minister and his Finance Minister have also appeared to accept they will fail to meet their long-established target date this year for a resumption of Budget surpluses. As for Auckland house prices, well, the warning from the Reserve Bank on Wednesday of a potential downward, disruptive correction in prices could not have been blunter. The Reserve Bank’s worry is that the trading banks, which have 60% of their lending in residential mortgages, could find themselves in dire straits such that credit dries up with the result that the economy goes into a severe downturn.
Key’s response was literally “crisis, what crisis?” But that hellish scenario ought to chill Key and Bill English to the bone. But the Reserve Bank has not stopped there. It is strongly urging the Government to give “fresh consideration” to ways and means of shutting property speculators attracted by untaxed capital gains out of the Auckland market. Key’s difficulty is that he has long ruled out a capital gains tax. His one consolation is that Labour leader Andrew Little has effectively done likewise. But Little is not in Government. Key is.
There was a sharp increase the intensity of the training of NATO troops near the borders of Russia last year, Russian General Staff said. “In 2014, the intensity of NATO’s operational and combat training activities has grown by 80%,” Lieutenant General Andrey Kartapolov, head of the Main Operation Directorate of General Staff. The leadership of NATO made no effort to hide the clear anti-Russian orientation of these activities, he added. “During this period, NATO created a grouping of its member states’ forces in the Baltic States, consisting of over 10,000 troops, about 1,500 armored vehicles, 80 planes and helicopters and 50 warships,” Kartapolov said during the IV Moscow Conference on International Security.
According to the Lieutenant General, strategic bombers from the US Air Force were used to perform strategic tasks during those exercises. He also said that the US plans to supply its Eastern European allies with JASSM-ER long-range aviation cruise missiles, which will enable NATO warplanes to hit targets 1,300 kilometers inside the Russian territory. “In the case of a military conflict, critical facilities on the territory of almost the entire European part of Russia will be vulnerable to NATO’s air attack, with the flight time of the missiles reduced by half,” Kartapolov warned.
The General Staff official also spoke about increased intelligence activity by NATO in the Black Sea. He said that US Global Hawk drones were spotted in Ukrainian air space in March, with the UAVs increasing “the depth of reconnaissance on the territory of Russia by 250-300 kilometers.” Since Russia’s reunion with Crimea and the start of the military conflict in eastern Ukraine last spring, NATO forces have stepped up military exercises along the Russian border – in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe.
Hillary Clinton ran onto the playing field this week, Rock and Roll Part 2 blaring in the background, and started lying within minutes of announcing her entry into the presidential election campaign. “There’s something wrong,” she told a crowd of Iowans, “when hedge fund managers pay lower taxes than nurses or the truckers I saw on I-80 when I was driving here over the last two days.” Oh, right, that. The infamous carried interest tax break, the one that allows private equity vampires like Mitt Romney and Stephen Schwartzman to pay a top tax rate of 15% while all of the rest of us (including the truckers Hillary “saw” – note she didn’t say “hung out with Bill and me over chilled shrimp at the Water Club”) pay income taxes.
The carried interest loophole is an absurd, completely unjustifiable handout to the not merely well-off but filthy rich, and it’s been law in this country for about three decades. Raise your hand if you really think that Hillary Clinton is going to repeal the carried interest tax break. We’ll come back to that in a minute. In the meantime, the reaction to Hillary’s campaign announcement went exactly according to script. Newspapers and news sites ever-so-slightly raised figurative eyebrows at the tone of Hillary’s announcement, remarking upon its “populist” flair. This is no plutocrat who plans to ride to the White House upon a historically massive assload of corporate money, the papers declared, this is a candidate of the people!
“Hillary’s Return: Her Folksy, Populist Re-Entry,” proclaimed Politico. “Populist Theme, Convivial In Tone!” headlined the Los Angeles Times. “Hillary Lifts Populist Spirits,” commented The Hill, hook visibly protruding from its reportorial fish-mouth. Having watched this campaign-reporting process from both the inside and the outside for a long time now, I knew what was coming after the initial wave of “Hillary the Populist!” stories. In presidential politics, every time a candidate on either the left or the right veers in a populist direction – usually with immediate success, since the American populace is ready to run through a wall for anyone who makes the obvious observation that they’re being screwed by someone up above – it takes about two or three days before the “Let’s let cooler heads prevail!” editorials start trickling in.
So Ben Bernanke wants to make a buck. Who can blame him? The guy is one of the most esteemed economists of his generation. He served his country admirably; his term as chairman of the Federal Reserve was probably the single most stressful term in that role in history. He resigned from his tenured professorship at Princeton when he joined the Fed board. What else is the guy going to do? This is, of course, how systemic problems work—few individual cases are obviously unacceptable, but the whole is horrifying. In this case, it’s the “revolving door” of movement between government positions and the financial sector—that is to say, from modestly paying positions in the public sector, overseeing financial firms, to higher-paying jobs in the private sector.
Bernanke is going to work for Citadel, a $25 billion hedge fund that is one of the country’s largest. While Bernanke is a talented economist, he has also never worked in the industry, so it’s fairly clear that what Citadel wants is inside information—either things he knows because he remains close with people in positions of authority, or his insight into ongoing negotiations. That’s why he’s been in high demand by financial-industry powers ever since stepping down last February. For example, The New York Times noted that he analyzed the Fed’s true feelings about inflation at a dinner with hedge funders in Las Vegas—allowing several to make profitable moves. Another lamented that he didn’t pay closer attention: “He gave this stuff out, but I didn’t realize what he was saying at the time, so I didn’t do a great trade.”
Quantifying the revolving door is difficult—it involves a series of subjective choices about what constitutes the revolving door, what level of employees should be counted, and so on. (One study from Notre Dame found a double-digit increase between 2001 and 2013.) But there’s ample anecdotal evidence. In fact, Bernanke isn’t even the first Federal Reserve alum to jump to a hedge fund in the last month. Jeremy Stein, a former governor, was hired by BlueMountain Capital Management in late March. And as Rob Copeland notes, this is just the latest in a stream of prominent government officials: Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and ex-Reagan economic adviser Martin Feldstein accepted paid roles on a now-disbanded economic advisory board at John Paulson’s hedge-fund firm that started in 2008.
More recently, former Obama administration chief of staff William Daley joined Swiss hedge fund Argentiere Capital, while former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and former CIA chief David Petraeus took posts at private-equity firms Warburg Pincus and KKR, respectively. And just this week, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick was introduced as a new managing director at Bain Capital. That doesn’t even include non-hedge-fund and private-equity moves. Peter Orszag, who led President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget, took a job with Citigroup when he left. The Obama administration had been closely involved with Citi in the aftermath of the financial collapse, and the bank received nearly $500 billion in bailouts.
Seventeen new genetically modified food products will be authorised for import to Europe before the end of May in a significant acceleration of biotech trade, the Guardian has learned. An announcement could be made as early as next week, sources said, when a meeting of EU commissioners has been pencilled in to review adoption of new rules for approving GM imports. Europe currently imports around 58 GM products from abroad, mostly US maize, cotton, soy bean and sugar beet. But Greenpeace said that the US has raised the issue of a large logjam in biotech authorisations in talks over a free trade deal known as TTIP. “With transatlantic trade talks ongoing, pressure has been mounting from the biotech industry and the US government to break open the EU market to GM imports and to speed up authorisation procedures,” Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU’s agriculture director, told the Guardian.
“The possible authorisation of 17 GM crops by the commission in the next few days is a likely result of this pressure.” “The timing is still being discussed but it is just a question of internal procedure now,” a source familiar with the discussions told the Guardian. “It is clear that the 17 strains will be authorised at the same time as the review meeting or just after. I would say it will happen before the end of May for sure.” Under proposed new GM import rules seen by the Guardian, future authorisations would automatically follow approval of new strains by the European Food and Safety Agency (Efsa). Individual countries would be given a similar opt-out to the one agreed for GM cultivation in a law passed earlier this year.
“It will be up to each member state wanting to make use of this ‘opt-out’ to develop this justification on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the GMO [genetically-modified organism] in question, the type of measure envisaged and the specific circumstances at national or regional level that can justify such an opt-out,” the draft said. Opposition from some EU states to draft GM authorisations is “usually not based on science but on other considerations reflecting the societal debate existing in the country,” the commission argues. So opt-outs will not be granted to EU states who seek it on health or environmental grounds, after Efsa has deemed a product safe. “The scope for the exceptions [opt-outs] will probably be less than in the cultivation proposal because we are talking about the internal market here,” an informed source said. “You will have to have a really solid reason. Otherwise it would be attacked as a disruption to the market.”
Near California’s Success Lake, more than 1,000 water wells have failed. Farmers are spending $750,000 to drill 1,800 feet down to keep fields from going fallow. Makeshift showers have sprouted near the church parking lot. “The conditions are like a third-world country,” said Andrew Lockman, a manager at the Office of Emergency Services in Tulare County, in the heart of the state’s agricultural Central Valley about 175 miles north of Los Angeles. As California enters the fourth year of a record drought, its residents and $43 billion agriculture industry have drawn groundwater so low that it’s beyond the reach of existing wells. That’s left thousands with dry taps and pushed farmers to dig deeper as Governor Jerry Brown vorders the first mandatory water rationing in state history.
“The demand we’re placing on the aquifer and the deep bedrock drilling, which is going on at an alarmingly fast pace, is really scary,” said Tricia Blattler, executive director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau. “Folks are really concerned we’re not going to be able to find water in the groundwater system much longer. We are tapping it way too quickly.” Nowhere has lack of rain been felt more than in Tulare County, in a valley dotted with dairy farms and walnut orchards at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. With 458,000 residents, it’s home to 1,013 dry wells, accounting for more than half of those that have failed in the state since January 2014.
Outside Porterville, in a dusty, unincorporated hamlet populated by many Latino citrus-farm workers, some residents use donated bottled water to drink and cook. About 40 people a day wash in the 26 showers set up in trailers next to the parking lot of Iglesia Emmanuel church. They lug nonpotable water home from county tanks for their toilets. Annette Clonts began bathing at friends’ homes or sneaking middle-of-the-night showers at Lake Success’s recreation area after the well near her trailer ran low two years ago. When the lake showers started sputtering in November, she turned to those at the church. “When you’re 400 yards from the lake and you have no water, you’re in trouble,” said Clonts, a 57-year-old retired cook.
[..] “We’ve got to find a way to survive, to hold on,” said Gallegos, who lives with her husband and two daughters. “Right now, we don’t have the money to drill a deeper well. You’re talking about $15,000.” That’s the starting price for residential wells, which range from 30 to 150 feet (9 to 46 meters) and can cost as much as $45,000, said Blattler, the official with the county’s farm bureau. Agricultural wells, which are about 1,000 to 1,800 feet, run $250,000 to $750,000, she said. There are so many customers, they’ll have to wait as long as two years.
It just keeps getting hotter. March was the hottest month on record, and the past three months were the warmest start to a year on record, according to new data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s a continuation of trends that made 2014 the most blistering year for the surface of the planet, in to records going back to 1880. Thirteen of the 14 hottest years are in the 21st century, and 2015 is on track to break the heat record again. Results from the world’s top monitoring agencies vary slightly. NOAA and the Japan Meteorological Agency both had March as the hottest month on record. NASA had it as the third-hottest. All three agencies agree that the past three months have been the hottest start to a year.
The heat was experienced differently across the world. People in the U.S. and Canadian Northeast had an unusually cool March. But vast swaths of unusually warm weather covered much of the globe, and records were broken from California to Australia. The sweltering start to 2015 may be just the beginning. The National Weather Services predicts that a pattern of unusually warm waters in the Pacific Ocean, known as El Nino, will most likely persist well into the second half of the year. And this El Nino could be a big one. El Nino conditions transfer heat that’s been building in the ocean into the atmosphere, affecting weather around the world. A strong El Nino could possibly bring relief to California’s unprecedented drought in the form of heavy rains, but would likely add yet another year to a pile of broken temperature records.
Worldwide business confidence slumped to a five-year low, with company hiring and investment intentions at or near their weakest levels in the post-global financial crisis era, according to a new survey. “Clouds are gathering over the global economic outlook, presenting the darkest picture seen since the global financial crisis,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit. The number of companies expecting their business activity to be higher in a years’ time exceeded those expecting a decline by just 28%. This was below the net balance of 39% recorded in the summer, the Markit Global Business Outlook Survey showed. The tri-annual survey, published on Monday, looked at expectations for the year ahead across 6,100 manufacturing and services companies worldwide. Optimism in manufacturing fell to its lowest since mid-2013 but remained ahead of that seen in services, where confidence about the outlook slumped to the lowest in the survey’s five-year history.
Global hiring intentions slid to within a whisker of the all-time low seen in June of last year, deteriorating in the U.S., Japan, the U.K., euro zone, Russia and Brazil. [..] Investment intentions also collapsed to a new post-crisis low across major economies. China and India bucked the trend, however, with capital expenditure plans in the two countries improving. The survey highlighted a growing list of concerns among companies about the outlook for the year ahead including a worsening global economic climate, the prospect of higher interest rates in countries such as the U.K. and U.S. and geopolitical risk emanating from crises in Ukraine and the Middle East. “Of greatest concern is the slide in business optimism and expansion plans in the U.S. to the weakest seen over the past five years. U.S. growth therefore looks likely to have peaked over the summer months, with a slowing trend signaled for coming months,” Williamson said.
‘It is also painful to see the struggle against hunger and malnutrition hindered by ‘market priorities’, the ‘primacy of profit’, which reduce foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation and financial speculation in particular ..’
Pope Francis has warned that planet earth could face a doomsday scenario if the world does not stop abusing its resources for profit The pontiff warned that nature would exact revenge, and urged the world’s leaders to rein in their greed and help the hungry. He told the Second International Conference on Nutrition (CIN2) in Rome: ‘God always forgives, but the earth does not. ‘Take care of the earth so it does not respond with destruction.’ The three-day meeting aimed at tackling malnutrition, and included representatives from 190 countries.
It was organised by the UN food agency (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) in the Italian capital. The 77-year old said the world had ‘paid too little heed to those who are hungry.’ While the number of undernourished people dropped by over half in the past two decades, 805 million people were still affected in 2014. ‘It is also painful to see the struggle against hunger and malnutrition hindered by ‘market priorities’, the ‘primacy of profit’, which reduce foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation and financial speculation in particular,’ Francis said.
Insecure, low-paid jobs are leaving record numbers of working families in poverty, with two-thirds of people who found work in the past year taking jobs for less than the living wage, according to the latest annual report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The research shows that over the last decade, increasing numbers of pensioners have become comfortable, but at the same time incomes among the worst-off have dropped almost 10% in real terms. Painting a picture of huge numbers trapped on low wages, the foundation said during the decade only a fifth of low-paid workers managed to move to better paid jobs. The living wage is calculated at £7.85 an hour nationally, or £9.15 in London – much higher than the legally enforceable £6.50 minimum wage.
As many people from working families are now in poverty as from workless ones, partly due to a vast increase in insecure work on zero-hours contracts, or in part-time or low-paid self-employment. Nearly 1.4 million people are on the controversial contracts that do not guarantee minimum hours, most of them in catering, accommodation, retail and administrative jobs. Meanwhile, the self-employed earn on average 13% less than they did five years ago, the foundation said. Average wages for men working full time have dropped from £13.90 to £12.90 an hour in real terms between 2008 and 2013 and for women from £10.80 to £10.30.
Poverty wages have been exacerbated by the number of people reliant on private rented accommodation and unable to get social housing, the report said. Evictions of tenants by private landlords outstrip mortgage repossessions and are the most common cause of homelessness. The report noted that price rises for food, energy and transport have far outstripped the accepted CPI inflation of 30% in the last decade. Julia Unwin, chief executive of the foundation, said the report showed a real change in UK society over a relatively short period of time. “We are concerned that the economic recovery we face will still have so many people living in poverty. It is a risk, waste and cost we cannot afford: we will never reach our full economic potential with so many people struggling to make ends meet.
The “new normal” may be new. It’s hardly normal. The “new abnormal” would be more apt, according to reports published this month by Ed Yardeni and ING’s Mark Cliffe in London. “Dictionaries define ‘normal’ as regular, usual, healthy, natural, orderly, ordinary, rational,” Cliffe said Nov. 7. “It is hard to use those words to describe the current performance of the world economy and financial markets.” Among signs of irregularity since Pimco popularized the expression “new normal” in 2009 to describe an environment of below-average economic growth: Central banks are still deploying near-zero interest rates or quantitative easing six years after the financial crisis, yet output, inflation, business investment and wages remain mostly subpar. In financial markets, equities are hitting new highs as bond yields probe new lows. Even as the U.S. shows signs of strength, commodities are slumping.
The lesson for Yardeni is that by running to the rescue every time asset prices swooned in the past two decades, central bankers’ prescriptions distorted economies. “If a central bank moderates recessions, then speculative excesses are likely to build up much more during the booms and never get fully cleaned out,” Yardeni, a former chief economist at Deutsche Bank, said in a Nov. 19 report. “So each financial crisis gets progressively worse than the previous one, forcing the central bank to provide even more easy money to avert a financial meltdown.” Cliffe at ING is less willing than Yardeni to lambaste central banks, noting it’s hard to say how bad a recession may have occurred without their aid. Still, he agrees that policy makers now find themselves having to keep an eye on markets as much as the economies when setting policy.
A look into the future: David Cameron’s nightmare has come true; the slowdown in the global economy has turned into a second major recession within a decade. In those circumstances, there would be two massive policy challenges. The first would be how to prevent the recession turning into a global slump. The second would be how to prevent the financial system from imploding. These are the same challenges as in 2008, but this time they would be magnified. Zero interest rates and quantitative easing have already been used extensively to support activity, which would leave policymakers with a dilemma. Should they double down on QE or come up with more radical proposals – drops of helicopter money or using QE for specified purposes, such as investment in green energy?
For now, the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and the Bank of England prefer not to contemplate this dire possibility. They will deal with it if it happens, but are assuming it won’t. More explicit plans have been drawn up for the big banks. The concern here is obvious. The bailouts last time played havoc with the public finances and the still incomplete repair job has required unpopular austerity. Governments are not flush enough to contemplate a second wave of bailouts. Even if they had the money, they know just how voters would react if there was talk of bailing out the bankers a second time.
China’s benchmark stock index rose to a three-year high after the central bank’s surprise interest rate cut late last week. Recent history suggests the gains won’t last long. While the Shanghai Composite Index climbed 1.9% today, six of the past seven cuts to interest rates and reserve requirements have been followed by declines in stock prices over the next two months. The last time the PBOC lowered lending and deposit rates, in July 2012, the benchmark index fell 7.4%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The rate cut, announced after the close of regular trading in China on Nov. 21, underlines concern that a slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy is deepening. Factory production rose 7.7% in October from a year earlier, the second-weakest pace since 2009, while retail sales missed economists’ forecasts.
China’s economy expanded 7.3% in the three months ended September and it’s projected to grow this year at the slowest pace since 1990 amid weakness in the property market and manufacturing. “In the short term, it’s positive, but in the long term, the economic slowdown is probably the main driver of the market,” Lucy Qiu, an emerging markets analyst at UBS Wealth Management, which has $1 trillion in invested assets, said by phone from New York on Nov. 21. “This announcement came after a slew of underperforming economic releases. It kind of shows the government is determined to support growth, but going forward we really have to look at the data.” The PBOC has cut reserve requirements for the nation’s largest lenders three times and lowered benchmark rates three times since late 2011.
Policy makers said in a Nov. 21 statement that the move in interest rates was “a neutral operation and doesn’t mean any change in monetary policy direction.” As China is still able to keep medium to high growth rates, it “has no need to take strong stimulus measures, and the direction of prudent monetary policy won’t change,” the central bank said. China’s retail inflation held at the slowest pace since January 2010 last month. Consumer prices increased 1.6%, matching September’s rate, while producer prices fell for a record 32nd month, slumping 2.2%.
China’s latest interest rate cut is set to dent the profitability of domestic lenders, especially mid-sized banks, which are already suffering from higher bad loans and a slowdown in profit growth. The central bank unexpectedly cut rates late on Friday, stepping up efforts to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which are struggling to repay loans and access credit, as the economy slides to its slowest growth in nearly a quarter of a century. It slashed the one-year benchmark lending rate by 40 basis points to 5.6% while lowering the one-year benchmark deposit rate by 25 basis points to 2.75%. The narrowing of interest rate margins will eat into lenders’ profitability, with Cinda Securities’ chief strategist, Jiahe Chen, predicting it will cut profits by up to 5%. Interest margins generated from lending have already been shrinking for second-tier lenders, which have been squeezed by competition from online financiers and a rise in funding costs stemming from an industry tussle for deposits.
Fitch Ratings downgraded its credit rating of China Guangfa Bank, a medium-sized lender, two days before the rate-cut announcement, and said the level of off-balance-sheet lending among second-tier banks was a concern. The squeeze on profits will make it tougher for lenders to raise capital to meet new international rules designed to protect depositors from banking collapses. Retained profits are one way in which banks can build up regulatory capital. “In the past when Chinese banks disbursed loans, they mainly relied on profits from their own capital to replenish their capital,” Jiang Jianqing, chairman of China’s biggest commercial bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, told a conference in Beijing on Saturday. The PBoC said in announcing the rate cut that it wanted to help smaller firms gain access to credit. While the measures may ease the financing costs of these firms’ existing loans, it is unlikely to encourage banks to write new loans to lower-rung borrowers, bankers said.
China’s banks, already saddled with mounting bad debt, face the risk of sagging profit growth after an interest-rate cut slashed their margins on loans. The twist: some investors are getting more optimistic, not less, about the outlook for the industry’s shares. Victoria Mio, chief investment officer for China at Robeco Hong Kong, whose parent company oversees about €237 billion ($294 billion), said Nov. 21 that bank stocks were very attractive because they were priced at levels that assumed an economic “hard landing.” Hours later, the central bank cut the one-year lending rate by 0.4 percentage point and the one-year deposit rate by 0.25 percentage point. Afterward, Mio said sustained monetary easing may drive an economic rebound and a jump in banks’ share prices. She was “more positive” on the stocks.
Chinese banks are trading at an average 4.8 times estimated earnings for this year, the lowest globally for lenders with a market value of more than $10 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Another fund manager, Baring Asset Management Ltd.’s Khiem Do, said he was “still bullish” on banks after the rate move and that dividends of more than 6% would become even more attractive as interest rates fall. “You tell me which banks in the world are paying out this yield, and making money, and working in an environment where the economy is growing at about 7% per annum,” he said earlier by phone. Do helps oversee about $60 billion as Hong Kong-based head of Asian multi-asset strategy. Ma Kunpeng, a Shanghai-based analyst at Sinolink Securities Co., has a buy rating on the industry. He said banks’ share prices have fallen even when earnings have exceeded expectations because investors have focused more on “perceived risks” than profits.
A bid by China to rein in its “shadow banking” activity is producing results, thanks to slowing economic growth and tighter regulation. But some success for a policy drive to curb risky lending is not all good news for Beijing, as smaller companies may face even bigger struggles to find funding. A cut in interest rates, announced by Beijing on Friday, is unlikely to help them much. Shadow banking includes off-balance-sheet forms of bank finance plus lending by non-traditional institutions, all of which is less regulated than formal lending and thus considered riskier. At the end of 2013, China had the world’s third-largest shadow banking sector, according to the Financial Stability Board, a task force set up by the G-20 economies. It estimated that Chinese assets of “other financial intermediaries” than traditional ones were then just under $3 trillion.
In the three months ended Sept. 30, the shadow banking portion of what China calls total social financing – a broad measure of liquidity in the economy – contracted for the first time on a quarterly basis since the 2008/09 financial crisis. Loans extended by trust companies fell by roughly 100 billion yuan ($16.33 billion). Bankers’ acceptances, a short-term method of financing regularly used by manufacturers, dropped 668.3 billion yuan, according to Reuters calculations based on central bank data. October lending data, released last week, showed further contractions in these types of shadow banking. Bankers’ acceptances and trust loans “fall into categories that have been squeezed by tightening regulations in the last few months, so it’s an ongoing trend,” said Donna Kwok, an economist at UBS in Hong Kong.
“What can be abolished by laws and decrees is merely the right of the capitalists to receive interest. But such laws would bring about capital consumption and would very soon throw mankind back into the original state of natural poverty.”
Ever since the ECB has introduced negative interest rates on its deposit facility, people have been waiting for commercial banks to react. After all, they are effectively losing money as a result of this bizarre directive, on excess reserves the accumulation of which they can do very little about. At first, only a small regional bank, Deutsche Skatbank, imposed a penalty rate on large depositors – slightly in excess of the 20 basis points banks must currently pay for ECB deposits. It turns out this was a Trojan horse. Other banks were presumably watching to see if depositors would flee Skatbank, and when that didn’t happen, Commerzbank decided to go down the same road. However, there is an obvious flaw in taking such measures – at least is seems obvious to us. The Keynesian overlords at the central bank who came up with this idea have failed to consider a warning Ludwig von Mises once uttered about the attempt to abolish interest by decree.
Obviously, the natural interest rate can never become negative, as time preferences cannot possibly become negative: ceteris paribus, consumption in the present will always be preferred to consumption in the future. Mises notes that if the natural interest rate were to decline to zero, all consumption would stop – we would die of hunger while investing all of our resources in capital goods, i.e., while directing all of our efforts and funds toward production for future consumption. This is obviously a situation that would make no sense whatsoever – it is simply not possible for this to happen in the real world of human action. Mises warns however that if interest payments are abolished by decree, or even a negative interest rate is imposed by decree, owners of capital will indeed begin to consume their capital – precisely because want satisfaction in the present will continue to be preferred to want satisfaction in the future regardless of the decree. This threatens to eventually impoverish society and reduce it to a state of penury:
If there were no originary interest, capital goods would not be devoted to immediate consumption and capital would not be consumed. On the contrary, under such an unthinkable and unimaginable state of affairs there would be no consumption at all, but only saving, accumulation of capital, and investment. Not the impossible disappearance of originary interest, but the abolition of payment of interest to the owners of capital, would result in capital consumption.
The capitalists would consume their capital goods and their capital precisely because there is originary interest and present want-satisfaction is preferred to later satisfaction. Therefore there cannot be any question of abolishing interest by any institutions, laws, and devices of bank manipulation. He who wants to “abolish” interest will have to induce people to value an apple available in a hundred years no less than a present apple. What can be abolished by laws and decrees is merely the right of the capitalists to receive interest. But such laws would bring about capital consumption and would very soon throw mankind back into the original state of natural poverty.”
The U.S. dollar has been on a tear this year, rising against the currencies of virtually all major developed economies. What we’re seeing around the world is intense – and in some cases, deliberate – devaluations. What’s going on and what are the investment implications? One reason for the devaluations is that, when economic growth is weak – as it has been globally for five years – governments feel tremendous pressure to increase exports and reduce imports to restore growth. Often that means lowering the value of the currency so that products sent abroad are relatively less expensive and those coming into the country more so. The European Central Bank, for example, wants to depress the euro to keep deflation at bay. The euro’s earlier strength drove down import prices, forcing domestic producers who compete with imports to slash their prices. As a result, consumer price inflation moved steadily toward zero. It was a mere 0.4% in October versus a year earlier.
The euro-zone economy remains stagnant, with a third recession since 2007 a possibility. Unemployment is high. Youth unemployment tops 25% in many countries; it exceeds 50% in Spain and Greece. Meanwhile, consumer sentiment, which never recovered from the last recession, is again dropping. In early June, the ECB responded by cutting its benchmark interest rate from 0.25% to 0.15% and introducing a penalty charge of 0.1% on reserves it holds for member banks. While these measures were more symbolic than substantive, the euro slid in reaction. In September, the ECB started to make up to €1 trillion in cheap, four-year loans available to member banks, provided they made more credit available to the private sector. Still, these actions didn’t seriously depress the euro, so ECB President Mario Draghi in September announced a further cut in the overnight interest rate to 0.05% and an increase in the penalty rate for member-bank deposits to 0.2%.
In October, the ECB purchased a broad array of securities, including bonds backed by auto loans, home mortgages and credit-card debt, to encourage lenders to offer more credit to companies. Again, these actions have proved more symbolic than substantive, but the euro has weakened a bit further. While the ECB will probably end up with outright quantitative easing in one form or another, keep in mind that QE is less effective in the euro area. Financing is concentrated in the banks, which account for 70% of corporate financing, not in bond markets as in the U.S., where QE works its way into the economy rapidly. Also, weak euro-zone banks are weighed down by bad loans, anemic profits and the need to raise capital to meet new regulatory requirements. In addition, there are 18 euro-area countries and, therefore, 18 separate bond markets for the ECB to consider.
The European Union is planning a €21 billion ($26 billion) fund to share the risks of new projects with private investors, two EU officials said. The new entity is designed to have an impact of about 15 times its size, making it the anchor of the EU’s €300 billion investment program, said the officials, who asked not to be named because the plans aren’t final. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is due to announce the three-year initiative this week. The commission will pledge as much as €16 billion in guarantees for the vehicle, which will also include €5 billion from the European Investment Bank, the officials said. Loans, lending guarantees and stakes in equity and debt will be part of its toolbox, with the goal to jumpstart private risk-taking so that stalled projects can get off the ground.
Juncker’s investment plan aims to combine EU resources and regulatory changes “to crowd in more private investment in order to make real investments a reality,” EU Vice President Jyrki Katainen said Nov. 14 in Bratislava. The plan is one element of the EU’s economic strategy and “not a magic wand with which we will be able to miraculously invest ourselves out of a difficult economic climate,” he said. Europe is struggling to spur economic growth as it emerges only slowly from waves of crisis. The 18-nation euro area is forecast to see growth of just 0.8% this year, according to EU forecasts, while the region’s unemployment rate of 11.5% masks rates of about 25% in Greece and in Spain. While the Juncker proposal involves seeding investment in infrastructure and other fields, the €21 billion sum with a proposed leverage rate of 15 times risks disappointing markets.
Mario Draghi is about to find out just how urgent his call for action has become. One week after the European Central Bank president vowed to revive inflation “as fast as possible,” policy makers will receive a glimpse on just how feeble cost pressures are now in the euro region. Economists forecast data on Nov. 28 will show consumer-price growth matching the weakest since 2009. That would add to the drumroll for a stimulus debate at the Dec. 4 meeting as panels of officials study possible new measures and prepare to cut their economic outlook. While Draghi has stoked pressure toward sovereign-bond buying, colleagues from Germany to the Netherlands are unconvinced quantitative easing is warranted, and his vice president suggested at the weekend that the ECB might hold off until next year. Spanish government bond yields fell today on speculation the ECB will start buy sovereign debt.
“The stakes are high and the risks are asymmetric,” said Frederik Ducrozet, an economist at Credit Agricole in Paris. “A drop in inflation, even a small one, could push the ECB to do something more in December. On the other hand if there is an upside surprise, that buys them time.” Inflation data for November are forecast to show a dip to 0.3% from 0.4%, while economic confidence is seen declining and October unemployment staying at 11.5%, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg News before those reports this week.
Food producers have become cannon fodder in the bitter supermarket price war, according to accountancy firm Moore Stephens, which found 28% more specialist manufacturers have gone into insolvency this year than last. In the year to September, 146 food producers went into insolvency, including wholesale bakeries, pasta makers, fish processors and ready meal manufacturers. In one of the larger cases, 170 jobs were lost when Sussex-based fresh pasta maker Pasta Reale went into administration in August after it lost three major supermarket contracts in a year. Duncan Swift, head of the food advisory group at Moore Stephens, said: “The supermarkets are going through the bloodiest price war in nearly two decades and are using food producers as the cannon fodder. UK supermarkets are trying to compete on price with Aldi and Lidl but with profit margins that are far higher than these discount chains.
“To try and make the maths work, the big supermarkets are putting food producers under so much pressure that we have seen a sharp increase in the number of producers failing.” The rise in insolvencies among food suppliers is in stark contrast to the 8% fall in liquidations in the economy as a whole over the same period. Swift said that because supermarket buyers’ bonuses were based on securing cash contributions from suppliers, they were being hit with “spurious deductions”, cancellations at short notice and threats to take them off the supplier list.
Highlighting contracts where suppliers contribute to supermarkets’ costs, he said: “Supplier contributions cause major cashflow problems for food producers and can tip them into insolvency. It’s a raw deal for food producers, who need the supermarkets to reach the public, but who can’t afford the terms of business that the supermarkets foist on them.” The extent of these contributions has come into the spotlight this year after Tesco admitted it had found a £263m black hole in its accounts relating to the way it booked payments from suppliers.
The days when OPEC members could all but guarantee consensus when deciding production levels for oil are long gone, according to a veteran of almost two decades of the group’s meetings. The global glut of crude, which has contributed to a 30% decline in prices since June 19, has left the organization disunited and dependent on non-members to shore up the market, said former Qatari Oil Minister Abdullah Bin Hamad Al Attiyah. The 12-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is scheduled to meet in Vienna on Nov. 27. “OPEC can’t balance the market alone,” Al Attiyah, who participated in the group’s policy meetings from 1992 to 2011, said in a Nov. 19 phone interview. “This time, Russia, Norway and Mexico must all come to the table. OPEC can make a cut, but what will happen is that non-OPEC supply will continue to grow. Then what will the market do?”
Russia is suffering losses at a rate of about $40 billion per year because of Western sanctions and $90-100 billion from the drop in the oil price, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said on Monday. The admission came on the same morning that a central bank official said that banking profits could be 10% lower in 2014, compared to the previous year. External markets are largely closed for Russian banks and companies, some of which – including top banks Sberbank and VTB – are under Western sanctions over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis. Banks’ profits and margins are also under pressure because they have to serve increased domestic demand for loans, while their sources of capital and liquidity are limited.
Even in the $100 trillion market for bonds worldwide, one of the most persistent dilemmas facing potential buyers is a dearth of supply. Demand for debt securities has surpassed issuance five times in the past seven years, according to data compiled by JPMorgan. The shortfall is set to continue into 2015, with the New York-based firm predicting demand globally will outstrip supply by $400 billion as central banks in Japan and Europe step up their own debt purchases. The mismatch helps to explain why bond yields worldwide have fallen by more than half since the financial crisis in 2008 to a record-low 1.51% in October, even as borrowing by governments, businesses and consumers added $30 trillion to the market for debt securities. Now, with a global economic slowdown threatening to hold back the U.S. recovery and few signs of inflation anywhere in the developed world, the shortage of bonds may temper the rise in yields forecasters project next year.
“It will keep global yields lower than they would be otherwise,” Chris Low, the New York-based chief economist at FTN Financial, said in a telephone interview on Nov. 19. The demand for bonds “reflects disappointing global growth and that’s been a consistent theme.” Potential bond buyers are poised to spend $2.4 trillion next year on a net basis, while borrowers will issue an estimated $2 trillion of debt, according to JPMorgan, the top-ranked firm for fixed-income research in the U.S. and Europe by Institutional Investor magazine. Since the end of 2007, JPMorgan estimates the potential bond demand has exceeded supply by more than $2.5 trillion, including a gap almost a half-trillion dollars this year. The Bank for International Settlements estimates the amount of bonds outstanding has surged more than 40% since 2007 as countries such as the U.S. increased deficits to pull their economies out of recession and companies locked in low-cost financing as central banks dropped interest rates. Even so, a shortfall emerged.
How to shoot yourself in the foot: tell banks they need more deposits, but enact low interest policies that drain them away. All part of the same brilliant plan. They had a visit from Krugman, didn’t they?
Sweden’s biggest banks could see deposits plunge as record-low interest rates prod households to start seeking higher returns elsewhere. Net deposit inflows declined to 4.4 billion kronor ($589 million) in the third quarter from 44.3 billion kronor the prior quarter, according to Statistics Sweden. While the period typically sees a seasonal decline, deposits were less than half the 10.2 billion kronor recorded a year earlier. While the financial crisis initially saw an influx of deposits into Nordea Bank and other Swedish lenders amid a flight to safety, record-low interest rates are now driving savers into riskier assets. Swedish bank depositors earn on average about 0.4%, while the country’s benchmark stock index has returned more than 8% this year. “We’ve never had such big savings in rates but they have now hit the floor and will return very little in the coming five to seven years,” Claes Hemberg, an economist at Avanza Bank, which offers online trading accounts as well as deposit accounts, said by phone Nov. 20.
“That knowledge hit home when the Riksbank cut rates to zero and it’s now obvious that there is nothing there to fetch. It’s a real U-turn.” The trend threatens to erode a cheap and stable funding source for banks just as regulators demand more. Swedes have about 60% to 65% of their savings in bank accounts or bonds and the rest in stocks, down from about 70% in 2000, according to Avanza. The shift comes amid a campaign by policy makers, including former Finance Minister Anders Borg, to urge banks to reduce their reliance on market funding and increase deposits. The Financial Stability Council, comprised of the Riksbank, the government, the debt office and the regulator, earlier this year said risks that need to be kept under surveillance include bank reliance on market funding in foreign currency.
The world is locked into 1.5°C global warming, posing severe risks to lives and livelihoods around the world, according to a new climate report commissioned by the World Bank. The report, which called on a large body of scientific evidence, found that global warming of close to 1.5°C above pre-industrial times – up from 0.8°C today – is already locked into Earth’s atmospheric system by past and predicted greenhouse gas emissions. Such an increase could have potentially catastrophic consequences for mankind, causing the global sea level to rise more than 30 centimeters by 2100, droughts to become more severe and placing almost 90% of coral reefs at risk of extinction. The World Bank called on scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics and asked them to look at the likely impacts of present day (0.8°C), 2°C and 4°C warming on agricultural production, water resources, cities and ecosystems across the world.
Their findings, collated in the Bank’s third report on climate change published on Monday, specifically looked at the risks climate change poses to lives and livelihoods across Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa. In the report entitled “Turndown the heat – Confronting the new climate normal,” scientists warned that even a seemingly slight rise in global warming could have dramatic effects on us all. “A world even 1.5°C [warmer] will mean more severe droughts and global sea level rise, increasing the risk of damage from storm surges and crop loss and raising the cost of adaptation for millions of people,” the report with multiple authors said. “These changes are already underway, with global temperatures 0.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, and the impact on food security, water supplies and livelihoods is just beginning.”