Jan 142019
 
 January 14, 2019  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ivan Aivazovsky Moonlight Reflecting On Water c1850

 

EU Preparing To Delay Brexit Until At Least July (G.)
Theresa May Says No Brexit More Likely Than No Deal (Ind.)
May: Failing To Deliver Brexit “Catastrophic” For British Democracy (AFP)
China Says Its 2018 Trade Surplus With US Was $323 Billion, Highest Ever (CNBC)
China Investment Into North America And Europe Falls 73% In 2018 (R.)
French Police Deploy Semi-Automatic Weapons, Live Ammunition vs Yellow Vests (DM)
Macron Blasted For Saying Many French Want ‘Something For Nothing’ (RT)
Macron Seeks To Turn ‘Anger Into Solutions’ In Open Letter To France (G.)
Trump: Report FBI Investigated Him As Possible Russian Agent Is Insulting (G.)
WaPo Recycles Russiagate Memes In Latest Gossip About Trump-Putin Collusion (RT)
Trump Taunts Jeff Bezos, Elizabeth Warren Amid New Russia Revelations (MW)
Trump Threatens To ‘Devastate Turkey Economically’ If It Attacks Kurds (RT)
Integrity Initiative: By All Means Smear & Attack, But Be Honest About It (RT)

 

 

It’s undeniably Brexit week starting today. And none of the chaos has abated. No matter what happens, one group or another will fight it.

EU Preparing To Delay Brexit Until At Least July (G.)

The EU is preparing to delay Brexit until at least July after concluding that Theresa May is doomed to fail in getting her deal through parliament. The country’s 29 March deadline for exiting the EU is now regarded by Brussels as highly unlikely to be met given the domestic opposition facing the prime minister and it is expecting a request from London to extend article 50 in the coming weeks. A special leaders’ summit to push back Brexit day is expected to be convened by the European council president, Donald Tusk, once a UK request is received. EU officials said the length of the prolongation of the negotiating period allowed under article 50 would be determined based on the reason put forward by May for the delay.

A “technical” extension until July is a probable first step to give May extra time to revise and ratify the current deal once Downing Street has a clear idea as to what will command a majority in the Commons. An EU official said: “Should the prime minister survive and inform us that she needs more time to win round parliament to a deal, a technical extension up to July will be offered.” Senior EU sources said that a further, lengthier extension could be offered at a later date should a general election or second referendum be called although the upcoming May elections for the European parliament would create complications. One EU diplomat said: “The first session of the parliament is in July. You would need UK MEPs there if the country is still a member state. But things are not black and white in the European Union.”

Read more …

And that’s her own doing.

Theresa May Says No Brexit More Likely Than No Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May will travel to the Leave stronghold of Stoke-on-Trent on the eve of the crucial vote to warn MPs that blocking her deal risks stopping Brexit altogether. The prime minister is expected to say that public faith in the democratic process and in politicians would suffer “catastrophic harm” if the referendum result is overruled. Addressing workers at a factory in Stoke, which voted 69.4 per cent in favour of Brexit, Ms May will argue on Monday that parliament has a duty to honour the decision of the British people. She is expected to say: “In June 2016, the British people were asked by MPs to take a decision: should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or should it leave?

“In that campaign, both sides disagreed on many things, but on one thing they were united: what the British people decided, the politicians would implement. “In the run-up to the vote, the government sent a leaflet to every household making the case for remain. It stated very clearly: ‘This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.’ “Those were the terms on which people cast their votes. If a majority had backed remain, the UK would have continued as an EU member state. “No doubt the disagreements would have continued too, but the vast majority of people would have had no truck with an argument that we should leave the EU in spite of a vote to remain or that we should return to the question in another referendum.

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I can do a shorter version of this headline: “May Catastrophic For British Democracy”.

May: Failing To Deliver Brexit “Catastrophic” For British Democracy (AFP)

Prime Minister Theresa May was on Monday to ramp up warnings to MPs poised to reject her EU divorce deal that failing to deliver Brexit would be “catastrophic” for British democracy. On the eve of Tuesday’s monumental vote in parliament on her withdrawal agreement – forged from 18 months of gruelling negotiations with European leaders – May is set to address factory workers in Stoke, a Brexit-backing city in central England. The embattled leader, who is widely expected to lose the House of Commons vote by a wide margin, will make a final bid for support by warning Brexit-supporting MPs that they risk sabotaging the whole process, and reminding EU supporters of their democratic responsibilities.

“We all have a duty to implement the result of the referendum,” she was to say, according to extracts released early. “I ask MPs to consider the consequences of their actions on the faith of the British people in our democracy,” May is expected to say, asking what the response would have been if parliament tried to take Britain out of the EU had Remain had won the 2016 vote. She is also set to later make a statement to parliament, setting out reassurances from Brussels over contentious aspects of the deal, although there appears little prospect of her unveiling anything with legal force. Leave-supporting MPs fear one provision in the deal for a “backstop”, designed to prevent a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, would keep Britain indefinitely tied into a form of EU customs union.

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Over 90% of China’s surplus now is with the US.

China Says Its 2018 Trade Surplus With US Was $323 Billion, Highest Ever (CNBC)

Despite U.S. President Donald Trump launching a high-stakes trade war against Beijing last year, China on Monday announced that its 2018 trade surplus with Washington was its largest in more than a decade. China’s surplus with the U.S. grew 17 percent from a year ago to hit $323.32 billion in 2018, according to government data. It was the highest on record dating back to 2006, according to Reuters. Exports to the U.S. rose 11.3 percent on-year in 2018, while imports from the U.S. to China rose a meager 0.7 percent over the same period. China’s overall trade surplus for 2018 was $351.76 billion, the government said. Exports in the whole of 2018 rose 9.9 percent from 2017 while imports grew 15.8 percent over the same period, official dollar-denominated data showed.

While the surplus with the U.S. may have risen, last year’s overall Chinese trade surplus was the lowest since 2013, even though export growth was the highest since 2011, according to Reuters’ records. China’s General Administration of Customs said on Monday that the biggest worry in trade this year is external uncertainty and protectionism, forecasting the country’s trade growth may slow in 2019. China’s overall December exports unexpectedly fell 4.4 percent from a year earlier, the biggest monthly drop in two years, the customs data showed on Monday. Imports also unexpectedly contracted in December — falling 7.6 percent, marking the biggest decline since July 2016.

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“Investment into the United States fell by 83 percent but, by contrast, grew by 80 percent into Canada. In Europe, despite an overall decline, Chinese FDI into countries like Germany, France and Spain also actually grew.”

China Investment Into North America And Europe Falls 73% In 2018 (R.)

Chinese foreign direct investment into North America and Europe fell by 73 percent to a six-year low last year as the United States tightened scrutiny of deals and Chinese restrictions on outbound investment bit, law firm Baker & McKenzie said. The figures reflected the impact of escalating trade and political friction between Washington and Beijing. After taking divestitures into account, net Chinese FDI flows into the United States actually turned negative. Investment into the United States fell by 83 percent but, by contrast, grew by 80 percent into Canada. In Europe, despite an overall decline, Chinese FDI into countries like Germany, France and Spain also actually grew.

Completed Chinese FDI deals in the two Western regions fell to $30 billion in 2018 from $111 billion the year before, Baker & McKenzie said in a report prepared with research firm Rhodium Group. Even after stripping out the effect of the $43 billion takeover of Syngenta by ChemChina in 2017, the underlying drop in deal volumes was 40 percent. Tougher regulatory scrutiny also led to the cancellation of 14 Chinese investment deals in North America, with a combined value of $4 billion, and seven in Europe worth $1.5 billion.

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They shouldn’t have done that.

French Police Deploy Semi-Automatic Weapons, Live Ammunition vs Yellow Vests (DM)

French riot police have deployed semi-automatic weapons with live ammunition against Yellow Vest protestors for the first time. Officers were filmed brandishing Heckler & Koch G36 weapons by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Saturday afternoon. The presence of semi-automatic rifles at a demonstration by unarmed French citizens shows how President Emmanuel Macron’s law and order crisis spirals. It comes after former conservative minister Luc Ferry called for live fire to be used against the ‘thugs’ from the Yellow Vest movement who he says ‘beat up police’. Riot police were on crowd control duty today facing off a mob of Gilet Jaunes or Yellow Vests – named after the bright high-visibility clothing.

Live ammunition 30 cartridge magazines could be seen as officers marched the streets, although none were used as 5000 police were deployed on the streets of the French capital. Yellow Vest protestor Gilles Caron said: ‘The CRS with the guns were wearing riot control helmets and body armour – they were not a specialised firearms unit. ‘Their job was simply to threaten us with lethal weapons in a manner which is very troubling. We deserve some explanations.’

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Everytime you think Macron made his worst error, he proves you wrong.

Macron Blasted For Saying Many French Want ‘Something For Nothing’ (RT)

President Emmanuel Macron criticized the citizens of France for not making enough effort, as the Yellow Vest protests against his economic policies entered their ninth week. The statement was met with fury. “Many of our citizens think that it’s possible to obtain something without proper effort,” he said on Friday. “Sometimes people forget that alongside rights there are also duties,” Macron declared. He also repeated this idea in reference to “French youth.” The president’s comments did not go over well with some politicians from both the left and right, who reacted with sarcasm and indignation. “At first I thought it was fake as the president should not pour fuel to the fire but it is so in fact,” Olivier Faure, one of the parliamentary leaders of the Socialist Party, tweeted.

Faure’s right-wing counterpart from the Gaullist Republican party, Laurent Wauquiez, also accused Macron of stoking tensions at such an inappropriate time. The chairman of the right-wing ‘Patriots’, Florian Philippot, came out with a no less fiery rejoinder. “No sense of effort from the nurses who toil, from the unemployed who slave away, from single mothers?” Philippot asked angrily. The nationalist politician also used Macron’s clumsy words as an opportunity to rally the troops for ‘Act 9’ of the Yellow Vest protests. [..] The Yellow Vests forced the government to suspend fuel tax hikes. However, the Macron administration has no intention of changing its overall policies.

Earlier in January, the president’s spokesman, Benjamin Griveaux, claimed that the protests are full of agitators who have the aim of “overthrowing the government.” French PM Edouard Philippe said this week that the Yellow Vest demonstrations are caused by people’s anger in “response to the global financial crisis” and the authorities failing to hear their concerns. On January 15, Macron will launch a three-month national debate to address the country’s burning issues. According to the French study center ELABE, around 41 percent of the people plan to participate in the debate. Meanwhile, ‘Angry France’, a group associated with the Yellow Vests, turned down Macron’s invitation to take part in the national debate, branding it a “political trap.”

Read more …

Macron’s police deploy semi-automatic weapons with live ammunition, he accuses the French people of being a bunch of lazy crybabies, and then he wants to force them into a ‘debate’ while saying he doesn’t intend to change his policies.

Macron Seeks To Turn ‘Anger Into Solutions’ In Open Letter To France (G.)

Emmanuel Macron has launched a two-month “great national debate” in France with a 2,330-word open letter to the country. The French president hopes the nationwide public consultation will take the sting out of the widespread public anger behind the rise of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement and the civil unrest across France. In the letter, Macron said he was open to ideas and suggestions but insisted the government would not go back on previous reforms or key measures in his 2017 election campaign. “No questions are banned,” Macron writes. “We won’t agree on everything, that’s normal, that’s democracy. But at least we’ll show that we are a people who are not afraid to speak, to exchange views and debate. And perhaps we’ll discover that we might even agree, despite our different persuasions, more often than we think.”

Macron has been rocked by the ferocity of almost two months of angry protests by gilets jaunes. On Saturday a ninth weekend of demonstrations took place across France. The letter, to be published in French newspapers on Monday, marks the start of a nationwide consultation in which citizens are invited to give their views on four central themes: taxation; the organisation of the state and its public administration; ecological transition; and citizenship and democracy. Macron’s missive asks a number of questions, including: what taxes should be reduced?; what spending cuts might be a priority?; is there too much administration?; how can the people be given a greater say in running the country? Macron said the proposals collected during the debate would build a new “contract for the nation”, influence political policymaking and establish France’s stance on national, European and international issues.

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We’re bumbling into full-in madness: “On Saturday night, Trump was asked by a Fox News host whether he had ever worked for Russia. “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” he said. He did not give a yes or no answer.”

Not answering a question like that is now held against Trump.

Trump: Report FBI Investigated Him As Possible Russian Agent Is Insulting (G.)

On Saturday night, Trump was asked by a Fox News host whether he had ever worked for Russia. “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” he said. He did not give a yes or no answer. As for his conversations with Putin, he said: “I’m not keeping anything under wraps, I couldn’t care less.” On Sunday, Democrats said the latest revelations raise serious questions about Trump’s relationship with Putin and Russia. “Why is he so chummy with Vladimir Putin – this man who is a former KGB agent, never been a friend to the United States, invaded our allies, threatens us around the world, and tries his damndest to undermine our elections?” Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said on ABC’s This Week. “Why is this President Trump’s best buddy? I don’t get it.”

Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said it was suspicious that Trump has “parroted” the policies of Putin. “I do think it’s curious that throughout that whole summer when these investigations started, you have Vladimir Putin policies almost being parroted by Donald Trump,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union. “You had Trump say only nice things about Putin – he never spoke ill about Russia. The Republican campaign doctrines softened on Russia and decreased their willingness to defend Ukraine.” Warner said the US government still does not know what took place in Trump’s meetings with Putin, including another in Helsinki last summer where Trump appeared to embrace Putin’s claim, rejected by US intelligence, that his country had nothing to do with an interference effort in the 2016 election.

[..] Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican senator and chair of the homeland security committee, said he had only heard “innuendo” about Trump’s interactions with Russia, not any evidence of improprieties. He said there were legitimate reasons to want to guard the president’s conversations with Putin. “This is not a traditional president,” he told CNN. “He has unorthodox means, but he is president of the United States. It is pretty much up to him in terms of who he wants to read into his conversations with world leaders. He was burned by leaks in other areas and he was pretty frustrated.”

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close ally of the president, was more forceful, telling Fox News Sunday: “I am going to ask the FBI director: ‘Was there a counterintelligence investigation opened up regarding the president as being a potential agent of the Russians?’ I find it astonishing. “If this really did happen, Congress needs to know about it. How could the FBI do that? What kinds of checks and balances are there?”

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“The super-secret meeting with Putin in Hamburg was also attended by then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson. Does this mean that Tillerson is also a deep-cover KGB agent? Tillerson even released a readout after the meeting – following completely standard, but apparently unsatisfactory protocol..”

The self-contradictory report goes on to explain how, as part of Trump’s obsession with ultra-secret Putin pow-wows, the president “generally has allowed aides to listen to his phone conversations” with the Russian leader.

WaPo Recycles Russiagate Memes In Latest Gossip About Trump-Putin Collusion (RT)

Donald Trump’s reluctance to provide unfettered access to his conversations with Vladimir Putin has upset nameless American officials, the Washington Post has revealed. The US president dismissed the story as absurd and offensive. According to the revered paper, Trump has “gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details” of his face-to-face conversations with Putin. During a meeting with the Russian leader in Hamburg in 2017, Trump even purportedly confiscated the notes of his own interpreter, who was then instructed not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials.

Various (and of course nameless) US officials have now apparently complained to the Washington Post about how they’ve been left in the dark about five conversations that Trump had with the Russian leader, colorfully described by the newspaper as “one of the United States’ main adversaries.” The story’s thinly veiled assumption is of course that Donald Trump has used his handful of private meetings with Putin to receive secret instructions from Moscow – impose new sanctions on Russia, bomb Syria, send lethal weapons to Ukraine, shred the Iran deal and missile treaties, and so forth. The creatively framed story suffers from a few other inconvenient plot holes. The super-secret meeting with Putin in Hamburg was also attended by then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson.

Does this mean that Tillerson is also a deep-cover KGB agent? Tillerson even released a readout after the meeting – following completely standard, but apparently unsatisfactory protocol. The self-contradictory report goes on to explain how, as part of Trump’s obsession with ultra-secret Putin pow-wows, the president “generally has allowed aides to listen to his phone conversations” with the Russian leader. Trump “allies” interviewed by the Post said that the president’s caution when it comes to meeting with Putin may be “driven by embarrassing leaks that occurred early in his presidency.” This theory is of course way less fun than the airtight idea that Trump is actually a Russian agent – that’s why WaPo only gave it one sentence.

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“Leading, your honor”. He didn’t ‘dodge’ answering the question, he simply didn’t answer it.

Trump Taunts Jeff Bezos, Elizabeth Warren Amid New Russia Revelations (MW)

As questions about his relationship with Russia continue to swirl, President Donald Trump spent his Sunday night lashing out at perceived enemies, taunting Washington Post owner -and Amazon CEO- Jeff Bezos over his divorce and mocking Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage. “So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post,” Trump tweeted. A little background: On Saturday, the Post reported that Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal notes and transcripts of his one-on-one meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Post noted that withholding details of those potentially important meetings was prevented “even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.” (Separately, the New York Times reported Friday that the FBI opened an investigation into whether Trump was working for Russia after he fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017. In an telephone interview with Fox News on Saturday, Trump was asked if he has ever worked for Russia, but dodged answering the question.)

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What if the Americans who want to stay in Syria provoke Turkish attacks on Kurds?

Trump Threatens To ‘Devastate Turkey Economically’ If It Attacks Kurds (RT)

Donald Trump has warned its NATO ally to beware of the devastative wrath of US economic pressure if Turkey dares to attack the Kurdish allies America is leaving behind in its “long overdue” pull-out of troops from Syria. The US military, Trump promised, will still use an “existing nearby base,” apparently in Iraq, to attack the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants if the terrorist organization re-emerges in Syria. Using his typical mode of communication to reaffirm the withdrawal of American troops from the ground, the US president warned Ankara against seeing this as an opportunity to stage any military campaign against Syrian Kurds. “Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,” Trump tweeted, urging Ankara to create a “20-mile safe zone.”

At the same time, Trump urged the Kurd-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which the US trained and armed for years, not to “provoke” Turkey. In an apparent gesture to save face, following a questionable outcome of four years of uninvited American presence in Syria and an abrupt withdrawal, Trump has once-again credited the US military for destroying IS, disregarding the fact that most of the country was liberated from terrorists by the Syrian army, with the help of the Russian military. “Russia, Iran and Syria have been the biggest beneficiaries of the long term US policy of destroying ISIS in Syria – natural enemies. We also benefit but it is now time to bring our troops back home. Stop the ENDLESS WARS!” Trump tweeted.

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The way Brexit is manhandled is not even the UK’s deepest low.

“..pushing conspiracies about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s links to the Kremlin. That’s not a good look for an organization which receives cash from the Foreign Office.”

Integrity Initiative: By All Means Smear & Attack, But Be Honest About It (RT)

We’ve all met those people who describe themselves as laid back, when in reality they’re just one loud noise from a mouth frothing breakdown. So when something describes itself as having integrity, be wary. Enter the Integrity Initiative (II), Britain’s very own government funded influence network which is currently in the process of having its underpants revealed to the world. There’s no doubting it’s an initiative, the jury’s out on the other bit. Some of the people behind it are alleged former spies (can you be a former spy?), a calling not often linked to integrity. There’s a good chance you may not know much about the Integrity Initiative, the mainstream media is not exactly straining to tell you about it.

Labour MP Chris Williamson suggests that’s because a number of mainstream journalists have signed up to work with it. The only time II briefly attracted the attention of the mainstream world was when it became clear it had been pushing conspiracies about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s links to the Kremlin. That’s not a good look for an organization which receives cash from the Foreign Office. It describes itself as non-partisan, but then as we’ve discussed, it also has “Integrity” in the title. Maybe it can get away with it, always worth a try I suppose. It also claims to be “combating propaganda and disinformation,” but as you’ll see for yourself on its Twitter account, it’s simply a stream of invective and criticism about Russia. If you want to spend cash smearing an entire nation, fine, fill your boots, but don’t then act all moral about it.

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Oct 172018
 
 October 17, 2018  Posted by at 1:51 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Pandora’s box 1951

 

They can’t help themselves even as they hurt themselves. Look guys, chill! I saw someone imply on Twitter that Donald Trump is an accomplice in a murder cover-up. This person knows as well as all the ones who liked the tweet that they all just don’t know. They don’t know exactly what Trump knows about the chilling Khashoggi execution.

Just like they don’t know exactly what happened in the consulate. Information from anonymous Turkish sources is dripping through drop by drop, and it looks terrible -and terribly graphic-, but the conclusion that Trump wants to cover up a murder is multiple tokes over the line.

The Saudi attempt at labeling the execution a kidnapping gone wrong is out the window if only a tenth of the Turkish sources’ claims is true. What emerges is a picture of premeditated torture and murder. And one that was ordered by someone in the royal family. Which can really only be one of two people: the King or his son, MbS, and the latter seems more suspect. But what any of it has to do with Trump remains to be seen,

He’s not liking the whole thing one bit, that’s for sure. If only because whatever America does vis a vis the Saudi’s is now ultimately his call. While the strong link between the two countries was established decades ago, and would be very hard to untangle, if it comes to that. See, I can write Ban Saudi Oil, as I did last week, but I also realize how extensive the consequences for the US economy would be if such a thing were considered.

Not a decision you take lightly. Trump for instance knows full well what would happen to his standing and popularity if gas prices were to double or triple overnight. Is that a reason to let the Saudi’s get away with murder? No, but it is a reason to be circumspect, and to demand solid evidence. Doing that doesn’t make anyone an accomplice to a murder cover-up.

Moreover, the dependence on Saudi oil and the petrodollar arrangement is just one facet of what has driven US Middle East policy since WWII -and arguably before-, shaped by governments from both parties in Washington, and driven by very powerful intelligence agencies -both American and foreign- as well as the military-industrial complex.

You can’t blame that all on one man. Not Khashoggi, nor the ‘war’ in Yemen, or any of the bloodshed that has occurred before he became president. And you can’t expect him to end it all on a rainy afternoon either. If he would be inclined to do so. Since no president before him has been, you’d only be criticizing him for continuing established policy.

Every US president for many years has been an accomplice to murder, not just a cover-up, in Saudi Arabia, where women and gays and everyone else the House of Saud didn’t like end up without their heads attached to their torso. It’s how we get cheap oil, how we have built our societies and communities into what they are at present. Good design? Hell no. But it is what it is.

 

Still, allegations like the murder cover-up one keep coming. The reason is, as I’ve written many times now, that it makes the media money. Being anti-Trump sells. It has given us the Russiagate narrative, the Mueller investigation and tons of other stories that don’t go anywhere. Because it doesn’t matter if they are true, what counts is that they sell newspapers and TV commercials.

And there are some in the media, and certainly many in the anti-Trump echochamber, who still dream of impeaching him. But, as I said before, that doesn’t include the owners of papers and TV channels. They’ve never had a single person bring in sales like this, and it has saved many of their assets. All they need to do is twist everything that happens into something Trump can be blamed for.

That the Democratic Party is the main victim of this doesn’t seem to occur to anyone, really. Or maybe only Trump himself. Three weeks before the midterms, his detractors handed him another two main victories, free of charge. And one can’t help thinking: don’t you guys see what you’re doing?

A lawsuit filed by Michael Avenatti on behalf of Stormy Daniels, about a Trump tweet no less, was thrown out by a judge. The Senate a few weeks back refused to even talk to Avenatti’s other client, Julie Swetnick, in the Kavanaugh hearings, who had come up with a story about coordinated gang rape.

Avenatti has proven incredibly toxic to the Democrats, and they don’t appear to realize it. But he’s nothing compared to Elizabeth Warren, who all but folded her political career this week, after media -reluctantly- reported that the DNA test she wanted Trump to pay a million bucks over, showed she’s less Cherokee than 90-odd percent of white Americans. Liz, why, how, what were you thinking?

 

Guys, chill! You have elections coming up. Don’t hand it to the guy on a platter, let him at least exert some effort. The Democrats apparently still think they’re going to win the elections, that their echochamber tactics will turn people against Trump. In reality, they’re only talking, shouting, to themselves, and to people who already see things the same way they do anyway.

How many Democrats have you seen declaring that the US should stop selling weapons to the Saudi’s, should tell them to stop starving millions of Yemeni children, should cut off all communication until the truth about Khashoggi is revealed? Me neither. Their identity is no different from Trump, other than on minor issues, the only identity they have is they’re against him. And that’s the same as having none.

While there are so many issues that people should really go after Trump for, all that we see are fake narratives about Russian collusion, which, as I’ve explained, we now know are false because Mueller hasn’t reported anything, and if he had any proof he would have to reveal it because he couldn’t sit on evidence about a president colluding with a foreign power for even one day.

Which is perhaps why, though the timing is strange with the midterms in less than three weeks, two of the strongest anti-Trump media, the Washington Post and the BBC, came out with pieces in the past 24 hours that hesitantly say a few positive things about Trump, albeit clad in inevitable smears and accusations.

The WaPo:

 

Trump Could Be The Most Honest President In Modern US History

Donald Trump may be remembered as the most honest president in modern American history. Don’t get me wrong, Trump lies all the time. He said that he “enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history” (actually they are the eighth largest) and that “our economy is the strongest it’s ever been in the history of our country” (which may one day be true, but not yet).

In part, it’s a New York thing – everything is the biggest and the best. But when it comes to the real barometer of presidential truthfulness – keeping his promises – Trump is a paragon of honesty. For better or worse, since taking office Trump has done exactly what he promised he would do.

 

And the BBC:

 

Is This The Most Successful Month Of The Trump Presidency?

These days there seems to be even more of a swagger as Donald Trump strides across the South Lawn to board his green-liveried helicopter, Marine One. Those campaign-style rallies, which have become such a marked feature of his presidency, have even more of a celebratory charge. The president seems more willing to answer reporters’ questions, partly because there is a better story to tell.

Last week he also sat for the first 60 Minutes interview of his presidency, which aired on Sunday night. The veteran CBS presenter Lesley Stahl, who conducted this cross-examination, was struck by his self-assurance. “Right now,” she said afterwards, “he’s so much more confident. He is truly president. And you felt it. I felt it in this interview.”

 

If you didn’t know better, you’d think they’re trying to boost the guy ahead of the elections. Me, I’m wondering why such media don’t harp every single day on the ongoing issue of family separation. And keep at it till every American -and Brit- talks about it. Instead, their biggest story this week has been that Pocahontas was of 1/1024th Native American descent. Or something in that vein.

As for Khashoggi, that story appears to have taken on a life of its own, drip-fed by Erdogan at first, but it seems to have reached a point where even if Erdogan gets what he wanted and cuts the drip, it won’t stop. It’s been a weird dynamic, how one man’s fate is more important than that of millions of others.

Where did that come from? Someone powerful seeing an opportunity to get rid of MbS? Still find it hard to gauge. It doesn’t look as if MbS can be maintained in his position by his father. Too much bad publicity, too much at risk financially. And it would be convenient if Trump and King Salman would agree to push him aside, put all the blame on him, and see if that satisfies the media and public.

But the King may still try and go for broke. And his son may also have usurped too much power for the dad to order him gone. But that would mean a major headache for Trump. How about if either the king or the prince decide to gamble and threaten to end the petrodollar? What would the echochamber suggest Trump does then?

 

 

Aug 162018
 
 August 16, 2018  Posted by at 8:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vasily Polenov Moscow courtyard 1878

 

Turkish Lira Rallies As Qatar Makes $15bn Loan Pledge (G.)
Turkey Slashes Capacity Of Banks To Bet Against Struggling Lira (CNBC)
Turkey Joins Russia In Liquidating US Treasuries (ZH)
Turkey Wants Its Share Of Syria’s Reconstruction (AlM)
Italy, Not Turkey, Is The Biggest Threat To European Banks (CNBC)
RBS Bankers Joked About Destroying The US Housing Market (G.)
Elizabeth Warren Unveils Bold New Plan To Reshape American Capitalism (G.)
Our “Prosperity” Is Now Dependent on Predatory Globalization (CHS)
EU Rebuffs Idea Of Escalating Brexit Talks To Leaders’ Summit (G.)
Trump Strikes Back at ‘Ringleader’ Brennan (Ray McGovern)
Trump Is Right: America Was ‘Built On Tariffs’ (MW)
Rand Paul Thinks Julian Assange Should Be Granted Immunity for Testimony (GP)
Australia’s Record Household Debt Is A Ticking Time Bomb (ZH)
SEC Serves Tesla With Subpoena (CNBC)
Monsanto’s Roundup Found In Wide Range Of Cereals Aimed At Children (G.)

 

 

$15 billion is chump change.

Turkish Lira Rallies As Qatar Makes $15bn Loan Pledge (G.)

Turkey’s beleagured currency has bounced back from record lows after Qatar pledged to shore up the banking sector’s shaky finances with loans worth $15bn. A week after a diplomatic spat with the US sent the lira into a tailspin, the agreement with Qatar was calculated to help Turkey avoid having to ask the IMF for emergency funding. Officials in Ankara said the Qatari money would be “channeled into Turkey’s financial markets and banks”, with the implication that the investment would be enough to head off a banking collapse. However, while the investment gave the Turkish lira much-needed respite, the US president Donald Trump’s announcement of further trade sanctions against Ankara, along with concerns about the rising value of the dollar and weak profits in Chinese tech firms, sent global financial markets into reverse.

[..] Mohamed A El-Erian, the chief economic adviser at the German insurer Allianz, tweeted that Erdogan’s policies, including the Qatari investment, would act like sticking plaster, leaving the possibility open for an IMF rescue. He said: “This is part of the Turkish government’s strategy to avoid the IMF by finding alternative external support. To be a sustainable stabilizer, funding needs to be larger and reach the central bank.” However, the lira rallied by 6% after the Qatari pledge and a separate move by Turkey’s central bank to boost the finances of the country’s banks. In an effort to defend the lira, Turkey’s central bank tightened its rules on currency swaps and other foreign exchange transactions, limiting the ability of banks to supply lira to foreign financial companies.

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It’s hardly ever a good sign when short sellers are curtailed. Question is why are they shorting?

Turkey Slashes Capacity Of Banks To Bet Against Struggling Lira (CNBC)

Action by Turkey’s banking regulator has stymied investor ability to buy and short the lira, helping the currency to gain value in overnight trade. The Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BRSA) has reduced the amount of swap market contracts that offshore banks can undertake, reducing their access to the beleaguered currency. A swap is where on flow of cash income, usually a fixed or steady rate, is swapped for a typically riskier flow of income. The derivative contract is set for a fixed period. The BRSA has stipulated that banks now cannot run swap contracts for no more than 25% of the equity that they hold. The figure was previously 50%.

BlueBay Asset Management strategist Timothy Ash said in a note Wednesday that Turkey’s central bankers had finally taken action to restrict international access to lira. “They are killing offshore TRY (lira) liquidity to stop foreigners shorting the lira,” he said before adding “why did they not do all this much earlier?” [..] This year the dollar has gained more than 60% in value versus the lira, and the Turkish currency has become the world’s worst performer this year.

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Maybe Turkey simply needs the money?!

Turkey Joins Russia In Liquidating US Treasuries (ZH)

Last month, when we reported that Russia had liquidated the bulk of its US Treasury holdings in just two months, we said that “we can’t help but wonder – as the Yuan-denominated oil futures were launched, trade wars were threatened, and as more sanctions were unleashed on Russia – if this wasn’t a dress-rehearsal, carefully coordinated with Beijing to field test what would happen if/when China also starts to liquidate its own Treasury holdings.” As it turns out, Russia did lead the way, but not for China. Instead, another recent US foreign nemesis, Turkey, was set to follow in Putin’s footsteps of “diversifying away from the dollar”, and in the June Treasury International Capital, Turkey completely dropped off the list of major holders of US Treasurys, which has a $30 billion floor to be classified as a “major holder.”

According to the US Treasury, Turkey’s holdings of bonds, bills and notes tumbled by 52% since the end of 2017, dropping to $28.8 billion in June from $32.6 billion in May and $61.2 billion at the recent high of November of 2016. [..] The selloffs took place well before a diplomatic fallout between the US and both Turkey and Russia resulted in new sets of sanctions and tariffs imposed on both nations. The Trump administration last week imposed new sanctions against Russia in response to the nerve agent poisoning in the U.K. of a former Russian spy and his daughter. Meanwhile, the Turkish selloff certainly continued into July and August as U.S. relations with Turkey deteriorated this week

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It‘s in Putin’s hands.

Turkey Wants Its Share Of Syria’s Reconstruction (AlM)

Although Turkey publicly appears to sustain its anti-Bashar al-Assad stance on Syria, it is actually getting ready for a new Syria that will allow Assad to stay on as the country’s president. While a termination of the de facto Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria seems to be the first precondition for a possible normalization between Ankara and Damascus, there is another unspoken condition as well: the allotment of a share in Syria’s reconstruction. Naturally, the Assad administration does not have the intention to allot any share to Turkey, which is accused of supporting anti-regime military groups that have destroyed the country and looted Aleppo’s industrial zones. However, Turkey’s control of a sizable territory in northern Syria and its cooperation with Russia make it difficult for Damascus to exclude Turkey from these calculations.

Turkey’s influence over opposition groups that could have a bearing on the Geneva process can not be dismissed. Turkey has been able to preserve its most important trading partner position with Syria despite the seven-year-old conflict. Its geographical proximity to Syria, logistical superiority and advanced capacity of its construction sector encourages Turkey to obtain a substantial part in the reconstruction process. Moreover, Turkey is currently organizing local entities in al-Bab, Jarablus, Azaz, Cobanbey and Afrin that are de facto under its control. It is also setting up systems for security, education, religion and even issuing ID cards to residents. In addition it has started building a road network.

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“The issues in Italy… in the next three months are going to dictate the whole European banking narrative for the next three to five years,”

Italy, Not Turkey, Is The Biggest Threat To European Banks (CNBC)

The European Central Bank (ECB) was reported Friday to be concerned that the ongoing currency crisis in Turkey could result in problems for the continent’s banks. However, the real problem for Europe’s banking industry is Italy and what happens in that country in the coming months, an analyst said Tuesday. “The issues in Italy… in the next three months are going to dictate the whole European banking narrative for the next three to five years,” Tom Kinmonth, fixed income strategist at ABN Amro, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.” Italy’s economy is the third largest in the European Union and the country’s new coalition government is currently working on next year’s budget.

Its financial plan will be closely scrutinized by European authorities and, more importantly, by market players, following promises to increase public spending. Investors are wary of rises in pensions and state benefits, given that Italy already has a significantly high public debt pile — the second largest in the euro zone, at about 130% of GDP. If market players do not approve of the next budget, due around October, then borrowing costs for Italy are likely to go up, which in turn could affect neighboring European countries. It could also create problems for certain European banks that hold Italian debt.

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And they’re still in business.

RBS Bankers Joked About Destroying The US Housing Market (G.)

RBS bankers joked about destroying the US housing market after making millions by trading loans that staff described as “total fucking garbage”, according to transcripts released as part of a $4.9bn (£3.8bn) settlement with US prosecutors. Details of internal conversations at the bank emerged just weeks before the 10-year anniversary of the financial crisis, which saw RBS rescued with a £45bn bailout from the UK government. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) criticised RBS over its trade in residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS) – financial instruments underwritten by risky home loans that are cited as pivotal in the global banking crash. It said the bank made “false and misleading representations” to investors in order to sell more of the RMBS, which are forecast to result in losses of $55bn to investors.

Transcripts published alongside the settlement reveal the attitude among senior bankers at RBS towards some of the products they sold. The bank’s chief credit officer in the US referred to selling investors products backed by “total fucking garbage” loans with “fraud [that] was so rampant … [and] all random”. He added that “the loans are all disguised to, you know, look okay kind of … in a data file.” The DoJ said senior RBS executives “showed little regard for their misconduct and, internally, made light of it”. In one exchange, as the extent of the contagion in the banking industry was becoming clear, RBS’ head trader received a call from a friend who said: “[I’m] sure your parents never imagine[d] they’d raise a son who [would] destroy the housing market in the richest nation on the planet.” He responded: “I take exception to the word ‘destroy.’ I am more comfortable with ‘severely damage.’”

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No chance until the whole thing collapses.

Elizabeth Warren Unveils Bold New Plan To Reshape American Capitalism (G.)

Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator tipped as a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, has unveiled new plans for legislation aimed at reining in big corporations, redistributing wealth, and giving workers and local communities a bigger say. Warren will introduce the bill dubbed the Accountable Capitalism Act on Wednesday. The proposal aims to alter a model she says has caused corporations to chase profits for shareholders to the detriment of workers. Under the legislation, corporations with more than $1bn in annual revenue would be required to obtain a corporate charter from the federal government – and the document would mandate that companies not just consider the financial interests of shareholders.

Instead, businesses would have to consider all major corporate stakeholders – which could include workers, customers, and the cities and towns where those corporations operate. Anyone who owns shares in the company could sue if they believed corporate directors were not meeting their obligations. Employees at large corporations would be able to elect at least 40% of the board of directors. An estimated 3,500 public US companies and hundreds of other private companies would be covered by the mandates. [..] Large companies dedicated 93% of their earnings to shareholders between 2007 and 2016 – a shift from the early 1980s, when they sent less than half their revenue to shareholders and spent the rest on employees and other priorities, Warren said.

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Here’s what Warren wants to change.

Our “Prosperity” Is Now Dependent on Predatory Globalization (CHS)

So here’s the story explaining why “free” trade and globalization create so much wonderful prosperity for all of us: I find a nation with cheap labor and no environmental laws anxious to give me cheap land and tax credits, so I move my factory from my high-cost, highly regulated nation to the low-cost nation, and keep all the profits I reap from the move for myself. Yea for free trade, I’m now far wealthier than I was before. That’s the story. Feel better about “free” trade and globalization now? Oh wait a minute, there’s something missing–the part about “prosperity for all of us.” Here’s labor’s share of U.S. GDP, which includes imports and exports, i.e. trade:

Notice how labor’s share of the economy tanked once globalization / offshoring kicked into high gear? Now let’s see what happened to corporate profits at that same point in time:

Imagine that–corporate profits skyrocketed once globalization / offshoring kicked into high gear. Explain that part about “makes us all prosperous” again, because there’s no data to support that narrative. What’s interesting about all this is the way that politicians are openly threatening voters with recession if they vote against globalization. In other words, whatever “prosperity” is still being distributed to the bottom 80% is now dependent on a predatory version of globalization.

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Britain simply refuses to understand what the EU is. May can only get what she wants if the EU bends itself out of shape. Not going to happen.

EU Rebuffs Idea Of Escalating Brexit Talks To Leaders’ Summit (G.)

European officials have poured cold water on hopes that Theresa May could negotiate Brexit with other EU leaders in September to break the deadlock over Britain’s departure. Diplomatic sources have rejected suggestions that May could hold direct talks on Brexit with the 27 other EU heads of state and government at a summit in Salzburg next month. “That is completely ridiculous, that is complete overspin of Salzburg,” one senior source told the Guardian. “It would mean that we would ditch our negotiating approach of the last two years and discuss at 28 instead of 27 to one, and I don’t see why this would happen.” Brexit talks are due to resume in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, the start of a new intense phase of negotiations, with the aim of reaching a deal in the autumn.

Since the referendum, the EU has insisted that all formal talks are led by the chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. May is allowed to update EU leaders on her plans at quarterly EU summits but is not in the room for discussions. Officials expect this approach to be continued at Salzburg, an informal summit on 20 September officially dedicated to migration. The meeting has been organised by Austria, which currently holds the EU rotating presidency, but it will be for the European council president, Donald Tusk, to decide whether to add Brexit to the agenda. The Salzburg gathering comes four weeks before an EU summit in Brussels, pencilled in by Barnier as the moment to strike a deal. Many in Brussels expect the deadline to slip to November or even December, squeezing the time available to ratify the text ahead of the UK’s departure on 29 March 2019.

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The view of a CIA veteran.

Trump Strikes Back at ‘Ringleader’ Brennan (Ray McGovern)

There’s more than meets the eye to President Donald Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearances that ex-CIA Director John Brennan enjoyed as a courtesy customarily afforded former directors. The President’s move is the second major sign that Brennan is about to be hoist on his own petard. It is one embroidered with rhetoric charging Trump with treason and, far more important, with documents now in the hands of congressional investigators showing Brennan’s ringleader role in the so-far unsuccessful attempts to derail Trump both before and after the 2016 election.

Brennan will fight hard to avoid being put on trial but will need united support from from his Deep State co-conspirators — a dubious proposition. One of Brennan’s major concerns at this point has to be whether the “honor-among-thieves” ethos will prevail, or whether some or all of his former partners in crime will latch onto the opportunity to “confess” to investigators: “Brennan made me do it.” Well before Monday night, when Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani let a small bomb drop on Brennan, there was strong evidence that Brennan had been quarterbacking illegal operations against Trump. Giuliani added fuel to the fire when he told Sean Hannity of Fox news:

“I’m going to tell you who orchestrated, who was the quarterback for all this … The guy running it is Brennan, and he should be in front of a grand jury. Brennan took … a dossier that, unless he’s the biggest idiot intelligence agent that ever lived … it’s false; you can look at it and laugh at it. And he peddled it to [then Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, and that led to the request for the investigation. So you take a false dossier, get Senators involved, and you get a couple of Republican Senators, and they demand an investigation — a totally phony investigation.”

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History lessons always good.

Trump Is Right: America Was ‘Built On Tariffs’ (MW)

President Trump defended his use of tariffs to force other countries to renegotiate “unfair” trade deals by claiming that “our country was built on tariffs.” He’s right. America was a staunchly protectionist country for most of its history before World War II. One of the very first bills new President George Washington signed, for instance, was the Tariff Act of 1789. He inked the bill on July 4 of that year. The tariff of 1789 was designed to raise money for the new federal government, slash Revolutionary War debt and protect early-stage American industries from foreign competition. Then, as now, some industries sought protection in Congress from a flood of imports. Most goods entering the U.S. were subjected to a 5% tariff, though in a few cases the rates ranged as high as 50%.

It was the first of many tariffs that Congress passed over a century and a half. They generated the vast majority of the federal government’s revenue until the U.S. adopted an income tax in 1913. Tariffs have always been a source of controversy, however, starting with that very first one. Early on, the North preferred higher tariffs to protect infant American industries such as textiles from established English manufacturers. Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first Treasury secretary, feared the U.S. would remain a weakling unless it built its own industries and became economically independent of the mother country. Over time the arguments on behalf of protectionism became closely tied to the emerging Republican party.

“Give us a protective tariff and we will have the greatest nation on earth,” a young politician named Abraham Lincoln said in 1847. Later, as the country’s 16th president, Lincoln rejected free trade and jacked up tariffs during the Civil War to pay for the North’s military campaigns.

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Paul has already topped the Iran regime change cabal. Let’s hope he gets his way again. Assange can be a very important Russiagate witness.

Rand Paul Thinks Julian Assange Should Be Granted Immunity for Testimony (GP)

Senator Rand Paul believes that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be given immunity in exchange for him testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Speaking to the Gateway Pundit, Senator Paul asserted that Assange likely has important information about the hack and that it’s unlikely he would agree to testify without immunity. “I think that he should be given immunity from prosecution in exchange for coming to the United States and testifying,” Senator Paul told the Gateway Pundit. “I think he’s been someone who has released a lot of information, and you can debate whether or not any of that has caused harm, but I think really he has information that is probably pertinent to the hacking of the Democratic emails that would be nice to hear.” “It’s probably unlikely to happen unless he is given some type of immunity from prosecution,” Senator Paul added.

[..] Christine Assange, Julian’s mother, has a list of things that she would like to see happen before her son agrees to testify. She told the Gateway Pundit that her wishes include an end to the WikiLeaks grand jury, a dismissal of charges against all WikiLeaks staff, safe passage for him to a nation where he can receive medical care and an agreement that there will be no future US extradition requests. She would also like to see the testimony conducted publicly through Skype.

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Household debt. Mortal enemy no. 1. Check it where you live.

Australia’s Record Household Debt Is A Ticking Time Bomb (ZH)

The Australian household debt to income ratio has ballooned to shocking levels over the past three decades as Sydney is ranked as one of the most overvalued cities in the world. According to the Daily Mail Australia, credit card bills, home mortgages, and personal loans now account for 189% of an average Australian household income, compared with just 60% in 1988, as Callus Thomas, Head of Research of Topdown Charts, demonstrates that record high household debt is a ticking time bomb. The average Australian credit card bill is roughly $3,272.70 as average income earners spend at least $2,000 a month on mortgage repayments, which has contributed to the affordability crisis, said the Daily Mail Australia.

The average Australian holds about a $400,000 mortgage after they put down 20% deposit for a $500,000 property. The paper notes that the loan would barely buy a one-bedroom unit in most outer suburbs, as full-time workers take in about $82,000 salary per annum and spend an alarming 40% on mortgage repayments. With household debt at crisis levels, CoreLogic said Australian home prices experienced their sharpest monthly drops in July since late 2011 as declines gathered momentum in Sydney and Melbourne (Sydney and Melbourne cover about 60% of Australia’s housing market by value and 40% by number). Nationally, the index of home prices dropped .60% in July from June, leading to an annual fall of 1.6%.

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The board may have to get rid of Musk. But what is Tesla without him?

SEC Serves Tesla With Subpoena (CNBC)

The Securities and Exchange Commisison has served Tesla with a subpoena after CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he was considering taking the company private and that he had the necessary funding lined up, according to reports from The New York Times and other outlets published Wednesday. Earlier reports said the SEC had intensified scrutiny of the automaker after the controversial tweet. A subpoena would be one of the first steps in a formal inquiry. Shares of Tesla were down 3% in afternoon trading, though they moved only a fraction of 1% following the Times article.

Musk publicly floated the possibility of taking the company private in a tweet that sent shares seesawing and company leadership scrambling. His statement that he had the “funding secured” came under particular scrutiny, as it may have violated an SEC rule that essentially stipulates public statements made by company executives must be true. Musk explained earlier this week that the Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund had expressed interest in taking Tesla private.

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Will this get the EU to move?

Monsanto’s Roundup Found In Wide Range Of Cereals Aimed At Children (G.)

Significant levels of the weedkilling chemical glyphosate have been found in an array of popular breakfast cereals, oats and snack bars marketed to US children, a new study has found. Tests revealed glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular weedkiller brand Roundup, present in all but two of the 45 oat-derived products that were sampled by the Environmental Working Group, a public health organization. Nearly three in four of the products exceeded what the EWG classes safe for children to consume. Products with some of the highest levels of glyphosate include granola, oats and snack bars made by leading industry names Quaker, Kellogg’s and General Mills, which makes Cheerios.

One sample of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats measured at more than 1,000 parts per billion of glyphosate. The Environmental Protection Agency has a range of safe levels for glyphosate on crops such as corn, soybeans, grains and some fruits, spanning 0.1 to 310 parts per million. “I grew up eating Cheerios and Quaker Oats long before they were tainted with glyphosate,” said EWG’s president, Ken Cook. “No one wants to eat a weedkiller for breakfast, and no one should have to do so.” Cook said EWG will urge the EPA to limit the use of glyphosate on food crops but said companies should “step up” because of the “lawless” nature of the regulator under the Trump administration.

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Apr 012018
 
 April 1, 2018  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn Christ and St Mary Magdalene at the Tomb 1638

 

US Homes Become ATMs Again (MW)
The Housing Crisis – There’s Nothing We Can Do… Or Is There? (Steve Keen)
Fear is Back (MW)
The S&P’s 200-DMA: Why It Ain’t No Maginot Line (Stockman)
Trump Renews Amazon Attack, Says ‘Post Office Scam’ Must Stop (BBG)
Senator Warren, In Beijing, Says US Is Waking Up To Chinese Abuses (R.)
Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Greece Is A Debtors’ Prison’ (G.)
Emmanuel Macron On France’s AI Strategy (Wired)
Conservationists Call For Urgent Action To Fix ‘America’s Wildlife Crisis’ (G.)
More Poachers Than Rhinos Killed In India Reserve (BBC)

 

 

There’s nonsense and then there’s nonsense. Staying in your home is now a “huge expansion of retirement options”: “We’ve seen a huge expansion of the types of retirement options people have. One is aging in place and retrofitting your house.”

US Homes Become ATMs Again (MW)

As interest rates rise, fewer households refinance their mortgages. And the refinances that do get done are often very different than those initiated during low-rate periods. “When rates are low, the primary goal of refinancing is to reduce the monthly payment,” wrote researchers for the Urban Institute in a recent report. “But when rates are high, borrowers have no incentive to refinance for rate reasons. Those who still refinance tend to be driven more by their desire to cash out.” “Cashing out” is shorthand for taking out a new mortgage that’s bigger than the remaining balance on the old one and using the money that makes up the difference for discretionary purchases.

As of the fourth quarter of last year, the share of all refinances that were cash-outs rose to the highest since 2008, according to Freddie Mac data. Rates have churned higher since the presidential election in late 2016, though they spent much of 2017 reversing the immediate post-election surge. It’s not clear whether the overall volume of cash-out refinances is rising. Right now they’re making up a bigger share of the pie because traditional lower-monthly-payment refis are plunging. Tapping into home equity is often a good way for owners to consolidate or manage other, more expensive, forms of debt like high-interest credit cards or bills for higher education.

“As people stay in their homes longer we see people reinvesting in their homes by using equity to update their homes and do repair work,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president for Carrington Mortgage Holdings and an industry veteran. That’s especially true for older Americans, he added. “We’ve seen a huge expansion of the types of retirement options people have. One is aging in place and retrofitting your house.”

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Housing markets need ever more private debt. So then does the overall economy.

The Housing Crisis – There’s Nothing We Can Do… Or Is There? (Steve Keen)

The supply side of the housing market has two main two factors: the turnover of the existing stock of housing, and the net change in the number of houses (thanks to demolition of old properties and construction of new ones). The turnover of existing properties is far larger than the construction rate of new ones, and this alone makes housing different to your ordinary market. The demand side of the housing market has one main factor: new mortgages created by the banks. Monetary demand for housing is therefore predominantly mortgage credit: the annual increase in mortgage debt. This also makes housing very different to ordinary markets, where most demand comes from the turnover of existing money, rather than from newly created money.

We can convert the credit-financed monetary demand for housing into a physical demand for new houses per year by dividing by the price level. This gives us a relationship between the level of mortgage credit and the level of house prices. There is therefore a relationship between the change in mortgage credit and the change in house prices. This relationship is ignored in mainstream politics and mainstream economics. But it is the major determinant of house prices: house prices rise when mortgage credit rises, and they fall when mortgage credit falls. This relationship is obvious even for the UK, where mortgage debt data isn’t systematically collected, and I am therefore forced to use data on total household debt (including credit cards, car loans etc.).

Even then, the correlation is obvious (for the technically minded, the correlation coefficient is 0.6). The US does publish data on mortgage debt, and there the correlation is an even stronger 0.78—and standard econometric tests establish that the causal process runs from mortgage debt to house prices, and not vice versa (the downturn in house prices began earlier in the USA, and was an obvious pre-cursor to the crisis there).

None of this would have happened – at least not in the UK – had mortgage lending remained the province of money-circulating building societies, rather than letting money-creating banks into the market. It’s too late to unscramble that omelette, but there are still things that politicians could do make it less toxic for the public. The toxicity arises from the fact that the mortgage credit causes house prices to rise, leading to yet more credit being taken on until, as in 2008, the process breaks down. And it has to break down, because the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income. Once that stops happening, demand evaporates, house prices collapse, and they take the economy down with them. That is no way to run an economy.

Yet far from learning this lesson, politicians continue to allow lending practices that facilitate this toxic feedback between leverage and house prices. A decade after the UK (and the USA, and Spain, and Ireland) suffered property crashes – and economic crises because of them – it takes just a millisecond of Internet searching to find lenders who will provide 100% mortgage finance based on the price of the property. This should not be allowed. Instead, the maximum that lenders can provide should be limited to some multiple of a property’s actual or imputed rental income, so that the income-earning potential of a property is the basis of the lending allowed against it.

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Fear is needed.

Fear is Back (MW)

The Dow and the S&P 500 halted a record-setting streak of quarterly wins at nine, and the clearest reason why may be explained by the VIX index, widely known as Wall Street’s “fear gauge.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted a quarterly decline of more than 2.3%, snapping the longest streak of quarterly gains for the blue-chip average since an 11-quarter rally that ended in the third quarter of 1997. The S&P 500 index booked a 1.2% quarterly fall, ending its longest such stretch since the first quarter of 2015.

There are perhaps a host of reasons for the surcease of such a lengthy bullish run for the most prominent equity benchmarks: The Federal Reserve’s normalization of monetary policy, with the central bank lifting rates for the fifth time this month since December 2015; Intensifying uncertainty in the makeup and agenda of President Donald Trump’s administration, underscored by a number of high-profile departures; and the intensification of trade-war fears, after the president imposed duties on steel and aluminum imports and leveled more targeted tariffs at the world’s second-largest economy: China.

However, the surge in the Cboe Volatility Index VIX is perhaps the most correlated with the market’s downtrend. According to WSJ Market Data Group, the VIX posted its biggest quarterly rise, up 81% since it jumped in the third-quarter of 2011 following Standard & Poor’s historical downgrade of the U.S. credit rating and European debt-crisis jitters.

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Rhyme and repeat.

The S&P’s 200-DMA: Why It Ain’t No Maginot Line (Stockman)

For the last five years the S&P 500 has been dancing up its ascending 200-day moving average (200-DMA), bouncing higher repeatedly whenever the dip-buyers did their thing. Only twice did the index actually break below this seeming Maginot Line: In August 2015, after the China stock crash, and in February 2016, when the shale patch/energy sector hit the wall. As is evident below, since the frenzied peak of 2873 on January 26, the index has fallen hard twice—on February 8 (2581) and March 23 (2588). Self-evidently, both times the momo traders and robo-machines came roaring back with a stick-save which was smack upon the 200-DMA.

But here’s the thing. The blue line below ain’t no Maginot Line; it’s just the place where the Pavlovian dogs of Bubble Finance have “marked” the charts. And something is starting to smell. In fact, it’s starting to smell very much like an earlier go-round when Pavlov’s 200-DMA barkers had enjoyed a prolonged ascent – only to find an unexpected cliff-diving opportunity at the end. We refer to the nearly identical five year run-up to the March 2000 top at 1508 on the S&P 500. Back then, too, the 200-DMA looked invincible, and had only been penetrated by the August 1998 Russian bankruptcy and the Long Term Capital Management meltdown a month later.

Indeed, the bounce from the October 8, 1998 interim bottom of 960 was nearly parabolic, rising by 57% to the March 2000 top. That latter point might sound vaguely familiar. That’s because the rebound from the February 11, 2016 interim bottom (1829) to the January 26th top (2873) this year was, well, 57%!

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This is going to cost Amazon.

Trump Renews Amazon Attack, Says ‘Post Office Scam’ Must Stop (BBG)

President Donald Trump lit into Amazon.com Inc. for the second time in three days with a pair of Twitter messages that said the online retailer “must pay real costs (and taxes) now!” The president on Saturday claimed, citing reports he didn’t specify, that the U.S. Postal Service “will lose $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon” and added that the “Post Office scam must stop.” Amazon has said the postal service, which has financial problems stretching back for years, makes money on its deliveries. Amazon shed $53 billion in market value on Wednesday after Axios reported that the president is “obsessed” with regulating the e-commerce giant, whose founder and chief executive officer, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post newspaper.

Those losses were pared on Thursday, the final day of a shortened trading week, even as Trump tweeted that Amazon was using the postal service as its “Delivery Boy.” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said on Thursday that while the president was displeased with the e-commerce giant, and particularly instances where third-party sellers on the site didn’t collect sales tax, there were no administrative actions planned against Amazon “at this time.” Still, Brad Parscale, who’s managing Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, hinted in a tweet late Thursday that the administration may act to raise Amazon’s postal costs. “Once the market figures out that a single @usps rule change will crush @amazon’s bottom line we will see,” Parscale wrote.

Amazon.com and the Washington Post have been regular punching bags for Trump. In July, the president mused about whether the newspaper was “being used as a lobbyist weapon” to keep Congress from looking into Amazon’s business practices. He echoed that comment on Saturday, saying the Post “is used as a ‘lobbyist’ and should so REGISTER.” [..] While full details of the agreement between Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service are unknown – the mail carrier is independently operated, and strikes confidential deals with retailers – David Vernon, an analyst at Bernstein Research who tracks the shipping industry, estimated in 2015 that the USPS handled 40% of Amazon’s volume the previous year.

He estimated at the time that Amazon pays the postal service $2 per package, which is about half what it would pay UPS or FedEx. A sudden increase in postal rates would cost Amazon about $2.6 billion a year, according to a report by Citigroup from April 2017. That report predicted UPS and FedEx would also raise rates in response to a postal service hike. Citigroup also said that the “true” cost of shipping packages for the USPS is about 50% higher than its current rates, leading some editorial writers to conclude that Amazon was receiving the type of subsidy cited in Trump’s Thursday tweet.

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Wait, wasn’t she supposed to be the anti-Trump?

Senator Warren, In Beijing, Says US Is Waking Up To Chinese Abuses (R.)

U.S. policy toward China has been misdirected for decades and policymakers are now recalibrating ties, Senator Elizabeth Warren told reporters during a visit to Beijing amid heightened trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies. Warren’s visit comes as U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to implement more than $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods meant to punish China over U.S. allegations that Beijing systematically misappropriated American intellectual property. The Massachusetts Democrat and Trump foe, who has been touted as a potential 2020 presidential candidate despite rejecting such speculation, has said U.S. trade policy needs a rethink and that she is not afraid of tariffs.

After years of mistakenly assuming economic engagement would lead to a more open China, the U.S. government was waking up to Chinese demands for U.S. companies to give up their know-how in exchange for access to its market, Warren said. “The whole policy was misdirected. We told ourselves a happy-face story that never fit with the facts,” Warren told reporters on Saturday, during a three-day visit to China that began on Friday. “Now U.S. policymakers are starting to look more aggressively at pushing China to open up the markets without demanding a hostage price of access to U.S. technology,” she said.

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A poisonous political climate.

Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Greece Is A Debtors’ Prison’ (G.)

Yanis Varoufakis is back. He, of course, would say he never went away, but in Greece’s hurly-burly world of politics his is a name prone to triggering toxic reaction. Abroad, the shaven-headed economist is feted as the man who took on Europe’s establishment. At home, the former finance minister is seen, on both left and right, as a reckless incarnation of all that was wrong with Greece at the height of its struggle to remain in the eurozone. In Athens and Brussels, his confrontational style is still blamed for the price the debt-stricken country had to pay to be bailed out in the summer of 2015. Although his resignation now seems a long time ago, the sight of Varoufakis launching his own party in Greece has unleashed emotions that have run the gamut from enthusiasm to anger and disdain.

Media reaction has been cool; so, too, has that of politicians. None of which seems to bother him in the least. “Nobody believes the systemic media in Greece, and they’re all bankrupt,” he told the Observer with typical defiance, days after announcing his new venture in a packed Athens theatre. “To those who say I cost the country, and I’ve heard €30bn, €86bn, €100bn and even €200bn… I say I cost exactly zero. The troika [of creditors] cost Greece two generations and continue to impose cost.” At 57, in his leather bomber jacket and boots, Varoufakis clearly relishes his anti-establishment role and believes the birth of his European Realistic Disobedience Front, AKA MeRA25, is not a moment too late. Greece, almost nine years after the eurozone crisis erupted, is still condemned to being a debtors’ colony, he says.

[..] MeRA 25 has been working behind the scenes for a year now. Its plan is to contest the European elections in May 2019, although Varoufakis acknowledges Tsipras may elect to call a general election before that. After almost a decade under international surveillance, Athens will exit its third international rescue programme – the biggest sovereign bailout in global financial history – in August. With his popularity compromised under the weight of enforcing measures he once vehemently opposed, Tsipras may opt to capitalise on the success of finally exiting the programme and economic oversight. “We have travelled the whole country and held rallies in all major towns,” says Varoufakis, adding that politicians are already expressing interest in jumping ship.

Far from being saved, Varoufakis believes Greece’s future has been put on hold. If anything, he argues, it is in for an even tougher time because Europe has elected to tackle its debt problem by taking the “extend and pretend” approach of prolonging repayment timetables and condemning the country to decades of further austerity. More pension cuts and tax hikes loom, legislated by MPs at the behest of the EU and IMF. Short of measures to stop the rot, Varoufakis quips that he sees Greece becoming another Kosovo, “with beautiful beaches, only it’s a protectorate emptied of its young people. Every month 15-20,000 young Greeks leave. Everywhere I go, I meet them.”

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Macron knows what’s best for you. He’s your big brother.

Emmanuel Macron On France’s AI Strategy (Wired)

I want to create an advantage for my country in artificial intelligence, directly. And that’s why we have these announcements made by Facebook, Google, Samsung, IBM, DeepMind, Fujitsu who choose Paris to create AI labs and research centers: this is very important to me. Second, I want my country to be part of the revolution that AI will trigger in mobility, energy, defense, finance, healthcare and so on. Because it will create value as well. Third, I want AI to be totally federalized. Why? Because AI is about disruption and dealing with impacts of disruption. For instance, this kind of disruption can destroy a lot of jobs in some sectors and create a need to retrain people. But AI could also be one of the solutions to better train these people and help them to find new jobs, which is good for my country, and very important.

I want my country to be the place where this new perspective on AI is built, on the basis of interdisciplinarity: this means crossing maths, social sciences, technology, and philosophy. That’s absolutely critical. Because at one point in time, if you don’t frame these innovations from the start, a worst-case scenario will force you to deal with this debate down the line. I think privacy has been a hidden debate for a long time in the US. Now, it emerged because of the Facebook issue. Security was also a hidden debate of autonomous driving. Now, because we’ve had this issue with Uber, it rises to the surface. So if you don’t want to block innovation, it is better to frame it by design within ethical and philosophical boundaries. And I think we are very well equipped to do it, on top of developing the business in my country.

But I think as well that AI could totally jeopardize democracy. For instance, we are using artificial intelligence to organize the access to universities for our students That puts a lot of responsibility on an algorithm. A lot of people see it as a black box, they don’t understand how the student selection process happens. But the day they start to understand that this relies on an algorithm, this algorithm has a specific responsibility. If you want, precisely, to structure this debate, you have to create the conditions of fairness of the algorithm and of its full transparency. I have to be confident for my people that there is no bias, at least no unfair bias, in this algorithm.

I have to be able to tell French citizens, “OK, I encouraged this innovation because it will allow you to get access to new services, it will improve your lives—that’s a good innovation to you.” I have to guarantee there is no bias in terms of gender, age, or other individual characteristics, except if this is the one I decided on behalf of them or in front of them. This is a huge issue that needs to be addressed. If you don’t deal with it from the very beginning, if you don’t consider it is as important as developing innovation, you will miss something and at a point in time, it will block everything. Because people will eventually reject this innovation.

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“..more than 150 US species have already become extinct while a further 500 species have not been seen in recent decades..”

Conservationists Call For Urgent Action To Fix ‘America’s Wildlife Crisis’ (G.)

An extinction crisis is rippling though America’s wildlife, with scores of species at risk of being wiped out unless recovery plans start to receive sufficient funding, conservationists have warned. One-third of species in the US are vulnerable to extinction, a crisis that has ravaged swaths of creatures such as butterflies, amphibians, fish and bats, according to a report compiled by a coalition of conservation groups. A further one in five species face an even greater threat, with a severe risk of being eliminated amid a “serious decline” in US biodiversity, the report warns. “America’s wildlife are in crisis,” said Collin O’Mara, chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation. “Fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates are all losing ground. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to prevent these species from vanishing from the earth.”

More than 1,270 species found in the US are listed as at risk under the federal Endangered Species Act, an imperiled menagerie that includes the grizzly bear, California condor, leatherback sea turtle and rusty patched bumble bee. However, the actual number of threatened species is “far higher than what is formally listed”, states the report by the National Wildlife Federation, American Fisheries Society and the Wildlife Society. Using data from NatureServe that assesses the health of entire groups of species on a sliding scale, rather than the case-by-case work done by the federal government, the analysis shows more than 150 US species have already become extinct while a further 500 species have not been seen in recent decades and have possibly also been snuffed out.

Whole classes of creatures have suffered precipitous drops, with 40% of freshwater fish species in the US now vulnerable or endangered, a third of bat species experiencing major declines in the past two decades and amphibians dwindling from their known ranges at a rate of about 4% a year. The true scale of the crisis is probably larger when species with sparse data, or those as yet unknown to science, are considered. “This loss of wildlife has been sneaking up on us but is now like a big tsunami that is going to hit us,” said Thomas Lovejoy, a biologist at George Mason University. Lovejoy was consulted on the study and said it “captures the overall degradation of American nature over recent decades, rather than little snapshots”.

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The future of wildlife conservation?! in 2015, park guards shot dead more people than poachers killed rhinos.

More Poachers Than Rhinos Killed In India Reserve (BBC)

A census in India’s Kaziranga National Park has counted 2,413 one-horned rhinos – up 12 from 2015. The Unesco World Heritage Site, in Assam state, is home to two-thirds of the world’s population of the species. The census is carried out every three years. It is an incredible conservation success story given the fact that there were only a few hundred rhinos in the 1970s, says the BBC’s South Asia editor Anbarasan Ethirajan. However, the conservation effort has not been without controversy. The government has in recent years given the park rangers extraordinary powers to protect the animals from harm – powers usually only given to soldiers intervening in civil unrest. About 150 rhinos have been killed for their horns since 2006, but in 2015, park guards shot dead more people than poachers killed rhinos.

[..] The census total given is an estimate, with authorities cautioning that the population could be bigger than that counted because some animals were concealed by tall grasses and reeds. This vegetation is usually burnt down to encourage its regeneration but this was hampered by unseasonal rains, said reports. It could mean the census is carried out again next year. Since its foundation in 1905, Kaziranga has had great success in conserving and boosting animal populations. As well as being a haven for one-horned rhinoceroses, the park was declared a tiger reserve by the Indian government, and is also home to elephants, wild water buffalo and numerous bird species. The endangered South Asian river dolphin also lives in the rivers that criss-cross the park.

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Aug 272017
 
 August 27, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Elliott Erwitt Downtown Hat Shop Window, Pittsburgh 1950

 

Phillips Curve Doesn’t Help Forecast Inflation, Fed Study Finds (BBG)
Where Do Consumers Spend The Most Money? (Mish)
Should California Spend $3 Billion To Help People Buy Electric Cars? (LAT)
Tesla: A Canary in the Wall Street Coal Mine (Barron’s)
UK Labour Party Makes Dramatic Shift On Brexit And Single Market (G.)
Controlled Demolition (Jim Kunstler)
The War That Time Forgot (CP)
It’s Time To Accept Carbon Capture Has Failed (Conv.)
Industrial Farming Is Driving The Sixth Mass Extinction Of Life On Earth (Ind.)

 

 

The incompetence is deafening. Trillions have been washed away on the theory.

Phillips Curve Doesn’t Help Forecast Inflation, Fed Study Finds (BBG)

A fundamental relationship of mainstream economic theory at the heart of the Federal Reserve’s strategy for setting interest rates has been a poor guide for policy makers for at least three decades, according to a study by the Philadelphia Fed’s top-ranking economist. The paper, co-authored by Philadelphia Fed Director of Research Michael Dotsey, shows that forecasting models based on the so-called Phillips curve, which asserts a link between unemployment and inflation, don’t actually help predict inflation. “Our results indicate that monetary policymakers should at best be very cautious in their reliance on the Phillips curve when gauging inflationary pressures,” Dotsey and Philadelphia Fed economists Shigeru Fujita and Tom Stark wrote.

Their study is timely. Fed officials have been surprised by a deceleration in U.S. inflation over the past several months despite a continued decline in unemployment, the opposite of what the Phillips curve relationship would predict. Minutes of the last meeting of the central bank’s rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee in July revealed that “a few participants cited evidence suggesting that this framework was not particularly useful in forecasting inflation,” while “most participants thought that the framework remained valid.” If the majority view on the FOMC is that the Phillips curve framework is still valid, it implies that central bankers should continue raising interest rates with unemployment at a 16-year low, because they expect inflation will rise in the medium term even though prices pressures have been disappointingly soft.

Kansas City Fed President Esther George, who has been more forceful than many of her colleagues in recent years about the need to raise rates, lent support to that view on the sidelines of this week’s annual gathering of central bankers from around the world in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “There may in fact be something wrong with the models, I don’t know, I think that continues to be a question that many economists are asking,” George said during a TV interview with Bloomberg’s Michael McKee that aired Thursday. Even so, she favors another rate increase this year.

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Cars + gasoline account for almost 30% of all spending. Crazy.

Where Do Consumers Spend The Most Money? (Mish)

In Dealers “Wildly Overweight” SUVs as Sales Slow, I commented “Vehicles account for 20% of retail spending. A crash or even a significant slowdown will impact retail sales and thus GDP.” A reader asked me how I calculated that. Let’s take a look. My number came from the latest Census Department Advance Retail Sales Report. Here are some charts I created from 7-month totals (January-July) 2017.

Key Points
• Motor vehicles and parts account for 21.18% of retail sales. Gasoline stations account for 7.94%. Together that adds up to 29.12%.
• Food and beverage stores (grocery and liquor stores) account for 12.62 percent of retail sales. Food services and drinking places (restaurants and bars) account for 12.14. The food and drink total is 24.76%.
• Nonstore retailers (think Amazon) account 10.39% of retail sales.

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Yeah, let’s subsidize the car culture.

Should California Spend $3 Billion To Help People Buy Electric Cars? (LAT)

Over seven years, the state of California has spent $449 million on consumer rebates to boost sales of zero-emission vehicles. So far, the subsidies haven’t moved the needle much. In 2016, of the just over 2 million cars sold in the state, only 75,000 were pure-electric and plug-in hybrid cars. To date, out of 26 million cars and light trucks registered in California, just 315,000 are electric or plug-in hybrids. The California Legislature is pushing forward a bill that would double down on the rebate program. Sextuple down, in fact. If $449 million can’t do it, the thinking goes, maybe $3 billion will. That’s the essence of the plan that could lift state rebates from $2,500 to $10,000 or more for a compact electric car, making, for example, a Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car cost the same as a gasoline-driven Honda Civic.

Already approved by several Senate and Assembly committees, the bill will go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his approval or veto if the full Legislature approves it by the end of its current session on Sept. 15. California aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to a level 40% below what they were in 1990. “If we want to hit our goals, we’re going to have to do something about transportation,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), sponsor of Assembly Bill 1184. Without a dramatic boost in subsidies, Ting said, the state risks falling short of Gov. Brown’s goal of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on California highways by 2025, and the California Air Resources Board’s goal of 4 million such cars by 2030. The bill is opposed by Republicans averse to taxpayer subsidies and even the Legislature’s own analysts have called it “duplicative,” “unclear” and “problematic.”

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“Once again, history and reality are replaced by dreams with little substance.”

Tesla: A Canary in the Wall Street Coal Mine (Barron’s)

Those who think today’s stock market is unlike that of 2000, when baseless enthusiasm pushed stocks up to wild valuations, only to collapse in subsequent years, should take another look. Do they remember counting eyeballs as a basis for value? Once again, history and reality are replaced by dreams with little substance. Tesla, in which I have a short position, is becoming the loudest canary in Wall Street’s coal mine. Tesla requires repetitive capital raises to fund persistent operating losses. This requires bullish analysts and holders to keep the stock aloft with projections of imagined earnings from future products, while they overlook existing businesses, which continue to lose vast sums of money. Morgan Stanley, one of Tesla’s major underwriters, has an analyst covering Tesla named Adam Jonas. Astonishingly, he raised his price target for the stock, despite recognizing the need to slash his earnings forecast.

In May, Jonas had estimated per-share losses (excluding stock-option expense) of $3.53 in 2017 and $1.14 in 2018, and a profit of $2.43 in 2019. His latest estimates: losses of $7.60 and $3.66, and a 2019 profit of $2.01. Raising the target price while more than doubling the company’s projected loss indicates the craziness of the times. Price targets are fantasies, discounting distant earnings estimates by analysts who show little accuracy in estimating only a year ahead. For most companies, profit is the major objective. Tesla is different because its founder is different. Elon Musk is driven by a mission to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. Unlike companies seeking profit maximization by using patents to establish exclusive rights to products, Musk encourages competitors and has made virtually all of his patents available. Almost all auto companies have imminent plans to compete.

Tesla has been first-to-market in electric cars, but this in no way guarantees success, as competition and technological change are major challenges. Remember Atari, Blackberry, AOL, Napster, Netscape, and Palm? Musk is smart and imaginative, but none of his major companies are profitable. Tesla has been around for 14 years and has cumulatively lost more than $3.7 billion, despite the massive subsidies that it and its customers have received. SolarCity, also a beneficiary of alternative-energy subsidies, lost hundreds of millions of dollars before being bailed out by Tesla. As subsidies diminish, and competition emerges, profits will be even more elusive. Tesla tries to convey the illusion of inexhaustible demand for its cars, yet sales of the Model S and Model X have been flat for four quarters. Tesla’s rising inventory and shrinking deposits suggest declining demand.

Tesla claims to have more than 400,000 deposits for the Model 3, but these aren’t orders. They reflect a decision by potential buyers to get in line for a $7,500 tax credit at virtually no cost. Shifting $1,000 from a savings account into a refundable Tesla deposit costs only about $1 per year in lost interest. Fewer than 100,000 of these depositors will actually get full tax credits before Tesla consumes its allowable allotment of them. Its competitors will be able to offer such credits to prospective buyers, just as Tesla’s expire.

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Jockeying for votes?

UK Labour Party Makes Dramatic Shift On Brexit And Single Market (G.)

Labour is to announce a dramatic policy shift by backing continued membership of the EU single market beyond March 2019, when Britain leaves the EU, establishing a clear dividing line with the Tories on Brexit for the first time. In a move that positions it decisively as the party of “soft Brexit”, Labour will support full participation in the single market and customs union during a lengthy “transitional period” that it believes could last between two and four years after the day of departure, it is to announce on Sunday. This will mean that under a Labour government the UK would continue to abide by the EU’s free movement rules, accept the jurisdiction of the European court of justice on trade and economic issues, and pay into the EU budget for a period of years after Brexit, in the hope of lessening the shock of leaving to the UK economy.

In a further move that will delight many pro-EU Labour backers, Jeremy Corbyn’s party will also leave open the option of the UK remaining a member of the customs union and single market for good, beyond the end of the transitional period. Permanent long-term membership would only be considered if a Labour government could by then have persuaded the rest of the EU to agree to a special deal on immigration and changes to freedom of movement rules. The announcement, revealed in the Observer by the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, means voters will have a clear choice between the two main parties on the UK’s future relations with the EU after a year in which Labour’s approach has been criticised for lacking definition and appeared at times hard to distinguish from that of the Tories.

The decision to stay inside the single market and abide by all EU rules during the transitional period, and possibly beyond, was agreed after a week of intense discussion at the top of the party. It was signed off by the leadership and key members of the shadow cabinet on Thursday, according to Starmer’s office.

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“..to reassure the masses that effective spells for favor of the Gods have been cast — except that in our civilization money is God.”

Controlled Demolition (Jim Kunstler)

This is the week-of-weeks when the official grand viziers of finance gather at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to confab and interpret the lay of animal neck-bones and other auguries scattered in the sand, with the hope of steering the awesome powers of the universe this was or that as they affect the operations of money. The exercise is hardly different in function from the sort of rude ceremonials that took place on top of Sumerian ziggurats and Aztec temples — to reassure the masses that effective spells for favor of the Gods have been cast — except that in our civilization money is God. Or “money,” we should say, because the old definitions don’t fit so well anymore. It used to have a straightforward relationship with the work required to produce actual things of value, but those days are gone.

“Money” nowadays is a byproduct of wishful analytics and computer legerdemain seasoned with generous measures of fraud and larceny. This is a big problem when everything is measured in money and it becomes quite impossible to state with assurance what the value of money actually is. Obviously, you end up not knowing the value of anything. That’s the perilous situation the world faces. And since the USA is the straw the stirs the world’s drink — at least for now — the utterances emanating from Jackson Hole may determine which way that situation turns. We should suppose that the officers of the Federal Reserve are upright, well-intentioned, patriotic people. No doubt they think they are. But the perilous situation is largely one of their own making, and seems to be veering out of their control, and reputations are at stake.

Their task at this year’s Jackson Hole confab is to maintain the appearance of confidence in their own rituals. But with a kicker. That kicker is named T-r-u-m-p. This modern Balaam, riding the ass of the Deep State into wickedness, must be stopped, perhaps at all costs. On his way to the oval office last fall, Trump prophesied that the stock markets represented “one big, fat, ugly bubble.” That was an offense to the grand viziers, for whom the elevated stock market valuations stood as the main testament to their power and wisdom. In fact, it was the only testament, and a rather flimsy one. More recently, though, the wicked Trump changed his tune and declared that the tower of stock market exaltation was his own doing, setting himself up for the revenge of the grand viziers.

Since nothing else has worked so far to dislodge Trump from the White House, a tumbling tower of stocks might seal his fate. The tower has to fall anyway, lest the moiling masses of flyover America think about besetting Wall Street with pitchforks and torches. A controlled demolition might be just the thing to appease these suffering holders of three part-time jobs (if they are so lucky) who have stood by in wonder and nausea while a tiny fraction of the elite gather unto themselves all the dwindling riches of the realm — at least in paper securities denominated in US dollars — while the wicked Trump will be left to the jackals of the Deep State, to be torn apart with the 25th Amenedment.

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Elizabeth War(ren).

The War That Time Forgot (CP)

If it’s Independence Day, then you can count on John McCain to be bunkered down in a remote outpost of the Empire growling for the Pentagon to unleash airstrikes on some unruly nation, tribe or gang. This July the Fourth found McCain making a return engagement to Kabul, an arrival that must have prompted many Afghans to scramble for the nearest air raid shelter. From the press room at NATO command, McCain announced that “none of us could say we are on a course to success here in Afghanistan.” The senator should have paused for a reflective moment and then called for an end to the war. Instead, McCain demanded that Trump send more US troops, more bombers and more drones to terrorize a population that has been riven by near constant war since the late 1970s.

McCain’s martial drool is now as familiar as the opening notes to the “Law & Order” theme song. What may surprise some, however, is the composition of the delegation that signed up to travel on his frequent flier program, notably the presence of two Democratic Senators with soaring profiles: Sheldon Whitehouse and Elizabeth Warren. Whitehouse, the former prosecutor (aren’t they all?) from Rhode Island, has lately taken a star turn in the role of chief inquisitor of suspected Russian witches in the Senate intelligence committee hearings. Perhaps he finally located one selling AK-47s to the Taliban to replace the guns they’d gotten from the CIA. (We now know that it’s the Saudis–not the Russians–who have been covertly funneling money to the Taliban, though don’t expect the Trump to impose any sanctions on the Kingdom of the Head-choppers.)

For her part, Warren largely echoed McCain’s bellicose banter that Trump needs to double down militarily to finish off the Taliban, the impossible dream. No real surprise here. To the extent that she’s advanced any foreign policy positions during her stint in the senate, Warren has been a dutiful supplicant to the demands of AIPAC and the Council on Foreign Relations, rarely diverging from the neocon playbook for the global war on Islam. Warren’s Afghan junket is a sure sign of her swelling presidential ambitions. These days “national security” experience is measured almost exclusively by how much blood you are willing to spill in countries you know almost nothing about. It didn’t take long for Warren to matriculate to the company position.

[..] Nothing better illustrates the eclipse of US global power than the fact that Afghanistan refuses to be subjugated or even managed, despite 16 years of hard-core carnage. Since the first US airstrikes hit Kandahar in October 2001, more than 150,000 Afghan civilians have been killed. Still Afghanistan resists imperial dictates. Even after Obama’s shameful troop surge in 2010, an escalation that went almost unopposed by the US antiwar movement, the Taliban now retains almost as much control of the country as it did in 2001. And for that Afghanistan must be punished. Eternally, it seems.

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There’s always a new theory. Don’t let’s stop using as much of the stuff as we can.

It’s Time To Accept Carbon Capture Has Failed (Conv.)

For years, optimists have talked up carbon capture and storage (CCS) as an essential part of taking emissions out of electricity generation. Yes, build wind and solar farms, they have said, but they can t be relied on to produce enough power all the time. So we ll still need our fleet of fossil-fuel-burning power stations; we just need to stop them pumping carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Most of their emphasis has been on post-combustion capture. This involves removing CO2 from power station flue gases by absorbing them into an aqueous solution containing chemicals known as amines. You then extract the CO2 , compress it into a liquid and pump it into a storage facility the vision in the UK being to use depleted offshore oil and gas fields. One of the big attractions with such a system is it could be retrofitted to existing power stations.

But ten years after the UK government first announced a £1 billion competition to design CCS, we re not much further forward. The reason is summed up by the geologist Lord Oxburgh in his contribution to the government-commissioned report on CCS published last year: “There is no serious commercial incentive and it will stay that way unless the state demonstrates there is a business there.” The problem is that the process is costly and energy intensive. For a gas-fired power station, you typically have to burn 16% more gas to provide the capture power. Not only this, you end up with a 16% increase in emissions of other serious air pollutants like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Concerns have also been expressed about the potential health effects of the amine solvent used in the carbon capture.

You then have to contend with the extra emissions from processing and transporting 16% more gas. And all this before you factor in the pipeline costs of the CO2 storage and the uncertainties around whether it might escape once you ve got it in the ground. Around the world, the only places CCS looks viable are where there are heavy state subsidies or substantial additional revenue streams, such as from enhanced oil recovery from oilfields where the COC is being pumped in. Well, say the carbon capture advocates, maybe another technology is the answer. They point to oxy-combustion, a system which is close to reaching fruition at a plant in Texas.

First proposed many years ago by British engineer Rodney Allam, this involves separating oxygen from air, burning the oxygen with the fossil fuel, and using the combustion products -water and CO2- to drive a high-pressure turbine and produce electricity. The hot CO2 is pressurised and recycled back into the burners, which improves thermal efficiency. It has the additional advantage that CO12 is also available at pressures suitable for pipeline transportation.

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Small is beautiful.

Industrial Farming Is Driving The Sixth Mass Extinction Of Life On Earth (Ind.)

Industrial agriculture is bringing about the mass extinction of life on Earth, according to a leading academic. Professor Raj Patel said mass deforestation to clear the ground for single crops like palm oil and soy, the creation of vast dead zones in the sea by fertiliser and other chemicals, and the pillaging of fishing grounds to make feed for livestock show giant corporations can not be trusted to produce food for the world. The author of bestselling book The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy will be one of the keynote speakers at the Extinction and Livestock Conference in London in October. Organised by campaign groups Compassion in World Farming and WWF, it is being held amid rising concern that the rapid rate of species loss could ultimately result in the sixth mass extinction of life.

This is just one reason why geologists are considering declaring a new epoch of the Earth, called the Anthropocene, as the fossils of soon-to-be extinct animals will form a line in the rocks of the future. The last mass extinction, which finished off the dinosaurs and more than three-quarters of all life about 65 million years ago, was caused by an asteroid strike that sent clouds of smoke all around the world, blocking out the sun for about 18 months. Prof Patel, of the University of Texas at Austin, said: “The footprint of global agriculture is vast. Industrial agriculture is absolutely responsible for driving deforestation, absolutely responsible for pushing industrial monoculture, and that means it is responsible for species loss. “We’re losing species we have never heard of, those we’ve yet to put a name to and industrial agriculture is very much at the spear-tip of that.”

Speaking to The Independent, he pointed to a “dead zone” – an area of water where there is too little oxygen for most marine life – in the Gulf of Mexico that has grown to the same size as Wales because of vast amounts of fertiliser that has washed from farms in mainland US, into the Mississippi River and then into the ocean. “That dead zone isn’t an accident. It’s a requirement of industrial agriculture to get rid of the sh*t and the run-off elsewhere because you cannot make industrial agriculture workable unless you kick the costs somewhere else,” he said. “The story of industrial agriculture is all about externalising costs and exploiting nature.” “Extinction is about the elimination of diversity. What happens in Brazil and other places is you get green deserts — monocultures of soy and nothing else. “Various kinds of chemistry is deployed to make sure it is only soy that’s grown on these mega-farms. “That’s what extinction looks like. If you ever go to a soy plantation, animal life is incredibly rare. It’s only soy, there’s nothing there for anything to feed on.”

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Aug 182017
 
 August 18, 2017  Posted by at 8:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward S. Curtis Slow Bull Dakota Sioux Medicine Man In Prayer 1907

 

Never Doubt Regression To The Mean (Rosso)
The Stock Market Bubble is So Big Even the Fed’s Talking About It (Phoenix)
Ice-Nine: The Plan To Freeze The Financial System (Rickards)
Neoliberalism: The Idea That Changed The World (G.)
So When Will China’s Debt Bubble Finally Blow Up? (WS)
Charlene Chu Lays Out China’s “Doomsday” Scenario (ZH)
China’s New Problem: Frenzy Of Consumer Lending Creates Debt Explosion (CNBC)
‘Simply Doesn’t Cut It’: Elizabeth Warren Slams Wells Fargo Board Changes (BI)
Deutsche Bank, Bank of America Settle Agency Bond Rigging Lawsuits (R.)
Who Is Lobbying Mike Pence And Why? (IBT)
Mr. President: Close Down More “Advisory Councils” (Rossini)
Spain Lacks Capacity To Handle Migration Surge – UNHCR (G.)

 

 

After a week of senseless violence and rhetoric, we could sure do with a medicine man praying for peace. I know, they say this is what the Fourth Turning looks like. But I don’t have to like it. Seeing some of the pictures of traumatized people in Barcelona I couldn’t help thinking how much they looked like those I’ve seen from Syria and Libya. Senseless violence.

 

 

Part of a longer piece on retirement distributions. Very strong graph.

Never Doubt Regression To The Mean (Rosso)

Since 1877, secular bull years have totaled 80 vs. 52 for bears, which is a 60/40 ratio. Surprised? Bear markets happen more often than investors are led to believe. They usually occur at times of overvaluation which makes recent retirees or those close to retirement at greater risk of experiencing negative or poor future returns. Bad luck or rotten timing. Either way, it’s going to be important to remain cognizant of portfolio distribution rates, place renewed priority on risk management, and adjust spending accordingly perhaps over the next ten years. Those who were proactive to minimize stock and high-yield bond portfolio risk (like several of the writers for Real Investment Advice), and redeployed capital into stocks at 13x earnings in the summer of 2009, helped new retirees at that time meet their retirement objectives. In addition, they have experienced a cyclical tailwind in stocks that has allowed greater distribution rates. Great luck!

Stock market cycles are vast and span decades. Don’t stumble into a Recency Bias trap where you believe current complacent market conditions lay the path to a smooth, high-return future. Markets are mean reverting mechanisms. Cycles indeed change. Usually, markets are more volatile with periods of 5% pullbacks occurring every 3-4 months. As investors, this year we’ve witnessed shallow retracements followed up by buys on the dips. An environment like this fosters overconfidence. Volatility may excite traders and be helpful to those who are seeking lower prices to purchase risk assets. For those in retirement distribution mode, volatility and corrections have potential to place portfolio longevity in jeopardy.

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“Remember, we’re talking about the Fed here… a group of people who go above and beyond to ignore risks in order to maintain the status quo…”

The Stock Market Bubble is So Big Even the Fed’s Talking About It (Phoenix)

The Fed confirmed yesterday that stocks are in a bubble. Lost amidst the usual Fed-speak about inflation and other items were the following nuggets. 1) “Equities” (read: stocks) were the primary reason the Fed discussed financial stability risks. 2) The Fed raised its assessment of financial stability from “notable” to “elevated.” 3) The Fed discussed “stock valuations.” This is simply incredible. Remember, we’re talking about the Fed here… a group of people who go above and beyond to ignore risks in order to maintain the status quo. Put another way, the stock market bubble is now so massive that even THE FED is talking about it. Indeed, the Fed is even openly states that the bubble might cause financial instability (read: a CRASH). It’s not difficult to see what the Fed is talking about. Based on their cyclical adjusted price to earnings ratio (CAPE) stocks are in CLEAR bubble territory.

As you can see, stocks are currently as overpriced as they were at the 1929 peak. Indeed, the only time stocks were MORE expensive was the Tech Bubble: the single largest stock market bubble in history. They say you don’t ring a bell at the top. But what the Fed did yesterday is DARN close. So what happens when the markets wake up to the fact that yet another massive bubble is beginning to burst?

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Freeze it before the collapse.

Ice-Nine: The Plan To Freeze The Financial System (Rickards)

In my book The Road to Ruin, I discuss a phenomenon called “ice-nine.” The name is taken from a novel, Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut. In the novel, a scientist invents a molecule he calls ice-nine, which is like water but with two differences. The melting temperature is 114.4 degrees Fahrenheit (meaning it’s frozen at room temperature), and whenever ice-nine comes in contact with water, the water turns to ice-nine and freezes. The ice-nine is kept in three vials. The plot revolves around the potential release of ice-nine into water, which would eventually freeze the rivers and oceans and end all life on Earth. Cat’s Cradle is darkly comedic, and I highly recommend it. I used ice-nine in my book as a metaphor for financial contagion.

If regulators freeze money market funds in a crisis, depositors will take money from banks. The regulators will then close the banks, but investors will sell stocks and force the exchanges to close and so on. Eventually, the entire financial system will be frozen solid and investors will have no access to their money. Some of my readers were skeptical of this scenario. But I researched it carefully and provided solid evidence that this plan is already in place — it’s just not well understood. But the ice-nine plan is now being put into practice. Consider a recent Reuters article that admitted elites would likely shut down the entire system when the next financial crisis strikes. The article claimed that the EU is considering actions that would temporarily prevent people from withdrawing money from banks to prevent bank runs.

“The desire is to prevent a bank run, so that when a bank is in a critical situation it is not pushed over the edge,” said one source. Very few people are aware of these developments. They get a brief mention in the media, if they get mentioned at all. But people could be in for a shock when they try to get their money out of the bank during the next financial crisis. Think of it as a war on currency or a war on money. Even the skeptics can see how the entire financial system will be frozen solid in the next crisis. The only solution is to have physical gold, silver and bank notes in private storage. The sooner you put your personal ice-nine protection plan in place, the safer you’ll be.

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“..the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties)..”

Neoliberalism: The Idea That Changed The World (G.)

Last summer, researchers at the IMF settled a long and bitter debate over “neoliberalism”: they admitted it exists. Three senior economists at the IMF, an organisation not known for its incaution, published a paper questioning the benefits of neoliberalism. In so doing, they helped put to rest the idea that the word is nothing more than a political slur, or a term without any analytic power. The paper gently called out a “neoliberal agenda” for pushing deregulation on economies around the world, for forcing open national markets to trade and capital, and for demanding that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatisation. The authors cited statistical evidence for the spread of neoliberal policies since 1980, and their correlation with anaemic growth, boom-and-bust cycles and inequality.

Neoliberalism is an old term, dating back to the 1930s, but it has been revived as a way of describing our current politics – or more precisely, the range of thought allowed by our politics. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it was a way of assigning responsibility for the debacle, not to a political party per se, but to an establishment that had conceded its authority to the market. For the Democrats in the US and Labour in the UK, this concession was depicted as a grotesque betrayal of principle. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, it was said, had abandoned the left’s traditional commitments, especially to workers, in favour of a global financial elite and the self-serving policies that enriched them; and in doing so, had enabled a sickening rise in inequality. Over the past few years, as debates have turned uglier, the word has become a rhetorical weapon, a way for anyone left of centre to incriminate those even an inch to their right. (No wonder centrists say it’s a meaningless insult: they’re the ones most meaningfully insulted by it.)

But “neoliberalism” is more than a gratifyingly righteous jibe. It is also, in its way, a pair of eyeglasses. Peer through the lens of neoliberalism and you see more clearly how the political thinkers most admired by Thatcher and Reagan helped shape the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties). Of course the goal was to weaken the welfare state and any commitment to full employment, and – always – to cut taxes and deregulate. But “neoliberalism” indicates something more than a standard rightwing wish list. It was a way of reordering social reality, and of rethinking our status as individuals.

Still peering through the lens, you see how, no less than the welfare state, the free market is a human invention. You see how pervasively we are now urged to think of ourselves as proprietors of our own talents and initiative, how glibly we are told to compete and adapt. You see the extent to which a language formerly confined to chalkboard simplifications describing commodity markets (competition, perfect information, rational behaviour) has been applied to all of society, until it has invaded the grit of our personal lives, and how the attitude of the salesman has become enmeshed in all modes of self-expression. In short, “neoliberalism” is not simply a name for pro-market policies, or for the compromises with finance capitalism made by failing social democratic parties. It is a name for a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practise and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organising principle for human activity.

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I’m still convinced that people will react shocked if China is the first domino. But though Charlene Chu is right that China controls most of its system, its control over Chinese obligations abroad isn’t nearly that strong. Xi knows this, and that’s why Chinese purchases abroad are shrinking. China has become part of the global financial system with monopoly money. And sure, it has dollars and Treasuries, but they’re neither limitless nor limitlessly fungible. Weakest point? Local governments who have borrowed from foreign sources. Or from domestic ones that get their credit from foreigners. Shadow banks.

So When Will China’s Debt Bubble Finally Blow Up? (WS)

Corporate debt in China has soared to $18 trillion, or 169% of GDP, the largest pile of corporate debt in the world, according to the worried BIS. The OECD has warned about it earlier this year. The New York Fed warned about this debt boom in February and that it could lead to a “financial crisis,” but that authorities have many tools to control it. The IMF regularly warns about China’s corporate debt, broken-record-like, and did so again a few days ago, lambasting the authorities for their reluctance to tamp down on the growth of debt. The “current trajectory,” it said, “could eventually lead to a sharp adjustment.” The Chinese authorities – the government and the central bank, supported by the state-owned megabanks – have allowed some bonds to default, rather than bail them out, to make some kind of theoretical point, and they have been working furiously on a balancing act, tamping down on the credit growth that fuels the economy and simultaneously stimulating the economy with more credit to keep the debt bubble from imploding.

A misstep could create a global mess. “Everyone knows there’s a credit problem in China, but I find that people often forget about the scale; it’s important in global terms,” Charlene Chu told the FT. Back in 2011, when she was still a China banking analyst at Fitch Ratings, she went out on a limb with her radical estimates that there was much more debt than disclosed by the central bank, particularly in the shadow banking system, that banks were concealing risky loans in off-balance-sheet vehicles, and that this soaring opaque debt could have nasty consequences. Her outlandish views at the time have since then become the consensus. And this pile of debt is in much worse shape than officially acknowledged, she says in her latest report, cited by the FT. She’s now with Autonomous Research.

She figured that by the end of 2017, bad debt in China could hit 51 trillion yuan, or $7.6 trillion. Or about 68% of GDP! It would take the bad-debt ratio to an astronomical 34% of all loans, and way above the 5.3% that the authorities are proffering. And the authorities – the government, the central bank, supported by the state-owned banks – are now pulling all levers to keep this under control. “What I’ve gotten a greater appreciation for is how everything is so orchestrated by the authorities,” she said. “The upside is that it creates stability. The downside is that it can create a problem of proportions that people would think is never possible. We’re moving into that territory.”

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More Chu. Remarkable how she says “.. the ability to avoid recognizing losses only delays the inevitable day of reckoning as problems fester for longer, and grow larger than in an economy where actors respond purely to market incentives.” Remarkable because that describes America as much as it does China.

Charlene Chu Lays Out China’s “Doomsday” Scenario (ZH)

The first time we laid out the dire calculations about what is perhaps the biggest mystery inside China’s financial system, namely the total amount of its non-performing loans, by former Fitch analyst Charlene Chu we called it a “neutron bomb” scenario, because unlike virtually every other rosy forecast the most dire of which topped out at around 8%, Chu argued that the amount of bad debt in China was no less than a whopping 21% of total loans. While traditional bank loans are not Chu’s prime focus – she looks at the wider picture, including shadow banking – she says her work suggests that nonperforming loans may be at 20% to 21%, or even higher. The chart below shows just how much of an outlier Chu’s stark forecast was in comparison to her peers, and especially the grotesquely low and completely fabricated official number released by the banks and the government.

Recall that one of the biggest scandals in China in 2014 was the realization (as many had warned previously) that millions of tons of commodities were rehypothecated countless times, and thus “pledged” as collateral to numerous counterparties, and that as a result these same counterparties were unable to make sense of who owns what at one of China’s largest ports, Qingdao. In this context, it is safe to assume that loss given default rates in China are if not 100% (or more, which is impossible in theoretical terms but in practice is quite possible, as another curious side effect of unlimited collateral rehypothecation), then as close to it as possible.

Fast forward to today, when Charlene Chu, described by the FT as “one of the most influential analysts of China’s financial system” is back with a revised estimate that the bad debt in China has now reached a stunning $6.8 trillion above official figures and warns that the government’s ability to enforce stability has allowed underlying problems to go unchecked. [..] So if Chu held the wildly outlier view nearly two years ago that China’s NPLs amount to 21% of total, what is her latest estimate? The number is a doozy: in her latest report, Chu estimates that bad debt in China’s financial system will reach as much as Rmb51 trillion , or $7.6 trillion, by the end of this year, more than five times the value of bank loans officially classified as either non-performing or one notch above.” That estimate implies a bad-debt ratio of 34%, orders of magnitude above the official 5.3% ratio for those two categories at the end of June.

One factor that has foiled countless shorts over the years is that Beijing can simply order state-owned banks to keep lending to a lossmaking zombie company or to a smaller lender that relies on short-term interbank funding to stay liquid, and that’s precisely what has been happening, when looking at the various non-conventional credit pathways in China in recent years, which include Wealth Management Products, Bank Loans to Non-Bank Institutions, Shadow Banking, Repos and Certificates of Deposit.

But Chu said the ability to avoid recognizing losses only delays the inevitable day of reckoning as problems fester for longer, and grow larger than in an economy where actors respond purely to market incentives. That said, the recent spike in corporate bankruptcies indicates that even Beijing is slowly shifting to a more “market” driven stance. “What I’ve gotten a greater appreciation for is how everything is so orchestrated by the authorities,” she said. “The upside is that it creates stability. The downside is that it can create a problem of proportions that people would think is never possible. We’re moving into that territory.” Finally, putting it all in context is the following chart showing the total size of China’s financial sector, which as of the latest quarter has grown to $35 trillion, double the size of the US.

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Subtle tactics from Xi. Shift the debt but keep it high. What do you think the odds are that after the Party Congress China will withdraw into itself?

China’s New Problem: Frenzy Of Consumer Lending Creates Debt Explosion (CNBC)

The Chinese government is moving to tackle high debt levels, but the country is still borrowing more, Deutsche Bank said in a report released Thursday. That’s because short-term consumer debt in China has begun to surge as authorities try to alleviate the high levels of corporate indebtedness. The redistribution comes as Beijing is trying to strike a balance between stability and strength in its economy. Household debt in China is growing “very fast” and has accelerated in the last three to four months, according to Deutsche Bank: “If we focus purely on the consumer lending … then China has been undergoing something akin to a consumer lending frenzy.” According to Deutsche Bank, corporate credit has fallen to 45% of net new credit, down from 65% in the last 10 years. Instead, Beijing is allowing households and governments to borrow more to fund growth, which is targeted for around 6.5% in 2017, said the analysts.

Now, short-term consumer credit is growing 35% year-over-year, and may hit about 40% year-over-year by the end of December at the current trend, Deutsche Bank said. The bank said it isn’t yet clear where exactly the short-term consumer credit is being deployed, although 70 to 80% of that debt has historically been credit card-related. Overall household credit growth in China, the analysts noted, is growing around 24% year-over-year. At the end of the first half of 2017, corporate the debt-to-GDP ratio fell to 165% from the peak of 169% in the first quarter of 2016. That was “more of a ‘stabilization’ than a significant reduction,” Deutsche Bank said, calling it an “explosion” of growth. Meanwhile, household and government debt however rose by 8 to 9% of GDP. “So when viewed in aggregate China is still leveraging up apace,” the Deutsche Bank report concluded.

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Maybe somoneone should explain to Warren what the Fed is and does. Or Washington for that matter.

‘Simply Doesn’t Cut It’: Elizabeth Warren Slams Wells Fargo Board Changes (BI)

Wells Fargo’s effort to turn the page on consumer fraud scandals is falling short. That’s according to Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, who has requested the Federal Reserve remove the bank’s board members who served between May 2011 and July 2015 in response to a series of vast consumer fraud scandals. The bank, already in hot water for creating millions of unauthorized accounts, recently admitted to also selling auto insurance without customers’ knowledge. Wells Fargo’s response? It has promoted an ex-Fed board governor, Elizabeth Duke, to chairwoman of the board. Duke, a champion of community banks while at the Fed, became a Wells Fargo director in 2015 and was named vice chair last year after the first round of scandals broke and led to the resignation of then-CEO John Stumpf.

Business Insider contacted Senator Warren to get her reaction. “Letting a few board members retire early and shuffling around current board members simply doesn’t cut it,” Warren said in an email. “The Fed should remove all remaining board members who served during the fake-accounts scandal.” Warren also renewed her call for board members’ removal with a new letter to Fed chairman Janet Yellen dated August 16, and voicing her dissatisfaction at what she sees as central bank inaction. “Instead of taking steps to remove the responsible Wells Fargo Board members, the Federal Reserve has actually sought to reduce their obligations and the obligations of other directors at the country’s biggest banks,” the letter said. In July, Warren repeatedly pressed Fed Chair Janet Yellen on the issue during recent Congressional testimony but Yellen would only say the central bank had the power to remove the directors — not that it had any inclination to do so.

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More free rides for bankers. Warren! Oh wait, your own party takes their contributions.

Deutsche Bank, Bank of America Settle Agency Bond Rigging Lawsuits (R.)

Deutsche Bank and Bank of America agreed to pay a combined $65.5 million to settle investor litigation accusing large banks of rigging the roughly $9 trillion government agency bond market over a decade. Preliminary settlements totaling $48.5 million for Deutsche Bank and $17 million for Bank of America were filed on Thursday with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, and require a judge’s approval. Both banks denied wrongdoing. The settlements were the first in litigation accusing 10 banks of engaging in a “brazen conspiracy” to rig the market for U.S. dollar-denominated supranational, sub-sovereign and agency (SSA) bonds, court papers show. The investors are led by the Iron Workers Pension Plan of Western Pennsylvania, KBC Asset Management, and the Sheet Metal Workers Pension Plan of Northern California.

They accused banks of communicating by phone, chatrooms and instant messaging to share pricing data and function as a collective “super-desk,” while letting traders coordinate their strategies, to boost profit. This collusion allegedly ran from 2005 to 2015, and forced customers to accept unfair prices on bonds they bought and sold, court papers show. BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Credit Agricole, Credit Suisse, HSBC, Nomura, Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank were also sued, and all sought dismissals. U.S. regulators have also examined possible manipulation in the SSA bond market. The Manhattan court is home to a slew of private litigation accusing big banks of conspiring to rig various financial markets, interest rate benchmarks and commodities. Late Wednesday night, another group of investors sued six banks, claiming they rigged the more than $1 trillion stock lending market.

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Simply how all of Washington works.

Who Is Lobbying Mike Pence And Why? (IBT)

Mike Pence has been among the Trump administration’s most prominent voices pressing to replace the Affordable Care Act, repeal post-crisis financial regulations, privatize American infrastructure and promote fossil fuels. Those positions would benefit the industries that have been directly lobbying Pence since he was elected vice president, according to federal documents reviewed by International Business Times. Amid speculation that Pence could mount his own presidential bid — or replace Trump if he leaves office early — the former Indiana governor and U.S. congressman has been directly lobbied by major health care and drug companies, Wall Street firms, oil and gas interests and industry groups interested in shaping a federal infrastructure privatization initiative.

Pence’s office has also been lobbied by his former congressional chief of staff on behalf of insurance, defense contracting and telecommunications companies — and that lobbying revolved around health care policy, defense spending and net neutrality. Pence has enthusiastically backed the policies by the lobbying firms. While other vice presidents have been the target of lobbying in the past, Pence has been viewed as one of the most powerful vice presidents in recent history. He is a longtime politician serving a president with no experience in elected office, and during his vice-presidential selection process, Trump was reportedly offering potential running mates a vast policy portfolio to oversee. Pence also oversaw Trump’s White House transition, which shaped the administration’s personnel decisions and many of its policy proposals.

Companies that have lobbied the vice president have spent tens of millions of dollars in total federal lobbying so far this year. Here is a deeper look at the major industries lobbying him — and what exactly they have been pushing for in their efforts to influence the vice president. Despite his onetime support for expanding Obamacare subsidies in his home state, Pence has reversed course and led the Trump administration’s legislative bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act — just as health insurers have been lobbying him in 2017.

“If you’re one of those Americans who want to see Obamacare repealed and replaced, we literally are days, or maybe just weeks, away from being able to accomplish that historic objective,” he told conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh last month. “We believe if they can’t pass this carefully crafted repeal and replace bill — we do those two things simultaneously — we ought to just repeal only and then have enough time built into that legislation to craft replacement legislation.” The Pence-led repeal effort could be a financial boon to health insurers like Blue Cross and Blue Shield, as well as UnitedHealthcare Group — both which have been in direct contact with Pence, according to records reviewed by IBT.

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Libertarian view.

Mr. President: Close Down More “Advisory Councils” (Rossini)

So President Trump closed down his “Manufacturing Council” and no one cheered? What a shame. Why was there a “Manufacturing Council” to begin with? It’s not the job of the president to meddle with our economy. His job description says nothing about benefitting “manufactures” or “scientists” or “Silicon Valley” or anyone else. These “Councils” are breeding grounds for the cronyism that has virtually destroyed the American Dream. If a CEO has the ear of the president, do you think he’s going to “advise” the president to do anything that will hurt his own business? On the other hand, would the CEO be tempted to advise the president to hurt his competitors, both foreign and domestic? Would the CEO advise the president to make it hard for start-ups and entrepreneurs to compete?

Would he advise for subsidies? Strict licensing laws? The president doesn’t need Advisory Councils, Czars, or any other destroyer of our economic liberties. Let the CEO’s be “counciled” themselves by free market prices. Let them deal with economic reality as it is, not massage the president for unconstitutional interventions. Let them stand on their own. Either satisfy consumers profitably, or fold up so that other people can. The president, at the same time, should stop pretending that he can push buttons and pull levers to make the economy run. Nothing could be further from the truth. Government intervention only stifles the economy.

The economy continues to function despite the political intrusions that exist. Fortunately, entrepreneurs are creative enough to always find ways around so-called government “regulations”. There’s always a loophole somewhere. But why make it hard on entrepreneurs to begin with? Just get the heck out of the way! But alas, the government and multi-national corporations are attached at the hip. One scratches the back of the other. Mr. President, close down all the “Advisory Councils,” and keep your hands off the economy.

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Spain’s views on this may have changed last night.

Spain Lacks Capacity To Handle Migration Surge – UNHCR (G.)

Spain lacks the resources and capacity to protect the rising number of refugees and migrants reaching it by sea, the UN refugee agency has said. The warning from UNHCR comes as the Spanish coastguard said it rescued 593 people in a day from 15 small paddle boats, including 35 children and a baby, after they attempted to cross the seven-mile Strait of Gibraltar. The number of refugees and migrants risking the sea journey between Morocco and Spain has been rising sharply, with the one-day figure the largest since August 2014, when about 1,300 people landed on the Spanish coast in a 24-hour period. About 9,300 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea so far this year, while a further 3,500 have made it to two Spanish enclaves in north Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, the EU’s only land borders with Africa.

María Jesús Vega, a spokeswoman for UNHCR Spain, said police were badly under-resourced and there was a lack of interpreters and a shortage of accommodation for the new arrivals. “The state isn’t prepared and there aren’t even the resources and the means to deal with the usual flow of people arriving by sea,” she said. “Given the current rise, we’re seeing an overflow situation when it comes to local authorities trying to cope at arrival points.” Vega said the agency was seeing a very high number of vulnerable people including women, victims of people-trafficking, and children. “What we’re asking is for there to be the right mechanisms in place to ensure people are treated with dignity when they come,” she said.

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Nov 162016
 
 November 16, 2016  Posted by at 10:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Unknown Wharf, Federal artillery, and schooners, City Point, Virginia 1865

Trump Won’t Start A Trade War; He’ll Finish It (MW)
Trump Digs In For Major US Trade Reset With The World (CNBC)
Panic In Housing Market As Trump Effect Pushes Mortgage Rates To 4% (CNBC)
The Bond Vigilantes Are Back, And Trump Better Be Careful (CNBC)
Elizabeth Warren Criticizes Trump Transition Team’s Wall Street Ties (WSJ)
What Now? (Jim Kunstler)
GOP Rushes To Embrace Trump (Hill)
Rickards: Financial Crisis Coming Soon, Will Be Different (BBG)
Another Financial Warning Sign Is Flashing in China (BBG)
India’s Great Rupee Fail (BBG)
Lack Of New Building Not To Blame For Soaring House Prices (Ind.)
Fate Of Controversial US Oil Pipeline Heads Back To Court (AFP)
Assange Optimistic Sweden Will End Probe Into Rape Claim (SMH)
The Technosphere Hiccups (Dmitry Orlov)
One Quarter Of Children in Toronto, Montreal Live In Poverty (CP)

 

 

Don’t know about you, but I find it refreshing to see actual discussion going on, based on something else than pre-conceived notions.

Trump Won’t Start A Trade War; He’ll Finish It (MW)

[..] In deriding Trump for everything that comes out of his mouth, mainstream media have been quick to dismiss his repeated claims about his prowess in negotiating. These same media acknowledged early in Obama’s tenure that this former community organizer could not negotiate his way out of a paper bag, starting talks where he wanted to end them and giving up more than he intended. Now, however, anti-Trump voices want to take his threat of 45% tariffs against China as a fait accompli and paint a doomsday scenario of what that will mean for American consumers and the global economy. These critics claim Trump will start a trade war. Newsflash: We are already in a trade war started by the Chinese and others who have traditionally kept their currency devalued to flood our market with their goods while protecting their own.

And we are losing. This was precisely the point made last summer by Dan DiMicco, the former steel executive Trump has charged with managing trade issues during his transition. “Hillary Clinton has claimed Trump’s trade policies will start a ‘Trade War,’ but what she fails to recognize is we are already in one,” he wrote in his blog. “Trump clearly sees it and he will work to put an end to China’s ‘Mercantilist Trade War’! A war it has been waging against us for nearly two decades!” And hard-nosed bargaining will be the way Trump ends this war, DiMicco added. “He will do this by negotiating from a position of strength, not condescending weakness. China respects strength but takes full advantage of weakness. In the end it will be in China’s best interest to stop cheating on trade.”

China needs trade with the U.S. at least as much as we do. The idea, for instance, that China would retaliate against U.S. tariffs on some manufactured goods by blocking agricultural imports from the U.S. ignores the fact that China’s massive population has to eat. China is the focus for unfair trade practices, but let’s not forget there are many others. Germany, for instance, manipulates its currency in a much more subtle fashion. By tying it to lower performing economies to keep the value of the euro low, Germany prospers while driving other euro countries to ruin. Trade pacts with insufficient protections exacerbate this situation, as does a World Trade Organization with unenforceable restrictions. Trump is exposing this charade for what it is. Solutions may not come easy, but you can’t solve the problem if you don’t first figure out what it is.

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“When we negotiate free trade agreements, we are lousy at it [..] They are dominated by folks that have a predominant benefit from getting more exports into the world as opposed to having balanced trade, which is good for all Americans.”

Trump Digs In For Major US Trade Reset With The World (CNBC)

Donald Trump got some of his loudest campaign cheers with a simple pledge to “get tough on trade.” Now the president-elect and his supporters will find out how complex that goal will be. [..] One early indication of where a Trump administration would steer U.S. trade policy came this summer with the appointment of Dan DiMicco, former CEO of Nucor Corporation, as his trade advisor. Nucor, the largest U.S. steel producer, is a scrappy survivor of the massive consolidation of the American steel industry that shed millions of jobs in the 1970s and 1980s as the nation’s backbone supplier of postwar manufacturing fell into decline. That industry was born in the geographic intersection of rich deposits of steel’s two main ingredients: Pennsylvania coal and Michigan iron ore.

Those two states sent Trump to the White House on Election Day. Today, the fiery forges that once melted raw iron to build U.S. skyscrapers, consumer appliances and family station wagons have largely gone cold. Under CEO DiMicco, Nucor, now North America’s largest recycler, survived the decline of Big Steel by building a business melting down scrap steel produced by others — some 17 million tons last year. Last month, Trump promised to restore the Midwest as the “manufacturing hub of the world again” and “fight for steel businesses that have been taken away.” “We’re going to bring back steel,” he told a cheering crowd. “Your steel has been stolen from you.”

In DiMicco, the president-elect has chosen an outspoken advisor – and potential appointee – who shares his belief that restoring industries like steel manufacturing means getting “tough” with global competitors. “When we negotiate free trade agreements, we are lousy at it,” DiMicco told CNBC a year ago. “They are dominated by folks that have a predominant benefit from getting more exports into the world as opposed to having balanced trade, which is good for all Americans.” With DiMicco as one of the architects, the Trump campaign has sketched out initial plans for reforming U.S. trade relations with the rest of the world. In a heavily footnoted position paper in June, Trump laid out a seven-step plan to “change our failed trade policy – quickly” and “bring back our jobs.”

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The sooner credit card rates go back to ‘normal’, the better.

Panic In Housing Market As Trump Effect Pushes Mortgage Rates To 4% (CNBC)

More selling in U.S. bond markets Monday pushed mortgage rates to a psychological breaking point. The average contract rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage hit 4%, according to Mortgage News Daily, a level most didn’t expect to see until the middle of next year. Rates have now moved nearly a half a%age point higher since Donald Trump was elected president. “The situation on the ground is panicked. Damage control,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “People were trying to lock loans quickly last week and are now facing a tough choice to lock today or hope for a bounce. Many hoped for a bounce last week heading into the long weekend and we obviously didn’t get it.”

Mortgage rates follow loosely the yield on the 10-year Treasury bond. That yield on Monday hit the highest level since December, as investors flooded the stock market and pulled out of the bond markets. The runup on stocks is backed by a belief that the Trump administration will be a boon to the economy overall and the banking sector specifically. Higher mortgage rates, however, will throw a wrench into an already shaky housing recovery. Home prices have been rising dramatically in the past few months, largely due to a lack of homes for sale. During housing’s recovery from the worst crash in history, historically low mortgage rates allowed prices to gain quickly and, more recently, to rise far faster than both income and employment growth.

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“The chances are elevated that Trump starts his presidency off with a recession.”

The Bond Vigilantes Are Back, And Trump Better Be Careful (CNBC)

[..] the Federal Reserve has kept its short-term rate target anchored for the past eight years, raising just once – a quarter-point increase in December 2015 – and perhaps once more next month. The Fed had been an aggressive buyer in the Treasury market, ballooning its balance sheet to $4.5 trillion in three rounds of quantitative easing. In the meantime, investors continue to fret over a bond bull market that has been ongoing for more than three decades. Each predicted end of the fixed income rally has been wrong. But Trump’s plans for aggressive fiscal policy, the likes of which hasn’t been since before the Great Recession, have renewed fears.

“When you have inflation and growth, or the prospect for more growth, that slams smack into a bond bubble, it’s a very dangerous cocktail,” said Michael Pento, head of Pento Portfolio Strategies. Pento worries that the combination of market factors could stop the president-elect before he gets started. “There’s a lot of bad stuff that’s already occurred,” he said. “If you put them on a ledger, on the good side there’s hoped-for growth policies in 2017. On the bad side, you already have a spiking dollar, spiking interest rates. The chances are elevated that Trump starts his presidency off with a recession.”

However, if the bond vigilantes do swoop in, they could find themselves with a formidable opponent, namely the Fed and other central banks, which could adopt a whatever-it-takes approach to keeping yields in check and thwarting an economic downturn. The Fed has been at the global forefront for ambitious and unconventional monetary policies, but the Bank of Japan’s recent move to target its 10-year note yield at zero took the game to a new level. Should troubles erupt in the bond market, more action would be likely by the Fed. “Consider a scenario where a large fiscal stimulus (or the expectation of such stimulus) pushes up bond yields so sharply that risk assets and the economy suffer,” Joachim Fels, global economic adviser at bond giant Pimco, said in a note Tuesday.

“To prevent a bond tantrum, the central bank may want to limit the rise in yields by intervening in the bond market directly. The cleanest way to do this is to announce a cap on yields and stand ready to buy unlimited amounts to preserve the cap if needed.” That would be over the long term, though. In a shorter time frame, Kroll’s Whalen said he thinks a recent prediction by Jeff Gundlach at DoubleLine that the U.S. 10-year yield could hit 6% in five years is “conservative.”

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Even Warren gets back to making some sense. What she doesn’t get is that this is exactly what Trump wants her to do. If she would want to irk him, she’d stay silent and let the selection process create its own swamp. By speaking out, she helps The Donald select his crew. Because the transition team is not in disarray, as I see 1000 voices claim; it’s simply a different process. They put a name out there with the express goal of seeing what the reactions are. And in typical Trump style, the first ones are extreme (Bannon), so he has room to climb down.

Elizabeth Warren Criticizes Trump Transition Team’s Wall Street Ties (WSJ)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren warned President-elect Donald Trump against choosing “Wall Street insiders” for top financial posts, likely previewing the confirmation battles to come in the Senate. In a letter to the president-elect dated Tuesday, the Massachusetts Democrat specifically noted three members of the Trump transition team with ties to Wall Street and “demonstrated records of failure during the 2008 financial crisis” whom she would find unacceptable for top positions: David Malpass,Paul Atkins and Steve Mnuchin. Mr. Malpass, a former Bear Stearns chief economist, is working on shaping Mr. Trump’s Treasury Department, which Mr. Mnuchin is a leading candidate to lead. Mr. Atkins, a former SEC commissioner during the George W. Bush administration, is working to fill the ranks of financial regulatory agencies in the Trump administration.

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“In case you were wondering, I was not jumping up and down cheering the Trump victory, amazing as it was. I figured the good news was that Hillary lost and the bad news was that Trump won. Now, we just have to roll with it.”

What Now? (Jim Kunstler)

The USA is squandering its vitality trying to maintain a half-assed global empire of supposed interests, economic, ideological, and existential. Lately, this hapless project has only resulted in wars with no end in places we don’t belong. It includes reckless experiments such as the promotion of regime change (Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, Egypt, Syria), and senseless, provocative exercises such as the use of NATO forces to run war games near Russia’s border. The monetary cost of all this is off the hook, of course, redounding to the financial mess. Reigning in these imperial impulses could be on the Trump agenda, but his own gold-plated imperial pretensions suggest that he might actually make the situation worse by conflating a reduction of our empire with a loss of the very “greatness” he wants to reclaim.

[..] The great project awaiting this country is how we might redistribute our people into re-scaled walkable communities with re-localized economies, including re-scaled agriculture. It’s going to happen whether we like it or not. It’s only a matter of how disorderly the process may be. Obviously all the suburban crapola out there also represents a tremendous load of presumed wealth. The vested “value” in suburban houses alone is the underlayment of structured finance. There is almost no conscious political awareness in any party — including the Greens – as to how we might attempt to work this out. But, for example, and for a start, Mr. Trump might consider the effect that national chain “Big Box” shopping has had on Main Street America. It literally destroyed local commercial economies all over the land, and with it numberless vocational niches and social roles in communities.

[..] The chatter this week has been all about the upcoming “infrastructure” orgy that Trump will undertake. That depends first of all on how badly the financial sector cracks up. I hope we do not squander more of our dwindling capital on the accessories of car dependence, because that addiction is on the way out. One thing Mr. Trump might get behind is restoring the passenger railroads of America so that we can at least get around the continental nation when the Happy Motoring fiesta grinds to a halt. It would put an awful lot of people to work on something with real long-term benefit – it ties into the restoration of Main Street towns and their economies – and it is a do-able project that might give us the needed encouragement to get on with the many other necessary projects awaiting our attention.

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Imagine having to lick up to Trump.

GOP Rushes To Embrace Trump (Hill)

Republican lawmakers spent the past year keeping Donald Trump at arm’s length. Now they’re tripping over themselves to embrace him. Returning to Washington for the first time since Trump’s presidential victory, GOP leaders handed out “Make America Great Again” hats at their weekly conference meeting on Tuesday. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) named a top Trump ally, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), as the congressional liaison to the presidential transition team. At one point Tuesday, Ryan referred to the president-elect by his first name, “Donald.” In past months, Ryan wouldn’t even dare mention his name, often calling him only “the nominee.” This all would have been unimaginable even a month ago. Some Republicans acknowledged there had been a sea change since Trump surprised Democrats and some in his own party by defeating Hillary Clinton.

Republicans on Capitol Hill “are so excited. People are coming up to me, telling me they’ve been with Trump since day one,” Collins explained to reporters. “And I kind of look and say, ‘Well, OK, if you say so.’ “Donald Trump has accomplished for us something no one thought possible. … Everything is red, and we’ve got four solid years to get this right.” After winning the GOP nomination to be Speaker for the next two years, Ryan gave yet another shout-out to Trump – the second of the day. “This leadership team is unified. This entire House Republican Conference is unified,” said Ryan, flanked by his leadership team. “And we are so eager to get to work with our new president-elect to fix America’s pressing problems.” Never mind when Trump called Ryan a “very weak and ineffective leader” last month, after the Speaker announced he’d no longer try to defend or campaign with him.

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“They’re going to lock down the system.”

Rickards: Financial Crisis Coming Soon, Will Be Different (BBG)

Jim Rickards, West Shore Group’s chief global strategist and author of “The Road to Ruin,” discusses the possibility of another financial crisis with Bloomberg’s Vonnie Quinn and David Gura on “Bloomberg Markets.”

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It’s troubling that the Chinese have started borrowing to buy everything, holding up a mirror to us westerners. It’s more troubling that it turns banks into outlets for the shadow banking system.

Another Financial Warning Sign Is Flashing in China (BBG)

Add another credit indicator to the financial warning signs flashing in China. The adjusted loan-to-deposit ratio, which includes a range of off-balance sheet items and is an indicator of the banking system’s ability to weather stress, climbed to 80% as of June 30, according to S&P Global Ratings. For some smaller lenders, the ratio has already topped 100%, S&P estimates. S&P’s adjusted measure is rising much faster than the official loan-to-deposit ratio as banks pile into off-balance sheet lending, sidestepping government efforts to rein in credit. At the current pace, overall credit could surpass deposits on an adjusted basis within a few years – a level that would give China little leeway to stave off financial turmoil, S&P says.

“The next two to three years is a crucial window for China to rein in the ratio, or we will be in serious trouble,” said S&P’s Beijing-based director Liao Qiang. “Reaching 100% doesn’t mean a crisis will ensue immediately, but it shows China’s entire deposit base is used up and any loss of confidence from savers will severely destabilize the banking system.” Even after S&P’s adjustments, the ratio in China remains lower than in many other countries. Yet the country’s rapid loan growth, diminishing return on credit and rising bad debts combine to make deposits a particularly important buffer against future financial distress, according to Liao. Deposit-taking has formed a cornerstone of China’s banking system as it expanded in tandem with the economy, providing lenders with a stable, low-cost funding base to fuel credit growth.

Chinese households and companies hold $22 trillion of bank deposits, more than anywhere else in the world. That cushion has made lenders less dependent on short-term wholesale funding than banks elsewhere. For two decades, China imposed a cap that limited loans to a maximum 75% of deposits as part of measures to contain risks. That ceiling was abolished in October 2015, in part because it was seen as a blunt tool that encouraged illicit deposit-hoarding and moving loans off balance sheets. The official loan-to-deposit ratio among Chinese lenders stood at 67% at the end of September, up only slightly from 66% when the cap was lifted. But that measure has become less relevant as Chinese banks – especially small and mid-sized ones – have stepped up shadow lending and sales of savings-like offerings called wealth management products, which don’t get carried on their balance sheets.

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This could yet get out of control in sinister ways. Fishing industries collapse, farmers can’t buy seeds.

India’s Great Rupee Fail (BBG)

One week after India’s sudden declaration that 500- and 1,000-rupee notes were no longer legal tender, the economy is in chaos. And that’s perhaps because the policy was designed as much to shock and awe observers with the government’s command of the Indian economy as to control India’s “black money” problem. What seemed at first to be a masterstroke by Prime Minister Narendra Modi now looks like a grave miscalculation. Modi is beginning to sound like he may agree. His recent speeches on the subject have been frankly bizarre. In one, he seemed to laugh at those inconvenienced by the ban; in another, he broke down while speaking of the “sacrifices” he’d made for India, and warned that he might be assassinated by “forces” desperate to protect their “loot.”

What’s changed in a week? Well, for one, it’s become clear that the government was simply too cavalier in its planning. Now that 86% of India’s currency is no longer valid, the central bank has struggled to print replacement denominations – and the new notes are the wrong size for existing ATMs. Modi’s asked people to be patient for 50 days, but the process could take as long as four months. You have to wonder if Modi truly sought expert advice, or relied once again on a small and trusted set of politicians to determine policy. India’s simply too big and complex for shock and awe. Large parts of the rural economy use cash for 80% of transactions and have been hard-hit. In seafood-mad West Bengal, for example, the fishing industry is in a state of near-collapse; in the wheat-growing states of the northwest, farmers halfway through the sowing season have run out of cash to buy seeds.

Few villagers have access to an ATM. Most have to trek to a bank branch to change their cash, which means losing out on crucial days of labor. Many Indians, particularly women, still don’t have an active bank account. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley wondered aloud how many poor people would even have 1,000-rupee notes – probably a rhetorical question, but surely it shouldn’t have been. Someone should’ve sought the answer before shutting down India’s financial system. Among India’s middle class, Modi’s “surgical strike on black money” still appears to be popular. It’s the old “vegan fallacy” – if something tastes terrible, it must be good for you. Enough Indians are suffering that they believe it must be in a greater cause. It’s a moral project, not an economic one. Stand in line, we’re told, and you honor our brave soldiers at the border.

But will that support last? The government’s plan is likely to be ineffective in the long term. Economists agree it will have no effect on the generation of black money through corruption. Meanwhile, estimates of the amount of black money that will eventually be recovered vary widely. The optimists (wrongly) think enough cash will be destroyed by hoarders that the central bank will be able to pay a hefty dividend to the government. Others point out that a very small fraction of black money tends to be held as cash and that there are a dozen ways still available to launder that fraction.

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And anyone who ever thought otherwise was a fool to do so.

Lack Of New Building Not To Blame For Soaring House Prices (Ind.)

Soaring house prices and plummeting home ownership rates in the UK have not been driven by a lack of new housing construction, a Labour party-commissioned review has found, contradicting conventional wisdom on the nature of the housing crisis. The Redfern Review, published today, states, instead, that the biggest drivers of the large increase in house prices over the past two decades have been rising incomes, falling interest rates and, more recently, a lack of mortgage finance availability for first-time buyers and the weakness of this group’s income growth. It also warns that even substantially increasing the supply of new homes will not directly improve the home ownership rate in the near term.

“New household formation and supply have been broadly in balance over the last 20 years and therefore the significant increases in house prices over that period have not been driven primarily by supply constraints,” it concludes. It finds that tougher rules on how much first time buyers can borrow for a mortgage has been the biggest downward force on the home ownership rate since 2008, followed by rapid increase in house prices. It said that the third biggest driver was a 10 per cent fall in the incomes of young people aged 28-30 relative to those aged over 40 since the financial crisis.

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It’s high time to put the issue to rest, and show native Americans that treaties will be respected.

Fate Of Controversial US Oil Pipeline Heads Back To Court (AFP)

The operators of a North Dakota oil pipeline struck back at the US government Tuesday, asking a court to stop regulators from further delaying the contentious project opposed by Native Americans. The move by Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners came after the US Army Corps of Engineers on Monday effectively put the brakes on the four-state long Dakota Access Pipeline by calling for more analysis and discussion. The companies responded by asking a federal district court in Washington, the US capital, to declare that they had the right to complete their project without the need for more approvals from regulators.

“The Dakota Access Pipeline has waited long enough,” Kelcy Warren, chief executive of Energy Transfer Partners, said in a statement. “It is time for the Courts to end this political interference and remove whatever legal cloud that may exist.” The decision by the Corps, whose permission is required for the pipeline to be built under the Missouri River and the man-made Lake Oahe in North Dakota, was a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The waterways are the tribe’s drinking water source, and it has objected to building the 1,172-mile pipeline underneath the river and lake, for fear that it might leak. “The Army continues to welcome any input that the Tribe believes is relevant to the proposed pipeline crossing,” the Corps said.

The tribe, which now believes it has the momentum in its battle against the companies, wants the pipeline’s route altered away from lands near its reservation. It also claims those lands contain sacred historic artifacts. “They are wrong and the lawsuit will not succeed,” the tribe’s chairman Dave Archambault said Tuesday in a statement responding to the companies’ action. He claimed that the pipeline’s operators are in a rush to complete the project before the end of the year, or risk losing shipping contracts that would jeopardize its viability. “They made bad decisions and are now facing the consequences. The tide is turning against this project. We thank all of our water protectors who have raised their voices against it. You are being heard,” Archambault said.

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He may ask Trump to end US investigation. That would be a bold move.

Assange Optimistic Sweden Will End Probe Into Rape Claim (SMH)

Julian Assange is optimistic that Swedish prosecutors will drop their investigation into rape allegations after he spent a day and a half being questioned in London, his lawyer says. And his team will write to the new Trump administration asking that the US end its investigation of Assange over Wikileaks’ publication of leaked classified material. Swedish assistant prosecutor Ingrid Isgren was present at the interview, which was conducted by an Ecuadorian prosecutor. After Assange gave a day-long statement on Monday, Tuesday was a question-and-answer session lasting about four hours. The results of the interview will be reported from Ecuador to the Swedish prosecutors in a written statement. The prosecutors will then decide whether to continue or end their investigation.

In a brief statement, the Swedish Prosecution Authority said the investigation and the interview at the embassy were “subject to confidentiality”. Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson said on Tuesday evening she was unable to give details of the day’s questioning, including whether her client was asked for a DNA sample – as the Swedish prosecutors had said they intended. [..] Wikileaks played a crucial role during the presidential election, releasing emails hacked from Democratic Party servers which linked Hillary Clinton to big business and pulled the curtain from the political machinations behind her campaign. Asked if Donald Trump would return the favour by ending the investigation into Assange, Ms Robinson said “we would always be open to a conversation about closing it down”. “We’ll have to discuss that with our US counsel but we’ve written to the Obama administration and no doubt we will write to future US administrations until this is resolved.”

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Color revolution passes from Ukraine to America.

The Technosphere Hiccups (Dmitry Orlov)

[..] it would appear that the technosphere has suffered a setback. But it will not give up so easily, and the next step for it is to deploy political technologies to, if at all possible, invalidate and nullify the results of its electoral defeat. Indeed, this has already started: Bill and Hillary Clinton have recently shown up for a meeting with another ectoplasmic emanation of the technosphere, the predatory billionaire George Soros, clad in accents of Roman imperial purple. The rationale they gave for displaying the colors of the emperor’s toga is that it is a mixture of red and blue, and thus represents compromise. However, compromise, in their case, would be to exit from public life, for both of them are too old to ever run for any office again.

No, this display of imperial colors is just that: a signal that the empire is getting ready to strike back: we should look forward to another attempt at a Color Revolution—the Purple Revolution—this time in the United States, financed by the very same George Soros. This mixed-up signaling is typical: after the Russian election, in which Putin was again elected president, the same Color Revolution syndicate organized and financed protests there, featuring little white ribbons—which, as it happens, were worn by Nazi collaborators during World War II. This nuance was not lost on the Russians, and the protests came to naught. The technosphere is powerful, but is not all-powerful or infallible, and the world is developing effective antibodies against it generally, and against its political technologies, and the technology of the Color Revolution Syndicate in particular.

Here’s an example: the US spent some $5 billion on destabilizing the Ukraine politically and turning it into an enemy of Russia. For a while people in Kiev could earn more in a day by protesting than in a month by working a job. End result: in a recent opinion survey, 84% (34,900) Ukrainians said that the person they want to be the president of the Ukraine is… Vladimir Putin, with the current president, hand-picked by the US State Department, lost somewhere in the margin of error. [..] there now exists an anti-technology for dealing with the technology of Color Revolution, and all it takes to put it into action is a few groups of patriots. To remind: patriots are not nationalists; nationalists are people who hate other nations; patriots are people who love their land, and their people, more than any other, and are willing to lay down their lives in defense of it.

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One of the world’s richest nations. Shame on you, Justin.

One Quarter Of Children in Toronto, Montreal Live In Poverty (CP)

A new report says Toronto has the highest percentage of children living in poverty of any large city in Canada – 27% – and that the closest runner-up is Montreal. In Montreal, 25% of children were living in poverty in 2014. At 24%, Winnipeg was third on a list of Canadian cities with a population higher than 500,000. The report, titled Divided City: Life in Canada’s Child Poverty Capital, says 133,000 children in Toronto were living in low-income families in 2014, the year the data were collected.

A coalition of groups including the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto issued the report as that city weighs up to $600 million in cuts to such programs and services as community housing, transit and student nutrition. It says racialized families, new immigrant families, single-parent families and families with disabilities are up to three times more likely to live in poverty. Only half of children in families with an annual income of less than $30,000 were found to participate in out-of-school art or sports programs, compared with 93% of students in families with an income of $100,000 or more.

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Mar 282015
 
 March 28, 2015  Posted by at 11:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle March 28 2015


Lewis Wickes Hine Child labor at Gorenflo Canning Co., Biloxi, Mississippi 1911

Yellen Sees Gradual Pace of Rate Increases Starting This Year (Bloomberg)
Housing Contribution To US GDP Lowest In Post-War Era (Zero Hedge)
The Bottom’s Not In – This Market Is Dumber Than A Mule (David Stockman)
Greek Crisis Nears A Turning Point (MarketWatch)
Austerity Is Greece’s Only Hope (Hans-Werner Sinn)
Varoufakis Denies Resignation, Greeks Accused Of “Gambling” Away Trust (Teleg.)
Alternate Greek FinMin Tsakalotos Says Athens ‘Prepared For Rift’ (Kathimerini)
Greece Submits New List Of Reforms To Unlock Further Aid (Reuters)
Greece’s German Allies Aghast as Tsipras Fails to Assure (Bloomberg)
Is Spain’s Recovery For Real? (Guardian)
Someone Needs To Go Broke In The Australian Iron Ore Industry (Guardian)
Emerging World: Heading For Contagious Credit Crisis? (CNBC)
Oil Is Preparing For A New World Order (CNBC)
Japan Inc. Doesn’t Believe In Abenomics (CNBC)
Petrobras Said to Start Asset Sale With Fields in Argentina (Bloomberg)
Reinhart and Rogoff: Cut Government Debt Creatively (Bloomberg)
Elizabeth Warren Launches Counteroffensive Against Citigroup (Bloomberg)
Monsanto Lobbyist Calls Roundup Safe for Humans, But Won’t Drink It (RawStory)

Why am I thinking June? Is it because everybody says it won’t be?

Yellen Sees Gradual Pace of Rate Increases Starting This Year (Bloomberg)

Chair Janet Yellen said she expects the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this year, and that subsequent increases will be gradual without following a predictable path. “I expect that conditions may warrant an increase in the federal funds rate target sometime this year,” Yellen said Friday in remarks prepared for delivery in San Francisco. She and fellow policy makers “generally anticipate that a rather gradual rise in the federal funds rate will be appropriate over the next few years.” After the initial increase, officials won’t follow “any predetermined course of tightening” that involves similar-sized increases at regular intervals, Yellen said.

“The actual path of policy will evolve as economic conditions evolve, and policy tightening could speed up, slow down, pause, or even reverse course depending on actual and expected developments in real activity and inflation,” she said. Policy makers last week opened the door to an interest-rate increase as soon as June, while also signaling they’ll go slow once they get started. The benchmark federal funds rate has been kept near zero since December 2008. Rates near zero helped cause a “sizable reduction” in labor market slack, and a modest rate increase is “highly unlikely” to halt that progress, Yellen said.[..]

The labor market is “likely to improve further in coming months,” Yellen said. At the same time, progress on meeting the Fed’s inflation goal has been “notably absent.” Some of the weakness in inflation “likely reflects continuing slack” in labor markets. Despite disappointing retail-sales data, she said consumer spending probably will “expand at a good clip this year given such robust fundamentals as strong employment gains, boosts to real incomes from lower energy prices, continued increases in household wealth, and a relatively high level of consumer confidence.”

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End of a line.

Housing Contribution To US GDP Lowest In Post-War Era (Zero Hedge)

Deutsche Bank is out predicting that a sluggish US housing market is likely to impact the supply of MBS going forward. As DB notes, housing isn’t the GDP contributor it once was and not by a long shot. Not only that, but when it comes to recoveries, the housing market’s GDP contribution was 7 times below its post WW2 average in year one and has fared even worse since. Here’s DB with more:

The contribution of housing to US GDP continues to run at some of the lowest levels since the end of World War II. New construction of single- and multi-family homes, renovations, broker fees and the like still only make up a bit more than 3% of current GDP, well below the post-war average of 4.7%. Not only has the level of lift from housing come in low, but it has bounced out of the last official recession slowly, too. Housing on average has contributed a half a percentage point to GDP a year after the end of every post-war US recession. This time around, housing added only 7 bp. And the contribution of housing in the second and third years after the recent recession also has fallen well below post-war averages.

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“Even if the pace is slackening, the Chinese are still building high-rise apartments which will remain empty and airports, roads, rails and bridges that are hideously redundant.”

The Bottom’s Not In – This Market Is Dumber Than A Mule (David Stockman)

They were trying to put in a bottom – again! The sell-off earlier this week amounted to the sixth sizeable “dip” since November 20 – so the market’s ingrained reflex was back at work all afternoon, trying to scoop up the “bargains”. But the roundtrip to the flat-line shown below is not a classic “wall of worry” and its not a “bottom” that’s being put in. This market is dumber than a mule, and the nation’s central bank and its counterparts around the world have made it so. The plain truth is that six years of torrential money printing and worldwide ZIRP have not happened with impunity. On the one hand, massive, sustained and universal financial repression caused an artificial growth and investment boom in much of the world, especially China and the EM, which has now run out of steam and is visibly and rapidly cooling.

There is probably no better proxy for the global investment boom than the spot price of iron ore because it captures China’s massive infrastructure construction spree and the waves of mining, shipbuilding, steel-making and construction materials spending that it set off all over the world. But this huge tidal wave has now crested, leaving behind the worst of both worlds – cooling demand and still expanding supply. For the first time since around 1980, China’s steel consumption is projected to fall in 2015 – with demand slumping from 830 million tons last year toward 800 million tons, and that is just the beginning as China’s credit-fueled construction frenzy finally comes to a halt. In fact, during the boom that took iron ore prices from a historic level of around $20-30 per ton to a peak of nearly $200 in 2011, China’s iron and steel capacity grew like topsy. Production capacity expanded from about 200 million tons at the turn of the century to upwards of 1.1 billion tons at present.

Yet this year’s decline of demand to around 800 million tons does not begin to reflect the coming adjustment. That’s because there is still a residual component of one-time demand in that number that is in no way sustainable. Even if the pace is slackening, the Chinese are still building high-rise apartments which will remain empty and airports, roads, rails and bridges that are hideously redundant. Eventually that will end because even the red capitalist rulers in Beijing are terrified of China’s towering mountain of debt – $28 trillion and still rising by hundreds of billions every month. Yet underneath this one-time explosion of demand for steel, aluminum, copper, concrete and the rest of the materials slate is something called sell-through demand. The latter reflects the sustainable level of demand for replacement of long-lived assets like bridges and shorter-term durables like cars and appliances. In the case of steel, that sustainable “sell through” demand level could be as low as 500-600 million tons or hardly half of China’s steel production capacity.

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“For the first time since the early 20th century, there are the elements of a genuine revolution brewing in Europe, a continent plagued by violence throughout its history.”

Greek Crisis Nears A Turning Point (MarketWatch)

The simmering crisis in Greece has the potential to become one of those seemingly small events that leads to big consequences. The election of a radical government by a public exhausted from five years of debilitating recession, the war of words conducted by that government in the face of the iron fist of establishment power in the European Union, and the expected resolution either in the form of a total retreat by the Greek government and its collapse or an exit from the euro – all this seems relatively small on the scale of global events. But few expected the assassination of an Austrian royal heir to start World War I, or the shelling of a military depot in Gdansk by German forces in 1939 to lead to the conflagration of World War II, or, for that matter, the strike in 1980 by Polish trade union Solidarity in that same port city to lead to the unraveling of the Soviet empire.

The Greek crisis could well become a similar turning point in history. Amid all the posturing, dogmatism and bad faith in the standoff between the government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and European and international monetary officials is a genuine challenge not only to the postwar integration of Europe but the entire foundation of the peace ushered in during that period. So if you’re sick and tired of hearing about Greece, think again. For the first time since the early 20th century, there are the elements of a genuine revolution brewing in Europe, a continent plagued by violence throughout its history. The bumbling, short-sighted policies of the German government under Chancellor Angela Merkel and the spineless Brussels bureaucracy dominated by Berlin are in many ways similar to previous miscalculations by European leaders that plunged Europe and the world into disaster.

And it is not helped by a U.S. foreign policy in disarray under the weak and uneven leadership of a president ill-equipped to deal with global realpolitik. The Greek government itself seems to be operating in a parallel universe of false hopes. The economy minister, George Stathakis, said he is optimistic Greece will reach an agreement with international lenders next week even though their stated goals remain diametrically opposed.

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No, it’s not.

Austerity Is Greece’s Only Hope (Hans-Werner Sinn)

The euro has brought a balance-of-payments crisis to Europe, just as the gold standard did in the 1920s. In fact, there is only one difference between the two episodes: During today’s crisis, huge international rescue packages have been available. These rescue packages have relieved the eurozone’s financial distress, but at a high cost. Not only have they enabled investors to avoid paying for their poor decisions; they have also given overpriced southern European countries the opportunity to defer real depreciation in the form of a reduction of relative prices of goods. This is necessary to restore the competitiveness that was destroyed in the euro’s initial years, when it caused excessive inflation.

Indeed, for countries like Greece, Portugal, or Spain, regaining competitiveness would require them to lower the prices of their own products relative to the rest of the eurozone by about 30%, compared to the beginning of the crisis. Italy probably needs to reduce its relative prices by 10-15%. But Portugal and Italy have so far failed to deliver any such “real depreciation,” while relative prices in Greece and Spain have fallen by only 8% and 6%, respectively. Revealingly, of all the crisis countries, only Ireland managed to turn the corner. The reason is obvious: its bubble already burst at the end of 2006, before any rescue funds were available.

Ireland was on its own, so it had no option but to implement massive austerity measures, reducing its product prices relative to other eurozone countries by 13% from peak to trough. Today, Ireland’s unemployment rate is falling dramatically, and its manufacturing sector is booming. In relative terms, Greece received most of Europe’s bailout money and showed the largest increase in unemployment. The official loans granted to the country by the European Central Bank and the international community have increased more than sixfold during the past five years, from €53 billion ($58 billion) in February 2010 to €324 billion, or 181% of GDP, now. Nevertheless, the unemployment rate has more than doubled, from 11% to 26%.

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“Any decision to remove ELA would effectively force Greece out of the eurozone by pulling the plug..”

Varoufakis Denies Resignation, Greeks Accused Of “Gambling” Away Trust (Teleg.)

Responding to a story in Bild on Friday morning, who quoted a Greek government source saying that it was only a matter of time until Mr Varoufakis resigned, the “rock-star” former academic tweeted he found the reports of his apparent demise, “amusing”. A Greek government official had earlier dismissed the reports, telling Reuters: “None of this is true, it’s far from reality.” Mr Varoufakis has become a controversial figure in the fractious negotiations between Greece and its eurozone creditors. Tensions reached a peak when the minister was caught up in a farcical argument over whether he “stuck the middle finger” to the eurozone giant during a lecture he gave in 2013. The finance minister, who is not a member of parliament for the Syriza party, also walked out on an TV interview earlier this month, after he was questioned about being a “liability” to his government.

Athens has been scrambling to make repayments to its creditors while continuing to pay wages and pensions. The government now faces another €2.4bn cash squeeze in April, including a €450m loan repayment to the IMF on April 9. In a bid to finally release €7.2bn in bail-out funds, Greece has promised to deliver a full reform list to creditors by Monday. But in a sign of the frayed relations between the debtor country and its paymasters, Germany’s Bundesbank chief accused the Leftist government of betraying the trust of its creditors. “Until the autumn, an improvement in the economy had been discernible. But the new government has gambled away a lot of trust,” said Jens Weidmann, an ardent critic of financial relief for Athens. Mr Weidmann added he did not “buy the argument that they are financially overburdened,” referring to the state of Greece’s finances.

As part of its efforts to stay solvent over the next few weeks, Greece has requested a €1.9bn transfer of profits held by the ECB, from the holdings of Greek government bonds. So far, the ECB has rebuffed all Greek pleas to alleviate their cash squeeze. The central bank has been keeping Greek banks alive through the provision of emergency liquidity assitance (ELA), after it stopped its ordinary lending to the country after Syriza’s election. Any decision to remove ELA would effectively force Greece out of the eurozone by pulling the plug on the country’s stricken lenders and giving way to capital controls.

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“We are creating ambiguity with the creditors intentionally because they have to know that we are prepared for a rift, otherwise you can’t negotiate..”

Alternate Greek FinMin Tsakalotos Says Athens ‘Prepared For Rift’ (Kathimerini)

Alternate Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos on Friday made waves by saying that the Greek government was “always prepared for a rift.” Tsakalotos, who is the ministry’s key official for international economic relations, made the comment during an interview on Star television channel, prompting a flurry of reactions and criticism on social media. Tsakalotos was speaking just two days after Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was caught on camera during a visit to Crete on the occasion of Greece’s Independence Day telling a citizen that he hoped Greeks would continue to back the government “after the rift.” Varoufakis’ comment was subsequently played down by SYRIZA commentators who said he might have been referring to a possible rift with vested interests in Greece rather than with the country’s creditors.

Apparently in the same vein, Tsakalotos said on Friday, “If you don’t entertain the possibility of a rift in the back of your mind then obviously the creditors will pass the same measures as they did with the previous [government].” “We are creating ambiguity with the creditors intentionally because they have to know that we are prepared for a rift, otherwise you can’t negotiate,” he said. He added that the new government is intent on backing “those who lost a lot in the crisis, and that we are prepared, if things do not go well, for a rift.” Prior to his comments, Tsakalotos took part in a meeting with Varoufakis and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

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Motions. Through. Going.

Greece Submits New List Of Reforms To Unlock Further Aid (Reuters)

Greece has sent its creditors a long-awaited list of reforms with a pledge to produce a small budget surplus this year in the hope that it will unlock badly needed cash, Greek government officials said on Friday. The EU and IMF lenders, informally called the Brussels Group, will start discussing the list later on Friday, a euro zone official said, although a Greek official said the examination would begin on Saturday. Their approval, followed by the blessing of euro zone finance ministers, will be needed for Athens to unfreeze further aid and stave off bankruptcy. Athens has not indicated whether the latest list will contain a more far-reaching reform program than a previous list of seven reforms on broad issues ranging from tax evasion to public sector reforms, which failed to impress lenders.

The new list includes measures to boost state revenues by €3 billion this year, but will not include any “recessionary measures” like wage or pension cuts, a government official said. The list estimates a primary budget surplus of 1.5% for 2015 – below the 3% target included in the country’s existing EU/IMF bailout – and growth of 1.4%, the official said. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s left-wing government has previously said the list will include measures to improve investor sentiment, boost tax revenues, and judicial reform. The government is also expected to address some form of pension reform, though it has already excluded any attempt to raise the retirement age or other sensitive measures that would be viewed as cutting pension payouts for austerity-hit Greeks.

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Aghast, I tell you.

Greece’s German Allies Aghast as Tsipras Fails to Assure (Bloomberg)

Even Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s friends in Germany are getting exasperated with his government after a visit to Berlin fueled skepticism that he can do what’s needed to end the impasse over his country’s finances. While the atmosphere was good in talks between Tsipras and Chancellor Angela Merkel this week, an improvement in tone may not help resolve a standoff over the reforms required to unlock aid, according to a German government official familiar with the chancellor’s strategy on Greece who asked not to be named because the meeting was private. Members of Merkel’s Social Democratic coalition partners, who have sought to strike a more moderate tone on Greece than her party, were left unconvinced that he can resolve the crisis.

“What’s coming out of Greece is moving completely in the wrong direction,” Joachim Poss, a Social Democratic lawmaker who is the party’s deputy parliamentary spokesman on finance policy, said in an interview. “The situation is really worrying — we’re stunned watching the developments.” Tsipras’s difficulty in persuading even more measured German policy makers he’s on the right track risks entrenching a conflict with Greece’s European creditors as his government runs out of money. More than a month after winning an extension of the country’s bailout deal, Greek officials will finally submit plans on how they’ll meet the conditions for releasing aid on Friday, an official from Tsipras’s administration said.

The delay led Thomas Oppermann, the Social Democrat Bundestag floor leader, to join Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in speculating about a possible Greek exit. “A Greek exit from the euro zone would be a political disaster, not only for the euro zone but for the whole idea of Europe,” Oppermann told Deutschlandfunk radio March 24. “Of course we can’t rule that out. It’s first of all down to the Greek government whether it does what is required to stay in the euro zone.”

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“..even when Rajoy says it’s getting better it pushes down his ratings because people don’t believe it.”

Is Spain’s Recovery For Real? (Guardian)

With this an election year in Spain, the tone in Madrid has turned triumphalist. Last month the finance minister predicted the country would enjoy five years of growth of up to 3%, while prime minister Mariano Rajoy has declared “the crisis is over” – only to be slapped down by the president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who said that could hardly be the case with 4.5 million people out of work. Backtracking, Rajoy said the crisis was over, but not its legacy. After regional polls in Andalusia handed 15 seats to anti-austerity party Podemos, 2015 is a big year for Spanish politics. There are also municipal elections in Madrid and Barcelona, another regional poll in Catalonia, and then, in November, the general election.

But not all voters share the government’s upbeat outlook. On the day the country’s economic minister, Luis de Guindos, gave his optimistic five-year forecasts to an audience of businesspeople, the national statistics office published a survey showing that four out of every five Spaniards believe the economy is in the same or worse state than last year and over half don’t believe things will improve in 2016. As more and more people pass the two-year cut-off for unemployment benefit, the number of beggars on the streets of Madrid and Barcelona is growing, many of them middle-aged, while an estimated 1.5 million Spaniards are now relying on soup kitchens for food. So what is really happening? [..]

Julia Fossi of the Barcelona soup kitchen Esperanza (the Spanish word for “hope”) says there has been a notable rise in the number of Spaniards sleeping on the street. “The average age is around 40 to 50,” she says. “People are evicted from their homes and sleep in entrances of banks. We had one woman who had been thrown out of her home who was sleeping in La Caixa with her cat.” Edward Hugh, a Welsh economist based in Spain, says: “The economic situation is perceived by most Spaniards as being so bad that even when Rajoy says it’s getting better it pushes down his ratings because people don’t believe it.”

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Everyone’s answer to the price slump: produce more.

Someone Needs To Go Broke In The Australian Iron Ore Industry (Guardian)

The Australian iron ore industry is poised for a huge shake-up as the global glut worsens and margins continue to tighten. The nation’s biggest iron ore miners, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, are still making money and expanding production, but questions remain about the viability of their heavily indebted rivals Fortescue and Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill project. Iron ore is trading at a six-year low of around $US55 per tonne amid weaker Chinese demand. The price slump this week prompted Fortescue’s chairman Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest to call for a cap on iron ore production which was promptly dismissed by Rinehart and the head of Rio Tinto Sam Walsh. But the price outlook remains bleak, with an extra 200m tonnes of the steel-making ingredient expected to be dumped on the market over the next few years.

Morningstar analyst Matthew Hodge says higher cost miners like Fortescue and Roy Hill will soon be “running to stand still”. “There has to be some rationalisation,” Hodge said. “Someone needs to go broke, or some miners need to merge production because what’s happening at the moment is unsustainable. “Things are bad and there’s no real sign they’re going to get any better soon, unless there’s a bit more enthusiasm around forming a cartel.” Fortescue has just finished a huge expansion program and Rio Tinto plans to expand by another 50m tonnes while Roy Hill will begin ramping up to 55m tonnes in September. Lurking in the background is Brazilian giant Vale which is planning a $20bn investment to expand production by another 90m tonnes by 2018.

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Why the question mark?

Emerging World: Heading For Contagious Credit Crisis? (CNBC)

Major emerging markets (EMs) like Brazil and Russia could be at risk of a widespread credit crisis—that could impact the world’s financial markets, experts warn. ING Investment Management warned in March that banks and companies in some emerging markets could topple if their currencies remained under pressure and capital outflows continue. “This pressure threatens to bring the fundamentally weakest countries into deep economic and political trouble,” said M.J. Bakkum, senior emerging markets strategist at ING, in a research note. “Brazil, Russia and Turkey are the most vulnerable. It is not impossible that serious corporate defaults happen or even that banks fall over in one of these countries. For the first time since 2002, we should consider the risk of contagion in the emerging world, with possibly implications for global financial markets.”

On Friday, Barclays cut its outlook for all major EM economies, with the exception of India, which it upgraded, and Indonesia, which it left unchanged. It forecast that EMs as a whole would decelerate to post average annual gross domestic product growth from 4.8% of 4.5% in 2015, with three of the four “BRIC” economies—Brazil, Russia and China—seen slowing. “This contrasts with the notable acceleration in advanced economies’ growth and implies the narrowest EM-DM (development market) growth gap since the early 2000s,” said analysts led by Christian Keller in Barclays Research’s quarterly EM report. On Friday, Capital Economics said that the global economy was “unlikely” to return to pre-crisis rates of growth without a revival in the BRICs.

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New oil order.

Oil Is Preparing For A New World Order (CNBC)

A new oil order has arrived and it will be marked by greater uncertainty and generally lower oil prices as the oil industry frantically re-prices as costs decline and gains in efficiency are made, strategists say. As investors continue to weigh up the fallout of a rout in oil prices since June last year, Goldman Sachs has warned that the “level of uncertainty cannot be underestimated as these dynamics spill over into the price of commodities, currencies and consumption baskets around the world, with far-reaching market and economic implications.” And amid heightened uncertainty, oil prices can swing sharply in either direction as developments this week have shown with a crisis in Yemen triggering a spike in crude.

“Oil has been sideways for about four months, in a $15 range; it hits a bottom, bounces up, hits the top comes back down,” Sean Corrigan, founder of True Sinews Consultancy told CNBC Europe’s “Squawk Box” Friday.”We’re all waiting for the next break and trying to find the signal that will push us from this range,” he added. The Goldman Sachs note, published late last week, adds that while it believes “the new equilibrium price for oil is $65 a barrel for WTI and $70 a barrel for Brent, the risks are skewed to the downside.” Those forecasts would imply gains of at least 21% for Brent crude from current levels around $58 and a rise of about 30% for WTI, which is trading at around $50. Still, and more significantly, prices would remain more than 30% below peak levels of above $100 a barrel on both oil contracts seen last year before concerns about a supply glut helped drive prices down.

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Nobody does.

Japan Inc. Doesn’t Believe In Abenomics (CNBC)

Tokyo stock prices are at fifteen-year highs, but Japanese corporations remain pessimistic about the country’s growth potential as Abenomics has fallen short of expectations, analysts say. “The demographics are negative – Japan is a super-aging society, not a growth market,” Fujitsu Research Institute senior economist Martin Schulz told CNBC by phone on Friday. “Japanese corporations have adapted and their strategy is to look for growth overseas.” More than two years after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power, a sharply weaker yen has boosted profits at blue chip exporters, spurring a sharp stock rally. But a recent government survey confirmed that Japan Inc remains pessimistic about the outlook for economic growth.

More companies plan to hold back from new capital investments, this year’s survey showed; the proportion planning new investments over the next three years was down 1.9 percentage points on-year, at 64.5%. “Companies still do not believe in Abenomics,” said Mizuho Research Institute chief economist Hajime Takata in a note published on Friday. “After fifteen years of deflation, corporate Japan’s mindset remains conservative,” he added by email. Still, while the broader economy is struggling to recover from the three percentage point consumption tax increase in April 2014 that tipped the economy into a technical recession, many of Japan’s blue chip corporations are thriving on a weaker yen.

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Public assets for pennies on the dollar to feudal lords.

Petrobras Said to Start Asset Sale With Fields in Argentina (Bloomberg)

Petroleo Brasileiro SA, the state-controlled company at the center of Brazil’s biggest corruption scandal, agreed to sell oil and natural gas fields in southern Argentina to billionaire Eduardo Eurnekian’s Corporacion America, two people with knowledge of the deal said. The sale, the first divestment since a management overhaul at Petrobras last month, was approved by the Rio de Janeiro-based company this month, the people said. The fields, in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz, are valued at about $90 million with proven reserves that are 75% gas, one of the people said.

The sale process in Argentina began in September and was delayed as Petrobras became ensnared in a corruption scandal that led to the resignation of Maria das Gracas Silva Foster as chief executive officer in February. New CEO Aldemir Bendine is leading a review of investment plans and corporate governance and is seeking to increase asset sales to raise funds as the company is locked out of international credit markets. Eurnekian is looking to expand his oil and gas unit after purchasing a majority stake in Cia General de Combustibles in 2013. The 82-year-old businessmen runs the holding with several nephews encompassing industries from airports to construction.

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Really? “Expanding the economy, especially in Europe, hasn’t been that easy?”

Reinhart and Rogoff: Cut Government Debt Creatively (Bloomberg)

It’s not just companies like Google and Facebook that need to tap creativity to thrive. Governments laboring under sovereign debt burdens should do so too, suggests a new Harvard Kennedy School research paper by Carmen M. Reinhart, Vincent Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. During the financial crisis, governments piled up so much debt that they’re now forced to think outside the box about how to get rid of the burden. Really, they should have considered the broader swath of options all along, their research suggests. Some cookie-cutter solutions include boosting growth, running primary budget surpluses and selling state-owned assets. Expanding the economy, especially in Europe, hasn’t been that easy.

On average, the growth of real GDP at very high levels of debt is below that at low levels of debt, the economists wrote. And selling off efficient utilities may bring governments some short-term relief while depriving them of revenues they could have expected over the long term. So how about more ingenious ways to fight debt? In the past these included taxing the wealthy, boosting inflation and even defaulting on debt obligations, the three economists wrote. “Advanced countries have relied far more on such approaches than many observers choose to remember,” the economists wrote, examining 70 episodes across 22 advanced economies since 1800.

Big debt hurts capital markets and economic growth and deprives the government of the crucial weapon of taking up more credit to respond to unexpected catastrophes. That’s why officials scramble to cut the burden when they can and how they can. [..] “Governments are the last line of resort in many situations, and it is important to maintain the option value of being able to issue sudden large bursts of debt in response to catastrophes (war, financial or otherwise),” Reinhart, Reinhart and Rogoff wrote in the latest paper. “The message from dozens of episodes of significant debt reductions in advanced economies since the Napoleonic War is that everything is on the table.”

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“The big banks have issued a threat, and it’s up to us to fight back.”

Elizabeth Warren Launches Counteroffensive Against Citigroup (Bloomberg)

Just hours after Reuters reported that Citigroup and other banks are debating whether to halt some of their own donations, Senator Elizabeth Warren is calling on her followers to make up the difference. Citing “concerns that Senate Democrats could give Warren and lawmakers who share her views more power,” Citigroup has already decided for now to withhold donations to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, sources inside the bank told Reuters. The maximum that bank could donate under campaign finance rules is $15,000 per year. “Citi’s Political Action Committee contributes to candidates and parties across the political spectrum that share our desire for pro-business policies that promote economic growth,” Molly Millerwise Meiners, Citi’s Director of Corporate Communications said in a statement.

Citigroup confirmed that it has not donated to the DSCC yet. “The big banks have issued a threat, and it’s up to us to fight back.” As for other banks, Goldman Sachs has already sent its 2015 donations, while Bank of America and JP Morgan are also considering their next steps. In December, Warren gave a long speech criticizing the close ties between Citigroup and Congress. “There’s a lot of talk coming from Citigroup about how the Dodd-Frank Act isn’t perfect,” Warren said. “So let me say this to anyone who is listening at Citi: I agree with you. Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect. It should have broken you into pieces.” The move is more symbolic than financial, and has already spurred a counteroffensive from Warren.

In a fundraising request (titled “Wall Street isn’t happy with us,”) Warren accused the banks of wanting Washington to puts its needs before Americans and “get a little public fanny-kissing for their money too.” The pitch argues that 2016 Democratic Senate candidates could lose $30,000 each, and asks for for help raising matching funds. “The big banks have issued a threat, and it’s up to us to fight back,” Warren wrote. If Citigroup, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America wanted to give Warren—a skilled fundraiser—a chance to bolster her image as an anti-Wall Street progressive hero and raise a few thousands, they succeeded. What this won’t do is make it easier for Democrats to soften their tone toward Wall Street.

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All honest people, mind you. Upstanding.

Monsanto Lobbyist Calls Roundup Safe for Humans, But Won’t Drink It (RawStory)

A controversial lobbyist who claimed that the chemical in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer was safe for humans refused to drink his own words when a French television journalist offered him a glass. In a preview of an upcoming documentary on French TV, Dr. Patrick Moore tells a Canal+ interviewer that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, was not increasing the rate of cancer in Argentina.

“You can drink a whole quart of it and it won’t hurt you,” Moore insists.
“You want to drink some?” the interviewer asks. “We have some here.”
“I’d be happy to, actually,” Moore replies, adding, “Not really. But I know it wouldn’t hurt me.”
“If you say so, I have some,” the interviewer presses.
“I’m not stupid,” Moore declares.
“So, it’s dangerous?” the interviewer concludes.

But Moore claims that Roundup is so safe that “people try to commit suicide” by drinking it, and they “fail regularly.”
“Tell the truth, it’s dangerous,” the interviewer says.
“It’s not dangerous to humans,” Moore remarks. “No, it’s not.”
“So, are you ready to drink one glass?” the interviewer continues to press.
“No, I’m not an idiot,” Moore says defiantly. “Interview me about golden rice, that’s what I’m talking about.”

At that point, Moore declares that the “interview is finished.”
“That’s a good way to solve things,” the interviewer quips.
“Jerk!” Moore grumbles as he storms off the set.

According to EcoWatch, Moore was an early member of Greenpeace before becoming a consultant for “the polluting companies that Greenpeace works to change: Big Oil, pesticides and GMO agribusiness, forestry, nuclear power … anyone who puts up the money for truth-benders who appear to carry scientific and environmental authority.”

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