Nov 132017
 
 November 13, 2017  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Mark Twain in Nikola Tesla’s lab 1894

 

John Hussman Forecasts A Decade Of Stock Losses (BI)
One In Five American Households Have ‘Zero Or Negative’ Wealth (MW)
Top Tech Stocks’ $1.7 Trillion Gain Eclipses Canada’s Economy (BBG)
Bitcoin Plunges 29% From Record High (BBG)
The End Of “The End Of History” (Luongo)
Warnings From the “China Beige Book” (Rickards)
UK Government Tensions Rise After Leak Of ‘Orwellian’ Memo Sent To May (G.)
More Than A Third Of UK Home Sellers Cut Asking Price (G.)
Fossil Fuel Burning Set To Hit Record High In 2017 (G.)
The Decisions Behind Monsanto’s Weed-Killer Crisis (R.)
Weed-Killer Prompts Angry Divide Among US Farmers (AFP)
Millions On Brink Of Famine In Yemen As Saudi Arabia Tightens Blockade (G.)

 

 

Big fall, big rise and an even bigger fall.

John Hussman Forecasts A Decade Of Stock Losses (BI)

As the equity bull market has climbed into rarefied air, investors have continuously come up with new ways to rationalize the rally. Right now, they like to cite earnings growth, which has expanded for several quarters after a prolonged rough patch. They also frequently mention interest rates that, despite hawkish signals from central banks, have remained low, supplying the market with a seemingly endless supply of cheap money. On the other side of the spectrum, John Hussman, the president of the Hussman Investment Trust and a former economics professor, thinks that the investment community is unwisely ignoring the most stretched valuations in history on the heels of a nearly 300% bull market run. Ever the outspoken bear, Hussman says investors are being willfully ignorant, which has stocks at risk of a drop that could reach 63% and send the market spiraling into a full decade of negative returns.

It wouldn’t be the first time in history this has happened. But Hussman thinks this crash will be different, because the reasons for market instability are “purely psychological” this time around, according to a recent blog post. At the root of Hussman’s pessimistic market view are stock valuations that look historically stretched by a handful of measures. According to his preferred valuation metric — the ratio of non-financial market cap to corporate gross value-added (Market Cap/GVA) — stocks are more expensive than they were in 1929 and 2000, periods that immediately preceded major market selloffs. “US equity market valuations at the most offensive levels in history,” he wrote in his November monthly note. “We expect that more extreme valuations will only be met by more severe losses.”

Those losses won’t just include the 63% plunge referenced above – it’ll also be accompanied by a longer 10 to 12 year period over which the S&P 500 will fall, says Hussman. He cites the chart below, which shows how closely 12-year expected returns for the benchmark have historically tracked Market Cap/GVA, which is shown in inverted fashion. Note that the expected trajectory for Market Cap/GVA shows the S&P 500 veering into negative territory. The psychology behind the market’s willingness to accept lofty stock valuations stems from the flawed rationale that prices are justified by low interest rates, says Hussman. To him, the US economy is growing too slowly for this to be true, and that any belief to the contrary gives people false confidence.

Read more …

While other reports say some 70% live paycheck to paycheck. Which one is true? At least it should be clear that the US is not doing well at all.

One In Five American Households Have ‘Zero Or Negative’ Wealth (MW)

Millions of Americans are living on the edge. One in five households has zero or negative wealth, according to a report released this week by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C. What’s more, an even greater share of African-American (30%) and Latino (27%) households are “underwater” financially. The combined impact of $1 trillion in credit-card debt, $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, and stagnant wages are taking a toll. U.S. homes have regained value since the Great Recession, but many households have not. “Millions of American families struggle with zero or negative wealth, meaning they owe more than they own,” the report found. “This means that they have nothing to fall back on if an unexpected expense comes up like a broken down car or illness.” And inequality could get worse through new tax cuts for the wealthy.

President Trump’s tax proposals won’t give America’s middle class the reprieve they need to grow their wealth and recover from the financial crash, said Josh Hoxie, who heads up the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies. A recent analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation concluded that taxes would decline for all income groups, with the biggest percentage-point decline for millionaires. After-tax income would rise by nearly 7% for households earning over $1 million per year, compared to less than 2% for those earning between $50,001 and $1 million, as MarketWatch recently reported. And less than 1% for those earning less than $50,000, according to Ernie Tedeschi, an economist at Evercore IS investment banking advisory firm who worked in the Treasury Department under President Obama.

Looking at private income, such as earnings and dividends, and government benefits like Social Security, the income of families near the top increased roughly 90% from 1963 to 2016, while the income of families at the bottom rose less than 10%, according to a separate report released last month by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit policy group based in Washington, D.C., while most other groups have been left behind. And that gap between rich and poor is only going to get worse, Hoxie said. The wealthiest 25 individuals in the U.S., including co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, own $1 trillion in combined assets. These 25 — a group equivalent to the active roster of a major league baseball team — hold more wealth than the bottom 56% of the U.S. population.

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Completely nuts.

Top Tech Stocks’ $1.7 Trillion Gain Eclipses Canada’s Economy (BBG)

Between the FAANG quintet and China’s rivaling BAT companies, gains in the world’s top technology shares are nearing a whopping $1.7 trillion in market value this year. That’s more than Canada’s entire economy, and exceeds the worth of Germany’s biggest 30 companies put together. The eight tech giants – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google parent Alphabet, as well as their Asian peers Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent – have amassed as much money in 2017 as PIMCO, one of the world’s biggest fund managers, has done in about 46 years. While the stocks have seen a meteoric rise this year, their combined market value came off highs last week amid a global selloff in which the year’s high flyers had a bigger retreat. A recent breakdown in the correlation between high-yield bonds and the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 Index suggests the slide in junk may spread further.

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Confidence.

Bitcoin Plunges 29% From Record High (BBG)

Bitcoin plunged as the cancellation of a technology upgrade prompted some users to switch out of the cryptocurrency, spooking speculators who had profited from a more than 800% surge this year. The cryptocurrency has dropped 9.5% since late Friday, extending its slide from last week’s record to as much as 29%, according to data compiled by Coinmarketcap.com and Bloomberg. Bitcoin cash, a rival that split from the original bitcoin in August, has jumped nearly 40% since Friday. Bitcoin cash is gaining popularity because of its larger block size, a characteristic that makes transactions cheaper and faster than the original. When a faction of the cryptocurrency community canceled plans to increase bitcoin’s block size on Wednesday – a move that would have created another offshoot – some supporters of bigger blocks rallied around bitcoin cash.

The resulting volatility has been extreme even by bitcoin’s wild standards and comes amid growing interest in cryptocurrencies among regulators, banks and fund managers. While skeptics have called bitcoin’s rapid advance a bubble, it has become too big for many on Wall Street to ignore. Even after shrinking by as much as $38 billion since Wednesday, bitcoin boasts a market value of $101 billion. Supporters of bitcoin’s technology upgrade “are now switching support to bitcoin cash,” said Mike Kayamori, head of Tokyo-based Quoine, the world’s second most-active bitcoin exchange over the past day. “There’s a panic about what’s happening. People shouldn’t panic. Just hold on to both coins until we see how it plays out.”

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A different view from most.

The End Of “The End Of History” (Luongo)

The path to draining the swamp is a circuitous one but, in my mind, it’s hard to argue where things are headed. They are not headed towards confrontation with Iran but actually the opposite. The most rabidly anti-Iranian segment of the Saudi Royal house is impoverished and imprisoned. CNN will be sold and go out of business to allow for the Time-Warner/AT&T merger. Jeff Zucker is out. Add another scalp to Steve Bannon’s belt along with Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and so many to come. Will the vestiges of the neoconservative establishment in the U.S. and Israel continue to sabre-rattle and try to undermine what is happening? Yes.

They’ve been doing that since the day Trump was elected just over a year ago, but it hasn’t stopped the momentum. Why? Because Putin was on the job outmaneuvering them at every turn. Trump made a deal with the neocons back in August to cede them control of foreign policy and, in effect, outsourced cleaning up the Middle East to Putin. But, predictably they also didn’t follow through with their end of the bargain. Trump learned, like Putin did, the John McCain’s of the world don’t keep to their deals. They are ‘not agreement capable.’ And, as such, since the last failure to repeal Obamacare Trump has gone after every pillar of support these people had. It will end with Hillary Clinton’s indictment. But in the meantime it will look like the world is on the brink of world war.

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“Xi is ready to undertake reform of the financial system, which means shutting down insolvent companies and banks.”

Warnings From the “China Beige Book” (Rickards)

The China Beige Book, CBB, says that China had been covering up and smoothing over problems related to weak growth and excessive debt in order to provide a calm face to the world in advance of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which took place last month. CBB also makes it clear that the much-touted “rebalancing” of the Chinese economy away from investment and manufacturing toward consumption and spending has not occurred. Instead China has doubled down on excess capacity in coal, steel and manufacturing and has continued its policy of wasteful investment fueled with unpayable debt. It’s become obvious that the first cracks are starting to appear in China’s Great Wall of Debt. The Chinese debt binge of the past 10 years is a well-known story.

Chinese corporations have incurred dollar-denominated debts in the hundreds of billions of dollars, most of which are unpayable without subsidies from Beijing. China’s debt-to-equity ratio is over 300%, far worse than America’s (which is also dangerously high) and comparable to that of Japan and other all-star debtors. China’s trillion-dollar wealth management product (WMP) market is basically a Ponzi scheme. New WMPs are used to redeem maturing WMPs, while most of the market is simply rolled over because the underlying real estate and infrastructure projects cannot possibly repay their debts. A lot of corporate lending is simply one company lending to another, which in turns lends to another, giving the outward appearance of every company holding good assets, but in which none of the companies can actually pay its creditors.

It’s an accounting game with no real money behind it and no chance of repayment. All of this is well-known. What is not known is when it will end. When will confidence be lost in such a way that the entire debt house of cards crumbles? When will a geopolitical shock or natural disaster trigger a loss of confidence that ignites a financial panic? There was little prospect of this in the past year because President Xi Jinping was keeping a lid on trouble before the recently concluded National Congress of the Communist Party of China. With the congress behind him, Xi is ready to undertake reform of the financial system, which means shutting down insolvent companies and banks. Now the first bankruptcies have begun to appear.

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None of these people give one hoot about their country. They care about themselves only.

UK Government Tensions Rise After Leak Of ‘Orwellian’ Memo Sent To May (G.)

The tensions in Theresa May’s government intensified on Sunday night ahead of this week’s vital votes on the Brexit bill, as ministers accused Boris Johnson and Michael Gove of sending an “Orwellian” set of secret demands to No 10. As an increasingly weakened prime minister faces the possibility of parliamentary defeats on the bill, government colleagues have said they are aghast at the language used by the foreign secretary and the environment secretary in a joint private letter. The leaked letter – a remarkable show of unity from two ministers who infamously fell out during last year’s leadership campaign – appeared to be designed to push May decisively towards a hard Brexit and limit the influence of former remainers. It complained of “insufficient energy” on Brexit in some parts of the government and insisted any transition period must end in June 2021 – a veiled attack on the chancellor, Philip Hammond.

They urged the prime minister to ensure members of her top team fall behind their Brexit plans by “clarifying their minds” and called for them to “internalise the logic”. But the leak drew a bitter response from supporters of a soft Brexit, who suggested that May would now be forced to either discipline the pair or further weaken her position, which has already been tested by the recent resignations of Priti Patel and Michael Fallon and continuing pressure on Johnson and Damian Green. One cabinet minister told the Guardian: “It is not surprising that they [Gove and Johnson] would express their view. But what is surprising is that they would write this down and use this kind of language in a letter to the prime minister. “Some have described it as Orwellian, and it is. It is not helpful when people try and press their views in untransparent way.”

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It’s just starting. London falling.

More Than A Third Of UK Home Sellers Cut Asking Price (G.)

More than a third of home owners trying to sell their house have been forced to reduce their asking price, with the number of price cuts at their highest level since 2012, according to Rightmove. Traditionally house sellers are often forced to cut asking prices in the pre-Christmas period but this year the nation appears to be holding a collective autumn sale, said the property website. Rightmove, which claims to list 90% of the houses being sold in the UK, said 37% of current sellers had dropped their asking price, with a typical 0.8% or £2,392 price reduction. It also warned that those who recently put their property on the market were being too optimistic by not discounting by more. The mass price cut will be seen as further evidence that the market has slowed dramatically, particularly in London where prices have been falling.

Last week the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said the overall UK property market had stalled. Rics also warned that it expected the market to remain subdued in the coming months as sales stay flat or fall in most regions. Rightmove director, Miles Shipside, said the slowdown in the housing market, the recent interest rate rise and the prediction that further rises were on the horizon suggested bigger reductions in house prices in the near future. “Given that the market has been price-sensitive for a while and a five-year high proportion of sellers are slashing their prices, some sellers and their agents are over-pricing. These sellers may well be asking themselves if they could have saved some time and stress by pricing a lot more conservatively at the start.”

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As you’re being pleasantly entertained with that dumb Paris agreement.

Fossil Fuel Burning Set To Hit Record High In 2017 (G.)

The burning of fossil fuels around the world is set to hit a record high in 2017, climate scientists have warned, following three years of flat growth that raised hopes that a peak in global emissions had been reached. The expected jump in the carbon emissions that drive global warming is a “giant leap backwards for humankind”, according to some scientists. However, other experts said they were not alarmed, saying fluctuations in emissions are to be expected and that big polluters such as China are acting to cut emissions. Global emissions need to reach their peak by 2020 and then start falling quickly in order to have a realistic chance of keeping global warming below the 2C danger limit, according to leading scientists. Whether the anticipated increase in CO2 emissions in 2017 is just a blip that is followed by a falling trend, or is the start of a worrying upward trend, remains to be seen.

Much will depend on the fast implementation of the global climate deal sealed in Paris in 2015 and this is the focus of the UN summit of the world’s countries in Bonn, Germany this week. The nations must make significant progress in turning the aspirations of the Paris deal into reality, as the action pledged to date would see at least 3C of warming and increasing extreme weather impacts around the world. The 12th annual Global Carbon Budget report published on Monday is produced by 76 of the world’s leading emissions experts from 57 research institutions and estimates that global carbon emissions from fossil fuels will have risen by 2% by the end of 2017, a significant rise.

“Global CO2 emissions appear to be going up strongly once again after a three-year stable period. This is very disappointing,” said Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the UK’s University of East Anglia and who led the new research. “The urgency for reducing emissions means they should really be already decreasing now.” “There was a big push to sign the Paris agreement on climate change but there is a feeling that not very much has happened since, a bit of slackening,” she said. “What happens after 2017 is very open and depends on how much effort countries are going to make. It is time to take really seriously the implementation of the Paris agreement.” She said the hurricanes and floods seen in 2017 were “a window into the future”.

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Farmers are using dicamba because they get it on their crops anyway from the neighbors. There’s not much time left to stop Monsanto from effectively owning all our food.

The Decisions Behind Monsanto’s Weed-Killer Crisis (R.)

In early 2016, agri-business giant Monsanto faced a decision that would prove pivotal in what since has become a sprawling herbicide crisis, with millions of acres of crops damaged. Monsanto had readied new genetically modified soybeans seeds. They were engineered for use with a powerful new weed-killer that contained a chemical called dicamba but aimed to control the substance’s main shortcoming: a tendency to drift into neighboring farmers’ fields and kill vegetation. The company had to choose whether to immediately start selling the seeds or wait for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to sign off on the safety of the companion herbicide. The firm stood to lose a lot of money by waiting.

Because Monsanto had bred the dicamba-resistant trait into its entire stock of soybeans, the only alternative would have been “to not sell a single soybean in the United States” that year, Monsanto Vice President of Global Strategy Scott Partridge told Reuters in an interview. Betting on a quick approval, Monsanto sold the seeds, and farmers planted a million acres of the genetically modified soybeans in 2016. But the EPA’s deliberations on the weed-killer dragged on for another 11 months because of concerns about dicamba’s historical drift problems. That delay left farmers who bought the seeds with no matching herbicide and three bad alternatives: Hire workers to pull weeds; use the less-effective herbicide glyphosate; or illegally spray an older version of dicamba at the risk of damage to nearby farms.

The resulting rash of illegal spraying that year damaged 42,000 acres of crops in Missouri, among the hardest hit areas, as well as swaths of crops in nine other states, according to an August 2016 advisory from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The damage this year has covered 3.6 million acres in 25 states, according to Kevin Bradley, a University of Missouri weed scientist who has tracked dicamba damage reports and produced estimates cited by the EPA. The episode highlights a hole in a U.S regulatory system that has separate agencies approving genetically modified seeds and their matching herbicides.

Monsanto has blamed farmers for the illegal spraying and argued it could not have foreseen that the disjointed approval process would set off a crop-damage crisis. But a Reuters review of regulatory records and interviews with crop scientists shows that Monsanto was repeatedly warned by crop scientists, starting as far back as 2011, of the dangers of releasing a dicamba-resistant seed without an accompanying herbicide designed to reduce drift to nearby farms.

Read more …

“Farmers need it desperately,” said Perry Galloway. “If I get dicamba on (my products), I can’t sell anything,” responded Shawn Peebles.”

Weed-Killer Prompts Angry Divide Among US Farmers (AFP)

When it comes to the herbicide dicamba, farmers in the southern state of Arkansas are not lacking for strong opinions. “Farmers need it desperately,” said Perry Galloway. “If I get dicamba on (my products), I can’t sell anything,” responded Shawn Peebles. The two men know each other well, living just miles apart in the towns of Gregory and Augusta, in a corner of the state where cotton and soybean fields reach to the horizon and homes are often miles from the nearest neighbor. But they disagree profoundly on the use of dicamba. Last year the agro-chemical giant Monsanto began selling soy and cotton seeds genetically modified to tolerate the herbicide. The chemical product has been used to great effect against a weed that plagues the region, Palmer amaranth, or pigweed – especially since it became resistant to another herbicide, glyphosate, which has become highly controversial in Europe over its effects on human health.

The problem with dicamba is that it vaporizes easily and is carried by the wind, often spreading to nearby farm fields – with varying effects. Facing a surge in complaints, authorities in Arkansas early this summer imposed an urgent ban on the product’s sale. The state is now poised to ban its use between April 16 and October 31, covering the period after plants have emerged from the soil and when climatic conditions favor dicamba’s dispersal.

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This is who we are. This is caused by people we support, that we call our friends.

Millions On Brink Of Famine In Yemen As Saudi Arabia Tightens Blockade (G.)

Abdulaziz al-Husseinya lies skeletal and appears lifeless in a hospital in Yemen’s western port city of Hodeidah. At the age of nine, he weighs less than one and a half stone, and is one of hundreds of thousands of children in the country suffering from acute malnutrition. Seven million people are on on the brink of famine in war-torn Yemen, which was already in the grip of the world’s worst cholera outbreak when coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade on the country last week, stemming vital aid flows. Al-Thawra hospital, where Abdulaziz is being treated, is reeling under the pressure of more than two years of conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-allied Houthi rebels. Its corridors are packed, with patients now coming from five surrounding governorates to wait elbow-to-elbow for treatment.

Less than 45% of the country’s medical facilities are still operating – most have closed due to fighting or a lack of funds, or have been bombed by coalition airstrikes. As a result, Al-Thawra is treating some 2,500 people a day, compared to 700 before the conflict escalated in March 2015. [..] Aid agencies are now warning that Yemen’s already catastrophic humanitarian crisis could soon become a “nightmare scenario” if Saudi Arabia does not ease the blockade of the country’s land, sea and air ports – a move that the kingdom insists is necessary after Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile towards Riyadh’s international airport this month. United Nations humanitarian flights have been cancelled for the past week and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), along with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), have been prevented from flying vital medical assistance into the country.

More than 20 million Yemenis – over 70% of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance that is being blocked. Following international pressure, the major ports of Aden and Mukalla were reopened last week for commercial traffic and food supplies, along with land border crossings to neighbouring Oman and Saudi Arabia, but humanitarian aid and aid agency workers remained barred from entering the country on Sunday. UN aid chief Mark Lowcock has said if the restrictions remain, Yemen will face “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims”.

Read more …

Sep 282017
 
 September 28, 2017  Posted by at 1:52 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Koyaanisqatsi

 

The film Koyaanisqatsi was released in 1982. The title means ‘life out of balance’ in the language of the Hopi, a Native American tribe who live(d) mainly in what is now north-east Arizona. It is directed by Godfrey Reggio with music by Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke. There are no actors, and no dialogue. Philip Glass’s music underlies a series of film fragments that contrast the beauty of American nature with the noise and pollution mankind has added to it. Wikipedia:

The film consists primarily of slow motion and time-lapse footage of cities and many natural landscapes across the United States. The visual tone poem contains neither dialogue nor a vocalized narration: its tone is set by the juxtaposition of images and music. Reggio explained the lack of dialogue by stating “it’s not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words. It’s because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation. It no longer describes the world in which we live.”

Due to its initial success, Reggio and Glass made two sequels to the film, Powaqqatsi (1988), meaning “parasitic way of life” or “life in transition”, and Naqoyqatsi (2002) which means “life as war”, “civilized violence” and “a life of killing each other”. If you haven’t seen them, they come highly recommended.

 

 

Koyaanisqatsi is an fitting term to describe not only our world in general, but also our economies. They are severely out of balance, and getting more so every day. But economies, like nature, need at least a minimum in balance. If that disappears, this lack of balance will tip them over. It is somewhat strange that this is not being recognized, and not even discussed.

It’s as if people think that when almost all wealth goes to a select very few, an economy can still continue to function. It can’t. The rich getting continually richer means the poor getting poorer (as overall growth is slow or non-existent), until the latter reach a point where they can no longer afford even basic necessities. That’s when parts of an economy will start dying, in the same vein that parts of a living body, an organism, die off when the supply of blood, nutrients and oxygen is cut off.

For an economy to function, it needs money to flow through it the same way a body needs blood to flow. If all the money gets increasingly concentrated in just a small area, the economy stagnates. We measure the flow of money as velocity:

 

 

If that graph would describe a human body, it would be in an ambulance on the way to ER. The only times velocity of money have been as low as today was during a Great Depression and a World War.

The ever richer rich cannot spend enough to keep things moving. They can buy stocks and bonds and houses, but they can’t buy all the groceries and clothing that the poor and middle class no longer can. But it’s those things that keep the economy humming along.

An economy as unbalanced as the one we presently have is bound to perish. The rich are killing their own economies by trying to get richer all the time. And they have no idea that’s what happens. It’s sort of baked into their understanding of what capitalism is. Or neo-liberalism if you want.

We should look upon, and handle, our economies and societies as living, and vibrant, systems, but we’re miles away from any such understanding. Our education systems are gross failures when it comes to this, and our media, owned by the rich, support anything that will make them richer. Even though that is suicidal for everyone involved. We are a tragic species in many more ways than one.

This has nothing to do with political views, with socialism or communism or any ism, it’s a simple empirical observation. It’s not about ‘everyone deserves their fair share’, but about if they don’t get their share, no economy will be left to hand out any shares even to the rich. If the rich want to get richer, they will need a functioning economy to get there.

In other words, someone will have to call a halt, or at least a pause, to the pace at which they’re getting richer, or their quest for riches will become self-defeating. Literally every single human being can grasp this, but hardly anyone even considers it. At their peril.

Here’s just a small example from CNBC, there are thousands just like it:

The Top 1% Of Americans Now Control 38% Of The Wealth

America’s top 1% now control 38.6% of the nation’s wealth, a historic high, according to a new Federal Reserve Report. The Federal Reserve’s Surveys of Consumer Finance shows that Americans throughout the income and wealth ladder posted gains between 2013 and 2016. But the wealthy gained the most, driven largely by gains in the stock market and asset values. The top 1% saw their share of wealth rise to 38.6% in 2016 from 36.3% in 2013.

The next highest 9% of families fell slightly, and the share of wealth held by the bottom 90% of Americans has been falling steadily for 25 years, hitting 22.8% in 2016 from 33.2% in 1989. The top income earners also saw the biggest gains. The top 1% saw their share of income rise to a new high of 23.8% from 20.3% in 2013. The income shares of the bottom 90% fell to 49.7% in 2016.

Now, you may think: 38%, how bad is that?, and you may be forgiven for thinking that way. After all, you’re in a majority there. To understand the severity of what’s happening, you need to look at the trends:

 

 

This one from the New York Times, annotated by Charles Hugh Smith, is very revealing too. What happens is that just as we find ourselves in a stagnating/shrinking economy, the rich get richer fast. They can do that because central banks are releasing trillions of dollars in QE, but also because the system is geared towards eviscerating the poor, and increasingly the middle class as well:

 

 

And this is amplified by the ultra-low rates policies central banks have been pushing over the past decade. They allow for the ever poorer to keep up appearances of wealth by plunging into debt ever deeper, but they don’t allow for their living conditions, their jobs, their savings, their pensions, to recover. They do the exact opposite. As this graph from Mike Lebowitz, one of many to show the same trendline, goes to show:

 

 

This is not an American phenomenon, though it’s more pronounced stateside. And Trump’s tax reform plans promise to only make it worse. It looks like Bernie Sanders might be the only politician in the US to stop it, but what are the odds of that? We live in a system that is warranting economic suicide for everyone including its own proponents, and we’re blindly following it like so many lemmings.

The Koyaanisqatsi film doesn’t have a happy Hollywood ending, and it makes no pretense of it. Our Koyaanisqatsi economy will not end with ‘they lived happily ever after’ either. The protagonists wouldn’t know how to achieve that. They don’t understand what makes an economy run, and keeps it running.

And they don’t want to understand, because they think it’ll make them less rich. Nobody gives balance a second’s thought. Presumably because they think the system, like nature, will eventually balance itself. And they’re right in that. They just haven’t considered what that balancing act might mean for them personally.

if you’re rich, good on you. But don’t forget what made it possible for you to gather your riches, or you’ll lose them, and probably a lot more too.

 

 

 

Mar 112017
 
 March 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Robert Capa Warsaw, Poland 1948

 

US Jobs Report Means Fed Rate Hike Is A Bolt-On Certainty (G.)
US Household Wealth Has Never Been Higher Relative To Income (ZH)
Rising Household Debt A Concern Across Asia (TEP)
Sessions Asks 46 Obama-Era US Attorneys To Resign (R.)
Trump’s Revised Travel Ban Dealt First Court Setback (R.)
Trump To Ask Merkel For Advice On Putin, Ukraine (R.)
Nobel Economist Deaton Takes Aim At Rent-Seeking US Economy (MW)
US Regulators Reject Bitcoin ETF, Digital Currency Plunges (R.)
The Bag Holder and His Bag (Jim Kunstler)
New Island To Be Built In North Sea Under ‘Science-Fiction-Like’ Plan (Ind.)
General Flynn and the Strategic Deficit (K.)
Turkey Loses Momentum In Northern Syria As US Supports Kurds (ARA)
UN Accuses Turkey Of Abuses Against Kurds In Country’s Southeast (AlJ)
Greek Court To Rule On Turkey’s ‘Safe Country’ Status (K.)
Lagarde Insists On Greek Debt Restructuring (K.)
Roman Citizens Are Breaking The Law To Feed And Help Refugees (R.)
World Faces Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945 – UN (G.)

 

 

Don’t be surprised if Yellen gets cold feet.

US Jobs Report Means Fed Rate Hike Is A Bolt-On Certainty (G.)

The latest US jobs report removes any lingering doubts about whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next week. Following news that the world’s biggest economy generated 235,000 net new non-farm jobs in February, it is a bolt-on certainty that the central bank will push up the cost of borrowing by a quarter of a point. It is now almost 10 years since the start of the financial crisis ushered in a period of ultra-low interest rates and it has been clear for a while that the Fed is anxious to speed up the normalisation process. A healthy labour market is the key to that process and it would have taken a shockingly bad report to stay the bank’s hand. This was not it. Indeed, the financial markets have already moved on from next week to musing about how many more times the Fed will tighten during the course of 2017. The feeling is that two more rate rises are in prospect.

It certainly seems unlikely that next Wednesday’s rise will be the end of the matter. The report from the Bureau of Labour Statistics showed employment up by more than the 190,000 expected by Wall Street and unemployment at 4.7%. Annual wage growth is running at 2.8%. Policymakers at the Fed will look at this data and conclude that inflationary pressures are building as the economy approaches full employment. With US productivity so weak, the central bank will certainly be tempted to move again if and when earnings growth hits 3%. There was plenty for Donald Trump to welcome. A mild winter has resulted in a big increase in construction jobs. Manufacturing employment was also up. The only weak spot was retailing. The new president has plans for a big package of tax cuts and spending increases but fiscal easing will mean more aggressive tightening from the Fed, which is already starting to fret about the risks of the economy overheating.

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Print and borrow. Rinse and repeat.

US Household Wealth Has Never Been Higher Relative To Income (ZH)

For 45 years – until Alan Greenspan in 1994 – the average wealth-to-income of American households had held steady around 4.9x – but as of Q4 2016, for the first time in US history, household wealth has reached a point where it is 6.5 times large than inflation-adjusted household disposable income in America. As Bloomberg reports, the surge – driven by higher stock prices and property values, according to The Fed – pushed this measure of relative exuberance (think of it as the country’s price-to-earnings ratio) above the housing boom peak of mid-2000s and well above the dot-com bubble driven highs of the last 1990s. As Alliance Bernstein economist Joe Carson wrote in a note: “Economic and financial history do not always repeat, but sometimes they do.” So the question is – what happens next?

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Debt and wealth feel eerily similar.

Rising Household Debt A Concern Across Asia (TEP)

Government officials, policymakers, economists, bankers and experts gathered here for the Second Annual Asean Consumer and Household Debt Conference on Feb 22 and 23. The two-day event aimed to provide insight into the implications of household debt and the challenges faced by the policymakers. “Over the years, household financial liabilities as a share of personal disposable income has gone up in Asia,” said Akrur Barua, an economist at Deloitte Services LP, setting the tone for the conference. According to Barua, a number of factors have led to the rise in household debt in Asia. Rising incomes in Asia have resulted in higher consumer demand for products and services. Along with income growth, there is an increase in access to credit across Asian economies.

Post- 2008, policymakers also offered fiscal and monetary incentives to entice consumers to spend more. In addition, rising demand and a flow of liquidity led to a surge in asset prices, especially in the housing sector. With demand for housing remaining strong and house prices rising, the result has been a rapid increase in the value of housing loans or mortgages. “Cyclical credit outpaced cyclical growth from 2011 to 2015 in many Southeast Asian countries”, noted Vincent Conti, Asia-Pacific economist at Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services Singapore. According to Barua, the household debt burden in many Asian economies is now even higher than the US figure prior to 2009, before the global financial crisis (see Chart 1). In fact, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan have crossed the 80% mark in household debt-to-GDP ratio.

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David Stockman on Twitter: “46 Obama US Attorneys must go ASAP. That means you, Preet Bharara. Enough self-righteous bullies with badges! “

Sessions Asks 46 Obama-Era US Attorneys To Resign (R.)

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions abruptly asked the remaining 46 chief federal prosecutors left over from the Obama administration to resign on Friday, including Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who had been asked to stay on in November by then President-elect Donald Trump. Although U.S. attorneys are political appointees, and the request from Trump’s Justice Department is part of a routine process, the move came as a surprise. Not every new administration replaces all U.S. attorneys at once. A Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed the resignation requests included Bharara, whose office handles some of the most critical business and criminal cases passing through the federal judicial system.

Bharara met with Trump in Trump Tower on Nov. 30. After, Bharara told reporters the two had a “good meeting” and he had agreed to stay on. On Friday, Bharara was unsure where he stood because he did not know if the person who contacted him about resigning was aware that Trump had asked him to remain in office, according to a source familiar with the matter. It was not immediately clear if all resignations would ultimately be accepted. A Justice Department spokesman said on Friday Trump had called Dana Boente, acting U.S. deputy attorney general, to decline his resignation. Trump also called Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, his pick to take over as deputy attorney general, to keep him in his post, the spokesman said.

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Broader views are needed.

Trump’s Revised Travel Ban Dealt First Court Setback (R.)

A federal judge in Wisconsin dealt the first legal blow to President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban on Friday, barring enforcement of the policy to deny U.S. entry to the wife and child of a Syrian refugee already granted asylum in the United States. The temporary restraining order, granted by U.S. District Judge William Conley in Madison, applies only to the family of the Syrian refugee, who brought the case anonymously to protect the identities of his wife and daughter, still living in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo. But it represents the first of several challenges brought against Trump’s newly amended executive order, issued on March 6 and due to go into effect on March 16, to draw a court ruling in opposition to its enforcement.

Conley, chief judge of the federal court in Wisconsin’s western district and an appointee of former President Barack Obama, concluded the plaintiff “has presented some likelihood of success on the merits” of his case and that his family faces “significant risk of irreparable harm” if forced to remain in Syria. The plaintiff, a Sunni Muslim, fled Syria to the United States in 2014 to “escape near-certain death” at the hands of sectarian military forces fighting the Syrian government in Aleppo, according to his lawsuit. He subsequently obtained asylum for his wife and their only surviving child, a daughter, and their application had cleared the security vetting process and was headed for final processing when it was halted by Trump’s original travel ban on Jan. 27.

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Those are Merkel’s blind spots. And Greece.

Trump To Ask Merkel For Advice On Putin, Ukraine (R.)

President Donald Trump will ask Chancellor Angela Merkel for advice on how to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. officials said on Friday, as the U.S. and German leaders meet next week after sometimes pointed disagreements in recent months. Merkel will visit the White House on Tuesday for talks with Trump and a joint news conference in what will be their first face-to-face meeting since the new U.S. president took power on Jan. 20. They are expected to discuss Germany’s level of defense spending for the NATO alliance, the Ukraine conflict, Syrian refugees, the EU and a host of other issues, said three senior Trump administration officials who briefed reporters.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Trump regularly criticized Merkel for her open-door refugee policy, contrasting it with what he promised would be tighter controls in the United States if he won office. Merkel has been a leading critic of Trump’s effort to ban travelers temporarily from seven Muslim-majority nations, a list that has since been pared back to six. “My expectation is that they’ll have a very positive, cordial meeting,” said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Trump has long expressed desire for warmer U.S. relations with Russia but some of his top Cabinet officials are skeptical. “The president will be very interested in hearing the chancellor’s views on her experience interacting with Putin,” said another official. “He’s going to be very interested in hearing her insights on what it’s like to deal with the Russians.”

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Deaton is no fool.

Nobel Economist Takes Aim At Rent-Seeking Banking, Healthcare Industries (MW)

Income inequality is not killing capitalism in the United States, but rent-seekers like the banking and the health-care sectors just might, said Nobel-winning economist Angus Deaton on Monday. If an entrepreneur invents something on the order of another Facebook, Deaton said he has no problem with that person becoming wealthy. “What is not OK is for rent-seekers to get rich,” Deaton said in a luncheon speech to the National Association for Business Economics. Rent seekers lobby and persuade governments to give them special favors. Bankers during the financial crisis, and much of the health-care system, are two prime examples, Deaton said. Rent-seeking is not only does not generate new product, it actually slows down economic growth, Deaton said.

“All that talent is devoted to stealing things, instead of making things,” he said. Another prime example of rent-seeking is that the Medicaid is funding opioid prescriptions for low-income workers, Deaton said. The results are workers who are becoming addicted and overdosing while profits are going to the Sacker family which owns Purdue Pharma that makes OxyContin. Deaton said he favors a single-payer health system only because our current part-private and part-public system is exquisitely designed to give opportunities for rent-seeking. “So I, who do not believe in socialized health-care, would advocate a single-payment system…because it will get this monster that we’ve created out of the economy and allow the rest of capitalism to flourish without the awful things that healthcare is doing to us,” he said.

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But door is left open.

US Regulators Reject Bitcoin ETF, Digital Currency Plunges (R.)

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday denied a request to list what would have been the first U.S. exchange-traded fund built to track bitcoin, the digital currency. Investors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss have been trying for more than three years to convince the SEC to let it bring the Bitcoin ETF to market. CBOE Holdings’ Bats exchange had applied to list the ETF. The digital currency’s price plunged, falling as much as 18% in trading immediately after the decision before rebounding slightly. It last traded down 7.8% to $1,098. Bitcoin had scaled to a record of nearly $1,300 this month, higher than the price of an ounce of gold, as investors speculated that an ETF holding the digital currency could woo more people into buying the asset.

[..] “Based on the record before it, the Commission believes that the significant markets for bitcoin are unregulated,” the SEC said in a statement. “The commission notes that bitcoin is still in the relatively early stages of its development and that, over time, regulated bitcoin-related markets of significant size may develop.” The regulators have questions and concerns about how the funds would work and whether they could be priced and trade effectively, according to a financial industry source familiar with the SEC’s thinking. [..] Advocates of the currency and the technology it relies on to document transactions, blockchain, were dismayed by the ruling. “How do we develop well-capitalized and regulated markets in the U.S. and Europe if financial innovators aren’t allowed to bring products to market that grow domestic demand for digital currencies like bitcoin?” asked Jerry Brito, executive director of Coin Center, an advocacy group.

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“RussiaGate — come on, let’s finally call it that —”

The Bag Holder and His Bag (Jim Kunstler)

[..] getting rid of Trump would only leave the Deep State with a bigger problem: itself. That is, an economy and a society that can’t be governed by any means. I think many professional observers-of-the-scene are missing something in this unspooling story: the Deep State is actually becoming more impotent and ineffectual, not omnipotent. Case in point: RussiaGate — come on, let’s finally call it that — the popular idea that Russia hacked the 2016 presidential election. It’s popular because it’s such a convenient excuse for the failure of a corrupt, exhausted, and brain-dead Democratic establishment. But all the exertions of the Deep State to put over this story since last summer were negated this week by two events.

First, there was former NSA Director James Clapper’s appearance on NBC’s Sunday Meet the Press show with Chuck Todd featuring the following interchange: CHUCK TODD: Does intelligence exist that can definitively answer the following question, whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials? JAMES CLAPPER: We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, “our,” that’s N.S.A., F.B.I. and C.I.A., with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report. CHUCK TODD: I understand that. But does it exist? JAMES CLAPPER: Not to my knowledge. And so what to make of the RussiaGate histrionics served up by CNN, The New York Times, the WashPo, NPR, and sundry tools as Senator Chuck Schumer (D–NY)?

What I make of it is a growing civil war in the government itself, and perhaps something arguably like sedition. Second matter: this week’s release of Wikileaks’ Vault-7 trove of purloined government documents. These seem to suggest that US Intel agencies have acquired the ability to spoof any activity on any sort of computer or program that makes it impossible to track the identity of any hacker and, what’s more, gives US Intel a tool to make any party appear culpable for any given case of hacking — meaning that if so called computer hacking “footprints” had been discovered linking Russia to the Hillary-DNC-Podesta emails, those footprints could have been engineered by US Intel itself… meaning further that any so-called “evidence” of Russian election hacking could not be proven one way or the other.

Now, this might be too fine a point for the RussiaGate partisans, but I don’t see how it fails to moot the issue. The partisans are still finding other ways to propagandize. On Thursday evening, NPR ran a story about Russia breaking a missile agreement with this wrap-up from correspondent David Welna: WELNA: Still unclear is how President Trump, an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, might respond to Moscow’s defiance. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. That lapse of newsmanship is the kind of thing that makes me (a still-registered Democrat) want to support the defunding of NPR.

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Far too many people still claim we can replace our current energy consumption with renewables. That idea will have to die first.

New Island To Be Built In North Sea Under ‘Science-Fiction-Like’ Plan (Ind.)

A vast artificial island is to be built at Dogger Bank in the North Sea, complete with a harbour, airstrip and homes, to help provide a vast new supply of renewable energy, under plans drawn up by two companies with the blessing of the European Union. The North Sea Wind Power Hub would act as a hub for offshore wind turbines and a new place to put solar panels, according to the German and Dutch arms of electricity firm TenneT and Danish company Energinet. The firms will sign a deal creating a consortium to develop the plan further in Brussels on 23 March in the presence of European Energy Union Commissioner, Maos Sefcovic. Torben Glar Nielsen, Energinet’s Danish technical director, said: “Maybe it sounds a bit crazy and science fiction-like, but an island on Dogger Bank could make the wind power of the future a lot cheaper and more effective.”

It is thought the island – or possibly islands – could act as a hub for thousands of new wind turbines, which would eventually generate green electricity for more than 80 million people. Under the proposals, the island would be connected by electricity cables to the UK, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Belgium. Mel Kroon, TenneT’s chief executive, said: “This project can significantly contribute to a completely renewable supply of electricity in north-west Europe. “TenneT and Energinet.dk both have extensive experience in the fields of onshore grids, the connection of offshore wind energy and cross-border connections.

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Flynn’s escapades as a foreign agent for Turkey are making Greeks very nervous.

General Flynn and the Strategic Deficit (K.)

It is as if a torpedo passed under our keel and we saw it only when it exploded elsewhere. The recent revelations from President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, retired General Michael Flynn, showed that we had a close call. A lawyer for Flynn filed paperwork with the Justice Department declaring that last year he undertook lobbying work that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” For the work between August and November, Flynn Intel Group Inc was paid 530,000 dollars. Flynn was forced to resign from the position of Trump’s top security aide in February when it emerged that although he had met with the Russian ambassador to the United States he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about this, after which the latter repeated Flynn’s lies in public.

The extent of Flynn’s dealings with Russia and Turkey is not known, but it is clear that if he had not resigned he would have remained, at least, a former strong supporter of Turkey. On November 8, Flynn had published an opinion piece in The Hill, a Washington-based political newspaper, titled “Our ally Turkey is in crisis and needs our support.” Flynn argued that the United States should extradite the self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims was behind the failed coup in Turkey last July. “We should not provide him safe haven,” Flynn wrote of Gulen. “In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.”

On Wednesday, The Hill’s editor added a note to the piece, clarifying that the newspaper did not know that Flynn had been paid to write it, nor that the draft had been shown earlier to a Dutch company, Inovo BV, which, the note said, is “owned by a Turkish businessman with ties to Turkey’s president.” The Associated Press reported that according to the documents filed, Flynn, who was then a top aide to presidential candidate Trump, met in September with the Turkish ministers of foreign affairs and energy.

The cooperation ended in November, and though it is difficult to believe that Flynn was paid half a million dollars for one op-ed piece, we cannot claim that as national security adviser he would have made Turkish interests his priority. At the same time, can we really have expected him to have been completely unbiased in any Greek-Turkish dispute? We still don’t know the interests of people around the American president – who himself has business interests in Turkey, among other countries. Nothing is as it was. Prior US strategy cannot be taken for granted. This makes it imperative for our country to be clear about its own course, to implement its strategy calmly and decisively. We must avoid being caught up in the game of our excitable neighbors and keep our eyes on where we want to go.

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Things are only getting more confusing.

Turkey Loses Momentum In Northern Syria As US Supports Kurds (ARA)

Turkey has lost momentum in the war for northern Syria as the United States draws on Kurdish allies in the assault on ISIS-held Raqqa, but Ankara is still pressing Washington for a deal that allays its fears of Kurdish ascendancy. Syrian Kurdish groups meanwhile sense Washington is now more firmly behind them than before, a shift they hope will eventually aid their ambitions for autonomy after years of persecution by the Syrian government. One of the most complicated theatres in the multi-sided Syrian conflict, the war in the north has played out at lightning pace in the last few weeks with ISIS fighters either withdrawing or collapsing in swathes of territory. The Russian-backed Syrian army has benefited from this, creating a corridor to the Euphrates River that secures Aleppo’s water supplies and suggests at least tacit coordination with US-allied Kurdish militia – at Turkey’s expense.

In a swipe at Washington, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday it was unfortunate that some of Turkey’s allies had chosen the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a partner in the fight against ISIS in Syria. “The field in Syria at the moment is really very complicated,” said a senior Turkish official, stressing the fast-moving nature of events and the urgent need for agreement. “Anything could happen at any moment.” “Such a harsh step in completely excluding Turkey there will cause a problem for relations between the countries,” the Turkish official said. “Hence a share point must be found. Talks are still continuing.”

[..] Ankara had hoped to advance its strategy in northern Syria by persuading Washington to abandon its Kurdish allies and switch support to Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel groups for the final assault on Raqqa – a northern Syrian city that is ISIS’s de facto capital. But any hopes of this have faded in recent days. Conflicting US and Turkish agendas have surfaced clearly over Manbij, a city controlled by Kurdish-allied fighters since its capture from ISIS last year. A deployment of US forces there last week deterred a threatened Turkish attack. Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made clear Turkish sensitivities about the presence of Kurdish fighters in Manbij, a town Ankara sees as the next stepping stone in creation of a safe zone free of Kurdish influence west of the Euphrates. “We will not allow the YPG’s canton dreams (to come true),” NTV television cited Cavusoglu as saying. “If we go to Manbij and the PYD is there, we will hit them.”

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High time for EU, US to take a stand against Turkey, but the courage is failing.

UN Accuses Turkey Of Abuses Against Kurds In Country’s Southeast (AlJ)

A UN report has accused Turkish security forces of human rights violations during operations against Kurdish fighters in the country’s southeast, drawing an angry response by Turkey which rejected it as “biased”. The report by the UN Human Rights Office on Friday detailed accusations of massive infrastructure destruction, unlawful killings and other serious abuses committed between July 2015 and December 2016 following the collapse of a ceasefire. The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish state were engaged in a war for almost 30 years until a 2013 truce was declared and the two sides launched peace talks. The ceasefire largely held until the summer of 2015, and since then the two sides have been engaged in escalating clashes. Turkey, the US and the EU all consider the PKK a “terrorist” group.

The UN said that its study, which was carried through “remote monitoring”, was based on interviews, analysis of information provided by Turkey’s government and NGOs, as well as official records, open source documents, satellite images and other materials. Citing data from various sources, the report said that around 2,000 people were killed in the region between July 2015 and December 2016 amid security operations. “Reports generally put the number of local residents killed at approximately 1,200, of whom an unspecified number may have been involved in violent or non-violent actions against the state,” it said, adding that about 800 members of security forces were reportedly killed in clashes. More than 355,000 people were displaced and entire neighbourhoods were destroyed in various parts of southeastern Turkey, the report said.

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How could it possibly declare Turkey safe?

Greek Court To Rule On Turkey’s ‘Safe Country’ Status (K.)

Greece’s highest administrative court is expected to rule later this month on whether Turkey can be considered a safe country for refugees being returned under a deal with the European Union. The Council of State’s plenary on Friday heard arguments based on the appeal of two Syrian nationals whose asylum applications were rejected by the Greek Asylum Committee. The Syrians’ lawyers argued that the rejection is a violation of the UN Charter of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention as the committee based its decision solely on Turkey’s assurances, without a proper assessment of conditions in the neighboring country.

Another plaintiff acting on their behalf, the Greek Council for Refugees, has also raised questions regarding the partiality of the judges serving on the Asylum Committee’s panels. The appeal comes after seven judges at the Council of State’s Fourth Chamber ruled in favor of the Asylum Committee’s decision, saying that Turkey’s participation in the Geneva Convention defines it as a safe country. If the plenary upholds the Syrians’ appeal, this could undermine the deal signed between the European Union and Turkey a year ago for the latter to take back rejected asylum claimants in exchange for financial assistance.

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Yada yada.

Lagarde Insists On Greek Debt Restructuring (K.)

International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde has reiterated that Greece’s mountainous debt needs restructuring. Speaking to French newspaper Le Parisien, Lagarde insisted that the IMF can only join the Greek program if Athens implements more reforms and the country’s debt is made manageable. “We also need a sustainable debt,” she told the paper, adding that this could be done in different ways, including an extension of loan repayment periods and lower interest rates. She also said she was trying to convince European leaders to accept that Greece needs debt relief.

Meanwhile, representatives of Greece’s international creditors were expected to leave the capital on Friday without having reached an agreement with government officials on contentious issues including pension reform and overhauls to labor rights and the tax system. The IMF said some progress was made but differences “remain in important areas.” Despite the insistence by European officials that a conclusion of the bailout review is unlikely before May, the Greek government indicated that there is enough time for an agreement significantly sooner than that though probably not in time for a March 20 Eurogroup.

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Sounds very familiar 😉

Roman Citizens Are Breaking The Law To Feed And Help Refugees (R.)

Volunteers served macaroni in marinara sauce to dozens of migrants outside one of Rome’s biggest train stations this week, offering help to travelers largely ignored by institutions on the frontline of Europe’s migrant crisis. While other European cities including Milan have set up information centers and shelters for migrants, Rome has repeatedly cleared out impromptu camps citing security concerns. “We’ve had 13 evictions,” Andrea Costa, director of the Baobab Experience group of volunteers, said before the migrants settled in for a cold night. To keep from being cleared out yet again, volunteers cook meals at home and bring them to a bare plaza outside Tiburtina station where tents are set up at 9 p.m. and taken down in the early morning. There are now 50 migrants staying here, mostly from Africa, as they attempt to reach other European countries.

That number is expected to soar this summer with sea arrivals to Italy up 60% already this year after setting a record last year. “With boat arrivals at this pace, in a little while we’ll have hundreds of people to take care of,” Costa said. Baobab saw between 500 and 1,000 migrants per day last summer, and volunteers have helped almost 63,000 migrants over the past two years with no state funding – only donations. Robel Tesfit, a 27-year-old Eritrean-Ethiopian who everybody calls “Bob,” arrived in Italy by sea in 2015, hoping to reach Britain where he wanted “to play for Manchester United.” He never made it to Britain, and returned to Rome where he was granted asylum. Now he uses his knowledge of Italian, Arabic, Tigrinya and Amharic to help Baobab volunteers, who gave him food, shelter and advice on his journey.

Pointing to the men and women lining up for pasta, he said: “When I arrived, I was the same as them.” While Italy has shelters to house 175,000 asylum seekers, it does not fund structures for migrants in transit, in part because the European Union wants to stop migrants from moving on, not help them to do so. EU law says they must seek asylum in the country where they first set foot. At the end of last year, Rome set aside about 60 beds in a nearby Red Cross center for travelers and officials say they want to renovate a hotel near the station to provide beds for about 100 more.

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20 million people. And we think about the value of our houses. And where to go on holiday.

World Faces Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945 – UN (G.)

The world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war with more than 20 million people in four countries facing starvation and famine, a senior United Nations official has warned. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, “people will simply starve to death” and “many more will suffer and die from disease”, Stephen O’Brien, the UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the security council in New York on Friday that He urged an immediate injection of funds for Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria plus safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid “to avert a catastrophe.” “To be precise,” O’Brien said, “we need $4.4bn by July”. Unless there was a major infusion of money, he said, children would be stunted by severe malnutrition and would not be able to go to school, gains in economic development would be reversed and “livelihoods, futures and hope lost”.

UN and food organisations define famine as when more than 30% of children under age 5 suffer from acute malnutrition and mortality rates are two or more deaths per 10,000 people every day, among other criteria. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations [in 1945],” O’Brien said. “Now, more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine.” O’Brien said the largest humanitarian crisis was in Yemen where two-thirds of the population — 18.8 million people — need aid and more than seven million people are hungry and did not know where their next meal would come from. “That is three million people more than in January,” he said.

[..] For 2017, O’Brien said $2.1bn was needed to reach 12 million Yemenis “with life-saving assistance and protection” but only 6% has been received so far. He announced that secretary-general Antonio Guterres will chair a pledging conference for Yemen on 25 April in Geneva. The UN humanitarian chief also visited South Sudan, the world’s newest nation which has been ravaged by a three-year civil war, and said “the situation is worse than it has ever been.” “The famine in South Sudan is man-made,” he said. “Parties to the conflict are parties to the famine — as are those not intervening to make the violence stop.” O’Brien said more than 7.5 million people need aid, up by 1.4 million from last year, and about 3.4 million South Sudanese are displaced by fighting including almost 200,000 who have fled the country since January.

“More than one million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished across the country, including 270,000 children who face the imminent risk of death should they not be reached in time with assistance,” he said.

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Nov 232016
 
 November 23, 2016  Posted by at 9:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Cyclone, Oklahoma, 1898

Dow 19,000 Is No Cause For Celebration (MW)
Global Wealth Update: 0.7% Of Adults Control $116.6 Trillion In Wealth (ZH)
We Could Be In A ‘Lost Decade’ Of Global Wealth Growth (CNBC)
Willing To Oppose Trump, Some Senate Republicans Gain Leverage (R.)
EU Draft Plan Eyes New Bank Creditor Class To Bear Losses (R.)
Economists Need To Get Into The Real World, Says BOE’s Haldane (Tel.)
Of Dunces, Fools, Drones and Heroes (Dmitry Orlov)
Renzi’s Party Wants Early Election in Italy If Referendum Lost (BBG)
Erdogan Says EU Lawmakers’ Vote On Turkish Membership ‘Has No Value’ (R.)
EU Finance Ministers To Discuss IMF, Greek Debt (Kath.)
Trump: ‘Open Mind’ On Quitting Climate Accords (AFP)
Sea Ice Reaches A New Low (Economist)

 

 

Arbitrary numbers.

Dow 19,000 Is No Cause For Celebration (MW)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 19,000 on Tuesday for the first time. How is this news? I’m sure you remember the spell-binding chase for the Dow to break 18,000, or those thrilling days when the Dow crossed 17,000, or hunted for 15,000. If you don’t remember those benchmark days – which occurred in December 2014 and July 2014 respectively, the latter being 14 months after the Dow had crossed 15,000 – then you also recognize that Dow 19,000 is equally no big deal, post-election rally notwithstanding. In fact, the Dow itself is no big deal. The Dow is the Kardashian of indexes – a celebrity benchmark, famous because it’s known rather than because of what it does.

Every round number on the index hits the news cycle hard, largely because there is so little real news out there. In early November, for example, people were talking about nine straight down days on the S&P 500 – the first nine-day losing streak in 36 years – as if that was somehow meaningful, even though the total decline on the index amounted to just 3.1%. (By comparison, the S&P 500’s last nine-day skid – which ended in December 1980 – shaved 9.4% off the index, according to FactSet). Tuesday’s headlines included a 13-day winning streak for the Russell 2000, its longest win streak in more than 20 years. The Russell benchmark gained roughly 15% during that stretch – an achievement largely unnoticed because it wasn’t the Dow or S&P 500.

Round numbers and little factoids are amusing and interesting, and are obvious fodder for the talking heads. Currently, the talk is whether the post-election rally can continue and if the Dow can roar on to 20,000, or if the quick rebound since the election has pushed us closer to a point of go-no-further. Focusing on the meaning of the Dow passing a landmark, however, misses the bigger point, which is that the Dow is a virtually meaningless benchmark. The Dow is important to people because it’s what they know, the staple of every market-oriented website, every radio-station market update, every newspaper’s daily business section, and the centerpiece of the 20 seconds of coverage that every national newscast guarantees the investing world each day.

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Criminal. And deadly. The ultimate pyramid scheme.

Global Wealth Update: 0.7% Of Adults Control $116.6 Trillion In Wealth (ZH)

Today Credit Suisse released its latest annual global wealth report, which traditionally lays out what is perhaps the biggest reason for the recent “anti-establishment” revulsion: an unprecedented concentration of wealth among a handful of people, as shown in its infamous global wealth pyramid, an arrangement which as observed by the “shocking” political backlash of the past few months suggests that the lower ‘levels’ of the pyramid are increasingly unhappy about.

As Credit Suisse tantalizingly shows year after year, the number of people who control just shy of a majority of global net worth, or 45.6% of the roughly $255 trillion in household wealth, is declining progressively relative to the total population of the world, and in 2016 the number of people who are worth more than $1 million was just 33 million, roughly 0.7% of the world’s population of adults. On the other end of the pyramid, some 3.5 billion adults had a net worth of less than $10,000, accounting for just about $6 trillion in household wealth. And inbetween is the so-called global middle class – those 1 billion people who rising anger at the status quo made Brexit and Trump possible.

[..] How about the very top? Things here are even more nuanced, with 28.9 million people whose net worth is between $1 and $5 million gradually tapering off to just 140,900 Ultra High Net Worth individuals who control more than $50 million in assets each. Of these, 50,800 are worth at least USD 100 million, and 5,200 have assets above USD 500 million. The total number of UHNW adults is about 3% higher than a year ago (4,100 individuals), and the increase has been relatively uniform across regions, except for the higher than average rise in Asia- Pacific countries (10%)

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How about a lost century?

We Could Be In A ‘Lost Decade’ Of Global Wealth Growth (CNBC)

Concerns that we are in a “lost decade” for global wealth growth have been given further credence by the latest “Global Wealth Report” released by the Credit Suisse Research Institute on Tuesday. According to the researchers, “In recent years, there has been a growing sense that the economic recovery is shallow, and has not reached all layers of society. Evidence from our global wealth database supports this view.” “While exchange rate movements sometimes obscure trends, wealth per adult and median wealth have grown well below their potential during the last nine years, compounding fears that we are in the midst of a lost decade for global wealth growth,” the paper continues.

The 1.4% rise in global wealth over the 12 month period to June 30 has only kept in line with population growth, meaning that for the first time since 2008 the wealth per adult measure has remained flat, according to the research. The paper burrows down into country level data which show that exchange rate fluctuations were the biggest drivers of changes in wealth for different nations over the period. Most notably, the 15% plunge in the British pound driven by Brexit translated to a $1.5 trillion loss for the U.K.. Meanwhile Japan’s 19% jump – which added $3.9 trillion to its wealth pile – was exactly aligned with gains in the yen as the Japanese currency bounced back from earlier weakness as its central bank was increasingly seen as running out of tools with which to force its depreciation.

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Trump will listen. But these folks must recognize why he won and they did not: they can’t command the room like he can.

Willing To Oppose Trump, Some Senate Republicans Gain Leverage (R.)

It is no surprise that Democrats in the U.S. Congress will oppose Donald Trump but the most important resistance to fulfilling the president-elect’s agenda is beginning to emerge from Republicans on Capitol Hill. A small number of influential Republicans in the Senate are threatening to block appointments to Trump’s administration, derail his thaw with Russia and prevent the planned wall on the border with Mexico. The party held onto control of the Senate at the Nov. 8 election but by only a thin margin, putting powerful swing votes in just a few hands. That empowers Republican Senate mavericks such as Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. Both were bitter rivals to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

Paul, a libertarian lone wolf, says he will block Senate confirmations if Trump nominates either former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton to be secretary of state. South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham has started publicly outlining places he might be willing to oppose Trump. He is against the Mexican border wall and is delivering warnings against Trump’s intention to revoke legal status for undocumented immigrants brought here as children – although that would not require congressional approval. Graham, a traditional Republican foreign policy hawk, strongly disagrees with Trump’s attempt to improve ties with Russia. “I am going to be kind of a hard ass” on Russia, Graham told reporters recently. “We can’t sit on the sidelines” and let cyber attacks blamed on Russia “go unanswered.”

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Accounting tricks are supposed to keep zombies alive.

EU Draft Plan Eyes New Bank Creditor Class To Bear Losses (R.)

European banks would be able to issue a new category of debt that could be wiped out in a crisis only after shares and bonds, but before more secured instruments, such as covered deposits, under a draft EU law seen by Reuters on Tuesday. The proposal aims at facilitating the building up of capital buffers for banks against losses at time when shares and bonds are losing value, forcing lenders to pay more to build the required cushions. The draft law, to be published by the European Commission on Wednesday, would create a new category of “non-preferred” debt instruments that would be bailed-in -suffer losses- only during a bank resolution, the draft text said.

The document is part of a wider legislative package aimed at reviewing EU rules on capital requirements for banks. Only debt instruments with a maturity of one year, and that are not derivatives, can be included in the new class. Lenders issuing such instruments will have to stress in contracts their ranking, which will be lower than secured debt such as covered deposits, derivatives or tax liabilities. The law is also aimed at creating a uniform ranking of bail-in-able liabilities across EU countries, which have so far applied in divergent ways new bail-in rules in force since the beginning of this year. The bail-in regime is meant to reduce costs to taxpayers in the event of a bank crisis, while increasing losses for the lenders’ creditors.

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The field is still very slow to wake up, even if more of them raise their -timid- voices.

Economists Need To Get Into The Real World, Says BOE’s Haldane (Tel.)

Economists are too detached from the real world and have failed to learn from the financial crisis, insisting on using mathematical models which do not reflect reality, according to the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane. The public has lost faith in economists since the credit crunch, he said, but the profession has failed to thoroughly re-examine its failings to come up with a new model of operating. Instead, he fears, it is still using the same failed analyses, and is still failing to speak effectively to the public. This applies to an all manner of areas, from studies of the financial meltdown to analysis of the Brexit vote. “The various reports into the economic costs of the UK leaving the EU most likely fell at the same hurdle. They are written, in the main, by the elite for the elite,” said Mr Haldane, writing the foreword to a new book, called ‘The Econocracy: the perils of leaving economics to the experts’.

The chief economist said that the Great Depression of the 1930s resulted in a major overhaul of economic thinking, led by John Maynard Keynes, who emerged “as the most influential economist of the twentieth century”. But the recent financial crisis and slow recovery has not yet prompted this great re-thinking. “Thus far at least, the present crisis has yet to spawn a Keynes for the twenty-first century. And nor have we witnessed any great leap forward analytically. Perhaps it is simply early days,” he said. “Salvation for the economics profession probably lies not among existing academic and policymaking dinosaurs, like me, but among the new generation of students of the discipline.” For now, economists need to focus on reviewing their models, accepting a diversify of thought rather than one solid orthodoxy, and on communicating more clearly.

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A bit hard to convey what Dmitry means in a news overview, you’ll have to read the article.

Of Dunces, Fools, Drones and Heroes (Dmitry Orlov)

Some time ago I posted three T-shirt designs, with no explanation as to why. “Here are some shirts,” I wrote, “reasonably priced, in all styles and colors, free shipping on orders over 100 USD, yadda-yadda.” Just as I expected, a few people got it, and a few of those ordered some shirts. The rest had no idea; some even confessed to that in the comments. That was a test. It was a success. Now that all eight of the planned designs are available, I offer the full explanation and rationale behind this, my latest humanitarian intervention/fundraising effort.

In all my travels and conversations, I have proven to myself beyond all doubt that the decision on who to talk to should have nothing to do with race, age, class, gender, ethnicity, nationality, IQ, profession/trade, educational level, criminal record, party affiliation, gang/militia membership, religious persuasion, military training/rank, drinking/drug habits and whatever else you might try to use to categorize people. Categorizing people based on their public attributes just doesn’t work. So, in determining who is worth talking to, all we have to go on is gut feeling, first impressions and happy accidents. But is this, I ask you, in any way optimal? No, it is not!

That is why I decided to step in and help. The eight designs may have some artistic merit, but they are not exactly art; in fact, they should be regarded as precision mental calibration instruments. Each design features a simple nautical motif consisting of a circle and the 16 compass points. Around the circle is a tag line. Inside the circle is a fish. The tag line is a pun about the fish. Confused? Read on! Each of the designs is a cognitive test. As you walk around wearing one of these shirts, looking for people worth talking to, you can apply specific methods, explained below, to interpret the way they react to your shirt. You can then make an objective determination as to whether a particular person is worth talking to. The determination is based on that staple of business consultants, Four-Quadrant Analysis.

In this case, the two dimensions being mapped are:
x-axis: Did the person get it? (No | Yes)
y-axis: Did the person laugh? (No | Yes)

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Yeah, bring in the old guard. The return of Monti. That’ll work miracles.

Renzi’s Party Wants Early Election in Italy If Referendum Lost (BBG)

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s party would seek early elections in Italy by the summer of 2017 if he loses a referendum on constitutional reform, according to a senior official. Lorenzo Guerini, deputy-secretary of Renzi’s Democratic Party, said in an interview that the group would try to reform the electoral system and then push for a fresh ballot if the “No” campaign wins on Dec. 4. He declined to say whether the premier would stay on to lead that effort or honor his promise to resign after a defeat, but he insisted Renzi would remain leader of the biggest party in parliament. “If there is the political will, we can work over a brief period on a new electoral law, and have elections with a new electoral law soon, by the summer of 2017,” Guerini said in his Rome office.

“If there are not the political conditions and the electoral reform is used as an excuse for a weak government surviving, we’re not interested.” Both the euro and Italian bonds have fallen this month amid concern that a rising populist mood will derail Renzi’s plans for reform and put another crack in the European project. The insurgent Five Star Movement is aiming to capitalize on a “No” vote to force Renzi out and wants another referendum, this time on Italy’s membership of the euro area. With Five Star just behind the Democratic Party in the polls, part of the Italian establishment is looking to hold off another vote until the current parliamentary term ends in February 2018.

Mario Monti, who headed a technocratic government between 2011 and 2013, said he expected there to be no early ballot whatever happens and said Italy should prioritize stability rather than rushing into another vote. “In case the ‘No’ were to win, I would expect first of all Mr Renzi to stay on after all,” Monti said Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Francine Lacqua. “If he at all costs wanted to leave, I would expect the president of the republic to form a new government with a new prime minister, but very much from the same center-left political spectrum which is now the Renzi majority.”

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I’m waiting till Putin takes revenge for the Russian jet downed last year. The West is too weak to take on Erdogan.

Erdogan Says EU Lawmakers’ Vote On Turkish Membership ‘Has No Value’ (R.)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that a vote by the European Parliament on whether to halt EU membership talks with Ankara “has no value in our eyes” and again accused Europe of siding with terrorist organizations. “We have made clear time and time again that we take care of European values more than many EU countries, but we could not see concrete support from Western friends … None of the promises were kept,” he told an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) conference in Istanbul. “There will be a meeting at the European Parliament tomorrow, and they will vote on EU talks with Turkey … whatever the result, this vote has no value in our eyes.”

Leading members of the European Parliament on Tuesday called for a halt to EU membership talks with Turkey because of its broad purges in the wake of a failed July coup. More than 125,000 people – including soldiers, academics, judges, journalists and Kurdish leaders – have been detained or dismissed over their alleged backing for the putsch, in what opponents, rights groups and some Western allies say is an attempt to crush all dissent.

Erdogan said on Tuesday the measures had significantly weakened the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers are accused of infiltrating state institutions over several decades and carrying out the coup attempt. Erdogan, and many Turks, were angered by the Western response to the putsch, viewing it as more concerned about the rights of the plotters than the gravity of the events themselves, in which more than 240 people were killed as rogue soldiers commandeered fighter jets and tanks. He has also repeatedly accused Europe of harboring members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state and is deemed a terrorist organization by the EU and United States.

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Get so sick of this. More reforms will be called for. Rinse and repeat.

EU Finance Ministers To Discuss IMF, Greek Debt (Kath.)

Finance ministers of core European Union countries are expected to meet later this week in Berlin to discuss the possible concessions Brussels could offer to secure the participation of the IMF in Greece’s third international bailout, paving the way for debt talks. Government officials suggest that the IMF, which has yet to decide whether to join Greece’s third bailout, is to blame for the slow process of talks between Greece and its creditors. In a media briefing on Tuesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos acknowledged that the differences between Greece and its creditors remain too great for an agreement on all prior actions to be reached by the December 5 Eurogroup meeting and said that Athens was aiming for a political agreement by that time.

There is enough time until December 5 for agreements to be reached in talks on labor laws, fiscal issues and the overhaul of the Greek energy sector, Tzanakopoulos said, noting that the government has shown the political will necessary to achieve a breakthrough by the deadline. However, he said, this political will does not include “a willingness for new austerity measures and concessions on matters of principle such as labor rights.” Elaborating, government sources said authorities will not retract their demands for the restoration of collective labor contracts. If all differences have not been bridged by December 5, Greece’s creditors should issue a political decision and make good on their pledge to launch talks on debt relief, Tzanakopoulos said.

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Denouncing the CON21 accord is not the worst of things. Because it doesn’t achieve a thing.

Trump: ‘Open Mind’ On Quitting Climate Accords (AFP)

US President-elect Donald Trump said Tuesday he has an open mind about pulling out of world climate accords and admitted global warming may be in some way linked to human activity. “I think there is some connectivity. Some, something. It depends on how much,” he told a panel of New York Times journalists. Asked whether he would make good on his threat to pull the United States out of UN climate accords, he said: “I’m looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it.” But he said he was also wanted to see how much the Paris climate accord “will cost our companies” and its impact on US competitiveness.

The Republican billionaire businessman has called climate change a “hoax” perpetrated by China and threatened to pull out of the agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The accord was reached in Paris in December 2015 after negotiations involving 195 countries. The worldwide pact to battle global warming took effect on November 4. The agreement sets a goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial revolution levels. The United States, the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, ratified the accord in early September, with strong backing from President Barack Obama.

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What are you going to do about it?

Sea Ice Reaches A New Low (Economist)

Measuring sea ice is difficult. Not only does it only appear in the most remote, inhospitable parts of the world, it is constantly either melting or forming. Since 1979, satellites have made the job easier, but they can give a misleading picture. Using satellite images to tot up the total area of sea ice risks mistaking surface melt for open water during the summer melting season. Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Colorado instead measure sea-ice extent by dividing the images into grids and counting any squares with more than 15% ice concentration as “ice covered”. Sea-ice extent is always larger than sea-ice area, but this method eliminates melt-season inaccuracies.

Scientists are interested in sea ice as a marker -and amplifier- of climate change. Its bright surface reflects 80% of the sunlight that hits it back into space. When it melts, the uncovered dark ocean surface absorbs 90% of the sunlight, which heats it up, causing more ice to melt. In recent years, the melting season in the Arctic has been ending later in the year, leading to less time for new ice to form. As a consequence, the total sea-ice extent in September 2016 was over 3m km2. smaller than in September 1980, although not as small as in September 2012, the worst year on record.

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Nov 072016
 
 November 7, 2016  Posted by at 10:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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NPC Auto wreck, Washington, DC April 1917

Betting Sites See Record Wagering On US Presidential Election (R.)
When Might We Know Who Won? Potentially Hours Earlier Than Usual (BBG)
Could Trump Or Clinton Face Impeachment As President? (John Crudele)
This Election Has Disgraced the Entire Profession of Journalism (Silverstein)
Much More Than Trump (Repost), by Robert Gore
Private Capital Allocation As Inefficient As In Great Depression (Beversdorf)
Housing ‘Wealth Creation’ Leads To National Wealth Destruction (Janda)
China Might Finally Give Wall Street What It Wants – 20 Years Late (WSJ)
Hong Kong Derails Property Streetcar (BBG)
Negative Bond Yields in Japan Don’t Look So Bad With Deflation (BBG)
Architect Of Euro In Stark Warning (BBC)
Obama Aiming To Make Lasting Impression With Athens Speech (Kath.)
Erdogan Blasts West As Turkey’s Kurdish Party Boycotts Parliament (R.)
Great Barrier Reef: What Have We Left For Our Children? (Naomi Klein)

 

 

How fitting.

Betting Sites See Record Wagering On US Presidential Election (R.)

The raucous, passionate and unpredictable 2016 U.S. presidential election is on track to notch another distinction: the most wagered-upon political event ever. With many opinion polls showing a tight race just one day before Tuesday’s election, record numbers of bettors are pouring millions into online platforms from Ireland to Iowa in the hope of capturing a financial windfall from a victory by Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump. UK-based internet betting exchange Betfair said on Sunday its “Next President” market was set to become the most traded it had ever seen and expected to surpass even Brexit. By Sunday, roughly $130 million had been traded on who will become the next U.S. president, compared with $159 million on the Brexit referendum, Betfair spokeswoman Naomi Totten said.

The amount bet so far on the 2016 contest dwarfs the roughly $50 million laid on the 2012 race. “We think it is because (of) how raw the Brexit (vote) is in people’s minds – they’re not convinced yet that it’s a done deal,” Totten said. Most polls leading into Britain’s June 23 referendum predicted Britons would choose to remain in the EU. Instead, they voted to leave by a 52% to 48% margin. Betfair’s “Next President” market was by far the largest of more than 70 markets on the site related to the U.S. election. As of Friday, some $140 million has been put into play on markets ranging from who will win the popular vote to how many states each party will carry. On Ireland’s Paddy Power, which merged with Betfair earlier this year, the U.S. presidential election “is definitely on course to be the biggest political event,” said spokesman Féilim Mac An Iomaire. The site has had about $4.38 million bet on the race so far.

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Who needs the west?

When Might We Know Who Won? Potentially Hours Earlier Than Usual (BBG)

4. When might the public know who won? Potentially hours earlier than usual.

5. Why’s that? There’s a wrinkle this year that might undermine the tradition of major television networks holding off declaring a new president until polls close on the West Coast. Exit polling available to the networks and the Associated Press, combined with early returns in key districts, can point to a likely winner hours before the polls close. Since 1980, when Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory was called while West Coast polls were still open – spurring complaints that some voters didn’t see any reason to go to the polls — networks have resisted calling winners until a given state’s polls have closed.

6. Who’s challenging that arrangement this year? A startup company called VoteCastr plans to collect data from seven battleground states – Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – on Election Day, stream it through a mobile app and use it “to generate minute-by-minute projected outcomes.” The news website Slate.com will publish VoteCastr’s findings as they come in. “Publishing our data will help level the playing field, so that voters know as much as campaigns do,” Slate’s editor, Julia Turner, said.

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Not easy. Entirely new information would be needed.

Could Trump Or Clinton Face Impeachment As President? (John Crudele)

[..] .. might it be possible for Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings immediately after their swearing-in as president, whoever wins? I asked professor Eric Schickler, who is the chairman of Travers Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. “That is an interesting question”, Schickler said. “The conventional understanding of impeachment is that it is due to actions taken while in office. That is how it has traditionally been applied. But impeachment, as anyone who has lived through the Nixon and Bill Clinton eras knows, is ultimately a political decision”, says Schickler. “The Constitution does not define ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’, which is supposed to be the standard for an impeachable offense. “As such, there is discretion for Congress to define its range”, he added.

But Schickler says it would be a “serious case of political overreach for Congress to impeach after an election for actions taken before a person is in office. That s particularly so where those actions were known at the time of the election itself”, he says. OK, my turn again. So what he s saying is that an impeachment proceeding right after the election would really piss voters off. Then, how about a month after inauguration? Or six months? Or a year from now, when the economy still isn t buzzing (as it s unlikely to be) and people have had enough of our new president – whoever that may be. So let’s figure out what crimes we can come up with for Trump and Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s crimes are obvious. Her opponent has described her as a liar and a crook, and so have I.

She has nearly been indicted twice, and could easily have other offenses that are lurking in the background. She’s become very wealthy because of connections made while in public service. She’s had numerous shady real estate deals and even had a commodities transaction – admittedly long ago – that reeked. And there’s the e-mail controversy. And perhaps lying to Congress and the FBI. And things that may have occurred at the Clinton Foundation. And on and on and on. And if the Republicans keep control of Congress, it’s anyone’s guess if they will go after her. Trump’s “crimes” are a little harder to spot. He’s a pig, that’s for sure. But pinching someone in a bar or saying vulgar things on camera aren’t really impeachable unless, of course, the enemies in his own party decide that they’d prefer vice presidential candidate Mike Pence as a substitute.

Professor Michael J. Gerhardt, the Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says that a president “may be impeached based on serious misconduct committed prior to the time the individual entered the office he or she currently occupies.” A federal district judge, for instance, got impeached (which is like an indictment) and convicted for lying on a questionnaire he needed to fill out for the job. But there’s a catch, says Gerhardt. The misconduct has to be serious — which is a tricky term to define — and not considered at the time of the election. “It becomes a trickier case if the American people can be said to have ‘ratified’ the prior misconduct” by electing that person.

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Planet Ponzi speaks.

This Election Has Disgraced the Entire Profession of Journalism (Silverstein)

There’s nothing secret about the media’s anti-Trump stance. A formal declaration of war was launched on August 7, when Jim Rutenberg, the New York Times media columnist, wrote a story under the headline, “Trump Is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism.” Rutenberg wrote that journalists were in a terrible bind trying to stay objective because Trump, among other things, “cozies up to anti-American dictators,” has “put financial conditions on the United States defense of NATO allies,” and that his foreign policy views “break with decades-old …consensus.” Rutenberg made clear that he and other reporters viewed “a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous,” which required them to report on him with a particularly critical point of view. This, he said, would make journalists “move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional,” which would be “uncomfortable and uncharted territory.”

There are so many things wrong with all this that it’s hard to know where to start. Rutenberg’s comment about dictators was clearly a reference to Vladimir Putin, who is an authoritarian leader who Trump, to his shame, admires. However, Russia is not the world’s worst dictatorship — and has been far more effective at fighting ISIS than the Obama administration — and Hillary’s cordial relationship with the Saudi regime, to cite just one example, seems far more dangerous. But rethinking “the alliances that have guided our foreign policy for 60 years” — the alliances that have resulted in non-stop war since 9/11 and the U.S.’s current involvement in seven overseas conflicts — is not an acceptable position for a presidential candidate in Rutenberg’s view.

Furthermore, how is it that the media has derogated to itself the right to decide what candidates deserve special scrutiny and what policies are acceptable? In a democracy, that is supposed to be the voters’ job. And worst of all is Rutenberg’s statement about the role of journalists. “All governments are run by liars and nothing they say should be believed,” I.F. Stone once wrote. “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations,” said George Orwell. For those two self-evident reasons, being “oppositional” is the only place political journalists should ever be, no matter who is in power or who is campaigning. But for Rutenberg and the New York Times being oppositional is only “uncomfortable” when it comes to covering Hillary Clinton.

It didn’t seem uncomfortable at all when it came to running a story about Trump’s taxes based on three pages of a decades-old tax return that was sent anonymously or when it ran another story with the headline, “The 282 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List.” All during the campaign we have watched Hillary Clinton rehearse campaign themes and, almost as if by magic, the media amplifying those themes in seeming lockstep. The hacked emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta have demonstrated that this was not mere happenstance, but, at least in part, resulted from direct coordination between the Clintonistas and the press.

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“..a chasm that cannot be straddled..”

Much More Than Trump (Repost), by Robert Gore

While the Kennedy assassination offered the American public a glimpse into the heart of darkness, only a few independent-minded skeptics challenged the Warren Commission whitewash. Vietnam was different; hundreds of thousands returned knowing not just that the so-called best and brightest couldn’t win the war, but that for years they had lied to the American public. In the following decades, it had to have been especially galling for the Vietnam veterans that the hippies, draft-deferred campus protesters, the “fortunate sons” (google Credence Clearwater Revival) whose numbers never came up, and the mockers of the values they held dear ended up among the elite. The Clintons, of course, became the prime example.

Disaffected veterans were the core of a group that would grow to millions, their “faith” in government and the people who ran it obliterated by its repeated failures and lies. Revolutions dawn when an appreciable number of the ruled realize their rulers are intellectual and moral inferiors. The mainstream media is filled with vituperative, patronizing, and insulting explanations of what’s “behind” the Trump phenomenon. It all boils down to revulsion with the self-anointed, incompetent, pretentious, hypocritical, corrupt, prevaricating elite that presumes to rule this country. It is, in a word, inferior to the populace on the other side of the yawning chasm, the ones they have patronized and insulted for decades, and the other side knows it.

Peggy Noonan is one of the few mainstream writers who has tried to understand, rather than insult or condemn, the Trump phenomenon. In a widely cited article, she ascribed it to the split between the “protected,” those who run the government and its allied institutions, and the “unprotected,” the government’s and its allies’ victims (“Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected,” The Wall Street Journal, 2/25/16). It was a nice try, but Ms. Noonan is attempting to straddle a chasm that cannot be straddled. She writes for the Journal, an establishment organ, some of whose writers have been either so clueless or disingenuous that they have denied the existence of an establishment. And ultimately, the protected-unprotected differentiation doesn’t fly.

Most Trump supporters don’t want the government to do something for them; they want the government to quit doing things to them. They viscerally revile the elite—it’s personal—and they want no part of that class or its government. They know how to take care of themselves, and many know the government hurts the most those whom it ostensibly protects.

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Whet can be done when demand is set to be weak for a long time?

Private Capital Allocation As Inefficient As In Great Depression (Beversdorf)

1) Economic policy objectives (monetary and fiscal) are meant to incentivize domestic private business investment, which drives incomes and the money multiplier effect, i.e. the engine of the economy.

2) Economic policy objectives have failed because CEO’s, the private capital allocators, simply cannot accommodate business investment when the demand function is as weak as we currently find it, no matter how available and how cheap the capital.

3) The demand function is weak because we misunderstood and ignored the side effects of trade policies and their reliance on new world economies that naturally have a lower money multiplier effect than old world economies.

4) A materially damaged demand function leads to a misallocation of resources; for the past 15 years capital has been and continues at an accelerating rate to be allocated to cash distribution (the most economically inefficient use of capital) rather than investment, further deteriorating the demand function (economic death spiral).

5) The only question that matters now then is; How do we get private sector capital allocators to allocate capital more efficiently? I’ll give you a hint, it requires indications of sustainable demand improvement and neither monetary nor fiscal policy have the capacity to generate sustainable demand improvement when the demand function is damaged to the point that CEO’s refuse to invest productively. This then requires a new economic policy framework, one that CAN generate sustainable demand improvement, which will allow capital allocators to invest productively.

We can understand the problem without villainizing any particular stakeholders by focusing on where we are today and delivering a viable solution. Mistakes were made and judging whether they were honest or malicious in nature is irrelevant to finding the solution. Our focus here is a solution.

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Bloated home prices strangle consumption, which is typically 50-70% of GDP.

Housing ‘Wealth Creation’ Leads To National Wealth Destruction (Janda)

Robertson cites two brunches a week, two coffees a day and a $60 dinner a week as areas where many Gen Ys could save some cash. Aside from the many responses I’ve heard from Gen Ys who don’t spend anything like this much on such items, when you add up the savings it really isn’t that much. On Robertson’s figures one could save just under $6,000 a year. Let’s be extra tight arse and cut out the booze, say $50 a week for $2,600 a year, save another $1,000 by holidaying up the coast in a caravan park instead of heading overseas and $400 more through buying cheaper clothes. So let’s assume it’s reasonable to cut $10,000 in expenses and let’s also assume, even though it’s unlikely given their other spending habits, that our hypothetical Gen Y already saves $5,000 a year from their post-tax, post-HECS/HELP repayment income.

With a median home price of $800,000 in Sydney, it would take a single person more than a decade to save a deposit, so more than five years for a couple who were both saving $15,000 a year. But first time buyers shouldn’t be buying the median, or middle-priced, home I hear boomers respond. Agreed. So let’s take the median apartment price instead. Given the number of studios and tiny one-bedders out there, the median unit price probably gets you a pretty small apartment within 10km of the CBD or a two-bedder somewhere further out. Surely the boomers can’t begrudge that as being excessively luxurious? That’s still $138,000 for a 20% deposit, not including stamp duty, legal and moving costs.

For a single person that’s still nine years of saving, or the best part of five for a couple, and that’s assuming home prices don’t keep rising faster than their incomes and the earnings on their savings, which has been the experience of the past four years. Even a deposit on a Melbourne apartment is six-and-a-half years of saving for a single and more than three years for a couple, again not including other unavoidable purchase costs. That’s the individual challenge that Gen Ys face, even those on pretty decent incomes which are becoming rarer in an increasingly part-time and casualised labour market. But what all of the analysis thus far has ignored is the macroeconomic cost. Imagine for a second that hundreds of thousands of Gen Ys gave up all their brunches and coffees – cafes across Australia would be going broke.

Who do they employ? Often Gen Ys. Likewise the restaurants, bars and retailers that would also be hit if Gen Y really did close their wallets completely. This illustrates the problem with an over-inflated housing market, it absolutely sucks the life out of every other part of the economy.

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“Chinese banks had a 10% share of investment-banking revenue in Asia [..] a decade ago… This year, that share has increased to 61%..”

China Might Finally Give Wall Street What It Wants – 20 Years Late (WSJ)

Beijing is considering allowing Wall Street firms to run their own investment-banking businesses on the mainland, according to people briefed on the discussions, a long-awaited step that would give them more access to China’s hard-to-crack domestic market. The move is being discussed as part of a new U.S.-China trade and investment framework. Firms such as Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase potentially could operate investment-banking business in China on their own. Currently, the firms must pair with domestic brokerages in joint ventures. The people briefed on the discussions caution negotiations aren’t finalized. Details need to be hashed out with Chinese regulators, and any agreement would need to be ratified by the U.S. Senate.

The possibility of getting closer to the Chinese market is a breakthrough for Wall Street firms. Global banks have limited access to the $7.48 trillion stock markets of Shanghai and Shenzhen and China’s domestic bond market, compared with the ease they can operate in global markets such as London and Tokyo. Any change, however, would come at a late stage. China’s banks have large balance sheets and have become formidable rivals. The banks also have long relationships with corporate Chinese clients, some of whom may not recognize Western brand names.

Chinese banks had a 10% share of investment-banking revenue in Asia, excluding Japan and Australia, a decade ago, according to data provider Dealogic. This year, that share has increased to 61%, boosted by Chinese companies that prefer to do business with domestic firms. Although U.S. banks have spent heavily to bulk up operations in the region, their share has declined since 2000, from 43% to just 14% so far this year, according to Dealogic.

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Popping bubbles before they become tumors.

Hong Kong Derails Property Streetcar (BBG)

When pro-market authorities tamper with prices to cool asset bubbles, economists speak of “throwing sand in the wheels of finance.” Having emptied its bucket of sand without stanching the desire to own property, Hong Kong decided to derail the out-of-control streetcar in a pit of exorbitant taxation. Considering the more painful alternative, it’s a wise move. Now that foreigners, including all-important mainland Chinese buyers, must pay a 30% stamp duty to buy overpriced shoeboxes, transactions could drop by 70%, Bloomberg News reported. Weaker demand might jolt earnings of the city’s developers. That’s what the biggest drop in 16 months in Cheung Kong Property’s shares suggested Monday. A more violent reaction, which might have occurred as Hong Kong’s U.S.-linked interest rates rose, may have been avoided.

As Gadfly pointed out, Hong Kong property has been a magnet for the kind of speculative frenzy that Singapore managed to tame. A gush of money out of the People’s Republic and into something – anything – in Hong Kong is the main reason a skilled worker in the territory was being asked to hand over seven years’ more wages than his Singapore counterpart to own the roof over his head. Even as Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists are ticked off by Beijing for trying to chart an independent political course, the city can exert more control over its economic destiny by making the world’s least affordable housing a little less so. Not only will the 30% tax dissuade mainland buyers, it also could also put an end to speculative land purchases by Chinese developers.

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Well, let’s all get us some deflation then.

Negative Bond Yields in Japan Don’t Look So Bad With Deflation (BBG)

If you thought Japan’s negative yields don’t offer any value, take a look at the nation’s fall back into deflation. The 10-year Japanese government bond yield of minus 0.065% turns into a real yield of about 44 basis points, near a three-year high, after accounting for consumer prices. The figure beats the U.S. 10-year real yield of about 30 basis points. The Bank of Japan last week acknowledged its negative short-term interest rates and its plan to control the yield curve will need more time to push up living costs. It forecast 2% inflation won’t be achieved until the year ending March 2019. Bondholders are the beneficiaries, with Japan’s debt market little changed over the past month, even as Treasuries dropped 0.4%, based on the Bloomberg World Bond Indexes.

“Even with the BOJ being vigilant about controlling bond levels, Japanese yields are on a gradual declining path given the lack of conviction that prices will rise,” said Souichi Takeyama at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. in Tokyo, a unit of Japan’s second-biggest lender. “There is a lack of concern about inflation.” The government will test demand when it sells 10-year debt Tuesday and 30-year bonds on Thursday. Japanese consumer prices are falling at a year-on-year pace of 0.5%, matching the biggest declines since 2013, giving bondholders reason to stick with the securities at a time when the central bank is trying to hold nominal 10-year yields at about zero. In the U.S., investors get 1.80%. Japan’s 40-year bond is more attractive at 0.575%, or a real yield exceeding 1%.

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Wonder how much he blames himself for.

Architect Of Euro In Stark Warning (BBC)

A founding father of monetary union has given a damning assessment of the euro bloc, saying that not incorporating an exit strategy was a mistake. Prof Otmar Issing told the BBC’s Wake up to Money that faultlines across the eurozone remain, citing economic weakness in Greece, Portugal and Italy. The ECB’s first chief economist also warned about the impact of negative interest rates. And he said political pressures threatened central banks’ independence. Prof Issing told the BBC that structural problems in the eurozone and dwindling public support in some countries were still major problems. The euro currency was “stable and performing much better than expected”, he said. “But I wish I could say the same about the euro area.”

Countries that tipped the bloc into recession during the global financial meltdown were still in serious economic trouble. Greece was in “permanent crisis”, and economic reforms in Portugal and Italy were either on hold or being reversed, the professor said. Prof Issing, a former adviser to Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, has in recent years become suspicious of the euro project he helped to create, warning that it would collapse without reform. He told the BBC that it was a “mistake in the construction of the whole arrangement that once a member, you remain a member for eternity”. It meant that countries not complying with the eurozone’s economic and budgetary rules “can blackmail the others”. Allowing a temporary exit would, for example, have helped Greece to reform its economy so that it could then return later in better financial health.

However, some countries should never have joined the euro in the first place, he said, without naming names. They “were not yet ready to thrive under a single monetary policy and one central bank”. Prof Issing is also increasingly concerned about central banks’ use of zero or negative interest rates in a bid to stimulate growth. The policy has been used by, among others, the ECB, Japan, Switzerland and Sweden It is hindering the recovery of banks, he said, adding: “If it persists for longer, then I think we will see dramatic consequences for insurance companies and pension schemes.” Furthermore, “the longer zero interest rates continue, the more difficult it will be to exit from this situation”.

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A lasting impression accompanied by Victoria Nuland and new ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt. Athens has better be very careful with the Ukraine star couple in place.

Obama Aiming To Make Lasting Impression With Athens Speech (Kath.)

US President Barack Obama is planning to deliver what American officials have described to Kathimerini as a “legacy speech” when he visits Athens on November 15. Although the details of the president’s trip have not been finalized, officials in Washington indicated that Obama intends to make a statement that resonates when he comes to Greece. One official likened it to the historic speech delivered by John F. Kennedy when he visited Berlin in 1962. Obama is expected to make extensive references to democracy and how it has endured in Greece despite its recent problems. The US president is also due to highlight the need for Athens to receive debt relief and for the Greek government to persist with structural reforms.

Obama is expected to tread carefully on the issue of debt so that his comments do not appear as an attack on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who he considers an important partner and who he will be visiting after his trip to Athens. Sources said that the American president’s speech will also contain a message for Turkey. Obama wants to draw attention to the refugee crisis during his visit to Greece but due to security concerns a visit to the island of Lesvos has been ruled out. There is, however, a possibility that he will visit a refugee camp in Attica.

It is not yet known who will accompany the American leader on his visit but the impression is that First Lady Michelle Obama will not accompany him on the trip. There has been no final decision on whether Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will also travel to Athens. It is considered likely that Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland and Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein will be part of the team that will fly to Greece from Washington.

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Prediction: “we” are going to let this run awfully out of control.

Erdogan Blasts West As Turkey’s Kurdish Party Boycotts Parliament (R.)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused Europe on Sunday of abetting terrorism by supporting Kurdish militants and said he did not care if it called him a dictator. Turkey drew international condemnation for the arrest on Friday of leaders and lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the second-largest opposition grouping in parliament, as part of a terrorism investigation. The government accuses the HDP, which made history last year by becoming the first Kurdish party to win 10% of the vote and enter parliament, of financing and supporting an armed Kurdish insurgency, which it denies. The HDP announced a partial boycott of parliament on Sunday, saying it was “halting its legislative efforts” and that its deputies would stop participating in sessions of the legislature or meetings of parliamentary commissions.

“I don’t care if they call me dictator or whatever else, it goes in one ear, out the other. What matters is what my people call me,” Erdogan said in a speech at an Istanbul university, where he was receiving an honorary doctorate. Erdogan and the government are furious at what they see as Western criticism of their fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy and whose allied groups in Syria enjoy U.S. support in the fight against Islamic State. Erdogan said the PKK, listed as a terrorist group by the EU and US, had killed almost 800 members of the security forces and more than 300 civilians since a ceasefire in the largely Kurdish southeast collapsed last year. [..] “Europe, as a whole, is abetting terrorism. Even though they declared the PKK a terrorist organisation, this is clear,” Erdogan said. “We see how the PKK can act so freely and comfortably in Europe.”

HDP co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag were jailed pending trial on Friday after refusing to give testimony in a probe linked to “terrorist propaganda”. Ten other HDP lawmakers were also detained, though some were later released. The US expressed deep concern, while Germany and Denmark summoned Turkish diplomats over the Kurdish arrests. European Parliament President Martin Schulz said the actions “call into question the basis for the sustainable relationship between the EU and Turkey”. “After discussions with our parliamentary group and our central executive board, we have decided to halt our legislative efforts in light of everything that has happened,” HDP spokesman Ayhan Bilgen said in a statement read out in front of the party’s offices in Diyarbakir and broadcast online. HDP officials would consult with the party’s supporters, many of whom are in the largely Kurdish southeast, and could then consider a full withdrawal from parliament, he said.

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“Climate change is intergenerational theft.”

Great Barrier Reef: What Have We Left For Our Children? (Naomi Klein)

There is no question that the strongest emotions I have about the climate crisis have to do with Toma and his peers. I have flashes of sheer panic about the extreme weather we have already locked in for them. But even more intense than this fear is the sadness about what they won’t ever know. These kids are growing up in a mass extinction, robbed of the cacophonous company of being surrounded by so many fast-disappearing life forms. According to a new WWF report, since I was born in 1970 the number of wild animals on the planet has dropped by more than half – and by 2020 it is expected to drop by two-thirds. What a lonely world we are creating for these kids. And what more powerful place to illustrate that absence than the Great Barrier Reef, on the knife-edge of survival?

So this film shows the reef through Toma’s eyes. He’s too young to understand concepts like coral bleaching and dying – it’s tough enough for him to understand that coral was ever alive in the first place. It also shows the Great Barrier Reef through the eyes of his mother: moved by the beauty that remains, heartbroken and infuriated by what has been lost. Because what has happened to this wondrous part of the world is not just a tragedy, it’s a crime. And the crime is still very much in progress, with our respective governments busily clearing the way for new coalmines and new oil pipelines.

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Sep 172016
 
 September 17, 2016  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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DPC Near Lewiston, Minnesota – The Pulpit. 1899

The Beginning of the End of the World (Umair Haque)
US Household Net Worth Hits Record $89 Trillion, But There’s A Catch (ZH)
China’s Holdings of US Treasuries Fall to Lowest Since 2013 (BBG)
Trump’s Economic Plan: Some Decent Ideas, Lots Of Really Bad Fiscal Math (DS)
US Is Investigating Bosch in Widening VW Diesel-Cheat Scandal (BBG)
Why the Fed Destroyed the Market Economy (Gordon)
IMF’s Lagarde: Big Salary, Big Ideas (TO Sun)
House Intelligence Committee’s Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Snowden Report (TCF)
Western Media Credibility In Free Fall Collapse (Paul Craig Roberts)
The Intellectual Yet Idiot (Taleb)
The Existential Madness of Putin-Bashing (Robert Parry)
Russia Says US Refuses To Share Syria Truce Deal With UN Council (R.)

 

 

Nice attempt by Haque, but no, some kind of ‘leadership’ would not solve our problems.

The Beginning of the End of the World (Umair Haque)

The beginning of the end of the world means that yesterday’s model of prosperity – let’s call it capitalist liberal democracy – has reached its limits. It is like an aging machine that shudders and backfires more violently and regularly, because it is broken. And yet, we are unsure, as a world, where to go next.

Let’s take it in four levels. At the macro level, liberal capitalism’s a set of agreements and institutions. These agreements are being torn up, rejected, abandoned. Witness Brexit. The world is left in a state of void, just as the UK is now. Let me try to translate that: there is not a single leader in the world today who appears to have a vision for a stagnant global economy. The kind of great and radical vision that Keynes, Marshall, JFK had. Maybe we don’t agree with the vision – but what is important is that are visions to discuss, debate, inspire, cohere, lead. That level of vision is missing when it is most badly needed. Without such a vision, what happens?

A void of vision, leadership, direction to fix any of the existential threats of inequality, fragility, insecurity, at the global level inevitably means social discontent, decay, decline. Why be a part of societies and unions that step on your future? The beginning of the end of the world at the social level means: entire societies are beginning to fracture. As they fracture, so there is a return to tribalism, dynasty, feudal and authoritarian ways of ordering society. You don’t have to look much further than the US election to see it. In the void of democracy, feudalism is the darkness, and fascism is midnight. What happens when societies begin to splinter and fracture, regress and decline?

At the institutional level, the level of corporations and organisations, the end of the world means that there is now an even more severe power imbalance. Institutions hold far more power than relatively powerless, ossified, fractured states. And they exercise it. They set the terms and define the rules of trade, freedom, work, reward. What does that mean for people? At the personal level, the end of the world is already here. This is the first generation in modern history that’s going to suffer worse living standards than their parents. The question is: how much worse? Very badly worse. With stagnant incomes, no savings, this generation will never retire, vacation, advance, enjoy, or own. Their relationships, health, and productivity will suffer as a result. The quality of their lives is going to be long, bleak, and pointless. Worked to the grave to make a dwindling number of dynasties wealthy, largely by serving them hand and foot, not really enhancing human life.

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Tyler presents inequality as the catch, but the -admittedly related- asset bubble is a much bigger one.

US Household Net Worth Hits Record $89 Trillion, But There’s A Catch (ZH)

As part of its quarterly Flow of Funds update, earlier today the Fed released snapshot of the US “household” sector as of June 30. What it revealed is that with $103.8 trillion in assets and a modest $14.7 trillion in liabilities, the net worth of the average US household rose to a new all time high of $89.1 trillion, up $1.1 trillion as a result of an estimated $474 billion increase in real estate values, and mostly $750 billion increase in various stock-market linked financial assets like corporate equities, mutual and pension funds. Household borrowing rose at a 4.4% annual rate, with total household liabilities grew growing by $200 billion from $14.5 trillion to $14.7 trillion, the bulk of which was $9.6 trillion in home mortgages. The breakdown of the total household balance sheet as of Q2 is shown below.

And while it would be great news if wealth across America had indeed risen as much as the chart above shows, the reality is that there is a big catch: as shown previously, virtually all of the net worth, and associated increase thereof, has only benefited a handful of the wealthiest Americans. As a reminder, from the CBO’s latest Trends in Family Wealth analysis, here is a breakdown of the above chart by wealth group, which sadly shows how the “average” American wealth is anything but. While the breakdown has not caught up with the latest data, it provides an indicative snapshot of who benefits.

Here is how the CBO recently explained the wealth is distributed: In 2013, families in the top 10% of the wealth distribution held 76% of all family wealth, families in the 51st to the 90th %iles held 23%, and those in the bottom half of the distribution held 1%. Average wealth was about $4 million for families in the top 10% of the wealth distribution, $316,000 for families in the 51st to 90th%iles, and $36,000 for families in the 26th to 50th %iles. On average, families at or below the 25th %ile were $13,000 in debt.

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Maybe Draghi and Kuroda can buy them all.

China’s Holdings of US Treasuries Fall to Lowest Since 2013 (BBG)

China’s holdings of U.S. Treasuries fell in July to the lowest level in more than three years, as the world’s second-largest economy pares its foreign-exchange reserves to support the yuan. The biggest foreign holder of U.S. government debt had $1.22 trillion in bonds, notes and bills in July, down $22 billion from the prior month, in the biggest drop since 2013, according to U.S. Treasury Department data released Friday in Washington and previous figures compiled by Bloomberg. The portfolio of Japan, the largest holder after China, rose $6.9 billion to $1.15 trillion. Saudi Arabia’s holdings of Treasuries declined for a sixth straight month, to $96.5 billion.

The figures compare with official Chinese data showing that the nation’s foreign-exchange reserves were little changed in July at $3.2 trillion, though they’re down from a peak of close to $4 trillion in 2014. The reserves dropped $16 billion in August to the lowest level since 2011. The report, which also contains data on international capital flows, showed net foreign buying of long-term securities totaling $103.9 billion in July. It showed a total cross-border inflow, including short-term securities such as Treasury bills and stock swaps, of $140.6 billion. Net foreign selling of U.S. Treasuries was $13.1 billion in July, while foreigners scooped up a net $26.1 billion in equities, $20.7 billion of corporate debt and $38.9 billion in agency debt, according to the report.

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Stockman knows what he’s talking about on this issue, far more than most. Not perfect, but useful.

Trump’s Economic Plan: Some Decent Ideas, Lots Of Really Bad Fiscal Math (DS)

[..] the Reagan White House—me included – fell for the theory of “dynamic scoring” and that the big cuts in the income tax rates would partially pay for themselves via revenue “flowback”. Back in those days the latter was expressed in an economic forecast known as Rosy Scenario, which assumed that in response to the supply side tax cuts, the US economy would get up on its hind legs and leap forward at a real GDP growth rate of more than 4% per year, and as far as the eye could see. What happened instead, of course, is that the US economy plunged into the drink of the deep 1982 recession and the Federal deficit soared to 5% of GDP—a truly shocking outcome back in those innocent days when the old-time fiscal religion still had roots inside the beltway.

And it would have also caused enormous economic havoc had not the Gipper’s advisors—me included—talked him to signing three tax bills over 1982-1984 that recaptured roughly 40% of the revenue loss from his cherished tax cuts. Even then, the public debt grew by 250% during Reagan’s eight years – or by more than under any peacetime President in American history. Yet even to this day the GOP politicians and their economic advisers profess a case of heavy duty amnesia about what happened, claiming that real GDP grew by upwards of 4.5% and that these results were proof positive that “dynamic scoring” of tax cuts is valid.

Worse still, they appear to have convinced Donald Trump of this same fallacious revisionist history because it was embedded at the core of the Thursday speech’s fiscal math. To wit, Trump claimed that $2.6 trillion or 60% of the revenue loss from his $4.4 trillion tax cut would be recouped by, yes, 4% economic growth as far as the eye can see.

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As Merkel pushes back.

US Is Investigating Bosch in Widening VW Diesel-Cheat Scandal (BBG)

U.S. prosecutors are investigating whether Germany’s Robert Bosch, which provided software to Volkswagen, conspired with the automaker to engineer diesel cars that would cheat U.S. emissions testing, according to two people familiar with the matter. Among the questions the Justice Department is asking in the criminal probe, one of them said, is whether automakers in addition to VW used Bosch software to skirt environmental standards. Bosch, which is also under U.S. civil probe and German inquiry, is cooperating in investigations and can’t comment on them, said spokesman Rene Ziegler.

The line of inquiry broadens what is already the costliest scandal in U.S. automaking history. VW faces an industry-record $16.5 billion, and counting, in criminal and civil litigation fines after admitting last year that its diesel cars were outfitted with a “defeat device” that lowered emissions to legal levels only when it detected the vehicle was being tested. More than a half dozen big manufacturers sell diesel-powered vehicles in the U.S. The people familiar with the matter declined to say whether specific makers are under scrutiny. A second supplier may also be part of the widening probe: When prosecutors in Detroit outlined their case last week against a VW engineer who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the matter, they said he had help from a Berlin-based company that is 50% owned by Volkswagen, described as “Company A” in a court filing. That company, according to a another person familiar with the matter, is IAV, which supplies VW and other automakers.

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“..the data told them to…”

Why the Fed Destroyed the Market Economy (Gordon)

Kashkari’s a man with crazy eyes. But he’s also a man with even crazier ideas. After stating that politics is not part of presidential election year Fed policy, Kashkari explained how Fed policy is set. “We look at the data,” he said. In hindsight, this clarification was more revealing than the initial denial. Clearly, Kashkari’s never thought about what exactly it is he’s looking at when looking at the data. If he had, he’d likely conclude that the approach of using data to identify apparent aggregate demand insufficiencies and perceived supply gluts is crazy. Unemployment. GDP. Price inflation. These data points are all fabricated and fudged to the government number crunchers’ liking. What’s more, for each headline number there are a list of footnotes and qualifiers. Hedonic price adjustments. Price deflators. Seasonal adjustments. Discouraged worker disappearances. These subjective adjustments greatly affect the results.

Yet what’s even crazier is that Kashkari believes that by finagling around with the price of money the Fed can improve the outputs of their bogus data. According to central planners, better data – i.e. higher GDP, greater consumer demand, 2% inflation – means a better economy. But after 100-years of mismanagement, the last eight being in the radically extreme, the Fed has scored a big fat rotten tomato. The data still stinks – GDP’s still anemic. But the downside of their actions is downright putrid. Policy makers have pushed public and private debt well past their serviceable limits. They’ve debased the dollar to less than 5% of its former value and propagated bubbles and busts in real estate, stock markets, emerging markets, mining, oil and gas, and just about every other market there is. Aside from enriching private bankers, we now know the answer to why the Fed destroyed the market economy. According to Kashkari, the data told them to.

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“..a former French finance minister who has more than a passing knowledge of the debt crisis in the country formerly known as Greece..”

IMF’s Lagarde: Big Salary, Big Ideas (TO Sun)

You probably didn’t get invited to the International Forum of the Americas conference held in Toronto this week. Neither did I. Just as well. From $700 for a “regular” one-day pass to $3,500 for an “executive club” three-day pass, the croissants and coffee must have been vastly superior to the fare at Tim Hortons. We both missed the opportunity to hear Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the IMF, pontificate on the rise of protectionist political rhetoric in the developed world. Lagarde drew criticism for praising Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s fiscal plan from my friends Tony Clement, who’s in the running for the leadership of the federal Conservatives and Lisa Raitt, who hasn’t yet said whether she will run. Lagarde commented that she hoped Trudeau’s fiscal approach of spend now, pay later would go viral.

It’s an interesting take on how to build a strong, national economy, particularly from a former French finance minister who has more than a passing knowledge of the debt crisis in the country formerly known as Greece. The IMF has been intricately involved in the economic and political meltdown of Greece and, early in her tenure as managing director, Lagarde raised hackles by agreeing Greeks had “had a nice time” but it was now “payback time”. It’s hard to square the gap between praising Trudeau for “stimulus” spending and borrowing, while criticizing Greeks for not paying their way.

[..] I found Lagarde’s comments on the protectionist political wave sweeping over much of the developed world more interesting, and unintentionally, insightful. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at a forum in New York. She is intelligent, informed and opinionated, all things I like. She’s also an elite, globe-traveling bureaucrat with a $500,000 tax-free salary and an expense account commensurate with a lifestyle unrecognizable to average folk. From her lofty, enlightened position Lagarde offered that blue-collar workers in developed countries should be offered educational opportunities. Apparently that will help them adjust to factory closings.

The author was a cabinet minister in the Conservative government of Ontario premier Mike Harris from 1995 to 2002.

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Barton Gellman takes down an idiot report.

House Intelligence Committee’s Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Snowden Report (TCF)

Since I’m on record claiming the report is dishonest, let’s skip straight to the fourth section. That’s the one that describes Snowden as “a serial exaggerator and fabricator,” with “a pattern of intentional lying.” Here is the evidence adduced for that finding, in its entirety.

“He claimed to have left Army basic training because of broken legs when in fact he washed out because of shin splints.” This is verifiably false for anyone who, as the committee asserts it did, performs a “close review of Snowden’s official employment records.” Snowden’s Army paperwork, some of which I have examined, says he met the demanding standards of an 18X Special Forces recruit and mustered into the Army on June 3, 2004. The diagnosis that led to his discharge, on crutches, was bilateral tibial stress fractures.

“He claimed to have obtained a high school degree equivalent when in fact he never did.” I do not know how the committee could get this one wrong in good faith. According to the official Maryland State Department of Education test report, which I have reviewed, Snowden sat for the high school equivalency test on May 4, 2004. He needed a score of 2250 to pass. He scored 3550. His Diploma No. 269403 was dated June 2, 2004, the same month he would have graduated had he returned to Arundel High School after losing his sophomore year to mononucleosis. In the interim, he took courses at Anne Arundel Community College.

“He claimed to have worked for the CIA as a ‘senior advisor,’ which was a gross exaggeration of his entry-level duties as a computer technician.” Judge for yourself. Here are the three main roles Snowden played at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (1) His entry level position, as a contractor, was system administrator (one among several) of the agency’s Washington metropolitan area network. (2) After that he was selected for and spent six months in training as a telecommunications information security officer, responsible for all classified technology in U.S. embassies overseas. The CIA deployed him to Geneva under diplomatic cover, complete with an alias identity and a badge describing him as a State Department attache. (3) In his third CIA job, the title on his Dell business card was “solutions consultant / cyber referent” for the intelligence community writ large—the company’s principal point of contact for cyber contracts and proposals. In that role, Snowden met regularly with the chiefs and deputy chiefs of the CIA’s technical branches to talk through their cutting edge computer needs.

“He also doctored his performance evaluations…” Truly deceptive, this. I will tell the story in my book. Suffice to say that Snowden discovered and reported a security hole in the CIA’s human resources intranet page. With his supervisor’s permission, he made a benign demonstration of how a hostile actor could take control. He did not change the content of his performance evaluation. He changed the way it displayed on screen.

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But they control.

Western Media Credibility In Free Fall Collapse (Paul Craig Roberts)

The latest from the Gallup Poll is that only 32% of Amerians trust the print and TV media to tell the truth. Republicans, 18 to 49 year old Americans, and independents trust the media even less, with trust rates of 14%, 26%, and 30%. The only group that can produce a majority that still trusts the media are Democrats with a 51% trust rate in print and TV reporting. The next highest trust rate is Americans over 50 years of age with a trust rate of 38%. The conclusion is that old people who are Democrats are the only remaining group that barely trusts the media. This mistaken trust is due to their enculturation. For older Democrats belief in government takes the place of Republican belief in evangelical Christianity.

Older Democrats are firm believers that it was government under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that saved America from the Great Depression. As the print and TV media in the 21st century are firmly aligned with the government, the trust in government spills over into trust of the media that is serving the government. As the generation of Democrats enculturated with this mythology die off, Democratic trust rates will plummet toward Republican levels. It is not difficult to see why trust in the media has collapsed. The corrupt Clinton regime, which we might be on the verge of repeating, allowed a somewhat diverse and independent media to be 90% acquired by six mega-corporations. The result was the disappearance of independence in reporting and opinion.

The constraints that corporate ownership and drive for profits put on journalistic freedom and resources reduced reporting to regurgitations of government and corporate press releases, always the cheapest and uncontroversial way to report. With journalistic families driven out of journalism by estate taxes, the few remaining newspapers become acquisitions like a trophy wife or a collector Ferrari. Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of amazon.com, handed over $250 million in cash for the Washington Post. Jeff might be a whiz in e-commerce, but when it comes to journalism he could just as well be named Jeff Bozo.

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Taleb’s been tweeting on this for a long time. Wonder if he’s read Ivan Illich’s work on institutionalism.

The Intellectual Yet Idiot (Taleb)

The Intellectual Yet Idiot is a production of modernity hence has been accelerating since the mid twentieth century, to reach its local supremum today, along with the broad category of people without skin-in-the-game who have been invading many walks of life. Why? Simply, in most countries, the government’s role is between five and ten times what it was a century ago (expressed in%age of GDP). The IYI seems ubiquitous in our lives but is still a small minority and is rarely seen outside specialized outlets, think tanks, the media, and universities – most people have proper jobs and there are not many openings for the IYI. Beware the semi-erudite who thinks he is an erudite. He fails to naturally detect sophistry.

The IYI pathologizes others for doing things he doesn’t understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited. He thinks people should act according to their best interests and he knows their interests, particularly if they are “red necks” or English non-crisp-vowel class who voted for Brexit. When Plebeians do something that makes sense to them, but not to him, the IYI uses the term “uneducated”. What we generally call participation in the political process, he calls by two distinct designations: “democracy” when it fits the IYI, and “populism” when the plebeians dare voting in a way that contradicts his preferences. While rich people believe in one tax dollar one vote, more humanistic ones in one man one vote, Monsanto in one lobbyist one vote, the IYI believes in one Ivy League degree one-vote, with some equivalence for foreign elite schools, and PhDs as these are needed in the club.

More socially, the IYI subscribes to The New Yorker. He never curses on twitter. He speaks of “equality of races” and “economic equality” but never went out drinking with a minority cab driver. Those in the U.K. have been taken for a ride by Tony Blair. The modern IYI has attended more than one TEDx talks in person or watched more than two TED talks on Youtube. Not only will he vote for Hillary Monsanto-Malmaison because she seems electable and some other such circular reasoning, but holds that anyone who doesn’t do so is mentally ill. The IYI has a copy of the first hardback edition of The Black Swan on his shelves, but mistakes absence of evidence for evidence of absence. He believes that GMOs are “science”, that the “technology” is not different from conventional breeding as a result of his readiness to confuse science with scientism.

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Everyone should read this. And then realize that Russia in not a threat to us.

The Existential Madness of Putin-Bashing (Robert Parry)

the United States dispatched financial “experts” – many from Harvard Business School – who arrived in Moscow with neoliberal plans for “shock therapy” to “privatize” Russia’s resources, which turned a handful of corrupt insiders into powerful billionaires, known as “oligarchs,” and the “Harvard Boys” into well-rewarded consultants. But the result for the average Russian was horrific as the population experienced a drop in life expectancy unprecedented in a country not at war. While a Russian could expect to live to be almost 70 in the mid-1980s, that expectation had dropped to less than 65 by the mid-1990s.

The “Harvard Boys” were living the high-life with beautiful women, caviar and champagne in the lavish enclaves of Moscow – as Yeltsin drank himself into stupors – but there were reports of starvation in villages in the Russian heartland and organized crime murdered people on the street with near impunity. Meanwhile, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush cast aside any restraint regarding Russia’s national pride and historic fears by expanding NATO across Eastern Europe, including the incorporation of former Soviet republics. In the 1990s, the “triumphalist” neocons formulated a doctrine for permanent U.S. global dominance with their thinking reaching its most belligerent form during George W. Bush’s presidency, which asserted the virtually unlimited right for the United States to intervene militarily anywhere in the world regardless of international law and treaties.

Without recognizing the desperation and despair of the Russian people during the Yeltsin era – and the soaring American arrogance in the 1990s – it is hard to comprehend the political rise and enduring popularity of Vladimir Putin, who became president after Yeltsin abruptly resigned on New Year’s Eve 1999. (In declining health, Yeltsin died on April 23, 2007). Putin, a former KGB officer with a strong devotion to his native land, began to put Russia’s house back in order. Though he collaborated with some oligarchs, he reined in others by putting them in jail for corruption or forcing them into exile.

Putin cracked down on crime and terrorism, often employing harsh means to restore order, including smashing Islamist rebels seeking to take Chechnya out of the Russian Federation. Gradually, Russia regained its economic footing and the condition of the average Russian improved. By 2012, Russian life expectancy had rebounded to more than 70 years. Putin also won praise from many Russians for reestablishing the country’s national pride and reasserting its position on the world stage.

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Why?

Russia Says US Refuses To Share Syria Truce Deal With UN Council (R.)

Russia said on Friday that a U.N. Security Council endorsement of a Syria ceasefire deal between Moscow and Washington appeared unlikely because the United States does not want to share the documents detailing the agreement with the 15-member body. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power had been due to brief the council behind closed-doors on Friday but that was canceled at the last minute. “The main problem … which in my mind makes it impossible to produce any resolution, is that they are refusing to give those documents to members of the Security Council or even to read those documents to the members of the Security Council,” Churkin told reporters.

“We believe that we cannot ask them (council members) to support documents which they haven’t seen,” said Churkin, suggesting there was lack of unity in U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration toward the agreement. The U.S. mission to the United Nations said it could not agree with Russia on a way to brief the council that would “not compromise the operational security of the arrangement.” [..] Churkin said Russia has given two drafts of a possible Security Council resolution to the United States. He said on Thursday that Moscow hoped a resolution could be adopted next week during the annual U.N. gathering of world leaders. “They, in their typical way, came up with a completely different thing, which is trying to interpret and reinterpret the agreement,” Churkin said, referring to U.S. officials.

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Aug 302016
 
 August 30, 2016  Posted by at 8:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Wynand Stanley Ice-packed Buick motor stunt, San Francisco 1922

Banks Get Ready For ‘Economic Nuclear Winter’ (CNBC)
The “Devastating” Truth Behind America’s Record Household Net Worth (ZH)
We Have Passed The Peak Of The Bubble (Maloney)
Oil Discoveries at 70-Year Low (BBG)
House Price Gloom In Canada A Lesson For Australia (AFR)
Unemployed Italians Lead Europe in Abandoning Job Hunt (BBG)
Apple Facing Back Taxes Running Into Billions Over Ireland Deal (G.)
Life After Community Death: A Food Bank (G.)
Judge: Kim Dotcom Can Livestream Legal Fight Against The US (AP)
60% Of South Asia’s Groundwater Too Contaminated To Use (AFP)
China Regulator To Curb News That Promotes ‘Western Lifestyles’ (R.)
EU Seeks To Protect Greek Statistics Office From Its Own Government (BBG)
Greek GDP Contraction In First Half 2016 Was Worse Than Thought (Kath.)
Turkey Warns Refugee Deal To Collapse Unless EU Grants Visa-Free Travel (Kath.)
6,500 Migrants Rescued Off Libya Coast Overnight By Italian Coastguard (AFP)

 

 

Beautiful Brexit as the bubble burster.

Banks Get Ready For ‘Economic Nuclear Winter’ (CNBC)

The first half of 2016 has been a roller-coaster for financial markets. A combination of uncertainties surrounding the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union and weaker-than-expected corporate earnings results across the region means a tough second half looms. European banks, in particular, have had a very tough six months as the shock and volatility around Brexit sent banking stocks south. Major European banks like Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse saw their shares in free-fall after the referendum’s results were announced. In the U.K., RBS was the worst-hit, with its shares plunging by more than 30% since June 24. The current uncertainty over when the U.K. will start the process of quitting the EU has banks on tenterhooks. But a source told CNBC that banks are “preparing for an economic nuclear winter situation.”

Speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic, a source from a major investment bank told CNBC that financial services firms have put together a strategy in place that takes into account the worst-case scenario that could happen by the end of this year. “This could mean triggering Article 50, referendum in other European nations leading to a break-up of the euro or sterling hitting below $1.20 or lower. The banks are ready for anything now,” the source said. The source further explained that the challenge in 2016 is nothing compared to when the Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008 and the banking sector is this time a lot more resilient. “Markets hate uncertainty and the events this year have unfortunately created a lot of mystery around what is going to happen next.”

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It’s all a bubble.

The “Devastating” Truth Behind America’s Record Household Net Worth (ZH)

Every quarter, as part of its Flows of Funds statement, the Fed releases a detailed breakdown of America’s assets and liabilities, of which the most interesting section is the one dealing with US household wealth and debt, and most importantly, their net worth. The last such release in June showed that as of March 31, total US household assets rose decidedly above $100 trillion, hitting an all time high $102.6 trillion, offset by $14.5 trillion in liabilities, resulting in $88.1 trillion in household net worth. It is worth noting that of this $100+ trillion in assets, 69% was in the form of financial assets (stocks, mutual funds, pensions, deposits, etc), and only $31.5 trillion was real, tangible assets including $26 trillion worth of real estate.

[..] as Pedro da Costa points out, when one looks beneath the surface, a “devastating” picture emerges: US inequality like no-one has seen it before. To help with this peek behind the scenes, we look at the latest, just released CBO report on Trends in Family Wealth, which shows that far from equitable, US wealth has never been so skewed. The picture in question:

Here are the CBO report’s summary findings: In 2013, aggregate family wealth in the United States was $67 trillion (or about four times the nation’s gross domestic product) and the median family (the one at the midpoint of the wealth distribution) held approximately $81,000, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. For this analysis, CBO calculated that measure of wealth as a family’s assets minus its debt. CBO measured wealth as marketable wealth, which consists of assets that are easily tradable and that have value even after the death of their owner. Those assets include home equity, other real estate (net of real estate loans), financial securities, bank deposits, defined contribution pension accounts, and business equity. Debt is nonmortgage debt, including credit card debt, auto loans, and student loans, for example.

But to get to the stunning punchline, one has to read The section on How Is the Nation’s Wealth Distributed? Here is the answer: In 2013, families in the top 10% of the wealth distribution held 76% of all family wealth, families in the 51st to the 90th percentiles held 23%, and those in the bottom half of the distribution held 1%. Average wealth was about $4 million for families in the top 10% of the wealth distribution, $316,000 for families in the 51st to 90th percentiles, and $36,000 for families in the 26th to 50th percentiles. On average, families at or below the 25th percentile were $13,000 in debt.

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“These people are just absolutely dangerous. They are going to drag the entire world economy down.”

We Have Passed The Peak Of The Bubble (Maloney)

What the central banks are doing has never worked and they keep on trying – you just hit that nail a little bit harder each time because it isn’t working. They have these theories and they think that the theory is correct that this – and no matter what the results are they say well, we just didn’t do enough of it. Japan has been trying this for 30 years now and it hasn’t worked. These people are just absolutely dangerous. They are going to drag the entire world economy down. You talked about the helicopter money that is now happening in Europe and so on. That is going to be coming to the United States soon. Coming to a Central Bank near you. It always has damaging results. They don’t look at this. It is a huge wealth transfer.

The immorality of an entity and everywhere I go I take a look at – when I would go speak in Singapore or Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Colombia, Peru doesn’t matter – Russia – everywhere I go I take a look, I go on the websites of the central bank for that country and I start gathering information. I haven’t found a central bank that is part of the government. They are all private. Here is a private entity that is allowed to create currency and now they are buying bonds from corporations? They can buy stocks. When they write a check and they buy something, currency is created and it enters circulation. A very large portion of it is Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac stuff. It is the mortgage backed securities. And so that means that they own real estate. This private corporation is able to counterfeit and purchase real estate legally. The morality of this is insane.

Keynesian economics isn’t even remotely plausible. But it’s what is taught all over the world. They don’t understand fundamental economics. This is the problem that we have: all economies on the planet are being run by economists that don’t understand economics. The purchasing power that is contained in currency is basically the agreement that we have as a society that we are all going to use that currency and we trust that currency and we store hours of our lives. We trade hours of our lives for currency. We work. That is the purchasing power. Then that currency measures the goods and services in a society. The true wealth.

They think that they can actually print wealth. When they print new units of currency, the only way it can get purchasing power is the moment that it is spent in the circulation – it has to steal it from somewhere else because it is empty when it comes into existence. There is no work that went into it. There are no hours of life traded for it. There is no product or service that it represents until it is spent in circulation and then it steals that purchasing power from all other units of currency. It is fraud. It is theft. They can’t actually stimulate an economy. All they can do is warp it. They can steal purchasing power from some areas of the economy and transfer it to another area of the economy pushing that area into a bubble. It is very, very disruptive.

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“EIA estimates that global oil demand will grow from 94.8 million barrels a day this year to 105.3 million barrels in 2026. “ I do not.

Oil Discoveries at 70-Year Low (BBG)

Explorers in 2015 discovered only about a tenth as much oil as they have annually on average since 1960. This year, they’ll probably find even less, spurring new fears about their ability to meet future demand. With oil prices down by more than half since the price collapse two years ago, drillers have cut their exploration budgets to the bone. The result: Just 2.7 billion barrels of new supply was discovered in 2015, the smallest amount since 1947, according to figures from consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. This year, drillers found just 736 million barrels of conventional crude as of the end of last month. That’s a concern for the industry at a time when the U.S. EIA estimates that global oil demand will grow from 94.8 million barrels a day this year to 105.3 million barrels in 2026.

While the U.S. shale boom could potentially make up the difference, prices locked in below $50 a barrel have undercut any substantial growth there. New discoveries from conventional drilling, meanwhile, are “at rock bottom,” said Nils-Henrik Bjurstroem at Oslo-based consultant Rystad Energy. “There will definitely be a strong impact on oil and gas supply, and especially oil.” Global inventories have been buoyed by full-throttle output from Russia and OPEC. They’ve flooded the world with oil despite depressed prices as they defend market share. But years of under-investment will be felt as soon as 2025, Bjurstroem said. Producers will replace little more than one in 20 of the barrels consumed this year, he said.

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We rapidly get used to seeing bubbles as new normal.

House Price Gloom In Canada A Lesson For Australia (AFR)

A commodity economy with record-breaking property prices, fuelled by ultra-low interest rates and Chinese buyers, raises taxes on foreign homebuyers. While the scenario is eerily similar to Australia, it is actually Canada and early signs are the property market is rapidly cooling. The unravelling could offer insight for Australians contemplating the state of the expensive local real estate market. A record one in five Canadians expect house prices to fall. The number of property price pessimists has nearly doubled since a 15% foreign buyer tax on Vancouver homes took effect on August 2. In the first two weeks since the tax came into effect, home sales fell 51% in the metropolitan area, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver said.

Nanos Research chairman Nik Nanos told The Australian Financial Review that real estate was the “canary in the mine” for the Canadian economy and the foreign acquirer tax has had an immediate “chill” effect on confidence. “If we see a significant slide in confidence in real estate there will be an immediate negative knock-on effect on the Canadian economy because right now there is no energy [oil] economy to fall back on,” he said. The price of Canada’s biggest export, oil, has crashed over the past two years, much like iron ore and coal prices in Australia. Like Sydney and Melbourne, real estate prices in Canada’s most-liveable cities have surged in recent years.

A combination of low borrowing costs, strong demand, limited housing supply because of red tape and, anecdotally, foreign buyers mainly from China seeking to park their money in perceived safe havens offshore, pushed up values. Vancouver house prices soared 30% in the year ended May 31, and prices shot up 15% in Canada’s biggest city of Toronto. The median price for detached houses in Vancouver jumped to $C1.6 million.

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And you think this Union can stay together?

Unemployed Italians Lead Europe in Abandoning Job Hunt (BBG)

Going from the final quarter of 2015 through March of this year, 37% of unemployed Italians gave up their job search, while only 13% landed new work and a full half found their status unchanged. On the opposite end of the scale, very few Greeks – just 1% – gave up their job hunt while only 4% found new employment in the economically hard-pressed nation.

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Deductible from its US taxes.

Apple Facing Back Taxes Running Into Billions Over Ireland Deal (G.)

Apple could face back taxes running into billions with the European commission expected to rule against the company on Tuesday over its arrangements with the Irish government. A ruling by Margrethe Vestager, the European competition commissioner, could make Apple liable for billions of euros. Irish officials expect the commission to declare the arrangements unlawful under state aid rules. A decision against Apple and Ireland after a two-year investigation would rebuff US efforts to persuade the commission to drop its interest amid warnings about retaliation from Washington. The commission has been investigating whether Apple’s tax deals with Ireland, which have allowed the company to pay very little tax on income earned throughout Europe, amounted to state aid.

The commission opened a formal inquiry in September 2014 after publishing preliminary findings suggesting deals between Apple and Ireland in 1991 and 2007 involved state aid that was incompatible with the EU’s internal market. Apple and Ireland have denied repeatedly that they have a special deal. Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has called the investigation “political crap” and said his company and Ireland would appeal against a ruling that Apple received state aid. The investment bank JP Morgan has warned that if the commission requires Apple to retroactively pay the Irish corporate tax rate of 12.5% on the pre-tax profits it collected via Ireland it could cost the company as much as $19bn.

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Of course I can’t read a story like this about a food bank in Britain without thinking about the project you and I are supporting in Greece -all over Greece. Where conditions are much worse still. I hope the Brits who read this realize that.

Life After Community Death: A Food Bank (G.)

I never expected to leave a food bank feeling optimistic. To visit a kitchen serving hundreds of free summer-holiday meals to kids who might otherwise go hungry – and come away pondering the lessons Westminster, and especially Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, should learn. But then, until last week, I hadn’t met the two women who run the Neo cafe. To understand what an achievement Neo is, you have to see what it’s up against. There’s the area, for a start: Birkenhead, now practically a byword for social deprivation. In parts of this town the life expectancy for baby boys is lower than in North Korea. Since the Brexit vote there’s been a boom in hand-waving commentary on “left-behind” Britain.

The columnists and studio guests should come here for a day, and see what their talking points look like as lived experience. Industrial decline? The once great shipbuilder Cammell Laird still clings on, but many of the other big employers have been wiped out. Insecure work? The usual features of an exploitative jobs market are all present, from zero-hours contracts and temp agencies to, most of all, low wages. And of course austerity, from benefit sanctions to multimillion pound cuts at Wirral council. Impose such conditions on a family and you create misery. Push them across an entire community and you get breakdown.

Widespread economic insecurity produces social instability. Relationships fail. Colin, a twentysomething on temp work, describes how his partner had to move out because “I couldn’t make my pay packet feed two”. Stop-start work makes planning budgets hard enough – it makes planning families impossible. Neighbours move in then move out, so you never know who’s living next door – and you’d all rather leave. One grandmother, Wendy, remembers how she cried on being offered a council house in Rock Ferry, the patch of town that’s home to Neo. Then Anne and Trish chip in with other problems: druggies and no-go areas, so that a kid from this estate can’t go to that one. Here, the horizons have shrunk so far that the neighbourhood can seem like a trap.

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Good. Let’s hear it.

Judge: Kim Dotcom Can Livestream Legal Fight Against The US (AP)

Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom will be allowed to livestream his legal bid to halt his extradition to the United States, a New Zealand judge ruled Tuesday. Dotcom and three of his colleagues are appealing a December lower-court decision which allows them to be extradited to the U.S. to face conspiracy, racketeering and money-laundering charges. If found guilty, they could face decades in jail. Dotcom’s lawyer Ira Rothken told AP he was pleased with the decision. “It provides everybody in the world with a seat in the gallery of the New Zealand courtroom,” Rothken said. “It’s democracy at its finest.” Rothken said the livestreaming would begin Wednesday on YouTube. He said there would be a 20-minute delay to prevent any evidence that was protected by the court from becoming public. The appeal is expected to last six weeks.

Justice Murray Gilbert, the New Zealand judge hearing the appeal, had asked other media about Dotcom’s request and didn’t receive any objections. Rothken said the U.S. had opposed the plan on the basis it could taint a potential jury pool and could cede court control over evidence. December’s lower-court ruling came nearly four years after the U.S. shut down Dotcom’s file-sharing site Megaupload, which prosecutors say was widely used by people to illegally download songs, television shows and movies. Megaupload was once one of the internet’s most popular sites. Prosecutors say it raked in at least $175 million and cost copyright holders more than $500 million. But Dotcom and colleagues Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk and Finn Batato argue they can’t be held responsible for people who chose to use the site for illegal purposes.

Rothken said the lower-court judge made an error of law in his ruling, and that broad safe-harbor provisions protect internet service providers from the types of charges his clients face.

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750 million people. Add China’s polluted water, and you get well over a billion.

60% Of South Asia’s Groundwater Too Contaminated To Use (AFP)

60% of the groundwater in a river basin supporting more than 750 million people in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh is not drinkable or usable for irrigation, researchers have said. The biggest threat to groundwater in the Indo-Gangetic Basin, named after the Indus and Ganges rivers, is not depletion but contamination, they reported in the journal Nature Geoscience. “The two main concerns are salinity and arsenic,” the authors of the study wrote. Up to a depth of 200m (650ft), some 23% of the groundwater stored in the basin is too salty, and about 37% “is affected by arsenic at toxic concentrations”, they said.

The Indo-Gangetic basin accounts for about a quarter of the global extraction of groundwater – freshwater which is stored underground in crevices and spaces in soil or rock, fed by rivers and rainfall. Fifteen to twenty million wells extract water from the basin every year amid growing concerns about depletion. The new study – based on local records of groundwater levels and quality from 2000 to 2012 – found that the water table was in fact stable or rising across about 70% of the aquifer. It was found to be falling in the other 30%, mainly near highly populated areas.

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Xi trying to assert power he doesn’t have.

China Regulator To Curb News That Promotes ‘Western Lifestyles’ (R.)

China will crack down on social and entertainment news that promotes improper values and “Western lifestyles”, the country’s broadcasting regulator said, the latest effort at censorship in an already strictly regulated media environment. President Xi Jinping has embarked on an unprecedented drive to censor media that do not reflect the views of Communist Party leaders. Authorities have already issued rules limiting “foreign-inspired” television shows and put tougher penalties on the spread of rumors via social media. Social and entertainment news must be dominated by mainstream ideologies and “positive energy”, the official Xinhua news agency said late on Monday, citing the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).

News content should not make improper jokes, defile classics, or “express overt admiration for Western lifestyles”, the regulator said in a circular, according to Xinhua. “They should also avoid putting stars, billionaires or Internet celebrities on pedestals”, and not advocate overnight fame or hype family disputes, Xinhua said. China’s legislature this week is also reviewing a draft law that would require film industry workers to maintain excellent “moral integrity”, after recent cases in which celebrities had been arrested for drug offences and prostitution, Xinhua said in a separate report. Xi has been explicit that media must follow the party line, uphold the correct guidance on public opinion and promote “positive propaganda”. The term “positive energy” is a catch phrase that has been favored by China’s propaganda and internet authorities under Xi, referring to content that is morally uplifting and patriotic.

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A curious case of Brussels intervention. There’s nary a soul in Greece who doubts that Georgiou greatly exaggerated the Greek budget deficit in 2009 in order to make an EU bailout inevitable. Now the EU wants to label Greece’s scrutiny of this as “political interference in administrative matters”. But matters such as these can be investigated in simple ways: an objective look at the numbers. That’s not politics, but accounting. Thing is, if Georgiou did this, it was in collusion with the EU.

EU Seeks To Protect Greek Statistics Office From Its Own Government (BBG)

Greece’s finance chief said the next international aid payout to the country may be delayed as the European Union stepped up warnings about domestic political meddling in the Greek state. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos raised the possibility of the government in Athens failing to qualify on time for a €2.8 billion disbursement due in September from the euro area. That’s what remains of a €10.3 billion tranche that finance ministers approved in principle three months ago. “If there is a delay, it’ll be days not weeks,” Tsakalotos told Bloomberg News in Brussels on Monday before a meeting with EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici. “Part of the reason for the meeting is to discuss the process to ensure there aren’t delays.”

Slipping timetables have been a regular feature of loan payouts to Greece since it first turned to the euro area and the IMF for a rescue in 2010. Now in it’s third bailout, the country faces continued creditor warnings about backsliding on overhauls that are a condition for aid. The European Commission sent the latest salvo to Athens, saying on Monday that criticism of the former head of Greece’s statistical agency by allies of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras risks undermining the credibility of Greek fiscal data. The commission, the EU’s executive arm, said the Greek government must push ahead under its aid program with commitments to curb political interference in administrative matters.

“The commission has long urged the implementation of the pillar of the program related to the modernization of the Greek state and public administration,” Margaritis Schinas, chief spokesman at the 28-nation body, told reporters in Brussels. “This also includes the need to depoliticize the Greek administration.” The political controversy centers on Andreas Georgiou, who faces felony charges in Greece for reporting a 2009 budget deficit that was more than five times the EU limit and that unleashed the euro-area debt crisis. The EU has vouched for data submitted by the Hellenic Statistical Authority under Georgiou from 2010 to 2015 and validated by EU statistics office Eurostat.

Greek Minister of State Nikos Pappas, Tsipras’s closest aide, asked publicly in early August whether Georgiou inflated the spending gap to force the country into a rescue. Avgi, a newspaper affiliated with Tsipras’s anti-austerity Syriza party, labeled Georgiou an “executioner” in an Aug. 4 editorial.

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And the Troika ensures it can only go downhill from here.

Greek GDP Contraction In First Half 2016 Was Worse Than Thought (Kath.)

The contraction of the Greek economy in the first half of the year has turned out to be greater than originally estimated. The revised data released on Monday by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) recorded a bigger drop in GDP on an annual basis, which will make it even more difficult for the government to meet the fiscal targets set for this year. Using previously unavailable data, ELSTAT has now calculated that first quarter GDP declined by 1% and not 0.8% year-on-year, while in the April-June period it fell by 0.9% and not 0.7% as originally thought.

That was the fourth consecutive quarter with a GDP contraction. Consumer spending fell 1.9% in the second quarter on an annual basis, exports of goods and services contracted 11.4% (with goods increasing 2.98% and exports dropping 26.5%), while imports declined 7.1%. Gross capital investments posted a 7% increase. On a quarterly basis, consumer expenditure dropped 0.2% from the first quarter, investment rose 1%, exports fell 1% and imports shrank 0.4%, ELSTAT data showed.

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Any attempt at granting visa-free travel now would break up the EU.

Turkey Warns Refugee Deal To Collapse Unless EU Grants Visa-Free Travel (Kath.)

In an interview with Kathimerini published on Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has warned the EU that if it doesn’t grant Turkish citizens via-free travel to Europe by October “at the latest,” then Ankara will not continue implementing a deal struck in March with Brussels to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. “Despite the fact that irregular migration in the Aegean is now under control, we do not see the EU keen on delivering its promises,” he said, insisting that Turkey cannot continue on its own to stop irregular migration toward the EU while the latter does not assume its obligations. “We expect visa liberalization for Turkish citizens at the latest in October 2016,” said Cavusoglu, who was on an unofficial visit to Crete yesterday and held talks with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias, stressing the potential to further develop Greek-Turkish relations.

Visa liberalization was one of the conditions set by Turkey to sign up to the agreement, which was criticized by human rights groups, to stop the influx of migrant arrivals to Europe which reached more than a million last year. “We did our share in this cooperation… We have prevented new loss of lives and crushed migrant smuggling rings.” The EU missed a deadline late June for the granting of visa-free travel for Turks, saying it had not met all 72 pre-conditions set by Brussels to grant visa-fee travel. The EU also demanded Ankara review its anti-terrorism law. Ankara refused, saying it is critical in its fight against Islamic State and Kurdish militants.

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Numbers are rising again. This will stop only when we stop bombing and squeezing these people.

6,500 Migrants Rescued Off Libya Coast Overnight By Italian Coastguard (AFP)

Around 6,500 migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya, the Italian coastguard said, in one of its busiest days of life-saving in recent years. Dramatic images of one operation showed about 700 migrants crammed onto a fishing boat, with some of them jumping off the vessel in life jackets and swimming towards rescuers. A five-day-old baby was among those rescued along with other infants and was airlifted to an Italian hospital, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which took part in operations.

“The command centre coordinated 40 rescue operations” that included vessels from Italy, humanitarian organisations as well as the EU’s border agency Frontex, saving 6,500 migrants, the coastguard wrote on Twitter. “We’ve been particularly busy today,” a spokesman for the Italian coastguard told AFP. On Sunday more than 1,100 migrants were rescued in the same area. The total number of arrivals in Italy this year now stands at 112,500, according to the UN’s refugee agency and the coastguard, slightly below the 116,000 recorded by the same point in 2015.

Read more …

Aug 192016
 
 August 19, 2016  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Walker Evans Waterfront in New Orleans. French market sidewalk scene 1935

Paul Singer: Market ‘Breakdown’ To Be ‘Sudden, Intense, And Large’ (CNBC)
Vancouver Housing Market Implodes: Average Price Plunges 20% In 1 Month (ZH)
UK’s £8.8 Trillion Wealth Owes Much to Housing (BBG)
Moody’s Lowers Outlook On Australia Banks To Negative (R.)
China’s Secret Lists of Zombie Borrowers Leave Banks in the Dark (BBG)
As China Shrinks, Mongolia Has an Epic Economic Meltdown (BBG)
Stiglitz: The Euro Is On Course To Fail (Economist)
The Subtle Tyranny of Blockchain (Thomas)
It’s Time to Abolish the DEA and America’s “War on Drugs” Gulag (CHS)
The US Is Promoting War Crimes In Yemen (G.)
Greek Coast Guard Rescues Dozens Of Migrants Stuck On Islet (AP)
The Fishermen of Lesbos (Hakai)

 

 

“Experience doesn’t count for much, and extreme confidence may be fatal.”

Paul Singer: Market ‘Breakdown’ To Be ‘Sudden, Intense, And Large’ (CNBC)

In a bleak new letter to investors, Paul Singer’s Elliott Management warns that the bond market is “broken” and that when the central bank actions of recent years no longer ward off a market downturn, the subsequent loss of confidence could be severe. The fund’s recent investor letter, which covers the second quarter, notes that Elliott’s managers are currently seeing “what is in many ways the most peculiar period we have faced in 39 years.” Too much power has been ceded to central banks, the letter adds, the value of money has been debased, inflation is probably inevitable, and when it happens, it could be swift and impossible to tamp down.

Elliott is a $28 billion fund founded in 1977 by Singer, now its president. The fund is up more than 6% for the year through July, according to an investor. Given the persistence of low or negative yields on government and other bonds and the continued stampede to buy them nonetheless, today’s environment marks “the biggest bond bubble in world history,” and “the global bond market is broken,” the investor letter states. The letter discusses, at some length, the oddity of an investor mentality that flies to an asset class regarded as a “safe haven” even when there are low or nonexistent returns attached to it and no guarantee that current conditions will persist.

In one wry aside, the letter suggests a safety warning be attached to the $12 trillion government bond market now trading at negative yields: “Hold such instruments at your own risk; danger of serious injury or death to your capital!” Trading in this market is particularly difficult, it adds. “Everyone is in the dark,” Elliott notes. “Experience doesn’t count for much, and extreme confidence may be fatal.” Moreover, “the ultimate breakdown (or series of breakdowns) from this environment is likely to be surprising, sudden, intense, and large.”

Read more …

Coming soon to a theater near you. Denmark, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, UK, the list is long.

Vancouver Housing Market Implodes: Average Price Plunges 20% In 1 Month (ZH)

It appears that the Vancouver housing market has slammed shut. Which is hardly a surprise: virtually everyone saw it coming, the only question was when. Eilers says he’s been warning of a real estate slow-down for at least a year due to the region’s unsustainable and unsupportable prices. West Vancouver, where he does a large part of his business, had a benchmark detached home price of almost $3.4 million in July according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. “The market in West Van is up 450 per cent since 2001. So is everyone making 600 per cent more income than they were so they can pay their taxes and buy their houses? Of course not. So how is this inflation been financed? By off-shore money and record debt.”

Precisely what we said at the start of the year when we first heard horror stories about Chinese buyers paying cash, sight unseen, for any and every local luxury, and not so luxury home. It appears that it is not just the 15% luxury tax implemented on on July 25 that has burst the bubble: according to Eilers sales were dropping even before the tax. According to the data, July was another slow month in West Vancouver with only 44 sales, down from 80 in 2015. June saw 74 sales, also down from 102 the year before. The pattern has left the market “devastated”, Eilers adds. While it may be too early to make a definitive conclusion, after all while earlier this month, the REBGV released its statistics for the month of July, saying the data showed the market had slowed down to “normal levels”, there was still no official August data available, and thus no actual indication of the slowdown.

Fortunately for buyers, real-time data proves otherwise. Zolo, a Canadian real estate brokerage, keeps track of MLS home sales in real-time and reports prices as an average rather than the “benchmark price” used by the REBGV. It currently shows a major correction underway in most Metro Vancouver markets. According to the website, the City of Vancouver currently has an average home price of $1.1 million, down 20.7% over the last 28 days and down 24.5% over the last three months. The average detached home is $2.6 million, down 7% compared to three months ago.

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What a bubble looks like. This is going to be painful. Re: Vancouver.

UK’s £8.8 Trillion Wealth Owes Much to Housing (BBG)

The total net worth of the U.K. at the end of 2015 was £8.8 trillion ($11.6 trillion), the Office for National Statistics said in London on Thursday. Much of the £493 billion jump from a year earlier came from the £355 billion increase in the value dwellings. The data also showed the U.K. was ahead of other G-7 countries in terms of growth of non-financial assets in 2014.

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More housing shock, more pain to come. “The strong price appreciation of residential real estate has been driving an increase in household debt to a record high..”

Moody’s Lowers Outlook On Australia Banks To Negative (R.)

Moody’s has lowered its outlook on Australia’s banks to negative from stable, warning of sluggish profit growth due to slow wage increases, record-low interest rates, strong lending competition and rising household debt. The agency said the banks, whose credit ratings are among the highest in the world, could be hurt by an increase in problem loans among mining companies and households in mining-dependent states. Moody’s action came after S&P in July also placed major Australian banks’ AA- ratings on negative outlook, in a signal that a downgrade was possible. Both agencies rate the banks one rung below the highest, triple-A, investment grade. A downgrade would make financing more expensive for banks at a time when regulators want them to put aside more cash to weather any repeat of the global financial crisis.

Australia’s highly profitable “Big Four” banks – National Australia Bank, ANZ Banking Group, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank – emerged from the financial crisis relatively unscathed but are facing questions over their capital levels, slowing earnings growth and rising bad debts. “The outlook change reflects Moody’s expectation of a more challenging operating environment for banks in Australia for the remainder of 2016 and beyond,” Frank Mirenzi, a vice president and senior analyst at Moody’s, said in a statement. He noted that profit growth could slow and asset quality decline, and make banks and consumers more vulnerable to economic shocks. “The strong price appreciation of residential real estate has been driving an increase in household debt to a record high,” Mirenzi noted.

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China would collapse if not for the shadow banks. It’s fully addicted.

China’s Secret Lists of Zombie Borrowers Leave Banks in the Dark (BBG)

There’s a list Ni Baixiang, head of Industrial & Commercial Bank of China’s Jiangxi branch, would love to get his hands on. Commonly referred to as the “zombie list,” it’s compiled by Jiangxi regional authorities and holds the names of the most deadbeat of borrowers: state-owned companies deemed too weak to survive and destined to be wound down. In short, the kind of enterprises banks already weighed down by rising bad loans want to steer well clear of. Only, neither Ni nor his competitors in Jiangxi are allowed to know who they are. “They won’t tell us because if we know, we’ll lose confidence,” Ni, whose bank is China’s largest, told reporters after a press briefing in Beijing earlier this month.

Ni’s dilemma underscores the challenge China faces as it tries to stem a tide of bad loans while carrying out an orderly restructuring of a state corporate sector burdened by overcapacity and bloated bureaucracies. Several provincial governments are withholding information on zombie borrowers from banks for fear that they’ll cut off financing immediately, according to officials who asked not to be identified. In several provinces, government-compiled lists of zombie companies are also kept secret from local banking regulators, the people said, asking not to be named discussing sensitive information. Knowing which state-owned companies get the “zombie” designation can be crucial for bankers because authorities ultimately decide whether they’ll fail, and local officials often meddle in banks’ lending decisions.

An economy growing at the slowest pace in a quarter century is adding urgency to President Xi Jinping’s push to steer China away from the investment-led model it’s relied on in the past. A key part of that is restructuring industries saddled with overcapacity, such as steel, cement and coal. McKinsey estimates that shedding surplus industrial capacity could add $5.6 trillion to the economy between now and 2030.

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China’s making up the numbers it goes along, but here’s how we find out how it’s really doing.

As China Shrinks, Mongolia Has an Epic Economic Meltdown (BBG)

Back in 2008, Mongolia honored its revered national hero Genghis Khan with an enormous, stainless steel statue on the bank of the Tuul River about a half-hour’s drive outside of the capital of Ulaanbaatar. The 13th century conqueror’s name graces the capital’s international airport and his image is also plastered on the tugrik, the local currency. Right now, Khans aren’t getting much respect. The government, having burned through much of its foreign currency reserves, faces a crushing debt burden and is having trouble meeting its civil service payroll. On Thursday, the central bank hiked its benchmark interest rate by a remarkable 4.5 percentage points to 15% to prop up the tugrik, the world’s worst performing currency in August.

Mongolia, a mineral-rich and landlocked $12 billion economy bordering Russia and China, is staring at a full-blown balance of payments crisis. It’s caused barely a ripple in global financial markets, but the nation’s economic meltdown offers instructive lessons to far bigger resource-reliant economies like Brazil, Venezuela, Russia and Saudi Arabia. This is an economy that gives new meaning to what economists call the resource curse. An overabundance of natural resources can result in lopsided economic growth, government waste and boom-bust cycles that can leave a country’s finances in tatters. “Mongolia should be much richer than it is,” said Lutz Roehmeyer, a money manager at Landesbank Berlin Investment. “There is nowhere else in the world where it is so easy to dig up resources without any problems and sell the commodities to China with such low transportation costs.”

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It’s way too late to save the euro.

Stiglitz: The Euro Is On Course To Fail (Economist)

Those in search of an antidote to the anxieties that arise from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union should avoid the latest book from Joseph Stiglitz. Its subject is the euro, which has hitherto been the main font of fears for Europe and (his analysis suggests) will soon be once again. It is a meaty subject, suited to a big-name economist. Mr Stiglitz has won a Nobel prize, served as a feather-ruffling chief economist for the World Bank and written several books with a fair claim to prescience, notably, “Globalisation and Its Discontents”, published in 2002. The main argument of his new book is that, on its current course, the euro is certain to fail—and indeed, that it was fatally flawed from birth.

It entails a fixed exchange rate and a single interest rate for its members, which means countries must forgo the option to devalue in times of economic weakness. To make up for that loss, the euro’s architects should have created institutions, such as jointly issued bonds, mutual backing of bank deposits and a common fund for unemployment insurance, so the costs of righting each economy are shared. Instead the burden falls on individual countries through austerity policies, such as tax rises and wage cuts. The results have been ugliest in Greece, where national income has shrunk by a quarter since 2007 and where the unemployment rate is 24%. There is still time to put in place better policies, thinks Mr Stiglitz. But an amicable divorce would be preferable to the current situation, which puts the considerable achievement of European integration at risk.

A good chunk of the book is taken up with a critique of policymakers’ efforts to address the euro crisis. Mr Stiglitz rightly takes issue with the blame-the-victim analysis of the euro’s failings that is commonly heard in Germany. The persistent trade surpluses of Germany and the vast deficits of boomtime Spain, Portugal and Greece are two sides of the same coin. Indeed, in a world short of aggregate demand, German thrift is the bigger failing, argues Mr Stiglitz. He favours the remedy, first proposed by John Maynard Keynes, of forcing creditor countries to adjust by taxing their trade surpluses.

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“In any protocol, everyone has to act the same. But in a blockchain like Ethereum, everyone has to think the same.”

The Subtle Tyranny of Blockchain (Thomas)

The past months have become a new chapter in the evolution of blockchain technology. Ethereum’s fork in the wake of the DAO hacks. Bitcoin’s almost-fork in the wake of the (still unresolved) block size debate. All of this is leading to the growing frustration and even disillusionment of key figures in the crypto-currency community. I left the Bitcoin community in 2012 for very similar reasons. In 2011, I was part of the group that helped Gavin Andresen design the Pay-to-Script-Hash (P2SH) feature. The design wasn’t very complex, it was backwards-compatible and provided crucial building blocks for improving Bitcoin’s security and performance. Unfortunately, getting it deployed turned out to be very political.

It was easy to extrapolate from this change to more advanced functionality still on the roadmap and get depressed about our chances to make important progress in the future. As the Bitcoin price rose, the number of stakeholders expanded and the amount of money at stake increasingly dominated the technical discussion. With this context in mind, the recent situation with Ethereum is not surprising in the slightest. As a blockchain grows, the larger and highly vested userbase becomes more and more difficult to shepard. When combined with time pressure (i.e. the 27-day DAO split creation period), something had to give. There wasn’t enough time to get the sort of buy-in and preparation needed to safely hardfork a system like Ethereum.

At the root of the difficulty in updating blockchains is the need to maintain shared state. In any protocol, everyone has to act the same. But in a blockchain like Ethereum, everyone has to think the same. Everyone’s memory (also known as “state” in computer science terms) has to be exactly the same and evolve according to the same rules. Shared state adds tremendous complexity and that has a big impact on developers: Blockchains are a pain to work with. Everyone who has done it knows what I’m talking about. The fact that blockchain has been largely ignored by major tech companies and embraced by the financial industry is partly because that industry has a relatively high tolerance for arcane and complex systems.

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To once again quote Michael Moore: You can’t declare war on a noun.

It’s Time to Abolish the DEA and America’s “War on Drugs” Gulag (CHS)

It’s difficult to pick the most destructive of America’s many senseless, futile and tragically needless wars, but the “War on Drugs” is near the top of the list.Prohibition of mind-altering substances has not just failed–it has failed spectacularly, and generated extremely destructive and counterproductive consequences. What was the result of the Prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s? Prohibition instantly criminalized 40+% of the adult populace and created hugely profitable criminal organizations. What was the result of the “War on Drugs”? This modern-day Prohibition instantly criminalized large swaths of the adult populace and created hugely profitable criminal organizations. If you want to increase drug use, criminalize innocent citizens and spawn gargantuan criminal organizations, then by all means declare “war” via Prohibition.

The results of Prohibition/War on Drugs are so visibly perverse and so destructive that the entire enterprise is sickeningly Orwellian. The well-paid apologists for Prohibition/War on Drugs claim that imprisoning millions of people “helps” them avoid drugs. If you think being tossed in prison for a few years “helps” people, then step right up and accept a fiver (5-year sentence) in an American prison, which is essentially a factory that produces one product: people damaged by imprisonment, deprived of their full citizenship, hobbled by a felony conviction–ex-con beneficiaries of years of tutorials by hardened criminals. This is as Orwellian as the Vietnam War’s famous “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

If you think throwing millions of people in prison “helps” them or society, you are either insane or you’re making a living in the gulag or our sick system of “justice”. If you don’t think America has a “War on Drugs” Gulag, please glance at this chart of Americans in jail and prison – many for drug-related offenses:

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“..inside Yemen this is not perceived to be a Saudi bombing campaign, this is a US bombing campaign..”

The US Is Promoting War Crimes In Yemen (G.)

Saudi Arabia resumed its appalling war in Yemen last week and has already killed dozens more civilians, destroyed a school full of children and leveled a hospital full of sick and injured people. The campaign of indiscriminate killing – though let’s call it what it is: a war crime – has now been going on for almost a year and a half. And the United States bears a large part of the responsibility. This US-backed war is not just a case of the Obama administration sitting idly by while its close ally goes on a destructive spree of historic proportions. The government is actively selling the Saudis billions of dollars of weaponry. They’re re-supplying planes engaged in the bombing runs and providing “intelligence” for the targets that Saudi Arabia is hitting.

Put simply, the US is quite literally funding a humanitarian catastrophe that, by some measures, is larger than the crisis in Syria. As the New York Times editorial board wrote this week: “Experts say the coalition would be grounded if Washington withheld its support.” Yet all we’ve heard is crickets. High-ranking Obama administration officials are hardly ever asked about the crisis. Cable television news has almost universally ignored it. Both the Clinton and Trump presidential campaigns have been totally silent on this issue despite their constant arguing over who would be better at “stopping terrorism”. Beyond the grotesque killing of civilians, it’s clear at this point that the Saudis’ bombing campaign has also boosted al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) to a level which Reuters described as “stronger and richer” than anytime in its 20-year history.

Jake Tapper commendably broke the television news blackout about Yemen on his CNN show on Wednesday. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, one of the very few elected representatives talking about the crisis, told Tapper that “it’s wild to me” that the Congress isn’t debating the “unauthorized” war in Yemen. The Saudis “could not do it without the United States”, he said. “We have made the decision to go to war in Yemen” – against Saudi Arabia’s enemies, not ours – without any debate. “If you talk to Yemenis, they will tell you that inside Yemen this is not perceived to be a Saudi bombing campaign, this is a US bombing campaign,” Murphy continued. “What’s happening is we are helping to radicalize the the Yemeni population against the United States.”

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Not from Turkey. Lybia is more likely.

Greek Coast Guard Rescues Dozens Of Migrants Stuck On Islet (AP)

Greece’s coast guard rescued dozens of migrants Friday whose boat ran aground on a deserted islet off the coast of southwestern Greece, hundreds of miles from the usual entry point of migrants into the European Union nation. The boat carrying about 70 people ran aground overnight on the tiny islet of Sapientza, off the southwestern tip of the Peloponnese, the coast guard said. The vast majority of migrants reach Greece’s eastern Aegean islands a few miles from the Turkish coast.

Coast guard vessels picked up the migrants Friday morning, ferrying them to the mainland where they were to be registered. It was not immediately clear what type of boat they had been on, where they had set sail from or where they had been sailing to. Separately, government figures showed 261 migrants or refugees arrived on Greek islands in the 24 hours from Thursday morning to Friday morning – a jump compared to recent figures, which had ranged from a few dozen to about 150 per day. Of those who arrived in the last 24 hours, the vast majority – 139 people – reached the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos. The rest arrived on Chios, Samos, Leros and Karpathos.

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Endearing.

The Fishermen of Lesbos (Hakai)

The Greek island of Lesbos is at the forefront of the refugee crisis as boatload after boatload of men, women, and children fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere arrive on its shores. While citizen volunteers, NGOs, and governments claim much of the spotlight for rescue and recovery efforts, local people—especially those most experienced on the water—play a vital role, even at risk to their livelihoods and, perhaps, personal health. Greek video journalist Nikolia Apostolou introduces us to Lesbos fishermen on the front lines.

Read more …

Jul 232016
 
 July 23, 2016  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Jack Delano Conductor picks up message from operator on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe 1943

Britain’s Economy Shrinking At Fastest Rate Since 2009 (G.)
Chinese Companies are Turning Japanese (BBG)
Lagarde Seen Likely to Avoid Jail Time, Keep IMF Job Amid Trial (BBG)
The Great Period of Instability (G&M)
Inequality: The Nexus of Wealth and Debt (Coppola)
The Rise and Fall of the Petrodollar System (Grass)
Trumped! A Nation On The Brink Of Ruin (David Stockman)
Nearly 3,000 Dead In Mediterranean Already This Year (R.)

 

 

The fear campaign still works like a charm.

Britain’s Economy Shrinking At Fastest Rate Since 2009 (G.)

The Bank of England and the Treasury are under increasing pressure to prevent Britain from sliding into recession after a wide-ranging health check of the economy completed since the referendum showed the sharpest downturn in activity since the peak of the financial crisis seven years ago, Service industries ranging from banks to restaurants, hedge funds, bars, gyms and hairdressers were all affected by what was described as as a “dramatic deterioration” in business confidence that suggests the economy is on course to shrink by 0.4% in the third quarter unless conditions improve. The City now expects the Bank to deliver a package of immediate support – including a cut in interest rates and a resumption of its quantitative easing programme – when its monetary policy committee meets early next month.

Philip Hammond, the new chancellor, admitted that confidence had been dented by the surprise of Brexit vote and dropped a broad hint that he was contemplating spending increases and tax cuts for his autumn statement. In the first major survey of business activity and confidence since the referendum on 23 June, the services sector was particularly hard hit, showing its biggest drop on record. Manufacturing dropped to its lowest level since February 2013, according to Markit, which compiles the data in its purchasing managers’ index (PMI). The composite index, which measures both services and manufacturing, fell from 52.4 in June to 47.7 – an 87-month low. Anything below 50 signals a contraction in activity.

The services index dropped from 52.3 in June to 47.4, an 88-month low, while manufacturing fell from 52.1 in June to 49.1. Chris Williamson, the chief economist at Markit, said: “July saw a dramatic deterioration in the economy, with business activity slumping at the fastest rate since the height of the global financial crisis in early 2009.

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Private investment in fixed assets has collapsed. From 20% to 2%. Imagine what the government must do to fill the gap.

Chinese Companies are Turning Japanese (BBG)

Chinese companies are swimming in cheap cash. Problem is, they’re not spending it. A reluctance to invest is frustrating policy makers after they unleashed a wave of cheap credit in an effort to stoke growth. Rather than build new plants or hire additional staff, corporates are opting to park money at the bank – or send it overseas through buying foreign assets. Known as the so called “liquidity trap,” it’s a problem not unlike the experience in Japan where weak business confidence and a reluctance to invest is also holding back the economy. “Cash-rich Chinese companies are searching for offshore investment, just as the Japanese did in the late 1980s due partly to the strength of the yen in the aftermath of the ‘Plaza Accord’,” ANZ bank economists led by Raymond Yeung wrote in a note.

China’s two main money supply gauges continued to diverge in June. M1, which includes currency in circulation and bank deposits, surged 24.6 percent in June from a year earlier, the biggest increase in six years. The broader M2, which also includes savings deposits, increased 11.8 percent. That was flat from May and below the government’s 13 percent annual target. The divergence has raised eyebrows given the main driver behind M1 since mid-2015 has been a demand for deposits by corporates. While healthier balance sheets offer a buffer to debt-burdened companies, the bigger worry is that these companies are reluctant to spend on expanding new capacity.

In a note titled “The Caution of Chinese Corporations,” Thomas Gatley of consulting firm Gavekal Dragonomics highlighted that companies are raising new cash to either hoard it or make financial investments because they expect “a further slowdown in demand for their products, so there is little need to expand production capacity or other fixed assets.” Weak private investment data underscores the observation. Private investment slumped to 2.8 percent in the six months ended in June from a rate of more than 20 percent two years ago.

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She handed $300 million in taxpayers’ funds to a buddy. That’s all. Slap that wrist!

Lagarde Seen Likely to Avoid Jail Time, Keep IMF Job Amid Trial (BBG)

Christine Lagarde is likely to avoid jail time and keep her job as head of the IMF after she was ordered to stand trial in France on charges that carry a potential prison term. Lagarde, 60, on Friday lost a bid to challenge a December decision to be tried for alleged negligence during her time as French finance minister that paved the way for a massive government payout to tycoon Bernard Tapie. The specialized panel that will hear Lagarde’s case has previously found ministers guilty without having them actually serve time in prison. The panel’s record and Lagarde’s strong support from IMF member nations amid the long-running case mean there’s little chance that it will amount to more than a distraction from her role leading the world’s lender of last resort.

No date has been set yet for the trial, which is expected to last about a week. “I don’t think anybody really feels that this is a matter that undermines her effectiveness,” and if Lagarde received a suspended jail sentence, “she would just carry on,” said Edwin Truman, a former U.S. Treasury official who’s now a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. Lagarde is accused of failing to block an arbitration process in 2008 that brought to an end the longstanding dispute between former state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais and Tapie, a businessman and supporter of then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Tapie walked away with an initial award of about €285 million before it was cut to zero by an appeals court.

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It’s simply the end of our economic system.

The Great Period of Instability (G&M)

It was just before dawn on the morning of July 15, and I was trying to explain to my six-year-old daughter why – instead of a planned day at the park – I was suddenly heading to the airport to catch a flight to a city called Nice. “A bad man hurt a lot of people in France,” was the best explanation I could come up with. As I watched her turn the news over in her head, disappointment spreading on her face, I realized it was a sentence I’d uttered three times in 18 months. Barely 36 hours later, I called her from a sun-baked plaza in the historic old city of Nice. That day in the park would have to be postponed again. Some men with guns had tried to take over the government in Turkey. Instead of coming home, Daddy was flying somewhere else. More bad men, more people hurt.

After we hung up, I contemplated how little sense any of this must make to her. She’s not alone. All of us – including and especially the political and economic elites who have long stood atop this suddenly wobbly pyramid – have been left reeling by events. A “period of instability” is upon us, historian Margaret MacMillan told me this week, one that has parallels to the pre-war periods of the 20th century that she’s written acclaimed books about. Future historians are likely to judge today’s leaders on whether they seek to calm – or simply take advantage of – the choppy waters that we’re in. Rarely, it seems, has the world spun so rapidly, have events felt so out of control.

The headlines blur into one another, feeding the sense of a world in chaos. The war in Syria bleeds into the refugee crisis. The refugees’ march into Europe boosts politicians on the nationalist right. The truck attack in France is followed by the shooting of police in Louisiana. Then it’s a man with an axe on a train in Germany. On Friday, it was a shooting at a mall in Munich. “Brexit” in the United Kingdom is knocked from the top of the news by a putsch attempt in Turkey. They seem like disconnected events. But what links the British who voted to quit the EU with the Turks who gathered in a public square on Wednesday to cheer the imposition of a state of emergency is their anger at how the system has worked until now.

Brexit was won in the small cities and towns of England, places where globalization has meant de-industrialization, the closing of factories and the transfer of work to cheaper locales overseas. The phenomenon was exacerbated by an influx of job-seekers from Eastern Europe who made competition for remaining jobs even stiffer. Leave voters didn’t change their minds when the elites told them Brexit would batter housing prices, or the stock market. To many, the idea that the elites, people who owned property and shares, would take a turn suffering sounded just about right.

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Wealth is debt.

Inequality: The Nexus of Wealth and Debt (Coppola)

Debt. We love debt. Money is created by issuing debt. Our monetary system is debt-based. And because we measure economic growth in monetary terms, growth comes from debt. There is a direct relationship between rising debt, rising money supply and rising GDP. To reduce the burden of debt, and stop it building up again, would mean curing ourselves of our love of debt. And that has enormous social and political implications. It is by no means cost-free. Globally, debt has increased since the 2008 financial crisis. Much of this is in developing countries – in corporations and governments. China’s debt burden, both public and private, is already huge and still growing. Will its bubble burst? What would be the consequences? We don’t know.

But other developing countries also have large debt burdens, especially in corporations. The extent of developing-country debt, both government and corporate, is becoming a matter of considerable concern to economists and policymakers. In developed countries, household debt remains a huge problem. In some countries, households are still deleveraging, preferring to pay off debt rather than spend. This puts a dampener on economic growth. In other countries, households have repaired their balance sheets, but are now reluctant to borrow. Though the lack of lending is not entirely due to households: in some countries, lending standards are now so tight that many households and smaller businesses can’t borrow at all.

But there are some countries where households are borrowing wildly. In Sweden, debt secured on property is rising rapidly, fuelled by very low interest rates. Economic projections from the OBR forecast similar borrowing increases for UK households, though as yet there is little sign that UK households are willing or able to comply. But if they do not, the UK’s economic performance will disappoint. High and rising household debt backed by property creates financial instability. So does high and rising corporate and government debt, especially in foreign currencies. By encouraging borrowing against property and across borders, we may gain a little more economic growth – but at what price?

Increasing the global debt burden in pursuit of economic growth will inevitably lead to another financial crisis somewhere in the world. It is not sustainable. But despite the risk that rising debt poses, those who wield power in our current political and social systems have no real interest in reducing the global debt burden. This is because the other side of debt is wealth. And we love wealth.

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I’m not a great fan of the ‘imminent collapse of the dollar’ meme. That will take a while longer.

The Rise and Fall of the Petrodollar System (Grass)

The intricate relationship between energy markets and our global financial system, can be traced back to the emergence of the petrodollar system in the 1970s, which was mainly driven by the rise of the United States as an economic and political superpower. For almost twenty years, the U.S. was the world’s only exporter of petroleum. Its relative energy independence helped support its economy and its currency. Until around 1970, the U.S. enjoyed a positive trade balance. Oil expert and author of the book “The Trace of Oil”, Bertram Brökelmann, explains a dramatic change took place in the U.S. economy, as it experienced several transitions: First, it transitioned from being an oil exporter to an oil importer, then a goods importer and finally a money importer. This disastrous downward spiral began gradually, but it ultimately affected the global economy.

A petrodollar is defined as a US dollar that is received by an oil producing country in exchange for selling oil. As is shown in the chart below, the gap between US oil consumption and production began to expand in the late 1960s, making the U.S. dependent on oil imports. And while it led to the U.S. Dollar being established as the world’s premier reserve currency, it also contributed to the country’s increase in debt. The oil embargo of 1973-74 was a major hit that exposed the vulnerability of the U.S. economy. Nevertheless, under the banner of “national security” the future policy course was firmly set: in a 1973 National Security Council (NSC) paper, it was stated that “U.S. leverage in energy matters resulted from its economic and political influence with Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two leading oil exporters”.

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From an upcoming book by Stockman.

Trumped! A Nation On The Brink Of Ruin (David Stockman)

America’s faltering economy has been made in Washington DC, not at the illegal crossing routes on the Arizona border or the containership berths at Long Beach. For more than three decades the nation’s central banks have flooded the US and world economies with too much free money and Washington politicians have accommodated the beltway lobbyists and racketeers and the country’s huge entitlement constituencies with too much free boot. So the real disease is bad money and towering debts. The actual culprits are the Wall Street/Washington policy elites who have embraced statist solutions which aggrandize their own power and wealth.

That much, at least, Donald Trump has right. Throwing-out the careerists, pettifoggers, hypocrites, ideologues, racketeers, power-seekers and snobs who have brought about the current ruin is at least a start in the right direction. What made American great once upon a time, of course, was free markets, fiscal rectitude, sound money, constitutional liberty, non-intervention abroad, minimalist government at home and decentralized political rule. Whether Donald Trump gets that part of the equation remains to be seen.

Then again, the GOP establishment has failed, the Democrats are clueless and the mainstream media and punditry is overtly hostile. So if the ideals of world peace, capitalist prosperity and constitutional liberty are to survive at all, it’s up to the Donald. That might seem like cold comfort. But a nation that has been Trumped is a people coming back to life. Americans don’t want to take it anymore. They want their existing rulers to take a permanent hike. And that’s a start.

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All entirely preventable. But that would require an actual cvilization.

Nearly 3,000 Dead In Mediterranean Already This Year (R.)

Nearly 3,000 migrants and refugees have perished in the Mediterranean Sea already this year while almost 250,000 have reached Europe, the International Organization for Migration said on Friday. The estimated death toll could put 2016 on track to be the deadliest year of the migration crisis. Last year the same landmark was only reached in October, by which time nearly one million people had crossed into Europe. “This is the earliest that we have seen the 3,000 (deaths) mark, this occurred in September of 2014 and October of 2015,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a briefing. “So for this to be happening even before the end of July is quite alarming.”

Three out of four victims this year died while trying to reach Italy from North Africa, mostly Libya, a longer and more dangerous route. The others drowned between Turkey and Greece before that flow dried up with the March deal on migrants between Turkey and the European Union. Nearly 2,500 fatalities have occurred since late March, with about 20 migrants dying each day along the route from Libya to Italy, Millman said. Most are from West Africa and the Horn of Africa, although they may include people from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Morocco. “The (Libyan) coast guard has had some luck turning back voyages from Libya. We’ve heard in the last six weeks a number of cases where they have been able to turn boats back. “They (have also been) recovering bodies at an alarming rate,” Millman said.

Some 84,052 migrants and refugees have arrived in Italy so far this year, almost exactly the same number as in the same period a year before, he said. That indicated departures from Libya were at “maximum capacity” due to a limited number of boats deemed seaworthy. But there is “a very robust market of used fishing vessels and things coming from Tunisia and Egypt that are finding their way to brokers in Tripoli,” Millman said. “And you can actually go to shipyards where people are trying to repair boats as fast as they can to get more migrants on the sea.”

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Jan 072016
 
 January 7, 2016  Posted by at 2:05 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Berenice Abbott William Goldberg, 771 Broadway, Manhattan 1937

If there’s one thing to take away from this year’s developments in markets and economies so far, it’s that they are all linked, they’re all part of the same thing. If you can’t see that, you’re not going to understand what’s happening.

Looking at falling oil prices as a separate thread is not much use, and neither is doing the same with Chinese stocks, or the yuan, or the millions of Americans who are one paycheck away from poverty, for that matter. It’s all one story.

And the take-away from that, in turn, is that focusing too much on ‘narrow’ conditions in your particular part of the globe has only limited value. We’re very much all in this together. In the UK today, it matters very little what George Osborne says or does, or Mark Carney, because they don’t shape the future of the economy.

The same goes for all finance ministers and central bank governors across the planet, Yellen, Draghi, Koruda, the lot: the influence they exert on their own economies, which was always limited from the start, is running into the boundaries imposed by global developments.

Even if central bankers could ever have ‘lifted’ anything at all (a big question mark), their power to do so is rapidly diminishing. The constraints global developments place on their powers will now be exposed -even more. And of course they’ll try to deny and ignore that, as naked emperors are wont to do.

And with the exposure of the limits to their abilities to make markets and economies do what they want, come the limitations of the mainstream financial press to make their long-promoted recovery narratives appear valid. Before we know it, we might have functioning markets back.

Oil -both Brent and WTI- have breached the $32 handle, and are very openly flirting with the $20s. China’s stock market trading was halted for a second time this year, just 14 minutes after the opening. This came about after the PBoC announced another ‘official’ devaluation of the yuan by 0.5% (stealth devaluation has been a daily occurrence for a while).

$2.5 trillion was lost in global equities in three days this year even before the Thursday China trading stop and ongoing oil price decline. Must be easily over $3 trillion by now. And counting: European markets look awful, and so do futures.

For the first time in years, markets begin to seem to reflect actual economic activity. That is to say, industrial production, factory orders, exports, imports and services sectors are falling both in China and the US. Many of these have been falling for a prolonged period of time.

In fact, Reuters quotes a Sydney trader as saying: The Chinese economy actually contracted in December. Given what I’ve written in the past year and change about China, that can hardly be a surprise anymore.

What we are looking at is debt deflation, in which virtual ‘wealth’ is being wiped out at a fast pace, and it’s taken some real wealth with it for good measure. It’s not going to be one straight line down, for instance because there are a lot of parties out there who need to cover bets they carry from last year, but it’s getting very hard to see what can stop the plunge this time. Volatility will be a popular term again.

The Fed could lose its last remaining shred of credibility through QE4,5,6 and a 180º turn on the rate hike, but it would lose that last shred for sure. Draghi’s ECB could start buying ever more paper, but they would have a hard time finding sufficient amounts of anything to buy that’s worth anywhere near the written value.

The PBoC can’t really do QE after the $25 trillion post-2008 credit pump, and the yuan devaluation today achieved the opposite of what it was intended for. The BoJ is being severely hampered by the rising yen. We’ll see crazy stuff from the global Oracles, for sure, but in reality they never had anything but expensive band-aids to offer, and they have nothing better now.

Ultimately, if China is a Ponzi (and $25 trillion in credit spent on overcapacity strongly suggests so), then the entire world economy is one. I would very much argue so, and have for years. And we all know what inevitably happens with Ponzi’s.

Economists like to think in cycles, in which things will simply bounce back at some point, but a lot of this stuff will not come back, not for a very long time. I’ve said it before: Kondratieff is also a cycle.

We’re watching the initial stages (though a lot has already vanished behind all sorts of curtains) of a massive ‘wealth’ destruction, a very loud POOF!, ‘wealth’ which can so easily be destroyed because most of it was never real, just inflated soap. It’s time to move to cash if you haven’t already, and if you have enough, perhaps a bit of gold, silver or bitcoin, but do remember those are not risk-free.

It’s tempting to see this as a China problem, but first of all there is no China problem that will not of necessity also gravely affect the west , and second of all when you read, just to name an example, that America’s new jobs pay 23% less than the jobs they replaced, it’s just plain silly to believe that the economy is doing well, let alone recovering.

Which is why a majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and don’t have enough savings even for a $500 car repair bill. All Ponzi’s burst, they can’t be tapered, and this one we have now is going down in epic fashion because there are no major economies left that are not overburdened by debt.

It’s also tempting, certainly for economists, to see money that’s lost in one ‘investment’ to automatically shift to another, but that’s not what’s happening. Much of it simply evaporates. That’s why investment funds where already in a huge high-yield bind last year, and why you should really worry about your pension fund.

Do prepare for rising taxes and services cuts: governments suffer along with everyone, and because they’re slow and lagging, probably even more so. And governments think they deserve to have their hands in your pockets. Prepare for mass lay-offs too. The consumption model is being broken and dismantled as we speak.