Oct 122018
 
 October 12, 2018  Posted by at 1:12 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Alfred Eisenstaedt Egyptian Fishing Boats. Suez Canal near Port Said 1935

 

According to Middle East Eye, Richard Branson, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Economist editor-In-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, New York Times, Financial Times, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshah, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish and AOL founder Steve Case have all withdrawn from Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative conference, to be held this month in Riyadh. Branson also put a $1 billion investment plan on hold.

Also, on Wednesday, former US energy secretary Ernest Moniz said that he had suspended his role on the board of Saudi Arabia’s planned mega business zone NEOM, to which he was named on Tuesday. The Harbour Group, a Washington firm that has been advising Saudi Arabia since April 2017, ended its $80,000 a month contract on Thursday. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon is still scheduled to speak at the conference, as is Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga, but they won’t risk the damage to their reputations.

All this is due, obviously, to the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a former close aquaintance of the Saud family, who moved to the US and wrote for the Washington Post (how’s Amazon’s Saudi business, Jeff Bezos?) after falling out with the House of Saud.

As the what someone actually labeled “unfolding diplomatic crisis” takes shape, there is really only one thing to say about these people and organizations: they the worst group of hypocrites ever. And their reasons to boycott the conference must be questioned.

Because before Khashoggi vanished they all apparently though it was quite okay to go feed at the Saud trough, despite the still ongoing slaughter of millions of people in the ‘war’ in Yemen. Which makes one suspect it’s not so much about their principles but about their public image.

Donald Trump said he won’t stop weapons sales to the Saudi’s because they would just buy their arms from someone else, like Russia (it would be interesting to get Putin’s view on Khashoggi). And while Trump is completely wrong here, at least he’s not hypocritical about it.

Not selling guns and tanks is by no means the most forceful action vs MBS and his dad, and not just because they can buy them elsewhere. What’s much stronger as a protest against what apparently happened to Khashoggi is to hit the Sauds where it hurts: in their wallet. That wallet is being filled by the sale of oil.

Simply stop buying their oil. Tell Shell and Exxon and BP and Total to get the hell out of the country. It’s just that to top off the hypocrisy, the best -only?- replacement for Saudi oil is Russian oil, and the US and Europe are engaged in a long drawn out smear campaign to isolate Russia from their world order.

But as long as Richard Branson flies his planes on Saudi oil, what’s the use of him boycotting a conference? Well, other than he hopes it makes him look good in the eyes of the world and feel good about himself? The carnage in Yemen has been going on for years, and all that time Branson has been silent. And was planning to get into a $1 billion investment as emaciated Yemeni babies are fed leaves.

And the idea is not to single him out, those major media organizations and the World Bank are just as bad. They all just hope that no-one will notice or speak out when they grab the Saudi money, and that when they are caught in the middle they will collect applause for making their ‘heroic’ decision not to attend a conference.

That said, it’s interesting to see the story move through the media. Is it the power of Jeff Bezos that gets it so much -and sustained- attention? Did the Saudi’s know that Turkey had their consulate bugged? Isn’t that against international law? How much Saudi oil does Turkey use? Did US intelligence know what was going to happen? Did Turkey?

Why so much more interest in this case than all the other disappearing journalists? Khashoggi is/was no Christ; he was close to the royal family for years while women and gay people and dissidents were under severe threat.

Just more hypocrisy. And if we want to end that, let’s boycott Saudi oil. Let’s use different oil, or none. And until then let’s not fall for the stage performances of all those who all of a sudden want to be seen as principled actors. That’s just about as bad as sawing a guy into pieces.

 

 

May 142018
 
 May 14, 2018  Posted by at 1:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Brassaï Cat 1945

 

What’s happening to John McCain is tragic. It’s not something one should ever wish upon another human being. Nor is it decent, let alone useful, to wish that he would die. Wishing bad things upon someone because they did bad things is too close for comfort to what he himself did. But it’s good to remember that his brain tumor is not the most tragic part of McCain’s life on earth. And no, neither is his time as prisoner of war in Vietnam.

McCain’s main tragedy is that he didn’t learn the one lesson he should have learned about his time in Vietnam, and didn’t turn his back on warfare. Instead, he turned into the biggest and loudest pro-war campaigner in Washington for decades. Talk about a missed opportunity, a life wasted. If there was one person who was presented with the first-hand experience needed to turn against bloodshed, it was John McCain.

What’s more, during his time in the House and later the Senate, McCain completely missed out on a development that might yet have changed his mind. That is, wars became unwinnable. Something even that the US losing their war in Vietnam might have taught him. It entirely passed him by. McCain still never saw an opportunity to wage battle somewhere, anywhere on the planet, that he didn’t like.

That makes him a dinosaur and a fossil who should never have been allowed to remain in the Senate for as long as he did. At the age of 81, and after ‘serving’ for 35 years in Washington, it apparently becomes too difficult to see how the world outside changes, let alone to adapt to those changes. If you limit the time a president can serve, why not do the same for senators? Is it because those same senators would have to vote on that?

Moreover, if wars are unwinnable, but you incessantly call for new wars anyway, then regardless of moral issues about going to war in the first place, you have de facto become a threat to your own people and your own country that you purport to serve. Especially, and first of all, to the American soldiers you desire to send out there to fight those wars. But also a threat to the image of America around the globe.

 

When wars are unwinnable, there is no reason to fight them. Again, even apart from morals and ethics. You will have to find other ways to deal with ‘elements’ that feel and act less than friendly towards you. To find out what, it helps to realize that they understand it’s just as futile for them to attack you militarily as it is for you to attack them. It also helps to figure out why they are unfriendly.

What doesn’t help is to take yet another stab at Putin and say “Vladimir Putin is an evil man, and he is intent on evil deeds”, as McCain does in a forthcoming book. If that’s the best you can do, your best-by date has long since passed. That’s language fit for a 4-year old. And George W.

McCain’s father and grandfather were both 4-star US Navy admirals. Perhaps that partly explains his blindness to the evils of war, and the role the US has played in many conflicts, including -but certainly not limited to- Vietnam. It’s hard to imagine Apocalypse Now, Platoon or Full Metal Jacket being McCain’s favorite Hollywood classics.

And that is a bigger problem than it may seem. Because America has indeed been able to paint a vivid portrait for itself of why Vietnam was such an insane venture that should never have happened, and certainly not repeated. If your culture has the ability to put that in words and images, and as a nation you still don’t learn the lesson embedded in them, you’re pretty much lost.

Oh, and besides, you lost too, remember? You lost the war and the lives and limbs of tens of thousands of young Americans and over a million Vietnamese. To have been part of that and then turn around and strive to be Washington’s premier warmonger, that’s just totally bonkers. Or worse. Has McCain been promoting war all this time because he subconsciously wanted to redo Vietnam but this time not lose?

 

Unwinnable wars are bad news for the weapons industry. They will deny the existence of even such a concept as long and as strongly as they can. Because if you can’t win a war, why wage them? There will continue to be technological developments, but there’s no “throughput”. You can fire some missiles into some desert somewhere from time to time, and that’s it.

The military-industrial complex is happy only -because most profitable- if and when guns and missiles and jets constantly need to be replaced because they’ve been lost in a theater of war, along with young Americans. McCain knows this better than most. And he knows the captains of this complex, both the military side and the weapons producers. Far too well.

Being as beholden as it is to the arms makers and dealers, has made America lose whatever edge it once had militarily. In the US weapons are developed and sold to generate the largest profits possible; in Russia, they are developed to protect the country. This is largely why the American defense budget is 10 times larger than its Russian counterpart. All this happened on John McCain’s watch.

The entire narrative of “protecting and sharing our values” has become hollow propaganda. Because the US has engaged its military in more theaters of war and invasion than we can even keep track of anymore. The US armed forces don’t protect democracy or human rights around the world, they protect the financial interests of America’s elites, including the military-industrial complex. Does anyone believe John McCain doesn’t know this?

 

Unbeknownst to John McCain, the world has entered a whole new era. And this didn’t happen yesterday. Russia and China may have only recently announced new hypersonic missile technology, but it didn’t fall out of the sky. It does profoundly change things though. It ends all notions and dreams of American exceptionalism and unilateralism.

And America needs to learn that lesson. It will have to do it without John McCain. And it might as well, because McCain was incapable of changing, and of seeing the changes around him. But the American view of the world will have to change, because the world itself has.

Still, you’re right: the real tragedy is not that John McCain wasted his own life. It’s that he helped destroy so many others.

 

 

Apr 172018
 
 April 17, 2018  Posted by at 1:43 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Charles Sprague Pearce Lamentations over the Death of the First-Born of Egypt 1877

 

In Matthew 12:22-28, Jesus tells the Pharisees:

 

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.

In 1858, US Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln borrows the line:

 

On June 16, 1858 more than 1,000 delegates met in the Springfield, Illinois, statehouse for the Republican State Convention. At 5:00 p.m. they chose Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for the U.S. Senate, running against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. At 8:00 p.m. Lincoln delivered this address to his Republican colleagues in the Hall of Representatives. The title reflects part of the speech’s introduction, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” a concept familiar to Lincoln’s audience as a statement by Jesus recorded in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).

Even Lincoln’s friends regarded the speech as too radical for the occasion. His law partner, William H. Herndon, considered Lincoln as morally courageous but politically incorrect. Lincoln read the speech to him before delivering it, referring to the “house divided” language this way: “The proposition is indisputably true … and I will deliver it as written. I want to use some universally known figure, expressed in simple language as universally known, that it may strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.”

On April 12, 2018, the Washington Post runs this headline:

We need to go big in Syria. North Korea is watching.

The WaPo is undoubtedly disappointed that James Mattis prevailed over more hawkish voices in Washington and the least ‘expansive’ attack was chosen.

Then after the attack, Russian President Putin warns of global ‘chaos’ if the West strikes Syria again. And I’m thinking: Chaos? You ‘Predict’ Chaos? You mean what we have now does not qualify as chaos?

Yes, Washington Post, North Korea is watching. And you know what it sees? It sees a house divided. It sees an America that is perhaps as divided against itself as it was prior to the civil war. An America that elects a president and then initiates multiple investigations against him that are kept going seemingly indefinitely. An America where hatred of one’s fellow countrymen and -women has become the norm.

An America that has adopted a Shakespearian theater as its political system, where all norms of civil conversation have long been thrown out the window, where venomous gossip and backstabbing have become accepted social instruments. An America where anything goes as long as it sells.

 

In an intriguing development, while Trump pleased the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and MSNBC, his declared arch-enemies until the rockets flew, his own base turned on him. While the ‘liberals’ (what’s in a word) cheered and smelled the blood, the right wing reminded the Donald that this is not what he was elected on – or for.

Can Trump afford to lose his base? Isn’t the right wing supposed to be the side that calls for guns and bombs? It’s unlikely that he can do without his base, it would weaken him a lot as the Lady Macbeths watch his every move looking for just that one opportunity, that one moment where his back is turned.

As for the right wing not being the bloodthirsty one, that is quite the shift. Not that it’s a 180 on a dime, it has been coming for a while. It’s not just interesting with regards to Trump, there are many war hawks who -will- see their support crumble too if or when they speak out for more boots in deserts. Maybe John McCain should consider changing parties?

 

So yeah, what does North Korea see? Should it be afraid? Will it have become more afraid? Kim Jong-Un will have watched for China’s reaction, much more important to him that what the US does. And China has condemned the attack. It would do the same if America were to attack North Korea, and a lot stronger. Therefore Kim Jong-Un doesn’t believe Washington will dare attack him.

An interesting line from Chinese state run newspaper Global Times illustrates how China sees the world, and the US in particular, at present:

 

“A weak country has no diplomacy. As a hundred years have passed, China is no longer that [weak] China, but the world is still that world.”

That is how China, and in its wake, North Korea, see America. And so does Russia. Americans may -and do- think that they are still no. 1, and the most powerful, economically, politically, militarily, but that’s no longer what the rest of the world sees.

Is the US still mightier than China militarily? Probably, but not certainly. Still, how do you conquer 1.3 billion people and keep them subdued? Xi Jinping is very aware of that, and he bides his time.

Is the US still mightier than Russia militarily? Almost certainly not. To quote Paul Craig Roberts once more (and he’s no amateur):

The Russians know that they can, at will within a few minutes, sink the entire US fleet, destroy every US airplane & ship in the ME & within range of the ME, completely destroy all of Israel’s military capability & wipe out the military of the two-bit punk state of Saudi Arabia.

I’ve written this before in the past: there is a big difference between how America sees and treats its military, and how Russia does it. A difference that explains how Russia can, with one tenth of American defense spending, still be militarily superior, or at least make any wars against it unwinnable.

That is, in the US the focus is not on making the best weapons, it’s on making the most money on weapons. Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed will develop those weapons that are most profitable, not those that are most effective. The interminable story of the development of the Joint Strike Fighter is perhaps the best example of this, but there are many others. The Pentagon is a money pit.

Americans can perhaps still make the best weapons for the least money, but they don’t do it. Russia does. For Putin, the best weapons are a matter of survival. Russia has been under American threat as long as he can remember.

While Americans believe so strongly in their supremacy, and have grown so accustomed to the idea, that they no longer see having the best weapons as a matter of survival for the nation. They have come to see their superiority as something automatic and natural.

 

The attack on Syria is seen as a sign of weakness. Because there was no need for it. Because the evidence is flimsy at best. Because the world has international bodies to deal with such issues. Because there is no logic in allowing the blood to flow in the Gaza and Yemen but cite humanitarian reasons for bombing alleged chemical facilities elsewhere.

What the world sees is bluster emanating from a deeply divided nation (and we haven’t even tackled Britain). It sees that less than 48 hours after the airstrikes, a former FBI chief talks about his former boss in terminology that nobody would dare use in most countries, and throughout most of history,

James Comey is beyond Shakepeare. And in America, the issue is who’s right in the Comey-Trump conflict. In Russia, China et al it’s not. They see a house, a country divided. A weak country has no diplomacy.

That’s how all empires end. Complacency and division. That is what North Korea sees when it watches America, what China, and Russia see. And they may even know how Jesus put it. He didn’t just say a kingdom divided would become less powerful or wealthy, he said:

 

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.

 

 

Apr 052017
 
 April 5, 2017  Posted by at 7:23 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Ramón Casas Decadence 1899

 

Reading up on the Syria ‘chemical attack’ issue (is that the right term to use?). The headlines are entirely predictable, and by now that probably won’t surprise anyone, no matter where they are or what views they adhere to. We know there’s been an attack and that some kind of chemical was used. The media talk about sarin.

They also, almost unanimously, blame the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad for it. But that’s the same government that just this week saw both US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson and US UN enjoy Nikki Haley point to a significant shift in American policy, towards a view that removing Assad is no longer a priority in US Middle-East policy.

That comes after many years of insisting that Assad must be removed. And after many years of US involvement in removing other regimes in the region, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi. It also comes on the eve of a large Syria conference, the first in a long time, due to start today. Russia and the States send only lower-level representatives, politically sensitive etc., but still.

The question arises what reason the Syrian government could possibly have to launch a chemical attack anywhere on its territory, gruesome pictures of which, with many child casualties, were posted soon after the attack supposedly too place. And that’s where logic at least seems to break down.

Syria was not supposed to have any chemical warfare arsenals left, far as I understand, there was an accord to that extent in 2013. Did they hide any (Saddam WMD style?!), or did they recently obtain them (from Russia?!). But most of all, why use them on the eve of a conference where you have everything to gain?

I’ll be the last to claim that I know, but it certainly doesn’t make a lot of sense. Being denied recognition, legitimacy even in a sense, for years, and then throw it away the day before? Not even declaring Assad -and by association Putin and Iraq- to be complete idiots would seem to explain that. And they’re not idiots.

The Russians say a ‘rebel’ chemical weapons depot may have been hit. I don’t know, and barely a soul does, but opinions have been pre-cooked, and there we go again. There are pictures of White Helmets tending to the wounded, but then if this were sarin, that might not be advisable to do with bare hands and without gas masks. And the White Helmets themselves are not beyond scrutiny either. Meanwhile, Trump has followed everyone else in the West in accusing Assad.

 

Any of this sound familiar? It does to me. When I open my -personalized, no less- Google News page, all main headlines concerning either US politics or topics like the Syria chemical attack come from a ‘select’ group of ‘media’. It’s all NYT, WaPo, CNN, BBC, all the time. Google likes The Hill too, for some reason. Since my page is ‘personalized’ I don’t know how it is for others, but I have an idea.

The same opinion-forming (leading) ‘reporting’ that happens in the case of Syria, is also applied to the US. And it’s tearing the country apart, bit by inevitable bit. The MSM’s answer to the Trump campaign- and subsequent election- has been to do more of the same ‘leading’, much more. And they have plenty of takers. Subscriptions are way up, so they think they’ve hit a gold mine, a very welcome one too given where sales numbers were heading.

Trump’s the best thing that happened to WaPo in years. But then again, they still lost, and bigly. Their preferred candidate lost. And the entire storyline they had spun over, say, the entire year leading up to November 8, had gone nowhere. None of it got Hillary elected, and none of it was ever proven.

Now, of course, it’s not the job of news organizations to choose sides in politics (their job’s the opposite), and even less to make up a storyline in order to promote whatever side they pick. It’s really weird that that aspect has been largely lost on America over the past few years; not that it’s entirely new, don’t get me wrong, but it got a lot more pronounced and ‘brazen’.

It’s as if people have all of a sudden started to find it normal that their news sources tell them what to think. The echo chamber has become both much larger and a whole lot more cramped at the same time. And got for too comfy with 1984.

 

What makes it even weirder is that it should be obvious to us all that there has been a large shift in politics as well, albeit over a longer period of time. There is no left in the system anymore, there is no left left; workers and the poor in general have nobody left who represents them.

This is true in the US as it is in Europe. Britain’s Labor party is all but dead, Holland’s Labor equivalent went from 38 to 9 seats in the recent election, the list goes on. The US democrats? Are you kidding? Left? Left of what?

The media have followed this development as much as they have led the way. There’s a lot of synergy there; it’s just that there’s none left with the people they’re either supposed to represent or inform. But that in turn means you might as well say that the whole thing is dead. What left there still is left will have to re-invent itself.

The political system and the media may cross-pollinate as much as they want, and they obviously seem to want that a lot, but they still depend for their survival on a connection with people, voters, readers. Only, they appear to have concluded Groucho stye that “Hey, if you can fake that, you can fake anything..”

Problem is, this did cost the US media’s candidate the election. So now they’re echo-chambering to less than half of the population. Who are so receptive that they may be temporarily fooled into thinking they’re doing fine. But the other -more than- half already thinks they’re full of it, and that’s not going to change back (my humble prediction).

 

If the US MSM would go back to impartial reporting, they would be fine. The same is true for the Democratic party -and its link to the poorer part of America. But both have made their beds (and bets) and must now lie on them.

For the media, this means being forced to turn over ever more readers and viewers to ‘new media’. It’s not even a technology thing, it’s just that they themselves have chosen to become irrelevant. And yes, it is ironic that the soon-so-be richest man on the planet, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, controls the bigliest web success and destroys the WaPo at the same time. It’s an awful shame too. But the paper for him is financial pocket change, not a legacy of hard work.

Bezos et al do this by trying to dictate what people think, by becoming Edward Bernays and Joe Goebbels. The idea might have worked without the Interwebs, but I must retract that: it would have been sacrificed on the altar of economic mayhem. Lots of irony in there, though.

The New York Times and Washington Post owe their reputation to America’s times of plenty, and those are gone, long gone. These papers are no longer capable of Woodward and Bernstein, because there’s nothing left that’s objective, the entire focus is partisan now, and that means you’re going to miss out on the big, the real stories, if they’re your news sources.

And it’s not even that they’re papers, and they may or may not get digital; it’s their owners’ choices for certain political directions that’s doing them in. Maybe that’s an inevitbale process; that news organizations must perish one sources change, or processes, or range. I’m not sure of that, though; I think they’re squandering a 100 year -or so- legacy on an altar of political megalomania.

 

And that gets me to what got me thinking about the reporting on Syria’s chemical attack to begin with, and the way it’s presented. That is, I read a lot of things, it’s what I do, but instead of the journalists asking the questions, I know it’s up to -people like- me to do that. That goes for Syria, and just as much for US domestic issues. There’s nobody left I can rely on. Again I aks of you: any of this sound familiar?

I’m by no means ready to go with everything Fox says, or any -formerly- right-wing source. But I can no longer trust the left wing either, let alone the formerly neutral ones. I’m on my own. And so are you.

Now, Russia spying on America is a done deal, of course they do. Everyone spies on every other one, if they have the technology they will do it. But Susan Rice ‘unmasking’ people in the Republican campaign is a step or two further. It may be technically legal, but it skirts far too close for comfort to potential political interference.

Since the entire Russia story was never proven, after a year and change of investigation by the entire media AND intelligence machine, I think perhaps it’s reasonable to suggest that it was always merely a convenient front for spying on Trump and the other Republicans. I don’t know that, it’s deduction that leads me there.

 

Still, of course the Russia-Trump connection probe just keeps on going. They haven’t found a thing, no shred, after all this time, but maybe, maybe… Look, I always said that a Trump presidency would be ugly and stupid -just still preferable to Hillary- but this ‘Putin is the devil’ meme is a lot uglier than that.

If and when you lose, as the Dems and their media have, doubling down is not the way to go, not if you want to win the next one. You have to look at what mistakes you’ve made and learn from them, not focus even more on what is or was wrong with the other side. That makes no sense. Losers must lose with grace, as much as winners win with it.

It’s not just in the US that people have completely lost sight of this most basic of principles; in the UK the post-Brexit bickering just won’t stop, and everything gets worse in the process. But it’s all about blaming the others, not your own side. How that can be helpful when you’ve lost is not clear to me at all.

 

Susan Rice will be before a Senate or Congress committee soon, and it will be interesting to see what she has to say. I’m sure her legal counsel have previously assured her that it was all perfectly within her job prescription. But she, what can I say, she doesn’t look good in her press appearances.

And you can complain all you want about the photos with only males in Trump’s office, but the entire glass ceiling female crew, Donna Brazile, Huma Abedin, Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, they all look to have broken that ceiling but from the wrong side, (lost in gravity?!), and in the wrong way. They’ve all either cheated to get where they are (were), or cheated while they were there.

What a loss that is. That ceiling must be broken, badly, but not by women who are part of it. It fits the overall picture, though. If and when nothing is what it seems, it’s a lot easier to get people to believe what you tell them, certainly when you can put a NYT or WaPo stamp on what you’re saying. The problem is, by now you’ll only be talking to less than half of the people. And that’s on a good day.

The whole thing is broken, and you don’t heal that by pointing out to what extent the other side is broken. You heal it by looking at your own f*ck-ups, and then correct them. And until you do that, the risk of chemicals raining down on kids in Syria will just continue to be the same as Obama ordering drone strikes. Or the US and UK and France and Germany selling weapons to the Saudis that allow them to obliterate an entire nation and people in Yemen.

This is not about Assad, it’s about you, and Theresa May and Trump and Obama and Hillary and W. and Merkel and Tony Blair and scores of French and German politicians who’ve kept the death racket alive all these years. It’s where the money is.

 

 

Feb 252015
 
 February 25, 2015  Posted by at 3:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Gordon Parks “New York, New York. Scene in Harlem area.” 1943

Riddle me this, Batman. I don’t think I get it, and I definitely don’t get why nobody is asking any questions. The IMF and EU make a lot of noise – through the Eurogroup – about all the conditions Greece has to address to get even a mild extension of support, while the same IMF and EU keep on handing out cash to Ukraine without as much as a whisper – at least publicly.

The Kiev government, which has been ceaselessly and ruthlessly attacking its own people, is now portrayed as needing – monetary and military – western help in order to be able to ‘defend’ itself. From the people it’s been attacking, presumably. And hardly a soul in the west asks what that is all about.

Why did Kiev kill 5000 of its own citizens? Because there are people in East Ukraine who had – and still have – the guts to say they don’t want to be ruled by a regime willing to murder them for saying they don’t want to be ruled by it. And just in case there’s any confusion left about this, yes, that is the regime we are actively supporting, in undoubtedly many more ways than are made public. All the doubts about the western narrative are swept aside with one move: blame Putin.

Of the two countries, Greece, despite its humanitarian issues, is by far the luckiest one. Ukraine is quite a few steps further down the hill. One can be forgiven for contemplating that the west, aided by President Poroshenko and the Yats regime in Kiev, is dead set on obliterating the entire nation.

There are again peace talks under way, with no – direct – Anglo-Saxon involvement, but as the Foreign Ministers of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany meet, Britain announces it’s sending military personnel into Ukraine and Poroshenko buys weapons from UAE, which is the same as saying from America. Where does he get the money? Chocolate sales? Had a good Valentine’s campaign?

Baltic states reinforce their armies (Lithuania just launched conscription), as NATO expands its presence there. The constantly repeated message is that Putin will attack them. It’s a made-up story. Poroshenko says he wants Crimea back, even as he knows full well that’s not going to happen.

What part of the fresh round of IMF/EU loans will go towards arms purchases? Can Brussels please supply a run-down ASAP? Don’t Europeans have a right to know where their money goes?

To start with, here’s a – partial – overview of loans from Constantin Gurdgiev:

IMF Package for Ukraine: Some Pesky Macros

Ukraine package of funding from the IMF and other lenders remains still largely unspecified, but it is worth recapping what we do know and what we don’t.Total package is USD40 billion. Of which, USD17.5 billion will come from the IMF and USD22.5 billion will come from the EU. The US seemed to have avoided being drawn into the financial singularity they helped (directly or not) to create. We have no idea as to the distribution of the USD22.5 billion across the individual EU states, but it is pretty safe to assume that countries like Greece won’t be too keen contributing.

Cyprus probably as well. Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy – all struggling with debts of their own also need this new ‘commitment’ like a hole in the head. Belgium might cheerfully pony up (with distinctly Belgian cheer that is genuinely overwhelming to those in Belgium). But what about the countries like the Baltics and those of the Southern EU? Does Bulgaria have spare hundreds of million floating around? Hungary clearly can’t expect much of good will from Kiev, given its tango with Moscow, so it is not exactly likely to cheer on the funding plans… Who will?

Austria and Germany and France, though France is never too keen on parting with cash, unless it gets more cash in return through some other doors. In Poland, farmers are protesting about EUR100 million that the country lent to Ukraine. Wait till they get the bill for their share of the USD22.5 billion coming due.

Recall that in April 2014, IMF has already provided USD17 billion to Ukraine and has paid up USD4.5 billion to-date. In addition, Ukraine received USD2 billion in credit guarantees (not even funds) from the US, EUR1.8 billion in funding from the EU and another EUR1.6 billion in pre-April loans from the same source. Germany sent bilateral EUR500 million and Poland sent EUR100 million, with Japan lending USD300 million.

Here’s a kicker. With all this ‘help’ Ukrainian debt/GDP ratio is racing beyond sustainability bounds. Under pre-February ‘deal’ scenario, IMF expected Ukrainian debt to peak at USD109 billion in 2017. Now, with the new ‘deal’ we are looking at debt (assuming no write down in a major restructuring) reaching for USD149 billion through 2018 and continuing to head North from there.

In other words, the loans are only and exclusively making Ukraine’s position worse. The Greeks may feel like debt slaves, but Ukrainians face a far darker feudal situation. They’re going to be -debt -prisoners in their own country. And that has nothing to do with Putin, it’s the ultimate shock doctrine. The distinct impression to me is the country will be turned into a testing ground for NATO and western military industries. Which is why ‘we’ have been so intent on engaging Russia in the Ukraine conflict.

But back to the loans first:

The point is that the situation in the Ukrainian economy is so grave, that lending Kiev money cannot be an answer to the problems of stabilising the economy and getting economic recovery on a sustainable footing. With all of this, the IMF ‘plan’ begs three questions:

  1. Least important: Where’s the European money coming from?
  2. More important: Why would anyone lend funds to a country with fundamentals that make Greece look like Norway?
  3. Most important: How on earth can this be a sustainable package for the country that really needs at least 50% of the total funding in the form of grants, not loans? That needs real investment, not debt? That needs serious reconstruction and such deep reforms, it should reasonably be given a decade to put them in place, not 4 years that IMF is prepared to hold off on repayment of debts owed to it under the new programme?

Why indeed? One thing seems certain: reconstruction is not in the cards. All assets will be sold for scrap, and most citizens ‘encouraged’ to cross one of many borders Ukraine has. Britain is next up in the escalation process. Again, as German/French talks with Russia continue.

Britain To Send Military Advisers To Ukraine, Announces Cameron

Britain was pulled closer towards a renewed cold war with Russia when David Cameron announced UK military trainers are to be deployed to help Ukraine forces stave off further Russian backed incursions into sovereign Ukraine territory. The decision – announced on Tuesday but under consideration by the UK national security council since before Christmas – represents the first deployment of British troops to the country since the near civil war in eastern Ukraine began more than a year ago. Downing Street said the deployment was not just a practical bilateral response to a request for support, but a signal to the Russians that Britain will not countenance further large scale annexations of towns in Ukraine.

The prime minister said Britain would be “the strongest pole in the tent”, and argued for tougher sanctions against Moscow if Russian-backed militias in eastern Ukraine failed to observe the provisions of a ceasefire agreement reached this month with the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko. Downing Street said some personnel would be leaving this week as part of the training mission. Initially 30 trainers will be despatched to Kiev with 25 providing advice on medical training, logistics, intelligence analysis and infantry training. A bigger programme of infantry training is expected to follow soon after taking the total number of trainers to 75.

That’s simply war-mongering, and precious little else. We may wonder about the timing, but not the intention. Cameron goes on to make some really bizarre statements:

He said there was no doubt about Russian support for the rebels. “What we are seeing is Russian-backed aggression, often these are Russian troops, they are Russian tanks, they are Russian Grad missiles. You can’t buy these things on eBay, they are coming from Russia, people shouldn’t be in any doubt about that. “We have got the intelligence, we have got the pictures and the world knows that. Sometimes people don’t want to see that but that is the fact.”

No, Mr. Cameron, the problem is, the world does not know that, because it has never been shown either the intelligence or the pictures. Why not provide them? Because you don’t have them, is the only reason I can think of after a full year full of alleged activity of which there is not one shred of proof, but a million tons of accusations and innuendo. It’s literally a propaganda war, with the other side hardly firing back at all. And then there’s this from RT:

East Ukraine Artillery Withdrawal In Focus – As Poroshenko Buys UAE Weapons

While the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine were meeting in Paris to talk about the Eastern Ukraine peace settlement, it was revealed that the Ukrainian president has struck a deal on arms supplies from the UAE. The four ministers agreed on the need for the ceasefire to be respected, as well as on the need to extend the OSCE mission in Eastern Ukraine, reinforcing it with more funding, personnel and equipment. It’s important for Kiev troops and the rebels to start withdrawing heavy weapons right now, without waiting for the time “when not a single shot is fired,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after the meeting.

He added that his German and French counterparts thought it a positive development that the Donetsk and the Lugansk rebels had started to pull their artillery back. “The situation has significantly improved, that was acknowledged by my partners,” Lavrov said. “However, sporadic violations are being registered by the OSCE observers.” The withdrawal of heavy weaponry by Kiev troops and the rebels is part of the ceasefire deal struck in Minsk earlier in February. The Donetsk militia has announced it is complying.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has meanwhile reached an agreement on weapons supplies from the United Arab Emirates. That’s according to a Facebook post by advisor to Ukrainian Interior Minister, Anton Gerashchenko. The deal was struck with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. “It’s worth emphasizing that unlike Europeans and Americans, the Arabs aren’t afraid of Putin’s threats of a third world war starting in case of arms and ammunition supplies to Ukraine,” Gerashchenko wrote. He also said he believed the UAE blamed Russia for the drop in oil prices. “So, this is going to be their little revenge,” the adviser said.

Curious. Now it’s the Russians who are to blame for the oil price plunge? Weren’t they supposed to be the major victims? And when did Putin threaten with WWIII? There’s more to this:

[..].. former US diplomat James Jatras told RT: “This discussion in Washington about supplying weapons has been going on for some time. Usually that indicates that some kind of a covert program is already in operation and that we already are supplying some weapons directly,” he said. Jatras added that it is hard to believe that UAE would sell these weapons to Ukraine “without a green light from Washington.”

I would think the same thing: plenty forces in Washington who want nothing more than to supply weapons to Kiev, and there’s always a way. Note that Germany and France, the western partners in the peace talks, have so far managed to prevent direct arms supplies. They’ve now been blindsided, or so it would seem. Maybe it’s time for Merkel to pull her weight here, and a bit less on Greece. Germany doesn’t want an escalating warzone on its doorstep.

Meanwhile, the gas delivery issue is heating up again (pun intended). Ukraine continues to provoke Russia, but it will have to pay eventually. Unless escalation is the real goal, and freezing Eastern Europeans will be deemed a justifiable sacrifice.

Kiev Cash-For-Gas Fail Could Cost EU Its Supply (In 2 Days) – Gazprom

Russia will completely cut Ukraine off gas supplies in two days if Kiev fails to pay for deliveries, which will create transit risks for Europe, Gazprom has said. Ukraine has not paid for March deliveries and is extracting all it can from the current paid supply, seriously risking an early termination of the advance settlement and a supply cutoff, Gazprom’s CEO Alexey Miller told journalists. The prepaid gas volumes now stand at 219 million cubic meters. “It takes about two days to get payment from Naftogaz deposited to a Gazprom account. That’s why a delivery to Ukraine of 114 million cubic meters will lead to a complete termination of Russian gas supplies as early as in two days, which creates serious risks for the transit to Europe,” Miller said.

Earlier this month, Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak estimated Ukraine’s debt to Russian energy giant Gazprom at $2.3 billion. In the end of 2014, Kiev’s massive gas debt that stood above $5 billion, forced Moscow to suspend gas deliveries to Ukraine for nearly six months. On December 9, Russia resumed its supplies under the so-called winter package deal, which expires on April 1, 2015. [..] On Monday, Ukrainian state energy company Naftogaz accused Gazprom of failing to deliver gas that Kiev had paid for in advance. Naftogaz says Russia has broken an agreement to deliver 114 million of cubic meters of natural gas to Ukraine by delivering only 47 million cubic meters.

During a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on February 20, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expressed concern about an increase in daily applications by Ukraine for the supply of gas, TASS reports. He noted that “Ukraine’s consumers have requested a larger supply; the volume has increased by 2.5 times. This means that the prepaid volumes left are enough for no more than two to three days.”

Overall, there seems to be little left that can be done to de-escalate the situation. The Donbass rebels may retreat some heavy weapons, but they won’t want to risk being defeated by a freshly replenished Ukraine/US/UK army. The make-up of which is ever harder to envision, since a few hundred thousand potential soldiers have already fled the country. Unless they extend the draft to 12- to 80-year-old women, what Ukrainians will be left to fight? And who will want to? Except for the private battallions of questionable make-up, that is.

Ukraine will at some point in the not too distant future be so impoverished that a new Maidan type revolution may be inevitable. There should really be elections in the country as soon as possible, but that doesn’t look likely to happen. Why Yatsenyuk is still PM should be a mystery, he was elected by a parliament at gunpoint. And he’s a US puppet, who’s recently invited three US citizens into key positions in his cabinet. Ukrainians may be scared to speak up, but if they don’t, things could get much worse real fast.

It’s once again time for the people to take to the streets. But that risks turning into an awful bloodbath that could make Kiev look like the Dresden. Unless all international parties retreat from Ukraine, there doesn’t seem to be a solution that would benefit the people.

Aug 012014
 
 August 1, 2014  Posted by at 2:03 pm Finance Tagged with: , , ,  


DPC Majestic Building from Detroit Opera House 1909

Oil prices are dropping as Exxon announces a -5.7% plunge in output. And as Shell, as I said yesterday, can think of nothing better to do with its remaining funds than to spend it on share buybacks and dividends. Perhaps shareholders should take the money and run. Because what sort of future can they expect for a company that acts like that?

Western oil companies have tens of billions invested in Russian projects they may or may not have access to anymore now the sanctions are coming into effect. The scourge of insecurity. Never good for industry, never good for markets. Prices will rise again, and a lot, just ask Putin, but that doesn’t take away the insecurity over Big Oil’s chances of – even medium term – survival.

The BLS jobless report came in quite a bit less sunny than hoped and expected (unemployment rose to 6.2%, only 209K jobs created), but it would be good to realize that the importance of the report has fallen substantially lately. There will be many, many people in the finance world who are going to get burned because they don’t acknowledge that, or at least not rapidly enough.

While Janet Yellen can perhaps change course by a few degrees in the face of less than sparkly numbers, it’ll still be steady as she blows. Wages didn’t move one bit, nor did part-time jobs, and Yellen did hint at making those numbers more important, but then again the participation rate squeezed up by 0.1%, so those who want to see silver linings don’t have to look that far. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

The failure – whether intentional or not – of the Fed’s multi-trillion stimulus is now plain for everyone to see. Yellen is not going to fool anyone with another trillion. The next FMOC meeting may announce a temporary taper hiccup, but what use would it be in the face of the past 5-6 years of not achieving much of anything for Main Street with the printer working both day and night shifts?

It’s of course nice, or funny, or hilarious, to see that while GDP rises 4.0% (well, in the first estimate only), the unemployment rate goes up. Upside down Bizarro.

Still, as I’ve noted repeatedly over the course of the last two weeks, what will drive US financial policy as we move forward has much less to do than before with domestic issues, and much more with global ones. That this will throw Americans in front of the steamroller (even more than before) is being taken for granted, and has been ‘absorbed’ into policy making.

The lure, and the advantages, of forcing the entire planet to fight over, and give up much more than before for, US dollars, have won the day. Undoubtedly not a rash decision, but something that’s been decided behind the curtains way back when everyone was still focused on other things. Like the recovery that never came.

This perhaps becomes easier to understand when you take a good look at that -5.7% fall in Exxon output. And the $110 billion that the shale industry comes up short every single year. What numbers like these spell out is the end of an era, the end of our way of life, perhaps the end of our societies as they exist today.

That end won’t come tomorrow morning, but the combination of rising demand and shrinking supply of fossil fuels points to one single and inescapable conclusion: we will need to divide what’s left, and being the humans that we are, that means we’re going to do the dividing by fighting over it. No prisoners.

And while there will be many physical proxy battles over oil and gas, just watch Ukraine, the first major battles will take place in the financial world. Having everyone and their pet poodle scramble to get hold of your particular currency is a mighty mighty weapon in those financial battles.

There are a numbers of goals in this for the people who’ve taken over, and factually run, America: make sure you get as much of what’s left of the fossil fuels as possible, and make sure others get as little as possible. But also: make sure less of it is used going forward, and store the difference under your own control. That goes both internationally, where you make nations and their citizens poorer so they can afford to buy less fuel, and domestically, where you make Americans themselves poorer so they will drive and heat and cool less.

Making Americans poorer may seem a bit counterintuitive in what is still in name a democracy – how to still get their votes? -, but when you start from the realization that shrinking energy supplies automatically mean a shrinking economy, and an end to the growth model the country is based on, in which at present everything needs to be borrowed because far too little is being produced, it all makes a lot more sense.

There is a major shift afoot, or actually already behind us, and unemployment numbers are now but an immaterial little sideshow the media put on. And no matter how many of those 4.0% GDP growth numbers you see, make no mistake: from now on, the -5.7% Exxon output number is much more important. That’s what will drive US policy going forward.

The taper will continue, far fewer dollars will be available globally and domestically, interest rates will rise, as will unemployment and foreclosures. Oil prices will suffer at first from falling international demand, but with supply falling just as fast not too long from today, we will be looking at $200. And then some.

The more the US fails internally, the more it will chest thump abroad. And with both the reserve currency and the by far largest weapons arsenals, it has extremely powerful tools to thump its chest with. Both at home and abroad.

Bears Who Won Big During Finance Crisis Are Growling Again (WSJ)

Many of the Wall Street money managers who made billions by anticipating the U.S. housing bubble see more trouble on the horizon. Unlike before the crisis, when those traders were mostly united against subprime mortgages, the wagers vary this time. Some are against U.S. junk bonds, while others are targeting European sovereign debt. The warnings come from hedge-fund managers including Joshua Birnbaum and Greg Lippmann, who rose to prominence when trading for Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, respectively. The moves mark the first time since the crisis that most of these investors, who generated big profits after the downturn riding the global economic recovery, have begun to turn bearish again. “There’s one thing for sure: History repeats itself, and this is starting to feel like a bubble,” said Stuart Lippman, manager of a credit-markets-focused hedge fund at TIG Advisors in New York. “We’re building up to something.”

Whitebox Advisors a Minneapolis hedge-fund firm that anticipated the crisis, warning of an imminent credit-market panic as early as 2006, is close to starting a fund to wager against the debt of several European countries and the euro, according to a letter to investors viewed by The Wall Street Journal. The moves don’t quite yet represent another “big short,” the term writer Michael Lewis applied to precrisis bets against soaring housing prices. In most cases, the hedge funds say they are trying to capitalize on prices they think are far out of whack and that may suffer a correction over the coming months, rather than predicting widespread financial calamity. But the shift from some of Wall Street’s most closely followed names shows growing worry about potential pockets of distress. Paul Singer, who oversees one of the world’s biggest hedge-fund firms, $25 billion Elliott Management Corp., this week told investors that many markets could turn south with “head-spinning abruptness and shocking intensity.”

The fears come after years of low interest rates that have encouraged investors of all sizes to pile into junk bonds and other relatively risky areas in search of yield. If prices drop, it could hurt small investors who have bought company debt to make up for paltry returns on U.S. Treasury bonds. Demand for junk bonds has skyrocketed in recent years, driving up prices and pushing yields to the lowest level on record. Yields fall as prices rise. Relative calm across much of Europe has benefited debt issued by countries such as Italy and Spain, with many traders shrugging off prior worries of a euro-zone crisis. But some cracks are starting to show: High-yield bonds in July suffered their biggest price declines in over a year, as lofty valuations and concerns about the potential for interest-rate increases drove a flight from funds that hold riskier debt.

Read more …

Exxon Output Falls 5.7% To Lowest in Five Years (Bloomberg)

Exxon Mobil fell after reporting oil and natural gas production declined to the lowest level in almost five years, raising the stakes as it seeks to pursue crude deposits in Russia. The world’s largest energy company dropped 4.2% to $98.94 at the close in New York, the biggest slide in almost three years, after reporting second-quarter earnings that beat analysts’ estimates. The company’s oil and gas output decreased 5.7% to the equivalent of 3.84 million barrels a day, the lowest since the third quarter of 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Exxon had been expected to post quarterly output equivalent to 3.96 million barrels, based on six analysts’ estimates. Crude from Exxon wells in Europe and Asia dropped, while gas production faltered in every region in which the company does business except Africa and the South Pacific.

Exxon is going after crude in Russia’s Arctic regions in an effort to extract some of the largest oil reserves and reverse a trend of declining production for the company. It’s allocating $39.8 billion to capital projects this year, including hundreds of millions for an exploratory well in Russia’s Kara Sea, as part of a 29-year agreement signed with Moscow-based Rosneft in 2011. Sanctions threaten to halt that progress after the U.S. and European Union said July 29 they would restrict the export of technologies for energy production to Russia. The oil-producing nation holds an estimated $8 trillion worth of crude underground. Exxon is awaiting further details on U.S. and EU sanctions to determine any effects, Vice President David Rosenthal said on a conference call today. He declined to comment on how the recently completed Berkut platform, a joint venture with Rosneft of Russia’s Far East coast, was financed.

Read more …

Nah, it’s just fear.

Is The Chase For Yield Running Out Of Breath? (CNBC)

Ultra-low interest rates globally have spurred investors to chase yield in ever riskier corners of the bond market, but some are starting to pull out of the race into high-yield papers. “We take our exposure in high yield bonds to zero, and keep the proceeds in cash,” Julius Baer, which has around $409 billion in total client assets, said in a note Wednesday. “Speculative-grade bonds have become expensive and are facing serious liquidity challenges.” Julius Baer isn’t alone in heading for the sector’s exits. Around $6.34 billion has flowed out of high-yield bond mutual funds and exchange-traded funds over the past four weeks, although a net $17.15 billion has flowed in so far this year, according to data from Jefferies.

In addition to the outflow, the SPDR High Yield Bond ETF tumbled in pre-market trading Friday, down 33 percent. High-yield bonds, otherwise known as speculative grade or junk debt, are issued by companies with a rating of ‘BB’ or lower from Standard & Poor’s or ‘Ba’ or below from Moody’s. They have a higher risk of default compared with investment-grade debt, but traditionally offered higher yields as compensation. Julius Baer is concerned that as regulators “tighten the screw” on banks, it will limit their ability to provide liquidity in the high-yield bond market. “Liquidity conditions could become as precarious as in late 2008,” it said. “If investor sentiment worsens, their low liquidity means that we would not be able to get out in time.”

Read more …

US Futures Tumble Again On Global Equity Weakness (Zero Hedge)

If yesterday’s selloff catalysts were largely obvious, if long overdue, in the form of the record collapse of Espirito Santo coupled with the Argentina default, German companies warning vocally about Russian exposure, the ongoing geopolitical escalations, and topped off by a labor costs rising and concerns this can accelerate a hiking cycle, overnight’s latest dump, which started in Europe and has carried over into US futures is less easily explained although yet another weak European PMI print across the board, with UK manufacturing growing at the slowest pace in a year in July as a cooling in new orders and output ended the first half’s “stellar growth spurt”, probably didn’t help. However, one can hardly blame largely unreliable “soft data” for what is rapidly becoming the biggest selloff in months and in reality what the market may be worried about is today’s payroll number, due out in 90 minutes, which could lead to big Treasury jitters if it comes above the 230K expected.

In fact, today is one of those days when horrible news would surely be great news for the momentum algos. More importantly even than the noisy jobs number, the Fed will increasingly be looking at the quality composition of jobs (full time vs part time), and whether wages are growing: watch hourly earnings today as the FOMC have shifted towards wages as one of their main criteria for when to become more hawkish. The market is expecting this to stay at 0.2% M/M but the year-on-year number is tipped to increase to +2.2% Y/Y (vs 2.0% previous). Still, with futures down 0.6% at last check, it is worth noting that Treasurys are barely changed, as the great unrotation from stocks into bonds picks up and hence the great irony of any rate initiated sell off: should rates spike on growth/inflation concern, the concurrent equity selloff will once again push rates lower, and so on ad inf. Ain’t central planning grand?

Read more …

Who needs the young anyway?

Falling Wages in Southern EU Vex Draghi as Youth Punished (Bloomberg)

Across much of the euro area, young adults are worst hit by wage deflation or stagnation, which increasingly is seen as a threat to the 18-member bloc’s nascent economic recovery. Economic weakness is a mounting concern for the European Central Bank, which took unprecedented action in June, becoming the first major central bank to take one of its main rates negative. Threats to price stability are real, President Mario Draghi said last month, citing high unemployment, weak demand and low inflation. In Spain, the region’s fourth-largest economy, people under 30 have had the sharpest drop, reflecting their 42% jobless rate compared with 25% unemployment for the total population. The average gross annual salary earned by 20-to-24-year-olds was 15% lower in 2012 than in 2010, while it declined 0.3% across all age groups. It dropped by 8% for people as much as five years older, according to data from Spain’s statistics agency INE.

In Portugal, the average monthly wage for 18-to-24-year-olds fell 25% between 2011 and 2012, whereas it rose 1% for the whole population, the most recent data published by the national statistics agency show. The decline was 17% for people as much as 10 years older. While few European countries offer recent wage statistics by age group, a similar pattern is probable in most of the European Union’s 28 members, said Zsolt Darvas, an economist at the Bruegel research institute in Brussels. “It makes sense for wages to decline to share the few jobs available, but young people are bearing the brunt of the adjustment,” Darvas said. “That’s neither fair nor positive for the economy. Older people earn more and their standards of living wouldn’t be as hurt by a pay cut.”

Young people tend to be hired with lower wages, and on work contracts that are easier to end or temporary, compared with more stable positions held by older people, he said. In Spain, 52% of under 30-year-olds had short-term employment in the second quarter versus a general rate of 24% for all employees, INE data showed last month. Those different labor market conditions are widening the income gap between generations, leading 20-to-24-year-olds to earn 50% less than the average wage in 2012, compared with a 33% difference eight years earlier.

Read more …

No-Exit Strategy May Be Fed Burden in Unwinding Stimulus (Bloomberg)

The Federal Reserve is trying to change as little as possible as it crafts its strategy to exit from record stimulus. The trouble is financial markets have changed so much that the still-developing plan may prove costly and ultimately unworkable. The approach, sketched out in the minutes of the Fed’s June 17-18 meeting and in officials’ comments since then, retains a focus on the federal funds rate as the central bank’s target. Policy would continue to be conducted mainly through banks rather than via dealings with money-market funds. “They don’t want to make wholesale changes in the way they interact with markets when they are going to have so many other issues in play” as they raise interest rates, said Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP LLC in Jersey City, New Jersey, who has been watching the Fed for three decades.

The strategy has drawbacks, given the way money markets have evolved since the recession. Banks no longer need to borrow in the once-vibrant fed funds market to meet reserve requirements, as they did before the crisis, because the Fed has pumped so much money into the financial system during the last six years. As a result, trading in that market has dwindled and now mainly comprises U.S. branches of foreign banks acting as arbitragers, according to research by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. To help keep that market alive, the Fed will have to pay those banks a premium to continue trading in it, which will eat into the profits the central bank remits to the U.S. government each year.

And even then, foreign banks may be unwilling to continue their trades as stricter regulations on leverage take effect. “I don’t like the political or economic implications” of the plan, Joseph Gagnon, a former Fed and U.S. Treasury official who is now at the Peterson Institute of International Economics in Washington, said in an e-mail. “It costs the taxpayers money, and it makes for a less efficient financial system,” he added, a view echoed by former Fed Governor Jeremy Stein in an interview. Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, suggested in a July 11 interview with Bloomberg News that policy makers would reach a final agreement on their exit blueprint at their next meeting in September. Under the developing plan, the Fed would continue to set a target range for its benchmark federal funds rate, which banks charge each other on overnight loans. The interest rate it pays banks on reserves would be the ceiling, and the rate it pays to borrow cash from money funds and others would be the floor.

Read more …

They kept him on just to get the loans. This smells very bad.

Ukraine Skirts Argentine Default Path as Premier Survives (Bloomberg)

Ukrainian lawmakers backed a tax increase needed to qualify for a $17 billion bailout by the International Monetary Fund and rejected the prime minister’s resignation after warnings that the country risked a default. “The first major economic news today is that Argentina went into default,” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told lawmakers after the vote today. “And the second is that Ukraine didn’t default, and it never will.” Ukraine is relying on the IMF’s funding for its budget needs and for making about $10 billion in foreign debt payments by year-end. The Washington-based lender’s mission urged the government and the legislature to adopt austerity measures before its board decides next month on the second disbursement of a $1.4 billion tranche. Parliament turned down Yatsenyuk’s resignation submitted last week in protest over lawmakers’ failure to approve the bills required by the IMF and needed to finance a military push against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Budget and tax code amendments adopted today allow the cabinet to avoid complications with IMF program revisions in the future given lawmakers’ reluctance to back unpopular bills, said Oleksandr Parashchiy, head of analytics at investment bank Concorde Capital in Kiev. [..] The vote “solves most of Ukraine’s problems up to the end of 2014,” Parashchiy said by phone. The government has prepared “a back-up” for the rest of the year to avoid further revisions of budget spending and economic forecasts every time an IMF mission comes to Ukraine.’’ Ukraine’s economy shrank more than analysts predicted in the second quarter, contracting 4.7% from a year earlier, in the wake of months of bloody fighting against insurgents. The conflict is disrupting trade, weighing down an economy that’s contracted in seven of the past eight quarters. While the IMF sees Ukraine’s gross domestic product declining 6.5% this year, the government predicts a 6% slump in the amended budget approved today.

Read more …

This could break the EU/US axis.

Russia And Germany Said To Work On Secret ‘Gas For Land’ Deal (Zero Hedge)

Thanks to the Independent, we may know the answer, and it is a doozy, because according to some it is nothing shy of a sequel to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact: allegedly Germany and Russia have been working on a secret plan to broker a peaceful solution to end international tensions over the Ukraine, one which would negotiate to trade Crimea’s sovereignty for guarantees on energy security and trade. The Independent reveals that the peace plan, being worked on by both Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, “hinges on two main ambitions: stabilising the borders of Ukraine and providing the financially troubled country with a strong economic boost, particularly a new energy agreement ensuring security of gas supplies.”

Amusingly, this comes on the day when the WSJ leads with “On Hold: Merkel Gives Putin a Blunt Message. Germany’s Backing of Russia Sanctions Marks Breach in Pivotal European Relationship” in which we read that ” Angela Merkel spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin for at least the 30th time since the Ukraine crisis erupted. She had a blunt message, according to people briefed on the phone conversation: Call me if you have progress to report in defusing the conflict. That was July 20. The two leaders haven’t spoken since.” They may or may not have spoken since, but it is not because Putin has “no progress to report” – it’s because the two leaders have come to a secret agreement which will hardly make Ukraine, or most of Europe, not to mention the UN, happy as it requires that Crimea be permanently handed over to Russia in exchange for Russian gas, which has been cut off for a month now due to non-payment by Kiev. Here is how the deal came to happen:

Sources close to the secret negotiations claim that the first part of the stabilisation plan requires Russia to withdraw its financial and military support for the various pro-separatist groups operating in eastern Ukraine. As part of any such agreement, the region would be allowed some devolved powers. At the same time, the Ukrainian President would agree not to apply to join Nato. In return, President Putin would not seek to block or interfere with the Ukraine’s new trade relations with the European Union under a pact signed a few weeks ago.

Second, the Ukraine would be offered a new long-term agreement with Russia’s Gazprom, the giant gas supplier, for future gas supplies and pricing. At present, there is no gas deal in place; Ukraine’s gas supplies are running low and are likely to run out before this winter, which would spell economic and social ruin for the country. As part of the deal, Russia would compensate Ukraine with a billion-dollar financial package for the loss of the rent it used to pay for stationing its fleets in the Crimea and at the port of Sevastopol on the Black Sea until Crimea voted for independence in March.

Read more …

Go Abe go.

Japan’s Weak Yen Woes (Bloomberg)

Ask Japanese Internet millionaire Shinichi Nishikubo about Shinzo Abe’s weak yen and you’ll get an earful. Nishikubo is that rarity in Japan: a rebel entrepreneur who bets big and makes deals many contemporaries would never contemplate. Most famously, Nishikubo bought into money-losing budget airline Skymark in 2003 and took on its presidency a year later. Indeed, he got so into learning what airlines do that he took flying lessons. In 2010, he decided to soar higher. Peers shook their heads at news Nishikubo was ordering four Airbus A380s, later coming back for two more. A February 2011 Orient Aviation magazine headline summed it up succinctly: “Crazy or a Genius?” As that deal now implodes, many might answer “crazy.” Still, Abenomics deserves a share of the blame. Were Nishikubo’s ambitions bigger than demand for seats on his airline? Probably. But when he ordered that fleet of A380s, the yen was trading around 80 to the dollar. Its subsequent 20%-plus drop in value really smarts when you’re paying for planes that list at $414 million.

This is something Japan-watchers consistently seem to ignore. Prime Minister Abe’s devaluation is routinely couched as smart economic policy. But it’s disastrous for companies like airlines that buy fuel and aircraft – both prohibitively expensive in the best of times – priced in U.S. currency. Exchange rates clearly contributed to Nishikubo’s undoing. If Abe were looking through the economic lens of today, not one from 1994, he might engineer a stronger yen. On the one hand, a rising currency is about confidence; Japan’s weak-yen obsession comes more from insecurity. On the other, with nuclear reactors idled amid safety concerns, Japan’s energy needs have the economy importing inflation – the bad kind. Also, a lower yen runs contrary to Abe’s ambitions for Japan Inc. to expand abroad anew.

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The central bank wants to halt the bubble, while the government keeps on handing out interest free loans. Yeah, that should work …

UK Help to Buy Scheme Hits New High (Guardian)

More than 4,000 households in England used the government’s Help to Buy loan scheme to buy properties in June, the highest monthly total since the scheme began in 2013. The latest government data indicated more than 4,300 completions during the month, with more than 27,100 homes bought using the scheme. The figures refer to the first phase of Help to Buy, which offers buyers an interest-free loan worth up to 20% of the price of a new-build home. Data from the Department for Communities and Local Government showed that £1.1bn of loans had been offered, supporting purchases worth £5.65bn. More than two-thirds of buyers took the chance to take out a 95% mortgage, with the rest putting down larger deposits.

Nearly a third of sales were in the £150,001 to £200,000 price bracket, while a quarter involved homes costing less. A fifth were in the £200,001 and £250,000 bracket. The median value of properties bought through the scheme was £187,000. Loans are available on properties costing up to £600,000 and there is no upper limit on applicants’ incomes. The figures indicated that Help to Buy is not a major contributor to Britain’s galloping house market. Fewer than 250 households, or 0.9% of the Help to Buy total, had used the scheme to buy properties costing more than £500,000 while 3% of the total had household incomes in excess of £100,000 a year. More than eight out of 10 purchases were made by first-time buyers. The scheme, which went live in April 2013, was designed to kickstart construction by helping buyers with small deposits. The housing minister, Brandon Lewis, said the scheme was doing what it had been designed to achieve.

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Argentina Government Blames ‘Conspiracy’ For Defaulting On Debt (Guardian)

Argentina’s government was in a defiant mood on Thursday after defaulting on its debt for the second time in 13 years. Economy minister Axel Kicillof, speaking after 11th hour talks with bondholders in New York failed to avert a default, played down the impact it would have on the country’s citizens. “We’re not going to sign an agreement that jeopardises the future of all Argentinians,” he told a press conference in New York. “Argentinians can remain calm because tomorrow will just be another day and the world will keep on spinning.” Markets appeared to disagree, with Argentina’s Merval share index falling almost 7% on Thursday and the peso down more than 4% against the dollar. Analysts said a fall in Argentina’s currency would cause further pain in the country, pushing up the price of imports and driving inflation higher. Steen Jakobsen, chief economist at Saxo Bank, said the fallout would be difficult for a country where inflation is already 12% on official measures and 40% unofficially. “At a minimum we’ll see a loss of GDP of at least 1% if not 2%,” he said.

Argentina was already locked out of international capital markets following its earlier default in late 2001, and Neil Shearing, chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, said the latest default would be viewed as a local issue: “Confirmation that Argentina has officially fallen into default is likely to rattle local markets and has the potential to do significant damage to the domestic economy. But we suspect that contagion to other emerging markets is likely to be limited.” Argentina has been locked in a decade-long dispute with hold-out investors that the government has described as “vulture funds” – a group of US hedge funds led by billionaire Paul Singer’s NML Capital, an affiliate of Elliott Management. The vast majority of Argentina’s bondholders agreed to debt restructuring deals in 2005 and 2010 following its 2001 default, wiping off more than 70% of the value of their investment but securing regular interest payments. But the holdout investors refused the restructuring and are demanding repayment in full.

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Swaps still rule the world.

Argentina Debt Dilemma Spotlights Knotted World of Default Swaps (Bloomberg)

Whenever the knotted world of credit-default swaps is pushed to the forefront in a financial crisis, conspiracy theories abound. Argentina is no exception. Argentine Economy Minister Axel Kicillof described a group of so-called holdout creditors this week as “vulture funds” after failing to reach a restructuring agreement with them. Kicillof specifically directed his ire at credit swaps, a market, he said, that clouds the motives of creditors while leading to “the most wretched speculative capitalism that exists.” “When they present a solution you don’t know if it’s something you can believe at the negotiating table or if there’s something else that you’ll never know about happening outside that gives them greater benefits,” Kicillof told reporters at a July 30 news conference. Many bond buyers also own credit swaps as protection against losses or as a way to double down on a company’s creditworthiness. The dual roles can skew incentives because creditors will sometimes stand to profit more from a swaps payout than an issuer actually meeting its debt obligations.

One of Argentina’s holdout creditors is New York-based hedge fund Elliott Management Corp., which also sits on an industry committee that will determine whether investors who bought credit-swaps protection on the nation’s bonds are paid out. The $24.8 billion fund manager, run by billionaire Paul Singer, last year denied in a U.S. court that it owned credit swaps that would allow it to profit if the government halted payments. Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan are also among the 15 dealers and investors on the swaps committee. Both Wall Street titans are said to be negotiating to buy the defaulted bonds that Elliott and other creditors own. Citigroup is in talks to buy the securities, according to Buenos Aires-based newspaper Ambito, and discussions with JPMorgan are also ongoing, according to a bank official with knowledge of the situation.

Argentine Economy Minister Kicillof says the funds are like vultures since they prey on countries in distress and seek massive profits by squeezing governments through embargo attempts and lengthy litigation. Kicillof says Elliott is seeking a profit of 1,600% on its investment of defaulted bonds and would still make 300% if it accepted the restructuring terms. Argentina claims it can’t offer holdout creditors a better deal without violating a “rights upon future offers” clause in the restructured bonds that may trigger additional claims. The clause requires Argentina to extend to the restructured bondholders any improved terms it “voluntarily” offers holders of the defaulted bonds.

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Two Americans With Ebola to Be Flown Back to US (ABC)

Two American patients stricken with Ebola are being flown from Africa to the U.S., ABC News has learned. The patients, Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly, will be transported one by one, sources said. There are plans to transfer one of the patients to Emory University Hospital’s special facility containment unit within the next several days, hospital officials said in a statement. Officials added that it’s unclear when the patient will arrive in Atlanta. “Emory University Hospital has a specially built isolation unit set up in collaboration with the CDC to treat patients who are exposed to certain serious infectious diseases,” hospital officials said.

“It is physically separate from other patient areas and has unique equipment and infrastructure that provide an extraordinarily high level of clinical isolation. It is one of only four such facilities in the country.” “Emory University Hospital physicians, nurses and staff are highly trained in the specific and unique protocols and procedures necessary to treat and care for this type of patient. For this specially trained staff, these procedures are practiced on a regular basis throughout the year so we are fully prepared for this type of situation.”

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Worse fast.

California Breaks Drought Record As 58% Of State Hits Driest Level (LA Times)

More than half of California is now under the most severe level of drought for the first time since the federal government began issuing regular drought reports in the late 1990s, according to new data released Thursday. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor report, in July roughly 58% of California was considered to be experiencing an “exceptional” drought — the harshest on a five-level scale. A federal report says more than half of California is now in an exceptional drought and that current drought conditions are the worst in the state’s history. This is the first year that any part of California has seen that level of drought, let alone more than half of it, said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, which issued the report. “You keep beating the record, which are still all from this year,” he said.

The entire state has been in severe drought since May, but more of it has since fallen into more severe categories — “extreme” and “exceptional.” Nearly 22% more of California was added into the exceptional drought category in the last week alone. California is also more than a year’s worth of water short in its reservoirs and moisture in the state’s topsoil and subsoil has nearly been depleted, according to the report. “It’s hard because the drought is not over and you’re in the dry season. Our eyes are already on next winter,” Svoboda said. “Outside of some freakish atmospheric conditions, reservoir levels are going to continue to go down. You’re a good one to two years behind the eight ball.” The lowest reservoir levels on record were in 1977, Svoboda pointed out, but he said the vulnerability has increased as the state’s population has grown. “The bottom line is, there’s a lot of ground to make up,” he said. “Mother Nature can’t put it back in that fast.”

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