Jan 062018
 
 January 6, 2018  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Acrobat 1930

 

UPDATE: There still seems to be a problem with our Paypal widget/account that makes donating -both for our fund for homless and refugees in Greece, and for the Automatic Earth itself- hard for some people. What happens is that for some a message pops up that says “This recipient does not accept payments denominated in USD”. This is nonsense, we do. We notified Paypal weeks ago.

We have no idea how many people have simply given up on donating, but we can suggest a workaround (works like a charm):

Through Paypal.com, you can simply donate to an email address. In our case that is recedinghorizons *at* gmail *com*. Use that, and your donations will arrive where they belong. Sorry for the inconvenience.

 

 

 

Investors Should Be ‘Terrified’ About Dow 25,000 (CNBC)
QE Party Over, Even by the Bank of Japan (WS)
Why You Should Embrace the Twilight of the Debt Bubble Age (Gordon)
US Created Only 148,000 Jobs In December vs 190,000 Jobs Expected (CNBC)
Big Tech Will Get Bigger In 2018, While Smaller Players Look For Exits (CNBC)
Pension Fund Members Don’t Know Their Plans Are Underfunded (TA)
US Households May Rue Their Spending Exuberance Of 2017 (BBG)
Ghost of Weimar Looms Over German Politics (BBG)
Twitter Says World Leaders Like Trump Have Special Status (R.)
Trump Isn’t Another Hitler. He’s Another Obama. (CJ)
Fire and Fury (Jim Kunstler)
Trump Book Author Says His Revelations Will Bring Down US President (R.)

 

 

“”In the first three versions of the Goldilocks story, Goldilocks actually died horribly..”

Investors Should Be ‘Terrified’ About Dow 25,000 (CNBC)

Wall Street’s eye-popping gains should be of great concern to global investors, an analyst told CNBC on Friday. The Dow Jones industrial average broke above 25,000 on Thursday for the first time, following the release of stronger-than-expected jobs data. In terms of trading days, it was the fastest 1,000-point gain to a round number in the Dow’s history. The 30-stock index broke above 24,000 on Nov. 30, 23 trading days earlier. It took the Dow 24 trading days to go from 20,000 to 21,000 last year. “We’re really terrified,” Paul Gambles, managing partner at MBMG Group, told CNBC. When asked why he believed traders should avoid investing in stocks given the “Goldilocks” global growth conditions, Gambles said: “In the first three versions of the Goldilocks story, Goldilocks actually died horribly, and we think that could well happen again [to stocks].”

Gambles said that collective global growth at the level seen through 2017 was the GDP equivalent to a “blow-off top.” He added that similar levels of concerted worldwide growth were seen during previous financial crises and therefore the current risk to investors is “exponential.” The Dow gained 152 points on Thursday to 25,075, while the broader S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq also hit milestones. Earlier Thursday, ADP and Moody’s Analytics reported that the U.S. private sector added 250,000 jobs in December, well above the expected 190,000. In 2017, prices were supported by a rebound in global economic growth and renewed investor optimism that looming corporate tax cuts would result in bigger dividends and share buybacks. A low interest rate environment was also believed to make stocks a relatively attractive investment.

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All central banks making the same moves, except perhaps for China. Rattling nerves.

QE Party Over, Even by the Bank of Japan (WS)

An amazing – or on second thought, given how central banks operate, not so amazing – thing is happening. On one hand… Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda keeps saying that the BOJ would “patiently” maintain its ultra-easy monetary policy, so too in his first speech of 2018 in Tokyo, on January 3, when he said the BOJ must continue “patiently” with this monetary policy, though the economy is expanding steadily. The deflationary mindset is not disappearing easily, he said. On December 20, following the decision by the BOJ to keep its short-term interest-rate target at negative -0.1% and the 10-year bond yield target just above 0%, he’d brushed off criticism that this prolonged easing could destabilize Japan’s banking system. “Our most important goal is to achieve our 2% inflation target at the earliest date possible,” he said.

On the other hand… In reality, after years of blistering asset purchases, the Bank of Japan disclosed today that total assets on its balance sheet actually inched down by ¥444 billion ($3.9 billion) from the end of November to ¥521.416 trillion on December 31. While small, it was the first month-end to month-end decline since the Abenomics-designed “QQE” kicked off in late 2012. Under “QQE” – so huge that the BOJ called it Qualitative and Quantitative Easing to distinguish it from mere “QE” as practiced by the Fed at the time – the BOJ has been buying Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs), corporate bonds, Japanese REITs, and equity ETFs, leading to astounding month-end to month-end surges in the balance sheet. But now the “QQE Unwind” has commenced. Note the trend over the past 12 months and the first dip (red):

JGBs, the largest asset class on the BOJ’s balance sheet, fell by ¥2.9 trillion ($25 billion) from November 30 to ¥440.67 trillion on December 31. In other words, the BOJ has started to unload JGBs – probably by letting them mature without replacement, rather than selling them outright. Some other asset classes on its balance sheet increased, including equity ETFs, Japanese REITs, “Loans,” and “Others” On net, and from a distance, the first decrease of the BOJ’s assets in the era of Abenomics was barely noticeable. Total assets are still a massive pile, amounting to about 96% of Japan’s GDP (the Fed’s balance sheet amounts to about 23% of US GDP):

[..] None of this – neither the 12 months of “tapering” nor now the “QQE Unwind” – was announced. They happened despite rhetoric to the contrary. During peak QQE, the 12-month period ending December 31, 2016, the BOJ added ¥93.4 trillion (about $830 billion) to its balance sheet. Over the 12-month period ending December 31, 2017, it added “only” ¥44.9 trillion to its balance sheet. That’s down 52% from the peak. This chart shows the rolling 12-month change in the balance sheet in trillion yen, going back to the Financial Crisis:

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You might as well. But do get out of the way.

Why You Should Embrace the Twilight of the Debt Bubble Age (Gordon)

People are hard to please these days. Clients, customers, and cohorts – the whole lot. They’re quick to point out your faults and flaws, even if they’re guilty of the same derelictions. The recently retired always seem to have the biggest axe to grind. Take Jack Lew, for instance. He started off the New Year by sharpening his axe on the grinding wheel of the GOP tax bill. On Tuesday, he told Bloomberg Radio that the new tax bill will explode the debt and leave people sick and starving. “It’s a ticking time bomb in terms of the debt. “The next shoe to drop is going to be an attack on the most vulnerable in our society. How are we going to pay for the deficit caused by the tax cut? We are going to see proposals to cut health insurance for poor people, to take basic food support away from poor people, to attack Medicare and Social Security. One could not have made up a more cynical strategy.”

The tax bill, without question, is an impractical disaster. However, that doesn’t mean it’s abnormal. The Trump administration is merely doing what every other administration has done for the last 40 years or more. They’re running a deficit as we march onward towards default. We don’t like it. We don’t agree with it. But how we’re going to pay for it shouldn’t be a mystery to Lew. We’re going to pay for it the same way we’ve paid for every other deficit: with more debt. Of all people, Jack Lew should know this. If you recall, Lew was the United States Secretary of Treasury during former President Obama’s second term in office. Four consecutive years of deficits – totaling over $2 trillion – were notched on his watch.

[..] In truth, no one really cares about deficits and debt. Not former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Not current Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Not Trump. Not Obama. Not your congressional representative. Not Dick Cheney. Plain and simple, unless there are political points to score like Lew was aiming for this week, no one gives a doggone hoot about the debt problem. That’s a problem for tomorrow. Not today. Quite frankly, everyone loves government debt – DOW 25,000! Aging baby boomers know they need massive amounts of government debt to pay their social security, medicare, and disability checks. On top of that, many employed workers are really on corporate welfare. They’re dependent upon the benevolence of government contracts to provide their daily bread.

What’s more, in this crazy debt based fiat money system, the debt must perpetually increase or the whole financial system breaks down. Specifically, more debt is always needed to keep asset prices inflated and the wealth mirage visible. By providing a quick burst to the rate of debt increase, President Trump expects to get a quick burst to the rate of GDP growth. We suspect President Trump and his followers will be underwhelmed by what effect, if any, the tax cuts have on the economy. Time will tell. In the meantime, don’t fret about government deficits and debt. The political leaders may say deficits don’t matter. But they do matter. In fact, soon they’ll matter a lot. We’re in the twilight of the debt bubble age. Embrace it. Love it. What choice do you have, really?

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The drop in retail jobs in the holiday season stands out.

US Created Only 148,000 Jobs In December vs 190,000 Jobs Expected (CNBC)

The U.S. economy added a disappointing 148,000 jobs in December while the unemployment rate held at 4.1%, according to a closely watched Labor Department report Friday. Economists surveyed by Reuters had been expecting nonfarm payrolls to grow by 190,000. The total was well below the November pace of 252,000, which was revised up from the initially reported 228,000. An unexpected loss of 20,000 retail positions during the holiday season held back the headline number. The unemployment rate for blacks fell to 6.8%, its lowest ever. “A little bit of a disappointment when you only get 2,000 jobs out of the government and get retail at the absolute busiest time of the year losing 20,000 jobs. It just goes to show the true struggle that traditional brick and mortar is having now,” said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade. “Outside of that I actually thought it was a good report.”

Biggest gains came from health care (31,000), construction (30,000) and manufacturing (25,000). Bars and restaurants added 25,000, while professional and business services grew by 19,000. Average hourly earnings rose modestly to the same 2.5% annualized gain as in November. Federal Reserve policymakers were watching the jobs data closely, both for payroll gains and for wage growth. Though central bank economists estimate the jobs market is near full employment, wage pressures have remained muted. “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors, said of the lower-than-expected number. “I certainly don’t think this has any impact in terms of what the Fed will do in the future. The economy continues to be on solid footing.”

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Remember: we are the ones making big tech bigger by using their products. We don’t have to.

Big Tech Will Get Bigger In 2018, While Smaller Players Look For Exits (CNBC)

Last year was the year of the tech mega-cap, with the six most valuable companies in the world now coming from that industry. Yet, even with the consolidation of money and power, 2017 featured a notable dearth of large tech deals. Don’t expect 2018 to be so quiet. As Alphabet, Amazon and Apple expand their product portfolios and their market share, boards and CEOs of technology companies with less reach are being forced to consider if they can still thrive independently, said Robert Townsend, co-chair of global mergers and acquisitions at law firm Morrison & Foerster. On top of that, the tech giants are staring at a drop in corporate taxes starting in 2018, and they can bring some of the many billions of dollars they have stashed overseas back to the U.S. at a dramatically reduced tax rate.

“There’s truly getting to be a few companies at such a scale, like Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Alibaba and Tencent that the world is going to be like a barbell, with a large gap in between with humongous tech and IT service providers on one side and everyone else on the other,” Townsend said. “That’s an uncomfortable place to be if you’re not at the very top.” There were only three technology deals of more than $5 billion announced last year involving a U.S. buyer or seller – Toshiba’s memory chip sale to a consortium led by Bain Capital, Intel’s purchase of Mobileye, and Marvell’s takeover of Cavium, according to FactSet. A fourth hostile offer – Broadcom’s $103 billion bid for Qualcomm – was rejected late in the year. That marked a big dip from 2016, when 12 tech deals over $5 billion were announced. Among them was Microsoft’s $26 billion purchase of LinkedIn and Tencent’s $8.6 billion acquisition of game developer Supercell.

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All over the western world, this may be the no. 1 problem. Lies, ignorance and evaporated entitlements. Ponzi 2.0.

Pension Fund Members Don’t Know Their Plans Are Underfunded (TA)

U.S. public pension fund members are generally unaware that their pension is underfunded and of the risk this poses, according to a survey released Thursday by Spectrem Group. The study also reveals a wide gap between how members want their pension funds managed and the actual approach many managers take. The survey, conducted online in the second half of November, compared CalPERS and NYC Retirement Systems (NYC Funds) against a “national” group, comprising individuals from the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the Florida Retirement System, the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System and The Teacher Retirement System of Texas, as well as a small group from other public pension plans.

All told, 807 CalPERS members, 771 NYC Funds members and 1,687 “national” members responded to the survey. The survey results showed that 48% of members said they would rely on their pension for at least half of their retirement income. 92% of respondents considered their pension fund’s ability to generate returns at or above its target level important or very important, and 93% said the same about their fund’s ability to generate returns at or above overall market performance. In both instances, CalPERS members were the respondents most likely to identify these things as important or very important. 95% of respondents believed the fund’s ability to effectively manage risk was important or very important. “There’s a clear disconnect between pension fund managers, who are testing new investment styles and strategies, and members, who would prefer to see their pension fully funded,” Spectrem Group president George Walper said in a statement.

“Pension fund managers should refocus their efforts on the wants and needs of their investors, prioritizing investment decisions to maximize performance, while limiting votes to shareholder proposals that directly impact their fund and its members.” [..] 56% of members surveyed believed they are very well or moderately informed about their pension’s actual investment return, 54% about its target investment return, 60% about expenses and fees paid and 61% about the benefit structure. They were less confident in their knowledge of the costs associated with shareholder activism, the composition and investing experience of the fund’s board and the amount of time fund managers spent reviewing and voting on shareholder proposals.

However, the survey results uncovered a clear gap in how much members really knew about their pension’s actual performance and funding level. 40% of members believed their funds had performed in line with the market for the past few years — often not the case, according to Spectrem. 46% of NYC Funds members believe their pension fund has outperformed the market, when in fact their returns have been below both market performance and their target level. Likewise, 42% of CalPERS members held this mistaken belief.

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Yes, but MAGA…

US Households May Rue Their Spending Exuberance Of 2017 (BBG)

Will 2018 be the year of the household hangover? The latest data on the saving rate, which broke under 3% to 2.9% in November, the lowest since 2007, suggest that an encore to the ebullient buying over the holidays will not happen in the new year. Without a doubt, households are as buoyant as they’ve been in years. In the most recent consumer confidence report, only 15.2% of those surveyed reported jobs were “hard to get,” a 16-year low. The few economists who have forecast that the unemployment rate would fall below 4% are looking prescient. So what’s to follow? Barring a repeat of 2017’s natural disasters, demand for employment seems likely to ebb headed into the second half of the year. Supply chains will be restored, tempering the need for emergency workers, and the auto recession disrupted by hurricanes Harvey and Irma appears set to resume.

In a recent report, Moody’s Vice President Rita Sahu maintained her stable outlook for the U.S. banking sector for 2018, citing the benefits of a rising rate environment and that ultralow unemployment rate. Aside from signs that the commercial sector is “overheating,” Sahu pointed to auto loans and credit cards as “negative outliers.” “Auto loan delinquencies are above pre-crisis levels at around 2.3%,” Sahu warned, “and credit card charge-offs have increased sharply to around 3.6% as of the third quarter 2017.” Those levels of distress are tame compared with dedicated non-bank lenders who are seeing 90-day serious delinquency rates run at four times those of conventional banks and credit unions.

Credit cards are merely the next step along households’ path to living beyond their means. The decline in the saving rate is the mirror image of consumer credit outstanding as it’s ballooned in recent years. As has been heavily reported, student loans have been responsible for the bulk of the buildup, followed by car loans. Over the last two years, however, credit card growth has acted as an accelerant, outpacing income growth at an increasing pace. By its very nature, credit card debt gets more expensive to carry with every rate hike the Federal Reserve pushes through. What is perhaps most unsettling in the lack of alarm among conventional economists is that so much of the debt in the current cycle is unsecured.

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Maybe the biggest problem is that there’s no successor for Merkel.

Ghost of Weimar Looms Over German Politics (BBG)

Across the cobbled square in the city of Weimar where Germany’s national assembly met in 1919, plans to mark that first, stumbling attempt at a democratic government have taken on greater significance in recent weeks. The new center for events dedicated to the short-lived Weimar Republic is due to open in 2020, but it’s already a timely reminder of the past as the country struggles with political gridlock and the rise of the far right. The upheaval that preceded World War II and the need to avoid any repeat have cast a long shadow since Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected in September with no obvious coalition partner. While no-one is predicting a return to fascism, the unexpected threat of instability at the heart of Europe’s biggest economy has alarmed business and political leaders alike.

“We couldn’t have imagined that the issue of the danger to democracy and the Weimar Republic would become so contemporary,” Weimar’s mayor, Stefan Wolf, said at his office overlooking a square flanked by the 16th century St. Peter and Paul Church. The historic echoes reflect Merkel’s tarnished election victory and Germany’s slipped halo as Europe’s anchor of liberal stability. But Weimar also serves as a powerful reminder of Germany’s sense of collective responsibility to ensure the lessons of the descent into Nazi dictatorship and war are learnt by each new generation. The current dilemma stems from the erosion of support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc and the Social Democrats, which have governed together for eight of her 12 years in office.

As backing for the two main parties ebbed, a wrench has been thrown into coalition-building, with the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany a prime beneficiary: it swept into parliament for the first time last year with almost 13% of the vote. According to a detailed account in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Merkel invoked Weimar to her party colleagues, reminding them of the reasons for the collapse of the grand coalition under Chancellor Hermann Mueller in 1930 in an attempt to steel them for compromise. Former Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, now Bundestag president, also recalled the need to remember the lessons of the Weimar Republic, whose collapse led to Adolf Hitler ramming through dictatorial powers three years later. “Too much polarization – meaning a competition for who’s the best anti-fascist combatant – ultimately only strengthens the right,” he said in an interview with Die Welt published on Dec. 27.

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Where would Twitter be without Trump?

Twitter Says World Leaders Like Trump Have Special Status (R.)

Twitter on Friday reiterated its stance that accounts belonging to world leaders have special status on the social media network, pushing back against users who have called on the company to banish U.S. President Donald Trump. “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” Twitter said in a post on a corporate blog. Twitter had already said in September that “newsworthiness” and whether a tweet is “of public interest” are among the factors it considers before removing an account or a tweet. The debate over Trump’s tweeting, though, raged anew after Trump said from his @realDonaldTrump account on Tuesday that he had a “much bigger” and “more powerful” nuclear button than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Critics said that tweet and Trump’s continued presence on the network endanger the world and violate Twitter’s ban on threats of violence. Some users protested at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters on Wednesday. Twitter responded in its blog post that even if it did block a world leader, doing so would not silence that leader. The company said that it does review tweets by world leaders and enforces its rules accordingly, leaving open the possibility that it could take down some material posted by them. “No one person’s account drives Twitter’s growth, or influences these decisions,” the company added. “We work hard to remain unbiased with the public interest in mind.”

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Caitlin Johnstone provides balance.

Trump Isn’t Another Hitler. He’s Another Obama. (CJ)

Not a lot of people remember this, but George W Bush actually campaigned in 2000 against the interventionist foreign policy that the United States had been increasingly espousing. Far from advocating the full-scale regime change ground invasions that his administration is now infamous for, Bush frequently used the word “humble” when discussing the type of foreign policy he favored, condemning nation-building, an over-extended military, and the notion that America should be the world’s police force. Eight years later, after hundreds of thousands of human lives had been snuffed out in Iraq and Afghanistan and an entire region horrifically destabilized, Obama campaigned against Bush’s interventionist foreign policy, edging out Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries partly because she had supported the Iraq invasion while he had condemned it.

The Democrats, decrying the warmongering tendencies of the Republicans, elected a President of the United States who would see Bush’s Afghanistan and Iraq and raise him Libya, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia, along with a tenfold increase in drone strikes. Libya collapsed into a failed state where a slave trade now runs rampant, and half a million people died in the Syrian war that Obama and US allies exponentially escalated. Eight years later, a reality TV star and WWE Hall-of-Famer was elected President of the United States by the other half of the crowd who was sick to death of those warmongering Democrats. Trump campaigned on a non-interventionist foreign policy, saying America should fight terrorists but not enter into regime change wars with other governments. He thrashed his primary opponents as the only one willing to unequivocally condemn Bush and his actions, then won the general election partly by attacking the interventionist foreign policy of his predecessor and his opponent, and criticizing Hillary Clinton’s hawkish no-fly zone agenda in Syria.

Now he’s approved the selling of arms to Ukraine to use against Russia, a dangerously hawkish move that even Obama refused to make for fear of increasing tensions with Moscow. His administration has escalated troop presence in Afghanistan and made it abundantly clear that the Pentagon has no intention of leaving Syria anytime soon despite the absence of any reasonable justification for US presence there. The CIA had ratcheted up operations in Iran six months into Trump’s presidency, shortly before the administration began running the exact same script against that country that the Obama administration ran on Libya, Syria and Ukraine. Maybe US presidents are limited to eight years because that’s how long it takes the public to forget everything.

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Trump depends on bubbles.

Fire and Fury (Jim Kunstler)

Is he fit for office? This question hangs in the air of the DC swamp like a necrotic odor that can’t be seen while it can’t be ignored. In a way, the very legitimacy of the republic comes into question — if Trump is the best we can do, maybe the system itself isn’t what it was cracked up to be. And then why would we think that removing him from office would make things better? How’s that for an existential quandary? We’re informed in The New York Times today that “Everyone in Trumpworld Knows He’s an Idiot,” though “moron” (Rex Tillerson) and “dope” (General H.R. McMaster) figure in there as well. Imagine all the energy it must take for everyone in, say, the cabinet room to pretend that the chief executive belongs in his chair at the center.

It reminds me of that old poker game, “Indian,” where each player holds a hole card pressed outward from his forehead for all to see but him. Ill winds are blowing and dire forces are converging. Do you think that it’s a wonderful thing that the Dow Jones Industrial Average just bashed through the 25,000 gate? The President obviously thinks so. And, of course, he’s egged on by all the fawning economic viziers selling stories about a booming economy of waiters, bartenders, and espresso jockeys. But, I tell you as sure as there is a yesterday, today, and tomorrow, those stock indexes, grand as they seem, are teetering on the brink of something awesomely sickening. And when they go over that no-bid Niagara cascade into the maelstrom, Mr. Trump’s boat will be going over the falls with them.

It’s an unappetizing spectacle to watch such a tragic arc play out. After all, these are the lives of fragile, lonely, human creatures trying hard to fathom their fate. You have to feel a little sorry for them as you would feel sorry even for a sad little peccary going down one of those quicksand holes in the Okeefenokee Swamp. Surely, many feel that these are simply evil times in which goodness and mercy are AWOL. I’m not sure exactly how this story ends, but it is beginning to look like a choice between a bang and a whimper.

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How to sell your book: Make outrageous claims.

Trump Book Author Says His Revelations Will Bring Down US President (R.)

The author of a book that is highly critical of Donald Trump’s first year as U.S. president said his revelations were likely to bring an end to Trump’s time in the White House. Michael Wolff told BBC radio that his conclusion in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” that Trump is not fit to do the job was becoming a widespread view. “I think one of the interesting effects of the book so far is a very clear emperor-has-no-clothes effect,” Wolff said in an interview broadcast on Saturday. “The story that I have told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says he can’t do his job,” Wolff said. “Suddenly everywhere people are going ‘oh my God, it’s true, he has no clothes’. That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end … this presidency.” Trump has dismissed the book as full of lies. It depicts a chaotic White House, a president who was ill-prepared to win the office in 2016, and Trump aides who scorned his abilities.

Read more …

Nov 262017
 
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Gallica Great Paris Flood 1910

 

The World’s Twin Asset Bubbles Could Collapse Under Their Own Weight (Filia)
Atlas Stumbles – Inequality And Macroeconomics At A Crossroads (DDMB)
Europeans Still Love Paying Cash, Even if They Don’t Know It (BBG)
Echoes of Weimar Republic as Germans Lose Knack Of Coalition-Building (G.)
EU Demands In Next Round Of Talks Set To Enrage Cabinet Brexiteers (Ind.)
Catalan Leader Doubles Down on Independence Pledge (BBG)
The End of the Age of Benevolence (Marion)
Greeks Cutting Down On Food Due To Overtaxation (K.)
Libya Navy Says Over 30 Migrants Dead, 200 Rescued Off Coast (AFP)
Mexico’s Vast New Ocean Reserve To Protect ‘Galapagos of North America’ (G.)

 

 

Very interesting transcript of a MacroVoices talk with fund manager Francesco Filia. It doesn’t really fit into the Debt Rattle format, so go to Zero Hedge to read it all.

The World’s Twin Asset Bubbles Could Collapse Under Their Own Weight (Filia)

I think the equity bubble is quite uncontroversial, is quite unambiguous. There are a lot of different valuation metrics for those that care to look into them. They’ve been valid for over a hundred years of modern financial markets. And this time is no different in that respect. There are the usual metrics that the valuation guys are looking at, like financial assets to disposable income that shows that this market is way more expensive than at any point in history including the big dot com bubble and the Lehman moment in 2007-2008. But there are other metrics like the Buffett Indicator (market cap on GDP), the median debt on total assets, the corporate debt to GDP, the price on sales, the price to book, enterprise value on sales, enterprise value on EBITDA – there are a number of different metrics. They all convene that this is a market bubble that has not been seen before in history.

But we at Fasanara, we developed our own indicator just to try to add something to what was available already. And we started with one of the most famous of all the indicators in this respect, which is the Shiller adjusted PE ratio, or the CAPE ratio. This is the most famous of them. Professor Shiller got a Nobel Prize in 2013 for it. And for his studies on market inefficiencies and for the ability to infer future expected returns from valuation metrics such as the Shiller PE. And, based on the Shiller PE, what it does is simply to compare current prices to not spot earnings of foreign earnings, but a more reliable measure of the average of the last ten years and adjusted for inflation. So the average of the last ten years of real earnings. And on the basis of this index, we find out that the market is as expensive and just a little bit less expensive than it was in 1929 during the Great Depression, the peak of the market before the biggest collapse in equity prices ever seen, and the year 2000. So just slightly cheaper than the year 2000.

What we do is an evolution of the Hussman PE ratio (which is taken from the Shiller ratio) which is to compare – kind of putting all in the basket. So we put the peak earnings as opposed to average earnings, and for peak earnings we really mean the peak. We take the two top quarters over the last 40 quarters. So we cannot really be seen as being any more generous to the current markets, we take the two peak quarters of the last 40 quarters. And then what we do is we compare these peak earnings to potential growth, or trend growth. Because the point here is that what you pay in terms of stocks, should compare, not just to the past or the earnings of proposition, but also to the overall economy generally. Because if the overall economy has a lower potential growth you should be expecting to be able to pay less in terms of multiples than otherwise. The overall economy has a big correlation to earnings and to profit margins, so you should expect the potential growth rate of the economy to be quite relevant when it comes to PE multiples.

There can be a catalyst. Or there can be no catalyst. If you talk about catalysts, I could argue that can be inflation, for example. At the moment, we have seen that inflation resurfaced. We have seen some tightness in the job market. It has not translated yet into wages growth and therefore inflation. But we could just be about to see that. And, in that case, rates would rise and they would provoke as a catalyst the kind of downfall that we expect. Or the catalyst could be political. A lot of quantitative easing is being created and it is benefiting only the top 1% of the population. And it is resulting in this so-called income inequality concept.

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“Crap in, crap out? That’s how we make policy?”

Atlas Stumbles – Inequality And Macroeconomics At A Crossroads (DDMB)

Here’s a news flash: “We don’t want a boom-bust situation.” If you’ll pardon the cynicism, Janet Yellen has chosen now, the twilight of her time at the Fed to discover the words and wisdom of Ludwig Von Mises, father of the Austrian economic school of thought, detractor of the perils of malinvestment? Now?? More to the point, it’s a real trick to not want something we’ve had for over 30 years. As for being flummoxed on stubbornly low inflation, as Yellen contends, that in 2017 inflation is “more of a mystery” than ever, allow an outtake from Fed Up to shed some light. For the record, Janet Yellen was in attendance at the 2014 Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting at which the following scene took place.

“Anything but bashful at his first FOMC meeting, Governor (Stanley) Fischer asked why the Fed relied on the core personal consumption expenditure (PCE) measure of inflation. Fischer said he lived his life by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), as did his children. In his opinion, the only realistic measures of inflation were the CPI and the Dallas Fed Trimmed Mean PCE. (I bet Fisher got a kick out of that, since this relatively young metric had been nurtured under his leadership.) One brave Fed staffer explained that the models the Fed used to set interest rates wouldn’t function if they didn’t use PCE. The no-nonsense Bullard jumped in. “Let me get this straight,” Bullard said, according to a Fed official who was present. “Crap in, crap out? That’s how we make policy?” It’s the model. It’s broken and it has been for years. Stop using it. Mystery solved. Next?

On this Fed Meeting Minutes Wednesday, now that we can safely speak of the end of the Yellen (Greenspan, Bernanke) mega-era, could we please petition Jay Powell and the new regime to stop doctoring the minutes from FOMC meetings in an effort to herald honest and true ‘transparency’ in future Fed communique? After all, it was Yellen herself who brazenly called for manipulating the minutes, in recorded Fed transcripts, no less. She had this to say at the December 2008 meeting at which policymakers voted to take the fed funds rate to the zero bound: “We could also consider using the FOMC minutes to provide quantitative information on our expectations.” Could ‘we’ not instead?

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What you call a leading title. Of course they know. Cashless doesn’t work in Germany at all. Think that’s just some weird coincidence?

Europeans Still Love Paying Cash, Even if They Don’t Know It (BBG)

Digital currencies may be getting all the buzz these days, but notes and coins still reign supreme in most of Europe. Cash made up around 79% of everyday payments across the euro area last year, according to a ECB study. Almost a quarter of consumers also kept some cash at home as a precaution, and 20% said they had a high-denomination note – €200 ($237) or €500 – in their possession in the year before the survey was conducted. As the study notes, the results “challenge the perception that cash is rapidly being replaced by cashless means of payment.” The picture differs across the 19 member states though. Cash is most dominant in southern Europe, Germany, Austria and Slovenia, where it in accounts for 80% of all payment transactions at point-of-sale.

That figures drops to 45-54% in the Netherlands, Estonia and Finland. The study also found that many people don’t actually know their own payment habits. When asked how they prefer to pay, a larger share of respondents said card, not cash. That may be because nearly two-thirds of all transactions are below €15, the report said. Purchases of coffee and lottery tickets don’t stick in the mind as much as, say, a new pair of shoes. The experience of some countries shows how things can change though. While contactless cards accounted for just 1% of payments across the euro area in 2016, the figure was almost 10% for the tech-savvy Netherlands. The authors of the study say that the small size of contactless payments – 81% of transactions are below €25 – give the technology great potential.

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Power blocks fall apart all over. Germany better be careful. Merkel’s wounded, and she’s all they’ve known for 12 years.

Echoes of Weimar Republic as Germans Lose Knack Of Coalition-Building (G.)

For years, German politics were both mocked and admired for being too uneventful to the point of tedium. Only recently the lack of drama inside the reconstructed Reichstag’s circular plenary chamber led to calls for a more confrontational, Westminster-style approach. But as old geopolitical certainties have crumbled over the past 18 months, Berlin’s consensual, unexcitable style of policymaking has won new admirers. The collapse of talks to form the next coalition government have exposed Angela Merkel’s diminished authority. Many are now beginning to wonder if the division wrought on Britain and the US by Brexit and Donald Trump has also descended on Europe’s biggest economy.

With Merkel’s last coalition partners, the Social Democratic party (SPD) and the Free Democrats (FDP), more eager on parliamentary opposition than on government posts, and an already ultra-oppositional Alternative für Deutschland hoping to receive a further boost from the political standstill, commentators in Germany have started to evoke the darkest days of the Weimar Republic, when short-lived minority governments ruled by emergency decrees. “Like in Weimar, the federal republic is now a multiparty system in which extreme parties have begun to paralyse the working of the parliamentary democracy,” wrote Stephen Szabo, an expert on US-German relations.

“Germany’s obsession with stability was largely a result of reforms aimed at avoiding the mistakes of the Weimar Republic,” said Anthony Glees, a historian at the University of Buckingham. “In spite of a proportional vote system, a 5% threshold for smaller parties guaranteed that postwar Germany was for decades a two-party state, where the power would lie safely in the centre.” With polls for possible fresh elections next year predicting that both Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the SDP could drop below 30% while support for the FDP, the AfD, the Greens and the Left party continues to grow, Glees said, “that system is now biting Germany in the leg”.

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A bitter divorce lurks.

EU Demands In Next Round Of Talks Set To Enrage Cabinet Brexiteers (Ind.)

EU negotiators are already laying the groundwork to hit the UK with demands in the next stage of Brexit talks that are unacceptable to key figures in Theresa May’s Cabinet, The Independent can reveal. Leaked documents show chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier wants to make giving the UK a good transition deal conditional on Britain’s “automatic” acceptance of new Brussels regulations during the likely two-year period after March 2019. The plan, set out to EU leaders behind closed doors, would leave the UK with no say over rules it accepts during the transition and is likely to enrage Brexiteers in the Cabinet like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Liam Fox, who are determined 2019 should be the last year Britain takes new rules from Brussels.

[..] The papers consist of a presentation, drawn up by Mr Barnier for the EU27’s representatives, in which he says any UK transition out of the EU must involve the “automatic application in the UK of new EU rules post-30 March 2019”. The chief negotiator is clear Britain would have “no institutional rights, no presence in the institutions” and “no voting rights” under his plan, meaning the UK would end up following rules made in the interests of the remaining member states and even incorporating them into British law with no control of how they are formed. Any potential conflict over the transition has yet to surface because the EU has said it will not discuss future arrangements on that or trade until the three withdrawal issues have made “sufficient progress”. But the leak shows the direction the bloc is taking behind the scenes and indicates probable obstacles to agreement in future rounds of talks.

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Will Rajoy ban the independence parties altogether?

Catalan Leader Doubles Down on Independence Pledge (BBG)

Ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont pitched his candidacy ahead of next month’s regional election, doubling down on his pledge to make the region an independent state. Puigdemont, who maintains he’s the legitimate regional president after being sacked by the central government, will lead a new platform under the banner of Together for Catalonia. He said on Saturday a victory at the polls on Dec. 21 would serve to ratify his mandate and send a signal to the European Union, which has repeatedly sided with the government of Mariano Rajoy against unilateral attempts for independence. “The people of Catalonia have shown the world we have the capacity and the will to become an independent state,” Puigdemont told an audience in Bruges, Belgium, where he’s been staying since declaring independence last month.

“On Dec. 21, we must ratify that.” The independence movement is trying to reshape its message after the Rajoy administration invoked unprecedented constitutional powers to oust the regional government and take direct control of the wealthy region. The Madrid government acted after the ill-fated independence declaration that led thousands of local companies move their registered address. Puigdemont remains in Belgium awaiting a court decision to execute a European arrest order from a Spanish judge on charges of rebellion that could see him jailed for as long as 30 years. He blamed authorities in Madrid for limiting his ability to campaign. Rajoy’s administration has accused him of fleeing the nation to escape legal responsibilities.

Catalonia Deputy President Oriol Junqueras and half the ousted regional cabinet remain in prison, pending trial on the same charges unless a judge opts to release them. The question remains whether they’ll be able to campaign if the Supreme Court, which is handling the case, finds sufficient grounds to order their release while the investigation continues.

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“..we have reached peak denial in our civilization and whether we like it or not reality is about to make a come back.”

The End of the Age of Benevolence (Marion)

Some evenings I sit on the sofa in the family room with my teenage daughter and watch a TV program with her. I leave the choice of the show to her, it matters little to me, and when she finds something she likes she sits next to me, puts her head on my shoulder, and snuggles up for the hour it takes to watch whatever it is she’s chosen. It’s our time. Occasionally we’ll sneak in another twenty or thirty minutes to the objection of her mother but I like my time with her so I put up with the raised eyebrows and the, “She’s got school tomorrow,” scoldings. It’s important to me that she knows I love her, that I want to spend time with her and that she feels safe when she is with me. Someday, when she is a grown woman I want her to find a man that will take care of her and protect her like I do. I expect no less from a suitor and neither should she.

There will be women who read this who will object to my stance. They will say, “She doesn’t need a man to feel safe or validated or content,” but I would disagree. When she gets older she’ll need a good man, not just any man, and that’s as true today as much as it was ten years, twenty years, fifty years, one hundred years and even one thousand years ago. And it will become even more so as time goes on. Indeed, we have reached peak denial in our civilization and whether we like it or not reality is about to make a come back. The freedom that we have enjoyed in the west and the modern democracies that have sprung forth from our evolving and enlightened philosophies over the past few hundred years are not a given. Granted, they are preferable outcomes given our natural state but politically speaking they are an anomaly in the history of mankind and not the norm.

As such, democracy and the systems, social structures and institutions that have grown up around them are grossly misunderstood by the vast majority of the western world. Most of the people living in the west today have been raised to believe that democracy is a moral system of governance and that it is our gift to the rest of mankind. But democracy is not an inherently moral system nor is it a guarantor of linear, progressive political growth. At its root democracy is quite simple. It is the exercise of political power by the majority over the minority. It is the power to choose in matters of politics. This, of course, begs the question: to choose what? Since choices in general (and political ones are no exception) can be either good or bad, in this case, both for the individual and the body politic, then it follows that democracy is neither.

It is nothing more than a tool for decision making where the majority holds the power to make decisions that affect everyone, either for better or for worse. Democracy is, therefore, a reflection of the character of the people who exercise it. Additionally, democracy is also the use of soft force. That is, the minority bends to the will of the majority on political matters and the apparatus of the state is responsible for carrying out its demands. The minority consents, willingly or unwillingly not because violence is present but because, by the state’s presence, it is implied. More importantly, though, democracy is a luxury that is preceded by benevolence but does not necessarily guarantee its continuance or creation if forgotten.

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Tragedy. Entirely unnecessary.

Greeks Cutting Down On Food Due To Overtaxation (K.)

Overtaxation has forced Greeks to cut down on grocery spending, as IRI Hellas researchers have found that supermarket sales in the January-September 2017 period were 6.7% below the level recorded two years earlier and 7.4% below the 2014 level. Consumers have become bargain hunters out of necessity, not only because of the proliferation of special offers at supermarket but also due to the hikes in value-added tax and the special consumption taxes on most everyday products, on top of the direct tax obligations that households have to meet.

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Even more tragic. And just as avoidable.

Libya Navy Says Over 30 Migrants Dead, 200 Rescued Off Coast (AFP)

More than 30 migrants died and 200 were rescued on Saturday after their boats foundered off Libya’s western coast, the Libyan navy said. The coastguard conducted two rescue operations off the city of Garabulli, 60 kilometres (40 miles) east of Tripoli, spokesman Colonel Abu Ajila Abdelbarri said. He added that patrols had found 31 bodies and 60 survivors from one boat, while all 140 passengers had survived in a second boat. “When we arrived at the spot, we found an inflatable dinghy with several people clinging to part of it,” he said. Libyan navy spokesman Ayoub Qassem told AFP that 18 women and three children were among the dead recovered from the sea, while 40 people were missing.

Migrants from Somalia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria and four from Pakistan were among those rescued. Libyan patrol boat commander Nasser al-Ghammoudi said one of the vessels was three-quarters under water when the coastguard arrived. “We looked for other survivors for more than five hours,” he said. “We were able to rescue one woman after we heard her shouts.” A French NGO, SOS Mediterranee, said later Saturday that it had rescued more than 400 people from a stricken wooden boat in international waters further from the Libyan coast. Other rescue operations were ongoing on Saturday evening, the Italian coastguard told AFP. Italy’s coastguard, which coordinates the rescue effort in international waters, reported that a total of 1,500 people had been saved on Thursday and Friday.

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It’s not that vast, really.

Mexico’s Vast New Ocean Reserve To Protect ‘Galapagos of North America’ (G.)

Mexico’s government has created the largest ocean reserve in North America around a Pacific archipelago regarded as its crown jewel. The measures will help ensure the conservation of marine creatures including whales, giant rays and turtles. The protection zone spans 57,000 sq miles (150,000 sq km) around the Revillagigedo islands, which lie 242 miles (390 km) south-west of the Baja California peninsula. Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, announced the decision in a decree that also bans mining and the construction of new hotels on the islands. He said on Saturday that the decree reaffirmed the country’s “commitment to the preservation of the heritage of Mexico and the world”. The four volcanic islands that make up the Revillagigedo archipelago, called the Galapagos of North America, are part of a submerged volcanic mountain range.

The surrounding waters, east of Hawaii, are home to hundreds of species of animals and plants, including rays, humpback whales, sea turtles, lizards and migratory birds. The local ecosystem is central to the lives of some 400 species of fish, sharks and ray that depend on the nutrients drawn up by the ocean. The area is a breeding ground for commercially fished species such as tuna and sierra. However, the various fish populations had suffered, unable to reproduce fast enough for the rate at which they were fished. The creation of a marine reserve is expected to help them to recover, as all fishing activities will now be prohibited. This will be policed by the Mexican navy.

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