Aug 302018
 
 August 30, 2018  Posted by at 8:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse Trivaux pond 1916-17

 

Trump Says ‘No Reason’ For Military Exercises With South Korea (CNBC)
NATO Think Tank Continues Pre-Election Interference (RPI)
Whistleblower Exposes Key Player in FBI Russia Probe: “It Was A Set-Up” (SC)
CNN Lies About Cohen Story, Refuses to Comment (Greenwald)
The Media’s Chronic Misreporting on the Trump/Russia Story (Greenwald)
Russian Oligarch, DOJ And A Clear Case Of Collusion (ZH)
India’s Rupee Falls To An All-Time Low (CNBC)
Trade War Won’t Cause ‘Major’ Hit To China’s Economy – Morgan Stanley (CNBC)
Argentina Asks IMF For Early Release Of Standby Funds (R.)
Pound Sterling Rallies As Raab And Barnier Turn Optimistic On Brexit (Ind.)
EU’s Barnier Says Must Prepare For A ‘No-Deal’ Brexit (R.)
Car Manufacturing In Britain Fell By 11% In July (G.)
1000s Of British Expats Living In Spain Return To UK As Brexit Nears (Exp.)

 

 

“Trump’s announcement came a day after Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that there were no plans to cancel future exercises with South Korea.”

Trump Says ‘No Reason’ For Military Exercises With South Korea (CNBC)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday indicated that the U.S. will not participate in joint military exercises with South Korea, citing his “warm” relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, even as U.S. efforts to denuclearize the reclusive dictatorship have stalled. “There is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games,” Trump said in a string of tweets Wednesday. Trump’s announcement came a day after Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that there were no plans to cancel future exercises with South Korea.

“As you know, we took this step to suspend several of the larger exercises as a good-faith measure coming out of the Singapore summit,” Mattis said Tuesday at the Pentagon. It was his first press briefing in five months, a timeline that has included President Donald Trump’s high-profile meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises. We will work very closely, as I said, with the secretary of State and what he needs done,” he added, noting that forces on the Korean Peninsula have continued with small-scale training exercises.

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On the Atlantic Council’s board: Henry Kissinger, Michael Hayden and Michael Chertoff. These are the people ‘advising’ Facebook on content.

NATO Think Tank Continues Pre-Election Interference (RPI)

On August 24 what is in effect the social media warfare division of the Atlantic Council published an article accusing the Russian television and print news outlet RT of running a one-sided attack against the Democratic Party and several leaders thereof ahead of this November’s politically pivotal Senate and House of Representatives elections. (Thirty-five Senate seats and all 435 House seats are being contested.) The Atlantic Council, until recently kept comparatively in the shadows for obvious reasons, is a think tank that has more than any other organization effected the transition of the NATO from a seeming Cold War relic with the break-up of the Warsaw Pact and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 to the world’s only and history’s first international military network with 70 members and partners on six continents currently.

All thirteen new full member states are in Eastern and Central Europe; four of them border Russia. Three months ago it began collaborating with Facebook to police and censor that and (presumably) soon after other social media companies which in recent decades have become the major sources of information and communication for the seven billion citizens of the planet. No modest undertaking. This is by way of follow up to a Directive on Social Media issued four years ago by NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), the bloc’s military command in Europe (which also oversees activities in Israel and until the activation of U.S. Africa Command ten years ago almost all of Africa).

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Excellent from Sara Carter. I took these snippets to make the point that both Flynn and Papadopoulos feel threatened by Mueller, and can’t afford to defend themselves. That’s how Mueller gets guilty pleas.

Whistleblower Exposes Key Player in FBI Russia Probe: “It Was A Set-Up” (SC)

Halper was not only spying on Page for the FBI in 2016, but he had also made contact in September 2016 with another Trump campaign volunteer, George Papadopoulos. He invited Papadopoulos to London that September, luring him with a $3,000 paycheck to work on a research paper under contract. By this time the young Trump campaign volunteer had already been in contact London-based professor, Josef Mifsud, who had basically informed him that the Russians had damaging material about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Misfud’s role has also come into question by Congress. Eventually, Papadopoulos was swept into Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation and pled guilty to one count of lying to the FBI.

His wife, Simona Papadopoulos, who’s been a vocal advocate for her husband, told SaraACarter.com that essentially he was forced to plead guilty because of threats from Mueller’s team and lack of financial resources. After testifying behind closed doors last month to the House Intelligence Committee, Simona told this outlet that she testified to Congress “as far as George is concerned, he met with individuals following the same pattern of behavior….and all of a sudden (Halper) was asking if he was doing anything with Russians…. This is the case with Halper, who is now proven to be a spy, possibly with (Australian Ambassador) Alexander Downer” who her husband met with in London.

[..] Flynn’s career with Trump ended as quickly as it came. He was forced to resign as Trump’s National Security Advisor 27 days after taking the job. The highly classified conversation between Flynn and former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was leaked to the Washington Post in January 2017 and he was later questioned by the FBI on that conversation. According to former FBI Director James Comey, the agents who interviewed Flynn did not believe he was lying, but in the end, Flynn pled guilty to one count of lying to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He had already spent more than $1 million in lawyers fees and sold his home to help with the debt. According to sources, Flynn’s family was being threatened by the Mueller team.

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The sordid tale of Lanny Davis continues.

CNN Lies About Cohen Story, Refuses to Comment (Greenwald)

CNN’s blockbuster July 26 story – that Michael Cohen intended to tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller that he was present when Donald Trump was told in advance about his son’s Trump Tower meeting with various Russians – includes a key statement about its sourcing that credible reporting now suggests was designed to have misled its audience. Yet CNN simply refuses to address the serious ethical and journalistic questions raised about its conduct. The substance of the CNN story itself regarding Cohen – which made headline news all over all the world and which CNN hyped as a “bombshell” – has now been retracted by other news outlets that originally purported to “confirm” CNN’s story.

That’s because the anonymous source for this confirmation, Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis, now admits that, in essence, his “confirmation” was false. As a result, both the Washington Post and the NY Post outed Davis as their anonymous source and then effectively retracted their stories “confirming” parts of CNN’s report. CNN, however, has retracted nothing. All inquiries to the network are directed to a corporate spokesperson, who simply says: “We stand by our story, and are confident in our reporting of it.” A newsletter sent Sunday night from CNN’s two media reporters, Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy, contained the same corporate language, but addressed none of the questions raised about CNN’s report.

It’s certainly possible that CNN had other sources for this story besides Davis, who now repudiates it. It’s hard to see how CNN’s story could be true given that Davis, Cohen’s own lawyer, explicitly says that Cohen has no information that Trump had prior knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting, that Cohen cannot and will not tell Mueller that this happened, and that Davis’ prior claims about Cohen’s knowledge and intentions are false. Axios reported that Cohen testified under oath to Congress that he has no knowledge that Trump had prior knowledge of the meeting and repeated this to leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee again after CNN’s report. Davis now says Cohen – rather than intending to tell Mueller he has such information – stands by his long-time claim that he has none.

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From the same Glenn Greenwald article. False claims galore.

The Media’s Chronic Misreporting on the Trump/Russia Story (Greenwald)

The other self-serving tactic media outlets use in situations like this is to claim that their errors are just good faith and rare mistakes, and that those who report on their mistakes are exaggerating their significance. This claim was also prominently featured in the New Yorker’s critique of my work, and is reflexively applied to anyone who has critiqued the dominant media narrative on this story. This tactic is also itself highly deceitful. The reality is that from the start of the Trump/Russia story, the U.S. media has repeatedly and frequently – not rarely and periodically – gotten major stories completely wrong, always in the same direction: exaggerating the threat posed by Russia to the U.S., and concocting evidence of Trump/Russia collusion even when such evidence did not exist.

Last December, I reported on what I call (and still believe) was the U.S. media’s “most humiliating debacle in ages”: a blatantly false and equally hyped CNN story claiming that an unknown person had emailed Donald Trump Jr. access to the WikiLeaks email archive before it was published: a story that MSNBC’s Ken Dilanian purported to “confirm.” That story – predictably and by design – generated huge headlines around the world, and was given breathless coverage on cable news given its obvious significance. In fact, the email in question was sent after WikiLeaks had published that archive to the entire world, rendering the magic-bullet email utterly worthless, not a massive scoop proving collusion.

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Swamp.

Russian Oligarch, DOJ And A Clear Case Of Collusion (ZH)

Steele and twice-demoted DOJ official Bruce Ohr communicated extensively about the Russian Oligarch as recently as February 2016, which included efforts to obtain a Visa for Deripaska to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting int he US. Deripaska is now banned from the United States as one of several Russians sanctioned in April in response to alleged 2016 election meddling. Ohr, meanwhile, was demoted twice after the DOJ’s Inspector General discovered that he lied about his involvement with opposition research firm Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson – who employed Steele. Ohr’s CIA-linked wife, Nellie, was also employed by Fusion as part of the firm’s anti-Trump efforts, and had ongoing communications with the ex-UK spy, Christopher Steele as well. What’s more, Ohr met with Deripaska according to Solomon.

“By 2015, Steele’s work had left him friendly with one of Deripaska’s lawyers, according to my sources. And when Ohr, then the associate deputy attorney general and a longtime acquaintance of Steele, sought help getting to meet Deripaska, Steele obliged. Deripaska, who frequently has appeared alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at high-profile meetings, never really dealt with Steele, but he followed his lawyer’s recommendations and met with Ohr, my sources say. -The Hill The September 2015 meeting between Ohr, Deripaska and several FBI agents in New York sought the Russian billionaire’s assistance regarding organized crime investigations. That meeting was facilitated by Steele.

To recap: Bruce Ohr = the #4 official at the DOJ, met with a billionaire friend of Vladimir Putin, in a sit-down arranged by Christopher Steele. Steele and the DOJ, meanwhile, were accusing Donald Trump of collusion with Putin – while the Obama administration used Steele’s dodgy dossier to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Talk about actual collusion!

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India’s still largely inward looking, but still, what is imported -oil!-gets much more expensive.

India’s Rupee Falls To An All-Time Low (CNBC)

The Indian rupee fell to a record low on Thursday morning, following a declining trend all year — which economists attributed to rising oil prices, broader emerging market concerns, and strong month-end dollar demand. It slid to 70.8100 against the dollar, after a previous new low just a day before at 70.475. That marked a 10.97 percent decline since the start of the year. “Weakening has accompanied rising investment concerns about emerging markets more broadly, as well as a widening current account deficit, itself largely the result of higher oil prices,” said a Deutsche Bank Wealth Management report on Thursday.

More expensive oil leads to a higher import bill for India, a net importer of oil. Higher oil prices also lead to a widening current account deficit — a measure of the flow of goods, services and investments in and out of the country. Oil prices have been up more than 7 percent since mid-August, DBS Economist Radhika Rao explained in a note following the previous record low on Wednesday. Along with that, end-month dollar demand has also added to the pace of currency sell-off, she said. “Markets get a sense that the authorities are tolerant of a weaker rupee, with little by way of jawboning or verbal intervention,” Rao added.

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I think Beijing is more nervous than this lets on.

Trade War Won’t Cause ‘Major’ Hit To China’s Economy – Morgan Stanley (CNBC)

The Chinese government will continue implementing measures in order to cushion its economy from the impact of the ongoing trade spat with the U.S., a leading China economist said Wednesday. “We are not expecting any major growth correction because we think the potential impact from trade tariffs will be partially cushioned by the policy easing measures taken by the policy makers,” Robin Xing, chief China economist at Morgan Stanley, told CNBC at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference in Beijing. Just last week, the U.S. and China slapped tariffs on $16 billion worth of goods on each other. Both countries also imposed tit-for-tat levies on $34 billion worth of each other’s imports in July.

Market watchers are now keeping their eyes on a fresh round of U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods expected later this year. If the U.S. imposes those additional tariffs, the impact could be “amplified” by how connected supply chains in East Asia are to China, Xing said. In fact, the trade war’s disruption to supply chains could cut 0.7 percentage points from China’s growth, he said. That will spur Beijing to take up more meaningful easing measures such as tax cuts and boosts to credit and liquidity in China’s financial system.

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Sure, just sell all your assets.

Argentina Asks IMF For Early Release Of Standby Funds (R.)

Argentina is asking the IMF for early release of funds from the country’s $50 billion standby financing deal, President Mauricio Macri said in a televised address on Wednesday, a move aimed at calming turbulent markets. The country’s currency has weakened 40.79 percent in 2018. Investors are concerned that with high inflation, a weak economy and fallout from a global selloff in emerging markets, Argentina may have problems meeting its dollar debt obligation in 2019. “We have agreed with the IMF to advance all the necessary funds to guarantee compliance with the financial program next year,” Macri said. “This decision aims to eliminate any uncertainty.” The Argentine peso dropped to trade more than 6 percent lower against the dollar on the news.

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Michel Barnier, said the bloc is “prepared to offer a partnership with Britain such as has never been with any other third country..”

Pound Sterling Rallies As Raab And Barnier Turn Optimistic On Brexit (Ind.)

The pound has rallied against the dollar and the euro following bullish Brexit comments from both UK and EU officials. Sterling rose more than 1 per cent against the greenback to hit $1.3006, and was up 0.99 per cent against the euro to €1.1118. Brexit secretary Dominic Raab told the Lords EU committee on Wednesday that he was “confident a deal is within our sights”. He said: “We’re bringing ambition, pragmatism, energy and if, and I expect it will be, and if it is matched, we get a deal.” He said the 17 October deadline for a deal could be pushed back, but added: “I think it is important as we enter the final phase of the negotiations in the lead up to the October council – and the possibility that it may creep beyond that – we want to see some renewed energy.

“We’re bringing the ambition and the substance of our white paper on the future relationship and also I think some pragmatism to try and go the extra mile to get the deal that I think is in both sides interests. We need that to be matched obviously, it’s a negotiation.” Meanwhile the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the bloc is “prepared to offer a partnership with Britain such as has never been with any other third country”. “That kind of bullishness has been in short supply of late – if it has ever been there at all – and had a hugely rejuvenating effect on the pound,” said Connor Campbell, financial analyst at Spreadex.

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But wait! Keep ’em guessing!

EU’s Barnier Says Must Prepare For A ‘No-Deal’ Brexit (R.)

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday the bloc must prepare for a no-deal Brexit, even if its goal was an orderly exit. The EU needed to be well prepared for everything, Barnier said, telling German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk: “That includes the no-deal scenario.” He said the issue of the Irish border with Northern Ireland was “the most sensitive point” of the negotiations. Of a solution to the issue, he added: “I think that is possible.”

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The industry wants to both cry for help AND look strong.

Car Manufacturing In Britain Fell By 11% In July (G.)

The number of cars built in UK factories slumped by 11% last month compared with a year ago. Just over 121,000 cars left production lines, with a fall of 35% in models built for the UK, according to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Car production for export in July fell by 4.2%. Despite the reduction, the sector remains on track to meet 2018 expectations, said the SMMT. Just under 955,500 cars were built in the first seven months of the year, down by 16% for the UK market and 1.2% for export. This marks an improvement on June, when production for the UK plunged 47%, although there was a 6% rise in cars made for export.

Model changes, operational adjustments and preparations for new emissions standards affected output last month, said the SMMT. Its chief executive, Mike Hawes, said: “While the industry is undoubtedly feeling the effects of recent uncertainty in the domestic market, drawing long-term conclusions from monthly snapshots requires a health warning. “The bigger picture is complex and month by month fluctuations are inevitable as manufacturers manage product cycles, operational changes and the delicate balance of supply and demand from market to market. “To ensure future growth, we need political and economic clarity at home, and the continuation of beneficial trading arrangements with the EU and other key markets.”

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Those were the days.

1000s Of British Expats Living In Spain Return To UK As Brexit Nears (Exp.)


Figures show the number of Brits living in Bendorm has fallen from around 5,000 before the 2007 financial crash to 2,825 last year. Almost 5,000 waved adios to Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca over the same period of time and by 2017, 14,981 expats remained on the Balearic islands. Spanish newspaper El Pais reported the total number of British residents in Spain had dropped from 397,892 to 240,785 – a fall of 157,107. It said data from Spain’s National Statistics Institute showed the number of residents from 15 EU-countries in Spain had fallen by a quarter but the number of British expats had fallen 40 percent. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of Britons leaving Spain outnumbered those who arrived. In the previous four years, 40,454 more Britons arrived in Spain than left.

The drop in expats was put down partly to a shake up in municipal enrolment regulations in Spain but many returnees fear Brexit will have a negative impact on their lives abroad while others say life on the continent has become too expensive with the devaluation of the pound. Michelle Ball, who has a shop in La Xara, Alicante having arriving in Valencia as a 14-year-old, said: “Many are returning because life has become incredibly expensive. “My mother has lost €160 a month in her pension since the Brexit referendum because of the devaluation of the pound. “Now her pension is €690. And since the Spanish government made changes a few years back she also has to pay a portion for her medicines. It’s not a lot but it doesn’t help either.”Sterling fell to its lowest against the euro in nearly a year yesterday after Theresa May played down the consequences of a no-deal Brexit.

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Apr 062018
 
 April 6, 2018  Posted by at 9:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edgar Degas Leaving the paddock 1866
Stolen from Gardner Museum March 18 1990, the single largest art theft in the world. Never recovered

 

US Willing To Talk Trade With China, No Session Set Yet (R.)
Trump Considers New $100 Billion Tariffs On Chinese Goods (G.)
Trade Is a Matter of Survival for China (Rickards)
Facebook Explored Data Sharing Agreement With Hospitals (CNBC)
Uber To Suspend Service In Greece After New Legislation (R.)
HSBC Whistleblower Released By Judge After Swiss Extradition Request (Ind.)
German Court Says Carles Puigdemont Can Be Released On Bail (G.)
Young People In Britain Have Never Been Unhappier (G.)
Elderly People Grow As Many New Brain Cells As Young (Ind.)
Surgeon General Urges More Americans To Carry Opioid Antidote (CNN)
Social Media Looks Like the New Opiate of the Masses (BBG)
Lifting Sugarcane Farming Ban ‘Last Straw’ For Amazon Rainforest (Ind.)
Bolivia’s Jaguars Under Threat Of Chinese Fang Craze (AFP)

 

 

Get around a table alright.

US Willing To Talk Trade With China, No Session Set Yet (R.)

The United States is willing to negotiate with China on trade, but only if talks are serious, as previous attempts produced little progress, a senior U.S. official told Reuters late on Thursday as trade tensions between the two nations escalated. No formal negotiating sessions have been set, the official said. “There is ongoing communications with the Chinese on trade,” said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the Trump administration’s trade strategy. The official said Republican President Donald Trump, who has already sought $50 billion in new tariffs on China, will insist on “verifiable, enforceable and measurable deliverables” from China in any trade negotiations.

The comments came as Trump said late on Thursday he had instructed U.S. trade officials to consider $100 billion in additional tariffs on China “in light of China’s unfair retaliation” against earlier U.S. trade actions. In a statement, Trump said the U.S. Trade Representative had determined that China “has repeatedly engaged in practices to unfairly obtain America’s intellectual property.” The senior official said: “We’ve had a type of negotiation in different forums where China has made lots of different commitments that they haven’t followed through on. “We don’t want to go down that path. But the president has been clear, the administration has been clear, we’re not trying to start a trade war. We’re simply trying to get fair and reciprocal treatments so we’re open to those conversations.”

The official said China had committed seven times to stopping forced technology transfers, a practice in which China allegedly seeks to obtain U.S. intellectual property (IP) through joint venture requirements, something that China denies. “This president is not going to tolerate hollow commitments or refusal to change bad practices. And if the way that we effectuate that is through negotiations, that’s great,” the official said.

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All still just proposals. Waiting for Chinese replies that are not threats.

Trump Considers New $100 Billion Tariffs On Chinese Goods (G.)

Donald Trump has instructed the US trade representative to consider slapping $100bn in additional tariffs on Chinese goods in an escalating standoff over trade. Trump said in a statement on Thursday that the further tariffs were being considered “in light of China’s unfair retaliation” against earlier US trade actions. He added that the US trade representative had determined that China “has repeatedly engaged in practices to unfairly obtain America’s intellectual property”. The White House said Trump had instructed the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the agency responsible for developing and recommending trade policy, to consider whether the additional tariffs would be appropriate under section 301 and, if so, to identify which products they should apply to.

He’s also instructed his secretary of agriculture “to implement a plan to protect our farmers and agricultural interests”. “Rather than remedy its misconduct, China has chosen to harm our farmers and manufacturers”, Trump said. Trump argues China’s trade practices have led to the closure of American factories and the loss of millions of American jobs. On Friday China’s commerce ministry said Beijing would fight the US ‘at any cost’. China’s state-run tabloid Global Times called Trump’s latest threat “ridiculous” in an editorial on Thursday, noting that it “reflects the deep arrogance of some American elites in their attitude towards China.”

Trump’s move comes one day after China issued a $50bn list of US goods including soybeans and small aircraft for possible tariff hikes. That itself was 11 hours after the White House announced a list of 1,333 Chinese imports, also worth about $50bn, for punitive tariffs of 25%.

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Jim Rickards with a good history of US Presidential powers, but also of what China is afraid of: the homefront.

Trade Is a Matter of Survival for China (Rickards)

President Trump may now use IEEPA to block a variety of Chinese deals in the U.S. in retaliation for Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property. With the U.S. using its nuclear option in financial warfare, investors should hope that the Chinese don’t respond in kind. President Trump may not appreciate the extent to which China will go to protect its interests. Trade negotiations are not the art of the deal, as far as China is concerned. Their goal is national survival. China’s economy is not just about providing jobs, goods and services that people want and need. It is about regime survival for a Chinese Communist Party that faces an existential crisis if it fails to deliver. The overriding imperative of the Chinese leadership is to avoid societal unrest.

[..] given China’s current economic problem, Beijing’s challenge is becoming more difficult every day. Consider what’s happening in China right now… Growth in GDP is conventionally defined as the sum of consumer spending, investment, government spending (excluding transfer payments) and net exports. Most large economies other than oil-producing nations get most of their growth from consumption, followed by investment, with relatively small contributions from government spending and net exports. A typical composition would show a 65% contribution from consumption plus a 15% contribution from investment. China is nearly the opposite, with about 35% from consumption and 45% from investment.

That might be fine in a fast-growing emerging-market economy like China if the investment component were carefully designed to produce growth in the future as well as short-term jobs and inputs. But that’s not the case. Up to half of China’s investment is a complete waste. It does produce jobs and utilize inputs like cement, steel, copper and glass. But the finished product, whether a city, train station or sports arena, is often a white elephant that will remain unused.

What’s worse is that these white elephants are being financed with debt that can never be repaid. And no allowance has been made for the maintenance that will be needed to keep these white elephants in usable form if demand does rise in the future, which is doubtful. Chinese growth has been reported in recent years as 6.5–10% but is actually closer to 5% or lower once an adjustment is made for the waste. The Chinese landscape is littered with “ghost cities” that have resulted from China’s wasted investment and flawed development model. This wasted infrastructure spending is the beginning of the debt disaster that is coming soon. China is on the horns of a dilemma with no good way out.

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It gets harder to act innocent. Why do this in secret if it is to benefit people?

Facebook Explored Data Sharing Agreement With Hospitals (CNBC)

Facebook has asked several major U.S. hospitals to share anonymized data about their patients, such as illnesses and prescription info, for a proposed research project. Facebook was intending to match it up with user data it had collected, and help the hospitals figure out which patients might need special care or treatment. The proposal never went past the planning phases and has been put on pause after the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal raised public concerns over how Facebook and others collect and use detailed information about Facebook users. “This work has not progressed past the planning phase, and we have not received, shared, or analyzed anyone’s data,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC.

But as recently as last month, the company was talking to several health organizations, including Stanford Medical School and American College of Cardiology, about signing the data-sharing agreement. While the data shared would obscure personally identifiable information, such as the patient’s name, Facebook proposed using a common computer science technique called “hashing” to match individuals who existed in both sets. Facebook says the data would have been used only for research conducted by the medical community.

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Just make it local. And use the revenues to support your own cities.

Uber To Suspend Service In Greece After New Legislation (R.)

Ride-hailing service Uber said on Thursday it would suspend its licensed service in Greece after the approval of local legislation which imposes stricter regulation on the sector. Uber, which operates a licensed service in the Greek capital, has faced opposition from local taxi drivers who accuse it of taking their business. “New local regulations were voted on recently with provisions that impact ride-sharing services,” Uber said in a blog post. “We have to assess if and how we can operate within this new framework and so will be suspending uberX in Athens from next Tuesday until we can find an appropriate solution.” Uber operates two services in Athens: UberX, which uses professional licensed drivers, and UberTAXI, which uses taxi drivers.

The new regulations require each trip to start and end in the fleet partner’s designated headquarters or parking area, something Uber does not do. A digital registry of all ride-sharing platforms and their passengers will also be created. The company launched in Europe in 2011, angering some local authorities and taxi drivers who said it did not abide by the same rules on insurance, licensing and safety. Following widespread protests, court battles and bans, Uber has taken a more emollient stance under its new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, suspending operations in various cities in order to comply with local regulations. UberX launched in Athens in 2015 and more than 450,000 people have used its smartphone app to book a ride.

News of the new regulation last year angered some Athenians and tens of thousands signed a petition launched by Beat – a local ride-sharing service – in favor of ride-hailing services. UberX drivers have to be employed by fleet partners such as car rental companies or tourist agencies and their cars could not be more than seven years old. The data registry and return-to-garage requirement will only apply to ride-hailing services like Uber and Beat, while taxi drivers will be able to use cars that are up to 22 years old.

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Too much backlash?!

HSBC Whistleblower Released By Judge After Swiss Extradition Request (Ind.)

An HSBC whistleblower who leaked data that led to a tax evasion scandal has been released by a Spanish judge after being arrested on an extradition request from Switzerland. Hervé Falciani, a former IT worker at HSBC’s secretive Swiss bank, faces a five-year prison sentence in Switzerland after being convicted in absentia for industrial sabotage in 2015. Police arrested Mr Falciani in Madrid on Wednesday on his way to speak at a conference on whistleblowing. Swiss authorities had requested that he be remanded in custody but he was released without bail on Thursday and ordered to surrender his passport while Spanish authorities consider whether to extradite him.

In 2008, Mr Falciani fled Switzerland, having stolen data on 130,000 HSBC clients, many of whom he suspected of tax evasion. The information uncovered large-scale wrongdoing at the bank that led to investigations in several countries, including the UK. HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver later apologised to MPs for “unacceptable” practices at the bank’s Swiss subsidiary which he said had caused “damage to trust and confidence” in the company. Sven Giegold, an MEP and spokesperson for the German Greens on transparency and integrity said on Thursday that Mr Falciani should be awarded a medal for his actions. “Falciani deserves a European Order instead of imprisonment in Switzerland,” Mr Geigold said.

“He was one of the first whistleblowers to pioneer the fight against global tax fraud, followed by many disclosures in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and other tax havens,” “We should be grateful to him. Europe’s governments should call on the Spanish government not to extradite Falciani. His extradition would be shamefully ungrateful after having profited from his data financially and politically.”

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Misuse of public funds. Not what Spain wanted. Just let him go. Germany can’t extradite someone on that.

German Court Says Carles Puigdemont Can Be Released On Bail (G.)

A court in northern Germany has ruled that the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont can be released on bail while extradition proceedings continue. The district court in Schleswig set bail for the 55-year-old at €75,000 (£66,000). Puigdemont was arrested on a Spanish-issued warrant upon entering Germany on 25 March as he attempted to drive from Finland to Belgium, where he currently resides. Spain accuses the Catalan separatist of rebellion and corruption after he organised an unsanctioned independence referendum. The Schleswig court said that it considered a charge of misuse of public funds sufficient grounds for an extradition, but that a charge of “rebellion” was not, because the comparable German charge of treason specifies violence.

Proceedings to decide whether to extradite him on corruption charges could continue, it said. “There is a risk of flight,” the court said in its explanation of its decision to grant bail. “But since extradition on rebellion charges is impermissible, the risk of flight is substantially lessened.” Puigdemont has written an open letter from prison, urging Catalonia’s parliament to make another attempt to elect jailed separatist activist Jordi Sànchez as the region’s president. Puigdemont had proposed Sànchez as his number two in the Together for Catalonia party last month, but Spain’s supreme court refused to free him to attend a parliamentary session. Sànchez said in a letter from a Madrid jail published on Thursday that he was ready to try again to be elected.

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In that society, no wonder.

Young People In Britain Have Never Been Unhappier (G.)

Young people’s happiness across every single area of their lives has never been lower, research by the Prince’s Trust has found. The charity, set up by the Prince of Wales, said the results of its annual UK Youth Index, which gauges young people’s happiness and confidence across a range of areas, from working life to mental and physical health, should “ring alarm bells”. The national survey shows young people’s wellbeing has fallen over the last 12 months and is at its lowest level since the study was first commissioned in 2009. The research, based on a survey of 2,194 respondents aged 16 to 25, revealed that three out of five young people regularly feel stressed amid concerns over jobs and money, while one in four felt “hopeless”, and half had experienced a mental health problem.

Almost half said they did not feel they could cope well with setbacks in life, but despite this more than one quarter said they would not ask for help if they were feeling overwhelmed. The index shows that young people are particularly disillusioned with the job market and are concerned about money and future prospects. One in ten said they had lost a job through redundancy or having a contract terminated or not renewed, or being fired, while 54% said they were worried about their finances. The report highlights significant differences between the views held by young men and women, particularly when it comes to how they feel about their future prospects. Young women are more likely to think a lack of self-confidence holds them back and 57% of young women worry about “not being good enough in general”, compared to 41% of men.

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Or do they? Is the secret in the synopses?

Elderly People Grow As Many New Brain Cells As Young (Ind.)

Elderly people grow as many new brain cells as teenagers, according to a new study which counters previous theories that neurons stop developing after adolescence. Healthy men and women continue to produce new neurons throughout life, suggesting older people remain more cognitively and emotionally intact than previously believed, researchers found. For decades it was thought that adult brains were hard-wired and unable to form new cells. But a Columbia University study found older people continued to produce neurons in the hippocampus – a part of the brain important for memory, emotion and cognition – at a similar rate to young people. Researchers examined the brains of 28 previously healthy people who died suddenly between the age of 14 and 79.

“We found that older people have similar ability to make thousands of hippocampal new neurons from progenitor cells as younger people do,” said the study’s lead author Maura Boldrini, associate professor of neurobiology. “We also found equivalent volumes of the hippocampus across ages.” The ability to generate new hippocampal cells, a process known as neurogenesis, declines with age in rodents and primates. Declining production of neurons and shrinkage of parts of the brain which help form of new episodic memories were believed to occur in ageing humans as well, explaining why younger people find it easier to learn skills and languages. But the Columbia University study found similar numbers of newly formed cells in old and young brains.

However, the researchers also noted fewer blood vessels and connections between cells in the older brains, which Ms Boldrini said “may be linked to compromised cognitive-emotional resilience” in the elderly. The findings, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, are likely to be hotly debated. They come just a month after a University of California study suggested adults do not develop new neurons.

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That’s how bad it’s gotten.

Surgeon General Urges More Americans To Carry Opioid Antidote (CNN)

The US surgeon general issued an advisory Thursday recommending that more Americans carry the opioid overdose-reversing drug, naloxone. The drug, sold under the brand name Narcan (among others), can very quickly restore normal breathing in someone suspected of overdosing on opioids, including heroin and prescription pain medications. Dr. Jerome Adams emphasized that “knowing how to use naloxone and keeping it within reach can save a life.” To make his point, Adams relied on a rarely used tool: the surgeon general’s advisory. The last such advisory was issued more than a decade ago and focused on drinking during pregnancy.

Adams noted that the number of overdose deaths from prescription and illicit opioids doubled in recent years: from 21,089 deaths across the nation in 2010 to 42,249 in 2016. America’s top doctor attributed this “steep increase” to several contributing factors, including “the rapid proliferation of illicitly made fentanyl and other highly potent synthetic opioids” and “an increasing number of individuals receiving higher doses of prescription opioids for long-term management of chronic pain.”

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The right discussion, but launched very weakly. On purpose?

Social Media Looks Like the New Opiate of the Masses (BBG)

[..] many of us who lived through the shift from Internet 1.0 to the new age of social media can’t help but feel a nagging worry. In addition to concerns about privacy, electoral influence and online abuse, social media seems like it has many of the qualities of an addictive drug. Research isn’t conclusive on whether social-media addiction is real. But it certainly has some negative side effects that loosely resemble the downsides of recreational drugs. In 2011, psychologists Daria Kuss and Mark Griffiths wrote a paper that found: “Negative correlates of [social media] usage include the decrease in real life social community participation and academic achievement, as well as relationship problems, each of which may be indicative of potential addiction.”

Meanwhile, a number of more recent studies find similarities between social-media use and addictive behavior. And experiments found that smartphone deprivation induced anxiety among young people, a phenomenon that certainly has parallels to drug withdrawal. That certainly doesn’t mean that everyone who uses social media is a junkie. Evidence shows that moderate usage is not harmful. That fits with my own experience – I find that I derive great enjoyment from Facebook, which I use in moderation, but am often made anxious and irritable by Twitter, which I use much more. It’s the heaviest users who may be in the most danger — a recent survey found that a quarter of Americans are online “almost constantly.” And social-media use is going up relentlessly worldwide:

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“..there is no need for more land to grow sugarcane..”

Lifting Sugarcane Farming Ban ‘Last Straw’ For Amazon Rainforest (Ind.)

Environmentalists in Brazil have urged the government not to proceed with a change in the law described as the “last straw” for the Amazon rainforest. The Brazilian senate is set to vote on a bill that could see the eight-year-old ban on farming sugarcane for biofuel production in the Amazon lifted. In an open letter, 60 NGOs including Greenpeace and WWF have warned of the implications this decision would have, both for the rainforest itself and the reputation of the biofuels industry. They have been joined in their condemnation of the bill by several former Brazilian environment ministers.

The letter states: “If passed, the bill will be a tragedy for forests and for the biofuel industry in Brazil – the image of which will be damaged to the brink of no return, at a time critical to its success”. There is also concern that Brazil’s Paris climate agreement targets will be compromised if its ethanol production is not sustainable. Supporters of the new bill say it will benefit the economy and help contribute to the national supply of biofuels. However, environmentalists, scientists and even representatives from the biofuels industry say there is no need for more land to grow sugarcane, and the expansion of the industry will further drive deforestation of the rainforest.

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Reminds us of that park in India where more poachers than rhinos are killed. Beijing needs to stop this, all of it.

Bolivia’s Jaguars Under Threat Of Chinese Fang Craze (AFP)

Bolivia’s once-thriving jaguar population is loping into the cross-hairs of a growing threat from poachers responding to growing Chinese demand for the animal’s teeth and skull. Researchers believe there are around 7,000 of the speckled big cats in Bolivia, out of a global population of some 64,000, stretching from North America to Argentina. But such is the appetite in China’s huge underground market that “if controls are not put in place, it can lead to a serious problem” for their survival, warned Fabiola Suarez of the Environment Ministry. Considered vulnerable by conservationists, the jaguar’s future in the South American country is in the hands of anti-trafficking police only now coming to grips with the potential scale of the problem.

Local authorities began getting reports in 2014 of trade in the animal in the northeastern area of Beni, according to Rodrigo Herrera, an advisor to Bolivia’s directorate of Biodiversity at the Environment Ministry. He says the increased presence of Chinese nationals in the South American country has stimulated demand. President Evo Morales’ leftist government has awarded seven billion dollars’ worth of public works contracts to Chinese groups, sparking an influx of workers from the Asian giant. Herrera said each of the cat’s teeth, which measure between eight and 10 centimeters, can fetch up to $100 for poachers, but that figure can reach $5,000 on the Chinese market. The feline’s skull is also prized by traffickers, at rates of up to $1,000. Traffickers also sell the skin, and even the testicles, which along with the ground-down teeth, are prized by some Chinese as an aphrodisiac.

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Apr 052018
 
 April 5, 2018  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Le moulin de blute fin 1886

 

The Fed Is Destroying Dollars (Napier)
What Trump Gets Right About Europe’s Trade Problem (Pol.)
“When You’re Already $500 Billion Down, You Can’t Lose!” (G.)
Kudlow Says Trump’s China Tariffs Are Just Proposals Right Now (BBG)
Up To 87 Million Facebook Users’ Data Shared With Cambridge Analytica (Ind.)
Zuckerberg Says Most Facebook Users Will Only Get Privacy ‘In Spirit’ (Ind.)
We Work For Google. Our Employer Shouldn’t Be In The Business Of War (G.)
World’s Most Wanted Bank Whistleblower Arrested for Worst Possible Reason (DQ)
Toronto’s Epic Housing Bubble Turns to Bust (WS)
Tax Trouble For -Certain- Bitcoin Traders (F.)
How Advertising Shaped the First Opioid Epidemic (Smithsonian)

 

 

Good points from Russell Napier. Also says Turkey will default, impose capital controls.

The Fed Is Destroying Dollars (Napier)

Too much debt and not enough money remain a diagnosis for deflation and not inflation. In particular, we need to discuss why fears of inflation persist in a world where the US central bank and the US commercial banking system are now both destroying money. When both these key engines of the reserve currency creation act to destroy money, there will ultimately be a contraction in broad money growth, the first since the 1930s, if nothing changes. This analyst thinks that matters, but few, if any, agree. At this stage the interesting evidence is that this dramatic tightening of monetary policy seems to matter more outside the USA than within.

From its peak in November 2017 the level of US bank credit, when we adjust for the systems acquisition of non-banks, has posted no growth. When a commercial banking system posts no growth in bank credit over four months, it creates no money over that period. It just so happens that this is the same four months during which the Federal Reserve has been contracting its balance sheet. Sticking to the Policy Normalisation Principles (PNP) and their addendum of June 2017, the Fed has been destroying money by shrinking its balance sheet. In the period from August 2017 to February 2018 there has been a shrinkage of US$105.2bn in commercial bank reserve balances: the high-powered money. Based on the PNP, a further US$20bn will have been destroyed in March 2018.

So with a commercial banking system creating no money, and a central bank destroying money, we are looking at one of the tightest monetary policies ever pursued by a central bank. To disagree with that statement is to believe that monetary policy is judged solely by the price of money, without reference to the quantity of money. Such was the belief that led to the Great Depression. At this stage the distress associated with this policy seems to be falling primarily upon non-US companies that have borrowed USD. This has huge consequences for investors.

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EU is winner takes all.

What Trump Gets Right About Europe’s Trade Problem (Pol.)

Donald Trump may prove to be the catalyst for change the eurozone has long been looking for. The protectionist U.S. president is forcing Europeans to face the unsettling problem of their massive current account surplus, which has been the best indicator of everything that’s wrong in the monetary union in the last five years. Forget Trump’s own economic analysis or lack thereof, and forget the attention-grabbing headlines on coming trade wars that may or may not happen. The U.S. president’s attacks on German exports — his Exhibit A that the Europeans aren’t playing a fair trade game — have helped throw a harsh light on the eurozone’s No. 1 problem.

Far from being a sign of economic well-being, the eurozone’s surplus — $380 billion last year or about 3% of the region’s GDP — reflects the monetary union’s deep structural flaws, worsened by the way it addressed its long crisis. [..] For a monetary union’s economy to be balanced, it has to take into account the differences between its respective nations’ different political, economic, and social systems. What happened instead when the euro crisis took everyone by surprise in 2009 was that each member country was told to become more like Germany. But for the system to work, if everyone must become like Germany, then Germany must also become a little bit less German. Surprise — this is not what happened. Countries in trouble were told to cut costs, boost competitiveness and implement austerity policies.

It worked: Imports fell and exports rose. Spain and Italy are now showing significant surpluses. In each of these countries, the balance has improved (from deficit to surplus) by roughly $100 billion since 2009 — the same as Germany’s accounts, which went from a $200 billion to $300 billion surplus. [..]According to European rules that are even less enforced than the more talked-about ones on fiscal deficits, a member country cannot run a surplus higher than 6% of its GDP. Germany’s surplus amounted to 8% of GDP last year, while the Netherlands’ was 8.5%. As long as the narrative of the eurozone crisis keeps making a surplus the moralistic sign of economic virtue, Europeans are unlikely to dare to take steps to tackle a problem that is now the world’s. Here’s hoping that the brutality of Trump’s attack on free trade will force them to spring into action.

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Something will have to happen. But nothing has so far, so why the loud voices?

“When You’re Already $500 Billion Down, You Can’t Lose!” (G.)

Fears that Donald Trump is embroiling America in a global trade war intensified on Wednesday after China imposed on the US and stock markets plunged. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped and then rallied after markets fell in Europe and Asia on worries of an intensifying trade conflict between the world’s two biggest economies – the latest example of Trump taking his appetite for disruption to the global stage. After Washington unveiled plans to impose tariffs on $50bn in Chinese imports Tuesday, China hit back with plans to tax a matching $50bn of US products, including beef, cars, planes, soybeans and whiskey.

The US president has worn stock market success as a badge of honour and proof that, despite myriad controversies, the economy is booming under his presidency. But there are concerns that his aggressive tariffs and “America first” instincts could undermine confidence and cause a slowdown. Trump claimed last month that “trade wars are good, and easy to win”. China is the biggest market for US soy. The American Soybean Association, a lobbying group representing 21,000 producers, warned that China’s proposed 25% tariff on soybeans would be “devastating” to American farmers. It estimated that farmers lost an estimated $1.72bn on Wednesday morning alone as soybean futures tumbled.

John Heisdorffer, an Iowa farmer and the president of the association, said: “That’s real money lost for farmers, and it is entirely preventable.” He called on the White House to scrap its proposed tariffs. The car makers Ford and General Motors also issued statements calling for continued dialogue to resolve the escalating trade tensions. On Wednesday, Trump moved to play down concerns over a damaging trade war. He protested on Twitter: “We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the U.S. Now we have a Trade Deficit of $500 Billion a year, with Intellectual Property Theft of another $300 Billion. We cannot let this continue!” The president added: “When you’re already $500 Billion DOWN, you can’t lose!”

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Did anyone tell the soybeans?

Kudlow Says Trump’s China Tariffs Are Just Proposals Right Now (BBG)

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow stressed U.S. tariffs announced on Chinese goods are still only proposals that might never take effect as the Trump administration sought to tamp down fears of a trade war. “None of the tariffs have been put in place yet, these are all proposals,” Kudlow said in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg News. “We’re putting it out for comment. There’s at least two months before any actions are taken.” Administration officials throughout the day emphasized the U.S. is willing to negotiate with China, helping to ease concerns among investors about a tit-for-tat trade conflict. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, after falling more than 2% at the market’s open, finished the day up almost 1%.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said China’s response isn’t expected to disrupt the U.S. economy. In an interview on CNBC on Wednesday, he said China’s announcement of retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. “shouldn’t surprise anyone.” He said the U.S. isn’t entering “World War III” and left the door open for a negotiated solution. “Even shooting wars end with negotiations,” Ross said. Earlier Wednesday, China said it would impose an additional 25% levy on about $50 billion of U.S. imports including soybeans, automobiles, chemicals and aircraft. The move matched the scale of proposed U.S. tariffs announced the previous day. The U.S. is allowing 60 days for public feedback and hasn’t specified when the tariffs would take effect, leaving a window open for talks. Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai said Wednesday his country is ready to negotiate.

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Keep that number growing. And when will the press acknowledge this is not about Cambridge Analytica?

Up To 87 Million Facebook Users’ Data Shared With Cambridge Analytica (Ind.)

Up to 87 million people may have had their Facebook data improperly passed to a third-party political firm – and most users’ public profile information could have been collected, the social media company has revealed. Initial accounts estimated the number of people affected at around 50m. But Facebook updated that number to say information from as many as 37m additional users could been shared with Cambridge Analytica. And it warned in a blog post that a now-discarded feature meant “most people on Facebook” could have had their public data scraped by “malicious actors”.

The revelations expanded the scope of a privacy scandal besieging the company just days ahead of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s hotly anticipated appearance before Congress. It had already been revealed that researcher harvested information encompassing a vast number of Facebook users and then passed it on to Cambridge Analytica, a company that went on to work for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The news has sent the company’s stock plunging and stoked a political outcry on both sides of the Atlantic. Facebook said it would inform users if their information had been funnelled to Cambridge Analytica. It said roughly 70 million of those users were in the United States.

And in seeking to reassure users that it was moving to safeguard their personal information, the company made an extraordinary disclosure: chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer said the majority of its users were vulnerable to abuse of a now-disabled feature allowing people to search for other users with phone numbers and email addresses. “Given the scale and sophistication of the activity we’ve seen, we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped in this way”, Mr Schroepfer said in the blog post.

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Insane. Will he get some serious questions on Capitol Hill, or can he get away with this sort of thing?

Zuckerberg Says Most Facebook Users Will Only Get Privacy ‘In Spirit’ (Ind.)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that new data privacy laws will only apply “in spirit” to more than three quarters of the company’s users. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will force the social network to comply with strict rules about the privacy of its European users. But Mr Zuckerberg failed to commit to rolling out the protections globally. “We’re still nailing down details on this, but it should directionally be, in spirit, the whole thing,” Mr Zuckerberg said on Tuesday. With only 17 per cent of its 2.2 billion users residing within Europe, the vast majority of Facebook’s users will not benefit from the new rules.

Facebook has faced pressure in recent weeks to better protect its users’ data following revelations that the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica harvested personal information from more than 50 million Facebook accounts in the build up to the 2016 US elections. On Monday, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer called for Mr Zuckerberg to resign from his role as chairman of Facebook, adding that data privacy issues represented “a risk to our democracy.” The new data protection law – set to come into effect on May 25 – will give people more control over how companies store and use their personal data.

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Are you kidding? They all are. Stop working there.

We Work For Google. Our Employer Shouldn’t Be In The Business Of War (G.)

Dear Sundar,

We believe that Google should not be in the business of war. Therefore we ask that Project Maven be cancelled and that Google draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology. Google is implementing Project Maven, a customized AI surveillance engine that uses “wide area motion imagery” data captured by US government drones to detect vehicles and other objects, track their motions and provide results to the Department of Defense. Recently, Googlers voiced concerns about Maven internally. Diane Greene responded, assuring them that the technology will not “operate or fly drones” and “will not be used to launch weapons”.

While this eliminates a narrow set of direct applications, the technology is being built for the military, and once it’s delivered it could easily be used to assist in these tasks. This plan will irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent. Amid growing fears of biased and weaponized AI, Google is already struggling to keep the public’s trust. By entering into this contract, Google will join the ranks of companies like Palantir, Raytheon and General Dynamics. The argument that other firms, like Microsoft and Amazon, are also participating doesn’t make this any less risky for Google. Google’s unique history, its motto “don’t be evil”, and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart.

We cannot outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties. Google’s stated values make this clear: every one of our users is trusting us. Never jeopardize that. Ever. This contract puts Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values. Building this technology to assist the US government in military surveillance – and potentially lethal outcomes – is not acceptable. Recognizing Google’s moral and ethical responsibility, and the threat to Google’s reputation, we request that you: 1. Cancel this project immediately. 2. Draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.

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Falciani was assisting the Spanish government, and now they sold him out to get to two Catalonia separatists.

World’s Most Wanted Bank Whistleblower Arrested for Worst Possible Reason (DQ)

Hervé Falciani, the French-Italian former HSBC employee who blew the whistle on HSBC and 130,000 global tax evaders in 2008, has been arrested in Madrid on Tuesday in response to an arrest warrant issued by Switzerland for breaking the country’s bank secrecy laws. He lives in France, which rarely extradites its own citizens. But when Spanish authorities learned that he was in town to speak at a conference ominously titled, “When Telling the Truth is Heroic,” they made their move. If he is extradited to Switzerland he could face up to five years in prison. Falciani worked as a computer technician for HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary. One day in 2008, he left the office with five computer disks containing what would eventually become one of the largest leaks of banking data in history.

According to Swiss authorities, Falciani stole and then attempted to sell a trove of confidential data. Falciani says he was a whistleblower who wanted to expose a “broken” banking system, “which encouraged tax evasion.” When much of the stolen data was leaked to the press in 2015, it revealed, among other sordid things, that HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary routinely allowed clients to withdraw “bricks of cash,” often in foreign currencies of little use in Switzerland. It also colluded with clients to conceal undeclared “black” accounts from their domestic tax authorities and provided services to international criminals, corrupt businessmen, shady dictators and murky arms dealers.

As Falciani would soon find out, snitching on one of the world’s biggest banks and 130,000 of its richest clients does not make you a popular person in a country famed for its banking secrecy. In 2014 he was indicted in absentia by the Swiss federal government for violating the country’s bank secrecy laws and for industrial espionage. A year later he was sentenced by Switzerland’s federal court to five years in prison – the “longest sentence ever demanded by the confederation’s public ministry in a case of banking data theft.”

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All these bubbles will burst.

Toronto’s Epic Housing Bubble Turns to Bust (WS)

After having ballooned for 18 years with barely a dip during the Financial Crisis, Toronto’s housing market, Canada’s largest, and among the most inflated in the world, is heading south with a vengeance, both in terms of sales volume and prices, particularly at the high end. Home sales in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) plunged 39.5% in March compared to a year ago, to 7,228 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB), the local real estate lobbying group. This was spread across all types of homes, even the formerly red-hot condo sector: • Detached houses -46.3% • Semi-detached houses -30.6% • Townhouses -34.2% • Condos -32.7%.

While new listings of homes for sale fell 12.4% year-over-year, at 14,866, they’d surged 41% from the prior month, and added to the listings of homes already on the market. The total number of active listings – new listings plus the listings from prior months that hadn’t sold or been pulled without having sold – more than doubled year-over-year to 15,971 homes, and were up 20% from February. At the current sales rate, total listings pencil out to a supply of 2.1 months. The average days-on-the-market before the home is sold or the listing is pulled without having sold doubled year-over-year to 20 days. Both data points show that the market is cooling from its red-hot phase, that potential sellers aren’t panicking just yet, and that potential buyers are taking their time and getting more reluctant, or losing their appetite altogether, with the fear of missing out (FOMO) having evaporated.

Sales volume has been plunging for months while listings of homes for sale have also surged for months. Prices follow volume, and prices have been backing off, but in February they actually fell on a year-over-year basis, the first since the Financial Crisis, and in March, they fell more steeply. This is what the report called a “change in market conditions.” The average price for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) plunged 14.3% year-over-year to C$784,588. In other words, the average buyer in March a year ago is now about C$130,000 in the hole.

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Better check this out if this is you.

Tax Trouble For -Certain- Bitcoin Traders (F.)

What do you do, come April 17, if you made a ton of money trading crypto last year and have since lost most of it? Panic, probably. A lot of last year’s winners are in deep porridge now. They owe tax on 2017 profits. They’re losing money now, so it’s not easy to come up with the cash to pay off the IRS. As for using today’s losses to offset last year’s gains, these tax naïfs are discovering, too late, that capital loss carryovers run forwards but not backwards. Suppose speculator Bob turned $200,000 into $1 million in last year’s feverish market, trading all the way—in and out of Bitcoin and Ethereum and Ripple and back in again. Now Bob has $800,000 in short-term capital gain to report on Schedule D. The state and federal tax bill is going to be upwards of $300,000.

The 2018 crash has shrunk Bob’s account value, let us suppose, to $300,000. If Bob sells out to pay the tax, he will have a $700,000 capital loss to claim. But he can claim the loss only against future capital gains, not past ones. Small consolation: Bob can use the $700,000 against up to $3,000 a year of ordinary income. If he throws in the towel on cryptocurrencies and goes back to his day job delivering pizzas, it will take him 234 years to catch even. Tyson Cross, an attorney in Reno, Nev. who has built up a specialty in crypto taxation, has been hearing many a sad tale recently. “Some alt coins are down to a tenth or less of their peak value,” he says. “The taxpayers are distraught. They don’t have any way to pay [the tax bill]. There’s only so much we can do.”

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There were no laws. Heroin was candy.

How Advertising Shaped the First Opioid Epidemic (Smithsonian)

When historians trace back the roots of today’s opioid epidemic, they often find themselves returning to the wave of addiction that swept the U.S. in the late 19th century. That was when physicians first got their hands on morphine: a truly effective treatment for pain, delivered first by tablet and then by the newly invented hypodermic syringe. With no criminal regulations on morphine, opium or heroin, many of these drugs became the “secret ingredient” in readily available, dubiously effective medicines. In the 19th century, after all, there was no Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the advertising claims of health products. In such a climate, a popular so-called “patent medicine” market flourished.

Manufacturers of these nostrums often made misleading claims and kept their full ingredients list and formulas proprietary, though we now know they often contained cocaine, opium, morphine, alcohol and other intoxicants or toxins. Products like heroin cough drops and cocaine-laced toothache medicine were sold openly and freely over the counter, using colorful advertisements that can be downright shocking to modern eyes. Take this 1885 print ad for Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for Teething Children, for instance, showing a mother and her two children looking suspiciously beatific. The morphine content may have helped. Yet while it’s easy to blame patent medicines and American negligence for the start of the first opioid epidemic, the real story is more complicated.

First, it would be a mistake to assume that Victorian era Americans were just hunky dory with giving infants morphine syrup. The problem was, they just didn’t know. It took the work of muckraking journalists such as Samuel Hopkins Adams, whose exposé series, “The Great American Fraud” appeared in Colliers from 1905 to 1906, to pull back the curtain. But more than that, widespread opiate use in Victorian America didn’t start with the patent medicines. It started with doctors.

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Mar 272018
 


Paul Klee Cat 1939

 

Dow Surges 670 Points But Stock Market Is On The Brink Of A Breakdown (MW)
Trump Sends To-Do List to China on Trade (WS)
America’s State Wreck Gathers Steam Part 2 (Stockman)
Integrity Has Vanished From The West (Paul Craig Roberts)
Western Allies Expel Scores Of Russian Diplomats Over Skripal Attack (G.)
New Zealand Says It Would Expel Russian Spies … But It Can’t Find Any (G.)
Whistleblower Questions Brexit Result, Says Campaigners Broke Election Law (R.)
Brexit Referendum Campaign Accused of Breaking Spending Rules (BBG)
Theresa May Stands By Adviser Who Outed Brexit Whistleblower (G.)
Underfunded Public Pensions To Persist (R.)
Hood Ornament Buffer (Jim Kunstler)
Meeting Paris Agreement Targets Will Take Massive Cuts in Emissions (BBG)
Ultra-Thin Sun Shield Could Protect Great Barrier Reef (AFP)
Brazil Senate Considers Lifting Ban On Sugarcane Production In Amazon (G.)

 

 

What you’re watching is not real.

Dow Surges 670 Points But Stock Market Is On The Brink Of A Breakdown (MW)

The stock market surged on Monday—and it really needed to. U.S. stocks are coming off the biggest weekly decline in more than two years, and the aftermath of that drop has market technicians warning that major indexes are on the verge of a full-fledged, technical breakdown. “The extent of the deterioration in equities is very much a concern given the combination of near-term technical damage, along with the decline in longer-term momentum after having reached record overbought conditions into late January,” wrote Mark Newton at Newton Advisors, in a Monday research note. Here are some levels that the market is trying to defend or retake after last week’s withering action:

A Dow Theory sell signal was close to forming. According to MarketWatch columnist Mark Hulbert there are a number of steps, but as of Friday, the market had just to see the Dow Jones Transportation Average close below its Feb. 9 low of 10,136.61 to trigger that sell signal after the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, on Friday closed below its February low. On Monday, the transports closed up 2.1% at 10,373.21.

According to data from Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading, a little more than half of Dow components were trading below their 200-day moving averages, which hadn’t happened since 2015. Meanwhile, about 50% of the S&P 500 components were trading above their 200-day moving averages, with a break below indicating “notable technical damage has been done to this market,” O’Rourke wrote.

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All obvious.

Trump Sends To-Do List to China on Trade (WS)

Negotiations – led on the US side by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and on the Chinese side by Liu He, a newly anointed vice premier and President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser – about how to address the gigantic China-US trade imbalance have quietly begun, the infamous “people with knowledge of the matter” told the Wall Street Journal. On Saturday, Mnuchin called Liu, which was confirmed by the Treasury Department. A spokesman said that they “also discussed the trade deficit between our two countries and committed to continuing the dialogue to find a mutually agreeable way to reduce it.” Now Mnuchin is considering a trip to Beijing to pursue the negotiations, one of these people told the Wall Street Journal.

And last week, according to these people, Mnuchin and Lighthizer sent Liu a to-do list on trade with specific items the White House wants China to undertake, including:
• A reduction of the 25% tariffs that China imposes on US-made cars
• Increased purchases by China of US-made semiconductors. China would need to shift these purchases from Japanese and South Korean manufacturers, which aren’t going to be happy
• Reduce subsidies to state-owned enterprises
• Provide more regulatory transparency
• Ease restrictions on US companies in China, particularly requirements that they operate as joint ventures in which the US company’s ownership may be limited to 51%
• Giving US financial firms greater access to the Chinese market.

Clearly, in leaking these negotiations and the existence of this to-do list to the financial press, the White House is hoping to calm the markets, because the last thing it wants is to preside over a stock market plunge, though the stock market has all the best reasons to swoon, and the US-China trade situation isn’t needed to accomplish that.

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“Trump’s new War Cabinet of John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Gina Haspel and Mad Dog Mattis is arguably the most interventionist, militarist, confrontationist and bellicose national security team ever..”

America’s State Wreck Gathers Steam Part 2 (Stockman)

Last week the Donald’s incipient trade war got Wall Street’s nerves jangling, but that wasn’t the half of what’s coming. To wit, Trump has now essentially formed a War Cabinet and signed a Horribus spending bill that is a warrant for fiscal meltdown. Indeed, the two essentially comprise a self-fueling doom loop which means Washington’s descent into fiscal catastrophe is well-nigh unstoppable; it’s all over except for the screaming in the bond pits. That is, Trump’s new War Cabinet of John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Gina Haspel and Mad Dog Mattis is arguably the most interventionist, militarist, confrontationist and bellicose national security team ever assembled by a sitting President.

We cannot think of a single country that has even looked cross-eyed at Washington in recent years where one or all four of them has not threatened to drone, bomb, invade or decapitate its current ruling regime. That means Imperial Washington’s rampant War Fever owing to the Dem-left declaration of war on Russia and Putin is now about to be drastically intensified by the complete victory of the neocon-right in the Trump Administration. The result will be sharpened confrontation, if not actual outbreak of hostilities, across the full spectrum of adversaries – Iran, Russia, China, Syria and North Korea – and an escalating tempo of military operations and procurement to implement the policy.

At the same time, the Donald’s pathetic Fake Veto maneuver on Friday cemented the special interest lobbies’ absolute control over domestic appropriations. Of course, Chuckles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi crowed loudly about the $63 billion annual domestic spending increase they got in return for the Donald’s $80 billion defense add-on, but the victory was not partisan; it belonged to the Swamp creatures who suckle the politicians of both parties and own the appropriations committees lock, stock and barrel.

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TV was just a first step in creating opinions from scratch. We can do much more than that now. Will we still curtail Facebook, Google?

Integrity Has Vanished From The West (Paul Craig Roberts)

Among Western political leaders there is not an ounce of integrity or morality. The Western print and TV media is dishonest and corrupt beyond repair. Yet the Russian government persists in its fantasy of “working with Russia’s Western partners.” The only way Russia can work with crooks is to become a crook. Is that what the Russian government wants? Finian Cunningham notes the absurdity in the political and media uproar over Trump (belatedly) telephoning Putin to congratulate him on his reelection with 77% of the vote, a show of public approval that no Western political leader could possibly attain. The crazed US senator from Arizona called the person with the largest majority vote of our time “a dictator.” Yet a real blood-soaked dictator from Saudi Arabia is feted at the White House and fawned over by the president of the United States.

The Western politicians and presstitutes are morally outraged over an alleged poisoning, unsupported by any evidence, of a former spy of no consequence on orders by the president of Russia himself. These kind of insane insults thrown at the leader of the world’s most powerful military nation—and Russia is a nation, unlike the mongrel Western countries—raise the chances of nuclear Armageddon beyond the risks during the 20th century’s Cold War. The insane fools making these unsupported accusations show total disregard for all life on earth. Yet they regard themselves as the salt of the earth and as “exceptional, indispensable” people.

Think about the alleged poisoning of Skirpal by Russia. What can this be other than an orchestrated effort to demonize the president of Russia? How can the West be so outraged over the death of a former double-agent, that is, a deceptive person, and completely indifferent to the millions of peoples destroyed by the West in the 21st century alone. Where is the outrage among Western peoples over the massive deaths for which the West, acting through its Saudi agent, is responsible in Yemen? Where is the Western outrage among Western peoples over the deaths in Syria? The deaths in Libya, in Somalia, Pakistan, Ukraine, Afghanistan? Where is the outrage in the West over the constant Western interference in the internal affairs of other countries? How many times has Washington overthrown a democratically-elected government in Honduras and reinstalled a Washington puppet?

The corruption in the West extends beyond politicians, presstitutes, and an insouciant public to experts. When the ridiculous Condi Rice, national security adviser to president George W. Bush, spoke of Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction sending up a nuclear cloud over an American city, experts did not laugh her out of court. The chance of any such event was precisely zero and every expert knew it, but the corrupt experts held their tongues. If they spoke the truth, they knew that they would not get on TV, would not get a government grant, would be out of the running for a government appointment. So they accepted the absurd lie designed to justify an American invasion that destroyed a country.

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Diplomats are stationed abroad to make communication possible. This does not help.

Western Allies Expel Scores Of Russian Diplomats Over Skripal Attack (G.)

The US has ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian officials who Washington says are spies, including a dozen based at the United Nations, and told Moscow to shut down its consulate in Seattle, which would end Russian diplomatic representation on the west coast. The EU members Germany, France and Poland are each to expel four Russian diplomats with intelligence agency backgrounds. Lithuania and the Czech Republic said they would expel three, and Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands two each. Estonia, Latvia, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Sweden and Romania each expelled one Russian. Iceland announced it would not be sending officials to the World Cup in Russia.

Ukraine, which is not an EU member, is to expel 13 Russian diplomats, while Albania, an EU candidate member, ordered the departure of two Russians from the embassy in Tirana. Macedonia, another EU candidate, expelled one Russian official. Canada announced it was expelling four diplomatic staff serving in Ottawa and Montreal who the Canadian government said were spies. A pending application from Moscow for three more diplomatic posts in Canada is being denied. Australia confirmed that it too would expel two Russian diplomats who were in the country as undeclared intelligence officers, giving them seven days to leave.

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Someone will find some for them.

New Zealand Says It Would Expel Russian Spies … But It Can’t Find Any (G.)

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and foreign affairs minister, Winston Peters, say they would expel Russian spies from the country, if there were any. More than 100 Russian diplomats alleged to be spies in western countries have been told to return to Moscow, in response to the use of a chemical weapon in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a former Russia/UK double agent, and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England on 4 March. The New Zealand government has condemned the attack and supports the international action, but says there are no such “Russian intelligence agents” in the country.

The Russian ambassador to New Zealand was summoned to a meeting “to reiterate our serious concern” over the Salisbury attack. “While other countries have announced they are expelling undeclared Russian intelligence agents, officials have advised there are no individuals here in New Zealand who fit this profile. If there were, we would have already taken action,” said Ardern. She said New Zealand will review what further action it can take to support the international community over the attack. “We remain steadfast with our international partners in our shared concern about the Salisbury nerve agent attack,” Ardern said.

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There are tw0 such whistleblowers now. Here’s no. 1:

Whistleblower Questions Brexit Result, Says Campaigners Broke Election Law (R.)

A whistleblower at the heart of a Facebook data scandal on Monday questioned the result of Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum as his lawyers presented evidence that they said showed the main campaign for leaving the EU had broken the law. With just a year until Britain is due to leave the European Union, two whistleblowers – one from the British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica and one from the Vote Leave group – have alleged that Brexit campaigners funded their campaign illegally. By doing so, they have pulled Brexit into a scandal that has forced Mark Zuckerberg to apologise for how Facebook handled users’ data, and raised questions about how Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign employed data.

Vote Leave officials on Monday denied breaking election rules and said they were facing an attempt to undermine Brexit by smearing their reputations. The whistleblowers’ law firm, London-based Bindmans, released 53 pages of selected evidence on Monday. In a legal opinion, Bindmans said there was a prima facie case that Vote Leave broke election spending limits by donating to an allied group known as BeLeave, with which it was working closely.

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And this is no. 2:

Brexit Referendum Campaign Accused of Breaking Spending Rules (BBG)

Campaigners for Brexit may have conspired to break spending limits in the U.K.’s 2016 referendum on European Union membership, according to allegations by a whistle-blower who worked for one of the Leave groups. Vote Leave, the main pro-Brexit campaign, gave money to a smaller campaign group, BeLeave, and then helped direct how it was spent, according to a 50-page legal opinion by attorneys from London’s Matrix Chambers. The lawyer are acting on behalf of people who flagged potential violations in the campaign.

If that 625,000-pound ($889,000) donation had been included in Vote Leave’s accounts, it would have taken the group over its 7 million-pound spending limit. “It’s important that it’s the will of the people and not the bought will of the people that is expressed at the ballot box,” Tamsin Allen told reporters at a briefing Monday afternoon in London. Allen is a lawyer for Shahmir Sanni, a BeLeave campaigner who argues the rules were broken.

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No. 2 was outed as gay by his own government as revenge for being a whistleblower. His family in Pakistan has hired security.

Theresa May Stands By Adviser Who Outed Brexit Whistleblower (G.)

Theresa May has insisted her political secretary, Stephen Parkinson, “does a very good job”, as he faces mounting pressure over the outing of the Brexit whistleblower Shahmir Sanni. Sanni said he had endured one of the “most awful weekends” of his life after telling the Observer how Vote Leave channelled money through BeLeave, a group linked to Cambridge Analytica, to get around electoral law. On Friday Sanni was outed as gay by Parkinson, one of May’s closest advisers and a former Vote Leave official, with whom Sanni had a relationship during the campaign. Privately, some Conservative MPs believe Parkinson should stand down. “He’ll have to go,” said one backbencher.

The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw challenged the prime minister in the House of Commons on Monday about what Downing Street said was a “personal statement” by Parkinson. “How is it remotely acceptable that when a young whistleblower exposes compelling evidence of law-breaking by the leave campaign, implicating staff at No 10, one of those named instead of addressing the allegations issues an officially sanctioned statement outing the whistleblower as gay and thereby putting his family in Pakistan in danger?” he said. “It’s a disgrace, prime minister, you need to do something about it.”

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As sure as death and taxes.

Underfunded Public Pensions To Persist (R.)

Investment returns have been uneven and funding levels have yet to recover. Many pension funds have meanwhile attempted to boost returns by loading up on alternative investments to levels unheard of a decade earlier. “Some just cannot grow their way out of it. We have had several years of stellar (stock market) returns and it barely improved the underfunding situation,” said Mikhail Foux, municipal credit analyst at Barclays in New York. The benchmark S&P 500 U.S. stock index has tripled in the past nine years, driven in part by unprecedented zero interest rate policies and massive monetary stimulus from central banks around the globe aimed at combating the deepest recession in a generation.

But pension returns struggled to match the broad market, and recent wobbles in U.S. equities have fed fears of another downturn. “Now what happens when markets are falling 10 to 15%?” Foux asked. In 2007, a year before the crisis began, the median funded level was 92% for state retirement and 97% for local plans, according to Wilshire Funding Studies. That fell to 68% for states and 72% for local governments by 2016, the most recent data. A lower funded ratio indicates the overall soundness of a pension fund is weaker and more money is required to meet future obligations.

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Best description yet of Stormy. Big announcements and an empty interview. Presidents showing their virility makes them more popular, not less. Ask France.

Hood Ornament Buffer (Jim Kunstler)

Newsflash: President Donald J. Trump had sex with a whore twelve years ago. Let that sink into your limbic lobes, you poor, opiated, Facebook-addled, morbidly-obese, fly-over nation of lumbering, deplorable, gun-gripping, Jesus-haunted voters. A hoor! Do you hear? Wait a minute, you say. Stormy Daniels is no such thing, She’s an actress in, and director of, adult films, an auteur, if you like, at least a sex worker, toiling in the rolling mills of eros, sweating and grunting as much as any Mahoning Valley steel worker, or hood ornament buffer on the Tesla assembly line. And anyway, three times over the years she denied having sex with that man, at least once in writing, though last night on CBS’s Sixty Minutes she stated that she actually did have sex with the Golden Golem of Greatness.

In which case, she may be some kind of a lyin’ hoor… or savior of a nation yearning to cast off the loathsome rule of this odious president-by-mistake. The Sixty Minutes make-up and costume crew knocked themselves out coming up with her on-camera look Sunday night: WalMart Shopper. That reddish blouse, for instance, which did not display Stormy’s… er… assets in the usual way (i.e., an enticing fleshy slot descending into deep milky realms of mystery), but just innocently swimming around in there like a couple of frolicking dolphins confined in an above-the-ground backyard pool. Who wouldn’t want to jump in and swim with them? Maybe not the undistractible Anderson Cooper, who did ferret out many interesting particulars of that one romantic encounter: Stormy accepted Trump’s invitation for dinner… in his hotel suite. Just the two of them, ahem.

They watched a TV show about sharks. It apparently lacked aphrodisiac punch. So he showed her a magazine with his picture on the cover, perhaps to get the point across that he was a really important person in case she didn’t already know. She said she ought to take it and spank him with it. He concurred, dropped trou, and presented the rear of his tighty-whitey small-clothes to facilitate that proposal. After that ice-breaker, he said, “I really like you!” and “You remind me of my daughter” — instantly be-sliming the proceedings with overtones of incest. Stormy went to the bathroom and emerged to find Trump perched on the bed. “Here we go,” the thought popped into her head, she says. But she didn’t say “no.”

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Not going to happen. Paris was just meant to make you feel good.

Meeting Paris Agreement Targets Will Take Massive Cuts in Emissions (BBG)

Meeting the Paris accord’s temperature targets will take massive cuts to greenhouse gas emissions within 15 years, but won’t require them to be reduced to zero, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. If those targets—between 1.5 to 2ºC (2.7 to 3.6ºF)—are overshot, the consequences would likely require both drastic cuts to emissions and geoengineering efforts to remove carbon from the atmosphere, according to the paper by Katsumasa Tanaka at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Japan and Brian O’Neill at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. “If we overshoot the temperature target, we do have to reduce emissions to zero. But that won’t be enough,” Tanaka said in a statement.

“We’ll have to go further and make emissions significantly negative to bring temperatures back down to the target by the end of the century.” Tanaka’s team began looking at both the accord’s temperature goals and requirement that countries “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of this century,” according to the statement. The scientists created scenarios that would achieve both the temperature goals and emissions guidelines. The group concluded to do so would necessitate cutting emissions 80% by 2033 to meet the 1.5 degree target or about 66% by 2060 to meet the 2 degree mark. “In both these cases, emissions could then flatten out without ever falling to zero,” according to the statement.

[..] The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is working on a report which is expected to conclude that geoengineering will be needed to meet the 1.5 degree goal. Recognizing this difficulty, Tanaka and O’Neill looked at the possibility the targets would be missed. If the 1.5-degree mark is missed, emissions would have to fall to zero by 2070 and then be negative for the rest of the century. In the 2-degree scenario emissions would have to drop to zero by 2085 and then stay negative for a shorter period of time to get back below 2 degrees. Both scenarios would require removing carbon from that atmosphere. The researchers also looked at scenarios reducing emissions to zero by 2060 and 2100. In the first case, the temperature rose 2 degrees before declining. In the second instance, it rose above that mark by 2043 and stayed there for 100 years or more.

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Yes, of course. We’ll cover the ocean in plastic, just as we do our food. And then ourselves.

Ultra-Thin Sun Shield Could Protect Great Barrier Reef (AFP)

An ultra-fine biodegradable film some 50,000 times thinner than a human hair could be enlisted to protect the Great Barrier Reef from environmental degradation, researchers said Tuesday. The World Heritage-listed site, which attracts millions of tourists each year, is reeling from significant bouts of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change. Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Biology have been buoyed by test results of a floating “sun shield” made of calcium carbonate that has been shown to protect the reef from the effects of bleaching. “It’s designed to sit on the surface of the water above the corals, rather than directly on the corals, to provide an effective barrier against the sun,” Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden said.

The trials on seven different coral types found that the protective layer decreased bleaching of most species, cutting off sunlight by up to 30 percent. “It (the project) created an opportunity to test the idea that by reducing the amount of sunlight from reaching the corals in the first place, we can prevent them from becoming stressed which leads to bleaching,” Marsden said. Researchers from a breadth of disciplines contributed to the project, which was headed by the scientist who developed the country’s polymer bank notes. “In this case, we had chemical engineers and experts in polymer science working with marine ecologists and coral experts to bring this innovation to life,” Marsden said.

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Yeah, just great. The entire deterioration process of teh planet is fast accelerating.

Brazil Senate Considers Lifting Ban On Sugarcane Production In Amazon (G.)

A bill being rushed through Brazil’s senate would lift a ban on the cultivation of sugarcane for ethanol fuel in the Amazon, driving more deforestation and making it harder for the country to meet its commitments under the Paris Climate Deal. The bill, which has been roundly condemned by environmentalists, companies and even Brazil’s union of sugarcane producers (UNICA), marks the latest move by a conservative congress to unravel Amazon protections. Five former environment ministers have also criticised it. “This is another setback that should not thrive,” said one, José Carvalho. Under a 2009 decree, sugar cane production is not allowed in the Amazon biome.

Allowing the highly-profitable crop to be raised on deforested land in the region would push out other crops and encourage more deforestation, said Marcio Astrini, public policy coordinator for Greenpeace in Brazil. It could be “one of the biggest disasters for the forest,” he said. The bill was first introduced in 2011 by Flexa Ribeiro, a senator for the centre-right Brazilian Social Democratic party in the Amazon state of Pará, and suddenly put up for a vote on Tuesday afternoon. It would allow ethanol production on vaguely-defined areas of Amazon land, including “altered areas” and “general land”. If approved on Tuesday and given presidential sanction, it could become law. Brazil’s ethanol fuel is seen as a clean fuel alternative to gasoline by millions of motorists. According to UNICA, 27m cars in Brazil, 73% of the total can use either gasoline or ethanol, as can 4m motorbikes.

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Feb 132018
 
 February 13, 2018  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Camille Corot Study for “The Destruction of Sodom” 1843

 

We Are Sitting On A “Full Tank Of Gas” (Roberts)
‘Whistleblower’ Alleges VIX Manipulation, Urges Regulatory Probe (R.)
How A 5% Mortgage Rate Would Roil The US Housing Market (CNBC)
Interest-Only Loan Cash Flow Crunch Sparks Fears Of Fire Sales (AFR)
These Bonds Should Make ECB Hawks Apoplectic With Rage (BBG)
China Real Estate Under Pressure (BBG)
Greece Rocked By Claims Drug Giant Novartis Bribed Former Leaders (G.)
Greece Is a Turkey, and the Market’s Going to the Dogs (BBG)
An Englishman’s Home Is an Unreliable Pension Plan (BW)
Charities Face Crackdown On ‘Horrific’ Culture Of Sexual Exploitation (Ind.)
Unicef Admits Failings With Child Victims Of Sex Abuse By Peacekeepers (G.)

 

 

“Individuals just simply refuse to act “rationally” by holding their investments as they watch losses mount.”

We Are Sitting On A “Full Tank Of Gas” (Roberts)

Yea….it’s that psychology thing. Individuals just simply refuse to act “rationally” by holding their investments as they watch losses mount. This behavioral bias of investors is one of the most serious risks arising from ETFs as the concentration of too much capital in too few places.

But this concentration risk in ETF’s is not the first time this has occurred: In the early 70’s it was the “Nifty Fifty” stocks, Then Mexican and Argentine bonds a few years after that; “Portfolio Insurance” was the “thing” in the mid -80’s; Dot.com anything was a great investment in 1999; Real estate has been a boom/bust cycle roughly every other decade, but 2006 was a doozy; Today, it’s ETF’s and Bitcoin.

Risk concentration always seems rational at the beginning, and the initial successes of the trends it creates can be self-reinforcing. Until it goes in the other direction. While the sell-off last week was not particularly unusual, it was the uniformity of the price moves which revealed the fallacy “passive investing” as investors headed for the door all at the same time. Such a uniform sell-off is indicative of what we have been warning about for the last several months. For price chasing investors, last week’s plunge should serve as a warning. “With everyone crowded into the ‘ETF Theater,’ the ‘exit’ problem should be of serious concern. Unfortunately, for most investors, they are likely stuck at the very back of the theater.

I warned of this previously: “At some point, that reversion process will take hold. It is then investor ‘psychology’ will collide with ‘margin debt’ and ETF liquidity. It will be the equivalent of striking a match, lighting a stick of dynamite and throwing it into a tanker full of gasoline. When the ‘herding’ into ETF’s begins to reverse, it will not be a slow and methodical process but rather a stampede with little regard to price, valuation or fundamental measures. Importantly, as prices decline it will trigger margin calls which will induce more indiscriminate selling. The forced redemption cycle will cause catastrophic spreads between the current bid and ask pricing for ETF’s.

As investors are forced to dump positions to meet margin calls, the lack of buyers will form a vacuum causing rapid price declines which leave investors helpless on the sidelines watching years of capital appreciation vanish in moments. Don’t believe me? It happened in 2008 as the ‘Lehman Moment’ left investors helpless watching the crash.” “Over a 3-week span, investors lost 29% of their capital and 44% over the entire 3-month period. This is what happens during a margin liquidation event. It is fast, furious and without remorse.” Make no mistake we are sitting on a “full tank of gas.”

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No! “The flaw allows trading firms with advanced algorithms to move the VIX up or down by simply posting quotes on S&P options..”

‘Whistleblower’ Alleges VIX Manipulation, Urges Regulatory Probe (R.)

A scheme to manipulate Wall Street’s fear gauge, VIX, poses risk to the entire equity market and costs investors hundreds of millions of dollars a month, a law firm on behalf of an “anonymous whistleblower” told U.S. financial regulators and urged them to investigate before additional losses are suffered. The Washington-based law firm which represents an anonymous person who claims to have held senior roles in the investment business, told the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Monday that he discovered a market manipulation scheme that takes advantage of a widespread flaw in the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index (VIX).

The CBOE Volatility Index measures the cost of buying options and is the most widely followed barometer of expected near-term stock market volatility. “The flaw allows trading firms with advanced algorithms to move the VIX up or down by simply posting quotes on S&P options and without needing to physically engage in any trading or deploying any capital,” it said in a letter. Those bets against volatility unraveled last week as the benchmark S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered their biggest respective percentage drops since August 2011. Investors using exchange-traded products linked to the VIX were pummeled and two banks, Credit Suisse and Nomura, said they would terminate two exchange traded notes that bet on low volatility in stock prices.

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Try 6%, 7%.

How A 5% Mortgage Rate Would Roil The US Housing Market (CNBC)

Mortgage rates are now at their highest level in four years and poised to move even higher. The timing couldn’t be worse, as the usually busy spring housing market kicked into gear early this year amid higher home prices and strong competition for a record low supply of homes for sale. Add it all up, and affordability is starting to hurt. The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed is now right around 4.50%, still low when looking historically, but buyers over the past six years have gotten more used to rates in the 3% range. Mortgage rates have not been at 5% since 2011. A 5% rate would cause more than a quarter of today’s homebuyers to slow their plans, according to a Redfin survey of 4,000 consumers at the end of last year. Just 6% said they would drop their plans to buy altogether.

About one-fifth of consumers said 5% rates would cause them to move with more urgency to purchase a home, fearing rates would rise even further. Another fifth said they would consider more affordable areas or just buy a smaller home. Despite rate concerns, the bigger issue for buyers is changes to tax laws that had lowered the cost of homeownership. Specifically, the deduction on property taxes is now limited to $10,000. While that does not affect homeowners in the majority of the country, it does hit those in high-cost states like New York, New Jersey and Illinois, and those in higher-priced housing markets like California. Some have claimed that higher rates and the new tax law will put downward pressure on home prices, alleviating some of the current sticker shock, but other factors are fighting that assertion.

“Tight credit, lack of inventory and high demand are the major factors that tell us there’s no housing bubble, despite rapid price increases,” said Redfin’s chief economist, Nela Richardson. “There are still many more buyers than the current housing supply can support, with no major relief in sight.”

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From Australia. Check interest-only where you live. Big Threat.

Interest-Only Loan Cash Flow Crunch Sparks Fears Of Fire Sales (AFR)

Interest-only property investors seeking to switch their loan to principal and interest may be forced to sell because of lenders’ tough new serviceability requirements. A typical borrower paying 4.5% on a $400,000 loan will have to prove to their lender they can meet repayments for a 7.25% loan, or an increase in annual repayments from $18,000 to more than $32,700. The higher serviceability rates have been introduced after many investors took out their loans and are forcing borrowers to try and sell their properties, despite markets beginning to soften. It’s worse for many self-managed super fund investors who bought investment properties and are boxed in from making bigger payments because of annual caps on the size of their contributions. Real estate agents are warning the cash flow crunch is causing mortgage stress to rapidly spread from one-time mining boom towns and the outer suburbs into prestigious inner suburbs.

“Clients are ringing to say they need to refinance and their next call is that they need to sell,” said Andrew Fawell, director of Beller Property Group. Mr Fawell, whose business covers inner Melbourne within 10 kilometres of the central business district, has been asked to value four potential mortgagee property sales in the past month after having none in the past two years. “Many investors who bought two or three apartments with, in many cases, only 10% deposit with cheap interest-only loans are beginning to feel the heat,” Mr Fawell said. “These numbers will get a lot worse as investors find it harder to service their debt.”

The potential problem arises for many three- to five-year fixed rate loans that have reached the end of their terms and the much stricter regime introduced by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. Many borrowers deposited only 10%. In recent years most major lenders have introduced a 7.25% “floor for serviceability” for investor and owner-occupier loans, which is the minimum rate at which the bank will assess a home loan. Serviceability is the lenders’ assessment of the borrowers’ capacity to afford the loan and takes into account possibly higher future interest rates. It is usually assessed by a review of income and fixed commitments over the life of the loan and potential rental income.

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The ECB supports those parties that don’t need it.

These Bonds Should Make ECB Hawks Apoplectic With Rage (BBG)

This is tapering? With the economic recovery well under way in Europe the European Central Bank has cut its government bond purchases by two-thirds. Fair enough. However, it is not reining in its involvement in company debt. The securities now comprise about 20% of monthly purchases, up from 7% at the start of the program in mid-2016. The total amount could top €200 billion ($244 billion) before quantitative easing ends. If it had any self-knowledge the ECB should be aware of the problems it’s creating. The fact that, by its purchases, it has soaked up all the liquidity in the secondary market and has had to turn to the primary market should be a warning sign. The central bank’s growing involvement in company borrowing should be causing ructions among the hawks on the Governing Council, who seem alive to the dangers of being late in withdrawing stimulus.

Yet their silence is deafening. Through QE the ECB has invested in over 230 individual companies, and with an average maturity of 5.6 years it’s impossible to see them as being exposed only in the short term. Performance has been decent – spreads have tightened on about three-quarters of its holdings. The odd misstep, such as having to liquidate Steinhoff or German fertilizer maker K+S bonds when they fell below investment grade, can be overlooked. The knock-on effect of such largess is that corporate bond spreads have had a seemingly unending streak of achieving record lows. Support for credit markets in times of strife is one thing. But driving outsized performance isn’t just storing up trouble for an individual company or investor for the future, it’s a reckless refusal to allow financial discipline to inform the decision making of actors in the financial system.

[..] The surge of demand for additional tier one bank capital is another particularly worrying phenomenon. Investors face a total loss if the issuing bank’s capital ratios fall below regulatory requirements. Raiffeisen Bank was able in January to issue an AT1 perpetual bond at 4.5%, having issued a similar 6.125% AT1 security in June. Though there was a one-notch credit-rating upgrade, that can hardly justify such an enormous improvement. And 4.5% can never be enough compensation for the risk of getting completely wiped out.

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Now Beijing wants to push rental housing. Easier to control?

China Real Estate Under Pressure (BBG)

While all eyes are on China’s stocks rout after the U.S. swoon, there’s a troubled sector that’s garnering fewer headlines but will have broader reverberations – real estate. Chinese property stocks slumped last week, dragged down not just by the global sell-off but by worries this may be the year when housing finally takes a hit. To date, Beijing’s crackdown on risk amid soaring household debt has had little effect on prices. December data showed values in small cities continued to rise, while they were mostly flat in top-tier conurbations like Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Beijing. There are several reasons, though, why the 13-year rally in house prices must end at some point. First, banks are making borrowing tough, not only raising costs for home loans but also restricting supply, especially in major centers such as Beijing and Shenzhen, under a semi-official mortgage quota.

Even last year’s stars, the second- and third-tier cities that led price gains, may fade as China curtails easy home loans that were intended to help soak up a glut of property. Downpayments there ranged between 20 and 30%, compared with 40 to 80% in top-tier locations, according to Credit Suisse. As the curbs bite, mortgage lending has started to decline. (The other plank of household debt, consumer lending, has been an even bigger problem, surging 180% last year, according to Credit Suisse.) Second, perhaps further down the line, a property tax is looming. Finance Minister Xiao Jie indicated this might happen as early as 2020. When President Xi Jinping exhorted people to remember that houses are for living, not speculation, real estate investors must have grown nervous; a tax will make them quake.

With few investment options available to individuals beyond the volatile stock market and wealth-management products (more and more of which are being banned), it’s no surprise that as much as 25% of the demand for real estate is speculative, according to Bloomberg Economics. Third, there’s the more immediate threat to real estate prices of a supply-side push by Beijing. The government is starting to shift from tamping down demand to promoting new housing. Among measures the government is promoting, according to BNP Paribas economist Chen Xingdong, is encouraging homes where the government and buyers share property rights, and even allowing state-owned firms to sell apartments to their employees. The government is also encouraging the growth of a rental market. While much of the current stock of rental housing is of poor quality, that’s likely to change.

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And only now does this reach European media. The upshot: Novartis pulled the same stunt in South Korea.

Greece Rocked By Claims Drug Giant Novartis Bribed Former Leaders (G.)

The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has called for parliament to investigate whether two of his predecessors and eight former ministers accepted bribes from the Swiss drugmaker Novartis, after allegations of industrial-scale bribery involving senior politicians. The former PMs Antonis Samaras and Panagiotis Pikrammenos, the governor of the Bank of Greece and the EU’s migration commissioner were all identified as alleged beneficiaries of bribes in a report compiled by anti-corruption prosecutors with the help of US authorities. Novartis is alleged to have bribed politicians to approve overpriced contracts and to have made payments to thousands of doctors as part of concerted efforts to boost sales between 2006 to 2015.

The claims have rocked Greek society since coming to light last week. One serving government minister claimed the kickbacks surpassed €50m and resulted in costs of more than €4bn to the Greek public health system. The deputy justice minister, Dimitris Papangelopoulos, said it was “the biggest scandal since the establishment of the Greek state” almost 200 years ago. Widening the net on Monday, Tsipras said it was imperative there could be no cover-up. “We will make use of every power afforded by national and international law to recover the money stolen from the Greek people down to the last euro,” the leftist leader told MPs in his Syriza party. “We will do everything we can to reveal the truth.”

MPs will vote on establishing a committee of inquiry later this month. Only parliament has the power to investigate politicians for alleged infractions during their term in office. The allegations have been rebutted vehemently by the accused. The report’s reliance on three unnamed witnesses – who are currently under government protection – has been especially criticised, and legal experts contend that the claims would not stand up in court. The EU commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos demanded that the identity of the witnesses be revealed and expressed his “disgust” at what he said were fabrications created by “sick minds”. He stands accused of purchasing 16m anti-flu vaccines from Novartis while health minister between 2006 and 2009. [..] Novartis has faced similar investigations in recent years. Last year South Korea fined the company $48m for offering kickbacks to doctors.

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Just as Greece starts selling bonds again, it faces increasing competition,

Greece Is a Turkey, and the Market’s Going to the Dogs (BBG)

Greece almost makes it look easy. It issued a new €3 billion ($3.7 billion) seven-year bond on Thursday, at a very healthy 3.5% yield, stepping into a briefly open window for raising money during the most torrid week for markets in years. The security is now trading very close to 4%. Ouch. The benefits of going ahead with the sale went to Greece rather than to investors. With a €6 billion order book there was no lack of demand – but there is buyer’s remorse now. It’s the first sovereign syndicated new issue to perform badly in Europe so far this year. This could make it troublesome for the region’s other governments to bring deals on top of an already-heavy regular auction schedule. Greece may just be one turkey, but investor demand is going to become a lot pickier.

And there’s plenty to choose from. Governments have been crowding out the syndicated new issue market even more this year, comprising 26.5% of deals versus an already-strong 23% at this stage in 2017. If supra-nationals and agencies are included then half of all new syndicated deals are from an official institution. It’s a curious result, given that the European new-issue market is supposed to be much more about companies. For example, the European Financial Stability Facility – created to fund Greece’s bailout – has already issued half of its €28 billion annual plan. The EFSF has come three times in 2018 with €13.5 billion in maturities ranging from 6 to 23 years. That is an almost indecent rush to complete its annual funding schedule as early as possible. It’s smart for the issuer – less so for the investor.

Borrowers can try to front-load sales in a low-rate environment, but with more central banks getting comfortable with tightening, investors are not going to play that game unless the yield is generous. It’s an increasing struggle, given that the German benchmark 10-year yield has risen sharply since the mid-December lows of 30 basis points. The yield famine is easing up.

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What a shame: too late!

An Englishman’s Home Is an Unreliable Pension Plan (BW)

“A man’s house is his castle,” Sir Edward Coke wrote back in the 17th century. These days, Britons are relying on their properties not just for refuge but also to fund their retirements. It’s a strategy that could backfire badly. Along with the rest of the world, the U.K. has an aging population: a growing number of retirees are being supported by a shrinking pool of workers. The U.K.’s dependency ratio – calculated by adding together the over 65s and under 15s, then dividing by the working-age population and multiplying by 100 – will rise to 60% by 2027. That’s up from 55% in 2017 and from 54% in 1997. As the pyramid grows more inverted, how does the top-heavy non-working cohort propose to finance a life of leisure and superannuation? By releasing the equity they expect to have accumulated in their homes once they’re ready to hit the golf course.

One in five Brits agreed with the statement “when I retire, I plan to sell my house, downsize and live off the profit,” according to a survey commissioned by pension consultants LCP from polling firm YouGov. That gamble seems unwise. In recent years home values, like global stock markets, only ever seemed to increase. But, again as with global stock markets, the notion of ever-rising prices has taken something of a beating recently. According to a report published on Monday, U.K. house prices posted their first annual decline in six years in January. Moreover, with wage growth in recent years failing to keep pace with either rising property prices or inflation, it’s become harder for those of working age to get on the housing ladder in the first place. And the percentage of under 34s who own their own homes has slumped in the past decade.

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This is so sick it makes one silent.

Charities Face Crackdown On ‘Horrific’ Culture Of Sexual Exploitation (Ind.)

British charities are facing a government crackdown to combat the “horrific” sexual exploitation exposed at Oxfam, amid concerns about a wider culture of abuse. All British charities working overseas have been ordered to provide “absolute assurances” that they are protecting vulnerable people and referring complaints to authorities. Oxfam’s deputy chief executive resigned during crisis talks with the Government, saying she took “full responsibility” for the alleged use of prostitutes by senior staff in Haiti. But aid workers told The Independent sexual misconduct against both locals and staff remains “widespread” in humanitarian agencies and called for wholesale reforms.

Penny Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary, has written a letter to all UK charities working overseas demanding “absolute assurance that the moral leadership, the systems, the culture and the transparency needed to fully protect vulnerable people are in place”. “It is not only Oxfam that must improve,” she said. “My absolute priority is to keep the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people safe from harm. In the 21st century, it is utterly despicable that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to exist in the aid sector.” The Department for International Development (Dfid) has created a new unit dedicated to reviewing safeguarding in the aid sector and stopping “criminal and predatory individuals” being employed by other charities.

[..] “Oxfam made a full and unqualified apology – to me, and to the people of Britain and Haiti – for the appalling behaviour of some of their staff in Haiti in 2011, and for the wider failings of their organisation’s response to it,” said Ms Mordaunt. “They spoke of the deep sense of disgrace and shame that they and their organisation feel about what has happened, and set out the actions they will now take to put things right and prevent such horrific abuses happening in future.“

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It’s not just Oxfam, it’s an industry-wide culture.

Unicef Admits Failings With Child Victims Of Sex Abuse By Peacekeepers (G.)

The UN’s children’s agency has admitted shortcomings in its humanitarian support to children who allege that they were raped and sexually abused by French peacekeepers in Central African Republic. A statement by Unicef Netherlands is the first public acknowledgement of the agency’s recent failure to provide support to some of the victims of alleged abuse by peacekeepers in the African nation. It comes as the aid sector and the UN face increasing scrutiny for their failings in managing internal sexual misconduct by their own staff. Unicef was given the task of overseeing the support for children who said they had been abused by peacekeepers.

But in March last year, an award-winning investigation by Swedish Television’s Uppdrag Granskning (Mission Investigate) revealed that some of the children supposedly in the UN’s care were homeless, out of school and forced to make a living on the streets, despite UN assurances that they would be protected. Unicef’s representative in CAR told the programme that the children were in the agency’s assistance programme for minors and were being supported. He said he was not aware that some were on the streets. But earlier this month – ahead of a Dutch screening of the programme – Unicef Netherlands admitted to the Dutch television programme Zembla that Unicef had failed in its duty to help some of the alleged victims. But it said that since the programme had first aired, it had taken steps to locate the children featured in the programme and provide them with support.

Marieke van Santen, of Zembla, said she found the Swedish film “astonishing” because the children who were interviewed were known to Unicef, yet they were not being cared for. Van Santen said: “It is quite shocking to realise that not only once but twice UN agencies have failed to help these victims.” The statement from Unicef Netherlands was welcomed by Karin Mattisson, a reporter for Mission Investigate. “I hope it makes a difference to the children and gives them strength. They have said they were failed,” said Mattisson.Several boys who testified to having been sexually assaulted by French soldiers were living rough, Mattisson found, while a girl, who became pregnant at the age of 14 by a Congolese peacekeeper and had later found out she was HIV-positive, was out of school looking after her baby. Another boy, aged eight, who was too traumatised to be interviewed, was in an orphanage. “I hope they live up to this statement,” she said. “When we investigated the UN and Unicef it was a long journey into their culture of silence.”

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Apr 202017
 
 April 20, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Fra Filippo Lippi 1406-1469 The Virgin Mary

 

The IMF Says Austerity Is Over (Tel.)
Reflation Trades of 2016 Deflate With Remarkable Speed (R.)
IMF Warns High US Corporate Leverage Could Threaten Financial Stability (WSJ)
Securities-Based Loans Are Scaring Fiscal Experts (NYP)
Telling the Truth: (P + G) – M = I (MarkGB)
You’re Hired! A Guaranteed Job For Anyone Who Wants One (DJ)
Japan’s Middle-Aged ‘Parasite Singles’ Face Uncertain Future (R.)
The EU’s Collapse Is Now “Imminent” (Doug Casey)
Greece Needs To Start Having Babies Again or Face Financial Oblivion (Ind.)
40% of Spanish Children Live in Poverty (EurA)
Ontario Set to Unveil Its Plan to Cool Toronto Housing (BBG)
Feds Knew of 700 Wells Fargo Whistleblower Cases in 2010 (CNN)
So It Goes (Oliver Stone)
A Melting Arctic Changes Everything (BBG)

 

 

Yeah, sure, just come look in Greece. Where the IMF itself demands ever more austerity. While claiming austerity is over.

The IMF Says Austerity Is Over (Tel.)

Austerity is over as governments across the rich world increased spending last year and plan to keep their wallets open for the foreseeable future. After five years of belt tightening, the IMF says the era of spending cuts that followed the financial crisis is now at an end. “Advanced economies eased their fiscal stance by one-fifth of 1pc of GDP in 2016, breaking a five-year trend of gradual fiscal consolidation,” said the IMF in its fiscal monitor. “Their aggregate fiscal stance is expected to remain broadly neutral in 2017 as well as in the following years.” The British Government is still trying to reduce the deficit but at a slower pace, as Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, wanted to ease spending cuts following the vote for Brexit last year.

Although extra spending may be welcomed by those who want funds for specific projects or public services, the IMF is worried that governments are still heavily indebted and need to be careful with their budgets. The US government, for instance, should use the current economic growth spurt as a chance to get its finances under control. “In the United States, where the economy is close to full employment, fiscal consolidation could start next year to put debt firmly on a downward path,” the IMF said. That contrasts heavily with President Donald Trump’s plans to spend more on infrastructure and defence while cutting taxes, a combination that risks ramping up the budget deficit. “These policies are expected to generate rising deficits over the medium term.

As a result, the US debt ratio is projected to increase continuously over the five-year forecast horizon,” the IMF warned. Overall the IMF believes government debts “should stabilise in the medium term, averaging more than 100pc of GDP, rather than decline as previously expected.” With debts that high, governments have to walk a fine line to use fiscal policy to support sustainable economic growth, but avoid dangerous over-indebtedness. “Fiscal policy is generally seen as a powerful tool for promoting inclusive growth and can contribute to stabilising the economy, particularly during deep recessions and when monetary policy has become less effective,” said the IMF.

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How can anyone get this right if they can’t even properly define inflation?

Reflation Trades of 2016 Deflate With Remarkable Speed (R.)

Stocks, bond yields and the dollar are all falling, yield curves are flattening and sterling is marching higher. The “reflation” trades of 2016 that were supposed to mark a turning point in global markets are fading. Fast. The question for investors is whether this is the play book for the rest of the year, or whether the trends of 2016 will resume in the second half of the year. What is clear is that much of the conviction with which investors went into 2017 has been lost. This week, Goldman Sachs ditched its long-standing bullish call on the U.S. dollar, and Deutsche Bank did likewise with their gloomy sterling outlook. Following the developed world’s two most seismic events last year – the U.S. presidential election and Brexit – investors around the world had positioned for a broad-based reflation trade.

Trump’s surprise election victory was supposed to unleash a wave of tax cuts, banking deregulation and fiscal largesse that would lift U.S. – and global – growth. Meanwhile, sterling’s 20% plunge after the Brexit vote was supposed to pave the way for a surge in UK equities and inflation. This, indeed, is how it played out as 2017 got underway. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates twice, the dollar reached a 14-year peak, Wall Street hit record highs, and government bond yield curves around the world steepened to the benefit of banks and financial stocks. But it is now unraveling, in large part due to a clear slowdown in U.S. growth and signs that global inflation is leveling off. Flatter yield curves where short- and long-term bond yields are close to each other suggest economic uncertainty.

[..] Citi’s economic surprises indexes for most of the world’s major economies have been heading south for the past month. The U.S. index has suddenly tumbled to lows not seen since November, and is below all its peers apart from Japan’s. And inflation expectations are showing signs of peaking too. The dollar is now down 2.5% year-to-date (but still up 2% since the U.S. election; U.S. bank stocks are down 10% from their February peak (but still up 20% from the election); and sterling is down 13% against the dollar since the Brexit vote last June (but it has been down as much as 20%). Estimates of first quarter U.S. growth have been slashed in recent weeks, with the Atlanta Fed’s closely-watched GDPNow model pointing to just 0.5% compared with around 2.5% less than two months ago.

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All it takes is a few rate hikes.

IMF Warns High US Corporate Leverage Could Threaten Financial Stability (WSJ)

U.S. corporate debt has ballooned on cheap credit to levels exceeding those prevailing just before the 2008 financial crisis, a potential threat to financial stability, the IMF warned in its latest review of the top threats to markets and banks. High corporate leverage could become problematic as the Federal Reserve raises short-term interest rates, the IMF warned, since higher borrowing costs could hinder the ability of firms to service debts. While borrowing costs remain low, debt servicing as a proportion of income has risen to its highest level since 2010, raising questions over firms’ ability to service their debts, according to the IMF’s study of nearly 4,000 U.S. firms accounting for about half of the economywide corporate sector balance sheet.

Companies have added $7.8 trillion of debt and other liabilities since 2010, while issuing $3 trillion of equity, net of buybacks, according to the IMF. The IMF’s message stands in contrast to the one being sent by the corporate bond market, which has been rallying for more than a year now. In early March, the average spread between junk-rated corporate bond yields and U.S. Treasury yields reached 3.44 percentage points, its lowest point since July 2014, according to Bloomberg Barclays data. It was most recently at 3.92 percentage points, still a very low level by historical standards, indicating that investors don’t see the debt as very risky.

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So you buy mortgage backed securities, and then use them as collateral for a loan that lets you buy more securities. The serpent and the tail.

Securities-Based Loans Are Scaring Fiscal Experts (NYP)

Forget subprime mortgages – one of Wall Street’s biggest risks doesn’t even show up on most banks’ balance sheets. Financial insiders are getting increasingly worried over the popularity of securities-based loans, or SBLs – a risky form of debt marketed to wealthy investors who typically use it to buy big assets like houses. The loans, which are taken against pools of stocks and bonds, offer borrowers cheap money fast without having to sell their underlying securities – an attractive option when the Dow is rising. But if markets crash, brokers can unload their clients’ holdings at fire-sale prices – and go after the house to cover the the vig. Fears of such ugly scenarios are growing as the Fed hikes interest rates, stocks are hitting all-time highs, and high-net-worth individuals are using this form of “shadow margin” to borrow more against stocks and bonds in their portfolios than ever before.

It’s not clear how much debt has been taken out in the form of SBLs, and a lack of regulatory oversight is partly to blame. Finra, the brokerage regulator, doesn’t track it, nor does the Securities and Exchange Commission — even though both have warned investors about the risks. However, several advisers surveyed by The Post estimated there is between $100 billion and $250 billion in outstanding SBLs among all brokerages. At least one concerned financial executive is in talks with lawyers to file a whistleblower case over the issue against a major bank with the Securities and Exchange Commission, The Post has learned. “When the market does turn, and it will at some point, it will be a major disaster,” said the exec, who requested confidentiality in exchange for speaking on the issue with The Post.

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Here’s what I think will lead to UBI: poor old people. I skipped all the examples and links provided here. Do read them. “Where ‘P’ is pensions, ‘G’ is ‘government intervention’, ‘M’ is media oversight, and ‘I’ is insolvency.”

Telling the truth: (P + G) – M = I (MarkGB)

Telling the truth has never been popular with politicians. They believe that it would prevent them from getting elected. Making new promises that will never be kept, and covering up the unaffordability of old promises…is how politicians get elected. The pattern is well worn and predictable: they use promises to ‘bribe’ people to vote for them, then they fail to deliver, then they blame someone else, then they change the subject…rinse and repeat…meanwhile the really important stuff get’s brushed under the carpet or kicked down the road…choose your own metaphor. There are few greater examples of this than the approaching crisis in pensions: A tale that has been decades in the telling, the climax will be a calamity that the corporate media doesn’t want to look at, and politicians never mention or acknowledge. Short of being strapped to a metal chair and entertained with an electrical massage they never will…which is a nice thought but regrettably still illegal, at least on the mainland.

[..] Despite the dark pleasure it would give me to label our political and economic elites: ‘as thick as two short planks’…the truth is that many of them are not. It’s far worse than that I’m afraid. They are ‘liars’. The politicians, central bankers, economists and journalists who understand the situation we face, but do nothing to address it, are discrediting the positions of responsibility that they hold…by lying through omission, by obfuscation, through denial, by issuing false and/or misleading information, and via the good old fashioned ‘art’ of bull$hitting straight to camera. Finally, and on a slightly lighter note, for anyone reading this who has been brainwashed with the idea that any theory or observation that can’t be reduced to an equation, is not real ‘economics’…here is an equation for you (but don’t expect your professor to like it):

(P + G) – M = I

Where ‘P’ is pensions, ‘G’ is ‘government intervention’, ‘M’ is media oversight, and ‘I’ is insolvency. Throughout recorded history, this equation has never failed to balance eventually…ask any legionnaire.

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Another -more palatable?!- way of phrasing UBI.

You’re Hired! A Guaranteed Job For Anyone Who Wants One (DJ)

Democrats have begun the presidency of Donald Trump exiled to the political wilderness. They’ve lost the White House, both houses of Congress, a shocking number of state governments, while the “blue state” vote has turned out to be really just the “blue city” vote. The party has cast about for solutions, battling it out over identity politics, the proper opposition strategy, and more. But Democrats might consider taking a cue from Trump himself. Namely, his relentless promises to bring back good-paying American jobs. “It’s the first and most consistent thing he discusses,” observed Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, after reviewing Trump’s speeches. The President understands, as The New York Times’s Josh Barro noted, that most Americans think the purpose of private business is to provide good jobs, not merely turn a profit.

Even Trump’s xenophobia and white nationalism are not totally separate from this: Kicking out all the immigrants and rolling foreign competitors are critical components of how he would restore jobs. Democrats tend to treat jobs as the happy by-product of other goals like infrastructure revitalization or green energy projects. Or they treat deindustrialization and job dislocation as regrettable inevitabilities, offering training, unemployment insurance, health care, and so on to ameliorate their effects. All these policies are worthy. But a job is not merely a delivery mechanism for income that can be replaced by an alternative source. It’s a fundamental way that people assert their dignity, stake their claim in society, and understand their mutual obligations to one another. There’s pretty clear evidence that losing this social identity matters as much as the loss of financial security.

The damage done by long-term joblessness to mental and physical health is rivaled only by the death of a spouse. It wreaks havoc on marriages, families, mortality rates, alcoholism rates, and more. The 2008 crisis drove long-term unemployment into the stratosphere, and today it remains near a historic high. Trump went right at this problem, telling Michigan in October of 2016: “I am going to bring back your jobs.” Period. Democrats should consider making the same moon shot promise. But unlike Trump, they should back it up with a policy plan. And there’s an idea that could do the trick. It emerges naturally from progressive values. It’s big, bold, and could fit on a bumper sticker. It’s generally called the “job guarantee” or the “employer of last resort.” In a nutshell: Have the federal government guarantee employment, with benefits and a living wage, to every American willing and able to work.

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More pension troubles. Today Japan, tomorrow your neck of the woods.

Japan’s Middle-Aged ‘Parasite Singles’ Face Uncertain Future (R.)

Their youth long gone, members of Japan’s generation of “parasite singles” face a precarious future, wondering how to survive once the parents many depended on for years pass away. Some 4.5 million Japanese aged between 35 and 54 were living with their parents in 2016, according to a researcher at the Statistical Research and Training Institute on a demographic phenomena that emerged two decades ago, when youthful singles made headlines for mooching off parents to lead carefree lives. Now, without pensions or savings of their own, these middle-aged stay-at-homes threaten to place an extra burden on a social welfare system that is already creaking under pressure from Japan’s aging population and shrinking workforce.

Hiromi Tanaka once sang backup for pop groups, and epitomized the optimism of youth. “I got used to living in an unstable situation and figured somehow it would work out,” Tanaka told Reuters as she sat at the piano in a small parlor of an old house connected to her elderly mother’s next door. Now aged 54, Tanaka relies on income from giving private singing lessons to a dwindling number of students, and her mother’s pension to make ends meet. She has no pension plan of her own, and has used up most of her savings. “My father died last year so pension income was halved,” she said. “If things go on like this, my mother and I will fall together.” Tanaka is one of the growing ranks of “life-time singles,” whose numbers hit a record in 2015, according to data released this month that showed that among 50-year-olds, 1 in 4 men and 1 in 7 women were unmarried.

“During the ‘bubble economy’ until the mid-1990s, the 20-somethings were happily amusing themselves. They thought by the time they were in their 30s, they’d be married,” said Masahiro Yamada, a Chuo University sociologist who coined the term “parasite singles” in 1997. “But one-third never married and are now around age 50,” Yamada said. The trend is not only a factor behind Japan’s low birthrate and shrinking population. It also puts an extra damper on consumption since new household formation is a key driver of private spending. And since about 20% of the middle-aged stay-at-home singles rely on parents for support, they also threaten to weigh on social safety nets. “Once they use up inherited assets and savings, when nothing is left, they will go on the dole,” Yamada said.

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Casey gets lots of things spectacularly wrong. The EU did need trade pacts etc., to enhance, guarantee quality control. The EU did a lot of good things. But it got taken over by the shit that floats to the top: “The European Union in Brussels is composed of a class of bureaucrats that are extremely well paid, have tremendous benefits, and have their own self-referencing little culture. They’re exactly the same kind of people that live within the Washington, D.C. beltway.”

The EU’s Collapse Is Now “Imminent” (Doug Casey)

A free trade pact between different governments is unnecessary for free trade. An individual country interested in prosperity and freedom only needs to eliminate all import and export duties, and all import and export quotas. When a country has duties or quotas, it’s essentially putting itself under embargo, shooting its economy in the foot. Businesses should trade with whomever they want for their own advantage. But that wasn’t the way the Europeans did it. The Eurocrats, instead, created a treaty the size of a New York telephone book, regulating everything. This is the problem with the EU. They say it is about free trade, but really it’s about somebody’s arbitrary idea of “fair trade,” which amounts to regulating everything. In addition to its disastrous economic consequences, it creates misunderstandings and confusion in the mind of the average person.

Brussels has become another layer of bureaucracy on top of all the national layers and local layers for the average European to deal with. The European Union in Brussels is composed of a class of bureaucrats that are extremely well paid, have tremendous benefits, and have their own self-referencing little culture. They’re exactly the same kind of people that live within the Washington, D.C. beltway. The EU was built upon a foundation of sand, doomed to failure from the very start. The idea was ill-fated because the Swedes and the Sicilians are as different from each other as the Poles and the Irish. There are linguistic, religious, and cultural differences, and big differences in the standard of living. Artificial political constructs never last. The EU is great for the “elites” in Brussels; not so much for the average citizen.

Meanwhile, there’s a centrifugal force even within these European countries. In Spain, the Basques and the Catalans want to split off, and in the UK, the Scots want to make the United Kingdom quite a bit less united. You’ve got to remember that before Garibaldi, Italy was scores of little dukedoms and principalities that all spoke their own variations of the Italian language. And the same was true in what’s now Germany before Bismarck in 1871. In Italy 89% of the Venetians voted to separate a couple of years ago. The Italian South Tyrol region, where 70% of the people speak German, has a strong independence movement. There are movements in Corsica and a half dozen other departments in France. Even in Belgium, the home of the EU, the chances are excellent that Flanders will separate at some point.

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Another feature brought to you by the Troika.

Greece Needs To Start Having Babies Again or Face Financial Oblivion (Ind.)

People in Greece can’t afford to have more than one child, and many are opting to have none at all. Fertility doctor Minas Mastrominas tells the New York Times that some women have decided not to conceive, and single-child parents have been asking him to destroy their remaining embryos. He said: “After eight years of economic stagnation, they’re giving up on their dreams.” It isn’t just Greece suffering low birth rates. In fact the trend spreads to most of Europe, with Spain, Portugal and Italy also reporting dangerously low rates. Unemployment continues to be a serious issue in Greece. Rates are slightly lower than in 2016 when they were 23.9%, but are still very high at 23.5%. The slump has affected women more, with unemployment rates at 27% compared to 20% of men.

Child tax breaks and subsidies for large families have decreased, and the country stands at having to lowest budget in the EU for family and child benefits. During the height of the crisis, women postponed childbirth in favour of working. As the years dragged on, the rate of fertility decreased, making it biologically more difficult to conceive. Additionally, gender equality came to a standstill, and many women of ‘childbearing age’ were denied employment, or had their contract changed to part time involuntarily, as soon as they got pregnant. One of the most prominent areas that will be detrimentally affected is pensions and the welfare system. Additionally, according to Eurostat, such low birth rates – under 2.1 – could create a demographic disaster. This will have a knock-on effect on pensions, with fewer young people working.

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And the children we do have, we treat like this. No wonder there are fewer of them.

40% of Spanish Children Live in Poverty (EurA)

Spain has the EU’s third highest rate of child poverty, after Romania and Greece. EURACTIV Spain reports. After the economic crisis and years of austerity, child poverty is on the rise in wealthy countries, according to Unicef. In Spain, the proportion of children living below the poverty line increased by 9 percentage points between 2008 and 2014, to reach almost 40%. While child poverty in general rose significantly, the sharpest increase (56%) was among households of four people (two adults and two children) living on less than €700 per month, or €8,400 per year. Spain has the third widest gap in the EU, behind Latvia and Cyprus, between the levels of social protection offered to children and people over 65. During the crisis, Spain’s oldest citizens were much better protected than its youngest.

According to the Spanish Statistical Office, cited by Unicef, investment in the social protection of families fell by €11.5 billion between 2009 and 2015. Unicef also highlighted that families with children, large families, single-parent families and teenagers suffered the most from the effects of poverty. As for Madrid’s response to the crisis, the UN’s agency for children criticised its failure to contain child poverty. “Social protection policies are very fragmented and very unequal, with little focus on children,” Unicef said. For the organisation, this is due, among other causes, to the strong link between social security and workers’ contributions, and the fact that many of the state’s family aid programmes take the form of tax credits, which have little impact on low earners.

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They’ll get it awfully wrong. It’s too late in the game.

Ontario Set to Unveil Its Plan to Cool Toronto Housing (BBG)

Ontario is expected to impose a tax on “non-resident speculators” when it announces new measures Thursday to cool the red-hot housing market in Toronto, according to people familiar with the plans. The measures are intended to improve housing affordability, and address both supply and demand, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the plans are not yet public. The measures are also said to include a new tax aimed at curbing purchases from non-resident speculators. [..] Home prices in the Toronto area climbed 6.2% last month, the biggest one-month gain on record, according to a benchmark price index by the Canadian Real Estate Association, and are up almost 30% in the past 12 months. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said last week the price gains are “divorced” from the typical measures of demand, such as income growth and demographics, and said they are unsustainable.

“The focus has to be on runaway prices, more so than affordability per se,” Robert Hogue, a senior economist at Royal Bank of Canada, said in a phone interview. “The risk now is about expectations in the market, or market psychology, as you have both sellers and buyers expecting much higher prices.” The Toronto Star reported earlier, without saying where it got the information, that Sousa will announce some 10 measures ranging from rent controls to a new tax on speculators. The move comes a week before the province tables its budget on April 27, and two days after Sousa said the government recognizes that “now” is the time to address runaway home prices. Sousa on Tuesday met Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Toronto Mayor John Tory, who said that possible steps include taxing homes left empty for speculative purposes. Rent increases on newer buildings may be limited to about 1.5% above the inflation rate, which was at 2% in February, the Star reported.

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Daddy, please tell the story again of why we have regulators!

Feds Knew of 700 Wells Fargo Whistleblower Cases in 2010 (CNN)

America’s chief federal banking regulator admits it failed to act on numerous “red flags” at Wells Fargo that could have stopped the fake account scandal years earlier. One particularly alarming red flag that went unheeded: In January 2010, the regulator was aware of “700 cases of whistleblower complaints” about Wells Fargo’s sales tactics. An internal review published on Wednesday by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency found that the regulator didn’t live up to its responsibilities. The report found that oversight of Wells Fargo was “untimely and ineffective” and federal examiners overseeing the bank “missed” several opportunities to uncover the problems that led to the creation of millions of fake accounts. The review painted a damning picture of the OCC’s ability to spot what in retrospect should have been obvious problems at one of the nation’s biggest banks.

The OCC did confront Carrie Tolstedt, then head of Wells Fargo’s community bank, about the stunning number of whistleblower claims. However, there are no records that show that federal inspectors “investigated the root cause,” or force Wells Fargo to probe it. It’s now clear that root cause of Wells Fargo’s problems – both the creation of fake accounts and the related 5,300 firings – was the notoriously aggressive sales goals targets set by senior management. At one point, rank and file bankers were asked to open as many as eight accounts per customer. That’s why the bank has eliminated them. From top management to Wells Fargo’s board of directors, everyone turned a blind eye to these issues. There’s evidence now that some of this was flagged as early as 2004 to management.

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Stone states the obvious.

So It Goes (Oliver Stone)

I confess I really had hopes for some conscience from Trump about America’s wars, but I was wrong – fooled again! – as I had been by the early Reagan, and less so by Bush 43. Reagan found his mantra with the “evil empire” rhetoric against Russia, which almost kicked off a nuclear war in 1983 – and Bush found his ‘us against the world’ crusade at 9/11, in which of course we’re still mired. It seems that Trump really has no ‘there’ there, far less a conscience, as he’s taken off the handcuffs on our war machine and turned it over to his glorified Generals – and he’s being praised for it by our ‘liberal’ media who continue to play at war so recklessly. What a tortured bind we’re in. There are intelligent people in Washington/New York, but they’ve lost their minds as they’ve been stampeded into a Syrian-Russian groupthink, a consensus without asking – ‘Who benefits from this latest gas attack?’

Certainly neither Assad nor Putin. The only benefits go to the terrorists who initiated the action to stave off their military defeat. It was a desperate gamble, but it worked because the Western media immediately got behind it with crude propagandizing about murdered babies, etc. No real investigation or time for a UN chemical unit to establish what happened, much less find a motive. Why would Assad do something so stupid when he’s clearly winning the civil war? No, I believe America has decided somewhere, in the crises of the Trump administration, that we will get into this war at any cost, under any circumstances – to, once again, change the secular regime in Syria, which has been, from the Bush era on, one of the top goals – next to Iran – of the neoconservatives. At the very least, we will cut out a chunk of northeastern Syria and call it a State.

Abetted by the Clintonites, they’ve done a wonderful job throwing America into chaos with probes into Russia’s alleged hacking of our election and Trump being their proxy candidate (now clearly disproved by his bombing attack) – and sadly, worst of all in some ways, admitting no memory of the same false flag incident in 2013, for which again Assad was blamed (see Seymour Hersh’s fascinating deconstruction of this US propaganda, ‘London Review of Books’ December 19, 2013, “Whose sarin?”). No memory, no history, no rules – or rather ‘American rules.’ No, this isn’t an accident or a one-off affair. This is the State deliberately misinforming the public through its corporate media and leads us to believe, as Mike Whitney points out in his brilliant analyses, “Will Washington Risk WW3” and “Syria: Where the Rubber Meets the Road,” that something far more sinister waits in the background.

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BBG can’t even run a story on climate anymore without adding “..the emerging risk of an emboldened and growing Russian empire..”, and more of such useful hints.

A Melting Arctic Changes Everything (BBG)

The story of the Arctic begins with temperature but it’s so much more—this is a tale about oil and economics, about humanity and science, about politics and borders and the emerging risk of an emboldened and growing Russian empire. The world as a whole has warmed about 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. Arctic temperatures have risen twice that amount during the same time period. The most recent year analyzed, October 2015 to September 2016, was 3.5C warmer than the early 1900s, according to the 2016 Arctic Report Card. Northern Canada, Svalbard, Norway and Russia’s Kara Sea reached an astounding 14C (25F) higher than normal last fall. Scientists refer to these dramatic physical changes as “Arctic amplification,” or positive feedback loops. It’s a little bit like compound interest.

A small change snowballs, and Arctic conditions become much less Arctic, much more quickly. “After studying the Arctic and its climate for three-and-a-half decades,” Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data center, wrote recently. “I have concluded that what has happened over the last year goes beyond even the extreme.” The heat is making quick work of its natural prey: ice. Scientists track the number of “freezing-degree days,” a running seasonal tally of the amount of time it’s been cold enough for water to freeze. The 2016-2017 winter season has seen a dramatic shortfall in coldness—more than 20% below the average, a record. Sea ice has diminished much faster than scientists and climate models anticipated. Last month set a new low for March, out-melting 2015 by 23,000 square miles.

Compared with the 1981-2010 baseline, the average September sea-ice minimum has been dropping by more than 13% per decade. A recent study in Nature Climate Change estimated that from 30-50% of sea ice loss is due to climate variability, while the rest occurs because of human activity. Receding ice decreases the Earth’s overall reflectivity, making the Arctic darker and therefore absorbing even more heat. The ice is not all the same age or thickness, although it has become somewhat more uniform. In 1985, about 45% of Arctic sea ice was made up of older and thicker multi-year ice. By 2016, that number shrank to 22%.

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Dec 152016
 
 December 15, 2016  Posted by at 8:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


William Henry Jackson Hand cart carry, Adirondacks, New York 1902

Dollar at 14-Year Peak as Fed Rejuvenates Trump Rally (R.)
Dollar Jumps as Fed Pulls the Trigger While Stocks, Debt Decline (BBG)
Fed Fallout Escalates: China Bond Market Crashes Most On Record (ZH)
Higher US Interest Rates Next Year Could Make Big Problems For China (CNBC)
Shadow Banking in China Appears to Have Made a Roaring Comeback (BBG)
Trump Meets With Tech Titans: “No Formal Chain Of Command Around Here” (CNBC)
Canada’s Gravity-Defying Household Debt Swells to C$2 Trillion (BBG)
EU Politicians Believe UK Post-Brexit Trade Deal Could Take Decade (G.)
Ex-UK Ambassador: Clinton Emails Leaked By “Disgusted” Dem. Whistleblower (DM)
US Accuses Vladimir Putin Of “Personal Involvement” In Election Hack (ZH)
Eurozone Suspends Short-Term Debt Relief for Greece (WSJ)
Greek Opposition Leader To Seek Backing In Brussels For Snap Polls (Kath.)

 

 

Moving fast. A lot of global debt gets much more expensive to pay off.

Dollar at 14-Year Peak as Fed Rejuvenates Trump Rally (R.)

The dollar rose to a 14-year peak against a basket of major currencies on Thursday after the Federal Reserve boosted the number of projected interest rate hikes for 2017, rejuvenating the month-long Trump rally and knocking emerging market currencies. The Fed’s 25 basis-point interest rate increase on Wednesday was widely anticipated by financial markets though they appeared to have been caught out by the central bank signal of three hikes in 2017, up from around two flagged at its September policy meeting. The relatively hawkish Fed stance came as U.S. president-elect Donald Trump takes over with promises to boost growth through tax cuts, spending and deregulation. “The rate hike projections for 2017 being increased to three shows that Fed’s board is having to factor in the impact of Trump’s policies,” said Junichi Ishikawa at IG Securities in Tokyo.

The dollar index extended its overnight rally and was up 0.5% at 102.270. It touched 102.620, its highest since January 2003. The euro was down 0.2% at $1.0512 after sliding to $1.0468, a trough not seen in 21 months. The greenback set a 10-month high of 117.860 yen early on Thursday and was last up 0.3% at 117.390. The allure of higher U.S. yields took a predictable toll on emerging Asian currencies. The Chinese yuan fell to its lowest levels in more than eight years, after the central bank set the daily mid-point at the lowest since mid 2008. Low-yielding currencies such as the Singapore dollar and Korean won came under pressure, as investors grew anxious over the risk of capital being sucked out of regional economies toward dollar-based assets.

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Yellen hiked rates and dotplot.

Dollar Jumps as Fed Pulls the Trigger While Stocks, Debt Decline (BBG)

The dollar rallied, while Treasury yields spiked as the Federal Reserve signaled a steeper path for in interest rates going forward after their first hike to borrowing costs in 2016. U.S. equities slumped the most since October. The greenback climbed to its strongest level in 10 months versus the yen, advancing against most of its major peers as as traders speculated that U.S. rates may be elevated faster than previously thought. Utilities and energy shares drove the S&P 500 Index down 0.8% as two-year Treasury yields soared to their highest level in seven years. The dollar’s gains sent oil tumbling as gold also retreated. Emerging-market currencies were among the biggest decliners, while Asian index futures diverged amid the yen’s drop.

“The bottom line is that this is more hawkish than the markets expected,” said Dennis Debusschere at Evercore ISI in New York. “I don’t think the shift higher in the dots was priced in. The consensus going in was that they’d wait until they had details of the fiscal program before they actually raised the rate forecast, and they did that before they saw the details.” What was only the second U.S. rate increase in a decade tied off a volatile year for markets, with investors whipsawed by ructions in Chinese trading, then the shock wins for Brexit and Donald Trump. The Fed moving further into tightening territory puts it at the vanguard of a shift globally from easing monetary policy toward an increased focus on fiscal stimulus.

After hiking by 25 basis points, the central bank said it expects three rate increases in 2017, up from two in its September forecasts. Speaking to reporters after the decision, Fed Chair Janet Yellen sought to downplay the significance of that change in the projections. “This is a very modest adjustment in the path of the federal funds rate,” Yellen said during the press conference. The decision to raise rates is “a vote of confidence in the economy,” she said, noting that some fed officials, but not all, incorporated the assumption of a change in fiscal policies when making their forecasts.

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“.. it appears the final bastion of safety has cracked”.

Fed Fallout Escalates: China Bond Market Crashes Most On Record (ZH)

After a bubblicious surge higher over the last few months (as China’s hot money swishes from one trending-higher market to another), China’s bond market is collapsing. As Chinese money-markets tighten into new year, yuan weakens, and capital outflows accelerate, so it appears the final bastion of safety has cracked. Chinese bond futures crashed overnight by the most on record, erasing in a week the gains of the last 18 months. The rally began in 2014, buoyed by slowing economic growth and a monetary-easing cycle that kicked off in November that year. Now that is over…

As Chinese liquidity pressures ripple up from the short-term repo markets…

Offshore Yuan has tumbled 5 handles since The Fed raised rates…

And Japanese stocks cannot hold a bid despite the weaker yen. It appears Janet’s message about Trump’s fiscal plan is starting to sink in.

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“They’re playing whack-a-mole constantly. They try to bring down one bubble, and something pops up somewhere else. They do that, and something comes up somewhere else..”

Higher US Interest Rates Next Year Could Make Big Problems For China (CNBC)

Rising interest rates in the United States have an obvious effect on the world’s biggest economy — but less obvious is the impact those rates could have on the second biggest. Higher interest rates in the United States could make it harder for China to manage its exploding debt, as the Asian giant increasingly depends on borrowing in order to keep growing — while simultaneously trying to block capital from fleeing for more fruitful shores in America. “If the Federal Reserve [keeps increasing] interest rates in the United States, the single biggest casualty of that this time is going to be China, because there’s so much money just waiting to leave” the country, said Ruchir Sharma at Morgan Stanley. Sharma spoke Tuesday evening as part of a panel at the Asia Society in New York.

Sharma pointed out that over the last year, China has moved from one bubble to another: commodities, stocks and, currently, real estate. That is not a sustainable way for China to grow, he said, especially considering that China’s “debt increase over the last five years has been 60 percentage points as a share of its economy.” “They’re playing whack-a-mole constantly. They try to bring down one bubble, and something pops up somewhere else. They do that, and something comes up somewhere else,” said Sharma, who noted that housing prices in China’s largest cities have increased between 30 and 50% over the last 18 months alone. Fed officials on Wednesday approved the first U.S. interest rate increase in a year. The 0.25 percentage point hike was widely expected, but the more aggressive pace for future increases outlined by the Fed — three next year instead of the two that were previously expected — was not.

Rising U.S. rates typically mean better yields for U.S. Treasurys and a stronger U.S. dollar. And indeed, both bond yields and the greenback immediately moved higher after Wednesday’s announcement. “I certainly think we could hit a 3 (percent on the 10-year Treasury yield) by the first quarter” of next year, Rick Rieder, CIO, global fixed income at BlackRock, told CNBC on Wednesday. The 10-year was last at 3% in January 2014. [..] the ability to keep financing its “massive debt binge” is impaired, Sharma said, if too much money bleeds out of the system. And China needs a lot of money — and more and more of it — to keep hitting the largely arbitrary 6% GDP growth rate that Beijing has mandated for the country. “Today in China, it’s taking $4 in debt to create a dollar of GDP growth,” said Sharma

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Oh no, it was never gone. It’s only been growing the whole time.

Shadow Banking in China Appears to Have Made a Roaring Comeback (BBG)

Time to don the tin hats? Chinese shadow-banking activity registered a surprise jump in November, throwing into sharp relief how policy makers are struggling to make good on their vow to rein in the runaway loan growth that threatens the stability of the financial sector. Often cast as one of the weakest links in the global financial system given the potential threat it poses to Asia’s largest economy, shadow credit – which consists of trust loans, entrusted loans and bank-acceptance bills –rose sharply to 479 billion yuan ($69 billion), after having dropped to 55 billion yuan in October. The surprise rebound may be a reaction to expectations for continuing yuan weakness as companies look to increase their local-currency liabilities at the expense of dollar-denominated obligations.

“Today’s surprising data will likely trigger some regulatory concerns,” David Qu, China economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking, wrote in a note to clients on Wednesday, citing the size and opacity of off-balance sheet lending from trust companies, brokerages, micro-lenders, pawn-shops and even real-estate companies. The rise could reflect “short-term speculation due to expectations of renminbi depreciation and producer-price inflation,” analysts at Nomura Holdings Inc, led by Zhao Yang, wrote in a report on Wednesday. Efforts to curtail shadow lending may exacerbate this month’s liquidity squeeze, as the yield on 10-year government bonds shoots up to 3.24% from 2.74% at the end of October – their highest level in more than a year.

“If Chinese regulators start to restrict shadow banking activities, there may be spillover effects to the bond market due to liquidity tightening,” Qu adds, referring to the prospect that redemptions from wealth-management funds would force asset managers to trim their bond positions. Last month’s credit binge wasn’t confined to the shadow financial system. Total social finance, the broadest measure of new lending, expanded the most since March at 1.74 trillion yuan, up from 896.3 billion yuan in October. [..] The 11.8% increase on a year-on-year basis was driven by household lending growth, reflecting how property curbs have yet to kick in, as well as expansion in the shadow-banking sector.

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Tens of billions eating crow at that table. Trump knows exactly what Bezos, Cook etc. said about him not long ago. Eric Schmidt just about ran Hillary’s campaign.

Trump Meets With Tech Titans: “No Formal Chain Of Command Around Here” (CNBC)

A confab of tech titans had a “productive” meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower on Wednesday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told CNBC, as Trump moved to mend fences with Silicon Valley before taking office in January. Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Intel, Oracle, IBM, Cisco and Tesla were among the C-suite executives in attendance, with Apple CEO Tim Cook and Tesla CEO Elon Musk expected to get private briefings, according to transition staff. During the campaign, Trump issued a number of barbs directed at Bezos and his businesses, but at the meeting both men appeared nothing but complimentary. “I found today’s meeting with the president-elect, his transition team, and tech leaders to be very productive,” Bezos said.

“I shared the view that the administration should make innovation one of its key pillars, which would create a huge number of jobs across the whole country, in all sectors, not just tech—agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing—everywhere.” Though many tech leaders actively opposed his election, Trump said at the meeting he was interested in helping tech do well — and that the executives can call any time, since there’s no formal chain of command. “We want you to keep going with the incredible innovation,” Trump said. “There’s no one like you in the world….anything we can do to help this go along, we’re going to be there for you. You can call my people, call me — it makes no difference — we have no formal chain of command around here.”

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As someone commented on Twitter: “Carney’s baby is all grown up”.

Canada’s Gravity-Defying Household Debt Swells to C$2 Trillion (BBG)

The appetite for bank borrowing remained unabated in the third quarter, setting fresh records for total credit and mortgage borrowing, Statistics Canada reported Wednesday. The widely-followed ratio of household debt to after-tax income rose to another record high of almost 167%. The numbers will intensify concern among policy makers the economy has become over-reliant on bank borrowing, and is vulnerable to a housing downturn and rising interest rates. The latest report covers the three months before Finance Minister Bill Morneau tightened mortgage lending rules again in October, a move designed to discourage Vancouver and Toronto home buyers from signing larger mortgages than they could handle.

“Household indebtedness continues to defy gravity and remains the Achilles heel of the Canadian economy,” said Charles St-Arnaud at Nomura Securities, who has worked in Canada’s finance department and central bank. “Continued increase in yields and job losses remain the biggest risks.” Credit-market debt climbed to C$2.005 trillion ($1.53 trillion) from C$1.980 trillion in the prior quarter. Those obligations jumped by 1.3% in the third quarter, faster than the 0.9% gain in household income. Total consumer debt exceeded the size of Canada’s economy for a second straight quarter, accounting for 101.2% of gross domestic product in the July-to-September period. Debts have climbed alongside the Vancouver and Toronto housing boom, fueled by job growth and rock-bottom borrowing costs.

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Elections, anyone?

EU Politicians Believe UK Post-Brexit Trade Deal Could Take Decade (G.)

Europe’s politicians believe a trade deal with the UK could take up to a decade or more and could still fail in the final stages, Downing Street has been warned by the UK’s ambassador to the EU. Sir Ivan Rogers, who conducted David Cameron’s renegotiation with the EU prior to the referendum, is reported to have told the prime minister that European politicians expected that a deal would not be finalised until the early to mid-2020s, according to the BBC. That deal could still be rejected by any of the 27 national parliaments during the ratification process. It is understood Rogers was reporting back conversations he had had with European politicians, rather than giving his own advice to the British government. “It is wrong to suggest this is advice from our ambassador to the EU,” a Number 10 spokesman said. “Like all ambassadors, part of his role is to report the views of others.”

Former Tory minister Dominic Raab, a leave campaigner, said it was “reasonable to set out a worst-case scenario of five to 10 years to iron out all the detail of a trade deal.” He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The crucial question is whether we maintain barrier-free trade in the meantime, in which case there’s no real problem. I have to say it’s very unlikely in the interim that the EU would want to erect trade barriers.” The reports come after Brexit secretary, David Davis, told a select committee hearing that “everything is negotiable” within a year and a half of the formal article 50 notification in March. The deal would then take about six months to be agreed by European leaders, the European parliament and the British parliament, he said.

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Try these on for size: “Murray is a controversial figure who was removed from his post as a British ambassador amid allegations of misconduct.” Misconduct? Well: “Murray was a vocal critic of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan while serving as ambassador between 2002 and 2004, a stance that pitted him against the UK Foreign Office.”

Ex-UK Ambassador: Clinton Emails Leaked By “Disgusted” Dem. Whistleblower (DM)

A Wikileaks envoy today claims he personally received Clinton campaign emails in Washington D.C. after they were leaked by ‘disgusted’ whisteblowers – and not hacked by Russia. Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and a close associate of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, told Dailymail.com that he flew to Washington, D.C. for a clandestine hand-off with one of the email sources in September. ‘Neither of [the leaks] came from the Russians,’ said Murray in an interview with Dailymail.com on Tuesday. ‘The source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.’ His account contradicts directly the version of how thousands of Democratic emails were published before the election being advanced by U.S. intelligence.

Murray is a controversial figure who was removed from his post as a British ambassador amid allegations of misconduct. He was cleared of those but left the diplomatic service in acrimony. His links to Wikileaks are well known and while his account is likely to be seen as both unprovable and possibly biased, it is also the first intervention by Wikileaks since reports surfaced last week that the CIA believed Russia hacked the Clinton emails to help hand the election to Donald Trump. Murray’s claims about the origins of the Clinton campaign emails comes as U.S. intelligence officials are increasingly confident that Russian hackers infiltrated both the Democratic National Committee and the email account of top Clinton aide John Podesta. In Podesta’s case, his account appeared to have been compromised through a basic ‘phishing’ scheme, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

U.S. intelligence officials have reportedly told members of Congress during classified briefings that they believe Russians passed the documents on to Wikileaks as part of an influence operation to swing the election in favor of Donald Trump. But Murray insisted that the DNC and Podesta emails published by Wikileaks did not come from the Russians, and were given to the whistleblowing group by Americans who had authorized access to the information. ‘Neither of [the leaks] came from the Russians,’ Murray said. ‘The source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.’ He said the leakers were motivated by ‘disgust at the corruption of the Clinton Foundation and the tilting of the primary election playing field against Bernie Sanders.’

‘I don’t understand why the CIA would say the information came from Russian hackers when they must know that isn’t true,’ he said. ‘Regardless of whether the Russians hacked into the DNC, the documents Wikileaks published did not come from that.’ Murray was a vocal critic of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan while serving as ambassador between 2002 and 2004, a stance that pitted him against the UK Foreign Office.

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“The former CIA official said the Obama administration may feel compelled to respond before it leaves office. “This whole thing has heated up so much,” he said. “I can very easily see them saying, `We can’t just say wow, this was terrible and there’s nothing we can do.'”

Well, if Obama is truly getting involved, he has 4 days in which to turn 37 Republican electors against Trump. As for the potential fallout, which may include various forms of social conflict should the Trump victory be overturned in the 11th hour at the Electoral College, then Putin will truly win as a result of what may then follow.

US Accuses Vladimir Putin Of “Personal Involvement” In Election Hack (ZH)

And just like that the narrative of Russia hacking the presidential election has escalated to the highest possible level, and has officially jumped the shark. Moments ago, following a month-long barrage of unsubstantiated stories in the press accusing the Russian government of indirectly hacking the US presidential election, which culminated with last night’s 8,000 word NYT expose, and which followed a schism between the FBI and CIA, in which the former disputed the latter’s “fuzzy and ambiguous” claims that Russia sought to influence the presidential elections, moments ago the NBC News reported that U.S. intelligence officials believe with “a high level of confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin became personally involved in the covert Russian campaign to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.

Perhaps because the official narrative has so far been unable to gather traction with the previous “shotgun approach” in which just “Russia” was accused of handing the election to Trump, four short days before the Electoral College vote, the narrative has changed and it now involves the very pinnacle of Russia’s government: the president himself. Citing two senior officials with direct access to the information, NBC reports that “new intelligence shows that Putin personally directed how hacked material from Democrats was leaked and otherwise used. The intelligence came from diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies, the officials said.” So why did Putin hack a few million rust belt Americans into believing that their lives under Obama, and by extension Hillary, were bad enough that they demanded a change? NBC provides the following spoonfed logic:

Putin’s objectives were multifaceted, a high-level intelligence source told NBC News. What began as a “vendetta” against Hillary Clinton morphed into an effort to show corruption in American politics and to “split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn’t depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore,” the official said.

Ultimately, the CIA has assessed, “the Russian government wanted to elect Donald Trump.” And this is where the latest turn in the story falls apart, because even NBC – which will blast this report on prime time TV to all America – admits “the FBI and other agencies don’t fully endorse that view”, but it adds “few officials would dispute that the Russian operation was intended to harm Clinton’s candidacy by leaking embarrassing emails about Democrats.”

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As I said, looks like Tsipras has had enough.

Eurozone Suspends Short-Term Debt Relief for Greece (WSJ)

Greece’s European creditors suspended proposed debt-relief measures for the country after the Greek government surprised them by announcing it would boost welfare benefits for low-income pensioners, a sign of escalating tensions over the country’s bailout. The moves come as Athens and its international creditors—which include the eurozone and the IMF—are struggling to conclude their latest review of the country’s rescue plan of as much as €86 billion ($92 billion) in loans. “The institutions have concluded that the actions of the Greek government appear to not be in line with our agreements,” a spokesman for Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who presides over the group of his eurozone counterparts, said in a statement on Twitter.

“No unanimity now for implementing short-term debt measures,” he added. The step puts further pressure on Greece’s government, which is considering calling snap elections in 2017 as it grapples with slumping popularity and is losing hope of winning concessions on deeper debt relief or austerity from the eurozone and the IMF. Greece’s embattled Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras surprised Greeks and the country’s creditors last week with handouts that his government hadn’t previously discussed with bailout supervisors, which represent eurozone governments and the IMF. Mr. Tsipras promised 1.6 million pensioners a Christmas bonus of between €300 and €800. He also suspended a planned increase in sales tax for Aegean islands that have received large numbers of refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere.

Eurozone officials expressed frustration that the country’s creditors were not told in advance by Greece of its plans—widely seen as a lure to voters ahead of elections—and said the new measures would have to be assessed to determine whether they were in line with the country’s bailout commitments. “We will adhere to the [bailout] program to the letter, but whatever outperformance in revenue arises by following to the program, we will not ask anyone in order to give this money to those most in need,” Mr. Tsipras said Tuesday from the small island of Nisyros.

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Can you imagine the opposition in your country doing this? They would risk being persecuted for treason. In Europe, it’s the new normal. But he might as well ask Putin.

Greek Opposition Leader To Seek Backing In Brussels For Snap Polls (Kath.)

In talks with officials on the sidelines of a summit of the European People’s Party in Brussels that started Wednesday, conservative New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is to press his argument that Greece needs snap elections to sweep away the current leftist-led government and bring in a more reform-friendly administration. Mitsotakis is to meet Thursday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, among others.

ND sources are hoping that EU officials will welcome Mitsotakis’s call for political change, coming as it does just a few days after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras unsettled the country’s creditors by announcing Christmas bonuses for thousands of pensioners and vowing to keep in place a value-added tax discount for remote islands that the government had promised its lenders to revoke. The meetings come as ND leads leftist SYRIZA by a wide margin in opinion polls. Mitsotakis’s argument is that snap polls would not be destabilizing, as they had been in January 2015, as ND is a reformist power compared to the SYRIZA coalition with Independent Greeks which the conservative party describes as “unreliable and opportunistic” in its policy-making.

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Jun 212016
 
 June 21, 2016  Posted by at 9:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


NPC District National Bank, Dupont branch, Washington, DC 1924

The Big Guns Are Out: Soros, Rothschild Warn Of Brexit Doom (ZH)
When Brexit Has Come And Gone, The Real Problems Will Remain (ZH)
IMF Calls On Japan To ‘Reload’ Abenomics (Nikkei)
India’s Rockstar Central Banker Defeated As Modi Revolution Stalls (AEP)
Yellen Makes ‘Uncertainty’ New Mantra (R.)
“Whatever It Takes” Wasn’t Enough (Noland)
The World’s Newest “Reserve” Currency Is Anything But (Balding)
China’s Developers Can’t Stop Overpaying for Property (WSJ)
China’s ‘Land Kings’ Return as Housing Prices Rise (WSJ)
Energy-Related Loan Losses Rising (B.)
California Power Grid Prepares For Heatwave, Power Outages (R.)
Australia Whistleblower Loses Job After Speaking Out On Refugee Camps (G.)

Vested interests at stake.

The Big Guns Are Out: Soros, Rothschild Warn Of Brexit Doom (ZH)

Just yesterday, we recounted the story of “Black Wednesday” when on September 16, 1992, the UK was forced out of the EU’s exchange-rate mechanism, or ERM, when the BOE tapped out and allowed the British pound to float freely, leading to 15% losses in the sterling. As we noted, this was George Soros’ infamous trade which “broke the Bank of England” and made the Hungarian richer by over $1.5 bilion. 24 years later Soros is back, and this time he is warning against the kind of devaluation that made him a billionaire and which he believes will be unleashed by Brexit, when in a Guardian Op-Ed he wrote that U.K. voters are “grossly underestimating” the true costs of a vote to leave the EU, saying that there would be an “immediate and dramatic impact on financial markets, investment, prices and jobs.”

[..] It is notable that Soros’ warning comes just days after that of Jacob Rothschild himself who said in another Op-Ed, this time for The Times, that leaving the EU could lead to a “damaging and disorderly situation” in the UK as he urged Britons to vote ‘remain’. Just like Soros, Lord Rothschild, suddenly exhibiting a rare strain of humanitarian concern, said readers should not “risk the wellbeing of our country”and European countries are “better off together”. He said that “at present we enjoy being a permanent member of the UN security council and we are essential to the G8 and Commonwealth. But diplomacy, defence, the environment and our values of being a liberal democracy will all be at risk” adding that “I can see no good reason why we should accept our playing a diminished role on the world stage,” especially if his own personal fortune would be jeopardized.

Finally, completing the doom loop, was none other than Chancellor George Osborne who, according to the Telegraph, “refused to rule out suspending trading on the London stock market if Britons vote to leave the EU on Friday morning… The threat from the Chancellor, made in an LBC radio interview on Monday evening, after the market had closed could force shares down in London as early as Tuesday morning.”

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Everyone’s broke.

When Brexit Has Come And Gone, The Real Problems Will Remain (ZH)

In a few days, Brexit will come and go, and just a few days later it will be forgotten, as either outcome will be far less dramatic than has been widely predicted by the same fearmongering economist pundits who have been wrong about everything else for the past 8 years. Ironically, the better outcome for the market is precisely a Brexit as the panic selloff will prompt central banks around the globe to boost enough monetary stimulus to send risk assets to new all time highs. What will remain, however, are the real problems. Here is SocGen with a useful reminder of just what those are, and why the market may have already forgotten that just one week ago the Fed threw in the towel when addressing precisely these problems. From SocGen’s Andrew Lapthone:

“Global equity markets continued to struggle last week, with the MSCI World index off 1.8% pushing the index back into red for the year. Big losses were seen in Japan with the Topix 500 down 6% and the volatile Mothers index crashing 18.5% over the week as the yen continued to strengthen. According to the BOE measure, the trade-weighted yen is now up more than 20% over the past year and back to where it stood three years ago. In the battle for the weakest currency, Japan looks to have thrown in the towel.

Whatever the outcome of the Brexit vote this week investors will still be facing the prospect of negative rates and negative yields on a huge range of bonds, massive corporate leverage with worryingly rising delinquencies and of course expensive equity markets and falling profits. To that extent these political events are a distraction from the main event, weak global economic growth and perverse asset markets. So whilst the market preference for the status quo might be celebrated in the short-term, actually when the fog clears all of the problems will still be there.”

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Forcing companies to raise wages?!

IMF Calls On Japan To ‘Reload’ Abenomics (Nikkei)

Japan needs bolder income policies such as penalizing profitable companies that do not increase wages, the IMF said on Monday after concluding its annual economic assessment of the country. Despite initial success, progress under Abenomics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trademark economic policies, has stalled in recent months. The inflation rate has dropped to negative territory again, while economic growth has remained anemic.The IMF now expects Japan’s economy to grow by about 0.5% in 2016, before slowing to 0.3% in 2017, with potential growth sliding to close to zero by 2030, due to the declining demographic. “Abenomics needs to be reloaded,” the IMF said in its report and argued that income policies combined with labor market reforms should “move to the forefront” of the country’s fight against lagging growth.

“The government can introduce a ‘comply or explain’ mechanism for profitable companies to ensure that they raise base wages by at least 3% and back this up by stronger tax incentives or – as a last resort – penalties,” the IMF wrote. Promoting intermediate contracts that balance job security and wage increases will “reinforce income policies,” it added. “Our perception is that much of the stasis of inflation [in Japan] comes from the legacy, the history of having negative inflation,” said David Lipton, first deputy managing director at the IMF, in a press conference in Tokyo. “Certainly firms have at this point the cash flow and resource at hand to provide some wage increases. There are wage increases evident in a wide range of companies across this economy, so our thought is to suggest that this be a broader practice and that it be more uniform.”

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“..Mr Rajan has been an acerbic critic of zero rates and quantitative easing by the western central banks…”

India’s Rockstar Central Banker Defeated As Modi Revolution Stalls (AEP)

India’s bid to become the ‘economic super-tiger’ of Asia is in serious doubt after an assault on the independence of the central bank and failure to deliver on promised reforms. The country has been the darling of the emerging market universe since the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi swept into power in May 2014 promising a blitz of Thatcherite reform and a bonfire of the diktats, but key changes have been blocked in the legislature. The government has turned increasingly populist. Matters have come to a head with the de facto ouster of Raghuram Rajan, the superstar governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), rebuked for keeping monetary policy too tight. It is part of a pattern of attacks on central banks by politicians across the world, and the latest sign that the glory days of the monetary overlords are waning.

Mr Rajan has been battling criticism for months but threw in the towel over the weekend, sending tremors through the Indian financial markets and provoking a flurry of warnings from global investors. “He has decided not to wait until he is refused a second term,” said Lord Desai from the London School of Economics. “This is ‘Rexit’ – India’s equivalent of ‘Brexit. It looks very bad for India and will not go down well in financial markets. He was defeated by the crony capitalists up against him,” he said. The government has dampened the impact with by relaxing barriers to foreign investment in the country, but it may have underestimated the totemic status of Mr Rajan outside India. He is seen by funds as the guarantor of good practice and market integrity. Mr Rajan is a former chief economist for the IMF, famed for warning that the US subprime debt bubble was out of control long before the Lehman crisis blew up in 2008.

[..] Mr Rajan has been an acerbic critic of zero rates and quantitative easing by the western central banks. He blames them for flooding the international system with excess liquidity that emerging markets could not easily control. This fueled dangerous boom-bust asset cycles. While QE might have ‘worked’ for the US, UK, and Europe – the jury is out even for them – Mr Rajan argues that the policy is a “Pareto sub-optimal” for the world as a whole, and ultimately increases the danger of a deflation-trap in the future. The Fed and the leading central banks of the West have never really answered his critique.

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I was going to say the Empress has no clothes, but I don’t want that image lingering on my retina.

Yellen Makes ‘Uncertainty’ New Mantra (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve’s dwindling confidence in its own outlook and resulting confusion among investors are creating a policy problem that may require chief Janet Yellen to lay out her own views more forcefully. The Fed chair’s next communications test comes on Tuesday and Wednesday during her semi-annual testimony to U.S. lawmakers, less than a week after the central bank kept interest rates unchanged near record lows and lowered its projections for hikes in 2017 and 2018. A self-described consensus builder, Yellen sees her job as reflecting the whole committee’s views rather than setting an agenda for others to follow.

“I think that’s a very laudable intent, but sometimes that produces a lack of clarity,” said former Fed staffer and current partner at Cornerstone Macro LLC Roberto Perli. “Sometimes there is a consensus for one reason and then next time there is a consensus for a different reason so the story shifts and people get confused.” In fact, Fed policymakers’ deepening uncertainty about their own projections has resulted in the central bank sending mixed messages – repeatedly ratcheting up rate hike expectations only to tone them down later.

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Important point: “Whatever it takes” was orchestrated specifically to expel any market doubt with regard to the viability and sustainability of European monetary integration.

“Whatever It Takes” Wasn’t Enough (Noland)

Back in 2012, Mario Draghi recognized how even the notion that a country might exit the euro could unleash market dynamics that would rather quickly place Europe’s markets and banking system in peril. “Whatever it takes” was orchestrated specifically to expel any market doubt with regard to the viability and sustainability of European monetary integration. On the back of a wall of liquidity and inflating securities markets, Draghi’s gambit held things together for a few years. That said, the ECB bet the ranch – and was compelled to ante up in response to market instability early this year. The outcome of the game is very much in doubt. While Britain is not even a member of the euro, Brexit provides a test of ECB policymaking. Is Europe robust or fragile?

Has relative financial stability been nothing more than a brittle ECB-fabricated façade? Are the forces mounted against integration and cooperation too powerful to disregard? Is European integration – along with the euro currency – viable long-term? It’s an untimely test, with confidence in Europe’s banks already waning. It’s furthermore an untimely test because of faltering confidence in the ECB and contemporary global central banking more generally. Global market instability has again resurfaced and there will be no resolution next week. The FOMC has confounded Fed watchers with its abrupt pivot back to ultra-dovishness. There shouldn’t be much confusion. Global market fragility has reemerged, and the Fed’s rapid retreat has confirmed the seriousness of what’s unfolding.

Central banks have thrown everything at the problem, yet markets remain as vulnerable as ever. At least the world was not facing the downside of China’s historic Credit Bubble back in 2012. The Fed has never admitted that global concerns have been dictating U.S. monetary policy since 2012. It has now become clear, throwing the analysis of policymaking into disarray. The harsh reality is also increasingly apparent: global monetary management is dysfunctional and central bankers have become perplexed – without a backup plan. Such an uncertain backdrop is pro-currency market instability and pro-de-risking/deleveraging.

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Nobody has a reason to use the yuan.

The World’s Newest “Reserve” Currency Is Anything But (Balding)

Last week’s decision by MSCI not to include Chinese shares in its primary emerging-markets stock index has been viewed – widely and rightly – as a blow to China’s hopes of internationalizing its financial sector. There’s worse news, though: Even the progress China’s made thus far is in danger of going into reverse. MSCI’s choice is a sharp contrast to the one made by the IMF last December, when it promised to begin including the Chinese yuan in its basket of “special drawing rights.” The move essentially conferred global reserve status on the currency, despite the fact that China arguably didn’t meet the conditions for inclusion: It was debatable whether the yuan could be considered “freely usable,” and in any case, it was hardly used. At its peak in August 2015, the yuan accounted for 2.79% of global payments, compared to 44.8% for the U.S. dollar.

The idea was that compromising now would encourage leaders in China to fulfill their pledges to liberalize the yuan fully by 2020. In fact, since the IMF’s decision, the yuan has if anything grown less international, not more. Since March 2015, yuan deposits in the three largest offshore centers – Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore – have fallen 16%, to a total of 1.24 trillion yuan or about $188 billion. The currency is being used in even fewer international transactions than before: Its share of global payments stood at 1.82% in April 2016. The fact that only a quarter of those international payments included a partner other than China or Hong Kong means that only about 0.5% of all yuan transactions are truly international in scope. This places the currency somewhere between those of Scandinavian powerhouses Norway and Denmark.

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Absolutely completely madness. The casino keeps adding new slot machines and crap tables.

China’s Developers Can’t Stop Overpaying for Property (WSJ)

If the cost of flour is higher than the price of bread, what should a baker do? Chinese property developers are choosing to buy more flour. Prices for land, the main ingredient of the property world, have hit record highs in auctions this year in many Chinese cities. The average land price per square meter for the top 100 cities in the first five months of this year jumped nearly 50% from the same period last year, according to Wind Information. Some land prices are even higher than housing prices nearby.

State-owned developer Poly Real Estate, for instance, bought a piece of land in a Shanghai suburb for 5.5 billion yuan ($835.5 million) last month. This translates to roughly 44,000 yuan per square meter of buildable space. Houses in the region meanwhile go for around 40,000 yuan per square meter. After taking into account construction costs, taxes and other expenses, property prices would have to nearly double for the developer to make money. Prime land in the biggest cities always costs a lot, but increasingly the voracious buyers are showing up in less prime locations and smaller cities. In Suzhou, a city near Shanghai, with a population of 1.1 million, land sales in the first five months of this year have already exceeded the total of last year. And average prices have doubled.

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It’s the same they do with raw materials: “..After winning an auction, financial firms with access to cheap funding can apply for a loan with the land as collateral..”

China’s ‘Land Kings’ Return as Housing Prices Rise (WSJ)

The “land kings” are back. That had been a nickname for Chinese developers paying sky-high prices for land parcels during China’s property boom earlier this decade, which left so-called ghost cities of unsold housing across China. Now, with housing prices in China’s larger cities again rising rapidly, frothy bids for land parcels are back. On June 8, Logan Property Holdings agreed to pay 14.1 billion yuan ($2.14 billion) for a piece of land in Shenzhen’s Guangming district, the largest-ever price tag in the southern Chinese city. Logan says it didn’t overpay, calling the price “relatively favorable” in a hot market. Earlier in June, a joint venture between two firms, one of which is backed by state-owned Power Construction Corp. of China, outbid 17 rivals with an 8.3 billion yuan offer for a plot in Shenzhen’s Longhua district.

The soaring land prices show the challenges facing the government as it tries to prevent property bubbles. Moves to stimulate China’s slowing economy and to trim excess housing in smaller cities across the country—such as interest-rate cuts and eased mortgage rules—have fed into speculative demand for homes in top-tier cities that are now scrambling to cool prices. Average housing prices in 70 Chinese cities were about 5% higher in May than a year earlier, the fifth straight month of increases. In top-tier cities, prices were up 19% to 53%. But land prices are shooting up not just in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing, but also in lower-profile cities such as Hangzhou, Hefei and Zhengzhou. Officials face a dilemma in trying to tame land prices: Land is commonly used as debt collateral; a sharp drop in valuation could trigger defaults and produce a wave of bad loans, hurting the economy. On the other hand, runaway land prices make it harder for ordinary Chinese to afford apartments.

[..] There is also concern that financial firms with little experience as builders are viewing land as an opportunity for arbitrage. After winning an auction, financial firms with access to cheap funding can apply for a loan with the land as collateral, and use that to extend a construction loan at a higher rate to a partner, which is typically a property developer.

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“Like an oil lease, you’re easily disposable..”

Energy-Related Loan Losses Rising (B.)

“Like an oil lease, you’re easily disposable,” the villainous J.R. Ewing quipped to his beauty queen wife in the 1970s television series Dallas. Readers of the latest edition of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’s quarterly southwest economy publication might want to keep that quote in mind. News from the oil patch — the 11th Fed district that encompasses the shale heartland — is not encouraging, as it reveals a sharper rise in souring energy-related loans. “The persistence of relatively low oil prices has begun taking a toll on district bank customers,” the Dallas Fed said in its report.

“Oil-price hedges become less effective the longer prices stay low, and the cushion built by energy firms during the good times gets thinner. Cash flow becomes stretched and collateral loses its value, further pressuring borrowers.” That forces them closer to default unless banks are able to keep their lending spigots open. Many of these loans fall under the umbrella of commercial and industrial (C&I) lending — a category which has been surging in conjunction with commercial real estate (CRE) lending in recent years. While regulators have kept a somewhat lazy eye on rising CRE loans since even before the 2008 financial crisis (and certainly after it), the boom in C&I lending has been met with far less scrutiny — resulting in charts which look like this:

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“..millions of electric customers in Southern California were warned they could suffer power outages of up to 14 days this summer..”

California Power Grid Prepares For Heatwave, Power Outages (R.)

California will have its first test of plans to keep the lights on this summer following the shutdown of the key Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility as temperatures in the Los Angeles area are forecast to hit triple digits this week. With record-setting heat and air conditioning demand expected in Southern California, the state’s power grid operator issued a so-called “flex alert,” urging consumers to conserve energy to help prevent rotating power outages – which could occur regardless. Electricity demand is expected to rise during the unseasonable heatwave on Monday and Tuesday, with forecast system-wide use expected to top 45,000 megawatts, said the California Independent System Operator (ISO), which manages electricity flow through the state.

That compares with a peak demand of 47,358 MW last year and the all-time high of 50,270 MW set in July 2006. That could put stress on the power grid, particularly with the shut-in of Aliso Canyon, following a massive leak at the underground storage facility in October. The facility, in the San Fernando Valley, is the second largest storage field in the western United States, according to federal data, and therefore crucial for power generation. All customers, including homes, hospitals, oil refineries and airports are at risk of losing power at some point this summer because a majority of electric generating stations in California use gas as their primary fuel. In April, millions of electric customers in Southern California were warned they could suffer power outages of up to 14 days this summer due to the closure.

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“The Border Force Act gives the Australian government the power to jail, for up to two years, anybody employed by the department..”

Australia Whistleblower Loses Job After Speaking Out On Refugee Camps (G.)

The trauma specialist who condemned the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia’s offshore detention regime as the worst “atrocity” he has seen has had his contract to work on Nauru terminated. Psychologist Paul Stevenson, whom the Australian government awarded an Order of Australia for his work counselling victims of the Bali bombings, had undertaken 14 deployments to Nauru and to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. He was due to return to Nauru on Thursday. But after he spoke publicly to the Guardian about his experiences working within Australia’s offshore detention regime – describing conditions in the camps as “demoralising … and desperate” – he was told his contract had been summarily cancelled.

PsyCare, the company through which he was employed to provide counselling to guards working in offshore detention, informed him by email his employment had been terminated. Stevenson said the news was not unexpected. “But the public needs to hear about the consequences people face for speaking out, and to understand the level they go to in minimising access.” [..] The Border Force Act gives the Australian government the power to jail, for up to two years, anybody employed by the department or its contractors who speaks publicly about conditions inside the offshore detention regime, including doctors advocating for better healthcare, or other workers exposing sexual and physical abuse of detainees.

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May 232016
 
 May 23, 2016  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Hancock’s, the Old Curiosity Shop, 1234 Pennsylvania Avenue 1914

Japan April Imports Fall 23.3%, Exports Drop 10.1% (BBG)
Japan May Factory Activity Shrinks Most In Over Three Years (R.)
Investors Check Out of Europe (WSJ)
US Dollar Will Be The Winner When The EU Volcano Erupts (CNBC)
Saudi Financial Crisis ‘Could Leave Oil At $25’ As Bills Get Paid In IOUs (AEP)
The IMF And Calling Berlin’s Bluff Over Greece (Münchau)
Athens Agrees Fiscal Measures In Exchange For Debt Relief Talks (FT)
China Steps Up War On Banks’ Bad Debt (FT)
We MUST Quit The EU, Says Cameron’s Guru (DM)
Support For EU Falls Sharply In Britain’s Corporate Boardrooms (G.)
Swiss To Vote On $2,500 a Month Basic Income (BBG)
Snowden Calls For Whistleblower Shield After Claims By New Pentagon Source (G.)
R.I.P., GOP: How Trump Is Killing the Republican Party (Taibbi)
Turks Won’t Get EU Visa Waiver Before 2017: Bild (R.)
Greek Police Poised To Evacuate Idomeni Refugee Camp (Kath.)

In praise of Abenomics…

Japan April Imports Fall 23.3%, Exports Drop 10.1% (BBG)

Japan’s exports fell for a seventh consecutive month in April as the yen strengthened, underscoring the growing challenges to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to revive economic growth. Overseas shipments declined 10.1% in April from a year earlier, the Ministry of Finance said on Monday. The median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a 9.9% drop. Imports fell 23.3%, leaving a trade surplus of 823.5 billion yen ($7.5 billion), the highest since March 2010. Even after coming off an 18-month high earlier this month, the Japanese currency has gained 9% against the dollar this year, eroding the competitiveness of the nation’s products overseas and hurting the earnings of exporters.

Concern about the impact of the yen was on show over the weekend as Finance Minister Taro Aso and his U.S. counterpart disagreed over the seriousness of recent moves in the foreign-exchange market. “Exports are getting a hit from the yen’s gains and weakness in overseas demand, especially in emerging nations,” said Yuichi Kodama at Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance in Tokyo, who added that last month’s earthquakes in Kumamoto also will likely slow exports. “There’s a high chance that Japan’s economy will return to contraction in the April-June period as domestic consumption and exports look weak.”

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Calling Peter Pan!

Japan May Factory Activity Shrinks Most In Over Three Years (R.)

Japanese manufacturing activity contracted at the fastest pace in more than three years in May as new orders slumped, a preliminary survey showed on Monday, putting fresh pressure on the government and central bank to offer additional economic stimulus. The Markit/Nikkei Flash Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) fell to 47.6 in May on a seasonally adjusted basis, from a final 48.2 in April. The index remained below the 50 threshold that separates contraction from expansion for the third month and showed that activity shrank at the fastest since December 2012. The index for new orders fell to a preliminary 44.1 from 45.0 in the previous month, also suggesting the fastest decline since December 2012.

The aftermath of earthquakes in southern Japan in April may still be weighing heavily on some producers, a statement from Markit said, while foreign demand also contracted sharply. Japan escaped a technical recession in the first quarter, GDP data showed last week, but economists warned the underlying trend for consumer spending remains weak. There are also concerns that companies have already started to delay business investment due to uncertainty about overseas economies. Speculation is growing that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will delay a nationwide sales tax hike scheduled for next April to focus on measures that will strengthen domestic demand. Economists also expect the Bank of Japan will ease monetary policy even further by July as a strong yen and still-sluggish economy threaten its ability to meet its ambitious inflation target, a Reuters poll showed.

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“Banks are Europe’s worst-performing sector, having fallen nearly 19%.”

Investors Check Out of Europe (WSJ)

Investors are fleeing Europe. Fund managers are pulling cash out of European equity and debt markets in response to concerns about the continent’s fractious politics, ultralow interest rates and weak banks, and relentless economic malaise. Investors have sold exchange-traded funds tracking European shares for nearly 15 weeks—the longest stretch since 2008—according to UBS. Meanwhile, annual net outflows from eurozone bonds were running at over half a trillion euros as of the end of March, according to a Pictet Wealth Management analysis of data from the ECB. That is happening as investors are turning away from Europe’s growing pool of negative-yielding debt. The money is finding a home in places from U.S. Treasurys to emerging economies, helping to push up prices in those markets.

Just last year, Europe was a top pick by global fund managers as it recovered from the sovereign-debt crisis of 2010 to 2012. The current retreat shows that this rehabilitation has faded, and fast. “It’s a one-way flow out of Europe,” said Ankit Gheedia, equity and derivatives strategist at BNP Paribas SA. “You buy something that doesn’t give you a return, you sell.” Last year, ECB monetary stimulus and a fledgling economic recovery brought investors back to Europe after they fled during the eurozone debt crisis. The Stoxx Europe 600 gained 6.8% in 2015, while the S&P 500 lost almost 1%. Now people are leaving again. In recent weeks, investors have been selling equities around the world over concerns about the global economy. But the selling in Europe has been particularly pronounced.

Funds have sold around $22.6 billion worth of ETFs that track European equity since March, which is equivalent to roughly 9.4% of the total held of these investments, according to Mr. Gheedia. Meanwhile, global fund managers’ allocation to eurozone equities dropped to 17-month lows in May, according to a survey by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. When prospects seemed sunnier last year, a net 55% of fund managers favored the region. This is already taking a toll on European markets. The Stoxx Europe 600 is down nearly 8% this year, compared with a roughly flat S&P 500. Banks are Europe’s worst-performing sector, having fallen nearly 19%.

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And when the China Ponzi bursts.

US Dollar Will Be The Winner When The EU Volcano Erupts (CNBC)

Europe’s apparent inability to secure its monetary union leaves the world without any credible dollar alternatives. Those who were expecting that a legal tender of an economic system nearly matching the size of the American economy would offer an effective instrument of portfolio diversification have to accept a simple reality: The dollar remains an irreplaceable global transactions currency and, by far, the world’s most important reserve asset. The pious hopes of the French President François Mitterrand and the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl that a common currency would bond their countries and the rest of Europe into a peaceful and prosperous union could soon be dashed. Their political offspring has become a symbol of European discord and a cause of seemingly irreconcilable French-German economic and political divisions.

These historical divides are now aggravated by violent street demonstrations and frightening civil war rhetoric in France, where the country’s mainstream politicians are trying to fight off extreme right and left parties, commanding nearly half of the popular vote and demanding an immediate exit from the EU and the euro. Investors would be well advised to take this seriously. Even if relatively moderate French center-right forces were able to keep the anti-EU parties at bay, a long-brewing clash with Germany appears inevitable. For many French politicians of all stripes, Germany has gone too far in bossing the rest of Europe around, and in causing a huge economic, social and political damage to France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece with the imposition of its mean-spirited and misguided fiscal austerity.

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It’s a bout the dollar peg, again. Said ages ago it would be untenable.

Saudi Financial Crisis ‘Could Leave Oil At $25’ As Bills Get Paid In IOUs (AEP)

Saudi Arabia faces a vicious liquidity squeeze as capital continues to leak out the country, with a sharp contraction of the money supply and mounting stress in the banking system. Three-month interbank offered rates in Riyadh have suddenly begun to spiral upwards, reaching the highest since the Lehman crisis in 2008. Reports that the Saudi government is to pay contractors with tradable IOUs show how acute the situation is becoming. The debt-crippled bin Laden group is laying off 50,000 construction workers as austerity bites in earnest. Societe Generale’s currency team has advised clients to short the Saudi riyal, betting that the country will be forced to ditch its long-standing dollar peg, a move that could set off a cut-throat battle for global share in the oil markets.

Francisco Blanch, from Bank of America, said a rupture of the peg is this year’s number one “black swan event” and would cause oil prices to collapse to $25 a barrel. Saudi Arabia’s foreign reserves are still falling by $10bn (£6.9bn) a month, despite a switch to bond sales and syndicated loans to help plug the huge budget deficit. The country’s remaining reserves of $582bn are in theory ample – if they are really liquid – but that is not the immediate issue. The problem for the Saudi central bank (SAMA) is that reserve depletion automatically tightens monetary policy. Bank deposits are contracting. So is the M2 money supply. Domestic bond sales do not help because they crowd out Saudi Arabia’s wafer-thin capital markets and squeeze liquidity. Riyadh now plans a global bond issue.

While crude prices have rallied 80pc to almost $50 a barrel since mid-February, this has not yet been enough to ease Saudi Arabia’s financial crunch. The rebound in crude is increasingly fragile in any case as tough talk from the US Federal Reserve sends the dollar soaring, and Canada prepares to restore 1.2m barrels a day (b/d) of lost output. “We feel that markets have moved too high, too far, too soon. We still face a large inventory overhang and supply outages are reversible,” said BNP Paribas. Total chief Patrick Pouyanne told the French senate last week that prices could deflate as fast as they rose. “The market won’t come back into balance until the end of the year,” he said.

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Germany is blowing up the EU, step by step. There is no other way out of this. Berlin has become the schoolyard bully. And not everyone bends over for the bully.

The IMF And Calling Berlin’s Bluff Over Greece (Münchau)

At one level, the recurring Greek crises fit the idea from Karl Marx of history repeating itself, first as tragedy then as farce. Greece came close to a eurozone exit last summer. While it will probably come close this year, it is unlikely to leave. But prepare for some tense moments in the next few weeks and months as Greece and its creditors struggle to agree the first review of last year’s bailout. The IMF has concluded that Greek public debt, at 180% of GDP is unsustainable; as is the agreed annual primary budget surplus, before interest payments, of 3.5% of GDP. The fund insists on debt relief, but Germany resists. A year ago Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble, her finance minister, sold the Greek bailout to their party and parliament as a loan only. They argued that once you accept a debt writedown, you turn a loan into a transfer.

And once you accept the principle of a one-off transfer to Greece, you are on a slippery road to what the Germans call a transfer union, one where they pay and others receive. In private, senior German government officials agree that Athens needs debt relief. They are not blind. But they are trapped in the lie that Greece is solvent, which is what their own backbenchers were told. Without that lie, Greece would no longer be a eurozone member. But the lie cannot be sustained. IMF insistence on debt relief is what could expose this lie. Christine Lagarde, managing director, last year set debt relief talks as a condition for the fund’s participation in a bailout. Mr Schäuble reluctantly agreed yet managed to insert the words “if needed”, which give him wriggle room. But Berlin imposed another condition: the IMF must participate in the bailout, too. This is what makes the German position vulnerable.

We know IMF staff are steadfast in their opposition to being involved in a bailout without an agreement on debt relief. The trouble is that the policies are not determined by the staff but by the IMF shareholders. The Europeans and the US are the dominant shareholders so the outcome of this battle will depend to a large extent on the view taken by Washington. To get himself out of a hole, Mr Schäuble recently made a counterproposal: Germany accepts debt talks in principle but only from 2018. The date was chosen with care. It is well after the next federal elections. It is not clear whether he will still be finance minister or indeed in government. I suspect the Christian Democratic Union, his party, will lead the next government; the electoral arithmetic makes other constellations improbable. Nevertheless, he is proposing to commit any successor to this course of action. Such a commitment has no credibility.

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Why Tsipras keeps doing these things is hard to fathom.

Athens Agrees Fiscal Measures In Exchange For Debt Relief Talks (FT)

Alexis Tsipras has defended his leftwing government’s adoption of new fiscal measures in return for talks on debt relief, saying Greece was “turning a page” after an unprecedented six-year recession “Spring may be almost over but we are looking forward to an economic spring and a return to growth this year,” the prime minister told parliament, wrapping up a two-day debate on a €1.8bn package of indirect tax increases. As expected, all 153 legislators from the premier’s Syriza party and its coalition partner, the rightwing Independent Greeks, backed the bill, while 145 opposition deputies voted against. There were two abstentions. The latest measures complete a €5.4bn package of fiscal reforms aimed at ensuring a primary budget surplus, before payments of principal and interest on debt, amounting to 3.5% of national output by 2018.

But the legislation also included a provision for “contingency” measures, including wage and pension cuts, that would take effect automatically if budget targets were derailed next year. An upbeat Mr Tsipras insisted that budget projections would be outperformed, saying: “Greece has shown it keeps its promises..I’m certain [contingency] measures will not have to be put into effect.” A senior Greek official said after the vote he was confident that eurozone finance ministers would unlock up to €11bn from Greece’s €86bn third bailout at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday. The funding, to be disbursed in several tranches linked to implementing the reforms, would enable Athens to meet sovereign debt repayments for the remainder of the year and also channel funds to public services such as the healthcare system.

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This is getting weird. It’s like Beijing is reinventing finance. The government is paying off debt to the shadow banks.

China Steps Up War On Banks’ Bad Debt (FT)

Beijing has stepped up its battle against bad debt in China’s banking system, with a state-led debt-for-equity scheme surging in value by about $100bn in the past two months alone. The government-led programme, which forces banks to write off bad debt in exchange for equity in ailing companies, soared in value to hit more than $220bn by the end of April, up from about $120bn at the start of March, according to data from Wind Information. Industry watchers have fiercely debated how far Beijing will go to recapitalise the financial system, with bad loans taking up an ever higher percentage of banks’ balance sheets — as much as 19% by some estimates. The latest figures for the debt-to-equity swap, and a debt-to-bonds swap initiated last year, show a subtle bailout is already under way.

“One can argue the government-led recapitalisation is already happening in an atypical way and thus reducing the need for recapitalisation in its written sense,” said Liao Qiang at S&P Global Ratings in Beijing. Chinese media reported that up to Rmb4tn ($612bn) had been approved in 2015 for the debt-to-bonds swap, which has seen state-controlled banks trade short-term loans to companies connected to local governments in exchange for bonds with much longer maturities. That programme has been hailed a success in that it relieved the pressure on local governments that were forced to take out bank loans to proceed with public works projects in the absence of municipal bond markets.

The debt-to-equity project has received far less enthusiasm from analysts, who say that coercing banks to become stakeholders in companies that could not pay back loans will further weigh down profits this year. Instead of underpinning stability at banks, Mr Liao says the efforts undermine it. The programmes are just two fronts in Beijing’s battle against bad debt. The state-controlled asset management companies that bailed out the country’s four national commercial banks 15 years ago have become increasingly active over the past two years in buying up portfolios of bad debt. Regional asset managers run by provincial governments are doing the same business on a local level. The government is also reopening the market for securitising bad debt with two deals worth Rmb534m due this month.

The efforts have even gone online, with debt managers hawking off bad loans on China’s biggest online retail site. The average rate of non-performing loans at China’s commercial banks hit an official 1.75% at the end of March, according to the banking regulator. That marks the 11th straight quarter that the government-approved figures have risen. But the official data does not include a much larger stockpile of so-called zombie loans that some analysts say could in future require a more formal bailout for the banks. Francis Cheung, analyst at CLSA, estimates that bad debt accounted for 15-19% of banks’ loan books at the end of last year and that the government may have to add Rmb10.6tn of new capital to the banking system, or 15.6% of GDP.

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“As I say to my American friends who don’t really get what the EU is: ‘All you need to know is that it has three presidents, none of whom is elected.’”

We MUST Quit The EU, Says Cameron’s Guru (DM)

David Cameron’s closest friend in politics today breaks ranks to say Britain must leave the ‘arrogant and unaccountable’ EU. In a shattering blow to the Prime Minister, Steve Hilton claims the UK is ‘literally ungovernable’ as a democracy while it remains in a club that has been ‘corruptly captured’ by a self-serving elite. And in an attack on Project Fear, the former No 10 adviser dismisses claims by Mr Cameron, the IMF and the Bank of England that being in the EU makes us more secure. In an exclusive Daily Mail article, Mr Hilton – who persuaded Mr Cameron to stand for Tory leader – also delivers a devastating assessment of the PM’s referendum deal. He says Mr Cameron made only ‘modest’ demands of Brussels – and that even these were swatted contemptuously aside.

He also warns that Brussels will take revenge on Britain for the referendum if it votes to stay, by imposing fresh diktats. Mr Hilton concludes: ‘A decision to leave the EU is not without risk. But I believe it is the ideal and idealistic choice for our times: taking back power from arrogant, unaccountable, hubristic elites and putting it where it belongs – in people’s hands.’ His declaration for Brexit with exactly a month to go until polling day will send tremors through No 10. Along with Michael Gove, he provided the intellectual heft behind Mr Cameron’s rise to power. Both men now argue that the PM is wrong to urge voters to remain in what Mr Hilton condemns as the ‘grotesquely unaccountable’ Brussels club.

[..] Mr Hilton, who remains close to the Prime Minister, had previously declined to be drawn into what is already a bitter ‘blue on blue’ row. But today he claims the key issue for him is that Britain cannot make its own laws and control its own destiny from inside the EU. Mr Hilton says Brussels directives have crept into every corner of Whitehall and that less than a third of the Government’s workload is the result of trying to fulfil its own promises and policies. The rest is generated either by the ‘anti-market, innovation-stifling’ EU or a civil service dancing to the tune of Brussels, he says. Mr Hilton continues: ‘It’s become so complicated, so secretive, so impenetrable that it’s way beyond the ability of any British government to make it work to our advantage.

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The vote is not done yet.

Support For EU Falls Sharply In Britain’s Corporate Boardrooms (G.)

The number of FTSE 350 company boards that believe EU membership is good for their business has dropped significantly over the past six months, with just over a third now saying the EU has a positive impact. The biannual FT-ICSA boardroom bellwether survey, which canvasses the views of the FTSE 350, reported a substantial fall in the number who believe their company benefits from EU membership to 37%, down from 61% in December 2015. It found many were indifferent to a Brexit, with barely half (49%) of boards having considered the implications of the UK leaving the EU. Approximately 43% said they believe a UK exit from Europe would be potentially damaging. Respondents from the FTSE 100 regarded EU membership more favourably than the 250, with more than twice as many (55%) of FTSE 100 companies believing that EU membership has a positive impact.

This compared with 24% of the FTSE 250. John Longworth, chairman of the Vote Leave business council, said the survey findings showed that the remain camp’s economic argument was failing. “The remain camp’s concerted campaign to do down the economy has failed. In fact it has had the opposite effect as the EU supporters have failed to make a positive case for continuing to hand Brussels more control of our economy, our democracy and our borders. He added: “Business recognises it is possible for Britain to continue trading across Europe, part of the free trade zone that exists from Iceland to Turkey, without handing Brussels £350m a week and EU judges ultimate power over our laws. On 23 June the safe option is to take back control.”

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Switzerland is notoriously expensive to live in.

Swiss To Vote On $2,500 a Month Basic Income (BBG)

The Swiss are discussing paying people $2,500 a month for doing nothing. The country will vote June 5 on whether the government should introduce an unconditional basic income to replace various welfare benefits. Although the initiators of the plan haven’t stipulated how large the payout should be, they’ve suggested the sum of 2,500 francs ($2,500) for an adult and a quarter of that for a child. It sounds good, but — two things. It would barely get you over the poverty line, typically defined as 60 percent of the national median disposable income, in what’s one of the world’s most expensive countries. More importantly, it’s probably not going to happen anyway. Plebiscites are a common part of Switzerland’s direct democracy, with multiple votes every year. The basic income initiative is taking place after the proposal gathered the required 100,000 signatures, though current polls suggest it won’t get any further.

The idea of paying everyone a stipend has also piqued interest in other countries, such as Canada, the Netherlands and Finland, where an initial study began last year. The initiators say the sum they’ve mentioned would allow for a “decent existence.” Still, on an annual basis, it would provide only 30,000 francs — just above the 2014 poverty line of 29,501 francs. Nearly one in eight people in Switzerland were below the level in that year, according to the statistics office. That’s more than in France, Denmark and Norway. Among those over 65, one in five were at risk of being poor. “It’s not like you see abject poverty in Switzerland,” said Andreas Ladner, professor of political science at the University of Lausanne. “But there are a few people who don’t have enough money, and there are some people who work and don’t earn enough.”

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But it won’t materialize.

Snowden Calls For Whistleblower Shield After Claims By New Pentagon Source (G.)

Edward Snowden has called for a complete overhaul of US whistleblower protections after a new source from deep inside the Pentagon came forward with a startling account of how the system became a “trap” for those seeking to expose wrongdoing. The account of John Crane, a former senior Pentagon investigator, appears to undermine Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other major establishment figures who argue that there were established routes for Snowden other than leaking to the media. Crane, a longtime assistant inspector general at the Pentagon, has accused his old office of retaliating against a major surveillance whistleblower, Thomas Drake, in an episode that helps explain Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency disclosures. Not only did Pentagon officials provide Drake’s name to criminal investigators, Crane told the Guardian, they destroyed documents relevant to his defence.

Snowden, responding to Crane’s revelations, said he had tried to raise his concerns with colleagues, supervisors and lawyers and been told by all of them: “You’re playing with fire.” He told the Guardian: “We need iron-clad, enforceable protections for whistleblowers, and we need a public record of success stories. Protect the people who go to members of Congress with oversight roles, and if their efforts lead to a positive change in policy – recognize them for their efforts. There are no incentives for people to stand up against an agency on the wrong side of the law today, and that’s got to change.” Snowden continued: “The sad reality of today’s policies is that going to the inspector general with evidence of truly serious wrongdoing is often a mistake. Going to the press involves serious risks, but at least you’ve got a chance.”

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Excellent Taibbi, once again.

R.I.P., GOP: How Trump Is Killing the Republican Party (Taibbi)

If this isn’t the end for the Republican Party, it’ll be a shame. They dominated American political life for 50 years and were never anything but monsters. They bred in their voters the incredible attitude that Republicans were the only people within our borders who raised children, loved their country, died in battle or paid taxes. They even sullied the word “American” by insisting they were the only real ones. They preferred Lubbock to Paris, and their idea of an intellectual was Newt Gingrich. Their leaders, from Ralph Reed to Bill Frist to Tom DeLay to Rick Santorum to Romney and Ryan, were an interminable assembly line of shrieking, witch-hunting celibates, all with the same haircut – the kind of people who thought Iran-Contra was nothing, but would grind the affairs of state to a halt over a blow job or Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube.

A century ago, the small-town American was Gary Cooper: tough, silent, upright and confident. The modern Republican Party changed that person into a haranguing neurotic who couldn’t make it through a dinner without quizzing you about your politics. They destroyed the American character. No hell is hot enough for them. And when Trump came along, they rolled over like the weaklings they’ve always been, bowing more or less instantly to his parodic show of strength. In the weeks surrounding Cruz’s cat-fart of a surrender in Indiana, party luminaries began the predictably Soviet process of coalescing around the once-despised new ruler. Trump endorsements of varying degrees of sincerity spilled in from the likes of Dick Cheney, Bob Dole, Mitch McConnell and even John McCain.

Having not recently suffered a revolution or a foreign-military occupation, Americans haven’t seen this phenomenon much, but the effortless treason of top-tier Republicans once Trump locked up the nomination was the most predictable part of this story. Politicians, particularly this group, are like crackheads: You can get them to debase themselves completely for whatever’s in your pocket, even if it’s just lint.

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Greece should brace itself for a huge new influx of refugees.

Turks Won’t Get EU Visa Waiver Before 2017: Bild (R.)

The German government does not expect Turks to get visa-free entry into the European Union before 2017 because Ankara will not fulfil the conditions for that by the end of this year, newspaper Bild cited sources in Berlin as saying on Monday. Turkey and the EU have been discussing visa liberalisation since 2013 and agreed in March to press ahead with it as part of a deal to stop the flow of illegal migrants from Turkey to the EU. EU officials and diplomats say the EU is set to miss an end-June deadline due to a dispute over Turkish anti-terrorism law. [..] Turkey’s government says it has already met the EU’s criteria for visa-free travel.

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Another thing Tsipras should simply refuse to do.

Greek Police Poised To Evacuate Idomeni Refugee Camp (Kath.)

It appears that Greek authorities are poised to put into action a plan to evacuate the refugee camp in Idomeni, on the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. According to sources, nine squads of riot police received orders on Monday to travel from Athens to Kilkis so they can take part in the operation if their contribution is needed. Authorities will attempt to move the refugees from the unofficial camp to other sites that have been made ready in various parts of northern Greece. Police sources told Kathimerini that the plan to remove people from Idomeni would be put into action in the coming days, although no decision has been as to exactly when the operation will take place. One source said that it is most likely the orders will be given on Wednesday.

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May 042016
 
 May 4, 2016  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Myrtle Beach, S.C. Air Service Command Technical Sergeant Choken 1943

US Dollar Plunges As World Plays Dangerous Game Of Pass The Parcel (AEP)
90% of Americans Worse Off Today Than in 1970s (VW)
High Anxiety: Markets Get Roiled (WSJ)
China’s Improbable Commodities Frenzy Leaves Stocks in the Dust (BBG)
Commodities Are China’s Hottest New Casino (FT)
China’s $1 Trillion In Bad Debt Makes A Sharp Slowdown Inevitable (BI)
$571 Billion Debt Wall Points to More Defaults in China (BBG)
The Global Economy is at Stall Speed, Rapidly Losing Lift (Stockman)
Fed Expected To Drag Hedge Funds Into Plan To Halt Next Lehman (BBG)
Barclays Launches First 100% Mortgages Since Crisis (FT)
Whistleblowing Is Not Just Leaking, It’s an Act of Resistance (Snowden)
Whistle-Blower Needed a Smoke Before Giving Up LuxLeaks Data (BBG)
The Kleptocrats’ $36 Trillion Heist Keeps Most of the World Impoverished (DB)
France Threatens To Block TTiP Deal (G.)
TTIP Has Been Kicked Into The Long Grass … For A Very Long Time (G.)
After The Leaks Showing What It Is, This Could Be The End For TTIP (Ind.)
Spain, France, Italy, Portugal To Miss EU Deficit, Debt Reduction Targets (R.)
Theft Of Sausage And Cheese By Hungry Homeless Man ‘Not A Crime’ (G.)

“..the Fed is pursuing a “weak dollar policy” [..] “They are forcing currency appreciation onto weaker economies. It is irrational..” No, it’s not irrational, but it certainly is short term only. “.. the soaring euro is in the end self-correcting since the eurozone cannot withstand the pain for long..”

US Dollar Plunges As World Plays Dangerous Game Of Pass The Parcel (AEP)

The US dollar has plunged to a 16-month low in the latest wild move for the global financial system, tightening the currency noose on the eurozone and Japan as they struggle to break out of a debt-deflation trap. The closely-watched dollar index fell below 92 for the first time since January 2015, catapulting gold through $1300 an ounce in early trading and setting off steep falls on stock markets in Asia and Europe. The latest data from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission shows that speculative traders have switched to a net “short” position on the dollar. This is a massive shift in sentiment since the end of last year when investors were betting heavily that the US Federal Reserve was on track for a series of rate rises, which would draw a flood of capital into dollar assets.

Markets have now largely discounted a rate rise in June, and are pricing in just a 68pc likelihood of any increases this year. The dollar slide has been a lifeline for foreign borrowers with $11 trillion of debt in US currency, notably companies in China, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey that feasted on cheap US liquidity when the Fed spigot was open, and were then caught in a horrible squeeze when the Fed turned to tap off again and the dollar surged in 2014 and 2015. But it increases the pain for the eurozone and Japan as their currencies rocket. The world is in effect playing a high-stakes game of pass the parcel, with over-indebted countries desperately trying to export their deflationary problems to others by nudging down exchange rates. The Japanese yen appreciated to 105.60, the strongest since September 2014 and a shock to exporters planning on an average of this 117.50 this year.

The wild moves over recent weeks have blown apart the Japan’s reflation strategy. Analysts from Nomura said Abenomics is now “dead in the water”. The eurozone is also in jeopardy, despite enjoying a sweet spot of better growth in the first quarter. The euro touched $1.16 to the dollar early in the day. It has risen over 7pc in trade-weighted terms since the Europe Central Bank first launched quantitative easing in a disguised bid to drive down the exchange rate. Prices fell by 0.2pc in April and deflation is becoming more deeply-lodged in the eurozone economy, with no safety buffers left against an external shock. The European Commission this week slashed its inflation forecast to 0.2pc this year from 1.0pc as recently as November.

There is little that the Bank of Japan or the ECB can do to arrest this unwelcome appreciation. The Obama Administration warned them at the G20 summit in February that any further use of negative interest rates would be regarded by Washington as covert devaluation, and would not be tolerated. “These central banks have reached the limits of what they can do with monetary policy to influence their exchange rates, and this is putting their entire models at risk,” said Hans Redeker, currency chief at Morgan Stanley. “Europe and Japan are operating in a Keynesian liquidity trap. We are nearing a danger point like 2012 when it could lead to an asset market sell-off. We’re not there yet,” he said.

Stephen Jen from SLJ Macro Partners said the Fed is pursuing a “weak dollar policy”, reacting to global events in a radical new way. “They are forcing currency appreciation onto weaker economies. It is irrational,” he said. Yet it may not last long if the US economy comes roaring back in the second quarter a after a soft patch. “I doubt this is really the end of multi-year run for the dollar,” he said. Neil Mellor from BNY Mellon says the soaring euro is in the end self-correcting since the eurozone cannot withstand the pain for long, and as this becomes evident the currency will start sliding again.

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“Many believe that globalization is largely to blame.”

90% of Americans Worse Off Today Than in 1970s (VW)

A recent study in March from the Levy Economics Institute found that 90% of Americans were worse off financially in 2015 than at any time since the early 1970s. Furthermore, for the vast majority of Americans, the nation’s economy is in a prolonged stagnation, far worse than that of Japan. Worse than Japan? When we think of the Japanese economy, we think of the “Lost Decades.” Japan’s economy was the envy of the world in the 1980s, but starting in 1991, it fell into a prolonged recession and deflation which lasted from then to 2010. Japan’s GDP fell from $5.33 trillion to $4.36 trillion during that period, which saw wages fall by apprx. 5%. So are we really worse off today than Japan? The Levy Economics Institute at Bard College thinks the answer is YES, when it comes to real income – that is, income adjusted for inflation.

According to their findings, 90% of Americans earn roughly the same real income today as the average American earned back in the early 1970s. As a result of this stagnation in incomes and the plunge in housing values during the Great Recession, 99% of American households have seen their net worth fall since 2007 according to the study. Economic stagnation hasn’t reached the remaining 1% of the US population, which has seen a recovery in their real incomes over the same period to near new highs. The chart below has not been updated to include results for 2015, but the trends are clear. The bottom 99% of US income-earning households have seen their net worth decline since the financial crisis of 2007-2009.

Once upon a time, the American economy worked for nearly everybody, and even the middle class got richer. Things were quite different in the decades preceding the 70s, a period that stretches back to the late 1940s, when real incomes rose for both groups. Simply put, for the vast majority of Americans, the dream of a steady increase in income was lost back in the early 1970s. What can explain this big shift in the income distribution in the last four decades? One clue is in the timeframe of the shift, which coincides with the growing openness of the American economy to international trade and investments. Many believe that globalization is largely to blame.

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The game is getting dangerous. But it’s the only game in town.

High Anxiety: Markets Get Roiled (WSJ)

Stocks and oil futures tumbled and Japan’s yen hit its highest intraday level against the dollar since October 2014, as investors struggled to reconcile recent market gains with unease over the pace of global growth. The latest tumult erupted after the Reserve Bank of Australia on Tuesday cut its benchmark rate by one-quarter of a percentage point to 1.75%. The move reflects soft inflation and economic sluggishness driven in part by weak demand from China, the largest buyer of Australian exports. Adding to concerns were a drop in Chinese manufacturing and signals that eurozone growth is slowing more than previously forecast, traders said.

Tuesday’s developments reflect worries that have shadowed a surprising 2016 recovery in the prices of stocks and many commodities. Global growth has slowed this year, prompting major forecasters to cut their outlooks. Yet in recent months the decline of the U.S. dollar and easier policy from global central banks have helped fuel gains in many riskier assets, allowing the Dow industrials to recover from a decline of as much as 10% earlier this year. The action has vexed many portfolio managers and traders, who came into the year expecting the dollar to gain against the yen and euro as the Fed prepared to further tighten its policy and its peers loosened theirs. Instead, both currencies have surged against the dollar.

The dollar fell as low as ¥105.53 during trading Tuesday before retracing to ¥106 later in the session. The dollar traded at ¥120 at the start of the year, according to CQG. The gains threaten to add to economic turmoil in the world’s third-largest economy while deepening investors’ anxiety. “The financial markets are on edge,’’ said Jack McIntyre at Brandywine Global Investment Management. ”Economic growth is still hard to come by.’’

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Hard to imagine that this still has legs..

China’s Improbable Commodities Frenzy Leaves Stocks in the Dust (BBG)

The wild ride in China’s commodity futures is making the nation’s $5.9 trillion stock market look docile. Compared with the stock market, even eggs have been a better investment in China in 2016, with futures climbing 27%. That’s as the cost of a dozen eggs in the U.S. slumped 24% in the first quarter. The epicenter of the commodities boom, however, has been steel reinforcement bars, which have surged 38%. The dizzying increase in speculative activity prompted the head of the world’s largest metals exchange to say that some traders probably don’t even know what they are buying or selling. The Shanghai Composite Index is down 15% this year.

Fluctuations in steel futures have sent a gauge of price swings to the highest level on record. Rebar surged 29% in Shanghai from the end of March through April 22, before dropping about 11%. Bourses in Dalian, Shanghai and Zhengzhou have announced measures to cool the commodities boom including higher fees and a reduction in night hours. Meanwhile, volatility on the Shanghai Composite, which saw gut-wrenching moves over the summer and the start of 2016, has fallen to the lowest level in more than a year as the market turned flat. The intensity of futures trading on Chinese commodities exchanges is making some of the world’s most liquid markets look leisurely. The average iron ore and steel rebar contracts on the Shanghai Futures Exchange are held for less than four hours, compared with almost 40 hours for WTI crude futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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Time to get out. The House wins.

Commodities Are China’s Hottest New Casino (FT)

China’s market regulator may have succeeded in taking much of the froth off the country’s surging commodities markets last week, but the message is not filtering down to many dedicated retail traders. As Chinese markets reopened on Tuesday after the May Day holiday, a few dozen young traders in Shanghai crowded into a small room provided by a local brokerage. The mostly 20-something male traders, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, were looking forward to another week of fevered risk-taking in China’s hottest new casino. “It’s better for futures traders to be young because they can learn faster,” said Zhang Jun, 26, who has been trading commodities on the Shanghai Futures Exchange for three years but has only recently begun to make any money.

“This is not relevant to anything you study before you get here. I don’t know anyone who studied a relevant major,” said Mr Zhang, a mechanical engineer by training. On April 29, the China Securities Regulatory Commission ordered the country’s three commodities futures exchanges to curb speculation. The exchanges had already taken steps in that direction, by increasing margin requirements and transaction fees while reducing trading hours. The measures appeared to be aimed primarily at large institutional traders who have contributed to price surges for commodities ranging from steel to eggs, which have increased 50% and 10% respectively over recent months. Liu Shiyu, the CSRC’s new boss, wants to avoid the fate of his recently sacked predecessor, who last year presided over a boom and bust on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges.

Poor economic data helped Mr Liu’s cause on Tuesday, with the price of the Shanghai exchange’s most popular steel rebar contract falling 4.52% to Rmb2,451 a tonne. Futures for iron ore, the key ingredient in steel production, also took a hit. The most actively traded contract on the Dalian Futures Exchange, which largely trades steel industry inputs, dropped 2.96% to Rmb442.5 per tonne. At the peak of last month’s China commodities fever, the number of steel rebar contracts traded in Shanghai exceeded volumes for the world’s two most important crude oil benchmarks, Brent and West Texas Intermediate.

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More dangerous by the day, but nothing to stop it.

China’s $1 Trillion In Bad Debt Makes A Sharp Slowdown Inevitable (BI)

The amount of debt being carried in the Chinese economy – mostly by state-owned “zombie” companies – is now so high that it could lead to a financial crisis, according to Macquarie analyst Viktor Shvets and his team. “Unless this vicious cycle is broken, financial crisis or at least a sharp slowdown is an inevitable ultimate outcome,” he wrote in a note to investors on April 29. The China debt problem is simple, at least in concept. To grow its economy, the Chinese government and its central bank have extended credit generously to all sorts of Chinese companies. Many of those are “state owned enterprises,” which are often old-fashioned, uncompetitive, or kept alive by political will rather than economic necessity.

These “zombie” companies exist largely to pay back those debts, but as time goes by some of them default, or fail to pay back all if their loans. This was not much of a problem until recently, Shvets argues, because China’s economy was growing so robustly that it eclipsed the rate of non-performing loans (NPLs). But as the economy has grown, so has its debt, to roughly $35 trillion, or nearly 350% of GDP. If too many companies fail to repay their debts, private lenders and banks will become fearful of lending more. And when that happens, it would plunge China into a financial crisis as liquidity dries up. The size of the debt at risk is so large – and the Chinese economy is such a global driving force – that such a crisis would cause a contagion into the markets of the rest of the world.

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It can’t be called an accident, but it sure is waiting to happen.

$571 Billion Debt Wall Points to More Defaults in China (BBG)

Chinese debt investors are turning bearish at just the wrong time for the nation’s corporate borrowers, which face a record 3.7 trillion yuan ($571 billion) of local bond maturities through year-end. With this year’s biggest note payments concentrated in some of the country’s most-cash strapped industries, China needs buoyant markets to help its companies refinance. Instead, yields in April rose at the fastest pace in more than a year and issuance tumbled 43% as borrowers canceled 143 billion yuan of planned debt sales. Deteriorating investor sentiment has heightened the risk of defaults in a market that’s already seen at least seven companies renege on obligations this year, matching the total for all of 2015.

While government-run banks may step in to help weaker borrowers, missed debt payments by three state-owned firms in the past three months suggest policy makers are becoming more tolerant of corporate failures as the economy slows. “The biggest risk to the onshore bond market is refinancing risk,” said Qiu Xinhong at First State Cinda Fund. “With such a big amount of bonds maturing, if Chinese issuers can’t sell new bonds to repay the old, more will default.”Repayment pressures are most extreme in China’s “old economy” industries, the biggest losers from the nation’s slowdown. Listed metals and mining companies, which generated enough operating profit to cover just half of their interest expenses in 2015, face principal payments of 389 billion yuan through year-end.

Power generation firms owe 332 billion yuan, while maturities at coal companies have swelled to 292 billion yuan. SDIC Xinji Energy, a state-owned coal producer that canceled a bond sale on March 11, must repay 1 billion yuan of notes on May 15, according to Bloomberg-compiled data. China International Capital highlighted the company as one of the riskiest onshore issuers in the second quarter. Fei Dai, SDIC’s board secretary, said Tuesday that the firm will arrange bank loans and other measures to avoid a default. The shares fell 5% to the lowest level since December 2014 in Shanghai on Wednesday. [..] “If you have a large number of companies in high-risk sectors that lose access to financing, there will be defaults or restructuring,” said Raja Mukherji, head of Asian credit research at PIMCO.

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“China can’t be growing at 6.7% when its export machine has run out of gas..”

The Global Economy is at Stall Speed, Rapidly Losing Lift (Stockman)

South Korea’s exports tumbled to $41 billion in April, marking the 16th consecutive month of declining foreign sales. Last month’s result represented a 11.2% decline from prior year, and an 18% drop from April 2014. Moreover, within that shrinking total, exports to China were down by 18.4% last month, following a 12.2% drop in March. The Korean export slump is no aberration. The same pattern is evident in the entire East Asia export belt. That’s because the Red Ponzi is in its last innings. Beijing is furiously pumping on the credit accelerator, but to no avail. As can’t be emphasized enough, printing GDP by means of wanton credit expansion does not create wealth or growth; it just results in an eventual day of reckoning when the speculative excesses inherent in central bank money printing collapse in upon themselves.

China is surely close to that kind of implosion. During Q1 total credit, or what Beijing is please to call “social financing”, expanded at a $4 trillion annualized rate. This was up 57% over prior year and represented debt growth at a 38% of GDP annual rate. Stated differently, during the first 90 days of 2016 China piled another $1 trillion of debt on its existing $30 trillion debt mountain, while its nominal GDP expanded by less than $175 billion. That’s right. The Red Ponzi is generating barely $1 of GDP for every $6 of new debt. And much of the “GDP” purportedly generated during Q1 reflected new construction of empty apartments and redundant public infrastructure. By now it ought to be evident that the Chinese economy is a brobdingnagian freak of nature that is destined for a collapse, and that its economic statistics are a tissue of fabrications and delusions.

Even its export figures, which are constrained toward minimum honesty because they can be checked against Chinese imports reported by the rest of the world, are padded to some considerable degree by phony export invoicing designed to hide illegal capital flight. Still, the implication of its export trends are unmistakable. When you put aside the statistical razzmatazz of the Chinese New Year’s timing noise in the data, exports were down by 10% in Q1 as a whole. That is the worst quarterly drop since 2009 amidst the global Great Recession, and was nearly twice the rate of decline during Q4 and Q3 2015. Here’s the thing. China can’t be growing at 6.7% when its export machine has run out of gas, as is so starkly evident in the graph below.

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Still festering in the dark.

Fed Expected To Drag Hedge Funds Into Plan To Halt Next Lehman (BBG)

Hedge funds, insurers and other companies that do business with Wall Street megabanks will pay a price for regulators’ efforts to make sure any future collapse of a giant lender doesn’t tank the entire financial system. The Federal Reserve is set to propose so-called stays on derivatives and other contracts that would prevent counterparties from immediately pulling collateral from a failed bank. The plan released Tuesday is meant to give authorities ample time to unwind a firm, hopefully heading off the frantic contagion that spread through markets when Lehman Brothers toppled in 2008. Though the world’s largest banks have already made strides to include such protections in transactions with each other, the Fed’s proposal insists that the shield be expanded to more contracts – including with non-bank firms.

The curbs would apply to any new contract signed by eight of the biggest and most complex U.S. bank holding companies and the U.S. arms of major foreign banks. So, hedge funds and asset managers that want to keep doing business with such lenders would have to comply. Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo said the proposal is “another step forward in our efforts to make financial firms resolvable without either injecting public capital or endangering the overall stability of the financial system.” Industry groups representing firms such as Citadel, BlackRock and MetLife have resisted efforts to rewrite financial contracts, arguing that it abuses investors’ rights and could make things worse by encouraging trading partners to try to pull away from a bank at the first whiff of trouble, even before a failure. But asset managers and insurers would face a tough task in persuading the Fed to change course.

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Party! It’ll be Britain’s last for a while…

Barclays Launches First 100% Mortgages Since Crisis (FT)

Barclays has become the first high street bank since the financial crisis to launch a 100% mortgage in the latest sign of a return to riskier lending. The bank is allowing some buyers to take out a mortgage to 100% of the value of the property, without needing a deposit. Most banks require at least a 5-10% lump sum. Barclays said the mortgage only needed to be supported by a family member or guardian, who must set aside 10% of the purchase price in cash for three years in return for interest. It said the new mortgage was designed to remove the issue of borrowers drawing from the “bank of Mum and Dad” to stump up a deposit. Ray Boulger, of broker John Charcol, said: “It is the first true 100% mortgage since the financial crisis.” The move marks a shift back to higher loan-to-value lending reminiscent of the boom times before the crisis of 2008, when 100% mortgages were widely available.

The defunct bank Northern Rock became renowned for its aggressive lending, with its “Together” mortgages offering 125% of the property value. Regulators have since clamped down on risky lending through regulation in 2014, called the Mortgage Market Review, designed to ensure borrowers can repay — although it does not prohibit 100% loans. The Bank of England would also be likely to take a dim view of any widespread return to deposit-free mortgage lending. So far, no other bank has offered such loans. “We haven’t seen a resurgence of 100% mortgages; I don’t think regulation would allow that,” said Charlotte Nelson, of consumer site Moneyfacts. “I don’t think it’s something many other banks will take on. If they’re seen to be lending at 100%, even with a guarantee, it doesn’t look great. Seeing 100% deals back on the market can come off as negative.”

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The attitude towards whistleblowers still feels medieval.

Whistleblowing Is Not Just Leaking, It’s an Act of Resistance (Snowden)

“I’ve been waiting 40 years for someone like you.” Those were the first words Daniel Ellsberg spoke to me when we met last year. Dan and I felt an immediate kinship; we both knew what it meant to risk so much — and to be irrevocably changed — by revealing secret truths. One of the challenges of being a whistleblower is living with the knowledge that people continue to sit, just as you did, at those desks, in that unit, throughout the agency, who see what you saw and comply in silence, without resistance or complaint. They learn to live not just with untruths but with unnecessary untruths, dangerous untruths, corrosive untruths. It is a double tragedy: What begins as a survival strategy ends with the compromise of the human being it sought to preserve and the diminishing of the democracy meant to justify the sacrifice.

But unlike Dan Ellsberg, I didn’t have to wait 40 years to witness other citizens breaking that silence with documents. Ellsberg gave the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971; Chelsea Manning provided the Iraq and Afghan War logs and the Cablegate materials to WikiLeaks in 2010. I came forward in 2013. Now here we are in 2016, and another person of courage and conscience has made available the set of extraordinary documents that are published in The Assassination Complex, the new book out today by Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept. We are witnessing a compression of the working period in which bad policy shelters in the shadows, the time frame in which unconstitutional activities can continue before they are exposed by acts of conscience.

And this temporal compression has a significance beyond the immediate headlines; it permits the people of this country to learn about critical government actions, not as part of the historical record but in a way that allows direct action through voting — in other words, in a way that empowers an informed citizenry to defend the democracy that “state secrets” are nominally intended to support. When I see individuals who are able to bring information forward, it gives me hope that we won’t always be required to curtail the illegal activities of our government as if it were a constant task, to uproot official lawbreaking as routinely as we mow the grass. (Interestingly enough, that is how some have begun to describe remote killing operations, as “cutting the grass.”)

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Case in point.

Whistle-Blower Needed a Smoke Before Giving Up LuxLeaks Data (BBG)

The man who uncovered secret Luxembourg deals that helped companies slash tax rates was actually looking for training documents when he stumbled upon the files on his computer at PricewaterhouseCoopers. On the eve of his departure from the accounting firm in 2010, Antoine Deltour wasn’t fully aware of what he had discovered. He copied the folder and within half an hour had about 45,000 pages detailing confidential tax agreements that became known as the LuxLeaks. Deltour’s discovery triggered the first in a wave of scandals over how thousands of international companies, including Walt Disney, Microsoft’s Skype and PepsiCo, moved money around the globe to avoid taxes. It also landed him in trouble after PwC sued and prosecutors charged him and two other men with theft and violation of business secrets.

“I had discovered gradually the administrative practice of these deals,” Deltour, 30, told a three-judge panel at his trial in Luxembourg Tuesday. “The opportunity to have stumbled over this folder led me to copy it at that moment without a clear goal in mind,” knowing about the “sensitive and highly confidential nature of these files.” Deltour “felt a bit surprised by the volume of the” files and “didn’t immediately do anything with this mass of information,” he told the court. He felt “isolated” and “alone” and unsure of who to turn to. Months later he was contacted by journalist Edouard Perrin, who was working on a documentary about tax practices. The pair met only once, at Deltour’s home in Nancy, France, where Deltour said he needed a moment before handing over the files. “Of course I hesitated,” Deltour told the judge. “I went to smoke a cigarette on the balcony to think a few moments about this.”

The resulting 2012 documentary by Perrin, who is also a defendant in the case, led to interest from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The group put the documents online in 2014, triggering the LuxLeaks scandal. Perrin, 44, another French citizen, was charged in April 2015 with being the accomplice of Raphael Halet, another ex-PwC staffer who is accused of stealing 16 corporate tax returns from the accounting firm and giving them to the journalist. Perrin is also accused of having urged Halet to search for specific documents, a charge both men rejected.

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Grand Theft Auto. Redux.

The Kleptocrats’ $36 Trillion Heist Keeps Most of the World Impoverished (DB)

For the first time we have a reliable estimate of how much money thieving dictators and others have looted from 150 mostly poor nations and hidden offshore: $12.1 trillion. That huge figure equals a nickel on each dollar of global wealth and yet it excludes the wealthiest regions of the planet: America, Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. That so much money is missing from these poorer nations explains why vast numbers of people live in abject poverty even in countries where economic activity per capita is above the world average. In Equatorial Guinea, for example, the national economy’s output per person comes to 60 cents for each dollar Americans enjoy, measured using what economists call purchasing power equivalents, yet living standards remain abysmal.

The $12.1 trillion estimate—which amounts to two-thirds of America’s annual GDP being taken out of the economies of much poorer nations—is for flight wealth built up since 1970. Add to that flight wealth from the world’s rich regions, much of it due to tax evasion and criminal activities like drug dealing, and the global figure for hidden offshore wealth totals as much as $36 trillion. In 2014 the net worth of planet Earth was about $240 trillion, which means about 15% of global wealth is in hiding, significantly reducing the capital available to spur world economic growth. That $12.1 trillion figure for money looted from poorer countries has been hiding in plain sight. It comes from numbers in the global economic data—derived by comparing statistics from the IMF and the World Bank, supplemented by some figures from the United Nations and the CIA—that do not match up, but which until now no one had bothered to analyze.

You might think that with their vast staffs of economists and analysts the IMF, the World Bank, and other institutions would have run the numbers long ago, but no. Instead, one determined person combed 45 years of official statistics from around the world to calculate the flight wealth for nearly 200 countries that publish comparable economic data. That’s Jim Henry, who was a rising corporate star until he gave it all up to document illicit flows of money and the damage they do to billions of people. Henry has been the chief economist at McKinsey, arguably the world’s most influential business consultancy, and worked directly under Jack Welch at General Electric. A Harvard-educated economist and lawyer, Henry calls himself an investigative economist. His approach is simple: “Just look at the effing data and solve the puzzle” of mismatches between the various official sources.

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Seems like a bad time to keep on pushing through ever more deals people obviously don’t want.

France Threatens To Block TTiP Deal (G.)

Doubts about the controversial EU-US trade pact are mounting after the French president threatened to block the deal. François Hollande said on Tuesday he would reject the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership “at this stage” because France was opposed to unregulated free trade. Earlier, France’s lead trade negotiator had warned that a halt in TTIP talks “is the most probable option”. Matthias Fekl, the minister responsible for representing France in TTIP talks, blamed Washington for the impasse. He said Europe had offered a lot but had received little in return. He added: “There cannot be an agreement without France and much less against France.” All 28 EU member states and the European parliament will have to ratify TTIP before it comes into force.

But that day seems further away than ever, with talks bogged down after 13 rounds of negotiations spread over nearly three years. The gulf between the two sides was highlighted by a massive leak of documents on Monday, first reported by the Guardian, which revealed “irreconcilable” differences on consumer protection and animal welfare standards. The publication of 248 pages of negotiating texts and internal positions, obtained by Greenpeace and seen by the Guardian, showed that the two sides remain far apart on how to align regulations on environment and consumer protection. Greenpeace said the leak demonstrated that the EU and the US were in a race to the bottom on health and environmental standards, but negotiators on both sides rejected these claims.

The European commission, which leads negotiations on behalf of the EU, dismissed the “alarmist headlines” as “a storm in a teacup”. But Tuesday’s comments from the heart of the French government reveal how difficult TTIP negotiations have become. France has always had the biggest doubts about TTIP. In 2013 the French government secured an exemption for its film industry from TTIP talks to try to shelter French-language productions from Hollywood dominance. Hollande, who is beset by dire poll ratings, indicated on Tuesday that the government has other concerns about TTIP. Speaking at a conference on the history of the left, Hollande said he would never accept “the undermining of the essential principles of our agriculture, our culture, of mutual access to public markets”. Fekl told French radio that the agreement on the table is “a bad deal”. “Europe is offering a lot and we are getting very little in return. That is unacceptable,” he said.

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With growth gone, so is the desire for deals. Too much domestic backlash.

TTIP Has Been Kicked Into The Long Grass … For A Very Long Time (G.)

As talks to broker a global trade deal entered a second tortuous decade, the US and the European Union came up with an idea. Since it was proving impossible to find agreement among the 150 or so members of the World Trade Organisation about how to tear down barriers to freer commerce, they would strike their own agreement. Talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) began in the summer of 2013 with officials in Washington and Brussels confident they could iron out any difficulties by the time American voters decide on who should succeed Barack Obama as president in November this year. This always looked a ridiculously tight timetable and so it has proved. Cutting trade deals is an agonisingly slow process. The last successful global deal – the Uruguay Round – took seven years before being concluding in 1993.

Talks continued on the Doha Round from 2001 until 2015 before terminal boredom and frustration set in. Was it really feasible that TTIP could be pushed through in little more than three years? Not a chance. There are three reasons for that. First, the main barriers to trade between the US and the EU are not traditional tariff barriers, which have been steadily whittled away in the decades since the second world war, but the differing regulatory regimes that operate on either side of the Atlantic. America and Europe have different views on everything from GM food to safety standards on cars so harmonising standards was always going to take a lot of time. Second, the talks have involved controversial issues and have been taking place when trust in politicians and business has rarely been lower. The main driving forces behind TTIP have been multinational corporations and business lobby groups, who stand to gain from harmonised regulations.

With information about the secret negotiations having to be chiselled out by groups hostile to TTIP, voters have drawn the obvious conclusion: the aim of the talks is to enrich big business even if it means playing fast and loose with environmental and health standards. Which leads to the final and most important factor: there are no votes in trade. It would have been no surprise had Angela Merkel voiced strong opposition to the state of the TTIP negotiations, given the level of public antipathy to the trade deal in Germany and her delicate position in the polls ahead of elections next year. Instead, the German chancellor was beaten to it by François Hollande (also facing a showdown with the voters in 2017) who has made it clear he will not sign TTIP in its current form. Years not months of hard slog lie ahead, by which time the US is likely to have a president much less wedded to the idea of striking trade deals. TTIP has just been kicked into the long grass for a very long time, and perhaps for good.

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Can we have no more of this please?! “The European Commission slapped a 30-year ban on public access to the TTIP negotiating texts at the beginning of the talks in 2013..”

After The Leaks Showing What It Is, This Could Be The End For TTIP (Ind.)

Today’s shock leak of the text of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) marks the beginning of the end for the hated EU-US trade deal, and a key moment in the Brexit debate. The unelected negotiators have kept the talks going until now by means of a fanatical level of secrecy, with threats of criminal prosecution for anyone divulging the treaty’s contents. Now, for the first time, the people of Europe can see for themselves what the European Commission has been doing under cover of darkness – and it is not pretty. The leaked TTIP documents, published by Greenpeace this morning, run to 248 pages and cover 13 of the 17 chapters where the final agreement has begun to take shape.

The texts include highly controversial subjects such as EU food safety standards, already known to be at risk from TTIP, as well as details of specific threats such as the US plan to end Europe’s ban on genetically modified foods. The documents show that US corporations will be granted unprecedented powers over any new public health or safety regulations to be introduced in future. If any European government does dare to bring in laws to raise social or environmental standards, TTIP will grant US investors the right to sue for loss of profits in their own corporate court system that is unavailable to domestic firms, governments or anyone else. For all those who said that we were scaremongering and that the EU would never allow this to happen, we were right and you were wrong.

The leaked texts also reveal how the European Commission is preparing to open up the European economy to unfair competition from giant US corporations, despite acknowledging the disastrous consequences this will bring to European producers, who have to meet far higher standards than pertain in the USA. According to official statistics, at least one million jobs will be lost as a direct result of TTIP – and twice that many if the full deal is allowed to go through. Yet we can now see that EU negotiators are preparing to trade away whole sectors of our economies in TTIP, with no care for the human consequences.

The European Commission slapped a 30-year ban on public access to the TTIP negotiating texts at the beginning of the talks in 2013, in the full knowledge that they would not be able to survive the outcry if people were given sight of the deal. In response, campaigners called for a ‘Dracula strategy’ against the agreement: expose the vampire to sunlight and it will die. Today the door has been flung open and the first rays of sunlight shone on TTIP. The EU negotiators will never be able to crawl back into the shadows again.

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That must be over half the eurozone right there.

Spain, France, Italy, Portugal To Miss EU Deficit, Debt Reduction Targets (R.)

Three of the euro zone’s four biggest economies look set to break European Union deficit and debt reduction targets this year and next unless they take urgent action, European Commission forecasts showed on Tuesday. The Commission forecast that the three – France, Italy and Spain – were likely to miss goals set for them set by EU finance ministers under a disciplinary procedure for those that run excessive budget deficits and have too high public debt. Portugal would also likely be in breach of EU budget rules. The euro zone’s biggest economy Germany, was in rude fiscal health, the forecasts showed. The Commission’s forecasts, together with medium-term fiscal consolidation plans submitted by governments last month will be the basis for a Commission decision, in the second half of May, on whether to step up the disciplinary procedure against those in breach of the rules.

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“..for supreme court judges, the right to survive still trumped property rights, a fact that would be considered blasphemy in America..”

Theft Of Sausage And Cheese By Hungry Homeless Man ‘Not A Crime’ (G.)

Italy’s highest court has ruled that the theft of a sausage and piece of cheese by a homeless man in 2011 did not constitute a crime because he was in desperate need of nourishment. The high court judges in the court of cassation found that Roman Ostriakov, a young homeless man who had bought a bag of breadsticks from a supermarket but had slipped a wurstel – a small sausage – and cheese into his pocket, had acted out of an immediate need by stealing a minimal amount of food, and therefore had not committed a crime. The case, which drew comparisons to the story of Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, was hailed in some media reports as an act of humanity at a time when hundreds of Italians are being added to the roster of the country’s “hungry” every day, despite improvements in the economy.

One columnist writing in La Stampa said that, for supreme court judges, the right to survive still trumped property rights, a fact that would be considered “blasphemy in America”. But others commented that the case highlighted Italy’s notoriously inefficient legal system, in which the theft of food valued at about €4.70 (£3.70) was the subject of a three-part trial – the first hearing, the appeal, and the final supreme court ruling – to determine whether the defendant had in fact committed a crime. “Yes, you read that right,” an opinion column in Corriere della Sera said, “in a country with a burden of €60bn in corruption per year, it took three degrees of proceedings to determine ‘this was not a crime’.”

Ostriakov, who was described as a homeless 30-year-old from Ukraine, had been sentenced to six months in jail and a €100 fine by a lower court in Genoa, but that punishment was vacated by the supreme court. “The supreme court has established a sacrosanct principle: a small theft because of hunger is in no way comparable to an act of delinquency, because the need to feed justifies the fact,” said Carlo Rienzi, president of Codacons, an environmental and consumer rights group, told Il Mesaggero. “In recent years the economic crisis has increased dramatically the number of citizens, especially the elderly, forced to steal in supermarkets to be able to make ends meet.”

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