Apr 202017
 
 April 20, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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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
 
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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
 
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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: , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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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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