Apr 212017
 
 April 21, 2017  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Fred Stein Nadinola 1944

 

Trump Signals Provide Comfort to Central Bankers, Finance Ministers (WSJ)
Protectionism Is More Than a Political Statement (Grant)
Fed Intensifies Balance-Sheet Discussions With Market Players (BBG)
Paul Tudor Jones Says U.S. Stocks Should ‘Terrify’ Janet Yellen (BBG)
China’s Stocks Refuse to Drop More Than 1% (BBG)
Toronto To Impose 15% Tax On Foreign Home Buyers (G.)
Why Not a Probe of ‘Israel-gate’? (Robert Parry)
Arresting Julian Assange Is A Priority, Says US Attorney General (G.)
German Chancellery Investigated In Probe Into WikiLeaks Sources (R.)
Coffee and Thin Liquidity on Traders’ Menus for French Vote (BBG)
EU leader: UK Would Be Welcomed Back If Voters Overturn Brexit (G.)
Britain Must Pay EU Divorce Bill In Euros (AFP)
Austria Calls For Closure Of Mediterranean Migrant Route (Pol.)

 

 

The system closes ranks.

Trump Signals Provide Comfort to Central Bankers, Finance Ministers (WSJ)

The Trump administration appears unlikely to upend seven decades of global financial cooperation by scorning the IMF and World Bank, a source of comfort to central bankers and finance ministers gathering this week in Washington. In recent days, the new administration has shown signs the U.S. is taking a more traditional approach to economic diplomacy and the use of “soft power” than early administration rhetoric suggested. President Donald Trump, after meeting with NATO’s chief earlier this month, praised the alliance and reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to it. Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been leveraging the institution to advance Mr. Trump’s foreign-policy agenda. Other signals of the shift that are being seen by some officials at the meetings included the administration’s relatively modest proposed changes to NAFTA and its about-face last week on censuring China for its currency policy.

Meantime, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has reaffirmed the role of the IMF in promoting global economic growth and stability, saying at a gathering of global-finance chiefs last month that multilateral institutions can be “very important” to projecting U.S. interests abroad. Indeed, the U.S. signed off on an official communiqué by the Group of 20 largest economies that reaffirmed commitment to an international financial system “with a strong…and adequately resourced IMF at its center.” “There’re a number of things that global institutions can do to help strengthen global growth for all,” a senior Treasury official said ahead of the semiannual meetings in Washington this week of the World Bank and IMF’s member countries.

[..] The IMF has been criticized in the past for being too lax on China, especially when its exchange rate was estimated to have been up to 40% undervalued and its trade surplus topping 10% of GDP. The IMF has since stepped up its public censure of some Beijing policies, such as a bank lending boom that could endanger financial stability in the world’s second largest economy. The IMF is also planning to ramp up its warnings toward another Washington target—Germany—which maintains the world’s largest trade surplus. In particular. “Germany, with its aging population, should have, and can legitimately aim to have, a degree of surplus,” Ms. Lagarde said this week in a briefing with European press. “But not to the extent we see at the moment: 4% would perhaps be justified, but 8% is not.”

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France, Italy and Greece: Europe’s risk spots. US Treasuries and the dollar look inviting.

Protectionism Is More Than a Political Statement (Grant)

Yet again, Greece is another crisis in progress, as the nation has a $7 billion debt payment to make in July and nowhere near the cash on hand to pay it. The official debt-to-GDP figure is 183%, according to EU data, but it is a nonsensical number. The ECB lends money to the Greek banks and the banks lend money to the country. This is the epicenter of the rigged scheme. If you take the total public debt and add in the debt of Greek banks, then the total debt to GDP ratio is 302%, based on my calculations. One more time bomb ticking as the International Monetary Fund will not lend any new money to Greece, in my opinion, with the U.S. representatives on the IMF now reporting to the Trump administration.

It is not the size of the country that matters but the size of the debt, and a $560 billion public and bank debt load is no small figure. Since it is virtually impossible in many European countries to forgive the debt, given their political constraints, the “breakpoint” may finally be arriving. This means Greece will be leaving the EU, one way or another, and defaulting on its debts. Now, you can hold whatever view you like on these situations. You can ascribe to the “muddle through” theory or the “kick the can” theory. But what you cannot do is pretend that there are not significant risks facing the EU. We have these three “risk situations” in progress, and then we have Brexit under way, and it is my opinion that the EU is coming apart at the seams.

Many large financial institutions are looking aghast at the U.S. Treasury market. Virtually every leading bank has been predicting a return to a 3.00% yield for the benchmark 10-year note, and they have all been wrong – again. In fact, this is probably the biggest “pain trade” so far this year. Many people blame a “short squeeze” for the recent drop in yields on Treasuries. That is only part of the reason. The other has been the flow of capital, which is headed out of Europe and into the United States. “Protectionism” is more than a political statement. Asian money managers are exiting Europe, and the European money managers are exiting Europe, and the relative safety of the U.S. bond markets is providing a haven from European risk. This is a sound strategy, in my opinion. “Buy American, Sell American and Trade American” is where I want to be at the present time.

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The same market players who live off, and are propped up by, Fed largesse. Insane.

Fed Intensifies Balance-Sheet Discussions With Market Players (BBG)

Federal Reserve staff, widening their outreach to investors in anticipation of a critical turning point in monetary policy, are seeking bond fund manager feedback on how the central bank should tailor and communicate its exit from record holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. Fed officials are intent on shrinking their crisis-era $4.48 trillion balance sheet in a way that isn’t disruptive and doesn’t usurp the federal funds rate as the main policy tool. To do that, they need to find the right communication and assess market expectations on the size of shrinkage, which is why conversations with fund managers have picked up recently. “All indications suggest that conversations around the balance sheet have accelerated,” said Carl Tannenbaum at Northern Trust Company. “The consideration of everything from design of the program to communication seems to have intensified.”

Most U.S. central bankers agreed that they would begin phasing out their reinvestment of maturing Treasury and MBS securities in their portfolio “later this year,” according to minutes of the March meeting. They also agreed the strategy should be “gradual and predictable,” according to the minutes.Fed staff routinely seek feedback from investors and bond dealers to get a fix on sentiment and expectations. The New York Fed confirmed the discussions and said it is part of regular market monitoring. The Fed is getting closer to disclosing its plan, and conversations have become more intense. “They are gauging what’s the extent of weak hands in the market that will dump these assets,” said Ed Al-Hussainy, a senior analyst on the Columbia Threadneedle Investment’s global rates and currency team. “They are calling all the asset managers. It is not part of the regular survey.”

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“..years of low interest rates have bloated stock valuations to a level not seen since 2000..”

Paul Tudor Jones Says U.S. Stocks Should ‘Terrify’ Janet Yellen (BBG)

Billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones has a message for Janet Yellen and investors: Be very afraid. The legendary macro trader says that years of low interest rates have bloated stock valuations to a level not seen since 2000, right before the Nasdaq tumbled 75% over two-plus years. That measure – the value of the stock market relative to the size of the economy – should be “terrifying” to a central banker, Jones said earlier this month at a closed-door Goldman Sachs Asset Management conference, according to people who heard him. Jones is voicing what many hedge fund and other money managers are privately warning investors: Stocks are trading at unsustainable levels. A few traders are more explicit, predicting a sizable market tumble by the end of the year.

Last week, Guggenheim Partner’s Scott Minerd said he expected a “significant correction” this summer or early fall. Philip Yang, a macro manager who has run Willowbridge Associates since 1988, sees a stock plunge of between 20 and 40%, according to people familiar with his thinking. Even Larry Fink, whose BlackRock oversees $5.4 trillion mostly betting on rising markets, acknowledged this week that stocks could fall between 5 and 10% if corporate earnings disappoint. Their views aren’t widespread. They’ve seen the carnage suffered by a few money managers who have been waving caution flags for awhile now, as the eight-year equity rally marched on.

But the nervousness feels a bit more urgent now. U.S. stocks sit about 2% below the all-time high set on March 1. The S&P 500 index is trading at about 22 times earnings, the highest multiple in almost a decade, goosed by a post-election surge. Managers expecting the worst each have a pet harbinger of doom. Seth Klarman, who runs the $30 billion Baupost Group, told investors in a letter last week that corporate insiders have been heavy sellers of their company shares. To him, that’s “a sign that those who know their companies the best believe valuations have become full or excessive.”

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Market vs government.

China’s Stocks Refuse to Drop More Than 1% (BBG)

In a Chinese stock market where superstition and government intervention often count for more than economic fundamentals, unusual trading patterns are par for the course. But even by China’s standards, the latest market anomaly to grab the attention of local investors stands out. The Shanghai Composite Index, notorious for its wild swings over the past two years, has gone 85 trading days without a loss of more than 1% on a closing basis, the longest stretch since the market’s infancy in 1992. On 13 days during the streak, the index recovered from intraday declines exceeding 1% to close above that threshold. The phenomenon has been especially stark recently, with the gauge erasing about half of its 1.6% drop in the final 90 minutes of trading on Wednesday.

For some investors, it’s a sign that state-directed funds are putting a floor under daily market swings – a development that presents short-term buying opportunities when the Shanghai Composite dips more than 1% during intraday trading. The theory may have merit: China’s securities regulator has this year sought to stabilize the stock market by limiting the extent of declines in the Shanghai Composite, according to people familiar with the strategy, who asked not to be identified discussing a matter that hasn’t been disclosed publicly. “There is room for arbitrage in the short term,” said Zhang Haidong, a money manager at Jinkuang Investment Management in Shanghai. The Shanghai Composite rose less than 0.1% on Thursday, rebounding from an intraday loss of as much as 0.7%.

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And no imagination either. Just copying others.

Toronto To Impose 15% Tax On Foreign Home Buyers (G.)

Foreigners who buy homes in Toronto and its surrounding area now face an additional 15% tax – echoing a recent measure adopted in Vancouver – as part of a slew of measures aimed at tempering a heated housing market that ranks as one of Canada’s most expensive. The tax – part of proposed legislation unveiled on Thursday by the Ontario provincial government – will be levied on houses purchased in the Golden Horseshoe, an area that stretches from the Niagara region and the Greater Toronto Area to Peterborough. It will apply to all residential purchases made by those who are not citizens or permanent residents of Canada, as well as foreign corporations. Once the legislation passes, the tax would be applied retroactively to purchases made as of 21 April. “When young people can’t afford their own apartment or can’t imagine ever owning their own home, we know we have a problem,” said Kathleen Wynne, the Ontario premier.

“And when the rising cost of housing is making more and more people insecure about their future, and about their quality of life in Ontario, we know we have to act.” Amid two years of double-digit gains and mounting fears of a housing bubble, her government has consistently fended off calls to intervene. The pressure ramped up earlier this month, after figures showed the average price of homes in the Greater Toronto Area soared 33% in the past year, pushing the cost of a detached home to an average of C$1.21m. “There is a need for interventions right now in order to calm what’s going on,” said Wynne. The tax would be revenue neutral, she added, aimed squarely at tempering demand. “In some ways, we have to realise this is a good problem to have … [It] is the unwanted consequences of a strong economy with a promising future.”

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“..many U.S. pols grovel before the Israeli government seeking a sign of favor from Prime Minister Netanyahu, almost like Medieval kings courting the blessings of the Pope at the Vatican.”

Why Not a Probe of ‘Israel-gate’? (Robert Parry)

The other day, I asked a longtime Democratic Party insider who is working on the Russia-gate investigation which country interfered more in U.S. politics, Russia or Israel. Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied, “Israel, of course.” Which underscores my concern about the hysteria raging across Official Washington about “Russian meddling” in the 2016 presidential campaign: There is no proportionality applied to the question of foreign interference in U.S. politics. If there were, we would have a far more substantive investigation of Israel-gate. The problem is that if anyone mentions the truth about Israel’s clout, the person is immediately smeared as “anti-Semitic” and targeted by Israel’s extraordinarily sophisticated lobby and its many media/political allies for vilification and marginalization.

So, the open secret of Israeli influence is studiously ignored, even as presidential candidates prostrate themselves before the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both appeared before AIPAC in 2016, with Clinton promising to take the U.S.-Israeli relationship “to the next level” – whatever that meant – and Trump vowing not to “pander” and then pandering like crazy. Congress is no different. It has given Israel’s controversial Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a record-tying three invitations to address joint sessions of Congress (matching the number of times British Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared). We then witnessed the Republicans and Democrats competing to see how often their members could bounce up and down and who could cheer Netanyahu the loudest, even when the Israeli prime minister was instructing the Congress to follow his position on Iran rather than President Obama’s.

Israeli officials and AIPAC also coordinate their strategies to maximize political influence, which is derived in large part by who gets the lobby’s largesse and who doesn’t. On the rare occasion when members of Congress step out of line – and take a stand that offends Israeli leaders – they can expect a well-funded opponent in their next race, a tactic that dates back decades. [..] .. there have been fewer and fewer members of Congress or other American politicians who have dared to speak out, judging that – when it comes to the Israeli lobby – discretion is the better part of valor. Today, many U.S. pols grovel before the Israeli government seeking a sign of favor from Prime Minister Netanyahu, almost like Medieval kings courting the blessings of the Pope at the Vatican.

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This comes two days after the Intercept published an interview with Assange, who among other things said:“In fact, the reason Pompeo is launching this attack is because he understands we are exposing in this series all sorts of illegal actions by the CIA, so he’s trying to get ahead of the publicity curve and create a pre-emptive defense..”

Arresting Julian Assange Is A Priority, Says US Attorney General (G.)

The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is now a “priority” for the US, attorney general Jeff Sessions has said. Hours later it was reported by CNN that authorities have prepared charges against Assange, who is currently holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Donald Trump lavished praise on the anti-secrecy website during the presidential election campaign – “I love WikiLeaks,” he once told a rally – but his administration has struck a different tone. Asked whether it was a priority for the justice department to arrest Assange “once and for all”, Sessions told a press conference in El Paso, Texas on Thursday: “We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks. This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious.”

He added: “So yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.” Citing unnamed officials, CNN reported that prosecutors have struggled with whether the Australian is protected from prosecution from the first amendment, but now believe they have found a path forward. A spokesman for the justice department declined to comment. Barry Pollack, Assange’s lawyer, denied any knowledge of imminent prosecution. “We’ve had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr Assange,” he told CNN. “They’ve been unwilling to have any discussion at all, despite our repeated requests, that they let us know what Mr Assange’s status is in any pending investigations. There’s no reason why Wikileaks should be treated differently from any other publisher.”

US authorities has been investigating Assange and WikiLeaks since at least 2010 when it released, in cooperation with publications including the Guardian, more than a quarter of a million classified cables from US embassies leaked by US army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

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And no protest from Berlin?

German Chancellery Investigated In Probe Into WikiLeaks Sources (R.)

Berlin’s chief public prosecutor has extended an investigation into the release of a trove of documents by WikiLeaks to include the chancellery as well as the Bundestag lower house of parliament, broadcaster NDR said on Thursday. Last December, WikiLeaks released the confidential documents, which German security agencies had submitted to a parliamentary committee investigating the extent to which German spies helped the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to spy in Europe. The extension of the investigation to include the chancellery did not necessarily mean the Berlin public prosecutor had firm suspicions that individuals at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office were involved in the leak, NDR said.

Government sources told Reuters that the chancellery had agreed several weeks ago to the investigation “against unknown” persons, to allow the inquiry to proceed. There were no firm suspicions against chancellery officials, the sources added. Surveillance is a sensitive issue in Germany where East Germany’s Stasi secret police and the Nazi era Gestapo kept a close watch on the population. Merkel told the parliamentary committee in February that she did not know how closely Germany’s spies cooperated with their U.S. counterparts until 2015, well after an uproar over reports of U.S. bugging of her cellphone.

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Plenty nerves on Monday morning. And that’s just for round 1.

Coffee and Thin Liquidity on Traders’ Menus for French Vote (BBG)

It may not be cafe au lait, but traders are likely to need plenty of coffee to sustain them through the first round of the French election. Ten thousand miles away in Melbourne, IG’s trading crew are due at their desks before dawn on Monday to deal with any fallout, while back in Europe, Societe Generale will be staffed overnight, according to a person familiar with their plans who asked not to be named because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly. Staff at HSBC will work extended hours, a spokeswoman said, Tradition is asking more voice brokers to come in on Sunday, while London-based Caxton FX is providing its night owls with pizzas. Other analysts and investors will be nervously watching from home, ready to dash to the office should French voters spring a surprise.

With the first predictions from France due at 8 p.m. Sunday in Paris, currency markets – which open one hour later – will give traders an early chance to react. At IG in Australia a “fully-manned” team will be on deck as the results roll in, according to Chris Weston, the firm’s chief market strategist. “Political events have a significant ability to alter volatility, more than any other event,” he said. Shifts in opinion polls have bolstered the focus on Sunday’s first round, which decides which of the top candidates progress to the run-off vote. The campaign has turned into a four-way race, with anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen and independent Emmanuel Macron running just ahead of Republican Francois Fillon and the Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon.

While polls show that either Macron or Fillon – considered the more market-friendly candidates – would be favored against the less-centrist opponents in a run-off, it’s the outside prospect of a Le Pen-Melenchon one-two that will keep traders sweating on Sunday. That’s reflected in the options market, which reflects the first round of French elections as posing the greater risk.

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UK democracy couldn’t take a Brexit overturn.

EU leader: UK Would Be Welcomed Back If Voters Overturn Brexit (G.)

The president of the European parliament has said Britain would be welcomed back with open arms if voters changed their minds about Brexit on 8 June, challenging Theresa May’s claim that “there is no turning back” after article 50. Speaking after a meeting with the prime minister in Downing Street, Antonio Tajani insisted that her triggering of the departure process last month could be reversed easily by the remaining EU members if there was a change of UK government after the general election, and that it would not even require a court case. “If the UK, after the election, wants to withdraw [article 50], then the procedure is very clear,” he said in an interview. “If the UK wanted to stay, everybody would be in favour. I would be very happy.”

He also threatened to veto any Brexit deal if it did not guarantee in full the existing rights of EU citizens in Britain and said this protection would forever be subject to the jurisdiction of the European court of justice (ECJ). Both are potential sticking points for May, who has promised to end free movement of EU citizens and rid Britain forever of interference by the ECJ, but the European parliament must ratify any Brexit deal agreed by negotiators before it can be completed. Lawyers are divided on whether the UK can unilaterally change its mind about leaving and are bringing a test case to establish the legal reversibility of article 50, but the parliament president spelled out a process by which a simple political decision by other member states would be sufficient. “If tomorrow, the new UK government decides to change its position, it is possible to do,” said Tajani. “The final decision is for the 27 member states, but everybody will be in favour if the UK [decides to reverse article 50].”

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Says who?

Britain Must Pay EU Divorce Bill In Euros (AFP)

Britain may be leaving the EU but it will still have to settle the divorce bill in euros, not pounds, according to an EU document on the upcoming negotiations Thursday. “An orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union requires settling the financial obligations undertaken before the withdrawal date,” said the European Commission document seen by AFP. “The agreement should define the precise way in which these obligations will be calculated … the obligations should be defined in euro,” it added. The document did not say how much the Brexit settlement might cost but EU officials have previously said it could be as much as €60 billion, sparking howls of outrage in London which puts the figure nearer €20 billion.

Titled “Non Paper on key elements likely to feature in the draft negotiating directives,” the document was drawn up for the European Commission which will conduct the Brexit negotiations with Britain. It covers in more detail the same ground outlined last month by EU president Donald Tusk in response to Prime Minister Theresa May’s official March 29 notification that Britain was leaving the bloc.

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A sea route. And a landlocked country. Nuff said.

Austria Calls For Closure Of Mediterranean Migrant Route (Pol.)

Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka has called for the immediate closure of the Mediterranean route used by refugees seeking asylum in Western European countries, local media reported Wednesday. Closing the route “is the only way to end the tragic and senseless dying in the Mediterranean,” Sobotka said. Asked about the potential of a barrier being erected at the Brenner Pass on the border between Italy and Austria, Sobotka said: “In the event of a sudden influx, we are equipped and able to ramp up border management within hours.” According to U.N. aid agencies, nearly 9,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean over the Easter weekend.

As weather conditions improve, more migrants are expected to make their way to Europe. “A rescue in the open sea cannot be a ticket to Europe, because it gives organized crime every argument to persuade people to escape for economic reasons,” Sobotka said. Last summer, Austria advocated for the closure of the Western Balkan route used by migrants coming from the Middle East seeking their way to Western European countries. Austrian Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil last February said Vienna planned to increase cooperation with 15 countries along the Balkan route to keep migrants from reaching northern Europe, claiming the EU is not adequately protecting its external borders.

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Apr 142017
 
 April 14, 2017  Posted by at 8:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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American Soldiers Observing Eruption of Mount Vesuvius 1944

 

‘Russia Thinks We’re Crazy, Completely Crazy’ (ZH)
We’re Heading Straight Into a Recession – Jim Rickards (MWS)
How’s This For Grade 1 Central Bank Hubris? (Albert Edwards)
Wall Street Fear Gauge Hits Fresh High For The Year (CNBC)
The Ethical Case For Taxing Foreign Home Buyers (Gordon)
UK Banks Crack Down On Credit Card Lending After Borrowing Binge (Tel.)
CIA Director Brands Wikileaks A ‘Hostile Intelligence Service’ (G.)
‘US Will Keep ‘Open Mind’ On Any IMF Aid To Greece’ (AFP)
American Energy Use, In One Diagram (Vox)
Macroscale Modeling Linking Energy and Debt (King)
Refugee Rescue Group Accuses EU Border Agency Of Plotting Against Them (AFP)
At Least 97 Migrants Missing As Boat Sinks Off Libya (AFP)
The Ultimate Lovebird (DM)

 

 

As Cohen indicates, Tillerson signed multi-billion contracts with Putin. That required a lot of trust. That trust is now being put at risk.

‘Russia Thinks We’re Crazy, Completely Crazy’ (ZH)

Lastly, Stephen Cohen, Professor of Russian studies at Princeton and NYU, an actual expert on China, weighed in, saying ‘Russia thinks we’re crazy, completely crazy.’ He even took some time to express his ‘disgust’ with Al Mattour, saying ‘your previous guest, I don’t mean to be rude to him. First of all, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And, secondly, he excludes the reality that Russia has a politics. And the politics in Russia today as we talk is […] the concern that America is preparing war against Russia. If not on Syria, then on the other two cold war fronts […] where NATO is building up in an unprecedented way. This is not good because they have nuclear weapons and because accidents happen.’

He then theorized what the conversation between Putin and Tillerson was like, pointing to the two having a history of trust together from the time Tillerson led Exxon Mobile. ‘Rex, says Putin, what in the world is going on in Washington?’ Professor Cohen, ominously, summed it up, ‘I’m not young. I’ve been doing this 40 years, sometimes as a Professor, sometimes inside. I have never been as worried as I am today about the possibility of war with Russia.’

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Any day now.

We’re Heading Straight Into a Recession – Jim Rickards (MWS)

Before the holiday weekend begins, best-selling author James Rickards joins Olivia Bono-Voznenko outside the NYSE to talk all about the markets and his latest book, “The Road to Ruin.” Jim discusses the currency wars, Trump’s turnaround on China & the Fed and an inevitable crisis amid a weak system.

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Though he defines it poorly, Edwards is right that deflation is still here.

How’s This For Grade 1 Central Bank Hubris? (Albert Edwards)

Peter Praet, the ECB’s chief economist said in a recent interview that, “Since the crisis, we have had serious concerns about deflationary risks on several occasions in the euro area, but now we can say they have disappeared.” Really? Has he seen the chart below, which shows core CPI in the Eurozone heading sharply lower and now approaching its all-time low seen at the start of 2015! Not only that, but Eurozone inflation expectations are also declining again, after surging in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election. To be fair, Praet was focusing on the rise in headline inflation in the Eurozone, which touched 2% in February before dropping back in March to 1.5%.

After some 18 months bobbing around the zero mark, I can understand why central bankers might be heaving a sigh of relief, but for them to take credit for a recovery in headline inflation is totally disingenuous given it has been entirely driven by a recovery in the oil price. Similarly, Janet Yellen was quoted saying the Fed is “doing pretty well” in meeting its congressionally mandated goals of low and stable inflation and a full-strength labor market. It’s this sort of comment that has led Marc Faber to want to short central bankers, the only way being to buy gold. The increasing volume of central bank hubris may even explain the recent breakout of gold to the upside! It is not just eurozone inflation expectations that seem to be in retreat. The same thing is happening in the US too (see chart below).

I am always surprised how dominated 10y inflation expectations are by short-term movements in the oil price and headline inflation, but it was noticeable just how rapidly inflation expectations ran up in the wake of Trump’s election – way in advance of what might have been expected by the bounce in the oil price. One might have thought the surge in the oil price from its trough some 12-18 months ago might have had more impact on wage inflation, but so far that does not seem to be the case. Despite the euphoria in the markets about the “reflation trade”, survey inflation expectations have continued to drift downwards. One thing is certain: for central banks to call victory over deflation may prove very premature indeed. Nemesis awaits.

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Easter jitters.

Wall Street Fear Gauge Hits Fresh High For The Year (CNBC)

Stocks may be in for a deeper pullback, now that the so-called fear index is finally breaking out higher. The CBOE Volatility Index (.VIX), considered the best gauge of fear in the market, closed above its 200-day moving average for the first time since the election this week. The indicator jumped more than 2% Thursday afternoon at one point to a fresh high for the year. U.S. markets are closed for trading Friday for the Easter holiday. The recent spike in fear comes just as geopolitical risk heats up. The Pentagon said Thursday U.S. military forces dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan, the first time the so-called mother of all bombs has ever been used in combat. U.S. stocks fell, with the S&P 500 and DJIA closed at two-month lows Thursday. “I’d say it’s probably more of a Trump trade [reversing] than the geopolitics, but going forward I think the geopolitics is the topic the market is focusing on,” said Andres Jaime at Barclays.

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Good argument: A foreign-buyer’s tax can be refunded to individuals to the extent they pay income taxes..

The Ethical Case For Taxing Foreign Home Buyers (Gordon)

Foreign capital is playing an important role in the real estate markets of Toronto and Vancouver, and has for some time. As political leaders debate its impact and possible policy measures to alleviate its attendant issues, it is important to think clearly about the ethics of foreign ownership. Predictably, those who want to stymie or avoid policy action in this area have alluded to “xenophobia” to deter critics. Even some well-intentioned people have given credence to these claims. Yet curtailing or taxing foreign ownership is not xenophobic, especially if policy is properly designed. Xenophobia is the irrational or unjustified fear of foreigners. Concerns about the impact of foreign ownership are about flows of money, not people, and they are certainly justified in Toronto and Vancouver.

Foreign ownership raises two main ethical problems. First, those who buy based on foreign income or wealth often have access to money in ways that are unavailable to local residents. This means that locals are potentially put into disadvantageous, or unfair, competition for real estate where they live. Second, people who buy property based on foreign income or wealth may not have contributed much in Canadian taxes, which is largely what makes the property so valuable in the first place. Canadian real estate has become an attractive place to stash international money for a variety of reasons – we don’t effectively enforce money laundering regulations, we have relatively low property-tax rates and the enforcement of capital gains taxes has been lax. But real estate in Canada is ultimately attractive because of the country’s stable institutions, its public infrastructure and its social cohesion.

These latter things are paid for, or fostered by, taxes collected from Canadians – income taxes in particular. At a minimum, then, Canadians should have preferential access to property ownership, since they are paying for what makes it so valuable. It is precisely for these reasons that we see nothing ethically problematic about charging foreign students more in tuition at Canadian universities. Residential property is no different. Concerns around foreign ownership are especially potent when money is arriving from societies where corruption is widespread, and when foreign money is playing a significant role in driving up prices. Both apply in the cases of Toronto and Vancouver.

[..] We can then better design a foreign-buyer’s tax, which is needed to calm Toronto’s frenzied market. A foreign-buyer’s tax can be refunded to individuals to the extent they pay income taxes – the amount they pay in the three years following a purchase, for instance. This makes it clear that the tax need not discourage entrepreneurial talent from abroad, as claimed by Toronto Mayor John Tory. This understanding of the issue also leads straightforwardly into the proposal by many economists in British Columbia, including my colleague Rhys Kesselman. Provincial governments should introduce an annual property surtax on expensive homes that can be offset by income taxes paid, while exempting seniors with sustained CPP contribution records. This continuous surtax would powerfully target foreign ownership, and would thereby reconnect the local housing market to the local labour market.

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I’ll believe it when I see it. Nobody wants to see the economy crash, they’ll stick with loose lending standards to prevent it.

UK Banks Crack Down On Credit Card Lending After Borrowing Binge (Tel.)

Britain’s credit card binge could be at an end as banks tighten up controls on consumer debt. Borrowing growth hit rates of more than 10pc over the past year, a pace not seen since the boom years before the financial crisis, but now banks are touching the brakes. The Bank of England has warned that a consumer debt could be more of a risk to banks than mortgage lending, should there be an economic downturn. Fierce competition to win new customers has led banks to offer more credit to customers with increasingly long interest-free periods.But banks have started tightening lending criteria for credit card applicants in a move of an intensity not seen since the depths of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009.

A net balance of 33pc of lenders expect to tighten standards in the coming three-month period, according to Bank of England data. When unsecured loans are also included, a net balance of 27pc plan to scrutinise applications more closely. There was also a fall in the number of credit card applications approved in the first quarter of the year, and banks expect the number to remain roughly steady in the coming quarter. By contrast credit scoring criteria for secured loans, such as mortgages, is holding broadly steady. “The recent rapid growth in consumer credit could principally represent a risk to lenders if accompanied by weaker underwriting standards,” warned the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee this month.

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After first praising it.

CIA Director Brands Wikileaks A ‘Hostile Intelligence Service’ (G.)

Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA, has branded WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service,” saying it threatens democratic nations and joins hands with dictators. In his first public remarks since becoming chief of the US spy agency in February, Pompeo focused on the group and other leakers of classified information like Edward Snowden as one of the key threats facing the United States. “WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. It has encouraged its followers to find jobs at CIA in order to obtain intelligence… And it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States, while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organisations,” said Pompeo. “It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

[..] Last month, WikiLeaks embarrassed the CIA and damaged its operations by releasing a large number of files and computer code from the agency’s top secret hacking operations. The data showed how the CIA exploits vulnerabilities in popular computer and networking hardware and software to gather intelligence. Counterintelligence investigators continue to try to find out who stole the files and handed them to WikiLeaks. Assange meanwhile criticized the US agency for not telling the tech industry and authorities about those vulnerabilities so they can be fixed. Pompeo said Assange portrays himself as a crusader but in fact helps enemies of the United States, including aiding Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential election.

“Assange and his ilk make common cause with dictators today. Yes, they try unsuccessfully to cloak themselves and their actions in the language of liberty and privacy; in reality, however, they champion nothing but their own celebrity. Their currency is clickbait; their moral compass, nonexistent.” However, Pompeo did not comment on how Trump has previously lavished praise on Assange for the information he has made public. Nor did Pompeo mention that he himself had cited and linked to WikiLeaks in a tweet attacking the Democratic Party. Pompeo at the time was a Republican congressman and member of the House Intelligence Committee. The CIA declined to comment on that.

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Translation: get it done.

‘US Will Keep ‘Open Mind’ On Any IMF Aid To Greece’ (AFP)

The US government will keep an “open mind” on any new loan package from the IMF for debt-burdened Greece, a senior US Treasury official said Thursday. Despite criticism of international organizations by the Trump administration, the comments allay concerns that US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin could veto any large new aid package for Athens. “We’re looking for the Europeans to help Greece to resolve its economic problems, and we think the IMF can play a supportive role,” the official told reporters. “And we’ll look at any potential future agreement with an open mind.” IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Wednesday said Greece and its eurozone creditors have made progress towards a new loan package that includes debt relief, but that is something the fund has been saying for months without a final deal.

Greece last week accepted a tough set of reforms demanded by its eurozone creditors in hopes of securing a new loan in time to avert a looming debt default in July, although it still must finalize the details. Athens has been deadlocked for months over reforms, and budget targets, which has put the IMF and EU at loggerheads over the need for debt relief in order to ensure an economic recovery, and the government’s ability to repay its loans. The eurozone is under heavy pressure to end the feud in order to avert a chaotic default and inflicting damage on an already stalled Greek recovery. Greece has about €7 billion in debt repayments due in July. All the key officials involved in the talks are expected to be in Washington next week to attend the IMF and World Bank annual meetings.

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We waste. That’s what we’re good at.

American Energy Use, In One Diagram (Vox)

Every year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory LLNL produces a new energy flow chart showing the sources of US energy, what it’s used for, and how much of it is wasted. If you’ve never seen it before, it’s a bit of a mind-blower. Behold US energy in 2016: So much information in so little space! (It’s worth zooming in on a larger version.)

[..] a British thermal unit (BTU) is a standard unit of energy — the heat required to raise the temperature of a pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. If you prefer the metric system, a BTU is about 1055 joules of energy. A “quad” is one quadrillion (a thousand trillion) BTUs. [..] a few things equivalent to a quad: 8,007,000,000 gallons (US) of gasoline, 293,071,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh), 36,000,000 metric tons of coal The US consumed 97.3 quads in 2016, an amount that has stayed roughly steady (within a quad or so) since 2000.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the spaghetti diagram — what everyone notices the first time they see it — is the enormous amount of “rejected” energy. Not just some, but almost two-thirds of the potential energy embedded in our energy sources ended up wasted in 2016. (And note that some scholars think LLNL is being too optimistic, and that the US is not even 31% efficient but more like 13%.) What’s more, the US economy is trending less and less efficient over time. Here’s the spaghetti diagram from 1970 (LLNL has been at this a long time):

Back then, we only wasted half our energy! It’s important to put this waste in context. It is not mainly about personal behavior or inefficient energy end use — keeping cars idling or leaving the lights on, that kind of thing. That’s a part of it, but at a deeper level, waste is all about system design. The decline in overall efficiency in the US economy mainly has to do with the increasing role of inefficient energy systems. Specifically, the years since 1970 have seen a substantial increase in electricity consumption and private vehicles for transportation, two energy services that are particularly inefficient. (Electricity wastes two-thirds of its primary energy; transportation wastes about three-quarters.)

There is loss inherent in any system that converts raw materials to usable energy, or transports or uses energy, of course. That follows from the second law of thermodynamics. And it’s true both narrowly (a car is an energy system) and broadly (a city is an energy system). It’s not possible to achieve perfect efficiency, or anything close to it. But surely we can do better than 31%! Sixty-six quads is a truly mind-boggling amount of energy to vent into the atmosphere for no good purpose. It really highlights the enormous potential of better-designed systems — especially better electricity and transport systems, along with better urban systems (i.e., cities) — to contribute to the country’s carbon reduction goals. We could double our energy use, with no increase in carbon emissions, just by halving our energy waste.

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I like this, and it’s high time energy became a part of economic modeling; Steve Keen is working on it too. BUT: to understand today’s predicaments, you have to look -seperately- at what has happened in financial markets. The debt binge was not a result of what went on with energy; it stood -and stands- on and by itself.

Macroscale Modeling Linking Energy and Debt (King)

What if you realized that the fundamental economic framework of macroeconomics is insufficient to inform our most pressing concerns? The world is dynamic, in constant change, yet most economic models (even the most widely used “dynamic” model) lack fundamental feedbacks that govern long-term trends (e.g., regarding role of energy) and make assumptions that prevent the ability to describe important real-world phenomena (e.g., financial-induced recessions). Monetary models of finance and debt often assume that natural resources (energy, food, materials) and technology are not constraints on the economy. Energy scenario models often assume that economic growth, finance and debt will not be constraints on energy investment.


Energy and food costs have declined since industrialization, but no longer

These assumptions must be eliminated, and the modeling concepts must be integrated if we are to properly interpret the post-2008 macroeconomic situation: unprecedented low interest rates, high consumer and private debt, high asset valuations, and energy and food costs that are no longer declining. As we attempt to understand newer and more numerous options (e.g., electric cars, renewables, information) regarding energy system evolution, it is paramount to have internally consistent macro-scale models that take a systems approach that tracks flows and interdependencies among debt, employment, profits, wages, and biophysical quantities (e.g., natural resources and population). There is a tremendous research need to develop a framework to describe our contemporary and future macroeconomic situation that is consistent with both biophysical and economic principles. Unfortunately, this fundamental integration does not underpin our current thinking.


U.S. consumer costs of fundamental needs (energy, food, housing, transport) are no longer declining

• Debt is money.

• Money is created when commercial banks lend money to businesses, not when the U.S. Treasury prints money or when Federal Reserve Bank lowers interest rates. Those government and Fed actions are reactions to the creation or destruction of money (e.g., paying back loans) within the real economy.

• Businesses seek new loans when economic opportunities are present. Thus, a growing economy can support more debt.

• Economic opportunities are present when consumers have disposable income to spend (and when innovative technologies supplant old technologies, thus lowering prices, and enabling growth).

• Consumers have more money to spend when core needs (e.g., food, energy, housing) are getting cheaper relative to incomes. Thus, if these core needs are no longer getting cheaper, this is an indication of the lack of income growth to support business investment. In turn banks stop lending because there are fewer viable business opportunities.

• The conclusion is that without decreasing food and energy costs to consumers, real incomes do not rise.

• This is a viable explanation of the post-2008 economy, but one ignored by practically all policy makers, economists, and advisors!

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Frontex is a disaster.

Refugee Rescue Group Accuses EU Border Agency Of Plotting Against Them (AFP)

A Spanish group which has been rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean since 2016 accused the EU’s border control agency Frontex on Wednesday of plotting to discredit private aid organisations in order to put off donors. Allegations by Frontex that donor-funded rescue vessels may have colluded with traffickers at the end of last year prompted Italian prosecutors to begin an informal investigation into their funding sources. “The declarations by Frontex and political authorities are intended to discredit our actions and erode our donors’ trust,” said Proactiva Open Arms head Riccardo Gatti. “They are trying to say that we support the smuggling or the traffickers themselves,” he said. In a report cited in December by the Financial Times daily, Frontex raised the possibility that traffickers were putting migrants out to sea in collusion with the private ships that recover them and bring them to Italy “like taxis”.

Prosecutors then publicly wondered at the amount of money being spent, though they stopped short of opening a formal probe. “We feel there’s someone who wants to put a spoke in our wheels, though we do not really know who is behind it,” Gatti said. The organization said it had nothing to hide. “We have 35,000 donors. Some are well known – like Pep Guardiola, the current manager of Manchester City – others are anonymous,” said Oscar Camps, Proactiva Open Arms director. He said the group had so far received €2.2 million euros in donations for an op in the Med that costs between €5,000 and €6,000 a day. Pro-Activa Open Arms also heavily criticized a deal signed in February between Italy and Libya which purportedly hopes to stem the flow of migrants from the coast of North Africa to Italy.

Gatti said the deal was made with only part of the 1,700 militias he said control Libya and would therefore be ineffective. Human rights watchers have also warned the accord would put the lives of those fleeing persecution and war in greater danger. “Everything is controlled by the militias in Libya, even the coast guard, and 30 percent of the financial flows in the country come from human trafficking,” he said. The deal is in doubt after it was suspended in March by Tripoli’s Court of Appeal. Nearly 25,000 migrants have been pulled to safety and brought to Italy since the beginning of the year in a sharp increase in arrivals.

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Happy Easter.

At Least 97 Migrants Missing As Boat Sinks Off Libya (AFP)

At least 97 migrants were missing after their boat sank on Thursday off the Libyan coast, a navy spokesman said. Survivors said the missing include 15 women and five children, General Ayoub Qassem told AFP. He said the Libyan coastguard had rescued a further 23 migrants of various African nationalities just under 10 kilometres (6 miles) off the coast of Tripoli. The boat’s hull was completely destroyed and the survivors, all men, were found clinging to a flotation device, he said. Those who had disappeared were “probably dead”, but bad weather had so far prevented the recovery of their bodies, Qassem added. An AFP photographer said survivors had been given food and medical care at Tripoli port before being transferred to a migrant centre east of the capital.

Six years since the revolution that toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi, Libya has become a key departure point for migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Hailing mainly from sub-Saharan countries, most of the migrants board boats operated by people traffickers in western Libya, and make for the Italian island of Lampedusa 300 km away. Since the beginning of this year, at least 590 migrants have died or gone missing along the Libyan coast, the International Organization for Migration said in late March. In the absence of an army or regular police force in Libya, several militias act as coastguards but are often themselves accused of complicity or even involvement in the lucrative people-smuggling business. More than 24,000 migrants arrived in Italy from Libya during the first three months of the year, up from 18,000 during the same period last year, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

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Easter feel good.

The Ultimate Lovebird (DM)

A stork has melted hearts in Croatia by flying to the same rooftop every year for 14 years – to be reunited with its crippled partner. The faithful bird, called Klepetan, has returned once again to the village of Slavonski Brod in east Croatia after a 5,000 mile migration. He spends his winters alone in South Africa because his disabled partner Malena cannot fly properly after being shot by a hunter in 1993. Malena had been found lying by the side the road by schoolteacher Stjepan Vokic, who fixed her wing and kept her in his home for years before helping her to build a nest on his roof. After placing her there, she was spotted by Klepetan 14 years ago. And now every year they are reunited in the spring. Klepetan keeps a very strict timetable, usually arriving back at the same time on the same day in March to be welcomed by locals.

But this year he was running six days late, causing panic among local media and fans of the stork couple. Such is the popularity of the pair that there is even a live feed on the main square in the capital Zagreb showing the two storks. There was huge excitement when stork-watchers saw what they thought was Klepetan circling over the nest, and then coming in to land. But the new arrival turned out to be a different stork that was attempting to woo Malena. She quickly attacked him and drove him off and continued to wait for Klepetan. Stjepan Vokic, whose roof the couple nest on, said: ‘She was pretty clear about the message, I doubt he will be back again.’ Vokic has taken care of Malena since she was first injured by hunters and says that she – like her partner – is now part of the family.

During the winter, Vokic keeps her inside the house, and then lets her go to the roof each spring where she patiently waits for her partner. This year, Malena made a rare flight and the couple were reportedly inseparable for hours. She does have the ability to make very short flights but her wing has not healed well enough for her to make the trip to Africa, or even to properly feed herself. Every summer, the pair bring up chicks, with Klepetan leading their flying lessons in preparation for the trip south in summer. The oldest recorded living stork was 39. Locals are hopeful the couple’s long relationship will continue for years to come.

Read more …

Mar 242017
 
 March 24, 2017  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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DPC “Broad Street and curb market, New York” 1906

 

Trump Ultimatum: Pass Health Bill Now Or Live With Obamacare (MW)
The US Has the Most Expensive Healthcare System in the World (Statista)
‘Deaths of Despair’ Surge in White US Middle Class (Vox)
The Retail Apocalypse Has Officially Descended On America (BI)
WikiLeaks Releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”: CIA Bugs “Factory Fresh” iPhones (WL)
China’s Property Bubble Risks Youth Revolt (CNBC)
China’s Largest Dairy Operator Crashes Over 90% In Minutes (ZH)
Eurozone Whistles Past its Biggest Threat: Italy’s Multi-Headed Hydra (ZH)
Schäuble Annoyed By Foreign Minister Saying Germany Should Pay More To EU (R.)
Greek Objections Mar Preparations For EU’s 60th Birthday (R.)
Greece Says To Support Rome Declaration, Calls For EU Backing On Reforms (R.)
40% Of Greek Businesses Say Likely To Close Shop Within The Year (K.)
EU Envoy: Three Million Migrants Waiting To Cross Into Greece (K.)
Over 250 Migrants Feared Drowned On ‘Black Day’ In Mediterranean (AFP)

 

 

This will attract some media attention. Better do it after the markets close.

Trump Ultimatum: Pass Health Bill Now Or Live With Obamacare (MW)

President Donald Trump reportedly laid down an ultimatum to House Republicans on Thursday night: Pass the health-care bill, as is, on Friday, or live with Obamacare. The hard line came after more than a day of frantic negotiations to win the support of conservative Republicans who oppose the bill, and could block its passage. A vote on the bill had been scheduled for Thursday night, but was postponed earlier in the day after the GOP couldn’t win over holdout lawmakers. White House budget director Mitch Mulvaney dropped Trump’s demand in a meeting with rank-and-file House Republicans, and said the administration and House Speaker Paul Ryan were done with negotiations, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. If Friday’s bill fails, Trump is resigned to live with Obamacare and move on, he said.

CNN similarly reported that the closed-door meeting ended with an ultimatum, and Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) told the network that the vote is expected to be held Friday afternoon. The move is a gamble by the Trump administration, which has placed much political capital in its promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. “They’re going to bring it up, pass or fail,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) told the Washington Post. The GOP can’t afford more than 21 dissenting votes, but CNN counted 26 “no” votes and four more “likely” no votes. Every House Democrat is expected to oppose the bill.

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And what’s worse, no way out.

The US Has the Most Expensive Healthcare System in the World (Statista)

If the American Healthcare Act, President Trump’s first major legislative effort, is going to a vote in the House of Representatives as scheduled on Thursday, it is by no means clear that it will receive the 215 votes it needs for passage. When the Republican healthcare plan was first presented to the public on March 6, it left people from both sides of the political spectrum dissatisfied. While Democrats fear that the suggested bill, which would repeal large portions of Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, would leave millions of Americans uninsured and hurt the poor and vulnerable, many Republicans think it doesn’t go far enough in erasing all traces of Obamacare.

For many years now, the American healthcare system has been flawed. As our chart illustrates, U.S. health spending per capita (including public and private spending) is higher than it is anywhere else in the world, and yet, the country lags behind other nations in several aspects such as life expectancy and health insurance coverage. This chart shows health spending (public and private) per capita in selected countries.

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Not my original observation, but true: it looks a lot like Russia in the 1990s.

‘Deaths of Despair’ Surge in White US Middle Class (Vox)

In 2015, a blockbuster study came to a surprising conclusion: Middle-aged white Americans are dying younger for the first time in decades, despite positive life expectancy trends in other wealthy countries and other segments of the US population. The research, by Princeton University’s Anne Case and Angus Deaton, highlighted the links between economic struggles, suicides, and alcohol and drug overdoses. Since then, Case and Deaton have been working to more fully explain their findings. They’ve now come to a compelling conclusion: It’s complicated. There’s no single reason for this disturbing increase in the mortality rate, but a toxic cocktail of factors. In a new 60-page paper, “Mortality and morbidity in the 21st Century,” out in draft form in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity Thursday, the researchers weave a narrative of “cumulative disadvantage” over a lifetime for white people ages 45 through 54, particularly those with low levels of education.

[..] The US, particularly middle-aged white Americans, is an outlier in the developed world when it comes to this mid-life mortality uptick. “Mortality rates in comparable rich countries have continued their pre-millennial fall at the rates that used to characterize the US,” Case and Deaton write. “In contrast to the US, mortality rates in Europe are falling for those with low levels of educational attainment, and are doing so more rapidly than mortality rates for those with higher levels of education.” If American wants to turn the trend around, then it has to become a little more like other countries with more generous safety nets and more accessible health care, the researchers said.

Introducing a single-payer health system, for example, or value-added or goods and services taxes that support a stronger safety net would be top of their policy wish list. (America right now is, of course, moving in the opposite direction under Trump, and shredding the safety net.) They also admit, though, that it’s taken decades to reverse the mortality progress in America, and it won’t be turned around quickly or easily. But there is one “no-brainer” change that could help, Case added. “The easy thing would be close the tap on prescription opioids for chronic pain.” Unlike health care and increasing taxes, opioids are actually a public health issue with bipartisan support. Deaton, for his part, was hopeful. Paraphrasing Milton Friedman, he said, “All policy seems impossible until it suddenly becomes inevitable.”

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“Visits declined by 50% between 2010 and 2013..” “What’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science.”

The Retail Apocalypse Has Officially Descended On America (BI)

Thousands of mall-based stores are shutting down in what’s fast becoming one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades. More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months. Department stores like JCPenney, Macy’s, Sears, and Kmart are among the companies shutting down stores, along with middle-of-the-mall chains like Crocs, BCBG, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Guess. Some retailers are exiting the brick-and-mortar business altogether and trying to shift to an all-online model. For example, Bebe is closing all its stores — about 170 — to focus on increasing its online sales, according to a Bloomberg report. The Limited also recently shut down all 250 of its stores, but it still sells merchandise online.

Others, such as Sears and JCPenney, are aggressively paring down their store counts to unload unprofitable locations and try to staunch losses. Sears is shutting down about 10% of its Sears and Kmart locations, or 150 stores, and JCPenney is shutting down about 14% of its locations, or 138 stores. According to many analysts, the retail apocalypse has been a long time coming in the US, where stores per capita far outnumber that of any other country. The US has 23.5 square feet of retail space per person, compared with 16.4 square feet in Canada and 11.1 square feet in Australia, the next two countries with the most retail space per capita, according to a Morningstar Credit Ratings report from October. Visits to shopping malls have been declining for years with the rise of e-commerce and titanic shifts in how shoppers spend their money. Visits declined by 50% between 2010 and 2013, according to the real-estate research firm Cushman & Wakefield.

[..] as longtime retail analyst Howard Davidowitz observed in 2014, “What’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science.”

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This could be a huge blow to Apple. Who wants to buy something the CIA has already tinkered with in the factory? Expect giant lawsuits too. Apple knew.

WikiLeaks Releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”: CIA Bugs “Factory Fresh” iPhones (WL)

Today, March 23rd 2017, WikiLeaks releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”, which contains documentation for several CIA projects that infect Apple Mac Computer firmware (meaning the infection persists even if the operating system is re-installed) developed by the CIA’s Embedded Development Branch (EDB). These documents explain the techniques used by CIA to gain ‘persistence’ on Apple Mac devices, including Macs and iPhones and demonstrate their use of EFI/UEFI and firmware malware. Among others, these documents reveal the “Sonic Screwdriver” project which, as explained by the CIA, is a “mechanism for executing code on peripheral devices while a Mac laptop or desktop is booting” allowing an attacker to boot its attack software for example from a USB stick “even when a firmware password is enabled”. The CIA’s “Sonic Screwdriver” infector is stored on the modified firmware of an Apple Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter.

“DarkSeaSkies” is “an implant that persists in the EFI firmware of an Apple MacBook Air computer” and consists of “DarkMatter”, “SeaPea” and “NightSkies”, respectively EFI, kernel-space and user-space implants. Documents on the “Triton” MacOSX malware, its infector “Dark Mallet” and its EFI-persistent version “DerStake” are also included in this release. While the DerStake1.4 manual released today dates to 2013, other Vault 7 documents show that as of 2016 the CIA continues to rely on and update these systems and is working on the production of DerStarke2.0.

Also included in this release is the manual for the CIA’s “NightSkies 1.2” a “beacon/loader/implant tool” for the Apple iPhone. Noteworthy is that NightSkies had reached 1.2 by 2008, and is expressly designed to be physically installed onto factory fresh iPhones. i.e the CIA has been infecting the iPhone supply chain of its targets since at least 2008. While CIA assets are sometimes used to physically infect systems in the custody of a target it is likely that many CIA physical access attacks have infected the targeted organization’s supply chain including by interdicting mail orders and other shipments (opening, infecting, and resending) leaving the United States or otherwise.

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A lot of cities around the world share that risk.

China’s Property Bubble Risks Youth Revolt (CNBC)

China faces the risk of youth disenchantment as property prices rise beyond their reach, a renowned Chinese economist said Friday. “In a regular country, wealth should be concentrated in the financial markets, not fixed assets,” said Renmin University of China Vice President Wu Xiaoqiu at a media interview at the Boao Forum in the province of Hainan. He highlighted the risks from the current property bubble in China, such as negative asset values if prices tank. More importantly, the social risks that come from the property bubble in the form of youth disenchantment with not being to afford a home will be damaging, he said. “If young people lose hope, the economy will suffer, as housing is a necessity,” he said.

Wu said he was hopeful the authorities would find a solution to constrain the froth in Chinese real estate, but admitted that repeated measures to curb speculation have so far only met with short-term success. Wu’s comments follow a People’s Bank of China survey published on Tuesday, which found that 52.2% of urban households perceived housing prices to be “unacceptably high” in the first quarter of the year, Reuters reported. In February, gains in Chinese home prices picked up pace after they slowed in the previous four months despite government efforts to curb speculation, Reuters reported on Sunday. Prices in the big cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen rose 22.1%, 21.1% and 13.5%, respectively, from a year ago.

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Wow.

China’s Largest Dairy Operator Crashes Over 90% In Minutes (ZH)

In December 2016, Muddy Waters’ Carson Block said China’s largest dairy farm operator, Hong-Kong listed China Huishan Dairy, is “worth close to zero” and questioned its profitability in a report. Today, with no catalyst, it suddenly almost is. The stock collapsed over 90% in minutes to a record low. The sudden crash wiped out about $4.2 billion in market value in the stock, which is a member of the MSCI China Index.

In December, Muddy Waters alleged that Huishan had been overstating its spending on its cow farms by as much as 1.6 billion yuan to “support the company’s income statement.” The report also alleged that the company made an unannounced transfer of a subsidiary that owned at least four cow farms to an undisclosed related party and Muddy Waters concluded that Chairman Yang Kai controls the subsidiary and farms. Those findings came from several months of research including visits to 35 farms and five production facilities, drone flyovers of Huishan sites and interviews with alfalfa suppliers, according to the report. Muddy Waters said it has shorted Huishan’s stock.

“It will be even harder for Huishan to get funded in the capital market after the report, amid a couple of earlier allegations that have raised some red flags to investors,” said Robin Yuen at RHB OSK Securities Hong Kong. Still, Huishan’s shares and operations are unlikely to “collapse” due to its high share concentration and sufficient cash flow generated by its dairy business, he said by telephone. About 73% of Huishan’s shares are held by Champ Harvest Ltd., a company that’s in turn 90% owned by Yang. A buying spree by Yang had supported the shares last year, making it a painful trade for short sellers. A one-year rally of about 80% through a peak in June had made the shares expensive.

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“If roughly half of all Italians are against the single currency today, imagine what it will be like when austerity begins really biting.”

Eurozone Whistles Past its Biggest Threat: Italy’s Multi-Headed Hydra (ZH)

For the last three years, the political establishment in Italy and beyond have had a field day attacking, ridiculing, and vilifying Beppe Grillo’s 5-star movement. Europe’s media have tarred him with the brush of populism. In 2013 The Economist labelled him a clown on its front cover. Yet his party still leads the polls. And that lead is growing. A new Ipsos poll in Corriere della Sera newspaper has put Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star Movement on 32.3% – its highest ever reading. It placed 5.5 points ahead of the governing PD, on 26.8%, after the PD dropped more than three%age points in a month, as former prime minister Matteo Renzi battles to reassert his authority following a walkout by a left-wing faction. Internal political battles are nothing new in Italy. The country enjoys a hard-earned reputation for political instability and paralysis, having seen 63 governments come and go since 1945.

The problem this time around is that internal weakness and strife in Italy’s traditional center-left and center-right parties could end up gifting the next election to a party that refuses to play by the book. If it wins the next elections, which could be brought forward to as early as June this year, 5-Star Movement has pledged to hold a referendum of its own – albeit a non-binding one – on Italy’s membership of the euro. As polls have shown, there is much broader public apathy toward the single currency than in just about any other euro zone nation. Grillo’s plan could also receive the backing of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi who is determined to pull off a political comeback and is talking of restoring the Italian Lira.

As Reuters reports, such a scenario could spook financial markets “wary of both the 5-Star’s euroskepticism and the threat of prolonged political instability in Italy,” which boasts a public debt burden of over €2 trillion (133% of GDP). In any normal situation that would be a problem. But Italy is not in a normal situation; it is on the cusp of a potentially very large financial crisis that, if mishandled, could bring down Europe’s entire financial system. Unlike many other Eurozone economies like Spain, Ireland Portugal, Italy did not experience a real estate or stock market bubble in the 2000s; nor were its banks heavily exposed to the financial derivatives that helped spread the fallout from the U.S. subprime crisis all around the world. As such, Italy has not had cause to bail out its financial system — until now.

[..] Italy’s current predicament is a multi-headed hydra: a banking crisis, an economic crisis, a debt crisis, and a political crisis all rolled into one, and all coming to a head at the same time. It’s the reason why economists including Deutsche Bank’s Marco Stringa are calling Italy, not France or Greece, the “main risk” to euro-area stability. From a Eurozone-stability point of view, and from a bondholder point of view, the best-case scenario would be the rescue of Italy’s banks, with taxpayers bearing most of the brunt. That should help steady investor nerves and put an end to the gathering exodus of funds out of Italian assets. But even then, the social, political and economic price to be paid in a country already with public debt of over €2 trillion, youth unemployment of almost 40%, and an economy that is 12% smaller than it was 10 years ago, will almost certainly be way too high. If roughly half of all Italians are against the single currency today, imagine what it will be like when austerity begins really biting.

Read more …

He’s blowing up the EU without noticing a thing.

Schäuble Annoyed By Foreign Minister Saying Germany Should Pay More To EU (R.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Friday criticised Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for saying Germany should provide more money for Greece and the European Union overall. Schaueble told Deutschlandfunk radio he was annoyed by Gabriel’s suggestion because it “goes in the wrong direction completely” and sent the wrong message. He added that Europe’s problem was not primarily money but that its money needed to be used in the right way. On whether Greece can stay in the euro zone, Schaeuble said: “Greece can only do that if it has a competitive economy.” He said the country needed to carry out reforms and that would take time, adding: “But if the time is not used to carry out reforms because that’s uncomfortable, then that’s the wrong path.”

Read more …

Feels like a funeral party.

Greek Objections Mar Preparations For EU’s 60th Birthday (R.)

Greece has stuck to its objections to a declaration to mark the European Union’s 60th anniversary, officials in Brussels and Athens said on Thursday, a potentially embarrassing setback for the bloc as it seeks to rebuild unity ahead of Brexit. The leaders of the EU’s 27 remaining states will mark the anniversary on Saturday at a gathering in Rome overshadowed by Britain’s unprecedented decision to leave. London is due to formally trigger the divorce negotiations next week. Athens has threatened not to sign the Rome declaration charting the future of the post-Brexit EU, making a link between agreeing to the text and separate talks on reforms that lenders are seeking from Greece in exchange for new loans. “The negotiations on the draft Rome Declaration have ended as the text was finalized by the EU27,” an EU source said. “Only Greece has a general reservation on the text.”

Greece has said it wants the Rome text to spell out more clearly the protection of labor rights. Greece’s separate debt talks with international lenders are now stuck over this specific issue. One diplomat in Brussels said the issue may now only be resolved at the highest level with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Another EU diplomat said any attempt by Athens to win leverage on the international debt talks by holding off in Rome should not succeed: “We won’t be blackmailed by one member state which is linking one EU issue with a totally different one.” As well as Greece, Poland indicated on Thursday it might also refuse to endorse the declaration, though diplomats played down the threat. Warsaw is particularly opposed to a ‘multi-speed Europe,’ an idea promoted by Germany, France and Brussels, among others, to help improve decision-making in the post-Brexit EU.

Read more …

“Whether, in other words, the European acquis is valid for all member states without exception, or for all except Greece.”

Greece Says To Support Rome Declaration, Calls For EU Backing On Reforms (R.)

Greece will support a declaration marking the EU’s 60th birthday but needs the bloc’s backing against IMF demands on labour reforms, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said ahead of a Summit in Rome on Friday. In a letter addressed to EU Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, Tsipras called for a clear statement on whether the declaration would apply to Greece, as talks over a key bailout review hit a snag again. “We intend to support the Rome Declaration, a document which moves in a positive direction,” Tsipras said. “Nevertheless, in order to be able to celebrate these achievements, it has to be made clear, on an official level, whether they apply also to Greece. Whether, in other words, the European acquis is valid for all member states without exception, or for all except Greece.”

Earlier this week, Greece threatened not to sign the Rome declaration, demanding a clearer commitment protecting workers’ rights – an issue on which it is at odds with its international lenders who demand more reforms in return for new loans. The disagreements among Athens, the EU and the IMF – which has yet to decide whether it will participate in the country’s current bailout – have delayed a crucial bailout review. As leaders prepared for the summit, Greek ministers were negotiating with lenders’ representatives in Brussels pension cuts and labour reforms, including freeing up mass layoffs and on collective bargaining. The latest round of talks ended inconclusively late on Thursday, according to Greek officials. [..] Greece has cut pensions 12 times since it signed up to its first bailout in 2010. It has also reduced wages and implemented labour reforms to make its market more flexible and competitive.

Read more …

Just imagine that. And then talk about recovery. No, all you need to do is reform!

40% Of Greek Businesses Say Likely To Close Shop Within The Year (K.)

Four in 10 Greek businesses (40.3%) consider it likely that they will have to close shop within the year, according to a survey by the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEVEE), presented by the ANA-MPA news agency on Thursday. According to the survey, around 18,700 businesses will close in the first six months of the year, forcing thousands to join growing unemployment lines in the crisis-hit country. The majority of shutdowns, according to GSEVEE, will be in and around the capital and will concern the manufacturing sector, while some 34,000 jobs will be lost by the closure of companies that are currently considered high risk. 7 in 10 businesses have reported increasing liquidity problems and a shortage of capital from the market, with the number of firms indebted to the state and their suppliers growing by 10% compared to last year.

Over four in five small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) admit to being exposed to credit risks, seeing a slump in economic activity and operating with the prospect of shrinking rather than expanding in the near future. In terms of employment, the forecasts for the first half of the year do not bode well, as for every two businesses (8.1% of the total) that plan to hire new staff, another three will be letting people go. GSEVEE estimates that 2,000 salaried jobs will be lost by June, without accounting for the impact on employment of the projected shutdowns. Moreover, 40% of those businesses that do plan to hire staff in the first half of 2017 said they won’t be offering payroll positions, but part-time or outsourced work.

Sentiment is also bleak, with 58.8% of respondents expecting conditions to deteriorate and just 11% seeing a possible improvement through June. As such, just 3.6% of businesses plan to make new investments and 6.4% have applied to investment funding programs for that period. “There needs to be a national plan for the country irrespective of who is in power, and politicians need to learn how to make decisions and give orders,” GSEVEE President Giorgos Kavvathas was quoted by the ANA-MPA news agency as saying. “Moreover, the uncertainty of the situation concerning the outcome of the negotiation [with foreign creditors] exacerbates fears and risks, which in turn make small businesses and the self-employed more vulnerable.”

Read more …

Could be another scary spring and summer.

EU Envoy: Three Million Migrants Waiting To Cross Into Greece (K.)

European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos on Thursday underlined the need to safeguard a deal between Brussels and Ankara to curb human smuggling in the Aegean, noting that some 3 million refugees were in Turkey waiting to cross into Greece in a bid to reach Western and Northern Europe. In comments during a visit to Athens, Avramopoulos said the deal signed last year between Turkey and the EU had reduced an influx of migrants toward Europe and curbed deaths at sea. Reception centers on the islands of the eastern Aegean, the first point of arrival for most migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey, are already overcrowded. A woman and a child were injured in clashes between Afghan and Algerian migrants on Chios on Wednesday night.

Read more …

We’re on track for multiple records.

Over 250 Migrants Feared Drowned On ‘Black Day’ In Mediterranean (AFP)

More than 250 African migrants were feared drowned in the Mediterranean Thursday after a charity’s rescue boat found five corpses close to two sinking rubber dinghies off Libya. The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said it was “deeply alarmed” after the Golfo Azzuro, a boat operated by Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, reported the recovery of the bodies close to the drifting, partially-submerged dinghies, 15 miles off the Libyan coast. “We don’t think there can be any other explanation than that these dinghies would have been full of people,” Proactiva spokeswoman Laura Lanuza told AFP. “It seems clear that they sunk.” She added that the inflatables, of a kind usually used by people traffickers, would typically have been carrying 120-140 migrants each.

“In over a year we have never seen any of these dinghies that were anything other than packed.” Lanuza said the bodies recovered were African men with estimated ages of between 16 and 25. They had drowned in the 24 hours prior to them being discovered shortly after dawn on Thursday in waters directly north of the Libyan port of Sabrata, according to the rescue boat’s medical staff. Vincent Cochetel, director of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR)’s Europe bureau, said NGO boats patrolling the area had been called to the aid of a third stricken boat on Thursday afternoon, raising fears others may have perished on what Proactiva called “a black day in the Mediterranean.”

Despite rough winter seas, migrant departures from Libya on boats chartered by people traffickers have accelerated in recent months from already-record levels. Nearly 6,000 people have been picked up by Italian-coordinated rescue boats since the end of last week, bringing the number brought to Italy since the start of 2017 to nearly 22,000, a significant rise on the same period in previous years. Aid groups say the accelerating exodus is being driven by worsening living conditions for migrants in Libya and by fears the sea route to Europe could soon be closed to traffickers. Prior to the latest fatal incident, the UN had estimated that at least 440 migrants had died trying to make the crossing from Libya to Italy since the start of 2017. Its refugee agency estimates total deaths crossing the Mediterranean at nearly 600.

Read more …

Mar 082017
 
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Dorothea Lange A Family Of Mexican Migrants, On The Road In California 1936

 

Wikileaks ‘Vault 7’, Largest Ever Publication Of Confidential CIA Docs (ZH)
Snowden: What The Wikileaks Revelations Show Is “Reckless Beyond Words” (ZH)
WikiLeaks Releases Trove of Alleged CIA Hacking Documents (NYT)
Wikileaks: CIA Capable Of Cyber “False Flag” Attack To Blame Russia (TAM)
CIA Contractor on #VAULT7 Leak: ‘There is Heavy Shit Coming Down’ (RF)
US Trade Deficit Jumps To Five-Year High On Imports (R.)
China Posts Rare Trade Deficit As February Imports Surge in Yuan Terms (R.)
Why Are Europe’s Small Central Banks Stocking Up Foreign Money? (WSJ)
Dispel The Economic Myths That Hold Women Back (Ann Pettifor)
Austerity Is A Feminist Issue (G.)
The Women’s Protest That Sparked The Russian Revolution (G.)
Vacant Homes Are A Global Epidemic (BD)
There’s No Housing Bubble in Australia, Heads of Big Banks Say (BBG)
Australian Lenders Are Handing Out Mortgages Like Confetti (LF)
Greece’s Still-Falling GDP Dispels Creditors’ “Recovery” Myth (Prime)
Tax Weary Greek Employers Pay In Kind As Creditor Demands Rise (BBG)
America’s Forgotten History of Illegal Deportations (Atlantic)

 

 

It’s obvious there is only one story today, which ironically(?!) blows the whole Trump-Russia accusation narrative to bits, even though of course Russia gets the blame for this too in all sorts of corners. But the files are reported to have been ‘out there’ for a while, in the hands of hackers and possible foreign agencies. The CIA spent a huge wad of taxpayer money on this, and then lost it all. It’s early days to say what this will mean for the agency’s abilities, and the nation’s safety, as well as that of American citizens, but it’s not good. Question is: who’s going to investigate how this could have happened? (Snowden and Kim Dotcom could)… And who’s going to repair the damage done? Anyone could be spying on your phone and your TV by now, not just the CIA -as if that wouldn’t be bad enough.

And this is just the first part. Wikileaks has announced more from where this came from.

Wikileaks ‘Vault 7’, Largest Ever Publication Of Confidential CIA Docs (ZH)

A total of 8,761 documents have been published as part of ‘Year Zero’, the first in a series of leaks the whistleblower organization has dubbed ‘Vault 7.’ WikiLeaks said that ‘Year Zero’ revealed details of the CIA’s “global covert hacking program,” including “weaponized exploits” used against company products including “Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.”

WikiLeaks tweeted the leak, which it claims came from a network inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Virginia.

Among the more notable disclosures which, if confirmed, “would rock the technology world“, the CIA had managed to bypass encryption on popular phone and messaging services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to the statement from WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate Android phones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”

Another profound revelation is that the CIA can engage in “false flag” cyberattacks which portray Russia as the assailant. Discussing the CIA’s Remote Devices Branch’s UMBRAGE group, Wikileaks’ source notes that it “collects and maintains a substantial library of attack techniques ‘stolen’ from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation.

“With UMBRAGE and related projects the CIA cannot only increase its total number of attack types but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the “fingerprints” of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from. UMBRAGE components cover keyloggers, password collection, webcam capture, data destruction, persistence, privilege escalation, stealth, anti-virus (PSP) avoidance and survey techniques.”

As Kim Dotcom summarizes this finding, “CIA uses techniques to make cyber attacks look like they originated from enemy state. It turns DNC/Russia hack allegation by CIA into a JOKE

But perhaps what is most notable is the purported emergence of another Snowden-type whistleblower: the source of the information told WikiLeaks in a statement that they wish to initiate a public debate about the “security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.”  Policy questions that should be debated in public include “whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency,” WikiLeaks claims the source said.

The FAQ section of the release, shown below, provides further details on the extent of the leak, which was “obtained recently and covers through 2016”. The time period covered in the latest leak is between the years 2013 and 2016, according to the CIA timestamps on the documents themselves. Secondly, WikiLeaks has asserted that it has not mined the entire leak and has only verified it, asking that journalists and activists do the leg work.

Among the various techniques profiled by WikiLeaks is “Weeping Angel”, developed by the CIA’s Embedded Devices Branch (EDB), which infests smart TVs, transforming them into covert microphones. After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on. In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.

As Kim Dotcom chimed in on Twitter, “CIA turns Smart TVs, iPhones, gaming consoles and many other consumer gadgets into open microphones” and added ” CIA turned every Microsoft Windows PC in the world into spyware. Can activate backdoors on demand, including via Windows update”

Dotcom also added that “Obama accused Russia of cyberattacks while his CIA turned all internet enabled consumer electronics in Russia into listening devices. Wow!”

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks editor stated that “There is an extreme proliferation risk in the development of cyber ‘weapons’. Comparisons can be drawn between the uncontrolled proliferation of such ‘weapons’, which results from the inability to contain them combined with their high market value, and the global arms trade. But the significance of “Year Zero” goes well beyond the choice between cyberwar and cyberpeace. The disclosure is also exceptional from a political, legal and forensic perspective.”

Read more …

“…first public evidence US [Government] secretly paying to keep US software unsafe”

Snowden: What The Wikileaks Revelations Show Is “Reckless Beyond Words” (ZH)

While it has been superficially covered by much of the press – and one can make the argument that what Julian Assange has revealed is more relevant to the US population, than constant and so far unconfirmed speculation that Trump is a puppet of Putin – the fallout from the Wikileaks’ “Vault 7” release this morning of thousands of documents demonstrating the extent to which the CIA uses backdoors to hack smartphones, computer operating systems, messenger applications and internet-connected televisions, will be profound. As evidence of this, the WSJ cites an intelligence source who said that “the revelations were far more significant than the leaks of Edward Snowden.”

Mr. Snowden’s leaks revealed names of programs, companies that assist the NSA in surveillance and in some cases the targets of American spying. But the recent leak purports to contain highly technical details about how surveillance is carried out. That would make them far more revealing and useful to an adversary, this person said. In one sense, Mr. Snowden provided a briefing book on U.S. surveillance, but the CIA leaks could provide the blueprints. Speaking of Snowden, the former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower, who now appears to have a “parallel whisteblower” deep inside the “Deep State”, i.e., the source of the Wikileaks data – also had some thoughts on today’s CIA dump.

In a series of tweets, Snowden notes that “what @Wikileaks has here is genuinely a big deal”, and makes the following key observations “If you’re writing about the [email protected] story, here’s the big deal: first public evidence USG secretly paying to keep US software unsafe” and adds that “the CIA reports show the USG developing vulnerabilities in US products, then intentionally keeping the holes open. Reckless beyond words.” He then asks rhetorically “Why is this dangerous?” and explains “Because until closed, any hacker can use the security hole the CIA left open to break into any iPhone in the world.” His conclusion, one which many of the so-called conspiratorial bent would say was well-known long ago: “Evidence mounts showing CIA & FBI knew about catastrophic weaknesses in the most-used smartphones in America, but kept them open – to spy.”

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“..WikiLeaks, which has sometimes been accused of recklessly leaking information that could do harm, said it had redacted names and other identifying information from the collection. It said it was not releasing the computer code for actual, usable weapons “until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the C.I.A.’s program and how such ‘weapons’ should be analyzed, disarmed and published.”

WikiLeaks Releases Trove of Alleged CIA Hacking Documents (NYT)

In what appears to be the largest leak of C.I.A documents in history, WikiLeaks released on Tuesday thousands of pages describing sophisticated software tools and techniques used by the agency to break into smartphones, computers and even Internet-connected televisions. The documents amount to a detailed, highly technical catalog of tools. They include instructions for compromising a wide range of common computer tools for use in spying: the online calling service Skype; Wi-Fi networks; documents in PDF format; and even commercial antivirus programs of the kind used by millions of people to protect their computers. A program called Wrecking Crew explains how to crash a targeted computer, and another tells how to steal passwords using the autocomplete function on Internet Explorer. Other programs were called CrunchyLimeSkies, ElderPiggy, AngerQuake and McNugget.

The document dump was the latest coup for the antisecrecy organization and a serious blow to the C.I.A., which uses its hacking abilities to carry out espionage against foreign targets. The initial release, which WikiLeaks said was only the first installment in a larger collection of secret C.I.A. material, included 7,818 web pages with 943 attachments, many of them partly redacted by WikiLeaks editors to avoid disclosing the actual code for cyberweapons. The entire archive of C.I.A. material consists of several hundred million lines of computer code, the group claimed. In one revelation that may especially trouble the tech world if confirmed, WikiLeaks said that the C.I.A. and allied intelligence services have managed to compromise both Apple and Android smartphones, allowing their officers to bypass the encryption on popular services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate smartphones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”

Unlike the National Security Agency documents Edward J. Snowden gave to journalists in 2013, they do not include examples of how the tools have been used against actual foreign targets. That could limit the damage of the leak to national security. But the breach was highly embarrassing for an agency that depends on secrecy. Robert M. Chesney, a specialist in national security law at the University of Texas at Austin, likened the C.I.A. trove to National Security Agency hacking tools disclosed last year by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers. “If this is true, it says that N.S.A. isn’t the only one with an advanced, persistent problem with operational security for these tools,” Mr. Chesney said. “We’re getting bit time and again.”

Read more …

No ‘evidence’ (and remember none was provided to date) of Russian spying is the least bit credible anymore after today.

Wikileaks: CIA Capable Of Cyber “False Flag” Attack To Blame Russia (TAM)

According to a Wikileaks press release, the 8,761 newly published files came from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence (CCI) in Langley, Virginia. The release says that the UMBRAGE group, a subdivision of the center’s Remote Development Branch (RDB), has been collecting and maintaining a “substantial library of attack techniques ‘stolen’ from malware produced in other states, including the Russian Federation.” As Wikileaks notes, the UMBRAGE group and its related projects allow the CIA to misdirect the attribution of cyber attacks by “leaving behind the ‘fingerprints’ of the very groups that the attack techniques were stolen from.”

In other words, the CIA’s sophisticated hacking tools all have a “signature” marking them as originating from the agency. In order to avoid arousing suspicion as to the true extent of its covert cyber operations, the CIA has employed UMBRAGE’s techniques in order to create signatures that allow multiple attacks to be attributed to various entities – instead of the real point of origin at the CIA – while also increasing its total number of attack types. Other parts of the release similarly focus on avoiding the attribution of cyberattacks or malware infestations to the CIA during forensic reviews of such attacks. In a document titled “Development Tradecraft DOs and DON’Ts,” hackers and code writers are warned “DO NOT leave data in a binary file that demonstrates CIA, U.S. [government] or its witting partner companies’ involvement in the creation or use of the binary/tool.” It then states that “attribution of binary/tool/etc. by an adversary can cause irreversible impacts to past, present and future U.S. [government] operations and equities.”

While a major motivating factor in the CIA’s use of UMBRAGE is to cover it tracks, events over the past few months suggest that UMBRAGE may have been used for other, more nefarious purposes. After the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election shocked many within the U.S. political establishment and corporate-owned media, the CIA emerged claiming that Russia mounted a “covert intelligence operation” to help Donald Trump edge out his rival Hillary Clinton.[..] the U.S. intelligence community’s assertions that Russia used cyber-attacks to interfere with the election overshadowed reports that the U.S. government had actually been responsible for several hacking attempts that targeted state election systems.

For instance, the state of Georgia reported numerous hacking attempts on its election agencies’ networks, nearly all of which were traced back to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Now that the CIA has been shown to not only have the capability but also the express intention of replacing the “fingerprint” of cyber-attacks it conducts with those of another state actor, the CIA’s alleged evidence that Russia hacked the U.S. election – or anything else for that matter – is immediately suspect. There is no longer any way to determine if the CIA’s proof of Russian hacks on U.S. infrastructure is legitimate, as it could very well be a “false flag” attack.

Read more …

“..we come to find out the same people who told us the Russians were our enemy, revealing corruption and depravity on a monumental scale via the Podesta emails, they were, in fact, the ones spying on us all along – both lying and mocking us like Lords in a fiefdom.”

CIA Contractor on #VAULT7 Leak: ‘There is Heavy Shit Coming Down’ (RF)

Everything that Wikileaks has revealed over the past year has hurt both the integrity and honor of the United States. The question you have to grapple with, is it well deserved? After all, living inside of a vast and powerful empire has its benefits. As the empire expands, so does the wealth of its citizens. But it hasn’t worked out that way, has it? The CIA deep staters have turned their guns on the people they serve – using third world banana republic tactics to silence opposition, take down regimes not beholden to their world view, using advanced technology to both spy and monitor on American citizens – infringing on our civil rights like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The reason for the populist uprising and the lack of equanimity amongst those traditionally supportive of the CIA lies in the improper distribution of the spoils of war. There aren’t any.

All the average American has received from $10 trillion in Obama inspired deficit spending is American casualties of war, jobs lost to cheaper labor overseas, expensive oil prices, expensive healthcare, and run away education costs – along with a sundry of social disturbances that have people fed up. While the elite flaunt hedonistic lifestyles, eschewing basic decency for the perverse, normies get more of the same old bullshit. After electing a true agent of change in Donald Trump, the people are laughed at and impugned by the elitist media. Their President is set upon by ‘permanent government’ officials in the intelligence agencies – whose only goal is to derail and destroy his term before it even begins.

Then we come to find out the same people who told us the Russians were our enemy, revealing corruption and depravity on a monumental scale via the Podesta emails, they were, in fact, the ones spying on us all along – both lying and mocking us like Lords in a fiefdom. Here’s Fox News reporting on the latest scandal to hit the wires, #VAULT7 Fox New sources inside the CIA said the agency was running around like headless chickens, saying ‘there is heavy shit coming down.’

Read more …

US exports are plunging. 10.7% to Germany, 13.4% to China.

US Trade Deficit Jumps To Five-Year High On Imports (R.)

The U.S. trade deficit jumped to a near five-year high in January as cell phones and rising oil prices helped to push up the import bill, suggesting trade would again weigh on economic growth in the first quarter. The Commerce Department said on Tuesday the trade gap increased 9.6% to $48.5 billion, the highest level since March 2012. The deficit was in line with economists forecasts. December’s trade shortfall was unrevised at $44.3 billion. When adjusted for inflation, the trade deficit rose to $65.3 billion from $62.0 billion in December. Both the inflation-adjusted exports and imports were the highest on record in January.

The wider trade gap added to weak data such as housing starts, consumer and construction spending in suggesting the economy struggled to regain momentum early in the first quarter after growth slowed to a 1.9% annualized rate in the final three months of 2016. The economy grew at a 3.5% pace in the third quarter. Trade cut 1.7 percentage points from GDP in the fourth quarter. The Atlanta Fed is forecasting GDP rising at a 1.8% rate in the first quarter. The dollar was trading marginally higher, while prices for U.S. government bonds were little changed. U.S. stock index futures were slightly lower. The Trump administration is eyeing trade as it seeks 4% annual GDP growth. President Donald Trump has vowed sweeping changes to U.S. trade policy, starting with pulling out of the 12-nation TPP.

[..] The bulk of the increase in the trade-weighted value of the greenback occurred in the final months of 2016 and will probably take a while to reflect in the trade data. Exports to Germany tumbled 10.7%. A Trump trade adviser has accused Germany of unfairly benefiting from a weak euro. Shipments of goods to China, also singled out by the Trump administration, dropped 13.4%. The politically sensitive U.S.-China trade deficit increased 12.8% to $31.3 billion in January, while the trade gap with Germany fell 8.0% to $4.9 billion. The United States also saw its trade deficit with Mexico shrink 10.1% to its lowest level since July 2015.

Read more …

We need to see: 1) dollar terms and 2) Lunar New Year distortions.

China Posts Rare Trade Deficit As February Imports Surge in Yuan Terms (R.)

China unexpectedly posted a rare trade deficit in February as imports surged far more than expected to feed a months-long construction boom, driven by commodities from iron ore and copper to crude oil and coal. Imports in yuan-denominated terms surged 44.7 percent from a year earlier, while exports rose 4.2 percent, official data showed on Wednesday. That left the country with a trade deficit of 60.63 billion yuan ($8.79 billion) for the month, the General Administration of Customs said. Customs has not yet published dollar-denominated trade figures, on which most economists and investors base their forecasts and analysis. Apart from currency fluctuations, higher commodity prices and the timing of the long Lunar New year holidays early in the year also may have distorted the data.

Most of China’s commodity imports grew strongly in volume terms from a year earlier, but dipped from January. Still, economists say the upbeat readings reinforced a growing view that economic activity in China and globally picked up in the first two months of the year. That could give China’s policymakers more confidence to press ahead with oft-delayed and painful structural reforms such as tackling a mountain of debt. Containing the risks from years of debt-fueled stimulus and heavy spending has been a major focus at the annual meeting of China’s parliament which began on Sunday.

Read more …

They know something?!

Why Are Europe’s Small Central Banks Stocking Up Foreign Money? (WSJ)

Europe’s smaller central banks are loading up on foreign currencies at rates usually associated with periods of intense global stress, highlighting the fragile underpinnings of the global economic recovery despite the recent upbeat mood in financial markets. Switzerland’s holdings of foreign assets jumped last month at their fastest pace in over two years as its central bank fought the strong franc, which weakens exports and inflation. The Czech central bank intervened in January on a massive scale to maintain its currency target against the euro. Denmark has also stepped up its foreign-currency purchases to keep the krone from strengthening too much. These central banks are showing crisis-like behavior to protect their currencies even in the absence of obvious trouble. This exposes them to losses if their currencies fail to weaken on their own.

It also raises doubts as to how long they can keep this up in an era when economic and political uncertainties appear to be a lasting feature of the world economy. “There is a little bit of survivor behavior,” said Peter Rosenstreich, head of market strategy at Swissquote Bank. “They’ve been protecting their currencies so long and it’s hard to give up that defensive position.” The Swiss National Bank said Tuesday its foreign exchange reserves swelled nearly 25 billion Swiss francs ($24.63 billion) last month to 668 billion francs, the biggest rise since December 2014, the month before the Swiss abandoned a cap on the franc’s value. The pile of foreign reserves is greater than Switzerland’s entire gross domestic product. “It’s quite bizarre. You’d think at some time you’d run out of surprises,” said Stefan Gerlach, chief economist at BSI Bank in Zurich and a former deputy governor at Ireland’s central bank.

[..] Central banks accumulate foreign reserves when they purchase assets denominated in other currencies, using freshly created money. They do this to weaken their currencies, protecting exports and giving a boost to inflation. Foreign reserves can waver slightly due to changes in currency values, but big increases like Switzerland’s signal aggressive intervention. This tool has gained traction in recent years as official rates have turned negative in Denmark and Switzerland and are near zero in the Czech Republic.

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A few good articles for International Women’s Day. Pettifor’s insistence that households are not like governments is important.

Dispel The Economic Myths That Hold Women Back (Ann Pettifor)

There are two economic myths that fail the interests of women. The first is the fallacy that government budgets conform to “the household analogy”: that, as with family budgets, a state’s outgoings cannot exceed its income. The second is that “there is no money” for the services women use and need. On the first, the public are told that cuts in spending and in some benefits, combined with rises in income from taxes will – just as with a household – balance the budget. Even though a single household’s budget is a) minuscule compared to that of a government; b) does not, like the government’s, impact on the wider economy; c) does not benefit from tax revenues (now, or in the foreseeable future); and d) is not backed by a powerful central bank. Despite all these obvious differences, government budgets are deemed analogous (by economists and politicians) to a household budget.

To understand why the government/household analogy is false it is important to understand that the balance of the government budget, unlike that of a household, is entirely a function of the wider economy. If the economy slumps (as in 2008-9) and the private sector weakens, then like a see-saw the public sector deficit, and then the debt, rises. When private economic activity revives (thanks to increased investment, employment, sales etc) tax revenues rise, unemployment benefits fall, and the government deficit and debt follow the same downward trajectory. So, to balance the government’s budget, efforts must be made to revive Britain’s economy, including the indebted private sector.

Because government spending (unlike a household’s spending) has a big impact on the economy, governments can use loan-financed investment to expand tax-generating employment – both public (for example, nurses and teachers) and private sector employment (construction workers). Both nurses and construction workers will return a large part of their incomes into the economy through spending, benefitting the private sector. Thanks to the multiplier effect, that spending will generate VAT and corporation tax revenues – for repaying government debt. George Osborne believed that government spending cuts would be offset by a rise in private sector confidence, inspired by a government “getting its house in order”. But that did not happen.

As many of us predicted, government spending cuts contracted the economy further. Economic activity (investment, sales, employment) was weaker than expected. Even when employment revived, lower wages and insecure, part-time work meant that income and corporate taxes were lower than expected. So government borrowing did not fall. As a result, public debt as a share of GDP was higher than expected. In the meantime, massive harm had been done to public sector services and those employed in the sector – while the economy endured the slowest post-crisis recovery in history. And it was women who largely paid the price.

One woman can be said to have given the phrase “there is no money” much credibility. In her 1983 speech to the Conservative party conference, Margaret Thatcher declared that: “The state has no source of money, other than the money people earn themselves. If the state wishes to spend more it can only do so by borrowing your savings, or by taxing you more … There is no such thing as public money. There is only taxpayers’ money.” Today this framing of the debate is at odds with reality. After the financial crisis, the Bank of England injected £1,000bn into the private finance sector to prevent systemic economic failure. And after the shock of the Brexit vote, the Bank unveiled the “Term Funding Scheme” as part of a £170bn “stimulus package” aimed at the private finance sector. The money was “public money” offered at a historically low interest rate – to bankers. It was not raised by cutting spending, and it was not raised from “your taxes”, even while its issue was backed by Britain’s taxpayers.

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Good points.

Austerity Is A Feminist Issue (G.)

Women are massively more affected by budget cuts than men, says the Labour peer. They are more likely to be single parents, earn less and work part time than their male counterparts. She argues the government must replace ‘gender-neutral’ budgeting with economic policies that put women first.

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100 years ago.

The Women’s Protest That Sparked The Russian Revolution (G.)

The first day of the Russian revolution – 8 March (23 February in the old Russian calendar) – was International Women’s Day, an important day in the socialist calendar. By midday of that day in 1917 there were tens of thousands of mainly women congregating on the Nevsky Propsekt, the principal avenue in the centre of the Russian capital, Petrograd, and banners started to appear. The slogans on the banners were patriotic but also made forceful demands for change: “Feed the children of the defenders of the motherland”, read one; another said: “Supplement the ration of soldiers’ families, defenders of freedom and the people’s peace”. The crowds of demonstrators were varied. The city’s governor, AP Balk, said they consisted of “ladies from society, lots more peasant women, student girls and, compared with earlier demonstrations, not many workers”. The revolution was begun by women, not male workers.

In the afternoon the mood began to change as female textile workers from the Vyborg side of the city came out on strike in protest against shortages of bread. Joined by their menfolk, they swelled the crowds on the Nevsky, where there were calls for “Bread!” and “Down with the tsar!” By the end of the afternoon, 100,000 workers had come out on strike, and there were clashes with police as the workers tried to cross the Liteiny bridge, connecting the Vyborg side with the city centre. Most were dispersed by the police but several thousand crossed the ice-packed river Neva (a risky thing to do at -5C) and some, angered by the fighting, began to loot the shops on their way to the Nevsky. Balk’s Cossacks struggled to clear the crowds on the Nevsky. They would ride up the demonstrators, only to stop short and retreat. Later it emerged that they were mostly young reservists who had no experience of dealing with crowds.

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How to kill a city part 829.

Vacant Homes Are A Global Epidemic (BD)

Runaway real estate speculation has been filling global capitals with vacant homes, creating artificial shortages in the world’s most sought after cities. The “shortage” has made local home owners wealthy overnight, but it comes at the cost of turning lively cities into empty shells. The city of Paris has decided it’s had enough, and implemented a tax in 2015. They didn’t quite get the results they wanted, so they’re now tripling the tax to 60%. Paris has been trying to deal with vacant property owners for some time. Despite warnings that the city will have to take action, the number of vacant homes is growing. There’s now 107,000 vacant homes, representing 7.5% of all residential dwellings in the city according to France’s INSEE. Deputy Mayor Ian Brossat told Le Monde that 40,000 of those vacant homes aren’t even connected to the electrical grid.

Local developers have argued that more new construction is the solution. However Brossat argues “In a city as dense as Paris, where it is very difficult to build, controlling the occupancy of housing is strategic.” It appears the city believes they have 107,000 reasons more construction is not the solution. Paris implemented a tax recently, but it didn’t quite produce the desired outcome. Starting in 2015 the city elected to tax vacant homes the equivalent of 20% of the fair market value of rent. On January 30 this year, they decided to triple that amount to 60%. The idea isn’t to punish those fortunate enough to own a second (or twelfth) home. They’re trying to discourage speculation and promote a healthy rental market.

Paris’ 107,000 empty homes might seem like a lot, but it’s becoming strangely normal around the world. New York City had a whopping 318,831 vacant units in 2015. It’s a hot topic in Sydney, where 118,499 vacant units were counted in 2013. Heck, London considers it a critical issue, and they “only” have 22,000 empty homes. There’s a massive numbers of vacant homes across the globe, but only Paris has decided to take aggressive action to tackle it. Growing populations have barely put a dent in the vacant homes in global real estate capitals. The amount of speculation has been scaling with demand, which is a curious paradox. This signifies an issue that’s more complex than just a basic supply and demand problem.

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And you can’t call it perjury. But look at the article below this one.

There’s No Housing Bubble in Australia, Heads of Big Banks Say (BBG)

Soaring home prices in Australia’s biggest cities don’t necessarily mean the country is in the grip of a housing bubble, according to the heads of the nation’s biggest banks. Testifying before a parliamentary committee, the chief executives of National Australia, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank of Australia all said that while they are worried about elements of the housing market, prices aren’t over-inflated. “I would draw the distinction between a speculative bubble in prices and prices beyond what fundamentals would justify,” Westpac’s Brian Hartzer told the committee in Canberra Wednesday. A bubble isn’t occurring in Sydney or Melbourne, where house prices have risen the most, he said.

“There are increasing risks, but I still believe the answer is no,” National Australia Bank’s Andrew Thorburn said when asked if houses in Sydney and Melbourne are overpriced. Commonwealth Bank, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, is “lending at levels we are comfortable with” across Australia, CEO Ian Narev told the committee when he testified Tuesday. The bank chiefs were appearing in front of the committee, which was set up by the government to ward off calls for a more far-reaching inquiry into the financial industry, for the second time within six months. The banks have been under pressure from opposition parties after a series of scandals in their insurance and wealth divisions and concern they failed to pass on the full benefits of central bank interest-rate cuts to borrowers.

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“Boosting leveraged demand to make housing affordable makes no sense.”

Australian Lenders Are Handing Out Mortgages Like Confetti (LF)

In the thrall of irrational exuberance, Australia is experiencing a debt-financed housing bubble. In our two major cities of Sydney and Melbourne, the housing markets are out of control due to the rapid acceleration of debt enabled by lenders issuing remarkable amounts of mortgages. Household debt to income ratios for the states of NSW and VIC suggest this to be the case. Australian lenders are handing out mortgages like confetti – why? It demonstrates banks and non-bank lenders are quite willing to issue risky mortgages to applicants who will not have the long-term financial capability to repay. Lenders are indeed taking on these excessive risks. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink is today the common approach governments take to ensure housing prices continually rise given their fear of the political and economic damage caused by falling prices.

Governments engaged in co-buying and co-owning housing with FHBs stimulates debt accumulation and hence prices. The VIC government, for instance, is attempting to provide a large gift to current residential land owners and lenders at the cost of FHBs acquiring mortgages they cannot afford to service over the long-run. This is done through the proposed shared equity model whereby the government acquires 25% of the home price. To make matters worse, the VIC government is also cutting stamp duty for FHBs and doubling the FHOB (for new properties in regional areas); both in theory have the effect of boosting housing prices. The VIC government cannot allow housing prices in Melbourne and the rest of Victoria decline significantly because it will suffer the same adverse impact that Dublin and Ireland experienced last decade.

The problems are the same and the end result will be the same. Unfortunately, just like the federal government, the VIC government is stuck. Implementing policies on the demand and supply sides to reduce land prices will cause a great deal of pain to all stakeholders: governments, lenders, homeowners, investors, including employees – many may lose their jobs if debt growth craters and removes a considerable portion of demand from the economy. Government has dug itself into a hole but instead of assessing a way out, it simply continues to dig, hoping to kick the can down the road long enough for the next party in power to deal with the problems. Both the LNP and ALP at the federal and state levels have refused to deal with the issues at hand, and prefer to enslave a generation of Aussies to the most profitable and high-risk banking system in the western world.

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As I’ve been saying forever. Recovery is unpossible in Greece.

Greece’s Still-Falling GDP Dispels Creditors’ “Recovery” Myth (Prime)

The latest GDP figures for Greece, relating to Q4 of 2016, are disastrous. For Greece first and foremost, but also for the credibility of the EU and IMF’s failed harsh austerity (but on the EU side no-debt-cancellation) policy. Far from evidencing the long-promised recovery, they show a new decline in GDP – both on the previous quarter (after seasonal adjustment) and year on year. In fact, the economy has been broadly stagnant at a low level since 2013. In constant volume terms, GDP fell by over 27% from (peak) Q2 2007 to Q4 2013, and in Q4 2016 it was 0.3% smaller than in Q4 2013. In Q4 it was only marginally higher than the post-crisis record low to date, Q3 2015. This chart from Elstat (the Greek Statistical Office) shows the development of GDP over the last decade:

What is more extraordinary is that current price (i.e. nominal) GDP has fallen even further than real GDP over the decade – by 28.5% From 2008 to 2016, GDP fell quarter-on-quarter in no fewer than 27 out of 36 quarters, of which two in 2016. [..] there has been some modest improvement, with unemployment in November 2016 about 66,000 lower than a year before, and employment up by about 50,000. But employment is still 200,000 below its 2011 level. The unemployment rate remains a disastrous 23%, which reminds one of chronic European levels in the 1920s and 1930s:

The Financial Times’ Mehreen Khan yesterday (6 March) described the current state of negotiations towards the absurd requirement of a contractionary 3.5% of GDP budget surplus (i.e. after interest): “Progress on the country’s €86bn rescue deal has stuttered this year following a standoff between the EU and IMF over the level of austerity, reforms and debt relief baked into Greece’s three-year programme. Bailout monitors however returned to Athens last week to ensure the left-wing Greek government was making steps towards legislating for around €2bn in tax and pension measures that will help the country meet a surplus target of 3.5 per cent of GDP from 2018. Approval of the second review would unlock around €6bn in rescue cash for the economy.”

And ah yes, as Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Chair of the Eurogroup finance ministers, put it on 20th February, in an interview with CNBC (h/t Professor Helen Thompson ): “…anyone who wants to talk about crisis can talk to someone else because the Greek economy is gradually recovering and what we need to do is to strengthen that and give that more opportunity and that is what I’m trying to do.” Alas, Mr Dijsselbloem comes from the Dutch Labour Party, not the conservatives, and here symbolizes all that is so profoundly wrong with the Eurozone’s economic policy and ideology. It’s high time he looked again at that table of unemployment in the 1930s – and the terrible ordeal imposed on the Dutch working class.

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The creditors force Greek companies into contortionist tricks just to survive. There is such a thing as too much tax.

Tax Weary Greek Employers Pay In Kind As Creditor Demands Rise (BBG)

When Maria’s employer, a large communications company in Athens, gave her additional tasks at one of its new units, it told her she wouldn’t be paid for the work in euros. “I was informed that this extra payment of 150 euros per month would be in coupons that I can use in supermarkets,” said the 45-year-old, declining to provide her last name for fear of losing her job. Payments in kind are among practices companies are using in Greece as they seek to cap payroll costs, undermining efforts to balance the books of the country’s cash-strapped social security system. As creditors push the government to boost its budget surplus, companies avoiding payroll charges and effectively expanding the shadow economy are making the task harder. By some estimates, the so-called black market already accounts for as much as a quarter of Greece’s economy.

“Such practices help companies to avoid social contributions, but the burden for the economy is huge,” said Panos Tsakloglou, a professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business. “Less contributions for pensions means more budget transfers to them which then leads to more austerity measures to meet fiscal targets, measures that will probably hit pensioners.” Greek officials have been meeting in Athens with representatives of the euro area and IMF to set out the policies the country must undertake to unlock more bailout loans. The government foresees an accord in March or early April, but the scale of pending issues raises concerns they may be politically hard to sell at home. Greece has agreed to target for a budget surplus before interest payments equal to 3.5% of GDP for 2018, which could mean more belt-tightening.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government finds itself between a rock and a hard place as it tries to appease creditors while avoiding mass protests. After an anemic recovery, the Greek economy shrank again in the fourth quarter, raising the specter of growing tensions at home even as European creditors and the IMF push for more austerity. With an economy that has shrunk by more than a quarter in the last seven years, Greece has an unemployment rate of 23%, close to a historic high. Creditors, meanwhile, are demanding greater labor-market flexibility that would make it easier for companies to hire and fire people. They want the threshold of collective dismissals to be doubled to 10% and demand that Athens not revoke any of the measures legislated during the crisis.

[..] For overtaxed Greek companies, dodging social security contributions through payments in kind has become a way to make ends meet. According to the latest available data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average single worker in Greece faced a tax wedge of 39.3% compared with an average of 35.9% among developed economies. About half of the burden falls upon employers. “We do not have the exact picture,” said Nasos Iliopoulos, an official in Greece’s Labor Ministry. “But it is clear that it is not legal to replace payments with coupons. It is only permitted to give coupons as an extra bonus. Companies are seeking to gain from lower social contributions and also from not paying for extra working hours.”

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There’s nothing new.

America’s Forgotten History of Illegal Deportations (Atlantic)

It was a time of economic struggle, racial resentment and increasing xenophobia. Installed in the White House was a president who had never before held elected office. A moderately successful businessman, he promised American jobs for Americans—and made good on that promise by slashing immigration by nearly 90 percent. He wore his hair parted down the middle, rather than elaborately piled on top, and his name was Herbert Hoover, not Donald Trump. But in the late 1920s and early 1930s, under the president’s watch, a wave of illegal and unconstitutional raids and deportations would alter the lives of as many as 1.8 million men, women and children—a threat that would seem to loom just as large in 2017 as it did back in 1929.

What became colloquially known as the “Mexican repatriation” efforts of 1929 to 1936 are a shameful and profoundly illustrative chapter in American history, yet they remain largely unknown—despite their broad and devastating impact. So much so that today, a different president is edging towards similar solutions, with none of the hesitation or concern that basic consciousness would seem to require. [..] Back in Hoover’s era, as America hung on the precipice of economic calamity—the Great Depression—the president was under enormous pressure to offer a solution for increasing unemployment, and to devise an emergency plan for the strained social safety net. Though he understood the pressing need to aid a crashing economy, Hoover resisted federal intervention, instead preferring a patchwork of piecemeal solutions, including the targeting of outsiders.

According to former California State Senator Joseph Dunn, who in 2004 began an investigation into the Hoover-era deportations, “the Republicans decided the way they were going to create jobs was by getting rid of anyone with a Mexican-sounding name.” “Getting rid of” America’s Mexican population was a random, brutal effort. “For participating cities and counties, they would go through public employee rolls and look for Mexican-sounding names and then go and arrest and deport those people,” said Dunn. “And then there was a job opening!” “We weren’t rounding up people who were Canadian,” he added. “It was an absolutely racially-motivated program to create jobs by getting rid of people.”

[..] The so-called repatriation effort was, in large part, a misnomer, given the fact that as many as sixty percent of those sent to “home” Mexico were U.S. citizens: American-born children of Mexican-descent who had never before traveled south of the border. (Dunn noted, “I don’t know how you can repatriate someone to a country they’ve not been born or raised in.”) “Individuals who left at 5, 6 and 7 years old found themselves in Mexico dealing with process of socialization, of learning the language, but they maintained an American identity,” said Balderrama. “And still had the dream to come back to ‘my country.’”

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Jan 062017
 
 January 6, 2017  Posted by at 10:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Joel Meyerowitz Girl On A Scooter 1965

Intel Report Says US Identifies Go-Betweens Who Gave Emails To WikiLeaks (CNN)
All US Envoys Appointed By Obama Told To Quit By Inauguration Day (R.)
FBI Never Requested Access To Allegedly Hacked DNC Server (DM)
The Coup Against Truth (Paul Craig Roberts)
Rebuild the Fed From the Bottom Up (DiMartino Booth)
Annual US Auto Sales Fell for First Time since 2009 (WS)
Dismal Holiday Sales At Macy’s And Kohl’s Cast Gloom Over Sector (R.)
Half Of Jobless US Men Not In The Labor Force Take Daily Pain Medication (AP)
The Real Reasons Brexit Is Succeeding (Ashoka Mody)
Economics is in Crisis – BOE’s Haldane (G.)
Why Has The UK Economy Defied Predictions Of Doom? (G.)
UK Unsecured Consumer Credit Grows At Annual Rate Of 11% (G.)
No End In Sight For Europe’s Banking Troubles (CNBC)

 

 

What a circus this has become. No matter how hard they try, they still have to admit that “..there is no single intercepted communication that qualifies as a “smoking gun” on Russia’s intention to benefit Trump’s candidacy or to claim credit for doing so.” As for the go-betweens, WikiLeaks will never give info on sources.

Intel Report Says US Identifies Go-Betweens Who Gave Emails To WikiLeaks (CNN)

US intelligence has identified the go-betweens the Russians used to provide stolen emails to WikiLeaks, according to US officials familiar with the classified intelligence report that was presented to President Barack Obama on Thursday. In a Fox News interview earlier this week, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange denied that Russia was the source of leaked Democratic emails that roiled the 2016 election to the detriment of President-elect Donald Trump’s rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, US intelligence has received new information following the election that gave agencies increased confidence that Russia carried out the hack and did so, in part, to help Trump win. Included in that new information were intercepted conversations of Russian officials expressing happiness at Trump’s win. Another official described some of the messages as congratulatory.

Officials said this was just one of multiple indicators to give them high confidence of both Russian involvement and Russian intentions. Officials reiterated that there is no single intercepted communication that qualifies as a “smoking gun” on Russia’s intention to benefit Trump’s candidacy or to claim credit for doing so. Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview with PBS NewsHour that an unclassified version of an intel report provided to him will be released “very shortly” and will “lay out in bold print what” the US knows about the hacking. “I think it will probably confirm what a lot of the American people think,” he said, adding that it would “state clearly” the Russians involvement in the hacking.

In response to the interview, Trump tweeted on Wednesday, “Julian Assange said “a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta” – why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!” Trump has been publicly skeptical of Russia’s involvement in the hacking, as well as has been publicly deriding the US intelligence community for its unanimous conclusion that Russia hacked Democratic Party groups and individuals to interfere in the US presidential election. Officials told CNN there’s been a disconnect between Trump’s remarks about the intelligence community and his behind-the-scenes behavior when he’s present at private intel briefings.

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Oh lovely.

All US Envoys Appointed By Obama Told To Quit By Inauguration Day (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team has issued a blanket mandate requiring politically appointed ambassadors installed by President Barack Obama to leave their posts by Inauguration Day, the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand said on Friday. “I will be departing on January 20th,” Ambassador Mark Gilbert said in a Twitter message to Reuters. The mandate was issued “without exceptions” through an order sent in a State Department cable on Dec. 23, Gilbert said. He was confirming a report in the New York Times, which quoted diplomatic sources as saying previous U.S. administrations, from both major political parties, have traditionally granted extensions to allow a few ambassadors, particularly those with school-age children, to remain in place for weeks or months.

The order threatens to leave the United States without Senate-confirmed envoys for months in critical nations like Germany, Canada and Britain, the New York Times reported. A senior Trump transition official told the newspaper there was no ill will in the move, describing it as a simple matter of ensuring Obama’s overseas envoys leave the government on schedule, just as thousands of political aides at the White House and in federal agencies must do. Trump has taken a strict stance against leaving any of Obama’s political appointees in place as he prepares to take office on Jan. 20, aiming to break up many of his predecessor’s signature foreign and domestic policy achievements, the newspaper said.

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And why not? Throw on some more…

FBI Never Requested Access To Allegedly Hacked DNC Server (DM)

The FBI never asked the Democratic National Committee if it could examine a computer server that was the subject of cyber attacks last year. Instead federal law enforcement relied on data that, Crowdstrike, a private computer security company, gathered from the device. The FBI later endorsed the conclusion that Russian intelligence services were behind the hacking, and that their goal was to help Donald Trump win the November presidential election. ‘The DNC had several meetings with representatives of the FBI’s Cyber Division and its Washington Field Office, the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, and U.S. Attorney’s Offices, and it responded to a variety of requests for cooperation,’ DNC deputy communications director Eric Walker told BuzzFeed, ‘but the FBI never requested access to the DNC’s computer servers.’

Trump’s incoming press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on a Thursday morning conference call that ‘the DNC is on the record saying the FBI never contacted them to validate claims by Crowdstrike, which is the third-party tech security firm, and never actually requested the hacked server.’ ‘You know, I would equate this to no one actually going to a crime scene to actually look at the evidence,’ Spicer declared. Walker said there were no restrictions on what the FBI could request from its private security company’s findings. ‘Beginning at the time the intrusion was discovered by the DNC, the DNC cooperated fully with the FBI and its investigation, providing access to all of the information uncovered by CrowdStrike – without any limits,’ he said.

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Restructuring US intelligence can be a hazardous occupation.

The Coup Against Truth (Paul Craig Roberts)

Washington is so intent on its anti-Russian propaganda that Congress has passed, and Obama has signed, an intelligence bill that contains a section, Title V, that authorizes active measures to counter purveyors of false news. These purveyors are alternative media websites, such as this one, that challenge the official lies. The truthful alternative media is accused of being under Russian influence. Last summer a website shrouded in secrecy was created that recently posted a list of 200 websites alleged to be under Russian influence, either directly or indirectly. The Washington Post irresponsibly published a long article endorsing the fake news of 200 websites working for the Russian government. In other words, the suppression of the truth is the last defense of the corrupt American ruling establishment.

During the last 24 years three Washington regimes have murdered millions of peoples in nine or more countries along with US civil liberty. To cover up these vast crimes, unparalleled in history, the presstitutes have lied, slandered, and libeled. And the Washington criminal regime holds itself up to the world as the indispensable protector of democracy, human rights, truth, and justice. As the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said recently, what makes America exceptional is the use of might in the service of evil. Washington brands not only its opponents but all who speak the truth “Russian agents,” hoping that the demonization of Russia has sufficiently frightened the population that Americans will turn their backs to those who speak the truth.

It would seem obvious even to the insouciant that an establishment that has gone so far out on a limb that the CIA director publicly attributes the election of Donald Trump to Russian interference but is unable to produce a shred of evidence—indeed in the face of totally conclusive evidence to the contrary—is determined to hold on to power at all costs. The CIA’s open, blatant, and unprecedented propaganda attack against a president-elect has caused Trump to throw down the gauntlet to CIA director John Brennan. There are reports that Trump intends to revamp and reorganize the intelligence agency. The last president who said this, John F. Kennedy, was murdered by the CIA before he could strike against them. Kennedy believed that he could not take on the CIA until he was re-elected. The delay gave the CIA time to arrange his assassination.

Trump appears to understand his danger. He has announced that he intends to supplement his Secret Service protection (which was turned against JFK) with private security. Isn’t it striking? The president of Russia states publicly that Washington is driving the world to thermo-nuclear war and that his warnings are ignored. The president-elect of the United States is under full-scale attack from the CIA and knows that he cannot trust his official security force. One might think that these extraordinary topics would be the only ones under discussion. But you can find such discussion only on a few alternative media websites, such as this one, branded by PropOrNot and the Washington Post as “under Russian influence.”

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Why am I under the impression that what Danielle DMB is describing is still an inside(r) job? Can economists clean up the Fed? Can it be cleaned up at all?

Is it as hazardous as redoing intelligence?

Rebuild the Fed From the Bottom Up (DiMartino Booth)

Today the institution of the Fed is as intellectually entrenched as it has ever been. It has become the largest employer of people with doctorates in economics. It has hired or contracted with more than 1,000 of these economists, who actively endeavor to validate, rather than question, orthodox theories and policies. The pipeline of talent filling new positions at the Fed is sourced from the same stagnant academic pool that produced the current leadership. Is it any wonder criticism within the Fed has been quashed? Now the door is open for an outsider to bring the outside world back into the Fed. The last time that all seven governor positions on the Federal Reserve Board were occupied was in 2013. Trump can expeditiously fill these seats, but, more important, he can remake the culture inside the Fed.

Armies of consultants have presumably been busy making a list of potential board nominees. If these advisers have the interests of those who voted for Trump at heart, they will look for individuals who have been on the receiving end of monetary policy and therefore understand it. They will find CEOs who would rather have invested in the future of their companies, thus creating more jobs and opportunities, rather than be pressured to buy back their shares with cheap debt because of regulatory uncertainty. They will seek out the handful of pension fund managers who have insisted on using assumptions for lower rates of return, to better reflect the reality of lower returns on fixed-income securities, and who resisted the siren call of inappropriate investments to offset the dearth of options in a low-interest-rate world.

They will seek rational critics of Fed policy who empathize with, not roundly dismiss, the plight of savers in this environment. Once a full complement of possible nominees is in place, the new administration can concentrate on redrawing the institution to reflect the tremendous change the U.S. economy has undergone in the more than 100 years since the Fed first came into being. Right now, there are 12 Fed districts. Some regions of the U.S. have become more economically powerful over the years. California is the largest economy followed by Texas. They should have their own Fed districts. A third one could encompass most of the rest of the West. At the same time, the regions that have become less economically relevant should be consolidated.

For example, Missouri no longer merits two Feds. St. Louis can be incorporated into the Chicago Fed, along with Cleveland. New York is the third-largest state economy. It seems economically reasonable, from Philadelphia north, to have two Fed districts rather than three. Then give the presidents of the 10 districts that remain permanent votes on the Federal Open Market Committee. This is a necessary act to begin dismantling the over-concentration of power at the board in Washington and at the New York Fed.

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Turning their back on their gods?

Annual US Auto Sales Fell for First Time since 2009 (WS)

The media hoopla has been deafening. In December, “new vehicles sales” – defined as the number of new cars, trucks, and SUVs that dealers sold to their customers, including fleets – rose 3.1%. That was stronger than “expected.” And in the media reports, there was euphoria between the lines. Automakers and dealers had certainly tried. Inventories are high, layoffs and plant closings have already been announced, and so every effort was made to move the iron and pull out the year. No incentive was spared to get the job done. With this gain in December, total sales for 2016 edged up 0.4% to a record 17.55 million vehicles, according to Autodata. Sales of light trucks and SUVs rose 7.2% for the year, but sales of cars sagged 8.1%. Gasoline is cheap, and Americans love big implements.

Car sales at GM dropped 4.3% in 2016, at Ford 13.0%, and at Fiat Chrysler a catastrophic 33.5%! Plants that build cars were the ones mostly (but not exclusively) hit by shutdowns and layoffs. Then there was the whole to-do about Trump, Ford, and the plant in Mexico. Alas, while some automakers posted record sales for the year, the biggest automakers were not among them. And you probably didn’t see this in the media unless you started digging through the data yourself. Somehow this one slipped by the media’s attention. Because something ugly happened in 2016, something we haven’t seen since 2009. For ALL of the big three US automakers, plus for a number of others, sales in 2016 actually fell. For them it was the first annual sales decline since nightmare-year 2009.

Here they are, in terms of the annual decline in their total vehicles sales, as measured by dealer sales to their customers (in descending order of sales): • GM -1.3% • Ford -0.1% • Toyota -2.0% • Fiat-Chrysler -0.4% • Volkswagen -3.3% • BMW -9.7% • Mazda -6.7%. The sales of these seven automakers combined amounted to 11.5 million vehicles in 2016, or 65% of total US sales! And combined, their sales were down 1.5% from the prior year. So this is what Ford meant earlier this year, when it began mentioning the “car recession.”

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‘T is the season to be folly.

Dismal Holiday Sales At Macy’s And Kohl’s Cast Gloom Over Sector (R.)

Disappointing holiday-season sales at Macy’s and Kohl’s underscored the uphill task facing department stores to win back shoppers, who are increasingly turning to online retailers and spending less on apparel. Macy’s shares fell as much as 14% on Thursday, their biggest percentage drop in seven months. Kohl’s stock dropped as much as 20.5%, its biggest decline in more than 14 years. Both reported lower-than-expected sales for November and December and cut their full-year profit forecasts on Wednesday. Macy’s, known the world over for its flagship Herald Square store in Manhattan and its annual Thanksgiving Day parade, is considered a bellwether for department stores. However, it is expected to relinquish its position as the largest U.S. apparel retailer to Amazon.com as soon as this year as it struggles to compete on prices and the convenience offered by online shopping.

Amazon said last week it had its “best ever” holiday season, shipping more than 1 billion items worldwide. Shares of other department store operators, including J.C. Penney and Nordstrom also fell as the dismal showing took investors by surprise. Expectations were high that department stores would get a good boost from a strong holiday shopping season. The National Retail Federation had forecast that 2016 holiday period sales would rise 3.6% to $656 billion. A jump in spending in the last days of December was expected to make up for a slow start to the shopping season. “The strength around Thanksgiving and Christmas was insufficient to offset the sales weakness in the balance of the quarter,” Stifel, Nicolaus & Co analyst Richard Jaffe wrote. “In addition, these peak selling periods were characterized by greater promotions which contributed to weaker than anticipated gross margin as well,” he said in a client note. Struggling Sears, the operator of Sears and Kmart stores, reported a 12-13% drop in same-store sales for November and December on Thursday.

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Brought up as a mere detail in the AP article, but what a striking one. We’re talking many millions of men: “Health problems and the opioid epidemic may also be a major barrier to work, according to research by Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist and former Obama adviser. Nearly half of men ages 25 through 54 who are neither working nor looking for work take pain medication daily, Krueger found.” Go back 100 years and imagine this then.

Half Of Jobless US Men Not In The Labor Force Take Daily Pain Medication (AP)

If President-elect Donald Trump is going to meet his pledge to energize the U.S. economy, there’s a simple yet tough way to do so: Put more men to work. The proportion of men in their prime working years who either have a job or are looking for one has been dropping for decades — and limiting economic growth in the process. The full brunt of the 60-year decline burst into view during the 2016 election. Trump triumphed in part by vowing to restore jobs at steel mills, auto plants and coal mines — the types of work that had once employed legions of men who lacked a college education. Bringing more non-college-educated men into the workforce is a Herculean challenge that has long bedeviled economists. Among the root causes:

• Automation. Factory robots and computer software have eliminated the need for many workers, wiping out an array of jobs that once provided a middle class lifestyle. • Global competition. U.S. workers have been competing for jobs with cheaper foreign workers, a trend that’s led to some offshoring of jobs and curbed pay in some industries. • Criminal records. Stricter criminal laws have left over 20 million Americans with felony convictions and prison records — a fourfold increase from 30 years earlier. That background has made it hard for them to get hired. • Prescription drug use. Nearly half of jobless men who are no longer looking for work are on pain medication, research has found.

Still, Trump appears to endorse a straightforward fix: Bump up economic growth, and workers will land good jobs at decent wages. “Many are dropping out of the labor force because they cannot find good-paying jobs in an economy operating near stall-speed,” the Trump campaign said before the election. To chart the problem and any progress Trump might achieve over the next four years, his team has pointed to an obscure gauge called the “labor force participation rate.” This is the proportion of people who are either working or looking for work. It excludes anyone who’s stopped searching for a job.

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Mody’s been smoking the real good stuff. Bankers leave? Great! Housing market crashes? Even better! Pound plummets? Fantastic!

It’ll all add up to Britain becoming “a beacon amidst the desolate and depressing decay of Western politics and social norms.”

The Real Reasons Brexit Is Succeeding (Ashoka Mody)

Banks are expected to leave for the European continent, taking with them jobs and tax revenues. But if banks do leave, that would be another good outcome for the British economy. Banks have fuelled the finance-property price nexus and have drawn the best talent to flip financial assets. A smaller banking sector will mean a more balanced British economy. And as for those who expect that the economy will suffer when the details of the divorce with the European Union are revealed, their logic does not work. It is the uncertainty of what lies ahead that should depress the economy. Once details become clearer, businesses will adapt. The fact that six months after the decision, the economy is doing so well is a judgement that Brexit could deliver a net economic dividend.

But the greater prize from Brexit lies in a possible political dividend. Western democracy is under the threat of authoritarian populism. Mainstream political parties, having for long failed to heed the calls of those being left behind, are being pushed aside by charlatans. The Brexit vote was a cry of despair by the poorly educated and those employed in dead-end jobs; many such Brexiters have reason to fear that their children will do even worse than them. Through their vote to leave the European Union, the most vulnerable have given another opportunity to the Conservative Party rather than to a Government run by self-promoting and destructive extremists.

Brexit will happen. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Government must heed the true message of the Brexit vote. The task is to regenerate the communities that have turned into wastelands and spread quality education to prepare ever larger numbers of British citizens for the rigours of a 21st century competitive global economy. If the Government succeeds in this greater task, then Britain would not only have done well for itself, it would become a beacon amidst the desolate and depressing decay of Western politics and social norms.

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The crisis in economics should not be confused with that inside the BOE, where Carney turned political to influence the Brexit vote. In vain.

Economics is in Crisis – BOE’s Haldane (G.)

The Bank of England’s chief economist has admitted his profession is in crisis having failed to foresee the 2008 financial crash and having misjudged the impact of the Brexit vote. Andrew Haldane, said it was “a fair cop” referring to a series of forecasting errors before and after the financial crash which had brought the profession’s reputation into question. Blaming the failure of economic models to cope with “irrational behaviour” in the modern era, the economist said the profession needed to adapt to regain the trust of the public and politicians. Haldane described the collapse of Lehman Brothers as the economics profession’s “Michael Fish moment” (a reference to when the BBC weather forecaster predicted in 1987 that the UK would avoid a hurricane that went on to devastate large parts of southern England).

Speaking at the Institute for Government in central London, Haldane said meteorological forecasting had improved markedly following that embarrassing mistake and that the economics profession could follow in its footsteps. The bank has come under intense criticism for predicting a dramatic slowdown in the UK’s fortunes in the event of a vote for Brexit only for the economy to bounce back strongly and remain one of the best performing in the developed world. Haldane is known to be concerned about mounting criticism of experts and the potential for Threadneedle Street’s forecasts to be dismissed by politicians if errors persist. Former Tory ministers, including the former foreign secretary William Hague and the former justice secretary Michael Gove, last year attacked the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, for predicting a dramatic slowdown in growth if the country voted to leave the EU.

Prominent Brexit campaigners have also besieged the central bank. Before the vote, the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson accused the bank of risking undermining economic confidence by issuing warnings about the potential effects of a vote for Brexit. During her conference speech following the vote, on 6 October, the prime minister, Theresa May, criticised the bank’s reaction to the vote after it cut interest rates further and boosted its package of stimulus measures by £60bn to £435bn.Gove said last week that when he said experts needed to be challenged, he meant economists in particular. In a debate with Stephanie Flanders, the former BBC economics editor, he cited an academic study to support his argument that expert economists were not good at making predictions.

Gove said: “Sometimes we’re invited to take experts as though they were prophets, as though their words were carved in tablets of stone and that we had to simply meekly bow down before them and accept their verdict. “I think the right response in a democracy, to assertions made by experts, is to say ‘show us the evidence, show us the facts’. And then, if experts or indeed anyone in the debate can make a strong case, draw on evidence and let us think again – then of course they deserve respect.”

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For the answer, check the article below this one.

Why Has The UK Economy Defied Predictions Of Doom? (G.)

First it was manufacturing. Then it was construction. Now the hat-trick of upbeat economic news has been completed by the strongest performance by the services sector in 17 months. It goes without saying that this is not what the Treasury or the Bank of England expected at the time of the EU referendum last June. At the time, there was talk of the economy plunging straight into recession. This week’s reports from purchasing managers point to growth of 0.5% in the final three months of 2016 compared with 0.6% in the third quarter. Post-referendum forecasts for 2016 were quickly shredded by the Bank of England when it became clear that activity had not collapsed. Likewise, predictions for 2017 may also soon be revised upwards. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the economy had momentum in late 2016 which will persist into the first few months of 2017.

Secondly, the international outlook is looking brighter than it was a few months ago. Donald Trump’s tax-cutting agenda means the US economy is going to grow rapidly this year and that’s good news for UK exporters. Finally, the stance of both fiscal and monetary policy in the UK has become more growth friendly since the referendum. Philip Hammond throttled back on the government’s austerity plans in last November’s autumn statement, reinforcing the impact of Bank of England’s decision three months earlier to cut interest rates and embark on a new round of quantitative easing. When it cut rates to 0.25% in August the Bank signalled that a further cut was likely to be needed. Clearly, that is no longer going to happen. Official borrowing costs will remain where they are for now but there is a good chance of the next move from Threadneedle Street being a rate rise.

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This is why “The UK Economy Defied Predictions Of Doom”.

UK Unsecured Consumer Credit Grows At Annual Rate Of 11% (G.)

Britain went on a bit of a borrowing binge as Christmas approached. Unable to resist all the bargains on offer on Black Friday, shoppers pulled out the plastic. The rise in unsecured consumer debt in November was the biggest for more than a decade. News of the increase in consumer debt is not exactly a surprise. When the Bank of England cut interest rates in August last year, the aim was to making borrowing cheaper and therefore more attractive. The message came through loud and clear: UK households need little encouragement to buy on the never-never. Unsecured credit is growing at an annual rate just shy of 11% Rising consumer debt is not necessarily a problem. When unemployment is low and real incomes are rising, it can make perfectly good sense to borrow for a big-ticket item, especially when, as on Black Friday, it is on offer at a knockdown price and when interest rates are so low.

But anybody who believes consumers can continue to amass credit at 11% a year is living in cloud cuckoo land. The UK has been through these credit cycles many times in the past, and things have never ended well. Annual growth in unsecured borrowing is edging back up towards the 16% peak reached in the early 2000s, as is unsecured debt as a proportion of disposable income. The danger comes when unemployment rises, real incomes are squeezed or interest rates start to go up. At that point, borrowing becomes less a matter of personal choice and more a sign of financial distress. Britain is not at that point – yet. Consumers are not optimistic about the outlook for the economy but they are relatively happy about the state of their own finances. That could change as inflation starts to climb.

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100% guaranteed.

No End In Sight For Europe’s Banking Troubles (CNBC)

There is another pressing issue to solve in Europe’s banking system: Novo Banco – a Portuguese bank that emerged from the collapse of the country’s biggest lender. The Portuguese Central Bank and government have to find a solution for Novo Banco by August – a deadline agreed with European regulators, after previous failed attempts to recover the 4.9 billion euros ($5.2 billion) used to save the bank. Portugal’s Finance Minister Mario Centeno told a newspaper on Wednesday that “all options are on the table”, including a nationalization. Earlier last year, the government had rebuffed calls for the nationalization of the bank. Such a solution could spark further political turmoil at a sensitive time in European Union politics.

“It’s here (in the stability of the Portuguese government) where I find risks,” Diogo Teixeira dos Santos, chief executive officer at Optimize Investment Partners, told CNBC over the phone. Nationalizing the bank would be more of a political problem rather than an economic issue, he explained. Portugal is being governed by a minority-socialist led government, who enjoys parliamentary support from two leftist parties (the Left Bloc and the Communist Party). Though there are no general elections scheduled for 2017, it is clear that there are divergent views between the three parties when it comes to Novo Banco, which could shake the stability of the government.

The Left Bloc has previously mentioned that Novo Banco should be state owned, but the government continues to push for a private solution – just like the Italian government did for Monte dei Paschi, until the political turmoil forced a state intervention. More importantly, the leftist parties want the solution to have zero impact for taxpayers. The government lent nearly 4 billion euros to the rescue of the bank – an amount that it hopes to recover with a sale. Any losses from the sale will have to be paid gradually by the other Portuguese banks. But, even the best private option at the moment has “a potential impact on public accounts,” Lisbon’s central bank said Wednesday. The bank announced that an offer from Lone Star, a U.S. fund, is the best placed in ongoing negotiations.

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Nov 182016
 
 November 18, 2016  Posted by at 10:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Unknown Army of the James, James River, Virginia. 1865

The End of Globalization? (Spiegel)
Global Trade Is Slowing (BBG)
US Recovery Is Heading Towards Its Death: Albert Edwards (CNBC)
US Retail Sales, Ignorance & Return Reality (Roberts)
How “Dynamic Scoring” Could Justify A Debt Driven Keynesian Stimulus (BBG)
How US Federal Revenues Have Been Used To Steer The Economy In The Past (BBG)
Yellen: I’m Not Stepping Down Until My Term Is Done (CNBC)
Europe At Risk Of Collapse; France, Germany Must Lead – French PM (R.)
Renzi Renews Pledge To Resign If He Loses Referendum (Local.it)
Italy Is The Next Country To Fall To Trumpism (David McWilliams)
EU Reinforces 2017 Budget On Migration And Jobs (EUO)
Kremlin Ramps Up Efforts To Crack Down On US Tech Companies (BBG)
Why the World Needs WikiLeaks (Sarah Harrison)
Another 100 Migrants Feared Drowned in Mediterranean (AFP)
The North Pole Is An Insane 36º Warmer Than Normal As Winter Descends (WaPo)

 

 

They all find it terribly hard to acknowledge that globalization is gone because growth is too. Wonder how long it will take them. A long five-part article.

The End of Globalization? (Spiegel)

Who could have imagined in 2006 that such an outlandish billionaire like Donald Trump could become president of the United States? Who would have believed that the British would leave the European Union? Who would have thought it possible that a right-wing populist party in Germany would win over 10% support in several state elections? Nobody. Ten years ago, the world was a vastly different place. In 2006, Germany lived through its “Summer Fairytale” of hosting the football World Cup – still untainted by accusations of corruption – and presented itself as a cosmopolitan host. Russia was still part of the G-8 and welcomed world leaders to the summit in St. Petersburg. Pope Benedict XVI visited Turkey and prayed in the Blue Mosque. In Berlin, the first Islam conference took place, promoting better integration for the religion.

A Romano Prodi-led alliance defeated the populist Silvio Berlusconi in Italian parliamentary elections. And international trade grew by 9% while the Chinese economy spiked by almost 13%. Between then and now lie years of crisis. Banks and entire countries had to be bailed out, debt grew and faith in the economy and politics evaporated. Central banks chopped their interest rates again and again to stimulate the economy – with modest success and significant side-effects: Debt continued climbing around the world while in industrialized countries, savers suffered and middle-class retirement funds in particular took a hit. Now, in 2016, many people in Western, industrialized countries are worried about losing their jobs, their prosperity and that of their children. They see themselves as the losers of a development that has only helped the elite.

[..] It is a fact that globalization and free trade have increased global prosperity, but they have also increased inequality in the world’s wealthiest nations. They have made the biggest companies more powerful, because business operates globally while politics tends to be a local or regional affair, and made the world more vulnerable to crises, because everything is networked and the debts of American homeowners could lead the entire world to the brink of collapse. In short, globalization is responsible for a host of problems that would otherwise not exist. And it is therefore in the process of gambling away the trust of people around the world. Already today, global trade growth has slowed and state interference is on the rise. The world finds itself at a turning point. It must try to eliminate the drawbacks of globalization without destroying its advantages. If, on the other hand, protectionism and populism gain the upper hand, there is a danger that global prosperity could shrink. The age of globalization would be at an end.

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“The days of frenzied trade growth may be over.” No kidding.

Global Trade Is Slowing (BBG)

Until he takes office in January, Donald Trump won’t be able to follow through on his pledges to scrap TPP, renegotiate NAFTA, or penalize Chinese imports. Even without him, protectionism is rising, and world trade is slowing. Responding to an outcry from local steelmakers, the EU this year has punished Chinese competitors for allegedly selling steel below cost. The EU has announced antidumping duties as high as 81.1% on Chinese steel. “Free trade must be fair, and only fair trade can be free,” EC VP Jyrki Katainen said in a statement on Nov. 9, adding that some 30 million European jobs depend on free trade. Around the world, many companies that binged on easy credit after the global financial crisis have excess capacity and are struggling to find buyers, since economic growth in the U.S., Europe, and Japan is relatively weak, and China’s economy is cooling.

“The pie is growing more slowly, and that makes domestic producers more defensive about their share of it and more willing to fight when threatened,” says Tim Condon, chief Asia economist in Singapore with ING. Bloomberg Intelligence chief Asia economist Tom Orlik points out that over the past two decades, consumers and businesses have spent heavily on laptops, tablets, and smartphones, but despite efforts by Apple and others to popularize smart watches, there’s no new must-have device to boost global trade. Stagnant income growth in the West also forces politicians to show they understand voters’ worries. “The pressure grows for governments to appease those voices by giving them the things they want,” says Orlik, “and the things they want are trade restrictions.”

[..] In the five months leading up to mid-October, members of the world’s 20 major economies, the Group of 20, implemented an average of 17 trade constraints a month, the World Trade Organization reported on Nov. 10. “The continued introduction of trade-restrictive measures is a real and persistent concern,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said in a statement. The curbs come while global commerce is sputtering. World trade volume has grown a little more than 3% a year since 2012, the IMF reported last month, less than half the average expansion rate over the prior three decades. Said the IMF, “Between 1985 and 2007, real world trade grew on average twice as fast as global GDP, whereas over the past four years, it has barely kept pace. Such prolonged sluggish growth in trade volumes relative to economic activity has few precedents during the past five decades.”

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As always, I’m uncomfortable with the definition of inflation used here, it obscures the argument.

US Recovery Is Heading Towards Its Death: Albert Edwards (CNBC)

Societe Generale’s resident uber-bear, Albert Edwards, says the very long economic recovery underway in the U.S. is gearing up to suffer a “very traditional death” as consumption will likely crumble under rapidly stepped-up inflation and tighter monetary conditions next year. In Edwards’ own words, “Even if the Fed refuses to tighten, monetary conditions will tighten dramatically anyway as bond yields and the dollar surge, exacerbating the profits recession.” “The surge in headline inflation from zero to 2.5%-3% in Q1 next year is likely to crush consumption,” he continued, adding, “The expected expansion of the fiscal deficit under Trump will not prevent this happening in 2017 as it will come too late – in 2018/19.”

Edwards breaks down the recent spike in nominal bond yields by pointing out it has been driven by spiraling inflation expectations with real yields staying relatively steady. An anomaly in the current situation, he says, is that this has occurred without an accompanying surge in oil prices. However, what has risen more quickly than acknowledged by the U.S. Federal Reserve or the broader market, in his view, is real wage inflation, partially disguised by the weakness of nominal wage inflation given subdued consumer price index (CPI) inflation. But as we move into an era of higher CPI inflation, Edwards warns that it is such real wage inflation that will slip to zero before long. According to Edwards, “We might quibble about how much nominal wage inflation might accelerate in a weak economic and corporate profits environment, but accelerate it will.”

Why this is so important, he notes, is that it is likely to propel the Fed into action. Speaking about the U.S. central bank, he says “to those who retort that the increasingly weak economy in H1 2017 means they should not tighten, I would probably agree. But that doesn’t mean the Fed won’t be forced into it by surging wage inflation.” The knock-on effect for bonds will come through in the form of a continued rise in yields over the next six months with the trend upwards now having become a momentum trade with investors “looking for a narrative to support the direction of travel”.

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“81% of American’s are now worse off than they were in 2005..”

US Retail Sales, Ignorance & Return Reality (Roberts)

There was an awful lot of cheering about the recent retail sales report which showed an uptick of 0.8% which beat the analyst’s estimates of 0.6%. Despite the fact the improvement was driven by a surge in gasoline prices (which is important as consumers did not consume MORE of the product, but just paid more for it) important discretionary areas like restaurants and furniture declined. However, if we dig deeper behind the headlines more troubling trends emerge for the consumer which begins to erode the narrative of the “economy is doing great” and “there is no recession” in sight. [..] Despite ongoing prognostications of a “recession nowhere in sight,” it should be remembered that consumption drives roughly 2/3rds of the economy. Of that, retail sales comprise about 40%. Therefore, the ongoing deterioration in retail sales should not be readily dismissed. More troubling is the rise in consumer credit relative to the decline in retail sales as shown below.

What this suggests is that consumers are struggling just to maintain their current living standard and have resorted to credit to make ends meet. Since the amount of credit extended to any one individual is finite, it should not surprise anyone that such a surge in credit as retail sales decline has been a precursor to previous recessions. Further, the weakness of consumption can be seen in the levels of retailers inventory relative to their actual sales. We can also view this problem with retail sales by looking at the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Survey. The survey asks respondents about last quarter’s actual sales versus next quarter’s expectations.

[..] it really isn’t just the Millennial age group that are struggling to save money but the entirety of the population in the bottom 80% of income earners. According to a recent McKinsey & Company study, 81% of American’s are now worse off than they were in 2005: “Based on market income from wages and capital, the study shows 81% of US citizens are worse off now than a decade ago. In France the figure is 63%, Italy 97%, and Sweden 20%.”

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If you don’t like the models, well, we have other ones.

How “Dynamic Scoring” Could Justify A Debt Driven Keynesian Stimulus (BBG)

Republicans have long argued that economic growth from tax cuts should be fed back into the model, year by year. They call this approach “dynamic scoring” or “macroeconomic analysis.” For the first time, macroeconomic analysis will likely prevail in next year’s official scores for major revenue bills from the JCT. Some Democrats, who’ve been suspicious of an approach that makes tax cuts look cheaper, are slowly warming to the same idea for appropriations bills. It could make infrastructure spending look cheaper, too. Into this fussing over details strides Donald Trump. During the campaign, he proposed a tax cut that would cost, according to his own preferred estimate, $4.4 trillion. And to pay for it, his campaign proposed a new kind of analysis, an economic model radically more complex than what either academics or policymakers have tried in the past.

All aspects of Trump’s plan, including trade and regulatory rollbacks, would be part of the analysis. Together, the campaign argued, they would create enough growth, and therefore enough tax revenue, to offset all but about $200 billion of those tax cuts. The real challenge of budgeting is to offer something, but at a discount. In 2017 dynamic scoring will let the Republican majority offer tax cuts without having to offset them entirely with spending cuts. It may even offer infrastructure spending—without having to renege on the promise of tax cuts. If the models are right, they’re right. If they’re wrong, the tax cuts will be a debt-driven Keynesian stimulus. Dynamic scoring arrived on the Republican wave of 1994. In January 1995, as one of its first acts, the new GOP majority in Congress invited Alan Greenspan, among others, to a rare joint hearing of the budget committees.

The representatives wanted to talk about macroeconomic models of budget changes. Greenspan, then the chairman of the Federal Reserve and thus in charge of the world’s best-known macroeconomic modeler, was skeptical. Then as now, the CBO every year produces a 10-year projection of economic growth. This is the “baseline,” the fixed point from which everything else is calculated. Under “static analysis,” modelers in Washington make assumptions about human behavior. But as they project out into the future, they can’t change the CBO’s baseline gross domestic product. Under “dynamic analysis,” they can. Next year’s projected growth changes the baseline for the year after, and so on. If static analysis is arithmetic, dynamic analysis is calculus.

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The comparisons only hold up to a point, as Trump will find out. There’s nowhere to grow to anymore. But focusing on domestic production and consumption can still solidify the economy somewhat.

How US Federal Revenues Have Been Used To Steer The Economy In The Past (BBG)

Donald Trump plans massive fiscal stimulus to combat lackluster growth just as the budget deficit begins rising again, making this a good time to look at how federal revenues have been used to steer the economy in the past. After the six recessions prior to the 2007-2009 downturn, lawmakers let the deficit’s share of GDP rise for an average of 15 months to make sure the economy was back on track. Following the last downturn, the most severe since World War II, Barack Obama’s stimulus gave way to Republican-backed spending cuts to shrink the deficit within just eight months – and the weakest recovery in decades.

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She won’t be able to stop the first rate hike, and after that things will be very different anyway.

Yellen: I’m Not Stepping Down Until My Term Is Done (CNBC)

Forget all that talk about Janet Yellen stepping down if Donald Trump becomes president: The Fed chair told Congress on Thursday she’s not leaving. Trump has been critical of the central bank leader and has suggested that he would replace her at some point. He once told CNBC that Yellen should be “ashamed” of her actions, saying her policies were political positions to help President Barack Obama. Amid expectations that the president-elect would step up political pressure on the Fed after he takes office in January, there was chatter that Yellen might just step aside. “No I cannot,” she said when asked by Rep. Carolyn Maloney if there were circumstances under which she might leave before her term expires. “I was confirmed by the Senate to a four-year term, which ends at the end of January of 2018, and it is fully my intention to serve out that term.” If Trump removes her from the chair, she could still stay on as a governor until her 14-year term expires in 2024.

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Yeah, lead the collapse!

Europe At Risk Of Collapse; France, Germany Must Lead – French PM (R.)

The EU is in danger of breaking apart unless France and Germany, in particular, work harder to stimulate growth and employment and heed citizens’ concerns, French PM Manuel Valls said in the German capital on Thursday. Valls said the two countries, for decades the axis around which the EU revolved, had to help refocus the bloc to tackle an immigration crisis, a lack of solidarity between member states, Britain’s looming exit, and terrorism. “Europe is in danger of falling apart,” Valls said at an event organized by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. “So Germany and France have a huge responsibility.” He said France must continue to open up its economy, not least by cutting corporate taxation, while Germany and the EU as a whole must increase investment that would stimulate growth and job creation, as well as boosting defense.

As Britain seeks to negotiate its post-Brexit relationship with the EU, hoping to restrict immigration from the EU while maintaining as much access as possible to the EU single market, Valls said it must be prevented from cherry-picking. “If they are able to have all the advantages of Europe without the inconveniences, then we are opening a window for others to leave the EU,” Valls said. Immigration was one of the main drivers of Britons’ vote to leave the EU, and Valls said the bloc, which more than a million migrants entered last year, had to regain control of its borders. He said the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election victory showed how important it was to listen to angry citizens, and that politicians scared of making decisions were opening the door to populists and demagogues.

In France, opinion polls suggest that the far-right, anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front leader Marine Le Pen will win the first round of the presidential election next April, before losing the runoff.

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He has no choice.

Renzi Renews Pledge To Resign If He Loses Referendum (Local.it)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Wednesday that he would have no interest in a government role if he loses Italy’s upcoming constitutional referendum. In an interview on Italian radio, the premier said: “I’m here to change things. If that doesn’t happen, there is no role for me to play.” If the ‘No’ vote wins on December 4th and Renzi’s proposed changes to the constitution are rejected, it is likely that a temporary or technical government will be formed to change the electoral law before general elections can be held. The PM said he would not be willing to seek a deal with other parties to form a coalition if this happens, adding that he didn’t want to take part in “old-style political games”. Renzi vowed to “fight like a lion” to win the vote and said he believed the “silent majority” of voters would back him in the referendum.

He is currently touring the south of the country, where the ‘No’ camp’s lead is strongest. However, he also emphasized that he didn’t envisage a ‘No’ victory causing immediate problems in the country. “The 5th of December won’t be Armageddon,” said Renzi. “If ‘No’ wins, everything will stay as it is. Italians shouldn’t be fooled by politicians who are fighting to keep the privileges they have always had.” The reforms would see the number of senators and their legislative power drastically reduced, which Renzi claims will cut down on bureaucracy, making government more stable and efficient. But his opponents argue that there are inconsistencies in his proposed changes, and that they would put too much power in the hands of the prime minister.

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I like McWilliams, but Trumpism is a nonsensical term, and Italy’s resistance against the EU and globalization was way earlier than Trump became an issue. Correlation and causation.

Italy Is The Next Country To Fall To Trumpism (David McWilliams)

The Bangladeshi selfie-stick hawkers are doing a brisk trade outside the Colosseum. Local chain-smoking lads dressed as gladiators prey on vulnerable tourists, while portly priests on their annual visit to Catholicism’s corporate HQ take time out from soul-searching. Even the heavily armed soldiers, there to protect against a potential Italian Bataclan, are smiling in the Mediterranean sunshine. And as it is midday in Italy, everyone is checking out everyone else. All looks quite normal, chilled out and as it should be. But it is not. Italy is a country going through what could be described as a nervous breakdown. After a decade of almost no economic growth, in two weeks Italians will vote in a referendum which will determine what direction this huge country of nearly 60 million people will take. The result will profoundly affect the EU.

Although the referendum is technically about the way Italy is governed, the country is split down the middle in a plebiscite that has come to symbolise something much bigger. Once again, like the Brexit vote and the Trump election, this referendum is about insiders against outsiders. It is about those who are the victims of inequality and globalisation and those who uphold the status quo. On one side, you have the Italian political elite — the insiders embodied by Matteo Renzi, the youthful prime minister. He represents the people and institutions that have ruled Italy for decades. On the other side, you have an unusual anti-EU coalition, the Left and the Right — the ‘Outsiders’ — who are united by a common belief that, after 10 years of economic stagnation, there must be another way.

We have the same picture we saw in the UK in June and in the US last week, where an elite is desperately trying to connect with the people and large swathes of the population are saying they have had enough. In terms of the big picture, the Italian election can be seen as yet another domino in a year of falling dominos. First we had Brexit, then Trump, and the next big one for Europe after Italy is the potential rise of Le Pen in France. Italy is the triplet in a quartet that will culminate in France, and, in my opinion, if the Italian elite loses on December 4th, Marine Le Pen will win in France.

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The amounts are mind-boggling. Money in, waste out.

EU Reinforces 2017 Budget On Migration And Jobs (EUO)

EU member states and European Parliament have reached an agreement on a budget for next year that focuses on tackling the migration crisis and creating jobs. After 20 hours of discussions, a deal was reached early on Thursday (17 November) to set the total commitments for 2017 at €157.88 billion and payments at €134.49 billion. “The 2017 EU budget will thus help buffer against shocks, providing a boost to our economy and helping to deal with issues like the refugee crisis,” budget commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said. The budget commits €5.91 billion to tackling the migration crisis and reinforcing security, an 11.3% increase on 2016’s figure, according to a statement from the EU Council, which represents member states.

The money will help EU countries resettle refugees, create reception centres, and return those who have no right to stay. Extra spending will also go to help enhance border protection, crime prevention, counter terrorism activities and protect critical infrastructure. A total of €21.3 billion was put aside to boost economic growth and create new jobs, which is an increase of around 12% compared with this year, the council said. The Erasmus+ scheme, a cross-border student programme, will see an increase of its budget of 19%. The 2017 budget also includes €500 million for youth unemployment, and a €42.6 billion support for farmers.

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The Russians are highly aware of what Facebook and Alphabet are doing: “Not replacing foreign IT would be equivalent to dismissing the army.”

Kremlin Ramps Up Efforts To Crack Down On US Tech Companies (BBG)

In a Nov. 14 phone call with President-elect Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin held out the prospect of better relations between their two countries. But U.S. tech companies shouldn’t expect warmer ties to ease a Kremlin effort to freeze out their products. Seeking to cut dependence on companies such as Google, Microsoft, and LinkedIn, Putin in recent years has urged the creation of domestic versions of everything from operating systems and e-mail to microchips and payment processing. Putin’s government says Russia needs protection from U.S. sanctions, bugs, and any backdoors built into hardware or software. “It’s a matter of national security,” says Andrey Chernogorov, executive secretary of the State Duma’s commission on strategic information systems. “Not replacing foreign IT would be equivalent to dismissing the army.”

Since last year, Russia has required foreign internet companies to store Russian clients’ data on servers in the country. In January the Kremlin ordered government agencies to use programs for office applications, database management, and cloud storage from an approved list of Russian suppliers or explain why they can’t—a blow to Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle. Google last year was ordered to allow Android phone makers to offer a Russian search engine. And a state-backed group called the Institute of Internet Development is holding a public contest for a messenger service to compete with text and voice apps like WhatsApp and Viber. Russia’s Security Council has criticized the use of those services by state employees over concerns that U.S. spies could monitor the encrypted communications while Russian agencies can’t. Trump’s election hasn’t changed those policies, according to Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “This doesn’t depend on external factors,” he says. “It’s a consistent strategy.”

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Do try and wrap your head around the irony of this being published by the NYT, on of the main media companies whose disfunctionality makes Wikileaks so necessary.

Why the World Needs WikiLeaks (Sarah Harrison)

My organization, WikiLeaks, took a lot of heat during the run-up to the recent presidential election. We have been accused of abetting the candidacy of Donald J. Trump by publishing cryptographically authenticated information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign and its influence over the Democratic National Committee, the implication being that a news organization should have withheld accurate, newsworthy information from the public. The Obama Justice Department continues to pursue its six-year criminal investigation of WikiLeaks, the largest known of its kind, into the publishing of classified documents and articles about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and Mrs. Clinton’s first year as secretary of state. According to the trial testimony of one F.B.I. agent, the investigation includes several of WikiLeaks founders, owners and managers.

And last month our editor, Julian Assange, who has asylum at Ecuador’s London embassy, had his internet connection severed. I can understand the frustration, however misplaced, from Clinton supporters. But the WikiLeaks staff is committed to the mandate set by Mr. Assange, and we are not going to go away, no matter how much he is abused. That’s something that Democrats, along with everyone who believes in the accountability of governments, should be happy about. Despite the mounting legal and political pressure coming from Washington, we continue to publish valuable material, and submissions keep pouring in. There is a desperate need for our work: The world is connected by largely unaccountable networks of power that span industries and countries, political parties, corporations and institutions; WikiLeaks shines a light on these by revealing not just individual incidents, but information about entire structures of power.

While a single document might give a picture of a particular event, the best way to shed light on a whole system is to fully uncover the mechanisms around it – the hierarchy, ideology, habits and economic forces that sustain it. It is the trends and details visible in the large archives we are committed to publishing that reveal the details that tell us about the nature of these structures. It is the constellations, not stars alone, that allow us to read the night sky. [..] WikiLeaks will continue publishing, enforcing transparency where secrecy is the norm. While threats against our editor are mounting, Mr. Assange is not alone, and his ideas continue to inspire us and people around the world.

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Just another day.

Another 100 Migrants Feared Drowned in Mediterranean (AFP)

The toll of missing and dead rose Thursday in a grim week of Mediterranean crossings as African survivors described being robbed of life jackets and boat engines and abandoned to a watery grave. A group of 27 survivors, all men, were plucked to safety on Wednesday, but roughly 100 other passengers who set off with them from Libya were missing and feared drowned, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said. Along with two other shipwrecks this week, the latest incident pushed the toll to 18 confirmed dead and 340 missing, in what was already the most lethal year ever recorded for migrant deaths at sea. The survivors rescued Wednesday by a British Navy ship, described being stripped of their sole means of survival by the men they had paid for safe passage.

They had set off before dawn on Monday from a beach close to Tripoli. After several hours the traffickers, travelling aboard a separate boat, ordered them at gunpoint to hand over life jackets they had paid for, as well as the boat engine, and left them without a satellite phone to call for help. “At that point I thought we were going to die”, said Abdoullae Diallo, 18, according to MSF. “Without a motor, we couldn’t go far. A trafficker told us we would be rescued but I felt like we were going to die.” The overcrowded dinghy began rapidly taking on water and deflated. Tossed for two days and nights on rough seas, some passengers fell overboard, while others succumbed to exhaustion. By the time the British Royal Navy’s HMS Enterprise – engaged in the anti-trafficking Sofia operation – found them, just 27 people were left alive, clinging to what was left of the dinghy.

[..] The first group of survivors were brought to Catania, in Sicily, while the second group were expected to arrive on Italy’s mainland in the port of Reggio Calabria Some were children. “One young boy has been weeping, asking for his mother,” Mathilde Auvillain, a spokeswoman for SOS Mediterranee told AFP. “Another has written a list of names of the people travelling with him and re-reads it over and over. He wants to know if his friends are on the boat or in the sea,” she said.

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Watching in bewilderment.

The North Pole Is An Insane 36º Warmer Than Normal As Winter Descends (WaPo)

Political people in the United States are watching the chaos in Washington in the moment. But some people in the science community are watching the chaos somewhere else — the Arctic. It’s polar night there now — the sun isn’t rising in much of the Arctic. That’s when the Arctic is supposed to get super-cold, when the sea ice that covers the vast Arctic Ocean is supposed to grow and thicken. But in the fall of 2016 — which has been a zany year for the region, with multiple records set for low levels of monthly sea ice — something is totally off. The Arctic is super-hot, even as a vast area of cold polar air has been displaced over Siberia. At the same time, one of the key indicators of the state of the Arctic — the extent of sea ice covering the polar ocean — is at a record low. The ice is freezing up again, as it always does this time of year after reaching its September low, but it isn’t doing so as rapidly as usual.

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Nov 102016
 
 November 10, 2016  Posted by at 10:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Byron In Chinatown, Pell Street, New York 1900

To Make America Great Again, Write Off The Private Debt (Steve Keen)
Asian Markets Soar, Nikkei Rockets Close To 7% (CNBC)
Dow Closes Up 250 Points; Financials Surge After Trump Election Upset (CNBC)
The Jig Is Up: America’s Voters Just Fired Their Ruling Elites (Stockman)
Thousands Protest Trump Win Around US (BBG)
White House Won’t Rule Out Pardon to Protect Clinton From Trump (BBG)
Trump Would Have Lost US Election If Bernie Had Been The Candidate (Ind.)
WikiLeaks Mocks Dems After Election Loss (Hill)
Trump Could Bring Russia In From The Cold (Dejevsky)
Donald Trump’s Financial Advisory Team Stocked With Wall Streeters (WSJ)
Mexico Will Not Pay For Trump Wall, But Seeks Cooperation (R.)
Meanwhile, As The World Watched The Election.. (Black)
Vancouver Wields $10,000-a-Day Fine in Crackdown on Empty Homes (BBG)
India’s Shock Bank Note Ban Sparks Cash Chaos (R.)
Hand Grenade Thrown Outside French Embassy In Athens (AP)

 

 

Too many pieces and opinions on Trump to keep count of. Let’s start with Steve Keen’s, the most practical one. It would be great and highly useful if Trump and/or his people read it.

To Make America Great Again, Write Off The Private Debt (Steve Keen)

Dear President Trump, The key source of America’s economic weakness today is something you have experience with: private debt. All leaders before you have obsessed about government debt while ignoring private debt, which is far higher (150% of GDP versus 100%) and far more dangerous. You can do something about this, and unlike your purely political predecessors, your experience tells you that it can be done—the only question is how to do it. The private debt mound sitting on top of American households and businesses is the reason demand is depressed right now. With that debt mountain weighing them down, firms are reluctant to borrow and invest, while households are reluctant to use credit to consume. Credit demand is now back to the average of the 1950s to 1970s—the “Golden Age” of America, when your supporters today and their parents had well-paying manufacturing jobs.

But it will easily turn negative again like it did during the Great Recession, given how enormous the debt burden still is today, since your immediate predecessor put more effort into rescuing Wall Street than he did into rescuing Main Street. The Washington insider economists who are now going to attempt to get your ear will tell you that this private debt doesn’t matter, and that nothing can be done about it anyway. They’re wrong on both counts. On whether it matters, they’ll say that one person’s debt is another person’s asset, so the total level of debt doesn’t matter. What they ignore is that banks create money and demand when they lend, and both money and demand fall when debt is repaid. They ignore the evidence shown in Figure 2, which I’ve been shoving in front of their faces for over a decade now (from early 2006, well before the Great Recession began).

On whether it can be done, they’ll tell you that this is “helicopter money”, and that it’s a dreadful idea. But the reality is that they’re doing it already. It’s just that the Fed’s helicopter, which they call “Quantitative Easing”, has been dropping that money on Wall Street rather than Main Street. When the Fed buys bonds off a pension fund under QE, it creates the money that it buys that pension’s funds bonds with. The pension fund then does what pension funds do with money: they buy shares and other bonds. This drives up share markets, which benefits Wall Street and the 1% directly. Brokers get paid lots of commission, most of which they stuff in their offshore bank accounts. They spend a fraction of this on Main Street, buying the odd hamburger.

But there would be far more money in Main Street’s hands if you put it there directly. There are many ways to do this, and it’s important to do it in a way that doesn’t favour people who borrowed over people who didn’t. But the easiest way to illustrate it is to imagine that you tell the Federal Reserve to buy mortgages directly from the public. For the Federal Reserve, there’s little practical difference what it’s doing right now, only 100% of the money it creates turns up in Main Street bank accounts rather than those of Pension Funds and Wall Street brokers. With less debt, there’ll be more spending by Main Street, and, as a result, more employment. The only sufferers will be bankers and Wall Street, who will have far less income-earning assets than they have now, and may even have to work for a living.

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So much for those predictions too.

Asian Markets Soar, Nikkei Rockets Close To 7% (CNBC)

Asia markets soared on Thursday with the Nikkei jumping close to 7%, as traders reassessed the economic impact of Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election. The Nikkei 225 ended up 6.72%, or 1,092.88 points, at 17,344.42, as the yen weakened against the dollar, trading at 105.42 as of 2:50 pm HK/SIN. The dollar/yen had plunged to 101 levels on Wednesday. “U.S. yields surged higher on the back of expected increased fiscal spending by Trump. This has helped the dollar rally sharply against other currencies but especially the low yielding yen and the euro,” Anthony Darvall, chief market strategist at easyMarkets, said in a note on Thursday.

“A weaker yen has helped propel Japanese stocks up…completely erasing yesterday’s losses.” The Australian benchmark index closed up 3.34%, or 172.27 points, at 5,328.8. The ASX’s strength was underpinned by its energy subindex, up 3.29%, and the materials subindex, up 5.75%. The gold subindex shed 4.82%. New Zealand’s NZX 50 ended up 1.04%, or 69.51 points, at 6,733.72. Before markets opened, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand cut rates by 25 basis points to a record low of 1.75%. The RBNZ statement warned that “numerous uncertainties remain, particularly in respect of the international outlook, and policy may need to adjust accordingly.”

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The predicted crash took exactly 49 minutes.

Dow Closes Up 250 Points; Financials Surge After Trump Election Upset (CNBC)

U.S. stocks surged more than 1% Wednesday with financials and health care leading after Republican Donald Trump won the presidential election, defying market expectations for a Hillary Clinton win. The day’s rally took the major averages within 2% of their all-time intraday highs, and marked a stunning recovery from a sharp plunge in stock index futures overnight. Trade volume Wednesday was roughly 12 billion shares, the highest since the surprise U.K. vote to leave the European Union in June. “Overnight was all about uncertainty. Today we know” the result,” said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade. He said part of the day’s rally was fueled by short covering, and that volatility will likely continue as traders eye Trump’s potential Cabinet picks.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up more than 250 points at 18,589, with Goldman Sachs and Caterpillar contributing the most to gains. With about half an hour to the close, the Dow briefly added more than 300 points and was tracking to close at a record high. The index came within about 25 points of its all-time intraday high of 18,668.44 touched in August and closed within half a% of that level. Financials leaped 4% in their best day since 2011 to lead S&P 500 advancers, followed by health care. Banks and diversified financials such as Morgan Stanley led financial sector gains, while biotech stocks led health care gains. “Within financial services, there is a guarded view that there may be less regulation [under Trump] than under a Clinton presidency,” said John Stadtler, head of U.S. financial services at PwC.

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Strong from David. “..the giant stock market bubble will now crash. [..] We will be in an official recession within 6 months.”

The Jig Is Up: America’s Voters Just Fired Their Ruling Elites (Stockman)

America’s voters fired their ruling elites last night. After 30 years of arrogant misrule and wantonly planting the seeds of economic and financial ruin throughout Flyover America, the Wall Street/Washington establishment and its mainstream media tools have been repudiated like never before in modern history. During the course of the past year, upwards of 70 million citizens – 59 million for Trump and 13 million for Bernie Sanders – have voted for dramatic change. That is, for an end to pointless and failed wars and interventions abroad and a bubble-based economic policy at home. The latter showered Wall Street and the bicoastal elites with vast financial windfalls – even as it left 90% of Flyover America behind, where households struggled with stagnant wages, vanishing jobs, soaring health costs, shrinking living standards and diminishing hope for the future.

The voters also said in no uncertain terms that they are fed-up with a “rigged” system that has one set of rules for establishment insiders and another for everyone else. In essence, that’s what servergate, the Clinton Foundation pay-to-play scandals and the trove of Wikileaks DNC/Podesta hacks was all about. Indeed, in his brawling style, the Donald in effect convinced a huge slice of the electorate that the Clintons amounted to America’s leading crime family. And while he may have exaggerated the extent of their personal crimes and misdemeanors, the latter functioned as a proxy for the beltway racketeering that has become the modus operandi of the Imperial City. Stated differently, the people did connect the dots. There is a straight line from repeal of Glass-Steagall by the Rubin-Clinton democrats in the late 1990s through the resounding repudiations of the Clintons last night.

This string includes the M&A roll-up of the giant Wall Street banks after 1998; the subprime mortgage scams, housing booms and subsequent crash during the next decade; the panicked multi-trillion bailouts of the Wall Street gambling houses in the fall of 2008 and the lunatic spree of central bank money pumping that followed; the soaring stock market fueled by the Fed’s free money that arose therefrom; and the egregious global fund-raising and shakedowns of the Clinton Foundation and personal wealth accumulations by the Clinton’s personally, capped by Hillary’s notorious $250,000 off-the-record speeches to Goldman Sachs.

What happened was that during the eight Obama years, Washington essentially borrowed $10 trillion, or nearly as much as the first 43 presidents did over 220 years, while the Fed expanded its balance sheet by 5X more than had happened during its first 94 years of existence. [..] For months and years to come, the Imperial City will be ungovernable and the nation will be racked with fiscal, financial, political and even constitutional crisis. By kicking the can in a ruinous direction for decades, America implicitly opted eventually for the bleeding cure. To wit, the giant stock market bubble will now crash. The stock-price obsessed C-suites of corporate America will now panic and begin pitching inventory and workers overboard. We will be in an official recession within 6 months. The Federal budget will plunge back into trillion dollar annual deficits very soon.

Accordingly, Washington will descend into permanent warfare over the debt ceiling and an exploding $20 trillion+ public debt. Any notion of a Trump economic revival program – even if it could now be confected – will be stillborn in the financial and fiscal chaos ahead. And most important of all, the almighty Fed will be stranded high and dry – out of dry powder and under political attack like never before from angry politicians and citizens alike. The jig is up.

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Earlier today I read what looks to be an apt observation: ‘Every white person in New York who didn’t vote for Trump is now out in the streets protesting against him’. Chaotic scenes in LA and other places too. But the people who protest now are miles off target and months too late: they should have stood up for Bernie when the Hillary camp and the DNC conspired to oust him. Indeed, Bernie himself should have stood up back then, not for himself but for his supporters; they would have stood up with him. Whether they all like it or not, being asleep and/or silent when big things happen that count, does carry a price. If you drop the ball, you can’t just pick it back up again and pretend it didn’t fall. Shouting ‘not my president’ in the wake of an election is a sign of weakness, no matter how well-intentioned. The protests should have taken place before the election, not after.

Thousands Protest Trump Win Around US (BBG)

The raw divisions exposed by the presidential race were on full display across America on Wednesday, as protesters flooded city streets to condemn Donald Trump’s election in demonstrations that police said were mostly peaceful. From New England to heartland cities like Kansas City and along the West Coast, many thousands of demonstrators carried flags and anti-Trump signs, disrupting traffic and declaring that they refused to accept Trump’s triumph. In Chicago, where thousands had recently poured into the streets to celebrate the Chicago Cubs’ first World Series victory in over a century, several thousand people marched through the Loop. They gathered outside Trump Tower, chanting “Not my president!”

Chicago resident Michael Burke said he believes the president-elect will “divide the country and stir up hatred.” He added there was a constitutional duty not to accept that outcome. A similar protest in Manhattan drew about 1,000 people. Outside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in midtown, police installed barricades to keep the demonstrators at bay. Hundreds of protesters gathered near Philadelphia’s City Hall despite chilly, wet weather. Participants — who included both supporters of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who lost to Clinton in the primary — expressed anger at both Republicans and Democrats over the election’s outcome.

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Shouldn’t this be left up to Congress?

White House Won’t Rule Out Pardon to Protect Clinton From Trump (BBG)

The White House on Wednesday wouldn’t rule out issuing a pardon to protect Hillary Clinton from prosecution by the incoming administration over her use of a private e-mail server. President-elect Donald Trump threatened during his campaign to assign a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton. He blamed a “rigged system” for protecting her from prosecution after FBI director James Comey announced in July and again on Nov. 6, two days before the election, that his agency wouldn’t seek charges against the Democrat. “You’d be in jail,” Trump memorably warned Clinton during their final debate. Asked whether President Barack Obama might issue Clinton a pardon before he leaves office in January, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration doesn’t discuss such cases in advance.

Earnest indicated Obama was hopeful a pardon wouldn’t be necessary, noting that Trump was gracious toward Clinton in his victory speech early Wednesday morning. “We’ve got a long tradition in this country of people in power not using the criminal justice system to exact political revenge,” Earnest said. “We go to great lengths to insulate our criminal justice system from partisan politics.” Crowds at Trump’s rallies frequently chanted “lock her up” when the Republican mentioned Clinton’s name. Trump would occasionally join them. On Wednesday, as he claimed victory in the presidential race, Trump complimented Clinton for her campaign and her public service. “Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country,” he said.

Comey said in July that Clinton and her aides were “extremely careless” in handling classified information, but that criminal prosecution wasn’t warranted. The Justice Department agreed. But proactively offering a pardon isn’t unprecedented. In 1974, Gerald Ford gave former president Richard Nixon a full and unconditional pardon for any crimes he might have committed while in the Oval Office. That move, derided by critics, underscored the political risks of such a move. Ford lost re-election to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Obama and Clinton are in a less perilous situation; Obama cannot run for president again, and Clinton’s political career is also likely over.

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Nothing new. And everyone knew it, too. Including Hillary and the DNC.

Trump Would Have Lost US Election If Bernie Had Been The Candidate (Ind.)

“Right now in every major poll, national poll and statewide poll done in the last month, six weeks, we are defeating Trump often by big numbers, and always at a larger margin than Secretary Clinton is.” So spoke Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s Democratic rival in the primary, when he appeared on the May 29 2016 edition of NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’. It was not the first time the socialist former Mayor of Burlington had made the claim. And it was something that his supporters believed passionately. Time after time, supporters of the white-haired, frequently cantankerous Democratic socialist, said the media was helping prepare a coronation for Ms Clinton in a way that was neither fair or democratic.

At a rally in the Bronx, New York, in April, Paul Nagel, 58, a gay rights and housing activist, told The Independent that Mr Sanders would go into the Oval Office on the back of a popular movement and that he could continue to listen to the people. “What we’re seeing now feels 1969,” he said. At rallies for the 74-year-old across the country, there was a sense of euphoria and excitement that simply did not exist at those for Ms Clinton. Ms Clinton’s supporters said they had made a calculation to vote for her as they believed she would be the best candidate to lead the country, but there was no sense of the passion witnessed at her rivals’ events, or those of Barack Obama eight years earlier.

But it was not just anecdotal evidence. A series of polls suggested that Mr Sanders – with his calls for free college tuition, the removal of student debt, a national health service and the removal of big money from politics – would stand a better chance against Mr Trump than Ms Clinton. A poll by NBC News-Wall Street Journal on May 15 said Ms Clitnon would beat Mr Trump by three points, but said Mr Sanders would win by 15 points. A CBS News-New York Times on May 3 gave Ms Clinton a six-point advantage over Mr Trump, but said Mr Sanders would win by 13 points. At the same time, Fox News said Ms Clinton would lose to Mr Trump by three points, but said Mr Sanders would win by four.

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‘Mocks’ is a ridiculous term to use here.

WikiLeaks Mocks Dems After Election Loss (Hill)

WikiLeaks capped off Tuesday’s surprising presidential election with a tweet appearing to mock Democrats for picking Hillary Clinton as their nominee. “By biasing its internal electoral market the DNC selected the less competitive candidate defeating the purpose of running a primary,” the official account tweeted near midnight. Throughout the campaign, WikiLeaks published hacked DNC emails that it said showed the party was biased toward Clinton over her primary rival, Bernie Sanders. Some emails showed DNC staffers discussing how to expedite Sanders’s exit from the primary race after it was clear Clinton would win. Others appeared to show then-CNN analyst Donna Brazile leaking questions to the Clinton campaign in advance of town hall debates between the two Democrats.

Donald Trump’s campaign also seized on the hacked emails to argue that Clinton and Democrats had treated Sanders unfairly, as he made a play for the Vermont senator’s supporters. On Tuesday, WikiLeaks head Julian Assange posted a winding statement on his site expressing his dislike of both candidates, saying that the site had an obligation to leak the Clinton-related emails even though it did not have a similar set of Trump documents. “Publishing is what we do. To withhold the publication of such information until after the election would have been to favour one of the candidates above the public’s right to know,” Assange wrote.

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Whaddaya know: A voice of reason in the otherwise full-tard anti-Trump Guardian.

Trump Could Bring Russia In From The Cold (Dejevsky)

As the tally turned towards a victory for Donald Trump in the middle of the European night, comments began to appear on social media to the effect that Russian intelligence had won its biggest victory in the country’s history. More than this, that the Kremlin had actually captured the United States. The prominent, if spectral, role played by Russia was one of the stranger aspects of this already strange US election. And these comments were alarmist, if logical, extensions of the claims made by the Clinton camp during the campaign that Trump was somehow in cahoots with President Vladimir Putin and that the Russian state was interfering in the election on his behalf. There was precious little evidence for such claims, and Putin himself ridiculed them at his annual Valdai meeting with international Russian specialists two weeks ago.

Was the US a banana republic, he asked, that its elections could be so easily manipulated? Of course not. But they were useful to the Democrats’ campaign in showing off Hillary Clinton as a tough foreign policy president-in-waiting and demonising Trump by association. They were not useful enough, though, given the result. Either the voting public dismissed them, or perhaps they agreed with Trump that improved relations with Russia might be a good thing. In any case, they turned out not to be the black mark the Clinton campaign expected. There is no mystery about why the accusations took hold. It was in part because Trump had said early on that he thought he could do business with Putin, earning him the reputation of being soft on big bad Russia. Then the Democrats at their convention chose to divert blame for the hacking of their computer system on to Russian intelligence.

This was never conclusively proved and all the supposedly corroborating statements from US officials contained get-out clauses. People with intelligence connections suggested that everyone tried to hack everyone’s computers, especially at election time, without any intention of actually interfering. The truth of any Russian involvement will probably never be known. But certain myths that gained currency need to be dispelled. One was that Trump was receiving privileged information from Russia. In fact, anything he said was already openly available before he said it. Another was that Trump had complicated and suspect business dealings with Russia. No evidence was ever produced – despite what must have been exhaustive efforts by the Clinton campaign[..]. There also seems to have been some confusion between Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union, which hardly reflects well on the accusers.

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Let’s see first. But Donald had better be careful with that. All nominations will face heavy scrutiny.

Donald Trump’s Financial Advisory Team Stocked With Wall Streeters (WSJ)

Donald Trump’s successful insurgent bid for the White House promised to upend a global power structure that benefited large corporations. Now, several Wall Street financiers and other successful business leaders could be in line to run top posts in his presidential administration. People close to Mr. Trump have said he is considering Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker who became his national campaign finance chairman in May, as his pick for Treasury secretary. If tapped for the job, Mr. Mnuchin would become the third Goldman alumnus in the last 20 years to head the Treasury, following Robert Rubin and Hank Paulson, who both served as the bank’s chief executive.

After a 17-year career at Goldman, where Mr. Mnuchin led the mortgage-trading department and was the bank’s chief information officer, he turned to investing. He briefly worked for a hedge fund tied to George Soros, the big Democratic donor. In his closing campaign ad, Mr. Trump featured both Goldman and Mr. Soros as “the establishment…who control the levers of power in Washington.” Advisers to Mr. Trump have said promptly filling senior appointments would help calm jittery markets, which saw volatility soar after it became apparent that Mr. Trump, a political outsider who broke with the political philosophy that has defined both parties, would win the election.

“Just as he comforted a lot of people when he picked Mike Pence as his running mate, they’ll be much more comfortable when they see what the team will be,” predicted Wilbur Ross, the private-equity investor who has advised Mr. Trump on economic policy. Business leaders have been “incorrectly worried about what might happen under Trump,” Mr. Ross said.

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Cooperation it is.

Mexico Will Not Pay For Trump Wall, But Seeks Cooperation (R.)

Mexico said on Wednesday it would work with Donald Trump for the benefit of both nations after his surprise U.S. election win, but reiterated it would not pay for his planned border wall, which stirred up deep resentment during a fraught presidential campaign. As Trump strode toward victory, the peso plunged 13% in its biggest fall since the Tequila Crisis devaluation 22 years ago, before paring losses to trade down 8.7% at 19.91 per dollar. Still, officials held back from taking action to support the peso despite it hitting lifetime lows overnight. Trump’s threats to dump the NAFTA agreement with Mexico and Canada, and to tax money sent home by migrants to pay for the controversial wall on the southern border, have made the peso particularly vulnerable to events in the U.S. presidential race.

“Very hard times are coming to Mexico,” said analyst Gabriela Siller of Mexican bank BASE. Still, President Enrique Pena Nieto said he called to congratulate Trump, and had agreed to meet the New Yorker during the transition phase to discuss joint cooperation, which he hopes would strengthen the competitiveness of North America. Welcoming Trump’s victory speech pledge to seek “common ground” and partnership with other countries, Pena Nieto said in a televised statement that Mexico shared the same vision. [..] Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu reiterated that Mexico would not pay for Trump’s proposed wall. The vow to make Mexico pay for the barrier was a key feature of his stump speeches.

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“..the word “never” apparently means 49 minutes to a Nobel laureate, because that’s how long it took for the S&P 500 to turn positive for the day..”

Meanwhile, As The World Watched The Election.. (Black)

[..] when I woke up this morning here in Thailand and flipped on the TV, the first thing I saw was Wolf Blitzer having an orgasm every time Hillary won an electoral vote. It’s almost comical to suggest there was any semblance of objectivity throughout the entire cycle. Hillary Clinton had the full and unabashed backing of the entire media establishment. And the banking establishment. And the political establishment. And countless billionaires, Hollywood celebrities, rock stars, international press, foreign leaders, and even the President of the United States. Yet all of those big guns proved to be ineffective against a citizenry that’s fed up with the status quo.

At least the losing side has accepted its defeat with quiet dignity. University students across the country have come out of their safe spaces to protest by the thousand, chanting “F*ck Donald Trump” and “Not my President”. The students’ sudden fury may be what caused the Canadian government’s immigration website to temporarily go down (though I’m sure this will somehow be blamed on the Russians). Liberal papers like the Huffington Post are running headlines like “An American Tragedy”, while NYT bloggers are calling Trump voters “racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and homophobic.” Celebrities had some real gems like “Well, congratulations America you f–ked this one up,” and “I feel like I’m about to give birth to a baby that’s already dead.”

Comedian Chelsea Handler posted one of the most bizarre Tweets of the night, saying “My condolences to the President and First Lady. We will keep aiming high. We may not have you honored you this time, but we will honor you.” So apparently this exercise of American democracy has dishonored the President. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman commented that tumultuous financial markets would “never” recover. Wow. Never. But the word “never” apparently means 49 minutes to a Nobel laureate, because that’s how long it took for the S&P 500 to turn positive for the day once the market opened. Investors ostensibly realized that, despite the Trump victory, Disney will keep making superhero movies, Coke will keep distributing poisonous flavored water, and Mark Zuckerberg will keep selling your personal data to advertisers.

[..] I thought the late-night quickie from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta summed it up perfectly. While Hillary stayed in her $20,000/night suite at the Peninsula Hotel, Podesta was sent to tell the crowd of Clinton supporters that “She is not done yet!” Nonsense. It was a big fat lie. Minutes later she called Donald Trump to concede the election. Anyone trying to understand why she lost might take note of this deceit– even at the bitter end. She lied to her own supporters.

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All bubble cities should pay attention. Vancouver appears to be making this work.

Vancouver Wields $10,000-a-Day Fine in Crackdown on Empty Homes (BBG)

Want to keep your million-dollar luxury pad in Vancouver empty? Get ready to pay C$10,000 ($7,450) annually in extra taxes. Lie about it? That’ll be C$10,000 a day in fines. Canada’s most-expensive property market, suffering from a near-zero supply of rental homes, announced the details of a new tax aimed at prodding absentee landlords into making their properties available for lease. The empty-home tax will take effect by Jan. 1 and will be calculated at 1% of the property’s assessed value, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson told reporters at City Hall. “Vancouver is in a rental-housing crisis,” Robertson said. “The city won’t sit on the sidelines while over 20,000 empty and under-occupied properties hold back homes from renters.”

The measure is among efforts to make housing more accessible and affordable in Vancouver, ranked the world’s third-most-livable city, and has drawn attention for its sky-high prices fomented by global money flows. Public scrutiny has focused on absentee landlords, particularly from overseas, who are accused of sitting on investment properties where windows remain dark throughout the year. In August, the provincial government imposed a 15% tax on foreign buyers, and last month the federal government tightened mortgage insurance eligibility requirements. The city of Vancouver has focused its efforts on the rental market, where vacancies can get scooped up within hours while bidding wars drive up leasing costs.

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The only possible outcome.

India’s Shock Bank Note Ban Sparks Cash Chaos (R.)

Indians struggled to pay for basic goods like food and fuel on Wednesday and fretted about their savings, after the government withdrew 500 and 1,000 rupee notes from circulation in a bid to flush out money hidden from the tax man. The shock measure also sent shudders through the investment community on a day when the markets were also reeling at the election of Republican candidate Donald Trump as the next U.S. president. India’s National Stock Exchange share index slumped as much as 6.3% in early trade before recovering most losses to close the day off 1.3%.

The currency move, announced late on Tuesday night by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aims to bring billions of dollars worth of unaccounted wealth into the mainstream economy and curb corruption. The biggest disruption in decades to cash transactions, which power much of the rural economy, comes months before a series of state elections including in India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state. Critics have warned that ordinary people who do not have access to the banking system will be hardest hit, and that Modi risks upsetting his ruling party’s support base of small traders and businessmen who largely deal in cash.

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Obama visits Athens Nov 15.

Hand Grenade Thrown Outside French Embassy In Athens (AP)

A hand grenade attack outside the French Embassy in central Athens lightly wounded a policeman early Thursday, police said, days before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit the Greek capital. Authorities said the policeman, who had been on guard outside the embassy, was wounded when unknown assailants threw a hand grenade outside the embassy building, located opposite Parliament on a major avenue. Police shut down the area to vehicles and pedestrians, while anti-terrorism forensics experts combed the scene for evidence.

Police said the attack was apparently carried out by two people on a motorbike, and a bike matching the description was later found in a central Athens neighborhood popular with anarchists and was being examined to determine whether it was the one that had been used in the attack. Authorities said it appeared the policeman had only been lightly wounded because he had been inside an armored guard post outside the embassy entrance. The attack came days before Obama is to arrive in Athens next week for an expected overnight visit. Left-wing organizations have announced they will hold protests during the visit.

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Oct 242016
 
 October 24, 2016  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 24 2016
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Dorothea Lange Arkansas flood refugee family near Memphis, Texas 1937

Japan Exports Fall 6.9% YoY, Imports Plunge 16.3% (BBG)
China: Soon The Most Visible Victim of Deglobalization (AJ)
China Continues To Buy Up The World (BBG)
German Momentum Grows for Curbs on Chinese Overseas Investment (BBG)
Chinese Money Flowing to Hong Kong Stocks Has Suddenly Dried Up (BBG)
Europe’s Incredibly Safe Banks (BBG)
Unaffordable Australian Housing ‘in Government Sights’ (BBG)
What Is “Impossible” And What Is Inevitable (CH Smith)
Watergate’s Bob Woodward: “Clinton Foundation Is Corrupt, It’s A Scandal” (ZH)
It’s Time To Drain The Swamp: Five-Point Plan For Ethics Reform (Trump)
Trump is America: The Poetic Justice Of The World (Dabashi)
Saudi, Allies ‘Deliberately Targeting Yemen’s Food Industry’, Bomb Cows (Fisk)
NATO Continues To Prepare For War With Russia (Korzun)
Juncker To Face No Confidence Vote In EU Parliament (Exp.)
Wikileaks Status Update on Julian Assange and the US Election (ZH)

 

 

WHAT? “Today’s report confirmed that exports are on the rebound,” said Masaki Kuwahara, senior economist at Nomura.”

Japan Exports Fall 6.9% YoY, Imports Plunge 16.3% (BBG)

Japanese exports fell for a 12th consecutive month in September, rounding out a rough year for manufacturers struggling with a stronger yen and soft global demand. Yet the numbers were better than expected, and export volumes rose last month by the most in nearly two years, prompting some upbeat assessments by economists. “Today’s report confirmed that exports are on the rebound,” said Masaki Kuwahara, senior economist at Nomura. “Manufacturing activities are picking up globally, especially in Asian nations. That bodes well for Japanese exports.” Overseas shipments dropped 6.9% in September from a year earlier, the Ministry of Finance said on Monday. Imports fell 16.3% during the same period, resulting in a trade surplus of 498.3 billion yen ($4.8 billion).

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has gotten little help from exports recently as he tries to revive Japan’s economy. Net shipments abroad shaved 0.3 percentage point off GDP growth in the second quarter. The yen has gained 16% since the start of the year, and soft global demand has made matters worse. This environment has made companies more reluctant to invest in domestic production, compounding the difficulty of creating economic growth. [..] Exports to the U.S. fell 8.7% from a year earlier. Those to the EU rose 0.7%. Exports to China, Japan’s largest trading partner, dropped 10.6%.

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“..trade and investment peaked in 2007-2008. Since then international trade has declined by roughly half a%. Foreign direct investment, or FDI, has fallen by half. That is not half a percent. That is half.”

China: Soon The Most Visible Victim of Deglobalization (AJ)

Global exports as a percentage of global GDP hit an all-time high of 30.8% in 2008. They fell precipitously during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 and have since stabilised at just under 30%. These figures cap off a remarkable quarter-century of global export growth that began back in 1973. In that period global GDP roughly doubled, but global export volumes grew by a factor of 5.6 (based on inflation-adjusted data from the World Bank). China played a leading role in that story, but it was the rise in international trade that pulled the Chinese economy along, not the other way around. China rode the coat-tails of a quarter-century of globalisation.

Most people think of globalisation as a process that began in the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the foundation of the World Trade Organization in 1995. But the roots of today’s global economy really go back to 1973, when the United States went off the gold standard and most countries moved from fixed to floating exchange rates. Floating exchange rates meant that the era of managed trade was over. The global economy moved into a new phase driven by market forces. The oil exporting countries of the Gulf were the first to benefit as the market price for oil quadrupled between 1973 and 1974. China came to the party just a few years later.

Since then the global economy has become more and more open. After the currency liberalisation of 1973 came a huge increase in international trade and then, in the 1990s, in foreign investment. Both trade and investment peaked in 2007-2008. Since then international trade has declined by roughly half a%. Foreign direct investment, or FDI, has fallen by half. That is not half a percent. That is half. Annual global FDI is down roughly 50% from its 2007 peak of just over $3 trillion. It’s still much larger than it was in the 1990s or earlier decades, but global FDI has stabilised at roughly the levels of the early 2000s. Unlike global FDI, foreign investment into China hasn’t fallen in absolute terms. But it too has stabilised and is no longer rising.

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The flipside of deglobalization. Monopoly money.

China Continues To Buy Up The World (BBG)

When a Chinese home-appliance company announced a plan in May to become the largest shareholder in one of Germany’s most advanced robot manufacturers, the backlash was immediate. German politicians and European officials denounced Midea’s offer for Frankfurt-listed Kuka, whose robotic arms assemble Airbus jets and Audi sedans. In a rare public appeal for alternative acquirers, Germany’s economy minister argued that Kuka’s automation technology needed to stay out of Chinese hands. And yet in two months, Midea pulled it off. Thanks to a combination of political courtship, guarantees on jobs and security, and support from influential customers like Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, Midea overcame knee-jerk opposition to the deal. By July the appliance maker had secured an 86% stake, valuing Kuka at €4.6 billion.

The experience showed how some Chinese firms are learning to soothe misgivings about the country’s record $207 billion overseas buying spree. While Sinophobia isn’t yet a thing of the past and practices among Chinese buyers vary widely, merger-and-acquisition professionals say a new generation of savvy dealmakers is starting to emerge from the world’s second-largest economy. “Many Chinese companies have become much more adept at navigating international deals in the last few years, and at soothing the concerns stakeholders might have,” said Nicola Mayo, a partner at London law firm Linklaters LLP who specializes in China-Europe transactions. “In many of the larger Chinese companies, you’re dealing with managers who were educated abroad or have worked in international firms. They understand the concerns about China and know they need to move carefully.”


What China’s been buying

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And here’s the backlash..

German Momentum Grows for Curbs on Chinese Overseas Investment (BBG)

Germany is seeking tighter control over foreign investment in European companies, in a sign of a growing protectionist reaction to China’s appetite for overseas acquisitions. Spurred by the purchase of German robot maker Kuka by China’s Midea, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deputy, Sigmar Gabriel, is calling for EU measures to give national governments expanded powers to block or impose conditions on shareholdings of non-EU companies. He’s found an ally in EU Digital Economy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, a German who’s a member of Merkel’s party. “It’s absolutely right to initiate this debate at the European level,” Oettinger said in an interview last week. “Everybody has to play by the same rules. Clearly, there are many countries, including big ones such as China, that make market access or corporate takeovers difficult or effectively impossible.”

While Merkel hasn’t publicly backed her vice chancellor’s push, Gabriel’s proposal reflects growing resistance within her government to unfettered Chinese investment in Europe’s biggest economy. In the latest potential Chinese bid, lighting maker Sanan Optoelectronics said it had held talks with Osram Licht on a possible acquisition of the almost century-old German company. The initiative by Gabriel, who also is Germany’s economy minister, calls for allowing EU member states to step in if a non-EU investor seeks to acquire more than 25% of the voting rights in a company [..] Chinese companies have announced or completed acquisitions of German companies worth a record $12.3 billion this year, almost eight times the level of 2015. That includes the purchase of Kuka by Midea, China’s biggest appliance maker, after Gabriel led a failed effort to find an alternative bid by a European suitor.

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“Investors in Shanghai spent more than $8 billion on Hong Kong shares in September [..] Net buying this month through last week was just 7% of that amount..”

Chinese Money Flowing to Hong Kong Stocks Has Suddenly Dried Up (BBG)

Hong Kong’s stock market is suffering from a post-holiday hangover. The flood of Chinese money into the city before the mainland’s National Day celebrations in early October has slowed to a trickle since traders returned from the week-long break. Investors in Shanghai spent more than $8 billion on Hong Kong shares in September, the biggest monthly inflow via the exchange link since it began in 2014. Net buying this month through last week was just 7% of that amount, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The narrowing valuation discount on the city’s dual-listed shares and concern about the Federal Reserve’s impending rate increase may have spurred mainland investors to turn off the taps, according to Hong Kong analysts, who also say they’re perplexed at the speed of the shift.

The change is a headwind for equities after the influx of Chinese money helped drive the Hang Seng Index up 12% last quarter for its best such gain in seven years. “It’s a bit of a mystery as to why this is happening,” said Mohammed Apabhai, head of Asia trading strategy at Citigroup. “Nobody has put forward a convincing explanation about exactly why the southbound flow has dried up and whether it’s a temporary phenomenon. That has removed one of the supports from the Hong Kong equity market.” China International Capital cut its rating on Hong Kong-listed mainland banks last week, citing the dwindling inflows. Trades from Shanghai made up as much as 17% of the total turnover in Hong Kong at one point last month, the highest on record. That ratio dropped to less than 7% on Oct. 20.

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I have an ominous feeling about this.

Europe’s Incredibly Safe Banks (BBG)

Given the parlous state of Europe’s economy, it’s hard to imagine that the investments of the region’s banks are among the safest in the world. Yet that is precisely what they would have regulators and investors believe. The banks’ safety has come into the spotlight as European officials – including German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and European Commission financial-services chief Valdis Dombrovskis – battle with global regulators over requirements for capital, the layer of loss-absorbing financing that prevents bad investments from turning into system-wide disasters. The dispute involves risk-weighting, a process in which the largest and most sophisticated banks assess the riskiness of their assets to figure out how much capital they need.

A loan to a struggling company might require a lot, safe government bonds none at all. Less capital means more leverage, which in good times boosts measures of profitability such as return on equity. Hence, banks have an incentive to make their assets look as safe as possible. Europe’s banks have excelled in this minimizing endeavor. On average for eight of the euro area’s most systemically important institutions, risk-weighted assets amounted to just 31% of total unweighted assets at the end of June – as if about seven out of every 10 euros in investments were risk-free. For Germany’s Deutsche Bank, among the world’s most thinly capitalized, the ratio was just 22%. That compares with averages of 35% and 45% for the largest U.K. and U.S. banks, respectively. Here’s how that looks:

To be sure, lower risk weights could mean that Europe’s banks actually do have safer assets. There’s plenty of evidence, though, to suggest this isn’t the case. The IMF estimates that banks in the euro area are sitting on more than $1 trillion in bad loans. Also, markets place a much lower value on each euro of European banks’ book assets than they do on each dollar of U.S. banks’.

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This from a government that relies on soaring housing prices to make its economy appear viable. Australia’s problem is not the extravagant tax perks, or ultra low rates, or Chinese monopoly money pouring in. No, all that’s fine, and all that needs to be done is build build build.

Unaffordable Australian Housing ‘in Government Sights’ (BBG)

Australian states need to remove or simplify residential land planning regulations that have made homes “increasingly unaffordable” in the nation’s biggest cities, Treasurer Scott Morrison said. Insufficient land releases and complex development regulations must be addressed, Morrison said in the text of a speech being given in Sydney Monday. He’ll use a December meeting with his state counterparts to urge a freeing up of housing supply, an issue which will be a key focus of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government, he said. “Of all the determinants of house prices in Australia, whether cyclical or structural, the most important factor behind rising prices has been the long running impediments to the supply side of the market,” Morrison said.

While a three-year surge in Australian home prices paused at the end of last year after banks raised mortgage rates, the market has taken off again as a growing population tries to squeeze into too few properties. Dwelling values in Sydney, which have almost doubled since the end of 2008, are up 14% this year through September, compared with a 9% gain across the nation’s other major cities, according to CoreLogic. The recent rise defies an assessment by real-estate listing firm Domain last year that the boom was over, and is posing a potential headache for new central bank Governor Philip Lowe, who said this month that that fewer properties were changing hands and “some markets have strengthened recently.” Housing in Australia’s three biggest cities – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – “is expensive and increasingly unaffordable,” Morrison said.

Other factors contributing to supply-side constraints are the cost and availability of infrastructure, transaction taxes and negative public attitudes toward urban development, he said. Still, Morrison is again ruling out his government stripping back some of the tax perks for landlords and property investors, known as negative gearing, which the Labor opposition blames for inflating house prices. “The key to addressing housing affordability is not to crash the housing market,” Morrison said. “Rather the objective is to have policies that mitigate the artificial inflation of asset prices, ensure that supply is not restricted from responding to genuine demand and that enable home-buyers, through their own efforts, to make more rapid progress to being able to enter the market.’’

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“..the S-curve of “growth” can continue expanding even as the foundation weakens. As the foundations of real growth weaken – productivity, collateral, social mobility, etc. – the system becomes increasingly fragile and brittle.”

What Is “Impossible” And What Is Inevitable (CH Smith)

We are about to start a painful learning process about what is “impossible” and what is inevitable. Two charts illustrate Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform: this chart of the S-Curve of financialization, leverage, debt, central planning, regulatory capture and globalization – that is, the engines of modern “growth” – depicts the inevitable stagnation and decline of these dynamics as overcapacity, debt saturation and diminishing returns take hold. This chart illustrates the status quo’s insistence on doing more of what has failed spectacularly: since all this worked in the boost phase, the central planning Cargo Cult’s “leadership” is convinced it will all work magically again, if only we do more of it. Alas, this is magical thinking. One might as well paint radio dials on rocks and expect the rock to magically turn into a functioning radio.

The chart of the Seneca Cliff illustrates how the S-curve of “growth” can continue expanding even as the foundation weakens. As the foundations of real growth weaken – productivity, collateral, social mobility, etc. – the system become increasingly fragile and brittle. But this fragility is masked by the appearance of stability until a crisis cracks it wide open. Normalcy crumbles into instability, and people and systems accustomed to stable supply chains and political stability struggle to maintain their grip on income streams and resources as abundance slips into scarcity and dependence on central planning becomes a liability of learned helplessness.

The S-curve:

The Seneca Cliff:

There are two sets of solutions as stability and financialized “growth” slide into instability and DeGrowth. 1. Acquire skills that will be increasingly scarce and a network of collaborators, customers and suppliers who value/make use of these skills. 2. Create a new mode of production that doesn’t rely on central banks, states and global finance to function: in effect, a decentralized, localized networked system that exists in parallel with the centralized hierarchies of the current mode of production which is centralized, industrialized, globalized, financialized, neofeudal, neoliberal, neocolonial, and dependent on ever-expanding leverage, debt, central planning, regulatory capture and fossil fuel consumption.

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Here’s the theme I wrote about in yesterday’s “Ungovernability”: “I think the issue is, what’s going to be the aftermath of this campaign. Can somebody govern…?”

Watergate’s Bob Woodward: “Clinton Foundation Is Corrupt, It’s A Scandal” (ZH)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: Then there are the allegations about the Clinton Foundation and pay to play, which I asked Secretary Clinton about in the debate, and she turned into an attack on the Trump Foundation. But, Bob, I want to go back to the conversation I was having with Robby Mook before. When – when you see what seems to be clear evidence that Clinton Foundation donors were being treated differently than non-donors in terms of access, when you see this new – new revelations about the $12 million deal between Hillary Clinton, the foundation, and the king of Morocco, are voters right to be troubled by this?

BOB WOODWARD, THE WASHINGTON POST: I – yes, it’s a – it’s corrupt. It’s – it’s a scandal. And she didn’t answer your question at all. And she turned to embrace the good work that the Clinton Foundation has done. And she has a case there. But the mixing of speech fees, the Clinton Foundation, and actions by the State Department, which she ran, are all intertwined and it’s corrupt. You know, I mean, you can’t just say it’s unsavory. But there’s no formal investigation going on now, and there are outs that they have. But the election isn’t going to be decided on that. I mean Karl was making the point about this, I’m not going to observe the result of the election. I mean that’s – that’s absurd. I mean it has no consequence. If Trump loses, they’re not going to let him in the White House. He’s not going to have a transition team. And – and to focus on that, I think, is wrong. I think the issue is, what’s going to be the aftermath of this campaign. Can somebody govern…?

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Call him as crazy as you wish, but he does make a lot of sense here.

It’s Time To Drain The Swamp: Five-Point Plan For Ethics Reform (Trump)

I’m proposing a package of ethics reforms to make our government honest once again.

First: I am going to re-institute a 5-year ban on all executive branch officials lobbying the government for 5 years after they leave government service. I am going to ask Congress to pass this ban into law so that it cannot be lifted by executive order.

Second: I am going to ask Congress to institute its own 5-year ban on lobbying by former members of Congress and their staffs.

Third: I am going to expand the definition of lobbyist so we close all the loopholes that former government officials use by labeling themselves consultants and advisors when we all know they are lobbyists.

Fourth: I am going to issue a lifetime ban against senior executive branch officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.

Fifth: I am going to ask Congress to pass a campaign finance reform that prevents registered foreign lobbyists from raising money in American elections.

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Prof. Dabashi revels in comparing Trump to Hitler, a weird thing to do for any intellectual, and absolute nonsense. But he’s right in many other aspects.

Trump is America: The Poetic Justice Of The World (Dabashi)

Hours before the scheduled third and final debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in Las Vegas, The New York Times published an article in which it argued that the Republican presidential nominee in effect has no foreign policy beyond using and abusing global issues to elicit gut fears and hostile fantasies of his domestic followers, that foreign policy has in effect become a matter of domestic fear-mongering. The piece could not have been more timely and poignant – but not in the sense that The New York Times intended it further to discredit the liberal bete noire of this election. In a sense far more serious and accurate. For the World at large, Trump is America and America is Trump. What has now become domestic politics to the US has been its foreign policy for a much longer history.

There are decent Americans who insist Trump is “the worst of America”. But for the world at large and at the receiving end of American military might, Trump is the very quintessence of America because Trump is what America does to the world, and now it has come dangerously close to do unto itself what it has habitually done unto others. Liberal America is now scared that Trump will do to America what America has done to the world. It was just “foreign policy” when America set up lunatic puppet dictators just like Trump to torture, maim, and murder their own people around the globe to protect its “national security interest”. It was just something “Daddy” did at work. When he came home he was all good, kind, and cuddly – just like Obama.

Now the Daddy is about to become a nasty, vicious, domestic abuser – like Trump. Trump is the poetic justice of the world. So long as America was only doing to the world at large what America now fears Trump may do to America, there was no outcry. There was consensus. The world deserved what America did to the world. Now liberal America is up in arms to disown, to exorcise, to dispel this demonic spirit from itself and put it back in a bottle and hand it over to Hillary Clinton so she can continue the habitual exercise of doing it to the world and be a nice, lovely-looking grandma at home, as Ronald Reagan was its grandpa before her.

Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

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“..the Saudis have included in their bombing targets cows..”

Saudi, Allies ‘Deliberately Targeting Yemen’s Food Industry’, Bomb Cows (Fisk)

The Yemen war uniquely combines tragedy, hypocrisy and farce. First come the casualties: around 10,000, almost 4,000 of them civilians. Then come those anonymous British and American advisers who seem quite content to go on “helping” the Saudi onslaughts on funerals, markets and other obviously (to the Brits, I suppose) military targets. Then come the Saudi costs: more than $250m (£200m) a month, according to Standard Chartered Bank – and this for a country that cannot pay its debts to construction companies. But now comes the dark comedy bit: the Saudis have included in their bombing targets cows, farms and sorghum – which can be used for bread or animal fodder – as well as numerous agricultural facilities.

In fact, there is substantial evidence emerging that the Saudis and their “coalition” allies – and, I suppose, those horrid British “advisers” – are deliberately targeting Yemen’s tiny agricultural sector in a campaign which, if successful, would lead a post-war Yemeni nation not just into starvation but total reliance on food imports for survival. Much of this would no doubt come from the Gulf states which are currently bombing the poor country to bits. The fact that Yemen has long been part of Saudi Arabia’s proxy war against Shiites and especially Iran – which has been accused, without evidence, of furnishing weapons to the Shia Houthi in Yemen – is now meekly accepted as part of the Middle East’s current sectarian “narrative” (like the “good” rebels in eastern Aleppo and the “very bad” rebels in Mosul). So, alas, have the outrageous bombings of civilians. But agricultural targets are something altogether different.

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A NATO Schengen zone means foreign soldiers can move into any country the command wishes. If that’s not a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is. Imagine deplying Turkish troops in Greece, or Polish in Britain, French in Germany.

NATO Continues To Prepare For War With Russia (Korzun)

NATO uses any pretext to accuse Russia of harboring aggressive intentions. It has raised ballyhoo over the recent deployment of Iskander short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missiles to the Kaliningrad region. Time and time again, the alliance reaffirms its bogus Russia narrative. “We see more assertive and stronger Russia that is willing to use force,” concluded NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg speaking at the round table in Passau, Bavaria on October 10. At the same time, NATO is pushing ahead with its military “Schengen zone” in Europe. “We are working to ensure that each individual soldier will not require a decision at the political level to cross the border,” said Estonian Defense Minister Hannes Hanso.

The idea is to do away with travel restrictions on the movement of NATO forces troops and equipment across Europe. There will be no need to ask for permissions to move forces across national borders. It will undermine the sovereignty of member states but facilitate the cross-continent operations instead. The Baltic States and Poland are especially active in promoting the plan. The restrictions in place hinder rapid movement of the 5,000 strong “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force”. Besides being the first response tool, it could be used for preventing Article 4 situations, such as subterfuge, civil unrest or border infractions, from escalating into armed conflict. The troops can move freely in time of war, but introducing a NATO Schengen zone is needed for concentrating forces in forward areas in preparation for an attack across the Russian border.

The formation of the much larger 40 thousand strong NATO Response Force (NRF) is on the way. Meanwhile, the US and Norwegian militaries are discussing the possibility of deploying US troops in Norway – a country which has a 200 km long common border with Russia. The deployment of US servicemen would be part of a rotating arrangement in the country that would fulfil a “long-standing US wish.” Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen reported on October 10 that 300 combat US Marines could soon be in place at the Værnes military base near Trondheim, about 1,000 kilometres from the Russian-Norwegian frontier. The air station also serves as part of Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway, a program that allows the Corps to store thousands of vehicles and other major pieces of equipment in temperature-controlled caves ready for combat contingency.

Several defence sources told the newspaper that the plans to put US troops at the military base have been underway for some time. According to Military.com, the information that the plans are underway was also confirmed by American Maj. Gen. Niel E. Nelson, the commander of Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa. 300 Marines can be easily reinforced. The only purpose for the deployment is preparation for an attack against Russia. After all, the Marines Corps is the first strike force. And it’s not Russian Marines being deployed near US national borders, but US Marines deployed in the proximity of Russian borders. The provocative move is taking place at the time the Russia-NATO relationship is at the lowest ebb.

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Not sure how serious to take this, but it’s plenty entertaining. Just look at the woman who’s after Juncker. She’s would scare me too. Already does.

Juncker To Face No Confidence Vote In EU Parliament (Exp.)

Lifelong anti-corruption campaigner Eva Joly has launched a bid to boot out the controversial EU president in yet another blow to his crumbling authority. The French magistrate and politician, who was born in Norway, blasted the eurocrat’s past as president of Luxembourg and vowed to lead an MEPs’ rebellion to “make him fall”. Ms Joly has accused Brussels’ top unelected official of favouring certain multinational corporations for “sweetheart” tax deals when he was head of the tiny European state. Mr Juncker has denied being corrupt, claiming that any decisions related to the tax arrangements of large companies during his time in office were “strictly a matter for the tax administration”. But the damaging row has seriously dented his already battered reputation and has added to the growing calls from across the continent for him to quit.

And Ms Joly, from the Green party, said the escalating scandal could finally finish off the “considerably weakened” Teflon bureaucrat. She said: “Everyone knows that this system was built while he was prime minister. It is a scandal that he leads the Commission. We, the Greens, we do not want it. “At the first opportunity, I will bring a motion [before the the European Parliament] to make him fall.” Such a vote would severely test MEPs’ loyalty towards the Brussels chief at a time when he has become the face and symbol of all Europe’s ills. Mr Juncker is seen as the centrepiece of a federalist European dream which has driven Britain to the exit door and angered many eastern European states, who are already calling for him to quit. He has also apparently lost the support of German leader Angela Merkel over Brussels’ farcical handling of the migrant crisis, making his position at the heart of the Brussels machine ever more tenuous.

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“Concerned speculation about the Ecuadorian embassy exile had risen to such an degree, that overnight Wikileaks announced it would provide a state update on Assange’s current status.”

Wikileaks Status Update on Julian Assange and the US Election (ZH)

On Tuesday, the government of Ecuador issued a statement saying that it had decided to not permit Mr. Assange to use the government of Ecuador’s internet connection during the US election citing its policy of “non interference.” Ecuador’s statement also clarified that it does not seek to interfere with WikiLeaks journalistic work and that it would continue to protect Mr. Assange’s asylum rights. Mr. Assange has asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where the United Nations has ruled he has been unlawfully deprived of liberty by the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Sweden for the last six years. He has not been charged. It is the government of Ecuador’s prerogative to decide how to best guard against the misinterpretation of its policies by media groups or states whilst ensuring that it protects Mr. Assange’s human rights.

WikiLeaks is a global, high volume publisher that publishes on average one million documents and associated analyses a year. WikiLeaks publishes its journalistic work from large data centers based in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, among others. Most WikiLeaks staff and lawyers reside in the EU or the US and have not been disrupted. WikiLeaks has never published from jurisdiction of Ecuador and has no plans to do so. Similarly Mr. Assange does not transmit US election related documents from the embassy. WikiLeaks is entirely funded by its readers, book and film sales. Its publications are the result of its significant investigative and technological capacities. WikiLeaks has a perfect, decade long record for publishing only true documents. It has many thousands of sources but does not engage in collaborations with states. Mr. Assange has not endorsed any candidate although he was happy to speak at the Green’s convention due to Dr. Jill Stein’s position [on] whistleblowers, peace and war.

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Jul 252016
 
 July 25, 2016  Posted by at 8:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Theodor Horydczak Sheaffer fountain pen factory, Fort Madison, Iowa 1935

Japan’s Exports Decline for 9th Straight Month, Imports Plunge 18.8% (BBG)
Beware, Oil Bulls: Demand Is About To Fall Off A Cliff (BBG)
Peak Oil ‘Demand’ & The Duelling Narratives Of Energy Inventories (ZH)
What Happens When The Bond Bubble Finally Pops (IceCap)
With Kuroda Under Pressure To Increase Stimulus Again, Dissenters Appear (ZH)
Italy Insists There’s ‘No Banking Problem’ As Stress Tests Loom Large (CNBC)
Brexit Will Cost UK Up To $340 Billion In Lost M&A: Study (CNBC)
“Putin’s Useful Idiot”: Anyone Who Disagrees With The Establishment (ZH)
Leaked DNC Emails Reveal Inner Workings Of Party’s Finance Operation (WaPo)
Facebook Admits To Blocking Wikileaks Links In DNC Email Hack (NYP)
How Can You Join the DNC Class Action Lawsuit? (Heavy)
China Slaps Ban on Internet News Reporting as Crackdown Tightens (BBG)
Turkey Issues Arrest Warrants For 42 Journalists After Coup (AFP)
Refugee Camp Company In Australia ‘Liable For Crimes Against Humanity’ (G.)

 

 

Japan shows the exact same trend as China, huge drops in exports AND imports: world trade is collapsing. Still, Reuters’ comment today: “exports fall less than expected, offer some hope of recovery”

Japan’s Exports Decline for 9th Straight Month, Imports Plunge 18.8% (BBG)

Japan’s exports dropped again in June, with shipments down for a ninth consecutive month, underscoring the continuing challenge of reviving the nation’s economy. Overseas shipments declined 7.4% in June from a year earlier, the Ministry of Finance said on Monday. Imports slid 18.8%, leaving a trade surplus of 692.8 billion yen ($6.5 billion). Japan had a trade surplus of 1.81 trillion yen in the January-June period, the first surplus since the second half-year of 2010.

The weak exports data show that the nation’s economic recovery remains tepid and come before the Bank of Japan meets later this week to consider whether to further expand monetary stimulus. Japan’s growth is at risk as a slowdown in overseas demand and the yen’s surge this year make the nation’s products less attractive overseas and hurt the earnings of exporters. [..] Exports to the U.S. fell 6.5% in June from a year earlier, while shipments to the EU declined 0.4% and sales to China, Japan’s largest trading partner, dropped 10%.

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And this is mostly just the US.

Beware, Oil Bulls: Demand Is About To Fall Off A Cliff (BBG)

Beware, oil bulls: Just as U.S. oil production sinks low enough to drain supplies, demand is about to fall off a cliff. American gasoline consumption typically ebbs in August and September as vacationers return home, and refiners use that dip to shut for seasonal maintenance. Over the past five years, refiners’ thirst for oil has dropped an average of 1.2 million barrels a day from July to October. “People are looking ahead to the fall and are worried,” said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research. “There’s more and more talk of prices going south of $40 and as a result people are going short.” Money managers added the most bets in a year on falling WTI crude prices during the week ended July 19, according to Commodity Futures Trading Commission data.

That pulled their net-long position to the lowest since March. WTI dropped 4.6% to $44.65 a barrel in the report week and traded at $44.14 at 11:53 a.m. Singapore time on Monday. With weekly Energy Information Administration data showing U.S. gasoline stockpiles at the highest seasonal level since at least 1990, refiners may shut sooner and for longer ahead of the Labor Day holiday in early September, the end of the driving season. “With gasoline supplies the highest since April, refiners may pull some projects forward,” said Tim Evans at Citi Futures Perspective. “This will take more support away the market and add to the broader problem of excess supply.”

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“..oil bulls counting on further declines are fighting history..”

Peak Oil ‘Demand’ & The Duelling Narratives Of Energy Inventories (ZH)

Crude oil inventories in the U.S. have fallen 23.9 million barrels since the end of April, but, as Bloomberg notes, oil bulls counting on further declines are fighting history. Over the past five years refiners’ crude demand has fallen an average of 1.2 million barrels a day from the peak in July to the low in October. “The rough part will be once refineries start going into maintenance,” said Rob Haworth, a senior investment strategist in Seattle at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “We aren’t drawing down inventories very fast and the pressure on prices will increase.”

But, as Alhambra Investment Partner’s jeffrey Snider notes, the significance of crude and gasoline inventory (and price) changes is the difference in narratives and what is supporting them. While there is a direct relationship between the steepness of contango in the oil futures curve and the amount of crude siphoned from the market to storage, it is not an immediate one. When crude prices originally collapsed starting in late 2014, twisting the WTI curve from backwardation to so far permanent contango (of varying degrees), it wasn’t until January 2015 that domestic inventories began their surge. And while oil prices rose through spring, flattening out again the futures curve and drastically reducing that contango, the spike in oil stocks didn’t actually end until almost the end of last April.

Given the “dollar’s” explicit seasonality, combined with the usual intra-year swings of crude itself, it isn’t surprising to find the process repeated almost exactly a year later. This time it happened in two separate events, the latter of which was a near replica of the start to 2015. The futures curve was pressed into deep contango after October 2015, and sure enough oil inventories spiked again in early January 2016. And like last year, though the futures curve would begin to flatten out again starting February 12, oil storage levels continued to build until the end of April.

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“Most investors today have no idea what is happening in the bond market and have exposed themselves to incredible amounts of risk.”

What Happens When The Bond Bubble Finally Pops (IceCap)

The 2008-09 crisis was caused by the private sector. Regardless of the reason or the assigned blame, far too many people and companies borrowed way too much money and when the bubble eventually popped (they always do), millions of people and companies lost an awful lot of money. The one important thing to know from those dark days is that governments were told (by the banks) that in order to save the world they had to save the banks. But what few people realise is that when they saved the banks, two things happened:

1. Tax payers and the most conservative investors from all over the world saved the banks – in other words, many who didn’t take the risk had to bailout those who took excessive risks. 2. The bailout and stimulus programs simply shifted the enormous debt crisis away from the private sector and straight onto the laps of the public sector. In other words, the bubble has shifted away from the PRIVATE sector to the GOVERNMENT sector. And when the government sector has a crisis, it is reflected in the GOVERNMENT BOND MARKET. To put this government bond market crisis into perspective, we offer our Chart 4 which shows a relative comparison to recent crises from the private sector.

To really understand how serious of a problem this is, just know that a mere 1% rise in long-term interest rates, will create losses of approximately $2 Trillion for bond investors. The fun really starts when long-term yields increase by 3%, and then 6% and then 10%. This is the point when certain government bonds simply stop trading altogether, and losses pile up at 50%-75%. When long-term rates decline, it is usually in a gradual trending manner – such as what we are experiencing today. For those of you shaking your heads in disagreement, we kindly suggest you research your history of long-term interest rates.

However, when long-term rates go higher – it is an explosive move. Long-term rates ratchet up VERY quickly making the sudden loss instant, while exponentially increasing the funding cost of the borrower. Most investors today have no idea what is happening in the bond market today and have exposed themselves to incredible amounts of risk. And more importantly, because a global crisis in the government bond market has never occurred in our lifetime – advisors, financial planners and big banks continue the tradition of telling their clients that bonds are safer than stocks. As a result, the most conservative investors in the word remain heavily invested in the bond market and are therefore smack dab in the middle of the riskiest investment they’ll ever see. Chaotic indeed.

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“Not unlike the Fed, it is clear that the BOJ is trapped in its own end game.”

With Kuroda Under Pressure To Increase Stimulus Again, Dissenters Appear (ZH)

With what little credibility it still has, the Bank of Japan is set to meet this week and likely agree on the size of yet another stimulus package for the economy. Prime Minister Abe’s main economic advisor Etsuro Honda recently detailed in an interview that the BOJ should increase its Qualitative and Quantitative Monetary Easing (QQE) program from ¥80 trillion to ¥90 trillion. In addition, there has been growing speculation regarding coordinated fiscal and monetary stimulus. The fiscal stimulus efforts are not expected to be unveiled until August, according to the WSJ. Expectations point to a “multiyear program valued at ¥20 trillion ($188 billion), including direct spending, government loans and public-private financing.”

Perhaps more interesting, this time, Kuroda may have a difficult time convincing the 8 remaining members of the monetary board. As the Journal notes, “other BOJ officials are signaling a reluctance to act, underscoring questions about whether the central bank has reached the limits of its powers to revive Japan’s economy. They note that monetary policy is already extremely accommodative, with bond yields and interest rates at or near record lows, and express doubts that additional easing would make fiscal stimulus much more effective, according to people familiar with the central bank’s thinking.” As core metrics and corporate expectations of inflation plummet, Kuroda’s promise to do “whatever it takes” to reach 2% inflation seems to be under significant threat.

Doing nothing now would “amount to an admission that the BOJ’s monetary policy has reached its limits—it wants to move, but it can’t,” said Yuichi Kodama, chief economist at Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance. Not unlike the Fed, it is clear that the BOJ is trapped in its own end game. As Kyle Bass recently told CNBC, “The textbooks aren’t working for the academics … I fear they’re going to have to go into some sort of jubilee where the central bank just forgives the debt that they own…I don’t know what happens to the yield curve then. The unconventional policies aren’t working, so they’re going to have to go to unconventional, unconventional policies next. I don’t know where that takes them.”

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“There is no banking problem in Italy..” There’s only €360 billion in bad loans…

Italy Insists There’s ‘No Banking Problem’ As Stress Tests Loom Large (CNBC)

Top finance officials in Italy have moved to play down the issues the country’s banking industry is facing, just days ahead of crucial stress tests by the ECB. Speaking on the outskirts of a G20 finance leaders meeting in Chengdu, China, Italy’s Finance Minister, Pier Carlo Padoan, told CNBC that the Italian banks “do not need [a] rescue.” “There is no banking problem in Italy, it’s one particular case which is being dealt with … I’m confident this will be successful,” he said Sunday, highlighting issues at Monte dei Paschi (BMPS). That institution is thought to be the weakest link among lenders in the euro zone’s third-largest economy. Italian policymakers and EU officials have been trying to deal with its fragile banking system, bogged down by non-performing loans (NPLs) estimated to total €360 billion.

Reports had suggested that Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, is hoping to bailout the banking sector, which would contravene EU rules. Such a solution would stand in contrast to a bondholder “bail-in,” as Italian households are heavily exposure to the asset class. These reports have since been denied. These problems in Italy have roiled stock markets in the past few weeks, alongside the uncertainty following the British vote to leave the European Union. Shares of BMPS have been particularly volatile. However, Padoan told CNBC that this particular bank had put in place a “very effective restructuring plan” and said there had been a widespread misunderstanding of the whole industry. “(Italian banks are) not more vulnerable than they used to be. They have been strengthening over time due to reforms that have been introduced by the government,” he added.

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It will cost the global economy $1.6 trillion if companies don’t go deeper into debt to buy each other… Completely empty rhetoric.

Brexit Will Cost UK Up To $340 Billion In Lost M&A: Study (CNBC)

The Brexit vote will cost the U.K. up to $338 billion in lost merger-and-acquisition (M&A) activity by 2020 and the global economy up to $1.6 trillion, law firm Baker & McKenzie said on Monday. “An active M&A market is all about confidence and credibility,” Michael DeFranco, global chair of M&A at Baker & McKenzie, said in a report. “To restore that confidence the U.K. government will need to get to grips with the enormous challenge of negotiating a new trading relationship with the EU as quickly as practically possible. Otherwise we move into more dangerous territory,” he added. The forecasts above are based on an adverse scenario where Brexit incites growing populism in mainland Europe and undermines EU support among remaining members.

In Baker & McKenzie’s central forecast, Brexit still knocks $239 billion off U.K. M&A activity by 2020 and $409 billion off global volumes. In 2017 alone, U.K. M&A transactions are seen falling by 33%. “In the last few days we have seen evidence that the M&A market in the U.K. won’t come to a crashing halt even if it won’t be at its previous pace,” Tim Gee, London M&A partner at Baker & McKenzie, said. “There are still plenty of buyers and sellers for the right deal at the right price. There are already some clear upsides — global organizations looking to acquire U.K. companies will find that a weaker pound makes U.K. valuations more attractive, although the uncertainty surrounding trade negotiations could deter the more risk averse,” he added.

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Hilarious.

“Putin’s Useful Idiot”: Anyone Who Disagrees With The Establishment (ZH)

This weekend we once again got confirmation that any time the generic narrative spectacularly falls apart, and the “establishment” is caught with its pants down (or, in the case of the DNC, engaging in borderline election fraud leading to what the FT just described as “Democrats in turmoil“) what does it do? Why blame Putin of course, and more specifically his “useful idiots”, and hope the whole thing blows over quickly.

Not convinced? Here is the proof.

 

And of course:

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So sad it’s funny. Hubris rules.

Leaked DNC Emails Reveal Inner Workings Of Party’s Finance Operation (WaPo)

In the rush for big donations to pay for this week’s Democratic convention, a party staffer reached out to Tennessee donor Roy Cockrum in May with a special offer: the chance to attend a roundtable discussion with President Obama. Cockrum, already a major Democratic contributor, was in. He gave an additional $33,400. And eight days later, he was assigned a place across the table from Obama at the Jefferson Hotel in downtown Washington, according to a seating chart sent to the White House. The 28-person gathering drew rave reviews from the wealthy party financiers who attended. “Wonderful event yesterday,” New York lawyer Robert Pietrzak wrote to his Democratic National Committee contact. “A lot of foreign policy, starting with my question on China. The President was in great form.”

The details of the high-dollar event were captured in the trove of internal DNC emails released last week by the site WikiLeaks that has riled the party as delegates gather in Philadelphia to nominate Hillary Clinton. Internal discussions of the May 18 event with Obama and other aggressive efforts to woo major donors reveal how the drive for big money consumes the political parties as they scramble to keep up in the age of super PACs. The DNC emails show how the party has tried to leverage its greatest weapon — the president — as it entices wealthy backers to bankroll the convention and other needs. At times, DNC staffers used language in their pitches to donors that went beyond what lawyers said was permissible under a White House policy designed to prevent any perception that special interests have access to the president.

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Facebook plays multiple questionable roles these days. This is an ugly one.

Facebook Admits To Blocking Wikileaks Links In DNC Email Hack (NYP)

Facebook admitted Sunday that it had blocked links to the Wikileaks trove of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee. In a Twitter post late Saturday, WikiLeaks accused the social media giant of “censorship” and gave its followers an online workaround, saying “try using https://archive.is.” The WikiLeaks allegation followed a firestorm of controversy that erupted earlier this year when former Facebook workers admitted routinely suppressing conservative news. In response to the WikiLeaks charge, another Twitter user, @SwiftOnSecurity, chimed in that “Facebook has an automated system for detecting spam/malicious links, that sometimes have false positives,” which prompted a response from the company’s chief security officer. “It’s been fixed,” Facebook CSO Alex Stamos tweeted.

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“..retribution for monetary donations to Sanders’ campaign..” That would be some $220 million?!

How Can You Join the DNC Class Action Lawsuit? (Heavy)

With news about the WikiLeaks dump showing the Democratic National Committee working to push Hillary Clinton’s nomination rather than remaining neutral, there may be more evidence than ever for a class action lawsuit that has been filed against the Democratic National Committee. But how can you join the fraud lawsuit? There’s still time and we have all the details below. Here’s what you need to know. So far, thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters and other voters have requested to join DNC class action lawsuit, which is being led by Beck & Lee Trial Lawyers, a civil litigation firm based in Miami. The lawsuit is based on DNC internal emails hacked by Guccifer 2.0 which show the DNC was working behind the scenes to boost Clinton.

These emails show that work starting as early as May 2015, a month after Sanders had entered the race. Jared Beck told US Uncut that Article 5 Section 4 of the Democratic Party charter and bylaws requires the chair of the DNC to stay neutral during the primaries: “In the conduct and management of the affairs and procedures of the Democratic National Committee, particularly as they apply to the preparation and conduct of the Presidential nomination process, the Chairperson shall exercise impartiality and evenhandedness as between the Presidential candidates and campaigns. The Chairperson shall be responsible for ensuring that the national officers and staff of the Democratic National Committee maintain impartiality and evenhandedness during the Democratic Party Presidential nominating process.”

[..] Beck said there were six claims to the case. The first is fraud against the DNC and Wasserman Schultz, stating that they broke legally binding agreements by strategizing for Clinton. The second is negligent misrepresentation. The third is deceptive conduct by claiming they were remaining neutral when they were not. The fourth is retribution for monetary donations to Sanders’ campaign. The fifth is that the DNC broke its fiduciary duties during the primaries by not holding a fair process. And the sixth is for negligence, claiming that the DNC did not protect donor information from hackers.

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“..can only carry reports provided by government-controlled print or online media..”

China Slaps Ban on Internet News Reporting as Crackdown Tightens (BBG)

China’s top internet regulator ordered major online companies including Sina and Tencent to stop original news reporting, the latest effort by the government to tighten its grip over the country’s web and information industries. The Cyberspace Administration of China imposed the ban on several major news portals, including Sohu.com and NetEase, Chinese media reported in identically worded articles citing an unidentified official from the agency’s Beijing office. The companies have “seriously violated” internet regulations by carrying plenty of news content obtained through original reporting, causing “huge negative effects,” according to a report that appeared in The Paper on Sunday.

The agency instructed the operators of mobile and online news services to dismantle “current-affairs news” operations on Friday, after earlier calling a halt to such activity at Tencent, according to people familiar with the situation. Like its peers, Asia’s largest internet company had developed a news operation and grown its team. Henceforth, they and other services can only carry reports provided by government-controlled print or online media, the people said, asking not to be identified because the issue is politically sensitive.
The sweeping ban gives authorities near-absolute control over online news and political discourse, in keeping with a broader crackdown on information increasingly distributed over the web and mobile devices. President Xi Jinping has stressed that Chinese media must serve the interests of the ruling Communist Party.

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China, Turkey, good thing there’s the internet.

Turkey Issues Arrest Warrants For 42 Journalists After Coup (AFP)

Turkish authorities have issued arrest warrants for 42 journalists as part of the investigation into the failed coup aimed at toppling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, television news channels said Monday. Among those targeted by the warrants were prominent journalist Nazli Ilicak who was fired from the pro-government Sabah daily in 2013 for criticising ministers caught up in a corruption scandal, NTV and CNN-Turk said. There was no indication any of the journalists had been detained so far. The government blamed the 2013 corruption scandal on the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen who it also accuses of being behind the coup.

The Hurriyet daily said that the warrants – the first to target several members of the press in the crackdown over the failed July 15 coup bid – were issued by the office of Istanbul anti-terror prosecutor Irfan Fidan. The prosecutor said an operation was already in progress to detain the journalists but Ilicak was not found at home in Istanbul and could be holidaying on the Aegean. Provincial police there have been alerted, it said. Erdogan’s government had been under fire even before the coup for restricting press freedoms in Turkey, accusations the authorities strongly deny.

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It’s the government, parliament, all the individuals that make up these institutions, that should be held accountable.

Refugee Camp Company In Australia ‘Liable For Crimes Against Humanity’ (G.)

The company that has taken over the management of Australia’s offshore immigration detention regime has been warned by international law experts that its employees could be liable for crimes against humanity. Spanish infrastructure corporation Ferrovial, which is owned by one of the world’s richest families and the major stakeholder in Heathrow airport, has been warned by professors at Stanford Law School that its directors and employees risk prosecution under international law for supplying services to Australia’s camps on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

“Based on our examination of the facts, it is possible that individual officers at Ferrovial might be exposed to criminal liability for crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute,” said Diala Shamas, a clinical supervising attorney at the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford Law School. “We have raised our concerns with Ferrovial in a private communication to their officers and directors detailing our findings. We have yet to hear back.” Shamas said her colleagues’ findings should be a warning to any company or country seeking to replicate Australia’s refugee policies elsewhere. “One of the things that we and our partners are concerned about is the timing of all of this,” said Shamas, who also worked in conjunction with the Global Legal Action Network.

[..] The NBIA executive director, Shen Narayanasamy, told the Guardian that Ferrovial’s complicity in the abuses on Nauru and Manus was “incredibly cut-and-dried under international law”. “There is no shadow of a doubt that gross human rights violations are occurring, no shadow of a doubt that Ferrovial is complicit,” she said. “The risk to Ferrovial is essentially the annihilation of its reputation. As a company that relies upon contracting with governments for service provision, they put at risk all of their contracts, and all of the future contracts they hope to win. They put at risk all of their ratings, all of their client relationships – people will assess that they are too controversial, too unethical to have a relationship with, and they could see large institutional investors divesting.”

NBIA links the Pacific Ocean camps to the 22 mainly European banks that fund Ferrovial’s activities, and six European and American investment funds that own shares in the company. Twenty-two mainly European banks – many of them household names – have jointly provided Ferrovial with a €1.25bn (£1bn) loan for general corporate purposes. The banks include Barclays, RBS, Santander, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase – as well as Instituto de Crédito Oficial, a bank owned by the Spanish state. The other banks are Banca IMI (Intesa Sanpaolo), Banco Sabadell, Banco Popular Español, Bank of America, Bankinter, BBVA, Crédit Agricole, Deutsche, Mediobanca, Mizuho, Morgan Stanley, Société Générale, and the Royal Bank of Canada.

Read more …

Jul 242016
 
 July 24, 2016  Posted by at 9:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Milton Greene “Actress Marilyn Monroe in bed” 1955

China’s Growth Sucks In More Debt Bucks For Less Bang (R.)
G20 Will Use ‘All Policy Tools’ To Protect Growth As Brexit Looms (R.)
OECD’s Gurria Says No Other EU Country Will Consider Exit After Brexit (CNBC)
EU Considers Migration ‘Emergency Brake’ For UK For Up To 7 Years (O.)
Mortgages Issued By Greek Banks Declined 99% In Past Decade (Kath.)
5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win (Michael Moore)
Trump Policy Will Unravel Traditional Neocons – Michael Hudson (RNN)
WikiLeaks Trove Plunges Democrats Into Crisis On Eve Of Convention (SMH)
DNC Chair Won’t Speak At Dem Convention Following WikiLeaks Fallout (CNN)
Imagine How The Land Feels (G.)

 

 

Reuters says: “..this year it has taken six yuan for every yuan of growth,[..] twice even the level in the United States during the debt-fueled housing bubble..”

That’s questionable. ZH in 2013: “..over the past five years in the developed world, it took $18 dollars of debt (of which 28% was provided by central banks) to generate $1 of growth..”

China’s Growth Sucks In More Debt Bucks For Less Bang (R.)

As China’s economy notches up another quarter of steady growth, the pace of credit creation grows ever more frantic for every extra unit of production, as inefficient state firms swallow an increasing share of lending. The world’s second-largest economy grew 6.7% in the first half of the year, unchanged from the first quarter, testament to policymakers’ determination to regulate the pace of slowdown after 25 years of breakneck expansion. Analysts say that determination has come at the cost of a damngerous rise in debt, which is six times less effective at generating growth than a few years ago. “The amount of debt that China has taken in the last 5-7 years is unprecedented,” said Morgan Stanley’s head of emerging markets, Ruchir Sharma, at a book launch in Singapore.

“No developing country in history has taken on as much debt as China has taken on on a marginal basis.” While Beijing can take comfort that loose money and more deficit spending are averting a more painful slowdown, the rapidly diminishing returns from such stimulus policies, coupled with rising defaults and non-performing loans, are creating what Sharma calls “fertile (ground) for some accident to happen”. From 2003 to 2008, when annual growth averaged more than 11%, it took just one yuan of extra credit to generate one yuan of GDP growth, according to Morgan Stanley calculations. It took two for one from 2009-2010, when Beijing embarked on a massive stimulus program to ward off the effects of the global financial crisis.

The ratio had doubled again to four for one in 2015, and this year it has taken six yuan for every yuan of growth, Morgan Stanley said, twice even the level in the United States during the debt-fueled housing bubble that triggered the global crisis. Total bond debt in China is up over 50% in the past 18 months to 57 trillion yuan ($8.5 trillion), equal to around 80% of GDP, and new total social financing, the widest measure of credit provided by China’s central bank, rose 10.9% in the first half of 2016 to 9.75 trillion yuan. China’s money supply has increased in tandem with new lending, and at 149 trillion yuan is now 73% higher than in the US, an economy about 60% larger. “China is the largest money printer in the world – they have been for some time. The balance is really extreme,” says Kevin Smith, CEO of U.S.-based Crescat Capital.

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Ionesco and Samuel Beckett were ahead of their time, but we’re catching up with them. Words lose ever more meaning. Example are this article, but also this WSJ headline: “Hillary Clinton Introduces Tim Kaine as ‘a Progressive Who Likes to Get Things Done'”. That may have sounded lofty even just 20 years ago, but today it’s just meaningless, if not outright repulsive.

G20 Will Use ‘All Policy Tools’ To Protect Growth As Brexit Looms (R.)

Leaders from the world’s biggest economies are poised on Sunday to renew their commitments to support global growth and better coordinate actions in the face of uncertainty over Britain’s decision to leave the EU and growing protectionism. The meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 major economies in China’s southwestern city of Chengdu is the first of its kind since last month’s Brexit vote and a debut for Britain’s new finance minister. Philip Hammond faced questions about how quickly the UK planned to move ahead with formal negotiations to leave the EU. “We are taking actions to foster confidence and support growth,” a draft statement by the policymakers seen by Reuters said.

“In light of recent developments, we reiterate our determination to use all policy tools – monetary, fiscal and structural – individually and collectively to achieve our goal of strong, sustainable and balanced growth,” it said. The IMF this week cut its global growth forecasts because of the Brexit vote. Data on Friday seemed to bear out fears, with a British business activity index posting its biggest drop in its 20-year history. The draft communique, expected to be issued at the end of the meeting on Sunday afternoon, said Brexit added to uncertainty in the global economy but G20 members were “well positioned to proactively address the potential economic and financial consequences”.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on Saturday it was important for G20 countries to boost shared growth using all policy tools, including monetary and fiscal policies as well as structural reforms, to boost efficiency. “This is a time when it is important for all of us to redouble our efforts to use all of the policy tools that we have to boost shared growth,” Lew told reporters.

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He’ll find out yet.

OECD’s Gurria Says No Other EU Country Will Consider Exit After Brexit (CNBC)

Countries in the European Union are unlikely to consider an exit from the bloc once they realize how complicated, costly and disruptive the process will be for the United Kingdom, the secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) told CNBC on Saturday. “Nobody in their right mind will even attempt or even think of leaving the European Union because they will understand that it is not in their best interest,” Angel Gurria told CNBC before the start of the G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in Chengdu, China.

Gurria had recommended against the Brexit vote, but says the next step should be helping the U.K. and its partners through the proceedings in the least costly and least disruptive way. On the Italian banking crisis and whether the EU should rescue the country’s third largest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Gurria said that “national, regional and EU intervention is necessary”. However, the challenge is to define who is going to be doing what, he added. Rome is bracing for the results of critical bank stress tests that are due on July 29 and is hoping to find a solution for the battered bank ahead of that.

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Mere days after everyone said there could be no pre-Brexit discussions with the UK, of course there’s things like this anyway.

EU Considers Migration ‘Emergency Brake’ For UK For Up To 7 Years (O.)

Plans to allow the United Kingdom an exemption from EU rules on freedom of movement for up to seven years while retaining access to the single market are being considered in European capitals as part of a potential deal on Brexit. Senior British and EU sources have confirmed that despite strong initial resistance from French president François Hollande in talks with prime minister Theresa May last week, the idea of an emergency brake on the free movement of people that would go far further than the one David Cameron negotiated before the Brexit referendum is being examined.

If such an agreement were struck, and a strict time limit imposed, diplomats believe it could go a long way towards addressing concerns of the British people over immigration from EU states, while allowing the UK full trade access to the European market. While the plan will prove highly controversial in many member states, including France, Poland and other central and eastern European nations, the attraction is that it would limit the economic shock to the EU economy from Brexit by keeping the UK in the single market, and lessen the political damage to the European project that would result from complete divorce.

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Sales only to those with deep pockets. The rest of the world buys up Greece.

Mortgages Issued By Greek Banks Declined 99% In Past Decade (Kath.)

Cash was the preferred from of payment for the few people who decided to purchase real estate in the first half of the year in Greece, bank officials have suggested. Converging estimates by bank officials contacted by Kathimerini show that eight out of 10 property buyers opted for the transfer of cash between deposit accounts instead of a loan, a trend that started with the imposition of capital controls by the government just over a year ago and continues to date. The same trend is also dominant in consumer credit.

According to data compiled by Kathimerini, the new loans issued in H1 came to €75 million in mortgage credit across the banking system and to €150 million in consumer credit. This sum constitutes a historic low for the last few decades at least. Comparisons with a decade ago are staggering: The number of mortgages issued in January-June 2016 – also affected by the lawyers’ strike – came to just 800, against about 80,000 in the same period in 2006. A Bank of Greece analysis recently said that the course of loans to households is mainly determined by demand, and in the last couple of years the drop in house prices has played a decisive role in the reduction of loan issues.

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Well argued. But as Moore himself also argues, that’s a problem, not a winner.

5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win (Michael Moore)

Friends: I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I gave it to you straight last summer when I told you that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president. And now I have even more awful, depressing news for you: Donald J. Trump is going to win in November. This wretched, ignorant, dangerous part-time clown and full time sociopath is going to be our next president. President Trump. Go ahead and say the words, ‘cause you’ll be saying them for the next four years: “PRESIDENT TRUMP.” Never in my life have I wanted to be proven wrong more than I do right now. I can see what you’re doing right now. You’re shaking your head wildly – “No, Mike, this won’t happen!”

Unfortunately, you are living in a bubble that comes with an adjoining echo chamber where you and your friends are convinced the American people are not going to elect an idiot for president. You alternate between being appalled at him and laughing at him because of his latest crazy comment or his embarrassingly narcissistic stance on everything because everything is about him. And then you listen to Hillary and you behold our very first female president, someone the world respects, someone who is whip-smart and cares about kids, who will continue the Obama legacy because that is what the American people clearly want! Yes! Four more years of this! You need to exit that bubble right now. You need to stop living in denial and face the truth which you know deep down is very, very real.

Trying to soothe yourself with the facts – “77% of the electorate are women, people of color, young adults under 35 and Trump cant win a majority of any of them!” – or logic – “people aren’t going to vote for a buffoon or against their own best interests!” – is your brain’s way of trying to protect you from trauma. Like when you hear a loud noise on the street and you think, “oh, a tire just blew out,” or, “wow, who’s playing with firecrackers?” because you don’t want to think you just heard someone being shot with a gun. It’s the same reason why all the initial news and eyewitness reports on 9/11 said “a small plane accidentally flew into the World Trade Center.” We want to – we need to – hope for the best because, frankly, life is already a shit show and it’s hard enough struggling to get by from paycheck to paycheck. We can’t handle much more bad news. So our mental state goes to default when something scary is actually, truly happening.

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The attempts to link Trump to Russia have become a sort of hilarious boomerang.

Trump Policy Will Unravel Traditional Neocons – Michael Hudson (RNN)

On Friday, just after the RNC wrapped up with its presidential candidate, Donald Trump, Paul Krugman of the New York Times penned an article titled “Donald Trump: The Siberian Candidate.” He said in it, if elected, would Donald Trump be Vladimir Putin’s man in the White House? Krugman himself is worried as ludicrous and outrageous as the question sounds, the Trump campaign’s recent behavior has quite a few foreign policy experts wondering, he says, just what kind of hold Mr. Putin has over the Republican nominee, and whether that influence will continue if he wins. Well, let’s unravel that statement with Michael Hudson. [..] So let’s take a look at this article by Paul Krugman. Where is he going with this analysis about the Siberian candidate?

HUDSON: Well, Krugman has joined the ranks of the neocons, as well as the neoliberals, and they’re terrified that they’re losing control of the Republican Party. For the last half-century the Republican Party has been pro-Cold War, corporatist. And Trump has actually, is reversing that. Reversing the whole traditional platform. And that really worries the neocons. Until his speech, the whole Republican Convention, every speaker had avoided dealing with economic policy issues. No one referred to the party platform, which isn’t very good. And it was mostly an attack on Hillary. Chants of “lock her up.” And Trump children, aimed to try to humanize him and make him look like a loving man.

But finally came Trump’s speech, and this was for the first time, policy was there. And he’s making a left run around Hillary. He appealed twice to Bernie Sanders supporters, and the two major policies that he outlined in the speech broke radically from the Republican traditional right-wing stance. And that is called destroying the party by the right wing, and Trump said he’s not destroying the party, he’s building it up and appealing to labor, and appealing to the rational interest that otherwise had been backing Bernie Sanders.

So in terms of national security, he wanted to roll back NATO spending. And he made it clear, roll back military spending. We can spend it on infrastructure, we can spend it on employing American labor. And in the speech, he said, look, we don’t need foreign military bases and foreign spending to defend our allies. We can defend them from the United States, because in today’s world, the only kind of war we’re going to have is atomic war. Nobody’s going to invade another country. We’re not going to send American troops to invade Russia, if it were to attack. So nobody’s even talking about that. So let’s be realistic.

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Well, I said a long time ago that Clinton would not be electable. There’ll be much more of this released while the convention takes place.

WikiLeaks Trove Plunges Democrats Into Crisis On Eve Of Convention (SMH)

On the eve of the convention at which Hillary Clinton is to be confirmed as presidential candidate, the Democratic Party has been plunged into crisis – the US media is brimful of ugly and embarrassing stories from within the party’s head office, all based on 20,000 emails dropped on Friday evening by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. The correspondence seems to confirm allegations by the campaign of defeated Senator Bernie Sanders that the Democratic National Committee was actively rooting for Mrs Clinton to win, a revelation that will most likely serve as a wedge between the two camps and make it even more difficult for her to persuade Sanders voters to support her.

The emails also reveal plotting within the DNC to embarrass Republican candidate Donald Trump, including drafting a fake ad to recruit “hot women” to work for him. Bad as this trove of emails is, it could presage something much worse. A brief introduction to the emails, that were released on Twitter with a link to a webpage, described them as “part one of our new Hillary Leaks series”. Naming key DNC officials, the introduction says how many of the emails came from each, including communications director Luis Miranda (10,770 emails), national finance director Jordon Kaplan (3797 emails), and finance chief of staff Scott Comer. The emails are dated through the five months to May 25, 2016.

Several of the emails address efforts to embarrass or to wrong-foot the Sanders campaign, which began almost as a non-event but surged with young voter support in particular to become a serious and determined challenger to Mrs Clinton. One email suggests that Senator Sanders be questioned on his faith, in the hope of revealing him as an atheist. It reads: “Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”

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“She’s been quarantined..” She should be under investigation.

DNC Chair Won’t Speak At Dem Convention Following WikiLeaks Fallout (CNN)

The head of the Democratic National Committee will not speak at the party’s convention next week, a decision reached by party officials Saturday after emails surfaced that raised questions about the committee’s impartiality during the Democratic primary. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose stewardship of the DNC has been under fire through most of the presidential primary process, will not have a major speaking role in an effort “to keep the peace” in the party, a Democrat familiar with the decision said. The revelation comes following the release of nearly 20,000 emails.

One email appears to show DNC staffers asking how they can reference Bernie Sanders’ faith to weaken him in the eyes of Southern voters. Another seems to depict an attorney advising the committee on how to defend Hillary Clinton against an accusation by the Sanders campaign of not living up to a joint fundraising agreement. Wasserman Schultz is expected to gavel the convention in and out, but not speak in the wake of the controversy surrounding the leaked emails, a top Democrat said. “She’s been quarantined,” another top Democrat said, following a meeting Saturday night.

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Love it. Not so much the part of how to get nature into a novel, but the idea itself. The world is alive. These fierce looking hunters singing to the land, the forest. And the land singing back:

“The place itself, in which their people had lived for millennia, was not an inanimate “environment”, a mere backdrop for human activity. It was part of that activity. It was a great being, and to live as part of it was to be in a constant exchange with it. And so they sang to it; sometimes, it sang back.”

Imagine How The Land Feels (G.)

We had climbed, slowly, to a high mountain ridge. We were two young Englishmen who were not supposed to be here – journalism was forbidden – and four local guides, members of the Lani tribe. Our guides were moving us around the highlands of West Papua, taking us to meet people who could tell us about their suffering at the hands of the occupying Indonesian army. The mountain ridge was covered in deep, old rainforest, as was the rest of the area we had walked through. This forest, to the Lani, was home. In the forest they hunted, gathered food, built their homes, lived. It was not a recreation or a resource: there was nothing romantic about it, nothing to debate. It was just life.

Now, as we reached the top of the ridge, a break in the trees opened up and we saw miles of unbroken green mountains rolling away before us to the horizon. It was a breathtaking sight. As I watched, our four guides lined up along the ridge and, facing the mountains, they sang. They sang a song to the forest whose words I didn’t understand, but whose meaning was clear enough. It was a song of thanks; of belonging. To the Lani, I learned later, the forest lived. This was no metaphor. The place itself, in which their people had lived for millennia, was not an inanimate “environment”, a mere backdrop for human activity. It was part of that activity. It was a great being, and to live as part of it was to be in a constant exchange with it. And so they sang to it; sometimes, it sang back.

When European minds experience this kind of thing, they are never quite sure what to do with it. It’s been so long since we had a sense that we dwelled in a living landscape that we don’t have the words to frame what we see. Too often, we go in one of two directions, either sentimentalising the experience or dismissing it as superstition. To us, the wild places around us (if there are any left) are “resources” to be utilised. We argue constantly about how best to use them – should we log this forest, or turn it into a national park? – but only the bravest or the most foolish would suggest that this might not be our decision to make.

To modern people, the world we walk through is not an animal, a being, a living presence; it is a machine, and our task is to learn how it works, the better to use it for our own ends. The notion that the non-human world is largely inanimate is often represented as scientific or rational, but it is really more like a modern superstition. “It is just like Man’s vanity and impertinence,” wrote Mark Twain, “to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions.” We might say the same about a forest; and science, interestingly, might turn out to be on our side.

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