May 162018
 


Carl Spitzweg The raven 1845

 

Julian Assange appears to be painfully close to being unceremoniously thrown out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. If that happens, the consequences for journalism, for freedom of speech, and for press freedom, will resound around the world for a very long time. It is very unwise for anyone who values truth and freedom to underestimate the repercussions of this.

In essence, Assange is not different from any journalist working for a major paper or news channel. The difference is he published what they will not because they want to stay in power. The Washington Post today would never do an investigation such as Watergate, and that’s where WikiLeaks came in.

It filled a void left by the media that betrayed their own history and their own field. Betrayed the countless journalists throughout history, and today, who risked their lives and limbs, and far too often lost them, to tell the truth about what powers that be do when they think nobody’s looking or listening.

Julian is not wanted because he’s a spy, or even because he published a number of documents whose publication was inconvenient for certain people. He is wanted because he is so damn smart, which makes him very good and terribly effective at what he does. He’s on a most wanted list not for what he’s already published, but for what he might yet publish in the future.

He built up WikiLeaks into an organization that acquired the ultimate trust of many people who had access to documents they felt should be made public. They knew he would never betray their trust. WikiLeaks has to date never published any documents that were later found out to be false. It never gave up a source. No documents were ever changed or manipulated for purposes other than protecting sources and other individuals.

 

Julian Assange built an ’empire’ based on trust. To do that he knew he could never lie. Even the smallest lie would break what he had spent so much time and effort to construct. He was a highly accomplished hacker from a very young age, which enabled him to build computer networks that nobody managed to hack. He knew how to make everything safe. And keep it that way.

Since authorities were never able to get their hands on WikiLeaks, its sources, or its leader, a giant smear campaign was started around rape charges in Sweden (the country and all its citizens carry a heavy blame for what happened) and connections to America’s favorite enemy, Russia. The rape charges were never substantiated, Julian was never even interrogated by any Swedish law enforcement personnel, but that is no surprise.

It was clear from the get-go what was happening. First of all, for Assange himself. And if there’s one thing you could say he’s done wrong, it’s that he didn’t see the full impact from the campaign against him, sooner. But if you have the world’s largest and most powerful intelligence services against you, and they manage to find both individuals and media organizations willing to spread blatant lies about you, chances are you will not last forever.

If and when you have such forces running against you, you need protection. From politicians and from -fellow- media. Assange didn’t get that, or not nearly enough. Ecuador offered him protection, but as soon as another president was elected, they turned against him. So have news organizations who were once all too eager to profit from material Assange managed to obtain from his sources.

 

That the Guardian today published not just one, not two, but three what can only be labeled as hit pieces on Julian Assange, should perhaps not surprise us; they fell out a long time ago. Still, the sheer amount of hollow innuendo and outright lies in the articles is astonishing. How dare you? Have you no shame, do you not care at all about your credibility? At least the Guardian makes painfully clear why WikiLeaks was needed.

No, Sweden didn’t “drop its investigation into alleged sexual offences because it was unable to question Assange”. The Swedes simply refused to interview him in the Ecuador embassy in London, the only place where he knew he was safe. They refused this for years. And when the rape charges had lost all credibility, Britain asked Sweden to not drop the charges, but keep the pressure on.

No, there is no proof of links from Assange to Russian hackers and/or to the Russian government. No, there is no proof that DNC computers were hacked by Russians to get to John Podesta’s emails. In fact there is no proof they were hacked at all. No, Ecuador didn’t get tired of Julian; their new president, Moreno, decided to sell him out “at the first pressure from the United States”. Just as his predecessor, Correa, said he would.

Julian Assange has been condemned by Sweden, Britain, the US and now Ecuador to solitary confinement with no access to daylight or to medical care. Without a trial, without a sentence, and on the basis of mere allegations, most of which have already turned out to be trumped up and false. This violates so many national and international laws it’s futile to try and count or name them.

It also condemns any and all subsequent truth tellers to the prospect of being treated in the same way that Julian is. Forget about courts, forget about justice. You’ll be on a wanted list. I still have a bit of hope left that Vladimir Putin will step in and save Assange from the gross injustice he’s been exposed to for far too many years. Putin gets 100 times the lies and innuendo Assange gets, but he has a powerful nation behind him. Assange, in the end, only has us.

What’s perhaps the saddest part of all this is that people like Chelsea Manning, Kim Dotcom, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are among the smartest people our world has to offer. We should be cherishing the combination of intelligence, courage and integrity they display at their own risk and peril, but instead we let them be harassed by our governments because they unveil inconvenient truths about them.

And pretty soon there will be nobody left to tell these truths, or tell any truth at all. Dark days. By allowing the smartest and bravest amongst us, who are experts in new technologies, to be silenced, we are allowing these technologies to be used against us.

We’re not far removed from being extras in our own lives, with all significant decisions taken not by us, but for us. America’s Founding Fathers are turning in their graves as we speak. They would have understood the importance of protecting Julian Assange.

To say that we are all Julian Assange is not just a slogan.

 

 

Apr 232018
 
 April 23, 2018  Posted by at 9:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Highway tavern. Crystal City, Texas 1939

 

A Google Breakup Would Fit the EU’s Logic (BBG)
Customs Union U-Turn By May Could Inspire Brexiter Cabinet Revolt (G.)
The Windrush Story Was Not A Rosy One Even Before The Ship Arrived (G.)
Britain, Headquarters Of Fraud (G.)
China Q1 Imports From North Korea Fall 87% Year-On-Year (R.)
How China Is Buying Its Way Into Europe (BBG)
China Factory Crackdown Masks Sweeping Takeover By The State (BBG)
Canadians Just Set A New Record For Borrowing Against Their Homes (BD)
MSM Is Frantically Attacking Dissenting Syria Narratives (CJ)
WikiLeaks To Countersue Democrats; “Discovery Is Going To Be Amazing Fun” (ZH)
One In Eight Bird Species Is Threatened With Extinction (G.)

 

 

Does Google think it can win this?

A Google Breakup Would Fit the EU’s Logic (BBG)

On Thursday, the European Parliament backed the idea of breaking up Google. It doesn’t have the power to do it, but the legislators’ decision is a notable part of a backlash against the remedial action Google took after the European Commission fined it 2.4 billion euros ($2.95 billion) for abusing its dominant position in shopping search. That backlash can lead to dire consequences for the search giant. The commission found last June that by giving its own product comparison service, Google Shopping, prime “real estate” at the top search result pages, Google was hampering competition for independent shopping comparison websites. The company’s remedy is to hold auctions for spaces in the special box in which comparison results appear if a user searches for a product to buy.

Google Shopping bids in these auctions on the same terms as its rivals, and Google has promised to keep the service profitable so it can’t outbid the competition every time with the company’s vastly superior resources. Yet, months after the remedy was applied, it’s next to impossible to run into a non-Google offer in that box. The original complainants, notably the U.K. firm Foundem, have been campaigning to have Google declared non-compliant. Foundem’s argument is laid out in an interactive presentation released on April 18. The British company argues that even though Google claims to run Google Shopping at arm’s length, it’s merely an obfuscation, a meaningless accounting arrangement. In reality, Google as a whole still harvests 100% of the profit from the ads in runs after winning auctions – plus 80% of the profits from competing services’ ads in the form of their winning bids.

“While Google’s promise to run Google Shopping at a notional ‘profit’ may allow rival services to bid their way into ‘the box,’ it does nothing to address the seismic inequality between bids that cost you nothing and bids that cost you most of your incentive and ability to innovate and grow,” Foundem wrote in the presentation. The annual report on competition policy from the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, which the legislature approved on Thursday, shows that at least some in the “Brussels bubble” that rules the EU are receptive to Foundem’s argument. “Without a full-blown structural separation between the company’s general and specialised search services, an auction-based approach might not deliver equal treatment,” the report says.

[..] If Google is declared non-compliant, its parent company, Alphabet Inc., can be forced to pay up to 5 percent of its daily turnover for every day that it has violated the commission’s ruling, meaning, theoretically, since last September. Taking Alphabet’s average daily revenue in the fourth quarter of 2017 as a base, that’s about $17.6 million a day for seven months and counting. This could end up being worse than the original fine, which Google is appealing. Even a breakup could be preferable to paying this sort of penalty for a protracted period.

Read more …

The mess spreads.

Customs Union U-Turn By May Could Inspire Brexiter Cabinet Revolt (G.)

Theresa May could face a cabinet revolt on a customs union as peers prepare to inflict more defeats on the government over the EU withdrawal bill in a key week for the future of the UK’s relations with Europe. Amid Brexiter threats of a leadership challenge, the former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, who chairs the Treasury committee, said party rebels should be careful what they wished for. “This sabre-rattling is not coming from the section of the party that I represent. It is coming from the pro-Brexit section of the party and is deeply unhelpful,” she said. Government hopes of avoiding a hard border in Ireland either through technological innovation or regulatory alignment have been set back after they were rejected during preliminary negotiations in Brussels.

That has led to speculation that May is preparing to concede on a customs union, which has been a red line since the prime minister’s conference speech in October 2016. Reports over the weekend suggested a “wargaming” exercise into the consequences of a concession showed that not even leading Brexiters such as Michael Gove, the environment secretary, or Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, would resign. But a source close to Gove reiterated his opposition: “Michael believes respecting the referendum result means taking back control of trade policy. He fully supports the prime minister’s position that this means leaving the customs union.” Although the loss of other pledges in negotiations have been reluctantly accepted, such as the promise to reclaim control over fishing quotas from March 2019, accepting continued membership of a customs union would be of a different and much larger scale.

Read more …

Superiority complex writ large

The Windrush Story Was Not A Rosy One Even Before The Ship Arrived (G.)

This is a year so overflowing with anniversaries that it was perhaps always going to draw our attention to the histories of race and migration in Britain. June marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks, carrying 492 West Indians who were looking to rewrite their fortunes in a Britain desperate for labour. The Windrush is now so much part of British history that almost instantly it became the shorthand used to describe the generation of black Britons whose plight has so shocked the country.

Friday 20 April was an anniversary of a darker kind, 50 years since Enoch Powell delivered his “rivers of blood” speech. That toxic diatribe, with its unsubtle references to “piccaninnies” and the “whip hand”, remains politically radioactive half a century later, as Radio 4 discovered last weekend when it broadcast the speech in an anniversary documentary. Today is the sombre anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, 25 years ago.

But there is another 2018 anniversary that, until last week, might well had passed by quietly, hardly noticed. This year marks 70 years since the passing of the 1948 British Nationality Act, which was being debated while the Windrush was crossing the Atlantic; gaining royal ascent in July 1948, as the Windrush pioneers were settling into their new jobs. Although now obscure, it was a law that Powell once referred to as “that most evil statute”. Much of what has happened over the past week can be traced back to that forgotten but critical piece of legislation. The act was intended to reaffirm what many in the late 1940s regarded as a “time-honoured principle”, the doctrine that all British subjects should have the automatic right to travel to and settle in the United Kingdom.

[..] Even before the Windrush had left Jamaica, the prime minister, Clement Attlee, had examined the possibility of preventing its embarkation or diverting the ship and the migrants on board to East Africa. After the vessel had arrived at Tilbury, the colonial secretary, Arthur Creech Jones, is said to have reassured his cabinet colleagues that, although “these people have British passports and must be allowed to land there’s nothing to worry about because they won’t last one winter in England” (detailed in Randall Hansen’s book Citizenship and Immigration in Post-War Britain). When that prediction was proved false, ministers began to consider how they might revoke the commitments enshrined in the 1948 act.

What followed was a two decade-long political struggle to change Britain’s immigration law and reduce the flow of immigrants from the so-called New Commonwealth. This is the other side of the Windrush story. In 1971, a new immigration act finally achieved that aim and stemmed the flow of migrants from the New Commonwealth. The same law granted those who had already arrived indefinite leave to remain. That would have been the end of the story, had not, in 2013, those thousands been pushed into Theresa May’s “hostile environment”. The current crisis is a relic left by the political struggle to row back from the commitments made in the 1948 act.

Read more …

Competition for the title is stiff.

Britain, Headquarters Of Fraud (G.)

Officials get fed up with accusations that Britain is a cesspool of dirty money; that they do too little to check the wealth hidden behind shell corporations. They grouse among themselves that their critics overlook the work they’re doing to expose the money flows and to drive out the corrupt. When they do get a win, therefore, they trumpet it. Last month, Companies House successfully prosecuted someone who had lied in setting up a company, the kind of white-collar crime committed by the sophisticated fraudsters who fleece ordinary Brits every day, and the government went large. “This prosecution – the first of its kind in the UK – shows the government will come down hard on people who knowingly break the law and file false information on the company register,” crowed business minister, Andrew Griffiths, in a press release.

A Warwickshire businessman called Kevin Brewer had pleaded guilty, paid a fine and the government’s costs: a total of more than £12,000. His crime had been to falsely claim that two companies he created belonged, in one case, to the MP Vince Cable, and, in the other, to the MP James Cleverly, Lady Neville-Rolfe and an imaginary Israeli. At first, the public response to the news was everything the press release’s authors could have hoped for. The Times splashed with the details of the crime – the government was tough on fraud, tough on the causes of fraud. But the victory was short-lived.

Within a month of the triumphant press release, Tory MP John Penrose, the government’s anti-corruption champion, was slamming the prosecution as “a bone-headed exercise in shooting the messenger”. Brewer may have been, by his own admission, naive, but he was trying to expose a flaw in British regulations that enables frauds totalling hundreds of billions of pounds. His reward was years of being ignored and, finally, a criminal record. “That has to be wrong,” said Penrose.

Read more …

Can we check this?

China Q1 Imports From North Korea Fall 87% Year-On-Year (R.)

China’s imports from North Korea fell 87% in the first quarter from a year earlier to 448.8 million yuan ($71.31 million), customs data showed on Monday, while exports to North Korea were down 46.1% to 2.68 billion yuan. For March, China’s exports to North Korea were 907.54 million yuan while imports from North Korea were 78.5 million yuan. China’s March total trade with North Korea was 986.07 million yuan, customs data showed.

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Cue protectionism.

How China Is Buying Its Way Into Europe (BBG)

For more than a decade, Chinese political and corporate leaders have been scouring the globe with seemingly bottomless wallets in hand. From Asia to Africa, the U.S. and Latin America, the results are hard to ignore as China has asserted itself as an emerging world power. Less well known is China’s diffuse but expanding footprint in Europe. Bloomberg has crunched the numbers to compile the most comprehensive audit to date of China’s presence in Europe. It shows that China has bought or invested in assets amounting to at least $318 billion over the past 10 years. The continent saw roughly 45% more China-related activity than the U.S. during this period, in dollar terms, according to available data.

The volume and nature of some of these investments, from critical infrastructure in eastern and southern Europe to high-tech companies in the west, have raised a red flag at the EU level. Leaders that include Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are pressing for a common strategy to handle China’s relentless advance into Europe, with some opposition from the EU’s periphery. We analyzed data for 678 completed or pending deals in 30 countries since 2008 for which financial terms were released, and found that Chinese state-backed and private companies have been involved in deals worth at least $255 billion across the European continent. Approximately 360 companies have been taken over, from Italian tire maker Pirelli to Irish aircraft leasing company Avolon, while Chinese entities also partially or wholly own at least four airports, six seaports, wind farms in at least nine countries and 13 professional soccer teams.

Importantly, the available figures underestimate the true size and scope of China’s ambitions in Europe. They notably exclude 355 mergers, investments and joint ventures—the primary types of deals examined here—for which terms were not disclosed. Bloomberg estimates or reporting on a dozen of the higher-profile deals among this group suggest an additional total value of $13.3 billion. Also not included: greenfield developments or stock-market operations totaling at least $40 billion, as compiled by researchers at the American Enterprise Institute and the European Council on Foreign Relations, plus a $9 billion stake in Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG by Zhejiang Geely chairman Li Shufu reported by Bloomberg.

Read more …

Anbang was just the start.

China Factory Crackdown Masks Sweeping Takeover By The State (BBG)

President Xi Jinping’s big push to curb pollution and excess capacity in steel and other industries is also consolidating his government’s control over them. Just last year, the state’s share of steel capacity increased to 67% from 60% while aluminum smelting saw about an equal increase, J Capital Research estimates. In coal, which began consolidating years earlier, the government now controls 80% of capacity compared with about 45% in 2010, according to the Hong Kong-based firm. Xi’s campaign has boosted corporate profits, ended years of deflation, and stabilized debt growth to help underpin the first full-year economic acceleration last year since 2010.

But his aim for a “bigger, better and stronger” state role also means those bloated companies risk stifling private ones, as the Communist Party strengthens its grip on the economy. Call it “de facto nationalization,” says Jude Blanchette, China practice lead at Crumpton Group in Arlington, Virginia, and a former Conference Board researcher in Beijing. “We’re clearly seeing the re-strengthening of state-owned enterprises, oftentimes at the zero-sum expense of private players. Private folks are exiting the market either because they’re pushed out or they can’t survive.” State gains in heavy industry follow a broad SOE comeback since Xi took power in 2013. Their share of fixed-asset investment stopped falling in 2014 and rebounded over the next three years, says Andrew Batson at Gavekal Dragonomics.

The state is also extending control over the private sector away from heavy industry as it cracks down on debt. Once-acquisitive insurer Anbang Insurance was seized by the government, and regulators have curtailed the activities of conglomerates including Dalian Wanda and HNA. Such consolidation may spur blowback from the U.S. and other countries. President Donald Trump already brands China a strategic rival, slapping tariffs on its goods and criticizing industrial policy for subsidizing state enterprises in a push to dominate tech sectors.

“The idea, promoted during the Zhu Rongji era, that state enterprises should be independent, profit-seeking companies that just happen to be owned by the state has essentially been abandoned,” said Batson, referring to the former premier. “The government thinks that SOEs are there to serve its overall strategic goals.”

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Words fail.

Canadians Just Set A New Record For Borrowing Against Their Homes (BD)

Canadian real estate related debt tapering? That would be ridiculous! Filings obtained from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) show, after a brief decline in January, the balance of loans secured by residential real estate hit a new high in February. More interesting is the segment of loans being used for personal consumption, is growing at the fastest pace in years. Loans secured by residential real estate are exactly what they sound like. They’re loans that you pledge your home equity in order to secure. The most common example would be a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). You know, the same type of loan the Canadian government is discretely paying to teach you how to borrow. There’s also more productive uses, like when you start a new business and need to use your home as security – just in case you aren’t able to pay your loan shark bank back.

Either way, debt is debt. The big difference to note is a loan secured for personal reasons, is considered non-productive. The borrower isn’t expected to take a calculated risk, in order to earn more money. A business loan is considered productive, since it might generate more money. This isn’t just our opinion, banks actually classify these loans separately in their filings. Today we’ll go through the aggregate of these numbers, then break them down segment by segment. Loans secured by real estate hit a new all-time high in February. The total balance of loans secured with real estate racked up to $283.65 billion, up 0.77% from the month before. This represents a 7.79% increase compared to the same month last year. It almost looked like Canadians were reeling that debt in January, with a tiny decline. Instead it made a monster move, more than making up the ground lost the month before.

Read more …

A media war.

MSM Is Frantically Attacking Dissenting Syria Narratives (CJ)

It’s getting too blatantly obvious, like a stranger coming up to you and talking about climate change while openly masturbating; what he is doing would eclipse interest in whatever he is saying. The frenetic publication of hit pieces against anyone who fails to fall in line with the establishment Syria narrative is fast becoming the real story here. Many of these recent hit pieces are coming out of the UK, which is interesting given the way a BBC reporter recently admonished her interviewee for questioning the official story about the alleged Douma chemical attacks because his words could hurt the “information war” effort against Russia.

If this view is widespread among British journalists (and recent headlines by the Times, the Independent and the Telegraph suggest that it may be), this means we’re looking at an environment wherein reporters aren’t even pretending it’s their job to be truthful, tell all sides of a story and hold power to account, but rather to manufacture support for escalations against Russia and undermine anyone who resists. Today yet another mainstream smear piece has been published about Vanessa Beeley, an investigative journalist who has done extensive work on the ground in Syria, which the UK’s Huffington Post branch hilariously titled “How An Obscure British Blogger Became Russia’s Key Witness Against The White Helmets”.

Its author, senior Huffpo editor Chris York, doesn’t explain how we’re meant to see an investigative journalist practicing the definition of investigative journalism on the ground in a war-torn nation as “an obscure blogger”, but he has said that he has two more such articles on the way. Who do these people think they’re kidding? Are we truly meant to believe that people expressing skepticism about the authenticity of a “civil defense group” in a distant Middle Eastern country is suddenly the most dangerous thing in the world?

Are we really meant to think it’s normal for all these mass media corporations to suddenly start ferociously attacking anyone who expresses skepticism about the military agendas of western forces that have an extensive and well-documented history of using lies, propaganda and false flags to manufacture support for military agendas? Are we really meant to believe that Syria, a nation for which the US and UK have been plotting regime change for many years, is just now in sore need of humanitarian regime change? And that anyone who says otherwise just loves Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin and dead babies?

Read more …

I asked before: did the DNC think this through?

WikiLeaks To Countersue Democrats; “Discovery Is Going To Be Amazing Fun” (ZH)

WikiLeaks has hit back against a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), announcing over Twitter that they are seeking donations for a counter-suit, noting “We’ve never lost a publishing case and discovery is going to be amazing fun,” along with a link which people can use to donate to the organization. Discovery is a pre-trial process by which one party can obtain evidence from the opposing party relevant to the case. The Trump campaign, which is also named in the DNC filing, says the lawsuit will provide an opportunity to “explore the DNC’s now-secret records.”

Hours after the Washington Post broke the news of the lawsuit, President Trump tweeted “Just heard the Campaign was sued by the Obstructionist Democrats. This can be good news in that we will now counter for the DNC server that they refused to give to the FBI,” referring to the DNC email breach. Trump also mentioned “the Debbie Wasserman Schultz Servers and Documents held by the Pakistani mystery man and Clinton Emails.” In a statement which goes into the various items they’ll be pursuing in court, the Trump campaign said the following: “While this lawsuit is frivolous and will be dismissed, if the case goes forward, the DNC has created an opportunity for us to take aggressive discovery into their claims of ‘damages’ and uncover their acts of corruption for the American people..”

If this lawsuit proceeds, the Trump Campaign will be prepared to leverage the discovery process and explore the DNC’s now-secret records about the actual corruption they perpetrated to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Everything will be on the table, including: • How the DNC contributed to the fake dossier, using Fusion GPS along with the Clinton Campaign as the basis for the launch of a phony investigation. • Why the FBI was never allowed access to the DNC servers in the course of their investigation into the Clinton e-mail scandal. • How the DNC conspired to hand Hillary Clinton the nomination over Bernie Sanders. • How officials at the highest levels of the DNC colluded with the news media to influence the outcome of the DNC nomination. • Management decisions by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Brazile, Tom Perez, and John Podesta; their e-mails, personnel decisions, budgets, opposition research, and more.

Read more …

It’s much worse than the title suggests.

One In Eight Bird Species Is Threatened With Extinction (G.)

One in eight bird species is threatened with global extinction, and once widespread creatures such as the puffin, snowy owl and turtle dove are plummeting towards oblivion, according to the definitive study of global bird populations. The State of the World’s Birds, a five-year compendium of population data from the best-studied group of animals on the planet, reveals a biodiversity crisis driven by the expansion and intensification of agriculture. In all, 74% of 1,469 globally threatened birds are affected primarily by farming. Logging, invasive species and hunting are the other main threats.

“Each time we undertake this assessment we see slightly more species at risk of extinction – the situation is deteriorating and the trends are intensifying,” said Tris Allinson, senior global science officer for BirdLife International, which produced the report. “The species at risk of extinction were once on mountaintops or remote islands, such as the pink pigeon in Mauritius. Now we’re seeing once widespread and familiar species – European turtle doves, Atlantic puffins and kittiwakes – under threat of global extinction.” According to the report, at least 40% of bird species worldwide are in decline, with researchers blaming human activity for the losses.

After farming, logging is a key factor in declines of 50% of the most globally endangered species, followed by invasive species (39%), hunting and trapping (35%), climate change (33%) and residential and commercial development (28%). The illegal killing of birds – usually because of traditional hunting – results in an estimated 12 to 38 million individual birds dying or being taken each year in the Mediterranean region alone

Read more …

Apr 212018
 
 April 21, 2018  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


James McNeill Whistler Morning Glories 1869

 

A US Recession Ahead? Fed Policymakers Say Not To Worry (R.)
If Treasuries Reach 3%, That Would Be Big (BBG)
Kim Jong-Un Halts Nuclear & Missile Tests, Shuts Down Testing Site (RT)
DNC Sues Russia, Trump, Wikileaks For Conspiring To Hurt Hillary in 2016 (ZH)
DNC Lawsuit Against WikiLeaks a Serious Threat to Press Freedom (IC)
Trump To “Counter” DNC Lawsuit (ZH)
Comey Memos Probed By DOJ For Classified Info Leaks (ZH)
Wells Fargo’s $1 Billion Pact Gives U.S. Power to Fire Managers (BBG)
IMF’s Thomsen Proposes Broadening Greek Tax Base (K.)
Windrush: When Even Legal Residents Face Deportation (Atlantic)

 

 

The illusion of control. Watch the hand.

A US Recession Ahead? Fed Policymakers Say Not To Worry (R.)

As the gap between short- and long-term borrowing costs hovers near its lowest in more than 10 years, speculation has risen over whether the so-called yield curve is signaling that a recession could be around the corner. Not to worry, two influential Federal Reserve policymakers said on Friday. Another, whose views are typically outside the mainstream at the Fed, disagreed. Growth prospects look pretty strong, which is why the Fed is raising short-term interest rates, the two sanguine policymakers explained. Those rate hikes, they said, are in and of themselves acting to flatten the yield curve. In addition, they argued, the curve will likely steepen as the U.S. government runs a bigger deficit and issues more debt.

The calming comments, from the New York Fed’s incoming chief John Williams and from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans in back-to-back but separate appearances, appeared calculated to allay concern about a potential slowdown ahead. “The yield curve is not nearly as much of a concern as I might have pointed to a couple months ago,” Evans said in Chicago after a speech, in response to a reporter’s question. Williams, who will leave his current job as San Francisco Fed president in June to take over at the New York Fed, also said he expects the Fed’s shrinking balance sheet will help steepen the curve by putting upward pressure on longer-term rates.

In January the U.S. Congress passed a budget deal that boosts U.S. government spending, following a December tax package that slashes corporate tax rates. Both changes are expected to lead to an increase in government borrowing in coming years. The Fed policymakers reason that a bigger supply of debt should put downward pressure on Treasury prices and deliver a corresponding lift to yields. “We’ve got more fiscal debt in train in the U.S. That has to be funded,” and will likely push up long rates and steepen the yield curve, Evans said. At their March meeting, Fed officials “generally agreed that the current degree of flatness of the yield curve was not unusual by historical standards,” according to the meeting minutes.

Read more …

Where the Fed loses control.

If Treasuries Reach 3%, That Would Be Big (BBG)

The global bond market’s primary benchmark, the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield, is knocking on the door of 3 percent, a level it hasn’t topped in more than four years. That’s more than just a nice round number. Higher yields make the burden of everything from mortgages to student loans and car payments even heavier. Some market gurus see it as a turning point with effects that could be felt for years — and not just in bonds. With the Federal Reserve signaling interest rates are going up even more, investors in riskier assets like stocks and high-yield debt are left to wonder if this is how their post-recession party ends.

1. What’s so important about yield? A bond’s yield is a measure of the return an investor can expect from buying it. It’s determined by the bond’s interest rate and the price paid for it. For instance, buying a security that pays a fixed 2 percent (the “coupon”) at face value (known as “par”) results in a yield of 2 percent. Buying it at a cheaper price would raise the yield for the investor, while paying a premium would reduce the overall yield. (Maybe the most confusing aspect of the bond market to outsiders is the inverse relationship between price and yield.)

2. How do you determine the benchmark 10-year yield?In the $14.9 trillion Treasuries market, the benchmark is based on the most recently auctioned 10-year security (known as the “on-the-run”). It’s the best measure because it tends to have a price close to par and a coupon close to the current yield. On Friday, the 10-year yield closed at 2.96 percent.

3. Why are yields going up?The Fed is raising its short-term lending rate as the U.S. economy strengthens, after holding it near-zero in the wake of the financial crisis. The three rate hikes last year pushed up two- and five-year Treasury yields in particular, but they’ve also affected 10-year yields as central bankers expect more boosts this year. Another reason: inflation is showing signs of picking up, which erodes the value of bonds’ fixed payments and leads investors to demand higher yields.

4. Why is 3 percent a milestone?Since 2011, it’s been touched only twice, briefly, in 2013 and early 2014, before a bond bull market drove yields to record lows. But 3 percent has also been cited by prominent fixed-income investors like Jeffrey Gundlach at DoubleLine Capital and Scott Minerd at Guggenheim Partners as critical to determining whether the three-decade bull market in bonds is at an end. In the mind of analysts who look at market patterns, once the yield breaks much beyond the 3.05 percent, to levels last reached in 2011, that threshold could flip to a floor from a ceiling.

5. Why does it matter?The 10-year Treasury yield is a global benchmark for borrowing costs. Corporations will have to pay more to issue debt, which they’ve done cheaply in recent years. So will state and local governments, which could jeopardize investments in public infrastructure. Homeowners will face higher mortgage rates (or lose out on refinancing at a lower cost). Taking out loans for cars or college could also become more expensive.

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A Nobel Peace Prize.

Kim Jong-Un Halts Nuclear & Missile Tests, Shuts Down Testing Site (RT)

North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs have allowed it to secure strategic stability and peace, so there is no need for additional missile and nuclear tests anymore, Kim Jong-un has proclaimed. “From April 21, 2018, nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile tests will be discontinued,” the Korean Central News Agency cited Kim as saying at a plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK). Furthermore, since North Korea’s nuclear test center has “completed” its mission, it “will be discarded in order to ensure the transparency of the nuclear test suspension,” KCNA reported.

Announcing the new course, the ruling party has declared that North Korea “will never use nuclear weapons, unless there is nuclear threat or nuclear provocation to our country, and in no case we will proliferate nuclear weapons and nuclear technology.” In the announcement, North Korea noted that the “suspension of nuclear testing is an important process for global nuclear disarmament.” Therefore, North Korea is willing to join international denuclearization efforts. North Korea’s last major missile test took place on November 29. Pyongyang announced at the time that it had tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile known as the Hwasong-15 that could reach the entire continental United States.

US President Donald Trump, who has traded insults and threats with Kim since taking office, tweeted that the latest decision by Pyongyang is “good news for North Korea and the world,” calling it “big progress.” China has also hailed the move, expressing hope that Pyongyang will continue towards the path of denuclearization and “political settlement” on the Korean Peninsula. “Denuclearization of the peninsula and lasting peace in the region are in line with the common interests of the people of the peninsula,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

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Have they really thought this through?

DNC Sues Russia, Trump, Wikileaks For Conspiring To Hurt Hillary in 2016 (ZH)

Did The Democrats’ “The Russians did it” narrative just jump the shark? The Washingtoin Post reports that The Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Friday against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization alleging a far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump. The lawsuit alleges that in addition to the Russian Federation, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0, top Trump campaign officials, including Donald Trump Jr, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and pretty much everyone else who has been mentioned in the same paragraph as Trump….

… conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there. [..] The suit filed today seeks millions of dollars in compensation to offset damage it claims the party suffered from the hacks. The DNC argues that the cyberattack undermined its ability to communicate with voters, collect donations and operate effectively as its employees faced personal harassment and, in some cases, death threats.

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And Julian Assange is not allowed to see this. Let alone defend himself. A pattern in his life.

DNC Lawsuit Against WikiLeaks a Serious Threat to Press Freedom (IC)

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) filed a lawsuit this afternoon in a Manhattan federal court against the Russian Government, the Trump campaign and various individuals it alleges participated in the plot to hack its email servers and disseminate the contents as part of the 2016 election. The DNC also sued WikiLeaks for its role in publishing the hacked materials, though it does not allege that WikiLeaks participated in the hacking or even knew in advance about it; its sole role, according to the DNC’s lawsuit, was publishing the hacked emails.

The DNC’s suit, as it pertains to WikiLeaks, poses a grave threat to press freedom. The theory of the suit – that WikiLeaks is liable for damages it caused when it “willfully and intentionally disclosed” the DNC’s communications (paragraph 183) – would mean that any media outlet that publishes misappropriated documents or emails (exactly what media outlets quite often do) could be sued by the entity or person about which they are reporting, or even theoretically prosecuted for it, or that any media outlet releasing an internal campaign memo is guilty of “economic espionage” (paragraph 170).

It is extremely common for media outlets to publish or report on materials that are stolen, hacked, or otherwise obtained in violation of the law. In October, 2016 – one month before the election – someone mailed a copy of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns to the New York Times, which published parts of it even though it is illegal to disclose someone’s tax returns without the taxpayer’s permission; in March, 2017, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow did the same thing with Trump’s 2005 tax returns.

In April, 2016, the Washington Post obtained and published a confidential internal memo from the Trump campaign. Media outlets constantly publish private companies’ internal documents. Just three weeks ago, BuzzFeed obtained and published a secret Facebook memo outlining the company’s internal business strategies, the contents of which were covered by most major media outlets. Some of the most important stories in contemporary journalism have come from media outlets obtaining and publishing materials that were taken without authorization or even in violation of the law. Both the New York Times and Washington Post published thousands of pages from the top secret Pentagon Papers after Daniel Ellsberg took them without authorization from the Pentagon – and they won the right to publish them in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Guardian and the Washington Post won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for publishing and reporting on huge numbers of top secret documents taken by Edward Snowden from the NSA. The Guardian, the New York Times, and numerous papers from around the world broke multiple stories by publishing classified classified documents downloaded by Chelsea Manning without authorization and sent to WikiLeaks. In 2016, more than 100 newspapers from around the world published and reported on millions of private financial documents known as the “Panama Papers,” which were taken without authorization from one of the world’s biggest offshore law firms and revealed the personal finances of people around the world.

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Did the DNC see this coming, and is that why they sued first?

Trump To “Counter” DNC Lawsuit (ZH)

President Trump is eager to go head-to-head with the DNC which filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit on Friday against several parties, including the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization – alleging a “far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump.” Hours after the Washington Post broke the news of the lawsuit, Trump tweeted “Just heard the Campaign was sued by the Obstructionist Democrats. This can be good news in that we will now counter for the DNC server that they refused to give to the FBI,” referring to the DNC email breach. Trump also mentioned “the Debbie Wasserman Schultz Servers and Documents held by the Pakistani mystery man and Clinton Emails.”

The “Pakistani mystery man” is a clear reference to former DNC CHair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s longtime IT employee and personal friend, Imran Awan – whose father, claims a Daily Caller source, transferred a USB drive to the former head of a Pakistani intelligence agency – Rehman Malik. Malik denies the charge. Of note, the DNC would not allow the FBI to inspect their servers which were supposedly hacked by the Russians – instead relying on private security firm Crowdstrike. Meanwhile, the “Wasserman Schultz Servers” Trump mentions is likely in reference to the stolen House Democratic Caucus server – which Imran Awan had been funneling information onto when it disappeared shortly after the House Inspector General concluded that the server may have been “used for nefarious purposes.”

Imran Awan, his wife Hina Alvi and several other associates ran IT operations for at least 60 Congressional Democrats over the past decade, along with the House Democratic Caucus – giving them access to emails and computer data from around 800 lawmakers and staffers – including the highly classified materials reviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.

Napolitano: He was arrested for some financial crime – that’s the tip of the iceberg. The real allegation against him is that he had access to the emails of every member of congress and he sold what he found in there. What did he sell, and to whom did he sell it? That’s what the FBI wants to know. This may be a very, very serious national security situation.

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“..all of Comey’s memos – all of them, were classified at the time they were written, and they remain classified.”

Comey Memos Probed By DOJ For Classified Info Leaks (ZH)

The Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general is now conducting an investigation into classification issues concerning the “Comey memos” leaked to the New York Times by former FBI Director James Comey. Sources tell the Wall St. Journal that at least two of the memos which Comey leaked to his “good friend,” Columbia Law Professor Daniel Richman, contained information that officials now consider classified – prompting the review by the Office of the Inspector General, headed by Michael Horowitz. “Of those two memos, Mr. Comey himself redacted elements of one that he knew to be classified to protect secrets before he handed the documents over to his friend. He determined at the time that another memo contained no classified information, but after he left the Federal Bureau of Investigation, bureau officials upgraded it to “confidential,” the lowest level of classification.” -WSJ

Comey told Congressional investigators that he considered the memos to be personal rather than government documents. The memos – leaked through Richman, were a major catalyst in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 US election. While Richman told CNN “No memo was given to me that was marked ‘classified,’ and James Comey told Congressional investigators he tried to “write it in such a way that I don’t include anything that would trigger a classification,” it appears the FBI’s chief FOIA officer disagrees.

We previously reported that Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said four of the 7 Comey memos he reviewed were “marked classified” at the “Secret” or “Confidential” level – however in January the FBI’s chief FOIA officer reportedly told Judicial Watch – in a signed declaration, that every single Comey memo was classified at the time. “We have a sworn declaration from David Hardy who is the chief FOIA officer of the FBI that we obtained just in the last few days, and in that sworn declaration, Mr. Hardy says that all of Comey’s memos – all of them, were classified at the time they were written, and they remain classified.” -Chris Farrell, Judicial Watch

Therefore, Farrell points out, Comey mishandled national defense information when he “knowingly and willfully” leaked them to his friend at Columbia University. It’s also mishandling of national defense information, which is a crime. So it’s clear that Mr. Comey not only authored those documents, but then knowingly and willfully leaked them to persons unauthorized, which is in and of itself a national security crime. Mr. Comey should have been read his rights back on June 8th when he testified before the Senate. Farrell told Lou Dobbs “Recently retired and active duty FBI agents have told me – and it’s several of them, they consider Comey to be a dirty cop.”

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“Wells Fargo fined twenty days worth of net income sounds a lot less daunting than $1 billion..”

Wells Fargo’s $1 Billion Pact Gives U.S. Power to Fire Managers (BBG)

Wells Fargo’s $1 billion fine won’t close the book on fallout from its consumer scandals. The nation’s third-largest bank submitted to an unprecedented order Friday that would give the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency the right to remove some of the lender’s executives or board members. That comes on top of the penalties Wells Fargo will pay to settle U.S. probes into mistreatment of consumers, the largest sanction of a U.S. bank under President Donald Trump. The OCC said it “reserves the right to take additional supervisory action, including imposing business restrictions and making changes to executive officers or members of the bank’s board of directors.” The agency could also veto potential executive candidates.

The bank will pay $500 million in penalties each to the OCC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to a statement Friday. Wells Fargo warned shareholders last week it would soon face a fine of that size, which it will book retroactively in the first quarter. The bank remains under a Federal Reserve penalty that bans growth in total assets. “CEOs who hoped the Trump administration would be universally lenient regulators missed the difference between a dislike for rules that stifle innovation and employment and a dislike for rules against wrongdoing,” said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

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Squeezing that stone for all he’s worth.

IMF’s Thomsen Proposes Broadening Greek Tax Base (K.)

Poul Thomsen, director of the International Monetary Fund’s European department, on Friday spoke in favor of broadening Greece’s tax base though he stopped short of determining whether the IMF would call for reductions to the tax-free threshold (due to come into effect in January 2020) to apply a year in advance. Speaking in Washington, where the IMF is holding its Spring Meetings, Thomsen said that raising taxes had played a large part in the country’s fiscal adjustment in recent years but that Greece must find a way of meeting fiscal targets that is “growth-friendly.” The IMF will not impose any specific policies, he said but proposed a “discussion” about the timing of tax reforms.

As regards the Fund’s potential role in Greece’s third international bailout, which expires in August, he said at least one bailout review must be carried out before a decision can be made as well as agreement to lighten Greece’s debt. “Time is running short for us to be able to activate the program,” he said. A discussion on debt measures is likely to take place at the next meeting of eurozone finance ministers, scheduled for April 27 in Sofia. Talks there will also focus on a growth plan that the government has presented to bailout auditors. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos on Friday met in Washington with European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, Eurogroup Chairman Mario Centeno and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and is to meet Thomsen and IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Saturday.

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If this doesn’t bring down the government, Britain has a whale of a problem. And no excuses. May suddenly offering them money now, after being exposed, is perhaps the worst part of it. You can’t buy off blatant racism with taxpayer money. And those taxpayers should let that be known, very loudly. Or they’re just as guilty.

Windrush: When Even Legal Residents Face Deportation (Atlantic)

In the aftermath of World War II, the British government invited thousands of people from Caribbean countries in the British Commonwealth to immigrate to the United Kingdom and help address the war-torn country’s labor shortages. Now, nearly 70 years later, many of those same people, now elderly, are having their legal status in the country questioned and are facing deportation. Though the deportation threats date as far back as October, the crisis burst into wider view this week after Caribbean diplomats representing a dozen Commonwealth nations chastised the U.K. government publicly. “This is about people saying, as they said 70 years ago, ‘Go back home.’ It is not good enough for people who gave their lives to this country to be treated like this,” Guy Hewitt, the high commissioner from Barbados to the U.K., said at a gathering of the diplomats.

The migrants are known as the “Windrush generation,” named for the HMT Empire Windrush that brought the first group of them to the U.K. in June 1948. Of the half a million people who immigrated to the U.K. from the Commonwealth between then and 1971, an estimated 50,000 lack the proper documentation to prove it. In a meeting with Caribbean leaders on Tuesday, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May apologized “for any anxiety that has been caused” and promised no deportations would take place. Still, such assurances won’t necessarily convince those who remain skeptical of the U.K.’s strict immigration policies—ones May herself championed when she served as home secretary between 2010 and 2016.

During that time, May sought to meet then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s goal of reducing net immigration to the tens of thousands by making the U.K. a “hostile environment” for illegal immigration. In practice, this meant requiring doctors, employers, landlords, and schools to confirm that those whom they served were in the country legally. “The determination was to go systematically through any interaction people might have with the state, short of putting checkpoints in the road, just to have people’s immigration status checked,” Polly Mackenzie, the director of cross-party think tank Demos and the former policy director to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, told me. The Windrush generation wasn’t supposed to be part of that calculus—they had immigrated to the country legally and were thereby entitled to public services, including the right to education, healthcare, and social security.

But after the implementation of the “hostile environment” policies in 2012, these individuals suddenly had to prove their right to live and work in the country—a right which was guaranteed to them under the Immigration Act of 1971, though not everyone obtained the documentation to confirm it. This documentation problem arose in part from the fact that so many people belonging to the Windrush generation immigrated to the U.K. as children, often on their parents’ passport. What’s more, the British government didn’t keep records of who was permitted to stay in the country, nor did they issue documentation confirming it. What little records the government did keep, such as the landing cards documenting the arrival dates of Windrush-era immigrants, were discarded in 2010.

For some, the result was catastrophic. In one case, a woman had lived and worked in the U.K. for 50 years before she was wrongfully declared an illegal immigrant and almost forced on a plane to her native Jamaica. In another, a man who had lived in the U.K. for 59 years received a letter that not only informed him of his illegal status in the country, but also offered him “help and support on returning home voluntarily.” Perhaps one of the most severe cases concerned a man who, after living in the U.K. for 44 years, had his cancer treatment through the National Health Service withheld because he couldn’t provide sufficient documentation to prove he lived in the country continuously since immigrating from Jamaica in 1973.

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Feb 032018
 
 February 3, 2018  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frank Larson Times Square, New York 1954

 

FISA Memo Released: Here’s What It Says (ZH)
Dow Plummets 666 Points, Capping Worst Week In 2 Years (CNBC)
Did The Market Just Get “Woke?” (Roberts)
Over $100 Billion Wiped Off Global Cryptocurrency Market In 24 Hours (CNBC)
Bitcoin Ban Expands Across Credit Cards as Big US Banks Recoil (BBG)
Sotu Klaatu Barada Nikto (Jim Kunstler)
UK Interest Rates Will Rise At The End Of February (G.)
Green Brexit Is Impossible To Guarantee, EU Is Warned (G.)
German Carmakers Have Lost All Moral Standing (Spiegel)
How YouTube’s Algorithm Distorts Truth (G.)
Blockchain To Track Congo’s Cobalt From Mine To Mobile (R.)
Congo Gripped By Fear As Thousands Flee ‘Bone-Chilling’ Violence (G.)
WikiLeaks Has Published Leaks On Trump Admin And Russia, Seeking More (CJ)
‘Ultra-Processed’ Products Now Half Of All UK Family Food Purchases (G.)

 

 

The differences in interpretation across the aisle are far more stunning than the memo itself is.

FISA Memo Released: Here’s What It Says (ZH)

Update: The just released FISA memo accuses senior officials at the DOJ of inappropriately using biased opposition research into then-candidate Trump to obtain surveillance warrants on transition team members as part of the federal investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia. According to the document, information from the the so-called Steele dossier was “essential” to the acquisition of surveillance warrants on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. It claims that then-deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe told the committee in December that without the information from the Steele dossier, no surveillance warrant for Page would have been sought. The memo alleges that the political origins of the dossier — paid for by Hillary Clinton and the DNC — were not disclosed to the clandestine court that signed off on the warrant request.

The document claims that although the FBI had “clear evidence” that the author of the dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele, was biased against Trump, it did not convey that to the surveillance court when making its warrant applications. Steele told then-associate deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr that he was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president,” the memo says. House conservatives have touted the memo’s revelations as “worse than Watergate” and hinted that it could prove the undoing of the federal investigation into Trump’s campaign. Meanwhile, Democrats on the panel say that it is a cherry-picked set of inaccurate accusations designed to kneecap special counsel Robert Mueller. They have drafted their own counter-memo to rebut the Republican-drafted document, but the majority voted against immediately making that document public earlier this week.

The memo is based on a slate of highly-classified materials provided to the committee by the Justice Department itself, in a closed-door deal brokered by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Naturally, the DOJ has claimed that the release of the memo is an abrogation of the terms of that deal, an assertion spokesmen for both Ryan and Nunes have rejected. Meanwhile, the underlying evidence remains classified, a state of affairs that Democrats and some national security analysts say makes it impossible to independently verify the memo’s conclusions. As The Hill reported earlier, ahead of the document’s release, Paul Ryan privately urged House Republicans not to overplay the document — and not to tie it to the Mueller investigation.

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10 years ago, a drop of 777 was the biggest news on the planet. Today, 666 gets poo-poohed into nothingness.

Dow Plummets 666 Points, Capping Worst Week In 2 Years (CNBC)

U.S. stocks fell sharply on Friday after a stronger-than-expected jobs report sent interest rates higher. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 665.75 points to close at 25,520.96, capping off the index’s sixth-largest points decline ever. The 30-stock index also fell below 26,000. Friday also marked the first time since June 2016 that the Dow fell at least 500 points. The S&P 500 fell 2.1% and finished at 2,762.13, with energy as the worst-performing sector. The Nasdaq composite plunged 1.96% to 7,240.95 as a decline in Apple and Alphabet offset a strong gain in Amazon shares. The Dow posted its worst day since June 2016. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq had their biggest one-day fall since September 2016 and August 2017, respectively.

“The key for the market today is rising interest rates,” said Mike Baele, managing director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “The old adage is: ‘Bull markets don’t die of old age, they are killed by higher interest rates.’ That looms large.” The U.S. economy added 200,000 jobs in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists polled by Reuters expected growth of 180,000. Wages, meanwhile, rose 2.9% on an annualized basis. The report sent interest rates higher. The benchmark 10-year yield rose to 2.85% on the back of the report, hitting a four-year high. Investors have been jittery about the recent rise in interest rates, worrying they may be rising too fast. On Friday, the 30-year yield rose its highest level since March.

Bank stocks fell as the yield curve widened. The SPDR S&P Bank exchange-traded fund, which tracks bank stocks, dropped 1.2%. Banks typically benefit from higher interest rates. This has been a volatile week for U.S. stocks. The Cboe Volatility index, widely considered the best fear gauge in the market, rose from 11.08 this week to 17.31.

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That graph is stunning.

Did The Market Just Get “Woke?” (Roberts)

Since the beginning of this year, we have been warning of the potential for a correction. Of course, such warnings seemed pointless as the nearly “parabolic” rise in the markets seemed unstoppable. But all of a sudden, something seems to have changed as the market stumbled this past week and has been unable to regain its footing.

So, what “woke” the markets? Was it the sudden realization that Central Banks globally are reducing Q.E. programs? Or, that economic growth may be weaker than expected given recent numbers? Or, something else? Whatever, the excuse turns out to be, the real culprit is seen in the chart below.

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By now, there are some really big losers out there.

Over $100 Billion Wiped Off Global Cryptocurrency Market In 24 Hours (CNBC)

Over $100 billion was wiped off the global cryptocurrency market in 24 hours on Friday amid concerns over tighter regulation and worries that the bitcoin price was manipulated on a major exchange. The total market capitalization or value of all cryptocurrencies in circulation stood at $405 billion Friday morning New York time, according to data from CoinMarketCap.com, which takes into account the prices of digital coins across a number of key exchanges. This was a fall of $112.6 billion in value from a day before. Cryptocurrencies have seen a major sell-off this week. Bitcoin fell below $9,000 on Thursday and briefly dropped below $8,000 Friday morning, according to CoinDesk’s bitcoin price index, which tracks prices from four major cryptocurrency exchanges.

Other major coins including ethereum and ripple were down 12% and 13%, respectively, compared to a day ago as of 9:58 a.m., ET, Friday. The cryptocurrency world has been plagued by a spate of negative news. India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the country wants to “eliminate” the use of digital currencies in criminal activities, signaling tighter regulation in the country. The New York Times reported Wednesday that an increasing number of digital currency investors are worried the price of bitcoin and other digital currencies have been inflated by cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex, which is included in CoinDesk’s price index. Bloomberg reported Tuesday that in December, the U.S. Commodity Futures and Trading Commission subpoenaed Bitfinex and a cryptocurrency company called Tether, which is run by many of the same executives.

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What, they figured there was no more profit in there?

Bitcoin Ban Expands Across Credit Cards as Big US Banks Recoil (BBG)

A growing number of big U.S. credit-card issuers are deciding they don’t want to finance a falling knife. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup said they’re halting purchases of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on their credit cards. JPMorgan, enacting the ban Saturday, doesn’t want the credit risk associated with the transactions, company spokeswoman Mary Jane Rogers said. Bank of America started declining credit card transactions with known crypto exchanges on Friday. The policy applies to all personal and business credit cards, according to a memo. It doesn’t affect debit cards, said company spokeswoman Betty Riess.

And late Friday, Citigroup said it too will halt purchases of cryptocurrencies on its credit cards. “We will continue to review our policy as this market evolves,” company spokeswoman Jennifer Bombardier said. Allowing purchases of cryptocurrencies can create big headaches for lenders, which can be left on the hook if a borrower bets wrong and can’t repay. There’s also the risk that thieves will abuse cards that were purloined or based on stolen identities, turning them into crypto hoards. Banks also are required by regulators to monitor customer transactions for signs of money laundering – which isn’t as easy once dollars are converted into digital coins.

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From before the memo release. As I said, it’s the interpretation more than the memo itself.

Sotu Klaatu Barada Nikto (Jim Kunstler)

The situation certainly puts the nation in a quandary. An uncouth and ridiculous President called forth to battle a vicious, dishonest, bureaucracy and in particular its gigantic, out-of-control “security” apparatus, which appears to have been hijacked by politically interested parties — namely, the minions of Hillary Clinton. You have been reminded here before that history is the supreme prankster. In Fourth Turning terms, the poor old disintegrating USA pined for a “gray champion” and all it got was this booby prize: a Manhattan real estate schmikler with a mean streak. Well, that’s how things roll in a long emergency. And this might only be the beginning of it. In any case, it appears that the FBI, in the hallowed words of Ricky Ricardo, has got some ‘splainin’ to do.

Recall, it was not so long ago that the FBI was run by a cross-dressing maniac addicted to blackmail, so let’s not act as if the agency was something that the Lord Yahweh brought into being on the fifth day of creation, after the lobsters and the cockateels. Granted, J. Edgar Hoover was a hard act to follow, but we are now, evidently, living in an age of even lower men (and women, to be fair). CNN reminded viewers relentlessly last night that The Memo was sure to be a disappointment, a “nothingburger,” for a nation that expects a righteous half-pound beef patty with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and special sauce on a sesame bun. Personally, I expect something more like a three-day-old dead carp in a plain brown wrapper. Maybe “the Resistance” will try to make gefilte fish out of it, which is a burger of sorts: chopped meat, anyway.

Meanwhile, we await the report of DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who has been rooting around in the same burger den as the House and Senate committees, questioning the same cast of characters. The DOJ report is liable to be more damaging than The Memo. The whole nasty gumball of suspicion and innuendo seems destined to climax in a constitutional crisis. Ludicrous as it seems — like some rogue army out of the stupid Star Wars epic — the “Resistance” bethinks itself the nation’s savior. In the best American tradition, they’ll burn the joint down in order to save it.

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Another little Brexit surprise.

UK Interest Rates Will Rise At The End Of February (G.)

There’s going to be an interest rate rise on 28 February. In just a few weeks you are going to see about 0.25% added to mortgage and savings rates. But you won’t see a press release from the Bank of England that the base rate has gone up. Instead, for the first time in years, banks are going to be scrambling to offer savers better rates – and the losers will be anyone taking out a new mortgage. So what’s happening? On 28 February an extraordinary financial measure, put in place in the days after the Brexit vote, will end. It was called the Term Funding Scheme and was designed to make sure that the 0.25% rate cut in the wake of the shock referendum result in 2016, did actually feed through the financial system (while keeping them profitable). Under the scheme, banks and building societies were able to borrow money from the Bank of England almost for free.

They did so with gusto. They have so far taken £106bn under the scheme, equal to around £3,500 for every working person in the country. Lloyds took £18bn, RBS £14bn, Barclays £10bn, Nationwide £9.5bn and Santander £8bn. Nearly everyone rushed to grab their share: from the tiny Holmesdale building society – which took £4m – through to the Nottingham building society (£395m) and Virgin Money (£4.2bn). Specialist lender Aldermore, which does a lot of buy-to-let mortgages, has drawn £1.4bn from the scheme over a period during which its total net lending has been £1.5bn. It underlines just how important the cash has been. With all this money gushing out of the Bank of England, it has meant that no one has really had to bother chasing savers for their money. So savings rates, already massively depressed by the 2012 Funding for Lending Scheme, were hit further.

But the corner will be turned on 28 February. On that date, the banks and building societies will have to start repaying that £106bn. They’ll have a few years to do it, so maybe I’m being a little dramatic suggesting rates will rise overnight. But let’s say I wouldn’t, right now, lock myself into Lloyds’ one-year bond paying 0.4% or NatWest’s two-year bond paying 0.85%. The banks are going to have to offer much better rates than that to bring the money in. Some of the big banks may pooh-pooh this. Yes, £18bn sounds like a lot for Lloyds, but then it has an £800bn balance sheet, so it’s hardly fatal. But when rivals start offering as much as 3% to get you to move money, banks won’t have a choice but to raise rates. According to Paul Richards, chairman of Insignis Cash Solutions: “It’s likely we will see a 0.25%-0.5% increase in longer-term savings rates over the next 12 months and potentially up to 1% over the next 24-36 months, which could leave a one-year term account getting close to the 3% level.”

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Why should the EU feel ‘warned’ about what may happen when the UK is no longer part of the EU?

Green Brexit Is Impossible To Guarantee, EU Is Warned (G.)

The European Conservative and Reformist group which represents Conservative MEPs has has said Brexit will make it “impossible” to guarantee that current environmental standards can be maintained in Britain or the EU. A leaked document seen by the Guardian also calls for “the closest possible working relationship” between the EU and UK after Brexit, and for a “no regression clause” in future British trade deals. This would “limit any negative effects from deregulation,” says the paper, which was submitted to the European parliament’s Brexit environment steering group. Some Conservative MEPs claimed not to have seen the report that was submitted. The parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, told the Guardian: “Suggestions that the UK might seek to lower environmental standards after Brexit are alarming and contradict the commitments made by prime minister May in her Florence speech.”

They also showed why a future deal “must contain precise and detailed safeguards, with robust sanctions, to ensure the maintenance of high standards and a level playing field,” he said. The EU’s environmental laws are among its most popular, with polls showing that over 80% of Britons support the same levels of protection – or higher – after Brexit. During the referendum campaign, key government ministers said EU laws such as the birds and habitats directive were “spirit-crushing” and would be scrapped. But Theresa May has sought to defuse fears of conservation backsliding by trying to make the environment a selling point of leaving the bloc. “Let me be very clear,” May said in a speech last month. “Brexit will not mean a lowering of environmental standards.” “We will use the opportunity Brexit provides to strengthen and enhance our environmental protections – not to weaken them.”

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Still haven’t seen one word about prosecuting the people behind all this. Incredible.

German Carmakers Have Lost All Moral Standing (Spiegel)

Starting in 2007, BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Bosch maintained a joint lobby organization that was disguised as a research institute. The European Research Association for the Environment and Health in the Transportation Sector (EUGT) purported to dedicate itself to the “environmental-medical effects of road traffic.” But the staff in leadership posts alone shows that the institute was in no way interested in independent research. EUGT head Michael Spallek, for example, had previously spent years employed as a leading company doctor at VW. He retained his VW email address, even after his move to EUGT. The results of the institute’s research were accordingly one-sided. The efficacy of low emission zones in cities that place restrictions on driving cars with high emissions?

There’s no proof, according to one essay the lobby group managed to place in a trade publication for respiratory medicine. Nighttime noise pollution from cars? It’s no problem, as long as it’s continuous. Do diesel emissions cause cancer? Can’t be proven. A short time later, former VW manager and EUGT head Spallek approved the tests with the monkeys. “We have finished our discussions with the company lawyers,” Spallek wrote in an email dating June 14, 2013. The lawyers had given the green light for the study to be carried out, but with one restriction: Non-human primates were to be used instead of human volunteers. Several VW executives at the time were copied in the message, including Stuart Johnson, the head of the company’s Engineering and Environmental Office in the United States.

But it doesn’t appear as though any critical questions were asked. The aim of the experiment with the monkeys had been to deliver definitive proof of how clean “German diesel” really is. The case files compiled by attorney Melkersen illustrate the zeal with which VW’s people organized the test. Nothing was left to chance when engineer James Liang began his journey with a bright-red VW Beetle from California to New Mexico at the beginning of October 2014. The engineer from company headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, was already under pressure, even at that point. The U.S. environmental authorities had expressed their doubts about the emissions values of the allegedly squeaky-clean car. VW Chairman Martin Winterkorn had been breathing down his staff’s necks, too. The new diesel models needed to provide the company with a breakthrough in the important U.S. market. As such, anything that might possibly preserve diesel’s environmentally friendly façade had priority.

Which is where the monkeys came in. As of Oct. 2, all final preparations had been made for the test. The VW man moved assiduously around the red Beetle, which had been placed on a chassis dynamometer. The experiment would be led by Jacob McDonald, an athletic young biologist who had quickly risen in his career at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI). McDonald found it strange that an engineer from Volkswagen would be present for the test. “It’s the first time that I’ve experienced that,” he would later say. And what he really couldn’t grasp was why the VW people wanted to transmit the entire test data in real-time to their research center in California. Engineer Liang had even brought along a transmission device especially for the task.

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YouTube has the lowest common denominator down to a T. So let kids see videos of kids beating up kids. They’re sure to keep watching.

How YouTube’s Algorithm Distorts Truth (G.)

There are 1.5 billion YouTube users in the world, which is more than the number of households that own televisions. What they watch is shaped by this algorithm, which skims and ranks billions of videos to identify 20 “up next” clips that are both relevant to a previous video and most likely, statistically speaking, to keep a person hooked on their screen. Company insiders tell me the algorithm is the single most important engine of YouTube’s growth. In one of the few public explanations of how the formula works – an academic paper that sketches the algorithm’s deep neural networks, crunching a vast pool of data about videos and the people who watch them – YouTube engineers describe it as one of the “largest scale and most sophisticated industrial recommendation systems in existence”.

Lately, it has also become one of the most controversial. The algorithm has been found to be promoting conspiracy theories about the Las Vegas mass shooting and incentivising, through recommendations, a thriving subculture that targets children with disturbing content such as cartoons in which the British children’s character Peppa Pig eats her father or drinks bleach. Lewd and violent videos have been algorithmically served up to toddlers watching YouTube Kids, a dedicated app for children. One YouTube creator who was banned from making advertising revenues from his strange videos – which featured his children receiving flu shots, removing earwax, and crying over dead pets – told a reporter he had only been responding to the demands of Google’s algorithm. “That’s what got us out there and popular,” he said. “We learned to fuel it and do whatever it took to please the algorithm.”

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How to make rape, murder and pillage more efficiently. And what does Amnesty say? ‘We’re not against it’.

Blockchain To Track Congo’s Cobalt From Mine To Mobile (R.)

Blockchain is to be used for the first time to try to track cobalt’s journey from artisanal mines in Democratic Republic of Congo through to products used in smartphones and electric cars. Sources close to a pilot scheme expected to be launched this year say the aim is eventually to give manufacturers a way of ensuring the cobalt in lithium-ion batteries for products such as iPhones and Teslas has not been mined by children. Tracking cobalt presents many challenges as scores of informal mine sites would have to be monitored, all players in the supply chain would need to buy into the scheme, and accurate, electronic data would need to be transmitted from remote areas – all in a vast country plagued by lawlessness.

But companies are under growing pressure from consumers and investors to show the cobalt they use has come through supply chains free of rights abuses, just as they have for minerals used in electronics such as tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold. Businesses in China, the main destination for Congolese cobalt from artisanal mines, have set up a Responsible Cobalt Initiative, which has been joined by tech giants such as Apple and Samsung, to address child labor. The problem they face is that there are few sure-fire ways of tracing cobalt from the informal mines that produce up to a fifth of the cobalt from Congo, the world’s biggest producer. “The demand to make cobalt more sustainable is going to continue growing, meaning there is a will to find a solution and blockchain will be part of that,” said a source with the project.

[..] Sheila Warren, head of blockchain policy at the World Economic Forum, said it was an open question how well it could work in Congo given the prevalence of conflict, lawlessness and an opaque legal system. “We are prototyping, iterating, testing, scaling,” said Warren, who is working with experts to see how blockchain can improve mineral supply chains. “The technology is not the hard part.” Amnesty International, which detailed the extent of child labor in cobalt mining in Congo in a 2016 report, said it was looking at blockchain, especially with a view to tracing payments to middlemen. “You have to be wary of technological solutions to problems that are also political and economic, but blockchain may help. We’re not against it,” said Amnesty researcher Mark Dummett.

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It is our governments who are behind this. And our media who don’t tell us about that. How anyone can protest when the Congo is labeled a shithole is beyond me. That takes a very large object up one’s behind.

Congo Gripped By Fear As Thousands Flee ‘Bone-Chilling’ Violence (G.)

The UN refugee agency has become the latest aid organisation to voice its alarm over rising violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that has forced thousands of people to flee their homes. Amid a worsening humanitarian crisis, almost 7,000 people have crossed to neighbouring Burundi and 1,200 into Tanzania in the past week, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Refugees we have spoken to say they fled forced recruitment, direct violence and other abuses by armed groups. Others say they fled in anticipation of military operations and out of fear,” said spokesperson Babar Baloch. Earlier this week, the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation described “alarming food insecurity” in the country, sparked by an extension of conflict into areas previously considered stable, such as the provinces of Kasai and Tanganyika.

Last month, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, DRC’s chief of mission for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said the humanitarian crisis in DRC was at “breaking point” amid a massive escalation of inter-ethnic conflict and widespread insecurity. The number of people coping with extreme hunger has risen by 2 million over the past six months, reaching 7.7 million – about 10% of the population. More than 4 million children under the age of five are at risk of acute malnutrition, said the agencies. “The humanitarian situation in the DRC is at breaking point, as is our capacity to respond to extremely limited funding,” said Chauzy. “The stories that Congolese who have been forced from their homes are telling are bone-chilling. They have been through so much already – torture, rape and murder of their loved ones. We cannot stand idly by as they suffer in silence.”

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Without WikiLeaks, we’d be stumbling even more in the dark. We don’t do nearly enough to protect them. We let whoever claim that Assange is some Russian agent, and we owe him a lot more respect than that.

WikiLeaks Has Published Leaks On Trump Admin And Russia, Seeking More (CJ)

Democrats believe that Assange is a Trump-supporting Kremlin asset while Trump supporters believe Assange is a based MAGA hat-wearing ally to their cause, the former because they were told to believe that by CNN and the Washington Post and the latter because they’ve seen him championed by Fox’s Sean Hannity and the elaborate 4chan hoax “QAnon”. Neither could be further from the truth. Today Assange responded to a call for transparency on Trump “tax returns, corporate records, campaign emails, and other documents relevant to Donald Trump’s Russia/WikiLeaks connections” from toxic neocon David Frum with the words “Go for it” and a link to WikiLeaks’ leak submission service. This is not the first time WikiLeaks has solicited documents on the Trump administration, and it won’t be the last.

Since long before the election and continuing through to the present, WikiLeaks has been harshly criticizing the president’s refusal to release his tax returns and publicly asking for leakers to submit them. They are on record trying to persuade Donald Trump Jr to do the same in a conversation that has been spuriously criticized but which when examined impartially is plainly just a leak publishing outlet soliciting a potential source. More importantly, WikiLeaks has already published Trump administration leaks. Its Vault 7 and Vault 8 leak drops exposing the CIA’s scary surveillance and hacking tools are comparable to NSA leaks from Edward Snowden against the Obama administration, and much like the Obama administration’s vindictive backlash against Snowden we are seeing similar retaliation from the Trump administration for the CIA leaks.

Trump’s CIA Director has pledged to shut down WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” and his Attorney General has statedthat Assange’s arrest is a priority, which Trump himself has said he would permit. Mike Pompeo’s increasingly vitriolic and threatening rhetoric about WikiLeaks is reminiscent of Joe Biden’s labeling Assange a “hi-tech terrorist” eight years ago. WikiLeaks in reality is not a friend of Republicans anymore than it’s a friend of Democrats, because WikiLeaks is and always will be first and foremost an enemy of corrupt power. The liberals who used to love Assange when he was dropping leaks about the Bush administration now hate him, and the conservatives who used to attack him as an enemy now celebrate him as a hero. This dynamic will necessarily switch again when more leaks drop and conservatives see clearly that Assange’s principles are not for sale.

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An epic tale for future historians. When we found how to feed ourselves, all of us, with good food, we decided not to do that. There’s some deeper meaning there, we don’t have the ability to do this right. We may be smart, but only superficially. And moreover, if we did get it right, we’d end up with 30-40 billion people here. So we poison ourselves.

‘Ultra-Processed’ Products Now Half Of All UK Family Food Purchases (G.)

Half of all the food bought by families in the UK is now “ultra-processed”, made in a factory with industrial ingredients and additives invented by food technologists and bearing little resemblance to the fruit, vegetables, meat or fish used to cook a fresh meal at home. Research by global nutrition experts reveals the scale of our food evolution, from farm-fresh to factory-manufactured. “Real food” has been replaced by salty snacks and sugary cereals, industrially-made bread and desserts, ready-meals and reconstituted meats alongside sweetened soft drinks. The study of 19 European countries is published this month in a special issue of the journal Public Health Nutrition. It shows that UK families buy more ultra-processed food than any others in Europe, amounting to 50.7% of the diet.

Germany comes second, on 46.2% and then Ireland on 45.9%. While the figures are not directly comparable, extracted from national surveys carried out differently and from different years, the trend is clear. The UK data they analysed came from the Living Costs and Food Survey 2008, the latest available. They categorised foods into four groups. More than a quarter of food (28.6%) was unprocessed or minimally so, 10.4% was processed cooking ingredients such as vegetable oil and 10.2% was ordinarily processed, such as cheese or cured meat. Ultra-processed food amounts to more than all the other groups combined.

Professor Carlos Monteiro from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who led the research team, told the Guardian of his deep concern about the links between ultra-processed food with obesity and poor health. Ultra-processed foods may look attractive and are designed with sweet or salty tastes that make us want more. But there is nothing nutritious about them, Monteiro said. “Take breakfast cereals. If you take Froot Loops, for instance, more than 50% is sugar,” he told the Guardian. “[But] there is no fruit … “Ultra-processed foods are essentially new creations of the food industry with very low cost ingredients in a very attractive product.”

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Jan 082018
 
 January 8, 2018  Posted by at 10:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


James Karales Selma to Montgomery March Alabama 1965

 

Beijing’s Yuan Ambitions Look Dashed (BBG)
Two Major Apple Shareholders Push for Study of iPhone Addiction in Children (BBG)
New Jersey Poised To Bar Drunken Droning (R.)
South Korea Inspects Six Banks Over Crypto Currency Services To Clients (R.)
Bitcoin Futures Traders Are Quietly Building A Big Short Position (ZH)
Australia Forecasts 20% Iron Ore Price Drop In 2018 (R.)
Australia Government Can’t Supply Its Way To Housing Affordability (SMH)
Rising Volatility Begets Rising Volatility (Peters)
The Artificial Liquidity Bubble (Henrich)
Wikileaks Publishes Michael Wolff’s Entire Sold Out Trump Book As A PDF (ZH)
US Freezes While Sydney Sizzles: World’s Temperature Extremes Span 85ºC (BBG)

 

 

It’s not as if a strong yuan is all that good for China. A stable one might be. But the bottom line remains: nobody wants it.

Beijing’s Yuan Ambitions Look Dashed (BBG)

As 2018 gets underway, China seems to be on top again. The yuan has strengthened 6.8% against the dollar over the past 12 months and foreign-exchange reserves are growing. Not so fast.Remember November 2015, when the IMF- with some fanfare – agreed to add the yuan to its prestigious special drawing rights currency basket. Talk then was of the yuan one day becoming one of the world’s reserve currencies, perhaps even rivaling the dollar.Two years on and central banks aren’t buying the notion. Although China’s currency has a weight of more than 10% in the SDR basket, which gives equal importance to a country’s trade status and balance-sheet metrics, just 1.1% of the world’s forex reserves were held in yuan versus 63% in dollars as of the third quarter.

It’s understandable that central banks have been shying away from the euro. German two-year bunds have been offering a negative yield since mid-2014. But why the yuan? China’s short-dated government notes offer among the best interest rates: Part of the explanation is liquidity. According to the Bank of International Settlements, in 2016, the yuan constituted only 4% of the world’s currency trades. The dollar, through pairs with the euro and the yen, accounted for 88% of transactions.

Then there’s the question of time. It could be decades before any currency, yuan or bitcoin, replaces the greenback.But China itself is also to blame. It seems to have abandoned its great yuan ambitions.What happened to the dim sum bond market? The Chinese government, along with policy banks, sold fewer than $3 billion of offshore yuan notes last year, a sharp pullback from 2016 and 2015. And oddly, last October, China sold its first sovereign dollar debenture since 2004 – a move that was widely interpreted as Beijing wishing to develop a vibrant international bond market for its state-owned enterprises. The panda bond market, where foreign companies raise yuan onshore, is also going nowhere. Hungary had a small, 1 billion yuan ($154 million) issue in July, while the Philippines keeps delaying its plans. China has also hit the pause button on the idea of trading oil in yuan.

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Curious new problems.

Two Major Apple Shareholders Push for Study of iPhone Addiction in Children (BBG)

Two big shareholders of Apple are concerned that the entrancing qualities of the iPhone have fostered a public health crisis that could hurt children – and the company as well. In a letter to the smartphone maker dated Jan. 6, activist investor Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System urged Apple to create ways for parents to restrict children’s access to their mobile phones. They also want the company to study the effects of heavy usage on mental health. “There is a growing body of evidence that, for at least some of the most frequent young users, this may be having unintentional negative consequences,” according to the letter from the investors, who combined own about $2 billion in Apple shares. The “growing societal unease” is “at some point is likely to impact even Apple.”

“Addressing this issue now will enhance long-term value for all shareholders,” the letter said. It’s a problem most companies would kill to have: Young people liking a product too much. But as smartphones become ubiquitous, government leaders and Silicon Valley alike have wrestled for ways to limit their inherent intrusiveness. France, for instance, has moved to ban the use of smartphones in its primary and middle schools. Meanwhile, Android co-founder Andy Rubin is seeking to apply artificial intelligence to phones so that they perform relatively routine tasks without needing to be physically handled. Apple already offers some parental controls, such as the Ask to Buy feature, which requires parental approval to buy goods and services. Restrictions can also be placed on access to some apps, content and data usage.

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I must admit, another new problem, and one that hadn’t occurred to me yet.

New Jersey Poised To Bar Drunken Droning (R.)

U.S. drone sales in 2017 topped $1 billion for the first time ever, but don’t raise a glass too quickly if you are in New Jersey, where lawmakers are poised to outlaw drunken droning next week. It is one of a wave of U.S. states moving to bring the unmanned aircrafts’ high-flying fun back to earth. New Jersey’s Assembly is slated to vote on a bill approved by the state Senate to ban inebriated or drugged droning, as well as to outlaw flying unmanned aircraft systems over prisons and in pursuit of wildlife. The vote was set for Thursday but postponed until Monday because of a severe snowstorm that triggered a state of emergency in New Jersey. “It’s basically like flying a blender,” said John Sullivan, 41, of New York, a drone buff and aerial cinematographer.

He said he opposed drunk droning but also fretted about regulatory overreach. “If I had like one drink, I’d be hesitant to even fly it.” A 2015 drone crash on the White House lawn fueled debate in the U.S. Congress over the need for drone regulations. It was a drunken, off-duty employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency who flew the 2-foot-by-2-foot (60 cm by 60 cm) “quadcopter” from a friend’s apartment balcony and lost control of it over the grounds surrounding the White House, the New York Times reported. [..] “Like any technology, drones have the ability to be used for good, but they also provide new opportunities for bad actors,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano of Elizabeth, New Jersey. She backed the bill, which would impose a punishment of up to six months prison and a $1,000 fine for drunk droning.

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A big gap: “..bitcoin’s global price average was trading at $16,294 while in South Korean markets, it stood at 25 million won, or $23,467.35..?

South Korea Inspects Six Banks Over Crypto Currency Services To Clients (R.)

South Korean financial authorities on Monday said they are inspecting six local banks that offer virtual currency accounts to institutions, amid concerns the increasing use of such assets could lead to a surge in crime. The joint inspection by the Financial Services Commission (FSC) and Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) will check if banks are adhering to anti-money laundering rules and using real names for accounts, FSC Chairman Choi Jong-ku told a press conference. [..] Choi said the inspections are intended to provide guidance to banks and are not the result of any suspected wrongdoing. “Virtual currency is currently unable to function as a means of payment and it is being used for illegal purposes like money laundering, scams and fraudulent investor operations,” said Choi. “The side effects have been severe, leading to hacking problems at the institutions that handle cryptocurrency and an unreasonable spike in speculation.”

A Woori Bank spokesperson told Reuters the bank was filling out a checklist for the inspection. The spokesperson said Woori had stopped providing virtual account services last month as the costs of using a real-name transaction system were too prohibitive. [..] Choi said authorities are also looking at ways to reduce risks associated with cryptocurrency trading in the country, which could include shutting down institutions that use such currencies. Last month, the government said it would impose additional measures to regulate speculation in cryptocurrency trading within the country, including a ban on anonymous cryptocurrency accounts and new legislation to allows regulators to close virtual coin exchanges if needed.

Bitcoin and other virtual coins have been extremely popular in South Korea, drawing wide investments from housewives and students. Government officials have expressed concern over frenzied speculation, with South Korea’s central bank chief warning of “irrational exuberance” in trading of virtual currency last month. A South Korean cryptocurrency exchange, Youbit, shut down and filed for bankruptcy in December after it was hacked twice last year, highlighting security and regulatory concerns. South Korea’s virtual currency exchanges have been more vulnerable to hackers as bitcoin trades at higher rates on local exchanges than they do elsewhere. As of 0710 GMT, bitcoin’s global price average was trading at $16,294 while in South Korean markets, it stood at 25 million won, or $23,467.35, according to Coinhills.com.

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Bitcoin and Ripple are falling, ether rises.

Bitcoin Futures Traders Are Quietly Building A Big Short Position (ZH)

In retrospect, the launch of bitcoin futures one month ago has proven to be a modestly disappointing event: while it helped send the price of bitcoin soaring as traders braced for the institutionalization of bitcoin, the world’s most popular cryptocurrency has stagnated since the beginning of December when first the Cboe then CME started trading bitcoin futures, trading in a range between $12,000 and $17,000. And while bitcoin futures markets volumes have been lower than most had expected, the past 4 weeks have provided enough data to observe how volumes and open interest have evolved.

We discussed previously that Bitcoin futures were off to a slow start in the first week of trading, with volumes of CBOE Bitcoin futures averaging just around $40MM per day, despite intense media hype helping fuel heavy trading when both contracts launched, at least in the first hours of trading. Since then, volumes spike briefly in the following week coinciding with the launch of the CME futures, with volumes of on both exchanges at relatively similar levels. Then, as JPM’s Nikolaos Panagirtzoglou shows, after a spike in volumes to around $200mn on 22 December, which saw sharp swings in underlying Bitcoin prices, volumes have averaged around $50mn and $60mn per day on the CBOE and CME futures, respectively.

One month after their launch, futures trading volumes remain very modest compared to average Bitcoin trading volumes of around $15bn per day since futures contracts were launched according to coinmarketcap.com data. While open interest in both the CBOE and CME contracts has risen steadily, it too remains rather modest at around $60mn and $70mn, respectively. Putting futures volumes in context, on Friday, the combined size of the bitcoin-futures markets at the two exchanges was roughly $150 million, measured in terms of the value of outstanding contracts, while the total value of all bitcoins in existence was around $290 billion.

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That’s a big drop.

Australia Forecasts 20% Iron Ore Price Drop In 2018 (R.)

Australia on Monday said it expects iron ore prices to average $51.50 a tonne this year, down 20% from 2017, because of rising global supply and moderating demand from top importer China as its steel sector shrinks. The world’s top three mining companies, BHP and Vale rely heavily on iron ore sales for the bulk of their revenue despite efforts to diversify more into other industrial raw materials, such as copper, aluminium and coal. Brazil-based Vale is planning to lift iron ore exports 7% in 2018 to 390 million tonnes. In Australia, Rio Tinto and BHP, along with Fortescue Metals Group aim to add about 170 million tonnes of new capacity over the next several years.

The forecast price decline — from an average of $64.30 a tonne in 2017 — continues into 2019, when the steelmaking raw material will average only $49 a tonne, according to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. “The iron ore price is expected to experience some ongoing volatility in early 2018, as the market responds to uncertainty regarding the impact of winter production restrictions on iron ore demand,” the department warned in its latest commodities outlook paper. Iron ore currently sells for about $75 a tonne.

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All it needs to do is let prices crash. Does wonders for affordability.

Australia Government Can’t Supply Its Way To Housing Affordability (SMH)

Sydney and Melbourne are entering a housing downturn. While the government has hoped record high levels of property development would have an impact, research shows supply is not behind the price falls. Housing economists say the market slowdown is not due to additional home building but a drop in demand, in part thanks to the banking regulator making it more difficult for some to get a loan. In fact, the effect of new supply on property prices has been very limited despite state governments largely pinning hopes on a surging home building industry to rein in affordability. In a recent Australian National University paper Regional housing supply and demand in Australia academics Ben Phillips and Cukkoo Joseph found supply levels from 2001 to 2017 were larger than necessary to cover demand requirements, with thousands of excess homes in Sydney, but prices boomed over the time period.

This flies in the face of conventional economic wisdom, with the law of supply and demand dictating that the more of something you make, the cheaper it should be. There are many reasons why housing doesn’t respond to increases in supply in the way the market for coal, apples or t-shirts might be expected to react. When economists are making models they usually assume they are calculating the impacts on a “normal” good. One of the assumptions often made when modelling supply and demand for these goods is that what is produced is all homogenous, that is they are more or less the same. Typically, someone will pay the same amount for one item as they will for another that is identical.

Housing is not in this category. Even in the most sterile of apartment blocks, there will be many different design features, flaws, views and aspects that differ in each unit. The impact of new supply on the property market is limited by whether the type of property being built caters to existing demand. For instance, new apartments on the outskirts of greater Sydney or Melbourne may not appeal to the same market bidding up the price of mansions with water views.

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It’s just like Minsky: stability begets instability.

Rising Volatility Begets Rising Volatility (Peters)

To sell implied volatility at current 50yr lows, investors must imagine tomorrow will be virtually identical to today. They must imagine that bond yields won’t rise despite every major central bank eager to hike interest rates and exit QE. They must imagine that economies at or near full employment will not create inflation; that GDP will neither accelerate nor decelerate; that governments will tolerate historic levels of income inequality despite citizens voting for the opposite; that strongly rising global debts will be supported by structurally decelerating global growth. And volatility sellers must imagine that nine years into a bull market, amplified by a proliferation of complex volatility-selling strategies and passive ETFs with liquidity mismatches, that we will dodge a destabilizing shock to market infrastructure.

I can imagine a few of those things happening, but neither sustainably nor simultaneously. It is much easier to imagine a tomorrow that looks different from today. Also consider that investment banks and asset managers have always devised creative strategies to make money once asset valuations exceed reasonable levels. These perpetual prosperity machines typically combine leverage and alchemy, transforming real risk into perceived safety. Examples abound. But in this cycle, a proliferation of cleverly disguised volatility-selling strategies has dominated. Zero interest rates and quantitative easing left yield-starved investors with few ways to achieve their target returns. Wall Street’s engineers developed many wonderful solutions to this problem. Their magnificence is matched only by the amount of negative convexity now lurking in investment portfolios.

As volatility has declined, investors have had to sell even more of it to sustain sufficient profits. This selling reinforces the trend lower, which produces an illusion that legacy volatility shorts are less risky today than yesterday. Lower volatility thus begets lower volatility. And this also ensures that quantitative models reduce overall portfolio risk estimates, which allows (and in many cases forces) investors to buy more assets at prevailing prices. This in turn reduces volatility, reflexively. Naturally, the reverse is also true. Rising volatility begets rising volatility. And given the unprecedented volatility-selling in this cycle, this market is exposed to a historic reversal somewhere along the path to policy normalization. Which has now begun.

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aka the everything bubble.

The Artificial Liquidity Bubble (Henrich)

8 years after the financial crisis we remain in an environment that is entirely dependent on artificial liquidity, be it via central bank liquidity driven low rates and/or QE or now US fiscal stimulus in the form of tax cuts. And while a reduction in central bank stimulus is anticipated for 2018 the $1.5 trillion US tax cut is the next active artificial boost to hit markets. You can view it perhaps this way: When the US ended QE3 Europe and Japan took over the stimulus baton, and now that Europe is reducing stimulus the US again is taking the lead, this time with fiscal stimulus. It is a bizarre dance that excels in one aspect in particular: It never ends. Consider: German unemployment is at all time lows, and European PMIs are at their highest in over 7 years.

Is the ECB raising rates from record lows? Nope. Has QE ended? Nope. QE continues to run at $30B Euro a month and rates remain in full panic mode. Not what one would’ve expected 8 years ago following a return to full employment. Stimulus programs & interventions used to be methods of crisis management now they have become permanent fixtures in global economies. Why? Because this is what it takes. And they will continue. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has just instructed central bank chief Kuroda to keep printing as he decides whether to keep him in his job. Wink wink. Normalizing rates? Reducing balance sheets back to pre-crisis levels? Letting markets run on their own without intervention? Call it the big central banking lie. It will never happen. It can’t. Global debt is now exceeding $233 Trillion.

[..] the math of higher rates doesn’t work and will eventual break the camel’s back. Low rates are an absolute must requirement to keep the construct afloat. It is no accident that Morgan Stanley wealth management has decided to pull out of junk bonds. They are warning of US tax cuts accelerating market excesses bringing about a coming recession. And make no mistake, a recession will come as we are very late in the cycle.

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Count me out.

Wikileaks Publishes Michael Wolff’s Entire Sold Out Trump Book As A PDF (ZH)

Considering that Wikileaks made its name by leaking confidential and/or hard to find documents and information, and also considering the reversal in the Trump administration vis-a-vis Julian Assange, whom it first lauded only to threaten with incarceration in recent months, it is perhaps not surprising that moments ago the official Wikileaks twitter account published Michael Wolff’s controversial – and largely sold out – book, “Fire and Fury” in pdf format.

New Trump book “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff. Full PDF: https://t.co/sf7vj4IYAx

— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 7, 2018

Since, somewhat ironically, WikiLeaks picked a google drive to host the leaked pdf, it will unlikely remain available for an extended period, as it would mean substantial lost revenue for book published Henry Holt and Company. So for those who wish to read what all the hoople is about – for free – they are advised to do so sooner rather than later.

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View from the west only. How do you dress for a flight like that?

US Freezes While Sydney Sizzles: World’s Temperature Extremes Span 85ºC (BBG)

Temperature extremes across the globe spanned more than 85 degrees Celsius at the weekend as Sydney melted and parts of the U.S. froze. Western Sydney touched 47.3 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday afternoon local time, the city’s hottest day since 1939. Weekend temperatures at Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire plummeted to minus 36 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 38 degrees Celsius). Roads melted, firefighters battled wildfires across New South Wales state and Sydney residents retreated to air-conditioned shopping malls as temperatures surged. English cricket captain Joe Root was hospitalized with severe dehydration after battling Australia in the cauldron of the Sydney Cricket Ground. At the same time, freezing fog and snow buffeted Mount Washington, tying the observatory for the second-coldest place on Earth.

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Dec 152017
 
 December 15, 2017  Posted by at 10:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Gustave Courbet The bathers 1853

 

Central Banks Want World To Party On As They Remove Punch Bowl (BBG)
This Is What Happened To The American Dream – It’s Not Pretty (MW)
The Rude Awakening Of Slumbering Bulls (Roberts)
MiFID’s Cautious Start on Bond-Price Rules Shows Lobbying Impact (BBG)
Why American Capitalism Doesn’t Work For All Americans – Deaton (MW)
Europe’s Sovereign-Bank ‘Doom Loop’ Can’t Be Broken (BBG)
Jim Chanos: We Think Tesla Is Worth Zero (CNBC)
WikiLeaks Recognised As A ‘Media Organisation’ By UK Tribunal (G.)
EU Leaders Clash Over Refugees (R.)
Palau Makes All Visitors Sign Pledge To Respect Environment (G.)
Arctic Warming So Rapid That Computer Measuring It Rejected The Results (Ind.)

 

 

And that’s not going to fly. So back to QE in 2018? Or will they wait so long the damage becomes irreversible (I know it already is, but still..)

Central Banks Want World To Party On As They Remove Punch Bowl (BBG)

Central bankers are gingerly trying to take away the punch bowl without interrupting the party. Led by interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve and the People’s Bank of China, central banks around the world shifted toward a tighter monetary stance this week. Yet the moves were either so well-telegraphed, or so tiny, and the language about future action so hedged, that there was barely a ripple in financial markets. “They’re terrified of upsetting the markets,” said Paul Mortimer-Lee, chief market economist at BNP Paribas. So “they’re all exiting quite slowly from emergency settings” on monetary policy. The likely result of this leisurely approach: another year of synchronized global growth in 2018.

Indeed, both the Fed and the ECB revised up their forecasts for the growth of their respective economies next year even as they signaled that they would be slowly scaling back the stimulus they are providing. “The global economy is doing well,” Fed Chair Janet Yellen told reporters on Wednesday after the U.S. central bank raised interest rates for the third time this year. “We’re in a synchronized expansion. This is the first time in many years that we’ve seen this.” [..] Policy makers though played down fears that asset price bubbles were building that could threaten the financial system and the economy. “When we look at other indicators of financial stability risks, there’s nothing flashing red there or possibly even orange,” Yellen said.

[..]“Central banks, who’ve been pumping money into the system for the past decade or so, are going to be removing it,” said Iain Stealey, fixed-income portfolio manager at JPMorgan Asset Management in a Bloomberg Television interview on Thursday. “It’s going to be slow to start with, very gradual, but it’s going to be a real change in rhetoric.”

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The course of inequality is very different from one continent to the other.

This Is What Happened To The American Dream – It’s Not Pretty (MW)

There’s one area where there’s been huge growth in the U.S. — the gap between the rich and poor. The divergence in the levels of inequality has been “extreme” between Western Europe and the U.S., according to the 2018 World Inequality Report, released by the World Inequality Lab, a research project in over 70 countries based at the Paris School of Economics, and co-authored by the French economist Thomas Piketty. “The global middle class has been squeezed,” it said. In 1980, the U.S. and Western Europe had similar levels of inequality. And today? Not so much. While the top 1% of earners made up just 10% in both regions in 1980, it increased slightly to 12% in 2016 in Western Europe, but doubled to 20% in the U.S. “Since 1980, income inequality has increased rapidly in North America, China, India, and Russia,” it said.

“The income-inequality trajectory observed in the U.S. is largely due to massive educational inequalities, combined with a tax system that grew less progressive despite a surge in top labor compensation since the 1980s,” it found. In Europe, tax and wage inequality was moderated by educational and wage-setting policies that were more favorable to low and middle-income groups. In the U.S., out of 100 children whose parents are among the bottom 10% of income earners, only 20 to 30 of them actually go to college. However, closer to 90 out of 100 children go to college if their parents are within the top 10% earners. What’s more, research has shown that when elite colleges open their doors to students from poor backgrounds, academic performance at the institution doesn’t decline.

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“Animal spirits”, “irrational exuberance”, “value investing”, “momentum chase”. What is this, verbal bankruptcy?

The Rude Awakening Of Slumbering Bulls (Roberts)

Here’s a little secret, “Animal Spirits” is simply another name for “Irrational Exuberance,” as it is the manifestation of the capitulation of individuals who are suffering from an extreme case of the “FOMO’s” (Fear Of Missing Out). The chart below shows the stages of the previous bull markets and the inflection points of the appearance of “Animal Spirits.” At the peak of previous bull market advances, the markets have entered into an accelerated phase of price advances.

Since “the price you pay day is the value you receive tomorrow,” as famously noted by Warren Buffet, it should not come as a surprise that “value investing” is lagging the “momentum chase” in the market currently. But again, this is something that has historically, and repeatedly occurred, during very late stage bull market advances as the “rationalization” for a “never-ending bull market” is promulgated.

Given the length of the economic expansion, the risk to the “bull market” thesis is an economic slowdown, or contraction, that derails the lofty expectations of continued earnings growth. While tax reform legislation may provide a bump to earnings growth in the near-term, it is the longer-term growth rates of the economy that matters. Furthermore, while providing a tax cut to corporations will certainly boost their bottom line, there is little evidence, historically speaking, “trickle-down economics” actually occurs. If it did, wages as a share of corporate profits wouldn’t look like this.

With an economy that is 70% driven by the 90% of the population who don’t benefit from corporate tax cuts, the long-term effects of a deficit and debt busting tax bill should be worrying investors. But, for now, that is not the case as the rise in “animal spirits” is simply the reflection of the rising delusion of investors who frantically cling to data points which somehow support the notion “this time is different,” a point recently made by Sentiment Trader: “We’ve discussed a multitude of momentum studies in the past month or two, with an almost universal suggestion that the types of readings we’ve seen this year are rare and hard to bust. This unrelenting bid has been one of, if not THE, most compelling bullish argument, and it shows little sign of stopping.”

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K-Street has taken over Brussels too.

MiFID’s Cautious Start on Bond-Price Rules Shows Lobbying Impact (BBG)

For years, the bond industry argued that price-disclosure requirements in MiFID II were unsuited to the market and would hinder trading. With less than 1% of notes affected when the rules kick in on Jan. 3, that lobbying seems to have paid off. The European Securities and Markets Authority said last week that 566 bond instruments out of 61,761 it analyzed were sufficiently liquid to fall under the pre- and post-trade transparency rules in the MiFID II package. Most were sovereign bonds, which are used as collateral in everything from repurchase agreements to derivative trades. About 150 corporate securities made the list, issued by financial firms such as CaixaBank, Italian power giant Enel and telecommunications company Wind Tre. But the small number of securities initially captured by MiFID II means the law’s goal of shedding light on the market may not be achieved anytime soon.

“ESMA’s approach will contribute very little towards improving transparency in this notoriously opaque market segment,” said Christian Stiefmueller, who’s in charge of banking for Finance Watch, a public-interest watchdog in Brussels. “ESMA’s approach is a present to market makers, i.e. traders at the major investment banks, who thrive on a lack of transparency.” As part of its efforts to prevent another financial crisis, the EU is implementing rules designed to shift trading on to exchanges where regulators can track it, boost transparency to protect individual investors and level the playing field for professionals. MiFID II transparency rules require market operators and investment firms that run a trading venue to make public “current bid and offer prices and the depth of trading interests at those prices” continuously during trading hours for some bonds and other non-equity securities.

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People only get poorer, the dream is over.

Why American Capitalism Doesn’t Work For All Americans – Deaton (MW)

MarketWatch: I want to make the bridge from your findings to the economy. You have said that white working class workers are facing a loss of their way of life.

Deaton: This is much more hypothetical because of course, you are saying “what is doing this?” Tying it to the economy is tricky because it is certainly not true that it was the Great Recession that made this happen, for example. And in fact even if you go back to the late 1990s, the patterns of income and so on are not that different across groups. They don’t match up. Any simple story that said “it is the economy stupid,” is stupid. So we trace this back sort of a long way, and if you look at birth cohorts it is like each successive birth cohort is doing worse. They are more susceptible to these deaths throughout life, and the deaths rise with age more rapidly for younger cohorts, so we’re attracted by this idea that there is a cumulative process going on which is steadily getting worse over time. And, you know, the destruction of the way of life of the white working class is maybe a good way of thinking about this.

I mean we are very attracted by that. You know, the ultimate poison may be in the labor market, but, it works through a lot of other bad stuff that is going on — like the decline in marriage rates, the increase in out-of-wedlock childbearing, and all those sort of things. It is those things that get to middle age and your life has not worked out the way you thought, not just in terms of the salary you earned, but also your marital relationship, your kids who you may not know anymore and who are living with someone else. So there are a lot of people who in their 50s that find that their life has just sort of come apart. One story is just that there has been this slow loss of the white working class life. There has been stagnation in wages for 50 years. If you don’t have a university degree, median wages for those people have actually been going down. So it is just like that model, whereby American capitalism really delivered to people who were not particularly well-educated, seems to be broken.

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“..the phenomenon whereby weak banks can destabilize governments that support them and over-indebted governments can push banks holding their bonds over the precipice..”

Europe’s Sovereign-Bank ‘Doom Loop’ Can’t Be Broken (BBG)

Ever since the financial crisis, the European Union has grappled with how to solve the so-called sovereign bank doom loop – the phenomenon whereby weak banks can destabilize governments that support them and over-indebted governments can push banks holding their bonds over the precipice. The widely touted solution is the European Banking Union, which the European Commission wants completed by 2018. New rules introduced European bank supervision, a new resolution framework that limits sovereign support and a pan-EU deposit insurance scheme as a means of breaking the interdependence between banks and sovereigns. The first problem with this approach is that it’s actually not possible to break the doom loop. The second is that trying to do so through the banking union may actually increase risks in the European Union.

Euro zone banks, who are legally required to hold safe and liquid assets, often buy disproportionately large chunks of their home country sovereign debt because these are often the most familiar safe assets, and the sovereign yield curve is used as a baseline for pricing most credit. However, if the price of these bonds plummets – or, worse, if these bonds have to be restructured – banks get into trouble, as Greek banks found. The doom loop works in other ways too. Rating agencies have a separate methodology for rating banks wherein the possibility of state support raises bank ratings between one and six notches above what these would be on a standalone basis. A weak government means that investors discount the ability of the sovereign to support a bank in times of trouble, so a bank’s rating will also fall.

That explains why, during the euro zone crisis, badly run German landesbanken (a group of state-owned banks) had a better credit rating compared to Santander, one of Europe’s best-run banks, headquartered in Spain. Sometimes the bill for bailing out banks is so large that an otherwise healthy sovereign itself needs to be bailed out, as Ireland found out. Finally, the doom loop can kick in if depositors doubt that governments can honor their guarantees. Rumors of a bank being in trouble can be self-fulfilling, leading to the withdrawal of short-term funding and deposits. It was a fear of such a run on deposits in Spanish banks that prompted ECB President Mario Draghi to say the ECB would do “whatever it takes” to stem the crisis. Deposit guarantee schemes are important in reducing the risks of such a run on the bank. But these guarantees are only as good as a government’s ability to pay.

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He’s probably right.

Jim Chanos: We Think Tesla Is Worth Zero (CNBC)

Famed short seller Jim Chanos took another shot at Tesla on Thursday, saying the company’s equity is worth nothing. “Let’s just say Tesla and Mr. Musk have a broad interpretation of the truth,” Chanos, founder of Kynikos Associates, told CNBC’s Kelly Evans. “There have been all kinds of announcements that this company has made … that turned out not to be true.” Chanos mentioned the unveiling of Tesla’s electric Semi truck and roadster last month as examples. The short seller noted that Tesla CEO Elon Musk said “the Semi would be available in 2019 and the roadster in 2020. Where is he producing those? Those production lines have to be up and approved years before we get into production.”

Chanos has been short Tesla for a long time. On Nov. 14, he said he added to his short position against the electric vehicle maker throughout the year. However, Tesla shares are up sharply this year, advancing nearly 60%. “To me, where the stock is now is not the story,” Chanos said. “I don’t care that it came from $30 or $200 or $300. That’s just meaningless.” “We think the equity is worthless,” he said in the interview on “Closing Bell.”

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Politics will trump the legal system, wanna bet?!

WikiLeaks Recognised As A ‘Media Organisation’ By UK Tribunal (G.)

A British tribunal has recognised Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks as a “media organisation”, a point of contention with the United States, which is seeking to prosecute him and disputes his journalistic credentials. The issue of whether Assange is a journalist and publisher would almost certainly be one of the main battlegrounds in the event of the US seeking his extradition from the UK. The definition of WikiLeaks by the information tribunal, which is roughly equivalent to a court, could help Assange’s defence against extradition on press freedom grounds. The US has been considering prosecution of Assange since 2010 when WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of confidential US defence and diplomatic documents. US attorney general Jeff Sessions said in April this year that the arrest of Assange is a priority for the US.

The director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, after leaks of emails from the US Democratic party and from Hillary Clinton, described WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”. He added Assange is not covered by the US constitution, which protects journalists. But the UK’s information tribunal, headed by judge Andrew Bartlett QC, in a summary and ruling published on Thursday on a freedom of information case, says explicitly: “WikiLeaks is a media organisation which publishes and comments upon censored or restricted official materials involving war, surveillance or corruption, which are leaked to it in a variety of different circumstances.” The comment is made under a heading that says simply: “Facts”.

The tribunal’s definition of WikiLeaks comes in the 21-page summary into a freedom of information case heard in London in November. An Italian journalist, Stefania Maurizi, is seeking the release of documents relating to Assange, mainly in regard to extradition, and had lodged an appeal with the tribunal. While the tribunal dismissed her appeal, it acknowledged there issues weighing in favour of public disclosure in relation to Assange. But it added these were outweighed by a need for confidentiality on the matter of extradition.

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A long cold lonely winter.

EU Leaders Clash Over Refugees (R.)

Two years after the Mediterranean migrant crisis blew a hole in the European Union, a tentative effort to patch up differences over what to do with refugees underlined continuing rifts among the bloc’s leaders. A free-wheeling discussion over a Brussels summit dinner that began on Thursday night and spilled into the wee hours of Friday was intended to clear the air and see if there was a way to reconcile opposing views on how to reform defunct asylum rules. But leaders emerging from nearly three hours of talks made clear that while there was little of the angry passion of 2015, when a million people flooded into Greece and headed for Germany, the “frank and sober” discussion failed to blunt sharp rifts pitting some eastern states against many of the rest.

“We have a lot of work to do,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. “The positions have not changed.” Divisions over how to share out relatively small numbers of refugees have poisoned relations in the EU, complicating efforts to present a united front in talks with London on Brexit and to agree an EU budget out to 2028. New Polish and Czech leaders stuck to lines shared with Hungary and Slovakia that their ex-communist societies cannot accept significant immigration, especially of Muslims. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis called the debate “quite stormy” and told reporters that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had been “quite aggressive.” But, he said, the eastern allies would not let the majority impose obligatory refugee quotas on them.

Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni were among those who demanded that all countries take in a mandatory share of people requiring asylum, who have been concentrated on the Mediterranean coast, or after chaotic movements across Europe, in the richer northwest of the bloc.

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Only viable in countries that provide the good example.

Palau Makes All Visitors Sign Pledge To Respect Environment (G.)

The tiny Pacific island nation of Palau has introduced a new law requiring visitors to sign a pledge not to harm the environment before entering the country. The pledge will be stamped into the passports of international arrivals from this month. Visitors will be required to sign before proceeding through immigration, making a formal promise to the children of Palau to “preserve and protect your beautiful and unique island home”, and to “tread lightly, act kindly and explore lightly”. Almost 6,000 people signed in the first two weeks. It’s the first time such a pledge has been written into a country’s immigration policies, but Palau has long been vocal about the environment. The country has already reported larger tides and an increase in severe tropical storms. The sea level around its 700 islands has risen by about 9mm a year since 1993, almost three times the global average rate.

President Tommy Remengesau is a vocal environmental campaigner. He told a United Nations climate forum in 2014 that if the world failed to act to curb its carbon emissions, “our global warming doomsday is already set in stone”. In 2015 Palau created the world’s sixth-largest marine sanctuary, protecting 80% of its maritime territory, an area of tuna-rich ocean the size of California, from both fishing and oil drilling. Remengesau said he hoped that requiring visitors to sign a pledge to protect the environment would create a cultural shift among tourists and make them aware of the fragility of the environment. “While Palau may be a small-island nation, we are a large ocean-state and conservation is at the heart of our culture,” he said. “We rely on our environment to survive and if our beautiful country is lost to environmental degradation, we will be the last generation to enjoy both its beauty and life-sustaining biodiversity.”

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Not surprising.

Arctic Warming So Rapid That Computer Measuring It Rejected The Results (Ind.)

Climate change in the Arctic has “outrun” a computer designed to measure it. So rapid was the temperature change at a weather station in Alaska, the computer analysing the data detected an error and stopped recording the correct temperature. In a blog post, US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate scientist Dr Deke Arndt explained the recent incident, referring to it as “an ironic exclamation point to swift regional climate change in and near the Arctic”. The weather station is located in Utqiagvik, the most northerly town in the US. Low levels of sea ice in the region caused the air temperatures to rise quickly. The computers NOAA use to automatically record climate data have in-built algorithms that ensure the information they record is accurate.

This algorithm is meant to be triggered if the instruments measuring temperatures are damaged, or if there is an artificial change in the environment surrounding them. In this case, the temperature change was such a shock to the system that the computer “disqualified itself” from the Alaskan temperature analysis. This left northern Alaska “analysed a little cooler than it really was”, wrote Dr Arndt. The data from the station was missing for all of 2017, and the last few months of 2016. “In this case, instead of a station move, or urban sprawl, or an equipment change, it was actually very real climate change that changed the environment, by erasing a lot of the sea ice that used to hang out nearby,” wrote Dr Arndt. The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the global average, meaning the effects of climate change are felt particularly keenly in polar regions.

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Apr 212017
 
 April 21, 2017  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


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: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


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.

Read more …

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: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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.

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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
 
 March 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


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 CIA/@Wikileaks 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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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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