William Henry Jackson Jupiter & Lake Worth R.R., Florida 1896
3 trillion kilometers driven last year.
• The Long-Distance Relationship Between Americans and Jobs (WSJ)
For more Americans, jobs are moving out of reach, literally. The number of “nearby jobs”–jobs within a typical commute for residents in a major metropolitan area–dropped 7% between 2000 and 2012, according to a new study of census data by Elizabeth Kneebone and Natalie Holmes of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. Minorities and poor Americans, who have moved to the suburbs in droves, fared worse. The number of nearby jobs fell 17% for Hispanic residents and 14% for blacks over this time period, compared with a drop of 6% for whites. Typical poor residents saw a drop in job proximity of 17%, versus 6% for the nonpoor. The growing distance between Americans and job opportunities is a discouraging trend amid what’s become the strongest job creation in two decades.
Last month, U.S. employers added a seasonally adjusted 295,000 jobs, the 12th straight month of 200,000-plus net job creation. That’s the best streak since 1995. Most of those jobs are full-time. (In 2012, where the Brookings analysis ends, overall U.S. employment in America’s largest metros was about 2% higher than in 2000, following the Great Recession’s catastrophic job losses.) But what matters for Americans’ employment prospects isn’t just the number of job opportunities, or even how “good” they are, but where they are. People near jobs are more likely to work, and have shorter job searches and periods of joblessness—especially black Americans, women and older workers, Brookings says. Among the poor, being near a job increases the chances of leaving welfare.
Read more …
The world gets more distorted by the day.
• American Cash Is Flooding Into European Stocks (CNN)
American cash is pouring into European stocks. Last week alone, U.S.-based funds sent a record amount -$3.9 billion – into Europe equities. That’s according to EPFR Global, a research firm that tracks fund flow data. “The trend is definitely accelerating,” says Cameron Brandt, director of research at EPFR. U.S. investments going to Europe thru mid-March have already outpaced February’s total and are triple the size of January’s figure. Here’s why investors are flocking to Europe:
• Europe’s stock success: It’s no secret that European stocks are hot right now. Since the ECB announced its stimulus plan for the continent in January, markets have surged. The STOXX index (SXXL) is up 16% this year while Germany’s DAX has risen 21% in 2015. Markets in Belgium, Sweden and even Spain – yes, Spain! – are doing great so far too. That’s a lot better than the U.S. markets, which are up just over 1% so far this year. As U.S. stocks look pricey, investors see more upside potential across the pond.
“It’s time for Europe to play catch up,” says Kevin Kelly at Recon Capital. “That’s why you’re seeing investors and funds flow into Europe.”
The stimulus plan has weakened the value of the euro, and at the same time the U.S. dollar is gaining value. The euro has rallied a bit this week, but it’s still near 12-year lows. Many believe the dollar and euro could be equal later this year. The currency situation makes European companies more attractive to investors because their products are cheaper to sell than American companies’ products. European exports are on the rise, and the eurozone economy is showing signs of a pick up.
• Expect the trend to continue: The flood of money into Europe is unlikely to stop any time soon. Sixty-three% of fund managers want to invest more in Europe this year, according to the most recent BofA Merrill Lynch fund manager survey. That’s the highest rate since 2001. One of the hot-ticket items right now for investors is exchange-traded fund (ETF) that own European stocks. Investment in those ETFs so far this year has doubled compared to the same time a year ago, according to BlackRock.
Read more …
• Bank of Canada, Government and Others Face Lawsuit for IMF Conspiracy (Epoch T.)
It would be easy to assume the people suing the Queen of England, the Bank of Canada, and three ministers for a conspiracy against “all Canadians” wear tinfoil hats. They don’t. They may be conspiracy theorists, but they are also intelligent, thoughtful people who have a lawyer with a history of winning unlikely cases. And despite the government’s best efforts to have this case thrown out, it’s going ahead after winning an appeal that overturned a lower court’s ruling to have it tossed and surviving a follow-up motion to have it tossed again. The government has one more chance to have it thrown out through an appeal at the Supreme Court, but that has to be filed by Mar. 29 and that looks unlikely. That means the Committee on Monetary and Economic Reform (COMER) is going to have its day in federal court.
This little think-tank alleges that the Bank of Canada, the Queen, the attorney general, the finance minister, and minister of national revenue are engaging in a conspiracy with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Financial Stability Board (FSB), and the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) to undermine Canada’s financial and monetary sovereignty. No major media have covered this story. That could be because of the powerful vested interests the suit targets, as Rocco Galati, the lawyer trying the case, suggests. Or it could be because there are parts of the statement of claim that read like they were pulled from the dark corners of some Internet conspiracy forum. They weren’t. These are serious people with wide knowledge of the financial and monetary system. And their lawyer is no slouch.
Read more …
• ECB Said to Limit Greek Lenders’ Treasury-Bill Holdings (Bloomberg)
The ECB banned Greek banks from increasing holdings of short-term government debt, two people familiar with the matter said. The decision, approved by the ECB Governing Council, comes five days after the same body stalled a previous proposal by the institution’s supervisory arm, pending legal review. In the intervening days, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met high-level euro-area officials, including ECB President Mario Draghi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Tsipras agreed to submit a comprehensive list of policy measures aimed at securing more financial aid from European partners.
Euro-area finance officials will hold a call on Wednesday to discuss progress on Greece, amid concerns that the country will run out of money by early April. The Governing Council decision makes previous supervisory recommendations legally binding, and reflects increasing concern at the ECB’s bank oversight body, the SSM, about Greek lenders’ exposure to the state and the accompanying default risk. The ban echoes decisions already made on the monetary policy side, such as a €3.5 billion limit on accepting Greek treasury bills as collateral, one of the people said.
Read more …
Independence Day. But not a lot of independence.
• Greeks Celebrate Independence as EU Creditors Discuss Their Fate (Bloomberg)
Greeks celebrate their independence Wednesday with a military parade and a folk-music festival sponsored by the Ministry of Defense, as European officials more than 1,000 miles away review the financial aid that will shape their future. The ECB Governing Council will hold a weekly call to assess the Emergency Liquidity Assistance keeping Greece’s banking system afloat while euro-area finance ministry officials will have a separate discussion on the progress of the country’s economic policy program. Without access to capital markets, or the ECB’s normal financing operations, Greek banks rely on almost €70 billion of ELA to cover a financing shortfall exacerbated by steep deposit withdrawals.
While inspectors are gauging the case for continuing financial support for Europe’s most-indebted nation, many Athenians will be watching a parade of battle tanks and fighter jets to mark the beginning in 1821 of the war that won independence from the Ottoman Empire. The government of George Papandreou scaled down military parades to cut costs after the Greek debt crisis erupted in 2010. Fighter jets made a comeback to the skies of Athens last year at a cost of about €500,000, according to a defense ministry official from the previous administration.
With government cash supplies running out and negotiations on financial aid only inching forwards, European officials have said that Greece could default on its obligations within weeks unless there’s a breakthrough. The government has to pay about €1.5 billion of salaries and pensions by the end of March and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is at loggerheads with its creditors over the conditions attached to its emergency loans. Revenue from taxes also missed budget targets by about €1 billion in the first two months of the year, the country’s Ministry of Finance said Tuesday, further depleting cash buffers.
Read more …
Will Syriza blow it all up?
• Next Task For Tsipras Is To Convince His Party (Kathimerini)
Returning from his official visit to Germany, one of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s main tasks will be to ensure his party’s support for the reform list his government is compiling and preparing to send to lenders, possibly by the end of the week. Sources said that Tsipras will take it upon himself to convince SYRIZA members and MPs to back the reform plan, which should secure Greece the funding it needs to survive until the end of June, when the government will have to reach a new agreement with its lenders. The prime minister’s first port of call in this effort to sell the current package will be the party’s political secretariat. A meeting is expected to take place in the next few days.
This will be followed by a gathering of SYRIZA’s parliamentary group, where Tsipras will try to persuade the party’s 149 MPs to back the reforms when they come to Parliament. The content of the reform package is not yet known but the government is concerned that it will contain a number of items that will not go down well within SYRIZA. This could include the retention of the contentious ENFIA property tax for another year, albeit adjusted so that the less well-off pay less, as well as labor and pension reforms. The coalition has already sought to defuse any tension over privatizations by saying that it will only seek strategic partnerships that allow the state to retain a controlling majority.
An area of increasing friction is what the government plans to do with value-added tax. Lenders want the special 30% reduction on VAT enjoyed by islands to be scrapped. Alternate Finance Minister Nadia Valavani told ANT1 TV yesterday that one option might be to adopt regular VAT rates on the most popular islands, such as Santorini and Myconos. However, this runs counter to what government sources have been saying so far. It is believed the coalition is examining the option of adopting an across-the-board VAT rate of 15%, which means some goods will become cheaper and others more expensive, but with possible exceptions for some basic items such as medicines.
Read more …
Next in line if Syriza fails?!
• Greece: Fascists At The Gate (Hallinan)
When some 70 members of the neo-Nazi organization Golden Dawn go on trial sometime this spring, there will be more than street thugs and fascist ideologues in the docket, but a tangled web of influence that is likely to engulf Greece’s police, national security agency, wealthy oligarchs, and mainstream political parties. While Golden Dawn—with its holocaust denial, its swastikas, and Hitler salutes—makes it look like it inhabits the fringe, in fact the organization has roots deep in the heart of Greece’s political culture Which is precisely what makes it so dangerous. Golden Dawn’s penchant for violence is what led to the charge that it is a criminal organization. It is accused of several murders, as well as attacks on immigrants, leftists, and trade unionists. Raids have uncovered weapon caches.
Investigators have also turned up information suggesting that the organization is closely tied to wealthy shipping owners, as well as the National Intelligence Service (EYP) and municipal police departments. Several lawyers associated with two victims of violence by Party members—a 27-year old Pakistani immigrant stabbed to death last year, and an Afghan immigrant stabbed in 2011— charge that a high level EYP official responsible for surveillance of Golden Dawn has links to the organization. The revelations forced Dimos Kouzilos, director of EYP’s third counter-intelligence division, to resign last September. There were several warning flags about Kouzilos when he was appointed to head the intelligence division by rightwing New Democracy Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
Kouzilos is a relative of a Golden Dawn Parliament member, who is the Party’s connection to the shipping industry. Kouzilos is also close to a group of police officers in Nikea, who are currently under investigation for ties to Golden Dawn. Investigators charge that the Nikea police refused to take complaints from refugees and immigrants beaten by Party members, and the police Chief, Dimitris Giovandis, tipped off Golden Dawn about surveillance of the Party. In handing over the results of their investigation, the lawyers said the “We believe that this information provides an overview of the long-term penetration ands activities of the Nazi criminal gang with the EYP and the police.” A report by the Office of Internal Investigation documents 130 cases where Golden Dawn worked with police.
It should hardly come as a surprise that there are close ties between the extreme right and Greek security forces. The current left-right split goes back to 1944 when the British tried to drive out the Communist Party—the backbone of the Greek resistance movement against the Nazi occupation. The split eventually led to the 1946-49 civil war when Communists and leftists fought royalists and former German collaborationists for power.
Read more …
What if a big recession hits?
• China’s Influence Poised To Climb In Revamp Of Postwar Order (Bloomberg)
Seven decades after the end of World War II, the international economic architecture crafted by the U.S. faces its biggest shakeup yet, with China establishing new channels for influence to match its ambitions. Three lending institutions with at least $190 billion are taking shape under China’s leadership, one of them informally referred to as a Marshall Plan – evoking the postwar U.S. program to rebuild an impoverished Europe. Also this year, China’s yuan may win the IMF’s blessing as an official reserve currency, a recognition of its rising use in trade and finance. China’s clout has been expanding for decades, as its rapid growth allowed it to snap up a rising share of the world’s resources, its exports penetrated global markets, and its bulging financial assets gave it power to make big individual loans and purchases.
Now, the creation of international lending institutions is leveraging that economic influence closer to the political and diplomatic arenas, as U.S. allies defy America to back China’s initiative. “This is the beginning of a bigger role for China in global affairs,” said Jim O’Neill, formerly at Goldman Sachs, who coined the term BRICs in 2001 to highlight the rising economic power of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s vision of achieving the same great-power status enjoyed by the U.S. received a major boost this month when the U.K., Germany, France and Italy signed on to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The AIIB will have authorized capital of $100 billion and starting funds of about $50 billion.
Canada is considering joining, which would leave the U.S. and Japan as the only Group of Seven holdouts as they question the institution’s governance and environmental standards. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s cabinet approved negotiations to join too, according to a government official who asked not to be identified as the decision hasn’t been made public. “China’s economic rise is acting as a huge pull factor forcing the existing architecture to adapt,” said James Laurenceson, deputy director of the Australia-China Relations Institute in Sydney. “The AIIB has shown the U.S. that a majority in international community support China’s aspirations for taking on greater leadership and responsibility, at least on economic initiatives.”
Read more …
It’s still all just printed Monopoly cash, Pepe.
• The New Chinese Dream (Pepe Escobar)
It’s no wonder top nations in the beleaguered EU have gravitated to the AIIB – which will play a key role in the New Silk Road(s). A German geographer – Ferdinand von Richthofen – invented the Seidenstrasse (Silk Road) concept. Marco Polo forever linked Italy with the Silk Road. The EU is already China’s number one trade partner. And, once again symbolically, this happens to be the 40th year of China-EU relations. Watch the distinct possibility of an emerging Sino-European Fund that finances infrastructure and even green energy projects across an integrated Eurasia. It’s as if the Angel of History – that striking image in a Paul Klee painting eulogized by philosopher Walter Benjamin – is now trying to tell us that a 21st century China-EU Seidenstrasse synergy is all but inevitable.
And that, crucially, would have to include Russia, which is a vital part of the New Silk Road through an upcoming, Russia-China financed $280 billion high-speed rail upgrade of the Trans-Siberian railway. This is where the New Silk Road project and President Putin’s initial idea of a huge trade emporium from Lisbon to Vladivostok actually merge. In parallel, the 21st century Maritime Silk Road will deepen the already frantic trade interaction between China and Southeast Asia by sea. Fujian province – which faces Taiwan – will play a key role. Xi, crucially, spent many years of his life in Fujian. And Hong Kong, not by accident, also wants to be part of the action.
All these developments are driven by China being finally ready to become a massive net exporter of capital and the top source of credit for the Global South. In a few months, Beijing will launch the China International Payment System (CIPS), bound to turbo-charge the yuan as a key global currency for all types of trade. There’s the AIIB. And if that was not enough, there’s still the New Development Bank, launched by the BRICs to compete with the World Bank, and run from Shanghai.
Read more …
.. the Saudi Arabian foreign minister said the GCC would take “necessary measures” to resolve the Yemeni conflict..”
• Gulf Should Be More Worried About Yemen Than Oil (CNBC)
Civil strife and terrorism in Yemen could pose a greater threat to the Gulf countries of the Middle East than tumbling oil prices, a major bank said on Tuesday. “We can’t help but think that the turmoil in Yemen is the emerging and underappreciated risk for investors in GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) stocks,” said Citi analysts Josh Levin and Rahul Bajaj in a research note. Despite worries about Islamic insurgency and destabilization in the Middle East and North Africa, investors in the oil-exporting GCC countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have focused on the potential hit from the slump in energy prices, with crude oil down around 50% since a peak in June 2014.
However, Levin and Bajaj said that increasing strife in Yemen—which borders Saudi Arabia to the south and Oman to the west— could be an “underappreciated risk” to the GCC. “One of the key takeaways from our GCC trip in early February came from an executive in Qatar who observed that while most people are focused on the price of oil, the recent instability in Yemen posed a greater and underappreciated risk to the GCC. Recent events appear to bear out this executive’s observation,” they said on Tuesday. Yemen is in the grips of a worsening civil war, with fighting intensifying between ousted Sunni President Abd-Rabbuh Mansuh Hadi and the Shiite, anti-American rebels who seized power in a coup in January.
The rebels also face violent resistance from Sunni tribesman and competing Islamist extremists in the south. Last week, suicide bombers opposed to the rebels killed 137 people and injured more than 300 others during Friday prayers in the Yemini capital of Sana’a. On Monday, the Saudi Arabian foreign minister said the GCC would take “necessary measures” to resolve the Yemeni conflict, according to media reports. This is in response to requests for military assistance from Hadi, who belongs to the same Muslim Sunni sect as Saudi Arabia’s leaders. Levin and Bajaj warned that the turmoil in Yemen had the potential to spill over into nearby countries. “We have no edge or ability to predict whether or not the conflict in Yemen will spill over into neighboring countries or impact other GCC countries,” they said.
Read more …
Kolomoysky ‘resigned’ after the article was written.
• Oil Stand-Off In Ukraine Shows Oligarchs Won Maidan Revolution (Sputnik)
Whatever the outcome of the stand-off between President Petro Poroshenko and his subordinate Igor Kolomoysky may be, their conflict over Ukrainian oil giant Ukrnafta reveals realities about post-Maidan Ukraine which mainstream media manages to circumvent. Firstly, the country is still ruled by oligarchs, not by the people, even though Igor Kolomoysky is formally governor of Dnepropetrovsk region. Kolomoysky’s private army simply took control first of Ukrtransnafta (Ukraine’s oil transportation monopoly) and later of Ukrnafta. What does this tell us about the Ukrainian state? Secondly, Ukraine’s oligarchs are not at peace with each other; the country is bracing for a major ‘war for assets’ between the country’s richest men (Kolomoysky is worth $2.4 billion on the Forbes list and Poroshenko is worth $1.3 billion).
Thirdly, the Maidan revolution not only left the country without any meaningful legal opposition in the parliament or in the media – as Kost Bondarenko, director of the Kiev-based Foundation for Ukrainian Politics, put it in his article for the Moscow-based Nezavisimaya Gazeta – but the revolution also left Ukraine in a situation of complete lawlessness, when neither laws nor even the words of the president mean much before brutal force and big money (the main weapons of oligarchs). The story of the weekend conflict between Ukraine’s president and the governor of Ukraine’s most important industrial region is a perfect illustration of all these sad truths. Kolomoysky’s men with submachine guns not only took control of Ukrtransgaz on Friday, but the governor of Dnepropetrovsk was apparently untroubled by President Poroshenko’s reprimand for his “unethical behavior” issued the next day.
Kolomoysky’s response to this “scolding” from Poroshenko was widely reported, along with an officially unconfirmed freeze on the accounts of Poroshenko’s companies in Kolomoysky’s bank (Privat-bank). Adding armed insult to the financial injury, Kolomoysky’s men on Sunday took control of Ukrnafta, the country’s biggest oil company, presenting themselves as members of the “voluntary battalion Dnieper” (a Kolomoysky-sponsored paramilitary group known for its atrocities against civilians in the rebellious Donetsk Region). Despite Poroshenko’s order to disarm the gunmen and the president’s promise that “there will be no pocket armies in Ukraine,” Kolomoysky’s men did not leave the building on Monday; instead, they started to put up metal fences around it.
Read more …
“..fiscal tightening has cost developed economies 5-10 percentage points of GDP growth since 2010..”
• Fiscal Virtue And Fiscal Vice – Macroeconomics At A Crossroads (Skidelsky)
Until a few years ago, economists of all persuasions confidently proclaimed that the Great Depression would never recur. In a way, they were right. After the financial crisis of 2008 erupted, we got the Great Recession instead. Governments managed to limit the damage by pumping huge amounts of money into the global economy and slashing interest rates to near zero. But, having cut off the downward slide of 2008-2009, they ran out of intellectual and political ammunition. Economic advisers assured their bosses that recovery would be rapid. And there was some revival; but then it stalled in 2010. Meanwhile, governments were running large deficits – a legacy of the economic downturn – which renewed growth was supposed to shrink.
In the eurozone, countries such as Greece faced sovereign-debt crises as bank bailouts turned private debt into public debt. Attention switched to the problem of fiscal deficits and the relationship between deficits and economic growth. Should governments deliberately expand their deficits to offset the fall in household and investment demand? Or should they try to cut public spending in order to free up money for private spending? Depending on which macroeconomic theory one held, both could be presented as pro-growth policies. The first might cause the economy to expand, because the government was increasing public spending; the second, because they were cutting it. Keynesian theory suggests the first; governments unanimously put their faith in the second.
The consequences of this choice are clear. It is now pretty much agreed that fiscal tightening has cost developed economies 5-10 percentage points of GDP growth since 2010. All of that output and income has been permanently lost. Moreover, because fiscal austerity stifled economic growth, it made the task of reducing budget deficits and national debt as a share of GDP much more difficult. Cutting public spending, it turned out, was not the same as cutting the deficit, because it cut the economy at the same time. That should have ended the argument. But it did not. Some economists claim that governments faced a balance of risk in 2010: cutting the deficit might have slowed growth; but not committing to cut it might have made things even worse.
Read more …
Reinforce your local infrastructure!
• Pension Funds Seek Shelter From Dollar’s Rise (WSJ)
The soaring U.S. dollar is driving pension funds into the currency markets, in part to protect their overseas investments but also to take advantage of some of the biggest price swings in the financial world. In January, the California State Teachers Retirement System, the nation’s second-largest public pension fund with $190.8 billion under management, handed $500 million to a pair of specialist currency funds as part of an effort to limit losses on their international investments, which fall in value as the dollar rises against other currencies. Late last year, the $150.2 billion Florida State Board of Administration expanded its currency investments by more than 10%, to $2.25 billion.
Last June, the $29 billion Connecticut Retirement Plans & Trust Funds hired two managers to help reduce the foreign-currency risks in its international stock investments. And the $14.3 billion Kansas Public Employees Retirement System is now looking to hire a currency manager. The clamor to protect against currency swings marks a return to a strategy that pension funds have tried on and off for years, with mixed results. While it is good news for the money managers that provide the strategies, which stand to reap tens of thousands of dollars in fees for every pension plan that signs up, it also adds to the risks taken on by pensions. Currency markets are among the most volatile, raising the potential for big profits, but also big losses.
“The pickup since December has been extraordinary,” said Adrian Lee, who manages Adrian Lee & Partners hedge fund. “We’ve had more funds interested in our strategies in the last three months than we’ve had in the last three years.” The fund’s assets have grown 30% in the past year, as existing clients raised their allocations, Mr. Lee said. At their most basic, currency strategies come in two flavors. A passive currency-overlay program that seeks to hedge against foreign-exchange losses typically costs between 0.05% and 0.1% of assets, based on a pension’s exposure to foreign markets, according to NEPC, a consultant to pension plans.
Active strategies that seek to profit from currency swings tend to be several times more expensive, as they include higher management fees and allow hedge funds to keep a share of profits. The rising dollar has re-energized interest in both strategies. While the U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates as soon as June, both Europe and Japan are pumping out economic stimulus at unprecedented levels, seeking to stimulate their economies by keeping rates low. The divergence in borrowing costs has sparked an exodus of capital, as investors quit euro and yen-denominated assets and head into the greenback.
Read more …
From one scandal to the next.
• Brazil Investigates Deficit-Ridden Pension Fund (Bloomberg)
The deficit-ridden pension fund for Brazilian postal workers is being investigated for alleged reckless management after several years of money-losing bets ranging from investments in Lehman Brothers bonds to Argentine debt, two people with knowledge of the matter said. Pension-fund agency Previc, securities regulator CVM, the central bank and federal prosecutors are collaborating on the probe and meeting weekly to conclude a report on Postalis, Brazil’s third-largest retirement system by number of beneficiaries, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the issue is private. The findings may be released in coming days, the person said. Under Brazilian law, the agencies may seek penalties that may include fines of as much as 1 million reais ($320,200) and a 10-year ban from managing pension funds.
Postalis has been running a deficit every year since 2011 and the shortfall of 5.6 billion reais now eclipses its 5 billion reais in assets, public records show. Now, the pension fund created in 1981 to take care of Brazil’s more than 100,000 postal workers is requiring those same employees to boost contributions so it can keep making payments to beneficiaries. “They threw us under the bus,” said 36-year-old Douglas Melo, who is required to pitch in an extra 40 reais a month on top of the 55 reais he already contributes to guarantee future benefits of 200 reais a month. “The fund’s investments that later defaulted or were involved in scandals make no sense.”
Postalis amassed billions of reais in losses pursuing risky bets while its peers flocked to the relative safety and high yields of Brazilian government debt. Brazil’s pension funds allocated 15% of their combined 641.7 billion-real portfolio to Brazil local sovereign debt in 2012, according to the nation’s association that tracks the industry. Postalis held less than 1% in 2012. Postalis bet on a fund that booked 18 million reais of Lehman Brothers debt in August 2008, one month before the New York investment bank filed for bankruptcy, according to data from Brazil’s securities regulator. It bought bonds or invested in funds of mid-sized Brazilian banks that were liquidated by the central bank in 2012 amid fraud allegations and lack of capital.
Read more …
Rage against the monopoly. And then create another one just as fast.
• Money May Make The World Go Round, But At What Cost? (BBC)
Banks once had a near monopoly on moving money around the world, and they charged a pretty penny for it. But since the 2008 financial crisis, their reputations have taken an almighty battering, and a growing number of technology-focused start-ups are intent on getting a slice of the action. Cost has become the battleground and technology the weapon in this huge business: people send more than $500bn (£334bn) abroad each year. TransferWise, for example, says banks and independent money transfer giants such as Western Union and MoneyGram, charge about 5-8% in fees when transferring money abroad, and these fees are often concealed within the exchange rate. It charges just 0.5% of the amount being converted. This can equate to a £100-£150 saving on a £5,000 international money transfer.
Founded by Estonians Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Kaarman, the firm achieves this by matching people transferring money in one direction with people transferring it in the other – so called peer-to-peer transfers. In other words, you are in effect buying your currency from other individuals, thereby cutting out a big chunk of exchange rate and “foreign transaction” charges normally levied by banks. “We didn’t understand why transferring money had to be so expensive,” says Mr Hinrikus, who was one of the first employees of Skype, the online communications company. “With us, it’s all about transparency – that’s really important. We choose the mid-market rate when we transfer money.” Another key to their success – TransferWise has shifted more than £3bn of customers’ money since 2011 – is the simplicity of design, he says.
Read more …
Does he do this of his own accord?
• Obama Snubs NATO Chief as Crisis Rages (Bloomberg)
President Barack Obama has yet to meet with the new head of NATO, and won’t see Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this week, even though he is in Washington for three days. Stoltenberg’s office requested a meeting with Obama well in advance of the visit, but never heard anything from the White House, two sources close to the NATO chief told me. The leaders of almost all the other 28 NATO member countries have made time for Stoltenberg since he took over the world’s largest military alliance in October. Stoltenberg, twice the prime minister of Norway, met Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa to discuss the threat of the Islamic State and the crisis in Ukraine, two issues near the top of Obama’s agenda. Kurt Volker, who served as the U.S. permanent representative to NATO under both President George W. Bush and Obama, said the president broke a long tradition.
“The Bush administration held a firm line that if the NATO secretary general came to town, he would be seen by the president … so as not to diminish his stature or authority,” he told me. America’s commitment to defend its NATO allies is its biggest treaty obligation, said Volker, adding that European security is at its most perilous moment since the Cold War. Russia has moved troops and weapons into eastern Ukraine, annexed Crimea, placed nuclear-capable missiles in striking distance of NATO allies, flown strategic-bomber mock runs in the North Atlantic, practiced attack approaches on the UK and Sweden, and this week threatened to aim nuclear missiles at Denmark’s warships. “It is hard for me to believe that the president of the United States has not found the time to meet with the current secretary general of NATO given the magnitude of what this implies, and the responsibilities of his office,” Volker said.
Read more …
Barney Frank memoirs.
• Paulson and Warren: The Unlikely Twin Towers of Dodd-Frank (Bloomberg)
On the surface, Henry Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs and Secretary of the Treasury under President George W. Bush, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, the populist Democrat from Massachusetts, seem an unlikely team. But former Representative Barney Frank, co-author of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation enacted in 2010, said he views Paulson and Warren as twin pillars protecting the financial system. In an interview this week on the Charlie Rose television program, Frank, who was chairman of the House Financial Services Committee during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, recalled former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Paulson telling Congressional Democratic leaders, “The economy is about to fall apart and we have got to do something the public isn’t going to like.”
Frank worked with Bernanke and Paulson to push through the unpopular but ultimately successful financial bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Paulson, Frank said, remained helpful even after leaving government, assisting in the drafting and passing of Dodd-Frank. While Paulson helped establish Dodd-Frank, Frank said, “Elizabeth Warren is helping safeguard it” from Republicans eager to scuttle the law. He acknowledged that Dodd-Frank is complex. But Frank insisted it was neither politically nor substantively possible to make the legislation, which overhauls some regulations dating to the 1930s, less complicated. “In the thirties, there was no such thing as credit default swaps and collateralized loan obligations and collateralized debt obligations,” he said.
Frank’s memoir – titled “Frank” – chronicles his more than four decades in public life. For the first two decades, he said, he felt it necessary to hide his sexuality while celebrating his advocacy of liberal policies. Now, he says, it’s easier to be gay — he was married during his final term in Congress – and harder to champion liberal policies.
Read more …
The World Bank as a power tool.
• Presidents, Bankers, the Neo-Cold War and the World Bank (Nomi Prins)
At first glance, the neo-Cold War between the US and its post WWII European Allies vs. Russia over the Ukraine, and the stonewalling of Greece by the Troika might appear to have little in common. Yet both are manifestations of a political-military-financial power play that began during the first Cold War. Behind the bravado of today’s sanctions and austerity measures lies the decision-making alliance that private bankers enjoy in conjunction with government and multinational entries like NATO and the World Bank. It is President Obama’s foreign policy to back the Ukraine against Russia; in 1958, it was the Eisenhower Doctrine that protected Lebanon from a Soviet threat. For President Truman, the Marshall Plan arose partly to guard Greece (and other US allies) from Communism, but it also had lasting economic implications.
The alignment of political leaders and key bankers was more personal back then, but the implications were similar to the present day. US military might protected its major trading partners, which in turn, did business with US banks. One power reinforced the other. Today, the ECB’s QE program funds swanky Frankfurt headquarters and prioritizes Germany’s super-bank, Deutschebank and its bond investors above Greece’s future. These actions, then and now, have roots in the American ideology of melding military, political and financial power that flourished in the haze of World War II. It’s not fair to pin this triple-power stance on one man, or even one bank; yet one man and one bank signified that power in all of its dimensions, including the use of political enemy creation to achieve financial goals.
That man was John McCloy, ‘Chairman of the Establishment’ as his biographer, Kai Bird, characterized him. The relationship between McCloy and Truman cemented a set of public-private practices that strengthened private US banks globally at the expense of weaker, potentially Soviet (now Russian) leaning countries. [..] During the Cold War, the World Bank provided funds for countries that leaned toward capitalism versus communism. Political allies of the United States got better treatment (and still do). The Nations that private bankers coveted for speculative and lending purposes saw their debt loads increase substantially and their industries privatized. Equally, the bankers decided which bonds they could sell to augment public aid funds, which meant they would have control over which countries the World Bank would support. The World Bank did more to expand US banking globally than any treaty or entity that came before it.
Read more …
• Financial Feudalism (Dmitry Orlov)
Once upon a time—and a fairly long time it was—most of the thickly settled parts of the world had something called feudalism. It was a way of organizing society hierarchically. Typically, at the very top there was a sovereign (king, prince, emperor, pharaoh, along with some high priests). Below the sovereign were several ranks of noblemen, with hereditary titles. Below the noblemen were commoners, who likewise inherited their stations in life, be it by being bound to a piece of land upon which they toiled, or by being granted the right to engage in a certain type of production or trade, in case of craftsmen and merchants. Everybody was locked into position through permanent relationships of allegiance, tribute and customary duties: tribute and customary duties flowed up through the ranks, while favors, privileges and protection flowed down.
It was a remarkably resilient, self-perpetuating system, based largely on the use of land and other renewable resources, all ultimately powered by sunlight. Wealth was primarily derived from land and the various uses of land. Feudalism was essentially a steady-state system. Population pressures were relieved primarily through emigration, war, pestilence and, failing all of the above, periodic famine. Wars of conquest sometimes opened up temporary new venues for economic growth, but since land and sunlight are finite, this amounted to a zero-sum game. But all of that changed when feudalism was replaced with capitalism. What made the change possible was the exploitation of nonrenewable resources, the most important of which was energy from burning fossilized hydrocarbons: first peat and coal, then oil and natural gas.
Suddenly, productive capacity was decoupled from the availability of land and sunlight, and could be ramped up almost, but not quite, ad infinitum, simply by burning more hydrocarbons. Energy use, industry and population all started going up exponentially. A new system of economic relations was brought into being, based on money that could be generated at will, in the form of debt, which could be repaid with interest using the products of ever-increasing future production. Compared with the previous, steady-state system, the change amounted to a new assumption: that the future will always be bigger and richer—rich enough to afford to pay back both principal and interest.
Read more …
A tragic species killing itself:”..antibiotic use in livestock will likely rise 67% by 2030 if livestock conditions don’t improve. About 80% of antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock”.
• Antibiotics In Meat Rising Fast Worldwide, Especially Bacon (UPI)
In the next 15 years, countries around the world will see a major increase in antibiotic use in livestock, a new study finds. “The invention of antibiotics was a major public health revolution of the 20th century,” said senior author Ramanan Laxminarayan, a senior research scholar at the Princeton Environmental Institute and director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy. “Their effectiveness – and the lives of millions of people around the world – are now in danger due to the increasing global problem of antibiotic resistance, which is being driven by antibiotic consumption.” The study was done by researchers at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, Princeton University, the International Livestock Research Institute and the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
The researchers found antibiotic use in livestock will likely rise 67% by 2030 if livestock conditions don’t improve. About 80% of antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock. Antibiotic resistance not only applies to the animals, but it can affect the humans eating the meat. The researchers found pig farmers producing pork and bacon use four times as many antibiotics as cattle farmers. One of the major reasons farmers are having to use more and more antibiotics is that demand for meat is going up, and animals are often subjected to smaller and smaller living quarters, where disease can spread.
Read more …
Feel the power.
• Monsanto Bites Back at Roundup Findings (WSJ)
Monsanto Co. escalated its criticism of a World Health Organization agency’s finding last week that a commonly used herbicide probably has the potential to cause cancer in humans. The St. Louis-based agribusiness giant—a major seller of the weed killer—sought a meeting with senior WHO officials on the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s finding, while a WHO agency official defended what he called an “exhaustive” review of eligible data. The IARC’s classification of glyphosate, the U.S.’s most commonly used weedkiller, as “probably carcinogenic” in a report published Friday reignited debate over a chemical that environmental groups have long criticized and the agricultural industry has defended as safe for humans and less harsh on the environment than others.
“We are outraged with this assessment,” Robert Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer, said Monday, arguing that the finding was derived from “cherry picking” data based on an “agenda-driven bias.” Monsanto, which markets glyphosate under the Roundup brand, sent letters to WHO members seeking to discuss the IARC classification, which Monsanto officials said ran counter to many other findings, including those by other WHO programs, according to Philip Miller, the company’s vice president of global regulatory affairs. Dana Loomis, deputy head of the monographs section for the IARC, said the agency’s classification of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” was based on an examination of peer-reviewed research and completed government reports on the herbicide.
“We feel confident that our process is transparent and rigorous, based on the best available scientific data, and that it’s free from conflicts of interest,” Mr. Loomis said. He also said it was “categorically not true” that the IARC overlooked research on glyphosate, as Monsanto and other agriculture groups alleged. He said the IARC seeks to find and review all publicly available, peer-reviewed research and government documents in their final form. That excludes draft research, he said, which can change before it is completed.
Read more …