Jan 182017
 
 January 18, 2017  Posted by at 10:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Albert Freeman Effect of gasoline shortage in Washington, DC 1942


Why Theresa May Is Right To Take A Huge Gamble On Hard Brexit (MW)
Trump Is Waving Adios To The Longstanding ‘Strong Dollar Policy’ (MW)
The Issue Is Not Trump, It’s Us (John Pilger)
Focus Turns To Julian Assange After US Decision To Free Chelsea Manning (G.)
Russia Extends Snowden’s Residency Permit ‘By A Couple Of Years’ (R.)
Putin Mocks Claims That Trump Was Spied On (AFP)
PBOC Cash Injections Surge To Record $60 Billion Before Holidays (BBG)
China New Home Prices Rise 12.4% Y/Y In December (R.)
Rustbelt China Province Admits It Faked Fiscal Data For Years (BBG)
Saudis Claim Victory Over US Shale Industry (AEP)
Rising U.S. Shale-Oil Output Threatens OPEC’s Production Pact (MW)
Italian Conservative Tajani Wins Race To Head European Parliament (R.)
The Bankers Who Fixed The World’s Most Important Number (G.)
Percentage of World Population Age 65+ in 2015 and 2050 (BR)

 

 

While I tend to largely agree with this, I also think what makes these discussions obsolete is that I haven’t seen a single person talk about the possibility that EU will not survive as is, or the single market, and what that would in turn mean for Brexit. Not a single one. Meanwhile, Britain has declared mudslinging its new national sport, and that will continue to make predicting anything at all very hard.

Why Theresa May Is Right To Take A Huge Gamble On Hard Brexit (MW)

First, there is very little evidence that membership of the Single Market is worth the costs. Every country in the world has access to the single market, under WTO Rules, although occasionally subject to some very minor tariffs. What you lose by leaving is any voice in how the rules of that market are set, and the hassle and paperwork involved in exporting. How much that is really worth, it is hard to judge. What we do know is that ever since the single market was launched in 1992, the EU has been one of the slowest-growing regions in the world, and that trade between its member states has started to decline. If it is so important to an economy, that is, to put it mildly, a bit odd. The only honest position is to say we have absolutely no idea what difference it will make. No country has left the single market before. But given the obligations that come with it — especially open borders and budget contributions — it may well not be worth much.

Second, it strengthens the U.K.’s negotiating position. If Britain goes into the haggling over the terms of departure saying it has decided to leave the single market, and that there is nothing it really wants from Brussels, then suddenly the conversation changes. After all, there are two things the EU wants from the U.K.: the net budget contribution, which accounts for 7% of its total spending, and access to our market, given that the U.K. runs a massive trade deficit with Europe. The EU doesn’t have to have either — it will get by OK without them. But they are helpful. If the U.K. can offer both, while asking for virtually nothing in return, it is more likely to get what it genuinely wants — which is mainly free access to Europe for its financial sector.

Finally, the politics look right. The Conservative Party has remarkably and quickly reassembled itself as the Brexit Party. That might be the right or the wrong decision, but it is where the majority of the country is right now. After all, Leave won the referendum despite fierce warnings of catastrophe from the rest of the world. Of its opponents, the Liberal Democrats want to go back in, and Labour is hopelessly undecided. If Brexit is a reasonable success — and that simply means it regains control of its borders, and the economy keeps expanding even if it is at a lower rate than before — then the Tories will be rewarded with power for a generation. That makes it a prize worth fighting for.

True, the risks are great. The potential disruption to the economy may be a lot worse than anyone yet realizes. The pound could collapse, inflation could soar, and joblessness start to rise. If any of that happens, May will go down as a catastrophic prime minister. But it is more likely she has called this right — and a hard Brexit will turn out to be best the best option available.

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Question is, how much can teh US do as long as the USD is the reserve currency and so much global debt is denominated in it?

Trump Is Waving Adios To The Longstanding ‘Strong Dollar Policy’ (MW)

The strong dollar policy—a mantra of Democratic and Republican administrations for more than two decades—may be headed for the scrap heap once Donald Trump is sworn in as president on Friday. Indeed, Trump sent the dollar skittering lower Tuesday after he told The Wall Street Journal that the U.S. currency was “too strong,” in part due to Chinese efforts to hold down the yuan. But while much is made of Trump’s questioning of the need for NATO or the lasting power of the EU, an administration-level push for a weaker currency would hardly be without precedent. It would, however, be an adjustment a generation of investors and traders who came of age in an era when the executive branch at least paid lip service to the notion that a strong dollar was a desirable aim.

The tide last shifted during the Clinton administration after Robert Rubin, the former Goldman Sachs chief, took over as Treasury secretary from Lloyd Bentsen in early 1995. Before that, Bentsen and U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor had often used language that inadvertently—or not—tended to weaken the dollar. Bentsen got the ball rolling early in Clinton’s first term, calling for a stronger yen in a February 1993 appearance and shocking currency traders who duly bid up the Japanese currency. As recounted in a 2001 paper by economists Brad DeLong and Barry Eichengreen, Bentsen saw the stronger yen as potentially helpful in alleviating the U.S. trade deficit, while Kantor saw a weaker dollar providing leverage in trade talks. That may sound a bit familiar. Trump made the U.S. trade deficit a centerpiece of his campaign, using it to argue that it was proof the nation is getting its lunch eaten by competitors in a zero-sum world.

[..] Douglas Borthwick, managing director of Chapdelaine Foreign Exchange, argued in a note earlier this month that an incoming Trump administration, by throwing out the strong dollar policy, could use the currency as a linchpin in implementing its economic agenda: “With a removal of the Strong USD Policy, the US Dollar will weaken against its global counterparts. This will give the FED the ability to normalize US interest rates, as they can use the weaker USD and the resulting inflation as an excuse for raising rates. The FED will then be used by the Administration as a brake on US Dollar weakness. The weaker USD will also force other countries struggling to get their economies moving to rewrite trade agreements in a way that is more advantageous to the US. In other words, we will see a normalization of US Interest rates, and better negotiated trade deals. Both a win for the new Administration.”

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Pilger’s not a fan of Obama. Good read.

The Issue Is Not Trump, It’s Us (John Pilger)

One of the persistent strands in U.S. political life is a cultish extremism that approaches fascism. This was given expression and reinforced during the two terms of Barack Obama. “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” said Obama, who expanded the United States’ favorite military pastime: bombing and death squads (“special operations”) as no other president has done since the Cold War. According to a Council on Foreign Relations survey, in 2016 alone Obama dropped 26,171 bombs. That is 72 bombs every day. He bombed the poorest people on earth, in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan. Every Tuesday — reported the New York Times — he personally selected those who would be murdered by mostly hellfire missiles fired from drones.

Weddings, funerals, shepherds were attacked, along with those attempting to collect the body parts festooning the “terrorist target.” A leading Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, estimated, approvingly, that Obama’s drones killed 4,700 people. “Sometimes you hit innocent people and I hate that,” he said, “but we’ve taken out some very senior members of Al Qaeda.” Like the fascism of the 1930s, big lies are delivered with the precision of a metronome, thanks to an omnipresent media whose description now fits that of the Nuremberg prosecutor: “Before each major aggression, with some few exceptions based on expediency, they initiated a press campaign calculated to weaken their victims and to prepare the German people psychologically … In the propaganda system … it was the daily press and the radio that were the most important weapons.”

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Assange doesn’t lie. But he may demand the US clarify its positions.

Focus Turns To Julian Assange After US Decision To Free Chelsea Manning (G.)

The decision by the US president, Barack Obama, to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning has brought fresh attention to the fate of Julian Assange. On Twitter last week, Assange’s anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks posted: “If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ [Department of Justice] case.” Obama’s move will test the promise. The president commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence, freeing her in May, nearly three decades early. In a statement on Tuesday, Assange said Manning should never have been convicted and described her as “a hero, whose bravery should have been applauded not condemned”. Assange went on to demand that the US government “immediately end its war on whistleblowers and publishers, such as WikiLeaks and myself”, but made no mention of the Twitter pledge.

His lawyer said he has been pressing the Justice Department for updates on an investigation concerning WikiLeaks. The transgender former intelligence analyst, born Bradley Manning, was convicted in August 2013 of espionage and other offences after admitting to leaking 700,000 sensitive military and diplomatic classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. Assange has been holed up for more than four years at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He has refused to meet prosecutors in Sweden, where he remains wanted on an allegation of rape, fearing he would be extradited to the US to face espionage charges if he leaves the embassy. In a statement on Tuesday, a lawyer for Assange did not address whether Assange intended to come to the US.

“For many months, I have asked the DoJ to clarify Mr Assange’s status. I hope it will soon,” Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollack, said in the statement. “The Department of Justice should not pursue any charges against Mr Assange based on his publication of truthful information and should close its criminal investigation of him immediately.” Another Assange lawyer, Melinda Taylor, said: “Julian’s US lawyers have repeatedly asked the Department of Justice to clarify Julian Assange’s status and would like them to do so now by announcing it is closing the investigation and pursuing no charges.”

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Only right thing to do.

Russia Extends Snowden’s Residency Permit ‘By A Couple Of Years’ (R.)

Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has been given leave to remain in Russia for another couple of years, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry said. “Snowden’s residency in Russia has just been extended by another couple of years,” the spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said in a post on Facebook.

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He must be having so much fun with this. And he’s right: “This shows a significant level of degradation of the political elite in the West.”

Putin Mocks Claims That Trump Was Spied On (AFP)

President Vladimir Putin cracked raunchy jokes on Tuesday as he poked fun at claims that Russian secret services filmed US President-elect Donald Trump with prostitutes. Showing he is familiar with the claims in the explosive dossier, Putin launched into a series of ribald jokes about prostitutes, riffing on Trump’s former role as owner of the Miss Universe beauty contest. The unsubstantiated dossier published by American media last week alleged that Russia had gathered compromising information on Trump, namely videos involving prostitutes at a luxury Moscow hotel, supposedly as a potential means for blackmail. In his first public comments on the claims, Putin rubbished the idea that Russian secret services would have spied on Trump during his 2013 visit to Moscow for the Miss Universe final, as alleged in the dossier.

“Trump when he came to Moscow… wasn’t any kind of political figure, we didn’t even know of his political ambitions,” Putin said, responding to a journalist’s question at a news conference. “Does anyone think that our special services chase every American billionaire? Of course not, it’s just completely ridiculous.” Putin also questioned why Trump would feel the need to hire prostitutes, given his opportunities to meet beautiful women at the Miss Universe contest. “He’s a grown-up for a start and secondly a man who spent his whole life organising beauty contests and meeting the most beautiful women in the world,” Putin said. “I can hardly imagine that he ran off to a hotel to meet our girls of ‘lowered social responsibility’,” said Putin, adding jokingly “although they are of course the best in the world. “I doubt Trump fell for that.”

Putin went on to compare those behind the dossier unfavourably with prostitutes. “The people who order falsifications of the kind that are now circulating against the US president-elect – they are worse than prostitutes, they don’t have any moral limits at all. “The fact that such methods are being used against the US president-elect is a unique case: nothing like this has happened before. “This shows a significant level of degradation of the political elite in the West.”

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Xi ordered no market selloffs while he’s in Davos. Joke.

PBOC Cash Injections Surge To Record $60 Billion Before Holidays (BBG)

China’s benchmark money-market rate surged the most in 19 months, with record central bank cash injections being overwhelmed by demand before the Lunar New Year holidays. The People’s Bank of China put in a net 410 billion yuan ($60 billion) through open-market operations on Wednesday, the biggest daily addition since Bloomberg began compiling the data in 2004. That brings the total injections so far this week to 845 billion yuan. The interbank seven-day repurchase rate jumped 17 basis points, the most since June 2015, to 2.58% as of 1:18 p.m. in Shanghai, according to weighted average prices. Demand for cash tends to increase before the Lunar New Year holidays, when households withdraw money to pay for gifts and get-togethers.

Month-end corporate tax payments are adding to the pressure this time, with the break running from Jan. 27 through Feb. 2. The PBOC offered 200 billion yuan of seven-day reverse repos and 260 billion yuan of 28-day contracts, compared with 50 billion yuan of loans maturing on Wednesday. “The PBOC aims to ensure that the liquidity situation remains adequate, while the 28-day reverse repo is apparently targeted at covering the holidays,” said Frances Cheung at Societe Generale. “There could also be preparation for any indirect tightening impact from potential outflows.” China’s central bank has been offering more 28-day reverse repos than one-week loans in the past two weeks, while curbing the injection of cheaper, short-term funds amid efforts to lower leverage in the financial system. It drained a net 595 billion yuan in the first week of January, before switching to a net injection of 100 billion yuan last week as the seasonal funding demand started to emerge.

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The result of cash injections.

China New Home Prices Rise 12.4% Y/Y In December (R.)

Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 12.4% in December from a year earlier, slowing slightly from a 12.6% increase in November, an official survey showed on Wednesday. Compared with a month earlier, home prices rose 0.3% nationwide, slowing from November’s 0.6%, according to Reuters calculations from data issued by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing prices rose 23.5%, 26.5% and 25.9%, respectively, from a year earlier. Monthly growth in Shanghai and Shenzhen slowed but was unchanged in Beijing as local governments’ tightening measures took effect.

China relied heavily on a surging real estate market and government stimulus to help drive economic growth in 2016, but policymakers have grown concerned that the property frenzy will fuel price bubbles and risk a market crash, with serious consequences for the broader economy. Soaring home prices have prompted more than 20 Chinese cities to tighten lending requirements on house purchases, while regulators have told banks to strengthen their risk management on property loans.

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Scapegoating. You pick one to make the rest look good in comparison. But this is endemic, in a variety of forms.

Rustbelt China Province Admits It Faked Fiscal Data For Years (BBG)

The rust-belt province of Liaoning fabricated fiscal numbers from 2011 to 2014, local officials have said, raising fresh doubts about the accuracy of China’s economic data just days ahead of the release of the nation’s full-year growth report. City and county governments in the northwestern region committed fiscal data fraud in the period, Governor Chen Qiufa said at a meeting with provincial lawmakers Tuesday, according to state-run People’s Daily. Fiscal revenues were inflated by at least 20 percent, and some other economic data were also false, the paper said, without specifying categories. Chen said the data were made up because officials wanted to advance their careers. The fraud misled the central government’s judgment of Liaoning’s economic status, he said, citing a report from the National Audit Office in 2016.

With growth now moderating, officials have sought to improve the credibility of economic data as diffusing financial risks becomes a key policy consideration, along with keeping growth ticking along at a rapid clip. Ning Jizhe, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, has said China should prevent fake economic data and increase the quality of its statistics. Liaoning has seen an unprecedented purge of more than 500 deputies from its legislature. The deputies were implicated in vote buying and bribery in the first provincial-level case of its kind in the Communist Party’s almost seven-decade rule, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Former provincial party chief Wang Min, who led Liaoning from 2009 until 2015, was earlier expelled following corruption allegations by China’s top anti-graft watchdog.

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Wonderful pair of articles. Take your pick. Ambrose has one view, while…

Saudis Claim Victory Over US Shale Industry (AEP)

Saudi Arabia’s oil sheikhs insisted defiantly in Davos that they have defeated the challenge of the American shale industry and restored the balance to the global oil markets after two years of trauma and glut. The country’s energy minister Khalid Al-Falih said US oil frackers had survived only by tapping the most prolific wells and would face surging costs once again as recovery builds, while cannibalisation of their plant will prevent a rapid rebound in US output. “Their supply infrastructure has been decimated,” he said, speaking at the World Economic Forum. Mr Al-Falih admitted for the first time that Saudi Arabia’s decision to flood the world crude markets in 2014 and force a collapse in prices was essentially aimed at US shale frackers, a claim always denied in the past.

“If we had cut production and kept prices at three-digit levels, they would have kept adding one million barrels a day each year, for year after year. Saudi production would have been three million barrels day less in 2017 under that scenario. It was not sustainable,” he said. US drillers bridle at the suggestion that the Saudis won, insisting that they held Opec and Russia to a standstill, forcing them to capitulate last November with an agreement by 22 states to trim output by 1.2m barrels a day, and even that may not prove enough. “Opec engaged in a price war against US producers and they lost,” said Kenneth Hersh from Energy Capital. “This has brought the cost structure down for the whole world. There is no longer a cartel any more.”

Amin Nasser, head of Saudi Aramco, insisted that the job of knocking back shale is largely accomplished and that the market would rebalance by the first half of this year. The cycle is now switching to the opposite extreme. He warned that the world needs $1 trillion of fresh investment in oil projects each year just to keep up with growing demand, and the risk of “price spikes” later this decade is rising fast. The warning was echoed by Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, who fears a looming oil shortage after an unprecedented collapse in spending on exploration and development over the last two years. “Alarm bells will be ringing if there is no major new investment this year,” he said.

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….MarketWatch has the exact opposite.

Rising U.S. Shale-Oil Output Threatens OPEC’s Production Pact (MW)

The oil market got a stark reminder Tuesday that rising oil production in the U.S. could upend efforts by major producers to bring global supply and demand for crude back in to balance. Just ahead of the settlement for oil futures prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Tuesday, the Energy Information Administration released a report on drilling productivity—forecasting a monthly rise of 41,000 barrels a day in February oil production to 4.748 million barrels a day. “That is bearish for oil and a concern for OPEC,” said James Williams, energy economist at WTRG Economics, pointing out that the volume of new oil per rig has climbed because of gains in efficiency.

“If maintained, the expected February production gain means production from the shale plays will be up at least a half million barrels per day by the end of the year,” said Williams. Prices for February West Texas Intermediate crude lost the bulk of the day’s gain on Tuesday to settle with a modest 11-cent climb at $52.48 a barrel. “Since rigs are higher now than in December and should continue to increase, that means a half million [barrel-per-day] gain in production by year-end is a conservative estimate,” Williams said. “Most OPEC members expected this, but U.S. shale production will be the closest monitored data after OPEC’s own compliance with quotas,” he said.

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Backroom dealmaking. Why the EU is on its way out.

Italian Conservative Tajani Wins Race To Head European Parliament (R.)

Centre-right politician Antonio Tajani was elected the new president of the European Parliament on Tuesday after defeating his socialist rival, a fellow Italian, in a daylong series of votes. The new speaker, 63, a former EU commissioner and an ally of former premier Silvio Berlusconi, succeeds German Social Democrat Martin Schulz at a time of crisis for the European Union. Britain wants a divorce deal that needs the legislature’s blessing while old adversary Russia and old ally the United States both pose new threats to EU survivors holding together. Schulz’s tenure saw close cooperation with the centre-right head of the EU executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, but ended with recriminations over the end of a left-right grand coalition. That could spell trouble for the smooth passage of EU laws on a range of issues.

And the win for Tajani, who beat centre-left leader and fellow Italian Gianni Pittella by 351 votes to 282 in a fourth-round runoff, gives the right a lock on three pivotal EU political institutions. That has stirred some calls for change from either Juncker at the European Commission or Donald Tusk, who chairs the European Council of national leaders. However, there is no clear consensus for such changes. Tajani, mindful of the scars left by an unusually bruising battle over a post which can be a powerful influence on which EU rules are made, promised to be “a president for all of you”. His eventual victory came with backing from pro-EU liberals as well as from the ruling conservative parties of Britain and Poland, both of them sharply critical of the EU’s failings. They bristle at the EU impinging on national sovereignty and see it as bureaucratic and wasteful.

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Not THE world, but THEIR world.

The Bankers Who Fixed The World’s Most Important Number (G.)

By the time the market opened in London, Lehman’s demise was official. Hayes instant-messaged one of his trusted brokers in the City to tell him what direction he wanted Libor to move. Typically, he skipped any pleasantries. “Cash mate, really need it lower,” Hayes typed. “What’s the score?” The broker sent his assurances and, over the next few hours, followed a well-worn routine. Whenever one of the Libor-setting banks called and asked his opinion on what the benchmark would do, the broker said – incredibly, given the calamitous news – that the rate was likely to fall. Libor may have featured in hundreds of trillions of dollars of loans and derivatives, but this was how it was set: conversations among men who were, depending on the day, indifferent, optimistic or frightened.

When Hayes checked the official figures later that night, he saw to his relief that yen Libor had fallen. Hayes was not out of danger yet. Over the next three days, he barely left the office, surviving on three hours of sleep a night. As the market convulsed, his profit and loss jumped around from minus $20 million to plus $8 million in just hours, but Hayes had another ace up his sleeve. ICAP, the world’s biggest inter-dealer broker, sent out a “Libor prediction” email each day at around 7am to the individuals at the banks responsible for submitting Libor. Hayes messaged an insider at ICAP and instructed him to skew the predictions lower. Amid the chaos, Libor was the one thing Hayes believed he had some control over. He cranked his network to the max, offering his brokers extra payments for their cooperation and calling in favours at banks around the world.

By Thursday, 18 September, Hayes was exhausted. This was the moment he had been working towards all week. If Libor jumped today, all his puppeteering would have been for nothing. Libor moves in increments called basis points, equal to one one-hundredth of a percentage point, and every tick was worth roughly $750,000 to his bottom line. For the umpteenth time since Lehman faltered, Hayes reached out to his brokers in London. “I need you to keep it as low as possible, all right?” he told one of them in a message. “I’ll pay you, you know, $50,000, $100,000, whatever. Whatever you want, all right?” “All right,” the broker repeated. “I’m a man of my word,” Hayes said. “I know you are. No, that’s done, right, leave it to me,” the broker said.

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Yes, you should be scared. For your children.

Percentage of World Population Age 65+ in 2015 and 2050 (BR)

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Jan 052017
 
 January 5, 2017  Posted by at 10:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Pablo Picasso The Dream 1932


Chinese Media Say ‘Big Sticks’ Await Trump If He Seeks Trade War (BBG)
Donald Trump Plans Revamp of Top US Spy Agency and CIA (WSJ)
Schumer Calls Eight Trump Cabinet Picks ‘Troublesome’ (BBG)
Ford’s Truck Trumps Mexico and Tesla (BBG)
So What’s The Big Idea, European Union? (G.)
Italy’s 5 Star Movement Part Of Growing Club Of Putin Sympathisers In West (G.)
Beppe Grillo Accuses Journalists Of ‘Manufacturing False News’ (DM)
Ukraine Moves To Blacklist Le Pen Over Crimea Comments (R.)
UK Credit Binge Approaching Levels Not Seen Since 2008 Crash (G.)
China Can’t Quit the Dollar (Balding)
India’s Cash Woes Are Just Beginning (BBG)
Head of Russian Central Bank Named European Banker of the Year (RT)
Steve Keen: Rebel Economist With A Cause (AFR)

 

 

Xi has all the state media, and all Trump has is Twitter. Isn’t it fun? Then again, for Xi to let the Global Times come with this sort of childish language is below him.

Chinese Media Say ‘Big Sticks’ Await Trump If He Seeks Trade War (BBG)

Chinese state media warned U.S. President-elect Donald Trump that he’ll be met with “big sticks” if he tries to ignite a trade war or further strain ties. “There are flowers around the gate of China’s Ministry of Commerce, but there are also big sticks hidden inside the door – they both await Americans,” the Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper wrote in an editorial Thursday in response to Trump’s plans to nominate lawyer Robert Lighthizer, who has criticized Beijing’s trade practices, as U.S. trade representative.

The latest salvo from state-run outlets followed others last month aimed at Peter Navarro, a University of California at Irvine economics professor and critic of China’s trade practices whom Trump last month named to head a newly formed White House National Trade Council. Those picks plus billionaire Wilbur Ross, the nominee for commerce secretary, will form an “iron curtain” of protectionism in Trump’s economic and trade team, the paper wrote. The three share Trump’s strong anti-globalization beliefs and seem unlikely to keep building the current trade order, it said, adding that they will be more interested in disrupting the world trade order.

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Don’t think they saw this coming. And that’s perhaps not so intelligent. The CIA leaked a lot of wild anti-Trump stuff during the election campaign, and now claims he MUST trust them. But if he leaves the same people in place, when will they turn on him again?

Donald Trump Plans Revamp of Top US Spy Agency and CIA (WSJ)

President-elect Donald Trump, a harsh critic of U.S. intelligence agencies, is working with top advisers on a plan that would restructure and pare back the nation’s top spy agency, people familiar with the planning said, prompted by a belief that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has become bloated and politicized. The planning comes as Mr. Trump has leveled a series of social media attacks in recent months and the past few days against U.S. intelligence agencies, dismissing and mocking their assessment that the Russian government hacked emails of Democratic groups and individuals and then leaked them last year to WikiLeaks and others in an effort to help Mr. Trump win the White House.

One of the people familiar with Mr. Trump’s planning said advisers also are working on a plan to restructure the CIA, cutting back on staffing at its Virginia headquarters and pushing more people out into field posts around the world. The CIA declined to comment on the plan. “The view from the Trump team is the intelligence world [is] becoming completely politicized,” said the individual, who is close to the Trump transition operation. “They all need to be slimmed down. The focus will be on restructuring the agencies and how they interact.”

In one of his latest Twitter posts on Wednesday, Mr. Trump referenced an interview that WikiLeaks editor in chief Julian Assange gave to Fox News in which he denied Russia had been his source for the thousands of emails stolen from Democrats and Hillary Clinton advisers, including campaign manager John Podesta, that Mr. Assange published. Mr. Trump tweeted: “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’—why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!”

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This will dominate the news going forward. Main question: what crazy stories will the WaPo come up with to discredit the nominees? Should be interesting. Meanwhile: YOU LOST, Schumer. Big time. Stop digging.

Schumer Calls Eight Trump Cabinet Picks ‘Troublesome’ (BBG)

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said his party views eight of Donald Trump’s Cabinet choices as being “the most troublesome” and wants at least two days of hearings for each of them. “We have asked for fair hearings on all of those nominees,” Schumer of New York told reporters Wednesday in Washington. “There are a lot of questions about these nominees.” Confirmation hearings begin next week for a number of the president-elect’s Cabinet picks, and several already overlap on a single day, Jan. 11. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said minutes earlier that he hopes the Senate would be ready to confirm some of the nominees shortly after Trump is inaugurated on Jan. 20, just as it did when President Barack Obama first took office.

Under current Senate rules, Democrats can delay Senate confirmation of nominees but can’t block them on their own. Schumer’s office said the eight nominees targeted by Democrats for extra scrutiny are Rex Tillerson for secretary of State, Betsy DeVos for Education, Steven Mnuchin for Treasury, Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency, Mick Mulvaney for budget director, Tom Price for Health and Human Services, Andy Puzder for Labor and Wilbur Ross for Commerce. Schumer said he wants their full paperwork before hearings are scheduled, adding that only a few have turned it in while most haven’t. Schumer said he also wants their tax returns, particularly because some are billionaires and given the potential for conflicts of interest.

The hearing for DeVos is scheduled for Jan. 11, “and we don’t have any information on her, and she in addition has a $5 million fine outstanding that she’s refused to pay,” Schumer said. Democrats have called on a political action committee led by DeVos to pay a $5.2 million fine imposed by Ohio officials over campaign finance violations in 2008. “There are so many issues about so many of them that to rush them through would be a disservice to the American people,” the Democratic leader said. While many of Obama’s nominees were confirmed quickly, his team had its paperwork in early, Schumer said.

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Our God is the car.

Ford’s Truck Trumps Mexico and Tesla (BBG)

On its first day back from the holidays, America’s auto industry began with a Mexican standoff and ended with Tesla just being off. Ford announced early on Tuesday it was scrapping plans to build a new plant in Mexico, apparently under pressure from President-elect Donald Trump. The PEOTUS then turned his signature industrial-policy-by-tweet on General Motors, threatening them over shipping Mexican-made Chevy Cruze cars back home .Meanwhile, after the market closed on Tuesday, Tesla Motors Inc. reported it missed its (reduced) guidance for vehicle deliveries in 2016. The stock fell in after-hours trading, as some were clearly caught by surprise – a reaction that, let’s face it, is itself a bit surprising at this point. In any case, a timely tour of the Gigafactory scheduled for Wednesday will no doubt snap the market’s attention back away from those pesky number thingies.

What links these stories is Ford’s other announcement on Tuesday morning, which got a bit lost in the shuffle; namely, its plans to electrify some of its marquee models – including the F-150 pickup truck.Rather than a battery-only version or even a plug-in hybrid model, Ford is committing merely to a basic hybrid version of the F-150 by 2020 – more Priusizing than Teslarizing it. So we aren’t about to see Ford’s trucks vanish from gasoline stations anytime soon. But this is still a big deal. The F-Series is America’s biggest-selling vehicle and represents one of every three full-size pickups sold. Also, pickups are archetypal gas guzzlers, and gas guzzlers are doing really well right now because of cheap gasoline. And even as Trump lobs Twitter-bombs at the car-makers’ foreign factories, his administration also looks likely to ease up on fuel-efficiency standards.

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So What’s The Big Idea, Guardian? How can you have your own Jennifer Rankin in Brussels, Thomas Kirchner and Alexander Mühlauer of Suddeutsche Zeitung and Cécile Ducourtieux of Le Monde, all contribute to a long article, and still not touch on a single one prime issue with the EU? How do you do it?

So What’s The Big Idea, European Union? (G.)

A few weeks ago, a significant anniversary in Maastricht slipped by almost unnoticed: 25 years ago, the historic treaty that ushered in the euro was drafted. But there was no fanfare, no commemoration in the European parliament, no mention at all by the commission. There was just a rather lacklustre speech by the EU president, Jean-Claude Juncker, in which he lamented that people were not sufficiently proud of what had been achieved on 9 December 1991. This air of resignation perfectly epitomises an EU in retreat. Battered, bothered and bewildered on all sides by a succession of crises – Brexit, the euro, refugees – the union is short of ideas, perhaps shorter than it has ever been. In his state of the union speech last autumn, the very best that Juncker could come up with was free Wi-Fi for every EU town and village by 2020, though even this sounded more like an aspiration than a concrete policy.

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Oh, wait, that hollow ‘article’ on the EU was just a lead in to this Guardian smear piece in the honored tradition of the WaPo. Up to and including “Russian interference in Italian elections”.

Italy’s 5 Star Movement Part Of Growing Club Of Putin Sympathisers In West (G.)

Ten years ago, in the wake of the murder of the leading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a popular comedian-turned-blogger in Italy named Beppe Grillo urged tens of thousands of his readers to go out and buy Putin’s Russia, her searing exposé of corruption under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. “Russia is a democracy based on the export of gas and oil. If they didn’t export that, they would go back to being the good old dictatorship of once upon a time,” Grillo wrote in a mournful 2006 post about the journalist’s murder. But today, Grillo’s position on Russia has radically changed. He is now part of a growing club of Kremlin sympathisers in the west – an important shift given that the comedian has become one of the most powerful political leaders in Italy and his Five Star Movement (M5S), the anti-establishment party he created in 2009, is a top contender to win the next Italian election.

[..] As the M5S’s rhetoric has become pro-Russian, it is simultaneously becoming more critical of the EU, including a vow to hold a referendum on the euro. Such a vote would be likely to have a destabilising effect on European unity, even if in practice it would be difficult to execute a departure from the single currency. Grillo has also called for a “review” of the EU’s open borders under the Schengen agreement, in response to the shooting in Milan of Anis Amri, the suspected terrorist behind last month’s attack on a Berlin Christmas market.

[..] Foreign diplomats in Rome said it was easy to overestimate the M5S’s chances of winning the next Italian election and that expected changes to Italy’s electoral rules would make an M5S victory difficult. That calculation is based on the fact that the M5S has always opposed forging governing alliances with other parties, which has made it impossible so far for the party to achieve a majority coalition in parliament. But a handful of diplomats have also suggested that the ruling Democratic party, which is still led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, may not be fully alert to the potential threat of Russian interference in Italian elections, and is not as concerned about the issue as it should be.

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This is Italy, so what does the other side say? Fascism. To propose a public jury on what news is false is fascism. As Italy is no. 77 in the World Press Freedom Index. This will get very ugly.

Beppe Grillo Accuses Journalists Of ‘Manufacturing False News’ (DM)

The leader of Italy’s populist Five Star movement has caused a stir by accusing the country’s journalists of ‘manufacturing false news’. Comic Beppe Grillo, founder of the anti-euro movement, lashed out at print and TV journalists, accusing them of fabricating news to keep his party, the Five Stars, down. ‘Newspapers and television news programmes are the biggest manufacturers of false news in the country, with the aim of ensuring those who have power keep it,’ he said on his blog on Tuesday. He called for ‘a popular jury to determine the veracity of the news published,’ and said in cases of fake news ‘the editor must, head bowed, make a public apology and publish the correct version at the start of the programme or on the paper’s front page’.

Grillo said members of the general public ‘picked at random’ would be shown newspaper articles and programmes and asked ‘to determine their accuracy.’ The blog was accompanied by a montage of the banners and logos of Italy’s main newspapers and television news programmes. The media world was enraged by comments, as were politicians from Italy’s traditional parties. The news director of the private TG La7 channel, Enrico Mentana, said he would sue the comedian, while journalists’ union FNSI slammed the ‘lynching of all journalists’. The opposition Five Stars was running neck-and-neck with the ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD) before Matteo Renzi’s downfall last month and Grillo is campaigning hard for the next general election, which could be held in coming months.

What Grillo is proposing ‘is called Fascism, and those who play it down are accomplices,’ PD senator Stefano Esposito said. The centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party, founded by ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, said Grillo wanted a ‘minculpop 2.0’, a reference to the propaganda and censorship ministry under dictator Benito Mussolini. Grillo has had a difficult relationship with the media since launching the Five Stars (M5S) in 2009, banning members from appearing on talk shows and giving international media priority over their Italian counterparts at his rallies. His claim that journalists were to blame for the country’s poor standing on the World Press Freedom Index – where it ranks 77th – was dismissed by the editor in chief of the Repubblica daily.

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The Crimeans voted in huge numbers to join -stay with- Russia, but you can’t say that. Not even if it’s true and you live 2000 miles away. I doubt Le Pen was planning any trips to Kyiv anytime soon to begin with, but so who’s next? She can’t go to Poland anymore either soon? But still get elected president of France? Bring it on.

Ukraine Moves To Blacklist Le Pen Over Crimea Comments (R.)

Ukraine indicated on Wednesday it would bar French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen from entering the country after comments she made that appeared to legitimize Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Le Pen’s office dismissed the threat, saying she had no intention of visiting Ukraine. Kiev is nervous about the shifting political landscape in 2017. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has adopted a friendlier tone toward Russia while another French presidential candidate, Francois Fillon, favours lifting sanctions against Moscow. Relations between Ukraine and Russia soured after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the subsequent outbreak of pro-Russian separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine that has killed around 10,000 people, despite a ceasefire being notionally in place.

Alluding to Le Pen, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement: “Making statements that repeat Kremlin propaganda, the French politician shows disrespect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and completely ignores the fundamental principles of international law. “…Such statements and actions in violation of the Ukrainian legislation will necessarily have consequences, as it was in the case of certain French politicians, who are denied entry to Ukraine,” it said. The far right leader was quoted by French television as saying Russia’s annexation of Crimea was not illegal because the Crimean people had chosen to join Russia in a referendum, a position Kiev vehemently disputes. The referendum was also declared illegal by the United Nations General Assembly.

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What keeps Britain together. Credit and whining. And fog. Boy, what a sorrowful place it’s becoming.

UK Credit Binge Approaching Levels Not Seen Since 2008 Crash (G.)

A credit boom that is close to levels not seen since the 2008 financial crash should set alarm bells ringing in Theresa May’s government, debt charities have warned. The latest figures from the Bank of England show unsecured consumer credit, which includes credit cards, car loans and second mortgages, grew by 10.8% in the year to November to £192.2bn, picking up pace on the previous month to grow at its fastest rate in more than 11 years. In September 2008, the month that Lehman Brothers collapsed and the banking crash triggered a worldwide recession, the level of UK consumer credit debt hit a peak of £208bn. Credit card debts, which accounted for £66.7bn of the total, hit a record high last month as Britons used the plastic to fund shopping as never before in the run-up to Christmas.

The debt charity StepChange said the rise in debt levels would leave thousands of families vulnerable to higher levels of inflation and changes in income from wage cuts, divorce or redundancy. Its head of policy, Peter Tutton, said: “Levels of outstanding borrowing are approaching the 2008 peak, and the growth rate of net lending is at its highest since 2005. Alarm bells should be ringing. “Previous experience shows how such increases in the levels of borrowing can leave households over-indebted and vulnerable to sudden changes in circumstances and drops in income that can pitch them into hardship. “Lenders, regulators and the government need to ensure that the mistakes made in the lead-up to the financial crisis are not repeated and that there are better policies in place to protect those who fall into financial difficulty.”

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All you need, as if it wasn’t obvious: “..the link between the yuan and the dollar remains as tight as ever. In November 2016, 98% of turnover in China’s foreign-exchange market took place between those two currencies.”

China Can’t Quit the Dollar (Balding)

China’s leaders are hardly disguising their fears about money leaving the country. They’ve just imposed new disclosure rules limiting how Chinese – who are allowed to convert up to $50,000 worth of yuan into foreign currency each year – can spend that money overseas. Simultaneously, they’re striving to tamp down worries about the tumbling yuan, which has fallen to an eight-year low against the U.S. dollar. At the end of December, the government added 11 currencies to the basket against which it now values the yuan. While the Chinese currency fell 6.5% against the dollar in 2016, its value measured against the broader basket has remained largely stable since July. The idea, at least in part, is to persuade ordinary Chinese that their nest eggs are safe in renminbi. Unfortunately, this latest effort isn’t likely to work any better than earlier ones.

The yuan remains inextricably bound to the U.S. dollar – and everyone knows it. The People’s Bank of China created the exchange-rate basket roughly a year ago. The goal was twofold – to shift attention away from the yuan’s precipitous decline against the dollar and to reduce China’s dependence on the U.S. currency. The latter was widely seen as humiliating – an affront to a rising superpower and the world’s second-largest economy. That resentment helped drive China’s effort – since stalled – to internationalize its currency. Yet any cursory review makes clear that the link between the yuan and the dollar remains as tight as ever. In November 2016, 98% of turnover in China’s foreign-exchange market took place between those two currencies. Flows of capital into and out of China show an only slightly less lopsided pattern.

Between them, the U.S. and Hong Kong dollars (the latter is hard-pegged to the U.S. currency) account for 91% of China’s non-yuan international bank transactions. The smaller currencies that make up nearly half of the basket comprise only 1.7% of international bank payments and receipts. Even the BIS estimates that 80% of China’s local loans in foreign currency are denominated in dollars. That’s the number that really matters: If the yuan continues to fall against the dollar, companies are going to have a harder time paying back those loans regardless of what the renminbi is or isn’t worth against the government’s official basket. All this is clear to ordinary investors. During my nearly eight years in China, I’ve never heard any Chinese citizen worry about the value of the yuan against the Emirati dirham.

So as long as the yuan continues to depreciate in dollar terms, Chinese are going to look for ways to get their money out of the country, despite any barriers the government might throw in their way. China’s options for preventing further outflows are limited. The PBOC could continue to deplete the country’s $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves in an effort to prop up the yuan. That’s a risky game, though, as it reduces the stockpiles of hard currency needed to repay foreign-denominated debt and provide liquidity for international trade. As others have argued, reserves should be deployed strategically, not squandered defending bad policy.

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I see helicopter money. Digital basic income will come too late. At the every least half the people don’t even have plastic. And Modi can’t afford to wait for that.

India’s Cash Woes Are Just Beginning (BBG)

“Give me 50 days, friends,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked citizens after he canceled 86% of the country’s currency notes. After Dec. 30, if Indians saw his decision as flawed, he promised to “suffer any punishment.” But, he said confidently, if they could bear 50 days of disruption, they would have the “India of their dreams.” It is now January. While Modi’s deadline has passed, the pain hasn’t. Indeed, it may just be beginning: Measured by the purchasing managers’ index, or PMI, Indian manufacturing actually began to contract last month for the first time in all of 2016. This can’t be blamed on sluggish global demand; the equivalent measure from China suggested that manufacturing there is expanding quicker than expected. Indian companies are suffering from supply-chain disruptions and customers with no cash in their wallets.

True, in some ways things aren’t as bad, at least in metropolitan India, as they were a few weeks ago. The lines at ATMs are shorter and the government even felt comfortable enough to raise the limits for ATM withdrawals from 2,500 rupees a pop to 4,500 rupees (from $37 to $66). But overall cash limits haven’t been eased; most Indians can still only withdraw 24,000 of their own hard-earned rupees – a little over $350 – a week, or 50,000 rupees if one has a business account. That’s simply not enough cash to keep supply chains going. Lines at ATMs thus aren’t the most useful indicator. Even if more cash is getting into the economy, the question is whether Indians are still artificially constrained in how much cash they can access. If so, things haven’t returned to “normal.” And the longer there’s a cash constraint, the larger the ripple effect on the economy.

Here’s a thought experiment, based on how informal, cash-based economies work. For the first or second month that you’re short of cash, your creditors and your debtors, the people you buy from and the people you sell to, are all short of cash as well. Plus, everyone knows the cash crunch isn’t your fault; it doesn’t reveal any adverse information about how healthy your business is or isn’t. So you extend and receive credit relatively easily. Things can run on such relationships for awhile in the informal economy. But when the outside world – the formal economy – intrudes, the system breaks down. When it comes time to pay your electricity bill, or a loan installment to the banks, you’re forced to call in your debts. You may not face enough formal demands in the first month or two to pose a problem. But as time passes, they add up.

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Way ahead of you! I wrote this in April 2015: Russia’s Central Bank Governor Is Way Smarter Than Ours.

Head of Russian Central Bank Named European Banker of the Year (RT)

Elvira Nabiullina, the head of Russia’s central bank, has been named the best Central Bank Governor in Europe in 2016 by the international financial magazine, The Banker. The influential publication praised her for having “helped steer the country through the difficulties,” with Russia “set to return to economic growth in 2017.” “Having started 2016 with consumer price inflation of 12.9% – highs not seen since 2008 – Ms Nabiullina highlighted the need to lower inflation to improve economic growth in Russia,” the outlet writes in an article dedicated to the award. Established in 1926, The Banker is considered one of the leading international finance magazines, read in almost 180 countries.

“Ms Nabiullina’s efforts saw the rate drop below 6% by the end of 2016,” the magazine writes. This, as inflation in Russia “had never fallen under 6,1%”, according to the publication, citing figures by the International Monetary Fund going back to 1992. Nabiullina said she viewed the past year as a kind of turning point with regard to inflation. “Importantly, in 2016 there was a turning point in the sentiment of the population and professionals regarding inflation expectations,” she is quoted as saying by the outlet. “At the beginning of 2016, inflation expectations of market participants were well above our target, but now they have reduced to close to our [end-2017] 4% inflation target, at between 4.5% and 4.7%.”

In December last year, the chief of the IMF, Christine Lagarde lauded Nabiullina for doing “a fantastic job” while tackling the financial problems in Russia, and inflation in particular. Nabiullina served as economic adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin between 2012 and 2013, when she was appointed to head Russia’s Central Bank. She was Minister of Economic Development and Trade for 5 years from September 2007 to May 2012. Forbes rates Nabiullina 56th among the world’s 100 most powerful women. In 2015, Nabiullina was named central bank governor of the year by Euromoney magazine.

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Even on vacation he still finds a way to get his face in the media.

Steve Keen: Rebel Economist With A Cause (AFR)

Keen’s views and policy prescriptions remain firmly and proudly unconventional – unworkable even. But as somebody who saw the GFC coming when most did not, and as a long-time disciple of the now in-vogue Austrian economist Hyman Minsky, it may be that Keen’s economic views are finally entering mainstream thought. In a sign of the times, none other than the new chief economist of the World Bank, Paul Romer, has admitted that “for more than three decades, macroeconomic theory has gone backwards”. In a piece titled The trouble with macroeconomics, Romer in September wrote that “theorists dismiss mere facts by feigning an obtuse ignorance about such simple assertions as ‘tight monetary policy can cause a recession’.”


Australian private and government debt as a percentage of GDP. Steve Keen

And there is a strong need for fresh remedies. There is more debt in the world now than before the GFC – a crisis precipitated by excess borrowing. Low and zero interest rates and unconventional monetary policies such as QE have pumped up asset prices but done little to spark productivity gains or business investment in advanced economies. Private debt in Australia is now equivalent to around 210% of GDP, from 180% in 2007. Australian households are more indebted than ever, the RBA says. Keen is perhaps most critical of central bankers’ unwillingness to incorporate the link between credit growth and financial stability into their decision making. “Conventional economic thinking completely ignores where money comes from,” Keen says. “All this theory is effectively based on the idea that money is like nuts that chipmunks drop from trees and you can run out of it and if you don’t have enough of it you are going to starve over winter, and it’s a completely naive view of a monetary economy.”

While he acknowledges that RBA governor Philip Lowe has signalled a greater emphasis on “financial stability”, household indebtedness still continues to climb. “The Reserve Bank were so backward in their thinking. Their argument was, ‘oh well, the level of debt doesn’t matter because the households that have the debt are wealthy and they can continue servicing it’. But the real problem is demand for the economy comes out of turnover of the existing money plus credit. “Now, if you are relying on credit growth being equivalent to 15% of GDP, which is where it was in Australia just over six months ago, you’ve got to continue borrowing that 15% of GDP every year to maintain that trajectory. “If you simply stabilise, then, bang!, 15% of demand disappears. And that’s what we face and what I think will happen [in 2017].”

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Jan 012017
 
 January 1, 2017  Posted by at 11:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Claude Monet The Japanese Bridge 7 1924


Trump Leaves Open Possible Taiwan Meet, Questions Russia Hacking (R.)
Was Claim by DHS and FBI About Russian Hacking Fake News? (Spring)
Is the “Trump Trade” Already Unwinding? (WS)
Senator McCain Says US Stands With Ukraine Against Russia (R.)
Here’s How Much Each EU Nation Puts In And Takes Out Of The EU Budget (BI)
Universal Basic Income Trials Being Considered In Scotland (G.)
China’s Xi Offers Populist Message In New Year’s Eve Address (AP)
Narendra Modi Just Dug Himself a Great Big Hole (Varadarajan)
Turkish Policy Sets Syria On New Path (Sayigh)
Humanity May Self-Destruct, But The Universe Can Cope Perfectly Without Us (G.)

 

 

Trump’s been -partially- briefed: ”I also know things that other people don’t know so we cannot be sure..”. And he’s obviously not convinced, to say the least.

Trump Leaves Open Possible Taiwan Meet, Questions Russia Hacking (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Saturday left open the possibility of meeting with Taiwan’s president if she visits the United States after he is sworn in on Jan. 20 and also expressed continued skepticism over whether Russia was responsible for computer hacks of Democratic Party officials. In remarks to reporters upon entering a New Year’s Eve celebration at his Mar-a-Lago estate, Trump said, “We’ll see,” when pressed on whether he would meet Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president if she were to be in the United States at any point after he becomes president. Taiwan’s president will be in transit in Houston on Jan. 7 and again will be in transit in San Francisco on Jan. 13. Beijing bristled when Trump, shortly after his Nov. 8 victory, accepted a congratulatory telephone call from the Taiwan leader and has warned against steps that would upset the “one-China” policy China and the United States have maintained for decades.

Talk of a stop-over in the United States by the Taiwan president has further rattled Washington-Beijing relations. On another foreign policy matter, Trump warned against being quick to pin the blame on Russia for the hacking of U.S. emails. The Washington Post also reported on Friday that Moscow could be behind intrusion into a laptop owned by a Vermont electric utility. U.S. intelligence officials have said that they are confident Russia was behind the hacks, which could have played a role in Trump’s defeat over Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “I think it’s unfair if we don’t know. It could be somebody else. I also know things that other people don’t know so we cannot be sure,” Trump said. Asked what that information included, the Republican President-elect said, “You will find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.” He did not elaborate.

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Seems to depend on who reports on it.

Was Claim by DHS and FBI About Russian Hacking Fake News? (Spring)

An important research principle is to follow the money. People around the world need to ask themselves who has the money and technical ability to be running hundreds and perhaps thousands of real servers and real IP addresses from fake corporations using fake websites in fake locations in more than 40 nations around the world? What agency has already been proven to be running mass surveillance on billions of people in more than 40 nations all around the world? Whose military cyber budget is more than 10 times larger than the cyber warfare budget of the rest of the world combined? There is certainly an elephant in the room – but it is not a Russian elephant. At a televised press conference in April 2016, former NSA agent Edward Snowden asked the Russian leader Vladimir Putin if the Russian government engaged in mass surveillance of millions of people in a manner similar to the NSA.

Putin replied that Russian law prohibited the Russian government from engaging in mass surveillance. Putin then pointed out that the Russian military budget was less than 10% of the US military budget. So even if they wanted to engage in mass surveillance, they simply did not have the money. People also need to ask themselves why the FBI/DHS chose to place their evidence in a CSV file and XML file rather than a normal document or spreadsheet. If this were real evidence, it would have been placed directly in the PDF report for everyone to read – not hidden away in a file the general public has little ability to read. Finally, for the FBI or the DHS to claim that the XML-CSV file contains evidence or even indicators of Russian hacking is simply a false statement. It is a perfect example of fake news. Any news agency promoting this claim without doing even the most basic of research that would easily confirm it is false should be listed as a fake news agency.

The real question that we should all be asking is why the DHS and FBI would destroy their reputation by posting such a fake report? Several years ago, our CIA claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. We now know that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction – meaning that we went to war and spent over a trillion dollars on a fake report. Is this new fake report a pretext for launching a cyber war against Russia? Is it intended to justify increasing US military spending? It is hard to say what the real purpose of this fake DHS-FBI report is. But the fact that this silly list of IP addresses was the best evidence they could provide should be a strong indication that there really is no evidence of Russian hacking. Instead, it is more likely that Wikileaks is telling the truth in stating that they got the emails from a disgruntled Democratic Party insider.

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There’s so much downside there it’s scary.

Is the “Trump Trade” Already Unwinding? (WS)

The S&P 500, after having ended 2015 down 0.7%, ended 2016 up 9.5%, including a big swoon early in the year. From February 11, when it bottomed out at 1,810, it has surged 23.6%. And bonds went on a wild ride. The 10-year Treasury yield ended 2016 at 2.445% up from 2.273% at end of 2015. It hit 2.57% at peak Trump Trade, up over a full percentage point from the summer. Over the fourth quarter, the yield jumped 84 basis points, the largest quarterly jump since 1994. And prices, which move inverse to yields, clobbered bondholders. But note the decline in yield since December 20:

And stocks partied. Since the election, financials surged, bringing the gain for the year to 29.1%, the best-performing sector in the S&P 500. Goldman Sachs, whose ex-executives are now heavily represented in the Trump administration, shot up 36% since the election and 51% since the beginning of October when Trump’s victory became more than just a possibility. GS was one of the best Trump Trades out there. Alas, it too has started to peter out. GS is now down 2.5% from peak Trump-Trade, and other banks have followed. Insiders at the banks were preparing for it, it seems, because on December 9, just before bank stocks started losing ground, we found…

Mortgage rates have soared from around 3.4% for much of the summer to 4.32%, according to Freddie Mac. This is now reverberating through the housing market in multiple ways, with some people rushing to buy to lock in the rates before they go even higher, and others waiting for rates to come down and not buying, and still others being completely priced out by mortgage rates that are nearly a percentage point higher than they’d been a few months ago, and the first red flags on home sales are now cropping up:

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Oh, go away!

Senator McCain Says US Stands With Ukraine Against Russia (R.)

Republican U.S. Senator John McCain promised on Saturday continued support for Kiev in the face of aggression from Moscow, as he spent New Year’s Eve on the front line in Ukraine’s eastern conflict zone. McCain was one of a bipartisan group of 27 U.S. senators who sent a letter to President-elect Donald Trump in December, urging him to take a tough line against Russia over what they termed its “military land grab” in Ukraine. “I send the message from the American people – we are with you, your fight is our fight and we will win together,” McCain was quoted as saying by Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s press service. “In 2017 we will defeat the invaders and send them back where they came from. To Vladimir Putin – you will never defeat the Ukrainian people and deprive them of their independence and freedom,” McCain said after a visit to a military base in the southeastern town of Shyrokyne.

Trump signaled during his campaign that he might take a softer line in dealings with Moscow, repeatedly praising Russian President Putin’s leadership. Trump’s election caused jitters in Ukraine but officials in Kiev hope that the incoming president’s policies, influenced by Republican hawks and a Republican-voting Ukrainian diaspora, will be friendlier towards Ukraine than his campaign rhetoric might have suggested. Ukraine has relied on Western support and economic aid since street protests in 2014 which toppled a Kremlin-backed president and were followed by a war with pro-Russian separatists and Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine.

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The enormous amounts going to France, Spain, Italy, Belgium are something to be very concerned about.

Here’s How Much Each EU Nation Puts In And Takes Out Of The EU Budget (BI)

One of the biggest political stories of 2016 has been Brexit and much of the debate both before and after June’s vote to leave the EU has focused around whether Britain will be financially better or worse off after leaving the EU. The “Vote Leave” campaign famously emblazoned their battle bus with a figure of £350 million, claiming that was what the UK sent to Brussels each week and that sum could be spent on the NHS instead. The figure was subsequently discredited, as it was a gross sum and didn’t take into account the fact that Britain also benefits from EU grants and funding. However, a recent House of Commons briefing paper on the UK’s funding from the EU shows that Britain does, in fact, put more into the EU budget than it takes out.

The UK has averaged around €12 billion in EU funding each year between 2011-15 but over that same period made an average net contribution of €15 billion. Britain is one of nine EU members that are net contributors to the European Union’s budget (meaning they put in more money than they take out.) Here’s the House of Commons chart showing each member states net contributions against their EU funding:EU funding House of Commons Briefing Paper The fact that Britain is a net contributor means that, in theory, the UK could stand to gain money after it leaves the EU. However, this does not account for any potential economic fluctuations as a result of Brexit — if the economy suffers then any gains from not paying into the budget could easily be wiped out by falling tax receipts.

There is also a very real possibility that the UK may have to keep paying into the EU budget if it wants to maintain access to the EU Single Market. The UK will also have to continue paying into the EU budget until it formally leaves the EU and senior European negotiators have signalled they will try and make Britain pay up to €60 billion to leave, to cover previous budget commitments, pension liabilities, and other costs. In other words, while on paper it might look like leaving the EU will give Britain more money for inward investment, Brexit could end up costing the UK just as much as EU membership — or worse, more.

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I’m all for a good basic income trial. But I’m very afraid that none of them will be adequate, and that this will be used to discredit the entire idea. And please don’t use the term universal for small scale experiments, it’s misleading.

Universal Basic Income Trials Being Considered In Scotland (G.)

Scotland looks set to be the first part of the UK to pilot a basic income for every citizen, as councils in Fife and Glasgow investigate trial schemes in 2017. The councillor Matt Kerr has been championing the idea through the ornate halls of Glasgow City Chambers, and is frank about the challenges it poses. “Like a lot of people, I was interested in the idea but never completely convinced,” he said. But working as Labour’s anti-poverty lead on the council, Kerr says that he “kept coming back to the basic income”. Kerr sees the basic income as a way of simplifying the UK’s byzantine welfare system. “But it is also about solidarity: it says that everyone is valued and the government will support you. It changes the relationship between the individual and the state.”

The concept of a universal basic income revolves around the idea of offering every individual, regardless of existing welfare benefits or earned income, a non-conditional flat-rate payment, with any income earned above that taxed progressively. The intention is to provide a basic economic platform on which people can build their lives, whether they choose to earn, learn, care or set up a business. The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has suggested that it is likely to appear in his party’s next manifesto, while there has been a groundswell of interest among anti-poverty groups who see it as a means of changing not only the relationship between people and the state, but between workers and increasingly insecure employment in the gig economy.

Kerr accepts that, while he is hopeful of cross-party support in Glasgow, there are “months of work ahead”, including first arranging a feasibility study in order to present a strong enough evidence base for a pilot. “But if there is ever a case to be made then you need to test it in a place like Glasgow, with the sheers numbers and levels of health inequality. If you can make it work here then it can work anywhere.”

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Now Xi is designated populist too, because he said: “On this new year, I am most concerned about the difficulties of the masses: how they eat, how they live, whether they can have a good New Year, or a good Spring Festival..” And I thought when incumbents say these things, that’s not populist. I may never understand.

China’s Xi Offers Populist Message In New Year’s Eve Address (AP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Saturday that his government would continue to focus on poverty alleviation at home and resolutely defending China’s territorial rights on the foreign front. Xi made the televised remarks in his annual New Year’s Eve address, in which he touted China’s scientific accomplishments, highlighting its large new radio telescope and space missions, and the country’s growing role as a leader in global affairs. Standing before a mural of the Great Wall, Xi said his administration successfully hosted a G-20 summit, pushed forward with China’s “One Belt One Road” pan-Eurasian infrastructure project and established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

China has upheld its peaceful development while resolutely defending its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights, Xi said, making a reference to an international tribunal ruling last summer against China’s claims in the contested South China Sea. “If anyone makes this an issue of question, the Chinese people will never agree!” he said, one of the few points in his 10-minute address when his voice rose noticeably. For most of his address, Xi struck a populist tone, saying he was above all concerned about the living conditions of the people and vowed that improving employment, education, housing and health care would be a responsibility that his ruling Communist Party would never shirk from. China lifted 10 million people out of poverty in 2016, Xi said.

“On this new year, I am most concerned about the difficulties of the masses: how they eat, how they live, whether they can have a good New Year, or a good Spring Festival,” Xi said, as the television broadcast cut to footage of his visits this year to impoverished rural areas. Xi also promised to shore up Communist Party discipline and “unwaveringly” maintain his anticorruption campaign against high- and low-ranking officials alike. He said that “supply-side” economic reforms were making progress and that the party would continue to push reform and rule by law during the 19th National Congress, scheduled for late 2017. “As long as the party forever stands with the people, we will be able to walk the long march of our generation,” he said.

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A Lakh is one hundred thousand. Still confusing as f**k.

Narendra Modi Just Dug Himself a Great Big Hole (Varadarajan)

It was a speech of not just shifting goalposts but vanishing playing fields, and yet Narendra Modi couldn’t resist making a rhetorical point about black money that might well prove costly for him by the time 2019 comes around. “I wish to share some information with you, which will either make you laugh, or make you angry,” he said, with a flourish half-way through his speech. This was the point where everyone expected him to reveal how many old Rs 500 and 1000 notes had become ‘worthless paper’ thanks to demonetisation but he had another number in mind: “According to information with the government, there are only 24 lakh people in India who accept that their annual income is more than 10 lakh rupees. Can we digest this? Look at the big bungalows and big cars around you… If we look at any big city, it would have lakhs of people with annual income of more than 10 lakh.”

Until then, the prime minister had sought to sweep the growing public concerns about the effects of his demonetisation decision under a fraying carpet of nationalism. But by drawing attention to a stark statistic in an attempt to provide some justification for the chaos he has unleashed in the lives of hundreds of millions of poor Indians, Modi has unwittingly laid down a new metric by which the success or failure of his supposed drive against black money must be judged: will he manage to add the “lakhs of people” who have an income of more than Rs 10 lakh to the list of those who pay income tax? If he doesn’t, then what was the point of subjecting the whole country to so much disruption and pain? Finance minister Arun Jaitley initially claimed that a certain proportion of the demonetised notes would remain outside the banking system and get extinguished, thus providing a blow to the black economy and a fiscal boost to the government.

When they realised there was unlikely to be significant extinguishing and that most of the high denomination notes in circulation would probably end up getting deposited, Modi and Jaitley claimed the income tax authorities would be able to track down the owners of black money since their funds had entered the banking system. Now that it is apparent the IT department will not find it that easy to undertake such a massive exercise – its inefficiency is the reason the list of those with official incomes of Rs 10 lakh and over is just 24 lakh to begin with and is unlikely to grow – Modi has tried to sell another bizarre idea to the public about why the cashless hardship they are putting up with is in the national interest.

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Putin is tightening his grip on Erdogan. Who held a speech yesterday proclaiming that Turkey is in the first independence war in 93 years, or something like that. But that’s strictly for domestic use.

Turkish Policy Sets Syria On New Path (Sayigh)

Turkish policy has been evolving at a quickening pace. The decision to lean on the opposition to allow thousands of its fighters to abandon the effort to lift the regime siege of eastern Aleppo in order to spearhead a Turkish-backed push against Kurdish-held areas to the north last August ensured the fall of one of the most important opposition strongholds in Syria four months later. Remaining opposition forces in the northwest have significant stockpiles of weapons and ammunition, but are wholly dependent on Turkey for further military resupply and for the flow of trade and international humanitarian assistance. Turkey has not abandoned the opposition completely, but it is clearly working to a new set of policy assumptions and objectives in Syria.

That these include a strategic decision to abandon the effort to force Assad from power is already plain. Talk of setting up a safe zone in northern Syria has never been credible, despite considerable bluster. Moscow insiders claim Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also abandoning his categorical rejection of significant Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria, so long as he can block the same thing in Turkey. With President-Elect Donald Trump about to take office in the US, there is little reason for Turkey to expect to counter-balance Russian policy proposals on Syria. These calculations prompted Turkey to accept the fate of Aleppo – which it had long presented as a “red line” that the Assad regime should not cross – and then to broker a ceasefire with Russia immediately after its fall.

The alacrity with which the main political and military opposition groupings have announced their support for the latest ceasefire is the surest measure of the extent of the shift in Turkey’s policy and of its determination to enforce compliance, whatever the provocations from the government side. The real question, then, is not whether the latest ceasefire will hold, but how far Turkey will go in making the Syrian opposition accept what comes next, should the peace talks jointly sponsored by Russia and Turkey take place within the next month as officially scheduled. Indeed, even if the ceasefire fails or if the talks are unsuccessful – or not held at all – Turkish policy towards Syria is set on a new path.

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Destruction as a religious comfort zone. Oh well, people go for what feels good.

Humanity May Self-Destruct, But The Universe Can Cope Perfectly Without Us (G.)

In a Scandinavian hotel a few years ago, I came across a documentary I didn’t expect to watch for more than a minute or two, but at least it was in English. It was past time to go to bed, but I ended up watching the whole thing. Aftermath: Population Zero imagines that overnight humanity vanishes from the planet. You may have seen it. The immediate effects of human departure are sentimentally saddening: pets die, no longer competent to fend for themselves. Some livestock fares poorly, though other domesticated animals romp happily into the wild. Water cooling fuel rods of nuclear power plants evaporate, and you’d think that would be the end of everything – but it isn’t. Radioactivity subsides. Mankind’s monuments to itself decay, until every last skyscraper has rusted and returned to dirt.

Animals proliferate, flora thrive, forests rise. Bounty, abundance and beauty abound. Antelopes leap from wafting golden grasses. It was all very exhilarating, really. I went to sleep that night with a lightened heart. Ever since, that wafting grasses image has been a comforting touchstone. We speak often of “destroying the planet” when what we mean is destroying its habitability for humans. The humblingly immense else-ness of what is, in which our species is collectively a speck, extant for an eye blink, lets us off the hook. Global warming, Syrian civil war, domestic violence, Donald Trump? This too shall pass.

I’m not a religious person. Chances are that the universe neither treasures nor regrets us. It permits us, with a marvellous neutrality, and later it may permit artificial intelligence, humanity 2.0, or a lot more bugs instead. We can’t comprehend all that phantasmagorical stuff out there, but we also can’t kill it. That gives me hope. Although we’re a remarkably successful biological manifestation – and so is mould – our aptitude for annihilation is largely limited to wiping ourselves out. The gift of self-destruction is a minor, not to mention stupid, power, and apparently humanity’s suicide would be relatively safe, like a controlled explosion. The universe would get on perfectly well without us once we’d gone.

I strongly associate the notion of aftermath with TC Boyle’s short story Chicxulub. While relating the intimate, personal account of learning that his teenage daughter has been hit, perhaps fatally, by a car, the narrator digresses to explain the shockingly high likelihood that our planet will be hit by an asteroid large enough to extinguish our species. For the narrator, his daughter’s death and the end of the world are indistinguishable. The text is shot through with a piercing sorrow, over all our pending losses – of children, of the world we’ve made together as a race. This, too, gives me hope – that I’m not a misanthrope after all. I would miss my brother, my husband; with all our shortcomings, I would also miss the family of man. The capacity for grief, the flipside of love, consoles me as much as the detached long view of aftermath.

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Dec 282016
 
 December 28, 2016  Posted by at 9:03 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Claude Monet Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son Dec 31 1874

 

The end of the year is always a time when there are currency and liquidity issues in China. This has to do with things like taxes being paid, and bonuses for workers etc. So it’s not a great surprise that the same happens in 2016 too. Then again, the overnight repo rate of 33% on Tuesday was not exactly normal. That indicates something like a black ice interbank market, things that can get costly fast.

I found it amusing to see Bloomberg report that: “As banks become more reluctant to offer cash to other types of institutions, the latter have to turn to the exchange for money, said Xu Hanfei at Guotai Junan Securities in Shanghai. Amusing, because I bet many will instead have turned to the shadow banking system for relief. So much of China’s financial wherewithal is linked to ‘the shadows’ these days, it would make sense for Beijing to bring more of it out into the light of day. Don’t hold your breath.

Tyler on last night’s situation: ..the government crackdown on the credit and housing bubble may be serious for once due to fears about “rising social tensions”, much of the overnight repo rate spike was driven by the PBOC which pulled a net 150 billion yuan of funds in open-market operations..”. And the graph that comes with it:

 

 

It all sounds reasonable and explicable, though I’m not sure ‘core leader’ Xi would really want to come down hard on housing -he certainly hasn’t so far-, but there are things that do warrant additional attention. The first has to be that on Sunday January 1 2017, a ‘new round’ of $50,000 per capita permissions to convert yuan into foreign currencies comes into effect. And a lot of Chinese people are set to want to make use of that, fast.

Because there is a lot of talk and a lot of rumors about an impending devaluation. That’s not so strange given the continuing news about increasing outflows and shrinking foreign reserves. And those $50,000 is just the permitted amount. Beyond that, things like real estate purchases abroad, and ‘insurance policies’ bought in Hong Kong, add a lot to the total.

What makes this interesting is that if only 1% of the Chinese population -close to 1.4 billion people- would want to make use of these conversion quota, and most of them would clamor for US dollars, certainly since its post-election rise, if just 1% did that, 14 million times $50,000, or $700 billion, would potentially be converted from yuan to USD. That’s almost 20% of the foreign reserves China has left ($3.12 trillion in October, from $4 trillion in June 2014).

In other words, a blood letting. And of course this is painting with a broad stroke, and it’s hypothetical, but it’s not completely nuts either: it’s just 1% of the people. Make it 2%, and why not, and you’re talking close to 40% of foreign reserves. This means that the devaluation rumors should not be taken too lightly. If things go only a little against Beijing, devaluation may become inevitable soon.

 

In that regard, a remarkable change seems to be that while China’s always been intent on keeping foreign investment out, now all of a sudden they announce they’re going to sharply reduce restrictions on foreign investment access in 2017. While at the same time restricting mergers and acquisitions by Chinese corporations abroad, in an attempt to keep -more- money from flowing out. Something that has been as unsuccessful as so many other pledges.

The yuan has declined 6.6% in value in 2016 (and 15% since mid-2014), and that’s probably as bad as it gets before some people start calling it an outright devaluation. More downward pressure is certain, through the conversion quota mentioned before. After that, first there’s Trump’s January 20 inauguration, and a week after, on January 27, Chinese Lunar New Year begins.

May you live in exciting times indeed. It might be a busy week in Beijing. As AFP reported at the beginning of December:

Trump has vowed to formally declare China a “currency manipulator” on the first day of his presidency, which would oblige the US Treasury to open negotiations with Beijing on allowing the renminbi to rise.

Sounds good and reasonable too, but how exactly would China go about “allowing the renminbi to rise”? It’s the last thing the currency is inclined to do right now. It would appear it would take very strict capital controls to stop the currency from plunging, and that’s about the last thing Xi is waiting for. For one thing, the hard-fought inclusion in the IMF basket would come under pressure as well. AFP continues:

China charges an average 15.6% tariff on US agricultural imports and 9% on other goods, according to the WTO.

Chinese farm products pay 4.4% and other goods 3.6% when coming into the United States.

China is the United States’ largest trading partner, but America ran a $366 billion deficit with Beijing in goods and services in 2015, up 6.6% on the year before.

I don’t know about you, but I think I can see where Trump is coming from. Opinions may differ, but those tariff differences look as if they belong to another era, as in the era they came from, years ago. Lots of water through the Three Gorges since then. So the first thing the US Treasury will suggest to China on the first available and convenient occasion after January 20 for their legally obligatory talk is: let’s equalize this. What you charge us, we’ll charge you. Call it even and call it a day.

That would both make Chinese products considerably more expensive in the States, and open the Chinese economy to American competition. There are many hundreds of billions of dollars in trade involved. And of course I see all the voices claiming that it will hurt the US more than China and all that, but what would they suggest, then? You can’t leave this tariff gap in place forever, so what do you do?

I’m sure Trump and his team, Wilbur Ross et al, have been looking at this a lot, it’s a biggie, and have a schedule in their heads for phasing out the gap in multiple steps. Steps too steep and short for China, no doubt, but then, I don’t buy the argument that the US should sit still because China owns so much US debt. That’s a double-edged sword if ever there was one, and all hands on the table know it.

If you’re Xi, and you’re halfway realist, you just know that Trump will aim to cut the $366 billion 2015 deficit by at least 50% for 2017, and take it from there. That’s another big chunk of change the core leader stands to lose. And another major pressure point for the yuan, obviously. How Xi would want to avoid devaluation, I don’t know. How he would handle it once it can no longer be avoided, don’t know that either. Trump’s trump card?

 

One other change in China in 2016 warrants scrutiny. That is, the metamorphosis of many Chinese people from caterpillar savers into butterfly borrowers. Or gamblers, even. It’s one thing to buy units in empty apartment blocks with your savings, but it’s another to buy them with money you borrow. But then, many Chinese still have access to few other investment options. That’s why the $50,000 conversion to USD permission as per January 1 could grow real big.

But in the meantime, many have borrowed to buy real estate. And they’ve been buying into a genuine absolute bubble. It’s not always evident, because prices keep oscillating, but the last move in that wave will be down.

 

 

If I were Xi, all these things would keep me up at night. But I’m not him, and I can’t oversee to what extent his mind is still in the ‘omnipotent sphere’, if he still has the impression that in the end, come what may, he’s in total control. In my view, his problem is that he has two bad choices to choose from.

Either he will have to devalue the yuan, and sharply too (to avoid a second round), an option that risks serious problems with Trump and other leaders (IMF), and would take away much of the wealth the Chinese people thought they had built up -ergo: social unrest-.

Either that or he will be forced, if he wants to maintain some stability in the yuan’s valuation, to clamp down domestically with very grave capital controls, which carries the all too obvious risk of, once again, serious social unrest. And which would (re-)isolate the country to such an extent that the entire economic model that lifted the country out of isolation in the first place would be at risk.

This may play out relatively quickly, if for instance sufficient numbers of people (the 1% would do) try to convert their $50,000 allotment of yuan into dollars -and the government is forced to say it doesn’t have enough dollars-. But that is hard to oversee from the outside.

There are, for me, too many ‘unknown unknowns’ in this game. But I don’t see it, I don’t see how Xi and his crew will get themselves through this minefield without getting burned. I’m looking for an escape route, but there seem to be none available. Only hard choices. If you come upon a fork in the road, China, don’t take it.

And mind you, this is all without even having touched upon the massive debts incurred by thousands upon thousands of local governments, and the grip that these debts have allowed the shadow banks to get on society, without mentioning the Wealth Management Products and other vehicles in that part of the economy, another ‘industry’ worth trillions of dollars. I mean, just look at the growth rates in these instruments:

 

 

There’s simply too much debt all throughout the system, and it’s due for a behemoth restructuring. You look at some of the numbers and graphs, and you wonder: what were they thinking?

 

 

Dec 242016
 
 December 24, 2016  Posted by at 9:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle Christmas Eve 2016
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Alfred Palmer Annette del Sur in salvage campaign, Douglas Aircraft Co., Long Beach, CA 1942


The Connection Between Work and Dignity (B.)
2016 Year In Review: A Clockwork Orange (Dave Collum)
A Week On Jury Duty With Rex Tillerson (Roden)
Putin Shrugs Off Trump’s Nuclear Plans, Says Democrats Sore Losers (R.)
President Xi Open to Growth in China Falling Below 6.5% (BBG)
Barclays Refuses To Settle With US DoJ Over ‘Craptacular Loans’ (G.)
Greek PM in Open Confrontation With German FinMin (GR)
Greece Takes Dig At Lenders With Scrooge Christmas Card (R.)
Is A Big Change Underway In Global Capitalism? (Parramore/Chanos)
Shanghai Water Supply Hit By 100-Tonne Wave Of Garbage (G.)
3.5 Trillion Insects Migrate Over Southern Britain Each Year (CSM)
One of Earth’s Most Dangerous Supervolcanoes Is Rumbling (NatGeo)
Mediterranean Death Toll Is Record 5,000 Refugees, Migrants This Year (R.)

 

 

Best ever case for basic income. And then he doesn’t even mention it!

The Connection Between Work and Dignity (B.)

If we work hard and produce something of tangible value, we tend to feel a sense of self-worth when society rewards us for it with a decent, middle-class life. This was the essence of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal – if you work, you eat. The continuing power of this idea is visible everywhere. Witness Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the city gave homeless people jobs and it made them feel “human again.” Or look at the Job Corps program, where giving poor people jobs made them more likely to get married. If you give people work with tangible, visible value, you give them dignity. This, of course, is a reason the U.S.’s falling labor participation rate is such a concern – so many Americans are out of the workforce and are missing out on the dignity that comes with a job:

So is there work to be done in the U.S. that produces tangible, visible value? Of course there is. To realize this, just take a one-week trip to Japan. Where American sidewalks are cracked and uneven, Japanese ones are neat and beautiful. Where tables in American Starbucks are littered with crumbs and dirt, Japanese Starbucks tables get wiped down after every customer leaves. Where American cities like Chicago and Detroit are full of broken windows and crumbling facades, Japanese cities are clean and modern, with well-maintained, reliable public transit. Before we start complaining about make-work, let’s make the U.S. look like that. Let’s fix the sidewalks and renovate – or knock down and rebuild – all the old buildings. Let’s wipe down every Starbucks table, build quality public-transit systems and hire the workers to make them run on time.

And let’s take care of our people as well as our cities. Let’s provide child care for working moms, and elder care for old people. Let’s hire more teachers to reduce class sizes. These are all jobs that produce real, tangible results. When you fix up a building or build a train station, you can see the fruits of your labors. When you take care of an old person, you can see a real human being benefit. The value created by these jobs is a lot more tangible and clear than the value created by a lot of activities that the market rewards much more, such as high-frequency trading. The free-market age has made the economy more efficient, but it has come at a dramatic price – lost dignity for so many. The U.S. has moved away from the idea of a social compact with work at its core. That’s something that deserves to be reversed.

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I warn you, don’t do it. Don’t even start reading. This innocent-enough looking ‘organic chemical professor’ with his cultivated hobo-under-the-bridge look has one thing in mind, and one only: to ruin your holidays. Being holed up with his review means no valuable and precious time left to spend with your families, letting the turkey burn in the oven (oh, would he like that!) and having no eyes for the beautiful snowy landscape out there. Talk about the Grinch who stole Christmas!

2016 Year In Review: A Clockwork Orange (Dave Collum)

With some notable exceptions, the mainstream media has degenerated into a steaming heap of detritus that is so bad now that it gets its own section. A congenital infobesity has morphed into late-stage disinfobesity. Enter social media—the fever swamp—to fill the void. As we shall see, however, all is not well there either. I sift and pan, looking for shiny nuggets of content that reach the high standards of a rant. Shout-outs to bloggers would have to include Michael Krieger, Charles Hugh Smith, Peter Boockvar, Bill Fleckenstein, Doug Noland, Jesse Felder, Tony Greer, Mike Lebowitz, Mish Shedlock, Charles Hugh Smith, and Grant Williams.

News consolidators and new-era media include Contra Corner, Real Vision, Heatstreet, and Automatic Earth. A carefully honed Twitter feed is a window to the world and the road to perdition. My actions speak to my enthusiasm for Chris Martenson and Adam Taggart at Peak Prosperity. However, if you gave me one lens through which to view the world, I would have to choose Zero Hedge (or maybe LadySonya.com).

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Nice story. Don’t demonize the man. Give him a chance.

A Week On Jury Duty With Rex Tillerson (Roden)

Nine years ago, I showed up to the Denton County Courthouse for jury duty and got myself picked for the job. A young girl had accused her mom’s boyfriend of sexual assault, and the case was being brought to trial. If you’ve ever served on a jury trial before, you understand the almost immediate yet very temporary bond that ties 12 strangers together who are randomly chosen from each of their private lives to fulfill a solemn public purpose. One of our first tasks was to choose our jury foreman. Perhaps it was his business suit, his impressive stature, or his charisma, but almost everyone in that jury room suggested that this middle-aged man with graying hair was likely the most fit for the task. Thanks, but I decline. I’m not interested in the spotlight, he told us. I didn’t think anything of it.

I had just bought my first BlackBerry and used my breaks to catch up on all the emails I was missing from my week at the courthouse. I recall leaving the jury room on a break with this man and remarking how busy I was and how much work I had to do. He smiled as he sat and read the paper. From the first day of jury selection, we all noticed another suited man always present in the courtroom. His presence was intriguing due to the ear piece in his ear. While grabbing lunch at Denton County Independent Hamburger on the square the second day of the trial, we noticed this mysterious man dining with our fellow juror who’d declined the foreman spot. The intrigue grew, and it was the talk of the jury: Who were these men? Finally, during a break in the jury room, one juror had the nerve to ask: “Who are you? And what do you do?”

Our fellow jury member was reading the paper again and pointed out an article with Exxon in the headlines. I work for them, he said humbly. There are a lot of people in this world who hate me for what I do, so they give me and my family guys like that to protect me. I immediately felt embarrassed for complaining about how much work I had to do. It didn’t take long before a few internet searches revealed that I was serving on this jury with the CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson. The trial concluded, and it was time for the jury to deliberate. The story was heartbreaking, and the facts of the case were clear enough to make the majority of the jury convinced of the guilt of this sexual offender of a little girl. But the defense did a good enough job to create a couple of hold-outs. As our deliberations came to a close, it appeared we might have a hung jury.

That’s when Tillerson began to speak. Humbly, delicately and without an ounce of condescension toward those who disagreed, he began walking us all through the details of the case. I even recall being moved by his thorough explanation about the nature of doubt and the standards set forth by our justice system. With great patience, this man who strikes multibillion-dollar deals with foreign heads of state brought our scrappy jury together — to bring a sexual predator to justice and to deliver justice for a scared and deeply wounded little girl. A local nonprofit was instrumental in fostering that young girl through this process, providing her counseling and legal help. I was so struck by their mission that I toured their facility the week after the case to learn how I could donate and volunteer to their cause.

On a whim, I decided to reach out to Tillerson to encourage him to do the same. I found an email for him online and sent him a note, touting the role this agency played in our trial and urging him to consider supporting the great work they do. To my surprise, I received an email back thanking me for my note and my jury service, and ensuring me that he would contact the agency. I later received a call from the director of that nonprofit to let me know that Tillerson followed through and gave a generous donation.

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Putin was impressive. Among many other things, he announced cuts in defense spending from 4.7% of GDP in 2016, to 3.3%, and 2.8% in 2019. “If anyone is unleashing an arms race it’s not us … We will never spend resources on an arms race that we can’t afford.”

Putin Shrugs Off Trump’s Nuclear Plans, Says Democrats Sore Losers (R.)

Russia’s Vladimir Putin said on Friday he was unfazed by President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to boost the U.S. nuclear arsenal, praising Trump for being in touch with U.S. public opinion while branding the Democrats sore election losers. Speaking at his annual news conference in Moscow, the Russian president said earlier comments he had made about his country’s own military modernization had been misunderstood in the United States and that he accepted that the U.S. military, not Russia’s, was the most powerful in the world. Putin said on Thursday Russia’s military was “stronger than any potential aggressor”. Trump later tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

Asked to clarify his comments on Friday, MSNBC reported that Trump had said: “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” But Putin said he did not regard the United States as a potential aggressor and had only been talking about countries he thought might realistically launch an attack on Russia. “I was a bit surprised by the statements from some representatives of the current U.S. administration who for some reason started to prove that the U.S. military was the most powerful in the world,” Putin said, referring to State Department comments from Thursday. “Nobody is arguing with that.” Putin said he saw nothing new or remarkable about Trump’s own statement about wanting to expand U.S. nuclear capabilities anyway. “In the course of his election campaign he (Trump) spoke about the necessity of strengthening the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and strengthening the armed forces. There’s nothing unusual here,” said Putin.

“If anyone is unleashing an arms race it’s not us … We will never spend resources on an arms race that we can’t afford.” [..] Putin dismissed suggestions Moscow had helped Trump to victory in any way however. “It’s not like that,” he said. “All of this (the accusations) speaks of the current administration’s systemic problems.” Putin, who spoke positively of Trump before his election win, said that only Moscow had believed in his victory however. “Trump understood the mood of the people and kept going until the end, when nobody believed in him,” Putin said, adding with a smile. “Except for you and me.” Putin said he would be willing to visit the United States if Trump invited him and expected U.S.-Russia ties to return to normal now, particularly in the security and economic spheres.

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Xi finds an opening to blame lower growth on something other than himself, and dives right in.

President Xi Open to Growth in China Falling Below 6.5% (BBG)

President Xi Jinping isn’t wedded to China’s 6.5% economic growth objective due to concerns about rising debt and an uncertain global environment after Donald Trump’s election win in the U.S., according to a person familiar with the situation. Xi told a meeting of the Communist Party’s financial and economic leading group this week that China doesn’t need to meet the objective if doing so creates too much risk, said the person, who asked not to be named because the discussions were private. Leaders at the gathering agreed that the $11 trillion economy would remain stable with slower growth as long as employment stays firm, the person said.

Below-target growth would be in line with analyst projections that the expansion will keep decelerating in coming years from an estimated pace of 6.7% in 2016. The slowdown coincides with the nation’s broad shift from an export-led economy to services, which accounted for more than half of growth last year for the first time, and domestic consumption. Last year, policy makers pledged an annual growth rate of at least 6.5% for five years through 2020. Some economists criticize the growth objective for motivating officials to take risks that may jeopardize financial stability. The IMF is among those that have recommended a lower target.

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Who came up with that word?

Barclays Refuses To Settle With US DoJ Over ‘Craptacular Loans’ (G.)

Barclays is refusing to settle with the US Department of Justice over allegations it deliberately sold mortgage bonds to investors that it knew contained “craptacular loans”. The DoJ’s legal filing outlines an array of colourful descriptions of the types of mortgages that it alleges were used by Barclays to package up in bonds – known as residential mortgage bond securities – which could be sold on to investors. It accuses Barclays of selling investors RMBS “backed by loans it knew were made to borrowers who were not creditworthy and which were supported by house appraisals it knew were inflated”. The DoJ said Barclays was not lending to customers itself but using loans from mortgage lenders Fremont, New Century, WMC, Countrywide, and IndyMac as the basis of the bonds it was selling.

To support its case the DoJ published conversations between bankers which it claimed proved they knew they were selling poor investments. They included: • One Barclays banker in charge of reviewing the deals observed that one loan pool was “about as bad as it can be”. • On another occasion, the same banker said this “scares the shit out of me”. He also remarked about a package of loans from Wells Fargo that “we have to eat their shit loans”. • A Barclays salesperson described “the deluge of Fremont garbage being put out there”, the DoJ said. Barclays, becoming the first major lender to fail to reach a settlement with the DoJ, said it rejected the claims made in the complaint. “Barclays considers that the claims made in the complaint are disconnected from the facts. We have an obligation to our shareholders, customers, clients, and employees to defend ourselves against unreasonable allegations and demands. Barclays will vigorously defend the complaint and seek its dismissal at the earliest opportunity,” the bank said.

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“No matter how big fiscal surpluses some countries manage, they will never reach the surplus of soul that Greek people have..”

Greek PM in Open Confrontation With German FinMin (GR)

“Those who are not at peace with their souls can not cope with the problems of their country, neither Europe’s nor the world’s,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Thursday. The prime minister had in mind the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who said that he can’t show any understanding to the Greek prime minister for accusing the German government of hurting Greek pensioners. Tsipras spoke in Greek parliament in an event dedicated to unescorted refugee children. “Those who shake the finger at us in the name of the agreements, and address Greek people in a condescending way, they must honor their commitments first before they turn to criticize us,” Tsipras said. Schaeuble has repeatedly said in the past that Greece is not implementing the reforms needed to help the economy to recover. “Our efforts aim to Greece so that it stands on its feet again,”he said.

Then the German minister explained further: “Solidarity can only be justified when the aid is limited and leads to change something in a positive direction. In Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus that was evident. After implementing the program, their economies are growing, rapidly for some. Greece is the third program and without the financial help of billions of euros would be bankrupt long ago. Then the Greek citizens would suffer much more.” The Greek prime minister said during his speech that the compassion and solidarity Greece showed during the refugee crisis is more important than state budgets and fiscal targets. “We now open our arms — and I believe this reflects the feelings of the vast majority of the Greek people — to these weak people. Despite our difficulties we keep our dignity and this is much greater wealth and much larger surplus of all budget surpluses. No matter how big fiscal surpluses some countries manage, they will never reach the surplus of soul that Greek people have,” Tsipras said.

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That’ll go down well.

Greece Takes Dig At Lenders With Scrooge Christmas Card (R.)

Greece’s Finance Ministry took a page out of Charles Dickens’s classic “A Christmas Carol” to have a dig on Friday at the international lenders who have imposed unpopular austerity on the country. An e-card from the press office of the Greek Finance Ministry, sent to journalists, showed a picture of a frail, stingy Ebenezer Scrooge warming by the fire during a visit of his former business partner Jacob Marley, the ghost of Christmas Past shackled in chains. “Perhaps all Christmas stories feature a terrifying Ebenezer welcoming the spirits of Christmas in his desolate loneliness, and perhaps our Christmas story is no exception,” the e-card reads. “But dear friends and colleagues, our wishes will prevail over all the Ebenezers of this world. A very happy new year, with health and love focused on those all around us.”

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Lynn Parramore talks to Jim Chanos.

Is A Big Change Underway In Global Capitalism? (Parramore/Chanos)

Jim Chanos: Bush was the MBA president who was going to be pro-business, cut taxes, and deregulate. Meanwhile, he had two recessions on his watch, less employment than when he started, and two bear markets in the stock market — probably the worst president for business since Herbert Hoover. The business guy! Yet, he did tighten up the Justice Department and go after corporate crime. The Ashcroft Justice Department, as bad as it was in lots of other things, went after corporate fraud and accounting fraud, criminally. In 2002, we got Sarbanes-Oxley to curb fraud. I don’t know that all this was Bush’s predilection — remember, his biggest supporter was Enron. But because of Enron and the other dot-com era scandals, he got backed into a corner to go hard on them.

I’ve joked that the only person who put more corporate executives in jail than George W. Bush was his father during the Savings and Loan Crisis. On these issues, I’d rather have Bush any day of the week than Obama. Both Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer of Obama’s Justice Department said in TV interviews and testimony that they factored in non-judicial aspects as to whether to mount prosecutions. I think that this had political costs to the Democrats. The crony capitalism still bothers people — the idea that Wall Street got off scot-free and they are still struggling. That lack of justice applied equally under the law was corrosive, not necessarily for Obama personally, but certainly for the party following him.

LP: How do you see a Trump presidency in this light? JC: You and I have talked about how it has become a cost calculus for lots of corporations and financial institutions to cheat. “If I get caught,” they say, “I’m just going to pay a fine.” How does this change with new faces in Washington? You still have this very pro-corporate group on Capitol Hill whose main bailiwick, in my opinion, is to protect the corporate class and the very wealthy. You’ve got what ostensibly is a proto-populist in the White House with a cabinet that is a mélange of different types, so who knows?

In my overall view, stuff happens to change people. If we go back to Bill Clinton, his “Putting People First” manifesto in ’92 was quite left-of-center, but he didn’t govern that way. If you look at things like NAFTA, Welfare reform, and cutting capital gains taxes — well, in many ways, Ronald Reagan would have been proud of him. Events conspire to derail our perceptions of presidents. When we look at their platforms, we think we know where things are headed. But in modern times, the only two presidents that I can think of who really got their ideas and platforms enacted wholesale were FDR and Reagan. Everybody else has gotten compromised, or has had events overwhelm them.

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“This is so sad, just humanity digging its own grave..”

Shanghai Water Supply Hit By 100-Tonne Wave Of Garbage (G.)

Medical waste, broken bottles and household trash are some of the items found in more than 100 tonnes of garbage salvaged near a drinking water reservoir in Shanghai. The suspected culprits are two ships that have been dumping waste upstream in the Yangtze river. It has then flowed downstream to the reservoir on Shanghai’s Chongming island which is also home to 700,000 people. The reservoir at the mouth of the river is one of the four main sources of drinking water for the country’s largest city, according to local media. China has struggled with air, soil and water pollution for years during its economic boom, with officials often protecting industry and silencing citizens that complain. China’s cities are often blanketed in toxic smog, while earlier this year more than 80% of water wells used by farms, factories and rural households was found to be unsafe for drinking because of pollution.

Officials dispatched more than 40 workers to clean up the mess, but the area around the reservoir will take about two weeks to clear, the Shanghai Daily reported. Shanghai’s water authority claims supplies are still safe to drink, but has stopped the flow coming in while it continues testing, the paper said. Videos circulating on social media showed beaches and wetlands covered in a rainbow of plastic bags. “There’s enough trash to cover several football fields,” a local resident can be heard saying in one video. Catheter bags and used IV sacks are pulled from the water, and in some places only a sea of trash can be seen, completely obscuring the river water. “This is so sad, just humanity digging its own grave,” one commenter on Twitter-like Sina Weibo said.


A tourist surrounded by rubbish on a beach in China. Photograph: Feature China / Barcroft Media

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“..Britain’s overhead populations are probably “close to minimum values” because of the area’s cold and dry climate. The warm, moist skies of the Amazon – or southern California, for example – likely see far more than 3.5 trillion insects each year.”

3.5 Trillion Insects Migrate Over Southern Britain Each Year (CSM)

Three and a half trillion. That’s how many insects migrate over southern Britain in one year, according to a study published Friday in the journal Science. To put that number in perspective, that’s the equivalent of more than 54 bugs for every person in Britain. The team of scientists from Britain, China, and Israel spent a decade tracking insect migration at altitudes between 492 and 3,937 feet using entomological radar and an aerial insect-catching net. “High-altitude aerial migration of insects is enormous,” University of Exeter entomologist and co-author Jason Chapman told Reuters. “These aerial flows are an unappreciated aspect of terrestrial ecosystems, equivalent to the oceanic movements of plankton which power the oceanic food chains.” And the vast quantity was not the only surprising aspect of their study.

The researchers also discovered that insects migrate north and south seasonally (just like birds), and can reach speeds between 18 and 37 miles per hour by choosing wind patterns that are blowing in their chosen direction, Ars Technica reports. The trillions of migrating insects weigh a combined total of 3,200 tons – the equivalent of more than 636 elephants flying overhead each year. But if hundreds of elephants’ worth of bugs were flying overhead each year, wouldn’t we know about them already? No, say scientists: the vast majority of these bugs are super small. Take the marmalade hoverfly, for example. “It’s only about a centimeter long, it’s orange with black stripes, but it’s a hugely abundant migrant, and it actually does some very important jobs” such as pollinating crops and wildflowers, Dr. Chapman told NPR.

And the authors say Britain’s overhead migration is likely modest compared to other regions of the world. In fact, Chapman tells the Los Angeles Times that Britain’s overhead populations are probably “close to minimum values” because of the area’s cold and dry climate. The warm, moist skies of the Amazon – or southern California, for example – likely see far more than 3.5 trillion insects each year. While some bug-averse people might find this study chilling, it is really quite encouraging, say scientists. Healthy insect populations are crucial for a productive environmental landscape. “We could not function without them,” Chapman tells Reuters. The insects pollinate plants, feed birds and bats, and promote healthy soil through decomposition and other important processes.

Read more …

Does ‘volatile’ capture it?

One of Earth’s Most Dangerous Supervolcanoes Is Rumbling (NatGeo)

A long-quiet yet huge supervolcano that lies under 500,000 people in Italy may be waking up and approaching a “critical state,” scientists report this week in the journal Nature Communications. Based on physical measurements and computer modeling, “we propose that magma could be approaching the CDP [critical degassing pressure] at Campi Flegrei, a volcano in the metropolitan area of Naples, one of the most densely inhabited areas in the world, and where accelerating deformation and heating are currently being observed,” wrote the scientists—who are led by Giovanni Chiodini of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics in Rome. A sudden release of hot magmatic gasses is possible in the near future, which could trigger a large eruption, the scientists warn. Yet the timing of any possible eruption is unknown and is currently not possible to predict.

In response to the news, Italy’s government has raised the volcano’s threat level from green to yellow, or from quiet to requires scientific monitoring. In other words, the government is urging a measured response to the study, followed by additional scientific work. Campi Flegrei means “burning fields” in Italian. The volcanic region is also known as the Phlegraean Fields. Like other supervolcanoes—such as the one responsible for the geothermal features of Yellowstone—it is not a single volcanic cone. Rather, it’s a large complex, much of it underground or under the Mediterranean Sea, that includes 24 craters, as well as various geysers and vents that can release hot gas. Supervolcanoes are usually characterized by a large caldera, or depression, that formed from past explosive eruptions. Campi Flegrei’s depression, just west of Naples, is more than seven miles across.

Campi Flegrei is thought to have formed hundreds of thousands of years ago. A massive eruption 200,000 years ago spewed so much ash that it darkened the skies around the planet, triggering a “volcanic winter.” That event is thought to have been the largest volcanic episode in the history of Europe over that time. The volcano erupted again 35,000 and 12,000 years ago. An eruption about 40,000 years ago might have contributed to the extinction of the Neanderthals, a 2010 study suggested, although that report has been debated. The volcanic area was also known by the ancient Greeks.

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14 per day, every single day. Before you know it, you’re talking real loss of life.

Mediterranean Death Toll Is Record 5,000 Refugees, Migrants This Year (R.)

A record 5,000 migrants are believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year, following two shipwrecks on Thursday in which some 100 people, mainly West Africans, were feared dead, aid agencies said on Friday. Two overcrowded inflatable dinghies capsized in the Strait of Sicily after leaving Libya for Italy, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said. “Those two incidents together appear to be the numbers that would bring this year’s total up to over to 5,000 (deaths), which is a new high that we have reported during this crisis,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a Geneva briefing. The Italian coast guard rescued survivors and had recovered eight bodies so far, he said. IOM staff were interviewing survivors brought to Trapani, Italy, he added.

Just under 3,800 migrants perished at sea during all of 2015, according to IOM figures. UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said the “alarming increase” in deaths this year appeared to be related to bad weather, the declining quality of vessels used by smugglers, and their tactics to avoid detection. “These (reasons also) include sending large numbers of embarkations simultaneously, which makes the work of rescuers more difficult,” he said. The UNHCR appealed to states to open up more legal pathways for admitting refugees. Resettlement programmes, private sponsorship, family reunification and student scholarships would help “so they do not have to resort to dangerous journeys and the use of smugglers”, Spindler said.

Read more …

Nov 212016
 
 November 21, 2016  Posted by at 4:45 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Theodor Horydczak “Dome of US Capitol through trees at night” 1943

 

For the second time in a few weeks (see ‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent), former British diplomat Alastair Crooke quotes me extensively, and I gladly return the favor. Crooke here attempts to list -some of- the difficulties Donald Trump will face in executing the -economic- measures he promised to take in his campaign. Crooke argues that, as I’ve indicated repeatedly, for instance in America is The Poisoned Chalice, the financial crisis that never ended may be one of his biggest problems.

Here, again, is Alastair Crooke:

 

 

We are plainly at a pivotal moment. President-Elect Trump wants to make dramatic changes in his nation’s course. His battle cry of wanting to make “America Great Again” evokes – and almost certainly is intended to evoke – the epic American economic expansions of the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries.

Trump wants to reverse the off-shoring of American jobs; he wants to revive America’s manufacturing base; he wants to recast the terms of international trade; he wants growth; and he wants jobs in the U.S. – and he wants to turn America’s foreign policy around 180 degrees.

The run-down PIX Theatre sign reads "Vote Trump" on Main Street in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. July 15, 2016. (Photo by Tony Webster Flickr)

The run-down PIX Theatre sign reads “Vote Trump” on Main Street in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. July 15, 2016. (Photo by Tony Webster Flickr)

It is an agenda that is, as it were, quite laudable. Many Americans want just this, and the transition in which we are presently in – dictated by the global elusiveness and search for growth (whatever is meant now by this term “growth”), clearly requires a different economic approach from that followed in recent decades.

As Raúl Ilargi Meijer has perceptively posited, greater self-reliance “is the future of the world, ‘post-growth’, and post-globalization. Every country, and every society, needs to focus on self-reliance, not as some idealistic luxury choice, but as a necessity. And that is not as bad or terrible as people would have you believe, and it’s not the end of the world … It is not an idealistic transition towards self-sufficiency, it’s simply and inevitably what’s left, once unfettered growth hits the skids. …

“Our entire world views and ‘philosophies’ are based on ever more and ever bigger and then some, and our entire economies are built upon it. That has already made us ignore the decline of our real markets for many years now. We focus on data about stock markets and the like, and ignore the demise of our respective heartlands, and flyover countries …

“Donald Trump looks very much like the ideal fit for this transition … What matters [here] is that he promises to bring back jobs to America, and that’s what the country needs … Not so they can then export their products, but to consume them at home, and sell them in the domestic market …There’s nothing wrong or negative with an American buying products made in America instead of in China.

“There’s nothing economically – let alone morally – wrong with people producing what they and their families and close neighbours themselves want, and need, without hauling it halfway around the world for a meagre profit. At least not for the man in the street. It’s not a threat to our ‘open societies’, as many claim. That openness does not depend on having things shipped to your stores over 1000s of miles, that you could have made yourselves, at a potentially huge benefit to your local economy. An ‘open society’ is a state of mind, be it collective or personal. It’s not something that’s for sale.”

A Great Wish

That’s Trump’s ostensible great wish, (it seems). It is not an unworthy one, but things have changed: America is no longer what it was in the Nineteenth or Twentieth centuries, neither in terms of untapped natural resources, nor societally. And nor is the rest of the world the same either.

Mr. Trump rather unfortunately may find that his chief task will not be the management of this Great Re-orientation, but more prosaically, fending off the headwinds which he will face as he hauls on the tiller of the economy.

In short, there is a real prospect that his ambitious economic “remake” may well be prematurely punctured by financial crisis.

These headwinds will not be of his making, and for the main part, they lie beyond human agency per se. They are structural, and they are multiple. They represent the accumulation of an earlier monetary doctrine which will fetter the President-elect into a small corner from which any chosen exit will carry adverse implications.

Ditto for anyone else trying to steer any ship of state in this contemporary global economy. Paradoxically – in an era moving toward greater self-sufficiency – what success Trump may have, however, will likely depend not on self-reliance so much as he would like.

For his foreign policy about turn, he will depend on finding common interest with Russian President Vladimir Putin (that should not be too hard) – and for the economic “about turn” – on Trump’s ability not to confront China, but to come to some modus vivendi with President Xi (less easy).

“Things are not what they were.” Complexity “theory” tells us that trying to repeat what worked earlier – in very different conditions – will likely not work if repeated later. In the Clinton era, for example, 85 percent of the U.S. population growth derived from the working-age population. The headwind that Trump will face is that, over the next eight years, 80 percent of the population growth will comprise 65+ year olds. And 65+ year olds are not a good engine of economic growth. This is not an uniquely American problem; it is a global trend too.

“The peak growth” (according to Econimica blog), “in the annual combined working age population (15-64 year/olds) among all the 35 wealthy OECD nations, China, Brazil, and Russia has collapsed since its 1981 peak. The annual growth in the working age population among these nations has fallen from +29 million a year to just +1 million in 2016 … but from here on, the working age population will be declining every year … These nations make up almost three quarters of all global demand for oil and exports in general. But their combined working age populations will shrink every year, from here on (surely for decades and perhaps far longer). Global demand for nearly everything is set to suffer.

(FFR stands for Federal Funds Rate: i.e. the US key interest rate) Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

(FFR stands for Federal Funds Rate: i.e. the US key interest rate) Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

And then there is China: It too is passing through a difficult “transition” from the old economy to an “innovative” one. It too, has an aging population and a debt problem (with a debt-to-gross domestic ratio reaching 247 percent). Trump argues that China deliberately holds down the value of its currency to gain unfair trade advantage, and he further suggests that he intends to confront the Chinese government on this key issue.

Again, Trump does have a point (many nations are managing their exchange rates precisely in order to try to “steal” a little bit extra growth from the diminished global pot). But as noted at Zerohedge, citing the analysis of One River Asset Management executive Eric Peters:

“What’s good for the US in this case [the rising dollar and interest rates in anticipation of ‘Trumponomics’], is not good for emerging markets (EMs). Emerging markets benefit from a weaker dollar, and you’re not going to get that. Emerging markets benefit from global capital flows moving in their direction and that’s not happening either. Back in February, emerging markets were in sharp decline, driven by (1) a strong dollar, (2) rising US interest rates, and (3) slowing Chinese growth. Then China spurred a massive credit stimulus, the Fed became wildly dovish, and the dollar declined sharply.

“Interest rates collapsed throughout the year. As the growing pool of dollar, euro and yen liquidity searched for a decent return, it headed to emerging markets. Trump has reignited the dollar rally, and his fiscal stimulus will force interest rates higher. This reversed everything. [the dollars are heading home]

“And to be sure, the Beijing boys don’t want to see material weakness ahead of next autumn’s Party Congress. But we’re currently near peak impulse from China’s Q1 stimulus.”

In short, Peters is saying that, with the appreciating dollar and rising interest rate environment, growth from emerging markets as a whole will falter, since emerging markets have effectively leveraged their economies to Chinese growth. It used to be the case that they were closely tied to U.S. growth, but it is now China which dominates the EMs’ trade flows [i.e. without China growth, the EMs languish]. The question is, can America reboot its growth whilst China and the EMs languish? It is another structural shift, whereas heretofore, it was vice versa: without U.S. growth, the EMs and China languished. Now it is the converse.

Hollowed-Out Economies

There are other structural changes of course which will make it harder for the industrially hollowed-out economies of the West to recuperate jobs off-shored earlier. Firstly, there has been a systemic shift of innovation and technology eastwards (often to a more skilled and better-educated workforce). This represents not only an economic event, but a redistribution of power too. In any case, technology in this new era is being more job destructive than creative.

In one sense, Trump’s economic plan to “get America working again” through massive debt-financed, infrastructure projects, harks back to the Reagan era, which was also a period in which the dollar was strong. But yet again, “things today are not what they were then.” Inflation then was at 13 percent, Interest rates were around 20 percent, and crucially, the U.S. debt to GDP ratio was a mere 35 percent (compared to today’s estimate of 71.8 percent or 104.5 percent with external debt included).

Then, as Jim Rickards has suggested, the strong dollar was deflationary (deliberately so), and interest rates had nowhere to go, but down. It was the beginning of the three decades’ bond boom, which finally seems to have come to an end, coincident with Trump’s election. Today, inflation has nowhere to go but up – as have interest rates – and the bond market, nowhere to go, but (perilously) down.

Growth and Jobs?

Can Trump then achieve growth and jobs through infrastructure expenditure? Well, “growth” is an ambiguous, shape-shifting term. The first chart shows both sides of the equation … the annual GDP growth and the annual federal debt incurred, spent, and (thus counted as part of the growth) to achieve the purported growth.

Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

The second chart shows the annual GDP minus the annual growth in federal debt to achieve that “GDP growth.” In other words, unlike in the earlier Reagan times, more recently, the debt is producing no growth – but … well … just more debt, mostly.

In fact, what the second chart is reflecting is the dilution – through money “printing” – of purchasing power: away from one entity (the American consumer), through the intermediation of the financial sector, to other entities (mostly financial entities, and to corporations buying back their own shares). This is debt deflation: the American consumer ends having less and less purchasing power (in the sense of residual discretionary income).

The point here is that “growth” is becoming rarer everywhere. Russia and China, like everyone else, are in search for new sources for growth.

As Rickards has said, debt is the “devil” that can undo Trump’s whole schema: a “$1 trillion infrastructure refurbishment plan, along with his proposal to rebuild the military, will — at least in the short-term — significantly increase annual deficits. In fact, deficits are already soaring; the fiscal 2016 budget hole jumped to $587 billion, up from $438 in the prior year, for a huge 34% increase…in addition to this, Trump’s protectionist trade policies would implement either a 35% tariff on certain imports or would require these goods to be produced inside the United States, at much higher prices. For example, the increase in labor costs from goods made in China would be 190% when compared to the federally mandated minimum wage earner in the United States. Hence, inflation is on the way.”

In sum, self-sufficiency implies higher domestic costs and price rises for consumers.

Debt will rise. And there is seemingly already a buyers’ strike against U.S. government debt underway: well over a third of a $1 trillion worth of Treasuries were disposed of, and sold in the year to Aug. 31 by foreign Central Banks. And who is buying it? (Below, the chart shows what this purchasing looks like, as a percentage of total debt issued by the Treasury). Well, foreign central banks have disappeared. (The Chinese have not bought a U.S. Treasury bond since 2011.)

(Above: who purchased the marketable debt as a percentage, by period) Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

(Above: who purchased the marketable debt as a percentage, by period)
Source.

 

It is the American public who are buying. Will they be willing to take on Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure spree? Or, will it be “printed” in yet another dilution of the American consumer’s purchasing power? The question of whether the infrastructure splurge does give growth hangs very much in the balance to such answers. (Equity shares in construction firms will do okay, of course).

The bottom line: (Michael Pento, Pento Report): “If interest rates continue to rise it won’t just be bond prices that will collapse. It will be every asset that has been priced off that so called ‘risk free rate of return’ offered by sovereign debt. The painful lesson will then be learned that having a virtual zero interest rate policy for the past 90 months wasn’t at all risk free. All of the asset prices negative interest rates have so massively distorted including; corporate debt, municipal bonds, REITs, CLOs, equities, commodities, luxury cars, art, all fixed income assets and their proxies, and everything in between, will fall concurrently along with the global economy.

“For the record, a normalization of bond yields would be very healthy for the economy in the long-run, as it is necessary to reconcile the massive economic imbalances now in existence. However, President Trump will want no part of the depression that would run concurrently with collapsing real estate, equity and bond prices.”

A Pending Financial Crisis

Trump, to be fair, has said consistently throughout the election campaign that whoever won the Presidential campaign to take office in January would face a financial crisis. Perhaps he will not face the “violent unwind” of the QE and bond bubble as some experts have predicted, but many more – according to Bank of America’s survey of 177 fund managers over the last six days, and controlling just under half a trillion of assets – expect a “stagflationary bond crash.”

This has major political implications. Trump is setting out to do no less than transform the economy and foreign policy of the U.S. He is doing this against a backdrop of many of the followers of the liberal élite, so angered at the election outcome, that they reject completely his electoral legitimacy (and, with the élites themselves staying mum at this rejection of the U.S. democratic process). Movements are being organized to wreck his Presidency (see here for example). If Trump does indeed experience a severe financial “unwind” at a time of such domestic anger and agitation, matters could turn quite ugly.

 

 

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West.

Oct 282016
 
 October 28, 2016  Posted by at 9:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 28 2016
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Theodor Horydczak Washington Monument 1933


China Capital Flight Flashes Warning As Authorities Prick Property Bubble (AEP)
Unacceptable Cures for the Days Ahead (Dent)
Japan Consumer Prices Keep Falling, Household Spending Slips (BBG)
Bank of Japan Loses Bark And Bite Under Humbled Kuroda (R.)
The Gap Between Poor And Rich Regions In Europe Is Widening (Economist)
Xi Jinping Becomes ‘Core’ Leader Of China (R.)
Waking Up in Hillary Clinton’s America (Nomi Prins)
Donald Trump Has Won, Even If He Loses The US Election (Malmgren)
Why Is the Foreign Policy Establishment Spoiling for More War? (Kucinich)
Assange First Interview Since Being Censored (JJ)
Wither Democracy (Lessig)
Calais Children Abandoned At Former ‘Jungle’ Camp Site (EuO)

 

 

“The worry is a “negative feedback loop between a weakening yuan and capital flight”.

China Capital Flight Flashes Warning As Authorities Prick Property Bubble (AEP)

Capital outflows from China are accelerating. The hemorrhage has reached the fastest pace since the currency panic at the start of the year. The latest cycle of credit-driven expansion has already peaked after 18 months. Beijing has had to slam on the brakes, scrambling to control property speculation that the Communist authorities themselves deliberately fomented. How this episode could have happened is astonishing, given that premier Li Keqiang has warned repeatedly that excess credit is becoming dangerous and will ultimately doom China to the middle income trap. It will be clear by early to mid 2017 that the economy is rolling over and that the underlying ‘quality of growth’ has deteriorated yet further. “We think the recovery will run out of steam early next year,” said Chang Liu from Capital Economics.

This stop-go rotation – an all-too familiar pattern – coincides with an incipient liquidity squeeze in global finance as dollar LIBOR and Eurodollar rates ratchet upwards. A rate rise by the US Federal Reserve will clinch it. Since the commodity rebound is in great part driven by demand for Chinese industry and construction – and by a touching belief that China’s economy will sail majestically through 2017 – this looming slowdown spells trouble. Stress is already visible in the capital account. Morgan Stanley estimates that net outflows reached $44bn in September. Capital Economics thinks the figure was closer to $55bn, led by a surge in purchases of off-shore securities through the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect Scheme.

This does not yet match the capital flight seen late last year when a mismanaged shift in exchange rate policy set off outflows averaging $70bn a month, and triggered the global equity rout of January and February. But it is nearing a neuralgic threshold for currency traders. Beijing is clearly alarmed. Nikkei’s Yusho Cho reports that the authorities have ordered banks in Shanghai and Guangzhou to restrict access to foreign currency, and have imposed a “gag order” to keep it quiet. Institutions must now justify why they need foreign exchange. The worry is a “negative feedback loop between a weakening yuan and capital flight”. The central bank (PBOC) spent roughly $50bn defending the yuan last month, but this has not stopped the exchange rate sliding to 6.77 against the dollar – the weakest in six years.

The PBOC has burned through $800bn of foreign reserves since mid-2014, when they peaked at $4 trillion. It still has ample fire-power but bond sales automatically tighten China’s internal monetary policy since it is hard to sterilize the effect, and tightening may the last thing they want if the economy is slowing hard next year. “Our view is that the RMB (yuan) will depreciate 20pc against the US dollar to 8.1 by the end of 2018 as deflation of the property bubble leads to more capital outflows,” Zhiwei Zhang from Deutsche Bank. “This is deflationary for global trade.”

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Velocity of money is the no. 1 Deflation indicator.

Unacceptable Cures for the Days Ahead (Dent)

Then Dr. Lacy Hunt took the stage… As I was telling Boom & Bust subscribers in their 5 Day Forecast email on Monday, he’s the only economist (outside of Steve Keen from Australia, who’s currently in hibernation in London) that I recommend you to follow. He’s classically trained and deeply knowledgeable, and goes beyond the theoretical nature of his chosen field. He understands how debt and financial bubbles build and deleverage, a rarity among economists today. And he has possibly the best explanation of money velocity. Basically, it’s a sign of how productive investment in the economy is. Productive investment creates more profits, jobs and expansion, and hence, greater M2 velocity. Speculation, stock buybacks or empty buildings do not. His money velocity chart was my favorite of the conference.

With this single chart, Lacy shows the level and falling trends for money velocity across the U.S., Europe, Japan and China. And as you can see, the most unproductive investment is in China! See, solid proof from perhaps the most competent economist in America! Building stuff for no one isn’t productive for the economy. This is the most concrete proof yet of something that should be obvious. Despite 6-10% growth rates, China’s money velocity is even lower than Japan’s most dismal “coma economy” that is surviving solely on endless QE as they age and see exponential growth in debt levels… Do you get this? China is worse than Japan when you reflect the truth of money velocity. You can also see why we are the best house in a bad neighborhood. Our money velocity, despite continually slowing since 2000, is 50% stronger than the euro and three times that of Japan and China.

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The end of Abenomics nears..

Japan Consumer Prices Keep Falling, Household Spending Slips (BBG)

Japan’s consumer prices fell for a seventh straight month and household spending slumped again in September, underscoring the challenges Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda face in trying to revive the world’s third-largest economy. The downbeat inflation and spending data came despite an increasingly tight labor market. The unemployment rate slipped to 3% in September, equal to the lowest since 1995. The low jobless figure hasn’t yet resulted in significant wage gains, a key element of efforts to reflate Japan’s economy.

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…and that is also the end of Kuroda.

Bank of Japan Loses Bark And Bite Under Humbled Kuroda (R.)

As his term winds down, Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has retreated from both the radical policies and rhetoric of his early tenure, suggesting there will be no further monetary easing except in response to a big external shock. In a clear departure from his initial “shock and awe” tactics to jolt the nation from its deflationary mindset, he has even taken to flagging what little change lies ahead, trying predictability where surprise has failed. This new approach will be on show next week, when the BOJ is set to keep policy unchanged despite an expected downgrade in forecasts that could show Kuroda won’t hit his perpetually postponed 2% inflation target before his five-year term ends in April 2018. “The days of trying to radically heighten inflation expectations with shock action are over,” said a source familiar with the BOJ’s thinking. “No more regime change.”

Kuroda told parliament last week that while the BOJ might again stretch the timing for its inflation target, he saw no need to ease at the Oct. 31-Nov. 1 policy meeting. “There may be some modification to our forecast that inflation will hit our 2% target during fiscal 2017,” he said, the first time he has offered hints on upcoming projections. In the past, the market has learned to expect the unexpected. In 2013, when the BOJ deployed its massive asset-buying program, dubbed “quantitative and qualitative easing” (QQE), his shock therapy boosted stocks and weakened the yen. Further surprises came with an expansion of QQE in October 2014, and then the switch to negative rates early in 2016, which he had denied was an option just days before. But the law of diminishing returns bought him less bang for each buck.

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Nice research, the graph shows hoe German data hide the sinking of Europe. Quite poorly reported, though.

The Gap Between Poor And Rich Regions In Europe Is Widening (Economist)

The beautiful but rubbish-strewn streets of Catania, Sicily’s second-biggest city, are a world away from swanky Trento, in the country’s richer north. About a quarter of Sicilians are “severely materially deprived”—meaning that they cannot afford things like a car, or to heat their home sufficiently—compared with just 5% in Trento. Italy is not unique. In many places, the divide within countries appears to be getting worse. According to an analysis by The Economist, the gap between richer and poorer regions of euro-zone countries has increased since the financial crisis. Our measure of regional inequality looks at the average income per head of a country’s poorest region, expressed as a%age of the income of that country’s richest part. The weighted average for 12 countries shows that regional inequality was declining in the years leading up to the financial crisis of 2007-08, but has increased since then (see chart).

The poorest area in Slovakia, the euro zone’s most geographically unequal economy, now has an income per person of just 28% of the richest, a slight fall from before the crisis. In Calabria, Italy’s poorest region, income per person as a share of the country’s best-off part, the province of Bolzano, was 45% in 2007 but is only 40% now. Elsewhere poor regions of the euro zone have seen income falling in both relative and absolute terms. An exception is Germany: in its once-communist east, excluding Berlin, GDP per person reached 67% of that in former West Germany last year. (Most of the catch-up took place in the early 1990s, but continues more slowly.) Deindustrialisation is partly to blame. Most of the euro zone’s 19 members have fewer manufacturing jobs than in 2008.

Manufacturing employment is high in many of Europe’s poorer countries, but they have lost international competitiveness in part because of an overvalued euro. Tight public spending also plays a role. Since 2008 the number of civil servants in the euro zone has fallen by about 6%. This has often hurt needy regions most. Cuts in welfare benefits also hit harder. A paper by Luca Agnello, Giorgio Fazio and Ricardo Sousa, three economists, found that austerity led to higher regional inequality in 13 European countries between 1980 and 2008. This suggests that the problem will continue: public funds will be tight for years to come, while weak public spending on education and infrastructure will crimp future growth. Even if the euro zone starts to grow strongly again, the geographical scars will be plain to see.

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China will be calling out loud for a strong leader as its economy grinds to a halt.

Xi Jinping Becomes ‘Core’ Leader Of China (R.)

China’s Communist party has given the president, Xi Jinping, the title of “core” leader, putting him on par with previous strongmen Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, but signalled his power would not be absolute. A lengthy communique released after a four-day meeting of senior officials in Beijing emphasised the importance of collective leadership. The system “must always be followed and should not be violated by any organisation or individual under any circumstance or for any reason”, the party said. But all members should “closely unite around the central committee with comrade Xi Jinping as the core”, said the document, released through state media. The core leader title marks a significant strengthening of Xi’s position before a key party congress next year, at which a new standing committee, the pinnacle of power in China, will be constituted.

Since assuming office almost four years ago, Xi has rapidly consolidated power, including heading a group leading economic change and appointing himself commander-in-chief of the military, though as head of the central military commission he already controlled the armed forces. While head of the party, the military and the state, Xi had not previously been given the title “core”. Deng coined the phrase “core leader”, and said he, Mao Zedong and Jiang Zemin were core leaders, meaning they had almost absolute authority and should not be questioned. Xi’s immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, was never called the “core”. The plenum meeting paves the way for a congress, held every five years, in autumn 2017, at which Xi will further consolidate his power and which could indicate who may replace him at the 2022 congress.

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Nomi’s very mild and polite.

Waking Up in Hillary Clinton’s America (Nomi Prins)

To date, $10 trillion worth of assets sits on the books of the Big Six banks. Since 2008, these same banks have copped to more than $150 billion in fines for pre-crisis behavior that ranged on the spectrum of criminality from manipulating multiple public markets to outright fraud. Hillary Clinton has arguably taken money that would not have been so available if it weren’t for the ill-gotten gains those banks secured. In her usual measured way, albeit with some light admonishments, she has told them what they want to hear: that if they behave – something that in her dictionary of definitions involves little in the way of personalized pain or punishment – so will she.

So let’s recap Hillary’s America, past, present, and future. It’s a land lacking in meaningful structural reform of the financial system, a place where the big banks have been, and will continue to be, coddled by the government. No CEO will be jailed, no matter how large the fines his bank is saddled with or how widespread the crimes it committed. Instead, he’s likely to be invited to the inaugural ball in January. Because its practices have not been adequately controlled or curtailed, the inherent risk that Wall Street poses for Main Street will only grow as bankers continue to use our money to make their bets. (The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act was supposed to help on this score, but has yet to make the big banks any smaller.)

And here’s an obvious corollary to all this: the next bank-instigated economic catastrophe will not be dealt with until it has once again crushed the financial stability of millions of Americans. The banks have voted with their dollars on all of this in multiple ways. Hillary won’t do anything to upset that applecart. We should have no illusions about what her presidency would mean from a Wall Street vs. Main Street perspective. Certainly, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon doesn’t. He effectively endorsed Hillary before a crowd of financial industry players, saying, “I hope the next president, she reaches across the aisle.” For Wall Street, of course, that aisle is essentially illusory, since its players operate so easily and effectively on both sides of it. In Hillary’s America, Wall Street will still own Main Street.

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“Reality TV Land will immediately install itself in the Oval Office if he wins. Then, anything goes.”

Donald Trump Has Won, Even If He Loses The US Election (Malmgren)

Donald Trump has already won the US presidential election and Hillary Clinton has already lost it, even if she emerges with the title of commander-in-chief. It is already apparent that Trump will not skulk off the global stage. Nor will he have to. Consider what happens if he loses the presidential race. He will most likely launch a reality TV show that will undoubtedly attract a record number of viewers. From this ridiculously unconstrained and lucrative perch, he’ll relentlessly attack President Clinton, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party alike. In retrospect, it will be clear that his entire campaign was a trailer for the blockbuster show that follows. In this way he will continue to influence, if not dominate, public opinion.

[..] he won’t go away. Neither will the forces that swept him to the top of politics: the anger, the loss, the sense of unfairness, the inability of the traditional parties to deliver a better outcome for most Americans. Meanwhile, the expectation that a Clinton presidency could conquer these forces is also likely to be proved false. The Oval Office is a highly constrained place that limits the influence of its occupant especially in the face of broader political disarray. She can try and set the tone but the rest of the political establishment looks too dysfunctional, and largely unwilling, to be able to help her. Her presidency seems set to open with high expectations and low approval ratings. Trump, however, could move to the next phase of his career with low expectations and high TV ratings.

Both have faced threats of prosecution throughout this long and increasingly ugly campaign. But, does Trump care if the courts or the government put his tax returns or the sexual allegations against him to the test? He won’t. Will he care if his emails are leaked? No. The real “public prosecutor” for Trump is the Fourth Estate – the media. It will prosecute him just as relentlessly if he becomes commander-in-chief but probably with the same limited impact. Will it matter to Clinton if her emails, from the past or future, are displayed to the public? Will it matter if the Clinton Foundation faces further allegations of “crooked” behaviour? But, we live in the internet age. The real “public prosecutor” for Clinton is and will remain Julian Assange and Wikileaks. His sights will continue to be firmly set on her. He does not care about Trump and Trump doesn’t care about him. Once again, Trump wins.

Trump’s only real threat of looking like the loser comes if the polls are wrong and he ends up winning. Many wonder whether he really wants the job. After all, the Oval Office is the political equivalent of a straightjacket. In theory, Trump won’t be able to shoot words from the hip so freely once he is sitting in the big shiny chair with his finger on the literal and metaphorical button. But, Reality TV Land will immediately install itself in the Oval Office if he wins. Then, anything goes. In the meantime, he will “win” in his effort to redefine America’s political landscape. As president, it won’t matter to him if the House and Senate block him. He is not concerned with process. His job is to break down the traditional political establishment.

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“Any report advocating war that comes from any alleged think tank ought to be accompanied by a list of the think tank’s sponsors and donors..”

Why Is the Foreign Policy Establishment Spoiling for More War? (Kucinich)

The American people are fed up with war, but a concerted effort is being made through fearmongering, propaganda, and lies to prepare our country for a dangerous confrontation, with Russia in Syria. The demonization of Russia is a calculated plan to resurrect a raison d’être for stone-cold warriors trying to escape from the dustbin of history by evoking the specter of Russian world domination. It’s infectious. Earlier this year the BBC broadcast a fictional show that contemplated WWIII, beginning with a Russian invasion of Latvia (where 26% of the population is ethnic Russian and 34% of Latvians speak Russian at home). The imaginary WWIII scenario conjures Russia’s targeting London for a nuclear strike.

No wonder that by the summer of 2016 a poll showed two-thirds of UK citizens approved the new British PM’s launching a nuclear strike in retaliation. So much for learning the lessons detailed in the Chilcot report. As this year’s presidential election comes to a conclusion, the Washington ideologues are regurgitating the same bipartisan consensus that has kept America at war since 9/11 and made the world a decidedly more dangerous place. The DC think tanks provide cover for the political establishment, a political safety net, with a fictive analytical framework providing a moral rationale for intervention, capitol casuistry. I’m fed up with the DC policy elite who cash in on war while presenting themselves as experts, at the cost of other people’s lives, our national fortune, and the sacred honor of our country.

Any report advocating war that comes from any alleged think tank ought to be accompanied by a list of the think tank’s sponsors and donors and a statement of the lobbying connections of the report’s authors. It is our patriotic duty to expose why the DC foreign-policy establishment and its sponsors have not learned from their failures and instead are repeating them, with the acquiescence of the political class and sleepwalkers with press passes.

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“As I said it has long been our analysis that Hillary Clinton will win the election because she has all the establishments on her side..”

Assange First Interview Since Being Censored (JJ)

“Wikileaks is one of the fighting dogs that has a lot of energy and runs around fighting all the time. It is built to fight it loves nothing more than to fight. And so when my internet was cut off we had long ago made strategic contingency plans for exactly this situation. So despite bombs raining down on us from statements by high US officials, media and so on this is exactly the sort of situation we enjoy so there was not even one day pause. We just continued on publishing the next day even though I was cut off from my team.” “As I said it has long been our analysis that Hillary Clinton will win the election because she has all the establishments on her side and we can see it in terms of polling.

If someone like Donald Trump – who has a great many problems I’m sure all of you are aware of it – but if he managed to get up to the 48% or 50% level in the polling which he has just on two occasions across the different polls united, immediately those big media networks and the funders get together and smash him back down. So I don’t think there’s any chance of Donald Trump winning the election. That would probably be bad inside the United States. It would probably be good outside the United States. Even with the amazing material we have published and will continue to publish because even though we publish it and there’s a lot of people reading it on the internet directly, most of the media originations in the United States are very strongly aligned with Hillary Clinton.

Two reasons really, a lot of them are owned by big businesses which are owned by banks which like Hillary Clinton. And the other is a class reason. Most journalists and media workers are very middle class and Donald Trump represents in their minds, white trash. So to do anything that looks to be like it might be supporting Donald Trump looks like you’re supporting white trash. And to those rivals that they have within their class they are white trash. So it lowers their social status and that’s a very dangerous thing to do in an institution, to have your social status lowered, because someone might get your job or the job that you want to have within the institution. So there is a lot of conformity and fear around criticizing Hillary Clinton in any way at all and it reduces the impact of even very significant material that is being released.”

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Can Iceland give the world back its lost democracy?

Wither Democracy (Lessig)

On the eve of the Icelandic Elections… WITHER DEMOCRACY, by Professor Lawrence Lessig, speaking from the University of Iceland. Lessig explains how democracy has failed the US and other citizens of the world, and how Iceland is on the brink of implementing an entirely new and improved system, based on a PEOPLE’S CONSTITUTION. Yes, it’s a world first, but then Iceland was the first country ever to form a parliament. Lester Lawrence “Larry” Lessig III is an American academic, attorney, and political activist. He was the co-founder, with our beloved Aaron Swartz, of Creative Commons. He is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; and the former director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.

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Our moral bankruptcy in all its splendor.

Calais Children Abandoned At Former ‘Jungle’ Camp Site (EuO)

Scores of children have been left out in the cold, after French authorities flattened the make-shift migrants camp in Calais, in northern France, earlier this week. Journalists report that around a hundred children were sleeping rough on the remains of the camp, among burned-out shacks and riot police. The Guardian spoke to children who had been lured off the camp site, with promises of being transferred to reception centres where their asylum claims would be assessed. Instead, riot police cornered the group while bulldozers razed the camp. Media and NGO reports of the children’s treatment triggered protests of British home secretary Amber Rudd, who told her French counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, on Thursday, that children remaining in Calais had to be properly protected.

Cazeneuve later issued a statement saying he was surprised by Rudd’s declaration. He said France had given shelter to 1,451 minors since 17 October recalling that Britain had a legal duty to take those children that have a link to the UK, for instance through family. 274 children have been allowed to travel to the UK in the last two weeks. The decision to clear the camp came from French president Francois Hollande, calling it a ”humanitarian emergency” during a visit in September. French authorities started evacuating the camp, also known as the Jungle, on Monday (24 October) and said they had relocated almost all of the 6,000 people estimated to have been living there to other parts of France. [..] British baroness Shas Sheehan, who has been working as a volunteer teacher in the camp prior to its dismantlement, accused France and the UK of human rights violations, pointing to official assurances by both sides that the site wouldn’t be demolished before all the children were safeguarded.

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Jun 272016
 
 June 27, 2016  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing District National Bank, Washington, DC 1931


I Walked From Liverpool To London. Brexit Was No Surprise (G.)
UK Will Emerge From Brexit Just Fine, It’s Europe That’s In Trouble (CNBC)
Britain ‘May Never’ Trigger EU Divorce (AFP)
Post-Brexit Global Equity Loss Of Over $2 Trillion Worst Ever: S&P (R.)
Firms Plan To Quit UK As City Braces For More Post-Brexit Losses (G.)
Brexit: Most Commentaries Miss The Point (Kuttner)
Raw Democracy: Why The British Said No To Europe (Pilger)
China Devalues Yuan Most In 10 Months, Warns Of Brexit “Butterfly Effect” (ZH)
Why Xi Refuses to Let China’s Zombies Die (Pesek)

The real world.

I Walked From Liverpool To London. Brexit Was No Surprise (G.)

On 2 May this year, I set off to walk from Liverpool to London, a journey of 340 miles that would take me a month. I was walking in the footsteps of the People’s March for Jobs, a column of 300-odd unemployed men and women who, on the same day in 1981, exactly 35 years previously, had set off from the steps of St George’s Hall to walk to Trafalgar Square. In the two years after Margaret Thatcher had been elected, unemployment had gone from 1 to 3 million, as her policies laid waste to Britain’s manufacturing base. In 1981, we saw Rupert Murdoch buy the Times and Sunday Times. We witnessed inner-city riots, unprecedented in their scale and violence, in Liverpool and London. The formation of the SDP split the left. The Tories lost their first assault on the coal miners, capitulating over the closure of 23 pits.

My father, Pete Carter, was one of those who organised the original walk. My journey was an attempt to work out what had happened to Britain in the intervening years. What I saw and heard gave me an alarming sense of how the immense social changes wrought by Thatcherism are still having a profound effect on communities all over England. It also meant that when I awoke last Thursday to the result of the EU referendum, I wasn’t remotely surprised. I left Liverpool the week of the Hillsborough inquest verdict, flowers and scarves still adorning lampposts. The inquest had finally vindicated the families of the 96 killed at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, exposing the lies and cover-ups of the police, the media and the political class, who had spent over a quarter of a century traducing not only those fans, mostly working class, but also the city and its people.

In fact, that demonising had found expression in 1981, too, when Geoffrey Howe suggested to Thatcher privately that, after the Toxteth riots, Liverpool should be subject to a “managed decline”. I walked through Widnes and Warrington, past huge out-of-town shopping centres and through the wastelands of industrial decay. In Salford, down streets where all the pubs were boarded up and local shops, if you could find them, had brick walls for windows and prison-like metal doors, I found an Airbnb. My host was selling her terraced house. I sat in her living room as the estate agent brought around potential buyers. They were all buy-to-let investors from the south of England, building property portfolios in the poverty, as if this was one giant fire sale.

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“..an uncanny gemütlichkeit..”

UK Will Emerge From Brexit Just Fine, It’s Europe That’s In Trouble (CNBC)

The British never wanted to be part of a German-dominated European federal super state. The exit from the EU will allow the U.K. to reclaim parts of national authority that its political elites ceded to unelected Brussels officials free of any meaningful democratic oversight. The scare-mongering about the end of the U.K. and the unraveling EU is meaningless. My guess is that the U.K. will do better that the unwieldy “union” of 27 countries whose leaders have yet to figure out where they are going. But let’s take a look at the U.K. first. The first good sign is that the leave leaders are behaving in the tradition of the British battle cry: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

They are watching the fury and the confusion in Berlin, Paris and Brussels. The leading voices in these capitals are screaming for an expeditious divorce as a swift and exemplary punishment (yes, to deter other would-be exit followers), because the Europe’s oldest parliamentary democracy spoke for the rest of the continent and dared to denounce the EU’s failing ways. In case you wondered, that is how low the ideal of European brotherhood and union has fallen. These muddled up and agitated minds in Paris, Berlin and Brussels will just create more chaos and alienate more people who were looking at the EU as a haven of peace and prosperity. The leave people, by contrast, are playing with an uncanny gemütlichkeit. They are saying that they are Europeans, and that they just want to build a close European relationship of a different kind.

Will that work? All we hear now is that it won’t. Well, maybe there is some prescience in there, but please take a look at these numbers. The U.K. is by far Germany’s most profitable export market. Last year, Germany’s trade surplus with the U.K. came in at €51 billion, accounting for 34% of the German surplus with the EU. That surplus was also 42% higher than the German trade surplus with France, Berlin’s largest European trade partner. With its €89.3 billion worth of exports to the U.K. last year, Britain is Germany’s third-largest export market, after the U.S. and France. Will Germany give this up by shutting the U.K. out of a free-trade agreement with the EU? Of course it won’t.

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It’ll be fun to see the hot potato being tossed around.

Britain ‘May Never’ Trigger EU Divorce (AFP)

Britain “may never” trigger the formal divorce process with the EU despite last week’s referendum in which the country voted to leave, EU diplomats said Sunday. “My personal belief is they will never notify” the EU about their intention to leave, a senior EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity. A state leaving the EU must formally notify the European Council of all 28 EU leaders under Article 50 of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, setting the clock ticking on a two-year period for Britain to negotiate its divorce. “We want London to trigger Article 50 now, to have clarity. I expect, as we can’t force them, for them to take their time,” the diplomat added. “And I would not exclude, it’s my personal belief, that they may never do it.”

The official did not specify if he believed Britain would avoid it by holding a new referendum, or simply dragging out the process to extract a better divorce deal, but said all such decisions were up to London. Cameron has said he will resign by October and that it is for his successor to launch the process and lead the negotiations. Despite growing pressure from EU leaders, Cameron was not expected to trigger Article 50 at an EU summit on Tuesday, another senior EU official said. Britain’s EU partners believed the notification should come by Christmas at the latest. “There cannot be any kind of negotiation with Britain before there is a notification.”

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A distorted view because of the gains prior to the referendum. Everything was getting pumped up by expectations of no Brexit, and than that ‘gain’ was lost again. it’s like a gambler who wins big only to lose it all again at the end of the night. Did he lose, or just draw?

Post-Brexit Global Equity Loss Of Over $2 Trillion Worst Ever: S&P (R.)

The $2.08 trillion wiped off global equity markets on Friday after Britain voted to leave the European Union was the biggest daily loss ever, trumping the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy during the 2008 financial crisis and the Black Monday stock market crash of 1987, according to Standard & Poor’s Dow Jones Indices. Global markets skidded following the unexpected result from the June 23 referendum, in which Britons voted to withdraw from the EU by a 52% to 48% margin. Markets in mainland Europe were hit the worst, with Milan and Madrid each down more than 12% for their biggest losses ever. Britain’s benchmark FTSE 100 was down nearly 9% at one point on Friday, but rallied to close down 3.15%.

The route started in Asia, with the Nikkei .N225 down 7.9%, and carried over into Wall Street as the S&P 500 fell 3.6%. Mohit Bajaj, director of ETF trading solutions at WallachBeth Capital in New York, said the severity of the sell-off was partly due to investors misreading the outcome and betting the wrong way. “People positioned themselves longer because they thought the market was going to pop,” he said. “We knew that we were going to sell off pretty hard and people were kind of shocked by the market.” In dollar terms, Friday’s loss overtook the previous record from Sept. 29, 2008, the day when Congress rejected a $700 billion bailout package for Wall Street during the financial crisis. On that day, global markets lost $1.94 trillion.

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The Guardian has a hard time losing.

Firms Plan To Quit UK As City Braces For More Post-Brexit Losses (G.)

British businesses have warned that Brexit will trigger investment cuts, hiring freezes and redundancies as the consequences of leaving the European Union threaten to destabilise markets further this week. The survey by the Institute of Directors (IoD), which found that the majority of businesses believed Brexit was bad for them, comes amid fears that investors will wipe billions more pounds off share values on Monday morning, and signs that the pound, which hit a 30-year low on Friday, was coming under further pressure from trading in Asia. Sterling was down more than 1% as the Asian markets opened late on Sunday. [..]

[..] fears are spreading that an estimated 100,000 roles could be lost in the financial sector if banks press on with contingency plans to move jobs out of the UK. The political uncertainty gripping the UK following the resignation of prime minister David Cameron and turmoil in the Labour party has put the City on alert for more volatility. With fears that the economic turmoil following the result will tip the country into recession, the snap poll of IoD members found that company bosses were considering a range of options, including hiring and investment freezes and relocating some of their operations. Simon Walker, the IoD’s director general, said the organisation would not “sugar-coat” the damaging outcome: “A majority of business leaders think the vote for Brexit is bad for them.”

“Businesses will be busy working out how they are going to adapt and succeed after the referendum result,” said Walker of the group which has 34,500 members, ranging from start-up entrepreneurs to chief executives of multinational companies. “But we can’t sugar-coat this, many of our members are feeling anxious.” In the poll, 36% of IoD members said the outcome of last Thursday’s vote would lead them to cut investment in their business whereas just 9% said the opposite was true. Just under half said it would not change their investment plans.

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“..He will be remembered as the worst British prime minister ever….”

Brexit: Most Commentaries Miss The Point (Kuttner)

When the original institutions that later became the E.U. were created in the 1940s and 1950s, the international system was designed on the ashes of depression and war to rebuild an economy of full employment and broad based prosperity. The system worked remarkably well. In the 1980s, as a backlash against the dislocations of the 1970s, Margaret Thatcher came to power in Britain (and Ronald Reagan in the US). Their policies returned to a dog-eat-dog brand of capitalism that benefited elites and hurt ordinary people. By the 1990s, when the European Economic Community became a more tightly knit European Union, it too became an agent of neo-liberalism.

Policies of deregulation ended in the financial collapse of 2008. The austerity cure, enforced the gnomes of Brussels and Frankfurt and Berlin, is in many ways worse than the disease. Rising mass discontent has failed to dethrone the elites responsible for these policies, but it has resulted in lose of faith in institutions. The one percent won the policies but lost the people. So, yes, the Brits who voted for Brexit got a lot of facts and details wrong. And Britain will probably be worse off as a result. But they did grasp that the larger economic system is serving elites and is not serving them. The tragedy is that we are further away from a reformed EU than ever. A progressive EU, more in the spirit of 1944, is not on the menu.

The exit of Britain will give even more power to Angela Merkel’s Germany, architect and enforcer of austerity. The rest of Europe will become more like Greece economically and more like the British rightwing politically. there will be more far-right populist movements for other nations to quit the EU. This has already begun in France and the Netherlands, two of the founding nations of the European Community — and ones that also benefit, on balance, from the EU. [..] What makes this vote so tragic is the absence of enlightened leadership, either in Britain or on the continent, to propose something better. Prime Minister David Cameron, who proposed the reckless gamble of a referendum as a tactical feint to paper over an intra-party schism, may now be responsible for the dissolution of two unions — not just the EU, but the UK, as Scotland secedes. He will be remembered as the worst British prime minister ever..

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“Like the Labour Party in Britain, the leaders of the Syriza government in Athens are the products of an affluent, highly privileged, educated middle class, groomed in the fakery and political treachery of post-modernism. ”

Raw Democracy: Why The British Said No To Europe (Pilger)

The day after the vote, the columnist Martin Kettle offered a Brechtian solution to the misuse of democracy by the masses. “Now surely we can agree referendums are bad for Britain”, said the headline over his full-page piece. The “we” was unexplained but understood – just as “these people” is understood. “The referendum has conferred less legitimacy on politics, not more,” wrote Kettle. “ … the verdict on referendums should be a ruthless one. Never again.” The kind of ruthlessness Kettle longs is found in Greece, a country now airbrushed. There, they had a referendum and the result was ignored. Like the Labour Party in Britain, the leaders of the Syriza government in Athens are the products of an affluent, highly privileged, educated middle class, groomed in the fakery and political treachery of post-modernism.

The Greek people courageously used the referendum to demand their government sought “better terms” with a venal status in Brussels that was crushing the life out of their country. They were betrayed, as the British would have been betrayed. On Friday, the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was asked by the BBC if he would pay tribute to the departed Cameron, his comrade in the “remain” campaign. Corbyn fulsomely praised Cameron’s “dignity” and noted his backing for gay marriage and his apology to the Irish families of the dead of Bloody Sunday. He said nothing about Cameron’s divisiveness, his brutal austerity policies, his lies about “protecting” the Health Service. Neither did he remind people of the war mongering of the Cameron government: the dispatch of British special forces to Libya and British bomb aimers to Saudi Arabia and, above all, the beckoning of WWIII.

In the week of the referendum vote, no British politician and, to my knowledge, no journalist referred to Vladimir Putin’s speech in St. Petersburg commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June, 1941. The Soviet victory – at a cost of 27 million Soviet lives and the majority of all German forces – won the Second World War. Putin likened the current frenzied build up of Nato troops and war material on Russia’s western borders to the Third Reich’s Operation Barbarossa. Nato’s exercises in Poland were the biggest since the Nazi invasion; Operation Anaconda had simulated an attack on Russia, presumably with nuclear weapons.

On the eve of the referendum, the quisling Secretary-General of Nato, Jens Stoltenberg, warned Britons they would be endangering “peace and security” if they voted to leave the EU. The millions who ignored him and Cameron, Osborne, Corbyn, Obama and the man who runs the Bank of England may, just may, have struck a blow for real peace and democracy in Europe.

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Not a currency manipulator, but an innocent victim of Brexit. Well played.

China Devalues Yuan Most In 10 Months, Warns Of Brexit “Butterfly Effect” (ZH)

In a somewhat shockingly honest admission of the frgaility of the global financial system, Chinese Premier Li warns that a disillusioned British butterfly has flapped its wings and the entire global financial system could collapse. Responding to the plunge in offshore Yuan since the Brexit vote (down 7 handles to 5-month lows over 6.65), PBOC devalued Yuan fix by 0.9% (6 handles) – the most since the August crash – to Dec 2010 lows. Finally, we note USD liquidity pressures building as EUR-USD basis swaps plunge.

While Chinese stocks remain ‘stable’ (despite Goldman suggesting more pain is due – regional cost of equity to rise 50-75bps as risk appetite shrinks after Brexit, equal to 5%-10% index decline), the less managed rest of the world is struggling and China knows it…

Premier Li Keqiang said an increase in instability in a particular country or region could trigger the “Butterfly Effect,” which could, in turn, affect the global economic recovery and financial market stability, according to comments posted on Chinese central govt’s website. All economies highly dependent on each other and no country can manage alone, Li said during meeting with WEF executive chairman Klaus Schwab in Tianjin. Li called on all nations to enhance coordination and work together to address difficulties.

The shift in the Yuan Fix (red) seemed clear from the collapse in offshore Yuan… CNH > 6.65 (7 handles weaker than pre-Brexit)

[..] Here’s why Americans might want to care about this Brexit butterfly and China crash…

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Strong by Pesek. Go through Google (News) to access the whole article.

Why Xi Refuses to Let China’s Zombies Die (Pesek)

The staying power of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” with Chinese viewers is a wonder to behold. The most watched U.S. show in China even has mainlanders flocking to California for the July 4 opening of Universal Studios Hollywood’s newest attraction: a walk-through park that lets you act the part of post-apocalyptic survivor fleeing the flesh-eating undead. Soon enough, though, China’s 1.4 billion people may be able to get their zombie fix at home, where the government is staging the economic equivalent of their favorite TV experience. That’s because President Xi Jinping’s pledge to breathe new life into a staggering growth model faces its own untimely death (adding to the world’s grief over the U.K. exiting the EU).

The first real sign of China’s zombification was Beijing’s failure to attack overcapacity in industries ranging from shipbuilding to steel to mining to cement. In March, the Financial Times provoked anger in Beijing with its “China’s State-Owned Zombie Economy” headline, along with many others in the foreign media. The second hint came in April, when Xi’s government rolled out plans for a Japan-like debt-to-equity swap program. The International Monetary Fund pounced, warning that securitizing loans might “worsen the problem” by supporting “zombie” companies better off disappearing. Now comes indications of a stealth effort to boost stimulus to hit this year’s 6.5% growth target, even as Xi insists he’s tackling the excesses imperiling China’s future.

Officially, Beijing’s fiscal deficit including off-balance sheet items will be about 3% this year. Economists at UBS and elsewhere now say it’s higher than 10%. In other words, the invisible hand of the state is playing an increasing role in an economy Xi claims to be turning over to the private sector and market forces, deadening China’s animal spirits. These behind-the-curtain shenanigans mean the Zhu Rongji moment investors crave to rebalance growth engines isn’t afoot. China’s premier from 1998 to 2003 shook up the state sector as rarely before, shuttering lifeless enterprises and killing more than 40 million jobs. Xi needs to pull off an even bigger feat if he’s going resurrect a reform process that’s had few obvious successes.

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May 262016
 
 May 26, 2016  Posted by at 8:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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NPC Graf Zeppelin over Capitol 1928


Britain’s Property Market Is Going To Implode (BI)
Trillions in Debt—but for Now, No Reason to Worry (WSJ)
IMF: No Cash Now for Greece Because Europe Hasn’t Promised Debt Relief (WSJ)
China’s ‘Feud’ Over Economic Reform Reveals Depth Of Xi’s Secret State (G.)
Chinese Officials To Ask US Counterparts When Fed Will Raise Rates (BBG)
Fear Of UK Steel Sector’s ‘Death By 1,000 Cuts’ (Tel.)
Varoufakis: Australia Lives In A Ponzi Scheme (G.)
Venezuela Sells Gold Reserves As Economy Worsens (FT)
Wall Street Crime: 7 Years, 156 Cases and Few Convictions (WSJ)
Quantitative Easing and the Corruption of Corporate America (DMB)
Brexit, And The Return Of Political Lying (Oborne)
We Have Entered The Looting Stage Of Capitalism (PCR)
France Digs In to Endure Oil Strike With Release of Fuel Reserve (BBG)
Union Revolt Puts Both Hollande’s Future And France’s Image On The Line (G.)
Bayer Could Get ECB Financing For Monsanto Bid (R.)
Putin Closes The Door To Monsanto (DDP)

No doubt here. Ditto for all bubbles.

Britain’s Property Market Is Going To Implode (BI)

Property prices in Britain may be surging due to a horrendous imbalance of supply and demand — but the market is poised to implode. Why? Because Britons are not earning enough money to either get on the housing ladder or are spending such a large portion of their wages on mortgages that may not be sustainable. Well, not unless everyone suddenly gets a huge pay rise over the next year or so. That’s the assumption in the latest figures from think tank Resolution Foundation, which show that lower- and middle-income households are spending 26% of their salaries on housing, compared to 18% back in 1995. In London, households spend 28% of their income on housing. The think tank said this is the equivalent to adding 10 percentage points onto income tax.

Only the rich are not feeling the pressure of rising house prices. Higher-income households spend 18% of their income on housing, compared to 14% in 1995. The average price to buy a house in Britain now stands at £291,504, according to the Office for National Statistics. Meanwhile, the average London property price is at a huge £551,000. To put this into perspective, Resolution Foundation estimated that median income, at £24,300, is only around 3% higher than it was when the credit crunch hit in 2007/2008. [..] the house price-to-earnings ratio is near the pre-crisis peak. Considering the average deposit to secure a home is around 10% of the total property price, this means Britons are taking on huge amounts of debt and eating into the little savings they have to buy a home.

[..] the market is poised on a knife edge between interest rates and wages. If interest rates were to rise — and they will eventually — it could prove a major problem for the Britons who already spend 25-28% of their salaries on housing. Similarly, if another downturn depresses wages, mortgage payments will become an increasing portion of their income even without an interest rate increase. That situation is pricing out low- and middle-income people from the market, as the chart shows. Ownership rates in this group have sunk from nearly 60% in 1997 to just 25% today. That’s how fragile the housing market is: With those buyers unable to afford to buy, the market is dependent on a thinner slice of owners, whose incomes are increasingly stretched by housing costs, who can’t afford a decrease in wages, and who may not be able to afford any increase in interest.

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“Global debt—including households, businesses and governments—has risen from 221% of GDP at the end of 2008 to 242% at the end of the first quarter.”

Trillions in Debt—but for Now, No Reason to Worry (WSJ)

If current trends persist through the end of the year, U.S. households will owe as much as they did at the peak of borrowing in 2008. Global debt has already topped 2008 levels and keeps rising. That’s pretty astonishing so soon after debt-driven crises in the U.S. and Europe and endless worries about too much borrowing in Japan, China and emerging markets. But for all the hand-wringing, a near-term debt crisis is unlikely. Lower interest rates mean debt payments are far lower than they were before the crisis. In the U.S., household debt compared with the overall economy is way down. And overseas, loans can easily be rolled over. Yet even with low rates, the cycle of borrowing and rolling over loans has a cost. People, governments and businesses spend now instead of later, likely reducing future growth.

The cycle also allows borrowing to go on for years, which can be good—allowing reform to take hold—or not, allowing bad policies to go on almost indefinitely. U.S. households owed $12.25 trillion at the end of the first quarter, up 1.1% from the end of 2015, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, released Tuesday. If the first quarter repeats itself through the end of the year, U.S. household debt will approach its peak of $12.68 trillion, which it hit in the third quarter of 2008. Many people remember that quarter because it’s when the global financial system went off a cliff. This time is different because short-term interest rates have been stuck near zero since then. For U.S. consumers, that means household debt-service payments as a percent of disposable personal income are at their lowest level since at least 1980, despite a much higher debt load. In addition, more loans are going to higher-quality borrowers.

[..] Low rates have had an even more dramatic impact overseas, where economies are weaker or less stable. Global debt—including households, businesses and governments—has risen from 221% of GDP at the end of 2008 to 242% at the end of the first quarter. But the cost of interest payments, as a share of GDP, has fallen to 7% from a peak of 11%, according to J.P. Morgan. Japan is the prime example of how low interest rates can change the rules of the game. At 400% of GDP, Japan’s debt level is by far the highest in the world. One of the great mysteries of finance is why investors lend the government money for negligible or negative yields when it seems impossible for Japan to pay off its debt.

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“..no one does what’s in Greece’s best interests..”

IMF: No Cash Now for Greece Because Europe Hasn’t Promised Debt Relief (WSJ)

A senior IMF official Wednesday said it can’t help Europe with fresh emergency financing for Greece because Athens’s creditors haven’t yet committed to detailed debt relief. The comments show that the agreement touted by European finance ministers last night to release fresh bailout cash for Greece hasn’t nailed down the key elements the IMF says are critical to finally return the debt-laden country to health. Rather, the IMF’s reserved support for the deal has paved the way for Germany to approve new funds and sets the stage for more tough negotiations later this year. “Fundamentally, we need to be assured that the universe of measures that Europe will to commit to…is consistent with what we think is needed to reduce debt,” the senior official told reporters on a conference call. “We do not yet have that.”

But the official said Europe’s acknowledgment that debt relief is needed and would be detailed later this year was enough to win the fund’s conditional backing. “All the stakeholders now recognize that Greek debt is…highly unsustainable,” the official said. “They accept that debt relief is needed, they accept the methodology that is needed to calibrate the necessary debt relief. They accept the objectives of gross financing needs in the near term and in the long run. They even accept the time tables.” Many outside economists see the deal as papering over the differences and once again prolonging the crisis. “Summary of Eurogroup: Germany always wins, IMF caves under pressure from Germany and U.S., no one does what’s in Greece’s best interests,” said Megan Greene at Manulife and John Hancock Asset Management. Marc Chandler at investment bank Brown Brothers Harriman called the deal a “paper charade” that saves Europe more than it does Greece.

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Li wants more debt, Xi at least sees the danger in that.

China’s ‘Feud’ Over Economic Reform Reveals Depth Of Xi’s Secret State (G.)

It was hardly a headline to set the pulse racing. “Analysing economic trends according to the situation in the first quarter: authoritative insider talks about the state of China’s economy,” read the front page of the Communist party’s official mouthpiece on the morning of Monday 9 May. Yet this headline – and the accompanying 6,000-word article attacking debt-fuelled growth – has sparked weeks of speculation over an alleged political feud at the pinnacle of Chinese politics between the president, Xi Jinping, and the prime minister, Li Keqiang, the supposed steward of the Chinese economy.

“The recent People’s Daily interview not only exposes a deep rift between [Xi and Li], it also shows the power struggle has got so bitter that the president had to resort to the media to push his agenda,” one commentator said in the South China Morning Post. “Clear divisions have emerged within the Chinese leadership,” wrote Nikkei’s Harada Issaku, claiming the two camps were “locking horns” over whether to prioritise economic stability or structural reforms. The 9 May article – penned by an unnamed yet supposedly “authoritative” scribe – warned excessive credit growth could plunge China into financial turmoil, even wiping out the savings of the ordinary citizens.

As if to hammer that point home, a second, even longer article followed 24 hours later – this time a speech by Xi Jinping – in which the president laid out his vision for the Chinese economy and what he called supply-side structural reform. “Taken together, the articles signal that Xi has decided to take the driver’s seat to steer China’s economy at a time when there are intense internal debates among officials over its overall direction,” Wang Xiangwei argued in the South China Morning Post. Like many observers, he described the front page interview as a “repudiation” of Li Keqiang-backed efforts to prop up economic growth by turning on the credit taps.

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“A less aggressive Fed stance is in China’s interest.” Look, the dollar will rise no matter what the Fed does. China must devalue.

Chinese Officials To Ask US Counterparts When Fed Will Raise Rates (BBG)

Chinese officials plan to ask their American counterparts in annual talks next month about the chance of a Fed interest-rate increase in June, according to people familiar with the matter. The Chinese delegation will try to deduce whether a June or a July rate rise is more likely, as their nation’s policy makers prepare for the potential impact on financial markets and the yuan, the people said, asking not to be named as the discussions were private. In China’s view, if the Fed does lift borrowing costs, a July move would be preferable, the people said. China’s exchange rate has already been weakening as expectations rise for the U.S. central bank to boost its benchmark rate for the first time since it ended its near-zero policy in December with a quarter%age point increase.

It’s not unusual for senior officials to press each other on their policies, and any inquiries by the Chinese about the Fed would follow repeated expressions of concern from the U.S. about China’s intentions with its exchange rate. The Treasury Department put China on a new currency watch list last month to monitor for unfair trade advantages. “The Chinese side will argue that the U.S. should tread cautiously as it tightens monetary policy and avoid any surprises,” said Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics in London, who participated in U.K.-China meetings when working at Britain’s Treasury. “The Federal Reserve will make its decision solely on what it deems best for the U.S. economy, but it is clear that concerns about China have influenced its thinking about the balance of risks facing the U.S.”

[..] “Chinese officials are pretty anxious about the Fed as a June rate hike – which is not fully discounted in the market – may boost the dollar,” said Shen Jianguang, chief Asia economist at Mizuho in Hong Kong. “This could pose a threat or make it difficult for the PBOC to keep a stable RMB exchange rate,” he said, referring to the People’s Bank of China’s management of the renminbi, another term for the yuan. “A less aggressive Fed stance is in China’s interest.”

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Trying to rewrite UK pensions laws just to sell one company. Wow.

Fear Of UK Steel Sector’s ‘Death By 1,000 Cuts’ (Tel.)

Tata has refused to rule out holding on to its crisis-hit British steel division, raising fears that the business could suffer “a death by a thousand cuts”. Delivering annual results for the Tata’s global steel business, Koushik Chatterjee, executive director, declined to give details on the board’s thoughts on the seven bids the company has received for the loss-making UK plants. But pressed on whether Tata could do a U-turn and hold on to the business – which the Government has said it is willing to take a 25pc stake in and offer financial support to if this will keep it alive – he refused to deny this was an option “I don’t think we have a case as yet,” said Mr Chatterjee. “There is lots of focus only on a sale.” The results announcement – which showed Tata Steel’s revenues down 6pc to £11.9bn and an annual loss of £309m – echoed Mr Chatterjee, saying: “The board… is actively reviewing all options for the Tata Steel UK business, including a potential sale.”

Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, met with Tata’s directors on Monday night for several hours ahead of their monthly meeting, which considered the bids. It is thought Mr Javid sees Tata keeping the UK business as a way of retaining a viable steel industry in the Britain, after bidders signalled their reluctance to take on the Tata pension scheme, which has a £500m deficit. Ministers are this week expected to start consultations on controversial proposals to restructure the pension scheme [..] The changes would alter the way pension payments are calculated by swapping from RPI inflation to the lower CPI, potentially shaving billions from the scheme’s liabilities. However, such a move would require a change off law and could set what some pensions experts have described as a dangerous precedent.

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Like Britain, like New Zealand, like Canada.

Varoufakis: Australia Lives In A Ponzi Scheme (G.)

Varoufakis’s answers are quick, sharp and eloquent – and ready. He barely needs a pause when asked what he’d do if suddenly installed as Australia’s treasurer, before he’s firing off a prescription for the economy. “The first thing that has to happen in this country is to recognise two truths that are escaping this electorate, and especially the elites. “Firstly, Australia does not have a debt problem. The idea that Australia is on the verge of becoming a new Greece would be touchingly funny if it were not so catastrophic in its ineptitude. Australia does not have a public debt problem, it has a private debt problem. “Truth number two: the Australian social economy is not sustainable as it is. At the moment, if you look at the current account deficit, Australia lives beyond its means – and when I say Australia, I mean upper-middle-class people. The luxurious lifestyle is not supported by the Australian economy.

It’s supported by a bubble, and it is never a good idea to rely on the proposition that a bubble will always be there to support you. “So private debt is the problem. And secondly, because of this private debt, you have a bubble, which is constantly inflated through money coming into this country for speculative purposes.” Varoufakis is unequivocal in his conviction that current growth – which he likens to a Ponzi scheme – needs to be replaced with growth that comes from producing goods. “Australia is switching away from producing stuff. Even good companies like Cochlear, who have been very innovative in the past, have been financialised. They’re moving away from doing stuff to shuffling paper around. That would be my first priority [if I were Australian treasurer]: how to go back to actually doing things.”

Varoufakis wouldn’t be the first to compare the Australian economy to a Ponzi scheme. Economist Lindsay David has made a similar criticism of the housing market, and has also heavily criticised Australia’s reliance on Chinese investment. David and fellow economist Philip Soos have predicted the economy is heading for a crash, and Varoufakis thinks they might be right. He is quick to point out that crashes can never be predicted, but he is in little doubt that it will happen if Australia doesn’t change direction soon. “There is no doubt, if you look at the pace of house prices over the past 20 years in Australia and the pace of value creation; they’re so out of kilter that something has to give.”

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US revenge on Chavez is nearing completion.

Venezuela Sells Gold Reserves As Economy Worsens (FT)

Venezuela’s gold reserves have plunged to their lowest level on record after it sold $1.7 billion of the precious metal in the first quarter of the year to repay debts. The country is grappling with an economic crisis that has left it struggling to feed its population. The OPEC member’s gold reserves have dropped almost a third over the past year and it sold over 40 tonnes in February and March, according to IMF data. Gold now makes up almost 70% of the country’s total reserves, which fell to a low of $12.1 billion last week. Venezuela has larger crude reserves than Saudi Arabia but has been hard hit by years of mismanagement and, more recently, depressed prices for oil. Oil accounts for 95% of its export earnings. Despite the recent price rebound, declining oil output is likely to take a further toll on the economy. The IMF forecasts the economy will shrink 8% this year, and 4.5% in 2017, after a 5.7% contraction in 2015.

Inflation is forecast to exceed 1,642% next year, fueled by printing money to fund a fiscal deficit estimated at about 20% of GDP. Venezuela began selling its gold reserves in March 2015, according to IMF data. At roughly 367 tonnes, Venezuela has the world’s 16th-biggest gold reserves, according to the World Gold Council. In contrast, China and Russia both added to their gold holdings this year, the data show. Gold prices have risen 15% this year. Last year Venezuela’s central bank swapped part of its gold reserves for $1 billion in cash through a complex agreement with Citi. The late president Hugo Chávez had said he would free Venezuela from the “dictatorship of the dollar” and directed the central bank to ditch the US dollar and start amassing gold instead. In 2011, as a safeguard against market instability, Chávez brought most of the gold stored overseas back to Caracas.

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What an incredible charade this has turned into.

Wall Street Crime: 7 Years, 156 Cases and Few Convictions (WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal examined 156 criminal and civil cases brought by the Justice Department, Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission against 10 of the largest Wall Street banks since 2009. In 81% of those cases, individual employees were neither identified nor charged. A total of 47 bank employees were charged in relation to the cases. One was a boardroom-level executive, the Journal’s analysis found. The analysis shows not only the rarity of proceedings brought against individual bank employees, but also the difficulty authorities have had winning cases they do bring. Most of the bankers who were charged pleaded guilty to criminal counts or agreed to settle a civil case, with those facing civil charges paying a median penalty of $61,000.

Of the 11 people who went to trial or a hearing and had a ruling on their case, six were found not liable or had the case dismissed. That left a total of five bank employees at any level against whom the government won a contested case. They include Mr. Heinz, the former UBS employee. One of the few successful government cases was overturned Monday. A federal appeals court tossed civil mortgage-fraud charges and a $1 million penalty against Rebecca Mairone, a former executive at Countrywide Financial Corp., now part of Bank of America Corp. The court also threw out a related $1.27 billion penalty against Bank of America. Representatives of Ms. Mairone and the bank this week welcomed the verdict, while the Justice Department, which brought the cases, declined to comment.

There are plenty of possible explanations for the small number of successful cases. For starters, much of the institutional conduct during and after the financial crisis didn’t break the law, said law-enforcement officials. Even when the government has been able to prove illegal activity, it has rarely been traced to the upper echelons of big banks. “The typical scenario is not that the bank has this plan for world domination being cooked up by the chairman and CEO,” said Adam Pritchard, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “It’s some midlevel employee trying to keep his job or his bonus, and as result the bank gets into trouble.”

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“The Fed might want to imitate the ECB but may be restricted from doing so by its charter..” “We wouldn’t discount the possibility it will try to amend, or get around, any prohibitions, however.”

Quantitative Easing and the Corruption of Corporate America (DMB)

[..] corporate leverage is hovering near a 12-year high and domestic capital expenditures have plunged. In the interim, reams of commentary have been devoted to share buybacks and with good reason. Companies reducing their share count have, at least in recent years, been where the hottest action is, courtyard-seat level action. But now, it looks as if the trend is finally cresting. A fresh report by TrimTabs found that companies have announced 35% less in buybacks through May 19th compared with the same period last year. And while $261.5 billion is still respectable (for the purpose of placating shareholders), it is nevertheless a steep decline from 2015’s $399.4 billion. Even this tempered number is deceiving – only half the number of firms have announced buybacks vs last year.

Have U.S. executives and their Boards of Directors finally found religion? We can only hope. The devastation wrought by the multi-trillion-dollar buyback frenzy is what many of us learned in Econ 101 as the ‘opportunity cost,’ or the value of what’s been foregone. As yet, the value of lost investment opportunities remains a huge unknown. In the event doing right by future generations does not suffice, executives might be motivated to renounce their errant ways because shareholders appear to have stopped rewarding buybacks. According to Marketwatch, an exchange traded fund that affords investors access to the most aggressive companies in the buyback arena is off 0.8% for the year and down 9.8% over the last 12 months.

The hope is that Corporate America is at the precipice of an investment binge that sparks economic activity that richly rewards those with patience over those with the burning need for instant gratification. The risk? That central bankers whisper sweet nothings the likes of which no Board or CFO can resist. Mario Draghi may already have done so. In announcing its latest iteration of QE, the ECB added investment grade corporate bonds to the list of eligible securities that can satisfy its purchase commitment. Critically, U.S. multinationals with European operations are included among qualifying issuers. As Evergreen Gavekal’s David Hay recently pointed out, McDonald’s has jumped right into the pool, issuing five-year Euro-denominated paper at an interest rate of a barely discernible 0.45%.

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Yeah, like it was ever gone.

Brexit, And The Return Of Political Lying (Oborne)

During the run-up to the Iraq invasion, intelligence officers would hand ministers an estimate, an allegation, a straw in the wind, in certain cases (the 45-minute claim being the most notorious example) an outright fabrication. Tony Blair’s office would then bless it with the imprimatur of a government assessment, usually employing vague wording — in the hope that the media would repeat and then amplify the message. Cameron and Osborne have become masters of this kind of politics. ‘We’re paying down Britain’s debts,’ said David Cameron in 2013. This was a straight lie: the national debt was soaring as he spoke. ‘When I became Chancellor,’ observed Osborne last year, ‘debt was piling up.’ True – and he has been piling it up ever since, even now rising by £135 million a day.

This kind of deception works: polls show that only a minority of voters realise that the national debt is still rising. George Osborne has now converted the Treasury into a partisan tool to sell the referendum, exactly as Tony Blair used the Joint Intelligence Committee to make the case for war against Iraq. Before becoming Chancellor, Osborne was critical of Gordon Brown’s Treasury, and rightly so, because it had been so heavily politicised. He rightly stripped the Treasury of its forecasting function and created an independent Office for Budget Responsibility — an encouraging sign that he was determined to avoid the culture of deceit which was such a notable feature of the Brown/Blair era. It is therefore very troubling that the Office for Budget Responsibility has not come anywhere near the two Treasury dossiers that make the case for the EU.

It’s easy to see why – they would point out straight away that the Chancellor has been engaged in fabrication. For example, let’s take a hard look at how he induced Treasury officials to endorse his central claim that families would be £4,300 ‘worse off’ if Britain left the EU. The main technique that Osborne used was his conflating GDP with household income – and referring to ‘GDP per household’, a phrase that has never been used in any Budget. As the Chancellor used to argue, GDP is a misleading indicator which can be artificially inflated by immigration. Immigration of 5% may well raise GDP by the same amount, but nobody would be any better off. ‘GDP per capita is a much better indicator,’ said Osborne when newly in office. He made no mention at all of GDP per capita when launching the Brexit documents published by the Treasury.

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“We have entered the looting stage of capitalism. Desolation will be the result.” Paul Craig Roberts doesn’t hold back.

We Have Entered The Looting Stage Of Capitalism (PCR)

Having successfully used the EU to conquer the Greek people by turning the Greek “leftwing” government into a pawn of Germany’s banks, Germany now finds the IMF in the way of its plan to loot Greece into oblivion . The IMF’s rules prevent the organization from lending to countries that cannot repay the loan. The IMF has concluded on the basis of facts and analysis that Greece cannot repay. Therefore, the IMF is unwilling to lend Greece the money with which to repay the private banks. The IMF says that Greece’s creditors, many of whom are not creditors but simply bought up Greek debt at a cheap price in hopes of profiting, must write off some of the Greek debt in order to lower the debt to an amount that the Greek economy can service.

The banks don’t want Greece to be able to service its debt, because the banks intend to use Greece’s inability to service the debt in order to loot Greece of its assets and resources and in order to roll back the social safety net put in place during the 20th century. Neoliberalism intends to reestablish feudalism—a few robber barons and many serfs: the 1% and the 99%. The way Germany sees it, the IMF is supposed to lend Greece the money with which to repay the private German banks. Then the IMF is to be repaid by forcing Greece to reduce or abolish old age pensions, reduce public services and employment, and use the revenues saved to repay the IMF. As these amounts will be insufficient, additional austerity measures are imposed that require Greece to sell its national assets, such as public water companies and ports and protected Greek islands to foreign investors, principallly the banks themselves or their major clients.

So far the so-called “creditors” have only pledged to some form of debt relief, not yet decided, beginning in 2 years. By then the younger part of the Greek population will have emigrated and will have been replaced by immigrants fleeing Washington’s Middle Eastern and African wars who will have loaded up Greece’s unfunded welfare system. In other words, Greece is being destroyed by the EU that it so foolishly joined and trusted. The same thing is happening to Portugal and is also underway in Spain and Italy. The looting has already devoured Ireland and Latvia (and a number of Latin American countries) and is underway in Ukraine. The current newspaper headlines reporting an agreement being reached between the IMF and Germany about writing down the Greek debt to a level that could be serviced are false. No “creditor” has yet agreed to write off one cent of the debt.

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Euro Cup starts in a few weeks, but “The French government said it was prepared to endure weeks of strikes at refineries..” Oh, sure.

France Digs In to Endure Oil Strike With Release of Fuel Reserve (BBG)

The French government said it was prepared to endure weeks of strikes at refineries and began releasing strategic oil reserves to help ease nationwide fuel shortages. While panic-buying by motorists drove demand to three times the normal level Tuesday, France has enough stocks even if the strikes persist for weeks, Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said. The problem isn’t about supply but about delivery, he said. Oil companies have mobilized hundreds of trucks to ship diesel and gasoline around the country since the start of the week as filling stations ran dry after all the nation’s refineries experienced disruptions or outright shutdowns. By Wednesday Exxon Mobil reported that its Gravenchon plant was operating normally and able to transport fuel while elsewhere strikers have blocked refineries to try to bring shipments to a halt.

Workers are protesting against President Francois Hollande’s plans to change labor laws to reduce overtime pay and make it easier to fire staff in some cases. While the government has watered down its proposals since first floating them in February, unions are calling for them to be scrapped altogether. The new law will not be withdrawn and police will continue to ensure access to fuel depots, Prime Minister Manuel Valls told Parliament Wednesday. Total’s Feyzin refinery near Lyon and its Normandy plant have stopped production. La Mede was working at a lower rate Wednesday, while the facilities at Grandpuits near Paris and Donges close to Nantes will come to a complete halt later this week, according to a company statement.

Total may reconsider a plan to spend €500 million to upgrade the Donges facility as workers take the plant “hostage,” CEO Patrick Pouyanne said Tuesday. He urged motorists not to rush to gas stations and create an “artificial” shortage. Some 348 of Total’s 2,200 gas stations ran out of fuel and 452 faced partial shortages as of Wednesday morning, the company said. The figures are little changed from Tuesday. About one in five of the country’s 12,200 stations were facing shortages Tuesday afternoon, the government said.

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All Marine Le Pen has to do is to sit back and watch.

Union Revolt Puts Both Hollande’s Future And France’s Image On The Line (G.)

As smoke rises from burning tyres on French oil refinery picket-lines, motorists queue for miles to panic-buy rationed petrol, and train drivers and nuclear staff prepare to go on strike. With the 2017 French presidential election nearing, the Socialist president François Hollande is facing his toughest and most explosive crisis yet. It is not just Hollande’s political survival at stake, though, but the image of France itself. The country is preparing to host two million visitors at the showpiece Euro 2016 football tournament in two weeks, and the back-drop is not ideal: strikes and feared fuel shortages, potential transport paralysis, a terrorist threat, a state of emergency and a mood of heightened tension and violence between street protesters and police.

Hollande, the least popular leader in modern French history whose approval ratings are festering, according to various polls, at between 13% and 20%, might not seem as though he has further to fall. But in fact he is clinging, white-knuckled, to the edge of a cliff. The Socialist was supposed to be spending May and June testing the waters for a possible re-election bid by repeating his new mantra “things are getting better” – even if more than 70% of French people don’t believe that that is true. Instead, France has been hit by an explosive trade union revolt over Hollande’s contested labour reforms. The beleaguered president has framed these reforms as a crucial loosening of France’s famously rigid labour protections, cutting red-tape and slightly tweaking some of the more cumbersome rules that deter employers from hiring.

This would, he has argued, make France more competitive and tackle stubborn mass employment that tops 10% of the workforce. But after more than two months of street demonstrations against the labour changes, the hardline leftist CGT union radically upped its strategy and is now trying to choke-off the nation’s fuel supply to force Hollande to abandon the reforms.

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Win win win squared. That’s why you feel so happy right now; look in the mirror. You get to finance a winning proposition!

Bayer Could Get ECB Financing For Monsanto Bid (R.)

Bayer could receive financing from the European Central Bank that would help to fund a takeover of Monsanto, according to the terms of the ECB’s bond-buying program. U.S.-based Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer’s $62 billion bid on Tuesday, but said it was open to further negotiations. The ECB can buy bonds issued by companies that are based in the euro area, have an investment-grade rating and are not banks, provided that they are denominated in euros and meet certain technical requirements. The purpose for which the bonds are issued is not among the criteria set by the ECB, which will start buying corporate bonds on the market and directly from issuers next month.

This means that, in theory, the ECB could buy debt issued by Bayer, which said on Monday it would finance its cash bid for Monsanto with a combination of debt and equity. “It will be interesting to observe how much of such a deal would be absorbed by the central bank,” credit analysts at UniCredit wrote in a note. The ECB is buying €80 billion worth of assets every month in an effort to revive economic growth in the euro zone by lowering borrowing costs. Central bank sources told Reuters that it would not be the ECB’s first choice if the money it spent ended up financing acquisitions. But even this would have a silver lining if consolidation made an industry or sector more efficient and if it gave fresh impetus to the stock market, the source added. And if issuers ended up exchanging the euros raised through bond sales for dollars, that would also help the euro zone by weakening the euro against the greenback, the sources said.

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“Russia is able to become the largest world supplier of healthy, ecologically clean and high-quality food which the Western producers have long lost..”

Putin Closes The Door To Monsanto (DDP)

Russia’s Vladimir Putin is taking a bold step against biotech giant Monsanto and genetically modified seeds at large. In a new address to the Russian Parliament Thursday, Putin proudly outlined his plan to make Russia the world’s ‘leading exporter’ of non-GMO foods that are based on ‘ecologically clean’ production. Perhaps even more importantly, Putin also went on to harshly criticize food production in the United States, declaring that Western food producers are no longer offering high quality, healthy, and ecologically clean food. “We are not only able to feed ourselves taking into account our lands, water resources – Russia is able to become the largest world supplier of healthy, ecologically clean and high-quality food which the Western producers have long lost, especially given the fact that demand for such products in the world market is steadily growing,” Putin said in his address to the Russian Parliament.

And this announcement comes just months after the Kremlin decided to put a stop to the production of GMO-containing foods, which was seen as a huge step forward in the international fight to fight back against companies like Monsanto. Using the decision as a launch platform, it’s clear that Russia is now positioning itself as a dominant force in the realm of organic farming. It even seems that Putin may use the country’s affinity for organic and sustainable farming as a centerpiece in his economic strategy. “Ten years ago, we imported almost half of the food from abroad, and were dependent on imports. Now Russia is among the exporters. Last year, Russian exports of agricultural products amounted to almost $20 billion – a quarter more than the revenue from the sale of arms, or one-third the revenue coming from gas exports,” he added.

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Feb 282016
 
 February 28, 2016  Posted by at 9:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing US Weather Bureau kiosque, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 1921


Markets At Risk As G20 Proves Investor Hopes Were “Pure Fantasy” (ZH)
Currency Wars Coming In Leaderless World: Citi’s Buiter (CNBC)
G-20 Wants Governments Doing More, and Central Banks Less (BBG)
We’re In Recession And It’s Getting Worse: Ron Paul (CNBC)
PBoC Defends Halting Publication Of Sensitive Financial Data (SCMP)
How Xi Jinping Is Bringing China’s Media To Heel (Guardian)
Mervyn King: New Financial Crisis Is ‘Certain’ Without Reform Of Banks (PA)
Hidden Debt That No One Is Talking About -And It Involves You- (SMH)
North Sea Firms Are ‘Sleepwalking Into Disaster’ As Insolvencies Loom (Tel.)
European Oil Majors Tally $19 Billion In Losses (MW)
Citigroup Faces Fraud Suit Claiming $1.1 Billion in Losses (BBG)
How Land Barons, Industrialists And Bankers Corrupted Economics (Kent)
Alabama Lawmakers To Cities: We Won’t Let You Raise The Minimum Wage (CSM)
The Donald – The Good And Bad Of It (David Stockman)
Switzerland Votes On Expelling Foreigners For Minor Offences (Guardian)
Double Crisis Deepens Despair In Greece’s ‘Warehouse Of Souls’ (Guardian)

As I said yesterday before the communique was out.

Markets At Risk As G20 Proves Investor Hopes Were “Pure Fantasy” (ZH)

Anyone hoping this week’s G-20 meeting would yield some manner of “Shanghai Accord” to revive sluggish global growth, pull the global economy out of the deflationary doldrums and calm jittery markets that have seen harrowing bouts of volatility in the first two months of the year are disappointed on Saturday. The joint communique issued by policymakers at the end of the two-day summit is bland and generic, with officials parroting vacuous promises to avoid competitive currency devaluations and maintain monetary policies aimed at supporting economic activity and price stability. Officials pledged to “consult closely” on FX markets, a reference presumably to China’s “surprise” August 11 deval and the PBoC’s move in December to adopt a trade weighted basket as a reference point for the RMB, a move that telegraphed lots of downside for the currency.

The statement also “acknowledges” the fact that geopolitical risks abound and as Bloomberg noted this morning, “officials added a potential ‘Brexit’ to its long worry list in the communique.” “That’s a win for Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who had sought to rally international finance chiefs behind the campaign to keep Britain in the European Union,” Bloomberg goes on to point out. “Downside risks and vulnerabilities have risen,” due to volatile capital flows and slumping commodities but – and this was a critical passage – “monetary policy alone cannot lead to balanced growth.” What?! We thought counter-cyclical Keynesian tinkering was the magic elixir. A cure-all that smooths business cycles and creates demand out of thin air.

Now you’re telling us it “can’t lead to balanced growth” and implicitly that Paul Krugman is a snake oil salesman? This can’t be. “The global recovery continues, but it remains uneven and falls short of our ambition for strong, sustainable and balanced growth,” the statment continues, in a rather dour assessment of the economic landscape. “While recognising these challenges, we nevertheless judge that the magnitude of recent market volatility has not reflected the underlying fundamentals of the global economy,” officials added. Right. If markets were “reflecting the underlying fundamentals” of this global deflationary trainwreck, things would probably be even more volatile.

Predictably, everyone called on fiscal policy to save the day, in what amounts to a tacit admission that central banks have failed. “Countries will use fiscal policy flexibly to strengthen growth, job creation and confidence, while enhancing resilience and ensuring debt as a share of GDP is on a sustainable path,” the statement reads. So countries will somehow adopt expansionary fiscal policies without resorting to deficit financing via debt sales. So, magic. Got it. Long story short, there is no “Shanghai Accord” akin to the 1985 Plaza Accord between the United States, France, West Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, which agreed to weaken the USD to shore up America’s trade deficit and boost economic growth. All we have here is a generic statement and empty promises.

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Even Buiter agrees.

Currency Wars Coming In Leaderless World: Citi’s Buiter (CNBC)

The global economy is bound to remain leaderless, as G-20 countries meeting in Shanghai on Friday are unlikely to produce anything more than a rhetorical statement, Citigroup’s chief economist Willem Buiter said. Buiter said Friday the global economy truly needs an agreement on exchange rates that will be defended through intervention, as well as expansion of supportive monetary policy, fiscal stimulus modulated according to countries’ needs, and “supply side reforms that sustain animal spirits in the corporate sector.” “You’re not going to get any of that in substance. There is no leadership in the global economy. And there is no willingness to forgo the short-run benefits of beggar-thy-neighbor exchange rate depreciation. Currency wars will be the reality of what we’ll see over the next few years,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street”.

Buiter and Citigroup analysts said in a note Wednesday the risk of the global economy falling into a recession is rising as fundamentals remain poor. “We are currently in a highly precarious environment for global growth and asset markets after two to three years of relative calm,” Citigroup said, noting that global growth was “unusually weak” in the fourth quarter at around 2 percent. Buiter said central banks are nearly out of ammo when it comes to using conventional and unconventional monetary policy as a means of stimulating demand. “If we have a further slowdown, it will have to be combined more with the fiscal policy, and the world just isn’t ready for that, institutionally, politically and any other way,” he said.

At the same time, the private and public sectors in most advanced economies have become highly leveraged, he noted. Citi is not expecting a U.S. recession, provided no surprises from abroad send the dollar sharply higher. But it does anticipate a further incremental slowing in the absence of a supportive Federal Reserve and as corporations ratchet up debt following a period of “unspectacular, mediocre” growth, he said. Markets have appropriately priced in the risk of recession following last year’s “excessive optimism,” he said. “Markets are ahead of the policymakers here for once,” he said. “People have now rediscovered that, yes, future earnings growth projections on which the stock valuations were based were unrealistic.”

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While knowing that governments won’t.

G-20 Wants Governments Doing More, and Central Banks Less (BBG)

Finance chiefs from the world’s top economies committed their governments to doing more to boost global growth amid mounting concerns over the potency of monetary policy. In a pledge that will prove easier to write than deliver and may disappoint investors looking for a coordinated stimulus plan, the Group of 20 said “we will use fiscal policy flexibly to strengthen growth, job creation and confidence.” After a two-day meeting in Shanghai, finance ministers and central bank governors also doubled down on a line from their last gathering that “monetary policy alone cannot lead to balanced growth.” For those few analysts calling for a 1985 Plaza Accord-type agreement to address exchange-rate tensions, there was no such luck: IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said there were no discussions about anything like that.

The G-20 members did reaffirm they will refrain from competitive devaluations, and – in new language – agreed to consult closely on currencies. An increasing sense monetary policy is reaching its limit permeated officials’ briefings during the meetings that ended Saturday. While central banks proved critical in avoiding a global slide into depression last decade, there is now no consensus among the world’s top economic guardians backing stepped-up monetary stimulus. That leaves focus on fiscal polices that are subject to domestic political constraints, and a structural-reform agenda the G-20 said will be gauged through a new indicator system. “Central bankers have done their bit in recent years to stabilize the world economy,” said Frederic Neumann at HSBC in Hong Kong.

“But as their tools are losing their effectiveness, only more aggressive fiscal policy and structural reforms will help to lift growth.” Among those publicly indicating a potentially reduced role for central banks was Lagarde, who said Friday the effects of monetary policies, even innovative ones, are diminishing. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney used a Shanghai speech ahead of the G-20 to voice skepticism over negative interest rates – now in place in continental Europe and Japan – and their ability to boost domestic demand.

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“They’re paid to spin it in a positive manner..” “You can’t expect them to say anything else.”

We’re In Recession And It’s Getting Worse: Ron Paul (CNBC)

Ron Paul wants to deliver a message to the market that he claims the Federal Reserve refuses to do itself. The former U.S. Republican congressman said this week that the Fed has been propping up markets, and the U.S. economy has already entered a recession despite what central bankers might say. “They’re paid to spin it in a positive manner,” the libertarian firebrand told CNBC’s “Futures Now” in an interview. He added: “You can’t expect them to say anything else.” Paul’s warning comes as a growing number on Wall Street have turned pessimistic on the economy. This week, Citigroup analysts cautioned in a note that the risk of the global economy sinking into a full-fledged recession is on the rise, amid a “tightening in financial conditions everywhere.”

Dragging down the economy is a massive load of personal and sovereign debt, Paul said. A 2015 analysis by the McKinsey Global Institute said that global debt had grown by $57 trillion in the last several years, while no major economy has successfully de-leveraged since 2007. According to Paul, the Fed has played a large role in that accumulation of debt by implementing artificially low interest rates for years. This has pushed individuals and companies to spend beyond their means, he added.

“When things get out of kilter from artificially low interest rates…the only correction is the liquidation of the debt, but that is not permissible,” Paul said. Now, Paul warned that the government may be losing control of markets, which will lead to more volatility in stocks. “Everything is designed to keep the stock market alive. At the same time, the employment numbers when you look at them closely aren’t all that great,” he said. In January, the U.S. economy added 151,000 jobs, missing economist expectations and falling well short from the previous month. From here, Paul said growth will continue to deteriorate. “I think that the conditions will get a lot worse,” he said. “The slope is going to be down, for economic growth and prosperity.”

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Lame defense that breaks down confidence instead of building it up.

PBoC Defends Halting Publication Of Sensitive Financial Data (SCMP)

China’s central bank has defended the removal of sensitive data from a regular financial report used by the market to assess the flow of capital in and out of the country. The People’s Bank of China said in a statement that the figures were no longer published as they were misleading and not an accurate reflection of capital flows. The removal of the data comes as huge amounts of cash is flowing out of China as the nation’s economy slows and its currency weakens. China’s foreign exchange reserves fell by a record US$108 billion in December and US$99.4 billion in January. The absence of the regular figures in the report was first reported by the South China Morning Post last week. Analysts had complained that sudden lack of clear information made it hard for markets to draw a clear picture of the financial positions in China’s banking system.

Figures on the “position for forex purchase” for all financial institutions, including the central bank, were regularly published in the PBOC’s monthly report on the “Sources and Uses of Credit Funds of Financial Institutions”. The December reading in yuan was 26.6 trillion yuan. But the data was missing in the central bank’s latest report. The central bank did publish figures for its own purchases of foreign exchange. A central bank statement issued before the start of a G20 finance ministers and central bank leaders meeting in Shanghai said the figures on “commercial banks foreign exchange transactions do not necessarily affect the central bank’s foreign exchange position, nor necessarily reflect capital flows”. The data has “little resemblance to its original meaning and cannot reflect the real condition of capital flows”, the statement said.

The indicator was useful to measure capital flows when almost all foreign exchange at commercial banks was purchased in yuan, but particularly after China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001 the correlation between foreign exchange and yuan positions at commercial banks was no longer clear, the central bank said. The data removed from the report used to be closely monitored by analysts and the media as a guide to capital flows in and out of China. Chen Xingdong, chief economist at BNP Paribas in Beijing, said: “If China’s capital flows were not so closely watched, the tweak may not stir debate, but as China’s capital flow situation is such a hot issue the central bank’s adjustment is put under the spotlight. China’s central bank has to improve its communications” with the market, he said.

[..] Christopher Balding, an associate professor at Peking University HSBC Business School, said the change in published data was relatively small, but still made it more complicated to track China’s capital flows. “Rather than censoring or redacting, it is better to say obfuscating or making [it] more difficult to track,” said Balding. It showed the central bank was unaware “how sceptical people are of these types of surprises and Chinese data”, he said. The problems with central bank data were similar to figures released by other Chinese government agencies, according to Balding. “They are constantly redefining key data to mean different things, most of the time without telling anyone…you never know if you are making the correct comparison.”

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Great way to create confidence.

How Xi Jinping Is Bringing China’s Media To Heel (Guardian)

It was an astonishing admission from one of the Communist party’s key mouthpieces: with China’s economic star fading, its leaders now urgently needed to strengthen their hold on the media in order to maintain control. “It is necessary for the media to restore people’s trust in the Party,” an editorial in the China Daily argued this week in the wake of a high-profile presidential tour of the country’s top news outlets in which Xi Jinping demanded “absolute loyalty” from their journalists. “The nation’s media outlets are essential to political stability.” China’s government-run media has long been a propaganda tool of the Party with Chairman Mao once famously declaring: “Revolution relies on pens and guns.”

But as Xi Jinping enters his third year as president experts say he is seeking to cement that grip even further, doubling down on the Party’s control of organisations such as state broadcaster CCTV, official news agency Xinhua, and Beijing’s flagship newspaper, the People’s Daily. “They must love the party, protect the party, and closely align themselves with the party leadership in thought, politics and action,” Xi told newsroom staff during a highly choreographed tour of the three outlets last Friday after which he set out his blueprint for the media. In case Xi’s message had been missed, an editorial in the People’s Daily informed news reporters their key role was not as speakers of truth to power but “disseminators of the Party’s policies and propositions”. “Guiding public opinion for the Party is crucial to governance of the country,” the newspaper said.

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‘Lord King’. How odd that sounds.

Mervyn King: New Financial Crisis Is ‘Certain’ Without Reform Of Banks (PA)

Another financial crisis is “certain” and will come sooner rather than later, the former Bank of England governor has warned. Mervyn King, who headed the bank between 2003 and 2013, believes the world economy will soon face another crash as regulators have failed to reform banking. He has also claimed that the 2008 crisis was the fault of the financial system, not individual greedy bankers, in his new book, The End Of Alchemy: Money, Banking And The Future Of The Global Economy, serialised in The Telegraph. “Without reform of the financial system, another crisis is certain, and the failure … to tackle the disequilibrium in the world economy makes it likely that it will come sooner rather than later,” Lord King wrote.

He added that global central banks were caught in a “prisoner’s dilemma” – unable to raise interest rates for fear of stifling the economic recovery, the newspaper reported. A remark from a Chinese colleague who said the west had not got the hang of money and banking was the inspiration for his book. Lord King, 67, said without understanding what caused the crash, politicians and bankers would be unable to prevent another, and lays the blame at the door of a broken financial system. He said: “The crisis was a failure of a system, and the ideas that underpinned it, not of individual policymakers or bankers, incompetent and greedy though some of them undoubtedly were.” Spending imbalances both within and between countries led to the crisis in 2008 and he believes a current disequilibrium will lead to the next.

To solve the problem, Lord King suggests raising productivity and boldly reforming the banking system. He said: “Only a fundamental rethink of how we, as a society, organise our system of money and banking will prevent a repetition of the crisis that we experienced in 2008.” Lord King was in charge of the Bank of England when the credit crunch struck in 2007, leading to the collapse of Northern Rock and numerous other British lenders, including RBS, and has been criticised for failing to see the global financial crisis coming.

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Private debt. Warrants far more attention than it gets. See Steve Keen.

Hidden Debt That No One Is Talking About -And It Involves You- (SMH)

There’s a paradox when it comes to debt in Australia. We have endless debate about the magnitude of the government’s borrowings, even though they are comparatively low by global standards. Meanwhile, the level of household debt gets relatively little attention even though it’s among the highest in the world. In the past two decades the debt owed by households has risen from about 80% of combined income to more than 180%. A fresh surge in borrowing driven by the recent boom in house prices, coupled with slow wage growth, has pushed the debt-to-income ratio to new heights. When economist Kieran Davies last year compared countries using another measure – the ratio of household debt to gross domestic product – he found Australia’s to be the world’s highest, just above Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Australians’ household debts may be manageable now, but higher interest rates would stretch many people. Even so, I think Australia’s household debt story gets less scrutiny than it deserves, considering the risks. About 85% of household borrowings – which include mortgages, credit cards, overdrafts and personal loans – are owed to Australian lenders, mostly banks. The Reserve Bank pointed out recently that a small but fast-growing proportion is owed to Australian governments – mostly university-related HECS/HELP debt – and to overseas banks and governments, which is mostly owed by recent migrants. Household surveys by research firm Digital Finance Analytics have found more than one in 10 owner-occupiers would have difficulty meeting their mortgage repayments if interest rates were to rise by just 1 percentage point from their current historic lows.

Martin North, the principal of Digital Finance Analytics, says it’s not just low-income households that are exposed. “My reading is that overall the market is OK but there are some significant pockets of stress even in this low-interest rate environment,” he said. “But those pockets are not necessarily where you would expect the risk to be, it’s not just western Sydney for example. Some quite affluent people who have taken out very large mortgages are more leveraged and therefore more exposed if interest rates were to rise.” One striking trend going largely under the radar is the dramatic shift in customers using short-term loans from so called “payday lenders” following regulatory changes in 2013 and advances in information technology. In the past, payday loans were typically used by those on very low incomes in financial crisis. But a growing share of these loans – now called “small amount credit contracts” – are being taken out by those in higher income groups.

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High time to scrutinize the lenders.

North Sea Firms Are ‘Sleepwalking Into Disaster’ As Insolvencies Loom (Tel.)

The North Sea industry is “sleepwalking” into a wave of insolvencies in the coming months as the full brunt of the collapse in the price of crude causes the finances of many companies to buckle, some of the City’s top restructuring lawyers have said. The majority of North Sea firms have so far endured a punishing 70pc oil price decline since 2014 by relying on loans which were approved based on market hedges secured one to two years before the market crash. But with hedge positions now unwinding firms will be exposed to the full brunt of the oil collapse and the increasingly stressed loan facilities keeping them afloat will be stretched to breaking point. Lenders may have offered firms a stay of execution last year in anticipation of a market recovery, but hopes for significantly higher crude prices are now dashed.

Within weeks, big North Sea lenders will begin a review of the loans that have propped up many Aim-listed explorers through the 18-month oil price rout, prompting a swath of insolvencies later this year.. Stephen Phillips, head of restructuring at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, said: “There’s a sense that the North Sea may be sleepwalking into a disaster zone.” Simon Tysoe a partner at Latham & Watkins, said half a dozen North Sea explorers were being actively discussed by banks and lenders as firms which will go into restructuring and possibly insolvency. North Sea bankruptcies have been rare in the past but the severity of the current downturn has already forced Iona Energy and First Oil Expro, two smaller oil companies, to call in administrators.

Now larger Aim-listed firms look at risk, which will also leave project partners and oilfield service firms vulnerable as the financial contagion spreads through the embattled sector. Mr Tysoe said: “Most oil companies have in fact not been selling their oil at $30 a barrel, they’ve been selling their oil at prices like $75 a barrel, notwithstanding the spot price of oil, because they’ve had financial hedges in place.” “The impact of this collapse is going to look very bad. In oilfield services, the position is significantly worse. The question is: when will lenders pull the trigger?”

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How much did the banks lose?

European Oil Majors Tally $19 Billion In Losses (MW)

How much has Big Oil in Europe lost in the last quarter? Try $19 billion — or slightly more than Iceland’s entire economy. The culprit is of course an unrelenting decline in crude and Brent prices through the period, when the contracts slid 18% and 24%, respectively. That sparked a round of significant impairment charges, project delays and reduced exploration among Europe’s major energy companies, with the majority of the Stoxx Europe 600’s oil and gas producers reporting losses in the one-billion dollar territory. “It’s been a mixed bag for oil company results — most have been pressured by weaker oil prices,” said Jason Kenney, head of pan-European oil equity research at Banco Santander, in emailed comments.

“Many have had to write down assets given the new oil price environment. The key to weathering the storm is disinvestment in our view — cutting costs, lowering capex, deferring spend, divesting peripheral businesses, offloading capital commitments, restructuring operations, and generally squeezing more from current operations for hopefully a lot less,” he added. Earnings from Europe’s oil majors have trickled out through February and were rounded off with a set of downbeat fourth-quarter numbers from Italian oil giant Eni on Friday. Eni said its quarterly loss more than tripled to 8.5 billion euros ($9.4 billion) in the final three months of the year, bringing the total tally of losses among the European oil majors to $19.3 billion..

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Does Belgium jail people for fraud? How about bankers?

Citigroup Faces Fraud Suit Claiming $1.1 Billion in Losses (BBG)

Citigroup Inc. was sued for fraud by investors and creditors of a bankrupt Mexican oil services firm over claims they were harmed by a loan scheme that also led the bank to cut 2013 profit by $235 million and fire at least a dozen people. Citigroup’s loans led to the 2014 collapse of the Mexican firm Oceanografia, and caused Dutch lender Rabobank, with investors and creditors, to lose at least $1.1 billion, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in Miami federal court. Rabobank and other investors separately filed a negligence suit in Delaware state court against auditor KPMG. Citigroup’s Mexican subsidiary, Banamex, made short-term loans to Oceanografia, which did work for state-run Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex. In turn, Pemex repaid the bank.

Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat said in February 2014 that $400 million of accounts receivable from Oceanografia were fraudulent. He said the bank was working with Mexican authorities and would find out “who perpetrated this despicable crime.” Rabobank and the investors claim Citigroup conspired with Oceanografia to accept falsified work estimates even as the oil services firm became increasingly dependent on cash advances to survive. Those Citigroup loans propped up Oceanografia, while Pemex repaid the bank with millions of dollars in interest, according to the complaint. “Intentional misconduct on the part of Wall Street banks – including Citigroup specifically – is far from unfamiliar,” according to the complaint. “Yet again, greed and dishonesty have victimized blameless businesses and investors.”

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Things weren’t always like this.

How Land Barons, Industrialists And Bankers Corrupted Economics (Kent)

The Corruption of Economics by Mason Gaffney and Fred Harrison, while free online, is hardly known; as of December 2015 only three New Zealand university libraries and the Auckland Public Library held copies. Yet in it is a very important story. Fred Harrison describes the phenomenon of Henry George, the San Francisco journalist who took the world by storm with his book Progress and Poverty in 1879, in which he argues that the benefits of land ownership must be shared by all and that a single tax is needed to fund government – a land tax. The factors of production are land, capital and labour. Untax labour and tax land was the cry. Poverty could be beaten. Social justice was possible! Of Henry George influential economic historian John Kenneth Galbraith writes,

“In his time and even into the 1920s and 1930s Henry George was the most widely read of American economic writers both at home and in Europe. He was, indeed, one of the most widely read of Americans. Progress and Poverty… in various editions and reprintings… had a circulation in the millions.” Unlike many writers, Henry George didn’t stop there. He took his message of hope everywhere he could travel – across America and to England, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland and Ireland. He turned political. Seven years after his book came out in remote California, in 1886 he narrowly missed out on being elected Mayor of New York, outpolling Teddy Roosevelt. During the 1890s George, Henry George was the third most famous American, after Mark Twain and Thomas Edison. Ten years after Progress and Poverty he was influencing a radical wing of the British Liberal Party.

He was read by semi-literate workers from Birmingham, Alabama to Liverpool, England. His Single Tax was understood by peasants in the remotest crofts of Scotland and Ireland. Gaffney’s section of the book outlines how certain rich land barons, industrialists and bankers funded influential universities in America and proceeded to change the direction of their economics departments. He names names at every turn, wading through presidents and funders of many prestigious universities. In particular, Gaffney, an economist himself, names the economists bought to discredit his theories, their debates with George and their papers written over many decades.

“George’s ideas were carried worldwide by such towering figures as Lloyd George in England, Leo Tolstoy and Alexander Kerensky in Russia, Sun Yat-sen in China, hundreds of local and state and a few power national politicians in both Canada and the USA, Billy Hughes in Australia, Rolland O’Regan in New Zealand, Chaim Weizmann in Palestine, Francisco Madero in Mexico, and many others in Denmark, South Africa and around the world. In England Lloyd George’s budget speech of 1909 reads in part as though written by Henry George himself. Some of Winston Churchill’s speeches were written by Georgist ghosts.” When he died there were 100,000 at his funeral.

The wealthy and influential just couldn’t let the dangerous ideas spread. Their privileged position was gravely threatened. Henry George must be stopped. But the strategy had to be subtle. What better route than by using their money to influence the supposed fount of all knowledge, the universities? That would then indoctrinate journalists and the general public. Nice one! The story explains how, for their wealthy paymasters, academics corrupted the language to subsume it under capital. They redefined rent, and created a jargon to confuse public debate. Harrison says, ‘For a century they have taken people down blind alleys with abstract models and algebraic equations. Economics became detached from the real world in the course of the twentieth century.’ Yes, the wealthy paid money to buy scholars to pervert the science.

Gaffney’s rich, whimsical language is a joy to read. He writes to Harrison, ‘Systematic, universal brainwashing is the crime, tendentious mental conditioning calculated to mislead students, to impoverish their mental ability, to bend their minds to the service of a system that funnels power and wealth to a parasitic minority.’

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“..we’re talking about a legislature … that says we don’t care about y’all.”

Alabama Lawmakers To Cities: We Won’t Let You Raise The Minimum Wage (CSM)

While major demonstrations have led to a $15 minimum wage in San Francisco, Seattle, New York Los Angeles, and 10 other cities in the past year, Birmingham’s plans to boost local wages have been thwarted by state legislation. The city council of Birmingham, Ala., voted 7 to 0 (with one abstention) to become the first city in the deep South to enact a minimum wage above the current federal level of $7.25. The ordinance planned an increase to $8.50 per hour by July 2016, with a second increase to $10.10 set for July 2017. But the Alabama legislature this past week fired back, passing a bill that prevents cities and counties from mandating their own benefits, including minimum wage, vacation time, or set work schedules. The bill passed easily in both houses and Gov. Robert Bentley signed it into law on Thursday.

Supporters argued that a “patchwork” of varying wages would devastate businesses, cost jobs, and send the regional economy into a slump. “We want businesses to expand and create more jobs – not cut entry-level jobs because a patchwork of local minimum wages causes operating costs to rise,” said State Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R) after the bill’s passage. Critics of the new law countered that higher wages lift families out of poverty and inject new spending into the regional economy. “We’re talking about the bare survival of people,” said Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D), reported the Montgomery Advertiser. “And we’re talking about a legislature … that says we don’t care about y’all.” “When you lift a person on the bottom, everybody above them is lifted up,” he added.

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No space here for the whole thing, but very much worth the time.

The Donald – The Good And Bad Of It (David Stockman)

[..] Once upon a time, by contrast, the GOP actually stood for free markets, fiscal rectitude, hard money and minimalist government. Calvin Coolidge did a pretty good job of it. And even the unfairly besmirched Warren G. Harding got us out of the foreign intervention business—-a path that the great Dwight D. Eisenhower pretty consistently hewed to under the far more challenging conditions of the cold war. But these were sons of America’s old school interior – Massachusetts, Ohio and Kansas. As temporary sojourners in Washington, they remained incredulous and chary of grand state missions either at home or abroad. Harding called it returning to “normalcy”. Coolidge said Washington’s business was to get out of the way.

And Ike actually shrank the Warfare state by one-third, ended Truman’s wars and started no new ones, resisted much of the Dulles’ brother’s interventionist agenda, balanced the budget and froze the New Deal as hard in place at he had the votes to achieve. Today’s Republican crowd bears no resemblance. They live in the capital, fully embrace its projects and pretensions and visit the provinces as sparingly as possible. And that’s why The Donald has them so rattled, even petrified. To be sure, there is much that is ugly, superficial and stupid about Donald Trump’s campaign platform, if you can call it that, or loose cannon oratory to be more exact. More on that below, but at the heart of his appeal are two propositions which strike terror in the hearts of the Imperial City’s GOP operatives.

To wit, he is loudly self-funding his own campaign and bombastically insisting that America is getting a bad deal everywhere in the world. The first of these propositions explicitly tells the legions of K-Street lobbies to take a hike, thereby posing a mortal threat to the fund raising rackets which are the GOPs lifeblood. And while the “bad deal” abroad is superficially about NAFTA and our $500 billion trade deficit with China, it is really an attack on the American Imperium The American people are sick and tired of the Lindsay Graham/John McCain/George Bush/neocon wars of intervention and occupation; and they resent the massive fiscal burdens of our outmoded but still far-flung alliances, forward bases and apparatus of security assistance and economic aid. They especially have no patience for the continued huge cost of our commitments to cold war relics like NATO, the stationing of troops in South Korea and the defense treaty with the incorrigible Japanese, who still blatantly rig their trade rules against American exports.

In short, The Donald is tapping a nationalist/isolationist impulse that runs deep among a weary and economically precarious main street public. He is clever enough to articulate it in the bombast of what sounds like a crude trade protectionism. Yet if Pat Buchanan were to re-write his speech, it would be more erudite and explicit about the folly of the American Imperium, but the message would be the same. That’s why the War Party is so desperate, and why its last great hope is the bantam weight Senator from Florida. In truth, Marco Rubio is an obnoxious kid who wants to be President so he can play with guns, planes, ships and bombs. He is a pure creature of the Imperial City, even if at his young age he has idled there only since 2010.

Yet down to the last nuance of his insipid neocon worldview and monotonous recitation of the American Exceptionalism catechism, he might as well have been born in Washington of GS-16 parents, not Cuban refugees, raised as a Congressional page, and apprenticed to the Speaker of the US House rather than serving as the same in the backwaters of Tallahassee. What Marco Rubio is all about is Warfare State republicanism. When he talks about restoring American Greatness it is through the agency of Imperial Washington. He has no kinship with Harding, Coolidge or Eisenhower. None of them were intent on searching the earth for monsters to destroy, as does Rubio in every single speech.

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Traffic violations?! Gives a whole new meaning to ‘two strikes you’re out’.

Switzerland Votes On Expelling Foreigners For Minor Offences (Guardian)

Switzerland votes in a referendum Sunday on whether foreigner citizens who commit two minor offences, like traffic violations, in the space of 10 years should be automatically deported. The referendum asks whether any foreign national found guilty of two lower-level infractions, including fighting, money laundering, giving false testimony and indecent exposure, should be expelled. The vote comes at a time when many European countries are hardening their attitudes to migrants after more than a million arrived on the continent last year. A quarter of the people living in Switzerland have a foreign passport, the majority of them from European countries.

More than half of Swiss voters backed strengthening rules to automatically expel foreign nationals convicted of violent or sexual crimes in a referendum on the same topic six years ago. But the populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which won the biggest share of the vote in parliamentary elections last October, has accused parliament of dragging its feet on writing the text into law and watering it down when it did so last March. Known for its virulent campaigns against immigration, the European Union and Islam, the party has proposed tougher rules, calling for “a real deportation of criminal foreigners”. The initiative faces stiff opposition, including from the government, parliament and all the other major political parties, who have warned it circumvents the “fundamental rules” of democracy.

If passed, it would dramatically increase the number of offences that could get foreign nationals automatically kicked out of Switzerland, including misdemeanours usually punishable with fines or short prison sentences. It would also remove a judge’s right to refrain from deportation in cases where it would cause the foreign national “serious personal hardship”. More than 50,000 people including hundreds of celebrities have signed a petition against the proposals. [..] Opponents warn that if the text passes, people born to foreign parents in Switzerland risk being deported to countries they have never lived in, for petty offences.

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Getting worse fast.

Double Crisis Deepens Despair In Greece’s ‘Warehouse Of Souls’ (Guardian)

There are more than 25,000 refugees and migrants stuck in Greece, police sources have told the Observer. The borders leading out have closed down one by one, leaving the country in danger of becoming what the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, described last week as a “warehouse of souls”. Tsipras has threatened to block future EU agreements and has withdrawn the Greek ambassador to Austria from Vienna in protest at the lack of support being offered by other nations during the refugee crisis. Austria is accepting only 80 migrants a day. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, plans to hold a referendum on compulsory migrant quotas. Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia are refusing to accept Afghans and other refugees deemed not to be from conflict zones and are accepting a maximum of 580 migrants a day. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, appears to be staking everything on a crucial EU-Turkey summit, scheduled to take place on 7 March.

[..] The convergence of two crises – the refugee influx and the debt drama that has plagued the country for the past six years – has caused the rhetoric of catastrophe to be ratcheted up in Athens and abroad. After the announcement by the European commission on Friday that, in the wake of border closures, it had been forced to put together a humanitarian aid plan for Greece, there is an inescapable sense of impending doom. “It was difficult for the government to manage Greece’s own domestic economic crisis,” said Dirk Reinermann, project manager for southern Europe at the World Bank. “The new exogenous challenge of having to deal with refugees and migrants is such that the overall task at hand borders on the impossible.” While EU diplomats spoke of the nightmare scenario of seeing hundreds of thousands of people trapped in the country by May, analysts predicted that Europe’s southern flank could soon become embroiled in scenes of chaos and immense social hardship.

“It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” said Thanos Dokos, who heads Eliamep, a leading Greek thinktank. He told the Observer: “We are at risk of seeing an economy without any hope of recovery, and the country being flooded by people who have no intention of staying in camps but instead [will be] making their way to borders where there will be no shelter or facilities to host them.” Anger at the influx has mounted on Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast, where tourism has been hard hit. In an interview, Constantine Michalos, president of the Athens chamber of commerce and industry, said pre-bookings in Kos, Rhodes and Lesbos, the islands that have borne the brunt of the refugee and migrant arrivals, were down by 60%.

[..] Dimitra Koutsavli is working for Doctors of the World – Greece. The organisation is having constantly to move its operations to follow the ever-changing makeshift camps opening and closing on political orders across the country. She said she had never seen the situation as bad in Athens as over the past few days. “The situation here is worsening. Refugees are all over the city, in squares, in the port. According to our emergency mission in Piraeus port on Friday, we saw thousands of refugees there, among them many children.” To say that Greeks think the rest of Europe could do more is an understatement. There were peaceful protests in Athens and Piraeus last week by Greeks and refugees, and on Saturday there was a protest by 300 people outside the Austrian embassy in Athens. Not many of those in Victoria Square went to the demonstration. “It’s for Europe to decide if it can help us. We just say, ‘Please open the borders.’ We don’t want to sit here,” said Sharzai..

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