Nov 022018
 
 November 2, 2018  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Bathers 1918

 

Trump Plans ‘Meeting Plus Dinner’ With Xi Jinping After G20 Summit (SCMP)
Shares Soar As Trump Hints At Possible US-China Trade Deal (G.)
The Fed’s QE Unwind Hits $321 Billion (WS)
Debt Is Back But This Time It’s Corporate (GolemXIV)
The ‘True State’ Of Americans’ Financial Lives (MW)
The American Dream Feels Further Off Than Ever For Millennials (G.)
The Lesson of 2018 (Strassel)
1 in 5 Germans Is ‘At Risk Of Poverty’ Despite Record Employment (RT)
Brexit Campaigner Arron Banks Faces Criminal Inquiry (G.)
EU Fisheries Row Threatens May’s Customs Union Plan (G.)
Groundskeeper In Monsanto US Weed-Killer Case Accepts Reduced Award (R.)
Thousands Of Europe-Bound Migrants Have Simply Vanished (ZH)

 

 

This would only happen if there’s progress in talks….

Trump Plans ‘Meeting Plus Dinner’ With Xi Jinping After G20 Summit (SCMP)

US President Donald Trump has offered to host a dinner for Chinese President Xi Jinping on December 1 in Buenos Aires after the G20 leaders summit, an invitation Beijing has tentatively accepted, people familiar with the arrangement have told the South China Morning Post. The Post reported two weeks ago that Trump and Xi had agreed to meet on November 29, the day before the official opening of the summit, but the meeting was rescheduled and upgraded into a “meeting plus dinner” at Trump’s request, the people said, who declined to be identified as the information is still classified.

A “Western-style” sit-down dinner after the G20 summit could offer the two leaders more time to talk than a chat on the sidelines of the summit and could offer a more conducive atmosphere for negotiations. “Trump originally planned to leave Buenos Aires as soon as the G20 agenda finished, but he has decided to postpone his departure to make this dinner happen,” a source said. It is not yet known what specific issues will be on the agenda. The two leaders had a call on Thursday, officially agreeing to meet in Argentina and laying the ground for further discussions on trade and North Korea.

Trump said in a tweet that he had a “long and good [phone] conversation” with Xi, adding: “We talked about many subjects, with a heavy emphasis on Trade. Those discussions are moving along nicely with meetings being scheduled at the G20 in Argentina. Also had good discussion on North Korea!” The Chinese side issued a much longer statement about the phone call. According to the official Xinhua news agency, Xi told Trump that “both of us have good intentions for the healthy and steady development of Sino-US relations and for growth in Sino-US trade cooperation, and we shall make efforts to turn these intentions into reality.”

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….but this may still be wishful thinking.

Shares Soar As Trump Hints At Possible US-China Trade Deal (G.)

Asian shares have surged on reports that Donald Trump wants to reach an agreement with Chinese president Xi Jinping about the trade dispute that has dogged markets for months. The US president spoke to Xi on Thursday and later tweeted that trade talks with China were “moving along nicely” ahead of face-to-face talks between the pair at the G20 summit in Argentina later this month. But Bloomberg later reported that the phone call – in which Trump and Xi both expressed optimism about resolving their bitter trade disputes – prompted Trump to ask officials to begin drafting potential terms. The report lit a fire under stock markets that have beset by fears of a full-blown trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

The Nikkei was up 2.3% in Tokyo, the Hang Seng climbed 3.35% in Hong Kong and the Shanghai Composite was up 3%. There was a also a strong gain of 3% for the export-oriented Kospi index in South Korea. US stock futures rose 0.7% and the FTSE100 is set for a jump of almost 1% when it opens in London on Friday morning. The US and China’s tit-for-tat tariffs on each other’s goods have rumbled on for months as Trump pledges to help create more US manufacturing jobs. The tariffs have been blamed for a weakening of China’s mighty manufacturing sector which this week showed a marked slowdown in activity.

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Shedding $50 billion a month. Mayhem in dollar markets.

The Fed’s QE Unwind Hits $321 Billion (WS)

Over the four-week period from October 3 through October 31, the Federal Reserve shed $35 billion in assets, according to the Fed’s weekly balance sheet released Thursday afternoon. This brought the balance sheet to $4,140 billion, the lowest since February 12, 2014. Since October 2017, when the Fed began its QE unwind, or “balance sheet normalization,” it has now shed $321 billion. The Fed acquired Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) as part of QE, which ended in 2014. Between the end of QE and the beginning of the QE Unwind in October 2017, the Fed replaced maturing securities with new securities to keep their levels roughly the same.

In October last year, the Fed kicked off the QE unwind and began shedding those securities. But the balance sheet also reflects the Fed’s other activities, and the amount of its total assets is always higher than the sum of Treasury securities and MBS it holds. October was a new milestone: the QE unwind left the ramp-up phase and entered the cruising-speed phase, according to the Fed’s plan. In the cruising-speed phase, the Fed is scheduled to shed “up to” $30 billion in Treasuries and “up to” $20 billion in MBS a month, for a total of “up to” $50 billion a month. From October 3 through October 31, the Fed’s holdings of Treasury Securities fell by $23.8 billion to $2,270 billion, the lowest since February 19, 2014. Since the beginning of the QE-Unwind, the Fed has shed $195 billion in Treasuries:

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The amount of high risk debt owned by pension funds is something else. As I always say, remember the days of AAA?

Debt Is Back But This Time It’s Corporate (GolemXIV)

On Wednesday Feb 7th 2007 HSBC issued a profit warning. It was the first in its 142 year history. The bank told its share holders it would have to take an unprecedented charge of $10.5 billion because one of its units, its sub prime lender, was in deep trouble. And so began the sub prime crisis. Today GE issued a profit warning and cut its dividend to share holders from 12 cents to 1 cent. It is only the third time since the Great Depression that GE has reduced its dividend in this way. It told its share holders it would be taking a $22 Billion charge because one of its units, its power unit, is in deep trouble. GE has about $116 billion in debt. In 2007 the banks had flooded the global market with sub-prime loans.

The banks were also holding many of those same loans themselves or had transferred them to Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) they had set up, staffed and lent money to. Today it is not the banking world which stands at the centre of the storm but the corporate world. In the last years they have flooded the market with junk rated bonds. At the same time they are also burdened with high yielding, leveraged and covenant- lite loans. Taken together they are about $2.4 Trillion of debt. 2007 sub prime loans. 2018 corporate junk bonds and leveraged loans. 2007 banks and SPVs funded by the banks. 2018? Where is this sub-prime corporate debt sitting today? Nearly half sits in Insurance Companies and Pension funds. Given the close ties between insurance and pensions this is not a happy picture.

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“Some 44% of people said their expenses exceeded their income in the past year and they used credit to make ends meet.”

The ‘True State’ Of Americans’ Financial Lives (MW)

The finances of Americans may not be as good as they look from the outside. Despite optimistic metrics like a nine-year-long bullish, if volatile, stock market, low unemployment levels, and consumer confidence levels nearing record highs, millions of Americans continue to struggle, a study released Thursday from financial consultancy nonprofit the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) found. Only 28% of Americans are considered “financially healthy,” according to a CFSI survey of more than 5,000 Americans. “Financial health enables family stability, education, and upward mobility, not just for individuals today but across future generations,” the CFSI says.

“Many are dealing with an unhealthy amount of debt, irregular income, and sporadic savings habits.” Some 44% of people said their expenses exceeded their income in the past year and they used credit to make ends meet. Another 42% said they have no retirement savings at all. Meanwhile, 17% of Americans are “financially vulnerable,” meaning they struggle with nearly all financial aspects of their lives, and 55% are “financially coping,” meaning they struggle with some but not all aspects of their financial lives. The recent volatility in the Dow Jones Industrial and S&P 500 has not helped Americans feel secure, experts say.

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Can’t afford to start a family.

The American Dream Feels Further Off Than Ever For Millennials (G.)

From adolescence to our mid-30s, my wife and I have followed every common precept of responsible young adulthood – what conservatives venerate as “the success sequence”. We finished high school (then college, then grad school). We charged into the labor market and have stayed there. We had kids in a stable marriage. Neither of us quit our jobs or took a year off to “find ourselves”. We cut coupons and buy food in bulk. We did this, in part, because we trusted what we believed was America’s basic bargain: work hard, play by the proverbial rules, and you’ll enjoy a healthy middle-class life. You’ll have a decent job, stable housing, affordable education and healthcare, and a clear route to retirement.

But that old, potholed path doesn’t deliver like it used to, even for responsible rule-followers like us. Here in our mid-30s, my wife and I are still chasing homeownership, that final, elusive piece of middle-class life. Today’s young families started to hit the labor market during the great recession. We’re buried in educational debt, and college costs for our kids are predicted to be even higher than ours. Housing near good-paying jobs is wildly expensive. Healthcare costs are uncertain. We’re less likely to have a guaranteed retirement pension through work, and current signals suggest that government-funded retirement supports will be significantly smaller, if they’re there at all. These are bread-and-butter issues.

While national political leaders are gridlocked on how to address the crises of widening inequality and limited upward mobility, we’re struggling to simply provide our children with the same opportunities that came relatively easily to earlier generations. Most young families aren’t cynical because the rich have private helicopter fleets and offshore bank accounts, per se. We’re frustrated because the American bargain we believed in is broken.

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I don’t often disagree with Kimberley Strassel, but I do disagree with “the ascendant progressive movement blew an easy victory for Democrats.” It’s the old guard that blew it, Clinton, Pelosi, Waters, Feinstein.

The Lesson of 2018 (Strassel)

In a few days the U.S. will have its midterm results, and the Beltway press corps will lecture us on the lessons. Don’t expect to hear much about the one takeaway that is already obvious: that today’s preferred progressive politics—of character assassination, mob rule, intimidation and wacky policies—is an electoral bust. It is not what is winning Democrats anything. It is what is losing the party the bigger prize. Six weeks ago, Democrats were expecting a blue wave to rival the Republican victory of 2010, when the GOP picked up 63 House seats. Everything was in their favor. History—the party in power almost always loses seats. Money—Democrats continue to outraise Republicans by staggering amounts.

The opposition—some 41 GOP House members retired, most from vulnerable districts where Donald Trump’s favorability is low. Democrats were even positioned to take over the Senate, despite defending 10 Trump-state seats. Democrats obliterated their own breaker in the space of two weeks with the ambush of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The left, its protesters and its media allies demonstrated some of the vilest political tactics ever seen in Washington, with no regard for who or what they damaged or destroyed along the way—Christine Blasey Ford, committee rules, civility, Justice Kavanaugh himself, the Constitution. An uncharacteristically disgusted Sen. Lindsey Graham railed: “Boy, y’all want power. God, I hope you never get it!”

A lot of voters suddenly agreed with that sentiment. The enormous enthusiasm gap closed almost overnight as conservative voters rallied to #JobsNotMobs. Even liberal prognosticators today forecast that Republicans will keep the Senate and Democrats will manage only a narrow majority in the House, if that. It’s always possible the polls are off, or that there is a last-minute bombshell. But it remains the case that the ascendant progressive movement blew an easy victory for Democrats.

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Thanks, Mutti. Or in other words: now you know why Merkel lost so much support.

1 in 5 Germans Is ‘At Risk Of Poverty’ Despite Record Employment (RT)

Germany may be Europe’s biggest and strongest economy and is enjoying record employment, but one fifth of its citizens are struggling to make ends meet, a new study reveals. Some 15.5 million people or 19 percent of the population in Germany were “at risk of poverty” or “social exclusion” in 2017, the Federal Statistics Office said. Even though the unemployment rate in Germany has fallen to record lows, many people still do not earn enough to pay their bills and keep themselves above the poverty line. Some 13.1 million Germans, roughly 16.1 percent of the population, are threatened by poverty precisely because of their low monthly income, the federal statistics bureau says.

According to the criteria introduced in the EU, people are considered to be at risk of poverty if their total income amounts to less than 60 percent of an average income in their country. In the case of Germany, it amounts to €1,096 ($1,243) for a single person per month and €2,302 ($2,611) for a family of two adults and two children under 14. 3.4 percent of the population were considered as threatened by poverty as they struggled to pay their rent on time, heat their homes adequately, travel on vacation or even to regularly get a substantial meal due to a lack of financial resources.

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This has been known for a long time, why investigate only now? And the Guardian blows its coverage of the topic by bringing Russia into the discussion. But then that’s Britain’s new favorite pastime. Another piece today on this, also in the Guardian, is by Luke Harding, career Assange and Putin basher.

Brexit Campaigner Arron Banks Faces Criminal Inquiry (G.)

The National Crime Agency is to investigate allegations of multiple criminal offences by Arron Banks and his unofficial leave campaign in the Brexit referendum, prompting calls from some MPs for the process of departing the European Union to be suspended. The NCA would look into suspicions that a “number of criminal offences may have been committed”, the Electoral Commission said in a statement, saying there were reasonable grounds to suspect Banks was “not the true source” of £8m in funding to the Leave.EU campaign. The commission said the cases involve Banks, the insurance millionaire who heavily backed leave; Elizabeth Bilney, one of his key associates; Leave.EU itself; the company used to finance it; and “other associated companies and individuals”.

News of the investigation prompted anti-Brexit campaigners to call for a delay to the process of leaving the EU. The Labour MP David Lammy said Brexit “must be put on hold until we know the extent of these crimes against our democracy”. A series of other Labour MPs echoed the call, while the Lib Dems said Brexit could not go ahead based on “a leave campaign littered with lies, deceit and allegations of much worse”. Downing Street said it could not comment on a live investigation, but dismissed the idea of a pause: “The referendum was the largest democratic exercise in this country’s history and the PM is getting on with delivering its result.” Banks and Bilney, who chaired the Leave.EU campaign, said they rejected any allegations of wrongdoing, and argued the investigation was motivated by political considerations.

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Spending time talking fisheries is entirely useless as long as the Irish border issue is still out there.

EU Fisheries Row Threatens May’s Customs Union Plan (G.)

Theresa May is facing fresh opposition from EU countries that have large fishing communities to her demands for an agreement before Brexit day on a temporary customs union to solve the Irish border problem. [..] The prime minister has said she wants the “backstop” solution in the withdrawal agreement, under which Northern Ireland would in effect stay in the single market and customs union alone, to be scrapped in favour of the whole of the UK staying in a customs arrangement temporarily. In the latest development, the European commission has floated a plan in which the full terms of a “bare bones” customs union for Great Britain would be laid out in the withdrawal agreement, so there would be no need for negotiations on it after Brexit. Northern Ireland would stay under the full EU customs code.

The backstop would come into force at the end of the transition period should a comprehensive trade deal to ensure there is no need for a hard border on the island of Ireland not be agreed in time. A senior EU official conceded that the proposal would not remove the need for a Northern Ireland-specific backstop that would keep the province in the single market as the UK gave up its membership. The issue of what to do about fisheries would also remain with member states likely to reject to any deal that undermines the “trade-off” envisioned in the bloc’s negotiating position papers in which British exporters were only given access to the single market in exchange for European fishing boats keeping access to the seas around the UK.

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Monsanto saved itself $200 million. But they’ll apeal again.

Groundskeeper In Monsanto US Weed-Killer Case Accepts Reduced Award (R.)

The school groundskeeper who won a jury trial against Bayer’s Monsanto unit over allegations that the company’s glyphosate-containing weed-killers caused his cancer, accepted a court-mandated reduced punitive damages award on Wednesday. The decision by Dewayne Johnson, who sued Monsanto in 2016, brings the total award to $78 million, down from the jury’s verdict on Aug. 10 of $289 million – $39 million in compensatory and $250 million in punitive damages. Johnson’s law firm said in a statement that he accepted the reduction “to hopefully achieve a final resolution within his lifetime.”

Judge Suzanne Bolanos of San Francisco’s Superior Court of California, who oversaw the trial, earlier this month affirmed the liability portion of the verdict, but ordered punitive damages to be slashed to concur with California and federal law. Bayer denies allegations that glyphosate can cause cancer and said it will appeal the decision as the verdict was not supported by the evidence presented at trial. The verdict, which marked the first such decision against Monsanto, wiped 10 percent off the value of the company and shares have since dropped nearly 30 percent from their pre-verdict value.

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Thanks Mutti. And Europeans will just focus on the US-Mexico border of course. Is that double morals or no morals at all?

Thousands Of Europe-Bound Migrants Have Simply Vanished (ZH)

Tens of thousands of migrants undertaking dangerous journeys in search of greener pastures throughout the world are dead or missing, according to an AP tally – nearly doubling estimates from the N’s International Organization for Migration (IOM). At least 56,800 migrants worldwide have simply vanished since 2014 by AP’s count – eclipsing the IOM’s October 1 estimate of around 28,500. This year alone, the IOM has documented over 1,900 deaths in and around the Mediterranean. “A growing number of migrants have drowned, died in deserts or fallen prey to traffickers, leaving their families to wonder what on earth happened to them,” reports Fox News. “At the same time, anonymous bodies are filling cemeteries around the world.”

Focusing on Europe alone, AP found almost 4,900 migrants whose families can’t account for their lived ones – nearly half of which are children who have been reported missing to the Red Cross. “… many of those who go missing are uncounted, including boatfuls [sic] of young Tunisians or Algerians and children whose parents lost track of them in the chaos of land border crossings. In all, The Associated Press found nearly 4,900 people whose families say they simply disappeared without a trace in Europe or en route, including more than 2,700 children whose families reported them missing to the Red Cross.” -Fox News

Meanwhile, efforts to identify those who have died in shipwrecks trying to make it to Europe have fallen flat. Of the 400 or so remains interred in a Tunisian cemetery for unidentified migrants, for example, only one has ever been identified since its opening in 2005. “Their families may think that the person is still alive, or that he’ll return one day to visit,” said one unemployed sailor, Chamseddin Marzouk. “They don’t know that those they await are buried here, in Zarzis, Tunisia.”

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Oct 192018
 
 October 19, 2018  Posted by at 1:04 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher Meeting (Encounter) 1940

 

It’s no surprise that China has its own plunge protection team -but why were they so late?-, nor that Beijing blames its problems on Trump’s tariffs. GDP growth was disappointing at 6.5%, but who’s ever believed those almost always dead on numbers? It would be way more interesting to know what part of that growth has been based on debt and leverage. But that we don’t get to see.

So we turn elsewhere. How about the Shanghai Composite Index? It may not be a perfect reflection of the Chinese economy, no more than the S&P 500 is for the US, but it does raise some valid and curious questions.

Borrowing from Wolf Richter, here are some stats and a graph::
• Lowest since November 27, 2014, nearly four years ago
• Down 30% from its recent peak on January 24, 2018, (3,559.47)
• Down 52% from its last bubble peak on June 12, 2015 (5,166)
• Down 59% from its all-time bubble peak on October 16, 2007 (6,092)
• And back where it had first been on December 27, 2006, nearly 12 years ago.

 

 

The first thing I thought when I saw that was: how on earth is it possible that in an economy that’s supposedly been growing 6%+ for a decade, stocks have gone nowhere at all? And obviously the role of the Shanghai index is different from that of the S&P, the DAX or the FTSE, but at the alleged Chinese growth rate, the economy would have almost doubled in size in 10 years. And none of that is reflected in stocks?

 

 

And if you think Shenzhen is a better barometer of ‘real’ China, Tyler Durden had this graph yesterday. Not the same as Shanghai, but similar for sure.

 

 

But other aspects of the Chinese economy are perhaps more interesting, I think. China’s mom and pop are not typically in stocks. In the Zero Hedge article I took that graph from, there is also this:

“There’s a liquidity crisis in the stock market, and pledged shares are again starting to sound the alarm,” said Yang Hai, analyst at Kaiyuan Securities. [..] The fear is that if Beijing does nothing, the self-reinforcing liquidation is only set to get worse: with $603 billion of shares pledged as collateral for loans – or 11% of China’s market capitalization, – traders are increasingly concerned that forced sellers will tip the market into a downward spiral.

[..] China in June told brokerages to seek approval before selling large chunks of stock that have been pledged as collateral for loans, while the top financial regulator in August warned the industry that it’s closely watching corporate stock pledges. Neither of those warnings appears to have generated the desired outcome, and the result is that two-thirds of Shenzhen Composite stocks are now at 52-week lows or worse.

[..] what are investors to do in this time of panicked selling? Why demand more bailouts of course, like begging the National Team to step in and rescue them (just like in the housing market): “If there are no real policies to cure the array of problems and ailments in our market, no one will be willing to take the risk,” said Hai. “Authorities keep saying that there is room for more polices, but where are they?”

“It’s high time the state stepped in,” said Dong Baozhen, a fund manager at Beijing Tonglingshengtai Asset Management. “The national funds cannot just sit on the sidelines and watch this atmosphere of extreme pessimism.”

It’s this clamoring for the state to come to the rescue of people who are losing money that would appear to define China today, where there is a stock market and housing market, and many ‘investors’ making lots of money, but where the mentality still seems to lurk back to days of old whenever things don’t only go up in a straight line.

There was another report recently of people demonstrating outside a property developer’s office because the firm had lowered purchase prices by 30%. Those that had paid full price now stood to lose that 30%. This happens frequently, and it can get violent. Mom and pop are not in stocks, they are in real estate:

Property accounts for roughly 70 per cent of urban Chinese families’ total assets – a home is both wealth and status. People don’t want prices to increase too fast, but they don’t want them to fall too quickly either,” said Shao Yu, chief economist at Oriental Securities.

The Chinese are thinking about leaders from Deng Xiao Ping to Xi Jinping that it’s great if they steer the country in a direction where everyone can get rich, but when things go awry, it’s still Beijing’s task to solve the problems if and when they occur. I would expect the same kind of thing in many western countries where people have borrowed heavily into housing bubbles, I don’t see mass foreclosures in Sweden, Denmark, Holland, but bailouts of people who grossly overpaid.

But the Chinese go a step further in their demands from central government. And that is an enormous problem for Xi going forward. One crucial facet of all this is psychological: when people count on being bailed out by their government, they will take much more risk, borrow more, with higher leverage etc. If you allow people things like pledging shares to buy more shares, or homes, and shares fall, you have an issue.

China’s well-known for companies buying each other’s shares to appear viable. It’s also known for local governments borrowing heavily from shadow banks in order for party officials to look as if they’re performing real well.

Now of course, if Beijing keeps on presenting all those growth numbers that look so solid, it’s asking for it. Moreover, the Party has lost control over the shadow banks, and it couldn’t act to regain that control if it wanted. It could initiate a program to forgive debt owed to national banks, but what’s owed to the shadows will have to be paid. We’re talking many trillions.

The Party has let the shadows in, because it made its own debt numbers look so much better. But when this whole debt balloon, on which so much of the GDP growth has rested, and the roads to nowhere and empty apartment blocks and cities, starts to pop, who are the Chinese going to turn to? For that matter, who is Xi going to turn to?

Yes, much of the western wealth has turned into a mirage, but in that respect, too, China has done what we did in a fraction of the time. Trump’s tariffs may play a role in a slowdown, but wait until the western economies deflate their debt bubbles and stop buying much of China’s products.

Bubbles vs balloons, that seems a proper way to phrase this. And for better or for worse, Jerome Powell is hiking interest rates. There’s your Needles and Pins.

 

 

Sep 032018
 
 September 3, 2018  Posted by at 8:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Courtyard of the hospital in Arles 1889

 

China’s ‘Silk Road’ Project Runs Into Debt Jam (AFP)
Should Africa Be Wary Of Chinese Debt? (BBC)
China’s Xi Says No Strings Attached To Funds For Africa (R.)
Anatomy Of A Fusion Smear (WSJ)
No-Deal Brexit: Study Warns Of Severe Short-Term Impact On UK (G.)
Boris Johnson Launches Fresh Attack On May’s Brexit Plans (G.)
Half The Staff Leaves UK’s Brexit Department (Ind.)
Britain Loses Medicines Contracts As EU Body Anticipates Brexit (G.)
Emerging Markets Haunt Spanish Banks (DQ)
Capitalism Is Beyond Saving, and America Is Living Proof (TD)

 

 

I’ve been saying for a long time that the BRI (Belt and Road) is China’s attempt at exporting its overcapacity. They make poor countries borrow billions, which these can’t pay back. And then… Only now do other parties wake up to that. And Xi is trying to do some damage control.

China’s ‘Silk Road’ Project Runs Into Debt Jam (AFP)

China’s massive and expanding “Belt and Road” trade infrastructure project is running into speed bumps as some countries begin to grumble about being buried under Chinese debt. First announced in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, the initiative also known as the “new Silk Road” envisions the construction of railways, roads and ports across the globe, with Beijing providing billions of dollars in loans to many countries. Five years on, Xi has found himself defending his treasured idea as concerns grow that China is setting up debt traps in countries which may lack the means to pay back the Asian giant. “It is not a China club,” Xi said in a speech on Monday to mark the project’s anniversary, describing Belt and Road as an “open and inclusive” project.

Xi said China’s trade with Belt and Road countries had exceeded $5 trillion, with outward direct investment surpassing $60 billion. But some are starting to wonder if it is worth the cost. During a visit to Beijing in August, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said his country would shelve three China-backed projects, including a $20 billion railway. The party of Pakistan’s new prime minister, Imran Khan, has vowed more transparency amid fears about the country’s ability to repay Chinese loans related to the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Meanwhile the exiled leader of the opposition in the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, has said China’s actions in the Indian Ocean archipelago amounted to a “land grab” and “colonialism”, with 80 percent of its debt held by Beijing.

Sri Lanka has already paid a heavy price for being highly indebted to China. Last year, the island nation had to grant a 99-year lease on a strategic port to Beijing over its inability to repay loans for the $1.4-billion project.

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“This debt acquired from China comes with huge business for Chinese companies, particularly construction companies that have turned the whole of Africa into a construction site..”

Should Africa Be Wary Of Chinese Debt? (BBC)

African countries have shown a healthy appetite for Chinese loans but some experts now worry that the continent is gorging on debt, and could soon choke. The Entebbe-Kampala Expressway is still something of a tourist attraction for Ugandans, nearly three months after it opened. The 51km (31 mile), four-lane highway that connects the country’s capital to the Entebbe International Airport was built by a Chinese company using a $476m (£366m) loan from the China Exim Bank. It has cut what was a torturous two-hour journey through some of Africa’s worst traffic into a scenic 45-minute drive into the East Africa nation’s capital. Uganda has taken $3bn of Chinese loans as part of a wider trend that Kampala-based economist Ramathan Ggoobi calls its “unrivalled willingness to avail unconditional capital to Africa”.

“This debt acquired from China comes with huge business for Chinese companies, particularly construction companies that have turned the whole of Africa into a construction site for rails, roads, electricity dams, stadia, commercial buildings and so on,” the Makerere University Business School lecturer told the BBC. The Chinese loans come as many African countries are once again in danger of defaulting on their debts more than a decade after many had their outstanding borrowing written off. At least 40% of low-income countries in the region are either in debt distress or at high risk, the International Monetary Fund warned in April.

Chad, Eritrea, Mozambique, Congo Republic, South Sudan and Zimbabwe were considered to be in debt distress at the end of 2017 while Zambia and Ethiopia were downgraded to “high risk of debt distress”. “In 2017 alone, the newly signed value of Chinese contracted projects in Africa registered $76.5bn,” Standard Bank’s China Economist Jeremy Stevens wrote in a note. “However, despite a sizeable remaining infrastructure deficit on the continent, there is a concern that African countries’ debt-service ability will soon dissolve,” he says.

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Until you can’t pay up. China knows many countries won’t be.

China’s Xi Says No Strings Attached To Funds For Africa (R.)

Xi said at a business forum before the start of a triennial China Africa summit their friendship was time-honoured and that China’s investment in Africa came with no political strings attached. “China does not interfere in Africa’s internal affairs and does not impose its own will on Africa. What we value is the sharing of development experience and the support we can offer to Africa’s national rejuvenation and prosperity,” Xi said. “China’s cooperation with Africa is clearly targeted at the major bottlenecks to development. Resources for our cooperation are not to be spent on any vanity projects but in places where they count the most,” he said.

China has denied engaging in “debt trap” diplomacy but Xi is likely to use the gathering of African leaders to offer a new round of financing, following a pledge of $60 billion at the previous summit in South Africa three years ago. Chinese officials have vowed to be more cautious to ensure projects are sustainable. China defends continued lending to Africa on the grounds that the continent still needs debt-funded infrastructure development. Beijing has also fended off criticism it is only interested in resource extraction to feed its own booming economy, that the projects it funds have poor environmental safeguards, and that too many of the workers for them are flown in from China rather than using African labour.

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The Wall Street Journal is the only remaining paper of record. This is an editorial.

Anatomy Of A Fusion Smear (WSJ)

A partner at Foley & Lardner, Ms. Mitchell was astonished to find herself dragged into the Russia investigation on March 13 when Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee issued an interim report. They wrote that they still wanted to interview “key witnesses,” including Ms. Mitchell, who they claimed was “involved in or may have knowledge of third-party political outreach from the Kremlin to the Trump campaign, including persons linked to the National Rifle Association (NRA).” Two days later the McClatchy news service published a story with the headline “NRA lawyer expressed concerns about group’s Russia ties, investigators told.” The story cited two anonymous sources claiming Congress was investigating Ms. Mitchell’s worries that the NRA had been “channeling Russia funds into the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump.”

Ms. Mitchell says none of this is true. She hadn’t done legal work for the NRA in at least a decade, had zero contact with it in 2016, and had spoken to no one about its actions. She says she told this to McClatchy, which published the story anyway. Now we’re learning how this misinformation got around, and the evidence points to Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, the outfit that financed the infamous Steele dossier. New documents provided to Congress show that Mr. Simpson, a Fusion co-founder, was feeding information to Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. In an interview with House investigators this week, Mr. Ohr confirmed he had known Mr. Simpson for some time, and passed at least some of his information along to the FBI.

In handwritten notes dated Dec. 10, 2016 that the Department of Justice provided to Congress and were transcribed for us by a source, Mr. Ohr discusses allegations that Mr. Simpson made to him in a conversation. The notes read: “A Russian senator (& mobster) . . . [our ellipsis] may have been involved in funneling Russian money to the NRA to use in the campaign. An NRA lawyer named Cleta Mitchell found out about the money pipeline and was very upset, but the election was over.”

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But they still claim damage won’t be long-lasting..

No-Deal Brexit: Study Warns Of Severe Short-Term Impact On UK (G.)

The short-term impact of a no-deal Brexit on Britain’s economy would be “chaotic and severe”, jeopardising jobs and disrupting trade links, warn experts from the thinktank UK in a Changing Europe. The Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, has said he believes 80% of the work on completing an exit deal with the EU27 is already done, as negotiations enter their final phase. But his cabinet colleague Liam Fox recently suggested a no-deal scenario – which would occur if negotiations broke down, or both sides agreed to disagree – was the most likely outcome. In a 30-page updated assessment of the impact of no deal, the thinktank said on Monday it would mean “the disappearance without replacement of many of the rules underpinning the UK’s economic and regulatory structure”.

Its analysis claimed that in the short term: • Food supplies could be temporarily disrupted – the beef trade could collapse, for example, as Britain is heavily reliant on EU imports, and would be forced to apply tariffs, in accordance with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. • European health insurance cards, which allow British tourists free healthcare in the EU, would be invalid from Brexit day. • There would almost certainly have to be a “hardening of the border” between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, including some “physical manifestation”. • The status of legal contracts and commercial arrangements with EU companies would be unclear, as the UK would become a “third country” overnight. • Increased and uncertain processing times for goods at the border would be “nearly certain”, risking queues at Dover and forcing firms to rethink their supply chains.

In the longer term, UK in a Changing Europe’s experts say, the UK would have time to normalise its trading status, and agreements could be struck with the EU27 to tackle many other practical challenges. “It should not be assumed that the damage, while real, will necessarily be long-lasting,” the report says.

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6 months to go. It’ll be a spectacle.

Boris Johnson Launches Fresh Attack On May’s Brexit Plans (G.)

Boris Johnson has used his first newspaper column of the new parliamentary term to attack Theresa May’s Chequers plan, saying it means the UK enters Brexit negotiations with a “white flag fluttering”. The declaration amounts to a significant escalation the former foreign secretary’s guerrilla campaign against the prime minister and her Chequers plan a day before the Commons returns and at a time when party disquiet over the direction of the divorce talks is mounting. Johnson wrote that “the reality is that in this negotiation the EU has so far taken every important trick. The UK has agreed to hand over £40 billion of taxpayers’ money for two thirds of diddly squat”.

Johnson added that by adopting the Chequers plan, which will see the UK adopt a common rule book for food and goods, “we have gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank”. It will be “impossible for the UK to be more competitive, to innovate, to deviate, to initiate, and we are ruling out major free trade deals,” he added. The intervention comes after a summer in which the former minister, who resigned over the Chequers deal, had avoided touching on Brexit in his Daily Telegraph column – although he did unleash a storm of complaint by describing fully veiled Muslim women as looking like letter boxes and bank robbers. It will be seen as preparing the ground for a leadership challenge to May just as the Brexit negotiations reach their critical phase in the autumn, which is to culminate in any final deal agreed by the UK government being put to parliament for a vote.

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“..the average age of workers left in the department is 32..”

Half The Staff Leaves UK’s Brexit Department (Ind.)

The number of officials who have left the Whitehall department trying to deliver Brexit is equivalent to more than half of its total staff, shock new figures reveal. Data seen by The Independent shows hundreds of civil servants went elsewhere as the department tried to get on its feet and cobble together a negotiating stance for the UK over the last two years. The exodus means the average age of workers left in the department is 32, though they are tasked with winning a complex deal that could change Britain for a generation.

The information obtained by the Liberal Democrats appears to corroborate previous reports about an extraordinarily high turnover at the Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu), with critics now claiming it points to “deep instability” at the heart of the government’s Brexit operation. According to the turnover data obtained under freedom of information, a staggering 357 staff have left the Dexeu in just two years. Yet the total number of those employed at the Whitehall department amounts to only 665, indicating a turnover rate of more than 50 per cent in that period.

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Expect many more similar examples.

Britain Loses Medicines Contracts As EU Body Anticipates Brexit (G.)

Britain’s leading role in evaluating new medicines for sale to patients across the EU has collapsed with no more work coming from Europe because of Brexit, it has emerged. The decision by the European Medicines Agency to cut Britain out of its contracts seven months ahead of Brexit is a devastating blow to British pharmaceutical companies already reeling from the loss of the EMA’s HQ in London and with it 900 jobs. All drugs sold in Europe have to go through a lengthy EMA authorisation process before use by health services, and the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in Britain has built up a leading role in this work, with 20-30% of all assessments in the EU.

The MHRA won just two contracts this year and the EMA said that that work was now off limits. “We couldn’t even allocate the work now for new drugs because the expert has to be available throughout the evaluation period and sometimes that can take a year,” said a spokeswoman. In a devastating second blow, existing contracts with the MHRA are also being reallocated to bloc members. Martin McKee, the professor of European health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has given evidence to select committees about Brexit, said it was a disaster for the MHRA, which had about £14m a year from the EMA. The head of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry said it was akin to watching a “British success story” being broken up.

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Draghi!!

Emerging Markets Haunt Spanish Banks (DQ)

Almost exactly six years ago, the Spanish government requested a €100 billion bailout from the Troika (ECB, European Commission and IMF) to rescue its bankrupt savings banks, which were then merged with much larger commercial banks. Over €40 billion of the credit line was used; much of it is still unpaid. Yet Spain’s banking system could soon face a brand new crisis, this time not involving small or mid-sized savings banks but instead its alpha lenders, which are heavily exposed to emerging economies, from Argentina to Turkey and beyond. In the case of Turkey’s financial system, Spanish banks had total exposure of $82.3 billion in the first quarter of 2018, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

That’s more than the combined exposure of lenders from the next three most exposed economies, France, the USA, and the UK, which reached $75 billion in the same period. According to BIS statistics, Spanish banks’ exposure to Turkey’s economy almost quadrupled between 2015 and 2018, largely on the back of Spain’s second largest bank BBVA’s madcap purchase of roughly half of Turkey’s third largest lender, Turkiye Garanti Bankasi. Since buying its first chunk of the bank from the Turkish group Dogus and General Electric in 2010, BBVA has lost over 75% of its investment under the combined influence of Garanti’s plummeting shares and Turkey’s plunging currency.

But the biggest fear, as expressed by the ECB on August 10, is that Turkish borrowers might not be hedged against the lira’s weakness and begin to default en masse on foreign currency loans, which account for a staggering 40% of the Turkish banking sector’s assets. If that happens, the banks most exposed to Turkish debt will be hit pretty hard. And no bank is as exposed as BBVA, though the lender insists its investments are well-hedged and its Turkish business is siloed from the rest of the company. In Argentina, whose currency continues to collapse and whose economy is now spiraling down despite an IMF bailout, Spanish banks’ total combined investments amounted to $28 billion in the first quarter of 2018. That represented almost exactly half of the $58.9 billion that foreign banks are on the hook for in the country. The next most at-risk banking sector, the US, has some $10 billion invested.

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Maybe you should define capitalism first.

Capitalism Is Beyond Saving, and America Is Living Proof (TD)

Real wage growth has been nonexistent in the United States for more than 30 years. But as America enters the 10th year of the recovery—and the longest bull market in modern history—there are nervous murmurs, even among capitalism’s most reliable defenders, that some of its most basic mechanisms might be broken. The gains of the recovery have accrued absurdly, extravagantly to a tiny sliver of the world’s superrich. A small portion of that has trickled down to the professional classes—the lawyers and money managers, art buyers and decorators, consultants and “starchitects”—who work for them. For the declining middle and the growing bottom: nothing.

This is not how the economists told us it was supposed to work. Productivity is at record highs; profits are good; the unemployment rate is nearing a meager 4 percent. There are widely reported labor shortages in key industries. Recent tax cuts infused even more cash into corporate coffers. Individually and collectively, these factors are supposed to exert upward pressure on wages. It should be a workers’ market. But wages remain flat, and companies have used their latest bounty for stock buybacks, a transparent form of market manipulation that was illegal until the Reagan-era SEC began to chip away at the edifice of New Deal market reforms.

The power of labor continues to wane; the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision, while ostensibly limited to public sector unions, signaled in certain terms the willingness of the court’s conservative majority—five guys who have never held a real job—to effectively overturn the entire National Labor Relations Act if given the opportunity. The justices, who imagine working at Wendy’s is like getting hired as an associate at Hogan & Hartson after a couple of federal clerkships, reason that every employee can simply negotiate for the best possible deal with every employer.

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Aug 072018
 
 August 7, 2018  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Eugène-Louis Boudin Beach at Étretat 1890

 

Petition To Trump: Pardon Julian Assange (Infowars)
Corporate Censorship Is State Censorship (CJ)
The Myths Of Stocks For The Long Run – Part X (Roberts)
Germany’s Huge Trade Surpluses Are A Burden On Its EU Partners (CNBC)
EU Acts To Protect Firms From Donald Trump’s Sanctions Against Iran (G.)
Mattress Firm Considers Bankruptcy to Get Out of its Real Estate Scams
UK To Run Out Of Food A Year From Now With No-Deal Brexit – Farmers (G.)
Record Number Of UK Police Officers Forced To Take Second Job (Ind.)
Chinese Newspaper: Trump’s Claim Of Winning Trade War ‘Wishful Thinking’ (R.)
China Bans Winnie The Pooh Film After Comparisons To President Xi (G.)
US Coalition Cooperates With Al-Qaeda In Yemen, AP Confirms (ZH)
Brazil Closes, Then Reopens Border To Venezuelan Migrants (AFP)
Humans Are About to Unleash an Irreversible “Hothouse Earth” (Science Alert)

 

 

Yes, Infowars, and I know. But this is about Julian Assange, and about Alex Jones getting thrown out of social media the moment he launched this petition. Please go to Infowars for once and sign!

Petition To Trump: Pardon Julian Assange (Infowars)

Whereas Journalist Julian Assange and his media organization, Wikileaks has, in the respected tradition of American journalism obtained and published information that is classified and newsworthy, a practice shared with the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and others and

Whereas in the eleven years of its existence the authenticity and accuracy of materials published by Wikileaks has ever been questioned or in dispute and

Whereas the material regarding Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee published by Wikileaks served the national interest by exposing the corruption of the Clintons, the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton campaign and the Obama Justice Department and

Whereas assertion by the American Intelligence Services that Julian Assange is the agent of a ‘Hostile Foreign State” or the Russian government are politically suspect and completely unproven and denied by Assange and

Whereas Julian Assange has consistently denied that material obtained from the Democratic National Committee and published by Wikileaks came from the Russian State and has repeatedly offered to prove this for US authorities and

Whereas Assange, now in failing health, has been a veritable prisoner in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for six years, with the media now reporting Equador is preparing to hand Assange over to British authorities who will presumably extradite Assange to the United States for trial and

Whereas Julian Assange is an impeccably-honest, incredibly-brave, humanitarian journalist, who provides an invaluable platform for whistleblowers exposing corruption and criminality infesting governments, nullifying democracy and obliterating human rights, around the world and

Whereas there are absolutely no legitimate legal grounds to prosecute Assange and, as the U.S. DOJ admitted in 2013, that doing so would expose ALL U.S. journalistic and news outlets to similar criminal jeopardy.

Therefore- we the undersigned urge President Donald J. Trump to issue a full and unconditional pardon to the journalist Julian Assange in the interests of both justice and mercy.

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“Assange’s mother also reports that this mass removal of Infowars’ audience occurred less than 48 hours after she was approached to do an interview by an Infowars producer.”

Corporate Censorship Is State Censorship (CJ)

Last year, representatives of Facebook, Twitter, and Google were instructed on the US Senate floor that it is their responsibility to “quell information rebellions” and adopt a “mission statement” expressing their commitment to “prevent the fomenting of discord.” “Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words,” the representatives were told. “America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.” Yes, this really happened.

Today Twitter has silenced three important anti-war voices on its platform: it has suspended Daniel McAdams, the executive director of the Ron Paul Institute, suspended Scott Horton of the Scott Horton Show, and completely removed the account of prominent Antiwar.com writer Peter Van Buren. I’m about to talk about the censorship of Alex Jones and Infowars now, so let me get the “blah blah I don’t like Alex Jones” thing out of the way so that my social media notifications aren’t inundated with people saying “Caitlin didn’t say the ‘blah blah I don’t like Alex Jones’ thing!” I shouldn’t have to, because this isn’t actually about Alex Jones, but here it is:

I don’t like Alex Jones. He’s made millions saying the things disgruntled right-wingers want to hear instead of telling the truth; he throws in disinfo with his info, which is the same as lying all the time. He’s made countless false predictions and his sudden sycophantic support for a US president has helped lull the populist right into complacency when they should be holding Trump to his non-interventionist campaign pledges, making him even more worthless than he was prior to 2016. But this isn’t about defending Alex Jones. He just happens to be the thinnest edge of the wedge.

As of this writing, Infowars has been censored from Facebook, Youtube (which is part of Google), Apple, Spotify, and now even Pinterest, all within hours of each other. This happens to have occurred at the same time Infowars was circulating a petition with tens of thousands of signatures calling on President Trump to pardon WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who poses a much greater threat to establishment narratives than Alex Jones ever has. Assange’s mother also reports that this mass removal of Infowars’ audience occurred less than 48 hours after she was approached to do an interview by an Infowars producer.

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At some point we’ll have to acknowledge that there is no market.

The Myths Of Stocks For The Long Run – Part X (Roberts)

In early 2017, Byron Wien was asked the question of where we are in terms of the economy and the market to a group of high-end investors. To wit: “The one issue that dominated the discussion at all four of the lunches was whether or not we were in the late stages of the business cycle as well as the bull market. This recovery began in June 2009 and the bull market began in March of that year. So we are more than 100 months into the period of equity appreciation and close to that in terms of economic expansion.“ His point is that markets rotate between bullish and bearish phases. When he made that statement he was simply saying the current economic recovery and the bull market are very long in the tooth. As shown below why shouldn’t we expect a market decline to follow, it has every other time?

[..] There are two problems facing investor outcomes. First, you don’t have 100+ years to invest in the market to get the “average” long-term returns. Second, your “long-term” investment horizon is simply the time you have between today and when you retire. As I stated above, for most people that is about 15 years. So, for argument sake, let’s be generous and assume you have 20-years from today until retirement. As we discussed previously, we know that based on current valuations in the market, forward real total returns in the market will likely be, on average, fairly low to negative.

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Germany and Holland live off the labor of their neighbors. There is no bigger threat to the EU.

Germany’s Huge Trade Surpluses Are A Burden On Its EU Partners (CNBC)

While few European states can pretend to share Germany’s distinction of being a “country of poets and thinkers,” none can rival German abilities to extract so much wealth from the rest of the European Union. Last year, Germany posted a 159.3 billion euro surplus on its goods trade with other countries in the EU — one of the world’s largest free-trade areas and a region with privileged access to German goods and services. That’s the way it’s been since 1958, when Europe’s common market opened up. Germany’s enormous EU bounty consistently accounts for two-thirds of its net foreign trade income in a market structure where Berlin remains an undisputed leader and a principal regulator.

This year looks set to mark another record-high EU trade income for Germany. The surplus during the January-April period was running at an annual rate of 175 billion euro — a 10 percent increase on the country’s EU trades in 2017 — according to statistics from Germany’s Bundesbank. A country representing 28 percent of the monetary union’s economy and living so grandly off the rest of its partners is a structurally destabilizing factor. To this day, economists pointing out that fundamental problem have been ridiculed as hopelessly naive because, as the mantra goes, the European project has always been, and always will be, a political construct to keep the Europeans off each other’s throats.

That charge is not only false, but it also bears the seeds of its own destruction. Taking hundreds of billions of euros of purchasing power out of the monetary union, Germany makes it virtually impossible for other euro area economies to grow and create jobs as they struggle to bring down their public debts and deficits. Instead of accumulating enormous wealth on the back of its euro partners, Germany should stimulate its domestic spending to buy more goods and services from them. [..] Recycling some of last year’s roughly $300 billion trade surplus — through direct investments in the rest of the EU — Germany would boost economic growth and employment in other countries in the bloc, solve the problem of its shrinking manpower and adjust its overflowing external accounts.

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The only choice firms have is who they want to be sanctioned by.

EU Acts To Protect Firms From Donald Trump’s Sanctions Against Iran (G.)

The EU has launched an attempt to protect European businesses from Donald Trump’s sanctions against Iran as the US administration voiced its intent to apply maximum pressure on Tehran by vigorously applying its punitive measures. The sanctions are to enter into force at midnight (US east coast time). At the same time, a blocking statute – last used to protect EU firms from US sanctions against Cuba – will be brought into force in an attempt to insulate firms and keep alive a deal designed to limit the Iranian government’s nuclear aspirations. European firms have been instructed that they should not comply with demands from the White House for them to drop all business with Iran.

Those who decide to pull out because of US sanctions will need to be granted authorisation from the European commission, without which they face the risk of being sued by EU member states. A mechanism has also been opened to allow EU businesses affected by the sanctions to sue the US administration in the national courts of member states. Trump announced his intention to hit firms doing business with Iran when he reneged on a deal struck in 2015 designed to help curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in return for limited sanctions relief.

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Sharing a laugh with Wolf Richter.

Mattress Firm Considers Bankruptcy to Get Out of its Real Estate Scams

This is so thick it’s hard to believe. It’s far beyond just a Brick & Mortar Meltdown. “I recently sold a small strip center with my last Mattress Firm,” a relieved real estate developer told me earlier this year. “It traded at a 7.1% cap rate, which is just astonishing to me. During due diligence, the buyer’s lawyers focused on every minute risk and mentioned nothing about their parent company once. So crazy.” Mattress Firm’s parent company is Steinhoff, now a familiar name in the Enron lexicon. “Mattress Firm’s strategy is to have multiple stores on the same intersection in every town,” this developer had told me last fall.

“This was accomplished by design and not just mergers. As a developer, I was literally asked to find sites across the street from existing stores in almost every town. Mattress Firm was able to get these sites because they would overpay market rent by up to $10 per square foot in every market that I was focused in, but it is the same all over,” he said. To get out of these leases, and for other reasons, Mattress Firm, the largest mattress retailer in the US, is now considering a bankruptcy filing, people familiar with the matter told Reuters. Restructuring in bankruptcy court would allow Mattress Firm to shut down unprofitable and excess stores and get out from under their over-priced leases. Mattress Firm, which was founded in 1986, is a classic example of a private-equity pump-and-dump that has turned into an alleged real estate scam by insiders. Here is the turn of events:

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Better plant some more tomatoes in your gardens.

UK To Run Out Of Food A Year From Now With No-Deal Brexit – Farmers (G.)

Britain would run out of food on this date next year if it cannot continue to easily import from the EU and elsewhere after Brexit, the National Farmers’ Union has warned. Minette Batters, the NFU president, urged the government to put food security at the top of the political agenda after the prospect of a no-deal Brexit was talked up this week. “The UK farming sector has the potential to be one of the most impacted sectors from a bad Brexit – a frictionless free trade deal with the EU and access to a reliable and competent workforce for farm businesses is critical to the future of the sector,” she said. Batters’ warning comes a fortnight after the Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, said Britain would have “adequate food supplies” after Brexit.

While Downing Street has insisted it is confident an agreement can be made in time, the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, warned over the weekend that the prospect of a no-deal Brexit was now at “60-40”, fuelling fears at the NFU and among food importers. Food security in Britain is in long-term decline, with the country producing 60% of what it needs to feed itself, compared with 74% 30 years ago, according to figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). In a statement issued by the NFU, Batters expressed concern that Britain would not be able to meet its food needs if Brexit was mismanaged. Research showed 7 August 2019 would be the nominal day that Britain would run out of food if it were asked to be wholly self-sufficient based on seasonal growth, the NFU said.

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The blessings of austerity.

Record Number Of UK Police Officers Forced To Take Second Job (Ind.)

A record number of police officers are being forced to take on second jobs because they cannot afford essentials on their wages, a survey has found amid warnings the service is “in crisis”. The Police Federation said some officers were resorting to food vouchers and welfare schemes, while dealing with “unprecedented” demand, rising violent crime and terrorism. Almost 8 per cent of the 27,000 members who responded to the association’s annual pay and morale survey said they had taken up a second job, compared with 6 per cent the previous year. The roles included becoming driving instructors, personal trainers or leasing properties.

A further 45 per cent of officers said they worry about finances on a daily basis, 12 per cent said they do not have enough money to cover essentials and 88 per cent do not feel fairly paid. John Apter, the new chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, warned that some officers were in “dire straits”. “Our members are under immense pressure to deliver, with dwindling resources and rising crime, particularly violent crime, leading to a demand for our services that has never been higher,” he said. “All they want is to be adequately paid for the job that they do. “We know officers are struggling and some have had to resort to food vouchers and other welfare schemes. This clearly cannot be right or acceptable that those employed to keep the public safe cannot make ends meet or put food on tables for their families.

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These kinds of things show that China is nervous.

Chinese Newspaper: Trump’s Claim Of Winning Trade War ‘Wishful Thinking’ (R.)

Chinese state media kept up their criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade policies, with a newspaper on Tuesday describing as “wishful thinking” Trump’s belief that a fall in Chinese stocks was a sign of his winning the trade war. As the world’s two biggest economies remained locked in a heated tariff dispute, Beijing and Washington have kept up a blistering rhetoric with threats and counter-threats of more punitive trade measures. The editorial in the official China Daily underscored an increasingly aggressive stance adopted by Chinese state media against Trump, a shift from their previous approach of tempering any direct criticism against the U.S. president.

On Monday, the overseas edition of the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper singled out Trump, saying he was starring in his own “street fighter-style deceitful drama of extortion and intimidation”. [..] The China Daily referred to a Saturday Tweet by Trump which said “Tariffs are working far better than anyone anticipated. China market has dropped 27 percent in last four months.” China’s stock market was performing poorly before the U.S. administration imposed tariffs, said the English-language newspaper, asserting that the downturn was partly due to Beijing’s attempts to cut corporate debt. The paper said Trump’s claim that “tariffs are working big time” was undermined by data showing the U.S. trade deficit climbed $3 billion to $46.3 billion in June, the first increase in four months.

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Catchy, but not too likely. So you get the whole build-up and then towards the end: “China only allows 34 foreign films to be released in cinemas each year..”

China Bans Winnie The Pooh Film After Comparisons To President Xi (G.)

Who’s afraid of Winnie the Pooh? The Chinese government, apparently. Chinese censors have banned the release of Christopher Robin, a new film adaptation of AA Milne’s beloved story about Winnie the Pooh, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The Winnie the Pooh character has become a lighthearted way for people across China to mock their president, Xi Jinping, but it seems the government doesn’t find the joke very funny. It started when Xi visited the US in 2013, and an image of Xi and then president Barack Obama walking together spurred comparisons to Winnie – a portly Xi – walking with Tigger, a lanky Obama. Xi was again compared to the fictional bear in 2014 during a meeting with Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who took on the part of the pessimistic, gloomy donkey, Eeyore.

As comparisons grew and the meme spread online, censors began erasing the images which mocked Xi. The website of US television station HBO was blocked last month after comedian John Oliver repeatedly made fun of the Chinese president’s apparent sensitivity over comparisons of his figure with that of Winnie. The segment also focused on China’s dismal human rights record. Another comparison between Xi and Winnie during a military parade in 2015 became that year’s most censored image, according to Global Risk Insights. The firm said the Chinese government viewed the meme as “a serious effort to undermine the dignity of the presidential office and Xi himself”.

[..] Another reason for the film’s rejection by the authorities may be that China only allows 34 foreign films to be released in cinemas each year. That leaves Hollywood summer blockbusters, family films and contenders from across the world jockeying for a tiny number of spots.

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Like we didn’t know already.

US Coalition Cooperates With Al-Qaeda In Yemen, AP Confirms (ZH)

Perhaps we could simply shrug our shoulders and say it’s better late than never for the mainstream media. A new Associated Press report confirms what was long ago detailed by a number of independent investigative journalists, and even in some instances buried deep within sporadic mainstream reports of past years: the US-coalition in Yemen is actually cooperating with al-Qaeda terrorists in the campaign to dislodge Shia Houthi militants. The AP report begins dramatically as follows:

“Again and again over the past two years, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States has claimed it won decisive victories that drove al-Qaida militants from their strongholds across Yemen and shattered their ability to attack the West. Here’s what the victors did not disclose: many of their conquests came without firing a shot. That’s because the coalition cut secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash, an investigation by The Associated Press has found. Hundreds more were recruited to join the coalition itself.”

And contrary to the normative response of US officials to such allegations, which as in the case of US support to jihadists in Syria typically runs something like “we didn’t know” while hiding behind a system of ‘plausible deniability’ — in the case of Yemen officials involved have now admitted to the AP that coalition allies knowingly allowed al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to survive and flourish. Somewhat surprising for the AP, its report underscores this with zero ambiguity, even illustrating for the reader the terrorists’ linkage to 9/11:

“These compromises and alliances have allowed al-Qaida militants to survive to fight another day — and risk strengthening the most dangerous branch of the terror network that carried out the 9/11 attacks. Key participants in the pacts said the U.S. was aware of the arrangements and held off on any drone strikes.” Similar to the US role in Syria, American officials are now apparently quite comfortable admitting they are willing to utilize designated terrorist groups ultimately as a weapon against pro-Iran interests.

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“It is not justified to take the easy path to ‘close the doors’ because of difficulties in hosting refugees,” Supreme Court justice Rosa Weber said..”

Brazil Closes, Then Reopens Border To Venezuelan Migrants (AFP)

Brazil briefly closed then reopened its northern border to Venezuelans on Monday as it struggled to contain mass migration from the South American country saddled with a crippling political and economic crisis, police said. A Supreme Court justice overturned a lower court judge’s decision that had suspended for a few hours the entry of more Venezuelans until other immigrants from the country were transferred elsewhere in Brazil. “It is not justified to take the easy path to ‘close the doors’ because of difficulties in hosting refugees,” Supreme Court justice Rosa Weber said in her ruling issued shortly before midnight.

The border had remained open to Brazilians and other nationalities, as well as to Venezuelans seeking to return to their home country. It’s a main crossing point for tens of thousands of Venezuelan migrants, an influx that has increased dramatically over the past two years. President Michel Temer was opposed in a “non-negotiable” way to the border closure, Human Rights Minister Gustavo Rocha was quoted as saying by state-run Agencia Brasil. Roraima state’s capital Boa Vista has hosted the largest number of Venezuelan immigrants in the country — around 25,000 out of a total of 330,000 city dwellers. An estimated 500 Venezuelans cross the land border into Brazil each day.

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Feedback loops. Methane is becoming a bigger factor all the time.

Humans Are About to Unleash an Irreversible “Hothouse Earth” (Science Alert)

The coasts are gone. The waves crash high into what were once mountains. Many have perished, for food is scarce, and the deadly heat is inescapable. This bleak future scenario – called a “Hothouse Earth” – could be realised sooner than we think, scientists warn, if the planet breaches a pivotal climate threshold from which there may ultimately be no coming back. The worst part? Scientists say we could exceed this threshold even if we meet the carbon emission reductions called for in the Paris Agreement – and manage to keep global temperatures to 2°C above pre-Industrial levels. Achieving that goal would be a global success story. But it might not be the end of the story.

“Human emissions of greenhouse gas are not the sole determinant of temperature on Earth,” says Earth system scientist Will Steffen from the Australian National University. “Our study suggests that human-induced global warming of 2°C may trigger other Earth system processes, often called ‘feedbacks’, that can drive further warming – even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases.” In a new perspective study, Steffen and an international team of researchers outline a number of these ‘positive feedback’ systems that exist on Earth and can “amplify a perturbation and drive a transition to a different state”. One example is permafrost thaw. As the world gets hotter due to heat-trapping carbon emissions, there’s worrying evidence that melting permafrost soils are releasing even more carbon into the atmosphere – making a bad situation potentially catastrophic.

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Jul 162018
 
 July 16, 2018  Posted by at 7:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte The human condition 1935

 

Trump Cautious Ahead Of Putin Summit (BBC)
Kremlin Takes Trump To Task Over His Gas Pipeline Comments (R.)
Trump Calls European Union A ‘Foe’ – Ahead Of Russia And China (G.)
Xi’s Overly-Ambitious Goals Triggered US-China Trade War (Nikkei)
The Global Reset Will Come Like A Thief In The Night (von Greyerz)
Theresa May’s Grand Plan Has Left Her Stranded In No Woman’s Land (G.)
Theresa May Faces Rebellion From Brexit Hardliners In Customs Bill Vote (G.)
Glut Of Property Hits UK Housing Market In July (R.)
EU Urges Big Powers To Prevent Trade ‘Conflict And Chaos’ (AFP)
At Last, A Law That Could Have Stopped Blair And Bush Invading Iraq (G.)

 

 

Despite all the attempts to frustrate the meeting, it looks like it will take place. Good.

Trump Cautious Ahead Of Putin Summit (BBC)

US President Donald Trump will meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin later on Monday, ending a tumultuous European tour in which he criticised his allies. Mr Trump said he had “low expectations” ahead of the talks in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, but added that “maybe some good” would come of them. The summit comes after 12 Russians were charged with hacking in the 2016 US elections. Mr Trump says he will raise the issue, but there is no formal agenda. The two leaders will meet one-on-one, and will be joined only by their interpreters. It is the first-ever summit between Mr Putin and Mr Trump – although they have previously met on the sidelines of multilateral talks.

There have been calls in the US for Mr Trump to cancel the meeting altogether over the indictments of Russian military intelligence agents, announced on Friday. Russia denies the allegations, and says it is looking forward to the talks as a vehicle for improving relations. US National Security Adviser John Bolton has said both sides have agreed the meeting will have no set agenda. But he said he found it “hard to believe” Mr Putin did not know about the alleged election hacking and the subject would be mentioned. “That’s what one of the purposes of this meeting is, so the president can see eye to eye with President Putin and ask him about it,” he told ABC News.

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Nordstream 2 will be built.

Kremlin Takes Trump To Task Over His Gas Pipeline Comments (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of Russia’s Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline to Europe is an egregious example of unscrupulous competition and it worries Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying on Monday. Speaking shortly before Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin sit down together for a summit in the Finnish capital, Peskov also said discussions between the two on Syria would be difficult because of the U.S. stance on Iran, Russia’s ally and a major player in the Syrian conflict. Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Peskov as saying he hoped the Helsinki talks would represent some kind of step away from the current crisis in U.S.-Russian relations.

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On trade.

Trump Calls European Union A ‘Foe’ – Ahead Of Russia And China (G.)

Donald Trump described the European Union one of his greatest “foes” in another extraordinary diplomatic intervention on Sunday, just hours before sitting down to a high-stakes summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Asked in a TV interview to name his “biggest foe globally right now”, the US president started by naming the European Union, calling the body “very difficult” before ticking off other traditional rivals like Russia and China. Hours earlier, British prime minister Theresa May revealed that Trump suggested she “sue the EU” rather than go into negotiations over Brexit. “Well I think we have a lot of foes,” Trump told CBS News at his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland. “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now you wouldn’t think of the European Union but they’re a foe.”

Apparently taken aback, anchor Jeff Glor replied: “A lot of people might be surprised to hear you list the EU as a foe before China and Russia.” But Trump insisted: “EU is very difficult. I respect the leaders of those countries. But – in a trade sense, they’ve really taken advantage of us.” Trump’s controversial tour through Europe has turned postwar western relations inside out, the president sparring with Nato leaders in Brussels and blasting May’s Brexit strategy in the Sun newspaper. His remarks have reflected one of this president’s core beliefs: that America is exploited by its allies. Donald Tusk, president of the European council, tweeted: “America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news.”

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A different point of view.

Xi’s Overly-Ambitious Goals Triggered US-China Trade War (Nikkei)

China ranges over the global economy like a bull elephant roams the savanna. Other grassland wildlife is sensitive to this mammoth’s slightest moves. The ferocious lion, the U.S., is no exception. China has yet to become fully aware that it is the elephant in the global economy’s boardroom. But in Washington, Trump was cognizant that he could not stand idly by after China vowed to knock the U.S. off its economic pedestal in just 17 years from now. He campaigned for the presidency by promising voters he would put “America first.” News of China’s decision to bring forward its modernization target date emerged at a bad time. It came shortly after Xi had promised Trump business deals worth $250 billion.

That pledge came in November, when Trump was visiting Beijing, and was portrayed as a salve that would help to heal the U.S.’s massive trade deficit with China. As expected, it was little more than talk. The trade gap continues to quickly widen. Alarmed by China’s ambitions and frustrated by the lack of progress in narrowing the U.S. trade deficit, Trump went on the offensive in the spring. There are good reasons for China coming under U.S. trade fire. It has been the biggest beneficiary of the global trade system since it became a member of the World Trade Organization at the end of 2001. All the while, it has imposed strict foreign ownership limits in each industrial sector, forced foreign companies that enter China to transfer technologies and has set up various other barriers to its markets.

Backed by huge amounts of government funds, Chinese companies have made splashy acquisitions of U.S. and European companies that own key technologies, especially in the auto and information technology sectors. Chinese companies can quickly obtain technologies by acquiring or taking equity investments in U.S. and European companies. In the U.S. and Europe, any company can acquire any other company as long as it can obtain the necessary funds. But it is difficult for U.S. and European companies to acquire Chinese companies. Chinese authorities have numerous regulations at their disposal to block any such attempt.

When Xi bared China’s sharp claws, declaring China would overtake the U.S. economically by 2035, he did so for the benefit of a domestic audience and to aid his fierce power struggle with the political factions that had run China for decades. China is now beginning to realize the high price it is having to pay for Xi’s declaration.

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“When the monster, ‘everything’ bubble pops, so will the paper markets in gold, silver, and other precious metals. The size of this market is at least 100-times bigger than the physical market.”

The Global Reset Will Come Like A Thief In The Night (von Greyerz)

“It is absolutely unreal how the world pays so much respect to mediocrity or even incompetence when it comes to running the financial system. Central banks and their heads have created this monster balloon which is now waiting to be popped. They have given the world the impression that they have been instrumental in saving the world economy. The central bank chiefs that managed to retire before the balloon burst can count themselves lucky. In my view, the luck is now in the process of running out for the present ones. These chiefs believe so much in their own ability as saviors of the world that they don’t understand that all they are doing is creating a much bigger monster by printing and printing and printing.

[..] When the monster, ‘everything’ bubble pops, so will the paper markets in gold, silver, and other precious metals. The size of this market is at least 100-times bigger than the physical market. The rise of this market is very much linked to manipulation of the precious metals by central banks, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), and bullion banks. When the paper metals markets pop, there will be no gold (or silver) offered at any price. This is the time when overnight or over a weekend the price will go from $1,250 to $10,000 or even $100,000. This might sound totally unreal to some, but this will be the most likely consequence of the monster bubble popping and everyone in markets running for the exit.

Most people believe that the status quo can go on forever and that central banks will continue their ridiculous game of pretending that air is real money that can create wealth. The few people who believe that there is a serious risk that the system will not survive in its present form, and that their assets — be it cash, bonds, or stocks — could decline substantially in value, must seriously consider insurance.

The next decline in financial markets is likely to start in late 2018 or early 2019. And this will not be an ordinary decline or normal correction. Instead, it will be the beginning of the biggest global bear market in history. And this time central banks and governments will fail in their attempts to save the system. They will, however, certainly print a lot of money and try to reduce interest rates. But as global bond markets collapse, rates will go up rapidly. This means that bonds and stocks will both crash along with most assets.

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The numbers are simply not there.

Theresa May’s Grand Plan Has Left Her Stranded In No Woman’s Land (G.)

Lyndon Johnson, who was majority leader in the US Senate before he became his country’s president, once declared that the most important talent in politics is “the ability to count”. There aren’t enough people who can count around Mrs May. The fatal flaw in her plan is that there is no majority for it in the House of Commons. The Brexit ultras are crying treachery and promising havoc. They both express and feed the furies of Tory activists. The Brextremists don’t have an alternative plan, other than to crash out of the EU without any deal at all, a catastrophic outcome that some of them actually wish for, but that hasn’t stopped them before and won’t curb them now.

Jacob Rees-Mogg and his cabal can muster the 48 signatures of Tory MPs that they need to trigger a confidence vote in Mrs May. They do not sound confident that they have the numbers – they require 159 – to oust her from the premiership. What the ultras can do is make the government’s life even more hellish by prosecuting a “guerrilla war” in parliament. Even if Mrs May could get the EU to accept her plan, 60-plus Conservative MPs are opponents of her version of a Brexit deal. That number will climb if, as is inevitable, she has to make further concessions in Brussels to secure an agreement. There are more than enough Brextremist rebels to block the prime minister in the Commons unless she can get some assistance from the opposition.

She needs the help of Labour MPs and she is not going to get it. Jeremy Corbyn won’t give her any succour. He is more interested in bringing down the Tories than helping them to solve a mad riddle of their own making. The Labour leadership calculates that defeating Mrs May in Brexit votes is their best chance of collapsing the government and precipitating an early general election. But Number 10 clearly harboured hopes that centrist Labour MPs might embrace her plan as the least worst version of Brexit that they are likely to get in the circumstances.

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They’ll keep at it till she’s gone. And it will get even messier.

Theresa May Faces Rebellion From Brexit Hardliners In Customs Bill Vote (G.)

Theresa May faces a concerted rebellion from the hard Brexit wing of the Conservative party on Monday, as MPs unhappy with her Chequers compromise prepare to mount a show of strength by voting for their amendments on the customs bill. The party’s European Research Group says it will reject any last attempts at compromise by Number 10 as they hope to force May to change course over Brexit or risk a no-confidence vote before the summer break by demonstrating the depth of their support. A special ERG whipping operation, using the WhatsApp messaging service, has been created by Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister who resigned from the government last week, although ERG insiders would not put a number on how many they expected to rebel in the Commons.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the ERG, told the BBC “we’ll have an idea of the numbers at 10pm on Monday evening” while one ERG insider added that they were “intensely relaxed” about the number of rebels they had signed up. Last week, members of the hard Brexit group put down four amendments to the taxation (cross-border trade) bill due to be debated on Monday evening, aimed at halting the customs plan announced by May at Chequers nine days ago. The level of support they attract will draw intense focus, particularly if the number significantly exceeds the 48 required to call for a vote of no confidence in May’s leadership of the Conservative party.

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No buyers left.

Glut Of Property Hits UK Housing Market In July (R.)

Britain’s housing market saw a glut of new property offered for sale this month, keeping a lid on prices at a time when sales typically suffer from a seasonal lull, property website Rightmove said on Monday. Real estate agents now have the highest amount of stock since September 2015, Rightmove said. “While an increase in seller numbers is a welcome sign of more liquidity in a generally stock-starved market, it has unfortunately come at a quieter time of year,” Rightmove director Miles Shipside said. The number of homes advertised by Rightmove, Britain’s largest property website, is 8.6 percent higher than the same month a year ago, but the number of sales is virtually unchanged from a year earlier, down 0.2 percent.

Average asking prices for new sellers are down 0.1 percent since June, typical for the time of year, Rightmove added. But in a sign that previous sellers had priced their property too high, a third of stock being advertised had seen at least one price reduction, the highest proportion for the time of year since 2011. Other industry data has shown British house price growth has slowed sharply since the June 2016 Brexit vote, though with marked regional variation. The slowdown is most marked in London and neighbouring areas, where demand has been hit by higher tax on expensive property and reduced demand from foreign investors. In other parts of Britain, prices are still rising moderately.

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EU Council President Donald Tusk says it is the duty of Europe, the US, China and Russia not to destroy global trade, but to improve it.

EU Urges Big Powers To Prevent Trade ‘Conflict And Chaos’ (AFP)

The European Union on Monday called on the United States, China and Russia to work together to avoid trade “conflict and chaos” to prevent it spiralling into violent confrontation. “It is the common duty of Europe and China, but also America and Russia, not to destroy (the global trade order) but to improve it, not to start trade wars which turned into hot conflicts so often in our history,” EU Council President Donald Tusk said in Beijing. “There is still time to prevent conflict and chaos.” Tusk spoke after meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as part of an annual EU-China summit that opened against the backdrop of the growing China-US economic confrontation and wider global trade discord.

The EU — the world’s biggest single market with 28 countries and 500 million people — is trying to buttress alliances in the face of the protectionism unleashed by US President Donald Trump’s “America First” administration. The meeting between Chinese and European officials in Beijing, which also included European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker, comes as Trump prepared to hold talks in Helsinki with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The world needed trade reform, rather than confrontation, Tusk said. “This is why I am calling on our Chinese hosts, but also on Presidents Trump and Putin, to jointly start this process from a thorough reform of the WTO.”

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Dream on. As Smedley Butler said, the only way to stop wars is to take the profit out of them.

At Last, A Law That Could Have Stopped Blair And Bush Invading Iraq (G.)

Tuesday is a red-letter day for international law: from then on, political and military leaders who order the invasion of foreign countries will be guilty of the crime of aggression, and may be punishable at the international criminal court in The Hague. Had this been an offence back in 2003, Tony Blair would have been bang to rights, together with senior numbers of his cabinet and some British military commanders. But if that were the case, of course, they would not have gone ahead; George W Bush would have been without his willing UK accomplices. The judgment at Nuremberg declared that “to initiate a war of aggression … is the supreme international crime”.

But this concept never entered UK law (as the misguided crowdfunded effort to prosecute Blair discovered last year). International acceptance of it stalled until states could agree on an up-to-date definition. The crime was included in the ICC jurisdiction back in 1998, but was suspended until its elements could be decided (in 2010) then ratified by at least 30 states (in 2016). At last it is finally being “activated”. In the meantime, Iraq and Ukraine have been invaded and other countries threatened, while Donald Trump attacked Syria last year. Now, the very existence of the crime of aggression offers some prospect of deterrence, and some degree of certainty in identifying the criminals.

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Jun 102018
 
 June 10, 2018  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin The Day of the God 1894

 

Is The Existing Banking System Coming To An End? (Ren.)
The Credit Cycle Will Be The EU’s Undoing (Macleod)
China is in Trouble (Mises)
How To Plan For Next Round Of Fed Interest Rate Hikes (Freep)
Trump Open To US Embassy In Pyongyang, North Korea (Axios)
Trump Backs Out Of Joint G7 Communique With Attack On Trudeau (Ind.)
One ‘Rant,’ Rough Talks Sour G7 Mood In Confrontations With Trump (R.)
China’s Xi Calls Out ‘Selfish, Short-Sighted’ Trade Policies (R.)
G7 Leaders Urge Russia To Stop Undermining Democracies (R.)
Iran’s Rouhani Criticizes US For Imposing Its Policies On Others (R.)
The Relationship Between Population And Consumption Is Not Straightforward (G.)
There Are No War Heroes. There Are Only War Victims. (CJ)
Our Plastic Pollution Crisis Is Too Big For Recycling To Fix (Leonard)

 

 

Well, not today. Support is low.

Is The Existing Banking System Coming To An End? (Ren.)

Today Switzerland is set to hold a referendum to decide whether to ban commercial banks from creating money. The aim of campaigners is to limit financial speculation by forcing banks to hold 100 per cent reserves against their deposits. If the referendum result goes the way of the campaign group, the Vollgeld Initiative and the concept known as the sovereign money initiative comes to fruition, Swiss banks will no longer be able to create money for themselves, rather they will only be allowed to lend money that they have accumulated from savers or other banks. The current fractional reserve banking system works like this: Banks lend money that they don’t actually have and then command interest on the non-existent money.

This is akin to x offering to loan y a sum of say, £100,000 that the former hasn’t got. The way around this conundrum is for x to then lodge the sum with another financial institution who happens to be in on the scam. Y then pays x interest on the money that x has never been in the position to lend in the first place. Consistent with the proposed Swiss model, the idea of limiting all money creation to central banks was first touted in the 1930s and supported by renowned US economist Irving Fisher as a way of preventing asset bubbles and curbing reckless spending. If the Vollgeld Initiative succeeds with its campaign on Sunday, the fractional reserve system will be replaced by a bill which will give the Swiss National Bank (SNB) a monopoly on physical and electronic money creation.

Since the establishment of the SNB in 1891, the bank has had exclusive powers to mint coins and issue Swiss bank notes. But over 90% of money in circulation in Switzerland (and arguably the world) currently exists in the form of electronic cash which is created out of nothing by private banks. In modern market economies central banks control the creation of bank notes and coins but not the creation of all money. The latter occurs when a commercial bank offers a line of credit. Iceland, whose bloated banking system collapsed in 2008, has also touted the abolition of private money creation and an end to a practice in which central banks accept deposits, make loans and investments and hold reserves that are a fraction of their deposit liabilities. Fractional banking means that money is effectively produced from thin air.

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The weakness of the euro. Largely self-induced.

The Credit Cycle Will Be The EU’s Undoing (Macleod)

It is a common misconception that the world has a business cycle: that merely puts the blame on the private sector for periodic booms and busts. The truth is every boom and bust has its origins in central bank monetary policy and fractional reserve banking. A central bank first attempts to stimulate the economy with low interest rates, having injected base money into the economy to rescue the banks from the previous crisis. The central bank continues to suppress interest rates, inflating assets and facilitating the financing of government deficits. This is followed by the expansion of bank credit as banks recognise that trading conditions in the non-financial economy have improved. Price inflation unexpectedly but inevitably increases, and interest rates have to rise.

They rise to the point where earlier malinvestments begin to be liquidated and a loan repayment crisis develops in financial markets. It is fundamentally a credit cycle, not a business one. Central bankers do not, with very few exceptions, understand they are the cause. And the few central bankers who do understand are unable to influence monetary policy by enough to change it. By not understanding that they create the crisis themselves, central bankers believe they can control all financial risks through regulation and intervention, which is why they are always taken by surprise when a credit crisis hits them. For these reasons we know it is only a matter of time before the world faces another credit crisis.

The next one is likely to be unprecedented in its violence, even exceeding that of the last one in 2008/09, because of the scale of additional monetary reflation that has taken place over the last ten years. The further accumulation of debt in the intervening period also means that a smaller increase in price inflation, and therefore a lower height for interest rates will trigger it. My current expectation is that a global debt liquidation and credit crisis is not far away and will occur by the end of Q1 in 2019, perhaps even by the end of this year. The problem is a global one and we know not where it will break. But once it does, the ECB and the euro will possibly face the most violent deflation in modern history, even exceeding the global slump of the 1930s.

We know in advance what the supposed solution will be: monetary hyperinflation to bail out the banks, governments and the indebted. The effects on prices in the Eurozone are unlikely to be as delayed as they have been in the current cycle, partly because of the sheer scale of the issuance of new money and credit required to stabilise the financial system, partly because the euro is subordinate to the dollar as a safe-haven currency, and partly because of its limited history as a medium of exchange.

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An exercise in large numbers.

China is in Trouble (Mises)

While the rulers of China have been able all along to hedge their plans over longer periods than their Western counterparts have, the new legal situation has extended this planning horizon even further.1 In comparison with those of Western economies, China’s countermeasures against the crisis in 2008 were significantly more drastic. While in the US the balance sheet total of the banking system increased by USD 4,000bn in the years after the global financial crisis, the balance sheet of the Chinese banking system expanded by USD 20,000bn in the same period. For reference: This is four times the Japanese GDP.

The following chart shows the expansion of the bank balance sheet total as compared to economic output. Did the Chinese authorities assume excessive risks in fighting the crisis? Neither the fact that China’s bank balance sheets amount to more than 600% of GDP nor the fact that they have doubled in terms of percentage of GDP in the past several years suggests a healthy development.

Our friends from Condor Capital expect NPL ratios to rise in China, which could translate into credit losses of USD 2,700 to 3,500bn for China’s banks, and this is under the assumption of no contagion (!). By comparison, the losses of the global banking system since the financial crisis have been almost moderate at USD 1,500bn The most recent crisis does teach us, however, that the Chinese are prepared to take drastic measures if necessary. China fought the financial crisis by flooding the credit markets: 35% credit growth in one year on the basis of a classic Keynesian spending program is no small matter.

Chinese money not only inflates a property bubble domestically but also around the globe (e.g. in Sydney and Vancouver). Further support for the global property markets is in question, given the measures China has recently launched. Due to financial problems, Chinese groups such as Anbang and HNA will have to swap the role of buyer for that of seller. The IMF has forecast a further doubling of total Chinese debt outstanding from USD 27,000bn in 2016 to USD 54,000bn in 2022. By comparison, in 2016 China’s GDP amounted to USD 11,200bn. This spells debt-induced growth at declining rates of marginal utility. From our point of view, this development – which we can also see in the West – is unsustainable.

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” Say good-bye to super-cheap cash.”

How To Plan For Next Round Of Fed Interest Rate Hikes (Freep)

The easy money officially ends Wednesday, as interest rates, much like summer temps, heat up once again. It’s a “slam-dunk” that the Federal Reserve will increase rates by a quarter point after its meeting this week, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics. And it’s likely we’re in for two more quarter-point hikes in September and December, he said. “If you are thinking about buying a car or home, sooner is better than later, but I wouldn’t rush into anything, as rates, while rising, are still very low,” Zandi said. The U.S. economy — with a national jobless rate at 3.8% in May, the lowest level in 18 years — has put the Great Recession in 2008-09 in the rear view mirror.

Consumers — as well as business leaders — are formulating strategies to cope with higher rates ahead. The Fed began gradually tightening money with the first quarter-point rate hike in December 2015 — then the first rate hike in nearly a decade. Since then, there have been another five rate hikes. The latest rate hike in March took the Fed’s benchmark rate to a target range of 1.5% to 1.75%. If the Fed raises rates as expected Wednesday, the overnight borrowing cost will be in line with the Fed’s inflation target of 2%. For the first time in almost a decade, the cost of borrowing will no longer be essentially free. Say good-bye to super-cheap cash.

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Carrot for Kim.

Trump Open To US Embassy In Pyongyang, North Korea (Axios)

President Trump is willing to consider establishing official relations with North Korea and even eventually putting an embassy in Pyongyang, according to two sources familiar with preparations for the Singapore summit. “It would all depend what he gets in return,” said a source close to the White House. “Denuclearization would have to be happening.” The sources stressed that this is one of many topics that could be discussed at the summit, and that certainly nothing like that has been decided or is necessarily expected to emerge from Trump’s historic mano a mano with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

But the U.S. and North Korean working groups — with engagements in New York, the DMZ and Singapore — have discussed establishing official relations between the two countries that would involve putting a U.S. embassy in Pyongyang. One of the sources, who is familiar with the president’s thinking, said Trump had made it a point not to reject any ideas headed into the summit: “It’s definitely been discussed,” the source said. “His view is: ‘We can discuss that: It’s on the table. Let’s see.’ Of course we would consider it. There’s almost nothing he’ll take off the table going in.” The source said North Korean officials have been wildly inconsistent in the pre-meetings, making it difficult to get any read on how the discussions might go.

The source close to the White House added: “POTUS will consider any idea anyone brings him if it delivers on denuclearization that is irreversible and verifiable. He won’t be played by Kim. But it is not his style to — on the front end — rule out possibilities of what could happen or may happen depending on how negotiations go.”

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Well, it wasn’t dull.

Trump Backs Out Of Joint G7 Communique With Attack On Trudeau (Ind.)

Donald Trump has rejected an agreement signed off by the leaders of countries at the G7 summit in Canada despite earlier having appeared to endorse the joint statement vowing to fight back against protectionism and pledging to follow established trade rules. The joint statement between the leaders of US, France, Germany, the UK, Japan, Italy, and Canada comes after US President Donald Trump refused to back down from his decision to impose international tariffs on goods including steel and aluminium imports as a part of his so-called “America First” strategy.

The communique had been confirmed by Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, who conceded that Mr Trump’s tough talk on trade showed there was a lot of work to be done between the countries, but nevertheless portrayed the joint statement as a positive step towards international cooperation. However, Mr Trump later tweeted that he had would not now endorse the communique due to “false statements” from the Canadian prime minister. He wrote: “Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive tariffs to our US farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our US reps not to endorse the communique as we look at tariffs on automobiles flooding the US market!”

He added: “PM Justin Trudeau of Canada acted so meek and mild during our G7 meetings only to give a news conference after I left saying that, ‘US tariffs were kind of insulting’ and he ‘will not be pushed around.’ Very dishonest & weak. Our tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!”

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These people see themselves as no.1, because that’s what they are where they come from. Being contradicted is then hard to take.

One ‘Rant,’ Rough Talks Sour G7 Mood In Confrontations With Trump (R.)

Trump gave “a long, frank rant”, the official said, repeating a position he carried through the 2016 U.S. election campaign into the White House that the United States had suffered at the hands of its trading partners, with French President Emmanuel Macron pushing back on the assertion and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe chiming in. It was a “a long litany of recriminations, somewhat bitter reports that the United States was treated unfairly,” said the French official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It was a difficult time, rough, very frank.” The U.S. president did not appear to be listening during some of the trade presentations, another G7 official familiar with the meeting said.

Trump himself told reporters on Saturday that the summit was not contentious and called his relationship with G7 allies a “10”. Despite smiles and jokes for the cameras, the tension among the leaders was clear. At one point, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was seen having a brief, intense one-sided conversation with a stony-faced Trump on Friday. On Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sniped about “stragglers” after Trump was late to a breakfast session on gender equality. Trump left the summit early for Singapore, where he will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next week.

One scene at the very beginning of the gathering of presidents and prime ministers of the biggest industrialized nations set the mood for facing the brash Trump. He arrived at La Malbaie, the scenic luxury resort on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, as the four European leaders and the two EU heads were huddled together in a room to coordinate their strategy. The noise of Trump’s helicopter landing was so loud they had to stop talking for a while, in a scene one official compared to the opening from the U.S. television series M.A.S.H. “The EU understands that the only way with Trump is strength,” said one European official. “If you give in now, he will come back tomorrow for more.”

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All policies must benefit China.

China’s Xi Calls Out ‘Selfish, Short-Sighted’ Trade Policies (R.)

Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country is locked in a high-stakes trade dispute with the United States, on Sunday said China rejects “selfish, shortsighted” trade policies, and called for building an open global economy. Xi did not mention the United States during a speech at a summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a regional security bloc led by China and Russia. “We reject selfish, shortsighted, closed, narrow policies, (we) uphold World Trade Organisation rules, support a multi-lateral trade system, and building an open world economy,” Xi said in a speech in the port city of Qingdao.

The United States and China have threatened tit-for-tat tariffs on goods worth up to $150 billion each, as President Donald Trump has pushed Beijing to open its economy further and address the United States’ large trade deficit with China. Xi spoke hours after Trump said he was backing out of the Group of Seven communique, thwarting what appeared to be a fragile consensus on a trade dispute between Washington and its top allies. “We must … discard Cold War thinking, group confrontation; we object to acts of getting one’s own absolute security at the cost of other countries’ security,” Xi said.

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Skripal and Crimea. It’s all they got.

G7 Leaders Urge Russia To Stop Undermining Democracies (R.)

Leaders of the Group of Seven countries urged Russia on Saturday to stop undermining democracies and said they were ready to step up sanctions against Moscow if necessary. The leaders of the United States, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Britain made the strongly worded statement just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump, who is part of the G7, said he wanted Moscow re-invited to the group. “We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing behavior, to undermine democratic systems and its support of the Syrian regime,” the leaders said in a statement at the end of their two-day meeting in La Malbaie, Quebec.

The G7 leaders condemned an attack in Salisbury in Britain on a former Russian spy using a Russian-made military grade nerve agent, saying it was highly likely Moscow was responsible because there was no other plausible explanation. Russia denies having anything to do with the attack. The G7 leaders made a commitment on Friday, without naming Russia, to share information between themselves and work with internet service providers and social media companies to thwart foreign meddling in elections. The Kremlin has denied allegations by the United States and some European countries that Russia interfered in their elections. Earlier on Saturday, Trump told a news conference the issue of Russia’s return to the group was discussed. Russia was a member of the then G8 until it was expelled for annexing Crimea in 2014.

“I think it would be an asset to have Russia back in. I think it would be good for the world. I think it would be good for Russia. I think it would be good for the United States. I think it would be good for all of the countries of the current G7,” Trump said. Italy’s new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conti expressed similar sentiment. But the final communique struck a different note, saying western sanctions against Russia would continue as long as Moscow failed to meet its obligations in Ukraine under the Minsk accord it signed, and could even be stepped up. “We reiterate our condemnation of the illegal annexation of Crimea and reaffirm our enduring support for Ukrainian sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders,” the G7 statement said.

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World order.

Iran’s Rouhani Criticizes US For Imposing Its Policies On Others (R.)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday said that U.S. efforts to impose its policies on others are a threat to all, after Washington last month said it was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and would reimpose economic sanctions. Rouhani, speaking at a summit of the Chinese and Russian-led security bloc the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in the port city of Qingdao, said he appreciated efforts by Beijing and Moscow to maintain the nuclear deal.

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“One believed in scientific ingenuity as the answer to our problems, the other was convinced that it only deepened the crisis.”

The Relationship Between Population And Consumption Is Not Straightforward (G.)

Charles C Mann is a science journalist, author and historian. His books 1491 and 1493, looking at the Americas before and after Columbus, were widely acclaimed. His new book, The Wizard and the Prophet, examines the highly influential and starkly contrasting environmental visions of Norman Borlaug (the Wizard) and William Vogt (the Prophet). Borlaug (1914-2009) was instrumental in the green revolution that vastly expanded the amount of food humanity has been able to cultivate. Vogt (1902-1968) was a pioneering ecologist who argued that humans had exceeded the Earth’s “carrying capacity” and were heading for cataclysm unless consumption was drastically reduced. One believed in scientific ingenuity as the answer to our problems, the other was convinced that it only deepened the crisis.

What made you frame this story of humanity’s future in terms of these two individuals?

It really started the night my daughter was born 19 years ago. I was standing in the parking lot at three in the morning and it suddenly popped into my head that when Amelia, my daughter, became my age there would be almost 10 billion people in the world. And I believe that centuries from now, when historians look back at the time when you and I have been alive, the big thing that they’ll say happened is that hundreds of millions of people in Asia and Latin America and Africa lifted themselves from destitution to something like the middle class. So not only will there be 10 billion people but all those people will want the same things you and I want – nice homes, nice car, nice clothes, the odd chunk of Toblerone, right?

And so I stood there in the parking lot and thought to myself: how are we meant to do this? I’m a science journalist, so when I was talking to researchers, I’d say: “How are we going to feed everybody, how are we going to get water for everybody, house everybody? What are we going to do about climate change?” After a while I realised that the answers I was getting fell into two broad categories, each of which had a name that kept being associated with it: one was Borlaug, the other Vogt.

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Caitlin Johnstone is a gem. I was thinking next Memorial Day make every American listen to With God On Our Side.

There Are No War Heroes. There Are Only War Victims. (CJ)

The US special operations soldier who was killed in Somalia (one of the “seven countries in five years” famously named in General Wesley Clark’s revelation of the US war machine’s plans for world domination) and the four others who were injured are not heroes. The US servicemen and women who have fought and died in America’s nonstop acts of military expansionism and wars of aggression are not heroes. They are victims. They are victims of a sociopathic power establishment which does not care about them, and never has. If what I just wrote bothered you, it is because you have been conditioned to oppose such ideas by generations of war propaganda.

If you believe that US soldiers are heroes, it means that you believe that they are fighting and dying for a noble cause; for your freedom, for democracy, for the good and the just. It turns the deaths of the fallen into a tragic but noble sacrifice in your eyes, which keeps you from realizing that they have actually been dying for the profit margins of war plutocrats, land and resource assets, and the neoconservative agenda to secure control of the planet. There is nothing heroic about being thrown into the gears of the war machine and having one’s body and mind ripped apart for the advancement of plutocratic interests. But if your rulers can trick you into thinking that dead US soldiers died for something worth dying for, you won’t turn around and lay the blame on the war profiteers and ambitious sociopaths who are truly responsible for their deaths.

So they lie to you. Constantly. People often counter this notion by pointing at World War 2, about which a case for the possibility of heroism in war can indeed be made. But the fact that this argument needs to reach back 73 years to the very brink of living memory in order to find a justifiable US war tells you everything you need to know about the weakness of that argument. Since 1945, when human civilization looked completely different and America itself was still an apartheid state, we have seen the US military spread around the globe, collapse nations, and butcher millions upon millions of people, all at the expense of the lives of US military personnel, and all without just cause. The people whose lives have been used like Kleenex and discarded by the US war machine did not die for a good cause.

They did not die fighting for freedom or democracy. They are not heroes. They are victims. We need to talk about this. The way we can be shamed into silence for saying such things is truly toxic, because it prevents us from addressing the very real problem that the United States starts unjust wars constantly and spends soldiers’ lives like pennies. It probably is nice for the families of war victims to tell themselves comforting stories about how their loved one died fighting to make the world a better place, and normally I’d be happy to let them harbor that personal fantasy without saying anything to disrupt it, but people are dying here.

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Annie Leonard is the boss at Greenpeace USA. And she has it upside down. You don’t ask multinationals if they would pretty please use less plastic. You ban them from using it.

Our Plastic Pollution Crisis Is Too Big For Recycling To Fix (Leonard)

Every minute, every single day, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters our oceans. In the name of profit and convenience, corporations are literally choking our planet with a substance that does not just “go away” when we toss it into a bin. Since the 1950s, some 8.3bn tons of plastic have been produced worldwide, and to date, only 9% of that has been recycled. Our oceans bear the brunt of our plastics epidemic – up to 12.7m tons of plastic end up in them every year. Just over a decade ago, I launched the Story of Stuff to help shine a light on the ways we produce, use and dispose of the stuff in our lives. The Story of Stuff is inextricably linked to the story of plastics – the packaging that goes along with those endless purchases.

We buy a soda, sip it for a few minutes, and toss its permanent packaging “away”. We eat potato chips, finish them, then throw their permanent packaging “away”. We buy produce, take it out of the unnecessary plastic wrap, then throw its permanent packaging “away”. The cycle is endless, and it happens countless times every single day. But here’s the catch – there is no “away”. As far as we try to toss a piece of plastic – whether it’s into a recycling bin or not – it does not disappear. Chances are, it ends up polluting our communities, oceans or waterways in some form. For years, we’ve been conned into thinking the problem of plastic packaging can be solved through better individual action. We’re told that if we simply recycle we’re doing our part.

We’re told that if we bring reusable bags to the grocery store, we’re saving the world. We think that if we drink from a reusable bottle, we’re making enough of a difference. But the truth is that we cannot recycle our way out of this mess. [..] We need corporations – those like Coca-Cola, Unilever, Starbucks and Nestlé that continue to churn out throwaway plastic bottles, cups, and straws – to step up and show real accountability for the mess they’ve created. Drink companies produce over 500bn single-use plastic bottles annually; there is no way that we can recycle our way out of a problem of that scale.

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Jun 072018
 
 June 7, 2018  Posted by at 2:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh The good Samaritan (after Delacroix) 1890

 

UK House Prices Have Soared 100-Fold Since 1966 (CityAM)
No Need To Buy US Gas At Triple The Price, Will Buy From Russia – Austria (RT)
European Businesses Advised To Avoid Using British Parts Ahead Of Brexit (Sky)
Volatility May Hit Wall Street As Alphabet, Facebook Leave Tech Sector (R.)
China’s Debt Default Avalanche (ZH)
Turkey Escalates Row With Greece Over ‘Putschist’ Soldiers (G.)
Merkel Backs Macron’s European Defense Force Initiative (RT)
Airbnb Culls Japan Listings Ahead Of New Rental Law (AFP)
Whoever Controls The Narrative Controls The World (CJ)
How Humanity Could Become Impossible To Propagandize (CJ)
Study Warns Of Alarming Decline In Australian Fish (AFP)

 

 

Shifting priorities. Homes are no longer places to live.

UK House Prices Have Soared 100-Fold Since 1966 (CityAM)

UK house prices are 106 times higher than they were when England won the World Cup in 1966, according to research from online mortgage broker Trussle. Average house prices have gone up from £2,006 to £211,000, the company found, while wages have risen at around a third of the rate, moving from £798 to £26,500. But for the country’s footballers, the story is somewhat different. On average Premier League footballers earn 1,136 times more than top-flight stars like Bobby Moore and George Best did back in 1966. It’s estimated that the average wage of the current England squad is just below £80,000 per week – more than 3 times the annual UK average wage.

Ishaan Malhi, CEO and founder of Trussle, said: “A lot of has changed since England won the World Cup. We’ve put a man on the moon, invented the internet and we’ve seen technology transform almost every aspect of our lives. “We’ve also seen the UK housing market change dramatically. Prices have soared in the last 52 years, wages have struggled to keep pace and for young people, the chances of getting on the property ladder today will feel a lot slimmer than they did in 1966.” The research from Trussle comes as analysis from trade union GMB published yesterday showed that rents in London are far outpacing wage growth. Analysing data from the Valuation Office Agency, GMB found that between 2011 and 2017, rent prices for two-bedroom flats in London increased by 25.9%, whilst over the same period, monthly earnings increased by just 9.1%.

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European ties to Russia are old and deep.

No Need To Buy US Gas At Triple The Price, Will Buy From Russia – Austria (RT)

The US is force-feeding Europe its liquefied natural gas, which is three times more expensive that buying it from Russia, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said after signing a gas-supply contract with Moscow until 2040. While US politicians are accusing Europe of being dependent on Russian gas, they forget that “American liquefied gas is two or three times more expensive than Russian gas. Under such circumstances, it makes little sense in purely economic terms to replace Russian gas with American LNG,” Van der Bellen said at a press conference after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vienna on Tuesday.

Putin noted that Austria is a major transportation hub for Russian gas being exported to Europe. “Austria has become one of the key, if not to say, one of the most important units of Russian gas transportation to Western Europe and plays an important role in ensuring the energy security of the entire European continent,” Putin said. He recalled that Russia has exported more than 200 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Austria in the past 50 years. After the meeting, Russia’s Gazprom and Austria’s OMV signed a gas supply contract until 2040.

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Trade deals can be bitches.

European Businesses Advised To Avoid Using British Parts Ahead Of Brexit (Sky)

European governments are advising businesses not to use British parts in goods for export ahead of Brexit, Sky News has established. In its advice rolled out to all Dutch businesses, the Dutch government has told its exporters that “if a large part of your product consists of parts from the UK” domestic exporters may lose free trade access under existing deals. The advice says: “Brexit will have consequences for exports outside the EU. “After Brexit, parts made in the UK no longer count towards this minimum production in the European Union.” This is a reference to what are known as “rules of origin” and “local content” under international trade rules. In order to qualify for EU free trade deals, a certain proportion, typically 55% of a product’s parts, needs to come from the EU.

The Dutch government says UK parts “no longer count towards EU origin” in its official “Brexit impact scan” advice to Dutch businesses. That warning has also been underpinned by the EU’s own technical notice on this issue. “As of withdrawal date, the UK becomes a third country. UK inputs are considered ‘non-originating’,” it says. A leading car industry executive told Sky News that not using UK parts for EU exports would be a “catastrophe” for the British industry. “The hard Brexiteers have built a bomb under the UK automotive industry and the EU have lit it,” said one chief executive. Sky News has also heard of major UK automotive suppliers now ceasing UK supply of major components to cars for export to countries currently covered by EU Free Trade Areas – countries such as South Korea, South Africa and Canada.

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A new day.

Volatility May Hit Wall Street As Alphabet, Facebook Leave Tech Sector (R.)

Volatility could well be in the cards for Wall Street again early this fall, but not for the same reason stocks got rattled in February. This time the culprit would be the largest-ever shakeup of the stock market’s broad business sectors, which will mean some of the hottest stocks, like Facebook and Google parent Alphabet, will shift from their traditional homes in the top-performing technology sector and into a deepened pool of telecommunications and media stocks. The sweeping reorganization of the Global Industry Classification Standard, or GICS, means that funds tracking the telecom, tech and consumer discretionary sectors will be forced to trade billions of dollars of stock to realign their holdings by a Sept. 28 effective date.

While the choppiness many investors expect to see is unlikely to hit stocks in quite the same way that wave of the global uncertainty did in early 2018, the fact that so much money must be shifted among index funds in a short time will cause a stir. In a bid to ensure a smooth transition, leading fund provider Vanguard Group has have already started adjusting its sector exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, while State Street Global Advisors is launching an entirely new fund. Other investors predict price swings and commotion on trading desks if last-minute sales of Alphabet and Facebook shares by heavyweight technology index funds dwarf demand from a handful of telecom funds buying those stocks.

“There’s probably going to be net selling,” said Andrew Bodner, president of Double Diamond Investment Group in Parsippany, New Jersey. “That will be a temporary scenario, and it could be a good buying opportunity for a lot of those stocks.” Maintained by S&P Dow Jones Indices and MSCI since 1999 and widely used by portfolio managers, the GICS classifies companies across 11 sectors. The newest, real estate, was split off from financials in 2016. The upcoming changes, which have yet to be finalized, are meant to reflect evolving industries. Facebook and Alphabet will move from information technology and sit alongside AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications in a broadened telecommunication services sector that will be renamed communications services.

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Who’s the boss in China? Xi or the shadows?

China’s Debt Default Avalanche (ZH)

[..] what if the first domino to fall in the coming corporate debt crisis is not in the US, but in China? After all, as part of China’s aggressive deleveraging campaign, there has already been a spike of corporate bankruptcies as banks shed more of their massive note holdings and de-risk their balance sheets. According to Logan Wright, Hong Kong-based director at research firm Rhodium, there have already been least 14 corporate bond defaults in China in 2018; a separate analysis by Economic Information Daily, as of May 25, there had already been no less than 20 corporate defaults, involving more than 17 billion yuan, a shockingly high number for a country which until recently had never seen a single corporate bankruptcy, and a number which is set to increase as Chinese banks pull pull back from lending to other firms that use the funds to buy bonds, exacerbating the pressure on the market.

“You have seen banks redeeming funds placed with non-bank financial institutions that have reduced the pool of funds available for corporate bond investment overall,” Wright told Bloomberg, adding that additional bond defaults are especially likely among those property developers and local-government financing vehicles which have relied on shadow banking sources of funds. As we discussed last year, as part of Beijing’s crackdown on China’s $10 trillion shadow banking sector, strains have spread from high-yield trust products to corporate bonds as the lack of shadow funding has choked off refinancing for weaker borrowers. Separately, Banks’ lending to other financial firms, a common route for funds and securities brokers to add leverage for corporate bond investments, declined for three straight months, or a total of 1.7 trillion yuan ($265 billion), since January according to Bloomberg calculations.

The deleveraging campaign is also depressing bond demand: “Unlike the U.S., where the majority of buyers of bonds are mutual funds, individuals and investment companies, in China, the key holders of bonds are bank on-and off-balance sheet positions,” said Jason Bedford at UBS, who noted that Chinese banks are buying far fewer bonds as a result. Putting the number in context, according to Bloomberg, China’s four largest banks held about 4.1 trillion yuan in bonds issued by companies and other financial institutions at the end of 2017, nearly 20% below 5.1 trillion yuan a year earlier; all Chinese banks held about 12 trillion yuan of corporate bonds on or off their balances sheets, some 70% of outstanding issuance, according to Citic.

It is therefore hardly surprising to see that Chinese corporate bonds, especially riskier issues, have been getting slammed in recent weeks. According to Chinabond data, as noted first by Bloomberg, the yield premium of three-year AA- rated bonds over similar-maturity AAA notes has blown out 72 bps since March to 225 basis points, the highest level since August 2016, an indication of the recent pressures on weaker firms. One can imagine what is going on with deep junk-rated corps.

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Under heavy police protection in Greece. Because the Turks may come and get them. Elections June 24.

Turkey Escalates Row With Greece Over ‘Putschist’ Soldiers (G.)

Turkey has sent fighter jets roaring into Greek airspace as tensions mount between the two neighbours following the release from pre-trial detention of eight Turkish army officers described as traitors by Ankara. Formations of F-16s flew at low altitude over Aegean isles for more than 20 minutes on Tuesday as Turkey furiously accused Greece of sheltering terrorists. Ankara vowed to trace the commandos who it claimed participated in the failed July 2016 coup against the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government. “It is our duty to find these ‘putschist’ soldiers wherever they are, pack them up and bring them to Turkey,” the country’s deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdag, said late on Monday.

He personally criticised the Greek prime minster, Alexis Tsipras, for failing to hand the soldiers over to Turkey after they flew into Greek airspace. “From statements made in Greece by its prime minister right after the coup, we were of the positive opinion that they would be extradited to Turkey,” he said. “We thought that Mr Tsipras would keep his word. With time, though, we saw that the judicial authorities were mobilised and these ‘putschists’ were not extradited.” The fate of the eight has been in Greek hands ever since the army officers took local authorities aback, landing their helicopter outside the northern border town of Alexandroupolis a day after the abortive coup.

[..] On Monday Greek authorities moved the military personnel out of police custody; following expiry of the 18-month pre-trial period they are legally allowed to be detained while they apply for asylum. They have been placed in top-secret locations under heavy police protection. “Given Turkey’s mindset, the situation is very dangerous,” said a senior judicial source. “But this is an issue of justice and we feel strongly that we must stand up for it.”

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Competition for NATO?!

Merkel Backs Macron’s European Defense Force Initiative (RT)

Chancellor Angela Merkel has supported “in principle” the idea of a joint European Defense Force proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron. Germany’s opposition had been the main stumbling block for the much-discussed project. “I am in favor of President Macron’s proposal for an intervention initiative,” the German chancellor told Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper on Sunday. “However, such an intervention force with a common military-strategic culture must fit into the structure of defense cooperation,” she said. Merkel said that the German military, the Bundeswehr, “must, in principle, be part of such an initiative,” but added that her statement “doesn’t mean that we are to be involved in every mission.”

During his key speech at Sorbonne University last September, Macron proposed a European military “intervention force” that would protect the continent by taking action in hotspots around the globe. It’s a crucial element of the French leader’s defense reform, which is aimed at integrating European defense capacities. But the talks on implementing the European Defense Force have so far been complicated due to Berlin’s cautions approach to the initiative. “European defense cooperation is very important. Of the 180 weapon systems that currently co-exist in Europe, we must move to a situation like the United States, which has only about 30 weapons systems,” Merkel said.

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Still a pretty weak law.

Airbnb Culls Japan Listings Ahead Of New Rental Law (AFP)

Rental platform Airbnb has suspended a large majority of its listings in Japan ahead of a new law that goes into effect next week regulating short-term rentals in the country. The law, which will comes into force on June 15, requires owners to obtain a government registration number and meet various regulations that some have decried as overly strict. “This weekend we reached out to those hosts who have not yet obtained their notification number to let them know that they will need this to accept any new bookings,” Airbnb spokesman for Asia-Pacific Jake Wilczynski told AFP. “We have informed those hosts that we are in the process of turning off future listing capabilities.”

He declined to confirm the exact number of listings affected, but local media reports and sources put the figure at about 80 percent of the rentals available on the site across Japan. Wilczynski said many Airbnb hosts had already obtained their registration, and others were “going through or finalising” the process. “We are on course to register tens of thousands of new listings in Japan in the months ahead,” he added. [..] The law limits stays to 180 days a year, and allows local governments to impose additional restrictions, with the tourist magnet of Kyoto only permitting rentals in residential areas between mid-January and mid-March, the low season for tourists.

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Two excellent pieces from Caitlin Johnstone.

Whoever Controls The Narrative Controls The World (CJ)

MSNBC host Joy Reid still has a job. Despite blatantly lying about time-traveling hackers bearing responsibility for bigoted posts a decade ago in her then-barely-known blog, despite her reportedly sparking an FBI investigation on false pretenses, despite her colleagues at MSNBC being completely fed up with how the network is handling the controversy surrounding her, her career just keeps trundling forward like a bullet-riddled zombie. To be clear, I do not particularly care that Joy Reid has done any of these things. I write about war, nuclear escalations and the sociopathy of US government agencies which kill millions of people; I don’t care that Joy Reid is or was a homophobe, and I don’t care that she lied to cover it up.

The war agendas that MSNBC itself promotes on a daily basis are infinitely worse than either of these things, and if that isn’t obvious to you it’s because military propaganda has caused you to compartmentalize yourself out of an intellectually honest understanding of what war is. What is interesting to me, however, is the fact that Reid’s bosses are protecting her career so adamantly. Both by refusing to fire her, and by steering the conversation into being about her controversial blog posts rather than the fact that she told a spectacular lie in an attempt to cover them up, Reid is being propped up despite this story constantly re-emerging and making new headlines with new embarrassing details, and despite her lack of any discernible talent or redeeming personal characteristics. This tells us something important about what is going on in the world.

It is not difficult to find someone to read from a teleprompter for large amounts of money. What absolutely is difficult is finding someone who is willing to deceive and manipulate to advance the agendas of the privileged few day after day. Who else would be willing to spend all day on Twitter smearing everyone to the left of Hillary Clinton while still claiming to stand on the political left? Who else would advance the point-blank lieabout “17 intelligence agencies” having declared Russia guilty in US election meddling months after that claim had been famously and virally debunked? Who else would publicly claim that Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks did not benefit anyone besides Russia? Who else could oligarchs like Comcast CEO Brian L Roberts, whose company controls MSNBC, count on to consistently advance his agendas?

While it’s easy to find someone you can count on to advance one particular lie at one particular time, it is difficult to find someone you can be absolutely certain will lie for you day after day, year after year, through election cycles and administration changes and new war agendas and changing political climates. A lot of the people who used to advance perspectives which ran against the grain of the political orthodoxy at MSNBC like Phil Donahue, Ed Schultz and Dylan Ratigan have vanished from the airwaves never to return, while reporters who consistently keep their heads down and toe the line for the Democratic establishment like Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Joy Reid are richly rewarded and encouraged to remain.

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It’s just that I’m asking myself if maybe the notion that ‘we can change and be better people’ is itself a narrative?!

How Humanity Could Become Impossible To Propagandize (CJ)

Narrative rules our world today, from our most basic concepts about ourselves to the behavior of nations and governments. Right now your direct experience of life is little more than the air going in and out of your respiratory system, your gaze moving from left to right over this text, and perhaps the sensation of your bum in a chair or sofa; without any narrative overlay, those experiences are all you are in this moment. Add in mental narrative and all of a sudden you’re a particular individual with a particular name and a particular story, who has perhaps some concerns about the future and regrets about the past, with all sorts of desires and goals and fears and aversions. As far as your actual present experience is concerned, all that stuff is pure mental noise. Pure narrative.

The same is true of things like power, money, and government. There is nothing grafted onto the electrons of the universe which says that the world needs to be mostly ruled by a few billionaires and their lackeys. Only the made-up rules about how power, money and government operate cause that to be the case, and those rules are only as true as we all collectively agree to pretend they are. They are all mental constructs that people made up, and we can therefore change them whenever we want to. Which is why so much plutocratic effort goes into making sure that we don’t.

Narrative dominates our society from top to bottom, which means that all someone has to do to control society is control its narratives. If people are sick, hungry, or poor, you don’t have to give them medicine, food or money to pacify them; you can just give them a narrative instead. If you can get them subscribed to the notion that attempts to rectify these problems with economic justice ought to be rejected and avoided by all hardworking Americans, you can have them defending the plutocracy and advocating their own poverty without giving them a thing. In a society where power is relative and money equals power, the rich are necessarily incentivized to keep everyone else poor in order to retain power, so using narrative control to pacify the masses is a common and useful tactic.

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Wherever you look, life itself appears to be exiting the planet. Rapidly.

Study Warns Of Alarming Decline In Australian Fish (AFP)

Conservation experts warned Wednesday of alarming falls in Australian fish populations and called for more marine reserves and better management to halt the decline. A 10-year study, looking at nearly 200 species at 544 sites, found the main cause was overfishing, with climate change also contributing, although the organisation that manages the nation’s fisheries disputed the findings. The research, in the decade to 2015 by the University of Tasmania and Sydney’s University of Technology, indicated that the numbers of large fish species – over 20 centimetres (eight inches) – had decreased by about 30 percent.

Claimed to be the first independent assessment of the size and abundance of coastal fish species off the Australian continent, it used frequent underwater surveys by divers along blocks of reef. Researchers compared areas where fishing was allowed with marine parks where it was limited or not permitted at all. “We found consistent population declines amongst many popular commercial and recreational fishes, including in marine parks that allowed limited fishing, while numbers increased within no-fishing reserves,” said lead author Graham Edgar. The study, published in the journal Aquatic Conservation, warned that the present situation globally — with more than 98 percent of seas open to some form of fishing — needed “immediate multinational attention”.

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May 142018
 
 May 14, 2018  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Alfred Wertheimer Elvis 1956

 

S&P 500 Should Be 1,000+ Points Lower Than Today – David Rosenberg (MW)
Why I Think the Stock Market Cannot Crash in 2018 (WS)
Italy’s Nascent Government Has Tough Economic Circles To Square (R.)
US Threatens European Companies With Sanctions After Iran Deal Pullout (G.)
May Faces Deadlock Over Brexit Customs Rules As Both Options Rubbished (Ind.)
Shoppers Desert UK High Streets (G.)
UK Metropolitan Police’s Facial Recognition Technology 98% Inaccurate (Ind.)
UK To Host Summit On Why Six Other Countries Should Join The EU (Ind.)
Xi Might Join Trump And Kim In Singapore (MS)
Prosecutors Seek Complete Media Ban On Cardinal George Pell Trial (NM)
Greek Pensions Under €1,000 Will Also Be Cut In 2019 (K.)
Greece Considers Boosting Capacity Of Refugee Centers

 

 

“..there are some serious people out there saying some very serious things about the longevity of the cycle..”

S&P 500 Should Be 1,000+ Points Lower Than Today – David Rosenberg (MW)

A reversion to the mean in U.S. stock prices could mean the market will fall by at least 20%, according to David Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff and Associates, who gave his prediction at the Strategic Investment Conference 2018 in San Diego. Rosenberg, the chief economist and strategist at Toronto-based Gluskin Sheff, said this is one of the strangest securities-market rallies of all time. That’s because all asset classes have gone up, even ones that are inversely correlated. He thinks a breaking point is a year away, and so investors should start taking precautions now.

The beginning of this year started off great for investors. The S&P 500 Index hit record highs at around 2,750 points, and stocks had their best January since 1987. As if that was not enough, Rosenberg pointed out, many Wall Street strategists raised their target to 3,000. The media extrapolating record returns only added to the rise in investors’ unreasonable expectations. However, increasingly more hedge fund managers and billionaire investors who timed the previous crashes are backing out.

One of them is Sam Zell, a billionaire real estate investor, whom Rosenberg says is a “hero” of his. Zell predicted the 2008 financial crisis, eight months early. But, essentially, he was right. Today, his view is that valuations are at record highs. Then we have Howard Marks, a billionaire American investor who is the co-founder and co-chairman of Oaktree Capital Management. He seconds Zell’s view that valuations are unreasonably high and says the easy money has been made. “And I don’t always try to seek out corroborating evidence. But there are some serious people out there saying some very serious things about the longevity of the cycle,” said Rosenberg.

According to Rosenberg’s calculations, the S&P 500 should be at least 1,000 points lower than it is today based on economic growth. In spite of this, equity valuations sit at record highs. Another historically accurate indicator that predicts the end of bull cycles is household net worth’s share of personal disposable income. As you can see in the chart below, the last two peaks in this ratio almost perfectly coincided with the dot-com crash and the 2008 financial crisis.

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There is no market.

Why I Think the Stock Market Cannot Crash in 2018 (WS)

The 85% of S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings so far disclosed they’d bought back $158 billion of their own shares in Q1, according to the Wall Street Journal. The quarterly record of $164 billion was set in Q1 2016. If the current rate applies to all S&P 500 companies, they repurchased over $180 billion of their own shares in Q1, thus setting a new record. At this trend, including a couple of slower quarters, S&P 500 companies are likely to buy back between $650 billion and $700 billion of their owns shares in 2018. This would handily beat the prior annual record of $572 billion in 2007.

Here are the top buyback spenders in Q1: Apple: $22.8 billion, Amgen: $10.7 billion, Bank of America: $4.9 billion, JPMorgan Chase: $4.7 billion, Oracle: $4 billion, Microsoft: $3.8 billion, Phillips 66: $3.5 billion, Wells Fargo: $3.34 billion, Boeing: $3 billion, Citigroup: $2.9 billion. Buybacks pump up share prices in several ways. One is the pandemic hype and media razzmatazz around the announcements which cause investors and algos to pile into those shares and create buying pressure. Since May 1, when Apple announced mega-buybacks of $100 billion in the future, its shares have surged 11%. The magic words.

Other companies with big share buyback programs have also fared well: Microsoft shares are up 14% year-to-date. And if buybacks don’t push up shares, at least they keep them from falling: Amgen shares are flat year-to-date. Shares of the 20 biggest buyback spenders in Q1 are up over 5% on average year-to-date, according to the Wall Street Journal, though the S&P 500 has edged up only 2%.

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Basic income AND a parallel currency. How can this fit inside the eurozone?

Italy’s Nascent Government Has Tough Economic Circles To Square (R.)

The Italian coalition taking shape 10 weeks after March’s inconclusive election has made economic promises that seem incompatible with Europe’s fiscal rules and will be hard, if not impossible, to keep. These include slashing taxes for companies and individuals, boosting welfare provision, cancelling a scheduled increase in sales tax and dismantling a 2011 pension reform which sharply raised the retirement age.The marriage being sealed between the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the far-right League was seen as an unlikely and worrying prospect by most analysts before the March 4 election ended in a hung parliament.

The pre-election adversaries have spent the last few days trying to fuse their very different programs into a “contract” of mutually acceptable policy commitments. What they have in common is that they are extremely expensive. On the face of it their plans, which they say may also include a form of parallel currency, could push the budget deficit far above targets agreed with the EU, setting up a clash with the European Commission and Italy’s partners. “We will need to renegotiate EU agreements to stop Italy suffocating,” League leader Matteo Salvini said on Saturday after a day of talks with his 5-Star counterpart Luigi Di Maio.

5-Star’s flagship policy of a universal income for the poor has been costed at around 17 billion euros ($20 billion) per year. The League’s hallmark scheme, a flat tax rate of 15 percent for companies and individuals, is estimated to reduce tax revenues by 80 billion euros per year. Scrapping the unpopular pension reform would cost 15 billion euros, another 12.5 billion is needed to head off the planned hike in sales tax, and the parties are also considering printing a new, special-purpose currency to pay off state debts to firms. “If implemented, it would be the biggest shake-up of the Italian economic system in modern times,” said Wolfgang Munchau, head of the London-based Eurointelligence think-tank.

[..] olfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence, said taking on Brussels would be popular with Italian voters, and the new government had little to fear from a European Commission which “is very weak and on its way out”. The Commission, with just a year of its term remaining, “can’t really do much other than put Italy’s finances under greater scrutiny, and markets don’t care about that”, he said.

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Bolton.

US Threatens European Companies With Sanctions After Iran Deal Pullout (G.)

Donald Trump is prepared to impose sanctions on European companies that do business in Iran following his withdrawal of the US from the international nuclear deal, his administration reiterated on Sunday. Trump’s most senior foreign policy aides signalled that the US would continue pressuring allies to follow Washington in backing out of the pact, which gave Tehran relief from sanctions in exchange for halting its nuclear programme. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, predicted that “the Europeans will see that it’s in their interests to come along with us” rather than continue with the 2015 deal, under which major European corporations have signed billions of dollars of contracts in Iran.

Asked on CNN’s State of the Union whether that meant the Trump administration would impose sanctions against those firms, Bolton said: “It’s possible. It depends on the conduct of other governments.” US sanctions on Iran reimposed following Trump’s withdrawal not only block American firms from doing business in the country, but also bar foreign firms that do business there from accessing the entire US banking and financial system. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state, said on Sunday wealth created in Iran under the terms of the nuclear deal “drove Iranian malign activity” in the region. He declined to rule out sanctions against European firms. “The sanctions regime that is in place now is very clear on what the requirements are,” Pompeo said on Fox News Sunday.

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Britain better get rid of her.

May Faces Deadlock Over Brexit Customs Rules As Both Options Rubbished (Ind.)

Theresa May faces deadlock over the key controversy of customs rules after Brexit, after senior politicians rubbished both of the options being studied by her warring cabinet. Michael Gove – picked by the prime minister to examine her preferred “customs partnership” model – warned there were “significant question marks over the deliverability of it”. Meanwhile, the Irish deputy prime minister insisted Dublin would block a Brexit withdrawal agreement if she pursued an alternative technology-based solution, saying: “It won’t work.” The warnings left Ms May with few apparent options to resolve the impasse, with a deadline set by the EU just six weeks away.

Two working groups of key ministers have been set up to study both the customs partnership – under which the UK would collect tariffs on behalf the EU – and the tech-based “max-fac” proposal. Mr Gove, the environment secretary, speaking on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, declined to back Boris Johnson’s description of the partnership model as “crazy”. But he said: “Boris pointed out that because it’s novel, because no model like this exists, there have to be significant question marks over the deliverability of it on time.” Crucially, Mr Gove also suggested the proposal would break Ms May’s key promise – stated again today – to ‘take back control” of borders and laws.

“What the customs partnership requires the British government to do is in effect to act as the tax collector and very possibly the effective deliverer of regulation for the European Union,” he claimed. A proposal to seek EU agreement to keep the UK in the single market and customs union past the end of 2020, while a solution is found, was also stamped on by Mr Gove. “I don’t believe in an extension,” he said – arguing it was “critical to meet that deadline” of ending the post-Brexit transition period after 21 months.

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Slowly, people are starting to get very afraid of Brexit.

Shoppers Desert UK High Streets (G.)

Shoppers are deserting the high street in greater numbers than during the depths of the recession in 2009, creating a brutal climate that is putting thousands more retail jobs at risk. The coming days will be crucial to the future of a handful of household names, including Mothercare and Carpetright, which are trying to persuade investors to make vital cash injections so they can jettison unwanted stores. There is also the spectre of job losses at Poundworld, the struggling discount chain, which is being cut adrift by its American owners. Dwindling shopper numbers tally with weak spending figures for April, which show Britons slashed spending on gadgets, furniture and even nights out.

Consumer spending dropped 2% last month, according to Visa’s consumer spending index, which has recorded declines in 11 of the past 12 months. “With inflation beginning to fall and wages growing faster than expected in recent months, it would have been easy to assume we might be over the worst of the consumer squeeze,” Mark Antipof, the chief commercial officer at Visa, said. “Yet there has been no corresponding improvement in spending. It is clear that consumers remain in belt-tightening mode.” High street visits declined 3.3% in April, according to the BRC-Springboard monthly tracker, which also highlighted nearly one in 10 town centre shops are lying empty.

The drop in footfall came on the back of a disastrous performance in March, when shopper numbers declined by 6%. Taken together there has been an unprecedented 4.8% drop over the two months – a bigger decline than was recorded in the same months of 2009 when the UK was mired in recession. “Not since the depths of recession in 2009 has footfall over March and April declined to such a degree, and even then the drop was less severe at -3.8%,” said the Springboard analyst Diane Wehrle. “Much could be made of the adverse impact on April’s footfall of Easter shifting to March but even looking at March and April together still demonstrates that footfall has plummeted.”

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Priceless.

UK Metropolitan Police’s Facial Recognition Technology 98% Inaccurate (Ind.)

Facial recognition software used by the UK’s biggest police force has returned false positives in more than 98 per cent of alerts generated, The Independent can reveal, with the country’s biometrics regulator calling it “not yet fit for use”. The Metropolitan Police’s system has produced 104 alerts of which only two were later confirmed to be positive matches, a freedom of information request showed. In its response the force said it did not consider the inaccurate matches “false positives” because alerts were checked a second time after they occurred. Facial recognition technology scans people in a video feed and compares their images to pictures stored in a reference library or watch list. It has been used at large events like the Notting Hill Carnival and a Six Nations Rugby match.

The system used by another force, South Wales Police, has returned more than 2,400 false positives in 15 deployments since June 2017. The vast majority of those came during that month’s Uefa Champion’s League final in Cardiff, and overall only 234 alerts – fewer than 10 per cent – were correct matches. Both forces are trialling the software. The UK’s biometrics commissioner, Professor Paul Wiles, told The Independent that legislation to govern the technology was “urgently needed”. He said: “I have told both police forces that I consider such trials are only acceptable to fill gaps in knowledge and if the results of the trials are published and externally peer-reviewed. We ought to wait for the final report, but I am not surprised to hear that accuracy rates so far have been low as clearly the technology is not yet fit for use.

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Irony is dead.

UK To Host Summit On Why Six Other Countries Should Join The EU (Ind.)

The British government will host a summit encouraging six European countries to join the EU for the sake of their “security, stability and prosperity”, months before it is due to sign its own Brexit withdrawal deal with Brussels. London will in July play host to Western Balkans governments including Serbia and Albania, as well as existing EU member states, to discuss reforms to pave the way to future EU enlargement. The summit is part of the so-called Berlin Process – a series of meetings aimed at supporting the region towards joining the bloc and described by the European parliament’s research arm as “bringing a new perspective and impetus to the enlargement process”.

Critics said the UK government must have “a sense of humour” for hosting a conference on EU enlargement and extolling the benefits of accession as Britain itself headed towards the exit door. The leaders of EU candidate countries Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Serbia will attend, as well as those of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo – two states who have both expressed an interest in joining the bloc but have not yet been accepted as candidates. They will be joined by representatives of the governments of EU countries with an interest in the region such as Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and Bulgaria.

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Makes sense.

Xi Might Join Trump And Kim In Singapore (MS)

The prospect of China’s president Xi Jinping coming to Singapore on June 12, 2018 to meet with United States President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un has been raised. This is according to mainstream media reports in Singapore on May 11, which re-reported a Japanese newspaper, Mainichi Shimbun, that cited American diplomatic sources. In the Friday report, Mainichi Shimbun quoted a senior international negotiator with the National Security Council saying that “there is a possibility” the leader of a third country may take part. It is understood that this leader is Xi. The suggestion that the three leaders will descend upon Singapore at the same time is not without merit.

On Tuesday, May 8, Trump spoke to Xi about Kim’s recent visit to China. The Chinese president and North Korean leader met Monday and Tuesday, May 7 and 8, in China again in a second meeting. This meeting followed Kim’s first visit to Beijing in March. However, as of Friday morning, there were no news reports on North Korean media outlets of the date and venue of Kim’s meeting with Trump, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported. Previously, Kim and South Korean president Moon Jae-in issued a joint declaration to say that both sides aim to realise complete denuclearisation for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, at the historic inter-Korea summit on April 27. They also agreed to pursue three-way talks involving the two Koreas and the US, or four-way talks involving the two Koreas, the US and China.

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People no longer have a right to know?

Prosecutors Seek Complete Media Ban On Cardinal George Pell Trial (NM)


On Friday, the Victorian Department of Public Prosecutions lodged an application with the Country Court of Victoria for a ‘super injunction’ against media coverage of the trial of Cardinal George Pell, who is accused of a number of historical sexual offences. Cardinal Pell – the Vatican’s treasurer and the third highest ranked Catholic in the world – was committed to stand trial a fortnight ago. The orders being sought by the DPP, which will be decided on Wednesday morning in the County Court in Melbourne before Chief Judge Peter Kidd, are:

(1) Publication is prohibited of any report of the whole or any part of these proceedings and any information derived from this proceeding and any court documents associated with this proceeding. (2) The prohibition on publication applies within all States and Territories of Australia and on any website or other electronic or broadcast format accessible within Australia. (3) For the purpose of this order, ‘publication’ has the meaning attributed to it by s3 of the Open Courts Act, that is to say, it means the dissemination or provision of access to the public by any means including, publication in a book, newspaper, magazine or other written publication, or broadcast by radio or television; or public exhibition; or broadcast or electronic communication. (4) The order will expire upon a jury verdict in respect of the charges on the final indictment, or by further order of the court.

Ordinarily, an injunction against media reporting of a trial prevents outlets from reporting the details of the trial. But they can report the existence of the injunction and explain to readers why they’re not reporting the matter. The order that the DPP is seeking in the Pell matter is so broad that it will operate as a super injunction. The suppression order would be ‘any part of’ the proceedings, meaning the trial could not be reported, nor could media report the fact they’re not allowed to report. If Wednesday’s application for a super injunction is successful, this story will have to be removed from publication. [..] Cardinal Pell, aged 76, is the most senior Catholic charged with sexual offences anywhere in the world. Cardinal Pell has strongly denied the allegations levelled against him.

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We’re on a road to nowhere..

Greek Pensions Under €1,000 Will Also Be Cut In 2019 (K.)

The planned pension cuts for people who have already retired and which will be implemented as of January 2019 will also affect pensions under 1,000 euros, Deputy Minister for Social Security Tasos Petropoulos admitted on Sunday. “In October we will see the exact cuts in pensions […] and will improve them,” he told broadcaster Skai. “We have seven months ahead.” Petropoulos said the 18 percent cut in pensions includes benefits, and estimated that about 25-30 percent of pensioners will be affected by the new reductions. He also pledged to pay all pending main pensions by August, “except in some particular cases.”

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Now Turkish citizens fleeing Erdogan are added.

Greece Considers Boosting Capacity Of Refugee Centers

The Migration Policy Ministry is reportedly considering increasing the capacity of existing refugee and migrant centers on the mainland as a first step in managing a recent spike in arrivals from neighboring Turkey, in a plan ministry sources say the European Union agrees with. “Practically, this means tents will be set up between the containers, exacerbating the already difficult situation for the residents,” a nongovernmental organization official said. Increasing capacity also means that the current logistics involved in running the camps will have to be adjusted. For example, if daily food costs are €3.50 per person per day (according to the specifications cited in official announcements), an additional 16,478 additional refugees will mean an extra €57,673 per day.

According to official data, 6,632 refugees crossed into Greece in April alone and 16,478 people in the first five months of the year, of whom 9,375 arrived on the islands and 7,103 from the Evros border in northeastern Greece. The government is also hoping to reduce arrivals and overcrowding on the islands by investing in diplomacy with Turkey and speeding up the asylum process through a bill which is being discussed in Parliament. At the same time, the reactions of residents on the islands that have borne the brunt of migration, even if they do not reflect the views of the entire population, show their patience is wearing thin. Authorities have also recorded increased arrivals of Turkish nationals from Evros. About 30 Turks have been arriving on a daily basis since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called elections for next month, versus zero arrivals previously.

Read more …

Apr 122018
 
 April 12, 2018  Posted by at 1:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pieter Bruegel the Elder The Triumph of Death c1562

 

This is turning into a comedy. A black comedy, for sure, but still. As both the Skripal novichok ‘poisoning’ case in Britain and the ‘chemical attack’ in Douma, Syria fall flat on their faces on a total and absolute lack of evidence, it’s becoming clear that western ‘authorities’ are not at all planning to let go of the privilege that in times gone by allowed them to claim whatever they wanted and demand to be believed.

And despite the insane amounts of spying that underlies their business models and will lead to their demise(s), here is where social media do play a decisive role. See, if you’re an ‘authority’, there’s nothing you would rather do than to close down those social media that let people spread news that contradicts and/or doubts what you just said, and undermines that privilege. But that also would mean you can’t spy on them anymore through social media. A toss-up?!

Whatever the outcome will be, it’s obvious that Donald Trump is having war talks with his military and closest advisers. And they can basically tell him anything, he’s not a military man. Which is fine, Lincoln wasn’t either. But it does mean he’s vulnerable to narratives and briefings that are simply not true. Lincoln went to great lengths to surround himself with people who could trust.

What about Trump? Does he know that, as Paul Craig Roberts said on Twitter yesterday ..

The Russians know that they can, at will within a few minutes, sink the entire US fleet, destroy every US airplane & ship in the ME & within range of the ME, completely destroy all of Israel’s military capability & wipe out the military of the two-bit punk state of Saudi Arabia.

.. or do they keep that from him? Because if he did know, why have this entire circus going on? Why did the King of Twitter yesterday threaten with his new and shiny toys and then today switch to:

Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?”

We already knew that US military won’t be ready for another 10 days or so for an attack on Syrian targets. So that makes sense. It takes the surprise factor out of the game, but nobody seems to want to surprise anyone much anyway. Syrian and Russian military are already way out of the way, and left the most decrepit infrastructure behind for the coalition of the willing (no Germany, Canada) to waste their firepower on.

But does Trump really want to start shooting anything? Certainly only if he knows he will win. And that, he doesn’t. And there’s something else. he’s not only talking to his military people, he’s got a financial/economic team as well. What will the financial effects of a military action be? That might give him some pause. And his military guys can’t fill him in on that.

Can Trump risk imploding the ‘markets’? They’re not actually markets anymore, and that makes them much less predictable.

As Bill Holter says talking to Greg Hunter:

 

It’s Pure Math – We’re Headed for a Train Wreck

Holter also points out the explosion of global debt. Holter charges, “It’s now $237 trillion. The amount of debt grew by $21 trillion globally over the last 12 months. That’s roughly 10 %. How much did global GDP grow? 2% or 3%, I mean that is totally unsustainable.” The biggest worry for Holter right now is escalating military action in Syria. Holter warns, “This is so, so dangerous. Obviously, you worry about a hot war because with the weapons you have today, you could have WWIII start in a heartbeat. But look at the market today. It’s up 400 or 500 points. You have talk of trade wars. You have talk of hot wars. It’s amazing the markets can hold together and ignore potential annihilation.”

David Stockman has something very similar:

 

The Deep State Closes In On The Donald, Part 1

Yes, maybe Wall Street has figured out that the Donald is more bluster than bite. Yet when you consider the broader context and what the Russian side is now saying, it is just plain idiotic to own the S&P 500 at 24X. After all, earnings that have been going nowhere for the past three years (earnings per share have inched-up from $106 in September 2014 to $109 in December 2017), and now could be ambushed by a hot war accident in Syria that would rapidly escalate.

Indeed, did the robo-machines and boys and girls down in the casino not ponder the meaning of this message from the Kremlin? It does not leave much to the imagination: #Russian ambassador in Beirut : “If there is a strike by the Americans on #Syria , then… the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired..”

Trump would be much more likely to fire away if he thought he would win. And even then. Even if he could win, the whole situation is replete with unknown unknowns. If god forbid the thing escalates and the US and Russia end up facing each other, what will China do? Don’t forget that Beijing and the PBOC play an instrumental part in propping up the world economy, and the S&P 500.

It wouldn’t be hard for Xi to pull that carpet out from under Trump’s feet; it would be costly for China too, but if war were the reality, the rules and priorities change. And you can bet Xi and his people have run through the kinds of scenarios many many times. They’re prepared to “withdraw upon themselves”.

As for the US, the ‘markets are holding on to crazy levels so far despite the threat that hangs in the air, but once the first rockets fly, and gold and bitcoin -oil?- are still available, why hold on to stocks?

It’s the insanity of the so-called markets that makes them so vulnerable and unpredictable. And starting a war on very shaky grounds increases that unpredictability by a factor of 10 or so. And the MSM may -well, there’s no doubt- still fill their role as cheerleaders the way they used to, but social media are a different story.

And besides, which investors are going to say, hell, I feel so patriotic, I’m going to hold on to stocks that have been onvervalued for years already, just to support Bolton and McCain and Tony Blair and Boris Johnson’s fantasies? Who would do that who understands that it is at least quite possible that Russia has the better weapons today? Or that perhaps this kind of conflict is simply not winnable anymore?!

I don’t think there’ll be many. Nor do I think Trump wants to be known as the man who collapsed the S&P 500. So, abandoned buildings in the desert it is. And lots of CNN. Anderson Cooper’s your MC.

 

 

Apr 102018
 
 April 10, 2018  Posted by at 8:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Acme Storm over Manhattan 1950

 

Trump Blasts “Disgraceful” FBI Raid Of Lawyer’s Office (ZH)
Xi Vows To Further Open China Economy As US Trade Spat Simmers (AFP)
Global Debt Jumped to Record $237 Trillion Last Year
US Deficit to Surpass $1 Trillion Two Years Ahead of Estimates – CBO (BBG)
Global Trade Is Broken, And Trump Is Sparking The Crisis Needed (Morici)
Russian Firms And Rouble Hit Heavily By Trump Sanctions (G.)
Bitcoin, the Biggest Bubble in History, Is Popping – BofA (BBG)
Bots, Good Or Bad, Dominate Twitter Conversation (AFP)
Black Lives Matter Facebook Page With 700,000 Followers Exposed As Fake (G.)
10 New Zealanders Download App On Facebook, Expose 63,714 Friends (G.)
Your Facebook Data Is Only Worth $5.20 On The Dark Web (MW)
Jerome Is The New Janet: Same Old Keynesian Jabberwocky (Stockman)
Yulia Skripal Discharged From Hospital (G.)
No Trace Of Chemical Weapons In Douma, Photos Are Fake – Russia (RT)
“Weapons Of Mass Destruction,” And All (Kunstler)
In 2020, German Society Will Start Collapsing (GEFIRA)
Fishing Boat Caught With Illegal 18-Mile-Long Nets (Ind.)

 

 

“..the fact that the FBI likely seized privileged material between the president and his lawyer is certainly troubling.”

Or is it just a promotion campaign for Comey’s book tour?

Trump Blasts “Disgraceful” FBI Raid Of Lawyer’s Office (ZH)

Update II: As many probably suspected, Trump attorney Michael Cohen is under investigation for possible fraud and campaign finance violations, the Washington Post reported. The FBI has seized documents – including emails, tax documents and other records – related to Cohen’s $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Meanwhile, President Trump has stepped up to defend his longtime personal attorney, calling the raid “a whole new level of unfairness” and going as far to say it was an “attack on our country, on what we stand for before heading into a meeting with top military leaders.” He also described the special counsel’s team as “the most conflicted group of people I’ve ever met” and said the raid was “a disgraceful situation.”

Trump added that the raid happened after Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein – who is supervising the Mueller probe – approved a referral that Mueller brought to the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Jeff Sessions also came under fire as the president bashed him once again for recusing himself from the Mueller probe. Trump also exclaimed that “no one is looking at the other side” referring to Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails. “I have this witch hunt constantly going on,” he said. Of course, Trump has every reason to defend Cohen. As Trump’s longtime lawyer, Cohen knows where the bodies are buried. And the fact that the FBI likely seized privileged material between the president and his lawyer is certainly troubling.

Update: Michael Cohen’s lawyer says the FBI seized privileged communications between Cohen and his clients – a group that notably includes President Trump. And thus, we have what could quite possibly be an ulterior motive for the search. While initial reports suggested the raid on Cohen’s home wasn’t related to the Mueller probe, CBS is reporting that it’s unclear whether the raid was in relation to Stormy Daniels, the Mueller probe or something else. The Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen’s office in Rockefeller Center was searched along with his home and hotel room. The search was executed by the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office which is carrying out an independent investigation in coordination with Mueller. Cohen has of course already turned over his emails to the special counsel.

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For now it’s just words. But his tone could have been different.

Xi Vows To Further Open China Economy As US Trade Spat Simmers (AFP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged on Tuesday to lower car tariffs this year and take other steps to further open the world’s number two economy, indirectly addressing major complaints by the United States in a simmering trade row. Promising a “new phase of opening up”, Xi told an economic forum on the southern island of Hainan that Beijing “does not seek a trade surplus” and hopes to increase imports. He said China will take measures to liberalise automobile investment, significantly reduce tariffs on cars this year and protect intellectual property – all areas that have been high on the list of demands by Washington. “Economic globalisation is an irreversible trend of the time,” Xi told the Boao Forum for Asia.

“The door of China’s opening up will not close, it will only open wider and wider.” Xi pushed measures in areas that have been high on the list of US President Donald Trump’s ire at China. “When a car is sent to the United States from China, there is a Tariff to be paid of 2.5%. When a car is sent to China from the United States, there is a Tariff to be paid of 25%,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “Does that sound like free or fair trade. No, it sounds like STUPID TRADE – going on for years!” Without directly responding to Trump, Xi promised China would lower import tariffs for vehicles and other products, but he gave no details or an exact date for taking the measures.

[..] Xi also pledged specific measures to address IP protection. “This year, we will reorganise the State Intellectual Property Office to strengthen law enforcement,” he told the forum, an Asian version of the World Economic Forum, which draws global leaders to its annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. “We encourage Chinese and foreign companies to carry out normal technical exchanges and cooperation to protect the legitimate intellectual property rights of foreign-funded enterprises in China,” he said.

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This will be important: “Ireland and Italy are the only major countries where household debt as a percentage of GDP is below 50%.

Global Debt Jumped to Record $237 Trillion Last Year

Global debt rose to a record $237 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2017, more than $70 trillion higher from a decade earlier, according to an analysis by the Institute of International Finance. Among mature markets, household debt as a percentage of GDP hit all-time highs in Belgium, Canada, France, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. That’s a worrying signal, with interest rates beginning to rise globally. Ireland and Italy are the only major countries where household debt as a percentage of GDP is below 50%. Still, the ratio of global debt-to-GDP fell for the fifth consecutive quarter as the world’s economic growth accelerated. The ratio is now around 317.8% of GDP, or 4 percentage points below the high in the third quarter of 2016, according to the IIF. Among emerging markets, household debt to GDP is approaching parity in South Korea at 94.6%.

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And the Fed wants to raise rates?!

US Deficit to Surpass $1 Trillion Two Years Ahead of Estimates – CBO (BBG)

The U.S. budget deficit will surpass $1 trillion by 2020, two years sooner than previously estimated, as tax cuts and spending increases signed by President Donald Trump do little to boost long-term economic growth, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Spending will exceed revenue by $804 billion in the fiscal year through September, jumping from a projected $563 billion shortfall forecast in June, the non-partisan arm of Congress said in a report Monday. In fiscal 2019, the deficit will reach $981 billion, compared with an earlier projection of $689 billion. The nation’s budget gap was only set to surpass the trillion-dollar level in fiscal 2022 under CBO’s report last June.

Deficits are growing as the Trump administration enacted a tax overhaul this year that will lower federal revenue and Congress approved a roughly $300 billion spending increase. The fresh CBO estimates could heighten investor worries as they weigh the potential impact that tariff threats between the U.S. and China may have on the world economy. The report includes new projections for the effects of the tax legislation – saying it will increase the deficit by almost $1.9 trillion over the next 11 years, when accounting for its macroeconomic effects and increased debt-service costs. In December, Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation had said the tax package would reduce federal revenue by almost $1.1 trillion over a 10-year period.

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The WTO and democracy.

Global Trade Is Broken, And Trump Is Sparking The Crisis Needed (Morici)

[..] It may be time to recognize that China is not a market economy — and is not likely to become one anytime soon. Over time, the WTO membership encompassed increasingly diverse nations. For example, Saudi Arabia joined in 2005, is not a democracy and hardly has a market economy. It’s a monarchy and dependent on oil, its government seeks to rig petroleum markets through OPEC. Nondemocratic, nonmarket economies were admitted on the premise that participation in the system would encourage reforms but as Saudi Arabia demonstrates — similar to Mexico in the 1980s — political and economic progress mostly happens when autocratic regimes are threatened by financial crisis.

For the oil kingdom, it took the U.S. shale boom and prospects of oil permanently depressed at about $65 a barrel to inspire House of Saud to select a progressive crown prince. China joined the WTO in 2002 but has hardly liberalized. Beijing is perfecting Orwellian mechanisms to monitor its citizens’ activities and squash political dissent. President Xi Jinping is enhancing the role of state-owned enterprises, extending state influence over private firms and foreign subsidiaries, and compelling the latter to form joint ventures with Chinese firms and embrace Beijing’s propaganda strategies.

China’s state capitalism clearly creates unfair advantages, imposes trade deficits and job losses on other nations, and has been the target of many unfair trade complaints in the WTO, but Beijing has invested in top flight U.S. lawyers — for example, Steptoe & Johnson. And the activities of its complex mix of state-owned and state-supported private enterprise have proven difficult to discipline under WTO rules, which were written to constrain governments operating in a market context.

From 2011 to 2017, the United States was frustrated in many dispute settlement processes covering nearly 50 industries. In 2016, the administration aides cited a long list of complaints in an effort to block the reappointment of a South Korean judge to the appellate body. Since then, Mr. Trump has been criticized — as he seems to be for every principled action — for continuing this policy by blocking the appointment of other judges to compel reform. It may be time to recognize that China is not a market economy — and is not likely to become one anytime soon. And it is not likely possible to rewrite the WTO rules just to suit its peculiar system.

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Talk is better.

Russian Firms And Rouble Hit Heavily By Trump Sanctions (G.)

The Trump administration’s new sanctions on Russian oligarchs and top government officials began to bite on Monday as the rouble suffered its biggest daily fall in more than three years, the main Russian stock index slumped and investors dumped shares in businesses controlled by Oleg Deripaska. Russia’s currency briefly dipped more than 4% before recovering slightly to trade at 60.42 to the dollar on Monday evening, down 3.8%, its biggest daily percentage fall since January 2015. The value of Deripaska’s aluminium producer Rusal halved in Hong Kong and more than 40% was wiped off the value of his London-listed EN+ as investors took fright at the potential impact.

Shares in Rusal and EN+ had already fallen sharply on Friday in response to the sanctions, which were announced towards the end of trading in London. The Russian stock market also fell heavily. The main RTS index dropped 11%, affecting companies not caught by the sanctions. The price of aluminium jumped as traders worried Rusal would be excluded from supplying the market. The firm, which produces almost 6% of the world’s aluminium, said the sanctions could cause technical defaults on bank loans and some credit obligations. Both Rusal and EN+, Deripaska’s holding company, said the sanctions could be “materially adverse to the business and prospects” of the companies.

Rusal and seven other companies linked to Deripaska were the main targets when the US imposed sanctions designed to punish Vladimir Putin’s inner circle for “malign activity”, including support for Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria and interfering with the US election in 2016. Rusal sells more than 10% of its aluminium to the US.

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Not my words. But nice graph.

Bitcoin, the Biggest Bubble in History, Is Popping – BofA (BBG)

The greatest bubble in history is popping, according to Bank of America. The cryptocurrency is tracking the downfalls of the other massive asset-price bubbles in history less than one year out from its record, analysts lead by Chief Investment Strategist Michael Hartnett wrote in a note Sunday. The cryptocurrency has fallen more than 65% since peaking in December at $19,511. Bitcoin rose 2.2% to $6,750 on Monday.

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“..accounting for two-thirds of tweets linking to popular websites..”

Bots, Good Or Bad, Dominate Twitter Conversation (AFP)

Automated accounts or “bots” play a big role in disseminating information on Twitter, accounting for two-thirds of tweets linking to popular websites, a study showed Monday. The Pew Research Center report found bots were a major source for diffusing information on news, sports, entertainment and other topics. The researchers found that of all tweeted links to popular websites, 66% were shared by accounts that appeared to be automated rather than human users. While bots have gained attention due to concerns over Russian-sponsored manipulation of social media during the 2016 political campaign and for other hot-button topics, the researchers said they made no effort to distinguish between “good” or “bad” bots.

“The study does not find evidence that automated accounts currently have a liberal or conservative ‘political bias’ in their overall link-sharing behavior,” the researchers wrote. Twitter’s policy on automated accounts, last updated in November, allows bots to operate but with limitations. The policy allows for bots to “automatically broadcast helpful information” or “run creative campaigns that auto-reply to users.” But Twitter’s rules forbid automatic posts about trending topics or using automation “to attempt to influence or manipulate trending topics.” It also bans the use of multiple accounts to generate more activity.

“These findings illustrate the extent to which bots play a prominent and pervasive role in the social media environment,” says Pew researcher Aaron Smith. “Automated accounts are far from a niche phenomenon: They share a significant portion of tweeted links to even the most prominent and mainstream publications and online outlets. Since these accounts can impact the information people see on social media, it is important to have a sense their overall prevalence on social media.”

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“.. upwards of $100,000 in donations, at least some of which was directed to bank accounts registered in Australia.”

One thing: Facebook could have known this.

Black Lives Matter Facebook Page With 700,000 Followers Exposed As Fake (G.)

A high-ranking Australian union official has been suspended amid reports he ran a fake Black Lives Matter Facebook page that solicited donations from the movement’s supporters. CNN reports that Ian MacKay – an official with the National Union of Workers – helped set up and run a Facebook page called Black Lives Matter as well as other domain names linked to black rights. The page, which was removed by Facebook after CNN’s queries, had almost 700,000 followers – more than double the official Black Lives Matter page. MacKay – who is white – did not respond to calls or emails but denied running the page when contacted by CNN. A statement given to the Guardian by the NUW’s national secretary, Tim Kennedy, said the union had launched an investigation into the claims made in the CNN report.

He said the union had suspended “the relevant officials pending the outcome of an investigation”. “The NUW is not involved in and has not authorised any activities with reference to claims made in CNN’s story,” he said. The Guardian understands MacKay and one other NUW official has been suspended. In 2015 Mackay was appointed vice president of the NUW’s general branch and the union’s public office records state that he still holds the position. The investigation quoted sources who said the page may have garnered upwards of $100,000 in donations, at least some of which was directed to bank accounts registered in Australia.

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This happened 4 years ago! And only now Facebook is “..in the process of alerting New Zealanders..”?!

10 New Zealanders Download App On Facebook, Expose 63,714 Friends (G.)

Ten New Zealanders who downloaded an app on Facebook could have exposed up to 63,714 of their compatriots to the data mining tactics of Cambridge Analytica. Facebook has told the country’s privacy commissioner that it is in the process of alerting New Zealanders who were affected by the breach, which occurred when ten users downloaded a personality quiz app. “For New Zealand, we estimate a total of 63,724 people may have been impacted – 10 are estimated to have downloaded the quiz app with 63,714 friends possibly impacted,” said Antonia Sanda, head of communications for Facebook in Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand’s privacy commissioner, John Edwards, said he was urgently seeking further information from Facebook on how New Zealanders data was used by Cambridge Analytica, and is working closely with his counterparts in the US, UK Australia and Canada to establish the severity and ramifications of the privacy beach. “I think we have some real information deficits that I hope my colleagues in the UK and the US will uncover … I am not sure New Zealanders were ‘targeted’ but I think there is a level of complacency [in New Zealand]. And when you say we’re so far away, we’re only one click away really,” Edwards said.

Edwards deleted his own Facebook account shortly after the revelations regarding Cambridge Analytica broke, and said New Zealanders should seriously consider doing the same and then resetting their profile. “I am actually quite concerned about the drip-feed of information [from Facebook]. These events occurred four years ago. There was knowledge about Cambridge Analytica targeting tactics a good two years ago, yet we are really only seeing Facebook confront this issue now,” Edwards said.

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This, too, is Facebook. Supply and demand.

Your Facebook Data Is Only Worth $5.20 On The Dark Web (MW)

Were you impacted by Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook data? An estimated 87 million Facebook users will find out Monday whether the group improperly used their data, the social-media company said. All 2.2 billion Facebook users will get see a message on Facebook called “Protecting Your Information,” that lays out which third-party apps have access to your individual Facebook profile. Whether or not you were impacted by the Cambridge Analytica incident, there’s a depressing aspect of many recent privacy violations: The most important parts of your identity can be sold online for just a few dollars.

Consumers have to spend hours of their time — and, sometimes, their own money — when they find out their driver’s license, Facebook “likes” or Social Security number have been exposed to hackers. But those who sell them are making only petty cash. That’s according to a new report from the content marketing agency Fractl, which analyzed all the fraud-related listings on three large “dark web” marketplaces — Dream, Point and Wall Street Market — over several days last month. The “dark web” is part of the internet that people can only access by using special software. To create this report, Fractl accessed the dark web through the browser Tor.

People buy other risky or illegal substances on the dark web, including drugs, pirated content like movies or music and materials that help with scams, including credit-card “skimmers.” Facebook logins can be sold for $5.20 each because they allow criminals to have access to personal data that could potentially let them hack into more of an individual’s accounts. The credentials to a PayPal account with a relatively high balance can be sold on the dark web for $247 on average, the report found. One’s entire online identity, including personal identification numbers and hacked financial accounts, can be sold for only about $1,200 on the dark web, Fractl found. That’s because so much personal information may already available to hackers, after repeated data breaches across a range of industries.

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“..fiscally incontinent government..” Great line.

Jerome Is The New Janet: Same Old Keynesian Jabberwocky (Stockman)

The election of 2016 was supposed to be the most disruptive break with the status quo in modern history, if ever. On the single most important decision of his tenure, however, the Donald has lined-up check-by-jowl with Barry and Dubya, too. That is to say, Trump’s new Fed chairman, Jerome Powell, amounts to Janet Yellen in trousers and tie. In fact, you can make it a three-part composite by adding Bernanke with a full head of hair and Greenspan sans the mumble. The overarching point here is that the great problems plaguing American society – scarcity of good jobs, punk GDP growth, faltering productivity, raging wealth mal-distribution, massive indebtedness, egregious speculative bubbles, fiscally incontinent government – are overwhelmingly caused by our rogue central bank.

They are the fetid fruits of massive and sustained financial repression and falsification of the most import prices in all of capitalism – the prices of money, debt, equities and other financial assets. Moreover, the worst of it is that the Fed is overwhelmingly the province of an unelected politburo that rules by the lights of its own Keynesian groupthink and by the hypnotic power of its Big Lie. So powerful is the latter that American democracy has meekly seconded vast, open-ended power to dominate the financial markets, and therefore the warp and woof of the nation’s $19 trillion economy, to a tiny priesthood possessing neither of the usual instruments of rule.

That is to say, never before in history has a people so completely and abjectly surrendered to an occupying power – even though its ostensibly democratic government already possessed all the votes and all the guns. So it is no exaggeration to say, therefore, that the Fed is an alien state unto itself. That was powerfully symbolized most recently by the appointment of John Williams, a lifetime apparatchik at the San Francisco Fed, to the job of head satrap at the central bank’s Liberty Street outpost in the heart of Wall Street. In the scheme of things, the President of the New York Fed is #2 in the whole central banking apparatus, and as such is immensely more powerful than any Senate Committee Chairman or House Speaker. But Williams’ appointment was not reviewed or passed upon by a single elected official accountable to any voter anywhere in the US of A.

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Hard to tell what the next steps are.

Yulia Skripal Discharged From Hospital (G.)

Yulia Skripal, the daughter of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, has been discharged from hospital, according to reports. Just over one month after she and her father were found in Salisbury in Wiltshire after being poisoned with a nerve agent, the BBC reported that Skripal had left Salisbury district hospital. Skripal, 33, flew to the UK on 3 March, the day before she and her father are believed to have been poisoned by a novichok nerve agent. She released a statement on Friday to say her strength was “growing daily”. The BBC reported on Tuesday morning that Skripal had been taken to a secure location, though a hospital spokesman declined to comment on the reports. Christine Blanshard, the hospital’s deputy chief executive, and Lorna Wilkinson, the director of nursing, are to make a statement later on Tuesday morning.

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It’s the White Helmets again.

No Trace Of Chemical Weapons In Douma, Photos Are Fake – Russia (RT)

The Russian military has found no trace of chemical weapons use after searching parts of Syria’s Douma allegedly targeted by an “attack.” Photos of victims posted by the White Helmets are fake, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. Experts in radiological, chemical and biological warfare, as well as medics, on Monday inspected the parts of the Eastern Ghouta city of Douma, where an alleged chemical attack supposedly took place on Saturday, the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria said in a statement. The specialists “found no traces of the use of chemical agents” after searching the sites, the statement said. The center’s medical specialists also visited a local hospital but found no patients that showed signs of chemical weapons poisoning.

“All these facts show… that no chemical weapons were used in the town of Douma, as it was claimed by the White Helmets,” the statement said, referring to the controversial “civil defense” group that was among the first to report about the alleged attack. “All the accusations brought by the White Helmets, as well as their photos… allegedly showing the victims of the chemical attack, are nothing more than a yet another piece of fake news and an attempt to disrupt the ceasefire,” the Reconciliation Center said. On Saturday, some rebel-linked groups, including the White Helmets, accused the Syrian government of carrying out a chemical attack that, allegedly, affected dozens of civilians in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma.

The reports have already provoked a wave of outrage in the West, as the US and the EU rushed to put the blame for the incident on Damascus and Moscow. US President Donald Trum hastily denounced the perceived attack as a “mindless” atrocity and a “humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever,” warning of a “big price” to be paid. Syria and Russia have dismissed the accusations and called the reports fake news, aimed at helping the extremists and at justifying potential strikes against Syrian forces. In the very early hours of Monday, Israeli fighter jets targeted Syria’s T-4 airbase in Homs province, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Israel has not commented on the strike. Earlier, a number of Israeli officials had called on the US to strike Syria as a response to the reported chemical attack.

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Like is the case with Russia, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has declared Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal destroyed.

“Weapons Of Mass Destruction,” And All (Kunstler)

[..] a joint mission of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was called in to supervise the destruction of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons, and certified it as accomplished in late 2014. Yet, poison gas incidents continued – most notoriously in 2017 when President Donald Trump responded to one with a sortie of cruise missiles against a vacant Syrian government airfield. And now another incident in the Damascus suburb of Douma has provoked Mr. Trump to tweetstormed threats of retaliatory violence, just days after he proposed a swift withdrawal from that vexing corner of the world.

Surely by now the American public has developed some immunity to claims of nefarious doings in foreign lands (“weapons of mass destruction,” and all). The operative sentence in that New York Times report is “…Syrian forces hit a suburb of Damascus with bombs that rescue workers said unleashed toxic gas.” Yeah, well, how clear is it that the toxic gas was contained in the bombs, or rather that the bombs dropped by the Syrian military blew up a chemical weapon depot controlled by anti-government Jihadis? Does that hodgepodge of maniacs show any respect for the UN, or the Geneva Convention, or any other agency of international law?

As in many previous such incidents, we don’t know who was responsible — though there is plenty of reason to believe that parties within the US establishment are against Mr. Trump’s idea of getting the hell out of that place, and might cook up a convenient reason to prevent it. Lastly, how is it in Bashar al-Assad’s interests to provoke a fresh international uproar against him and his regime? I’d say it is not the least in his interest, since he is on the verge of putting an end to the awful conflict. He may not be a model of rectitude by Western standards, but he’s not a mental defective. And he has very able Russian support advising him in what has been so far a long and difficult effort to prevent his state from failing — or being failed for him.

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Germany, Japan, China.

In 2020, German Society Will Start Collapsing (GEFIRA)

The next crisis is just a couple of years away, and Germany will be its largest victim. Economies grow, driven by capital and labour. The ECB monetary policy is currently providing the German economy with enough funds, but the country is experiencing a catastrophic lack of youth, and its ageing labour force is not being replaced as a result of which workforce is already in short supply. Since the German population is declining at a staggering pace, before the end of the century there will only be 22 million indigenous Germans left. Currently the working population has already begun to shrink. This drop is still moderate compared to what will come after 2020.

The disappearing of the nation that has just begun will have catastrophic consequences. The German government recorded a large budget surplus last year, a sign that the authorities are not willing or able to invest in their own country. Germany lacks health care professionals, road construction workers and teachers, but allocating more tax money to this sector makes no sense because there are simply no people available. For that reason road construction sites have come to a standstill and road maintenance is postponed. In order to find consumers and labourers, the German industry is investing in new factories abroad.

In the past, the German economy was able to attract employees from Southern, Eastern and Central Europe, but at present the demographic situation in states such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Poland – which have long provided Germany with workforce – has worsened, so for all practical purposes these sources of labour have all but dried out. Poland for instance has lost a large number of young people to the West European labour market and the loss has not been made good because of extremely low fertility.The financial sector depends on a growing economy, but – apart from periods of temporary increase – there is no significant growth, and banks have to unwind their positions by selling their assets and returning cash to their clients. When the ageing population tries to sell its investments – stocks, obligations or companies – after 2020 they will find a declining working age population that is willing and able to buy these assets. It is already difficult for German business owners to find successors.

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Tragic species, mankind.

Fishing Boat Caught With Illegal 18-Mile-Long Nets (Ind.)

A fishing ship carrying 600 illegal nets stretching up to 18 miles has been seized after it escaped Chinese authorities, while using the flags of eight different countries to evade capture. The vessel, STS-50, had targeted a cod species called Antarctic toothfish that plays an important role in the Southern Ocean ecosystem, according to Indonesia‘s fisheries ministry. Its hundreds of gillnets had walls of fine mesh and could expand to a distance of 18 miles. Gillnetting has been banned in Antarctic waters since 2006 and is described by Australia as posing a “huge risk to almost all marine life, including marine mammals due to [its] indiscriminate nature”.

The use of the nets also harm seabirds including endangered albatrosses, the country’s environment department said on its website in 2011. Indonesia was acting on a request from Interpol when it seized the officially stateless craft. It had eluded authorities by flying eight different flags at different times, including those of Sierra Leone, Togo, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan, Micronesia and Namibia, the ministry said in a statement. Interpol contacted Indonesia last week with a request to investigate the vessel, fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti said in the statement. “Navy ship Simeuleu conducted a ‘stop, investigate and detain’ operation on Friday and successfully seized the vessel,” she said.

The STS-50 had previously been detained by China, but escaped and was caught in the port of Maputo in Mozambique before fleeing again, Ms Pudjiastuti said. Prior to its capture off the Indonesian island of Weh in the northwestern province of Aceh, the vessel had also operated under several other names including Sea Breeze, Andrey Dolgov, STD No. 2 and Aida, the statement said. Shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows the 54m-long, 452-tonne vessel was built in 1985.

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