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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.”

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

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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Apr 042018
 
 April 4, 2018  Posted by at 12:49 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Mayfair Building, Times Square NYC 1951

 

 

Dr. D is on a roll.

 

 

Dr. D: Since tariffs are in the news again, let’s run down the topic , first in micro, then in macro.

 

“Trump said this week he’ll slap 25% tariffs on $50 billion to $60 billion in Chinese exports to the U.S., including aerospace, information and communication technology, and machinery. The move is aimed at countering Chinese cyber and intellectual property theft of U.S. technology . It also tries to push back against China’s demands for technology transfers from U.S. companies in return for access to China’s market.

The Chinese government, in turn, said it would hit U.S. shipments to China with $3 billion in tariffs, affecting goods such as pork, aluminum pipes, steel and wine.

“A family of four will end up paying about $500 more to buy (clothing, shoes, fashion accessories and travel goods) every year” if those products are subject to 25% tariffs, the American Apparel and Footwear Association says…

Retaliatory tariffs from China, meanwhile, could especially hurt American farmers.  China is the world’s top soybean importer, with the U.S. providing close to 60% of the commodity. And the country is the second-largest purchaser of U.S. pork. Growing talk about a trade war has worried Iowa farmers. The state is the nation’s largest corn and pork producer and second-largest soybean grower.”

Historical background, when Clinton added China to the WTO, it opened the borders and U.S. markets to Chinese goods, but likewise, China promised to treat the exports of the U.S. fairly, which are driven by movies, patents, and intellectual property rights. In theory, that’s how the deal would be equitable. However for 20 years they have not been paying billions in patents or media royalties back to the U.S.. Stealing everything, patents, intellectual rights, ignoring international law, building a mile high tariff wall, and polluting their whole nation to boot, just like we did back in the 19th century when we were a wee country.

Guess what that shows? Tariffs work. It worked for us then and it works for China now. Go to a store and look for any item that isn’t made in China. That has devastated industry, and is arguably dumping, i.e. selling at a loss to ruin your competition. How? China isn’t a “capitalist” country, really. It’s an amalgam of communism and protectionism meant to rapidly modernize China in the footsteps of Stalin or Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” and it works. As such, factories are built of debt money printed by the Central State then protected from bankruptcy with more printing and bailing out hand-picked winners by the state — just like we do.

Just like Abe buying up the entire Nikkei or the Swiss Bank buying a trillion in foreign stocks. So in a roundabout way, China is creating all these products at a loss, but doesn’t care about profit because people are employed and their industry rockets into the 21st century. Since profit is not a motive and bankruptcy is not a possibility, the strategy to modernize and compete with the U.S. is enhanced not only by moving China forward, but also by moving the U.S. backward into the last century. So the very concept of WTO, “Free Trade”, “Fair Trade” does not and cannot exist with a centrally-planned, centrally-protected, non-free market economy – theirs and ours. Only national strategy remains.

When that’s the case, you see Trump merely advocating for consequences to China breaking the original treaty, the original parity of hard goods for intellectual property. And why shouldn’t breaking a treaty have consequences? The problem of course is what those consequences mean.

Since from the Chinese perspective, they have reduced U.S. wealth, production, capacity for production, and even the U.S. military to 3rd world levels, and the U.S. no longer has the bargaining power to reverse what was supposed to be a free-market trade, but was executed by China as a mercantile/protectionist trade. And good on them, well played!

Here in the States, we hear people say –still!—“well if they give us cheap goods at a loss, who are we not to take them?” Regardless of the jobs lost since that giant sucking sound started. Or worse, “Since rebuilding industry will cost money, any move to help ourselves should be avoided because it will raise prices.” Yes people, we already missed the 21st century, let’s move back from the 20th century into an 19th century African colony because fighting it would cost something and be inconvenient. Worked for Argentina, right?

 

Trump said in his Asian tour:

“I don’t blame China – after all, who can blame a country for taking advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens… I give China great credit,” said Mr. Trump while addressing a room of business leaders. Instead, the US leader said previous US administrations were responsible for what he called “a very unfair and one-sided” trade relationship with China.”

China seemed to understand this and take it pretty well: in the last 30 years 500 million were lifted out of poverty, they got everything they wanted, and are arguably already the largest, most modern economy, but the ride is over. Asia loves gold-plated show-boaters like Trump and their equanimity was unreported by the press.

It’s no surprise; I’m sure they knew it would end someday. Probably never dreamed it would go on this long. However, the way the game is played, China will still negotiate all they can as the inevitable ends. And with retaliatory tariffs, they negotiate their best deal, and as quoted, Trump understands that too. Nothing personal.

 

Daily news covered, let’s go Macro.

In the bigger sense, a lot of this is window dressing. We hear a lot about how “the world can’t feed itself if such and such,” but it’s feeding itself now: clearly it’s perfectly possible: if anything we may have too much! Same with trade and tariffs. So China refuses to buy American soybeans, but buys Brazilian, great: stick it to those farmers (mega corps actually) in the voting states! Show ‘em!

But here’s the thing: there are X hectares of soybeans grown on planet earth, and Y people who eat them. If China buys “The Beans of Brazil”™, then whoever bought Brazil last year won’t get theirs and will buy American. Same with steel, same with oil. If China now buys Saudi oil or Russian oil, then that oil is simply removed from Europe, and Europe must buy Norwegian or Venezuelan oil. But it’s the same oil, from the same wells, going to the same people: that is, FROM planet earth, TO planet earth, BY the people of planet earth.

There are strategies and prices, advantages and minutia down there, but in the big picture, the effect becomes more subdued than may appear. So China places tariffs, even boycotts Iowa corn, then that corn is sold to Europe instead. What kind of political pressure are they really bringing, aside from making headlines?

The same is with Trump attempting to change the composition of U.S. industry. It’s a lot harder and takes a lot longer to rotate out of services and back into hard goods than it seems. What’s more, to start making your own chips or medical equipment requires a constellation of support industries: power lines, rails, screw machines, sheet metal stamping, servo motors, and behind them the dirty, heavy industries we erased: mining, steel and aluminum smelting, and so on. Yet this has to be done. We can’t run a country by asking China, “pretty please sell us some steel so we can make battleships to bomb you with.”

But like the soybeans, this shift of capacity doesn’t work in the macro view: if we’re not buying Chinese goods because we’re making our own, what is China going to do with all their factories? That capacity exists. It’s going somewhere or it will collapse, we BOTH have a lot to lose. A cutoff of most retail goods, their factories idled and people in the streets, Mutual Assured Destruction.

This goes back to 2005 and something Ben Bernanke said about the “Global Savings Glut.” That is, the problem wasn’t that the U.S. spent too much, but the real problem was the darn Chinese were too productive, too responsible, and spent too little. You might recognize this same argument from Germany and Greece. As much as this deserves raucous laughter, the larger macroeconomic imbalance is only this: the U.S. imports instead of producing, and China exports instead of consuming.

That’s how we come to a $700B yearly trade deficit, a deficit that is not ours alone, but China’s too. This goes back to righting the trade imbalance, the tariffs, in fact the overall inequality of the present (former) globalism: the U.S. prints fake digits and the Chinese send us real goods. If the imbalances are righted, there is only one path: China must spend more and the U.S. must spend less.

 

What will China do with their own factories if the U.S. reindustrializes and makes their own goods? They’ll buy those Chinese products themselves.

 

This is a long time coming, too. For decades, China has worked hard and developed their country, so why should they make cheap products and get nothing for their work? They deserve the products of their labor — arguably more than the Americans do. They need to spend more, and as we see with input costs rising back home, we need to spend less. So let them buy their “Make-happy ginsu mango-mango slicer.” No one deserves it more.

What do you think Chairman-for-life Xi thinks of this? Trump is going to make China stop saving and force their middle class to start spending, to start behaving like the modern nation they are. Xi and his predecessors have been unable to convince China to spend. But now Trump can blame his problems on China and Xi can blame his problems on Trump. So do you think Xi is angry? Or happy?

This had to happen. A nation cannot live at the expense of everyone else forever, amen. The only question is when and how it ends. So if China makes and buys Chinese products, and the U.S. makes and buys U.S. products, and we trade equally, where’s the harm?

It’s no fun to re-industrialize, to fall back to the level of real production your country is capable of minus extractive, extortive credit, but there are only two choices: the Neocon’s one world unipolar empire of murder and force, or nation states with borders and the independence and the internal capacity to produce for and defend themselves on all fronts, agricultural, manufacturing, intellectual, and military.

That’s what the “America First” plan was and in the Asian tour, China showed they understand this. So since nation states are going to persist for now, the best we can do is rebuild, re-normalize, and re-localize independently as best we can.

As the imbalances are reversed, it’s going to be a bumpy ride, but if we can do it, it will be worthwhile. At the very least, better than the alternative (They tried). We can – it is possible – recover our nation again, and with it, what it means to be “America”, and that may be worth the work.

 

 

Mar 122018
 
 March 12, 2018  Posted by at 10:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Lewis Wickes Hine Labourer on connector, Empire State Building, New York 1930-31

 

On The Bull Market’s Ninth Birthday (CNBC)
‘No Response’ Yet From North Korea On Trump Talks (BBC)
Kim Jong Un Wants a Peace Treaty From Trump (BBG)
China Banking Crisis Warning Signal Still Flashing – BIS (BBG)
Don’t Count On Beijing To Resolve Fallout From Any Debt Blowup (CNBC)
Asia’s Big Developers ‘More Vulnerable’ to Shocks – BIS (BBG)
Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s Political Future On Cronyism Scandal (G.)
Trade Wars, Diminished Credibility and Gary Cohn (Nomi Prins)
London Property Prices Fall 15% (G.)
European Commissioner Tusk Double-Crossed Poland (GEFIRA)
Half Of US Arms Exports Go To The Middle East (G.)
Tim Berners-Lee: Regulate Tech Firms To Prevent ‘Weaponised’ Web (G.)
America’s Troll Farm Media (CP)
Winston Churchill, Mass Murderer (WaPo)

 

 

John Rubino’s comment: “Emigrate while you still can..”

On The Bull Market’s Ninth Birthday (CNBC)

The bullish run in the Dow Jones industrial average — which celebrates its ninth birthday Friday — is the longest ever and the greatest percentage gain since World War II, according to Leuthold Group. The corresponding run by the S&P 500, notes LPL Financial, is that benchmark’s second-largest and second-longest bull market ever, with only the 1990s stock market run led by technology stocks in the way. Despite a more than 10% correction in equities last month following a burst of bullish activity, Leuthold’s Doug Ramsey doesn’t think the bull is done yet. “Assuming the Dow Jones industrial average can exceed its late-January high on March 9th or thereafter, this cyclical bull market will become the first one ever to last nine years,” said Ramsey, his firm’s chief investment officer.

“Historically, cycle momentum highs are usually followed by a push to even higher price highs over the next several months.” The Dow hit an all-time high of 26,616.71 on Jan. 26, the same day the S&P 500 clinched its own record of 2,872.87. The major indexes are off their record highs 6.4% and 4.6% respectively. This chart from Leuthold Group shows where the Dow bull market stacks up since 1900. It’s far and away the longest in modern financial times. In terms of percentage gains, it’s third behind two bull markets pre-WWII.

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I’d guess Kim didn’t expect the answer he got, as fast as he got it, and now isn’t quite sure what to say.

‘No Response’ Yet From North Korea On Trump Talks (BBC)

South Korea says it has not received a response from Pyongyang on a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump. In a surprise development, Mr Trump on Friday accepted North Korea’s invitation to direct talks. South Korean officials said Mr Kim was prepared to give up his nuclear weapons. Details on the planned talks remain vague, with no agreement yet on the location or agenda. Analysts are sceptical about what can be achieved through talks given the complexity of the issues involved. “We have not seen nor received an official response from the North Korean regime regarding the North Korea-US summit,” a spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Unification said on Monday. “I feel they’re approaching this matter with caution and they need time to organise their stance.” South Korean officials who spoke to Trump are now on the way to China and Japan to brief the leaders of each country on the upcoming talks.

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He’s telling his people that’s what his father wanted. They also want to reunite with the south.

Kim Jong Un Wants a Peace Treaty From Trump (BBG)

Kim Jong Un wants to sign a peace treaty after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, South Korean media reported, reviving a long-held goal of the North Korean regime. Kim is likely to raise the possibility of a peace treaty, along with establishing diplomatic relations and nuclear disarmament, during a meeting with the U.S. leader, the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper said Monday, citing an unidentified senior official in South Korea’s presidential office. Trump last week agreed to meet Kim, although key details of the summit have yet to be decided. Koh Yu-hwan, who teaches North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said the regime has long sought a peace treaty to end the more than 60-year-old ceasefire between the two sides and help guarantee its safety.

“There were agreements between the U.S. and North Korea to open up discussion on a peace treaty, but they never materialized,” Koh said, saying the conditions were key. “The U.S. wants a peace treaty at the end of the denuclearization process, while for the North, it’s the precondition for its denuclearization.” Signing a peace treaty would require addressing issues regarding the U.S. military’s presence in South Korea and its transfer of wartime operational control to South Korea and United Nations forces in South Korea, Koh said.

Read more …

China, Canada and Hong Kong are among the economies most at risk of a banking crisis, according to BIS

China Banking Crisis Warning Signal Still Flashing – BIS (BBG)

China, Canada and Hong Kong are among the economies most at risk of a banking crisis, according to early-warning indicators compiled by the Bank for International Settlements. Canada – whose economy grew last year at the fastest pace since 2011 – was flagged thanks to its households’ maxed-out credit cards and high debt levels in the wider economy. Household borrowing is also seen as a risk factor for China and Hong Kong, according to the study. “The indicators currently point to the build-up of risks in several economies,” analysts Inaki Aldasoro, Claudio Borio and Mathias Drehmann wrote in the BIS’s latest Quarterly Review published on Sunday. The study offered some surprising results: for example, Italy wasn’t shown as being at risk, despite its struggles with a slow-growing economy and banks that are mired in bad debts.

While China was flagged, a key warning indicator known as the credit-to-gross domestic product “gap” showed an improvement, said the BIS, known as the central bank for central banks. This may suggest the government is making progress in its push to reduce financial-sector risk. The gap is the difference between the credit-to-GDP ratio and its long-term trend. A blow-out in the number can signal that credit growth is excessive and a financial bust may be looming. In China, the gap fell to 16.7% in the third quarter of 2017, down from a peak of 28.9% in March 2016 and the lowest since 2012, the study showed.

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How does Xi tell his people he doesn’t have their backs? Oh well, he’s president for life.

Don’t Count On Beijing To Resolve Fallout From Any Debt Blowup (CNBC)

The belief in an “implicit guarantee” from the Chinese government on debt is a big problem, said a finance professor on Monday. “I’m concerned with what a lot of people believe, [that] the government is going to take care of investment losses. Under that impression, they are going to take up lot of leverage because they believe they will be bailed out if something does not work out,” said Zhu Ning, a professor of finance at Tsinghua University in Beijing. China has been battling high debt levels for years, but debt-to-GDP ratio is still about 260%, according to the Bank of International Settlements. While that absolute number is not alarming in itself, it is eyebrow-raising for the speed in rising to such levels, particularly in the last five years, Zhu said.

Since China’s economy is far bigger than two decades ago, the country has the size and resilience to overcome issues in the financial system, but Beijing is concerned about systemic risks that may roil the world’s second-largest economy. The key to solving any potential fallout from the ballooning debt is to remove the perception that Beijing will help solve any problems from a debt blowup, said Zhu. “This is a mentality that has taken decades to form so the government would have to do something aggressive and persistent to gradually remove this sense of implicit guarantee,” Zhu said. The Chinese government has been coming down hard on reining in systemic risks, using strong-arm tactics such as the recent state takeover of Anbang Insurance, which was aggressively expanding internationally.

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There’s the shadow banks again.

Asia’s Big Developers ‘More Vulnerable’ to Shocks – BIS (BBG)

Asia’s big developers are “more vulnerable” to shocks after their profitability waned from the boom years at the start of the decade, the Bank for International Settlements warned. The “sector’s deteriorating fundamentals give reason for concern,” said the Basel, Switzerland-based institution, which watches over global financial stability. Many firms’ returns on assets are below their costs of debt, the BIS said in a quarterly review, citing a study of developers in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Higher interest rates, sinking property prices or falling currencies are shocks that could worsen developers’ financial health, with the potential for significant economic repercussions, according to the organization known as the central banks’ central bank. Even without external jolts, falling returns on assets and declining interest coverage ratios “could pose problems” for the firms, it said. While easy money drove property booms worldwide after the global financial crisis, the BIS argues a tightening in the years ahead could force developers to sell off inventory – driving down prices – and lay off workers.

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“Shinzo Abe has previously said he would resign if he or his wife were shown to be involved in heavily cutting the price of public land sold to a right-wing school operator in Osaka..”

Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s Political Future On Cronyism Scandal (G.)

A spiralling cronyism scandal linked to the Japanese prime minister and his wife has reached fever pitch after the finance ministry admitted to tampering with records to remove references to the first lady. Shinzo Abe has previously said he would resign if he or his wife were shown to be involved in heavily cutting the price of public land sold to a right-wing school operator in Osaka. The finance ministry admitted on Monday that it had altered official documents surrounding the decision to provide an 85% discount on the appraised value of the land. One document originally quoted the educational group Moritomo Gakuen as saying that Abe’s wife Akie had recommended the primary school project “move forward because it is a good plot of land”. However, this was removed in a version submitted to lawmakers investigating the sale. Kyodo News reported that the submitted papers also omitted an article in which Akie described being “moved to tears by the school’s education policy”.

Moritomo Gakuen’s existing kindergarten attracted attention for requiring its young pupils to bow before portraits of the imperial family, sing the national anthem daily, and learn the 1890 imperial rescript on education, which emphasises sacrifice for country. Akie was set to serve as honorary principal for the new primary school, but stepped down in February last year when questions were raised over the land deal. The government has previously denied claims that the first lady gave the school operator an envelope containing 1m yen (£6,775) on behalf of the prime minister during a visit she made to the existing kindergarten. The controversy fuelled a steep decline in Abe’s popularity last year but heappeared to ride out the scandal and won a snap lower house election in October. However, the forgery revelations have intensified political pressure on Abe and his long-serving finance minister, Taro Aso.

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Excellent piece by Nomi, which has two topics: Gary Cohn and steel tariffs. The latter a bit much on short term effects, but good read.

Trade Wars, Diminished Credibility and Gary Cohn (Nomi Prins)

[..] my former boss from my Goldman Sachs days—Gary Cohn—just resigned from his White House post as chief economic adviser to the Chaos Producer in Chief. This was ostensibly in protest against the president’s announcement about imposing steel and aluminum tariffs. The next day, Trump signed the order sealing that deal, citing his actions as a “matter of necessity for our security.” Along the way, he said there would be no exemptions to the tariffs, then said there would be—for Canada and Mexico. Trump glowed in the light of his new-found power grab over trade agreements, leaving himself room to decide which countries would be “in” and “out” with respect to these and other tariffs in the future. And that was the week that was in Trump World.

The timing of Cohn’s departure certainly put a wrench in his plans to convene executives dependent on steel and present their case against steel tariffs to Trump. Instead, Trump signed the tariffs order flanked by steel and aluminum workers supporting it. Speaking of steel, Cohn’s nerves were seemingly made of that metal. At Goldman, he was the man who regularly waded through deals without losing his cool (unlike Trump). On 9/11, I witnessed him directing traders to keep trading oil as shreds of debris and billows of smoke engulfed the windows of the Goldman trading floor, only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. He became president (or number two) at Goldman, continually handling the less “cool” behavior of chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who remained above him in the pecking order for decades.

Cohn commanded daily activities at Goldman that led to the firm’s creation of shady financial instruments that were later at the core of the financial crisis. Under Cohn, Goldman was bailed out by U.S. taxpayers. The firm morphed, for government subsidy purposes, into a bank holding company, though it handled scant deposits from regular people. It did this to retain access to Federal Reserve support, as it has done, over the past decade. Cohn was also at Goldman when it reached a $5 billion settlement with the Department of Justice over its consistent misconduct regarding mortgage-related securities from 2005 to 2007. That type of conflict-meets-crisis readied him for his government service. When Cohn came up against Trump, the president’s flavor-of-the-minute trade policy hawk, Peter Navarro, met “Globalist Gary” head on. Then Cohn’s Trump administration career was over.

Read more …

Just peeping over the edge for now.

London Property Prices Fall 15% (G.)

House prices in parts of London that were once at the epicentre of the UK property boom have fallen as much as 15% over the past year in fresh evidence of the impact of the EU referendum. Figures from Your Move, one of the UK’s biggest estate agency chains, reveal that the average home in Wandsworth – which includes much of Clapham, Balham and Putney – fell by more than £100,000 in value over the last 12 months. But property prices have surged in the north-west of England, with Blackburn recording the highest growth rates in the UK. Homes in the London borough of Wandsworth were fetching an average of £805,000 in January 2017 but this has now fallen to £685,000.

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Selling out his country and Putin bashing. That’s Tusk. That’s how he got his EU job.

European Commissioner Tusk Double-Crossed Poland (GEFIRA)

The current President of the EU Council has a good reputation in the EU circles, but not in Poland: he had to flee from his home country to Brussels, completely compromised. After all, his government was a catastrophe: mass emigration of young Poles, tampering with the coffers of future pensioners, corruption and benefit scandals, the Amber Gold affair, the all-pervasive nepotism in his Civic Platform (PO) party, numerous sins of omission crowned by Nord Stream. Young unemployed people can light the torch of a revolution. If you want to secure your position in politics, you leave salaries low and open the borders. The discontented young unemployed emigrate and only those who have less motivation to take to the streets remain. In 2005 Donald Tusk made this trick, this intervention on his nation. He threw Poland into the arms of the EU: since then the population has fallen significantly due to the emigration of many young Poles.

Nigel Farage aptly commented on this when he turned to Tusk in the European Parliament: “Your debate is about emigration, and time and again you’ve promised the Polish voters that young poles would return to Poland, and at the same time Mr Cameron has promised the British people that fewer Poles would come to us. Well, it turns out that you’ve both been wrong and your country has been depopulated by 2 million people since you joined the European Union and the reason is obvious: it’s money, isn’t it? And you yourself prove the point. You are the newest Polish emigre and you’ve gone from a salary of 6,000 euros a year to a salary of 30,000 euros a year. So congratulations! You’ve hit the EU jackpot!”

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A picture of the world’s sickest people. Many of them are in your governments.

Half Of US Arms Exports Go To The Middle East (G.)

Nearly half of US arms exports over the past five years have gone to the war-stricken Middle East, with Saudi Arabia consolidating its place as the world’s second biggest importer, a report has shown. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) said on Monday that global transfer of major weapons systems between 2013 and 2017 rose by 10% compared with the five-year period before that, in a continuation of an upward trend that began two decades ago. The US, which is the world’s biggest exporter, increased its sales between those two periods by 25%. It supplied arms to as many as 98 states worldwide, accounting for more than a third of global exports. Russia, the world’s second biggest exporter, saw a decrease of 7.1% in its overall volume of arms exports; US exports were 58% higher than those of Russia. France, Germany and China were also among the top five exporters. The UK is the sixth biggest weapons exporter.

“Based on deals signed during the Obama administration, US arms deliveries in 2013–17 reached their highest level since the late 1990s,” said Dr Aude Fleurant, the director of the Sipri’s arms and military expenditure programme. “These deals and further major contracts signed in 2017 will ensure that the USA remains the largest arms exporter in the coming years.” The Middle East, a region where in the past five years most countries have been involved in conflict, accounted for 32% of global imports of weapons. Arms imports to the region doubled between 2013 and 2017 and in the five-year period before that. The US, the UK, and France were the main supplier of arms to the region, while Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE were the main recipient countries.

The UK, which rolled out a red carpet for the Saudi crown prince on his visit to London last week, exported nearly half of its arms to the Saudi Arabia, which has increased its imports by 225%. Sipri’s report noted that Saudi Arabia uses its imported weapons in large-scale combat operations, particularly in Yemen. The Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, which has cost hundreds of civilian lives, was launched in 2015, aiming to counter the advances of Iran-backed Houthi rebels controlling the capital, Sana’a. Saudi Arabia’s shopping list included 78 combat aircraft, 72 combat helicopters and 328 tanks. “Widespread violent conflict in the Middle East and concerns about human rights have led to political debate in western Europe and North America about restricting arms sales,” said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher at Sipri. Yet the USA and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98% of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia.”

Read more …

How do you regulate global forces? That are part of secret intelligence services?

Tim Berners-Lee: Regulate Tech Firms To Prevent ‘Weaponised’ Web (G.)

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, has called for large technology firms to be regulated to prevent the web from being “weaponised at scale”. “In recent years, we’ve seen conspiracy theories trend on social media platforms, fake Twitter and Facebook accounts stoke social tensions, external actors interfere in elections, and criminals steal troves of personal data,” Berners-Lee wrote in an open letter marking the 29th anniversary of his invention. These problems have proliferated because of the concentration of power in the hands of a few platforms – including Facebook, Google, and Twitter – which “control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared”. “What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms,” said the 62-year-old British computer scientist.

These online gatekeepers can lock in their power by acquiring smaller rivals, buying up new innovations and hiring the industry’s top talent, making it harder for others to compete, he said. Google now accounts for about 87% of online searches worldwide. Facebook has more than 2.2 billion monthly active users – more than 20 times more than MySpace at its peak. Together, the two companies (including their subsidiaries Instagram and YouTube) slurp up more than 60% of digital advertising spend worldwide. Although the companies are aware of the problems and have made efforts to fix them – developing systems to tackle fake news, bots and influence operations – they have been built to “maximise profit more than maximise social good”. “A legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives may help ease those tensions,” he said.

Aligning the incentives of the technology sector with those of users and society at large, he argued, will require consulting a diverse group of people from business, government, civil society, academia and the arts. Berners-Lee warned of “two myths” that “limit our collective imagination” when looking for solutions to the problems facing the web: “The myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it’s too late to change the way platforms operate. On both points we need to be a little more creative,” he said. “I want the web to reflect our hopes and fulfil our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions,” he said.

Read more …

Too many people still believe far too much of what they read and watch.

America’s Troll Farm Media (CP)

Despite all the smoke and mirrors, most Americans seem to see where the stenographers of corporate capitalism are taking us. A recent Gallup poll found that while 84% of Americans see media as “critical” or “very important” to democracy, only 28% see the corporatist mainstream news media (MSM) as actually supporting democracy. They’re right on both counts of course. The quality of a democracy is only as good as the information people have to make informed judgements about public policy and politicians. Even as the mainstream news media continue to lose street cred, they persist in a rumor-saturated full court press against the “Trump-Putin presidency,” which only further exposes their lack of professionalism and increasing vulgarity.

MSM management and their boardroom bosses have long understood that as long as they spice up their “nothing burger” news, ratings and advertising rates will keep them in business and please their commercial and government clients. Tabloid journalism, which can describe most American mainstream media these days, even when wrapped up as “all the news that’s fit to print,” is in constant search of sensation, scandal, gossip, and profit – and only occasionally in public-oriented investigative integrity. [..] 65% of Americans consider the so-called “free press” biased, obsessed with scandal, and full of “fake news” and therefore cannot be trusted. [..] trust in American institutions in general, that is, the government, business, NGOs, and the MSM, is going through the worst crisis in recorded history, according to the marketing firm Edelman in 2018.

[..] On January 27, 2018, the Washington Post editorial board issued this statement: “A foreign power interfered in the 2016 presidential election. U.S. law enforcement is trying to get to the bottom of that story. Congress should be doing everything possible to make sure the investigation can take place.” Obviously referring to Russia, the Post’s declaration, as the late investigative journalist Robert Parry and many other independent and respected writers have pointed out, was and remains without a shred of evidence. It’s WMD time all over again, only this time the propaganda is being trumpeted mainly by the Democrats. It would better serve the cause of democracy to investigate the Post for its covert coalition and collusion with the deep state and the Clinton (right) wing of the Democratic Party. The Post and the rest of their pack have constructed a wicked Russia foil in order to undermine Moscow’s presumed ally Trump and boost bigger Pentagon budgets.

Read more …

Britain is not strong on history. Surprising that this comes from the WaPo.

Winston Churchill, Mass Murderer (WaPo)

“History,” Winston Churchill said, “will be kind to me, for I intend to write it myself.” He needn’t have bothered. He was one of the great mass murderers of the 20th century, yet is the only one, unlike Hitler and Stalin, to have escaped historical odium in the West. He has been crowned with a Nobel Prize (for literature, no less), and now, an actor portraying him (Gary Oldman) has been awarded an Oscar. As Hollywood confirms, Churchill’s reputation (as what Harold Evans has called “the British Lionheart on the ramparts of civilization”) rests almost entirely on his stirring rhetoric and his talent for a fine phrase during World War II. “We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. … We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. … We shall never surrender.” (The revisionist British historian John Charmley dismissed this as “sublime nonsense.”)

Words, in the end, are all that Churchill admirers can point to. His actions are another matter altogether. During World War II, Churchill declared himself in favor of “terror bombing.” He wrote that he wanted “absolutely devastating, exterminating attacks by very heavy bombers.” Horrors such as the firebombing of Dresden were the result. In the fight for Irish independence, Churchill, in his capacity as secretary of state for war and air, was one of the few British officials in favor of bombing Irish protesters, suggesting in 1920 that airplanes should use “machine-gun fire or bombs” to scatter them. Dealing with unrest in Mesopotamia in 1921, as secretary of state for the colonies, Churchill acted as a war criminal: “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against the uncivilised tribes; it would spread a lively terror.” He ordered large-scale bombing of Mesopotamia, with an entire village wiped out in 45 minutes.

In Afghanistan, Churchill declared that the Pashtuns “needed to recognise the superiority of [the British] race” and that “all who resist will be killed without quarter.” He wrote: “We proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the great shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation. … Every tribesman caught was speared or cut down at once.” In Kenya, Churchill either directed or was complicit in policies involving the forced relocation of local people from the fertile highlands to make way for white colonial settlers and the forcing of more than 150,000 people into concentration camps. Rape, castration, lit cigarettes on tender spots, and electric shocks were all used by the British authorities to torture Kenyans under Churchill’s rule.

But the principal victims of Winston Churchill were the Indians — “a beastly people with a beastly religion,” as he charmingly called them. He wanted to use chemical weapons in India but was shot down by his cabinet colleagues, whom he criticized for their “squeamishness,” declaring that “the objections of the India Office to the use of gas against natives are unreasonable.” [..] Thanks to Churchill, some 4 million Bengalis starved to death in a 1943 famine. Churchill ordered the diversion of food from starving Indian civilians to well-supplied British soldiers and even to top up European stockpiles in Greece and elsewhere. When reminded of the suffering of his Indian victims, his response was that the famine was their own fault, he said, for “breeding like rabbits.”

Read more …

Mar 112018
 
 March 11, 2018  Posted by at 10:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


James McNeill Whistler Nocturne Blue and Gold Southampton Water 1872

 

$21 Trillion And Rising: Central Banks’ Leveraged Buyout of The World (ZH)
The $233 Trillion Dollar Dark Cloud of Global Debt (GT)
Trump Is Going For A Clean Reset in The West Wing (Vanity Fair)
Trump ‘Clarity’ on Tariff Conditions Not What EU Was Looking For (BBG)
China Ties Future to Xi as Congress Scraps President Term Limits (BBG)
Putin Says He ‘Couldn’t Care Less’ If Russians Meddled In 2016 Elections (NBC)
Millions Of Struggling UK Families Face Deepest Benefit Cuts In Years (O.)
UK Government Leaves At Least £1 Billion For Affordable Housing Unspent (O.)
‘We Are Nowhere Near Out Of Austerity’ – Institute for Fiscal Studies (G.)
UK Consumers Losing Interest In Buying New Cars On Credit (Ind.)
Erdogan Slams Allies’ Refusal To Support Turkey Offensive In Syria’s Afrin (RT)
Greek Defense Minister: We’re Close To A ‘Fatal Accident’ With Turkey (K.)
Post-Bailout Credit Line For Greece Probably Not Needed – Regling (R.)
UK Government Asks Public For Ideas To Curb Plastic Pollution (Ind.)

 

 

$21 trillion to buy out a broken system.

$21 Trillion And Rising: Central Banks’ Leveraged Buyout of The World (ZH)

Back in late 2016, we showed the unprecedented domination of capital markets by central banks using a chart from Citi, which had put together a fascinating slideshow asking simply “Where is the utility in marginal QE” and specifically pointing out that the longer unconventional monetary policy such as QE continues, the bigger its marginal cost, until eventually QE becomes a detriment. A broad criticism of monetary policy, the presentation carried an amusing footnote: “This presentation does not change any of Citi’s existing, published views on the actual future path of monetary policy. It is merely intended as a contribution to the ongoing debate about the efficacy of available policy tools” – after all, the last thing the market wanted is the realization that even banks no longer have faith in the central planners.

Incidentally, Citi’s broad critique of global QE took place when central banks owned just over $18 trillion in assets. Fast forward to today when in its latest update of central bank holdings, Citi shows that as of this moment not only has the total increased by another $3 trillion to a grand total of $21 trillion and rising, but that the big six central banks now own over 40% of global GDP, more than double the 17% they held before the financial crisis less than a decade ago. Which is remarkable in a world where there is still some confusion about what is behind the “global coordinated recovery”, and where there are deluded people who claim that central banks are now out of the picture.

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I admit: it was the headline. Nothing much else there.

The $233 Trillion Dollar Dark Cloud of Global Debt (GT)

Global debt has reached record heights without any signs of relief. While central bankers try to explain away the phenomenon of these out-of-control numbers, it’s not much of a mystery. Immediate consumption with the promise of repayment sometime in the future has consequences. Global debt is staggering to the point most of it will never be repaid. Certainly not in our generation. Perhaps by our grandchildren, but as global debt keeps mounting, the picture is doubtful. The per capita global debt is $30,000. Who, exactly, will be making repayments? Economists insist that the 2007 financial crisis could not have been predicted. Yet, all the signs of out-of-control credit where there.

Today, economists are repeating the same mantra, despite the spiraling world debt. The question is not if the next bubble will strike. It’s a matter of when. The math is fairly simple. The more a country increases its debt to simply stay afloat, the more like the increasing debt will cause a tightening of credit. The next step in the equation is a burst bubble and economic crisis. This is what happened in 1929, happened again in 2007, and it’s happening now. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Out-of-control credit will undoubtedly slow down the US’s current economic growth. It probably won’t cause an outright crisis. Other countries may not be as fortunate.

Countries such as China, Belgium, South Korea, Australia, and Canada are experiencing an unprecedented credit bubble, with few systems in place to control it. The resulted inflation or simply write-offs of debts could result in a global financial disaster we have not seen before. The current economic upswing is unlikely to continue.

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Coming out of the sophomore year. Cohn wanted to be Chief of Staff… Still, Bolton would be a grave mistake, he would be shredded.

Trump Is Going For A Clean Reset in The West Wing (Vanity Fair)

Even before he decided to launch a trade war and roll the nuclear dice by agreeing in the course of a West Wing afternoon to a risky sit-down with Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump was telling friends he was tired of being reined in. “I’m doing great, but I’m getting all these bad headlines,” Trump told a friend recently. A Republican in frequent contact with the White House told me Trump is “frustrated by all these people telling him what to do.” With the departures of Hope Hicks and Gary Cohn, the Trump presidency is entering a new phase—one in which Trump is feeling liberated to act on his impulses. “Trump is in command. He’s been in the job more than a year now. He knows how the levers of power work. He doesn’t give a fuck,” the Republican said.

Trump’s decision to circumvent the policy process and impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum reflects his emboldened desire to follow his impulses and defy his advisers. “It was like a fuck-you to Kelly,” a Trump friend said. “Trump is red-hot about Kelly trying to control him.” According to five Republicans close to the White House, Trump has diagnosed the problem as having the wrong team around him and is looking to replace his senior staff in the coming weeks. “Trump is going for a clean reset, but he needs to do it in a way that’s systemic so it doesn’t look like it’s chaos,” one Republican said. Sources said that the first officials to go will be Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, both of whom Trump has clashed with for months.

On Tuesday, Trump met with John Bolton in the Oval Office. When he plans to visit Mar-a-Lago next weekend, Trump is expected to interview more candidates for both positions, according to two sources. “He’s going for a clean slate,” one source said. Cohn had been lobbying to replace Kelly as chief, two sources said, and quit when he didn’t get the job. “Trump laughed at Gary when he brought it up,” one outside adviser to the White House said. Next on the departure list are Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Trump remains fiercely loyal to his family, but various distractions have eroded their efficacy within the administration. Both have been sidelined without top-secret security clearances by Kelly, and sources expect them to be leaving at some point in the near future.

Read more …

But he’s clear.

Trump ‘Clarity’ on Tariff Conditions Not What EU Was Looking For (BBG)

Hours after European Union trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said she had “no immediate clarity” on whether the bloc will be let off the hook from planned U.S. tariffs, President Donald Trump laid down his conditions and repeated a threat if they’re not met. “The European Union, wonderful countries who treat the U.S. very badly on trade, are complaining about the tariffs on Steel & Aluminum,” he wrote on Twitter. “If they drop their horrific barriers & tariffs on U.S. products going in, we will likewise drop ours. Big Deficit. If not, we Tax Cars etc. FAIR!” Trump’s response came after Malmstrom on Twitter described what she called “frank” but fruitless talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Brussels on Saturday.

There was still “no immediate clarity on the exact U.S. procedure on exemption,” Malmstrom, the 28-nation bloc’s trade commissioner, said after the meeting that also included Japanese Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko. “As a close security and trade partner of the U.S. the EU must be excluded from the announced measures,” she said. Canada, Mexico and Australia have secured exemptions from the tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on aluminum announced by Trump, though Canada’s and Mexico’s were conditioned on progress renegotiating NAFTA. Trump has called the tariffs a matter of national security while threatening to tax European car imports and impose “reciprocal taxes” on countries that charge higher duties on U.S. goods than the U.S. now charges on their products.

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Just as China’s economic model is about to ‘go into a next phase..’

China Ties Future to Xi as Congress Scraps President Term Limits (BBG)

China’s parliament voted to repeal presidential term limits, allowing President Xi Jinping to retain power indefinitely in a formal break from succession rules set up after Mao Zedong’s turbulent rule. The rubber-stamp National People’s Congress agreed Sunday to strike a 36-year-old constitutional provision barring the president from serving more than two consecutive terms. The amendment – announced by the Communist Party two weeks ago – removes the only barrier keeping Xi, 64, from staying on after his expected second term ends in 2023. The vote – never in doubt – gives Xi more time to enact plans to centralize party control, increase global clout and curb financial and environmental risks.

It also ties the world’s most populous country more closely to the fate of a single man than at any point since reformer Deng Xiaoping began establishing a system for peaceful power transitions in the aftermath of Mao’s death. Before Sunday’s vote in Beijing, Donald Trump had joked that Xi was “now president for life.” The NPC could appoint Xi to a second term as soon as Saturday. “In the long run, the change may bring some uncertainties, like ‘key man’ risk,” Yanmei Xie, a China policy analyst for Gavekel Dragonomics in Beijing, said before the vote. “Dissenting is becoming riskier. The room for debate is becoming narrower. The risk of a policy mistake could become higher and correcting a flawed policy could take longer.”

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They all reported on the Megyn Kelly interview a while ago. Now all of a sudden there’s a new headline from that same interview. And.. “he even said it might be Jews..”

Putin Says He ‘Couldn’t Care Less’ If Russians Meddled In 2016 Elections (NBC)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told NBC News that he “couldn’t care less” if Russian citizens tried to interfere in the 2016 American presidential election because, he claims, they were not connected to the Kremlin. In an exclusive and at-times combative interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly, Putin again denied the charge by U.S. intelligence services that he ordered meddling in the November 2016 vote that put Donald Trump in the White House. “Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this?” asked Putin, who will probably be returned as president in the March 18 elections.

Putin was unmoved by an indictment filed by special counsel Robert Mueller last month that accused 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies of interfering in the election – including supporting Trump’s campaign and “disparaging” Hillary Clinton’s. Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin. “So what if they’re Russians?” Putin said of the people named in last month’s indictment. “There are 146 million Russians. So what? … I don’t care. I couldn’t care less. … They do not represent the interests of the Russian state.” Putin even suggested that Jews or other ethnic groups had been involved in the meddling.

“Maybe they’re not even Russians,” he said. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship. Even that needs to be checked. Maybe they have dual citizenship. Or maybe a green card. Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don’t know.” Asked whether he was concerned about Russian citizens attacking U.S. democracy, Putin replied that he had yet to see any evidence that the alleged interference had broken Russian law. “Are we the ones who imposed sanctions on the United States? The U.S. imposed sanctions on us.” “We in Russia cannot prosecute anyone as long as they have not violated Russian law,” he said. “At least send us a piece of paper. … Give us a document. Give us an official request. And we’ll take a look at it.”

U.S. intelligence agencies and many Western analysts have said that Russian interference came at the orders of the Kremlin. Putin, Russia’s longest-serving leader since Stalin, dismissed this. “Could anyone really believe that Russia, thousands of miles away … influenced the outcome of the election? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous even to you?” he said. “It’s not our goal to interfere. We do not see what goal we would accomplish by interfering. There’s no goal.”

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In praise of austerity, of destroying the social and health care systems. A class society, more suited to the 19th than the 21st century.

Millions Of Struggling UK Families Face Deepest Benefit Cuts In Years (O.)

Families struggling to make ends meet will be hit by the biggest annual benefits cut for six years, according to a new analysis that exposes the impact of continuing austerity measures on the low paid. Chancellor Philip Hammond is preparing to give a stripped-down spring statement on Tuesday, where he is expected to boast of lower than expected borrowing figures. He will use them to suggest Britain has reached a “turning point”. He will point to forecasts showing the “first sustained fall in debt for a generation” to claim “there is light at the end of the tunnel” in turning around Britain’s finances. However, he will be speaking just weeks before a further public spending squeeze will see the second largest annual cut to the benefits budget since the financial crash.

According to new research by the Resolution Foundation thinktank, the changes from April will save around £2.5bn and dent the incomes of the “just about managing” families that Theresa May has vowed to help. The cuts will affect around 11 million families, including 5 million of the struggling families that the prime minister stated she would focus on. There will also be some good news for the low paid, with more than 1.5 million workers set to benefit from a 4.4% pay rise when the national living wage increases from £7.50 to £7.83 at the start of April. However, that measure will be outweighed by the effective £2.5bn cuts to working-age benefits.

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The real face of the British government.

UK Government Leaves At Least £1 Billion For Affordable Housing Unspent (O.)

MPs are demanding an urgent explanation from ministers after being told that £817m allocated for desperately needed affordable housing and other projects in cash-strapped local authorities has been returned to the Treasury unspent. The surrender of the unused cash has astonished members of the cross-party housing, communities and local government select committee at a time when Theresa May has insisted housebuilding is a top priority and when many local authorities are becoming mired in ever deeper financial crises. On Monday the committee, which discovered the underspend for 2017-18, will interrogate housing minister Dominic Raab and homelessness minister Heather Wheeler on the issue, before Tuesday’s spring statement by the chancellor, Philip Hammond.

He is under heavy pressure from MPs, and the Tory-controlled Local Government Association, to signal extra help for the local authority sector, which has seen budget cuts of around 50% since 2010. The acting chair of the committee, the Tory MP Bob Blackman, said: “We will be wanting to know why this very large sum has not been spent at a time of great strain on local authority budgets, and why it was not channelled to other spending projects. It does not help those of us who argue that more should be given to local authorities if the chancellor knows money he gave last time has not even been spent.” MPs believe they can argue for more for local authorities because Hammond will announce that unexpectedly high tax receipts have left the Treasury with a windfall of between £7bn and £10bn.

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Never trust anything that sounds even remotely like “Institute for Fiscal Studies”. This wanker goes on to praise the achievements of Britain’s austerity.

‘We Are Nowhere Near Out Of Austerity’ – Institute for Fiscal Studies (G.)

When the chancellor Philip Hammond sits down on Tuesday after delivering his first spring statement – the streamlined replacement for what we used to call the budget – one man will be greatly in demand, popping up on every media outlet to tell us what the figures on borrowing levels and the projected deficit really mean. That man is Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). I suggest to him that his official role is to pour a bucket of cold water over Hammond’s head, and he doesn’t disagree. [..] The idea of the spring statement, with the budget now pushed back to autumn, is to tell us where we are financially, and to kickstart consultations about the long-term fiscal challenges facing the UK. That, for Johnson, is the important bit.

If the spring statement works, it is an opportunity to counteract the short-termism that bedevils British politics and to start thinking about the issues that really matter – the ageing population, the buckling health service, the lack of any coherent plan for social care, the fact that soon taxes are going to have to rise or public services will fall to pieces. There comes a point when you can no longer kick the can down the road because the road is no longer usable. The Office for Budget Responsibility numbers cited in the spring statement will be better than those projected last autumn because tax receipts have been higher than anticipated, and Johnson reckons Hammond will indulge in some self-congratulation for having met the government’s austerity targets (albeit two years later than his predecessor George Osborne forecast) and eliminated the deficit on day-to-day spending.

But Johnson is ready with his bucket of cold water. “Chancellors always talk up the positive numbers,” he says, “but we’re not out of austerity; we’re nowhere near out of austerity. There are still big spending cuts and big social security cuts to come.” [..] He says the government has done well to get the deficit under control [..] Local government until 2014 was coping fine. It really isn’t any more. Clearly, the health service is struggling in a way that, three or four years ago, it wasn’t. So it feels as if we’ve got to the crunch point. We’re really beginning to feel the cost.” Government borrowing is now back to pre-financial crash levels. “It is quite an achievement to have got borrowing down from the highest level since the war to pretty much normal kinds of levels,” he says.

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Followed by a car sales promo. No. 1 advertizers for newspapers.

UK Consumers Losing Interest In Buying New Cars On Credit (Ind.)

The march of the brand new car once seemed unstoppable. Cheap finance and personal contract plans (PCPs) fuelled a boom in new cars, accounting for more than 80% of all new car registrations. A fall at the start of 2017 was blamed on a collapse in consumer confidence in diesel vehicles and last year remains one of the highest on record for new car registrations. However, the latest figures reveal that the number of new cars registered in February fell by 2.8% compared with the same month last year, making it the 11th month in a row to show a decline. And once again it’s being blamed on falling demand for diesel vehicles; diesel cars accounted for just 35% of the new cars registered last month, compared with more than 44% in February 2017.

[..] The previous surge in new car registrations had been partly fuelled by changes to the way we buy vehicles. Buying a brand new car with a relatively small deposit and monthly fee can be more immediately affordable than buying an older car upfront. 37% of car buyers claim to have bought on finance because it enabled them to spread out their payment monthly, 36% to get a better deal and, revealingly, 36% because they couldn’t afford to purchase a car otherwise. [..] Justin Benson, KPMG’s UK head of automotive, says: “Consumers aren’t necessarily turning away from car finance. There is, however, evidence to suggest that the new car market is pretty saturated, ie most cars in the last few years have been bought using PCP plans. So many are using the vehicles they already have and we are seeing a drop in demand – although Brexit is also in the back of people’s minds.”

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Hollow phrases: “Washington has repeatedly called upon Turkey to stop its “aggression” against the Afrin region..”

Erdogan Slams Allies’ Refusal To Support Turkey Offensive In Syria’s Afrin (RT)

Turkey’s leader has scorched NATO allies over their failure to support his “counter-terrorist” operation in the Kurdish-held Syrian region of Afrin, but expressed gratitude that they at least had no guts to openly oppose Ankara. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered the inflammatory comments while speaking before a gathering of his ruling AK Party in the Turkish city of Mersin on Saturday. “Hey NATO where are you? We’re fighting so much. NATO, Turkey is not a NATO country? Where are you? You’ve invited NATO-member states to Afghanistan,” Erdogan said. NATO members not only show no support towards Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch and would even openly oppose Ankara’s actions in Syria, but did not have the guts to do so, Erdogan claimed.

The offensive against Kurdish militias in Syria’s region of Afrin was launched late in January. Turkey describes the militias as offshoots of the terrorist-labeled outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). So far, 3,213 “terrorists” have been killed during the operation, carried out by Turkish troops and affiliated Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants, Erdogan stated. “In fact, they would openly oppose Turkey in Syria if they could. But seeing Turkey’s adamant position, they did not find [the] resolve to do so,” the president said. The Turkish leader also reiterated his earlier statements, that his only goal in Syria was the “fight against terrorism.” When Ankara reaches it, the troops will be pulled out of the country, he stated.

[..] Washington has repeatedly called upon Turkey to stop its “aggression” against the Afrin region, omitting the fact that the US-led coalition itself spent years in Syria without any invitation from the government or international approval. The recent UNSC resolution, which urged a 30-days Syria-wide ceasefire, has been also used to call upon Erdogan to halt the invasion. “Turkey is more than welcome to go back and read the exact text of this UN Security Council resolution, and I would suggest that they do so,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on February 27, stating that the Afrin region was “certainly within Syria.”

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Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Greek Defense Minister: We’re Close To A ‘Fatal Accident’ With Turkey (K.)

As tensions rise over the detention of two Greek soldiers who crossed the Turkish border accidentally and over Turkish aggression off Cyprus, statements by both Greek and Turkish officials over the weekend underscored the fragility of the situation. In an interview with French daily Liberation on Saturday, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos declared that “Greece is very close to a fatal accident with Turkey,” referring to Turkish violations of Greek air space and territorial waters. “We are obliged to defend our territory which is not only Greek but also European,” he said. Late last week, meanwhile, Kammenos had referred to two Greek soldiers being detained in Turkey as “hostages.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with German weekly Die Zeit published on Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusogu said Turkey’s judiciary was seeking to determine whether the Greek soldiers crossed into Turkey by accident or deliberately. Asked whether Ankara was considering exchanging the two men with eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece following an attempted Turkish coup in 2016, Cavusoglu ruled out such a prospect. “We do not want such an agreement,” he said.

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Oh yes, it will. Brussles won’t set its slaves free voluntarily.

Post-Bailout Credit Line For Greece Probably Not Needed – Regling (R.)

Greece will probably not need a precautionary credit line after its bailout ends in August if the country sticks to reforms, the head of Europe’s rescue fund said in an interview released on Saturday. Greece has received 260 billion euros in financial aid from euro zone countries and the IMF since 2010, and its third bailout expires in August. The country regained market access last year but some European Union policymakers and Greek central bankers believe Athens cannot go it alone without a standby line of credit after its financial support ends. But a precautionary credit line would come with conditions attached, something the government is keen to avoid after eight years of austerity that has worn down Greeks and hurt its popularity in polls.

In an interview with Proto Thema newspaper, the head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), Klaus Regling, said having a precautionary arrangement available is good because it gives more assurances to markets, investors and the Greek population. “But it very much depends whether it’s really needed,” he said. “If everything remains quiet, reforms continue and Greece continues to develop its market access, then based on what we know today it’s probably not needed.” The ESM and the European Financial Stability Facility are Greece’s largest creditors, together holding more than half of its 332 billion euro public debt, a sum equal to nearly 180% of economic output.

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They talk the talk because their pollsters say they must. And then deflect responsibility because they have no intention of doing anything. This way it becomes along term issue; the public must be heard first, and that takes years.

A tax on disposable cups is ridiculous. Just ban them, what’s the problem?

UK Government Asks Public For Ideas To Curb Plastic Pollution (Ind.)

The public will be urged by the Government to suggest tax changes to curb plastic pollution, amid growing criticism that ministers are dragging their heels. A “call for evidence” on how tax incentives could cut the amount of single-use plastics – such as cutlery, foam trays and coffee cups – that end up littering the land and poisoning the seas will be launched. But the move, in Tuesday’s Spring Statement, is not expected to include any specific proposals, nor will a formal consultation be launched by the Treasury. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, will tell MPs he is determined that Britain will “lead the world in creating innovative solutions to tackling this global problem”.

But the call for evidence was first proposed by Mr Hammond four months ago, the delay prompting criticism that ministers have simply “talked the talk on plastic pollution”. A proposal for a 25p “latte levy” on disposable coffee cups, made by a cross-party Commons committee in January was met with a cool response from the Government. In January, Theresa May delivered the first major speech on the environment from a sitting prime minister since 2004 and published a 25-year Environment Plan with the ambition of abolishing plastic waste by 2042. However, it was widely criticised for being vague, for the lack of proposed legislation and for the lengthy timescales for dealing with the problems involved. [..] The UK still creates 2.26 million tons of plastic packaging waste a year and recycles only around a third.

On Tuesday, Mr Hammond will say the call for evidence is intended to find ways to use the tax system to deliver both technological progress and behavioural change. Individuals, green groups and industry will be urged to have their say, as the Chancellor announces a £20m innovation fund for businesses and universities to develop the new technologies and approaches needed. The Chancellor said: “Single-use plastics waste is a scourge to our environment. From crisp packets to coffee cups, each year the UK produces millions of tonnes of waste which is neither recyclable nor biodegradable. “That’s why I want British businesses and universities to lead the world in creating innovative solutions to tackling this global problem.

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Mar 102018
 
 March 10, 2018  Posted by at 11:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso The Roaster 1938

 

Trump Tariffs Cause Massive Outflows From US Stocks – BofAML (R.)
Trump-Kim Meeting Contingent On ‘Concrete Steps’ By North Korea (Ind.)
What’s Coming Will Be Much Worse Than 2008 (Phoenix)
313k Jobs Added? Nice Try But It’s Fake News (IRD)
QE Unwind Is Too Slow, Says Fed Governor, Thus Launching First Trial Balloon (WS)
Forget About ‘Free Trade’ (CHS)
Europe’s Most-Leveraged Stocks Surge (BBG)
Cash May Disappear in China – PBOC (BBG)
Canada, Ukraine and Fascism (Carley)
Letter To America – An Opportunity And A Warning (RTB) /span>
Xi Jinping Says China’s Political System Can Be A Model For The World (Qz)
Countries Annoyed Russia Gets All The Credit For 2016 Election Meddling (Onion)
A Warning Cry From the Doomsday Vault (BBG)
West Way Behind Iran, Saudi Arabia When It Comes To Women In Science (Qz)

 

 

Really? Both the Dow and the S&P were up 1.75% yesterday.

Trump Tariffs Cause Massive Outflows From US Stocks – BofAML (R.)

A marked shift toward protectionism by President Donald Trump caused sharp outflows from U.S. large-cap stocks this week, Bank of America Merrill-Lynch (BAML) strategists said on Friday. Investors rushed into government bonds and other safer assets amid rising fears of an international trade war after Trump’s plans for tariffs on imported steel and aluminum met barbed responses from allies and trade bodies. Overall, investors pulled money out of equities, though the damage was mostly in the United States where $10.3 billion flowed out of U.S. equity funds, while global equity funds suffered just $0.4 billion of outflows, according to EPFR data cited by BAML. “As QE ends, protectionism begins,” wrote BAML strategists.

The risk-off mood drove investors into money market funds, pushing assets up to $2.9 trillion – the highest level since 2010. Safe-haven gold also drew in $0.4 billion. U.S. small caps were sheltered from the storm, the only U.S. sector to draw inflows, albeit tiny at $0.03 billion. U.S. large-cap stocks lost $10.1 billion. Flows into Japanese equities continued apace, with the market drawing in $4.1 billion in its 14th straight week of inflows, the longest streak of inflows since 2013. European stock funds managed to draw in $0.1 billion. Trump’s exemption of Canada and Mexico from the final tariffs announced late on Thursday soothed investors somewhat, and news the U.S. president would meet with North Korean President Kim Jong Un caused crude prices to rise.

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How can Kim say no?

Trump-Kim Meeting Contingent On ‘Concrete Steps’ By North Korea (Ind.)

Vice President Mike Pence has said the US made “zero concessions” in order to get an invitation to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and talk about a possible end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme. Mr Pence said that President Donald Trump has “consistently increased the pressure” on North Korea, which has continued the development of its weapons – including an increasing number of missile tests in the last 12 months – despite numerous resolutions by the United Nations. Later at the White House, the press secretary made it clear that talks would only take place if Washington saw “concrete action” by North Korea towards denuclearisation. Mr Trump and Mr Kim are expected to meet before the end of May, although a date and location has yet to be set.

After months of escalating rhetoric between the nations the prospect of a thaw has been welcomed by world leaders. Ms Sanders said at a briefing on Friday that President Trump was “in a great mood” in the wake of the announcement, saying that the US was having conversations “from a position of strength” – with denuclearisation having always been the goal of the administration. It has taken many by surprise, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had said just hours before the announcement that the US was a “long ways from negotiations”. But, Mr Tillerson said the President made the decision to accept the invite “himself”, a move he said was a “dramatic” reversal in posture for North Korea.

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“When a stock bubble bursts, investors lose money. When a sovereign bond bubble bursts, entire countries go bust..”

What’s Coming Will Be Much Worse Than 2008 (Phoenix)

While everyone is “high fiving” over stocks holding up, the bond market is back to imploding. Already Treasury yields have bounced and are soaring higher in one of the nastiest breakouts in over 20 years.

In a world awash in too much debt (global Debt to GDP is over 300%) this is a MAJOR problem. Most investors believe that the 2008 Crisis was the worst crisis of their lifetimes. They’re mistaken… what’s coming down the pike when the Bond Bubble blows up will be many times worse than 2008. The reason is that bonds, not stocks, represent the bedrock of the financial system. When a stock bubble bursts, investors lose money. When a sovereign bond bubble bursts, entire countries go bust (a la Greece in 2010). On that note, I want to point out that bond yields are not just rising in the US… we’re seeing them spike in Germany, Japan, and others.

This is a truly global problem, and if Central Banks don’t move to get it control soon, we’re heading into a MAJOR crisis.

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US jobs reports are meaningless. Maybe it’s time to recognize that before they blow up in your faces.

313k Jobs Added? Nice Try But It’s Fake News (IRD)


The census bureau does the data-gathering and the Bureau of Labor Statistics feeds the questionable data sample through its statistical sausage grinder and spits out some type of grotesque scatological substance. You know an economic report is pure absurdity when the report exceeds Wall Street’s rose-colored estimate by 53%. That has to be, by far, an all-time record-high “beat.” If you sift through some of the foul-smelling data, it turns out 365k of the alleged jobs were part-time, which means the labor market lost 52k full-time jobs. But alas, I loathe paying any credence to complete fiction by dissecting the “let’s pretend” report. The numbers make no sense. Why? Because the alleged data does not fit the reality of the real economy.

Retail sales, auto sales, home sales and restaurant sales have been declining for the past couple of months. So who would be doing the hiring? Someone pointed out that Coinbase has hired 500 people. But the retail industry has been laying off thousands this year. Given the latest industrial production and auto sales numbers, I highly doubt factories are doing anything with their workforce except reducing it. And if the job market is “so strong,” how comes wages are flat? In fact, adjusted for real inflation, real wages are declining. If the job market was robust, wages would be soaring. Speaking of which, IF the labor market was what the Government wants us to believe it is, the FOMC would tripping all over itself to hike the Fed Funds rate. And the rate-hikes would be in chunks of 50-75 basis points – not the occasional 0.25% rise.

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Balloons in a bubble.

QE Unwind Is Too Slow, Says Fed Governor, Thus Launching First Trial Balloon (WS)

So we have the first Fed Governor and member of the policy-setting FOMC who came out and said that the QE Unwind that began last October with baby steps isn’t fast enough. And because it’s so slow it may actually contribute to, rather than lower, the “financial imbalances.” In her speech, Kansas City Fed President Esther George pointed at the growth of the economy, the tightness in the labor market, the additional support the economy will get from consumers and companies as they spend or invest the tax cuts, etc., etc. And despite this growth, “the stance of monetary policy remains quite accommodative,” she said. She cited the federal funds rate – the overnight interest rate the Fed targets. The Fed’s current target range is 1.25% to 1.50%, which is “well below estimates of its longer-run value of around 3%,” she said.

The Fed would have to raise rates at least six more times of 25 basis points each, for a total of at least 1.5 percentage points, to bring the federal funds rate to around 3% and get back to neutral. If the Fed wanted to actually tighten after that, it would have to raise rates further. So far, so good. And then came her concerns about the Fed’s balance sheet. Under QE, the Fed acquired $1.7 trillion in Treasury securities and $1.78 trillion in mortgage-backed securities, for a total of about $3.5 trillion. After QE ended in October 2014, the Fed then maintained the levels by replacing maturing securities. But in October last year, it commenced the QE-Unwind and started to not replace some maturing securities. This has the effect of shrinking its balance sheet.

Just like the Fed “tapered” QE by phasing it out over the course of a year, it is also ramping up the QE-Unwind over the course of a year. But the pace of the QE-Unwind has been too slow, according to George – and this may be destabilizing the financial markets: “By the end of this year, however, only about a quarter of the increase to the Fed’s balance sheet resulting from the first round of large scale asset purchases will be unwound. These holdings of longer-term assets were intended to put downward pressure on longer term interest rates. Many investors responded, as would be expected, by purchasing riskier assets in a reach for higher yield. As a result, asset prices may have become distorted relative to the economic fundamentals.”

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Free trade is a deception tool.

Forget About ‘Free Trade’ (CHS)

The mobility of capital radically alters the simplistic 18th century view of free trade. In today’s world, trade can not be coherently measured as goods moving between nations, because capital from the importing nation owns the productive assets in the exporting nation. If Apple owns a factory (or joint venture) in China and collects virtually all the profits from the iGadgets produced there, this reality cannot be captured by the models of simple trade described by Ricardo. In today’s globalized version of “free trade,” mobile capital can arbitrage labor, currencies, interest rates, regulatory burdens and political favors by shifting between nations and assets. Trying to account for trade in the 18th century manner of goods shipped between nations is nonsensical when components come from a number of nations and profits flow not to the nation of origin but to the owners of capital.

[..] In a world dominated by mobile capital, mobile capital is the comparative advantage. Mobile capital can borrow billions of dollars (or equivalent) in one nation at low rates of interest and then use that money to outbid domestic capital for assets in another nation with few sources of credit. Mobile capital can overwhelm the local political system, buying favors and cutting deals, all with cash borrowed at near-zero interest rates. Mobile capital can buy up and exploit resources and cheap labor until the resource is depleted or competition cuts profit margins. At that point, mobile capital closes the factories, fires the employees and moves on. Where is the “free trade” in a world in which the comparative advantage is held by mobile capital?

And what gives mobile capital its essentially unlimited leverage? Central banks issuing trillions of dollars in nearly-free money to banks and other financial institutions that funnel the free cash to corporations and financiers, who can then roam the world snapping up assets and arbitraging global imbalances with nearly-free money. There’s nothing remotely “free” about trade based not on Ricardo’s simple concept of comparative advantage but on capital flows unleashed by central bank liquidity. The gains reaped by mobile capital flow to those who control mobile capital: global corporations, financiers and banks. No wonder labor’s share of the economy is stagnating across the globe while corporate profits reach unprecedented heights.

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Until the last drop: “A lot of companies have been living off debt and their business model won’t apply to higher interest rates.”

Europe’s Most-Leveraged Stocks Surge (BBG)

Investors shrugged off trade skirmishes and signals of fading monetary stimulus as they rewarded some of Europe’s most leveraged companies, putting the latter on track for their best weekly advance since December 2016. Stocks with the weakest balance sheets gained 4.5% this week, compared to 3.1% for their less-indebted counterparts, according to a Bloomberg analysis of Morgan Stanley data. Since these risky-debt companies were beaten up earlier in the year, they’re beginning to bounce back thanks to the risk-on rally, buoyed by largely positive earnings reports, said Hugh Cuthbert at SVM Asset Management. “Post the jitters that we saw at the start of February, they are more than likely to be beneficiaries”.

“The market appetite for risk will always benefit those guys when it’s high.” Still, it’s a small reprieve after they dropped more than 10% in the 25 trading days through last week. Even after the recent advance, shares of weak balance-sheet companies sit 7.7% below their January peak. The Morgan Stanley-compiled basket tracks 40 European companies with measures that include net debt to Ebitda and interest coverage ratios. The good times may be short-lived, however, as the ECB pares stimulus, said Cuthbert. “Look out, if we are in a tightening cycle,” he said. “A lot of companies have been living off debt and their business model won’t apply to higher interest rates.”

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A control tool Beijing finds hard to resist. Predictably.

Cash May Disappear in China – PBOC (BBG)

Just because China’s financial regulators are cracking down on cryptocurrencies doesn’t mean they’re souring on the idea of digital money. People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan made that clear at a press conference in Beijing on Friday, saying physical cash may one day become obsolete. Zhou said the PBOC is looking into digital currencies as it pursues faster, cheaper and more convenient payment methods, even as he warned that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin – more often used for speculation than payments – don’t serve the economy.

“We must prevent major mistakes that would lead to irreparable losses, so we are cautious,” Zhou said during what may be one of his last public appearances before his expected retirement. “We don’t like creating products for speculation and making people have the illusion that they can get rich overnight.” China, once home to the world’s most active Bitcoin exchanges, banned the venues last year amid a broad-ranging clampdown on virtual currencies. Yet the country is still the world leader in digital payments, thanks to the popularity of platforms developed by tech giants Alibaba and Tencent.

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Ink black history.

Canada, Ukraine and Fascism (Carley)

The most notorious of the Nazi collaborators who immigrated to Canada was Mykhailo Chomiak, a mid-level Nazi operative in Poland, who came under US protection at the end of the war and eventually made his way to Canada where he settled in Alberta. Had he been captured by the Red Army, he would quite likely have been hanged for collaboration with the enemy. In Canada however he prospered as a farmer. His grand-daughter is the “Ukrainian-Canadian” Chrystia Freeland, the present minister for external affairs. She is a well-known Russophobe, persona non grata in the Russian Federation, who long claimed her grandfather was a “victim” of World War II. Her claims to this effect have been demonstrated to be untrue by the Australian born journalist John Helmer, amongst many others.

In 1940 the Liberal government facilitated the creation of the Canadian Ukrainian Congress (UCC), one of many organisations used to fight or marginalise the left in Canada, in this case amongst Canadian Ukrainians. The UCC is still around and appears to dominate the Ukrainian-Canadian community. Approximately 1.4 million people living in Canada claim full or partial Ukrainian descent though generally the latter. Most “Ukrainian-Canadians” were born in Canada; well more than half live in the western provinces. The vast majority has certainly never set foot in the Ukraine. It is this constituency on which the UCC depends to pursue its political agenda in Ottawa.

After the coup d’état in Kiev in February 2014 the UCC lobbied the then Conservative government under Stephen Harper to support the Ukrainian “regime change” operation which had been conducted by the United States and European Union. The UCC president, Paul Grod, took the lead in obtaining various advantages from the Harper government, including arms for the putschist regime in Kiev. It survives only through massive EU and US direct or indirect financial/political support and through armed backing from fascist militias who repress dissent by force and intimidation. Mr. Grod claims that Russia is pursuing a policy of “aggression” against the Ukraine.

If that were true, the putschists in Kiev would have long ago disappeared. The Harper government allowed fund raising for Pravyi Sektor, a Ukrainian fascist paramilitary group, through two organisations in Canada including the UCC, and even accorded “charitable status” to one of them to facilitate their fund raising and arms buying. Harper also sent military “advisors” to train Ukrainian forces, the backbone of which are fascist militias. The Trudeau government has continued that policy. “Canada should prepare for Russian attempts to destabilize its democracy,” according to Minister Freeland: “Ukraine is a very important partner to Canada and we will continue to support its efforts for democracy and economic growth.”

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“It is the US government and NATO, and the people who own and control them, who are the threats and the enemies to the future of Humanity.”

Letter To America – An Opportunity And A Warning (RTB) /span>

There is no place that the US or NATO has gone into in the last 4 decades that is better off. Not one. In fact, there is no place that NATO or the US have intervened, (usually against international law) that hasn’t become a failed state, hell on Earth for the citizens, and a genuine danger to the surrounding regions and the world. It is the US government and NATO, and the people who own and control them, who are the threats and the enemies to the future of Humanity. But their days of disregarding international law and destroying weaker nations with impunity are now over, as of March 1st, 2018. The good people of America now have a huge opportunity, and a huge challenge. Russia spends less than one tenth what the USA spends on military and defense, but their military and weapons are superior in every measurable way.

The waste, corruption and abject venality of the US military industrial complex has wasted trillions on weapon systems that are now literally useless, and which have left the US military (and by extension the American people) defenseless before the power of Russia’s weapons, which are designed and produced to be effective rather than profitable. The opportunity is this – the USA can now reduce its military spending (the highest in the world) by 90% and still be safer than you are right now, spending almost a trillion dollars a year on useless weapons and a defenseless military. Safer, because as soon as the American People take control of their government enough to reduce your spending to ONLY as much as Russia spends, Russia will stop having reason to see the USA as an existential threat.

The less you spend, the safer you will be. The more you spend, the more likely World War Three, which will see you as the instigators and the losers. This gives the USA, starting as soon as you want, an extra $800 billion, per year, to spend on things that have actual worth, things you really need. Health care, free college education, fixing the rotting economy and infrastructure that are daily becoming more of a threat to the American people than Russia has ever been. Your challenge is that you must root out an entrenched and ruthless kleptocracy, built on deceit and oppression, and which is bent on war, and will stop at nothing to cling to its power. It is a huge task, an historic task, but in it lies your only hope. These parasites must be stopped, and if the American People are not up to the challenge, if they fail in their historic mission, they will leave it to the armies of the world, led by Russia, who will no longer tolerate those who want to rule the world.

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So-called democracy is no better.

Xi Jinping Says China’s Political System Can Be A Model For The World (Qz)

Chinese president Xi Jinping has repeatedly told the world that China is ready to lead on issues like free trade and climate change. Now, he’s ready to extend his leadership to political parties everywhere. At the big annual gathering of Chinese lawmakers and political advisors that kicked off March 3, Xi said that China is offering a “new type of political party system”—a Chinese solution that contributes to the development of political parties around the world, according to state media (link in Chinese). The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has always said the country will never copy the political systems of other countries, in particular the Western notion of democracy.

But under Xi—the most powerful Chinese leader in four decades—China’s own one-party system is one that is ready to be exported to regimes everywhere. The term “new type of political party system” was first put forward by Xi when he delivered a speech to non-party political advisors on March 4. It’s not the first time that Xi has floated the idea that China’s political model can make a contribution to the world. This time, however, Chinese state media churned out a wave of articles to underscore the significance of this new phrase. In the past, “some people lacking self-confidence always use Western political theories to criticize China’s political party system,” wrote Wang Xiaohong at the party-backed Central Institute of Socialism, in a commentary widely circulated by Chinese news outlets.

But as Wang argues, Western political systems are associated, among other things, with fractured societies, inefficient government, and “endless power transitions and social chaos” as in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and in north Africa after the Arab Spring. “The new type of political party system has overcome all sorts of problems that the old [one] can’t overcome,” Wang argued. In China, there are eight so-called “democratic parties” that are allowed to participate in the political system, but they are almost completely subservient to the CCP. Every year in March, members of the minor parties meet with their communist counterparts in Beijing to provide advice on everything from healthcare to poverty reduction—largely for show.

The system—called “multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the CCP’s leadership”—has been used as evidence that China is also a democracy. The internationalization of China’s political system is in fact well underway. Since 2014, the Communist Party has hosted an annual summit in Beijing inviting political party leaders from around the world to hear about how it governs China. In recent years, the party has also brought young African politicians to China for training, in a bid to cultivate allies.

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About as valuable as what ‘serious’ press has to report.

Countries Annoyed Russia Gets All The Credit For 2016 Election Meddling (Onion)

Complaining that U.S. investigations into foreign interference in the election have gotten almost everything wrong, officials from dozens of countries around the world expressed irritation Friday that all of the credit for meddling in the 2016 presidential race was going to Russia. Resentful operatives from Serbia, Uruguay, Swaziland, and 45 other nations said they were incredibly annoyed that Kremlin-backed computer hackers and dark-money financiers were receiving all the media attention, while their own far superior efforts to undermine the U.S. electoral process had so far received no recognition at all.

“Do you have any idea how much more sophisticated our attacks on American democracy were than Russia’s?” Laotian president Bounnhang Vorachith said of his government’s efforts to spread misinformation about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on social media sites. “We spent millions building a sophisticated bot network that could craft false but believable stories portraying Trump in a good light. And it worked! It’s unbelievably frustrating to pull off something like that and then have all the glory go to someone else.” “Do you really think Russia could’ve hacked into [Clinton campaign chairman] John Podesta’s emails?” Vorachith continued. “Hell no. That was Laos.”

According to sources, every time the American media credits Russian oligarchs with funding election-tampering efforts, numerous foreign agents across the globe throw up their arms and storm out of the room, infuriated because Costa Rican and Nepalese money launderers reportedly did far more to finance such initiatives. These agents have also been known to toss aside newspapers in anger, shouting that Mongolia’s work busing thousands of people with dead voters’ names to cast ballots for Clinton in New Hampshire was more deserving of attention than anything Russia had accomplished.

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A bit more attention might go a long way.

A Warning Cry From the Doomsday Vault (BBG)

On this winter day, the world was upside down: it was raining in the Arctic Circle and snowing in Rome. The contradiction was not lost on those gathered at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located near the top of the world. The scientists, activists, executives and government officials were in Longyearbyen, to mark the 10-year anniversary of what has become known as the Doomsday Vault, which stores seeds of the world’s most important crops deep in a mountain against the apocalyptic consequences of climate change and war. The challenge they’re facing now is that the climate is changing far quicker than they’d imagined. The facility sprung a leak last year after construction had failed to take into account that the permafrost could melt.

Norway is now spending about $20 million to secure and improve the facility. But it’s not just the building. “Biodiversity is the building block to develop new plants and because of climate change we’re in a terrible need to quickly develop new varieties,” said Aaslaug Marie Haga, executive director of Crop Trust, a group established to support gene banks. “The climate is changing quicker than the plants can handle.” Svalbard is the farthest north one can travel commercially, about an 1 1/2 hour flight from northern Norway. The vault is about a 10 minute drive from town, past a coal-fired power plant and up a winding two-lane road. Unless armed with a high-caliber rifle, driving is essential, since leaving town also means venturing into polar bear country.

The site’s entrance, not far from the abandoned coal mine that served as the first Nordic seed vault, shines at night like a green beacon, lit up by an artwork of fiber optics, steel and glass called Perpetual Repercussion. The seeds are kept at minus 18 centigrade (-4 Fahrenheit) more than 100 meters into the mountain behind six steel doors. And in an ideal world, the vault would never have to be used. It’s meant to back up the plant gene banks around the world, organized under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. But many of these facilities are vulnerable. One withdrawal from Svalbard has already been made by the group that ran the seed bank in Aleppo, Syria.

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Math as a female field. Nice.

West Way Behind Iran, Saudi Arabia When It Comes To Women In Science (Qz)

In Iran, nearly 70% of university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women—a higher percentage than in any other country. Nearby Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are close, each boasting over 60% female graduates in science, still more of the rest of the world. Young women in science are the rule, not the exception, in the Middle East. At least a third of STEM trained talent across the Muslim world is female, writes Saadia Zahidi in her new book Fifty Million Rising, which tracks the workplace progress achieved by Muslim women since the turn of the century. Only in Jordan, Qatar and the UAE are girls more comfortable with math than boys.

“The Muslim world has put high investment in education, and the payoff is coming now,” argues Zahidi, a World Economic Forum executive who leads education and gender equality initiatives. While observant Muslim societies are often associated with strict social codes for men and women, Western gender stereotypes about work don’t necessarily apply: Several Muslim countries have filled more than half of STEM jobs with female workers. Zahidi adds that in many cases, Muslim women are pioneering their role in the workforce, so they don’t have preconceived stereotypes about whether tech jobs, for example, constitute “feminine” career goals.

A study published in February found that the social and political gender equality typical of Scandinavian countries may be inversely related to women’s representation in STEM fields. This could be in part due to the fact that countries with greater parity between sexes tend to be wealthier, providing better government support to citizens and allowing women to accept less secure jobs.

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Mar 052018
 
 March 5, 2018  Posted by at 11:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Astor Theater, Times Square NYC 1945

 

Monetary Policy In The Grip Of A Pincer Movement (BIS)
The Arithmetic of Risk (John Hussman)
BOJ’s Kuroda Joins Queue of Central Banks Looking Toward Exit (BBG)
Trump’s Trade War Is For The Forgotten People (Eric Peters)
Italy Faces Political Gridlock After 5-Star Surges (R.)
China Sets 2018 GDP Target at About 6.5%, Turns Fiscal Screws (BBG)
Tax the Wealth of Older Britons to Help the Young, Report Argues (BBG)
Eliminate The Deficit? Eliminate Economic Hope, More Like (McDuff)
15,000 New Manchester Homes And Not A Single One ‘Affordable’ (G.)
The Tyranny of Algorithms (G.)
US Embassy In Turkey Closed Due To Security Threat (R.)
Erdogan Advisor Says Ankara Ready To ‘Strike’ In Eastern Med (K.)
Australia: Global Deforestation Hotspot (G.)
Europe Tree Loss Pushes Beetles To The Brink (BBC)

 

 

Financial cycles appear to have grown in amplitude and length. Next move could be really wild.

Monetary Policy In The Grip Of A Pincer Movement (BIS)

The emergence of disruptive financial cycles and the limited sensitivity of inflation to domestic slack may at first sight seem to be unrelated. In fact, there may be a common thread: the behaviour of monetary policy. Consider each in turn. The first major development is that, since around the early 1980s, financial cycles appear to have grown in amplitude and length. There is no unique definition of the financial cycle. A useful one refers to the self-reinforcing processes between funding conditions, asset prices and risk-taking that generate expansions followed by contractions. These processes operate at different frequencies. But if one is especially interested in those that cause major macroeconomic costs and banking crises, probably the most parsimonious description is in terms of credit and property prices.

Graph 1 illustrates the phenomenon for the United States using some simple statistical filters, although the picture would not be that different for many other countries or using other techniques (eg peak-trough analysis). The graph shows that the amplitude and length of the fluctuations has been increasing, that the length of the financial cycle is considerably longer than that of the traditional business cycle (blue versus red line) and that banking crises, or serious banking strains, tend to occur close to the peak of financial cycle. Another key feature of financial cycles is that the bust phase tends to generate deeper recessions. Indeed, if the bust coincides with a banking crisis, it causes very long-lasting damage to the economy.

There is evidence of permanent output losses, so that output may regain its pre-crisis long-term growth trend while evolving along a lower path. There is also evidence that recoveries are slower and more protracted. And in some cases, growth itself may also be seriously damaged for a long time. Some recent work with colleagues sheds further light on some of the possible mechanisms at work. Drawing on a sample of over 40 countries spanning over 40 years, we find that credit booms misallocate resources towards lower-productivity growth sectors, notably construction, and that the impact of the misallocations that occur during the boom is twice as large in the wake of a subsequent banking crisis.

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“.. I continue to expect the S&P 500 to lose about two-thirds of its value over the completion of the current market cycle…”

The Arithmetic of Risk (John Hussman)

At present, I view the market as a “broken parabola” – much the same as we observed for the Nikkei in 1990, the Nasdaq in 2000, or for those wishing a more recent example, Bitcoin since January. Two features of the initial break from speculative bubbles are worth noting. First, the collapse of major bubbles is often preceded by the collapse of smaller bubbles representing “fringe” speculations. Those early wipeouts are canaries in the coalmine. In July 2007, two Bear Stearns hedge funds heavily invested in sub-prime loans suddenly became nearly worthless. Yet that was nearly three months before the S&P 500 peaked in October, followed by a collapse that would take it down by more than 55%.

Observing the sudden collapses of fringe bubbles today, including inverse volatility funds and Bitcoin, my impression is that we’re actually seeing the early signs of risk-aversion and selectivity among investors. The speculation in Bitcoin, despite issues of scalability and breathtaking inefficiency, was striking enough. But the willingness of investors to short market volatility even at 9% was mathematically disturbing. See, volatility is measured by the “standard deviation” of returns, which describes the spread of a bell curve, and can never become negative. Moreover, standard deviation is annualized by multiplying by the square root of time. An annual volatility of 9% implies a daily volatilty of about 0.6%, which is like saying that a 2% market decline should occur in fewer than 1 in 2000 trading sessions, when in fact they’ve historically occurred about 1 in 50.

The spectacle of investors eagerly shorting a volatility index (VIX) of 9, in expectation that it would go lower, wasn’t just a sideshow in some esoteric security. It was the sign of a market that had come to believe that stock prices could do nothing but advance, and could be expected to do so in an uncorrected diagonal line. I continue to expect the S&P 500 to lose about two-thirds of its value over the completion of the current market cycle. With market internals now unfavorable, following the most offensive “overvalued, overbought, overbullish” combination of market conditions on record, our market outlook has shifted to hard-negative. Rather than forecasting how long present conditions may persist, I believe it’s enough to align ourselves with prevailing market conditions, and shift our outlook as those conditions shift.


Annotation in blue by Mish

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Perhaps this is truly a coordinated effort. The BIS could be doing the coordination.

BOJ’s Kuroda Joins Queue of Central Banks Looking Toward Exit (BBG)

The end of the easy money era which spanned the global economy for the last decade came into even sharper focus as the Bank of Japan gave fresh insight into when it might slow its stimulus program. Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s remarks on Friday that the central bank will start thinking about how to complete its unprecedented easing around the fiscal year starting April 2019 was the clearest signal yet that a conclusion might be in sight to emergency support for the Japanese economy. While Kuroda’s statement in response to questions from lawmakers was in some ways stating the obvious – the BOJ forecasts inflation to reach its 2% target in fiscal 2019 – the significance is that he’s put down a marker in public that he can be held to.

“It’s notable how over the past few weeks Kuroda has been forced into talking more specifically about the exit,” said Izumi Devalier, head of Japan economics at BofAML. “A year and a half ago he would have shut down the discussion altogether with the blanket ‘it’s too early to talk about it’ statement.” That means the last of the big central banks is finally thinking out loud about policy normalization or how to begin the process of unwinding years of asset purchases and ultra-low interest rates that were used to stoke growth after the 2008 financial crisis sparked the worst global recession in decades. The Fed, Bank of Canada and Bank of England have already raised interest rates and may do so again soon, while the ECB is debating how soon to end its own bond-buying. China’s central bank is sticking to what it describes as neutral policy settings and is ratcheting up money market rates to cool the pace of borrowing.

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Peters is never boring.

Trump’s Trade War Is For The Forgotten People (Eric Peters)

“The import restrictions announced by the US President are likely to cause damage not only outside the US, but also to the US economy itself, including to its manufacturing and construction sectors, which are major users of aluminum and steel,” warned the IMF, their army of nerds in full sweat. Panic. Just 200k Americans work in steel, aluminum and iron. 5.5mm of our 154mm workers are employed by businesses that use steel. “How could the Americans make such an idiotic mistake?” howled the nerds. But of course, they entirely miss the point. “If the EU wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on US companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the US. They make it impossible for our cars (and more) to sell there. Big trade imbalance!” tweeted Trump.

The US currently imposes a 2.5% tariff on EU auto imports. The EU imposes a 10% tariff on US auto imports. Germany exports $25bln of autos to America annually. “US auto prices will rise,” warned the Washington Post. But of course, they entirely miss the point. “Trade wars are good, easy to win,” tweeted Trump, knowing the statement would trigger every nerd with a college degree. Some worried about their jobs. But not terribly. Because their unemployment rate is just 2%, their labor force participation is 74%. They’re as well off as they’ve ever been. Particularly when set against those who never went to college, 5% of whom are unemployed, and 50% don’t even participate in the labor force. They’ve given up. These trade policies are for these forgotten people. To hell with the consequences. That’s the point.

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More for forgotten people. Beppe got them where he wanted; largest party by a huge margin. Merkel and Macron’s “More Europe” plans can be shelved. But first, expect more tricks to keep the old guard in power.

Italy Faces Political Gridlock After 5-Star Surges (R.)

Italy faces a prolonged period of political instability after voters delivered a hung parliament on Sunday, spurning traditional parties and flocking to anti-establishment and far-right groups in record numbers. With votes counted from more than 75% of polling stations, it looked almost certain that none of the three main factions would be able to govern alone and there was little prospect of a return to mainstream government, creating a dilemma for the EU. A rightist alliance including former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) held the biggest bloc of votes. In a bitter personal defeat that appeared unlikely last week, the billionaire media magnate’s party looked almost certain to be overtaken by its ally, the far-right League, which campaigned on a fiercely anti-migrant ticket.

But the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement saw its support soar to become Italy’s largest single party by far, and one of its senior officials said on Monday that forming a coalition without it would be impossible. The League’s economics chief on Monday raised the possibility of an alliance with 5-Star. Any government based on that combination would be euro-skeptic, likely to challenge EU budget restrictions and be little interested in further European integration. The full result is not due until later on Monday and, with the centre-right coalition on course for 37% of the vote and 5-Star for 31%, swift new elections to try to break the deadlock are another plausible scenario.

Despite overseeing a modest economic recovery, the ruling centre-left coalition trailed a distant third on 22%, hit by widespread anger over persistent poverty, high unemployment and an influx of more than 600,000 migrants over the past four years.

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Plus huge cuts to steel production. China is hurting.

China Sets 2018 GDP Target at About 6.5%, Turns Fiscal Screws (BBG)

China stepped up its push to curb financial risk, cutting its budget deficit target for the first time since 2012 and setting a growth goal of around 6.5% that omitted last year’s aim for a faster pace if possible. The deficit target – released Monday as Premier Li Keqiang delivered his annual report to the National People’s Congress in Beijing – was lowered to 2.6% of GDP from 3% in the past two years. The 6.5% goal is consistent with President Xi Jinping’s promise to deliver a “moderately prosperous” society by 2020. Policy makers dropped a target for M2 money supply growth, saying it’s expected to expand at similar pace to last year. Authorities reiterated prior language saying prudent monetary policy will remain neutral this year and that they’ll ensure liquidity at a reasonable and stable level.

Xi has ratcheted up his drive to curb debt risk, pollution and poverty at a time when the world’s second-largest economy is on a long-term growth slowdown. His efforts to rein in spending contrast with an historic expansion of U.S. borrowing under Donald Trump during a period of economic expansion. The 2018 targets “suggest slower growth and a fiscal drag,” said Callum Henderson, a managing director for Asia-Pacific at Eurasia Group in Singapore. “This makes sense for China in the context of the new focus on financial de-risking, poverty alleviation and environmental clean-up, but is less good news at the margin for those economies that have high export exposure to China.”

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Is it too late to close the gap in a peaceful manner?

Tax the Wealth of Older Britons to Help the Young, Report Argues (BBG)

Britain should impose higher wealth taxes on the older generation to ease the growing burden on young people, according to the Resolution Foundation. In a speech Monday, Executive Chair David Willetts will warn that welfare spending is set to rise by the equivalent today of 60 billion pounds ($83 billion) by 2040 as aging “baby boomers” drive up the cost of health care. “The time has come when we Boomers are going to have reach into our own pockets,” he will say. “The alternative could be an extra 15 pence on the basic rate of tax, paid largely by our kids. Is that kind of tax really the legacy we – a generation who own half the nation’s wealth – want to bequeath our children and grandchildren?”

Willetts, a former minister in the ruling Conservative Party, will make the case for reform of council tax – a property-based levy that helps fund local services – and of inheritance tax. Failure to act could fuel a sense of grievance among young people who are already struggling to match to the living standards enjoyed by older generations, he will say.

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“..deficits aren’t only not bad, they’re necessary…”

Eliminate The Deficit? Eliminate Economic Hope, More Like (McDuff)

Congratulations, everyone! We did it! The deficit has been eliminated! George Osborne, the architect of austerity, emerged from one of his non-jobs as the editor of the London Evening Standard to tell us all it was a “remarkable national effort” on Twitter, as if he’d ever broken a sweat over it. David Cameron, who will go down as arguably the worst prime minister in history thanks to the gigantic power move of doing a Brexit and running away, simply added: “It was the right thing to do” – safe in the knowledge that he was now out of the line of fire from tough questions.

That will all be cold comfort to the thousands of homeless people struggling to cope with sub-zero temperatures, or those having to choose between keeping the heating on, or risk going into rent arrears and losing their home entirely; to public sector workers in the NHS or local government, trying to keep the wheels from falling off as they deliver vital services in the face of budget cuts; and to disabled and unemployed people, bearing the brunt of the government’s spending cuts and facing harassment from the authorities. Forget all that. We’ve eliminated the deficit, and all we had to do was attack the poor and vulnerable with a relentless fury, create a new generation of young people for whom the concept of pensions or even steady wages is a fantasy, and undermine public services to such a grotesque extent that it will take years to rebuild what we’ve lost. Hooray!

[..] As Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK points out: “A growing economy requires general price increases, or inflation. Except under unusual circumstances, a general increase in prices requires an increasing money supply. A fiscal deficit is the only way in which money can be injected into an economy continuously. It follows that governments must run a near perpetual deficit or face the risk of creating a liquidity crisis due to a shortage in the money supply, which would then create a risk of deflation.” In other words, deficits aren’t only not bad, they’re necessary. Without them we get deflation, an over-indebted household sector, and an explosion in inequality.

The government is not like your household. It does not “run out of money,” because its job is to match the quantity of money to the desired economic activity. Its “debts” are not like your debts – they’re your savings and your pension funds. Osborne’s “remarkable national effort” was always and only to ensure that the government sector took more money out of the economy than it put into it. His great legacy is that we’re now at the stage where for every pound the government spends in day-to-day services, it taxes, and therefore destroys, more than a pound somewhere else. And we put people on the streets to freeze to achieve it. Go us.

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Thatcher-inflicted pain continues.

15,000 New Manchester Homes And Not A Single One ‘Affordable’ (G.)

Some of the UK’s biggest cities are allowing developers to plan huge new residential developments containing little or no affordable housing. In Manchester, none of the 14,667 homes in big developments granted planning permission in the last two years are set to be “affordable”, planning documents show – in direct contravention of its own rules, and leading to worries that London’s affordable housing crisis is spreading. In Sheffield – where house prices grew faster last year than in any other UK city, according to property portal Zoopla – just 97 homes out of 6,943 (1.4%) approved by planners in 2016 and 2017 met the government’s affordable definition. That says homes must either be offered for social rent (often known as council housing), or rented at no more than 80% of the local market rate.

In Nottingham, where the council aims for 20% of new housing to be affordable, just 3.8% of units given the green light by council planners meet the definition, Guardian research found. In Manchester, named by Deloitte earlier this month as one of Europe’s fastest growing cities and where property now sells three times as quickly as in London, planners have routinely waved through huge new developments – some containing swimming pools, tennis courts and more than 1,000 flats. Not one of the swanky apartments meets the national definition of “affordable” – leading critics to accuse the council of social cleansing. Others worry the city could become like London, where people on average salaries can no longer afford to live anywhere central.

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Aka the terror of social media.

The Tyranny of Algorithms (G.)

For the past couple of years a big story about the future of China has been the focus of both fascination and horror. It is all about what the authorities in Beijing call “social credit”, and the kind of surveillance that is now within governments’ grasp. The official rhetoric is poetic. According to the documents, what is being developed will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”. As China moves into the newly solidified President Xi Jinping era, the basic plan is intended to be in place by 2020. Some of it will apply to businesses and officials, so as to address corruption and tackle such high-profile issues as poor food hygiene.

But other elements will be focused on ordinary individuals, so that transgressions such as dodging transport fares and not caring sufficiently for your parents will mean penalties, while living the life of a good citizen will bring benefits and opportunities. Online behaviour will inevitably be a big part of what is monitored, and algorithms will be key to everything, though there remain doubts about whether something so ambitious will ever come to full fruition. One of the scheme’s basic aims is to use a vast amount of data to create individual ratings, which will decide people’s access – or lack of it – to everything from travel to jobs. The Chinese notion of credit – or xinyong – has a cultural meaning that relates to moral ideas of honesty and trust.

There are up to 30 local social credit pilots run by local authorities, in huge cities such as Shanghai and Hangzhou and much smaller towns. Meanwhile, eight ostensibly private companies have been trialling a different set of rating systems, which seem to chime with the government’s controlling objectives. The most high-profile system is Sesame Credit – created by Ant Financial, an offshoot of the Chinese online retail giant Alibaba. Superficially, it reflects the western definition of credit, and looks like a version of the credit scores used all over the world, invented to belatedly allow Chinese consumers the pleasures of buying things on tick, and manage the transition to an economy in which huge numbers of people pay via smartphones. But its reach runs wider.

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What does Washington have to say?

US Embassy In Turkey Closed Due To Security Threat (R.)

The U.S. embassy in Turkey’s capital Ankara will be closed to the public on Monday due to a security threat and only emergency services will be provided, it said in a statement on Sunday. The embassy advised U.S. citizens in Turkey to avoid large crowds and the embassy building and to be aware of their own security when visiting popular tourist sites and crowded places. It did not specify what the security threat was that prompted the closure. Additional security measures were taken after intelligence from U.S. sources suggested there might be an attack targeting the U.S. embassy or places U.S. citizens were staying, the Ankara governor’s office said in a statement. Visa interviews and other routine services would be canceled on Monday, the embassy said, adding that it would make an announcement when it was ready to reopen.

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Same guy said if Greeks set foot on -their own- Imia islets, it will basically mean war.

Erdogan Advisor Says Ankara Ready To ‘Strike’ In Eastern Med (K.)

A close advisor of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned of a “strike” in the eastern Mediterranean if any attempt to explore or drill for hydrocarbons goes ahead without Ankara’s approval. Yigit Bulut, who is known for his incendiary remarks, was quoted by the Cyprus News Agency as telling Turkish state broadcaster TRT that Erdogan is prepared to call a “strike” at any “attempt at provocation.” “Have no doubt about it,” he said. Ankara has vowed to prevent any exploration for oil or gas around Cyprus and last month was accused to threatening to use force against a drillship chartered by Italy’s Eni to explore Block 3 of Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone.

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3 million hectares to be lost over 15 years.

Australia: Global Deforestation Hotspot (G.)

Australia is in the midst of a full-blown land-clearing crisis. Projections suggest that in the two decades to 2030, 3m hectares of untouched forest will have been bulldozed in eastern Australia. The crisis is driven primarily by a booming livestock industry but is ushered in by governments that fail to introduce restrictions and refuse to apply existing restrictions. And more than just trees are at stake. Australia has a rich biodiversity, with nearly 8% of all Earth’s plant and animal species finding a home on the continent. About 85% of the country’s plants, 84% of its mammals and 45% of its birds are found nowhere else. But land clearing is putting that at risk. About three-quarters of Australia’s 1,640 plants and animals listed by the government as threatened have habitat loss listed as one of their main threats.

Much of the land clearing in Queensland – which accounts for the majority in Australia – drives pollution into rivers that drain on to the Great Barrier Reef, adding to the pressures on it. And of course land clearing is exacerbating climate change. In 1990, before short-lived land-clearing controls came into place, a quarter of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions were caused by deforestation. Emissions from land clearing dropped after 2010 but are rising sharply again. “It has gotten so bad that WWF International put it on the list of global deforestation fronts, the only one in the developed world on that list,” says Martin Taylor, the protected areas and conservation science manager at WWF Australia. In Queensland, where there is both the most clearing and the best data on clearing, trees are being bulldozed at a phenomenal rate.

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And more deforestation. Sometimes you wonder what will be left of Europe in 100 years. Or 50.

Europe Tree Loss Pushes Beetles To The Brink (BBC)

The loss of trees across Europe is pushing beetles to the brink of extinction, according to a new report. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature assessed the status of 700 European beetles that live in old and hollowed wood. Almost a fifth (18%) are at risk of extinction due to the decline of ancient trees, the European Red List of Saproxylic Beetles report found. This puts them among the most threatened insect groups in Europe. Saproxylic beetles play a role in natural processes, such as decomposition and the recycling of nutrients. They also provide an important food source for birds and mammals and some are involved in pollination.

“Some beetle species require old trees that need hundreds of years to grow, so conservation efforts need to focus on long-term strategies to protect old trees across different landscapes in Europe, to ensure that the vital ecosystem services provided by these beetles continue,” said Jane Smart, director of the IUCN Global Species Programme. Logging, tree loss and wood harvesting all contribute to the loss of habitat for the beetles, said the IUCN. Other major threats include urbanisation and tourism development, and an increase in wildfires in the Mediterranean region. Conservation efforts need to focus on long-term strategies to protect old trees and deadwood across forests, pastureland, orchards and urban areas, the report recommended.

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Mar 022018
 
 March 2, 2018  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Harold Steggels Essex landscape 1932

 

Trump’s Steel And Aluminum Tariffs Trigger Market Sell-Off In US, Asia (G.)
Trump’s Tariffs Throw a Wrench in the Global Trading System (BBG)
S&P 500 Breaks Below 100-Day Average Technical Inflection Point (BBG)
JFK-Trump S&P500 Analog Chart (MW)
NRA Members On Trump Gun Control Plans: ‘Every Word Of It Was A Betrayal’ (G.)
Putin On New US Nuclear Stance: If Attacked, Russia Will Use Nukes (RT)
China Bans Orwell’s Animal Farm And Letter ‘N’ Amid Anger At Xi (Ind.)
‘Cleanest In History’ Diesel Cars Still Pollute Far Above Legal Limits (Ind.)
US Breaks 47-Year-Old Monthly Oil Production Record (Robert Rapier)
Bitcoin’s Plunge in Volume Stirs Questions About Its Popularity (BBG)
Making the Business Case for Gender Equality (PS)
UK Risks Running Out Of Gas, Prices Soar (G.)
UK Food Crisis Looms Without Brexit Deal (BBG)
Pesticides Put Bees At Risk, European Watchdog Confirms (CNBC)
‘Doomsday’ Seed Vault Gets Makeover As Arctic Heats Up (AFP)

 

 

What he was elected on. Why should the US be dependent on imports for all of its steel?

Trump’s Steel And Aluminum Tariffs Trigger Market Sell-Off In US, Asia (G.)

World stock markets have tumbled after Donald Trump said the United States would impose tariffs of 25% on steel imports and 10% on imported aluminum next week. The threat of a trade war with China and higher goods prices led to a sharp sell-off in Wall Street on Thursday, causing Asian markets to take fright on Friday. The Nikkei index in Japan fell 2.4%, Hong Kong and South Korea were down 1.6%, and the ASX200 in Sydney was off 1% in early afternoon trading. Asian steelmakers bore the brunt. South Korea’s Posco fell 3% and Japan’s Nippon Steel 4%. Michael McCarthy of CMC Markets in Sydney said it was a “sharp reminder of the initial negative reaction to the election of Mr Trump ..

… An explanation may come, but the initial market interpretation of the move is rank populism. The lack of structure makes anticipating further measures and possible responses to retaliatory moves difficult to predict.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average had initially fallen more than 570 points, with heavy losses for manufacturers like Caterpillar and Boeing. The index closed down 420 points and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both dropped on the day. Trump campaigned on the promise of protecting the US steel industry but until now has done little to make good on those promises. At a meeting with US industry officials at the White House, he vowed to rebuild American steel and aluminum industries, saying they had been treated unfairly by other countries for decades.

The move is likely to increase tensions with China, whose top trade official, Lui He, is in Washington for trade talks. “People have no idea how badly our country has been treated by other countries, by people representing us that didn’t have a clue,” Trump said at a White House press conference attended by executives from the steel and aluminum industries. “Or if they did, then they should be ashamed of themselves because they’ve destroyed the steel industry, they’ve destroyed the aluminum industry, and other industries, frankly, when you look at all the plants, the car plants, automobile plants that moved down to Mexico for no reason whatsoever, except we didn’t know what we were doing. So we’re bringing it all back.”

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Bloomberg claims that “..it looked like the global economy was running on all cylinders ..” No it didn’t.

Trump’s Tariffs Throw a Wrench in the Global Trading System (BBG)

Just when it looked like the global economy was running on all cylinders, President Donald Trump injected a degree of risk to the otherwise favorable outlook. The U.S. president announced on Thursday plans to impose 25% tariffs on imported steel and 10% tariffs on foreign aluminum, with more details to be unveiled next week. American equities cratered for a third day as fears of a trade war spread and expectations for U.S. economic growth weakened a bit. The move to protect American metals producers threatens to raise prices for consumers and businesses that buy goods made with the raw materials. That will have implications for a U.S. central bank that’s debating how fast to raise interest rates this year.

“If tariffs go up, it will, at the margin, tend to put more upward pressure on prices, and those upward pressure on prices will have to be considered by the monetary authority,” New York Fed President William Dudley said in a speech in Brazil on Thursday. The extent of any economic damage will depend on the fine-print of Trump’s new policies and the severity of countries’ retaliation. Some economists worried the move might presage a shift toward an era of more economy-inhibiting protectionism just when it looked like the growth headwinds were fading. “It is possible that a more aggressive shift in policy is under way that could undermine the pro-growth tilt of fiscal policy, harming the U.S. and global economic expansions,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a research note after Trump’s announcement.

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Jay Powell gets a warm welcome.

S&P 500 Breaks Below 100-Day Average Technical Inflection Point (BBG)

The stock market is flirting with a technical inflection point again. The S&P 500 Index briefly broke below its 100-day moving average Thursday, sinking as much as 2% after President Donald Trump said the U.S. will impose harsh tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The announcement added fuel to a fire that’s been smoldering since last month’s selloff, as investors continue to worry about rising inflation and interest rates. That anxiety has brought the market close to collapsing through the line of defense the moving average represents.

“You’ve broken down below the halfway point, now you’re toying below the initial high after the collapse, and you’ve gotten into all sorts of technical problems,” Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Weeden, said by phone. “Breaking some technical averages here is starting to scare people.” The S&P 500 fell 1.1% to 2,684.02 as of 3:27 p.m. in New York, after going as low as 2,659.65. The index is down about 2.5% on the week. Before February’s correction, the gauge hadn’t touched the 100-day barrier since last August. And while the market is recovering some of Thursday’s losses late in the session, it still risks closing below the line for the third time in a month.

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Causation and correlation.

JFK-Trump S&P500 Analog Chart (MW)

Last month, MarketWatch used a chart overlay to illustrate how the stock market under John F. Kennedy has closely followed its performance over the same time frame with Donald Trump in the White House. Fast forward three weeks and, as of Wednesday’s close, the S&P 500, in relative terms, sat almost exactly where it did at this point during Kennedy’s administration. If the trend persists—a HUGE if, of course—prepare for some rather steep losses in the coming weeks. Perhaps it’s already started, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down nearly 600 points at its Thursday low.

“After 328 trading days since election day, the Trump S&P 500 sits right on top of the JFK S&P 500,” the blogger behind the Global Macro Monitor wrote. ”The index, 328 trading days after the election day of each president, is less than five basis points within one another. Rather stunning, don’t you think?”

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Trump needs Democrat support on this. Where are they?

NRA Members On Trump Gun Control Plans: ‘Every Word Of It Was A Betrayal’ (G.)

NRA members have branded Donald Trump’s plans for stricter gun control legislation “stupid” and a “betrayal” after the president suggested reforms on Wednesday. In an open meeting with congressional Democrats and Republicans, Trump embraced raising the age limit on purchasing certain weapons and suggested that law enforcement should be allowed to confiscate people’s guns before going through due process in a court. Joe Biggs, an Austin, Texas-based NRA member and chief executive of Rogue Right, a conservative news website, was among those unimpressed by the proposal. “That’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Hopefully he was just having a momentary brain fart, a lapse of judgment,” Biggs said.

He added: “Hopefully someone pulled him into the back and said: ‘You’ve just lost half your base by saying something that stupid.’” During the meeting Trump called for a “beautiful” bill which would expand background checks on gun purchases and restrict young people from purchasing certain weapons. But it was his suggestion that in some cases law enforcement should be allowed to “take the guns first, go through due process second” – that most alarmed gun owners on the right. “You spend your whole life on the right and you always think that Democrats are going to be the ones who take your guns,” Biggs said. “And then you hear President Trump say: ‘Oh we’re gonna take your guns and go through due process later.’” Biggs said he would vote for another candidate in the 2020 presidential election if Trump pushed through his reforms.

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Putin in his state of the union announced to his people that Russia can defend itself from any attacks, including nuclear. Western media twist his words; the Guardian claims that “Russia threatens arms race” and even Zero Hedge says :“..the era of the Western world attempting to prevent Russia’s expansion is over.”

That’s all straight from NATO’s playbook.

Putin On New US Nuclear Stance: If Attacked, Russia Will Use Nukes (RT)

The new US nuclear posture allows a nuclear strike in response to a conventional attack. President Vladimir Putin said Russia, if attacked with nuclear weapons, would not hesitate to respond in kind. The warning came during a state of the nation address delivered by the Russian president on Thursday, in which he presented a number of new advanced strategic weapon systems which, he said, would render all anti-missile capabilities that the US currently has powerless. Putin also mentioned the new American nuclear posture, which has relaxed some rules on when the US is prepared to use its nuclear weapons. “We are greatly concerned by some parts of the new nuclear posture, which reduces the benchmark for the use of nuclear weapons…

..Whatever soothing words one may try to use behind closed doors, we can read what was written. And it says that these weapons can be used in response to a conventional attack or even a cyber-threat,” he said. “Our nuclear doctrine says Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack or an attack with other weapons of mass destruction against her or her allies, or a conventional attack against us that threatens the very existence of the state.” “It is my duty to state this: Any use of nuclear weapons against Russia or its allies, be it small-scale, medium-scale or any other scale, will be treated as a nuclear attack on our country. The response will be instant and with all the relevant consequences,” Putin warned.

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Xi as a stand up comedian.

China Bans Orwell’s Animal Farm And Letter ‘N’ Amid Anger At Xi (Ind.)

The Chinese government has banned George Orwell’s dystopian satirical novella Animal Farm and the letter ‘N’ in a wide-ranging online censorship crackdown. Experts believe the increased levels of suppression – which come just days after the Chinese Communist Party announced presidential term limits would be abolished – are a sign Xi Jinping hopes to become a dictator for life. The China Digital Times, a California-based site covering China, reports a list of terms excised from Chinese websites by government censors includes the letter ‘N’, Orwell’s novels Animal Farm and 1984, and the phrase ‘Xi Zedong’. The latter is a combination of President Xi and former chairman Mao Zedong’s names.

Search terms blocked on Sino Weibo, a microblogging site which is China’s equivalent of Twitter, include “disagree”, “personality cult”, “lifelong”, “immortality”, “emigrate”, and “shameless”. It was not immediately obvious why the ostensibly harmless letter ‘N’ had been banned, but some speculated it may either be being used or interpreted as a sign of dissent. [..] Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have long been blocked in the country and even Winnie the Pooh recently found himself subject to China’s latest internet crackdown. In July, references to the cartoon bear on Sina Weibo were removed after his image was compared to President Xi.

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Our car addiction is deeply rooted. We built our communities around them. Not around ourselves. That is a much bigger problem than what fuel a car uses to power a vehicle 10-20 times heavier than its driver, with a 10% fuel efficiency.

‘Cleanest In History’ Diesel Cars Still Pollute Far Above Legal Limits (Ind.)

Over half of diesel cars recently approved for sale in Europe are emitting pollutants far above current legal air pollution limits, despite being marketed as the “cleanest in history”. Analysis of emissions data from nearly 100 car models revealed many vehicles from the new “Euro 6” generation would not be allowed on the market if they were tested today. An investigation by Greenpeace found dozens of these high-polluting vehicles were approved for sale during a “monitoring period” in which there was no limit set on the amount of nitrogen oxide (NOx) they could emit on roads. Many of these vehicles have only gone on sale across Europe in the recent months. The news comes after a German court ruled cities can impose driving bans on certain diesel cars in an effort to deal with the country’s air pollution.

Such restrictions on diesel cars – including the clean air zones found in London and other UK cities – tend to focus on older, dirtier car models. However, Greenpeace campaigners emphasised that while newer Euro 6 models are described as “light years away from their older counterparts” many of them still have the capacity to emit high levels of pollutants. Following the so-called “dieselgate” scandal in 2015, which found VW had installed “cheat software” in its vehicles to fool lab emissions tests, there was a widespread push for tough new regulations. In the aftermath of the scandal, testing revealed diesel cars that met the latest “Euro 6” limits for NOx emissions in lab tests were massively exceeding those limits when driving on the road.

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Our old Oil Drum pal Robert. I’d be interested to see how fast and how sharp the shale numbers are expected to start falling.

US Breaks 47-Year-Old Monthly Oil Production Record (Robert Rapier)

In a recent post, I wrote that the U.S. would almost certainly set a new oil production record this year. I noted that the most recent data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed that last November U.S. oil production exceeded 10 million barrels per day (BPD) for the first time since 1970. This week the EIA revised November’s oil production upward, which pushed it into the #1 spot for monthly production. The revision increased U.S. oil production in November to 10.057 million BPD, just edging out the previous record of 10.044 million BPD from November 1970. However, many new records should be set this year, as the EIA projects that oil production will reach 11 million BPD by year-end.

This would push the U.S. into first place among the world’s oil producers. But depending on how it is measured, the U.S. is already #1. The 2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy ranks the U.S. #1 in oil production, but that’s because they include natural gas liquids (NGLs), which have surged in the U.S. along with natural gas production. The gains in U.S. oil production are being driven by production gains across tight oil plays in the Bakken and Eagle Ford, and especially the Permian Basin – where oil production is approaching a staggering 3 million BPD.

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Are they buying their own?

Bitcoin’s Plunge in Volume Stirs Questions About Its Popularity (BBG)

Earlier this year, when Bitcoin’s price fell by more than 60% from its record close, a less-noticed Bitcoin figure also plunged: the number of daily transactions. There are many explanations for the fall-off in trading, from software- to news-related. What’s less understood is why the level hasn’t recovered as Bitcoin’s price made a 50% comeback since Feb. 5. That’s left some investors wondering whether the cryptocurrency is waning in popularity. The average number of trades recorded daily has roughly dropped in half from the December highs and touched its lowest in two years last month, even as Bitcoin became a household name and roared back above $10,000.

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1) Why does it take a guy to make that case?

2) “$28 trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025” sounds like a male argument. If the only advantage of more women is that the same arguments are made by different voices, why bother?

Making the Business Case for Gender Equality (PS)

Around the world, gender bias is attracting renewed attention. Through protest marches and viral social-media campaigns, women everywhere are demanding an end to sexual harassment, abuse, femicide, and inequality. But, as successful as the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have been in raising public awareness, the struggle for parity is far from over. Empowering women and girls is key to achieving all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. At the moment, however, gender bias remains a significant obstacle to global progress, and it is particularly acute in the workplace. Today, only 5% of S&P 500 companies are led by women, according to Catalyst, a non-profit CEO watchdog.

That dismal figure is all the more remarkable when one considers that 73% of global firms allegedly have equal-opportunity policies in place, according to a survey by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Moreover, while research shows a clear link between a company’s gender balance and its financial health, women occupy fewer than 20% of governing board seats in the world’s largest companies. Addressing such deficiencies is both an economic and a moral imperative. A 2015 report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that if women and men played an “identical role in labor markets,” $28 trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025. These global gains would be in addition to the benefits for individual companies.

Firms with greater gender equality are more innovative, generous, and profitable. But, at the current rate of female empowerment, it would take nearly 220 years to close the gender gap. The world cannot afford to wait that long; we need a new approach.

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The thrills of the just in time economy.

UK Risks Running Out Of Gas, Prices Soar (G.)

National Grid has warned that the UK would not have enough gas to meet public demand on Thursday, as temperatures plummeted and imports were affected by outages. But the government said households would not notice disruptions to their supply or any increase in energy bills because suppliers, including British Gas, bought energy further ahead. The energy minister Claire Perry said people should cook and use their heating as they would normally. But experts said there was a strong chance that industrial users could experience interruptions to their gas supply. Within-day wholesale gas prices soared 74% to 200p per therm after the formal deficit warning, which acts as a call to suppliers to bring forward more gas.

It is the first time such an alert has been issued since 2010. By lunchtime on Thursday the price had spiked even higher, hitting a high of 275p per therm at one point. National Grid’s forecast for the day initially showed a shortfall across the day of 49.5m cubic metres (mcm) below the country’s projected need of 395.7mcm, which would normally be around 300mcm at this time of year. The gas deficit warning aims to fill the gap, which has since narrowed to 16.5mcm. “We are in communication with industry partners and are closely monitoring the situation,” the company said.

Gas demand is now at a five-year high, according to the market watchers S&P Global Platts. Simon Wood, a gas analyst at the group, said: “There’s a strong chance you’ll see some interruptions for industrial users to balance the system.” Big energy users such as car manufacturers have supply contracts which can be interrupted in return for lower prices. The situation has been compounded by several supply outages, which can relate to very cold weather. There have been problems with a pipeline to the Netherlands, reductions in gas flows from Norway, and technical issues at facilities in the UK, including at the North Morecambe Barrow terminal.

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Gas shortage, food shortage. Self-sufficiency, anyone?

UK Food Crisis Looms Without Brexit Deal (BBG)

Brexit would lead to an unprecedented food shortage if the U.K. leaves the European Union without a deal, the CEO of the country’s second-biggest grocer said. “The impact of closing the borders for a few days to the free movement of food would result in a food crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen,” J Sainsbury CEO Mike Coupe said in an interview. “It’s inconceivable to me that there won’t be a solution found.” Tensions are simmering between London and Brussels, with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May saying Wednesday that no one in her position could ever agree to the draft Brexit treaty published by the EU.

May is seeking to get the EU to sign on to a transition phase at a summit of leaders later this month, but Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, warned Thursday that any such agreement could still unravel before Britain’s scheduled exit in March 2019. Almost half of the food eaten in the U.K. is imported. Trade barriers would be especially damaging to Britain’s fresh-food retailers, who rely heavily on the unencumbered movement of perishable goods throughout the EU. In 2016, the U.K. imported 22.4 billion pounds ($30.8 billion) worth of meat, fish, dairy products, fruit and vegetables, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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Hey, don’t keep us from poisoning ourselves. It’s our god-given right.

Pesticides Put Bees At Risk, European Watchdog Confirms (CNBC)

Wild bees and honeybees are put at risk by three pesticides from a group known as neonicotinoids, Europe’s food safety watchdog said on Wednesday, confirming previous concerns that prompted an EU-wide ban on use of the chemicals. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report, which covered wild bees and honeybees and included a systematic review of scientific evidence published since EFSA’s 2013 evaluation, is seen as crucial to whether the European moratorium on neonicotinoid use remains in place. The updated risk assessment found variations due to factors such as species of bee, exposure and specific pesticide, “but overall the risk to the three types of bees we have assessed is confirmed,” said Jose Tarazona, head of EFSA’s pesticides unit.

The European Union has since 2014 had a moratorium on use of neonicotinoids — made and sold by various companies including Bayer and Syngenta — after lab research pointed to potential risks for bees, which are crucial for pollinating crops. EU nations will discuss a European Commission proposal to ban three neonicotinoids next month in the Plant Animal Food and Feed Standing Committee. “This is strengthening the scientific basis for the Commission’s proposal to ban outdoor use of the three neonicotinoids,” a spokeswoman for the EU executive said.

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The whole concept is based on permafrost. Or was.

‘Doomsday’ Seed Vault Gets Makeover As Arctic Heats Up (AFP)

Designed to withstand a nuclear missile hit, the world’s biggest seed vault, nestled deep inside an Arctic mountain, is undergoing a makeover as rising temperatures melt the permafrost meant to protect it. Dubbed the “Noah’s Ark” of food crops, the Global Seed Vault is buried inside a former coal mine on Svalbard, a remote Arctic island in a Norwegian archipelago around 1,000 kilometres (650 miles) from the North Pole. Opened in 2008, the seed bank plays a key role in preserving the world’s genetic diversity: it is home to more than a million varieties of seeds, offering a safety net in case of natural catastrophe, war, climate change, disease or manmade disasters.

But warmer temperatures have disrupted the environment around the vault. In an unexpected development, the permafrost, which was meant to help keep the temperature inside the vault at a constant -18 Celsius (-0.4 Fahrenheit), melted in 2016. “The summer season was (warmer) than expected. We had water intrusions in the (access) tunnel that could be related to climate change,” Asmund Asdal, one of the seed bank’s coordinators, told AFP. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, scientific studies show. And while Europe is at the moment experiencing a subzero cold spell, the North Pole recently registered above-zero temperatures, 30 degrees higher than normal.

Scientists say warm spells like this are occurring with increasing frequency in the Arctic. Norway recently announced it would contribute 100 million kroner (10 million euros, $12.5 million) to improve the repository in a bid to protect the precious seeds. “We want to be sure that the seed vault will be cold throughout the whole year, even if the temperature continues to increase in Svalbard,” Norway’s Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale told AFP.

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Feb 252018
 
 February 25, 2018  Posted by at 11:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jerome Liebling Snow, Clothes, Roof Brooklyn New York 1948

 

The US Mortgage Market Is Moving Into the Shadows (BBG)
Regulators Are Laying The Groundwork For The Next Housing Crisis (ZH)
This is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like (Atlantic)
‘CalPERS Is Near Insolvency; It Needs A Bailout Soon’ (ZH)
‘We Can’t Continue to Run the World’ – Ron Paul (Sputnik)
Resist That (Jim Kunstler)
China Seeks to Repeal Term Limit, Opening Way for Xi (BBG)
Greece Creditors Return To Athens For Fourth Bailout Review (K.)
‘Greece Is Neither Iraq Nor Syria,’ FM Tells Turkey (K.)
EU Hints At Outlawing Single-Use Plastics By Summer (Ind.)

 

 

They’re simply doing it again. Anything to beep the bubble floating. Is Angelo Mozilo on the board of Quicken or something, or the FHA?

The US Mortgage Market Is Moving Into the Shadows (BBG)

The last financial crisis occurred in part because unregulated lending in the mortgage market got out of hand. Believe it or not, it’s starting to happen again, and could ultimately precipitate another disaster unless regulators get their act together. Make no mistake, regulators have done plenty to rein in the mortgage business since the 2000s. New rules require that lenders carefully assess borrowers’ ability to pay, and that mortgage servicers – which process payments and manage other relations with borrowers – give troubled customers plenty of opportunity to renegotiate their debts before resorting to foreclosure. The Federal Reserve performs regular stress tests to ensure that banks have enough capital to weather defaults. Problem is, the requirements have weighed most heavily on traditional, deposit-taking banks.

The added hand-holding required in mortgage servicing, for example, has roughly quadrupled the cost of handling delinquent loans, turning them into major loss-makers. Together with stringent capital requirements, this has all but guaranteed that banks will lend only to people with the most pristine credit. In some cases, they have given up the business entirely: Late last year, Capital One announced it was exiting mortgage origination because it was “structurally disadvantaged.” So who has the advantage? Well, much of the regulation doesn’t apply to non-bank lenders, which typically originate mortgages and quickly sell them onward to be packaged into securities for investors. These “shadow banks” don’t take deposits, don’t have much capital, and are usually overseen by state banking authorities, which tend to be less stringent. They are also considerably more aggressive than their bank counterparts.

The non-banks’ growth has been breathtaking. At the end of 2016, such unaffiliated mortgage companies accounted for more than 40% of new conventional mortgages (those eligible for sale to government-controlled guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), twice the share they accounted for just eight years earlier. They’re also responsible for a decline in credit standards: The average FICO score at origination stood at 730 at the end of 2017, down from 750 five years earlier. For loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration – an area where the non-banks’ share is greatest – the average FICO score has fallen to 680.

The shift has been even more extreme in mortgage servicing. Non-banks now service about 51% of all loans packaged into new Freddie Mac securities, according to mortgage analytics firm Recursion Co. That’s more than double the share of just five years ago. For securitized FHA loans, the share stands at a staggering 83%. Again, banks are leaving the business: Last year, CitiMortgage announced it would exit by the end of this year, transferring the servicing rights for about 780,000 mortgages.

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Tyler inserted the term ‘inadvertently’ in that headline. Really?

Regulators Are Laying The Groundwork For The Next Housing Crisis (ZH)

Only a few weeks ago, we pointed out a remarkable development in the US mortgage market that has significant implications not only for mortgage borrowers, but perhaps the broader economy as a whole: Wells Fargo, formerly America’s foremost mortgage lender, had seen its share of the market eclipsed by Quicken Loans – the Detroit-based, nonbank lending behemoth that pioneered applying for mortgages on the Internet with its now-famous Rocket Mortgage (readers will remember RM’s celebrity-packed SuperBowl spot). Many factors (aside from Wells’ own criminality, which recently drew a strong, but ultimately meaningless, rebuke from the Fed) have contributed to this shift, as Bloomberg points out.

But as it turns out, the rising dominance of nonbank lenders like Quicken could portend a massive, bad-debt fueled binge reminiscent of the circumstances that led up to the housing crisis. That is to say, a wave of bad debt could create a cascading wave of defaults with repercussions far beyond the housing market. Considering all the restrictions that Dodd-Frank and other post-crisis regulations slapped on mortgage lenders, one might wonder how this might be possible.

Of course, as Bloomberg explains, instead of making the market safer, regulators are inadvertently enabling the rise of lenders like Quicken who aren’t bound by many of the rules that restrict banks’ mortgage-lending practices. As a result, Quicken Loans is effectively free from many of the regulations that have forced some of the biggest mortgage lenders into a period of retrenchment… [..] Because they’re not FDIC-backed, the shadow (aka “nonbank”) mortgage lenders have much more latitude to approve mortgages to borrowers with lower credit scores. This is a huge advantage in a market where supply is limited, which has helped squeeze home prices to their highest levels on record – surpassing even the pre-crisis peak from June 2006.

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There is no bigger blind spot in today’s society: “Increasingly, we’re seeing folks who are becoming poor for the first time in old age.”

This is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like (Atlantic)

Many people reaching retirement age don’t have the pensions that lots of workers in previous generations did, and often have not put enough money into their 401(k)s to live off of; the median savings in a 401(k) plan for people between the ages of 55 and 64 is currently just $15,000, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, a nonprofit. Other workers did not have access to a retirement plan through their employer. That means that as people reach their mid-60s, they either have to dramatically curtail their spending or keep working to survive. “This will be the first time that we have a lot of people who find themselves downwardly mobile as they grow older,” Diane Oakley, the executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security, told me. “They’re going to go from being near poor to poor.”

The problem is growing as more Baby Boomers reach retirement age—between 8,000 to 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, according to Kevin Prindiville, the executive director of Justice in Aging, a nonprofit that addresses senior poverty. Older Americans were the only demographic for whom poverty rates increased in a statistically significant way between 2015 and 2016, according to Census Bureau data. While poverty fell among people 18 and under and people 18 to 64 between 2015 and 2016, it rose to 14.5% for people over 65, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which is considered a more accurate measure of poverty because it takes into account health-care costs and other big expenses. “In the early decades of our work, we were serving communities that had been poor when they were younger,” Prindiville told me.

“Increasingly, we’re seeing folks who are becoming poor for the first time in old age.” This presents a worrying preview of what could befall millions of workers who will retire in the coming decades. If today’s seniors are struggling with retirement savings, what will become of the people of working age today, many of whom hold unsteady jobs and have patchwork incomes that leave little room for retirement savings? The current wave of senior poverty could just be the beginning. Two-thirds of Americans don’t contribute any money to a 401(k) or other retirement account, according to Census Bureau researchers. And this could have larger implications for the economy. If today’s middle-class households curtail their spending when they retire, the whole economy could suffer.

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And this is during the longest recovery ever.

‘CalPERS Is Near Insolvency; It Needs A Bailout Soon’ (ZH)

Two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the February 5 volocaust, we quoted David Hunt, CEO of $1.2 trillion asset manager PGIM, who said ignore the volatility spike, the real financial timebomb was and remains public pensions: “if you were going to look for what’s the possible real crack in the financial architecture for the next crisis, rather than looking in the rearview mirror, pension funds would be on our list.” In a brief discussion wondering what municipalities and states will do when local tax revenues decline and unemployment worsens, Hunt said “we’re worried about those pension obligations.” He is hardly alone: having reported over and over and over (and over, and over) again that public pensions are in deep trouble, two days ago none other than Steve Westly, former California controller and Calpers board member – manager of the largest public pension fund in the US, made a stunning admission, confirming everything:

“The pension crisis is inching closer by the day. CalPERS just voted to increase the amount cities must pay to the agency. Cities point to possible insolvency if payments keep rising but CalPERS is near insolvency itself. It may be reform or bailout soon.” Westly was referring to an editorial laying out “the essence” of California’s pension crisis, exposed last week when the $350 billion California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) made a “relatively small change” in its amortization policy. Specifically, the CalPERS board voted to change the period for recouping future investment losses from 30 years to 20 years. While this may not sound like much, the bottom line is that it would require the California state government and thousands of local government agencies and school districts “to ramp up their mandatory contributions to the huge trust fund.”

As author Dan Walters observes, with client agencies – cities, particularly – already complaining that double-digit annual increases in CalPERS payments are driving some of them towards insolvency, the new policy – which kicks in next year – will raise those payments even more. “What we are trying to avoid is a situation where we have a city that is already on the brink, and applying a 20-year amortization schedule would put them over the edge,” a representative of the League of California Cities, Dane Hutchings, told the CalPERS board before its vote. CalPERS, however, has no choice because as both Walters and Westly claim, America’s largest public pension fund itself is on the brink, “and the policy change is one of several steps it has taken to avoid a complete meltdown.”

As we have reported previously, the Calpers system, once more than 100% funded, now has scarcely two-thirds of what it would need to fully cover all of the pension promises to current and future retirees. And that assumes it will hit an investment earnings target of 7% per year, that many authorities criticize as being too optimistic.

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Those pesky Russian propagandists are at it gaian.

‘We Can’t Continue to Run the World’ – Ron Paul (Sputnik)

Sputnik: Donald Trump has been in office for over a year. What is your general assessment of his job as president? Ron Paul: Mediocre; probably not worse than the other options. But I don’t think presidents really have much control. I think the deep state – the people behind the scenes and the shadow government, who control the monetary system, who control our foreign policy and the welfare state, and are connected to the media and the military-industrial complex. – I don’t think the presidency is as important as it’s made out to be. But everybody talks about it; it’s a political thing, and they keep churning the issue and directing everybody to ask ‘is Trump a good guy or a bad guy, and are we going to impeach him or what’s going to happen’, rather than [asking] what kind of philosophy do we have: why do we have this philosophy of welfare-warfare, spend money, run up debt and let the central bank print all that money.

They don’t even talk about it; the major parties, including Trump, they sign even more controls on us when it comes to FISA courts and spying on us. In spite of the fact that government officials like the FBI and others actually spy on our own president, he supports this; he passes and signs bills on that. So that really raises questions about ‘does the president really have much to say’, and I think he has much less to say than a lot of people believe. I believe that if he had stuck to his guns and had a different relationship with Russia and started bringing troops home and not aggravating things, he wouldn’t have been tolerated. Something would have happened.

[..] Sputnik: There’s an ongoing campaign in the east of Demascus in Eastern Ghouta, with media portrayals of it in the West comparing the ongoing campaign to Srebrenica and what happened in Bosnia. Why do you think this is, and how is the situation being portrayed in the West? Do Americans know what’s actually going on? Ron Paul: I think this, indirectly, may be a subtle bit of good news…You know Aleppo was seen as a return of Syrian territory, and a lot of people moved back! Everybody said that ‘it’s Assad who wants to kill his people and gas his people,’ and yet they all moved back after the fighting stopped. So maybe this is one of the last desperate stands [for the anti-Damascus forces], at least for the part of Syria where Assad is stronger…

Sputnik: The UN has been commenting on this to emphasize how bad things are in Syria, and particularly in Eastern Ghouta. But the situation was also really bad in Mosul in Iraq, with recent video footage showing the results of US airstrikes. Where do you think the UN was then? Ron Paul: Probably cheering them on. We often have a foreign policy, especially in the last several decades, of being the dominant power. We pressure people; if they do what we tell ’em, we send them more money, since we can print the world currency. And if they don’t do what we tell ’em, then we have to participate in a little aggression by bombing and doing these kinds of things. My argument from the day they started, back to 1998 – I argued don’t mess around with sanctions on Iraq, it’ll lead to war.

Someday, we’ll go broke. I don’t think that we all of a sudden will have a reasonable foreign policy. I think it’s going to be financial. I believe it was the financing of the Soviet system that brought it down as much as anything; that’s the way most authoritarian empires end, and I think that’s the way our system is going to end. Who knows when that’s going to happen, but we can’t continue to do what we’re doing. We can’t continue to run the world. Our deficit’s exploding. I think the sentiment toward the United States has started to shift too; there was a time when we were welcome, and were on the side of trying to help people, but right now it’s on the side of expanding our controls around the world.

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Ever more people are sick of the narrative.

Resist That (Jim Kunstler)

Perhaps because a weary public was underwhelmed by his indictment last week of thirteen ham sandwiches with Russian dressing, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has returned to an old baloney sandwich with American cheese named Paul Manafort, and slathered on some extra mayonnaise to lubricate his journey to federal prison. The additional charges specify tax evasion and money-laundering shenanigans around Manfort’s activities in Ukraine between 2006 and 2015, a period that included the USA’s active participation in the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected president, Victor Yanukovych, who had declared a desire to join the Russian Customs Union instead of being shanghaied into an expanded NATO.

Scrupulous observers may note that all this took place well in advance of the 2016 US presidential election, when Manafort was candidate Donald Trump’s campaign manager for several months before being thrown overboard for reasons still publicly unknown — but probably the awareness that Manafort’s personal financial affairs were a smoldering wreck. Meanwhile, Manafort’s business colleague, Rick Gates, has also been charged by Mueller, and this week an associate of Gates, one Alex Van Der Swaan, son-in-law of a Russian billionaire, was persuaded to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Gates.

All of this suggests that there were fabulous opportunities for American profiteering in the sad-sack, quasi failed state of Ukraine, and that the feckless Manafort circle will be doing Chinese fire drills in the federal courts until the cows come home, but it doesn’t say a whole lot about Russian interference in the 2016 US election. One might surmise that there is enough pressure on Manafort and company to get them to say anything now to save their asses. On the other hand, it could lead in open court to the airing of all sorts of dirty laundry about surreptitious US meddling in Ukraine, and about the corps of camp-following money-grubbing American grifters who raced in after 2014 to steal anything that wasn’t nailed down there by the homegrown kleptocrats.

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Oh man, first thing that comes to mind is Trump proposing the same thing. That would be so much fun!

China Seeks to Repeal Term Limit, Opening Way for Xi (BBG)

China’s Communist Party proposed removing from the constitution language limiting the president to two terms, the clearest sign yet that Xi Jinping intends to extend his tenure as state leader. The party’s decision-making Central Committee wants to strike language from the document that says the country’s head of state “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms,” the official Xinhua News Agency said Sunday. The announcement came a day before the committee plans to meet in Beijing to consider key personnel appointments and government-restructuring moves. The constitutional provision barring the president from serving more than 10 years is the only formal barrier keeping Xi, who also serves as party leader and commander-in-chief of the military, from ruling after 2023. Speculation that Xi, who came to power in 2012, would seek to rule for longer has intensified since he declined to line up a clear successor at a twice-a-decade party reshuffle in October.

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Can’t let the pressure slip.

Greece Creditors Return To Athens For Fourth Bailout Review (K.)

With the third bailout review still pending, the heads of the creditors’ representatives are set to arrive in Athens on Monday for the start of talks on the fourth and final review of the program, while technical discussions on the issue of lightening the Greek debt are also ongoing. Talks on the fourth review will begin with only 11 or 12 of the prior actions having been implemented to date, out of a total 88. However, there are still two milestones from the third review to be implemented, concerning the development of the Elliniko plot in southern Athens and the increase in and expansion of online auctions. Only when these are seen to have been fulfilled will the creditors approve the disbursement of the first subtranche of €5.7 billion from the third installment, to be followed by the remaining €1 billion at a later date.

Therefore discussions on the fourth review next week will, according to sources, only be of a provisional nature, with the main issues being set out and a timetable determined for the process. The heads of the creditors’ mission will leave next Saturday and return to Greece in April, probably after the spring meeting of the IMF on April 20-22. Technical talks on the easing of Greece’s debt and its association with the implementation of reforms are also continuing, as the head of the European Stability Mechanism, Klaus Regling, confirmed on Friday, reiterating his statements in an interview with Kathimerini last month.

The technical team of the eurozone is expected to present its provisional conclusions at the Euro Working Group meeting of March 1 for an early assessment, with the issue set to be revisited at the March 12 Eurogroup meeting. Eurozone sources stress that the discussion will continue in the following months and that there will be more clarity on the debt relief matter at April’s Eurogroup, adding that one should not expect an agreement before May or June, as such decisions “require more than one debate at a Eurogroup level.”

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“Greece is an organized country, it has all the means to defend its borders and its territory.”

‘Greece Is Neither Iraq Nor Syria,’ FM Tells Turkey (K.)

“Turkey must think about what I have been saying for two years, that Greece is neither Syria nor Iraq,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said on Saturday, referring to recent tension emanating from Turkey. “I honor and respect these two states and do not say this in a derogatory manner,” he said in radio comments on Saturday, adding that Ankara cannot violate international law in the way it does in the Middle East. “Greece is an organized country, it has all the means to defend its borders and its territory.” Kotzias insisted that Turkey’s behavior in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) will not block Nicosia’s energy plans. “I don’t think Turkey can do this. Ankara knows that Cyprus’s energy plans are linked to France and the US,” he said, adding that Turkey will not be able to display its recent bravado towards these two countries. Kotzias also described a statement on Friday by the European Union backing Greece and Cyprus as “the most powerful one yet.”

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No, it doesn’t. Bad journalism. Their conveniently far enough away date is 2030.

EU Hints At Outlawing Single-Use Plastics By Summer (Ind.)

The European Commission has hinted the EU could ban single-use plastics after Michael Gove said there was “some concern” Europe may prevent the UK from outlawing plastic straws. Frans Timmermans, vice president of the EU’s executive cabinet, told Mr Gove on Twitter: “One step ahead of you. EU legislation on single-use plastics coming before the summer. Maybe you can align with us?” The announcement came shortly after the Environment Secretary announced he was looking into the legal basis for ditching single-use straws. Mr Gove told Sky News: “Plastic straws are a scourge. They’re just one example of the ways in which we pollute the oceans and damage marine wildlife. I want to do everything we can to restrict the use of plastic straws and we’re exploring at the moment if we can ban them.”

He added: “There is some concern that EU laws mean that we can’t ban straws at moment, but I’m doing everything I can to ensure that we end this scourge and I hope to make an announcement shortly. “Straws are not just another example of plastic waste – they can be lethal… I believe we need to act and I’m exploring now what we can do as quick as possible within the law.” But Dr Viviane Gravey, lecturer in European politics at Queens University Belfast, told The Independent Mr Gove’s comments were “basically nonsense”. “It is especially nonsense for just that example of plastic straws,” she said. ”We know that the Scottish government – within the EU – is saying that they are going to ban them by the end of 2019. That means during the transition or implementation period… still while being bound by all EU law.”

The move comes just a day after official figures revealed the number of straws purchased by Parliament has doubled in the last three years. [..] On Wednesday, Mr Timmermans told a conference there is “urgent work to do” following China’s decision to limit imports of plastic waste. “We will find ways to reuse and recycle more plastic and avoid microplastic leakage,” he said. During an announcement on EU plans to ensure all plastic is recyclable or reusable by 2030, Mr Timmermans specifically mentioned plastic straws as something that needed to be outlawed. “If children knew what the effects are of using single-use plastic straws for drinking sodas, or whatever, they might reconsider and use paper straws or no straws at all,” he told The Guardian.

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