Nov 192016
 
 November 19, 2016  Posted by at 9:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle November 19 2016


Unknown Dutch Gap, Virginia. Picket station of Colored troops 1864

Financial Conditions Are Rigged Against Donald Trump (BBG)
Big Short’s Steve Eisman: ‘Europe is Screwed’ (G)
Emerging Markets Borrowers Owe $3.2 Trillion In -Rising- Dollar Debt (BBG)
Dollar’s Rapid Gain Triggers Angst in Emerging Markets (WSJ)
Global Bonds Post Biggest Two-Week Loss in 26 Years (BBG)
Bond Carnage hits Mortgage Rates. But This Time, it’s Real (WS)
US Dollar Sees Steepest 2-Week Gain Against Yen Since January 1988 (R.)
Bank of Japan Surprises With Plan to Buy Unlimited JGBs at Fixed Rates (WSJ)
US Banks Close Rupee Exchanges After Large Bills Ruled Illegal (BBG)
Lobbyists Leave Trump Transition Team After New Ethics Rule (Pol.)
The Rise Of The ‘Un-Lobbyist’ (Mother Jones)
UK Approves ‘Most Extreme Surveillance In History Of Western Democracy’ (AFP)
Far-Right Group Attacks Refugee Camp On Greek Island Of Chios (G.)

 

 

Just as I wrote on election day in America is The Poisoned Chalice.

Financial Conditions Are Rigged Against Donald Trump (BBG)

The reaction in financial markets to Trump’s election victory – much like the win itself – has defied conventional wisdom, with U.S. equities surging following a sharp drop as the results came in. But if you’re an occasional real estate developer — a self-professed “low interest rate guy” who wants to fix America’s trade deficit while bringing factories back from overseas – it might seem as though markets have been rigged against you. The U.S. dollar spot index (DXY) touched levels not seen since the Clinton administration on Friday morning, and the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury has increased by more than 50 basis points since Nov. 9.

This rise in the greenback and borrowing costs for the U.S. constitutes a tightening of financial conditions — a potential obstacle to U.S. growth, as servicing new debt has become more expensive and goods produced domestically are now less attractive to foreigners. Earlier this week, the Goldman Sachs Financial Conditions Index rose above 100 to hit levels not seen since March, when the financial backdrop was trending in a more accommodative direction following the market turmoil that started 2016. The index tracks changes in interest rates, credit spreads, equity prices, and the value of the U.S. dollar: a rise indicates that financial conditions have tightened. “A stronger USD implies lower domestic inflation and higher real rates, a headwind to U.S. growth,” writes Neil Dutta at Renaissance Macro Research.

In her testimony before Congress on Thursday, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen highlighted this rise in the U.S. dollar as well as interest rates since the election — but not the gains in the stock market. This may serve as an implicit nod at what’s reflected in many financial conditions indexes: There’s a certain degree of asymmetry at play, with the rise in the greenback and U.S. Treasury yields far outweighing the tightening of credit spreads and rise in stock values. That asymmetry perhaps speaks to an unintentional and counterintuitive overlap between how the president-elect and the Federal Reserve interpret how changes in financial conditions affect real economic activity.

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“What is very negative is that in every country in Europe, the largest owner of that country’s sovereign bonds are that country’s banks..”

Big Short’s Steve Eisman: ‘Europe is Screwed’ (G)

In the Oscar-winning The Big Short, Steve Carell plays the angry Wall Street outsider who predicts (and hugely profits from) the great financial crash of 2007-08. [..] In real life he is Steve Eisman, he is still on Wall Street, and he is still shorting stocks he thinks are going to plummet. And while he’s tight-lipped about which ones (unless you have $1m to spare for him to manage) it is evident he has one major target in mind: continental Europe’s banks – and Italy’s are probably the worst. Why Italy? Because, he says, the banks there are stuffed with “non-performing loans” (NPLs). That’s jargon for loans handed out to companies and households where the borrower has fallen behind with repayments, or is barely paying at all. But the Italian banks have not written off these loans as duds, he says.

Instead, billions upon billions are still on the books, written down as worth about 45% to 50% of their original value. The big problem, says Eisman, is that they are not worth anywhere near that much. In The Big Short, Eisman’s staff head to Florida to speak to the owners of newly built homes bundled up in “mortgage-backed securities” rated as AAA by the investment banks. What they find are strippers with loans against multiple homes but almost no income, the mortgages arranged by sharp-suited brokers who know they won’t be repaid, and don’t care. Visiting the housing estates that these triple-A mortgages are secured against, they find foreclosures and dereliction. In a mix of moral outrage at the banks – and investing acumen – Eisman and his colleagues bought as many “swaps” as possible to profit from the inevitable collapse of the mortgage-backed securities, making a $1bn profit along the way.

This time around, Eisman is not padding around the plains of Lombardy because he says the evidence is in plain sight. When financiers look to buy the NPLs off the Italian banks, they value the loans at what they are really worth – in other words, how many of the holders are really able to repay, and how much money will be recovered. What they find is that the NPLs should be valued at just 20% of their original price. Trouble is, if the Italian banks recognise their loans at their true value, it wipes out their capital, and they go bust overnight. “Europe is screwed. You guys are still screwed,” says Eisman. “In the Italian system, the banks say they are worth 45-50 cents in the dollar. But the bid price is 20 cents. If they were to mark them down, they would be insolvent.”

[..] Trump’s victory has sent the bond markets into disarray, with the yield on government bonds rising steeply. While this sounds good for savers – interest rates could rise – it is bad news for the holders of government bonds, which fall in value when the yield rises. Eisman sees that as another woe for Europe’s banks, who hold vast amounts of “sovereign bonds”. “What is very negative is that in every country in Europe, the largest owner of that country’s sovereign bonds are that country’s banks,” he says. As the bonds decline in value, then the capital base of the banks deteriorates.

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The usual victims.

Emerging Markets Borrowers Owe $3.2 Trillion In -Rising- Dollar Debt (BBG)

[..] Companies in these more-vulnerable economies have $340 billion of debt coming due through 2018, and they are going to have a hard time paying all that back if investors keep withdrawing their cash. [..] After the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president, many expect his infrastructure spending programs and trade policies to lead to higher consumer prices in the world’s biggest economy. Bonds tend to do poorly when inflation accelerates, especially because such an environment would prompt the Fed to raise benchmark interest rates faster than many expect. That would bad for all types of debt but particularly for notes in emerging markets. That’s because investors will migrate back to higher-rated bonds in developed economies instead of those in less-proven nations.

Also, more U.S. growth typically means a stronger dollar, which is a significant problem for emerging-market nonbank borrowers, which have accumulated more than $3 trillion in dollar-denominated debt, according to BIS data. The higher the dollar rises, the more expensive it becomes to pay back the debt. And already this week, the currency has surged because of the sudden prospect of tighter Fed policies and faster U.S. growth. The sheer scale of leverage in the economy, including “the large increase of emerging-market debt, much of it denominated in dollars,” is one of the biggest risks in the financial system right now, Adair Turner, former U.K. Financial Services Authority chairman, said in a Bloomberg Television interview Friday. All that money is owed to somebody, and a failure to pay it back will cause big ripple effects.

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if the US doesn’t manipulate its currency lower soon, it’s going to lose export markets.

Dollar’s Rapid Gain Triggers Angst in Emerging Markets (WSJ)

The dollar extended its powerful rally, spurring central banks in developing countries to take steps to stabilize their own currencies and threatening to create headwinds for the long-running U.S. expansion. The US currency moved closer to parity with the euro after rising for the 10th straight day, the dollar’s longest winning streak against the euro since the European currency’s inception in 1999. The dollar also moved higher against the yen, which fell to its weakest levels against the U.S. currency since May 30. The gains are even greater against many emerging-market currencies, prompting central banks in a number of countries to intervene to slow the slide. The Mexican peso has fallen 11% against the dollar to record lows since the election, while the Brazilian real has tumbled 6.3%.

The currency’s gains make foreign goods and travel cheaper for U.S. consumers and could give a boost to exports from Japan and Europe. But they also are reigniting fears that the dollar’s strength could slow U.S. corporate profit growth and intensify capital flight from the developing world, which would complicate the prospects for economic growth. “The strong dollar is destabilizing for markets, for foreign assets, for emerging-market nations that pay back their debt in dollars,” said Jonathan Lewis, chief investment officer Fiera Capital. “That’s pretty significant.” The dollar’s gains have been driven by bets that fiscal spending and tax cuts proposed by President-elect Donald Trump will spur U.S. economic growth, as well as by the rising probability that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next month.

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Too much is moving in the same direction. Sheep don’t make for healthy markets.

Global Bonds Post Biggest Two-Week Loss in 26 Years (BBG)

Bonds around the world had their steepest two-week loss in at least 26 years as President-elect Donald Trump sends inflation expectations surging. The Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Index has fallen 4% since Nov. 4. It’s the biggest two-week rout in data going back to 1990. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen contributed to the decline by saying Thursday an interest-rate hike could come “relatively soon.” “We’ve seen a sharp and swift move since the election, which is pricing in the potential future policies of Trump,” said Sean Simko at SEI Investments in Oaks, Pennsylvania. “The big question is to what extent these policies are going to be implemented, and how quickly are they going to be implemented.”

Treasury 10-year note yields climbed five basis points, or 0.05 percentage point, to 2.35% as of 5 p.m. in New York, reaching the highest since November 2015, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader data. The 2% security due in November 2026 closed at 96 27/32. “Trump is a game changer,” Park Sung-jin at Mirae Asset Securities. “I was bearish, but the current level is more than I expected.” The selloff has gone fast enough that it’ll probably pause before yields press higher in 2017, Park said. Yellen, addressing U.S. lawmakers Thursday, signaled the U.S. central bank is close to lifting interest rates as the economy continues to create jobs at a healthy clip and inflation inches higher.

The president-elect’s pledges include tax cuts and spending $500 billion or more over a decade on infrastructure, a combination that’s seen as spurring quicker growth and price gains in the world’s biggest economy. Trump has also blamed China and Mexico for American job losses and threatened punitive tariffs on imports, a move that may spur inflation. The difference between yields on U.S. 10-year notes and similar-maturity Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, a gauge of trader expectations for consumer prices over the life of the debt, rose to as much as 1.97 percentage points this week, the highest since April 2015.

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It’s not just global markets being hit, the US ‘homeowner’ will also pay the price.

Bond Carnage hits Mortgage Rates. But This Time, it’s Real (WS)

The carnage in bonds has consequences. The average interest rate of the a conforming 30-year fixed mortgage as of Friday was quoted at 4.125% for top credit scores. That’s up about 0.5 percentage point from just before the election, according to Mortgage News Daily. It put the month “on a short list of 4 worst months in more than a decade.” One of the other three months on that short list occurred at the end of 2010 and two “back to back amid the 2013 Taper Tantrum,” when the Fed let it slip that it might taper QE Infinity out of existence. Investors were not amused. From the day after the election through November 16, they yanked $8.2 billion out of bond funds, the largest weekly outflow since Taper-Tantrum June.

The 10-year Treasury yield today jumped to 2.36% in late trading the highest since December 2015, up 66 basis point since the election, and up one full percentage point since July! The 10-year yield is at a critical juncture. In terms of reality, the first thing that might happen is a rate increase by the Fed in December, after a year of flip-flopping. A slew of post-election pronouncements by Fed heads – including Yellen’s “relatively soon” – have pushed the odds of a rate hike to 98%. [..] I still think that pullback in yields is going to happen any day now. As I said, nothing goes to heck in a straight line. In terms of dollars and cents, this move has wiped out a lot of wealth. Bond prices fall when yields rise. This chart shows the CBOT Price Index for the 10-year note. It’s down 5.6% since July:

The 30-year Treasury bond went through a similar drubbing. The yield spiked to 3.01%. The mid-week pullback was a little more pronounced. Since the election, the yield has spiked by 44 basis points and since early July by 91 basis points (via StockCharts.com). Folks who have this “risk free” bond in their portfolios: note that in terms of dollars and cents, the CBOT Price Index for the 30-year bond has plunged 13.8% since early July!

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This will now be scaring Abe and Kuroda.

US Dollar Sees Steepest 2-Week Gain Against Yen Since January 1988 (R.)

The dollar rose to its highest level since April 2003 against a basket of currencies on Friday, marking its biggest two-week increase since March 2015 as traders piled bets on a massive dose of fiscal stimulus under a Trump U.S. presidency. Also stoking the dollar rally were growing expectations the Fed would raise interest rates next month on signs of rising inflation and improved economic growth. The greenback has climbed 7.3% against the yen in two weeks, its steepest such gain since January 1988 and its second-strongest performance in the era of floating exchange rates. The dollar has been on a tear following Donald Trump’s Nov. 8 victory over Hillary Clinton, tracking surging U.S. Treasury yields amid concerns government borrowing to fund possible stimulus programs could stoke inflation.

Traders have seized on the tax cuts, deregulation and infrastructure spending that Trump campaigned on as negatives for bonds and positives for the dollar. “It has caused a wave of dollar buying across the board,” said Richard Scalone, co-head of foreign exchange at TJM Brokerage in Chicago. To be sure, it remained unclear how many, if any, of the policy proposals would materialize. Trump’s stance on immigration and trade, if they become law, could hurt the dollar, analysts said. “The dollar is the wild card,” said Richard Bernstein, CEO of Richard Bernstein Advisors. The dollar index, hit 101.48, its highest since early April 2003 before paring gains to 101.25, up 0.4% on the day.

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Yeah, like that’s in your power… “’Interest rates may have risen in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean that we have to automatically allow Japanese interest rates to increase in tandem’, Mr. Kuroda said.”

Bank of Japan Surprises With Plan to Buy Unlimited JGBs at Fixed Rates (WSJ)

The Bank of Japan on Thursday offered to buy an unlimited amount of Japanese government bonds at fixed rates for the first time since the introduction of a new policy framework—a sign of its concerns over recent rises in yields. The move is the first clear sign from the central bank that it intends to take action to keep a lid on rising yields, and took market participants by surprise. “I thought there was still a lot more room left” before the BOJ took action, said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management. The BOJ’s move followed a sharp rise in government bond yields globally, sparked by expectations that the presidency of Donald Trump would lift inflation and growth.

Japanese government bond yields have risen as well, but not as sharply. The 10-year yield rose to its highest level since March on Wednesday. Yields on two-year and five-year Japanese government bonds fell Thursday after the BOJ’s announcement. The 10-year yield also briefly fell to 0.010% after hitting as high as 0.025% earlier in the morning. Speaking in parliament, Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda said he wouldn’t allow market pressure from abroad to dictate the course of Japanese government bond yields, highlighting his resolve to hold interest rates down. “Interest rates may have risen in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean that we have to automatically allow Japanese interest rates to increase in tandem,” Mr. Kuroda said.

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And the winner is … plastic.

US Banks Close Rupee Exchanges After Large Bills Ruled Illegal (BBG)

Aruna Desai has a problem with the thousands of Indian rupees she has with her in the U.S. – she can’t find a bank to exchange her funds and couldn’t give the money away if she tried. Since Indian PM Narendra Modi removed 500- and 1,000-rupee notes from circulation, currency exchange providers in the U.S. have been unable to take the outlawed bills. Some of the country’s biggest banks, including JPMorgan and Citigroup work with vendors to provide rupees to clients and those vendors have made the bills unavailable, spokesmen for the banks said. Wells Fargo also said it can’t supply rupees at this time, while Bank of America said it has never accepted the currency for exchange. “If you have a euro, you can go to a bank and exchange it,” Desai, 76, of Cliffside Park, New Jersey, said. “For an Indian rupee, I don’t think there’s any bank that does that here.”

Five-hundred rupee ($7.34) and 1,000-rupee notes ceased to be legal tender Nov. 9, Modi said last week in a surprise announcement, sweeping away 86% of the total currency in circulation. The move has been seen as an attempt to fulfill his election promise of curbing tax evasion and recovering illegal income, locally known as black money, stashed overseas. The notes will have to be deposited in banks by the end of December, Modi said. “For our clients, it’s very hard,” Nandita Chandra, head of Great Indian Travel’s New York office, said in a telephone interview while visiting New Delhi. “A lot of people are affected and we don’t have a culture that is credit-card friendly, it’s a cash-based economy.”

Mastercard, the second-largest payment network, heralded the move as one that will reduce crime and drive growth in the Indian economy. Modi’s “bold action and leadership is a critical step in positioning India to be a leader in the global cashless and digital economy movement,” Porush Singh, the firm’s president for South Asia, said in a statement. “Mastercard is committed to working with the government to provide the cashless solutions that combat corruption and create growth, and inclusion for all members of society.”

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Will Washington fall apart without the lobbyists who keep it standing up?

Lobbyists Leave Trump Transition Team After New Ethics Rule (Pol.)

At least three lobbyists have left President-elect Donald Trump’s presidential transition operation after the team imposed a new ethics policy that would have required them to drop all their clients. CGCN’s Michael Catanzaro, who was responsible for energy independence; Michael Torrey, who was running the handoff at the Department of Agriculture; and Michael McKenna of MWR Strategies, who was focused on the Energy Department, are no longer part of the transition, POLITICO has learned. Lobbyists who piled into the transition when it was being run by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were caught off-guard Wednesday by a new ethics policy requiring them to terminate their clients.

“Throughout my time assisting the transition effort, I have adhered closely to the code of ethical conduct and confidentiality agreement that was provided to me,” Torrey said in a statement. “When asked recently to terminate lobbying registration for clients whom I serve in order to continue my role with the transition, I respectfully resigned from my role.” Torrey represents the American Beverage Association, Dean Foods and pizza franchise Little Caesars. Before founding Michael Torrey & Associates in 2005, he was Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman’s deputy chief of staff, advised Kansas Sen. Bob Dole and worked at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Catanzaro lobbies for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a refining group, as well as Hess, Encana, Noble Energy and Devon Energy.

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Let’s see how many will be left come January 20.

The Rise Of The ‘Un-Lobbyist’ (Mother Jones)

On Wednesday, Donald Trump’s transition team announced one phase of the president-elect’s plan to “drain the swamp” of corruption—a prohibition on registered lobbyists serving in his administration and a five-year lobbying ban for Trump officials who return to the private sector. Trump’s plan effectively doubles down on a policy that the Obama administration already has in place—one that many good government groups and lobbyists alike believe may have created a new problem: un-lobbyists—that is, influence-peddlers who avoid registering as lobbyists to skirt the administration’s rules.

Obama, like Trump, campaigned on a platform of aggressively rooting out the influence of lobbyists. After taking office, he put in place several major good-government initiatives, including a ban on lobbyists serving in his administration and a two-year cooling-off period before ex-administration officials could register to lobby. Once Obama’s lobbying rules took effect, there was a sharp decline in the number of registered lobbyists. Industry insiders and watchdog groups that track the influence game noted that the decrease was not due to lobbyists hanging up their spurs as hired guns for corporations and special interests. Rather it appeared that lobbyists were finding creative ways to avoid officially registering as such. There was no less influence-peddling going on, but now there was less disclosure of the lobbying that was taking place.

The problem lies with the definition of who is a lobbyist. The federal government requires anyone who spends more than 20% of their time on behalf of a client while making “lobbying contacts”—an elaborate and specifically defined type of contact with certain types of federal officials—to register as a lobbyist and file quarterly paperwork disclosing their clients and the bills or agencies he or she sought to sway. But by avoiding too many official “lobbying contacts” and limiting how much income that kind of work accounts for, lobbyists can shed the scarlet L, describing themselves as government affairs consultants or experts in advocacy and public policy.

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All governments will use all new technology to encroach ever more on all people’s lives.

UK Approves ‘Most Extreme Surveillance In History Of Western Democracy’ (AFP)

The British parliament this week gave the green light to new bulk surveillance powers for police and intelligence services that critics have denounced as the most far-reaching of any western democracy. The Investigatory Powers Bill would, among other measures, require websites to keep customers’ browsing history for up to a year and allow law enforcement agencies to access them to help with investigations. Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower, said the powers “went further than many autocracies”. “The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy,” he tweeted.

The bill, the first major update of British surveillance laws for 15 years, was passed by the House of Lords and now only needs rubber-stamping by Queen Elizabeth II. Prime Minister Theresa May introduced the bill in March when she was still interior minister, describing it as “world-leading” legislation intended to reflect the change in online communications. It gives legal footing to existing but murky powers such as the hacking of computers and mobile phones, while introducing new safeguards such as the need for a judge to authorise interception warrants. But critics have dubbed it the “snooper’s charter” and say that, in authorising the blanket retention and access by authorities of records of emails, calls, texts and web activity, it breaches fundamental rights of privacy.

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The EU needs to act to stop this. But instead it still hardly resettles refugees at all, and won’t even allow for the refugees to be hosted in mainland Greece. Ugliness guaranteed. Couldn’t have been more effective if they planned it.

Far-Right Group Attacks Refugee Camp On Greek Island Of Chios (G.)

Dozens of people have been driven out of a refugee camp on the Greek island of Chios after two successive nights of attacks by a far-right group. At least two people were wounded after attackers threw Molotov cocktails and rocks as big as boulders from elevated areas surrounding the Souda camp, activists said. Three tents were burned down and three others were hit by rocks. A 42-year-old Syrian man was assaulted, while a Nigerian boy was hit by a rock. Fearing a third attack on Friday night, about 100 former occupants refused to re-enter the camp, instead taking shelter in a nearby car park. “We do not have any kind of protection,” Mostafa al-Khatib, a Syrian refugee, told the Guardian. “No one cares about us.” Gabrielle Tan, an aid worker with Action From Switzerland, a grassroots organisation working on Chios, said those sheltering in the car park included families with babies and toddlers.

“They’d rather sleep outside in the cold than go back inside,” said Tan. The mayor of Chios said the attackers were thought to be affiliated with Greece’s main far-right party, Golden Dawn. “Of course Golden Dawn supporters are suspected to have participated,” Manolis Vournous told the Guardian. Activists and camp occupants said the rocks appeared to have been thrown with the intention of killing people. Tan said: “These rocks were probably the size of a shoebox, weighing approximately 15kg. Some of them I can’t even lift.” There were conflicting reports about who started the clashes on Wednesday. According to Vournous, the unrest began after Algerians and Moroccans stole alcohol and fireworks from a shop, frightening local residents. But some activists claimed the events escalated after a planned assault by Golden Dawn.

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Aug 292016
 
 August 29, 2016  Posted by at 5:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Up Sutter Street from Grant Avenue, San Francisco 1906

Asia Currencies Head Down The Jackson Hole (CNBC)
German Economy Minister Says EU-US TTiP Talks Have Failed (AP)
UK Must Pay For Brexit Or EU Is In ‘Deep Trouble’, Says German Minister (G.)
German Vice Chancellor Says Can’t See Turkey In EU Anytime Soon (R.)
Brexit, Grexit: When The Sky Didn’t Fall (WSJ)
TTIP’s ‘Failure’ Signals Clues About UK’s Post-Brexit Trading (Ind.)
The 11 Bone-Chilling Things I Gleaned from Yellen’s Chart (WS)
“If This Does Not Disqualify Hillary For The Presidency, What Will?” (ZH)
There Is A Third Pole On Earth, And It’s Melting Quickly (WEF)
Italy Rescues 1,100 Migrants In Mediterranean In One Day (R.)
What Life Will Be Like After An Economic Collapse (Stewart)

 

 

Travel day today, so an early Debt Rattle

 

 

Abe won’t mind.

Asia Currencies Head Down The Jackson Hole (CNBC)

The newly resurgent dollar pressured Asian currencies as markets revived bets that the U.S. Federal Reserve could possibly raise interest rates as soon as next month. The advances in regional currencies were substantial. The dollar was fetching 102.03 yen at 9:51 a.m. HK/SIN, after flirting with levels around 100 yen just before the Fed’s conclave in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Australian dollar also felt the sting, fetching $0.7534 Monday morning, down from nearly $0.77 on Friday. The Singapore dollar was also lower, with the greenback fetching S$1.3614 Monday morning, up from as little as S$1.3469 on Friday.

The Malaysian ringgit also fell, with the dollar fetching 4.0425 ringgit on Monday morning, compared with as little as 4.0100 ringgit on Friday. The dollar index, which measures the greenback’s performance against a basket of currencies, jumped to 95.525 on Monday morning, from as low as 94.246 on Friday. Analysts pointed to Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s speech at the conclave on Friday as the reason for the newly resurgent dollar. While markets still saw December as the most likely timing for a Fed rate hike, Yellen opened the door to a September hike when she said the case for a rate hike strengthened in recent months.

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Not making Merkel happy.

German Economy Minister Says EU-US TTiP Talks Have Failed (AP)

Free trade talks between the European Union and the United States have failed, Germany’s economy minister said Sunday, citing a lack of progress on any of the major sections of the long-running negotiations. Both Washington and Brussels have pushed for a deal by the end of the year, despite strong misgivings among some EU member states over the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. Sigmar Gabriel, who is also Germany’s vice chancellor, compared the TTIP negotiations unfavorably with a free trade deal forged between the 28-nation EU and Canada, which he said was fairer for both sides. “In my opinion, the negotiations with the United States have de facto failed, even though nobody is really admitting it,” Gabriel said during a question-and-answer session with citizens in Berlin.

He noted that in 14 rounds of talks, the two sides haven’t agreed on a single common item out of 27 chapters being discussed. Gabriel accused Washington of being “angry” about the deal that the EU struck with Canada, known as CETA, because it contains elements the U.S. doesn’t want to see in the TTIP. “We mustn’t submit to the American proposals,” said Gabriel, who is also the head of Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party. In Washington, there was no immediate comment from the office of the U.S. trade representative. Christian Wigand, a spokesman for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm and which is leading the TTIP negotiations, said Sunday that the institution had no comment or reaction at this time.

Gabriel’s ministry isn’t directly involved in the negotiations with Washington because trade agreements are negotiated at the EU level. But such a damning verdict from a leading official in Europe’s biggest economy is likely to make further talks between the EU executive and the Obama administration harder. Gabriel’s comments contrast with those of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said last month that TTIP was “absolutely in Europe’s interest.” Popular opposition to a free trade agreement with the United States is strong in Germany. Campaigners have called for nationwide protests against the talks on Sept. 17 — about year before Germany’s next general election.

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Same guy.

UK Must Pay For Brexit Or EU Is In ‘Deep Trouble’, Says German Minister (G.)

German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel has said that Britain must not be allowed to “keep the nice things” that come with EU membership without taking responsibility for the fallout from Brexit. As Theresa May called a cabinet meeting to discuss the UK government’s Brexit strategy on Wednesday, Gabriel warned if the issue was badly handled and other member countries followed Britain’s lead, Europe would go “down the drain”. “Brexit is bad but it won’t hurt us as much economically as some fear – it’s more of a psychological problem and it’s a huge problem politically,” he told a news conference. The world now regarded Europe as an unstable continent, said Gabriel, who is the deputy to chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany’s governing coalition. “If we organise Brexit in the wrong way, then we’ll be in deep trouble, so now we need to make sure that we don’t allow Britain to keep the nice things, so to speak, related to Europe while taking no responsibility,” Gabriel said.

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Still same guy.

German Vice Chancellor Says Can’t See Turkey In EU Anytime Soon (R.)

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said on Sunday he did not see Turkey joining the EU during his political career, adding that the bloc would not be in a position to take Turkey in even if Ankara met all the entry requirements tomorrow. Turkey started talks about joining the European Union in 2005 but has made little progress despite an initial burst of reforms. Many EU countries are wary about the possibility of the large, mainly Muslim country becoming a member of the bloc and Europe has long worried that Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws are used to quash dissent. A crackdown since a failed July 15 coup in Turkey has fueled tension between Ankara and Brussels.

“Even if you’re very optimistic about my political career, I certainly won’t see Turkey becoming a member of this EU,” Gabriel, 56, told a news conference on Sunday. “With the state we’re in, we’re not even in a position to take in a city state,” said Gabriel, leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) – the junior coalition partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. He said one logistical problem was Turkey’s large population, which stands at about 79 million according to the World Bank. “How would that work in a European Union that is currently losing one of its most important member states, that has been rattled, that doesn’t know how it should reorganise itself?,” he added, referring to Britain’s recent vote to leave the bloc.

He said Turkey might instead, in the distant future, become a partner “in an outer ring” of a changed EU. Earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his government could stop helping to stem the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe if Brussels failed to relax travel rules for Turks from October. Visa-free access to the EU — the main reward for Ankara’s collaboration in choking off the influx of migrants — has been subject to delays due to a dispute over the anti-terrorism legislation, as well as the post-coup crackdown. Gabriel said in an interview on Saturday that Merkel’s conservatives had “underestimated” the challenge of integrating record migrant arrivals.

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Problem of course is there are no markets, there are only central banks. So no price discovery.

Brexit, Grexit: When The Sky Didn’t Fall (WSJ)

Some economists warned the U.S. congressional budget battles in 2013, which led to sharp spending cuts known as sequestration, could throw the economy back into recession. The economy grew 2.7% that year. Then, in 2010 and 2012, some economists warned the Federal Reserve’s massive bond-buying program would cause hyperinflation, soaring commodity prices and a collapse of the dollar. Nothing of the sort occurred. Warnings abounded in 2015 that if Greece rejected an international bailout, it could spark a sovereign default or a banking crisis or Greece being cast off the euro. Greece’s economy is far from a success story, but it hasn’t gone bankrupt. Its banking system has been battered and drained of deposits, but hasn’t collapsed. It remains in the euro.

So what about Brexit? It’s now been two months since British voters on June 23 cast their ballots to exit from the European Union, and it’s becoming unclear if the recession so many feared will materialize—at least in the near term. It’s worth revisiting the level of concern prior to the vote. George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said a vote for Brexit would cause a “DIY recession.” In the immediate aftermath of the vote, many market economists forecast recession would begin almost immediately. In the days after the vote, global stock markets indeed fell sharply. Perhaps if it had been just a little bit worse, a broader panic would have sent things into a spiral. Instead, markets have rebounded. The FTSE 100 climbed to near-record levels by the middle of August. Nor has the wider economy shown many signs of a coming downturn.

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What good’s a clue if you’re clueless?

TTIP’s ‘Failure’ Signals Clues About UK’s Post-Brexit Trading (Ind.)

The apparent failure of the EU-US trade talks signalled by German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel should come as little surprise – for good and bad reasons – and contains some interesting clues about the UK’s post-Brexit trading future. One “good” reason for the negotiators being unable to agree so far on a single chapter of the 27 in the draft Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is that the Europeans are deeply suspicious about how much power will be given to large multinational companies in the process. The secret “court” for settling disputes is absurdly opaque and unaccountable, for example. That would be bad enough across most areas of the economy, but when it impinges on the way the NHS operates for the public good, it is plainly unacceptable.

Anti-business sentiment is often facile and hypocritical, or worse, but TTIP just offers up too many egregious potential abuses to be comfortable with. It could be made more politically palatable, at any rate, and we should always remember that free trade is good for the long-term prosperity of all. Globalisation, unfashionable as it is, has done more good than harm, not least lifting 500 million Chinese out of poverty. TTIP could be made to work, in other words. The “bad” reason for the difficulties TTIP finds itself in is because the EU’s disparate membership can’t agree on what they want, as so often. This, then, supports the Leave camp who argue that the very size and complexity of the EU makes important trade deals such as this impossible to secure. They point to similar failures on EU trade with China and India.

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As I’ve said so often: They have no clue.

The 11 Bone-Chilling Things I Gleaned from Yellen’s Chart (WS)

At the Symposium in Jackson Hole, so feverishly anticipated by the entire world, Fed Chair Janet Yellen gave an even more feverishly anticipated speech on Friday, in which she said the same stuff she’d been saying all along, such as these nuggets: “And, as ever, the economic outlook is uncertain, and so monetary policy is not on a preset course.” “Our ability to predict how the federal funds rate will evolve over time is quite limited because monetary policy will need to respond to whatever disturbances may buffet the economy.” To document this, she supplied the fan chart below, adding this explanation: “The line in the center is the median path for the federal funds rate based on the FOMC’s Summary of Economic Projections in June.” “The shaded region, which is based on the historical accuracy of private and government forecasters, shows a 70% probability that the federal funds rate will be between 0 and 3.25% at the end of next year and between 0 and 4.5% at the end of 2018.”

1. They have no clue about what might happen next. Their forecasts and “forward guidance” are either figments of their imagination or just efforts to manipulate the markets.

2. They have no clue how to get out of what initially was an emergency treatment of a Fed-sponsored financial system in full and self-inflicted collapse, but is now the “new normal” treatment for an economy buckling under its Fed-encouraged debt.

[..] 11. They’re trying to make us forget how long this insanity has been going on. Yellen’s chart begins in Q1 2015. But the Fed’s historic craziness began in 2008. So that we can remember for just how long the Fed has inflicted its policies on the economy, I have added to Yellen’s chart the prior six years, for a total of eight years. It shows that they have no clue about how to get back to normal, and that they have instead changed the definition of normal:

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Tyler.

“If This Does Not Disqualify Hillary For The Presidency, What Will?” (ZH)

This is the week that the steady drip, drip, drip of details about Hillary Clinton’s server turned into a waterfall. This is the week that we finally learned why Mrs. Clinton used a private communications setup, and what it hid. This is the week, in short, that we found out that the infamous server was designed to hide that Mrs. Clinton for three years served as the U.S. Secretary of the Clinton Foundation.

In March this column argued that while Mrs. Clinton’s mishandling of classified information was important, it missed the bigger point. The Democratic nominee obviously didn’t set up her server with the express purpose of exposing national secrets—that was incidental. She set up the server to keep secret the details of the Clintons’ private life—a life built around an elaborate and sweeping money-raising and self-promoting entity known as the Clinton Foundation.

Had Secretary Clinton kept the foundation at arm’s length while in office—as obvious ethical standards would have dictated—there would never have been any need for a private server, or even private email. The vast majority of her electronic communications would have related to her job at the State Department, with maybe that occasional yoga schedule. And those Freedom of Information Act officers would have had little difficulty—when later going through a state.gov email—screening out the clearly “personal” before making her records public. This is how it works for everybody else.

Mrs. Clinton’s problem—as we now know from this week’s release of emails from Huma Abedin’s private Clinton-server account—was that there was no divide between public and private. Mrs. Clinton’s State Department and her family foundation were one seamless entity—employing the same people, comparing schedules, mixing foundation donors with State supplicants. This is why she maintained a secret server, and why she deleted 15,000 emails that should have been turned over to the government.

Most of the focus on this week’s Abedin emails has centered on the disturbing examples of Clinton Foundation executive Doug Band negotiating State favors for foundation donors. But equally instructive in the 725 pages released by Judicial Watch is the frequency and banality of most of the email interaction. Mr. Band asks if Hillary’s doing this conference, or having that meeting, and when she’s going to Brazil. Ms. Abedin responds that she’s working on it, or will get this or that answer. These aren’t the emails of mere casual acquaintances; they don’t even bother with salutations or signoffs. These are the emails of two people engaged in the same purpose—serving the State-Clinton Foundation nexus.

The other undernoted but important revelation is that the media has been looking in the wrong place. The focus is on Mrs. Clinton’s missing emails, and no doubt those 15,000 FBI-recovered texts contain nuggets. Then again, Mrs. Clinton was a busy woman, and most of the details of her daily State/foundation life would have been handled by trusted aides. This is why they, too, had private email. Top marks to Judicial Watch for pursuing Ms. Abedin’s file from the start. A new urgency needs to go into seeing similar emails of former Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills.

Mostly, we learned this week that Mrs. Clinton’s foundation issue goes far beyond the “appearance” of a conflict of interest. This is straight-up pay to play. When Mr. Band sends an email demanding a Hillary meeting with the crown prince of Bahrain and notes that he’s a “good friend of ours,” what Mr. Band means is that the crown prince had contributed millions to a Clinton Global Initiative scholarship program, and therefore has bought face time. It doesn’t get more clear-cut, folks. That’s highlighted by the Associated Press’s extraordinary finding this week that of the 154 outside people Mrs. Clinton met with in the first years of her tenure, more than half were Clinton Foundation donors. Clinton apologists, like Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, are claiming that statistic is overblown, because the 154 doesn’t include thousands of meetings held with foreign diplomats and U.S. officials.

Nice try. As the nation’s top diplomat, Mrs. Clinton was obliged to meet with diplomats and officials—not with others. Only a blessed few outsiders scored meetings with the harried secretary of state and, surprise, most of the blessed were Clinton Foundation donors. Mrs. Clinton’s only whisper of grace is that it remains (as it always does in potential cases of corruption) hard to connect the dots. There are “quids” (foundation donations) and “quos” (Bahrain arms deals) all over the place, but no precise evidence of “pros.” Count on the Clinton menagerie to dwell in that sliver of a refuge.

But does it even matter? What we discovered this week is that one of the nation’s top officials created a private server that housed proof that she continued a secret, ongoing entwinement with her family foundation – despite ethics agreements – and that she destroyed public records. If that alone doesn’t disqualify her for the presidency, it’s hard to know what would.

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Lest we forget.

There Is A Third Pole On Earth, And It’s Melting Quickly (WEF)

When we think of the world’s polar regions, only two usually spring to mind – the North and South. However, there is a region to the south of China and the north of India that is known as the “Third Pole”. That’s because it is the third largest area of frozen water on the planet. Although much smaller than its north and south counterparts, it is still enormous, covering 100,000 square kilometres with some 46,000 glaciers. Scientists conducting research in the area have warned of disturbing global warming trends, and how, if they continue, they could affect the lives of 1.3 billion people. What happens to ice in the polar regions is taken as clear evidence of climate change. When the ice melts, we know that the planet is warming up.

The Earth’s north and south extremities are crucial for regulating the climate, and at the same time are particularly sensitive to global warming. The Third Pole, because it is high above sea level, is also sensitive to changes in temperatures. It also powers life for many thousands of miles. It is estimated that the water that flows from the Third Pole supports 120 million people directly through irrigation systems, and a total of 1.3 billion indirectly through river basins in China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. That’s nearly one fifth of the world’s population.

It is remote – the region encompasses the Himalaya-Hindu Kush mountain ranges and the Tibetan Plateau – but 10 of Asia’s largest rivers begin here, including the Yellow river and Yangtze river in China, the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar, the Ganges, which flows through India and Bangladesh, and the trans-boundary Mekong river. Australian TV company ABC was recently invited to visit one of the remote research stations in the Third Pole by lead researcher, Professor Qin Xiang. Scientists have been gathering data from this remote area for over 50 years, and recent findings are disturbing. Among them, the fact that temperatures there have increased by 1.5 degrees – more than double the global average.

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As the fighting continues.

Italy Rescues 1,100 Migrants In Mediterranean In One Day (R.)

About 1,100 migrants were rescued from boats in the Strait of Sicily on Sunday as they tried to reach Europe, Italy’s coastguard said. The migrants were picked up from eight rubber dinghies, one large boat and two punts through 11 rescue operations in the Mediterranean, the coastguard said in a statement. It did not mention the migrants’ country of origin. Latest data from the International Organization for Migration, released on Friday, said some 105,342 migrants have reached Italy by boat this year, many of them setting sail from Libya. An estimated 2,726 men, women and children have died over the same period trying to make the journey, often dangerously packed into small vessels unsuitable for the voyage. Italy has been on the front line of Europe’s migrant crisis for three years, and more than 400,000 have successfully made the voyage to Italy from North Africa since the beginning of 2014, fleeing violence and poverty.

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A useful and thorough reminder.

What Life Will Be Like After An Economic Collapse (Stewart)

If you have been waiting for a public announcement or news headline to let you know that an economic collapse has begun, you are in for the surprise of your life. If history in other countries and in Detroit, Michigan is any indication, there won’t be an announcement. An economic collapse tends to sneak up on a city, region, or country gradually over time. In some cases, the arrival of an economic collapse is so gradual that most people living in it aren’t even aware of it at first. Things just get gradually worse, often so gradually that people and families adjust as best they can until one day they actually realize that it’s not just their home or their neighborhood that has been hit so hard financially, it’s everyone. By that time, it’s often too late to take preventative action.

In March of 2011, Detroit’s population was reported as having fallen to 713,777, the lowest it had been in a century and a full 25% drop from 2000. In December 2011, the state announced its intention to formally review Detroit’s finances. In May of 2013, almost two years later, the city is deemed “clearly insolvent” and in July of 2013, the state representative filed a Chapter 9 bankruptcy petition for Motor City. Detroit became one of the biggest cities to file bankruptcy in history. So we have only to look at what happened in Detroit, Michigan post-bankruptcy, to get an indication of what might soon be widespread across the United States and what is already widespread in countries like Brazil and Venezuela.

Grocery stores and other businesses will fail one by one or be shut down from the riots and looting. In Detroit, the economic collapse left less than 5 national grocery stores for over 700,000 people. Imagine the lines even if food was still being shipped in on trucks. Small independent corner stores and family owned stores become the most convenient place to shop. These are stores with already high prices who make most of their profit from beer, wine, lottery, and cigarettes. Now imagine that shipping schedules have been affected by the economic crisis, this would mean longer lines with less certainty that any food would even be available once you got into the store to shop. People in Venezuela are actually dealing with government-run grocery stores and are limited to two days per week they can shop.

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Aug 172016
 
 August 17, 2016  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Buying Army surplus food sold at fish market 1919

Global Central Banks Dump US Debt At Record Pace (CNN)
The $6 Trillion US Public Pension Sinkhole (MW)
UK Dividends at Risk as Pension Holes Deepen (BBG)
Japan Official Threatens Action If Yen Rises Too Sharply (WSJ)
Bank Of Japan Buying Sends Nikkei 225 To Highest In 18 Years (ZH)
The “Housing Crisis” in San Francisco Strangles Demand (WS)
Chinese Investors Are Largest International Buyers Of US Real Estate (Forbes)
Australia Central Bank Governor In Complete Bubble Denial (BI)
“Racketeering Is Ruining Us” (Kunstler)
Iceland Prepares To End Currency Controls (Tel.)
‘I Want You Back,’ Cries East Europe as Emigrant Tide Erodes GDP (BBG)
Tsipras Revives Greek Bid To Seek Wartime Reparations From Berlin (Kath.)
Turkey To Free 38,000 From Prisons To Make Space For Alleged Coup Plotters (AP)
German Officials Say Erdogan Supports Militants (DW)

 

 

Concerted effort to relieve the USD?

Global Central Banks Dump US Debt At Record Pace (CNN)

Global central banks are unloading America’s debt. In the first six months of this year, foreign central banks sold a net $192 billion of U.S. Treasury bonds, more than double the pace in the same period last year, when they sold $83 billion. China, Japan, France, Brazil and Colombia led the pack of countries dumping U.S. debt. It’s the largest selloff of U.S. debt since at least 1978, according to Treasury Department data. “Net selling of U.S. notes and bonds year to date thru June is historic,” says Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at the Lindsey Group, an investing firm in Virginia. U.S. Treasurys are considered one of the safest assets in the world. A lot of countries keep their cash holdings in U.S. government bonds.

Many countries have been selling their holdings of U.S. Treasuries so they can get cash to help prop up their currencies if they’re losing value. The selloff is a sign of pockets of weakness in the global economy. Low oil prices, China’s economic slowdown and currencies losing value are all weighing down global growth, which the IMF described as “fragile” earlier in the year. Despite all the selling by these countries, private demand for the bonds has sky rocketed. Demand is so high that the U.S. can afford to pay historically low interest rates. The 10-year U.S. Treasury hit a record low of 1.34% earlier this year, before bouncing back to about 1.58%, currently.

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Nice try, but I’m not so sure a different way of accounting would make the hole itself any smaller.

The $6 Trillion US Public Pension Sinkhole (MW)

U.S. state and local employee pension plans are in trouble — and much of it is because of flaws in the actuarial science used to manage their finances. Making it worse, standard actuarial practice masks the true extent of the problem by ignoring the best financial science — which shows the plans are even more underfunded than taxpayers and plan beneficiaries have been told. The bad news is we are facing a gap of $6 trillion in benefits already earned and not yet paid for, several times more than the official tally. Pension actuaries estimate the cost, accumulating liabilities and required funding for pension plans based on longevity and numerous other factors that will affect benefit payments owed decades into the future.

But today’s actuarial model for calculating what a pension plan owes its current and future pensioners is ignoring the long-term market risk of investments (such as stocks, junk bonds, hedge funds and private equity). Rather, it counts “expected” (hoped for) returns on risky assets before they are earned and before their risk has been borne. Since market risk has a price — one that investors must pay to avoid and are paid to accept — failure to include it means official public pension liabilities and costs are understated. The current approach calculates liabilities by discounting pension funds cash flows using expected returns on risky plan assets. But Finance 101 says that liability discounting should be based on the riskiness of the liabilities, not on the riskiness of the assets.

With pension promises intended to be paid in full, the science calls for discounting at default-free rates, such as those offered by Treasurys. Here’s the problem: 10-year and 30-year Treasurys now yield 1.5% and 2.25%, respectively. Pension funds on average assume a 7.5% return on their investments – and that’s not just for stocks. To do that, they have to take on a lot more risk – and risk falling short. Much debate focuses on whether 7.5% is too optimistic and should be replaced by a lower estimate of returns on risky assets, such as 6%. This amounts to arguing about how accurate is the measuring stick. But financial economists widely agree that the riskiness of most public pension plans liabilities requires a different measuring stick, and that is default-free rates.

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“It’s happening to pension schemes but will feel like it’s happening to the whole company.”

If these companies cut dividends, investors will sell their shares. But they also will if and when true pensions deficits become public. Can’t win.

UK Dividends at Risk as Pension Holes Deepen (BBG)

Workers have long fretted about funding gaps in U.K. companies’ retirement plans. Now investors are starting to join them. Since the U.K.’s June 23 vote to leave the European Union, pension deficits have swelled as record-low U.K. government bond yields have reduced returns on fund investments. That has added to pressure on companies facing gaps in their retirement funding, including telecommunications provider BT, grocer Tesco and military contractor BAE. With little prospect of higher returns after the Bank of England cut interest rates this month, companies may have to reduce dividend payments to raise pension contributions and close funding gaps. That means investors, who have been insulated from the U.K.’s pension crisis, could feel the effects.

“There is no doubt that shareholders of companies with major pension deficits will be concerned,” said Raj Mody, who heads PricewaterhouseCoopers’ pension consulting group. “It’s happening to pension schemes but will feel like it’s happening to the whole company.” Companies in the FTSE 100 paid around five times as much in dividends as they provided in contributions to defined-benefit pension plans last year, a report published Tuesday by consultant Lane Clark & Peacock showed. Through July 31 the FTSE 100 companies’ combined pension deficits – the amount by which liabilities outstrip assets – increased to £46 billion ($59.7 billion) from £25 billion a year earlier, Lane Clark said. Total pension liabilities of the 350 largest U.K. companies as a percentage of market capitalization rose to 40% in June, the highest level in the last 10 years except during the global financial crisis, according to Citigroup.

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Like what? QE?

Japan Official Threatens Action If Yen Rises Too Sharply (WSJ)

Japan’s top currency bureaucrat issued a fresh warning Wednesday over the soaring yen, saying the government would have to act should it rise too sharply. “If there are excessively sharp movements, we will have to take action,” Vice Finance Minister for International Affairs Masatsugu Asakawa told reporters at the ministry’s headquarters. The comment was likely a veiled threat of direct intervention in the currency market to force lower the yen — a step increasingly seen as undesirable manipulation among wealthy economies. The remark followed the yen’s surge Tuesday beyond the 100 mark against the dollar. A higher yen reduces Japanese manufacturers’ repatriated profits and undermines a positive growth cycle sought by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The dollar rose against the yen following Asakawa’s remark. Japan last intervened to undercut the yen in 2011.

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Abe and Kuroda are a success story.

Bank Of Japan Buying Sends Nikkei 225 To Highest In 18 Years (ZH)

Having noted the farcical share ownership of The Bank of Japan (biggest shareholder in 55 companies) as Kuroda's ETF-buying goes to '11', we thought it interesting that the distortion caused by these "pick a winner" purchases has sent Japan's Nikkei 225 to its richest relative to Japan's Topix index in 17 years. As Bloomberg notes, Japan’s two major equity benchmarks have moved mostly together over the years. That changed this month following the latest meeting by the Bank of Japan, which boosted its purchases of exchange-traded funds as part of its easing program.

The BOJ’s heavier allocation to ETFs tracking the Nikkei 225 has helped push the gauge to its highest level versus the Topix index in 18 years.

 

Which – as we noted previously – leaves one big question… just how will the BOJ ever unwind its unprecedented holdings of not only bonds, which are now roughly 100% of Japan's GDP, but also of stocks, without crashing both the bond and the stock market. And then we remember, that the BOJ will simply never unwind any of its "emergency" opertions just because nobody actually thought that far, plus the whole point of the exercise is hyperinflation or bust, as the sheer lunacy of Japan's authorities is exposed for the entire world to see, leading to the terminal collapse of faith in the local currency. With every passing day, we get that much closer to said terminal moment.

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Time for a hole new approach to housing. It should be a basic right, not some financial bet.

The “Housing Crisis” in San Francisco Strangles Demand (WS)

Here’s the other side of central-bank engineered asset price inflation, or “healing the housing market,” as it’s called in a more politically correct manner: San Francisco Unified school district, which employs about 3,300 teachers, has been hobbled by a teacher shortage. Despite intense efforts this year – including a signing bonus – to bring in 619 new teachers to fill the gaps left behind by those who’d retired or resigned, the district is short 38 teachers as of Monday, when the school year started. Others school districts in the Bay Area have similar problems. For teachers, the math doesn’t work out. Average teacher pay for the 2014-15 school year was $65,000. And less after taxes. But the median annual rent was $42,000 for something close to a one-bedroom apartment.

After taxes and utilities, there’s hardly any money left for anything else. A teacher who has lived in the same rent-controlled apartment for umpteen years may still be OK. But teachers who need to find a place, such as new teachers or those who’ve been subject of a no-fault eviction, are having trouble finding anything they can afford in the city. So they pack up and leave in the middle of the school year, leaving classes without teachers. It has gotten so bad that the Board of Supervisors decided in April to ban no-fault evictions of teachers during the school year. Yet renting, as expensive as it is in San Francisco, is the cheaper option. Teachers trying to buy a home in San Francisco are in even more trouble at current prices. And it’s not just teachers!

This aspect of Ben Bernanke’s and now Janet Yellen’s asset price inflation – and consumer price inflation for those who have to pay for housing – is what everyone here calls “The Housing Crisis.” As if to drive home the point, so to speak, the California Association of Realtors just released its Housing Affordability Index (HAI) for the second quarter. It is based on the median house price (only houses, not condos), prevailing mortgage interest rate, household income, and a 20% down payment. In San Francisco, the median house price – half sell for more, half sell for less – is $1.37 million. According to Paragon Real Estate, if condos were included, the median price would drop to $1.2 million.

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Wonder what Trump thinks about this.

Chinese Investors Are Largest International Buyers Of US Real Estate (Forbes)

Over the past five years, Chinese buyers spent about $17 billion on U.S. commercial real estate while spending roughly $93 billion on homes in the U.S. over the same period. Last year they paid about $832,000 per U.S. home in high profile cities like New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco. The Society indicated that Chinese purchase of residential property is primarily motivated by a desire for second homes; primary residences for those moving to the U.S. on EB-5 investor visas or as rental or resale investments. Concerns about the stability of the renminbi exchange rate have accelerated the pace of Chinese commercial investment abroad since the middle of 2015.

Motivations aside, China’s interest in investing in the U.S. has legs that carry implications for our enterprises and communities alike. When coupled with the 100 million mainland Chinese travelers expected to visit the U.S. annually by 2020 it’s clear the U.S. travel and hospitality industry and business community at large need to prepare for a changing landscape. For the travel and hospitality industry, it won’t be long before we see mainland Chinese hoteliers exporting their national lodging brands to the U.S. and other countries to complement the high-profile global brands in which they’ve invested. As their countrymen increasingly travel the world, just like generations of Americans and Europeans before them, they will want to stay in hotels with which they’re familiar back home.

Soon, it will be commonplace to find hotel brands developed by hoteliers like Jinling Hotels & Resorts or Jin Jiang International Holdings sitting side by side U.S. brands like Hilton, Sheraton, Hyatt or Marriott in cities throughout the U.S. Across the country, already more than 100,000 Americans get their weekly paychecks from a company based in China. That number will grow exponentially in coming years. As mainland Chinese investors continue to buy U.S. companies and brands and establish their own enterprises here, they will be eager to become members and leaders of the local chamber of commerce, to join the neighborhood PTA, represent their companies on area social and charitable boards and so on—just as our nationals who work and live abroad do in the countries in which they reside.

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And so is the author of this piece. Stunning. The heading is mine.

Australia Central Bank Governor In Complete Bubble Denial (BI)

The surge in property prices, especially in Sydney and Melbourne has made home owners extremely wealthy but cruelled the prospect of home ownership for many who aren’t already in the market. That’s especially true for younger Australians. That is causing some intergenerational issues in housing, which is a bigger question than “is there a housing bubble or not” according to RBA governor Glenn Stevens in the full transcript of his interview with the Australian and Wall Street Journal. Stevens acknowledged “it’s always been hard to be that cohort that’s trying to enter the market. There’s always been a hurdle. It may be getting worse, though part of this is – I mean, there’s a lot of things happening here”.

One of things that’s happening, Stevens believes, is that a chunk of the wealth home owners think they are sitting on in their house will prove ephemeral. That’s because if they want their children to own a home then they are going to have to give them some of that cash to do so. Here’s Stevens: “I think that a lot of people of my generation are actually going to find themselves, if they haven’t already, helping their children into the housing market because that may be almost the only way that their children can enter the Sydney market, anyway, and be not too far from mum and dad. And I suspect that will happen a lot, and that, of course, means that for people of my age, that the wealth we think we have in our house, actually, we don’t have quite as much as we thought because we’re going to have to give some of it to the next generation.”

He acknowledged that for renters locked out of the property market this could mean the issue perpetuates into the next generation. But his point about the shared wealth of families is also an important one for the future. It suggests for many children of those with property, who feel locked out of the market, the problem of home ownership can be self-curing. That’s because, as Stevens notes, older Australians can share their wealth now. [..] With the nuclear family shrinking, and the number of children and grandchildren on average reduced from a generation or two ago, there is likely to be a large number of younger Australians coming into some serious wealth when their parents or grandparents pass on. It could take a decade or two, but ultimately younger Australians could end up the longest living and richest generation in the nation’s history.

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“..oil priced at over $75 a barrel in today’s dollars tends to crush economies, and oil priced under $75 a barrel in today’s dollars tends to crush oil companies.”

“Racketeering Is Ruining Us” (Kunstler)

The disorders in politics that we’re seeing now are really expressions of the larger disorders in our economic life and our financial life. That just happens to be the avenue that the expression is coming out of. Another point I’d like to make is that the reason that people are against Hillary or dumping on Hillary or don’t like her, is because she’s a poster child for racketeering. I encourage people who are talking about our circumstances and people who are interested in the news and election, to use the word racketeering to describe what’s going on in this country. You really need the right vocabulary to understand exactly what’s going on.

Racketeering is just pervasive in all of our activities. Not just in politics but in things even like medicine and education. Obviously the college loan scheme is an example of racketeering. Anybody who has to go to an emergency room with a child whose broken their finger or something, is going to end up with a bill for $20,000. You know why? Because of medical racketeering. And so, these are really efforts to money-grub by any means necessary, often in ways that are unethical and probably illegal. Let’s use that word racketeering to describe our national situation. And let’s remember by the way, the activities of the central banks is just another form of racketeering. Using debt issuance and attempting to control interest rates in order to conceal our inability to generate the kind of real wealth that we need to continue as a techno-industrial society.

Societies have a really hard time understanding what they’re doing, articulating the problems that they face and coming up with a coherent consensus about what’s happening, and coming up with a coherent consensus about what to do about it. Combine that with another quandary, the relationships between energy and the dead racket for concealing real capital formation. I like to reduce it to one particular formula that is pretty easy for people to understand. It’s a classic quandary: that oil priced at over $75 a barrel in today’s dollars tends to crush economies, and oil priced under $75 a barrel in today’s dollars tends to crush oil companies. There is no real sweet spot between those two places. We’re ratcheting between them and each one of them entails a lot of destruction. That’s a terrible quandary that we’re in and it’s being expressed in banking and finance…and the people in charge of those things don’t really know what else to do except continue the deformation of institutions and instruments.

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Strong.

Iceland Prepares To End Currency Controls (Tel.)

Iceland plans to significantly ease capital controls for individuals and companies, marking the end of a regime that was described as the crutch for the Icelandic economy following the 2008 crisis. The Finance Ministry plans to put forward legislation on Wednesday to pave the way for the removal of capital controls for Icelanders who have been living with the restriction for eight years. The recommendations will mean that outward foreign direct investment will be unrestricted, but still subject to confirmation by the central bank.

Investment in foreign currency financial instruments will also be allowed and individuals will be authorised to buy one piece of property abroad each calendar year, irrespective of purchase price. Requirements, under penalty of law, to repatriate any foreign currency obtained abroad will also be eased and individual households will be given authorisation to buy foreign currency for travel. Iceland’s finance ministry said that next January the current ceiling on foreign investments will be raised. It is estimated that the changes in the bill will lead to a reduction of about 50-65pc in the number of requests for exemptions from the Foreign Exchange Act, which will speed up the processing time.

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The flipside of Soros.

‘I Want You Back,’ Cries East Europe as Emigrant Tide Erodes GDP (BBG)

Eastern Europe is borrowing a line from the Jackson 5 as it bids to turn a tide of emigration that’s eroding its economic prospects and compounding an already-gloomy demographic outlook. “I want you back” is the slogan Latvia has chosen to lure home citizens who’ve upped sticks to Europe’s west in search of more job opportunities and higher salaries. Poland’s Return program offers tips on jobs, housing and health care, while Romania is teaming up with private business, offering scholarships and hosting employment fairs to tempt back talented citizens. The campaigns have gained fresh impetus after the Brexit vote threw into doubt the future status of foreign workers in the U.K.

“The diaspora living abroad represent a huge untapped potential for their countries of origin,” said Rokas Grajauskas, an economist at Danske Bank who’s based in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Stints abroad can be beneficial, instilling new skills and ways of thinking, he said. The hunt for greener pastures isn’t new. The Soviet collapse prompted an unprecedented outflow of eastern Europeans to the wealthier west, with EU membership and the 2008 financial crisis triggering further waves. The Baltic region suffered most over the past decade, the latest Eurostat data show. Making matters worse, much of the continent is grappling with low birth rates and aging populations.

Losing workers to other countries has already cost 21 central and eastern Europe nations an average of about 7 percentage points of GDP, according to the IMF, which predicts a hit of as much as 9 percentage points over the next 14 years should current trends continue. It recommends the EU maintain funding to ease migration pressures, and that countries improve labor-market conditions and engage with their diaspora abroad. As governments belatedly heed that last piece of advice, they may well recall other lines from the Jackson 5’s 1969 hit song. “I was blind to let you go,” the group sang. “I need one more chance.”

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Report due in 3 weeks.

Tsipras Revives Greek Bid To Seek Wartime Reparations From Berlin (Kath.)

Greece’s leftwing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday revived the country’s bid to seek war reparations over Nazi atrocities in Greece. “We will go all the way, first diplomatically and then legally, if necessary,” Tsipras said during events marking the World War II massacre in the village of Kommeno, in Arta, northwestern Greece. More than 300 people were executed on August 16, 1943 at the village which was then torched by German forces. The findings of an intra-party committee which was set up to look into Greek claims for German war reparations are expected to be submitted to Parliament in early September. The committee wrapped up its probe on July 27.

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I bet you there are coup plotters among those 38,000.

Turkey To Free 38,000 From Prisons To Make Space For Alleged Coup Plotters (AP)

Turkey has issued a decree paving the way for the conditional release of 38,000 prisoners in an apparent move to make jail space for thousands of people who have been arrested after last month’s failed coup. The decree allows the release of inmates who have two years or less to serve of their prison terms and makes convicts who have served half of their term eligible for parole. Some prisoners are excluded: people convicted of murder, domestic violence, sexual abuse or terrorism and other crimes against the state. The measures would not apply for crimes committed after 1 July.

The justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, said the move would lead to the release of 38,000 people, adding it was not a pardon or an amnesty but a conditional release of prisoners. The government says the coup attempt on 15 July, which led to at least 270 deaths, was carried out by followers of the movement led by the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen who have infiltrated the military and other state institutions. Gülen has denied any prior knowledge or involvement in the coup but Turkey is demanding that the US extradite him.

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Greece lives in fear. Because Merkel can’t give Turkey visa-free travel amid reports like this.

German Officials Say Erdogan Supports Militants (DW)

Citing a classified document from the Interior Ministry to representatives of the Left party on Tuesday the German public broadcaster ARD reported, that members of the government consider Turkey’s regime a supporter of militant groups in the Middle East. German officials appear to have publicly acknowledged, if in a classified document, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s weapons support for militants fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which Turkish journalists have reported in the past. “Especially since the year 2011 as a result of its incrementally Islamized internal and foreign policy, Turkey has become a central platform for action for Islamist groups in the Middle East,” the German officials said, according to ARD.

German security officials also said Erdogan had an “ideological affinity” with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, ARD reported. Suppressed under Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship, the movement went on to produce Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi. Despite the “affinity,” Erdogan has been publicly at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood in the past though he has since also criticized current Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who overthrew Morsi in a 2013 coup. Neither the United States nor the EU considers the Muslim Brotherhood a terror organization. The German officials also said Erdogan supported Hamas, the democratically elected governing party in the Gaza Strip.

Turkey’s president has said as much in the past, having told the US news host Charlie Rose, that “I don’t see Hamas as a terror organization.” Though the United States and EU do list Hamas as a prohibited group, nations such as Norway, Switzerland and Brazil do not. “It is a resistance movement trying to protect its country under occupation,” Erdogan added in the 2011 interview, referring to the Israeli state, with which Turkey also enjoys diplomatic ties.

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Aug 162016
 
 August 16, 2016  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Army surplus 1919

Mining Giant BHP Slumps To Record Loss (BBC)
Chinese Traders Are Falling Out Of Love With Commodities (BBG)
China’s Fading Animal Spirits (BBG)
Germany Amassing Huge Surpluses – And Huge Risks (MW)
Bundesbank Floats Higher Retirement Age -69- in German Pension Debate (BBG)
Top UK Firms Paid Five Times More In Dividends Than Into Pensions (G.)
Pension Funds Are Driving The Biggest Bond Bubble In History (ZH)
Hedge Funds Bet Dollar Will Lose More Ground Versus Yen (BBG)
Krugman’s Arrow Theory Misses Target by Light Years (Mish)
A Government of Scoundrels, Spies, Thieves, And Killers (JW)
Jimmy Carter: The US Is an ‘Oligarchy With Unlimited Political Bribery’ (IC)
Burning Down the House (Jim Kunstler)
Sleeping Bear Of Debt Set To Wake (Herald Sun)
One-Third Of New Zealand Children Live Below The Poverty Line (G.)

 

 

No matter what anybody does, the overbuilding, overcapacity and overconsumption in China can no longer be extended. Infrastructure investment in other countries won’t be enough to pick up the slack.

Mining Giant BHP Slumps To Record Loss (BBC)

Mining giant BHP Billiton has reported a record loss for the past year following a mining disaster in Brazil and a slump in commodity prices. The Anglo-Australian commodities firm reported an annual net loss of $6.4bn (£5bn) for the year to 30 June. The global mining sector has seen years of weak demand attributed largely to slowing growth in China. BHP results were also hit by costs after the Samarco mining disaster in Brazil, which killed 19 people. The record losses come after the company had reported a $1.9bn net profit. “While commodity prices are expected to remain low and volatile in the short to medium term, we are confident in the long-term outlook for our commodities, particularly oil and copper,” chief executive Andrew Mackenzie said in a statement.

Underlying earnings for the past year, which strip out one-off costs, came in at $1.22bn. The financial fallout from the Samarco mining tragedy is still not clear though warns James Butterfill, head of research & investment strategy at ETF Securities. “There’s a huge uncertainty overhang,” he told the BBC. “The report hasn’t been published with regard to the Samarco dam collapse and there’s currently a $48bn lawsuit. It’s unrealistic to be that amount, but this is really BHP’s Macondo well incident theoretically that BP endured.”

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As consumption and investment falls, so will prices. Commodity producers worldwide are sitting on huge overcapacity. They must shrink their operations, but the first reaction is always to produce more to make up for falling revenue.

Chinese Traders Are Falling Out Of Love With Commodities (BBG)

Chinese traders are falling out of love with commodities. Aggregate volumes across the nation’s three biggest exchanges have shrunk to the lowest level in six months, a shadow of the fevered trading in March and April when retail investors charged into markets for everything from iron ore to cotton, driving up prices and stoking fears of a bubble. Chinese authorities brought an end to the frenzy by introducing curbs on excessive speculation and trading has failed to recover since. Flush with record credit and hunting for returns, investors piled into commodities in the first half of the year, spurred by bets that China’s economic stimulus and industrial reforms would lead to shortages of raw materials. Now, there’s just not much for traders to get excited about, according to Wei Lai, an analyst with Cofco Futures.

Industrial production and fixed-asset investment slowed in July and a measure of new credit expanded the least in two years, spurring concern over growth in the world’s second-largest economy. “Investors are reluctant as there isn’t much information to play around with in the market,”’ Shanghai-based Wei said in an e-mail. High prices for some commodities may also be deterring traders, Wei said. Combined aggregate volume across the Shanghai Futures Exchange, Dalian Commodity Exchange and Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange slid to 23 million contracts as of Aug. 12, the lowest since February and compared with a peak of more than 80 million on April 22 when a total of $261 billion changed hands. Chinese exchanges double count trading volume and turnover.

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China will become known for the biggest misallocation of investment in history.

China’s Fading Animal Spirits (BBG)

The July wobble in China’s economy – like its multi-year slowdown – has much to do with the waning “animal spirits” of Chinese businesses caused by an historic shift in housing. That’s according to Chi Lo, greater China senior economist at BNP Paribas Investment Partners in Hong Kong. A property-led pick up in the first half lost momentum in July, suggesting the market is struggling to digest an overhang in supply of apartments. “In the past, the economic players expanded supply first and created jobs so as to create demand, but that is gone now,” Lo said in a telephone interview after Friday’s disappointing data. “It has to clean out the excess capacity, which means the supply-expansion model has to change.”

Another way of putting it: China’s build-it-and-they-will-come strategy needs to shift to one where demand, not supply, is in the drivers’ seat. It’s a change companies are struggling to come to terms with, leaving private investment in the doldrums. “Little attention has been paid to the underlying structural factor that is hurting private investment incentive,” Lo wrote in a research note ahead of the data last week. “This is the weakening of the final demand for output produced by the investment or capital-intensive sector in China. The key to understand this puzzle is China’s housing market.” That’s because it accounts for about half of all investment in China once spillovers into industries like metals and machinery are thrown in.

With such pervasive impact on everything from cement to cars, China’s property market was dubbed the most important sector in the universe back in 2011 by a UBS economist. BNP’s Lo says it’s unlikely to ever recapture the glory days of old. “China’s housing demand has likely passed its high-growth phase, with housing construction growth expected to go into a secular decline soon,” according to Lo. “This means that the capital-intensive sector, which has focused on producing all this housing units through the decades, is facing a structural decline in demand for its output.”

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One might be forgiven for thinking Berlin is blowing up the eurozone on purpose. What is needed are transfer payments to southern Europe, but there is too much resistance to those.

Germany Amassing Huge Surpluses – And Huge Risks (MW)

As one of the world’s largest exporters, Germany saw an important part of the political and economic rationale of entering European economic and monetary union in 1999 as lowering risks on its international commercial interactions. Nearly two decades later, Germany, more than ever, is an export champion. It is likely to register the world’s largest trade surplus this year, according to the OECD, at $324 billion (against China’s $314 billion), and will amass a record current-account surplus of 9.2% of gross domestic product. Yet, as a result of the large imbalances within EMU that these surpluses symbolize, Germany is a long way from insulating itself against foreign-currency risks.

The Bundesbank provides the strongest indicator of this change. The quintessentially hard-money central bank provided a role model for the ECB at the heart of the euro bloc. Yet the Bundesbank now confronts on its balance sheet a range of potential hazards that the euro’s founding fathers in the 1980s and 1990s would have regarded as inimical to economic stability and, for that reason, impossible to countenance. The Bundesbank’s balance sheet rose to €1.2 trillion in July from €222 billion when monetary union started in January 1999. Underlining the Bundesbank’s pivotal role in eurozone monetary operations, the German central bank’s balance sheet has expanded faster than that of the Eurosystem (the ECB and the constituent national central banks) as a whole.

The Bundesbank’s balance sheet now encompasses around 37% of Eurosystem assets of €3.3 trillion (computed on a net basis that strips out individual central banks’ claims and liabilities against each other under the Target-2 payments system), against 32% at the inception of EMU. The acceleration stands in marked contrast to the central bank’s stated desire, when monetary union started, to slim down its balance sheet and especially to economize on foreign-exchange reserves, held mostly in dollars. These have traditionally (together with gold) made up the lion’s share of the Bundesbank’s foreign assets, but have been cut from €45 billion to €50 billion when the euro was launched to only €30 billion to €35 billion in recent years.

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You’re not going to solve the problems by tweaking the age; that merely shifts the issue into the future. Can, road.

Bundesbank Floats Higher Retirement Age -69- in German Pension Debate (BBG)

Germany’s Bundesbank said raising the legal retirement age to 69 by 2060 could ease some of the pressure on the country’s state pension system as the population ages. Recent reforms won’t protect citizens from a drop in the level of pension payments from 2050, the central bank said in its monthly report published on Monday. Citizens who don’t opt for state-supported private insurance may face shortfalls a lot sooner. Low average interest rates could further reduce available provisions. While higher premiums could theoretically keep payouts stable, they would “raise the strain on those paying the contributions, and an increasing, high burden of payments overall has negative consequences on economic development,” the Bundesbank wrote. To avoid that, “the legal retirement age ultimately needs to be adjusted.”

The Bundesbank said the government’s current plans that include raising the retirement age to 67 by 2030 and increasing contributions don’t account for the fact that the ratio of retirees to contributors is set to widen further. Increasing life expectancy means retirees will draw from pension funds for a longer period of time, and a generation of baby boomers that retires post-2030 means there will be more pensioners to take care of per working adult, while birth rates remain low, according to the report. “Amid demographic change, the parameters of a contribution-based pension system can’t all be kept stable,” the Bundesbank said. “Confidence in pension insurance could be strengthened and uncertainty about financial stability at old age could be decreased if it were made clear how the parameters of retirement age, provision levels, and contribution rates can be adjusted in the long term.”

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Short termism perfected.

Top UK Firms Paid Five Times More In Dividends Than Into Pensions (G.)

Britain’s biggest companies paid five times more in dividends than they did pension contributions last year, according to a new report that highlights the pressure on retirement schemes. FTSE 100 companies paid £13.3bn towards their defined benefit pension schemes, compared with £71.8bn in payments to shareholders, according to the consultancy firm LCP’s annual study of pensions. The report has been published after Sir Philip Green was heavily criticised by a parliamentary investigation into the collapse of BHS for leaving the retailer with a £571m pension deficit, despite his family and other investors banking more than £400m in dividends. BHS’s 164 stores are all scheduled to close by 28 August, a week later than administrators planned last month as the retailer continues to sell its remaining stock.

Green remains locked in talks with the Pensions Regulator about a rescue deal for the BHS pension scheme. He has pledged to sort out the problems facing it, but the regulator has launched an investigation into whether the billionaire tycoon should be forced to make a financial contribution to fill the black hole. Other companies with large pension deficits could face action from the regulator if they are paying dividends, LCP says in its report. The 56 FTSE 100 companies that disclosed a pension deficit at the end of their 2015 financial year had a combined deficit of £42.3bn, but the same companies paid out dividends worth £53bn, 25% more than their pension contributions.

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“..a $1BN pension that is fully funded at prevailing interest rates would be nearly $700mm underfunded if interest rates declined 300bps and all of their assets were invested in 30-year treasury bonds.”

Pension Funds Are Driving The Biggest Bond Bubble In History (ZH)

We’ve frequently discussed the many problems faced by pension funds. Public and private pension funds around the globe are massively underfunded yet they continue to pay out current claims in full despite insufficient funding to cover future liabilities…also referred to as a ponzi scheme. In fact, we recently noted that the Central States Pension Fund pays out $3.46 in pension funds for every $1 it receives from employers. The pension problem is often attributed to low returns on assets. As Bill Gross frequently points out, low interest rates are the enemy of savers and pension funds have some of the biggest savings accounts around. That said, the impact of declining interest rates on the asset side of a pension’s net funded status is dwarfed by the much more devastating impact of declining discount rates used to value future benefit obligations.

The problem is one of duration. By definition, pension liabilities represent the present value of future benefit payments owed to retirees which is a virtually perpetual cash flow stream. Obviously, the longer the duration of a cash flow stream the larger the impact of interest rate swings on the present value of that stream. We created the chart below as a simplistic illustration of the pension “duration dilemma.” The chart graphs how a pension liability grows in a declining interest rate environment versus the value of 5-year and 30-year treasury bonds. As you can see, a $1BN pension that is fully funded at prevailing interest rates would be nearly $700mm underfunded if interest rates declined 300bps and all of their assets were invested in 30-year treasury bonds. The result is obviously even worse if the fund’s assets are invested in shorter duration 5-year treasuries.

Pension Duration

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How Abenomics gets strangled.

Hedge Funds Bet Dollar Will Lose More Ground Versus Yen (BBG)

Hedge funds and other large speculators increased net bets the dollar will weaken against the yen to the highest level in a month, according to Commodity Futures Trading Commission data as of Aug. 9. Traders will focus on the meetings of the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan next month for direction, after disappointing stimulus announced last month by the BOJ failed to halt yen strength.

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“Krugman would do himself a favor if he threw away what he thinks he knows about economics and went back for a nice 5th grade education.”

But the saddest part of course is that belugas are kept in an aquarium and learn tricks to amuse Japanese. Who are we?

Krugman’s Arrow Theory Misses Target by Light Years (Mish)

With full employment, roads paved and repaved to nowhere, and bubble blowing beluga whales, just what the hell is Japan supposed to waste money on? Curiously, Krugman says it doesn’t matter. He once proposed a fake aliens from outer space scare as the solution to stimulate the economy. But roads and bridges and bubble blowing blowing beluga whales are surely better than fabricating space aliens or paying people to dig ditches and others to fill them up again. The problem is, it’s hard arguing with economic illiterates like Krugman. He can (and will) say “spending wasn’t enough”.

One can never prove him wrong. The implosion of Japan would not do it. His built-in excuse would be Japan did too little, too late. Just once I would like Krugman to address in his model what happens when the stimulus stops. He cannot and he won’t because he has no answer. The average 5th grader understands it’s absurd to pay money for something guaranteed to be useless, but the average Keynesian economist doesn’t. Krugman would do himself a favor if he threw away what he thinks he knows about economics and went back for a nice 5th grade education.

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John Whitehead does not mince words.

A Government of Scoundrels, Spies, Thieves, And Killers (JW)

“There is nothing more dangerous than a government of the many controlled by the few.”—Lawrence Lessig, Harvard law professor

The U.S. government remains the greatest threat to our freedoms. The systemic violence being perpetrated by agents of the government has done more collective harm to the American people and our liberties than any single act of terror. More than terrorism, more than domestic extremism, more than gun violence and organized crime, the U.S. government has become a greater menace to the life, liberty and property of its citizens than any of the so-called dangers from which the government claims to protect us. This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.

As I explain in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, when the government views itself as superior to the citizenry, when it no longer operates for the benefit of the people, when the people are no longer able to peacefully reform their government, when government officials cease to act like public servants, when elected officials no longer represent the will of the people, when the government routinely violates the rights of the people and perpetrates more violence against the citizenry than the criminal class, when government spending is unaccountable and unaccounted for, when the judiciary act as courts of order rather than justice, and when the government is no longer bound by the laws of the Constitution, then you no longer have a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

What we have is a government of wolves. Worse than that, we are now being ruled by a government of scoundrels, spies, thugs, thieves, gangsters, ruffians, rapists, extortionists, bounty hunters, battle-ready warriors and cold-blooded killers who communicate using a language of force and oppression. Does the government pose a danger to you and your loved ones? The facts speak for themselves. We’re being held at gunpoint by a government of soldiers—a standing army. While Americans are being made to jump through an increasing number of hoops in order to exercise their Second Amendment right to own a gun, the government is arming its own civilian employees to the hilt with guns, ammunition and military-style equipment, authorizing them to make arrests, and training them in military tactics.

Among the agencies being supplied with night-vision equipment, body armor, hollow-point bullets, shotguns, drones, assault rifles and LP gas cannons are the Smithsonian, U.S. Mint, Health and Human Services, IRS, FDA, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Education Department, Energy Department, Bureau of Engraving and Printing and an assortment of public universities. There are now reportedly more bureaucratic (non-military) government civilians armed with high-tech, deadly weapons than U.S. Marines. That doesn’t even begin to touch on the government’s arsenal, the transformation of local police into extensions of the military, and the speed with which the nation could be locked down under martial law depending on the circumstances. Clearly, the government is preparing for war—and a civil war, at that—but who is the enemy?

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2 weeks old, but highly relevant.

Jimmy Carter: The US Is an ‘Oligarchy With Unlimited Political Bribery’ (IC)

Former president Jimmy Carter said on the nationally syndicated radio show the Thom Hartmann Program that the United States is now an “oligarchy” in which “unlimited political bribery” has created “a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors.” Both Democrats and Republicans, Carter said, “look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves.” Carter was responding to a question from Hartmann about recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign financing like Citizens United. Transcript: HARTMANN: Our Supreme Court has now said, “unlimited money in politics.” It seems like a violation of principles of democracy. … Your thoughts on that?

CARTER: It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over. … The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody’s who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who’s just a challenger.

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“..generate Money-Out-Of-Thin-Air (QE) for the purpose of allowing “liquidity” flows to end up in US equity and bond markets in order to paint a false picture of “recovery” so as to insure the election of Hillary Clinton.”

Burning Down the House (Jim Kunstler)

There’s a new feature to the Anything-Goes-and-Nothing-Matters economy: Nothing-Adds-Up. The magicians who pretend to measure the growth of GDP (Gross Domestic Product — the monetary value of all the finished goods and services) came up with a second quarter “adjusted” figure of 1.2 percent. That would have to be construed by anyone acquainted with basic econ stats as perfectly dismal. And yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics put out a sparkly Nonfarm Payroll Report of 255,000 for July, way above the forecast 180,000. There were so many ways to game the jobs number — between people forced to work more than one shit job and the notorious “birth/death model” used to just make up any old number for political purposes — that no one can take this information seriously.

Anyway, the GDP number was instantly forgotten and the jobs number launched the stock markets to previously uncharted record altitude. It’s that time of the year for the hedge fund boys, with their testosterone flowing, to start burning down their house rentals in the Hamptons. And it’s also the time of year for an ever more stressed financial system to go down in flames. And, of course, it’s a presidential election season. Even for one allergic to conspiracy theories, it’s not farfetched to imagine a coordinated effort by central banks — under government direction — to generate Money-Out-Of-Thin-Air (QE) for the purpose of allowing “liquidity” flows to end up in US equity and bond markets in order to paint a false picture of “recovery” so as to insure the election of Hillary Clinton.

I think that is exactly behind the recent money-printing activities by the Japanese and European Central Banks, and the Bank of England. Why would it end up in US markets? For bonds, because the Euro and Japanese bond sovereign yields are in sub-zero territory and the BOE just cut its prime rate lower than the US Federal Reserve’s prime rate; and for stocks, because the value of the other three currencies is sliding down and the dollar has been rising — so, dump your falling currency for the rising dollar and jam it into rising US stocks. It’ll work until it doesn’t.

Why do this for Hillary? Because she represents the continuity of all the current rackets being used to prop up belief in the foundering business model of western civilization. If she doesn’t get into the White House there may be no backstopping of the insolvent banks and bankrupt governments and a TILT message will appear in the sky.

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Australia is a private debt disaster. Public debt is much less important.

Sleeping Bear Of Debt Set To Wake (Herald Sun)

The great sleeping bear of Australia’s economic future – of your economic future – is the current account deficit and our foreign debt. They have completely disappeared from the front page – indeed, even from the business pages. Nobody seems to mention them. But they most certainly haven’t disappeared in reality. And in reality, they’ve never been bigger. The deficit, the CAD, in the latest March quarter was more than $20 billion. It will top $80 billion for the full 2015-16 year. The net foreign debt sits at a tad more than $1 trillion. To give you a sense of the scale, that’s more than half the size of the Australian economy; more than double the total of all federal tax revenues in a year.

The CAD is the difference between what we earn from exports and from our international investments each year and what we pay for imports and to foreign investors in Australia. That last bit includes the interest we pay on our existing foreign debt. And the deficit each year is mostly covered by borrowing more from foreigners. In recent years, the biggest borrowers have been our banks. So we have this merry-go-round. The bigger the foreign debt, the bigger the deficit tends to be because of the interest paid on the debt. Then, the bigger the deficit, the bigger the foreign debt gets. Sound familiar? Because it’s exactly the same as the merry-go-round with the Budget deficit and the national debt. The deficit increases the national debt; and the interest on the debt increases the next year’s deficit; and that deficit further increases the debt.

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“..as a society, are we really prepared to let our children grow up this way?”

One-Third Of New Zealand Children Live Below The Poverty Line (G.)

One-third of New Zealand children, or 300,000, now live below the poverty line – 45,000 more than a year ago. Unicef’s definition of child poverty in New Zealand is children living in households who earn less than 60% of the median national income – NZ$28,000 a year, or NZ$550 a week. The fact that twice as many children now live below the poverty line than did in 1984 has become New Zealand’s most shameful statistic. “We have normalised child poverty as a society – that a certain level of need in a certain part of the population is somehow OK,” said Vivien Maidaborn, executive director of Unicef New Zealand. “The empathy Kiwis are famous for has hardened. Over the last 20 years we have increasingly blamed the people needing help for the problem.

“If you can’t afford your children to have breakfast, you’re a bad budgeter. If you aren’t working you’re lazy. But our subconscious beliefs about some people ‘deserving’ poverty because of poor life choices no longer apply in today’s environment. We have to ask ourselves as a society, are we really prepared to let our children grow up this way?” For a third of New Zealand children the Kiwi dream of home ownership, stable employment and education is just that – a dream. For poor children in the developed South Pacific nation of 4.5 million illnesses associated with chronic poverty are common, including third world rates of rheumatic fever (virtually unknown by doctors in comparable countries like Canada and the UK), and respiratory illnesses.

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Jul 022016
 
 July 2, 2016  Posted by at 4:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano “Lower Manhattan seen from the S.S. Coamo leaving New York.” 1941

Brexit is nowhere near the biggest challenge to western economies. And not just because it has devolved into a two-bit theater piece. Though we should not forget the value of that development: it lays bare the real Albion and the power hunger of its supposed leaders. From xenophobia and racism on the streets, to back-stabbing in dimly lit smoky backrooms, there’s not a states(wo)man in sight, and none will be forthcoming. Only sell-outs need apply.

The only person with an ounce of integrity left is Jeremy Corbyn, but his Labour party is dead, which is why he must fight off an entire horde of zombies. Unless Corbyn leaves labour and starts Podemos UK, he’s gone too. The current infighting on both the left and right means there is a unique window for something new, but Brits love what they think are their traditions, plus Corbyn has been Labour all his life, and he just won’t see it.

The main threat inside the EU isn’t Brexit either. It’s Italy. Whose banks sit on over 30% of all eurozone non-performing loans, while its GDP is about 10% of EU GDP. How they would defend it I don’t know, they’re probably counting on not having to, but Juncker and Tusk’s European Commission has apparently approved a scheme worth €150 billion that will allow these banks to issue quasi-sovereign bonds when they come under attack. An attack that is now even more guaranteed to occcur than before.

 

Still, none of Europe’s internal affairs have anything on what’s coming in from the east. Reading between the lines of Japan’s Tankan survey numbers there is only one possible conclusion: the ongoing and ever more costly utter failure of Abenomics continues unabated.

It’s developing in pretty much the exact way I said it would when Shinzo Abe first announced the policies in late 2012. Not that it was such a brilliant insight, all you had to know is that Abe and his central bank head Kuroda don’t understand what their mastodont problem, deflation, actually is, and that means they are powerless to solve it.

That Abe said somewhere along the way that all that was needed was his people’s confidence to make Abenomics work, says more than enough. The multiple flip-flops over a sales-tax increase say the rest. People don’t become more confident just because someone tells them to; that has the opposite effect. Deflation results from reduced spending, which in turn comes from not only decreasing confidence as well as a decrease in money people have available to spend.

That modern economics sees everything not spent as ‘savings’ adds significantly to the failure -on the part of Abe, Kuroda and just about everyone else- to understand what happened in Japan over the past 2-3 decades. To repeat once again, inflation/deflation is the velocity of money multiplied by money- and credit supply. The latter factor has in general gone through the roof, but that means zilch if the former -velocity- tanks.

That this velocity is -still- tanking, in Japan as well as in the western world, is due to, more than anything else, an unparalleled surge in debt. At some point, that will catch up with any economy and society. Even if they are growing, which our economies are not. Growth has been replaced with credit, and credit is debt. It’s safe to say that money velocity cannot possibly ‘recover’ until large swaths of debt have been cancelled, one way or another.

For Japan we saw this week that “..household spending fell for the third straight month in May and core consumer prices suffered their biggest annual drop since 2013..” (Reuters) while “..The Topix index dropped about 9% in June, plunging on June 24 with the Brexit vote, the most since the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. The yen strengthened about 8% against the dollar in June.. (Bloomberg).

Japan has an upper-house election in a little over a week, and it seems like Abe can still feel comfortable about his position. A remarkable thing. The country needs to stop digging, it’s in a more than 400% debt-to-GDP hole, but Abe won’t listen. The rising yen is suffocating what is left of the economy, as are the negative interest rates, but all the talk is about ‘further easing’.

 

Still, Japan is outta here, and this has been obvious for a long time to the more observant observer. In the case of China, it is a more recent phenomenon, and it will even be disputed for a while to come. It’s also one that will have a much more devastating effect on the west. We’ve seen problems in various markets in Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong, but the real issues on the mainland are still to be sprung on us.

Mainland stock exchanges are as good a place as any to begin with. The combined tally for Shanghai and Shenzhen looks like this -data till June 23-; yes, that’s a loss of over 40% in the past year.

Beijing has been trying very hard to paper over these numbers, even quit supporting it all for a while through 2014, only to do a 180º when they didn’t like what they saw (foreign reserves drawdown), and now PBoC injections have gone bonkers: $316 billion in one month would mean $4 trillion on a yearly basis in what is really nothing but monopoly money.

Meanwhile, corporate bonds are, perhaps partly because of volatility, becoming an endangered species. Maybe the PBoC can do something there as well, the way Draghi does in Europe (must be high on the agenda), but there’s already so much bad debt we hardly dare watch.

China must and will try to keep boosting exports by devaluing the yuan. It’s just waiting for an opportunity to do it without being accused of currency manipulation. Perhaps it can create that opportunity?! Create a crisis and then use it?! Regardless, this Reuters headline yesterday sounded very tongue in cheek:

China To ‘Tolerate’ Weaker Yuan

China’s central bank would tolerate a fall in the yuan to as low as 6.8 per dollar in 2016 to support the economy, which would mean the currency matching last year’s record decline of 4.5%, policy sources said. The yuan is already trading at its lowest level in more than five years, so the central bank would ensure any decline is gradual for fear of triggering capital outflows and criticism from trading partners such as the United States, said government economists and advisers involved in regular policy discussions. Presumptive U.S. Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump already has China in his sights, saying on Wednesday he would label China a currency manipulator if elected in November.

Note: remember Japan above? The yen rose 8% against the USD just in June, as the yuan fell by just 4.5% in all of 2015 (6.8% over the past 2 years). Now you go figure what’s happening to Japan-China trade. And the yuan is still hugely overvalued. But the desire to be part of the IMF basket of currencies comes with obligations. Trump doesn’t help either.

I said in the beginning of this year that a 30% devaluation was something of a minimum, and that certainly continues to stand. So yeah, creating a crisis may be the only way out. An accident in the South China Sea perhaps. Combined with a ‘tolerance’ for a 50% weaker yuan….

All of the above leads us to the title of this essay: deflation is coming in from the east. China’s economy’s already in deflation, even though it will take some time yet to be acknowledged. A very ‘nice’ report from Crescat Capital provides a bunch of clues.

China QE Dwarfs Japan and EU

In July of 2014, we wrote about the huge imbalance with respect to China’s M2 money supply and nominal GDP relative to the US. At the time, China’s M2 money supply was 71% higher than the US but its economy was 56% smaller, which we said was an indication of the overvaluation of the Chinese currency. Since that time, the yuan has fallen by only 6.8% relative to the dollar. We haven’t seen anything yet.

Today, the circumstances have significantly worsened. Money supply has continued to grow faster than GDP. With over $30 trillion of assets in its banking system and an underappreciated non-performing loan problem, we are convinced that China is headed for a twin banking and currency crisis. Money velocity has reached historically low levels which reflects China’s extreme credit imbalance and its crimping impact on its ability to generate future real GDP growth.

Just as worrying as the immense amount of credit built up, China has been reporting major downward revisions in its balance of payments (BoP) accounts. For more than a decade, China had been reporting an impossible twin surplus in its BoP accounts. When we wrote about this issue in 2014, we emphasized the likelihood of massive illicit capital outflows that not been accounted for. At that time, according to the State Administration of Foreign Exchange of China (SAFE), China had accumulated a BoP imbalance that was close to $9.4 trillion surplus since 2000 which we believed represented capital outflows that should have been recorded in the capital account.

The same accumulated BoP number today, revised by SAFE several times since, is now a deficit of about $2.8 trillion. Essentially, with its revisions, the SAFE has acknowledged even more capital outflows over the last 16 years than we had initially identified. On the capital account side, there was a downward revision of $10.1 trillion – from a $4.2 trillion surplus to a $5.9 trillion deficit. On the current account side, the revisions show that Chinese exports have not been as strong as initially reported over the last decade and a half. China’s current account surplus has been reduced by $2.1 trillion– going from $5.1 trillion to $2.9 trillion over the last 16 years. What we initially considered to be a $9.4 trillion imbalance has been more than proven by a $12.2 trillion revision.

Those are some pretty damning numbers, if you sit on them for a bit. There was another graph that came with that report that takes us head first into deflationary territory. China’s velocity of money:

That is utterly devastating. It’s what we see in the US, EU and Japan too, but ‘we’ have thus far been able to export our deflation -to an extent- to … China. No more. China has started exporting its own deflation to the west. Beijing MUST devalue its currency anywhere in the range of 30-50% or its export sector will collapse. It is not difficult.

That it will have to achieve this despite the objections of Donald Trump and the IMF is just a minor pain; Xi Jinping has more pressing matters on his mind. Like pitchforks.

The ‘normal’ response in economics would be: in order to fight deflation, increase consumer spending (aka raise money velocity)! But as we’ve seen with Japan, that’s much easier said than done. Because there are reasons people are not spending. And the only way to overcome that is to guarantee them a good income for a solid time into the future, in an economy that induces confidence.

That is not happening in Japan, or the US or EU, and it’s now gone in China too. Beijing has another additional issue that (formerly) rich countries don’t have. This is from a recent Marketwatch article on Andy Xie:

China Is Headed For A 1929-Style Depression

[..] Xie said China’s trajectory instead resembles the one that led to the Great Depression, when the expansion of credit, loose monetary policy and a widespread belief that asset prices would never fall contributed to rampant speculation that ended with a crippling market crash. China in 2016 looks much the same, according to Xie, with half of the country’s debt propping up real-estate prices and heavy leverage in the stock market – indicating that conditions are ripe for a correction. “The government is allowing speculation by providing cheap financing .. China “is riding a tiger and is terrified of a crash. So it keeps pumping cash into the economy. It is difficult to see how China can avoid a crisis.”

And then check this out:

China’s GDP grew 6.9% in 2015, its slowest pace in a quarter-century. For 2016, Beijing has set a GDP target of 6.5% to 7%; The latest spate of global uncertainties prompted Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank to trim their forecasts to 6.4% and 6.6%, respectively. The export sector, long a driver of Chinese growth, is sputtering due to global saturation and household consumption is barely 30% of China’s GDP, Xie said. In the U.S., household consumption accounted for more than 68% of GDP in 2014, according to the World Bank.

Yeah, China is supposed to be going from an export driven- to a consumer driven economy. Problem with that seems to be that those consumers would need money to spend, and to earn that money they would need to work in export industries (since there is not nearly enough domestic demand). Bit of a Catch 22. And definitely not one you would want to find yourself in when the global economy is tanking.

The more monopoly money Beijing prints, the more pressure there will be on the yuan. And if they themselves don’t devalue the yuan, the markets will do it for them.

Kyle Bass says China’s $3 trillion corporate bond market is “freezing up” (see the third graph above), which threatens to undermine the $3.5 trillion market for the wealth management products Chinese mom and pops invest in. He expects a whopping $3 trillion in bank losses, an amount equal to the entire corporate bond market (!) “to trigger a bailout, with the central bank slashing reserve requirements, cutting the deposit rate to zero and expanding its balance sheet – all of which will weigh on the yuan.”

With the yuan down by as much as it would seem to be on course for, wages and prices in the west will plummet. This wave of deflation is set to hit western economies already in deflation and already drowning in private debt, and therefore equipped with severely weakened defenses.

Leonard Cohen once wrote a song called “Democracy Is Coming To The USA”. Maybe someone can do a version that says deflation is coming too. Not sure that’s good for democracy, though.

Have a great Holiday Weekend.

Jun 132016
 
 June 13, 2016  Posted by at 8:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


G. G. Bain Police machine gun, New York 1918

Surging Yen Sends Nikkei Down 3.1% Amid Pan-Asia Sell-Off (CNBC)
Trading Floors Go Quiet Across Asia as Equity Desks Face the Ax (BBG)
Growing Corporate Debt a ‘Key Fault Line’ In China’s Economy: IMF (R.)
Chinese State-Owned Companies Face Greater Scrutiny Of EU Deals (R.)
Bank of America Shares Flash Bearish Signals Galore (MW)
About That US Economic Rebound… (ZH)
David Stockman’s View of Trump vs. Clinton (BBG)
US Student Loans Numbers Are Simply Mad (Gurdgiev)
The US Has Already Reinstated Debtors’ Prisons (NY Times)
Why I Am Voting To Leave The EU (AEP)
EU Chief Says Getting Closer To Granting Turks Visa-Free Travel (R.)
Negative Rates Drive Major Changes At European Pension Funds (II)
Frustrations of Telling the Truth (Paul Craig Roberts)
Over 2,500 Migrants Rescued Off Italy Over Weekend (AFP)

The surging yen is fixing to kill Abe(nomics).

Surging Yen Sends Nikkei Down 3.1% Amid Pan-Asia Sell-Off (CNBC)

Asian markets were sharply lower Monday, ahead of central bank meetings in the U.S. and Japan this week and amid jitters over the upcoming referendum on whether the U.K. would remain in the EU. Japan’s Nikkei 225 tumbled 3.09%, as fresh strength in the yen pressured stocks, with major exporters selling off. Shares of Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Sony traded down between 3.18 and 3.89%. The yen strengthened against the greenback ahead of the Bank of Japan’s two-day policy meeting starting June 15. Additionally, the yen is considered a safe-haven currency and increased concerns over the risk of a Brexit may be driving funds into the currency.

The currency pair traded at 105.98 as of 12:44 p.m. HK/SIN, compared with levels around 106.80 on Friday afternoon local time. “The BOJ … will likely delay a rate cut in the meeting, favoring a coordinated event when the government releases its fiscal stimulus package in Autumn,” said Stephen Innes, a senior foreign exchange trader at OANDA Asia Pacific. “This delay will likely appreciate the yen over the short term if the BOJ remains sidelined.”

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“Revenue from trading stocks in China and Hong Kong could fall 30% to 50% in the first half from a year earlier..”

Trading Floors Go Quiet Across Asia as Equity Desks Face the Ax (BBG)

Even by the boom-bust standards of Asia’s equity business, it’s been a turbulent 12 months. At this time last year, the industry was riding high as China’s stock market soared, volumes jumped to records and some of the biggest names in finance boosted hiring. Now, turnover is shrinking at the fastest pace since at least 2006 and banks are under growing pressure to either downsize their Asian equity desks, or exit parts of the business altogether. Investors and issuers are retrenching after Chinese shares crashed, the Federal Reserve tightened monetary policy and divisive political debates from the U.S. to Britain weighed on sentiment. Revenue from trading stocks in China and Hong Kong could fall 30% to 50% in the first half from a year earlier, according to senior executives at four firms.

Equity derivatives sales in Asia are on track to drop at least 50%, while prime brokerage is down roughly 20%, two of the executives said. “Because overall revenue is down, further cuts are likely across the industry,” said Taichi Takahashi at UBS in Hong Kong. “Some second-tier players will throw in the towel because their market share is shrinking.” Revenue for the industry in Asia slumped 32% to $2.6 billion in the first quarter from a year earlier, compared with a 20% drop worldwide, according to estimates from Coalition, a banking research firm. Regional equities headcount dropped by about 300, or 6%, Coalition figures show. Turnover on Asia’s 10 biggest exchanges has declined 69% from last year’s peak in May, the deepest slump over any period of the same length since Bloomberg began tracking the data in 2006.

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It’s corporate PLUS local government.

Growing Corporate Debt a ‘Key Fault Line’ In China’s Economy: IMF (R.)

China must act quickly to address mounting corporate debt, a major source of worry about the world’s second-largest economy, a senior IMF official said on Saturday. David Lipton, first deputy managing director of the IMF, warned in a speech to a group of economists in the southern city of Shenzhen that companies’ indebtedness is a “key fault line in the Chinese economy.” “Company debt problems today can become systemic debt problems tomorrow. Systemic debt problems can lead to much lower economic growth, or a banking crisis. Or both,” Lipton said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks provided to Reuters.

China, whose economy grew in 2015 at its slowest pace in a quarter of a century, has been grappling with rising debt levels and overcapacity. Last week, the People’s Bank of China warned in its mid-year work report that the government’s push to reduce debt levels and overcapacity could increase bond default risks and make it more difficult for companies to raise funds. Lipton said corporate debt in China stands at about 145% of GDP, a high ratio. He singled out state-owned enterprises, which he said accounted for about 55% of corporate debt but only 22% of economic output, according to IMF estimates.

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The EU is not all bad. Don’t let China buy your assets with monopoly money.

Chinese State-Owned Companies Face Greater Scrutiny Of EU Deals (R.)

Chinese state-owned companies seeking to buy European assets are going to face greater regulatory scrutiny following a landmark European Commission decision on a recent deal. In its review of a proposed joint venture between France’s EDF and state-owned China General Nuclear Power (CGN), the Commission – which has exclusive power over antitrust issues in the EU – ruled that CGN was not independent from China’s central administrator for state-owned enterprises, the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC). As a result, it decided that it did have the power to decide whether the deal should be cleared.

It meant that the Commission didn’t only consider CGN’s own revenue but the combined revenue of all Chinese energy state-owned enterprises when considering whether the deal came under its jurisdiction. This approach automatically bumped CGN’s turnover above the minimum EU threshold for merger clearance, a warning shot for other Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) who may be considering buying assets in Europe and were not anticipating needing to get a regulatory green light. The Commission generally only reviews a merger if each party to it has more than €250 million in sales in the EU as well as combined global sales of more than €5 billion. CGN’s turnover, alone, didn’t cross that €250 million threshold, but the Chinese energy SOEs as a whole do breach that level.

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Negative rates hurt.

Bank of America Shares Flash Bearish Signals Galore (MW)

The selloff in Bank of America stock Friday capped a week in which a number of bearish chart patterns were completed, implying potential for further declines to multi-month lows. The banking giant’s shares slumped 2.5% to close at $13.83 Friday. Volume of 89.6 million shares made them the most-actively traded on the NYSE, according to FactSet. The selloff comes as the yield on the 10-year Treasury note slumped to a three-year low of 1.639%, as part of a global bond rush that pushed yields on several government benchmarks to record lows. Lower long-term interest rates can hurt banks’ earnings, as they narrow the spread between what banks earn by funding longer-term assets, such as loans, with shorter-term liabilities.

Here are some of the bearish technical developments in BofA’s stock that have occurred this past week: • On Tuesday, the stock fell below an uptrend line, supported by three support points, that began at the Feb. 11 bottom. That suggests the short-term trend has flipped to negative. • The trendline breakdown occurred as the stock failed to get back above its 200-day moving average, which many see as a dividing line between shorter-term and longer-term trends. This indicates that the rally off the February low was just a minor bounce within a more dominant downtrend. • The stock closed Thursday below its 50-day moving average, which many use as a guide to the short-term trend. After the 50-day moving average held as support during the May pullback, the drop below it this week was a warning sign that the trendline break was for real.

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Forgive me for thinking this is clear enough.

About That US Economic Rebound… (ZH)

Following the steep drop in first quarter GDP which printed at 0.7% in the first revision, economists, strategists and pundits have once again put their collective hopes on another second-half rebound, with expectations for a Q2 rebound running high – the Atlanta Fed’s latest GDP nowcast stands at 2.5%. Unfortunately, this may once again be unwarranted. The reason: the collapse in retail spending which many had expected would be transitory and which has pressured discretionary consumer stocks in recent weeks, just refuses to go away. As we showed on Friday, both critical categories of retail sales (based on BofA credit and debit card spending data), there has been a dramatic collapse in both luxury …

… and home improvement related spending.

The math here is simple: without a strong rebound in spending, there simply can not be a strong rebound in GDP, period. Which, incidentally, is precisely what Goldman’s latest Current Activity Indicator – a real-time proxy for GDP – has found. Here is David Kostin in his latest US Weekly Kickstart: “The Goldman Sachs Economics US Current Activity Indicator (CAI) is a proxy for real-time GDP growth and the metric has slowed to 1.3%. Our economics colleagues expect GDP growth will accelerate to a 3.2% pace in 2Q and average 2.3% during 2H 2016.”

This was the lowest print in over five years. And here is why the Fed will not only not be hiking in June or July, or frankly any time soon. In fact, judging by this chart – and based on the recent collapse in global bond yields – the Fed’s next move will be to cut rates.

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I’m -mostly- with David on this.

David Stockman’s View of Trump vs. Clinton (BBG)


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No, really, America’s problem is debt. And the western world’s problem is debt. And China, and Japan.

US Student Loans Numbers Are Simply Mad (Gurdgiev)

If you like hockey stick charts, you’ll love these two covering U.S. student loans debt evolution over time:

The numbers are simply mad: total debt rose from around $100 billion ca 2006 to almost $1 trillion by the end of 2015. On a per capita of student population basis, same period rise was from around $16,000 per student to over $100,000 per student. More recent data, through May 2016 shows that average student debt is now at $133,000 and the total quantum of student loans outstanding is at over $1.2 trillion. Data from Bloomberg, through 2014, shows that Federal Government-originated student loans have increased 10-fold since 1990:


Source: Bloomberg, data from Collegeboard.org

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“.. in Ferguson, Mo., the average household paid $272 in fines in 2012, and the average adult had 1.6 arrest warrants issued that year..”

The US Has Already Reinstated Debtors’ Prisons (NY Times)

In the 1830s, the civilized world began to close debtors’ prisons, recognizing them as barbaric and also silly: The one way to ensure that citizens cannot repay debts is to lock them up. In the 21st century, the US has reinstated a broad system of debtors’ prisons, in effect making it a crime to be poor. If you don’t believe me, come with me to the county jail in Tulsa. On the day I visited, 23 people were incarcerated for failure to pay government fines and fees, including one woman imprisoned because she couldn’t pay a fine for lacking a license plate. [..] “It’s 100% true that we have debtor prisons in 2016,” says Jill Webb, a public defender. “The only reason these people are in jail is that they can’t pay their fines. “Not only that, but we’re paying $64 a day to keep them in jail — not because of what they’ve done, but because they’re poor.”

This is as unconscionable in 2016 as it was in 1830, and it is a system found across the country. In the last 25 years, as mass incarceration became increasingly costly, states and localities shifted the burden to criminal offenders with an explosion in special fees and surcharges. Here in Oklahoma, criminal defendants can be assessed 66 different kinds of fees, from a “courthouse security fee” to a “sheriff’s fee for pursuing fugitive from justice,” and even a fee for an indigent person applying for a public defender (I’m not kidding: An indigent person is actually billed for requesting a public defender, and if he or she does not pay, an arrest warrant is issued). Even the Tulsa County district attorney, Stephen Kunzweiler, thinks these fines are a ridiculous way to finance his office.

“It’s a dysfunctional system,” he says. A new book, “A Pound of Flesh,” by Alexes Harris of the University of Washington, notes that these modern debtors’ prisons now exist across America. Harris writes that in Rhode Island in 2007, 18 people were incarcerated a day, on average, for failure to pay court debt, while in Ferguson, Mo., the average household paid $272 in fines in 2012, and the average adult had 1.6 arrest warrants issued that year. “Impoverished defendants have nothing to give,” Harris says, and the result is a system that disproportionately punishes the poor and minorities, leaving them with an overhang of debt from which they can never escape.

Read more …

I agree with Ambrose for once. On balance, what’s negative about the EU far outweighs the advantages.

“Brexit vote is about the supremacy of Parliament and nothing else..“ “Where we concur is that the EU as constructed is not only corrosive but ultimately dangerous..”

Why I Am Voting To Leave The EU (AEP)

With sadness and tortured by doubts, I will cast my vote as an ordinary citizen for withdrawal from the European Union. Let there be no illusion about the trauma of Brexit. Anybody who claims that Britain can lightly disengage after 43 years enmeshed in EU affairs is a charlatan, or a dreamer, or has little contact with the realities of global finance and geopolitics. Stripped of distractions, it comes down to an elemental choice: whether to restore the full self-government of this nation, or to continue living under a higher supranational regime, ruled by a European Council that we do not elect in any meaningful sense, and that the British people can never remove, even when it persists in error. For some of us – and we do not take our cue from the Leave campaign – it has nothing to do with payments into the EU budget.

Whatever the sum, it is economically trivial, worth unfettered access to a giant market. We are deciding whether to be guided by a Commission with quasi-executive powers that operates more like the priesthood of the 13th Century papacy than a modern civil service; and whether to submit to a European Court (ECJ) that claims sweeping supremacy, with no right of appeal. It is whether you think the nation states of Europe are the only authentic fora of democracy, be it in this country, or Sweden, or the Netherlands, or France – where Nicholas Sarkozy has launched his presidential bid with an invocation of King Clovis and 1,500 years of Frankish unity. My Europhile Greek friend Yanis Varoufakis and I both agree on one central point, that today’s EU is a deformed halfway house that nobody ever wanted.

His solution is a great leap forward towards a United States of Europe with a genuine parliament holding an elected president to account. Though even he doubts his dream. “There is a virtue in heroic failure,” he said. I do not think this is remotely possible, or would be desirable if it were, but it is not on offer anyway. Six years into the eurozone crisis there is no a flicker of fiscal union: no eurobonds, no Hamiltonian redemption fund, no pooling of debt, and no budget transfers. The banking union belies its name. Germany and the creditor states have dug in their heels. Where we concur is that the EU as constructed is not only corrosive but ultimately dangerous, and that is the phase we have now reached as governing authority crumbles across Europe.

The Project bleeds the lifeblood of the national institutions, but fails to replace them with anything lovable or legitimate at a European level. It draws away charisma, and destroys it. This is how democracies die. “They are slowly drained of what makes them democratic, by a gradual process of internal decay and mounting indifference, until one suddenly notices that they have become something different, like the republican constitutions of Athens or Rome or the Italian city-states of the Renaissance,” says Lord Sumption of our Supreme Court.

Read more …

Tusk driving the final nail in Cameron’s coffin?!

EU Chief Says Getting Closer To Granting Turks Visa-Free Travel (R.)

The EU is getting closer to granting Turks visa-free travel to Europe, but talks on this will continue until at least October, EC President Donald Tusk said in an interview with German newspaper Bild published on Monday. Asked when Turks would be given visa freedom, Tusk said: “When they have fulfilled all of the conditions without exception.” He added: “The negotiations will certainly last until October but we’re getting ever closer.” The deal to give Turks visa-free travel in return for reducing the flow of illegal migrants to the bloc has been held up by a disagreement over Turkey’s anti-terror laws, which some in Europe see as too broad. Turkey says its needs the law to fight its multiple security threats. Last week Turkey said it expected a positive outcome in coming days in talks with the EU about visa-free travel for Turks.

Read more …

Want to see collapse in action? Watch pension plans.

Negative Rates Drive Major Changes At European Pension Funds (II)

In recent years European pension fund managers have been moving down the credit spectrum, wading into private markets, putting money into infrastructure and other illiquid assets; in short, doing almost anything to generate yield. But with negative interest rates strengthening their grip on Europe, many plan sponsors are realizing they can’t earn their way out of today’s dilemma. So even as they do what they can to diversify assets, pension funds are moving to curb their liabilities by limiting payouts to retirees, shifting to defined contribution-type models from defined benefit ones and taking other steps to make sure the money doesn’t run out. Consider Credit Suisse. The Zurich-based bank offers one of the more generous retirement plans in the country with the second-largest pension system in continental Europe.

But the pension fund, like most others in Switzerland, was blindsided by the Swiss National Bank’s January 2015 abandonment of its exchange rate ceiling, which sent the Swiss franc soaring and bond yields falling deeper into negative territory than anywhere in Europe. The Sf15.6 billion ($15.8 billion) fund saw its return plunge to 1.6% last year from 7.3% in 2014. Concerned that negative rates and ever-rising life spans put the financial health of the fund at risk, trustees late last year adopted a sweeping reform of the scheme that will gradually raise the retirement age, trim benefits for future retirees and shift workers with high salaries into a pure defined contribution savings plan for part of their incomes. “We do not want an underfunded situation,” says Matthias Hochrein, the plan’s chief operating officer.

In the Netherlands, which has Europe’s largest pension system by far in proportional terms, with assets worth nearly 184% of GDP, plans are also looking to tighten their belts. In recent weeks the country’s two largest plans -ABP, the €358 billion pension fund for civil servants, and PFZW, the €billion plan for health care workers- have warned that they may have to cut benefit payments to existing retirees next year because low interest rates have reduced their funding ratios to just a hair above 90%, the threshold that triggers mandatory remedial action.

Read more …

Well, at least we still can for now.

Frustrations of Telling the Truth (Paul Craig Roberts)

Some examples of the ‘abuse’ one gets when telling the truth: If I criticize the Israeli government for abusing Palestinians and stealing their country, the Israel Lobby accuses me of being an anti-semite who wants to repeat the holocaust. In the same batch of emails, anti-semites denounce me for being too easy on Israel and covering up for the Jewish conspiracy against mankind. When I write about the One Percent using the government to loot the economy, I receive emails blaming me because I worked for Reagan “who started it all by cutting tax rates for the rich.” These people have no conception of supply-side economics, its purpose, success, and the way it prepared the way for Reagan to negotiate the end of the Cold War. At one point in their lives they read a left-wing screed against Reagan, and that is the extent of their understanding. But they are full of blind hate.

When I write about Washington’s crimes against other countries, I receive emails asking me where I was during Iran-Contra and Grenada. Apparently, they think that a Treasury official can run the State Department and Pentagon. Some of the readers are so confused that they think Reagan overthrew Allende in Chile. Alllende was overthrown in 1973. Reagan was inaugurated in 1981. It is dispiriting that there actually are people this ignorant and so proud of it that they will accuse me of helping Reagan to overthrow Allende. When I point out the dangers of the reckless folly of Washington’s aggressions against Russia, China, and the independent Muslim world, superpatriots denounce me for being anti-American. There is a stratum of the US population that thinks that it is a criminal act to disbelieve the government or to question its judgment and motives. “You are with us or against us.”

When I document the death of the US Constitution and the rise of the American Police State, “law and order” conservatives admonish me that the police state only appies to terrorists and criminals and does not apply to law abiding citizens. They are convinced that Snowden and Assange are traitors, and no amount of evidence or reason can convince them otherwise. Neither can they be convinced that in the 21st century, law has become a weapon in the hands of government and no longer is a shield of the people. The Rule of Law in America is dead.

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While you were looking the other way…

Over 2,500 Migrants Rescued Off Italy Over Weekend (AFP)

More than 2,500 migrants seeking to reach Europe were rescued off the coast of Sicily over the weekend in 20 separate operations, the Italian coastguard said Sunday. Vessels from the Italian navy and coastguard took part in rescue operations, along with ships from volunteer and aid groups. Medical charity Doctors Without Borders said it had recovered one dead body from one of the migrant boats. Authorities said 1,348 migrants were picked up Saturday and 1,230 on Sunday. So far this year more than 48,000 people have been brought to the Italian coast after being pulled from boats trying to cross from Libya, according to the UN refugee agency. With the return of the good weather the rescue operations are expected to increase. For the time being the numbers arriving are similar to those seen last year and in 2014.

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May 242016
 
 May 24, 2016  Posted by at 9:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle May 24 2016


Lewis Hine A heavy load for an old woman. Lafayette Street below Astor Place, NYC 1912

‘Massive Bailout’ Needed in Debt-Saddled China: Charlene Chu (BBG)
SOE Debt Could Easily Overwhelm China’s Banking System (Abc.au)
China Takes Back Control Over Yuan (WSJ)
Negative Rates Prompt Japan Banks to Opt Out Via Derivatives (BBG)
Iron Ore Price Falls 27% In Past Month (BI)
Deutsche Bank Ratings Cut by Moody’s (BBG)
Greece Is Never Going To Grow Its Way Out Of Debt (Coppola)
Austerity Means Privatizing Everything We Own (G.)
US Court Opens Door Over Libor Claims (FT)
Italy Helps Rescue 2,600 Migrants From Sea In 24 Hours (R.)
Greece Starts Clearing Makeshift Refugee Camp On Border (R.)

Selling vehicles to vehicles: “The WMPs [wealth management product] used to be predominantly sold to the public, but now they’re increasingly being sold to banks and other WMPs.”

‘Massive Bailout’ Needed in Debt-Saddled China: Charlene Chu (BBG)

Charlene Chu, a banking analyst who made her name warning of the risks from China’s credit binge, said a bailout in the trillions of dollars is needed to tackle the bad-debt burden dragging down the nation’s economy. Speaking eight days after a Communist Party newspaper highlighted dangers from the build-up of debt, Chu, a partner at Autonomous Research, said she was yet to be convinced the government is serious about deleveraging and eliminating industry overcapacity. She also argued that lenders’ off-balance-sheet portfolios of wealth-management products are the biggest immediate threat to the nation’s financial system, with similarities to Western bank exposures in 2008 that helped to trigger a global meltdown.

The former Fitch Ratings analyst uses a top-down approach to calculating China’s bad-debt levels as the credit to GDP ratio worsens, requiring more credit to generate each unit of GDP. She’s on the bearish side of the debate about the outlook for China and has sounded warnings since the nation’s credit binge began in 2008. “China’s debt problems are large and severe, but in some respects a slow burn. Over the near term, we think the biggest risk is banks’ WMP [wealth management product] portfolios. The stock of Chinese banks’ off-balance-sheet WMPs grew 73% last year. There is nothing in the Chinese economy that supports a 73% growth rate of anything at the moment.

Regardless of all of the headlines and announcements about the authorities cracking down on WMPs, they have done very little, really, and issuance continues to accelerate. “We call off-balance-sheet WMPs a hidden second balance sheet because that’s really what it is – it’s a hidden pool of liabilities and assets. In this way, it’s similar to the Special Investment Vehicles and conduits that the Western banks had in 2008, which nobody paid attention to until everything fell apart and they had to be incorporated on-balance-sheet. “The mid-tier lenders is where these second balance sheets are very large. China Merchants Bank is a good example. Their second balance sheet is close to 40% of their on-balance-sheet liabilities. Enormous.”

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“Although contributing to less than one-third of economic output and employment, SOEs take up nearly half of bank lending..”

SOE Debt Could Easily Overwhelm China’s Banking System (Abc.au)

Chinese banks are looking down the barrel of a staggering RMB 8 trillion – or $1.7 trillion – worth of losses according to the French investment bank Societe Generale. Put another way, 60% of capital in China’s banks is at risk as authorities start the delicate and dangerous process of reining in the debt-bloated and unprofitable state-owned enterprise (SOE) sector. Disturbingly though, debt is not only not shrinking, it is accelerating, making the eventual reckoning far worse. China’s overall non-financial debt grew by 15.2% in 2015 to RMB 167 trillion ($35 trillion) or almost 250% of GDP. That is up from 230% of GDP the year before and the 130% it was eight years ago before the global financial crisis hit.

The problem is largely centred on China’s 150,000 or so SOEs, which suck-up an entirely disproportionate amount of the nation’s capital. “Although contributing to less than one-third of economic output and employment, SOEs take up nearly half of bank lending (RMB 37 trillion) and more than 80% of corporate bond financing (RMB 9.5 trillion),” Societe Generale found. “While the inefficiency of SOEs is gradually dragging down economic growth, recognising even a small share of SOEs’ non-performing debt would easily overwhelm the financial system.” Despite their moribund financial performance, the SOEs still enjoy a considerable advantage in access to funding through the banking system than the private sector.

“To put things into perspective, a quarter of SOEs’ loans and bonds are equivalent to the entire capital base of commercial banks plus their loan-loss reserves, equivalent to 23% of GDP,” Societe Generale’s China economist Wei Yao said. On the bank’s figures, if just 3% of loans to SOEs sour, commercial banks’ non-performing loans would double.

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Wanting to control the yuan exchange rate is a threat to reserves.

China Takes Back Control Over Yuan (WSJ)

Behind closed doors in March, some of China’s most prominent economists and bankers bluntly asked the People’s Bank of China to stop fighting the financial markets and let the value of the nation’s currency fall. They got nowhere. “The primary task is to maintain stability,” said one central-bank official, according to previously undisclosed minutes of the meeting reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The meeting left little doubt China’s top leaders have lost interest in a major policy shift announced in a surprise move just nine months ago. In August 2015, the PBOC said it would make the yuan’s value more market-based, an important step in liberalizing the world’s second-largest economy.

In reality, though, the yuan’s daily exchange rate is now back under tight government control, according to meeting minutes that detail private deliberations and interviews with Chinese officials and advisers who spoke with The Wall Street Journal about the country’s currency policy. On Jan. 4, the central bank behind closed doors ditched the market-based mechanism, according to people close to the PBOC. The central bank hasn’t announced the reversal, but officials have essentially returned to the old way of adjusting the yuan’s daily value higher or lower based on whatever suits Beijing best. The flip-flop is a sign of policy makers’ deepening wariness about how much money is fleeing China, a problem driven by its slowing economy.

For now, at least, officials believe the benefits of freeing the yuan are outnumbered by the number of threats. Re-emphasizing the yuan’s stability would also bring a sigh of relief to trading partners who worried a weaker currency would boost Chinese exports at the expense of those produced elsewhere. Freeing the yuan, the biggest overhaul of China’s currency policy in a decade, was meant to empower consumers and help invigorate the economy. The negative reaction, from financial markets world-wide and Chinese who sped their efforts to take money out of the country, was so jarring that the top leadership, headed by President Xi Jinping, began to have second thoughts.

At a heavily guarded conclave of senior Communist Party officials in December, Mr. Xi called China’s markets and regulatory system “immature” and said “the majority” of party officials hadn’t done enough to guide the economy toward more sustainable growth, according to people who attended the meeting. To the central bank, there was only one possible interpretation: Step on the brakes.

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Turns out, it can still get worse.

Negative Rates Prompt Japan Banks to Opt Out Via Derivatives (BBG)

Japanese banks reluctant to pay for the privilege of lending are opting out by using derivatives. The options set a floor on rates used to determine interest on loans, and the holder will be paid if the rates fall below that level, according to Aozora Bank and Tokyo Star Bank. The benchmark three-month Tokyo interbank offered rate has plunged to a record low of 6 basis points since the Bank of Japan announced it would start charging fees on some lenders’ reserves in January. Options with floors at zero% or minus rates have been traded recently, according to Aozora Bank. “There’s a need to hedge against money-losing lending that could happen if the Tibor falls to negative levels,” said Tetsuji Matsuka, the head of the ALM planning treasury department at Tokyo Star Bank.

“We think demand will increase” for such products, he said. Japanese banks are getting hurt as the negative-rate policy compresses their lending margins, with the top-three firms including Mitsubishi UFJ Financial forecasting this month that net income will fall a combined 5.2% in the year started April 1. The BOJ’s radical stimulus has already dragged yields on more than 70% of Japanese government bonds to below zero, meaning that investors will have to effectively pay a fee to hold such debt to maturity. In the yen London interbank offered rate market, where some rates are already below zero, options have been traded with floors as low as minus 1%, according to Nobuyuki Takahashi, the general manager of the derivatives sales division at Aozora Bank.

The three-month yen Libor was at minus 0.02% on Friday. Companies that borrow at floating rates may also be able to use floor options to ensure that interest-rate swaps they use to hedge against rising rates don’t end up costing them due to negative rates, Takahashi said. Actual trades of such derivatives are still not that common because the contracts are expensive to buy now, he said. “It will be hard to price these options unless we get more liquidity,” said Tateo Komatsu, a deputy general manager of global markets at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank Ltd. “It will take time for the market to get used to minus rates.”

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Roller coaster in a casino.

Iron Ore Price Falls 27% In Past Month (BI)

The iron ore price is imploding. Following the ugly lead provided by Chinese futures on Monday, the spot iron ore price followed suit, suffering one of the largest declines seen in years. According to Metal Bulletin, the spot price for benchmark 62% fines fell by 6.69%, or $3.67, to $51.22 a tonne, leaving it down 27.3% from the multi-year peak of $70.46 a tonne struck on April 21. The decline was the third-largest in percentage terms in the past two years, and left the price at the lowest level seen since March 3 this year. The losses in physical and futures markets followed news that Chinese iron ore port inventories swelled to over 100 million tonnes last week, leaving them at the highest level seen since March last year.

That followed the revelation that Chinese crude steel output contracted in April after hitting a record high in March, declining marginally according to figures released by the China Iron and Steel Association (CISA). Given the increasing correlated relationship between the two, it’s also clear that an unwind of speculative positioning in Chinese iron ore futures is also impacting prices in the physical iron ore market. After watching prices in many bulk commodity futures rally more than 50% in less than two months, regulators at both the Dalian Commodities Exchange and Shanghai Futures Exchange introduced measures in recent weeks to discourage excessive levels of speculation in these markets.

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Slow death?!

Deutsche Bank Ratings Cut by Moody’s (BBG)

Deutsche Bank had its credit rating cut by Moody’s Investors Service, which said the German lender faces mounting challenges in carrying out its turnaround. The bank’s senior unsecured debt rating was lowered to Baa2 from Baa1, Moody’s said Monday in a statement. That left the grade two levels above junk. The firm’s long-term deposit rating fell to A3 from A2. “Deutsche Bank’s performance over the last several quarters has been weak, and substantial operating headwinds, including continuing low interest rates and macroeconomic uncertainty, will challenge the firm,” Moody’s said in the statement. CEO John Cryan’s planned overhaul of the bank, laid out in October, ran into an industrywide slump in trading and investment banking, as well as interest rates that have gone from low to negative in parts of Europe and Asia.

Net income fell 61% in the first quarter, leaving the company at risk of a second straight annual loss this year as it tries to resolve legal cases. Results so far and the challenges ahead, including a chance of further slumps in retail and market-linked businesses, will probably force Deutsche Bank to balance restructuring costs with the need to amass capital for stiffened regulatory requirements, Moody’s wrote. “The plan they’re trying to execute is a good plan for the bondholder in the long run, but they face some pretty challenging headwinds when you look at the current operating environment,” Peter Nerby, a senior vice president at Moody’s, said in a phone interview. “They’re working on it, but it’s tougher than it was.”

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“A whole generation will have been consigned to the scrapheap.”

Greece Is Never Going To Grow Its Way Out Of Debt (Coppola)

The IMF has just released its latest Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA) for Greece. It makes grim reading. Greece is never going to grow its way out of debt. And the 3.5% primary surplus to which the Syriza government seems hell-bent upon committing is frankly unbelievable: the IMF thinks sustaining even 1.5% would be a stretch. Banks will need another €10bn (on top of the €43bn the Greek government has already borrowed to bail them out). Asset sales are a lost cause, mainly because the banks – which were a large proportion of the assets up for sale – won’t be worth anything for the foreseeable future. Like it or not, debt relief will be necessary. If there is no debt relief, by 2060 debt service will soar to an impossible 60% of government spending. Of course, Greece would default long before that – but that would make the situation in Greece even worse.

None of this is news. The IMF has been saying for nearly a year now that Greece will need debt relief. This latest DSA is designed to shock the Europeans into giving it serious consideration. It is not surprising, therefore, that the debt sustainability projections are significantly worse than in previous DSAs. No doubt the European creditors will disagree with them, the Syriza government will side with the Europeans because the only alternative is Grexit, and the European Commission will claim there is “progress” when all that is really happening is that a very battered can is being kicked once again. But buried in the IMF’s report are some very unpleasant numbers indeed – the IMF’s projections for population and employment out to 2060. And I think the world should know about them. Here is what the IMF has to say about the outlook for Greek unemployment:

Demographic projections suggest that working age population will decline by about 10 percentage points by 2060. At the same time, Greece will continue to struggle with high unemployment rates for decades to come. Its current unemployment rate is around 25%, the highest in the OECD, and after seven years of recession, its structural component is estimated at around 20%. Consequently, it will take significant time for unemployment to come down. Staff expects it to reach 18% by 2022, 12% by 2040, and 6% only by 2060. So even if the Greek economy returns to growth and its creditors agree to debt relief, it will take 44 years to reduce Greek unemployment to something approaching normal. For Greece’s young people currently out of work, that is all of their working life. A whole generation will have been consigned to the scrapheap.

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Think Britain is bad? Try Greece.

Austerity Means Privatizing Everything We Own (G.)

Almost everyone who gives the matter serious thought agrees that George Osborne and David Cameron want to reshape Britain. The spending cuts, the upending of the NHS, even this month’s near-miss over the BBC: signs lie everywhere of how this will be a decade, maybe more, of massive change. Yet even now it is little understood just how far Britain might shift – and in which direction. Take austerity, the word that will define this government. Even its most astute critics commit two basic errors. The first is to assume that it boils down to spending cuts and tax rises. The second is to believe that all this is meant to reduce how much the country is borrowing. What such commonplaces do is reduce austerity to a technical, reversible project.

Were it really so simple all we would need to do is turn the spending taps back on and wash away all traces of Osbornomics. Austerity is far bigger than that: it is a project irreversibly to transfer wealth from the poorest to the richest. It’s doing the job very nicely: while the typical British worker is still earning less after inflation than he or she was before the banking crash, the number of UK-based billionaires has nearly quadrupled since 2009. Even while he slashes benefits, Osborne is deep into a programme to hand over much of what is still owned by the British public to the wealthiest. Privatisation is the multibillion-pound centrepiece of Osborne’s austerity – yet it rarely gets a mention from either politicians or press. The Queen mentioned it in her speech last week, but the headline writers ignored it.

And if you don’t know that this Thursday is the closing date for consultation on the sale of the Land Registry, our public record of who owns what property, that’s hardly your fault – I haven’t spotted it in the papers, either. But without getting rid of prize assets, Osborne’s austerity programme falls apart. At a time when tax revenues are more weak stream than healthy flood, those sales bring much-needed cash into the Treasury and make his sums add up. The independent Office for Budget Responsibility has ruled that the only reason the chancellor met his debts target last year was because he flogged off our public assets. And what a fire sale that was, with everything from our last remaining stake in the Royal Mail to shares in Eurostar shoved out the door in the biggest wave of privatisations of any year in British history.

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And maybe sometime in the next century something will be done. But they’re all still too big to fail.

US Court Opens Door Over Libor Claims (FT)

A US appeals court has opened the door for more claims against the big banks for rigging benchmark interest rates, by overturning a three-year-old ruling which threw out a host of private antitrust-related lawsuits. Monday’s decision by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan could be a setback for the likes of Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, which had hoped that most of the wave of post-crisis litigation was behind them. The decision reverses a lower court decision from 2013, in which US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald dismissed claims on the grounds that the plaintiffs had failed to plead antitrust injury.

The lawsuits had accused 16 major banks of collusion in manipulating the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, which approximates the average rate at which a select group of banks can borrow money. Beginning in 2007, the plaintiffs argued, the banks engaged in a horizontal price-fixing conspiracy, with each submitting an artificially low cost of borrowing US dollars in order to drive Libor down. At the time of her rejection, Judge Buchwald reasoned that the Libor-setting process was co-operative rather than competitive, and so any attempt to depress the rate did not cause investors to suffer anti-competitive harm. At best, she said, investors had a fraud claim based on misrepresentation.

But the appeals court on Monday disagreed and sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings. A three-judge panel found that price-fixing was an antitrust violation in itself, and therefore needed no separate plea of harm. “The crucial allegation is that the banks circumvented the Libor-setting rules, and that joint process thus turned into collusion,” the panel said. The private suits are separate from the criminal and civil probes into Libor rigging, which have ensnared banks and traders around the world and drawn about $9bn so far in penalties.

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Do we even still notice?

Italy Helps Rescue 2,600 Migrants From Sea In 24 Hours (R.)

Italian vessels have helped rescue more than 2,600 migrants from boats trying to reach Europe from North Africa in the last 24 hours, the coastguard said on Monday, indicating that numbers are rising as the weather warms up. Some 2,000 migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast from 14 rubber dinghies and one larger boat in salvage operations by the Italian navy and coastguard, the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres and an Irish navy vessel, the coastguard said. Another 636 migrants were rescued from two boats in Maltese waters, in operations involving Maltese and Italian vessels, it said. It gave no information about the nationalities of those saved. More than 31,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat so far this year, slightly fewer than in the same period of 2015.

Humanitarian organizations say the sea route between Libya and Italy is now the main route for asylum seekers heading for Europe, after an EU deal on migrants with Turkey dramatically slowed the flow of people reaching Greece. Officials fear the numbers trying to make the crossing to southern Italy will increase as conditions improve in warmer weather. More than 1.2 million Arab, African and Asian migrants fleeing war and poverty have streamed into the European Union since the start of last year. Most of those trying to reach Italy leave the coast of lawless Libya on rickety fishing boats or rubber dinghies, heading for the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is close to Tunisia, or toward Sicily.

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Peaceful until now.

Greece Starts Clearing Makeshift Refugee Camp On Border (R.)

Greek police started moving migrants and refugees out of a sprawling tent camp on the sealed northern border with Macedonia on Tuesday where thousands have been stranded for months trying to get into western Europe. Reuters witnesses saw several bus loads of migrants leaving the makeshift camp of Idomeni early on Tuesday morning, with about another dozen buses lined up. It appeared to be mainly families who were on the move. Greek authorities said they planned to move individuals gradually to state-supervised facilities further south in an operation expected to last several days. “The evacuation is progressing without any problem,” said Giorgos Kyritsis, a government spokesman for the migrant crisis.

A Reuters witness on the Macedonian side of the border said there was a heavy police presence in the area but no problems were reported as people with young children packed up huge bags with their belongings. Media on the Greek side of the border were kept at a distance and a group of people dressed as clowns waved balloon hearts and animals as the buses drove past. “Those who pack their belongings will leave, because we want this issue over with. Ideally by the end of the week. We haven’t put a strict deadline on it, but more or less that is what we estimate,” Kyritsis told Reuters. At the latest tally, 8,199 people were camped at Idomeni after a cascade of border shutdowns throughout the Balkans in February barred migrants and refugees from central and northern Europe. More than 12,000 lived in the camp at one point.

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May 222016
 
 May 22, 2016  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle May 22 2016


Unknown Medical supply boat Planter, General Hospital wharf on the Appomattox, City Point, VA 1865

G-7 Warns on Weak Global Growth as Japan Bristles Over Yen (BBG)
Jeremy Corbyn Calls For New Economics To Tackle ‘Grotesque Inequality’ (G.)
“We Are Becoming Convinced That The System Won’t Stabilize” (Matt King)
Greece Braces for More Austerity Amid EU-IMF Quarrel About Debt (BBG)
This Time, The IMF Comes Bearing Gifts For The Greeks (G.)
Europe Should Heed The Lessons of 1913 (Horvat)
New Evidence About The Dangers Of Monsanto’s Roundup (Intercept)
Technology Is Changing Our Hands (G.)
The Worst Famine Since 1985 Looms Across Africa (G.)

The US risks forcing Japan into a position it cannot afford to be in.

G-7 Warns on Weak Global Growth as Japan Bristles Over Yen (BBG)

Finance chiefs from the world’s biggest developed economies meeting in Japan underscored concerns that global growth is flagging and reaffirmed a pledge not to deliberately weaken their currencies, even as Japan again warned on the yen’s surge. At the end of two days of talks, Group of Seven central bank governors and finance ministers highlighted risks from terrorism, refugee flows, political conflicts and the potential for a U.K. exit from the EU. While officials agreed not to target currencies to stoke growth and warned of the negative consequences from disorderly moves in exchanges rates, host Japan repeated a stance that recent trading in the yen has been one sided and speculative.

Comments on the yen’s moves by Finance Minister Taro Aso hint at a growing frustration inside Japan’s government about the impact on exporters after the currency surged 9% this year, spurring speculation that the government may intervene. Aso raised the issued in a meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew on Saturday. “I told him that one-sided, abrupt, and speculative moves were seen in the FX market recently, and abrupt moves in the currency market are undesirable and the stability of currencies is important,” Aso said to reporters. Tensions over the yen were evident over the course of the meetings, which were held at a hot springs resort in the country’s north. As Japan warned about the impact of disorderly trading, Lew repeated his view that the yen’s movement hasn’t been overly volatile.

“It’s a pretty high bar to have disorderly conditions,” Lew told reporters. To be sure, Japan remains a long way from its first intervention since 2011, when the G-7 sanctioned selling the yen to aid the country’s recovery after a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown. A strengthening dollar amid rising bets that the Federal Reserve may lift interest rates over coming moths is helping ease pressure on Japan’s exporters. Aso also made it clear that the difference of opinion with the U.S. is manageable. “They have an election and we have an election and we both have TPP talks,” Aso said. “There are various things on our plates and we of course have to say various things as that’s our jobs.”

Still, by choosing to be so vocal on the yen, Aso is both attempting to jawbone the currency lower and put a marker down in the event the currency again starts to appreciate rapidly. “There’s no sign that Japan and the U.S. will move closer together,” said Hiroaki Muto, chief economist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center.

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Left, right, everyone wants growth. But what if that is quite literally a broken record? What if the ‘New Economics’ should be one that questions perpetual growth? After all, growth is no more than an assumption, and there are others.

Jeremy Corbyn Calls For New Economics To Tackle ‘Grotesque Inequality’ (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn said the UK needed a serious debate about wealth creation, as he called for a new style of economics to tackle Britain’s “grotesque inequality”. Closing a Labour state of the economy conference in central London on Saturday, the party’s leader said: “Wealth creation is a good thing: we all want greater prosperity. But let us have a serious debate about how wealth is created, and how that wealth should be shared.” Corbyn also said a Labour government would “chase down the tax avoiders and the tax evaders” and ensure HMRC had the resources it needed to do so. Labour needed to be ambitious and bold to win the next election, he said. In the meantime, he insisted that the party could make a difference despite the frustrations of being in opposition.

“We must continue to stand up against the Conservative six-year record of mismanagement of the economy – and stand up for the vital services on which we all depend.” George Osborne had vowed six years ago that austerity would wipe out the deficit, Corbyn said. “That’s the wonderful thing about George Osborne’s five-year plans: they’re always five years away,” he added. Shopfloor workers, entrepreneurs and technicians should be put in the driving seat, the Labour leader said. “We want to see a genuinely mixed economy of public and social enterprise, alongside a private sector with a long-term private business commitment, that will provide the decent pay, jobs, housing, schools, health and social care of the future. Labour will always seek to distribute the rewards of growth more fairly. But to deliver that growth demands real change in the way the economy is run,” Corbyn said.

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Citi’s Matt King on markets that are supposed to self-stabilize, a still popular notion. Despite the fact that, as Minsky noted quite a while ago, stability breeds instability.

“We Are Becoming Convinced That The System Won’t Stabilize” (Matt King)

Take market liquidity, for example. Despite near-record notional volumes on TRACE, and policymakers’ protestations that nothing has really changed, market participants continue to lament that bid-offer is misleading, and depth is not what it used to be. Worse, many managers have struggled to make money on the basis of traditional single-name fundamentals, and poor performance is contributing to a steady leakage of flows away from traditional benchmarked funds towards totalreturn funds, indices and ETFs. The shift is not unique to credit: in European equities, futures-to-cash ratios – one convenient measure of index trading versus single-name trading – have reached all-time highs, for example (Figure 1).

Traditional thinking would not read too much into this. A decline in active single-name trading by some market participants should lead to greater dislocations, and hence greater opportunities for others. As index, or asset class, or factor investing becomes more popular, so it should become harder to make money there, and money should return to single-name trading. The system should stabilize. We are becoming more and more convinced this is wrong. In ways that were underappreciated at the time, the pre-crisis era of unlimited leverage led to a veritable bonanza for sellside and buyside alike, in which trading begat more trading, and liquidity begat liquidity. Cyclicals vs non-cyclicals. Value vs momentum. On-the-runs vs off-the-runs. Cash vs CDS. Single names vs indices. The constant arbitraging of relative value relationships led to regular patterns of mean reversion, which in turn encouraged more investors to trade.

In the post-crisis era, this process is running in reverse. Yet what started as a simple desire by regulators to curtail excesses of leverage risks is having much more farreaching repercussions. The curtailment of the hedge fund bid means that many relationships which previously mean reverted are now failing to do so, or at a minimum are doing so much more erratically. Cyclicals vs non-cyclicals. Value vs momentum. On-the-runs vs off-the-runs. Cash vs CDS. Single names vs indices. In principle, these aberrations do constitute trading opportunities – but only for investors with sufficiently strong stomachs and long time horizons, which these days nobody has. Central bank distortions have exacerbated these movements, making investor interest more one-sided and leading one market after another to exhibit more bubble-like tendencies, rising exponentially and then falling back abruptly.

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More broken records.

Greece Braces for More Austerity Amid EU-IMF Quarrel About Debt (BBG)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras braces for yet another vote on additional austerity measures, as European creditors remain at loggerheads with the IMF about how much debt relief the country will get for its pain. Lawmakers in Athens are scheduled to vote Sunday evening on an omnibus bill that includes measures ranging from the taxation of diamond dust and coffee to the transfer of thousands of real estate assets from the state to a new privatization fund. The debate will test the resilience of Tsipras’s three-seat parliamentary majority, as euro-area states resist calls from the IMF to set less ambitious fiscal targets and hand Greece more generous debt relief.

Approval of the measures is one of the prior actions Greece has to fulfill to unlock the next tranche of emergency loans from the European Stability Mechanism, the currency bloc’s crisis-fighting fund. The Eurogroup of 19 finance ministers will convene Tuesday to assess the country’s compliance with its latest bailout agreement struck in the summer of 2015. A positive assessment is also a condition for the Eurogroup to ease the servicing terms for over €200 billion of bailout loans handed to the country since 2010.

[..] The Washington-based IMF proposed that interest and principal payments on Greece’s European bailout loans be deferred until 2040, and that maturities on those loans will be extended to 2080, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg News. Even though European counter-proposals acknowledge that current Greek debt dynamics are unsustainable, they fall short of what the IMF wants, according to people familiar with the discussions that took place between government officials over the past week. Instead, the euro area expects Greece to maintain a budget surplus level which the IMF has said is a “far-fetched fantasy.”

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Really? Are you sure IMF and EU are not playing good cop bad cop here?

This Time, The IMF Comes Bearing Gifts For The Greeks (G.)

Another Sunday, another vote in the Greek parliament, another self-imposed punishment beating as the parliament in Athens votes through fresh austerity measures. There will be higher VAT and an increase in taxes on all the pleasures of life: coffee, booze, fags, gambling, even pay TV. And just in case Greece might need to tighten its belt by another couple of notches to meet stringent budget targets, there will be additional measures that will kick in if there is any fiscal slippage over the next couple of years. George Harrison started his song Taxman with the words: “Let me tell you how it will be/There’s one for you, nineteen for me.” The Greeks know exactly what he meant. Greece’s predicament is simple. It has debt repayments to make this summer and it doesn’t have the money to pay the bills.


David Simonds/Observer

The EU can solve this acute cashflow problem by unlocking the funds pledged to Greece under the terms of last summer’s bailout agreement, but it will only do so if Athens demonstrates that it is serious about sorting out its budget. Austerity today will lead to generosity from EU finance ministers when they meet on Tuesday. That, at least, is the hope of Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, who is looking for a package in which he gets debt relief in return for austerity. Here’s where things get interesting. The difference between this Sunday and all the other tension-packed Sundays that have studded the Greek crisis over the past six and a half years is that, this time, the battle is not between Greece and the “troika” of the European commission, the ECB and the IMF. Instead, there is a face-off between Europe and the IMF.

The Europeans badly want the fund to be part of Greece’s bailout and to contribute money to it. But Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s managing director, says her support is conditional on two things: a credible deficit reduction plan and a decent slug of debt relief. Hardline EU governments, led by Germany, have resisted this idea, fearing the Greeks will interpret any writedown of its debts as a sign of weakness that Athens will exploit to avoid meeting its budgetary commitments.

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“Back to 1913. Isn’t it one of the most curious facts that all these historical figures [Tito, Hitler, Stalin, Trotsky, Freud and Franz Ferdinand] lived at the same time at the same place, maybe only a few hundred metres apart? Did any of them ever meet? Were they drinking coffee at the same place? Would the world history look different if Hitler had been psychoanalysed by Freud?”

Europe Should Heed The Lessons of 1913 (Horvat)

Imagine the following group of curious characters living in the same city: a worker from Croatia, one unsuccessful painter, two Russians, a guy who analyses dreams and a young Austrian soldier and trophy hunter. Tito, Hitler, Stalin, Trotsky, Freud and Franz Ferdinand might make for unusual neighbours but, as Charles Emmerson describes in his recent book, 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War, they spent plenty of time in the same two square miles of the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Vienna, in 1913. Only one year later, Franz Ferdinand would become the Archduke of the empire, and his assassination in Sarajevo would lead to the first world war. In 1917, the two Russians became the leading figures of the October revolution and, about the same time, Tito – who would soon become leader of Yugoslavia – became active in the communist movement too.

Sixteen years later, on 30 January 1933, the unsuccessful painter became German Reichskanzler – the second world war was just around the corner. And Freud? After Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, the Gestapo came after him and he became a refugee in London. In short, 1913 was one in which the course of history could have altered significantly. I am in no doubt that now might be another such period. At its collapse, the Austro-Hungarian empire consisted of 15 nations and more than 50 million inhabitants. The EU consists of 28 member states – with some now threatening to exit – and a population of 500 million.

Today’s Austria is facing one of its biggest political crises with the resignation of its chancellor, Werner Faymann, a second round of presidential elections looming on 22 May – which will in all likelihood result in a turn to the right – and, at the same time, nationalist calls for a referendum on Tyrol unification. We don’t know if some future Stalin or Hitler is living in Vienna, but the whole of Europe seems to be on the verge of an abyss. Recent news about a Syrian refugee who was shot by guards on the border between Slovakia and Hungary, and Turkish forces using live bullets to drive away Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their home towns point in that direction. If countries such as Denmark and Switzerland start to seize refugees’ assets, what is left of the European project nominally based on solidarity and brotherhood (“Alle Menschen werden Brüder …”, as the official anthem of the EU claims)?

The refugee crisis wasn’t – and can’t be – solved by investing €6bn in Turkey and “outsourcing” the “redundant humans” to the periphery of Europe again. Moreover, the case of German comedian Jan Boehmermann, who was charged for allegedly insulting the Turkish president, Recep Erdogan, shows that the EU’s only foreign policy is something we might call “export-import”. First we export wars (to Libya or Syria), then we import refugees. Then we export the refugees again (to Turkey), and then we import authoritarian values from Turkey, which is now killing one of the foundations of the European project – free speech. And humour.

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And there’s more…

New Evidence About The Dangers Of Monsanto’s Roundup (Intercept)

Some European governments have already begun taking action against one {Roundup’s] co-formulants, a chemical known as polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, which is used in Monsanto’s Roundup Classic and Roundup Original formulations, among other weed killers, to aid in penetrating the waxy surface of plants. Germany removed all herbicides containing POEA from the market in 2014, after a forestry worker who had been exposed to it developed toxic inflammation of the lungs. In early April, the French national health and safety agency known as ANSES took the first step toward banning products that combine glyphosate and POEA. A draft of the European Commission’s reregistration report on glyphosate proposed banning POEA.

[..] manufacturers of weed killers are required to disclose only the chemical structures of their “active” ingredients — and can hide the identity of the rest as confidential business information — for many years no one knew exactly what other chemicals were in these products, let alone how they affected health. In 2012, Robin Mesnage decided to change that. A cellular and molecular toxicologist in London, Mesnage bought nine herbicides containing glyphosate, including five different formulations of Roundup, and reverse engineered some of the other components. After studying the chemicals’ patterns using mass spectrometry, Mesnage and his colleagues came up with a list of possible molecular structures and then compared them with available chemical samples.

“It took around one year and three people (a specialist in pesticide toxicology, a specialist of chemical mixtures, and a specialist in mass spectrometry) to unravel the secrets of Monsanto’s Roundup formulations,” Mesnage explained in an email. The hard work paid off. In 2013, his team was able not only to deduce the chemical structure of additives in six of the nine formulations but also to show that each of these supposedly inert ingredients was more toxic than glyphosate alone. That breakthrough helped scientists know exactly which chemicals to study, though obtaining samples remains challenging. “We still can’t get them to make experiments,” said Nicolas Defarge, a molecular biologist based in Paris. Manufacturers of co-formulants are unwilling to “sell you anything if you are not a pesticide manufacturer, and even less if you are a scientist willing to assess their toxicity.”

So when Defarge, Mesnage, and five other scientists embarked on their most recent research, they had to be creative. They were able to buy six weed killers, including Roundup WeatherMax and Roundup Classic, at the store. But, finding pure samples of the co-formulants in them was trickier. The scientists got one from a farmer who mixes his own herbicide. For another, they went to a company that uses the chemical to make soap. “They were of course not aware that I was going to assess it for toxic and endocrine-disrupting effects,” said Defarge. András Székács, one of Defarge’s co-authors who is based in Hungary, provided samples of the other three co-formulants studied, but didn’t respond to inquiries about how he obtained them.

In February, the team published its findings, which showed that each of the five co-formulants affected the function of both the mitochondria in human placental cells and aromatase, an enzyme that affects sexual development. Not only did these chemicals, which aren’t named on herbicide labels, affect biological functions, they did so at levels far below the concentrations used in commercially available products. In fact, POEA — officially an “inert” ingredient — was between 1,200 and 2,000 times more toxic to cells than glyphosate, officially the “active” ingredient.

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Interesting thoughts. Long article. Not sure how fast our hands could change, though, and quite sure our present tech push will be interrupted.

Technology Is Changing Our Hands (G.)

The new era of the internet, the smartphone and the PC has had radical effects on who we are and how we relate to each other. The old boundaries of space and time seem collapsed thanks to the digital technology that structures everyday life. We can communicate instantly across both vast and minute distances, Skyping a relative on another continent or texting a classmate sitting at the next table. Videos and photos course through the web at the touch of a screen, and social media broadcast the minutiae of both public and private lives. On the train, the bus, in the cafe and the car, this is what people are doing, tapping and talking, browsing and clicking, scrolling and swiping.

Philosophers, social theorists, psychologists and anthropologists have all spoken of the new reality that we inhabit as a result of these changes. Relationships are arguably more shallow or more profound, more durable or more transitory, more fragile or more grounded. But what if we were to see this chapter in human history through a slightly different lens? What if, rather than focusing on the new promises or discontents of contemporary civilisation, we see today’s changes as first and foremost changes in what human beings do with their hands? The digital age may have transformed many aspects of our experience, but its most obvious yet neglected feature is that it allows people to keep their hands busy in a variety of unprecedented ways.

The owner of the Shakespeare and Company bookshop describes the way young people now try to turn pages by scrolling them, and Apple have even applied for patents for certain hand gestures. Patent application 7844915, filed in 2007, covered document scrolling and the pinch-to-zoom gesture, while the 2008 application 7479949 covered a range of multitouch gestures. Both were ruled invalid, not because gestures can’t be patented, but because they were already covered by prior patents. At the same time, doctors observe massive increases in computer- and phone-related hand problems, as the fingers and wrist are being used for new movements that nothing has prepared them for.

Changes to both the hard and soft tissues of the hand itself are predicted as a consequence of this new regime. We will, ultimately, have different hands, in the same way that the structure of the mouth has been altered, it is argued, by the introduction of cutlery, which changed the topography of the bite. The edge-to-edge bite that we used to have up to around 250 years ago became the overbite, with the top incisors hanging over the lower set, thanks to new ways of cutting up food that the table knife made possible. That the body is secondary to the technology here is echoed in the branding of today’s products: it is the pad and the phone that are capitalised in the iPad and iPhone rather than the “I” of the user.

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The world risks reaching crisis fatigue. Largely because of how the media present them.

The Worst Famine Since 1985 Looms Across Africa (G.)

Countries are just waking up to the most serious global food crisis of the last 25 years. Caused by the strongest El Niño weather event since 1982, droughts and heatwaves have ravaged much of India, Latin America and parts of south-east Asia. But the worst effects of this natural phenomenon, which begins with waters warming in the equatorial Pacific, are to be found in southern Africa. A second consecutive year without rain now threatens catastrophe for some of the poorest people in the world. The scale of the crisis unfolding in 10 or more southern African countries has shocked the United Nations. Lulled into thinking that Ethiopia in 1985 was the last of the large-scale famines affecting many millions, donor countries have been slow to pledge funds or support. More than $650m and 7.9m tonnes of food are needed immediately, says the UN. By Christmas, the situation will have become severe.

The scale of the crisis unfolding in 10 or more southern African countries has shocked the United Nations. Lulled into thinking that Ethiopia in 1985 was the last of the large-scale famines affecting many millions, donor countries have been slow to pledge funds or support. More than $650m and 7.9m tonnes of food are needed immediately, says the UN. By Christmas, the situation will have become severe. Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Madagascar, Angola and Swaziland have already declared national emergencies or disasters, as have seven of South Africa’s nine provinces. Other countries, including Botswana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have also been badly hit. President Robert Mugabe has appealed for $1.5bn to buy food for Zimbabwe and Malawi is expected to declare that more than 8 million people, or half the country, will need food aid by November.

More than 31 million people in the region are said by the UN to need food now, but this number is expected to rise to at least 49 million across almost all of southern Africa by Christmas. With 12 million more hungry people in Ethiopia, 7 million in Yemen, 6 million in Southern Sudan and more in the Central African Republic and Chad, a continent-scale food crisis is unfolding. “Food security across southern Africa will start deteriorating by July, reaching its peak between December 2016 and April 2017,” says the UN’s office for humanitarian affairs. The regional cereal deficit already stands at 7.9m tonnes and continues to put upward pressure on market prices, which are already showing unprecedented increases, diminishing purchasing power and thereby reducing food access. As food insecurity tightens and water scarcity increases due to the drought, there are early signs of acute malnutrition in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

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May 062016
 
 May 6, 2016  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Sidney Lust Leader Theater, Washington, DC 1920

Asian Stocks Sink to Four-Week Low as Yen, Dollar Gain (BBG)
Broker CLSA Sees China Bad-Loan Epidemic With $1 Trillion of Losses (BBG)
China Regulator Tries Again To Rein In Banks’ Shadow Assets (WSJ)
China Produces Most Steel Ever After Price Surge (BBG)
Wages’ Share of US GDP Has Fallen for 46 Years (CH Smith)
Deutsche Chief Economist: ECB Should Change Course Before It Is Too Late (FT)
UK Economic Recovery Is ‘On Its Knees’ (Ind.)
The Book That Will Save Banking From Itself (Michael Lewis)
Shift In Saudi Oil Thinking Deepens OPEC Split (R.)
US Crude Stockpiles Seen Rising Further to Record (BBG)
Fort McMurray Fires Knock One Million Barrels Offline (FP)
Canada’s Wildfires Grow Tenfold In Size (G.)
Turkish Power Struggle Threatens EU Migrant Deal (FT)
Merkel Warns Of Return To Nationalism Unless EU Protects Borders (AFP)
Quarter Of Child Refugees Arriving In EU Travelled Without Parents (G.)

The last steps up for the yen?

Asian Stocks Sink to Four-Week Low as Yen, Dollar Gain (BBG)

Global stocks dropped, set for the biggest weekly loss since February, and the yen rose before key American jobs data that will help shape the U.S. interest-rate outlook. Australia’s currency slumped and its bonds surged after the nation’s central bank lowered its inflation forecast. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index and the MSCI Asia Pacific Index both lost ground, as did S&P 500 futures. Shanghai shares tumbled the most since February as raw-materials prices sank in China. The yen rose against all 16 major peers. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index gained for a fourth day, buoyed by comments from Federal Reserve officials that a June rate hike is possible. U.S. crude oil sank below $44 a barrel and industrial metals were poised for their biggest weekly loss since 2013. Australia’s three-year bond yield fell to a record.

A retreat in global equities gathered pace in the first week of May as data highlighted the fragile state of the world economy. The Reserve Bank of Australia joined the European Union in trimming inflation projections this week, after the Bank of Japan on April 28 pushed back the target date for meeting its 2% goal for consumer-price gains. Economists predict U.S. non-farm payrolls rose by 200,000 last month, a Bloomberg survey showed before Friday’s report. “With the U.S. jobs report coming up, investors are holding back,” said Masahiro Ichikawa at Sumitomo Mitsui in Tokyo. “They’re watching the yen very closely.” Four regional Fed presidents said Thursday they were open to considering an interest-rate increase in June, something that’s been almost ruled out by derivatives traders. Fed Funds futures put the odds of a hike next month at around 10%, down from 20% a month ago.

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Losses in shadow banks are consistently underestimated.

Broker CLSA Sees China Bad-Loan Epidemic With $1 Trillion of Losses (BBG)

Chinese banks’ bad loans are at least nine times bigger than official numbers indicate, an “epidemic” that points to potential losses of more than $1 trillion, according to an assessment by brokerage CLSA Ltd. Nonperforming loans stood at 15% to 19% of outstanding credit last year, Francis Cheung, the firm’s head of China and Hong Kong strategy, said in Hong Kong on Friday. That compares with the official 1.67%. Potential losses could range from 6.9 trillion yuan ($1.1 trillion) to 9.1 trillion yuan, according to a report by the brokerage. The estimates are based on public data on listed companies’ debt-servicing abilities and make assumptions about potential recovery rates for bad loans. Cheung’s assessment adds to warnings from hedge-fund manager Kyle Bass, Autonomous Research analyst Charlene Chu and the IMF on China’s likely levels of troubled credit.

The IMF said last month that the nation may have $1.3 trillion of risky loans, with potential losses equivalent to 7% of GDP. CLSA estimates bad credit in shadow banking – a category including banks’ off-balance-sheet lending such as entrusted loans and trust loans – could amount to 4.6 trillion yuan and yield a loss of 2.8 trillion yuan. CLSA cites a diminishing economic return on stimulus pumped into the economy as among the reasons for a worsening outlook, with Cheung saying at a briefing that bad loans had the potential to rise to 20% to 25%. “China’s banking system has reached a point where it needs a comprehensive solution for the bad-debt problem, but there is no plan yet,” he said in the report.

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Beijing can’t regulate shadow banking, since it let it grow far too big, but it can try to pick favorites. It’s relevant to ask who has the power in China these days. Local governments are neck deep in shadow loans, and Xi can’t afford, politically, to let them go bust. But can he afford to support them, financially?

China Regulator Tries Again To Rein In Banks’ Shadow Assets (WSJ)

In the pursuit of order in its financial markets, China’s banking regulator has tended to be one step behind in keeping up with a decade-long dalliance between commercial banks and the country’s non-bank lenders, called the shadow banking sector. Its latest directive suggests the government might finally be trying to get ahead. Bankers and analysts say the China Banking Regulatory Commission issued a notice to commercial lenders last week, taking aim at a shadow-banking product that has allowed banks to hide loans, including bad ones, from their books. The watchdog has tried cracking down on similar arrangements in the past. But this time, it appears to have taken a more nuanced approach in order to more effectively get at banks that originate the loans underlying these products.

In its crosshairs is a relatively obscure instrument called credit beneficiary rights, a product that is derived from shadow-banking deals and can then be sold between banks. The CBRC’s new directive in part takes aim at this practice by calling for banks to stop investing in credit beneficiary rights using funds raised from their own wealth management products. In China, shadow banks’ dexterity and relentlessness at product innovation have regularly pushed them right to the edge of what their regulators can tolerate. The CBRC directive, known as Notice No. 82, is the latest in a cat-and-mouse game that banks have played with regulators for years. Beneficiary rights are themselves an innovation to circumvent a CBRC clampdown in 2013 and 2014 on banks directly buying trust products in a similar arrangement to disguise loans, and then developing a lively interbank market for these rights transfers.

There have been regulatory interventions on variations of the practice every year since 2009. The commission hasn’t publicly released the directive. Analysts say the regulator is likely now huddled with banks to gauge how hard they will push back and how thoroughly the regulator can implement the requirements. Beneficiary rights confer on the buyer the right to a stream of income without ceding actual ownership of the underlying asset. That asset is often a corporate loan, which may or may not have already soured, though it could also be anything that generates an income stream, such as a trust, a wealth management product or a margin financing deal.

When one bank sells credit beneficiary rights to another, the transaction allows the first bank to use the accounting change to turn the underlying loan on its books into an “investment receivable.” The rules require banks to set aside about 25% of the receivable’s value in capital provisions, compared with 100% had it been a loan. The deals get more complex as layers are added to further disguise the loan. Banks will have third-party shadow financiers extend the actual loan to the company, in exchange for the bank’s purchase of beneficiary rights to the loan’s income stream.

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And where would you think steel prices are going?

China Produces Most Steel Ever After Price Surge (BBG)

China, maker of half the world’s steel, probably boosted production to a record in April as mills fired up furnaces and domestic prices surged to 19-month highs, according to Sanford C. Bernstein. Average daily output may have eclipsed the previous high of about 2.31 million metric tons in June 2014, said Paul Gait, a senior analyst in London. Producers ramped up supply as demand rebounded and prices jumped as much as 69% from their November low, generating the best margins since 2009.

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1970 is a reasonable guess for peak of prosperity. It’s not the only one, but it’s right up there.

Wages’ Share of US GDP Has Fallen for 46 Years (CH Smith)

The majority of American households feel poorer because they are poorer. Real (i.e. adjusted for inflation) median household income has declined for decades, and income gains are concentrated in the top 5%:

Even more devastating, wages’ share of GDP has been declining (with brief interruptions during asset bubbles) for 46 years. That means that as GDP has expanded, the gains have flowed to corporate and owners’ profits and to the state, which is delighted to collect higher taxes at every level of government, from property taxes to income taxes.

Here’s a look at GDP per capita (per person) and median household income. Typically, if GDP per capita is rising, some of that flows to household incomes. In the 1990s boom, both GDP per capita and household income rose together. Since then, GDP per capita has marched higher while household income has declined. Household income saw a slight rise in the housing bubble, but has since collapsed in the “recovery” since 2009.

These are non-trivial trends. What these charts show is the share of the GDP going to wages/salaries is in a long-term decline: gains in GDP are flowing not to wage-earners but to shareholders and owners, and through their higher taxes, to the government. The top 5% of wage earners has garnered virtually all the gains in income. The sums are non-trivial as well. America’s GDP in 2015 was about $18 trillion. Wages’ share -about 42.5%- is $7.65 trillion. If wage’s share was 50%, as it was in the early 1970s, its share would be $9 trillion. That’s $1.35 trillion more that would be flowing to wage earners. That works out to $13,500 per household for 100 million households.

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When you start with statements like this, what’s left to talk about? “The Bundesbank and Federal Reserve, for example, are respected for achieving monetary stability..”

Deutsche Chief Economist: ECB Should Change Course Before It Is Too Late (FT)

Over the past century central banks have become the guardians of our economic and financial security. The Bundesbank and Federal Reserve, for example, are respected for achieving monetary stability, often in the face of political opposition. But central bankers can also lose the plot, usually by following the economic dogma of the day. When they do, their mistakes can be catastrophic. In the 1920s the German Reichsbank thought it a clever idea to have 2,000 printing presses running day and night to finance government spending. Hyperinflation was the result. Around the same time, the Federal Reserve stood by as more than a third of US bank deposits were destroyed, in the belief that banking crises were self-correcting. The Great Depression followed. Today the behaviour of the ECB suggests that it too has gone awry.

When reducing interest rates to historically low levels did not stimulate growth and inflation, the ECB embarked on a massive programme of purchasing eurozone sovereign debt. But the sellers did not spend or invest the proceeds. Instead, they placed the money on deposit. So the ECB went to the logical extreme: it imposed negative interest rates. Currently almost half of eurozone sovereign debt is trading with a negative yield. If this fails to stimulate growth and inflation, “helicopter money” will be next on the agenda. Future students of monetary policy will shake their heads in disbelief. What is more, as purchaser-of-last-resort of sovereign debt, the ECB is underwriting the solvency of its over-indebted members. Countries no longer fear that failure to reform their economies or reduce debt will raise the cost of borrowing.

Six years after the onset of the European debt crisis, total indebtedness in the eurozone keeps on rising. Badly needed reforms have been abandoned. As a result the eurozone is as fragile as ever. Safe keepers of our wealth, such as insurance companies, pension funds and savings banks barely earn a positive spread. Inflation is just above zero, well below the ECB’s defined target. And with growth anaemic, debt levels in some countries, such as Italy, are not sustainable. Worse still, the ECB is failing in its other mandated duty – to promote stability. Popular opposition to low and negative interest rates, when combined with continuing high unemployment, is fomenting anger with the European project. Even if current policy eventually results in an overdue recovery, political pressure is unlikely to abate.

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It’s like one of those oracle-type questions: ‘how can something be on its knees that doesn’t exist’?

UK Economic Recovery Is ‘On Its Knees’ (Ind.)

The latest survey of the UK’s dominant services sector has today rounded off a dismal hat-trick of disappointment for the British economy. The Markit/CIPs PMI Index for April came in at 52.3. That’s above the 50 point that separates contraction from growth. But it’s also the weakest reading since February 2013, when the economy’s recovery was just starting. And it follows two pretty desperate readings this week from the equivalent PMIs for the manufacturing and construction sectors, which both showed the feeblest levels of activity in around three years. Put all these three readings together and one gets the “composite” PMI which can be used to roughly approximate to GDP growth in the overall economy. And combine these two metrics in the chart below (from Pantheon Macroeconomics) and you get this grim picture:

The blue line (left hand scale) shows the level of the composite PMI. The black line (right hand scale) shows the % quarterly rate of GDP growth. They track reasonably well over time. And the decline in the composite reading suggests GDP growth, which weakened to 0.4% in the first quarter of 2016, could be heading down to zero in the second quarter. What’s going on? Samuel Tombs of Pantheon says business and consumer jitters emanating from uncertainty about the outcome of the Brexit referendum has “brought the recovery to its knees”. More economists are now seriously talking of the possibile need for macroeconomic stimulus to get the recovery back on track. “The deterioration in April pushes the surveys into territory which has in the past seen the Bank of England start to worry about the need to revive growth either by cutting interest rates or through non-standard measures such as QE” said Chris Williamson of Markit.

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Lewis paints King a tad too much like a cross between Einstein and Mother Theresa, if you ask me. He presided over a period when debt was already rising like there’s no tomorrow.

The Book That Will Save Banking From Itself (Michael Lewis)

One of my favorite memories of my brief life on Wall Street in the late 1980s is of Mervyn King’s visit. A year after Professor King – as I still think of him – had been my tutor at the London School of Economics, he was tapped to advise some new British financial regulator. As he had no direct experience of financial markets, either he or they thought he’d benefit from exposure to real, live American financiers. I’d been working at the London office of Salomon Brothers for maybe six months when one of my bosses came to me with a big eye roll and said, “We have this academic who wants to sit in with a salesman for a day: Can we stick him with you?” And in walked Professor King. I should say here that King’s students, including me, often came away from encounters with him feeling humored.

He was gentle with people less clever than himself (basically everyone) and found interest in what others had to say when there was no apparent reason to. He really wanted you to feel as if the two of you were engaged in a genuine exchange of ideas, even though the only ideas with any exchange value were his. Still, he had his limits. The man who a year before had handed me a gentleman’s B and probably assumed I would vanish into the bowels of the American economy never to be heard from again saw me smiling and dialing at my Salomon Brothers desk and did a double take. He took the seat next to me and the spare phone that allowed him to listen in on my sales calls. After an hour or so, he put down the phone. “So, Michael, how much are they paying you to do this?” he asked, or something like it.

When I told him, he said something like, “This really should be against the law.” Roughly 15 years later, King was named governor of the Bank of England. In his decade-long tenure, which ended in 2013, the Bank of England became, and remains, the most trustworthy institutional narrator of events in global finance. It’s the one place on the inside of global finance where employees don’t appear to be spending half their time wondering when Goldman Sachs is going to call with a job offer. For various reasons, they don’t play scared. One of those reasons, I’ll bet, is King.

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They’re all very nervous. What happens when oil prices start falling again?

Shift In Saudi Oil Thinking Deepens OPEC Split (R.)

As OPEC officials gathered this week to formulate a long-term strategy, few in the room expected the discussions would end without a clash. But even the most jaded delegates got more than they had bargained with. “OPEC is dead,” declared one frustrated official, according to two sources who were present or briefed about the Vienna meeting. This was far from the first time that OPEC’s demise has been proclaimed in its 56-year history, and the oil exporters’ group itself may yet enjoy a long life in the era of cheap crude. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s most powerful member, still maintains that collective action by all producers is the best solution for an oil market that has dived since mid-2014.

But events at Monday’s meeting of OPEC governors suggest that if Saudi Arabia gets its way, then one of the group’s central strategies – of managing global oil prices by regulating supply – will indeed go to the grave. In a major shift in thinking, Riyadh now believes that targeting prices has become pointless as the weak global market reflects structural changes rather than any temporary trend, according to sources familiar with its views. OPEC is already split over how to respond to cheap oil. Last month tensions between Saudi Arabia and its arch-rival Iran ruined the first deal in 15 years to freeze crude output and help to lift global prices. These resurfaced at the long-term strategy meeting of the OPEC governors, officials who report to their countries’ oil ministers.

According to the sources, it was a delegate from a non-Gulf Arab country who pronounced OPEC dead in remarks directed at the Saudi representative as they argued over whether the group should keep targeting prices. Iran, represented by its governor Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, has been arguing that this is precisely what OPEC was created for and hence “effective production management” should be one of its top long-term goals. But Saudi governor Mohammed al-Madi said he believed the world has changed so much in the past few years that it has become a futile exercise to try to do so, sources say. “OPEC should recognize the fact that the market has gone through a structural change, as is evident by the market becoming more competitive rather than monopolistic,” al-Madi told his counterparts inside the meeting, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

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And how could prices rise in the face of record reserves?

US Crude Stockpiles Seen Rising Further to Record (BBG)

U.S. crude inventories will expand to a record 550 million barrels this month before starting their seasonal slide, according to a forecast by Citigroup. Stockpiles rose 2.8 million barrels to 543.4 million last week, the most in more than 86 years, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Inventories reached the highest ever at 545.2 million barrels in October 1929, according to monthly EIA data.

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Record stockpiles with a million barrels missing. Prices are already dropping again.

Fort McMurray Fires Knock One Million Barrels Offline (FP)

The shut down of energy facilities accelerated Thursday, taking off line about one million barrels – close to 40% – of Alberta’s daily oilsands production, as a wildfire that started near Fort McMurray spread south to new producing areas. Meanwhile, oil companies poured their resources into the firefighting effort — from sheltering evacuees to helping with medical emergencies. Overnight Wednesday, the raging fire forced the evacuation of smaller communities south of Fort McMurray, where many evacuees fleeing the flames this week had taken shelter. They joined residents of Fort McMurray, who were ordered to leave their homes earlier in the week.

“Based on press releases and our discussions with producers, the fires have impacted oilsands production by an estimated 0.9 to 1 million b/d – disproportionately weighted towards synthetic crude oil,” Greg Pardy, co-head of global energy research at RBC Dominion Securities, said in a report. “This would constitute about 35% to 38% of our 2016 oilsands outlook of 2.6 million b/d.” Steve Laut, president of Canadian Natural Resources, said it was difficult to gauge the long-term impacts of the crisis because it was still evolving. “It’s devastating to the city of Fort McMurray,” he said Thursday after addressing the company’s annual meeting. Many production facilities are located away from the fire, but “it’s really the workers at the mines and the plants who live in Fort McMurray who are impacted,” Laut said. Canadian Natural said its operations at the Horizon mining project were stable.

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How is it possible that no-one died yet? They must be doing something very right.

Canada’s Wildfires Grow Tenfold In Size (G.)

A catastrophic wildfire that has forced all 88,000 residents to flee Fort McMurray in western Canada grew tenfold on Thursday, cutting off evacuees in camps north of the city and putting communities to the south in extreme danger. Authorities scrambled to organise an airlift of 8,000 people from the camps on Thursday night and hoped to move thousands more to safer areas as the fast-moving fire threatened to engulf huge areas of the arid western province of Alberta. Officials said 25,000 people had taken shelter in the oilsands work camps when the fires engulfed the city. The remaining 17,000 would have to wait until fuel reserves were refilled and the opening of a main highway to drive themselves south. The out-of-control blaze has burned down whole neighborhoods of Fort McMurray in Canada’s energy heartland and forced a precautionary shutdown of some oil production, driving up global oil prices.

The Alberta government, which declared a state of emergency, said more than 1,100 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 air tankers were fighting a total of 49 wildfires, with seven considered out of control. Three days after the residents were ordered to leave Fort McMurray, firefighters were still battling to protect homes, businesses and other structures from the flames. More than 1,600 structures, including hundreds of homes, have been destroyed. “The damage to the community of Fort McMurray is extensive and the city is not safe for residents,” said Alberta premier Rachel Notley in a press briefing on Thursday night, as those left stranded to the north of the city clamoured for answers. “It is simply not possible, nor is it responsible to speculate on a time when citizens will be able to return. We do know that it will not be a matter of days,” she added.

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Merkel bet on the wrong horse again. And this one, too, will put people’s well-being in danger. “..It’s time the EU starts to connect the dots and see it for what it is.” Oh, they see it alright.

Turkish Power Struggle Threatens EU Migrant Deal (FT)

A pivotal deal to staunch the flow of migrants from Turkey into the EU, masterminded by Angela Merkel, German chancellor, is in doubt after Turkey’s pro-European prime minister resigned. Ahmet Davutoglu, who personally negotiated the deal with Ms Merkel, quit on Thursday following a power struggle with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The premier’s departure imperils an agreement credited with sharply reducing the influx of asylum-seekers into the EU – and rescuing Ms Merkel from a potentially fatal political backlash. The deal enables the EU to send migrants arriving illegally on the Greek islands back to Turkey in exchange for visa requirements on Turkish visitors being eased and financial aid. However, President Erdogan has responded coolly towards the agreement struck by his premier and has shown increasing hostility towards the EU.

Without reforms to Turkey’s antiterrorism and anti-corruption laws, which Mr Erdogan has angrily resisted, Brussels may be unable to grant some of the most important concessions in the deal — a move that Ankara has already warned would cancel its obligation to curtail refugee crossings into Greece. “We’ve made good progress on the agreement with Turkey,” Ms Merkel said in Rome on Thursday. “The European Union, or at least Germany and Italy, are prepared and stand by the commitments that we’ve agreed to. We hope that’s mutual.” To keep the pact on track, Ankara must still meet several benchmarks, including major revisions to its antiterrorism legislation to ensure civil liberties, that Mr Erdogan has been loath to support.

EU officials are now concerned that Ankara will backtrack on reform commitments. “It’s certainly not good news for us,” said the EU official. “Erdogan would be very ill-advised to throw this out of the window and think this is now a matter of horse-trading. He thinks it’s 50% wriggle room, and the rest is all arm-wrestling.” Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat at the Carnegie Europe think-tank, said that Mr Erdogan had been “much more categorical” in resisting changes to the antiterrorism law, adding that, with his AK party and parliament in disarray, the chances of reforms being passed in time for a June deadline was becoming increasingly unlikely. When Ms Merkel set out to persuade sceptical EU countries to back the migrant deal, one of her central arguments, according to diplomats, was that it would shore up the pro-European faction in Ankara, led by Mr Davutoglu.

Instead, the deal hastened the demise of her main Turkish ally and left the pro-Europeans seriously weakened. President Erdogan saw Mr Davutoglu’s increasingly close relationship with the EU as a threat. A rift between the two men turned into a power struggle which the prime minister lost. [..] European lawmakers who must now approve the deal say they are becoming increasingly wary. “If this was an isolated incident, you could say it’s just an internal affair,” said Marietje Schaake, a Dutch liberal who has become a leading voice on Turkey in the European parliament. “But we’ve seen a series of incidents that are clearly a pattern towards authoritarianism. It’s time the EU starts to connect the dots and see it for what it is.”

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Merkel has lost it: the EU, in order to survive, needs to start protecting people, especially children, before protecting borders. It’s the only thing that could still save the Union.

Merkel Warns Of Return To Nationalism Unless EU Protects Borders (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday urged European leaders to protect EU borders or risk a “return to nationalism” as the continent battles its worst migration crisis since World War II. As Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi kicked off two days of talks in Rome with Merkel and senior EU officials, the German leader said Europe must defend its borders “from the Mediterranean to the North Pole” or suffer the political consequences. Support for far-right and anti-immigrant parties is on the rise in several countries on the continent which saw more than a million people arrive on its shores last year. In Austria, Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party is expected to win a presidential run-off on May 22 after romping to victory in the first round on an anti-immigration platform.

Merkel told a press conference with Renzi that Europe’s cherished freedom of movement is at threat, with ramped-up border controls in response to the crisis raising questions over whether the passport-free Schengen zone can survive. With over 28,500 migrants arriving since January 1, Italy has once again become the principal entry point for migrants arriving in Europe, following a controversial EU-Turkey deal and the closure of the Balkan route up from Greece. In previous years, many migrants landing in Italy have headed on to other countries – but with Austria planning to reinstate border controls at the Brenner pass in the Alps, a key transport corridor, Rome fears it could be stuck hosting masses of new arrivals. Renzi lashed out at Austria on Thursday, describing Vienna’s position as “anachronistic”.

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Child refugees have to be the no. 1 priority. A Europe with no morals has no future either.

Quarter Of Child Refugees Arriving In EU Travelled Without Parents (G.)

A quarter of all child refugees who arrived in Europe last year – almost 100,000 under-18s – travelled without parents or guardians and are now “geographically orphaned”, presenting a huge challenge to authorities in their adopted countries. A total of 1.2 million people sought asylum in the EU in 2015, 30% of whom – almost 368,000 – were minors. The number of children arriving in Europe last year was two-and-half times that recorded a year earlier, and almost five times as many as in 2012. But the most staggering statistic is that a quarter of the young arrivals were unaccompanied. In all, 88,695 children completed the dangerous journey without their parents – an average of 10 arriving every hour. The highest proportion of child refugees last year were Syrian, followed by Afghans and Iraqis. Together these three nationalities accounted for 60% of all minors seeking asylum in the EU.

In absolute terms, Germany received the highest number of child refugees, taking in more than 137,000 in 2015. However, as a proportion of population Sweden took in the most. Half of the unaccompanied minors came from Afghanistan, and one in seven were Syrian. More unaccompanied minors hailed from Eritrea (5,140) than from Iraq (4,570). Sweden took the highest number of lone children, 35,000 in total, two-thirds of them from Afghanistan. It also recorded the highest number of unaccompanied minors per head of population, followed by Austria and Hungary. It is not possible to get a full picture of how many children have sought asylum in Europe so far in 2016, as several countries have not yet published figures for the first quarter of the year. But the number of child asylum applicants recorded in Europe in January and February already far exceeds that recorded in the same months of 2015.

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May 042016
 
 May 4, 2016  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Myrtle Beach, S.C. Air Service Command Technical Sergeant Choken 1943

US Dollar Plunges As World Plays Dangerous Game Of Pass The Parcel (AEP)
90% of Americans Worse Off Today Than in 1970s (VW)
High Anxiety: Markets Get Roiled (WSJ)
China’s Improbable Commodities Frenzy Leaves Stocks in the Dust (BBG)
Commodities Are China’s Hottest New Casino (FT)
China’s $1 Trillion In Bad Debt Makes A Sharp Slowdown Inevitable (BI)
$571 Billion Debt Wall Points to More Defaults in China (BBG)
The Global Economy is at Stall Speed, Rapidly Losing Lift (Stockman)
Fed Expected To Drag Hedge Funds Into Plan To Halt Next Lehman (BBG)
Barclays Launches First 100% Mortgages Since Crisis (FT)
Whistleblowing Is Not Just Leaking, It’s an Act of Resistance (Snowden)
Whistle-Blower Needed a Smoke Before Giving Up LuxLeaks Data (BBG)
The Kleptocrats’ $36 Trillion Heist Keeps Most of the World Impoverished (DB)
France Threatens To Block TTiP Deal (G.)
TTIP Has Been Kicked Into The Long Grass … For A Very Long Time (G.)
After The Leaks Showing What It Is, This Could Be The End For TTIP (Ind.)
Spain, France, Italy, Portugal To Miss EU Deficit, Debt Reduction Targets (R.)
Theft Of Sausage And Cheese By Hungry Homeless Man ‘Not A Crime’ (G.)

“..the Fed is pursuing a “weak dollar policy” [..] “They are forcing currency appreciation onto weaker economies. It is irrational..” No, it’s not irrational, but it certainly is short term only. “.. the soaring euro is in the end self-correcting since the eurozone cannot withstand the pain for long..”

US Dollar Plunges As World Plays Dangerous Game Of Pass The Parcel (AEP)

The US dollar has plunged to a 16-month low in the latest wild move for the global financial system, tightening the currency noose on the eurozone and Japan as they struggle to break out of a debt-deflation trap. The closely-watched dollar index fell below 92 for the first time since January 2015, catapulting gold through $1300 an ounce in early trading and setting off steep falls on stock markets in Asia and Europe. The latest data from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission shows that speculative traders have switched to a net “short” position on the dollar. This is a massive shift in sentiment since the end of last year when investors were betting heavily that the US Federal Reserve was on track for a series of rate rises, which would draw a flood of capital into dollar assets.

Markets have now largely discounted a rate rise in June, and are pricing in just a 68pc likelihood of any increases this year. The dollar slide has been a lifeline for foreign borrowers with $11 trillion of debt in US currency, notably companies in China, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey that feasted on cheap US liquidity when the Fed spigot was open, and were then caught in a horrible squeeze when the Fed turned to tap off again and the dollar surged in 2014 and 2015. But it increases the pain for the eurozone and Japan as their currencies rocket. The world is in effect playing a high-stakes game of pass the parcel, with over-indebted countries desperately trying to export their deflationary problems to others by nudging down exchange rates. The Japanese yen appreciated to 105.60, the strongest since September 2014 and a shock to exporters planning on an average of this 117.50 this year.

The wild moves over recent weeks have blown apart the Japan’s reflation strategy. Analysts from Nomura said Abenomics is now “dead in the water”. The eurozone is also in jeopardy, despite enjoying a sweet spot of better growth in the first quarter. The euro touched $1.16 to the dollar early in the day. It has risen over 7pc in trade-weighted terms since the Europe Central Bank first launched quantitative easing in a disguised bid to drive down the exchange rate. Prices fell by 0.2pc in April and deflation is becoming more deeply-lodged in the eurozone economy, with no safety buffers left against an external shock. The European Commission this week slashed its inflation forecast to 0.2pc this year from 1.0pc as recently as November.

There is little that the Bank of Japan or the ECB can do to arrest this unwelcome appreciation. The Obama Administration warned them at the G20 summit in February that any further use of negative interest rates would be regarded by Washington as covert devaluation, and would not be tolerated. “These central banks have reached the limits of what they can do with monetary policy to influence their exchange rates, and this is putting their entire models at risk,” said Hans Redeker, currency chief at Morgan Stanley. “Europe and Japan are operating in a Keynesian liquidity trap. We are nearing a danger point like 2012 when it could lead to an asset market sell-off. We’re not there yet,” he said.

Stephen Jen from SLJ Macro Partners said the Fed is pursuing a “weak dollar policy”, reacting to global events in a radical new way. “They are forcing currency appreciation onto weaker economies. It is irrational,” he said. Yet it may not last long if the US economy comes roaring back in the second quarter a after a soft patch. “I doubt this is really the end of multi-year run for the dollar,” he said. Neil Mellor from BNY Mellon says the soaring euro is in the end self-correcting since the eurozone cannot withstand the pain for long, and as this becomes evident the currency will start sliding again.

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“Many believe that globalization is largely to blame.”

90% of Americans Worse Off Today Than in 1970s (VW)

A recent study in March from the Levy Economics Institute found that 90% of Americans were worse off financially in 2015 than at any time since the early 1970s. Furthermore, for the vast majority of Americans, the nation’s economy is in a prolonged stagnation, far worse than that of Japan. Worse than Japan? When we think of the Japanese economy, we think of the “Lost Decades.” Japan’s economy was the envy of the world in the 1980s, but starting in 1991, it fell into a prolonged recession and deflation which lasted from then to 2010. Japan’s GDP fell from $5.33 trillion to $4.36 trillion during that period, which saw wages fall by apprx. 5%. So are we really worse off today than Japan? The Levy Economics Institute at Bard College thinks the answer is YES, when it comes to real income – that is, income adjusted for inflation.

According to their findings, 90% of Americans earn roughly the same real income today as the average American earned back in the early 1970s. As a result of this stagnation in incomes and the plunge in housing values during the Great Recession, 99% of American households have seen their net worth fall since 2007 according to the study. Economic stagnation hasn’t reached the remaining 1% of the US population, which has seen a recovery in their real incomes over the same period to near new highs. The chart below has not been updated to include results for 2015, but the trends are clear. The bottom 99% of US income-earning households have seen their net worth decline since the financial crisis of 2007-2009.

Once upon a time, the American economy worked for nearly everybody, and even the middle class got richer. Things were quite different in the decades preceding the 70s, a period that stretches back to the late 1940s, when real incomes rose for both groups. Simply put, for the vast majority of Americans, the dream of a steady increase in income was lost back in the early 1970s. What can explain this big shift in the income distribution in the last four decades? One clue is in the timeframe of the shift, which coincides with the growing openness of the American economy to international trade and investments. Many believe that globalization is largely to blame.

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The game is getting dangerous. But it’s the only game in town.

High Anxiety: Markets Get Roiled (WSJ)

Stocks and oil futures tumbled and Japan’s yen hit its highest intraday level against the dollar since October 2014, as investors struggled to reconcile recent market gains with unease over the pace of global growth. The latest tumult erupted after the Reserve Bank of Australia on Tuesday cut its benchmark rate by one-quarter of a percentage point to 1.75%. The move reflects soft inflation and economic sluggishness driven in part by weak demand from China, the largest buyer of Australian exports. Adding to concerns were a drop in Chinese manufacturing and signals that eurozone growth is slowing more than previously forecast, traders said.

Tuesday’s developments reflect worries that have shadowed a surprising 2016 recovery in the prices of stocks and many commodities. Global growth has slowed this year, prompting major forecasters to cut their outlooks. Yet in recent months the decline of the U.S. dollar and easier policy from global central banks have helped fuel gains in many riskier assets, allowing the Dow industrials to recover from a decline of as much as 10% earlier this year. The action has vexed many portfolio managers and traders, who came into the year expecting the dollar to gain against the yen and euro as the Fed prepared to further tighten its policy and its peers loosened theirs. Instead, both currencies have surged against the dollar.

The dollar fell as low as ¥105.53 during trading Tuesday before retracing to ¥106 later in the session. The dollar traded at ¥120 at the start of the year, according to CQG. The gains threaten to add to economic turmoil in the world’s third-largest economy while deepening investors’ anxiety. “The financial markets are on edge,’’ said Jack McIntyre at Brandywine Global Investment Management. ”Economic growth is still hard to come by.’’

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Hard to imagine that this still has legs..

China’s Improbable Commodities Frenzy Leaves Stocks in the Dust (BBG)

The wild ride in China’s commodity futures is making the nation’s $5.9 trillion stock market look docile. Compared with the stock market, even eggs have been a better investment in China in 2016, with futures climbing 27%. That’s as the cost of a dozen eggs in the U.S. slumped 24% in the first quarter. The epicenter of the commodities boom, however, has been steel reinforcement bars, which have surged 38%. The dizzying increase in speculative activity prompted the head of the world’s largest metals exchange to say that some traders probably don’t even know what they are buying or selling. The Shanghai Composite Index is down 15% this year.

Fluctuations in steel futures have sent a gauge of price swings to the highest level on record. Rebar surged 29% in Shanghai from the end of March through April 22, before dropping about 11%. Bourses in Dalian, Shanghai and Zhengzhou have announced measures to cool the commodities boom including higher fees and a reduction in night hours. Meanwhile, volatility on the Shanghai Composite, which saw gut-wrenching moves over the summer and the start of 2016, has fallen to the lowest level in more than a year as the market turned flat. The intensity of futures trading on Chinese commodities exchanges is making some of the world’s most liquid markets look leisurely. The average iron ore and steel rebar contracts on the Shanghai Futures Exchange are held for less than four hours, compared with almost 40 hours for WTI crude futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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Time to get out. The House wins.

Commodities Are China’s Hottest New Casino (FT)

China’s market regulator may have succeeded in taking much of the froth off the country’s surging commodities markets last week, but the message is not filtering down to many dedicated retail traders. As Chinese markets reopened on Tuesday after the May Day holiday, a few dozen young traders in Shanghai crowded into a small room provided by a local brokerage. The mostly 20-something male traders, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, were looking forward to another week of fevered risk-taking in China’s hottest new casino. “It’s better for futures traders to be young because they can learn faster,” said Zhang Jun, 26, who has been trading commodities on the Shanghai Futures Exchange for three years but has only recently begun to make any money.

“This is not relevant to anything you study before you get here. I don’t know anyone who studied a relevant major,” said Mr Zhang, a mechanical engineer by training. On April 29, the China Securities Regulatory Commission ordered the country’s three commodities futures exchanges to curb speculation. The exchanges had already taken steps in that direction, by increasing margin requirements and transaction fees while reducing trading hours. The measures appeared to be aimed primarily at large institutional traders who have contributed to price surges for commodities ranging from steel to eggs, which have increased 50% and 10% respectively over recent months. Liu Shiyu, the CSRC’s new boss, wants to avoid the fate of his recently sacked predecessor, who last year presided over a boom and bust on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges.

Poor economic data helped Mr Liu’s cause on Tuesday, with the price of the Shanghai exchange’s most popular steel rebar contract falling 4.52% to Rmb2,451 a tonne. Futures for iron ore, the key ingredient in steel production, also took a hit. The most actively traded contract on the Dalian Futures Exchange, which largely trades steel industry inputs, dropped 2.96% to Rmb442.5 per tonne. At the peak of last month’s China commodities fever, the number of steel rebar contracts traded in Shanghai exceeded volumes for the world’s two most important crude oil benchmarks, Brent and West Texas Intermediate.

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More dangerous by the day, but nothing to stop it.

China’s $1 Trillion In Bad Debt Makes A Sharp Slowdown Inevitable (BI)

The amount of debt being carried in the Chinese economy – mostly by state-owned “zombie” companies – is now so high that it could lead to a financial crisis, according to Macquarie analyst Viktor Shvets and his team. “Unless this vicious cycle is broken, financial crisis or at least a sharp slowdown is an inevitable ultimate outcome,” he wrote in a note to investors on April 29. The China debt problem is simple, at least in concept. To grow its economy, the Chinese government and its central bank have extended credit generously to all sorts of Chinese companies. Many of those are “state owned enterprises,” which are often old-fashioned, uncompetitive, or kept alive by political will rather than economic necessity.

These “zombie” companies exist largely to pay back those debts, but as time goes by some of them default, or fail to pay back all if their loans. This was not much of a problem until recently, Shvets argues, because China’s economy was growing so robustly that it eclipsed the rate of non-performing loans (NPLs). But as the economy has grown, so has its debt, to roughly $35 trillion, or nearly 350% of GDP. If too many companies fail to repay their debts, private lenders and banks will become fearful of lending more. And when that happens, it would plunge China into a financial crisis as liquidity dries up. The size of the debt at risk is so large – and the Chinese economy is such a global driving force – that such a crisis would cause a contagion into the markets of the rest of the world.

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It can’t be called an accident, but it sure is waiting to happen.

$571 Billion Debt Wall Points to More Defaults in China (BBG)

Chinese debt investors are turning bearish at just the wrong time for the nation’s corporate borrowers, which face a record 3.7 trillion yuan ($571 billion) of local bond maturities through year-end. With this year’s biggest note payments concentrated in some of the country’s most-cash strapped industries, China needs buoyant markets to help its companies refinance. Instead, yields in April rose at the fastest pace in more than a year and issuance tumbled 43% as borrowers canceled 143 billion yuan of planned debt sales. Deteriorating investor sentiment has heightened the risk of defaults in a market that’s already seen at least seven companies renege on obligations this year, matching the total for all of 2015.

While government-run banks may step in to help weaker borrowers, missed debt payments by three state-owned firms in the past three months suggest policy makers are becoming more tolerant of corporate failures as the economy slows. “The biggest risk to the onshore bond market is refinancing risk,” said Qiu Xinhong at First State Cinda Fund. “With such a big amount of bonds maturing, if Chinese issuers can’t sell new bonds to repay the old, more will default.”Repayment pressures are most extreme in China’s “old economy” industries, the biggest losers from the nation’s slowdown. Listed metals and mining companies, which generated enough operating profit to cover just half of their interest expenses in 2015, face principal payments of 389 billion yuan through year-end.

Power generation firms owe 332 billion yuan, while maturities at coal companies have swelled to 292 billion yuan. SDIC Xinji Energy, a state-owned coal producer that canceled a bond sale on March 11, must repay 1 billion yuan of notes on May 15, according to Bloomberg-compiled data. China International Capital highlighted the company as one of the riskiest onshore issuers in the second quarter. Fei Dai, SDIC’s board secretary, said Tuesday that the firm will arrange bank loans and other measures to avoid a default. The shares fell 5% to the lowest level since December 2014 in Shanghai on Wednesday. [..] “If you have a large number of companies in high-risk sectors that lose access to financing, there will be defaults or restructuring,” said Raja Mukherji, head of Asian credit research at PIMCO.

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“China can’t be growing at 6.7% when its export machine has run out of gas..”

The Global Economy is at Stall Speed, Rapidly Losing Lift (Stockman)

South Korea’s exports tumbled to $41 billion in April, marking the 16th consecutive month of declining foreign sales. Last month’s result represented a 11.2% decline from prior year, and an 18% drop from April 2014. Moreover, within that shrinking total, exports to China were down by 18.4% last month, following a 12.2% drop in March. The Korean export slump is no aberration. The same pattern is evident in the entire East Asia export belt. That’s because the Red Ponzi is in its last innings. Beijing is furiously pumping on the credit accelerator, but to no avail. As can’t be emphasized enough, printing GDP by means of wanton credit expansion does not create wealth or growth; it just results in an eventual day of reckoning when the speculative excesses inherent in central bank money printing collapse in upon themselves.

China is surely close to that kind of implosion. During Q1 total credit, or what Beijing is please to call “social financing”, expanded at a $4 trillion annualized rate. This was up 57% over prior year and represented debt growth at a 38% of GDP annual rate. Stated differently, during the first 90 days of 2016 China piled another $1 trillion of debt on its existing $30 trillion debt mountain, while its nominal GDP expanded by less than $175 billion. That’s right. The Red Ponzi is generating barely $1 of GDP for every $6 of new debt. And much of the “GDP” purportedly generated during Q1 reflected new construction of empty apartments and redundant public infrastructure. By now it ought to be evident that the Chinese economy is a brobdingnagian freak of nature that is destined for a collapse, and that its economic statistics are a tissue of fabrications and delusions.

Even its export figures, which are constrained toward minimum honesty because they can be checked against Chinese imports reported by the rest of the world, are padded to some considerable degree by phony export invoicing designed to hide illegal capital flight. Still, the implication of its export trends are unmistakable. When you put aside the statistical razzmatazz of the Chinese New Year’s timing noise in the data, exports were down by 10% in Q1 as a whole. That is the worst quarterly drop since 2009 amidst the global Great Recession, and was nearly twice the rate of decline during Q4 and Q3 2015. Here’s the thing. China can’t be growing at 6.7% when its export machine has run out of gas, as is so starkly evident in the graph below.

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Still festering in the dark.

Fed Expected To Drag Hedge Funds Into Plan To Halt Next Lehman (BBG)

Hedge funds, insurers and other companies that do business with Wall Street megabanks will pay a price for regulators’ efforts to make sure any future collapse of a giant lender doesn’t tank the entire financial system. The Federal Reserve is set to propose so-called stays on derivatives and other contracts that would prevent counterparties from immediately pulling collateral from a failed bank. The plan released Tuesday is meant to give authorities ample time to unwind a firm, hopefully heading off the frantic contagion that spread through markets when Lehman Brothers toppled in 2008. Though the world’s largest banks have already made strides to include such protections in transactions with each other, the Fed’s proposal insists that the shield be expanded to more contracts – including with non-bank firms.

The curbs would apply to any new contract signed by eight of the biggest and most complex U.S. bank holding companies and the U.S. arms of major foreign banks. So, hedge funds and asset managers that want to keep doing business with such lenders would have to comply. Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo said the proposal is “another step forward in our efforts to make financial firms resolvable without either injecting public capital or endangering the overall stability of the financial system.” Industry groups representing firms such as Citadel, BlackRock and MetLife have resisted efforts to rewrite financial contracts, arguing that it abuses investors’ rights and could make things worse by encouraging trading partners to try to pull away from a bank at the first whiff of trouble, even before a failure. But asset managers and insurers would face a tough task in persuading the Fed to change course.

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Party! It’ll be Britain’s last for a while…

Barclays Launches First 100% Mortgages Since Crisis (FT)

Barclays has become the first high street bank since the financial crisis to launch a 100% mortgage in the latest sign of a return to riskier lending. The bank is allowing some buyers to take out a mortgage to 100% of the value of the property, without needing a deposit. Most banks require at least a 5-10% lump sum. Barclays said the mortgage only needed to be supported by a family member or guardian, who must set aside 10% of the purchase price in cash for three years in return for interest. It said the new mortgage was designed to remove the issue of borrowers drawing from the “bank of Mum and Dad” to stump up a deposit. Ray Boulger, of broker John Charcol, said: “It is the first true 100% mortgage since the financial crisis.” The move marks a shift back to higher loan-to-value lending reminiscent of the boom times before the crisis of 2008, when 100% mortgages were widely available.

The defunct bank Northern Rock became renowned for its aggressive lending, with its “Together” mortgages offering 125% of the property value. Regulators have since clamped down on risky lending through regulation in 2014, called the Mortgage Market Review, designed to ensure borrowers can repay — although it does not prohibit 100% loans. The Bank of England would also be likely to take a dim view of any widespread return to deposit-free mortgage lending. So far, no other bank has offered such loans. “We haven’t seen a resurgence of 100% mortgages; I don’t think regulation would allow that,” said Charlotte Nelson, of consumer site Moneyfacts. “I don’t think it’s something many other banks will take on. If they’re seen to be lending at 100%, even with a guarantee, it doesn’t look great. Seeing 100% deals back on the market can come off as negative.”

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The attitude towards whistleblowers still feels medieval.

Whistleblowing Is Not Just Leaking, It’s an Act of Resistance (Snowden)

“I’ve been waiting 40 years for someone like you.” Those were the first words Daniel Ellsberg spoke to me when we met last year. Dan and I felt an immediate kinship; we both knew what it meant to risk so much — and to be irrevocably changed — by revealing secret truths. One of the challenges of being a whistleblower is living with the knowledge that people continue to sit, just as you did, at those desks, in that unit, throughout the agency, who see what you saw and comply in silence, without resistance or complaint. They learn to live not just with untruths but with unnecessary untruths, dangerous untruths, corrosive untruths. It is a double tragedy: What begins as a survival strategy ends with the compromise of the human being it sought to preserve and the diminishing of the democracy meant to justify the sacrifice.

But unlike Dan Ellsberg, I didn’t have to wait 40 years to witness other citizens breaking that silence with documents. Ellsberg gave the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971; Chelsea Manning provided the Iraq and Afghan War logs and the Cablegate materials to WikiLeaks in 2010. I came forward in 2013. Now here we are in 2016, and another person of courage and conscience has made available the set of extraordinary documents that are published in The Assassination Complex, the new book out today by Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept. We are witnessing a compression of the working period in which bad policy shelters in the shadows, the time frame in which unconstitutional activities can continue before they are exposed by acts of conscience.

And this temporal compression has a significance beyond the immediate headlines; it permits the people of this country to learn about critical government actions, not as part of the historical record but in a way that allows direct action through voting — in other words, in a way that empowers an informed citizenry to defend the democracy that “state secrets” are nominally intended to support. When I see individuals who are able to bring information forward, it gives me hope that we won’t always be required to curtail the illegal activities of our government as if it were a constant task, to uproot official lawbreaking as routinely as we mow the grass. (Interestingly enough, that is how some have begun to describe remote killing operations, as “cutting the grass.”)

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Case in point.

Whistle-Blower Needed a Smoke Before Giving Up LuxLeaks Data (BBG)

The man who uncovered secret Luxembourg deals that helped companies slash tax rates was actually looking for training documents when he stumbled upon the files on his computer at PricewaterhouseCoopers. On the eve of his departure from the accounting firm in 2010, Antoine Deltour wasn’t fully aware of what he had discovered. He copied the folder and within half an hour had about 45,000 pages detailing confidential tax agreements that became known as the LuxLeaks. Deltour’s discovery triggered the first in a wave of scandals over how thousands of international companies, including Walt Disney, Microsoft’s Skype and PepsiCo, moved money around the globe to avoid taxes. It also landed him in trouble after PwC sued and prosecutors charged him and two other men with theft and violation of business secrets.

“I had discovered gradually the administrative practice of these deals,” Deltour, 30, told a three-judge panel at his trial in Luxembourg Tuesday. “The opportunity to have stumbled over this folder led me to copy it at that moment without a clear goal in mind,” knowing about the “sensitive and highly confidential nature of these files.” Deltour “felt a bit surprised by the volume of the” files and “didn’t immediately do anything with this mass of information,” he told the court. He felt “isolated” and “alone” and unsure of who to turn to. Months later he was contacted by journalist Edouard Perrin, who was working on a documentary about tax practices. The pair met only once, at Deltour’s home in Nancy, France, where Deltour said he needed a moment before handing over the files. “Of course I hesitated,” Deltour told the judge. “I went to smoke a cigarette on the balcony to think a few moments about this.”

The resulting 2012 documentary by Perrin, who is also a defendant in the case, led to interest from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The group put the documents online in 2014, triggering the LuxLeaks scandal. Perrin, 44, another French citizen, was charged in April 2015 with being the accomplice of Raphael Halet, another ex-PwC staffer who is accused of stealing 16 corporate tax returns from the accounting firm and giving them to the journalist. Perrin is also accused of having urged Halet to search for specific documents, a charge both men rejected.

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Grand Theft Auto. Redux.

The Kleptocrats’ $36 Trillion Heist Keeps Most of the World Impoverished (DB)

For the first time we have a reliable estimate of how much money thieving dictators and others have looted from 150 mostly poor nations and hidden offshore: $12.1 trillion. That huge figure equals a nickel on each dollar of global wealth and yet it excludes the wealthiest regions of the planet: America, Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. That so much money is missing from these poorer nations explains why vast numbers of people live in abject poverty even in countries where economic activity per capita is above the world average. In Equatorial Guinea, for example, the national economy’s output per person comes to 60 cents for each dollar Americans enjoy, measured using what economists call purchasing power equivalents, yet living standards remain abysmal.

The $12.1 trillion estimate—which amounts to two-thirds of America’s annual GDP being taken out of the economies of much poorer nations—is for flight wealth built up since 1970. Add to that flight wealth from the world’s rich regions, much of it due to tax evasion and criminal activities like drug dealing, and the global figure for hidden offshore wealth totals as much as $36 trillion. In 2014 the net worth of planet Earth was about $240 trillion, which means about 15% of global wealth is in hiding, significantly reducing the capital available to spur world economic growth. That $12.1 trillion figure for money looted from poorer countries has been hiding in plain sight. It comes from numbers in the global economic data—derived by comparing statistics from the IMF and the World Bank, supplemented by some figures from the United Nations and the CIA—that do not match up, but which until now no one had bothered to analyze.

You might think that with their vast staffs of economists and analysts the IMF, the World Bank, and other institutions would have run the numbers long ago, but no. Instead, one determined person combed 45 years of official statistics from around the world to calculate the flight wealth for nearly 200 countries that publish comparable economic data. That’s Jim Henry, who was a rising corporate star until he gave it all up to document illicit flows of money and the damage they do to billions of people. Henry has been the chief economist at McKinsey, arguably the world’s most influential business consultancy, and worked directly under Jack Welch at General Electric. A Harvard-educated economist and lawyer, Henry calls himself an investigative economist. His approach is simple: “Just look at the effing data and solve the puzzle” of mismatches between the various official sources.

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Seems like a bad time to keep on pushing through ever more deals people obviously don’t want.

France Threatens To Block TTiP Deal (G.)

Doubts about the controversial EU-US trade pact are mounting after the French president threatened to block the deal. François Hollande said on Tuesday he would reject the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership “at this stage” because France was opposed to unregulated free trade. Earlier, France’s lead trade negotiator had warned that a halt in TTIP talks “is the most probable option”. Matthias Fekl, the minister responsible for representing France in TTIP talks, blamed Washington for the impasse. He said Europe had offered a lot but had received little in return. He added: “There cannot be an agreement without France and much less against France.” All 28 EU member states and the European parliament will have to ratify TTIP before it comes into force.

But that day seems further away than ever, with talks bogged down after 13 rounds of negotiations spread over nearly three years. The gulf between the two sides was highlighted by a massive leak of documents on Monday, first reported by the Guardian, which revealed “irreconcilable” differences on consumer protection and animal welfare standards. The publication of 248 pages of negotiating texts and internal positions, obtained by Greenpeace and seen by the Guardian, showed that the two sides remain far apart on how to align regulations on environment and consumer protection. Greenpeace said the leak demonstrated that the EU and the US were in a race to the bottom on health and environmental standards, but negotiators on both sides rejected these claims.

The European commission, which leads negotiations on behalf of the EU, dismissed the “alarmist headlines” as “a storm in a teacup”. But Tuesday’s comments from the heart of the French government reveal how difficult TTIP negotiations have become. France has always had the biggest doubts about TTIP. In 2013 the French government secured an exemption for its film industry from TTIP talks to try to shelter French-language productions from Hollywood dominance. Hollande, who is beset by dire poll ratings, indicated on Tuesday that the government has other concerns about TTIP. Speaking at a conference on the history of the left, Hollande said he would never accept “the undermining of the essential principles of our agriculture, our culture, of mutual access to public markets”. Fekl told French radio that the agreement on the table is “a bad deal”. “Europe is offering a lot and we are getting very little in return. That is unacceptable,” he said.

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With growth gone, so is the desire for deals. Too much domestic backlash.

TTIP Has Been Kicked Into The Long Grass … For A Very Long Time (G.)

As talks to broker a global trade deal entered a second tortuous decade, the US and the European Union came up with an idea. Since it was proving impossible to find agreement among the 150 or so members of the World Trade Organisation about how to tear down barriers to freer commerce, they would strike their own agreement. Talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) began in the summer of 2013 with officials in Washington and Brussels confident they could iron out any difficulties by the time American voters decide on who should succeed Barack Obama as president in November this year. This always looked a ridiculously tight timetable and so it has proved. Cutting trade deals is an agonisingly slow process. The last successful global deal – the Uruguay Round – took seven years before being concluding in 1993.

Talks continued on the Doha Round from 2001 until 2015 before terminal boredom and frustration set in. Was it really feasible that TTIP could be pushed through in little more than three years? Not a chance. There are three reasons for that. First, the main barriers to trade between the US and the EU are not traditional tariff barriers, which have been steadily whittled away in the decades since the second world war, but the differing regulatory regimes that operate on either side of the Atlantic. America and Europe have different views on everything from GM food to safety standards on cars so harmonising standards was always going to take a lot of time. Second, the talks have involved controversial issues and have been taking place when trust in politicians and business has rarely been lower. The main driving forces behind TTIP have been multinational corporations and business lobby groups, who stand to gain from harmonised regulations.

With information about the secret negotiations having to be chiselled out by groups hostile to TTIP, voters have drawn the obvious conclusion: the aim of the talks is to enrich big business even if it means playing fast and loose with environmental and health standards. Which leads to the final and most important factor: there are no votes in trade. It would have been no surprise had Angela Merkel voiced strong opposition to the state of the TTIP negotiations, given the level of public antipathy to the trade deal in Germany and her delicate position in the polls ahead of elections next year. Instead, the German chancellor was beaten to it by François Hollande (also facing a showdown with the voters in 2017) who has made it clear he will not sign TTIP in its current form. Years not months of hard slog lie ahead, by which time the US is likely to have a president much less wedded to the idea of striking trade deals. TTIP has just been kicked into the long grass for a very long time, and perhaps for good.

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Can we have no more of this please?! “The European Commission slapped a 30-year ban on public access to the TTIP negotiating texts at the beginning of the talks in 2013..”

After The Leaks Showing What It Is, This Could Be The End For TTIP (Ind.)

Today’s shock leak of the text of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) marks the beginning of the end for the hated EU-US trade deal, and a key moment in the Brexit debate. The unelected negotiators have kept the talks going until now by means of a fanatical level of secrecy, with threats of criminal prosecution for anyone divulging the treaty’s contents. Now, for the first time, the people of Europe can see for themselves what the European Commission has been doing under cover of darkness – and it is not pretty. The leaked TTIP documents, published by Greenpeace this morning, run to 248 pages and cover 13 of the 17 chapters where the final agreement has begun to take shape.

The texts include highly controversial subjects such as EU food safety standards, already known to be at risk from TTIP, as well as details of specific threats such as the US plan to end Europe’s ban on genetically modified foods. The documents show that US corporations will be granted unprecedented powers over any new public health or safety regulations to be introduced in future. If any European government does dare to bring in laws to raise social or environmental standards, TTIP will grant US investors the right to sue for loss of profits in their own corporate court system that is unavailable to domestic firms, governments or anyone else. For all those who said that we were scaremongering and that the EU would never allow this to happen, we were right and you were wrong.

The leaked texts also reveal how the European Commission is preparing to open up the European economy to unfair competition from giant US corporations, despite acknowledging the disastrous consequences this will bring to European producers, who have to meet far higher standards than pertain in the USA. According to official statistics, at least one million jobs will be lost as a direct result of TTIP – and twice that many if the full deal is allowed to go through. Yet we can now see that EU negotiators are preparing to trade away whole sectors of our economies in TTIP, with no care for the human consequences.

The European Commission slapped a 30-year ban on public access to the TTIP negotiating texts at the beginning of the talks in 2013, in the full knowledge that they would not be able to survive the outcry if people were given sight of the deal. In response, campaigners called for a ‘Dracula strategy’ against the agreement: expose the vampire to sunlight and it will die. Today the door has been flung open and the first rays of sunlight shone on TTIP. The EU negotiators will never be able to crawl back into the shadows again.

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That must be over half the eurozone right there.

Spain, France, Italy, Portugal To Miss EU Deficit, Debt Reduction Targets (R.)

Three of the euro zone’s four biggest economies look set to break European Union deficit and debt reduction targets this year and next unless they take urgent action, European Commission forecasts showed on Tuesday. The Commission forecast that the three – France, Italy and Spain – were likely to miss goals set for them set by EU finance ministers under a disciplinary procedure for those that run excessive budget deficits and have too high public debt. Portugal would also likely be in breach of EU budget rules. The euro zone’s biggest economy Germany, was in rude fiscal health, the forecasts showed. The Commission’s forecasts, together with medium-term fiscal consolidation plans submitted by governments last month will be the basis for a Commission decision, in the second half of May, on whether to step up the disciplinary procedure against those in breach of the rules.

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“..for supreme court judges, the right to survive still trumped property rights, a fact that would be considered blasphemy in America..”

Theft Of Sausage And Cheese By Hungry Homeless Man ‘Not A Crime’ (G.)

Italy’s highest court has ruled that the theft of a sausage and piece of cheese by a homeless man in 2011 did not constitute a crime because he was in desperate need of nourishment. The high court judges in the court of cassation found that Roman Ostriakov, a young homeless man who had bought a bag of breadsticks from a supermarket but had slipped a wurstel – a small sausage – and cheese into his pocket, had acted out of an immediate need by stealing a minimal amount of food, and therefore had not committed a crime. The case, which drew comparisons to the story of Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, was hailed in some media reports as an act of humanity at a time when hundreds of Italians are being added to the roster of the country’s “hungry” every day, despite improvements in the economy.

One columnist writing in La Stampa said that, for supreme court judges, the right to survive still trumped property rights, a fact that would be considered “blasphemy in America”. But others commented that the case highlighted Italy’s notoriously inefficient legal system, in which the theft of food valued at about €4.70 (£3.70) was the subject of a three-part trial – the first hearing, the appeal, and the final supreme court ruling – to determine whether the defendant had in fact committed a crime. “Yes, you read that right,” an opinion column in Corriere della Sera said, “in a country with a burden of €60bn in corruption per year, it took three degrees of proceedings to determine ‘this was not a crime’.”

Ostriakov, who was described as a homeless 30-year-old from Ukraine, had been sentenced to six months in jail and a €100 fine by a lower court in Genoa, but that punishment was vacated by the supreme court. “The supreme court has established a sacrosanct principle: a small theft because of hunger is in no way comparable to an act of delinquency, because the need to feed justifies the fact,” said Carlo Rienzi, president of Codacons, an environmental and consumer rights group, told Il Mesaggero. “In recent years the economic crisis has increased dramatically the number of citizens, especially the elderly, forced to steal in supermarkets to be able to make ends meet.”

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