Feb 082017
 
 February 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Rear window tenement dwelling, 133 Avenue D, NYC 1936

This Is How Out-Of-Whack US Trade Relationships Really Are (WS)
John Kelly, Homeland Security Chief, Says Travel Ban Rolled Out Too Quickly (WSJ)
Trump Travel Ban: Judges Skeptical About Arguments On Executive Order (G.)
‘Trump Makes Sense To A Grocery Store Owner’ – Taleb (Hindu)
Do Not Let Elliott Abrams Anywhere Near The State Department (Rand Paul)
EU Faces Crisis As IMF Warns Greek Debts Are On ‘Explosive’ Path (Tel.)
Greece’s Debt Costs Rise Sharply As Worries Grow Over IMF Role (G.)
Don’t Sell the Euro Short. It’s Here to Stay. (Eichengreen)
Money Is Pouring Out Of China, And The Government Can’t Stop It (R.)
China’s Reserves Approach Breaking Point As Another Devaluation Looms (BBG)
Russia Shows Why China Should Just Stop Burning Up Its Reserves (BBG)
Cracks Are Appearing In Australia’s Trillion-Dollar Property Debt Pile (BBG)
Putin Orders Russian Air Force To Prepare For ‘Time Of War’ (Ind.)
Controversial Dakota Pipeline To Go Ahead After Army Approval (R.)
Why Should A Libertarian Take Universal Basic Income Seriously? (Dolan)

 

 

“It never was a big deal because growing imports were portrayed as healthy demand in the US. The world loved it.”

This Is How Out-Of-Whack US Trade Relationships Really Are (WS)

2016 marked another banner year for US trade, a banner year largely for other countries that at the initiative of Corporate America, whose supply chains weave all over the world, managed to load the US up with their merchandise. According to the Commerce Department’s report today, the US trade deficit in goods and services rose to $502.3 billion in 2016, the highest in four years. Exports of goods and services fell $52 billion in 2016 year-over-year to $2.21 trillion, and imports fell $50 billion to $2.71 trillion. That both exports and imports fell is a sign of weakening world trade, lackluster demand globally, and lousy economic growth in the US, where GDP in 2016 inched up by a miserable 1.6%, matching the growth rate of 2011, both having been the lowest growth rates since 2009.

Exports add to the economy and to GDP; imports subtract from GDP. And it’s a big number: the trade deficit in 2016 amounted to 2.7% of GDP. In overly simplified, scribbled-on-a-napkin-after-the-third-beer math: had trade been balanced, with imports about equal to exports, GDP growth would have been 2.7 percentage points higher in 2016. So 4.3%! OK, we’re dreaming. But that’s how a massive trade deficit whacks the economy. The overall trade balance is composed of trade in goods and services. It used to be years ago when the trade deficit in goods began to balloon that it was no big deal because America was exporting innovative services, such as complex financial services, and they would make up for the deficit in old-fashioned goods.

They did lessen the pain for a little while, and then they didn’t. And soon, even the overall US trade deficit ballooned, but it was no big deal because soaring imports showed that the US economy was healthy and brimming with consumer demand. Year after year, we heard this from economists and politicians. Beyond that, apathy was palpable. No one cared. It’s just the way it is. Dreaming of balanced trade was like so 1980s or whatever. Meanwhile, Corporate America was fine-tuning its game of offshoring production and importing from cheaper countries. The entire business model of Wal-Mart depends on it. US supply chains wind all over the globe, in search of the lowest production costs, whether it’s consumer gadgets or automotive components. It never was a big deal because growing imports were portrayed as healthy demand in the US. The world loved it.

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Kelly’s a straight shooter. Wonder how long he can last.

John Kelly, Homeland Security Chief, Says Travel Ban Rolled Out Too Quickly (WSJ)

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Congress the Trump administration should have taken more time to inform Congress before implementing its controversial executive order temporarily blocking entry of people from seven nations. “The thinking was to get it out quick so potentially people coming here to harm us would not take advantage” of a delay, Mr. Kelly told the House Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday. In his first congressional appearance as a cabinet member, Mr. Kelly offered a forceful defense of the order, saying it wasn’t a ban on Muslims as critics have charged, but a “temporary pause” on immigrants and visitors from countries about whose residents the U.S. can’t access solid information. He sought to take responsibility for the chaotic rollout, saying the confusion was “all on me.”

“Going forward, I would have certainly taken some time to inform the Congress and certainly that’s something I’ll do in the future,” he said. The Wall Street Journal and others have reported that Mr. Kelly had little input in the order or its rollout, which was directed by the White House. The order, issued on the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 27, resulted in initial confusion and confrontation at airports around the country, as some travelers were detained for hours or sent away and protesters gathered at terminals to denounce the new rules. A federal court in Seattle temporarily put the order on hold on Friday, citing potential legal concerns. That action prompted President Donald Trump to question the judge’s credentials and say he could be to blame in the event of a terrorist attack. Mr. Kelly waded into that debate on Tuesday, likening judges to academics removed from on-the-ground realities.

“I have nothing but respect for judges, but in their world it’s a very academic, very almost in-a-vacuum discussion, and of course, in their courtrooms, they are protected by people like me, so they can have those discussions,” he said. “They live in a different world than I do. I’m paid to worst-case it, he’s paid to, in a very academic environment, make a call.” [..] Committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) said he backed the executive order, which a court order has put on hold. But he said it was poorly implemented. He said some U.S. permanent residents who are citizens of the targeted countries were initially not allowed to return to the country, while foreigners who aided the U.S. military and students attending American schools were “trapped overseas.”

“I applaud you for quickly correcting what I consider errors,” Mr. McCaul said. The congressman said he had suggested the approach President Donald Trump took when Mr. Trump was a candidate. His goal, Mr. McCaul said, was to help reframe the proposal from what Mr. Trump initially described as a Muslim ban, an approach he thought would have been unconstitutional.

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It’s great to have the courts discuss this. That’s where it belongs. If Trump can win, we will know just how broad US presidents’ power had become, before Trump. And we can judge whether we like things that way. He either has the authority, or he doesn’t. That should be clear from the law, not a matter of taste or preference.

Trump Travel Ban: Judges Skeptical About Arguments On Executive Order (G.)

A lawyer seeking to reinstate Donald Trump’s travel ban was grilled by a panel of three judges on Tuesday, facing questions over the president’s inflammatory campaign promise to close America’s borders to Muslims. August Flentje, of the Department of Justice, was put on the spot over why seven Muslim-majority countries had been targeted in Trump’s executive order, as well as past statements made by the president and his ally Rudy Giuliani. The hour-long hearing before the San Francisco-based ninth circuit court of appeals was the most significant legal battle yet over the ban. The judges said they would try to deliver a ruling as soon as possible but gave no indication of when. Flentje, reportedly called up for the hearing at short notice, asked the judges for a stay on the temporary restraining order placed on Trump’s travel ban by district court judge James Robart last week.

[..] During a hearing conducted by telephone between various locations, Flentje described the ban as putting a “temporary pause” on travelers from countries that “pose special risk”. He said the seven countries targeted had “significant terrorist presence” or were “safe havens for terrorism”. Trump’s actions were “plainly constitutional”, Flentje argued, as the president sought to strike a balance between welcoming visitors and securing the nation of the risk of terrorism. “The president has struck that balance,” he said. “The district court order upset that balance.” Flentje argued that the district court restraining order was too broad, giving rights to people “who have never been to the United States” and “really needs to be narrowed”. Judge Michelle Friedland asked: “Are you arguing then that the president’s decision in the regard is unreviewable?”

Flentje replied: “Yes, there are obviously constitutional limitations.” But Judge William Canby pointed out that people from the seven countries already could not come into the country without a visa and were subject to “the usual investigations”. How many of these people had committed terrorist attacks in the US, he wondered, before pointing out it was none. Flentje pointed to Congress’s determination that they were countries of concern, an argument that Judge Richard Clifton dismissed as “pretty abstract”. Trying to regain ground, the lawyer said: “Well, I was just about to at least mention a few examples. There have been a number of people from Somalia connected to al-Shabaab [an Islamist militant group] who have been convicted in the United States.” Friedland, who was appointed by Barack Obama, interjected: “Is that in the record? Can you point us to what, where in the record you are referring?” Flentje admitted: “It is not in the record.”

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“..if you went to the local souk [bazaar] in Aleppo and brought one of the retail shop owners, he would do the same thing Trump is doing. Like making a call to Boeing and asking why are we paying so much..”

‘Trump Makes Sense To A Grocery Store Owner’ – Taleb (Hindu)

In Skin in the Game, you seem to build on theories from The Black Swan that give a sense of foreboding about the world economy. Do you see another crisis coming? Oh, absolutely! The last crisis [2008] hasn’t ended yet because they just delayed it. [Barack] Obama is an actor. He looks good, he raises good children, he is respectable. But he didn’t fix the economic system, he put novocaine [local anaesthetic] in the system. He delayed the problem by working with the bankers whom he should have prosecuted. And now we have double the deficit, adjusted for GDP, to create six million jobs, with a massive debt and the system isn’t cured. We retained zero interest rates, and that hasn’t helped. Basically we shifted the problem from the private corporates to the government in the U.S. So, the system remains very fragile.

You say Obama put novocaine in the system. How will the Trump administration be able to address this? Of course. The whole mandate he got was because he understood the economic problems. People don’t realise that Obama created inequalities when he distorted the system. You can only get rich if you have assets. What Trump is doing is put some kind of business sense in the system. You don’t have to be a genius to see what’s wrong. Instead of Trump being elected, if you went to the local souk [bazaar] in Aleppo and brought one of the retail shop owners, he would do the same thing Trump is doing. Like making a call to Boeing and asking why are we paying so much.

You’re seen as something of an oracle, given that you saw the 2008 economic crash coming, you predicted the Brexit vote, the outcome of the Syrian crisis. You said the Islamic State would benefit if Bashar al-Assad was pushed out and you predicted Trump’s win. How do you explain it? Not the Islamic State, but al-Qaeda at the time, and I said the U.S. administration was helping fund them. See, you have to have courage to say things others don’t. I was lucky financially in life, that I didn’t need to work for a living and can spend all my time thinking. When Trump was running for election, I said what he says makes sense to a grocery store owner. Because the grocery guy can say Trump is wrong because he can see where he is wrong. But with Obama, he can’t understand what he’s saying, so the grocery man doesn’t know where he is wrong.

Is it a choice between dumbing down versus over-intellectualisation, then? Exactly. Trump never ran for archbishop, so you never saw anything in his behaviour that was saintly, and that was fine. Whereas Obama behaved like the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was going to do good but people didn’t feel their lives were better. As I said, if it was a shopkeeper from Aleppo, or a grocery store owner in Mumbai, people would have liked them as much as Trump. What he says makes common sense, asking why are we paying so much for this rubbish or why do we need these complex taxes, or why do we want lobbyists. You can call Trump’s plain-speaking what you like. But the way intellectuals treat people who don’t agree with them isn’t good either. I remember I had an academic friend who supported Brexit, and he said he knew what it meant to be a leper in the U.K. It was the same with supporting Trump in the U.S.

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Amen to that.

Do Not Let Elliott Abrams Anywhere Near The State Department (Rand Paul)

I hope against hope that the rumors are wrong and that President Donald Trump will not open the State Department door to the neocons. Crack the door to admit Elliott Abrams and the neocons will scurry in by the hundreds. Neoconservative interventionists have had us at perpetual war for 25 years. While President Trump has repeatedly stated his belief that the Iraq War was a mistake, the neocons (all of them Never-Trumpers) continue to maintain that the Iraq and Libyan Wars were brilliant ideas. These are the same people who think we must blow up half the Middle East, then rebuild it and police it for decades. They’re wrong and they should not be given a voice in this administration.

One of the things I like most about President Trump is his acknowledgement that nation building does not work and actually works against the nation building we need to do here at home. With a $20 trillion debt, we don’t have the money to do both. I urge him to keep that in mind this week when he meets with Elliott Abrams, the rumored pick for second in command to the Secretary of State. Abrams would be a terrible appointment for countless reasons. He doesn’t agree with the president in so many areas of foreign policy and he has said so repeatedly; he is a loud voice for nation building and when asked about the president’s opposition to nation building, Abrams said that Trump was absolutely wrong; and during the election he was unequivocal in his opposition to Donald Trump, going so far as to say, “the chair in which Washington and Lincoln sat, he is not fit to sit.”

Why then would the president trust him with the second most powerful position in the State Department? Abrams was equally dismissive throughout Trump’s entire candidacy. As a Never-Trumper, he repeatedly said he would neither vote for Clinton nor Trump. He likened the choice to the one the nation faced of McGovern vs. Nixon. I voted for Rex Tillerson for secretary of state because I believe him to have a balanced approach to foreign policy. My hope is that he will put forward a realist approach. I don’t see Abrams as part of any type of foreign policy realism. Elliott Abrams is a neoconservative too long in the tooth to change his spots, and the president should have no reason to trust that he would carry out a Trump agenda rather than a neocon agenda. But just as importantly, Congress has good reason not to trust him – he was convicted of lying to Congress in his previous job.

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It’s not only a broken record, it’s a really bad song too.

EU Faces Crisis As IMF Warns Greek Debts Are On ‘Explosive’ Path (Tel.)

The EU faces a looming crisis which could threaten the sustainability of the eurozone as the IMF has warned Greece’s debts are on an “explosive” path despite years of attempted austerity and economic reforms. Global financiers at the IMF are increasingly unwilling to fund endless bailouts for the eurozone’s most troubled country, passing more of the burden onto the EU – at a time when Germany does not want to keep sending cash to Athens. The assessment opens up a fresh split with Europe over how to handle Greece’s massive public debts, as the IMF called on Europe to provide “significant debt relief” to Greece – despite Greece’s EU creditors ruling out any further relief before the current rescue programme expires in 2018. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Eurogroup President repeated that position last night, saying there would be no Greek debt forgiveness and dismissing the IMF assessment of Greece’s growth prospects as overly pessimistic.

“It’s surprising because Greece is already doing better than that report describes,” said Mr Dijsselbloem, who chairs meetings of eurozone finance ministers, adding that Greece was on track for a “pretty good recovery at the moment”. The renewed divisions over how to handle the Greek debt crisis has raised fresh questions over whether the IMF will be a full participant in the next phase of the Greek rescue – a key condition for backing from the German and Dutch parliaments. As Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, fights a tough reelection battle, Germany is particularly reluctant to send funds directly to Greece, with populist parties in Germany arguing that the payments amount to an unfair bailout from hard-working Germans to less deserving Greeks.

The IMF split came as Mrs May last night comfortably defeated a Brexit rebellion in the Commons as MPs rejected Labour plans to give Parliament a “meaningful” vote on the terms of a final deal. Despite suggestions that up to 30 Tory MPs could defy their party whip and back the Labour amendment just seven chose to do so. Mrs May stemmed the rebellion after the Government pledged to hold a vote in Parliament on the deal before it is sent to the European Parliament. However ministers said that MPs would have to “take or leave it”, meaning that Mrs May is prepared to walk away from Europe without a deal if Parliament rejects it. A fresh crisis over Greek debt could be triggered as soon as in July when Greece is due to repay some €7bn to its creditors – money the country cannot pay without a fresh injection of bailout cash.

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As they do the same thing again and again, things only get worse. And then they have to do it again.

Greece’s Debt Costs Rise Sharply As Worries Grow Over IMF Role (G.)

Fresh worries over Greece’s debts have pushed the country’s borrowing costs sharply higher amid renewed insistence from Athens it will not swallow further austerity demands from international lenders. The yields on two-year government bonds jumped to their highest level since last June and went above 10% to reflect growing anxiety on financial markets over Greece’s ability to keep up to date with debt repayments. Yields on 10-year government bonds were also higher at above 7.8%, the highest close since November. The renewed focus on Greece’s debts came as the International Monetary Fund revealed its board was split over how far spending cuts in the country should go, raising fresh doubts over its participation in rescue plans for the struggling Greek economy.

The fund has made repeated warnings that Greece’s debt burden of about €330bn is unsustainable despite the government pushing through spending cuts and tax increases that have badly hit popularity ratings for the government of prime minister Alexis Tsipras. The IMF declined to join other international lenders – the ECB and the EU – in funding the country’s third bailout, agreed in August 2015, and it is currently deciding whether to take part in a new chunk of rescue funds needed by mid-2018. Germany has warned the IMF’s involvement is crucial if support for Greece is to continue. News of a split on the IMF board raised new questions over whether Germany will see its wish granted for the fund joining the next rescue. In its latest annual review of the Greek economy, the IMF revealed that its board members were in disagreement over whether Athens should enforce even more austerity to satisfy its lenders.

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Barry Eichengreen basically says the euro will stay because of fear (of the consequences of leaving). That doesn’t seem a very stable foundation.

Don’t Sell the Euro Short. It’s Here to Stay. (Eichengreen)

Two forms of glue hold the euro together. First, the economic costs of break-up would be great. The minute investors heard that Greece was seriously contemplating reintroducing the drachma with the purpose of depreciating it against the euro, or against a “new Deutsche mark,” they would wire all their money to Frankfurt. Greece would experience the mother of all banking crises. The “new Deutsche mark” would then shoot through the roof, destroying Germany’s export industry. More generally, those predicting, or advocating, the euro’s demise tend to underestimate the technical difficulties of reintroducing national currencies. They suggest briefly imposing capital controls to prevent holders of euros from fleeing while the new money, electronic or other, is quickly put in place.

This ignores the complexity of actually removing controls once they are adopted. Recall the experiences of Iceland and Cyprus, which required years, not days, to completely remove their “temporary” controls. The proponents advocate quickly restructuring the debts of banks, firms and households with euro-denominated liabilities, without realizing that one person’s debt is another’s asset. Moreover, because borrowing and lending occurs across borders, agreement on debt restructuring will require lengthy negotiation between countries if the country abandoning the euro is to avoid harsh retaliatory measures. This process would make the U.K.’s Brexit negotiations look like a stroll in the park.

For southern European countries, there is an additional complication. They would have a massive bill to the ECB, and by implication to the other member states that are shareholders in the ECB, in settlement of their so-called Target2 balances, liabilities incurred as a result of cross-border payments in central bank money. ECB President Mario Draghi recently made clear that countries abandoning the euro would be presented with this bill. For Italy, to pick a case not entirely at random, those balances currently stand at €360 billion ($383 billion), or approximately €6,000 for every man, woman and child. That’s about 10 times on a per capita basis what the U.K. likely owes the EU as alimony for its divorce. And if a country like Italy chooses to default on its Target2 obligations, it will be unceremoniously kicked out of the EU.

This brings us to the second form of glue: namely that European countries, Britain aside, still attach very considerable value to EU membership. That membership matters even more now that that President Trump has cast NATO into doubt and the United States is no longer seen as a reliable ally. The example of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, reduced to cozying up to Mr. Trump and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is not one that many other European politicians care to follow. In a 2007 article, I too made a bet — namely that the euro, while flawed, wasn’t going away. I argued that it is the roach motel of currencies. Like the Hotel California of the song: you can check in, but you can’t check out. For 10 years I’ve been right. To be sure, past performance is no guarantee of future returns, as any prudent investor knows. Even so, unlike ambassador-in-waiting Malloch, I continue to think that shorting the euro is bad advice.

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And this is before Trump.

Money Is Pouring Out Of China, And The Government Can’t Stop It (R.)

China’s foreign exchange reserves unexpectedly fell below the closely watched $3 trillion level in January for the first time in nearly six years, even as authorities tried to curb outflows by tightening capital controls. Reserves fell by $12.3 billion in January to $2.998 trillion, compared with a drop of $41 billion drop in December. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast forex reserves would fall by about $10.5 billion to $3 trillion. While the $3 trillion mark is not seen as a firm “line in the sand” for Beijing, concerns are swirling in global financial markets over the speed at which the country is depleting its ammunition to defend the currency and staunch capital outflows.

Some analysts fear a heavy and sustained drain on reserves could prompt Beijing to devalue the currency. The yuan fell 6.6% against the rising dollar in 2016, its biggest annual drop since 1994. For 2016 as a whole, China burned through nearly $320 billion of reserves, on top of a record drop of $513 billion in 2015. The yuan has found some respite in recent weeks as the dollar retreated, helped also by recent steps to curb capital outflows. But analysts expect downward pressure on the yuan to resume, especially if the U.S. continues to raise interest rates, which would likely trigger fresh capital outflows from emerging economies such as China and test its enhanced capital controls.

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“What was presented as a gradual depreciation of the yuan last year was in reality a significant 6% weakening of the currency versus the dollar as China’s domestic woes mounted. A collapse of the crawling peg could lead to yuan depreciation that is three times as large.”

China’s Reserves Approach Breaking Point As Another Devaluation Looms (BBG)

In his first few weeks in office, President Donald Trump has ordered the U.S. to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and confirmed his intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. The consensus is that it won’t be long before he turns his focus to China, which he calls a currency manipulator. China can weather such criticism, for now. But if Trump’s threats of trade sanctions and 45% tariffs become real, the economic impact for the world’s second-biggest economy would be meaningful and could upend financial markets, potentially leading to a global recession. With economic growth already slowing and capital fleeing the nation, China’s $11 trillion economy is operating from a position of weakness.

Here’s how it plays out: As the world’s dominant reserve currency, the dollar has no peer. IMF data show that the greenback accounts for 63.3% of global foreign-exchange reserves, with the euro next at 20.3%, followed by the British pound and Japanese yen, both at 4.5%. That means that in times of crisis, the dollar benefits from global investors seeking a haven, even if the strife and the the uncertainty emanates from the U.S. It’s possible that a trade war would drive flows into the dollar, putting upward pressure on the currency at the expense of other exchange rates. That would be on top of the natural demand for the greenback created by the anticipation of significant fiscal stimulus floated by the Trump administration and a faster pace of interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve.

In terms of China, it’s important to remember that the yuan’s external value is managed by authorities in a way that isn’t compatible with a sharp appreciation pressure of the dollar vis-à-vis all other currencies. The currency is managed to achieve a stable, effective, trade-weighted exchange rate and to foster a gently crawling peg relative to the dollar. That peg would be threatened if a trade war weakened China’s economy at a faster rate than forecast. What was presented as a gradual depreciation of the yuan last year was in reality a significant 6% weakening of the currency versus the dollar as China’s domestic woes mounted. A collapse of the crawling peg could lead to yuan depreciation that is three times as large.

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The ruble lost 50% vs the USD. A similar path for the yuan would be catastrophic.

Russia Shows Why China Should Just Stop Burning Up Its Reserves (BBG)

China has wiped out about a quarter of the world’s heftiest foreign-currency stockpile over the past 18 months in its quest to keep the yuan stable. According to Commerzbank, such intervention is futile. Data Tuesday showed China’s foreign reserves slipped below $3 trillion in January, the first time they’ve breached that psychologically potent level in almost six years. Yet the experiences of some fellow BRICs show that drawing down the stockpile will probably have little effect on the currency’s long-term fate, Hao Zhou, Commerzbank’s Singapore-based senior emerging-markets economist, wrote in a research note late Tuesday.

While efforts by Russia and Brazil in recent years might have cushioned the blow of currency declines, they couldn’t change the market’s dynamics. In Russia’s case, a collapse in oil prices and the imposition of economic sanctions over the Crimea crisis proved more powerful drivers than the sale of a third of the country’s foreign-currency hoard between April 2013 and March 2015. The ruble fell more than 50% versus the dollar in the period.

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Get out while you can.

Cracks Are Appearing In Australia’s Trillion-Dollar Property Debt Pile (BBG)

The Reserve Bank of Australia frequently seeks feedback on the health of the economy. It might want to call the debt counsellors soon. Homeowners, consumers and property investors around Australia are making more calls to financial helplines as three warning signs back up the spike in demand: mortgage arrears are creeping up, lenders’ bad debt provisions have increased and personal insolvencies are near an all-time high. “It’s steadily out of control – I don’t know of too many financial counselling services where demand doesn’t exceed supply,” said Fiona Guthrie, chief executive officer of Financial Counselling Australia, who says the biggest increase in calls is from people suffering mortgage stress. “There are more people who have got mortgages that they can’t afford to pay.”

Australia’s households are among the world’s most-indebted after bingeing on more than $1 trillion of mortgages amid a housing boom that’s fizzled out in parts of the country, but still roaring in Sydney and Melbourne. While most are capably servicing their debts, a worsening of credit metrics has seen executives and analysts take a more cautious tone. It’s also a key factor in the central bank’s rate decisions this year, as RBA governor Philip Lowe places financial stability at the forefront of monetary policy. The concerns are understandable. Australians’ private debt has soared to 187% of their income, from about 70% in the early 1990s, encouraged by low interest rates. In a November speech, Lowe said that while most households are managing these levels of debt, many feel they are closer to their borrowing capacity than they once were.

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Odd that this reaches the press.

Putin Orders Russian Air Force To Prepare For ‘Time Of War’ (Ind.)

Russia’s air force has been ordered to prepare for a “time of war”. President Vladimir Putin has ordered a “snap check” of the country’s armed forces, accoording to defense minister Sergey Shoigu. As well as checking whether agencies and troops are ready for battle, the same order will ensure that systems are ready to fight, according to state news agency TASS. Those preparations have already begun, according to Russian ministers. “In accordance with the decision by the Armed Forces Supreme Commander, a snap check of the Aerospace Forces began to evaluate readiness of the control agencies and troops to carry out combat training tasks,” he said, according to TASS.

“Special attention should be paid to combat alert, deployment of air defense systems for a time of war and air groupings’ readiness to repel the aggression,” Shoigu added. The preparations come amid increasing concern about tensions between Russia and many of the world’s largest superpowers. Donald Trump has both condemned Russia’s military campaigns and been criticised for being too close to the country’s leaders, and Russia itself is standing in an increasingly tense relationship with some Nato countries. The country has been increasing movement of its military including the launch of the biggest Arctic military push since the fall of the Soviet Union, last month. It has also revealed plans to expand its military over 2017, including a huge boost in the number of tanks, armoured vehicles and aircraft controlled by the company.

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Really? Trump is willing to strongarm veterans and Native Americans? Bad PR.

Controversial Dakota Pipeline To Go Ahead After Army Approval (R.)

The U.S. Army will grant the final permit for the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline after an order from President Donald Trump to expedite the project despite opposition from Native American tribes and climate activists. In a court filing on Tuesday, the Army said that it would allow the final section of the line to tunnel under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River system. This could enable the $3.8 billion pipeline to begin operation as soon as June. Energy Transfer Partners is building the 1,170-mile (1,885 km) line to help move crude from the shale oilfields of North Dakota to Illinois en route to the Gulf of Mexico, where many U.S. refineries are located. Protests against the project last year drew drew thousands of people to the North Dakota plains including Native American tribes and environmental activists, and protest camps sprung up.

The movement attracted high-profile political and celebrity supporters. The permit was the last bureaucratic hurdle to the pipeline’s completion, and Tuesday’s decision drew praise from supporters of the project and outrage from activists, including promises of a legal challenge from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. “It’s great to see this new administration following through on their promises and letting projects go forward to the benefit of American consumers and workers,” said John Stoody, spokesman for the Association of Oil Pipe Lines. The Standing Rock Sioux, which contends the pipeline would desecrate sacred sites and potentially pollute its water source, vowed to shut pipeline operations down if construction is completed, without elaborating how it would do so.

The tribe called on its supporters to protest in Washington on March 10 rather than return to North Dakota. “As Native peoples, we have been knocked down again, but we will get back up,” the tribe said in the statement. “We will rise above the greed and corruption that has plagued our peoples since first contact. We call on the Native Nations of the United States to stand together, unite and fight back.” Less than two weeks after Trump ordered a review of the permit request, the Army said in a filing in District Court in Washington D.C. it would cancel that study. The final permit, known as an easement, could come in as little as a day, according to the filing. There was no need for the environmental study as there was already enough information on the potential impact of the pipeline to grant the permit, Robert Speer, acting secretary of the U.S. Army, said in a statement.

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The case is not that hard to make. You just need to erase the ideological resistance.

Why Should A Libertarian Take Universal Basic Income Seriously? (Dolan)

In a recent post on EconLog, Bryan Caplan writes, “I’m baffled that anyone with libertarian sympathies takes the UBI [universal basic income] seriously.” I love a challenge. Let me try to un-baffle you, Bryan, and the many others who might be as puzzled as you are. Here are three kinds of libertarians who might take a UBI very seriously indeed. Philosophical issues aside, what galls many libertarians most about government is the failure of many policies to produce their intended results. Poverty policy is Exhibit A. By some calculations, the government already spends enough on poverty programs to raise all low-income families to the official poverty level, even though the poverty rate barely budges from year to year. Wouldn’t it be better to spend that money in a way that helps poor people more effectively?

A UBI would help by ending the way benefit reductions and “welfare cliffs” in current programs undermine work incentives. When you add together the effects of SNAP, TANF, CHIP, EITC and the rest of the alphabet soup, and account for work-related expenses like transportation and child care, a worker from a poor household can end up taking home nothing, even from a full-time job. A UBI has no benefit reductions. You get it whether you work or not, so you keep every added dollar you earn (income and payroll taxes excepted, and these are low for the poor). But, wait, you might say. Why would I work at all if you gave me a UBI? That might be a problem if you got your UBI on top of existing programs, but if it replaced those programs, work incentives would be strengthened, not weakened.

In which situation would you be more likely to take a job: one where you get $800 a month as a UBI plus a chance to earn another $800 from a job, all of which you can keep, or one where your get $800 a month in food stamps and housing vouchers, and anything extra you earn is taken away in benefit reductions? Or, you might say, a UBI might be fine for the poor, but wouldn’t it be unaffordable to give it to the middle class and the rich as well? Yes, if you added it on top of all the middle-class welfare and tax loopholes for the rich that we have now. No, if the UBI replaced existing tax preferences and other programs that we now lavish on middle- and upper-income households. Done properly, a UBI would streamline the entire system of federal taxes and transfers without any aggregate impact on the federal budget.

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Jan 232017
 
 January 23, 2017  Posted by at 10:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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DPC Looking south on Fifth Avenue at East 56th Street, NYC 1905

We’ve Been in Decline for 40 Years – Trump is a Chance to Rethink – Eno (G.)
The Coming Unhappiness With Trump – Egon von Greyerz (KWN)
Trump’s Infrastructure, Defense Plans Will Lead To Ruin – Ron Paul (CNBC)
China’s Central Bank ‘Playing Dangerous Game’ To Prop Up Yuan (SCMP)
EU Is Dead But Doesn’t Know This Yet – Marine Le Pen (DS)
We Need An Alternative To Trump’s Nationalism. It’s Not The Status Quo (YV)
George Soros and the Women’s March on Washington (Nomani)
These are the Countries with the Biggest Debt Slaves (WS)
“Billion-Year” Gambian President Was Installed By The CIA (SCF)
Greek Supreme Court To Decide On Fate Of Eight Turkish Servicemen (Kath.)
UK Government ‘Sneaks Out’ Its Own Alarming Report On Climate Change (Ind.)
The Last Time Oceans Got This Warm Sea Levels Were 20 to 30 Feet Higher (LAT)

 

 

Only fitting that the best description of how I feel about this can be found in an interview about music.

We’ve Been in Decline for 40 Years – Trump is a Chance to Rethink – Eno (G.)

He has called himself an optimist. In the past. I ask him if he still is, post-2016. Yes, he says, there is a positive way to look at it. “Most people I know felt that 2016 was the beginning of a long decline with Brexit, then Trump and all these nationalist movements in Europe. It looked like things were going to get worse and worse. I said: ‘Well, what about thinking about it in a different way?’ Actually, it’s the end of a long decline. We’ve been in decline for about 40 years since Thatcher and Reagan and the Ayn Rand infection spread through the political class, and perhaps we’ve bottomed out. My feeling about Brexit was not anger at anybody else, it was anger at myself for not realising what was going on. I thought that all those Ukip people and those National Fronty people were in a little bubble.

Then I thought: ‘Fuck, it was us, we were in the bubble, we didn’t notice it.’ There was a revolution brewing and we didn’t spot it because we didn’t make it. We expected we were going to be the revolution.” He draws me a little diagram to explain how society has changed – productivity and real wages rising in tandem till 1975, then productivity continuing to rise while real wages fell. “It is easily summarised in that Joseph Stiglitz graph.” The trouble now, he says, is the extremes of wealth and poverty. “You have 62 people worth the amount the bottom three and a half billion people are worth. Sixty-two people! You could put them all in one bloody bus … then crash it!” He grins. “Don’t say that bit.” (Since we meet, Oxfam publish a report suggesting that only eight men own as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people in the world – half the world’s population.)

[..] He is still thinking about the political fallout of the past year. “Actually, in retrospect, I’ve started to think I’m pleased about Trump and I’m pleased about Brexit because it gives us a kick up the arse and we needed it because we weren’t going to change anything. Just imagine if Hillary Clinton had won and we’d been business as usual, the whole structure she’d inherited, the whole Clinton family myth. I don’t know that’s a future I would particularly want. It just seems that was grinding slowly to a halt, whereas now, with Trump, there’s a chance of a proper crash, and a chance to really rethink.”

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Not his fault. As I wrote in November 8’s America is the Poisoned Chalice.

The Coming Unhappiness With Trump – Egon von Greyerz (KWN)

“The new US Administration has taken over with the conviction that they will “make America great again.” I really hope they will succeed because a strong US would be good for the world. Sadly, the odds of achieving that admirable objective are totally stacked against them. At the end of the next 4 years there is a risk that this Administration will be more hated than any government since Carter and probably even more hated than Carter. The coming unhappiness with Trump and his team will not arise because of the actions they take. They will clearly do everything in their might to make America great again. But the probabilities are totally against them to achieve this goal. They are taking over power at a time when debt has grown exponentially since the 1970s. They are also assuming power of a country that has not achieved a proper budget surplus for well over half a century. Even worse, the US has not had a positive trade balance since the early 1970s.

So here we have a country that has been living above its means for decades and has no real chance of changing this vicious cycle. The Federal debt is at $20 trillion and has been growing at the rate of 9% per year for the last 40 odd years. The forecast for the next four years is that the growth of the debt will accelerate. Total US debt is over $70 trillion or over 3.5x GDP. But that is just a fraction of the US liabilities. Unfunded liabilities are over $200 trillion. And you can add to that to the real gross derivative positions of US banks, which most likely more than $500 trillion. The success of a president in the US is closely linked to the performance of the stock market. Therefore, the best chance for a president to be loved by the American people and re-elected is for stocks to go up. P/Es on the S&P index are now at 70% above their historical mean – hardly a position from which it is likely to surge. Corporate borrowings have also surged since the Great Financial Crisis started.

In 2006 US corporate debt was just over $2 trillion. Today it is more than 3x higher at $7 trillion! At the same time, cash as a%age of corporate debt is declining and is now down to 27%. Within this massive increase in debt, there are major defaults looming in many areas like car loans, student loans and the fracking sector where potential write offs could be in the trillions of dollars. Another disaster which is guaranteed to happen in the US and the rest of the world is the coming pension crisis. Most people in the West have zero or a minimal pension. And even for the ones who have proper pension plans, they are greatly underfunded. It is estimated that US state and local government pensions are underfunded to the extent of a mind-blowing $6 trillion. And this is after a long period of surging stocks and bonds. Imagine what will happen to these pensions when stocks and bonds collapse, which is very likely to happen in the next few years.

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Look here, CNBC, introducing Ron Paul as a “well-known Trump critic” is insane. Fake labeling.

Trump’s Infrastructure, Defense Plans Will Lead To Ruin – Ron Paul (CNBC)

For all the fanfare that greeted President Donald Trump at his inauguration on Friday, the next four years of his presidency could very well be marred by a weakening economy as a result of “injurious” policies. That’s according to past Texas Congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul, who joined CNBC’s “Futures Now” last week to echo his past sentiments about the new president. Most notably, the well-known Trump critic believes that the President’s proposed plans could overspend the economy into trouble and drive the Federal Reserve to interfere. “With his massive increase in infrastructure and the military, I think there’s going to be a lot more spending,” said Paul. “The debt is going to be much bigger [and] I think that will put more pressure” on the Federal Reserve, he said, with the central bank already planning to tighten interest rates.

“You have good times, and then you have bad times to compensate for the artificially good times,” he added. “So we’ll have a downturn and that will be a real challenge for the new administration.” Although most of Wall Street appears bullish about the short-term economic outlook under Trump’s fiscal policy plans, some economists have been less than sanguine. Paul’s critique echoed that of David Stockman, a former Reagan-era budget director who also warned CNBC last week that Trump’s plans would ultimately lead to financial calamity. Paul had refused to endorse Trump from early on in the election cycle, claiming that the now President would divide the Republican Party. Much of Paul’s criticism of Trump lies with the latter’s proposed border taxes, which Paul believes is actually more of a “tariff” that would block free trade. “I think that right now, I’d fear most the retaliation [from other countries] and the burden it’s going to place on the consumer,” said Paul.

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“Floatation does not mean a large devaluation,” he said. “Actually, a one-off devaluation [of the yuan] doesn’t need to be big

No, I don’t think so. A devaluation must be big, because you can’t risk having to repeat it. And floatation will mean a large loss of value no matter what. When you float, you can’t manipulate anymore.

China’s Central Bank ‘Playing Dangerous Game’ To Prop Up Yuan (SCMP)

China’s central bank is playing a dangerous game using the country’s foreign reserves to defend the yuan because it could leave the nation defenceless in an increasingly volatile world, a state researcher has warned. Zhang Ming, senior fellow at the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) should take a hands-off approach to the currency and focus on safeguarding foreign exchange reserves. “Forex reserves are valuable assets that [China] can use at critical times. It’s a pity that they are being sold heavily in the market,” Zhang said. “It should be the last resort.” Zhang said the PBOC was betting on “the weakening of the US dollar and a domestic economic rebound”.

The country’s forex reserves have shrunk by almost a $1 trillion since June 2014 as the central bank has sought to prevent a large fall in the yuan against the U.S. dollar. Zhang call’s for Beijing to reverse tack and abandon its heavy intervention in the foreign exchange market is gaining traction among researchers. Zhang Bin, another researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, agreed that Beijing should free up controls on the yuan’s exchange rate by reducing government intervention in the market. “Floatation does not mean a large devaluation,” he said. “Actually, a one-off devaluation [of the yuan] doesn’t need to be big, and [the currency] may rebound as well. By doing this it will help the domestic economy,” he said.

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She’s dead on, I’ve been saying this for years, and she’s getting it handed to her on a silver platter the same way Trump was.

EU Is Dead But Doesn’t Know This Yet – Marine Le Pen (DS)

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said on Sunday that France has to leave the European Union as she claimed that staying in the bloc is no longer a viable option for the country. Speaking in an interview with France’s BGNES, Le Pen said the EU is dead but it does not know this yet, stating that the bloc has failed economically, socially as well as security-wise. She said the recent economic growth, unemployment and poverty indicators prove the EU’s failure, adding that the bloc is also incapable of protecting its own borders against what she called as “Islamic terrorism”. With voters across Europe moving to the right, most polls currently show a Fillon-Le Pen runoff is the most likely scenario in May. National Front leader Le Pen told a meeting of rightwing populist parties in Germany on Saturday that Europe was about to “wake up” following the victory of Donald Trump in the US election and the British vote to leave the EU.

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I get what Varoufakis thinks and says, but I also think renewed nationalism is backed into the cake by now. Where I differ from most is I don’t see that as a disaster, not necessarily. It’s the EU that is a disaster.

We Need An Alternative To Trump’s Nationalism. It’s Not The Status Quo (YV)

Thatcher’s and Reagan’s neoliberalism had sought to persuade that privatisation of everything would produce a fair and efficient society unimpeded by vested interests or bureaucratic fiat. That narrative, of course, hid from public view what was really happening: a tremendous buildup of super-state bureaucracies, unaccountable supra-state institutions (World Trade Organisation, Nafta, the European Central Bank), behemoth corporations, and a global financial sector heading for the rocks. After the events of 2008 something remarkable happened. For the first time in modern times the establishment no longer cared to persuade the masses that its way was socially optimal.

Overwhelmed by the collapsing financial pyramids, the inexorable buildup of unsustainable debt, a eurozone in an advanced state of disintegration and a China increasingly relying on an impossible credit boom, the establishment’s functionaries set aside the aspiration to persuade or to represent. Instead, they concentrated on clamping down. In the UK, more than a million benefit applicants faced punitive sanctions. In the Eurozone, the troika ruthlessly sought to reduce the pensions of the poorest of the poor. In the United States, both parties promised drastic cuts to social security spending. During our deflationary times none of these policies helped stabilise capitalism at a national or at a global level. So, why were they pursued?

Their purpose was to impose acquiescence to a clueless establishment that had lost its ambition to maintain its legitimacy. When the UK government forced benefit claimants to declare in writing that “my only limits are the ones I set myself”, or when the troika forced the Greek or Irish governments to write letters “requesting” predatory loans from the European Central Bank that benefited Frankfurt-based bankers at the expense of their people, the idea was to maintain power via calculated humiliation. Similarly, in America the establishment habitually blamed the victims of predatory lending and the failed health system.

It was against this insurgency of a cornered establishment that had given up on persuasion that Donald Trump and his European allies rose up with their own populist insurgency. They proved that it is possible to go against the establishment and win. Alas, theirs will be a pyrrhic victory which will, eventually, harm those whom they inspired. The answer to neoliberalism’s Waterloo cannot be the retreat to a barricaded nation-state and the pitting of “our” people against “others” fenced off by tall walls and electrified fences.

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Russia threw out Soros, Hungary wants to, so does FYROM. Who’s next?

George Soros and the Women’s March on Washington (Nomani)

In the pre-dawn darkness of today’s presidential inauguration day, I faced a choice, as a lifelong liberal feminist who voted for Donald Trump for president: lace up my pink Nike sneakers to step forward and take the DC Metro into the nation’s capital for the inauguration of America’s new president, or wait and go tomorrow to the after-party, dubbed the “Women’s March on Washington”? The Guardian has touted the “Women’s March on Washington” as a “spontaneous” action for women’s rights. Another liberal media outlet, Vox, talks about the “huge, spontaneous groundswell” behind the march. On its website, organizers of the march are promoting their work as “a grassroots effort” with “independent” organizers. Even my local yoga studio, Beloved Yoga, is renting a bus and offering seats for $35.

The march’s manifesto says magnificently, “The Rise of the Woman = The Rise of the Nation.” It’s an idea that I, a liberal feminist, would embrace. But I know — and most of America knows — that the organizers of the march haven’t put into their manifesto: the march really isn’t a “women’s march.” It’s a march for women who are anti-Trump. As someone who voted for Trump, I don’t feel welcome, nor do many other women who reject the liberal identity-politics that is the core underpinnings of the march, so far, making white women feel unwelcome, nixing women who oppose abortion and hijacking the agenda. To understand the march better, I stayed up through the nights this week, studying the funding, politics and talking points of the some 403 groups that are “partners” of the march. Is this a non-partisan “Women’s March”?

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, a march “partner,” told me his organization was “nonpartisan” but has “many concerns about the incoming Trump administration that include what we see as a misogynist approach to women.” Nick Fish, national program director of the American Atheists, another march partner, told me, “This is not a ‘partisan’ event.” Dennis Wiley, pastor of Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, another march “partner,” returned my call and said, “This is not a partisan march.” Really? UniteWomen.org, another partner, features videos with the hashtags #ImWithHer, #DemsInPhily and #ThanksObama. Following the money, I pored through documents of billionaire George Soros and his Open Society philanthropy, because I wondered:

What is the link between one of Hillary Clinton’s largest donors and the “Women’s March”? I found out: plenty. By my draft research, which I’m opening up for crowd-sourcing on GoogleDocs, Soros has funded, or has close relationships with, at least 56 of the march’s “partners,” including “key partners” Planned Parenthood, which opposes Trump’s anti-abortion policy, and the National Resource Defense Council, which opposes Trump’s environmental policies. The other Soros ties with “Women’s March” organizations include the partisan MoveOn.org (which was fiercely pro-Clinton), the National Action Network [..]. Other Soros grantees who are “partners” in the march are the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

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Well, they call their debts assets…

These are the Countries with the Biggest Debt Slaves (WS)

Americans have been on a borrowing binge. To buy their favorite cars and trucks, they’ve loaded up on $1.14 trillion in auto loans. Young and not so young Americans are mortgaging their future with student loans that now amount to $1.28 trillion. Credit card and other debts are at $1.12 trillion. And mortgage debt stands at $8.82 trillion. So, total household debt was $12.35 trillion, according to the New York Fed’s Household Debt and Credit Report for the third quarter 2016. That’s a massive amount of debt. Many consumers are struggling with it. Student loans are seeing enormous default rates, and repayment rates are far worse than previously disclosed. And “debt slaves” has become a term in the financial vernacular. But it isn’t nearly enough debt…

Neither for the New York Fed whose President William Dudley, in a speech a few days ago, practically exhorted households to borrow more against the equity in their homes so that they blow this cash and drive up retail sales: “Whatever the timing, a return to a reasonable pattern of home equity extraction would be a positive development for retailers, and would provide a boost to aggregate growth,” he mused, with nostalgic thoughts of 2008. Nor for the global rankings of debt slaves, where US households squeaked into the ignominious 10th place, barely ahead of Portugal! I mean, come on! Portugal!! There are many ways to measure household indebtedness and debt burdens. Comparing total household debt to the overall size of the economy as measured by GDP is one of the measures. And per this household-debt-to-GDP measure, the Americans are 10th place with 78.8% and look practically prudent compared to the peak just before the Financial Crisis.

[..] And here’s some inevitable food for a terrifying thought: The countries with highly indebted households, so the top of the list, are mostly countries were central-bank policy rates are very low or even negative, and where mortgage rates are super low. What happens to those housing markets, the households, the banks, and the overall economies when interest rates rise even a little and that whole equation of perennially ballooning debt falls apart? We already know what happens.

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You might be tempted to name this an unbelievable story, but then you realize this is what the US is good at. Reads like a spy novel, a film script.

“Billion-Year” Gambian President Was Installed By The CIA (SCF)

Gambian President and dictator Yahya Jammeh, facing a combined military force composed of Senegalese army troops, the Nigerian air force, and troops from Mali, Ghana, and Togo, has agreed to relinquish the presidency of Gambia. On December 1, 2016, Jammeh was defeated for re-election in a surprise upset by his little-known rival Adama Barrow. Jammeh received only 45% of the vote. During the election campaign Jammeh vowed in an interview with the BBC to «rule for one billion years». After initially conceding defeat to Barrow, Jammeh reneged on his promise to step down and announced he would remain as president. The Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS) decided that Jammeh had to go, a stance ironically supported by the United States, which had assisted Jammeh in overthrowing Gambia’s democratically-elected president, Sir Dauda K. Jawara, in 1994.

After Jammeh refused ECOWAS’s, the African Union’s, and the United Nations Security Council’s demands to leave office and permit Barrow to assume the presidency, ECOWAS mobilized its military forces. On January 19, 2017, Barrow was sworn in as president in the Gambian embassy in Dakar, the Senegalese capital. Hours later, Senegalese troops began to enter Gambia and Nigerian air force jets buzzed the Gambian capital of Banjul. The presidents of Mauritania and Guinea flew to Banjul to urge Jammeh to leave office peacefully. Jammeh’s fate was sealed when Major General Ousman Badjie, the commander of the Gambian armed forces, recognized Barrow as Gambia’s commander-in-chief.

The demand from the United States for Jammeh to relinquish power was a display of absolute hypocrisy since Washington had not only installed Jammeh into power but two successive U.S. presidents warmly welcomed the military ruler to the White House. Jammeh, who owns a $3.5 million mansion in Potomac, Maryland, was warmly greeted by President Barack Obama at the 2014 and 2015 U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summits in Washington. President George W. Bush greeted Jammeh at the U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Washington in 2003. With the protection of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, Jammeh’s Moroccan-born wife, Zineb Jammeh, ran up huge totals at the Washington area’s fashionable shopping malls. She also settled on Sam’s Club, a wholesale discount store, to buy massive amounts of household goods. Jammeh is a textbook case of CIA-sponsored kleptocracy on a grand scale.

Under Jammeh, Gambia continued to be a strategic ally of the United States. The kleptocratic Gambian leader permitted the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to maintain an emergency landing site for NASA’s space shuttle in the country and Gambia participated with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in the post-9/11 rendition program. Before being installed as Gambia’s dictator, Jammeh had received training from the Pentagon. Merely a lieutenant in the Gambian National Army. In 1993, Jammeh attended the notorious «School of the Americas» in Fort Benning, Georgia. The school has trained some of Latin America’s most notorious military dictators and death squad commanders. While in Fort Benning, Jammeh was made an honorary citizen of the state of Georgia. The following year, and before he launched his coup, Jammeh attended the Military Police Officers Basic Course (MPOBC) at Fort McClellan, Alabama.

[..] It was during the administration of President Bill Clinton that the green light was given for Jammeh to be installed in a CIA-led coup in Gambia. On July 24, 1994, President Jawara was at his palace in Banjul entertaining the commanding officer of the visiting U.S. Navy tank landing ship, the USS La Moure County. Also present was U.S. ambassador to Gambia, Andrew Winter, a career foreign service officer who represented a new breed of U.S. ambassador – one that routinely and publicly involved himself in the domestic political affairs of the nation to which they were posted. While Jawara and the ship’s commander exchanged diplomatic niceties, junior army officers, led by Jammeh, staged a coup against the democratically elected government.

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Only one decision makes any sense.

Greek Supreme Court To Decide On Fate Of Eight Turkish Servicemen (Kath.)

The Greek Supreme Court on Monday is to rule whether eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece after July’s failed coup should be extradited. Three separate panels of Greek judges have already ruled that the Turkish officers’ lives may be put at risk if they were to be returned to Turkey, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a tough crackdown on dissent since the summer’s coup attempt. Diplomatic circles that fear a rejection of Turkey’s request could put a further strain on ties between Athens and Ankara, particularly at a time when Cyprus reunification talks also hang in the balance, have been keeping a close eye on proceedings. The issue has also drawn attention from intellectuals and the media in Greece and other parts of Europe, who see it as a test of the bloc’s fundamental principles and values. All eight servicemen have denied involvement in the coup attempt and say they fear for their lives if they are returned to Turkey.

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What a surprise.

UK Government ‘Sneaks Out’ Its Own Alarming Report On Climate Change (Ind.)

The Government has been accused of trying to bury a major report about the potential dangers of global warming to Britain – including the doubling of the deaths during heatwaves, a “significant risk” to supplies of food and the prospect of infrastructure damage from flooding. The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Report, which by law has to be produced every five years, was published with little fanfare on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) website on 18 January. But, despite its undoubted importance, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom made no speech and did not issue her own statement, and even the Defra Twitter account was silent. No mainstream media organisation covered the report.

One leading climate expert accused the Government of “trying to sneak it out” without people noticing, saying he was “astonished” at the way its publication was handled. In the report, the Government admitted there were a number of “urgent priorities” that needed to be addressed. It said it largely agreed with experts’ warnings about the effects of climate change on the UK. These included two “high-risk” issues: the damage expected to be caused by flooding and coastal erosion; and the effect of rising temperatures on people’s health. The report concluded that the number of heat-related deaths in the UK “could more than double by the 2050s from a current baseline of around 2,000 per year”. It said “urgent action” should be taken to address overheating in homes, public buildings and cities generally, and called for further research into the effect on workers’ productivity.

The Government also recognised that climate change “will present significant risks to the availability and supply of food in the UK”, the report said, partly because of extreme weather in some of the world’s main food-growing regions. The report also said the public water supply could be affected by shortages and that the natural environment could be degraded. Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London, said he was “astonished” at the way such a report had been slipped out. “Defra did very little to publicise it – they didn’t even tweet about it,” he said. “It’s almost as if they were trying to sneak it out without people realising. I have no idea what they were thinking.”
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You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone.
For the times they are a-changing.

The Last Time Oceans Got This Warm Sea Levels Were 20 to 30 Feet Higher (LAT)

Ocean temperatures today are about the same as they were more than 100,000 years ago – at a time when sea levels were 20 to 30 feet higher. The findings, published in the journal Science, highlight the key role that human activity has played in global warming and underscore concerns about the future impact of rising sea levels. Over millions and billions of years, the Earth has gone through periods of cooling (when water freezes out of the oceans, causing glaciers to grow and sea levels to fall) and warming (when the ice melts and sea levels rise). Scientists often look for clues hidden in layers of ancient rock and ice to determine what conditions were like in that long-gone climate.

The last interglacial period, which took place some 129,000 to 116,000 years ago, is a particularly intriguing chapter in Earth’s relatively recent history because of what it could tell us about today’s climate, said lead author Jeremy Hoffman, a paleoclimatologist at the Science Museum of Virginia. “The last interglacial is extremely interesting because it’s the last time period in recent Earth history when global temperatures were a little bit higher and global sea level was about 6 to 9 meters higher – but carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was roughly at what it was during the pre-industrial era,” said Hoffman, who conducted the work as a doctoral student at Oregon State University. “So it’s a really interesting scientific question: What is it about the last interglacial that’s so unique, that gave rise to higher sea levels?”

The problem is, researchers often assume climate change happened synchronously across the globe — that is, if it grew warm in one part, it also heated up in the others, and if it cooled in one area, it was cooling everywhere else at the same time. It’s already clear from climate patterns today that this simply isn’t the case, Hoffman said. Even if Earth overall is warming at a given point in time, for example, some spots might be getting cooler while others heat up. “What we know about how climate and temperature change on this planet is, it’s not all at the same time or at the same rate,” he said. “You can see these even today in human-caused climate change, how that’s playing out on a global scale.”

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Jan 162017
 
 January 16, 2017  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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John Collier Japanese restaurant, Monday after Pearl Harbor, San Francisco 1941

World Could Enjoy Utopian Future With Sustainable Development (Ind.)
The Global Chain That Produces Your Fish (AFP)
Trump Calls NATO Obsolete And Dismisses EU (BBG)
Trump Slams NATO And EU, Prepared To “Cut Ties” With Merkel (ZH)
NATO, Russia, Merkel, Brexit: Trump Unleashes Broadsides On Europe (AFP)
Trump Vows ‘Insurance For Everybody’ In Replacing Obamacare (R.)
CIA Director Warns Trump To Watch What He Says (R.)
Trump Team May Move West Wing Briefings to Expand Capacity (BBG)
Pound Sterling Hits New 31-Year-Low Ahead Of May’s Brexit Speech (Ind.)
The Scandal of the 35-Page Anti-Trump ‘Intelligence Dossier’ (GR)
Eight Billionaire Men ‘As Rich As World’s Poorest 3.5 Billion People’ (BBC)
“China Should Stop Intervening In FX Market And Let Yuan Float” (R.)
China’s Booming Middle Class Drives Asia’s Toxic E-Waste Mountains (G.)
Greece Strives To Absorb EU’s Migration Funds (Kath.)

 

 

If you find this appealing, seek help. These people mean it, which makes them the biggest danger to your future, bar none. We’re not going to fix the world for profit. The sustainable delusion will kill us.

World Could Enjoy Utopian Future With Sustainable Development (Ind.)

It is an unremittingly bleak vision of the future: over the next decade the world’s economy stagnates, fossil fuels ramp up global warming and the gap between rich and poor widens, fuelling nationalist tensions based on resentment of the ‘global elite’. But, while a major new report by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC) warns this appears to be humanity’s current path, it also spells out how to create not quite “heaven on Earth” but a world that is wealthier, more peaceful and fair for all. And their call for the world to start living up to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals was backed by more than 80 major companies in a joint letter to Theresa May, which urged the UK Government to take this “essential” step to secure “our long-term prosperity and the well-being of generations to come”.

However, Ms May did not respond personally to the letter, with the Department for International Development instead issuing a response on behalf of the Government in an implicit snub to the letter’s call for all departments, “not only” DfID, to get involved. The UN’s ‘Global Goals’, as they are known, seem at first sight to be almost impossibly ambitious. There should be “no poverty” and “zero hunger” in the world, universal health coverage, a decent education for all, gender equality, access to affordable and clean energy, action on climate change, the list goes on. But the BSDC’s report, compiled after a year of research into their effects, says achieving them is actually key to delivering massive growth. The document, called Better Business, Better World, estimates the Global Goals could be worth up to $36,000bn a year in savings and extra revenue by 2030.

They based this on an analysis of four major economic sectors – food and agriculture; energy and materials; cities; and health and wellbeing – which would benefit to the tune of $12,000bn a year. They then estimated the total economic prize would be two to three times higher. Lifting people out of poverty could bring up to a billion people into the consumer economy. And achieving gender equality alone could add at least $12,000bn to the world’s total GDP by 2025, according to one estimate. “The overall prize is enormous,” the report says. “The results will not be heaven on Earth; there will be many practical challenges. “But the world would undoubtedly be on a better, more resilient path. We could be building an economy of abundance.

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Mommy, tell me the story again about how smart we once were.

The Global Chain That Produces Your Fish (AFP)

That smoked salmon you bought for the New Year’s festivities has a story to tell. The salmon may have been raised in Scotland – but it probably began life as roe in Norway. Harvested at a coastal farm, the fish may have been sent to Poland to be smoked. It may even have travelled halfway around the world to China to be sliced. It eventually arrived, wrapped in that tempting package, in your supermarket. Globalisation has changed the world in many ways, but fish farming is one of the starkest examples of its benefits and hidden costs. The nexus of the world fish-farming trade is China – the biggest exporter of fish products, the biggest producer of farmed fish and a major importer as well.

With battalions of lost-cost workers, linked to markets by a network of ocean-going refrigerated ships, China is the go-to place for labour-intensive fish processing. In just a few clicks on Alibaba, the Chinese online trading hub, you can buy three tonnes of Norwegian filleted mackerel shipped from the port city of Qingdao for delivery within 45 days. “There is a significant amount of bulk frozen fish sent to China just for filleting,” said a source from an association of importers in an EU country. “The temperature of the fish is brought up to enable the filleting but the fish are not completely defrosted.” The practice has helped transform the Chinese coastal provinces of Liaoning and Shandong into global centres for fish processing.

But globalised fish farming leaves a mighty carbon footprint and has other impacts, many of which are unseen for the consumer. Don Staniford, an activist and director of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, called the fish industry’s production and transportation chain “madness”. “The iconic image of Scottish salmon – a wild salmon leaping out of the river – has gone. The Scottish salmon farming industry is dominated, 60-70%, by Norwegian companies,” he said. The biggest such company, Marine Harvest, is the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon, some 420,000 tonnes in 2015. Scottish salmon farms import eggs from Norway, the fish food from Chile and then send the fish to Poland – “because it’s cheaper” – for smoking, said Staniford.

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Lots of coverage of Trump’s weekend interviews in Europe. Too many details to cover them all in this format. Overall impression: he makes a lot of sense. Likes Brexit, doesn’t like NATO, sees EU as a project to benefit Germany, wants far less nukes, far less US regime change-focused interventionism.

Trump Calls NATO Obsolete And Dismisses EU (BBG)

Donald Trump called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would follow the U.K. in leaving the bloc, and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to two European newspapers which conducted a joint interview with the president-elect. Trump, in an hourlong discussion with Germany’s Bild and the Times of London published on Sunday, signaled a major shift in trans-Atlantic relations, including an interest in lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia as part of a nuclear weapons reduction deal. Quoted in German by Bild from a conversation held in English, Trump predicted that Britain’s exit from the EU will be a success and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination designed with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade.

For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent to whether the EU stays together, according to Bild. The Times quoted Trump as saying he was interested in making “good deals with Russia,” floating the idea of lifting sanctions that were imposed as the U.S. has sought to punish the Kremlin for its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and military support of the Syrian government. “They have sanctions on Russia – let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,’’ Trump said, according to the Times. “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.’’ Trump’s reported comments leave little doubt that he’ll stick to campaign positions and may in some cases upend decades of U.S. foreign policy, putting him fundamentally at odds with Angela Merkel on issues from free trade and refugees to security and the EU’s role in the world.

Repeating a criticism of NATO he made during his campaign, Trump said that while trans-Atlantic military alliance is important, it “has problems.” “It’s obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Trump said in the Bild version of the interview. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.” The Times quoted Trump saying that only five NATO members are paying their fair share. While those comments expanded on doubts Trump expressed about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during his campaign, he reserved some of his most dismissive remarks for the EU and Merkel, whose open-border refugee policy he called a “catastrophic mistake.”

In contrast, Trump praised Britons for voting in 2016 to leave the EU. People and countries want their own identity and don’t want outsiders coming in to “destroy it,” he said. The U.K. is smart to leave the bloc because the EU “is basically a vehicle for Germany,” the Times quoted Trump as saying. “If you ask me, more countries will leave,” he said. Trump told the Times that he plans to quickly pursue a trade deal with the U.K. after taking office and will meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May soon. “We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides,” he said. “We’ll have a meeting right after I get into the White House and it’ll be, I think we’re gonna get something done very quickly.”

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ZH has a good summary of the interviews.

Trump Slams NATO And EU, Prepared To “Cut Ties” With Merkel (ZH)

In two separate, and quite striking, interviews with Germany’s Bild (paywall) and London’s Sunday Times (paywall), Donald Trump did what he failed to do in his first US press conference, and covered an extensive amount of policy and strategy, much of which however will likely please neither the pundits, nor the markets. Among the numerous topics covered in the Bild interview, he called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would join the U.K. in leaving the bloc and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to a Sunday interview granted to Germany’s Bild newspaper that will raise concerns in Berlin over trans-Atlantic relations. Furthermore, in his first “exclusive” interview in the UK granted to the Sunday Times, Trump said he will offer Britain a quick and “fair” trade deal with America within weeks of taking office to help make Brexit a “great thing”.

Trump revealed that he was inviting Theresa May to visit him “right after” he gets into the White House and wants a trade agreement between the two countries secured “very quickly”. Trump told the Times that other countries would follow Britain’s lead in leaving the European Union, claiming it had been deeply damaged by the migration crisis. I think it’s very tough, he said. People, countries want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. [..] Trump discussed his stance on Russia and suggested he might use economic sanctions imposed for Vladimir Putin’s encroachment on Ukraine as leverage in nuclear-arms reduction talks, while NATO, he said, “has problems.” “[NATO] is obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Bild quoted Trump as saying about the trans-Atlantic military alliance. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.”

While those comments expanded on doubts Trump raised about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during his campaign, he reserved some of his most dismissive remarks for the EU and Merkel, whose open-border refugee policy he called a “catastrophic mistake.” He further elaborated on this stance in the Times interview, where he said he was willing to lift Russian sanctions in return for a reduction in nuclear weapons. When asked about the prospect of a nuclear arms reduction deal with Russia, Trump told the newspaper in an interview: “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.” Additionally, Trump said Brexit will turn out to be a “great thing.” Trump said he would work very hard to get a trade deal with the United Kingdom “done quickly and done properly”.

Trump praised Britons for voting last year to leave the EU. People and countries want their own identity and don’t want outsiders to come in and “destroy it.” The U.K. is smart to leave the bloc because the EU “is basically a means to an end for Germany,” Bild cited Trump as saying. “If you ask me, more countries will leave,” he was quoted as saying.

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Goal-seeked ‘reporting’: “Five days before his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, the billionaire populist let loose a torrent of controversial comments..” AFP didn’t stand out so far as having joined the anti-Trump ranks, but there you go.

NATO, Russia, Merkel, Brexit: Trump Unleashes Broadsides On Europe (AFP)

NATO is “obsolete”, Germany’s Angela Merkel made a “catastrophic mistake” on refugees, Brexit will be “great” and the US could cut a deal with Russia: Donald Trump unleashed a volley of broadsides in interviews with European media. Five days before his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, the billionaire populist let loose a torrent of controversial comments about European allies in interviews with British newspaper The Times and Germany’s Bild. He extended a hand to Russia, which has been hit by a string of sanctions under his predecessor Barack Obama over Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine, the Syrian war and for alleged cyber attacks to influence the US election. “Let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” Trump said in remarks carried by The Times.

The US president-elect suggested a deal in which nuclear arsenals would be reduced and sanctions against Moscow would be eased, but gave no details. “Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit,” said the president-elect, who has previously expressed admiration for Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Washington’s European allies imposed sanctions against Russia over Ukraine in 2014. Those measures were renewed on December 19.

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Trump grants an interview to the WaPo? He has a big heart!

Trump Vows ‘Insurance For Everybody’ In Replacing Obamacare (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump aims to replace Obamacare with a plan that would envisage “insurance for everybody,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post published on Sunday night. Trump did not give the newspaper specifics about his proposals to replace Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance law, but said the plan was nearly finished and he was ready to unveil it alongside the leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress. The Republican president-elect takes office on Friday. “It’s very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven’t put it in quite yet but we’re going to be doing it soon,” Trump told the Post, adding he was waiting for his nominee for health and human services secretary, Tom Price, to be confirmed.

The plan, he said, would include “lower numbers, much lower deductibles,” without elaborating. “We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump said. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” Trump was also quoted as saying in the interview that he would target pharmaceutical companies over drug pricing and insist they negotiate directly with the Medicare and Medicaid government health plans for the elderly and poor. U.S. House Republicans won passage on Friday of a measure starting the process of dismantling the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, despite concerns about not having a ready replacement and the potential financial cost of repealing the law.

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All these people, CIA, media, who actively attempted to undermine Trump’s campaign and candidacy, are now shocked (I tell you, shocked!) that he doesn’t ignore what they did.

CIA Director Warns Trump To Watch What He Says (R.)

CIA Director John Brennan on Sunday offered a stern parting message for Donald Trump days before the Republican U.S. president-elect takes office, cautioning him against loosening sanctions on Russia and warning him to watch what he says. Brennan rebuked Trump for comparing U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany in comments by the outgoing CIA chief that reflected the extraordinary friction between the incoming president and the 17 intelligence agencies he will begin to command once he takes office on Friday. In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Brennan questioned the message sent to the world if the president-elect broadcasts that he does not have confidence in the United States’ own intelligence agencies.

“What I do find outrageous is equating the intelligence community with Nazi Germany. I do take great umbrage at that, and there is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly,” Brennan said. Brennan’s criticism followed a tumultuous week of finger-pointing between Trump and intelligence agency leaders over an unsubstantiated report that Russia had collected compromising information about Trump. The unverified dossier was summarized in a U.S. intelligence report presented to Trump and outgoing President Barack Obama this month that concluded Russia tried to sway the outcome of the Nov. 8 election in Trump’s favor by hacking and other means. The report did not make an assessment on whether Russia’s attempts affected the election’s outcome.

Trump has accused the intelligence community of leaking the dossier information, which its leaders denied. They said it was their responsibility to inform the president-elect that the allegations were being circulated. Later on Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to berate Brennan and wrote, “Was this the leaker of Fake News?” In a separate posting, Trump scolded “those intelligence chiefs” for presenting the dossier as part of their briefing. “When people make mistakes, they should APOLOGIZE,” he wrote.

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Excellent. The elite press do not deserve their status.

Trump Team May Move West Wing Briefings to Expand Capacity (BBG)

The incoming Trump administration is considering moving White House press briefings out of the West Wing to accommodate more than the “Washington media elite,” President-elect Donald Trump’s press secretary said. “This is about greater accessibility, more people in the process,” Sean Spicer said Sunday on Fox News Channel’s “Media Buzz.” Involving more people, including bloggers and others who aren’t from the mainstream media, “should be seen as a welcome change,” he said. Their comments followed a report Saturday by Esquire, citing unidentified officials from the transition team, that the new administration may move the press corps out of the main White House building altogether because of antagonism between Trump and the media.

Any change would be made for logistical reasons, in response to heavy demand from media organizations, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said Sunday. “The briefing room is open now to all reporters who request access,” White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason said in a statement Sunday. “We object strenuously to any move that would shield the president and his advisers from the scrutiny of an on-site White House press corps.” Mason said he was meeting with Spicer “to try to get more clarity on exactly what” the proposal is. “There’s such a tremendous amount of interest in this incoming administration that they’re giving some consideration to finding a larger venue on the 18 acres in the White House complex, to accommodate that extraordinary interest,” Pence said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

“The interest of the team is to make sure that we accommodate the broadest number of people who are interested and media from around the country and around the world,” Pence said. On ABC’s “This Week,” incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said demand for press-conference credentials far exceeds the “49 people” who can fit into the current briefing room. “The one thing that we discussed was whether or not we want to move the initial press conferences into the Executive Office Building,” Priebus said, adding, “you can fit four times the amount of people.”

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Oh well, with Trump praising Brexit and promising a swift deal, this may reverse.

Pound Sterling Hits New 31-Year-Low Ahead Of May’s Brexit Speech (Ind.)

Fears of the consequences of a hard Brexit have sent the pound to a fresh 31-year-low against the dollar, excluding last October’s flash crash. The pound hit new lows after reports said that Prime Minister Theresa May will on Tuesday signal plans to quit the EU’s single market to regain control of Britain’s borders, in a speech which is expected to give the most detailed insight yet into her approach to the forthcoming negotiations with Brussels. Sterling fell against all of its major peers, dropping below $1.1985 against the dollar in early Asian trade on Monday, before recovering slightly to just above $1.20. This is a more than three-decade low for the currency, excluding the flash crash on 7 October that sent the pound plunging more than six per cent to $1.18.

Fears among currency traders and investors that the UK is heading for a hard Brexit – in which access to the EU’s single market would be sacrificed in favour of tighter control over immigration – have tended to weaken the pound while suggestions that the UK could retain access to the EU single market have helped it recover. Sterling is down against the dollar by about 19 per cent since the Brexit vote, with declines since mainly sparked by concerns that Mrs May would pursue a so-called hard Brexit. City analysts are anticipating Mrs May’s speech on Tuesday with a sense of gloom.

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I know, I know, we should ignore this drivel. But there’s a few good take downs, this being one. I still wonder how the peeing hookers tale -apparently- ended up in Steele’s report. Because it came from the US, not Russia. Then again, of course, Steele hasn’t been to Russia in decades. If this report says anything, it’s that they can’t find dirt on Trump.

The Scandal of the 35-Page Anti-Trump ‘Intelligence Dossier’ (GR)

Some critics have been ungrateful enough to suggest that claims published without the least scintilla of supporting evidence by intelligence agencies which have a rich history of lying to the American people as well as everyone else, and which are in addition led by James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, may not be above suspicion. But the latest revelation, a 35-page sequence of linked texts published on January 10 by BuzzFeedNews, gives what simpletons are expected to interpret as unimpeachable evidence of soundness and credibility. The document is authored “by a person who has claimed to be a former British intelligence official,” and its sources, identified by letters of the alphabet, include a “senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure,” “a former top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” as well as another “senior Kremlin official.”

(How could one fail to doff one’s cap in acknowledgment of the spy-craft of those Brits, who are able so deftly to penetrate the inner counsels of the wicked Mr. Putin and induce his close associates to sing like canaries?) The texts which make up this document propose that Mr. Trump and his entourage had routine treasonous contacts with Russian state authorities over a long period leading up to the election, and that Mr. Putin was interfering in that election in every way possible—including by exploiting “TRUMP’s personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ (compromising material) on him.” The document’s most lurid claim—certified by Sources B, D, E and F—is made on its second page. It’s not clear what form of perverse pleasure Mr. Trump was supposed to have obtained by having “a number of prostitutes” urinate on his bed in the Moscow Ritz Carlton’s presidential suite.

The explanation given for the motivation behind this command performance – that the same bed had previously been slept in, on one of their official visits to Russia, by Barack and Michelle Obama (“whom he hated”) – seems bizarre. After all, on the night in question, whose soggy bed was it now? [..] The most immediate concern raised by this literally filthy story may be humanitarian. It seems well attested that Mr. Trump is not merely fastidious, but germaphobic: where is he supposed to have slept out the rest of the night? On the perhaps undefiled sofa, or on the carpet? And what are we to make of the claim by trolling posters at 4Chan that this “golden showers” story was a hoax they had foisted onto a Republican operative known to despise Trump, who then shopped it around to news media, other politicians, and intelligence agencies? If this story is a fiction, then are the document’s Sources B, D, E and F, who confirmed it, also fictional? And if some of the document’s sources are made up, what kind of fool would want to believe that any of the rest are authentic?

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We call these people success stories. We need to redefine ‘success’.

Eight Billionaire Men ‘As Rich As World’s Poorest 3.5 Billion People’ (BBC)

The world’s eight richest individuals have as much wealth as the 3.6bn people who make up the poorest half of the world, according to Oxfam. The charity said its figures, which critics have queried, came from improved data, and the gap between rich and poor was “far greater than feared”. Oxfam’s report coincides with the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Mark Littlewood, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said Oxfam should focus instead on ways to boost growth. “As an ‘anti-poverty’ charity, Oxfam seems to be strangely preoccupied with the rich,” said the director-general of the free market think tank. For those concerned with “eradicating absolute poverty completely”, the focus should be on measures that encourage economic growth, he added.

Ben Southwood, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said it was not the wealth of the world’s rich that mattered, but the welfare of the world’s poor, which was improving every year. “Each year we are misled by Oxfam’s wealth statistics. The data is fine – it comes from Credit Suisse – but the interpretation is not.” The annual event in Davos, a Swiss ski resort, attracts many of the world’s top political and business leaders. Katy Wright, Oxfam’s head of global external affairs, said the report helped the charity to “challenge the political and economic elites”. “We’re under no illusions that Davos is anything other than a talking shop for the world’s elite, but we try and use that focus,” she added.

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But that would sink it. A band of 25%?!

“China Should Stop Intervening In FX Market And Let Yuan Float” (R.)

China should stop intervening in the foreign exchange market, devalue the yuan and let it float freely to restore stability, a senior researcher at a government-backed think tank said. Xiao Lisheng, a finance expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, made the remarks in an article on Monday in the official China Securities Journal amid a growing debate among the country’s economists on whether authorities should let the closely-managed currency trade more freely. The yuan lost 6.6% against the dollar last year, the biggest annual loss since 1994. “The more the government delays the release of depreciation pressure, the greater the impact and destructive power of the release of depreciation pressure will be,” Xiao wrote.

The authorities should “let the yuan exchange rate have a one-off adjustment to realize a free float” of the currency, he said. The yuan is allowed to trade in a band of 2% on either side of a daily reference rate managed by the central bank. Authorities have said repeatedly there was no basis for continued depreciation of the unit, but many currency strategists predict a further weakening this year if the U.S. dollar remains strong, spurring further capital outflows from China. Xiao said the current mid-point formation mechanism, adopted in 2015, is still immature and in transition, although it has eased depreciation pressure and curbed sharp declines in the country’s foreign exchange reserves. “But any foreign exchange rate mechanism without a free float cannot fundamentally reach a market clearing (price),” he wrote.

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Much more of that to come, even if -or especially if- their economy tanks.

China’s Booming Middle Class Drives Asia’s Toxic E-Waste Mountains (G.)

Asia’s mountains of hazardous electronic trash, or e-waste, are growing rapidly, new research reveals, with China leading the way. A record 16m tonnes of electronic trash, containing both toxic and valuable materials, were generated in a single year – up 63% in five years, new analysis looking at 12 countries in east and south-east Asia shows. In China the mountain of discarded TVs, phones, computers, monitors, e-toys and small appliances grew by 6.7m tonnes in 2015 alone. That’s an 107% increase in just five years. To get a sense of scale, if every woman, man and child in China had an old LCD monitor and dumped it the pile would not equal the 2015 tonnage. The region’s fast-increasing middle class is the main driver of e-waste increases, not population growth, the report by the United Nations University found.

However, Asia’s 3.7kg per person of waste is still tiny compared to Europe’s 15.6 kg per person, it said. “Growing incomes, the creation of more and more gadgets and ever-shorter lifespans of things like mobile phones are the reasons for this tremendous increase in Asia,” said co-author Ruediger Kuehr of UN University. Electronics and electrical devices have a big eco footprint, meaning their manufacture consumes a lot of energy and water, along with valuable and sometimes scarce resources, making recycling and recovery very important. The increasing volumes of e-waste combined with a lack of environmentally sound management is a cause for concern, says Kuehr. “We risk future production of these devices and very high costs without recycling the materials,” he said.

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The numbers start to be confusing. It’s good to realize that Kathimerini is not a fan of Tsipras. What we know is the EU prefers to donate millions to NGOs rather than Greece.

But the point stands: where is the money going, what is it being spend on, and why is there no public accounting of this? Why are refugees freezing to death?

Greece Strives To Absorb EU’s Migration Funds (Kath.)

Greece is struggling to make use of EU money for migrants and refugees after having absorbed just a fraction of the 509 million euros in funding for up to 2020. So far, Athens has used about 2% of 294.6 million euros from the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, and around 25% of 214.8 million euros from the Internal Security Fund. Greek authorities blame the slow absorption rate on emergency conditions caused by the migrant influx, whereas Brussels has pointed to technical faults on the other end.

Athens, however, appears more flexible absorbing separate EU emergency funding: From about 350 million euros for 2015-16, some 175 million has gone to state agencies and an equal sum to the UN refugee agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Asylum Service. “Were it not for the emergency funds, we would be able to do nothing. Or we would have to spend money from the state budget. Regular funding requires a lot of bureaucracy,” a Labor Ministry official told Kathimerini on condition of anonymity.

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Jan 042017
 
 January 4, 2017  Posted by at 10:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Readers browse bomb-damaged library of Holland House, London 1940

The Wrong Things Are Being Forecast (Morgan)
China Calls US ‘A Shooting Star In The Ample Sky Of History’ (G.)
China’s New Year Currency Moves Won’t Make Donald Trump Happy (CNBC)
Banks Create Money From Nothing. And It Gets Worse (ND)
India Government Set To Endorse Universal Basic Income (BI)
US Banks Gear Up To Fight Dodd-Frank Act’s Volcker Rule (R.)
Wall Street Banks Have $2 Trillion European Exposure (Martens)
How to Make America Great Again with Other People’s Money (Orlov)
The Trump Effect Will Accentuate Unrest (Nomi Prins)
Anti-Surveillance Clothing Aims To Hide Wearers From Facial Recognition (G.)
Guardian Report On Ailing Greek Health System Sparks Ugly Row (Kath.)
The Necessity of Maintaining Borders (Kath.)

 

 

If all ‘growth’ is borrowed anyway, and then some, as in every dollar of ‘growth’ takes $10 of debt, maybe you should stop calling it growth?!

The Wrong Things Are Being Forecast (Morgan)

It is customary to use the start of the year to set out some forecasts. Though I’ve not previously done this, I’ve decided to make an exception this time – mainly because I’m convinced that the wrong things are being forecast. Central forecasts tend to focus on real GDP, but in so doing they miss at least three critical parameters. The first is the relationship between growth and borrowing. The second is the absolute scale of debt, and our ability to manage it. The third is the impact of a tightening resource set on the real value of global economic output. Most commentators produce projections for growth in GDP, and mine are for global real growth of around 2.3% between 2017 and 2020. I expect growth to slow, but to remain positive, in countries such as the United States, Britain and China.

It’s worth noting, in passing, that these growth numbers do not do much to boost the prosperity of the individual, since they correspond to very modest per capita improvements once population growth is taken into account. Moreover, the cost of household essentials is likely to grow more rapidly than general inflation through the forecast period. What is more intriguing than straightforward growth projections, and surely more important too, is the trajectory of indebtedness accompanying these growth estimates. Between 2000 and 2015, and expressed at constant 2015 dollar values, global real GDP expanded by $27 trillion – but this came at the expense of $87 trillion in additional indebtedness (a number which excludes the inter-bank or “financial” sector). This meant that, in inflation-adjusted terms, each growth dollar cost $3.25 in net new debt.

If anything, this borrowing-to-growth number may worsen as we look forward, my projection being that the world will add almost $3.60 of new debt for each $1 of reported real growth between now and 2020. On this basis, the world should be taking on about $5.8 trillion of net new debt annually, but preliminary indications are that net borrowing substantially exceeded this number in 2016. China has clearly caught the borrowing bug, whilst big business continues to take on cheap debt and use it to buy back stock. Incredible though it may seem, the shock of 2008-09 appears already to be receding from the collective memory, rebuilding pre-2008 attitudes to debt. On my forecast basis, global real “growth” of $8.2 trillion between now and 2020 is likely to come at a cost of $29 trillion in new debt. If correct, this would lift the global debt-to-GDP ratio to 235% in 2020, compared with 221% in 2015 and 155% in 2000.

Adding everything together, the world would be $116 trillion more indebted in 2020 than in 2000, whilst real GDP would have increased by $35 trillion. Altogether, what we are witnessing is a Ponzi-style financial economy heading for end-game, for four main reasons. First, we have made growth dependent on borrowing, which was never a sustainable model. Second, the ratio of efficiency with which we turn borrowing into growth is getting steadily worse. Third, the demands being made on us by the deterioration of the resource scarcity equation are worsening. Fourth, the ageing of the population is adding further strains to a system that is already nearing over-stretch. One thing seems certain – we cannot, for much longer, carry on as we are. y

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This calls for the poet in Trump to respond.

China Calls US ‘A Shooting Star In The Ample Sky Of History’ (G.)

Donald Trump has doubled down on his plans to transform US trade policy, picking a longtime China critic and protectionist to be America’s next chief trade negotiator. Robert Lighthizer, 69, has advocated for increasing tariffs and repeatedly criticised China for failing to adhere to international trade practices, saying tougher methods were needed to change the system. The move is likely to further alarm Beijing, where state-controlled media said on Wednesday “Trump is just fixated on trade” and warned the president elect “not try to boss China around” on economic and security issues. “May the arrogant Americans realise that the United States of America is perhaps just a shooting star in the ample sky of history,” said an editorial in the Communist party-affiliated Global Times newspaper.

It follows the selection by Trump last month of Peter Navarro to lead a new presidential office for US trade and industrial policy. Navarro has previously described China’s government as a “despicable, parasitic, brutal, brass-knuckled, crass, callous, amoral, ruthless and totally totalitarian imperialist power”. Trump has packed his cabinet with tycoons, vowed to renegotiate trade deals and crack down on what he says are China’s unfair policies. Lighthizer is a former Reagan-era trade official and had a previous stint in the Office of the US Trade Representative, where he travelled the world negotiating deals to curb steel imports. He then went on to a career as a trade lawyer, representing giants such as US Steel Corp working to fend off foreign imports.

In 2011, he wrote in an opinion piece for the Washington Times: “How does allowing China to constantly rig trade in its favour advance the core conservative goal of making markets more efficient? Markets do not run better when manufacturing shifts to China largely because of the actions of its government.” While less prone to bombast than Navarro, he and Lighthizer share the view that China’s economic policies are fundamentally flawed. Years of passivity and drift among US policymakers have allowed the US-China trade deficit to grow to the point where it is widely recognised as a major threat to our economy, Lighthizer wrote. Going forward, US policymakers should take these problems more seriously, and should take a much more aggressive approach in dealing with China.

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Excuse me? “China has put a new chip on the table to counter trade adventurism by the Trump administration.” Other than that, the new capital controls seem to work so far, to an extent.

China’s New Year Currency Moves Won’t Make Donald Trump Happy (CNBC)

Call it a New Year’s greeting from the Chinese government to the incoming administration of Donald Trump. As the president-elect rang in 2017 entertaining guests at his opulent Mar-a-Lago estate, China quietly ushered in a series of measures aimed at better controlling the value of its local currency, the yuan. Throughout his campaign, Trump accused China of “manipulating” the yuan to make Chinese exports more competitive in global markets. China’s latest announcement will likely add fuel to that debate. Unlike countries that mostly let markets determine the value of their currencies, Beijing tries to peg the yuan to a basket of other currencies. Starting Jan. 1, the Chinese State Administration of Foreign Exchange will use a new, broader basket of global currencies to benchmark the yuan’s value.

The change will have the effect of reducing the impact of the U.S. dollar on the official valuation. “This is unambiguously bad news for the United States,” High Frequency Economics Chief Economist Carl Weinberg said in a note to clients Tuesday. “China has put a new chip on the table to counter trade adventurism by the Trump administration.” While China has sought to dampen the value of its currency in the past, the People’s Bank of China has more recently been scrambling to support the yuan. Beijing is deeply concerned that the weakening yuan is encouraging Chinese to shift their wealth out of the country into stronger currencies or other, more stable holdings. China needs a lot of capital in the country in order to continue to fund its growth, which is very heavily reliant on borrowing.

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I was thinking about exactly this, the other day. That a basic income scheme may be a Trojan horse AND a wolf in sheep’s clothing if it comes entirely digitized.

Banks Create Money From Nothing. And It Gets Worse (ND)

Richard Werner, the German professor famous for inventing the term ‘quantitative easing’, says the world is finally waking up to the fact that “banks create money out of nothing” – but warns this realisation has given rise to a new “Orwellian” threat. In an exclusive interview with The New Daily, Professor Werner says the recent campaigns around the world, including in India and Australia, to get rid of cash are coordinated attempts by central bankers to monopolise money creation. “This sudden global talk by the usual suspects about the ‘need to get rid of cash’, ostensibly to fight tax evasion etc, has been so coordinated that it cannot but be part of another plan by central bankers, this time to stay in charge of any emerging reform agenda, by trying to control, and themselves run, the ‘opposition’,” he says.

“Essentially, the Bank of England and others are saying: okay, we admit it, you guys were right, banks create money out of nothing. So now we need to make sure that you guys will not be able to set the agenda of what happens in terms of reforms.” [..] The main point is that the banks do not lend existing money, but add to deposits and the money supply when they ‘lend’. And when those loans are repaid, money is removed from circulation. Thus, the supply of money is constantly being expanded and contracted by banks – which may explain why the ‘credit crunch’ of the global financial crisis was so devastating. Banks weren’t lending, so there was a shortage of money. By some estimates, the banks create upwards of 97% of money, in the form of electronic funds stored in online accounts. Banknotes and coins? They are just tokens of value, printed to represent the money already created by banks.

Professor Werner is pleased the world is waking up to the truth of how money is created, but is very displeased with what he sees as the central bankers’ reaction: the death of cash and the rise of central bank-controlled digital currency. This will further centralise what he describes as the “already excessive and unaccountable powers” of centrals banks, which he argues has been responsible for the bulk of the more than 100 banking crises and boom-bust cycles in the past half-century. “To appear active reformers, they will push the agenda to get rid of bank credit creation. This suits them anyway, as long as they can fix the policy recommendation of any such reform, to be … that the central banks should be the sole issuers of money.”

The professor also fears the global push for ‘basic income’, which is being trialled in parts of Europe and widely discussed in the media, will form part of the central bankers’ attempt to kill off cash. ‘Basic income’ is a popular idea that can be traced back to Sydney and Beatrice Webb, founders of the London School of Economics. It proposes we abolish all welfare payments and replace them with a single ‘basic income’ that everyone, from billionaires to unemployed single mothers, receives. Either we accept the digital currency issued by central banks, or we miss out on basic income payments. That is Professor Werner’s theory of what might happen. His solution to this “Orwellian” future is decentralisation, in the form of lots of non-profit community banks, as exist in his native Germany.

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That same basc income danger of course looms large in India.

India Government Set To Endorse Universal Basic Income (BI)

The Indian government is set to endorse Universal Basic Income, according to one of the leading advocates of the scheme. Professor Guy Standing, an economist who co-founded advocate group Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) in 1986, told Business Insider that the Indian government will release a report in January which says the idea is “feasible” and “basically the way forward.” The idea behind universal basic income is simple: a regular state payment made to all citizens (one variation specifies adults), regardless of working status. Advocates say it would provide a vital safety net for all citizens and remove inefficient benefit systems currently in place; critics say it would remove the incentive for citizens to work and prove to be wildly expensive.

It has, however, attracted a growing amount of attention across the world, in both rich and developing countries. Standing, professor of development at the School for African and Oriental Studies, is considered one of the leading proponents of UBI. He has advised on numerous UBI pilot schemes, and recently returned from California, where he consulted on a $20 million trial set to launch in California this year. He was closely involved with three major pilot schemes in India — two in Madhya Pradesh, and a smaller one in West Delhi. The pilots in Madhya Pradesh launched in 2010, and provided every man, woman, and child across eight villages with a modest basic income for 18 months. Standing reports that welfare improved dramatically in the villages, “particularly in nutrition among the children, healthcare, sanitation, and school attendance and performance.”

He also says the scheme also turned out some unexpected results. “The most striking thing which we hadn’t actually anticipated is that the emancipatory effect was greater than the monetary effect. It enabled people to have a sense of control. They pooled some of the money to pay down their debts, they increased decisions on escaping from debt bondage. The women developed their own capacity to make their own decision about their own lives. The general tenor of all those communities has been remarkably positive,” he said. “As a consequence of this, the Indian government is coming out with a big report in January. As you can imagine that makes me very excited. It will basically say this is the way forward.”

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No, someone at Reuters really wrote this: “The Obama administration’s regulators and enforcement agencies have been tough on banks..” And then they printed it.

US Banks Gear Up To Fight Dodd-Frank Act’s Volcker Rule (R.)

Big U.S. banks are set on getting Congress this year to loosen or eliminate the Volcker rule against using depositors’ funds for speculative bets on the bank’s own account, a test case of whether Wall Street can flex its muscle in Washington again. In interviews over the past several weeks, half a dozen industry lobbyists said they began meeting with legislative staff after the U.S. election in November to discuss matters including a rollback of Volcker, part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform that Congress enacted after the financial crisis and bank bailouts. Lobbyists said they plan to present evidence to congressional leaders that the Volcker rule is actually bad for companies, investors and the U.S. economy. Big banks have been making such arguments for years, but the industry’s influence waned significantly in Washington after the financial crisis.

The Obama administration’s regulators and enforcement agencies have been tough on banks, while lawmakers from both parties have seized opportunities to slam Wall Street to score political points. Banks now see opportunities to unravel reforms under President-Elect Donald Trump’s administration and the incoming Republican-led Congress, which appear more business-friendly, lobbyists said. While an outright repeal of the Volcker rule may not be possible, small but meaningful changes tucked into other legislation would still be a big win, they said. “I don’t think there will be a big, ambitious rollback,” said one big-bank lobbyist who was not authorized to discuss strategy publicly. “There will be four years of regulatory evolution.” Proponents of the Volcker rule say lenders that benefit from government support like deposit insurance should not be gambling with their balance sheets. They also argue such proprietary bets worsened the crisis and drove greedy, unethical behavior across Wall Street.

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Darn Europeans. The US would be fine without them.

Wall Street Banks Have $2 Trillion European Exposure (Martens)

Just 17 days from today, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the nation’s 45th President and deliver his inaugural address. Trump is expected to announce priorities in the areas of education, infrastructure, border security, the economy and curtailing the outsourcing of jobs. But Trump’s agenda will be derailed on all fronts if the big Wall Street banks blow up again as they did in 2008, dragging the U.S. economy into the ditch and requiring another massive taxpayer bailout from a nation already deeply in debt from the last banking crisis. According to a report quietly released by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Financial Research less than two weeks before Christmas, another financial implosion on Wall Street can’t be ruled out.The Office of Financial Research (OFR), a unit of the U.S. Treasury, was created under the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010.

It says its role is to: “shine a light in the dark corners of the financial system to see where risks are going, assess how much of a threat they might pose, and provide policymakers with financial analysis, information, and evaluation of policy tools to mitigate them.” Its 2016 Financial Stability Report, released on December 13, indicates that Wall Street banks have been allowed by their “regulators” to take on unfathomable risks and that dark corners remain in the U.S. financial system that are impenetrable to even this Federal agency that has been tasked with peering into them. At a time when international business headlines are filled with reports of a massive banking bailout in Italy and the potential for systemic risks from Germany’s struggling giant, Deutsche Bank, the OFR report delivers this chilling statement:

“U.S. global systemically important banks (G-SIBs) have more than $2 trillion in total exposures to Europe. Roughly half of those exposures are off-balance-sheet…U.S. G-SIBs have sold more than $800 billion notional in credit derivatives referencing entities domiciled in the EU.”

When a Wall Street bank buys a credit derivative, it is buying protection against a default on its debts by the referenced entity like a European bank or European corporation. But when a Wall Street bank sells credit derivative protection, it is on the hook for the losses if the referenced entity defaults. Regulators will not release to the public the specifics on which Wall Street banks are selling protection on which European banks but just the idea that regulators would allow this buildup of systemic risk in banks holding trillions of dollars in insured deposits after the cataclysmic results of similar hubris in 2008 shows just how little has been accomplished in terms of meaningful U.S. financial reform.

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“What’s a poor bankrupt former superpower to do?” Lovely from Dmitry. Go after Saudi Arabia.

How to Make America Great Again with Other People’s Money (Orlov)

1. It all started when the US decided to leave the British Empire. This event is often portrayed as a tax revolt by rich landholders, but there is more to it than that: it allowed the former colonies to loot and plunder British holdings by funding and outfitting “privateers”—pirates, that is. This went on for quite some time.

2. Another major boost resulted from the Civil War, which destroyed the agrarian economy of the south and by so doing provided cheap labor and feedstocks to industries in the north. Plenty of people in the south are still in psychological recovery from this event, some 15 decades later. It was the first war to be fought on an industrial scale, and a fratricidal war at that. Clearly, Americans are not above turning on their own if there’s a buck or two to be made.

3. Early in the 20th century, World War I provided the US with a rich source of plunder in the form of German reparations. Not only did this fuel the so-called “roaring twenties,” but it also pushed Germany toward embracing fascism in furtherance of the long-term goal of creating a proxy to use against the USSR.

4. When in 1941 this plan came to fruition and Hitler invaded the USSR, the US hoped for a quick Soviet surrender, only joining the fray once it became clear that the Germans would be defeated. In the aftermath of that conflict, the US reaped a gigantic windfall in the form of Jewish money and gold, which fled Europe for the US. It was able to repurpose its wartime industrial production to make civilian products, which had little competition because many industrial centers of production outside of the US had been destroyed during the war.

5. After the USSR collapsed in late 1991, the US sent in consultants who organized a campaign of wholesale looting, with much of the wealth expropriated from the public and shipped overseas. This was the last time the Americans were able to run off with a fantastic amount of other people’s money, giving the US yet another temporary lease on life.

But after that the takings have thinned out. Still, the Americans have kept working at it. They destroyed Iraq, killed Saddam Hussein and ran off with quite a bit of Iraqi gold and treasure. They destroyed Libya, killed Muammar Qaddafy and ran off with Libya’s gold. After organizing the putsch in the Ukraine in 2014, shooting up a crowd using foreign snipers and forcing Viktor Yanukovich into exile, they loaded Ukrainian gold onto a plane under the cover of darkness and took that too. They hoped to do the same in Syria by training and equipping a plucky band of terrorists, but we all know how badly that has turned out for them. But these are all small fry, and the loot from them is too meager to fuel even a temporary, purely notional rekindling of erstwhile American greatness. What’s a poor bankrupt former superpower to do?

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Only point 10 of 10 in Nomi’s “My Political-Financial Road Map for 2017”. But it fits my format quite well. DO read the whole thing.

The Trump Effect Will Accentuate Unrest (Nomi Prins)

Trump is assembling the richest cabinet in the world to conduct the business of the United States, from a political position. The problem with that is several fold. First, there is a woeful lack of public office experience amongst his administration. His supporters may think that means the Washington swamp has been drained to make room for less bureaucratic decisions. But, the swamp has only been clogged. Instead of political elite, it continues business elite, equally ill-suited to put the needs of the everyday American before the needs of their private colleagues and portfolios.

Second, running the US is not like running a business. Other countries are free to do their business apart from the US. If Trump’s doctrine slaps tariffs on imports for instance, it burdens US companies that would need to pay more for required products or materials, putting a strain on the US economy. Playing hard ball with other nations spurs them to engage more closely with each other.That would make the dollar less attractive. This will likely happen during the second half of the year, once it becomes clear the Fed isn’t on a rate hike rampage and Trump isn’t as adept at the economy as he is prevalent on Twitter. Third, an overly aggressive Trump administration, combined with its ample conflicts of interest could render Trump’s and his cohorts’ businesses the target of more terrorism, and could unleash more violence and chaos globally.

Fourth, his doctrine is deregulatory, particularly for the banking sector. Consider that the biggest US banks remain bigger than before the financial crisis. Deregulating them by striking elements of the already tepid Dodd-Frank Act could fall hard on everyone. When the system crashes, it doesn’t care about Republican or Democrat politics. The last time a deregulation and protectionist businessmen filled the US presidential cabinet was in the 1920s. That led to the Crash of 1929 and Great Depression. Today, the only thing keeping a lid on financial calamity is epic amounts of artisanal money. Deregulating an inherently corrupt and coddled banking industry, already floating on said capital assistance, would inevitably cause another crisis during Trump’s first term.

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Nice.

Anti-Surveillance Clothing Aims To Hide Wearers From Facial Recognition (G.)

The use of facial recognition software for commercial purposes is becoming more common, but, as Amazon scans faces in its physical shop and Facebook searches photos of users to add tags to, those concerned about their privacy are fighting back. Berlin-based artist and technologist Adam Harvey aims to overwhelm and confuse these systems by presenting them with thousands of false hits so they can’t tell which faces are real. The Hyperface project involves printing patterns on to clothing or textiles, which then appear to have eyes, mouths and other features that a computer can interpret as a face. This is not the first time Harvey has tried to confuse facial recognition software. During a previous project, CV Dazzle, he attempted to create an aesthetic of makeup and hairstyling that would cause machines to be unable to detect a face.

Speaking at the Chaos Communications Congress hacking conference in Hamburg, Harvey said: “As I’ve looked at in an earlier project, you can change the way you appear, but, in camouflage you can think of the figure and the ground relationship. There’s also an opportunity to modify the ‘ground’, the things that appear next to you, around you, and that can also modify the computer vision confidence score.” Harvey’s Hyperface project aims to do just that, he says, “overloading an algorithm with what it wants, oversaturating an area with faces to divert the gaze of the computer vision algorithm.” The resultant patterns, which Harvey created in conjunction with international interaction studio Hyphen-Labs, can be worn or used to blanket an area. “It can be used to modify the environment around you, whether it’s someone next to you, whether you’re wearing it, maybe around your head or in a new way.”

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“The lives of patients that are lost are considered collateral damage in the conservation of power.”

Guardian Report On Ailing Greek Health System Sparks Ugly Row (Kath.)

A report by The Guardian on Sunday on the problems faced by Greece’s ailing public healthcare system has sparked an ugly war of words between Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and unionists. The row started with a social media post made by Polakis on Tuesday, in which he accuses the head of the Panhellenic Federation of Public Hospital Employees (POEDIN), Michalis Giannakos, who is extensively quoted in the report, of “despicable lies.” Polakis went on to say that Giannakos’s comments to Guardian reporter Helena Smith were “slandering to the country and the SYRIZA government, which cut off access to the chow trough and special favors,” and called the unionist a “louse.” In the same post, Polakis also suggested that local media quoting Giannakos’s “vomit-inspiring interview” were lashing out at the leftist-government for cutting advertising revenues from the Center of Disease Prevention and Control (KEELPNO).

“No one who works in a public hospital believes you anymore, just your posse of friends,” Polakis said in his comments, which were directed at Giannakos, adding that the data the unionist cited was from 2012 and no longer valid. “Your time has finished, your place is on history’s trash heap,” Polakis said. His comments prompted an equally vehement response from POEDIN on Tuesday, calling Polakis a “political miasma” and accusing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of appointing him “to do the dirty work.” “With his latest misspelt, badly written and delusional post on Facebook against the president of POEDIN, Mr. Polakis has once more confirmed that he is the political miasma of the country’s civil and social life,” the union said in its statement.

In the interview, Giannakos suggested that cutbacks are putting patients’ lives at risk by over-taxing dwindling staff and curbing hospitals’ access to basic necessities and equipment. “The interview in The Guardian underscores the collapse of the public health system and public hospitals. Why doesn’t the government use the publication as an opportunity in its negotiations with the lenders to exempt healthcare from the memorandums? It is clear from its reaction that the government intends to achieve high primary surpluses by the continued reduction of public healthcare spending,” POEDIN said. “The lives of patients that are lost are considered collateral damage in the conservation of power.” The union also said that it is planning to take legal action against Polakis, accusing the health official of using “degrading, insulting and wholly inappropriate” language in his post.

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Erdogan makes Greeks nervous. And mainatining your borders, like maintaining your culture, is not a bad thing. Nor will it lead to war. Quite the opposite.

The Necessity of Maintaining Borders (Kath.)

Since the failed coup in Turkey on July 15, I have been rather surprised by the silence of the country’s intellectuals, who up until recently had been very talkative. Whether they kept silent out of fear or discomfort, we should respect it. Nevertheless, Orhan Pamuk’s silence, for instance, cannot go unnoticed. The point is not to carry out direct political interventions, but to bare the essential transformations that Turkish society has gone through in the nearly 15 years that Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been in power – changes that are obvious even to non-Turkish experts like myself. The mere presence (2002-17) of the same party in government for so long makes you wonder about the nature of our neighboring democracy.

I read in Monday’s Corriere della Sera that prior to the attack on Istanbul’s Reina nightclub, Turkey’s director for religious affairs, who represents the state, had accused those preparing to celebrate New Year’s Eve of being “infidels.” Meanwhile, author Burhan Sonmez told the same paper that similar complaints, regarding both Christmas and New Year’s Eve, were made by several leading AKP officials. While Turkey officially condemned the attack, on social media and elsewhere online, many defended the assassin in the name of religion. In a statement claiming responsibility for yet another mass murder, the slaughterers’ group referred to the “apostate Turkish government.” These are the same people Erdogan helped in the past but was forced to drop when he started reaching an understanding with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, abandoning the US, which is helping the Kurds and which forced him to move away from his friend Bashar al-Assad.

There is something wrong with the sultan of democracy. He now claims that Kurdish terrorism is equal to Islamic terrorism. The result of the equation is weekly massacres. How can social cohesion be maintained faced with weekly attacks on civilians from Diyarbakir to Istanbul? How much can you trust a leader who does not hide his autocratic tendencies, who has changed his country’s allies on numerous occasions in the last decade and who undermines his own military and secret service forces? Given that Greece and Europe have based their entire management of the refugee-migrant crisis on Erdogan’s word, should we start worrying? Instead of looking for frigates invading our islets, should we be looking out for dinghies flooding our cities with human despair? Until the world becomes paradise, you need borders, even those at sea.

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 December 31, 2016  Posted by at 9:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Claude Monet Bain à la Grenouillère 1869

WaPo Publishes False News Story About Russians Hacking Electrical Grid (DC)
CNN Lied About Russian Retaliation Against American Children (Sputnik)
Trump Slams CNN, NBC on Russia Coverage: ‘Don’t Have a Clue’ (NewsMax)
96 Russians Forced To Leave US Over Diplomat Expulsion (RT)
Obama’s Stingy Pardons (BBG Ed.)
ECB’s Monte Paschi Capital Bar Would Trip Up 10 Other EU Banks (BBG)
China Retools in Push to Stabilize Yuan (WSJ)
In IMF’s Forecasts, Happiness is Always Around the Corner (Gurdjiev)
Teaching Economics the Pluralist Way (Steve Keen)

 

 

Just plain nonsense. If people are smart enough to hack into such systems, they are certainly also smart enough to either leave no trace at all, or to leave traces that point to someone else. So if you find something that points to Russia, you know it wasn’t them. And that’s before you pump a story up like this, where one lonely unconnected laptop becomes a threat to the entire US grid.

WaPo Publishes False News Story About Russians Hacking Electrical Grid (DC)

A story published by The Washington Post Friday claims Russia hacked the electrical grid in Vermont. This caused hysteria on social media but has been denied by a spokesman for a Vermont utility company. The Post story was titled, “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, officials say.” The story said, “A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials.” The Post published the story before being able to get comment from the two utility companies in Vermont. The Burlington Electric Department would end up putting out a statement showing the premise of The Washington Post story as being untrue.

“Last night, U.S. utilities were alerted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of a malware code used in Grizzly Steppe, the name DHS has applied to a Russian campaign linked to recent hacks,” a spokesman for the Burlington Electric Department said. “We acted quickly to scan all computers in our system for the malware signature. We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems.” The Vermont Public Service Commissioner Christopher Recchia told The Burlington Free Press, “The grid is not in danger.” However, this false Washington Post story about a Russian intrusion into the American electrical grid has caused panic among journalists.

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“CNN claimed that an unnamed US official who was “briefed on the matter..” Yada yada. And Putin’s decision not to expel Russains was not some stunnning reversal either. He saw this one coming from miles away, it wasn’t some last-minute thing. As I said yesterday on Facebook:

“Stunning reversal”? I beg to differ. Lavrov suggesting earlier that Putin expel 35 US diplomats was a clear set-up. And Obama in turn allowed Putin to take the high road by expelling 35 Russians with just 3 weeks left till Trump.“We reserve the right to retaliate, but we will not sink to the level of this irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy.” Bye bye Barack. You lost.

CNN Lied About Russian Retaliation Against American Children (Sputnik)

As mainstream media continues to push a narrative of problematic “fake news,” on Thursday evening CNN falsely accused Russia of retaliating against American children by closing the Anglo-American School of Moscow. Shortly after the announcement of new US sanctions against Russia, CNN claimed that an unnamed US official who was “briefed on the matter” had reported to them that Moscow was closing the school. “Russian authorities ordered the closure of the Anglo-American School of Moscow, a US official briefed on the matter said. The order from the Russian government closes the school, which serves children of US, British and Canadian embassy personnel, to US and foreign nationals,” reported CNN. The lie was rapidly debunked by a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.

“US officials ‘anonymously informed’ their media that Russia closed the Anglo-American School in Moscow as a retaliatory measure,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote of CNN’s claims on her Facebook page. “That’s a lie. Apparently, the White House has completely lost its senses and began inventing sanctions against its own children.” On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the new sanctions by “embarrassing” US President Barack Obama and brushing it off, stating that he will wait until President-elect Donald Trump takes office to improve relations between the two countries. Putin also wished Obama a happy new year, and invited US diplomats children to the New Year and Christmas children’s parties at the Kremlin. CNN has not retracted their fake-news story or acknowledged the error.

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Even when reporting on it, US media have no qualms about throwing in more false news: ..Edward Snowden, who stole government secrets and later gave them to Russia in exchange for political asylum.. Slander.

Trump Slams CNN, NBC on Russia Coverage: ‘Don’t Have a Clue’ (NewsMax)

President-elect Donald Trump Friday slammed CNN and NBC News for its coverage of the Moscow hacking issue, saying on Twitter that “the Russians are playing” the news organizations “for such fools” and that they “don’t have a clue.” Trump’s post followed an earlier one Friday in which he praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for not expelling American diplomats in retaliation for President Barack Obama’s sanctions on Thursday in response to the breach at the Democratic National Committee and other party operatives. The later post also came as CNN’s Jim Sciutto interviewed former Republican House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra, who once served as a Trump surrogate, on Putin’s response. Sciutto challenged Hoekstra’s assertions that U.S. intelligence agencies have hacked other world leaders.

“Quite a throw-away line there, Congressman Hoekstra,” the CNN anchor said. “I’m an American and I listen to that, I hear that a foreign actor hacked into political organizations in the U.S. – and they strategically leaked it out during an election campaign. “Whether that’s Republican or Democrat or any other party, that sounds serious. “Are you saying, ‘Heck it’s another part of the Wild West in cyberspace and we as a country should let that pass?” Sciutto asked. “I’m not saying we should let it pass,” Hoekstra responded. He then referenced former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who stole government secrets and later gave them to Russia in exchange for political asylum. “Snowden clearly demonstrated that the United States hacked into [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel and that we were listening to her conversations,” Hoekstra said.

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Obama has opened this vast expanse of high road for Russia.

96 Russians Forced To Leave US Over Diplomat Expulsion (RT)

The US’ decision to expel 35 Russian diplomats has affected 96 people, including the officials themselves and their families, the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry said. Moscow refrained from responding in kind, to not ruin the New Year for American diplomats. The Russians forced to leave the US includes some pre-school children, Maria Zakharova said. “One can only hope that this was the last thing that the current administration does to spoil bilateral relations – the last strange, unwise decision. It targeted, among other things, ordinary people and their simple human joys – things which unite people all around the world. Practically everyone celebrates the New Year, but this is what the Obama administration did,” she said.

The US declared 35 Russian diplomats accredited in the US persona non grata, giving them 72 hours to leave the country. The foreign ministry spokesperson remarked that while some of the Russian diplomats had been working in the US for years, others arrived as recently as two months ago. This did not prevent Washington from expelling them for allegedly trying to interfere with the US election in 2015 and early 2016, which was the reason stated by the US. The Kremlin decided to send a government plane to the US to evacuate the Russians. Some of them reportedly complained that buying plane tickets on such short notice was problematic.

Zakharova said Moscow hoped that the bad timing of the expulsion and all the troubles it caused to the Russian citizens was an oversight rather than intended malice on the part of the White House. Russia refrained from its usual practice of responding to expulsions of its citizens by a foreign power with mirror expulsions of the respective country’s citizens from Russia. “We took into serious consideration how our American colleagues and their families would feel. Especially their children, who are now preparing for the New Year and are on their Christmas holidays,” Zakharova explained. “They would have been cut off from their school programs and forced to pack their things and go back to their homeland in 72 hours. So we decided against it.”

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With 148 pardons, Obama will be the second-least-forgiving president in modern history.

Obama’s Stingy Pardons (BBG Ed.)

President Barack Obama granted 78 pardons earlier this month, doubling the total for his presidency – and ensuring that it will not go down as the least forgiving in more than a century. Instead, it will probably end up as the second-least forgiving. It’s a strange legacy for a president who has spoken so eloquently about the need for a more fair and rational criminal-justice system. It’s also a missed opportunity to notch a small victory for another issue the president is passionate about: voting rights. There are 50,000 people released from federal prisons each year, and many return to states that either permanently bar them from voting or require them to apply for restoration of their rights. Most of these felons don’t deserve pardons, of course; only 3,000 have applied. And most ex-offenders without voting rights have committed state, not federal, crimes.

None of this should stop Obama from issuing pardons in deserving federal cases. There are other ways for the president to show clemency besides pardons. A commutation, for example, reduces a prisoner’s sentence. Obama has commuted the sentences of more than 1,000 inmates – more than the last 11 presidents combined, a statistic the administration is fond of citing. A less heralded statistic is that Obama has received far more applications – some 31,000 – than his predecessors. The reason is simple: He invited federal prisoners to apply. A frequent critic of the nation’s harsh sentencing laws, he is the first president to organize an official clemency initiative to address the issue.

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They make it up as they go along. “They just say, ‘Oh, this is needed to get to 8%,’ as if we all knew the number was 8%, when in fact that’s a completely new number.”

ECB’s Monte Paschi Capital Bar Would Trip Up 10 Other EU Banks (BBG)

Deutsche Bank, UniCredit and eight other European Union banks would fall short of the ECB’s capital demands on Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena based on stress-test results, highlighting potential objections to the plan. The ECB told Monte Paschi it needed enough capital to push its common equity Tier 1 ratio to 8% of risk-weighted assets in the adverse scenario of the stress test, the Bank of Italy said in a statement late on Dec. 29. That’s well above the legal minimum of 4.5%. This year’s health check had no pass mark, but in 2014 lenders were held to a CET1 ratio of 5.5%. Monte Paschi was the worst performer in the stress test’s adverse scenario with a CET1 ratio of minus 2.4%, followed by Allied Irish Banks with 4.3%. The Italian government is planning a bailout of Monte Paschi.

Under European Union law, state aid can be given to solvent banks to cover a stress-test shortfall, but the absence of a hurdle means the size of the gap could be disputed when Italy seeks approval for the rescue from the European Commission. “There’s a lot more to be explained,” said John Raymond at CreditSights. “They just say, ‘Oh, this is needed to get to 8%,’ as if we all knew the number was 8%, when in fact that’s a completely new number.” The government in Rome is planning a so-called precautionary recapitalization for Monte Paschi. The Bank of Italy said the ECB’s demands for an 8% CET1 ratio and a total capital ratio of 11.5% translate to a shortfall of 8.8 billion euros ($9.3 billion).

Closing the CET1 gap requires 6.3 billion euros of high-quality capital, 4.2 billion euros of which will come from converting subordinated debt to equity, with the remainder provided by the government, according to the Bank of Italy. Another 2.5 billion euros will be needed to offset capital lost in the debt-to-equity conversion to reach the 11.5% total ratio. A person familiar with the matter said the CET1 premium of 3.5 %age points above the legal minimum is intended to restore market confidence. In the stress test, Deutsche Bank emerged with a CET1 ratio of 7.8%, while UniCredit had 7.1%. The CET1 ratios of Barclays and Societe Generale were 7.3% and 7.5%, respectively.

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A private email I got yesterday talked about rumors swirling around in China that the country may ‘close’, and return to the isolation of Mao times, with only ‘official’ companies being allowed to handle dollars, and no Chinese individuals at all, as well as a fixed exchange rate. I don’t see how that would work in a practical sense. As I said a few days ago in my China article, in which I mentioned such capital controls, this too would risk social unrest. People who’ve tasted freedom are not likely to give it up again easily. It would also mean an end to the economic expansion.

China Retools in Push to Stabilize Yuan (WSJ)

China enhanced its ability to stabilize its currency, as the rising dollar threatens to undermine its economy by accelerating the flow of capital out of the country. China’s central bank is adjusting the mix of foreign currencies used in setting the yuan’s official daily value, a change analysts said should help support the weakening currency. The move, which goes into effect Jan. 1, reflects the delicate dance Chinese policy makers face with the yuan. China wants a slightly weaker currency to help exporters and maintain competitiveness with other economies as the dollar rises. But it also worries that a sharp decline in the yuan’s value would raise fears the central bank is losing control, undermine the public’s trust and trigger excessive capital outflows.

By diluting the dollar’s share and bringing in currencies from the Korean won to the Saudi riyal and Swedish krona, the People’s Bank of China is giving itself more room to maneuver to keep the yuan from falling too fast, analysts said. In recent weeks, the yuan has buckled under uncertainty about China’s economic performance, a surging U.S. dollar following Donald Trump’s presidential-election victory and escalating flows of Chinese currency moving offshore. The potential for faster U.S. interest-rate increases could add even more downward pressure on the yuan, with some analysts and investors predicting the currency could break the psychologically important seven-yuan-per-dollar level as soon as next month. The yuan has dropped 7% against the dollar this year, nearly double the decline from the year before.

China’s move is the latest by global policy makers trying to adjust to a powerful dollar rally that has recently lifted the U.S. currency to a 14-year high. In emerging markets, a stronger dollar makes it more expensive for governments and companies to pay back their dollar-denominated loans. In China, how to manage the yuan’s value has become a hot topic in official circles since a nearly 2% devaluation 16 months ago shocked global markets. In the past year the central bank has sought a less abrupt path, constricting channels for moving money out of the country and managing the pace of depreciation.

The central bank controls the mainland trading of the yuan by specifying an official rate against the dollar and then allowing the currency to move 2% above or below the so-called daily fix. Since the beginning of this year, the central bank has been taking into account the yuan’s performance against both the dollar and a wider selection of currencies when determining the daily fix. That move has paved the way for the yuan’s gradual deprecation.

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MO.

In IMF’s Forecasts, Happiness is Always Around the Corner (Gurdjiev)

Remember the promises of the imminent global growth recovery ‘next year’? IMF, the leading light of exuberant growth expectations has been at this game for some years now. And every time, turning the calendar resets the fabled ‘growth recovery’ out another 12 months. Well, here’s a simple view of the extent to which the IMF has missed the boat called Realism and jumped onboard the boat called Hope.

Table above posts cumulative 2010-2016 real GDP growth that was forecast by the IMF back in September 2011, against what the Fund now anticipates / estimates as of October 2016. The sea of red marks all the countries for which IMF’s forecasts have been wildly on an optimistic side. Green marks the lonely four cases, including tax arbitrage-driven GDPs of Ireland and Luxembourg, where IMF forecasts turned out to be too conservative. German gap is minor in size – in fact, it is not even statistically different from zero. But Maltese one is a bit of an issue. Maltese economy has been growing fast in recent years, prompting the IMF to warn the Government this year that its banking sector is starting to get overexposed to construction sector, and its construction sector is becoming a bit of a bubble, and that all of this is too closely linked to Government spending and investment boom that cannot be sustained.

Oh, and then there are inflows of labour from abroad to sustain all of this growth. Remember Ireland ca 2005-2006? Yep, Malta is a slightly milder version. Notice the large negative gaps: Greece at -21 percentage points, Cyprus at -18 percentage points, Finland at -15 percentage points and so on… the bird-eye’s view of the IMF’s horrific errors is: • Two ‘programme’ countries – where the IMF is one of the economic policy ‘masters’, so at the very least it should have known what was happening on the ground; and
• IMF’s sheer incomprehension of economic drivers for growth in the case of Finland, which, until the recession hit it, was the darling of IMF’s ‘competitiveness leaders board’.

Median-average miss is between 4.33 and 4.97 percentage points in cumulative growth undershoot over 7 years, compared to IMF end-of-2011 projections. So next time the Fund starts issuing ‘happiness is just around the corner’ updates, and anchoring them to the ‘convincing’ view of ‘competitiveness’ and ‘structural drivers’ stuff, take them with a grain of salt.

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As Steve is way ahead of us doing New Year’s in Sydney, one last lesson for 2016.

Teaching Economics the Pluralist Way (Steve Keen)

This is a talk I gave in Amsterdam to launch the Amsterdam Rethinking Economics critique of the current state of economics “education” in the Netherlands. The text of my slides is reproduced below.

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Dec 302016
 
 December 30, 2016  Posted by at 10:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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DPC Memphis, Mississippi River landing, Belle of the Bends and Belle of Calhoun 1906

Putin’s Cease-Fire in Syria Boxes Out Obama (USN)
Russia: “No Enemy Of The United States Could Have Done Worse” (RT)
Obama’s Sanctions Target Trump, Not Putin (Duran)
“Grizzly Steppe” – FBI, DHS Release “Report” On Russian Hacking (ZH)
Russia’s ‘Grizzly Steppe’ Cyberattacks Started Simply, US Says (BBG)
Trump Says He’ll Weigh Intelligence Findings on Russian Hack (BBG)
The Russians Are Coming (Oliver Stone)
Russia: Mass Graves Full Of Tortured Civilians Discovered In Aleppo (TAM)
China Faces Stiff Battle to Sideline the Dollar in Valuing Yuan
China To Relax Curbs On Foreign Investment In Banking, Securities (R.)
Who Wants To Keep Gas Flowing Through Ukraine And Why? (SC)
The New Year’s Arriving With a Frigid Bang (BBG)
A 2016 Love Story: The Macedonian Cop and The Iraqi Refugee (AFP)

 

 

Can’t find a good western source on this all too obvious theme. Typical. The underlying idea seems to be that Obama should have tried to create even more chaos, deliver more weapons to the ‘rebels’. The US should have never toppled Saddam, nor Gaddafi, and we should be glad that Putin called a halt to the mayhem. Now get the US out of there, and on the double.

America over the past decades -in which it was a superpower- could have been, and should have been, a force for good, and for peace. It has instead been nothing but the exact opposite.

Putin’s Cease-Fire in Syria Boxes Out Obama (USN)

Russia and Turkey announced early Thursday they had secured a cease-fire agreement for the civil war in Syria, potentially clearing the way to a peace deal and leaving little, if any, role for the U.S. to play in the future of the war-torn country. The American failure to find a diplomatic or military solution to the conflict, which rages adjacent to an extraordinarily complicated international effort to defeat the Islamic State group, has left some traditional allies in the region worried about what leverage the U.S. has left to protect their interests in the Middle East. Very few details have emerged about the agreement, which was organized by Moscow and Ankara and backed the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. Reuters reported Wednesday that the plan could involve splitting the county into semi-autonomous Russian, Turkish and Iranian zones of influence within Assad’s government.

Perhaps the most notable question centers on the involvement of the Free Syrian Army, the U.S.-backed umbrella organization of the opposition movement which has fractured in recent months. It denies having participated in the cease-fire talks. Moscow’s leadership on the agreement, however, follows its deep involvement in Syria over the last year that has successfully shirked American calls for Assad to step down. So it’s also unclear how the U.S. could exercise any leverage over the events in Syria in the future or encourage any of the actors involved to consider American interests, including issuing humanitarian aid to the 8 million displaced Syrians displaced from their homes, supporting willing partners on the ground to fight the Islamic State group, and creating a unity government.

“If the cease-fire does spread to the point where any settlement begins, we’re going to find ourselves in the very awkward position of being the largest single aid donor to Syria and having somehow to deal in humanitarian and recovery terms with a government and structure we had no hand in creating,” says Anthony Cordesman, a former senior adviser to the departments of State and Defense, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ‘That’s certainly going to create future problems.”

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“Obama’s “bitter” and “helpless” team..”, “.. a devastating blow to America’s prestige and its leadership..” But kind words for Kerry.

Russia: “No Enemy Of The United States Could Have Done Worse” (RT)

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has posted a scathing Facebook comment on US President Barack Obama’s approval of new anti-Russian measures, arguing Obama’s “bitter” and “helpless” team did a disfavor to the White House’s reputation. Zakharova wrote that the outgoing president did not manage to leave “any” major foreign policy achievements as part of his legacy and instead of “putting an elegant period” to his two presidential terms has “made a huge blot” with his latest decision to impose more sanctions on Russia, expelling 35 Russian diplomats and closing two diplomatic compounds in the US.

“Today America, the American people were humiliated by their own president. Not by international terrorists, not by [the] enemy’s troops. This time Washington was slapped by own master, who has complicated the urgent tasks for the incoming team in the extreme,” Zakharova wrote, labeling the current administration “a group of foreign policy losers, bitter and narrow-minded.” “Today, Obama officially admitted it,” she wrote. Zakharova then offered her sympathy to Secretary of State John Kerry, who, she argued, had also suffered under the current administration as he was unable to do his job properly, being constantly “mocked” and “let down” by his own colleagues. “Mr. Kerry, in this difficult moment for the United States, let me convey you the words of sympathy – you have done all what was possible to avert your country’s collapse in foreign policy,” she said, giving credit to Kerry’s diplomatic skills.

“Out of this group of spoilers, I pity only Kerry. He was not an ally. But he tried to be a professional and maintain his human dignity.” Zakharova also said that with its incoherent foreign policy, Obama’s administration has inadvertently debunked a long-cherished myth of America’s exceptionalism that claims a special place in the world. “This is it, [the] curtain [has dropped]. The bad performance is over. The whole world, from the front row to the balcony, is watching a devastating blow to America’s prestige and its leadership, dealt by Barack Obama and his semi-literate foreign policy team, which has exposed its main secret to the world – exceptionalism was a masked helplessness.” “No enemy of the United States could have done worse,” Zakharova concluded. She promised that the US won’t have to wait too long for Moscow’s response. “Tomorrow there will be official statements, countermeasures, and much more,” she wrote.

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Smooth transition.

Obama’s Sanctions Target Trump, Not Putin (Duran)

Barack Obama ends his Presidency with the announcement of yet more sanctions against Russia. These target Russia’s two intelligence agencies which were supposedly concerned with the alleged cyber attacks during the US election – the FSB and the GRU – and what appear to be three institutions involved in IT work – the Professional Association of Designers of Data Processing Systems, the Special Technology Centre, and Zorsecurity, formerly known as Esage Lab or Tsor. In addition to these five entities four high ranking officials of the GRU have also been added to the sanctions list. Obama has also announced the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the US, giving them just 72 hours to leave, and has closed two Russian diplomatic compounds in the US.

He has also said that he will provide Congress with a report on Russian cyber activity during this and previous US election cycles. Like many of Obama’s other recent moves, this one is not really targeted at Russia. The additional sanctions will hardly affect Russia, though the wholesale expulsion of Russian diplomats will undoubtedly complicate the work of Russian diplomatic missions in the US. The true target of these sanctions is Donald Trump. By imposing sanctions on Russia, Obama is lending the authority of the Presidency to the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking, daring Trump to deny their truth. If Trump as President allows the sanctions to continue, he will be deemed to have accepted the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking as true.

If Trump cancels the sanctions when he becomes President, he will be accused of being Russia’s stooge. It is a well known lawyer’s trick, and Obama the former lawyer doubtless calculates that either way Trump’s legitimacy and authority as President will be damaged, with the insinuation that he owes his Presidency to the Russians now given extra force. Like so many of Obama’s other moves in the last weeks of his Presidency, it is an ugly and small minded act, seeking to undermine his successor as President in a way that is completely contrary to US tradition.

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You’re looking for -finally!- proof, and what you get is a disclaimer.

“Grizzly Steppe” – FBI, DHS Release “Report” On Russian Hacking (ZH)

As part of the “evidence” meant to substantiate the unprecedented act of expelling 35 Russian diplomats and locking down two Russian compounds without a major concurrent political or diplomatic incident, or an act of war, and which simply provides an outlets for the Democrats to justify the loss of their candidate in the US presidential election (sorry, Putin did not tell the rust belt how to vote), the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI released a 13-page “report” on the Russian action done “to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election”, i.e., hack it.

As the DHS writes, “this document provides technical details regarding the tools and infrastructure used by the Russian civilian and military intelligence Services (RIS) to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. Government, political, and private sector entities. The U.S. Government is referring to this malicious cyber activity by RIS as GRIZZLY STEPPE.” Where things get awkward, however, is at the very start of the report, which prefaced by a broad disclaimer, according to which nothing in the report is to be relied upon and that everything contained in it may be completely false. No really: “this report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within. DHS does not endorse any commercial product or service referenced in this advisory or otherwise.”

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US intelligence looks hell-bent on founding its credibility exclusively on gossip and propaganda.

Russia’s ‘Grizzly Steppe’ Cyberattacks Started Simply, US Says (BBG)

The attack against U.S. democracy began in the summer of 2015 with a simple trick: Hackers working for Russia’s civilian intelligence service sent e-mails with hidden malware to more than 1,000 people working for the American government and political groups. U.S. intelligence agencies say that was the modest start of “Grizzly Steppe,” their name for what they say developed into a far-reaching Russian operation to interfere with this year’s presidential election. Prodded to produce evidence by Russia, which has denied a role in hacking – and by an openly skeptical President-elect Donald Trump – the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security did so Thursday. They issued a 13-page joint analysis just as President Barack Obama imposed sanctions against Russian government organizations and individuals and expelled 35 Russian operatives.

While Trump said in a statement Thursday that “it’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” he said he “will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.” As president-elect he’s entitled to see the classified details behind the public report. The initial hackers sent e-mails that appeared to come from legitimate websites and other Internet domains tied to U.S. organizations and educational institutions, according to the report. Those who were fooled into clicking on the “spearphishing” e-mails provided a foothold into the Democratic National Committee – although the party organization wasn’t identified by name in the report – and key e-mail accounts for material that would later be leaked to damage Hillary Clinton in her losing campaign against Trump.

“This activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens,” according to a joint statement from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “The U.S. government seeks to arm network defenders with the tools they need to identify, detect and disrupt Russian malicious cyber activity that is targeting our country’s and our allies’ networks.” Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, rejected the U.S. conclusions. “We categorically disagree with any of the groundless allegations or charges against Russia,” he said on a conference call. “These actions by the current administration in Washington are unfortunately a manifestation of an unpredictable and you could even say aggressive policy.”

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Are they going to threaten him?

Trump Says He’ll Weigh Intelligence Findings on Russian Hack (BBG)

President-elect Donald Trump said he’ll meet next week with U.S. intelligence officials to discuss their findings that Russia hacked Democratic Party e-mails to meddle in the 2016 election, signaling a possible shift from his previous dismissals of Russian involvement. In his first statement following President Barack Obama’s action on Thursday to sanction Russian intelligence officials and agencies for the hacking, Trump released a statement, saying, “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”

Trump, who has pledged to seek better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, repeatedly has expressed skepticism about the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the pilfering and release of e-mails from DNC and party officials in order to damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton. He once said the hacking could have been the work of “somebody sitting in a bed someplace” and told reporters Wednesday that “we ought to get on with our lives” instead of rehashing the cyberattack. Obama’s actions put Trump in a bind less than a month before his inauguration. He will have to decide whether to reverse course when he takes office Jan. 20, which would effectively reject the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies and put him at odds with the Republican leaders in Congress who called the sanctions a necessary step.

The Russian government said it would announce on Friday its response to Obama’s move and emphasized that it soon will be dealing with Trump. “Right now we just are not in a position to sit here and respond to all of these details before we have a full-blown intelligence report on this particular matter,” Reince Priebus, Trump’s appointee as chief of staff, said on Fox News Thursday night. “We just need to get to a point ourselves where we can talk to all of these intelligence agencies and find out once and for all what evidence is there, how bad is it.”

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Not terribly strong, but it’s Stone. Think he could get a movie financed on the theme?

The Russians Are Coming (Oliver Stone)

As 2016 draws to a close, we find ourselves a deeply unsettled nation. We’re unable to draw the lines of our national interest. Is it jobs and economy, is it national security, or is it now in our interest to ensure global security — in other words, act as the world’s policemen? As the “failing” (to quote Trump) New York Times degenerates into a Washington Post organization with its stagnant Cold War vision of a 1950s world where the Russians are to blame for most everything — Hillary’s loss, most of the aggression and disorder in the world, the desire to destabilize Europe, etc. – the Times has added the issue of ‘fake news’ to reassert its problematic role as the dominant voice for the Washington establishment. Certainly this is true in the case of Russia’s ‘hacking’ the 2016 election and putting into office its Manchurian Candidate in Donald Trump.

Apparently the CIA (via various unnamed intelligence officials), and the FBI, NSA, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (who notoriously lied to Congress in the Snowden affair), President Obama, the DNC, Hillary Clinton, and Congress agree that Russia, and Mr. Putin predominantly, is responsible. Certainly the psychotic, war-loving Senator John McCain is right up there alongside these patriots, calling President Putin a “thug, bully and a murderer and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.” He actually said this — the man whose sound judgment chose Sarah Palin as his VP nominee in ’08. And the Times followed by printing the story in its full glory on page one, clearly agreeing with McCain’s point of view.

I don’t remember Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, or Reagan, in the darkest days of the 1950s/80s, ever singling out a Russian President like this. The invective was aimed at the Soviet regime, but never were Khrushchev or Brezhnev the target of this bile. I guess this is a new form of American diplomacy. If a black youth in our inner cities were killed or a Pakistani wedding party were murdered by our drones, would President Obama be singled out as a murderer, bully, thug? Such personalization is a sign of sickness in our thinking and way beneath what should be our standards.

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We’ll have to wait for the -gruesome- proof on this too. “The results of only an initial survey of Aleppo neighborhoods abandoned by the so-called ‘opposition’ will shock many.”

Russia: Mass Graves Full Of Tortured Civilians Discovered In Aleppo (TAM)

Russian military forces have discovered mass graves in eastern parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, with many of the bodies reportedly showing signs of torture. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for the Russian defense ministry, announced the horrifying discovery on Monday. “Many of the corpses were found with missing body parts, and most had gunshot wounds to the head,” he said, according to RT. Until recently, the eastern portion of Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and industrial and financial center, was under the control of so-called “moderate” rebels, many of whom have received both intelligence and material support from the United States and its allies in the Middle East.

Last week, Russian and Syrian military forces oversaw the evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo. Prior to that, the rebel-held portion of the city had been controlled by two main factions, Jabhat al-Nusra, a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda also known as the Nusra Front, and Ahrar al-Sham, another extremist group that receives U.S. support despite being designated a terrorist organization. In an apparent attempt to court the U.S. government by distancing itself from al-Qaeda, the Nusra Front recently attempted to “rebrand” itself. Despite efforts to market themselves as kinder, gentler terrorists, the group has continued to commit atrocities, including burning buses intended to be used in the evacuation and even blocking food aid from reaching Aleppo’s starving residents.

WikiLeaks’ archive of diplomatic cables reveals that the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have sought to overthrow the government of Syrian leader Bashar Assad since at least 2006, and support for extremist fighters remains a key part of that strategy. Konashenkov promised a full investigation into the war crimes of rebel forces in Aleppo, suggesting in his statement that the results would surprise many people who receive their news from Western mainstream media sources. He said: “The completion of a uniquely large-scale humanitarian operation by the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Aleppo will destroy many of the myths that have been fed to the world by Western politicians. The results of only an initial survey of Aleppo neighborhoods abandoned by the so-called ‘opposition’ will shock many.”

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Good luck with that: “The U.S. currency is on one side of 88% of all foreign-exchange trading..”

China Faces Stiff Battle to Sideline the Dollar in Valuing Yuan

China took another step to degrade the dollar in defining the value of its currency, in an effort that cuts against its rival’s stubbornly strong hold on the global financial system. An arm of the People’s Bank of China, which last year started setting the yuan against a basket of currencies, on Thursday said it’s adding 11 units to that reference group. The move lowers the dollar’s weighting by 4 percentage points, to 22.4% – little more than twice the share for South Korea’s won, a new entrant. While the logic of determining the yuan’s value against the currencies of its trading partners is clear, the problem is that the dollar is still the dominant reference in the perception of the public and the market. The U.S. currency is on one side of 88% of all foreign-exchange trading. “The dollar-yuan rate will still be the benchmark that determines sentiment,” said Hao Hong at Communications International Holdings.

“The basket is just a reference, so the change in the index’s composition and the efforts of keeping it stable will do little to boost confidence.” The yuan’s retreat against the CFETS RMB Index, the basket set by the China Foreign Exchange Trade System, has been more moderate this year than against the dollar, as the currencies of China’s trading partners have also declined. In recent weeks it’s even advanced. That offers an image of stability that would appeal to a Communist leadership that’s striving to maintain economic growth in excess of 6.5% and reduce leverage, all while heading off any exodus of domestic capital. The challenge is that China’s swelling middle class, along with its ultra-wealthy, are looking to diversify some of their increasing pool of savings overseas. Prospects for higher U.S. interest rates only increase the allure of the dollar.

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They need money, bad.

China To Relax Curbs On Foreign Investment In Banking, Securities (R.)

China will focus on freeing up foreign investment in banking, insurance, securities and futures market trading firms as part of a wider opening up of the services sector, the country’s state planner said in a document released on Friday. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) did not give any details or time frame on relaxing restrictions for foreign investment in the financial services sector. At a press conference held after the release of the document, Ning Jizhe, vice chairman of the NDRC, said that the government will maintain “some controls”, but did not elaborate. Businesses that the NDRC earmarked for opening up in the manufacturing sector included rail transportation equipment, motorcycles, edible fats and oils, and fuel ethanol.

The NDRC also said China will lift restrictions on foreign investment in unconventional oil and gas production, which usually refers to development of shale deposits. Industry experts noted China has already allowed foreign companies such as Shell and BP to explore and develop shale oil and gas in joint ventures with Chinese firms. China will also “orderly” open up sensitive areas such as telecoms, education, internet to foreign investment, as well as relaxing foreign investment restrictions on credit-rating services, the NDRC document said. The new list of areas marked for liberalization differ slightly from draft foreign investment guidelines that China published earlier this month.

In the draft, restrictions in critical banking and securities sectors remained largely unchanged, though a reference to 49 percent foreign investment caps on some types of securities companies appeared to have been removed. Beijing is facing mounting criticism from foreign governments over its closed markets. Despite repeated pledges to increase access for foreign firms, critics say it has not followed through on its reform agenda.

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A bit confusing, but do watch Poland.

Who Wants To Keep Gas Flowing Through Ukraine And Why? (SC)

This past year of 2016 set a new record for the export history of Gazprom, Russia’s biggest gas company. Its chairman, Alexey Miller, has claimed that by the end of the year Gazprom will have shipped a total of 180 billion cubic meters to non-CIS countries. Gazprom had only planned to export between 166 and 170 billion cubic meters of gas in 2016 (in 2015, 158.56 billion cubic meters of gas were delivered to non-CIS countries). But even this new high is not the limit. Gazprom’s latest calculations envision a further uptick in shipments in 2017, and those will primarily be to the EU. The key factors here are, first and foremost, the weather conditions (this winter promises to be a more severe one in Europe than last year), and second – the jump in demand for gas in Europe that has been seen in recent months in the face of lower domestic production in EU countries.

The biggest consumers of Russian gas are still Germany (47.4 billion cubic meters in 2015), Turkey (27 billion), Italy (24.4 billion), Great Britain (22.5 billion), and France (10.5 billion). And Russian gas shipments play a very important role in ensuring the energy security of Southeastern Europe. In 2015 Bulgaria purchased 3.1 billion cubic meters of gas from the companies that make up the Gazprom Group, while Greece bought 2 billion cubic meters, Serbia – 1.9 billion cubic meters, and Croatia – 0.6 billion cubic meters. The market price for Russian gas has taken some interesting twists and turns. It is worth noting that that figure has risen right along with the increase in supply. This proves once again that the close interdependence of European consumers and Russian energy suppliers is «overriding» the market formula: simultaneous growth in both supply and price is an atypical phenomenon in a market environment.

However, it proves once again that any moves aimed at «replacing» Russian gas or «displacing» Russia from the EU gas market might be disruptive for Europe’s energy sector. The attempts by some countries to block Russian gas supplies look particularly irrational in this context. This primarily applies to Poland, which rushed to the European Court to appeal the European Commission’s decision to allow Gazprom greater access to the OPAL pipeline that links Nord Stream with the gas-transit system of Central and Western Europe. The Polish media cites the official spokesperson for the Polish Ministry of Finance, Joanna Wajda, in its reports that Warsaw has already asked the EU to suspend the implementation of the European Commission decision. The EC’s official reaction to this proposal is still unknown, but it will be interesting to see.

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Athens is bloody cold as we speak. That map is pretty clear.

The New Year’s Arriving With a Frigid Bang (BBG)

A deep freeze is about to descend on North America, Europe and Asia thanks to record high temperatures across the Arctic. How’s that? “Think of it like a seesaw,” said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather in Bethesda, Maryland. If winter temperatures rise north of Alaska, that “forces an equal-opposite downward-southward push. The cold essentially has to go somewhere else.” Meteorologists theorize the phenomenon works this way: Warmth in the northern polar region helps lock in jet-stream kinks that drag cold air south and sets up conditions that weaken the polar vortex, the pressure zone that usually traps the chill in the northernmost part of Earth. Frigid thermometer readings are, as a result, delivered to the Northern Hemisphere. So, warm Arctic, cold continents.

Forecasts show how drastic it could be. For example, Chicago’s high on Monday is expected to be 43 degrees Fahrenheit (about 6 Celsius) and its low 33, according to MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland. By Friday, the high is predicted to be 18 and the low just 5. Climate change and the recently ended El Nino conspired over the last three years to heat the planet to record levels. The ice cap dwindled. In September it was the smallest in scope since 2007; its winter growth has been the slowest in chronicled history. Sea ice keeps the air above it cold, and in November in the Arctic it hit a record low, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For several weeks, as as consequence, a large part of the Arctic has been hotter than normal.

“We have a buoy north of Alaska that went over to freezing around the 10th of December, which is about a month later than it normally happens,” said Jim Overland, a research oceanographer at the U.S. Pacific Marine Environment Laboratory in Seattle, who made his first trips to Arctic ice in the 60s.

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Flowers grow at the weirdest places.

A 2016 Love Story: The Macedonian Cop and The Iraqi Refugee (AFP)

The scene was hardly conducive to romance: she was a sick Iraqi in a wave of refugees trying to enter Serbia, while he belonged to the stern Macedonian police force keeping guard. But Noora Arkavazi, a Kurdish Muslim, and Orthodox Christian Bobi Dodevski quickly fell in love after they met at the muddy border in early March – and celebrated their wedding four months later. Bobi recalls the rainy day he first saw Noora in no man’s land between the two Balkan countries, when he was working only by chance after swapping shifts with a colleague. “It was destiny,” the affable 35-year-old tells AFP over tea in his small apartment in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo, where he now lives happily with his young wife.

Noora, 20, hails from Diyala, an eastern province plagued with violence in the Iraqi conflict. She says at one point Islamic State jihadists kidnapped her father, an engineer, and demanded thousands of dollars for his return. Early in 2016, Noora and her brother, sister and parents abandoned their home and began a long journey west, crossing the border into Turkey, taking a boat to the Greek island of Lesbos and eventually entering Macedonia. Their path was one well-trodden by hundreds of thousands of people escaping war or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia – and like many of their fellow travellers, the Arkavazis had set their sights on Germany. While her family continued on their odyssey, Noora stayed put in Macedonia after Cupid’s arrow struck. “I had a simple dream to live with my family in Germany,” she says. “I didn’t imagine a big surprise for me here.”

Read more …

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

Dec 272016
 
 December 27, 2016  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, Athens Christmas Day 2016

Recession, Market Crash Next Year, Expect Rate Cuts: Rickards (CNBC)
Did Donald Trump Just Jump The ‘Dow 20,000’ Shark? (ZH)
Yuan Trading Volume Has Been Surging In December (BBG)
ECB: Monte dei Paschi Must Now Raise €8.8 Billion After Recent Withdrawals (R.)
War & The Rejection of Peace (Rossini)
Israel Claims ‘Evidence’ That Obama Orchestrated UN Resolution (G.)
Corbyn Hits Back After Obama Suggests Labour Is ‘Disintegrating’ (G.)
Hard Brexit ‘Could Boost UK Economy By £24 Billion’: Pro-Leave Group (Ind.)
Mervyn King: Britain Should Be More Upbeat About Brexit (G.)
EU Faces Two Major Problems – And Has Answers To Neither: King (Ind.)
Exit, Hope and Change (Jim Kunstler)
Cheetahs Heading Towards Extinction As Population Crashes (BBC)
The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017 (Automatic Earth)

 

 

“..a “head-on collision” between perception and reality…”

Recession, Market Crash Next Year, Expect Rate Cuts: Rickards (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve hiked interest rates just two weeks ago for the second time in a decade, but it will soon be cutting them again, said Jim Rickards on Tuesday. Speaking to CNBC’s Squawk Box, the director of The James Rickards Project said a stock market correction is coming as President-elect Donald Trump’s economic stimulus plans will not pan out, causing a “head-on collision” between perception and reality. “When the reality of no stimulus catches up with the perception of stimulus plus the Fed tightening: that’s the train wreck. Either we’re going to have a recession or a stock market correction,” he said. The markets have been rallying on the back of Trump’s win as investors bet on tax cuts and fiscal spending under the new administration.

However, “the stimulus is not going to come” as Trump’s proposed tax cuts will hit government revenue while the Congress is likely to block his stimulus plans as the U.S. is already $20 trillion in debt, Rickards added. This will lead to a recession or a “very severe correction” in the stock market, prompting rate cuts later next year, he said, prompting the Fed to cut rates. “They will raise (rates) in March and then something will hit the wall, either the economy or the stock market or both. Then the Fed will backpedal from there, starting with a forward guidance then perhaps a rate cut later in the year,” said Rickards, who recommends holding gold and U.S. 10-year Treasurys.

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Ominous.

Did Donald Trump Just Jump The ‘Dow 20,000’ Shark? (ZH)

It appears the sugar-high from holiday celebrations is still running through president-elect Trump's veins as his tweets took an even more narcisistic tone on this oh-so-aptly-named 'Boxing Day' in America. First Trump decided to take credit for the unprecedented short-squeeze in US stock markets – and the Christmas spending numbers…

We just wonder what he will sat if/when Goldman Sachs stops rising and stocks tumble ("never gonna happen", probably The Fed's fault after all), but perhaps even more importantly, how does he feel about the $1.2 trillion of value he has erased from global capital markets since his election?

 

The drop in global debt and equity values in Q4 2016 is very reminiscent of the drop into 2015's Fed rate hike… which did not end well…

 

But, the last time that global stocks and global bonds decoupled so aggressively was following the end of QE3… here's what happened next…

But it's probably different this time, right? China is fine (oh wait, failed auctions and liquidity crisis), Europe is fine (oh wait, Italian banks are collapsing), and the US economy is great (oh wait, automakers are shuttering plants due to credit-created excess inventory).

*  *  *

But Trump was not done there, he took on the arrogance of Obama, as we detailed earlier

Invincible politician and stock market savior…Let's just hope nothing goes wrong to break that narrative in the next 4 years (or 4 weeks).

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Beijing will be forced to take very unpopular decisions. Xi signaled tolerance for a lower growth target, and whoops goes the money. They’re stuck in their own bubbles.

Yuan Trading Volume Has Been Surging In December (BBG)

The onshore yuan’s surging trading volume is another piece of evidence that capital is fleeing China at a faster pace. The daily average value of transactions in Shanghai climbed to $34 billion in December as of Monday, the highest since at least April 2014, according to data from China Foreign Exchange Trade System. That’s up 51% from the first 11 months of the year. The increase suggests quickening outflows, given that data in recent months showed banks were net sellers of the yuan, according to Harrison Hu at RBS This month’s jump in trading volume signals sentiment has kept deteriorating since November, when the nation’s foreign-exchange reserves shrank by the most since January.

The Chinese currency is headed for its steepest annual slump in more than two decades and when the year turns, authorities will be faced with a triple whammy of the renewal of citizens’ $50,000 conversion quota, prospects of further Federal Reserve interest-rate increases, and concern that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump may slap punitive tariffs on China’s exports to the world’s largest economy. “Capital outflow pressures will stay, and in near term, we should monitor the impact upon the reset of the annual quota,” said Frances Cheung at Societe Generale. The pressures will likely ease toward the end of the first quarter as foreign flows into China’s bond market quicken, she said.

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If it quacks like a typical bank run… Don’t you think they could perhaps have done this deal in silence?

ECB: Monte dei Paschi Must Now Raise €8.8 Billion After Recent Withdrawals (R.)

The ECB has told Monte dei Paschi it needs to plug a capital shortfall of €8.8 billion, higher than a previous €5 billion gap estimated by the bank, the lender said on Monday, confirming what sources told Reuters. Last Friday the Italian government approved a decree to bail out Monte dei Paschi after Italy’s No. 3 lender failed to win investor backing for a desperately needed €5 billion capital increase. The bank said on Monday it had officially asked the ECB last Friday for go ahead for a “precautionary recapitalization”. A precautionary recapitalization is a type of state intervention in a struggling bank that is still solvent. It means only a modest bail-in of investors though the government can buy shares or bonds only on market terms endorsed by EU state aid officials in Brussels.

In its reply, the ECB said it had calculated the capital it believed the bank needed on the basis of a shortfall emerging from European stress test of large lenders earlier this year. In those tests Monte dei Paschi was the only Italian bank to come short under an adverse scenario. The ECB said the lender was solvent but signaled the bank’s liquidity position had rapidly deteriorated between the end of November and December 21, Monte dei Paschi said. [..] The European Commission said on Friday it would work with Rome to establish conditions were met for a bailout of Monte dei Paschi. But on Monday ECB policymaker Jens Weidmann said plans for a state bailout of Monte dei Paschi should be weighed carefully as many questions remain to be answered.

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“..He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but ended up invading 7 countries. He also became the very first U.S. President to be at continuous war during his entire 8 years in office…”

War & The Rejection of Peace (Rossini)

Try to think of a time in your life when the U.S. government was not militarily involved somewhere in the world. It’s a sad fact that a vast majority of us can’t recall such a time. [..] When war is all that a population knows to exist, the idea of peace becomes an anomaly. We all know that people are habitual. We cling to our habits (good and bad) and resist the unknown where change can occur. Well, in America the unknown has become peace! How sad to think that the idea of peace actually terrifies so many people both in and out of government. One can at least understand why governments would want to avoid peace. As Randolph Bourne famously pointed: “War is the health of the state.” During times of war, government capitalizes on the fear that it generates and concomitantly seizes unbelievable powers for itself.

We can at least see the benefit to government and those with a lust for power and the ability to dominate others. But what’s in it for the people? Here we can quote Samuel B. Pettengill who said: “War – after all, what is it that the people get? Why – widows, taxes, wooden legs and debt.” Sounds like a raw deal for the people. And yet, Americans have sat idly by, and have turned a blind eye to an incredible list of military interventions over the years. More war, less liberty …. More war, less liberty …. If it happens over an administration or two, it can be spun as government losing its way to a few bad apples. But 100+ years of more war, less liberty? That’s a system!

[..] There is a tremendous amount of upside to war for those who are in power. It provides them with an opportunity to swipe away liberties at an exponential pace. The populace will give up virtually everything. Is it any wonder that those in power run away from even the prospect of peace? We’re soon about to have a new president, and he’s coming into office with a lot of expectations. The outgoing president had high expectations as well. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but ended up invading 7 countries. He also became the very first U.S. President to be at continuous war during his entire 8 years in office. Will this new president keep the boots of war firmly pressed against American throats? Will he continue the asphyxiation of the American Dream?

So far, when it comes to the insane idea of confronting a nuclear Russia, he has shown admirable qualities of restraint and cordial behavior. Will that continue through his presidential term? Or will he keep the century old American tradition of military adventurism overseas? The world is much bigger than Russia. There are plenty of other places that America can mire itself. There are other nuclear powers (like China) where trouble can be fomented. The president-elect has already shown that he has a bone to pick with the Chinese. Are we merely exchanging trouble with one nuclear power for another? Let’s hope that Donald Trump doesn’t repeat the mistakes of history. Let’s hope that he doesn’t become just another bad example for future generations to study.

Wouldn’t it be nice for Americans to someday be born into a life of liberty and peace? That was the original idea in the ‘land of the free’. A return to a foreign policy of non-interventionism and peace is desperately needed.

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Quite the allegation.

Israel Claims ‘Evidence’ That Obama Orchestrated UN Resolution (G.)

Israel has escalated its already furious war with the outgoing US administration, claiming that it has “rather hard” evidence that Barack Obama was behind a critical UN security council resolution criticising Israeli settlement building, and threatening to hand over the material to Donald Trump. The latest comments come a day after the US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, was summoned by Netanyahu to explain why the US did not veto the vote and instead abstained. The claims have emerged in interviews given by close Netanyahu allies to US media outlets on Monday after the Obama administration denied in categorical terms the claims originally made by Netanyahu himself.

However, speaking to Fox News on Sunday, David Keyes – a Netanyahu spokesman – said Arab sources, among others, had informed Jerusalem of Obama’s alleged involvement in advancing the resolution. “We have rather iron-clad information from sources in both the Arab world and internationally that this was a deliberate push by the United States and in fact they helped create the resolution in the first place,” Keyes said. Doubling down on the claim a few hours later the controversial Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, went even further suggesting it had gathered evidence that it would present to the incoming Trump administration. “We will present this evidence to the new administration through the appropriate channels. If they want to share it with the American people, they are welcome to do it,” Dermer told CNN.

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Curious things for Obama to say. It’s not obvious enough yet that his own party has fallen apart?

Corbyn Hits Back After Obama Suggests Labour Is ‘Disintegrating’ (G.)

A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn has hit back after Barack Obama appeared to suggest that the Labour party has moved away from “fact and reality” and is disintegrating. The spokesman said the Labour leader “stands for what most people want” and suggested that the outgoing president’s Democratic party needed to “challenge power if they are going to speak for working people”. Obama had earlier said he was not worried when asked if the US Democrats could undergo “Corbynisation” and “disintegrate” like Labour in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s election defeat by Donald Trump. The departing US president was giving an in-depth interview, in which he also said he would have won the 8 November contest if he ran for a third term, to David Axelrod, formerly an adviser to Corbyn’s predecessor as Labour leader, Ed Miliband.

The 55-year-old compared the way the Labour party and the US Republicans had chosen to swing away from the middle ground and claimed even left-wing senator Bernie Sanders was a centrist compared to Corbyn. Asked about a potential “Corbynisation” of his party, he said: “I don’t worry about that partly because I think that the Democratic party has stayed pretty grounded in fact and reality.” He added: “[The Republican party] started filling up with all kinds of conspiracy-theorising that became kind of common wisdom or conventional wisdom within the Republican party base. That hasn’t happened in the Democratic party. I think people like the passion that Bernie brought, but Bernie Sanders is a pretty centrist politician relative to … Corbyn or relative to some of the Republicans.” In response Corbyn’s spokesman said: “Both Labour and US Democrats will have to challenge power if they are going to speak for working people and change a broken system that isn’t delivering for the majority.

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They’re going to continue to fight over this for much longer.

Hard Brexit ‘Could Boost UK Economy By £24 Billion’: Pro-Leave Group (Ind.)

The UK economy could benefit by £24bn a year – more than £450m a week – by leaving the European single market and customs union, a pro-Brexit pressure group has claimed. The Change Britain group said that the option – which it describes as “clean Brexit” – is likely to deliver annual savings of almost £10.4bn from contributions to the EU budget and £1.2bn from scrapping “burdensome” regulations, while allowing the UK to forge new trade deals worth £12.3bn. The group said its estimate was “very conservative” and that the benefits of withdrawal from the single market and customs union could be as much as £38.6bn a year. Even the lowest forecast within its range of likely outcomes was a boost of £20bn.

But the figure does not factor in the possibility of large-scale loss of exports to the remaining 27 EU nations, which advocates of a “soft Brexit” argue could happen if the UK faces tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade as a result of leaving the single market. Britain exported around £220bn of goods and services to the EU in 2015, while imports from the EU totalled around £290bn. Change Britain said that the biggest prize on offer was in potential trade agreements outside the EU which Britain could strike if it left the customs union, which requires it to take part only in deals negotiated by the European Commission. Depending on how many deals the UK secures, GDP could be boosted by between £8.5bn and £19.8bn, said Change Britain.

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Might as well. It’s just that King has been ‘unlucky’ in his predictions for years.

Mervyn King: Britain Should Be More Upbeat About Brexit (G.)

Britain may be better off going for a hard Brexit that would mean leaving the single market and customs union, Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, has suggested. Lord King, who has been more optimistic about leaving the EU than many economic commentators, acknowledged that Brexit would bring great political difficulties and would not be a “bed of roses”. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he also said there would be many opportunities economically for the UK striking out on its own. The crossbench peer, who led the bank for a decade until 2013, said the UK should leave the European single market and warned there were “real question marks” over whether it should seek to remain in the customs union, which would limit its ability to forge trade deals on its own.

Theresa May’s cabinet is split on the issue of the single market and customs union, with the most pro-Brexit ministers seeking a clean break and others warning of the economic dangers of being cut adrift from the UK’s closest trading partners. King said before the referendum that warnings of economic doom about leaving the EU were overstated. Since then, he has welcomed the fall in the pound and said he believes Britain can be better off out than in the EU. He told the BBC on Boxing Day: “I think the challenges we face mean it’s not a bed of roses – no one should pretend that – but equally it is not the end of the world and there are some real opportunities that arise from the fact of Brexit we might take. “There are many opportunities and I think we should look at it in a much more self-confident way than either side is approaching it at present. Being out of what is a pretty unsuccessful European Union – particularly in the economic sense – gives us opportunities as well as obviously great political difficulties.”

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At least he’s right on this.

EU Faces Two Major Problems – And Has Answers To Neither: King (Ind.)

The European Union is facing “existential problems” over migration and the single currency for which it does not yet have the answers, former Bank of England governor Lord King has warned. Lord King said the scale of the crises was such that Brexit amounted to little more than “minor irritant” by comparison. And he suggested that the factor which could bring the problems to a head was German voters asking whether they want to remain part of a project which involves them propping up less competitive eurozone economies like Italy, Portugal and France. Lord King said that the single currency project was flawed from the start, and that it would probably have been better to create two monetary unions for “premier league” and “second division” economies. But he said it was too late to move to this model now.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the former governor said: “I think the EU is facing two existential problems and it has answers to neither of them. “The first is the fate of the monetary union, which even the ECB is saying is in a critical position and needs major reform. “Secondly, migration from outside the EU into the EU and the knock-on consequences of that for the free movement of people. “I don’t think they have answers for either of those issues and it is a real crisis for the EU. “British membership is irrelevant to these two questions and from that perspective I think they regard our decision to leave the EU as a minor irritant.” Lord King said it was impossible to put any timescale on when the problems of the eurozone might come to a head. But he said: “They simply haven’t put in place the framework to make it a success, desperately trying to struggle from one month to the next.

“For a long period they were relying on the confidence that financial markets had in the words of (ECB) president Mario Draghi that they would do ‘whatever it takes’. But I think words in the end run out and you need to back them up by actions. “The problem now is that people in Germany and other countries in the northern part of the EU are deeply reluctant – understandably – to pay for countries in the south. That wasn’t the prospectus they were offered when they joined the monetary union. “In the long run, it would make some sense to recognise that it was a mistake to go to monetary union as early as 1999. I think they might have been able to divide it into two divisions – a premier league and a second division – but I think it may be too late to do. If you look at economies like Italy, Portugal and even France, they are really struggling.

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Excellent from Jim, and that’s before his predictions for 2017.

Exit, Hope and Change (Jim Kunstler)

From the get-go, he made himself hostage to some of the most sinister puppeteers of the Deep State: Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Tim Geithner on the money side, and the Beltway Neocon war party infestation on the foreign affairs side. I’m convinced that the top dogs of both these gangs worked Obama over woodshed-style sometime after the 2008 election and told him to stick with the program, or else. What was the program? On the money side, it was to float the banks and the whole groaning daisy chain of their dependents in shadow finance, real estate, and insurance, at all costs. Hence, the extension of Bush Two’s bailout policy with the trillion-dollar “shovel-ready” stimulus, the rescue of the car-makers, and a much greater and surreptitious multi-trillion dollar hand-off from the Federal Reserve to backstop the European banks with counter-party obligations to US banks.

In April of 2009, Obama’s new SEC appointees, strong-armed by bank lobbyists, pushed the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) into suspending their crucial Rule 157, which had required publically-held companies to report their asset holdings based on standard market-based valuation procedures — called “mark-to-market.” After that, companies like Too-Big-Too-Fail banks could just make shit up. This opened the door to the pervasive accounting fraud that allowed the financial sector to pretend it was healthy for the eight years that followed. The net effect of their criminal fakery was to only make the financial sector artificially larger, more dangerously fragile, and more prone to cataclysmic collapse.

[..]in foreign affairs, there is Obama’s mystifying campaign against the Russian Federation. The US had an agreement with Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union that we would not expand NATO if they gave us a quantity of nuclear material that was in danger of falling into questionable hands in the disorder that followed the collapse. Russia complied. What did we do? We expanded NATO to include most of the former eastern European countries (except the remnants of Yugoslavia), and then under Obama, NATO began holding war games on Russia’s border. For what reason? The fictitious notion that Russia wanted to “take back” these nations — as if they needed to adopt a host of dependents that had only recently bankrupted the Soviet state. Any reasonable analysis would call these war games naked aggression by the West.

Then there was the 2014 US State Department-sponsored coup against Ukraine’s elected government and the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych. Why? Because his government wanted to join the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union instead of an association with European Union. We didn’t like that and we decided to oppose it by subverting the Ukrainian government. In the violence and disorder that ensued, Russia took back the Crimea — which had been gifted to the former Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic (a province of Soviet Russia) one drunken night by the Ukraine-born Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. What did we expect after turning Ukraine into another failed state? The Crimean peninsula had been part of Russia for longer than the US had been a country. Its only warm water naval ports were located there.

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One by one they leave us.

Cheetahs Heading Towards Extinction As Population Crashes (BBC)

The sleek, speedy cheetah is rapidly heading towards extinction according to a new study into declining numbers. The report estimates that there are just 7,100 of the world’s fastest mammals now left in the wild. Cheetahs are in trouble because they range far beyond protected areas and are coming increasingly into conflict with humans. The authors are calling for an urgent re-categorisation of the species from vulnerable to endangered. According to the study, more than half the world’s surviving cheetahs live in one population that ranges across six countries in southern Africa. Cheetahs in Asia have been essentially wiped out. A group estimated to number fewer than 50 individuals clings on in Iran.


ZSL

Because the cheetah is one of the widest-ranging carnivores, it roams across lands far outside protected areas. Some 77% of their habitat falls outside these parks and reserves. As a result, the animal struggles because these lands are increasingly being developed by farmers and the cheetah’s prey is declining because of bushmeat hunting. In Zimbabwe, the cheetah population has fallen from around 1,200 to just 170 animals in 16 years, with the main cause being major changes in land tenure. [..] “The take-away from this pinnacle study is that securing protected areas alone is not enough,” said Dr Kim Young-Overton from Panthera, another author on the report. “We must think bigger, conserving across the mosaic of protected and unprotected landscapes that these far-reaching cats inhabit, if we are to avert the otherwise certain loss of the cheetah forever.”

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We had a great Christmas Day live cooking event in Monastiraki square in Athens (see photos). I’ll get back to you on that. Donations through Paypal -top left hand corner of this page- of course remain welcome.

The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017 (Automatic Earth)

Both Konstantinos and myself -and all the other volunteers at O Allos Anthropos- want to thank you so much for all the help you’ve given over the past year -and in 2015-. If I may make a last suggestion, please forward this ‘dream’ to anyone you know -and even those you don’t-, by mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, word of mouth, any which way you can think of. Go to your local mayor or town council, suggest they can help and get -loudly- recognized for it. There may be a dream involved for 2017, but that was our notion a year ago as well, and look what we’ve achieved a year later: it is very real indeed. And anyone, everyone can become part of that reality for just a few bucks. If the institutions won’t do it, perhaps the people themselves should. That doesn’t even sound all that crazy or farfetched. There’s a lot of us.


Konstantinos Polychronopoulos, Athens Christmas Day 2016

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Nov 282016
 
 November 28, 2016  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle November 28 2016
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NPC Hendrick Motor Co., Carroll Avenue, Takoma Park, Maryland 1928

US Shoppers Spend 3.5% Less Over Holiday Weekend (R.)
Some Of The Biggest UK Banks May Not Clear New Public Stress Tests (BBG)
China’s Bad Banks Serve Zombies, Not Investors (BBG)
PBOC Deputy Governor Talks Up Yuan Strength (CNBC)
Modi’s Rural Supporters May Not Hang On Much Longer (BBG)
India’s Modi Calls For Move Towards Cashless Society (R.)
Greek Banks Call For Taxing Cash Withdrawals (Kath.)
Trump Faces Dilemma As US Oil Reels From Record Biofuels Targets (R.)
Oil Trades Near $46 Amid Skepticism OPEC to Reach Output Deal (BBG)
Fillon Would Beat Le Pen in Both Rounds of Election – Polls (BBG)
Renzi Faces Pressure To Stay In Office As Italy Referendum Defeat Looms (R.)
Recount: Losers Who Won’t Lose (Mehta)

 

 

There’ll be a deluge of data on this coming out where everyone can find their favorite numbers. Everybody happy!

US Shoppers Spend 3.5% Less Over Holiday Weekend (R.)

Early holiday promotions and a belief that deals will always be available took a toll on consumer spending over the Thanksgiving weekend as shoppers spent an average of 3.5% less than a year ago, the National Retail Federation said on Sunday. The NRF said its survey of 4,330 consumers, conducted on Friday and Saturday by research firm Prosper Insights & Analytics, showed that shoppers spent $289.19 over the four-day weekend through Sunday compared to $299.60 over the same period a year earlier. The survey found that 154 million people made purchases over the four days, up from 151 million a year ago. However, there was a 4.2% rise in consumers who shopped online and a 3.7% drop in shoppers who purchased in a store.

The U.S. holiday shopping season is expanding, and Black Friday is no longer the kickoff for the period it once was, with more retailers starting holiday promotions as early as October and running them until Christmas Eve. NRF Chief Executive Officer Matt Shay said the drop in spending is a direct result of the early promotions and deeper discounts offered throughout the season. “Consumers know they can get good deals throughout the season and these opportunities are not a one-day or one-weekend phenomenon and that has showed up in shopping plans,” he said. Shay said more 23% of consumers this year have not even started shopping for the season, which is up 4% from last year and indicates those sales are yet to come. The NRF stuck to its forecast for retail sales to rise 3.6% this holiday season, on the back of strong jobs and wage growth.

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That graph is full-tard baseless and ridiculous.

Some Of The Biggest UK Banks May Not Clear New Public Stress Tests (BBG)

The Bank of England added a new, higher bar to its third round of public stress tests. Some of the U.K.’s biggest banks will scrape through; others may not clear it. The seven major British lenders tested will probably beat the lowest measures of strength required to pass the annual BOE health check when it is released Wednesday, Autonomous Research aid in a note this month. RBS and Barclays risk a “soft fail” of tougher thresholds set for lenders deemed to be integral to the global banking system, they said. HSBC and Standard Chartered’s results may be rattled by a Chinese recession scenario.

Each bank now must top its individual hurdle rate and a new threshold, called the systemic reference point, that takes into account the potential global repercussions if the lender collapses. Firms that fall short of either measure will have to boost their capital ratios, though the BOE will force them to take “less intensive” action if they only miss the SRP. “With bank investing these days, you need to be more cognizant of the economy, the rate environment and crucially of the regulator,” especially if one bank does much worse than its peers in a stress test, said Barrington Pitt Miller at Janus Capital in Denver.

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It’s what they’re for.

China’s Bad Banks Serve Zombies, Not Investors (BBG)

China’s zombie companies can rest easy. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for investors in the nation’s banks.The big five lenders, starting with Agricultural Bank of China, plan to set up bad banks that will convert soured debt to equity. Agricultural Bank, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Bank of Communications will fork out 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) each to establish the asset-management companies, Caixin magazine reported. That banks are forging ahead with debt-to-equity swap plans, albeit via asset-management firms they happen to own, is great news for all those struggling steel and construction companies facing potential closure.

State Council guidelines issued last month indicate that zombie corporations – those ailing state firms plagued by overcapacity – can’t count on bailouts, but it’s difficult to determine which ones are actually destined for the scrapheap.The nation’s top lenders, also all backed by Beijing, are unlikely to want to be seen as responsible for mass unemployment by refusing to rescue companies, no matter how dire their situation. In fact, those companies may have an even better chance of getting capital infusions, considering financial institutions will probably be keen to use their investment-banking units to help monetize equity assets.On the face of it, bank investors might also feel relieved that lenders are farming out bad debt to distinct vehicles.

Using an asset-management company should ensure that the equity resulting from the bad-debt switch doesn’t sit on a bank’s balance sheet. That will help lenders conserve precious capital: Had the equity been on their books, they would have had to apply a risk weighting of 400%, and get special approval from the State Council. Structuring it this way will also allow banks to maintain their much-coveted dividends. But dig a bit deeper and you realize this isn’t a scenario that will necessarily play out well, and not just because equity stakes, even those held at arm’s length, are inherently riskier than loans.For one, how will these asset-management firms be funded long term?

The answer is probably by the banks themselves.According to the State Council, the debt-to-equity swaps can be financed by “social capital,” a catch-all phrase that generally includes high-yielding wealth-management products. Those investment structures come with an implicit guarantee from the banks that issue them, as lenders have found in the past when they’ve had to rescue funds in trouble. It’s ironic that just as authorities have been trying to rein in shadow banking, the debt-to-equity swap plan provides an added reason to gorge.

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They even push up the yuan a tad to coincide with the publication of the remarks. All under control.

PBOC Deputy Governor Talks Up Yuan Strength (CNBC)

Comparing the yuan’s recent moves against the dollar misses the currency’s underlying strength of the against a more appropriately watched basket, People’s Bank of China (PBOC) Deputy Governor Yi Gang said in remarks released on Chinese state-run media at the weekend. In a question-and-answer format interview with Xinhua news agency that was posted on the central bank’s website, Yi said the yuan remained a strong and stable currency in the global monetary system, while noting concerns about a slide against the dollar after Donald Trump’s victory in the Nov. 8 presidential election. The yuan plunged to eight-and-a-half year lows versus the dollar last week.

On Monday, the PBOC set the yuan’s central parity rate against the dollar at 6.9042, stronger than the 6.9168 level set on Friday. “Referencing the yuan against a basket of currencies can better reflect the overall competitiveness of a country’s goods and services,” Yi said. Given that economic structures, cycles and interest rate policies differed in various countries, fixating on a single currency was not suitable and may cause the yen to be “over-managed,” he added. Yi said the yuan’s movements were due to domestic factors in the U.S., as they reflected the rise of the greenback on the back of improvements in the U.S. economy and inflation, alongside expectations of a quickening in the pace of Federal Reserve interest rate hikes.

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By now it’s time to wonder how massive the protests will be, and where Modi’s reaction will lead.

Modi’s Rural Supporters May Not Hang On Much Longer (BBG)

The most ardent supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise currency withdrawal are those you’d least expect: India’s rural poor, who are suffering the most with the prolonged cash shortages. But the backing of many from India’s villages – based on a belief that Modi’s actions will even out the scale of inequality and reduce corruption – may be short-lived. The jury is still out on the political and economic impact of the decision to target unaccounted cash. And it will be another two months before the government releases inflation, industrial production and growth figures – key areas that may be affected by the prime minister’s shock move on Nov. 8 to ban high-denomination notes, taking out 86% of circulating currency.

Meanwhile, five states, including the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, will go to elections, leaving the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party vulnerable to a voter backlash if one of its major support bases sees no benefit from the demonetization process. To intensify the campaign against the note ban, several opposition parties called for nationwide protests on Monday, saying the process is a political move dressed up as a fight against corruption. It is not clear whether demonetization will eliminate so-called black money, or who will pay the price if it fails, said Arati Jerath, a New Delhi-based author who has written about Indian politics for about four decades. It will take at least another three weeks to gauge the economic and political impact, she said.

Jerath points to the public reaction to Indira Gandhi’s decision to impose a state of emergency in 1975 as an example of how quickly the tide of public opinion can change. Initially people supported the emergency, welcoming improvements in law and order and the punctuality of government officials. Later they turned against Gandhi when they realized its negative effects, particularity arbitrary abuse of power by bureaucrats, she said. If the Modi government fails to address concerns around cash withdrawals and the situation worsens, there could be food shortages, farmers’ distress, layoffs, rising unemployment and a slowdown of the economy. “At the moment people are patient, they are really giving it a chance, waiting and watching,” said Jerath. “If the situation does not improve by the middle of next month, there will be a backlash against demonetization.”

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Yeah. Have them all drive Teslas too, right?

India’s Modi Calls For Move Towards Cashless Society (R.)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday urged the nation’s small traders and daily wage earners to embrace digital payment channels, as a cash crunch following the government’s surprise ban on high-value bank notes drags on. Modi, speaking in his monthly address on national radio, said the government understands that millions have been affected by the ban on 500-rupee and 1000-rupees notes, but defended the action. The government says the bank-note ban announced on Nov. 8 is aimed at cracking down on corruption, people with unaccounted wealth, and counterfeiting of notes.

“I want to tell my small merchant brothers and sisters, this is the chance for you to enter the digital world,” Modi said speaking in Hindi, urging them to use mobile banking applications and credit-card swipe machines. “It’s correct that a 100% cashless society is not possible. But why don’t we make a beginning for a less-cash society in India?,” Modi said. “We can gradually move from a less-cash society to a cashless society.” More than 90% of consumer purchases in India are transacted in cash, Credit Suisse estimates. While a smartphone boom and falling mobile data prices have led to a surge in digital payments in recent years, the base still remains low. Modi urged technology-savvy young people to spare some time teaching others how to use digital payment platforms.

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Pushing plastic. A new global sport.

Greek Banks Call For Taxing Cash Withdrawals (Kath.)

Banks are proposing that the government take a series of measures to combat tax evasion, which are centered around reducing the use of cash in favor of increasing online transactions. The proposal that stands out concerns the taxing of cash withdrawals. As bank executives say, cash is easily channeled to the so-called shadow economy, so imposing a tax on withdrawals would drastically reduce transactions in cash and therefore the illegal economy as well.

Lenders are also asking for the compulsory use of cards or other online means for all transactions concerning professions where there are strong indications of tax evasion or cash is used as the main means of payment. Credit and debit cards as well as the new technologies that allow for contactless transactions, such as cell phone apps, should be possible to use even for the smallest transactions, from the purchase of a newspaper to buying a bus ticket, banks argue. The illegal economy in Greece is estimated at some €40 billion every year, with state coffers losing out on tax revenues of around €15 billion per annum.

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Pitting real bad policy vs really really bad.

Trump Faces Dilemma As US Oil Reels From Record Biofuels Targets (R.)

The Obama administration signed its final plan for renewable fuel use in the United States last week, leaving an oil industry reeling from the most aggressive biofuel targets yet as President-elect Donald Trump takes over. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program, signed into law by President George W. Bush, is one of the country’s most controversial energy policies. It requires energy firms to blend ethanol and biodiesel into gasoline and diesel. The policy was designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce U.S. reliance on oil imports and boost rural economies that provide the crops for biofuels. It has pitted two of Trump’s support bases against each other: Big Oil and Big Corn.

The farming sector has lobbied hard for the maximum biofuel volumes laid out in the law to be blended into gasoline motor fuels, while the oil industry argues that the program creates additional costs. Balancing oil and farm interests is likely to prove a challenge for Trump, who has promised to curtail regulations on the oil industry but is already being reminded by biofuels advocates of the importance of the program to the American Midwest, where he received strong support from voters on Nov. 8. Oil groups are renewing their calls to change or repeal the program following Wednesday’s announcement, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set record mandates for renewable fuels – for the first time hitting levels targeted by Congress nearly a decade ago.

The EPA plan is “completely detached from market realities and confirms once again that Congress must take immediate action to remedy this broken program,” said Chet Thompson, President of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, in a statement. It is unclear what Trump’s plans for the program will be and his transition team did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Both camps are expecting an administration receptive to their demands, though both have expressed concern and uncertainty over Trump’s plans for the program, according to experts, industry and political sources.

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Pump baby pump.

Oil Trades Near $46 Amid Skepticism OPEC to Reach Output Deal (BBG)

Oil halted declines near $46 amid skepticism over OPEC’s ability to reach an agreement to cut output and as representatives prepare to meet Monday amid last-minute negotiations over the deal the group aims to formalize Wednesday. Futures were little changed in New York after earlier falling as much as 2% and dropping 4% on Friday. Saudi Arabia for the first time on Sunday suggested OPEC doesn’t necessarily need to curb output and pulled out of a scheduled meeting with non-member producers, including Russia. OPEC will hold an internal meeting in Vienna Monday to resolve its differences, and as part of the final push to reach an agreement, oil ministers from Algeria and Venezuela are heading to Moscow to get the group’s biggest rival on board.

OPEC is heading into the final stretch before its November 30 meeting to adopt a deal first floated in September to collectively reduce output. Saudi Arabia, the group’s de facto leader, is seeking to reverse the pump-at-will policy it supported in 2014 and is now pushing members to agree how they will individually shoulder the first production cuts in eight years. Saudi oil minister Khalid Al-Falih said the oil market will recover in 2017 even without cuts. “The market is currently quite pressured by the uncertainties raised from various reports, including Saudi Arabia pulling out of Monday’s talks with non-OPEC nations,” Seo Sang-young at Kiwoom Securities said by phone. “It’s also highly suspicious whether OPEC will keep its promises even if it achieves an accord because the members are constantly raising production.”

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Wanna bet?

Fillon Would Beat Le Pen in Both Rounds of Election – Polls (BBG)

Francois Fillon, the former prime minister who won the French Republican presidential nomination Sunday, would beat National Front leader Marine Le Pen in both rounds of a presidential election, two polls showed. In a scenario where incumbent Francois Hollande is running along with former Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, Fillon would win the first round with 32% of the vote against 22% for Le Pen and 8% for Hollande, according to a poll by Odoxa for France 2 television. In the run-off two weeks later, he would defeat Le Pen 71% to 20%. A Harris Interactive poll showed Fillon winning the first round with 26% support compared with 24% for Le Pen and 9% for either Hollande or Manuel Valls as leader of the Socialists. The same survey showed him winning against Le Pen in the second round 67% to 33%.

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“What needs to be considered… is what is good for the country.” Translation: what is good for the incumbent class.

Renzi Faces Pressure To Stay In Office As Italy Referendum Defeat Looms (R.)

When a handful of European leaders met Barack Obama in Berlin this month to say their goodbyes, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi informed the group that he may well lose power before the U.S. president. While Obama leaves office on Jan. 20, Renzi has promised to resign if he does not win a Dec. 4 referendum on constitutional reform, opening the way for renewed political instability in the eurozone’s third largest economy. “I have no desire to hang around if I lose,” Renzi told the gathering, according to a diplomatic source who was at the low-key Nov. 18 meeting. Opinion polls now predict Renzi’s defeat, in what would be the third big anti-establishment revolt by voters this year in a major Western country, following Brexit and the U.S. election of Donald Trump.

Pressure is mounting on Renzi to drop his threat and instead agree to remain in power to deal with the fallout from a ‘No’ vote, including the risk of a fullblown banking crisis. Obama himself said in October that Renzi should “hang around for a while no matter what” and a number of businessmen and senior government officials contacted by Reuters said they feared the worst if the prime minister abandoned his post. “My personal opinion is that Renzi should stay,” Industry Minister Carlo Calenda said in an interview on Friday. “What needs to be considered… is what is good for the country.” The Italian president could appeal to Renzi’s sense of responsibility and ask him to seek a new mandate from parliament. His response might depend on the size of any defeat, with one advisor saying the 41-year-old premier could quit politics altogether if he suffers a huge snub next Sunday.

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Is it really that hard to throw out Soros?

Recount: Losers Who Won’t Lose (Mehta)

President-elect Trump won 306 electoral votes versus Hillary Clinton’s 232 (24% less electoral votes). Similar to 2000, the surrendering party then reversed course and put the nation through a recount, just for the sake of it. What are the odds that such an exercise here would yield successful for Ms. Clinton? Based on statistical randomness of re-assessing voter intent, the chance of Hillary emerging as the victor is far less than 10%. Anything can happen, but these lean odds do not rise to the level of putting our peaceful democracy into the hands of a temptuous recount scheme every time a stung party loses (let alone misleadingly blame it on something else from Russia’s Putin, to sexism, to “in hindsight the popular vote would be reasonable”, to FBI Director Comey).

All Americans should instead focus on how the 6 states that flipped this election, were all economically ignored and all flipped to Donald Trump. The only viable path for a Hillary Clinton victory at this stage is to astoundingly uncover a wide-spread (across three states) fraud. And that’s equally unlikely, since the basis for the voting aberrations occurred in less populated counties and anyway the three states employ three different voting mechanisms, so the fraud would have had to somehow occur through different transmission vehicles (paper voting, and electronic voting) and we would require a speedy judicial resolution for states such as Pennsylvania that sidestepped back-up recordings from their direct voting equipment.

We should note the following statistical facts about the electoral vote in the three recount states:
10 votes, Wisconsin (Trump leads by 0.9 %age points)
20 votes, Pennsylvania (Trump leads by 1.1 %age points)
16 votes, Michigan (Trump leads by 0.2 %age points)

Given that Mr. Trump won by 74 electoral votes, Ms. Clinton would need to flip all three states noted above, in order to liquidate this deficit (i.e., >74/2 = >37 votes). The leads described above however, among 4.4 million voters from these three states, is highly statistically significant on a state-level (and certainly when all three states are combined). It would be remarkably unlikely that we would arbitrarily second-guess every one of these millions of voters’ intents and, convert any (certainly let alone all) of these three states.

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Nov 112016
 
 November 11, 2016  Posted by at 11:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Leonard Cohen 21 September 1934 – 7 November 2016

The End of Growth and the Rise of Trump (Tyee)
Donald Trump Is Moving To The White House, And Liberals Put Him There (Frank)
Rupee Note Cancellation Plunges India Into Panic (G.)
Emerging-Markets Rout Deepens as Europe Shares, Commodities Rise (BBG)
China Household Debt/GDP More Than Doubled In Under 10 Years To 40.7% (R.)
China’s Yuan Set for Steepest Weekly Loss Since January (BBG)
Judge Tells Trump University Litigants They Would Be Wise To Settle (R.)
The Unbearable Smugness Of The Press (CBS)
Obama Asks Congress For Extra $11 Billion, Wants More Lethal Drones (BBG)
BoE Chief Economist Andy Haldane: Economics Suffers From Tunnel Vision (BBG)
London Property Market Is “Tanking By The Day” (BBG)
Leonard Cohen Knew Things About Life, And If You Listened You Could Learn (G.)

 

 

Andrew Nikiforuk calls me an economist. Now we’ve heard it all… Still, good to see people are listening.

The End of Growth and the Rise of Trump (Tyee)

The economist Raúl Ilargi Meijer wrote an interesting essay explaining why there is a Donald Trump in September. He credited Trump’s rise to “the most important global development in decades.” That development, says Meijer, is “the end of global economic growth, which will lead inexorably to the end of centralization (including globalization). It will also mean the end of the existence of most, and especially the most powerful, international institutions.” “In the same way it will be the end of — almost — all traditional political parties, which have ruled their countries for decades and are already today at or near record low support levels (if you’re not clear on what’s going on, look there, look at Europe!),” he wrote.

“This is not a matter of what anyone, or any group of people, might want or prefer, it’s a matter of ‘forces’ that are beyond our control, that are bigger and more far-reaching than our mere opinions, even though they may be man-made.” The end of growth is tied inexorably to the deplorable quality of energy now being fracked and mined in North America. Bitumen and fracked oil just can’t support rich societies because these poor resources invite debt, environmental ruin and poor returns. Meijer adds “that the politico-econo-media machine churns out positive growth messages 24/7 goes some way towards explaining the lack of acknowledgement and self-reflection, but only some way. The rest is due to who we ourselves are. We think we deserve eternal growth.”

In the end, neither candidate talked about what mattered: growing climate anarchy; unrelenting economic stagnation; declining energy returns; and the onslaught of robots and algorithms in the workplace, government and home. Trump should remind us of two things and Camus, who understood the nature of tragedy, has expressed them well. The first is that “Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear.” Trump embodies that sentiment. The second is the growing absurdity of it all. “Basically, at the very bottom of life, which seduces us all, there is only absurdity, and more absurdity. And maybe that’s what gives us our joy for living, because the only thing that can defeat absurdity is lucidity.”

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Not too impressed with Thomas Frank’s piece overall, but he gives a reasonable expose of what the Dems did wrong.

Donald Trump Is Moving To The White House, And Liberals Put Him There (Frank)

Start at the top. Why, oh why, did it have to be Hillary Clinton? Yes, she has an impressive resume; yes, she worked hard on the campaign trail. But she was exactly the wrong candidate for this angry, populist moment. An insider when the country was screaming for an outsider. A technocrat who offered fine-tuning when the country wanted to take a sledgehammer to the machine. She was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. Whether or not she would win was always a secondary matter, something that was taken for granted. Had winning been the party’s number one concern, several more suitable candidates were ready to go.

There was Joe Biden, with his powerful plainspoken style, and there was Bernie Sanders, an inspiring and largely scandal-free figure. Each of them would probably have beaten Trump, but neither of them would really have served the interests of the party insiders. And so Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest. They chose Hillary even though they knew about her private email server. They chose her even though some of those who studied the Clinton Foundation suspected it was a sketchy proposition. To try to put over such a nominee while screaming that the Republican is a rightwing monster is to court disbelief.

If Trump is a fascist, as liberals often said, Democrats should have put in their strongest player to stop him, not a party hack they’d chosen because it was her turn. Choosing her indicated either that Democrats didn’t mean what they said about Trump’s riskiness, that their opportunism took precedence over the country’s well-being, or maybe both. Clinton’s supporters among the media didn’t help much, either. It always struck me as strange that such an unpopular candidate enjoyed such robust and unanimous endorsements from the editorial and opinion pages of the nation’s papers, but it was the quality of the media’s enthusiasm that really harmed her. With the same arguments repeated over and over, two or three times a day, with nuance and contrary views all deleted, the act of opening the newspaper started to feel like tuning in to a Cold War propaganda station.

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From email I received yesterday: “People have been wiped out overnight. He had given a tax amnesty initially, declare your black money and pay a 30% tax. Later that increased to 50% and finally this. Huge wealth confiscation. Property prices expected to collapse. Dunno why such a shock move was implemented? The economy is doing well, low levels of debt overall, banks under state control and he was doing the right things. Income tax reform and a sales tax would’ve been much better to widen the tax base. India has major issues but when I went earlier this year to Delhi the development and progress is obvious. Infrastructure is pretty good, super airport, air quality is horrid, malls springing up everywhere and housing rental is very affordable but buying is ludicrously expensive. Economy was booming. Perfect black swan event. Only 3 people knew- The PM, FM and CB governor.”

Rupee Note Cancellation Plunges India Into Panic (G.)

Queues of angry, panicked Indians wound around bank buildings in Mumbai, the financial capital, on Thursday morning, two days after the prime minister, Narendra Modi, announced that 500- and 1,000-rupee notes, worth around £6 and £12, would be taken out of circulation. In a televised announcement on Tuesday night, Modi had urged Indians not to rush to banks, as they would have until the end of 2016 to deposit cash in their accounts. But with the high-value notes withdrawn from Wednesday in an effort to combat corruption, black-market trade and tax evasion, many were left without cash for day-to-day expenses. Banks were closed on Wednesday, and reopened on Thursday morning with a cap on cash withdrawals. ATMs remained closed, so currency was only available from the banks.

Newspapers around the country reported long queues at branches, as people scrambled to exchange their high-value banknotes for 100-rupee bills. At the Churchgate branch of the Bank of India, dozens of people queued in the midday heat, filling out deposit forms as a security guard barked instructions. “Life is completely paralysed,” said Maganbhai Solanki, who had been waiting in line for four hours. “On the news, they said banks would open at 8am today. I got here at 8.01,” he said. “Now, it’s noon, but I’m still here. Around 50 people in the queue ahead of me got tired of waiting and left but I have no choice. There’s no money in the house. We only have 500- and 1,000-rupee notes which are worth nothing. We didn’t even have enough to pay the milkman this morning.”

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The dollar comes home.

Emerging-Markets Rout Deepens as Europe Shares, Commodities Rise (BBG)

An emerging-markets selloff deepened amid concern developing economies will face capital outflows and weakening exports once Donald Trump is in The White House, while optimism surrounding his policies spurred gains in commodities and European shares rose. MSCI gauges of emerging-market equities and currencies sank to four-month lows since the election of Trump, who pledged to restrict imports and add fiscal stimulus that’s seen hastening interest-rate hikes by the Federal Reserve. More than $1 trillion was wiped off the value of bonds this week, something that’s happened only once before in the last two decades, as Treasuries lost the most since 2009. Shanghai shares entered a bull market, while industrial metals had their best week in more than 25 years.

Developing-nation assets have been roiled since Trump’s surprise win in Tuesday’s vote and central banks in India and Indonesia were said to have intervened Friday in support of their currencies. Futures indicate an 80% chance that the Fed will raise rates next month and expectations are building for more increases. Ten-year Treasury yields have climbed above 2% for the first time since January amid speculation the president-elect’s plans to cut taxes and boost spending will widen the U.S. budget deficit and stoke inflation. “There’s been a big rotation out of emerging markets into U.S. dollar assets,” said Jeffrey Halley, a market strategist at Oanda Asia Pacific Pte in Singapore. “An emerging market is a market you can’t emerge from in an emergency. It’s one of the best lessons I’ve ever learnt in 30 years in the market. When everybody runs for the door at the same time, the door’s very small.”

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Why repeat the west’s mistakes? What’s in it for Xi?

China Household Debt/GDP More Than Doubled In Under 10 Years To 40.7% (R.)

China’s household debt as a proportion of GDP has more than doubled to 40.7% in less than 10 years. While developed nations have higher rates of household debt, Chinese families are much more leveraged because income is lower and so proportionately the costs of social welfare from pensions to healthcare are much higher. At the end of 2014, the out-of-pocket health spend in China as a%age of total expenditure was 32%, compared to 9.7% in Britain and 11% in the United States, World Health Organization data shows. “Household debt leverage is very alarming, even though the aggregate amount is controllable,” said Wan Zhe, chief economist at China National Gold Group Corporation, visiting researcher at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.

“The first issue is that household debt has risen too quickly, the second is that it has risen too quickly as a proportion” of GDP and disposable income, said Wan. Underlining these concerns, authorities are trying to calm a property rally. In the latest move, regulators told banks to limit the issuance of home loans, the Shanghai Securities Journal reported on Thursday. The balance of retail mortgages at the end of the third quarter hit 16.8 trillion yuan ($2.5 trillion), more than a third higher than a year earlier, China central bank data shows. More broadly, consumer debt financed by Chinese banks has grown sharply, from 3.8 trillion yuan at the end of 2007 to 17.4 trillion yuan at the end of last year, a compound annual growth rate of 21%, Fitch Ratings said in a report.

But the growth in income has been much more modest, rising 6.3% in January to September compared with the year-earlier period, the weakest pace since 2013 when the National Bureau of Statistics first started issuing the data. “The rapid growth in outstanding (consumer) loan balances has been accompanied by an increase in NPLs (non-performing loans) across all segments of consumer debt,” the Fitch report said.

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It just keeps falling, that’s all it does anymore.

China’s Yuan Set for Steepest Weekly Loss Since January (BBG)

China’s currency is heading for its steepest weekly drop since January, when a series of weaker fixings roiled global financial markets, as Donald Trump’s election victory boosted the dollar and raised the threat of a more protectionist America. Bonds tumbled. The yuan fell 0.06% to 6.8134 at 10:07 a.m. in Shanghai, approaching the 6.83 level at which China pegged the currency after the 2008 global financial crisis. The exchange rate has fallen 0.9% this week to a six-year low as Trump’s unexpected win spurred a tectonic shift in fund flows, with emerging-market currencies tumbling with bonds while stocks rally. The 10-year yield on government debt climbed about 10 basis points this week, the most since May 2015.

Bloomberg’s dollar index held near an eight-month high amid speculation the Federal Reserve will boost interest rates to cap inflation as a Trump-led administration steps up spending. Trump has also threatened punitive tariffs on China’s imports. Accelerating declines in the yuan are a turnaround from the August-September period, when policy makers were suspected of propping up the currency before its entry into the IMF’s reserves basket. “A rally in the dollar has driven the yuan weaker, and the PBOC won’t likely defend the currency at this point because the costs of intervention could be very high under such an environment,” said Irene Cheung at Australia & New Zealand Bank in Singapore. “But if the depreciation accelerates in the coming weeks, there’s still a chance that China could take measures to stabilize the market.”

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Potentially messy if used for political purposes.

Judge Tells Trump University Litigants They Would Be Wise To Settle (R.)

The U.S. judge overseeing a lawsuit against President-elect Donald Trump and his Trump University told both sides they would be wise to settle the case “given all else that’s involved.” Lawyers for the president-elect are squaring off against students who claim they were they were lured by false promises to pay up to $35,000 to learn Trump’s real estate investing “secrets” from his “hand-picked” instructors. Earlier on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel tentatively rejected a bid by Trump to keep a wide range of statements from the presidential campaign out of the fraud trial. Trump owned 92% of Trump University and had control over all major decisions, the students’ court papers say. The president-elect denies the allegations and has argued that he relied on others to manage the business.

Trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 28, and Curiel told lawyers he was not inclined to delay the six-year-old case further. Trump lawyer Daniel Petrocelli said he would ask to put the trial on hold until early next year, in light of the many tasks the magnate has before his inauguration. Curiel said he would allow both sides to file briefs on whether to delay the case. He also indicated they should consider making a deal. “It would be wise for the plaintiffs, for the defendants, to look closely at trying to resolve this case given all else that’s involved,” Curiel said. Petrocelli told reporters after the hearing that Trump might have to be a “little more flexible” about settling the case now that he is president-elect, although the lawyer wasn’t sure his client would was willing.

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ANother thing that just continues.

The Unbearable Smugness Of The Press (CBS)

The mood in the Washington press corps is bleak, and deservedly so. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that, with a few exceptions, we were all tacitly or explicitly #WithHer, which has led to a certain anguish in the face of Donald Trump’s victory. More than that and more importantly, we also missed the story, after having spent months mocking the people who had a better sense of what was going on. This is all symptomatic of modern journalism’s great moral and intellectual failing: its unbearable smugness. Had Hillary Clinton won, there’s be a winking “we did it” feeling in the press, a sense that we were brave and called Trump a liar and saved the republic. So much for that. The audience for our glib analysis and contempt for much of the electorate, it turned out, was rather limited.

This was particularly true when it came to voters, the ones who turned out by the millions to deliver not only a rebuke to the political system but also the people who cover it. Trump knew what he was doing when he invited his crowds to jeer and hiss the reporters covering him. They hate us, and have for some time. And can you blame them? Journalists love mocking Trump supporters. We insult their appearances. We dismiss them as racists and sexists. We emote on Twitter about how this or that comment or policy makes us feel one way or the other, and yet we reject their feelings as invalid. It’s a profound failure of empathy in the service of endless posturing. There’s been some sympathy from the press, sure: the dispatches from “heroin country” that read like reports from colonial administrators checking in on the natives.

But much of that starts from the assumption that Trump voters are backward, and that it’s our duty to catalogue and ultimately reverse that backwardness. What can we do to get these people to stop worshiping their false god and accept our gospel? We diagnose them as racists in the way Dark Age clerics confused medical problems with demonic possession. Journalists, at our worst, see ourselves as a priestly caste. We believe we not only have access to the indisputable facts, but also a greater truth, a system of beliefs divined from an advanced understanding of justice. You’d think that Trump’s victory – the one we all discounted too far in advance – would lead to a certain newfound humility in the political press. But of course that’s not how it works.

To us, speaking broadly, our diagnosis was still basically correct. The demons were just stronger than we realized. This is all a “whitelash,” you see. Trump voters are racist and sexist, so there must be more racists and sexists than we realized. Tuesday night’s outcome was not a logic-driven rejection of a deeply flawed candidate named Clinton; no, it was a primal scream against fairness, equality, and progress. Let the new tantrums commence!

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How about using the $11 billion to rebuild Syria?

Obama Asks Congress For Extra $11 Billion, Wants More Lethal Drones (BBG)

An $11.6 billion defense request that President Barack Obama sent Congress includes funds to buy more lethal drones for U.S. commandos fighting Islamic State and other terrorists as well as networks to counter the pilotless aircraft those groups are now using. The extra war-related funding requested Thursday for the current fiscal year would provide $5.8 billion for the Pentagon to continue operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. An equal amount for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development would support counterterrorism efforts, refugee aid and improved embassy security, Obama said in a letter to lawmakers. While the amount requested for lethal drones is small, it provides a glimpse into a largely hidden phase of U.S. special operations in Iraq.

The White House requested $46.5 million to buy 535 Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile Systems and related equipment requested by the Special Operations Command Central due to “urgent operational needs.” The drone request is described as “for analytics, targeting, training, and equipment to support deployed U.S. Forces.” The only U.S. fighters in Iraq who are actively engaged in combat against Islamic State are in the highly classified Expeditionary Targeting Force set up a year ago to kill or capture militants. U.S. special operations forces also conduct raids in Afghanistan. The administration also requested, without elaboration, $150 million to develop and field within two years a network of “counter-small unmanned aerial systems at sites” in Iraq.

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A rare light in the profession.

BoE Chief Economist Andy Haldane: Economics Suffers From Tunnel Vision (BBG)

Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane says economics suffers from tunnel vision and there’s a need to bring new ideas to the profession to make it relevant again. Haldane, whose speeches and papers have analyzed policy using everything from technology to biology, said his industry remains an “insular, self-referential discipline,” and this has to change. “One of the potential failings of the economics profession is that it may have borrowed too little from other disciplines – a methodological mono-culture,” he said in a speech on Thursday in Cambridge, England. An issue that dogs current economic models is forecasting performance, he said, noting the failure to predict the financial crisis and, since then, IMF world growth projections that “consistently over-estimated” the recovery.

It’s a timely point for BOE policy makers, who last week revised their projections for growth and inflation in the wake of Brexit. Haldane said economists need to improve their understanding of the world because rapid changes in economies have social and political implications. “It has been argued that these models were not designed to explain such extreme events” as the financial crisis, he said. “For me, this is not really a defense. If our models are silent about these events, this jeopardizes the very thing that makes economics interesting and economic policy important.” In his speech, he cited economist George Shackle’s description of the economy as a “kaleidoscope, a collision of colors subject to on-going, rapid and radical change.”

Haldane said agent-based models used in physics, chemistry and other sciences could enable a “fundamental changes in model dynamics.” Using it at the BOE has helped a better understanding of the housing market and the interaction of buyers, lenders and renters. Contrasting ABM models with traditional micro-founded economic ones, Haldane said the big picture usually looks very different from the small one. “Aggregating from the microscopic to the macroscopic is very unlikely to give sensible insights into real world behavior, for the same reason the behavior of a single neuron is uninformative about the threat of nuclear winter.”

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It will take a long time before people understand this is a positive thing.

London Property Market Is “Tanking By The Day” (BBG)

London’s real estate market, hurt by the Brexit vote, is “tanking by the day,” Green Property Chairman Stephen Vernon said. The firm, which has closed its London office, is waiting for an opportunity to buy into the market at lower values, the 66-year-old said at a conference in Dublin. Vernon would consider buying a real estate company, raising a fund or buying a portfolio of assets in London, he said. “It’s absolutely fantastic what’s going on,” said Vernon, who sold most of the firm’s properties in Ireland before values there crashed in 2008. A decision to re-enter the London market would be through a venture separate from Green Property and focus on commercial real estate, a spokesman for the investor said.

Office values in the City of London financial district fell the most in at least seven years in July after Britain voted to leave the European Union. Home prices in the U.K. capital fell for a fifth month in August, the worst streak since 2009, as higher taxes and the referendum result damped demand. The referendum result, higher levies on business premises and a rise in the stamp duty sales tax have led to a reduction in London commercial property values, Derwent London Plc Chief Executive Officer John Burns said in a statement on Thursday. “The central-London office market faces a number of challenges, including heightened global uncertainty, and business activity is likely to slow,” he said.

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I am the one who loves changing from nothing to one.

Leonard Cohen Knew Things About Life, And If You Listened You Could Learn (G.)

Leonard Cohen was always the grown-up in the room. He was young once, of course, but the world never saw much of the modestly successful poet and novelist from Montreal. He was already 33 — ancient by 60s standards — when he gazed out from the sepia-tinted, photo-booth snapshot on the cover of 1967’s Songs of Leonard Cohen with his shirt, tie and smart side-parting. The face suggested that he’d been around the block a few times; the voice and words confirmed it. The man knew things about life and if, you listened closely, you might learn something. The truth was that Cohen felt as lost as anybody. What gave his work its uncommon gravitas wasn’t that he knew the answers but that he never stopped looking.

He searched for clues in bedrooms and warzones, in Jewish temples and Buddhist retreats, in Europe, Africa, Israel and Cuba. He tried to flush them out with booze and drugs and seduce them with melodies. And whenever he managed to painfully extract some nugget of wisdom, he would cut and polish it like a precious stone before resuming the search. Funny about himself but profoundly serious about his art, he liked to describe his songs as “investigations” into the hidden mechanics of love, sex, war, religion and death – the beautiful and terrifying truths of existence. A Leonard Cohen song is an anchor flung into a churning sea. It has the kind of weight that could save your life. [..] When the chief executive of Columbia Records heard that A&R man John Hammond wanted to sign Cohen in 1967, he reportedly said: “A 32-year-old poet? Are you crazy?” But Hammond, who had launched Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin, didn’t give up. During the first recording session for Songs of Leonard Cohen he shouted encouragement: “Watch out, Dylan!”

At the time, Bob Dylan was rock’n’roll’s preeminent poet. Cohen really was a poet but he wasn’t rock’n’roll. Steeped instead in literary discipline, French chanson and Jewish liturgy, his work suggested old-fashioned patience. To Dylan a song was a lump of wet clay to be moulded before it sets fast; to Cohen it was a slab of marble to be chipped into shape with immense dedication and care. Cohen never stopped being a poet or lost his reverence for words. You’ll find some erratic musical choices in his back catalogue but not a single careless line; nothing disposable. Years later, he said he had only one piece of advice for young songwriters: “If you stick with a song long enough it will yield. But long enough is beyond any reasonable duration.” When you sense that a songwriter has spent that long finding the right words, the least you can do is pay attention.

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