Aug 102017
 
 August 10, 2017  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Dorothea Lange Rooms for Rent, Mission District. Slums of San Francisco, California 1936

 

An Indicator of Peril (Lebowitz)
Former CBO Director: Fall 2017 Will Be “Very Scary”, Expect A Market Crash (ZH)
US Still Stuck Firmly In The Great Recession (BI)
10 Years After Crisis, Another Crash Is ‘Almost Inevitable’ – Steve Keen (RT)
This $5 Trillion Time Bomb Will Devastate Americans (IM)
New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack (N.)
Unverified ‘Russiagate’ Allegations a Grave Threat to America (Stephen Cohen)
European Commission Spending Thousands On ‘Air Taxis’ For Top Officials (G.)
Refugee Crisis Triggers Heightened Risk Of Slavery In EU Supply Chains (G.)

 

 

“The data point, Real Value Added, is currently in negative territory and may, therefore, be a harbinger of an economic downturn. If it is a false signal, it would be the first in a 70-year history of observations.”

An Indicator of Peril (Lebowitz)

Gross Value Added (GVA) and Real Value Added (RVA). GVA is a measure of economic activity, like GDP, but formulated from the production side of the economy. It measures the dollar value of all goods and services produced less all the costs required to produce those goods or services. For example, if 720Global buys $100 worth of wood, $20 worth of other materials and employs $30 worth of labor to build a chair, we have produced a good for $150. If that good is sold for $200, 720Global has created $50 of economic value. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the more popular measure of economic activity, calculates the level of commerce based on the dollar value of the final goods and services produced. It may help to think of GDP as economic activity measured from the demand side and GVA as measured from the supply side.

Despite the differences, the levels of economic activity reported are remarkably consistent. Since 1948, nominal GDP has averaged annual growth of 6.55% while GVA has averaged 6.50%. It is important to note that, while they track each other very well over the longer term, they are less correlated quarter to quarter. Economists prefer to measure economic activity without the effect of inflation. If inflation were rampant when making the chair in the example above, some of the incremental value was due to the general trend of rising prices and not value added by 720Global. To strip out the effect of inflation and compute a pure measure of value added, it is commonplace to subtract inflation from GVA. The result is Real Value Added (RVA = GVA less CPI). The graph below plots RVA since 1948. Periods deemed recessionary by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) are denoted in gray.

Currently, three of the last four quarters have produced negative RVA levels. Real GDP is not producing similar results, having averaged 2% growth over the same quarters. As mentioned earlier, RVA and Real GDP may not be well correlated over short time frames. RVA is just one source of data arguing that economic trouble lies ahead, therefore, we would be wise not to read too much into this one indicator. Of concern, however, is that negative RVA readings have an impeccable pattern of signaling recession as a coincident indicator.

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Debt ceiling solution far from done.

Former CBO Director: Fall 2017 Will Be “Very Scary”, Expect A Market Crash (ZH)

Rudy Penner, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office and the person described by MarketNews international as “one of Washington’s most respected fiscal policy experts”, told MNI Wednesday in an exclusive interview that he expects a “very scary” fall 2017 due to fiscal issues, with market-disrupting battles ahead on both the debt ceiling and fiscal year 2018 spending. Penner directed the CBO under president Reagan, worked at high level posts in the White House budget office, and the Council of Economic Advisers. He is currently a fellow at the Urban Institute and sits on the board of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “There are so many politically hard issues and so little consensus on budget and tax policy. I assume we’ll somehow get through this, but not without getting frightened on a regular basis,” Penner said.

“Probably the best we can hope for is muddling through the (FY 2018) budget and the debt limit and getting very limited health, tax, and infrastructure legislation. There is not going to be significant stimulus coming out of Washington in the foreseeable future,” he said, echoing what many other pundits have said before. Penner said a “bipartisan negotiation is badly needed” to forge even a limited FY 2018 spending agreement. But he’s not certain this will occur. “Even a very limited spending agreement might be an impossible dream. We may just stumble into a series of short-term CRs,” he said, referring to temporary spending bills to keep the government funded. While the “record polarization” rhetoric is familiar, the clock is starting to tick ever louder: the 2018 fiscal year begins on October 1, 2017 and extends until September 30, 2018. None of the 12 annual spending bills for FY 2018 have yet been approved by Congress.

On to the debt ceiling, the one item on the calendar which Morgan Stanley (and others) have said will be the biggest hurdle for the market in the next two months, Penner said he believes it will be “very challenging” for Congress to pass legislation this fall to increase the statutory debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has asked Congress to lift the debt ceiling by the end of September. Penner countered that a “plausible path” for dealing with the debt ceiling is to pass legislation in September to suspend the debt ceiling until after the November 2018 mid-term elections. However, such legislation, he said, may have to be negotiated by an unusual coalition assembled by House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat. Such an agreement, Penner said, “could put Speaker Ryan’s job in peril” by conservative Republicans who oppose it. He said he believes the debt ceiling is “an incredibly stupid law that makes no logical sense.”

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What happens when you save banks only.

US Still Stuck Firmly In The Great Recession (BI)

Expectations are everything, especially in economics. That’s why a distinct lack of progress in a few basic measures of economic progress, particularly relative to pre-crisis expectations, has left many Americans questioning how much they have personally benefitted from the economic recovery. A new report from the Roosevelt Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington, highlights a number of ways in which “the recovery since 2009 is, in a sense, a statistical illusion.” The study finds the nation’s total economic output, its gross domestic product, “remains about 15% below the pre-recession trend, a larger gap than at the bottom of the recession.” The first chart below shows that lag, while the second offers insights into just how badly the crisis dented expectations about the future.

Strong employment gains in recent months have brought the jobless rate down to a historically-low 4.3%. However, this decline has not been accompanied by rising incomes or consumer prices, generally associated with a sustainable economic boom. Some Federal Reserve policymakers have found this trend puzzling, while many labor economists point to underlying weaknesses in the job market, including high levels of underemployment and long-term joblessness, as drags on income. Stagnant wages amid rising profits have meant that the wage share in US national income has fallen from 63% to 57% in the last 15 years, according to the report. “It is impossible for the wage share to ever rise if the central bank will not allow a period of ‘excessive’ wage growth,” writes J.W. Mason, who authored the report. “A rise in the wage share necessarily requires a period in which wages rise faster than would be consistent with longterm macroeconomic stability.”

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Zombie-to-be economies.

10 Years After Crisis, Another Crash Is ‘Almost Inevitable’ – Steve Keen (RT)

Speaking to RT, Keen said another financial crisis could be just around the corner unless a fundamentally different approach to debt is adopted. He says we are too focused on government debt, when what actually caused the crisis was “run-away private debt.” “The economy in the UK is not stable. It’s in the aftermath of the biggest financial crisis since the great depression, and there’s still a lack of awareness in the political classes about what actually caused the crisis in the first place,” Keen said. “The Tories were incredibly successful in convincing the electorate that the crisis was caused by government spending, which is absurd. That is technically saying government spending in the UK caused the financial crisis in the United States. Which is just nonsense. “And that gave us austerity for the last 10 years. That austerity has actually further weakened the economy.”

Keen says the level of private debt in the UK peaked at about 195% of GDP post-crisis. While it is now down to about 170% of GDP, it is roughly three times the level of debt England carried before the Margaret Thatcher era, he says. “That’s the stuff that’s being ignored. Nothing is really being done about that. With the amount of debt just sitting there we are still likely to have another crisis – but more likely, we are going to have stagnation.” What is cause for concern, Keen says, is what he calls the “zombie-to-be” economies, such as Australia, Belgium, China, Canada, and South Korea, which avoided the 2008 crisis by borrowing their way through it. Now they have a bigger debt burden to deal with when the next crisis hits, which could be between 2017 and 2020, he says.

“[The ‘zombie-to-be’ economies] are roughly equivalent in size to the American economy. So when they fall, then there will be a crisis that affects the rest of the world, including the UK.” Keen sees China as a terminal case. It has expanded credit at an annualized rate of around 25% for years on end. With private sector debt exceeding 200% of GDP, China resembles the over-indebted economies of Ireland and Spain prior to 2008. He also has little hope for his native Australia, whose credit and housing bubbles failed to burst in 2008. Last year, Australian private sector credit nudged above 200% of GDP, up more than 20 percentage points since the global financial crisis. Australia shows “that you can avoid a debt crisis today only by putting it off until tomorrow,” Keen says.

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Pensions.

This $5 Trillion Time Bomb Will Devastate Americans (IM)

Over 3,000 millionaires have fled Chicago in recent months. This is the largest outflow of wealthy people from any US city right now. It’s also one of the largest outflows of wealthy people in the world. But it’s not just millionaires… Every five minutes someone leaves Illinois. In a recent poll, 47% of people in Illinois said they want to leave the state. Over the last decade, more than half a million people have done just that. This is the largest outflow of people from any state in the country. The people who leave are generally better educated, more skilled, and earn more money than those who stay. Entire towns of affluent Illinois refugees have sprouted up in Florida, Arizona, and other states. Illinois is bleeding productive people. This is a major warning sign. Wealthy people are often the first to leave a bad situation. They have the means to simply get up and go.

And when they do, they take their money and their businesses with them. This hurts the local property market and the rest of the local economy. Many of Illinois’ millionaires own businesses that employ large numbers of people. As they leave, there are fewer people and businesses left to shoulder the state’s enormous and growing financial burdens. Many of these people are leaving for one simple reason: rising taxes. Illinois’ leftist tax-and-spend politicians are continuing to increase all sorts of taxes, which were already high in the first place. The state just passed a 32% income tax hike. Rising taxes are pushing more and more productive people to make the chicken run… and at the worst possible moment for the state’s coffers. Illinois is the most financially distressed state in the US. Every month, it spends $600 million more than it takes in.

It’s now $15 billion behind on its bills and counting. Illinois is about to become America’s first failed state. Even its governor has described it as a “banana republic.” Today, Illinois can’t pay contractors to fix the roads. It doesn’t have enough cash to pay lottery winners. (What happened to the money it collected selling lottery tickets?) The state can’t even afford food for its prisoners. Here are the sad facts. Illinois has: Nearly $15 billion in overdue bills (including $800 million in interest). A $7 billion budget deficit. And an eye-watering $250 billion bottomless pit of unfunded pension obligations. This $250 billion tab is one of the worst public pension crises in the US.

[..] While Illinois has the worst pension situation, it’s not the only state or city in crisis. California’s public pension system is also broken beyond repair. It’s $750 billion underfunded. State pension plans in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and many other states are taking on water, too. Unfunded public pension liabilities in the US have surpassed $5 trillion. And that’s during an epic stock and bond market bubble.

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A long overview of all the evidence.

New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack (N.)

It is now a year since the Democratic National Committee’s mail system was compromised—a year since events in the spring and early summer of 2016 were identified as remote hacks and, in short order, attributed to Russians acting in behalf of Donald Trump. A great edifice has been erected during this time. President Trump, members of his family, and numerous people around him stand accused of various corruptions and extensive collusion with Russians. Half a dozen simultaneous investigations proceed into these matters. Last week news broke that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had convened a grand jury, which issued its first subpoenas on August 3. Allegations of treason are common; prominent political figures and many media cultivate a case for impeachment.

The president’s ability to conduct foreign policy, notably but not only with regard to Russia, is now crippled. Forced into a corner and having no choice, Trump just signed legislation imposing severe new sanctions on Russia and European companies working with it on pipeline projects vital to Russia’s energy sector. Striking this close to the core of another nation’s economy is customarily considered an act of war, we must not forget. In retaliation, Moscow has announced that the United States must cut its embassy staff by roughly two-thirds. All sides agree that relations between the United States and Russia are now as fragile as they were during some of the Cold War’s worst moments. To suggest that military conflict between two nuclear powers inches ever closer can no longer be dismissed as hyperbole.

All this was set in motion when the DNC’s mail server was first violated in the spring of 2016 and by subsequent assertions that Russians were behind that “hack” and another such operation, also described as a Russian hack, on July 5. These are the foundation stones of the edifice just outlined. The evolution of public discourse in the year since is worthy of scholarly study: Possibilities became allegations, and these became probabilities. Then the probabilities turned into certainties, and these evolved into what are now taken to be established truths. By my reckoning, it required a few days to a few weeks to advance from each of these stages to the next. This was accomplished via the indefensibly corrupt manipulations of language repeated incessantly in our leading media.

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America still ignores its no. 1 Russia expert.

Unverified ‘Russiagate’ Allegations a Grave Threat to America (Stephen Cohen)

Considering all these unprecedented factors, it needs to be emphasized again: President Trump is right about this “all-time low & very dangerous” moment in US-Russian relations. Having recently returned from Russia, Cohen reports that the political situation there is also worsening, primarily because of the Cold War fervor in Washington, including the politics of Russiagate and and new sanctions. Contrary to opinion in the American political-media establishment, Putin has long been a moderate, restraining factor in the new Cold War, but his political space for moderation is rapidly diminishing. His reaction to the congressional sanctions—reducing the number of personnel in US official outposts in Russia to the far lesser number of Russians in American ones—was the least he could have done.

Far harsher political and economic countermeasures are being widely discussed in Moscow, and urged on Putin. For now, he resists, explaining, “I do not want to make things worse,” but he too has a surrounding political elite and it is playing a growing role against any accommodation or restraint in regard to US policy. Meanwhile, the pro-American faction in Russian governmental circles is being decimated by Washington’s actions; and, as always happens in times of escalating Cold War, the space for Russian opposition and other dissident politics is rapidly shrinking.

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Well, if you build yourselves €1 billion offices, who cares?

European Commission Spending Thousands On ‘Air Taxis’ For Top Officials (G.)

Jean-Claude Juncker and his top officials are spending tens of thousands of euros on chartering private planes, according to documents detailing the European commission’s travel expenses. After three years of battling with transparency campaigners fighting for full disclosure, the EU’s executive has released two months of travel costs for 2016, revealing regular use of chartered planes to transport Brussels’ 28 commissioners. The most expensive mission for which details have been released was in the name of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs. It cost €77,118 for her and aides to travel by “air taxi” to summits in Azerbaijan and Armenia between 29 February and 2 March 2016.

A two-day visit by Juncker, the European commission president, with a delegation of eight people to see Italy’s political leaders in Rome in February 2016 cost €27,000, again due to the chartering of a private plane. Mina Andreeva, a commission spokeswoman, said the use of air taxis was only allowed where commercial flights were either not available or their flight plans did not fit in with a commissioner’s agenda. Security concerns would also allow the chartering of a private plane under commission rules. She said of Juncker’s trip that there had been “no available commercial plane to fit the president’s agenda” in Italy, where he met the Italian president and prime minister, among other dignitaries. The spokeswoman added that the EU’s total spending on such administrative costs was publicly available and that the organisation led the way in being transparent in their work.

The commission was not able to provide details of how many planes are chartered by Brussels every year, although she insisted the number was limited. The travel costs accumulated by the commissioners come out of the general budget, agreed by the member states. [..] According to documents relating to the two months in 2016, total travel and accommodation costs for visits by commissioners to European parliament sessions in Strasbourg, the World Economic Forum in Davos and official missions to countries came to €492.249, an average of €8,790 a month per commissioner.

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That’ll teach them to stay home.

Refugee Crisis Triggers Heightened Risk Of Slavery In EU Supply Chains (G.)

The migrant crisis has increased the risk of slavery and forced labour tainting supply chains in three-quarters of EU countries over the past year, researchers have found. Romania, Italy, Cyprus and Bulgaria – all key entry points into Europe for migrants vulnerable to exploitation – were identified by risk analysts as particularly vulnerable to slavery and forced labour. The annual modern slavery index, produced by Verisk Maplecroft, assessed the conditions that make labour exploitation more likely. Areas covered by the index include national legal frameworks and the severity, and frequency, of violations. Countries outside Europe, such as North Korea and South Sudan, were judged to be at the greatest risk of modern slavery, but the researchers said the EU showed the largest increase in risk of any region over the past year.

“In the past, the slavery story has been in supply chains in countries far away, like Thailand and Bangladesh,” said Dr Alexandra Channer, a human rights analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. “But it is now far closer to home and it something that consumers, governments and businesses in the EU have to look out for. With the arrival of migrants, who are often trapped in modern slavery before they enter the workplace, the vulnerable population is expanding.” The International Labour Organisation estimates that 21 million people worldwide are subject to some form of slavery. The biggest global increase in the risk of slavery was in Romania, which rose 56 places in the indexand is the only EU country classified as “high risk”. Turkey came a close second, moving up 52 places, from medium risk to high risk.

The influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing war, combined with Turkey’s restrictive work permit system, has led to thousands of refugees becoming part of an informal workforce, said the study. The government, which is focused on political crackdown, does not prioritise labour violations, further adding to the risk. Over the past year, several large brands from Turkish textile factories have been associated with child labour and slavery. The picture in Romania is more complex, researchers said. The country’s high risk category reflects more severe and frequent instances of modern slavery, but also reflects a greater number of criminal investigations in Romania, usually in collaboration with EU enforcement authorities. Both Romania and Italy, which rose 17 places, have the worst reported violations in the EU, including severe forms of forced labour such as servitude and trafficking, the study said.

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Jul 302017
 
 July 30, 2017  Posted by at 8:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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Gertrude Käsebier Young negro woman, Newport, Rhode Island 1902

 

Wall Street Isn’t Ready For A 1,100-Point Tumble In The Dow Industrials (MW)
Dangerous Game: Shorting the VIX (Barron’s)
Zombie Companies Littering Europe May Tie the ECB’s Hands for Years (BBG)
Markets Relax Merrily on a Powerful Time Bomb (WS)
US Economic Resilience Is An Exaggeration (DDMB)
The Quest To Prove Collusion Is Crumbling (WaPo)
What’s The Matter With Democrats – Thomas Frank (IBT)
Decades From Now, They’ll Say He Had “The Tweets” (Jim Kunstler)
Leasehold Tycoon Whose Firms Control 40,000 UK Homes (G.)
Companies Abandon Nearly One Million Hectares of Alberta Oilsands (CP)
EU Accused Of ‘Wilfully Letting Refugees Drown’ In The Mediterranean (Ind.)

 

 

And it never will be.

Wall Street Isn’t Ready For A 1,100-Point Tumble In The Dow Industrials (MW)

The U.S. stock market has been on such a parabolic march higher that Wall Street investors may have forgotten what a typical, sharp downturn feels like. Indeed, much has been made about the lack of volatility. The CBOE Volatility Index otherwise known as the “fear gauge,” had been flirting with its lowest close on record, implying that market expectations for a sharp, sudden fall are near rock bottom, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite Index scale new heights. (The Dow notched a fresh record on Friday to end the week 1.2% higher.) The recent level of complacency permeating the market has pundits talking about the lack of 5% falls in the market—an occurrence that isn’t unusual in a normal market environment. However, a 5% tumble, while normal, isn’t that common either. It has occurred at least 75 times over the course of the blue-chip index’s, according to WSJ Market Data Group, using data going back to 1901.

The Dow, however, hasn’t experienced a 5% decline since 2011, and before that a 5% drop hadn’t happened since 2008, when there were 9 such drops: At this point, with the Dow just 200 points shy of 22,000, a 5% selloff would equate to a 1,100-point, one-day slide in the gauge. Is the market ready for that sort of sudden jolt lower, given the optics of a quadruple-digit downturn and how it might rattle investment psyche? Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, doesn’t think so. “I would say no because we’re out of practice. Your usual standard garden-variety volatility just hasn’t been around, and we haven’t seen it for 12 months,” Hogan told MarketWatch. “Quiet markets have been the norm and not the exception and I think a major pullback is going to feel a whole lot larger for lack of experience and the numbers are larger,” he said.

Even a 2.5% drop in the Dow, adding up a 550-point decline, could be unsettling, market participants said. Those sorts of tumbles are far more frequent, with 564 such moves of that magnitude occurring in the Dow since 1901. The most recent slump of at least 2.5% was on June 24, 2016, when the Dow tumbled about 610 points, or 3.4%, a day after U.K. citizens voted to end the country’s membership in the EU. There were 3 falls for the Dow of at least 2.5% in 2015. Hogan said it is even hard to imagine what the landscape of the market would like in the face of a plunge of the same magnitude of the 1987 crash, when the Dow lost 22.6% of its value, or 508 points, in a single session. “That’s why it is hard for investors to think about it intuitively. We have no muscle memory for it. It’s hard to harken back to 30 years ago. We have been lulled to sleep,” he said.

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What always happpens when everyone is on the same side of the boat.

Dangerous Game: Shorting the VIX (Barron’s)

As stocks keep dancing around record highs, and the CBOE Volatility Index remains historically low, some investors are preparing for a violent end to one of the world’s most popular trades: shorting volatility. A one-day Standard & Poor’s 500 correction of 3% to 4% could force some funds that short futures on the index, such as the ProShares Short VIX Short-term Future s exchange-traded fund (ticker: SVXY) and the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX ST ETN (XIV), to cover their positions. That could make the VIX skyrocket. If the weighted-average of 30-day VIX futures sharply jumped—say by 80% in one day—it would, in turn, trigger an “acceleration event” that would force more funds to buy back short VIX futures contracts. Some VIX funds could face margin calls.

And a chain reaction would likely explode across the volatility spectrum and ultimately the stock market, pushing down share prices and boosting volatility further. So many institutional investors use strategies that increase portfolio leverage as equity volatility declines that Marko Kolanovic, JPMorgan’s top quantitative strategist, fears the markets are nearing a turning point. “While these strategies include concepts like ‘risk control’, ‘crisis alpha’, etc. in various degrees they rely on selling into market weakness to cut losses. This creates a ‘stop-loss order’ that gets larger in size and closer to the current market price as volatility gets lower,” Kolanovic wrote last week. The S&P 500’s realized volatility–the level that’s materialized already—is the lowest since 1966. That influences expectations for future, or implied, volatility.

In fact, CBOE Volatility Index levels are so meager that relatively small point moves can create big percentage changes, creating a major problem for VIX funds. “The one-day percentage change is a big deal in the VIX complex because the levered and inverse VIX ETFs and ETNs rebalance daily, based on the percentage change, and some of the thresholds for forced [unwinding of positions] are based on the percentage change. This is why lower volatility creates higher risk,” Christopher Metli, a Morgan Stanley quantitative derivatives strategist, recently warned clients.

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But Draghi gets praised for saving the EU economy. Well, you can’t have it both ways. Decide.

Zombie Companies Littering Europe May Tie the ECB’s Hands for Years (BBG)

Watch out for the zombies. The plethora of companies propped up by the ECB will limit policy makers’ ability to withdraw monetary stimulus that’s been supporting the continent’s bond market since the financial crisis, according to strategists at Bank of America. About 9% of Europe’s biggest companies could be classified as the walking dead, companies that risk collapse if the support dries up, according to the analysts. After the crash of Lehman Brothers sent global markets into a tailspin, a decade of easy-money policies gave breathing room for nations to get their balance sheets in check and allowed for a spirited revival in corporate profits. But as central bankers look to pull back stimulus for fear of overheating, the potentially grim outlook for vulnerable companies may give them pause, according to Bank of America.

“Monetary support in Europe over the last five years has allowed companies with weak profitability to continue to refinance their debt and stave off defaults,” analysts led by Barnaby Martin wrote in a note Monday. “This supports the point that our economists have been making: that the ECB will likely be very slow and patient in removing their extraordinary stimulus over the next year and a half.” The strategists classify zombies as non-financial companies in the Euro Stoxx 600 with interest-coverage ratios – earnings relative to interest expenses – at 1 or less. The thinking goes that companies in this category are particularly vulnerable to rising interest rates. About 6% of European companies had a coverage ratio of less than 1 on the eve of Lehman’s downfall, a %age that fell to as low as 5% in 2013 when the euro-area sovereign debt crisis cooled.

Zombies shot up to as high as 11% in June 2016 before easing in recent months. Energy companies, thanks to weak oil prices, and those based in southern Europe –particularly smaller firms faced with weak profit generation amid feeble growth – make up a disproportionate share of the zombie world, according to Bank of America. To be sure, different metrics tell different stories about the health of corporate leverage, with some investors citing growth projections and yardsticks like net debt to earnings as reasons bond buyers can be more sanguine. But the coverage ratio is particularly useful in projecting how companies can cover debt costs from their earnings as interest costs rise.

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Leverage kills.

Markets Relax Merrily on a Powerful Time Bomb (WS)

Stock and bond market leverage is everywhere. Some of it is transparent, such as NYSE margin debt which was $539 billion as of the June report. But the hottest form of stock and bond market leverage is opaque, offered by financial firms that usually don’t disclose the totals: securities-based loans (SBLs) — or “shadow margin” because no one knows how much of it there is. But it’s a lot. And it’s booming. These loans can be used for anything – pay for tuition, fix up that kitchen, or fund a vacation. The money is spent, the loan remains. When security prices fall, the problems begin. Finra, the regulator for brokerages, doesn’t track this shadow margin, nor does the SEC. Both, however, have been warning about the risks. No one knows the overall amount of this shadow margin, but some details have been reported:

Morgan Stanley had $36 billion of these loans on its balance sheet as of the end of 2016, up 26% from 2016, and more than twice the amount in 2013. • Bank of America Merrill Lynch had $40 billion in SBLs on the balance sheet at the end of 2016, up 140% from 2010; • UBS and Wells Fargo “also have made billions in such loans, people familiar with those banks” told the Wall Street Journal. Raymond James, Stifel Nicolaus… they’re all doing it. • Fidelity used to fund its own SBLs for its clients, but three years ago partnered with US Bancorp. • Even the little ones are trying to get their slice of the pie: In April, robo-advisory startup Wealthfront, with less than $6 billion, announced that it would offer SBLs to its clients.

And now Goldman Sachs, which has been offering SBLs to its 12,000 super-wealthy clients through its Private Banking unit — accounting “for more than half of the unit’s $29 billion in loans outstanding,” according to the Wall Street Journal — announced on Thursday that this wasn’t enough and that it is partnering with Fidelity Investments to spread these loans far and wide.

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No. It’s an outright lie. Pure make believe.

US Economic Resilience Is An Exaggeration (DDMB)

Are US Federal Reserve stress tests leading economic indicators? That certainly seems to be the case. Just ask Capital One. As of the first quarter, credit card loss provisions at Capital One were above 5%, a six-year high. The company recorded some improvement for the second quarter, yet Fed stress tests of the bank’s overall loan portfolio in a deep downturn show losses topping 12%. That explains Capital One’s “conditional” passing score, a black eye that prompted a reduced share buy-back plan and no increase in its dividend. Most economists today applaud the resilience of the current recovery, which has stretched into its eighth year, the third-longest in postwar history. Resilience and rising household defaults, though, don’t tend to go hand in hand.

Pressures have been building in the background for some time. When adjusted for inflation, credit card usage has grown faster than incomes for 18 months. According to Fed data, that time frame coincides with the upturn in revolving credit, a proxy for credit card debt. In November 2015, outstanding revolving credit crossed above the $900-billion threshold for the first time since December 2009. By May of this year, annual growth was clocking 8.7%. Meanwhile, credit card balances hit $1.02 trillion, the highest level in almost eight years. Whether by choice or force, the aftermath of the financial crisis prompted households to ratchet back their usage of credit cards. As the recovery got underway, frugality prevailed, punctuated by an increase in debit card purchases.

It is thus notable that Bank of America data find debit card usage has weakened in recent years as households grew more comfortable rebuilding their credit card balances. “Confidence” is the term most associated with the rising credit card debt. But it’s fair to ask why confident households would choose to pay so dearly for the privilege. At 15.83%, the average rate on credit card balances is at a record high. It is more likely that households are increasingly tapping their credit cards to cover the cost of necessities, that they are less confident and more anxious about their future finances.

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This should be presented as a major mea culpa by WaPo, but no, it’s not them, it’s “the media” who screwed up. NYT runs similar piece. WIll they all fit through the exit door at the same time?

The Quest To Prove Collusion Is Crumbling (WaPo)

While everyone is fixated on President Trump’s unbecoming and inexplicable assault on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the media has been trying to sneak away from the “Russian collusion” story. That’s right. For all the breathless hype, the on-air furrowed brows and the not-so-veiled hopes that this could be Watergate, Jared Kushner’s statement and testimony before Congress have made Democrats and many in the media come to the realization that the collusion they were counting on just isn’t there. As the date of the Kushner testimony approached, the media thought it was going to advance and refresh the story. But Kushner’s clear, precise and convincing account of what really occurred during the campaign and after the election has left many of President Trump’s loudest enemies trying to quietly back out of the room unnoticed.

Cable news airtime and in-print word count dedicated to the nonexistent collusion story appear to be dwindling. Democrats and their allies in the media seem less eager to talk about it, and when they do, they say something to the effect of “but, but, but … Kushner didn’t answer every question … He wasn’t under oath … There are still more witnesses … What about this or that new gadfly?” They are stammering. And it hasn’t taken long for news producers and editors to realize that the story is fading. At last, the story that never was is not happening. There are a few showstoppers from Kushner’s testimony that make it obvious to any fair-minded, thinking person that there was no collusion with Russia. In his own words, Kushner makes it clear that his actions were innocent but, at times, misguided and ill-conceived.

He plainly states he had “hardly any” contacts with Russians during the campaign and found his June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and the infamous Russian lawyer to be an absolute “waste of time.” Democrats and their allies in the media have exhausted themselves building a scandalous narrative surrounding the Russian lawyer meeting, but according to Kushner, the meeting was so useless that he “actually emailed an assistant from the meeting after [he] had been there for ten or so minutes and wrote ‘Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting.”’ Maybe the collusion didn’t take very long, or maybe he realized what the lawyer had to say was a useless farce and he wanted to get on with his day.

Much to the dismay of Trump’s haters, Kushner’s account of events even further proves just how far the media has stretched the collusion story. When the campaign received an official note of congratulations from Russian President Vladimir Putin the day after the election, Kushner had to send Dimitri Simes of the Center for the National Interest an email asking for the name of the Russian ambassador so that he could reach out and confirm the message’s authenticity. So, that’s that. If you can’t remember your handler’s name, you can’t be guilty of nefariously colluding with that person. How much collusion could Kushner have possibly done with someone whom he had so little communication with that he could not remember his name and did not know how to contact him?

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From interview with David Sirota. Party has no future. Get out or go down with it.

What’s The Matter With Democrats – Thomas Frank (IBT)

Basically, I think the Democratic party is in deep trouble. The evidence of that is now plain, I think, to everyone — that they’re in a state of historic wipe-out across the country and in both of Houses of Congress, and of course, they lost the presidency, too… The leadership of the party have persuaded themselves that they don’t really have a problem, that all they have to do is wait for [Donald] Trump to screw up and they’ll waltz right back in, and so they don’t have to do anything different. I think Trump represents the culmination of a long-term shift of working people, working-class people away from the Democratic Party.

[..] The way I look at it is that this is a long-term problem. This is a culmination of a very long-term problem with the Democrats very gradually, but definitely, abandoning the interests of working-class voters, identifying themselves instead with a more affluent group, with the affluent white-collar professionals. It starts in the 1970s with the Democrats removing organized labor from its structural position in the Democratic party, and then it goes up through Bill Clinton getting NAFTA done, the free trade deals that the Democrats have … By the way, in my opinion, free trade or the trade agreements, I should say, was probably the issue that if there was one issue that really did Hillary in, I think that’s what it was: the trade deals under the Clinton administration, Obama sort of dropping the ball on labor’s various issues, doing these incredible favors for Wall Street while he blew off the concerns of union.

[..] Bailouts. The Wall Street bailout was the worst. This was, of course, George W. Bush … No, take a step back further. The deregulation under Clinton. Do you remember, bank deregulation was something that we now think of it as one of the central elements of neoliberalism, but Reagan couldn’t get it done. Reagan tried. They put some dents in Glass Steagall when Reagan was president, but it took a Democrat to really get it done, Bill Clinton, and it wasn’t just blowing up Glass-Steagall. There was this whole series of bank deregulatory measures when he was president. By the end of his term in office, basically, Wall Street was more or less openly identified with the Democratic Party. This is an enormous historical shift…

The Democratic party [used to be] this sworn enemy of Wall Street. Franklin Roosevelt broke up all of these banks, the Glass Steagall Act, put all these banks out of business, and set up the Securities and Exchange Commission to regulate these guys, all of these regulatory measures. That’s the Democratic heritage. That’s the legacy of the New Deal. Up until the days of Clinton, that’s really who the Democratic Party was. They had a very populist tone, and they would never identify themselves with Wall Street. Barack Obama comes in, and I was one of these people who thought that he represented a turn back in the other direction and that he would be, very shortly would be, getting tough with Wall Street. He had all the bailouts were underway. He had total authority over these guys, and he didn’t do it. Instead, he appointed all these various Clinton people to come in and manage the bailout situation.

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Like that line.

Decades From Now, They’ll Say He Had “The Tweets” (Jim Kunstler)

I know I’m not the first to point out how Anthony Scaramucci, President Trump’s brand new Communications Director, is suddenly and eerily carrying on like his namesake, the arch-rascal / buffoon of the Old World Commedia dell’Arte in lashing out at his fellow scamps and bozos in the clown school that the White House has become. Of course, these antics only reflect the astounding violent vulgarity of current US culture in general, especially as it recursively re-amplifies itself in the distorting echo chamber of TV. It’s how we roll nowadays – right up the collective butt-hole of history until some fateful event provokes a last frightful purging of our own bullshit. Still, it was rather shocking to hear Scaramucci refer to White House Chief of Staff Rance Priebus as “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic” and Trump ultra-insider Steve Bannon as someone who “enjoys sucking his own cock.”

It’s kind of like Paulie Walnuts of “The Sopranos” wandered into the West Wing of “Veep.” Somebody’s gonna get whacked, and it’ll be a laugh-riot when it happens. We need a little comic relief in these midsummer horse latitudes of the mind as the ill-starred Trump Show appears to enter its ceremonial death dance. There’s also something satisfyingly Napoleonesque about Scaramucci. Here’s a guy who cuts through the odious blubber of US politics right to the bone of things with a flensing blade of profane righteousness. Personally, I’d like to see him take some whacks at a few more deserving targets, and I can even imagine a somewhat farfetched scenario where the little guy shoves Trump out during a concocted national emergency and manages to declare himself First Citizen, or some such innovative title allowing him to run things for a while – say, until the generals toss him out a window.

Or maybe he’ll last less than a week in his current position. I would not be surprised, either, if Mr. Bannon beats little Mooch to death with an Oval Office fireplace poker right in front of the Golden Golem of Greatness himself. The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine – in this case, inexorably toward the restorative medicine of the 25th amendment. There is, after all, that hoary old artifact called the national interest lurking somewhere offstage aside of all this colorful mummery, especially as the Russian Meddling gambit appears to be dribbling away to nothing. It’s more than self-evident that poor Trump is in so far over his head that he’s come down with something like the bends, a debilitating systemic disorder rendering him unfit to execute the powers of office. Decades from now, they’ll say he had “the tweets.”

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You do know you live in a feudal society, right?

Leasehold Tycoon Whose Firms Control 40,000 UK Homes (G.)

He does not appear on any rich list but he has built a property empire that rivals that of the Duke of Westminster. Companies controlled by James Tuttiett, aged 53, have quietly snapped up the freeholds of tens of thousands of houses and flats in almost every city in Britain, which are now at the centre of controversy over spiralling ground rents. The scale of Tuttiett’s property empire has never been previously disclosed. Documents at Companies House reveal that he is frequently the sole director of companies that own the freehold of large-scale developments in Newcastle, Birmingham, Leeds, Coventry and London. Leaseholders are obliged to pay ground rents to his company, E&J Estates, that in some cases will soar to £10,000 a year per home.

The government this week proposed a ban on new-build leaseholds, and said ground rents on new apartments should fall towards zero. At the launch of an eight-week consultation, the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “It’s clear that far too many new houses are being built and sold as leaseholds, exploiting homebuyers with unfair agreements and spiralling ground rents.” “Enough is enough. These practices are unjust, unnecessary and need to stop,” said Javid, adding on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that ground rent had been used “as an unjustifiable way to print money”. [..] Research by Guardian Money found an extraordinary web of 85 ground rent companies controlled by Tuttiett, where the freeholds include not just homes but also schools, health clubs and petrol stations.

In 2016 one of these 85 companies, SF Funding Ltd, recorded an £80m increase in the value of its ground rents from the year before, taking them to £267.4m. Tuttiett is the sole director of the company, which has no other employees. The financing of Tuttiett’s property empire is helped by low-interest loans totalling £336m made by an insurance company, Rothesay Life, spun out of Goldman Sachs, in which the US investment bank remains the largest shareholder. Among the Rothesay Life loans made to E&J is one at £128m with a stated interest rate of just 0.95% a year, although it is understood the real rate paid is likely to be higher. The existence of the Rothesay loans opens a back door into Tuttiett’s interests, as Companies House lists all the properties over which Rothesay has a charge.

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Lenders are getting out. But not because they care about the earth.

Companies Abandon Nearly One Million Hectares of Alberta Oilsands (CP)

In another sign the bloom is off the boom for the oilsands, the industry has returned almost one million hectares of northern Alberta exploration leases to the province over the past two years. The total area covered by oilsands leases remained constant at about nine million hectares between 2011 and 2014. But it fell to 8.5 million hectares in 2015 and 8.1 million in 2016, following the crash in world oil prices from over US$100 to under $60 per barrel in 2014. Most of the returned acreage either represents expired or surrendered leases, according to Alberta Energy. Observers were surprised by the size of the lease returns which they attributed to industry cost-cutting and disinterest in spending to develop new prospects when there’s no money to build projects already on the books.

“It costs money to maintain these lands,” said Brad Hayes, president of Petrel Robertson Consulting in Calgary. “You can’t convince shareholders to continue to put that money out if there’s no prospect for success.” Alberta’s oilsands have been getting little respect lately, thanks to the exit of large foreign companies, the province’s hard cap on oilsands emissions, increasing carbon taxes and the stumbling price of crude oil. Its troubles have been welcomed by environmentalists who point out the industry’s outsized impact on air, land and water pollution. “This is good news. It’s a sign that investment dollars are shifting out of carbon-intensive energy,” said Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada.

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Feels like all they do is try to create an ever bigger mess. Throw in another €100 million and say: We tried!

EU Accused Of ‘Wilfully Letting Refugees Drown’ In The Mediterranean (Ind.)

Aid workers have accused the EU of “wilfully letting people drown in the Mediterranean” as they face being forced to suspend rescue missions for refugees attempting the world’s deadliest sea crossing. Italy is attempting to impose a code of conduct on NGOs operating ships in the search and rescue zone off the coast of Libya, which is now the main launching point for migrants trying to reach Europe on smugglers’ boats. Humanitarian groups have argued the code will impede their work by banning the transfer of refugees to larger ships, which allows vessels to continue rescues, and forcing them to allow police officers on board. A revised code of conduct is expected to be presented by the Italian interior ministry on Monday, following meetings between officials and NGOs.

The 11-point plan, which has been approved by the European Commission and border agency Frontex, could see any groups refusing to sign up denied access to Italian ports or forbidden from carrying out rescues. They are currently deployed by officials at Rome’s Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC) and charities fear any move to restrict their operations, leaving just Italian coastguard and naval ships, will dramatically reduce rescue capacity during peak season. German charity Sea-Watch announced the deployment of a second rescue vessel in response to the plans, which it called a “desperate reaction” by a country abandoned on the frontline of the refuge crisis by its European allies. “The EU is wilfully letting people drown in the Mediterranean by refusing to create a legal means of safe passage and failing to even provide adequate resources for maritime rescue,” said CEO Axel Grafmanns.

“The NGOs are currently bearing the brunt of the humanitarian crisis and they are being left alone.” Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has staff on two rescue ships, said it was engaging with Italian authorities in an “open and constructive way” over the proposed code but had serious concerns over several clauses. “MSF employees are humanitarian workers, not police officers, and that for reasons of independence they will do what is strictly requested by the law but nothing more so as to protect our independence and neutrality,” a spokesperson said.

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Jul 262017
 
 July 26, 2017  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Jackson Pollock Greyed Rainbow 1953

 

The Rise And Fall Of The Property-Owning Democracy (FCFT)
Case-Shiller Home Prices Disappoint But Hit New Record High (ZH)
Australian Housing Affordability the Worst in 130 Years (Soos/David)
There Are More ‘Zombie’ Companies In Europe Now Than Pre-Lehman (CNBC)
Netherlands and UK Are Biggest Channels For Corporate Tax Avoidance (G.)
US Sanctions Have Taken A Big Bite Out Of Russia’s Economy (CNBC)
The Value of Everything (Jim Kunstler)
Bolivia’s President Declares ‘Total Independence’ from World Bank and IMF (AHT)
Germany Fails To Honour Its Part Of The Greek Bailout Deal (Bilbo)
Insolvent Greece Goes To Market 2.0 (Varoufakis)
Nine Out Of 10 People Call For ‘Plastic-Free Aisle’ In Supermarkets (Ind.)
Sperm Counts In The West Plunge By 60% In 40 Years (Ind.)

 

 

The article is somewhat confusing to me, bear of little brain and unpopular in China. But it’s good to make the point that bubbles spark poverty.

The Rise And Fall Of The Property-Owning Democracy (FCFT)

Sometime in the late 1980s, a friend who was on the libertarian right of the Conservative Party explained the idea of the property-owning democracy to me. The point, he said, was to detach the respectable working class from their poorer neighbours, encourage them to identify with the middle-class and thereby turn them into Tories. It worked for a while. Middle earners had been doing relatively well since the 1970s and home ownership was within the reach of many once mortgages became more readily available. Helped along by cheap council house sales, home ownership rose. In recent years, though, things have started shifting back the other way. The property-owning democracy is now looking like a one-off event rather than the ongoing process it was meant to be. Property analyst Neal Hudson pointed out that, as a proportion of all tenure, home ownership peaked in 2003 but mortgage ownership peaked in 1996. As older property owners paid off their housing debts, they were not being replaced at the same rate by new mortgagors.

[..] As the Resolution Foundation comments: The typical mortgagor AHC income is now twice that of the typical social renter, and over the past decade this income has grown by 17% compared to just 4% growth for the typical private renter. Even more than was the case before the financial crisis, the living standards split between those who own their own home and those who do not has become a key divide. While the proportion of households owning their own homes has fallen generally, that decline has been sharper among those on low to middle incomes. (Defined by the Resolution Foundation as working-age households with someone in work but with less than the median household income.) In the mid 1990s, over half of those on low to middle incomes were mortgagors. Now that has fallen to a third. Over the same period, private renting among this group rose.

Last week’s report on poverty and inequality by the Institute for Fiscal Studies notes that most of those in poverty (defined as income less than 60% of the median) are now from households where someone is in work. “[R]elative poverty among children and working-age adults has increased and, over the past 20 years or so, has increasingly become an in-work phenomenon due to declines in worklessness, low earnings growth and widening earnings inequality.”

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What bubble?

Case-Shiller Home Prices Disappoint But Hit New Record High (ZH)

Great news ‘Murica – your house has never been worth more than it was in May (according to Case-Shiller’s national home price index). On the slightly less silver-lining side of the equation, April’s 0.28% gain in price was revised to 0.18% MoM drop and May’s proint disappointed at just 0.1% rise MoM. The 20-city property values index increased 5.7% y/y (est. 5.8%). All cities in the index showed year-over-year gains, led by a 13.3% advance in Seattle, an 8.9% increase in Portland and a 7.9% gain in Denver.

After seasonal adjustment, Seattle had the biggest month-over-month increase, at 0.9%, while New York posted a 0.6% decline. “Home prices continue to climb and outpace both inflation and wages,” David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, said in a statement. “The small supply of homes for sale, at only about four months’ worth, is one cause of rising prices. New home construction, higher than during the recession but still low, is another factor in rising prices.”

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Just keep paying the piper.

Australian Housing Affordability the Worst in 130 Years (Soos/David)

The astronomical bubble in Australian housing prices has generated plenty of commentary regarding the current lack of affordability. This state of affairs clearly concerns aspiring home buyers everywhere, and Sydney and Melbourne in particular. First home buyers (FHBs) face almost insurmountable odds: the highest price to income and deposit to income ratios, the lowest savings rates, runaway dwelling prices, weak wage growth, including a political and economic establishment hell-bent on ensuring land prices keep on inflating no matter the wider cost to the economy. The legion of vested interests – basically 99% of commentators – choose to contend housing is actually more affordable today than back in the days of high mortgage interest rates, especially when rates peaked at 17% in 1989.

This is demonstrated by the standard mortgage payment to household income formula shown above, assuming 80% loan to value ratio (LVR). Their contention is bogus, however, because the metric is a static one, displaying mortgage payments to income at a particular point in time. The peak in 1989, for instance, is very high if, and only if, prices, interest rates and incomes remain constant over the life of the mortgage. Yet, these variables change by the next period. So, a more dynamic approach is required to assess housing affordability. The correct method was advocated by Glenn Stevens in 1997, Guy Debelle in 2004 and other economists like Dean Baker, who identified the US housing bubble and predicted the Global Financial Crisis in 2002. The important factor to consider is the effect wage inflation has upon mortgage payments.

While high mortgage interest rates result in large mortgage payments relative to income, this only occurs in the early years of the mortgage as high wage growth inflates away the burden. In contrast, borrowers facing high housing prices with low interest rates and poor wage growth face a greater burden across the life of the mortgage due to greater payments to income. This housing affordability analysis is applied to long-term annual data between 1880 and 2016, anchored to the median house price at an LVR of 80% at the start of each decade thereon. While data on mortgage interest rates and wage growth for the years after 2016 cannot be known, they are assumed to hold still at the present rates: 5.4% for the mortgage interest rate and 1.4% for wages. The following chart illustrates the outcome of applying this method, demonstrating the proportion of aggregate mortgage payments to household income over the 25 years of the mortgage. The results are overpowering.

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Well, that’s what Draghi’s QE guarantees.

There Are More ‘Zombie’ Companies In Europe Now Than Pre-Lehman (CNBC)

The ECB needs to beware of raising interest rates too quickly as there are a significant number of “zombie firms” in Europe that have become too dependent on cheap credit, according to analysis by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Barnaby Martin, head of European Credit Strategy at BofA Merrill Lynch, said businesses in Europe which have benefited from the ECB’s corporate bond purchase program would struggle once the bank raises interest rates, expected sometime in 2018. “The worst kept secret in the market is Mario Draghi is going to be tapering monetary policy next year and yet last week he was super, super dovish so I think that we’ve forgotten that monetary policy in Europe is on its way out,” he told CNBC on Tuesday, adding “there’s clearly political pressure for him to move away from this extraordinary era.”

“So the question becomes ‘can we handle a rapid rise in interest rates?’,” he said. ECB stimulus measures as part of its quantitative easing program designed to boost the European economy currently amount to €60 billion ($69.9 billion) a month. Some of this money goes into purchasing corporate bonds. While these purchases have enabled companies to continue to operate and invest, aiding a recovery in the European economy, the bank’s purchases have been credited for keeping ailing companies alive, hence the name “zombies.” The ECB started purchasing corporate bonds in June 2016 as part of its “corporate sector purchase program” (CSPP) and, as of June 7, 2017, its CSPP holdings stood at €92 billion, the bank said.

In a note examining “The rise of the Zombies” BofA Merrill Lynch’s credit strategists Martin, Ionnis Angelakis and Souhair Asba noted that 9% of non-financial companies in Europe (by market cap of Stoxx 600) are zombies, with “very weak interest coverage metrics.” “Note that this is still quite a high number: It was around 6% pre-Lehman, and fell to 5% in late 2013 after the peripheral crisis had faded,” they said. “The plethora of monetary support in Europe over the last 5 years has allowed companies with weak profitability to continue to refinance their debt and stave off defaults.” The analyst team also noted that bond issuance had been concentrated in “the hands of a few.” “Year-to-date, the top 20 bonds issuers have accounted for 40% of supply. In 2015 and 2016, the number was closer to 25%. The result has been that “superfirms” have been quietly building across the credit market,” they noted.

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“The Netherlands says they won’t let the UK be an offshore tax haven. That’s because they don’t want them taking their business.”

Netherlands and UK Are Biggest Channels For Corporate Tax Avoidance (G.)

Almost 40% of corporate investments channelled away from authorities and into tax havens travel through the UK or the Netherlands, according to a study of the ownership structures of 98m firms. The two EU states are way ahead of the rest of the world in terms of being a preferred option for corporations who want to exploit tax havens to protect their investments. The Netherlands was a conduit for 23% of corporate investments that ended in a tax haven, a team of researchers at the University of Amsterdam concluded. The UK accounted for 14%, ahead of Switzerland (6%), Singapore (2%) and Ireland (1%). Every year multinationals avoid paying £38bn-£158bn in taxes in the EU using tax havens. In the US, tax evasion by multinational corporations via offshore jurisdictions is estimated to be at least $130bn (£99bn) a year.

The researchers reported that there were 24 so-called “sink” offshore financial centres where foreign capital was ultimately stored, safe from the tax authorities. Of those, 18 are said to have a current or past dependence to the UK, such as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and Jersey. The tax havens used correlated heavily to which conduit country was chosen by the multinational’s accountants. The UK is a major conduit for investments going to European countries and former members of the British Empire, such as Hong Kong, Jersey, Guernsey or Bermuda, reflecting the historical links and tax treaties enjoyed by firms setting up in Britain. The Netherlands is a principal conduit for investment ending in Cyprus and Bermuda, among others. Switzerland is used as a conduit to Jersey. Ireland is the route for Japanese and American companies to Luxembourg.

[..] Dr Eelke Heemskerk, who led the research, said that the work showed the importance of developed countries cleaning up their financial sectors. He said: “In the context of Brexit, where you have the UK threatening, unless they get a deal, to change their model to be attractive to companies who want to protect themselves from taxes, well, they are already doing it. “The Netherlands says they won’t let the UK be an offshore tax haven. That’s because they don’t want them taking their business.”

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Russia’s getting an invaluable lesson in self-suffciency. There’s nothing like it.

US Sanctions Have Taken A Big Bite Out Of Russia’s Economy (CNBC)

Congress moved Tuesday to step up sanctions on a shrinking Russian economy that is already struggling under the weight of low oil prices, high inflation and a battered currency that has sent capital fleeing. In response to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the House voted overwhelmingly to tighten existing economic sanctions imposed in 2014 following the Russian invasion of Crimea. Among other things, the measures freeze assets and prohibit transactions with specific Russian companies and individuals, restrict financial transactions with Russian firms, and ban certain exports that are used in oil and gas exploration or have possible military uses.

Those 2014 U.S. sanctions were paired with related measures imposed by the European Union, which placed restrictions on business with Russia’s financial, defense and energy sectors. Today, Russia’s economy is still feeling the harsh impact of those measures, which coincided with a crash in global oil prices that cut deeply into revenues from the country’s main export. The loss of oil revenues – a drop of as much as 60%, according to a 2017 Congressional Research Service report — helped spark a collapse in Russia’s currency, the ruble, sending the prices of Russian consumer goods soaring. The Russian economy has also been hurt by a wave of capital flight out of the country, as individual Russians sought to move money offshore and convert their shrinking rubles to dollars and euros to protect their wealth. That money flow slowed in 2014 as U.S. and European sanctions took hold.

Though U.S. sanctions have put pressure on the Russian economy, the impact on American business has been limited because Russia makes up less than 1% of U.S. exports. Only six U.S states count Russia as a significant market for goods and services. Washington, the most reliant, sells roughly 1% of its total exports to Russia, consisting mostly of machinery and farm products. That’s half the level before the 2014 sanctions took effect. European nations, which export greater volumes to Russia than the U.S., imposed their own set of sanctions response to the Crimean annexation.

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“The floundering non-elite masses have not learned the harsh lesson of our time that the virtual is not an adequate substitute for the authentic..”

The Value of Everything (Jim Kunstler)

We are looking more and more like France on the eve of its revolution in 1789. Our classes are distributed differently, but the inequity is just as sharp. America’s “aristocracy,” once based strictly on bank accounts, acts increasingly hereditary as the vapid offspring and relations of “stars” (in politics, showbiz, business, and the arts) assert their prerogatives to fame, power, and riches — think the voters didn’t grok the sinister import of Hillary’s “it’s my turn” message? What’s especially striking in similarity to the court of the Bourbons is the utter cluelessness of America’s entitled power elite to the agony of the moiling masses below them and mainly away from the coastal cities. Just about everything meaningful has been taken away from them, even though many of the material trappings of existence remain: a roof, stuff that resembles food, cars, and screens of various sizes.

But the places they are supposed to call home are either wrecked — the original small towns and cities of America — or replaced by new “developments” so devoid of artistry, history, thought, care, and charm that they don’t add up to communities, and are so obviously unworthy of affection, that the very idea of “home” becomes a cruel joke. These places were bad enough in the 1960s and 70s, when the people who lived in them at least were able to report to paying jobs assembling products and managing their distribution. Now those people don’t have that to give a little meaning to their existence, or cover the costs of it. Public space was never designed into the automobile suburbs, and the sad remnants of it were replaced by ersatz substitutes, like the now-dying malls. Everything else of a public and human associational nature has been shoved into some kind of computerized box with a screen on it.

The floundering non-elite masses have not learned the harsh lesson of our time that the virtual is not an adequate substitute for the authentic, while the elites who create all this vicious crap spend millions to consort face-to-face in the Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard telling each other how wonderful they are for providing all the artificial social programming and glitzy hardware for their paying customers. The effect of this dynamic relationship so far has been powerfully soporific. You can deprive people of a true home for a while, and give them virtual friends on TV to project their emotions onto, and arrange to give them cars via some financing scam or other to keep them moving mindlessly around an utterly desecrated landscape under the false impression that they’re going somewhere — but we’re now at the point where ordinary people can’t even carry the costs of keeping themselves hostage to these degrading conditions.

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The kind of independence that tends to be bad for a man’s health.

Bolivia’s President Declares ‘Total Independence’ from World Bank and IMF (AHT)

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has been highlighting his government’s independence from international money lending organizations and their detrimental impact the nation, the Telesur TV reported. “A day like today in 1944 ended Bretton Woods Economic Conference (USA), in which the IMF and WB were established,” Morales tweeted. “These organizations dictated the economic fate of Bolivia and the world. Today we can say that we have total independence of them.” Morales has said Bolivia’s past dependence on the agencies was so great that the IMF had an office in government headquarters and even participated in their meetings. Bolivia is now in the process of becoming a member of the Southern Common Market, Mercosur and Morales attended the group’s summit in Argentina last week.

Bolivia’s popular uprising known as the The Cochabamba Water War in 2000 against United States-based Bechtel Corporation over water privatization and the associated World Bank policies shed light on some of the debt issues facing the region. Some of Bolivia’s largest resistance struggles in the last 60 years have targeted the economic policies carried out by the IMF and the World Bank. Most of the protests focused on opposing privatization policies and austerity measures, including cuts to public services, privatization decrees, wage reductions, as well the weakening of labor rights. Since 2006, a year after Morales came to power, social spending on health, education, and poverty programs has increased by over 45%.

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A tour de force by Bill Mitchell. Germany’s profiting so much off of Greece’s despair that it can hide its own economic pitholes with it.

Germany Fails To Honour Its Part Of The Greek Bailout Deal (Bilbo)

Effectively the “German Federal Government – through KfW” is providing funds to Greece as part of the bailout. On May 20, 2014, the KfW issued a further press statement – Institution for Growth in Greece (IfG) – which further details the way in which German government bailout support is channeled through the KfW. For example, in relation to the “three planned IfG sub-funds … The Hellenic Republic and KfW — on behalf of the German Federal Government — will each contribute EUR 100 million in funding debt to this sub-fund.” Clear enough. The Süddeutsche Zeitung article says that since 2010, these loans granted to Greece through the KfW have generated 393 million euros of interest income net of refinancing costs [..] A handy sum. And what is more – the profits generated have not been transferred to the Greek government.

Further gains were made on the Greek bailouts via the ECB’s Securities Market Program (SMP), which has generated German gains of around $€952 million, through ECB distributions of the profits to the Member State central banks. A similar story appeared in the English-version of the Handelsbatt next day (July 12, 2017) – Germany Profits From Greek Debt Crisis. It essentially sourced the Süddeutsche Zeitung and made the story more accessible (repeating it in English). It says that: “The German government has long been accused by critics of profiting from Greece’s debt crisis. Now there are some new numbers to back it up: Loans and bonds purchased in support of Greece over nearly a decade have resulted in profits of €1.34 billion for Germany’s finance ministry.”

The issue became public because the Greens parliamentary representatives have challenged the morality of the German government’s decision not to redistribute the profits and the role played by the KfW. The Greens representative was reported as saying that: “The profits from collecting interest must be paid out to Greece … Wolfgang Schäuble cannot use the Greek profits to clean up Germany’s federal budget …” It has long been claimed that “Greece’s crisis has helped” Schäuble keep the German fiscal balance in surplus. The KfW have been part of that. We knew back in 2015 that the KfW was helping the Finance Ministry generate fiscal surpluses.

On March 5, 2015, the German daily newspaper Rheinische Post published a report – So geht es den Griechen wirklich – presented a summary of a 40-page document that the German Finance Ministry had provided in response to a demand for information from the Linksfraktion (German Left Party Die Linke). The Finance Ministry document conceded that: “Between 2010 to 2014, the KfW has paid out around 360 million euro in revenues to the German government and in the coming years the federal government is expecting around 20 million euro per year on interest revenues.”

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The Greek economy is worse than ever, but now people trust it?

Insolvent Greece Goes To Market 2.0 (Varoufakis)

Why do I refuse to be impressed by the news of Greece’s return to the markets? “It is because the Greek state and the Greek banks remain deeply insolvent. And, their return to the money markets is a harbinger of the next terrible phase of Greece’s crisis, rather than a cause for celebration”. The above was my answer in a BBC interview on 9th April… 2014! It is also the only answer that fits today’s announcement of Greece’s new bond issue. Indeed, why script a new article, when that old post offers a most helpful response to the question: “What should the world think of Greece’s new bond issue?”

The only thing I need to add to these circa 2014 posts is this: The Tsipras government today is simply rolling over precisely the same bond that the Samaras-Venizelos-Stournaras government issued in 2014 – the subject matter of my criticism above. This is a remarkable U-turn by Mr Tsipras and his ministers. In 2014 they had sided entirely with my criticism of the then government’s argument that Greece’s return to the markets, with the issue of that one bond, was a sign the country was achieving escape velocity from the gravitational pull of its debt-deflationary crisis. Now, they are not only parroting the same arguments as Samaras-Venizelos-Stournaras but they are, lo and behold, rolling over the same bond! I rest my case.

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It’s not that hard.

Nine Out Of 10 People Call For ‘Plastic-Free Aisle’ In Supermarkets (Ind.)

Nine out of 10 people want supermarkets to introduce a “plastic-free aisle”, according to a new poll amid rising concern about pollution. The survey – of 2,000 British adults by Populus – was commissioned by campaign group A Plastic Planet, which said it was clear that the public wanted an alternative to “goods laden with plastic packaging”. Evidence of the synthetic substance’s harmful effects on the natural world is growing. Since 1950, humans have produced 8.3 billion tons of the stuff, with 6.3 billion tons being sent to landfill sites or simply being dumped in what scientists described as an “uncontrolled experiment” on the planet. Plastic, which acts like a magnet for toxic chemicals in the environment, breaks down into tiny pieces that are capable of passing through animals’ gut walls and into their body tissue.

The UN warned in a report last year that “the presence of microplastic in foodstuffs could potentially increase direct exposure of plastic-associated chemicals to humans and may present an attributable risk to human health”. A third of seabirds in the North Sea were also found to be suffering “widespread breeding failure”, largely because of plastic waste. The new poll found 91% of people supported aisles free from plastic packaging and 81% said they were concerned “about the amount of plastic packaging that is thrown away in the UK”. Sian Sutherland, a co-founder of A Plastic Planet, said: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Great British public wants a fresh alternative to goods laden with plastic packaging. Too much of our plastic waste ends up in oceans and landfill.

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Am I a bad person for thinking that maybe this isn’t such a bad thing? Who wants more of us?

I like the term “semen parameters”. Name for a band. Double billing with Pussy Riot.

Sperm Counts In The West Plunge By 60% In 40 Years (Ind.)

Sperm counts have plunged by nearly 60% in just 40 years among men living in the West, according to a major review of scientific studies that suggests the modern world is causing serious damage to men’s health. Pesticides, hormone-disrupting chemicals, diet, stress, smoking and obesity have all been “plausibly associated” with the problem, which is associated with a range of other illnesses such as testicular cancer and a generally increased mortality rate. The researchers who carried out the review said the rate of decline had showed no sign of “levelling off” in recent years. The same trend was not seen in other parts of the world such as South America, Africa and Asia, although the scientists said fewer studies had been carried out there.

One expert commenting on the study said it was the “most comprehensive to date”, and described the figures as “shocking” and a “wake-up call” for urgent research into the reasons driving the fall. Writing in the journal Human Reproduction Update, the researchers – from Israel, the US, Denmark, Brazil and Spain – said total sperm count had fallen by 59.3% between 1971 and 2011 in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Sperm concentration fell by 52.4%. “Sperm count and other semen parameters have been plausibly associated with multiple environmental influences, including endocrine disrupting chemicals, pesticides, heat and lifestyle factors, including diet, stress, smoking and body-mass index,” the paper said. “Therefore, sperm count may sensitively reflect the impacts of the modern environment on male health throughout the life course.”

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May 082017
 
 May 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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RCA TV test pattern 1939

 

Macron Banks On De Gaulle’s ‘Majority Amplifier’ To Govern (R.)
In France, The Run Of Macron’s Life Starts Monday (Pol.)
Euro Gives Up Gains As Investors Look To Post-Election France (G.)
US Economy Can’t Even Match the “Sclerotic Statism” of France (CEPR)
Expect Dramatically Lower Stock Market Returns Over Next Decade (CNBC)
UK Consumer Spending Weakens With Sharp Slowdown in April (BBG)
Brexit Boom Gives Britain More Billionaires, Inequality Than Ever (G.)
China Tycoons Are Setting Up Shop In The US (BBG)
Hedge Funds Bail Just Before OPEC-Driven Oil Rally Vanishes (BBG)
Warning For Boomers: Your Gen X Kids Are Coming Back Home – For Good (MW)
Australia To Hold New Inquiry Into ‘Big Four’ Banks (R.)
How Zombie Companies Stop Productivity Growth (BBG)
German Army To Search All Barracks After Nazi Memorabilia Found (R.)
Greek PM Tsipras Rushes To Get Bailout Deal To Parliament With Eye On QE (K.)
1 Million Child Refugees Flee South Sudan’s Civil War (BBG)
Growing Numbers of Refugees In Northern Syria in Urgent Need of Aid (Kom)

 

 

Anyone would have won against Le Pen.

Macron Banks On De Gaulle’s ‘Majority Amplifier’ To Govern (R.)

Unknown just three years ago, and with a party only 12 months old, Emmanuel Macron has seized the presidency against all the odds. His challenge now is to govern. To do that he must build a parliamentary majority that supports his election pledges in June legislative elections, when France’s two established parties will put their huge machines to work. Macron has at least one thing in his favor: the “majority amplifier” effect of an electoral system designed by post-war leader Charles de Gaulle specifically to maximize presidential independence from parliament. Last week, the first opinion survey for the legislative elections showed Macron’s new movement “En Marche!” could win between 249 and 286 mainland France seats in the lower house. Even a figure at the bottom of that range would be a good outcome for him.

He only needs 289 for an absolute majority, and the poll excluded 42 seats in Corsica and overseas. It foresaw centrist and conservative parties winning around 200-210 mainland seats, the far-right National Front 15-25 and the Socialists 28-43. “In the lowest-case scenario, En Marche would still be the largest political grouping, which would be enough to try to constitute a majority. The question would then be how and with whom,” said OpinionWay’s Bruno Jeanbart, who directed the poll. En Marche is only a year old and has never fielded candidates before. Only 14 have been named so far, and at first glance a majority looks unlikely. But that reckons without de Gaulle’s amplifier – known as the “fait majoritaire” by French political scientists. [..] The last legislative vote in 2012 also showed the “fait majoritaire” in action.

Socialist Francois Hollande garnered less than 30% in the first rounds of both the presidentials and the legislatives, yet came away with over 40% of the second-round legislative vote and, with help from 17 Green party MPs, governed with a comfortable majority. “Macron can totally have an extremely solid majority of at least 350 MPs,” said Xavier Chinaud, an electoral expert. He added that to reach that number, the president would have to employ tactics like poaching popular MPs from other parties. The old parties will put up a fight, especially the conservative Republicans [..] Now led by Francois Baroin, they hope for enough seats to force Macron into France’s fourth “cohabitation” since 1958. Cohabitation does not have to mean paralysis, but rather that the prime minister and his camp in parliament have the upper hand over the president.

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“En Marche doesn’t have the money to finance a full-blown parliamentary run. It must ask its candidates to invest not only their time but also their money in the upcoming blitz campaign.”

In France, The Run Of Macron’s Life Starts Monday (Pol.)

Winning the presidency now looks like the easy bit. If Emmanuel Macron makes his way to the Élysée Palace, as expected, in the second round of France’s presidential election Sunday, another bruising political battle is looming. To be able to govern and not be sidelined by a hostile parliament, Macron’s nascent political movement En Marche will have to cobble together a majority in the National Assembly in an election beginning on June 11. And unlike in the second round of the presidential ballot — in which parties from across the political spectrum have urged their supporters to vote for him over his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen — Macron’s rivals will be devoting all their energies to defeating him.

The 39-year-old former economy minister will be counting on his army of 250,000 En Marche volunteers, and a crew made up mostly of political novices. And while Macron hopes that a victory in the presidential election will draw others to his banner, for a movement that was launched a little over a year ago, winning control of parliament looks like a tall order. The stakes are high. If Macron can’t clinch a majority, he won’t be able to appoint a prime minister of his liking. He’ll spend his term largely as a figurehead, his dreams of reforming France all but sunk. Macron needs 289 deputies to be ensured of an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament. So far, En Marche, the movement he still refuses to call a party, has endorsed 14.

True to form, Macron exudes a sense of confidence that the momentum of his election will carry over to the parliamentary polls, allowing him to clinch a majority just six weeks later. This may not be out of reach. A survey conducted this week by OpinionWay, although preliminary, indicated that En Marche could well obtain more than half the seats in the National Assembly. By weaving in electoral results from past elections with a recent poll, OpinionWay estimates that the next Parliament would be dominated by En Marche and the conservative Républicains party. The ruling Socialist Party would be decimated, and Le Pen’s National Front would obtain 25 MPs at most – due to France’s electoral system.

Sill, obstacles abound. En Marche will be facing an energized right. Both the mainstream center-right Républicains party and Le Pen’s National Front will emerge from the presidential election feeling that Macron has robbed them of a victory they at some point considered theirs. François Fillon’s failed campaign has left deep wounds in the Républicains, but one way to try to heal them could be to make Macron their common target in June. [..] En Marche doesn’t have the money to finance a full-blown parliamentary run. It must ask its candidates to invest not only their time but also their money in the upcoming blitz campaign. Political parties in France are provided with public funding according to their performance in previous elections. En Marche, founded a little over a year ago, has never put up a candidate for office before.

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Not THAT much trust perhaps.

Euro Gives Up Gains As Investors Look To Post-Election France (G.)

The euro rose to a six-month high in the wake of Emmanuel Macron’s convincing victory in the French election but the upside for the single currency could be short-lived, analysts warned. In Asian trading on Monday, the euro rose as high as $1.1024 , its highest since 9 November, and also jumped to a one-year high of 124.58 yen against its Japanese counterpart. But it had slipped almost 0.3% to $1.096 against the dollar by 5.30am GMT and lost a similar amount to the yen with traders remarking that gains had already been largely priced in thanks to Macron’s strong showing in the first round of voting two weeks ago. “The market already priced in the victory of Macron,” said Masafumi Yamamoto, chief currency strategist for Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.

“We saw some additional rise of the euro this morning, but considering the difficulty for Macron’s party to get a majority in the national assembly election, he may not bring higher growth.” Looking at positioning in the euro, he said, “the market has squared its short positions, but there are no fresh reasons to take long positions, as there will likely be no new positive developments, and limited scope for upside for the euro”. The muted analysis was partly based on an acknowledgment of the problems facing Macron, a 39-year-old former banker who has never held elected office. He was economy minister under outgoing president François Hollande but failed to turn around the fortunes of the beleaguered government. He has pledged to reform the country’s rigid labour laws – long seen by pro-market economists as a hindrance to growth – but such change was beyond the Hollande administration, despite a lengthy struggle.

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Reality check.

US Economy Can’t Even Match the “Sclerotic Statism” of France (CEPR)

The Washington Post has long pushed the view that a dollar (or euro) that is in the pocket of a middle class person is a dollar that should be in the pockets of the rich. (They are okay with crumbs for the poor.) In keeping with this position, in its lead editorial today the Post complained about the “sclerotic statism” of the French economy. It then called for increasing employment, “through reforms of the labor code, not by protectionism or restriction of immigration.” It is worth bringing a little bit of data to the fact free zone of the Washington Post opinion pages. France actually has consistently had a higher employment rate for its prime age workers (ages 25 to 54) than the United States.

As can be seen, the employment rate for prime age workers in France was roughly 2 percentage points higher in 2003. The gap expanded to almost 7 percentage points following the downturn, but it has in more recent years narrowed again to just under 2 percentage points. France does have much lower employment rates among younger and older workers than the United States, but this is due to policy choices. College is largely free in France and students get stipends from the government. Therefore many fewer young people work. France also makes it much easier for people to retire in their early sixties than in the United States, with largely free health care and earlier pensions. The merits of these policies can be debated, but they are not evidence of a sclerotic economy.

It is also not clear that the Washington Post’s desire to weaken protections for workers (euphemistically described as “reforms of the labor code”) will have a significant effect in reducing unemployment or raising employment. Extensive research has shown there is little relationship between worker protections and employment. It is also worth noting that the Post denounced protectionism in this editorial, but it is fine with protectionism in the form of ever longer and stronger copyright and patent protection, which benefit people it likes.

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Expect losses.

Expect Dramatically Lower Stock Market Returns Over Next Decade (CNBC)

Enjoy the stock indexes riding at record highs for now, but get ready for much stingier markets in the years to come. That’s the message consistently conveyed these days by investment counselors and finance scholars, who argue that with today’s starting equity valuations and low interest rates, the coming decade should produce dramatically lower returns than the historical average. The leaders of Vanguard Group, overseers of some $4 trillion in client assets, have been advising investors to expect a typical 60% stocks/40% bonds portfolio to deliver two- to- three percentage points less in nominal annual returns than its long-term norm. (Since 1926, such an asset mix has returned better than 8.5% annualized.)

Other forecasts are even less generous. Research Affiliates, a quantitative and “smart beta” fund manager, projects that U.S. stocks might only offer one% a year for the next decade, after inflation. This is based largely on the so-called Shiller P/E, a ratio of the S&P 500 index to its trailing ten-year average earnings, which is now above 29 and higher than any period aside from the run-up to the 1929 and 2000 market peaks. Jeremy Grantham of institutional value manager GMO has, by his admission, been wrong for years in assuming that corporate profit margins and equity valuations would revert to their pre-1990s trend levels. Yet even accounting for some more permanent upward shift in these gauges, he sees real (after inflation) returns of 2-3% a year looking out two decades.

And a simple plot of the market’s forward P/E ratio against subsequent market returns shows that, since 1978, when starting at today’s multiple of around 17.5 forecast earnings, ensuing seven- and 15-year nominal returns (before inflation) have been clustered in the mid- to low-single digits. These forward-return calculations vary in their approach and assumptions, but all are anchored on today’s stock valuations, long-term norms in corporate-profit growth and current interest rates. Stocks, even during the depths of the last bear market, never got dramatically cheap compared to prior cycles and certainly didn’t stay inexpensive for very long. And with risk-free 10-year government debt yielding a skimpy 2.3% in the U.S. and far less elsewhere, all other financial assets have repriced for skimpier future returns as well.

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The consumer is toast.

UK Consumer Spending Weakens With Sharp Slowdown in April (BBG)

U.K. consumer-spending growth slowed in April and is forecast to remain weak in the coming months, according to a report from Visa. Its index showed spending rose an annual 0.5% in April, down from 1% in March and marking one of the slowest rates of growth in the past three years. Weaker household demand is also taking a toll on retailers. A separate report from the Institute for Chartered Accountants in England and Wales showed while there was a jump in business confidence this quarter, retailing was the laggard among nine sectors covered. “The trend of relatively modest expenditure growth is likely to extend in to the coming months, as consumers are squeezed by both rising living costs and relatively lackluster wage growth,” said Annabel Fiddes, an economist at IHS Markit, which compiles the consumer index.

Inflation was at 2.3% last month and is forecast to keep accelerating through this year, outpacing wage increases and leaving workers facing a drop in real incomes. The Bank of England may raise its forecast for consumer-price growth this week, which could indicate an even bigger squeeze on households. The overall business sentiment gauge by the ICAEW jumped the highest in almost a year this quarter. Yet despite firms being more confident, the report showed they are still reluctant to make long-term commitments. While Brexit is dominating the agenda in the buildup to the U.K. election on June 8, the institute said all parties must spell out how they will “address the problem of business investment head-on.”

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No wonder consumer spending’s down.

Brexit Boom Gives Britain More Billionaires, Inequality Than Ever (G.)

Britain has more billionaires than ever in what equality campaigners said was a clear sign the UK economy is only working for the few at the top. There are now 134 billionaires based in the UK according to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, 14 more than the previous highest total, as the super-rich reap the benefits of a “Brexit boom”. Fifteen years ago, there were 21. The annual rich list showed that the wealthiest 1,000 individuals and families in Britain have combined wealth of £658bn, up from £575bn last year, despite fears that the Brexit vote last June would plunge the economy into a fresh turmoil. The Equality Trust said the £83bn increase in wealth among the richest 1,000 people over the past year could pay the energy bills of all UK households for two and a half years and would be enough for the grocery bills for all food bank users for 56 years.

Wanda Wyporska, the executive director of the trust, said that an elite was sitting on mountains of wealth in the fifth largest economy of the world. “The super-rich continue to streak away from the rest of us, while the poorest see their wealth shrink. This is an economy working for the few, not the many,” she said. “Record numbers of people visited food banks last year, millions are locked out of a decent home and two-thirds of children in poverty are in working households. “We know that inequality damages our economy and society, and makes it harder for ordinary people and their children to get on. With the general election fast approaching, our politicians need to decide the sort of country they want to build. One where we can all prosper or one where we’re picking crumbs from the super-rich’s table.”

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China Shadow Banking Assets Estimated at 64.5t Yuan or 87% of GDP: Moody’s.

China Tycoons Are Setting Up Shop In The US (BBG)

When a new hedge fund opened in Mountainside, New Jersey, a leafy suburb that still holds an annual little-league parade, few would have guessed where much of its funding came from: Chinese billionaire Cai Kui. The credit hedge fund, Westfield Investment, was founded by former Goldman Sachs Managing Director Renyuan Gao and managed $139 million as of January. It’s part of a new crop of asset management firms that are expanding China’s reach on Wall Street as money has poured into the U.S. from the world’s second-biggest economy. China’s marquee names are among those setting up shop in the U.S. Chen Feng, who controls the HNA Group airline and hotel conglomerate, has opened a U.S. money management firm. China Vanke, the mainland’s second-largest residential developer, has indirectly taken a major stake in a manager.

All told, about 324 firms with financial ties to the mainland and Hong Kong had registered with regulators by last year, more than double the number in 2012, filings show. They are riding the wave of capital that left China on concerns about bank debt, a real estate bubble and the yuan, which plummeted about 11% against the dollar in the last two years. The currency flight was reflected in balance of payments data where capital outflows tripled to $220 billion last year from $70 billion in 2014, according to Derek Scissors, a China economist at the American Enterprise Institute. “There is so much Chinese money floating around the U.S. now,” Scissors said. “If you’re a Chinese money manager, why wouldn’t you come here?” The migration comes amid a Chinese shopping spree for an array of U.S. companies, including financial firms like New York’s Cowen Group and the Chicago Stock Exchange.

Chongqing Casin Enterprise led the purchase of the exchange, which was founded in 1882. The deal was reviewed by a U.S. panel on national security grounds and eventually cleared in December. In another deal with political overtones, a subsidiary of Chen’s HNA Group agreed in January to buy a stake in Anthony Scaramucci’s SkyBridge Capital, a New York fund of hedge funds firm. The announcement came after reports that Scaramucci had been tapped for a top job in the White House, stirring speculation that HNA’s motives were partly political. The registration of the China-linked firms with the SEC hasn’t drawn such scrutiny. The SEC began requiring hedge funds and buyout firms to sign up with the agency in 2012 as a result of the Dodd-Frank Act. About 30% of the Chinese firms that registered by 2016 are full-fledged money managers. The rest filed as exempt advisers that operate in the U.S. on a more limited basis.

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OPEC is fast losing what remained of its credibility.

Hedge Funds Bail Just Before OPEC-Driven Oil Rally Vanishes (BBG)

Hedge funds jumped out of the oil market just in time. Before West Texas Intermediate crude nosedived on Thursday, wiping out the rally driven by OPEC’s deal, money managers slashed bets on rising prices by 20%, according to U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data. Now they may soon be well poised to start betting on the next rally. “We are moving toward a positioning where these money managers are no longer over-invested,” Tim Evans at Citi Futures Perspective in New York, said. “This opens up the potential for them to start buying again.” Oil collapsed Thursday amid concerns that OPEC has failed to ease a supply glut as U.S. shale drillers ramp up output. Shares of U.S.-based producers got crushed as investors worry they might be repeating the same pattern that led to the market crash in 2014.

Earlier this year, billionaire wildcatter Harold Hamm urged colleagues to take a “measured” approach to lifting production, or risk a new glut. In a gamble that things could get worse, about $7 million worth of options changed hands Friday that will pay off if WTI falls beneath $39 a barrel by mid-July, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Hedge funds decreased their net-long position, or the difference between bets on a price increase and wagers on a drop, to 203,104 futures and options in the week ended May 2, the CFTC data show. Longs fell about 7%, while shorts surged 37%, following a 26% jump a week earlier. [..] Oil’s tumble to a five-month low was driven purely by technical trading and supply is still getting tighter, according to Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. The current price plunge began when WTI broke through its 200-day moving average. Once that gave way, another key technical indicator called a Fibonacci retracement was breached, paving the way to the low of the year and then $45 a barrel.

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Multigenerational households are the model of the past and the future. Come look in Greece.

Warning For Boomers: Your Gen X Kids Are Coming Back Home – For Good (MW)

Remove the door knockers. Pull down the shutters. Pretend no one’s home. Your adult children are coming back – for good. One-in-nine baby boomer parents said their adult children returned home within the last year, according to a new report from financial services firm Fidelity Investments and Stanford Center on Longevity, which surveyed 9,000 employees.The adult children save money on rent and household goods, but their parents are the ones who appear to be suffering: 68% said they were more stressed, 53% said they were less happy and another 53% said they had less leisure time after the return of their “boomerang kids.” More than three-quarters (76%) said they took on higher expenses, too. Even people who are now in their 40s and 50s are considering mom and dad an option.

Older millennials are 2.7 times more likely to live in their parents’ home than people under 55 years old than in 1999, while Generation-Xers, who are now in their mid-30s to early 50s, were 2.2 times as likely to live with their parents, according to separate data released last week by real estate site Trulia. “No parent is going to want to say no to a child who needs help, but certainly being realistic about the financial situation is important,” said Katie Taylor at Fidelity. More American adults are living with their parents and grandparents than ever before — 19% of the U.S. population (or nearly 61 million people) lived in a multigenerational household, up from 17% (42 million) in 2009 and 12% (27.5 million) in 1980, according to the Pew Research Center, nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C.

But not all millennials are as “lazy” or “entitled,” as they are often accused of being. About one in four 25- to 34-year-olds who live at home and are not working or going to school do so because of a health-related reason or because they are acting as caregivers to their family members. And more than a third of Americans, including millennials, expect to financially help their parents within the next few years, another survey found. Some are even making efforts to help their parents save for retirement.

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Wow, great timing! We’re coming to you live from the barn, and there’s not a horse in sight.

Australia To Hold New Inquiry Into ‘Big Four’ Banks (R.)

Australia will hold an inquiry into competition in the country’s financial system, following a series of scandals in the banking sector and public allegations against the “Big Four” banks of abuse of market power. The latest inquiry is part of a number of government measures since last year aimed at alleviating public concerns about the power of the big banks, after revelations of misconduct in the industry. Australia’s four major lenders – Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Westpac, ANZ and National Australia Bank – have come under fire recently following several scams involving misleading financial advice, insurance fraud and interest-rate rigging, as well as for refusing to pass on official interest rate cuts in full. The four together control 80% of Australia’s lending market and have posted record profits for years.

Westpac, NAB and ANZ all reported a rise in half-yearly cash profits this month, taking their total to about A$8.5 billion. CBA will report limited third-quarter figures on Tuesday. “The high concentration and degree of vertical integration in some parts of the Australian financial system has the potential to limit the benefits of competition…and should be proactively monitored over time,” Treasurer Scott Morrison said in a statement on Monday. “The Government is committed to ensuring that Australia’s financial system is competitive and innovative. That is why I have tasked the Productivity Commission to hold an inquiry into competition in Australia’s financial system.” The inquiry will consider the degree of concentration in key segments of the financial system, examine barriers to innovation in the system and look into competition in personal deposits and mortgages for households and small businesses.

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The benefits of ZIRP.

How Zombie Companies Stop Productivity Growth (BBG)

The global economy is picking up steam, but that’s deceptive. The foundations of expansion are soft, marked by weak productivity growth and inequality. The two are related. The productivity problem confronting the world’s advanced economies predates the financial crisis more than a decade ago. When we look beyond the headline statistics, patterns emerge. Advanced economies have become less dynamic and are at risk of becoming sclerotic unless the ambition for reform is revived. It’s essential that we understand three sources of the current productivity slump in particular, and identify the key reforms necessary to address them. First, the productivity slowdown masks a widening performance gap between more productive and less productive firms, as the chart below shows (the picture for service sector firms is even worse).

This divergence is not just driven by firms at the frontiers of their industry, pushing the technological boundaries, but also by stagnating productivity growth at what can be called laggard companies that have failed to adopt the leaders’ best practices. This is also bad news for inclusiveness, since rising wage inequality can be largely traced to the growing differentials in average wages paid across companies, with high-productivity ones paying high wages and low-productivity businesses paying low wages. Second, in well-functioning markets we would expect strong incentives for productive companies to aggressively expand and drive out less productive ones. The opposite has happened. The propensity for high-productivity companies to expand and low-productivity companies to downsize or exit the market has declined over time.

This pattern is evident in the U. S. and is particularly stark in southern Europe, where scarce capital has been increasingly misallocated to low-productivity firms. Third, across the 35 countries in the OECD, we are seeing a drop in the dynamism of the business sector. Not only has the share of recent entrants into the market declined, but marginal companies, which would typically exit or be restructured in a competitive market, are more likely to remain. At the same time, the average productivity of these marginal businesses has fallen. In other words, it has become easier for weak companies that do not adopt the latest technologies to survive. The survival of weak companies drags down average productivity, but the consequences for growth are even worse. Since such firms take up scarce resources, their prolonged survival (or their delayed restructuring) inflates wages relative to productivity, depresses market prices and undermines investment – all of which deters the expansion of productive companies, particularly startups, and amplifies the mismatch of skills.

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They’ve known about this for decades.

German Army To Search All Barracks After Nazi Memorabilia Found (R.)

The head of Germany’s armed forces has called for an inspection of all army barracks after investigators discovered Nazi-era military memorabilia in a garrison, broadening a scandal about right-wing extremism among soldiers. The discovery at a barracks in Donaueschingen, in southwest Germany, was made in an investigation that began after similar Nazi-era items were found in the garrison of an army officer arrested on suspicion of planning a racially motivated attack. As a result, General Inspector Volker Wieker ordered a wider search of barracks. “The General Inspector has instructed that all properties be inspected to see whether rules on dealing with heritage with regard to the Wehrmacht and National Socialism are being observed,” a Defence Ministry spokesman said. Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said the military must root out right-wing extremism.

“We must now investigate with all due rigor and with all candor in the armed forces,” the minister told broadcaster ARD on Sunday evening. “The process is starting now, and more is sure to come out. We are not through the worst of it yet.” Displaying Nazi items such as swastikas is punishable under German law, although possession of regular Wehrmacht items is not. Von der Leyen said last week, however, she would not tolerate the veneration of the Wehrmacht in today’s army, the Bundeswehr. Von der Leyen said the arrested officer – who had falsely registered as a Syrian refugee – had likely worked with others to squirrel away 1,000 rounds of ammunition, but the chief federal prosecutor was still investigating the matter. The suspect’s goal, she said, had likely been to carry out an attack and then pin the blame on migrants.

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Don’t hold your breath.

Greek PM Tsipras Rushes To Get Bailout Deal To Parliament With Eye On QE (K.)

After rallying his ministers, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras must now get coalition MPs behind him for a new multi-bill of austerity measures that is set to go to Parliament this coming week. Although some lawmakers have expressed reservations about the deal, which foresees further cuts to pensions and more tax increases, along with changes to the energy and labor markets, it is widely expected that Tsipras will get the support he needs to push the bill into law. A raft of so-called countermeasures – social welfare interventions that will come into effect in 2019 if the government meets budget targets – will be voted on separately and is sure to get the support of coalition MPs. The government has also appealed to the main political opposition New Democracy to back the offsetting measures but ND has refused to oblige.

According to government sources, Tsipras is already looking beyond the vote, expected on May 15 or 16, and beyond a scheduled Eurogroup summit on May 22 where the agreement between Greece and its creditors is expected to be rubber-stumped. Aides to the prime minister said he is considering a cabinet reshuffle to give his government a lift and inspire investors as talks on lightening Greece’s debt and the inclusion of Greek bonds in the ECB’s QE program are next on the agenda. It remains unclear whether Tsipras is considering a “cosmetic” shake-up or a radical overhaul, or whether key cabinet members such as Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos would keep their posts. But it appears that the government is keen to send out a message that it is turning a page following the completion of a tough bailout review that dragged on for months.

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Our times, and our very selves, are defined by refugees and famine more than anything else. But we don’t like to look at what defines us.

1 Million Child Refugees Flee South Sudan’s Civil War (BBG)

More than 1 million children have fled South Sudan’s civil war, two United Nations agencies said Monday, part of the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. Another 1 million South Sudanese children are displaced within the country, having fled their homes due to the civil war, said the U.N.’s child and refugee agencies in a statement Monday. “The future of a generation is truly on the brink,” said Leila Pakkala, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “The horrifying fact that nearly one in five children in South Sudan has been forced to flee their home illustrates how devastating this conflict has been for the country’s most vulnerable.”

Roughly 62% of refugees from South Sudan are children, according to the U.N. statement, and more than 75,000 children are alone or without their families. Roughly 1.8 million people have fled South Sudan in total. “No refugee crisis today worries me more than South Sudan,” said Valentin Tapsoba, UNHCR’s Africa Bureau Director. “That refugee children are becoming the defining face of this emergency is incredibly troubling.” For children still living in South Sudan, the situation is still grim. Nearly three quarters of children are out of school, according to the U.N. statement, which is the highest out-of-school population in the world. An official famine was declared in two counties of South Sudan in February, and hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of starvation in the absence of food aid, according to the U.N.

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Why Russia’s safety zones make sense.

Growing Numbers of Refugees In Northern Syria in Urgent Need of Aid (Kom)

The co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), Ilham Ehmed, said that the operations to push out the Islamic State (IS) has resulted in refugee flows into the northern parts of Syria controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and that the displaced people are in urgent need of aid. “We have gathered the refugees that came recently in two camps,” Ehmed said to ANF. “In one of the camps, 50 thousand refugees are living. A number of aid organisations are present but there are no serious aid efforts. Many of the organisations receive funding from Europe but they still don’t help,” she said. “One can’t help wondering if they want Syrians to die, if there is a plan to kill them first with war and then with hunger. And if that fails from the heat and the cold. That’s the sad conclusion one draws from the situation.”

The SDC co-chair said they had discussed the urgent needs of food, housing and health with the US-led coalition without any results. “This is not acceptable, they should at least provide support for the refugee camps,” she said, stressing that preparations must be made as the operation to evict IS from Raqqa will give rise to many more refugees. “38 refugees coming from Raqqa have already died, some were children. It’s a tragedy. The European countries and the coalition must take their responsability.” Ehmad stressed the need of mediaction, clinics and doctors in the camps. “This is really urgent. Some will be able to return after the area has been liberated but those who lost their homes will stay, so we must make preparations.”

Ehmad also criticized Europe for giving in to what she called Turkey’s “blackmailing.” “There is an approach to the issue which goes something like this: ‘Let’s give them [Turkey] money so that no refugees will come here’. But everyone knows that the refugees are remaining in our region [Syria] at the moment.” Last year, the United Nations estimated that more than 6 million were internally displaced within Syria, and over 4,8 million were refugees outside of the country.

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Apr 052017
 
 April 5, 2017  Posted by at 8:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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DPC Times Square seen from Broadway 1908

 

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon Warns ‘Something Is Wrong’ With the US (BBG)
US Housing Boom Is Anything But as Ownership Loses Appeal (A. Gary Shilling)
Young Americans Are Killing Marriage (BBG)
The Comex Is The World’s Most Corrupted Market (IRD)
The Real Russiagate (Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson)
Fed Leak Probe Dooms Lacker But Leaves Key Question: Who Leaked? (BBG)
I Tried To Ask Yellen About The Fed Leak (Da Costa)
Australia’s Household Debt Crisis Is Worse Than Ever (Abc.au)
Australian Economy At Risk As Debt Bomb Grows (Aus.)
Chinese Brokers Are Muscling in on Asia’s Junk Bond Underwriters
Zombie Nation: In Japan, Zero Public Companies Went Bust in 2016 (BBG)
The World’s Best Economist (PCR)
New Zealand Post To Deliver KFC (AFP)

 

 

Actually, a lot is wrong. Including Dimon talking his book and people thinking he’s doing something else, like trying to help anyone other than himself.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon Warns ‘Something Is Wrong’ With the US (BBG)

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon has two big pronouncements as the Trump administration starts reshaping the government: “The United States of America is truly an exceptional country,” and “it is clear that something is wrong.” Dimon, leader of world’s most valuable bank and a counselor to the new president, used his 45-page annual letter to shareholders on Tuesday to list ways America is stronger than ever – before jumping into a much longer list of self-inflicted problems that he said was “upsetting” to write. Here’s the start: Since the turn of the century, the U.S. has dumped trillions of dollars into wars, piled huge debt onto students, forced legions of foreigners to leave after getting advanced degrees, driven millions of Americans out of the workplace with felonies for sometimes minor offenses and hobbled the housing market with hastily crafted layers of rules.

Dimon, who sits on Donald Trump’s business forum aimed at boosting job growth, is renowned for his optimism and has been voicing support this year for parts of the president’s business agenda. In February, Dimon predicted the U.S. would have a bright economic future if the new administration carries out plans to overhaul taxes, rein in rules and boost infrastructure investment. In an interview last month, he credited Trump with boosting consumer and business confidence in growth, and reawakening “animal spirits.” But on Tuesday, reasons for concern kept coming. Labor market participation is low, Dimon wrote. Inner-city schools are failing poor kids. High schools and vocational schools aren’t providing skills to get decent jobs. Infrastructure planning and spending is so anemic that the U.S. hasn’t built a major airport in more than 20 years.

Corporate taxes are so onerous it’s driving capital and brains overseas. Regulation is excessive. “It is understandable why so many are angry at the leaders of America’s institutions, including businesses, schools and governments,” Dimon, 61, summarized. “This can understandably lead to disenchantment with trade, globalization and even our free enterprise system, which for so many people seems not to have worked.”

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I like Shilling. But this reeks of nonsense. It’s not about appeal, it’s about getting poorer.

US Housing Boom Is Anything But as Ownership Loses Appeal (A. Gary Shilling)

By many measures, the U.S. housing market seems in very good shape. The National Association of Realtors in Washington said last week that contracts to buy existing homes jumped 5.5% in February, the biggest increase since July 2010. Fannie Mae’s National Housing Survey showed that Americans expect home prices to rise a robust 3.2% over the next year as its sentiment index reached a record high. So, are boom times ahead for housing? Not quite. To understand why, it helps to revisit recent history. The housing bubble of the early 2000s was driven by subprime mortgages and other loose-lending practices. The subsequent collapse left many potential new homeowners with inadequate credit scores, not enough money for a down payment and insufficient job security to buy a house.

They also saw, for the first time since the 1930s, that not only house prices fall nationwide, but nosedive by a third. Homeownership plunged and those who did form households moved into rental apartments instead of single-family houses. That drove rental vacancy rates down and starts of multi-family housing – about two-thirds of which are rentals – up to 396,000 units, more than the earlier norm of 300,000 starts at annual rates. But single-family housing starts – even with the rebound to an 872,000 annual rate from the bottom of about 400,000 – are still far below the pre-housing bubble average of more than 1 million. Despite the recovery in house prices, rents have risen at a much faster pace. As a share of median income, rents have jumped while mortgage costs have fallen. The latest data from the National Association of Realtors show its Housing Affordability Index was up 52% in the fourth quarter of 2016 from the early 2007 low.

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Yesterday we saw IMF head Lagarde saying the loss of productivity can be solved with education. But the younger have had a boatload more education than their parents.

Young Americans Are Killing Marriage (BBG)

There’s no shortage of theories as to how and why today’s young people differ from their parents. As marketing consultants never cease to point out, baby boomers and millennials appear to have starkly different attitudes about pretty much everything, from money and sports to breakfast and lunch. New research tries to ground those observations in solid data. The National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University set out to compare 25- to 34-year-olds in 1980—baby boomers—with the same age group today. Researcher Lydia Anderson compared U.S. Census data from 1980 with the most recent American Community Survey data in 2015. The results reveal some stark differences in how young Americans are living today, compared with three or four decades ago.

In 1980, two-thirds of 25- to 34-year-olds were already married. One in eight had already been married and divorced. In 2015, just two in five millennials were married, and only 7% had been divorced. Baby boomers’ eagerness to get married meant they were far more likely than today’s young people to live on their own. Anderson looked at the share of each generation living independently, either as heads of their own household or in married couples. The chance that Americans in their late twenties and early thirties live with parents or grandparents has more than doubled. In 1980, just 9% of 25- to 34-year-olds were doing so. In 2015, 22% lived with parents or grandparents. Millennials are also less likely than boomers to be living with kids—and to be homeowners.

It’s easy to look at these figures and say millennials are lagging behind their boomer parents. However, even as young Americans delay marriage, kids, and homeownership, they’re ahead of their parents by one measure: education.

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Dazzling. “Historically, when the amount of paper exceeds the amount of underlying commodity that is available for delivery by more than 20-30%, the CFTC intervenes by investigating the possibility of market manipulation. But never with gold and silver.”

The Comex Is The World’s Most Corrupted Market (IRD)

If you were to poll the public about comparing the investment returns between gold, silver and stocks during the first quarter of 2017, it’s highly probable that the majority of the populace would respond that the S&P 500 outperformed the precious metals. That’s a result of the mainstream media’s unwillingness to report on the precious metals market other than to disparage it as an investment. In reality, among silver, gold, the Nasdaq 100 and the S&P 500, the S&P 500 had the lowest ROR in Q1. Silver led the pack at 14%, followed by tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 at 11.1%, gold at 8.6% and the S&P 500 at 4.8%. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Cramer. Imagine the performance gold and silver would have turned in if the Comex was prevented from creating paper gold and silver in amounts that exceeded the quantity of gold and silver sitting in the Comex vaults.

As an example, as of Friday the Comex is reporting 949k ozs of gold in the registered accounts of the Comex vaults and 9 million ozs of total gold. Yet, the open interest in paper gold contracts as of Friday totaled 41.7 million ozs. This is 44x more paper gold than the amount of physical that has been designated – “registered” – as available for delivery. It’s 4.6x more than the total amount of gold sitting on Comex vaults. With silver the situation is even more extreme. The Comex is reporting 29.5 million ozs of silver as registered and 190.2 million total ozs. Yet, the open interest in paper silver is a staggering 1.08 billion ozs. 1.08 billion ozs of silver is more silver than the world mines in a year. The paper silver open interest is 5x greater than the total amount of silver held in Comex vaults; it’s an astonishing 37x more than the amount of silver that is available to be delivered.

This degree of imbalance between the open interest in CME futures contracts in relation to the amount of the underlying physical commodity represented by those contracts never occurs in any other CME commodity – ever. Historically, when the amount of paper exceeds the amount of underlying commodity that is available for delivery by more than 20-30%, the CFTC intervenes by investigating the possibility of market manipulation. But never with gold and silver. The Comex is perhaps the most corrupted securities market in history. It is emblematic of the fraud and corruption that has engulfed the entire U.S. financial and political system. The U.S. Government has now issued $20 trillion in Treasury debt for which it has no intention of every redeeming. It’s issued over $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities (entitlements, pensions, etc) for which default is not a matter of “if” but of “when.”

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“..We are now in a position to see the real story behind “Russiagate.” It’s not about Russia, except incidentally…”

The Real Russiagate (Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson)

Wall Street Journal editorialist Kimberley A. Strassel poses the real question: Why hasn’t the Trump administration had the Secret Service arrest Comey, Brennan, Schiff, the DNC and Hillary for trying to overthrow the President of the United States? “Mr. Nunes has said he has seen proof that the Obama White House surveilled the incoming administration—on subjects that had nothing to do with Russia—and that it further unmasked (identified by name) transition officials. This goes far beyond a mere scandal. It’s a potential crime.” What we are watching is turning out to be traces of a plot against a government elected by the American people. Attempts by House national security committee Chairman Devin Nunes have been countered with demands by his potential victims to recuse himself so as to stop his exposé of how “Team Obama was spying broadly on the incoming administration.”

[..] We are now in a position to see the real story behind “Russiagate.” It’s not about Russia, except incidentally. The Obama regime abused the government’s surveillance powers and spied on Donald Trump and other Republicans in order to build a dossier for the DNC to leak to the press in an attempt to slander or compromise Trump and throw the election to Hillary. They’ve been caught, but we can now see that they took steps to protect themselves against this. They prepared a cover story. They pretend they were not spying on Trump, but on Russians – which only by fortuitous happenchance turned up incriminating smoke against Trump. This cover story was buttressed by the fake news story prepared by former MI6 freelancer Christopher Steele.

As Whitney reports, Steele “was hired as an opposition researcher last June to dig up derogatory information on Donald Trump.” Unvetted and unverified information paid for by so-called informants “somehow” found its way into U.S. intelligence agency reports. These reports were then leaked to Democrat-friendly media. This is where the crime lies. Obama regime and DNC were using these agencies for domestic political use, KGB style. The Obama/Clinton cover story is now falling to pieces. That explains the desperation in the attack by Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, on Committee Chairman Devin Nunes to stop the exposure. Russiagate is not a Trump/Putin collusion but a domestic spy job carried out by Democrats. Law requires Trump to arrest those responsible and to put them on trial for treason and conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States.

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They end the investigation without answering the question that started it?!

Fed Leak Probe Dooms Lacker But Leaves Key Question: Who Leaked? (BBG)

The Federal Reserve’s inspector general says it will be ending its investigation into the 2012 release of confidential information. Even after the scandal cut short the career of one top Fed official, the answer to the most important question remains a mystery. Who did the initial leaking? Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker resigned abruptly Tuesday as he announced his role in the unauthorized disclosure of information to Medley Global Advisors about policy options that the central bank was considering in 2012. His explanation suggested he was confirming facts the Medley analyst already knew. It was a sudden career stop for a Fed president who was frequently in opposition to the Fed board consensus on interest-rate policy, and the news will likely revive questions in Congress about the value of the central bank’s discretion and transparency.

“The story is not over today,” said Andrew Levin, a professor at Dartmouth College who was previously a special adviser at the Fed board and helped then-Vice Chair Janet Yellen develop the Fed’s policy on external communication. “There are a number of distinct details that suggest that Lacker wasn’t the main source of information.” Aaron Klein, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and the former chief economist on the Senate Banking Committee, said the Lacker statement “is not a full and complete accounting of what happened.” “The Fed, internally and its inspector general, would be wise to fully explore every aspect of what happened here because today’s actions and statements by Lacker raise more questions than they answer,” he said.

[..] Lacker’s carefully worded statement, distributed by his attorney, said he “crossed the line to confirming information that should have remained confidential.” The investigation into Lacker has concluded and no charges will be brought against him, the attorney said. He also said the Medley analyst “introduced into the conversation an important non-public detail” about one of the policy options under consideration. Lacker says he didn’t decline to comment “and the interview continued.” His statement doesn’t suggest that he tipped the Medley analyst initially. Indeed, the Fed board’s own investigation said “a few Federal Reserve personnel” had contact with the Medley analyst.

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Lacker the only leaker? Doesn’t quite look that way.

I Tried To Ask Yellen About The Fed Leak (Da Costa)

I once asked Janet Yellen a rather straightforward question that would echo for much longer than I expected. It was March 2015, and the Federal Reserve was under pressure from Congress to reveal details about an internal investigation into how key details of its interest rate policy deliberations had made their way into a report by a private sector firm. I was a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, and I asked the following at a press conference:

Let’s make something clear: Like any journalist, I love a good leak. But this was not your typical leak of important information to a journalist who then reported it to the public. This was the sharing of private, market-sensitive details with a private party – Medley Global Advisors – which then shared that information with its clients. The leak, it should be noted, happened all the way back in 2012 but it was still being discussed in 2015 because – despite the Fed’s internal investigation – nobody seemed to have gotten to the bottom of what had happened. And back in 2012, any read on what the Federal Reserve might do to suppress interest rates as the US economy continued to crawl out of the Great Recession, could lead to huge profits for the traders who bet on such things. These days, traders are thinking about the next rate hike.

Back then, interest rates were already at zero and the real insight gleaned from Medley’s report was how aggressively the Fed would work to keep them there by using its balance sheet. My question to Yellen had to do with basic public trust in the Fed. Why should the American people believe the central bank is working in its best interests if policymakers chat privately with movers and shakers on Wall Street? This was an alarming trend I had been reporting on since 2010, when I co-authored a report for Reuters entitled “Cozying up to big investors at Club Fed.” In it, my colleagues and I detailed other instances of market-moving information inappropriately being shared with investors, a trend we first observed when Fed officials speaking to bankers and hedge fund managers at conferences would suddenly go silent when a reporter walked by.

After the Yellen press conference, I took two weeks of paid leave for the birth of my daughter. When I returned, my editor at the paper told me I would no longer be attending Fed press conferences. No reason was given, and I left the job a few months later. Market bloggers speculated the Fed had “banned” me from the press conference. I have no reason to think that was the case because the central bank let me back in as soon as I changed news organizations. Fast-forward to April 4, 2017: Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker resigns abruptly after admitting he was a source of the leak. As soon as I saw the news, the whole press conference incident flashed before my eyes. But Lacker’s admission that the Medley leak originated with him doesn’t entirely settle the matter. We know Yellen also met with Medley herself. Why? What did she say to them? Former Fed economist and Treasury official Seth Carpenter was also under scrutiny on the issue. What were the results of the Fed’s own investigation? And of Congress’?

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Meanwhile in the gutter….

Australia’s Household Debt Crisis Is Worse Than Ever (Abc.au)

Mr Russell told me there had been a big increase in debt-distressed Australians calling the [National Debt] helpline in recent months unable to pay their utilities bills. Naturally, he explained, rent and mortgage repayments take priority over the utilities bills because, in the order of survival priorities, you first need a roof over your head. Generally speaking, though, the National Debt helpline told me the rising cost of living is becoming crippling. Utilities bills, mortgage repayments and credit card debt, are all contributing to household financial stress. Last year over 150,000 calls were made to the National Debt Helpline. This year, monthly call volumes for the helpline are already 20% higher, compared to 2016. Based on current call volumes, the NDH predicts that there will be over 182,000 calls this year.

Martin North is the principal of financial research firm Digital Finance Analytics. He crunched the numbers and calculated that, in March, of the 3.1 million mortgaged households, around 22% were in “mild mortgage stress”. That’s up 1.5% on February, and is directly related to the even the smallest of interest rate increases by some of the big four banks. That means those households are managing to make their mortgage repayments, but only by cutting back on other expenditure, or putting more on credit cards, and generally hunkering down. Then there are those Australians under extreme levels of financial stress. Data from Digital Finance Analytics show 1% of households are in severe stress. That means they’re behind with their repayments, and are trying to dig their way out by refinancing, selling their property, or seeking help from services like the National Debt Helpline.

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Ha ha: “Our banks are resilient and they are soundly capitalised,” he said.”

Australian Economy At Risk As Debt Bomb Grows (Aus.)

The rampant debt-fuelled surge in the Sydney and Melbourne property markets will threaten the health of the national economy if it continues, Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has warned. However, Treasurer Scott Morrison has talked down drastic action on house prices after a “strong intervention” from Dr Lowe. The RBA is worried that housing debts are rising more than twice as fast as household incomes and that banks are lending to people who cannot afford to repay their debts. The concern has been that the longer the recent trends continued, the greater the risk to the future health of the Australian economy, Dr Lowe told a business dinner in Melbourne last night. “Stretched balance sheets make for more volatility when things turn down.” “For many people, the high debt levels and low wage growth are a sobering combination.”

The chairman of the government’s Financial System Inquiry, former Future Fund chairman David Murray, yesterday sounded a further alarm on the housing boom, saying a crisis on the scale of the 1890s great property collapse could not be ruled out. “What people should do is look at the 1890s, which was caused by a housing land boom,” he told The Australian. “To say it won’t happen and simply ignore it is wrong.” Half of the nation’s banks closed their doors following the 1890s crash. “Many people say a crisis has a low probability of occurrence, but the problem with that view is that whatever the probability, the severity can be very high if it occurs”, Mr Murray, who is also a former Commonwealth Bank chief executive, said. “It shouldn t be allowed to grow & it’s too big a risk to take.”

[..] House prices in Australia’s capital cities have risen 12.9% compared with this time last year, with a surge of 18.9% in Sydney and 15.9% in Melbourne, according to data released on Monday by property analytics firm CoreLogic. [..] Dr Lowe dismissed fears that the banks would be undermined by a housing downturn, saying the Council of Financial Regulators did not believe the boom was a threat to financial stability. “Our banks are resilient and they are soundly capitalised,” he said.

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In China, the shadow banks are taking over…

Chinese Brokers Are Muscling in on Asia’s Junk Bond Underwriters

China’s brokerages are out-muscling global investment banks to win more underwriting business in Asia’s junk bond market amid record offerings, as they increasingly help borrowers from the nation raise foreign currency debt. Haitong Securities topped the league table for high-yield notes denominated in dollars, euro and yen from companies in Asia excluding Japan in the first quarter, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. China Merchants Securities moved up four places to fifth. While HSBC rose three places to second, Standard Chartered and UBS slid to eighth and 11th from first and second in the first quarter of 2016. Junk bonds offer more lucrative fees than high-grade bonds, giving an extra boost to financial institutions that can expand in the business.

As Chinese firms have flocked to the offshore high-yield market, mainland banks and brokerage firms have grabbed market share away from international peers. Issuance of junk notes in dollars, euro and yen from Asia excluding Japan swelled to a record $14.6 billion in the first quarter, with nearly 70% from Chinese companies. “It’s increasingly competitive and Chinese banks are effectively buying market share with their balance sheet,” said Veronique Lafon-Vinais at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Alexi Chan, global co-head of debt capital markets at HSBC, said that the significant rise in Asia high-yield bond sales reflected the “constructive market sentiment” and “positive outlook for China’s economy.”

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… and in Japan, the zombies take over.

Zombie Nation: In Japan, Zero Public Companies Went Bust in 2016 (BBG)

Corporate Japan achieved a rare feat in the fiscal year that ended last week. Not one of its almost 4,000 publicly-traded firms filed for bankruptcy protection. Yet that’s no reason to celebrate, according to analysts who see Japan’s easy credit conditions standing in the way of a much-needed, corporate restructuring to flush out failing companies and make room for new businesses. “It’s totally unhealthy,” says Martin Schulz, an economist at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo. “Japan’s business cycle isn’t working. When no old companies go out of business, no new ones can come in because there isn’t room. The old companies will always compete on price, simply because they can.”

The last time not a single Japanese corporate titan went belly up was a four-year stretch 26 years ago, according to a report published this week by research firm Teikoku Databank. Back then, though, an overheated Japanese economy averaged 5.5% growth per year and then hit a wall when stock and real estate asset bubbles burst. This time, ultra-low interest rates and government loan guarantees left over from the global financial crisis are keeping companies afloat. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touts fewer business failures as an economic success, but critics say too-easy credit is keeping “zombie” firms alive, worsening labor shortages, and excess competition is putting downward pressure on prices.

The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942 coined the term “creative destruction” to describe the messy way that capitalism reinvents itself. Japan may be stuck in a rut because it refuses to take the economic pain needed for a revival. Yet it’s hardly the only country keeping companies on life support. A January study by the OECD blamed zombies – defined as firms with persistent difficulties paying interest on debt – for slowing productivity, and thus causing sluggish growth, in the developed world. In South Korea, where the shipping industry has been hit by slumping global trade, state-run banks last month agreed to lend Daewoo Shipbuilding $2.6 billion and swap debt for equity to prevent a default. It was the second time in less than two years that the troubled shipbuilder was bailed out.

In China, roughly 10% of the country’s publicly-traded companies are “among the walking dead,” being kept alive by continuous support from government and banks, according to research by He Fan, an economist at Beijing’s Renmin University. Banks keep lending, often because they don’t want to own up to their bad debts. Meanwhile, the government fears the unemployment that would result if so many troubled firms were left to wither away.

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“..the owners of property along the subway line experience a rise in property values. They owe their increased wealth and their increased incomes from the rental values of their properties to the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. If these gains were taxed away, the subway line could have been financed without taxpayers’ money.”

The World’s Best Economist (PCR)

If you want to learn real economics instead of neoliberal junk economics, read Michael Hudson’s books. What you will learn is that neoliberal economics is an apology for the rentier class and the large banks that have succeeded in financializing the economy, shifting consumer spending power from the purchase of goods and services that drive the real economy to the payment of interest and fees to banks. His latest book is J is for Junk Economics. It is written in the form of a dictionary, but the definitions give you the precise meaning of economic terms, the history of economic concepts, and describe the transformation of economics from classical economics, where the emphasis was on taxing incomes that are not the product of the production of goods and services, to neoliberal economics, which rests on the taxation of labor and production.

This is an important difference that is not easy to understand. Classical economists defined “unearned income” as “economic rent.” This is not the rent that you pay for your apartment. Economic rent is an income stream that has no counterpart in cost incurred by the receipient of the income stream. For example, when a public authority, say the city of Alexandria, Virginia, decides to connect Alexandria with Washington, D.C., and with itself, with a subway paid for with public money, the owners of property along the subway line experience a rise in property values. They owe their increased wealth and their increased incomes from the rental values of their properties to the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. If these gains were taxed away, the subway line could have been financed without taxpayers’ money.

It is these gains in value produced by the subway, or by a taxpayer-financed road across property, or by having beachfront property instead of property off the beach, or by having property on the sunny side of the street in a business area that are “economic rents.” Monopoly profits due to a unique positioning are also economic rents. Hudson adds to these rents the interest that governments pay to bondholders when governments can avoid the issuance of bonds by printing money instead of bonds. When governments allow private banks to create the money with which to purchase the government’s bonds, the governments create liabilities for taxpayers than are easily avoidable if, instead, government created the money themselves to finance their projects. The buildup of public debt is entirely unnecessary.

No less money is created by the banks that buy government bonds than would be created if the government printed money instead of bonds. The inability of neoliberal economics to differentiate income streams that are economic rents with no cost of production from produced output makes the National Income and Product Accounts, the main source of data on economic activity in the US, extremely misleading. The economy can be said to be growing because public debt-financed investment projects raise the rents along subway lines. “Free market” economists today are different from the classical free market economists. Classical economists, such as Adam Smith, understood a free market to be one in which taxation freed the economy from untaxed economic rents. In neoliberal economics, Hudson explains, “free market” means freedom for rent extraction free of government taxation and regulation. This is a huge difference.

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I got nothing. We’re doomed.

New Zealand Post To Deliver KFC (AFP)

New Zealand Post has announced its couriers will home-deliver KFC fast food, in a trial that could provide a recipe for success as letter volumes continue to dwindle. Under a pilot scheme that started this week in the North Island town of Tauranga, KFC customers can order online and have their food delivered by NZ Post drivers. KFC operator Restaurant Brands NZ said that while it knew how to produce food, it had no experience in logistics, making the postal service a natural fit. “NZ Post has an extensive delivery distribution network around New Zealand, and KFC is available in most towns nationwide,” chief executive Ian Letele said.

“With the support of NZ Post, we hope to service the home delivery needs of many more KFC customers throughout New Zealand.” New Zealand Post has struggled in the digital age as email and texts have replaced traditional “snail mail”. The state-owned service slashed 2,000 jobs, or 20% of its workforce in 2013, and two years later moved to three-day-a-week deliveries, down from six. It said in its last financial statement that the fall in letter deliveries meant it was losing up to NZ$30 million ($21 million) a year in revenue. However, it said parcel volumes were up due to rising online orders and NZ Post was concentrating on capturing more e-commerce business.

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Mar 232017
 
 March 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Unknown GMC truck Associated Oil fuel tanker, San Francisco 1935

 

I Don’t Think The US Should Remain As One Political Entity – Casey (IM)
Trump Tantrum Looms On Wall Street If Healthcare Effort Stalls (R.)
The US Student Debt Bubble Is Even Bigger Than The Subprime Fiasco (Black)
US Auto-Loan Quality To Deteriorate Further, Forcing Tighter Underwriting (MW)
Oil Price Drops Below $50 For First Time Since OPEC Deal (Tel.)
China Shadow Banks Hit by Record Premium for One-Week Cash (ZH)
Zombie Companies are China’s Real Problem (BBG)
China Debt Risks Go Global Amid Record Junk Sales Abroad (BBG)
A Fake $3.6 Trillion Deal Is Easy to Sneak Past the SEC
Elite Economists: Often Wrong, Never In Doubt (720G)
Trump the Destroyer (Matt Taibbi)
Erdogan Warns Europeans ‘Will Not Walk Safely’ If Attitude Persists (R.)
Lavish EU Rome Treaty Summit Will Skirt Issues in Stumbling Italy (BBG)
Greek Consumption Slumps Further In 2017 (K.)
Nine Years Later, Greece Is Still In A Debt Crisis.. (Black)
In Greece, Europe’s New Rules Strip Refugees Of Right To Seek Protection (K.)

 

 

So there.

I Don’t Think The US Should Remain As One Political Entity – Casey (IM)

What’s going on in the US now is a culture clash. The people that live in the so-called “red counties” that voted for Trump—which is the vast majority of the geographical area of the US, flyover country—are aligned against the people that live in the blue counties, the coasts and big cities. They don’t just dislike each other and disagree on politics; they can no longer even have a conversation. They hate each other on a visceral gut level. They have totally different world views. It’s a culture clash. I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime.

There hasn’t been anything like this since the War Between the States, which shouldn’t be called “The Civil War,” because it wasn’t a civil war. A civil war is where two groups try to take over the same government. It was a war of secession, where one group simply tries to leave. We might have something like that again, hopefully nonviolent this time. I don’t think the US should any longer remain as one political entity. It should break up so that people with one cultural view can join that group and the others join other groups. National unity is an anachronism.

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Credibility.

Trump Tantrum Looms On Wall Street If Healthcare Effort Stalls (R.)

The Trump Trade could start looking more like a Trump Tantrum if the new U.S. administration’s healthcare bill stalls in Congress, prompting worries on Wall Street about tax cuts and other measures aimed at promoting economic growth. Investors are dialing back hopes that U.S. President Donald Trump will swiftly enact his agenda, with a Thursday vote on a healthcare bill a litmus test which could give stock investors another reason to sell. “If the vote doesn’t pass, or is postponed, it will cast a lot of doubt on the Trump trades,” said the influential bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive at DoubleLine Capital. U.S. stocks rallied after the November presidential election, with the S&P 500 posting a string of record highs up to earlier this month, on bets that the pro-growth Trump agenda would be quickly pushed by a Republican Party with majorities in both chambers of Congress.

The S&P 500 ended slightly higher on Wednesday, the day before a floor vote on Trump’s healthcare proposal scheduled in the House of Representatives. On Tuesday, stocks had the biggest one-day drop since before Trump won the election, on concerns about opposition to the bill. Investors extrapolated that a stalling bill could mean uphill battles for other Trump proposals. Trump and Republican congressional leaders appeared to be losing the battle to get enough support to pass it. Any hint of further trouble for Trump’s agenda, especially his proposed tax cut, could precipitate a stock market correction, said Byron Wien, veteran investor and vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners. “The fact that they are having trouble with (healthcare repeal) casts a shadow over the tax cut and the tax cut was supposed to be the principal fiscal stimulus for the improvement in real GDP,” Wien said. “Without that improvement in GDP, earnings aren’t going to be there and the market is vulnerable.”

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“This is particularly interesting because student loans essentially have no collateral.”

The US Student Debt Bubble Is Even Bigger Than The Subprime Fiasco (Black)

In 1988, a bank called Guardian Savings and Loan made financial history by issuing the first ever “subprime” mortgage bond. The idea was revolutionary. The bank essentially took all the mortgages they had loaned to borrowers with bad credit, and pooled everything together into a giant bond that they could then sell to other banks and investors. The idea caught on, and pretty soon, everyone was doing it. As Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera describe in their excellent history of the financial crisis (All the Devils are Here), the first subprime bubble hit in the 1990s. Early subprime lenders like First Alliance Mortgage Company (FAMCO) had spent years making aggressive loans to people with bad credit, and eventually the consequences caught up with them. FAMCO declared bankruptcy in 2000, and many of its competitors went bust as well.

Wall Street claimed that it had learned its lesson, and the government gave them all a slap on the wrist. But it didn’t take very long for the madness to start again. By 2002, banks were already loaning money to high-risk borrowers. And by 2005, all conservative lending standards had been abandoned. Borrowers with pitiful credit and no job could borrow vast sums of money to buy a house without putting down a single penny. It was madness. By 2007, the total value of these subprime loans hit a whopping $1.3 trillion. Remember that number. And of course, we know what happened the next year: the entire financial system came crashing down. Duh. It turned out that making $1.3 trillion worth of idiotic loans wasn’t such a good idea. By 2009, 50% of those subprime mortgages were “underwater”, meaning that borrowers owed more money on the mortgage than the home was worth.

In fact, delinquency rates for ALL mortgages across the country peaked at 11.5% in 2010, which only extended the crisis. But hey, at least that’s never going to happen again. Except… I was looking at some data the other day in a slightly different market: student loans. Over the last decade or so, there’s been an absolute explosion in student loans, growing from $260 billion in 2004 to $1.31 trillion last year. So, the total value of student loans in America today is LARGER than the total value of subprime loans at the peak of the financial bubble. And just like the subprime mortgages, many student loans are in default. According to the Fed’s most recent Household Debt and Credit Report, the student loan default rate is 11.2%, almost the same as the peak mortgage default rate in 2010. This is particularly interesting because student loans essentially have no collateral. Lenders make loans to students… but it’s not like the students have to pony up their iPhones as security.

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You have to wonder what exactly is keeping the US economy afloat.

US Auto-Loan Quality To Deteriorate Further, Forcing Tighter Underwriting (MW)

Auto loan and lease credit performance will continue to deteriorate in 2017, led by the vulnerable subprime sector, Fitch Ratings said in a report released Wednesday. “Subprime credit losses are accelerating faster than the prime segment, and this trend is likely to continue as a result of looser underwriting standards by lenders in recent years,” said Michael Taiano, a director at the credit-ratings agency. Banks are starting to lose market share to captive auto finance companies and credit unions as they begin to tighten underwriting standards in response to deteriorating asset quality, Fitch said. According to the Federal Reserve’s January 2017 senior loan officer survey, 11.6% of respondents (net of those who eased) reported tightening standards, compared with the five-year average of 6.1%.

“This trend is consistent with comments made by several banks on earnings conference calls over the past couple of quarters,” Fitch said in the report. Fitch considers continued tightening by auto lenders as a credit-positive but it’s also paying attention to market nuances. The tightening, to date, primarily relates to pricing and loan-to-value (how much is still owed on the car compared to its resale value), but average loan terms continue to extend into the 72- to 84-month category. “The tightening of underwriting standards is likely a response to expected deterioration in used vehicle prices and the weaker credit performance experienced in the subprime segment,” added Taiano. Used-car price declines have accelerated more recently, which will likely pressure recovery values on defaulted loans and lease residuals, the analysts said.

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Might as well call off the theater.

Oil Price Drops Below $50 For First Time Since OPEC Deal (Tel.)

The oil price has fallen back below the key $50 a barrel mark for the first time since November after surging US oil supplies dealt a blow to OPEC’s plan to erode the global oversupply of crude. The flagging oil price bounded above $50 a barrel late last year after a historic co-operation deal between OPEC and the world’s largest oil producers outside of the cartel to limit output for the first half of this year. The November deal was the first action taken by the group to limit supply for over eight years but since then the quicker than expected return of fracking rigs across the US has punctured the buoyant market sentiment of recent months. Brent crude prices peaked at $56 a barrel earlier this year and were still above $52 this week.

But by Wednesday the price fell to just above $50 a barrel and briefly broke below the important psychological level to $49.86 on Wednesday afternoon. Market analysts fear that a more sustained period below $50 could trigger a sell-off from hedge funds which would drive even greater losses in the market. The price plunge was sparked by the latest weekly US stockpile data which revealed a bigger than expected increase of 5 million barrels a day compared to a forecast rise of 1.8 million barrels. The flood of US shale emerged a day after Libya announced that would increase its output to take advantage of higher revenues from its oil exports. “The market is increasingly worried that the continued overhang of supply is not being brought down fast enough,” said Ole Hansen, a commodities analyst with SaxoBank.

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Beijing forced to save the shadows.

China Shadow Banks Hit by Record Premium for One-Week Cash (ZH)

During the so-called Chinese Banking Liquidity Crisis of 2013, the relative cost of funds for non-bank institutions spiked to 100bps. So, the fact that the ‘shadow banking’ liquidity premium has exploded to almost 250 points – by far a record – in the last few days should indicate just how stressed Chinese money markets are. While interbank borrowing rates have climbed across the board, the surge has been unusually steep for non-bank institutions, including securities companies and investment firms. They’re now paying what amounts to a record premium for short-term funds relative to large Chinese banks, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The premium is reflected in the gap between China’s seven-day repurchase rate fixing and the weighted average rate, which, by Bloomberg notes, widened to as much as 2.47 percentage points on Wednesday after some small lenders were said to miss payments in the interbank market. Non-bank borrowers tend to have a greater influence on the fixing, while large banks have more sway over the weighted average. “It’s more expensive and difficult for non-bank financial institutions to get funding in the market,” said Becky Liu at Standard Chartered. “Bigger lenders who have access to regulatory funding are not lending much of the money out.” Without access to deposits or central bank liquidity facilities, many of China’s non-bank institutions must rely on volatile money markets. As Bloomberg points out, The People’s Bank of China has been guiding those rates higher in recent months to encourage a reduction of leverage, while also stepping in at times to prevent a liquidity crunch.

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State owned zombies.

Zombie Companies are China’s Real Problem (BBG)

China needs to take on its state-owned “zombie companies,” which keep borrowing even though they aren’t earning enough to repay loans or interest, says Nicholas Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “That’s where the real problem is,” Lardy said Thursday in a Bloomberg Television interview from the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual conference on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. “It’s a component of the run-up in debt that they really have to focus on.” While flagging this concern, Lardy, a senior fellow at Peterson in Washington and author of “Markets Over Mao: The Rise of Private Business in China,” said anxiety over China’s debt growth is overstated. Household deposits will continue to underpin the banking and financial system, which means the situation with zombie firms is unlikely to reach a critical point.

Household savings are “very sticky, they’re not going anywhere, and the central bank can come in to the rescue if there are problems,” he said. Chinese corporate profits will probably continue to recover this year and after-tax earnings needed to service the debt load is improving, Lardy said. Another positive sign is a slowdown in the buildup of debt outstanding to non-financial companies. The combination of that slackening and companies’ increasing earning power “is improving the overall situation,” he said. When it comes to U.S. President Donald Trump’s negative rhetoric on China, the country’s leaders deserve “very high marks so far” for their cool reaction. “They’ve been waiting to see what Mr. Trump is actually going to do as opposed to what he’s talked about, so they haven’t overreacted,” he said. “They’ve made very careful preparations for the worst case if Trump does move in a very strong protectionist direction.”

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Zombies and junk.

China Debt Risks Go Global Amid Record Junk Sales Abroad (BBG)

China’s riskiest corporate borrowers are raising an unprecedented amount of debt overseas, leaving global investors to shoulder more credit risks after onshore defaults quadrupled in 2016. Junk-rated firms, most of which are property developers, have sold $6.1 billion of dollar bonds since Dec. 31, a record quarter, data compiled by Bloomberg show. In contrast, such borrowers have slashed fundraising at home as the central bank pushes up borrowing costs and regulators curb real estate financing. Onshore yuan note offerings by companies with local ratings of AA, considered junk in China, fell this quarter to the least since 2011 at 31.3 billion yuan ($4.54 billion). Global investors desperate for yield have lapped up offerings from China. Rates on dollar junk notes from the nation have dropped 81 basis points this year to 6.11%, near a record low, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch index.

Some investors have warned of froth. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said last month that it sees little value in the country’s high-yield property bonds. Hedge fund Double Haven Capital (Hong Kong) has said it is betting against Chinese junk securities. “Today’s market valuations are tight and investors are focusing on yields without taking into account credit risks,” said Raja Mukherji at PIMCO. “That’s where I see a lot of risk, where investors are not differentiating on credit quality on a risk-adjusted basis.” Lower-rated issuers turning to dollar debt after scrapping financing at home include Shandong Yuhuang Chemical on China’s east coast. The chemical firm canceled a 500 million yuan local bond sale in January citing “insufficient demand.” It then issued $300 million of three-year bonds at 6.625% this week. Some developers have grown desperate for cash as regulators tighten housing curbs and restrict their domestic fundraising. That’s raising concern among international investors in China’s real estate sector who have been burned before.

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Priceless humor: “Congress has already raised the alarm.” After three decades, that is.

A Fake $3.6 Trillion Deal Is Easy to Sneak Past the SEC

A few hours after the New York market close on Feb. 1, an obscure Chicago artist by the name of Antonio Lee told the world he had become the world’s richest man. The 32-year-old painter said Google’s parent, Alphabet Inc., had bought his art company in exchange for a chunk of stock that made him wealthier than Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos – combined. Of course, none of it was true. Yet, on that day, Lee managed to issue his fabricated report in the most authoritative of places: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Edgar database – the foundation of hundreds of billions of dollars in financial transactions each day. For more than three decades, the SEC has accepted online submissions of regulatory filings – basically, no questions asked.

As many as 800,000 forms are filed each year, or about 3,000 per weekday. But, in a little known vulnerability at the heart of American capitalism, the government doesn’t vet them, and rarely even takes down those known to be shams. “The SEC can’t stop them,” said Lawrence West, a former SEC associate enforcement director. “They can only punish the filer afterward and remove the filing from the system. So, caveat lector – let the reader beware.” Congress has already raised the alarm. For its part, the SEC, which declined to comment, has said those who make filings are responsible for their truthfulness and that only a handful have been reported as bogus. Submitting false information exposes the culprit to SEC civil-fraud charges, or even federal criminal prosecution.

On May 14, 2015, Nedko Nedev, a dual citizen of the United States and Bulgaria, filed an SEC form indicating he was making a tender offer – an outright purchase – for Avon, the cosmetics company. Avon’s shares jumped 20% before trading was halted, and the company denied the news. (A federal grand jury later indicted Nedev on market manipulation and other charges.) After the fraudulent Avon filing, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican and former chairman of the Finance Committee, told the SEC it must review its posting standards. “This pattern of fraudulent conduct is troubling, especially in light of the relative ease in which a fake posting can be made,” Grassley wrote in a letter to the agency. In response, Mary Jo White, who then chaired the SEC, said it wouldn’t be feasible to check information. She noted that there were on average 125 first-time filers daily in 2014, and the agency was studying whether its authentication process could be strengthened without delaying disclosure of key information to investors.

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Only a major reset will do.

Elite Economists: Often Wrong, Never In Doubt (720G)

Since the U.S. economic recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, institutional economists began each subsequent year outlining their well-paid view of how things will transpire over the course of the coming 12-months. Like a broken record, they have continually over-estimated expectations for growth, inflation, consumer spending and capital expenditures. Their optimistic biases were based on the eventual success of the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) plan to restart the economy by encouraging the assumption of more debt by consumers and corporations alike. But in 2017, something important changed. For the first time since the financial crisis, there will be a new administration in power directing public policy, and the new regime could not be more different from the one that just departed. This is important because of the ubiquitous influence of politics.

The anxiety and uncertainties of those first few years following the worst recession since the Great Depression gradually gave way to an uncomfortable stability. The anxieties of losing jobs and homes subsided but yielded to the frustration of always remaining a step or two behind prosperity. While job prospects slowly improved, wages did not. Business did not boom as is normally the case within a few quarters of a recovery, and the cost of education and health care stole what little ground most Americans thought they were making. Politics was at work in ways with which many were pleased, but many more were not. If that were not the case, then Donald Trump probably would not be the 45th President of the United States. Within hours of Donald Trump’s victory, U.S. markets began to anticipate, for the first time since the financial crisis, an escape hatch out of financial repression and regulatory oppression.

As shown below, an element of economic and financial optimism that had been missing since at least 2008 began to re-emerge. What the Fed struggled to manufacture in eight years of extraordinary monetary policy actions, the election of Donald Trump accomplished quite literally overnight. Expectations for a dramatic change in public policy under a new administration radically improved sentiment. Whether or not these changes are durable will depend upon the economy’s ability to match expectations.

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I find the Trump bashing parade very tiresome, but Matt’s funny.

Trump the Destroyer (Matt Taibbi)

There is no other story in the world, no other show to watch. The first and most notable consequence of Trump’s administration is that his ability to generate celebrity has massively increased, his persona now turbocharged by the vast powers of the presidency. Trump has always been a reality star without peer, but now the most powerful man on Earth is prisoner to his talents as an attention-generation machine. Worse, he is leader of a society incapable of discouraging him. The numbers bear out that we are living through a severely amplified déjà vu of last year’s media-Trump codependent lunacies. TV-news viewership traditionally plummets after a presidential election, but under Trump, it’s soaring. Ratings since November for the major cable news networks are up an astonishing 50% in some cases, with CNN expecting to improve on its record 2016 to make a billion dollars – that’s billion with a “b” – in profits this year.

Even the long-suffering newspaper business is crawling off its deathbed, with The New York Times adding 132,000 subscribers in the first 18 days after the election. If Trump really hates the press, being the first person in decades to reverse the industry’s seemingly inexorable financial decline sure is a funny way of showing it. On the campaign trail, ballooning celebrity equaled victory. But as the country is finding out, fame and governance have nothing to do with one another. Trump! is bigger than ever. But the Trump presidency is fast withering on the vine in a bizarre, Dorian Gray-style inverse correlation. Which would be a problem for Trump, if he cared. But does he? During the election, Trump exploded every idea we ever had about how politics is supposed to work. The easiest marks in his con-artist conquest of the system were the people who kept trying to measure him according to conventional standards of candidate behavior.

You remember the Beltway priests who said no one could ever win the White House by insulting women, the disabled, veterans, Hispanics, “the blacks,” by using a Charlie Chan voice to talk about Asians, etc. Now he’s in office and we’re again facing the trap of conventional assumptions. Surely Trump wants to rule? It couldn’t be that the presidency is just a puppy Trump never intended to care for, could it? Toward the end of his CPAC speech, following a fusillade of anti-media tirades that will dominate the headlines for days, Trump, in an offhand voice, casually mentions what a chore the presidency can be. “I still don’t have my Cabinet approved,” he sighs. In truth, Trump does have much of his team approved. In the early days of his administration, while his Democratic opposition was still reeling from November’s defeat, Trump managed to stuff the top of his Cabinet with a jaw-dropping collection of perverts, tyrants and imbeciles, the likes of which Washington has never seen.

En route to taking this crucial first beachhead in his invasion of the capital, Trump did what he always does: stoked chaos, created hurricanes of misdirection, ignored rules and dared the system of checks and balances to stop him. By conventional standards, the system held up fairly well. But this is not a conventional president. He was a new kind of candidate and now is a new kind of leader: one who stumbles like a drunk up Capitol Hill, but manages even in defeat to continually pull the country in his direction, transforming not our laws but our consciousness, one shriveling brain cell at a time.

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Tourism is a very big source of income for Turkey. Erdogan’s killing it off with a vengeance.

Erdogan Warns Europeans ‘Will Not Walk Safely’ If Attitude Persists (R.)

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Europeans would not be able to walk safely on the streets if they kept up their current attitude toward Turkey, his latest salvo in a row over campaigning by Turkish politicians in Europe. Turkey has been embroiled in a dispute with Germany and the Netherlands over campaign appearances by Turkish officials seeking to drum up support for an April 16 referendum that could boost Erdogan’s powers. Ankara has accused its European allies of using “Nazi methods” by banning Turkish ministers from addressing rallies in Europe over security concerns. The comments have led to a sharp deterioration in ties with the European Union, which Turkey still aspires to join.

“Turkey is not a country you can pull and push around, not a country whose citizens you can drag on the ground,” Erdogan said at an event for Turkish journalists in Ankara, in comments broadcast live on national television. “If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets. Europe will be damaged by this. We, as Turkey, call on Europe to respect human rights and democracy,” he said. Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier used his first speech as president on Wednesday to warn Erdogan that he risked destroying everything his country had achieved in recent years, and that he risked damaging diplomatic ties. “The way we look (at Turkey) is characterized by worry, that everything that has been built up over years and decades is collapsing,” Steinmeier said in his inaugural speech in the largely ceremonial role. He called for an end to the “unspeakable Nazi comparisons.”

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Can’t let a little crisis get in the way of your champagne and caviar.

Lavish EU Rome Treaty Summit Will Skirt Issues in Stumbling Italy (BBG)

As leaders celebrate the European Union’s 60th birthday in Rome this weekend, the host nation may be hoping that a pomp-filled ceremony distracts from any probing questions. Overshadowed by the sting of Brexit and elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany, Italy’s lingering problems have left it as the weak link among Europe’s powerhouse economies. It’s stumbling through a stop-start slow recovery from a record-long recession, unemployment is twice that of Germany’s, and voters, weary of EU institutions, are flirting with the same kind of populism grabbing attention elsewhere. The gathering on Saturday on the city’s Capitol hill is to celebrate the Treaty of Rome, the bedrock agreement signed on March 25, 1957 for what is now the EU.

From its beginnings as the European Economic Community – with Italy among the six founding members – it has since grown to a union of 28 nations stretching 4,000 kilometers from Ireland in the northwest to Cyprus in the southeast. The U.K. is heading toward a lengthy exit from the EU known as Brexit, raising questions among the remaining 27 about the bloc’s long-term future. “Italy was until very recently at the forefront of the European integration process,” Luigi Zingales, professor of finance at University of Chicago Booth School of Business, said in an interview. “Today it’s undoubtedly Europe’s weakest link.” The economy grew just 0.9% last year, below the euro area’s 1.7%, and unemployment is at 11.9%. A recent EU poll put Italy as the monetary union’s second-most euro-skeptic state after Cyprus with only 41% saying the single currency is “a good thing.” The average in the 19-member euro area is 56%.

That widespread disenchantment may be felt at elections due in about one year. A poll published on Tuesday by Corriere della Sera put support for the Five Star Movement, which calls for a referendum to ditch the euro, at a record 32.3%, well ahead of the ruling Democratic Party. Summit host Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has only been in power since December, when Matteo Renzi resigned after losing a constitutional reform referendum. For Zingales, Italy has problems that European policy makers “would rather not talk about now as they don’t want to scare people.” That’s because across the bloc, politicians are still fighting voter resentment over the loss of wealth since the financial crisis, bitterness about bailouts and anger over a perceived increase in inequality. “Sixty years after the signing of the Treaties of Rome, the risk of political paralysis in Europe has never been greater,” Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco told a conference in Rome this month.

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The EU can celebrate only because it’s murdering one of its members. Greece needs stimulus but gets the opposite.

Greek Consumption Slumps Further In 2017 (K.)

The year has started with some alarm bells regarding the course of consumer spending, generating concern not only about the impact on the supermarket sector and industry, but also on the economy in general. In the first week of March the year-on-year drop in supermarket turnover amounted to 15%, while in January the decline had come to 10%. Shrinking consumption is a sure sign that the economic contraction will be extended into another year, given its important role in the economy. The new indirect taxes on a number of commodities, the increased social security contributions, the persistently high unemployment and the ongoing uncertainty over the bailout review talks have hurt consumer confidence and eroded disposable incomes.

In this context, it will be exceptionally difficult to achieve the fiscal targets, especially if the uncertainty goes on or is ended with the imposition of additional austerity measures that would only see incomes shrink further. According to projections by IRI market researchers, supermarket sales in 2017 are expected to decline 3.6% from last year, with the worst-case scenario pointing to a 4.4% drop. Supermarket sales turnover dropped at the steepest rate seen in the crisis years in 2016, down 6.5%, after falling 2.1% in 2015, 1.4% in 2014, 3.5% in 2013 and 3.4% in 2012.

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“For a continent that has been at war with itself for 10 centuries and only managed to play nice for the last 30 or so years, it’s foolish to expect these bailouts to last forever.”

Nine Years Later, Greece Is Still In A Debt Crisis.. (Black)

Greece has had nine different governments since 2009. At least thirteen austerity measures. Multiple bailouts. Severe capital controls. And a full-out debt restructuring in which creditors accepted a 50% loss. Yet despite all these measures GREECE IS STILL IN A DEBT CRISIS. Right now, in fact, Greece is careening towards another major chapter in its never-ending debt drama. Just like the United States, the Greek government is set to run out of money (yet again) in a few months and is in need of a fresh bailout from the IMF and EU. (The EU is code for “Germany”…) Without another bailout, Greece will go bust in July– this is basic arithmetic, not some wild theory. And this matters. If Greece defaults, everyone dumb enough to have loaned them money will take a BIG hit. This includes a multitude of banks across Germany, Austria, France, and the rest of Europe.

Many of those banks already have extremely low levels of capital and simply cannot afford a major loss. (Last year, for example, the IMF specifically singled out Germany’s Deutsche Bank as being the top contributor to systemic risk in the global financial system.) So a Greek default poses as major risk to a number of those banks. More importantly, due to the interconnectedness of the financial system, a Greek default poses a major risk to anyone with exposure to those banks. Think about it like this: if Greece defaults and Bank A goes down, then Bank A will no longer be able to meet its obligations to Bank B. Bank B will suffer a loss as well. A single event can set off a chain reaction, what’s called ‘contagion’ in finance. And it’s possible that Greece could be that event. This is what European officials have been so desperate to prevent for the last nine years, and why they’ve always come to the rescue with a bailout.

It has nothing to do with community or generosity. They’re hopelessly trying to prevent another 2008-style meltdown of the financial system. But their measures have limits. How much longer do Greek citizens accept being vassals of Germany, suffering through debilitating capital controls and austerity measures? How much longer do German taxpayers continue forking over their hard-earned wages to bail out Greek retirees? After all, they’ve spent nine years trying to ‘fix’ Greece, and the situation has only become worse. For a continent that has been at war with itself for 10 centuries and only managed to play nice for the last 30 or so years, it’s foolish to expect these bailouts to last forever. And whether it’s this July or some date in the future, Greece could end up being the catalyst which sets off a chain reaction on both sides of the Atlantic.

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It’s time for lawyers to step in.

In Greece, Europe’s New Rules Strip Refugees Of Right To Seek Protection (K.)

EU leaders are celebrating a year since they carved out the agreement with Turkey that stemmed the flood of refugees seeking to escape war and strife on Europe’s doorstep. But the importance of the agreement goes far beyond the fact that it has contributed to deterring refugees from coming to Greece. At the Norwegian Refugee Council, we fear that the system Europe is putting in place in Greece is slowly stripping people of their right to seek international protection. Greece took the positive step to enshrine in law some key checks and balances to protect the vulnerable – a victim of torture, a disabled person, an unaccompanied child – so they could have their asylum case heard on the Greek mainland rather than remaining on the islands.

But a European Commission action plan is putting Greece under pressure to change safeguards enshrined in Greek law. NRC, along with other human rights and humanitarian organizations, wrote an open letter to the Greek Parliament this month urging lawmakers to keep that protection for those most in need. Importantly, this is just another quiet example of how what is happening in Greece is setting precedents that may irrevocably change the 1951 Refugee Convention. Europe is testing things out in Greece. [..] It was Europe and its postwar crisis that led to the 1951 convention that protects those displaced by war. Now that convention risks expiring on the doorstep of the same continent that gave birth to it – Europe is in danger of becoming, as NRC’s Secretary-General Jan Egeland has said, the convention’s “burial agent.”

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 December 11, 2016  Posted by at 9:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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‘Daly’ Somewhere in the South, possibly Miami 1941

The ECB Is Creating A World Of Zombie Banks And Zombie Companies (HandBl.)
Stocks Have Only Been This Expensive During Times Of Crisis (BI)
UK Government Faces New Brexit Court Case (R.)
Senate Quietly Passes “Countering Disinformation And Propaganda Act” (ZH)
Does Krugman Really Support The Working Class? (Dean Baker)
Non-OPEC Oil States Agree To Cuts In ‘Historic’ Deal (AFP)
Quebec Paves Way For More Oil And Gas Exploration (BBG)
Goa Goes Cashless: ‘Who Buys Fish With A Credit Card?’ (G.)
Greece Passes Austerity 2017 Budget, Eyes 2.7% Growth (AP)
The Icelandic Minister Who Refused To Help The FBI Frame Assange (Katoikos)
WikiLeaks Emails ‘Link Turkey Oil Minister To Isis Oil Trade’ (Ind.)
Russian Bombardment ‘Forces ISIS Out Of Palmyra’ Hours After Re-Entry (AFP)

 

 

“A large part of the European banking sector would be on the brink of collapse and no stress test could anticipate the magnitude of that kind of credit risk..”

The ECB Is Creating A World Of Zombie Banks And Zombie Companies (HandBl.)

Next year could turn out to be a make-or-break year for Europe. But unlike in 2008, neither the governments nor the central banks have sufficient means to deal with another crisis. And it’s not entirely clear whether their intervention last time actually made things better or worse. Take Mr. Draghi, for instance. By lowering interest rates in the euro zone and buying up debt en masse, he has been trying to give the European economy a much needed shot in the arm. Yet despite all of his efforts, the specter of deflation still looms over the bloc, the future of the common currency is uncertain and lenders in southern Europe are still fighting for their existence. At the same time, the negative effects of Mr. Draghi’s policies are becoming more apparent. The STOXX Europe 600 index may have closed at its highest level in more than two months earlier this week, but it’s still 65% lower than where it was before the financial crisis.

The IMF has even said it feared a third of European banks wouldn’t be able to become profitable again even if the economy were to recover. The weird thing about the way the European economy has fared after the financial crisis is that even though businesses have been struggling, not a lot of them are going under. Insolvencies have been below the historical average. In Germany, for instance, the%age of companies declaring bankruptcy was the same right before the Lehman Brothers crash as it was in the 1990s – between 1.5 and 2%. Since the crisis began, that metric has fallen steadily. In 2015, the last full year for which data is available, it stood at 0.6%. Insolvency rates have even dropped in the euro zone’s weakest members along its southern periphery. Common sense would have one believe that the number of bankruptcies increases in times of crisis – especially during crises as protracted as financial ones.

“With its zero interest rate policy and the massive purchasing of bonds, the ECB is undermining the process of creative destruction, which is so important to a market economy,” said Markus Krall at Goetz Partners in Frankfurt. The ECB, for its part, was willing to do anything to prevent the economy from tanking. The central bank flooded the banks with money, and that deluge reduced companies’ capital costs to practically nothing. Even the most inefficient businesses can survive in that environment. Mr. Krall did the math on what it would mean for the balance sheets of European banks if insolvency rates had been at the historical average all along. He discovered that the €1 trillion in bad loans the ECB identified in its latest report would be closer to the tune of €2.5 trillion in that hypothetical scenario. “A large part of the European banking sector would be on the brink of collapse and no stress test could anticipate the magnitude of that kind of credit risk,” Mr. Krall said. “The ECB is creating a world of zombie banks and zombie companies,” he added.

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1929, 1999, 2007.

Stocks Have Only Been This Expensive During Times Of Crisis (BI)

Stocks are getting a bit pricey. All three major indexes break though their all-time highs on a seemingly daily basis, and this has pushed earnings multiples higher and higher. The current 12-month trailing price-to-earnings ratio of the S&P 500 sits at 25.95x, while the forward 12-month price-to-earnings is roughly 17.1x, according to FactSet data. Each of these is higher than its long-term average. In fact, based on one measure of valuation, the market hasn’t been this expensive anytime other than before a massive crash. The cyclical adjusted price-to-earnings ratio, better known as Shiller P/E, which adjusts the price-to-earnings ratio for cyclical factors such as inflation, stands at 27.86 as of Friday.

There have only been a few instances in history when stocks have been this expensive: just before the crash of 1929, the years leading up to the tech bubble and its bursting, and around the financial crisis of 2007-09. This does not necessarily mean that a crash is imminent — during the tech bubble, the Shiller P/E made it well into the 30s before coming back down. Additionally, there are some criticisms that Shiller P/E is generally more backward-looking since it adjusts for the cycle, so it may not be as accurate. Another caveat is that, during the three previous instances, investors have been incredibly bullish on stocks (there’s a reason Robert Shiller’s book is titled “Irrational Exuberance”) and most indicators of sentiment — from the American Association of Individual Investors to Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s sell-side sentiment indicator — are still depressed. Still, an elevated level for the Shiller P/E certainly isn’t going to make it any easier to sleep at night.

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As the EU descends into chaos, some of these people are going to remember something about a gift horse’s mouth.

UK Government Faces New Brexit Court Case (R.)

Opponents to Britain leaving the EU will launch a fresh legal action this week, which could further hamper Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans, The Sunday Times reported. The newspaper said campaigners will write to the UK government on Monday saying they are taking it to the High Court in an effort to keep Britain in the single market. It said the claimants will seek a judicial review in an attempt to give lawmakers a new power of veto over the terms on which Britain leaves the EU. They argue the government “has no mandate” to withdraw from the single market because it was not on the referendum ballot paper on June 23 and was not part of the ruling Conservative Party’s manifesto for the 2015 general election.

May has said she wants to invoke Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty by the end of March, kicking off up to two years of exit negotiations. However the High Court ruled last month that Article 50 cannot be triggered without parliament’s assent. That ruling is being challenged by the government in Britain’s Supreme Court. The Sunday Times said the new court case hinges on whether the government would also have to trigger another legal measure — Article 127 of the European Economic Area agreement — in order to quit the single market. It said ministers argue Britain automatically exits the single market when it quits the EU. But, it said if the claimants win the new case, the government would have to gain the approval of lawmakers.

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Sanity evaporates in the US. And it’s not Trump.

Senate Quietly Passes “Countering Disinformation And Propaganda Act” (ZH)

While we wait to see if and when the Senate will pass (and president will sign) Bill “H.R. 6393, Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017”, which was passed by the House at the end of November with an overwhelming majority and which seeks to crack down on websites suspected of conducting Russian propaganda and calling for the US government to “counter active measures by Russia to exert covert influence … carried out in coordination with, or at the behest of, political leaders or the security services of the Russian Federation and the role of the Russian Federation has been hidden or not acknowledged publicly,” another, perhaps even more dangerous and limiting to civil rights and freedom of speech bill passed on December 8.

Recall that as we reported in early June, “a bill to implement the U.S.’ very own de facto Ministry of Truth has been quietly introduced in Congress. As with any legislation attempting to dodge the public spotlight the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016 marks a further curtailment of press freedom and another avenue to stultify avenues of accurate information. Introduced by Congressmen Adam Kinzinger and Ted Lieu, H.R. 5181 seeks a “whole-government approach without the bureaucratic restrictions” to counter “foreign disinformation and manipulation,” which they believe threaten the world’s “security and stability.” Also called the Countering Information Warfare Act of 2016 (S. 2692), when introduced in March by Sen. Rob Portman, the legislation represents a dramatic return to Cold War-era government propaganda battles.

“These countries spend vast sums of money on advanced broadcast and digital media capabilities, targeted campaigns, funding of foreign political movements, and other efforts to influence key audiences and populations,” Portman explained, adding that while the U.S. spends a relatively small amount on its Voice of America, the Kremlin provides enormous funding for its news organization, RT.“Surprisingly,” Portman continued, “there is currently no single U.S. governmental agency or department charged with the national level development, integration and synchronization of whole-of-government strategies to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation.”

Long before the “fake news” meme became a daily topic of extensive conversation on wuch mainstream fake news portals as CNN and WaPo, H.R. 5181 would rask the Secretary of State with coordinating the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors to “establish a Center for Information Analysis and Response,” which will pinpoint sources of disinformation, analyze data, and — in true dystopic manner — ‘develop and disseminate’ “fact-based narratives” to counter effrontery propaganda.

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I don’t really want to mention Krugman ever again, but maybe just this once…

Does Krugman Really Support The Working Class? (Dean Baker)

Paul Krugman told readers that intellectual types like him tend to vote for progressive taxes and other measures that benefit white working class people. This is only partly true. People with college and advanced degrees tend to be strong supporters of recent trade deals [I’m including China’s entry to the WTO] that have been a major factor in the loss of manufacturing jobs in the last quarter century, putting downward pressure on the pay of workers without college degrees. They also tend to support stronger and longer patent and copyright protections (partly in trade deals), which also redistribute income upward. (We will pay $430 billion for prescription drugs this year, which would cost 10-20% of this amount in a free market. The difference is equal to roughly five times annual spending on food stamps.)

Educated people also tended to support the deregulation of the financial sector, which has led to some of the largest fortunes in the country. They also overwhelmingly supported the 2008 bailout which threw a lifeline to the Wall Street banks at a time when the market was going to condemn them to the dustbin of history. (Sorry, the second Great Depression story as the alternative is nonsense — that would have required a decade of stupid policy, nothing about the financial collapse itself would have entailed a second Great Depression.)

His crew has also been at best lukewarm on defending unions. However they don’t seem to like free trade in professional services that would, for example, allow more foreign doctors to practice in the United States, bringing their pay in line with doctors in Europe and Canada. The lower pay for doctors alone could save us close to $100 billion a year in health care expenses.

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OPEC members cheat. What do you think non-members will do? Still, prices can remain ‘high-ish’ until we find out.

Non-OPEC Oil States Agree To Cuts In ‘Historic’ Deal (AFP)

11 countries agreed on Saturday to cut their oil output, teaming up with the OPEC cartel in an exceptional bid to end the world’s glut of crude and reverse a dramatic fall in income. Russia and 10 other non-OPEC states will reduce their production by more than half a million barrels per day (bpd), OPEC announced. The deal will take effect from the start of 2017 and last for six months, though it may be extended depending on market conditions. “I am happy to announce that a historic agreement has been reached,” said Qatar’s Energy Minister Mohammed Bin Saleh Al-Sada, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the OPEC. The cut will contribute to OPEC’s own initiative to ease a saturated market and end a price slump that has brutally affected the economies of many oil producers.

On November 30 its members announced a slash in output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) beginning in January, to 32.5 million bpd. Under that deal, OPEC called on non-member producer states to lower their output by 600,000 bpd. Saturday’s deal approves cuts totalling 558,000 bpd. Russia had already signalled it would provide half of that production cut in the first half of 2017. Among the other countries that will contribute cuts Kazakhstan agreed to reduce production by 20,000 bpd, Mexico 100,000 bpd, Oman 40,000 bpd and Azerbaijan 35,000 bpd, according to Bloomberg. The deal also includes Malaysia, Bahrain, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, South Sudan and Brunei.

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Québec is powered by hydro. All this is just for export to the US. Turn ‘La Belle Province’ into a moonscape. It’s up to the First Nations again to stop the mess. You still like Justin?

Quebec Paves Way For More Oil And Gas Exploration (BBG)

Quebec’s legislature passed a bill that will pave the way for more oil and gas exploration, providing a boost to drillers such as Junex Inc. while drawing criticism from environmental, aboriginal and citizen groups. Bill 106 passed Quebec’s National Assembly in a 62-38 vote early Saturday after an overnight debate ahead of the holiday break. The legislation is meant to implement Quebec’s clean energy plan but also contains provisions allowing for energy exploration, potentially including fracking. “Quebec’s government just voted down an amendment to ban fracking in a triumph of science over ‘leave it in the ground’ lunacy,” Calgary-based Questerre Energy tweeted early Saturday morning. Shares of companies that hold exploration rights, including Questerre and Junex, based in Quebec City, surged last week as passage of the legislation looked likely.

Questerre holds about 1 million acres and has drilled test wells in the Utica shale formation along the St. Lawrence River, according to its website. Questerre’s shares rose the most in more than eight years on Thursday and inched up again on Friday. Junex’s stock increased 30%, the most in almost two years. Bill 106 creates a new agency to promote Quebec’s transition to cleaner energy yet also lays out a framework for oil and gas development in the Canadian province. Environmental, aboriginal and citizen groups argued that the bill’s mandate is contradictory, that debate was rushed and that it should have included a moratorium on fracking as well as greater protection for landowners. [..] Bill 106 strips power from landowners who will be powerless to stop exploration by companies with drilling claims, Carole Dupuis at Regroupement vigilance hydrocarbures Quebec, said by phone.

That, in turn, will hurt property values, especially if exploration leads to fracking. “If there was not the fracking issue, the landowner issue would not be a problem. It’s an access issue,” she said. “What’s the value of your land if someone has been drilling one kilometer from you and you don’t know if your drinking water is safe?” [..] Bill 106 goes against aboriginal rights to self-determination and to establish the best use of their lands, Mi’gmaq Chief Darcy Gray said in an e-mail Saturday. “The bill also opens up our lands to exploration that we feel could have long-lasting, detrimental and irreparable damage,” he wrote “especially with regards to hydraulic fracturing and or other types of well stimulation.” “Why this would even be considered, or how it could be construed as a favorable initiative, is beyond me,” he said.

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When will Modi’s support crash?

Goa Goes Cashless: ‘Who Buys Fish With A Credit Card?’ (G.)

It’s 11 o’clock, and Laxman Chauhan still hasn’t sold any fish. His stall in the central market in the west Indian city of Panjim has been open for three hours, but none of his usual clients have come today. He checks his watch, and then takes a walk to see if other vendors have had any customers. “Sold anything yet?” he asks Ramila Pujjar, who has set her stall up with a glistening display of the morning’s catch. She hasn’t either. “I’m losing 2,000-3,000 rupees (£23-£35) a day,” says Chauhan. “I’m throwing fish away every day.” The low footfall at Panjim’s fish market is unusual; fish is a staple in Goan cuisine but, for the past month, since the prime minister, Narendra Modi, abolished the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, business has suffered. “I’m losing money because of the government,” says Pujjar.

“The government only takes care of the rich, the poor will always be poor.” Modi’s surprise announcement wiped out 86% of the nation’s currency overnight, leaving the vendors at Panjim’s fish market to suffer heavy losses. “Nobody has cash, so they’re not buying fish.” Panjim is no different to the rest of India. Long queues wind around banks and ATMs in every city as people scramble to exchange their high-value banknotes. The cash crisis has hit millions of traders, as people tighten purse strings and save up precious banknotes. But now, this sleepy tourist town is going to become the laboratory for a radical new experiment. From January, Goa’s government has announced that the city will go “cashless”, meaning every street vendor, rickshaw driver and shopkeeper must offer their customers the option to pay using a debit card or mobile phone. The cash-free drive will attempt to close down India’s thriving parallel economy of untaxed cash transactions.

A government circular at the beginning of the month instructed traders: “Goa is likely to become the state in India to go for cashless transactions from 31 December. Even though cash transactions are not being banned, it is in the interest of the government to encourage cashless transactions.” The policy, announced by India’s defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, is in line with Modi’s vision for a cash-free India. Last week, the finance minister, Arun Jaitley, announced a series of discounts on digital transactions for petrol, railway tickets and insurance policies. Modi has urged young people to support his “less cash” economy in a radio broadcast: “I need the help of young people in India … There are many people in your families or neighbourhoods who may not know how to use technologies such as e-wallets and payments through mobiles. I urge you to spend some time … to teach this technology to at least 10 families who may not know it,” he said.

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Sure. Just get your most creative accountants out. A “landmark year”?

Greece Passes Austerity 2017 Budget, Eyes 2.7% Growth (AP)

Greece’s Parliament has passed a budget of continued austerity as mandated by the country’s creditors, but which forecasts robust growth for 2017. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says it will mark Greece’s “final exit” from its nearly decade-long financial crisis. The budget adds more than €1 billion in new taxes, mostly indirect taxes on items from phone calls to alcohol. It also cuts spending by over €1 billion. The budget was backed by the left-dominated ruling coalition and opposed by all other parties. It passed by a vote of 152-146 on Saturday. Despite the continued austerity, Tsipras predicted that 2017 will be a “landmark year” with 2.7% economic growth. He said his government has achieved a higher-than-forecast 2016 primary surplus.

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Interesting long interview.

The Icelandic Minister Who Refused To Help The FBI Frame Assange (Katoikos)

You are “the minister” who refused to cooperate with the FBI because you suspected their agents on mission in Iceland were of trying to frame Julian Assange. Do you confirm this? Yes. What happened was that in June 2011, US authorities made some approaches to us indicating they had knowledge of hackers wanting to destroy software systems in Iceland. I was a minister at the time. They offered help. I was suspicious, well aware that a helping hand might easily become a manipulating hand! Later in the summer, in August, they sent a planeload of FBI agents to Iceland seeking our cooperation in what I understood as an operation set up to frame Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Since they had not been authorised by the Icelandic authorities to carry out police work in Iceland and since a crack-down on WikiLeaks was not on my agenda, to say the least, I ordered that all cooperation with them be promptly terminated and I also made it clear that they should cease all activities in Iceland immediately. It was also made clear to them that they were to leave the country. They were unable to get permission to operate in Iceland as police agents, but I believe they went to other countries, at least to Denmark. I also made it clear at the time that if I had to take sides with either WikiLeaks or the FBI or CIA, I would have no difficulty in choosing: I would be on the side of WikiLeaks.

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Erdogan’s son-in-law, “groomed to be Mr Erdogan’s successor”. Parliament certain to vote to hand Erdogan much increased powers. Seen any false flags lately?

WikiLeaks Emails ‘Link Turkey Oil Minister To Isis Oil Trade’ (Ind.)

WikiLeaks has released a cache of thousands of personal emails allegedly from the account of senior Turkish government minister Berat Albayrak, son-in-law of the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which it says shows the extent of links between Mr Albayrak and a company implicated in deals with Isis-controlled oil fields. The 60,000 strong searchable cache, released on Monday, spans the time period between April 2000 – September 23 2016, and shows Mr Albayrak had intimate knowledge of staffing and salary issues at Powertrans, a company which was controversially given a monopoly on the road and rail transportation of oil into the country from Iraqi Kurdistan.

Turkish media reported in 2014 and 2015 that Powertrans has been accused of mixing in oil produced by Isis in neighbouring Syria and adding it to local shipments which eventually reached Turkey, although the charges have not been substantiated by any solid evidence. The emails were apparently obtained by Redhack, a Turkish hactivist collective. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said that they were published in response to the Turkish government’s widening crackdown on dissent. Mr Albayrak, one of the most powerful individuals in Turkey, is widely seen as being groomed to be Mr Erdogan’s successor. The hardline president has been consolidating his grip on power by implementing emergency powers and arresting thousands of journalists, activists and academics in the wake of a failed military coup in July.

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Reported without any added anti-Putin innuendo?!

Russian Bombardment Forces ISIS Out Of Palmyra Hours After Re-Entry (AFP)

A Russian aerial onslaught forced Islamic State fighters to withdraw from Palmyra at dawn on Sunday, only hours after the jihadis had re-entered the ancient Syrian city, a monitor said.“Intense Russian raids since last night forced IS out of Palmyra, hours after the jihadists retook control of the city,” said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.The raids killed a large number of militants in the desert city in central Syria, Abdel Rahman told AFP. “The army brought reinforcements into Palmyra last night, and the raids are continuing on jihadist positions around the city.”Isis began an offensive last week near Palmyra, which is on Unesco’s world heritage list. In May last year, the Sunni Muslim extremist group seized several towns in Homs province including Palmyra, where they caused extensive damage to many of its ancient sites. They were ousted from Palmyra in March by Syrian regime forces backed by Russia.

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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.”

Read more …

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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Aug 102016
 
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Dorothea Lange Youngest little girl of motherless family 1939

 

We can, every single one of us, agree that we’re either in or just past a -financial- crisis. But that seems to be all we can agree on. Because some call it the GFC, others a recession, and still others a depression. And some insist on seeing it as ‘in the past’, and solved, while others see it as a continuing issue.

I personally have the idea that if you think central banks -and perhaps governments- have the ability and the tools to prevent or cure financial crises, you’re in the more optimistic camp. And if you don’t, you’re a pessimist. A third option might be to think that no matter what central bankers do, things will solve themselves, but I don’t see much of that being floated. Not anymore.

What I do see are countless numbers of bankers and economists and pundits and reporters holding up high the concept of globalization (a.k.a. free trade, Open Society) as the savior of mankind and its economy.

And I’m thinking that no matter how great you think the entire centralization issue is, be it global or on a more moderate scale, it’s a lost case. Because centralization dies the moment it can no longer show obvious benefits for people and societies ‘being centralized’. Unless you’re talking a dictatorship.

This is because when you centralize, when you make people, communities, societies, countries, subject to -the authority of- larger entities, they will want something in return for what they give up. They will only accept that some ‘higher power’ located further away from where they live takes decisions on their behalf, if they benefit from these decisions.

And that in turn is only possible when there is growth, i.e. when the entire system is expanding. Obviously, it’s possible also to achieve this only in selected parts of the system, as long as if you’re willing to squeeze other parts. That’s what we see in Europe today, where Germany and Holland live the high life while Greece and Italy get poorer by the day. But that can’t and won’t last. Of necessity. It’s an inbuilt feature.

Schäuble and Dijsselbloem squeezed Greece so hard they could only convince it to stay inside the EU by threatening to strangle it to -near- death. Problem is, they then actually did that. Bad mistake, and the end of the EU down the road. Because the EU has nothing left of the advantages of the centralized power; it no longer has any benefits on offer for the periphery.

Instead, the ‘Union’ needs to squeeze the periphery to hold the center together. Otherwise, the center cannot hold. And that is something those of us with even just a remote sense of history recognize all too well. It reminds us of the latter days of the Roman Empire. And Rome is merely the most obvious example. What we see play out is a regurgitation of something the world has seen countless times before. The Maximum Power Principle in all its shining luster. And the endgame is the Barbarians will come rushing in…

Still, while I have my own interests in Greece, which seems to be turning into my third home country, it would be a mistake to focus on its case alone. Greece is just a symptom. Greece is merely an early sign that globalization as a model is going going gone.

Obviously, centralists/globalists, especially in Europe, try to tell us the country is an exception, and Greeks were terribly irresponsible and all that, but that will no longer fly. Not when, just to name a very real possibility, either some of Italy’s banks go belly up or the upcoming Italian constitutional referendum goes against the EU-friendly government. And while the Beautiful Brexit, at the very opposite point of the old continent, is a big flashing loud siren red buoy that makes that exact point, it’s merely the first such buoy.

But Europe is not the world. Greece and Britain and Italy may be sure signs that the EU is falling apart, but they’re not the entire globe. At the same time, the Union is a pivotal part of that globe, certainly when it comes to trade. And it’s based very much on the idea(l) of centralization of power, economics, finance, even culture. Unfortunately (?!), the entire notion depends on continuing economic growth, and growth has left the building.

 

 

Centralization/Globalization is the only ideology/religion that we have left, but it has one inbuilt weakness that dooms it as a system if not as an ideology. That is, it cannot exist without forever expanding, it needs perpetual growth or it must die. But if/when you want to, whether you’re an economist or a policy maker, develop policies for the future, you have to at least consider the possibility, and discuss it too, that there is no way back to ‘healthy’ growth. Or else we can just hire a parrot to take your place.

So here’s a few graphs that show us where global trade, the central and pivotal point of globalization, is going. Note that globalization can only continue to exist while trade, profits, benefits, keep growing. Once they no longer do, it will go into reverse (again, bar a dictator):

Here’s Japan’s exports and imports. Note the past 20 months:

 

 

Japan’s imports have been down, in the double digits, for close to 3 years?!

Next: China’s exports and imports. Not the exact same thing, but an obvious pattern.

 

 

If only imports OR exports were going down for specific countries, that’d be one thing. But for both China and Japan, in the graphs above, both are plunging. Let’s turn to the US:

 

 

Pattern: US imports from China have been falling over the past year (or even more over 5 years, take your pick), and not a little bit.

 

 

And imports from the EU show the same pattern in an almost eerily similar way.

Question then is: what about US exports, do they follow the same fold that Japan and China do? Yup! They do.

 

 

And that’s not all either. This one’s from the NY Times a few days ago:

 

 

And this one from last year, forgot where I got it from:

 

 

Now, you may want to argue that all this is temporary, that some kind of cycle is just around the corner and will revive the economy, and globalization. By now I’d be curious to see how anyone would want to make that case, but given the religious character of the centralization idea, there’s no doubt many would want to give it a go.

Most of the trends in the graphs above have been declining for 5 years or so. While at the same time the central banks in these countries have been accelerating their stimulus policies in ways no-one could even imagine they would -or could- just 10 years ago.

All of the untold trillions in stimulus haven’t been able to lift the real economy one bit. They instead caused a rise in asset prices, stocks, housing, that is actually hurting that real economy. While NIRP and ZIRP are murdering 95% of the people’s hope to retire when they thought they could, or ever, for that matter.

No, it’s a done deal. Globalization is pining for the fjords. But because it’s become such a religion, and because its high priests have so much invested in it, it’ll be hard to kill it off even just as an -abstract- idea. I’d say wherever you live and whenever your next election is, don’t vote for anyone who promotes any centralization ideas. Or growth. Because those ideas are all in some state of decomposing, and hence whoever promotes them is a zombie.

 

 

Lastly, The Economist had a piece on July 30 cheerleading for both Hillary Clinton and ‘Open Society’, a term which somehow -presumably because it sounds real jolly- has become synonymous with globalization. As if your society will be hermetically sealed off if you want to step on the brakes even just a little when it comes to ever more centralization and globalization.

The boys at Saxo Bank, Mike McKenna and Steen Jakobsen, commented on the Economist piece, and they have some good points:

Priced Out Of The ‘Open Society’

[..] The biggest problem facing globalism, however, is neither its hypocrisy nor its will-to-power – these are ordinary human failings common to all ideologies. Its biggest problem is much simpler: it’s very expensive. The world has seen versions of the wealthy, cosmopolitan ideal before. In both Imperial Rome and Achaemenid Persia, for example, societies characterised by extensive trade networks, multicultural metropoli and the rule of law (relative to the times) eventually succumbed to rampant inequality, inter-community strife, and expensive foreign wars in the case of Rome and a death-spiral of economic stagnation and constant tax hikes in the case of Persia.

That’s the center vs periphery issue all empires run into. US, EU, and all the supra-national organizations, IMF, World Bank, NATO, (EU itself), etc, they’ve established. None of that will remain once the benefits for the periphery stop. McKenna is on to this:

It seems near-axiomatic that, in the absence of the sort of strong GDP growth that characterised the post-World War Two era, the pluralist ideal might begin to show strains along the seams of its own construction. Such strains can be inter-ethnic, ideological, religious, or whatever else, but the legitimacy of The Economists’s favoured worldview largely came about due to the wealth and living standards it was seen to provide in the post-WW2 and Cold War era. Now that this is beginning to falter, so too are the politicians and institutions that have long championed it. In Jakobsen’s view, the rising tide of populist nationalism is in no way the solution, but it is a sign that globalisation’s elites have grown distant from the population as a whole.

I’d venture that the elites were always distant from the people, but as long as the people saw their wealth grow they either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

“The world has become elitist in every way,” says Saxo Bank’s chief economist. “We as a society have to recognise that productivity comes from raising the average education level… the key thing here is that we need to be more productive. If everyone has a job, there is no need to renegotiate the social contract.” Put another way, would the political careers of Trump, Le Pen, Viktor Orban, and other such nationalist leaders be where they are if the post-crisis environment had been one of healthy wage growth, inflation, an increase in “breadwinner” jobs, and GDP expansion?

Here I have to part ways with Steen (and Mike). Why do ‘we’ need to be more productive? Why do we need to produce more? Who says we don’t produce enough? When we look around us, what is it that tells us we should make more, and buy more, and want more? Is there really such a thing as “healthy wage growth”? And what says that we need “GDP expansion”?

Most people do not spend a great deal of time imagining ideal economic and political systems. Most just want to live satisfying lives among their friends and family, and to feel as if their leaders are doing all they can to enable such a situation. What matters are the data, and if these are not made to become more encouraging, calls for this particular empire’s downfall will come with the same fervour and the same increasing frequency that they have throughout history.

The problem is not that people are choosing the wrong system, it is that they are unhappy enough to want to change course at all. Unless the developed world can find a way to reform itself out of its present malaise, no amount of media-class vituperation over xenophobia, insularity or “the uneducated” will be sufficient to turn the tide.

McKenna answers my question, unwillingly or not. Because, no, ‘Most just want to live satisfying lives among their friends and family..’ is not the same as “they want GDP expansion”, no matter how you phrase it. That’s just an idea. For all we know, the truth may be the exact opposite. The neverending quest for GDP expansion may be the very thing that prevents people from living “satisfying lives among their friends and family”.

How many people see the satisfaction in their lives destroyed by the very rat race they’re in? Moreover, how many see their satisfaction destroyed by being on the losing end of that quest? And how many simply by the demands it puts on them?

The connection between “satisfying lives” and “GDP expansion” is one made by economists, bankers, politicians and other voices driven by ideologies such as globalization. Whether your life is satisfying or not is not somehow one-on-one dependent on GDP expansion. That idea is not only ideological, it’s as stupid as it is dangerous.

And it’s silly too. Most westerners don’t need more stuff. They need more “satisfying lives among their friends and family”. But they’re stuck on a treadmill. If you want to give your kids decent health care and education anno 2016, you better keep running to stand still.

Mike McKenna and Steen Jakobsen seem to understand exactly what the problem is. But they don’t have the answer. Steen thinks it is about ‘more productivity’.

And I think that may well be the problem, not the solution. I also think it’s no use wanting more productivity, because the economic model we’re chasing is dead and gone. A zombie pushing up the daisies.

But since it’s the only one we have, and even smart people like the Saxo Bank guys can’t see beyond it, it seems obvious that getting rid of the zombie idea may take a lot of sweat and tears and, especially, blood.

 

 

May 142016
 
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Camp Meade, Maryland 1917

IMF Meddling On Brexit Is Scandalous Skulduggery (AEP)
The Zombies Return: Steel Firms In China Come Back From The Dead (SCMP)
Europe Launches Probe Into Claims China Is Subsidising Steel Producers (Tel.)
China Complains To WTO That US Fails To Implement Tariff Ruling (R.)
China Inc. Misses Best Shot to Repay $430 Billion as Yuan Drops (BBG)
S&P 500 Companies Plan $600 Billion Buybacks In Losing Strategy (CNBC)
US Energy Bankruptcy Wave Surges Despite Recovering Oil Prices (R.)
The Other Fire: Fort McMurray’s Slow Burn (Tyee)
The New Era Of Monopoly Is Here (Stiglitz)
Vicious Feedback Loops in New York Art and European Equities (Dizard)
What If Greece Got Massive Debt Relief But No One Admitted It? – Part 1 (FT)
“I’ll Never Retire”: Americans Break Record for Working Past 65 (BBG)
Retiree To Fly 80 South African Rhinos To Australia (G.)
Merkel’s Deal with Turkey in Danger of Collapse (Spiegel)
EU to Work with African Despot to Keep Refugees Out (Spiegel)

Ambrose strikes. Can’t go wrong with a headline like that. “..the rescue of the euro and the North European banking system in 2010, otherwise known by some cruel twist of language as the Greek bail-out.” And “..take your rotting pile of damp wood elsewhere Madame Lagarde.”

IMF Meddling On Brexit Is Scandalous Skulduggery (AEP)

If the IMF and its co-conspirators in the Treasury wish to deter undecided voters from flirting with Brexit, they have certainly failed in my case. Having listened to their irritating lectures, I am more inclined to opt for defiance, for their mask of objectivity has fallen. There can no longer be any doubt that they are playing politics with the democratic self-determination of this country. The Fund gives the game away in point 8 of its Article IV conclusion on the UK economy. It states that “the cost of insuring against a UK sovereign default has doubled (albeit from a low level)”. Any normal person who does not follow the derivatives markets would interpret this as a grim warning from global investors. Yes, the price of credit default swaps on 5-year UK debt – the proxy we all use – has jumped from 17 to 37 since late last year.

But the IMF neglected to mention that it has risen from 15 to 33 in Switzerland, from 26 to 43 in France, and from 45 to 65 in Korea. The jump has almost nothing to do with Brexit, and the IMF knows this perfectly well. The French have an expression that will be familiar to the IMF’s Christine Lagarde: ils font feu de tout bois. Her own IMF mentor and long-time chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, told me last month that there was no risk whatsoever of a sovereign bond crisis, or a Gilts strike, or a sudden stop of any kind. “Will financing be more difficult after Brexit? Will investors see the British government as more risky? I don’t think so,” he said. Professor Blanchard, who recently stepped down from the Fund and is free to speak his mind, says there may be a price to pay for Brexit but it is impossible to calculate.

“The cost of exiting will not be seamless, and the uncertainty will last for a very long time afterwards. Firms deciding whether to locate a plant in the UK or in the Continent will wait. Investment will drop,” he said. But he also said weaker pound would cushion the effects of falling investment to some degree. So bare this in mind when you comb through today’s Article IV statement with its delicious mix of precision and selective vagueness on the alleged damage of Brexit. The hit ranges from 1.5pc to 9.5pc of GDP. Note the decimal points. The range depends on whether it is “a la Switzerland, a la Norway, or a la WTO,” said Madame Lagarde. Perhaps it is churlish to point out that the IMF completely missed the onset of the global financial crisis, and was blindsided when the US fell into recession in November 2007. The Fund’s staff were still predicting sunlit uplands as far as the eye could see, even when the blackest of black storms was upon them.


The IMF misjudged the fiscal multiplier horribly in Greece

Its forecasts for Greece were wrong every single year following the rescue of the euro and the North European banking system in 2010, otherwise known by some cruel twist of language as the Greek bail-out. They originally said the Greek economy would contract by 2.6pc in 2010 and then recover briskly. What actually happened – as predicted at the time by the Indian member of the IMF board – was the most spectacular collapse of a developed economy in the post-war era. Output ultimately fell by 26pc from peak to trough. To its credit, the IMF later admitted that it had horribly misjudged the fiscal multiplier. Indeed. I don’t wish the denigrate the Fund. It remains a superb institution. I use its research all the time in my work. But on this occasion it has been misused for political purposes.

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Maybe they can pay people to dig a big hole to throw the produced steel in.?!

The Zombies Return: Steel Firms In China Come Back From The Dead (SCMP)

The grey smoke pouring once again into the sky above a rusty steel plant in a town in northern China is seen as a blessing by people who live nearby. One of the plant’s six blast furnaces was put back into operation earlier this month, breathing new life into Dongzhen in Shanxi province. The plant, formally known as Haixin Iron and Steel, was closed two years ago as demand for the metal plunged in China. Steel companies with little hope of turning a profit are among the enterprises known as “zombie firms” in China, many operating in ailing heavy industries that the central government has pledged to cut back as it attempts to create a modern, high-tech and innovation driven economy. Millions of jobs are due to be axed in the steel and coal sectors in the coming years.

But the plant at Dongzhen has been given a lifeline. It has been renamed and taken over by new owners amid signs of a rise in steel prices, plus massive support from the local government. And there is evidence that increasing numbers of other steel plants are also reopening in China, despite the government’s pledges that the industry must be cut back. Local people in Dongzhen, at least, now dare to believe there may still be hope for their beleaguered industry. Restaurants have reopened, new food stalls set up, and even watermelon vendors are driving their carts and trucks nearby to serve the thousands of workers coming in and out of the compound. Uniformed workers in red and blue helmets flow through the foundry gate, heavy trucks and cars blow their horns and there is a renewed sense of dynamism in this dusty town.

The fate of the Dongzhen steel plant highlights the dilemma facing many local government across the country: the need for massive economic reforms, weighed against the suffering created by massive job losses and the fear of social unrest. President Xi Jinping has said cutting overcapacity in ailing industries such as steel is an essential part of the government’s “supply-side” economic reforms. An unidentified “authoritative figure” was also quoted in a prominent article in the Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily on Monday renewing calls to terminate “zombie companies”. Haixin, however, is not the only “zombie” steel firming coming back from the dead. As China pumped unprecedented amounts of credit to boost growth in the first quarter, many steel plants are back on stream to take advantage of a rise in steel prices.

Daily steel output on the mainland in March rebounded to a nine-month high and output in April could be even higher, according to analysts, although the steel price rally has started to fizzle away this month. “It’s difficult to take Chinese pledges to address surplus capacity seriously,” said Christopher Balding, an associate professor of economics at Peking University HSBC Business School. “There is a recent track record of talking about the problem and not taking the steps required to solve it: like a dieter who wants to lose weight and still eats chocolate chip cookies.”

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Fighting for a share of a collapsing market.

Europe Launches Probe Into Claims China Is Subsidising Steel Producers (Tel.)

A new front has opened up in the “steel war” between China and Europe after Brussels launched an investigation into whether the Beijing government is subsidising its steel producers. The European Commission said it was starting a probe into a complaint that China is subsiding its producers of hot rolled flat steel – one of the most widely used forms of the alloy. The Commission has already imposed tariffs on some forms of steel being exported into Europe after earlier investigations determined they were being “dumped” – sold at below cost – by Chinese plants, as they get rid of excess production in the wake of a drop in domestic demand. However, the new investigation could tackle the problem at source, by looking into claims China is subsidising its largely state-owned steel industry, damaging European rivals.

If it finds subsidisation is taking place, further duties could be imposed on Chinese imports in an attempt to level the playing field. The announcement comes less than 24 hours after the European Parliament voted with an overwhelming majority against China being given the coveted Market Economy Status. The move follows a complaint from Eurofer, the European steel association, and a spokesman said the group “welcomed the move into unfair subsidisation originating in China”. “Hot rolled flat steel is the bread and butter of the industry, going into everything from cans to cars and by far the most commonly used form of steel,” the spokesman added. “The European steel industry suffers damage from unfair trading practices originating in China.”

The European steel industry is in crisis at the moment as it battles the flood of cheap steel from China, and struggles against tougher environmental controls and higher prices, which are particularly punishing in the UK. More than 5,000 jobs have been lost in Britain’s steel industry in the past year as plants have struggled to compete. In April Tata launched the sale of its loss-making British steel operations based around the massive Port Talbot plant. Gareth Stace, director of trade body UK Steel, said the widening of investigations from dumping into subsidies was a progression of the campaign to fight unfair trade. “This is a welcome and much-needed investigation into Chinese Government subsidies which will run in parallel to its ongoing investigation into dumping of steel into the EU. The significant unfair trading practices carried out by China has been a major cause of the worst steel crisis in over a generation here in the UK.”

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“China’s complaint to the WTO was filed just days after Washington lodged a similar complaint against China..”

China Complains To WTO That US Fails To Implement Tariff Ruling (R.)

In another sign of escalating trade tensions between China and the United States, Beijing told the World Trade Organization on Friday that Washington was failing to implement a WTO ruling against punitive U.S. tariffs on a range of Chinese goods. China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) said it had requested consultations with the United States over the issue, and anti-subsidy duties on products including solar panels, wind towers and steel pipe used in the oil industry. China’s complaint to the WTO was filed just days after Washington lodged a similar complaint against China, accusing it of unfairly continuing punitive duties on U.S. exports of broiler chicken products in violation of WTO rules.

“By disregarding the WTO rules and rulings, the United States has severely impaired the integrity of WTO rules and the interests of Chinese industries,” MOFCOM said in a statement distributed by the Chinese embassy in Washington. The case was first brought before the WTO by China in 2012 against U.S. duties on 15 diverse product categories that also include thermal paper, steel sinks and tow-behind lawn grooming equipment. In December 2014, the WTO’s Appellate Body ruled in favor of Chinese claims that the products subject to duties had not benefited from subsidies from “public bodies” favoring particular manufacturers.

The deadline for implementation of the rulings and recommendations of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, set through binding arbitration, expired on April 1, according to WTO records. A U.S. Trade Representative spokesman said the United States had been “working diligently to comply with the recommendations” and to fully conform with its WTO obligations. He added that the U.S. response to China’s request for consultations would come “in due course.”

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Dollar-denominated debt is the sword of Damocles.

China Inc. Misses Best Shot to Repay $430 Billion as Yuan Drops (BBG)

The best time for China Inc. to repay its dollar debt may be coming to an end. The greenback is rallying after its worst quarter since 2010, threatening to drive up costs for companies seeking to either repay U.S. currency borrowings or hedge exposure. The yuan declined 1% since March 31, following a 2% rally between February and March. Royal Bank of Canada and Credit Suisse see more depreciation. “If corporates haven’t taken advantage of this period of yuan gains, they really only have themselves to blame,” said Sue Trinh, Hong Kong-based head of Asian foreign-exchange strategy at RBC. “The government won’t hold down the exchange rate forever.”

RBC estimates Chinese companies’ outstanding dollar borrowings have now been trimmed to $430 billion, while Daiwa Capital Markets says as much as $3 trillion was borrowed to plow into the higher-yielding yuan, including by individuals and foreign companies. A rush to repay risks accelerating capital outflows and yuan weakness amid China’s slowest economic growth in 25 years. The yuan’s renewed depreciation is a challenge for companies that took advantage of the currency’s gains in the four years through 2013 to borrow dollars offshore, profiting from both an appreciating exchange rate and higher interest rates at home. The one-way bets began to unravel as the currency dropped 2.4% in 2014 and 4.5% last year.

The yuan sank 2.6% in August last year after a shock devaluation, and then rose for the next two months as the People’s Bank of China intervened in the market to support the exchange rate. The authority reiterated in its latest monetary policy implementation report released last week that it wants to keep the currency stable. “The recent yuan stability was artificial and likely helped by consistent verbal intervention from the PBOC that there is no depreciation pressure,” said Koon How Heng at Credit Suisse in Singapore. “However, in the background, there is growing concern of increasing debt issues. We are watching growing incidences of coupon defaults.”

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Pretty damning. But it will continue short term. And a few years down the road, infrastructure will start falling apart.

S&P 500 Companies Plan $600 Billion Buybacks In Losing Strategy (CNBC)

Companies are planning to devote billions to buying back their own stock this year, even though the strategy seems to be losing its bite. Statements accompanying first-quarter earnings indicate corporations are preparing to buy a total of $600 billion in their own shares, according to Goldman Sachs calculations. That comes after a year in which S&P 500 buybacks amounted to $572.2 billion, which itself was a 3,3% increase from 2014 and part of a trend that has seen repurchases amount to more than $2.7 trillion since 2010, data from S&P Dow Jones Indices show. Buybacks slowed in the first part of the year, with TrimTabs reporting a 35% decline over 2015. However, that’s not likely to last as companies struggle to find the best way to spend cash. S&P 500 companies have nearly $1.5 trillion in cash on their balance sheets.

“The main thing that determines that is whether they see their markets pop or not,” said Jim Paulsen, chief market strategist at Wells Capital Management. “One of the things we really haven’t had in this recovery is getting all the economic boats moving north at the same time.” With the lack of sustained economic growth, companies have turned to buybacks and dividends to pick up the slack. However, the effectiveness of returning cash directly to shareholders doesn’t have the same pop it once had. Where buybacks had helped fuel the S&P 500’s meteoric rise and the second longest bull market in history, the market has been volatile but flat over the past year or so. Moreover, companies that have been the biggest movers in buybacks have underperformed significantly.

The PowerShares BuyBack Achievers Portfolio exchange-traded fund tracks companies that have bought back at least 5% of their shares over the past 12 months. The ETF is down about 0.7% in 2016 and off 8.4% over the past year. The fund’s biggest holdings include McDonald’s, Boeing, Qualcomm, Lowes and Mondelez. A big name missing from the top holdings is Apple, which has buyback plans totaling $175 billion for a stock that is down 13.2% year to date and 27.5% over the past year. Yet the buyback and dividend trend continues as companies remain reluctant to hire and invest in equipment and as the deal climate cools after a blistering 2015. Mergers and acquisitions activity plunged 25% in the first quarter, with much of the steam taken out by the collapse of multiple big-ticket deals, the most recent being the $6 billion Staples-Office Depot marriage.

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“..once the hedges roll off you can’t support that debt.”

US Energy Bankruptcy Wave Surges Despite Recovering Oil Prices (R.)

The wave of U.S. oil and gas bankruptcies surged past 60 this week, an ominous sign that the recovery of crude prices to near $50 a barrel is too little, too late for small companies that are running out of money. On Friday, Exco Resources, a Dallas-based company with a star-studded board, said it will evaluate alternatives, including a restructuring in or out of court. Its shares fell 35% to 62 cents each. Exco’s notice capped off one of the heaviest weeks of bankruptcy filings since crude prices nosedived from more than $100 a barrel in mid-2014. Prices have bounced back to $46 a barrel from February lows in the mid-$20s, but the futures market shows investors do not expect U.S. benchmark crude to rise above $50 for more than a year.

That will not help smaller producers built for far higher prices. These companies have largely exhausted funding alternatives after issuing more equity and debt, tapping second-lien loans and shedding assets over the last two years to stay afloat as banks trimmed credit lines. Some companies are in more acute distress, faced with the expiration of derivative contracts that had allowed them to sell oil above market prices. “Everybody was able to hold on for a while,” said Gary Evans, former CEO of Magnum Hunter Resources, which emerged from bankruptcy protection this week. “But once the hedges roll off you can’t support that debt.”

Bankruptcy filers this week included Linn Energy and Penn Virginia. Struggling SandRidge, a former high flyer once led by legendary wildcatter Tom Ward, said it would not be able to file quarterly results on time. The number of U.S. energy bankruptcies is closing in on the staggering 68 filings seen during the depths of the telecommunications sector bust of 2002 and 2003, according to Reuters data, the law firm Haynes & Boone and bankruptcydata.com.

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I would normally shudder at the very thought of anyone quoting Larry Summers or god forbid Jeff Rubin, but this is a topic that warrants attention.

The Other Fire: Fort McMurray’s Slow Burn (Tyee)

At the end of the day the $10-billion wildfire that consumed 2400 homes and buildings in Fort McMurray may be the least of the region’s problems. Although the chaotic evacuation of 80,000 people through walls of flame will likely haunt its brave participants for years, a slow global economic burn has already taken a nasty toll on the region’s workers. That fire began last year when global oil prices crashed by 40% and evaporated billions of investment capital in the tarsands. As the project’s most hight cost producers started to bleed cash, corporations laid off 40,000 engineers, labourers, cleaners, welders, mechanics and trades people with little fanfare and even less thanks. Many of these human “stranded assets” endured home foreclosures and lineups at the food bank.

Worker flights to Red Deer and Kelowna got cancelled and traffic at the city’s new airport declined by 16%. Unemployment in Canada’s so-called economic engine soared to nearly nine%. Despite the high cost of the oil price crash, most residents of Fort McMurray, along with Canada’s politicians, think that oil prices will rebound and things will turn around sooner or later. They’ve seen it all before, they say. But a number of economic trends and analyses suggest that bitumen’s glory days may be over. What resembles a string of bad luck may actually be the unfortunate consequence of rapidly developing a high risk and volatile resource with no real safety net. The first undeniable factor is weakening demand for oil, the engine of global economic growth. China’s economy, the world’s largest oil importer, is faltering as its industrial revolution peaks and fades.

Europe, Japan and the United States are also using less oil, and their economies are stagnating too. The global economy has become so stuck in neutral that famous financial power brokers such as Larry Summers now write depressing articles entitled “The Age of Secular Stagnation,” in Foreign Affairs no less. In such a world, little if any bitumen will be needed in the international market place. In fact economists now trace about 50% of the oil price collapse to evaporating demand. But there are many other potent signs and they have already covered the economic landscape with smoke. Murray Edwards, the billionaire tycoon behind Canadian Natural Resources, one of the largest bitumen extractors, has decamped from Alberta to London, England. Edwards and company slashed $2.4-billion from CNRL’s budget in 2015. Since the oil price crash, by some accounts, Murray’s company has lost 50% of its market value.

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“..the large bonuses paid to banks’ CEOs as they led their firms to ruin and the economy to the brink of collapse are hard to reconcile with the belief that individuals’ pay has anything to do with their social contributions.”

The New Era Of Monopoly Is Here (Stiglitz)

For 200 years, there have been two schools of thought about what determines the distribution of income – and how the economy functions. One, emanating from Adam Smith and 19th-century liberal economists, focuses on competitive markets. The other, cognisant of how Smith’s brand of liberalism leads to rapid concentration of wealth and income, takes as its starting point unfettered markets’ tendency toward monopoly. It is important to understand both, because our views about government policies and existing inequalities are shaped by which of the two schools of thought one believes provides a better description of reality. For the 19th-century liberals and their latter-day acolytes, because markets are competitive, individuals’ returns are related to their social contributions – their “marginal product”, in the language of economists.

Capitalists are rewarded for saving rather than consuming – for their abstinence, in the words of Nassau Senior, one of my predecessors in the Drummond Professorship of Political Economy at Oxford. Differences in income were then related to their ownership of “assets” – human and financial capital. Scholars of inequality thus focused on the determinants of the distribution of assets, including how they are passed on across generations. The second school of thought takes as its starting point “power”, including the ability to exercise monopoly control or, in labour markets, to assert authority over workers. Scholars in this area have focused on what gives rise to power, how it is maintained and strengthened, and other features that may prevent markets from being competitive. Work on exploitation arising from asymmetries of information is an important example.

In the west in the post-second world war era, the liberal school of thought has dominated. Yet, as inequality has widened and concerns about it have grown, the competitive school, viewing individual returns in terms of marginal product, has become increasingly unable to explain how the economy works. So, today, the second school of thought is ascendant. After all, the large bonuses paid to banks’ CEOs as they led their firms to ruin and the economy to the brink of collapse are hard to reconcile with the belief that individuals’ pay has anything to do with their social contributions. Of course, historically, the oppression of large groups – slaves, women, and minorities of various types – are obvious instances where inequalities are the result of power relationships, not marginal returns.

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“The ECB’s requirement for an “investment-grade” rating turns out to be an elastic condition; something you tell the Germans to put them off until the next meeting.”

Vicious Feedback Loops in New York Art and European Equities (Dizard)

The remarkable swing in sentiment, from depression to relief, and, in some cases, euphoria, around the New York art auctions this past week was one of the most astonishing examples of herd mentality I have seen. Back in 1990, we would buy a paper from the newsboy that would describe a decline in the Japanese stock market that had taken place the previous year. Weeks later, bids for Renoirs would dry up, and there would be talk about a correction in the art market. These days, we are all in short-cycle businesses. But I am trying to take the long-term view here, one that might hold up until the US elections in November. So in that spirit of philosophical detachment, I would say it is time to buy euro-denominated high-yield bonds before the other bidders come in next month in response to the ECB’s corporate bond-buying programme.

I understand that most of the quantitative analysis done on art and securities markets tells us that equity prices “cause” art prices to rise or fall, but it seems to me that the present volatility and vicious feedback loops in both markets are being caused by a more general instability. The weak equity markets at the beginning of this year, and the decline in art prices that had set in by early 2015, apparently led collectors to hold off on consigning contemporary works of art to the spring auctions in New York. Then when the Christie’s evening contemporary sale on Tuesday night worked out better than many expected, with 87% of the lots sold, there was suddenly a shortage of works on public offer. This led to more frantic bidding for contemporary art in that market’s equivalent of junk or high yield, the day sales. All within a couple of days.

The same risk-averse sentiment earlier this year led euro-area junk-rated companies to hold off on selling new bond issues. According to Richard Briggs, credit strategist at CreditSights, a fixed income research provider, euro high-yield debt issuance declined to just €12.7bn in the year to date up to May 9, compared with €47.9bn in the same period in 2015. So euro-based investors are even more starved for yield than New York collectors were for contemporary art. Not everyone agrees with me about the relative value of European junk bonds. As Matt King at Citi Research says: “A lot of investors prefer, or have preferred, US high yield. Optically, the yields are higher. Most of that, though, is about duration and credit quality, and you should adjust for those. The US has more CCC credits [the bottom of the non-defaulting junk pile], and when you take that into account, all the US HY advantage disappears.”

[..] The ECB’s bond-buying programme could have an outsized effect. It is targeted specifically at non-financial corporate bonds. The ECB has indicated it will buy €3bn-€5bn of corporate bonds each month, which is about the same rate of non-financial bond purchases as euro-area financial institutions have maintained since 2012. The ECB’s requirement for an “investment-grade” rating turns out to be an elastic condition; something you tell the Germans to put them off until the next meeting. If just one rating agency, including the Canadian DBRS, will give a corporate bond an investment-grade stamp, the ECB will be open to buying it. Mr King calculates that one little tweak will make about 4% of the European junk-bond market eligible for purchase. In a relatively illiquid €310bn market, every little bit helps.

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Intriguing by Matthew Klein. To be continued.

What If Greece Got Massive Debt Relief But No One Admitted It? – Part 1 (FT)

In 2012, the “official sector” lenders realised they needed to do something different. Over the course of the year they made new loans at low interest rates, lowered interest rates on existing loans, gave the Greek government much more time to repay existing loans, remitted profits from the ECB’s holdings of Greek government bonds back to the Greek government, and forced private lenders to accept getting repaid less than originally owed, among other things. The net effect was to sharply reduce the present value of the Greek government’s debt burden. According IMF data, the Greek government spent about €15 billion, or 7.3% of GDP, on debt interest payments in 2011. For perspective, the Italian government was spending 4.4% and the Portuguese government was spending 3.8%.

By 2013, the Greek economy had shrunk by 13%, in nominal euro terms, yet the sovereign debt interest burden was now 4.0% of GDP, against 4.5% for Italy and 4.2% for Portugal. Put another way, the debt modifications in 2012 cut the amount spent by the Greek government on interest payments by more than half. Subsequent debt modifications and the general decline in euro area interest rates have cut the amount the Greek government spends on interest payments by another 12.6%. Interest expense was 3.6% of Greek GDP in 2015, compared to 4.0% in Italy and 4.1% in Portugal. So why didn’t the 2012 modifications end the crisis? My colleague Martin Sandbu puts it well:

“The problem is the chill caused by the uncertainty the debt overhang causes: will the debt service cost at some point increase (perhaps to crippling levels), and will there be another refinancing crisis whenever a large portion of debt is set to mature? It is this uncertainty that must be erased for investment to pick up.”

In other words, investors don’t care about the decline in the interest burden nearly as much as they worry, reasonably, about the headline debt figures. This makes it impossible for the Greek government to fund itself in the markets at reasonable rates, leaving it dependent on the whims of “official sector” creditors to make its small interest payments and roll over its large debts. This is why it matters whether Kazarian is right about the accounting treatment of Greek sovereign obligations. There are plenty of weak economies in the euro area with miserable productivity growth, terrible demographics, and lots of debt. Greece isn’t that different except insofar as it’s excluded from ECB bond-buying and insofar as the markets and ratings companies treat it as a pariah.

So if the Greek government’s actual debt number were far lower than what’s commonly reported, investors would have little reason to charge it more than they demand from Portugal. And that would have big implications for an economy wracked for years by uncertainty about debt default, sky-high capital costs, and outside demands for “structural reform” and budget surpluses. In part 2, we’ll look at why exactly Kazarian thinks the Greek government’s net debt is only 39% of GDP, rather than 177%, as well as some potential objections. In part 3, we’ll imagine what sorts of budget surpluses would have been required to make the Greek government compliant with Maastricht criteria for debt levels by 2020 under different assumptions of the impact of the 2012 modifications, in comparison to what “official sector” creditors actually demanded.

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The US is falling apart in many places.

“I’ll Never Retire”: Americans Break Record for Working Past 65 (BBG)

Almost 20% of Americans 65 and older are now working, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the most older people with a job since the early 1960s, before the U.S. enacted Medicare. Because of the huge baby boom generation that is just now hitting retirement age, the U.S. has the largest number of older workers ever. When asked to describe their plans for retirement, 27% of Americans said they will “keep working as long as possible,” a 2015 Federal Reserve study found. Another 12% said they don’t plan to retire at all. Why are more people putting off retirement? Three in five retirees surveyed by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies said making money or earning benefits was at least one reason they had retired later than they planned to.

Almost half said financial problems were their main reason for working past 65. The financial crisis, and the tech bust before it, devastated many baby boomers’ retirement savings. That’s if they had any to begin with. Today, 60% of U.S. households have no money in a 401(k) or similar retirement account, and the benefits of 401(k)s are skewed toward the wealthiest Americans, a recent report by the Government Accountability Office found. The waning of traditional, defined-benefit pensions could also be delaying retirement, even for wealthier Americans. Instead of getting a monthly check, many retirees end up with a pot of 401(k) assets they’re not sure how they should be spending. The ups and downs of the market can heighten their anxiety and keep them going into the office.

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The sadness is hard to describe.

Retiree To Fly 80 South African Rhinos To Australia (G.)

A retired South African sales executive who emigrated to Australia 30 years ago is hatching a daring plan to airlift 80 rhinos to his adopted country in an attempt to save the species from poachers. Flying each animal on the 11,000-kilometre journey will cost about $A60,500, but Ray Dearlove believes the expense and risk is essential as poaching deaths have soared in recent years. The rhinos will be relocated to a safari park in Australia, which is being kept secret for security reasons, where they will become a “seed bank” to breed future generations. “Our grand plan is to move 80 over a four-year period. We think that will provide the nucleus of a good breeding herd,” Dearlove said while visiting South Africa to organise for the first batch to be flown out.

The Australian Rhino Project, which the 68-year-old founded in 2013, hopes to take six rhinos to their new home before the end of the year. Funding – from private and corporate sources – is nearly in place, and the first rhinos have been selected from animals kept on private reserves in South Africa. “We have got to get this first one right because it’s a big task, it’s expensive, it’s complex,” Dearlove said. When they are settled successfully in Australia, “then we hopefully will go up in gear,” he added. [..] Poachers slaughtered 1,338 rhinos across Africa last year – the highest level since the poaching crisis exploded in 2008, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN, which rates white rhinos as “near threatened” as a species, says that booming demand for horn and the involvement of international criminal syndicates has fuelled the explosion in poaching since 2007.

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A German point of view.

Merkel’s Deal with Turkey in Danger of Collapse (Spiegel)

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was standing on a stage in Ankara raging against the European Union. “Since when are you controlling Turkey?” he demanded. “Who gave you the order?” He then accused Brussels of dividing his country. “Do you think we don’t know that?” It sounded as though he was laying the groundwork for a break with Europe. Erdogan’s fit of rage is only the most recent escalation in the conflict over German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee deal with Turkey. Thus far, officials in Berlin have been dismissing the Turkish president’s tirades as mere theater. “Erdogan is following the Seehofer playbook,” says one Chancellery official, a reference to the outspoken governor of Bavaria who has been extremely critical of Merkel’s refugee policies.

But things aren’t looking good for the deal, which the chancellor has declared as the only proper way to solve the refugee crisis. Indeed, Merkel’s greatest foreign policy project is on the verge of collapsing. The chancellor still hopes that Erdogan will stick to the refugee deal. A key element of that deal is visa-free travel to the EU for Turkish citizens, and Merkel believes that Erdogan’s popularity would take a hit if that didn’t come to pass. That’s why she believes that Erdogan will come around in the end. But she could be mistaken. After all, no one aside from the German chancellor appears to have much interest in the agreement anymore. Erdogan certainly doesn’t: He does not want to make any concessions on his country’s expansive anti-terror laws, the reform of which is one of a long list of conditions Turkey must meet before the EU will grant visa freedoms.

The Europeans at large, wary of selling out their values to the autocrat in Ankara, are also deeply skeptical. And in Germany, Merkel’s junior coalition partners, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), have seized on the deal as a way to finally score some much needed political points against the powerful chancellor. Even within Merkel’s own conservatives, many are seeing the troubles the deal is facing as an opportunity to break with the chancellor’s disliked refugee policies.

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Brussels and Berlin would make a deal with Hitler if it suited them.

EU to Work with African Despot to Keep Refugees Out (Spiegel)

The ambassadors of the 28 European Union member states had agreed to secrecy. “Under no circumstances” should the public learn what was said at the talks that took place on March 23rd, the European Commission warned during the meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee. A staff member of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini even warned that Europe’s reputation could be at stake. Under the heading “TOP 37: Country fiches,” the leading diplomats that day discussed a plan that the EU member states had agreed to: They would work together with dictatorships around the Horn of Africa in order to stop the refugee flows to Europe – under Germany’s leadership.

When it comes to taking action to counter the root causes of flight in the region, Angela Merkel has said, “I strongly believe that we must improve peoples’ living conditions.” The EU’s new action plan for the Horn of Africa provides the first concrete outlines: For three years, €40 million is to be paid out to eight African countries from the Emergency Trust Fund, including Sudan. Minutes from the March 23 meetings and additional classified documents obtained by SPIEGEL and German public TV station ARD show that the focus of the project is border protection. To that end, equipment is to be provided to the countries in question. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges relating to his alleged role in genocide and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict.

Amnesty International also claims that the Sudanese secret service has tortured members of the opposition. And the United States accuses the country of providing financial support to terrorists. Nevertheless, documents relating to the project indicate that Europe want to send cameras, scanners and servers for registering refugees to the Sudanese regime in addition to training their border police and assisting with the construction of two camps with detention rooms for migrants. The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development has confirmed that action plan is binding, although no concrete decisions have yet been made regarding its implementation. The German development agency GIZ is expected to coordinate the project.

The organization, which is a government enterprise, has experience working with authoritarian countries. In Saudi Arabia, for example, German federal police are providing their Saudi colleagues with training in German high-tech border installations. The money for the training comes not directly from the federal budget but rather from GIZ. When it comes to questions of finance, the organization has become a vehicle the government can use to be less transparent, a government official confirms.

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