Mar 232017
 
 March 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


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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Dec 112016
 
 December 11, 2016  Posted by at 9:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


‘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


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.

Read more …

Aug 102016
 
 August 10, 2016  Posted by at 2:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


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
 
 May 14, 2016  Posted by at 8:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


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.

Read more …

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.”

Read more …

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.”

Read more …

“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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Apr 212016
 
 April 21, 2016  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle April 21 2016


G.G. Bain ‘Casino Theater playing musical ‘The Little Whopper’, NY 1920

America’s Upcoming National Crisis: Pensions (ZH)
The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans (Atlantic)
Soros: China Looks Like the US Before the Crisis (BBG)
China’s ‘Zombie’ Steel Mills Fire Up Furnaces, Worsen Global Glut (R.)
China Wants Ships To Use Faster Arctic Route Opened By Global Warming (R.)
Japan, Not Germany, Leads World in Negative-Yield Bonds (BBG)
ECB Slides Down Further Into ZIRP Bizarro World (CNBC)
Brexit Means Blood, Toil, Sweat And Tears (AEP)
Greece ‘Could Leave Eurozone’ On Brexit Vote (Tel.)
VW To Offer To Buy Back Nearly 500,000 US Diesel Cars (Reuters)
Public Support For TTIP Plunges in US and Germany (Reuters)
Italian ‘Bad Bank’ Fund ‘Designed To Stop The Sky Falling In’ (FT)
The Troubled Legacy Of Obama’s Record $60 Billion Saudi Arms Sale (R.)
More Than Half Of Americans Live Amid Dangerous Air Pollution (G.)
EU States Grow Wary As Turkey Presses For Action On Visas Pledge (FT)
Hungary Threatens Rebellion Against Brussels Over Forced Migration (Express)
Refugee Camp Near Athens Poses ‘Huge’ Public Health Risk (AFP)

What NIRP and ZIRP bring to the real economy. This is global.

America’s Upcoming National Crisis: Pensions (ZH)

A dark storm is brewing in the world of private pensions, and all hell could break loose when it finally hits. As the Washington Post reports, the Central States Pension Fund, which handles retirement benefits for current and former Teamster union truck drivers across various states including Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, New York, and Minnesota, and is one of the largest pension funds in the nation, has filed an application to cut participant benefits, which would be effective July 1 2016, as it “projects” it will become officially insolvent by 2025. In 2015, the fund returned -0.81%, underperforming the 0.37% return of its benchmark. Over a quarter of a million people depend on their pension being handled by the CSPF; for most it is their only source of fixed income.

Pension funds applying to lower promised benefits is a new development, albeit not unexpected (we warned of this mounting issue numerous times in the past). For many years there existed federal protections which shielded pensions from being cut, but that all changed in December 2014, when folded neatly into a $1.1 trillion government spending bill, was a proposal to allow multi employer pension plans to cut pension benefits so long as they are projected to run out of money in the next 10 to 20 years. Between rising benefit payouts as participants become eligible, the global financial crisis, and the current interest rate environment, it was certainly just a matter of time before these steps were taken to allow pension plans to cut benefits to stave off insolvency.

The Central States Pension Fund is currently paying out $3.46 in pension benefits for every $1 it receives from employers, which has resulted in the fund paying out $2 billion more in benefits than it receives in employer contributions each year. As a result, Thomas Nyhan, executive director of the Central States Pension Fund said that the fund could become insolvent by 2025 if nothing is done. The fund currently pays out $2.8 billion a year in benefits according to Nyhan, and if the plan becomes insolvent it would overwhelm the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (designed by the government to absorb insolvent plans and continue paying benefits), who at the end of fiscal 2015 only had $1.9 billion in total assets itself. Incidentally as we also pointed out last month, the PBGC projects that they will also be insolvent by 2025 – it appears there is something very foreboding about that particular year.

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“Nearly half of American adults are “financially fragile” and “living very close to the financial edge.”

The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans (Atlantic)

Since 2013, the federal reserve board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49% of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29% of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43% of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47% of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew? Well, I knew. I knew because I am in that 47%.

I know what it is like to have to juggle creditors to make it through a week. I know what it is like to have to swallow my pride and constantly dun people to pay me so that I can pay others. I know what it is like to have liens slapped on me and to have my bank account levied by creditors. I know what it is like to be down to my last $5—literally—while I wait for a paycheck to arrive, and I know what it is like to subsist for days on a diet of eggs. I know what it is like to dread going to the mailbox, because there will always be new bills to pay but seldom a check with which to pay them. I know what it is like to have to tell my daughter that I didn’t know if I would be able to pay for her wedding; it all depended on whether something good happened. And I know what it is like to have to borrow money from my adult daughters because my wife and I ran out of heating oil.

You wouldn’t know any of that to look at me. I like to think I appear reasonably prosperous. Nor would you know it to look at my résumé. I have had a passably good career as a writer—five books, hundreds of articles published, a number of awards and fellowships, and a small (very small) but respectable reputation. You wouldn’t even know it to look at my tax return. I am nowhere near rich, but I have typically made a solid middle- or even, at times, upper-middle-class income, which is about all a writer can expect, even a writer who also teaches and lectures and writes television scripts, as I do.

And you certainly wouldn’t know it to talk to me, because the last thing I would ever do—until now—is admit to financial insecurity or, as I think of it, “financial impotence,” because it has many of the characteristics of sexual impotence, not least of which is the desperate need to mask it and pretend everything is going swimmingly. In truth, it may be more embarrassing than sexual impotence. “You are more likely to hear from your buddy that he is on Viagra than that he has credit-card problems,” says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist who teaches at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and ministers to individuals with financial issues. “Much more likely.”

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“From a credit perspective, we’d be more comfortable with China slowing more than it is. We are getting less confident in the government’s commitment to structural reforms.”

Soros: China Looks Like the US Before the Crisis (BBG)

Billionaire investor George Soros said China’s debt-fueled economy resembles the U.S. in 2007-08, before credit markets seized up and spurred a global recession. China’s March credit-growth figures should be viewed as a warning sign, Soros said at an Asia Society event in New York on Wednesday. The broadest measure of new credit in the world’s second-biggest economy was 2.34 trillion yuan ($362 billion) last month, far exceeding the median forecast of 1.4 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey and signaling the government is prioritizing growth over reining in debt. What’s happening in China “eerily resembles what happened during the financial crisis in the U.S. in 2007-08, which was similarly fueled by credit growth,” Soros said. “Most of money that banks are supplying is needed to keep bad debts and loss-making enterprises alive.”

Soros, who built a $24 billion fortune through savvy wagers on markets, has recently been involved in a war of words with the Chinese government. He said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that he’s been betting against Asian currencies because a hard landing in China is “practically unavoidable.” China’s state-run Xinhua news agency rebutted his assertion in an editorial, saying that he has made the same prediction several times in the past. China’s economy gathered pace in March as the surge in new credit helped the property sector rebound. Housing values in first-tier cities have soared, with new-home prices in Shenzhen rising 62 percent in a year. While China’s real estate is in a bubble, it may be able to feed itself for some time, similar to the U.S. in 2005 and 2006, Soros said.

China’s economy gathered pace in March as the surge in new credit helped the property sector rebound. Housing values in first-tier cities have soared, with new-home prices in Shenzhen rising 62 percent in a year. While China’s real estate is in a bubble, it may be able to feed itself for some time, similar to the U.S. in 2005 and 2006, Soros said. “Most of the damage occurred in later years,” Soros said. “It’s a parabolic cycle.” Andrew Colquhoun at Fitch Ratings, is also concerned about China’s resurgence in borrowing. Eventually, the very thing that has been driving the economic recovery could end up derailing it, because China is adding to a debt burden that’s already unsustainable, he said.

Fitch rates the nation’s sovereign debt at A+, the fifth-highest grade and a step lower than Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service, which both cut their outlooks on China since March. “Whether we call it stabilization or not, I am not sure,” Colquhoun said in an interview in New York. “From a credit perspective, we’d be more comfortable with China slowing more than it is. We are getting less confident in the government’s commitment to structural reforms.”

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Forget Tata.

China’s ‘Zombie’ Steel Mills Fire Up Furnaces, Worsen Global Glut (R.)

The rest of the world’s steel producers may be pressuring Beijing to slash output and help reduce a global glut that is causing losses and costing jobs, but the opposite is happening in the steel towns of China. While the Chinese government points to reductions in steel making capacity it has engineered, a rapid rise in local prices this year has seen mills ramp up output. Even “zombie” mills, which stopped production but were not closed down, have been resurrected. Despite global overproduction, Chinese steel prices have risen by 77% this year from last year’s trough on some very specific local factors, including tighter supplies following plant shutdowns last year, restocking by consumers and a pick-up in seasonal demand following the Chinese New Year break.

Some mills also boosted output ahead of mandated cuts around a major horticultural show later this month in the Tangshan area. Local mills must at least halve their emissions on certain days during the exposition, due to run from April 29 to October. China, which accounts for half the world’s steel output and whose excess capacity is four times U.S. production levels, has said it has done more than enough to tackle overcapacity, and blames the glut on weak demand. But a survey by Chinese consultancy Custeel showed 68 blast furnaces with an estimated 50 million tonnes of capacity have resumed production. The capacity utilization rate among small Chinese mills has increased to 58% from 51% in January.

At large mills, it has risen to 87% from 84%, according to a separate survey by consultancy Mysteel. The rise in prices has thrown a lifeline to ‘zombie’ mills, like Shanxi Wenshui Haiwei Steel, which produces 3 million tonnes a year but which halted nearly all production in August. It now plans to resume production soon, a company official said. Another similar-sized company, Jiangsu Shente Steel, stopped production in December but then resumed in March as prices surged, a company official said. More than 40 million tonnes of capacity out of the 50-60 million tonnes that were shut last year are now back on, said Macquarie analyst Ian Roper. “Capacity cuts are off the cards given the price and margin rebound,” he said.

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The fight over jurisdiction and fees will heat up. Just like the Arctic itself.

China Wants Ships To Use Faster Arctic Route Opened By Global Warming (R.)

China will encourage ships flying its flag to take the Northwest Passage via the Arctic Ocean, a route opened up by global warming, to cut travel times between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a state-run newspaper said on Wednesday. China is increasingly active in the polar region, becoming one of the biggest mining investors in Greenland and agreeing to a free trade deal with Iceland. Shorter shipping routes across the Arctic Ocean would save Chinese companies time and money. For example, the journey from Shanghai to Hamburg via the Arctic route is 2,800 nautical miles shorter than going by the Suez Canal. China’s Maritime Safety Administration this month released a guide offering detailed route guidance from the northern coast of North America to the northern Pacific, the China Daily said.

“Once this route is commonly used, it will directly change global maritime transport and have a profound influence on international trade, the world economy, capital flow and resource exploitation,” ministry spokesman Liu Pengfei was quoted as saying. Chinese ships will sail through the Northwest Passage “in the future”, Liu added, without giving a time frame. Most of the Northwest Passage lies in waters that Canada claims as its own. Asked if China considered the passage an international waterway or Canadian waters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China noted Canada considered that the route crosses its waters, although some countries believed it was open to international navigation.

In Ottawa, a spokesman for Foreign Minister Stephane Dion said no automatic right of transit passage existed in the waterways of the Northwest Passage. “We welcome navigation that complies with our rules and regulations. Canada has an unfettered right to regulate internal waters,” Joseph Pickerill said by email.

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Talk to the hand.

Japan, Not Germany, Leads World in Negative-Yield Bonds (BBG)

Europe’s central bank took the unorthodox step of cutting interest rates below zero in 2014. Japan followed suit earlier this year, and has become home to more negative-yielding debt than anywhere else, leading Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium.

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Crazy free money, no strings: “Banks are encouraged to extend credit to the real economy but are not penalized for not meeting their benchmark lending targets..”

ECB Slides Down Further Into ZIRP Bizarro World (CNBC)

Economists and analysts have been swooning over a new series of ultra-cheap, ultra-long bank loans announced by the ECB last month, which they believe might just kickstart the region’s fragile economy. “It’s massively positive,” Erik Nielsen, global chief economist at UniCredit, told CNBC via email regarding the new breed of “credit-easing” tactics announced by ECB President Mario Draghi. These targeted long-term refinancing operations, or TLTRO IIs, advance on a previous model announced by the central bank in 2011 and effectively give free money to the banks to lend to the real economy. They’re a series of four loans – conducted between June 2016 and March 2017 – and will have a fixed maturity of four years.

The interest rate will start at nothing, but could become as low as the current deposit rate, which is currently -0.40%, if banks meet their loan targets. This means the banks will be receiving cash for borrowing from the central bank. Banks will need to post collateral at the ECB but there’s no penalty if they fail to meet their loan targets. All that will happen is that the loans will be priced at zero for four years. Frederik Ducrozet, a euro zone economist with private Swiss-bank Pictet, called it “unconditional liquidity to banks at 0% cost, against collateral.” He said in a note last month that he expects it to lower bank funding costs, mitigate the adverse consequences of negative rates, strengthen the ECB’s forward guidance and improve the transmission of monetary policy.

Abhishek Singhania, a strategist at Deutsche Bank, added that the new LTROs “reduce the stigma” attached to their use compared to the previous model. “Banks are encouraged to extend credit to the real economy but are not penalized for not meeting their benchmark lending targets,” he said in a note last month.

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Ambrose muses on Europe: “The EU is a strategic relic of a post-War order that no longer exists, and a clutter of vested interests that caused Europe to miss the IT revolution.”

Brexit Means Blood, Toil, Sweat And Tears (AEP)

[..] The Justice Secretary is right to dismiss Project Fear as craven and defeatist. A vote to leave the dysfunctional EU half-way house might well be a “galvanising, liberating, empowering moment of patriotic renewal”. The EU is a strategic relic of a post-War order that no longer exists, and a clutter of vested interests that caused Europe to miss the IT revolution. “We will have rejected the depressing and pessimistic vision that Britain is too small and weak, and the British people too hapless and pathetic, to manage their own affairs,” he said. The special pleading of the City should be viewed with a jaundiced eye. This is the same City that sought to stop the country upholding its treaty obligations to Belgium in 1914, and that funded the Nazi war machine even after Anschluss in 1938, lobbying for appeasement to protect its loans. It is morally disqualified from any opinion on statecraft or higher matters of sovereign self-government.

Mr Gove is right that the European Court has become a law unto itself, asserting a supremacy that does not exist in treaty law, and operating under a Roman jurisprudence at odds with the philosophy and practices of English Common Law. It has seized on the Charter of Fundamental Rights to extend its jurisdiction into anything it pleases. Do I laugh or cry as I think back to the drizzling Biarritz summit of October 2000 when the Europe minister of the day told this newspaper that the charter would have no more legal standing than “the Beano or the Sun”? What Mr Gove cannot claim with authority is that Britain will skip painlessly into a “free trade zone stretching from Iceland to Turkey that all European nations have access to, regardless of whether they are in or out of the euro or the EU”.

Nobody knows exactly how the EU will respond to Brexit, or how long it would take to slot in the Norwegian or Swiss arrangements, or under what terms. Nor do we know how quickly the US, China, India would reply to our pleas for bi-lateral deals. Over 100 trade agreements would have to be negotiated, and the world has other priorities. Brexit might set off an EU earthquake as Mr Gove says – akin to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in the words of France’s Marine Le Pen – but it would not resemble his children’s fairy tale. The more plausible outcome is a 1930s landscape of simmering nationalist movements with hard-nosed reflexes, and a further lurch toward authoritarian polities from Poland to Hungary and arguably Slovakia, and down to Romania where the Securitate never entirely lost its grip and Nicolae Ceausescu is back in fashion.

Pocket Putins will have a field day knowing that they can push the EU around. The real Vladimir Putin will be waiting for his moment of maximum mayhem to try his luck with “little green men” in Estonia or Latvia, calculating that nothing can stop him restoring the western borders of the Tsarist empire if he can test and subvert NATO’s Article 5 – the solidarity clause, one-for-all and all-for-one. A case can be made that the EU has gone so irretrievably wrong that Britain must withdraw to save its legal fabric and parliamentary tradition. If so, let us at least be honest about what we face. One might equally quote another British prime minster, with poetic licence: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat’.

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Greece is mor elikely to leave in the wake of a new refugee disaster.

Greece ‘Could Leave Eurozone’ On Brexit Vote (Tel.)

Greece could crash out of the eurozone as early as this summer if Britons vote to leave the European Union in the upcoming referendum, economists have predicted. The uncertainty following a ‘yes’ vote to Britain leaving the EU would put unsustainable pressure on Greece’s cash-strapped economy at a time when it is also struggling to cope with an influx of migrants escaping turmoil in the Middle East and Africa, according to a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit. The authors of the report say it is highly likely that Greece will be forced to leave the eurozone at some point within the next five years, but that if the UK votes to leave the EU in June, it could happen much sooner. Greece is already under a huge amount of pressure and a so-called Brexit could tip it over the edge.

The country has large debt payments due in mid-2016, while structural reforms recommended in Greece’s bail-out programme are “slow burners” and unlikely to deliver any significant growth in the short term. Greece’s true GDP contracted by 0.3pc last year, while unemployment stands at 24pc. The country’s overall debt-to-GDP ratio has hit 171pc. “While the region could probably handle a Brexit, Grexit or an escalation of the migrant crisis individually, it would be unlikely to navigate successfully a situation in which several of those crises came to a head simultaneously,” the report, entitled ‘Europe stretched to the limit’, said. “It is not impossible that this could happen as early as mid-2016, when the UK votes on whether or not to remain in the EU.”

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If they have to offer a similar deal in Europe, that’s curtains.

VW To Offer To Buy Back Nearly 500,000 US Diesel Cars (Reuters)

Volkswagen and U.S. officials have reached a framework deal under which the automaker would offer to buy back almost 500,000 diesel cars that used sophisticated software to evade U.S. emission rules, two people briefed on the matter said on Wednesday. The German automaker is expected to tell a federal judge in San Francisco Thursday that it has agreed to offer to buy back up to 500,000 2.0-liter diesel vehicles sold in the United States that exceeded legally allowable emission levels, the people said. That would include versions of the Jetta sedan, the Golf compact and the Audi A3 sold since 2009. The buyback offer does not apply to the bigger, 80,000 3.0-liter diesel vehicles also found to have exceeded U.S. pollution limits, including Audi and Porsche SUV models, the people said.

U.S.-listed shares of Volkswagen rose nearly 6% to $30.95 following the news. VW in September admitted cheating on emissions tests for 11 million vehicles worldwide since 2009, damaging the automaker’s global image. As part of the settlement with U.S. authorities including the Environmental Protection Agency, Volkswagen has also agreed to a compensation fund for owners, a third person briefed on the terms said. The compensation fund is expected to represent more than $1 billion on top of the cost of buying back the vehicles, but it is not clear how much each owner might receive, the person said. Volkswagen may also offer to repair polluting diesel vehicles if U.S. regulators approve the proposed fix, the sources said.

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It’ll be increasingly hard to push through in Europe. And in America too unless Hillary’s elected.

Public Support For TTIP Plunges in US and Germany (Reuters)

Support for the transatlantic trade deal known as TTIP has fallen sharply in Germany and the United States, a survey showed on Thursday, days before Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama meet to try to breathe new life into the pact. The survey, conducted by YouGov for the Bertelsmann Foundation, showed that only 17% of Germans believe the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a good thing, down from 55% two years ago. In the United States, only 18% support the deal compared to 53% in 2014. Nearly half of U.S. respondents said they did not know enough about the agreement to voice an opinion. TTIP is expected to be at the top of the agenda when Merkel hosts Obama at a trade show in Hanover on Sunday and Monday.

Ahead of that meeting, German officials said they remained optimistic that a broad “political agreement” between Brussels and Washington could be clinched before Obama leaves office in January. The hope is that TTIP could then be finalised with Obama’s successor. But there have been abundant signs in recent weeks that European countries are growing impatient with the slow pace of the talks, which are due to resume in New York next week. On Wednesday, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel described the negotiations as “frozen up” and questioned whether Washington really wanted a deal.

The day before, France’s trade minister threatened to halt the talks, citing a lack of progress. Deep public scepticism in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has clouded the negotiations from the start. The Bertelsmann survey showed that many Germans fear the deal will lower standards for products, consumer protection and the labor market. It also pointed to a dramatic shift in how Germans view free trade in general. Only 56% see it positively, compared to 88% two years ago. “Support for trade agreements is fading in a country that views itself as the global export champion,” said Aart de Geus, chairman and chief executive of the Bertelsmann Foundation.

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Bottom line: “..non-performing debt [..] stands at €360bn, according to the Bank of Italy. So is Atlante — with about €5bn of equity — really enough to keep the heavens in place?”

Italian ‘Bad Bank’ Fund ‘Designed To Stop The Sky Falling In’ (FT)

Atlante, a new private initiative backed by the Italian government, is designed to stop the sky falling in. The fund, which takes its name from the mythological titan who held up the heavens, will buy shares in Italian lenders in a bid to edge the sector away from a fully-fledged crisis. Last week’s announcement of the fund, which can also buy non-performing loans, led to a welcome boost for Italian banks. An index for the sector gained 10% over the week — its best performance since the summer of 2012, though it remains heavily down on the year. But Italian banks have made €200bn of loans to borrowers now deemed insolvent, of which €85bn has not been written down on their balance sheets. A broader measure of non-performing debt, which includes loans unlikely to be repaid in full, stands at €360bn, according to the Bank of Italy.

So is Atlante — with about €5bn of equity — really enough to keep the heavens in place? The Italian government has been placed in a highly unusual position. It has become much harder to directly bail out its financial institutions, as other European countries did during the crisis. Meanwhile, a new European-wide approach to bank failure, which involves imposing losses on bondholders, is politically fraught in Italy, where large numbers of bonds have been sold to retail customers. The new fund also comes in the context of an extremely weak start to the year for global markets. “In this market it is impossible for anyone to raise any capital,” says Sebastiano Pirro, an analyst at Algebris, adding that, since November last year, “the markets have been shut for Italian banks”.

The government has been forced into an array of subtle interventions to provide support. Earlier this year, details emerged of a scheme for non-performing loans to be securitised — a process where assets are packaged together and sold as bond-like products of different levels, or tranches, of risk. The government planned to offer a guarantee on the most senior tranches — those with a triple B, or “investment grade” rating.

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Support for dying empires will come at a price. The Nobel Peace Prize came free of charge.

The Troubled Legacy Of Obama’s Record $60 Billion Saudi Arms Sale (R.)

Six years ago, Saudi and American officials agreed on a record $60 billion arms deal. The United States would sell scores of F-15 fighters, Apache attack helicopters and other advanced weaponry to the oil-rich kingdom. The arms, both sides hoped, would fortify the Saudis against their aggressive arch-rival in the region, Iran. But as President Barack Obama makes his final visit to Riyadh this week, Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities remain a work in progress – and the gap in perceptions between Washington and Riyadh has widened dramatically. The biggest stumble has come in Yemen. Frustrated by Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and the U.S. pullback from the region, Riyadh launched an Arab military intervention last year to confront perceived Iranian expansionism in its southern neighbour.

The conflict pits a coalition of Arab and Muslim nations led by the Saudis against Houthi rebels allied to Iran and forces loyal to a former Yemeni president. A tentative ceasefire is holding as the United Nations prepares for peace talks in Kuwait, proof, the Saudis say, of the intervention’s success. But while Saudi Arabia has the third-largest defence budget in the world behind the United States and China, its military performance in Yemen has been mixed, current and former U.S. officials said. The kingdom’s armed forces have often appeared unprepared and prone to mistakes. U.N. investigators say that air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition are responsible for two thirds of the 3,200 civilians who have died in Yemen, or approximately 2,000 deaths. They said that Saudi forces have killed twice as many civilians as other forces in Yemen.

On the ground, Saudi-led forces have often struggled to achieve their goals, making slow headway in areas where support for Iran-allied Houthi rebels runs strong. And along the Saudi border, the Houthis and allied forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh have attacked almost daily since July, killing hundreds of Saudi troops. Instead of being the centrepiece of a more assertive Saudi regional strategy, the Yemen intervention has called into question Riyadh’s military influence, said one former senior Obama administration official. “There’s a long way to go. Efforts to create an effective pan-Arab military force have been disappointing.”

Behind the scenes, the West has been enmeshed in the conflict. Between 50 and 60 U.S. military personnel have provided coordination and support to the Saudi-led coalition, a U.S. official told Reuters. And six to 10 Americans have worked directly inside the Saudi air operations centre in Riyadh. Britain and France, Riyadh’s other main defence suppliers, have also provided military assistance. Last year, the Obama administration had the U.S. military send precision-guided munitions from its own stocks to replenish dwindling Saudi-led coalition supplies, a source close to the Saudi government said. Administration officials argued that even more Yemeni civilians would die if the Saudis had to use bombs with less precise guidance systems.

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Half of Europe too, no doubt. And China. And larger cities everywhere.

More Than Half Of Americans Live Amid Dangerous Air Pollution (G.)

More than half of the US population lives amid potentially dangerous air pollution, with national efforts to improve air quality at risk of being reversed, a new report has warned. A total of 166 million Americans live in areas that have unhealthy levels of of either ozone or particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association, raising their risk of lung cancer, asthma attacks, heart disease, reproductive problems and other ailments. The association’s 17th annual “state of the air” report found that there has been a gradual improvement in air quality in recent years but warned progress has been too slow and could even be reversed by efforts in Congress to water down the Clean Air Act. Climate change is also a looming air pollution challenge, with the report charting an increase in short-term spikes in particle pollution.

Many of these day-long jumps in soot and smoke have come from a worsening wildfire situation across the US, especially in areas experiencing prolonged dry conditions. Six of the 10 worst US cities for short-term pollution are in California, which has been in the grip of an historic drought. Bakersfield, California, was named the most polluted city for both short-term and year-round particle pollution, while Los Angeles-Long Beach was the worst for ozone pollution. Small particles that escape from the burning of coal and from vehicle tail pipes can bury themselves deep in people’s lungs, causing various health problems. Ozone and other harmful gases can also be expelled from these sources, triggering asthma attacks and even premature death.

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Can Brussels survive such failure? More urgently, can Greece survive the fallout? Because it’s Greece that will suffer first, and most, if the EU pact with the devil falls through.

EU States Grow Wary As Turkey Presses For Action On Visas Pledge (FT)

European diplomats are agonising over their politically perilous promise to grant visa-free travel to 80m Turks, amid strong warnings from Ankara that the EU migration deal will fold without a positive visa decision by June. The EU’s month-old deal to return migrants from Greece to Turkey has dramatically cut flows across the Aegean, easing what had been an acute migration crisis. But the pact rests on sweeteners for Ankara that the EU is struggling to deliver – above all, giving Turkish citizens short-term travel rights to Europe’s Schengen area. Germany, France and other countries nervous of a political backlash over Muslim migration have started exploring options to make the concession more politically palatable, including through safeguard clauses, extra conditions or watered-down terms.

The political calculations are further complicated by looming EU visa decisions for Ukraine, Georgia and Kosovo. Several senior European diplomats say ideas considered include a broad emergency brake, allowing the EU to suspend the visa deal under certain circumstances; limiting the visa privileges to Turkish executives and students; or opting for an unconventional visa-waiver treaty with Turkey, which would allow more rigorous, US-style checks on visitors. Selim Yenel, Turkey’s ambassador to the EU, called the efforts to water down the terms “totally unacceptable”, saying: “They cannot and should not change the rules of the game.” One senior EU official said the search for alternatives reflected “growing panic” in Berlin and Paris over the looming need to deliver the pledge.

The various options, the official added, were “a political smokescreen” to muster support in the Bundestag and European Parliament, which must also vote on the measures. The Turkish visa issue has even flared in Britain’s EU referendum campaign, forcing David Cameron, the prime minister, to clarify on Wednesday that Turks could not automatically come to the UK if they were granted visa rights to the 26-member Schengen area. The matter could come to a head within weeks. Brussels says Turkey is making good progress in fulfilling 72 required “benchmarks” to win the visa concessions and will issue a report on May 4. This is expected to say that Turkey is on course to meet the criteria by early June, passing the political dilemma to the EU member states and European Parliament.

One ambassador in Brussels said it looked ever more likely that several states would try to block visas for Turkey – a possibility that Mr Yenel also appears to anticipate. “They are probably getting cold feet since we are fulfilling the benchmarks,” he told the Financial Times. “We expect them to stick to what was agreed, otherwise how can we continue to trust the EU? We delivered on our side of the bargain. Now it is their turn.” Signs of Brussels backtracking have already prompted angry Turkish responses. “The EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said recently. Meanwhile, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister, has warned that “no one can expect Turkey to adhere to its commitments” if the June deadline was not respected.

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How is this any different from Europe’s long lamented bloody past?

Hungary Threatens Rebellion Against Brussels Over Forced Migration (Express)

The much-derided Schengen Area is on the brink of collapse after furious Hungary launched a rebellion against open borders. The country’s prime minister Viktor Orban is also angry at mandatory migrant quotas enforced by the European Union. He is now touring Europe’s capital cities, where he is rallying support for a new plan with greater protection for individual states, dubbed “Schengen 2.0.” Currently, EU countries are forced to comply with orders from Brussels to accept and settle a specified number of migrants. Orban has described these quotas as “wrong-headed” and is now leading a group of other countries determined to re-take control of their borders. “The EU cannot create a system in which it lets in migrants and then prescribes mandatory resettlement quotas for every member state.”

Orban also promised a referendum in Hungary on whether the country should accept these orders, warning that some of the settled migrants were unlikely to integrate, leading to social friction. He said: “If we do not stop Brussels with a referendum, they will indeed impose on us masses of people, with whom we do not wish to live together.” Other countries may follow suit in opposing these plans and hold their own referendums, taking the power from Brussels and putting it back in the hands of their residents. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have both threatened to take legal action against the EU’s orders to take in migrants. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Sunday: “I expect the line of opposition will be wider. Let us talk about legal action against the proposal when it is necessary.”

The action plan, which will be shared with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland as well as the prime ministers of several other unspecified countries, is just the latest nail in the Schengen coffin. Last week, 2,000 soldiers in Switzerland’s tank battalion were told to postpone their summer holidays in order to be ready to rush to the border with Italy to block migrants making their way from Sicily. Austria has also begun sealing off its southern border, introducing checks on the vital Brenner Cross motorway and pledging the implementation of €1m worth of border patrols and security improvements. Brussel’s most senior bureaucrat admitted yesterday that confidence in the EU was dropping rapidly across the continent. In an astonishing confession of failure, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “We are no longer respected in our countries when we emphasise the need to give priority to the EU.”

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A team of our Automatic Earth-sponsored friends at the Social Kitchen prepares 1000s of meals for refugees daily at Elliniko. Your contributions are still as welcome as they are necessary.

Refugee Camp Near Athens Poses ‘Enormous’ Public Health Risk (AFP)

Five mayors of Athens’s coastal suburbs warned Wednesday of the “enormous” health risks posed by a nearby camp housing over 4,000 migrants and refugees. “The conditions are out of control and present enormous risks to the public health,” the mayors complained in a letter to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in reference to the camp at Elliniko, the site of Athens’s old airport. A total of 4,153 people, including many families, have been held there for the last month in miserable conditions. “The number of people is much higher than the capacity of the place and there are serious hygiene problems,” local mayor Dionyssis Hatzidakis told AFP.

He and his four fellow mayors from the area cited a document from Greece’s disease prevention center KEELPNO warning of the “the danger of disease contagion due to unacceptable housing conditions” at the site which they say has no more than 40 chemical toilets. Since the migrants’ favored route through the Balkans to the rest of Europe was shut down in February, numbers have been building up in Greece, with 46,000 Syrians and other nationalities now stuck in the country. Thousands of these have been transferred from the islands they arrived at to temporary centers such as the one at Elliniko, until more suitable reception centers can be set up.

The five mayors also voiced their disquiet at the “tensions and daily violent incidents between the refugees or migrants,” calling on the interior minister to boost police numbers in the area. “We are launching an appeal for help to protect the public health and security of both the refugees and the local population,” they said in their letter. Their intervention came the day after 17-year-old Afghan woman living in Elliniko with her parents died after six days in an Athens hospital. Her death was linked to a pre-existing heart condition exacerbated by the difficult journey to Greece, the doctor who treated her was quoted as saying in the Ethnos daily. Greek island officials on Tuesday began letting migrants leave detention centers where they have been held, as Human Rights Watch heaped criticism on a wave of EU-sanctioned expulsions to ease the crisis.

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Mar 072016
 
 March 7, 2016  Posted by at 9:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Launch of freighter Howard L. Shaw, Wyandotte, Michigan 1900

Debtor Days Are Over As BIS Calls Time On World Credit Binge (Tel.)
‘Gathering Storm’ For Global Economy As Markets Lose Faith (AFP)
The Bank Of Japan Has Turned Economics On Its Head (BBG)
China Growth Addiction Leaves Deleveraging, Reform in Back Seat (BBG)
China Defends Veracity Of Foreign Exchange Reserves Data (FT)
China’s Leaders Put the Economy on Bubble Watch (WSJ)
China Plans Crackdown on Loans for Home Down-Payments (BBG)
Hong Kong Homes Sales Tumble 70% (BBG)
Grexit Back On The Agenda Again As Greek Economy Unravels (Guardian)
Zombie Banks Are Stalking Europe (BBG)
Threat Of A Synchronised Downturn (Pettifor)
Why The House Price Bubble Still Hasn’t Burst (Steve Keen)
Turkey Steps Up Crackdown on Erdogan Foes on Eve of EU Meetings (BBG)
Turkey Disputes Greek Sovereignty Via NATO Patrols (Kath.)
EU To Focus On Greek Aid, Closing Balkan Migrant Route At Summit (AP)
Tsipras: “We Will Continue To Save Lives” (Reuters) (Reuters)
Surge Of 100,000 Refugees Building In Greece (AFP/L)
Refugee Boat Sinks Off Turkey’s Western Coast, 25 Dead, 15 Rescued (DS)

All we have left is debtors though.

Debtor Days Are Over As BIS Calls Time On World Credit Binge (Tel.)

The world’s credit boom is beginning to show dangerous signs of unraveling, ushering in a period of fresh turmoil for the over-indebted global economy, the Bank of International Settlements has warned. The globe’s top financial watchdog called time on the world’s debt binge, noting that debt issuance and cross border flows in emerging economies slowed for the first time since the aftermath of the global credit crunch at the end of last year. With financial markets thrown into fresh paroxysms in 2016, oscillating between extremes of “hope and fear”, the over-leveraged world was finally approaching a day of reckoning, said Claudio Borio, the bank’s chief economist. “We may not be seeing isolated bolts from the blue, but the signs of a gathering storm that has been building for a long time”, he said.

The Swiss authority – known as the “central bank of central banks” – has long rang the alarm bell over the state of global indebtedness, warning that unprecedented monetary policy was storing up problems in a world which still lumbers under weak productivity, insipid growth, and has no appetite for major reforms. In its latest quarterly review, the BIS said some of its starkest warnings were now coming into fruition. It noted that international securities issuance turned negative at the end of last year to the tune of -$47bn – the sharpest contraction since the third quarter of 2012. The retrenchment was largely driven by the financial sector, said the BIS. Meanwhile emerging market debtors – who have embarked on a $3.3 trillion dollar denominated debt spree in the wake of the financial crisis – saw issuance ground to a halt in the second half of the year.

This provided a “telltale” sign that the financial conditions were reaching an inflection point, accompanied by large depreciations in emerging market currencies and slowing domestic growth. “It is as if two waves with different frequencies came together to form a bigger and more destructive one”, said Mr Borio. Global debt now stands at over 200pc of GDP, exceeding levels seen before the financial crash in 2007. Any turning in the credit cycle risks imperiling debtor companies and governments, raising the chances of default and corporate bankruptcies, said the BIS. “If they persist, tighter global liquidity conditions may raise stability risks in some countries, especially those where other indicators already point to a heightened risk of financial stress”, they said.

Ahead of the US Federal Reserve’s landmark decision to raise interest rates for the first time in eight years last December, the BIS had forewarned of an “uneasy market calm” that could quickly turn to debtor distress. This prophecy is seemingly playing out in the first three months of 2016. “The tension between the markets’ tranquility and the underlying economic vulnerabilities had to be resolved at some point,” said Mr Borio. “In the recent quarter, we may have been witnessing the beginning of its resolution.” Debt binges have also been exacerbated by a historic collapse in oil prices. Energy companies from Brazil to Russia are scrambling to service $3 trillion of dollar debt as prices languish at around $30 a barrel – a 70pc decline since late 2014.

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More BIS.

‘Gathering Storm’ For Global Economy As Markets Lose Faith (AFP)

A fragile calm in global financial markets has given way to all-out turbulence, the Bank of International Settlements has said, warning of a “gathering storm” which has long been brewing. In its latest quarterly report, watched closely by investors, the BIS – which is known as the central bank of central banks – also warned that investors were concerned governments around the world were running out of policy options. BIS chief Claudio Borio said the “uneasy calm” of previous months had given way to turbulence and a “gathering storm”. “The tension between the markets’ tranquillity and the underlying economic vulnerabilities had to be resolved at some point. In the recent quarter, we may have been witnessing the beginning of its resolution,” he added.

“We may not be seeing isolated bolts from the blue, but the signs of a gathering storm that has been building for a long time,” he warned. Although Asian markets enjoyed another strong day on Monday and continued to claw back the losses of January, the report said said that investors were concerned about what central banks could do in the event of another crisis. “Underlying some of the turbulence was market participants’ growing concern over the dwindling options for policy support in the face of the weakening growth outlook,” the report said. “With fiscal space tight and structural policies largely dormant, central bank measures were seen to be approaching their limits.”

Borio surveyed the major disruptions over the last three months, from the first post-crisis interest rate hike by the US Federal Reserve in December, to accumulating signs of China’s slowdown. In what he termed the second phase of turbulence in the last quarter, Borio said markets were plagued by fears about the health of global banks and the Bank of Japan’s shock decision to impose negative policy rates.

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Japan deserves a lot more scrutiny.

The Bank Of Japan Has Turned Economics On Its Head (BBG)

Call me old fashioned, but I still think prices matter. I vividly recall the first time I studied those simple supply-and-demand graphs as a college freshman, and today, far too many years later, their basic logic remains undeniable. When prices are right, money flows to the most productive endeavors and economies work efficiently. When prices are wrong, crazy things eventually happen, with potentially dire consequences. That’s why we should be very worried about Japan, where things are getting crazy. On March 1, the Japanese government sold benchmark, 10-year bonds at a negative yield for the first time ever. Think about that for a minute. The investors who bought these bonds not only loaned the Japanese government their money. They’re paying for the privilege of doing so.

Why would any sane person do such a thing? A government with debt equivalent to more than 240% of national output – the largest load in the developed world – should surely have to pay investors a tidy sum to convince them to part with their money, not the other way around. But the bond market in Japan has become so distorted that investors believe it’s in their interests to lend money at a cost to themselves. The only explanation is that prices in Japan have gone horribly, horribly awry, and that has made the illogical logical. The culprit is the Bank of Japan. The entire purpose of its unorthodox stimulus programs – QE, negative interest rates – is, in effect, to get prices wrong: to press down interest rates below where they would normally go and force banks to lend money in ways they normally wouldn’t.

The BOJ, in other words, is trying to alter prices to change the incentive structure in the economy in order to engineer certain results – to increase inflation, encourage investment and spark growth. The problem is that the BOJ hasn’t achieved any of those objectives. Inflation in January, by one commonly used measure, was a pathetic zero. GDP has contracted in two of the past three quarters. Instead, the BOJ is creating new problems by undermining the price mechanism. The central bank is buying up so many government bonds that it has effectively stripped them of risk to the investor and cost to the borrower. Investors probably bought up the bonds with negative yields speculating that they could flip them to the BOJ. Meanwhile, since the government can now earn money while borrowing it, the BOJ is removing any urgency for Japan’s politicians to control debt and reduce budget deficits.

Worse, the central bank is undercutting the very goals it’s trying to achieve. By wiping out returns to investors on safe investments like government bonds – the yield curve on them is as flat as a pancake – the BOJ is straining the incomes of savers and dampening the consumption that might help the economy revive. If debt pressures finally do push the government to hike taxes again, spending will take another hit.

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“Li signaled the prospect for more debt days after Moody’s Investors Service lowered its outlook on China’s credit rating to negative from stable because of a surge in borrowing.”

China Growth Addiction Leaves Deleveraging, Reform in Back Seat (BBG)

Rule No.1 in China’s blueprint for the next five years: “give top priority to development.” That’s the word from Premier Li Keqiang’s work report delivered Saturday at the start of the annual National People’s Congress in Beijing. Li acknowledged there would be some difficult battles ahead as he outlined plans to clean up the environment, boost innovation, further urbanize and cut excess capacity in industries like coal and steel. Yet the firmest target remains on the one thing he has the least control over – the nation’s economic growth rate. For 2016, a 6.5% to 7% growth range was outlined, with 6.5% pegged as the baseline through 2020. That would be less than last year’s 6.9% rate, the slowest growth in a quarter century. To reach the new target, the government will permit a record high deficit and has raised its money supply expansion target.

The upshot: debt grows even as growth slows. “The risk is that if stimulus is accelerated but reform continues to lag, the government could end the year with growth on target but even bigger structural problems to deal with,” Bloomberg Intelligence economists Tom Orlik and Fielding Chen wrote in a note. The report “confirms that the focus is firmly on supporting short-term growth, with the deleveraging can kicked further down the road.” Li’s plan suggests debt may rise to 258% of GDP this year, from 247% at the end of 2015, they estimate. Li signaled the prospect for more debt days after Moody’s Investors Service lowered its outlook on China’s credit rating to negative from stable because of a surge in borrowing. “Development is of primary importance to China and is the key to solving every problem we face,” Li said in the work report. “Pursuing development is like sailing against the current: you either forge ahead or you drift downstream.”

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Sorry, boys, confidence is in the gutter.

China Defends Veracity Of Foreign Exchange Reserves Data (FT)

China’s official foreign exchange reserves only include highly liquid assets, a top central banker said on Sunday, seeking to reassure investors that authorities have enough ammunition to prevent a sharp fall in the renminbi. Investor sentiment towards China’s currency has turned sharply negative since a surprise devaluation in August, amid unprecedented capital outflows and concern about the health of the economy. Concern over China’s currency policy sparked a global market sell-off early this year. The People’s Bank of China has drawn on its foreign exchange reserves to curb renminbi weakness, but analysts believe the central bank may soon be forced to abandon this policy to prevent reserves dropping below dangerous levels.

Some bearish investors have also expressed skepticism about the reliability of China’s official foreign exchange reserves data, which showed reserves at $3.2tn at the end of January — still the world’s largest despite declining for 19 months. Skeptics say the headline total of reserves exaggerates the resources available to support the renminbi since they suspect it includes illiquid assets such as foreign real estate and private-equity investments that cannot be readily deployed in currency markets. Kyle Bass, the US hedge fund manager who has wagered billions that the renminbi and other Asian currencies will fall, believes China’s true reserves are more than $1tn below the government’s official total. Veteran investor George Soros has also suggested the renminbi may fall further.

Yi Gang, PBoC deputy governor who until January was also head of the foreign exchange regulator, said on Sunday that only highly liquid assets are included in the closely watched headline reserves figure. “I can clearly tell everyone here, those assets that don’t meet liquidity standards are entirely deducted from official foreign exchange reserves,” Mr Yi said. “For example, some illiquid equity investments, some capital injections and some other assets where liquidity isn’t good are entirely outside our foreign exchange reserves.” Beyond foreign real estate and private equity, analysts have questioned whether PBoC’s recent use of foreign currency to inject capital into state-owned policy banks, including at least $93bn injected into China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China last year. There is also uncertainty about whether China’s capital contributions to two newly launched multilateral development banks, the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Brics bank, have been deducted.

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While continuing to inflate history’s biggest bubble even further.

China’s Leaders Put the Economy on Bubble Watch (WSJ)

China’s leaders made clear they are emphasizing growth over restructuring this year, but suggested they are trying to avoid inflating debt or asset bubbles as they send massive amounts of money coursing through the economy. The government’s announcement of a 6.5% to 7% growth target for 2016 at the start of the National People’s Congress over the weekend came with subtle acknowledgment that some of its efforts to jump-start a persistently decelerating economy have misfired, failing to steer stimulus to the most productive sectors. In his report to the annual legislative session, which opened Saturday, Premier Li Keqiang promised tax cuts that could leave companies with more money to invest.

And for the first time, the Chinese government specified total social financing—a broad measure of credit that includes both bank loans and nonbank lending—as a metric for helping determine monetary policy. In the past, leaders have just said total social financing should be kept at an appropriate level, while they have set clear targets for M2 money supply, which covers all cash in circulation and most bank deposits. Both measures have increased sharply in recent months. But the money-supply measure fails to capture how banks and financial institutions use the funds. For instance, M2 jumped 13.3% last year while total social financing grew 12.4%, according to official data. The discrepancy indicates not all deposits were used by banks to make loans to companies; instead, some of the funds were tapped for such purposes as margin loans for stock-market speculation.

This year, the two targets are paired, with both set to rise 13%. “The government seeks to more accurately show where the money is going, and whether credit is being used to support the real economy,” said Sheng Songcheng, head of the central bank’s survey and statistics department, in an interview. China’s past efforts to direct credit to entrepreneurs and other desired sectors of the economy have fallen short. And its loose monetary policy risks giving inefficient companies more room to avoid shutting down or retooling. Much of China’s breakneck growth over the past two decades has been fueled by state-led investment and debt. Concerns about a credit buildup have grown as the economy has slowed.

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Prices in Shanghai and Shenzhen are totally crazy. And that’s the government’s doing.

China Plans Crackdown on Loans for Home Down-Payments (BBG)

Chinese regulators plan to impose new rules to end the practice of homebuyers taking out loans to cover down-payments, as they step up scrutiny of financing risk in the property market, according to people familiar with the matter. The rules will bar lenders including developers, housing agencies, small-loan companies and peer-to-peer networks from offering loans for down-payments, said the people, who asked not to be named because the matter isn’t yet public. Regulators including the central bank and the China Banking Regulatory Commission will also ask commercial banks to scrutinize mortgage applications and reject those where down-payments come from loans offered by such institutions, the people said.

China is planning the crackdown amid concerns about rising risks in the loan markets and warnings from officials that home prices in some top-tier cities are rising too fast. Shanghai’s most-senior official said the city’s property market has “overheated” and should be more tightly controlled after a recent surge in residential housing prices. As part of the latest moves, regulators will also strengthen the stress tests of property loans, the people said, without offering details. Representatives at the People’s Bank of China and the CBRC didn’t immediately respond to faxed requests for comment. China in November 2014 started easing property curbs amid efforts to revive the world’s second-largest economy. The measures – intended to ease a glut of unsold homes in smaller cities – have instead lifted prices in the country’s biggest population centers.

Prices in Shenzhen jumped 4% in January from a month earlier and have gained 52% over the past year. Values in the financial center of Shanghai have increased 18% in the last 12 months, while those in Beijing advanced about 10%. Regulators last month allowed commercial banks to cut the minimum mortgage down-payment for first-home purchases to 20% from 25% and to 30% from 40% for second homes, except in five big cities with home-buying restrictions. Demand for real estate is also getting a boost from monetary stimulus after the PBOC cut benchmark lending rates six times since 2014, lowered banks’ reserve requirements and flooded the financial system with cash to keep borrowing costs low.

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“Home prices in the city surged 370% from their 2003 trough through the September peak..”

Hong Kong Homes Sales Tumble 70% (BBG)

Hong Kong residential home sales plunged 70% in February from a year earlier to a 25-year low, as falling prices and economic uncertainty deterred buyers. In February, 1,807 homes were sold in Hong Kong, compared with 6,027 a year earlier, according to government statistics. Home sales fell from 2,045 in January, the data show. “The newspapers keep on saying the market is going down and buyers think they can get a cheaper house half-a-year later or one year later so are waiting,” said Thomas Fok, a property agent at Centaline Property Agency in Hong Kong’s upscale Mid-levels West district where he hasn’t made one sale this year.

Property prices have declined 10% from their September highs amid uncertainty over the economy at home and in China, possible interest-rate increases and plans by the government to boost housing supply in the next five years. Senior Hong Kong government officials have ruled out relaxing property curbs, which include extra stamp duties and caps on mortgage levels. [..] Home prices in the city surged 370% from their 2003 trough through the September peak, spurred by low mortgage rates, tight supply of new units and buying from mainland Chinese. This year, BOCOM International Holdings Co. property analyst Alfred Lau has said prices could fall 30% amid a slowdown.

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“I think the situation right now is more dangerous than it was last summer..”: former finance minister Gikas Hardouvelis.

Grexit Back On The Agenda Again As Greek Economy Unravels (Guardian)

European finance ministers will once again deliberate over how to treat Greece’s ongoing debt crisis this week despite the country desperately grappling with refugees pouring across its borders. A meeting on Monday of finance ministers from the eurozone will determine whether creditors are to be given the green light to complete a long-delayed review of Greek economic recovery plans. The review has been held up by disagreement among lenders over how much more Athens needs to cut from public spending. It is seen as key to reviving Greece’s banking sector and restoring business and consumer confidence. “I think the situation right now is more dangerous than it was last summer,” the former finance minister Gikas Hardouvelis told the Guardian.

“Then it was a question of the political will of a few people,” he said, referring to the tumultuous negotiations that paved the way to Athens receiving a third bailout in August. “Now it’s a question of implementing reforms and working hard and if a government doesn’t believe in them and implements them begrudgingly, progress becomes very difficult.” Monday’s meeting comes at an especially sensitive time. Greek unemployment remains the highest in Europe at almost 25% – and just under 50% among the young. Many companies are relocating to Bulgaria, Albania, Romania and Cyprus as a result of over-taxation. Meanwhile, the once booming tourism trade has taken a hit as bookings to Aegean isles have collapsed because of refugee arrivals. Last week, it was announced by Greece’s official statistics agency, Elstat, that the debt-stricken nation had dipped back into recession.

After three emergency bailouts and the biggest debt restructuring in history, talk once again has turned to the country dropping out of the single currency. Businessmen and bankers in private concede that as the economy disintegrates the possibility of a parallel currency is now openly being discussed. “The probability of Grexit is still there,” added Hardouvelis. “It has not gone away. Just look at the yield investors are required to pay on Greek bonds.” Everyone agrees that time is of the essence. Further delays make potentially explosive reforms – starting with the overhaul of the pension system – harder to sell for a leftist-led government that in recent months has faced protest on the streets. “We have no time,” finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos told the European parliament’s economics committee last week. “We hope the IMF will become more reasonable.”

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Europe’s a zombie financially and politically.

Zombie Banks Are Stalking Europe (BBG)

Zombies are stalking Europe — zombie banks that are solvent in name only. The phenomenon is not new. Zombies weighed down Japan for almost 20 years after a real estate bust. They are usually born of financial panics, when loans go bad, capital flees and the value of assets tumbles. There are no good choices when zombie banks are on the march. Shutting them down can cause further panic. Restoring them to health can require hundreds of billions of dollars. But letting them fester can cripple an economy for years, because zombies don’t make the loans healthy businesses need to grow and consumers need to spend. No place has been cozier for zombies since the 2008 global financial crisis than Europe, and no economy has been slower to recover.

Europe has been slow and piecemeal in its approach to the region’s troubled banks. Lenders in Greece received their third cash infusion from the government in 2015. In Italy, the government developed a plan in early 2016 to relieve banks of their soured loans, though it’s expected to have only a limited impact because the program is voluntary. Investors are concerned that Europe’s banks are so weak that they still pose a risk to the economy and financial stability, after crippled banks in Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain threatened to pull down their indebted governments between 2010 and 2012. Even after multiple rescues and capital injections, almost a fifth of 130 banks failed a ECB stress test in October 2014, with a total capital shortfall of €25 billion. In an effort to coordinate the response, the ECB was given the job of the central banking regulator at the end of 2014. But even the ECB wasn’t bold enough to put a bullet to zombies’ heads, only requiring banks to be more aggressive on provisioning for bad loans.

One thing about old-fashioned bank runs — when they killed banks they stayed dead. The panics that followed, however, could bring down healthy banks as well, so tools for supporting banks grew up, most notably deposit insurance. Those developments brought with them a thorny question — when to pull the plug. The term “zombie banks” was coined by Edward J. Kane of Boston College in 1987 to refer to U.S. savings and loans institutions that had essentially been wiped out by commercial-mortgage losses but were allowed to stay in business, as regulators put off the pain of shutting them down in the hope that a market rebound would make them whole. By the time they gave up and cleaned up the mess, the losses of the zombies had tripled.

In Japan, zombie banks propped up zombie companies rather than write down their loans, while the banks themselves were kept alive through “regulatory forbearance” — a tacit agreement by the government to pretend that their bad loans were still worth something, an approach that kept the markets calm but contributed to a “lost decade” of economic stagnation. The prime example of a tough approach is Sweden, which in the 1990s responded to a financial crisis by nationalizing its ailing banks — and quickly rebounded.

After the 2008 crisis, the U.S. pumped $300 billion into its banks, but it also conducted stress tests that were more rigorous than Europe’s and forced low-scoring banks to raise private capital. In Europe, countries from Germany to Spain plugged holes in their banks and failed year after year to force losses and recapitalizations as the U.S. had. As a result, European lenders still sit on more than $1 trillion of dud loans, which don’t earn them any money and prevent them from making new loans that the region’s economy needs desperately to grow.

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QE in a nutshell: “..the benefits from these wealth effects will accrue to those households holding most financial assets.”

Threat Of A Synchronised Downturn (Pettifor)

“For the proposition that supply creates its own demand, I shall substitute the proposition that expenditure creates its own income” JM Keynes Collected Writings, Volume XXIX, p. 81

G20 Finance Ministers met in Huangzhou, China recently and refused appeals from both the IMF and the OECD for “urgent collective policy action” that focussed “fiscal policies on investment-led spending”. Instead the world’s finance ministers concluded that “it’s every country for themselves”. Keynes’s simple proposition is compelling: that expenditure will expand national (and international) income (including tax income) and thereby reduce the deficit. But it is a proposition that is anathema to OECD politicians, their friends in the finance sector and their advisers. Instead they adhere stubbornly to the antiquated classical economics embodied in Say’s Law.

Rather than relying on expenditure or investment, the British 2010-2015 Coalition government and then the 2015 Conservative government placed excessive reliance on monetary policy to revive aggregate demand for goods and services. The consequences were predictable. Loose monetary policy enriched those that owned assets – stocks and shares, bonds or property. The evidence of this grotesque enrichment is clearest in London. According to the FT (20 Feb 2016) the owners of South Kensington residential properties have seen “substantial capital appreciation – 45 % over the past five years and a remarkable 155% since 2006.” And as the Bank of England concluded back in 2012 in its paper on the Distributional Effects of Asset Purchases” (i.e. QE): “the benefits from these wealth effects will accrue to those households holding most financial assets.”

By contrast fiscal consolidation (austerity) has since 2010 hurt those that do not own assets – i.e. those who live by hand or by brain, or who are dependent on welfare, and do not benefit from the rent generated by the ownership of assets. Now, the British government is set to impose the largest fiscal consolidation of all OECD countries. Worryingly, it proposes to do so at a time of global economic and financial fragility. But the British government has not been alone in pursuing policies that enrich the already rich, while contracting wider economic activity. Over-reliance on central bankers and monetary policy, coupled with deflationary and contractionary fiscal policy is the cause both of ongoing weakness in OECD countries and of the slow but inexorable decline in world trade since 2011.

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“The problem is that nothing — not even Donald Trump’s popularity — accelerates forever.”

Why The House Price Bubble Still Hasn’t Burst (Steve Keen)

The standard retort to those who claim that Australia has a housing bubble is that it’s all just supply and demand. I can happily agree that it is indeed all just supply and demand and still prove that there is a bubble. Understanding my argument might force you to think more than you normally have to, in which case, tough: it’s about time Australians did some thinking. Fundamentally, the demand for housing comes from the flow of new mortgages. Only the super-rich or the well-heeled offshore buyer can afford to buy property without a mortgage, and the importance of mortgage debt has increased dramatically over time. In the 1970s, you couldn’t get a mortgage without a 30% deposit, so cash made up 30% of the purchase price; now it’s closer to 10%.

So, on the demand side of the supply and demand equation, we have the flow of new mortgage debt. On the supply side, we have two factors: the number of properties for sale and their prices. There is, therefore, a “dynamic tension” (to quote Rocky Horror) between the rate of change of mortgage debt, and the level of house prices: if the monetary value of the flow of new mortgage debt equals the monetary value of the flow of supply, then there’s no pressure forcing prices to change. It follows that there is a relationship between the acceleration of mortgage debt and the rate of change of house prices. So for house prices to rise, the flow of new mortgage debt needs to be not merely positive, but accelerating — growing faster over time.

Lest that sound like standard economic mumbo-jumbo — as Ross Gittins pointed out very well recently, most so-called economic modelling is no more than fantasy (“Tax modelling falls down at the household level”)—Figure 1 shows the empirical evidence for America, where not even Alan Greenspan disputes that there was a bubble. Similar relationships apply for all countries — and for the econometrically minded, the causal relation (as tested on US data) is from accelerating mortgage debt to house prices, not vice-versa.

Is Australia different? No. The same relationship applies here and now: though foreign buyers have certainly played a part, the key factor driving rising Australian house prices in the last three years has been accelerating mortgage debt.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that nothing — not even Donald Trump’s popularity — accelerates forever. At some point, the level of mortgage debt relative to income will stabilise; well before that happens, the acceleration of mortgage debt will decline, and prices will fall. This has already happened twice in recent history in Australia: in 2008 and in 2010. On both occasions, deliberate government policy stopped the fall in prices by encouraging Australians back into mortgage debt — firstly via the First Home Vendors Boost under Rudd and secondly via the RBA’s rate cuts from 2012 which were undertaken with the hope they would encourage more household borrowing. In both cases the acceleration of mortgage debt resumed, as did the bubble in prices.

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Europe’ disgrace.

Turkey Steps Up Crackdown on Erdogan Foes on Eve of EU Meetings (BBG)

Turkish authorities are escalating a crackdown on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s opponents, undeterred by possible risks to the nation’s renewed attempts to join the EU. In two days, authorities seized control of the company that owns a leading newspaper, and signaled the possibility of stripping prominent Kurdish lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity. The moves come on the eve of talks on Monday in Brussels between Turkish and EU officials to discuss ways to handle the influx of refugees from Syria. With the EU increasingly seeking Turkey’s help to contain Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, and Ankara’s membership talks at an early stage, Erdogan’s allies are betting that the escalation won’t damage Turkey’s ties with the bloc.

The president expects EU leaders “to turn a blind eye” in return for his “cooperation in curbing Syrian refugee flows to the continent,” said Aykan Erdemir at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute. On Friday, Turkey seized control of the Zaman newspaper, the latest twist in a 2 1/2-year campaign against Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan accused of running a “parallel state” to undermine the government. The move sparked clashes between police and anti-government protesters. EU governments revived the entry talks, dormant since November 2013, as part of a package of economic and political incentives to encourage Erdogan to host refugees in Turkey instead of pointing them to Europe.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in an interview recorded last week and broadcast on Sunday on BBC’s Andrew Marr show that “it will be a long time before we reach the end of negotiations with Turkey about accession to the EU.” “Actually, the German government has major doubts about whether Turkey should be a full member of the EU, but this is a question for the coming years,” said Schaeuble. “It is not a worry at the present time.” [..] Erdogan knows that the “EU can’t really stop him from eradicating followers of Gulen to putting Kurdish lawmakers on trial for ties to the PKK,” Nihat Ali Ozcan at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara said. “The EU’s criticism of Erdogan’s policies is not very meaningful at a time when the country’s membership bid is not high on the public’s agenda, and the reliance of the EU on Turkey to handle the refugee crisis and protect Europe against terrorism leaves more room for Erdogan to pursue his own agenda at home.”

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Simmering tensions flare up. Better be careful.

Turkey Disputes Greek Sovereignty Via NATO Patrols (Kath.)

Turkey is disputing Greece’s territorial sovereignty over a string of tiny islands and a part of its air space over the Aegean Sea, according to a confidential document, obtained by Kathimerini, that was submitted to NATO’s Military Committee last month. The 17-point document, which is expected to further strain relations between the neighboring countries, was submitted on February 15, during heated discussions between Greece and Turkey over the terms of deployment of a German-led NATO patrol in the Aegean to stem the flow of refugees. It was the first time that had Turkey disputed Greek sovereignty via an official NATO document.

Turkey’s demands from the Alliance included replacing the term “Aegean air space” with “NATO air space” and refraining from using the Greek names of several tiny islands “that may been seen as the promotion of national interest” – an apparent reference to 16 small islets whose Greek sovereignty has been repeatedly disputed by Ankara. Turkey also disputed Greece’s 10-mile national air space and demanded permission to enter the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) without submitting flight plans. It further requested that NATO ships do not dock at ports of the Dodecanese islands in the southeast Aegean and claimed supervision of almost half the Aegean Sea for search and rescue operations.

The terms of the NATO patrol in the Aegean were agreed on February 25 after overcoming territorial sensitivities of the two neighbors. The agreement stipulated that the two countries would not operate in each other’s territorial waters and air space. According to several NATO diplomats, one of the stumbling blocks had been where Greek and Turkish ships should patrol and whether that would set a precedent for claims over disputed territorial waters. EU leaders will hold a special meeting Monday in a bid to hammer out a deal that would help contain the number of refugees entering Greece and the rest of the EU.

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They’re really planning to do it: turn Greece into a concentration camp. This will not go well.

EU To Focus On Greek Aid, Closing Balkan Migrant Route At Summit (AP)

European Union leaders will be looking to boost aid to Greece as the Balkan migrant route is effectively sealed, using Monday’s summit as an attempt to restore unity among the 28 member nations after months of increasing bickering and go-it-alone policies, according to a draft statement Sunday. The leaders will also try to persuade Turkey’s prime minister to slow the flow of migrants travelling to Europe and take back thousands who don’t qualify for asylum. In a draft summit statement produced Sunday and seen by The Associated Press, the EU leaders will conclude that “irregular flows of migrants along the Western Balkans route are coming to an end; this route is now closed.”

Because of this, the statement added that “the EU will stand by Greece in this difficult moment and will do its utmost to help manage the situation.” “This is a collective EU responsibility requiring fast and efficient mobilization,” it said in a clear commitment to end the bickering. It said that aid to Greece should centre on urgent humanitarian aid as well as managing its borders and making sure that migrants not in need of international protections are quickly returned to Turkey. The statement will be assessed by the 28 leaders after they have met with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Late Sunday evening, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Premier Mark Rutte met with Davutoglu to prepare for the summit.

[..] The EU summit, the second of three in Brussels in just over a month, comes just days after a Turkish court ordered the seizure of the opposition Zaman newspaper. The move has heightened fears over deteriorating media freedom in the country and led to calls for action from the international community, but they will most likely be brushed aside at the high-stakes talks. “In other words, we are accepting a deal to return migrants to a country which imprisons journalists, attacks civil liberties, and with a highly worrying human rights situation,” said Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the ALDE liberal group in the European Parliament on Sunday.

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“We will continue to save lives … and defend the human face of Europe.”

Tsipras: “We Will Continue To Save Lives” (Reuters)

Greece will press for solidarity with refugees and fair burden-sharing among European Union states at Monday’s emergency EU summit with Turkey, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Sunday, lashing out at border restrictions that led to logjams. Tsipras has accused Austria and Balkan countries of “ruining Europe” by slowing the flow of migrants and refugees heading north from Greece, where some 30,000 are now trapped, waiting for Macedonia to reopen its border so they can head to Germany. With more arriving in the mainland from Greek islands close to Turkish shores, the numbers could swell by 100,000 by the end of this month, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos projected on Saturday. “Europe is in a nervous crisis,” Tsipras told his leftist Syriza party’s central committee. “Will a Europe of fear and racism overtake a Europe of solidarity?”

He said central European countries with serious demographic problems and low unemployment could benefit in the long term by taking in millions of refugees, but austerity policies have fed a far-right “monster” opposing the inflows. “Europe today is crushed amidst austerity and closed borders. It keeps its border open to austerity but closed for people fleeing war,” Tsipras said. “Countries, with Austria in the front, want to impose the logic of fortress Europe.” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann has urged Germany to set a clear limit on the number of asylum seekers it will accept to help stem a mass influx of refugees that is severely testing European cohesion in the midst of the worst refugee crisis in generations. Tsipras told his party “unilateral” actions to close borders to refugees were condemned by all European institutions. “We are not pointing the finger to any other peoples or countries of Europe. We are against those who succumb to xenophobia and racism,” Tsipras said. “We will continue to save lives … and defend the human face of Europe.”

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Merkel is losing her wits: “Greece should have created 50,000 accommodation places for refugees by the end of 2015..” Why Greece, Angela?

Surge Of 100,000 Refugees Building In Greece (AFP/L)

As EU members continued to bicker, Dimitris Avramopoulos, in charge of migration at the powerful Brussels executive, pointed to upcoming measures, including an overhaul of asylum rules, to help ease tensions. “Hundreds are arriving on a daily basis and Greece is expected to receive another 100,000 by the end of the month,” Avramopoulos told a conference in Athens. Greece lies at the heart of Europe’s greatest migration crisis in six decades after a series of border restrictions on the migrant trail from Austria to Macedonia caused a bottleneck on its soil. Over 30,000 refugees and migrants are now trapped in the country, desperate to head northwards, especially to Germany and Scandinavia. “In a few weeks,” the EU will announce a revision of its asylum regulations to ensure a “fairer distribution of the burden and the responsibility,” Avramopoulous told the conference.

The huge influx of refugees and migrants has caused major divisions within the EU, although European President Donald Tusk on Friday struck an upbeat note about Monday’s summit in Brussels, which will include Turkey. European leaders are expected to use the summit to press Ankara to take back more economic migrants from Greece and reduce the flow of people across the Aegean Sea. Finger-pointing continued within the 28-nation EU bloc on Saturday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel – a key player in the drama – said Greece should have been quicker in preparing to host 50,000 people under an agreement with the European Union in October. “Greece should have created 50,000 accommodation places for refugees by the end of 2015,” Merkel told Bild newspaper in an interview to appear Sunday. “This delay must be addressed as soon as possible as the Greek government must provide decent lodgings to asylum claimants”, she said.

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Safe passage is very possible. But we prefer to let them drown.

Refugee Boat Sinks Off Turkey’s Western Coast, 25 Dead, 15 Rescued (DS)

25 refugees drowned off Turkey’s Aegean coast on Sunday after their boat sank off the western province of Aydin’s district of Didim, Anadolu Agency reported. The Turkish Coast Guard has rescued 15 of the refugees and launched a search and rescue operation to find the other missing refugees with three boats and one helicopter. The total number of refugees is not yet known. The refugees’ nationalities were not immediately released, but they are likely to be Syrians, who comprise the majority of refugees attempting to sneak to the Greek islands from Turkey. Media outlets said three children were among the casualties. It is not known what caused the boat to sink, although a mix of strong winds and boats carrying passengers over their capacities are often the causes of similar tragedies. The local Ihlas News Agency reported that passenger overload was the cause of the disaster.

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Nov 092015
 
 November 9, 2015  Posted by at 10:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Broadway from Chambers Street, NYC 1910

Dash For Debt Ahead Of US Rate Rise (FT)
Ex-GAO Head David Walker: US Debt Is Three Times More Than You Think (Hill)
Fed Proves Irrelevant in $2.6 Trillion Slice of Debt Market (Bloomberg)
Zombie Debt Is Menacing America And Mine Even Has A Name: Kathryn (Guardian)
Dollar Bulls are Vulnerable as Currency’s Strength May Cap Rates (Bloomberg)
Global GDP Worse Than Official Forecasts Show, Maersk CEO Says (Bloomberg)
China Slowdown Hits Earnings in Japan (WSJ)
China’s Trade Drop Means More Stimulus Measures Coming (Bloomberg)
China Exports Slump as Global Demand Shrinks (WSJ)
Steel Exports From Top Producer China Drop as Trade Friction Rises (Bloomberg)
China Delays Economic Liberalization (WSJ)
Greece Told To Break Bailout Deadlock By Wednesday (Kath.)
Global Coal Consumption Heads for Biggest Decline in History (Bloomberg)
Saudi Arabia Will Not Stop Pumping To Boost Oil Prices (FT)
Kuwait Sees Oil Glut of Up to Five Years (Bloomberg)
Airpocalypse Now: China Pollution Reaching Record Levels (Guardian)
The Unbearable Lightness Of Chinese Emissions Data (Reuters)
New Zealand To Reform Intelligence After Illegal Spying On Kim Dotcom (NZH)
German Disagreement Over Tighter Asylum Rules (Bloomberg)

Adding more debt! Brilliant!

Dash For Debt Ahead Of US Rate Rise (FT)

A spate of jumbo corporate debt offerings has lifted US issuance to a record high as companies seek to lock in financing to fund multibillion-dollar acquisitions before the Federal Reserve lifts rates for the first time since the financial crisis. US multinationals have raised more than $132bn in so-called jumbo-deals debt offerings above $10bn in size in 2015, more than a fourfold increase from a year earlier as companies including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and UnitedHealth take advantage of low interest rates, according to data from Dealogic. The offerings have buoyed overall corporate debt deal values in the US to a record of $815bn, with more than a month and a half to go before year end. The figure surpasses the previous high set in 2014 of $746bn.

There has been strong investor appetite for the debt offerings, which have been used to fund acquisitions, buy back stock and pay for dividends, leading bond funds to balloon in size. “It’s two years of incredible issuance flows”, says Mitch Reznick at Hermes Investment Management. “It’s driven by a desire to get financing done ahead of lift-off and a lot of this is going into M&A … The issuance just continues and continues.” After a slow summer, with companies braced for a rise in interest rates that never came as they struggled with the global oil price rout, issuance has picked up. Close to $30bn of debt has been raised in each of the past two weeks. It has been a particularly big year for highly rated debt, with issuance at a record $633bn. The $182bn worth of junk bond sales trail the 2012 peak of $246bn.

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David Walker seems to have been silent for a while. But he’s back.

Ex-GAO Head David Walker: US Debt Is Three Times More Than You Think (Hill)

The former U.S. comptroller general says the real U.S. debt is closer to about $65 trillion than the oft-cited figure of $18 trillion. Dave Walker, who headed the Government Accountability Office (GAO) under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said when you add up all of the nation’s unfunded liabilities, the national debt is more than three times the number generally advertised. “If you end up adding to that $18.5 trillion the unfunded civilian and military pensions and retiree healthcare, the additional underfunding for Social Security, the additional underfunding for Medicare, various commitments and contingencies that the federal government has, the real number is about $65 trillion rather than $18 trillion, and it’s growing automatically absent reforms,” Walker told New York’s AM-970 in an interview airing Sunday.

The former comptroller general, who is in charge of ensuring federal spending is fiscally responsible, said a burgeoning national debt hampers the ability of government to carry out both domestic and foreign policy initiatives.“If you don’t keep your economy strong, and that means to be able to generate more jobs and opportunities, you’re not going to be strong internationally with regard to foreign policy, you’re not going to be able to invest what you need to invest in national defense and homeland security, and ultimately you’re not going to be able to provide the kind of social safety net that we need in this country,” he said.

He said Americans have “lost touch with reality” when it comes to spending. Walker called for Democrats and Republicans to put aside partisan politics to come together to fix the problem. “You can be a Democrat, you can be a Republican, you can be unaffiliated, you can be whatever you want, but your duty of loyalty needs to be to country rather than to party, and we need to solve some of the large, known, and growing problems that we have,” he said.

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Other than for gamblers, The Fed’s made itself irrelevant for quite a while now.

Fed Proves Irrelevant in $2.6 Trillion Slice of Debt Market (Bloomberg)

The blowout U.S. jobs report for October means the Federal Reserve may be weeks away from raising interest rates. For U.S. savers earning next to nothing on $2.6 trillion of money-market mutual funds, the move will barely register. The reason is that there’s an unprecedented shortfall in the safest assets, especially Treasury bills – a mainstay of money funds and traditionally the government obligations that are most sensitive to changes in Fed policy. The shortage means some key money-fund rates will probably remain near historic lows even if the central bank increases its benchmark from near zero next month. The phenomenon is a consequence of regulators’ efforts to curb risk after the financial crisis.

Money-market industry rules set to take effect in October 2016 may lead investors and fund companies to shift as much as $650 billion into short-maturity government obligations, according to JPMorgan Chase. Meanwhile, the amount of bills as a share of government debt is the lowest since at least 1996, at about 10%, and the Treasury is just beginning to ramp up issuance of the securities after slashing it amid the debt-ceiling impasse. “The demand for high-quality short-term government debt securities is insatiable and there is just not enough supply,” said Jerome Schneider at PIMCO. “Even given the increased bill sales coming as the debt-limit issue has passed, it won’t keep up with rising demand from regulatory forces. This will keep rates low.”

While the U.S. government stands to benefit as the imbalance holds down borrowing costs, it’s proving the bane of savers. Average yields for the biggest money-market funds, which buy a sizable chunk of the $1.3 trillion Treasury bills market, haven’t topped 0.1% since 2010, according to Crane Data. In 2007, they were above 5% before the Fed started slashing rates to support the economy. With returns this low, investors have less incentive to sock away cash. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index has earned 3.8% this year, including dividends.

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Debt that gets sold for pennies on the dollar from one collector to the next. American disgrace.

Zombie Debt Is Menacing America And Mine Even Has A Name: Kathryn (Guardian)

Her name is Kathryn. Every few weeks, I’ll answer the phone, and someone will want to talk to her. In fact, whoever is on the other end of the line will insist on talking to her. They assume that I am her, even when I inform her that I’m not and that I don’t know who she is. They threaten that if I don’t bring her to the phone, I’ll face “consequences”. Sometimes I’ll get two phone calls a day, every day of the week. These debt collectors want Kathryn to repay some student loans, and every time her file is sold to a new agency, my phone number is transferred along with it – and I have to begin convincing a new bunch of folks that this isn’t the way to find her. Halloween may be over, but the world of zombie debt is a year-round horror show.

Aggressive collectors buy credit card accounts from original lenders like Chase or Bank of America that have been written off as in default and impossible to collect on. Having paid only pennies for every dollar owed to acquire these accounts, the new collectors have a big financial incentive to collect the maximum they can – it’s not about recouping money but about seeing how much they can make. Getting someone to agree to pay $1 for every $10 of debt owed could mean a 100% return. Small wonder that a number of players in this space resort to abusive practices, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced last week a new nationwide initiative involving not only 47 attorneys general and many state regulatory agencies but also numerous local bodies and even a Canadian provincial regulator.

Operation Collection Protection will try to halt the industry’s worst practices – and it’s needed, says Edith Ramirez, chairwoman of the FTC. “We receive more complaints about this industry than any other,” she told a press conference last Thursday, noting that debt collectors make a billion contacts a year with consumers. “The majority [of those] are legal. Many are not.” With consumer debt climbing steadily, the problem is more likely to grow than to diminish. In 2010, Americans had total consumer debt of nearly $2.5tn, Ramirez said. Today, excluding mortgage debt, that figure is closer to $3.34tn (with mortgages added to the mix, it would be more than $11tn), and the average household has a credit card balance that stands at $7,281. When you consider the fact that many Americans don’t have credit cards or don’t carry balances, that average balance is actually much higher.

True, new rules mean that it’s harder for banks and credit card purveyors to get students to load up on debt, over and above their student loans. And more households are being more disciplined in how they use their credit cards, paying off their balance in full. But there also are some troubling signs, including the Federal Reserve’s survey results showing that of those Americans who carried a balance from one month to the next, more than half made only the minimum payment on their accounts. It’s those folks who are most at risk of ending up fielding calls from debt collectors down the road.

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Meanwhile back in the casino…

Dollar Bulls are Vulnerable as Currency’s Strength May Cap Rates (Bloomberg)

Dollar bulls have reason to be wary of the currency’s Friday rally on stronger-than-forecast U.S. labor data. The jobs report bolstered the case for a December interest-rate increase by the Federal Reserve and propelled a broad gauge of the greenback past this year’s previous high. Yet the last time the dollar was this strong, the central bank flagged it as a burden on exporters and a damper of inflation, driving the currency down by the most since 2009. The March experience is raising red flags for investors and strategists. A surging dollar may lead Fed officials to warn that currency moves will limit rate increases in 2016, even if they boost their benchmark next month from near zero, where it’s been since 2008.

“It’s going to be really hard for them to hike rates aggressively,” said Brendan Murphy, a senior portfolio manager at Standish Mellon. Once the Fed lifts rates, “you may be nearing the end of this broader move we’ve seen in the dollar.” Murphy says he’s betting on the greenback versus the euro and currencies from commodity exporting nations, but he’s trimmed positions since the start of the year. The dollar appreciated to its strongest level since April versus the euro and its highest in more than two months versus the yen after a Labor Department report showed U.S. employers added 271,000 workers in October, the most this year.

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And then still poo-poohs the downfall. Talk your book.

Global GDP Worse Than Official Forecasts Show, Maersk CEO Says (Bloomberg)

The world’s economy is growing at a slower pace than the IMF and other large forecasters are predicting. That’s according to Nils Smedegaard Andersen, CEO at A.P. Moeller-Maersk. His company, owner of the world’s biggest shipping line, is a bellwether for global trade, handling about 15% of all consumer goods transported by sea. “We believe that global growth is slowing down,” he said in a phone interview. “Trade is currently significantly weaker than it normally would be under the growth forecasts we see.” The IMF on Oct. 6 lowered its 2015 global gross domestic product forecast to 3.1% from 3.3% previously, citing a slowdown in emerging markets driven by weak commodity prices. It also cut its 2016 forecast to 3.6% from 3.8%.

But even the revised forecasts may be too optimistic, according to Andersen. “We conduct a string of our own macro-economic forecasts and we see less growth – particularly in developing nations, but perhaps also in Europe – than other people expect in 2015,” Andersen said. Also for 2016, “we’re a little bit more pessimistic than most forecasters.” Maersk’s container line on Friday reported a 61% slump in third-quarter profit as demand for ships to transport goods across the world hardly grew from a year earlier. The low growth rates are proving particularly painful for an industry that’s already struggling with excess capacity.

Trade from Asia to Europe has so far suffered most as a weaker euro makes it tougher for exporters like China to stay competitive, Andersen said. Still, there are no signs yet that the global economy is heading for a slump similar to one that followed the financial crisis of 2008, he said. “We’re seeing some distortions amid this redistribution that’s taking place between commodity exporting countries and commodity importing countries,” he said. “But this shouldn’t lead to an outright crisis. At this point in time, there are no grounds for seeing that happening.”

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And everywhere else. The entire global economy was propped up by China’s Ponzi for years. No more.

China Slowdown Hits Earnings in Japan (WSJ)

Profits at major Japanese companies are on track to fall for the first time in more than a year during the third quarter, partly the result of a slowdown in China’s economy. Earnings fell a combined 3.2% from a year earlier, according to data compiled by SMBC Nikko Securities that covered 70% of companies listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange with a financial year ending March 31. All had released quarterly earnings as of Friday. If that result holds after all companies have reported, it would be the first decline since earnings fell 7% in the second quarter of 2014, after a sales-tax increase hit Japanese consumers and set off a recession. Now external factors are playing a bigger role, analysts say. As China’s economy has cooled further, for example, its steel makers unloaded supply on the international market, driving prices lower and hurting their Japanese competitors.

Kobe Steel Ltd. saw its profit fall by more than half during the fiscal first half and cut its projection for full-year earnings by another 20%, after lowering it by half in September. Nippon Steel & Sumitomo, meanwhile, saw its shares tumble last week after it lowered its full-year net profit forecast by 31%. JFE Holdings Inc. downgraded its full-year ordinary profit outlook by 50%. “The China-related sectors performed poorly, especially Japan’s top three steel makers, who were hit hard by an oversupply of Chinese steel,” said Atsushi Watanabe at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley. Komatsu, which makes heavy machinery, said its sales to China fell by half during the first half of the fiscal year, and reported a 16.5% drop in net profit. Demand in China showed no signs of improving in the most recent quarter after worsening in the previous quarter, said Yasuhiro Inagaki, the company’s senior executive officer and general manager for business coordination.

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But stimulus doesn’t make people spend.

China’s Trade Drop Means More Stimulus Measures Coming (Bloomberg)

China’s exports fell for a fourth straight month and imports matched a record stretch of declines, signaling that the mounting drag from slower global growth will push policy makers toward expanding stimulus. Overseas shipments dropped 6.9% in October in dollar terms, the customs administration said Sunday, a bigger decline than estimated by all 31 economists in a Bloomberg survey. Weaker demand for coal, iron and other commodities for China’s declining heavy industries helped drag imports down 18.8% in dollar terms, leaving a record trade surplus of $61.6 billion.

The report signals that policy makers may need to unleash more fiscal stimulus to support growth even after the People’s Bank of China cut the main interest rate six times in the last year to a record low and devalued the currency. The government has already relaxed borrowing rules for local authorities, and the top economic planning body has stepped up project approvals. “The October trade data keep pressure on for more domestic easing,” said Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics at Oxford Economics in Hong Kong. “Measures are likely to continue to focused on shoring up domestic demand rather than weakening the currency. And over time the role of fiscal policy expansion should rise.”

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At least we’re all falling together.

China Exports Slump as Global Demand Shrinks (WSJ)

China’s exports fell in October for the fourth consecutive month, as a once-powerful engine of the country’s growth continued to sputter in the face of weak global demand. The world’s appetite for goods from China—the world’s second-largest economy accounts for nearly one-fifth of global factory exports—has been lower than expected this year. Meanwhile, weak domestic demand continues to reduce imports. Both are contributing to China’s growth slowdown. “The mix of the data is again not encouraging,” said Commerzbank economist Zhou Hou. “Trade momentum is unlikely to turn around in the near term.” Sunday’s results suggest the export scene is worsening. China’s General Administration of Customs said October exports fell 6.9% year-over-year in dollar terms, after a drop of 3.7% in September.

Imports in October fell by a sharper-than-expected 18.8% from a year earlier, after a 20.4% fall in September. China’s trade surplus widened in October to $61.64 billion from $60.3 billion in September. China’s Commerce Ministry said Thursday in a report that exports are likely to see little increase in 2015, while imports will likely report a “relatively big” decline as falling commodity prices continue to weigh on trade flows. China’s rising labor and land costs in recent years have weakened the competitiveness of the nation’s exporters, the Commerce Ministry said. The average wage for workers in coastal provinces, including the manufacture hub of Guangdong province, has reached $600 a month, twice the level of Southeast Asian countries.

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Yay! Protectionism! Let’s sign us another free trade deal, shall we?!

Steel Exports From Top Producer China Drop as Trade Friction Rises (Bloomberg)

The flood of steel that mills in China are pushing onto global markets eased from a record in October amid rising trade frictions and weak overseas demand, signaling that what’s been a safety valve for the world’s top producer may now be starting to close. Outbound cargoes shrank 20% to 9.02 million metric tons last month from September, according to customs data released on Sunday. That was the lowest figure since June, and below the monthly average so far this year of 9.21 million tons. “The slump in steel exports last month compared with September reflects rising trade frictions for Chinese products,” Helen Lau at Argonaut Securities said by e-mail on Sunday.

China’s mills, which account for half of global production, have exported unprecedented volumes of steel this year to try to counter contracting demand in Asia’s top economy. The surge has undermined prices and increased competition from India to Europe and the U.S., spurring complaints that the trade is unfair. While down on-month, China has still shipped 25% more steel this year than in the same period of 2014. The global steel market is being overwhelmed with metal coming from China’s state owned and state-supported producers, a collection of industry groups including the American Iron and Steel Institute said on Thursday. The next day, ArcelorMittal cut its full-year profit target, citing exceptionally low Chinese export prices.

Evidence of cases against Chinese steel imports is surfacing worldwide. Last week, the U.S. Department of Commerce said it planned duties of 236% on imports of corrosion-resistant steel from five Chinese companies. More than 20 cases have been lodged against China’s cargoes, with about seven from Southeast Asia. “Lower steel exports reflect waning demand from overseas trading partners,” Xu Huimin at Huatai Great Wall Futures said before the data. Financial markets and many businesses in China were closed Oct. 1-7, which may have also contributed to the drop in exports, Xu said.

Inbound cargoes of iron ore shrank 12% to 75.52 million tons last month from September, according to the customs figures. Purchases totaled 774.5 million tons in the first 10 months, little changed compared with the same period a year earlier, the data showed. China is the world’s largest buyer. Iron ore stockpiled at Chinese ports rose 1.5% to 86 million tons in the week to Nov. 6, according to Shanghai Steelhome Information. Ore with 62% content delivered to Qingdao was at $48.21 a dry ton on Friday, 32% lower this year, according to Metal Bulletin Ltd.

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No kidding: “President Xi Jinping was already unhappy he was taking the blame for the economic gloom that had settled over China..”

China Delays Economic Liberalization (WSJ)

The closed-door meeting of some of China’s most powerful economic mandarins this fall was getting tense. Their boss, President Xi Jinping, was already unhappy he was taking the blame for the economic gloom that had settled over China this summer, and it was their job to come up with ways to fix it. Officials from the state planning commission at the Sept. 22 meeting in a conference room at the agency’s headquarters called for the kind of big spending on airports, roads and other government projects that Beijing had relied on to rev up the economy in recent years, according to internal minutes of the meeting. Finance-ministry officials disagreed, favoring a plan to encourage Chinese consumers to buy more electronics, cars, clothes and other goods China churns out.

But most in the room agreed on one thing: It would be hard to proceed with plans to liberalize the tightly controlled economy and still hope to meet Mr. Xi’s 7% GDP-growth target for 2015. Such plans, laid out in better times, weren’t likely to deliver the shot of growth China’s economy needed. “Reform itself faces huge problems,” said an attendee at the Sept. 22 meeting, which gathered officials of the National Development and Reform Commission—the planning agency—and the finance ministry, according to the minutes, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “It’s doubtful that any reform dividends can be translated into economic growth in the foreseeable future.” In the weeks following, China has taken new steps to slow plans that had been meant to loosen control over the financial system, adding to similar delaying moves since summer.

Some steps have the effect of keeping industries on life support. On Oct. 23, the central bank scrapped its cap on deposit rates. But it backed away from freeing interest rates from its control, as it was previously expected to do, saying it feared that might raise funding costs for businesses and consumers. Other steps seek to hold money in the domestic economy rather than letting it flow abroad. On Oct. 30, the central bank and other agencies dialed back on plans for Shanghai’s free-trade zone, a testing ground for financial overhauls, that would have let residents more easily buy foreign assets.Many measures China’s leaders have delayed since summer are ones that economists and some Chinese leaders have long said are needed to put the world’s second-largest economy on a sustainable growth path in coming years.

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Foreclosures. Throwing people out into the streets. Make them slaves.

Greece Told To Break Bailout Deadlock By Wednesday (Kath.)

A Euro Working Group held via teleconference on Sunday failed to result in an agreement between Greece and its lenders ahead of Monday’s Eurogroup. A high-ranking European official told Kathimerini’s Brussels correspondent Eleni Varvitsiotis said it was agreed that the two sides would try to settle the outstanding issues by Wednesday so that another Euro Working Group, possibly with officials meeting in person, could be held on Friday. During Sunday’s teleconference it was made clear to the Greek participants that Athens is already three weeks behind schedule, Kathimerini understands. The key stumbling block is primary residence foreclosures. Greece has put forward stricter criteria that protects 60% of homeowners, while suggesting that this is then gradually reduced over the next years. Greek officials will continue deliberating with their eurozone colleagues over the next hours in a bid to ensure that Monday’s Eurogroup does not end in a negative manner.

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“..driven by China’s battle against pollution, economic reforms and its efforts to promote renewable energy..” No, driven by deflation. By China’s economic slump.

Global Coal Consumption Heads for Biggest Decline in History (Bloomberg)

Coal consumption is poised for its biggest decline in history, driven by China’s battle against pollution, economic reforms and its efforts to promote renewable energy. Global use of the most polluting fuel fell 2.3% to 4.6% in the first nine months of 2015 from the same period last year, according to a report released Monday by the environmental group Greenpeace. That’s a decline of as much as 180 million tons of standard coal, 40 million tons more than Japan used in the same period. The report confirms that worldwide efforts to fight global warming are having a significant impact on the coal industry, the biggest source of carbon emissions. It comes a day before the International Energy Agency is scheduled to release its annual forecast detailing the ways the planet generates and uses electricity.

“These trends show that the so-called global coal boom in the first decade of the 21st century was a mirage,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, Greenpeace’s coal and energy campaigner. The decline in coal use will help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions that are blamed for heating up the planet. To limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) – the level scientists say cannot be exceeded if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change – emissions from coal must fall 4% annually through 2040, Greenpeace said.

In China, responsible for about half of global coal demand, use in the power sector fell more than 4% in the first three quarters and imports declined 31%, according to the report. Since the end of 2013, the country’s electricity consumption growth has largely been covered by new renewable energy plants. “The coal industry likes to point to China adding a new coal-fired power plant every week as evidence that coal demand will pick up in the future, but the reality on the ground is rather different,” according to the report. “Capacity utilization of the plants has been plummeting. China is now adding one idle coal-fired power plant per week.”

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They can’t. Nobody can. Get that through to your skulls. It’s a demand issue. Deflation.

Saudi Arabia Will Not Stop Pumping To Boost Oil Prices (FT)

Saudi Arabia is determined to stick to its policy of pumping enough oil to protect its global market share, despite the financial pain inflicted on the kingdom’s economy. Officials have told the Financial Times that the world’s largest exporter will produce enough oil to meet customer demand, indicating that the kingdom is in no mood to change tack ahead of the December 4 meeting in Vienna of the producers’ cartel Opec. “The only thing to do now is to let the market do its job,” said Khalid al-Falih, chairman of the state-owned Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco). “There have been no conversations here that say we should cut production now that we’ve seen the pain.”

Saudi Arabia rocked oil markets last November when Opec decided against production cuts, making clear that the kingdom was abandoning its policy of reducing supplies to stabilize the price. Since then, the oil price has collapsed from a high of $115 a barrel last year to $50 a barrel. Global oil companies, which have put hundreds of billions of dollars of investment on hold as a result of low prices, will be disappointed by the Kingdom’s stance. The effect on business sentiment has sparked domestic criticism of the market share policy engineered by Ali al-Naimi, the oil minister, and agreed by both the late King Abdullah and the current King Salman, who was crown prince last year and ascended the throne in January.

Officials in Riyadh say their policy will be vindicated in one to two years when revived demand swallows the global oil glut and prices begin to recover. They argue that in the past, Opec output cuts raised prices to levels where more expensive production, such as shale and deep-sea oil, could flourish. Moving ahead, Opec – led by Saudi Arabia – plans to pump as much as it can towards meeting global oil demand, leaving higher-cost producers to make up the remainder. For higher-cost producers, “$100 oil was perceived as a guarantee of no risk for investment”, said Mr Falih. “Now, the insurance policy that’s been provided free of charge by Saudi Arabia does not exist any more.”

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Yeah, they can really see 5 years ahead over there. It’s something in the air.

Kuwait Sees Oil Glut of Up to Five Years (Bloomberg)

Oil markets will continue to be oversupplied for as long as five years as producers in the Middle East ramp up output, according to Mohammed Al-Shatti, Kuwait’s representative to OPEC. Iraq pumped a record 4.4 million barrels a day in June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Libyan output, which has declined by more than half due to conflict, can return “at any moment,” Al-Shatti said in an interview Saturday in Doha. Iran has the capacity to boost exports by 500,000 barrels a day within one week of sanctions being lifted and by 1 million a day within six months, Roknoddin Javadi, managing director of state-run National Iranian Oil Co., said last month.

“Lower prices will continue until the glut in the market ends,” Al-Shatti said. “Many countries are expected to increase production. Iranian crude is expected to return and that means an increase in production.” Demand isn’t expected to absorb the extra capacity and it will take shifts in supply to affect prices, he said. Al-Shatti said geopolitical disruptions or reduced future output because of the 30% fall in capital expenditure by oil companies could cause an increase.

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And these are just guesses.

Airpocalypse Now: China Pollution Reaching Record Levels (Guardian)

Residents of north-eastern China donned gas masks and locked themselves indoors on Sunday after their homes were enveloped by some of the worst levels of smog on record. Levels of PM2.5, a tiny airborne particulate linked to cancer and heart disease, soared in Liaoning province as northern China began burning coal to heat homes at the start of the winter. In Shenyang, Liaoning’s capital, visibility levels plummeted to as little as 100 metres, the state broadcaster CCTV said. China’s official news agency, Xinhua, published an apocalyptic gallery of images showing the country’s latest smog crisis alongside the headline: “Fairyland or doomsday?” In some areas of Shenyang, PM2.5 readings reportedly surpassed 1,400 micrograms per cubic metre, which is about 56 times the levels considered safe by the World Health Organisation.

“The air stings and makes my eyes and throat feel sore when I’m outdoors,” one woman, who had ventured out to buy a face mask, was quoted as saying. “As for what exactly we should do, I don’t know,” she added. By Monday afternoon there had been a slight improvement, although air quality remained at “hazardous” levels in Shenyang, an industrial city of about 8 million inhabitants. The Associated Press said Sunday’s smog represented one of the worst episodes of air pollution recorded in China since authorities began releasing air quality data in 2013. There was indignation on social media as China confronted its latest “airpocalypse”. “The government knows how severe the smog problem is, so why haven’t they tackled it?” one critic wrote on Weibo, China’s Twitter.

“What’s the point of having an environmental protection department? The precondition for developing the economy is not damaging the environment. Our leaders are all well educated. Can’t they understand this simple truth?” Others reacted with resignation. “Other than reporting it, what can the government do?” Shenyang, a major industrial centre since the days of Mao Zedong, has been attempting to clean up its act in recent years by relocating factories and starting to use natural gas instead of coal to heat homes. But on Monday doctors in Shenyang were dealing with the consequences of the latest bout of toxic pollution to hit their city. Yang Shenjia, who works at the Liaoning Jinqiu Hospital, said there had been a sudden influx of patients suffering from breathing complaints over the past two days. “The respiratory department’s inpatient wards are full,” the doctor told Xinhua.

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Because nobody really keeps track.

The Unbearable Lightness Of Chinese Emissions Data (Reuters)

Precise data collection is a tricky business everywhere, as the Volkswagen scandal over discrepancies between the German auto company’s emissions claims and the real world performance of its engines has shown. But getting accurate emissions data is crucial for governments seeking a global climate accord in Paris this December. Negotiators say that, to succeed, any agreement must be built upon “measurable, reportable and verifiable” statistics in order to assess whether countries are on track to meet their emissions targets. And getting a better grasp of the right numbers is particularly crucial in the case of China, which is widely assumed to be the world’s largest carbon emitter. China’s energy use is so great that even minute errors in data can translate into a difference of millions of tonnes of emissions.

No one currently knows how many tonnes of carbon China emits each year. Its emissions are estimates based on how much raw energy is consumed, and calculations are derived from proxy data consisting mostly of energy consumption as well as industry, agriculture, land use changes and waste. Many outside observers view the accuracy of those figures with skepticism. “China’s contribution (to the global climate plan in Paris) is based on CO2 emissions but China doesn’t publish CO2 emissions,” said Glen Peters, senior researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo. “You’re left in the wilderness, really.”

Demands for better data played a major role in the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen conference, when China and several developing nations balked at providing the rest of the world with detailed data, claiming it would be an intrusion on their sovereignty. The last time Beijing produced an official figure was in 2005, when it said its emissions stood at “approximately” 7.47 billion tonnes. And while it has promised that emissions will peak by 2030 at the latest, experts say the statistical uncertainty is so great that forecasts on what that peak means can vary from 11 to 20 billion tonnes a year. That margin is greater than the entire annual carbon footprint of Europe.

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Dotcom should sue to bankrupt the entire nation.

New Zealand To Reform Intelligence After Illegal Spying On Kim Dotcom (NZH)

John Key has opened up the spy agencies to public scrutiny in a way which we have never seen in New Zealand. We know more now about what they do and even how they do it. We know how the two agencies are managed, in that the GCSB and NZSIS both have top-flight lawyers in charge. There will always be those who say we don’t know enough. For those people, we now have improved oversight of the agencies. This also happened under the Prime Minister’s watch as minister in charge of the agencies. The new Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn – another superb lawyer – has been a breath of the freshest air. Mr Key has since stepped away from directly overseeing the agencies, which is a further liberation. It seems right that the most powerful weapons of state should sit with someone whose role is to objectively challenge his Cabinet colleagues.

Now, even at a ministerial level, the SIS and GCSB answer to a lawyer, this time Attorney General Chris Finlayson. In terms of oversight and public disclosure, we are heading into an era unparalleled in our history. Citizens now have more ability to see and have explained the tasks done in their name. Again, it might not be enough but it is considerably more than we have had before. That’s where we have come to, three years after Mr Key had to admit Kim Dotcom and one of his co-accused had been illegally spied on by the GCSB. He also had to apologise – a concession which must have been galling. That single event appears to be the point at which the Prime Minister stopped taking at face value the assurances given by the intelligence agencies, and began a programme for reformation which is huge in its scale and largely behind closed doors.

For all the comparative openness, it is unlikely the public will ever know the truth about how far adrift our intelligence agencies wandered. As a broad indication, consider the fact that respected senior lawyers with strong state experience now sit at all significant levels of the intelligence community. When you’re unsure about the law, you need lawyers. But there have also been reports which paint a picture of the state of New Zealand’s intelligence services, past and present. None are individually explicit in their descriptions of how bad it was but the collective run of reports gives an impression of the intelligence community as an isolated part of government, lost to the public they were serving, changing purpose and shape under a cloak of secrecy.

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Ha ha! There’s Herr Schäuble again. Been a while. Always good for laugh. At the expense of others.

German Disagreement Over Tighter Asylum Rules (Bloomberg)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel were at odds over stricter asylum rules for some applicants from Syria, just days after Chancellor Angela Merkel defused a rebellion in her ruling coalition against her open-door refugee policy. Speaking on German ARD public television on Sunday, Schaeuble and Gabriel disagreed over a proposal by Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere to grant refugees from Syria who aren’t individually persecuted a limited asylum status that restricts family reunions in Germany. “Family reunions can and must be restricted for people who are granted subsidiary protection, and that’s the large majority,” Schaeuble said. “This is a necessary decision and I’m very much in favor that we find agreement on this in the coalition quickly.”

De Maiziere cast doubt on a lasting compromise in the coalition over the weekend, telling N-TV television that the government should consider granting some Syrians only temporary asylum and limiting family reunions. Merkel earlier extracted a compromise from her coalition partners to set up migrant processing centers in Germany, in which the Social Democratic Party, led by Gabriel, prevailed. “Every time we reach an agreement, shortly thereafter there’s a new proposal that wasn’t on the table before,” Gabriel said on ARD, adding his party can’t agree to a proposal that wasn’t previously discussed in the coalition. “That leads to a situation in which Germans get the impression that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing in the government.”

As many as 1 million people are expected to seek shelter in Germany from war and poverty in their homelands. Merkel, while having pledged to do everything to stem the flow, has ruled out closing borders or placing upper limits on the numbers who qualify for asylum. A European Union report last week said the influx could boost Germany’s economy by 0.1 percentage point this year and 0.4 point in 2016. Schaeuble and Gabriel agreed the EU needs to regain control over its borders and set quotas for refugees who would then be distributed among the bloc’s members. “We are close to the limit of our capabilities,” Schaeuble said. As long as there’s no coordinated distribution within Europe, “we must send the message to the countries where the refugees are coming from that they shouldn’t be misled, that not everyone can come.”

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 July 13, 2015  Posted by at 10:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Fordson tractor exposition at Camp Meigs, Washington DC 1922

The World’s Awash In $5 Trillion In Excess Liquidity (Bloomberg)
Greece Capitulates to Creditors’ Demands to Cling to Euro (Bloomberg)
Greek Fury Meets Resignation at Demands for Concessions
Greece Wins Euro Debt Deal – But Democracy Is The Loser (Paul Mason)
How The Greeks Could Have The Last Laugh: Adopt The Renminbi (David McWilliams)
The Euro – A Fatal Conceit (MM)
A Greek Exit Could Not Be More Costly Than The Current Path (Mitchell)
Dr Schäuble’s Plan for Europe: Do Europeans Approve? (Yanis Varoufakis)
Killing the European Project (Paul Krugman)
Germany Showing ‘Lack Of Solidarity’ Over Greece: Stiglitz (AFP)
How Fascist Capitalism Functions: The Case Of Greece (Zuesse)
Russia Considering Direct Fuel Deliveries To Help Greece (AFP)
Greek Government’s Majority In Question, Says Labor Minister (Reuters)
Was This Humiliation Of Greeks Really Necessary? (Helena Smith)
Greek Deal Makes Versailles Look Like A Picnic – Steve Keen (BallsRadio)
Greece Today, America Tomorrow? (Ron Paul)
Chinese Buyers Turn Kiwis Into Renters In Their Own Country (NZ Herald)
China’s Rich Seek Shelter From Stock Market Storm In Foreign Property (Guardian)
How China’s Stock-Market Muddle May Spread (MarketWatch)
China’s Market-Tracking ETFs Roiled By Share Suspensions (FT)

Zombie money.

The World’s Awash In $5 Trillion In Excess Liquidity (Bloomberg)

If you’re worried the Federal Reserve will topple the debt markets, consider this: there’s rarely been so much cash available in the world to buy assets such as bonds. While the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates sent bonds worldwide to the biggest-ever quarterly loss, JPMorgan Chase says the excess money in the global economy – about $5 trillion – will support demand and bolster asset prices. Since 1990, there have been four periods when households, companies and investors held such a surplus. Each time, markets rallied. “The world is awash with unprecedented excess liquidity,” said Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, a strategist at JPMorgan, the top-ranked firm for U.S. fixed-income research by Institutional Investor magazine. “Fed tightening won’t change that.”

The cash cushion has surged in recent years as the world’s central banks injected trillions of dollars into the financial system to jump-start demand after the credit crisis. Now all the extra money that’s sloshing around may help extend the three-decade bull market in bonds even as a stronger U.S. economy pushes the Fed closer to boosting rates from rock-bottom levels. Bonds suffered a setback last quarter as signs of inflation in both the U.S. and Europe sparked an exodus after yields fell to historical lows. They lost 2.23%, the most since at least 1996, index data compiled by Bank of America show. This month, worries over Greece’s financial ruin and China’s stock-market meltdown have pushed investors back into the safety of debt securities. Yet Wall Street is still bracing for a selloff, especially in U.S. Treasuries, once the Fed moves to raise rates that it’s held near zero since 2008.

The U.S. 10-year note, the benchmark used to determine borrowing costs for governments, businesses and consumers, yielded 2.45% as of 9:12 a.m. Monday in London. Forecasters surveyed by Bloomberg say the yield will approach 3% within a year. Although JPMorgan provided plenty of caveats, the company’s analysis suggests it might not play out that way. Helped by bond-buying stimulus in the U.S., Japan and Europe, and increased bank lending in emerging markets, the amount of cash in circulation now totals $67 trillion globally, compared with about $62 trillion of estimated demand, data compiled by the bank show. That happens when the amount of money in the world exceeds the value of the global economy, financial assets and the cash that individuals hoard in response to risk.

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How real is the deal?

Greece Capitulates to Creditors’ Demands to Cling to Euro (Bloomberg)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras surrendered to European demands for immediate action to qualify for up to €86 billion euros ($95 billion) of aid Greece needs to stay in the euro. After a six-month offensive against German-inspired austerity succeeded only in deepening his country’s economic mess and antagonizing his European counterparts, there was no face-saving compromise on offer for Tsipras at a rancorous summit that ran for more than 17 hours. “Trust has to be rebuilt, the Greek authorities have to take on responsibility for what they agreed to,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the meeting ended just before 9 a.m. in Brussels Monday. “It now hinges on step-by-step implementation of what we agreed.”

The agreement shifts the spotlight to the parliament in Athens, where lawmakers from Tsipras’s Syriza party mutinied when he sought their endorsement two days ago for spending cuts, pensions savings and tax increases. They have until Wednesday to pass into law key creditor demands, including streamling value-added taxes, broadening the tax base to increase revenue and curbing pension costs. While the summit agreement averted a worst-case outcome for Greece, it only established the basis for negotiations on an aid package, which would also include €25 billion to recapitalize its weakened financial system.

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“The government is trying to get the least bad, the least catastrophic deal..”

Greek Fury Meets Resignation at Demands for Concessions

Greek officials and media reacted with fury to the latest European demands for spending cuts and tax hikes, with some resorting to imagery from World War II and the U.S.- led war on terror to describe their predicament. Greece is being “waterboarded” by euro-area leaders, Nikos Filis, the parliamentary spokesman for the ruling Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, said on ANT1 TV Monday morning. He accused Germany of “tearing Europe apart” for the third time in the past century. Newspapers leveled similar allegations at Germany, which led the hard-line camp at all-night talks that ended with an agreement on the terms needed to open a third bailout for Europe’s most-indebted country. EC President Donald Tusk, announcing the deal after 17 hours of negotiations, said it would entail “strict conditions” and end the threat of Greece exiting the euro.

“The government is trying to get the least bad, the least catastrophic deal,” Labor Minister Panos Skourletis said on ERT TV. “Talk of a Grexit shouldn’t take place when Greece has its back to the wall.” The tone of Greek reaction illustrates the obstacles for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as he seeks domestic approval for a deal that creditors called the country’s last chance to stay in the euro. European leaders insisted Greece’s parliament now approve measures including placing state assets in a dedicated fund in exchange for as much as €86 billion in new financing. “The agreement is difficult, but we averted the transfer of public property abroad, we averted the plan to cause a credit crunch and the collapse of the financial system,” Tsipras said after the summit.

“We put up a hard fight for the past six months and we fought to the end in order to get the best out of it, to get a deal which will allow the country to stand on its feet and the Greek people to keep fighting.” According to the initial text for a deal presented to European leaders, Greece needs to pass laws by July 15 to raise sales taxes, cut pension payments, alter the bankruptcy code and enforce automatic spending cuts if the next budget misses its targets. A key sticking point was the involvement of the IMF, which Tsipras at one point called “criminal.” Those measures will be difficult for Tsipras to sell to a public that voted decisively in a July 5 referendum to reject an earlier austerity package that was less onerous than the measures under discussion now. The premier, who was elected on an anti-austerity platform in January, also faces the challenge of keeping Syriza together through upcoming parliamentary votes.

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“Everybody on earth with a smartphone understands what happened to democracy last night.”

Greece Wins Euro Debt Deal – But Democracy Is The Loser (Paul Mason)

The eurozone took itself to the brink last night, and we will only know for certain later whether its reputation and cohesion can survive this. The big powers of Europe demonstrated an appetite to change the micro-laws of a smaller country: its bakery regulations, the funding of its state TV service, what can be privatised and how. Whether inside or outside the euro, many small countries and regions will draw long-term negative lessons from this. And from the apparently cavalier throwing of a last-minute Grexit option into the mix by Germany, in defiance of half the government’s own MPs. It would be logical now for every country in the EU to make contingency plans against getting the same treatment – either over fiscal policy or any of the other issues where Brussels and Frankfurt enjoy sovereignty.

Parallels abound with other historic debacles: Munich (1938), where peace was won by sacrificing the Czechs; or Versailles (1919), where the creditors got their money, only to create the conditions for the collapse of German democracy 10 years later, and their own diplomatic unity long before that. But the debacles of yesteryear were different. They were committed by statesmen. People who knew what they wanted and miscalculated. It was hard to see last night what the rulers of Europe wanted. What they’ve arguably got is a global reputational disaster: the crushing of a left-wing government elected on a landslide, the flouting of a 61 per cent referendum result. The EU – a project founded to avoid conflict and deliver social justice – found itself transformed into the conveyor of relentless financial logic and nothing else.

Ordinary people don’t know enough about the financial logic to understand why this was always likely to happen: bonds, haircuts and currency mechanisms are distant concepts. Democracy is not. Everybody on earth with a smartphone understands what happened to democracy last night.

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Nice!

How The Greeks Could Have The Last Laugh: Adopt The Renminbi (David McWilliams)

The other day Enda Kenny speculated aloud that Greece should follow Ireland. Michael Noonan thinks that too. Apparently, they should do what we did and, if Greece did, there’d be no problems. Maybe we should examine this proposal because what is on the table for Greece right now makes little sense. Is there an alternative for an inventive Greece – one that might follow Ireland’s blueprint? Before we answer that, let’s examine what’s on the table for Greece right now. The German/EU offer maintains that the price for staying in the Euro is possibly 10 to 15 years of austerity with no alternative industrial model. There should be no debt forgiveness and there should be years of low to zero growth as the Greeks grind out a meagre existence largely from tourist euros.

Because there is no capital, this will occur at a time when Greek tourist assets will plummet and those that are worth something, such as tourist hotels, will be bought off by German and other investors for half nothing. In time, the Greeks will end up as workers in the tourist industry, working for foreign owners of the assets. The profits from these assets will be repatriated back to Germany, boosting the German current account surplus, while the wages for this labour will be spent in Greece on imported goods, which may or may not be made in Germany. Basically Jamaica with ouzo! Over time, the Greek standard of living will remain low and Greek people with talent will have no choice but to emigrate. There may be some pick-up in the economy but as long as there is huge debt-servicing costs, this pick-up will largely go to servicing past debts.

If there is some new EU loan made available to Greece, this will simply be borrowing from tomorrow not to pay for today but to pay for yesterday. The Greeks should do all this in order to have the privilege of paying for this stuff in the Euro. It seems a high price to pay for a currency, don’t you think? But the alternative is, according to the EU, to revert to the drachma, watch the currency fall, watch the drachma value of Greece euro debts rise, allow the national balance sheet to implode and ensure that the banks collapse. In other words, flirt with short-term Armageddon.

[..] Okay, but how can Greece get lots and lots of foreign investment into the country while still using a currency that is strong and in so doing, change irrevocably their economy? How can they move onto a higher productivity level without all these debt repayments? They can do it by adopting the Chinese Renminbi! Yes, you read it right. There’s no point for the Greeks in going back to the drachma if that will destroy its banking system. Why not do what Ireland has done over the years and adopt some other country’s currency? What’s in it for China? Everything!

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“Imagine that the euro had never been introduced … do you seriously think that we would have a crisis as deep as what we have seen over the past seven years in Europe?”

The Euro – A Fatal Conceit (MM)

Imagine that the euro had never been introduced and we instead had had freely floating European currencies and each country would have been free to choose their own monetary policy and fiscal policy. Some countries would have been doing well; others would have been doing bad, but do you seriously think that we would have a crisis as deep as what we have seen over the past seven years in Europe? Do you think Greek GDP would have dropped 30%? Do you think Finland would have seen a bigger accumulated drop in GDP than during the Great Depression or during the banking crisis of 1990s? Do you think that European taxpayers would have had to pour billions of euros into bailing out Southern European and Eastern European governments? And German and French banks!

Do you think that Europe would have been as disunited as we are seeing it now? Do you think we would have seen the kind of hostilities among European nations as we are seeing now? Do you think we would have seen the rise of political parties like Golden Dawn and Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain? Do you think anti-immigrant sentiment and protectionist ideas would have been rising across Europe to the extent it has? Do you think that the European banking sector would have been quasi paralyzed for seven years? And most importantly do you think we would have had 23 million unemployed Europeans? The answer to all of these questions is NO!

We would have been much better off without the euro. The euro is a major economic, financial, political and social fiasco. It is disgusting and I blame the politicians of Europe and the Eurocrats for this and I blame the economists who failed to speak out against the dangers of introducing the euro and instead gave their support to a project so economically insane that it only could have been envisioned by the type of people the British historian Paul Johnson called “Intellectuals”.

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It’ll happen yet anyway.

A Greek Exit Could Not Be More Costly Than The Current Path (Mitchell)

It appears the Germans (with their Finish and Slovak cronies) have lost all sense of reason, if they ever had any. Germany has the socio-pathological excuse of having suffered from an irrational inflation angst since the 1930s and has forgotten its disastrous conduct during the 1930s and 1940s and also the generosity shown it by allied nations who had destroyed its demonic martial ambitions. Finland and Slovakia have no such excuse. They are just behaving as jumped-up, vindictive show ponies who are not that far from being in Greece’s situation themselves. Sure the Finns have a national guilt about their own notorious complicity with the Nazis in the 1940s but what makes them such a nasty conservative allies to the Germans is an interesting question.

It also seems to be hard keeping track with the latest negotiating offer from either side. But the trend seems obvious. The Greeks offer to bend over further and are met by a barrage of it is going to be hard to accept this , followed by a Troika offer (now generalised as the Eurogroup minus Greece which is harsher than the last. And so it goes from ridiculous to absurd or to quote a headline over the weekend. From the Absurd to the Tragic, which I thought was an understatement. There are also a plethora of plans for Greece being circulated by all and sundry, most of which hang on to the need for the nation to run primary fiscal surpluses, with no reference to the scale of the disaster before us (or rather the Greek people). It is surreal that this daily farce and public humiliation (like the medieval parading of recalitrants in stocks) is being clothed as “governance”. Only in Europe really.

We now know that the Eurogroup is not content to destroy the credibility of the Greek government and have the Greek prime minister come cap in hand begging for money and agreeing to turn his back on the sentiments of his own people, expressed so strongly last Sunday. The latest document from the Recession Cult has demanded even deeper measures from Athens, which Euclid Tsakalotos has apparently acceded to.

They now want a primary surplus target of 3.5% of GDP by 20183 , much deeper pension cuts, widespread product market deregulation, a more comprehensive privatisation program (so that the northern capital owners can get their hands on Greek assets for cheap), massive deregulation of the labour market, wind-back legislation since the beginning of 2015 which have not been agreed with the institutions and run counter to the program commitments and put all of that on top the harsh austerity that has already been pushed leading into the referendum. The sentiment is that Germany is not going for an exit for Greece but total submission and probably a new government by the end of the week .

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One man has not given up.

Dr Schäuble’s Plan for Europe: Do Europeans Approve? (Yanis Varoufakis)

Article to appear in Die Zeit on Thursday 16th July 2015 – Pre-publication summary: Five months of intense negotiations between Greece and the Eurogroup never had a chance of success. Condemned to lead to impasse, their purpose was to pave the ground for what Dr Schäuble had decided was ‘optimal’ well before our government was even elected: That Greece should be eased out of the Eurozone in order to discipline member-states resisting his very specific plan for re-structuring the Eurozone.

This is no theory. How do I know Grexit is an important part of Dr Schäuble’s plan for Europe? Because he told me so!

I wrote this article not as a Greek politician critical of the German press’ denigration of our sensible proposals, of Berlin’s refusal seriously to consider our moderate debt re-profiling plan, of the European Central Bank’s highly political decision to asphyxiate our government, of the Eurogroup’s decision to give the ECB the green light to shut down our banks.

I wrote this article as a European observing the unfolding of a particular Plan for Europe – Dr Schäuble’s Plan. And I am asking a simple question of Die Zeit’s informed readers:

Is this a Plan that you approve of?
Do you consider this Plan good for Europe?

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#ThisIsACoup

Killing the European Project (Paul Krugman)

Suppose you consider Tsipras an incompetent twerp. Suppose you dearly want to see Syriza out of power. Suppose, even, that you welcome the prospect of pushing those annoying Greeks out of the euro. Even if all of that is true, this Eurogroup list of demands is madness. The trending hashtag ThisIsACoup is exactly right. This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief. It is, presumably, meant to be an offer Greece can’t accept; but even so, it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.

Can anything pull Europe back from the brink? Word is that Mario Draghi is trying to reintroduce some sanity, that Hollande is finally showing a bit of the pushback against German morality-play economics that he so signally failed to supply in the past. But much of the damage has already been done. Who will ever trust Germany’s good intentions after this? In a way, the economics have almost become secondary. But still, let’s be clear: what we’ve learned these past couple of weeks is that being a member of the eurozone means that the creditors can destroy your economy if you step out of line. This has no bearing at all on the underlying economics of austerity.

It’s as true as ever that imposing harsh austerity without debt relief is a doomed policy no matter how willing the country is to accept suffering. And this in turn means that even a complete Greek capitulation would be a dead end. Can Greece pull off a successful exit? Will Germany try to block a recovery? (Sorry, but that’s the kind of thing we must now ask.) The European project — a project I have always praised and supported — has just been dealt a terrible, perhaps fatal blow. And whatever you think of Syriza, or Greece, it wasn’t the Greeks who did it.

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“Here you have the advanced countries trying to undermine a global effort to stop tax avoidance. Can you have a better image of hypocrisy?”

Germany Showing ‘Lack Of Solidarity’ Over Greece: Stiglitz (AFP)

Prominent economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz accused Germany on Sunday of displaying a “lack of solidarity” with debt-laden Greece that has badly undermined the vision of Europe. “What has been demonstrated is a lack of solidarity by Germany. You cannot run a eurozone without a basic modicum of solidarity. It is really undermining the common sense of vision, the sense of common solidarity in Europe,” the Colombia University professor and former World Bank chief economist told AFP. “I think it s been a disaster. Clearly Germany has done a serious blow, undermining Europe,” he said.

“Asking even more from Greece would be unconscionable. If the ECB allows Greek banks to open up and they renegotiate whatever agreement, then wounds can heal. But if they succeed in using this as a trick to get Greece out, I think the damage is going to be very very deep.” Stiglitz is in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for this week s international development financing summit, which is presented as crucial for United Nations efforts to end global poverty and manage climate change by 2030. He is supporting the creation of an international tax organisation within the UN to fight against tax evasion by multinationals, although this has yet to win Western agreement.

International tax rules that allow large companies to avoid tax end up costing developing countries $100 billion every year, according to Oxfam. “European leaders and the West in general are criticising Greece for failure to collect taxes,” Stiglitz said. “The West has created a framework for global tax avoidance… Here you have the advanced countries trying to undermine a global effort to stop tax avoidance. Can you have a better image of hypocrisy?”

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Very strong from Zuesse.

How Fascist Capitalism Functions: The Case Of Greece (Zuesse)

There is democratic capitalism, and there is fascist capitalism. What we have today is fascist capitalism; and the following will explain how it works, using as an example the case of Greece. Mark Whitehouse at Bloomberg headlined on 27 June 2015, “If Greece Defaults, Europe’s Taxpayers Lose,” and presented his ‘news’ report, which simply assumed that, perhaps someday, Greece will be able to get out of debt without defaulting on it. Other than his unfounded assumption there (which assumption is even in his headline), his report was accurate. Here is what he reported that’s accurate: He presented two graphs, the first of which shows Greece’s governmental debt to private investors (bondholders) as of, first, December 2009; and, then, five years later, December 2014.

This graph shows that, in almost all countries, private investors either eliminated or steeply reduced their holdings of Greek government bonds during that 5-year period. (Overall, it was reduced by 83%; but, in countries such as France, Portugal, Ireland, Austria, and Belgium, it was reduced closer to 100% — all of it.) In other words: by the time of December 2009, word was out, amongst the aristocracy, that only suckers would want to buy it from them, so they needed suckers and took advantage of the system that the aristocracy had set up for governments to buy aristocrats’ bad bets — for governments to be suckers when private individuals won’t.

Not all of it was sold directly to governments; much of it went instead indirectly, to agencies that the aristocracy has set up as basically transfer-agencies for passing junk to governments; in other words, as middlemen, to transfer unpayable debt-obligations to various governments’ taxpayers. Whitehouse presented no indication as to whom those investors sold that debt to, but almost all of it was sold, either directly or indirectly, to Western governments, via those middlemen-agencies, so that, when Greece will default (which it inevitably will), the taxpayers of those Western governments will suffer the losses. The aristocracy will already have wrung what they could out of it.

Who were these governments and middlemen-agencies? As of January 2015, they were: 62% Euro-member governments (including the European Financial Stability Facility); 10% IMF, and 8% ECB; then, 17% still remained with private investors; and 3% was owned by “other.” Whitehouse says: “Ever since the region’s sovereign-debt crisis first flared in 2010, European nations have been stepping in for Greece’s private creditors – largely German and French banks — by lending the country [Greece] the money to pay them off. Thanks to this bailout [of ‘largely German and French banks’], banks and [other private] investors have much less at stake than before.”

So: what got bailed-out was private investors, not ‘the Greek people’ (such as the ‘news’ media assert, or try to suggest). For example, a reader’s comment to Whitehouse’s article says: “A reasonable assumption is that a large part of the Greek debt to the Germans was the result of Greek consumption of German goods and services bought with the German provided credit. In that case, the Germans have lost the Greek goods and services that could have potentially been bought with the money that is owed to them.” But this is entirely false: that “consumption” was by the aristocracy, not by the public, anywhere or at any time. After all: It’s the aristocracy that get bailed-out — not the public, anywhere.

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“..we are studying the possibility of organising direct deliveries of energy resources to Greece, starting shortly.”

Russia Considering Direct Fuel Deliveries To Help Greece (AFP)

Russia is considering direct deliveries of fuel to Greece to help prop up its economy, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Sunday, quoted by Russian news agencies. “Russia intends to support the revival of Greece’s economy by broadening cooperation in the energy sector,” Novak told journalists, quoted by RIA Novosti news agency. “Accordingly we are studying the possibility of organising direct deliveries of energy resources to Greece, starting shortly.”

Novak said that the energy ministry expected “to come to an agreement within a few weeks,” but did not specify what type of fuel Russia would supply. Greece’s left-wing leadership has made a show of drawing closer to Moscow in recent months as the spat with its international creditors has grown more ugly. In June, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during a visit to Russia sealed a preliminary agreement for Russia to build a €2 billion gas pipeline through Greece, extending the TurkStream project, which is intended to supply Russian gas to Turkey.

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Greek politics will get a shake-up. But only Syriza can govern.

Greek Government’s Majority In Question, Says Labor Minister (Reuters)

The strength of the Greek government’s majority is in question and no-one can blame lawmakers who won’t agree to the terms of a cash-for-reforms deal with the country’s creditors, Labor Minister Panos Skourletis said on Monday. Eurozone leaders argued late into the night with near-bankrupt Greece at an emergency summit, demanding that Athens enact key reforms this week to restore trust before they will open talks on a financial rescue. “Right now there is an issue of a governmental majority (in parliament),” Skourletis told state TV ERT. “I cannot easily blame anyone who cannot say ‘yes’ to this deal.” “We aren’t trying to make this deal look better, and we are saying it clearly: this deal is not us,” he added.

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This is a question?

Was This Humiliation Of Greeks Really Necessary? (Helena Smith)

In return for a third bailout – this time staggered over three years and amounting to €53bn – Greeks essentially have been told to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And that is the good scenario. The alternative – Grexit – would have bypassed purgatory but taken crisis train passengers straight to hell. Greeks know that the next 48 hours will define them and Europe, too. But whatever happens, they also know the choice is one between a complete march into the unknown or a conscious decision to take measures that – for a time, at least – will inflict further damage on a country already hollowed out by the eviscerating effects of austerity. Either way, the future is bleak.

In this, Tsipras’s brinkmanship has not helped: trust is so eroded between the leadership in Athens and creditors abroad that aid, if given, will not be handed magnanimously. Almost everyone I know now fears that Greece will be left to rot in the eurozone. Politically, there is tumult on the horizon. That, in the early hours of Saturday, so many government MPs refused to give their vote to the proposed package of pension and budget cuts, tax rises and administrative reform does not portend well. Many Greeks may now credit Tsipras for convincing Europe’s fiscally obsessed creditors that the country’s debt burden remains the cause of its woes (as indeed it does), but that will not cut much ice with hardliners in his party.

Events have moved at such giddying speed that ironically most Greeks do not appear to blame Tsipras for ignoring the resounding rejection that he himself had urged when the economic demands of lenders were put to popular vote last weekend. The referendum, like so much else, has become part of the blanket of crisis. That the measures were less severe than the ones the government ultimately accepted has, in a further irony, been similarly played down. Greece, in truth, has skated so close to the edge – apocalyptic scenarios more real than ever before – that Tsipras’s spectacular U-turn has come as a welcome relief. Across an ever-fractious political spectrum, he has been applauded for putting his country before his party.

In the event of financial rescue, the hope is that Tsipras finally tackles the maladies that have so pervasively held back the country’s potential. Like no other party in power, Syriza is well placed to tackle the age-old malignancies of tax evasion, cronyism and corruption. But the leader will also face conflict on the streets. In the back alleys of Athens, where activists work in dark offices stacked with freshly painted placards and banners – the ammunition of the war against austerity – the battle is already on. “There will be demonstrations every day,” vowed Petros Papakonstantinou of the anti-capitalist bloc Antarsya. “And we will press for a general strike. That won’t be easy when the left is in power.”

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In fine form.

Greek Deal Makes Versailles Look Like A Picnic – Steve Keen (BallsRadio)

This interviewed was recorded before the deal was supposedly struck, but the sentiment still stands. Just how much does Greece have to give away. Too much says economist Steve Keen.

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“Even as its economy collapses and the government makes cuts in welfare spending, Greece’s military budget remains among the largest in the European Union..”

Greece Today, America Tomorrow? (Ron Paul)

The drama over Greece’s financial crisis continues to dominate the headlines. As this column is being written, a deal may have been reached providing Greece with yet another bailout if the Greek government adopts new “austerity” measures. The deal will allow all sides to brag about how they came together to save the Greek economy and the European Monetary Union. However, this deal is merely a Band-Aid, not a permanent fix to Greece’s problems. So another crisis is inevitable. The Greek crisis provides a look into what awaits us unless we stop overspending on warfare and welfare and restore a sound monetary system. While most commentators have focused on Greece’s welfare state, much of Greece’s deficit was caused by excessive military spending.

Even as its economy collapses and the government makes (minor) cuts in welfare spending, Greece’s military budget remains among the largest in the European Union. Despite all the handwringing over how the phony sequestration cuts have weakened America’s defenses, the United States military budget remains larger than the combined budgets of the world’s next 15 highest spending militaries. Little, if any, of the military budget is spent defending the American people from foreign threats. Instead, the American government wastes billions of dollars on an imperial foreign policy that makes Americans less safe. America will never get its fiscal house in order until we change our foreign policy and stop wasting trillions on unnecessary and unconstitutional wars.

Excessive military spending is not the sole cause of America’s problems. Like Greece, America suffers from excessive welfare and entitlement spending. Reducing military spending and corporate welfare will allow the government to transition away from the welfare state without hurting those dependent on government programs. Supporting an orderly transition away from the welfare state should not be confused with denying the need to reduce welfare and entitlement spending.

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New Zealand better beware. Wait till housing collapses on top of the logging and dairy crashes.

Chinese Buyers Turn Kiwis Into Renters In Their Own Country (NZ Herald)

Mainland Chinese money snapped up at least 80% of residential sales in parts of Auckland in March but were nearer 90% in May, a whistle blower from the industry says. The Herald reported at the weekend Labour data that showed people of Chinese descent accounted for 39.5% of the almost 4000 Auckland transactions between February and April. Yet Census 2013 data showed ethnic Chinese who are New Zealand residents or citizens account for only 9% of Auckland’s population. The property insider – who wanted to protect their identity because they feared for their job – said the situation was much more serious than the Labour data suggested. The numbers should be more than doubled due to the weight of capital coming out of Mainland China, the whistle blower said.

One big Auckland real estate agency, where many salespeople are of Chinese ethnicity, was selling almost every single property throughout many suburban areas to people living in China, the insider said. In some cases, those buyers had a New Zealand connection “but it’s one group disenfranchising the other. It’s really taken off in the last 18 months. I’ve been studying the figures since October.” “The Kiwis, South Africans and British have dropped out of the market because they just can’t compete with the Chinese. The people living in China buy the places the Kiwis are trying to get, then those places are rented out the next day,” the insider said. That showed the person is in an important position in the property sector with extensive access to information unavailable to the public revealing who the buyers really are.

“We’re becoming tenants in our own country. It’s utterly outrageous. The Chinese are interested in Panmure, Ellerslie, Greenlane, Epsom, Remuera, the North Shore – not so much the west.” In some cases, a single Chinese resident was spending up to $15 million on Auckland properties and the higher the bidding at auctions went, the happier they were. “They simply don’t care how much they pay. It’s not related to the CV. If they pay another $400,000 more, that’s $400,000 they’re better off as it’s $400,000 they have shifted out of Mainland China. If they continue vacuuming up all the existing properties at the current rate of consumption, what will that do? The Chinese will outbid everyone at the auction. I’m sick of the phone bidder from Guangzhou. I’m relieved that someone at last is talking about this,” the insider said of Twyford’s data.

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“..it implies that this is a capital movement rather than just individuals looking to park money.“

China’s Rich Seek Shelter From Stock Market Storm In Foreign Property (Guardian)

Real estate agents in Australia, Britain and Canada are bracing for a surge of new interest in their already hot property markets, with early signs that wealthy Chinese investors are seeking a safe haven from the turmoil in Shanghai’s stock markets. Sydney agent Michael Pallier said in the past week alone he has sold two new apartments and shown a A$13.8m (US$10.3m) house in the harbourside city to Chinese buyers looking for an alternative to stocks. “A lot of high-net-worth individuals had already taken money out of the stock market because it was getting just too hot,” Pallier, the principal of Sydney Sotheby’s International Realty, said. “There’s a huge amount of cash sitting in China and I think you’ll find a lot of that comes to the Australian property market.”

Around 20% has been knocked off the value of Chinese shares since mid-June, although attempts by authorities to stem the bleeding are having some effect. Many wealthy Chinese investors had already cashed out. Major shareholders sold 360bn yuan (US$58bn) in the first five months of 2015 alone, compared with 190bn yuan in all of 2014 and an average of 100bn yuan in prior years, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. While much of that money may initially be parked in more liquid assets like US Treasury bonds and safe-haven currencies such as the Swiss franc, there is growing evidence that foreign property sales may receive a boost.

“There is anecdotal evidence that Chinese buyers have intensified their interest in safe-haven global property markets, including London, as a result of the recent stock market volatility,” said Tom Bill, head of London residential research at Knight Frank. Ed Mead, executive director of realtor Douglas & Gordon in London, said his firm had seen two buyers from China looking to buy whole blocks of flats. “It is unusual to see the Chinese block buying, it implies that this is a capital movement rather than just individuals looking to park money.“

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“../Beijing’s panicky policy actions may reveal that the economy is in worse shape than is being let on.”

How China’s Stock-Market Muddle May Spread (MarketWatch)

Despite China’s troubled stock markets finding a floor last week, do not expect any quick return to normality. The dramatic stock rout and subsequent heavy-handed interference by authorities will not be easily forgotten. It has not just rattled investor confidence, but also damaged the political credibility of President Xi Jinping. For China’s legions of retail investors, the heavy losses have been compounded by wholesale stock suspensions — with half of Shenzhen and Shanghai stocks still not trading. This is a likely to fuel anxiety so long as investors are trapped in stock positions with no liquidity. It is also likely to lead to a sea change in investor mood from only weeks earlier, when some were even selling the roof over their head to buy equities.

There may be a nasty surprise when the first post-suspension bid prices come in. Albert Edwards at Société Générale highlights the experience in 2008, when Pakistan suspended trading on the Karachi Stock Exchange to try to “put a floor” under stocks after a share-price slump. This episode left authorities’ reputation in tatters, and when the market reopened, it quickly lost another 52%. For foreign investors, many of the bizarre interventions by Beijing last week will have raised a number of other, more fundamental questions about the competence of China’s leadership and the true state of the economy. One area of renewed uncertainty is the ongoing policy commitment to allowing market forces to play a larger role in the economy, a part of Beijing’s larger reform program.

The reintroduction of a ban on initial public offerings and spate of stock suspensions set a worrying precedent and will refocus attention on political risk. This, in turn, will place a cloud of doubt over plans for liberalizing interest rates, the capital account and the domestic bond market. Foreign investors are likely to think twice as they face the risk that the government may simply suspend reforms if prices start going against them. These recent actions suggest the voices of conservatives opposed to market reforms are in the ascendancy. Perhaps the more worrying take-away is that Beijing’s panicky policy actions may reveal that the economy is in worse shape than is being let on.

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More losses.

China’s Market-Tracking ETFs Roiled By Share Suspensions (FT)

A wave of stock suspensions has played havoc with exchange traded funds tracking Chinese markets, causing wild price swings and big price gaps between passive funds and the assets they track. More than 1,400 companies — more than half of all listings — are on trading halts in China, in an effort to shield themselves from the dramatic equity market sell-off that has wiped trillions of dollars off the value of Chinese stocks. The suspensions have left a number of ETFs holding frozen shares or derivatives linked to them, even as the funds themselves continue to trade. One Hong Kong-listed ETF that tracks China’s small-cap board, the ChiNext, traded every day last week, despite more than two-thirds of the underlying shares it reflects being suspended.

On Friday, the CSOP ChiNext ETF jumped by a fifth, while the index itself rose only 4.1%. Concerns have been growing globally over the potential mismatch between the liquidity of the underlying collateral that ETFs hold and that of their units. The Bank of International Settlements warned last month that the growth of passive funds may have created a “liquidity illusion” in bonds, although analysts say the problems currently facing Chinese equity ETFs are specific to the idiosyncrasies of that market. Chinese shares have tumbled in the past month, as millions of retail investors unwind leveraged bets on the market. Beijing has responded with various supportive measures, including bans on short selling, and on stock sales by large shareholders.

The central bank has also been funnelling money to brokerages to help them buy equities. Trading volumes for many China-tracker ETFs have doubled over the past two weeks, as market volatility has risen. ETFs have experienced wild daily price swings as investors use passive funds for price discovery of suspended Chinese assets. Last Thursday, the Deutsche X-Trackers Harvest CSI 300 ETF, which trades in New York, rose 20%. The extent of share suspensions has made ETFs “one of the only tradable instruments” for global investors looking to manage their exposure to Chinese stocks, said Warren Deats, head of Asia-Pacific portfolio trading at Barclays. Such funds are performing like futures contracts, he added, with investors using them to estimate the true level of the market — a view echoed by fund providers.

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Jun 052015
 
 June 5, 2015  Posted by at 12:49 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange Farm boy at main drugstore, Medford, Oregon 1939

Central bankers have promised ad nauseum to keep rates low for long periods of time. And they have delivered. Their claim is that this helps the economy recover, but that is just a silly idea.

What it does do is help create the illusion of a recovering economy. But that is mostly achieved by making price discovery impossible, not by increasing productivity or wages or innovation or anything like that. What we have is the financial system posing as the economy. And a vast majority of people falling for that sleight of hand.

Now the central bankers come face to face with Hyman Minsky’s credo that ‘Stability Breeds Instability’. Ultra low rates (ZIRP) are not a natural phenomenon, and that must of necessity mean that they distort economies in ways that are inherently unpredictable. For central bankers, investors, politicians, everyone.

That is the essence of what is being consistently denied, all the time. That is why QE policies, certainly in the theater they’re presently being executed in, will always fail. That is why they should never have been considered to begin with. The entire premise is false.

Ultra low rates are today starting to bite central bankers in the ass. The illusion of control is not the same as control. But Mario and Janet and Haruhiko, like their predecessors before them, are way past even contemplating the limits of their powers. They think pulling levers and and turning switches is enough to make economies do what they want.

Nobody talks anymore about how guys like Bernanke stated when the crisis truly hit that they were entering ‘uncharted territory’. That’s intriguing, if only because they’re way deeper into that territory now than they were back then. Presumably, that may have something to do with the perception that there actually is a recovery ongoing.

But the lack of scrutiny should still puzzle. How central bankers managed to pull off the move from admitting they had no idea what they were doing, to being seen as virtually unquestioned maestros, rulers of, if not the world, then surely the economy. Is that all that hard, though, if and when you can push trillions of dollars into an economy?

Isn’t that something your aunt Edna could do just as well? The main difference between your aunt and Janet Yellen may well be that Yellen knows who to hand all that money to: Wall Street. Aunt Edna might have some reservations about that. Other than that, how could we possibly tell them apart, other than from the language they use?

The entire thing is a charade based on perception and propaganda. Politicians, bankers, media, the lot of them have a vested interest in making you think things are improving, and will continue to do so. And they are the only ones who actually get through to you, other than a bunch of websites such as The Automatic Earth.

But for every single person who reads our point of view, there are at least 1000 who read or view or hear Maro Draghi or Janet Yellen’s. That in itself doesn’t make any of the two more true, but it does lend one more credibility.

Draghi this week warned of increasing volatility in the markets. He didn’t mention that he himself created this volatility with his latest QE scheme. Nor did anyone else.

And sure enough, bond markets all over the world started a sequence of violent moves. Many blame this on illiquidity. We would say, instead, that it’s a natural consequence of the infusion of fake zombie liquidity and ZIRP rates.

The longer you fake it, the more the perception will grow that you can’t keep up the illusion, that you’re going to be found out. Ultra low rates may be useful for a short period of time, but if they last for many years (fake stability) they will themselves create the instability Minsky talked about.

And since we’re very much still in uncharted territory even if no-one talks about it, that instability will take on forms that are uncharted too. And leave Draghi and Yellen caught like deer in the headlights with their pants down their ankles.

The best definition perhaps came from Jim Bianco, president of Bianco Research in Chicago, who told Bloomberg: “You want to shove rates down to zero, people are going to make big bets because they don’t think it can last; Every move becomes a massive short squeeze or an epic collapse – which is what we seem to be in the middle of right now.”

With long term ultra low rates, investors sense less volatility, which means they want to increase their holdings. As Tyler Durden put it: ‘investors who target a stable Value-at-Risk, which is the size of their positions times volatility, tend to take larger positions as volatility collapses. The same investors are forced to cut their positions when hit by a shock, triggering self- reinforcing volatility-induced selling. This is how QE increases the likelihood of VaR shocks.’

QE+ZIRP have many perverse consequences. That is inevitable, because they are all fake from beginning to end. They create a huge increase in inequality, which hampers a recovery instead of aiding it. They are deflationary.

They distort asset values, blowing up prices for stocks and bonds and houses, while crushing the disposable incomes in the real economy that are the no. 1 dead certain indispensable element of a recovery.

You would think that the central bankers look at global bond markets today, see the swings and think ‘I better tone this down before it explodes in my face’. But don’t count on it.

They see themselves as masters of the universe, and besides, their paymasters are still making off like bandits. They will first have to be hit by the full brunt of Minsky’s insight, and then it’ll be too late.