Aug 022019
 


Pablo Picasso Bathers with a toy boat 1937

 

The Giant Sucking Sound of Financial Repression (WS)
Dutch Bank ING Warns Against Further ECB Money Printing (R.)
Trump’s $300 Billion China Tariff Threat Sends Markets Into Tailspin (G.)
Rate Cut Odds Surge After Tariff Announcement (ZH)
US Tariffs Risk Reviving Chinese Zombies (R.)
The EU Has New People In Charge. It’s Not Good News For US Tech Firms (CNBC)
EU Governments Seek Name For IMF Head (R.)
Boris Johnson’s Commons Working Majority Cut To One (BBC)
Expecting Ireland To Be Servile Is Part Of A Long British Tradition (G.)
Irish Peace Is Too Precious To Be Squandered By The Brexit Ultras (G.)
Boeing To Change 737 MAX Flight-Control Software To Address Flaw (R.)
Rachel Maddow Ratings Tank After Collusion Narrative Implodes (Ryan)

 

 

The war on savings and pensions continues unabated. Central banks are in so deep there’s no way out anymore. But what happens when you want to, or have to, retire?

The Giant Sucking Sound of Financial Repression (WS)

It’s called interest-rate repression. Or more poetically, financial repression. It’s where central banks manipulate interest rates down to where investments with little credit risk, such as Treasury securities, FDIC-insured savings accounts and CDs, pay little or no interest, or pay less interest than the rate of inflation. People such as savers and retirees, and institutions such as pension funds, that depend on this cash flow have lost their income stream. In addition, the purchasing power of their principal is getting gradually wiped out by inflation. How much money are we talking about? In the US alone, this interest rate repression impacts nearly $40 trillion. This includes savings products, Treasury securities, municipal bonds, and high-grade corporate debt.

$40 Trillion with a T. A 2% reduction across the board cuts this income by $800 billion a year. And this has had an impact. Central banks have accomplished this interest-rate repression by pushing short-term rates to zero or below zero, and by buying bonds and other assets to push long-term rates down too. These were emergency measures during the Financial Crisis that have become the “new normal,” as it has been called. This new normal has been going on for over a decade now. Other central banks, including the ECB and the Bank of Japan, pushed their policy rates below zero. This, in addition to vast asset buying binges by those central banks, produced $13 trillion in negative yielding bonds. But that’s a different universe of idiocy that we’re not going to get into today. We’re going to stick to US conditions.

To the Fed’s credit, it is the only major central bank that has raised its policy-rate target a bit, from near-zero to a range between 2.25% and 2.5%, which are still historically low rates. But it is under immense pressure by Wall Street and by the White House to cut rates again. So now we have this situation where short-term Treasury yields are low, and long-dated Treasury yields are even lower. How much money are we talking about here? Let’s see. There are $22 trillion in Treasury securities. They’re held by individuals and institutions, including insurance companies, pension funds, and the Social Security Trust Fund. Then there is high-grade corporate debt. The category of triple-A to single-A-rated debt is about $3.3 trillion. These yields have been pushed down too.

Then there are $3.8 trillion in municipal bonds outstanding. Many of them trade below US Treasury yields. For example, the GO bonds of California, which is not exactly a paragon of fiscal rectitude. During trading last Thursday, the California 10-year yield was 1.76%. This was about one-third of a percentage point below the US Treasury 10-year yield of 2.08% on the same day. Then there are $9.4 trillion in savings products, mostly savings accounts and CDs at banks. There are also about $3 trillion in checking accounts, payroll accounts, etc., but they’re not included here. These are just savings products. So let’s add these categories up: They amount to $39 trillion.

Read more …

“There is no shortage of money in the market.”

Dutch Bank ING Warns Against Further ECB Money Printing (R.)

Ralph Hamers made his plea as central banks redouble efforts to keep the cost of borrowing at historic lows to buoy the economy, a policy that weighs on bank profits and makes it costly to hold deposits. “I don’t think QE is a recipe to support an uncertain environment,” Hamers told journalists, referring to so-called quantitative easing to print fresh money. “There is no shortage of money in the market.” Although bankers have previously made similar complaints, Hamers’ blunt comments carry weight because his bank is one of Europe’s largest, with 38 million customers. ING, the largest Dutch bank, cautioned on Thursday that rock-bottom interest rates would pressure future earnings, as it announced a 1.4 billion euro net profit in the second quarter of the year.


“Looking ahead, we expect that persistently low interest rates will put pressure on net interest income,” Hamers said, referring to the bank’s chief earnings pillar from activities such as lending. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has all but pledged to loosen monetary policy further amid a continued economic deterioration of Europe’s euro currency bloc, still grappling with the aftermath of a debt crisis. Officials recently told Reuters that an interest rate cut in September appeared certain, while government bond buys were also likely. Draghi recently said the outlook looked bleak as a global trade war hit Europe’s manufacturers.

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Did he do it to push Powell?

Trump’s $300 Billion China Tariff Threat Sends Markets Into Tailspin (G.)

Donald Trump’s surprise decision to escalate the trade war with tariffs on another $300bn of Chinese goods has sent global financial markets into a tailspin. After sharp falls on Wall Street in the wake of the US president’s announcement on Twitter on Thursday, Asian share prices plummeted on Friday morning as growing hopes that the world’s two economic superpowers would be able to reach a deal were dashed. In Tokyo the Nikkei was down 2.3%, with a similar fall in Hong Kong and Shanghai. The Kospi was down 0.8% in Seoul while in Sydney the benchmark ASX200, which passed its pre-global financial crisis all-time high on Tuesday, fell 0.3%. On the commodities markets the price of Brent crude oil plunged 7%, its biggest fall for four years, although it recovered 2.5% on Friday to $62.01.


Trump’s decision was also likely to increase the chances of another cut in US interest rates with the prospect of worsening trade with China forcing the Federal Reserve to loosen monetary policy again in September. It follows Wednesday’s 0.25% reduction, which was widely seen as not being enough to please the president who has been very vocal in calling for lower rates to boost the economy. As a signal of lower rates to come, the 10-year US bond yield fell almost 12 basis points on Thursday to 1.902%, hitting the lowest level since Trump won the presidential election in November 2016. The US dollar also fell and stockmarkets in Europe and the US were braced for a turbulent last day’s trading of the week. The FTSE100 is set to drop 1% at the opening and the Dow 0.3%.

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“It’s very logical to conclude that if trade tensions increase, given what Powell said, that would be something he would look at to evaluate a further cut.”

Rate Cut Odds Surge After Tariff Announcement (ZH)

Earlier today, we wrote a post titled “What Would It Take For The Fed To Not Cut Again?”, with Goldman providing a stylized answer, although in retrospect, the post should have been titled “What Would It Take For The Fed To Cut Again”, as that is what the market was far more concerned about after yesterday’s hawkish Powell press conference. In any case, Goldman hinted at the one specific catalyst that could force the Fed to cut more: “We also see risks in the other direction, especially on a significant escalation of tariffs against China.” To this, we said that “if an acceleration in the trade war with China is what the Fed will need to cut more, it’s pretty clear what that means for the chances of any trade deal between Washington and Beijing, since even Trump now understands that if he keeps escalating trade war with China, Powell will have no choice but to eventually cut to 0% (and lower).”

Just a few hours later, we were proven right in suggesting that an escalation in the trade war is inevitable and imminent when Trump tweeted that he would hike tariffs on $300BN in Chinese imports to 10% starting September 1, ending the tentative ceasefire with Beijing with a bang, and sending risk prices sharply lower. And yes, while Trump did suffer a modest drop in his favorite polling indicator – i.e., the stock market – which “cratered” as much as 1.5% below its all time high – far more importantly Trump also called Powell’s bluff, and effectively forced the Fed to prepare for more rate cuts as the trade war with China – which Powell explicitly highlighted as a condition that would result in more easing – is set to escalate further.

Late today, Bloomberg confirmed as much noting that traders “fixated on a timeline in which Powell seems to suggest cooling trade tensions reduced the need for future rate reductions — and a day later Trump revs the tensions back up”, just as we said he would. “It fits the pattern of a president bent on getting the central bank to submit, many thought”, the Bloomberg authors concluded. “Powell was very careful to say that he was looking at three things, one of which was global growth and the extent to which that is risked by trade tensions,” said Ellen Hazen, senior vice president and portfolio manager for F.L. Putnam, which has $2.2 billion under management. “It’s very logical to conclude that if trade tensions increase, given what Powell said, that would be something he would look at to evaluate a further cut.” Precisely, hence our prediction first thing this morning.

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Really? Xi is going to build more bridges to nowhere?

US Tariffs Risk Reviving Chinese Zombies (R.)

President Donald Trump is threatening new levies on $300 billion of Chinese goods entering the United States, after Shanghai talks proved inconclusive this week. That might not prod Chinese officials into striking a deal, but it is likely to raise some unwelcome zombies. Trump is among those who claim the Chinese economy is on the brink of the abyss. And it’s true that as a truce in trade negotiations gets more elusive the country’s business community is being forced to price in a new status quo. Their country has stumbled into a cold war with the world’s largest economy, a nuclear-armed military colossus that controls the world’s foremost trading currency. But a $13 trillion economy growing at 6.2% is hardly imploding, and a country where private consumption makes up roughly two-fifths of nominal GDP has padding against a downturn in trade.


Tensions exacerbate economic problems of China’s own making, though. There is a massive stack of non-performing debt incurred by government banks that mis-allocated capital after the global financial crisis. And there are still plenty of inefficient state-backed companies that compete with China’s private sector, driving down profitability across the board. If the new 10% tariffs kick in on Sept. 1 as Trump threatened on Thursday, President Xi Jinping may re-open a playbook that reformist officials have been trying to close. The central government has already pushed localities to ramp up infrastructure spending, and there may be more to come. Construction investment creates jobs immediately, and the government can order banks to lend, and order state firms to build.

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Trump won’t like this.

The EU Has New People In Charge. It’s Not Good News For US Tech Firms (CNBC)

New officials at the heart of the EU will likely keep America’s big tech firms under close scrutiny, experts have told CNBC. The European Commission — the EU’s executive arm — has fined companies such as Google for disrespecting its competition rules, it’s asked Ireland to collect unpaid taxes from Apple and is currently investigating Amazon. It has also proposed different laws that seek to limit online content and there’s little evidence that anything will change under the EU’s new leadership. Dexter Thillien, a senior industry analyst at Fitch Solutions, told CNBC via telephone Wednesday that Europe is keen to continue to be seen as the global leading force in tech regulation. Thillien explained that Europe saw a loophole in global tech regulation and felt the need to act.


“Europeans have all the negatives but none of the positives,” he said, referring to the fact that Europe has not created any large tech firms but has had to deal with the presence of Silicon Valley behemoths. “The European Commission has become more assertive making big tech companies pay their fair share of taxes. If anything, the incoming Commission looks even more determined to do so,” Florian Hense, an economist at Berenberg, told CNBC via email. Ursula von der Leyen, the president-elect of the Commission, said during a speech earlier this month that “if (tech companies) are making these profits by benefiting from our education system, our skilled workers, our infrastructure and our social security, if this is so, it is not acceptable that they make profits, but they are barely paying any taxes because they play our tax system.”

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A European under Washington’s thumb.

EU Governments Seek Name For IMF Head (R.)

European Union finance ministers are set on Friday to choose the bloc’s candidate to lead the International Monetary Fund from a list of four names, a spokeswoman for the French government said. The list includes Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch former head of euro zone finance ministers; Nadia Calvino, the Spanish economy minister; Olli Rehn, the Finnish central bank governor; and Bulgaria’s World Bank chief executive Kristalina Georgieva. Mario Centeno, the Portuguese chairman of euro zone finance ministers, said on Thursday he was pulling out of the race “in this stage of the process”, adding that he would be available if needed for a compromise solution.


Britain did not field a candidate because it could not come up with a name on time, a European official said. It had been expected to name a candidate and the deadline was extended by a few hours on Thursday to allow it to do so. France is leading the process to select a European candidate. The top job at the Washington-based global lender has historically been filled by a European. Outgoing IMF head Christine Lagarde is taking over from Mario Draghi as European Central Bank president.

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is that enough to push through a no-deal Brexit?

Boris Johnson’s Commons Working Majority Cut To One (BBC)

The Liberal Democrats have won the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, leaving new PM Boris Johnson with a Commons working majority of just one. Jane Dodds overturned an 8,038 majority to beat incumbent Conservative Chris Davies by 1,425 votes. Mr Davies stood again after being unseated by a petition following his conviction for a false expenses claim. It was the first electoral test for Mr Johnson just eight days after becoming prime minister. It is the quickest by-election defeat for any new prime minister since World War Two.


Now, with the thinnest possible working majority, he will have to rely heavily on the support of his own MPs and his confidence-and-supply partners the DUP to get any legislation passed in key votes. It was also a bad night for Labour, whose vote share dropped by 12.4% as it was beaten into fourth place by the Brexit Party. The result means the Lib Dems now have 13 MPs. Ms Dodds, who is the Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, said: “My very first act as your new MP when I get to Westminster will be to find Mr Boris Johnson, wherever he’s hiding, and tell him to stop playing with the future of our community and rule out a no-deal Brexit.”

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“Paddy should know his place..”

Expecting Ireland To Be Servile Is Part Of A Long British Tradition (G.)

Boris Johnson’s approach to Ireland is part of an ignoble tradition in British politics. At its heart is the false assumption that superiority in resources and military prowess equates to a superiority in intellectual power and moral rectitude. In short, the idea that might is right and that, ultimately, Paddy should know his place. This assumption shaped and even, at times, dominated, policy on Ireland for centuries before independence. It runs through 19th-century British depictions of the Irish as incapable of self-government, unreliable, lazy and inferior. For Benjamin Disraeli, a British prime minister who shares some personal characteristics with the current incumbent, the Irish were “wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious”.

Most obviously, this sense of superiority and a refined “moral” stance was clearly manifest in government policy during the Great Famine of 1845-49, which caused the deaths of more than one million people on the island of Ireland. This consistently damaging strain of thought continued into the 20th century, with British military and economic power often used crudely to address deep-rooted political conflicts in Ireland, which refused, and continue to refuse, to allow for simple solutions. Ireland, the thinking went, should be the handmaiden for glorious Britannia – and this servile position is for Ireland’s own benefit and ultimately serves Irish interests.

Of course, within this particular strain of British political thought, the history of violence and tragedy in Ireland is sometimes portrayed as a product of Irish recalcitrance – a tendency towards disorder and conflict that fails to recognise the beneficence of British policy on the island. Britain, it is often suggested, is a guarantor of Irish stability, addressing and suppressing the inherent conflicts in Irish society, rather than a highly disruptive force that has often recklessly pursued its own interests at a serious cost to its nearest neighbour.

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“Tories of influence” told him privately that Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s taoiseach “isn’t bright” and “the Irish will blink”.

Irish Peace Is Too Precious To Be Squandered By The Brexit Ultras (G.)

In The Ultras, the brutal, brilliant novel by Eoin McNamee set during the Troubles, the protagonist (based on the real-life undercover British intelligence officer Robert Nairac) finds himself in the company of dangerous men like himself. The Ultras plot terrible events and create dark polities while forcing everyone else to live with their consequences. “Ultra meaning beyond,” wrote McNamee. “Ultra meaning extreme.” The so-called war cabinet formed by the new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, and whose course the maverick arch-Brexiteer Dominic Cummings now charts, of course bears no resemblance to the characters in the war of the Ultras imagined by McNamee.

But the sheer velocity and ferocity of their opening salvoes about crashing out of the EU with no deal on October 31 unless the backstop – the insurance policy to avoid a hard border in Ireland – is abolished, raise the kind of alarm that we in Ireland have not felt since the dark years of the Troubles. The political fear is that this new breed of “Brexit Ultras” (Johnson’s cabinet with Nigel Farage’s Brexit party snapping at its heels) could deliberately pursue a no-deal EU exit at the expense of a volatile Irish peace. The sabre-rattling and pre-emptive blame-shifting of course is intended to shore up political support in the UK ahead of a possible general election, but also to intimidate Ireland into abandoning the backstop while shaking the unity of the EU27.

Europe, with its own demons to face, has its red lines too and will not sacrifice the single market or its external borders, or jeopardise the wider integrity of the European project. Ireland, and the fragile peace process that has been built over the past 20 years, falls between these two positions. And while it is still early days for the Johnson premiership, we have a deteriorated state of Anglo-Irish relations following his ascent to power. How real is the damaging rhetoric emanating from London and the anti-Irish tropes spewing from much of the British media? David Yelland, the former editor of the Sun, revealed that he had been shocked when “Tories of influence” told him privately that Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s taoiseach “isn’t bright” and “the Irish will blink”. “It seems, amazingly, that this is the actual policy of HMG under Johnson,” tweeted Yelland. “They are anti-Irish, arrogant, dangerous and wrong.”

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Well, actually, they’re going to change hardware: a second flight control computer and a second angle-of-attack sensor. Both of which are altready on board, but not used.

Boeing To Change 737 MAX Flight-Control Software To Address Flaw (R.)

Boeing Co plans further changes to the software architecture of the 737 MAX flight-control system to address a flaw discovered after a test in June, two people briefed on the matter said late on Thursday. The redesign, first reported by the Seattle Times, involves using and receiving input from both flight control computers rather than one. The move comes in response to an effort to address a problem discovered in June during a Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) simulator test. This is on top of earlier announced changes to take input from both angle-of-attack sensors in the MCAS anti-stall system linked to two deadly crashes that led to a global grounding of the plane.


Boeing still hopes to complete the software redesign by the end of September to submit to the FAA for approval, the sources said. For decades, 737 models have used only one of the flight control computers for each flight, with the system switching to the other computer on the following flight, according to people familiar with the plane’s design. The FAA said in June that it had identified a new risk that would need to be addressed before the plane could be ungrounded. Under a scenario where a specific fault in a microprocessor caused an uncommanded movement of the plane’s horizontal tail, it took pilots too long to recognize a loss of control known as runaway stabilizer, a Boeing official said at the time.

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Crazy bag lady.

Rachel Maddow Ratings Tank After Collusion Narrative Implodes (Ryan)

Once a shining beacon of hope for Russiagate true believers, it looks like Rachel Maddow has left her best days behind her; MSNBC’s conspiracy queen has seen her show plummet to fifth place in cable news ratings. What happened? You rise fast and fall hard in the fickle world of television. Just last April, Maddow overtook Fox News’ Sean Hannity to claim the title of most-watched host across cable news. She had become a reliable source for Russigate aficionados to get their daily dose of crazy. Sadly for Maddow, the latest data released by Nielsen shows her show in fifth place with a total audience of 2.4877 million viewers for July – behind Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and The Five (all Fox News shows).


For context, in January this year, Maddow still boasted an audience of nearly 3.3 million, which means she shed around 800,000 viewers in just six months. Maddow was also in fifth place among viewers in the 25-54 age range – the group most-favored by advertisers. Ouch. Once dubbed “the smartest person on TV” by Forbes (really), this is certainly not the big payoff Maddow was expecting, having dedicated three years of her career to breathlessly covering every twist and turn in the anticlimactic Trump-Russia “collusion” drama.

Read more …

 

Ship with dolphins.Wall painting from Akrotiri, Thera island (Santorini), Greece.17th century BC.

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 062019
 


Jack Delano A welder in the roundhouse of the Chicago and North Western Railroad’s Proviso yard 1942

 

It’s rare that I reach back into the past of the Automatic Earth, but it’s not entirely unique either. The reason I do it today is not only the relevance of the article -in my view-, or the fact it was published so long ago, but it’s that the ‘world’ has changed so much since January 1 2014, the date I wrote the piece below, as Everything Better Is Purchased At The Price Of Something Worse. It’s gained much new relevance since.

This essay, way back when, dealt with Carl -Gustav- Jung, probably the most influential psycho-analist we’ve ever known (he’s having a heated discussion with Freud about this as we speak, over a glass of brandy), and his take in the 1950s on our ability to incorporate new technologies into our lives, our minds and brains.

Jung couldn’t have dreamt how much of that was yet to come, but he already put some very dire warnings out there. His main point appears to be that our capacity to ’embrace’ anything new is per definition -very- limited because we ARE our ancestors, and whatever they never knew, we will have a hard if not impossible time making part of our lives.

It’s just that, as he warns, we are completely blind to this. Once you lose the link to your ancestors, you will move away from them ever faster. Because there’s nothing left to anchor you. But at the same time, you ARE your ancestors.

I am thinking about this on a near constant basis as I see people sit or move around with their iPhones et al, and their Facebook and Instagram et al, and I wonder what they did with their lives before they could walk the streets bumping into each other -or the odd car- before a constant link to faraway places seemed appropriate and/or needed.

Jung already thought about this, before it existed, 60-odd years ago. He framed it as: what are you giving up for what you gain? But of course the whole younger part of the poulation, who’ve never known anything else, have no notion of having given up anything. They never did anything else with their lives.

Well, Jung had a completely different idea. He said our brains haven’t even processed the times we never knew, ‘primitivity’, ‘antiquity’, or the Middle Ages yet, let alone radio, TV, or the internet. “We are very far from having finished completely with the Middle Ages, classical antiquity, and primitivity, as our modern psyches pretend.”

Carl Jung claimed that our only true frame of reference is our ancestors, and since they never knew radio, TV, internet, we cannot incorporate such things into our lives without losing our connection to them. But we ARE them, and if we would ever lose that connection, we would be beyond lost. We’d be gone. First mentally, then -inevitably- physically.

And what we label ‘progress’ is then merely a way to move ever faster awasy from what we really are, which is the ancestors that gave birth to us. Gone, lost, into some empty space, with no grounding and no purpose.

Perhaps that goes a ways towards explaining why we are destroying the planet we live on. We lost the connection to who we are. We are focused today only on progress, on the future, and not on the present, because the present requires a link to the past.

Here’s my take on this 5.5 years ago. Before all these millions of zombies were stalking the streets looking only at their phones, eagerly – nay, desperately- awaiting messages from people thousands of miles away. Mostly about what food they eat, no less, or what dress they wear.

The concept of what constitutes our lives has changed profoundly. It is no longer the people around us, or even the landscape, our lives now are made up of people who are not here (and landscapes in travel brochures and nature documentaries). That is quite something.

Carl Jung said quite a while ago that our minds and brains cannot handle that. But there you are and here we go.

 

 

Ilargi, Jan 1 2014: I thought I’d start off 2014 on a philosophical note, with something that I hope perhaps people will remember as the year progresses, or even through the rest of their lives, and share with those around them. In my humble view, that would do the planet a world of good. But it’s not easy; we have wandered far.

There are many things we have neglected and forgotten, if not never understood or even thought about, that are nevertheless essential to our personal well-being and that of our surroundings. If anyone in the western world has considered and analyzed these forgotten ‘things’, it’s Carl Gustav Jung, the psycho-therapist who died in 1961. Jung defined the collective unconscious, archetypes and synchronicity, among many other things. It was his active interest in Eastern civilization and philosophies that led him to ponder how the collective unconsciousness influences our notion of progress.

In general, Jung suggested that our minds are woefully ill-equipped to incorporate progress into our lives when it takes the shape of new methodology, and new machinery, gadgets, because we don’t have a suitable frame of reference for them. We interpret the world through the frame of reference embedded in our minds that was built through countless generations of our ancestors. That is not to say we can never comprehend or incorporate new things, but that it must always be a gradual process, and if we are not at all times sufficiently aware of how this process takes place, as it takes place, we will lose ourselves, because we risk losing our connection to our ancestors, and we ARE, in essence, our ancestors.

In particular, we need to be aware of the fact that there is no such thing as absolute progress, that every time we add something to our world, we take something away as well. It’s the Eastern notion of balance, of yin and yang, at play: Everything Better Is Purchased At The Price Of Something Worse. Life does not by definition only get better when someone invents a new phone or car or facial cream, even if that phone makes it easier to talk to someone thousands of miles away, or the car makes it easier to go see people, or get away from them, or the cream dissolves wrinkles like magic. It doesn’t work like that. We pay a price: for everything we add, we lose something. The question then becomes: what do we value most. But that’s a question we never ask: we see everything new as an addition to our lives, and ignore what gets taken away from us.

As Jung wrote about these issues, probably in the late 1950s, the world was very different from what it is today. If he were alive now, he would undoubtedly have found that difference very painfully unsettling, and declared it dangerous for all of mankind. When we lose our connection to the collective references passed on by those whose DNA we carry, references that we are born with, we lose our connection with ourselves, and we become disoriented, dissatisfied.

There is no happy ending to this process. It needs to be shut down at some point, and therefore it will, in order for us to reconnect with our own minds and brains, which owe their composition and very existence to our forefathers. But for the process to be shut down, we must be deprived of both our ability and our drive to generate progress, since we will never volunteer to stop. We must go on, because we lost our connection to ourselves. There is no way back, not if we insist on keeping on going “forward”. That suggests a return to a sort of stone age world is the only possible outcome.

 

It is precisely Jung and Freud’s insights into the human mind that have made it possible for politicians and advertisers and other tricksters to fool us into thinking we want or need the things that make our world poorer, not richer. There is a huge amount of irony in this: that we use our increased ability to understand our minds in order to fool ourselves. If that doesn’t prove that Everything Better Is Purchased At The Price Of Something Worse, what does?

Although it would be best to incorporate the principle into our lives as just that, a general principle, it is of course possible to name specific examples. The automobile, the car, has brought us a lot of pleasure and comfort. It has also polluted our world like maybe no other single invention has ever done. And that’s not even the worst part: the car has cut through our communities like a gutting knife (to the point where we have no recollection of what these communities used to look like), separating us from each other, turned public space into no-go zones, and arguably been made more important than the people whose comfort they were was supposed to serve. For many people who have no car, for one reason or another, their own communities have become de facto inaccessible and unnavigable.

And the car is an easy example. What about medicine? We have, through progress in medicine, been able to save so many people from dying, and/or enabled them to die later, that our population has exploded, a huge problem in more ways than I could even attempt to discuss here. And that’s a hard one: nobody, including me, will suggest we stop saving lives, or start killing people, but there is a problem all the same. Everything Better Is Purchased At The Price Of Something Worse.

We can all come up with many examples, fridges, supermarkets, nuclear plants, photographs, indoor plumbing, and think about how they have changed our lives for the better or the worse. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to risk losing ourselves in examples. We should keep sight of the overriding principle: that we risk destroying our world as we seek to improve it. And that the lessons from a behemoth mind like Jung’s should be used to make us wiser, not to fool us into buying things that harm our lives.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Jung’s prolific writing should be obligatory course material in every single educational institution on the planet, but then you wouldn’t understand your world’s priorities, now, would you? We go with what we find convenient, not with what can make us wiser people. We pick material wealth over mental wealth any day and every day, or mental wealth only if there’s money in it. And perhaps that points to the reason why we find people like Carl Gustav Jung so easy to ignore.

I’ll leave you with Jung’s own words, after saying this: Our rush to obtain new things, a rush we call progress, and to make money from these new things – after all, what money is there in old things? – has disconnected us from our ancestors. Unfortunately, we ARE our ancestors. There is a price we pay for everything that is different today from what is was when our parents were our age, and our grandparents, and their parents before them, and so on. We ignore that price, and pretend we don’t need to pay it, encouraged by the fact that it doesn’t always have to be paid immediately, and we can leave it to our kids to settle the bill. Something we do all too willingly, which somehow puts our connections to our ancestors in a cynical, bleak light even more.

 

Here’s Jung from his book ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’, published in 1963, 2 years after his death, in the paragraphs with which he closes the chapter “The Tower”:

 

Our souls as well as our bodies are composed of individual elements which were all already present in the ranks of our ancestors. The “newness” in the individual psyche is an endlessly varied recombination of age-old components. Body and soul therefore have an intensely historical character and find no proper place in what is new , in things that have just come into being. That is to say, our ancestral components are only partly at home in such things. We are very far from having finished completely with the Middle Ages, classical antiquity, and primitivity, as our modern psyches pretend.

Nevertheless, we have plunged down a cataract of progress, which sweeps us on into the future with ever wilder violence the farther it takes us from our roots. Once the past has been breached, it is usually annihilated, and there is no stopping the forward motion. But it is precisely the loss of connection with the past, our uprootedness, which has given rise to the “discontents” of civilisation and to such a flurry and haste that we live more in the future and its chimerical promises of a golden age than in the present, with which our whole evolutionary background has not yet caught up.

We rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness. We no longer live on what we have, but on promises, no longer in the light of the present day, but in the darkness of the future, which, we expect, will at last bring the proper sunrise. We refuse to recognise that everything better is purchased at the price of something worse; that, for example, the hope of greater freedom is cancelled out by increased enslavement to the state, not to speak of the terrible perils to which the most brilliant discoveries of science expose us.

The less we understand of what our fathers and forefathers sought, the less we understand ourselves, and thus we help with all our might to rob the individual of his roots and his guiding instincts, so that he becomes a particle in the mass, ruled only by what Nietzsche called the spirit of gravity.

Reforms by advances, that is, by new methods or gadgets, are of course impressive at first, but in the long run they are dubious and in any case dearly paid for. They by no means increase the contentment or happiness of people on the whole. Mostly, they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications, which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time than ever before. Omnis festinatio ex parte diaboli est – all haste is of the devil, as the old masters used to say.

Reforms by retrogressions, on the other hand, are as a rule less expensive and in addition more lasting, for they return to the simpler, tried and tested ways of the past and make the sparsest use of newspapers, radio, television, and all supposedly timesaving innovations.

In this book I have devoted considerable space to my subjective view of the world, which, however, is not a product of rational thinking. It is rather a vision such as will come to one who undertakes, deliberately, with half-closed eyes and somewhat closed ears, to see and hear the form and voice of being. If our impressions are too distinct, we are held to the hour and minute of the present and have no way of knowing how our ancestral psyches listen to and understand the present – in other words, how our unconscious is responding to it. Thus we remain ignorant of whether our ancestral components find elementary gratification in our lives, or whether they are repelled. Inner peace and contentment depend in large measure upon whether or not the historical family, which is inherent in the individual, can be harmonised with the ephemeral conditions of the present.

In the Tower at Bollingen it is as if one lived in many centuries simultaneously. The place will outlive me, and in its location and style it points backwards to things of long ago. There is very little about it to suggest the present. If a man of the sixteenth century were to move into the house, only the kerosene lamp and the matches would be new to him; otherwise, he would know his way about without difficulty.

There is nothing to disturb the dead, neither electric light nor telephone. Moreover, my ancestors’ souls are sustained by the atmosphere of the house, since I answer for them the questions that their lives once left behind. I carve out rough answers as best I can. I have even drawn them on the walls. It is as if a silent, greater family, stretching down the centuries, were peopling the house. There I live in my second personality and see life in the round, as something forever coming into being and passing on.

 

 

 

 

Dec 272018
 
 December 27, 2018  Posted by at 9:25 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Francis Tattegrain La ramasseuse d’épaves (The Beachcomber) 1880

 

I haven’t really written about finance since April of this year, and given recent fluctuations in what people persist in calling the markets, maybe it’s time. Then again, nothing has changed since that article in April entitled This Is Not A Market. I was right then, and I still am.

[..] markets need price discovery as much as price discovery needs markets. They are two sides of the same coin. Markets are the mechanism that makes price discovery possible, and vice versa. Functioning markets, that is. Given the interdependence between the two, we must conclude that when there is no price discovery, there are no functioning markets. And a market that doesn’t function is not a market at all.

[..] we must wonder why everyone in the financial world, and the media, is still talking about ‘the markets’ (stocks, bonds et al) as if they still existed. Is it because they think there still is price discovery? Or do they think that even without price discovery, you can still have functioning markets? Or is their idea that a market is still a market even if it doesn’t function?

But perhaps that is confusing, and confusion in and of itself doesn’t lead to better understanding. So maybe I should call what there is out there today ‘zombie markets’. It doesn’t really make much difference. What murdered functioning markets is intervention by central banks, in alleged attempts to save those same markets. Cue your favorite horror movie.

Now Jerome Powell and the Fed he inherited are apparently trying to undo the misery Greenspan, Bernanke and Yellen before him wrought upon the economic system, and people, cue Trump, get into fights about that one. All the while still handing the Fed, the ECB, the BoJ, much more power than they should ever have been granted.

And you won’t get actual markets back until that power is wrestled from their cold dead zombie fingers. Even then, the damage will be hard to oversee, and it will take decades. The bankers and investors their free and easy trillions were bestowed upon will be just fine, thank you, but everyone else will definitely not be.

Central banks don’t serve societies, they serve banks. They fool everyone, politicians first of all, into believing that societies automatically do well if only the demands of banks are met first, and as obviously stupid as that sounds, nary a squeak of protest can be heard. Least of all from ‘market participants’ who have done nothing for the better part of this millennium except feast at the teat of main street largesse.

In the past few days we’ve had both -stock- market rallies and plunges of 5% or so, and people have started to realize that is not normal, and it scares them. So you get Tyler posting DataTrek’s Nicolas Colas saying “Healthy” Markets Don’t Rally 1,086 Points On The Dow. Well, he’s kinda right, but there hasn’t been a healthy market in 10+ years, and he’s missed that last bit. Like most people have who work in those so-called ‘markets’.

 

Here’s why Colas is right, but doesn’t understand why. Price discovery is the flipside of the coin that is a functional market, because it allows for people to see why something is valued at the level it is, by a large(r) number of participants. Take that away and it is obvious that violent price swings may start occurring as soon as the comforting money teat stutters, or even just threatens to do so; a rumor is enough.

In physics terms, price discovery, and therefore markets themselves -provided they’re ‘healthy’ and ‘functioning’- delivers negative feedback to the system, i.e. it injects self-correcting measures. Take away price discovery, in other words kill the market, and you get positive feedback, where -simplified- changes tend to lead to ever bigger changes until something breaks.

Also, different markets, like stocks, bonds, housing, will keep a check on each other, so nothing will reach insane valuations. If they tend to, people stop buying and will shift their money somewhere else. But when everything has an insane value, how would people know what’s insane anymore, and where could they shift that is not insane?

It doesn’t matter much for ‘market participants’, or ‘investors’ as they prefer to label themselves, they shift trillions around on a daily basis just to justify their paychecks, but for mom and pop it’s a whole different story. In between the two you have pension funds, whose rapid forced move from AAA assets to risk will strangle mom and pop’s old-age plans no matter what.

 

People inevitably talk about the chances of a recession happening, but maybe they should first ask what exactly a recession, or a bear market, is or means when it occurs in a zombie (or just plain dead) market.

If asset ‘values’ have increased by 50% because central banks and companies themselves have bought stocks, it would seem logical that a 10% drop doesn’t have the same meaning as it would in a marketplace where no such manipulation has taken place. Maybe a 50% drop would make more sense then.

The inevitable future is that people are going to get tired of borrowing as soon as it becomes too expensive, hence unattractive, to do so. Central banks can still do more QE, and keep rates low for longer, but that’s not an infinity and beyond move. It a simple question of the longer it lasts the higher will be the price that has to be paid. One more, one last, simple question: who’s going to pay? We all know, don’t we?

 

That’s where the Fed is now. You can let interest rates rise, as Powell et al are indicating they want to do, but that will cut off debt growth, and since debt is exclusively what keeps the economy going, it will cut into economic growth as well. Or you can keep interest rates low (and lower), but then people have less and less idea of the actual value of assets, which can, and eventually necessarily will, cause people to flee from these assets.

Powell’s rate hikes schedule looks nice from a normalizing point of view, and g-d knows what normal is anymore, but it would massacre the zombie markets the Fed itself created when it decided to kill the actual markets. You can get back to normal, but only if the Fed retreats into the Eccles Building and stays there until 2050 or so (or is abolished).

They won’t, the banks whose interests they protect will soon be in far too dire straits, and bailouts have become much harder to come by since 2008. It’ll be a long time before markets actually function again, and we won’t get there without a world of pain. Which will be felt by those who never participated in the so-called markets to begin with. Beware of yellow vests.

To top off the perversity of zombie markets, one more thing. Zombie markets build overcapacity. One of the best things price discovery brings to an economy is that it lets zombies die, that bankrupt companies and bankrupt ideas go the way of the dodo.

That, again, is negative feedback. Take that away, as low rates and free money do, and you end up with positive feedback, which makes zombies appear alive, and distorts the valuation of everything.

Most of what the ‘popular’ financial press discusses is about stocks, what the Dow and S&P have done for the day. But the bond markets are much bigger. So what are we to think when the two are completely out of sync -and whack-?

 

Oh well, those are just ‘the markets’, and we already know that they are living dead. Where that may be less obvious, if only because nobody wants it to be true, is in housing markets. Which, though this is being kept from you with much effort, are what’s keeping the entire US, and most of Europe’s, economies going. And guess what?

The Fed and Draghi have just about hit the max on home prices (check 2019 for the sequel). Prices have gotten too high, Jay Powell wants higher interest rates, Draghi can’t be left too far behind him because EU money would all flow to the US, and it’s all well on its way to inevitability.

And anyway, the only thing that’s being achieved with ever higher home prices is ever more debt for the people who buy them, and who will all be on the hook if those prices are subject to the negative feedback loops healthy markets must be subject too, or else.

The only parties who have profited from rising home prices are the banks who dole out the mortgages and the zombie economy that relies on them creating the money society runs on that way. We have all come to rely on a bunch of zombies to keep ourselves from debt slavery, and no, zombies are not actually alive. Nor are the financial markets, and the economies, that prop them up.

Among the first things in 2019 you will see enormous amounts of junk rated debt getting rated ever -and faster- lower , and the pace at which ever more debt that is not yet junk, downgraded to(wards) junk, accelerating. It looks like the zombies can never totally take over, but that is little comfort to those neck deep in debt even before we start falling.

And as for the ‘players’, the economic model will allow again for them to shove the losses of their braindead ventures onto the destiny of those with ever lower paying jobs, who if they’re lucky enough to be young enough, start their careers in those jobs with ever higher student debts.

You’d think that at some point they should be happy they were never sufficiently credit-worthy to afford one of the grossly overpriced properties that are swung like so many carrots before their eyes, but that’s not how the system works. The system will always find a way to keep pushing them deeper into the financial swamp somehow.

The last remaining growth industry our societies have left is inequality, and that’s what our central banks and governments are all betting on to keep Jack Sparrow’s Flying Dutchman afloat for a while longer. Where the poor get squeezed more so the 1% or 10% get to look good a little longer.

But in the end it’s all zombies all the way down, like the turtles, and some equivalent of the yellow vests will pop up in unexpected places. My prediction for next year.

It doesn’t look to me that a year from now we’ll see 2019 as a particular peaceful year, not at all like 2018. I called it from Chaos to Mayhem earlier, and I’m sticking with that. We’re done borrowing from the future, it’s getting time to pay back those loans from that future.

And that ain’t going to happen when there are no functioning markets; after all, how does anyone know what to pay back when the only thing they do know is everything is way overvalued? How wrong can I be when I say debts will only be paid back at fair value?

2019, guys, big year.

 

 

Sep 242018
 
 September 24, 2018  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


M. C. Escher Circle limit III 1959

 

BIS Warns Zombies Are Crippling Global Growth (ZH)
‘Key Allies’ Want FBI Docs Blocked: Trump (AAP)
White House Denies Trump Executive Order On Facebook, Google, Twitter (Ind.)
Christine Blasey Ford Reaches Deal to Testify at Kavanaugh Hearing (NYT)
OPEC Predicts Massive Rise In Oil Production Over Next Five Years (G.)
Leading Tory Eurosceptics Unveil Rival Brexit Plans (Ind.)
Labour’s New Brexit Referendum Won’t Offer Option To Remain (Ind.)
How Michael Moore Lost His Audience (Variety)
Panama Revokes Registration Of Last Migrant Rescue Ship In Central Med (R.)
America’s Era Of Climate Mass Migration Is Here (G.)
Air Pollution Rots Our Brains. Is That Why We Don’t Do Anything About It? (G.)

 

 

The benefits of easy money.

BIS Warns Zombies Are Crippling Global Growth (ZH)

In the latest quarterly review from the Bank of International Settlements, the Basel-based organization that oversees the world’s central banks warned that decades of falling interest rates have led to a sharp increase in the number of “zombie” firms, rising to an all time high since the 1980s, threatening economic growth and preventing interest rates from rising. Zombie firms are defined as companies that are at least 10 years old, yet are unable to cover their debt service costs from profits, in other words the Interest Coverage Ratio (ICR) is less than 1x for at least 3 consecutive quarters. These types of companies, which first gained attention in Japan decades ago and have since gained prevalence in Europe and, increasingly, the United States.

According to a second definition, a requirement for a “zombie” is to have comparatively low expected future growth potential. Specifically, zombies are required to have a ratio of their assets’ market value to their replacement cost (Tobin’s q) that is below the median within their sector in any given year. According to authors Ryan Banerjee and Boris Hofmann, zombie firms that fall under the two definitions are very similar with respect to their current profitability, but qualitatively different in their profitability prospects, which may be a function of how central banks have “broken” the market. Graph 1 below shows that, for non-zombie firms, the median ICR is over four times earnings under both definitions. As the majority of zombie firms make losses, the median ICRs are below minus 7 under the broad measure and around minus 5 under the narrow one, so this is hardly a surprise.

Read more …

And that’s it?

‘Key Allies’ Want FBI Docs Blocked: Trump (AAP)

US President Donald Trump says “key allies” have asked him not to release classified FBI documents related to the probe into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, raising speculation the Australian government could be exposed. Former Australian high commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer has become a reluctant player in the controversy for his London drinks session with former Trump foreign relations aide George Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos, sentenced to 14 days’ jail for lying to the FBI, has repeatedly targeted Downer in Twitter tirades in recent days, claiming the former Australian foreign affairs minister recorded their meeting at the Kensington Wine Rooms in May, 2016, and was acting as a spy. Downer has strongly rejected this.

“Alexander Downer will go down in history as a stooge for (Hillary) Clinton who single-handedly caused irreparable damage between the USA-Australia,” Papadopoulos wrote on Twitter on Friday. “Congrats, buddy.” On Monday Trump ordered documents related to the FBI’s Russian investigation, including text messages from FBI figures Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, be declassified and released publicly. However, on Friday the president pulled back. “I met with the DOJ concerning the declassification of various UNREDACTED documents,” Trump announced on Twitter. “They agreed to release them but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. “Also, key Allies’ called to ask not to release.”

[..] “After reports are finally out that the British and Australian governments were actively spying and trying to sabotage the Trump campaign, those two governments called the president to ask for him not to declassify any FISA documents,” Papadopoulos wrote on Twitter. “Strange.”

Read more …

Taking another road. If 3/4 of Americans say Big Tech is politically biased, can’t very well not investigate.

White House Denies Trump Executive Order On Facebook, Google, Twitter (Ind.)

The White House sought to distance itself Saturday from reports that President Donald Trump is considering an executive order that would subject tech giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter to federal investigations for alleged political bias. For weeks, top tech companies have been on edge, fearing that the Trump administration could seek to regulate the industry in response to the president’s tweets attacking social-media sites for silencing conservatives online. Their worst suspicions seemed to come true Friday night, with the emergence of a draft executive order that called for nearly every federal agency to study how companies like Facebook police their platforms and refer instances of “bias” to the Justice Department for further study.

But three White House aides soon insisted they didn’t write the draft order, didn’t know where it came from, and generally found it to be unworkable policy anyway. One senior White House official confirmed the document had been floating around the White House but had not gone through the formal process, which is controlled by the staff secretary. Asked about the document, Lindsay Walters, the deputy White House press secretary, said of the digital-age ‘whodunit’ on Saturday: “Although the White House is concerned about the conduct of online platforms and their impact on society, this document is not the result of an official White House policymaking process.”

Read more …

This dominates the news. Sex sells. But what a convoluted story it has become.

Christine Blasey Ford Reaches Deal to Testify at Kavanaugh Hearing (NYT)

Senators looking to confirm or refute the allegations will face a nearly impossible task. Complicating matters, Dr. Blasey has said she does not recall the specific date or location of the house where the alleged incident occurred, though she believes it was during the summer of 1982. Judge Kavanaugh’s prospects were further clouded on Sunday when The New Yorker reported on a new allegation of sexual impropriety: A woman who went to Yale with Judge Kavanaugh said that, during a drunken dormitory party their freshman year, he exposed himself to her, thrust his penis into her face and caused her to touch it without her consent.

In a statement, Judge Kavanaugh denied the allegation from the woman, Deborah Ramirez, and called it “a smear, plain and simple.” The New Yorker did not confirm with other eyewitnesses that Judge Kavanaugh was at the party. The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.

Read more …

Hmmm. Methinks is rates rise, US shale is in deep doodoo.

OPEC Predicts Massive Rise In Oil Production Over Next Five Years (G.)

World oil production will soar to new records over the next five years, as a dramatic expansion in demand from airlines offsets the arrival of electric cars, according to a report from Opec. In a forecast that will dismay environmentalists – and which questions the theory that oil company reserves will become “stranded assets” – Opec’s annual report significantly revised production estimates upwards. Most of the production increase will come from countries outside Opec, led by explosive growth from frackers in the United States, with China and India leading the increase in demand.

Opec expects global oil demand to reach nearly 112m barrels per day by 2040, driven by transportation and petrochemicals. That is up from almost 100m today and higher than last year’s projection. Coal will continue to be be burned in record amounts, despite concerns about its impact on climate change. Opec estimates that coal usage in the OECD countries will plummet by a third by 2040, but it will increase by 20% in developing countries to reach five times the volumes burned in the west. The world’s airlines will be the single fastest growing user of oil, increasing consumption by 2.2% a year on average, to 2040.

However, the largest absolute growth is expected to come from road transport. The number of vehicles on roads across the world are expected to leap from 1.1bn now to around 2.4bn in 2040. In its central scenario, Opec expects just 320m of those to be electric, a number that climbs to 720m in a scenario where battery-powered cars take off rapidly. It said that if the higher prediction for electric cars came to pass, oil demand would only slip slightly to 109m bpd rather than 111.7m bpd by 2040, the report said.

Read more …

Who cares about deadlines?

Leading Tory Eurosceptics Unveil Rival Brexit Plans (Ind.)

Leading Tory Eurosceptics are to spell out rival Brexit plans that directly contradict Theresa May’s proposals, setting the scene for intense Tory infighting just weeks before a deal is meant to be agreed with the EU. The rebel plans are likely to demand looser future relations with Brussels and are to be laid out by ex-cabinet minister David Davis and lead eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg, but are also said to enjoy support inside the cabinet. In a sign of the impending hostilities, Brexit secretary Dominic Raab launched a pre-emptive attack on the approach taken by the Eurosceptics on Sunday, saying the kind of free trade deal they outline is “off the table”.

Ms May will meet her top team during the morning to discuss the fallout of last week’s summit in Salzburg where EU leaders torpedoed her “Chequers” proposals, forcing the prime minister to accuse them of disrespecting the UK. Monday’s cabinet meeting could also see a new clash between senior ministers over Britain’s future immigration policy and whether EU citizens should be afforded any kind of special status.

Read more …

But that’s what his own people want.

Labour’s New Brexit Referendum Won’t Offer Option To Remain (Ind.)

Remaining in the EU would not be on the ballot paper in a new Brexit referendum under Labour, John McDonnell has said. The shadow chancellor said Labour would “go for a people’s vote” on leaving the EU if it cannot push the government into calling a general election but any vote would only be on the terms of the deal. Rows over Brexit have dominated the start of Labour’s annual conference where more than 100 constituency parties submitted motions demanding a second referendum and thousands of people joined a march demanding a people’s vote on the final deal.

On Sunday, Jeremy Corbyn suggested Labour would shift its Brexit stance towards a vote on the final deal if party members backed it, but insisted that an election was a better way to solve the crisis. Unite boss Len McCluskey, a close ally of Mr Corbyn, went further, saying Labour could back a referendum on Theresa May’s deal or no-deal. However he said offering voters the chance to remain in the EU was “wrong”. Asked to guarantee that Labour would allow staying in the EU on the ballot paper, Mr McDonnell told the Today programme: “My view at the moment is that parliament will decide what will be on the ballot paper. “We’ll be arguing that it should be a vote on the deal itself, and then enable us to go back and do the negotiations.”

Read more …

He simply lost it, in more than one sense.

How Michael Moore Lost His Audience (Variety)

The films of Michael Moore have been faltering at the box office for several years now. This weekend, though, the lackluster performance of his latest truth-to-power opus, “Fahrenheit 11/9,” was notably dramatic, if not downright stark. The movie is a sequel, of sorts, to “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Moore’s scathing riff on the administration of George W. Bush. That movie, when it was released in 2004, made $119 million, becoming the highest-grossing documentary of all time. It was a special moment, of course. America was still grappling with the shock of 9/11, and Moore’s film became a lightning rod — a catharsis for liberals (or some of them, anyway) and a symbol, for conservatives, of everything that was wrong with liberalism. But one thing, perhaps, that everyone could agree on is that in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Michael Moore, for good or ill, had become instrumental in defining the national dialogue.

“Fahrenheit 11/9,” his scathing riff on the administration of Donald J. Trump, will be lucky to gross one-tenth of what “Fahrenheit 9/11” did. That’s more than just a staggering comedown. It symbolizes a couple of things at once: how different the two eras are, but also how Michael Moore’s audience — there’s no other way to put it — has gradually drifted away. It symbolizes that Moore is no longer defining the dialogue. A Trump-era conservative would probably say, “It’s about time! Michael Moore has lied so much that it’s all finally caught up with him.” A Trump-era liberal would probably say, “I still agree with him, but I’ve seen enough Michael Moore movies. I know his message already.”

Read more …

There must be a country with a flag to share.

Panama Revokes Registration Of Last Migrant Rescue Ship In Central Med (R.)

The Panama Maritime Authority has revoked the registration of search and rescue ship Aquarius 2 in a move that means there will be no charity rescue ships off the Libyan coast in the near future unless the vessel can find a new flag to sail under. Aquarius 2, the one remaining charity rescue vessel still operating in the Central Mediterranean area, is currently at sea with 58 survivors on board. The decision by the Panama Authority (PMA) means that once the ship comes into port it will be deflagged and will not be allowed to operate again unless it can find a new flag.

SOS Mediterranee, one of the charities that operates the Aquarius, said in a statement it was reeling from news of the revocation, which it said followed pressure from the Italian government. “On Saturday … the Aquarius team was shocked to learn of an official communication from the Panamanian authorities stating that the Italian authorities had urged the PMA to take ‘immediate action’ against the Aquarius,” it said. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the Italian government had applied no pressure on Panama.

Read more …

Interesting for sure, but perhaps a bit premature.

America’s Era Of Climate Mass Migration Is Here (G.)

The population shift gathering pace is so sprawling that it may rival anything in US history. “Including all climate impacts it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine something twice as large as the Dustbowl,” said Jesse Keenan, a climate adaptation expert at Harvard University, referencing the 1930s upheaval in which 2.5 million people moved from the dusty, drought-ridden plains to California. This enormous migration will probably take place over a longer period than the Dustbowl but its implications are both profound and opaque. It will plunge the US into an utterly alien reality. “It is very difficult to model human behaviour under such extreme and historically unprecedented circumstances,” Keenan admits.

The closest analogue could be the Great Migration – a period spanning a large chunk of the 20th century when about 6 million black people departed the Jim Crow south for cities in the north, midwest and west. By the end of this century, sea level rise alone could displace 13 million people, according to one study, including 6 million in Florida. States including Louisiana, California, New York and New Jersey will also have to grapple with hordes of residents seeking dry ground. “There’s not a state unaffected by this,” said demographer Mat Hauer, lead author of the research, which is predicated on a severe 6ft sea level increase.

There are established migration preferences for some places – south Florida to Georgia, New York to Colorado – but in many cases people would uproot to the closest inland city, if they have the means. “The Great Migration was out of the south into the industrialized north, whereas this is from every coastal place in the US to every other place in the US,” said Hauer. “Not everyone can afford to move, so we could end up with trapped populations that would be in a downward spiral. I have a hard time imagining what that future would be like.”

Read more …

Like the angle.

Air Pollution Rots Our Brains. Is That Why We Don’t Do Anything About It? (G.)

Researchers from Beijing University and Yale School of Health published research last month showing that people who live in major cities – which is, today, most of us – are not only suffering from increases in respiratory illnesses and other chronic conditions due to air pollution, but are losing our cognitive functions. The study showed that high pollution levels lead to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the impact on some participants equivalent to losing several years of education. Other studies have shown that high air pollution is linked to premature birth, low birth weight, mental illness in children and dementia in the elderly.

We’re only just beginning to understand how the air we breathe affects not just our physical environment, but our mental capacity as well. And the air we breathe is changing in the long term, as well as the short. Rising carbon dioxide levels – the main driver of climate change – aren’t just a hazard to the earth and other living creatures, they’re also affecting our thinking. At higher levels, CO2 clouds the mind: it makes us slower and less likely to develop new ideas, it degrades our ability to take in new information, change our minds, or formulate complex thoughts.

Read more …

Apr 292018
 


John Collier Lady Godiva c1897

 

The Stock Market That’s Never Satisfied (Forsyth)
Kim Pledges to Invite Media to Witness Nuclear Site Shutdown in May (BBG)
North Korea To Wind Clocks Forward By 30 Minutes (UPI)
Are European Companies Ready for Life Without Draghi? (DQ)
Millennial Housing Crisis Engulfs Britain (G.)
Twitter Sold Information To Researcher Behind Facebook Data Scandal (ZH)
Early Facebook Investor, Mentor: “They’ve Done Bupkis To Protect Us” (ZH)
Facebook’s Global Monopoly Poses A Deadly Threat In Developing Nations (G.)
Future Uncertain For Assange In Wake Of US-Ecuador Military Deal (DisM)
‘Caravan’ Migrants Weigh Staying In Mexico Or Risking US Expulsion (R.)
In The Opioid Epidemic, White Means Victim, Black Means Addict (G.)
Australia Pledges Half A Billion To Restore Great Barrier Reef (AFP)

 

 

Why own stocks?

The Stock Market That’s Never Satisfied (Forsyth)

If anything, the stock market is being extraordinarily critical of what it’s being served, notably earnings that are exceeding already high expectations. Take Caterpillar, which initially rallied Tuesday after reporting better-than-expected results. But on the post-earnings conference call, its chief financial officer called the first quarter the farm- and construction-equipment maker’s “high-water mark for the year.” So, if it doesn’t get any better than that, the stock market’s response isn’t to savor the moment, but to sell it. CAT ended up losing 6.2% in reaction to that comment, leading a massive retreat in industrial and material names that helped the Dow industrials shed over 400 points in the trading session.

That isn’t an entirely irrational response, given data that show growth is slowing, while inflation is picking up. To those late-cycle symptoms add rising rates, both the ones administered by the Federal Reserve and those set by the bond market. On the latter score, the benchmark Treasury 10-year note briefly peaked just over 3%, a psychologically significant but otherwise not terribly meaningful number. Arguably far more significant is that investors and savers can get 2% on six-month Treasury bills and almost 2.5% on a two-year note. Two years ago, dividend stocks provided investors a one-percentage point advantage over risk-free rates, says Danielle DiMartino Booth in her Money Strong missive. Now those places have been swapped.

Adds David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist for Gluskin Sheff, this ability to get a “safe yield” for the first time in a decade, with no risk from falling stock or bond prices, represents a “seminal shift and a huge source of competition for the dividend allure of the stock market.” The prospect of higher rates may cheer savers, but poses greater risk to an economy never more dependent on debt, DiMartino Booth says. But that’s the direction the Fed is headed, given the rise in inflation and signs of slowing growth, an unpleasant combination that suggests stagflation; if not 1970s-style double-digit inflation and unemployment, then an economy expanding more slowly than prices are rising.

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He claims it’s all still intact.

Kim Pledges to Invite Media to Witness Nuclear Site Shutdown in May (BBG)

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un has promised to close his main nuclear weapons test site in May and said he will invite South Korean and American media to witness the shutdown. Ahead of an historic meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump expected within the next three to four weeks, Kim told South Korea’s president that two tunnels at the nuclear test site are still in good condition, playing down international speculation that the site was so badly damaged by nuclear explosions that it can no longer be used. Kim’s pledges to Moon at their historic summit on Friday were detailed in Seoul on Sunday by Moon’s chief communication official.

Kim told President Moon Jae-in on the disputed Korean border that Trump will learn at their meeting that North Korea has no intention of using its nuclear arsenal toward South or the Pacific or to target the U.S. The North had no reason to own nuclear weapons if it and the U.S. promise non-aggression against each other, he said, according the the Seoul briefing. Trump said Saturday night that he expects his historic meeting with Kim will take place “over the next three or four weeks.” “Strength is going to keep us out of nuclear war, not get us in,” Trump told a rally in Washington, Michigan. Earlier, he said details of the summit are being ironed out, and that he’d spoken with the leaders of South Korea and Japan about preparations for the meeting.

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Symbols are important.

North Korea To Wind Clocks Forward By 30 Minutes (UPI)

North Korea has decided to wind its clock forward half an hour to match its time with the South’s, two years and eight months after it decided to adopt its own standard time, News 1 reported. Seoul’s presidential official Yoon Young-chan told reporters Sunday that in talks between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Kim said he would shift time in Pyongyang to Korea Standard Time (UTC+9:00) Accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju, Kim is said to have pointed to the two clocks hanging inside the Peace House, located on the South’s side of Panmunjom truce village, and said that this “pained his heart,” before suggesting to Moon that the South and North “first unify the time.”

Until 2015, Pyongyang used the same time (135 degrees East) as Seoul but adopted its own standard time which was thirty minutes behind KST. The North Korean leader said, as Pyongyang was the one that changed the time, it should be the one to make the adjustment again, JoongAng Ilbo reported. Yoon said this indicates Kim’s willingness to actively coordinate with the international community.

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A continent full of zombies.

Are European Companies Ready for Life Without Draghi? (DQ)

[..] there are signs that the ECB has quietly begun to taper its corporate-bond buying program. The rate of purchases under the Corporate Sector Purchase Programme dropped 50% in April to about €700 million per week, down from €1.4 billion during the first quarter, analysts at Deutsche Bank pointed out. That could mean the ECB is starting a “stealth taper” in order to wean the European bond market off the corporate debt purchases it began in June 2016, Deutsche Bank said. But are the companies that benefited from the ECB’s largesse ready for life without Draghi? There’s no doubting the ECB’s bond buying has exacerbated distortions in the corporate bond market — distortions that were first engendered by the central bank’s low interest rate policy. Yields came crashing down and spreads narrowed.

At the peak of ECB’s bond buying binge, the average yield of the Iboxx non-financials index fell as low as 0.69%. For German blue-chip companies such as BASF, Continental, Linde, SAP and Siemens, yields fell to less than 0.5%. France’s pharmaceutical company Sanofi and German consumer goods manufacturer Henkel even managed to issue bonds at slightly negative yields, effectively helping pay off their debts. But that was then. Now, the average yield of the Iboxx non-financials index is back above 1.10%. As Reuters reports, some of Europe’s biggest money managers are reducing their exposure to corporate bonds. Some are even shorting them, betting that stress is building in a market that was buoyed by years of rock-bottom borrowing costs. Some new bond issues have even struggled to find buyers, when not so long ago they were flying off shelves.

Bank of America guesstimated last year that as many as 50 of the euro zone’s 600 biggest companies deserve to be classified as “zombies,” as they pay far too much interest in relation to their profits. For these companies the ECB’s bond-buying program was a godsend, allowing them to continue refinancing their debt and stave off default. But interest rates are beginning to rise again. Whether or not the ECB has already begun to taper its corporate bond buying on the quiet, the program will likely be phased out later this year. And yields have already been rising ever so gradually in anticipation. That means that the companies that have benefited from the central bank’s monetary support are going to soon find themselves facing a whole new, more challenging reality. For some it’s unlikely to be a pleasant one.

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That’s what happens when you try and run an economy on a housing bubble.

Millennial Housing Crisis Engulfs Britain (G.)

Home ownership among young families has plummeted across every corner of Britain over the past 35 years, according to a devastating inquiry into the housing crisis facing millennials. The proportion of families headed by a 25- to 34-year-old that own their own home has more than halved in some regions, showing that the crisis goes far beyond London. Analysis conducted as part of a two-year investigation into intergenerational fairness in Britain, chaired by a former Tory minister, found that millennials are being forced into increasingly cramped and expensive rented properties that leave them with a longer commute and little chance of saving for a home. It also finds an increasing proportion of the young living in overcrowded housing.

The commission, which has been overseen by the Resolution Foundation thinktank and includes the former universities minister David Willetts, is expected to conclude that new taxes on property wealth may be the only way to restore fairness and prepare the country to pay the care and support costs of an ageing population. Ownership among 25- to 34-year-olds has plummeted in Greater Manchester from 53% in 1984 to 26% last year. It has fallen from 54% to 25% in south Yorkshire, from 45% to 20% in the West Midlands, from 50% to 28% in Wales and from 55% to 27% in the south-east. In outer London, the proportion has collapsed from 53% to just 16%. Out of 22 regions analysed by the commission, in only one – Strathclyde in Scotland – has home ownership among the young remained stable. It stood at 32% in 1984 and 33% last year, having peaked at 45% in 2002.

Ownership in London has fallen consistently over the past 30 years, whereas rates in some other parts of the country declined more slowly before the early 2000s, but very rapidly thereafter. Even favourable economic conditions are likely to result in millennials catching up with the home ownership levels of the previous cohort only by the age of 45. Fast-growing inheritances will help some, but nearly half of young non-homeowners have parents who do not own either.

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We need an overall ban on data harvesting for profit.

Twitter Sold Information To Researcher Behind Facebook Data Scandal (ZH)

Twitter has now also become embroiled in the Facebook data harvesting scandal – as the Sunday Telegraph reveals that the social media giant sold user data to Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University researcher and director of Global Science Research (GSR), who created an app which harvested the data of millions of Facebook users’ without their consent before selling it to political data firm Cambridge Analytica. “Aleksandr Kogan, who created tools for Cambridge Analytica that allowed the political consultancy to psychologically profile and target voters, bought the data from the microblogging website in 2015, before the recent scandal came to light. -Sunday Telegraph”

Kogan says that the data was only used to generate “brand reports” and “survey extender tools” which were not in violation of Twitter’s data policies. While most tweets are public information and easy for anyone to access, Twitter charges companies and organizations for access to information in bulk – though Twitter bans companies which use the data for political purposes or to match with personal user information found elsewhere. A Twitter spokesman confirmed the ban and said: “Twitter has also made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned and operated by Cambridge Analytica. This decision is based on our determination that Cambridge Analytica operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices.

The company said it does not allow “inferring or deriving sensitive information like race or political affiliation, or attempts to match a user’s Twitter information with other personal identifiers” and that it had staff in place to police this “rigorously”.-Sunday Telegraph Data licensing made up 13% of Twitter’s 2017 revenue at $333 million. In a March blog post, Citron Research said that Twitter’s 2018 data-licensing business will generate $400 million (analysts polled by FactSet say $387 million) and that it represents the fastest-growing segment of the company’s operations (which it is, according to FactSet).

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“..I feel like my baby has turned out to be something horrible, and these people I trusted and helped along have forgotten where they came from..”

Early Facebook Investor, Mentor: “They’ve Done Bupkis To Protect Us” (ZH)

Even if Facebook’s stellar Q1 earnings report hadn’t helped erase some of the losses that Facebook shares incurred in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sanderberg would still believe that the company’s troubles are largely behind them and that the company had essentially repaired the damage done to its reputation. That was the assessment delivered by early Facebook investor and one-time Zuckerberg mentor Roger McNamee, who warned during an appearance at an event organized by Quartz in Washington DC last week that the company’s leaders are deeply complacent and still haven’t accepted the fact that Facebook has badly mislead its users about how the company profits off their data.

Despite Zuckerberg’s warning, embedded in his opening statement to Congress earlier this month, that the company planned to make changes that could “significantly impact” profitability, McNamee believes it’s likely Facebook is “going to get away” with the bad things that it has done, which is “particularly dangerous” considering the 2018 midterm elections are only months away. McNamee said he’s deeply disappointed in how Zuckerberg and Sandberg have responded to the crisis by refusing to accept responsibility. During their post-crisis media tour, both executives insisted on blaming Cambridge Analytica for “misleading” Facebook, even though Facebook never bothered to alert users whose data had been affected. “They’ve done bupkis to protect us,” McNamee said.

The whole affair has left McNamee – who considers his involvement with Facebook during its early days to be the “highlight of a long career” – deeply saddened. “Every part of this has made me sadder and sadder and sadder. I feel like my baby has turned out to be something horrible, and these people I trusted and helped along have forgotten where they came from,” he said in a conversation with Kevin Delaney, Quartz’s editor-in-chief. McNamee has become an outspoken critic of the company, comparing its role in the 2016 US election to “the plot of a sci-fi novel” while at the same time admitting that he has “profited enormously” by backing Facebook early on. The organization he helped found, the Center for Humane Technology, has made it a mission to expose Facebook’s multiple flaws, and to try to fix them.

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Facebook facilitates ethnic cleansing. But profits are more important.

Facebook’s Global Monopoly Is A Deadly Problem In Developing Nations (G.)

[..] Facebook is a new kind of monopoly. We’re accustomed to the idea of companies becoming dominant in some jurisdictions. But we have never before encountered a corporation that has a global monopoly. Because wherever you go on the planet these days, Facebook is the only social-networking game in town. It has no serious competitors – anywhere. The implications of this are only now beginning to dawn on us. In the past two years, we have woken up to Facebook’s pernicious role in western democratic politics and are beginning to think about ways of addressing that problem in our bailiwicks. To date, the ideas about regulation that have surfaced seem ineffectual and so the damage continues.

But at least liberal democracies have some degree of immunity to the untruths disseminated by bad actors who exploit Facebook’s automated targeting systems – provided by a free press, parliamentary inquiries, independent judiciaries, public-service broadcasters, universities, professional bodies and so on. Other societies, particularly the developing countries now most assiduously targeted by Facebook, have few such institutions and it is there that the company has the capacity to wreak the most havoc. We’ve had intimations of this for a while, notably after it became clear that Facebook was a medium for anti-Muslim hysteria in Myanmar, hysteria that was subsequently translated into full-blown ethnic cleansing.

One of the key figures in all this was the ultra-nationalist Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, who used Facebook to broadcast his views about the Rohingya after he was banned from preaching by the government. Wirathu compared Muslims to mad dogs and posted gruesome pictures of dead bodies that he claimed were killed by Muslims – with predictable consequences. United Nations officials now say that social media has had a “determining role” in anti-Rohingya Muslim violence in Myanmar, which the UN itself has called “ethnic cleansing”. For “social media”, read Facebook, because there’s no competition to it in Myanmar.

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Torture.

Future Uncertain For Assange In Wake Of US-Ecuador Military Deal (DisM)

Late yesterday, Telesur reported that Ecuador had signed a “security deal” with the United States, which is expected to result in a US military presence in that country. Telesur wrote: “Ecuador signed Wednesday a cooperation agreement with the United States to fight transnational organized crime and drug trafficking…. Moreno’s move is a further shift away from the policies of his left-wing predecessor and former ally, Rafael Correa, who has criticized and refused to participate in the U.S.-sponsored Plan Colombia, arguing peace is not obtained with helicopters and weapons but rather by promoting economic and social development.”

The news comes as a new blow to hopes that Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno would heed calls from around the globe to end the solitary confinement of Julian Assange. Tomorrow, the arbitrarily confined journalist will have been totally isolated for one month. The latest news of a military agreement struck between Moreno’s government and the US comes as yet another major shift away from the policies of Ecuador’s prior administration. It is also a distinct pivot away from Ecuador’s decision, made just a few months prior, to confer citizenship and diplomatic status on the Wikileaks Editor-In-Chief.

This writer previously expressed the opinion that the ongoing solitary confinement of Assange by his own government constitutes torture. Disobedient Media has also reported consistently on the numerous online and physical vigils, petitions and other efforts to encourage Ecuador to return the Ecuadorian embassy in London to a place of refuge, as intended when the previous administration bravely granted Assange political asylum from the threats to his life and work emanating from the United States.

In our previous report, Disobedient Media noted that enforced isolation is not only torture in the opinions of those who have experienced it, but has also been labeled as such by the UN. Rick Raemisch wrote in an opinion piece published by The New York Times that, according to the Nelson Mandela rules, solitary confinement lasting more than 15 days constitutes torture. This means that the length of time for which Julian Assange has been cut off from the outside world would now have almost doubled the official benchmark for being considered torture.

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if the US would simply clean ita back yard, and stop stoking tensions there, it wouldn’t have these problems.

‘Caravan’ Migrants Weigh Staying In Mexico Or Risking US Expulsion (R.)

Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans who drew the wrath of President Donald Trump in a month-long caravan to the U.S. border will make hard decisions on Sunday whether to risk being deported all the way home by trying to cross, or to build a life in Mexico. After angry tweets from Trump, U.S. border authorities said some people associated with the caravan had been caught trying to slip through the fence, and encouraged the rest to hand themselves in to authorities. “We are a very welcoming country but just like your own house, we expect everyone to enter through our front door, and answer questions honestly,” San Diego Chief Patrol Agent Rodney S. Scott said in a statement.

Most of the group of about 400 travelers who arrived in border city Tijuana on buses over the past couple of days said they intended to legally seek asylum in San Diego later on Sunday, but lawyers advising the group gave them stark advice – not everyone will be successful. After the grueling journey, a somber mood took hold as the reality sank in that many of them would be separated from their families. Lovers and parents with slightly older sons and daughters could be forced to split up. At venues around the city, U.S. immigration lawyers working on a pro bono basis on Saturday listened to harrowing tales of life in the immigrants’ home countries.

Death threats from local gangs, the murder of family members, retaliatory rape, and political persecution back home prompted them to flee, the migrants and lawyers say. Many of the immigrants who spoke at length with Reuters at various points during their trip through Mexico had been short on knowledge of their legal rights, but at least 24 recounted detailed stories of facing death threats.

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How true.

In The Opioid Epidemic, White Means Victim, Black Means Addict (G.)

My cursor is hovering over the “unfriend” button, but I haven’t clicked it. Today, my relationship-severing finger is poised to get rid of Matt. Matt is a friend with whom I spent a lot of time about six years ago. We were close in rehab, but I haven’t seen him since. I entered Greenbriar treatment center in Washington, Pennsylvania, just a few days after he’d arrived, and he showed me the ropes. For the next few weeks, we were virtually inseparable. Rehab can be a frightening place when you first arrive. With any luck, you’ve already had some sort of “come to Jesus” moment with yourself and you’ve realized that you need to be there or else you’re going to die. I had had no such moment and was fully convinced that this was all a big mistake.

Once I got through the door into the facility, I heard it lock electronically with a loud buzz and a finality that shook my bones. I immediately regretted it. There is no lonelier feeling on this Earth than sitting there, abandoned and broken. You’ve burned all your bridges on the outside and your life feels as though it’s half a world away. This is the moment when you really need a guy like Matt to walk up to you, thrust out his hand and say: “Hi! I’m Matt! What’s your name?” Over the next few weeks, he and I attended group therapy sessions together and stayed up late talking about our problems, our addictions and our families. We ugly-cried in front of each other as we shared our darkest secrets, what we had done for drugs and how deeply unhappy we were.

Matt is a man who, in many ways, helped me to take my recovery seriously in rehab and, in the first few weeks after my release, he helped me to remain sober on the outside. And, today, I sit in front of my monitor poised to cancel him forever because whiteness is apparently more addictive than any drug could ever be. We sobered up in the same facility, but he was a victim. I was an addict. Matt is a Christian. I am not. Matt is a Republican. I am not. And, most significantly, Matt is white. I am not. And these facts make all the difference in America.

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First you destroy it, then you spend taxpayers’ money to restore it. It’s called a profit model.

Australia Pledges Half A Billion To Restore Great Barrier Reef (AFP)

Australia pledged half a billion dollars to restore and protect the Great Barrier Reef Sunday in what it said would be a game-changer for the embattled natural wonder, but conservationists were not convinced. The World Heritage-listed site, which attracts millions of tourists, is reeling from significant bouts of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change.It is also under threat from the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, which has proliferated due to pollution and agricultural runoff.Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said more than Aus$500 million ($400 million) would go towards improving water quality, tackling predators, and expanding restoration efforts.

Turnbull said it was the “largest ever single investment — to protect the reef, secure its viability and the 64,000 jobs that rely on the reef”.”We want to ensure the reef’s future for the benefit of all Australians, particularly those whose livelihood depends on the reef,” he added.The reef is a critical national asset, contributing Aus$6.4 billion a year to the Australian economy.Canberra has previously committed more than Aus$2.0 billion to protect the site over the next decade, but has been criticised for backing a huge coal project by Indian mining giant Adani nearby.With its heavy use of coal-fired power and relatively small population, Australia is considered one of the world’s worst per-capita greenhouse gas polluters.

Canberra insists it is taking strong action to address the global threat of climate change, having set an ambitious target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28% from 2005 levels by 2030.

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Apr 132018
 
 April 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Ezra Stoller Parking garage, New Haven, Connecticut 1963

 

Zombies In Our Midst (Felder)
After 10 Fat Years For Stock Investors A Lean Decade Is Looming (MW)
China Records Rare Trade Deficit In March As Exports Fall 2.7% (R.)
London House Prices Falling At Fastest Rate In Nine Years (G.)
Google Saves Manhattan Office Market. Chinese Buyers Vanish (WS)
The Deep State Closes In On The Donald: Mueller’s War, Part 2 (Stockman)
Bitcoin Surges 15%, Pushing Crypto Market Cap Above $300 Billion (MW)
The US Fading into Irrelevance – A Good Thing for the World (Pieraccini)
Interest Rate Hikes Are On The Way, But When And How Fast? (AFR)
Why Trade Wars Will Unleash Central Banks (Nomi Prins)
Global Warming Is a Central Bank Issue (BBG)
Decline In Bees Puts Supply Of Raw Materials For Global Business At Risk (Ind.)
No Plan To Protect Queensland’s Green-Haired Turtle From Extinction (G.)
Gulf Stream Slowdown ‘About A Century Ahead Of Schedule’ (TP)

 

 

Ponzi’s and zombies. Not Jesse Felder’s original title, but this one by DiMartino Booth is better.

Zombies In Our Midst (Felder)

To begin to understand the current situation in Minsky terms we must first understand the hypothesis: “The first theorem of the financial instability hypothesis is that the economy has financing regimes under which it is stable, and financing regimes in which it is unstable. The second theorem of the financial instability hypothesis is that over periods of prolonged prosperity, the economy transits from financial relations that make for a stable system to financial relations that make for an unstable system. In particular, over a protracted period of good times, capitalist economies tend to move from a financial structure dominated by hedge finance units to a structure in which there is large weight to units engaged in speculative and Ponzi finance.”

Next we need to understand what these financing units are: “Hedge financing units are those which can fulfill all oftheir contractual payment obligations by their cash flows… Speculative finance units are units that can meet their payment commitments on “income account” on their liabilities, even as they cannot repay the principle out of income cash flows… For Ponzi units, the cash flows from operations are not sufficient to fulfill either the repayment of principle or the interest due on outstanding debts by their cash flows from operations.”

And this is what reminded me of Minsky when I read the recent article in Grant’s with the accompanying chart below. It shows the percent of companies in the S&P 500 that would fall into Minsky’s “Ponzi unit” category. Specifically, Bianco Research defines these “zombies” as companies whose interest expense is greater than their 3-year average EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes). Currently, we face the greatest percentage of “Ponzi units” in at least 20 years.

This should be worrisome to investors and even more so to those managing monetary policy because it suggests that financial instability within the economy may be greater than any other time over the past couple of decades. Minsky again: “It can be shown that if hedge financing dominates, then the economy may well be an equilibrium seeking and containing system. In contrast, the greater the weight of speculative and Ponzi finance, the greater the likelihood that the economy is a deviation amplifying system.” Those last three words are critical. “A deviation amplifying system,” simply means an economy built on a virtuous cycle that risks evolving into a vicious one.

So long as interest rates remain low and investor risk appetites remain strong zombies will thrive and the economy will, as well, relatively speaking of course. However, should interest rates rise and risk appetites reverse course the risk of a self-reinforcing downturn grows. Minsky explains: “In particular… if an economy with a sizeable body of speculative financial units is in an inflationary state, and the authorities attempt to exorcise inflation by monetary constraint, then speculative units will become Ponzi units and the net worth of previously Ponzi units will quickly evaporate. Consequently, units with cash flow shortfalls will be forced to try to make position by selling out position. This is likely to lead to a collapse of asset values.”

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It won’t be like any of those previous decades.

After 10 Fat Years For Stock Investors A Lean Decade Is Looming (MW)

It’s a phrase that comes standard on Wall Street, but which may be taking on ominous undertones in the current market: Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. It should come as no surprise that U.S. equity-market investors have been handsomely rewarded thus far this decade, a period of time that roughly corresponds with the recovery from the financial crisis (the bottom came in March 2009, roughly 10 months before the start of the 2010s). The S&P 500 is up nearly 140% since the start of the decade, and more than 180% on a total-return basis. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up more than 130% over the same period. Those are obviously strong gains, but even the biggest bulls on Wall Street may not appreciate just how strong this period has been relative to other decades.

“The 2010s have so far been one of the highest-returning and lowest-risk decades for U.S. stocks in the last 100 years,” wrote Howard Wang, co-founder of Convoy Investments. According to Convoy’s data, stocks averaged a total annualized return of 13.2% thus far this decade, comfortably above the long-term average of 9.6%. While this was below four other decades — the best decade was the 1950s, when the average was 18.8%, followed by the 18.6% gain in the 1990s — equities fared better in terms of their excess return above interest rates. By the excess-return measure, the 2010s have seen an average annual return of 12.7%, significantly above the 5.8% long-term average (going back to the 1920s).

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“Separately, China’s dollar-denominated trade surplus with the United States rose 19.4% in the first quarter…”

China Records Rare Trade Deficit In March As Exports Fall 2.7% (R.)

China’s March exports unexpected fell 2.7% from a year earlier, the first drop since February last year, while imports grew 14.4%, more than expected, customs data showed on Friday. That left the country with a rare trade deficit of $4.98 billion for the month, also the first since last February. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected March shipments from the world’s largest exporter to have risen 10.0%, slowing sharply from a 44.5% spike in the previous month which was believed to be heavily distorted by seasonal factors. Import growth had been expected to pick up to 10.0%, after slowing sharply to 6.3% in February.

Analysts expected China would record a trade surplus of $27.21 billion for last month, from February’s surplus of $33.75 billion. For the first quarter, exports rose 14.1%, and imports rose 18.9% on-year. China’s trade performance has got off to a strong start this year, following through on a solid rebound in 2017, thanks to sustained demand at home and abroad. But the export outlook is being clouded by an escalating trade dispute with the United States, which could disrupt China’s shipments and its supply chains, while a cooling property market may curb China’s demand for imported raw materials such as iron ore. Separately, China’s dollar-denominated trade surplus with the United States rose 19.4% in the first quarter.

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Ain’t seen nothing yet.

London House Prices Falling At Fastest Rate In Nine Years (G.)

House prices in London are falling at the fastest rate in nine years, according to Halifax, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender. Prices in the capital were down 3.2% between January and March compared with the previous quarter, the sharpest decline since the depths of the financial crisis, according to regional data collated by IHS Markit and published by Halifax, part of Lloyds Banking Group. London also recorded the sharpest fall in annual house prices since the start of 2011. Property values fell 3.8% in the first quarter from a year ago, following a 0.7% annual drop in the fourth quarter. London prices have been falling on a quarterly and annual basis since the third quarter of 2017.

There was a small annual increase of 0.3% in prices in the south-east of England at the start of the year, and a rise of 1.9% in the south-west. Prices grew strongly elsewhere in the country. The east Midlands and East Anglia recorded the fastest rates of annual price inflation, at 7.3% and 7.2% respectively, followed by Scotland at 6.7% and Yorkshire and the Humber at 6.1%. The standardised price of a home in London was £430,749 in the first quarter, the lowest since the end of 2015. Figures are standardised in order to track the price of a “typical house” by giving values to certain attributes of the properties and using them to calculate the price.

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The only game in town.

Google Saves Manhattan Office Market. Chinese Buyers Vanish (WS)

Chinese entities – such as the conglomerates – were once the dominant buyer in US trophy office markets, such as Manhattan. It ended with a big bang in the second quarter of 2017 when Chinese entities accounted for half of the commercial real estate volume in Manhattan, including its sixth largest transaction ever, the $2.2 billion purchase of 245 Park Avenue by the conglomerate HNA Group. It paid $1,282 per square foot, as it was called, “among the highest price per pound for this type of asset.” It was the last big Chinese property purchase in Manhattan.

But Google blew that deal out of the water, with its $2.4 billion acquisition of the iconic eight-story Chelsea Market at 75 Ninth Ave in Q1 this year. This was the second largest deal ever to close in Manhattan. And Google paid a breath-taking $2,181 per square foot. We will never again laugh about the inflated prices Chinese buyers were paying. [..] And here is what that Google deal did to the Manhattan office market: It more than doubled the total volume of sales! Without the Google deal, total transaction volume would have been $2.12 billion. With the Google deal, it jumped to $4.52 billion! [..] the dizzying price of $2,181 per square foot that Google forked over pushed the average price per square foot to a record $1,266, up 70% from Q1 last year:

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David is a great ranter.

The Deep State Closes In On The Donald: Mueller’s War, Part 2 (Stockman)

What is going on in the eastern Mediterranean and over the skies and on the ground in Syria is absolutely nuts; it’s also scary dangerous and utterly unnecessary, too. After all, the imminent Russian/American military clash is over the skeleton of an artificial backwater nation confected in 1916 by two swells in the British and French foreign offices. At length, what was never a nation anyway has finally been reduced to rubble, misery and sectarian fragments. So there is nothing to contest now, and, in fact, there never was. The sovereign government of Syria long ago invited the Russians in and Washington out. Period. Why, then, are commercial aircraft being warned to stay out of Syrian airspace, while the Russian fleet at Tartus scrambles into defensive redeployments?

Likewise, why is the Syrian air force being forced to hide its planes and helicopters in its own country, while Washington steams an armada of warships toward the Mediterranean that is larger and more lethal than the entire Navy of almost every other country in the world? The answer is simple and terrible: Washington has become the War Capital of the planet and now teems with a whole generation of war-obsessed bureaucrats, think-tankers, consultants, lobbyists, militarists, imperialists, neocon belligerents and the legions of military/industrial/spy complex racketeers who feed off a hideously bloated national security budget.

Of course, you also have thousands of politicians—both those now in office and those who hang-around afterwards and get prosperous by hanging-out a shingle to ply the business of operating Washington’s global empire. Among them are the brainwashed, the stupid, the larcenous, the sanctimonious, the venal, the flag-wavers, the sunshine patriots and the ideologues of American exceptionalism, responsibility-to-protect (R2P), democracy propagation and plain old imperial hegemony.

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Casino. Not for the faint of heart.

Bitcoin Surges 15%, Pushing Crypto Market Cap Above $300 Billion (MW)

After a period of low volatility, cryptocurrencies have broken out of their recent ranges, surging to multiweek highs on Thursday. The No. 1 digital currency, bitcoin rose to a two-week peak, trading above $8,000 to an intraday high of $8,055.20, adding as much as 16%. A single coin last changed hands at $7,705.21, up 11%. The intraday move is the largest since Feb. 6 when bitcoin traded down to $5,947.40 before closing at $7,700.39, a 29.4% move. The move comes after bitcoin spent the best part of two weeks in the $6,500 to $7,500 range. The tight sideways action created a so-called wedge formation, which can often presage significant swings in either direction once breached, according to market technicians “We have seen consolidation in a very small range,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst with ThinkMarkets. “When the consolidation is in such a tight range the probability is that a move to the upside can be two to three times the size of the consolidation range.”

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Multipolar is the future.

The US Fading into Irrelevance – A Good Thing for the World (Pieraccini)

As demonstrated by the recent meeting between the defense ministers of Russia and China, the multipolar strategy is now wide-ranging, relegating Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh to further digging themselves into the hole they have already dug themselves into (see recent events in Syria with Israel launching 8 missiles and Trump beating the drums of war). As General Wei Fenghe stated, “We came to Moscow to let the Americans know about the close military ties between the armed forces of China and Russia.” When these two military and economic powers unite their efforts, involving regional powers and mediating over various conflicts, it becomes clear that the challenge to Washington’s hegemony is progressively leading away from an international reality consisting of one superpower to one consisting of three to four powers that maintain an international balance via diplomatic, economic and military means.

The phase in which we currently live is turbulent and is essentially caused by a single factor that has two very strong thrusts. The acceleration of the dwindling of the unipolar phase is directly connected with the strategic and tactical errors of the American deep state and its main sponsors, like Israel and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the opposing push comes from the multipolar environment, which tends to consolidate its sphere of influence via diplomatic and military means. The goal for Moscow and Beijing is to present to the American and European elites a viable alternative that is shared among several actors. For the time being, the Euro-Atlantic establishment continues to consider itself capable of changing the course of events and preventing the drift towards multipolarity.

Whether the Western oligarchy is a victim to its own propaganda or whether it simply wishes to avoid facing reality and is using every means available to postpone an epochal change, is difficult to determine; and this makes the future uncertain, and is therefore highly dangerous.

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“The economy may only be operating on a single cylinder, but each time it’s an impressive one.”

Interest Rate Hikes Are On The Way, But When And How Fast? (AFR)

The Australian economy may not be booming, but it looks to have performed “the miracle pivot”. This is what Ardea Investment Management portfolio manager Tamar Hamlyn calls the economy’s remarkably smooth transition away from a once-in-a-generation mining investment boom without falling into recession. A massive uplift in residential construction activity has carried us through. The “next dance” is infrastructure investment, Hamlyn says. Now we await what feels like another miracle: an RBA rate hike. The economy may only be operating on a single cylinder, but each time it’s an impressive one. We don’t have a solid pick-up in consumption and “we are never going to have that really solid GDP growth until we get that,” Hamlyn says.

But what we are is far from the recessionary fears that were the original rationale for rates at such low levels. It makes sense, then, to think that in the absence of a nasty shock, it seems perfectly reasonable to bet, as RBA governor Philip Lowe flagged again this week, that the next move in rates will be up and not down. But when will that first hike be? And how far will they eventually go? And how quickly will they get there? Accepting that borrowing costs are more likely to get more rather than less expensive is one thing. But anybody trying to assess the potential risks and rewards of taking on a large and long-dated loan obligation, whether it be a mortgage or a business loan, needs to think beyond the next hike. Let’s start with when the RBA will act. Unfortunately, the experts and the market are telling a different story.

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Central banks are still supposed to save us. Sure.

Why Trade Wars Will Unleash Central Banks (Nomi Prins)

You can bet that deep within the halls of the Fed they are developing a game plan to keep the markets from crashing if trade wars escalate. This is another reason to believe that trade wars will be met with cheap money policy. You can look at this as a financial see-saw of sorts. Trade wars, or even media soundbites about them, will spark negative markets reactions. That is why the Fed and other central banks will combat this with cheap words and even cheaper money policies. If the U.S. does jump into a hot trade war it could find itself needing to make up for the costs. The logical place to turn is to the beacon of more money creation from the Fed or to issue more debt.

The Fed would be directly involved in order to keep the cost of debt from rising, again — which is why my analysis forecasts a return to Fed policies that keep rates low. Similarly, other major economies would also unleash their central bank money when needed. This type of tit-for-tat response is already playing out. Beijing has used its new wealth to attract friends, deter enemies, modernize its military, and aggressively assert its central bank into nearly any sector it believes requires assistance. This type of brinksmanship shows that it is only a matter of time before a trade war with China morphs into massive military build-up and competition.

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Oh yeah, sure, central bankers will save the planet.

Global Warming Is a Central Bank Issue (BBG)

Central bankers have been dubbed “masters of the universe” for the tools and powers they have acquired since the financial crisis. Some of them now want to play a more active role in the fight against climate change. Monetary authorities are right to be mindful of the way in which climate risk affects their mandate to ensure price stability and guard financial stability. But that is different from seeking to promote the shift to a “greener” economy, which is the role of government. Last week, central bank governors from the U.K., France and the Netherlands met in Amsterdam to discuss how to adapt regulation to the risks posed by climate change.

Together with five other institutions (from China, Germany, Mexico, Singapore and Sweden), these central banks have formed the “Network for Greening the Financial System” (NGFS). This group has two objectives: sharing and identifying best practices in the supervision of climate-related risks, and enhancing the role of the financial sector in mobilizing “green” financing. The first is entirely reasonable and consistent with the central banks’ traditional role. As Francois Villeroy de Galhau, governor of the Bank of France, said in a speech at the conference, “Climate stability is one of the determinants of financial stability.” It is only right that financial supervisors take an interest in what is going on.

The clearest example concerns the regulation of insurers: Climate change has made extreme weather events such as hurricanes more frequent. Regulators must ensure that the industry updates its models and sets aside enough capital to deal with these growing climate-related risks. To do so, central bankers may need to extend the supervisory horizon beyond their usual time span. Climate change may only pose a threat for the balance sheet some years down the road, but these risks should be assessed now. Villeroy de Galhau argued in his speech that the financial sector should move towards “a compulsory transparency requirement,” so that companies are forced to provide a snapshot of their climate-related risks. It’s an idea supervisors around the world should embrace.

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As long as we keep putting species extinction in terms of trade and profit, we are doomed.

Decline In Bees Puts Supply Of Raw Materials For Global Business At Risk (Ind.)

Businesses face a shortage of raw materials and a drop in the quality of crop as the number of bees decline worldwide, a new report warns. Approximately three quarters of crops around the world depend on pollination, all of which could soon be threatened as more than a third of wild bee and butterfly species face extinction, according to a joint study by the UN, the University of East Anglia and Cambridge University. Major businesses, including Asda, the Body Shop, Mars and Pepsico, say they are unable to take action largely because of uncertainty around which crops and regions are vulnerable to the decline in pollinators such as bees.

“The role pollinators play – be it tiny midges for cocoa or squirrels for coconut – is not well understood and can be taken for granted,” says Jos van Oostrum, director of sustainable solutions at chocolate and confectionary maker Mars. Cocoa, a vital ingredient in the production of chocolate, is at particular risk from a declining number of bees and other species that help spread pollen. The risks of a shortfall in raw materials not only prove a challenge for food production, but also the sourcing of ingredients for beauty products. “The importance of pollination for natural raw materials is increasingly a priority for us,” said the Body Shop’s sustainable sourcing manager Francesca Brkic.

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Everytime I make a new friend I find out they’re about to die. It’s making me terribly sad.

No Plan To Protect Queensland’s Green-Haired Turtle From Extinction (G.)

The Australian government does not have a plan to save an endangered Australian turtle species that received global attention on Thursday for its green mohawk and its ability to breathe through its genitals. The Mary river turtle, found only in that one river in Queensland, attracted worldwide headlines as one of the standout species on a new list of the most vulnerable reptile species compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). But despite this listing it does not have a national recovery plan to protect it from extinction and it is unclear whether any federal government funds have been specifically allocated for its protection. The turtle is 29th on ZSL’s Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) list for reptiles, which highlights the conservation needs of some of the world’s unique reptiles.

The turtle is not the only reptile species found in Australia to appear on the list, with eight species making the top 100, and seven of those appearing in the top 40. Among them are the critically endangered western swamp tortoise, which is number seven on the Edge list, the pig-nosed turtle, number 19 on the list, and the Gulbaru Gecko, a critically endangered Queensland species that was only discovered in 2001 and appears at 40 on the list. Conservationists say the list highlights the lack of conservation attention many Australian reptiles receive compared to more charismatic and iconic mammal and bird species. The federal government’s threatened species strategy specifically targets 20 mammals, 20 birds and 30 plants, but no reptiles.

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The climate on both sides of the Atlantic would change too much to imagine.

Gulf Stream Slowdown ‘About A Century Ahead Of Schedule’ (TP)

New research provides strong evidence that one of the long-predicted worst-case impacts of climate change — a severe slow-down of the Gulf Stream system — has already started. The system, also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), brings warmer water northward while pumping cooler water southward. “I think we’re close to a tipping point,” climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress in an email. The AMOC slow down “is without precedent” in more than a millennium he said, adding, “It’s happening about a century ahead of schedule relative to what the models predict.”

The impacts of such a slowdown include much faster sea level rise — and much warmer sea surface temperatures — for much of the U.S. East Coast. Both of those effects are already being observed and together they make devastating storm surges of the kind we saw with Superstorm Sandy far more likely. The findings come in two new studies published this week. One study published in the journal Nature, titled “Observed fingerprint of a weakening Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation,” was led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. It finds that the AMOC has weakened “around 15 per cent” since the mid-twentieth century, bringing it to “a new record low.”

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Dec 292017
 
 December 29, 2017  Posted by at 10:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh Snowy landscape with Arles in the background 1888

 

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Natural Time Cycles: A Dow Forecast For 2018-2020 (Freeze)
Trump Says Russia Inquiry Makes US ‘Look Very Bad’ (NYT)
Russiagate Is Devolving Into an Effort to Stigmatize Dissent (Carden)
US Fiscal Path Will Rattle the Rafters of the Casino – Stockman (SG)
China May Be A Bigger Worry For 2018 (CNBC)
China’s Leaders Fret Over Debts Lurking In Shadow Banking System (R.)
China Temporarily Waives Taxes To Get Foreign Firms To Stay (AFP)
How Far the Scams & Stupidities around “Blockchain Stocks” are Going (WS)
IRS Guidance on Property Taxes Has the US Confused (BBG)
Turns out, Uber Shareholders Are Eager to Sell at 30% Discount (WS)
UK Holds Back Historic Files on EU as It Prepares for Brexit (BBG)
Greek Migration Ministry Responds To Criticism Over Island Camps (K.)

 

 

Gann is all the vogue these days. Why has it taken so long? Lots of graphs here.

Natural Time Cycles: A Dow Forecast For 2018-2020 (Freeze)

The analysis and forecasts presented in this article are based on the analytical framework of W.D. Gann. Gann is an investing legend, labeled as genius by many financial historians. He reportedly accumulated $50 million in profits during his trading career. His superior track record and those of others using his methods argues that, regardless of our opinion of his methodology, we should heed the advice of his work. A more detailed explanation of his analytical framework is included in the last section of this article.

Forecast: 2018-2020

The Dow Jones Industrial Average forecast, in the graph above, is based upon the natural 20-year cycle that Gann identified. The lines in the graph show the projected monthly cumulative percentage returns from the peak level. The yellow line is the average scenario and the aqua line is the pessimistic scenario. The graph provides monthly estimates for 2018. The last data point represents June 2020, which covers the entire 30-month period from December 2017. My average scenario forecasts a -15.29% price return for 2018. The cumulative price return is forecast to bottom in June 2020 at -20.39%, at which time an extended rally should ensue. My pessimistic scenario forecasts a -32.90% price return for 2018. The cumulative price return is forecast to be little-changed in June 2020 at -31.23%, at which time an extended rally in should ensue.

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The New York Times feels obliged to cede the stage to the one person they’ve sought to discredit for the past 2 years. Must be humiliating.

Trump Says Russia Inquiry Makes US ‘Look Very Bad’ (NYT)

President Trump said Thursday that he believes Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in the Russia investigation, will treat him fairly, contradicting some members of his party who have waged a weekslong campaign to try to discredit Mr. Mueller and the continuing inquiry. During an impromptu 30-minute interview with The New York Times at his golf club in West Palm Beach, the president did not demand an end to the Russia investigations swirling around his administration, but insisted 16 times that there has been “no collusion” discovered by the inquiry. “It makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position,” Mr. Trump said of the investigation. “So the sooner it’s worked out, the better it is for the country.”

Asked whether he would order the Justice Department to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, Mr. Trump appeared to remain focused on the Russia investigation. “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” he said, echoing claims by his supporters that as president he has the power to open or end an investigation. “But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.” Hours after he accused the Chinese of secretly shipping oil to North Korea, Mr. Trump explicitly said for the first time that he has “been soft” on China on trade in the hopes that its leaders will pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. He hinted that his patience may soon end, however, signaling his frustration with the reported oil shipments.

[..] Mr. Mueller’s investigation appears to be moving ahead despite predictions by Mr. Trump’s lawyers this year that it would be over by Thanksgiving. Mr. Trump said that he was not bothered by the fact that he does not know when it will be completed because he has nothing to hide. Mr. Trump repeated his assertion that Democrats invented the Russia allegations “as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election.” He said that “everybody knows” his associates did not collude with the Russians, even as he insisted that the “real stories” are about Democrats who worked with Russians during the 2016 campaign. “There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Mueller.

[..] Mr. Trump said he believes members of the news media will eventually cover him more favorably because they are profiting from the interest in his presidency and thus will want him re-elected. “Another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes,” Mr. Trump said, then invoked one of his preferred insults. “Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times.” He added: “So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, ‘Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.’ O.K.”

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Russiagate has turned into a huge embarrassment.

Russiagate Is Devolving Into an Effort to Stigmatize Dissent (Carden)

Of all the various twists and turns of the year-and-a-half-long national drama known as #Russiagate, the effort to marginalize and stigmatize dissent from the consensus Russia-Trump narrative, particularly by former intelligence and national-security officials and operatives, is among the more alarming. An invasion-of-privacy lawsuit, filed in July 2017 by a former DNC official and two Democratic donors, alleges that they suffered “significant distress and anxiety and will require lifelong vigilance and expense” because their personal information was exposed as a result of the e-mail hack of the DNC, which, the suit claims, was part of a conspiracy between Roger Stone and the Trump campaign.

According to a report in The New York Times published at the time of the suit’s filing, “Mr. Trump and his political advisers, including Mr. Stone, have repeatedly denied colluding with Russia, and the 44-page complaint, filed on Wednesday in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, does not contain any hard evidence that his campaign did.” (Emphasis added.) In a new development, in early December, 14 former high-ranking US intelligence and national-security officials, including former deputy secretary of state William Burns; former CIA director John Brennan; former director of national intelligence James Clapper; and former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul (a longtime proponent of democracy promotion, which presumably includes free speech), filed an amicus brief as part of the lawsuit.

The amicus brief purports to explain to the court how Russia deploys “active measures” that seek “to undermine confidence in democratic leaders and institutions; sow discord between the United States and its allies; discredit candidates for office perceived as hostile to the Kremlin; influence public opinion against U.S. military, economic and political programs; and create distrust or confusion over sources of information.” The former officials portray the amicus brief as an offering of neutral (“Amici submit this brief on behalf of neither party”) expertise (“to offer the Court their broad perspective, informed by careers spent working inside the U.S. government”).

The brief claims that Putin’s Russia has not only “actively spread disinformation online in order to exploit racial, cultural and political divisions across the country” but also “conducted cyber espionage operations…to undermine faith in the U.S. democratic process and, in the general election, influence the results against Secretary Hillary Clinton.”

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“The Fed will sell more bonds in the next 3-4 years than had been accumulated by all of the central banks of the world in all of recorded history as of 1995!”

US Fiscal Path Will Rattle the Rafters of the Casino – Stockman (SG)

[..] the US government is spending money like a drunken sailor. But nobody really seems to care. Since Nov. 8, the US national debt has risen $1 trillion. Meanwhile, the Russell 2000 (a small-cap stock market index) has risen by 30%. Former Reagan budget director David Stockman said this makes no sense in a rational world, and he thinks the FY 2019 is going to sink the casino. In a rational world operating with honest financial markets those two results would not be found in even remotely the same zip code; and especially not in month #102 of a tired economic expansion and at the inception of an epochal pivot by the Fed to QT (quantitative tightening) on a scale never before imagined.” Stockman is referring to economic tightening recently launched by the Federal Reserve. It’s not only the increasing interest rates.

By next April the Fed will be shrinking its balance sheet at an annual rate of $360 billion and by $600 billion per year as of next October. By the end of 2020, the Fed will have dumped $2 trillion of bonds from its books. Stockman puts this into perspective. So the net of it is this: The Fed will sell more bonds in the next 3-4 years than had been accumulated by all of the central banks of the world in all of recorded history as of 1995!” Now pause for just a moment and think about this. The GOP just passed a tax plan that will add another $1.5 trillion to the deficit. And word is Trump’s next big push will be to pass an infrastructure bill – even more spending and debt. Meanwhile, during a time of rising debt, the Fed will be flooding the market with bonds. And what do governments have to do to finance debt? That’s right. They sell bonds.

There is literally a fiscal red ink eruption heading straight at the Fed’s balance sheet shrinkage campaign that will rattle the rafters in the casino … Uncle Sam’s borrowing requirements are likely to hit $1.25 trillion or more than 6% of GDP in FY 2019 owing to the fact that the tax bill is so heavily front-loaded and the GOP’s wild spending spree for defense, disasters and much else.”

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It’s starting to feel like Xi is seriously stuck. Let zombies default, and accept the lost jobs and mom and pop investments, or keep propping them up.

China May Be A Bigger Worry For 2018 (CNBC)

For a market dependent on synchronized global growth, investors may be betting too much that China will not rock the boat next year. Part of the S&P 500’s rally to record highs this year comes on the back of better economic growth around the world. A major contributor to that growth was stability in China as leaders prepared for a key 19th Communist Party Congress this fall. Now that the congress is over and Beijing looks set to take action on its growing debt problems, worries about a sharper-than-expected slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy could hurt U.S. stocks. “With the 19th Party Congress now behind us, the risk is that the peak growth in China is also behind us,” David Woo, head of global rates, FX and EM FI strategy & econ research at Bank of America, said in an outlook report.

“Curiously, the market has been ignoring the string of negative Chinese data surprises in recent weeks. It is possible that the market views them as temporary.” “We are concerned that China could be vulnerable to US tax reform getting done,” Woo said, noting that a resulting increase in U.S. rates and the U.S. dollar would likely cause capital flight from China to accelerate and weaken the Chinese yuan. If that happens, China’s central bank would be likely “to tighten liquidity, which in turn would raise further concerns about the growth outlook,” he said. Fears of negative spillover from a rapid slowdown in China’s economy hit global markets in August 2015 after a surprise yuan devaluation. Further weakness in the currency in the first few weeks of 2016 contributed to the worst start to a year on record for both the Dow and S&P 500.

Since then, Chinese authorities have proven they are still able to control their economy. But stability has come at the cost of ever-increasing debt levels. The IMF warned in October that China’s banking sector assets have risen steadily to 310% of GDP from 240% of GDP at the end of 2012. S&P Global Ratings downgraded China’s long-term sovereign credit rating in September, following a similar downgrade by Moody’s in May. “If clusters of credit defaults start to form, concerns about contagion into the wider economy could take hold if fears of default in wealth management products arise,” UBS Wealth Management’s chief investment office said in its 2018 outlook. “Should this happen, the Chinese government, in our view, would likely have sufficient resources to prevent widespread contagion.”

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Xi made the conscious choice to rise on the shadow’s coat tails. Now he has to keep riding or else.

China’s Leaders Fret Over Debts Lurking In Shadow Banking System (R.)

Before the 2008 financial crisis, there was very little shadow banking in China. In the aftermath of that shock, Chinese authorities launched a massive effort to stimulate the economy, mostly through a huge increase in lending. This led to a boom in property and infrastructure spending that continues today. Demand for credit increased sharply, especially from local and municipal government-owned companies. To meet this demand, banks began selling wealth management products offering higher interest rates than normal deposits. Many investors believed these products were implicitly guaranteed by the issuer, even if it was not expressly stated in the contract. Banks also borrowed cash from other banks and companies. For banks, these funds can then be lent to borrowers prepared to pay higher rates.

But the banks want to sidestep rules designed to restrict lending to overheated sectors including property, mining and other resources. So, people in the shadow banking industry say, these loans are often disguised by directing them through a complex chain of intermediaries, including trusts, securities companies, other banks and asset managers. To earn interest on these loans, a bank will buy a financial product from one of the intermediaries, which directs earnings back to the bank. That allows the bank to describe what is really a loan as an investment on its books. This type of lending can be more profitable because banks can set aside much less capital than they are required to hold for regular loans as a safeguard against defaults. By the end of 2015, shadow lending was growing faster than traditional bank lending, and was equivalent to 57% of total bank loans, according to a 2016 report from investment bank CLSA.

This dramatically accelerated the speed at which overall debt expanded in China’s financial system. Moody’s said in a November report that China’s shadow banking assets grew more than 20% in 2016 to 64 trillion yuan ($9.8 trillion), equivalent to 86.5% of GDP. [..] At the center of shadow banking are the 12 nationally licensed joint stock banks and many of the more than 100 city commercial lenders which hold about a third of China’s commercial banking assets. From 2010, these mid-tier banks and regional lenders set about competing with the country’s so-called Big Five lenders, the state-controlled behemoths that dominate the economy. The key to the upstarts’ growth is selling wealth management products and borrowing from other banks, allowing them to create loans wrapped in financial instruments to give the appearance of investments.

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Translation: foreign reserves are fleeing. Blame the Trump tax plan.

China Temporarily Waives Taxes To Get Foreign Firms To Stay (AFP)

China will temporarily waive income taxes for foreign companies on profits they reinvest in the country as Beijing battles to retain foreign firms and investment. The finance ministry announced Thursday the new tax policy, which will apply retroactively from January so businesses will be able to take advantage of the exemption for this year’s taxes. The new incentives for foreign business to keep their earnings in China follow the passing last week of a corporate tax overhaul in the United States. The US reform will lower the tax rate for most corporations to 21%. Businesses in China pay 25%. The temporary exemption “will create a better investment environment for foreign investors and encourage foreign investors to sustain their investments in China,” a spokesman for the ministry of commerce said.

The policy announcement also comes as China has struggled with capital flight and tightened capital controls this year to stem the outflow of money. But foreign companies have long complained of the onerous bureaucracy they must navigate, barriers to market access, and policies that favour local firms. The new tax incentives aim to make China more attractive but come with a slew of restrictions. To be eligible, the profits must be invested in industries and activities where the Chinese government encourages foreign investment: manufacturing, services, research and development. Locations in the west of the country are also prioritised for development. Companies have three years to apply for the exemptions after paying tax.

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“This can happen only during the very late stage of a bubble.”

How Far the Scams & Stupidities around “Blockchain Stocks” are Going (WS)

It just doesn’t let up. UBI Blockchain Internet, a Hong Kong outfit whose shares trade in the US [UBIA], filed with the SEC to sell an additional 72.3 million shares owned by its executives. In other words, it isn’t selling the shares to raise money for corporate purposes, but to allow its executives, including CEO Tony Liu, to bail out. This is happening after the company – which sports zero revenues and a disconnected phone number in its SEC filings – managed to get its shares to spike briefly by over 1,100%, pushing its market capitalization to $8 billion. UBI Blockchain didn’t do an IPO. Instead, in October 2016, it acquired a publicly traded shell company registered in Las Vegas, called “JA Energy.” It then changed the name and ticker symbol to what they’re now.

Over the six trading days starting on December 11, 2017, its shares soared over 1,100%, from $7.20 to $87 on December 18, as the word “blockchain” in its name and sufficient hype and speculator-idiocy took hold. By December 21, shares had plunged 67% to $29. They closed on Wednesday at $38.50. At this price, it still has a ludicrous market cap of $3.64 billion. In its prospectus for the share sale, filed with the SEC on December 26, UBI explains the overcooked spaghetti of its dreamed-up activities: UBI Blockchain Internet Ltd. business encompasses the research and application of blockchain technology with a focus on the Internet of things covering areas of food, drugs and healthcare. Management plans to focus its business in the integrated wellness industry, by providing procedures for safety and effectiveness in food and drugs, but also preventing counterfeit or fake food and drugs.

With the advancement of the blockchain technology, the Company plans to trace a food or drug product from its original source within the context of the Internet of Things to the final consumer. It explains that “management is uncertain that the Company can generate sufficient revenues in the next 12-months to sustain our operations. We shall need to seek additional funding to continue our operations and implement our plan of operations.” It added that “due to the uncertainty of our ability to meet our financial obligations and to pay our liabilities as they become due,” the auditors in the financial statement for the year ended August 31, 2017, questioned “our ability to continue as a going concern.” For the year, UBI had an operating loss of $1.83 million on zero revenues. It had $15,406 in cash, and: “In order to keep the company operational and fully reporting, management anticipates a burn rate of approximately $220,000 per month, pre and post-offering.”

Read more …

Overtime for accountants.

IRS Guidance on Property Taxes Has the US Confused (BBG)

New guidance from the Internal Revenue Service that limits taxpayers’ ability to deduct prepaid property levies on their 2017 tax returns is causing confusion nationwide as people rush to pay in advance without knowing whether they’re wasting their time and money. The IRS said Wednesday that taxpayers can deduct prepaid state and local property taxes for 2018 on 2017 returns only if the taxes were assessed before 2018. The brief guidance – which doesn’t define the term “assessed” – had local tax officials scratching their heads. Some see the issue as an early signal of far wider confusion that’s coming soon – the predictable result of passing a bill that rewrites the tax code just two weeks before many of the changes take hold.

“This is the tip of the iceberg as state and local governments try to figure this out – and by the way, they’re trying to figure it out with one week before the changes take effect,” said Richard Auxier, a researcher with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, a Washington public policy group. “And that week happens to be the week between Christmas and New Year’s.” The IRS guidance comes after many state and local officials – including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – have taken pains to clear the way for their residents to accelerate property-tax payments. The nationwide flurry came ahead of the new tax law that will cap property tax deductions – along with those for state and local income taxes or sales taxes – at an overall total of $10,000.

Read more …

Uber just lost a third of its valuation.

Turns out, Uber Shareholders Are Eager to Sell at 30% Discount (WS)

Softbank, an acquisitive junk-rated Japanese holding company that also owns about 80% of Sprint, has been preparing for months to buy a large stake in Uber. At the end of November, it launched a tender offer to buy enough shares from investors and employees to give it a 14% stake. It dangled out a price of $33 a share, which valued Uber at $48 billion – a 30% discount from Uber’s “valuation” of $69 billion, which had been established behind closed doors during the last fund-raising round. The offer at a $48-billion valuation is even lower than Uber’s valuation back in June 2015 of $51 billion. When the tender offer was started, there was uncertainty if enough sellers would be willing to dump their shares at this discount. The other option for them would be to hold out until the IPO, in the hopes for a better deal. The tender offer expired today at noon Pacific Time.

Turns out, there are plenty of eager sellers – despite any dreams of a blistering IPO: The tendered shares amount to about 20% of the company’s equity, “people familiar with the matter” told the Wall Street Journal. But SoftBank will likely acquire only a 15% stake, “the people said.” Other members of the consortium SoftBank is leading – including Dragoneer Investment Group and Tencent Holdings – are likely to buy some but not all of the remaining tendered shares. This deal will not raise money for Uber itself but will allow employees and early investors to cash out some of their holdings – at a steep discount. But to maintain the illusion of the previous “valuation” of $69 billion – which is critical for a properly hyped future IPO – SoftBank will also make a $1-billion direct investment into Uber at the $69-billion “valuation,” as part of the deal.

Since startup “valuations” are based on the price paid during fund-raising, this $1-billion deal forms Uber’s new “valuation,” the same as the prior one. So the “valuation” illusion remains intact. [..] SoftBank already owns major stakes in other rideshare startups, including Didi Chuxing, the largest rideshare company in China; Grab, a major rideshare company in Southeast Asia; Ola, the largest rideshare company in India, slightly ahead of Uber; and 99, the largest rideshare company in Brazil. So SoftBank is serious about getting into this business on a global scale. But all rideshare companies are competing with each other, with taxis, rental cars, mass transit, and other modes of transportation on service and low fares, and they’re competing with each other to rope in drivers by offering them incentives.

The plan is to dominate the markets. And all of them are losing money hand over fist. The chart below shows what quarterly “adjusted” losses look like for Uber. Actual losses under GAAP would be much larger since the costs of employee stock compensation, interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization have been stripped out of the figures that Uber shows the media:

Read more …

It’s hard to keep track of all the Monty Python moves at Downing Street 10.

UK Holds Back Historic Files on EU as It Prepares for Brexit (BBG)

As Prime Minister Theresa May prepares for the next round of Brexit negotiations, her government has held back publication of secret files relating to the creation of the European Union. The documents from 1992 were due to be released Friday at the National Archives under British rules that allow government papers to enter the public domain. Out of 495 files from the prime minister’s office that year, a total of 114 were held back. Of those, 12 related to European policy. The main opposition party was quick to pounce. Jon Trickett, a high-ranking Labour politician described it as “profoundly shocking, particularly given the current state of the national debate.”

May’s government has had a series of problems with information around Brexit. Last week, after months of ministers trying to keep them secret, the government published an assessments of how different segments of the economy will cope with leaving the EU. Lawmakers commented that the documents contained little that couldn’t be found on Wikipedia. The Cabinet Office, which supports May in running the government, said in an email that “there is no question that any files are deliberately ‘withheld’ from the media.” A further 26 files covering the EU were sent to the archives too late for journalists to read them before publication.

It explained that “we have to ensure all files are properly reviewed and prepared before they are transferred, so that they do not harm national security or our relations with other countries or disclose the sensitive personal data of living individuals.” The files that were released reveal the extent to which Britain’s 1992 expulsion from the Exchange Rate Mechanism turned Conservatives against Europe. That year, Sept. 16 was christened “Black Wednesday” after the government’s failed attempt to keep the pound within the system by pushing interest rates up to 15%.

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Everybody accuses everybody else, because assigning the blame is more important than helping the refugees.

Greek Migration Ministry Responds To Criticism Over Island Camps (K.)

The Migration Ministry has blamed local authorities for the grim conditions inside island migrant camps in the wake of criticism from a senior European Union official. In an interview with news website New Europe on Sunday, the EU’s special envoy on migration, Maarten Verwey, said the European Commission had made funding available to ensure appropriate accommodation for all. “However, the Commission cannot order the creation or expansion of reception capacity against the opposition of the competent authorities,” he added. Speaking to Kathimerini on Thursday, sources inside the ministry did not deny the existence of EU funds, adding however that Verwey had omitted any mention of the difficulties “although he has personal experience.”

Authorities on Lesvos and Chios have opposed government plans to expand screening centers for refugees. Meanwhile, only a small amount of the available funds have been absorbed. Of the 540 million euros earmarked until 2020, Greece has received just 97 million euros, according to the Economy Ministry. The same sources referred to recent remarks by Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas, who accused EU governments of “hypocrisy” for failing to shoulder their fair share of the refugee burden.

Read more …

Dec 172017
 
 December 17, 2017  Posted by at 10:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Russell Lee Shasta Dam under construction. Shasta County, California 1942

 

Zombie Corporations: 10% Of Global Companies Depend On Cheap Money (Mish)
America’s Inequality Machine Is Sending the Dow Soaring (BBG)
“Dark Money” Runs the World (Nomi Prins)
‘There’s No Life Here’: A Journey Into Britain’s Precarious Future (O.)
Brexit: Britons Now Back Remain Over Leave By 10 Points (Ind.)
Call Off Brexit Bullies Or Face Defeat, Conservative Peers Tell May (G.)
Metlife Says It Failed To Pay Some Pensions, Flags Hit To Reserves (R.)
EU Banks Told to Get Crisis-Ready by Removing Wind-Down Hurdles (BBG)
Humans At Maximum Limits For Height, Lifespan And Physical Performance (SD)

 

 

Only 10? You sure?

Zombie Corporations: 10% Of Global Companies Depend On Cheap Money (Mish)

10% of corporations survive only because central banks have kept real interest rates negative. The BIS defines Zombie firms as those with a ratio of earnings before interest and taxes to interest expenses below one, with the firm aged 10 years or more. In simple terms, Zombies are those firms that could not survive without a flow of cheap financing. The chart shows the median share of zombie firms across AU, BE, CA, CH, DE, DK, ES, FR, GB, IT, JP, NL, SE and US. According to the BIS Quarterly Report one out of ten corporations in emerging and advanced countries is a “Zombie”. Let’s dive into the report for more details.

The inability to come to grips with the financial cycle has been a key reason for the unsatisfactory performance of the global economy and limited room for policy manoeuvre. Since 2007, productivity growth has slowed in both advanced economies and EMEs. One potential factor behind this decline is a persistent misallocation of capital and labour, as reflected by the growing share of unprofitable firms. Indeed, the share of zombie firms – whose interest expenses exceed earnings before interest and taxes – has increased significantly despite unusually low levels of interest rates. Over the past 10 years, there has been a close positive correlation between the growth of corporate credit and investment.

A build-up of corporate debt has financed investment in many economies, particularly in EMEs, including high investment rates in China. Turning financial cycles in these economies could therefore weigh on investment. As with consumption, the level of debt can affect investment. Rising interest rates would push up debt service burdens in countries with high corporate debt. Moreover, in EMEs with large shares of such debt in foreign currency, domestic currency depreciation could hurt investment. As mentioned before, an appreciation of funding currencies, mainly the US dollar, increases debt burdens where currency mismatches are present and tightens financial conditions (the exchange rate risktaking channel).

Empirical evidence suggests that a depreciation of EME currencies against the US dollar dampens investment significantly, offsetting to a large extent the positive impact of higher net exports. For the above reasons, I believe the end of the global recovery is at hand. And when the next bust happens, the last thing central banks will be doing is raising interest rates.

Read more …

How to define the Fed.

America’s Inequality Machine Is Sending the Dow Soaring (BBG)

The Great Recession is a speck in the rear-view mirror for America’s financial markets. They’ve advanced far beyond pre-crisis levels. In fact, Goldman Sachs says you can go back a century before 2008, and still not find a “bull market in everything” like today’s. If the real economy had roared back the same way, Donald Trump might not be president. Instead, it’s been a grind. While unemployment is near a two-decade low, wages have grown slowly by past standards. They’re nowhere near keeping pace with the asset-price surge. Elected on a promise of better jobs and pay, Trump is about to pull the most powerful lever any government has for firing up the economy: fiscal policy. By slashing taxes on corporate profits, its authors say, the Republican plan will unleash the animal spirits of American business – and everyone will benefit.

A rising tide does lift all boats – but nowadays, in the U.S., not equally. Under both parties, recoveries have become increasingly lopsided. The current one has helped millions of people find work; it’s also benefited asset-owners far more than people who trade their labor for a paycheck. Income distribution, already the most unequal in the developed world, is getting worse. And that’s starting to influence everything from America’s spending habits to its elections. “The story of our time is polarization – by party, by class and by income,” said Mark Spindel, founder and chief investment officer at Potomac River Capital in Washington, and co-author of a 2017 book about the Federal Reserve. “I don’t see anything in the tax bill to make that any better.’’

The Fed’s post-2008 toolkit included massive purchases of financial assets, which supported a liftoff on the markets but took time to trickle through to the real economy. Trump’s tax critics say his plan will have a similar effect, because companies will spend the windfall on share buybacks or dividends, instead of job-creating investments. Plenty of executives say that’s exactly what they’ll do. Bank of America’s most recent buyback program totals $18 billion. Chairman Brian Moynihan championed the tax proposal this month. “It’s good for corporate America, and it’s good for us,” he said.

Read more …

Same thing: inequality machine.

“Dark Money” Runs the World (Nomi Prins)

Dark money is the #1 secret life force of today’s rigged financial markets. It drives whole markets up and down. It’s the reason for today’s financial bubbles. On Wall Street, knowledge of and access to dark money means trillions of dollars per year flowing in and around global stock, bond and derivatives markets. I learned this firsthand from my career on Wall Street. My first full year working on Wall Street was in 1987. I wasn’t talking about “dark money” or central bank collusion back then. I was just starting out. Eventually, I would uncover how the dark money system works… how it has corrupted our financial system… and encouraged greed to the point of crisis like in 2008. When I moved abroad to create and run the analytics department at Bear Stearns London as senior managing director, I got my first look at how dark money flows and its effects cross borders.

The “dark money” comes from central banks. In essence, central banks “print” money or electronically fabricate money by buying bonds or stocks. They use other tools like adjusting interest rate policy and currency agreements with other central banks to pump liquidity into the financial system. That dark money goes to the biggest private banks and financial institutions first. From there, it spreads out in seemingly infinite directions affecting different financial assets in different ways. Yet these dark money flows stretch around the world according to a pattern of power, influence and, of course, wealth for select groups. To be a part of the dark money elite means to have control over many. How elite is a matter of degree. These is not built upon conspiracy theories. To the contrary, alliances make perfect sense and operate publicly.

Even better, their exclusive dealings and the consequences that follow are foreseeable — but only if you understand how the system works and follow the dark money flows. It’s easy to see how this dark money affects the stock market at a high level, because we can monitor its constant movement. Here’s the smoking gun:

The red line shows you how much “dark money” the Federal Reserve has printed since 2008. The gray line shows you the S&P 500. They move together — more dark money drives the market higher. Much higher. There are dark money charts from around the world, just like the one I showed you for the Federal Reserve and U.S. stock market. Look at this “dark money” chart from Japan, for example:

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Time for a change.

‘There’s No Life Here’: A Journey Into Britain’s Precarious Future (O.)

Ebbw Vale is the largest town in the county of Blaenau Gwent. This autumn the county was found to be the cheapest place to buy a home in England and Wales (averaging £777 per sq m in 2016, compared with £19,439 for the most expensive, London’s Kensington and Chelsea). It offers the second-lowest mean salary in Britain, and its GCSE results are the worst in Wales. Five food banks operate within an area of about 42 square miles. People here are struggling economically and physically. It’s a grim irony that an area encompassing the former constituency of Aneurin Bevan, architect of the National Health Service, should today be facing a quietly unfolding health crisis. Some 12% of working-age residents receive government support for disability or incapacity – twice the national average.

Life expectancy for both men and women is among the lowest in England and Wales. Out of a population of 60,000, one in every six adults is being prescribed an antidepressant, according to NHS data from 2013. “GPs haven’t got time to listen, to talk to people, to find out what’s going on. They’ve got that five- or 10-minute slot, somebody’s in tears, they’re saying they’re depressed,” Tara Johnstone tells me at the Phoenix Project, the publicly funded drop-in centre where she works in nearby Brynmawr. It’s run by a local charity, Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent Mind, and people come to chat about their problems: anxiety, depression, illness, bereavement. Most stories revolve around the same theme. “It’s lack of work,” explains Trish Richards, another Phoenix staff member. “I’ve had people come to me on zero-hours contracts. They don’t know where they are from one week to the next. Can’t plan. Can’t even plan to go to the dentist in case they get called in to work.”

Read more …

The shift is only just starting. Incompetence will rule 2018 in Britain.

Brexit: Britons Now Back Remain Over Leave By 10 Points (Ind.)

The British public has swung behind staying in the EU by its largest margin since the referendum, with those backing Remain outstripping Leavers by ten points, a new poll has revealed. The exclusive survey for The Independent by BMG Research showed 51% now back remaining in the union, while 41% want Brexit. Once “don’t knows” were encouraged to choose one way or the other, or excluded, the Remain lead rises to 11 points. Either way, it is the biggest gap since the June 2016 vote. It comes as leading political figures write in The Independent tomorrow about whether the country needs a further referendum to decide on Brexit, once terms of departure are known.

Michael Heseltine, Peter Mandelson, Gina Miller and Vince Cable call for a rethink, while Leave campaign mastermind Matthew Elliott and Conservatives James Cleverly and Suella Fernandes demand Brexit is seen through. Last week again underlined the difficulties of withdrawal, after the EU set out terms for a Brexit transition period that will likely be unacceptable to leading Conservative Eurosceptics. Theresa May also suffered a damaging defeat in the Commons while trying to pass her key piece of Brexit legislation, before being forced to make a major concession to avoid further embarrassment next week. Amid the furore, the latest poll indicates British voters have slowly but steadily been turning their backs on Brexit.

When a weighted sample of some 1,400 people were asked: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union?” – 51% backed Remain, and 41% backed Leave. 7% said “don’t know” and 1% refused to answer. After “don’t knows” were either pushed for an answer or otherwise excluded, 55.5% backed Remain and 44.5 backed Leave. Polling since this time last year appears to demonstrate a clear trend; Leave enjoyed a lead last December which gradually shrank, before turning into a lead for Remain in the month of the general election, that has since grown.

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Pretty soon the only thing left will be dividing lines.

Call Off Brexit Bullies Or Face Defeat, Conservative Peers Tell May (G.)

Theresa May was warned on Sunday by Tory peers that she will face a string of parliamentary defeats over Europe in the House of Lords if she tries to “bully” members of the second chamber into backing an extreme form of Brexit. After 11 Conservative MPs joined opposition parties to inflict a humiliating loss on the government last week, Tory grandees are warning that the spirit of rebellion will spread to the Lords unless May shows she respects parliament and decisively rejects those with “extreme views” in her own party. Writing in the Observer, two Tory peers, the former pensions minister Ros Altmann and Patience Wheatcroft, a former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, say they are appalled at the insults heaped by hardline Brexiters on MPs who voted with their consciences, and at the “strong-arm” tactics of the Tory whips.

They say it is vital to democracy that parliamentarians be given the right to assess the Brexit deal on behalf of the British people without being threatened or bullied, and suggest that the aggression of Tory party managers has helped create a “toxic atmosphere”, not only in parliament but across the UK. Altmann and Wheatcroft write: “The resulting appalling insults from Brexiters, calls for expulsion from the party, and even death threats, are worrying symptoms of the toxic atmosphere which has been created in our country.” They add: “There are many moderate Conservatives in both Houses of Parliament who are deeply concerned that some in our party are so desperate to leave the EU, with or without a deal, that they believe any cost is justified to bring Brexit. They maintain ‘freedom is priceless’ but this extreme view does not reflect public opinion.”

The two peers say Conservative members of the House of Lords, in which there was a large pro-Remain majority, will not take kindly to being told by the Tory whips and the executive what to think about Brexit and how to vote. “Mindful of the monumental importance for future generations of getting Brexit right, the Lords is unlikely to be receptive to bullying over a restricted timetable or vigorous whipping to toe the party line,” they say. “The people voted to ‘take back control’ but that has to mean control by parliament, not a small group with extreme views or an executive that will brook no challenge. It is parliament that must have the final say on whether the deal that is negotiated for breaking away from the EU … is in the UK’s best interests.”

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The shape of things to come.

Metlife Says It Failed To Pay Some Pensions, Flags Hit To Reserves (R.)

Metlife failed to pay pensions to potentially tens of thousands of people and will have to strengthen its reserves because of the costs of finding and repaying them, the New York insurer said. Metlife said in a filing on Friday that it believed the group missing out on the payments represented less than 5 percent of about 600,000 people who receive benefits from the company via its retirement business. Those affected generally have average benefits of less than $150 a month, it said. When taken, however, the increase to reserves could be material to Metlife’s financial results. The insurer said it would provide further disclosure on its fourth-quarter earnings call and in its annual report for 2017. MetLife did not say how many years of missing income was owed. The people who missed out on the payments have changed jobs, relocated or are otherwise unreachable based on currently available information, the company said, adding that it was widening its search efforts and making better use of technology.

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Are we really to believe Europe will stand up against its most powerful banks?

EU Banks Told to Get Crisis-Ready by Removing Wind-Down Hurdles (BBG)

Big euro-area lenders face a choice; clean up the complicated corporate structures that make them difficult to wind down in a crisis, or watch Elke Koenig do it for them. Koenig, head of the Brussels-based Single Resolution Board, said in an interview that streamlining banks’ architecture and ensuring they can fund their own demise without taxpayers’ help will be priorities in the year ahead. “You have banks where you end with something that looks more like a spider web than a clean structure,” Koenig said. The message that those banks will receive is: “Please tidy up,” she said. The SRB is part of the EU’s efforts to end the problem of too-big-to-fail banks. In 2018, it will adopt resolution plans for nearly all of the 140-odd lenders within its remit, then start to identify “substantive impediments” to orderly wind-down.

Under EU law, when the SRB finds such obstacles, it sends a report to the bank, which must respond within four months on how it plans to fix the problem. If the SRB isn’t satisfied, it can instruct the supervisor to impose a range of measures on the bank, including issuing loss-absorbing liabilities, altering its legal or operational structures and selling assets. This task assumed greater importance earlier this year when the the European Commission withdrew a bill that could have forced major banks such as Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas to split their trading and retail operations. Finance Watch, a public-interest watchdog, has said that without that bill, it’s “squarely” on authorities like the SRB to make sure systemically important banks can be wound down in an orderly manner.

Koenig accepts that the SRB is responsible for making sure banks have resolvable structures. “That’s clearly on us,” she said. “And it’s something that needs to be addressed swiftly.” “The ideal structure for me is one where you can with confidence isolate certain functions to keep them up and running in case something unforeseen happens,” Koenig said. “I would not try to differentiate between investment banking functions and retail banking functions, but think about it this way: If you need to separate businesses, are you producing a viable set of companies? Can you really separate them in a timely manner?”

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But we were going to implant robots into ourselves… When will we learn that it’s the limits that set us free?

Humans At Maximum Limits For Height, Lifespan And Physical Performance (SD)

Humans may have reached their maximum limits for height, lifespan and physical performance. A recent review suggests humans have biological limitations, and that anthropogenic impacts on the environment – including climate change – could have a deleterious effect on these limits. Published in Frontiers in Physiology, this review is the first of its kind spanning 120 years worth of historical information, while considering the effects of both genetic and environmental parameters. Despite stories that with each generation we will live longer and longer, this review suggests there may be a maximum threshold to our biological limits that we cannot exceed. A transdisciplinary research team from across France studied trends emerging from historical records, concluding that there appears to be a plateau in the maximum biological limits for humans’ height, age and physical abilities.

“These traits no longer increase, despite further continuous nutritional, medical, and scientific progress. This suggests that modern societies have allowed our species to reach its limits. We are the first generation to become aware of this” explains Professor Jean-François Toussaint from Paris Descartes University, France. Rather than continually improving, we will see a shift in the proportion of the population reaching the previously recorded maximum limits. Examples of the effects of these plateaus will be evidenced with increasingly less sport records being broken and more people reaching but not exceeding the present highest life expectancy. However, when researchers considered how environmental and genetic limitations combined may affect the ability for us to reach these upper limits, our effect on the environment was found to play a key role.

“This will be one of the biggest challenges of this century as the added pressure from anthropogenic activities will be responsible for damaging effects on human health and the environment.” Prof. Toussaint predicts. “The current declines in human capacities we can see today are a sign that environmental changes, including climate, are already contributing to the increasing constraints we now have to consider.” “Observing decreasing tendencies may provide an early signal that something has changed but not for the better. Human height has decreased in the last decade in some African countries; this suggests some societies are no longer able to provide sufficient nutrition for each of their children and maintain the health of their younger inhabitants,” Prof. Toussaint explains.

To avoid us being the cause of our own decline, the researchers hope their findings will encourage policymakers to focus on strategies for increasing quality of life and maximize the proportion of the population that can reach these maximum biological limits. “Now that we know the limits of the human species, this can act as a clear goal for nations to ensure that human capacities reach their highest possible values for most of the population. With escalating environmental constraints, this may cost increasingly more energy and investment in order to balance the rising ecosystem pressures. However, if successful, we then should observe an incremental rise in mean values of height, lifespan and most human biomarkers.” Prof. Toussaint warns however, “The utmost challenge is now to maintain these indices at high levels.”

Read more …

Oct 092017
 
 October 9, 2017  Posted by at 2:08 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Fan Ho In Paris 1953

 

 

Update: I never did this before, but now I think I must: change the title of an article. “Minsky and Volatility” isn’t nearly as good as “The S&P Is A Bloated Corpse”. Simple, really. The URL will be the same as before

 

 

According to Hyman Minsky, economic stability is not only inevitably followed by instability, it inevitably creates it. Complacent humans being what they are. If he’s right, and would anyone dare doubt it, we’re in for that mushroom cloud on the financial horizon. We know that because market volatility, as measured for instance by the VIX, the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE)’s volatility index, is scraping the depths of the Mariana trench.

Two separate articles at Zero Hedge this weekend, one by NorthmanTrader.com and one by LPLResearch.com, address the issue: it is time to be afraid and wake up. And that is not just true for investors or traders, it’s true for ‘everyone out there’ perhaps even more. Central bank policies, QE and ultra low rates, have distorted the financial system to such an extent -ostensibly in an attempt to save it- that the depressed, compressed volatility these policies have created can only come back to life with a vengeance.

Feel free to picture zombies and/or loss of heartbeat as much as you want; it’s all true. Financial markets haven’t been functioning for years, and there have been no investors either, only gamblers and profiteers, as savers and pensioners have been drawn and quartered. Central bankers have eradicated price discovery, nobody knows what anything is really worth anymore, be it stocks, bonds, housing, gold, bitcoin, you name it.

If you make interest rates ‘magically’ disappear anyone can spend any amount of money on anything they fancy buying. And it’s not just traders and investors either. Scores of people think: look, I can buy a house, others think they can buy a bigger house, many will get into stocks and/or bonds, because prices just keep going up. Even savers and pensioners are drawn into the central bank Ponzi, often in an effort to make up for what they lose when their accumulated wealth no longer pays them any returns. Shoeshine boys are dishing out market tips.

Crypto may or may not be a new tulip, but many Silicon Valley start-ups -increasingly funded by crypto ICO’s- certainly are. There’s so much money sloshing around nobody can tell, or even cares, whether they are actually worth a penny. It’s all based on gossip multiplied by the idea that they will be smart enough to get out in time in case things go awry.

 

People mistakenly think that a market’s heartbeat can be found in for instance rising stock prices, the Dow, the S&P. But that’s simply not true. The S&P is a bloated corpse increasingly filling up with gases that will eventually cause it to explode, with guts and blood and body parts and fluids flying all around.

The US stock market’s heartbeat manifests itself in volatility, and the overall economy’s heartbeat in interest rates. Rising and falling volatility and interest rates is how we know whether a market is in good health, or even alive at all. They are its vital signs.

That follows straight from Minsky. Ultra-low rates and ultra-low volatility, especially if they last for a longer period of time, are signs of trouble. The markets the central banks’ $20+ trillion QE and ZIRP have created are bloated corpses that no longer have a heartbeat. They are zombies. But markets, unlike natural bodies, won’t die, they can’t. They will instead rise from their graves and take over Wall Street, the City, and then everyone else’s street.

Bernanke, Yellen, Draghi and Kuroda are sorcerer’s apprentices and Dr. Frankensteins, who have created walking dead monsters they have no control over. But the monsters won’t turn on them personally; that’s the tragedy here as much as it is the reason why they have worked their sorcery. They themselves won’t go bankrupt, other will. No skin in the game.

Enough with the metaphors. First, here’s NorthmanTrader:

 

Flatliners

In the movie Flatliners aspiring medical doctors tried to unlock the mysteries of death by, well, killing themselves. It was meant to be a controlled death of course, to flat line on the heart rate monitor for a few minutes to find out what wonders where to be found “on the other side” only to then return safe & sound thanks to medical intervention. Well, they soon found out the other side wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be and the main character soon got regular beatings as the sins of his past came back to haunt him.

In my view markets find themselves in a very similar script. The promise of investor nirvana where the pains of real life no longer matter. If you only pay attention to the record highs headlines it all looks rather fantastical these days. [..] any trader staring at the tape knows that we find ourselves in the most compressed price environment in history. This is not normal, there’s no heartbeat:

As I’m writing this I’m fully aware I may be viewed as the bear who cried wolf. After all I’ve been outlining structural risk factors for a while and markets have moved past my technical risk zones of 2450-2500 and most recently 2530. That’s what bubbles do. They blow past anyone’s expectations, they make believers of the unbelievers, make bears look like idiots and the most reckless look like geniuses. But an extreme market that only becomes more extreme is not any less extreme, it is just more extreme. As no risk is apparent these extremes are then dismissed as the new normal. Yet momentum driven price appreciation has absolutely zero predictive value of future price appreciation, it only appears as such at the time.

We find ourselves in a very unique point in history and in a world dominated by false narratives. It is a challenge to keep an analytical grip on reality, but I’ll try to tie a few threads together here to put everything in a macro context. Firstly the underlying base reality: Free money, easy money, whatever you want to call it, permeates everything we see in financial markets. Indeed I would argue price appreciation has been paid for with unprecedented and, in my view, unsustainable volatility compression. A couple of charts really highlight this. Most clearly perhaps is the precise trend line tagging we can observe in the correlated picture of price appreciation and volatility compression since the February 2016 lows:

The $VIX’s corollary, the inverse $XIV, embarked on an explosive near one way journey since the US election coinciding with over $2 trillion central bank intervention in just the first 9 months of 2017:

And it has continued to this day and just made another all time high this past week on a massive negative divergence. It is the magnitude of this volatility compression that explains the current trading environment we find ourselves in.

 

[..] Debt expansion at low rates continues to sustain the illusion of real prosperity for the 90%:

 

And then LPLResearch with another indicator that goes to show we’re dealing with a zombie here: stock prices are not moving, either up or down. Or rather, they’re moving up all the time, but in too small increments. Yeah, like that bloated corpse.

 

Where Did All the Big Moves Go?

There have only been eight moves of at least 1% for the S&P 500 Index so far this year—the least since 13 in 1995. The all-time record was an incredible three in 1963. What about a big move? The last time the S&P 500 moved at least 4% was nearly six years ago. In fact, the S&P 500 had four consecutive days with 4% (or greater) changes in August 2011. Other than 2008 and the crash of ’87, that is the only other time since the Great Depression to see four consecutive 4% changes. That isn’t anything like today’s action.

As the chart below shows, so far in 2017, big moves have been nonexistent; and even 1% changes have been rare. Per Ryan Detrick, Senior Market Strategist, “If you had forecast that the 11 months after the 2016 U.S. presidential election would be one of the least volatile periods ever, you would be in the minority. Then again, the last time we saw a streak of calm like this was the year after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. Once again proving that the market rarely does what the masses expect and usually surprises us.”

You want a heartbeat. That tells you if a body or a market is alive, healthy, functioning. We don’t have one. We haven’t for years. But we will again. Natural bodies can tend towards equilibrium, i.e. death. Markets cannot. They’re doomed to flatline, and then to always come back from near death experiences. They tend to do so in violent ways though. When volatility at last returns, so will price discovery. It won’t be pretty.

 

 

Oct 062017
 


Jean Renoir Les Grands Boulevards 1875

 

China’s Economic Boom Is About To Be Cut Short By Peak Oil (Ahmed)
A Volatility Trap Is Inflating Market Bubbles (BBG)
China Is In ‘Lock-down’ Ahead Of Its Most Important Meeting In Years (CNBC)
Bitcoin’s Rise Happened in Shadows of Finance. Now Banks Want In (BBG)
HSBC Traders Used Code Words to Trigger Front-Running (BBG)
US Rounds On Britain Over Food Quotas As Post-Brexit Trade Woes Deepen (Pol.)
Few Tears Are Being Shed In Quebec Over The Energy East Pipeline’s Demise (BBG)
Onshore Fracking To Begin In UK ‘Within Weeks’ (Ind.)
Catalan Separatists Squeezed Further as Spain Tightens Its Grip (BBG)
Apple Gave Uber ‘Unprecedented’ Access To Secret iPhone Backdoor (BI)
Tropical Storm Nate Kills 22 In Central America, Heads For US (R.)
Pesticides That Pose Threat To Humans And Bees Found In Honey (Ind.)
Tiny Pacific Island Nation Of Niue Creates Huge Marine Sanctuary (AFP)

 

 

From China’s government.

China’s Economic Boom Is About To Be Cut Short By Peak Oil (Ahmed)

A new scientific study led by the China University of Petroleum in Beijing, funded by the Chinese government, concludes that China is about to experience a peak in its total oil production as early as next year. Without finding an alternative source of ‘new abundant energy resources’ , the study warns, the 2018 peak in China’s combined conventional and unconventional oil will undermine continuing economic growth and ‘challenge the sustainable development of Chinese society’. This also has major implications for the prospect of a 2018 oil squeeze – as China scales its domestic oil peak, rising demand will impact world oil markets in a way most forecasters aren’t anticipating, contributing to a potential supply squeeze. That could happen in 2018 proper, or in the early years that follow.

There are various scenarios that follow from here – China could: shift to reducing its massive demand for energy, a tall order in itself given population growth projections and rising consumption; accelerate a renewable energy transition; or militarise the South China Sea for more deepwater oil and gas. Right now, China appears to be incoherently pursuing all three strategies, with varying rates of success. But one thing is clear – China’s decisions on how it addresses its coming post-peak future will impact regional and global political and energy security for the foreseeable future. The study was published on 19 September by Springer’s peer-reviewed Petroleum Science journal, which is supported by China’s three major oil corporations, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), China Petroleum Corporation (Sinopec), and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).

Since 1978, China has experienced an average annual economic growth rate of 9.8%, and is now the world’s second largest economy after the United States. The new study points out, however, that this economic growth has been enabled by “high energy consumption.” In the same period of meteoric economic growth, China’s total energy consumption has grown on average by 5.8% annually, mostly from fossil fuels. In 2014, oil, gas and coal accounted for fully 90% of China’s total energy consumption, with the remainder supplied from renewable energy sources. After 2018, however, China’s oil production is predicted to begin declining, and the widening supply-demand gap could endanger both China’s energy security and continued economic growth.

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“Zombie companies that would otherwise fail continue to be in business, refinancing at near-zero interest rates in bond markets.”

A Volatility Trap Is Inflating Market Bubbles (BBG)

A number of markets show not only elevated valuations, but also irrational behavior on the part of investors, including a suspension of traditional valuation models, an increase in trading volumes or “flipping” in the hopes of quick gains, and financial engineering. Potential bubbles can be found in emerging-market debt, technology stocks, U.S. high yield bonds, some sovereign debt, cryptocurrencies, properties — even art and collectibles. It is becoming clearer to economists and central bankers that even though we may be experiencing a long phase of growth, stretching the cycle with monetary stimulus inspired by crisis-era toolkits may be bringing several collateral effects. These include not only asset bubbles, but also a worsening of wealth inequality and a misallocation of resources.

Persistent low interest rates in the past have helped to roll forward an increasing amount of private and public debt to future generations, but this is no longer working. Economic fundamentals are different from the post-war period. Technology is deflationary. Demographics are no longer a tailwind, as there are fewer young people able to carry a higher debt burden in the future. The generation of so-called millennials is the first that will likely be poorer than their parents in the post-war period. Productivity is low as the economy suffers from hysteresis: a financial boom-bust cycle that can leave large swathes of the workforce out of the job market. The longer the debt cycle, the longer companies and workers develop business and skills in leverage-heavy sectors (e.g. finance, real estate, energy), the deeper the scars when the bust comes.

Often the misallocation is so large that low rates are necessary to keep people in their jobs: Zombie companies that would otherwise fail continue to be in business, refinancing at near-zero interest rates in bond markets.

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Xi will need drastic measures to tackle the debt disaster. But it may well be too late already.

China Is In ‘Lock-down’ Ahead Of Its Most Important Meeting In Years (CNBC)

Although the Chinese will head back to work and school on Monday, their country is expected to remain in a holding pattern ahead of a pivotal Communist Party Congress set to start later this month. “Commentators and markets rightly assume that the authorities are consumed by this transition and that all other policy matters are on the back-burner or in lock-down until after the Congress,” Freya Beamish, Pantheon Macroeconomics’ chief Asia economist, wrote in a recent note. The once-in-five-years meeting will usher in leadership changes that are likely to see incumbent President Xi Jinping extend his term and consolidate power. The coming years of Xi rule will be critical for the world’s second-largest economy as it grapples with the fallout from three decades of unbridled growth.

As Xi — the most powerful Chinese leader in decades — embarks on a new era, the meeting will review “faulty” outcomes from the economic reforms and review if China needs a new direction, said independent economist, Andy Xie. China undertook a series of market reforms in the last three decades that propelled the Communist country to the spot of the world’s second largest economy. Market watchers, however, are concerned about the nation’s debt-fueled growth, industrial overcapacity and capital outflows that may potentially spur a global economic crisis. The Communist Party has been working to steer outbound merger and acquisition activities over the last year, but major initiatives have slowed ahead of the Congress. That push is likely to pick up again in the fourth quarter, said Chunshek Chan, Dealogic’s global M&A research head.

No matter the macroeconomic concerns, the only thing on Beijing’s mind at this time is consolidating power in the country, Xie said: “It’s much more important now to strengthen the control of the Communist Party than anything else.” “The key is to have the Communist Party as a coherent organization to control everything in the society — that seems to be the case. The people at the top worry about the stability. Stability is always number one in China,” added Xie.

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“What are they going to do if bitcoin drops for a given client and they’ve given that client a ton of leverage on margin, and that client only has assets in bitcoin?”

Bitcoin’s Rise Happened in Shadows of Finance. Now Banks Want In (BBG)

At first, bitcoin was a way to make payments without banks. Now, with more than $100 billion stashed in digital currencies, banks are debating whether and how to get in on the action. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein tweeted Tuesday that his firm is examining the cryptocurrency. Other global investment banks are looking into facilitating trades of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, according to industry consultants. Bitcoin has surged more than 300 percent this year, drawing the attention of hedge funds and wealthy individuals. “They’re clearly receiving interest from their clients, both from retail investors and on the institutional side,” said Axel Pierron, managing director of bank consultant Opimas. “It’s highly volatile, it’s highly illiquid when you need to trade large volumes, so they see the opportunity for a new asset class which would require the capability of a broker-dealer.”

But bitcoin presents Wall Street with a conundrum: How do banks that are required by law to prevent money-laundering handle a currency that’s not issued by a government and that keeps its users anonymous? The debate has played out in the open recently, with JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink saying that bitcoin was mostly used by criminals, while Morgan Stanley chief James Gorman took a more measured stance, saying it was “more than just a fad.” On Wednesday, UBS Chairman Axel Weber, a former president of Germany’s central bank, said he was skeptical about bitcoin’s future because “it’s not secured by underlying assets.” There’s even tension within some banks. On the same day Dimon trashed bitcoin, calling it a “fraud,” his firm’s private bank hosted a panel stocked with cryptocurrency investors.

Handling bitcoin would invite scrutiny from every major U.S. regulator, according to Joshua Satten, director of emerging technologies at Sapient Consulting. “From the perspective of the U.S. Treasury, do you classify it as an asset class or a currency?” Satten said. “If banks are starting to manage and hold bitcoin for their clients, you would have the OCC and the FDIC looking at how they classify the assets on their balance sheet and how they state the assets for the portfolio of a client.” And banks need to avoid antagonizing governments that are increasingly concerned about this area. For instance, China is cracking down by shutting cryptocurrency exchanges. Then there’s the risk that stems from its high volatility and lack of correlation to other major assets. “What are they going to do if bitcoin drops for a given client and they’ve given that client a ton of leverage on margin, and that client only has assets in bitcoin?” Satten said.

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Greed.

HSBC Traders Used Code Words to Trigger Front-Running (BBG)

A group of HSBC currency traders in London and New York feverishly jumped ahead of a $3.5 billion client order after they were tipped off using the code words “my watch is off,” a U.S. prosecutor told a federal judge. The buying frenzy was launched after Mark Johnson, HSBC’s former global head of foreign exchange who the bank chose to lead the transaction, alerted the traders via phone call that was recorded, the prosecutor said Thursday in Brooklyn, New York. Johnson is on trial for fraud. After the trial recessed for the day, prosecutor Carol Sipperly told U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis that the government wants the jury to hear the recordings on Friday, in which Johnson can be heard tipping off a trader in Hong Kong, a signal that she said eventually reached others on both sides of the Atlantic.

Prosecutors say Johnson and Stuart Scott, the bank’s former head of currency trading in Europe, along with these other traders, bought pounds before the transaction, collectively making the bank $8 million in illicit profit. Sipperly said the call involved Johnson, who was in New York that day, speaking to Scott who was in London, just before the Dec. 7, 2011, transaction for its client, Cairn Energy. “We actually have Mark Johnson telling Stuart Scott ‘Tell Ed my watch will be off,’” she said. “We have communications where the word ‘watch’ is used, and then within seconds, 20 seconds of ‘my watch is off,’ we have all that trading that’s been described. The word is instrumental in getting the information to the traders when it comes to their early front-running trades.”

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Things are getting messy.

US Rounds On Britain Over Food Quotas As Post-Brexit Trade Woes Deepen (Pol.)

The U.S. and other international trade heavyweights have dashed Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of a smooth Brexit by rejecting one of her core plans for reintegrating into global trade networks. Washington’s slap-down of Britain is the second big trade reality check for May in less than a fortnight. Only last week, the U.K.’s increasingly fragile position in trade disputes was exposed by the country’s inability to prevent new, ultra-high tariffs from the U.S. that could hit thousands of jobs in a plane factory in Northern Ireland. In a fast-developing second trade spat, Washington has teamed up with Brazil, Argentina, Canada, New Zealand, Uruguay and Thailand to reject Britain’s proposed import arrangements for crucial agricultural goods such as meat, sugar and grains after Brexit.

The fact that the U.K.’s opponents include the U.S., Canada and New Zealand is a significant setback because Britain is trying to style its former colonies as natural strategic and commercial allies after it has quit the EU. Since August, Britain and the EU have repeatedly insisted that they had reached an agreement on the terms under which Britain would buy in food from around the world after Brexit. Brussels currently negotiates all these quotas and tariffs on behalf of Britain and the 27 other EU countries jointly, but London will need to take independent control of these policies from March 2019. That creates a dilemma over how to divide up the EU’s current quota arrangements with other countries — agreed at the World Trade Organization — between the U.K. and the remaining 27. These tariff-rate quotas allow countries outside the EU to export certain goods into the bloc with reduced duties, but only up to a maximum limit.

The argument from Britain and the EU is that the rest of the world will be “no worse off” after Brexit — a key legal defense in trade disputes — if the EU’s quotas are simply reduced, and Britain takes a share of them. British Trade Minister Liam Fox told POLITICO in an interview that Britain had agreed to take a portion of the EU’s quotas based on the U.K.’s average consumption over the last three years. America and the six other big food exporters, however, wrote an unusually sharply worded letter of complaint dated September 26 to the U.K. and EU representatives at the World Trade Organization over the terms of such an arrangement. “We cannot accept such an agreement,” reads the letter, seen by POLITICO. The seven countries dispute the legal defense that the proposed post-Brexit arrangement would leave them “no worse off.”

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Transporting oil across thousands of miles just so you can sell it to Europe. Insane.

Few Tears Are Being Shed In Quebec Over The Energy East Pipeline’s Demise (BBG)

TransCanada had applied to build Energy East three years ago, seeking to open access for Western Canadian oil producers to the Atlantic Ocean for exports to Europe. It faced intense opposition in Quebec, where Premier Philippe Couillard said the C$15.7 billion ($12.5 billion) line posed a significant risk to its freshwater resources. Quebec has long required that TransCanada meet seven conditions before allowing construction of the pipeline. Among other demands, Quebec insisted that the project be subject to an environmental assessment and that TransCanada must guarantee an emergency plan in case of a spill, consult with communities including aboriginal groups along the route and ensure the project doesn’t reduce the province’s gas supply. Last month, TransCanada asked Canadian regulators for a 30-day suspension on its applications for the Energy East and Eastern Mainline projects, adding to doubt about the future of two major pipelines that the nation’s energy producers had hoped for.

The latest delay meant the writing was on the wall, Quebec Energy and Natural Resources Minister Pierre Arcand said Thursday. “We’re not the promoters of the project. The promoter made a commercial decision,” Arcand told reporters at the provincial legislature. “When they decided to suspend the project about one month ago, I thought we were inevitably going to go toward this decision.” Energy East “was supposed to cross more than 700 bodies of water,” Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel said separately in Quebec City. “This is a project that raised a lot of questions. We were still in the process of getting answers to our questions” from the company, he said. TransCanada’s decision “is great news,” Jean-Francois Lisée, head of the separatist Parti Quebecois, the official opposition in the provincial legislature, said in Quebec City. “Quebec’s territorial integrity is no longer threatened.”

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Feels like the Middle Ages.

Onshore Fracking To Begin In UK ‘Within Weeks’ (Ind.)

Fracking for shale gas will begin in the UK within weeks, the company undertaking it for the first time has announced. Third Energy said it plans to complete five fracks in North Yorkshire before the end of 2017. The controversial technique involves injecting liquid into underground rock at high pressures in order to create cracks that release trapped gas. This is then collected and used to generate electricity. Fracking has been vocally opposed by environmental campaigners but permits to use the technique have been approved by government ministers. Alan Linn, Third Energy’s technical director, said the final sign-off needed for fracking to begin was ‘imminent’.

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Vote count to be published today?!

Catalan Separatists Squeezed Further as Spain Tightens Its Grip (BBG)

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy convenes his cabinet on Friday as the financial and political squeeze on the separatist government in Catalonia tightens. After a week of political drama that rocked financial markets, Rajoy will meet with his ministers in Madrid as events 600 kilometers (370 miles) to the northeast in the Catalan capital Barcelona threaten to spiral still further out of control. The region’s president, Carles Puigdemont, risks economic damage and European isolation if he pushes ahead with plans to declare Catalan independence based on a referendum that breached Spain’s constitution. CaixaBank, the symbol of the region’s financial strength, may follow Banc Sabadell in abandoning Catalonia when its board meets Friday.

For his part, Rajoy and his minority government will be loathe to risk a repeat of Sunday’s scenes of police beating peaceful voters that drew international condemnation and inflamed the separatist cause. With options to quell an increasingly bitter constitutional dispute fast running out, events may come to a head on Monday. That’s when Puigdemont had sought to evaluate the result of the independence vote at a session of the regional parliament – until it was suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court. That means Rajoy may again have to send in the police to enforce a court ruling, and Puigdemont must decide if he’s ready to again defy the law. “There will be some formula for the Catalan Parliament to convene and hold its meeting as planned,” Jordi Sanchez, who heads the most powerful group among the separatists, known as the Catalan National Assembly, said in an interview in Barcelona. “There will be a plenary session.”

As anti-independence organizers plan rallies for this weekend in Madrid and in Barcelona, Catalan separatist are seeking to avoid an immediate declaration of independence. There’s a divide in the movement’s leadership, with most leaders keen to delay that leap into the unknown to create more time for a negotiated settlement, according to two people familiar with their plans. Puigdemont’s mainstream separatist group is concerned that a move toward independence would send the economy into a tailspin, the people said. But following Sunday’s illegal referendum on secession – which the regional government said won the support of 90%t of 2.3 million voters – hardliners from the anarchist party CUP are demanding a quick break with Spain.

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What a surprise. Apple is an Uber investor.

Apple Gave Uber ‘Unprecedented’ Access To Secret iPhone Backdoor (BI)

Uber’s iPhone app has a secret backdoor to powerful Apple features, allowing the ride-hailing service to potentially record a user’s screen and access other personal information without their knowledge. The existence of Uber’s access to special iPhone functions is not disclosed in any consumer-facing information included with Uber’s app, despite giving the company direct access to features so powerful that Apple almost always keeps them off limits to outside companies. Although there is no evidence that Uber used this access to take advantage of the iPhone features, the revelation of the app’s access to privileged Apple code raises important questions for a company already under investigation for a variety of controversial business practices.

Uber told Business Insider the code was not currently being used and was essentially a vestige from an earlier version of its Apple Watch app, but it set off alarm bells among experts. “Granting such a sensitive entitlement to a third-party is unprecedented as far as I can tell, no other app developers have been able to convince Apple to grant them entitlements they’ve needed to let their apps utilize certain privileged system functionality,” Will Strafach, a security researcher who discovered the situation, told Business Insider. [..] Apple became an Uber investor through its investment in Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing. In 2016, Didi merged with Uber’s Chinese subsidiary.

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It ain’t over.

Tropical Storm Nate Kills 22 In Central America, Heads For US (R.)

Tropical Storm Nate has killed at least 22 people in Central America as it battered the region with heavy rain while heading toward Mexico’s Caribbean resorts and the US Gulf Coast where it could strike as a hurricane this weekend. Several offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico were evacuated and others had shut production ahead of the storm. In Nicaragua, at least 11 people died, seven others were reported missing and thousands had to evacuate homes because of flooding, according to the country’s vice president, Rosario Murillo. Emergency officials in Costa Rica reported that at least eight people were had been killed, including two children. Another 17 people were missing, while more than 7,000 had to take refuge from Nate in shelters.

Two youths also drowned in Honduras due to the sudden swell in a river, while a man was killed in a mud slide in El Salvador and another person was missing, emergency services said. “Sometimes we think we think we can cross a river and the hardest thing to understand is that we must wait,” Nicaragua’s Murillo told state radio, warning people to avoid dangerous waters. “It’s better to be late than not to get there at all.“ Costa Rica’s government declared a state of emergency, closing schools and all other non-essential services. Highways in the country were closed due to mud slides and power outages were also reported in parts of country, where more than 3,500 police were deployed. The National Hurricane Centre said Nate could produce as much as 51 cm (20 inches) in some areas of Nicaragua, where schools were also closed. Nate is predicted to strengthen into a Category 1 hurricane by the time it hits the US Gulf Coast on Sunday, NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.

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Slow motion mass suicide.

Pesticides That Pose Threat To Humans And Bees Found In Honey (Ind.)

Three-quarters of the honey produced around the world contains nerve agent pesticides that can harm bees and pose a potential health hazard to humans, a study has shown. Scientists who tested 198 honey samples from every continent except Antarctica discovered that 75% were laced with at least one of the neonicotinoid chemicals. More than two-fifths contained two or more varieties of the pesticides and 10% held residues from four or five. Environmental campaigners responded by demanding a “complete and permanent” ban preventing any further use of neonicotinoids on farm crops in Europe. Experts called the findings “alarming”, “sobering” and a “serious environmental concern” while stressing that the pesticide residue levels found in honey generally fell well below the safe limits for human consumption.

However, one leading British scientist warned that it was impossible to predict what the long term effects of consuming honey containing tiny amounts of the chemicals might be. Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, said: “Beyond doubt … anyone regularly eating honey is likely to be getting a small dose of mixed neurotoxins. “In terms of acute toxicity, this certainly won’t kill them and is unlikely to do measurable harm. What we don’t know is whether there are long-term, chronic effects from life-time exposure to a cocktail of these and other pesticides in our honey and most other foods.”

[..] The new research published in the journal Science could not have come at a more sensitive time in Europe. EC policymakers are right now discussing whether to make the ban permanent and more wide ranging. A total ban would have a huge impact on cereal growers in the UK. For the study, an international team of European researchers tested almost 200 honey samples from around the world for residues left by five different neonicotinoids. [..] While in most cases the levels were well below the EU safety limits for human consumption, there were exceptions. Honey from both Germany and Poland exceeded maximum residue levels (MRLs) for combined neonicotinoids while samples from Japan reached 45% of the limits.

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“This commitment is not a sacrifice, it is an investment in the certainty and stability of our children’s future..”

“..the palm-dotted island’s name in the local language means “Behold, the Coconut”..

Tiny Pacific Island Nation Of Niue Creates Huge Marine Sanctuary (AFP)

The tiny Pacific island nation of Niue on Friday announced the creation of a huge marine sanctuary, saying it wanted to stop overfishing and preserve the environment for future generations. While Niue’s landmass is only 260 square kilometres (100 square miles), its remote location about 2,400 kilometres northeast of New Zealand means it lays claim to vast tracts of ocean. The government said that 40% of its exclusive economic zone, about 127,000 square kilometres representing an area roughly the size of Greece, would be set aside for the marine sanctuary. Premier Toke Talagi said his government wanted to stop the depletion of fish stocks and give the ocean space to heal to protect the environment for the next generation.

“This commitment is not a sacrifice, it is an investment in the certainty and stability of our children’s future,” he said. “We simply cannot be the generation of leaders who have taken more than they have given to this planet and left behind a debt that our children cannot pay.” Known locally as “The Rock”, Niue was settled by Polynesian seafarers more than 1,000 years ago and the palm-dotted island’s name in the local language means “behold, the coconut”. The British explorer captain James Cook tried to land there three times in 1774 but was deterred by fearsome warriors, eventually giving up to set sail for more welcoming shores and naming Niue “Savage Island”.

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