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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
New U.S. single-family home sales rose in May and the median sales price surged to an all-time high, suggesting the housing market had regained momentum. The Commerce Department said on Friday new home sales increased 2.9% to a seasonally adjusted rate of 610,000 units last month. April’s sales pace was also revised sharply higher to 593,000 units from 569,000 units. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast new home sales, which make up about 10% of all home sales, rising 5.4% to a pace of 597,000 units last month. Sales were up 8.9% on a year-on-year basis in May.
“While the data quality of the new home sales report is notoriously poor, the general picture from this report and the existing home sales report is one of solid housing demand in the important spring selling season,” said Michael Feroli, an economist with J.P. Morgan. The housing market has been bolstered by continued strong job growth. The unemployment rate fell to a 16-year low of 4.3% in May and mortgage rates are still favorable by historical standards. However, an increase in the cost of building materials and shortages of lots and labor have crimped homebuilding. With demand outstripping supply, house prices remain elevated. The median house price rose to a record high of $345,800 in May, from $310,200 in the prior month. The average sales price last month was $406,400, also a record high.
Property prices in affordable areas are expected to jump “overnight” on the back of changes to first-home buyer stamp duty concessions starting in July, experts say. Strategic vendors in these locations are holding off accepting offers until next month to take advantage of the expected surge in demand. First-home buyers in NSW are set to save up to $24,740 with stamp duty concessions for homes up to $800,000 and a full exemption for homes under $650,000. Among those anticipating they will benefit from the changes is Quakers Hill home owner Bhugol Kansakar who bought his house for $611,000 in March 2015 – then a first-home buyer himself. Since May his three-bedroom home at 9 Nyngan Street has been on the market for $730,000 to $760,000. “We’ve had offers around $720,000 to $730,000 … we’re holding out until next month as stamp duty will be off for the first-home buyers,” Mr Kansakar said.
In this price bracket, first-home buyers would get a partial exemption from July. “It is a big block of land, three-bedrooms, perfect for a first home.” He anticipates he will be likely to get $760,000 or more for the home when the new rules come in. And he’s far from the only one anticipating he’ll get a premium, his sales agent Raine & Horne Blacktown business development manager Edwin Almeida said. About 40% of inquiries on homes he had listed across the Blacktown Council area priced under $750,000 were first-home buyers asking if they could formally exchange next month. He expects local prices would jump by $20,000 to $40,000. “Easy money does not make the market more accessible for first-home buyers. It just means vendors and developers will increase the price of property to meet demand,” Mr Almeida said.
Two pieces from a PDF by “The International Economy” site, entitled: “Has the World Been Fitted With a Debt Straightjacket? Nearly forty distinguished experts offer their wisdom”. Click the link to see all.
T he world has been fitted with not just one but two debt straightjackets: one made of public debt and the other of private debt. The situation in the United States is typical. The total U.S. debt level at the end of World War II was equivalent to 130% of GDP, with public debt being three-quarters of the total and private debt one-quarter. Today, it is 250% of GDP, with public debt being two-fifths of the total and private debt three-fifths. But there is a simple trick that could let the United States, like Harry Houdini, magically escape from one of these two straightjackets in a flash. Like any magic act, it’s ruined by the telling: despite all the political hand-wringing over the burden the public debt imposes on future generations, public debt could be eliminated by the stroke of a proverbial pen, for two simple reasons.
First, this debt is exclusively in U.S. dollars; second, the government is the only institution in the nation that “owns its own bank,” the Federal Reserve, which can create U.S. dollars at will. The Fed could buy up—and effectively cancel—this debt overnight. You might not like this trick, but it’s both possible and perfectly legal. That leaves the second straightjacket: private debt. Here Houdini’s escape is not possible, because if any individual tried to do what the U.S. government can do, that person would be gaoled for counterfeiting. All U.S. private debt is, like public debt, owed in U.S. dollars; but only the U.S. government has the privilege of owning its own bank. For the private sector, it’s effectively the banks that own the debtors. But paradoxically, most economists obsess about the public debt trap and ignore the private debt one.
Why? Because they believe that banks do not originate loans, but instead act as “intermediaries” between savers and borrowers. Therefore, they say, private debt doesn’t matter, because if the debtor can’t spend, the lender can, and vice versa. They therefore believe that the level of private debt, and its rate of growth or decline, are economically irrelevant. They can’t see a private straightjacket. Several central banks have recently loudly declared that this model is nonsense—including Germany’s ultraconservative Bundesbank. Banks are not “intermediaries of debt” but originators. They don’t lend pre-existing money, but create money when they make an entry in the borrower’s deposit account, which is matched precisely by an entry in the borrower’s debt account.
Since debtors borrow to spend, rising private debt boosts demand while falling debt reduces it. Demand in the United States was therefore boosted substantially as private debt rose almost fivefold from 1945 until 2008. Now demand from credit is stagnant and as likely to subtract from demand as add to it. So private debt is the real straightjacket constraining the economy. But with mainstream economists ignoring it and fretting about government debt, the U.S. economy is likely to remain in its debt straightjacket indefinitely. As the public has started to realize since the 2008 crisis took them by surprise, mainstream economists are inept magicians.
Can Japan withstand the return to conventional monetary policy? The Bank of Japan has been conducting an unconventional monetary policy for almost two decades, drastically strengthening this policy since Governor Kuroda took office in 2013. As public debt accumulated to 250% of GDP and due to the massive holdings of Japanese Government bonds by the Japanese banking sector, some argue that Japan cannot withstand the return to conventional monetary policy. Here are my points of view: First, let us consider the impact of interest rates hikes on public finances. Many analysts argue that this move would be destructive to public finances due to increased interest payments. There is a point, however, almost all analysts neglect. When interest rates on the JGB rise, the rates on savings and deposits also rise.
As 20% of the interest income is withheld at source, the incremental tax revenue would offset to a great deal the increasing cost of the debt service to be paid by the government. Although the damage caused by the shift in monetary policy on the budget balance would be limited, the fiscal situation of Japan would become increasingly serious with a sustained lack of fiscal discipline. Japanese public finances seem to be on a path to breakdown and the Bank of Japan’s policy to purchase Japanese government bonds up to an amount equal to 80% of new issuances looks more and more like the monetization of the budget deficit. Next, let us see the impact on the banking sector. Two decades of unconventional monetary policy have been squeezing the banks’ profit margins through the extreme flattening of the yield curve.
From this view point, the return to conventional monetary policy is good news for the Japanese banking sector in the long run. On the other hand, in the short and medium terms, this would represent the harshest challenge for banks due to massive valuation losses on their bond holdings. According to the Bank of Japan’s survey, a 1 percentage point rise of interest rates on bonds would cause a loss of US$20 billion for mega-banks, US$25 billion for regional banks, and US$19 billion for credit unions. While the U.S. Federal Reserve is firmly committed toward exit and as the European Central Bank seems to be quietly probing a future exit strategy, where is the Bank of Japan going? If it continues to maintain zero or negative interest rates, current profits of the banking sector would be further squeezed.
If it starts to take steps toward conventional monetary policy, the banking sector would face serious valuation losses. Either way, the future prospects for Japanese banks look like hell. We will probably witness a clear distinction between two groups of banks: those who manage their business based on foresight and those who don’t. And we would see a deep reshuffle in the banking sector along with the exit process from the unconventional monetary policy of the Bank of Japan.
The Italian government looks set to put Veneto Banca and Banca Popolare di Vicenza, two troubled regional lenders, into liquidation, selling off the good assets to a rival bank for a symbolic price. The toxic assets would be transferred to a bad bank, mostly funded by the government. Shareholders and junior bond-holders would contribute to the rescue, while senior creditors would be spared. The rival bank, Intesa Sanpaolo, would be getting a great deal for little risk. But for the Italian taxpayer, and the credibility of euro zone financial regulation, the plan is a loser and should be stopped. The Italian scheme is radically different from the one put in place two weeks ago, when the Spanish lender Banco Santander bought Banco Popular for one euro. In that case Santander also acquired Popular’s non-performing loans as well as all the future legal risks.
It also immediately went to the markets to raise capital to pay for it. Here, Intesa will only pick the assets it wants and insists that the operation not impact its capital ratio. This plan is a slap in the face of Italian taxpayers, who according to some estimates could end up paying around €10 billion ($11.1) for it. The government could have taken a less expensive route, involving the “bail in” of senior bondholders. It chose not to: Many of these instruments are in the hands of retail investors, who bought them without being fully aware of the risks involved. The government wants to avoid a political backlash and the risk of contagion spreading across the system. However, €10 billion is a whale of a premium to pay as an insurance against a contagion. And Rome may still face a backlash – from taxpayers who will feel defrauded.
Most importantly, this plan is a dagger in the heart of the euro zone banking union. This was one of Europe’s main responses to the sovereign debt crisis, designed to limit the contribution of taxpayers to bank rescues and to ensure all euro zone lenders faced a coherent set of rules. Italy is relying for its plan on its domestic liquidation regime. Rome will effectively by-pass the EU’s “single resolution board” which is supposed to handle bank failures in an orderly way and the “Banking Recovery and Resolution Directive,” which should act as the euro zone’s single rulebook. The advantage will be to spare senior bondholders but the cost will be huge: denting, perhaps irreversibly, the credibility of Europe’s newly formed institutions.
When banks fail and regulators decide to liquidate them, it happens on Friday evening so that there is a weekend to clean up the mess. And this is what happened in Italy – with two banks! It’s over for the two banks that have been prominent zombies in the Italian banking crisis: Veneto Banca and Banca Popolare di Vicenza, in northeastern Italy. The banks have combined assets of €60 billion, a good part of which are toxic and no one wanted to touch them. They already received a bailout but more would have been required, and given the uncertainty and the messiness of their books, nothing was forthcoming, and the ECB which regulates them lost its patience. In a tersely worded statement, the ECB’s office of Banking Supervision ordered the banks to be wound up because they “were failing or likely to fail as the two banks repeatedly breached supervisory capital requirements.”
“Failing or likely to fail” is the key phrase that banking supervisors use for banks that “should be put in resolution or wound up under normal insolvency proceedings,” the statement said. This is the first Italian bank liquidation under Europe’s new Single Resolution Mechanism Regulation. The ECB explained: “The ECB had given the banks time to present capital plans, but the banks had been unable to offer credible solutions going forward. Consequently, the ECB deemed that both banks were failing or likely to fail and duly informed the Single Resolution Board (SRB), which concluded that the conditions for a resolution action in relation to the two banks had not been met. The banks will be wound up under Italian insolvency procedures.”
[..] nothing worked. Private sector money stayed away in droves. JP Morgan, which had been recruited to save the Italian banks, threw in the towel. These banks had been zombies for too long. Everybody knew it. But the government kept denying it. Just weeks ago, Italy’s Minister of Economy Pier Carlo Padoan insisted that the two banks would not be wound down. Last year, to dispel the mountain of evidence to the contrary, he insisted that that there would be no need of any future bail outs; and that, furthermore, Italy did not even have a banking problem. In early June, the two banks were instructed by the European Commission to raise an additional €1.25 billion in private capital. No one bit. Italy’s government then tried to persuade the European Commission and the ECB to water down the requirement to €600-800 million, and it urged Italian banks to chip in to the bank rescue fund. All that failed.
Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel used the French president’s first Brussels summit Friday to deliver an unmistakeable message: their countries intend to lead the EU’s post-Brexit revival. The Franco-German power couple held an unusual joint press conference after meeting their 26 European Union counterparts, against a backdrop of their respective flags and the bloc’s blue banner with yellow stars. “When France and Germany speak with one voice, Europe can move forward,” newcomer Macron told a room almost filled to bursting point with reporters as he stood alongside the German chancellor. “There can be no pertinent solution if it is not a pertinent solution for France and Germany,” the 39-year-old centre-right leader.
Despite her more pragmatic tone, the message from 62-year-old Merkel was the same. “This press conference shows that we are resolved to jointly find solutions to problems,” she said. The joint press conference came exactly a year after Britain’s shock referendum vote to become the first country to leave the European Union, which prompted dire predictions of the break-up of the bloc. But Europe has jumped on the bandwagon of Macron’s stunning election victory over French far-right leader Marine Le Pen to trumpet a newfound optimism after years of austerity and crisis despite Brexit. At the heart of that is the idea that Macron may be able to repair the traditional “engine” behind European integration – the post-war alliance of Paris and Berlin after centuries of conflict.
British people were “endlessly lied to and deceived” in last year’s Brexit referendum campaign, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Friday. Speaking in Berlin on the first anniversary of the Brexit vote, Schaeuble was scathing about the “leave” campaigners who persuaded a majority of voters to opt to quit the EU. “The Britons were endlessly lied to and deceived,” Schaeuble told a conference of family-run companies. When the Brexit campaigners “happened to be successful, the ones who did it ran away because they said they can’t take responsibility”. The two sides in Britain’s referendum campaign swapped bitter accusations they were making misleading or untrue statements, such as the claim that leaving the EU would free up large sums for public health spending.
In the days after the vote, Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum, resigned, and several prominent leave campaigners dropped out of the race to succeed him. Schaeuble said the 70 years of growth and prosperity Europe had known since World War Two was not based on pure majoritarianism but on sustainable democratic models. “(We need) not just mechanisms that consist of my promising something to a majority,” he said. “Then you only have to look at the demographics to see that you’ll end up with endless debates about redistribution that lead to jealousy.”
MPs from all parties are already planning an alliance to defeat Theresa May’s plans for a hard Brexit, just days into the new Parliament. Strategies to amend future legislation – including a key immigration bill – to force ministers to listen to business groups and to show the EU that Parliament wants a “softer” exit are being drawn up, The Independent has learned. One Conservative MP said the aim was to give confidence to “bullied” ministers who are reluctant to “speak out”, despite sharing the view that the Prime Minister’s plans put Britain on the road to disaster. Another MP outlined the importance of convincing Brussels that Parliament can “coordinate” to present a different, more EU-friendly policy to that of the Government. “It would really show how power has shifted if Parliament can coordinate itself – and that’s not impossible,” the MP said.
Pro-EU Tory Anna Soubry told The Independent: “We are talking to each other and will continue to talk to each other – this is something that transcends normal party political considerations. “It doesn’t have to be about forcing votes, but it may come to that. Certainly, the threat of losing a vote will weigh very heavily on the Government’s mind.” Another MP spoke of giving voice to changing public opinion, amid the first evidence that some people who voted Leave a year ago are changing their minds. Ms Soubry added: “I am up for working with everybody. Hopefully something concrete will come out of it, because this is the most important thing that’s been done in decades.” She said she was in contact with some of the 34 Labour MPs who, this week, challenged Jeremy Corbyn to change course by fighting to stay in the single market.
Jeremy Corbyn has said he will look to “force an early general election” after claiming it was “ludicrous” to suggest Theresa May could stay in power. The Labour leader made the claim before speaking at Unison’s annual conference in Brighton and also added he was pleased with the party’s recent surge in opinion polls. Mr Corbyn’s approval rating has been on the rise since the general election and it appears he will now attempt to pile pressure on the Prime Minister. “Mrs May called the election so not to have a coalition of chaos, but that is exactly what we have got, they don’t seem to have come to an agreement with the DUP two weeks after the election,” Mr Corbyn told the Daily Mirror. “We will challenge this Government at every step and try to force an early general election.”
Theresa May single-handedly blocked a plan to immediately guarantee the future rights of the 3m EU citizens in the UK last summer, George Osborne has revealed. The then-Home Secretary was the only member of the Cabinet to oppose David Cameron, who “wanted to reassure EU citizens they would be allowed to stay”, after Brexit. “All his Cabinet agreed with that unilateral offer, except his Home Secretary, Mrs May, who insisted on blocking it,” revealed the Evening Standard, now edited by Mr Osborne. The proposal was discussed “in the days immediately after the referendum” exactly one year ago, said the newspaper. Ms May has denied the accusation and said that “was certainly not my recollection” of events. But Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman, said: “It is a badge of shame that Theresa May blocked attempts to guarantee the rights of EU nationals after the referendum.
“It shows how cold and heartless she is. “Now that mean-spirited decision is coming back to haunt her as we see an exodus of skilled EU workers, from nurses to academics.” The revelation comes after EU citizens in the UK protested that Ms May’s “generous” offer – outlined last night – will leave them with less rights after Brexit than “British jam”. The Prime Minister’s proposals also ran into trouble from other EU leaders who warned of “open questions” and a “long, long way to go” before agreement. Ms May was forced to defend her position and said she wants to give EU citizens in the UK “certainty” but the details of the arrangement would be outlined during the negotiation process. Since reaching No 10, Ms May has faced down pleas to act unilaterally, insisting she would only offer guarantees to EU citizens if British ex-pats in the EU were given the same protection.
As any market veteran can tell you, those on the sell-side are the second-to-last to concede to a slowdown in economic activity. It’s unseemly to make negative calls when a firm’s main objective is keeping its clients fully invested in risky assets; the two aims naturally conflict. Hence the surprise when Bank of America Merrill Lynch said autos are headed for a “decisive downturn” that will trough in 2021 at around a 13-million-unit annualized rate, down from last year’s blistering record 17.6 million. A week earlier, Morgan Stanley, whose numbers are not quite as grim, also reduced its sales forecast, recognizing that the best days of the cycle have come and gone. The U.S. economy is consumption-centric. Growth in the current recovery has centered on three industries that have fed through to consumption in its various forms – autos, energy and financial services.
There’s something almost poetic in finance’s re-emergence, especially for those on Wall Street who’ve profited smartly from unprecedented levels of deal flow. Have a debt problem? Solve it with more debt. And why not? This system has worked for generations; insatiable demand for debt is why interest rates have staged their historic decline. Debt lit the fire that ignited the shale revolution. Debt put a floor under and then helped commercial real estate reach for the skies. Debt kept dying retailers alive. And debt made easier back-to-back years of record car sales. The question so many bullish economists must answer is what debt can do for the economy in the future. Much to the Saudis’ dismay, the energy industry is as lean and mean as it’s ever been; operating efficiency gains have been magnificent in a do-or-die environment. Energy is growth neutral going forward.
[..] It’s all good and well that strained industries want to extract what value remains from their CRE exposure as part of their exit strategies. But this only works in isolation. If motivated sellers move in tandem, you can bet teetering CRE valuations will be among the casualties, taking many over-exposed mid-size and small banks down with them. Call it a confluence of factors that bodes ill for the economic recovery, even as optimists hope the growth streak can stretch into a 10th year. By the way, leading the optimists’ charge is the Federal Reserve itself. Central bank policy makers’ expectations for future growth indicate the current economic recovery will unseat the record holder, the expansion that finally flamed out in 2001 after enjoying a life of exactly 10 years. But then it is the Fed that’s the very last to capitulate, to say nothing of forecast, a slowdown in economic activity.
Illinois is the perfect example of what happens when your state is run by fiscally irresponsible dunces for decades. The state is buried in debt, and hasn’t passed a budget in over 700 days. 100% of their monthly revenue is being consumed by court ordered payments, and the Illinois Department of Transportation has revealed that they may not be able to pay contractors (who are working on over 700 infrastructure projects) after July 1st if the state doesn’t pass a budget. To top it all off, the state’s credit rating is one step away from junk status, the lowest of any state. Because of these factors, Illinois may become the first state to declare bankruptcy since the Great Depression. Governor Bruce Rauner has gone so far as to call his state a “banana republic.” The state’s comptroller has admitted that “We are in massive crisis mode.”
And a reporter for the Chicago Tribune thinks Illinois has gone so far past the point of no return, that the state should be broken up. He recently wrote what basically sounds like a suicide note for Illinois. “Dissolve Illinois. Decommission the state, tear up the charter, whatever the legal mumbo-jumbo, just end the whole dang thing. We just disappear. With no pain. That’s right. You heard me. The best thing to do is to break Illinois into pieces right now. Just wipe us off the map. Cut us out of America’s heartland and let neighboring states carve us up and take the best chunks for themselves. The group that will scream the loudest is the state’s political class, who did this to us, and the big bond creditors, who are whispering talk of bankruptcy and asset forfeiture to save their own skins. But our beloved Illinois has proved that it just doesn’t deserve to survive.”
So how did it get to this point? The root of the problem is Illinois’ unfunded pension liabilities, which amount to $130 billion. The state’s leaders simply promised what could not be delivered. Most of their employees can retire in their 50’s, and many of them will receive 1-2 million dollars over the course of their retirements. As the debts associated with those pensions reached astronomical levels, the government increased taxes so much that many of the wealthiest and most productive citizens and businesses have moved away, leaving an even smaller tax base to draw from. In short, Illinois is in a death spiral, but it’s not alone. Illinois is merely the canary in the coal mine.
The cost of everything medical is worked out in a private rain-dance between the aforementioned manifold concerned parties on the basis of what they think they can get away with in any particular case. In hospitals, this is enabled by the notorious ChargeMaster system which, to put it as simply as possible, allows hospitals to just make shit up. Any bill in congress that affects to reform the gross financial malfeasance in healthcare ought to start with the absolute requirement to publicly post the cost of everything that doctors and hospitals do, and enable the “service providers” to get paid only those publicly posted costs — obviating the lucrative rain-dance for dividing up the ransoms paid by hostage-patients who come to the “providers,” after all, in extremis. Notice that this crucial feature of the crisis is missing not only from the political debate but also from the supposedly public-interest-minded pages of The New York Times and other organs of the news media.
Perhaps this facet of the problem never entered the editors’ minds — in which case you really have to ask: how dumb are they? (The funniest claim about ObamaCare in today’s New York Times is the statement that 20 million citizens got access to health care under the so-called Affordable Care Act. Really? You mean they got health insurance policies with $8000-deductables, when they don’t even have $500 in savings to pay for car repairs? What planet do The New York Times editorial writers live on?) The corollary questions about deconstructing the insurance armature of the health care racket, and assigning its “duties” to a “single-payer” government agency is, of course, a higher level of debate. I’m not saying it would work, even if it was modeled on one of the systems currently working elsewhere, say in France.
But Americans have acquired an allergy to even thinking about that, or at least they’ve been conditioned to imagine they’re allergic by self-interested politicians. So, the current product of debate in the US Senate is just a scheme for pretending to reapportion the colossal flow of grift among the grifters. Spare yourself the angst of even worrying about the outcome of the current healthcare debate. It’s not going to get “fixed.” The medical system as we know it is going to blow up, and soon, just like the pension systems across the country, and the treasuries of the fifty states themselves, and the rest of the Potemkin US economy.
The U.S.-led coalition’s strikes against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in two Syrian provinces killed 472 civilians in the last month, according to a monitor. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a U.K.-based monitoring group that has an extensive network of contacts on the ground in Syria, said the toll was more than double the month prior and the highest for a single month since raids began in September 2014. In Raqqa province, where the city of the same name is located, coalition strikes killed 250 civilians, including 53 children, SOHR said. In Deir ez-Zor, strikes killed 222 civilians, 84 of which were children. Rami Abdul Rahman, director of SOHR, told the AFP news agency that the total deaths caused by coalition strikes in Syria now amounted to 1,953. Of the deceased, 456 were children and 333 were women.
The coalition continues its bombing campaign in and around the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, the largest under ISIS’s control in the country. It is supporting an Arab-Kurdish alliance waging a ground offensive against ISIS in the de facto capital of its self-declared caliphate that straddles the Iraqi-Syrian border. The coalition says it takes as many precautions as possible within the laws of warfare, but top coalition generals have admitted that civilian deaths are inevitable in the campaign to defeat ISIS. Some 100,000 civilians remain under ISIS control in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, and thousands remain in Raqqa. Human rights groups have criticized the coalition for not exercising enough caution. One case in particular was a March 17 strike in Mosul that killed more than 100 civilians. The coalition investigated the incident and concluded that ISIS had placed booby traps in the building that maximized the damage on impact.
They say that history repeats itself first as a tragedy then as a farce. It’s a commonplace expression that is nevertheless clearly true in crisis-ridden Greece. During the SYRIZA-AnEl coalition’s time in power(especially under the second mandate), even the seasons of the year have come to resemble each other. Winter is a time of tension, harsh disagreement and bluster. Spring is the season for gradual capitulation. May (2016 and 2017) is the month for government betrayal; June for further prerequisites and an “agreement.” The rest of the summer then marks a period of government euphoria, followed by an autumn of initial discussions with an eye to the next set of negotiations. By using what happened over the same span of time in 2016—along with the language of the Third (and “fourth”)Memorandum of Understanding—as a kind of textbook, it’s easy to tell where we are and where we’re headed.
The June 15 Eurogroup joint statement condenses all the results of the most recent set of negotiations. These are the most essential and specific points: “The reform measures cover areas such as pensions, income tax, the labour market as well as the financial and energy sectors. These should make Greece’s medium-term fiscal strategy more robust and support the growth-friendly rebalancing of the economy. The Eurogroup invited Greece together with the institutions and relevant third parties to develop and support a holistic, growth enhancing strategy.”
In this paragraph, the Eurozone Finance Ministers are essentially borrowing a page from 1984. In that legendary novel by George Orwell, war is peace; freedom is enslavement; ignorance is power. For the Eurogroup (as per usual), pension cuts, reductions in tax exemptions, an administration well-disposed to mass lay-offs, and the sale of Public Power Corporation shares all count as positive “reform measures.” Greece’s sentence to a “long-term memorandum,” requiring surpluses of 3.5% until 2022 and a little over 2% until 2060, constitutes “support [of] a holistic, growth enhancing strategy.” “The Eurogroup reconfirmed its approach to the sustainability of Greece’s public debt that was agreed in May 2016, while providing some further detail on the medium-term debt measures that could accrue to Greece. These measures would be implemented after successful completion of the programme, if a new debt sustainability analysis were to confirm that such measures are necessary.”
These two brief paragraphs finalize the results of the multi-month Greek debt negotiations. In short and as is plainly evident, the Greek government gained nothing in terms of its debt, while after months of Eurozone attempts to secure further relief the Eurogroup simply determined that everything decided back in May 2016 still holds. Even the government’s recent expectation that the (highly dangerous) phrase “if necessary” would be removed from the relief-program wording was ultimately frustrated. “The Eurogroup welcomed Greece’s commitment to maintain a primary surplus of 3.5% of GDP until 2022, and a fiscal path consistent with the European fiscal framework thereafter. According to analysis by the European Commission, such compliance would be achieved with a primary surplus of equal to or above but close to 2.0% of GDP in the period of 2023-2060.”
Very much in line with what I’ve been saying. China’s dollar reserves are plunging but its dollar-denominated debt soars. A devaluation looks inevitable, and it has to be big because having to do a second one is the worst of all worlds.
The Institute of International Finance reports that capital outflows swelled to a record $725 billion last year. China’s desperate to keep that capital at home to support the economy. And it’s been burning holes in its dollar reserves to support the yuan. Selling its dollar holdings to buy yuan puts footings under the yuan. Makes it more attractive. Halts the capital flight. But the fire can only burn so long before it torches the remaining reserves… A $2.99 trillion war chest or a $3 trillion war chest sounds like plenty. But as Jim Rickards explained recently, it’s not nearly as much as it sounds: “Of the $3 trillion that China has left, only $1 trillion of that is a liquid. One trillion is invested in hedge funds, private equity funds, gold mines, et cetera. That money is not liquid. It cannot be used to support the currency, so remove a trillion.”
That leaves $2 trillion: “Another trillion has to be held on what’s called a precautionary reserve to bail out their banking system. The Chinese banks are completely insolvent. That system is going to need to be bailed out sooner rather than later.” Scratch another trillion: “That leaves only $1 trillion of the original $4 trillion in liquid form. The problem is that capital flight is continuing at a rate of $1 trillion per year, so China will be devoid of usable liquid assets by late 2017.” So now what? Jim has warned that Trump could soon label China a currency manipulator. That has vast implications, as you’ll see. But it’s not just Mr. Rickards. We learn today that a group of analysts at Deutsche Bank is piping an identical tune:
“Sometime in the next few weeks, President Trump or his Treasury secretary may declare China a currency manipulator and propose penalties including tariffs on some or all imports from China unless it ceases this and other alleged unfair trade policies.” And that would invite Chinese retaliation. Tariffs of their own on American goods. And then… China might reach for the nuclear option — a “maxi-devaluation.” Jim again: “We know what Donald Trump has said. China’s going to be labeled a currency manipulator. That’s like firing the first shot in a major currency war. We could see tariffs imposed in both directions, shots in retaliation, a financial war… China will retaliate with what I call their nuclear option, which is a maxi-devaluation of the Chinese yuan.”
If China’s going to be branded a currency manipulator and have its exports slapped with a steep tariff, why not go ahead and devalue? One, it would make Chinese exports more competitive. Two, China could stop depleting its dollar reserves. It would no longer have to burn through dollars to boost the yuan. And three, it could actually halt the capital outflows. How? Many Chinese fear the government will impose stricter capital controls as the situation worsens. So they move their capital out of the country in advance. That brings greater fear of capital controls. And more incentives for capital flight. It’s a vicious cycle. But if China devalues all at once, say, 25% or 30%, it sends this message: The worst is over. You may as well keep your capital in China. There will be no further devaluation.
Germany posted a record trade surplus in 2016, which may further fuel accusations by the Trump administration that Europe’s largest economy is exploiting a “grossly undervalued” euro. Exports climbed 1.2% last year to 1.2 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion), the Federal Statistics Office in Wiesbaden reported on Thursday, while imports rose 0.6% to 954.6 billion euros. That left Germany’s trade surplus at 253 billion euros in 2016. The report feeds into a debate kicked off late last month by Peter Navarro, the head of the White House National Trade Council, who told the Financial Times that Germany is gaining an unfair advantage over the U.S. and other nations with a weak currency.
ECB President Mario Draghi, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble all rejected the claim that came on the back of President Donald Trump’s promises of renegotiating or tearing up free-trade treaties. “The fact that the German economy is exporting much more than it imports is a source of concern and no reason to be proud” because weak imports are the result of a lack of investment, Marcel Fratzscher, head of the DIW economic institute in Berlin, said in an e-mailed statement. “The record surplus will continue to fuel conflict with the U.S. and within the EU.” Exports fell 3.3% in December from the previous month, the report said, while imports were unchanged. The country’s current-account surplus reached 266 billion euros in 2016.
The carnage continues in the U.S. major oil industry as they sink further and further in the RED. The top three U.S. oil companies, whose profits were once the envy of the energy sector, are now forced to borrow money to pay dividends or capital expenditures. The financial situation at ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips has become so dreadful, their total long-term debt surged 25% in just the past year. [..] While the Federal Government could step in and bail out BIG OIL with printed money, they cannot print barrels of oil. Watch closely as the Thermodynamic Oil Collapse will start to pick up speed over the next five years. According to the most recently released financial reports, the top three U.S. oil companies combined net income was the worst ever. The results can be seen in the chart below:
In 2011, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Conocophillips enjoyed a combined $80.4 billion in net income profits. ExxonMobil recorded the highest net income of the group by posting a $41.1 billion gain, followed by Chevron at $26.9 billion, while ConocoPhillips came in third at $12.4 billion. However, the rapidly falling oil price, since the latter part of 2014, totally gutted the profits at these top oil producers. In just five short years, ExxonMobil’s net income declined to $7.8 billion, Chevron reported its first $460 million loss while ConocoPhillips shaved another $3.6 billion off its bottom line in 2016. Thus, the combined net income of these three oil companies in 2016 totaled $3.7 billion versus $80.4 billion in 2011. Even though these three oil companies posted a combined net income profit of $3.7 billion last year, their financial situation is much worse when we dig a little deeper.
We must remember, net income does not include capital expenditures or dividend payouts. If we look at these oil companies Free Cash Flow, they have been losing money for the past two years. Their combined free cash flow fell from a healthy $46.3 billion in 2011 to a negative $8.7 billion in 2015 and a negative $7.3 billion in 2016. Now, their free cash flow would have been much worse in 2016 if theses companies didn’t reduce their CAPEX spending by nearly a whopping $20 billion.
[..] the free cash flow minus dividend payouts provides us evidence that these oil companies have been seriously in the RED since 2013, not just the past two years displayed in the Free Cash Flow chart. As we can see, the group’s free cash flow minus dividends was a negative $32.8 billion in 2015 and a negative $29 billion last year. Of course, these three companies may have sold some financial investments or assets to reduce these negative values, but a company can’t stay in business for long by selling assets that it would need to use to produce oil in the future. So, what has falling free cash flow and dividends done to ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips long-term debt? You guessed it… it skyrocketed:
More than $1 trillion of junk-rated corporate debt is slated to mature over the next five years, creating a stiff challenge for heavily-indebted businesses if the market for riskier debt were to deteriorate, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service. The $1.063 trillion in maturing debt is the highest ever recorded by the ratings firm over a five-year period and also includes the highest single-year volume in 2021, when $402 billion of junk-rated corporate debt is scheduled to come due. Overall, a little more than $2 trillion of corporate debt is scheduled to mature by 2021 when factoring in $944 billion of investment-grade bonds. But it is the volume of junk-rated debt that could be of greater significance, given that investment-grade companies rarely have trouble extending debt maturities even in more difficult conditions.
As it stands, the environment remains highly favorable for junk-rated businesses, making it easy for most to access funds at their choosing. The average junk-bond yield was 5.72% Tuesday, the lowest level since September 2014. Buoyed by rising interest rates, junk-rated bank loans, which feature floating-rate coupons, have performed especially well of late, enabling U.S. companies to refinance $100 billion of loans in January, the largest monthly total in at least a decade, according to data from S&P Global Still, conditions can change quickly in the leveraged finance markets. A year ago, amid concerns that the U.S. was heading toward another recession, the average junk bond yield was nearly 10%, raising the risk that many borrowers would be unable to refinance bonds with looming maturities, hastening their descent into bankruptcy.
Donald Trump’s administration has put itself on a fresh collision course with the European Union after the president’s candidate to be ambassador in Brussels said Greece should leave the euro and predicted the single currency would not survive more than 18 months in its present form. Days after being accused of “outrageous malevolence” towards the EU for publicly declaring that it “needs a little taming”, Ted Malloch courted fresh controversy by saying Greece should have left the eurozone four years ago when it would have been “easier and simpler”. Malloch made his comments as financial markets began to take fright at the possibility of a fresh Greek debt crisis later this year. Shares fell and interest rates on Greek debt rose after it emerged that the EU was at loggerheads with the IMF over whether to give the country more generous debt relief.
“Whether the eurozone survives I think is very much a question that is on the agenda,” he told Greek Skai TV’s late-night chat show Istories. “We have had the exit of the UK, there are elections in other European countries, so I think it is something that will be determined over the course of the next year, year and a half. “Why is Greece again on the brink? It seems like a deja vu. Will it ever end? I think this time I would have to say that the odds are higher that Greece itself will break out of the euro,” Malloch said. The stridently Brexit-supporting businessman, who has yet to be confirmed as the US president’s EU ambassador and is seen by Brussels as a provocative nominee for the post, said he wholeheartedly agreed with Trump’s tweet from 2012 saying Greece should return to the drachma, its former currency.
“I personally think [Trump] was right. I would also say that this probably should have been instigated four years ago, and probably it would have been easier or simpler to do,” Malloch said in the interview with the show’s chief anchor, Alexis Papahelas. Seven years of arduous austerity – the price of the international bailout – had been so bad for the country that it was questionable whether what came next could possibly be worse, Malloch said. In the third bailout in as many years, Greece has lost more than 25% of its GDP due to austerity-fuelled recession, the biggest slump of any advanced western economy in modern times. Without further emergency funding from its €86bn rescue programme, Athens could face a default in July when debt repayments of about €7bn to the European Central Bank mature.
[..] The renewed focus came as the IMF revealed its board was split over how far spending cuts in the country should go, raising fresh doubts over the IMF’s participation in rescue plans for the struggling Greek economy. The IMF believes that the budgetary demands being imposed on Greece by Europe are unreasonable and that the country’s debts will hit 275% of national income by 2060 without fresh assistance. Malloch said: “I have travelled to Greece, met lots of Greek people, I have academic friends in Greece and they say that these austerity plans are really deeply hurting the Greek people, and that the situation is simply unsustainable. So you might have to ask the question if what comes next could possibly be worse than what’s happening now.” The biggest unknown was not a euro exit, but the chaos it would likely engender as Greece moved to a new currency, he said.
French revolution. Ironic that the central bank governor makes Le Pen’s point while trying to ‘push back’: “The Bank of France belongs to all French and is at the service of a French asset – our currency.” That’s exactly Le Pen’s point, it’s just that she doesn’t see the euro as ‘our currency’. For her, that means the franc.
Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s chief economic adviser Bernard Monot met with Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau in September and set out her party’s plans to take control of the central bank and use it to finance government spending. The meeting took place on the sidelines of Villeroy de Galhau’s public hearing in Brussels at the economic and monetary committee of the European Parliament, Monot, who also sits on the panel, said in a Feb. 4 interview. The central bank has become one of Le Pen’s key targets as she fleshes out her plans for taking control of the French economy and leaving the euro. She intends to revoke the Bank of France’s independence and use it to finance French welfare payments and service the government’s debts after abandoning the European monetary union.
While the National Front leader is ahead in polling for the first ballot on April 23, she’s still an outsider to become the next president because of the two-round system which requires broad-based support to win the run-off two weeks later. Villeroy de Galhau, who also sits on the governing council of the ECB, pushed back against her proposals in an interview on BFM television Thursday, though he didn’t mention her specifically. “It’s important that we have institutions and a currency that straddle daily turbulence,” the governor said. “The Bank of France belongs to all French and is at the service of a French asset – our currency.” The spread between French 10-year bonds and similarly dated German debt was the widest in more than four years earlier this week, as political uncertainty deterred investors. Villeroy de Galhau described the move as “temporary tension.”
The British economy will be healthier when its dependence on banking goes down. Not richer, but healthier. For instance, home prices can finally fall, a much needed development. There’s nothing good about a one-trick pony.
Global banks in London may have to relocate 1.8 trillion euros ($1.9 trillion) of assets to the continent after Britain withdraws from the European Union, putting as many as 30,000 U.K. jobs at risk, according to Brussels-based research group Bruegel. The assets potentially on the move represent 17% of the U.K. banking system, Bruegel said in a report published Wednesday. Based on discussions with market participants, the researchers estimate that 35% of wholesale banking activity in London can be attributed to dealings with customers inside the EU. Financial firms will have to move that business to countries inside the trading bloc after the U.K. leaves the EU in 2019, likely spelling the end of passporting, where firms seamlessly service the rest of the single market from their London hubs.
Banks, and their clients, are most concerned about a “cliff edge” Brexit, whereby all access is cut off after two years. To safeguard against that loss of access, banks are already in discussions with European regulators about setting up new bases inside the EU and have said they will start the process of moving people within weeks of the government triggering Brexit talks, expected in March. “At a minimum, it is expected that the new EU27-based entities will need to have autonomous boards, full senior management teams, senior account managers and traders, even though much of the back-office might stay in London or elsewhere in the world,” researchers led by Andre Sapir said in the report.
London-based firms will likely have to move about 10,000 employees into these new EU entities, Breugel estimates. An additional 18,000 to 20,000 people in associated professions, such as lawyers, consultants and accountants, may also have to relocate. Bruegel’s estimates are at the conservative end of the spectrum. TheCityUK industry lobby group forecasts as many as 35,000 banking jobs could be relocated, rising to 70,000 when including associated financial services. London Stock Exchange CEO Xavier Rolet has said Brexit would likely see 232,000 jobs leaving the U.K.
The Federal Reserve is dominated by academics who don’t know how finance and the economy really work, according to a former Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas staffer in her new book. Danielle DiMartino Booth, an adviser to Richard Fisher when he was Dallas Fed president, says the economists who control most of the central bank’s seats of power filter their decision-making through theoretical models. That led the institution to miss the forces that created the financial crisis, and then adopt the wrong policies to put the economy back on track, she says. Ms. Booth makes her case in a book called “Fed Up: An Insider’s Take on Why the Federal Reserve Is Bad for America,” set to be published Tuesday. Her book comes as other Fed critics are pushing for more diversity at the central bank.
They often focus on the dearth of women and minorities among the top officials, but some have said a broader range of educational and professional backgrounds also would widen the central bank’s perspective. Of the 17 Fed governors and regional bank presidents, 16 are white, 13 are men, and 10 have a Ph.D. in economics. Ms. Booth’s arguments echo those of her former boss, who led the Dallas Fed from 2005 to 2015, and frequently voted against the central bank’s aggressive stimulus efforts during and after the financial crisis. “If you rely entirely on theory, you are not going to conduct the right policy, because policies have consequences” that in many cases people with real-world experience are particularly well-suited to spot, Mr. Fisher said in an interview late last year.
Mr. Fisher hired Ms. Booth, a former Wall Street trader turned financial journalist, to work at the Dallas Fed in 2006 on the strength of columns she had written warning about the state of the housing market and financial markets. She eventually rose to be his appointed eyes and ears on financial markets. In her book, Ms. Booth describes a tribe of slow-moving Fed economists who dismiss those without high-level academic credentials. She counts Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen and former Fed leader Ben Bernanke among them. The Fed’s “modus operandi” is defined by “hubris and myopia,” Ms. Booth writes in an advance copy of the book. “Central bankers have invited politicians to abdicate leadership authority to an inbred society of PhD academics who are infected to their core with groupthink, or as I prefer to think of it: ‘groupstink.’”
“Global systemic risk has been exponentially amplified by the Fed’s actions,” Ms. Booth writes, referring to the central bank’s policies holding interest rates very low since late 2008. “Who will pay when this credit bubble bursts? The poor and middle class, not the elites.” Fed officials have defended their crisis-era stimulus policies, saying they lowered unemployment and helped the housing market recover. Opponents feared near-zero interest rates would cause excessive inflation and dangerous market bubbles, neither of which has happened. Ms. Booth also is among the Fed critics who see a worrisome revolving door between the central bank and the financial firms it regulates. She points to New York Fed President William Dudley, a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, as an illustration of a “codependent” relationship between the central bank and markets. He and three other regional Fed bank presidents have worked for or had associations with Goldman Sachs. With this in mind, she writes, “Goldman has positioned players on the Fed’s chessboard.”
When the Italian central bank’s deputy governor joined a radio phone-in show last week, many callers asked why Italy didn’t ditch the euro and return to its old lira currency. A few years ago such a scenario, that Salvatore Rossi said would lead to “catastrophe and disaster”, would not have been up for public discussion. Now, with the possibility of an election by June, politicians of all stripes are tapping into growing hostility towards the euro. Many Italians hold the single currency responsible for economic decline since its launch in 1999. “We lived much better before the euro,” says Luca Fioravanti, a 32-year-old real estate surveyor from Rome. “Prices have gone up but our salaries have stayed the same, we need to get out and go back to our own sovereign currency.”
The central bank is concerned about the rise in anti-euro sentiment, and a Bank of Italy source told Reuters Rossi’s appearance is part of a plan to reach out to ordinary Italians. Few Italians want to leave the European Union, as Britain chose to do in its referendum last year. Italy was a founding EU member in 1957 and Italians think it has helped maintain peace and stability in Europe. And the ruling Democratic Party (PD) is pro-euro and wants more European integration though it complains that the fiscal rules governing the euro are too rigid. But the three other largest parties are hostile, in various degrees, to Italy’s membership of the single currency in its current form. The PD is due to govern until early 2018, unless elections are called sooner. The PD’s prospects of victory have waned since its leader Matteo Renzi resigned as premier in December after losing a referendum on constitutional reform, and polls suggest that under the current electoral system no party or coalition is likely to win a majority.
Italians used to be among the euro’s biggest supporters but a Eurobarometer survey published in December by the European Commission showed only 41% said the euro was “a good thing”, while 47% called it “a bad thing.” In the Eurobarometer published in April 2002, a few months after the introduction of euro notes and coins, Italy was the second most pro-euro nation after Luxembourg, with 79% expressing a positive opinion. Italy is the only country in the euro zone where per capita output has actually fallen since it joined the euro, according to Eurostat data. Its economy is still 7% smaller than it was before the 2008 financial crisis, and youth unemployment stands at 40%.
The head of Italy’s bank-bailout fund said on Tuesday the country lacked a clear strategy for shifting 356 billion euros ($381 billion) in problem loans. In an extraordinary outburst from a man picked by Rome to help tackle the problem, Alessandro Penati, whose boutique asset management firm was chosen to raise private funds for struggling banks, said he felt “bitter and disillusioned”. His comments exposed tensions within the banking sector over Italy’s rescue efforts. “There is no clear vision of the problem and no strategy,” Penati said at a financial conference in Milan, suggesting that he was virtually working alone on rescues that had revealed “horror stories” within some banks. “There is simply a reaction to a problem and this has been the main difficulty for me over these past few months – I had nobody to relate to.”
The Atlante fund, created 10 months ago following pressure from the government, gathered 4.25 billion euros from around 70 mostly private investors, including Italy’s healthier lenders, to buy up bad loans and invest in weaker banks. But the fund’s investors are already making big writedowns on the value of their stakes in Atlante, which promised them annual returns of 6%. The fund faces ever greater demands for capital and no investors willing to stump up more money. In December, Penati’s plan to buy into Italy’s biggest-ever sale of bad debts – 28 billion euros worth of loans written by struggling bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS.MI) — fell apart when the bank failed to find any other major investors.
Penati, a former economist who set up Milan-based Quaestio Capital Management, said the sale had collapsed because it had been tied to a capital raising that had been “badly devised and even more badly executed”. Monte dei Paschi (MPS) is now to be rescued by the state. “It would no longer make sense for Atlante to play a role now. The point is that state intervention is considered a way to solve all problems, but it isn’t … MPS’s bad loan problem remains and how they are going to solve it – I don’t know.”
On Tuesday the Army Corps of Engineers gave notice to Congress that within 24 hours it would grant an easement allowing Energy Transfer Partners to move forward with construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, which North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of allies have attempted to halt out of concern for water contamination, dangers to the climate, and damage to sites of religious significance to the tribe. The federal government dismissed those concerns in its filing. “I have determined that there is no cause for completing any additional environmental analysis,” Douglas Lamont, the acting assistant secretary of the Army, wrote in a memorandum. “The COE has full responsibility to take the reasonable steps necessary to execute the requested easement.”
Two weeks earlier, after only four days in office, Trump signed two memoranda instructing federal officials to ram forward approvals for the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, both of which had been halted by the Obama administration after people mobilized across the U.S. to stop them. On Dakota Access, the Army Corps did just what the president demanded, waiving the standard 14-day waiting period before such a permit becomes official. The tribe has been left with just one day to rally a legal response. Lawyers for the tribe say they will argue in court that an environmental impact statement, mandated by the Army Corps under Obama, was wrongfully terminated. They will likely request a restraining order while the legal battle ensues. Pipeline company lawyers have said that it would take at minimum 83 days for oil to flow from the date that an easement is granted.
Although the tribal government once supported the string of anti-pipeline camps that began popping up last spring, leaders have since insisted that pipeline opponents go home and stay away from the reservation. “Please respect our people and do not come to Standing Rock and instead exercise your First Amendment rights and take this fight to your respective state capitols, to your members of Congress, and to Washington, D.C.,” tribal chairman Dave Archambault said in a statement. Still, the easement announcement is already activating pipeline opponents to return. A “couple thousand people” are headed back to the camps, including contingents of veterans, said former congressional candidate Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the tribe, in a video posted to Facebook.
Hours before the final vote on the triggering of Article 50 the government quietly announced it would allow just 350 unaccompanied Syrian children to come to the UK, thousands short of the figure suggested by government sources last year. The statement from Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill said local authorities indicated “have capacity for around 400 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children until the end of this financial year” and said the country should be “proud” of its contribution to finding homes for refugees. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called the decision “a betrayal of British values”. “Last May, MPs from all parties condemned the Government’s inaction on child refugees in Europe, and voted overwhelmingly to offer help to the thousands of unaccompanied kids who were stranded without their families backed by huge public support,” Mr Farron said.
“Instead, the Government has done the bare minimum, helping only a tiny number of youngsters and appearing to end the programme while thousands still suffer. At the end of December last year the Government had failed to bring a single child refugee to the UK under the Dubs scheme from Greece or Italy where many of these children are trapped.” Ministers introduced the programme last year after coming under intense pressure to give sanctuary to lone children stranded on the continent. Calls for the measure were spearheaded by Lord Dubs, whose amendment to the Immigration Act requires the Government to “make arrangements to relocate to the UK and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe”.
I am the aunt of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who tragically drowned September 2, 2015. The devastating image of my 2-year old nephew’s lifeless body, lying face-down on the beach in Turkey, was all over the news across the world. Two weeks ago, I got home from work and my husband showed me a video of Tulsi Gabbard talking about her visit to my home country of Syria. The things she was saying about the United States policy of regime change and how the West and the Gulf countries are funding the rebel groups who wind up with the terrorists are true. I was shocked because it’s something no other U.S. politician has the courage to say. Regime change policy has destroyed my country and forced my people to flee. Tulsi’s message was exactly what I have been trying to say for years, but no one wants to listen.
I live in Canada now, but I was born and raised in Damascus, Syria. Growing up, our country was peaceful, beautiful and safe. Our neighbors were Christian, Muslim, Sunni, Shia; all kinds of religion and color. We all lived together and respected each other. Syria is a secular country. In 2011, the war started in Syria. Most of my family was still in Damascus. I was always in close contact with them and talked to them on the phone on a daily basis. For a year, I heard many tragic stories of people, friends, and neighbors who I grew up with having died in this war. Ultimately, my family had to flee to Turkey. I did what everyone would do for their own family to help, I sent them money and I listened to their struggles to survive as refugees in Turkey.
In 2014, I went to Turkey to visit my family and tried to help them. What I saw and experienced is not what we all saw in the news or we heard in the radio. It was worse than I could ever have imagined. I saw people in the streets without homes, without hope. Children were hungry, begging for a piece of bread. I heard many heartbreaking stories from other refugees who were suffering so much and many who had lost loved ones in the war. After I returned to Canada, I decided I wanted to bring my family here as refugees, but I couldn’t get them approved to come in. Eventually, my brother Abdullah and his wife Rehana, like thousands of Syrians, decided they had to take the risk and trust a smuggler they thought would bring them to freedom, safety, and hope. In September 2, 2015, I heard the tragic news that my sister-in-law Rehana and her two sons drowned crossing from Turkey to Greece.
The image of my two year old nephew Alan Kurdi lying face down on a Turkish beach was all over the media across the world. It was the wake up call to the world. Enough suffering. Enough killing. And most importantly, it was my wake up call. [..] Like me, many Syrians are encouraged that Tulsi met with President Bashar Assad in Syria. Tulsi recognizes that we need to talk to him because a political solution is the only way to restore peace in Syria. If the West keeps funding the rebels, we will see more people flee, more bloodshed, and more suffering. My people have suffered for at least six years. This is not about supporting Bashar. This is about ending the war in Syria. We can’t continue like this, supporting regime change. We have seen it before in Iraq, in Libya, and look what happened to them.
What does it say about us if our best and brightest feel compelled to sacrifice themselves? Where is this going to leave us? Where would we be without Assange, Snowden and Manning? Certainly not in a better place.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will agree to be extradited to the United States if President Barack Obama grants clemency to the former US soldier Chelsea Manning, jailed for leaking documents, the company said on Thursday. “If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ (US Department of Justice) case,” WikiLeaks wrote on Twitter. Assange has been living in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations. The Australian former computer hacker said he fears Stockholm will in turn extradite him to the US, where he angered Washington over WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of US military and diplomatic documents leaked by former US soldier Manning.
Manning is currently serving a 35-year sentence in solitary confinement for handing over the 700,000 sensitive documents from the US State Department. Supporters of the transgender soldier are putting their hopes in a pardon by Obama before he leaves office later this month, although the White House has said the president will not be granting her clemency. Manning has already made two suicide attempts and currently has an appeal pending before a military court. Washington has maintained the threat of prosecuting Assange over the 2010 leak, though no charges have been filed. WikiLeaks’ post on Twitter was accompanied by a letter addressed to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in which Assange’s lawyer Barry Pollack argues there is no legitimate basis for continuing the investigation into the WikiLeaks founder.
China’s massive export engine sputtered for the second year in a row in 2016, with shipments falling in the face of persistently weak global demand and officials voicing fears of a trade war with the United States that is clouding the outlook for 2017. In one week, China’s leaders will see if President-elect Donald Trump makes good on a campaign pledge to brand Beijing a currency manipulator on his first day in office, and starts to follow up on a threat to slap high tariffs on Chinese goods. Even if the Trump administration takes no concrete action immediately, analysts say the specter of deteriorating U.S.-China trade and political ties is likely to weigh on the confidence of exporters and investors worldwide.
The world’s largest trading nation posted gloomy data on Friday, with 2016 exports falling 7.7% and imports down 5.5%. The export drop was the second annual decline in a row and the worst since the depths of the global crisis in 2009. It will be tough for foreign trade to improve this year, especially if the inauguration of Trump and other major political changes limit the growth of China’s exports due to greater protectionist measures, the country’s customs agency said on Friday. “The trend of anti-globalization is becoming increasingly evident, and China is the biggest victim of this trend,” customs spokesman Huang Songping told reporters. “We will pay close attention to foreign trade policy after Trump is inaugurated president,” Huang said.
China’s trade surplus with the United States was $366 billion in 2015, according to U.S. customs data, which Trump could seize on in a bid to bring Beijing to the negotiating table to press for concessions, economists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a recent research note. A sustained trade surplus of more than $20 billion against the United States is one of three criteria used by the U.S. Treasury to designate another country as a currency manipulator. China is likely to point out that its own data showed the surplus fell to $250.79 billion in 2016 from $260.91 billion in 2015, but that may get short shrift in Washington. “Our worry is that Trump’s stance towards China’s trade could bring about long-term structural weakness in China’s exports,” economists at ANZ said in a note.
Shares of Fiat Chrysler fell Thursday after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accused the automaker of using software that allowed excess diesel emissions in about 104,000 vehicles. The U.S.-listed shares of Fiat Chrysler plunged as much as 19% Thursday after Reuters first reported the news. The automaker’s stock was briefly halted after the EPA made the announcement. The stock later recovered some of those losses and ended the day about 10% lower. The agency alleged Fiat Chrysler violated the Clean Air Act by installing and failing to disclose “engine management software in light-duty model year 2014, 2015 and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0 liter diesel engines sold in the United States.”
The undisclosed software results increased nitrogen oxide emissions from the vehicles, the EPA said. The Justice Department is reportedly working with the EPA on this issue. The company could be liable for civil penalties and injunctive relief for the alleged violations, the EPA said. It said it is also investigating whether the auxiliary emission control devices constitute “defeat devices,” which are illegal. On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement he was deeply troubled by the evidence the EPA presented. “My office was proud to take a leading role in the multi-state investigation of Volkswagen that uncovered flagrant abuses of New York’s environmental laws and, in the case of VW, a culture of corruption that enabled blatantly illegal conduct to persist over many years,” he said.
Pay for the poorest fifth of men has been flat for twenty years, according to a new report for the Institute for Fiscal Studies. At the same time the proportion of this low-paid group working part time, rather than full time, has shot up from 10% to 25% over the same period. The research helps explain what has become something of an inequality puzzle in the UK, in which official headline gauges have shown flat-lining income inequality since the early 1990s and yet there is simultaneously a widespread impression that inequality has been rising strongly.
The IFS research shows that average inflation-adjusted annualised weekly pay growth for the lowest fifth of the male income distribution was zero or less between 1994-95 and 2014-15, while for men further up the income distribution real weekly pay has grown. And while part-time work among the lowest paid men has ballooned, rates have not changed for better paid men. This all means that among working men wage inequality has increased over the past two decades. “The rise in household earnings inequality has been the product of a complex set of interactions between trends in hours and wages for men and women, but it is largely due to a rise in male earnings inequality,” said the IFS report.
Have the [BOE]-enabled grotesque bubbles in the bond, stock and property markets or the eight years of “temporary emergency measures” and zero-interest-rate policies created infrastructure investment? Job creation? Savings? No, no and no. It has killed savers, students and seniors while generating record bonuses for chief executives. While earnings may have peaked almost 18 months ago, stock prices keep bubbling and wealth inequality continues to surge to record highs — along with homelessness and underemployment. Will Carney blame Brexit, Putin or Trump for the upcoming problems? Why not? Certainly, extreme valuations enabled by the Bank recklessly allowing debt, credit and leverage to skyrocket out of this universe had nothing to do with the coming collapse — nothing to see here, look away.
It is not only the UK but also global central bank policies that have broken our financial system beyond repair. The world’s oldest bank, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded in 1472, is now an insolvent zombie bank thanks to the handiwork of JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank and Nomura. They sold Monte billions of dollars of derivative trades it did not understand. These predictably exploded, leaving the bank bust. JPMorgan, Deutsche and Nomura made a fortune — and Monte’s shareholders and depositors, and EU taxpayers, will get slammed with the massive bailout tab. The new normal is apparently a world of financial fraud where the only rules which apply are too big to fail, bail or jail and too connected to prosecute —steal all you can, while you can, with impunity.
After the financial crisis, I wrote extensively exposing the toxic “culture of fraud” at Deutsche, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, RBS, Lloyds and Barclays. So what was done? Can you guess the number of staff at these banks jailed for the numerous frauds committed during the Great Financial Crises? Zero. That’s not capitalism! Capitalism doesn’t have zero accountability or zero transparency. This is ethically, financially and socially wrong. Much of it is also, in my opinion, illegal and should be punished by long jail terms. No need for new regulation — we need to enforce existing rules rather than repeatedly turning a blind eye.
Market manipulation by central banks has destroyed price discovery in every asset class and market. This has crushed the basic concept of capitalism. Central banks now pick winners and losers rather than letting free markets decide. The Swiss National Bank holds $140 billion in stocks, including shares in Apple, Google and Amazon. Valuations, growth projections and normal business cycles are all unnecessary. The central banking bubble factory forces investors to chase yields resulting in zombie corporations and zombie banks that inhibit growth, infrastructure spending and the creation of productive assets.
The WHO today warned of a virulent new virus affecting vulnerable groups in the Mid-West and Eastern USA. The outbreak, which began in the Mid-West’s extensive Great Lakes ‘Freshwater’ river system, has recently jumped the ‘Saltwater’ barrier, meaning that the entire population of its target species – ‘Mainstream’ economists – is now at risk. Speaking on behalf of the WHO, Dr Cahuc explained that the virus works by turning off the one genetic marker that distinguishes this species from the rest of its genus, the Human Race. This is the so-called ‘Milton’ gene (Friedman 1953), which goes dormant in other Humans as they pass through puberty. Its inactivity reduces their imaginative capacity, making it impossible for them to continue believing in such endearing infantile fantasies as the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. While regrettable, this drop in imagination is necessary to prepare Humans for the adult phase of their existence.
‘Professor Milton Friedman found a way to re-activate this gene during PhD training, using his “as if” gene splicing technique’, Dr Zylberberg elaborated. ‘This enabled a wonderful outpouring of imaginative beliefs by Mainstream Economists, which gave birth to concepts like NAIRU, Money Neutrality, Rational Expectations, and eventually even DSGE models. This wealth of imagination was regarded by Mainstream Economists as a more than sufficient compensation for returning to the child-like phase of the Human species.’ The Milton gene conferred other advantages on Mainstream Economists, which have been highly important to their success in competition against their rival species, the Heterodox Economists. ‘Being endowed with a child-like nature, the arguments of Mainstream Economists were treated with the low level of critical evaluation that adult humans normally reserve for conversations with their infant stage’, said Dr Cahuc.
‘This made their policy recommendations much more likely to be adopted, instead of the more complicated proposals put forward by their niche rivals’, he said. The new virus – named ‘Reality’ – de-activates the Milton gene once more. ‘Consequently’, Dr Cahuc warned, ‘the very beliefs that define this unique species are at risk. Unless we are very careful, it may become extinct!’. Unfortunately, there is as yet no known cure to this virus. ‘The WHO therefore recommends complete avoidance of “Reality” as the only effective strategy for those wishing to remain as Mainstream Economists’, Dr Cahuc concluded. However, this strategy is made extremely difficult by one cunning characteristic of the Reality virus: after an initial phase of disorientation and distress, its sufferers begin to experience pleasure, and actually want to pass the virus on to others. ‘Its transmission mechanism is a particularly insidious aspect of this disease’, Dr Cahuc lamented.
It seems so strange, twenty-seven years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to be living through a new Cold War with (as it happens, capitalist) Russia. The Russian president is attacked by the U.S. political class and media as they never attacked Soviet leaders; he is personally vilified as a corrupt, venal dictator, who arrests or assassinates political opponents and dissident journalists, and is hell-bent on the restoration of the USSR. (The latter claim rests largely on Vladimir Putin’s comment that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a “catastrophe” and “tragedy” – which in many respects it was. The press chooses to ignore his comment that “Anyone who does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart, while anyone who wants to restore it has no brain.” It conflicts with the simple talking-point that Putin misses the imperial Russia of the tsars if not the commissars and, burning with resentment over the west’s triumph in the Cold War, plans to exact revenge through wars of aggression and territorial expansion.)
The U.S. media following its State Department script depicts Russia as an expansionist power. That it can do so, so successfully, such that even rather progressive people—such as those appalled by Trump’s victory who feel inclined to blame it on an external force—believe it, is testimony to the lingering power and utility of the Cold War mindset. The military brass keep reminding us: We are up against an existential threat! One wants to say that this — obviously — makes no sense! Russia is twice the size of the U.S. with half its population. Its foreign bases can be counted on two hands. The U.S. has 800 or so bases abroad. Russia’s military budget is 14% of the U.S. figure. It does not claim to be the exceptional nation appointed by God to preserve “security” on its terms anywhere on the globe.
Since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the U.S. has waged war (sometimes creating new client-states) in Bosnia (1994-5), Serbia (1999), Afghanistan (2001- ), Iraq (2003- ), Libya (2011), and Syria (2014- ), while raining down drone strikes from Pakistan to Yemen to North Africa. These wars-based-on-lies have produced hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, millions of refugees, and general ongoing catastrophe throughout the “Greater Middle East.” There is no understating their evil. The U.S. heads an expanding military alliance formed in 1949 to confront the Soviet Union and global communism in general. Its raison d’être has been dead for many years. Yet it has expanded from 16 to 28 members since 1999, and new members Estonia and Latvia share borders with Russia. (Imagine the Warsaw Pact expanding to include Mexico. But no, the Warsaw Pact of the USSR and six European allies was dissolved 26 years ago in the idealistic expectation that NATO would follow in a new era of cooperation and peace.)
And this NATO alliance, in theory designed to defend the North Atlantic, was only first deployed after the long (and peaceful) first Cold War, in what had been neutral Yugoslavia (never a member of either the Warsaw Pact nor NATO), Afghanistan (over 3000 miles from the North Atlantic), and the North African country of Libya. Last summer NATO held its most massive military drills since the collapse of the Soviet Union, involving 31,000 troops in Poland, rehearsing war with Russia. (The German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier actually criticized this exercise as “warmongering.”)
Eight straight years of warmongering come to an end as US President Barack Obama bows out with his «farewell to the nation» speech this week, as fawning American media dubbed his valediction. In reality, Obama’s outgoing address should have been billed as a «farewell to arms» made by arguably one of the most belligerent presidents to ever have occupied the White House. Only in exceptionally delusional America could such a pernicious paradox be presented as something honorable and sentimental. Obama, the 44th US president, may have been the first black president and winner of a Nobel peace prize during his first year in office in 2009. But apart from those dubious accolades – championed by supposedly liberal Hollywood celebrities and media pundits – his actual record in office is one of blood-soaked disgrace.
Instead of ending American overseas wars as he had promised back in 2008, Obama expanded on his predecessor George W Bush’s criminal foreign interventions. At least seven countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia – have been routinely bombed under Obama’s watch as the US Commander-in-Chief. That’s one repugnant record. Last year alone, the US military reportedly dropped over 26,000 bombs around the world killing countless thousands of people, the exact number buried under official secrecy and American mainstream media indifference. At that rate, American anti-war campaigner Medea Benjamin estimates that US forces deployed three bombs every hour of every day for the whole of 2016. This death from the skies included Obama’s personal ordering of drone assassinations during his weekly Terror Tuesday briefings from Pentagon chiefs, the use of which increased 10-fold under his command, killing thousands of innocent civilians as «collateral damage».
The stage is set for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration – not just the traditional swearing-in platform on Capitol Hill, but a massive security presence amid protest plans to “shut down” the nation’s capital. Most crowd estimates for the Jan. 20 festivities are far short of the record-setting 1.8 million visitors for President Obama’s historic 2009 inauguration. But the throngs of spectators and protesters alike are enough to create transit, security and hospitality challenges. “Security is my greatest concern,” Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt, chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, recently said. “No question that on inaugural day, this would be the most appealing target in the world.” He suggested the city could have as many as 750,000 demonstrators alone.
More than three-dozen law enforcement agencies are working together on security and safety plans in anticipation, including the Capitol Police, FBI, Secret Service and National Guard. Roughly 7,500 Guardsmen from across the country will come to Washington, along with about 3,000 police officers from various states, with the Secret Service taking the lead on security. Essentially everybody involved already is rehearsing for the big weekend, which kicks off next Friday morning with the swearings-in on the Capitol’s West Front, followed by official events including the traditional parade on Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and the inaugural balls. The Joint Task Force – National Capital Region – 58th Presidential Inauguration has held several “table top” sessions in which agencies plot strategy over a large-scale, three-dimensional map.
“It’s a rehearsal, but in the military we call it a drill,” Navy Cmdr. Jonathan Blyth, the group’s spokesman, told FoxNews.com on Wednesday. “We’ve been preparing for this since the last inauguration. We’re focused to protecting and honoring a new commander in chief.” The task force and its Capitol Hill counterpart are holding a “dress rehearsal” this weekend for the swearings-in, the Presidential Review of troops and the parade along the roughly 2.5-mile stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue. Several protest groups planning large-scale demonstrations have permits in place and have already held organizational meetings, among them the collaborative DisruptJ20. “We’re planning a series of massive, direct actions that will shut down the inauguration ceremonies and any related celebrations,” the group says. “We’re also planning to paralyze the city.”
The ECB should start unwinding its ultra-loose monetary policy this year, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in an interview to be published on Friday, adding that it would not be easy. “The ECB will have the tough task of getting out of the ultra-expansionary monetary policy,” Schaeuble told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “It would presumably be right if the ECB dared to exit this year”. Schaeuble added it was “possible and necessary” for the next government to lower taxes after Germany’s general election in September. He said forecasts that inflation could reach 3% in Germany this year would exacerbate concerns about current low interest rates. While admitting he was no fan of the ECB’s monetary policy, he added, “The ECB has a mandate for the eurozone, and it carries it out well.”
Schaeuble said the core issue was that a number of eurozone countries had not been able to boost competitiveness as required. “The problem is the weakness of the other countries, not Germany’s strength,” he said. The conservative minister said it would take a great effort to convince German citizens that the common currency provided more employment, social and business benefits than risks and negative consequences. To help Germany make the argument, he said it was essential that Italy and other countries stuck to the agreed rules. Schaeuble’s deputy Jens Spahn told Reuters last week that a “prudent start to the exit” of the ECB’s expansive monetary policy was desirable. The ECB aims for inflation of just under 2%, but it has undershot its target for years. To fight off deflation, the central bank has cut interest rates to zero and launched a massive but controversial bond-buying programme. Schaeuble and other German lawmakers have warned the ECB risks fuelling support for eurosceptic parties if it does not change course soon.
Germany will begin returning asylum seekers to Greece from mid-March, an interior ministry spokesman told AFP on Thursday, essentially lifting a five-year suspension on such transfers because of poor conditions there. Under the EU’s so-called Dublin rules, would-be refugees must file for asylum in the first member-state of the bloc they enter, often the Mediterranean nations of Greece and Italy. If asylum seekers have travelled on to other EU nations, they are to be returned to their first port of call. But that requirement had been halted for Greece, which together with Italy has been the main point of entry for the more than one million immigrants who have entered the bloc since 2015 fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
A German interior ministry spokesman told AFP that Germany would reinstate the Dublin rule in two months’ time and return newly arrived asylum seekers to their first EU port of call. “In line with the recommendation from the European Commission, Germany believes that such transfers will be possible from March 15th,” said the spokesman, Tobias Plate. The EU recommended on December 8th that member states resume sending asylum seekers back to Greece from March next year, after such transfers were halted since 2011. Athens has criticized the EU’s assessment, with Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas saying the current legal framework was “unable to respond to the historic migration flows and leaves the burden to the member states that migrants first arrive in”.
German refugee relief group Pro Asyl has also raised concerns, warning that the measure would put the asylum system in Greece, a country still recovering from a deep debt and economic crisis, under further pressure. Photos of refugees living in tents amid heavy snowfall in Greece caused outrage recently, and the European Commission on Monday called such conditions “untenable”.
In 2014, the Greek health department cut off its cancer screening prevention program, despite a number of warnings issued by professionals both within the country and abroad that such an action would lead to an explosion in otherwise preventable cases turning serious. According to a statement by Evgenia Thanou, general manager for Doctors of the World, “There are people with tumors who can’t afford the cost of chemotherapy, which costs €2,500 for a single dose. As a result there are people who have died because they have not been able to get the correct treatment from the point of diagnosis.” The rationale was that the budget cutbacks, in the range of 55%, would only take place on a short term basis, just long enough to allow for the country to recuperate from recently imposed austerity measures.
Charges for outpatient visits were also increased by 50% per visit, and almost 200 medicines were de-stocked by pharmacies. A further consequence was the artificial drug shortage, caused by companies like Novo Nordisk, which halted insulin shipments to Greece unless the retail prices were raised in a supposed effort to curb hoarding and black market export by professionals. Almost three years later, this policy is still in effect. The result was the gradual closure of 850 medical clinics, both in the capital Athens as well as in the countryside. Ten thousand beds have been shut down across the country, and 30,000 healthcare professionals removed from frontline positions. Those who remained saw their wages cut by at least 50%.
Among 11 hospitals that have shut down, three are psychiatric while the rest include rural clinics in remote parts of the country, leaving locals without access to a professional in the event of an emergency. The crisis led to the creation of numerous volunteer healthcare organizations in 2015, but their contributions couldn’t put a dent in the number of patients unable to afford any healthcare options. That same year saw the mass migration of thousands of recently graduated or established Greek healthcare professionals across Europe, with almost 4,000 headed for Germany and the Nordic countries seeking steadier employment in a more welcoming professional environment. The results of the brain drain haven’t yet been entirely felt, but experts agree the long-term effects could cripple the country’s prospects for decades to come.
Raul Ilargi Meijer von The Automatic Earth ist wieder in Athen und versucht, die schwierigen Bedingungen zu erleichtern, die in Griechenland bestehen. Die Aufmerksamkeit der Medien und der Welt ist abgelenkt, obwohl sich selbst diese Bedingungen zunehmend verschlechtern. Akute Probleme ziehen kollektive Aufmerksamkeit an, chronische aber leider nicht. Griechenland steckt tief in volkswirtschaftlicher Depression mit ausgewachsenem Liquiditätsengpass, Kapitalkontrollen, Massenarbeitslosigkeit, fehlender medizinischer Versorgung, Hungerepidemien und vielen anderen Schwierigkeiten.
Die von außen bereitgestellten Resourcen fließen zum größten Teil durch offizielle Kanäle, aber die Körperschaften, die mit der Auslieferung der Hilfen beauftragt sind, sind oft zu groß um zu erkennen, wo die wahren Bedürfnisse liegen, um dann rechtzeitig darauf zu reagieren, oder um die Mittel effektiv und effizient einzusetzen. Einfach gesagt neigen große Organisationen dazu, bürokratisch zu sein, und einen großen administrativen Wasserkopf zu haben, der viele Resourcen intern verschlingt. Als Außenseiter fehlen ihnen auch oft die kulturellen Verbindungen, welche notwendig sind um informelle Brücken zu bauen und Hilfmittelverteilung zu lenken. Die Regeln, welche die intitutionalisierte Hilfsindustrie befolgen muß, zum Beispiel die Bedingung für Hungernde, sich auszuweisen, bevor man berechtig ist, Lebensmittel zu erhalten, kann zu großen Hindernissen führen.
1. Average folks took on the commanding heights of politics, business, journalism and academia and triumphed. Obviously, the “little guy” isn’t always right, but the fact he can win demonstrates that a system whose pathways remain open to those the Bible refer to as “the least of these.” The wealthiest, best-organized and most publicized factions don’t always win.
2. Told to choose between economic bounty and self-governance, a majority of Britons chose the latter. It’s a false choice in this case, but people recognized that the sum of human existence is not material. The problem is not just the decisions previously taken away from those elected to govern the UK; it’s also the decisions that would have been taken away in the future had “Remain” won.
3. Those governed decided that they should make fundamental decisions about who would rule over them. The Eurocrats, a gaggle of politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, academics, lobbyists and businessmen were determined to achieve their ends no matter what the European people thought. A constitution rejected? Use a treaty. A treaty rejected? Vote again. A busted monetary union? Force a political union. And never, ever consult the public. No longer, said the British.
13. Schadenfreude is a terrible thing, but almost all of us glory in the misfortune of at least some others. The recriminations among the Remain camp in Britain are terrible to behold. Labour Party tribunes blame their leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose Euroskeptic past created suspicions inflamed by his criticisms of the EU while nominally praising it. His supporters blame the Scottish nationalists for not turning out their voters. Former Liberal-Democrat Party leader and deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg trashed Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne for seeking political advantage by holding the referendum. The Scots are mad at the English. Irish “republicans” in Northern Ireland also are denouncing the English, while their longtime unionist rivals are trashing the republicans. The young are blaming the old for ruining their futures. Apparently, America isn’t the only home for myopic bickering.
14. Sometimes the advocate of a lost cause triumphs. Nigel Farage has been campaigning against the EU forever, it seems. Yet every advance appeared to trigger a retreat. His United Kingdom Independence Party picked up support, but then had to shed some of those whose views really were beyond the pale. UKIP was able to break into the European Parliament, which it hated, but won only one seat at Westminster, despite receiving 3.9 million votes, or 12.6% of the total, in last year’s election. One reason was that Cameron and the Tories stole his issue, promising a referendum on the EU—in which they then opposed separation. Election night he admitted that it looked like the UK would choose to remain. Except the British people ended up taking his advice.
From Charles’ “correspondent” Ron. Brexit as a natural phenomenon. “I believe we have entered a critical but wonderful age, the age of reemergence of decentralization and decentralized governance; may we preserve this opportunity for the gift that it is to life, liberty and property.”
“Mankind’s fundamental quest is to survive and prosper by solving scarcity. BREXIT is simply a modern example of an old pattern of behavior that seeks to resolve scarcity, (the shrinking pie of economic opportunity and ownership), through reconfiguration of relationships to reallocate resources to enable more equitable equilibrium in supply and demand. As a prelude to BREXIT, housing in Britain, in particular, had become out of reach for those that have labored under the assumption that hard work, education, and a good job would lead to an ability to own a home, which many young Britons now find economically out of their reach; many Britons blame the government’s monetary policy of 0% interest rates for inflation and unaffordable housing.
In another sign of frustration, a few years ago a graffiti sign expressed a sentiment of the youth in Britain, one of them posted at Bell Lane near Liverpool St. Station, it read: ‘Sorry, the lifestyle you ordered is out of stock.’ The Bank of England has continued policies that have contributed to the exasperation expressed through the referendum, this along with the burdens of having an open country and economy that increased labor supply which in turn increased demand for housing and available credit to driving the asset bubble. This type of scarcity, being seen in Britain, is very common throughout history and is generally driven by the confluence of interests that connects and drives centralized, unified policies between bankers, merchants (in today’s world global corporations) and governments.
Turning back the clock a bit, I would like to include a couple of quotes by an amazingly brilliant and eloquent commentator in economics, Fredic Bastiat in his writings from 1850: 1) “I do not dispute their right to invent social combinations, to advertise them, to advocate them, and to try them upon themselves, at their own expense and risk. But I do dispute their right to impose these plans upon us by law – by force – and to compel us to pay for them with our taxes.” 2) “Self-preservation and self-development are common aspirations among all people. And if everyone enjoyed the unrestricted use of his faculties and the free disposition of the fruits of his labor, social progress would be ceaseless, uninterrupted, and unfailing. But there is also another tendency that is common among people. When they can, they wish to live and prosper at the expense of others.”
ECB President Mario Draghi urged central banks to better coordinate policies to confront the problem of ultralow inflation in an era of slow global growth, underscoring the conundrum he and his associates face in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. The guardians of the global monetary system face conflicting pressures as they seek to support their economies amid new turbulence. They also run the risk that their efforts will work at odds with each other and destabilize the financial system. Central banks should examine whether their policies are “properly aligned,” Mr. Draghi said at an ECB conference in Portugal. He further warned that currency devaluations aimed at boosting national competitiveness are a “lose-lose” for the global economy.
“In a globalized world, the global policy mix matters—and will likely matter more as our economies become more integrated,” Mr. Draghi said. “The speed with which monetary policy can achieve domestic goals inevitably becomes more dependent on others.” His warning resonated as central banks try to respond to the looming Brexit. Last week’s vote sent currencies spinning, pushing up the dollar and Japanese yen and driving down the euro and the British pound. It also sent investors away from stocks and risky bond investments. Markets settled on Tuesday after two days of sharp selling of risky assets. The Bank of England faces the risk of recession paired with the threat of inflation. If it lowers interest rates to boost growth, it could put additional downward pressure on its currency which stirs inflation. If it stands still, economic growth could suffer.
Things have not been going according to plan for Kuroda-san and his policy-making ‘Peter-Pan’s in Japan. Since The Bank of Japan unleashed NIRP on its ‘saving’ community – which, according to the textbooks would force money to reach for riskier investments, pumping stocks up, or flush cash into inflationary consumption – stock prices have collapsed and bond prices have exploded… In fact, in six months, bonds are outperforming stocks by a central-bank-credibility-crushing 70%!!! Rate cuts…not working.
And it’s not just The BoJ that is struggling – since The Fed hiked rates, The S&P is down 3.5% and Treasuries are up 16%!!
EU leaders gave Britain breathing space Tuesday by accepting it needed time to absorb a shock Brexit vote before triggering a divorce but insisted the crunch move could not wait months. A humiliated Prime Minister David Cameron came face-to-face with European colleagues for the first time since last week’s vote at a Brussels summit which leaders said was “sad” but pragmatic. Trillions of dollars have been wiped off world markets since Thursday’s vote to leave the EU, while the United Kingdom’s future has been thrown into doubt after Scotland said it would push for a new independence referendum. Further shockwaves juddered through British politics as Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour party, vowed to fight on despite losing a crushing no-confidence vote among his party’s lawmakers.
Thousands of people took to the streets of London, which voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, to protest against the referendum result, waving EU flags and placards saying: “Stop Brexit”. After hours of talks in Brussels, EU President Donald Tusk said that he understood that time was needed “for the dust to settle” in Britain before the next steps can be taken. But reflecting wider concerns of a domino effect of other states wanting to leave, EC president Jean-Claude Juncker said Britain did not have “months to meditate”. He set a clear timetable for triggering Article 50, the EU treaty clause that begins the two-year withdrawal process, after Cameron’s successor takes office in early September. Juncker said that if the new prime minister was a pro-remain figure, Article 50 should be activated “in two weeks after his appointment” – but if it was a supporter of the leave campaign, “it should be done the day after his appointment,” he added.
Note how the term ‘populist’ is regurgitated by media like Bloomberg, and then applied to anyone ‘we’ are supposed to eye with suspicion. Beppe Grillo, Nigel Farage, Hugo Chavez, Podemos, there’s a long list by now, and all they have in common is resistance to ‘The Model’. Problem of course is, when used this way, a term loses its meaning. But for now, everyone takes for granted that anyone who’s a Euroskeptic is also per definition a populist.
Mario Draghi has just pushed the boundaries of central banking further into the realm of globalization, at a time when globalization is on the run. Following the work of Reserve Bank of India Raghuram Rajan and others, the ECB president on Tuesday became the most senior global central banker so far to call for more explicit policy cooperation between jurisdictions. Draghi’s aim is to mitigate the damaging cross-border side-effects brought on by the combination of monetary activism and tighter global financial links. “We have to think not just about whether our domestic monetary policies are appropriate, but whether they are properly aligned across jurisdictions,” Draghi said at the ECB’s annual policy forum in Sintra, Portugal. “In a globalized world, the global policy mix matters.”
While Draghi made no explicit reference in the speech to the U.K.’s June 23 decision to quit the EU, a powerful rejection by voters of globalization, he told European leaders just hours later that he leans toward the more pessimistic forecasts of the impact of Britain’s vote on growth in the rest of the region, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg News. [..] Policy coordination is a laudable thought as long as it’s not taken too far, said Omair Sharif at Societe Generale in New York. “What he’s getting at is simply the idea that we don’t have a great understanding of all the financial linkages and capital flows,” Sharif said. “That certainly does call for better understanding among central banks, not necessarily coordinated policies.”
Asian economies may slow down sharply and currencies may be pushed broadly lower as the Brexit contagion hits Asia, with Hong Kong likely to fall into a recession and the Chinese yuan to decline further, according to analysts. Britain’s dramatic decision to break from the European Union has roiled financial markets and sent shockwaves across the globe. Asian economies could soon feel deeper pains through several channels, including the financial sector, trade, investor confidence, and investor psychology, according to analysts from Nomura on Tuesday. “It’s not a temporary contagion. There are going to be several waves [on Asia],” said Rob Subbaraman at Nomura in a conference call.
Subbaraman said his team had slashed GDP growth forecasts for all major economies in the region and put Asia’s aggregate growth at 5.6% in 2016, down from a previous projection of 5.9%. In the region, Hong Kong may be hit the most, with its 2016 GDP likely to shrink by 0.2%, compared with a previous estimate of 0.8% growth. In 2015, Hong Kong’s economy grew by 2.4%. Singapore’s projected growth rate for 2016 was also cut sharply to 1.1%, versus an estimate of 1.8% previously. “Hong Kong and Singapore are both financial hubs and very exposed to UK banks,” said Subbaraman. “They also have managed exchange rates, which give central banks less leeway in rate policy. There is also a risk that the HIBOR (Hong Kong Interbank Offered Rate) rates could start rising.”
In particular, the reasons that they forecast an “outright recession” for the Hong Kong economy are mainly related to a stronger Hong Kong dollar, which is rising with the US dollar amid global risk aversion. Hong Kong’s reliance on exports also leaves it exposed to Brexit risks, as the city’s merchant exports to the UK and the rest of the EU accounted for 14% of GDP in 2015, the highest in Asia, Nomura analysts said.
For a sense of how much the surging yen will hurt Japanese earnings, look at the gap between where companies expected the currency to trade and where it actually is. On average, large manufacturers calculated their earnings forecasts assuming the yen would be about 114 per dollar, based on data from the Bank of Japan. With the yen’s latest rally, the gap with that forecast is the widest since the global financial crisis in 2008.
An artificial-intelligence lawyer chatbot has successfully contested 160,000 parking tickets across London and New York for free, showing that chatbots can actually be useful. Dubbed as “the world’s first robot lawyer” by its 19-year-old creator, London-born second-year Stanford University student Joshua Browder, DoNotPay helps users contest parking tickets in an easy to use chat-like interface. The program first works out whether an appeal is possible through a series of simple questions, such as were there clearly visible parking signs, and then guides users through the appeals process.
The results speak for themselves. In the 21 months since the free service was launched in London and now New York, DoNotPay has taken on 250,000 cases and won 160,000, giving it a success rate of 64% appealing over $4m of parking tickets. “I think the people getting parking tickets are the most vulnerable in society. These people aren’t looking to break the law. I think they’re being exploited as a revenue source by the local government,” Browder told Venture Beat. The bot was created by the self-taught coder after receiving 30 parking tickets at the age of 18 in and around London. The process for appealing the fines is relatively formulaic and perfectly suits AI, which is able to quickly drill down and give the appropriate advice without charging lawyers fees.
Back in February 2015, the price of West Texas Intermediate stood at about $52 per barrel, half of its 2014 peak. I argued then that a renewed decline was coming that could drive it below $20, a scenario regarded by oil bulls as unthinkable. But prices did fall further, dropping all the way to a low of $26 in February. Since then, crude rallied to spend several weeks flirting with $50 per barrel, a level not seen since last year. But it won’t last; I’m sticking to my call for prices to decline anew to $10 to $20 per barrel. Recent gains have little to do with the fundamentals that led to the collapse in the first place.
Wildfires in the oil-sands region in Canada, output cuts in Nigeria and Venezuela due to political unrest, and hopes that American hfracking would run out of steam are the primary causes of the recent spurt. But the world continues to be awash in crude, and American frackers have replaced the OPEC as the world’s swing producers. The once-feared oil cartel is, to my mind, pretty much finished as an effective price enforcer. Even OPEC’s leader, Saudi Arabia, is acknowledging the new reality by quashing recent attempts to freeze output, borrowing from banks and preparing to sell a stake in its Aramco oil company as it tries to find new sources of non-oil revenue.
The Saudis and their Persian Gulf allies continue to play a desperate game of chicken with other major oil producers. Cartels exist to keep prices above equilibrium, which encourages cheating as cartel members exceed their allotted output and other producers take advantage of inflated prices. So the role of the cartel leader, in this case Saudi Arabia, is to cut its own output, neutralizing the cheaters to keep prices up. But the Saudis suffered market-share losses from their previous production cuts. OPEC has effectively abandoned restraints, with total output soaring to as high as 33 million barrels per day at the end of last year:
The politics of Great Britain are now falling apart landslide-style. Since just about everybody in or near power can be blamed for the national predicament, there’s nobody to turn to, at least not yet. The Labour party just acted out The Caine Mutiny, starring Jeremy Corbyn as Captain Queeg. The Tory Cameron gave three months notice without any plausible replacement in view. Now Cameron’s people are hinting in the media that they can just drag their feet on Brexit, that is, not do anything to enable it from actually happening for a while. Of course, that’s what the monkeyshines of banking and finance have done: postponed the inevitable reckoning with the realities of our time: growing resource scarcity, population overshoot, climate change, ecological holocaust, and the diminishing returns of technology.
Britain illustrates the problem nicely: how to produce “wealth” without producing wealth. It’s called “the City,” their name for the little district of London that is their Wall Street. In the absence of producing real things, the City became the driver of the UK’s economy, a ghastly parasitical organism that functioned as the central transfer station for the world’s swindles and frauds, churning the West’s dwindling residual capital into a slurry of fees, commissions, arbitrages, rigged casino bets, and rip-offs. In the process, it enabled the ECB to run the con-job that the EU became, with the fatal distortions of credit that have put its members into a ditch and sent the private European banks off a cliff, Thelma and Louise style.
The next stage of this protean global melodrama is what happens when currencies and interest rates become completely unglued from their assigned roles as patsies in financial racketeering. Sooner or later we’ll know what’s going on in the vast shadowy gloaming of “derivatives,” especially the “innovative” arrangements that affect to be “insurance” against losses in currency and interest rate “positions” — bets made on the movements of these things. When currencies rise or fall quickly, these so-called “swaps” are “triggered,” and then some hapless institution is left holding a big bag of dog-shit. A zombie is a terrible thing to behold, but a zombie holding a bag of dog-shit is like unto the end of the world.
• Patriotism is one’s love of one’s native land and people. It is a natural, organic result of growing up in a certain place among a certain people, who have also grown up there, and who pass along a cultural and linguistic legacy that they all love and cherish. This does not imply that those not of one’s family, neighborhood or region are in any way inferior, but they are not one’s own, and one loves them less.
• Nationalism is a synthetic product generated using public education and is centered around certain hollow symbols: a flag, an anthem, some yellowed pieces of paper, a few creation myths and so on. It is supported by certain rituals (parades, speeches, handing out of medals) that comprise a civic cult. The purpose of nationalism is to support the nation-state. Where nationalism serves the needs of one’s native land and people, nationalism and patriotism become aligned; when it destroys them, nationalism becomes the enemy and patriots form partisan movements, rise up and destroy the nation-state.
• Fascism is the perfect melding of the nation-state and corporations, in the course of which the distinction between public and private interests becomes erased and corporations come to dictate public policy. An almost perfect expression of fascism is the recent transatlantic and transpacific trade agreements negotiated in secret by the Obama administration, which at the moment, to everyone’s great relief, seem to be dead in the water.
It should be obvious that fascism has to be defeated, and if we were to pick just one perfectly good reason to fire the transatlantic elites then it is to thwart this corporate power grab. But it does not stop there, because nationalism and patriotism are also in play. Patriotism is a natural, core human value without which all you have is a rootless population shifting about opportunistically. Nationalism is a relatively recent innovation (nation-states are a 17th century invention) and as such a dangerous one, but in the case of some of the older and more successful nation-states it does provide significant benefits: a cherished cultural tradition anchored to a national language and literature, the ability to keep the peace and to repel outside aggression. And then there is the EU, with its flag depicting a constellation of stars that are obviously orbiting something—something that could only be a black hole, since it is invisible.
Surprise, surprise. Workers in Britain, many of whom have seen a decline in their standard of living while the very rich in their country have become much richer, have turned their backs on the EU and a globalized economy that is failing them and their children. And it’s not just the British who are suffering. That increasingly globalized economy, established and maintained by the world’s economic elite, is failing people everywhere. Incredibly, the wealthiest 62 people on this planet own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population — around 3.6 billion people. The top 1% now owns more wealth than the whole of the bottom 99%. The very, very rich enjoy unimaginable luxury while billions of people endure abject poverty, unemployment, and inadequate health care, education, housing and drinking water.
Could this rejection of the current form of the global economy happen in the United States? You bet it could. During my campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, I’ve visited 46 states. What I saw and heard on too many occasions were painful realities that the political and media establishment fail even to recognize. In the last 15 years, nearly 60,000 factories in this country have closed, and more than 4.8 million well-paid manufacturing jobs have disappeared. Much of this is related to disastrous trade agreements that encourage corporations to move to low-wage countries. Despite major increases in productivity, the median male worker in America today is making $726 dollars less than he did in 1973, while the median female worker is making $1,154 less than she did in 2007, after adjusting for inflation.
Nearly 47 million Americans live in poverty. An estimated 28 million have no health insurance, while many others are underinsured. Millions of people are struggling with outrageous levels of student debt. For perhaps the first time in modern history, our younger generation will probably have a lower standard of living than their parents. Frighteningly, millions of poorly educated Americans will have a shorter life span than the previous generation as they succumb to despair, drugs and alcohol. Meanwhile, in our country the top one-tenth of 1% now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%. 58% of all new income is going to the top 1%. Wall Street and billionaires, through their “super PACs,” are able to buy elections.
This makes it look like Rutte plays hardball, or almost. In reality, he’s looking for ways to disregard the outcome of the Dutch referendum. Already, while the applicable law says that the outcome should be implemented by the government as soon as possible, Rutte just keeps pushing it forward. After July 1, when Holland is no longer chair of the EU, pressure will rise on both sides. But if Rutte tries to sign the Ukraine deal despite the referendum, ‘binding assurances’ or not, he should be voted out of office ASAP. The Dutch people said NO, and Rutte can‘t turn that into a YES.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte asked European Union leaders on Tuesday for “legally binding” assurances to address his country’s concerns over a trade and association deal with Ukraine and said The Hague would block it otherwise. The Netherlands is the only EU state not to have ratified the bloc’s agreement on closer political, security and trade ties with Kiev following a referendum in April in which the Dutch voted overwhelmingly to reject it. The agreement with Kiev, reached after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and then backed rebels fighting government troops in the east of the country, is being provisionally implemented now, but its future hinges on the Netherlands.
“What we need is a legally binding solution, which will address the many worries and elements of the discussion in the Netherlands leading up to the referendum,” Rutte said after an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels to discuss the aftermath of Britain’s vote last week to leave the bloc. The debate around the referendum in the Netherlands, which showed dissatisfaction with Rutte’s government and policy-making in Brussels, zeroed in on whether the agreement with Kiev would herald EU membership for Ukraine and its 45 million people. “The exact form – I don’t know yet,” Rutte said. “It could be that we have to change the text, it could be that we can find a solution which will not involve changing the text of the association agreement. I don’t know yet.
“If I am not able to achieve that … we will not sign,” he said. “We will try to find a solution, it will be difficult, the chances are small that we will get there but I think we should try.” The whole deal could be derailed should The Hague refuse to ratify it, but a senior EU official said he hoped this could be solved by the end of the year.
As China’s economy continues to sputter, many local companies are having difficulty servicing their debts. A look at 3,000 listed Chinese businesses by French investment bank Natixis found that interest costs exceeded cash flow for 18.5% of them last year, compared with 8% in 2010. Real estate, the most debt-ridden sector, saw its leverage level reach 197% last year, nearly double the figure for 2008, according to Natixis. The investment bank estimates that almost one-third of listed companies in the sector are “zombies” – businesses that are on the brink of default but still taking on more debt.
“The share of zombies in the real estate sector literally doubles the average in [corporate] China,” said Iris Pang, senior economist for greater China at Natixis. Evergrande Real Estate, for example, saw its ratio of total liabilities to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization – or EBITDA – leap to 15.4% at the end of 2015 from 8.5% a year earlier. The figure climbed to 28.6% from 14.9% at Greenland Holdings, 26.8% from 9.7% at Sunac China Holdings, and 58.5% from 20% at Shui On Land. A study released in May by brokerage CLSA of China’s property, mining, manufacturing, utilities, construction, and wholesale and retail sectors counted potential problem debts of 14 trillion yuan ($2.14 trillion) as of the end of 2015.
The property sector represented over half the total, at 54.1%, with industries plagued by excess capacity, such as utilities, steel and coal, accounting for much of the rest. Notably, most of the recent corporate bond defaults have come from these loss-making sectors too, including state-owned power equipment manufacturer Baoding Tianwei and Dongbei Special Steel. Worries about large-scale layoffs, especially in the steel and coal industries, have held the government back from pushing strongly on necessary capacity cutbacks. Instead, state banks have continued to extend more loans, said Francis Cheung at CLSA. Cheung estimates that the actual proportion of questionable debts on the books of China’s banks stands at 15-20%, compared with the 5.76% total reported by the central bank at the end of the first quarter for nonperforming loans and so-called special mention loans.
Defaults and pulled sales are starting to gum up China’s bond refinancing machine. Chinese companies issued 382.7 billion yuan ($58.5 billion) of notes onshore this month, down 11% from the same period in April and 57% March, data compiled by Bloomberg show. With just eight trading days to go, fundraising may fall short of the record 547.3 billion yuan of debt due. That would mark a shift after sales were 83% more than maturities in April and almost three times higher in March. The faltering $3 trillion corporate bond market will test Premier Li Keqiang’s determination to weed out zombie companies dragging on growth in the world’s second-biggest economy. At least 10 issuers have reneged on onshore debt obligations this year, while 153 Chinese firms have pulled 175 billion yuan of domestic sales this quarter.
Shandong Iron & Steel, which canceled a 3 billion yuan bond offering on May 4, has 3 billion yuan of securities due this month and 30 billion yuan to repay this year. “Many Chinese companies are relying on new borrowings to repay their old debt,” said Liu Dongliang, a senior analyst at China Merchants Bank in Shenzhen. “If they can’t get the money they need, more will default.” Debt-laden companies are struggling to lock in stable, longer-term financing. Sales of onshore bonds maturing in one year or less accounted for 72% of issuance by Chinese coal and steel producers from May 2015 to April 2016, as many were unable to sell longer debt, according to Fitch Ratings. Most of the proceeds were used to refinance maturing notes, Fitch wrote in a May 13 report. “Only the best companies, which have strong profitability or trustworthy credit profiles, are able to sell bonds,” said Qiu Xinhong at First State Cinda Fund Management. “Confidence won’t rebound in the short term.”
Somewhere back in the depths of time the world got the idea that easy money — that is, low interest rates and high levels of government spending — would produce sustainable growth with modest but positive inflation. And for a while it seemed to work. But that was an illusion. What actually happened was textbook, long-term, surreally-vast misallocation of capital in which individuals, companies and governments were fooled into thinking that adding new factories, stores and infrastructure at a rate several times that of population growth would somehow work out for the best.
China, as with so many other things, was the epicenter of this delusion. In response to the 2008-2009 financial crisis it borrowed more money than any other country ever, and spent most of the proceeds on infrastructure and basic industry. It’s steel-making capacity, already huge by 2008, kept growing right through the Great Recession, and now dwarfs that of any other country.
The result was indeed higher prices for iron ore and finished steel up front (that is, the inflation the architects of the easy money era expected and desired). But this was soon followed by falling prices as the rest of the world’s steel makers tried to stay in the game.
It’s the same story pretty much everywhere. Miners that produced the raw materials for the infrastructure/industrial build-out started projects based on inflated price projections and now have no choice but to keep producing to cover variable costs and avoid bankruptcy. Prices of virtually every commodity have as a result plunged. In the US, retailers built new stores at a pace that vastly exceeded population growth, apparently on the assumption that consumers would keep borrowing in order to buy ever-greater amounts of semi-useless stuff. And now bricks and mortar retailing is suffering a mass-die-off.
There’s more cash sitting on company balance sheets than ever before. For the first time since 2012, that’s not enough. Combining all of the corporate cash in the U.S. wouldn’t cover the $1.8 trillion of corporate debt that’s coming due in the next five years, according to a report by Moody’s Investors Service on Friday. That’s because U.S. companies have been borrowing more quickly than they’ve built up the record $1.68 trillion of cash on their balance sheets. And more of that debt comes due sooner. “You’re seeing more and more borrowing,” Richard Lane, a senior vice president at Moody’s, said by phone. “The increase in leverage has been notable. Cash coverage of near-term maturities hasn’t fallen below 100% since 2012, and hasn’t been as low as its current 93% since the year before that, according to Moody’s.
One reason may be that companies are making less money from merely running their businesses. Cash flow from operations declined 0.2% to $1.54 trillion in the 12 months ended in December 2015, the first time the metric declined in Moody’s data going back to 2007. To cope with sluggish global growth, companies went to the bond market to raise cash at rock-bottom rates. They issued a record $1.4 trillion of bonds last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That helped lead to a 17% increase in the amount of company debt outstanding that matures in the next five years. In contrast, cash holdings only increased by 1.8% among U.S. non-financial companies at the end of 2015, according to Moody’s. The credit rater’s definition of cash includes short-term investments and liquid long-term investments.
The United States issued a fresh warning to Japan against competitive currency devaluation on Saturday, exposing a rift on exchange-rate policy that overshadowed a Group of 7 finance leaders gathering hosted by the Asian nation. Japan and the United States are at logger-heads over currency policy with Washington saying Tokyo has no justification to intervene in the market to stem yen gains, given the currency’s moves remain “orderly”. In bilateral talks ahead of the second day of G7 talks in Sendai, Japan on Saturday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso that it was important to refrain from competitive currency devaluation.
“Secretary Lew underscored that the commitments made by the G-20 in Shanghai to use all policy tools to promote growth – fiscal policy, monetary policy and structural reforms – and to refrain from competitive devaluation and communicate closely have helped to contribute to confidence in the global economy in recent months,” according to a statement by the Treasury Department.
“He noted the importance of countries continuing to adhere to those commitments,” the statement said. As years of aggressive money printing stretch the limits of monetary policy, the G7 policy response to anemic inflation and subdued growth has become increasingly splintered. Germany has shown no signs of responding to calls from Japan and the United States to boost fiscal spending. Washington also warned Tokyo against relying too much on monetary policy with a senior U.S. Treasury official saying structural reforms are being put in place in Japan “but slowly.”
Prices for oil futures have jumped by almost a quarter since April, lifted by severe supply disruptions caused by triggers such as Canadian wildfires, acts of sabotage in Nigeria, and civil war in Libya. Yet flying into Singapore, the oil trading hub for the world’s biggest consumer region, Asia, reveals another picture: that a global glut that pulled down prices by over 70% between 2014 and early 2016 is nowhere near over, and that financial traders betting on higher crude oil futures may be in for a surprise from the physical market. “I’ve been coming to Singapore once a year for the last 15 years, and flying in I have never seen the waters so full of idle tankers,” said a senior European oil trader a day after arriving in the city-state.
Red dots are ships at anchor or barely moving, oil tankers or cargo (ZH)
As Asia’s main physical oil trading hub, the number of parked tankers sitting off Singapore’s coast or in nearby Malaysian waters is seen by many as a gauge of the industry’s health. Judging by this, oil markets are still sickly: a fleet of 40 supertankers is currently anchored in the region’s coastal waters for use as floating storage facilities. The tankers are filled with 47.7 million barrels of oil, mostly crude, up 10% from the previous week, according to newly collected freight data in Thomson Reuters Eikon. That’s enough oil to satisfy five working days of Chinese demand, suggesting recent supply disruptions – which have mostly occurred in the Americas, Africa and Europe – have done little to tighten supply in Asia as Middle East producers keep output near record volumes in a bid to win market share.
[..] the need to store oil is so strong that traders are calling up banks to finance storage charters despite there being no profit in keeping fuel in tankers at current rates. “We are receiving unusually high amounts of queries to finance storage charters,” said a senior oil trade financier with a major bank in Asia. “These queries come from traders fully aware that they will not make a profit from storing the oil. This isn’t a trade play, it’s the oil market looking for places to store unsold fuel,” he added.
When Washington took over the beleaguered mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac during the collapse of the housing market and the financial crisis of 2008, it was with the implicit promise that they would be returned to shareholders after being nursed back to health. But now, with the unsealing of documents this week that were produced as part of a lawsuit filed against the government, new evidence is coming to light on how intimately the White House was involved in the Treasury’s decision in August 2012 to divert all the companies’ profits to the Treasury Department. That move effectively maintained Fannie and Freddie’s status as wards of the state.
An email from Jim Parrott, then a top White House official on housing finance, was sent the day the so-called profit sweep was announced. It said that the change was structured to ensure that the companies couldn’t “repay their debt and escape as it were.” The documents also show Treasury moving to modify the terms of the mortgage finance giants’ $187.5 billion bailout shortly after a July 2012 meeting when the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Fannie’s and Freddie’s regulator, learned that they were about to enter “the golden years” of profitability. Since then, Fannie and Freddie have returned to the Treasury over $50 billion more than they received in the bailout. The amount they owe to the government remains outstanding.
The new materials cast further doubt on arguments made in court by government lawyers that the profit sweep came about because Fannie and Freddie were in a death spiral and taxpayers needed protection from future losses. Documents unsealed last month also served to undermine that legal stance. The trickle of documents comes years after Fannie and Freddie shareholders filed suits against the government, contending that its decision regarding the companies’ profits was illegal. Defending against an array of these suits, lawyers for the Justice Department have requested confidential treatment for thousands of pages of materials. In a case brought in Federal Claims Court, the government’s lawyers asserted presidential privilege in 45 documents.
David Cameron narrowly avoided the parliamentary defeat of his Queen’s speech this week – an event that, theoretically, triggers the fall of a government and hasn’t happened since 1924. That was only achieved through an embarrassing U-turn on TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which he ardently supports. One of the primary concerns about TTIP is that it could pave the way to further privatisation of the NHS. Yesterday, a group of MPs gave notice that they would table an amendment to the Queen’s speech, lamenting the fact that the government had not included a bill to protect the NHS from TTIP in its programme. The cross-party group was led by Peter Lilley, a long-time supporter of free trade and a former minister under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, and was supported by at least 25 Tory MPs – easily enough to overturn the government’s majority.
Though many were Brexiters, by no means all were, and some, such as Sarah Wollaston, appear to have changed their position on TTIP. Realising he faced one of the most embarrassing defeats of his premiership – one not suffered since a similar motion removed Stanley Baldwin from office in 1924 – Cameron quickly said he’d support the amendment. Make no bones about it, this is a humiliation. The prime minister has repeatedly told MPs that TTIP poses no threat to the NHS. Yet to avoid the abyss, his government has supported an amendment contrary to these assertions. We must be under no illusions that he has any intention of moving to protect the NHS in TTIP. How did it come to this? The obvious answer is the EU referendum, which has brought into the open fundamental divisions within the Tory party.
But this only provided the opportunity for parliamentary defeat. If this had gone to a vote, the vast majority of MPs opposing the government in fact support remaining in the EU, and wouldn’t take part in anything that would make Brexit more likely. The reasons go deeper – and they mirror what is happening all over the EU and US. TTIP started out as an obscure trade agreement that would create the world’s biggest “free trade zone” between the US and EU, and received little media coverage or parliamentary debate. Two years ago very few politicians or journalists had even heard of it. Yet a movement has built against this deal, one that has stunned the negotiators and forced the EU trade commissioner to call TTIP “the most toxic acronym in Europe”.
Bestselling weedkillers by Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta could be removed from shops across Europe by July, after an EU committee failed for a second time to agree on a new license for its core ingredient, glyphosate. The issue has divided EU nations, academics and the WHO itself. One WHO agency found it to be “probably carcinogenic to humans” while another ruled that glyphosate was unlikely to pose any health risk to humans, in an assessment shaded by conflict of interests allegations earlier this week. EU officials say that while there could be a voluntary grace period of six-12 months, unless a compromise can be found, the product’s license will be allowed to expire on 30 June. One told the Guardian that after its proposal to cutting the authorisation to nine years was rejected, the bloc was now in “uncharted territory” with no clear path to a deal that could reach consensus.
“Our position is clear,” he said. “If we can reach a qualified majority on a text we will go ahead. Otherwise, we have to leave the authorisation to expire and on 30 June member states will need to start withdrawing products containing glyphosate from the market.” Glyphosate is Europe’s most widely used weedkiller, and its parent RoundUp herbicide accounts for a third of Monsanto’s total earnings. The compound is routinely – but not exclusively – used on crops that have been genetically engineered to resist it. Several studies have linked blanket spraying with damage to surrounding flora, fauna and the entire food chain. But the commission moved to relicense it last November, after a crucial European food safety authority (Efsa) report declared it unlikely to cause cancer, although that paper sparked controversy.
Philip Miller, Monsanto’s vice president of global regulatory affairs, condemned the EU’s failure to reapprove glyphosate as “scientifically unwarranted” and “an unprecedented deviation from the EU’s legislative framework”. Writing in a blog post, he said: “This delay undermines the credibility of the European regulatory process and threatens to put European farmers and the European agriculture and chemical industries at a competitive disadvantage.” Richard Garnett, the head of Monsanto’s regulatory affairs unit said that the situation was “discriminatory, disproportionate and wholly unjustified”. The US agri-giant is currently the subject of a takeover bid by the German chemicals multinational, Bayer. Under bloc rules, the commission could now go to an appeals committee but this would have the same balance of countries as the standing committee that has now twice failed to take a decision.
It could also go over the heads of the EU states and independently reauthorise glyphosate as a draft measure. EU president Jean-Claude Juncker has said that he opposes doing this and officials doubt it will happen, although the procedure has been used to approve GM crops for import. A short-term license might also be possible. Glyphosate is so ubiquitous that its residues are commonly found in breads, beers and human bodies. More than 99% of people in one recent German survey were found to have traces of the compound in their urine, 75% of them at levels five times the safe limit for water or above. But the very definition of a safe limit for chemicals such as glyphosate is contested, and linked to a broader regulatory divide between the US’s risk-based approach which errs towards product approvals where doubt cannot be quantified, and the EU’s hazard-based approach, which leans towards a precautionary principle in such situations.
EU governments showed Turkey a united front in the battle over visa-free travel, insisting Ankara narrow its terrorism legislation to qualify for the perk. The stance by European home-affairs ministers underscores a threat to an EU-Turkey agreement that has stemmed Europe’s biggest refugee wave since World War II and eased domestic political pressure on leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Turkey sought EU visa-free status in return for signing up to the mid-March deal, under which irregular migrants who enter the EU in Greece are sent back to Turkey and Syrian refugees in Turkish camps are resettled in Europe. The EU has said Turks can win visa-free status by mid-year as long as the Turkish government fulfills five remaining criteria – including on the terrorism law – out of a total of 72.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signaled he won’t bow to the European demand over terrorism legislation, citing terror risks in Turkey that his critics say are being used as cover to jail political opponents. “We have a clear statement and a clear agreement on visa liberalization: it goes through if you meet the criteria,” Klaas Dijkhoff, migration minister of the Netherlands, current holder of the 28-nation EU’s rotating presidency, told reporters on Friday in Brussels after chairing a meeting with his counterparts from the bloc. “We will see if, over the next few weeks, the criteria are met. If so, we will go ahead. If not, well, then not. It’s as simple as that.” The standoff pits EU political principles against Turkish geopolitical power. Migrant flows into Europe via Turkey during the past year have handed Erdogan leverage over the EU, which has lambasted him for cracking down on domestic dissenters and kept Turkey’s longstanding bid for membership of the bloc largely on hold.
Along with the reintroduction of internal European border checks that shut a migratory route north from Greece, the March 18 EU agreement with Ankara has caused a slump in refugee sea crossings from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands. Arrivals in Greece fell to 3,650 last month from 26,971 in March and 57,066 in February, according to the UN refugee agency. On May 6, when commenting on the EU call for Turkish terrorism-rule changes, Erdogan said “we are going our way and you go yours.” He also dared the bloc to “go make a deal with whoever you can.” Erdogan’s position poses a “problem,” said Theo Francken, Belgium’s state secretary for asylum and migration. “It’s clear that all the conditions have to be fulfilled,” Francken told reporters at Friday’s EU meeting. “To get visa liberalization, it’s important that they change their terrorism law.”
European interior ministers on Friday pressured Greece to speed up asylum procedures and send more Syrians back to Turkey. Under a deal signed in March between the EU and Turkey, all migrants, including Syrian refugees are to be sent back to Turkey once they have their asylum applications assessed and rejected by Greek judges. But the first decisions—coming nearly two months after the deal went into effect—ruled mostly in favor of the Syrians applying for asylum. These early figures are raising concerns among EU officials that the intent of the plant to serve as a deterrent will be lost. Austrian minister Wolfgang Sobotka said if the trend continues, it would “at least undermine, if not annul the Turkey agreement.”
Germany, which championed the EU-Turkey deal, in particular pressed Greece for an acceleration in returning migrants to Turkey. German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere said that while Turkey is sticking to its part of the deal and arrivals in Greece have dropped, “on the Greek side, procedures take too long and the returns to Turkey are not happening with enough determination.” Mr. De Maiziere said he spoke to his Greek counterpart about the first appeal case won by a Syrian on Friday against a ruling to send him back to Turkey. He said “it was up to Greek authorities to establish what happened,” while insisting that Turkey is a safe country for Syrian refugees.
“Turkey has sheltered 2.5 million refugees, this is a tremendous performance. Despite all political debates that we can have and which are justified. we can’t doubt Turkey’s safe country status,” Mr. De Maiziere said, in reference to a decision Friday by Turkey’s parliament to strip lawmakers critical of the government of their immunity. Given that the Greek appeals body isn’t controlled by the government, the Greek minister asked for support from the EU to state that Turkey is a safe country where Syrian refugees can be sent back, according to one participant in the debate. “Member states today made it clear that they support Greece in considering Turkey a safe country for the return of migrants,” EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said.
The EU-Turkey migration deal has been thrown further into chaos after an independent authority examining appeals claims in Greece ruled against sending a Syrian refugee back to Turkey, potentially creating a precedent for thousands of other similar cases. In a landmark case, the appeals committee upheld the appeal of an asylum seeker who had been one of the first Syrians listed for deportation under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal. In a document seen by the Guardian, a three-person appeals committee said Turkey would not give Syrian refugees the rights they were owed under international treaties and therefore overturned the applicant’s deportation order by a verdict of two to one. The case will now be re-assessed from scratch.
The committee’s conclusion stated: “The committee has judged that the temporary protection which could be offered by Turkey to the applicant, as a Syrian citizen, does not offer him rights equivalent to those required by the Geneva convention.” The decision undermines the legal and practical basis for the EU-Turkey deal, which European leaders had hoped would deter refugees from sailing to Europe by ensuring the swift deportation of most people landing on the Greek islands. After signing the deal on 18 March, EU officials claimed these deportations would be legally justified on the basis that Turkey respects refugee rights. But the EU’s executive has little control over Greek asylum protocols. The committee rejected the logic of the EU-Turkey deal, citing some of the EU’s own previous directives as explanations for their decision.
While nearly 400 other asylum seekers have been returned to Turkey under the terms of the deal, no one of Syrian nationality had been sent back against their will – making Friday’s decision a watershed moment. “At its very first test, the EU-Turkey deal crumbles,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s deputy Europe director. The Greek government, which played no part in the independent decision, admitted the judgment had created “a very difficult situation”. Greece’s deputy minister in charge of migration policy, Yannis Mouzalas, said by phone from Brussels: “I have only just learned of the decision by the appeals committee and I have to be in Greece to study it. They are, as you know, independent committees so it is very difficult for me to say anything – but if they think this way, we will have a very difficult situation.” Such a decision goes against all the directives of the UN and UNHCR, Mouzalas claimed. “Really I don’t know how they arrived at it.”
From the Dutch tulip craze of 1637 to America’s dot-com bubble at the turn of the century, history is littered with speculative frenzies that ended badly for investors. But rarely has a mania escalated so rapidly, and spurred such fevered trading, as the great China commodities boom of 2016. Over the span of just two wild months, daily turnover on the nation’s futures markets has jumped by the equivalent of $183 billion, outpacing the headiest days of last year’s Chinese stock bubble and making volumes on the Nasdaq exchange in 2000 look tame. What started as a logical bet – that China’s economic stimulus and industrial reforms would lead to shortages of construction materials – quickly morphed into a full-blown commodities frenzy with little bearing on reality.
As the nation’s army of individual investors piled in, they traded enough cotton in a single day last month to make one pair of jeans for everyone on Earth and shuffled around enough soybeans for 56 billion servings of tofu. Now, as Chinese authorities introduce trading curbs to prevent surging commodities from fueling inflation and undermining plans to shut down inefficient producers, speculators are retreating as fast as they poured in. It’s the latest in a series of boom-bust market cycles that critics say are becoming more extreme as China’s policy makers flood the financial system with cash to stave off an economic hard landing. “You have far too much credit, money sloshing about, money looking for higher returns,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”
“Even in commodities where you could have argued there is some reason for prices to rise, that gets quickly swamped by a nascent bull market and becomes an uncontrollable bubble.” In many ways, China’s financial landscape was ripe for another round of mania. New credit soared to a record in the first quarter, giving individuals and businesses plenty of cash to invest at a time when several of the country’s traditional sources of return looked unattractive. Government debt yields were hovering near record lows, while wealth-management products and company bonds had been rattled by a growing number of corporate defaults. Stocks were still too risky for many investors burned by last year’s crash, and moving money offshore had become harder as the government clamped down on capital outflows.
Real demand for steel in China dropped at least 7% in April from the year before, according to Citigroup’s Tracy Liao estimates, so it should not be a total surprise that the frenzied speculative buying in Iron Ore, Rebar, and various other industrial metals in China has crashed back to reality as volumes plunge, dragging The Baltic Dry Freight Index with it as yet another government-manipulated 'signal' collapses into a miasma of malinvestment and unintended consequences. As The Wall Street Journal reports, to the extent that China’s industrial recovery explains why iron ore and steel prices have jumped this year, China’s latest trade data served as a reminder of how brittle this reason is.
China’s steel net exports rose 8.8% in April from a year before and 9.4% between January and April from a year ago. That raises the question: Why are mills exporting more steel when Shanghai front-month futures prices for rebar steel rocketed 48% between January and April, and signaled a potential rise in demand? [..]Real demand for steel in China dropped at least 7% in April from the year before, Citigroup’s Tracy Liao estimates, based on changes in exports and inventories. The drop was at least 5% between January and April from the year before.
That reinforces fears that easy money-fueled speculation is the prime mover of steel and iron ore prices today. That "Churn" is over…
Chinese futures prices in both commodities fell sharply again Monday.
With Iron Ore now down 22% from the meltup highs, entering a bear market…
And Steel Rebar down 25%, extending losses in the US session…
And The Baltic Dry Index now down 7 days in a row, down 14% from its "everything is fine in China" highs from 715 to 616 today…
China was right to turn on the credit taps to prop up growth after the global financial crisis. It was wrong not to turn them off again. The country’s debt has increased just as quickly over the past two years as in the two years after the 2008 crunch. Its debt-to-GDP ratio has soared from 150% to nearly 260% over a decade, the kind of surge that is usually followed by a financial bust or an abrupt slowdown. China will not be an exception to that rule. Problem loans have doubled in two years and, officially, are already 5.5% of banks’ total lending. The reality is grimmer. Roughly two-fifths of new debt is swallowed by interest on existing loans; in 2014, 16% of the 1,000 biggest Chinese firms owed more in interest than they earned before tax. China requires more and more credit to generate less and less growth: it now takes nearly four yuan of new borrowing to generate one yuan of additional GDP, up from just over one yuan of credit before the financial crisis.
With the government’s connivance, debt levels can probably keep climbing for a while, perhaps even for a few more years. But not for ever. When the debt cycle turns, both asset prices and the real economy will be in for a shock. That won’t be fun for anyone. It is true that China has been fastidious in capping its external liabilities (it is a net creditor). Its dangers are home-made. But the damage from a big Chinese credit blow-up would still be immense. China is the world’s second-biggest economy; its banking sector is the biggest, with assets equivalent to 40% of global GDP. Its stockmarkets, even after last year’s crash, are together worth $6 trillion, second only to America’s. And its bond market, at $7.5 trillion, is the world’s third-biggest and growing fast. A mere 2% devaluation of the yuan last summer sent global stockmarkets crashing; a bigger bust would do far worse.
A mild economic slowdown caused trouble for commodity exporters around the world; a hard landing would be painful for all those who benefit from Chinese demand. Optimists have drawn comfort from two ideas. First, over three-plus decades of reform, China’s officials have consistently shown that once they identified problems, they had the will and skill to fix them. Second, control of the financial system—the state owns the major banks and most of their biggest debtors—gave them time to clean things up. Both these sources of comfort are fading away. This is a government not so much guiding events as struggling to keep up with them. In the past year alone, China has spent nearly $200 billion to prop up the stockmarket; $65 billion of bank loans have gone bad; financial frauds have cost investors at least $20 billion; and $600 billion of capital has left the country.
To help pump up growth, officials have inflated a property bubble. Debt is still expanding twice as fast as the economy. At the same time, the government’s grip on finance is slipping. Despite repeated efforts to restrain them, loosely regulated forms of lending are growing quickly: such “shadow assets” have increased by more than 30% annually over the past three years. In theory, shadow banks diversify sources of credit and spread risk away from the regular banks. In practice, the lines between the shadow and formal banking systems are badly blurred.
There’s nothing like facts to get in the way of a good yarn. Prices of everything from steel rebar to cotton are extending losses in China as a slew of bearish data hastens the reversal of a rally last month triggered by speculation that economic stimulus and industrial reforms would drive up demand and curb supplies. Steel futures in Shanghai fell the most since trading began in 2009 after inventories rose while iron ore in Dalian sank as much as 7.1%, extending its retreat from a 13-month high, after data showed Chinese port stockpiles expanded to the highest level in more than a year. Cotton on the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange, which had surged to an 11-month high, slid 1.5% after China unloaded supply from its reserves. Copper lost 2.1% after the nation’s imports shrank from a record.
“Investors are looking at fundamentals more closely now,” Zhang Yu, a senior analyst with Yongan Futures, said by phone from Hangzhou. “While inventories were built up with the price surges, recent data couldn’t convince people that China’s real economy is bottoming and going to bring demand back.” The rally last month was accompanied by a surge in trading volumes, with as much as 1.7 trillion yuan ($261 billion) in commodity futures changing hands in a single day. That drew comparisons with 2015’s credit-driven stock market rally that preceded a $5 trillion rout, and prompted exchanges to raised transaction fees and margins amid orders from regulators to limit speculation.
As the exchanges stepped in, trading volumes shrank. About 20 million contracts of everything from eggs to steel changed hands on the Dalian Commodity Exchange, Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange and Shanghai Futures Exchange on Friday, down from a peak of 80.6 million contracts on April 22. “Bullish enthusiasm in Chinese commodities futures has been rapidly declining, especially after the exchanges pushed out massive measures to curb speculative trading,” Yu said.
Over the past year, based on his increasingly more dour media appearances, billionaire Carl Icahn had been getting progressively more bearish. At first, he was mostly pessimistic about junk bonds, saying last May that “what’s even more dangerous than the actual stock market is the high yield market.” As the year progressed his pessimism become more acute and in December he said that the “meltdown in high yield is just beginning.” It culminated in February when he said on CNBC that a “day of reckoning is coming.” Some skeptics thought that Icahn was simply trying to scare investors into selling so he could load up on risk assets at cheaper prices, however that line of thought was quickly squashed two weeks ago when Icahn announced to the shock of ever Apple fanboy that several years after his “no brainer” investment in AAPL, Icahn had officially liquidated his entire stake.
As it turns out, Icahn’s AAPL liquidation was just the appetizer of how truly bearish the legendary investor has become. [..] In the just disclosed 10-Q of Icahn’s investment vehicle, Icahn Enterprises LP in which the 80 year old holds a 90% stake, we find that as of March 31, Carl Icahn – who subsequently divested his entire long AAPL exposure – has been truly putting money, on the short side, where his mouth was in the past quarter. So much so that what on December 31, 2015 was a modest 25% net short, has since exploded into a gargantuan, and unprecedented for Icahn, 149% net short position.
[..] starting in Q3 and Q4, Icahn proceeded to wage into net short territory, with roughly -25% exposure, a number that has increased a record six-fold in just the last quarter! What is just as notable is the dramatic leverage involved on both sides of the flatline, but nothing compares to the near 3x equity leverage on the short side (this is not CDS). As a reminder, Icahn Enterprises used to be run as a hedge fund with outside investors, but Icahn returned outside money in 2011, leaving IEP and Icahn as the two dominant investors. According to Barron’s, the entire fund appears to be about $5.8 billion, with $4 billion coming from Icahn personally. Which means that this is a very substantial bet in dollar terms.
Donald Trump fired back at critics Monday over what he claimed was a misrepresentation of his comments on debt of the U.S. government, saying he never advocated the U.S. default on its debt. “First of all, you never have to default because you print the money,” Mr. Trump said in a telephone interview with CNN that was reported on by Politico. In an interview with Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo, Mr. Trump said that he had proposed that the U.S. government could buy back its own debt at a discount if interest rates rise. The price of earlier issued bonds often fall when interest rates rise. “Certainly I’m not talking about renegotiating with creditors,” Mr. Trump said. Mr. Trump was responding to a New York Times article that ran on Friday that examined a CNBC interview on the prior day.
The article stated that Mr. Trump said he “might reduce the national debt by persuading creditors to accept something less than full payment.” “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal,” Mr. Trump said in the CNBC interview. “And if the economy was good, it was good. So therefore, you can’t lose.” This provoked alarm from commentators who interpreted it as Mr. Trump saying he would attempt to force Treasury holders to accept less than payment in full. “The reaction from everyone who knows anything about finance or economics was a mix of amazed horror and horrified amazement,” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote.
The market in U.S. Treasuries, which are considered to be among the safest assets in the world, appeared to brush off the report of Mr. Trump’s remarks. Yields on 10-year Treasuries were slightly lower Monday than they were a week earlier. “All I said was that if interest rates goes up, we’ll have a chance to buy back bonds, which is standard,” Mr. Trump said. Mr. Trump’s remarks Monday echo a point made by former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan a few years ago. “The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that. So there is zero probability of default,” Mr. Greenspan said.
Using the dynamics of credit –which most other economists ignore– I explain why Japan, the USA and UK are among the “Walking Dead of Debt” and why China, Canada, Australia and South Korea are on their way to joining the Debt Zombies. This presentation is based on work I’m doing for a new 25000 word book for Polity Press entitled “Can we avoid another financial crisis?”, which should be published later this year.
About one in six U.S. workers became unemployed during the recession years of 2007, 2008 and 2009. Today, nearly 14 million people are still searching for a job or stuck in part-time jobs because they can’t find full-time work. Even for the millions of Americans back at work, the effects of losing a job will linger, the research suggests. They will earn less for years to come. They will be less likely to own a home. Many will struggle with psychological problems. Their children will perform worse in school and may earn less in their own jobs. “The average effects are severe and very long lasting,” said Jennie Brand, a sociologist at University of California, Los Angeles. “There’s no quick recovery.”
U.S. economic output remains stubbornly below its potential level, as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. And many people probably won’t be back on their feet by the time the next recession arrives. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. economists recently predicted a new recession was more likely than not within three years. Anger about stagnant wages, among other things, has helped fuel the presidential runs of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. When the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University surveyed Americans after the recession about the causes of high unemployment, their top responses were cheap foreign labor, illegal immigrants and Wall Street bankers.
Labor Department data show 40 million layoffs and other involuntary discharges during the recession that began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. The official unemployment rate peaked at 10%. Princeton University economist Henry Farber calculated that the rate of job loss from 2007 through 2009 was 16%. As in previous recessions, millions of Americans faced a phenomenon economists sometimes call wage scarring. People who lose a job, even during economic expansions, usually earn less money when they re-enter the workplace. They are out of work for a time and often take a pay cut as the price of returning to work at a new employer or even in a new career.
This time, the damage was exacerbated by the job market’s painfully slow recovery. Extended or repeated spells of unemployment mean more severe earnings losses, and recent years have seen an unusually large number of job seekers out of work for more than six months or stuck in part-time positions. “They had a much harder time finding a job, and in particular a full-time job, which immediately turns into an earnings decline,” Mr. Farber said.
Japan’s financial regulator is stepping up oversight of its biggest banks while stopping well short of imposing the type of intrusive stress tests that have been adopted in the U.S. and Europe. Unlike the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England, which conduct annual examinations of the large banks they supervise, Japan’s Financial Services Agency has no plans to impose its own stress tests on the country’s lenders. Instead, it is looking for ways to verify the banks’ own reviews. “We’re considering if we can come up with a stress test-like setup,” Toshihide Endo, the director-general of the FSA’s supervisory bureau, said in an interview last month. “We don’t plan to impose external tests.”
Japan’s regulator has already signaled a different approach than overseas peers in the way it oversees the country’s banks, with FSA Commissioner Nobuchika Mori condemning a supervisory approach to bankers where the “sentiment of trust seems to have become a thing of the past.” Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc.’s President Nobuyuki Hirano cautioned global regulators against restricting the use of banks’ own methods for gauging operational risk, questioning the need for authorities to impose a standardized regime when they’re able to review internal models. Japanese taxpayers didn’t have to bail out lenders during the global financial crisis as the nation’s banks escaped the scale of losses incurred by overseas financial institutions.
The regulator may analyze big banks with international operations to see if they’re adequately reflecting risks such as oil price movements and the economic performance of emerging nations in their own stress tests, according to Endo. The FSA may start scrutinizing the stress tests of banks from as early as the second half of this year, he said. MUFG, Japan’s largest lender by market value, runs a number of stress tests on its balance sheet using different scenarios that include measures of interest and exchange rates, stock-market movements and economic growth, according to an e-mailed reply from spokesman Kazunobu Takahara. The impact from the different tests on the bank’s assets and profitability are then estimated, he said.
For years, it was easy to see the political storm clouds gather over Europe with its fractious coalitions and its ancient babble of conflicts. Marine Le Pen’s Daddy, severe old Jean-Marie, was on the scene in France decades before Donald Trump ascended to glory on the noxious clouds of America’s crapified culture, attended by heavenly hosts of Kardashian angels and the cherub Honey BooBoo. For all the strains in recent American life, the two-party system had seemed as solid as the granite towers of the Brooklyn Bridge. Not even the estimable Teddy Roosevelt could blow up the system when he tried in 1912 — though his Progressive (“Bull Moose”) Party carried California, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota, and he far out-polled the incumbent Republican President Taft, who garnered a measly 8 electoral votes (Democrat Woodrow Wilson won).
Ross Perot made an impact in 1992 — he certainly had a good point about NAFTA and “the giant sucking sound” of jobs draining out of the USA. But his popinjay manner didn’t go over so well, and at the critical moment in the general election he lost his nerve and withdrew, only to foolishly re-enter weeks later. Then there was the Ralph Nader in 2000, whose egoistic crusade arguably put George W. Bush in the White House. Since then, the country see-sawed between the long tenures of two Deep State errand boys from each major party, putting both parties in such a bad odor that Trump now rises on their mephitic fumes. Which raises the question, of course: what exactly is this Deep State? Answer: A leviathan of symbiotic rackets producing maximum incompetence affecting adversely the majority of citizens.
It’s a blood-sucking beast of a hundred-thousand heads draining the USA of its dwindling vitality, lying about its intentions while it advertises the pietistic certainties of the Left and superstitious shibboleths of the Right, leaving a smoking hole in the middle where the practical problems of everyday life used to be worked out by practical means. The Deep State is also the sum of unintended consequences and diminishing returns of a late-stage, bureaucratic, techno-industrial economy cannibalizing itself to stay alive. One obvious conclusion is that this economy has got to change before there is nothing left to eat, and no political figure on the scene, including Trump and Bernie Sanders, has a plausible vision of where this takes us.
Both really just assume that the engine keeps chugging down the track of ever more material wealth that can be distributed differently. The truth is, there will be a lot less material wealth of the kind we’re used to, and a lot less capital representation in the things we call “money.” In fact, the scene at hand today is just a spectacle of the shrewdest and biggest rodents scarfing up the table-scraps of a 200-year-long banquet.
Brazil’s new lower house speaker has annulled last month’s impeachment vote against Dilma Rousseff in a twist that would stretch the credibility of a House of Cards plot. The surprise move, which comes just days before the upper house was due to consider the motion, throws the legislature into chaos and could provide a lifeline to the embattled president. Waldir Maranhao, who took over as acting speaker last week, said a new congressional vote would be needed as a result of procedural flaws in the previous session. Maranhao is no friend of the government, prompting speculation that he may be acting on behalf of his predecessor, Eduardo Cunha, who was removed from his post by the supreme court on the grounds that he was interfering in a corruption investigation into his alleged kickbacks from the state-run oil company, Petrobras.
For the moment, however, uncertainty reigns. After last month’s lower house vote, the impeachment process was passed to the senate, where a committee recommended on Friday that the leftist president be put on trial by the full chamber for breaking budget laws. In a news release, Maranhao said the impeachment process should be returned by the senate so that the lower house can vote again. It remained unclear whether his decision could be overruled by the supreme court, the senate or a majority in the house. Brazilian markets fell sharply after the surprising decision was announced. Rousseff, who denies wrongdoing, has been fighting for her political survival for several months as opposition congressmen have pushed aggressively for her ouster.
The full senate had been expected to vote to put Rousseff on trial Wednesday, which would immediately suspend her for the duration of a trial that could last six months. During that period the vice-president, Michel Temer, would replace her as acting president. With appeals and counter-appeals still possible, Rousseff gave a cautious response to the news. “It’s not official. I don’t know the consequences. We should be cautious,” she said, but repeated her determination to keep fighting.
Overwhelming and heart-breaking was how Rachel Notley, the Alberta premier, described the destruction left behind in the wake of a wildfire that continues to rage out of control in northern Alberta. “I was very much struck by the power of the devastation of the fire,” Notley said after touring the city of Fort McMurray on Monday. “It was really quite overwhelming in some spots.” Last week more than 88,000 residents frantically evacuated the oilsands city after shifting winds brought a nearby forest fire to the city’s doorstep. The fire swept through the city in a seemingly random path, leaving behind piles of rubble and twisted metal, burned-out pick-up trucks and charred swing sets in some neighbourhoods. In others, homes sat untouched, their green lawns sharply contrasting with the grey of the city’s worst-hit areas.
Some 2,400 homes and buildings were destroyed or damaged by the fire, said Notley. For the tens of thousands of residents now scattered across the province, many of them wondering whether they have a home to return to, Notley had good news. Some 85% of the city – around 25,000 structures – had been saved. “The city was surrounded by an ocean of fire only a few days ago,” said Notley. “But Fort McMurray and the surrounding community have been saved and it will be rebuilt.” But she cautioned: “That of course doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be some really heartbreaking images for some people to see when they come back.” The fire has not completely released its grip on the city, said Notley. “There are smouldering hotspots everywhere. Active fire suppression is continuing.”
The wildfire continues to grow in the region, albeit at a much slower pace. By Monday it had swelled to 204,000 hectares – an area more than 22 times the size of Manhattan – but winds were pushing it east, away from communities. It now sits some 25km from the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan. Cooler weather helped crews continue to keep the fire at bay, away from Fort McMurray, Anzac and the Suncor Energy oilsands facility. Currently more than 700 firefighters are battling against the blaze, with another 300 expected to arrive in the area shortly. “This fire is burning out of control out there, it still is, but we are holding the line where we need to, at least for today,” said Notley.
The fragile global recovery could be derailed unless governments step up efforts to support growth and strengthen the European banking system, two central bankers have warned. Vítor Constâncio, vice president of the ECB, said policy inaction combined with declining productivity and weak demographics could lead to a dangerous spiral of lower growth, higher debt and reduced job prospects. This could create unrest in countries already blighted by sky-high unemployment, he warned. The world also faced the prospect of permanently lower growth, Mr Constâncio told an audience at a City Week conference in London. If this materialised, this could result in weaker spending by households and businesses. “There would also very likely be societal implications, as lower economic growth would not be able to create enough jobs for citizens and may exacerbate income inequality,” he said.
Mr Constâncio described the eurozone recovery as “continued” and “moderate”, but said it remained “subject to fragilities”. “While I expect the recovery in the global economy to gather momentum as the headwinds eventually dissipate, there are many factors which could potentially derail it,” he said. Mr Constâncio stressed that the ECB’s massive stimulus package was working, adding that policymakers would “allow some time for the package of measures adopted in March” – including interest rate cuts and an increase in its monthly asset purchases to €80bn, from €60bn – to take effect. But the central banker said government fiscal stimulus and action to boost productivity and “complete Europe’s banking and markets union” would also be needed to boost growth.
Between now and mid-June the European political elite must give its answer to an existential question. Will it honour the deal it made to rescue Greece last July; or will it push the radical left government into default – effectively creating a failed state in Europe? That this is primarily Europe’s dilemma, not Greece’s or the IMF’s, is clear after Monday’s Eurogroup. The IMF boss, Christine Lagarde, warned the Europeans that the fund will not participate in further bailouts without a substantial debt write-off. In turn, the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, forced through the last of the main austerity measures demanded by creditors: reforms to the pension system that will leave worse off everyone who is receiving more than €1,000 a month, and demand much higher contributions from workers in future.
However, by delaying their approval until now, the lenders have managed, once again, to push Greece towards bankruptcy. Although growth is better than predicted, tax receipts are still dire and bailout disbursements suspended. Worse, and more insidious, the months of callous inaction have pushed the mood in Greek society into a dangerous place. A population that, two years ago, started demanding and giving printed receipts as an act of collective moral renewal, has given up on them once again. The most popular graffiti tag has become “all this political shit”. The only thing that can end the crisis is debt restructuring. One way or another, Europe’s creditors – the taxpayers of Germany, France, the Netherlands etc – have to lose money.
It may be dressed up by extending repayment dates; or it may take the form of the “haircut”, whereby the treasuries of northern Europe – and the ECB – write down the value of the €350bn they have lent Greece. But it has to happen. And that means Germany’s politicians must change their minds. The old problem in Europe was a transnational freemarket economy with no democratic government; a central bank obliged by treaty to impose deflation; and a Germany willing to take the upside of the project – 4% unemployment versus 25% in Greece – but never to lead it. The new problem is different: when the EU overturned the will of the Greek people last year July, it became, effectively, a political entity based on force, not law.
Those applying the force were the German elite and a collection of east European countries who have in common weak democratic traditions, mafia-infested economies and rightwing electorates still traumatised by the Soviet era. Then, in a second act of force, by overturning the Dublin Treaty and letting nearly a million refugees come to Germany, Angela Merkel destroyed the coalition that had imposed the defeat on Greece. Eastern Europe has defied Merkel’s call for refugee quotas and answered her appeal for humanitarianism by putting razor wire at every border choke-point. So, now it’s no longer about austerity: there is a three-way battle for the soul of Europe; between a beleaguered centre that’s seeing its consent to govern drain away; a resurgent nationalist and racist right; and a modernised radical left. The Greek request for debt relief poses to the European centre the question: which side are you on?
No, it’s true. A team of highly overly paid EU economists has issued a report that ‘analyzes’ (note the first 4 letters) among other things what Greek debt could be 44 years from now. Your challenge: to name something even more useless than that. Hint: paint does dry at some point….
Greece’s debt may rise to as much as 258.3% of GDP by 2060 or fall to as low as 62.6% of GDP, according to an official analysis of the country’s debt trajectory that heralds tough talks ahead on potential measures to ease Athens’ payment burden. The so-called debt sustainability analysis, or DSA, was drawn up by Greece’s European creditors and has been seen by The Wall Street Journal. The wide divergences in the debt predictions are due to different forecasts on how much Greece’s economy will grow in the coming decades and how much money it can put aside to pay down debt. Under all but the most optimistic scenarios, the document points to serious concerns over Greece’s ability to repay its debt, which stood at 176.9% of GDP at the end of last year.
The results of “this analysis point to serious concerns regarding the sustainability of Greece’s public debt in the long term,” the document says. The document was distributed to officials from eurozone finance ministries Monday morning and will form the basis for a first discussion on possible debt relief among the bloc’s finance ministers Monday afternoon. To reach a deal, the ministers will also have to bring on board the IMF, one of Greece’s biggest creditors. The IMF has consistently had more pessimistic forecasts for Greece’s debt ratio and demanded far-reaching measures to cut the country’s payment burden. Here it has clashed with Germany, which has opposed further debt relief.
“Today we will only have a first discussion on what, when, if and how the debt sustainability or debt relief measures could take place,” said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who presides over the group of ministers, on his way into Monday’s meeting. The debt sustainability analysis looks at four different scenarios for Greece’s economy and assesses how the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio will fare in each case for the decades up to 2060. The analysis shows that Greece’s debt could fall to as low 62.6% of GDP—almost in line with the currency union’s budget rules—in the most favorable scenario. But under the most pessimistic scenario, debt could rise to 258.3% of GDP by the end of 2060. Under the baseline scenario, which assumes that Greece will fully implement the terms of its bailout program, its debt will peak at 182.9% of GDP in 2016 and fall to 104.9% of GDP by 2060.
Curiously blind how NGOs blame Greece for conditions, while it’s being squeezed dry by the Troika. As if when you work for Amnesty -and get paid for it-, you can’t figure out that Greece can’t even take care of Greeks.
Migrants and refugees are being freed from detention centres in Greece but remain trapped on its islands until their asylum requests are processed, exposing them to dire living conditions and even the risk of people smugglers, human rights groups say. At least 1,100 people have been released from centres on three islands and more will follow as their 25-day detention limit expires, police officials said. They are forbidden from travelling to the mainland, where most state-run shelters are. Some 8,000 people, many escaping the Syrian war, have arrived on boats from Turkey since March and are held under a European Union deal with Ankara designed to seal off the main route into Europe for over a million people since 2015.
Under the deal, those who do not seek asylum in Greece – and those who are rejected – will be sent back to Turkey. Asylum applications are piling up and rulings can take weeks. The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said it was supporting government efforts to create new spaces. “All parties are working very hard to meet the needs of the human beings present on Greek islands,” said Chris Boian, a spokesman in Greece. Asked if those stranded on the islands were vulnerable to human traffickers offering to take them to the mainland, Boian said: “The risk does exist and that is the one reason UNHCR advocates full access to asylum and expansion of the asylum service and alternative legal entry channels (to Europe).”
Human rights groups said the government was not doing enough to provide asylum seekers with shelter and medical care while they wait. On Lesbos, many head to an open, municipality-run site. Those who can afford it check into hotels. Others sleep in the open. “Every country that asks people to wait in a certain place has to provide them with basic facilities. That’s not done by Greece,” said Amnesty International’s deputy Europe director, Gauri van Gulik. “It’s either – you’re in prison, or you can sleep rough on an island..”. A government spokesman, Giorgos Kyritis, said the government was doing its best to support refugees and migrants in Greece at the open reception centres, nearly all of which are on the mainland. “The government cannot afford to support these people financially on an individual basis. It’s doing whatever it can to support them in the context of its limited capabilities,” he said.
Apple’s disappointing earnings report on Tuesday sent the stock down more than 7% in after-hours trading. That’s a lot for any company, but particularly dramatic for Apple, which is the most valuable in the world. Before the market closed today, Apple’s market cap was $578 billion. That means a 7% drop erases more than $40 billion worth of value. But the bad news doesn’t end there. Shares of some of Apple’s suppliers are also down, with Bloomberg reporting that Cirrus Logic has lost more than 8%. By way of comparison, Alphabet’s market cap is around $485 billion. How long until it passes the leader?
Apple reported quarterly earnings and revenue that missed analysts’ estimates on Tuesday, and its guidance for the current quarter also fell shy of expectations. The tech giant said it saw fiscal second-quarter earnings of $1.90 per diluted share on $50.56 billion in revenue. Wall Street expected Apple to report earnings of about $2 a share on $51.97 billion in revenue, according to a consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters. That revenue figure was a roughly 13% decline against $58.01 billion in the comparable year-ago period — representing the first year-over-year quarterly sales drop since 2003. Shares in the company fell more than 8% in after-hours trading, erasing more than $46 billion in market cap.
That after-hours loss is greater than the market cap of 391 of the S&P 500 companies. Importantly, the company announced a 10% dividend increase and a $50 billion increase to its capital return program. Under that new plan, Apple expects to spend a total of $250 billion of cash by the end of March 2018, it said. On the dividend, Apple said its board had declared a dividend of $.57 per share, payable on May 12, 2016 to shareholders of record as of the close of business on May 9. A key reason for the declining revenue was Apple’s year-over-year decrease in iPhone sales. Despite this, Apple CEO Tim Cook told CNBC Tuesday that the company is in “the early innings of the iPhone.”
In fact, Apple beat Wall Street’s estimates on iPhone shipments, reporting 51.19 million for the quarter. Analysts had expected 50.3 million, according to StreetAccount. Still, that iPhone unit count was a 16% decline from the 61.17 million shipped during the same period last year. For his part, however, Cook described the iPhone business as “healthy and strong” on the call. In fact, Cook said the company added more switchers from Android and other platforms in the first half of the year than in any other six month period ever.
Apple’s sales in China tumbled in the second quarter after currency headwinds hurt Hong Kong sales, the company said in Tuesday’s earnings. “The vast majority of the weakness sits in Hong Kong,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told analysts in an earnings call. “The Hong Kong dollar being pegged to the U.S. dollar, and therefore it carries the burden of strength of U.S. dollar. And that has driven tourism, trade and international shopping down significantly compared to what it was in the year ago.” The company reported quarterly earnings and revenue that missed analysts’ expectations, with revenue declining year-over-year in every region. But China saw the biggest share of declines: Greater China sales, once the tech giant’s fastest growing market, fell to $12.49 billion in the second quarter, the company said, a 26% year-over-year decline.
Excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan, mainland China saw sales decline 11% on a reported basis, and 7% on a constant currency basis, Cook said. But people need to look under the numbers, Cook said, as LTE adoption increases and more Apple stores open in the region. “When I look at the larger picture, I think China is not weak as is talked about,” Cook said. “I see China as … a lot more stable than what I think is the common view of it. We remain really optimistic about China.” Chief financial officer Luca Maestri said the business in China was “better than the numbers might suggest.” “We had significant inventory channel reductions and currency weakness which affected our reported revenue,” Maestri said in an earnings call.
“Keep in mind that we were up against an extremely difficult year-ago compare when our mainland China revenue grew 81%. We remain very optimistic about the China market over the long-term, and we are committed to investing there for the long run.” But speaking in January, Cook warned that the company had seen “some signs of economic softness” in the Greater China region. That business segment, which includes mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, is a key area of growth for the U.S. tech giant, but Cook acknowledged in January that it had been something of a “turbulent environment.” China has seen its pace of economic expansion slowing in recent quarters, and its stock markets have taken investors on a roller coaster ride during that time.
Corporate America is swimming in cash. There is no great news about this, and no great mystery about where it came from. Seven years of historically low interest rates will prompt companies to borrow. A new development, however, is that investors are starting to ask in more detail what companies are doing with their cash. And they are starting to revolt against signs of over-leverage. That over-leverage has grown most blatant in the last year, as earnings growth has petered out and, in many cases, turned negative. This has made the sharp increases in corporate debt in the post-crisis era look far harder to sustain. Perhaps the most alarming illustration of the problem compares annual changes in net debt with the annual change in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, which is a decent approximation for the operating cash flow from which they can expect to repay that debt. As the chart shows, debt has grown at almost 30% over the past year; the cash flow to pay it has fallen slightly.
According to Andrew Lapthorne of Société Générale, the reality is that “US corporates appear to be spending way too much (over 35% more than their gross operating cash flow, the biggest deficit in over 20 years of data) and are using debt issuance to make up the difference”. The decline in earnings and cash flows in the past year has accentuated the problem, and brought it to the top of investors’ consciousness. A further issue is the uses to which the debt has been put. As pointed out many times in the post-crisis years, it has generally not gone into capital expenditures, which might arguably be expected to boost the economy. It has instead been deployed to pay dividends, or to buy back stock — or to buy other companies. Shifts in these uses of cash are now affecting markets.
Cash-funded mergers and acquisitions are at a record. In the four quarters to the end of last September, according to Ned Davis Research, S&P 500 companies spent $376bn on acquisitions, 43% above the prior high in 2007, ahead of the credit crisis. Buyback activity remains intense. According to S&P Dow Jones, for each of the seven quarters up to the third quarter of last year, between 20% and 23% of S&P 500 companies bought back enough shares to reduce their total shares outstanding at a rate of 4% per year. In the last quarter of 2015, 25.8% of companies did so.
Orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods rebounded far less than expected in March as demand for automobiles, computers and electrical goods slumped, suggesting the downturn in the factory sector was far from over. Tuesday’s report from the Commerce Department also implied that business spending and economic growth were weak in the first quarter. Prospects for the second quarter darkened after another report showed an ebb in consumer confidence in April. The data came as Federal Reserve officials started a two-day policy meeting. The U.S. central bank is expected to leave its benchmark overnight interest rate unchanged on Wednesday. The Fed raised rates in December for the first time in nearly a decade.
“These disappointing reports will likely add to the caution at the Fed. Given the weak performance in these two key segments of the economy, we expect the rebound in growth momentum in the second quarter to be quite weak,” said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York. The Commerce Department said orders for durable goods, items ranging from toasters to aircraft meant to last three years or more, increased 0.8% last month after declining 3.1% in February. Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, were unchanged after a downwardly revised 2.7% decrease in the prior month. These so-called core capital goods orders were previously reported to have decreased 2.5% in February.
Economists had forecast durable goods orders advancing 1.8% last month and core capital goods increasing 0.8%. Shipments of core capital goods – used to calculate equipment spending in the gross domestic product report – rose 0.3% after slumping 1.8% in February. Manufacturing, which accounts for 12% of the U.S. economy, is struggling with the lingering effects of the dollar’s past surge and sluggish overseas demand. [..] The durable goods report added to recent reports on retail sales, trade and industrial production in suggesting economic growth slowed further in the first quarter. The economy grew at an anemic 1.4% annualized rate in the fourth quarter. First-quarter GDP growth estimates are as low as a 0.3% rate. The government will publish its advance first-quarter GDP growth estimate on Thursday.
At a logistics park bordering Shanghai’s port last month, the only goods stored in a three-story warehouse were high-end jeans, T-shirts and jackets imported from the U.K. and Hong Kong, most of which had sat there for nearly two years. Business at the 108,000-square-foot floor warehouse dwindled at the end of 2015 after several Chinese wine importers pulled out, said Yang Ying, the warehouse keeper, leaving lots of empty space. The final blow came after a merchant turned away a shipment in December at the dock. “The client told the ship hands, just take the wine back to France,” Ms. Yang said. “Nobody wants it.” Pain is increasing among the world’s biggest ports—from Shanghai to Hamburg—amid weaker growth in global trade and a calamitous end to a global commodities boom.
Overall trade rose just 2.8% in 2015, according to the World Trade Organization, the fourth consecutive year below 3% growth and historically weak compared with global economic expansion. The ancient business of ship-borne trade has been whipsawed, first by a boom that demanded more and bigger vessels, and more recently by an abrupt slowing. That turnabout has roiled the container-shipping industry, which transports more than 95% of the world’s goods, from clothes and shoes to car parts, electronic and handbags. It has set off a frenzy of consolidation and costs cutting across the world’s fleets. Ashore, it is also slamming ports and port operators, the linchpin to global commerce. Nowhere is the carnage more painful than along the Europe-Asia trade route, measuring roughly 28,000 miles round trip.
A cooling Chinese economy and a high-profile crackdown by Beijing on corruption has damped demand for everything from commodities like iron ore to designer scarves and shoes. Meanwhile, Europe’s still sputtering recovery from the global economic crisis is hitting the flow of goods in the other direction. On Friday, the Hong Kong Marine Department reported throughput for its port in the first quarter was off 11% from the first three months of last year. Throughput for all of 2015 also dropped 11%. “It is the first time you see people in shipping being really scared,” said Basil Karatzas, of New York-based Karatzas Marine Advisors and Co.
In a sign of deteriorating credit quality, Standard & Poor’s on Tuesday stripped oil giant Exxon Mobil of its pristine AAA rating, leaving just two U.S. non-financial companies with what is the highest possible rating on their debt. Microsoft and consumer goods giant Johnson & Johnson are now the only companies to enjoy an AAA rating, the strongest possible vote of confidence in their financial strength and discipline in meeting all of their debt obligations. As recently as 2008, there were six AAA-rated companies, but General Electric, Pfizer and Automatic Data Processing have been downgraded since then. “This shows that the corporate market is not immune from secular industry changes and deep cyclical troughs that materially impact the immediate-term credit outlook,” said Brian Gibbons at research firm CreditSights.
S&P cut Exxon’s rating by two notches to AA-plus, and said the outlook is stable, meaning it does not expect to adjust the rating in the near term. The rating agency had placed the rating on CreditWatch negative on Feb. 2, in the light of the lengthy slump in oil prices. “We believe Exxon Mobil’s credit measures will be weak for our expectations for a ‘AAA’ rating due, in part, to low commodity prices, high reinvestment requirements, and large dividend payments,” the agency wrote in a statement. Exxon has more than doubled its debt load in recent years, as it spends generously on major projects, said S&P. But the oil giant has also been rewarding its shareholders with dividend payments and share buybacks “that substantially exceeded internally generated cash flow.”
Exxon is likely to benefit from near-term production gains as some of those projects are completed, but maintaining production and replacing reserves will require more spending. “We believe the company may return cash to shareholders rather than building cash or reducing debt, limiting improvement in our projected credit measures when commodity prices improve,” said S&P. Gibbons said the two-notch downgrade is harsh, given Exxon’s status as the best-of-breed oil and gas company in the world, the strength of its balance sheet and earnings diversity through upstream and downstream businesses. “Its global reach positions it much better than any other energy peer, but it too is not immune to the depths of the cycle,” he said.
China’s slumping onshore bond market is braced for rating cuts, as companies report weaker earnings and prepare for unprecedented debt maturities. China Securities and HFT Investment Management predict downgrades will surge as a slumping economy makes financial reports due by April 30 a gloomy read. Companies in China must repay 547 billion yuan ($86 billion) of onshore notes in May, the most in any month ever, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Investors are avoiding risky debt, with the yield premium on three-year AA- rated local bonds, considered junk in China, widening 43 basis points in April, the most since 2014. “An explosion of credit risks is spreading,” said He Qian at HFT Investment Management. “The risks are spreading from privately held companies to state-owned companies, from overcapacity industries to all other industries.”
At least seven companies missed bond payment this year, up from only two in the same period of 2015 as Premier Li Keqiang tries to rid industries with overcapacity of zombie producers. Onshore agencies have cut 33 issuer ratings, almost double the 17 for the first four months of 2015, according to China Chengxin International Credit Rating Co. There have been 34 upgrades versus 37% a year ago. “We will see a wave of rating downgrades in the middle of this year,” said Wei Zhen at Bosera Asset Management. She oversees the Bosera Anfeng 18-Month Interval Bond Fund, whose 17% return in the past year was the best among fixed-income funds tracked by research firm Howbuy. “The rising credit risks may lead to a further correction in the corporate bond market.” Chinese investors have complained onshore ratings don’t fully reflect issuers’ credit risks.
More than 50% of Chinese locally-rated AAA bonds issued by listed firms may have default risk consistent with what Bloomberg’s quantitative, independent default-risk model deems below-investment-grade companies. Shi Yuxin at HuaAn Fund Management said in a report on April 18 that China’s “inflated” ratings will be under pressure to have “substantial” downgrades in 2016 as local governments cut their support for troubled companies. About 14.9% of listed Chinese companies have forecast losses for 2015, compared with 12.7% in 2014, according to data compiled by China International Capital Corp. Ministry of Finance data released on Tuesday showed that profit at state-owned companies slid 13.8% in the first quarter from a year earlier. Investors are fleeing the bond market. The market value of assets held by 718 onshore bond funds dropped last week, accounting for 95.6% of all the fixed-income funds tracked by Shanghai-based research firm Howbuy.
China’s commodity exchanges stepped up efforts to curb speculation in trading in everything from steel to iron ore and coking coal after prices soared amid a credit-fueled binge. Futures slumped on Wednesday. Bourses in Dalian, Shanghai and Zhengzhou have announced further measures, including higher fees and a reduction in night hours, adding to a raft of moves this month that have made it more expensive for investors to trade. Goldman Sachs said this week it was concerned about the surge in speculative trading in iron ore, adding daily volumes were so large that they sometimes exceed annual imports. Ore prices have surged 34% this year in Dalian, while steel reinforcement bar is up 39% in Shanghai.
Morgan Stanley said the spike in speculative trading had stunned global markets, citing a jump in activity for eggs, garlic and cotton as well as iron ore and steel. The explosive growth in trading has stoked concerns that the frenzy was triggered by a credit-fueled surge in liquidity echoing the stock market bubble in 2015 and is destined for a similar bust, according to Zheng Ge at CEFC Wanda Futures. China’s investors have been honing in on raw materials amid signs of a pickup in demand after policy makers talked up growth, added stimulus and the property market rebounded. Among the latest changes, the Dalian exchange raised trading fees for iron ore, coking coal and coke, while Shanghai said it would increase margin requirements for steel reinforcement bar and hot-rolled coil, and shorten trading hours.
The Zhengzhou exchange raised trading charges and margin requirements for some commodities. Iron ore futures plunged 4.1% on Wednesday, extending their decline in the past four days to 8.9%. Steel reinforcement bar lost 3.2% and coking coal slid 4.6% as prices responded to the exchange moves. “We’re trying to clampdown firmly on the trend of excessive speculation in some commodity trading,” the Dalian bourse said in a statement. “We’ll be highly vigilant and adopt further measures if necessary.”
Greece and its lenders were unable on Tuesday to reach an agreement on how to line up €3.6 billion in contingent austerity measures, leading to plans for an extra meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Thursday being dropped. A spokesman for Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem confirmed on Tuesday night that there would be no meeting this week to rubber-stamp an agreement between Athens and the institutions and conclude the first review of the third Greek bailout program. “More time needed,” tweeted Michel Reijns. “Meeting of first review, contingency package and debt at later stage,” he added, without suggesting when eurozone finance ministers might meet to discuss Greece.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to call European Council President Donald Tusk today to ask for an extraordinary EU leaders’ summit to discuss the Greek program as the SYRIZA leader feels that Athens has met its bailout commitments and that the lenders’ side is standing in the way of an agreement. Greek government sources said earlier that the details of an initial €5.4 billion package of tax hikes and pension cuts had been finalized. However, the standby measures, which total 2% of GDP, proved to be a stumbling block. Athens proposed that the government should commit to adopting corrective measures if fiscal targets are missed but that these interventions should only be specified after Greece’s fiscal data has been ratified by Eurostat.
This proposal is thought to have been rejected by the IMF and some eurozone member-states, which want Greece to legislate specific measures now and have them on standby in case they are needed. Sources said that Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos spoke with some of his eurozone counterparts on Tuesday in order to explain the situation to them. The Greek government believes that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble showed understanding for Greece’s position and appeared to support the Greek proposal for a permanent mechanism to reduce spending when the adjustment program is not on track. Athens is adamant that the IMF’s insistence on specific standby measures being legislated now was the only factor that prevented Greece and the institutions reaching an agreement on Tuesday.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has promised voters he’ll reject even one euro cent more of budget austerity than is needed under the country’s bailout. Greece’s international creditors say the program’s requirements may include €3.5 billion in extra fiscal tightening he hadn’t bargained for. The demand by the euro area and the IMF is a potential bombshell for the government, raising the threat of renewed instability in Greece. Tsipras rode to power in January 2015 railing against austerity and nearly steered Greece out of the euro before flip-flopping last summer to secure the nation’s third bailout in six years. Since then the Greek economy has slipped back into recession, unemployment has stayed stubbornly high at around 25% and public support for the euro has weakened.
Just like last year, Tsipras needs financial aid to avoid defaulting on payments to the ECB that come due in three months time. The prime minister’s current dilemma stems from a disagreement between the euro area and the IMF. While the European creditors say the government in Athens has committed to enough austerity to reach the targeted budget surplus before interest payments of 3.5% of gross domestic product in 2018, the IMF projects current Greek measures will produce an excess of just 1.5%. With Germany insisting on continued IMF involvement in the Greek aid program, the conflicting forecasts have led the creditors as a whole to call for “contingency measures” equal to 2% of GDP. These would kick in should the government in Athens stray off its budgetary course as the IMF projects.
So Tsipras and Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos face the delicate task of drawing up measures that can satisfy the creditors without breaking apart their coalition with the nationalist Independent Greeks. That balancing act would be a challenge for any Greek government, let alone one with an anti-austerity base, a deep dislike of the Washington-based IMF and a three-seat majority in parliament.
Moody’s Investors Service stripped Alberta of its Aaa credit rating on Monday, becoming the latest ratings agency to downgrade the Canadian province after the oil price shock pushed its finances deep into the red. Citing its worsening fiscal position and resulting rapid rise in debt, Moody’s downgraded the province’s long-term rating to Aa1 from Aaa and maintained a negative outlook. The downgrade “reflects the province’s growing and unconstrained debt burden, extended timeframe back to balance, weakened liquidity, and risks surrounding the success of the province’s medium-term fiscal plan,” Moody’s Assistant Vice President Adam Hardi said in a statement. Earlier this month, Dominion Bond Rating Service also downgraded the province after the provincial government forecast a budget deficit of C$10.4 billion ($8.21 billion) this fiscal year.
Standard & Poor’s stripped Alberta of its AAA credit rating in December. Alberta’s left-leaning NDP government expects the once-booming province to be C$57.6 billion in debt by 2019, while Finance Minister Joe Ceci said Alberta could run deficits until 2024. Ceci described the latest downgrade as a “disappointment” and reiterated the government’s commitment to maintaining funding for public services and infrastructure spending in a bid to spur growth. The province is home to Canada’s vast oil sands and is the No. 1 exporter of crude to the United States but the government expects oil and gas revenues this year to be almost 90% lower than 2014. Earlier this month the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said capital investment in the industry has dropped C$50 billion in two years and more than 100,000 oil and gas workers have been laid off.
In order to pre-empt ‘authorities’, what the journalists should do is reach out to Wikileaks and find a means to release the data after redacting them in a way that prevents people from getting hurt. The ICIJ does not seem to have that ability. They will come to regret that, because pressure will rise.
Germany’s federal states on Friday called for increased measures against tax havens and for media outlets to allow prosecutors to examine the contents of a cache of 11.5 million documents known as the “Panama Papers,” which had been leaked to the press. “If the data sets from the ‘Panama Papers’ are not made accessible, then we cannot draw any consequences,” said Lower Saxony’s Finance Minister Peter-Jürgen Schneider, Reuters news agency reported. However, the Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung’s (SZ) investigative unit on Tuesday said it would not hand over the cache nor would it publish the leak online, despite calls to do so by government officials and representatives of the whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks.
“As journalists, we have to protect our source: we can’t guarantee that there is no way for someone to find out who the source is with the data. That’s why we can’t make the data public,” the team said during an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit, which included journalist Bastian Obermayer, who was first contacted by the anonymous source. “You don’t harm the privacy of people, who are not in the public eye. Blacking out private data is a task that would require a lifetime of work – we have eleven million documents,” the unit added. In a letter to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) obtained by British newspaper The Guardian this week, US attorney for Manhattan Preet Bharara said the Justice Department “has opened a criminal investigation regarding matters to which the Panama Papers are relevant.”
“The office would greatly appreciate an opportunity to speak as soon as possible with any ICIJ employee or representative involved in the Panama Papers project in order to discuss this matter further,” Bharara said. ICIJ Director Gerard Ryle said on Thursday that the organization would not release unpublished data to the Justice Department or other government entities, although it welcomed the “US Attorney’s Office reviewing all of the information from the Panama Papers.” “ICIJ does not intend to play a role in that investigation. Our focus is journalism … ICIJ, and its parent organization, the Center for Public Integrity, are media organizations shielded by the First Amendment and other legal protections from becoming an arm of law enforcement,” Ryle said in a statement.
Thirty-three lions rescued from circuses in Peru and Colombia are being flown back to their homeland to live out the rest of their lives in a private sanctuary in South Africa. The largest ever airlift of lions will take place on Friday and has been organised and paid for by Animal Defenders International. The Los Angeles-based group has for years worked with lawmakers in the two South American countries to ban the use of wild animals in circuses, where they often are held in appalling conditions. The lions suffered in captivity: some were declawed, one lost an eye and many were recovered with broken or rotting teeth.
The group said the first group of nine lions would be collected in the capital, Bogota, on a McDonnell Douglas cargo plane, which would pick up 24 more in Lima before heading to Johannesburg. From there they would be transported by land to their new home at the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo province, where they would enjoy large natural enclosures. “It will be hugely satisfying to see these lions walking into the African bush,” said Tom Phillips, ADI’s vice-president, as he inspected the cages that will be used to transport the lions. “It might be one of the finest rescues I’ve ever seen; it’s never happened before taking lions from circuses in South America all the way to Africa,” he added. “It’s like a fairytale.”
Has western society reached “peak stuff”? If reports that once-insatiable shoppers are starting to cut back are true, what are the consequences for the old economic theory that more consumption equals greater happiness? That is a question a Bank of England blogger has posed, with interesting and upbeat conclusions. Writing on Bank Underground, a blog where Bank of England staff can challenge prevailing orthodoxies, Dan Nixon wondered if rather than shopping our way to satisfaction, a Buddhism-inspired trend of mindfulness has taught us that less is more. Inspired by its message to appreciate the moment, perhaps we can achieve greater happiness by seeking to simplify our desires, rather than satisfy them, wrote Nixon, who works in the Bank’s stakeholder communications and strategy division.
The result of less consumption but greater wellbeing could be “especially important for debates around secular stagnation and ecological sustainability”, he says. In other words, if secular stagnation is nigh and there is a permanent downward shift in the potential growth rates of advanced economies, increased attention will naturally turn to alternative ways to increase wellbeing. “‘Less is more’ ideas could form one part of the solution,” said Nixon. There are also interesting implications in the field of environmental economics, given human wellbeing and ecological sustainability are often assumed to be in conflict. “The neat thing about the less is more critique is that it achieves less consumption without constraining people’s decisions,” said the Bank blogger.
The repeated Black Friday sales frenzies that have spilled across the Atlantic from the US to the UK and the continuing fortunes of big online retailers such as Amazon may feel at odds with all the less is more talk. But the rise of mindfulness, in media coverage, schools and workplaces – including at the Bank of England – has coincided with signs that shopping may be losing its appeal as our national pastime. Ikea, purveyor of flatpacks and tealights, recently claimed the appetite of western consumers for home furnishings had reached its peak. The Swedish furniture giant’s UK crammed car parks and long hotdog queues may suggest otherwise but Ikea’s head of sustainability, Steve Howard, has spoken of “peak curtains”.
His views were followed weeks later by official figures showing the amount of “stuff” used in the UK – including food, fuel, metals and building materials – had fallen dramatically since 2001. The Office for National Statistics data revealed that on average people used 15 tonnes of material in 2001 compared with just over 10 tonnes in 2013.
Fully in line with what I’ve often said. In a situation like this, you have to put people first, not politics, or you will create mayhem. This is a certainty. It’s too late already for Europe. The goodwill and moral high ground wasted over the past 18 months will take 100 years to regain, if ever.
In 1938, representatives from 32 western states gathered in the pretty resort town of Evian, southern France. Evian is now famous for its water, but back then, the delegates had something else on their minds. They were there to discuss whether to admit a growing number of Jewish refugees, fleeing persecution in Germany and Austria. After several days of negotiations, most countries, including Britain, decided to do nothing. On Monday, I was reminded of the Evian conference when British MPs voted against welcoming just 600 child refugees a year over the next half-decade. The two moments are not exactly comparable. History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself. But it does echo, and it does remind us of the consequences of ethical failure. Looking back at their inaction at Evian, delegates could claim they were unaware of what was to come.
In 2016, we no longer have that excuse. Nevertheless, both in Britain and across Europe and America, we currently seem keen to forget the lessons of the past. In Britain, many of those MPs who voted against admitting a few thousand refugees are also campaigning to unravel a mechanism – the EU – that was created, at least in part, to heal the divisions that tore apart the continent during the first and second world wars. Across Europe, leaders recently ripped up the 1951 refugee convention – a landmark document partly inspired by the failures of people such as the Evian delegates – in order to justify deporting Syrians back to Turkey, a country where most can’t work legally, despite recent legislative changes; where some have allegedly been deported back to Syria; and still more have been shot at the border.
Emboldened by this, the Italian and German governments have since joined David Cameron in calling for refugees to be sent back to Libya, a war zone where – in a startling display of cognitive dissonance – some of the same governments are also mulling a military intervention. Where many migrants work in conditions tantamount to slavery. Where three separate governments are vying for control. And where Isis runs part of the coastline.
The leading academic theory of asset bubbles is that they don’t really exist. When asset prices skyrocket, say mainstream theorists, it might mean that some piece of news makes rational investors realize that fundamental values like corporate earnings are going to be a lot higher than anyone had expected. Or perhaps some condition in the economy might make investors suddenly become much more tolerant of risk. But according to mainstream theory, bubbles are not driven by speculative mania, greed, stupidity, herd behavior or any other sort of psychological or irrational phenomenon. Inflating asset values are the normal, healthy functioning of an efficient market. Naturally, this view has convinced many people in finance that mainstream theorists are quite out of their minds. The problem is, mainstream theory has proven devilishly hard to disprove.
We can’t really observe how investors in the financial markets form their beliefs. So we can’t tell if their views are right or wrong, or whether they’re investing based on expectations or because of changing risk tolerance. Basically, because we can usually only look at the overall market, we can’t get into the nuts and bolts of how people decide what prices to pay. But what about the housing market? Housing is different from stocks and bonds in at least two big ways. First, because house purchases are not anonymous, we can observe who buys what. Second, housing markets are local, so we can see what is happening around them, and thus have some sort of idea what information they are receiving. These unique features allow us to know much more about the decision-making process of each buyer than we know about investors in the anonymous national financial markets.
In a new paper, economists Patrick Bayer, Kyle Mangum and James Roberts make great use of these features to study the mid-2000s U.S. housing boom. Their landmark results ought to have a major effect on the debate over asset bubbles. Bayer et al. find that as the market overheated, the frenzy spread like a virus from block to block. They look at the greater Los Angeles area – a hotbed of bubble activity – from 1989 through 2012. Since they want to focus on people buying houses as investments (rather than to live in), the authors looked only at people who bought multiple properties, and they tried to exclude primary residences from the sample. They found, unsurprisingly, that the peak years of 2004-2006 saw a huge spike in the number of new investors entering the market. Here is the graph from their paper:
Red flags are rising on Corporate America’s debt. The average rating on U.S. corporate debt has hit nearly a 15-year low, according to a new report by Standard & Poor’s. “We believe corporate default rates could increase over the next few years,” according to S&P credit analysts Jacob Crooks and David Tesher. The average rating on companies that issue debt has fallen to ‘BB,’ or junk status. That is even below the average S&P rating for U.S. corporate debt during and in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. There are already concerns about energy companies defaulting on loans due to low oil prices. But new tech firms like Solera and media companies like iHeart too have had their credit rating downgraded this year, according to S&P. Since 2012, there’s been a surge in low-rated companies seeking cash.
In the past four years, S&P has assigned a single-B rating to 75% of companies accessing the debt markets for the first time. That rating is just one notch up from triple-C, a rating given to companies with a high probability of default. Companies with a single-B rating include PF Chang’s, Toys R US and Men’s Wearhouse (MW). That doesn’t mean they’re going to default: They’re just dangerously close to the territory where companies tend to default. The “rapid rise” in companies with low credit ratings accessing the bond markets can be traced to the easy availability of cash in recent years. How did this happen?
Here are a few key dominoes.
1. The Fed created a super low interest rate environment when it put rates next to zero in 2008.
2. Investors looking for more yield move away from safe assets like U.S. Treasury bonds and into higher-risk assets like bonds issued by lower-rated companies.
3. That makes it easier for low-rated companies to get cash at low rates from the capital markets.
Now, however, the tables are turning. The Fed is slowly starting to increase rates and investors’ appetite – and the cash available – for low-rated companies is on the decline. Add to that the gloomy outlook for the global economy and low commodity prices, and some companies may struggle to pay back what they borrowed.
My grandfather was never rich. He did have some money in the 1920s, but he lost most of it at the tail end of the decade. Some of it disappeared in the stock market crash in October of 1929. The rest of his deposits fell victim to the collapse of New York’s Bank of the United States in December of 1931. I wish I could say that my grandfather recovered from the wrath of the stock market disaster and subsequent bank failures. For the most part, however, living above the poverty line was about the best that he could do financially, as he buckled down to raise two children in Queens. There was one financial feature of my grandfather’s life that provided him with greater self-worth. Specifically, he refused to take on significant debt because he remained skeptical of credit. And with good reason.
The siren’s song of “you-can-pay-me-Tuesday-for-a-hamburger-today” only created an illusion of wealth in the Roaring Twenties; in fact, unchecked access to favorable borrowing terms as well as speculative excess in the use of debt contributed mightily to the country’s eventual descent into the Great Depression. G-Pops wanted no part of the next debt-fueled crisis. Here’s something few people know about the past: Consumer debt more than doubled during the ten year-period of the Roaring 1920s (1/1/1920-12/31/1929). And while you may often hear the debt apologist explain how the only thing that matters about debt is the ability to service it, the reckless dismissal ignores the reality of virtually all financial catastrophes.
During the Asian Currency Crisis and the bailout of Long-Term Capital Management (1997-1998), fast-growing emerging economies (e.g., South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, etc.) experienced extraordinary capital inflows. Most of the inflows? Speculative borrowed dollars. When those economies showed signs of strain, “hot money” quickly shifted to outflows, depreciating local currencies and leaving over-leveraged hedge funds on the wrong side of currency trades. The Fed-orchestrated bailout of Long-Term Capital coupled with rate cutting activity prevented the 19% S&P 500 declines and 35% NASDAQ depreciation from charting a full-fledged stock bear. Did we see similar debt-fueled excess leading into the 2000-2002 S&P 500 bear (50%-plus)? Absolutely. How long could margin debt extremes prosper in the so-called New-Economy?
How many dot-com day-traders would find themselves destitute toward the end of the tech bubble? Bring it forward to 2007-2009 when housing prices began to plummet in earnest. How many “no-doc” loans and “negative am” mortgages came with a promise of real estate riches? Instead, subprime credit abuse brought down the households that lied to get their loans, destroyed the financial institutions that had these “toxic assets” on their books, and overwhelmed the government’s ability to manage the inevitable reversal of fortune in stocks and the overall economy. Just like 1929-1932. Just like 1997-1998. Just like 2000-2002.
First, China’s property bubble popped. Then, China’s stock market bubble burst over the summer, and investors lost a ton of money before the government took control of the system. Now the concern floating around the world of markets is that the third in China’s “triple bubble” is about to burst. That bubble is credit, especially corporate bonds, which have absolutely exploded over the past year as refugees from the other bubble bursts searched for yield. This one is going to be for a very straightforward reason, too — supply. Simply put, there are about to be too many bonds in China, and that could ultimately harm the weakest part of the Chinese economy, the debt-loaded zombie companies that helped form the property bubble and are now unable to turn a healthy profit.
Here’s how all of this happened. When the Chinese stock market went careening downward last summer, a ton of the money that was invested in the market ran into the credit market, specifically corporate bonds. “In our view, China is in the midst of a triple bubble, with the third-biggest credit bubble of all time, the largest investment bubble (proxied by the investment share of GDP) and the second-biggest real-estate bubble,” Credit Suisse analyst Andrew Garthwaite wrote in a note back in July. This was great for China’s debt-laden corporates. They could keep running on easy credit because demand was so high. Corporate-bond issuance increased 21% from 2014 to 2015, and by the end of last year their total stock made up 21.6% of GDP, as opposed 18.4% the year before, according to Societe Generale.
Chinese Treasury-bond supply is set to increase too, from 936 billion yuan in 2015 to 1.4 trillion yuan in 2016. At the same time, the government has been getting a move on an important project it has been working on for some time — turning local-government debt from the country’s infrastructure boom into a real municipal-bond market. We’re talking a lot of money here. In March alone the government allowed 1 trillion yuan ($160 billion) of local-government debt to be converted into local-government bonds (LGB). In 2016 analysts expect the government to issue another 6 trillion yuan in LGBs. That’s a lot of bonds.
Bad loans are likely to outnumber good ones soon in the U.S. oil patch, an indication of the pressure on energy companies and their lenders from the crash in prices. The number of energy loans labeled as “classified,” or in danger of default, is on course to extend above 50% this year at several major banks, including Wells Fargo and Comerica, according to bankers and others in the industry. In response, several major banks are reducing their exposure to the energy sector by attempting to sell off souring loans, declining to renew them or clamping down on the ability of oil and gas companies to tap credit lines for cash, according to more than a dozen bankers, lawyers and others familiar with the plans.
The pullback is curtailing the flow of money to companies struggling to survive a prolonged stretch of low prices, likely quickening the path to bankruptcy for some firms. 51 North American oil-and-gas producers have already filed for bankruptcy since the start of 2015, cases totaling $17.4 billion in cumulative debt, according to law firm Haynes and Boone. That trails the number from September 2008 to December 2009 during the global financial crisis, when there were 62 filings, but is expected to grow: About 175 companies are at high risk of not being able to meet loan covenants, according to Deloitte. “This has the makings of a gigantic funding crisis” for energy companies, said William Snyder, head of Deloitte’s U.S. restructuring unit. If oil prices, which closed at $39.79 a barrel Wednesday, remain at around $40 a barrel this year, “that’s fairly catastrophic.”
As Britain ponders its future in the EU, investors are betting an amount almost the size of Iceland’s economy on the pound falling to levels last seen in the 1980s. At least 11 billion pounds ($16 billion) has been wagered this year on options that would profit if sterling fell to or below $1.3502, a 4.5% drop from current levels, after the June 23 referendum. More than half of the positions were placed since the date of the vote was set on Feb. 20. The figures give an indication of what’s at stake as investors weigh the possibility of the U.K. quitting the world’s largest single market, which accounts for about half its imports and exports. Even with opinion polls showing no clear lead for either side, the prospect of a “Brexit” has seen the pound fall more than any other major currency versus the dollar this year.
“There is a risk premium in sterling, both in terms of the spot rate and in terms of the volatility market, but this is one of those events where you have no way of calibrating how big it should be,” said Paul Meggyesi at JPMorgan Chase in London. “Few investors believe that sterling has fallen to levels where the risk-reward favors buying.” While tumbling to $1.3502 would barely exceed the pound’s decline so far this year, it would take the U.K. currency to the lowest level since 1985. Traders assign 54% odds to sterling reaching that level by the day of the referendum, according to Bloomberg’s options calculator. Meggyesi sees the pound falling to $1.38 by mid-year, from $1.4145 as of 4:45 p.m. London time on Thursday. Even forecasts of a drop to these levels may be optimistic if the U.K. actually ends up leaving the EU.
PBOC fixed the Yuan at its weakest in 3 weeks, pushing the devaluation streak to its longest since early January. However, Offshore Yuan has now dropped over 1.1% against the USD, extending losses for the 6th straight day to 3-week lows. This is the longest streak of weakness in the offshore Yuan since April 2014.
It appears EUR and JPY took enough pain so the basket is reverting to the USD again…
What’s the opposite of passive-aggressive as a clear message is being sent to The Fed – tighten and we unleash the Yuan-weakness-driven turmoil…
Think there’s a housing affordability crisis in Britain, with low mortgage rates likely to drive house prices even higher? Take a look at Sweden where lending policies have been more generous, and where house price inflation has been (at least recently) more extreme. A number of banks and analysts have warned that Sweden’s housing market is overheating, with HSBC in January saying: “The pace of acceleration in the housing market points to a bubble.” House prices across the country were up 18pc last year. This compares to Britain’s house price rises in 2015 of between 5pc and 10pc, depending on which index is used. Now Sweden is dealing with its overheated housing market by reining in mortgage availability.
Regulators introduced restrictions which will mean mortgage terms – the time homebuyers have to clear the debt – will be drastically reduced to just… 105 years. The move comes because historically there has been no time limit on mortgage duration. So as prices rose and affordability became tougher, Swedish banks’ response was to extend terms, as had been the case in other high-cost property markets including Japan in the Eighties. The average term is reported to be 140 years. This meant many people who inherited property but who could not afford to take on the mortgage debt had to sell up. Swedish banks were quoted in the local press as opposing the move.
“It isn’t good for the finances of households as it will make mortgages more expensive and the terms not as good. And it isn’t good for financial stability,” the head of Swedish Bankers’ Association was reported to say. In Britain, there has been a move by some lenders to increase mortgage terms but only for younger borrowers. Even then, the maximum term tends to be 35 years, although some lenders – including Halifax and Nationwide – go up to 40, brokers say. The Mortgage Market Review introduced by British regulators in 2013 made it difficult for lenders to arrange loans which went into borrowers’ likely retirement.
House prices in Shenzhen, the city which is a hub for technology hardware and known as China’s Silicon Valley, soared by almost 50% last year – the fastest growth in residential property prices worldwide. A new survey puts two Chinese cities – Shenzhen and Shanghai – in the top five fastest-growing property markets despite the Chinese stock market tumbling in 2015. The research, by the estate agents Knight Frank (pdf), also shows the impact of last year’s debt crisis in Greece. House prices in the two biggest Greek cities – Thessaloniki and Athens – were both ranked among the worst six in the survey of 165 cities, falling 5.9% and 4.8% respectively. There were also significant drops in some Italian cities, including Rome, Trieste and Genoa. Nicosia and Larnaca in Cyprus were also among the worst performers.
The Global Residential Cities Index showed that house prices in cities worldwide went up 4.4%. Behind Shenzhen, Auckland was the second fastest growing market with rises of 25.4%, followed by Istanbul (25%) and Sydney (19.9%). Shenzhen has become a hub for the production of hardware used in electronics and has a permanent population of 10 million, rising to 15 million in the summer – autumn electronics season. Their average age is 30. The city bordering Hong Kong did not exist 30 years ago, sporting just a few fishing villages. In 1979, it was declared China’s first special economic zone and surrounded by an 85-mile long, barbed wire fence. Investment and migrant workers flooded the area and factories and housing were built from scratch. By the mid-90s, the population had climbed to 3 million.
In 2004, the first metro station opened and a decade later the network had grown to 131 stations. Two Turkish cities featured in the top 10 – Istanbul and Izmir – while Budapest recorded the biggest rise among European Union cities, with prices up 16.3%. Budapest is also the strongest performing capital city in the index, with demand fuelled by an investment immigration bond for Chinese nationals. Cities traditionally associated with high prices failed to feature prominently. London was ranked at 16 (11.4% growth) with New York at 89th (3.3%). The fast rising prices of Sydney, the fourth fastest rising market, has resulted in high rents and the same sort of concerns about the effects on the young population in the city as in London. In the US, Portland in Oregon and San Francisco were the highest risers, both with increases over the year of 10%. The fastest growing North American city was Vancouver, with prices up nearly 12% on an annual basis.
Despite all the government talk about the nonperforming loans secured by borrowers’ homes being protected from falling into the hands of hedge funds, the latest recapitalization process has resulted in the entire credit sector now being controlled by foreign investors – hedge funds no less. Those foreign firms, the majority of which control high-risk portfolios, hold stakes of more than 50% in all of Greece’s systemic lenders, and in some cases far above that. Therefore, by extension, they control a loan portfolio which exceeds 200 billion euros and includes performing loans amounting to some 100 billion and bad loans that also add up to around 100 billion, and there is currently a negotiations battle under way for them not to be sold on to others.
It makes no difference to borrowers who owns their loans; it is the general legal framework and the legal moves they can make in case they are unable to fulfill their obligations that matter. The banks’ planning does not provide for the sale of bad loans, and there are strong indications that the existing stock of NPLs includes many strategic defaulters who have taken advantage of the crisis to avoid fulfilling their obligations. The Bank of Greece estimates that they account for 20% of all bad loans.
The National Review, a conservative magazine for the Republican elite, recently unleashed an attack on the “white working class”, who they see as the core of Trump’s support. The first essay, Father Führer, was written by the National Review’s Kevin Williamson, who used his past reporting from places such as Appalachia and the Rust Belt to dissect what he calls “downscale communities”. He describes them as filled with welfare dependency, drug and alcohol addiction, and family anarchy – and then proclaims: “Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster, There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. … The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles.”
A few days later, another columnist, David French, added: “Simply put, [white working class] Americans are killing themselves and destroying their families at an alarming rate. No one is making them do it. The economy isn’t putting a bottle in their hand. Immigrants aren’t making them cheat on their wives or snort OxyContin.” Both suggested the answer to their problems is they need to move. “They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.” Downscale communities are everywhere in America, not just limited to Appalachia and the Rust Belt – it’s where I have spent much of the past five years documenting poverty and addiction. To say that “nothing happened to them” is stunningly wrong. Over the past 35 years the working class has been devalued, the result of an economic version of the Hunger Games.
It has pitted everyone against each other, regardless of where they started. Some contestants, such as business owners, were equipped with the fanciest weapons. The working class only had their hands. They lost and have been left to deal on their own. The consequences can be seen in nearly every town and rural county and aren’t confined to the industrial north or the hills of Kentucky either. My home town in Florida, a small town built around two orange juice factories, lost its first factory in 1985 and its last in 2005. [..] Over the past 35 years, except for the very wealthy, incomes have stagnated, with more people looking for fewer jobs. Jobs for those who work with their hands, manufacturing employment, has been the hardest hit, falling from 18m in the late 1980s to 12m now.
The economic devaluation has been made more painful by the fraying of the social safety net, and more visceral by the vast increase at the top. It is one thing to be spinning your wheels stuck in the mud, but it is even more demeaning to watch as others zoom by on well-paved roads, none offering help. It is not just about economic issues and jobs. Culturally, we are witnessing a tale of two Americas that are growing more distinct by the day.
A total of 20 people have been detained in China following the publication of a letter calling on President Xi Jinping to resign, the BBC has learned. The letter was posted earlier this month on a state-backed website Wujie News. Although quickly deleted by the authorities, a cached version can still be found online. In most countries the contents of the letter would be run-of-the-mill political polemic. “Dear Comrade Xi Jinping, we are loyal Communist Party members,” it begins, and then cuts to the chase. “We write this letter asking you to resign from all party and state leadership positions.” But in China, of course, and in particular on a website with official links, this kind of thing is unheard of and there have already been signs of a stern response by the authorities. The detention of a prominent columnist, Jia Jia, was widely reported to be in connection with the letter.
Friends say he simply called the editor of Wujie to enquire about it after seeing it on line. But now the BBC has spoken to a staff member at Wujie who has asked to remain anonymous and who has told us that in addition to Jia Jia another 16 people have been “taken away”. The source said they included six colleagues who work directly for the website, including a senior manager and a senior editor, and another 10 people who work for a related technology company. And a well-know Chinese dissident living in the US said three members of his family, living in China’s Guangdong Province, had also been detained in connection with the letter. Wen Yunchao said he believed his parents and his brother had been detained because authorities were trying to pressure him to reveal information. But he told the BBC that he knew nothing about the letter.
The letter focuses its anger on what it says is President Xi’s “gathering of all power” in his own hands, and it accuses him of major economic and diplomatic miscalculations, as well as “stunning the country” by placing further restrictions on freedom of speech. The latter is a reference to Mr Xi’s high profile visit last month to state-run TV and newspaper offices, where he told journalists that their primary duty was to obey the Communist Party. The letter first appeared on an overseas-based Chinese language website, well outside the realm of Communist Party censors, but the big question is how it then made its way onto Wujie. The idea that any Chinese editor of sane mind would knowingly publish such a document seems so unlikely that there has been speculation amongst some Chinese journalists, in private, that Wujie was either hacked, or had perhaps been using some kind of automatic trawling and publishing software.
One of two prominent Turkish journalists facing life in prison on charges of espionage vowed to make the trial, which begins on Friday, a prosecution of official wrongdoing. Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, told Reuters he would use his trial, which has drawn international condemnation, to refocus attention on the story that landed him in the dock. Dundar, 54, and Erdem Gul, 49, Cumhuriyet’s Ankara bureau chief, stand accused of trying to topple the government over the publication last May of video purporting to show Turkey’s state intelligence agency helping to truck weapons to Syria in 2014. “We are not defendants, we are witnesses,” Dundar said in an interview at his office, promising to show the footage in court despite a ban and at the risk that judges may order the hearings to be held behind closed doors.
“We will lay out all of the illegalities and make this a political prosecution … The state was caught in a criminal act, and it is doing all that it can to cover it up.” Dundar and Gul spent 92 days in jail, almost half of it in solitary confinement, before the constitutional court ruled last month that pre-trial detention was unfounded because the charges stemmed from their journalism. Both were subsequently released pending trial, although President Tayyip Erdogan said he did not respect the ruling. Erdogan has acknowledged that the trucks, which were stopped by gendarmerie and police officers en route to the Syrian border, belonged to the MIT intelligence agency and said they were carrying aid to Turkmens in Syria. Turkmen fighters are battling both President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Islamic State.
Erdogan has said prosecutors had no authority to order the trucks be searched and that they acted as part of a plot to discredit the government, allegations the prosecutors denied. Erdogan has cast the newspaper’s coverage as part of an attempt to undermine Turkey’s global standing and has vowed Dundar would “pay a heavy price.” The trial comes as Turkey deflects criticism from the European Union and rights groups that it is bridling a once vibrant press. “We were arrested for two reasons: to punish us and to frighten others. And we see the intimidation has been effective. Fear dominates,” Dundar said.
We now know that greenhouse gases are rising faster than at any time since the demise of dinosaurs, and possibly even earlier. According to research published in Nature Geoscience this week, carbon dioxide (CO2 ) is being added to the atmosphere at least ten times faster than during a major warming event about 50 million years ago. We have emitted almost 600 billion tonnes of carbon since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and atmospheric COC concentrations are now increasing at a rate of 3 parts per million (ppm) per year. With increasing CO2 levels, temperatures and ocean acidification also rise, and it is an open question how ecosystems are going to cope under such rapid change. Coral reefs, our canary in the coal mine, suggest that the present rate of climate change is too fast for many species to adapt: the next widespread extinction event might have already started.
In the past, rapid increases in greenhouse gases have been associated with mass extinctions. It is therefore important to understand how unusual the current rate of atmospheric CO2 increase is with respect to past climate variability. There is no doubt that atmospheric COC concentrations and global temperatures have changed in the past. Ice sheets, for example, are reliable book-keepers of ancient climate and can give us an insight into climate conditions long before the thermometer was invented. By drilling holes into ice sheets we can retrieve ice cores and analyse the accumulation of ancient snow, layer upon layer. These ice cores not only record atmospheric temperatures through time, they also contain frozen bubbles that provide us with small samples of ancient air. Our longest ice core extends more than 800,000 years into the past.
During this time, the Earth oscillated between cold ice ages and warm interglacials . To move from an ice age to an interglacial, you need to increase COC by roughly 100 ppm. This increase repeatedly melted several kilometre-thick ice sheets that covered the locations of modern cities like Toronto, Boston, Chicago or Montreal. With increasing COC levels at the end of the last ice age, temperatures increased too. Some ecosystems could not keep up with the rate of change, resulting in several megafaunal extinctions, although human impacts were almost certainly part of the story. Nevertheless, the rate of change in COC over the past million years was tame when compared to today. The highest recorded rate of change before the Industrial Revolution is less than 0.15 ppm per year, just one-twentieth of what we are experiencing today.
James Hansen’s name looms large over any history that will likely be written about climate change. Whether you look at the hard science, the perils of political interference or modern day activism, Dr Hansen is there as a central character. In a 1988 US Senate hearing, Hansen famously declared that the “greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now”. Towards the end of his time as the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Hansen described how government officials had on other occasions changed his testimony, filtered scientific findings and controlled what scientists could and couldn’t say to the media – all to underplay the impact of fossil fuel emissions on the climate. In recent years, the so-called “grandfather of climate science” has added to his CV the roles of author and twice-arrested climate activist and anti-coal campaigner. He still holds a position at Columbia University.
So when Hansen’s latest piece of blockbuster climate research was finalized and released earlier this week, there was understandable global interest, not least because it mapped a potential path to the “loss of all coastal cities” from rising sea levels and the onset of “super storms” previously unseen in the modern era. So what is Hansen claiming? Well, the first thing to understand is that Hansen’s paper, written with 18 other co-authors, many of them highly-reputable names in climate science in their own right, is far from conventional. Most scientific papers only take up four or five pages in a journal. Hansen’s paper – in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics – grabs 52 pages (although it’s hard to quibble over space when you’re laying out a possible path to widespread global disruption and the complete reshaping of coastlines).
Nor was the paper published in a conventional way. If you’re getting a faint sense of déjà vu about Hansen’s findings, then that could be down to how a draft version of the study was published and widely covered in July last year. The journal runs an unconventional interactive system of peer review where comments and criticisms from other scientists are published for everyone to see, as are the responses from Hansen and his colleagues. This is arguably a more transparent way of conducting the scientific process of peer review – something usually carried out privately and anonymously. None of this should really detract from Hansen and his co-author’s central claims. Firstly, Hansen says they may have uncovered a mechanism in the Earth’s climate system not previously understood that could point to a much more rapid rise in sea levels. When the Earth’s ice sheets melt, they place a freshwater lens over neighboring oceans.
This lens, argues Hansen, causes the ocean to retain extra heat, which then goes to melting the underside of large ice sheets that fringe the ocean, causing them to add more freshwater to the lens (this is what’s known as a “positive feedback” and is not to be confused with the sort of positive feedback you may have got at school for that cracking fifth grade science assignment). Secondly, according to the paper, all this added water could first slow and then shut down two key ocean currents – and Hansen points to two unusually cold blobs of ocean water off Greenland and off Antarctica as evidence that this process may already be starting. If these ocean conveyors were to be impacted, this could create much greater temperature differences between the tropics and the north Atlantic, driving “super storms stronger than any in modern times”, he argues. “All hell will break loose in the North Atlantic and neighbouring lands,” he says in a video summary.
The government said Thursday it will fast-track procedures to create new centers to accommodate 30,000 people within the next 20 days as it finds itself in a race against time to meet an obligation to provide shelter to more than 50,000 asylum seekers stranded in the country, and to prevent an imminent humanitarian disaster. The current capacity of shelters is 38,000. The decision came after a meeting of the government’s council of ministers, chaired by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, amid a growing sense of urgency surrounding camps around the country and the increasing realization that the existing infrastructure simply cannot cope with the huge refugee numbers. It also follows the worsening toll on migrants’ health after the withdrawal on Wednesday of aid agencies from camps in Greece to protest the recent EU-Turkey deal – which was activated last Sunday – to stem refugee inflows to Europe, which, they say, contravenes international law.
At the same time, the spokesman of the coordinating committee for refugees, Giorgos Kyritsis, said legislation facilitating the implementation of the EU deal will be tabled in Parliament on Wednesday. The government also said it will further empower the Immigration Policy Ministry to deal with increased obligations implicit in the deal, while temporary staff will also be enlisted. Kyritsis also announced the creation of a monitoring mechanism under the general secretary of the Defense Ministry, Yiannis Tafyllis. The government’s immediate priority, Kyritsis said, will be to provide relief to the sprawling and overcrowded border camp of Idomeni in northern Greece. He added that transport means will be made available over the next few days to transfer refugees to other centers affording more humane conditions.
The mayor of the nearby town of Paionia, Christos Goudenoudis, is calling for the camp’s immediate evacuation as the local community, he said, is feeling increasingly insecure as crime in the area has proliferated. Meanwhile the latest figures suggest a marked decrease in refugee flows into the country over the last few days, while none arrived Thursday – for the first time since the deal between the European Union and Turkey was struck. Authorities, however, have attributed this mostly to bad weather. On Tuesday, inflows were limited to 260 – a significant decrease from the several thousand a couple of weeks ago.