October 27, 2016

Layoffs at Alphabet Access to Hit 9%, Google Fiber to “Pause” Plans, CEO Leaves, as Alphabet Cracks Down on Costs

Five years ago, when Google announced that it would build a super-high-speed fiber-optic network in Kansas City, and then roll it out in other cities, it started an effort to own and control the data pipelines going into homes and businesses.

Given how frustrated consumers are with their ISPs, it seems people couldn’t wait for Google Fiber, now operated by Alphabet’s Access. Google then spent a fortune building out the network in select cities around the country. This could have been huge. At a huge cost.

“Amazing bet,” is what Craig Barratt, senior VP at Alphabet and CEO of Access, called Google Fiber in a blogpost yesterday. In the same breath, he also announced that they would “pause” the build-out of Google Fiber in cities where it had been planned, that there would be layoffs and reassignments, though he didn’t say how many, and that he’d “step aside” as CEO of Access.

His replacement has not been announced.

He’s the third CEO of an Alphabet division to part ways since June. He prefaced this whole debacle this way:

And thanks to the hard work of everyone on the Access team, our business is solid: our subscriber base and revenue are growing quickly, and we expect that growth to continue. I am extremely proud of what we’ve built together in five short years.

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October 26, 2016

Deutsche Bank Considering Alternatives To Paying Cash Bonus

It has been at least a few weeks since Deutsche Bank appeared in the flashing red breaking news sections of newswires, with news that was - mostly - negative. And while the stock has since rebounded materially, wiping out all losses since the DOJ's $14 billion RMBS settlement leak, it appears that not everything is back to normal for the largest German lender. Because in what may be the worst news yet for DB's employees, moments ago Bloomberg reported that the German Bank is exploring "alternatives to paying bonuses in cash" as Chief Executive Officer John Cryan seeks to boost capital buffers.

According to Bloomberg, DB executives have discussed options including giving some bankers shares in the non-core unit instead of cash bonuses. Another idea under review is replacing the cash component with more Deutsche Bank stock.

The supervisory board may discuss the topic of variable pay at a meeting on Wednesday though no final decisions are expected, the people said, the day before it reports third-quarter earnings. The measures, if pursued in the coming months, would mostly impact the investment bank, the people said. The Frankfurt-based lender is still considering other alternatives, they said.

As Bloomberg adds, any bonus-related decision will depend on the size and timing of Deutsche Bank’s settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over a probe into the the sale of faulty real-estate securities. Last year, Deutsche Bank awarded staff 2.4 billion euros ($2.6 billion) of bonuses for 2015, 1.45 billion euros of which was for the combined investment banking and trading unit. Of the 2.4 billion euros, 49 percent was deferred stock and cash while the remainder was paid out immediately.  It appears that DB wants to take the 49% number and make it bigger.

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October 25, 2016

Credit Card Delinquencies Creep Up To Highest Levels Since 2012 As Subprime Issuance Soars

As Obama's "recovery" rolls along, the Wall Street Journal points out that the delinquency rates of subprime credit cards has surged to the highest levels recorded since 2012.  Moreover, per TransUnion data, delinquency rates on cards issued in 2015 are close to 3%, or roughly double the overall rate, indicating that consumers have grown increasingly dependent on credit cards over the past couple of years to fund daily expenses.

Credit-card lending to subprime borrowers is starting to backfire.

Missed payments on credit cards that lenders issued recently are higher than on older cards, according to new data from credit bureau TransUnion. Nearly 3% of outstanding balances on credit cards issued in 2015 were at least 90 days behind on payments six months after they were originated. That compares with 2.2% for cards that were given out in 2014 and 1.5% for cards in 2013.

The poorer performance on newer cards pushed up the 90-day or more delinquency rate for all credit cards to 1.53% on average nationwide in the third quarter. That’s the highest level since 2012.

Meanwhile, FRED data reveals that while overall credit card delinquency rates remain at 10-year lows, the trends has been higher over the past several quarters.

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October 24, 2016

Six Things To Consider About Inflation

As an economic term, “inflation” is shorthand for “inflation of the money supply.”

The general public, however, usually takes it to mean “rising prices” which is not surprising since one of the common effects of an increase in the money supply is higher prices. However, supporters of government policy often say, “If quantitative easing (QE) and its terrible twin, fractional reserve banking, are so awful, why have we got no inflation?”

To address this conundrum, there are six related factors that are noteworthy:

Number One: we need to be clear about the terms we are using. Instead of talking about “inflation” in the loose sense, as above, it is more accurate to speak of currency debasement, which is the real impact of fiat money creation by any means. We experience currency debasement as declining purchasing power. Two sides of the same coin: one reflects the other.

Number Two: the above question overlooks the fact that the measures used in this process are inherently unreliable. The decline in purchasing power is most evident when objectively measured by reference to an essential commodity such as oil — rather than against the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI purports to reflect the prices of ingredients selected by government statisticians in what they consider to be a typical, but notional, basket of “consumer goods and services.” This basket, whose contents are varied periodically, results in an index that cannot be trusted as an objective barometer. It supports the wizardry of non-independent Treasury statisticians, and relates to goods that scarcely feature in your shopping basket or mine.

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October 21, 2016

David Rosenberg Calls For A Multi-Trillion, "Helicopter Money" Stimulus Package

With the inherent weakness in US GDP and the rising probability of a recession (two weeks ago Bank of America modeled that the next recession would likely start roughly one year from now), Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg thinks that with monetary options exhausted it will take a fiscal boost in the trillions of dollars to kickstart the economy. These issues were discussed in an extended interview with Real Vision TV, where the chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff proposed some radical policies to engineer the growth needed in nominal income. 

His ideas, some of which can be seen here in a clip of the interview, include helicopter money attached to a $2 trillion perpetual bond, massive infrastructure spending and measures to tackle the $1 trillion student debt load that has seriously hamstrung the economy.

Doing the Same Thing Over Again and Expecting a Different Outcome

Whether the US will in fact experience the technical definition of a recession is a matter of fervent debate, with the odds something like 20%-30%, according to Rosenberg (60% according to Deutsche Bank), but with growth averaging around 1%, there is no doubt the economy is weak.

“There are some people saying a recession is here right now,” Rosenberg says, “I don't think that we meet those conditions yet. But people say, well, look. Twelve months in a row of negative year on year industrial production, that's never happened outside recession, check. We've had now going into six quarters of profit contraction, year over year. That's only happened in the context of a recession, check. I mean, all that is true, but so much of this has been related to the oil shock that we had.”

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October 20, 2016

Mexico Orders Banks To "Stress Test" For A Trump Victory

It's official: Donald Trump is now a systemic threat.

As part of the Mexican stress test, alongside more traditional calamities such as recession, economic crisis, and market crash, the Mexican financial authorities have ordered local banks to assess the potential impact of Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election, Reuters reports. Citing six bank sources, Reuters says that alongside a "normal" annual stress test, the banks were asked to conduct an additional test to examine the macroeconomic effects and volatility resulting from a potential Trump victory on Nov. 8.

The local regulator, the Financial System Stability Board (CESF) said that as a result of the ongoing risk surrounding the U.S. election and an expected tightening in Federal Reserve monetary policy, it had examined the results of stress tests of the country's financial system. "These exercises showed that the banking sector maintains adequate levels of capital and liquidity to face adverse scenarios," the CESF, which includes representatives from the Finance Ministry, the Bank of Mexico and the banking regulator CNBV, said in its statement.

However, while the rest of the stress test is largely fluff, what Mexico really wanted to know is what happens to local banks if Trump becomes president in 19 days: as a result the tests "were specifically aimed at modeling the possible impact of a Trump victory over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, the latest example of the panic the Republican candidates campaign has induced in Mexico."

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October 19, 2016

Trump, Clinton, Obama and the TPP

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement between the US and eleven other Pacific Rim countries was under negotiation for the first seven years of the Obama presidency. For the first four years, Hilary Clinton was the Secretary of State, directly supervising the negotiations. Even after she quit her cabinet position to launch for her second presidential bid, she continued to tout it in superlative terms.

Yet, by early 2016, most presidential aspirants, including Mrs. Clinton, had disowned the TPP. No new information about the TPP had come to light to prompt this volte face. Nor had the then new Secretary of State John Kerry added anything radically new to the proposals she was associated with during her tenure.

While largely in the interests of corporate America, the TPP is not in the interests of the US economy or the public at large. While it is in the interest of US transnational corporations (TNCs) to source manufactures and services from low-wage Asian economies for the US market, by doing so, they are likely to displace those previously producing those goods, increasing US unemployment. This, in turn, reduces aggregate demand and increases the current account deficit in the US balance of payments.

US Corporate Interests

The TPP will promote US corporate interests by institutionalizing new arrangements which undermine the sovereignty of TPP countries, including the US itself. For instance, the TPPA’s patent and copyright provisions are stronger and for longer durations. This would strengthen corporate monopolies, especially of US TNCs, raising the prices of goods, especially pharmaceutical drugs, in all TPP countries. Thus, while US TNCs stand to profit greatly, consumers in all TPP countries, including the US, would be worse off.

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October 18, 2016

ECB's First Chief Economist Warns: The EU Is A "House Of Cards"

None of the following about the EU will come as a surprise to most of you, but the language used by Otmar Issing is nevertheless pretty remarkable.

The Telegraph reports:

The European Central Bank is becoming dangerously over-extended and the whole euro project is unworkable in its current form, the founding architect of the monetary union has warned.

“One day, the house of cards will collapse,” said Professor Otmar Issing, the ECB’s first chief economist and a towering figure in the construction of the single currency.

Prof Issing said the euro has been betrayed by politics, lamenting that the experiment went wrong from the beginning and has since degenerated into a fiscal free-for-all that once again masks the festering pathologies.

“Realistically, it will be a case of muddling through, struggling from one crisis to the next. It is difficult to forecast how long this will continue for, but it cannot go on endlessly,” he told the journal Central Banking in a remarkable deconstruction of the project.

The regime is almost certain to be tested again in the next global downturn, this time starting with higher levels of debt and unemployment, and greater political fatigue.

Prof Issing lambasted the European Commission as a creature of political forces that has given up trying to enforce the rules in any meaningful way. “The moral hazard is overwhelming,” he said. 

The ECB has “crossed the Rubicon” and is now in an untenable position, trying to reconcile conflicting roles as banking regulator, Troika enforcer in rescue missions and agent of monetary policy. Its own financial integrity is increasingly in jeopardy.

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October 17, 2016

Why Italy’s Banking Crisis is Spiraling Out of Control

Things have got so serious in Italy that the only two things propping up the country’s crumbling banking sector — apart from the last few remaining crumbs of public faith in the system — are two inadequately capitalized bad bank funds, Atlante I and the imaginatively named Atlante II.

Both funds are operated by a deeply opaque Luxembourg-based private firm called Quaestio SGR. The firm is a wholly owned subsidiary of Quaestio Holding S.A, which is itself jointly owned by a bizarre mishmash of organizations, including Fondazione Cariplo (37.65%), an influential “charitable” banking foundation; Fondazione Cassa dei Risparmi di Forlì (6.75%), a regional savings bank; Cassa Italiana di Previdenza e Assistenza dei Geometri liberi professionisti (18%), a bank for professional freelance surveyors (no, seriously); Locke S.r.l. (22%), an obscure Milan-based holding company; and Direzione Generale Opere Don Bosco (15.60%), a Roman Catholic religious institute. No surprises there.

[Hat tip to regular WOLF STREET reader and commenter MC for pointing out some of the peculiarities of Italy’s two bad banks]

Atlante I’s funds are largely privately sourced, coming primarily from Italy’s largest banks. The two biggest banks, Unicredit and Intesa San Paolo,both pledged around a billion euros a piece. A further €500 million was provided by a gaggle of smaller banks and another €500 million was pledged by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP for short), an almost wholly state-owned financial institution. With a little extra help from certain foreign investors, Atlante was able to claw together some €4.8 billion — to help solve a €360 bad-debt problem.

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October 14, 2016

While Media Obsesses Over Pussy-Gate, US Debt Soars To $19.7 Trillion

One of the things that caught my attention this morning was that the US government’s debt level has soared to just a hair under $19.7 trillion.

To give it some context, that’s up over $170 billion in just eight business days.

It’s almost as if Barack Obama is intentionally and desperately trying to breach the $20 trillion mark before he leaves office in January.

Total US public debt has skyrocketed over the last eight years by $9 trillion, from $10.6 trillion to $19.7 trillion.

And in the 2016 fiscal year that just closed two weeks ago, the government added a whopping $1.4 trillion to the debt, the third highest amount on record.

Plus, they managed to accumulate that much debt at a time when they weren’t even really doing anything.

It’s not like the government spent the last year vanquishing ISIS or rebuilding US infrastructure. They just… squandered it.

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October 13, 2016

Could Falling Chinese Oil Production Kill The OPEC Deal?

Dwindling Chinese oil production could lead the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to delay a freeze deal further, as the Asian giant ramps up its own imports to make up for lost domestic supply.

China, which was ranked as the fifth-largest oil producer in the world during 2015, reported a production rate of 3.87 million barrels per day in August—the lowest since December 2009, and the second consecutive month of sharp declines, according to Forbes.

Markets will have to reach an oil price of $60 a barrel before Chinese energy companies can grow production operations back to previous highs, analysts speaking to Bloomberg have said.

Even in 2015 –a year when oil prices were thought be on the road to recovery after the 2014 crash – Sinopec reported that it slashed oil and gas production.

As China’s middle class booms, the demand for energy has been and will be soaring with it. By 2022, McKinsey and Co. estimates that approximately 76 percent of the country’s urban population will be considered middle class.

The China National Offshore Oil Cooperation (CNOOC) can see profits at barrel prices above $41 a pop on average – a figure almost 40 percent higher than the break-even point of select Middle Eastern outlets who can still viably produce in a $25 a barrel market.

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October 12, 2016

Can The Price Of Oil Hold Above $50 Per Barrel?

Why energy prices are ultimately headed lower; what the IMF missed

We have been hearing a great deal about IMF concerns recently, after the release of its October 2016 World Economic Outlook and its Annual Meeting October 7-9. The concerns mentioned include the following:

  • Too much growth in debt, with China particularly mentioned as a problem
  • World economic growth seems to have slowed on a long-term basis
  • Central bank intervention required to produce artificially low interest rates, to produce even this low growth
  • Global international trade is no longer growing rapidly
  • Economic stagnation could lead to protectionist calls

These issues are very much related to issues that I have been writing about:

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October 11, 2016

During The Coming Economic Crisis Two-Thirds Of The Country Will Be Out Of Cash Almost Immediately

Did you know that almost 70 percent of the U.S. population is essentially living paycheck to paycheck?  As you will see below, a brand new survey has found that 69 percent of all Americans have less than $1,000 in savings.  Of course one of the primary reasons for this is that most of us are absolutely drowning in debt.  In fact, the total amount of household debt in the United States now exceeds 12 trillion dollars.  So many Americans are so busy just trying to pay off their existing debts that they can’t even think about saving anything for the future.  If economic conditions remain relatively stable, the fact that so many of us are living on the edge probably won’t kill us.  But the moment the economy plunges into another 2008-style crisis (or worse), we could be facing a situation where two-thirds of the country is in imminent danger of running out of cash.

If you are living paycheck to paycheck, you live under the constant threat of your life being totally turned upside down if that paycheck ever goes away.  During the last crisis, millions of Americans lost their jobs very rapidly, and because so many of them were living paycheck to paycheck all of a sudden large numbers of people couldn’t pay their mortgages.  As a result, multitudes of American families went through the extremely painful process of foreclosure.

Unfortunately, it appears that we have not learned anything from the last go around.  According to the brand new survey that I mentioned above, 69 percent of all Americans have less than $1,000 in savings…

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October 10, 2016

ECB Allowed Deutsche Bank To Cheat In Latest Stress Test, FT Reports

In the latest scandal to emerge involving Deutsche Bank, earlier today the FT reported that German's largest lender was allowed to cheat, pardon was given "special treatment" by the ECB in the July stress tests.  As part of the July stress tests results, which "promised to restore faith in Europe’s banks by assessing all of their finances in the same way" Deutsche Bank’s result was boosted by a "special concession" agreed to by Mario Draghi: DB's results included the $4 billion in proceeds from selling its stake in Chinese lender Hua Xia even though the deal had not been done by the end of 2015, the official cut-off point for transactions to be included.

While the Hua Xia sale was agreed in December 2015, it has still not been completed and now faces a delay after missing a regulatory deadline last month, though the bank is still confident of completion this year.

As the FT notes, the Hua Xia treatment was disclosed in a footnote to Deutsche’s stress test results, and adds that "none of the other 50 banks in the stress tests had similar footnotes, even though several also had deals agreed but not completed at the end of 2015."

As disclosed in the central bank's summer stress test, Deutsche’s common equity tier one capital fell to 7.8% after it was "subjected to the stress tests’ imagined doomsday scenario of fines, low interest rates and low economic growth." However, without the Hua Xia boost, the ratio would have been 7.4%, a level comfortably above regulatory minimums. Why the speal treatment? Because the higher published result helped reassure investors who were growing increasingly nervy about the bank’s capital adequacy.

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October 7, 2016

Deutsche Bank Explores Capital-Raising Options, "All Unattractive"

Despite proclamations from various officials, business leaders, and mainstream media pundits that Deutsche Bank's demise was: a) driven by speculators, b) not driven by any need for liquidity, because c) the bank has plenty of capital... it doesn't. As Bloomberg reports,  no matter how much the DoJ fine is watered-down (don't expect much), the most systemically dangerous bank in the world is holding informal talks with securities firms to explore options including raising capital; but while the lender has several options, as one analyst noted rather awkwardly, "they’re all unattractive."

After three straight days up - soaring 25% off last Friday's lows, thanks to a disproven rumor of a pending settlement with the DoJ - Deutsche Bank closed down 4% from its opening highs today, beginning the slow path to catch down to CDS-implied pain...

Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan told Germany’s Bild newspaper in late September that he doesn’t plan to raise capital. But now it seems, perhaps the weakness in the credit market was warranted as Bloomberg reports senior advisers at top Wall Street firms are speaking to representatives of the German lender about ideas including a share sale and asset disposals, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans are private.

The bank is more likely to tap existing shareholders for funds to help weather mounting legal costs rather than selling asset management or merging with Commerzbank AG, Autonomous Research LLP said in a note on Oct. 3.

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