May 29, 2015

The Fed’s Dereliction of Duty and False Capital Flows Morality

As a result of the US’s push over decades to make the world safe for America’s investment bankers, capital flows across borders easily, and some top experts contend, too easily. Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, in their work on 800 years of financial crises, found that high levels of international capital flows were strongly correlated with more frequent and severe financial crises. In 2011, Claudio Borio and Piti Disyatat published an extremely important analysis of the crisis which shredded the Bernanke “global savings glut” thesis. It instead found that the culprit was excessive financial elasticity, which basically means deregulation and the resulting high level of cross-border capital flows.

Yet the Fed tries to deny the implications of being the steward of the world’s reserve currency in a world of extremely nimble investors who have large pools of funds at their disposal. ZIRP and QE have made the US a major funder of a global carry trade. Remember when global market activity could be summed up by “risk on-risk off” reactions to news? One of the big beneficiaries of “risk on” trades were emerging economies, particularly ones with relatively high domestic interest rates. And when investors got spooked, they’d be the canaries in the coalmine, suffering the most when the tide of money sloshed back to seemingly safer havens.

The Fed’s response to considerable unhappiness of central bankers in the countries that are exposed to the moods of hot capitalists has been to try to deny that the Fed has anything to do with these shifts, or to try to blame the other countries, as in it’s their fault that the money left.

Former IMF Chief economist, now India’s central bank governor Raghuram Rajan took issue with the Fed’s efforts to shift blame in a 2014 Bloomberg interview:
Emerging markets were hurt both by the easy money which flowed into their economies and made it easier to forget about the necessary reforms, the necessary fiscal actions that had to be taken, on top of the fact that emerging markets tried to support global growth by huge fiscal and monetary stimulus across the emerging markets. This easy money, which overlaid already strong fiscal stimulus from these countries. The reason emerging markets were unhappy with this easy money is “This is going to make it difficult for us to do the necessary adjustment.” And the industrial countries at this point said, “What do you want us to do, we have weak economies, we’ll do whatever we need to do. Let the money flow.” 
Now when they are withdrawing that money, they are saying, “You complained when it went in. Why should you complain when it went out?” And we complain for the same reason when it goes out as when it goes in: it distorts our economies, and the money coming in made it more difficult for us to do the adjustment we need for the sustainable growth and to prepare for the money going out.
Read the entire article 

May 28, 2015

Crony Capitalism At Work - Boeing Threatens To Leave US If Ex-Im Subsidy Yanked

When has crony capitalism really gotten out of control? How about when a major U.S. corporation (a huge defense contractor, no less) is publicly threatening government officials to leave the country if the federal government doesn’t continue to boost their profits through government handouts:
Boeing is stepping up pressure on opponents of the US Export-Import Bank with threats to shift manufacturing abroad if the agency that finances purchases by foreign customers is killed off next month.

The threats come as a new push is being made in Congress to find ways of wresting reauthorisation of the bank from a committee controlled by one of the agency’s fiercest opponents.

Scott Scherer, Boeing’s head of regulatory strategy at Boeing Capital, said the aerospace and defense group would “not sit idly by” if the ExIm Bank’s mandate was not renewed by the end of June. “Boeing is not going to let itself be hurt by the lack of an ExIm Bank,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times. “If it means sourcing … to other countries who will support us we may have to look at that. Other countries have more aggressive export policies. We will find an alternative.”
First, let me state the obvious: This basically sounds like blackmail to me, and I don’t think lawmakers should look at this kind of behavior favorably.

Second, it’s time for Boeing executives to understand that it’s not the role of the federal government to guarantee that they can sell as many planes as possible — they’ve benefited from the U.S.’s relatively free-market system; they should have to live with it.

And finally, I don’t think Boeing’s threat is very credible. Will Boeing really pick up its factories and move abroad if Ex-Im isn’t reauthorized? Is the possibility other governments might subsidize it really worth the transition costs and the risks of losing billions in defense contracts?

Thankfully, Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House committee with jurisdiction over Ex-Im, called Boeing’s bluff:

Read the entire article

May 27, 2015

"Graccident" Will Trigger The Demise Of The ECB And The World's Toxic Regime Of Keynesian Central Banking

It is not surprising that in a few short months Yanis Varoufakis has proven himself to be a thoroughgoing Keynesian statist. After all, what would you expect from an economics PhD who co-authored books with Jamie Galbraith? The latter never saw an economic malady that could not be cured with bigger deficits, prodigious printing press “stimulus” and ever more intrusive state intervention and redistribution.

In what is apparently a last desperate game theory ploy, however, Varoufakis has done his countrymen, Europe and the world a favor. By informing his Brussels paymasters that they must continue to subsidize his bankrupt Greek state because it is the only way to preserve the European Project and vouchsafe the Euro, the Greek Finance minister blurted out the truth of the matter, albeit perhaps not intentionally:
“It would be a disaster for everyone involved, it would be a disaster primarily for the Greek social economy, but it would also be the beginning of the end for the common currency project in Europe,” he said.

Whatever some analysts are saying about firewalls, these firewalls won’t last long once you put and infuse into people’s minds, into investors’ minds, that the eurozone is not indivisible,” he added.
He sure got that right. People who believe in democracy and economic liberty anywhere in the world should pray for a Graccident. During the next several weeks, when $1.8 billion in IMF loans come due that Greece cannot possibly pay, there will occur a glorious moment of irony for Syriza.

If it holds firm to its leftwing statist agenda and takes Greek democracy back from the clutches of the EU/IMF apparatchiks, Syriza will strike a blow for democracy and capitalism in one great historic volte-face. That is to say, defiance of the Germans and the troika would amount to a modern monetary Marathon; it would trigger a thundering collapse of the ECB and the cancerous superstate regime built upon it in Frankfurt and Brussels—–and, along with it, cast a mortal blow upon the worldwide Keynesian central banking regime, too.

Read the entire article

May 26, 2015

Central Bank Caught Lying

Bank of England officials are secretly researching the financial shocks that could hit Britain if there is a vote to leave the European Union in the forthcoming referendum.

The Bank blew its cover on Friday when it accidentally emailed details of the project – including how the bank intended to fend off any inquiries about its work – direct to the Guardian.

According to the confidential email, the press and most staff in Threadneedle Street must be kept in the dark about the work underway, which has been dubbed Project Bookend.

It spells out that if anyone asks about the project, the taskforce must say the investigation has nothing to do with the referendum, saying only that staff are involved in examining "a broad range of European economic issues" that concern the Bank.

The revelation is likely to embarrass the bank governor, Mark Carney, who has overhauled the central bank's operations and promised greater transparency over its decision-making.

MPs are now likely to ask whether the Bank intended to inform parliament that a major review of Britain's prospects outside the EU was being undertaken by the institution that acts as the UK's main financial regulator. – The Guardian, May 22, 2015

We are not at all surprised that the Bank of England or any other central bank would lie about its activities. Having their own documents prove they are lying is unusual, however.

This might have been a major embarrassment for the BOE, but the financial media either missed the point or chose not to highlight it. A Bloomberg report on the same leak didn't even mention BOE's plan to keep media in the dark. The Wall Street Journal  story wasn't much better.

Read the entire article

May 25, 2015

It Is Mathematically Impossible To Pay Off All Of Our Debt

Did you know that if you took every single penny away from everyone in the United States that it still would not be enough to pay off the national debt?  Today, the debt of the federal government exceeds $145,000 per household, and it is getting worse with each passing year.  Many believe that if we paid it off a little bit at a time that we could eventually pay it all off, but as you will see below that isn’t going to work either.  It has been projected that “mandatory” federal spending on programs such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare plus interest on the national debt will exceed total federal revenue by the year 2025.  That is before a single dollar is spent on the U.S. military, homeland security, paying federal workers or building any roads and bridges.  So no, we aren’t going to be “paying down” our debt any time in the foreseeable future.  And of course it isn’t just our 18 trillion dollar national debt that we need to be concerned about.  Overall, Americans are a total of 58 trillion dollars in debt.  35 years ago, that number was sitting at just 4.3 trillion dollars.  There is no way in the world that all of that debt can ever be repaid.  The only thing that we can hope for now is for this debt bubble to last for as long as possible before it finally explodes.

It shocks many people to learn that our debt is far larger than the total amount of money in existence.  So let’s take a few moments and go through some of the numbers.

When most people think of “money”, they think of coins, paper money and checking accounts.  All of those are contained in one of the most basic measures of money known as M1.  The following definition of M1 comes from Investopedia
A measure of the money supply that includes all physical money, such as coins and currency, as well as demand deposits, checking accounts and Negotiable Order of Withdrawal (NOW) accounts. M1 measures the most liquid components of the money supply, as it contains cash and assets that can quickly be converted to currency.
As you can see from the chart below, M1 has really grown in recent years thanks to rampant quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve.  At the moment it is sitting just shy of 3 trillion dollars…

Read the entire article

May 22, 2015

Welcome To The Oligarch Recovery: 82% Of US Construction Is Luxury Units

Here is good news for the plutocrat who wants to try out Manhattan’s ritziest neighborhoods before taking the multimillion-dollar plunge. The market for super-high-end rentals is booming, with plenty of enticing options for tenants of every taste.

In all, 82 apartments renting for at least $50,000 a month were listed on StreetEasy during the first three months of the year, more than triple the number listed in the first quarter of 2008. At lower thresholds, luxury listings are also on the rise. Apartments renting for more than $25,000 a month made up 0.95 percent of total inventory in the first quarter of 2015, up from 0.46 percent in the first quarter of 2008…

Of 370,000 multifamily rental units completed from 2012 to 2014 in 54 U.S. metropolitan areas, 82% were in the luxury category, according to CoStar Group Inc., a real-estate research firm. The firm defines luxury buildings as those that command rents in the top 20% of the market. In some places, including Denver, Tampa, Baltimore and Phoenix, virtually all new apartment construction has been targeted to high-end renters. In Atlanta, about 95% of new apartments have been in the luxury category.

The oligarch recovery marches forward with reckless enthusiasm, despite extremely disturbing underlying trends which are all but guaranteed to result in significant societal unrest in the years ahead. The U.S. economy, and indeed the global economy, is much more similar to pre-1789 France than any other historical period I can think of.

You have a handful of super wealthy people, completely disconnected from any sense of reality, running around telling governments what to do. All the same characters who created the global financial crisis remain in charge of the world’s most powerful institutions, and continue to benefit handsomely from its aftermath. While claiming to have “saved the global economy,” the only things they really saved were their own positions of power and wealth. The only thing that was saved, was the very thing that should have been completely discarded, the global status quo. 

The results of the global bailouts and backstops are now clear for everyone to witness. The entire global economy is one gigantic ongoing crime scene. It’s an economy in which fraud is rewarded and never punished. An economy where the rich, powerful and connected concoct unimaginably lucrative crony deals knowing the law doesn’t apply to them. To hedge their corruption, they feed scraps to the poor, not out of altruism, but so that the growing underclasses have just enough not to rebel.

Today, I want to highlight two related articles to clearly demonstrate just how completely screwed up the U.S. economy really is. The first one is courtesy of Bloomberg, and focuses on my hometown of NYC. The best decision I ever made in my life was leaving that place, and it’s gotten much, much more narcissistic and financialized since I left (for the story of why I left, see: The Biggest Trade of My Life). The second article is from the Wall Street Journal, and it highlights the extremely troubling statistic that 82% of multifamily rental units completed from 2012 to 2014 in 54 U.S. metropolitan areas were luxury units.

First, from Bloomberg:

Read the entire article

May 21, 2015

Greece Says That It Will Default On June 5th, And Moody’s Warns Of A ‘Deposit Freeze’

The Greek government says that a “moment of truth” is coming on June 5th.  Either their lenders agree to give them more money by that date, or Greece will default on a 300 million euro loan payment to the IMF.  Of course it won’t technically be a “default” according to IMF rules for another 30 days after that, but without a doubt news that Greece cannot pay will send shockwaves throughout the financial world.  At that point, those holding Greek bonds will start to panic as they realize that they might not get paid as well.  All over Europe, there are major banks that are holding large amounts of Greek debt and derivatives that are related to the performance of Greek debt.  If something is not done to avert disaster at the last moment, a default by Greece could be the spark that sets off a major European financial crisis this summer.

As I discussed the other day, neither the EU nor the IMF have given any money to Greece since August 2014.  So now the Greek government is just about out of money, and without any new loans they will not be able to pay back the old loans that are coming due.  In fact, things are so bad at this point that the Greek government is openly warning that it will default on June 5th
Greece cannot make an upcoming payment to the International Monetary Fund on June 5 unless foreign lenders disburse more aid, a senior ruling party lawmaker said on Wednesday, the latest warning from Athens it is on the verge of default. 
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s leftist government says it hopes to reach a cash-for-reforms deal in days, although European Union and IMF lenders are more pessimistic and say talks are moving too slowly for that.
Of course this is all part of a very high stakes chess game.  The Greeks believe that the Germans will back down when faced with the prospect of a full blown European financial crisis, and the Germans believe that the Greeks will eventually be feeling so much pain that they will be forced to give in to their demands.

So with each day we get closer and closer to the edge, and the Greeks are trying to do their best to let everyone know that they are not bluffing.  Just today, a spokesperson for the Greek government came out and declared that unless there is a deal by June 5th, the IMF “won’t get any money”

Read the entire article

May 20, 2015

Are They About To Confiscate Money From Bank Accounts In Greece Just Like They Did In Cyprus?

Do you remember what happened when Cyprus decided to defy the EU?  In the end, the entire banking system of the nation collapsed and money was confiscated from private bank accounts.  Well, the nation of Greece is now approaching a similar endgame.  At this point, the Greek government has not received any money from the EU or the IMF since August 2014.  As you can imagine, that means that Greek government accounts are just about bone dry.  The new Greek government continues to insist that it will never “violate its anti-austerity mandate”, but the screws are tightening.  Right now the unemployment rate in Greece is over 25 percent and the banking system is on the verge of collapse.  It isn’t going to take much to set off a panic, and when it does happen there are already rumors that the EU plans to confiscate money from private bank accounts just like they did in Cyprus.

Throughout this entire multi-year crisis, things have never been this dire for the Greek government.  In fact, Greece came thisclose to defaulting on a loan payment to the IMF back on May 12th.  And with essentially no money remaining at all, the Greek government is supposed to make several large payments in the weeks ahead
Athens barely made its latest payment (May 12) to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and it managed to do so only when the government discovered that it could use a reserve account it wasn’t aware of, according to the Greek media. 
Kathimerini, a Greek daily newspaper, reports that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wrote to the IMF’s Christine Lagarde warning that Greece would not be able to make that May payment, worth €762 million ($871 million, £554.2 million). 
Pension and civil-servant pay packets are due at the end of the month, and based on this news Athens may struggle to pay them. Even if it does manage that, on June 5 the country owes another €305 million to the IMF. 
In the two weeks following June 5 there are another three payments, bringing the June total to the IMF to over €1.5 billion.
Read the entire article 

May 19, 2015

Greece Cornered as IMF and ECB Refuse to Relent

Even though Greece has looked to be on the verge running out of cash since late March, the government has managed to extend its own sell-by date by deferring payments to government suppliers, finding and emptying every pocket of funds it could fund, and most recently, using a special drawing rights account to pay the IMF. This is tantamount to the sort of behavior that Yanis Varoufakis decried early in the negotiations, of the creditors’ extend and pretend behavior being tantamount to using one’s credit card to pay the mortgage.

But it increasingly looks like a default is nigh. Varoufakis, who in the past has been reassuring or at least non-commital about Greece’s financial condition, said the government had only about two weeks of funding left as of the IMF payment finesse last week. The IMF was less precise as to timing, but a leaked bureaucratically measured memo dated May 14 stated the obvious: that there is no way Greece can meet its obligations coming due between June and August unless they come to a deal with the creditors.

Even as Greece is becoming visibly more desperate, so far, its “partners” are not acting as if they are alarmed by the prospect of default, as in scrambling to find ways to finesse Syriza’s red line or extend the negotiation timetable. Ekathimerini stated on Sunday that Alex Tsipras sent a letter to IMF managing director Christine Lagarde on May 8 stating that Greece would not be able to make its May 12 IMF payment, and also sent the letter to the EU’s Jean-Claude Juncker and the Mario Draghi of the ECb. Tsipras also reportedly called US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew with the same information. Yet the threat of an imminent default did not lead to a breakthrough (as in a concession) from the creditors in the technical-leval talks over the weekend, to the Eurogroup relenting on its existing plan to make no decision (as in not authorize) regardling a release of funds at its May 11 meeting. or to the ECB letting up on its government funding choke chain. As the Telegraph pointed out:

Read the entire article

May 18, 2015

How China Covered The World In "Liquidity Swap Lines"

As we’ve discussed on a number of occasions and at great length, the market is periodically hit by systemic dollar shortages. For instance, in 2007 European commercial banks found themselves staring down a dollar funding gap on the order of several trillion (all in). Meeting USD funding requirements became immeasurably more difficult as the crisis intensified, necessitating what amounted to a Fed bailout via dollar liquidity lines to foreign central banks.
Then, in November of 2011 (so right around the time when, just like today, the financial world was glued to Greece), the Fed extended its “temporary” swap lines with The Bank of Canada, the BoJ, the BoE, the ECB, and the SNB, and also lowered the price of dollar liquidity. 
The most recent global USD funding shortage began to show up earlier this year and as we noted in March, has been ironically created by central banks themselves (for those interested in a detailed account of the conditions which lead to episodic dollar dearths, see the articles linked above).
Central bank liquidity lines like those the Fed used to bailout the world seven years ago have become a fixture of the post crisis financial system and as you can see from the following maps, their growth since 2007 has been remarkable. Perhaps the most striking thing about the following graphics is the extent to which China has (literally) covered the world in renminbi swap lines. Essentially, China has used bilateral swap agreements to help embed the yuan in international trade in the the post-crisis era. As you'll see below, counterparty countries have also tapped their yuan liquidity lines when they're cut off from dollar funding, making China a critical lifeline for bolstering FX reserves and helping to alleviate shortages of imported goods.

May 15, 2015

Elizabeth Warren’s Trade Deal Fears Confirmed: Canada Uses NAFTA to Challenge Volcker Rule

In her attacks on Obama’s pending trade deals, Elizabeth Warren has argued that could undermine US financial regulations like Dodd Frank. The Administration has taken to trying to dismiss Warren as not knowing what she was talking about. More skillful defenders of the traitorous trade deals took the tact of saying that Warren could in theory be right, but the odds of her fears playing out were so remote as to not be worth worrying about.

In a long, careful article in the Nation yesterday, George Zornick explains even with the limited information that we have now about the contents of proposed treaties like the TPP and its ugly European step-sister, the TTIP, Warren’s worries are valid. For instance:
Like with TPP, we don’t know all the details of TTIP yet, but advocates have many fears. One is that the Federal Reserve’s plan to impose separate liquidity requirements on foreign banks might be scotched… 
And it’s not just Dodd-Frank: the leaked EU proposal for TTIP has a provision that new regulations first be “analyzed” to determine if they have an unacceptable impact on trade. Americans for Financial Reform (AFR) worries that this could “impose a presumption that regulations must be judged on the basis of their trade impact rather than their effectiveness as public interest policies promoting financial stability.”
Keep in mind that by design, a substantial portion of Dodd Frank implementation was kicked down the road to allow lobbyists to have a second go at weakening it, with studies required before rules would be written. Significant portions of rulemaking have yet to be completed and would appear to be subject to the TTIP analysis requirement, giving the banking industry yet another change to gut legislation.

Read the entire article

May 14, 2015

Why Are Exchange-Traded Funds Preparing For A ‘Liquidity Crisis’ And A ‘Market Meltdown’?

Some really weird things are happening in the financial world right now.  If you go back to 2008, there was lots of turmoil bubbling just underneath the surface during the months leading up to the great stock market crash in the second half of that year.  When Lehman Brothers finally did collapse, it was a total shock to most of the planet, but we later learned that their problems had been growing for a long time.  I believe that we are in a similar period right now, and the second half of this year promises to be quite chaotic.  Apparently, those that run some of the largest exchange-traded funds in the entire world agree with me, because as you will see below they are quietly preparing for a “liquidity crisis” and a “market meltdown”.  About a month ago, I warned of an emerging “liquidity squeeze“, and now analysts all over the financial industry are talking about it.  Could it be possible that the next great financial crisis is right around the corner?

According to Reuters, the companies that run some of the largest exchange-traded funds in existence are deeply concerned about what a lack of liquidity would mean for them during the next financial crash.  So right now they are quietly “bolstering bank credit lines” so that they will be better positioned for “a market meltdown”…
The biggest providers of exchange-traded funds, which have been funneling billions of investor dollars into some little-traded corners of the bond market, are bolstering bank credit lines for cash to tap in the event of a market meltdown
Vanguard Group, Guggenheim Investments and First Trust are among U.S. fund companies that have lined up new bank guarantees or expanded ones they already had, recent company filings show. 
The measures come as the Federal Reserve and other U.S. regulators express concern about the ability of fund managers to withstand a wave of investor redemptions in the event of another financial crisis. They have pointed particularly to fixed-income ETFs, which tend to track less liquid markets such as high yield corporate bonds or bank loans.
Read the entire article 

May 13, 2015

Digital Money Forging Ahead

Econet Wireless is now allowing group savings on its mobile money platform, EcoCash, a development the company says will reduce risks associated with cash handling. 

The EcoCash Savings Club will earn interest on "all pooled funds" each month. 

Saving groups can appoint a chairperson who will undertake the opening of the account while approving members will also be selected from the group. 

Savings groups are common in most African communities whereby members in a group put money together for a common interest such as buying properties or for funding functions such as funerals or weddings. Most of these groups appoint a member or take turns to keep the money inside their houses. 

"They (saving groups) typically consist of a group of members who each contribute regularly into a cash pool that members borrow from on a rotating basis. While the practice is widespread, savings clubs face security risks in handling cash and difficulties in tracking contributions and withdrawals from members," said an official at Econet Wireless. – ITWeb Africa, May 8, 2015 

Read the entire article

May 12, 2015

Sovereignty For International Investors (Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP))

Yves here. This post provides another vantage on one of the very worst features of the pending, mislabeled trade deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Both are up for what is the critical vehicle for their passage, so-called Fast Track Authority, this week. The Senate vote is scheduled for today, May 12.

If you have not done so yet, PLEASE call your Senators as soon as you can to voice forceful disapproval. E-mail friends and post reminders on Facebook (one readers suggested alumni groups, an option to add if you’ve neglected that route so far). You can find your Senators phone numbers here. After you’ve given them a piece of your mind, be sure to call your Representative (numbers here).

It’s been striking to see how the Administration and Obama personally have stooped to personal slurs and failed to make substantive responses to criticism. Even the normally measured Robert Reich and Dean Baker have come as close to calling Obama a liar as card-carrying members of the elite dare to in public discourse.

While this may be Obamas’s of entitlement getting long in the tooth, it may also result from his team recognizing all too well that any honest discussion on the merits will not go well for them.

This post provided a good overview of the dangers of the so-called investor state dispute settlement panels, which might more accurately be called “turn over America to multinational rule” panels.


May 11, 2015

IMF Preparing Greek Default Contingency Plan

The biggest slow motion trainwreck in history, one that everyone knows how it ends just not when (especially since the "when" is about 5 years overdue), that of the Greek sovereign default may just got a bit more exciting earlier today when the WSJ reported that the IMF can no longer lie - like Mario Draghi did to Zero Hedge in 2013 - that there are preparation for a Plan B. To wit: "the International Monetary Fund is working with national authorities in southeastern Europe on contingency plans for a Greek default, a senior fund official said—a rare public admission that regulators are preparing for the potential failure to agree on continued aid for Athens."

According to the WSJ, the IMF is focusing on nations neighboring Greece, asking their national banking supervisors to "ensure that subsidiaries of Greek banks have enough assets that they can exchange for emergency financing at their own central banksin case financing from their parent institutions is suddenly cut off—and that deposit-insurance funds are at sufficient levels, Mr. Decressin said."

In other words, have a Greek default Plan B ready, preferably right now.
"We are in a dialogue with all of these countries,” said Jörg Decressin, deputy director of the IMF’s Europe department. “We are talking with them about the contingency plans they have, what measures they can take.”

Greek banks are big players in some of its neighbors’ financial systems. In Bulgaria, subsidiaries of National Bank of Greece SA, Alpha Bank SA, Piraeus Bank SA and Eurobank Ergasias SA own around 22% of banking assets, roughly the same as Greek banks own in Macedonia. Greek banks are also active in Romania, Albania and Serbia.
Read the entire article 

May 8, 2015

In Most Countries, 40 Hours + Minimum Wage = Poverty

Last week, we noted that Democratic lawmakers in the US are pushing for what they call "$12 by '20" which, as the name implies, is an effort to raise the minimum wage to $12/hour over the course of the next five years. Republicans argue that if Democrats got their wish and the pay floor were increased by nearly 70%, it would do more harm than good for low-income Americans as the number of jobs that would be lost as a result of employers cutting back in the face of dramatically higher labor costs would offset the benefit that accrues to the workers who are lucky enough to keep their jobs. 

Regardless of who is right or wrong when it comes to projecting what would happen to low-wage jobs in the face of a steep hike in the minimum wage, one thing is certain: many working families depend on government assistance to make ends meet, suggesting it's tough to persist on minimum wage in today's economy and indeed, a new study by the OECD shows that in 21 out of the 26 member countries that have a minimum wage, working 40 hours per week at the pay floor would not be sufficient to keep one's family out of poverty.

Here's more from Bloomberg:
A global ranking out Wednesday by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development painted a grim picture of the situation in member countries straddling continents. The 34-member organization found that a legal minimum wage existed in 26 countries and crunched the numbers to see how they compared.

Forget taking a siesta in Spain. There, you'd have to work more than 72 hours a week to escape the trappings of poverty. Turns out that is the norm, not the exception. In the 21 countries highlighted with blue bars in the chart below, a full 40-hour work week still won't lift families out of relative poverty. This list includes France, home to the 35-hour work week, which almost met the threshold. Minimum wage workers there who are supporting a spouse and two children need to work 40.2 hours to get their families out of poverty.  (The poverty line is defined as 50 percent of the median wage in any nation.)

May 7, 2015

First Quarter GDP Likely Negative as Trade Deficit Soars

Because of the blinkered way we talk about the economy in this country, news that the trade deficit widened in March well above consensus expectations will undoubtedly be met by cries that we must create more free trade deals to counteract that. Of course, the two have almost nothing to do with one another. In fact, what we’re likely seeing is that a strong dollar policy – usually promoted by the same officials who endorse free trade agreements – is significantly undermining our economic health.

First, to the numbers. Everything went up in March – imports, exports and the trade deficit – because of the impact of the resolution of the West Coast port strike. Goods flowed and a large backlog got worked through. The result was the worst monthly trade deficit in six years, but even the three-month rolling average increased around five percent relative to one year ago.

Fortunately, Administration officials are magicians that don’t count imports in trade statistics, so this was welcomed as good news. I have a press release from Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker that begins, “Today’s data shows that despite challenges facing economies around the globe, the world wants what America is selling.” Really. She cited the 0.9 increase in exports and neglected the far faster increase in imports. Talking about trade while only talking about exports is like a sportscaster giving a score for only one team in a baseball game. “Today, Dodgers 4.”

The officialdom, on the other hand, seems not to know what to make of this development:
JPMorgan Chase economist Daniel Silver wrote to clients that “we do not know” if the weakness of exports is port-related, “or if the recent weakness in the data is mainly due to the stronger dollar.” 
Other economists put the blame mainly on the port disruptions […] “Yes, the stronger dollar is playing a role here, but currency shifts simply don’t feed through into real trade flows that fast and that dramatically,” Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a client note. What he meant is that it takes time for people to change their buying patterns after a shift in exchange rates. 

“That said,” Barclays Capital economist Jesse Hurwitz wrote, “we do expect the net trade balance to drag on overall growth over the next several quarters.” That’s partly because Americans are consuming more and partly because of the stronger dollar, he said.
Read the entire article

May 6, 2015

SEC Commissioner Furious At Deutsche Bank's "Decade Of Lying, Cheating, And Stealing"

Last week we commented on the latest travesty in the legal system when Deutsche Bank paid $2.5 billion to settle charges that it had manipulated LIBOR, EURIBOR and various other -BORs. As usual in situations such as this one, not a single banker went to prison, but there was some hope that Deutsche Bank's gross criminal conduct would at least land it on the SEC's "bad actors" list, which is like the Dodd-Frank equivalent of ‘time out’ and restricts the offender from participating in exempt securities offerings.

Not to worry: as we reported as part of its settlement, Deutsche Bank, as well as every other criminal financial institution, had - deep in the fine print - inserted language that exempted the offender from such stigma. As the WSJ noted, "the language allows the banks to avoid asking the SEC for a waiver—a process that has become fraught with uncertainty amid commissioner disagreements over whether to allow financial firms to avoid a “bad actor” ban…"

We concluded that "It’s good to be TBTF" because clearly no matter how many laws are violated and how much money is stolen (LIBOR was the reference security for nearly $1 quadrillion in global rate-sensitive derivatives), i) nobody ever goes to prison, ii) there are absolutely no negative consequences, and iii) the cost of running a criminal organization is tiny - the settlement usually amounts to far less than 1% of the gains reaped from years of illegal activities.

Frankly, at this point one should just sit back and watch in amusement, because until the revolution and/or war predicted by Paul Tudor Jones arrives and the guillotines start working overtime, nobody in a position of wealth or power will be held accountable.

That same message was, in rough terms, what prompted SEC commissioner Kara Stein, a Democrat, to write her "dissenting statement" regarding granting Deutsche Bank the waiver for ineligible issuer status.

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May 5, 2015

Experts Are Warning That The 76 Trillion Dollar Global Bond Bubble Is About To Explode

Warren Buffett believes “that bonds are very overvalued“, and a recent survey of fund managers found that 80 percent of them are convinced that bonds have become “badly overvalued“.  The most famous bond expert on the planet, Bill Gross, recently confessed that he has a sense that the 35 year bull market in bonds is “ending” and he admitted that he is feeling “great unrest”.  Nobel Prize–winning economist Robert Shiller has added a new chapter to his bestselling book in which he argues that bond prices are “irrationally high”.  The global bond bubble has ballooned to more than 76 trillion dollars, and interest rates have never been lower in modern history.  In fact, 25 percent of all government bonds in Europe actually have a negative rate of return at this point.  There is literally nowhere for the bond market to go except for the other direction, and when this bull market turns into a bear it will create chaos and financial devastation all over the planet.

In a recent piece entitled “A Sense Of Ending“, bond guru Bill Gross admitted that the 35 year bull market in bonds that has made him and those that have invested with him so wealthy is now coming to an end…
Stanley Druckenmiller, George Soros, Ray Dalio, Jeremy Grantham, among others warn investors that our 35 year investment supercycle may be exhausted. They don’t necessarily counsel heading for the hills, or liquidating assets for cash, but they do speak to low future returns and the increasingly fat tail possibilities of a “bang” at some future date. To them, (and myself) the current bull market is not 35 years old, but twice that in human terms. Surely they and other gurus are looking through their research papers to help predict future financial “obits”, although uncertain of the announcement date. Savor this Bull market moment, they seem to be saying in unison. It will not come again for any of us; unrest lies ahead and low asset returns. Perhaps great unrest, if there is a bubble popping.
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May 4, 2015

HFT + Inept Regulators + Fed Distortion = More Flash Crashes

As luck would have it, we had Joe Saluzzi lined up to record a podcast the day the news broke recently that the suspected culprit for the 2010 flash crash, Navinder Singh Sarao, had been arrested. Saluzzi is co-founder of Themis Trading LLC, long-time cautionary on the dangers of high-frequency algorithmic trading, and co-author of Broken Markets: How High Frequency Trading and Predatory Practices on Wall Street Are Destroying Investor Confidence and Your Portfolio.

In this discussion, Joe shares his suspicions about Sarao (a contributor to the crash, but highly unlikely to be the actual cause) and then provides his expert assessment of what has been done in the intervening years since the flash crash to safeguard the market against a similar failure (precious little). In his opinion, a winner-take-all high-tech arms race, clueless and toothless regulators, and central bank price distortion are conspiring to make us more vulnerable -- not less -- to another systemic breakdown:
What’s happened is the markets have evolved and they've obviously embraced computerization and technology. Some things have been very good for the markets and brought down cost. But regulators don’t seem to have evolved. They don’t seem to have caught up with times and they don’t necessarily have the eyes and ears out there to monitor things on a micro-second or nano-second level.

Just as an example: the FCC has proposed putting together a consolidated audit trail. This came about after the flash crash back in 2010. And we’re five years into this and they’re still out for bid, waiting for someone to bid on the project, and it’s nowhere near completion. And even when it does get completed, it’s still not going to be an all-encompassing view. They won’t be able to see futures, because the CFTC monitors that group. So it will be an incomplete set. It will be better than what they have now -- which is called Midas, basically a bunch of a direct data feeds that are supplied by the exchanges. And Midas, by the way, was built by a high frequency trading firm named Trade Works that still gets paid by the FCC over couple million dollars a year for this thing. So it makes you wonder how they're properly equipped to monitor it. And when you see cases like spoofing pop up and you’re like “How could they have missed it”? As you mentioned Eric Hunt from Nanex, he sees this stuff all the time and he tweets it. I mean if I was a regulator I would just follow Eric and I’d say: "There’s an example right there, I don’t have to do the work, I’ll just follow Eric, he’s doing the work"
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May 1, 2015

How Shale Is Becoming The Dot-Com Bubble Of The 21st Century

As I review the financials of one of the largest shale producers in the United States, Whiting Petroleum (WLL), I can’t help but notice the parallels to the .COM era of 1999 which, to some extent, has already returned to the technology and biotech sectors of today. Back then, the faster you burned cash to capture customers regardless of earnings to drive your topline, the higher your valuation. The theory was that after capturing the customers (in energy today, it is the wells) spending would slow and so would customer additions allowing companies to generate cash. By the way, a classic recent case is none other than Netflix (NFLX) which, in the past was exposed for accounting gimmicks that continue even today. It is still following this path of burning cash for the sake of customer additions, while never generating any cash in its entire existence.

Cash was plentiful in 1999 so it could always be raised as the Federal Reserve began its easy money era creating a series of bubbles for the next 15 years. Does this sound familiar to what is occurring now? It will end the same way and that process has already started as currency wars heat up and our economy grinds to a halt proving QE does not, in fact, create wealth (temporary yes for the 1%, short term, until POP) but instead it destroys it by distorting asset prices, misallocating investments, and ultimately creating an equity crash.

We just witnessed this in energy, as all the economic stats that distorted the real underlying economic weakness in the economy led energy producers to overproduce while easy money fueled it and expanded speculation in the futures market. Back in 1999 did the internet companies adapt their business models? Some which still survive today did, but most went bankrupt. The parallels here with energy are simply stunning as most E&P companies need to spend well over their operational cash flow in order to not only grow but to replace the wells that are producing tied to depletion. Money is free right? Well we are witnessing the first stages now and it may not last, as junk bond investors in energy can attest.

Further, US equity markets are beginning to “realize” that the US economy isn’t better off vs. Europe and the US dollar begins to fade as it shows signs of correcting as well. The Fed clearly isn’t as accommodative by instantly launching QE4, for a host of reasons, thus potentially opening the door to a deeper correction vs. prior ones in order to get what the 1% wants again: more QE. Yes the Keynesian feedback loop is real as, in the past, each equity correction was met with more QE.

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