September 16, 2019

Our Energy And Debt Predicament In 2019

Many people are concerned that we have an oil problem. Or they are concerned about recession and the need to lower interest rates.

As I see the situation, we have a problem of a networked economy that is not functioning well. A big part of this problem is energy-related. Strange as it may seem, energy prices (including oil prices) are too low for producers. If debt levels were growing more rapidly, this low-price problem would go away.

The “standard way” of encouraging more debt-based purchases is by lowering interest rates. But we are running out of room to do this now. We also seem to be running out of economic investments to make with debt. If expected returns on investment were greater, interest rates would be higher.

Without economic investments, demand for commodities of all kinds, including energy products, tends to stay too low. This is the problem we have today. Our debt problem and our energy problem are really different aspects of a networked economy that is no longer generating enough total return. History suggests that these periods tend to end badly.

In the following sections, I will explain some of the issues involved.

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September 13, 2019

Bidding Wars For US Homes Collapse To Eight-Year Low

Bidding wars for homes in Seattle, San Jose, and San Francisco have crashed in the past year, reflecting an alarming national trend, according to a new report from Redfin.

The report found that the national bidding-war rate in August was 10.4%, down from 42% a year earlier. The rate printed at the lowest level since 2011.

At the start of 2018, the national bidding-war rate was 59%, then plunged as homebuyers became uncomfortable with sky-high housing prices, increasing mortgage rates, and economic uncertainty surrounding the trade war. The housing market started to cool in late 2018, as the competition among homebuyers collapsed by 4Q18, this is an ominous sign for the national housing market that could soon face a steep correction in price.

Even with eight months of declining mortgage rates in 2019, bidding-wars among homebuyers continue to drop. This is somewhat troubling because the government's narrative has been declining rates will boom housing, but as of Wednesday, mortgage applications continue to fall. Homebuyers aren't coming off the sidelines, and there's too much uncertainty surrounding the economy with recession risks at the highest levels in more than a decade.

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September 12, 2019

Full ECB Preview: Draghi Parting Gift - A Bazooka Or A Water Pistol?

Tomorrow, at 13:45am CET (7:45am ET) the will unveil its Draghi "Swan Song" Monetary Policy Decision, with a press conference Due At 13:30BST, (08:30ET)

  • Surveyed analysts look for the ECB to cut the deposit rate by 10bps with the Main Refi and Marginal Lending rates seen unchanged
  • Markets currently price in around a 40% chance of a deeper cut to the deposit rate of 20bps
  • Focus will be on any potential complimentary easing measures alongside expected rate reductions
  • ECB staff economic projections will likely reflect the downbeat prospects for the Eurozone economy

INTRODUCTION

Will outgoing ECB president Mario Draghi's "swan song" decision - the one in which he is widely expected to cut rates deeper into negative territory and resume sovereign and/or corporate QE - be a bazooka or a waster pistol? That's the question.

Markets currently fully price in a 10bps reduction in the deposit rate to -0.5% with just over a 40% chance of a deeper cut of 20bps.

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September 11, 2019

60 Percent Of Americans Believe A Recession Is Coming – But Consumers Continue To Pile Up Debt At A Frightening Pace

We haven’t seen survey results like this since just before the last recession.  Right now, 60 percent of Americans believe that a recession is “very or somewhat likely in the next year”, and the reason why that figure is so high is because there is already a tremendous amount of evidence that the economy is slowing down all around us.  As I have been documenting repeatedly, U.S. economic performance has not been this dismal since 2008 and 2009, and the slowdown seems to be gaining pace as we move toward the end of 2019.  So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that a solid majority of the country thinks that the next recession will officially begin very soon.  The following comes from ABC News

Ratings of the U.S. economy overall, 56% positive, are down from 65% last fall in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. Most ominously, 60% see a recession as very or somewhat likely in the next year. That’s within sight of the 69% who said so in November 2007, in advance of the Great Recession.

But at the same time, U.S. consumers continue to pile up more debt at a frightening pace.

According to NBC News, total revolving credit shot up at an 11.25 annual pace during the month of July…

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September 10, 2019

After $74BN Weekly Record, Bond Boom Continues With Another $14 Billion In New Debt Borrowing

Ever since a thunderous start to September's bond calendar, which saw a record 20 companies issue $26 billion in record cheap investment grade debt in a single day, corporate America has been on a historic bond selling spree to lock in ultra-low rates and refi existing debt (making Wall Street i-bankers quite happy in the process). For the entire week, companies borrowed a total of $75 billion in investment-grade paper, the most for any comparable period since records began in 1972. Since Tuesday, corporations including Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, and Apple sold notes as yields have dropped.

The frenzy isn’t letting up. According to Bloomberg and Bank of America, at least another $50 billion is projected for the rest of the month, with the activity expected to spill over to junk bonds and leveraged loans as well, and not even today's Ford downgrade to junk affecting $84 billion in debt, is expected to put a damper on the party.

The reason for the bond issuance frenzy? Rates have never been lower - according to Bloomberg Barclays index data, the average yield on bonds was 2.77% as of last week, effectively at all time lows, and almost 2% lower compared to late November, when that figure was above 4.3%. For a company selling $1 billion of debt, that amounts to $15.3 million of annual interest savings. Junk-bond yields have dropped too, with notes rated in the BB tier, the uppermost high-yield levels, paying a near record-low 4.07%.

"This is a great time for companies to refinance,” Christian Hoffmann, a portfolio manager at Thornburg Investment Management, told Bloomberg. "Financing costs are near all-time lows, so I would not be surprised to see better high-yield companies coming to market and treating debt capital markets like a cheap buffet."

As we noted last week, borrowers are taking advantage of the recent drop in rates to refinance their outstanding bonds at lower costs. As BofA noted last week, the new issuance "use of proceeds" has shifted from supporting re-leveraging activities to refinancing in the currently low interest rate environment.

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September 9, 2019

The Shale Boom Has Turned To Bust: Producers Slashing Budgets, Staff, & Production Goals

The collapse in the shale industry is continuing with no signs of stopping or even slowing down.

No sooner did we highlight how shale is doomed no matter what the industry does and how recent price movements have triggered chaos across the industry, than we find out that oil producers and their suppliers are now cutting budgets, staffs and production goals, according to Reuters

The U.S. now has 904 working rigs, which is down 14% from a year ago. Harold Hamm, chief executive of shale producer Continental Resources, still thinks this could be too many. 

Additionally, bankruptcy filings by U.S. energy producers through mid-August of this year have matched the total for all of 2018 already. Earl Reynolds, CEO of Chaparral Energy said:

"You’re going to see activity drop across the industry."

His firm has slashed its workforce by about 25% and cut spending by about 5%. It has also agreed to sell its headquarters and use some of the proceeds to pay off debt. 

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September 6, 2019

China Cuts Required Reserve Ratio Releasing $126BN In Liquidity; Yuan Surges

As had been widely previewed in China's official financial press in recent days, on Friday the PBOC announced it would cut the required reserve ratio (RRR) for all banks by 0.5% effective Sept. 16 (and by 1% for some city commercial banks, to take effect in two steps on Oct. 15 and Nov. 15), releasing 900 billion yuan ($126 billion) of liquidity, helping to offset the tightening impact of upcoming tax payments.

While today's rate cut was more than the previous cuts in January and May, which released 800 billion yuan and 280 billion yuan, respectively, the PBOC stated that “China won’t adopt flood-like monetary stimulus” and that they will continue “prudent” monetary policy to “keep liquidity at (a) reasonably ample level" and will "strengthen the counter-cyclical adjustment" which is basically gibberish for it will do whatever it sees appropriate.

With the Chinese economy slowing drastically in recent months, with various economic indicators at multi-decade lows, the RRR cut was aimed at supporting demand by funneling credit to small firms and echoes the earlier cuts this year. Indeed, as Bloomberg notes, China’s economy softened substantially in August after poor results in July, and will likely deteriorate further in the remainder of the year. Trade tension between China and the U.S. expanded onto the financial front recently after China allowed the currency to decline below 7 a dollar, prompting the U.S. to name it a currency manipulator.

Anticipating cries of foul play from Trump's twitter account which is just minutes away from unleashing hell at the Fed for not doing what China is doing, the cut "doesn’t reflect an aggressive easing," said Commerzbank economist Zhou Hao. "In fact, China has recently massively tightened property financing. Hence this is still a re-balancing - to lower the funding costs for the manufacturing sector but tighten liquidity in the property sector due to asset bubble concerns."

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September 5, 2019

EU Bank Bosses Warn Of "Grave Consequences" If ECB Keeps Cutting Rates

The ECB's imposition of negative interest rates have created an "absurd situation" in which banks don't want to hold deposits, rages UBS CEO Sergio Ermotti, arguing that this policy is hurting social systems and savings rates.

Ermotti is not alone. As European bank bosses cast their eyes at their share prices, they are fighting back, some have said - biting the hand that feeds, in their attack on ECB policies, warning of severe consequences to asset prices and the broader economy.

As Bloomberg reports, Deutsche Bank CEO Christian Sewing warned that more monetary easing by the ECB, as widely expected next week, will have “grave side effects” for a region that has already lived with negative interest rates for half a decade.

“In the long run, negative rates ruin the financial system,” Sewing said at the event, organized by the Handelsblatt newspaper.

Another cut “may make refinancing cheaper for states, but has grave side effects.”

While incoming ECB head Christine Lagarde has claimed that the benefits of deeply negative rates outweigh the costs (stating just this week that “a highly accommodative policy is warranted for a prolonged period of time;" few economists believe another cut at this level would actually help the economy. According to Sewing, all it would achieve is to further divide society by lifting asset prices while punishing Europe’s savers who are already paying 160 billion euros ($176 billion) a year because of negative interest rates.

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September 4, 2019

Emerging Market Central Banks Panic With Most Rate Cuts Since Financial Crisis

The global growth outlook is the lowest since the last financial crisis, and central banks, especially ones in emerging markets, have already started to cut interest rates to make sure growth doesn't collapse.

Manufacturing across large parts of South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East are reeling from a global structural slowdown, amplified by the US and China trade war, have triggered emerging central banks to cut rates by the most in a decade, reported Reuters.

Emerging central banks took notice when major central banks including the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank started to cut interest rates this summer, all in an attempt to lessen the impact of a global synchronized slowdown.

Central banks across 37 emerging market economies recorded a net fourteen rate cuts in August, the most since policymakers dropped rates to zero after the global financial crash in 2008/09.

August marked the seventh straight month of net rate cuts followed by a tightening cycle that ended in early 2019. July recorded a net eight rate cuts. Cuts by Mexico and Thailand in August took markets by surprise.

After nine straight months of rate hikes in 2018, emerging central banks battled the fallout from a firm dollar, increasing inflation, and weaker local currencies.

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September 3, 2019

28 Signs Of Economic Doom As The Pivotal Month Of September Begins

Since the end of the last recession, the outlook for the U.S. economy has never been as dire as it is right now.  Everywhere you look, economic red flags are popping up, and the mainstream media is suddenly full of stories about “the coming recession”.  After several years of relative economic stability, things appear to be changing dramatically for the U.S. economy and the global economy as a whole.  Over and over again, we are seeing things happen that we have not witnessed since the last recession, and many analysts expect our troubles to accelerate as we head into the final months of 2019.

We should certainly hope that things will soon turn around, but at this point that does not appear likely.  The following are 28 signs of economic doom as the pivotal month of September begins…

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September 2, 2019

US Slaps New Tariffs On China; One Minute Later China Retaliates

The biggest reason for last week's torrid stock market rally was rekindled "optimism" that the escalating trade war between the US and China may be on the verge of another ceasefire following phone conversations, fake as they may have been, between the US and Chinese side. This translated into speculation that a new round of tariffs increases slated for this weekend may not take place or be delayed.

However, that did not happen, and with no trade deal in sight, at 12:00am on Sunday, the Trump administration slapped tariffs on $112 billion in Chinese imports, the latest escalation in a trade war that’s ground the global economy to a halt, sent Germany into a recession, and given the market an alibi to keep rising because, wait for it, "a trade deal is imminent."

Only, it isn't, and 1 minute later, at 12:01am EDT, China retaliated with higher tariffs being rolled out in stages on a total of about $75 billion of U.S. goods. The target list strikes at the heart of Trump’s political support - factories and farms across the Midwest and South at a time when the U.S. economy is showing signs of slowing down.

The 15% U.S. duty hit consumer goods ranging from footwear and apparel to home textiles and certain technology products like the Apple Watch. A separate batch of about $160 billion in Chinese goods - including laptops and cellphones - will be hit with 15% tariffs on Dec. 15.  China, meanwhile, began applying tariffs of 5 to 10% on U.S. goods ranging from frozen sweet corn and pork liver to bicycle tires on Sunday.

The slated 15% U.S. tariffs on approximately $112 billion in Chinese goods may affect consumer prices for products ranging from shoes to sporting goods, the AP noted, and may mark a turning point in how the ongoing trade war directly affects consumers. Nearly 90% of clothing and textiles the U.S. buys from China will also be subjected to tariffs.

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August 30, 2019

Whistleblower Alleges GE Commits Almost $40 Billion In Accounting Fraud

General Electric (GE) shares fell Thursday following Bernard Madoff whistleblower, Harry Markopolos, targeting the company in a report alleging the corporation covered up a massive amount of losses in financial documents, according to the Washington Post.

A forensic accountant, Markopolos posted a 175-page report, which is being circulated on a website called GEFraud.com. The reporting alleges that GE is committing $38 billion in accounting fraud. He calls this a “bigger fraud than Enron,” and declares GE is using similar fraud tactics. After the release of the report, GE stock dropped 4.3% in premarket trading, according to Reuters. 

“[I]t’s the biggest, bigger than Enron and WorldCom combined,” the report goes on to say. “In fact, GE’s $38 Billion in accounting fraud amounts to over 40% of GE’s market capitalization, making it far more serious than either the Enron or WorldCom accounting frauds.”

Markopolos and his team published the allegations after a year’s worth of research.

“My team has spent the past 7 months analyzing GE’s accounting and we believe the $38 Billion in fraud we’ve come across is merely the tip of the iceberg,” Markopolos stated in the 175-page report.

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August 29, 2019

World's First Licensed Crypto Bank Seen As Game-Changer For Switzerland

The co-founders of Sygnum crypto bank have hailed the award of a Swiss banking license as a game changer that could open the floodgates to the integration of cryptocurrencies and other digital assets into the established financial sector.

Sygnumexternal link, along with SEBAexternal link, were awarded provisional banking and securities dealer licenses by Switzerland’s financial regulator on Monday. Both entities will become fully-fledged banks once they have completed some final routine regulatory hurdles.

“This is the first time such licenses have been granted worldwide, so Switzerland is playing a pioneering role,” Manuel Krieger, CEO of Sygnum Switzerland, told swissinfo.ch. He also thinks the early movers will encourage others to take the plunge. “We now have a responsibility as an enabling platform to help banks and other financial players make the step into the digital asset world.”

“This has positive implications for Switzerland and distributed ledger technology [the blockchain-style platform on which cryptocurrencies run] internationally,” added Mathias Imbach who runs the group’s Singapore operation.

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August 28, 2019

China's Oil Imports From Iran Are Rising, New Customs Data Shows

Much anticipated data by China's General Administration of Customs (GAC) detailing the country's oil imports has been released on Tuesday, and shows that China has not cut its Iranian supply after the US waiver program ended on May 2nd, but has steadily increased Iranian crude imports since the official end of the waiver extension, up from May and June levels. 

It's been no secret that China continues to play a large part in preventing Trump's desire to take Iran's crude exports down to zero, despite a noticeable drop on its Iran oil imports compared to the summer prior (sinking almost 60% in June compared to a year earlier). 

The new GAC data shows China imported over 900,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil from Iran in July, which is up 4.7% from the month before. On a metric-ton basis, Iranian inflows rose 8.2% from June, but this marked a drop of 71.9% on the year, according to S&P conversion figures (China's GAC releases customs data in metric tons).

China's June crude shipments from Iran totaled 855,638, averaging to 208,205 barrels per day (bpd) two months after Trump ended the waiver program, compared with 254,016 bpd in May, according the July GAC figures.

Simultaneously, China's oil purchases from Iran's rival Saudi Arabia have during this hot summer of "tanker wars" soared to record volume, in June reaching an all-time high of 1.89 million barrels a day, and in July dipping slightly to 1.65 million b/d. Thus far for the first seven months of 2019 Saudi Arabia has been China's top crude supplier, with Russia and Iraq second and third. 

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August 27, 2019

Will Central Banks Survive?

Almost all economists and the vast majority of the general population erroneously believe that central banks are, basically, indestructible. And most fail to appreciate that central banks are different from normal commercial banks in just two respects: their ability to earn seigniorage revenue, and to distort accounting rules.

With the current level of liabilities central banks hold those may not be enough. We might be closing in the end of the central banking era.

The income structure of a central bank

Central banks earn seigniorage from the difference between the “printing” costs of the legal tender (monetary base) and its nominal value. In a simplified balance sheet of a central bank, money is visible in the liabilities-side, which also holds the government’s bank account (domestic liabilities) and the reserves of commercial banks and net worth. Net worth includes the capital of the central bank and valuation adjustments for changes in the foreign-exchange rate and investments. A central bank’s assets include securities, foreign-exchange reserves (net foreign assets) and loans (to commercial banks).

Thus, when a central bank buys assets, such as government bonds, it simply either creates money directly or debits the reserves of commercial banks to maintain balance. In the programs of quantitative easing (“QE”, see Q-Review 1/2018), the latter option has been used. The central bank earns income in the form of interest from these holdings. If the liabilities contain required reserves and currency, the central bank has “zero-cost” financing. If the liabilities contain excess reserves and or domestic liabilities, the central bank will need to pay interest.

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August 26, 2019

We Are Being Warned That The Last Week Of August “Could Be Highly Volatile” For Global Financial Markets

Are things about to break loose in a major way?  At the end of last week, the trade war between the United States and China escalated dramatically, and investors all over the globe really started freaking out.  Unfortunately, developments over the weekend have only made things worse, and that means that this could be a very “interesting” week for global financial markets.  As I write this article, stock prices around the world are plunging, the price of gold is spiking and the Chinese yuan is crashing.  There is clearly a lot of fear out there right now, and at this point even CNBC is warning that the last week of this month “could be highly volatile”…

The final week of August — the bittersweet end of summer for many— could be highly volatile, as markets fret over the economy and the latest developments in trade wars.

Of course things can swing rapidly from moment to moment in this environment.  President Trump could say something in a few hours that temporarily gives investors some hope, and that could cause markets to swing wildly upward for a little while.  Everyone is on edge right now, and every piece of significant news is likely to cause gyrations in the marketplace.

But overall the trend is clearly down.  U.S. stocks have now fallen for four weeks in a row, and many are becoming deeply concerned about what September will bring.

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August 23, 2019

Hong Kong’s Economy Is Still Important to the Mainland, at Least Financially

Beyond funding, Hong Kong is China’s most important springboard for foreign direct investment, either into or outside China. In particular, 64% of Mainland China’s inward FDI comes from Hong Kong and between 2010 and 2018, 65% of outward FDI was channelled through Hong Kong. The high share indicated Hong Kong’s role as the immediator between China and the West, which is due to the trust of Chinese and foreign firms on Hong Kong’s institutional framework and funding pool for their investments. In the specific case of mergers and acquisitions, Hong Kong has played a key role as its unique status has facilitated Chinese companies’ overseas acquisitions.

In addition, Hong Kong has long been China’s largest offshore RMB centre, for long a key policy initiative of the Chinese government in its pursuit of a staggered opening of the capital account. Other than RMB settlements, Hong Kong also holds a special access to China’s equity and fixed income markets, though the Stock and Bond Connect.

Therefore, Hong Kong’s role as the China’s financial arm for the rest of the world has helped Mainland China in keeping its financial sector insulated without suffering the negative consequences of such isolation, i.e. limited access to finance or difficult access to assets in the rest of the world. In essence, Hong Kong has long been China’s financial firewall.

The second important aspect to consider is that Hong Kong’s financial system is increasingly dominated by Mainland Chinese banks. At the same time, overseas bank assets held by Mainland Chinese banks are also heavily concentrated in Hong Kong. The large exposure means that the destiny of Hong Kong as an offshore financial centre affects China even more than it affects those from the rest of the world. Mainland Chinese financial institutions have expanded 3.2 times since 2010, reaching USD 1.2 trillion and have had a much higher growth rate than the rest of the banking sector.

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August 22, 2019

China's Ultimate Play For Global Oil Market Control

All attention is focused on the twists-and-turns of the very noisy US-Iran dispute in the Persian Gulf, but all the while the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is rapidly and quietly consolidating a dominant presence in the area with the active support of Russia.

Beijing, as a result, is fast acquiring immense influence over related key dynamics such as the price of oil in the world market and the relevance of the petrodollar. The PRC and the Russians are capitalizing on both the growing fears of Iran and the growing mistrust of the US. Hence, the US is already the main loser of the PRC’s gambit.

The dramatic PRC success can be attributed to the confluence of two major trends:

(1) The quality and relevance of what Beijing can offer to both Iran and the Saudi-Gulf States camp; and

(2) The decision of key Arab leaders — most notably Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al Sa’ud (aka MBS) and his close ally, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (aka MBZ) — to downgrade their traditional close ties with the US, and reach out to Beijing to provide a substitute strategic umbrella.

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August 21, 2019

China Wants To Build A Grains "Superhighway" In Argentina

China has stepped away from US agriculture imports and said it would bid on a project that could create a grains superhighway in Argentina, reported Reuters.

Chinese state-owned construction company (CCCC) is readying a bid that would allow it to dredge Argentina's Parana River, the country's only river that acts as a waterway for bulk vessels that transport soybean and corn from the Pampas farm belt to the South Atlantic.

China has increased agriculture purchases from Argentina since trade tensions between Washington and Beijing erupted last year.

Representatives of CCCC and its Shanghai Dredging unit have already held meetings with Argentine government and local port officials to design a plan that would allow larger bulk carriers to navigate the Parana River to and from the Argentine farm belt, to the South Atlantic, then to China, according to Reuters' sources.

CCCC is the top Chinese firm to lead international efforts in modernizing global transport hubs and shipping lanes to secure sustainable food supplies for China.

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August 20, 2019

The latest sign that absolutely nothing makes sense

In the latest sign that absolutely nothing makes sense anymore, WeWork filed formal regulatory paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week, officially notifying the world that it will soon be going public.

If you haven’t heard of WeWork (or it’s parent– ‘The We Company’), it’s a real estate company that owns practically zero real estate.

Instead, they lease vast amounts of office space in commercial buildings on long-term contracts, and then sub-lease that space to individual tenants– often small businesses– with short-term contracts.

It’s essentially the same business model as Regus– which provides virtual office services, business addresses, and short-term office space, in pretty much every major city around the world.

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August 19, 2019

12 Reasons Why Negative Rates Will Devastate The World

It has been a thesis over 20 years in the making, but with every passing day, SocGen's Albert Edwards - who first coined the term "Ice Age" to describe the state of the world in which every debt issue ends up with a negative yield as capital markets and economies collapse into a deflationary singularity - is that much closer to having the victory lap of a lifetime. Although, we doubt he is happy about it.

Commenting on the interest rate collapse he has been (correctly) predicting ever since he first observed Japan's great bubble bust of the 1980s and which resulted in both NIRP and QE, and which he (correctly) expected would spread across the rest of the world, leading to a "Japanification" of every major bond market...

... Edwards said that what bond markets are telling us is "that the cycle is ending with the central banks having failed to drive core CPI inflation higher. So Japanese-style outright deflation lies ahead at a time when western economies have piled debt sky high."

Needless to say that's not good, not least of all because we now live in a world in which the bond universe with negative yields continues to grow at an exponential pace, rising rapidly over the past two weeks and reaching a record $16.4 trillion...

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August 16, 2019

Hong Kong Activist Leader Calls For A Run On Chinese Banks Tomorrow

Prominent Hong Kong pro-independence political activist Chen Haotian has called for a run on Chinese banks, asking that everyone withdraw their money on the same day.

Haotian is a founding member and the convenor of the Hong Kong National Party.

Arguing that large scale protests have only led to injuries and escalating police brutality, Haotian believes another method could be used to severely undermine China’s influence – a good old fashioned run on the bank.

He suggested that another method could be used, namely, impacting the financial system,” reports China Press.

“He called on Friday (August 16) that Hong Kong citizens take out all bank deposits. The primary goal is Chinese banks, but he said other banks should also be targeted, otherwise Chinese banks can borrow money from other banks to solve problems.”

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August 15, 2019

Why The Dollar Rules The World - And Why Its Reign Could End

President Donald Trump wants a lower US dollar. He complains about the over-valuation of the American currency. Yet, is he right to accuse other countries of a “currency manipulation”? Is the position of the US dollar in the international monetary arena not a manipulation in its own right? How much has the United States benefitted from the global role of the dollar, and is this “exorbitant privilege” coming to end? In order to find an answer to these questions, we must take a look at the monetary side of the rise of the American Empire.

Trump is right. The American dollar is overvalued. According to the latest version of the Economist’s “ Big Mac Index,” for example, only three currencies rank higher than the US dollar. Yet the main reason for this is not currency manipulation but the fact that the US dollar serves as the main international reserve currency.

This is both a boon and a curse. It is a boon because the country that emits the leading international reserve currency can have trade deficits without worrying about a growing foreign debt. Because the American foreign debt is in the country’s own currency, the government can always honor its foreign obligations as it can produce any amount of money that it wants in its own currency.

Yet the international reserve status comes also with the curse that the persistent trade deficits weaken the country’s industrial base. Instead of paying for the import of foreign goods with the export of domestic production, the United States can simply export money.

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August 14, 2019

China Factory Output Weakest In 17 Years, Everything Missed

With currency turmoil and social unrest, China's economic assault tonight was supposed be the great equalizer - confirming that a few trillion here or there and everything looks awesome and happy, and not a tiny bit angry (and that the Americans are not to blame for everything).

Ahead of today's data, broadly speaking, macro data globally has been weak, but in China, recent credit growth numbers slumped and steel production slowed, suggesting graver concerns. And so here it is...

Finally, for a few minutes/seconds the world spiked after China set the yuan fix slightly stronger; we are not so impressed, nor is the yuan or US equity futures...

So with inflation spiking, currency crashing, social-unrest; will the PBOC flood the nation with cash to ensure happiness at October's CCP Anniversary?

It's just that the sugar high from the injection is getting shorter...

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August 13, 2019

Middle Class Death Spiral: Consumers Have Never Been In More Debt, And Bankruptcies Are Surging

This wasn’t supposed to happen.  During the relative economic stability of the past few years, the middle class was supposed to experience a resurgence, but instead it has just continued to be hollowed out.  The cost of living has risen much faster than wages have, and as a result hard working families all over America are being stretched financially like never before.  Even though most of us are working, 59 percent of all Americans are currently living paycheck to paycheck, and almost 50 million Americans are living in poverty.  In a desperate attempt to continue their middle class lifestyles, many Americans have been piling up mountains of debt, and it has gotten to the point where we have a major crisis on our hands.

According to the New York Post, the total amount of debt that U.S. households have accumulated is about to cross the 14 trillion dollar mark for the first time ever…

Meanwhile, record American household debt, near $14 trillion including mortgages and student loans, is some $1 trillion higher than during the Great Recession of 2008. Credit card debt of $1 trillion also exceeds the 2008 peak.

Americans are spending heavily, again — and often recklessly, say analysts.

This is the exact opposite of what U.S. consumers should be doing.  We can see signs of a fresh economic slowdown all around us, and consumers should be feverishly trying to get out of debt as fast as they can.

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August 12, 2019

Chinese Banks No Longer Trust One Another As Repo Rates Skyrocket

For those who have grown bored with the ongoing US-China trade war whose escalation was obvious to all but the dumbest BTFD algos, the biggest news of the past week was that yet another Chinese bank was bailed out by the Chinese government - the third in the past three months - and a substantial one at that: with over 1.4 trillion yuan in assets ($200BN), Hang Feng Bank's nationalization was certainly large enough to make a dent on the Chinese financial system and on the Chinese Sovereign Wealth Fund, which drew the short straw and was told to bailout the troubled Chinese bank (more here).

Hang Feng's bailout followed those of Baoshang and Bank of Jinzhou, which means that 3 of the top 4 most troubled banks have now been either nationalized by an SOE or seized by the government, which is effectively the same thing.

Of course, to regular readers this development was hardly surprising, especially after our post in mid-July when we saw the $40 trillion Chinese banking system approach its closest encounter with the proverbial "Lehman moment" yet, when inexplicably the four-day repo rate on China’s government bonds (i.e., the cost for investors to pledge their Chinese government bond holdings for short-term funding) on the Shanghai exchange briefly spiked to 1,000% in afternoon trading.

While some attributed the surge to a fat finger, far more ominous signs were already present, and in the aftermath of the Baoshang failure, which has sent Chinese banking stocks tumbling, one-day and seven-day weighted average borrowing rates had remained low thanks to huge central bank cash injections - such as the 250BN yuan we described back in May  - longer tenors such as the 1 month repo have marched sharply higher.

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August 9, 2019

China "Faces The Worst Of Both Worlds" As PPI Deflation Arrives While Food Inflation Soars

As if China did not have its hands full with a trade war, a plunging yuan and growing civil unrest in Hong Kong, which is fast becoming the potential epicenter for the next global crisis (and which Steve "The Big Short" Eisman thinks is the next black swan), it now also has deflation to worry about at a time when its ability to boost liquidity in the system is severely limited... or maybe it's soaring inflation China should be concerned about.

On Friday, China's National Bureau of Statistics reported that the Producer Price Index (PPI), i.e. factory prices, fell 0.3% in July from a year ago, missing the modest 0.1% decline expected by analysts. This was the first annual decline in China's PPI in three years - since August 2016 - and just like back then, was largely the result of tumbling commodity prices which in turn depressed both manufacturing and raw material goods prices. And with oil sliding, and iron ore plunging, not to mention the whole trade war thing, it does not seems like a rebound is imminent at all. 

Worse, since PPI is closely linked to corporate profitability, the decline suggests that China is badly lagging in the credit impulse arena despite having started off 2019 with a bang and some of the biggest increases in Total Social Financing on record.

So what's the big deal: China has always been able to boost inflation, all it had to do was turn on the credit spigot and inject a few trillion in new bank and shadow loans into the economy.

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August 7, 2019

Gold Hits Record Highs!

Gold hit record highs in a number of currencies this week as trade war worries, geopolitical uncertainty and expectations of a slowing economy drove investors to seek safe haven.

While the yellow metal has soared in USD terms in recent weeks, as global geopolitical tensions rise and the "policy-maker idiocy" proxy spikes ($15 trillion of negative-yielding debt)...

More trade war tension was a big driver in the gold rally, but the recent surge in gold prices isn’t an isolated event. The yellow metal has been rallying for months. The yellow metal is up 17% since last December when plunging stock markets drove the Fed to initiate the “Powell Pause.”

The trade war isn’t the only factor pushing gold higher. For instance, Brexit uncertainty is driving the yellow metal up in the United Kingdom. The gold price in British pounds has skyrocketed 25% since May.

Generally weak economic data is also driving investor worry. Despite assurances from Powell and US government officials that the American economy is strong, the data tells a different story. Even as Powell was assuring us the domestic economy is fine, and the Fed’s worries are all global, we got more gloomy economic numbers. Data showed the ISM manufacturing index dropped to 51.2% in July. That’s the lowest level since mid-2016. Construction spending also declined by 1.3% in June. Meanwhile, jobless claims climbed modestly by 8,000 to 215,000 at the end of July.

Philips Futures analyst Benjamin Lu told CNBC he thinks all of the uncertainty will lead to more Fed rate cuts.

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August 6, 2019

Will China Retreat Into Itself?

It’s never easy to gauge what exactly is happening in China, or why the CCP Politburo takes the decisions it does. Today, or overnight, is no exception to that. However, one thing that appears certain, but which I don’t see reflected in all the analyses, is that Beijing pushing the value of the renminbi (yuan) down below 7 to the USD in one fell swoop, is a major setback for Xi Jinping and his government.

Yes, China may have given up hope of reaching positive conclusions in its trade talks with the US. And yes, some may think, even in China itself, that devaluing the currency is a tool that can be useful in a potential currency war. But there’s another side to this coin. It’s not even about the value itself, or the change in it, it’s the heavy-handed way it’s executed.

China wants, and desperately needs too, for the yuan to be a force in global financial markets. In very simple terms this is true because if it then wants to buy something, it can simply print the money for it. But only about 1% of global trade today is executed in yuan. That is not nearly enough. It means China needs dollars and euros, all the time. And devaluing the yuan means the country needs even more of those.

You’d almost think: why would you want to do that? What are the long-term prospects for a move like this? You’re telling forex markets that the value of the yuan is not trustworthy, because if Xi or the PBOC decides in the next five minutes that it should go up or down by 10% or 20%, they can do it. The Fed and ECB also have tools to manipulate their currencies (re: interest rates), but none of that magnitude.

The crux of the dilemma probably lies in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which I’ve been saying for years is just China’s way to sell its overcapacity and overproduction abroad. Sure, there may be loftier goals, and surely in the glitzy brochures, but the fact remains that China has tried to be an economic miracle, doing in 10 years what took the US a century, and it never slowed down its growth, at least not voluntarily, even if that might have been a wise move.

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August 5, 2019

Fed Rate Cut – Too Little, Too Late, As Trump Hikes Tariffs

We had also warned previously the current extension of the market, combined with overbought conditions, was due for a reversal. That reversal has indeed begun, and short-term sell signals have been triggered.

“As we have noted over the last few weeks, the very tight trading range combined with negative divergences also does not historically suggest continued bullish runs higher without some type of corrective action first.”

This past week, a disappointing cut by the Fed, and increased tariffs on China from the White House, provided the catalysts needed for a very quick market rout.

Again, this is something we discussed over the last couple of weeks with our RIAPRO subscribers previously (30-Day Free Trial). The analysis led us to previously trimming our long positions slightly, and increasing our cash holdings, heading into the Fed announcement.

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August 2, 2019

Mission Accomplished: Rate Cut Odds Surge After Tariff Announcement, Just As Trump Wanted

Earlier today, we wrote a post titled "What Would It Take For The Fed To Not Cut Again?", with Goldman providing a stylized answer, although in retrospect, the post should have been titled "What Would It Take For The Fed To Cut Again", as that is what the market was far more concerned about after yesterday's hawkish Powell press conference.

In any case, Goldman hinted at the one specific catalyst that could force the Fed to cut more: "We also see risks in the other direction, especially on a significant escalation of tariffs against China."

To this, we said that "if an acceleration in the trade war with China is what the Fed will need to cut more, it's pretty clear what that means for the chances of any trade deal between Washington and Beijing, since even Trump now understands that if he keeps escalating trade war with China, Powell will have no choice but to eventually cut to 0% (and lower)."

Just a few hours later, we were proven right in suggesting that an escalation in the trade war is inevitable and imminent when Trump tweeted that he would hike tariffs on $300BN in Chinese imports to 10% starting September 1, ending the tentative ceasefire with Beijing with a bang, and sending risk prices sharply lower.

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August 1, 2019

“The Stock Market Started To Fall In July…”

Will we look back on the month of July as a critical turning point for the stock market?  During the first half of 2019, stock prices soared to record high after record high even though we just kept getting one number after another that indicated that a new economic slowdown was starting.  Because of the disappointing performance of the U.S. economy, it was believed that we would see a rate cut from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday, and that is precisely what happened.  But instead of rejoicing, investors started to panic a bit, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day down 333 points.  We will get into why that happened in just a little bit.  But without a doubt it seems quite odd that the Fed’s very first rate cut since December 2008 actually caused stocks to go down.  On a historical basis, interest rates are already very low right now, and so this greatly limits what the Fed will be able to do once the next recession officially begins.  Of course most investors are not concerned with such considerations.  What they really want is for interest rates to be pushed all the way to the floor as quickly as possible, and so they were quite disappointed with what they heard from Fed Chairman Jay Powell on Wednesday.

But considering the fact that we haven’t seen a rate cut in more than a decade, the truth is that investors should have been thrilled by what happened.  When interest rates go down, that tends to promote more economic activity

As expected, the Fed lowered its federal funds rate by a quarter-percentage point to a range of 2% to 2.25%. The move is likely to ripple through the economy and financial system, nudging down rates for credit cards, home equity lines and auto loans and theoretically sparking more economic activity. While the rate cut should aid borrowers, it will frustrate savers who were just starting to benefit from higher bank account yields.

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July 31, 2019

China Manufacturing PMI Stuck In Contraction As Services Hit 2019 Lows

Despite record credit injections and endless easing, China's economic survey data goes from bad to worse.

While China Manufacturing PMI managed a de minimus gain from 49.4 to 49.7, it remains in contractionary territory for the 7th month in the last 9.

China Services PMI continued to slide, back to its lowest since 2018.

Confirming global weakness seen in Japanese and European PMIs.

In a seemingly desperate reach, Bloomberg notes that the stronger result (49.4 to 49.7) signaled some optimism is emerging in the Chinese economy in spite of lingering uncertainty over trade talks and domestic demand.

PMI data improves as “the government’s tax cuts have helped improve growth slightly,” Yao Shaohua, economist at ABCI Securities Co. in Hong Kong.

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July 30, 2019

Is Bitcoin A Store Of Value? Experts Weigh In On 'Digital Gold'

It’s hard to tell who was the first to coin - pun intended - Bitcoin as “digital gold,” underlining the idea that Bitcoin is a good store of value. To understand the community leaders’ thoughts about digital gold nowadays, we asked Binance’s  Changpeng Zhao, award-winning technology leader Jonathan Reichental, the  United Nations’ Susan Oh, Singularity University’s David Obran and other outstanding experts. 

The phrase “digital gold” possibly came into more widespread use after The New York Times journalist Nathaniel Popper's book, "Digital Gold," was published in 2015. Google searches for the term “Bitcoin digital gold” peaked in December 2017, when the leading cryptocurrency’s price hit record highs around $20,000 per coin.

Well before Bitcoin was born, computer scientist Nick Szabo wrote a proposal for “bit gold,” laying out a concept for secure digital money that is often referred to as Bitcoin’s predecessor.

After 10 years of existence, the question of whether or not Bitcoin can in fact be considered “digital gold” continues to be debated in the industry. Yes, Bitcoin is designed to be scarce, but when discussing it as a potential store of value, many point to Bitcoin’s historical volatility as an argument against doing so. 

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July 29, 2019

By Not Renewing The CBGA, Central Banks In Europe Are Ready To Buy Gold

Last month, a BullionStar article titled “The Fifth Wave: A new Central Bank Gold Agreement?” brought your attention to the fact that the fourth and current round of the Central Bank Gold Agreement (CBGA) run by a cartel of heavyweight central banks in Europe was about to expire, and that these gold agreements, which have been running in rolling five year periods since September 1999, were not designed for the purposes they claimed to be.

That CBGA1 and CBGA2 from 1999 – 2008, were not intended to help the wider gold market by limiting central bank gold sales, but were really a cover by the central bank syndicate members to account for nearly 4000 tonnes of gold that had already been sold or leased in the 1990s. That CBGA3 was then used to distract the gold market about the secretive ‘gold sales’ that the IMF claimed to have undertaken in 2010, which were really another book squaring exercise for disposed IMF gold.

The heavyweight signatories to the central bank gold agreements (CBGAs) include Eurozone member banks such as the Bundesbank, the Banque de France, Banca Italia, De Nederlandsche Bank, National Bank of Belgium, the European Central Bank (ECB) itself, as well as the non-Eurozone Swedish Riksbank and the Swiss National Bank. In its composition, the consortium replicates the nexus of the 1960s London Gold Pool (Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium) and the nexus of the central banks which met at the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) in 1979 and the early 1980s to plan a secretive new 1980s gold pool.

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July 26, 2019

Which Countries Are The EU's Biggest 'Takers' (And 'Givers')

The question of which countries are paying more in EU contributions than they are getting out is a contentious issue for some and was also one major factor in the Brexit vote in the UK.

In the 2017 budget, there were ten EU members contributing more than they got out of the EU, at least in terms of direct monetary contributions. As Statista's Katharina Buchholz notes, UK came in second place in the ranking, with roughly 7.5 million euros of net contributions. Germany, topping the ranking, put in 12.8 billion euros more than it got out.

Poland was the biggest monetary benefactor from the EU, coming out with 8.2 billion euros earned, far ahead of Greece (3.7 billion euros) and Romania (3.4 billion euros).

But being on top of this list doesn’t have to send a country scrambling to leave the political union. In Germany, for example, support for the EU is high. While budget contributions might outweigh direct financial benefits for the country, a study by the Bertelsmann foundation suggests that the single EU market increased the average incomes of Germans by over 1,000 euros, above the EU average increase of 840 euros.

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July 25, 2019

An “Earnings Recession” Is Here – Big Companies All Over America Are Reporting Disastrous Financial Results

If the U.S. economy really was “booming”, then corporate earnings would be rising.  But that isn’t happening.  In fact, we haven’t seen corporate earnings fall like this since the last recession.  They fell during the first quarter of this year, and based on the results we have so far, it appears that corporate earnings will be down substantially once again in the second quarter.  When corporate earnings drop for two quarters in a row, that is officially considered to be an “earnings recession”, and that normally occurs just before the overall economy plunges into recession territory.  As things get tighter for our corporate giants, we should expect a lot more layoffs in the months ahead, and the unemployment rate should rise quite briskly.  In other words, it looks like our economic problems are about to accelerate substantially.

This week, some of the largest companies in the entire country reported results for the second quarter, and we witnessed disappointment after disappointment.

And other economic numbers continue to tell us the exact same thing.  For example, we just got the worst U.S. manufacturing PMI number in 118 months.  That is absolutely terrible news, but Europe’s manufacturing sector is doing even worse.

Manufacturing activity is slowing down all over the globe, and a big reason for that is because global trade is shrinking at the fastest pace that we have seen since the last financial crisis.

Meanwhile, we just learned that existing home sales in the United States have now fallen on a year over year basis for sixteen months in a row.

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July 24, 2019

Why A 100bps ECB Rate Cut Would Crush European Banks

Last week, when observing the ongoing drop  in both Wells Fargo's Net Interest Margin...

... as well as the broad decline in Net Interest Income across all US banks as rates continue to drop...

... we warned that this is an early warning of just how the upcoming Fed rate cuts will cripple US banks.

But if US banks are about to get hit, then European banks, which are already in purgatory courtesy of five years of negative rates coupled with both public and private QE, may enter the 9th circle of hell as soon as Thursday, when the ECB previews what may be a 20bps rate cut in September with or without more QE.

While the disastrous performance of European bank stocks since the financial crisis has been extensively discussed, with the European banking sector trading on the edge of support, beyond which nothing good awaits...

... it would be ironic if it is none other than the ECB which tips European bank stocks to new all time lows.

The reason for that is that, as Goldman recently calculated, further rate cuts are "a very uncomfortable prospect" for the sector, and an indicative -20bps rate cut could lead to an aggregate €5.6bn (-6%) profit cut for the 32 Euro banks under Goldman coverage, with 12 banks facing an >10% EPS cut, and 5 banks >20%. Worse, if Draghi were "forced" to cut rates further still, by say -100bp, one quarter of European banks would turn loss making or break-even, and 75% would not meet their cost of capital, according to Goldman calculations.

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July 23, 2019

Oil Will "Go Bust" If Recession Hits

Oil prices plunged last week, dragged down by fears of slowing demand, and shrinking geopolitical risk premia.

An unexpected increase in inventories underscored the downside risk to oil prices. The EIA reported a drawdown in crude stocks, but a huge 9.25 million barrel combined increase in gasoline and diesel inventories, which surprised traders. Also, gasoline demand plunged by 0.5 mb/d in the week ending on July 12, although week-to-week changes are typical and make the data a bit noisy.

Crude prices sold off on the news, falling by nearly 3 percent on Thursday.

The data release renewed fears of a slowdown in demand. But cracks in U.S. demand are larger than one week’s worth of data. “The [year-on-year] increase in demand for the year to 11 July was just 29 thousand barrels per day (kb/d), up 0.1%,” Standard Chartered wrote in a note.

“Demand will have to be strong for the rest of the year if consensus forecasts for 2019 growth are to be achieved.”

The investment bank sees U.S. oil demand only rising by 89,000 bpd this year, while the EIA expects a stronger 248,000-bpd increase. Standard Chartered says U.S. oil demand “appears consistent with a slowing economy.”

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July 22, 2019

Millions Of Barrels Of Iranian Crude Are Piling Up At Chinese Ports

In what appears to be a gesture of contempt for Washington, Chinese companies have continued to import Iranian crude, but instead of reporting the crude imports, which would violate US sanctions, they're storing the oil in bonded storage tanks situated at Chinese ports.

The phenomenon began when Washington reimposed sanctions back in May. And two months later, Iranian crude is still being shipped to China, only to end up in the tanks. Possibly the strangest aspect of this whole arrangement is that the oil sits in the tanks, unused. So far, none of it has been cleared through Chinese customs, so the oil is still technically "in transit."

So far, Washington hasn't commented on how it views this stash of oil looming over global markets. If Chinese companies were to ever tap this store of oil, it could dampen demand in the world's second-largest economy, which could rattle global markets.

The arrangement clearly benefits Iran, which has retained at least one major buyer of its crude.

"Iranian oil shipments have been flowing into Chinese bonded storage for some months now, and continue to do so despite increased scrutiny," said Rachel Yew, an analyst at industry consultant FGE in Singapore. "We can see why the producer would want to do so, as a build-up of supplies near key buyers is clearly beneficial for a seller, especially if sanctions are eased at some point."

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July 19, 2019

A Bank With 49 Trillion Dollars In Exposure To Derivatives Is Melting Down Right In Front Of Our Eyes

Could it be possible that we are on the verge of the next “Lehman Brothers moment”?  Deutsche Bank is the most important bank in all of Europe, it has 49 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives, and most of the largest “too big to fail banks” in the United States have very deep financial connections to the bank.  In other words, the global financial system simply cannot afford for Deutsche Bank to fail, and right now it is literally melting down right in front of our eyes.  For years I have been warning that this day would come, and even though it has been hit by scandal after scandal, somehow Deutsche Bank was able to survive until now.  But after what we have witnessed in recent days, many now believe that the end is near for Deutsche Bank.  On July 7th, they really shook up investors all over the globe when they laid off 18,000 employees and announced that they would be completely exiting their global equities trading business

It takes a lot to rattle Wall Street.

But Deutsche Bank managed to. The beleaguered German giant announced on July 7 that it is laying off 18,000 employees—roughly one-fifth of its global workforce—and pursuing a vast restructuring plan that most notably includes shutting down its global equities trading business.

Though Deutsche’s Bloody Sunday seemed to come out of the blue, it’s actually the culmination of a years-long—some would say decades-long—descent into unprofitability and scandal for the bank, which in the early 1990s set out to make itself into a universal banking powerhouse to rival the behemoths of Wall Street.

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July 18, 2019

Libra As A Competitor To Inflationary Central Banks

As an international private currency, Libra will be in competition with publicly issued currencies.

It could have large and fruitful repercussions on the global monetary policy, especially with reference to those countries where central banks are still heavily subject to political influence and tend to pursue inflationary monetary policies.

The introduction of the Libra project to the public has generated a lot of fuss over the consequences this cryptocurrency may have for the stability of the global financial system.

At first, we need to clear the ground from the most common mistaken facts about Libra running over the news. As detailed in this white paper, Libra will be a fully backed digital currency, it will be issued solely upon demand, and its value will be given by a basket of reserves whose composition will be diversified, privileging safe assets and stable international currencies (as thoroughly described in the technical part of the white paper dedicated to the functioning of the reserve mechanism).

Thus, despite the rumors, we know as a fact that Libra will not:

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July 17, 2019

Insanity: Now Even Junk Bonds Have Negative Yields

Think about this: a junk bond is basically debt issued by a company with financials so risky that analysts expect there’s a good chance the company won’t pay its debts.

Hell, the company might not even be in business by the time the debt matures.

And yet, despite these substantial risks, investors are willing to loan money to these companies… at NEGATIVE rates of return.

Seriously?? You take all that risk and then GUARANTEE that you’ll lose money.

In other words, as John Rubino recently noted, investors are now extrapolating falling interest rates into the future and playing junk bonds for the capital gains they’ll generate when their future borrowing costs go down. This is one of those sentiment shifts that financial historians will single out for special attention when sifting through the rubble of the coming crash.

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