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Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

FRACKING OPEC

Saudi energy minister Khalid Al-Falih

Saudi energy minister Khalid Al-Falih

The short-lived recovery of world oil prices is already in danger as OPEC and Russia fail to deliver on agreed output cuts and America’s shale industry roars back to life.

“All hell is going to break loose if they don’t extend the deal beyond June,” says Tamas Varga from brokers PVM Oil Associates.

Resurgent shale output in the US leaves OPEC and Russia facing a Sisyphean task. America’s frackers have cranked up output faster than OPEC thought possible, and on a large enough scale to alter the global balance of supply and demand.

Rising US crude stocks are a cautionary warning at a time when funds are betting heavily on a fresh oil boom, with ‘long’ contracts running at 812,000 lots. This is higher than at any time in the last five years and is approaching record levels, raising the risk of “liquidation” by investors.

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MARINE LE PEN – THE FRENCH DONALD TRUMP

marine-le-pen

Marine Le Pen

If Marine Le Pen wins France's presidential elections in May, all talk of punishing Britain for the outrage of Brexit will become irrelevant.

French diplomacy will pirouette overnight under a National Front (FN) leader. The Élysée Palace will seek an Entente Cordiale with the British, offering a bilateral alliance on new foundations.

It will then be the European Union that faces an existential choice: whether to reinvent itself as a loose federation of nation states, or succumb to galloping disintegration

"What is the point in punishing a country? It is senseless, unless you think the EU is a prison, and you are condemned if you escape. I want to rebuild our damaged relations with the United Kingdom," she told me in an interview yesterday (02/15).

"France is the political heart of Europe, and the moment we leave the euro the whole project collapses," said Ms Le Pen, as she leans across the table in her tiny office in the European Parliament with a glint of mischief.

"A whole psychological framework is breaking down. I think 2017 is going to be the year of the grand return of the nation state, the control of borders and currencies," she said.  Hearing her, you can’t help but think of Donald Trump.

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THE GREAT HOLE OF CHINA

great-hole-of-chinaChina’s central bank is running out of ways to stem capital flight and faces a near impossible task trying to manage the fall-out from extreme credit growth, two of Asia’s most influential banks have warned.

“Defense of the currency by the People’s Bank (PBOC) is no longer a viable option,” says Eric Robertson, the head of global macro strategy for Standard Chartered.

Standard Chartered has been in the China since the 1850s and has over 6,000 staff in the country. Its warnings should not be taken lightly.

The Asia-focused lender says powerful forces are driving capital out of the country and the picture is fundamentally more disturbing than it was during last year’s devaluation panic. This is putting the PBOC in an invidious position as it attempts to deal with festering troubles in the banking system.

While the PBOC still has $3 trillion of foreign exchange reserves, they are not as large as they look given the scale of the financial pressures and the structure of the Chinese economy. The ratio of the M2 money supply to reserves has collapsed to a 15-year low and this may prove to be the crucial ratio in a confidence crisis.

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TRUMP IS RIGHT: GERMANY WORSE THAN CHINA

Trump trade guru Peter Navarro

Trump trade guru Peter Navarro

As a matter of strict objective fact, Donald Trump’s trade guru Peter Navarro is correct. Germany is the planet’s ultimate currency manipulator, not China.

The Euro – really a de facto Deutsche Mark – is indeed “grossly undervalued.” The warped mechanism of monetary union allows Germany to lock in a permanent ‘beggar-thy-neighbor’ trade advantage over Southern Europe, inflicting mass unemployment on the victim countries and blighting their futures.

Whatever you think of Peter Navarro’s trade philosophy regarding China, he is right that Germany’s chronic, huge, and illegal current account surplus - 8.8% of GDP - saps global demand and seriously distorts the world economy.

And now, President Trump is going to do something about it.

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WHY TIME IS RUNNING OUT FOR CHINA’S DEBT-DRIVEN BOOM

china-flag-burntThere is now no denying that China's economy is slowing sharply, though this can be masked by mini-booms along the way.

China is creating credit at twice the pace of underlying growth and is relying on hazardous bubbles to keep growth running far above the safe speed limit, Fitch Ratings has warned.

Short-term stimulus is papering over deep cracks in the economy and vital reforms are being neglected, storing up serious trouble for the future.

The Fitch credit agency said state control over the banking system will prevent a sudden collapse in confidence or a western-style financial crash, but the Communist authorities are running out of tools to meet their inflated GDP targets.

China's epic catch-up boom since the early 1980s will likely sputter out this year as banks struggle with the legacy of bad debts and chronic malinvestment.  Here’s why.

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DAVOS MAN IS SCARED AND WORRIED

The WEF annual meeting in Davos starts today (01/17-20)

The WEF annual meeting in Davos starts today (01/17-20)

It was Harvard professor Samuel Huntington who first hurled the epithet “Davos Man” at the new elites, railing against “gold-collar workers” with no use for the nation state, and divorced from organic societies rooted in tradition.

He warned of a cosmopolitan superclass of 20 million people, with interests diverging ever further from the anthropology of the parish. This rootless supra-culture was cornering the gains of the global economy, and capturing ideological power.

“They have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations,” he wrote.

Prof. Huntington has earned his posthumous vindication. The pull of the nation and ancestral memory is stronger after all. Everything that the World Economic Forum stands for on the eve of the 47th summit in Davos is palpably under threat.

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GERMANY’S HORROR-KURVE

billion-markInflation rage is coming to the boil in Germany. Leaders of the country's prestigious institutes warn that the economy is hitting capacity constraints and risks spiraling into a destructive boom-bust cycle.

In a series of interviews with yours truly they said that the ultra-loose monetary policy of the European Central Bank is now badly out of alignment with German needs. It has begun to threaten lasting damage, and is fast undermining political consent for monetary union.

"The ECB wants to inflate away the debt of the southern European countries. This is a clear conflict of interest with net creditors like Germany," says Clemens Fuest, president of the IFO Institute in Munich.

The tabloid newspaper Bild Zeitung leapt on the latest price data, splashing with a "Horror-Kurve" showing inflation soaring to seemingly frightening heights.

An example is the UBS bubble index showing that Munich is now the fifth most expensive housing market in the world, with prices that have "increasingly lost touch with economic fundamentals.”

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TRUMP AND THE THUCYDIDES TRAP

Donald Trump's assault on trade is escalating. First the foes were China and Mexico. Now it is the world.

thucydidesThe Trump transition team is now mooting an import tariff of 10% across the board, doubling down on earlier talk of a 5% duty. This is a sobering demarche. Such thinking is of a different character to Mr. Trump's campaign rhetoric, which mostly hinted at trade sanctions to force concessions.

A catch-all tariff is a change of belief systems. It overthrows the free trade order that has been upheld and policed by Washington since the 1940s.

Markets are still behaving as if they will get the "good Trump" (tax cuts and fiscal stimulus) rather than the "bad Trump" (trade wars), despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

In fairness to the Trump camp, we should not be beguiled too easily by free trade pieties, or fall for the canard that the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 caused the Great Depression. It could not possibly have done the damage so often claimed.

Nonetheless, it may be that Mr. Trump and his coterie in Washington are walking straight into the "Thucydides Trap" in their handling of China.

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THE NEXT CHINESE BOOM HAS COME AND GONE

chinese-boomAs the Dow flirts with Trumpian heights of 20,000 on Wall Street, the Shanghai Composite in China has been drifting down for seven consecutive weeks.

It is hard to construct a case that reconciles this split, given the tightly intertwined nature of the world's financial system and the trans-Pacific symbiosis that we call Chimerica. One of these two markets must reverse.

If you are waiting for the next Chinese boom, you have already missed it. The latest 18-month mini-cycle has peaked. The authorities are being forced to tighten. China's $9 trillion bond market is seizing up.

Forty companies have had to cancel or postpone bond issuance this month. Nomura says 24 large firms are in default negotiations, ranging from steel and construction to shipbuilding, chemicals, textiles, and solar.

Beijing let it rip earlier this year with a fiscal deficit of 4% of GDP - a one-off loosening of two to three percentage points that you would expect only in an emergency - and it deliberately stoked a housing bubble in the cities of the Eastern seaboard.

The stimulus was comparable in scale China's post-Lehman blitz, but the effects have been far less because the efficiency of credit has collapsed.  It now takes four yuan of loans to generate one yuan of growth. Since there has been almost no underlying reform, this has merely bought time at the cost of greater imbalances.

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IS CHINA POWERLESS AGAINST TRUMP?

trump-smilingOn Fox News Sunday (12/11), with a single incendiary comment on Taiwanese independence, US president-elect Donald Trump has abrogated a central tenet of US foreign policy for the last 37 years and seems to have picked a deliberate fight with China.

Mr. Trump’s language ereyesterday was explicit: “I fully understand the ‘One China policy, but don’t know why we have to be bound by a One China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.”  This is a bombshell.

The world’s two superpowers are now heading for a showdown on a neuralgic strategic issue, greatly raising the risk of a trade war and a fundamental breakdown of the global commercial system.

However…there is little that Beijing can do to damage the US without hurting itself far more.  China’s financial options are limited. Veiled threats to detonate a US debt crisis by selling Beijing’s $1.157 trillion of US Treasury bonds, to take just one example, are mere bluster.

So what can China do regarding the wily presidential deal-maker?

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THE ITALIAN JOB

matteo-renzi

Matteo Renzi resigning on Monday 12/05

Italy's Matteo Renzi thought the "silent majority" would save him, if only he could chivvy enough of them to polls. The prime minister misjudged disastrously.

The voters certainly turned out. They smashed through the 60% threshold that Mr. Renzi thought would secure him victory in the constitutional referendum, but only to register their silent anger  - with him, with his government, with Brussels, and with an Italo-European establishment that has run the Italian economy into the ground.

"I didn't realize they hated me so much," he confessed before his resignation, the wunderkind of European politics no more. 

The referendum was no ordinary vote and it may prove much harder this time to shrug off the volcanic effects. "The whole world was against us. They threw every piece of [expletive] at us. Our achievement is a miracle," said Beppe Grillo, the flamboyant comedian behind the triumphant Five Star Movement.

A narrow 'No' had been discounted. Almost nobody expected a landslide rejection by 59% to 41%, with reaching 71% in Sicily in what amounts to a primordial scream by the pauperized Mezzogiorno.

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THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL EARTHQUAKE OF A TRUMP DOLLAR

The soaring US dollar is causing mounting strains for the global financial system and ultimately threatens to set off a fTrumpDollarsull-blown banking crisis in emerging markets, the world’s top’s economic watchdog has warned.

“We have all the symptoms of a dollar shortage,” said Hyun Song Shin, chief economist at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS).

The warning came as the closely-watched dollar index (DXY) appeared close to breaking through key resistance levels to a 14-year high, a move likely to trigger a stampede into the US currency as hedge funds and momentum traders join the chase.

The danger is that the powerful and immediate effects of financial tightening will “swamp” any trade benefits for the rest of the world from Donald Trump’s stimulus plans and a stronger dollar, even for countries that export heavily to the US. “It may not be very good news for anyone,” Mr. Shin told a specialist forum at the London School of Economics.

The BIS estimates that dollar debt outside US jurisdiction - and therefore lacking a direct lender of last resort - has risen five-fold to $10 trillion over the past 15 years.  The great unknown is what will happen to China, where corporate debt has mushroomed to 145% of GDP.

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THE WORLD RUNS OUT OF DOLLARS

RunOutofDollarsSurging rates on dollar Libor contracts are rapidly tightening conditions across large parts of the global economy, incubating stress in the credit markets and ultimately threatening overvalued bourses.

Three-month Libor rates – the benchmark cost of short-term borrowing for the international system – have tripled this year to 0.88% as inflation worries mount. 

Fear that the US Federal Reserve may have to raise rates uncomfortably fast is leading to an acute dollar shortage, draining global liquidity.

 “The Libor rate is one of few instruments left that still moves freely and is priced by market forces. It is effectively telling us that that the Fed is already two hikes behind the curve,” says Steen Jakobsen from Saxo Bank.  “Something more fundamental is at work. The cost of global capital is going up, full stop.”

“This is highly significant and is our number one concern. Our allocation model is now 100% in cash. This is a warning signal for the market and it happens extremely rarely,” he says.

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THE COMING CHINESE DEVALUATION DISASTER

Chinese Deval DisasterChina's property market went mad after the authorities poured fuel on the flames. Beijing is now slamming on the brakes.

Capital outflows from China are accelerating. The hemorrhage has reached the fastest pace since the currency panic at the start of the year.

The latest cycle of credit-driven expansion has already peaked after 18 months. Beijing has had to slam on the brakes, scrambling to control property speculation that the Communist authorities themselves deliberately fomented.

The central bank (PBOC) spent roughly $50bn defending the yuan last month, but this has not stopped the exchange rate sliding to 6.77 against the dollar - the weakest in six years.

"Our view is that the RMB (yuan) will depreciate 20% against the US dollar to 8.1 by the end of 2018 as deflation of the property bubble leads to more capital outflows," says Zhiwei Zhang from Deutsche Bank. "This is deflationary for global trade."

That is an understatement. A Chinese devaluation on this scale would be an earthquake for the world's economic and financial system, unleashing a tsunami of cheap manufacturing exports into Europe and the US.  The world cannot absorb the consequences of so much excess.

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SANDSTORM OVER THE HOUSE OF SAUD

Sandstorm over Riyadh

Sandstorm over Riyadh

Saudi Arabia has injected $5.3bn of liquidity into the banking system to stave off a financial crunch as the oil slump drags on and capital continues to leak out the country.  This just as the US Congress overrides Obama’s veto allowing 9/11 families to sue the Kingdom.

Three-month interbank offered rates in Riyadh - the stress gauge watched by traders - have reached the highest since the Lehman crisis,  ratcheting up 145 basis points over the last year.

The M3 money supply has contracted by 8% in twelve months. The loan-to-deposit ratio has already blown through the government's safety ceiling of 90%, touching an all-time high.

"Deposits are falling and liquidity has been tightening for month after month," says Patrick Dennis from Oxford Economics.

Foreign exchange reserves have slipped to $550bn from a peak of $746bn as the regime sells off the family silver to pay the bills. The International Monetary Fund says the budget deficit reached 15.9% of GDP last year and will be an estimated 13% this year.  

The reserve loss automatically tightens monetary policy and can be painful. Fitch Ratings said there may have to be a state bail-out of construction firms sinking into deeper trouble. The Bin Laden Group is laying off 77,000 workers.

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CHINA IS NOW THE EPICENTER OF GLOBAL RISK

The Great Wall is Crumbling

China has failed to curb excesses in its credit system and faces mounting risks of a full-blown banking crisis, according to early warning indicators released by the world’s top financial watchdog.

A key gauge of credit vulnerability is now three times over the danger threshold and has continued to deteriorate, despite pledges by Chinese premier Li Keqiang to wean the economy off debt-driven growth before it is too late.

The Bank for International Settlements – the central bank of central banks, based in Basel, Switzerland – warns in its September 2016 quarterly report that China’s "credit to GDP gap" has reached 30.1, the highest to date and in a different league altogether from any other major country tracked by the institution.

It is also significantly higher than the scores in East Asia's speculative boom on 1997 or in the US subprime bubble before the Lehman crisis.

Studies of earlier banking crises around the world over the last sixty years suggest that any score above 10.0 requires careful monitoring.  The credit to GDP gap measures deviations from normal patterns within any one country and therefore strips out cultural differences.

China is now the epicenter of global financial risk.  Why?  Because the Chinese banking system is an arm of the Communist Party.

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THE DANGER OF JAPAN AND THE EU TO THE GLOBAL ECONOMY

The growth rate of nominal GDP in the US has fallen to 2.4%, the lowest level outside recession since the Second World War.

It has been sliding relentlessly for almost two years, a warning signal that underlying deflationary forces may be tightening their grip on the US economy.

Given this extraordinary backdrop, the violent spike in US and global bonds yields since last week is extremely odd. It is rare for AAA-rated safe-haven debt to fall out of favor at the same time as stock markets, and few explanations on offer make sense.

We can all agree that oxygen is thinning as we enter the final phase of the economic cycle after 86 months of expansion. The MSCI world index of global equities has risen to a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 17, significantly higher than on the cusp of the Lehman crisis.

Nonetheless, the Fed cannot plausibly be responsible for the global bond rout. What is true is that markets fear the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank are reaching their political limits, and may not be allowed to press ahead with their experiments even if they want to.

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THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR

AlmightyDollarThe US dollar is tightening its grip on the global financial system at the expense of the euro, entrenching American hegemony and rendering the US Federal Reserve more powerful than at any time in history.

Newly-released data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) show that the dollar’s share of the $5.1 trillion in foreign exchange trades each day has continued rising to 87.6% of all transactions.

It is the latest evidence confirming the extraordinary resilience of the dollar-based international order, confounding expectations of US financial decline a decade ago.

Roughly 60% of the global economy is either in the dollar zone or closely tied to it through currency pegs or ‘dirty floats’, and the level of debt issued in dollars outside US jurisdiction has soared to $9 trillion.

This has profound implications for monetary policy. The Fed has become the world’s central bank whether it likes it or not, setting borrowing costs for much of the global system.

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CHINA’S DEAD MONEY TRAP

Xiaochuan

Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China

China is at mounting risk of a Japanese-style "liquidity trap" as monetary policy loses traction and the economy approaches credit exhaustion, forcing a shift towards Keynesian fiscal stimulus.

Officials at the Chinese People’s Bank (PBOC) have begun to call for a fundamental change in strategy, warning that interest rate cuts have become an increasingly blunt tool. They cannot easily stop companies hoarding cash or halt the slide in private investment.

Sheng Songcheng, the PBOC’s head of analysis, set off a storm last month by warning that the economy had “started to show some signs of being caught in a liquidity trap.”

Caixin magazine said last week (8/16) Chinese companies are hoarding record sums of “dead money” rather than spending it. The growth rate of private investment has dropped to 2.1% over the last seven months, the lowest since global financial crisis. 

The International Monetary Fund warned in June that China’s corporate debt has reached 145% of GDP. “Vulnerabilities are still rising on a dangerous trajectory. They must be addressed immediately,” it said.  China’s entire financial system is clearly out of kilter.

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THE EPIC SAUDI FAIL AND THE TRIUMPH OF AMERICAN INGENUITY

OPEC's worst fears are coming true. Twenty months after Saudi Arabia took the fateful decision to flood world markets with oil, it has still failed to break the back of the US shale industry.

The Saudi-led Gulf states have certainly succeeded in killing off a string of global mega-projects in deep waters. Investment in upstream exploration from 2014 to 2020 will be $1.8 trillion less than previously assumed, according to consultants IHS. But this is a bitter victory at best.

America's hydraulic frackers are cutting costs so fast that most can now produce at prices far below levels needed to fund the Saudi welfare state and its military machine, or to cover OPEC budget deficits.

Scott Sheffield, the outgoing chief of Pioneer Natural Resources, threw down the gauntlet last Thursday (7/28) -- claiming that his pre-tax production costs in the Permian Basin of West Texas have fallen to $2 a barrel.

"Definitely we can compete with anything that Saudi Arabia has. We have the best rock," he said. Revolutionary improvements in drilling technology and data analytics that have changed the cost calculus faster than almost anybody thought possible. 

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OIL IS HERE TO STAY AND SO IS THE GLOBAL ECONOMY

OilinTexasOil rigs in the Permian Basin of Texas are still being built even at $45 oil, defying shale skeptics

Oil prices have tumbled to a three-month low as surging supply once again exposes the chronic global glut and threatens to perpetuate the energy slump for another year.

US crude contracts crashed through key technical barriers to $42.40 yesterday (7/26) before recovering slightly in late trading on profit-taking. They have fallen by 9% over the last four sessions.

Speculators have given it an extra push. Data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the US shows that 52 hedge funds have taken out large short positions, betting that the summer sell-off still has a further leg to run.

Prices are unlikely to re-test the February lows of $26 when asset prices were tumbling across the world and markets were in a full-blown ‘China panic,’ pricing in a global recession that never happened. 

The latest oil tremors reveal little about the underlying health of the global economy, which has so far shrugged off Brexit fears and may be accelerating.

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THE WORLD KNOWS TODAY BEIJING IS THE PROBLEM IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

SouthChinaSeaClaimThe South China Sea has become the most dangerous fault-line in the world. Beijing and Washington are on a collision course over these contested waters, the shipping lane for 60% of global trade.

To The Point has been predicting this for years.  The prescience of that prediction became quite clear today.

This morning (7/12), the International Court of Justice in The Hague has ruled against China, that it has no “historic title” to areas of this sea stretching all the way to the ‘nine dash line’ - deep into the territorial waters of a ring of South East Asian states.

Beijing has as expected dismissed the verdict with scorn, accusing the tribunal of “shamelessly abusing its authority.” The state media said the country “must be prepared for any military confrontation” with the US, and must not flinch from war if provoked.

It is the latest in a series ominous developments in Asia and Europe that are rapidly subverting the Western international system and setting off a global rearmament race with strong echoes of the late-1930s.

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THE FRENCH BREXIT BACKLASH BLUFF

French leaders are openly plotting to peel off large chunks of the City’s financial industry as soon as Britain leaves the EU. This might prove much tougher than they imagine.

France is rolling out the red carpet for putative refugees from Canary Wharf, hoping to capture the lion’s share of the estimated €600bn to €1 trillion market for clearing in euro-denominated transactions. Some German officials are also eyeing the City, but more discreetly.

"There is a power play going on. It is very clear France and Germany will do everything they can to damage the City and get the business for themselves," says Professor Athanasios Orphanides, a former member of the European Central Bank's governing council.

"Whatever they try to do, they'll end up shooting themselves in the foot and driving the businesses out Europe. The EU regulations are so costly that I think the City could actually see long-term benefits from leaving," he says.

The City is ranked number one in the Global Financial Centres Index, ahead of New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Zurich.  None of the EU's other hubs come close. Luxembourg is 14, Frankfurt is 18, and Paris lags far behind at 32,  behind Calgary or Dalian in China.

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ITALY IS THE FIRST BREXIT DOMINO

brexitdomino

Italy is preparing a €40bn rescue of its financial system as bank shares collapse on the Milan bourse and the powerful after-shocks of Brexit shake European markets.

An Italian government task force is watching events hour by hour, pledging all steps necessary to ensure the stability of the banks. “Italy will do everything necessary to reassure people,” said premier Matteo Renzi.

“This is the moment of truth we have all been waiting for a long time. We just didn’t know it would be Brexit that set the elephant loose,” said a top Italian banker.

The share price of banks crashed for a second trading day, with Intesa Sanpaolo off 12.5%, and falls of 12% for Banka MPS, 10.4% for Mediobana, and 8% for Unicredit. These lenders have lost a third of their value since Britain’s referendum five days ago.

“When Britain sneezes, Italy catches a cold. It is the weakest link in the European chain,” said Lorenzo Codogno, former director-general of the Italian treasury and now at LC Macro Advisors.

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THE MODI REVOLUTION STALLS IN INDIA

India’s bid to become the ‘economic super-tiger’ of Asia is in serious doubt after an assault on the independence of the central bank and failure to deliver on promised reforms.

The country has been the darling of the emerging market universe since the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi swept into power in May 2014 promising a blitz of Thatcherite reform and a bonfire of the diktats, but key changes have been blocked in the legislature. The government has turned increasingly populist.

Matters have come to a head with the de facto ouster of Raghuram Rajan, the superstar governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), rebuked for keeping monetary policy too tight. It is part of a pattern of attacks on central banks by politicians across the world, and the latest sign that the glory days of the monetary overlords are waning.

“This is ‘Rexit' – India’s equivalent of ‘Brexit.  It looks very bad for India and will not go down well in financial markets. He was defeated by the crony capitalists up against him,” says Lord Desai from the London School of Economics.

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WHY I WILL VOTE FOR BRITAIN TO LEAVE THE EU

With sadness and tortured by doubts, next week (6/23) I will cast my vote as an ordinary citizen for withdrawal from the European Union.

Let there be no illusion about the trauma of Brexit. Anybody who claims that Britain can lightly disengage after 43 years enmeshed in EU affairs is a charlatan or a dreamer, or has little contact with the realities of global finance and geopolitics.

Stripped of distractions, it comes down to an elemental choice: whether to restore the full self-government of this nation, or to continue living under a higher supranational regime, ruled by a European Council that we do not elect in any meaningful sense, and that the British people can never remove, even when it persists in error.

We are deciding whether to be guided by a Commission with quasi-executive powers that operates more like the priesthood of the 13th Century papacy than a modern civil service; and whether to submit to a European Court of Justice (ECJ) that claims sweeping supremacy, with no right of appeal.

The EU Project bleeds the lifeblood of the national institutions, but fails to replace them with anything lovable or legitimate at a European level. It draws away charisma, and destroys it. This is how democracies die.

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THE PANIC OF ELITES IN EUROPE

France has turned even more viscerally eurosceptic than Britain over recent months, profoundly altering the political geography of Europe and making it impossible to judge how Paris might respond to Brexit, the referendum on which is two weeks away (6/23).

An intractable economic crisis has been eating away at the legitimacy of the French governing elites for much of this decade. This has now combined with a collapse in the credibility of the government, and mounting anger over immigration.  Remind you of what’s happening in the US?

A pan-European survey by the Pew Research Center released today found that 61% of French voters have an “unfavorable” view of the European Union, compared to 48% in the UK.

A clear majority is opposed to “ever closer union” and wants powers returned to the French parliament, a finding that sits badly with the insistence by President Francois Hollande that “more Europe” is the answer to the EU’s woes.

“It is a protest against the elites,” said Professor Brigitte Granville, a French economist at Queen Mary University of London. “There are 5000 people in charge of everything in France. They are all linked by school and marriage, and they are tight.”

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DOES CHINA’S LEADER WANT TO POP CHINA’S DEBT BUBBLE?

Nobody rings a bell at the top of the credit supercycle, to misuse an old adage. Except that this time somebody very powerful in China has done exactly that. 

China watchers are still struggling to identify the author of an electrifying article in the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, People's Daily, that declares war on debt and the "fantasy" of perpetual stimulus. 

Written in a imperial tone, it commands China to break its addiction to credit and take its punishment before matters spiral out of control. If that means bankruptcies must run their course, so be it. 

China's debt is approaching $30 trillion, 440% of China’s GDP of $6.8 trillion.  Popping a debt bubble that gigantic could be catastrophic for the entire world’s global - and over-globalized - financial system. 

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THE SUMMER OF SHOCKS

Global fund managers have almost no faith in the latest stock market rallies around the world and have begun to fear the worst from Brexit, putting aside near record sums of money in cash as they brace for a ‘summer of shocks.’

Investors have already lost confidence in China’s economic rebound this year and are shunning British equities like the plague, fearing a financial crunch if Britain votes to leave the EU.

Bank of America’s monthly survey of funds shows that 27% now think Brexit is the biggest ‘tail-risk’ for the global economy, overtaking neuralgic concerns about a devaluation by China or a wave of defaults by Chinese companies.

Longstanding fears that central banks are running out of policy ammunition or risk ‘quantitative failure’ have slipped to third place. The new worry is ‘stagflation’ in the US, a toxic mix of slowing growth and rising inflation at the same time.

What is puzzling is that this mood of deep alarm conflicts with clear evidence of accelerating monetary growth worldwide, usually a harbinger of better times ahead.

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THE EURO’S SUGAR RUSH IS ENDING

The eurozone’s short-lived recovery is already losing steam as stimulus fades and deep problems resurface, raising fears of yet another false dawn and a potential deflation trap if there is any external shock over coming months.

Since the end of November, the euro has steadily risen against the dollar from a low of 1.05 to 1.14 today (5/11).  But the sugar rush is coming to an end.

Industrial output fell in 1.3% Germany and 0.3% in France in March as manufacturing stalled, confounding expectations for robust expansion. The relapse in a string of countries suggests that flash estimates of 0.6% GDP growth in the first quarter were too optimistic and may have to be cut.

“The recovery is not gaining any traction. I am really quite worried about another spasm of the debt crisis over the summer,” said Lars Christensen from Markets and Money Advisory.

The eurozone has been basking in a sweet spot over the last year, with stimulus from cheap oil, a weaker euro, ECB bond purchases, and an end to fiscal austerity, all coming together in a "perfect positive storm". “If that can’t produce growth, nothing will,” says Nouriel Roubini from New York University.

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CAN THE SAUDIS REALLY PULL THIS OFF?

Saudi Arabia has launched a radical ‘Thatcherite’  shake-up to an avert economic crisis and prepare the kingdom for the post-carbon world, stunning analysts with claims that it could break reliance on oil within just four years.

Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, the country’s de facto ruler, vows to build a $3 trillion wealth fund and break onto the world stage as an investment superpower, the spearhead of an historic package of measures intended to bring the deformed economy kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

Salman, a 31 year-old tornado determined to smash the status quo, has amassed immense power over the economy and defense that belies his title as deputy crown prince, filling the cabinet with modern technocrats and startling his sinecure cousins from the Al Saud family with the unfamiliar prospect of hard work.

The plan known as “Vision2030” aims to slash $80bn of wasteful spending each year and impose some degree of order on the kingdom’s chaotic finances with a consumption tax and fresh levies.  Can the Saudi Prince really pull this off?

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YOU CAN FORGET ABOUT CHINA OVERTAKING THE US ECONOMY

China panic has abated. The Shanghai Composite index of equities is back above 3,000. The much-feared devaluation never happened.

The yuan has strengthened against the dollar this year, to the consternation of Western tourists. Outflows of money have slowed as dollar debt is paid off and Chinese investors wind down 'carry trade' positions.  

The International Monetary Fund has just raised its forecast for Chinese growth this year to 6.5%, insisting that it is still far too early to talk about a hard-landing.

Yet that is where the good news ends, for there is a poisonous sting in the tail.  We can put away those charts projecting China's 'sorpasso', the moment when the country surpasses the US to become the world's biggest economy. It is not going to happen and here’s why.  This is a horror story for real.

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THE END GAME FOR JAPAN?

Lake Como, Italy. Japan is heading for a full-blown solvency crisis as the country runs out of local investors and may ultimately be forced to inflate away its debt in a desperate end-game, one of the world’s most influential economists has warned.

Olivier Blanchard, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, said zero interest rates have disguised the underlying danger posed by Japan’s public debt, likely to reach 250% of GDP this year and spiraling upwards on an unsustainable trajectory.

Speaking Monday (4/11) at the Ambrosetti Forum of world policy-makers on Lake Como, he said, “To our surprise, Japanese retirees have been willing to hold government debt at zero rates, but the marginal investor will soon not be a Japanese retiree.”

“If and when US hedge funds become the marginal Japanese debt, they are going to ask for a substantial spread,” he told me.  Analysts say this would transform the country’s debt dynamics and kill the illusion of solvency, possibly in a sudden, non-linear fashion.

Prof. Blanchard did not elaborate on the implications of Japan’s woes for the global financial system, but they would surely be dramatic. Japan is still the world’s third largest economy by far. It is also the global laboratory for an ageing crisis that the rest of us will face to varying degrees.

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ARE THE PANAMA PAPERS UNLEASHING A WITCH HUNT?

The secret world of offshore banks and money-laundering has been under the microscope ever since the financial crisis. Now it is the turn of lawyers, registrars, and the hidden network of facilitators.

The treasure trove of 11.5 million documents leaked – or more precisely stolen - from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca lifts the lid on the extraordinary practices of the global elites, and on the alleged services of off-shore legal cabinets for terrorist organizations, drug cartels, sanctions busting, and front companies of all kinds.

The files on 213,000 firms first slipped to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is the biggest data leak in history. It will have long-lasting ramifications.

The avalanche of allegations has barely begun. The red-hot dossier on US citizens has not even been released. Yet the scandal has already triggered a string of criminal investigations around the world, kicking off in Australia and New Zealand within hours. 

The Panama firm has responded:  “We believe there's an international campaign against privacy. Privacy is a sacred human right that is being eroded more and more in the modern world. Each person has the right to privacy, whether they are a king or a beggar.”  Mossack Fonseca has a point.

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YELLOW YELLEN?

In her speech to the Economic Club of New York yesterday (3/29), Fed Chair Janet Yellen vowed to move with extreme care before tightening monetary policy in the face of lingering global deflation and trouble in China.

She swatted aside vociferous hawks on the Fed’s voting committee (FOMC), more or less pledging to flood the economy with excess stimulus in order to guarantee a safety margin against any further deflationary shocks.  Her dovish comments set off wild moves on the currency markets and a powerful relief rally on Wall Street.

Mrs. Yellen is taking a major gamble.

A chorus of critics have warned that the Fed is falling behind the curve as the labor market tightens and commodity prices start to firm again, fearing a repeat of the 1970s when the institution repeatedly found excuses to delay taking action on the grounds that there was still plenty of hidden slack in the economy.

“The longer the Fed dithers, the higher rates are eventually going, ” said Paul Ashworth from Capital Economics.

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THE FED IS TRAPPED

Interest rates in the United States have fallen to minus 2% in real terms and are dropping into deeper negative territory with each passing month. This is a remarkable state of affairs.

It is clear that the US Federal Reserve is now trapped. The FOMC dares not tighten despite core inflation reaching 2.3% because it is so worried about tantrums in financial markets and about that other Sword of Damocles - some $11 trillion of offshore debt denominated in dollars, up from $2 trillion in 2000.

The Fed has been forced by circumstances to act as the world's central bank, nursing a fragile and treacherous financial system struggling with unprecedented leverage.

Average debt ratios are 36 percentage points of GDP higher than they were at the top of the pre-Lehman bubble in 2008, and this time emerging markets have been drawn into the quagmire as well by the spill-over effects of quantitative easing. Like it or not, the Fed is stuck with the task of cleaning up a global mess that is arguably of its own making.

The three big blocs of the world economy are all in a short-term cyclical upswing. My fear is that the Fed may have repeated the error made by Alan Greenspan during the East Asia crisis of 1998 when he slashed rates and held them too low for too long, fueling the dotcom bubble.

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DOES THE RSCOIN SUPERCURRENCY MEAN THE DEATH OF BITCOIN?

British computer scientists have devised a digital crypto-currency in league with the Bank of England that could pose a devastating threat to large tranches of the financial industry, and profoundly change the management of monetary policy.

The proto-currency known as RSCoin has vastly greater scope than Bitcoin, used for peer-to-peer transactions by libertarians across the world, and beyond the control of any political authority.

The purpose would be turned upside down. RSCoin would be a tool of state control, allowing the central bank to keep a tight grip on the money supply and respond to crises. It would erode the exorbitant privilege of commercial banks of creating money out of thin air under a fractional reserve financial system.  

“Whoever reacts too slowly to these developments is going to take it on the chin. They will lose their businesses,” said Dr. George Danezis, who is working on the design at University College London.

"My advice is that companies should play very close attention to what is happening, because this will not go away," he said.  Layers of middlemen in payments systems face a creeping threat across the nexus of commerce, stockbroking, currency trading or derivatives. Many risk extinction over time.

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BRAZIL’S FUTURE DISAPPEARS ONCE AGAIN

The dream of a Brics ascendancy has ended in sadness and squalor after the iconic figure of the era was seized by police at his home here, to the rapturous applause of Brazil’s stock exchange.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, or “Lula” to the world, is sacrosanct no more. The once beloved president – and former Fiat car worker – who came to personify Brazil’s seeming rise to prosperity and global stature is under criminal investigation for his role in the ever-spreading Lava Jato (car wash) scandal

So are his three sons, and his wife. “Nobody is above the law in this country,” said the lead prosecutor, Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima. 

The shock comes as Lula’s economic legacy turns to ruin. Output has been falling for most of the past nine quarters. It contracted 3.8% last year. The OECD expects another 4% fall this year, the deepest slump since national records began in 1901. 

It is a cruel twist of fortune for those who thought Brazil had reached the premier league, with deep-sea oil reserves fit for an emirate, and a currency so strong that it cost more for a coffee in Sao Paolo than in Oslo, Tokyo, or Zurich in the glory days of 2008. Those days are gone, as is Brazil’s future yet again.

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US SHALE REVOLUTION WILL RUIN RUSSIA, IRAN, AND OPEC

The current crash in oil prices is sowing the seeds of a powerful rebound and a potential supply crunch by the end of the decade, but the prize may go to the US shale industry rather OPEC, the world's energy watchdog has predicted.

America's shale oil producers and Canada's oil sands will come roaring back from late 2017 onwards once the current brutal purge is over, a cycle it described as the "rise, fall and rise again" of the fracking industry.

"Anybody who believes the US revolution has stalled should think again. We have been very surprised at how resilient it is," said Neil Atkinson, head of oil markets at the International Energy Agency.

Contrary to widespread assumptions, the IEA report said Saudi Arabia and the OPEC club will lose market share, treading water as North America and Brazil's "pre-salt" basin in the Atlantic account for most of the growth in global output by the early 2020s. Algeria, Venezuela, Nigeria and Indonesia are all going into decline.

Iran’s fields are 70 years old and on the wane, while Russia will be the biggest casualty of all.

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THE $3 TRILLION OIL DEBT BUBBLE

The global oil industry is caught in a self-feeding downward spiral as falling prices cause producers to boost output even further in a scramble to service $3 trillion of dollar debt, the world’s top watchdog has warned.

The Bank for International Settlements fears that a perverse dynamic is at work where energy companies in Brazil, Russia, China and parts of the US shale belt are increasing production in defiance of normal market logic, leading to a bad “feedback-loop” that is sucking the whole sector into a destructive vortex.

“Lower prices have not removed excess capacity from the market, but instead may have exacerbated it. Production has been ramped up, rather than curtailed,” said Jaime Caruana, the general manager of the Swiss-based club for central bankers.

The findings raise serious questions about the strategy of Saudi Arabia and the core OPEC states as they flood the global crude market to knock out rivals in a cut-throat battle for export share. The process of attrition may take far longer and do more damage than originally supposed.

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