Saturday, 5 March 2016

Weekend Update 05/03/2016 – Bubble Meets Pin.

Brexit Countdown Clock.

Brexit Quote of the Day.
You will find as you grow older that courage is the rarest of all qualities to be found in public life.

Benjamin Disraeli.

This weekend, articles held over, and under reported during the week. Trouble grows in China,  Brazil and Turkey. What happens after the giant central bankster fuelled, malinvestment bubble meets its pin. What happens is that real people, little people to be sure, far below the ranks of ex-Goldmanite central banksters, get crushed into dire poverty and despair. Not for them the electronic printing press available to bailout banksters. They’re not banksters after all, and quite disposable.  The Great Nixonian Error of fiat money, communist money, is now going horribly wrong, though exactly as predicted by earlier economists. This coming Thursday “Magic Mario” and his team, gets his turn on stage presenting his European version of voodoo economics.

Stocks anyone?

Experience, however, shows that neither a state nor a bank ever have [sic] had the unrestricted power of issuing paper money without abusing that power; in all states, therefore, the issue of paper money ought to be under some check and control; and none seems so proper for that purpose as that of subjecting the issuers of paper money to the obligation of paying their notes either in gold coin or bullion.

David Ricardo.

Death and Despair in China's Rustbelt

March 1, 2016
In a snow-covered valley in northeast China, an hour from the North Korean border, a street with brightly-painted apartment blocks hides a story of fear and anger as dangerous to the country as its rollercoaster stock market or sliding currency.

The frozen alluvial river plain that was once at the forefront of the Communist Party’s first attempt to build a modern economy has now fallen behind, leaving a valley of brutal murder, protests, anger, suicide and regret.  

This is the city of Tonghua in China’s rustbelt, where a desperate handful of steelworkers has gathered each week outside the management office of their mill in freezing temperatures to demand months of wages they say they’re owed. The answer, according to interviews with workers and residents, is always the same: there is no money.

This is the last vestige of protests that once drew thousands, and which, one fateful day nearly seven years ago, ended with a manager being beaten to death.

Since then, the city’s once-vaunted state-run steel mills have slipped inexorably into decline, weighed down by slumping global markets, a changing economy, and the burden of costs and responsibilities to the people of the town they fostered.

Tonghua’s story is repeated across the country, where state-owned enterprises that were the bedrock of China’s industrial development have become its biggest burdens. Typically overstaffed, inefficient and heavily indebted, they offer President Xi Jinping a stark warning of what the country could face if the millions of workers who depend on these lumbering corporations should get thrown out of work with nothing to fall back on.

Uprisings have started from less in China. 

The country’s leaders have vowed to reduce excess industrial capacity and labor in state enterprises even as they battle the slowest economic growth in a quarter of a century. China will eliminate up to 150 million metric tons of steel-making capacity in the next five years, the State Council said after a Jan. 22 meeting.

The council, China’s cabinet, said it will achieve the target through mergers and acquisitions, relocation or converting some plants to other industries. It pledged to set up special funds to subsidize companies and laid-off workers during the change, and to help lenders write down bad debts.

“The market has forced our hands,” said the official Xinhua News Agency in a Jan. 24 commentary. “Local governments and companies will bear the main responsibility, while the central government will help.”

Eliminating that amount of steel capacity could lead to 400,000-500,000 job cuts and may fuel social instability, Li Xinchuang, head of the China Metallurgical Industry Planning and Research Institute, said in an Internet message.

---- Such was Tonghua, 500 miles from Beijing, and now the fifth-largest city in Jilin province, with 2 million residents.

After the reforms of Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s ushered in China’s economic boom, Tonghua, and other steel cities became pollution-choked crucibles that fed the expansion, churning out girders and bars to reinforce the concrete towers of the nation’s building spree.

China’s steel output in 1953 was less than 160,000 tons — not enough to make one kitchen knife for each Chinese family. In 2015, it was equivalent to more than half a ton for every citizen.

“The steel mill during its heyday was hellish and streets were stifled by thick fumes,” said Zhang Dongwei, who runs a transport and logistics business in the city. “There was a flotilla of trains constantly coming in with coal and iron ore and going out with steel wire and bars.”

Lines of those trains sat rusting in the sun under a glittering white coat of the winter’s first snowfall in November, idled by the shift in China’s economy.

Exclusive: China to lay off five to six million workers, earmarks at least $23 billion

Tue Mar 1, 2016 | 6:14 AM EST
BEIJING (Reuters) - China aims to lay off 5-6 million state workers over the next two to three years as part of efforts to curb industrial overcapacity and pollution, two reliable sources said, Beijing's boldest retrenchment program in almost two decades.
China's leadership, obsessed with maintaining stability and making sure redundancies do not lead to unrest, will spend nearly 150 billion yuan ($23 billion) to cover layoffs in just the coal and steel sectors in the next 2-3 years.
The overall figure is likely to rise as closures spread to other industries and even more funding will be required to handle the debt left behind by "zombie" state firms.
The term refers to companies that have shut down some of their operations but keep staff on their rolls since local governments are worried about the social and economic impact of bankruptcies and unemployment.
Shutting down "zombie firms" has been identified as one of the government's priorities this year, with China's Premier Li Keqiang promising in December that they would soon "go under the knife"..
The government plans to lay off five million workers in industries suffering from a supply glut, one source with ties to the leadership said.
A second source with leadership ties put the number of layoffs at six million. Both sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media about the politically sensitive subject for fear of sparking social unrest.
The ministry of industry did not immediately respond when asked for comment on the reports.
The hugely inefficient state sector employed around 37 million people in 2013 and accounts for about 40 percent of the country's industrial output and nearly half of its bank lending.

AEP: Brazil's ruling party aims to tap foreign reserves as policy fight escalates

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard3 March 2016 • 7:20pm
The ruling party in Brazil has drawn up crisis plans to tap the country’s foreign exchange reserves to fight recession and prevent a surge in unemployment, heightening fears of a populist lurch as the economic crisis deepens.

Any such move by Brazil would mark an escalation in the emerging market crisis, leading to intense scrutiny of other countries across the world facing similar difficulties following the collapse of the commodity boom and the end of cheap dollar liquidity from the US Federal Reserve.

The plan is in direct conflict with the policies of president Dilma Rousseff and implies a head-on clash between the government and its own political base in the Workers Party (PT), with serious implications for the stability of the currency and Brazil’s debt markets.
It came as official data showed Brazil’s economy contracted sharply in 2015 as businesses slashed investment plans and laid off more than 1.5 million workers, setting the stage for what could be the country’s deepest recession on record.

Brazil’s gross domestic product shrank 3.8pc in 2015, capped by another steep contraction in the fourth quarter. It was the steepest annual drop for the country’s GDP since 1990, when hyperinflation and debt default blighted the country’s recent return to democracy.

Rui Falcão, the PT’s president, personally drafted the crisis document known as the National Emergency Plan. He reportedly has the backing of former president Lula, Luiz Inacio da Silva. It calls for a draw-down on the country’s $371bn foreign reserves to finance a development and jobs fund, as well as demanding a sharp cut in interest rates, a move that would effectively strip the central bank of its independence.

The 16 proposals together mark a dramatic shift back to the party’s Marxist roots and a rejection of its free-market concordat over recent years. While investors might be willing to accept use of the reserves to back up a stabilisation policy and radical reform, they would be horrified if it was used to finance a last-ditch populist agenda.

“If the PT taps the reserves, they risk setting off a run on the currency. This is very dangerous,” said one economist, dismissing the scheme as complete madness.

---- Mr Falcão’s radical programme says the government is facing an “intense political-ideological battle”. The progressive wing of the party must regain control over events, and double down on the sort of stimulus policies that lifted Brazil out of the crisis in 2008-2009.

This means a state-financed industrial policy, a blitz of investment on infrastructure, health and housing, as well as job programmes and a rise in salaries. The thrust of the policy implies a partial retreat into autarky, compounding the isolation of an economy that already has an extremely low trade gearing of 10pc of GDP.

The Workers Party is alarmed by the sudden surge in unemployment over the last three months as the recession deepens. The economy contracted by 3.8pc in 2015, and is expected to shrink by a further 4pc this year. 

Natixis said it could be as bad as minus 4.7pc with further recession in 2017. “We don’t see any positive signals in the coutntry,” it said.

Companies are starting to lay off workers in droves as confidence collapses, shedding over 150,000 jobs a month so far this year, devastating the party’s political base on the factory floor. The steel group Usiminas is shuttering operations in Cubatao outside Sao Paolo, part of an industrial depression that threatens up to 30,000 jobs in the Cubatao zone alone.

Lula Detention Rattles Brazil as Heat on Rousseff Increases

March 4, 2016 — 5:00 PM GMT Updated on March 4, 2016 — 7:32 PM GMT
As soon as police raided the home of former Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and questioned him early Friday, red-shirted activists of his Workers’ Party took to the streets. Fist fights broke out with police as well as with those applauding the detention -- a preview of the unrest that likely awaits Brazil and its embattled president.

The second term of President Dilma Rousseff has been overwhelmed by twin crises -- an economy crippled by recession and a political establishment under siege by a massive corruption investigation. The probe of Lula, an iconic figure who chose Rousseff as his successor, escalates almost two years of mounting tension.

Rousseff isn’t directly implicated in the latest investigation, which focuses on favors Lula and his family allegedly received from companies involved with Petrobras, the state oil company at the heart of the corruption probe. But she is under intense attack for a range of reasons and Lula remains the soul of her Workers’ Party, known as the PT. His questioning raises the temperature a week before pro-impeachment protests scheduled for March 13.

“We’re going to have an escalation of tension once again, and no one is really in control,” said Riordan Roett, director of Latin American Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. “Everyone is worrying what shoe is going to drop next, and in Brasilia, there are lots of shoes in the air.”

Ballooning Bad Loans in Turkey Seen Worsening as Tourists Flee

March 3, 2016 — 10:00 PM GMT Updated on March 4, 2016 — 10:18 AM GMT
The ailments afflicting Turkey’s economy that have triggered a surge in bad loans look poised to get worse before they get better.

Non-performing loans at the nation’s lenders climbed to 3.18 percent of total credit in January, the sixth straight monthly increase and the highest proportion in almost five years, according to data this week from the Ankara-based Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency. Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Commerzbank AG said in Februrary corporate distress is deepening in Turkey, making it harder for companies to pay down debts.

The rise in bad loans is compounding the challenges for Turkey’s $814 billion banking industry as a combination of currency depreciation, Russian sanctions and waning tourist visits amid a spate of terrorist attacks weigh on the economy. As the central bank limits funding to tame inflation, the highest borrowing costs in four years and a slow down in loan growth are piling pressure on indebted businesses.

“The trend is likely to increase and intensify,” said Apostolos Bantis, a Commerzbank credit analyst in Dubai, who said loans and lira-denominated bonds would be exposed. “While I don’t see the situation running out of control, the impact of Russian sanctions, the blow to the tourism industry, higher funding costs and the weaker currency will all take a toll on the corporate sector,” he said before the data.

Concerns over credit quality have exerted pressure on Turkish bank shares in the past 12 months, with a gauge of 11 lenders dropping 15 percent versus a decline of 6.3 percent for the benchmark Borsa Istanbul 100 Index. Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS and Turkiye IS Bankasi, known as Isbank, slid at least 24 percent.

Gold, on the contrary, though of little use compared with air or water, will exchange for a great quantity of other goods.

David Ricardo.

Brexit Thought of the Week.

Cameron: One could drive a schooner through any part of his EU argument and never scrape against a fact.

With apologies to David Houston on William Jennings Bryan.

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