by ilene - May 21st, 2015 11:32 pm
Courtesy of Mish.
Congratulations are in order for team Bush and team Obama for another stunning US foreign policy success: Isis Controls Half of Syria after Palmyra Seizure.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) have seized the Syrian city of Palmyra, home to a Unesco world heritage site, putting nearly half of Syrian territory in the jihadi group’s hands and sparking fears that treasured antiquities may be destroyed.
Isis announced it had “complete control” of the city on Thursday, and state television said President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had withdrawn from the city, which is known to most Syrians by its Arabic name Tadmur.
Ancient Palmyra is known to the world for its iconic avenue of Roman columns, and was a cultural crossroad of the ancient world. The city dates back to the 1st century, when it was an oasis on a trade route linking eastern civilisations with the Roman empire. Its ruins lie to the southwest of modern Tadmur.
“Palmyra is an extraordinary World Heritage site in the desert and any destruction to Palmyra [would be] not just a war crime but . . . an enormous loss to humanity,” Unesco head Irina Bokova said in a video.
Isis has developed a reputation for destroying or selling cultural treasures. Earlier this year it filmed its fighters smashing Assyrian artefacts at sites in northwestern Iraq.
Moderate Rebels Defect
In case you are wondering how this happened, please consider this IBTimes report from March 7, 2015: US-Backed Moderate Syrian Rebels In North Defect; Obama Strategy Set Back.
It was supposed to be a crucial instrument of the Obama administration’s aims in Syria, an ostensibly moderate rebel fighting force that would keep the pressure on the authoritarian regime in Damascus without aiding the ruthless jihadist forces that have captured much of the country. But the soldiers of Harakat Hazzm — the first Syrian rebel group to receive arms from the CIA — disbanded this week.
As a result, much of northern Syria is in the hands of the extremists, and the United States is left with no palatable ally in the area in the midst of a regional conflict that continues to spiral out of control.
Hillary Backs Moderates
Please recall that Hillary was in favor of backing “moderate” rebels.
But it is
by ilene - May 21st, 2015 7:57 pm
Courtesy of Bill Bonner
Bonds: A Crowded Trade
In the financial markets, we have been waiting for a crash of U.S. stock prices. And waiting. And waiting. It still hasn’t come.
Last week the spectacular bull market in U.S. stocks that began in March 2009 continued with even more gains. On Friday, the S&P 500 hit another all-time high.
But the real action was in the bond market. Over the last three weeks, about half a trillion dollars has been wiped off the value of global bonds … despite lower than normal trading volumes.
According to Citigroup strategist Mark Schofield, the sell-off is a “stark reminder of just how congested a lot of market positioning has become.” This makes it “increasingly difficult for investors to exit those positions when the time comes to do so.”
As Bloomberg reports:
“That means that it will be increasingly difficult for central banks to start backing away from their unprecedented stimulus efforts as growth takes hold – no matter how much they may want to – without causing a massive traffic jam of investors all trying to sell at once.”
Uh … yes.
Italy’s 10 year government bond yield – an example of recent bond market indigestion – click to enlarge.
A Modern-Day John Law
Nobody knows whether the recent correction in bond prices (and the accompanying rise in yields) will continue or not.
It is almost too classic to believe. Serious economists – and anyone with any common sense – have realized for centuries that you can’t increase the quantity of debt without also decreasing its quality. The more you owe, the less likely you are to pay.
But central banks have been encouraging businesses, households, and governments all over the planet to take on more debt. They claim this will “stimulate” the economy… and that the resulting “growth” will make it easy to repay the debt.
by ilene - May 21st, 2015 4:30 pm
Financial Markets and Economy
Here they're doing that grumbling in letters to clients the day after their guilty pleas. There is no promise of reform here: The Justice Department caught the banks doing things that it didn't like and fined them billions of dollars, but won't stop them from doing most of those things. As long as there are no more ambiguities or misunderstandings about what they are. It's a weird stalemate. The Justice Department doesn't like these practices, the banks like them fine, and they've agreed to disagree. These practices have been singled out, in the context of criminal plea agreements (a bad context!), as things that happened. But not quite as crimes. And the banks are careful to make clear: They're going to keep happening.
The Senate Has a $66 Billion Gift for U.S. Banks (Bloomberg)
A U.S. Senate proposal to raise the level at which banks are deemed systemically important could help free up as much as $66 billion in capital at 11 lenders and allow for increased shareholder payouts.
The jitters were so intense that it took a clear message from European Central Bank policy makers that the central bank stands firmly behind its aggressive stimulus program, for the market to calm and resume some bullish momentum.
The first road-legal autonomous truck made a splashy debut earlier this month. The Freightliner Inspiration Truck is shiny and new, but it will not be good for everyone. Autonomous trucks will destroy
by ilene - May 21st, 2015 3:26 pm
Courtesy of Mish.
Existing Home Sales Disappoint
Economists overestimated existing home sales today, rounding out another impressive day of overoptimism.
New home sales came in at a seasonally adjusted 5.04 million annualized rate.
The Bloomberg Consensus Estimate was 5.22 million. 5.04 million was below the lower end of the consensus range of 5.10 M to 5.32 M.
Existing homes sales are not living up to springtime expectations, down 3.3 percent in April to a 5.04 million annual rate which is just below the low-end Econoday forecast. Three of 4 regions show contraction in April with the sharpest decline, minus 6.8 percent, in the South, which is by far the largest housing region. Year-on-year, total sales are still up a respectable 6.1 percent.
Another positive is a rise in supply with 2.21 million used homes on the market vs 2.01 million in March. This rise, together with the drop in sales, raises supply relative to sales to 5.3 months from 4.6 months. And another positive is a 4.1 percent rise in the median price to $219,400 which is up 8.9 percent year-on-year.
But this report in sum is a disappointment, failing to point to any building momentum. Strength in the housing sector may be switching, from existing home sales to new home sales at least based on this report compared to the historic surge earlier this week in housing starts & permits. But housing data month-to-month are always volatile and, on net, it’s too soon to decipher how strong the spring housing season is right now.
Existing Home Sales
Existing Home Sales Month’s Supply
Rising Supply a Good Thing?
Bloomberg says “Another positive is a rise in supply with 2.21 million used homes on the market vs 2.01 million in March. This rise, together with the drop in sales, raises supply relative to sales to 5.3 months from 4.6 months.“…
by ilene - May 21st, 2015 2:20 pm
By John Mauldin
Ian Bremmer’s new book on the future of the US and geopolitics, Superpower, just hit the streets yesterday, and it’s already creating quite a buzz. It draws on Bremmer’s remarkable understanding of politics, America, and the world. I first ran into Ian at a conference about four years ago, where he was the after-dinner keynote speaker. It was one of those dinners where I had to go (I had spoken earlier), and I had no knowledge of Ian other than his official bio. A professor of geopolitics. From New Yawk. So this Texas boy settled in while Ian walked on stage … and in three seconds I realized that this was an uber-nerd. Total geek. Seriously, when Hollywood wants to type cast a brilliant super-nerd, they should use Ian as the model. He hit all my stereotype buttons, and I of all people should know better.
Within five minutes, this nebbish professor was blowing me away. I was totally captivated. He took me on a trip through the geopolitical landscape as profound as any I had ever been on.
Ian gave one of the most compelling presentations at our most recent Strategic Investment Conference. No fancy Powerpoint, just one machine-gun idea after another, strung together in what I now realize is his own carefully crafted style.
As I shared with you in Thoughts from the Frontline last week, Ian’s summary of the geopolitical situation and America’s role in managing it can be expressed in two words: it’s bad.
The US is not in decline, he asserts in today’s Outside the Box, citing “the strength of the dollar, US equity markets, employment levels and the economic rebound, the energy and food revolutions, and generation after generation of technological innovation.” But America’s foreign policy and international influence are most certainly in decline. Nevertheless, no other country can even come close to claiming superpower status, so the role the US chooses to play in the world remains of paramount importance.
For the past quarter-century, says Ian, our leaders have just been winging it:
by ilene - May 21st, 2015 1:46 pm
Courtesy of Mish.
More weak economic reports came out today. Let’s take a look at two regional manufacturing reports.
Philly Fed Region “Weak but Stable”
The Bloomberg Economic Consensus for the Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Survey was 8.0. Economists got the leading sign correct, but the consensus estimate was a tad high with the index posting 6.7.
Activity in the Mid-Atlantic manufacturing sector is slow but stabilizing, based on the Philly Fed’s general conditions index which came in at 6.7 for May, down slightly from 7.5 in April and against Econoday expectations for 8.0.
The best news in the report is a slight uptick in new orders, to 4.0 from 0.7. This isn’t searing but is at least in the plus column as are shipments, at 1.0 from minus 1.8. Employment, at 6.7, is also in the plus column.
Manufacturers in the region are reporting significant price contraction, especially in costs which is a surprise given the rise underway in oil prices. Manufacturers are also reporting declining prices for finished goods as well. These inflation readings, if repeated in subsequent reports, will give the edge to the doves at the Federal Reserve.
A plus in the report is a healthy reading of 33.9 for the 6-month outlook, down only slightly from April’s 35.5 and up from 32.0 in March. The manufacturing sector, hit by weak exports and trouble in the energy sector, has yet to find its footing this year but this report, which is very closely watched, points to stability that in turn hints at a rebound in the months ahead.
In light of rising energy prices, price contraction especially in finished goods tells the real story: very weak demand.
The six-month outlook is meaningless. Such readings are perpetually overoptimistic except at the bottom of recessions.
Industrial production will go nowhere with readings like these. I suggest things appear to be “stabilizing” before the next decline.
Philly Fed vs. Industrial Production
by ilene - May 21st, 2015 10:37 am
Submitted by Tyler Durden.
It was about two years ago when we summarized all the known and confirmed rigged markets.
- Libor - interest rates (link)
- ISDAfix – swaps (link)
- Platts - oil prices (link)
- WM/Reuters - FX (link)
- High-Frequency Trading - equities (link)
Since then things have gone from bad to worse for believers in fair and efficient markets, with not only countless more banks now admitting they rigged Libor and FX, not to mention gold (yes gold too was manipulated as impossible as it sounds) and even the CFTC finally figured out just how spoofers manipulate the price of both stock indices and gold, but that biggest master manipulator of all, the world's central banks, unleashed a record liquidity blitz into world markets with 2015 set to be the year in which CBs are set to monetize all net issuance.
It all culminated with yesterday's settlement in which five of the world's biggest banks, including JPM, Citi and Barclays, agreed to plead guilty in a currency-rigging probe.
And, to Bloomberg's dismay, the public yawned.
Bloomberg's amazement continues:
Barely more than a year ago, criminal charges against major U.S. banks were considered unthinkable, with lawyers and analysts viewing felony convictions as a death sentence and a threat to the financial system. Now, by granting waivers allowing lenders to keep operating even after a felony plea, the government has managed to punish firms while protecting them from fatal consequences.
Others, including those who work in the industry, are just as amazed:
“This is the first time you had Citigroup, JPMorgan or any U.S. bank plead guilty essentially to criminal conduct — this is a bad day for American finance,” Mike Mayo, an analyst at CLSA Ltd., said in a televised interview with Bloomberg. “Having said that, this is more backward-looking than forward-looking.”
by ilene - May 21st, 2015 9:42 am
Courtesy of Pam Martens.
After more than 200 years of operation, yesterday JPMorgan Chase became an admitted felon. That action for foreign currency rigging came less than two years after the bank was charged with two felony counts and given a deferred prosecution agreement for aiding and abetting Bernie Madoff in the largest Ponzi fraud in history. The felony counts came amid three years of non-stop charges against JPMorgan Chase for unthinkable frauds: from rigging electric markets to ripping off veterans to charging credit card customers for fictitious credit monitoring and manipulating the Libor interest rate benchmark.
Against this backdrop of a serial crime spree on the part of employees on multiple continents and coast to coast in the United States, JPMorgan released a statement yesterday regarding the bank pleading guilty to a felony charge for engaging in the rigging of foreign currency trading, calling it “principally attributable to a single trader.” In the statement, Dimon says the bank has a “historically strong culture.”
Dimon is, if nothing else, a master of the grand illusion.
In 2012, when Dimon was asked about reports in the press that one of his London traders was making massive bets in derivatives, he called the matter a “tempest in a teapot.” That tempest, dubbed the London Whale scandal, cost JPMorgan Chase at least $6.2 billion in losses, over $1 billion in fines, and a scathing 306-page report from the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Senator Carl Levin, Chair of the Subcommittee at the time, said JPMorgan “piled on risk, hid losses, disregarded risk limits, manipulated risk models, dodged oversight, and misinformed the public.”
Attempting to foster the illusion that there was simply one bad apple behind JPMorgan having to finally plead guilty to a felony is not only an insult to the public, it flies in the face of five regulators’ findings in the matter. JPMorgan’s involvement in the rigging of foreign currency has now been looked at by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the U.S. Justice Department, the Federal Reserve, and the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority. Not one of these regulators alluded to the problem as being one bad apple.
by ilene - May 21st, 2015 5:20 am
Courtesy of Mish.
The slowdown in China continues as the HBSC Flash PMI shows Output contracts at strongest rate in just over a year.
- Flash China Manufacturing PMI™ at 49.1 in May (48.9 in April). Two-month high.
- Flash China Manufacturing Output Index at 48.4 in May (50.0 in April). 13-month low.
Commenting on the Flash China Manufacturing PMI survey, Annabel Fiddes , Economist at Markit said: “The Flash China Manufacturing PMI pointed to a further deterioration in operating conditions in May , with production declining for the first time in 2015 so far. “Moreover, softer client demand, both at home and abroad, along with further job cuts indicate that the sector may find it difficult to expand, at least in the near – term, as companies tempered production plans in line with weaker demand conditions. “On a positive note, deflationary pressures remained relatively strong, with both input and output prices continuing to decline, leaving plenty of scope for the authorities to implement further stimulus measures if required.”
The positive note is "deflationary pressures are strong so that leaves scope for stimulus." Isn't that a hoot?
And if there was strength, that would be a positive as well. I guess it's simply impossible for things not to be bullish.
Two Point Summary
- Economy weak – stimulus needed – stimulus is bullish
- Economy strong – no stimulus needed – also bullish
Mike "Mish" Shedlock
by ilene - May 21st, 2015 3:23 am
Financial Markets and Economy
Janet Yellen’s Federal Reserve is “reasonably confident” it can drive up consumer prices. Mario Draghi says his European Central Bank’s stimulus has already “proven so far to be potent.” The Bank of England reckons inflation is “likely to return” to its target within two years.
While not quite declarations of victory, such statements show policy makers’ optimism that record-low interest rates and bond-buying will be enough to return inflation to the 2 percent range most of them eye.
At a time when 8.5 million Americans still don't have jobs, some 40 percent have given up even looking.
The revelation, contained in a new survey Wednesday showing how much work needs to be done yet in the U.S. labor market, comes as the labor force participation rate remains mired near 37-year lows.
Record spending by foreign tourists is providing a timely boost to the world’s third-largest economy.
Spending by visitors jumped to the highest level in at least 20 years, adding about 0.1 percentage points to Japan's gross domestic product, data showed. That’s no small change for a country that’s trying to claw itself out of decades of economic stagnation.
Unless the name is Ben Bernanke or Alan Greenspan, ex-Fed guys don’t always grab your attention.
But Lawrence Lindsey, who was at the Fed in the 1990s, made a few people sit up and take notice after firing off some spicy comments at a panel discussion yesterday. He blasted away at the current Fed, saying it’s pushing its luck when it comes to normalizing interest rates. And rates at zero, with unemployment at 5.4%? Madness!
Bank of Communications, China’s fifth-largest commercial