March 2017

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Do The Roots Of Rising Inequality Go All The Way Back To The 1980s?

Authored by Charles Hugh-Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

Unless we change the fundamental structure of the economy so that actually producing goods and services and hiring people is more profitable than playing financial games with phantom assets, the end-game of financialization is financial collapse.

I presented this chart of rising wealth inequality a number of times over the past year. Do you notice something peculiar about the inflection points in the 1980s?

Correspondent W.S. noted that the inflection point for the top .1% (late 1970s) preceded the inflection point of the bottom 90% (around 1986): both increased their share of household wealth from 1978 to 1986, and then the share of the top .1% took off, essentially tripling from 8% to over 22%, while the share of the bottom fell precipitously from 36% to 23%.

(Note that the data stops at 2012; if we extend the trends to the present, the lines have certainly crossed and the share of the .1% now exceeds that of the bottom 90%.)

So what happened between 1978 and 1986? The first phase of the financialization of the U.S. economy. What is financialization? In a financialized economy, speculating with highly leveraged debt and exotic financial instruments is far more profitable than producing goods and services.

Financialization hollows out the productive assets of an economy by incentivizing leverage, debt, opacity, speculation, financial fraud, collusion and the perfection of crony capitalism, i.e. financial Elites’ ownership of the government’s regulatory and legislative bodies.

Here is another less pungent description via Wikipedia: “Financial leverage overrides capital (equity) and financial markets dominate traditional industrial economy and agricultural economics.”

Here is my more formal definition:

Financialization is the mass commodification of debt and debt-based financial instruments collaterized by previously low-risk assets, a pyramiding of risk and speculative gains that is only possible in a massive expansion of low-cost credit and leverage.

Another way to describe the same dynamics is: financialization results when leverage and information asymmetry replace innovation and productive investment as the source of wealth creation.

I describe the dynamics in What’s the Primary Cause of Wealth Inequality? Financialization (March 24, 2014)

Correspondent W.S. submitted commentary and references this 2005 book Financialization and the World Economy:

In the US “total credit market debt divided by GDP was about 1.5 from 1961 to 1981. It accelerated rapidly in the decade of the 1980s – from 1.6 in 1981 to 2.3 in 1989 – as the federal budget deficit soared, hostile takeovers and leveraged buyouts loaded corporations with debt, and household borrowing increased. Corporate and household borrowing raised indebtedness further in the 1990s; by 2001 the debt to GDP ratio was 2.8, almost double the ratio in the Golden Age. Moreover, average real interest rates have been much higher in the neoliberal era than they were in the three decades that preceeded it.

W.S. Also referenced FINANCIALIZATION OF THE ECONOMY and added this commentary:

While “bloated” conglomerates were linked by some to the sluggish performance of the American economy in the 1970s, for corporate raiders they presented a get rich quick opportunity via the “market for corporate control” (Manne 1965). Outsiders could buy the firm from its existing shareholders, fire its managers, and sell off the parts for a quick profit.

After the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, this became possible on a grand scale due to relaxed antitrust guidelines, changes in state antitakeover laws, and financial innovations that enabled raiders to get relatively short-term financing on a large scale (Davis & Stout 1992). Within a decade, nearly one-third of the Fortune 500 largest industrial firms had been acquired or merged, often resulting in spinoffs of unrelated parts, and by 1990 American corporations were far less diversified than they had been a decade before (Davis et al 1994).

The other thing that happened in the mid-1980s was computer technology became cheap enough and powerful enough to start replacing human labor on a wider scale. Spreadsheets such as Excel became accessible to small business, and the desktop publishing combo of the Apple Macintosh and laserprinters revolutionized the cost structure of marketing.

The rise of the Internet (coupled with cheap memory and processing power) further fueled the productive expansion of digital technologies. As I describe in my book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy, these tools– which are now ubiquitous and inexpensive–enable one person today to equal the output of what once took four people to produce in the late 1980s.

In effect, labor entered an era of dynamic over-supply just as healthcare costs began to rise, making it more costly to hire workers. Some skills and trades remain scarce and thus well-paid, but as a generalization it became cheaper and more efficient to replace increasingly expensive human labor with increasingly inexpensive and powerful software and digital tools.

Unless we change the fundamental structure of the economy so that actually producing goods and services and maximizing opportunities for people is more profitable than playing financial games with phantom assets, the end-game of financialization is financial collapse.

Recent podcasts/video programs:

Deep State Fractures Under Populist Revolution (TruNews, 37:27)

The post Do The Roots Of Rising Inequality Go All The Way Back To The 1980s? appeared first on crude-oil.news.


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Shell Nigeria Shuts One Bonny Light Export Line To Repair Theft Points

Shell’s Nigerian unit has shut down one of two lines that carry Bonny Light crude to the export terminal in order to remove oil theft points and repair leaks, Reuters reported on Friday, quoting Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).SPDC is shutting down the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) to “remove a significant number of oil theft connections and repair any leaks on the pipeline,” Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary said, adding that it “will work with the security forces during shutdown to clear illegal connections…


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Venezuela’s National Assembly Snubs Maduro, Rips Oil Control Resolution

Julio Borges, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, ripped up a resolution on Thursday that would have allowed President Nicolas Maduro to approve oil ventures without congressional oversight. The resolution had been designed to increase foreign investment in the country’s struggling oil industry. The last 2.5 years of low oil prices have slashed government revenues, causing mass shortages of day-to-day products and medical supplies, all of which were imported using energy profits in the past. Now even gasoline is running low in…


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Shell Nigeria Shuts One Bonny Light Export Line To Repair Theft Points

Shell’s Nigerian unit has shut down one of two lines that carry Bonny Light crude to the export terminal in order to remove oil theft points and repair leaks, Reuters reported on Friday, quoting Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).SPDC is shutting down the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) to “remove a significant number of oil theft connections and repair any leaks on the pipeline,” Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary said, adding that it “will work with the security forces during shutdown to clear illegal connections…


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UK defense secretary says no future for Assad

Author: 
Reuters, AFP, AP
Sat, 2017-04-01 03:00
ID: 
1490998538418553300

LONDON/WASHINGTON: British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said Friday that the UK does not “see a long-term future in Syria for (Syrian President Bashar) Assad.”
However, the White House said that the US must accept the political reality that the future of Assad is up to the Syrian people and the US focus in the region must be on defeating Daesh militants.
“With respect to Assad, there is a political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now. We lost a lot of opportunity in the last administration with respect to Assad,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told a news briefing.
Meanwhile, the UN envoy for Syria wrapped up a fifth round of talks between opposition leaders and the government Friday, pointing to “incremental” progress while acknowledging no peace deal is foreseeable as the country enters its seventh year of war.
Negotiators from the Syrian regime and opposition traded insults, calling each other “terrorists” and “adolescents” after the eight-day round of talks. The two sides do not meet but negotiate via UN mediator Staffan de Mistura, saving their liveliest invective for the TV cameras after each meeting with him.
Opposition negotiator Nasr Al-Hariri said the “terrorist regime” of Assad had refused to discuss political transition during the talks and said Assad was a war criminal who must step down in the name of peace.
“They are solely discussing their empty rhetoric about countering terrorism,” Al-Hariri told reporters, vowing there could be “no peace without justice.”
“War crimes and crimes against humanity must not be an option for negotiations. From now, venues must be found for transitional justice to ensure holding the perpetrators accountable,” he said.
Al-Hariri said he was looking for a negotiating partner who put the interests of the Syrian people first, while his opposite number, the government’s chief negotiator, Bashar Al-Jaafari, said he only wanted to negotiate with someone “patriotic.”
Al-Jaafari mocked the opposition delegation as “adolescents” who thought they were appearing on a television talent show such as “Arab Idol” or “The Voice,” and were under the illusion that government would simply hand over the keys to the country.
“In fact they are tools, they are mercenaries in the hands of their lords, their operators, and it seems they have not received instructions from them, except instructions to continue supporting terrorism and to create havoc in these rounds.”

Main category: 
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Over 5 million: UN issues stark warning as Syrian refugee count reaches new high
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Arab leaders flock to Washington: Trump meets El-Sisi and King Abdallah next week

Author: 
JOYCE KARAM
Sat, 2017-04-01 03:00
ID: 
1490998538348552700

WASHINGTON: Following last month’s visits to Washington by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdallah are set to follow suit next week to hold official meetings with US President Donald Trump separately at the White House.
The visits, in what Arab diplomatic sources described as “an inter-regional horse race” to meet with Trump, are expected to build on decisions reached at the Arab League Summit this week in Jordan.
El-Sisi’s arrival in Washington, expected today, will mark the first of an Egyptian president to the White House since 2009.
His meeting with Trump on Monday coincides historically with the first meeting that former President Jimmy Carter held with his Egyptian counterpart Anwar Sadat on April 3, 1977.
Forty years since that meeting, a White House official described Egypt as a “traditional pillar of stability” in the Middle East. “President Trump is excited to welcome President Sisi,” the official told reporters Friday. “He wants to use President Sisi’s visit to reboot the bilateral relationship and build on the strong connection the two presidents established when they first met in New York last September.”
Chemistry between Trump and El-Sisi was visible in their New York meeting, in contrast to the body language and tense relations he had with former US President Barack Obama. El-Sisi, a former commander in chief of Egypt’s Army, was the first foreign leader to call Trump on his cell phone after his electoral victory on Nov. 9.
The White House is seeking to “improve the tone of the relationship” and “boost military and economic cooperation with Egypt,” said the US official, who praised El-Sisi’s economic reforms. While designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization was highly considered by the Trump team, and would have been welcomed by Cairo, the White House gave a noncommittal response on the issue.
“We, along with a number of countries, have some concerns about various activities that the Muslim Brotherhood has conducted in the region,” the official said. US sources told Arab News that the White House is backtracking on the designation “for legal purposes,” but “could consider other measures.”
Counterterrorism and deepening military cooperation will be high on the agenda. The US gives $1.3 billion annually in military aid to Egypt, which will continue under Trump. “We’re in the budget process right now, and those discussions are ongoing as to how it will be broken out,” the official said, prioritizing “the defeat of the terrorist threat in Sinai and improving security cooperation.”
The issues of human rights and democracy appear to have taken a back seat publicly in the Trump administration. White House statements since Trump took office emphasize security and stability. A US official said: “Our approach is to handle these types of sensitive issues in a private, more discreet way. We believe it’s the most effective way to advance those issues to a favorable outcome.”
Trump is expected to host King Abdallah on Wednesday at the Oval Office. The meeting is their first official one in the White House, and the second since last February following an informal sit-down at National Breakfast prayer in Washington.
The White House official described King Abdallah as a “key partner” for the US in the region, and drew a long list for the discussions between the two leaders. “They will discuss a range of shared priorities, the fight against Islamic State (Daesh) militants, the Syria crisis and advancing peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” said the White House.
Interim zones of stability in Syria will be raised with Jordan, said the White House official, as well as the new US position on Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said on Thursday, a position that echoes a new set of priorities in Syria for the US shared by Jordan and Egypt.
Resuming negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians will be central in Trump’s meetings with both El-Sisi and King Abdallah. Securing a regional umbrella for the talks is sought by all sides before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ visit to Washington, expected at the end of this month.

Main category: 
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‘Salt Bae’ meets Jordan’s King Abdullah, Queen Rania
King of Jordan plans White House visit
Saudi-Jordan joint statement underlines solid bilateral ties
Saudi Arabia on road to implementing customs transit system


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Trader Warns Of Week Ahead Event Risk: “If You Thought This Week Was Bad…”

It was a week when the world was supposed to come to an end, notes Bloomberg’s Richard Breslow, but then it didn’t…

 I can’t say I’m disappointed, but it sounds like a lot of people are. Curious. Equities, the dollar and bond yields were put to the test on the failure of Congress to pass new health care legislation. All three survived the challenge. The Republicans have vowed to try again.

 

 

Article 50 was triggered in the U.K. and the market, with remarkable maturity, took it with calm. It’s going to be a long, perhaps ugly slog, with a lot of noise and posturing for the foreseeable future.

 

Very soft German and European-wide inflation numbers helped further deflate any expectations of near-term ECB hawkishness. Euribor futures moved steadily higher over the course of the week. Thursday’s release of the ECB minutes from their March “hawkish” meeting takes on added interest amid comments that the market misconstrued the message.

But Breslow warns, next week’s big events include a meeting between the Chinese and American presidents. Don’t underestimate the importance of it or the market interest it will garner. And the U.S. non-farm payroll report, where yet another good set of numbers has been penciled in. Perhaps adding fuel to the upbeat and hawkish Fed speeches of this past week.

Here’s what Breslow sees as most critical next week…

  • On Monday, the Bank of Canada releases its business outlook survey. The last report portrayed investment and hiring outlook as far more bullish than the caution consistently expressed by Governor Stephen Poloz. With the currency in a very tight range, we could see a breakout in either direction depending on the results.
  • The RBA will announce its latest rate decision on Tuesday. Nothing expected from this meeting, but speculation keeps ebbing and flowing on their next move. At their last meeting there were some incrementally hawkish tweaks to the language. Their comments on labor conditions and housing prices will be key. The Australian dollar remains sneakily bid.
  • Wednesday’s FOMC minutes come amid a synchronized chorus of upbeat speeches by Fed speakers. If the minutes are hawkish, reinforcing rather than showing recent comments as evolutionary, the short-end of the Treasury curve will have to take notice.
  • ADP releases its monthly employment report. Last month it gave an accurate hint that NFP was going to be a beat. With 180k forecast, it will influence all expectations for Friday, no matter how many people claim it won’t.
  • Thursday looks like a big day. Chinese President Xi Jinping visits U.S. President Donald Trump’s southern White House. Worryingly, and sadly not unexpectedly, Trump warned that these talks could be “very difficult” Perhaps by lowering the bar sufficiently there’s a greater chance of the meeting being a success. The Chinese, for their part, refused to take the bait and have expressed optimism for a constructive exchange. It’s a big event and there are many issues up for debate. Join the rest of the world in watching this with great interest.
  • The ECB minutes from their March meeting will move the currency and bond markets. Were they hawkish? Was it all a misunderstanding? Have subsequent inflation reports rendered them dated? The release has a good chance of stirring up a fair amount of Sturm und Drang. Perhaps appropriately, as ECB President Mario Draghi will be speaking at Goethe University shortly after.
  • And then on Friday, there’s non-farm payrolls. There’s little in the economist median forecasts to suggest an expectation of some payback from last month’s strong report. Although, I’d note that the dispersion of predictions looks wider than usual. Once again, focus on wages.

Perhaps that uncertainy explains the divergence below as traders push into protection…

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