The Rise of the West

Throughout almost the entire span of human history, material privation and chronic insecurity were the norm. Not even those at the peaks of social status and political power could enjoy the creature comforts and consumer delights that “poor” people take for granted in the West today. At times, certain populations fared somewhat better – in ancient Greece and Rome, perhaps, and in China during the Sung Dynasty (960 – 1279) – but those cases were exceptional.
As late as the 14th century, the Chinese probably enjoyed the highest level of living of any large population. Recall the amazement with which Europeans greeted Marco Polo’s account of China in the latter part of the 13th century, even though, as Polo declared on his deathbed, he had not described the half of what he had seen.1
As the Middle Ages waned the Europeans began to make quicker economic progress, while the Chinese lapsed into economic stagnation. Even more remarkable, the economic energy of Europe began to shift away from the great commercial centers of northern Italy and toward the periphery of civilization in northwestern Europe. The barbarians, it seemed, had somehow stumbled onto the secret of economic progress. Henceforth, despite many setbacks, the western Europeans – and later their colonial cousins in North America as well – steadily pulled ahead of the human pack. By the 18th century they had far surpassed the Chinese, not to speak of the world’s more backward peoples, and until the late 20th century the gap continued to widen.
How did the West succeed in generating sustained economic progress? Historians and social scientists have offered various hypotheses, and so far no single explanation has gained general acceptance. Nevertheless, certain elements of an answer have received wide agreement. The growing individualism of Western culture, rooted in Christian doctrine, seems to have contributed significantly.2 In addition, the political fragmentation of the European peoples in the high Middle Ages and the early modern period – a political pluralism with hundreds of separate jurisdictions – fostered the institutional and technological experimentation by which entrepreneurs could discover how to make labor and capital more productive.

This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on 2017/12/29.

Ron Paul Warns America’s “On The Verge Of Something Like 1989’s Soviet System Collapse”

Ron Paul does not believe the U. S. will break into separate countries, like the Soviet Union did, but expects changes in the U. S. monetary policy, as well as the crumbling of the country’s “overseas empire.”
The godfather of the Tea Party movement and perhaps the most prominent right-leaning libertarian in America, Ron Paul, believes the economic boom the United States experienced under President Trump could be a ‘bit of an illusion.’
Mr. Paul sees inequality, inflation, and debt as real threats that could potentially cause a turmoil.
‘the country’s feeling a lot better, but it’s all on borrowed money’ and that ‘the whole system’s an illusion’ built on corporate, personal, and governmental debt.
‘It’s a bubble economy in many many different ways and it’s going to come unglued,’
In a recent interview with the Washington Examiner, Paul said,
‘We’re on the verge of something like what happened in ’89 when the Soviet system just collapsed. I’m just hoping our system comes apart as gracefully as the Soviet system.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Fri, 12/29/2017 –.

From Crypto To Qatar – These Were The Best & Worst Assets In 2017

2017 saw global central bank balance sheets explode almost 17% higher (in USD terms) – the biggest annual increase since 2011 – and while correlation is not causation, one can’t help but see a pattern in the chart below…
Global stocks up, Global bonds up, Global commodities up, Financial Conditions easier (despite 3 Fed rate hikes), and Dollar down (most since 2003)…
As we noted earlier, Craig James, chief economist at fund manager CommSec, told Reuters that of the 73 bourses it tracks globally, all but nine have recorded gains in local currency terms this year.
‘For the outlook, the key issue is whether the low growth rates of prices and wages will continue, thus prompting central banks to remain on the monetary policy sidelines,’ said James. ‘Globalization and technological change have been influential in keeping inflation low. In short, consumers can buy goods whenever they want and wherever they are.’
Still, the good times may not last: an State Street index that gauges investor risk appetite by what they actually buy and sell, suffered its six straight monthly fall in December, Reuters reported.
“While the broader economic outlook appears increasingly rosy, as captured by measures of consumer and business confidence, the more cautious nature of investors hints at a concern that markets may have already discounted much of the good news,’ said Michael Metcalfe, State Street’s head of global macro strategy.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Fri, 12/29/2017 –.

The Hidden-in-Plain-Sight Mechanism of the Super-Wealthy: Money-Laundering 2.0

Financial and political power are two sides of one coin.
We all know the rich are getting richer, and the super-rich are getting super-richer. This reality is illustrated in the chart of income gains, the vast majority of which have flowed to the top .01%–not the top 1%, or the top .1% — to the very tippy top of the wealth-power pyramid:
Though all sorts of reasons have been offered to explain this trend–I’ve described the mechanisms of financialization here for years–two that don’t attract much mainstream media attention are money laundering and control fraud, i.e. changing the rules of what’s legal so what was illegal yesterday is legal today–presto-magico, illegally skimmed wealth is now “legal.”
Correspondent JD recently submitted an excellent summary of the progression from Money Laundering 1.0 to Money Laundering 2.0:
Money laundering 1.0 is making dirty money legal, control fraud is manipulating the ‘legal’ options, and money laundering 2.0 is making sure that ‘legal’ fortunes are not taxed and cannot be clawed back.”
Conventional money laundering works by shifting ill-gotten gains into legitimate banks and/or assets. Ill-gotten gains can be laundered quite easily by buying homes or businesses (in the U. S., Europe, etc.) with cash. The home or enterprises can then be sold and the net is now legit.

This post was published at Charles Hugh Smith on DECEMBER 29, 2017.

Did The “Big Short” Retail CMBX Trade Pay Off In 2017?

Since the start of 2017, a number of opportunistic investors sought to profit from the expected demise of the physical retail sector, a trade which we and others dubbed the next ‘Big Short” – also known as the “Amazon crushes everyone” trade – and in which investors bought credit-default swaps against subordinate bonds in certain CMBX derivative indices that are tied to CMBS deals with healthy concentrations of loans against shopping malls and retail centers.
As CMBS advisory Trepp notes, the trade gained notoriety last February, when spreads for the BBB- and BB rated components of the indices went through a massive widening. They continued to widen at a somewhat steady clip until only recently. That alone indicates the trade, particularly if executed early, has paid off nicely.
CMBX consists of a group of indices that are each linked to a group of 25 CMBS conduit deals issued during a particular year. The indices are used as an indicator of the overall performance of the CRE market and enables investors to make bets on corresponding long and short positions.
Investors who expect deals in a specific index to incur losses can buy protection: they would pay a fixed-rate premium to a seller of protection who would bet against losses. If losses occur, the seller of protection would cover them. So, a short trade becomes most profitable when deals in an index suffer actual losses. It also becomes profitable in the event spreads widen, as they have.
Spreads Move Wider and Wider

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Fri, 12/29/2017 –.

Italian Bonds Slide As Market Realizes ECB Has Been The Only Buyer

In an otherwise calm market, Italian bonds have been sold off today, breaking away from the broader bullish sentiment amid the European bond market, with the yield on 10Y BTPs rising as much as 5bps, above 2% for the first time since October 26.
While there has been no specific catalyst, some traders are starting to factor in the potential political confusion that could result after the Italian elections due in just over 2 months. As a reminder, on March 4, voters in eurozone’s third-largest economy will head to the polls amid dwindling support for the ruling pro-EU centre-left Democratic party and rising support for the Eurosceptic opposition.
According to the FT, the likely scenarios after the vote range include a hung parliament, a grand coalition or a populist government with a much more confrontational attitude towards Brussels, including the most troubling outcome: plans to question Italy’s membership of the single currency.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Fri, 12/29/2017 –.

Two CA Professors Say Farmers’ Markets Racist For Normalizing “Habits Of White People”

Two California Professors claim that farmers markets racist “white spaces” because they promote “gentrification” in poor neighborhoods where the “habits of white people are normalized.”
This, according to a new book by San Diego State University geography professors Pascale Joassart-Marcelli and Fernando J. Bosco entitled “Just Green Enough,” an environmental anthology focusing on urban development.
‘Farmers’ markets are often white spaces where the food consumption habits of white people are normalized,’ the SDSU professors write, according to Campus Reform.
[F]armers’ markets are ‘exclusionary’ since locals may not be able to ‘afford the food and/or feel excluded from these new spaces.’

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Fri, 12/29/2017 –.

Housing Bubble 2.0: U.S. Homeowners Made $2 Trillion On Their Houses In 2017

Americans who are lucky enough to own their own little slice of the ‘American Dream’ are about $2 trillion wealthier this year courtesy of Janet Yellen’s efforts to recreate all the same asset bubbles that Alan Greenspan first blew in the early 2000’s. After surging 6.5% in 2017, the highest pace in 4 years according to Zillow data, the total market value of homes in the United States reached a staggering all-time high of $31.8 trillion at the end of 2017…or roughly 1.5x the total GDP of the United States.
If you add the value of all the homes in the United States together, you get a sum that’s a lot to get your mind around: $31.8 trillion.
How big is that? It’s more than 1.5 times the Gross Domestic Product of the United States and approaching three times that of China.
Altogether, homes in the Los Angeles metro area are worth $2.7 trillion, more than the United Kingdom’s GDP. That’s before this luxury home on steroids hits the market.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Fri, 12/29/2017 –.

FinTwit Set To Lose Some Of Its Most Prominent Voices Due To Loss Of Anonymity

(2) The last four years has been a blast, both financially and politically. While I know many of you didn’t always agree with my snarky takes on Trump, Elon, etc., I hope I at least made you consider a different, if not ancient, point-of-view.
— Diogenes (@WallStCynic) December 29, 2017

Financial twitter is set to lose some of its more prominent “anonymous” voices in just a few days. The reason: in a decision that has passed largely under the radar, beginning in 2018, the SEC will require registered investment advisors – i.e. carbon-based asset managers, hedge funders and so on, to disclose any anonymous social media accounts, on their Form ADV.
This goes back to a recently filed amendment to Form ADV, i.e., the “Umbrella Registration” for asset managers, specifically Item 1. I. as described below by K&L Gates:
Recognizing the increasing use of social media by advisers, the SEC has also amended Item 1. I. to request information regarding the registrant’s accounts on publicly available social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Previously, Item 1. I. only asked for information about an adviser’s websites. Now, the registrant must provide, in addition to its website addresses, the addresses of each of its social media pages in Section 1. I. of Schedule D. However, a registrant should not provide the addresses of websites or accounts on publicly available social media platforms where the registrant does not the control the content, nor should it provide the website and social media addresses of its employees’ accounts, regardless of whether the registrant controls the content of such accounts.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Fri, 12/29/2017 –.

The Biggest Oil Story of 2017

US oil exports boom as OPEC cuts production.
There have been plenty of eye-catching stories in the energy industry this year, but one notable development has been the rise of the U. S. as a crude oil exporter. The ban on crude exports from the U. S. was lifted at the end of 2015, and exports ticked up in the following year, but only modestly. 2017, however, was the year that the floodgates opened.
In the first half of the year, there were several weeks when the U. S. topped 1 million barrels per day (mb/d), but exports averaged about 750,000 bpd between January and June.

This post was published at Wolf Street by Nick Cunningham ‘ Dec 29, 2017.

US Dollar Has Worst Year since 2003, Defying the Fed

Where will it go from here?
Today is another down-day for the US dollar, the third in a row, capping a nasty year for the dollar, the worst since 2003. In 2017, the dollar dropped 7% against a broad basket of other currencies, as measured by the Trade Weighted Dollar Index (broad), which includes the Chinese yuan which is pegged to the US dollar. It was worse than the 5.7% drop in 2009, but not as bad the 8.5% plunge in 2003.
Here are the past four years of the dollar as depicted by the Broad Trade Weighted Dollar Index, which tracks 26 foreign currencies. The index is updated weekly, with the last update on December 26, and has not yet captured the declines of past three days:

This post was published at Wolf Street on Dec 29, 2017.

Stock Markets Hyper-Risky 2

The US stock markets enjoyed an extraordinary surge in 2017, shattering all kinds of records. This was fueled by hopes for big tax cuts soon since Republicans regained control of the US government. But such relentless rallying has catapulted complacency, euphoria, and valuations to dangerous bull-slaying extremes. This has left today’s beloved and lofty stock markets hyper-risky, with serious selloffs looming large.
History proves that stock markets are forever cyclical, no trend lasts forever. Great bulls and bears alike eventually run their courses and give up their ghosts. Sooner or later every secular trend yields to extreme sentiment peaking, then the markets inevitably reverse. Popular greed late in bulls, and fear late in bears, ultimately hits unsustainable climaxes. All near-term buyers or sellers are sucked in, killing the trend.
This mighty stock bull born way back in March 2009 has proven exceptional in countless ways. As of mid-December, the flagship S&P 500 broad-market stock index (SPX) has powered 297.6% higher over 8.8 years! Investors take this for granted, but it’s far from normal. That makes this bull the third-largest and second-longest in US stock-market history. And the superior bull specimens vividly highlight market cyclicality.
The SPX’s biggest and longest bull on record soared 417% higher between October 1990 and March 2000. After it peaked in epic bubble-grade euphoria, the SPX soon yielded to a brutal 49% bear market over the next 2.6 years. The SPX wouldn’t decisively power above those bull-topping levels until 12.9 years later in early 2013, thanks to the Fed’s unprecedented QE3 campaign! The greatest bull ended in tears.

This post was published at ZEAL LLC on December 29, 2017.

This Flu Season Begins the Risk of a Pandemic 2018-2019

A possible new pandemic is forming from a deadly strain of flu emerging from Australia and will be headed to the UK as the normal flow of travels would take it. Britain will perhaps be hit with the worst flu season in 50 years. Already, there are about 170,000 cases of flu reported in Australia which is more than double this season than usual.
The strain of flu is called H3N2, and the number of flu deaths in Australia over winter has not yet been released, but it’s thought to be the worst in many years. The last major flu epidemic was in the 1968 pandemic which began in Hong Kong killing more than a million people worldwide. Flu pandemics have been linked to fluctuations in climate, and new research connects the world’s four most recent pandemics to the cyclical cooling of the Pacific Ocean near the equator.

This post was published at Armstrong Economics on Dec 29, 2017.

New “Deep Learning” Hacking Technique Is 99.5% Effective Cracking Into Android Smart Phones

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have developed a “deep-learning” for cracking into smart phones running the Android OS which has a “99.5 percent” effective rate after only three attempts, according to a new study reported by the Daily Mail.
The method uses an algorithm to reveal a person’s passcode using the phone’s six built-in sensors, which analyzes the unique tilt of the phone and how much light is being blocked while a person enters their four-digit pin.
Co-author of the study Dr Shivam Bhasin from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) said: ‘When you hold your phone and key in the PIN, the way the phone moves when you press 1, 5, or 9, is very different.
‘Likewise, pressing 1 with your right thumb will block more light than if you pressed 9.’ –Daily Mail
Researchers developed a custom Android application which analyzes data from a phone’s accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, proximity sensor, barometer and ambient light sensor – in a method which can be used to guess all 10,000 possible combinations of four-digit PINs.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Fri, 12/29/2017 –.

Global Stocks Set To Close 2017 At All Time Highs, Best Year For The Euro Since 2003

With just a few hours left until the close of the last US trading session of 2017, and most of Asia already in the books, S&P futures are trading just shy of a new all time high as the dollar continued its decline ahead of the New Year holidays.
Indeed, markets were set to end 2017 in a party mood on Friday after a year in which a concerted pick-up in global growth boosted corporate profits and commodity prices, while benign inflation kept central banks from snatching away the monetary punch bowl. As a result, the MSCI world equity index rose another 0.15% as six straight weeks and now 13 straight months of gains left it at yet another all time high.
In total, world stocks haven’t had a down month in 2017, with the index rising 22% in the year adding almost $9 trillion in market cap for the year.
Putting the year in context, emerging markets led the charge with gains of 34%. Hong Kong surged 36%, South Korea was up 22% and India and Poland both rose 27% in local currency terms. Japan’s Nikkei and the S&P 500 are both ahead by almost 20%, while the Dow has risen by a quarter. In Europe, the German DAX gained nearly 14% though the UK FTSE lagged a little with a rise of 7 percent.
Craig James, chief economist at fund manager CommSec, told Reuters that of the 73 bourses it tracks globally, all but nine have recorded gains in local currency terms this year.
‘For the outlook, the key issue is whether the low growth rates of prices and wages will continue, thus prompting central banks to remain on the monetary policy sidelines,’ said James. ‘Globalization and technological change have been influential in keeping inflation low. In short, consumers can buy goods whenever they want and wherever they are.’

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Fri, 12/29/2017 –.

Hong Kong Ship Seized After Transferring Oil To North Korea

Just days after we showed satellite images which indicated that Chinese ships were trading oil with North Korean ships in a blatant violation of UN Security Council sanctions, South Korea said Friday that it was holding a Hong Kong flagged ship suspected of doing just that.
The Lighthouse Winmore is believed to have “secretly transferred” about 600 tons of refined petroleum products to the North Korean ship, the Sam Jong 2, in international waters in the East China Sea on Oct. 19, according to Bloomberg and the Associated Press.

The Hong Kong vessel had previously visited Yeosu port on Oct. 11 to load up on Japanese oil products and departed the port while claiming its destination was Taiwan. Instead, it transferred the oil to the Sam Jong 2 and three other non-North Korean vessels in international waters

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Fri, 12/29/2017 –.

Daily Trades for December 29, 2017

The selection algo generated 9 potential longs and 4 shorts on Thursday. I have chosen 2 longs and no shorts to be added the list. After trades closed out, there will now be 16 open longs and 5 open shorts.
Here is today’s updated list including new buys, sells, short sales, cover shorts, and updated stops, as well as performance metrics for this month.
Market Update Pro subscribers click here to download the report.

This post was published at Wall Street Examiner on December 29, 2017.

MIFiD II Delays…

Talk amongst many traders is that they are so unsure how the new rules and regulations surrounding the implementation of MIFiD II (Markets in Financial Instruments Directive) are to be imposed, that some even said they were keen to extend their holidays until this mess is sorted out. In other words, until they hear that regulators will grant firms a six-month delay for part of the changes about to be implemented for both the company and country, many just do not even know how to conduct business anymore.
The most critical problem surrounding this nightmare is the fact that every trade (with a European Counterpart) will require a LEI (Legal Entity Identifier). This is not such a critical issue for Wall Street Banks since they have already won a 30-month grace period after the SEC requested time to negotiate terms with the EU. Goldman Sachs has installed another of its board members as the top negotiator inside the SEC – Alan Cohen. Goldman Sachs has now three strategic people in the Trump Administration to steer the legislation in their favor both in the USA with restoring Glass Steagall to reduce their competition (Gary Cohen & Steven Mnuchin) and they have now added Alan Cohen, who was their Head of Global Compliance.

This post was published at Armstrong Economics on Dec 29, 2017.