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.

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.

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 –.

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 –.

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.

The EU Bad Loan Crisis to Get Much Worse – The Solution = Financial Pandemic

The bad loan (‘non-performing loan’ (NPL)) crisis in Europe is well known and many have been calling for this issue to be addressed. In Italy, the bad loan crisis has reached 21% of GDP. While NPLs dropped to 4.8% of all loans in the EU as a whole during the first quarter of 2017, they remained well above 40% in Greece and Cyprus, at 18.5% in Portugal, and 14.8% in Italy according to the European Banking Authority.
Now comes the bureaucrats with zero experience to save the day – or is that to create a financial pandemic in the EU? The EU Commission (EUC) along with the European Central Bank (ECB), want to ensure that banks promptly sell real estate, stocks, bonds and other assets that serve to collateralize loans according to their Mid-term Review of the Capital Markets Union Action Plan. Member States are required to adopt laws that facilitate the central directive. At this time, any bank cannot just sell a property that secures a loan. The problem is, all loans, whether secured or not, are valued the same.

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

Trump Tax Cuts – The Spark That Burns Down The EU

Authored by Tom Luongo,
For most of this year I’ve been wondering what would the spark that would set off a banking panic in the European Union.
I know, but what do I do for fun, right?
I’ve chronicled the political breakdown of the EU, from Brexit to Catalonia to Germany’s bitch-slapping Angela Merkel at the ballot box. All of these things have been open rebukes of EU leadership and it’s insane neoliberal push towards the destruction of national sovereignty and identity.
And what has propped up this slow train-wreck to this point has been the world’s financial markets inherent need to believe in the relative infallibility of its central bankers.
Because without competent people operating the levers of monetary policy, this whole thing loses confidence faster than you can say, ‘Bank run.’
The confluence of these things with the big changes happening politically here at home with President Trump are creating the environment for big trend changes to begin unfolding.
And, as always, you have to look to the sovereign bond and credit markets to see what’s coming.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Thu, 12/28/2017 –.

The Christmas Truce of World War I

In August 1914, Europe’s major powers threw themselves into war with gleeful abandon. Germany, a rising power with vast aspirations, plowed across Belgium, seeking to checkmate France quickly before Russia could mobilize, thereby averting the prospect of a two-front war. Thousands of young Germans, anticipating a six-week conflict, boarded troop trains singing the optimistic refrain: ‘Ausflug nach Paris. Auf Widersehen auf dem Boulevard.’ (‘Excursion to Paris. See you again on the Boulevard.’)
The French were eager to avenge the loss of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany in 1870. The British government, leery of Germany’s growing power, mobilized hundreds of thousands of young men to ‘teach the Hun a lesson.’ Across the continent, writes British historian Simon Rees, ‘millions of servicemen, reservists and volunteers … rushed enthusiastically to the banners of war…. The atmosphere was one of holiday rather than conflict.’
Each side expected to be victorious by Christmas. But as December dawned, the antagonists found themselves mired along the Western Front – a static line of trenches running for hundreds of miles through France and Belgium. At some points along the Front, combatants were separated by less than 100 feet. Their crude redoubts were little more than large ditches scooped out of miry, whitish-gray soil. Ill-equipped for winter, soldiers slogged through brackish water that was too cold for human comfort, but too warm to freeze.
The unclaimed territory designated No Man’s Land was littered with the awful residue of war – expended ammunition and the lifeless bodies of those on whom the ammunition had been spent. The mortal remains of many slain soldiers could be found grotesquely woven into barbed wire fences. Villages and homes lay in ruins. Abandoned churches had been appropriated for use as military bases.

This post was published at Mises Canada on DECEMBER 27, 2017.

Global Stocks Rise, Copper Soars In Thin Holiday Volumes

European stocks are steady in post-Christmas trading if struggling for traction after a mixed session in Asia, amid trading thinned by a holiday-shortened week and ongoing worries about the tech sector; however a strong rally in commodities – including copper and oil – buoyed expectations for a strong 2018 and helped offset concerns over the technology sector triggered by reports of soft iPhone X demand.
U. S. equity futures nudged higher while the dollar weakened against most G-10 peers as investors await the release of U. S. consumer-confidence data, with much of the spotlight falling on commodity currencies. The OZ dollar holds onto gains as copper surges to a three-year high; oil retreats after reaching the highest close in more than two years following a pipeline explosion in Libya on Tuesday. Treasuries and core European core bond yields are a touch lower.
The Stoxx Europe 600 Index edged lower, with tech stocks hit for the third day amid rumors of weak iPhone demand and leading the decline as chipmakers slumped after analysts lowered iPhone X shipment projections, sending the Nasdaq Composite Index lower overnight. While mining and oil stocks strengthened due to a surge in copper prices to a 3.5 year high (see below), the European STOXX 600 index slipped 0.1% as European tech stocks tumbled on reports that demand for Apple’s iPhone X may be weaker than expected. The equity benchmark index is poised for an annual gain of 8.1%, the best advance in four years. Elsewhere, Volvo rose as China’s Geely bought Cevian’s stake in the truckmaker, making it Volvo AB’s largest stakeholder. IWG surged the most since 2009 after confirming it has received a a non-binding takeover offer from a consortium backed by Brookfield Asset Management and Onex.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 27, 2017.

Europe’s Runaway Train Towards Full Digitization Of Money & Labor

Authored by Peter Koenig via The Saker blog,
The other day I was in a shopping mall looking for an ATM to get some cash. There was no ATM. A week ago, there was still a branch office of a local bank – no more, gone. A Starbucks will replace the space left empty by the bank. I asked around – there will be no more cash automats in this mall – and this pattern is repeated over and over throughout Switzerland and throughout western Europe. Cash machines gradually but ever so faster disappear, not only from shopping malls, also from street corners. Will Switzerland become the first country fully running on digital money?
***
This new cashless money model is progressively but brutally introduced to the Swiss and Europeans at large – as they are not told what’s really happening behind the scene. If anything, the populace is being told that paying will become much easier. You just swipe your card – and bingo. No more signatures, no more looking for cash machines – your bank account is directly charged for whatever small or large amount you are spending. And naturally and gradually a ‘small fee’ will be introduced by the banks. And you are powerless, as a cash alternative will have been wiped out.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 26, 2017.

Where European Populism Will Be Strongest In 2018

While the establishment may breathe a sigh of relief looking back at political developments and events in Europe – which was spared some of the supposedly “worst-case scenarios” including a Marine le Pen presidency, a Merkel loss and a Geert Wilders victory – in 2017, any victory laps will have to be indefinitely postponed because as Goldman writes in its “Top of Mind” peek at 2018, Europe’s nationalist and populist tide was just resting, and as Pascal Lamy, the former Chief of Staff to the President of the European Commission admitted earlier this year, “Euroskeptic politicians are largely following the pulse of domestic sentiment. The fact is that the public is less enthusiastic about Europe than it once was.”
Echoing the sentiment by the europhile, Goldman’s Allison Nathan writes that while the Euro area’s most immediate political risks – i.e., populist or euroskeptic parties winning key elections this year – did not materialize, these movements have continued to gain traction.
In the Dutch elections in March, the far-right Party for Freedom performed worse than polls had once predicted, but still increased its share of the vote relative to the 2012 elections. It remains the second-largest party in parliament. In France, concerns about the prospect of Marine Le Pen winning the presidency gave way to optimism over Emmanuel Macron’s reform agenda; nonetheless, Le Pen posted the best-ever showing for her party in a presidential race. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU-CSU retained the largest number of seats in the Bundestag, but the far-right Alternative fr Deutschland (AfD) entered it for the first time with 13% of the vote. And elsewhere in Europe, populist parties on various parts of the political spectrum performed well enough to participate in government coalitions; indeed, an anti-establishment candidate in the Czech Republic recently became prime minister Some other observations and lessons from recent European events in the twilight days of 2017:

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 26, 2017.

Asian Stocks Slide On iPhone X Demand Fears; US Futures Flat In Thin Holiday Trading

For the second day in a row, most Asian markets – at least the ones that are open – were dragged lower by tech stocks and Apple suppliers, with the MSCI Asia Pacific Index down 0.2% led by Samsung Electronics and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing in response to the previously noted report that Apple will slash Q1 sales forecasts for iPhone X sales by 40% from 50 million to 30 million. Most Asian equity benchmarks fell except those in China. European stocks were mixed in a quiet session while U. S. equity futures are little changed as markets reopen after the Christmas holiday.
Away from Asia, stocks remained closed across the large European markets, as well as in parts of Asia including Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines and New Zealand. Japanese benchmarks slipped from the highest levels since the early 1990s, helping to pull the MSCI Asia Pacific Index down, while shares in Dubai, Qatar and Russia were among the big losers in emerging markets. S&P 500 futures were flat as those for the Dow Jones slipped. The euro edged lower with the pound – although there were no reverberations from Monday’s odd EURUSD flash crash which was only observed on Bloomberg feeds, while Reuters ignored it even if the FT did note it…

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 26, 2017.

Citi’s “What If?” Scenarios: Part 2

Yesterday we published the first set of 7 “What If” scenarios that didn’t make it into the Citi Credit team’s (already rather gloomy) year-ahead forecast. Because while Citi’s “base case” was clearly bearish (our summary can be found here), what was left unsaid was even more unsettling, if not troubling. As the bank’s credit team wrote “what about the outcomes that didn’t quite make it into our base case? The scenarios that aren’t central, but which aren’t entirely implausible either – both bullish and bearish.” Citi then listed the following 7 scenarios in the first part of its quasi-forecast:
idiosyncratic risk is returning to credit? European corporates get more aggressive? global growth & commodity prices disappoint? inflation accelerates as output gaps close? the US yield curve inverts? central bank tapering really is a non-event? the market doesn’t like the choice of ECB successor?” A full discussion of the above scenarios was posted yesterday.
Today, we follow up with part 2, or the second set of 7 hypothetical questions for 2018, which shifts away from economics and finance, and focuses on politics and Europe. As Citi’s credit team writes “you tend to worry less about your leaky roof when the sun is shining. And at the moment the cyclical economic upturn is beaming across Europe. Yet there are clouds which might conceivably hold moisture – or as our economists have put it: political risk is not dead in Europe.”

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 25, 2017.

The West Proves That Poland’s Loyalty Was Worthless

Authored by Andrew Korybko via Oriental Review,
Poland, one of the most loyal EU members, was just stabbed in the back by Brussels after the bloc initiated punitive Article 7 proceedings against it, proving that Warsaw’s unwavering loyalty to the West was worthless this entire time and thus giving Poles a reason to reconsider whether it’s time that they attempted to restore their long-lost Great Power status in Europe.
Many Poles were shocked to hear that Brussels had begun the process to sanction their country, despite knowing in the back of their minds all along that this was a very probable scenario. The EU had been warning Poland for months now that it wouldn’t tolerate the ruling Law & Justice party’s (PiS) judicial reforms, labelling them as ‘anti-democratic’ in spite of the same envisioned changes already being in place in many Western European countries. All that PiS wants to do is make it so that judges are accountable to the people, not to one another, and break the backs of the communist-era clique that still controls the country’s courts. This is crucial in the modern context because PiS follows a EuroRealist ideology that aspires to improve Poland’s sovereign standing in the EU, a vision which is directly at odds with EU-hegemon Germany’s EuroLiberalism that instead wants all member states to be subservient to an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels.
EuroRealism vs. EuroLiberalism
The matter is an urgent one for Poland because PiS’ Civic Platform (PO) predecessors stacked the courts with their allies before leaving power after the ruling party won the first-ever post-communist electoral majority in the country’s history in 2015. PO’s former leader is the current President of the European Council Donald Tusk, and he and his organization are popularly regarded as Germany’s proxies in Poland. PiS, on the other hand, is allied with Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party, with which it shares a strident belief in the conservative ideology of EuroRealism. It had long been the case that EuroLiberalism was on the ascent in Europe ever since the end of the Cold War, but the 2008 global economic recession and the 2015 Migrant Crisis sparked a grassroots movement all across Central and Eastern Europe which has seen the rapid rise of EuroRealism.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 23, 2017.

“This is Groundhog Day”: Spanish Stocks Battered By Catalan Vote, Bitcoin Crashes

Spanish stocks and the euro fell, while Spanish government bond yields hit their highest levels in over a month after Catalan secessionists delivered an unexpected blow to the government of Spanish PM Rajoy by winning the Catalan regional election. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, U. S. equity futures and the dollar rose on the last trading session before the Christmas holiday. The MSCI index of world stocks was flat.
Europe’s Stoxx 600 Index traded sideways as Spain’s Ibex 35 underperformed, dropping as much as 1.6%. Spanish stocks dominated Europe’s biggest fallers, confirming analyst expectations that any shake-out from the Catalonia vote would be mostly confined to Spain. Spain’s bonds also fell along with peripheral European government debt, though bunds were little changed after a selloff this week drove yields to five-week highs. For those who missed it, Catalan separatist parties triumphed in regional elections, outperforming some polls and reigniting Spain’s political trauma. While the Euro has stabilized since, it suffered a mini flash crash in the illiquid aftermath of the Catalan election news, momentarily dipping to $1.1817 before trimming losses to last stand at $1.1853, down 0.2 percent.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 22, 2017.

Trump Tax Reform Causing Panic in Europe & Asia

While the American press keeps pushing the class warfare along with the Democrats, outside the USA there is a major panic taking place on a grand scale. I have been called into meeting in Europe and even in Asia all deeply concerned about the loss of competition with the United States due to the Trump Tax Reform. Naturally, the American press would NEVER tell the truth how cutting the corporate tax rate will upset the powers that be around the globe.
A German study warns that its economy will be among the losers in the face of the Trump Tax Reform, which they warn will fuel the tax competition between America and Europe, but also the study leader, Christoph Spengel from the Economic Research Institute ZEW, came out and told Reuters:
‘In addition, competition between EU members for US investment will increase; Germany is the loser.’

This post was published at Armstrong Economics on Dec 22, 2017.

2018’s Number One Risk

To find the market’s biggest weakness, a good place to look is at the most crowded movie theater with the smallest exit.
European bonds.
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You’ve probably seen the charts of European high yield floating around, so I won’t reproduce it here. Yields in the low 2s for BB credits. There was also a European corporate issuer that managed to issue BBB bonds at negative yields a few weeks ago. I think that might have been the top.
No shortage of stupid things these days:
Bitcoin Litecoin Pizzacoin Canadian real estate Swedish real estate Australian real estate FANG Venture capital But European bonds are potentially the stupidest. Maybe even stupider than bitcoin!
Although there is nothing stupid about it – the ECB has been buying every bond in sight, and there’s lots of money to be made frontrunning central banks.

This post was published at Mauldin Economics on DECEMBER 21, 2017.

Are the EU’s Days Numbered?

My recent meetings in Brussels reveals some concern what happens when Merkel loses power? Schultz is calling for the complete federalization of Europe – the United States of Europe as he puts it. The power is starting to slip between their fingers and as Italy approaches its confrontation with the EU in the next elections, there too we see the Social Democratic ruling party PD is losing its support in the same manner as the SPD in Germany.
Now with only a few weeks before the expected dissolution of the Italian parliament before the new elections, the PD is already down to only a 23.4% approval rating. The Socialist agenda is losing around the world just as Hillary lost in the States as did Schultz in Germany.

This post was published at Armstrong Economics on Dec 21, 2017.