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7th Round Of US-China Trade Talks Begins Tuesday In Washington

7th Round Of US-China Trade Talks Begins Tuesday In Washington

With the US's deadline for increasing tariffs on $200 billion of imported Chinese goods swiftly approaching, a Chinese delegation has arrived in the US to begin another round of trade talks on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

What will be, by the FT's count, the seventh round of talks since the trade tensions between the two countries first exploded into tit-for-tat tariffs nearly a year ago, will take place in Washington DC. Just like last week's talks in Beijing, lower-level trade officials will begin preliminary talks on Tuesday, while the top trade officials will meet beginning on Thursday.

Americans

The talks follow a round of negotiations that ended in Beijing last week without a deal but which officials said had generated progress on contentious issues between the world's two largest economies.

China Vice Premier Liu He will arrive in Washington for trade talks on Feb. 21 and 22. Higher level talks by US Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer will begin on Thursday. It's believed that the talks will focus on the "structural changes" to China's economy, which have become a key area of contention for the two sides, while China's pledge to buy a substantial amount of goods from the US will also be in focus.

The White House said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, economic adviser Larry Kudlow and trade adviser Peter Navarro would also participate in the talks. Trump, who hinted last week that the deadline could be extended, said that the talks had been fruitful.

"We're making a lot of progress. Nobody expected this was going to be happening," Trump said.

If the talks fail, or the Trump administration refuses to extend the deadline, tariffs on a large swath of Chinese goods will rise from 10% to 25%. As of last week, the two sides were said to be close to a "memorandum of understanding" that would serve as a broad framework for a deal, but conflicting reports have proliferated.

"Sea Of Red" As Global Rally Reverses; Banks Drag Europe Lower

"Sea Of Red" As Global Rally Reverses; Banks Drag Europe Lower

While the US was closed for President's Day holiday, the European rally sputtered on Monday ignoring a renewed surge higher in Chinese stocks following a record credit injection, and on Tuesday a "sea of red" in global markets has returned, as US equity futures slumped dragged lower by European banks following a mixed session in Asia as investors appear unable to go for even one day without fresh "hope" on US-China trade talks, while the dollar climbed, snapping a three-day decline, and Treasuries edged up before U.S.-China trade talks resume in Washington.

Global markets were struggling for direction after a slow start to the week and with a fresh round of Sino-U.S. trade talks, this time in Washington, being held later, as stocks traders were largely happy to keep their powder dry.

Europe's Stoxx 600 retreated after two days of gains, led lower by banks following disappointing earnings from HSBC Holdings, while weak macro data has sent increasingly dovish signals from the region’s central bank. HSBC - Europe’s biggest bank - saw its shares tumble as it missed forecasts due to slowing growth in its two home markets of China and Britain. HSBC’s U.K. shares follow their Hong Kong peers lower after worse-than-expected results, with the stock sliding as much as 4.6% and the biggest decliner on the FTSE 100 Index. The Stoxx 600 Banks index down as much as 1.7%, with banks the worst performing industry group on Tuesday.

The results spoke to a wider problem for European banks, which are struggling to return to growth after a decade of post-crisis restructuring due to a worsening global economic outlook.

In addition to poor earnings from Europe's largest bank, the sector is facing is facing additional headwinds due to receding hopes for any quick interest-rate rise after ECB chief economist Peter Praet said officials could push back plans to raise rates as a first response against a deeper downturn

Automakers were also under pressure as the European Union vowed prompt retaliation if the U.S. imposes tariffs on imported vehicles.

Earlier in the session, Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda unexpectedly told parliament the central bank would consider extra monetary easing if required, helping lift the Topix index and send the yen lower, even as shares in China were little changed as equities in Hong Kong dropped after Monday's blockbuster gains. Japan’s Nikkei nudged up 0.1 percent after holding flat for most of the day.  Australian shares climbed 0.3 percent to a 4-1/2 month peak, after gaining over 8 percent so far this year, partly on expectations the central bank could ease policy to temper pressure on growth. Chinese shares slipped into the red though after surging in the previous session, with the blue-chip index off 0.2 percent.

China Vice Premier Liu He will visit Washington for trade talks on February 21st-22nd, while there were comments from White House Press Secretary Sanders that trade meetings with China in Washington D.C. will begin today and that higher-level talks which will be led by USTR Lighthizer are to begin on Thursday. Furthermore, trade talks are said to focus on needed structural changes in China which impact trade, as well as China's pledge to buy a substantial amount of goods and services from the US.

Despite today's muted action, Chinese shares have risen rapidly so far this month, with MSCI’s China A shares index up 6.5%, by far the best performance among major markets despite China’s weakening economy. Additionally, investors are now seen returning to riskier asset markets after the U.S. Federal Reserve signalled earlier this year it could halt rate hikes in light of U.S. economic softness.

“In the last week, it seems like global central banks have started a possible process of monetary easing,” Bank of America-Merrill Lynch strategist Ajay Singh Kapur said in a note. “If so, this would be very positive for Asia/EM stocks,” Kapur said.

Across the Pacific, contracts on the Nasdaq, Dow and S&P 500 edged lower as traders kick their heels before the next round of trade talks between America and China. Italian bonds fell while most European notes climbed.

With earnings season coming to an end, the latest minutes from the FOMC and ECB due this week and U.S. President Donald Trump weighing an extension of the deadline for a trade deal with China, investors have plenty to digest. Uncertainty over the outlook for global growth hangs over everything, and traders will be hoping for some good news from the world’s two largest economies when talks resume in Washington on Tuesday.

“There is a recession coming,” Steen Jakobsen, the chief economist at Saxo Bank said in an interview on Bloomberg Television with Anna Edwards. He reckons markets are too optimistic on a trade deal between the U.S. and China. “There will by some Pyrrhic victory for the two sides to claim and extend the timeline, but in terms of material impact, no,” he said.

Overnight, President Trump said US is seeking a peaceful transition of power in Venezuela but added that all options are open.

EU Commission President Juncker said Trump gave his word there wouldn't be tariffs on European cars for the time being; if Trump breaks the promise, EU will break its promise to buy more soy and LNG; according to Stuttgarter Zeitung. European Commission President Juncker says if UK requested extension of talks, no one in Europe would oppose it; adds he has no timeframe for length of extension.

In FX, the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index climbed, snapping a three-day decline, and Treasuries edged up before U.S.-China trade talks resume in Washington. The euro broke a tight range and dropped as much as 0.3% to 1.1276 after more talk of ultra-cheap ECB bank loans, as the Bloomberg dollar index index climbed to fresh day high. The Australian dollar swung to a loss after the nation’s central bank reaffirmed mounting concerns over consumer spending.

The pound followed suit as Margaritis Schinas, a spokesman for the European Commission, said the EU won’t reopen the U.K.’s withdrawal agreement and won’t accept a time limit on the Irish border backstop despite a report that showed U.K. wages were growing at their fastest pace in a decade. The yen had slipped to 110.70 per dollar after Japan’s central bank governor had said it could redeploy stimulus if the yen’s relative strength this year hurt the economy and inflation prospects.

“Stokkie (dollar vs Swedish crown) is off to the races,” said TD Securities’ head of global research, Richard Kelly. “You had especially weak inflation and as you see (from the yen and euro) it comes against this backdrop of central banks becoming more dovish again,” although he also said that bond markets has seen far less reaction to the Swedish data.

In commodities, oil prices were mixed, with Brent futures off 29 cents at $66.21, although that was not far from Monday’s $66.83 which was the highest since mid-November. U.S. crude futures added 21 cents to $55.8. The precious metals market was more animated, with palladium surging to a record high of $1,471.0 per ounce as stricter emissions standards are seen increasing demand for the auto catalyst metal. Gold held around $1,323.66 per ounce after earlier rising to a near 10-month high of $1,327.64 too.

Expected data include NAHB Housing Market Index. Ecolab and Walmart are among companies reporting earnings.

Market Snapshot

  • S&P 500 futures down 0.2% to 2,772.50
  • STOXX Europe 600 down 0.4% to 368.32
  • MXAP down 0.1% to 157.11
  • MXAPJ down 0.3% to 512.60
  • Nikkei up 0.1% to 21,302.65
  • Topix up 0.3% to 1,606.52
  • Hang Seng Index down 0.4% to 28,228.13
  • Shanghai Composite up 0.05% to 2,755.65
  • Sensex down 0.3% to 35,394.88
  • Australia S&P/ASX 200 up 0.3% to 6,106.88
  • Kospi down 0.2% to 2,205.63
  • German 10Y yield fell 1.9 bps to 0.091%
  • Euro down 0.03% to $1.1308
  • Italian 10Y yield fell 3.2 bps to 2.407%
  • Spanish 10Y yield fell 1.5 bps to 1.212%
  • Brent futures down 0.4% to $66.26/bbl
  • Gold spot up 0.2% to $1,329.52
  • U.S. Dollar Index little changed at 96.90

Top Overnight News

  • U.K. and European officials are working on a new legal text for the most contentious part of the Brexit deal, but time is running out for Prime Minister Theresa May to persuade a fracturing Parliament to unite behind her plan
  • Italy’s bonds are enjoying a period of relative calm while Spanish politics hogs peripheral euro-area headlines. But the market’s sense of stability looks increasingly fragile as risks mount with the economy in recession, a widening budget deficit and the threat of a rating downgrade
  • The European Central Bank’s chief economist added to the chorus of policy makers signaling concern on the economic slowdown, saying officials could push back plans to raise interest rates as a first response against a deeper downturn
  • Chinese and U.S. trade negotiators will start the next round of talks this week in Washington, after discussions in Beijing last week that President Donald Trump called "very productive."

Asian stocks were mixed as the region struggled for firm direction following yesterday’s rally and after a non-existent lead from the US which was shut for President’s Day. ASX 200 (+0.3%) was positive with the index led higher by outperformance in the tech and financials sectors, although consumer staples and healthcare were on the other end of the spectrum amid losses in Coles and Blackmores due to weak earnings. Elsewhere, Nikkei 225 (+0.1%) just about remained afloat with price action largely reflecting jittery trade in the domestic currency, while Hang Seng (-0.4%) and Shanghai Comp. (U/C) were indecisive as focus remained on US-China trade discussions which will resume today before the higher level talks on Thursday, and with some disappointment from a miss on HSBC earnings. Finally, 10yr JGBs were initially softer amid a pullback from the prior day’s gains and with demand suppressed by the mild upside across stocks, although prices later recovered after firmer results at the 20yr JGB auction. China Vice Premier Liu He will visit Washington for trade talks on February 21st-22nd, while there were comments from White House Press Secretary Sanders that trade meetings with China in Washington D.C. will begin today and that higher-level talks which will be led by USTR Lighthizer are to begin on Thursday. Furthermore, trade talks are said to focus on needed structural changes in China which impact trade, as well as China's pledge to buy a substantial amount of goods and services from the US

Top Asian News

  • PBOC Rate Cut Bets Have China Analysts Asking ‘Which Rate?’
  • Kaisa Group Dollar Bonds Rally to Highest Level in Nine Months

Major European indices are mostly lower after trading choppily this morning, taking the lead from a directionless Asia session [Euro Stoxx 50 -0.6%]. The FTSE 100 (-0.6%) is weighed on by poor performance in HSBC (-4.0%) following their earnings; the Dax (-0.2%) is outperforming its peers bolstered by Wirecard (+4.5%) and Heidelberg Cement (+3.4%) following Bafin prohibiting new/extending shorts yesterday and a Q4 revenue beat respectively. Sectors are broadly in the red, with some underperformance in banking names, weighed on by the aforementioned HSBC who carry around a 2% Stoxx 600 weighting; and are the largest banking component. Other notable movers include, Danone (-0.7%) who are in the red in-spite of a beat on their sales, with some analysts highlighting weaker than expected margins. Automakers, such as Volkswagen (-0.9%) and Daimler (-1.0%) are in negative territory after EU Commission President Juncker stating that US President Trump gave his word that there wouldn’t be tariffs on European cars for the time being; alongside the EU agreeing to cut new truck CO2 emission levels by 30% before 2030.

Top European News

  • U.K. Wage Growth Fastest Since 2008 Amid Labor Shortages
  • VW Wins Appeal in German Suit Over Diesel Emissions Scanda
  • Danske Bank Watchdogs Get Drawn Deeper Into European Probe
  • Sweden’s Krona Slumps Most in Eight Months After Inflation Slows
  • Siemens, Fortum Join Europe’s Jumbo Corporate Bond-Deal Dash

In FX, the Swedish Crown has slumped in wake of much softer than expected inflation data, and a slump in housing starts that together raise valid question marks over the Riksbank’s relatively confident outlook on the domestic economy and CPI/CPIF remaining close to target. On that note, Governor Ingves is due to speak later today and will get a chance to comment, as Eur/Sek spikes from sub-10.5000 through several chart resistance levels and only a whisker away from offers said to be lined up at 10.6000.

  • AUD/NZD - Very volatile trade overnight on the back of latest RBA minutes that initially underpinned the Aud on confirmation of no likelihood of a change in policy rates for some time (so no ease in the offing), but then underlined the shift to a more neutral stance and highlighted significant risks to the economic outlook. Aud/Usd retreated swiftly in response and is currently holding just above 0.7100, while the Kiwi has been dragged down in sympathy as the cross remains just above 1.0400, with Nzd/Usd hovering around 0.6825 vs just a few pips short of 0.6900 on Monday.
  • JPY/CAD - The next worst G10 performers, as Usd/Jpy grinds back up into a higher range and closer to 111.00 again amidst dovish rhetoric if not firm or official guidance from BoJ Governor Kuroda (mulling more accommodation if Jpy strength weighs on growth and hampers efforts to achieve the 2% inflation target, which has already proved extremely elusive of course). The headline pair is now probing 110.80, but could be held back by decent option expiry interest at 110.60 (1 bn). Meanwhile, the Loonie remains anchored around 1.3250 vs its US counterpart, eyeing crude to see whether prices push further ahead or consolidate around 2019 peaks.
  • GBP/EUR/CHF - All narrowly mixed and pretty flat vs the Dollar that has edged up from yesterday’s lows (DXY close to 97.000 at one stage), with Cable maintaining 1.2900+ status, albeit just, awaiting more Brexit developments/headlines following a solid if not quite as upbeat as forecast UK labour market report. Similarly, the single currency is clinging to 1.1300 and showing resilience in the face of yet more dire Italian data, perhaps drawing a degree of encouragement from a more mixed ZEW survey, while the Franc is still chipping away at recent losses and inching through 1.0050 after a wider Swiss trade surplus.
  • EM - More depreciation for the likes of the Rand and Lira, but the pressure and spotlight may switch somewhat to the Real later given political jitters due to the dismissal of a key aide to President Bolsonaro and potential adverse repercussions for pension reform. For reference, Usd/Brl settled around 3.7330 on Monday.

In commodities, the energy complex is ultimately flat-to-lower on the day thus far, with WTI (+1.0%) little changed net-net after missing a price settlement yesterday due to the President’s Day holiday over in the States. The holiday has also delayed the release of the API weekly inventory release by a day. In terms of macro themes for the complex, eyes remain on whether the OPEC-led supply curbs will ultimately ease glut concerns against the backdrop of 5 consecutive weeks of record-high US crude output. Furthermore, sources stated today that Saudi are mulling diminishing exports of Arab extra-light crude to the Asia region from March. The sourc es added that the move has improved demand in Abu-Dhabi’s Murban and Das in Asia’s spot market. Elsewhere, spot gold (+0.2%) is on the front foot and hovers near 10-month highs despite a rise in the USD as demand for the yellow metal grows ahead of the widely-anticipated dovish FOMC minutes tomorrow. Meanwhile, Shanghai aluminium fell following Malaysia announcing it will not extend a prohibition on mining bauxite when it expires on March 31st, with some noting it’ll potentially reduce costs in the aluminium supply chain for China.

US Event Calendar

  • 8:50am: Fed’s Mester Speaks on Economic Outlook and Monetary Policy
  • 10am: NAHB Housing Market Index, est. 59, prior 58

DB's Jim Reid concludes the overnight wrap

With US markets shut, it’s been a predictably quiet last 24 hours. One of the few talking points yesterday though was the differing views on whether or not the US government would be forced to make public the results of the S232 report on the investigation of the national security risk posed by imported cars. There appears to be differing opinions on if the government has to make the findings public with some confusion around the legal language. With US markets open again today though, if the government is forced to make the findings public then in theory we would find out today, although Axios did quote a source yesterday as saying that "the White House was in favour of keeping the findings private so that Trump could have it in his back pocket as a threat". So it remains up in the air.

In any case Trump had 90 days from receiving the report to decide on whether or not to take further action. His Twitter account has so far remained dormant on the subject too which is perhaps a positive sign right now insofar as not wanting to raise tensions across the pond. The only comment we’ve heard from the European Commission was Juncker saying in an interview with Germany’s Stuttgarter Nachrichten that “Trump gave me his word that there won’t be car tariffs for the time being” and that “I regard this promise as reliable”. He also said that “should he break his word we won’t feel bound to our promise either to buy more US soy and liquid gas”. We’ve heard a similar comment from Japan’s economy minister Motegi, who said that the US won’t apply higher tariffs on imports of Japanese cars and auto parts so long as negotiations toward a trade deal continue. One to watch.

Speaking of tariffs and trade, White House Spokeswoman Sanders said overnight that the US-China trade negotiations are set to begin today while, China’s Commerce Ministry released a statement saying that China’s Vice Premier Liu He will travel to DC on February 21-22 for meetings with Lighthizer and Mnuchin. In the meantime, Steve Censky, the US Department of Agriculture’s deputy secretary, said yesterday that talks are picking up pace ahead of the March 1 deadline, "but we still have ways to go."

As for markets, well bourses in Asia have been a bit directionless overnight with the Nikkei (+0.21%) up while the Hang Seng (-0.36%), Shanghai Comp (-0.21%) and Kospi (-0.13%) are down having erased earlier gains. Elsewhere, futures on the S&P 500 (-0.01%) are trading flat. Meanwhile there’s been some focus on the BoJ where Governor Kuroda sounded a touch dovish in his address to parliament, saying that the BoJ will consider extra easing to hit price targets if needed while adding that additional easing could also be considered due to moves in the Japanese yen if they impact economy and prices. However, he added that all decisions will be taken after carefully examining policy benefits and costs. JGBs have rallied a bit after the comments, and are now trading at -0.035%. The Yen is back to flat after trading a bit stronger in the early going.

Those moves follow a low-volume inspired but mildly positive day for risk assets in Europe yesterday. The STOXX 600 initially spent an hour or so in the morning trading in and out of the red but eventually closed up +0.23% for its fifth daily gain in the last six days. That also means that the index is now up +9.52% for 2019 so far which is the best start to a year since 2015 and in fact the fifth best – out of 33 - since the index started back in 1987. As for other markets yesterday, the DAX (-0.01%) lagged a bit further behind however European Banks (+0.91%) continue to reap the rewards from Friday’s TLTRO comments. That’s now +5.25% from the Friday morning lows for the index while Greek Banks were up +6.20% yesterday and the most since early December after Greece’s government submitted a plan to the Commission to speed up bad-loan disposals.

There was also a marginal outperformance for the FTSE MIB (+0.58%) and IBEX (+0.35%) while the same was true in bond markets where 10y BTPs closed 3.1bps lower and Bunds 0.7bps higher – with little follow through from the ECB Governing Council member Villeory’s comments about a “significant” slowdown of the European economy. That puts the spread between the two at 266bps and the lowest in two weeks. Post Villeroy’s comments we also heard from Praet who added that “if the Euro Area economy were to slow more sharply, we could adapt our forward guidance on interest rates and this could be complemented by other measures”. Praet also called TLTROs a “very useful tool” in the past.

Elsewhere in markets, HY credit spreads finished 4.4bps tighter in Europe which now makes them 65bps tight from the January wides. Speaking of credit, yesterday we published a short note looking at trends around liquidity premiums in the EUR and USD HY markets. See this link for the full report.

In other news, here in the UK it was a better day for Sterling (+0.27%). That seemed to partly reflect the Times article suggesting that progress was being made on legally binding assurances on the Irish backstop, albeit one that was light on specifics. Less relevant but nonetheless headline grabbing all the same was the announcement of 7 MP resignations from the Labour party yesterday. The resignations are unlikely to have much of a read-through from a Brexit perspective however there is the possibility for wider ramifications insofar as it may reduce Corbyn’s chances of receiving a majority at the next general election.

Before we wrap up, a quick mention that yesterday we published a report that forecasts CAPE valuations for US and European stock markets. CAPE is set to drop significantly this year as 2009’s terrible earnings roll-off, however, several factors are coalescing that could pull down earnings from their historically-high levels. That means CAPE may not fall as much as the market expects. See the report here .

To the day ahead now, which this morning kicks off here in the UK with December and January employment stats due out. The consensus expects a small one-tenth of a percent pick up in earnings to +3.4% while the unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 4.0%. Shortly after that we get December construction output data for the Euro Area before the February ZEW survey is due in Germany. In the US, the only data due out this afternoon is the February NAHB housing market index reading. Away from that we’ve got the first Fed speaker of the week when Mester speaks this afternoon on the economic outlook and monetary policy. The ECB’s Guindos and Praet are also due to speak at separate events today while the EU general affairs council gathers to discuss the 2019 budget and March summit agenda.

 

"He's Back" - Bernie Sanders Officially Enters 2020 Race 

Following a litany reports teased an imminent announcement, only to be denied by his staff, Bernie Sanders has finally officially thrown his hat into the ring, officially acknowledging his plan to seek the 2020 Democratic nomination during an interview Tuesday with Vermont Public Radio.

Sanders

Unlike his last sparsely-attended campaign announcement in 2015, which attracted a few idle jokes from the Daily Show's John Stewart about Sanders' resemblance to Seinfeld co-creator Larry David...

...Sanders enters the 2020 race as one of the front-runners, placing near the top of most polls along side Vice President Joe Biden. Though he has refused to refused to officially join the Democratic Party, many of the positions that he has advocated - including Medicare for All and a $15 minimum wage - have been endorsed by many of his campaign rivals.

Though Sanders has seen his profile rise from relative unknown to one of the leading lights of the party's revitalized "socialist" faction over the past few years, he delivered his announcement during an interview to a local public radio station in Vermont.

"I wanted to let the people of the state of Vermont know about this first," Sanders told VPR's Bob Kinzel. "And what I promise to do is, as I go around the country, is to take the values that all of us in Vermont are proud of — a belief in justice, in community, in grassroots politics, in town meetings — that's what I'm going to carry all over this country."

Sanders said he's running because he opposes Donald Trump, whom he called "an embarrassment", a "homophobe" and a "racist."

"I think the current occupant of the White House is an embarrassment to our country," Sanders said. "I think he is a pathological liar... I also think he is a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe, somebody who is gaining cheap political points by trying to pick on minorities, often undocumented immigrants."

Sanders said his campaign hopes to enlist one million people in a "grassroots movement of people prepared to stand up and fight."
Sanders acknowledged he will encounter a "very different campaign," than in 2016, when he emerged as the sole serious challenger to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and won 23 primaries and caucuses.

He's also announcing as a scandal over allegations of sexism during his 2016 campaign loom over the senator and his presidential ambitions. Now that he has officially announced, Bernie has become the sixth Senator to declare his intention to run.

Hope Is A Dangerous Thing For This Market To Have

Hope Is A Dangerous Thing For This Market To Have

Authored by Bloomberg's Justina Lee

What explains the resilience of Europe’s equity recovery this year despite worsening economic data and political wobbles?

The obvious candidates are the excessive sell-off in late 2018, an ECB that’s likely to stay loose for longer and optimism over U.S.-China trade talks. But when the Stoxx Europe 600 is at the highest since October, just a trade platitude away from its 200- day moving average, you’ve got to wonder how much support you can still count on from those three factors.

Let’s start with trade. Trump received a report on whether imported cars could pose a national security threat on Sunday, once again raising the specter of higher U.S. auto tariffs. That should at least be a drizzle on the parade of positive comments on ongoing U.S.-China trade talks. Markets have been cheering every ostensible sign of a compromise that would at least delay the threatened increase in American levies on Chinese goods. But how much higher can stocks go on this basis, when a grand bargain covering thornier issues such as intellectual property remains unlikely?

“It’s going to be a can that’s going to be kicked further down the line and an avoidance of short-term escalation, which will probably lead to a sigh of relief in the markets, but it won’t go away,” says Dirk Thiels, head of investment management at KBC Asset Management NV in Brussels.

Meanwhile, with the Stoxx 600’s forward price-to- earnings ratio up 13 percent from its trough, the bar should be raised for good news. As results estimates get cut, forward valuations will also end up being dearer than they look now.

In this lens, European cyclicals’ year-to-date rally is a head- scratcher. Economic momentum in the region has deteriorated -- just look at bond yields and listen to ECB officials -- but here the debate is on China and valuations. The new year has seen a rebound in Chinese risk assets and expectations are for growth to improve after stronger stimulus measures. But more evidence is needed.

Some strategists argue that at least parts of cyclical sectors are so cheap that they’re bargains regardless of how macro data do. Bernstein analysts count industries including autos, mining and construction materials as “cheap cyclicals,” while “expensive cyclicals” are luxury and capital equipment. Morgan Stanley has its “cyclical cyclicals” and “defensive cyclicals.” If you have to be hopeful, be careful.

Euro Stoxx 50 is down -0.5%

Ukraine Embeds "Irreversible" Commitment To Join EU/NATO Into Its Constitution

Ukraine Embeds "Irreversible" Commitment To Join EU/NATO Into Its Constitution

Authored by Manilo Dinucci via Off-Guardian.org,

The day after the signature of NATO’s membership protocol with North Macedonia as its 30th member, Ukraine did something without precedent: it included in its Constitution the engagement to enter officially into NATO and the European Union at the same time.

On 7 February, on a proposition by President Petro Poroshenko – the oligarch who made himself rich by plundering public properties, and who is once again a candidate for the presidency – the Kiev parliament, by 34 votes to 35 with 16 abstentions, approved these amendments to the Constitution.

The Introduction pronounces “the irreversible movement of Ukraine towards Euro-Atlantic integration”; articles 85 and 116 state that it is a fundamental duty of the parliament and the government to “obtain Ukraine’s full membership of NATO and the EU”; article 102 stipulates that “the President of Ukraine is the guarantor of the strategic decisions of the State aimed at obtaining full membership of NATO and the EU”.

The inclusion in the Ukrainian Constitution of the engagement to enter officially into NATO bears with it some very serious consequences.

On the interior, it alienates the future of Ukraine from this choice, by excluding any alternative, and outlaws de facto any party or person who might oppose the “strategic decisions of the state”. Already, the Central Electoral Commission has forbidden Petro Simonenko, director of the Ukrainian Communist Party, to participate in the Presidential elections to be held in March.

The merit for having introduced into the Ukrainian Constitution the engagement to enter officially into NATO goes in particular to Parliamentary President Andriy Parubiy. Co-founder in 1991 of the Ukrainian National-Socialist Party, on the model of Adolf Hitler’s National-Socialist Party; head of the neo-Nazi paramilitary formations which were used in 2014 during the putsch of Place Maïdan under US/NATO command, and in the massacre of Odessa; head of the Ukraine National Security and Defense Council, which, with the Azov Battalion and other neo-Nazi units, attacked Ukrainian civilians of Russian nationality in the Eastern part of the country and used his squadrons for acts of ferocious abuse, the plunder of political headquarters and other auto-da-fés in a truly Nazi style.

On the international level, we should keep in mind that Ukraine is already linked to NATO, of which it is a partner: for example, the Azov Battalion, whose Nazi character is represented by the emblem copied from that of the SS unit Das Reich, has been transformed into a special operations regiment, equipped with armoured vehicles and trained by US instructors from the 173rd Airborne Division, transferred to Ukraine from Vicence, and seconded by other NATO members.

Since Russia has been accused by NATO of having illegally annexed Crimea, and of launching military operations against Kiev, should Ukraine officially join NATO, the 30 other members of the Alliance, on the basis of article 5, would be obliged to “assist the party or parties under attack by adopting immediately, individually and in agreement with the other parties, any action that it should deem necessary, including the use of armed force”.

In other words, they would have to go to war with Russia.

These dangerous implications of the modification of the Ukrainian Constitution – behind which are most certainly strategies by the USA and NATO – have been met with political and media silence. Including that of the Italian parliament, which, in 2017 established an agreement with the Ukrainian parliament, supported by Laura Boldrini and Andriy Parubiy. Thus cooperation has been reinforced between the Italian Republic, born of resistance against fascism and Nazism, and a régime which has created in Ukraine a situation similar to that which brought about the arrival of fascism in the 1920’s and Nazism in the 1930’s.

Kalashnikov Unveils Kamikaze Drone At IDEX-2019

Russian assault and sniper rifle manufacturer Kalashnikov Group, a Rostec subsidiary, has unveiled a new high-precision suicide drone, called the KYB UAV, on Sunday at the IDEX-2019 arms exhibition in the United Arab Emirates.

The new drone is equipped with GPS, allows it to precisely hits ground targets, delivering a small warhead to target coordinates.

"This is a very accurate and most effective weapon, which is very difficult to fight with using traditional air defense systems, said Sergey Chemezov, head of Rostec.

“The explosive can be delivered to target regardless of how well hidden it is. It operates ‘regardless of hidden terrains, at both high and low altitude,” he added.

According to the presentation shown at the Kalashnikov booth, the KYB drone can travel at speeds of 50-80 miles per hour, with a 6.6-pound warhead and flight duration of up to 30 minutes.

A video shows the takeoff, flight, and destruction of the target with a KUB-BLA, a slight variant of the KYB

“The drone was successfully tested and ready to go,” Rostec representatives told TASS during IDEX-2019.

Russia also claimed that is has started shipping Kalashnikov AK103, a third generation assault rifle, to Saudi Arabia under an arms deal signed between the two countries in 2017.

In the drone age, both US and Russia should fear the global proliferation of weaponized UAVs. More importantly, Russia strapping a small warhead to a drone that looks like it can be purchased on Amazon, suggests that small, weaponized drones on the modern battlefield will be the most feared military hardware in the next major conflict.

Labour Splitters: Getting The Bland Back Together

Labour Splitters: Getting The Bland Back Together

Authored by Kit Knightly via Off-Guardian.org,

A damp squib of a press conference displays a group struggling for charisma, coherence and identity...

As of yesterday morning, seven MPs have officially resigned the whip and quit the Labour Party. They are now “independent”, apparently. Their names, if you don’t know already: Chris Leslie, Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith…and the other two.

It doesn’t really matter, to quote David Lindsay on Twitter:

And so our 7 brave little soldiers head off into the unknown. The Seven Samurai. Ronin, the Japanese might say. Warriors without masters, if you’re in the mood to be flatteringly poetic.

Chickens without heads if you’re being a little more honest.

It’s not gone terribly well so far.

For one thing, the announcement was NOT of the long-awaited [name-to-be-announced] party. There is no party. They have no policies except Brexit is bad and no ideology except Corbyn is worse. There is no leader. No manifesto. No direction.

They are the “independent group”, that is all. A not-at-all catchy name for a sordid collection of also-rans and never-weres. A line up that looks more like a staff photo for a struggling comprehensive than a political party. Or the roster of one of those dodgy personal injury law firms that are always advertising on daytime TV.

(Just imagine Mike Gapes walking at 45 degrees to the camera and asking “Have you or someone you know been injured in an accident at work?”)

They are the smattering of New Labour who don’t realise they got old, and aren’t so much moving away as being left behind. Refusing to flow with the current, and slumping heavily down to the riverbed, to be buried in silt and fossilised.

Who knows, in ten thousand years they might be worth something. Historical curiosities. Archaeologists, yet born, will be poring over old documents and asking “Yes yes…but who IS Chris Leslie…and what did he do?” without realising that everyone was asking that while he was alive too.

The strangest aspect of this is the lack of unity on their part. They are not a party, they are barely a group. They all seem to be leaving for different reasons. Mike Gapes likes war and wants more of it. Chuka wants other people to edit his Wikipedia page for him this time. Luciana Berger wants to do whatever she wants and scream “antisemite!” at anyone who tries to stop her. Angela Smith wants to stop Brexit and run a campaign on the line “Vote for Labour because we won’t win”.

This announcement, of course, has been expected for a while now. The “new centrist party” has been the subject of frenzied negotiation behind the scenes for weeks…now we know they decided on literally nothing and held a press conference anyway.

They aren’t so much a group of comrades storming out as a united front, but rather a bunch of near-strangers who all happen to be leaving the staff Christmas party at the same time and are forced to walk down to the car park together in stony silence.

Less the “Gang of Four”, more “The Seven People Who Sort of Know Each Other Well Enough to Exchange Polite Chat in a Lift But Only for Two or Three Floors and then it Gets Awkward”.

Labour, naturally, have been quick to declare that these MPs should now face by-elections. A gauntlet the seven of them have been startlingly reticent to pick up.

Angela Smith was on the BBC after the press conference, declaring she won’t be running in a by-election because she’d definitely win, before capping it all off with a good old-fashioned piece of British racism.

Angela parted with Labour over “antisemitism” and, as of right now, her new political party has more racism scandals than it has names.

There’s even talk of bringing John Woodcock into the “Independent Group”. A man who was suspended from the party of allegations of sexual misconduct, but then endeavoured to turn it into an epic “you can’t dump me if I dump you first”, and pretend he quit on a point of principle (he didn’t) instead of being fired for being creepy (he was). Since then he has not gone more than three or four consecutive minutes without criticising Jeremy Corbyn. It would probably be annoying if anyone was listening.

All in all, this is the most humiliating and pointless Labour press conference since the last time they made a futile political gesture to try to get rid of Corbyn.

From our outside perspective, we can at least formulate a rough draft of a manifesto for these people. Broadly speaking they are in favour of stopping Brexit, apartheid Israel, selling arms to Saudi Arabia, declaring war under a false pretenseprivatising water and right-wing coups in Latin America. Some niche opinions there, but it’s a foundation at least.

One thing we can’t really help them with is a name. They need a new one, and soon. “The Independent Group” is dreadful. Shortening it to “TIG” doesn’t work either, because whatever else they are…they sure ain’t “it”.

Some people have been calling them “the seven dwarves”, a rather unfitting moniker when you think about it. After all, the seven dwarves worked as a team, had discernible personalities and most people know their names.

They are much more the “seven veils”: Disposable, transparent, and they go wherever the wind is blowing.

Warsaw And Munich: Whistling Past NATO's Graveyard

Warsaw And Munich: Whistling Past NATO's Graveyard

Authored by Tom Luongo,

If the Anti-Iran conference in Warsaw was the opening act, the annual Munich Security Conference was the main event. Both produced a lot of speeches, grandstanding and virtue-signaling, as well as a lot of shuffling of feet and looking at the ground.

The message from the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia was clear, “We are still committed to the destruction of Syria as a functional state to end the growing influence of Iran.”

Europe, for the most part, doesn’t buy that argument anymore. Germany certainly doesn’t. France is only interested in how they can curry favor with the U.S. to wrest control of the EU from Germany. The U.K. is a hopeless has-been, living on Deep State inertia and money laundered through City of London.

The Poles just want to stick it to the Russians.

Everyone else has a bad case of, “been there, done that, ain’t doin’ it again.”

They know supporting the fiction that the War in Syria was a war against the evil President Bashar al-Assad is counter-productive.

The geopolitical landscape is changing quickly. And these countries, like Hungary, Italy, and the Czech Republic, know that the current policy trajectory of the Trump administration vis a vis Russia, Iran and China is a suicide pact for them.

So they show up when called, receive our ‘diplomats’ and then pretty much ignore everything they said. This is what happened, ultimately, in Munich.

Even the EU leadership has no illusions about the goals of the U.S./Israeli/Saudi policy on Syria. And that’s why they refused to shut Russia and Iran out of the Munich Security Conference despite the hyperventilating of Pompeo’s amateur-hour State Dept.

The Syria Hangover

These countries are struggling with the after-effects of eight years of war displacing millions who Angela Merkel invited into Europe for her own political purposes.

The resultant chaos now threatens every major political power center in Europe, which could culminate in a Euroskeptic win at the European Parliamentary elections in May.

Continuing on this road will only lead to Russia, Iran, Turkey and China forming a bloc with India to challenge the economic and political might of the West over the next two decades.

So it was no surprise to see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu glad-handing looking for support to beam back home for his re-election campaign.

It was also no surprise to see NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg grovel at the feet of the U.S. over the shared mission because he knows that’s where the gravy flows from.

But there was no statement of purpose coming out of Munich after two days of talks. Warsaw already set the stage for that. Vice-President Mike Pence fell completely flat as the substitute Trump. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looked sad and confused as to why no one applauded him for his cheap and empty rhetoric about how evil Iran is.

The Syria operation was put together by the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar with the expressed purpose of creating a failed state of ungoverned fiefdoms. Syria was to be carved up piecemeal with a great land grab for all major partners getting a piece.

Israel gets a buffer zone east of the Golan Heights, Turkey gets Idlib, Afrin and Aleppo. The Kurds get everything east of the Euphrates. And Europe gets pipelines from the Arabian peninsula.

Meanwhile Iran loses Syria and Lebanon, Russia gets pushed out of the European gas market (along with the putsch in Ukraine) and the center of the country is a hot mess of terrorism which can be exported all around the region and further directed against Russia and Iran.

It all looked so good on paper.

But, as I’ve described multiple times, it was an operation built on perception and the false premise that no one would stand up to it.

In came Russia in October 2015 and the rest, unfortunately for the neocons, is just a chase scene.

Sanctions Cut Both Ways

Because for Europe, once it became clear what the costs would be to continue this project, there was little to no incentive to do so. That’s why they sued for peace with Iran by negotiating the JCPOA.

For every MAGApede and Fox News neocon who excoriates Obama for giving Iran $150 billion dollars (of their own money back which we stole) I remind you that it was Obama in 2012 that signed the sanctions which froze that money in the first place.

The JCPOA was signed because in 2014 the Syria operation looked like it was on auto-pilot to success. Iran could have their money back because it wouldn’t matter. They would be vassals and the money wouldn’t buy them anything of substance.

It was Russia and China’s making the move into Syria that changed that calculus.

That’s why the only ones who keep pushing for this balkanization strategy are the ones who still stand to gain from it. The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel. It was clear in Munich that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was the man everyone wanted to talk to.

Everyone has cut bait. Even the Saudis are hedging their best cozying up to Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. still needs to project power globally to support the dollar and its obscene fiscal debauchery. Israel is staring at a future in which its myriad enemies have won and the Saudis need to rule the Sunni Arab world by leading them in a war against Iran.

The Warsaw Summit was a triumph only insofar as the U.S. can still call its allies to attention and they’ll do so. But that’s about it. But it was clear at Munich that Europe isn’t buying what the U.S. is selling about its relationship anymore.

It’s an not only an abusive one with Trump applying maximal economic pressure but also a wholly unrealistic one. Foreign policy midgets like Pompeo and Pence were literally pleading with everyone to not undermine their latest plan to make the world safe for Israel and Trump’s moronic Energy Dominance plan.

Whistling in Munich

In the end, the whole Munich affair looked like a bunch of people gathering to whistle past the graveyard of the fraying post-WWII institutional order. Trump wants Europe to pay for NATO so we don’t but Europe doesn’t want NATO on Trump’s terms which put them in the cross-hairs of his power play with Russia and China over the INF treaty.

Putin has built a version of fortress Russia that is for all practical purposes impregnable, short-of an all-out nuclear conflict which no one except maybe the most ideologically possessed in D.C. and Tel Aviv wants.

The naysayers have had their day but the weapons unveiled by Putin at last March’s State of the Union address changed the board state in a way that requires different tactics. I said so last March and it identified a shift narrative for all of us as to what Putin’s long-game was.

These new weapons represent a state change in weapons technology but, at the same time, are cheap deterrents to further escalation.  They fit within Russia’s budget, again limited by demographic and, as I pointed out in a recent article, domestic realities...

...[They highlight] we’re not winning in technology.  So, all we can do is employ meat-grinder policies and force Russia and her allies to spend money countering the money we spend.

It’s a game that hollows everyone out.  And it’s easier for Putin to sell the defensive nature of his position to Russians than it is to sell our backing Al-Qaeda and ISIS to defeat them.  Because that reality has broken through the barrier to it.

And that’s why Europe is so unwilling to go along with Trump on the INF Treaty, Iranian regime change and even his Arab NATO plan. They are the ones being asked to be on the front lines, pay for and fight a war against their best interests.

And that’s why no one was willing to join the latest ‘coalition of the willing’ in Munich to perpetuate the conflict in Asia. They’ll go along with Trump’s plans in Venezuela, it doesn’t cost them anything strategically.

But even Merkel knows that in light of the events of the past three and a half years, the right move for Europe is to cut a deal with Russia and Iran while keeping their head down as the U.S. loses its mind.

*  *  *

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Escobar: How New Silk Roads Are Shaping Southwest Asia

Escobar: How New Silk Roads Are Shaping Southwest Asia

Authored by Pepe Escobar via The Asia Times,

Businesses in the Middle East have begun to think ‘Make trade not war’ and being part of China’s Belt and Road scheme

Singapore, aiming high for the status of Asia’s unofficial capital, seems like the ideal venue for a conference to discuss how the Middle East could learn a few lessons from ASEAN’s multi-layered relations with China, especially involving partnership in the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

But first, let’s get things straight. The “Middle East” is, of course, a Eurocentric, Orientalist denomination. From Asia’s – and China’s – cultural and geographical point of view, the “Middle East” is correctly seen as Southwest Asia.

It’s enlightening to evaluate two Chinese informed perspectives on how China is deploying its geopolitical soft power across Southwest Asia in contrast to the Trump administration’s immensely muddled strategy.

Duke University professor Bai Gao, also a visiting professor at Peking University, stresses how ASEAN privileges “a stronger regional identity that often unites these countries together to pursue their common interests when they deal with external great powers.” That’s in sharp contrast with Southwest Asia, where nations, geopolitically, are extremely selfish and eschew aligning on common interests.

Peking University Professor Wu Bingbing, also Qatar Chair Professor in Middle Eastern Studies, for his part, stresses how “China believes in partnerships and does not take sides with any single country.”

Enter, inevitably, BRI, which Wu describes as a “network of partnerships (and) projects” uniting a vast array of nations, aiming at win-win outcomes all across Southwest Asia. The objective is not “competition with the US, but cooperation.”

Beyond ASEAN and Southwest Asia that also happens to be the exact emphasis of the December 2018 China policy paper on the EU. Make trade, not war.

The Chinese think of the Middle East as Southwest Asia. Map: iStock

Watch those BRI figures

Contrary to rumors, BRI is not exactly a walking dead “debt trap” – as a constant update on business deals attest.

Trade flows between China and BRI partners are still set to grow by $117 billion in 2019, after an estimated $158 billion last year. China’s exports to BRI-related markets should grow by $56 billion in 2019, after $76 billion last year. From China’s point of view, even if the figures are smaller, the Big Picture remains. That means economic upgrading, internationalization of the yuan and reduction of internal Chinese imbalances.

BRI partners have already captured over $410 billion in Chinese investment in the period 2014-2018, always taking into consideration that BRI is still, officially, only in the planning stage.

BRI partners are also set to profit from over $61 billion in additional exports to China in 2019. This Asia-wide infrastructure expansion translates into lower transaction and transportation costs. Not only ASEAN, but Southwest Asia is also ideally positioned to take advantage from BRI’s non-stop expansion.

A measure of BRI’s challenges in Southwest Asia is offered, for instance, by the development of connectivity projects involving Israel. This study argues that for projects to work, China needs to turbo-charge its political “engagement” – something that for Beijing is a definitive red line.

By comparison, in ‘Gold at the End of the Rainbow? The BRI and the Middle East’, Anoushiravan Ehteshami of Durham University argues that “it is in the outlying regions such as Central Asia and the Middle East that the BRI’s metal will be tested, as indeed China’s resilience as a major power. If China is able to overcome the geopolitical, cultural, institutional and socio-economic barriers of these Asian regions then it will have made some headway towards creating Asia’s first international community, arguably an ‘Asian international society’.”

Asian international society

As it picks up speed in the next decade, BRI is certainly set to shake up the balance of power from ASEAN to Central Asia and to Southwest Asia. Ehteshami is right when he predicts BRI “will generate counter-forces as it traverses Asia’s sub-regions, and nowhere more so than in South Asia, where both Middle East countries and China are actively engaged in developing security and economic links.”

But Beijing’s ultimate target is way more ambitious. It wants to develop an “Asian international society” capable of rivaling, and surpassing, the West.

A key lab to watch will be the Gulf Cooperation Council. Geoeconomically, the GCC – as well as Iraq and Iran – are focusing on Asia much more than the West. China is their top – or near top – energy buyer. Arrays of Chinese companies are heavily investing across the GCC.

A glimpse of what’s to come is offered by China’s online Silk Road offensive in the UAE – a masterpiece of geo-connectivity.

The tall buildings of Abu Dhabi. Business people in the United Arab Emirates and other parts of the Middle East are thinking about being part of the Belt and Road scheme. Image: iStock

Tech consultant Sam Blatteis sums it all up:

“Simply put, China is rewriting the rules on how to rise in influence in the Middle East. Because of the UAE’s Goliath-sized ports and the country’s geographic position almost sandwiched between Saudi Arabia to its West and Iran to its East, the UAE is thinking at-scale too about how to contribute to both Silk Road routes.”

Investors from ASEAN to Southwest Asia are increasingly convinced that China is the only game in town for new ideas and major capital investment, way ahead on 5G and just about every technology. Moreover, the Chinese have not yet commercialized all their advances. That’s something even Singapore, the “capital of Asia”, has not been able to crack.

Visualizing The 7 Major Flaws Of The Global Financial System

Visualizing The 7 Major Flaws Of The Global Financial System

Since the invention of banking, the global financial system has become increasingly centralized.

In the modern system, central banks now control everything from interest rates to the issuance of currency, while government regulators, corporations, and intergovernmental organizations wield unparalleled influence at the top of this crucial food chain.

There is no doubt that this centralization has led to the creation of massive amounts of wealth, especially to those properly connected to the financial system. However, as Visual Capitalist's Jeff Desjardins notes, the same centralization has also arguably contributed to many global challenges and risks we face today.

FLAWS OF THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL SYSTEM

Today’s infographic comes to us from investment app Abra, and it highlights the seven major flaws of the global financial system, ranging from the lack of basic access to financial services to growing inequality.

Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist

1. Billions of people globally remain unbanked
To participate in the global financial sector, whether it is to make a digital payment or manage one’s wealth, one must have access to a bank account. However, 1.7 billion adults worldwide remain unbanked, having zero access to an account with a financial institution or a mobile money provider.

2. Global financial literacy remains low
For people to successfully use financial services and markets, they must have some degree of financial literacy. According to a recent global survey, just 1-in-3 people show an understanding of basic financial concepts, with most of these people living in high income economies.

Without an understanding of key concepts in finance, it makes it difficult for the majority of the population to make the right decisions – and to build wealth.

3. High intermediary costs and slow transactions
Once a person has access to financial services, sending and storing money should be inexpensive and fast.

However, just the opposite is true. Around the globe, the average cost of a remittance is 7.01% in fees per transaction – and when using banks, that rises to 10.53%. Even worse, these transactions can take days at a time, which seems quite unnecessary in today’s digital era.

4. Low trust in financial institutions and governments
The financial sector is the least trusted business sector globally, with only a 57% level of trust according to Edelman. Meanwhile, trust in governments is even lower, with only 40% trusting the U.S. government, and the global country average sitting at 47%.

5. Rising global inequality
In a centralized system, financial markets tend to be dominated by those who are best connected to them.

These are people who have:

  • Access to many financial opportunities and asset classes
  • Capital to deploy
  • Informational advantages
  • Access to financial expertise

In fact, according to recent data on global wealth concentration, the top 1% own 47% of all household wealth, while the top 10% hold roughly 85%.

On the other end of the spectrum, the vast majority of people have little to no financial assets to even start building wealth. Not only are many people living paycheck to paycheck – but they also don’t have access to assets that can create wealth, like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or ETFs.

6. Currency manipulation and censorship
In a centralized system, countries have the power to manipulate and devalue fiat currencies, and this can have a devastating effect on markets and the lives of citizens.

In Venezuela, for example, the government has continually devalued its currency, creating runaway hyperinflation as a result. The last major currency manipulation in 2018 increased the price of a cup of coffee by over 772,400% in six months.

Further, centralized power also gives governments and financial institutions the ability to financially censor citizens, by taking actions such as freezing accounts, denying access to payment systems, removing funds from accounts, and denying the retrieval of funds during bank runs.

7. The build-up of systemic risk
Finally, centralization creates one final and important drawback.

With financial power concentrated with just a select few institutions, such as central banks and “too big too fail” companies, it means that one abject failure can decimate an entire system.

This happened in 2008 as U.S. subprime mortgages turned out to be an Achilles Heel for bank balance sheets, creating a ripple effect throughout the globe. Centralization means all eggs in one basket – and if that basket breaks it can possibly lead to the destruction of wealth on a large scale.

THE FUTURE OF THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL SYSTEM?

The risks and drawbacks of centralization to the global financial system are well known, however there has never been much of a real alternative – until now.

With the proliferation of mobile phones and internet access, as well as the development of decentralization technologies like the blockchain, it may be possible to build an entirely new financial system.

But is the world ready?

GE, Boeing, T-Mobile Among Latest Victims Of Chinese IP Theft

GE, Boeing, T-Mobile Among Latest Victims Of Chinese IP Theft

As US and Chinese negotiators prepare to begin their seventh round of trade talks this week, more reports are being leaked to the media about China's efforts to steal trade secrets from US companies via "Operation Cloudhopper", the Ministry of State Security-backed infiltration campaign that used service providers in the US and Europe to infiltrate the systems of their clients.

According to a report in the New York Times that detailed how China and Iran have ramped up their hacking efforts since 2015, when the now-abandoned Iran deal was initially struck, and China promised the Obama administration that it would pull back on its cyberespionage efforts. After an 18-month lull, China's 10-year-long commercially motivated campaign was revitalized in the midst of growing trade tensions between the US and China (tensions that predated Trump's trade war).

China

Among the latest targets of China's hacks, according to the NYT's military and private sources, were GE Aviation, Boeing and T-Mobile.

A summary of an intelligence briefing read to The New York Times said that Boeing, General Electric Aviation and T-Mobile were among the recent targets of Chinese industrial-espionage efforts. The companies all declined to discuss the threats, and it is not clear if any of the hacks were successful.

Offering some background on China's hacking strategy in recent years, sources described how China has managed to carry out more sophisticated attacks that have been increasingly difficult to detect.

But the 2015 agreement appears to have been unofficially canceled amid the continuing trade tension between the United States and China, the intelligence officials and private security researchers said. Chinese hacks have returned to earlier levels, although they are now stealthier and more sophisticated.

"Cyber is one of the ways adversaries can attack us and retaliate in effective and nasty ways that are well below the threshold of an armed attack or laws of war," said Joel Brenner, a former leader of United States counterintelligence under the director of national intelligence.

Federal agencies and private companies are back to where they were five years ago: battling increasingly sophisticated, government-affiliated hackers from China and Iran - in addition to fighting constant efforts out of Russia - who hope to steal trade and military secrets and sow mayhem. And it appears the hackers substantially improved their skills during the lull.

[...]

Mr. Segal and other Chinese security experts said attacks that once would have been conducted by hackers in China’s People’s Liberation Army are now being run by China’s Ministry of State Security.

These hackers are better at covering their tracks. Rather than going at targets directly, they have used a side door of sorts by breaking into the networks of the targets’ suppliers. They have also avoided using malware commonly attributed to China, relying instead on encrypting traffic, erasing server logs and other obfuscation tactics.

[...]

"The fingerprint of Chinese operations today is much different," said Priscilla Moriuchi, who once ran the National Security Agency’s East Asia and Pacific cyber threats division. Her duties there included determining whether Beijing was abiding by the 2015 agreement’s terms. "These groups care about attribution. They don’t want to get caught."

One of Beijing's primary motivations in carrying out these attacks has been to bolster its latest five-year economic plan to make China a leader in AI and other cutting edge technology.

But Chinese hackers have resumed carrying out commercially motivated attacks, security researchers and data-protection lawyers said. A priority for the hackers, researchers said, is supporting Beijing’s five-year economic plan, which is meant to make China a leader in artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies.

"Some of the recent intelligence collection has been for military purposes or preparing for some future cyber conflict, but a lot of the recent theft is driven by the demands of the five-year plan and other technology strategies," said Adam Segal, the director of the cyberspace program at the Council on Foreign Relations. "They always intended on coming back."

This is only the latest in a string of leaks about China's espionage efforts since 2015. But the constant stream of evidence being leaked to the press, all of which seems to corroborate Robert Lighthizer's claims that China's cyberespionage efforts have continued unabated since the trade war began, are happening at an interesting time. Which would seem to raise serious questions about the US's ability to strike a sweeping trade compromise without President Trump looking like he has caved to the Chinese.

The 'Disappearing Democrat' Scandal - Part 2

The 'Disappearing Democrat' Scandal - Part 2

Authored by Tim Donner via Liberty Nation,

This is the second of a two-part series on a massive scandal which has gone largely unreported, based on an interview on Liberty Nation Radiowith Luke Rosiak, author of Obstruction of Justice: How the Deep State Risked National Security to Protect the DemocratsIn part one, Mr. Rosiak described how the scandal unfolded and jeopardized the security of more than two dozen Democratic members of Congress.

The media, the DOJ, and the Democrats: A powerful axis with the ability to shape what we perceive as the issue of the day...

It was a scandal that threatened to metastasize and blow up in the face of Democrats in a presidential election year like no other. But with the Hillary Clinton email scandal growing by the day, Democrats willing to do almost anything to avoid the specter of a Donald Trump presidency, the FBI burying their findings and a drive-by media behaving with a distinct lack of curiosity, few people took notice.

Imram Awam, an IT specialist and Pakistani national with a checkered past, yet unvetted by the many congressional Democrats who employed his services, took advantage of the unfettered access he was granted to their computer files to hack, steal, blackmail – and even threaten to kill his wife’s family – in the process placing national security in distinct jeopardy.

We were joined on Liberty Nation Radio by Luke Rosiak, an investigative reporter at the Daily Caller, who has just released the definitive book on this scandal, Obstruction of Justice: How the Deep State Risked National Security to Protect the Democrats.

Tim Donner: This scandal went relatively unnoticed, because it came to a head in the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign. Do you think it would have been in the headlines and stayed there for some time if it happened at another time? Or would it have been written off like all the revelations about the FBI’s covert investigation of Trump, which we now know began before the presidential election?

Luke Rosiak: That’s an interesting question because the media is a big part of this story, isn’t it? I mean, and what I basically learned through the reporting of this is I approached it first as what I just said. It’s a remarkable national security story that I thought surely everyone would be interested in. I had The Washington Post right behind me following my leads.

Soon, I saw that no one was looking. I would write these stories, and I would say, “Look at the court documents from civil court. Look at these government records, these photographs, all this proof, and all this evidence.” There was basically just a campaign of concealment. And the media gladly went along with it, and they kind of bought the idea of fake news. You can just kind of say that now whenever it’s convenient. Politicians can get away with a lot by just saying, “It’s fake news.” And they do that on both sides, of course.

The other thing is really just the lack of investigative reporting, especially when it’s not something that a lot of the media is interested in. It just turned out that, as you said, there was a much bigger appetite for this Russia story that is really kind of running on fumes here. No one can tell us exactly who was … the Trump campaign did what with Russia? But the media is very, very interested.

Meanwhile, we’ve got direct evidence, and this is investigators on Capitol Hill. The Capitol police wrote a memo saying that after they caught this guy hacking Congress and actually hacking a particular server called the House Democratic Caucus server, the Capitol police wrote a memo saying that that server disappeared. It’s like holy cow, an important Democratic server disappeared while it’s evidence in a hacking probe. This is huge stuff. It’s documented by government investigators. And the media had no appetite for it. So ultimately, the Democrats kind of worked the FBI, and the FBI goes along with making this thing go away despite all the evidence. Then the media says, “No need to look into this. The FBI says there’s nothing there.”

So my book documents, and the readers can see for themselves and judge for themselves, what happened on Capitol Hill with this Pakistani hack and the frightening ties to foreign governments and the track record of blackmail, and then the FBI basically conspiring to rig a political case.

But the other thing that’s really important for people to learn from it is it shows you how they work behind the scenes to manipulate what we hear about and manipulate the system of justice here in America.

Tim: What conclusions have you personally drawn from your extensive research about the pervasiveness of official corruption in Washington?

Luke Rosiak: I’m shocked by how corrupt Congress is. I’ve been an investigative reporter here in Washington for a decade, and I’ve seen a lot. But the cynicism on Capitol Hill and the willingness to put personal reputation above all else. This may not sound … maybe everyone’s saying, “Yes, we already know that.” But this particular case, it kind of underscored. I saw things with my own eyes that were shocking.

So this guy was taking all this equipment from Congress, for example, and sending it over to Pakistan. In one congresswoman’s office, a tenth of her budget disappeared. That’s enough for ten computers for every staff. They had invoices and so on proving this on Capitol Hill. They put out the statements, and we’re not going to seek any charges in this case.

There is no way to justify it. They want to act like, “That one reporter. He must be doing fake news.” But it’s documented. So it’s remarkable to see the people we trust, and in other words, okay, you’ve got this Pakistani guy. He’s a horrible guy. Things happen. There are always bad people out there in the world. But what really shook me is to see the people that we trusted, the ones we elected and also the ones that we task with enforcing the law with the FBI and the DOJ, to see those people letting us down, it really shook my faith in some of the fundamental institutions that we count on in America.

I think anyone who reads the book is going to see that it’s actually a remarkably sympathetic and empathetic portrait of what happened in Capitol Hill and a lot of people who were struggling with the decision of, “Should I do the right thing even if it puts my job at risk?” So this is a story about human beings, that a lot of times who chose convenience over speaking out. Then there’s also a few heroes in that mix who came forward and tried to do the right thing despite all the retaliation. They retroactively try to spin it as partisan, but when you read the book, it’s all Democratic whistleblowers who first were calling attention to the wrongdoing that they had witnessed on Capitol Hill.

Tim: What lesson should be learned? What should voters take away from what you’ve uncovered in this book?

Luke Rosiak:  I think that to question everything is really one of the lessons, I think, because the techniques that they use, the Democrats working with the DOJ and the media, that’s a powerful axis right now. That trifecta, the three of them working together have the ability to shape a lot of what we perceive as being the main issues of the day or the biggest things. It turns out that it’s kind of a big PR operation with a lot of very savvy people. I call them puppeteers on Capitol Hill, and I go into how they’re manipulating us. So identifying the ways in which we are being manipulated, I think, is key for Americans. Because these kind of tricks are going on all the time, and it’s important for us to be able to see what they’re doing to us.

The Wealthiest And Poorest County In Every U.S. State

The Wealthiest And Poorest County In Every U.S. State

Submitted by Visual Capitalist

The average U.S. state is made up of 62 counties.

With so many counties spread throughout each state in the nation, it’s not surprising that we can find counties that exemplify almost any part of the American experience.

In this case, we’re comparing county-level data to look at the differences in economic opportunity within each state. More specifically, we are looking at the range of median household income, which is one proxy for the difference in economic status between counties.

Disparity By State

Today’s infographic comes to us from TitleMax, and it looks at the wealthiest and poorest counties in each individual U.S. state based on the measure of median household income.

Here are the five states with the biggest disparity between rich and poor counties:

1. Virginia: $102,800

Loudoun is about an hour’s drive to D.C., and it also happens to be the richest county in the U.S. in terms of median income. Further west in the state, bordering Kentucky and West Virginia, lies Buchanan County, which has a median household income of just $31,800.

2. New Mexico: $86,500

In Los Alamos, known as the birthplace of the atomic bomb, median household income has exploded to $114,700 – meanwhile, along the Mexico border lies Luna, the poorest county in the state.

3. Colorado: $85,200

Just like the Colorado has a difference in elevation, it also holds a large difference in median income. Folks in Douglas County, which lies between Denver and Colorado Springs, take home $112,400 in income on average, while folks in Costilla bring in about $27,200 per year.

4. Maryland: $80,900

Howard County, which lies between Baltimore and Washington D.C., has the highest median household income in the state. Meanwhile, it’s Somerset County at the south of the Delmarva Peninsula that has the lowest.

5. Tennessee: $79,700

Just to the south of the Music City sits Williamson County – a wealthy part of the state with $107,900 in median income. Hancock County is the poorest, and it’s tucked away in the northeast corner of the state.

A note on Cost of Living

While median household income can help point to disparities between counties, it is just one indicator.

It’s worth noting that the cost of living can often be cheaper in counties with lower median incomes, and this can partially offset the difference in some instances. For example, while Trinity County is the poorest county in California by median income, it’s also far away from San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Sacramento, and has a much cheaper cost of living and a different way of life.

In some ways it is comparing apples to oranges. Trinity County is completely rural, holds zero incorporated cities, and holds just 3,600 people in its largest community (Weaverville) – a far cry from the urban sprawl of L.A. or the booming Bay Area.