Geopolitics

AfD is 2nd most popular party in latest Bild poll

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The left leaning Bild newspaper published a poll showing the anti-immigrant AfD as the second most popular party in Germany with 16% (+2) The socialist SPD polled an awful 15.5% (-5), it’s worst post war performance. The Greens also polled well.

Yet another country growing tired of politicians from incumbent major parties who are failing to deliver to their constituents.

Regardless of what one’s views are on Merkel’s misguided altruism, it seems fewer people support it at home. Call it racist, bigoted it worse but the fact more people are prepared to back the party that answers their sense of frustration speaks volumes of underlying mood. Either that or the CDU is doing a terrible job selling its message. What does one expect when the media and police are muzzled?

Across the border Poland and Hungary are linking hands in a sign of solidarity to reject the EU’s forced migration quotas. On April 8 Hungarians vote on whether they want Orban’s Fidesz party to stay in power. It looks a formality. The question is by what margin? When 98.4% who voted in the Hungarian referendum several years back to reject forced migration, this seems an election issue which opposition parties stand no chance of getting up if they support it.

Should we trust ratings agencies on US state credit?

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The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission concluded in 2011 that “the global financial crisis could not have happened without the ‘Big Three’ agencies – Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch which allowed the ongoing trading of bad debt which they gave their highest ratings to despite over three trillion dollars of mortgage loans to homebuyers with bad credit and undocumented incomes.” The table above tabulates the deterioration in US corporate credit ratings since 2006. The ratings agencies have applied their trade far more diligently.

As written earlier in the week, US state public pensions are running into horrific headwinds. Unfunded pension liabilities are running at over double the level of 2008. With asset bubbles in stocks, bonds and property it is hard to see how plugging the gap (running at over 2x (California is 6x) the total tax take of individual states) in the event of a market correction is remotely realistic. However taking a look at the progression of US states’ credit ratings one would think that there is nothing to worry about. Even during GFC, very few states took a hit. See below.

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Looking at the trends of many states since 2000, many have run surpluses so the credit ratings do not appear extreme. It is interesting to flip through the charts of each state and see the trajectory of revenue collection. A mixed bag is putting it lightly. Whether the rebuild after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, since 2008 revenue collection in Louisiana has drifted.

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Looking through S&P’s own research at the end of last year it included an obvious reference.

U.S. state and local governments can use pension obligation bonds (POBs) to address the unfunded portion of their pension liabilities. In certain cases, POBs can be an affordable tool to lower unfunded pension liabilities. But along with the issuance of POBs comes risk. The circumstances that surround an issuance of POBs, as well as the new debt itself, could have implications for the issuer’s creditworthiness. S&P Global Ratings views POB issuance in environments of fiscal distress or as a mechanism for short-term budget relief as a negative credit factor.”

Perhaps the agencies have learnt a painful lesson and trying to stay as close to being behind the curve as possible. It doesn’t seem like public pensions are being factored at levels other than their actuarial values. Marked-to-market values would undoubtedly impact these credit ratings.

As mentioned in the previous piece on public pensions, a state like Alaska has public pension unfunded liabilities equal to $145,000 per household, treble the 2008 figure. It is 3.5x annual tax collections. The state’s per capita operating budget of $13,728 per person is way above the national average of $6,826 per person. Alaska relies on oil taxes to finance most of its operating budget, so a sudden drop in oil prices caused tax revenues to sharply decline. The EIA’s outlook doesn’t look promising in restoring those fortunes in any scenario. So S&P may have cut Alaska two places from AAA in 2015 to AA in 2017.

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While pension liabilities aren’t all due at once, the last 8 years have shown how quickly they can fester. It wasn’t so long ago that several Rhode Island public pension funds reluctantly agreed to a 40% haircut, later retirement ages and higher contributions with a larger component shifted from defined benefits to defined contributions raising the risk of market forces exerting negative outcomes on the pension fund.

In 2017, despite a ‘robust’ economy, 22 states faced revenue shortfalls. More states faced mid-year revenue shortfalls in the last fiscal year than in any year since 2010, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.

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Pew Charitable Trust (PCT) notes in FY2015 federal dollars as a share of state revenue increased in a majority of states (29). Health care grants have been the main driver of this. FY2015 was the 3rd highest percentage of federal grants to states since 1961.

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By state we can see which states got the heftiest federal grants. Most states with higher federal shares expanded their Medicaid programs under Obamacare (ACA) and got their first full year of grants under the expanded program in FY2015.

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PCT also wrote “At the close of fiscal year 2017, total balances in states’ general fund budgets—including rainy day funds—could run government operations for a median of 29.3 days, still less than the median of 41.3 days in fiscal 2007…North Dakota recorded the largest drop in the number of days’ worth of expenses held in reserves after drawing down almost its entire savings to cover a budget gap caused by low oil prices. It held just 5.4 days’ worth of expenditures in its rainy day fund at the end of fiscal 2017 compared with 69.4 days in the preceding year… 11 states anticipate withdrawing from rainy day funds under budget plans enacted for fiscal 2018

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Looking at the revenue trends of certain states, the level of collection has been either flat or on the wane since 2010 for around 26 states. As an aside, 23 of them voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election. The three that didn’t were Maine, NJ and Illinois.

Optically US states seem to be able to justify the credit ratings above. Debt levels aren’t high for most. Average state debt is around 4% of annual income. Deficits do not seem out of control. However marking-to-market the extent of public pension unfunded liabilities makes current debt levels look mere rounding errors.

Considering stock, bond and property bubbles are cruising at unsustainably high levels, any market routs will only make the current state of unfunded liabilities blow out to even worse levels. The knock on effects for pensioners such as those taking a 40% haircut in Rhode Island at this stage in the cycle can only feasibly brace themselves for further declines. This is a ticking time bomb. More states will need to address the public pension crisis.

A national government shelling out c.$500bn in interest payments on its own debt in a rising rate environment coupled with a central bank paring back its balance sheet limits the options on the table. Moral hazard is back on the table folks. Is it any wonder that Blackstone has increased its short positions to $22 billion?

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Plunging credit quality more troubling than market rout

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The Dow plunged 1175 points (-4.6%) overnight. 4.6% is a lot and yes 4-digit drops optically look worse but off the higher base we get higher (record) point drops. One thing to contemplate in a rising bond yield market is corporate credit quality. Since 2006 the average credit ratings for US corporates issued by the big agencies have seen the number of top rated (to the left) fall while those with deteriorating grades (to the right) soar. That’s right, the 4 categories before “junk” have risen sharply. After many years of virtually free money many corporations have let the waistline grow. When refinancing comes around just how will credit ratings influence the new spreads of corporates who’ve shifted to the right?

The IMF highlighted in 2017  that US companies have added $7.8t in debt & other liabilities since 2010. The ability to cover interest payments is now at the weakest level since 2008 crisis.

This despite near full employment, record level equity markets and every other word of encouragement from our politicians.

However if this is the state of the corporate sector at arguably the sweet spot of the economic cycle CM shudders to think the state of potential bankruptcies that will come when the cycle truly takes a turn for the worse. This is a very bad sign.

Gutter press or smutter press?

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Gutter press. No other word for it. One would expect better from The NY Times. Still why not make a baseless claim for the heck of it should it help paint a narrative? Indeed the Stormy Daniels $130,000 shut-up money story would have legs if she produced the ‘deposit slip’ and the contract which any media outlet would  pay “any price” to insure against any litigation for her breach of it.

Think of the $100s of millions media outlets have spent on tying to take the President down. Whether Russiagate which CNN’s own Van Jones called a “nothing burger” for ratings or MSNBC’’s Rachel Maddow who made that  embarrassing “we got his tax returns!” gaffe. Every celebrity event (Grammy’s, Oscars or Golden Globes) has become more about blasting Trump than blowing wind up the back sides of their own Hollywood hypocrites who blatantly turned a blind eye to all of the sexual misconduct that has gone on for decades in their own industry. Where is the outrage over that? Even career feminist Germaine Greer said that if one opened their legs for a movie role they “consented”.

Indeed if Trump frolicked with Stormy Daniels it appears it was consensual on the basis of the rumours. It is not condoning it but look at all the petty behaviour of Clinton post the election still crying to her elitist buddies in sympathy for losing to a man, who less than a week after the grab p*ssygate scandal, stared down the barrel of a camera to 100s of millions of viewers in the second debate to say “no one respects women more than I do” If indeed it was an election issue, voters overlooked it to boot the establishment. Case closed

Still the one-eyed NY Times has to make baseless read acrosses on Melania’s actions being about her acting in a huff over her husband’s supposed infidelity. Make no mistake had she cheated on her husband the mainstream media would celebrate it and chalk it down for a win for their side. They’d get panels of feminists talking about how his behaviour brought it on and how he deserved it for being a chauvinist pig.

However we shouldn’t point fingers at just the NYT.

Last week The Guardian wrote of Melania Trump: “Seldom seen and even more seldom heard, the former model may not be as popular as her predecessor Michelle Obama, but she is far more popular than her husband. Unfortunately for his Republican administration, she seems to have little interest in using that popularity to do anything of substance with the post.

Well had Tbe Guardian bothered to check, the left has made it clear of how they see her in the public eye. When she went to donate Dr Seuss books for children’s education, the recipient librarian at Cambridgeport School refused to accept the gift, criticizing the Trump administration’s education policies further writing that Seuss’s illustrations are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes,” Never did I know as a child that reading about the Cat in a Hat was some conspiracy by my parents to turn me into a hateful bigot. Now it’s all so clear!

The Daily Mail had to settle a $2.9mn lawsuit and issue a full public apology for libel against the First Lady for suggesting she gave more than “modeling services.” What awful slander! Could it be that the press is hardly lining up to champion anything she might host which is of social good? Is trying to be a good mother by not dislocating her son’s education in the early days a crime?

All the jokes from the left thanking immigrants for marrying Trump because Americans wouldn’t do it flies in the face of the very stereotypes they get so easily triggered over. Indeed the racist president married a Slav. Never mind the contradiction.

While the press can speculate over what FLOTUS might be thinking perhaps they should give her advice on the ways they wish her to behave. Should we anticipate Melania Trump’s hashtags on social media championing flaccid and impotent US foreign policy to terrorist groups like Michelle Obama? Mrs Obama is indeed a highly educated person but that doesn’t automatically exclude Mrs Trump from serving the office gracefully and proudly. The Trumps are a power couple

Yes, her husband leaves much to be desired in the manner in which he serves his country. However the scoreboard suggests many of the things he is doing are working. Such is the bias in the press about how world leaders hate him, CBS painfully admitted almost everyone of them lined up for a selfie with POTUS at Davos.

If we look at the last State of the Union address he blew the left out of the water. Even Van Jones admitted he’s going to do 8 years with talk like that. Now he has far more achievements to crow about. So yes, Melania will be there looking a million bucks and her face will speak of how she feels about Stormy Daniels. Storm in a teacup mode like it.

Hottest 5-yr period on record according to NOAA (which was busted for data manipulation)

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IT’S official. The world has just experienced its hottest five-year period in history — and there are no signs of things cooling off.” No signs of cooling off? Even though 2018 has kicked off with huge freezes across Japan, Canada, NY, Florida and parts of Europe. The article went on,

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released climate data that confirmed global average temperatures between 2013 and 2017 made up the hottest five-year period since monitoring began more than 100 years ago…Agencies were split on whether 2017 was the second or third hottest year. NOAA and the Japanese Meterological Agency rated it the third hottest, while NASA, researchers from a nonprofit in Berkeley, California and European forecasters said it was the second hottest.”

It makes for sensational reading but had the authors preaching the global warming faith dug a little deeper they’d discover that NOAA was subpoenaed before Congress after a whistleblower showed that data was being fabricated ahead of the Paris Climate Summit to fit an agenda. According to Dr. John Bates, the recently retired principal scientist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, the Karl study was used “to discredit the notion of a global warming hiatus and rush to time the publication of the paper to influence national and international deliberations on climate policy.

Chairman of the Commitee on Science, Space & Technology, Lamar Smith said in Feb 2017,

I thank Dr. John Bates for courageously stepping forward to tell the truth about NOAA’s senior officials playing fast and loose with the data in order to meet a politically predetermined conclusion. In the summer of 2015, whistleblowers alerted the Committee that the Karl study was rushed to publication before underlying data issues were resolved to help influence public debate about the so-called Clean Power Plan and upcoming Paris climate conference. Since then, the Committee has attempted to obtain information that would shed further light on these allegations, but was obstructed at every turn by the previous administration’s officials. I repeatedly asked, ‘What does NOAA have to hide?

Indeed. What is there to hide? Surely the global warming data should speak for itself. Anything that requires manipulation to make a point can hardly be “settled” science. Fraud is fraud and it is a shame that climate scientists busted for manipulation are not  jailed. While evil banksters were charged for the devil’s work after GFC why should climate scientists escape the misappropriation of billions in taxpayer dollars based on lies. NOAA refused to hand over emails related to the Karl Study despite being politely asked at first by its boss (i.e. Congress) which was eventually required to subpoena the science body.

Even if you believe in global warming can you honestly look at the fraud taking place with these so called trusted government bodies and take their word for granted despite such lapses in ethics?

Regime overthrow in Iran? Don’t get too excited (yet)

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The US State Department seems to be openly welcoming the outbreak of spontaneous demonstrations in Iran selling it as the early steps of regime change. In fact it is more likely to help President Rouhani force economic changes he has been prevented from making due to deep seated corruption within the regime itself. Rouhani has tried to make economic changes for years to boost the economy but the regime has kept monopoly power over multiple industries which has impeded his ability to do it.

The Iranian banking system holds 10s of billions of dollars in non-performing loans which is weighing down the economy and undermining the potential for private-sector-led recovery. Given the increasing vulnerability of Iran’s financial system, the government urgently needs to restructure and recapitalize the banks. Iranian banks were weakened by a sluggish economy caused by the sanctions, state interference in lending decisions and lax regulations causing excessive competition with unlicensed financial institutions.

The country’s recovery could well slow since Trump has raised the possibility that sanctions could be reimposed or new sanctions introduced. It should come as no surprise that this has deterred many banks and other foreign companies from operating in Iran.

The Iranian government directly owns and operates hundreds of state-owned enterprises (SoE) and indirectly controls many companies in the private sector. Inflation (9%), price controls (e.g. milk, energy) designed to tame it and rising unemployment (12.4%) are really behind the protests than a direct call to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Still don’t rule out the US State Department rubbing its hands with glee to try to throw a spanner in the works. Easier done by crushing its economy by redeploying sanctions given the financial system is in such a precarious position.

We shouldn’t ignore the timing of the assasination of former Yemeni President Saleh in the last month. His death now gives Saudi Arabia more will to take heavier action against the Iran backed Houthi in Yemen. Now that Saudi Arabia has recently cleaned house with the arrests of royal family members to tighten the inner circle, it almost seems the stars are aligning for the ante to be upped on Iran.

While much has escaped the mainstream media, at the narrow Bab al-Mandeb Strait separating Yemen and Djibouti/Eritrea, multiple US, Saudi and Emirati warships have been attacked by Houthi rebel forces. In January 2017 a Saudi al-Madinah frigate was sunk in the strait. An Emirati HSV-2 swift naval craft was also put out of action in late 2015. Cargo ships (10% of global trade) make their way up the Red Sea via the Bab al-Mandeb Strait to the Suez Canal, could suffer if tensions rise here.

While many are distracted by the decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem as an unnecessary ‘in-the-face’ action, most Gulf States want Israel on their side to help them defend against and ultimately defeat Iran. It is only 7 months ago that the Saudis pushed to expel Qatar from the GCC for keeping cosy relations with Iran and supporting Hamas and the Houthi in Yemen. The South Pars/North Dome Gas Condensate field – the world’s largest natural gas field –  is jointly owned by Iran and Qatar which means divided loyalties between the GCC and Tehran.

Get ready for lots of fake news. Something tells CM that there is something more sinister at play.

World government – why it would never work and why you shouldn’t want it to

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World government. Some criticise the US move to hobble the UN via funding cuts as justification for it. Some argue that international laws cramp the style of just about every government under the sun so those with power go out of their way to prevent it. The same people argue that the UN should be democratized and nation states should submit to international law and independent institutions set up to enforce it.

Presumably within this Marxist manifesto there should be no borders and total freedom of movement. However within this socialist dogma not one has put forward how it might work economically which is probably the best signal that it would fail to be a sustainable form of government. We’ve had multiple attempts at socialism and in every case it has failed. Oh how the left championed Chavez as a model of successful socialism. How quiet they are now. Still it doesn’t prevent them extolling the virtues of ‘equality’ even if some pigs are more equal than others.

Still suppose we entertain the prospect of a world government. We have to start somewhere. Regardless of whether we like it or not, a world government would need to address economic status to sign up willing participants. The US economy is 24% of world GDP with less than 5% of the world’s population. In order for the US to agree to join a world government they would rightly demand that they get 24% of the seats in a world parliament? Why would they join at 5%? What is the incentive? Virtue? Australia has a disproportionately large raw materials base relative to the population. Should the Aussies have just one vote if it ends up benefitting others more than itself?

We have a living working example of how fusing completely different economic systems doesn’t work, even when the population speaks the same language – German reunification. From Der SPIEGEL,

Today, the eastern German economy is still in a sorry state, and there are no indications that the situation will change. An estimated €1.3 trillion ($1.6 trillion) have flowed from the former West Germany to the former East Germany over the last 20 years. But what has that money achieved? Historic neighborhoods have been restored, new autobahns built and the telephone network brought up to date, but most of the money was spent on social benefits such as welfare payments. The anticipated economic upswing failed to materialize…Most of eastern Germany has turned into an economically depressed region that lags behind the west in all respects:

The per capita economic output in the east is only at 71 percent of the western level, with a disproportionately high share of economic output attributable to the public sector. The economic output generated by the private economy is only at 66 percent of the western level.

To close the gap, the eastern German economy would have to grow more rapidly than in western Germany, but precisely the opposite is the case. Germany’s leading economic research institutes expect the economy in eastern Germany to grow by 1.1 percent this year, compared with 1.5 percent in the west.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the population of eastern Germany has declined by almost 2 million people, a trend that is continuing unabated.

The proportion of household income derived from welfare payments is 20 percent higher in the east than in the west.

Of Germany’s 100 largest industrial companies and 100 largest service providers, not one has its headquarters in eastern Germany.

The lesson is clear. When given a choice, the citizens of the former socialist state stampeded to the capitalist state because they knew ‘opportunities’ were far more abundant and desirable. The power of the free market. What better indication of a repudiation of socialism than those that have actually lived under it. Many ‘socialists’ today (who ironically have never experienced it) are envious. Indeed former PM Baroness Margaret Thatcher put it best, “the Labour Party would prefer the poor were poorer provided the rich were less rich” Instead of enterprise and looking for ways to get ahead, many sit back and complain why it isn’t handed to them on a platter.

So in the case of world government without borders, it would make complete sense for people from say Africa or the Middle East to move to NY, London or Berlin. As they left their homes in the millions, sheer logistical issues would come into play – housing, food, healthcare and sanitation. The only way to ration scarce resources would be to let the free market decide it. World government wouldn’t allow it. Shouldn’t a Congolese family have a claim to live in a penthouse on 5th Avenue or Mayfair in the interests of equality? Maybe the owners of the 5th Avenue apartment should have the property repossessed to promote equality. Surely a noble gesture for the other 99%.

What about filling the world parliament? How do we look to address balance? The Indians and Chinese represent 35% of the global population. Should they not occupy 35% of the seats? Is there a global vote? As an Australian do I get a say on the Chinese candidates? Do they mine? Assuming we had global votes, language barriers would be a problem. How would an English speaker be able to work out the depth in abilities of a Chinese candidate from Harbin who only speaks Mandarin? Even if we could translate his every word, what hope would we have of delving deep into his or her history or the subtleties of cultural ‘meanings’ hidden within language to be able to cast a ballot on as fully informed a basis as possible?

Or should we cut the pie of global government candidates based on religious grounds? Muslims represent 24% of the population. Should all countries submit to having 24% of the laws made by a global government Sharia compliant? Christians represent 31% of the globe. Should they have the right to enforce the world to take Christmas as a public holiday? If the international parliament votes to repeal Ramadan should it stand? Afterall that is the result of a properly functioning global democracy!

Some in favour of the UN being the ‘social democracy’ that binds us honestly believe that it would not fall foul of greed, corruption or poor governance. Do we seriously wish to put power in the hands of the UN as our global government if one of its groups thought the murderous dictator Robert Mugabe was a worthy ambassador for WHO? Do we think the UN to date has shown exemplary governance and ethics to provide a comfort level for we minions to hand over our regulatory frameworks? Take the former UNIPCC chair who directed UN procured funds toward his own ‘scientific research body’. Conflicts of interest anyone? The UN argues it is independent but how could it be if it is so self serving? To think there was a strong suggestion that the UN deploy blue helmets in Chicago to help quell gun violence. The question one should ask is why wasn’t such action taken when Obama was president? So much for a guarantee of independence if the UN so blatantly takes sides because they want to retaliate against Trump.

We already have a preview of world government policy looks like. Many Western governments are already pandering to political correctness in ways which are causing growing backlash among constituents.

Some on the left believe that nationalism is a “backward, regressive, half-baked ideology which is used by ruling elites to control their populations” Wasn’t the open minded Labour heartland in the Midlands one that leaned to Brexit? Wasn’t it in France where Marine Le Pen’s Front National doubled the number of voters ever seen for her party? Was it not Hungary that voted 99.4% in favour of a referendum to reject forced migration quotas? The surge in the AfD in Germany to 14%. The huge landslide in Austria where the young PM has given his immigration portfolio to the FPO? The surge in the eurosceptic 5 Star Movement in Italy…the list goes on. Even Switzerland handed back its free pass to join the EU (which is about as close as one gets to a world government) because it puts sovereignty and the wish to preserve culture and customs ahead of ‘socialist’ ideals. Isn’t that patriotism rather than nationalism? Lukas Reimann of the Swiss People’s Party, said:

It is hardly surprising that the EU looks like an ever less attractive club to join. What, after all, is the appeal of joining a club into which the entire world can apparently move?”

So what would a world government do to combat nationalism? Regulate against it! Restrict freedom of speech. Incarcerate those that protest against what they perceive as injustice. Of course it would be easy to simplify these people as racists or bigots for not conforming. The price of progressivism is to muzzle dissent. Identity politics and the victimhood it breeds are so pervasive that it creates the exact division it seeks to stop. For  those pushing for world government make no mistake that the elites among the commissars will still be more equal than others.

What is wrong with celebrating differences?  Isn’t visiting a foreign country to immerse oneself in a different culture half the fun of an overseas vacation? Learning about how civilization developed over millennia. Experiencing foreign cuisine, learning a foreign language or respecting local customs (e.g. wearing long sleeves and pants into a Buddhist temple) are not things to be frowned upon. They are exactly the reason why all of the tribes of the world can’t be homogenized into the one box. Yet the world government wouldn’t tolerate such thinking.