Category Archives: Finance

Greek crisis deepens; bad loan rate spikes


Greece, the nation hardest hit by the Great Recession, continues to stagger under the burdens imposed by the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund.

The Troika, operating as the European Stability Mechanism, has imposed onerous pay and pension cut, mandated layoffs, forced the sale of billions in national assets [including power grids, healthcare institutions, toll roads, railways, ports, and even islands], while Greeks continue to suffer from massive unemployment.

And now the crisis is getting worse.

From Kathimerini:

Nonperforming loans last month posted a major spike of almost 1 billion euros, reversing the downward course set in the last few months of 2016. This has generated major concerns among local lenders regarding the achievement of targets for reducing bad loans, as agreed with the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) of the European Central Bank for the first quarter of this year.

Bank sources say that after several months of stabilization and of a negative growth rate in new nonperforming exposure, the picture deteriorated rapidly in January, as new bad loans estimated at 800 million euros in total were created.

This increase in a period of just one month is considered particularly high, and is a trend that appears to be continuing this month as well. Bank officials attribute the phenomenon to uncertainty from the government’s inability to complete the second bailout review, fears for a rekindling of the crisis and mainly the expectations of borrowers for extrajudicial settlements of bad loans.

Senior bank officials note that a large number of borrowers will not cooperate with their lenders in reaching an agreement for the restructuring of their debts, in the hope that the introduction by the government of the extrajudicial compromise could lead to better terms and possibly even to a debt haircut.

Headlines of the day: More TrumpLandia™ Turmoil


We begin with the New York Times:

Republican Congress, Stuck at Starting Line, Jogs in Place

  • Republican lawmakers and President Trump have yet to deliver on any of the sweeping legislation they promised.
  • Disagreements, a lack of clarity from the White House and a slow confirmation process have stymied their plans.

Two from the Washington Post, starting with this:

Flynn saga shifts balance of power between president, Congress

  • In the wake of Michael Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser, Republican senators are vowing more aggressive oversight of the new administration, and Democrats are seizing an opportunity to ask pointed questions about President Trump’s ties to Russia.

And then this:

Trump looking at billionaire to lead review of U.S. spy agencies

  • Stephen A. Feinberg has been a major donor to Republican candidates and has served on Trump’s economic advisory council.

Next up, this from the Guardian:

Deutsche Bank examined Donald Trump’s account for Russia links

  • Bank looked for evidence of whether loans to president were underpinned by guarantees from Moscow, Guardian learns

Finally this inevitable TrumpTweetstorm™ subject-to-be from BBC News:

Israel-Palestinian conflict: UN warns Trump over two-state reversal

  • The UN chief has warned Donald Trump against abandoning the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying there is “no alternative”.
  • It comes after Mr Trump went against decades of US policy, saying he would back whatever formula led to peace.
  • Palestinians reacted with alarm to the possibility that the US could drop support for Palestinian statehood.

Panama Papers law firm founders arrested


Once in a while a single event provides a juncture between two ongoing stories we’ve been following.

First up, the legislative coup that ousted Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the subsequent criminal indictments filed against the coup participants as the result of a massive bribery investigation.

The second story is the Panama Papers leaks, the documents proving the existence of and participants in a vast network of “black flag” operation concealing a great deal of the planet’s wealth.

From teleSUR English:

The two founders of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca were arrested on Saturday, the attorney general’s office said, after both were indicted on charges of money-laundering in a case allegedly tied to a wide-ranging corruption scandal in Brazil.

Firm founders Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca were detained because of the risk they might try to flee the country.

Attorney General Kenia Porcell told reporters on Saturday that the information collected so far “allegedly identifies the Panamanian firm as a criminal organization that is dedicated to hiding assets or money from suspicious origins.”

Mossack Fonseca is also at the center of a separate case known as the Panama Papers, which involved millions of documents stolen from the firm and leaked to the media in April 2016.

The fallout from the leaks provoked a global scandal after numerous documents detailed how the rich and powerful used offshore corporations to hide money and potentially evade taxes.

Fonseca, a former presidential adviser in Panama, has previously denied that the firm had any connection to Brazilian engineering company Odebrecht, which has admitted to bribing officials in Panama and other countries to obtain government contracts in the region between 2010 and 2014.

Austerians threaten more cutbacks in Greece


This is one of those good news/bad news stories.

Greece was the European nation hardest hit by the greed of Wall Street banksters who brought the world to its knees eight years ago, triggering a Great Recession which still hasn’t ended and threatens to worsen yet again, as the United Nations noted in a report last month:

Although a modest global recovery is projected for 2017-18, the world economy has not yet emerged from the period of slow growth, characterised by weak investment, dwindling trade and flagging productivity growth, according to the United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) 2017 report launched today.

The report states that the world economy expanded by just 2.2 per cent in 2016, the slowest rate of growth since the Great Recession of 2009. World gross product is projected to grow by 2.7 per cent in 2017 and 2.9 per cent in 2018, a slight downward revision from the forecasts made last May.

For Greece, that means an unparalleled crisis may be imminent as the nation and its citens are still reeling from the current crisis the onerous costs of the current bailout.

The bailout package from the troika — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission — has eased the impacts on Greece, though at a huge price. The nation’s ports, transportation infrastructure, and energy grid have already been sold off to multinationals, pay and pensions have been slashed repeatedly, healthcare benefits cut, and much, much more.

And employment, though improved, still reaches staggering levels, especially for young workers, as indicated in the latest numbers from the Hellenic Statistical Authority:

blog-greece

The current bailout isn’t done, and the troika is demanding still more cuts, though a deal may be near.

From Kathimerini:

Representatives of the country’s international creditors are expected to return to Athens this week for a resumption of bailout talks despite continuing tensions between Greece and its lenders, highlighted by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras over the weekend.

In a speech before SYRIZA’s central committee on Saturday, Tsipras lashed out at Greece’s creditors, calling on them to revise their “irrational demands” of Greece.

“We will not agree to demands that are not backed up by logic and numbers,” he said.

He called on the International Monetary Fund in particular to revise its recent assessments of Greece’s economic prospects so that stalled bailout negotiations can resume at the technical level.

Tsipras also called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to rein in Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and his “constant hostility” towards Greeks, accusing him of trying to create a “two-speed eurozone” and comparing him to a “pyromaniac… playing with matches in a warehouse full of explosives.”

More from Deutsche Welle [emphasis added]:

The new agreement would release a new tranche from its 86 billion euro ($91.5 billion) bailout fund. That, in turn, would enable Greece to meet a major debt repayment of 7.2 billion euros that is due this summer.

EU and IMF lenders want Greece to make 1.8 billion euros — or 1 percent of gross domestic product — worth of new cuts by 2018 and another 1.8 billion euros after that on measures focused on broadening the tax base and on pension reductions.

New cuts — especially to pensions, which have already been reduced 11 times since the start of the crisis in 2010 — are difficult to sell to a public worn down by years of austerity.

>snip<

Breaking the deadlock in the coming weeks is considered paramount, with elections in the Netherlands on March 15 and in France in the spring threatening to make a resolution even more difficult.

But [Eurogroup chief Jeroen] Dijsselbloem warned that the next meeting of eurozone ministers on February 20, which is seen as an unofficial deadline ahead of the votes, would still be too early for a breakthrough.

The billionaire who gave Trump millions, Bannon


And so much more.

Two journalists look at Robert Mercer, a late-arriving big money donor to the Trump campaign, a billionaire who had bankrolled Ted “The Grand Inquisitor” Cruz before the convention, then came to Trump’s rescue just as things were falling apart, contributing both millions in cash and a cast of personnel, including Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.

Mercer, who made his pile running a hedge fund, holds nightmarish beliefs and considerable cunning. And he’s succeeded in creating a powerful, covert institution designed to create a dystopian world, run by the best crew money can by.

In this report from The Real News Network, reporters Thomas Hedges of the Center for Study of Responsive Law, where his beat is the role of money in politics, and Carrie Levine, who covers the same beat for the Center for Public Integrity, take a close look at Mercer and his agenda:

The Bizarre Far-Right Billionaire Behind Bannon and Trump’s Presidency


From the transcript:

THOMAS HEDGES: The fuel behind Mercer’s influence are the absurd sums of money he approves at the investment company he runs, Renaissance Technologies, based on Long Island. Its famed Medallion Fund is one of the most successful hedge funds in investing history. Averaging 72% returns before fees, over more than 20 years. A statistic that baffles analysts, and outranks the profitability of other competing funds, like the ones George Soros and Warren Buffet run.

In 2015, Mercer had single-handedly catapulted Cruz to the front of the Republican field. Throwing more than $13 million into a super PAC he created for the now failed candidate. But with the Trump campaign faltering, and struggling for support, there’s a second chance for the Mercers to make a big bet.

The Trump campaign is well aware of this, in fact, sources within Mercer’s super PAC would later tell Bloomberg News that shortly after Cruz drops out of the race, Ivanka Trump and her wealthy developer husband Jared Kushner, approach the Mercers, asking if they’d be willing to shift their support behind Trump. The answer is an eventual, but resounding yes.

In the months leading up to Trump’s presidential win, the Mercers would prove a formidable force. Beginning after the disastrous Republican Convention in July, they would furnish the Trump campaign with millions of dollars, and new leadership, but they would also furnish it with something more — a vast network of non-profits, strategists, media companies, research institutions and super PACs that they themselves funded and largely controlled.

CARRIE LEVINE: I think what you’ve seen is a lot of these organizations in this network come out to play a role in the 2016 elections.

HEDGES: With the Mercer family in the picture, the post-convention shake-up starts to make sense. Take Steve Bannon. He and Robert Mercer have been close for years, and Mercer is a top investor at Breitbart News, where Bannon was Chief Editor.

Kellyanne Conway also comes out of this network. Before becoming co-manager of Trump’s campaign, she headed up operations for Robert Mercer’s super PAC when it was still supporting Ted Cruz. And as for Deputy Campaign Manager, David Bossie, he was president of Citizens United, an organization Mercer has heavily funded since at least 2010.

Cambridge Analytica, the mysterious data-mining firm that received grudging praise after predicting the race’s outcome more accurately than any other polling company, is also heavily funded by Robert Mercer, and was employed by the Cruz campaign before Mercer switched over to Trump. In fact, the Mercers’ political infrastructure is so entrenched, that Rebecca Mercer herself sits on the 16-person executive committee of Trump’s transition team.

Mercer’s foray into the White House may seem to have been born partly out of luck, especially with Trump, instead of Cruz, as a stalking horse. But his rise to power was systematic, and it was years in the making.

The web of connections Mercer’s built over the last decade is vast and complex. It includes efforts to dismantle tax law, and weaken the IRS.

It’s about funding quack scientists and conspiracy theorists, who blame the government for, among other things, playing a role in the San Bernardino Massacre. Or of colluding with the United Nations, and using climate change as an excuse to implement environmental laws meant to depopulate America’s Midwest. It’s about pouring money into the neo-conservative John Bolton super PAC, which props up candidates who ascribe to Bolton’s hawkish foreign policy.

But one of Mercer’s earliest activist ventures was financing a slew of fringe documentary projects that have helped raise the profiles of people like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and most notably, the director of those films, Steve Bannon.

Bannon, who was previously a naval officer and Goldman Sachs investment banker, made his first documentary in 2004 about Ronald Reagan. It retold his biography, using washed out black and white archival footage of the Hollywood actor. Painting him as a brave protector of Western democracy from the threat of Communism.

Citizens United lawyer seeks state law overthrow


Since the infamous Citizens United decision, corporations have been handed a blank check to buy federal elections, and now the attorney who led that legal battle is taking aim at state campaign laws.

If he  wins, laws blocking corporate  contributions in nearly half the nation’s states could be overturned.

And so it becomes clear, in part at least, why the GOP block Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

They want it all.

From the Associated Press:

A case involving political “dark money” and the founder of an organization tied to President Donald Trump’s accusations of voter fraud could lead to a crush of anonymous cash infiltrating elections in the country’s second-largest state, a Democratic lawyer warned the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The nine Republican justices on Texas’ highest civil court heard arguments involving the legality of the state’s ban on corporate contributions, disclosure requirements for political action committees and the question of when a politically active nonprofit should have to disclose its donors like a traditional PAC. Some believe that the case ultimately could wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court and potentially reshape campaign finance regulations nationwide.

Houston tea party group King Street Patriots, started by Catherine Engelbrecht, has been the focus of a longstanding lawsuit by the Texas Democratic Party accusing the organization of violating state campaign finance laws by engaging in political behavior when it dispatched poll watchers on behalf of the Texas Republican Party during the 2010 election.

But the nonprofit, represented by Indiana attorney James Bopp Jr. — architect of the landmark Citizens United case that opened the door for corporations and unions to make unlimited independent expenditures in U.S. elections — has fired back with a counterclaim challenging numerous provisions of Texas campaign finance law.

Twenty-two states currently prohibit corporations from contributing money to campaigns and candidates, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Texas has no limit on what individuals or political committees can donate to candidates. Corporations statewide, however, are barred from giving money directly to a campaign, though they are allowed to contribute to a political committee set up for a ballot measure or to a state-level Super PAC, which is only allowed to make expenditures independent of candidates.

Advertisers stage a massive Breitbart exodus


It may be the preferred brand in the Trump White house, what with all those appointments, but other folks are shunning the website, including some of its biggest advertisers.

From the Independent:

Hundreds of advertisers are pulling away from ultra-conservative news website Breitbart, and campaigners are confident the backlash is snowballing.

According to a database from grassroots campaign group Sleeping Giants, a total of 818 companies have pledged to remove Breitbart from their media plan so far.

In the last few months, giant corporations such as Kelloggs, BMW, Visa, T-Mobile, Nordstrom and Lufthansa have all severed ties with the company.

And in the same week that President Donald Trump has threatened to pull funding from the University of California, Berkeley after it cancelled a speech by Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, two universities in Canada have also signed up to the advertising ban.

Emma Pullman, lead campaign strategist at separate campaign group SumOfUs, told The Independent most of the companies were pre-existing advertisers while some have put the website on their black list, as Breitbart has been accused of writing misogynist and racist articles.