Tidbits, February 2, 2013.
In order to ensure that a number of interesting smaller items that we have come across in recent days don't get swallowed up by the memory-hole, we have collected those in another tidbits edition.
The 'Resilient Earth' reports that “Climatologists Retrench As Climate Refuses To Warm”. This is very inconsiderate of the climate. Doesn't it realize that a $60 billion per year gravy train is at stake? No wonder that one of the most striking finds of the 'Climategate' e-mails was the one in which the topic of discussion was how to best 'hide the decline' (referring to a decline in temperatures). According to the Resilient Earth:
“A newly released study from the Research Council of Norway has climate change alarmists abuzz. One of the things the alarmists have been pushing for is to halt warming at a 2°C increase at any cost (and they mean that literally). In the Norwegian study, much to the alarmists' dismay, researchers have arrived at an estimate of 1.9°C as the most likely level of future warming. The report also recognizes that temperatures have stabilized at 2000 levels for the past decade even though CO2levels have continued to rise. Meanwhile, a reconstruction of the Eemian interglacial from the new NEEM ice core, published in the journal Nature, shows that in spite of a climate 8°C warmer than that of the past millennium, the ice in Northern Greenland was only a few hundred meters lower than its present level. This finding casts doubt on the projected melting of ice sheets and resulting sea-level rise.
After rising sharply through the 1990s, Earth’s mean surface temperature has leveled off nearly completely at its 2000 level. Ocean warming also appears to have stabilized, despite the fact that CO2 emissions and other anthropogenic factors claimed to contribute to global warming are still on the rise. Clearly, a number of factors affect climate development, not just the usual suspects cited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The complexity of the climate system is further compounded by feedback mechanisms—how factors such as clouds, evaporation, snow and ice interact with one another. Uncertainties about the impact of feedback mechanisms make it very difficult to predict future climate change. Moreover, predicting how much of the rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature is due to man-made emissions is nearly impossible in the face of our lack of knowledge.
That has not stopped some groups from prognosticating, predicting that catastrophic climate change is just around the corner and we, humanity, are to blame. One hotbed of blame-humanity-first climate science has been the UK's Met Office. But strange things are happening at the Met. Their latest long-term forecast basically says that temperatures will stay the same for the next five years. If this comes to pass we will have experienced a full two decades—twenty years—of flat temperatures, supposedly in the midst of killer global warming.”
Well, oops. We have discussed the Met Office turnabout before of course, but it looks now as though the global warming armor is accumulating chinks at alarming speed. Another globalist meme shipwrecked? Say it ain't so.
German Opposition to Cyprus Bailout Weakens
We could have written that article in advance actually. What else was supposed to happen? After all the bureaucratic wing of the eurocracy has made it known that Cyprus too, is too big to fail.
Der Spiegel reports:
“German leaders are concerned that emergency euro-zone aid to Cyprus will merely serve to help the Russian oligarchs who use the island nation as a tax haven. With pressure growing to approve a bailout deal, however, Berlin now appears to be changing its tune.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, as he has made clear several times, is no fan of providing emergency aid to struggling euro-zone member Cyprus. But pressure to reach a bailout deal has been growing in recent weeks. And now, according to an article in the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, Berlin appears to be abandoning its resistance.
Citing unnamed government sources, the paper noted that pressure to reach a deal on Cyprus had grown from euro-zone member states, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. There is concern in Brussels and across Europe that were Cyprus to be allowed to slip into bankruptcy, it could reverse the recent progress that has been made in coming to terms with the euro crisis.”
Consider it a done deal then.
Latvia to Join the Euro
In an astonishing turnabout, the sinking ship is about to take on a new passenger. Naturally such news only emerge after stock markets have rallied for a while. Should the rally reverse, Latvia's application to join the euro will disappear back into the drawer from whence it has recently been unearthed.
according the the AP:
“Unemployment, recession, debt, crisis and bailouts: These have been the sort of words that have been associated with the euro currency over the past few years. So it may come as a bit of a surprise to hear that a relatively poor country on the edge of the European Union is hurtling toward full membership within the year.
Latvia is the country in question and its lawmakers passed legislation Thursday that brought membership one step nearer in spite of widespread worries among the population. Latvia, which became independent from the former Soviet Union in 1991, intends to send a formal request to the European Union next month asking permission to adopt the euro – a request that, if approved, would make it the 18th EU country to use the common currency that over the past few years has been ravaged by a debt crisis that at times has threatened its very existence.
Latvia's center-right government believes that becoming a member of the euro bloc will attract investors to the small, open economy that at the start of the global financial crisis, between the years 2008 to 2010, saw economic activity collapse by nearly 25 percent. The country had to borrow (EURO)7.5 billion ($10.2 billion) in bailout funds from lenders such as the EU and International Monetary Fund in order to avoid bankruptcy. In return, the country had to enact painful austerity measures.
Sound familiar? Greece has been the most notable casualty of Europe's debt crisis, and its government has had to negotiate two massive international bailouts in order to stave off bankruptcy. In return it's had to enact steep salary and pension cuts as well as tax increases – a combination that's contributed to a five-year recession and sky-high unemployment of around 25 percent. Greece isn't the only euro country struggling to get a handle on its debts; Ireland and Portugal have also been bailed out, Cyprus is in talks for a financial lifeline, and much-bigger Italy and Spain have also faced the gaze of skeptical investors.
Given that seemingly-unappetizing backdrop that's generated a lot of antipathy against the 14-year-old euro within the single currency zone, it may seem somewhat of a surprise to find a country even mulling the possibility of joining. Latvia's neighbor Estonia was the last country to adopt the euro at the start of 2011.
Addressing lawmakers Thursday, Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said introducing the euro was part of Latvia's strategy to cope with the economic crisis. "From an economic standpoint, right now Latvia is at the crisis' finish line," he said. "Introducing the euro symbolically ends the period of tough economic reforms and secures the state's further development."
Good luck chaps, you're going to need it. Of course the Baltic nations have a special reason to want to adopt the euro: they want to ensure by any means possible that it will be more difficult in the future for the Russian bear to embrace them again. Still, not all Latvians are happy at the prospect:
Some Latvians still dread the euro.
(Photo credit: Roman Koksarov)
The main reason why Latvia now wants to join: the rally in the Euro-Stoxx index, at present a measure of the temporary improvement of the social mood in Europe. Via BigCharts – click for better resolution.
Italy Goes After 'Tax Cheats' Even if it Ruins the Economy
Why are there 'tax cheats' in Italy in the first place? The answer is simple: taxes are way too high. A great many people refuse to be robbed to the extent most European welfare states nowadays regard as 'normal'. As a result of the debt crisis, Italy has introduced new methods to ensnare the 'cheats', but it is shooting itself in the foot in the process, as numerous businesses have greatly suffered as a result. What the state gets by putting pressure on its citizens on the one hand, it loses on the other by destroying more and more economic activity. But hey, the State wants to send an important message: people must be 'frightened' – that, we learn, is 'the real objective'.
“Despite the government’s best efforts, tax evasion remains something of a pastime in Italy, where, famously, more than a few of the Ferrari-driving set claim impoverishment when it comes to declaring their incomes. So this month, not without controversy, the National Revenue Agency decided to try a new tack. Rather than attempting to ferret out how much suspected tax cheats earn, the agency began trying to infer it from how much they spend.
The new tool, known as the “redditometro,” or income measurer, aims to minimize the wiggle room for evasion by examining a taxpayer’s expenditures in dozens of categories, like household costs, car ownership, vacations, gym subscriptions, cellphone usage and clothing. If the taxpayer’s spending appears to be more than 20 percent greater than the income he or she has declared, the agency will ask for an explanation.
In a country that is desperate for revenue to straighten out its ailing public finances — and where newspapers routinely publish articles about Lamborghini-loving proletarians — one might expect the redditometro to attract some support, at least among Italians who file truthful tax returns. Yet the redditometro has run into strong opposition, not least from the nation’s suffering retailers, who are worried that it will discourage consumer spending and sink their businesses further. Others have criticized it on civil rights grounds, saying it is overly intrusive.
However it is received, the measure reflects the government’s widening effort to persuade more Italians — some say, to bully them — to comply with the tax code.
“This tool is part of a broader strategy of tension, which is the real objective,” said Andrea Carinci, a professor of tax law at the University of Bologna. “Not to create panic, but to make taxpayers understand that they have to be virtuous, because there is no escaping. The revenue agency wants to give a message to frighten people.” The message is being received.
Serena Sileoni, a legal expert with the Bruno Leoni Institute, an Italian research organization, said in an interview on Radio 24 that forcing taxpayers to keep receipts to document their spending amounted to “an act of psychological terrorism.”
Even before the redditometro was introduced, the Italian tax authorities had been steadily adopting tougher measures that have begun to bite. The financial police said last week that in 2012, they uncovered more than 8,600 full-blown tax evaders — individuals who were not in their files at all — with more than $30 billion in undeclared income. Another $23 billion in income that should have been declared on Italian tax returns was unearthed abroad, they said.
Even so, those figures represent a relatively small part of Italy’s tax collection shortfall. The national statistics agency estimates that as much as 18 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product comes from the underground economy; if taxes were paid on all of that money, the state would take in as much as $162 billion more each year.
When the redditometro was first presented in November, the tax authorities said that by their analyses, about one-fifth of all Italian households exhibited “contradictory results” in their returns. Such contradictions do not necessarily imply tax evasion, officials hastened to add, but they would be enough to warrant closer scrutiny in some cases. The redditometro cross-checks spending against the type of household — say, young single adults, families with children, or retirees — as well as where the taxpayer lives. It also considers national averages for various kinds of spending, calculated by the national statistical agency, Istat.
Critics decry what they say is a presumption of guilt, and say the hunt for tax evaders is having a chilling effect on parts of the economy.
Sales of domestic sports cars and luxury autos plummeted last year, in part because of higher taxes and tighter tax scrutiny, industry experts say. Other big-ticket luxury goods are also suffering. “People feel under such scrutiny, they’re afraid — and that stops them from purchasing items that are seen as luxury goods,” said Raffaella Cortese, the owner of a gallery in Milan that specializes in contemporary art. “It’s paralyzing for our field.”
Who cares if it has a 'chilling effect' the economy? The important thing is that the State's bureaucrats can engage in 'psychological terrorism' and cow the population into submission, right?
The size of Italy's 'shadow economy' is very likely even larger than the article suggests. Without it, Italy's economy would collapse instantly. It is the same all over Europe: much of economic life is only kept going because there is a vast shadow economy. If governments are serious about killing it, it will be like cutting off an arm and a leg. The downward spiral of tax revenue will intensify. Note by the way that not a single of the so-called 'tax cheats' can actually escape paying taxes anyway. There is a 21% VAT charged on every good that is sold in Italy. We doubt that the money the State will garner by catching tax evaders will even remotely make up for what it now loses in VAT income concurrently.
Russia – Sound Money to be Retained?
Russia's central bank is something of an exception to the global trend: it has recently hiked interest rates in spite of a weakening economy in order to lower the rate of inflation (i.e., price increases).
Now central bank governor Sergei Ignatyev is about to retire after 11 years. He has refreshingly refused to give in to pressure form businesses and politicians alike, all of whom were regularly pleading with him to lower interest rates. And yet, all of Russia seems well aware that his policies have been a success. It seems that president Putin actually has a good motive to appoint a similarly stern steward of the currency in his stead.
“An impending change in the leadership of Russia's central bank will test President Vladimir Putin's commitment to sound money. Chairman Sergei Ignatyev will retire in June after 11 years at the helm, with a replacement to be named in March.
His successor will face the challenge of managing persistent inflation and slowing growth, husbanding half a trillion dollars in reserves and fixing regulation of Russia's financial markets. While sources suggest Putin will pick an orthodox policymaker — central bank insider Alexei Ulyukayev or perhaps ex-finance minister Alexei Kudrin — there are also fears he will yield to calls to use the appointment to force a change of central bank policy.
"Is the central bank going to be leant on to inject stimulus so that we get back into the bad old days of boom and bust?" asked Christopher Granville, managing director of London-based emerging markets research firm Trusted Sources. "This will affect the nature of the Russian market: Whether it's going to be a volatile, short-term-trading-type market, or set on the foundation for much smoother, sustainable long-term growth."
Ignatyev's departure comes as the central bank faces unusually harsh criticism from leading businessmen and government officials. Aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska has accused Russia's central bankers of being "leeches" who are "sucking all the blood from the economy". That followed a call for looser monetary policy from Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, one of Putin's most senior lieutenants.
The central bank hiked all its interest rates last autumn after inflation overshot its 6 percent target, and shows little eagerness to cut now, even as economic growth weakens.
The bank's determination to bring inflation down is hardening as it completes the transition to a formal inflation-targeting regime — due by 2015 — similar to central banking practice in developed economies.
But while Putin has also voiced concerns over the slowing economy, the betting is that he will pick a successor who will continue Ignatyev's tough-minded approach. Whatever the current policy tensions, Ignatyev's long-term record is hard to ignore. "Probably of all the state institutions, the central bank has the highest trust of the people, which is obviously a big change," said Clemens Grafe, chief Russia economist at Goldman Sachs.
Ignatyev's success in preserving financial stability and bringing down inflation contrasts with the 1990s, which saw savings wiped out by hyperinflation, and the rouble's cataclysmic devaluation in 1998. The rouble's value today — just over 30 to the dollar — has barely changed since 2002 when Ignatiev took the job. Although still high at nearly 7 percent, inflation has more than halved.
While some of Putin's officials may be passing the buck for the slowdown to the central bank, the president has political reasons to prioritize low inflation. Opinion polls show rising prices top public concerns, particularly among the elderly who are Putin's core voters. Moreover, the health of the Russian economy in five years' time — when Putin is expected to seek re-election — is more likely to be helped by low inflation than short-term stimulus.
"Stimulus doesn't look like it will work," said Jacob Nell, chief Russia economist at Morgan Stanley. "It's likely to turn into higher inflation so would be self-defeating."
Back in 1998, Jim Rogers would regularly appear as a guest on CNBC's 'squawk box'; when asked about his best investment idea for the year he kept repeating “sell the ruble”. He was right, it was one of the best investment ideas of that fateful year.
Depending on whom Putin appoints, it could well be that it is time for a different slogan: buy the ruble.
Russia's stern steward of the currency, Sergei Ignatiev.
(Photo credit: Dmitry Beliakov/Bloomberg )
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