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The biggest problem facing investors today is that “the rules” of the game change almost every year.
What I mean is that any basic rule investors took for granted could be thrown out the window. Indeed, in the last five years we’ve seen:
1) Accounting standards at financial institutions suspended.
2) Capital requirements for banks (Basel III) postponed multiple times.
3) Fraud go unpunished.
4) Obvious insider trading amongst political officials and banking insiders.
5) Central bankers openly admit that they will lie to investors.
Why are so many laws and rules being thrown out?
The Powers That Be are committed to propping the system up by any means possible.
Spain’s banking system, by any reasonable analysis, is totally bankrupt.
The reason for this is that Spanish banks are all packed to the brim with garbage assets (mortgage loans and Spanish Government bonds… which aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on).
Consider the story of Bankia.
Bankia was formed by merging seven bankrupt regional Spanish banks in 2010.
The new bank was funded by Spain’s Government rescue fund… which received “preference shares” in return for over €4 billion (from taxpayers).
These preference shares were shares that a) yielded 7.75% and b) would get paid before ordinary investors if Bankia failed again. So right away, the Spanish Government was taking taxpayer money to give itself preferential treatment over ordinary investors.
Indeed, those investors who owned shares in the seven banks that merged to form Bankia lost their shirts. They were wiped out and lost everything.
Bankia was then taken public in 2011. Spanish investment bankers convinced the Spanish public that the bank was a fantastic investment. Over 98% of the shares were sold to Spanish investors.
One year later, Bankia was bankrupt again, and required the single largest bailout in Spain’s history: €19 billion. Spain took over the bank and Bankia shares were frozen on the market (meaning you couldn’t sell them if you wanted to).
When the bailout took place, Bankia shareholders were all but wiped out, forced to take huge losses as part of the deal. The vast majority of them were individual investors (the bank currently faces a lawsuit for over 140,000 claims of mis-selling shares).
So that’s two wipeouts in as many years.
The bank was taken public a year a second time later in May 2013. Once again Bankia shares promptly collapsed, losing 80% of their value in a matter of days. And once again, it was ordinary investors who got destroyed.
Indeed, things were so awful that a police officer stabbed a Bankia banker who sold him over €300,000 worth of shares (the banker had convinced him it was a great investment).
Which brings us to today.
Bankia remains completely bankrupt. But its executives and the Spanish Government continue to claim that things are improving and that the bank is on the up and up. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal wrote an article titled “Investors Show Interest in Bankia.”
The story featured a quote from Spain’s Finance Minister that, “… it is logical. The perception of Spain has improved and Banki has improved a lot.”
Bear in mind, this is a bank that has wiped out investors THREE times in the last THREE YEARS. So that’s three different rounds of individual investors being told that Bankia was a great investment and losing everything.
Every single one of these wipeouts was preceded by both bankers and Spanish Government officials claiming that “everything had been fixed” and that Bankia was a success story.
And now the Spanish Government is trying to convince them to line up for a fourth round.
This kind of fraud and lawlessness is unbelievable to me. But it is indeed how the world works today. Those who have power will do anything they can to retain it. This includes, lying, cheating, and stealing.
And while certain items relating to this story are unique, the morals to Bankia’s tale can be broadly applied across the board to the economy/ financial today.
Those morals are:
1) Those in charge of regulating the system will lie, cheat and steal rather than be honest to those who they are meant to protect (individual investors)
2) Any financial problem that surfaces will be dealt with via fraud or lies rather than taking a hit. This will include short selling bans, stocks being frozen, bail-ins, and worse.
3) When the inevitable collapse finally does hit, it will be individual investors and the general public who get screwed.
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Phoenix Capital Research
Hundreds of thousands of people are still waiting for their power to be restored after a weekend ice storm wreaked havoc from southwestern Ontario to the Atlantic Coast.
Across Ontario about 350,000 people remained without power early Monday morning, and hydro officials were advising that it could take until Wednesday to get everyone reconnected.
In hardest hit Toronto where the ice splintered a huge number of trees, and turned roads and sidewalks into skating rinks, nearly 250,000 hydro customers were still in the dark by 3 a.m. At a press conference a few hours later, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said crews had brought that number down to 200,000 customers. Some in the city may be in the dark through Christmas, The Toronto Star reported.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told a Sunday afternoon news conference that the province would provide support to municipal emergency crews as they scramble to do their jobs.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford called it one of the worst storms in the city’s history, but said he was not yet ready to declare a state of emergency.
The Toronto Transit Commission warned to expect delays on all surface routes and shuttle buses were put into use between some subway stations. The Sheppard Line and Scarborough RT Line were both closed due to bad weather and buses are in service instead.
Buses were also operating betweenWoodbine Station and Kennedy Station Monday morning. Subway trains were also bypassing Yorkdale Station and North York Centre Station due to power outages.
GO Trains were operating on an adjusted schedule to cope with the bad weather.
Air travellers, however, were still being frustrated by numerous flight cancellations and delays at Pearson International Airport. The airport is advising travellers to check with their airline about flight status in advance and to give themselves lots of time.
You can reach Air Canada’s automated flight system at 1-888-422-7533.Travellers flying with WestJet can call 1-888-937-8538.
Flying with Porter? You can find out more about your flight at 1-888-619-8622.
The storm system also coated much of southern Quebec in ice, and continues to produce freezing drizzle in parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Some 50,000 customers in Quebec and about 6,000 more in New Brunswick were still without power as of late Sunday night.
A few local photos:
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are some of the world’s most controversial technologies. Transatlantic disputes arising from the sharp regulatory differences between the two major frameworks — those of the United States and the European Union — have affected research, investment and planting decisions worldwide.
Global factors enabling the global expansion of GMOs include heavy investment, favourable international prices and the expanding role of transnational companies. These conditions, however, do not appear to apply to Spain, where insufficient information, transparency, independent studies and weak social mobilization have left the field open to constant lobbying by GM companies.
The EU’s legal framework
The GMO situation in Spain cannot be understood without first grasping the EU’s legal framework for their authorization. Considered restrictive by many, the procedure has nonetheless enabled their rapid spread. It is based on Directive 2001/18/CE, transposed into Spanish legislation by Law 9/2003, and two Regulations: 1829/2003 and 1830/03.
Given the diversity of national, regional, and local conditions under which European farmers work, the European Commission considers that coexistence measures to avoid the unintended presence of GMOs in conventional and organic crops should be developed and implemented by the Member States, and Article 26a of Directive 2001/18/EC entitles them to do so.
However, in 2012 the EU Court of Justice ruled (Case C-36/11) that Member States cannot subject the cultivation of GMOs to an additional national authorization procedure if already authorized via relevant EU legislation. The ruling follows previous case law of the Court that sanctioned France for inappropriate transposition of GM EU rules (Cases C-419/03 andC-121/07), thus setting clear limits to Article 26a.
Opt-outs and concerns
Presently, several Member States have called for a clause that would allow them to opt out of GM cultivation. Some of these Member States have already banned the cultivation of GMOs on the basis of a safeguard clause (Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC) or emergency measures intended to address new information about risks emerging after an authorization has been granted (Article 34 of Regulation 1829/2003). As a result, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) did not consider the bans to be scientifically justified, as initially was the case for France. Other countries like Austria, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Luxembourg and Germany have been successful in their bans.
Interestingly, in 2009, 12 of the 21 members of the EFSA GMO panel had a conflict of interest as defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: their involvement with the biotech industry positioned them to potentially exploit their official capacity for corporate or personal benefit. Since then, only one conflicted member has left the panel.
Despite countering claims, another conflict of interest appears to have driven the retraction of a publication of the scientific independent study by a French research group led by Gilles-Éric Séralini, which described harmful effects on rats fed with Monsanto’s GM maize. This retraction from the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology happened after Richard Goodman, who worked from 1997–2004 for Monsanto, joined the journal’s Editorial Board.
The article was retracted under the argument that the small sample size of rats and the rat strain selected were sufficient reasons to question the finality of the conclusions. However, among other counterarguments made by the European Network of Scientists, inconclusiveness of research results is not contained in the guidelines for retractions in scientific publishing, set out by the Committee on Publication Ethics, of which the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology is amember.
France banned Monsanto’s corn line MON810 based on this study and previous scientific findings, but the ban was initially challenged by the EFSA. This line, like other Bt maize, is considered insect resistant because it is designed to containBacillus thuringiensis, a pathogen toxic to insects in the Lepidoptera order, including the European Corn Borer. Based on documentation submitted by France, the EFSA affirmed in 2012 that “…there [was] no specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health or the environment, that would support the notification of an emergency measure […] and invalidate its previous risk assessments of maize MON810”. Despite the EFSA’s and the State Council’s rejection of the ban, the French government decided to maintain it.
Understanding the case of Spain
Despite scientific findings and increasing concerns, and in great contrast with France’s position, Spain currently has the highest adoption rate of Bt maize in the EU since it was first introduced in 1998. In 2012, over 120 thousand hectares of Btmaize were cultivated — 19.5 percent more than the previous year — representing 90 percent of GM crops in the EU.
So why do countries that share a common European legal framework, as well as similar climate and soil conditions, have diametrically opposed views on this issue?
A survey was conducted for the European Commission in 2005 in three of Spain’s leading Bt maize-growing provinces. While results do report higher yields, the study shows statistical significance in only one province, and all Bt maize produced was actually sold for feed manufacturing.
The survey also found that 30 percent of farmers still applied insecticides even when the treatment was ineffective. Although the study praises this percentage as an achievement, data must be contrasted with recent findings on the use of pesticides: in the US, the fifteen-year period following the 1996 introduction of Roundup Ready crops saw herbicide use rise by about seven percent. This percentage, however, would be much higher if “insecticides applied” counted theBt produced by transgenic plants, as many entomologists propose.
Interestingly, when asked about their reasons for adopting Bt maize, farmers stated “lowering the risk of maize borer damage”, “obtaining higher yields”, and “better quality of the harvest”, though there is no scientific basis for believing that the technology provides any of those results. Moreover, factors including soil type, irrigation intensity, weather conditions or ecological integrity were not analyzed in the study, all of which have direct impact on the three responses provided.
The roots of Spain’s GM openness
In 1998, the Spanish government authorized two varieties of Bt maize 176 for the first time, entrusting the biomonitoringprocess to the same companies that had created those varieties. The change of government in 2004, from right-wing to more centre oriented, made it possible for the protests coming from civil society to be heard, and a representative from the environmental sector was admitted in the National Commission on Biosafety.
During European Council meetings, the Spanish government shifted from “pro-GMO” responses to “abstention” in most cases. Interestingly, though, Member States’ individual votes are not accessible to the public. Fortunately, votes are recorded by NGOs, uncovering the inconsistency of the country’s neutral EU position and policies at the national level: the same government approved 14 new varieties of maize MON810 in July 2005, bringing the total number to 40 at that time. Although Bt 176 varieties were removed from the country’s list of authorized GMOs in 2005, today the total number of approved GM commercial varieties is 116.
The difference between the GM maize cultivation rates of France and Spain stems, on the one hand, from weak mobilization of social organizations and insufficient public debate in Spain and, on the other, from the Spanish government’s support of GM companies.
A weak social mobilization compared to the French case could originate from the difference in the sociological composition and history of the French and Spanish countrysides. Unlike Spain, France experienced a phenomenon of neo-ruralisation after May 1968, which led to the formation of strong agricultural unions devoted to protecting the rights of small-scale farmers (e.g., Confédération Paysanne).
At the same time, the Spanish rural population is not as receptive to alternatives, such as organic agriculture, as the French. Although a number of regions have declared themselves GMO-free zones, which highlights the disconnect between national government and local populations, the productivist approach still remains unchallenged, and this includes GMOs.
Furthermore, cables released by WikiLeaks revealed that, according to Monsanto, the French government would have contravened WTO regulations by banning MON810, and that the company would seek compensation. The Spanish government possibly saw this as a retaliatory threat.
In addition, these cables showed that US diplomats were working directly for GM companies like Monsanto to help ensure Spain’s adoption. “In response to recent urgent requests by [Spanish rural affairs ministry] Josep Puxeu and Monsanto, post requests renewed US government support of Spain’s science-based agricultural biotechnology position through high-level US government intervention.”
It also emerged that Spain and the US worked closely to persuade the EU not to strengthen biotechnology laws. In one cable, the embassy in Madrid writes: “If Spain falls, the rest of Europe will follow.”
Learning from Spain
Lack of transparent requirements and procedures for GMO adoption and development remains an issue both at national and European levels. While registers of approved GMOs at both levels remain, in principle, open to the public, information appears limited and highly technical.
The lack of information provided to farmers about long-term effects on health and the environment is no coincidence either. Conclusions stated by the above-mentioned survey as positive are based on the implicitly accepted fact that information provided to farmers remains insufficient, at least in the areas of its scope.
There is also an overall lack of independent scientific studies. Instead of being undertaken by the CSIC (Spain’s leading public scientific research institute), they are first carried out by the companies themselves after 90-day tests, clearly insufficient compared to the two-year period required for pharmaceutical products. Governmental or European agencies might conduct further research, but these often pick scientific evidence at their convenience and include members who are in conflict of interest.
Furthermore, weak social mobilization and the shutting-out of NGO and critical civil society voices have played a major role in the rapid spread of GMOs. Additionally, Spain has been made deliberately dependent on European agricultural subsidies, where local communities are rendered particularly vulnerable to supra-national decisions and left with very little or no voice in those fora.
The connivance of political powers with the private sector, already known before the WikiLeaks revelations, was further evidenced by sudden changes of policy by ministers of agriculture before and after their election. The politicization of the issue cannot be avoided, but information, transparency and social participation must be fostered in order to prevent misinformed farmers’ decisions, private benefit-oriented political decisions and the quietening of social sectors key in this process.
The federal government is staying quiet on reports it has caved to U.S. demands on intellectual property and copyright issues in a new Pacific trade deal currently under negotiation, saying only that talks are ongoing.
Citing a report from the Washington Trade Daily, the Council of Canadians saysCanada has backed off its resistance to “outrageous” new intellectual property rights the U.S. wants to see included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
WikiLeaks, which released a draft copy of the IP chapter of the deal last month, described it as having “far-reaching implications for individual rights and civil liberties.”
Critics of the deal say if the U.S. gets its way, the result could be the criminalization of small-scale copyright infringement and households being disconnected from the internet under laws that punish unauthorized downloading. Internet providers would be forced to do more monitoring of their subscribers, and it would be easier for governments to remove websites, critics say.
Additionally, proposed extensions to drug patents and copyright terms would mean more expensive drugs and other products, critics say.
“Australia, New Zealand and Canada, among others, dropped their objections to the high-standard disciplines in intellectual property and came on board by agreeing to the modified text,” the Council of Canadians quoted the Trade Daily as saying.
“Effectively, there is consensus on the intellectual property dossier except for one developing country.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade did not address the claims directly, but told HuffPost Canada that “the IP chapter is still under negotiation and Canada continues to advance its interests at the negotiating table.”
Canada “is committed to ensuring that its intellectual property regime balances the interests of both rightholders and users,” a DFAIT spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Documents released by WikiLeaks last month showed Canada had been in the majority of negotiating countries in resisting the IP provisions the U.S. wants. It’s unclear whether Canada’s reported change of stance, along with the shift by other countries, now gives the U.S. the muscle to make the IP provisions part of the final agreement. Negotiations continue under a veil of secrecy, with the latest round wrapping up in Singapore last week.
Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew called on the federal government to release the proposed text of the TPP to the public.
“This is a transparent effort to find more profits for U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies by undermining other countries’ efforts to keep health costs down,” he said.
“People have a right to see what other ridiculous trade-offs are happening in the TPP negotiations. The Harper government, and all TPP countries, owe it to everyone to make the full text public now.”
Along with Canada and the U.S., the countries negotiating the TPP are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
A trade area among those countries would have a population of nearly 800 million and would represent more than 38 per cent of the world economy.
If you don’t like the frequency of your air-quality alerts, you don’t have to keep them. That is the message that the Chinese government has made loud and clear as Bloomberg reports, Shanghai’s environmental authority took decisive action to address the pollution – it cynically adjusted the threshold for “alerts” to ensure there won’t be so many. In a move remininscent of Japan’s raising of the “safe” radioactive threshold level, China has apparently decided – rather than accept responsibility for the disaster – to avoid it by making the “safe” pollution level over 50% more polluted (up from 75 to 115 micrograms per cubic meter) – almost 5 times the WHO’s “safe” level of 25 micrograms.
As the smog that has choked Shanghai for much of the last week reached hazardous levels, the city’s environmental authority took decisive action to address the frequent air-quality alerts: It adjusted standards downward to ensure that there won’t be so many.
It was a cynical move, surely made to protect the bureau’s image in the face of unrelenting pollution that only seems to grow worse, despite government promises to address it.At this advanced stage in China’s development, nobody in the country (or elsewhere) — not even the loyal state news media — seems to believe that the problem is solvable, at least not any time soon. Even worse, nobody — not the state and certainly not the growing number of middle-class consumers (and car buyers) — seems ready to take responsibility for the mess.
If you can’t fix it, you might as well try to avoid responsibility for it, the thinking seems to go. It therefore comes as no surprise that Shanghai’s Environmental Protection Bureau decided to lower the benchmark for alerting the public about pollution risks. It will now issue alerts only when the concentration of the most dangerous particulates in the city’s air, known asPM2.5 (particulates smaller than 2.5 micometers in diameter) reach 115 micrograms per cubic meter. The previous standard was 75 micrograms per cubic meter. (The World Health Organization recommends not exceeding 25 micrograms per cubic meter in a 24-hour period.)
The state-owned English-language China Daily explained the decision in tone that almost obscured the absurdity of the maneuver: “The bureau said it believes the original standard is too strict, given that haze is common in the Yangtze River Delta region in winter.”
“On social networks like Weibo and Wechat, Beijingers now show photos of blue skies and white clouds as if they’re on vacation.” This show-off behavior left a bad taste, he concedes, before concluding with a final sentence that ought to serve as a rallying cry in China: “I really hope that someday people will resume reacting to blue skies and white clouds in a ‘normal’ manner.”
That’s a hope that probably won’t be fulfilled in this decade or even the next.
French President Warns Of Immediate Military Intervention Hours After Reporting Soaring Unemployment | Zero Hedge
While we are sure it is just a coincidence that hours after his nation reports record and soaring unemployment rates, French President Hollande announces a doubling of troops in Central African Republic (CAR) deciding to “intervene immediately” after the UN authorization, adding “this intervention will be quick. It has no vocation to last and I’m sure it will be a success,”
- *FRANCE HAS DUTY TO INTERVENE, HOLLANDE SAYS
- *HOLLANDE SAYS CENTRAL AFRICA MASSACRES CONTINUING
- *HOLLANDE SAYS SITUATION CENTRAL AFRICA `ALARMING, FRIGHTENING’
The US State Department “welcomes France’s decision to reinforce its military presence,” adding that, the US is “appalled by today’s reports of the murder of innocent women and children outside of Bangui.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be the modern-day war without drones, and as IB Times reports, a fleet of five unarmed drones will help U.N. troops monitor the vast Central African country of 66 million people, which has been plagued by violent militias for decades.
Hollande… (via DPA),
French President Francois Hollande said Thursday he had decide to intervene “immediately” in the Central African Republic, after the United Nations authorized an intervention by African and French forces.
France would double its current troop deployment of 600 “within a few days, if not a few hours,” Hollande said in an address from the Elysee Palace.
“This intervention will be quick. It has no vocation to last and I’m sure it will be a success,” he said, pledging to regularly brief the nation on its progress.
Hollande emphasized that France would be acting “together with Africans and the support of European partners” and assured that the country has “no other objective than to save human lives.”
From the US State Dept.
The United States remains committed to supporting the international community’s efforts to find a solution that protect civilians, restores security, ensures greater humanitarian access, and puts CAR on a path back to democratic governance.
Drone use raises questions…(Via IB Times),
“Such high-technology systems allow a better knowledge of what is happening on the ground, which allows a force to better do its job,” said Hervé Ladsous, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.
But there are some concerns about the U.N. drone program’s transparency and regulatory framework. “Congo is in many ways a laboratory for U.N. peacekeepers with a range of equipment and a range of experiments being used,” said Phil Clark, a political professor at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, to Deutsche Welle. “But I think there are big questions here. Such as, what is it like for a non-state actor to use drones and this type of equipment, what kind of information will it be gathering, who exactly will have access to that information and what will they do with it and so I think we need a lot more clarity from the U.N. as to exactly how these drones will be used.”
As the Keynesian train rolls on, when all else fails, declare war… all that non-deflatinary ammunition production and waste…
Is it time to repatriate powers from the EU? Such a bold option is a matter of interest not only in the UK, where David Cameron, the prime minister, has proposed a referendum on British membership of the union based on his hope to do just that. More surprisingly, it has also become the most hotly debated issue in the eurozone – albeit for different reasons.
The latest, weighty contribution to this debate comes from Ashoka Mody, a former senior official of the International Monetary Fund now at Bruegel, a think-tank in Brussels. In an essay, “A Schuman compact for the euro area”, he starts from the premise that he wants to preserve the euro. But he finds the most pragmatic way of achieving this goal is to end all pretensions to a fiscal union and a banking union, and to repatriate policy.
ON THIS STORY
- Prime minister warns of reform fatigue
- Draghi hits at ‘nationalistic’ critics of low rates
- ‘Balkanisation’ remains a serious concern
- Euro gains as ECB mutes negative rate talk
ON THIS TOPIC
- Recovery watchers keep eye on inflation
- Editorial Lost in transition
- Frans Timmermans Bring Europe into the 21st century
- May battles Foreign Office over migrants
The argument is that these are policy areas that require a clear delineation of competences. The present system of shared sovereignty over fiscal policy between member states and European institutions hasdemonstrably not worked. Genuine political union, with a central fiscal authority and a central authority over banking, is not politically feasible, he says. The best alternative to integration is a return to national responsibility.
This is my summary of Professor Mody’s essay. He explains Europe’s dysfunctional policy response to the crisis in much greater detail. I agree with him on the central part of his analysis: you cannot run a complex monetary union through a system of shared sovereignty. Somebody has to be in charge.
My disagreement with Prof Mody lies in his conclusion, which consists of two related arguments. The first is that a political union is not attainable. The second is that a repatriation of fiscal policies, and banking, could work. He proposes to do this through enhanced “compacts” – contractual agreements in the form of binding treaties that regulate fundamental principles of economic policy co-ordination. They would fall outside the competence of the EU and its institutions.
On banking union specifically, Prof Mody supports a German proposal, which amounts to repatriation. This proposal calls for a loose alliance of national supervisors, based on an agreed set of rules and standards with rigorous benchmarks for best practice. For this to work, Germany itself would have to set an example and “shed its reputation for diluting the new generation of international bank regulatory standards”. As a first step, it should merge its fragmented deposit insurance system.
But how likely is that? Put another way: is the probability of a political union really that much lower than the probability that Germany would do any of the things Prof Mody stipulates? If we take away banking union, Germany is more likely to cement the current system than to change it.
This brings me to the main counter-argument to Prof Mody. A wise friend once remarked that the only thing that is harder to do in Europe than to integrate is to disintegrate. This is why the policy is to muddle through on the basis of existing law and institutions. All radical options – a dissolution of the eurozone, a formal default or repatriation – would require a consensus that is simply not there.
I am not ready to give up on the big idea of a political union. The history of the EU has shown that integration can be irritatingly slow and grinding, but when it occurs it is ultimately forceful. The reason people are discussing banking or fiscal union today is precisely because member states have been facing a collective action problem and because a crisis left them with no alternative.
Loose co-ordination has been tried, and it did not work. One reason is that sovereignty entails the freedom by people and governments to disregard what previous generations inserted into their compacts. Just look at Europe’s stability pact.
For me, the main lesson of the eurozone crisis is that without a minimally sufficient central power, with the right to impose economic policies, a monetary union is ultimately unstable. Reasonable people can disagree on how large and powerful this centre would have to be. They can also disagree on whether the goal is attainable or not in our specific case. But it is not reasonable to assume that going back to the status quo ante is going to solve the problem. It is the place where we came from.
If you knew there was a very safe Canadian investment that skyrocketed by 20 per cent last year, you’d probably say that was a good thing.
But when the thing that’s going up in value is farmland, Christie Young says it’s a crisis in the making.
The latest survey by Farm Credit Canada shows the price of farmland in Quebec rose by a staggering 19.4 per cent last year. Nationally, Canadian farmland from coast to coast has risen by an average of 12 per cent a year since 2008. That’s more than five times the rate of inflation.
For people who already own farmland, soaring prices are a windfall.
But Young, executive director of FarmStart, a group trying to help young farmers get into the business of farming, says Canada is facing a sea change that bodes ill for agriculture.
“The average age of farmers is 60 years old across Canada,” says Young.
“According to StatsCan data, about 50 per cent of our land assets will be transferred in the next five years. And of the retiring farmers, 75 per cent of them don’t have successors. It’s a transition we’ve never seen before in agriculture. And it’s one we are wholly and completely unprepared for.”
FarmStart has two incubator farms in southern Ontario to bring new farmers into the business, but at current prices, Young says there is no way those starting out could earn enough from their farms to make a living and pay their mortgage.
It is a problem that Rejean Girard, who farms southwest of Montreal, understands.
He bought his small plot of land near Saint-Cesaire 20 years ago. But Girard says the return he gets from the sheep he raises would never pay for that land today. By that measure, he says, the land is overpriced by about three-quarters.
The steadily rising price of land has caught the attention of savvy Canadian investors. Global investors have an interest, too, but in most provinces only Canadians are allowed to own farmland.
That has created an opportunity for Canadian farmland investment funds like Bonnefield, Agcapita and Assiniobia, which have been assembling blocks of farmland and selling shares to high net worth Canadians.
The president of Toronto-based Bonnefield, Tom Eisenhaur, says farmland has been one of the most lucrative and secure investments especially when markets are volatile, and “a better hedge against inflation than gold.”
Eisenhaur says he expects the price of land to continue to rise, if not at the same rate as over the past decade.
He quotes a United Nations survey that shows world food production will have to double over the next 20 years.
“While it’s trite to say, no matter how bad or how good things get in the markets, people still have to eat.”
Profits from rising prices
While Eisenhaur is profiting from rising prices, he scoffs at the idea that funds like his are responsible for the land boom.
He says that while farmers buy and sell some $15 billion worth of land each year in Canada, third-party investors like his company trade a mere $100 million worth.
So it seems clear that farmers’ pursuit of more acreage is helping to push up the price of the land.
That seems to be in direct conflict with what Girard, Young and many others say about the difficulty of paying for farmland with a farm income.
That is, until I speak with Gary Brien who farms near Chatham, Ont..
“The way we’ve looked at it is more of a way of life. It just so happens the land has gone up as we accumulated it over our lifetime,” says Brien. “I really don’t think we own it. We’re just using it while we’re here. The value to us may not be in a dollar value.”
Brien says that the last few years, bumper crops have pushed up farm incomes to record levels, so farmers have had cash to spare. And when farmers have money on hand, their non-monetary way of thinking of land, combined with the tax rules, encourages them to put that spare cash into farmland, whatever the price.
“Farmers don’t like paying income tax,” says Brien. “And if they get a bunch of money and have a choice to pay income tax, or buy more land, they buy more land.”
Bigger and bigger
That tends to mean existing farms are getting bigger and bigger, able to take advantage of the efficiencies of expensive modern farm machinery and make the money to buy more land.
But that doesn’t help the farmers who are just starting out small, without inherited family land and little prospect of paying off a mortgage, even if they could get one.
“We have farmers in rural areas paying far over the productive value of the land that they are buying because they have the income or there are such scarce land resources that they’ll pay anything,” says Young.
“For a new entrant looking at that landscape, it is almost impossible to conceive of buying a farm.”
The Globe and Mail and other media outlets fell for a fake tweet during the shooting at LAX on Friday.
A gunman opened fire near Terminal 3, killing a TSA agent and injuring several other people. As the situation unfolded Friday, a tweet from @HeadIineNews said that former NSA director Michael Hayden had been shot dead at the airport. At the time, the account had the same logo as @BreakingNews.
The Globe and Mail picked up the tweet, and falsely reported, “LAPD is reporting Ex-NSA chief Michael Hayden has been shot dead at LAX. Radical Christian gr0up has claimed responsibility on its website.” The information was attributed to “Reuters and Associated Press” in the byline, though neither outlet had reported it.
Canada’s Sun News Network and the BBC also picked up the false story, according to Gawker, but later took it down. The Globe and Mail retracted its story, which now reads, “Reports that a former NSA chief was among the victims appear to be a hoax.”
It is the instance of news outlets putting out inaccurate information during breaking news situations. During the Washington Navy Yard shooting in September, for example, television networks got the gunman’s name and number of shooters wrong. Those errors came after similar mistakes in Newtown and in Boston.
I’m a small town family physician in Ontario, Canada with an unremarkable practice consisting mainly of obesity, diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, anxiety / depression and the “worried well” who want to know why they feel tired all the time. Nothing unusual, nothing particularly glamorous. One thing which is different about my practice is that I became aware of peak oil five years ago, and since then I have been struggling to integrate this knowledge into my medical practice and family life.
I didn’t intend this to happen. In the summer of 2008 I did some background reading into peak oil, prompted by an article in our local newspaper. The more I read, the more concerned I became. It appeared that although oil wasn’t going to run out any time soon, the global production of oil would soon peak and then decline, if it hadn’t already done so. This, I discovered, was likely to result in two problems…