Meet Iran, World's Hottest Stock Market

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/17/2020 09:26:00 PM
Infidel, witness the power of the Tehran Stock Exchange.
Your first reaction may be, "They have a stock market in Iran"? Fret not, dear readers, they do have one. What's more, it's been on fire despite the ongoing US embargo that's brought its economy to a near-standstill in terms of international trade. Speaking of which, one of the things Iran still trades--albeit in reduced amounts--is oil. With oil prices near multi-decade lows at the moment due to the sheer lack of demand for it as the world has come to a halt, you would be right to expect that this newly-discovered Iranian stock market is faring very poorly at the moment.

And that's where you are precisely wrong. As it turns out, the stock market is one of the few domestic money-making opportunities left in Iran. They cannot trade internationally, and that which they can trade--oil--is worth #$%^. Sounds like a boom scenario for the local bourse, no?
The Tehran Stock Exchange has seen gains of 225% in the last year, with sharp increases even as the country struggled with one of the first serious coronavirus outbreaks outside of China. Encouraged by a government eager to privatize state-owned firms, average people now have access to the market and can trade shares, earning returns they’d never see in a savings account or a certificate of deposit.

But these rapid gains increasingly have analysts and experts worried about a growing stock market bubble, one that could be particularly dire and wipe away the earnings of the average people flooding into the market.

“We have witnessed a very strange incident,” said Hossein Tousi, a member of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce , speaking to 90eghtesadi.com, an Iranian economic review website. “As all markets have fallen, crude prices have fallen sharply, but in our market, the situation is upside-down. It is clear that it is a bubble.”
To be sure, you would still be worse off in US dollar terms since the rial has depreciated mightily since Trump's reintroduction of sanctions. It's worth less than a fourth of what it was pre-Trump. Decades of isolation have made Iranian leadership characterize foreigners' skepticism of outsized stock market gains as (surprise!) a Western plot to destabilize Iran. This is not a bubble, they say:
The exchange lists a half-million active traders out of some 12 million people who registered to buy and sell stocks. “An everyday 5% percent is very sexy,” said Abdollah Rahmani, a retired bank employee who trades stocks. ”What other market makes such a profit?”

Even President Hassan Rouhani, beleaguered since U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from his 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, has pointed to the market as a rare bright spot for the country. Iran’s rial currency has fallen to 160,000 to 1 against the U.S. dollar, as opposed to the 35,000 to $1 in 2015.

“As Iran’s bourse has developed, (our enemies) become nervous and asked why the market is developing while markets in the world are in chaos,” Rouhani said at a Cabinet meeting last month. This rise “is because of efforts by all companies, business people and fortunately offering shares of big companies to the stock market.”
This stock mania traces its roots to nationalization post-1979 revolution and then privatization once more a few years thereafter as public management of the commanding heights was not found to be conducive to economic development:
The stock market rise in part takes root in how Iran’s economy has changed in the decades since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Immediately after taking power, Iran’s Shiite theocracy seized large private industries, putting them in large trusts, or bonyads. The bloody 1980s war with Iraq saw Iran further nationalize its economy.

In the 1990s, Iran began a privatization effort. The stock market became one way to accomplish this, with former hard-line populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad giving out so-called “Justice Shares” in firms to the poor. Some 50 million Iranians now hold those shares.
When day trading is the only economic activity left in a country, and that country's stock market is the only one up significantly in the whole wide world, you are right to be skeptical. Economic theory holds that shares rise in the expectation that corporate earnings will increase rather than decrease, and Iran remains in the direst of straits. Maybe the next question we should have is, "Do they have short-selling in Iran"?

Japan’s Ongoing Repatriation of PRC Production

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 5/10/2020 09:32:00 PM
"Sorry mate, but Japan Inc. is coming home."
One of the current themes of the global COVID-19 pandemic concerns "deglobalization." In economic terms, previously elaborate supply chains stretching across continents have proven brittle to disruptions caused by closed borders and transportation shutdowns. Of course, no country has benefited more from the broadening of these global production networks in recent decades than the People's Republic of China. At least that was the situation way back when relocating operations in China made sense given its low-cost labor and vast numbers of newly-minted consumers.

Nowadays, though, those attractions have waned. Labor isn't as cheap in China anymore, and the number of Chinese entering the global consumer class isn't rising at the same rate as before. So, it was perhaps inevitable that--China fearmongering notwithstanding--multinational corporations would seek to repatriate their production facilities so they can make their wares nearer home. Perhaps no other country has a more active program for doing so than Japan, which has allocated significant amounts of public funds for this very purpose:
Japan has earmarked ¥243.5 billion [about USD 2.3 billion] of its record economic support package to help manufacturers shift production out of China as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts supply chains between the major trading partners. The extra budget, compiled to offset the devastating effects of the pandemic, includes ¥220 billion for companies shifting production back to Japan and ¥23.5 billion for those seeking to move production to other countries, according to details posted online.

The move coincides with what should have been a celebration of friendlier ties between the two countries. Chinese President Xi Jinping was supposed to make a state visit to Japan this month, but the summit, which would have been the first of its kind in a decade, was postponed a month ago as the virus began to spread through Japan. No new date has been set.
Again demonstrating this move as being more about business than politics, Japan-China relations are actually improving nowadays, but that's not been a barrier to Japan, Inc. seeking to repatriate MNC production:
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proposed building an economy that is less dependent on one country, China, so that the nation can better avoid supply chain disruptions. The call touched off a heated debate in the Chinese political world.

In Zhongnanhai, the area in central Beijing where leaders of the Chinese Communist Party and the state government have their offices, "there are now serious concerns over foreign companies withdrawing from China," a Chinese economic source said. "What has particularly been talked about is the clause in Japan's emergency economic package that encourages (and funds) the re-establishment of supply chains."

Had the pandemic not struck, Chinese President Xi Jinping's maiden state visit to Japan would have been wrapped up by now with Xi proudly declaring a "new era" of Sino-Japanese relations. He would have cheered on Abe as Japan prepared for the next big event, the 2020 Olympics.
Japan's largest producers' organizations are leading this reshoring drive:
At the table were influential business leaders such as Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, the country's biggest business lobby better known as Keidanren. "Due to the coronavirus, fewer products are coming from China to Japan," Abe said. "People are worried about our supply chains."

Of the products that rely heavily on a single country for manufacturing, "we should try to relocate high added value items to Japan," the leader said. "And for everything else, we should diversify to countries like those in ASEAN."
After the aforementioned production repatriation fund was announced on April 7, Chinese leadership called an emergency meeting to discuss its implications for PRC production going forward:
The next day, April 8, China's Politburo Standing Committee, the party's top decision-making body, held a meeting in Beijing. Speaking at the meeting, President Xi said that "as the pandemic continues its global spread, the world economy faces a mounting downside risk." He added, "Unstable and uncertain factors are notably increasing."

Xi, who doubles as the party's general secretary, stressed the need to stick to "bottom-line thinking" -- which means assuming the worst -- and called for "preparedness in mind and work to cope with prolonged external environment changes." The seven-member Politburo Standing Committee usually meets once a week, and it is rare for the holding and content of these meetings to be reported.
It's just another way the virus is changing the world of global commerce. Slowly but surely, de-Chinafication is unfolding outside of today's news headlines.

Trump Blocks US Public Pension's PRC Investments

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 5/09/2020 04:42:00 AM
US public pensions being invested in China post-Covid-19? Getouttahere!
 A core idea in investing is that of "portfolio diversification": It's better not to put all your eggs in one basket so that they all do not break if that basket falls. For instance, we are witnessing an historic AmeriCollapse with a 14.7% unemployment rate and 20.5 million jobs lost in the wake of Trump's bumbling response to the COVID-19 outbreak Stateside.  So, wouldn't you want to put at least some of your money elsewhere the economy isn't so dire like, say, China whose exports are on the mend?

The unsurprising answer from the Trump administration is, "@#$% no!" A few months ago, it was decided that more US public pensions would be invested abroad for "portfolio diversification" reasons. More specifically, this investment would track the MSCI All Country World Index. Curiously, the world's second largest economy, China, was only very recently included in this "World Index." The PRC's share of the MSCI gauge has steadily increased since its May 31, 2018 inclusion.

Now, let's put two and two together: US public fund managers were scheduled to begin buying foreign stocks--including an ever-increasing amount of PRC equities whose weighting was increasing in the MSCI index--just as Trump's blame game on China for everything that has gone wrong with the world since COVID-19's emergence intensified. When Trump caught wind of the imminent public pensions investment in Chinese stocks, he's [surprise!] tried to scotch the proceedings:
The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) – the federal government’s retirement savings fund – is scheduled to transfer roughly US$50 billion of its international fund to mirror an MSCI All Country World Index, which captures emerging markets, including China. The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB) overseeing the fund made a decision in 2017 that the money should be moved by mid-2020. Opponents of the transfer in recent weeks have engaged in a last-minute effort to stop it [...]
Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, applauded reports of the move in a statement Thursday. “It’s outrageous that five unelected bureaucrats appointed by the previous administration have ignored bipartisan calls from Congress to reverse this short-sighted decision, and I applaud President Trump for directing his administration to take swift action preventing this from going forward,” he said.
Now, the Washington Post reports that assorted China bashers began alerting Trump administration figures to this process:
Roger Robinson, who served on the National Security Council under President Ronald Reagan, said he began meeting with top White House officials last summer to alert them that the Thrift Savings Plan’s new investment strategy could be seen as undercutting national security by subsidizing Chinese companies involved in weapons manufacturing and other interests detrimental to the United States. “The Thrift Savings Plan issue is a microcosm of the broader problems of U.S.-sanctioned Chinese companies and other corporate bad actors in our capital markets and Beijing’s noncompliance with federal securities laws,” said Robinson [...]
In response, Trump intends to appoint China-phobes to the said board and scotch the MSCI investments--especially since its index contains [heaven forbid!] PRC-listed stocks:
President Trump’s intensifying showdown with China over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic is expanding to a new battlefield: the retirement portfolios of 5.9 million federal employees and U.S. service members.


In recent days, White House officials have moved to seize control of a little-known board that administers the $557 billion federal retirement program for most active and retired federal employees and military members, with some aides eager to halt the flow of billions of dollars into an index fund that includes Chinese companies, according to two White House officials and an outside Trump adviser involved in the discussions.

Trump on Monday nominated three members to replace the majority on the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, made up of five investment experts who oversee the retirement plan. All of their four-year terms have expired, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have not replaced those serving in the two seats they control.

With its new nominees, the White House is taking steps to block the plan’s $40 billion international fund from investing in a fund that contains about 11 percent of China-based stocks, according to people familiar with the strategy. “Obviously, the president doesn’t want this investment to take place and is looking for other alternatives,” said a senior administration official who was not authorized to speak about the nominations. “These individuals will be key to making that happen.”
The Trump administration is hiring those peddling protectionism...who would've thunk it?

Coincidence? UK Tops W European Obesity; COVID-19 Deaths

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/05/2020 09:17:00 PM
Flat on his bum Boris Johnson is the perfect metaphor for the UK's COVID-19 response.
Is it a coincidence that a certain European island country tops the region's obesity and COVID-19 death league tables? I think not. Probably the worst insult you can hurl at the British is that they are the Americans of Europe. Now that's a lot of baggage--which they mostly carry around the waist, as it turns out. Especially nowadays, that transcontinental dietary "special relationship" isn't working out so well. Just as the US has the fattest people among all OECD nations, the United Kingdom has the portliest Western Europeans. First, let's face the fats:
The UK is the most obese country in western Europe, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Its annual Health at a Glance report, published on Friday, shows that 26.9% of the UK population had a body mass index of 30 and above, the official definition of obesity, in 2015. Only five of the OECD’s 35 member states had higher levels of obesity, with four outside Europe and one in eastern Europe.

The OECD’s report, which says obesity in the UK has increased by 92% since the 1990s, illustrates the scale of the public health challenge, with fears it could bankrupt the NHS. Tam Fry, chair of the National Obesity Forum, said: “One could weep over the figures, the result of successive governments who have, for the last 30 years, done next to nothing to tackle obesity.
The British have also done next to nothing to deal with this obesity problem. Their lardy PM Boorish Johnson [sic] has even suggested a rollback of the UK's too little, too late sugary drinks tax. (Is being outrageously fat an indicator of Britishness from Johnson's point of view, too?) This sort of happy-go-lucky, what-me-worry-about-my-waistline attitude is actually not very funny at all given the health consequences and the associated strains placed on public finances. The right-wing Daily Telegraph has even featured an op-ed that suggests the UK finally do something about its obesity epidemic in light of the rising COVID-19 death toll there:
The same ailments keep emerging: diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Data from the first 2204 Covid ICU admissions show 73 per cent were overweight, a condition linked to those diseases. Not only does carrying more visceral weight put greater pressure on the lungs, excess body fat causes the immune system to dysfunction, instigating the cytokine storm that floods lungs causing pneumonia-like complications.

For decades successive governments have been negligent in tackling obesity head on. Whether it’s subservience to the food and drink industry that contributes almost £30bn to the economy, or an aversion to becoming a Nanny State, obesity has ballooned without concerted intervention. More than half of the British diet is ultra-processed food with 60 per cent of the population overweight.
I don't want to say this, but I fully expected to see what's since become true: Just now, the UK has exceeded Italy and now tops European COVID-19 fatalities after you tot up fatalities in Northern Ireland:
Britain has the worst coronavirus death toll in Europe, official figures showed on Tuesday, prompting calls for an inquiry into the handling of the pandemic. The government’s tally of fatalities across the UK reached 29,427 for those who tested positive for coronavirus, exceeding the 29,029 recorded in Italy – until now Europe’s worst-hit country.

Italy’s total does not include suspected cases, however. Newly released data from the Office for National Statistics showed that 29,648 deaths were registered in England and Wales with Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate by 2 May. With the addition of the official death figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland, this was calculated to take the UK’s toll to 32,313.

The true figure is likely to be significantly higher due to missed cases and a lag in reporting.
It's not politically popular to tell your people that they're too goddamn fat. It's even more difficult to tell your people to slim down when you select "leaders" like the obese Trump or Johnson. The truth remains though is that the US and UK were in literally poor shape to deal with COVID-19.  

The Rise of European CoronaProtectionism

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 5/02/2020 08:11:00 PM
 I almost forgot to post this one: The "hollowing out of the industrial base" is a favorite belief of arch-protectionists like Trump's pseudo-economist, Peter "Death by China" Navarro.  However, this belief knows no geographic boundaries or ideological predispositions. American or European, right or left, you'll find the same idea repeated ad nauseam. What's more, it's a sign of the times that the drumbeat for this kind of protectionism grows louder.

In the wake of 2020's Great Coronavirus Global Shutdown, European countries long since affected by the loss of the commanding heights of industry--coal, oil, steel, and so forth--see a further looming Chinese threat. With Western markets slumping, any number of European companies may be purchased at bargain bin--if not fire sale--prices. Hence European authorities want to prevent the Chinese swooping in to buy these virus-cheapened firms:
The EU plans to help block foreign takeovers of European companies struggling with the virus downturn. It wants to allow governments to invest in weak companies, which could include some form of ownership. While it called them "measures of last resort", the European Commission says it is consulting member states. A focus for the regulator is to counter unfair competition from state-owned firms, which are the backbone of economies such as China's.

It is now looking at further protection for businesses based in the EU, in light of the significant financial impact coronavirus lockdowns are having on them. "This in principle falls outside the scope of EU state aid control and can in particular be important for interventions by member states to prevent hostile takeovers of strategic companies by foreign purchasers," a spokesman for the European Commission said.
The justification you could have seen from a mile away: national security [duh]:
"As in any crisis, the industrial and corporate assets are under stress. The resilience of our industries, their capacity to continue to respond to the needs of EU citizens and the preservation of strategic assets and technology, is key," the spokesman added. The EU is worried that foreign investors may try to acquire European companies "in order to take control of key technologies, infrastructure or expertise". It says this "raises concerns as regards security".
How utterly predictable. In fact, you probably guessed this post's contents just by seeing its title--which is as hoped. CoronaProtectionism it is.

Hong Kong Credit Downgraded for PRC Lackeydom

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 4/23/2020 04:47:00 PM
To paraphrase Sting, don't stand so close to Xi...or get a credit rating downgrade.
 Apparently, the rating agency Fitch does not think much of the "one country, two systems explanation for Hong Kong's existence alongside the PRC. If you are a Hong Kong civil servant, the logic Fitch used would be especially dismaying since their rationale for downgrading your special administrative region was "guilt by association". Was it a fair process through which HK was downgraded from AA to AA-? If you ask me, no. Here's what Fitch had to say:
The anti-government protests, which grew increasingly violent in late 2019, appear to have temporarily receded amid the health crisis. At the same time, Hong Kong's deep-rooted socio-political cleavages remain unresolved, in Fitch's view. This injects lingering uncertainty into the business environment, and entrenches the risk of renewed bouts of public discontent, which could further tarnish international perceptions of the territory's governance, institutions, and political stability.

The downgrade also reflects Fitch's view that Hong Kong's gradual integration into China's (A+/Stable) national governance system and associated rise in economic, financial, and socio-political linkages with the mainland justify a closer alignment of their respective sovereign ratings. These established trends are exemplified by the central authorities taking a more vocal role in Hong Kong affairs than at any time since the 1997 handover.
This despite Fitch acknowledging Hong Kong's exemplary public financial management--protests and COVID-19 notwithstanding:
Public finances will remain a rating strength, despite the large budget deficit this year. Fitch's estimate for general government debt of 41% of GDP largely reflects outstanding liabilities used to manage the currency board, which are not fiscal in nature. Excluding these obligations, Hong Kong's government debt burden of about 3% of GDP compares favourably with the historical medians of 40% and 42% for 'AA' and 'A' rated peers, respectively. In addition, years of accumulated budget savings means the current mix of expansionary fiscal policies will be largely funded by fiscal reserves, rather than government debt issuance. Fitch projects the budget deficit will narrow to 2% of GDP in FY21, as one-off relief measures are unwound.

External finances are robust, despite a sobering hit to international trade volumes since early 2019, which will be exacerbated by the massive retrenchment in global activity currently underway. At the same time, Fitch believes these challenges are unlikely to jeopardise Hong Kong's external balance-sheet strengths. The territory is the second-largest net external creditor among Fitch-rated sovereigns (about 276% of GDP), and will likely remain so given our forecast for the current account to remain in modest surplus this year.
So it doesn't matter how well Hong Kong does by itself for as long as the PRC exerts pressure on it? That doesn't seem fair. What parallel universe does Fitch occupy in which the United States--which will run at least a $4 trillion dollar budget deficit [try this novelty source] this year--maintains an AAA rating, while Hong Kong which takes far more fiscally prudent measures gets knocked down to AA- from AA? 

COVID-19 Vaccine Development as Reality Show

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 4/20/2020 07:26:00 PM
This pharma reality show could use a loudmouthed, orange-faced fatty whose tagline is "You're FDA disapproved!"
Almost every conceivable activity has been turned into a reality show: (90s rap star) Vanilla Ice Goes Amish...a real-life 'Lord of the Flies' scenario where young'uns run society in Kid Nation...the list goes on and on. The age of Trump has transformed even normally staid and dignified human endeavors into, well, reality shows--and you could very plausibly argue that he's turned the entire USA into Kid Nation, but I digress.

Given Trump's incessant search for a COVID-19 miracle cure to save his political fortunes, we didn't have to wait too long before someone came up with--you guessed it--a reality show about developing a COVID-19 vaccine. Now, vaccine development is not something to be trifled with since the amounts spent and the tortuous path to commercialization--ensuring efficacy and safety--are hardly frivolous. Or maybe that was how vaccine development was like prior to November 8, 2016. Open up your LinkedIn account if you have one and you'll probably have a paid (spam) message from Johnson & Johnson hawking the program above. But it's hardly the only offender touting early-stage drugs to gain Trump's attention:
President Donald Trump’s habit of touting potential coronavirus cures during daily White House briefings has changed the game for drugmakers, who are dropping their usually secretive ways to aggressively court public opinion.

From Gilead releasing anecdotal results on the drug remdesivir to Johnson & Johnson’s new reality series on the making of its experimental vaccine, pharmaceutical companies are seeking to shape the narrative like never before. The PR push could raise false hope about therapies that don't end up working, or even put pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to approve drugs and vaccines whose effectiveness isn't clear.

Gilead’s unusual move last week to publish data from compassionate use of remdesivir raised eyebrows among researchers. To a trained eye, the information revealed little about the experimental drug’s safety or effectiveness — and Gilead has multiple clinical trials underway that are set to produce more definitive results in just a few weeks.


Why has normal caution been thrown out the window? A quick stock bump helps in this time of depressed equity valuations. Ask Gilead. With pharma companies of all sizes trying to conserve cash, having Trump trumpet your drug instead of having to publicize it yourself helps, too. Still, you have to be very brave indeed since the drug may fail to make it through FDA trials--like 86% of them do.  Obviously, all potential COVID-19 vaccines and treatments are early-stage drugs whose futures are uncertain. That includes Gilead's remdesivir. 

Then again, maybe we are all TV infomercial hawkers now--pharma companies notwithstanding. Ours is such a dissipated age.

Death Wish 6: Bolsonaro’s Brazilian Slaughterhouse

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/18/2020 08:34:00 PM
"I'm sorry, some people will die. That's life." - Jair Bolsonaro.
 Charles Bronson starred in a number of increasingly formulaic action movies depicting gritty scenes of urban decay in the Death Wish series. The first of these movies actually garnered passable reviews and captured the zeitgeist of the times. By the fifth installment, though, its formula had worn out its welcome critically and commercially. That should not be especially troubling for fans of this series since a real-life Charles Bronson wannabe has been installed as a Latin American leader in Brazil. A real-life sequel appears to be unfolding in Brazil as its ultra right-wing Trump-alike Jair Bolsonaro dismisses COVID-19 as, well, a hoax.

The Death Wish series has been described as fascist in promoting dark vigilante justice.  Railing against homosexuals, left-wingers, and pretty much everyone else not aligned with his ultra right-wing agenda, Bolsonaro is a real-life personification of Charles Bronson's caricature. What better way to "cleanse" society of those weak enough to succumb to what he says is such a minor affliction? Some people will die, etc.

Unlike Trump who is occasionally swayed by reason--however fleeting--Bolsonaro is immune to persuasion by science and invents his own. (Unsurprisingly, he believes the number of cases and fatalities are being grossly inflated by political opponents.) He is one of the global "leaders" unwilling to compromise on the matter. Fortunately, Brazil's is a federal system of government, allowing saner local governments to implement quarantines and suchlike. Yet the lack of a meaningful and coordinated national-level response has invited criticism from left, center and right about Bolsonaro's competence (and sanity). According to former President Lula:
Jair Bolsonaro is leading Brazilians “to the slaughterhouse” with his irresponsible handling of coronavirus, the country’s former president Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva has said. In an impassioned interview with the Guardian – which came as Brazil’s Covid-19 death toll hit 1,924 – Lula said that by undermining social distancing and defenestrating his own health minister, Brazil’s “troglodyte” leader risked repeating the devastating scenes playing out in Ecuador where families have had to dump their loved ones’ corpses in the streets.

“Unfortunately I fear Brazil is going to suffer a great deal because of Bolsonaro’s recklessness … I fear that if this grows Brazil could see some cases like those horrific, monstrous images we saw in Guayaquil,” said the 74-year-old leftist.
Alike Trump, Bolsonaro does not adopt fringe positions for the heck of it. He may be delusional in downplaying the coronavirus' harms--and place millions of Brazilians in harm's way as a result--but there is a political calculation here still. He is playing to his base, and will act according to how things play out:
  • If the disease peters out (likely through restrictions on movement placed by the governors), he can say he was right all along that COVID-19 was overhyped. 
  • If the disease claims the lives of thousands more Brazilians, he can still claim to have been right since at least the economy is up and running again--providing livelihoods to tens of millions--which is the more important thing than the lives of a few thousand. 
Is Bolsonaro leading Brazil into the slaughterhouse? Bolsonaro doesn't really care, especially if those who die are the sundry "malign" elements in society who wouldn't vote for him anyway. That is modern-day fascist reasoning. What Bolsonaro believes is that, either way, his actions will play into the beliefs of his base, and that's how to win re-election. To him, it's a politically calibrated death wish absent any real talent at governing. Sounds familiar? We'll be heading back to Estados Unidos soon enough...

Trump's Art of the Oil Deal [sic]

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/17/2020 12:07:00 PM

Trump likes to portray himself as a dealmaker par excellence, but even this Wall Street Journal article he tweeted about was fairly condescending of his abilities in this respect, saying "Donald Trump’s legendary deal-making ability during his years as a real-estate mogul is more fantasy than reality, but the president outdid himself in this weekend’s high-stakes oil diplomacy." At any rate, how's the reality of this Savior of the American Oil Industry act playing out? In the aftermath of this so-called Trump-orchestrated deal, the benchmark US grade West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude cratered from an abysmally low $20 to $18-something. The situation was really bad before the OPEC+ deal, but it got even worse:
US crude oil prices sank to around $18 a barrel on Friday [17 April], the lowest level since 2002, as energy markets struggled to absorb a record glut created by the coronavirus pandemic. Prices have dropped this week despite a landmark US-backed deal by the Opec+ group of producers to cut production by almost a tenth. But traders have judged that the collapse in demand is much greater — with up to a third of global consumption lost to measures to restrict the virus’s spread.
That has led to volatility, as traders bet oil storage will rapidly fill up, including at the US crude benchmark’s delivery hub of Cushing, Oklahoma. The front-month West Texas Intermediate contract for May delivery, which expires early next week, lost as much as 9 per cent to trade down to $18.03 a barrel, an 18-year low.
With "deals" like Trump's, who needs deals? The heart of the matter is that while OPEC+ (including Russia) agreed to an all-time high 10 million barrel per day production cut, global demand destruction due to COVID-19 is estimated to be between 25 and 35 million bpd. Not enough has been to reduce supply to account for losses in demand, so prices will have clear at a far, far lower price. Even if the United States completely halts oil production, that would only reduce the global glut by up to 12 million bpd. It's simple economics that escapes Trump's comprehension.

4.20 UPDATE: If you thought $18/bbl WTI crude was unbelievably low, how about $3 per barrel? With Trump "saving" the American oil industry, who needs COVID-19 to finish it off? 

Boris Johnson, UK's COVID-19 Trump-Alike

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/14/2020 07:36:00 PM
Meet that other Anglo-Saxon biggie causing unmitigated COVID-19 disaster, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
 I will be upfront and say that I detest Boris Johnson at least as much as Donald Trump. He is much of the same ilk: a clownish, loud-mouthed, and obese isolationist. Johnson is the best-known proponent of that exercise in self-harm known as Brexit. Still, there may be some slight differences that are in no way substantive between these two big-bellied blond-haired buffoons. Johnson epitomizes the romanticized view of British exceptionalism, that somehow curtailing personal freedoms through, say, a lockdown, would violate some fanciful, imaginary idea of Ye Olde England:
The Sun reported the prime minister’s remarks rather differently: “Mr Johnson said he realised it went against what he called ‘the inalienable free-born right of people born in England to go to the pub’.” In this version, the freedom to go to the pub was conferred by genetics and history, not on the “people of the United Kingdom” or “the British people”, but on “people born in England”. It does not apply to Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish people and certainly not to the 9.4 million people living in the UK who were born abroad. It is a particular Anglo-Saxon privilege.

And since we are in the terrain of the ludicrous, the Sun’s version actually made more sense. There is, of course, no ancient and absolute right to go to the pub – inns and public houses have been regulated in England at least since the 15th century. But what Johnson was really evoking was a very specific English sense of exceptionalism, a fantasy of personal freedom as a marker of ethnic and national identity.

That exceptionalism is not, alas, mere rhetorical self-indulgence. It helped to shape official policy towards the Covid-19 crisis. It lies behind both the idea that there should be a distinctive British response to this global challenge, and the assumption that there was something peculiarly unnatural in expecting Brits to obey drastic restrictions. Its legacy is the globally discredited policy of “herd immunity” and the late introduction, squandering Britain’s head start, of the lockdown.
What is the result of having this other joke of an Anglo-Saxon "leader", erm, "dealing" with Britain's COVID-19 response? Contrast the UK's slow-footed response with neighboring Ireland's:
At the time of writing, 365 people have died in Ireland of Covid-19 and 11,329 have died in the UK. Adjusted for population, there have been 7.4 deaths in Ireland for every 100,000 people. In the UK, there have been 17 deaths per 100,000. In other words, people are dying of coronavirus in the UK at more than twice the rate they are dying in Ireland. Yet, despite Ireland being your closest neighbour, this has barely been mentioned in the British press...

We knew of the measures and plans the Irish government was putting in place to protect us and we knew how far your government was slipping behind. When our taoiseach was closing our schools and universities, your prime minister was still telling you to wash your hands. When our government cancelled St Patrick’s Day celebrations, yours allowed the Cheltenham Festival to go ahead and, with it, a potentially massive multi-day super-spreading event of over 250,000 people. The contrast was disorientating.
Nor is it a case of apples and oranges comparing Ireland with the UK:
Comparisons between countries inevitably run into difficulties. Overall, Ireland has a lower population density than the UK, which arguably slowed transmission of the virus. However, a larger proportion of the Irish population is centred around the capital city: 39% of us live in the Greater Dublin area, whereas Greater London holds 16% of the population of England.

We’re a highly connected population, concentrated to the east of the country, all of which works against us in a pandemic. Given the ease of transmission of the coronavirus within the family home, another factor becomes relevant: the average household in Ireland is larger than that in the UK. Other comparators are more grimly equivalent: both Ireland and the UK began the pandemic with roughly equivalent levels of ICU beds, just over half the EU average.
There are consequences for electing "leaders" like Trump and Johnson,. People will needlessly die because of their buffoonery. What's more, people like the rotund Johnson strain health services while attempting to cope with the consequences of their poor health. Unfortunately, just as nearly every other American is obese, the UK sits at the top of Western European obesity league tables at 28.7%.