Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Home prices post 16 pct annual drop in July

We have a credit crisis because we have a housing/property crisis. And we have a property crisis because suburbia depends on cheap abundant energy to run, and energy is not long cheap or abundant.
clipped from news.yahoo.com

NEW YORK - A closely watched index shows home prices tumbling by the sharpest annual rate ever in July, but the rate of decline is slowing.

The headquarters of mortgage lender Fannie Mae is shown in Washington September 8, 2008. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city housing index released Tuesday fell a record 16.3 percent in July from the year-ago period, the largest drop since its inception in 2000. The 10-city index plunged 17.5 percent, its biggest decline in its 21-year history.

However, the pace of declines has slowed over the last three months, but there is still no sign of a bottom, one of the index creators said.

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America could have bailed itself out using its $3 Trillion spent on Iraq/Afghanistan

There is... no free lunch. The operating costs of the war in Iraq are now $12.5 billion a month; which rises to $16 billion if you include Afghanistan. Sixteen billion dollars is the annual budget of the UN and four times that of the WHO. It is more than three times what the US gives annually to Africa. It is two years' funding for the campaign to eradicate illiteracy worldwide. - Telegraph

NVDL: Now is probably a great time for Americans to be asking if they can actually afford to be occupying ANY other country. My guess is they care less about what they can afford and what they can militarily achieve. Which I prognosticate is the next phase of this crisis.
clipped from www.telegraph.co.uk
The Three Trillion Dollar War by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes

Startling facts are everywhere. Private security contractors earn up to $1,222 a day; Army sergeants between $150 and $190 a day; Iraqi translators less than $10 a day. There are seven soldiers wounded per fatality in this conflict - compare 2.6 injuries per death in Vietnam. One study mentioned in a footnote suggests that "the insurgency has recruited more than we have killed".

Donald Rumsfeld dismissed this as "baloney" and estimated $50 to $60 billion. Andrew Natsios of the Agency for International Development promised the construction of a democratic Iraq would at most cost the US taxpayer $1.7 billion. Paul Wolfowitz thought the whole shebang would pay for itself.

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This Crisis is Nothing Like The Great Depression in the 30's - Wanna Bet?

I've noticed more and more writers trying to placate themselves and their subscribers by saying - 'this is bad, but we've seen worse'. They support their argument by citing all the Central Bank mechanisms and the diffuse nature of global commerce. So?

It is the seamless connectivity that allows a flaw in the system to infect the whole system. And let's face it, credit and its phantom accessories are a major flaw. In the same way that you can argue that the world is better off using electronics, that life is 'easier or better', if the power goes out you are unable to function. You can't get anything off your computer. All your work and data is lost. In a non-digital universe, it's still there.

The other point to make is that the fundamental factor plaguing the markets - and virtually no one sees this, not even the bankers - is the lifeblood of our economy (energy) is draining away. It's depleting. This means, fundamentally, markets and populations have to shrink. Less energy means two things: less money (for fewer projects) and less money because more money is produced to get less (because energy costs more). Either way, the world is impoverished and that grand system we call(ed) globalisation makes a huge grinding mechanical gear shift - into reverse.
clipped from blog.wired.com

"Nobody will buy any [stocks] right now because there's a huge
uncertainty. People are liquidating their positions. It's just brutal,
and it will continue to be brutal until some kind of bailout
package gets agreed upon," says Jeffrey Lindsay, an internet investment
analyst with Bernstein Research. "But we aren't going to have a
shantytown in Central Park again. It won't be like the 30s."

"People are putting the breaks on spending on everything," says
Chowdhry. "Until oil prices are fixed, there is no way I could say
Apple is a good buy. When oil returns to 2003 levels -- or $25 per
barrel -- then I think Apple will be a good investment. Until that
happens, I think the stock could hit $50 or $60 per share."

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$700 billion - it's just taxpayers money - sign the cheque!

“No supervision. No discipline. And if you fail, you will have a golden parachute and the taxpayer will bail you out.” - Nancy Pelosi

“I think we will be back in a couple of days with a proposal more palatable to more members,” said Representative John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat who voted against the plan. “You don’t make the biggest financial decision in the history of this country in a few days’ time without hearings.” - NYT
clipped from www.nytimes.com

“This is a huge cow patty with a piece of marshmallow stuck in the middle of it and I am not going to eat that cow patty,” said Representative Paul Broun, Republican of Georgia.

“Nobody wants to do this,” said Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, who nonetheless voted for it. “Nobody wants to clean up the mess created by Wall Street recklessness.”

Three Weeks of Financial Turmoil

“Stay tuned,” said Ms. Pelosi, who seemed physically drained. But she added: “What happened today cannot stand. We must move forward, and I hope that the markets will take that message.”

“This is playing with fire,” Mr. Walden said. “It’s very, very dangerous.”

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Wall Street - Why did they vote 'No'?

Critics complained about haste and secrecy in assembling the [Bailout] plan. - NYT

“People’s re-elections played into this to a much greater degree than I would have imagined,” said Representative Deborah Pryce of Ohio. - NYT

clipped from www.nytimes.com
After Dow Drops, Tension in Washington

Among opponents of the rescue plan, some Republicans cited ideological objections to government intervention, and liberal Democrats said they were of no mind to race to aid Wall Street tycoons. Other critics complained about haste and secrecy in assembling the plan.

In the end, only 65 Republicans — just one-third of those voting — backed the plan despite personal pleas from President Bush and encouragement from their presidential nominee, Senator John McCain. By contrast, 140 Democrats, or 60 percent, voted in favor, many after voicing grave misgivings. Their nominee, Senator Barack Obama, also backed the bill.

Three Weeks of Financial Turmoil
A Rocky Day for the Dow
The No Votes
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JSE crashes through 23 000

The JSE is already below 22 500. It may end the day below 20 000.
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Go Polo

Do you have to be a king, or even as wealthy as one, to play polo? Nick van der Leek pokes around Polo farms from the Free State to the Underberg to find out.

I’m curious. I want to know more about Polo, and in particular how to get involved as a South African. It’s a sport with the same highbrow appeal as yachting or fencing – but neither of those sports seems to me to be accessible. I wonder if Polo might be any different. My first stop is Franshoek farm, about 25km from Ficksberg, 14km of which is on a grinding dirt track. It’s the same road to Rustler’s Valley and not far from the Thaba Thabo Nature Reserve. After following a number of white signs I come upon a thatched cottage Tolkien might have invented. I’m instantly under an enchantment.

Franshoek is an Anglo African mishmash. The sandstone interiors are warm and homey. I meet Tom Cinderey, an affable Englishman with a Prince Charles-sish accent. He and his wife Suzi are recent partners, running the Afrikaans sounding farm with original owner, Roz Evans. Rod Gutridge, her son, is a legend in Polo circles. He once played with Prince Charles, and is now a respected coach on the farm. Before I head out to the stables I meet Lily, a Thai pig. The resident cook specializes in Thai food, but Lily is off limits. The attention to detail at Franshoek is charming. I find a toilet seat filled with floating seashells, and a beautiful wash basin built into a sandstone shelf. Even though I don’t play Polo, I’m thinking of excuses to stay over.

While I take in the beautiful Polo grounds, and wander around the stables, a British guest offers me the low down on polo. Each match consists of 6 chukkas. A chukka is like a set in tennis. There might be 7 depending on a draw in the score, as occurs in tennis. A chukka is an intense effort lasting 6 minutes. At a professional level, a new horse is used for each new chukka, but beginners might use just 2 or 3 horses for a match. A match might last an hour or more. Committees decide a player’s handicap, and teams are matched with similar handicaps. The best players in the world are from Argentina, and the best players in South Africa, are from Natal.

Two days later I am on Ericsberg Farm, just outside Underberg, in Natal. My host, a tall, keen farmer and polo player called Brian Hein informs me about the who’s who in South African Polo. He plays for the strongest rated team in South Africa, and their club is the Underberg Polo Club. He has a beautiful farm, but unlike Franshoek, it’s a private residence.

Over a cup of tea he enthusiastically imparts his wisdom. I’m told Polo ‘ponies’ are ex-racehorses, and therefore not ponies at all (ponies are a few hands shorter than horses). They’re called ponies, as I understand, out of a sort of fondness. Gavin Chaplain is South Africa’s best Polo coach, according to Brian. He also makes and exports polo mallets.

Later, when Brian takes me to the field where he practices at the end of every day, he says to me, “It’s all about the horses.” I get inklings now, that to love Polo, you have to love the whole atmosphere, the full spectrum of everything involving horses. And it helps if you’re part of the local farming community. “All the players around here are farmers,” he says. There’s something artistic and mystical about it, which is why rich patrons pay so much to be part of the experience. Sponsorship is private, and a lot of money is involved. Brian tells me it can be prohibitively expensive if you don’t own a farm and have to pay for the stabling of 3 or more horses. So if you’re thinking about going Polo, first make sure you have a farm, or a friend with a farm.

I leave Ericsberg farm, feeling quite envious. Imagine playing on that field with the sun
setting over those magnificent mountains. What a way to end a day!

On Brian’s instructions I head south, towards Swartberg. 10km from this tiny dorp, I see the sign Jurassic Park Polo. It’s owned by a teammate of Brian Hein, Selby Williamson, who has just returned from playing Polo in Barbados. Once again it is a short drive over rough roads. And once again I find a lovely setting with a
beautiful green field, and horses shining on it. I sit in my vehicle and gaze down at the dreamy scene below me. I’m tempted to join them, aren’t you?

Franshoek Polo School: 051 033 3938
Jurassic Park Polo: (Selby Williamson) 083 262 6893
The Captain of the South African team is Russell Watson, who owns plenty of land in the Underberg.
For information related to Polo, or Polo events, he can be contacted on 033 702 0902

Wall Street Crashes - Gold Rockets $23.20

NVDL: Gold is a safe haven in times of crisis. There have been some amazing buying opportunities over the past weeks. I'd put my money into oil companies too, even though oil is jumping $10 in both directions each day.

Even if stocks fall and recessions begin, oil can only increase in value as it begins to demonstrate what it is - a finite resource, a precious resource, and the root reality that has exposed our fantasy psychology [unlimited growth and 'something for nothing'] for the fool's gold it always was.
clipped from news.yahoo.com

"It's probably fair to say that we are not going to see any significant stability in the credit markets or the stock market until we see some sort of rescue package passed," said Fred Dickson, director of retail research for D.A. Davidson & Co.

And gold, where investors flock when they need a relatively secure investment, rose $23.20 to $911.70 on the Nymex.

"Things are dying and breaking apart," he said.

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange watch the boards and a television monitor as the bailout bill votes are counted, Monday afternoon Sept. 29, 2008. Fear swept across the financial markets Monday, sending the Dow Jones industrials down as much as 705 points, after the government's financial bailout package failed the House. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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Americans Stalking Gas Tankers

Right now, I have one-third tank of gas which will get me to work for the rest of the week if I coast down hills in neutral, turn off the A/C, and drive under the speed limit (impossible). I worry for those who don’t have the option of working from home. I’ll probably work from home a day or two this week or buy a bike. - Mary's View
When we were informed fuel would arrive, it didn’t. We’re still waiting while gas tankers stop by and randomly deliver a few gallons here and there. Panic-stricken motorists drive several miles on interstates following those tankers, wasting away their one-eighth tank, and line up at the pumps fearing the worst – the freakin’ guy ahead of you took the last drop of regular and your idiot light tells you that you’re driving on fumes. Many run out of gas before they reach the pump and kind people who already pumped their gas might help with a push; however, what made the nightly news are the battles for places in line and punches thrown. How nice! It’s yet another major hiccup in the good old US of A, revealing our increasing dependency on fuel. A ridiculous, man-made crisis, indeed.
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Africa - The Battleground State for World Oil

Did you know that almost a fifth (17 percent) of U.S. crude oil imports come from Africa? USA and China are moving their chess pieces over Africa. If South Africa is forced to choose an ally, I wonder, who will they go with?
clipped from news.yahoo.com

The Department of Energy says that 17 percent of U.S. crude oil imports now come from Africa , more than the U.S. gets from Persian Gulf countries. But rising powers such as China have strengthened their ties with Africa and become a powerful counterweight to American influence.

NAIROBI, Kenya — The U.S. Africa Command, the Pentagon's first effort to unite its counterterrorism, training and humanitarian operations on the continent, launches Wednesday amid questions at home about its mission and deep suspicions in Africa about its intentions.

The US Defense Department(DoF) has notified Congress of plans to sell 1,000 bunker-buster bombs to Israel in a deal worth 77 million dollars.(DoF)
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ALERT: US Gasoline at 41-year Low - Supply Crunch Underway

Gas Shortages Affecting Some Southeast Motorists

Gas stations from Atlanta, Georgia to Nashville, Tennessee, to Charlotte, North Carolina, are being affected by the effects of Gustav and Ike shutting down 20 percent of the nation's refining capacity, which helped drop U.S. gas inventories to a 41-year low last week.

Refinery capacity is expected to return to normal and boost gas supplies again, although no one is sure exactly when that will happen.

NVDL: Thanks. That's like saying - you are expected to die one day, but no one can say when. Thanks for that bit of news.

Sorry to say but shortages like these will force the US to divert imports - that is oil tanker shipments headed for say, Australia, South Africa or somewhere in South America - their way instead... which means some other country going without. We are in a zone now where fighting over fossil fuel scraps has started, and systems (financial and others) are collapsing as troubles spreads more and more rapidly.
clipped from www.theoildrum.com

“We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

—Albert Einstein

clipped from www.theoildrum.com

I am writing this article from Atlanta, one of the places hardest hit by gasoline shortages. A person can drive for miles without finding an open gas station.

One of the major reasons for gas shortages is that fact that inventories were not very high going into the hurricanes. Then when not one, but two, hurricanes hit, inventories dropped to the level where there wasn't enough to go around. (In fact, the shortages started even before the second hurricane hit.) How could this happen? Isn't there anyone who cares about gasoline inventories?

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Banks are not to be trusted

This is not just the view of the public and policymakers, but that of the banks themselves. - FT.com
clipped from www.ft.com
Market stress has evidently reached frightening levels.

If lenders demand huge spreads for such short periods, they are either tightly constrained in their ability to lend, deeply concerned about the solvency of counterparties, or engaged in predatory behaviour. Whichever of these possibilities is true, credit to the economy will dry up. If banks do not trust banks, what do they trust? The answer is: only the government.

This dire situation makes decisive action essential. Beyond doubt, failure by the US Congress to pass a rescue package would court catastrophe.
Banks unable to borrow are zombies. They must be restored to health or allowed to perish quietly.
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NVDL: I believe if George Bush reckons the bailout is a good idea it probably isn't. Prior to the bailout being booed by congress, I suggested on this blog that $700 would be better spent on retrofitting US suburbia, by re-developing their railway systems (than to pour it into the bottomless pit of toxic mortgage debt). It may not be pretty but it may make better sense to allow the markets to 'suck it up'. Tomorrow, we'll probably see the Blackest Tuesday in Stock Market history. Brace yourself.

The stock plunge began even before the 228-205 vote to reject the bill was officially announced on the House floor. The decline for the day surpassed the 721-point previous record, on the day after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, though in percentage terms it was well short of the drops on Black Monday of October 1987 and at the start of the Depression.

NVDL: You must know things are bad when Depression era drops are being compared to current stock market wipeouts. But that's where we are now anf that's what we're facing. Personally I don't think it is right that ordinary citizens pay for the excesses of a few Wall Street Playerz.
clipped from news.yahoo.com

WASHINGTON - In a stunning vote that shocked the capital and worldwide markets, the House on Monday defeated a $700 billion emergency rescue for the nation's financial system, ignoring urgent warnings from President Bush and congressional leaders of both parties that the economy could nosedive without it. The Dow Jones industrials plunged nearly 800 points, the most ever for a single day.

With their dire warnings of impending economic doom [er...please don't use that word, because it sounds like 'gloom and doom' and it's not nice to hear...this is a doomsayer report and we don't want to listen to it because it's not good news, it's not positive and why can't we all be happy and live in financial-fantasy-land-without-the-facts] and their sweeping request for unprecedented sums of money and authority to bail out cash-starved financial firms, Bush and his economic chiefs have focused the attention of world markets on Congress, Ryan added.

"We're in this moment, and if we fail to do the right thing, Heaven help us," he said.

NVDL: The problem is knowing what is the right thing. Right now, pretty much everyone lacks discernment. The reason for that is no one saw the oil thing coming, and even now it's here, we're still not sure what's happening. We're still hoping for a reprieve, wishing for things to improve. That's kinda dumb knowing what we already know, but then we bin tellin' ya.

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Airlines will be gone - for most of us - in 36 months

Flying will become an increasingly elite activity for the wealthy.

Why? Listen here.

More: Global airline industry hit by financial turmoil in US, Europe

IATA is also forecasting that the global airline industry will fly into US$5.2 billion in losses this year, and continue to operate at a loss of US$4.1 billion in 2009.

"Perfect storm" could hit aviation, if steps not taken :IATA

As many as 25 carriers worldwide have folded up operations in the past several months due to huge losses, the latest being Italian national carrier Alitalia, leading to over 100,000 jobs in the aviation sector being lost.

Hail(e) The Greatest Athlete of All Time

Gebrselassie is to athletics what Lance Armstrong is to cycling. I really admire this guy. He sets a goal and achieves it through sheer iron will. Awesome.
clipped from www.nytimes.com

Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia again showed why many consider him the greatest distance runner ever, breaking his own world record in the marathon in Berlin on Sunday and becoming the first person to run the 26.2-mile race under 2 hours 4 minutes.

With a victory on the accommodatingly flat course in 2:03:59, Gebrselassie shattered by 27 seconds his previous mark of 2:04:26, run last year in Berlin.

Last month, Gebrselassie skipped the Olympic marathon in Beijing, fearing — perhaps too alarmingly, in retrospect — that the air pollution would exacerbate his problems with asthma. Instead, he signed to run in Berlin.

“I’m so happy,” Gebrselassie told reporters. “Everything was perfect. I started again a week ago, and had some doubts today, but in the end everything was fine.”

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South Africans continue to rip off their poor brothers

NVDL: This is disgraceful.
clipped from www.sowetan.co.za
Alleged corruption in the allocation of RDP houses has left 466 people in Tembisa homeless.

“In June we spoke to the investigators at the national department, who told us they had long finished their investigation and had handed over the report to the presidency, but no one there wants to talk to us .”

Sowetan had previously reported that the unit had investigated the matter with the department of housing after former president Thabo Mbeki signed a proclamation instructing them to do so.

Sowetan made countless efforts to talk to presidential spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga, who kept promising to respond but did not.

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Why Ronge is still the Right Man for the job of 'Reviewer'

I've already referred to Barry Ronge's review of the 'Hansie' movie, but I neglected to mention perhaps the most important point. Ronge brings both dignity and gravitas to his review in a way I don't believe I have seen in one other review.

We are talking about a very well respected South African hero who, today, is dead. I have had many conversations with people on the topic, and on every occasion once a certain amount of fact [I've read the biography] is injected into the conversation, people grow more measured and respectful in their comments.

I think the focus of people on the topic of Hansie's innocence/shame/culpability says a lot about the sort of glasses they look through every day. I have to say, it doesn't speak well of the average South African.
clipped from www.thetimes.co.za

You cannot accuse the film of not declaring its intentions. Within the first 10 seconds it proclaims Hansie as a national hero. As the film ends, there is another dedication reminding us that in the most recent poll of the 100 Most Influential People in South Africa, Hansie Cronjé figured in 11th spot, suggesting that South Africans have learned to look beyond Hansie’s criminal acts and are now celebrating his essential virtues.

That is the frame in which this film portrait is displayed.

The film does not shirk or whitewash any part of Hansie’s involvement in the crimes that ended his career, nor does it attempt to lay blame elsewhere.

That honesty, especially for a South African audience, makes it a film that you can easily watch with interest and also some enjoyment.

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You can read my movie review here, and the plagiarised form here.