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How globalization changes capitalism, the economy and politics

Archive for June 2009

Hofer- alles Tanken bitte!

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DieselpreisJun29 Eine Diskont-Tankstelle in Wien, 29. Juni 2009, 15:30 Uhr

Die Deflation ist nicht so ganz sichtbar für viele. Wenn man allerdings die Preise für Benzin und Diesel betrachtet dann kann man eine Preisabwertung nicht wegleugnen, wenngleich man das sicherlich noch nicht als Deflation bezeichnen kann. Diese ist ja gesamt-wirtschaftlich gesehen nicht erstrebenswert, billiger Treibstoff dagegen schon.

Der Lebensmitteldiskonter Hofer hat im Mai diesen Jahres angekündigt ein eigenes Tankstellennetz zu starten. Es sind offensichtlich rund 100 Tankstellen verstreut in ganz Österreich auf Parkplätzen der Hoferfilialen geplant. Seit vergangenen Sonntag kann im Großraum der Stadt Salzburg auf drei Diskontern Benzin und Diesel günstig abgezapft werden.

Das erstaunliche dabei ist dass der Preis für Diesel in kürzester Zeit von 0.865 Euro auf 0.565 Euro pro Liter in den Keller gefallen ist. Selbst auf einer ÖMV Tankstellen war der Liter Diesel am Montagvormittag für 0.585 Euro zu haben. Markus Friesacher, den Betreiber der Diskonter, vermutet hier Wettbewerbsverzerrung. Der Riese ÖMV scheint hier auf Unterbietung seines Davidösen Konkurrenten hinzusteuern. Auf wessen Seite die Sympathien liegen ist völlig klar.

Auch Shell hat nachgezogen und verkauft seit Montag früh Diesel und Benzin um denselben Preis wie der Diskounter. FE-Trading von Markus Friesacher, der die Hofer-Tankstellen betreibt, verkauft Diesel, Benzin 91 und Super für 0.565, und jeweils 0.632 Euro pro Liter. Bei der ÖMV ist es ein bisschen teurer mit 0.605 den Diesel und 0.672 Benzin und Super.

Diese Preise wie zum Sommerschlussverkauf haben natürlich zu einem massiven Kundenansturm geführt. Friesacher ist mit der Kundenfrequenz voll zufrieden. Den Kampf mit den Riesen ÖMV und Shell nimmt er hoffentlich auf. Die Autofahrer werden es ihm sicherlich danken. 2008 mussten sie für den Liter Diesel noch saftige 1.23 Euro bezahlen, um 25 Cent oder 23 Prozent mehr als 2007. Damit war der Diesel im Jahresschnitt zum ersten mal teurer als Benzin. laut ARBÖ ergab das für einen durchschnittlichen Diesel-Fahrer einen Mehrbetrag von 254 Euro pro Jahr. Da gibt es auf jeden Fall Sparpotenzial, Geld das so dringend benötigt wird um wieder über den Konsum die Wirtschaft anzukurbeln. Kann man schon gespannt sein wo sich diese Preisunterschiede bei dem Diskonter der Hofer-Tankstellen letztendlich einpendeln werden.

"Das Projekt ist besser angelaufen wie erwartet. In Obertrum war gestern schon ein kompletter Stau. Es kommen junge und alte Leute, Frauen wie Männer. Sie können zu Diskontpreisen einkaufen und um zwei Cent günstiger tanken als die Konkurrenz. Wir sind zuversichtlich, dass es gut weiterläuft."

Jahresdurchschnitte in Euro (diepresse.com):

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Written by Alfred

29. June 2009 at 3:43 pm

The new Bunch – climate change bill passes House

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Obama Democrats

I recently argued in What change – one step forward two steps back that when it comes to foreign policy the Obama administration lacks their long touted claims for change and yes we can. But I am willing to give Obama credit when it comes to making important progress on environmental policies. The bill passed by the House of Representatives on Friday can be viewed as a significant change and setback for neoliberal neoconservative forces in Washington.

After many years of stonewalling international efforts to fight climate change politicians in Washington demonstrated that change is indeed possible. Friday evening a much anticipated roll call on the floor of the House of Representatives succeeded with a narrow margin of 219 to 212 votes. This historic climate and energy legislation is a significant win for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a democrat from California, and president Barack Obama.

Of course this vote is only the first step to a final legislation finding its way to Obama’s desk. It is now up to the Senate to take the bill to the next level. This might be more challenging than Friday’s vote. Already Forty-four democrats voted against the bill and just eight republicans crossed the aisle to support it. In the Senate the margin of the vote for democrats is certainly smaller.

Some freshman democrats, who’s vote is up again in 2010, had to be protected by their older peers. Nevertheless a day long effort by leading democrats in the House of Representatives and outside obviously helped to secure the necessary votes. It is no secrete that republicans in general consider this bill unpopular among ordinary Americans and blast it as economic catastrophe . In an immediate reaction the National Republican Congressional Committee in a press release therefore accused more than two dozen democrats to support a bill that would cost jobs and raise electricity prices for already recession plagued consumers.

“This is the biggest job killing bill that’s ever been on the floor of the House of Representatives. Right here, this bill, said House Minority Leader John Boehner. And I don’t think that’s what the American people want.”

Old-America versus new-America is the struggle that is heating up since the Obama administration moved into the White House. The old neoconservative, neoliberal leadership is wearing down and a new modern America emerges with a renewal to the claim for World-leadership. The world is ready to say to America: If you just unite us we are ready to follow.

There is of course a long way to go but this bill is certainly a step in the right direction. The main sponsors were House Energy and Commerce committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Ca.) and Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey (D). Together Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former vice president Al Gore, the don of the climate-change world, and significant efforts from the White House helped to push it through.

“We passed transformational legislation which takes us into the future, Pelosi said at a press conference following the vote, after she and other leaders took congratulatory phone calls from Obama, former Vice President Al Gore and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.”

The final legislation will help to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. It will do so by putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions through a cap-and–trade system. It will help to increase energy efficiency and mandate a 20 percent renewable energy contribution by 2020. According to democrats it will, increase electricity prices for consumers only by $175 a year per household by 2020, much less than the $3000 price hike predicted by republicans.

More proof for democrats’ commitment to change in environmental policies came also on Friday with a $32.3 billion natural resources budget bill clearing the House. Additional funds will be used to increase Energy Protection Agency core programs in clean-water projects and Superfund toxic-waste cleanups. Unlike the climate-change vote this call, 261 to 179, was more decisive. Most republicans of course rejected the bill and argued that increasing EPA funds by almost 40 percent is simply irresponsible with the economy contracting. Funny I am sure they did not oppose the spending-on-the-troops part of a $106 billion war-funding bill that passed the House on June 16. Democrats argued that additional funding for EPA is only making up for years of real reductions under George W.

Written by Alfred

27. June 2009 at 11:10 am

Österreich Land der Steuern zukunftsreich

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Noch im Herbst vorigen Jahres hat IHS Chef Felderer gemeint dass die Krise nicht mehrere Jahre dauern wird, in eineinhalb Jahren werde man darüber gar nicht mehr reden. Das zweite Quartal 2009 sah der Wirtschaftsexperte bereits mit einem BIP Wachstum von null bis 0.7 Prozent. Wie so viele andere seiner Kollegenschaft musste er seine etwas zu positive Einschätzung mittlerweile drastisch nach unten korrigieren.

Sowohl das IHS wie auch das Wifo sagen für 2009 ein Absinken des BIP von bis zu 4.3 Prozent voraus, erst 2010 soll es dann  wieder besser werden. Die Prognosen für den Arbeitsmarkt und das gesamtstaatliche Defizit sind ebenfalls düster. Laut Maastricht Konvergenzkriterien der EU dürfte das Budgetdefizit nur drei Prozent des BIP betragen. Wir sind soweit davon entfernt wie nie zuvor.

Noch im Vorjahr waren es noch 0.4 Prozent, heuer wird das Defizit auf 4.5 Prozent klettern und 2010 sogar auf 5.5 Prozent des BIP wenn man den Experten von IHS und Wifo Glauben schenken kann. Die Arbeitslosigkeit könnte bis Ende 2010 um rund 100.000 auf 310.000 anwachsen, mit einer Quote von rund 8.5 Prozent der arbeitenden Bevölkerung. Die Exportmärket die heuer um voraussichtlich bis zu 15 Prozent wegbrechen, sollen 2010 aber wieder einen leichten Zuwachs verbuchen. Von bis zu 2.5 Prozent ist hier die Rede.

Einzig die Konsumnachfrage stemmt sich gegen diesen Trend, wenn auch nur mit einem mageren 0.2 Prozent. Das IHS ist hier ein bisschen pessimistischer, wahrscheinlich weil sie im Herbst mit ihrer Prognose noch voll daneben gelegen sind. Laut IHS wird es schon heuer zu einem leichten Absacken des Konsums zu einem realen Minus von 0.2 Prozent kommen. Für 2010 dann Schritt für Schritt eine Trendwende.

Wie gewaltig die Experten konsistent daneben liegen zeigt der Trend: “Je später die Prognosen erstellt werden, desto schlechter fallen sie aus.”

  • IWF April 2009: Minus 3 Prozent
  • EU Kommission Anfang Mai 2009: Minus 4 Prozent
  • OeNB Anfang Juni 2009: Minus 4.2 Prozent
  • OECD 24 Juni 2009: Minus 4.3 Prozent

Vergangenen Mittwoch hat die EU dem ganzen einen Riegel vorgeschoben. Österreich muss bis 2012 sein Budget sanieren und das Defizit unter die drei Prozent Maastricht Schranke drücken.  Der Chef des IHS Bernhard Felderer hat als Vorsitzender des Staatsschuldenausschusses auch sofort die Lösung parat:

“Es wird unvermeidlich sein, die eine oder andere Steuer zu erhöhen, meint Felderer. Er spreche nicht von einer Vermögenssteuer, wie sie die SPÖ thematisiert hat. Die bringt so wenig, dass ihr nur eine marginale Rolle zukommt. In Frage komme nur eine Massensteuer: die Lohnsteuer oder eben die Mehrwertsteuer.”

Felderer denkt dabei an einen Prozentsatz zwischen 20 und 25 Prozent. Eine Sanierung ausschließlich von der Ausgabenseite ist laut IHS nicht genug um die Schuldenlast wieder unter 60 Prozent des BIP zu bekommen. Die EU rechnet damit dass Österreichs Staatsschulden 2010 auf 75.2 Prozent des BIP anwachsen werden, und hat daher ein Defizitverfahren eingeleitet. Belgien, die Slowakei, und Slowenien müssen sich ebenfalls einem Verfahren stellen. Um die Schulden unter die 60 Prozentmarke zu drücken brauchen wir laut Felderer an die 40 bis 50 Milliarden Euro.

Das Wifo hält nichts von Felderer’s Vorschlag, da es die falsche Debatte zur falschen Zeit wäre und neben sozialer Ungerechtigkeit, eine MWSt-Erhöhung trifft niedrige Einkommensschichten härter, auch das Konsumverhalten der Menschen einschränkt. Auch in Deutschland wird eine Anhebung diskutiert. Es gibt aber sowohl hier als auch drüben im Herbst Wahlen. Politiker werden sich hüten bis dahin an der Steuerschraube zu drehen. Was dann kommt ist wahrscheinlich eine Steuererhöhung.

Written by Alfred

26. June 2009 at 7:43 pm

Fed chair Bernanke grilled over BofA-Merrill deal

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BernankeTestimonyonBAMer-dealJune252009

It is always a special day when the powerful and mighty are commanded to defend their innocence in front of  a panel of congressional judges. The judges are appointed by the American public and form the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the defendant is chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke. In question is the alleged role of the Federal government, which the Fed is part of, in the takeover of investment firm Merrill Lynch (MER) by Bank of America (BofA) in December of last year.

Some lawmakers accuse the Fed and Bernanke in particular to have Ken Lewis, chairman of BofA, pressured into the deal with Merrill. Earlier this month Lewis testified in front of the same panel and left committee members in doubt about the Fed’s role during the acquisition.

After analyzing a number of email conversations between Fed officials, Ben Bernanke and then Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, one of the key questions for the Fed chairman centered around an email from Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Richmond Fed, about a conversation he had with Bernanke regarding a potential withdrawal of BofA from the Merrill deal on the grounds of a material adverse change (MAC) clause.

“Just had a long talk with Ben (Bernanke). Says that they think the MAC threat is irrelevant because it’s not credible. Also intends to make it even more clear that if they play that card and they need assistance, management is gone,” Lacker wrote, according to the sources.

In his sworn testimony Bernanke assured the panel that he did not tell BofA’s management that the federal reserve would take action against the board or management if they decided to invoke the MAC clause.

Initially the brisk questioning from lawmakers about the Lacker email seem to physically upset Bernanke. For the most part he denied any accusations and could not recall any details about the conversation. After being asked if he thinks that Lacker is incorrect in his statement Bernanke again stated that he did not know the details of that conversation.

Being asked by Congressman Burden if he believes that Mr. Lacker is lying he again insisted that he did not know if he did say these things or not. Annoyed by Bernanke stonewalling the investigation Burden asked him: “Are you sure you cannot remember?”, and the Fed chairman answered: “I am sure that I can’t remember”.

After it became known that losses at Merrill would be higher than previously thought CEO Lewis intended to evoke the MAC clause. This provoked the Fed and Bernanke to conclude that BofA exerted a serious lack of due diligence and misjudgment in the course of the deal. Congressman Chaffetz from Utah asked Bernanke if he had the power to replace the board, which he affirmed. Chaffetz continued and asked if claiming misjudgment could not be seen as a threat to BofA, which Bernanke again denied by reiterating that he never said anything about firing the board to Lewis.

Congresswoman Kaptur from Ohio touched on an interesting point regarding the relationship of investment firm BlackRock with the Fed in purchasing toxic mortgage related assets. The Fed has several contracts with BlackRock involving programs to purchase and manage a portfolio of toxic mortgage assets the Fed has acquired in the course of diverse bail-outs. Kaptur asked Bernanke if the Fed will support an FBI investigation of BlackRock handling Freddie Mac paper? Bernanke replied that the Fed will certainly not stand in the way if there is an appropriate FBI investigation.

The rest of the questions were rather benign. The chairman seemed to be able during this hearing to pull his head out of the noose, at least for this time , but it seems clear that his reputation is bruised. Even if he did not personally press Ken Lewis into this deal he certainly made his wishes been forcefully known. Whether that constitutes an overreach of government power is not clear at this point. It is too early to see if this will impact his reappointment in January of next year. President Obama has already lent his support to Bernanke. Of great interest will be a hearing before the same committee of Henry Paulson and his recollection of the events around the Merrill-BofA deal next month.

Written by Alfred

25. June 2009 at 11:34 pm

What change? – one step forward two steps back

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The reformist opposition in Iran is still dedicated and vowed to continue their fight against what they claim are fraudulent election results. In the meantime the demonstrations have for the most part abated and the streets of Tehran are back to a kind of normalcy again.

Some leaders of European governments have submitted their protests to the Iranian theocratic rulers about how they chose to deal with demonstrators in the last couple of days. Yesterday the president of the United States expressed his criticism saying he was appalled and outraged about the post-election crackdown.

This interference in their internal affairs seemed to have angered Iranian leadership who accuse mainly the US and UK in being supportive of violence in the streets of Tehran. After expelling two British diplomats from Iran the UK did the same with their Iranian colleagues in London. The US joined this diplomatic row and withdrew invitations to Iranian diplomats to attend US Independence Day celebrations on July 4.

This is reminiscent of the Bush-neoconservative era of exclusive axis-of-evil type of policy rather than change under which premise Obama run and successfully won the White House in the November election. Obviously Obama is becoming choosy again and does not want to sit down with just anybody anymore. If a covert attempt to regime change in Iran is his only answer to the problems in the Middle East than yes we can and change is possible more and more resemble empty phrases. The unvitation is clearly a step backwards in the crucial relationship between these two countries.

It was the first time since Washington cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in 1980 that Iranian diplomats had been invited to the embassy parties, but the move to withdraw the invites was largely symbolic as no Iranians had even responded.

"The president’s policy of engagement is obviously delayed, but we are going to have to deal with the government of Iran," Senator John Kerry, chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Reuters.

The best U.S. option for pressuring Iran, the world’s fifth biggest oil producer, was to drive down crude prices by reducing America’s dependence on imported energy, Kerry said.

Mohammad Marandi, who is the head of North American Studies at Tehran University, said mistrust of the United States and Britain was rife, partly due to the "very negative" role of U.S.- and British-funded Persian-language television stations.

"They are working 24 hours a day spreading rumours and trying to turn people against each other," he told Reuters.

"In the short term relations will definitely get worse, but in the long term the U.S. really has to re-think its policy and to recognize that regime change is not possible in Iran."

Written by Alfred

25. June 2009 at 11:17 am

Update on deepest global recession in over 60 years

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Yesterday US president Obama for the first time offered a passionate defense of Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve. Bernanke did a fine job and performed well during the crisis. This support is supposed to strengthen Obama’s position on reform and oversight of the financial-services industry. He plans to vest almost unlimited power with Bernanke and the Federal Reserve and this has drawn some criticism. Many blame the Fed for the current financial and economic crisis and despite drastic actions by the Fed and other central banks around the world, global growth has continued to contract. Here is an update on the most recent forecast for global growth and despite some improvement it ain’t looking good.

Weltbank Kahlschlag bei Euro-Zone-Prognose:

World Bank lowers Euro-zone GDP growth forecast dramatically from minus 2.7 to minus 4.5 percent GDP growth for 2009. US GDP will also contract by 3 percent, worse than the previous 2.4, and Japan by 6.8 percent versus 4.3 percent contraction of GDP in 2009. According to WB the recovery in 2010 will also be more tepid than previously thought. A modest better growth uptick is expected for China, Russia and India.

Weltwirtschaft erholt sich laut IWF schneller:

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the recovery from the global recession will be stronger than previously thought but deleveraging of private and public households, slow credit growth, unemployment and shrinking private wealth will slow down recovery. For 2009 global growth will contract by 1.3 percent according to the IMF.

World Bank cuts 2009 global growth forecast:

Global trade is expected to plunge by 9.7 percent this year, while total gross domestic product for high-income countries contracts by 4.2 percent, the bank said. Economic growth in developing countries should slow to 1.2 percent — but excluding relatively strong China and India, developing economies will contract by 1.6 percent. The WB sees a projected recovery beginning at the end of 2009 but expects it to be much less vigorous than normal.

Global recession nearing bottom, OECD says:

The deepest global recession in over 60 years is close to bottoming out, but recovery will be weak unless governments do more to remove uncertainty over banks’ balance sheets, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said Wednesday. The economy of OECD countries will shrink by 4.1 percent in 2009, slightly better than a 4.3 percent from the previous forecast. But the recovery "is likely to be both weak and fragile for some time” . The OECD forecasts return to an average of 0.7 percent growth across its member countries in 2010. In the US recovery "could be uncharacteristically weak and insufficient" .

 WachstumsprognosenJun2009

Written by Alfred

24. June 2009 at 10:11 pm

CEO needed for some – historic bonuses for others

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Ramifications from the credit crisis have reverberated around the World. Millions have already lost their jobs and many more will do so in the months and years to come. Even the Federal Reserve admits that unemployment will increase further from already painful levels.

While certainly nobody sheds a tear about high paid CEO’s the WSJ takes it up and reports on the difficulties of firms in the financial-services industry to find replacement for their vacant CEO positions. About 18 percent of the 2500 biggest firms in the US have lost their CEO in 2008, the highest rate of forced succession in any industry.

This is a unique situation which goes counter to anything the industry has experienced in the last couple of years where high paying jobs were in strong demand. After Lehman the strain of the credit crisis, curbs on executive compensation and the specter of government scrutiny have cut short this once rosy scenario. Some of the most venerable applicants for open CEO positions are also tarnished with a reputation of being responsible for the problems that have emerged since September of last year.

"Let’s face it: There is no one" . Obviously people inside the struggle for CEO succession at BofA and Citigroup face a dilemma. These mighty institutions are left with lack of interest in their highest job openings, something that is either very sad or very dumb.

According to the WSJ, Jerry Grundhofer, the former chief executive of regional bank U.S. Bancorp, hesitates to take the lead at Citi. He expressed concern about the relatively low pay that likely would come with the job. By the way he seemed also worried about the government’s involvement in the firm, most likely because of limited compensation measures. Robert Steel (former Treasury Department undersecretary), John Thain (former Merrill Lynch CEO) and David Moffett (exCEO of Freddie Mac) are among the most lucrative CVs being handed down to the boards of American International Group, Hartford Financial Services Group, mortgage company Freddie Mac, BofA and Citi.

But there are also those who can only smile and shake their head in disbelieve at this problem. Employees and executives at investment firm Goldman Sachs are faced with the specter of the largest bonus program in the firm’s 140 year history. Last week, after Goldman paid back all TARP money it received in the wake of the bail-out, it has paved the way for this stunning development. The firm’s second quarter results will not be known until next month but a jump in earnings is expected and that despite the company’s pay back of $10 billion to the US government. This has led some to speculate that GS never needed government funds in the first place but was forced to participate in the TARP program (Was TARP just a ruse?; see video-center).

The fact that some of the biggest financial institutions are being able to pay their highest bonuses in history and reap the profits of a crisis they helped to create is deplorable. It certainly is the wrong signal at the wrong time.

Written by Alfred

24. June 2009 at 1:39 pm