Graham Says 2018 Will Be a Year of ‘Extreme Danger’ — If Trump Admin ‘Blinks, God Help Us’

Sunday on CBS’s “Face The Nation,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said 2018 would be a year of “extreme danger” in the United States relations with North Korea and Iran. Graham said, “He’s told the North Koreans ‘I will deny you the capability to hit America with a nuclear-tip missile.’ If they test another bomb, they’re closer to having that capability. And as last resort ‘I will use more force to stop you.’ Now, Iranians are watching us in North Korea. North Korea is watching us in Iran. 2018 will be a year of opportunity and extreme danger. The president has drawn a line in North Korea, telling the regime ‘I’ll never let you hit America with a nuclear-tip missile. If I have to, I’ll use military force to stop you.’ Iranians are watching the way he engages with North Korea and vice versa.” He added, “We’ve got a chance here to deliver some fatal blows to some really bad actors in 2018. But if we blink, God help us all.”

Iran president Rouhani urges against violence in protests, says Trump ‘has no right to sympathize with Iranians’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
Lucas Jackson | Reuters Iranian President Hassan Rouhan

President Hassan Rouhani, giving his first public reaction to four days of anti-government protests, said on Sunday Iranians had the right to protest and criticize the authorities but their actions should not lead to violence or damage public property. “People are absolutely free to criticize the government and protest but their protests should be in such a way as to improve the situation in the country and their life,” Rouhani was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as telling the cabinet.  “Criticism is different from violence and damaging public properties.” Anti-government protesters demonstrated on Sunday in defiance of a warning by the authorities of a tough crackdown, extending for a fourth day one of the most audacious challenges to the clerical leadership since pro-reform unrest in 2009. Tens of thousands of people have protested across the country since Thursday against the Islamic Republic’s unelected clerical elite and Iranian foreign policy in the region. They have also chanted slogans in support of political prisoners. “Resolving the problems is not easy and would take time. The government and people should help each other to resolve the issues,” Rouhani said, according to IRNA. Rouhani also rebuffed U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments in support of the protests. “This man in America who is sympathizing today with our people has forgotten that he called the Iranian nation terrorists a few months ago. This man who is against the Iranian nation to his core has no right to sympathize with Iranians,” Rouhani said.

Iran cuts social media access as unrest turns deadly

Tehran (AFP) – Iran cut access to social media on Sunday in a bid to head off further protests after days of unrest that saw two people killed and dozens arrested. The interior minister warned protesters will “pay the price” as footage on social media showed thousands marching across the country overnight in the biggest test for the Islamic republic since mass demonstrations in 2009. The spate of demonstrations began in second city Mashhad on Thursday over high living costs, but quickly spread throughout the country and turned against the Islamic system as a whole, with slogans such as “Death to the dictator”. Lorestan province deputy governor Habibollah Khojastehpour told state television that two people were killed in clashes in the small western town of Dorud late on Saturday, but denied security forces were responsible. There were no signs of major protests during the day on Sunday, though officials appeared to be bracing for unrest after dark. In an apparent attempt to stave off more unrest, the authorities began blocking access to photo sharing and online messaging services on mobile phones, including Telegram, which the government accused of being used to foment violence, local media and Telegram’s CEO said. After an initial silence, state media has begun showing footage of unrest, focusing on young men violently targeting banks and vehicles, an attack on a town hall in Tehran, and images of a man burning the Iranian flag. “Those who damage public property, disrupt order and break the law must be responsible for their behaviour and pay the price,” Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli said on state television. “The spreading of violence, fear and terror will definitely be confronted,” he added.US President Donald Trump said the “big protests” showed people “were getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism”. “Looks like they will not take it any longer,” he wrote on Twitter, warning that Washington is “watching very closely for human rights violations!”British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said he was “watching events in Iran with concern”.

North Korea crisis: We do NOT have the luxury of time ex-US official warns amid WW3 fears

THE current situation with North Korea means “we don’t have the luxury of time anymore” a former US ambassador to the UN has warned as Kim Jong-un’s regime vows full steam ahead for its nuclear capabilities in 2018.

John Bolton, who served under George W Bush, said: “The issue is, is there a way to go after the facilities that we know about and destroy them.  “I think that is entirely doable. The problem is that any use of force against North Korea such as a targeted assassination of Kim Jong-un , the use of special operatives or cyber warfare could trigger a North Korean retaliation against South Korea. “That is what people are most worried about and legitimately so.” “You have to look at in a very cold and objective way because the threat to the America people of North Korea not only having this capability itself but selling it to others – selling it to Iran and terrorist groups.

Kim Jong-un and North Korea missile launchGETTY

The current situation with North Korea means ‘we don’t have the luxury of time anymore’ “We don’t have the luxury of time anymore and I think it’s that constraint that we need to keep in mind.” His comments come after North Korea revealed it will continue to enhance its nuclear capabilities in 2018 despite pressure from international sanctions to back down. 

An analyst and former American UN mission spokesman, Jonathan Wachtel also warned that Kim Jong-un will continue to build nuclear weapons in a bid to protect his dictatorship. Citing despots Muammar Qaddafi and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as examples, Mr Wachtel added: “They didn’t have nuclear deterrents… both those dictators are dead.“Kim Jong-un knows that if war breaks out, he is probably one of the first casualties.  “So having a nuclear deterrent is something Kim Jong-un understands in his calculus, trying to survive.”  In November Donald Trump officially declared North Korea was back on the US’ watch list for state sponsored terrorism which includes Iran – designated in 1984, Sudan – added in 1993, and Syria – listed in 1979. The announcement came after a United Nations report revealed that North Korean weapons were discovered on Iranian ships on route to war-torn Somalia.  According to the report, the Iranian ship was smuggling machine guns from North Korea to arm militants in Somalia and Libya.

Rep. Ted Lieu: Mueller ‘Knows Far More Than People Think’

Image: Rep. Ted Lieu: Mueller 'Knows Far More Than People Think'
Rep. Ted Lieu (AP) By Wanda Carruthers

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., tweeted Saturday Special Counsel Robert Mueller “knows far more than people think” regarding his investigation into claims of Russian collusion in the 2016 U.S. presidential race. “Important story below. Keep in mind no one was really aware of George Papadopoulos until his guilty plea was revealed. That tells us Special Counsel Mueller knows far more than people think. And Papadopoulos is cooperating with Mueller. The White House should be scared,” Lieu tweeted Saturday.

 Important story below. Keep in mind no one was really aware of George Papadopoulos until his guilty plea was revealed. That tells us Special Counsel Mueller knows far more than people think. And Papadopoulos is cooperating with Mueller. The White House should be scared. https://t.co/q4pDlxpRES

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) December 30, 2017

Lieu’s tweet comes after a New York Times story on Saturday claiming the Russia probe began following a drunken exchange in 2016 between George Papadopoulos, a campaign aide for President Donald Trump during his election campaign, and an Australian diplomat to Britain.

 

Papadopolous reportedly revealed to Alexander Downer, the Australian diplomat, that Russia had dirt on Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos indicated he had been told Russia had emails numbering in the thousands that could embarrass Clinton.

Two months later when Clinton’s emails began appearing online, Australian officials notified their counterparts in the U.S. about the statements Papadopolous had made. That revelation eventually led to an FBI investigation and, ultimately, the naming of Mueller to the special counsel probe.Papadopolous pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now reportedly cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.  Lieu is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which has interviewed various Trump campaign associates in connection with lawmakers’ inquiry into the Russia allegations.

Business chiefs warn Theresa May their patience over Brexit is ‘wearing thin’

Adam Marshall said firms want clarity and results from the Government but have been dismayed by 'division and disorganisation' across Westminster
British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) director general Adam Marshall

Theresa May has been warned that business chiefs’ patience over Brexit is ‘wearing thin’ and Westminster must get to grips with the challenge. British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) director general Adam Marshall said firms want clarity and results from the Government and suggested industry was dismayed by ‘division and disorganisation’ across Westminster.The BCC represents firms employing more than five million people across the country and Mr Marshall is the latest senior business figure to demand a clearer picture of what a Brexit deal will involve. Adam Marshall said firms want clarity and results from the Government but have been dismayed by ‘division and disorganisation’ across WestminsterPatient with Theresa May ‘is now wearing thin’ says the British Chambers of Commerce chief’Some very big decisions lie ahead,’ Mr Marshall told The Observer. ‘Getting the twin challenges of Brexit and the economic fundamentals right will require leadership, consistency and clarity – after a year in which business has been dismayed by what it sees as division and disorganisation across Westminster.’ He added: ‘Businesses have been very patient in waiting for clarity on Brexit in the 18 months since the referendum. ‘That patience is now wearing thin. Businesses want answers, they want clarity and they want results.’ The BCC, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Institute of Directors (IoD) and EEF, which represents manufacturers, have all called for the terms of a transition period after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 to be agreed as soon as possible, to give firms time to plan for the new relationship with Brussels. The longer the process drags on, the less value a transitional deal will have as firms will already have been forced to implement contingency plans which could see them shift work and jobs to one of the 27 other European Union members.

Blumenthal: Trump’s denial of Russia collusion ‘rotten at core’

Blumenthal: Trump's denial of Russia collusion 'rotten at core'

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) slammed President Trump on Saturday for his repeated denials of collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia. “Trump denial of Russian collusion rotten at core and doomed to unravel,” Blumenthal tweeted Saturday. “Expect more serious convictions and indictments early in 2018 as Special Counsel climbs ladder of criminal culpability – and more panicky, preemptive attacks from Republicans.”

Blumenthal’s remarks come on the heels of a new report detailing how the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election began.

The New York Times reported Saturday that former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos prompted the investigation by drunkenly revealing knowledge of Russian opposition research on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In May 2016, Papadopoulos allegedly revealed to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer that Russian officials were shopping possible damaging information on Clinton, likely implying that Russian officials were offering the information to the Trump campaign, the Times reported. Papadopoulos apparently shared information provided to him by Joseph Mifsud, a London-based professor with ties to Moscow officials, who told him that the Russians had “thousands of emails” obtained by hackers from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that had yet to be released. Australian officials informed their U.S. counterparts after leaked DNC emails began to surface online, according to the Times. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI for misrepresenting his communications with Mifsud and Olga Polonskaya, a woman who, along with Mifsud, attempted to broker a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump and other former campaign officials have denied Papadopoulos had a large role in the campaign. One former campaign aide, Michael Caputo, said Papadopoulos was a “coffee boy” who had “nothing to do with the campaign.”

Nick Bit: as Posted earlier Papadopoulos will not be the first coffee boy to bring down a King Pin…..

South Korea seizes another ship suspected of transferring oil to North Korea

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean authorities have seized a Panama-flagged vessel suspected of transferring oil products to North Korea in violation of international sanctions, a customs official said on Sunday. The KOTI was seized at Pyeongtaek-Dangjin port, the official told Reuters, without elaborating, due to the sensitivity of the issue. The port is on the west coast south of Incheon. The ship can carry 5,100 tonnes of oil and has a crew mostly from China and Myanmar, Yonhap News Agency reported, adding that South Korea’s intelligence and customs officials are conducting a joint probe into the vessel.The official did not say when authorities moved in, but the seizure was the second to be revealed within just a few days.  South Korea said on Friday that in late November it had seized the Hong Kong-flagged Lighthouse Winmore, which is suspected of transferring as much as 600 tons of oil to the North Korea-flagged Sam Jong 2. The U.N. Security Council last month unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea for a recent intercontinental ballistic missile test, seeking to limit its access to refined petroleum products and crude oil. The United States has also proposed that the United Nations Security Council blacklist 10 ships for transporting banned items from North Korea, according to documents seen by Reuters on Tuesday. The Lighthouse Winmore is one of the 10 ships proposed to be blacklisted. The KOTI does not seem to be included on the list. China on Friday denied reports it had been illicitly selling oil products to North Korea in defiance of U.N. sanctions, after U.S. President Donald Trump said he was unhappy that China had allowed oil to reach the isolated nation.

Donald Trump aide told Australian diplomat Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton during ‘night of heavy drinking’

George Papadopoulos spoke to high commissioner Alexander Downer at London bar in May 2016, catalysing FBI investigation, The New York Times reports

The FBI reportedly launched its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election after George Papadopoulos, then a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump, told an Australian diplomat that Moscow had damaging information about Hillary Clinton.According to a report published by The New York Times , Papadopoulos made the revelation to Alexander Downer, the Australian high commissioner to the UK, “during a night of heavy drinking” at the Kensington Wine Rooms in London in May 2016.  Papadopoulos reportedly told Downer that Russian officials possessed thousands of emails that could harm Clinton’s candidacy. Australia is part of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance, with the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand. When WikiLeaks began publishing hacked emails from Democratic officials two months later, Australian officials passed the information to their US counterparts, The Times report stated. The FBI then began its investigation.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb declined to comment, saying in a statement that the administration was continuing to cooperate with the investigation now led by special counsel Robert Mueller “to help complete their inquiry expeditiously”.

 In October, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the nature of his communications with the Russians. He is said to have been cooperating since July with special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed in May to oversee the federal inquiry into links between Trump and Russia.

The White House has sought to portray Papadopoulos as a low-level staffer whose contacts with the Russians were made independently.

The Times report said court documents showed Papadopoulos repeatedly tried to coordinate a meeting between Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin and notified senior campaign officials of his efforts. The Times report comes as Republicans have escalated their attacks on the independence of Mueller’s investigation, zeroing in on the FBI’s use of a dossier regarding links between Trump and Russia compiled by a former British spy, Christopher Steele. Nick Bit: it will not be the first time the “coffee boy” bought down a King Pin

Bitcoin led the best-performing ETFs this year

Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) offer investors instant diversification at low cost - tracking indexes, commodities, currencies or a basket of managed assets – with the ability to trade like stocks. Investors have been increasing their positions in these instruments, with assets in U.S.-listed ETFs and ETNs (Exchange-Traded Notes) totaling $1.2 trillion as of April 2012, a 6 percent increase compared to April 2011, according to the ETF Industry Association. According to the association, ETF net cas
The research director behind one of 2017’s top-performing exchange-traded funds is still betting on bitcoin and electric, self-driving cars.
 

Thanks to an early investment in the Bitcoin Investment Trust (GBTC), Ark Web x.0 ETF (ARKW) and the Ark Innovation ETF (ARKK) are the two best-performing ETFs this year, according to a report last week from ETF.com. At the time, the ETFs were up 95 percent or more for the year. They remained about 85 percent higher on Friday. Ark’s director of research Brett Winton said the company isn’t cashing out on bitcoin yet. “We hold bitcoin in the portfolio not because we think we’re more nimble than other people, but because we think we have a better long-term understanding,” Winton said in a phone interview with CNBC last week.”We see a young asset class like crypto assets as having lots of volatility and lots of potential upside.”

Alexander Demianchuk | TASS | Getty Images

As investors increasingly turn to passive investment vehicles such as ETFs, this year the funds saw record-breaking inflows of $476 billion and assets under management climb to $3.4 trillion. Even traditional money managers have rushed to launch their own exchange-traded funds. But the hot money has flowed into niche funds offering exposure to bitcoin, electric cars, robotics and artificial intelligence. Global X’s Robotics & Artificial Intelligence ETF (BOTZ) saw its assets under management surge from $4 million to $1.5 billion in the last 12 months, the company said. BOTZ is among the top 20 ETFs this year, up 57 percent, according to the ETF.com. Ark Web x.0 became the first ETF to invest in bitcoin via the Bitcoin Investment Trust in September 2015. The trust’s underlying asset bitcoin has blown away the performance of traditional investments with gains of 1,400 percent this year.

GBTC itself holds about a tenth of bitcoin per share and is up more than 1,900 percent this year. But the bitcoin trust is riskier than most funds since it trades over-the-counter, rather than in a formal venue like the New York Stock Exchange. GBTC had $1.69 billion in assets under management, as of the end of November, according to its website.

“We’re cognizant of the risks,” Winton said. He said in addition to bitcoin’s technological potential, the investment firm was interested in holding the digital currency because it wasn’t as tied to the performance of traditional financial assets. Ark’s Innovation ETF also holds the Bitcoin Investment Trust, with a 5.8 percent weighting as of Thursday, according to the company’s website.

White House surprised, frustrated by Trump’s New York Times interview: report

 Various White House officials were taken off guard and frustrated by President Trump‘s impromptu Florida interview with The New York Times, according to Friday report from The Washington Post. The Post said that Times reporter Michael Schmidt gained access to the president at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday after club member Christopher Ruddy introduced the president and the reporter. No aides were present during the on-the-record session. The newspaper quoted one official who was not aware of the interview, which was posted on Thursday evening, as asking, “What interview? Today?”

Another official was reportedly irked the sit-down took place and referred to it as “embarrassing.”

The wide-ranging Times interview with the president covered various areas such as his strained relationship with the news media and special counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia election meddling probe.  Trump told The Times he had the “absolute right” to do whatever he wanted in regards to the Department of Justice and that he believed Mueller would be fair to him in the probe.

The president also denied collusion between his campaign and Russia but said even if there was collusion, it would not be a crime. 

White House communications director Hope Hicks reportedly checked in on the interview “from afar” after word began to circulate that the president was speaking with the press. The Post reported the president as being enthusiastic about the interview and that he was happy that it was largely covered on television Friday.

Trump wants Postal Service to charge ‘much more’ for Amazon shipments

SEATTLE/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump called on the U.S. Postal Service on Friday to charge “much more” to ship packages for Amazon (AMZN.O), picking another fight with an online retail giant he has criticized in the past.“Why is the United States Post Office, which is losing many billions of dollars a year, while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages, making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer? Should be charging MUCH MORE!” Trump wrote on Twitter.  The president’s tweet drew fresh attention to the fragile finances of the Postal Service at a time when tens of millions of parcels have just been shipped all over the country for the holiday season.The U.S. Postal Service, which runs at a big loss, is an independent agency within the federal government and does not receive tax dollars for operating expenses, according to its website.  Package delivery has become an increasingly important part of its business as the Internet has led to a sharp decline in the amount of first-class letters. The president does not determine postal rates. They are set by the Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent government agency with commissioners selected by the president from both political parties. That panel raised prices on packages by almost 2 percent in November. Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos, who remains the chief executive officer of the retail company and is the richest person in the world, according to Bloomberg News. Bezos also owns The Washington Post, a newspaper Trump has repeatedly railed against in his criticisms of the news media. In tweets over the past year, Trump has said the “Amazon Washington Post” fabricated stories. He has said Amazon does not pay sales tax, which is not true, and so hurts other retailers, part of a pattern by the former businessman and reality television host of periodically turning his ire on big American companies since he took office in January.Daniel Ives, a research analyst at GBH Insights, said Trump’s comment could be taken as a warning to the retail giant. However, he said he was not concerned for Amazon.  “We do not see any price hikes in the future. However, that is a risk that Amazon is clearly aware of and (it) is building out its distribution (system) aggressively,” he said.

North Korea caused radiation spike in north west China:

Levels of iodine-129 in capital of Shaanxi province peaked two days after hydrogen bomb test 2,000km away

Radiation levels in a Chinese city nearly 2,000km from a North Korean nuclear test site spiked following Pyongyang’s latest and most powerful nuclear weapons test in September, according to Chinese scientists. The spike in iodine-129 levels Xian was probably  related to the detonation of a 100-kilotonne hydrogen bomb in a tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site on September 3.  The spike was recently declassified by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, prompting heated discussion among researchers about its possible cause, with some disputing the Europe theory. From September 3 to 11, levels of iodine-129 in Xian, capital of Shaanxi province in northwestern China, jumped to at least 4.5 times the average, according to readings picked up by instruments at the academy’s Institute of Earth Environment, which is based in the city. Iodine-129 is an isotope of the element iodine that rarely occurs in nature. It is mostly produced by man-made fission and is closely monitored around the world as evidence of nuclear weapons tests or nuclear accidents. The levels in Xian, nearly 2,000km west of Punggye-ri, peaked between September 5 and 6, when they were nine times as high as the day before the test. Zhang Luyuan, a physicist at the institute who is leading the investigation of the incident, said she had goosebumps when she first saw the spikes on the chart. Zhang admitted the need to avoid public panic was one reason the information had been kept from the public until the end of November.

Russian tankers fuelled North Korea via transfers at sea, Western security sources claim

The sales of oil or oil products from Russia breach United Nations sanctions, the security sources said. “Russian vessels have made ship-to-ship transfers of petrochemicals to North Korean vessels on several occasions this year in breach of sanctions,” said the first security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The sources cited naval intelligence and satellite imagery of the vessels operating from Russia’s Far East ports on the Pacific but would not reveal more details to Reuters, saying it was classified. Russia’s Foreign Ministry and the Russian Customs Service both declined to comment when asked on Wednesday whether Russian ships supplied fuel to North Korean vessels. The owner of one ship accused of smuggling oil to North Korea denied the claim. The US State Department, in a statement, called on Russia and other UN members to “strictly implement” sanctions on North Korea and to work “more closely together to shut down UN-prohibited activities, including ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum and the transport of coal from North Korea”. Ship satellite positioning data consulted by Reuters shows unusual movements by some of the Russian vessels named by the sources, including switching off transponders which give a precise location. The sources said the Russian-flagged tanker Vityaz was one vessel that had transferred fuel to North Korean vessels.

The Vityaz left the port of Slavyanka near Vladivostok in Russia on October 15 with 1,600 tonnes of oil, according to Russian port control documents. Documents submitted by the vessel’s agent to the Russian State Port Control authority showed its destination was a fishing fleet in the Japan Sea. Shipping data showed the vessel switched off its transponder for a few days as it sailed into open waters. The sources claim the Vityaz conducted a ship-to-ship transfer with the North Korean Flagged Sam Ma 2 tanker in open seas during October. Ship tracking data showed that the Sam Ma 2 had turned off its transponder from the start of August. The owner of the Russian vessel denied any contact with North Korean vessels but also said it was unaware that the vessel was fuelling fishing boats.

Workers could lose commuter benefits under new tax plan

More than three-quarters of US workers could see their commuting costs rise under the new Republican tax legislation, according to experts. That’s because companies that offer their workers commuter benefits — including subsidies of monthly train passes, parking garage fees or even incentives for biking to work — will no longer be able to deduct those costs from their tax bill. That, in turn, could shift more of the burden onto commuters. “There may be employers who will no longer provide commuter benefits to their employees because they no longer have that tax deduction,” Virginia Miller, spokeswoman for the American Public Transportation Association, told The Post. Almost 76 percent of companies pay for some or all of their workers’ transportation — which includes incentives to take trains, carpool, walk, bike, or company vans, according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans. But while companies will no longer be able to deduct those charges, they’ll get more than enough savings to offset that line item after the government slashes the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 37 percent on Jan. 1. “We think it will have a very small, negligible effect,” Jody Dietel, chief compliance officer for WageWorks, which works with companies to provide commuter benefits like MTA Metrocards, told The Post. WageWorks makes about 15 percent of its revenue from commuter benefit packages, but its business isn’t expected to be affected, according to Stifel, an investment bank.But driving into work may get pricier for some, since the tax code is doing away with a $255 yearly benefit for companies that subsidize their employees’ parking costs.  “If companies choose to provide this benefit, it’s going to cost them more,” Matt Gardner, senior fellow at the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, told The Post.

North Korea says it’s not backing down on nuclear development in 2018

(CNN)North Korea will remain committed to the country’s nuclear development in 2018, according to a report released Saturday by state-run news agency KCNA. “Do not expect any change in its policy,” the report read. “Its entity as an invincible power can neither be undermined nor be stamped out. The DPRK, as a responsible nuclear weapons state, will lead the trend of history to the only road of independence and justice, weathering all tempests on this planet,” the report continued, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.The report, titled “No Force Can Prevail over Independence and Justice,” provided a timeline of the country’s alleged 2017 nuclear weapon achievements, mostly focused on possible US engagement.  North Korea will “continue bolstering the capabilities for self-defense and preemptive attack with the nuclear force as the pivot as long as the US and its vassal forces persist in nuclear threat,” the report said. North Korea boasted about its new capability to strike “the heart of the US” and its new “status” as a “world-class nuclear power.” It said it will “deal with the US’s most ferocious declaration of war with fire surely and definitely.”New US weapon could stop North Korean missiles. The most provocative moment came November 29 when North Korea said it successfully tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, topped with a “super-large heavy warhead,” which was capable of striking the US mainland. This missile flew higher and farther than any other previous tests and came came after a break of almost two months in testing. The UN Security Council responded by adopting a new set of severe US-drafted sanctions designed to further strangle North Korea’s energy supplies and tighten restrictions on smuggling and the use of North Korean workers overseas. North Korea called those sanctions “an act of war” and said the United States and other nations that supported the strict measures will pay a heavy price.

Leaked Email Could Open Floodgates for Anti-Trump Lawsuits

Critics of President Donald Trump have had concerns over the real estate mogul’s business dealings since before he even took office, but a new report is likely to spark the controversy–and legal battles–all over again. A Daily Beast article about the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. includes an email from the hotel’s director of revenue management that claims the President is much more involved in his business than he let on. The email, which was supposedly sent by Jeng Chi Hung, said:

DJT is supposed to be out of the business and passed on to his sons, but he’s definitely still involved… so it’s interesting and unique in that way. I had a brief meeting with him a few weeks ago, and he was asking about banquet revenues and demographics. And, he asked if his presidency hurt the businesses.

Remember, Trump said when he took office that he was leaving the operation of his businesses to his children, even though he would not divest from them completely. That alone was enough for Trump to be hit with multiple lawsuits claiming that Trump was in violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits those in office from receiving gifts from foreign countries or their representatives. One concern was that foreign actors would stay at Trump’s D.C. hotel in order to curry favor from the president. In fact, while it is common for hotels to lose money when they first open, the Washington Post reported that Trump’s D.C. hotel made $1.97 million in profits from the time Trump took office through April 15 of this year. The hotel expected to lose $2.1 million during that stretch. The Emoluments Clause lawsuits have been unsuccessful, but this evidence that Trump was meeting with hotel management to discuss revenue and his job’s impact on business could encourage more critics to give it a shot. While the email may seem like strong evidence to some, however, the truth of its contents have already been denied by the hotel’s managing director, Mickael Damelincourt. “This is total nonsense,” Damelincourt told The Daliy Beast. He went on to say:

Upon review of the email referenced in your inquiry, we have met with the individual and he has confirmed that he made these comments up in an effort to enhance his sense of importance to a former employer. In fact, this individual confirmed to me today that he has never met the President nor did any conversation ever take place. We are continuing to investigate this matter internally.

Whether the email was truly bogus, or if Damelincourt was just trying to cover for Trump likely won’t matter for litigious NeverTrumpers, because it’s something new they can add to a lawsuit as “proof” that the president is breaking the law. Of course, if the Southern District of New York’s recent decision is any indication, they won’t have much luck. Judge George B. Daniels wrote in his opinion that only Congress can determine whether the President has stepped out of line in receiving emoluments.

Trump Calls On Postal Service To Hike Rates For Amazon Shipments

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Noting that the U.S. Postal Service loses billions of dollars a year, President Donald Trump has called on the agency to raise the shipping rates it charges online retail giant Amazon (AMZN) and others. Trump claimed in a post on Twitter on Friday that a partnership in which the Postal Service carries Amazon packages in the “last mile” of delivery to customers is making the Post Office “dumber and poorer.” “Why is the United States Post Office, which is losing many billions of dollars a year, while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages, making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer? Should be charging MUCH MORE!” Trump tweeted. Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post and has been target of Trump in the past. A report from the Washington Post cited a Wall Street Journal op-ed by a hedge fund manager who said the Postal Service loses an average of $1.456 for each Amazon shipment it delivers.However, Amazon rejected the claim at the time, telling Fortune magazine the Postal Regulatory Commission has consistently found that the company’s contracts with the Postal Service are profitable.

Apple’s rare apology over iPhone slowdowns targets ‘on the fence’ upgraders, analyst says

Apple's slowdown apology was a pr nightmare: GBH Insights strategy officer
Apple’s slowdown apology was a public relations nightmare: GBH Insights strategy officer

Apple’s rare apology over iPhone slowdowns targets consumers “on the fence” about upgrading their smartphones, tech analyst Daniel Ives told CNBC on Friday. The tech giant issued an apology Thursday over the revelation that its software slows down older phones to protect battery stability. Apple will cut the price of replacing an out-of-warranty battery to $29 from $79. Apple addressed outrage about its products at a time when it is charging $999 for its newest flagship smartphone model, the iPhone X.  Ives told “Squawk Box” the apology was a smart move by Apple as 350 million consumers are looking to upgrade over the next year and the company needed to lock in “on the fence” buyers. “This was a PR nightmare and this is something they needed to stop head-on,” said Ives, chief strategy officer at GBH Insights. “They’re going into their biggest product cycle potentially ever. … They’re going through a pivotal time and this was the last thing they needed.” The potential upgraders “weren’t going to necessarily switch,” Ives said, “but the last thing they needed right here was a deterrent to get them to upgrade.” The apology “was easy to do. They need to do it,” he said. “There was a bit of a misunderstanding and that’s why they needed to address this with a statement.” Apple will go into 2018 with a little tail wind, Ives predicted. But he expects significant upgrades that will continue through March and even into the summer.

Saudi Squeeze on Alwaleed Has More at Stake Than Money

The motive behind Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s purge might become clearer soon
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg
A First-Hand Account of the Days Before Alwaleed’s Arrest

Almost two months into it, Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on corruption is yielding at least some of the $100 billion the kingdom is targeting. Dozens of former officials and businessmen have exchanged part of their wealth for freedom. But in the increasingly drawn-out case of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the public face of the Saudi royal family to many foreign executives and investors, there’s more at stake than taking over his global business empire and talks on a settlement have hit an impasse. People with knowledge of the matter say Alwaleed is balking at demands that could see him relinquish control of Kingdom Holding Co. He also is resisting any suggestion of wrongdoing because of the impact it would have on his reputation, they said. The prince owns the vast majority of the $9 billion conglomerate, which has stakes in household names from Citigroup Inc. to Twitter.

The crushing of opponents fits into a pattern of what Arab and Western diplomats describe as an aggressive policy that is unsettling even some of Saudi Arabia’s allies.

Alwaleed and other remaining suspects are held at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, a palatial hotel that hosted U.S. President Donald Trump in May. No official charges have been made public against any of the detainees, who numbered 159 at a count earlier this month.Prince Miteb, son of the late King Abdullah and the former head of the powerful National Guard Corps, was released after paying the equivalent of more than $1 billion, a senior Saudi official said last month. Two other sons of the former monarch were released this week, according to a person familiar with the matter and a Saudi royal who celebrated their freedom on social media. “Prince Alwaleed is powerful and well connected, but this may not end well given that he is in a battle with an even more powerful group,” said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington. The purge is “a harsh way to show that some of the old ways of doing business are over to a great degree,” he said.

The 32-year-old crown prince ditched the traditional Saudi decision-making process that moved at a glacial pace, but preserved consensus among the royals.  He plunged Saudi Arabia into a costly war against pro-Iranian rebels in Yemen and led efforts to isolate neighboring Qatar. The standoff with Qatar has gone nowhere.

Mohammed bin Salman Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Nick Bit: you have to be a freeging IDIOT to  get involved with this Bloodthirsty Monarch who might just start World War III. Only a idiot would have any part of the IPO.  They are clearly demonstrating that their is  NO rule of law. And they cannot be trusted. This is how they treat family members and the wealthiest people in the Kingdom. How do you think INFIDEL investors will fare under their medieval system straight out of the dark ages

Italy sets election date: Vote risks EU CRISIS with eurosceptic parties leading polls

 THE Italian President has dissolved the national houses of parliament ahead of an election that threatens to destabilise the European Union.

Italians

Italians will go to the polls on the 4th March to vote in an election that will test the strength of the EU. The country’s president Sergio Mattarella dissolved both houses of parliament, ending a five-year legislature that saw three prime ministers. However, current opinion polls show no clear winner between the parties, amid concerns a divided election will plunge the EU into renewed crisis.The latest polls see eurosceptic parties on the rise, with the Five Star Movement slightly ahead of the centre-left Democratic Party. Italians will go to the polls on the 4th March to vote in an election that will test strength of EU. November 2016: Florence erupts in violence as anti-Renzi protesters clash with riot cops. Hooded youths attacked lines of cops protecting embattled prime minister Matteo Renzi, who was in the city for crunch political talks.  A centre-right coalition, which includes the hardline Northern League and is led by former leader Silvio Berlusconi, follow up in third place.

Italy, which is the EU’s fourth-largest economy, has continued to experience sluggish growth and remains a weak link in the bloc. The country’s high levels of debt and weak banking system have also left the country vulnerable to financial crises.

The unemployment rate in the country is much higher than the EU average, with youth unemployment at a shocking 35 percent. According to experts, one of the most likely scenarios is an anti-euro populist coalition with a much more openly confrontational attitude at odds with Brussels. The Five Star Movement has previously threatened to replace the euro with another currency, while the centre-right coalition has gained popularity with strong anti-immigration policies. Gentiloni warned against “any sharp interruptions at a very delicate time for the Italian economy”

The pro-EU politicians don’t want to take openly pro-euro positions either because they know Italians don’t want to hear them

South Korea seizes Hong Kong ship for allegedly violating UN sanctions

 SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea said Friday that it was holding a Hong Kong-flagged ship and its crew members for allegedly violating U.N. sanctions by transferring oil to a North Korean vessel in October.

The Lighthouse Winmore is believed to have transferred about 600 tons of refined petroleum products to the North Korean ship, the Sam Jong 2, in international waters in the East China Sea on Oct. 19, after leaving the South Korean port of Yeosu, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said. South Korean customs authorities boarded the ship and interviewed crew members after they returned to Yeosu on Nov. 24. South Korea formally seized the ship after the U.N. Security Council on Dec. 22 imposed new sanctions on North Korea that allow member states to seize, inspect and freeze vessels that are suspected of transferring banned goods to or from North Korea, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules. The ship’s 25 crew members — 23 of them Chinese nationals and two from Myanmar — are being held at Yeosu but will be allowed to leave South Korea after authorities are finished investigating them, the official said. South Korea plans to report the results of its inspection to the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions committee. The ship, which also transferred oil to three other non-North Korean ships, was chartered by Taiwan’s Billions Bunker Group and stopped in South Korea to load up about 14,000 tons of Japanese oil products. It claimed its destination as Taiwan when leaving Yeosu on Oct. 15, the official said. The official said it hadn’t been confirmed whether the Sam Jong 2 returned to North Korea after receiving oil from the Lighthouse Winmore.  North Korea has come under heavy sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council as it accelerated efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program. In recent months, the North conducted its most powerful nuclear test to date and flight-tested intercontinental ballistic missiles three times, raising concerns it’s closer than ever toward gaining a military arsenal that can viably target the United States. Ship-to-ship trade with North Korea at sea is prohibited under U.N. sanctions adopted Sept. 11.

Airbus confirms $50 billion jet order, one of the biggest aviation deals in history

Bill Franke, Managing Partner of Indigo Partners (L) and John Leahy, Airbus Chief Operating Officer Customers, Airbus Commercial Aircraft (R) at the Dubai air show in November.
CNBC’s David Reid Bill Franke, Managing Partner of Indigo Partners (L) and John Leahy, Airbus Chief Operating Officer Customers, Airbus Commercial Aircraft (R) at the Dubai air show in November.

Airbus has said it has now confirmed its mammoth $49.5 billion order to supply 430 aircraft with U.S. private equity fund Indigo Partners. Veteran airline investor Bill Franke of Indigo Partners signed the preliminary order at the Dubai Airshow in November which will trigger delivery of 274 A320neos and 156 A321neos. The deal is Airbus’s largest ever single order and provides aircraft for Wizz Air, Frontier Airlines, Jetsmart and Mexico’s Volaris. Indigo has stakes in all ‎four airlines. Bill Franke, managing partner of Indigo Partners, said in a statement Thursday that the deal would help give customers of the ultra-low cost carriers “even more value”.

The aircraft in the spotlight at the 2017 Dubai Airshow
Getty Images | Karim Sahib | AFP
 

The list price of the aircraft is $49.5 billion but Airbus has previously confirmed that the private equity firm would not pay that price with the final cost not being revealed. Franke, who secured financing to conduct the deal on a sale and lease-back basis, said engine selections will be made at a later date. In a separate deal announced Friday, Airbus has revealed that China Aircraft Leasing (CALC) has signed up to buy 50 A320neos in a deal worth $5.42 billion at list prices. The European plane maker said the latest order brings CALC’s total order book with Airbus up to around 200 single aisle aircraft. CALC is currently the largest aircraft operating lessor in China and is listed on the Main Board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Chinese companies have placed huge aircraft orders in the past year. During a visit by President Xi Jinping to Germany in July, Airbus announced a $22 billion order to supply 140 planes. Nick Bit: This deal will never be completed. As the Chinese debt crises raises its ugly head this order will be cancelled… Its another bubble top insanity… All driven on massive quantities of debt!

Venezuela oil-backed cryptocurrency to launch in days, government says

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro (C) gestures as he speaks during a rally supporting him and opposing U.S. President Donald Trump, in Caracas, on August 14, 2017.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (C) gestures as he speaks during a rally supporting him and opposing U.S. President Donald Trump, in Caracas, on August 14, 2017.
Carlos Becerra | Anadolu Agency | Getty Image 

Venezuela’s cryptocurrency will launch within days and be backed by 5.3 billion barrels of oil worth $267 billion, in a bid to offset a deep financial crisis, the socialist government said on Thursday. President Nicolas Maduro surprised many earlier this month when he announced the “petro” cryptocurrency, to be backed by OPEC member Venezuela’s oil, gas, gold and diamond reserves.

Despite the skepticism of cryptocurrency experts who do not think Venezuela has the wherewithal to pull it off, communications minister Jorge Rodriguez said the first petro offering would come within days.

“Camp one of the Ayacucho block will form the initial backing of this cryptocurrency,” Rodriguez told reporters, referring to part of Venezuela’s southern Orinoco Belt. “It contains 5.342 billion certified barrels of oil. We’re talking about backing of $267 billion,” said Rodriguez, adding that that differentiated the petro from other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Miners were already lined up, he said, without giving more details. Cryptocurrencies are obtained by users setting up computers to do complex mathematical calculations in a process known as mining. Cryptocurrencies are decentralized and their success relies on transparency, clear rules and equal treatment of all involved. Venezuela gave no technical details about the petro. The government appears to be hoping the petro will offset a collapse in Venezuela’s currency – 97 percent in one year against the U.S. dollar on the black market – and isolate the country from the U.S. dollar and Washington. Rodriguez also hopes to use the petro as part of a mechanism to pay international providers, many of whom have stopped supplying to Venezuela given its inability to pay its debts. With Venezuela’s 30 million people suffering shortages, runaway prices and a fourth year of recession, Maduro has long blamed the U.S. government for an “economic war” against it. Critics say incompetent policies are to blame for Venezuela’s economic mess. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has imposed various political and financial sanctions on Maduro’s government, accusing senior officials of rights abuses and corruption. “It will be materially impossible for the dictatorial financial centers of the world to intervene against this initiative,” said Rodriguez, citing the Portugal case. “It will allow us to overcome any financial blockade.” Nick Bit: This could work…. I am not so sure the lefty bus driver can pull this off. But Russia will at some point. Lets sit back and watch the show!

Fed could surprise markets with more interest rate hikes than expected

David Orrell | CNBC Jerome Powell, Federal Reserve Governor

Wall Street economists are warming to the idea the Fed could raise interest rates more than the three times it is forecasting for 2018.
One of the biggest concerns for stock strategists has been a more rapidly moving Fed if the economy does not continue to show a pickup in growth. The markets are not currently expecting four rate hikes, so there could be some volatility if the Fed moves forward, as expected by economists. Wall Street economists are warming to the idea that the Fed may raise interest rates four or more times next year, moving faster than its current forecast. The Fed has been forecasting three interest rate hikes for 2018, but the market has spent the past year doubting it will move even twice because of the sluggish pace of inflation — and until the second half of the year — the sluggish pace of growth. But growth has picked up to the point where there is potential for a three-quarter run of 3 percent growth, something that last happened in 2005. “I think four times is likely given the juice from the tax cuts,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “That’ll push unemployment below 4 percent and put a lot of pressure on the Fed to normalize rates much more quickly.” The Fed’s policymaking committee raised the benchmark short-term federal funds rate by a quarter percentage point to a range of 1.25 to 1.5 percent in December. The Fed raised rates three times this year and five times since it took the rate to zero during the financial crisis.

Stock strategists, meanwhile, say an unexpectedly aggressive Fed could be one of the biggest headwinds for stocks in the coming year if the economy does not also keep up its growth pace. Economists surveyed in the CNBC/Moody’s Analytics rapid update see an average 2.7 percent average growth for the fourth quarter, and Zandi said growth could continue in the high 2 percent range next year.

“It’s not that the Fed could get too aggressive. It’s that the market didn’t price it in,” said Diane Swonk, CEO of DS Economics. “The market has gone beyond anything that is considered Goldilocks.” She said the stock market has been riding high on a boost from the tax bill, which cuts corporate taxes to 21 percent from 35 percent.

Scoop: U.S. and Israel reach joint plan to counter Iran

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after delivering a speech during a visit to the Israel Museum on May 23, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel have reached a joint strategic work plan to counter Iranian activity in the Middle East. U.S. and Israeli officials said the joint understandings were reached in a secret meeting between senior Israeli and U.S. delegations at the White House on December 12th. A senior U.S. official said that after two days of talks the U.S. and Israel reached at a joint document which included understandings on countering Iranian actions in the region. The U.S. official said the document goal’s was to translate President Trump’s Iran speech to joint U.S.-Israeli strategic goals regarding Iran and to set up a joint work plan. The Israeli team was headed by national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and included senior representatives of the Israeli military, Ministry of Defense, Foreign Ministry and intelligence community. The U.S. side was headed by national security adviser H.R. McMaster and included senior representatives from the National Security Council, State Department, Department of Defense and the intelligence community. As part of the understandings that were reached the U.S. and Israel decided to form several working groups according to the joint goals:

  1. Covert and diplomatic action to block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons – according to the U.S. official this working group will deal with diplomatic steps that can be taken as part of the Iran nuclear deal to further monitor and verify that Iran is not violating the deal. It also includes diplomatic steps outside of the nuclear deal to put more pressure on Iran. The working group will deal with possible covert steps against the Iranian nuclear program.
  2. Countering Iranian activity in the region, especially the Iranian entrenchment efforts in Syria and the Iranian support for Hezbollah and other terror groups. This working group will also deal with drafting U.S.-Israeli policy regarding the “day after” in the Syrian civil war.
  3. Countering Iranian ballistic missiles development and the Iranian “precision project” aimed at manufacturing precision guided missiles in Syria and Lebanon for Hezbollah to be used against Israel in a future war.
  4. Joint U.S.-Israeli preparation for different escalation scenarios in the region concerning Iran, Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Senior Israeli officials confirmed that the U.S. and Israel have arrived at strategic understandings regarding Iran that would strengthen the cooperation in countering regional challenges.

The Israeli officials said:

“[T]he U.S. and Israel see eye to eye the different developments in the region and especially those that are connected to Iran. We reached at understandings regarding the strategy and the policy needed to counter Iran. Our understandings deal with the overall strategy but also with concrete goals, way of action and the means which need to be used to get obtain those goals.”

Billionaire Tilman Fertitta: Bitcoin’s here to stay, but a lot of people won’t buy in until it’s insured

Fertitta on bitcoin: It's here to stay

Tilman Fertitta on bitcoin: It’s here to stay

 

For billionaire restaurateur Tilman Fertitta, the rise of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin has striking similarities to the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s. “I think it’s here to stay,” the founder and CEO of Landry’s told CNBC’s “Power Lunch” on Thursday. “It’s no different than anything new. Everybody forgets that if you put ‘.com’ at the end of your name just 20 years ago, your stock ran up.” Fertitta, also the star of CNBC reality show “Billion Dollar Buyer,” said his biggest reservation about the digital currency’s early days was the fact that it is not yet insured. The CEO shared an example: if some eager individual tried to withdraw $1 million in cash from a bank, the bank would probably be unable to fulfill the request. “They don’t have the money. It’s just paper. That’s all bitcoin is, is paper, but it’s not insured by the FDIC today. And until it’s insured, a lot of people are never going to buy it,” Fertitta said. Even so, the man behind the parent company of Bubba Gump Shrimp (and a slew of other successful dining and entertainment venues) said he could see his businesses accepting bitcoin as payment someday. “I think it’s going to happen,” Fertitta said. “I mean, I remember somebody walking into my office and saying, ‘The world’s going to change. There’s this thing called the internet.’ And that wasn’t that long ago. So we have to remember this. It’s just something new and everything moves at a quicker pace today.”

The new tax bill may drive retailers to hire less, automate more

Cashiers ring up customers at registers inside a Wal-Mart Stores location in Burbank, California.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images Cashiers ring up customers at registers inside a Wal-Mart Stores location in Burbank, California.
The cashier may be automated faster thanks to the tax bill.

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law on Friday, the effective cost of buying new equipment will drop and savings from reducing payroll costs could jump by at least 20 percent. In other words: Buying labor-replacing machinery may be cheaper and firing employees may save more money. Up to 7.5 million retail industry jobs are vulnerable to automation within 10 years, the Cornerstone Capital Group wrote in May. Retailers have for years toyed with technology to automate anything from warehouses to check out, in hopes of saving money, space and time. Amazon has been perfecting its AmazonGo, stores without checkout lines or cashiers, and Walmart is testing similar technology, through its start-up incubator, Store No. 8, according to Recode. The investments required for automation, though, can be steep and the returns are not always offset by short-term labor savings. The math could change under the new tax law. Under the law, companies will now be able to write off the cost of new equipment immediately rather than over an extended time, thereby lowering their short-term taxes. Because money is worth more now than in the future (the time value of money), they will save more in the long run from deductions than they would have previously. With this provision set to begin to phase out in five years, retailers looking to automate are under the gun. “If prices of equipment don’t change, you might see companies accelerate plans to buy equipment they were already thinking about buying,” said Corey Goodman, a partner in the tax department of law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. “If a company is planning on investing in equipment, the tax savings will be greater doing it sooner rather than later.” Meanwhile, as the corporate tax rate drops from 35 percent to 21 percent, companies can keep a greater share of their income. That also means they can pocket more savings achieved through cost cutting, like laying off workers.

Broken down: If a retailer saves $100 in wages and benefits by laying off an employee in 2017, its after-tax savings is $65 ($100 savings less $35 paid in taxes). If it does the same in 2018, its after-tax benefit is $79 ($100 in savings less $21 paid in taxes).

A retailer thus pockets $14 more from laying off a worker in 2018 than in 2017, a jump of more than 20 percent. Retail trade groups have, by and large, supported the legislation. The National Retail Federation called it “a major victory” that will “jumpstart the economy, encourage companies to invest here in the United States, increase wages and expand opportunities for employees.” The National Grocers Association has commended it as a “weight lifted off [its] shoulders [that] will allow stores to invest more in their companies, employees, and communities.” To be sure, any company considering layoffs or buying new technology will weigh multiple and moving variables before doing so. The math itself is subject to changes: Manufacturing companies could simply charge retailers more, and retailers could charge their customer less, thereby dampening savings from automation. These considerations extend to industries beyond retail. But retailers are in a particularly perilous time: rising minimum wages, changes in shopping behavior and an omnipresent Amazon. They are furiously trying to steady their cost structure, including by making stores smaller and more profitable. “Any time there’s a change in a price of a product, people’s calculations about what they want to buy will change,” said Goodman.

Report: Record turnover for first-year staff at White house

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 06: US President Donald Trump speaks to the press during a Cabinet meeting at the White House on December 6, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Pool / Getty Images

The Trump White House has seen more first-year staff turnovers than any other of its predecessors, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Journal, citing Brookings Institute fellow Kathryn Dunn-Tenpas, the Trump administration’s 34 percent turnover rate is much higher than that of any other administration in the past 40 years. The previous record was held by the Reagan administration, which saw 17 percent of its senior aides leave the administration in his first year in office.  Dunn-Tenpas said the level of seniority of those who have departed the Trump White House is of particular note, crediting the lack of experience in Mr. Trump and of his West Wing.  “The first year always seems to have some missteps on staffing, often because the skills that worked well running a campaign don’t always align with what it takes to run a government. In this case, it’s a president with no experience in government and people around him who also had no experience,” Dunn-Tenapas told the Journal. “So it’s not surprising that it’s higher than normal, but it’s still surprising it’s this high.” The Trump administration suffered an early string of massive shakeups with the firing of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and the departures of his chief of staff Reince Priebus and advisers Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.  The exits however appear to have leveled off with the addition of latest Chief of Staff John Kelly — who brought an end to the 11-day reign of White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci. The most recent high-profile departure was that of Director of Communications of the Office of Public Liaison and reality star Omarosa Manigault Newman.  Stacking up against his more recent predecessors, the first-year turnover rate for Mr. Trump was more than three times higher than both Presidents Barack Obama’s (9 percent) and Bill Clinton’s (11 percent).

Natural gas prices flare up more than 13 percent in past week on cold snap, strong demand

  • Pedestrians cross the street on Dec. 27, 2017, in Chicago.
    Getty Images Pedestrians cross the street on Dec. 27, 2017, in Chicago.

A polar blast has heated up natural gas futures, which are up more than 13 percent in the past week on strengthening demand and the outlook for more cold weather. Bitter cold weather across the northern tier of the U.S. expanded to the East Coast this week, and it is expected to remain frigid into early January. “This is a substantial strengthening in the heating demand outlook. The cold weather system that was supposed to be limited to the northern Midwest has spread to the eastern part of the country,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital. Natural gas futures for February were trading at $2.94 per million British thermal units, an increase of 7.4 percent on Thursday and more than 13 percent from a week ago. Recently, prices were as low as $2.56 last Thursday, close to the low of $2.522 of last February. The U.S. has an abundant supply of natural gas, and warmer winter weather has kept prices depressed. Prices were higher Thursday morning but gained more momentum after the government reported a withdraw last week of 112 billion cubic feet of gas from storage, the second week of a triple digit withdraw. Natural gas has been volatile within a relatively low range, and futures were trading as high as $3.22 a month ago. But winter weather failed to materialize until just recently, and now the outlook is for even colder weather. “Now, we are seeing risks that some of the strongest cold could come again between Jan. 4 and 6 before gradually moving out,” according to Jacob Meisel, chief weather analyst at Bespoke Weather. He said there’s potential for a warmer period in mid-January, with the coldest period expected Jan. 4 to 6.

Model forecast for seven days through Jan. 5

Source: Bespoke Weather, Pennsylvania State University

“We’re rallying because the warmup has been pushed back. … This move is almost entirely weather driven,” Meisel said, adding that U.S. production is at record highs and inventories are just below the five-year average. Meisel said natural gas bears believe the record U.S. production will continue to mean abundant supplies, but bulls are hoping the drawdown of some supply from storage will pressure prices. “What the market is all worried about is how much gas we have in storage in March,” said Meisel. “The question is are we going to have a gas shortage by the end of the winter if this cold sticks around. It’s been a wild few weeks in the natural gas market.” He said the next level to watch would be the $2.98 to $3.02 range. “Weather modeling has been difficult because of La Nina,” said Kilduff, adding that January until just recently had been expected to be warmer.

Jailed Russian Hacker Claims He Has Proof Kremlin Ordered DNC Hack

Image: Jailed Russian Hacker Claims He Has Proof Kremlin Ordered DNC Hack
(AP) By Theodore Bunker | Thursday, 28 Dec 2017 10:21 AM
 

Jailed Russian hacker Konstantin Kozlovsky claimed in a recent interview that he was directed by a Russian intelligence officer to hack the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential election, McClatchy reports. Kozlovsky, who claims to have worked for Russian Major Dmitry Dokuchayev for 7 years, told Russian independent TV station RAIN that he left a data signature with the numbers from his Russian passport and the number of his visa to visit St. Martin saved as a generic data file on the DNC servers.  “Based on my experience and understanding of professional intelligence operations, the blending of criminal activity with sanctioned intelligence operations is an old page out of the Russian intelligence-services playbook,” Leo Taddeo, head of information security for Cyxtera Technologies, and also the former chief of cyber operations in the FBI’s New York office, told McClatchy.”What the defendant (in Russia) is describing would not be inconsistent with past Russian intelligence operations.”  Dokuchayev, also known by his alias “Forb,” was an infamous hacker who claimed in a 2004 interview to specialize in “hacking on request,” and to have participated in a successful attack on U.S. government infrastructure. He was arrested in December 2016 on charges of treason and working as a double-agent for the U.S. by the Federal Security Service (FSB), according to The Moscow Times. He also is wanted for arrest by the FBI.  “From at least January of 2014, continuing through December of 2016, Dmitry Aleksandrovich Dokuchaev is alleged to have conspired with, among others, known and unknown FSB officers, including Igor Sushchin, to protect, direct, facilitate, and pay criminal hackers, including Alexsey Belan,” the FBI claims. “Dokuchaev and his conspirators allegedly agreed to, and did, gain unauthorized access to the computer networks of and user accounts hosted at major companies providing worldwide webmail and internet-related services in the Northern District of California and elsewhere.”

Italian president dissolves parliament calls election

Italian President Sergio Mattarella signs a decree to dissolve parliament at the Quirinale Presidential palace in Rome, Italy

ROME (Reuters) – Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Thursday dissolved parliament ahead of an election which is expected to produce a period of instability in the euro zone’s third largest economy. Earlier on Thursday Gentiloni defended the record of his year-old government and said he would remain in office and ensure continuity until a new government is in place.With opinion polls pointing to a hung parliament, he told reporters Italy should be prepared to deal with instability but should not fear it, noting that it was now common to many European countries. “We mustn’t dramatize the risk of instability, we are quite inoculated against it,” he said, in reference to Italy’s frequent changes of government, adding that elsewhere in Europe there has been “an Italianisation of political systems”. All Italy’s main parties are promising to raise the budget deficit and slash taxes despite record high public debt, and immigration is set to be a central theme of the election, with right-wing parties frequently warning of a migrant “invasion”.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement leads opinion polls with about 28 percent of the vote, followed by the ruling Democratic Party (PD), of which Gentiloni is a member, on around 23 percent.

However, most seats in parliament are seen going to a conservative alliance made up of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) on around 16 percent and the right-wing Northern League and Brothers of Italy, with 13 and 5 percent respectively.

Tax-free no more: Saudi Arabia and UAE to roll out 5pc VAT after oil price collapse

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are both planning to introduce a 5 per cent tax on most goods and services next year to boost revenue. The value-added tax, or VAT, will apply to a range of items like food, clothes, electronics and gasoline, as well as phone, water and electricity bills, and hotel reservations. The decision – which could affect the country’s reputation with foreign workers, many of whom are lured by a tax-free lifestyle – comes after a collapse in oil prices three years ago. There will be some exemptions for big-ticket costs like rent, real estate sales, certain medications, airline tickets and school tuition.

The value-added tax, or VAT, will apply to a range of items like food, clothes, electronics and gasoline, as well as phone, water and electricity bills, and hotel reservations. Pictured: Dubai at night

The value-added tax, or VAT, will apply to a range of items like food, clothes, electronics and gasoline, as well as phone, water and electricity bills, and hotel reservations. Pictured: Dubai at night The decision – which could affect the country’s reputation with foreign workers, many of whom are lured by a tax-free lifestyle – comes after a collapse in oil prices three years ago. Pictured: Shoppers at a mall in Dubai   There will be some exemptions for big-ticket costs like rent, real estate sales, certain medications, airline tickets and school tuition. Saudi Arabia recently unveiled the biggest budget in its history, with plans to spend 978 billion riyals ($261 billion, £195 billion) this coming fiscal year.  Saudi Arabia recently unveiled the biggest budget in its history, with plans to spend 978 billion riyals ($261 billion, £195 billion) this coming fiscal year as the government forecasts a boost in revenue from the introduction of VAT and plans to reduce subsidies. Still, Saudi Arabia is facing a budget deficit until at least 2023.

Report: Trump Legal Team Ready in Case Michael Flynn Attacks

President Trump’s legal team is prepared, should former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn accuse the president or his senior aides of any wrongdoing, according to a report by the Washington Post.

Attorneys for President Trump and his top advisers have privately expressed confidence that Flynn does not have any evidence that could implicate their clients, according to the report. Still, they are concerned by the lenient terms of his plea agreement, which suggest he has promised significant information. He is also the most senior former Trump adviser that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been able to net, as Flynn served as Trump’s national security adviser for about a month. Flynn was fired after he told Vice President Michael Pence and other members of the administration that he had not discussed sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, when he in fact had. Flynn reportedly also told FBI agents in an interview in January that he had not discussed the sanctions. He was initially reportedly cleared of any actual wrongdoing during his calls with Kislyak. Earlier this month, Flynn pleaded guilty to one felony count of lying to the FBI, which carries a maximum of five years in prison, but prosecutors said they will recommend zero to six months as part of his cooperation deal. There was media speculation that Flynn accepted the plea deal to get the special counsel to leave his son, who served as his chief of staff, alone. One person helping craft the defense’s strategy said they plan to use Flynn’s admission of lying against him.“He’s said it himself: He’s a liar,” the person said. Defense lawyers have also said privately, according to the Post, that if Flynn accuses anyone of anything, he will be unable to point to White House or campaign records to bolster that claim, and that none of those records suggest a conspiracy by Trump or his inner circle to improperly work with Russians against Hillary Clinton, people who have reviewed the documents told the Post.

Trump has not ruled out pardoning Flynn. On December 15, Trump said, “I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet.”

“We’ll see what happens. Let’s see. I can say this — when you look at what’s gone on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry,” he said.

 

China secretly selling oil to Kim Jong-un

US satellites ‘have spotted Beijing tankers transferring fuel to North Korean ships 30 times in three months’ despite UN trade embargo

US satellites have spotted Chinese tankers transferring oil to North Korean ships 30 times in three months – despite strict UN trade embargoes, it has been claimed.  Overhead images appear to show ships from the two countries shackled together for a fuel transfer in the West Sea off China. Such ship-to-ship trades are banned under a UN Security Council resolution adopted in September. But according to South Korean government sources, American satellites have pictured large vessels from both China and North Korea illegally trading in a stretch of the West Sea on multiple occasions.

US satellites have spotted Chinese tankers transferring oil to North Korean ships 30 times in three months - despite strict UN trade embargoes, it has been claimed. One picture (above), reportedly taken on October 19, shows a ship called Ryesonggang 1 connected to a Chinese vessel in the West Sea off China

US satellites have spotted Chinese tankers transferring oil to North Korean ships 30 times in three months – despite strict UN trade embargoes, it has been claimed. One picture (above), reportedly taken on October 19, shows a ship called Ryesonggang 1 connected to a Chinese vessel in the West Sea off China The US Treasury Department later placed six North Korean shipping and trading companies and 20 of their vessels on sanctions list.

It said the activity appeared to show attempts to bypass sanctions, though it has not been suggested that Chinese authorities were aware of the transactions. It comes a day after Chinese customs data was revealed claiming Beijing exported no oil products to North Korea in November. The figures apparently go above and beyond sanctions imposed earlier this year by the United Nations in a bid to limit petroleum shipments to the isolated country.  Beijing also imported no iron ore, coal or lead from North Korea in November, the second full month of the latest trade sanctions imposed by U.N. China, the main source of North Korea’s fuel, did not export any gasoline, jet fuel, diesel or fuel oil to its isolated neighbour last month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Tuesday. It is unknown if China still sells crude oil to Pyongyang. Beijing has not disclosed its crude exports to North Korea for several years.

Rules to limit speculation in cryptocurrency trading are a good thing, says BitSpread

South Korea’s decision to further regulate speculation in cryptocurrency trading is “quite positive,” according to BitSpread Founder and CEO Cedric Jeanson.

Bitcoin

“I think it’s normal,” said Jeanson, whose firm oversees more than $1 billion in trades per month. BitSpread makes bets based on price disparities between exchanges that deal in cryptocurrencies. Authorities in Seoul plan to ban anonymous cryptocurrency accounts and want to close virtual coin exchanges. The government has already warned that virtual coins cannot function as actual currency and could result in high losses due to excessive volatility. And Seoul has announced plans to tax capital gains from cryptocurrency trading. “I think regulators have done what they’re supposed to do,” Jeanson told CNBC’s “Asia Squawk Box,” suggesting that regulators are simply acting to ensure that investors are dealing with an orderly market. Nick Colas, the co-founder of DataTrek Research who also was the first Wall Street analyst to cover bitcoin, figures the digital currency could slosh in a range between $6,500 and $22,000 next year. He expects “at least four crashes” of 40 percent or more. TenX Co-Founder and President Julian Hosp told CNBC that Bitcoin could hit the $60,000 mark, but added that he expects bitcoin to fall to the $5,000 level at some point next year. He’s not sure which will come first. Jeanson largely agreed, suggesting that bitcoin’s recent drop was to be expected, adding that investors may see “more and more” volatility next year, given the lack of liquidity in the market.

A computer screen at the Cboe Global Markets exchange (previously referred to as CBOE Holdings, Inc.) shows Bitcoin cash and futures prices on December 19, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.

Getty Images
 “Yes, you can see throughout the various waves, there is always a retracement of 30 percent for the price of bitcoin,” said Jeanson. “Like in any other market — we’ve seen that in equities, we’ve seen that in commodities — it’s quite a usual kind of a pattern to be honest.” “I think there is going to be certainly some upside on this market,” he said, without providing a price forecast. Jeanson expects more retailers and online businesses to begin‎ accepting bitcoin in 2018, but debate rages over whether the volatile digital currency can be a viable means of exchange. “We have our doubts that the government of any country will ever really be comfortable accepting any other currency than what they themselves can control,” according to Hartmut Issel, head of Asia-Pacific equities and credit at UBS Wealth Management.

Steve Bannon cuts ties with far-right candidate trying to unseat House speaker Paul Ryan

Social Security Beneficiaries Hit Record 61,859,250

The number of Social Security beneficiaries hit a record 61,859,250 in November, according to data released by the Social Security Administration.

At the same time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with unemployment at the lowest rate since 2000 (4.1 percent), there were 126,827,000 full-time workers in the United States (including government workers). Yet that equaled only 2.05 full-time workers for each person receiving Social Security benefits. Even when all 153,918,000 people who had jobs in November are considered (counting both full- and part-time workers), the ratio of workers to Social Security beneficiaries was about 2.49 to 1.

The record 61,859,250 Social Security beneficiaries in November, included 45,439,781 retired workers and their dependents; 5,992,862 survivors of deceased workers; and 10,426,607 disabled workers and their dependents. The Social Security program has two primary elements: Old Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance. Each of these are supposed to be supported by a “payroll tax” imposed on a worker’s earnings. The payroll tax for the OASI is 10.03 percent and is split so that one half is deducted from a worker’s paycheck and the other half is paid to the government by the employer. The payroll tax for DI is 2.37 percent and, like the OASI tax, is split between a deduction from a worker’s paycheck and a payment made directly by the employer. In total, the worker and employer must pay the government 12.4 percent in taxes (on the first $127,200 a worker makes) for the combined OASDI tax. Self-employed Americans pay the entire 12.4 percent directly.

But this is no longer enough, says the Social Security board of trustees, which includes the commissioner of Social Security and the secretaries of the Treasury, Labor and Health and Human Services.

In the past, when Social Security ran surpluses, the federal government loaned the surplus to itself so it could spend it immediately on other government programs. In their 2017 report, the Social Security board of trustees puts it this way: “The Department of the Treasury invests trust fund reserves in interest-bearing securities issued by the U.S. Government.” Without the “interest” the government pays itself back on the money it has already spent from previous Social Security surpluses, the Social Security program would not have enough money now to pay all the current benefits it owes. “The 2016 excess of total income over cost for the year was $35 billion,” said the trustees’ report. But “total income” — as the report calls it — includes the interest the government pays itself.

Mueller team questioning RNC staffers on 2016 digital operation: report

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has started the process of questioning various Republican National Committee (RNC) staffers about the party’s digital apparatus that worked with the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential campaign, Yahoo News reported Wednesday. Mueller’s team is reportedly looking into the joint effort from the party and the campaign to reach out to voters in key swing states. Sources told the news organization that Mueller is seeking to determine whether the effort was related to efforts from Russian trolls and bots to influence American voters. The special counsel’s office declined to comment. The report comes as Mueller’s probe moves closer to the White House. Mueller has questioned President Trump‘s former chief of staff Reince Priebus, as well as former press secretary Sean Spicer and current communications director Hope Hicks. Mueller announced charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Richard Gates in October. Trump’s ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his foreign contacts earlier this month and is said to be cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.

North Korea warning: Defectors living near nuclear test site suffering RADIATION exposure

NORTH Korea defectors who were living near Kim Jong-un’s main nuclear test site are showing signs of radiation poisoning, officials in the South have revealed.

North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site

North Korean defectors from the Punggye-ri nuke test site area are suffering from radiation exposure The underground facility at Punggye-ri has been used to detonate six nuclear bombs since 2006, and the network of tunnels allows Kim’s regime to test its latest weapons out of sight from spy planes and surveillance satellites.

Four former residents of Kilju County, where the subterranean test site is located, have now tested positive for radiation exposure, according to scientists at South Korea’s Atomic Energy Research Institute. The group are among 30 North Koreans who used to live in Kilju and have been examined by officials in Seoul since October, Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said. However researchers were unable to confirm whether the radiation exposure was related to the nuclear tests. Earlier this month, several defectors who were in contact with family in the North said residents still living near Punggye-ri were suffering from an mysterious debilitating illness which locals had dubbed “ghost disease”. The defectors said their loved ones were facing symptoms including headaches and vomiting as well as birth defects among newborn babies. And locals also reported the mountainous landscape was turning into a barren wasteland, with trees dying and underground wells drying up. Speaking in Seoul earlier this month, defector Lee Jeong Hwa told NBC News: ”So many people died we began calling it ‘ghost disease’.

Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea

Most of the Punggye-ri site is hidden underground, but its entrances are visible in satellite photos “We thought we were dying because we were poor and we ate badly. Now we know it was the radiation.”

Rhee Yeong Sil, who lived just a few miles from Punggye-ri until she defected in 2013, said her neighbour had given birth to a deformed baby. She said: ”We couldn’t determine the gender of the baby, because it didn’t have any genitals. Seoul says the four North Koreans tested were exposed to radiation between May 2009 and January 2013, but defected before Kim Jong-un’s most recent test in September, which the regime claimed was a hugely powerful hydrogen bomb. Following the “ghost disease” reports, specialists at Seoul National University ran tests on many of the defectors but the results came back negative.

Mining activity at the Punggye-ri site in 2016DIGITAL GLOBE/38 NORTH

 

In op-ed, former intel experts say Russia never stopped cyberattacks on U.S.

Former CIA Director Michael Morell and former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, say that Russia has continued its cyberattacks against the United States. Morell and Rogers, who both serve on the advisory council for the Alliance for Securing Democracy, say that the U.S. has failed to stop Russia from using social media to “disseminate propaganda designed to weaken our nation.  “There is a perception among the media and general public that Russia ended its social-media operations following last year’s election and that we need worry only about future elections. But that perception is wrong. Russia’s information operations in the United States continued after the election and they continue to this day,” they write in a Tuesday op-ed for The Washington Post.The two write that the issue should be of concern for everyone — Republicans and Democrats alike.  “Foreign governments, overtly or covertly, should not be allowed to play with our democracy.” They write that the Russian government is still deploying effective tactics that target specific parties and politicians, much as they did by manipulating social media in the build up to the 2016 election.  According to Rogers and Morell, Russian-influenced Twitter accounts were leading participants in November’s #BoycottKuerig movement on social media. The boycott began to protest the coffee-maker company pulling its adds for Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.  “This was a Russian attack on a U.S. company and on our economy,” Morell and Rogers say.  More recently, Morell and Rogers say that in a single week in December alone, Kremlin-linked social media accounts attempted to discredit the FBI over an agent’s anti-Trump text messages, to attack ABC News for its erroneous reporting on Mr. Trump, and to warn about violence by immigrants after the acquittal of a undocumented man who was accused of murdering Kate Steinle in San Francisco. Morell and Rogers warn that Russia’s use of social media as a “political weapon” will keep moving forward, with more countries expected to follow suit, unless the U.S. intervenes. “The sanctions that the Obama administration and Congress put in place in the aftermath of the 2016 election are steps in the right direction, but they were not significant enough to check Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Morell and Rogers suggest. They add, “True deterrence requires policies that prevent adversaries from achieving their objectives while imposing significant costs on their regimes. So far, we have done neither.”

Barclays expects £1 billion writedown from U.S. tax reform

LONDON (Reuters) – Barclays expects to take a writedown of about 1 billion pounds on its annual post-tax profit as a result of the U.S. tax overhaul, the bank said in a statement on Wednesday.The reform to the tax system signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 22 will force the British lender to reduce the value of its deferred tax assets, prompting it to take a one-off charge in its results for the 12 months to the end of December.   It will also lead to the bank’s common equity Tier 1 capital ratio, a key measure of its financial strength, falling by about 20 basis points, the lender said.Since taking the helm at Barclays in December 2015, Chief Executive Jes Staley has streamlined the bank into a transatlantic lender focused on the United States and Britain.The restructuring has led it to exit a raft of non-core operations, such as its business in Africa and units in Asia, in a bid to simplify its structure and boost returns to shareholders. Barclays already slumped to a 628 million pound attributable loss in the nine months to the end of September following write-offs in the wake of its exit from Africa. The 1 billion pound charge to account for the U.S. tax changes is expected to push it further into the red. The $1.5 trillion tax overhaul is the biggest reform of the U.S. tax system since the 1980s and will see that corporate tax rate slashed to 21 percent from 35 percent. While Barclays said the reduction in the tax rate is expected to “positively impact” its future post-tax earnings in the United States, it also cautioned that the Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT), which was included in the legislation and designed to prevent multinational firms from abusing the tax code, could significantly offset that benefit. “Due to the uncertain practical and technical application of many of these provisions, it is currently not possible to reliably estimate whether BEAT will apply and if so, how it would impact Barclays,” the lender added.

Bitcoin struggles to hold above $16,000; crypto marketplace Coinbase reports transaction delays

After Friday's crash, Bitcoin climbs back above $16,000
Bitcoin climbs back above $16,000 Bitcoin rallied Tuesday, recovering from a sharp sell-off late last week
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The digital currency briefly climbed more than 12.5 percent to above $16,100 late Tuesday morning and was trading near $15,965 late in the afternoon, according to Coinbase, the leading U.S. platform for trading major digital currencies.

However, Coinbase said on its status website at 1:24 p.m., ET, that “Due to high volume, we are experiencing a backlog of outgoing transactions for BTC and ETH. … Outgoing transactions of BTC and ETH may be delayed by several hours.”

The issue remained unresolved more than three hours later, according to the website. With Tuesday’s gains, bitcoin has now recovered more than 50 percent from a low of $10,400 hit Friday in an extremely volatile day of trading that had no immediately apparent explanation behind it. Trading on Coinbase was also down for more than two hours during Friday’s sell-off.

Nolan Bauerle, director of research at CoinDesk, attributed much of Tuesday’s price recovery to improved access to buying cryptocurrencies. “After last week’s sell-off, order books got some breathing room,” Bauerle said in an email to CNBC. “Those that wanted to buy at all-time highs suddenly saw discounts and more importantly could actually buy from exchanges that worked through the backlog.” Bitcoin has soared more than 1,600 percent over the last 12 months, according to Coinbase. A surge of investor interest has helped turn the once-fringe item to an object of Wall Street’s attention. CME, the world’s largest futures exchange, and its competitor Cboe both launched bitcoin futures this month. Many see the launch as a step towards legitimizing bitcoin as an asset class for institutional investors.

Ron Paul: Trump may be vulnerable to 2020 GOP primary challenge

Former Texas Rep. Ron Paul says a yearlong economic boom under President Trump is “a bit of an illusion” and that debt, inflation, and inequality could cause turmoil that benefits a “hardcore nucleus” of libertarians.The libertarian Republican leader told the Washington Examiner that Trump could face a strong challenger in the 2020 GOP primary, especially if “things are really much worse.” “The big opening for us is the fact that this system is coming apart. We’re on the verge of something like what happened in ‘89 when the Soviet system just collapsed,” he said. “I’m just hoping our system comes apart as gracefully as the Soviet system.” Paul doesn’t believe the U.S. will break into separate countries, but instead expects a rethink of monetary policy and an end to what he considers a U.S. “empire” overseas. “We have ownership of these countries, but it’s not quite like the Soviets did,” he said. “I think our stature in the world and our empire will end, and that’s when, hopefully, the doors will be open and [people will] say, ‘Hey, maybe these libertarians have some answers to this.’” Paul said “the country’s feeling a lot better, but it’s all on borrowed money” and that “the whole system’s an illusion” built on corporate, personal, and governmental debt. “It’s a bubble economy in many many different ways and it’s going to come unglued,” he said. The former congressman for years has presented issues in stark terms, refreshingly so for supporters and with an alarmist edge in the eyes of detractors. Although broadly critical of Trump, Paul likes the president’s talk about removing government regulations and implementing tax cuts. “Trump’s being a good cheerleader. He’s a cheerleader for Wall Street, and I keep my fingers crossed, maybe lowering some of the taxes will help, certainly lowering the regulations. But I think the problems are so deep and structural,” he said. Paul said he’s disappointed with Trump’s foreign policy, especially his approach toward North Korea and his support for Saudi Arabia’s military role in Yemen. “I think the foreign policy is a total disaster. Trump’s approach sounds good one day but the next day he’s antagonizing everyone in the world and thinks we should start a war here and there,” he said. The former congressman said he continues to view the U.S. as being on a path to fascism — on a long historical arch featuring authoritarian policies of Presidents Lincoln and Wilson.Paul said government policies that steer money to the wealthy create understandable anger among poorer Americans — pointing to the success of Sen. Bernie Sander, the Vermont socialist, in his 2016 campaign for the Democratic nomination. Paul said a libertarian answer, halting inflation and “crony capitalism,” would result in more freedom.”If they only hear our message, I know they would choose liberty and sound money and freedom and peace over the mess we have

Trump partly blamed Sessions for Alabama Senate loss: report

President Trump partly blamed Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the GOP loss in the recent Alabama Senate election, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. Trump placed blame on Sessions for Republicans losing the seat because Sessions’s departure from the Senate seat to Trump’s Cabinet had caused the special election, according to the AP. Trump had nominated Sessions for the position, setting off the process. Sen.-elect Doug Jones (D-Ala.) defeated Roy Moore (R) in the election earlier this month. The president first endorsed Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala) in the race before Moore won the GOP primary. Trump also backed Moore, despite the candidate facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls. Trump tried to walk back his support for Moore in a tweet last week, saying he had known Moore “would lose” the race.

 

The president has also targeted Sessions on social media and in comments to the press, largely expressing disappointment with Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russia’s election interference.

Trump said in July that he would not have appointed Sessions as attorney general if he had known that Sessions would recuse himself from the probe.

Sessions has said that Trump’s attacks on him were “hurtful” but that he will remain in his role. Trump has also stepped up his attacks on the FBI in recent weeks, which falls under Sessions’s purview in the Department of Justice.

Bitcoin bull McAfee urgers cryptocurrency investors to hold on

Joe Raedle/Getty Images John McAfee is a bitcoin bull

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Crytocurrency enthusiast John McAfee is advocating that those bullish on bitcoin stay the course and continue to hold on to the digital asset, despite a downturn over the weekend that saw it shed nearly half of its value from its December peak. On Dec. 25, McAfee, who founded the eponymous virus-protection software company, said: “Bitcoin is still the crypto giant. It is at a low price, and will never be cheaper,” he wrote on Twitter. “It will be ten times this price in 2018. Remember — it has the lowest circulating supply of any coin,” he said.

He also attempted to address some key criticisms of using bitcoin BT, +0.11% notably the high costs and slow speeds associated with processing transactions, that have given rise to splits in bitcoin, including Litecoin and Bitcoin cash:

McAfee has been among the more vocal supporters of bitcoin, predicting that the world’s most prominent cybercurrency would see a single unit hit a value of $1 million by 2020, doubling down on an earlier bet that a single bitcoin would be worth $500,000 over the same time. In recent trade, bitcoin was attempting to mount a modest rebound, trading around $16,000 in the spot market, after seeing its value tumble by more than a third since hitting an all-time high on Dec.17 near $20,000. At its lows, the asset plunged by about 45%. Overall, bitcoin’s price has climbed more than 1,550% so far in 2017.

Carl Bernstein: FBI isn’t tainted, Trump’s presidency is

Veteran journalist Carl Bernstein tore into President Trump on Tuesday over the latter’s attacks on the FBI, saying it’s Trump’s presidency whose integrity has been compromised, not the law enforcement agency’s.

In an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto, the legendary Watergate reporter accused Trump of acting contemptuously toward the FBI and other “instruments” of American democracy. “The key word… that he keeps using is ‘tainted.’ There’s really only one institution that has really been tainted through these months and that is the Trump presidency,” Bernstein said. “It’s tainted by the president’s lies, by his disrespect for American institutions operating under the law with traditional American democracy and the instruments thereof.” “He’s contemptuous of those instruments,” Bernstein added. Bernstein accused the president of doing a “grave disservice” to the country by undermining institutions such as the FBI. Trump, Bernstein said, should welcome moves from Mueller’s team if he really believes he will be exonerated in the end. “If the president is as confident as he says, if this investigation is going to end very soon with him being exonerated, he ought to welcome all of this instead of attacking constantly,” Bernstein said. “He’s doing a grave disservice to our democracy.” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning that the FBI was “tainted.” His comment came after he sharply criticized Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe on Saturday over reports that McCabe will possibly retire in March. “How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?” the president tweeted.  “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!” Trump added another tweet. McCabe has been the target of Republican criticism over a campaign donation his wife received from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), a top ally of Hillary Clinton, just a year before the investigation he managed into her private email server cleared Clinton of wrongdoing.

Oil remains near 2015 highs on tight market outlook

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices on Wednesday remained near two-and-a-half year highs from the previous session as the market outlook for 2018 is relatively tight, although the gradual resumption of flows through a major North Sea pipeline prevented crude from rising.A storage tank is pictured on the site of Canadian group Vermilion Energy in Parentis-en-Born, France, October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau  “Crude spiked sharply in reaction to an explosion at a Libyan pipeline…(but) the price spike came with light volumes as London was closed for Boxing Day,” said Sukrit Vijayakar, director of energy consultancy Trifecta. Libya lost around 90,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil supplies from a blast on a pipeline feeding Es Sider port on Tuesday.Wednesday’s dips were a result of the gradual return of the 450,000 bpd capacity Forties pipeline system in the North Sea. Flows through Forties will return to normal early in the New Year, operator Ineos said.  Both the Forties and Libyan outages, which together amount to around 500,000 bpd, are small in a global context where both production and demand are approaching 100 million bpd. But the disruptions highlight that markets have tightened significantly a year into voluntary supply restraint led by top producer Russia and the Middle East-dominated Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that following rampant oversupply in 2015, global oil markets gradually came into balance by 2016 and started to show a slight supply deficit this year, resulting in a reduction of global fuel inventories. EIA data implies a slight supply shortfall of 180,000 bpd for the first quarter of 2018. OPEC and Russia started withholding production last January, and the current schedule is to continue cutting throughout 2018. A major factor countering efforts by OPEC and Russia efforts to prop up prices is U.S. oil production, which has soared more than 16 percent since mid-2016 and is fast approaching 10 million bpd. Only OPEC king-pin Saudi Arabia and Russia produce more.

Matt Stanley, a fuel broker with Freight Investor Services in Dubai, said the rising U.S. output meant oil markets were not as tight as many analysts think it is.“U.S. oil production is…more than capable of plugging any supply deficits,” he said.

Tax break for disaster losses largely disappears in tax law

President Donald Trump speaks about the passage of tax reform legislation on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, December 20, 2017.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images President Donald Trump speaks about the passage of tax reform legislation on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, December 20, 2017.

If you lose your home to a fire next year, you may not be able to claim it on your taxes. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the tax overhaul President Donald Trump recently signed into law, limits the extent to which filers can take a tax break for personal casualty and theft losses. Under current law, a taxpayer can claim an itemized deduction for property losses that aren’t reimbursed by insurance and that stem from natural disasters, fires, accidents or other events. The total of your losses on personal property must exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. With the new law, taxpayers may claim personal casualty losses only if the damage is attributable to a disaster declared by the president. This limitation starts in 2018 and will expire at the end of 2025. A total of 72,323 filers claimed casualty and theft loss deductions on their 2015 tax returns, the most recent data available, according to the IRS. “Floods occur almost monthly across this country and there are home fires where people are financially devastated,” said Douglas J. Lyons, managing director of Oceanic Capital Management in Red Bank, New Jersey. “To not be able to use this one simple tax relief to help people get back on their feet is going to be really painful,” he said. The winter season is particularly perilous for home fires: Half of all home heating fires take place in December, January and February, according to the National Fire Protection Association. For each year between 2011 and 2015, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 200 home fires that started with Christmas trees, the NFPA found.

 

Charitable giving could drop by $21 billion a year because of the tax changes

Fewer incentives for individual and corporate giving
Getty Images

The tax-code overhaul that Republican lawmakers approved and President Trump signed into law will raise the price of charitable giving for millions of Americans, surely reducing how much money the nation gives. As an economist and a scholar of philanthropy who researches how public policies shape charitable giving, I anticipate that the tax tweaks will lead Americans and U.S. companies to donate roughly $21 billion less per year to charity. My colleagues and I expect giving to be reduced chiefly through two of the tax plan’s key features — significantly boosting the standard deduction and cutting the top marginal tax rate. Research I co-led based on an earlier tax proposal showed that these changes would reduce household charitable giving by $13.1 billion per year. That would mark a 4.6% decline from the $282 billion American households gave in 2016. We also determined that the share of households that itemize their tax returns would fall to approximately 5% from the current 30%. While we based our estimates on a reduction in the top rate from 39.6% to 35%, the new tax law would reduce the top marginal tax rate to 37% — and there are other differences both in terms of marginal tax rates and where they kick in for different income levels. This difference in the top marginal tax rate would reduce the impact on philanthropy somewhat from what we originally estimated. Conversely, the new law increases the standard deduction by 90.5% for married couples compared to the 75% boost we were expecting when we estimated these repercussions. This change would magnify the toll taken on philanthropy compared to our base model.

That means the share of filers who get a tax break — a built-in incentive — for their charitable gifts will be falling even further than my team had estimated. This result is further exacerbated by the loss in personal exemptions of more than $4,000 per person through 2025. This means that even with the near-doubling of the standard deduction under the new tax laws, a married couple with one child would basically break even. Married couples with two kids would be paying federal income tax on more of their income in the future than they have until now. These lost personal exemptions will reduce the after-tax income that millions of Americans will have on hand to give to charities. And the GOP tax package does not create any incentives to give for the vast majority of households, some 95% of which will not be itemizing their returns. In short, I expect the loss to charitable

With Retail Receding, Malls Must Find New Purpose

 

A shopper leaves a store that is having closing sale during its final five days in business in a shopping mall on October 15, 2008 in Pasadena, California.  (David McNew/Getty Images) By Cathy Burke  
 

Traditional malls will have to transform to fill other community needs besides commerce if they want to survive, Business Insider reported. June Williamson, an architecture professor at the City College of New York and an author of “Retrofitting Suburbia” told BI there’s lots of ways failing malls can switch it up for the future.For example, major department stores that are the anchor outlets for malls — now suffering as new shopping centers are built — will most likely become other businesses that could benefit from the big footprint, like fitness centers, churches, offices, public libraries, and even medical clinics, Williamson told BI.  Food courts could morph into gathering spaces for community groups or daycare centers, and the wide open spaces of underused atriums could be the site for concerts or fashion shows, or serve as car showrooms, Williamson told BI.

 

Smaller stores that’ve been forced out as rents increase and bigger stores flee will most likely turn into businesses that have community functions, such as apartments, public libraries, indoor farms, and refrigerated spaces for processing food for local restaurants or grocery stores, Williamson told BI.

“You’ll find DMVs, town halls, and libraries in malls increasingly — the type of place where the public government can interact with the public,” Williamson said. “If the mall owners can’t keep the place fully leased, this at least keeps people coming who could keep the other lessees from fleeing,” she added. “The Main Street was killed by the mall, so developers are trying to build new downtowns inside the malls.” A mall’s sprawling parking lot could transform into a space for walking — or public space benefitting the community, like a farmers market or for concerts, Wiliamson told BI.Williamson also said malls could target a specific ethnic demographic, or evolve into a “destination mall” to attract shoppers from the entire region — like a mega-mall in New Jersey called American Dream Meadlowlands expected to open in 2018.  “People will drive miles to these malls because they will be destinations,” Williamson told BI. Nick Bit: Don’t buy into the desperate mall and RIT’s spin from the PR guys they hired. Malls are dead meat..75% of them will close and go broke. Turning them into circuses wont save them. They were built for retail shopping and trying to turn them into a cruise ship won’t work..  Besides when you try to sail  them they will sink!

Man says he delivered manure to Steve Mnuchin to protest new tax law

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
Dan Kitwood | Getty Images US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchi
A man claiming to be the person who delivered a gift-wrapped package of horse manure at the Los Angeles home of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Monday he did it to protest the federal tax overhaul signed into law last week by President Donald Trump. Robert Strong, 45, a psychologist for the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, said by telephone he left the poop-filled parcel addressed to Mnuchin and Trump in the driveway outside Mnuchin’s home in the posh Bel Air community. KNBC-TV, an NBC television affiliate in Los Angeles, reported Mnuchin was not home at the time. The package was found by Mnuchin’s neighbor. “Protest really should be funny,” Strong told Reuters. “People’s eyes glaze over when they just see angry people in the streets.” He believes the new tax law will hurt poor people. Neither the U.S. Secret Service nor the Los Angeles Police Department, both of which investigated the incident, would confirm Strong was responsible. The Secret Service interviewed an individual who admitted delivering the package, but no charges had been filed against him as of Monday afternoon.

LAPD Lieutenant Rob Weise said it was possible whoever left the package did not break any criminal laws. While he is not assigned to investigate the incident, Weise said if the box did not present any danger, it would not be illegal. The LAPD bomb squad X-rayed the box before opening it on Saturday. In a photo of the card Strong posted on Twitter, he wrote “Misters Mnuchin & Trump, We’re returning the ‘gift’ of the Christmas tax bill” and signed it “Warmest wishes, The American people.” Strong said a Secret Service agent, accompanied by six police officers, showed up at his house to question him on Sunday night, and the agent chided him, asking, “‘Are you ashamed of your behavior?'” The White House declined to comment on Monday and officials with the Treasury Department could not be reached.

Oil rises on Libyan pipeline blast, Forties restart weighs

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil moved higher above $65 a barrel on Tuesday, within sight of its highest since mid-2015, supported by an explosion on a crude pipeline in Libya and voluntary OPEC-led supply cuts.The move towards restart of a key North Sea pipeline, Forties, capped the rally. The pipeline is being tested after repairs and full flows should resume in early January, its operator said on Monday.  “The confirmation that Forties is coming back ….has the potential for capping Brent,” said Olivier Jakob, analyst at Petromatrix.Trading activity was thin due to the Christmas holiday in many countries.  Oil turned positive following the explosion at the Libyan pipeline, which feeds the Es Sider terminal. It was not immediately clear what impact the blast will have on Libyan output, which has been recovering in recent months after being hampered for years by conflict and unrest. Brent has risen 17 percent in 2017. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, plus Russia and other non-members, have been withholding output since Jan. 1 to get rid of a glut. The producers have extended the supply cut agreement to cover all of 2018. Iraq’s oil minister said on Monday there would be a balance between supply and demand by the first quarter, leading to a boost in prices. Global oil inventories have decreased to an acceptable level, he added. That is earlier than predicted in OPEC’s latest official forecast, which calls for a balanced market by late 2018. While the OPEC action has lent support to prices all year, the unplanned shutdown of the Forties pipeline on Dec. 11 pushed Brent to its mid-2015 high.

Forties plays an important role in the global market as it is the biggest of the five North Sea crude streams underpinning Brent, the benchmark for oil trading in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Rising production in the United States is offsetting some of the OPEC-led cuts. The U.S. rig count , an early indicator of future output, held at 747 in the week to Dec. 22, according to the latest weekly report by Baker Hughes.

This May Be Bitcoin’s Moment of Truth

The market is at a crucial juncture in the waning days of 2017.

Bitcoin has had a terrific year overall, thanks to a small but dedicated set of believers in the disruptive power of cryptocurrencies who have also enabled many other individual investors to participate in the eye-popping phenomenon. Yet after bitcoin’s value fell by more than a third in just a few days last week, and as exchanges struggle to cope with all the investor activity, the market finds itself at an important juncture — perhaps even a defining one. Either this sharp price correction will act as a catalyst for expanding what, until now, has been quite limited institutional involvement in this market — or it will become a stage in the deflation of a remarkable and historic asset bubble. Bitcoin hit several milestones as it surged from around $1,000 at the beginning of the year to a record of nearly $20,000 last week — from the introduction of bitcoin futures trading on the CBOE and CME to the emergence of specialized investment products. Most importantly, these events fueled a growing appreciation of the potential of blockchain technology, the innovation underlying bitcoin.

Also absent is a significant erosion in what, as illustrated by recent data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, remains a notably segmented investor base. The “longs” — that is, those who bought bitcoins outright, either as an investment or as a trade — are dominated by individual (“retail”) investors; the “shorts” — those who sold in anticipation of covering their position profitably at a lower price — are anchored by a more professional class of market participants. Meanwhile, large institutional investors (such as traditional mutual funds, Wall Street banks and established hedge funds) have generally remained on the sidelines, even though their involvement is key to bitcoin’s sustainability. After bitcoin experienced one of the biggest roller-coaster weeks in its young history, the most important question facing it is whether the recent price correction will prove to be what market participants refer to as “healthy” — specifically, one that serves to shake out excessive irrational exuberance, provides for the entry of institutional investors, encourages the development of market-deepening products, and widens and balances out the investor base and the product offering.

QuickTake: Bitcoin and Blockchain Were this to occur, it would help bitcoin — as well as its growing universe of cryptocurrency peers — develop deeper structural roots, reduce the probability of a heavy-handed regulatory response, and lower the threat of a price crash. Absent this, not even the deep commitment of true believers will be enough to protect individual retail investors who would end up experiencing a price appreciation and collapse that would rival even the biggest investment bubbles in history.

Bitcoin rises 10 percent, recovers from last week’s brutal selloff

SINGAPORE/TOKYO (Reuters) – Bitcoin extended its recovery in holiday-thinned trading on Tuesday, rising 10 percent to be up more than a third from last week’s lows of below $12,000. Bitcoin, the world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency, fell nearly 30 percent at one stage on Friday to $11,159.93 and, despite a late recovery, had its worst week since 2013. At 0445 GMT on Tuesday, it was quoted around $15,049 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange. The digital currency had risen around twentyfold since the start of the year, climbing from less than $1,000 to as high as $19,666 on Dec. 17 on Bitstamp and to over $20,000 on other exchanges. But it has posted heavy declines since.While bitcoin investors and analysts believe the decline in its value was a natural correction after a heady run-up in prices, there have been further warnings from market regulators and central banks.  “There is no right current price which would reflect the right current valuation,” said Andrei Popescu, Singapore-based co-founder of COSS, which describes itself as a platform that encompasses all features of a digital economy based on cryptocurrency. “Taking profit is right, while buying into a long term projection is also right. You don’t have to be right in this market, just less wrong than the rest,” Popescu said. Shmuel Hauser, the chairman of the Israel Securities Authority, said on Monday he will propose regulation to ban companies based on bitcoin and other digital currencies from trading on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Singapore’s central bank last week issued a warning against investment in cryptocurrencies, saying it considers the recent surge in their prices to be driven by speculation and that the risk of a sharp fall in prices is high. Prices of rival cryptocurrencies, which slid along with bitcoin last week, have also recovered, with Ethereum, the second-biggest cryptocurrency by market size, quoted around $771, up from Sunday’s low of $689 but still far from highs around $900 hit last week. Nick Bit: you will kick yourself in your ASS for the next 10 years if you don’t buy bitcoin and buy bitcoin stocks.. Yes it will be a wild ride and yes many of the bitcoin stocks will wipe out.,,,, So! The winners will make you fabulously wealthy. This is high tech on steroids and could make you far far far more money with far greater risk… SO!

Bitcoin could hit $60,000 in 2018 but another crash is coming, says startup exec

Cryptocurrency entrepreneur Julian Hosp says bitcoin’s rapid rise isn’t over yet. But there’s a catch.

“I think we’re going to see bitcoin hitting the $60,000 dollar mark, but I also think we’re going to see bitcoin hitting the $5,000 dollar mark,” said Hosp, co-founder and president of TenX, a firm that wants to make it easier for people to spend virtual currencies. “The question is though, ‘Which one is it going to hit first?'” he said. Numerous high-profile critics and several national governments have warned of the dangers of investing in cryptocurrencies, which they say are likely to crash because nothing underpins their value. Hosp’s forecast would represent a $45,000 rally from the current price of bitcoin — or a $10,000 collapse, underscoring the volatility of the world’s largest cryptocurrency. After rallying to a record high above $19,800 midway through December, bitcoin prices collapsed last Friday. The digital currency lost a third of its value in a single day, briefly sinking below $11,000 before regaining some of the ground it lost. Bitcoin traded at $15,185 on Tuesday, according to Coinbase. “For experts that have been in the market, this was actually a welcome dip,” Hosp told CNBC’s “Squawk Box”. He said industry insiders had expected the price of bitcoin to fall, given the “dangerous” elevation of value that it has seen over the past few months. “This dip for us was very, very healthy, and some of us have used it to buy a little bit more because suddenly we had 40-45 percent discount to all-time highs,” he added. Hosp said he’s certain that bitcoin will fall again. “Definitely,” he said. “I don’t think right now, but I think in the long run, we will always see a little bit of an up move, and then a dip down.” Hosp likened the current interest in bitcoin to the dotcom bubble that started about 20 years ago, and warned that a consolidation of digital coins is likely to take place in the future. “I don’t think crypto winter is going to come in the next couple of months, but I think if we look down one to two years, there is definitely going to be a big compression in the market,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a bubble that’s just going to burst and everyone is going to lose their money, but I think it’s going to be that all the coins and all the assets with very little use or value are going to get sorted out,” he said. “The money is going to flow into those assets in this cryptocurrency space that really deliver value, have new technology, and are being used by people,” he added. TenX charges fees for a wallet and card that are designed to make digital currencies more usable for transactions. Hosp didn’t share his thoughts on which cryptocurrency has the most longevity, but he did say that compression of the market will reduce their numbers.

“I see bitcoin more as digital gold,” he said, “rather than a currency that is going to be used on a daily basis.”

A bitcoin implosion could ‘spill over’ into stock market, warns Wells Fargo’s Chris Harvey

Wells Fargo head of equity strategy on bitcoin's market impact in 2018
Wells Fargo head of equity strategy on bitcoin’s market impact in 2018

If the cryptocurrency boom goes bust, Wells Fargo Securities believes stocks could easily get dragged into the chaos. Christopher Harvey, the firm’s head of equity strategy, is paying close attention to the unprecedented activity in what could be one of the most epic bubbles of all time.

“There is a significant amount of froth in the crypto markets. We do think that if that froth comes out, it will start to spillover,” he warned recently on CNBC’

Bitcoin and its peers have been seeing wild price swings seen over the past week. Last week, bitcoin lost one third of its value in a single day before rebounding. That capped days of volatility which saw the digital currency surge to a new record near $20,000. “What we’re worried about is froth coming out of that market, and that’s starting to affect equities,” said Harvey. “You’re seeing it a little bit, but just not to a large degree. And, it’s something to watch out for in 2018.” Harvey has a 2863 S&P 500 Index year-end price target for 2018 — about a six percent gain from Friday’s close. It comes far below the 20 percent gains Wall Street has seen so far this year. “You have to lower your expectations for next year. A lot of good news is already priced in, and we just don’t see that much going forward. It’ll be a decent market, it just won’t be a banner year,” he said. Harvey sees the first half of the year stronger than the second. By then, he predicts stocks will come up against new challenges — whether the crypto market implodes or not. “What the market will have to contend with is EPS [earnings per share] peaking, ISM potentially peaking, you’re going to have the yield-curve in all likelihood flattening — and in addition to that, you’ll likely have multiples start to compress, ” Harvey said. “You’re going to have to scratch and claw to stay afloat for it to break even.”

EU CRISIS: Europe on the brink as German farmers vent over new agriculture proposals

FARMERS in Germany are furious over proposed European Union rules which they warn could have dramatic consequences for the future of the agriculture industry.

Combine harvester and German countrysideGETTY

Plans to reform the Europe’s CAP would be a ‘a step backwards’, Henrik Wendorff said Eurocrats are set to put forward sweeping changes to the bloc’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – including a simplification of regulations and a more flexible approach to subsidies – in the first half of 2018 The policy was put in place to prevent shortages and regulate production across the union, however it has caused controversy since it was first introduced in 1962.

Supporters of the policy say it gives Europe food security and protects rural communities by offering subsidies and incentives to farmers. But critics of CAP say it leads to massive oversupply and food waste, and the €58billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies could be far better spent elsewhere. And current EU rules pay subsidies simply based on how much land farmers own – not on how much they earn – meaning some of the largest recipients are extremely wealthy businesses and individuals. Now, an agricultural union in the east of Germany has warned member states may decide to go against CAP if the new-look rules further “distort the market”. Henrik Wendorff, President of the Brandenburg State Farmers’ Association, described plans to reform farming subsidies as “a step backwards”. Speaking to German media, he said European farmers were reliant on subsides and other compensation from the EU to help mitigate the disadvantages they face against competitors on the world market.He said: “No European farmer in a free world market can keep up with regions that produce cheaper food.”  “I am sceptical that the next few months will help us in agricultural policy.” Mr Wendorff also warned there could be problems down the line if one country promotes certain animals and methods, but others do not. He warned: “Countries could then decide whether to pay income support directly or prefer other programmes.

Farmers in Germany are to receive some €44billion in from CAP between 2014-2020 “We need clear income incentives.”
Last month, a report by the Taxpayers’ Alliance found food prices in the UK had been driven up by nearly 17 per cent because of CAP.British households were “suffering” because of subsides, tariffs and overly-harsh regulations imposed by the policy, the study concluded.

On Christmas Day, Pope Francis Prays for Peace in an Uneasy World

Pope Francis delivering the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing from a balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican on Monday. Credit Angelo Carconi/European Pressphoto Agency

ROME — Pope Francis used his annual Christmas Day address on Monday to make clear his concern that serenity is sorely lacking at a time when the “winds of war” and an “outdated model of development” are taking a toll on humanity, society and the environment. Addressing a crowd from a balcony at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, the pope delivered his Urbi et Orbi — Latin for “to the city and the world” — benediction, which read like a litany of global conflicts and problems. But it was also an opportunity to pray for a positive turn of events, for a resuscitation of a two-state solution in the Middle East to the healing of war-torn Syria and Ukraine, for the easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula to a return to dialogue in Venezuela.He said he hoped that international players of “good will” would help resume a dialogue so that “a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognized

Trump has spent nearly a third of his presidency at his own properties

Reuters President Donald Trump departs for holiday travel to his Mar-a-Lago estate on December 22, 2017.

President Donald Trump, who is currently spending a 10-day Christmas vacation at the Florida luxury resort he owns, has visited one of his company’s properties on nearly one-third of the days he has been in office, according to a Wall Street Journal review of the president’s travel. Of the more than 100 days Trump has visited one of his properties, he spent nearly 40 at his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., which he visited for much of his two-week August vacation. And he spent 40 days at Mar-a-Lago, his luxury resort in Palm Beach, Fla., where he arrived Friday.  Trump’s is an unusual case of presidential travel, since he spends much of his time away from the White House at places that he owns but where other guests pay to stay. Other presidents have traveled frequently to spend time at their own homes, such as President George W. Bush to his Texas ranch, or his father to Kennebunk, Maine. Others have vacationed at Camp David, the White House retreat in Maryland, or rented accommodations, as President Barack Obama did in Hawaii. As a businessman who made his fortune in residential and commercial real estate, Trump’s considerations are more complicated because his visits can create the appearance of a conflict of interest in highlighting a Trump property—from which Trump draws revenue—on a visit paid for by taxpayer dollars, ethics experts say.

Power Prices Go Negative in Germany, a Positive for Energy Users

Power from wind and solar waxes and wanes with the breeze and sunshine, not in response to when it is most needed. Credit Gordon Welters for The New York Times

Germany has spent $200 billion over the past two decades to promote cleaner sources of electricity. That enormous investment is now having an unexpected impact — consumers are now actually paid to use power on occasion, as was the case over the weekend. Power prices plunged below zero for much of Sunday and the early hours of Christmas Day on the EPEX Spot, a large European power trading exchange, the result of low demand, unseasonably warm weather and strong breezes that provided an abundance of wind power on the grid.

Such “negative prices” are not the norm in Germany, but they are far from rare, thanks to the country’s effort to encourage investment in greener forms of power generation. Prices for electricity in Germany have dipped below zero — meaning customers are getting paid to consume power — more than 100 times this year alone, according to EPEX Spot.

On Sunday, factory owners and other major consumers were at times paid more than 50 euros, about $60, per megawatt-hour, a wholesale measure, to take power. Here is a rundown of these negative power prices, and the impact they have.Demand is particularly low on weekends and holidays, when factories are idle and offices empty. The energy supplies that Germany depends on, however, are less predictable than they used to be.  Wind power, in particular, is highly dependent on changes in weather patterns. Giant spinning turbines produce, on average, about 12 percent of Germany’s power, but on windy days, they can generate several times that amount. At the same time, other mainstays of the country’s electricity supply, especially some coal and nuclear power plants, are unable to dial back quickly enough, leading to negative prices on electricity trading markets.

Ex-CIA Chief Brennan Joins Former Intel Officials to Defend Besieged FBI Leaders

Image: Ex-CIA Chief Brennan Joins Former Intel Officials to Defend Besieged FBI Leaders
Former CIA Director John Brennan (Cliff Owen/AP

Former intelligence officials are defending FBI leaders under attack for alleged political bias — including former CIA director John Brennan, who argues President Donald Trump “fears” them. The defense comes as James Baker, the FBI’s top lawyer, was reassigned and deputy director Andrew McCabe faces fire from Trump for contributions to his wife’s 2015 state Senate campaign. Trump targeted both leaders on Twitter over the weekend.But on Sunday, Brennan tweeted his own response to the online attacks.

Brennan added that he had donated to the FBI Agents Association, and encouraged others to do the same.

Business Insider noted the timing of Baker’s reassignment — and a controversial Politico piece posted last Friday — has led some former Justice Department and FBI officials to wonder whether it was, at least partially, a political decision made under mounting pressure from Trump and his allies. “I have no problem with the idea that (FBI Director Christopher) Wray should pick his own team over time, including his own general counsel,” Benjamin Wittes, an expert in national security law and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has known Baker for years, told BI. “The idea that Jim should stay in place indefinitely is not what I would argue,” Wittes said. “But, if I were Wray and I meant to replace my general counsel, the antics of the last two weeks would have convinced me not to do it under fire to make sure no one thinks I am giving the administration a scalp.”Frank Montoya, Jr., a former senior FBI official who worked closely with McCabe before retiring in 2016, said on Saturday — before news broke that McCabe planned to leave the bureau — that he suspected McCabe would retire as soon as he was eligible.  “Most guys are leaving right when they are eligible,” Montoya said, Business Insider reported. “That’s been the case for years. But if he goes, it will be of his own accord, not because he was pushed out.” David Kris, a former Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, also defended Baker. “I have known Jim Baker for many years, in and out of government,” Kris said on Saturday, BI reported. “And I know him to be a person, and public servant, of the highest moral character and integrity.” And Gen. Michael Hayden, the former head of both the CIA and the National Security Agency, tweeted on Friday that “Jim was/is a wonderful PUBLIC servant.”Former acting CIA Director John McLaughlin agreed.

Fired former FBI Director James Comey also weighed in over the weekend, stating the agency’s current leadership was being “attacked for partisan gain.”

Report: FBI Investigating Defunct Bank in Cyprus With Russian Ties

Image: Report: FBI Investigating Defunct Bank in Cyprus With Russian Ties
Special Counsel Robert Mueller (AP Images)

The FBI is investigating a now-shuttered bank in Cyprus used by affluent Russians with political ties and has been accused by the U.S. Treasury Department of money laundering, the Guardian reported Sunday.One source told the news outlet that the probe is a key interest for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is handling the Justice Department’s investigation into the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and, whether there was any collusion between Moscow and members of Donald Trump’s campaign. The FBI in November requested financial information about FBME Bank from the Central Bank of Cyprus, a move that appeared to be connected to Mueller’s probe of Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort according to the Guardian. FBME was based in Tanzania but conducted most of its banking in Cyprus.  The U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network in 2014 said the bank constituted a “primary money-laundering concern.”Manafort, who kept bank accounts in Cyprus during his years working in Ukraine and investing with a Russian oligarch, was indicted in October on charges of money laundering and fraud.  FBME, previously known as the Federal Bank of the Middle East, has denied laundering allegations, and on Saturday made the same claim in a statement on its website.“FBME has not engaged in money-laundering and was never accused of such until the FinCEN allegations. The ​b​ank has acted in compliance with all the EU and Cyprus Anti-Money Laundering directives; a fact corroborated by multiple third-party auditors,” the bank said​.​

Trump defends new tax-cut bill amid negative polls

Trump defends new tax-cut bill amid negative polls
© Getty Images

President Trump on Sunday touted provisions in the recently-passed GOP tax plan, while pushing back against polls that indicate the measure is unpopular among the U.S. public.  “The Tax Cut/Reform Bill, including Massive Alaska Drilling and the Repeal of the highly unpopular Individual Mandate, brought it all together as to what an incredible year we had,” Trump tweeted.

The president claimed “insider polls” indicate that support for the tax-cut plan is “strong,” while launching one of his regular attacks against the media, referring to “fake news” reports. Several polls indicated a majority of Americans don’t like the new measure. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found last week that a majority of Americans, 63 percent, say the bill will benefit the wealthy and corporations, compared to 22 percent who say the plan will help all individuals equally.  The poll also found that 24 percent of Americans think the tax plan is a good idea, while 41 percent say it’s a bad idea.  A CNN poll also out last week found that 55 percent polled oppose the tax-reform plan, while 33 percent said they favored the plan. Democrats had waged a fierce opposition campaign against the tax-cut bill, arguing that it will help the nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations get richer, while disproportionately hurting millions of middle-class households with higher taxes. Trump earlier in the day attacked the news media for showing “fake polls just like they report fake news.”

The tax-cut plan is Trump’s first major legislative victory, which he signed shortly before the start of the new year.

Spain on the brink as major analysts predict stock market down turn

Bankers are concerned with the state of the Spanish economyTHE result of the recent regional elections in Catalonia is the “worst possible scenario” for investors in Spain, analysts have warned.

The pro-independence parties managed to retain an overall majority in the Parliament although the unionist Ciudadanos won the most seats. Bankinter’s analysts said: “The electoral results in Catalonia do not clear the political scenario and the Ibex 35 will again lag behind the rest of the stock exchanges.” A similar landscape was given by Renta 4 analysts, who pointed out that after the vote on December 21 political uncertainty remains over both Spain and Catalonia, although they ruled out any “extreme” scenarios. XTB analyst Joaquín Robles said: “We are perhaps facing the worst scenario for the interests of Spanish investors, since it is most likely that the pro-independence group will return to rule.” Bankers have expressed concern for the Spanish economy He added that the search for independence through the legal channels, instead of unilaterally, would “reassure” investors.

Moody’s believed the electoral result illustrated “the persistent” polarisation of the Catalans and it is “negative” for the economic growth of Spain.

Likewise, the US firm believes that the approach to the independence procedures will “further weaken the already weak finances of the region”, since the electoral programmes of the pro-independence parties lack fiscal consolidation measures and the focus of their political agenda is the road map towards independence.

 

Sabadell and CaixaBank are the worst performers on the Ibex 35, registering falls of around 3 per cent the day after the elections in Catalonia. A total of 3,139 companies moved their headquarters from Catalonia to other regions of Spain between October 2 and December 21, registering in this last day 19 transfers, five less than the previous day, according to data from the College of Mercantile Registrars of Spain.

Many Saudi corruption suspects go free, suggesting settlements

Crackdown swept up hundreds of ministers, businessmen
Bloomberg News Ibrahim al-Assaf, former finance minister of Saudi Arabia, was recently freed.

The Saudi government in recent days has released at least two dozen high-profile suspects held in a wide-ranging crackdown on corruption, a sign that those accused of illegally amassing wealth are increasingly agreeing to settle as authorities push to expedite the investigation process. Among those released in the past week is Ibrahim al-Assaf, a former finance minister and board member of the state oil giant Saudi Aramco, who was accused of embezzlement related to the expansion of Mecca’s Grand Mosque and taking advantage of his position, people familiar with the matter said Sunday. Others released include former assistant minister of finance Mohammed bin Homoud Al Mazyed, Saoud al-Daweesh, former chief executive of Saudi Telecom, Prince Turki bin Khalid, and Mohy Saleh Kamel, a businessman, the people said. None of the suspects freed could be immediately reached for comment. “They all settled to get out,” said a senior adviser to the Saudi government. “At least two dozens were released if not more.” “We will see more getting released soon and court trials for those who want to clear their names. The government want this over sooner than later,” he said. Nick Bit: It a mater of electrolytic capacitors and step up transformers. The higherthe  voltage connect to ones gentiles the more they give…

Sanders: Trump’s telling his friends the truth about tax bill

Sanders: Trump's telling his friends the truth about tax bill
© Camille Fine

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Sunday said President Trump is finally “telling the truth” about the tax bill following a report that Trump told friends at his Mar-a-Lago resort that they all “just got a lot richer” after he signed the legislation. “At least Trump is finally telling the truth about his tax bill,” Sanders tweeted.

CBS News reported that Trump told friends at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida a few hours after he signed the GOP tax bill that they all just got wealthier. “You all just got a lot richer,” Trump said Friday at a dinner at Mar-a-Lago, two friends at a table near the president told CBS News.

Late last week, Trump signed the sweeping Republican tax bill into law, marking his first major legislative accomplishment since winning the White House. Trump and congressional Republicans have been pushing tax reform for several months. Trump has pitched the tax-reform plan as a boon to the middle class. Democrats, though, have argued that the largest benefits will go to wealthy Americans like the president.

Flake: Trump rallies reflect ‘spasms of a dying party’

Flake: Trump rallies reflect 'spasms of a dying party'
© Getty Images

Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on Sunday said the crowds at rallies for President Trump and other Republicans reflect “spasms of a dying party,” adding that the GOP will have to formulate a governing agenda to reach more voters. “When you look at some of the audiences cheering for Republicans, sometimes, you look out there and you say, ‘those are the spasms of a dying party,’ ” Flake said on ABC’s “This Week.” “When you look at the lack of diversity, sometimes, and it depends on where you are, obviously, but by and large, we’re appealing to older white men and there are just a limited number of them, and anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy,” he continued. Flake, who has announced he will not seek reelection in 2018, has been a frequent critic of Trump, earning the president’s ire on Twitter. The Arizona senator refused to back Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, calling him unfit for office. He wrote a $100 check to Democrat Doug Jones in the race, writing “Country over Party” in the memo line. Flake on Sunday said he believes Moore, who earned Trump’s full endorsement and had the backing of former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, will be a “lasting” stain on the Republican Party. Flake also said he’s hopeful Bannon’s role within the party is being marginalized. “The last thing we need is to push that ultranationalist, ethno-nationalist, protectionist kind of element of the party. That’s not good for us,” Flake said.

Belarus adopts crypto-currency law to woo foreign investors

MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus has legalized transactions in crypto-currencies, part of a drive to foster private sector growth and attract foreign investment by liberalizing parts of its Soviet-style economy. Bitcoin, the world’s most popular crypto-currency, has lost a third of its value BTC since hitting a record high of close to $20,000 on Sunday, but its supporters dismiss warnings over volatility and say it is the start of a new monetary system not dependent on central banks. “All smart and intelligent people know what stability and order are,” state news agency BelTA quoted Lukashenko as saying earlier this month. “They’re all trying to reach that shore. We’re prepared to arrange a dock and even a harbor.”The former Soviet republic, squeezed between Russia and the European Union, is still dominated by the state, weighed down by bureaucracy and inefficient state-owned enterprises, and dependent on Russian money and subsidies.

 

The decree is designed to attract digital coin entrepreneurs, who are moving businesses to locations more welcoming to crypto-currencies as they face intensifying scrutiny from regulators over digital currency fund-raising, known as initial coin offerings. “The decree is a breakthrough for Belarus,” Anton Myakishev, the head of Microsoft’s ( Belarus office, told Reuters. “It gives the industry the possibility to make a leap forward in its development and allows foreign capital the possibility to come to Belarus and work in comfortable conditions.”

 

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“We regularly faced legal problems. When a Western company buys a Belarussian company they try to structure the deal outside Belarus,” said Denis Aleinikov, senior partner in a private law firm Aleinikov and Partners in Minsk and the main author of the decree. “Investors don’t want to deal with Belarussian legislation,” he told Reuters. Viktor Prokopenya, a prominent investor in the Belarussian IT sector, said Reuters the legislation and other measures showed the government fully supported the industry.Dozens of software companies operate in Minsk’s high-tech IT park, including U.S.-based EPAM Systems (EPAM.), founded by two Belarussians in 1993. Belarussian software engineers are also behind the Japanese-controlled Viber messenger and the popular video game World of Tanks. The bright outlook for the IT industry is not matched in other sectors of the Belarussian economy, which remains hamstrung by loss-making state-owned companies that have seen little or no reform since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The economy is expected to return to growth of 1.7 percent this year, but the International Monetary Fund in November said growth will remain around 2 percent annually over the next few years if state-run heavy industries don’t modernize.

40 former U.S. attorneys and GOP officials warn Trump against firing Mueller

40 former U.S. attorneys and GOP officials warn Trump against firing Mueller

More than 40 former U.S. attorneys and Republican officials signed two separate letters to President Trump on Friday warning the president against impeding special counsel Robert Mueller or his investigators. One letter, signed by 22 former U.S. attorneys representing every administration dating back to President Nixon’s, urges Trump to allow Mueller’s team to conclude its investigation free from “fear of reprisal.” “We understand just how critical it is to the interests of justice and public trust to ensure that those charged with conducting complex investigations are allowed to do their jobs free from interference or fear of reprisal,” the attorneys wrote. “That is why we were gratified by your statement on Sunday that you do not intend to seek the removal of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.” “Seeking his removal would have severe repercussions for Americans’ sense of justice here at home and for our reputation for fairness around the world,” the letter adds. A separate letter organized by former Bush administration ethics lawyer Richard Painter is signed by 20 former Republican lawmakers and administration officials. They urge Trump, lawmakers and the American people “to support the work of Special Counsel Mueller to its conclusion, whatever it may be.” The letter also warns Trump against attempts to remove Attorney General Jeff Sessions or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in order to force Mueller’s firing. “Our concerns include not only firing Mueller, but other efforts to impair his work. For example, any attempt to remove the Deputy Attorney General or the Attorney General in order to replace them with individuals who would impede the Special Counsel’s activity must be rejected,” the letter from former GOP officials reads.  White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders fought back against reports that the president was considering removing the special counsel in an interview with Fox News on Thursday. “For the one-thousandth time, we have no intentions of firing Bob Mueller,” Sanders said.

Investors yank billions out of market following Trump’s tax bill win

Traders and financial professionals work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
Drew Angerer | Getty Images Traders and financial professionals work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

As Congress moved the tax bill forward, investors pulled the highest amount out of equities funds in more than three years, suggesting some investors may see “tax cuts” as already priced in. According to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, redemptions from equities funds and ETFs totaled $14.5 billion, the fourth largest on record, and the biggest since August, 2014, just weeks after Brexit. For the week ending Wednesday, redemptions from bond funds overall totaled $3.2 billion, the largest in a year. High-yield bond funds were down $5.3 billion, the eighth consecutive week of outflows and the longest streak since the financial crisis in 2008. U.S. value funds had outflows of $7.8 billion and small-caps lost $5.8 billion, both the largest on record. “It was exactly the kind of places where you saw big inflows after the U.S. election,” he said. Woodard doesn’t believe the “buy the rumor, sell the news” behavior is negative for stocks near term, and the market should benefit from “risk on” in January. What it may be a sign of is that investors do not see the big returns some expect from the tax stimulus, Woodard said. Congress voted on the tax bill Wednesday, and it was signed by President Donald Trump on Friday.

Source: Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Ignore a 20% to 30% drop in bitcoin because the longer trend is up

If bitcoin’s price plunges 70%, it is only back to its 200-day moving average near $4,473

Getty Images/iStockphoto

This week’s plunge in bitcoin is not a jaw-dropping selloff for the cryptocurrency. This is a beast that has a unique personality, so a 20% to 30% move doesn’t matter at all. Bitcoin mania has been fueled by the speculation that the price will touch $100,000 in the next two years. Therefore, most investors are buying bitcoin and holding it for the big jackpot day. Looking at the history of the previous selloffs for bitcoin BTCUSD, has crashed over 30% every quarter since its inception. The biggest drops came in January 2015, when it dropped nearly 59%, and in March 2013, when it crashed nearly 70%.

If the price drops by 70% now, it only will be touching its 200-day moving average, which is near $4,473.

So, a 35% plunge from its peak should not make investors scared, especially when a vast majority of them aren’t using leverage. Only when a trader is trading an instrument on leverage is he or she more concerned about such an eye-opening selloff, because then they are forced to close their position. Yet, many in the market do think the bitcoin bubble is popping. They cannot stop making a comparison of the bursting of the dot-com bubble. But remember, when the internet started to get attention, many could not understand the scope or the importance of the e-commerce market, which has become a giant today. Investors needed to have the vision to see the ecosystem that companies like Google, Apple and Amazon were trying to tap into. This is particularly evident if you take the example of Facebook. The stock was hammered in its early days of listing even though it was one of the most-hyped IPO. Now that the investors understand the potential of FANGS, everyone wants to get a piece of this. The Nasdaq Composite COMP, dropped 77% from its high in 2000 to the low in 2002. This is something which investors aren’t going to forget, especially for those who lost their money during this period.

 

NYT: Federal Prosecutors Ask Deutsche Bank for Kushner Records

Image: NYT: Federal Prosecutors Ask Deutsche Bank for Kushner Records
Jared Kushner (AP)

The United States attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York has contacted Deutsche Bank about getting a hold of records related to President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

The New York Times reported Friday that federal prosecutors are seeking financial records regarding Kushner’s real estate company and the German bank that has loaned the company hundreds of million of dollars over the years.The Times quoted a spokesperson for the Kushner Companies as saying the organization is “unaware of any inquiry directed at Deutsche Bank from the [U.S. Attorney’s Office] and have no reason to believe there is one.” Further, the Times noted that there is no evidence that the records request has anything to do with the Department of Justice’s Russia investigation.

The Wall Street Journal reported in August that the Kushner Companies are under investigation for their use of the EB-5 visa program, which offers visas to foreigners who create at least 10 American jobs through $500,000 investments.Kushner stepped down from running his company earlier this year before he began working in the West Wing.  Other recent reports claimed that Mueller’s team asked Deutsche Bank for records pertaining to Trump, although the president’s lawyers said the reports were false.

Preparing for World War 3? Russia’s submarines SWARM Med at highest rate since Cold War

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RUSSIAN submarine activity is at its highest levels since the cold war as Putin’s navy develop a stronghold in the mediterranean, it has been revealed.
Rear Admiral Andrew Lennon, Nato submarine forces commander has warned Putin’s submarine activity has been significantly boosted by “strong investment” in the Kremlin’s naval wing – which fell into disrepute in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. He said: “Russian submarine activity is higher now in the last three years than it has been since the cold war. “What we have observed over the past three years are more deployments annually of Russian submarines away from their local waters than we have observed in the prior decade.” Russia does not border the mediterranean sea, however Moscow has managed to muscle into the region after developing a naval base in Syria thanks to Putin ally Bashar-al Assad. Russia does not border the Mediterranean sea, however Moscow has managed to muscle into the region. And NATO officials have grown increasingly concerned over the former soviet.  state’s activities around data cables between the US and Europe. Admiral Lennon claimed Nato had spotted “a lot of activity” from six of the Kremlin’s new Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. He added Russia had “clearly taking an interest in Nato nations’ undersea infrastructure” including the US-European data links. The submarine buildup includes one converted ballistic missile submarine capable of despatching smaller research vessels. One converted ballistic missile submarine is capable of despatching smaller research vessels He said: “We believe they may be equipped to manipulate objects on the ocean floor, so that’s clearly a concern because our nations rely so much on the internet and communications.” The concentration of underwater vessels also means Nato has to commit units to monitor Russian activity. But undersea monitoring has become even trickier as Moscow’s subs get quieter and freight traffic across the mediterranean makes the sea noisier.

SubmarineHe said Britain was braced for any disruption to the vital cables on the sea bed which could have a “potentially catastrophic” economic effect.Fears are growing that Russia could target Britain’s underwater cables which link the UK’s internet cables and phone network to the international community.

Mattis Tells Troops: ‘Storm Clouds Gathering’ Over Korean Peninsula; ‘You Gotta Be Ready’

Image: Mattis Tells Troops: 'Storm Clouds Gathering' Over Korean Peninsula; 'You Gotta Be Ready'
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (Getty Images)

“Storm clouds are gathering” over the Korean Peninsula, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis declared Friday. And as diplomats try to resolve the nuclear standoff, he told soldiers that the U.S. military must do its part by being ready for war. Without forecasting a conflict, Mattis emphasized that diplomacy stands the best chance of preventing a war if America’s words are backed up by strong and prepared armed forces. “My fine young soldiers, the only way our diplomats can speak with authority and be believed is if you’re ready to go,” Mattis told several dozen soldiers and airmen at the 82nd Airborne Division’s Hall of Heroes, his last stop on a two-day pre-holiday tour of bases to greet troops.Mattis’ comments came as the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved tough new sanctions against North Korea, compelling nations to sharply reduce their sales of oil to the reclusive country and send home all North Korean expatriate workers within two years. Such workers are seen as a key source of revenue for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s cash-strapped government.

President Donald Trump and other top U.S. officials have made repeated threats about U.S. military action. Some officials have described the messaging as twofold in purpose: to pressure North Korea to enter into negotiations on getting rid of its nuclear arsenal, and to motivate key regional powers China and Russia to put more pressure on Pyongyang so a war is averted. “There is very little reason for optimism,” he said.

US Tax Reform: This May Not Be the End

Congress successfully passed sweeping changes to US tax policy, which President Trump signed into law in December. Some of the earlier proposals contained changes that could have had a detrimental impact on the way many people save and invest for retirement, but fortunately, they were not included in the final bill. Pierre Caramazza and Michael Doshier are pleased our current retirement savings system was left largely intact, but caution that this tax legislation still has some open items. Whether addressed with a technical corrections bill next year or through IRS regulation, the refinement of the details will likely last well into next year, and the effects will be felt for years to come. They outline a few areas of interest to investors in the legislation as it stands today.

Key Provisions at a Glance

While tax rates may indeed be lower for many taxpayers, those who have enjoyed benefits from itemized deductions and personal exemptions may face a higher tax bill going forward. And, residents of certain states with high state tax or inflated real estate taxes may also end up paying more. We would like to highlight a few of the key provisions on our radar.

  • Income tax: Maintains seven individual brackets, with the top rate at 37% versus today’s 39.6% rate. The new 37% top rate would apply to taxable income over $500,000 for single filers and $600,000 for joint filers. Meanwhile, the corporate tax rate drops to 21% from 35% today.
  • Long-term capital gains/qualified dividends: Essentially remains the same, with a top 20% rate.
  • The standard deduction: Jumps to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for joint filers, nearly twice current levels.
  • Mortgage interest: Allows deduction for interest paid on new mortgages up to $750,000, down from $1 million currently. Also applies to second homes, but not to home equity lines of credit, which will no longer be deductible.
  • State and local income taxes, real estate taxes and sales tax: limits Itemized deductions to $10,000 on any of the above that taxpayers choose.
  • Child tax credit: Doubles from $1,000 to $2,000 per child.
  • Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT): Retains AMT for individuals but won’t apply to corporations. However, the exemption and phase-out amounts increase, so fewer individuals may be subject to AMT.
  • Deductions: Repeals deductions for alimony, personal exemptions, miscellaneous itemized deductions such as unreimbursed employee expenses, tax preparation fees, safe deposit boxes and investment fees. However, the ability to deduct medical expenses will increase for taxpayers under 65, as the limitation for all taxpayers will now be 7.5% of AGI. The limits for cash charitable contributions will also increase from 50% of AGI to 60%.
  • Pass-through taxes for small businesses: Permits S corporations, partnerships and sole proprietorships, including those owned by trusts, to deduct 20% of their qualified business income.
  • Qualified tuition programs (529 plans): Allows tax-free withdrawals for up to $10,000 in tuition expenses at an elementary, or secondary school, in addition to higher education.
  • Recharacterization of Roth Contributions: In the case of a qualified rollover contribution (including a conversion) individuals can no longer recharacterize a traditional individual retirement account (IRA) into a Roth IRA.1 This limitation applies to qualified rollover contributions made from pre-tax accounts under an IRA, qualified retirement plan, 403(b) plan or 457(b) plan.
  • 2016 Disaster Area Relief: Provides tax relief for certain retirement plan and IRA distributions taken from January 1, 2016 to January 1, 2018, by individuals whose primary residence was located in a presidentially declared disaster area at any time during 2016, and who sustained an economic loss by such disasters. Individuals eligible for a qualified 2016 disaster distribution are permitted to take a distribution from a retirement plan regardless of whether an in-service distribution is otherwise permissible.
  • Excise Tax on University Endowments: Starting in 2018, imposes a 1.4% excise tax on the net investment income of certain private colleges and universities with certain provisions, including 500 or more full-time students and assets of at least $500,000 per student. The idea is to tax certain institutions that are accumulating endowments beyond the needs of educating students.

Trump called Murdoch to make sure Disney deal wouldn’t affect Fox News: report

Trump called Murdoch to make sure Disney deal wouldn't affect Fox News: report

President Trump reportedly called 21st Century Fox executive chairman Rupert Murdoch ahead of Disney’s announcement that it would purchase of much of his company to make sure the deal wouldn’t impact Fox News. According to a New York Times report published Saturday, Trump made the call before news of the sale emerged earlier this month.

The president frequently watches Fox News and often tweets about the network’s coverage of his administration. Murdoch reportedly assured Trump that the network would not be impacted by the sale.

Fox News and Fox Business were not part of the $52.4 billion deal that Disney announced. The White House told reporters last week that Trump made a congratulatory call to Murdoch on the deal. “The president spoke with Rupert Murdoch earlier today, congratulated him on the deal and thinks that, to use one of the president’s favorite words, that this could be a great thing for jobs,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “And he certainly looks forward to and is hoping to see a lot more of those created.” The pair reportedly talk on the phone once a week, according to the Times.

Trump, a frequent viewer of cable news, has highlighted Fox News as a favorite. The Times reported earlier this month that Trump watches up to eight hours of television a day, a report Trump has denied.

Hong Kong malls test experiential concepts to sustain traffic in battle against e-commerce

Hang Lung Properties provides 9,000 square feet of space to start-up Strokes in Fashion Walk that features Hong Kong’s first indoor mini-golf course set within a restaurant

Hong Kong’s mall operators are going out of their way – from assisting start-ups in effectively executing their plans to offering them vast amounts of space – to accommodate and cultivate tenants that offer experiential consumption opportunities amid changing consumer tastes.According to Katherine Lo, general manager of leasing and management at Hang Lung Properties, customers nowadays are looking for new and varied experiences when they go shopping.  “We have to keep enhancing our tenant mix, introduce new and upcoming trendy concepts, organise creative and diversified marketing programmes to excite and engage with our customers,” she said. One tenant benefiting from the Hang Lung’s efforts is Strokes, which claims to be the first restaurant in Hong Kong with a mini-golf course. The 9,000 square feet concept in Fashion Walk on Kingston Street in Causeway Bay also includes a cocktail bar and a multi-purpose room. Edwin Chan, co-founder of the start-up and formerly an actuary at Bank of England, hopes it can supplement the lack of indoor recreation at convenient locations in Hong Kong, as people have grown bored of karaoke, watching movies and dining only. According to Terence Chan, head of retail services at property consultancy JLL, the trend is likely to sustain as these entertainment operators can help drive traffic in shopping malls. Some examples include Speedway Diner featuring go-kart track experience in Kowloon City Plaza, indoor playground SuperPark at One Silversea in Tai Kok Tsui, Ocean Bubble House in D.Park in Tsuen Wan and playground NAMCO in PopCorn Two mall in Tseung Kwan O. Once a mecca for luxury brand shopping, Hong Kong’s mall owners forced to refresh their tenant mix as spending habits shift “But the downside is that entertainment operators occupy more space, from 5,000 sq ft to as much as 10,000 square feet. They need lower rents too. So it is a commercial decision in whether it is worth it to attract the extra footfall,” he said.

Less than half of Europeans have a positive image of the EU, poll says

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48 percent of Europeans say they ‘tend not to trust’ the EU

The Standard Eurobarometer survey revealed half of Europeans also do not think that their voices count in the EU. Immigration was the top concern, followed by the threat of terrorism. And most are against the key policy of future enlargement of the EU to include other countries. The European Commission survey, carried out in November, showed that one in five people (21 per cent) had a negative image of the EU, 37 per cent were neutral and 40 per cent were positive. Some 50 per cent disagreed that their “voice counts in the EU”, six per cent above those that did. Concerns about immigration grew for the first time since autumn 2015, with 39 per cent, ranking it as the most important issue in the bloc. Terrorism rated 38 per cent. The two issues were mentioned more than twice as often as any other, including the economic situation and crime. Only a minority (42 per cent) backed further enlargement of the EU, 47 per cent opposed it. Distrust in the EU rose slightly since the spring, with 48 per cent saying they “tend not to trust” the institution. Only 41 per cent said they trusted it.

Warehouse workers will be replaced by tech-savvy counterparts

A massive amount of today’s warehouse jobs are forecast to be replaced by more technical work. “The [new] jobs will be filled by folks with bachelor’s degrees in computer science, mechanical engineering,” Hicks, an economist at Ball State University , told The Post. Amazon fulfillment center workers may be the most “at risk” automatable jobs in the world, he said. “Amazon is currently in a race to both automate, while also extending its market share in retailing,” Hicks added.

Mexico murders hit record high, dealing blow to president

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto gestures as he delivers a message about foreign affairs at Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, Mexico, January 23, 2017.
Edgard Garrido | Reuters Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto gestures as he delivers a message about foreign affairs at Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, Mexico, January 23, 2017.

Mexico has this year registered its highest murder total since modern records began, according to official data, dealing a fresh blow to President Enrique Pena Nieto’s pledge to get gang violence under control with presidential elections due in 2018. A total of 23,101 murder investigations were opened in the first 11 months of this year, surpassing the 22,409 registered in the whole of 2011, figures published on Friday night by the interior ministry showed. The figures go back to 1997. Pena Nieto took office in December 2012 pledging to tame the violence that escalated under his predecessor Felipe Calderon. He managed to reduce the murder tally during the first two years of his term, but since then it has risen steadily. At 18.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, the 2017 Mexican murder rate is still lower than it was in 2011, when it reached almost 19.4 per 100,000, the data showed. The rate has also held below levels reported in several other Latin American countries. According to U.N. figures used in the World Bank’s online database, Brazil and Colombia both had a murder rate of 27 per 100,000, Venezuela 57, Honduras 64 and El Salvador 109 in 2015, the last year for which data are available. The U.S. rate was 5 per 100,000. Still, Pena Nieto’s failure to contain the killings has damaged his credibility and hurt his centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which faces an uphill struggle to hold onto power in the July 2018 presidential election. The law bars Pena Nieto from running again. The current front-runner in the race, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has floated exploring an amnesty with criminal gangs to reduce the violence, without fleshing out the idea.

 

 

Tax bill’s ‘pass-through’ rule will aid the wealthy, not workers

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Wealthy business owners, such as President Donald Trump, stand to gain from a provision in the Republican tax bill that creates a valuable deduction for owners of pass-through businesses, Democrats and some tax experts say.

The provision creates a 20 percent business income deduction, with some limits, for sole proprietors and owners in partnerships and other non-corporate enterprises.

It was initially sold by Republicans as a way to help small businesses and create jobs. But the final formula for determining what types of businesses can benefit has widened to take in companies with few, if any, workers, critics said. “The president will try to tell the American people that his great political victory is a win for working people, but they see all the benefits going to his type of businesses: real estate pass-throughs,” Democratic Senator Jack Reed said on the Senate floor. Trump, a real estate developer signed the Republican tax bill into law this week, which would gave Republicans their first major legislative victory of 2017. Pass-through businesses’ profits “pass through” their books directly to owners, unlike corporations, which parcel out profits through dividends to stockholders.  Under the Republican bill, the corporate rate would be slashed to 21 percent, while the top individual income tax rate, which some pass-through business owners pay, would be 37 percent. An assessment of the Republican bill by 13 tax experts, mostly academics, said the formula would “expand the ability of highly paid owners in certain industries – and particularly those heavy in property but light in employees, like real estate – to qualify for the pass-through deduction.”

Report: Trump suggested Haitian immigrants to US ‘all have AIDS’

Report: Trump suggested Haitian immigrants to US 'all have AIDS'
© Getty Images President Trump, while complaining earlier this year about immigration levels during his first months in office, reportedly suggested that Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS.”

According to a New York Times report, Trump did not only single out Haitian immigrants. He also said that Nigerians who gained entrance to the U.S. would never “go back to their huts” in Africa, and that Afghan immigrants came from a terrorist haven. The remarks came during a meeting in June in which the president reportedly lashed out at what he deemed inadequate efforts to curb the number of foreigners receiving U.S. visas, according to the Times.  The White House denied to the Times that Trump ever used “AIDS” or “huts” to refer to immigrants from any country, and several people who attended the meeting said that they did not recall the president using such language. Trump, who campaigned on a promise to crackdown on immigration to the U.S., reportedly told attendees at the meeting that friends had called to tell him that immigration levels made him look foolish. In his first year in office, Trump has sought to limit immigration. Within days of taking office, he issued the first iteration of an executive order barring citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the U.S.That ban ran into legal difficulties, however, with a number of federal judges limiting or striking down the move. Two more attempts at implementing the ban followed, and the Supreme Court has agreed to rule on the most recent iteration after litigation in lower courts plays out. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against that ban on Friday, but said that the Trump administration could continue to bar individuals from countries in the Middle East and North Africa from entering the U.S. if they do not have a “bona fide” relationship with someone in the U.S. Trump has also sought to build a massive wall between the U.S. and Mexico – perhaps his highest-profile campaign promise – though he has yet to secure the funding needed for that project.

Brooks: One of the Impacts of Tax Bill Could Be People Declaring Themselves as Corporations to Pay Lower Rates

On Friday’s “PBS NewsHour,” New York Times columnist David Brooks discussed the impacts of the GOP tax bill and argued that “we could all — it doesn’t make sense to work for a company anymore, when you can declare yourself a corporation and pay the corporate rate.” Brooks said, “I have not been a big fan of this tax bill for a whole number of reasons, one of which I think was revealed today. When you look at the — all the intricacies of it, not all the big things, little changes that could have vast effects on American society. For example, we’ve got the health insurance system, the employer-based health system because of some minor change during World War II. This has all sorts of minor things. Because we had no hearings, because we had no expert review and no time to actually look at what’s in the bill, it has dozens of that kind of minor changes that could have massive effects.” He continued, “For example, we could all — it doesn’t make sense to work for a company anymore, when you can declare yourself a corporation and pay the corporate rate. And so that could just have massive effects throughout the economy. So it’s actually kind of hard to know what the effects of this tax bill will be, because I think most of them are unintended.”

Cryptocurrency stocks holding gains despite bitcoin pullback

FILE PHOTO: Sparks glow from broken Bitcoin (virtual currency) coins in this illustration picture, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Stocks that surged in recent weeks because of the cryptocurrency mania have managed to hold onto most of their gains despite the recent retreat in the price of bitcoin and scepticism from market participants.A Reuters analysis of 17 stocks of companies that have made blockchain or cryptocurrency announcements showed an average gain of 224 percent through Thursday’s close from they released those statements. For example, shares of Long Island Iced Tea Corp jumped nearly 300 percent on Thursday after the beverage maker said it would rename itself Long Blockchain Corp to reflect a new focus on blockchain technology. The moves are reminiscent of the tech boom, when the market value of companies such as Zapata and Books-A-Million rose sharply after they announced an internet business or an updated website. After the dot-com bubble burst, many of the companies went out of business or became much less valuable.  “There’s been a continued surge of crypto headlines,” said Michael Antonelli, managing director at Robert W. Baird in Milwaukee. “It’s gotten more worrisome as more companies have changed their names. It’s the kind of stuff you saw back in the dot-com era.” Many of the crypto stocks came under pressure on Friday, as the price of bitcoin tumbled below $12,000 to put it on track for its worst week since 2013. Riot Blockchain dropped 15.3 percent to $23.36, and Overstock.com, which announced in August that it would accept major alt-coins as payment, was down 6.5 percent at $63.05.

Even with the declines on Friday, bitcoin itself is still more than double from its price at the start of November while the stocks are still well above their prices before the companies made cryptocurrency announcements.

While the stocks are susceptible to price moves in bitcoin itself, analysts caution investors should make sure the company has a credible business model. “It is a buyer beware time,” said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade in Chicago. “Long term it may hurt these companies because if bitcoin does settle down to being a product that trades like most products and doesn’t have crazy moves every day, it is going to make people look at these companies and ask what is really going on here.” Nick Bit: Bitcoin is far from settled down. the swings will get bigger the higher Bitcoin goes…… I can’t wait!!!

RBS to pay $125 million to settle California mortgage bond claims

(Reuters) – Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc will pay $125 million to resolve claims that it made misrepresentations while selling mortgage-backed securities to two large California pension funds, the state’s attorney general said on Friday. The settlement announced by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra was the latest by RBS aimed at resolving claims stemming from its sale of mortgage-backed securities, which were at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis. Becerra’s office said those securities were typically backed by thousands of mortgage loans of varying quality in which the buyer relied on the assurance that those mortgages were carefully screened and were not overly risky.RBS did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Becerra’s office also said its investigations found that RBS failed to accurately disclose to investors the true traits of many of the thousands of mortgages underlying the securities.

The probe also found that those misrepresentations led to millions of dollars in losses to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, Becerra’s office said.

“RBS decided to mislead California’s pension funds in order to line its own pockets — plain and simple,” Becerra said in a statement.The settlement comes as RBS continues to seek to resolve a U.S. Justice Department investigation into its sales of mortgage-backed securities before the financial crisis. In July, RBS agreed to pay $5.5 billion to resolve a lawsuit by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, claiming that it misled the U.S. mortgage giants into buying mortgage-backed securities. In September 2016, the U.S. National Credit Union Administration announced that RBS had agreed to pay $1.1 billion to resolve claims over mortgage-backed securities it sold to credit unions that later failed.

California Thomas fire becomes largest in state’s history

Image copyright NASAImage caption Satellite imagery shows the vast Thomas Fire, north of Los Angeles, which has spread as far as the Pacific coast

A deadly wildfire which has destroyed more than 700 homes in California is now the largest blaze in the state’s recorded history. The Thomas fire has burned more than 1000sq km – an area greater than New York City, Brussels and Paris combined. The blaze broke out in Santa Paula in early December and has moved west towards the coast, one of several major fires in California in recent months. Thousands of firefighters have been deployed to bring it under control. Most of California’s largest wildfires have been recorded this century. Scientists say the warming climate and spread of buildings into wilderness areas have contributed.

The Thomas fire slowly eclipsed previous record-setting blazes, finally overtaking the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County, which burned 273,246 acres. It follows a series of deadly fires in the state’s wine country in October that burned more than 10,000 homes and killed more than 40 people. The Thomas fire has destroyed more than 1,000 buildings and claimed the life of one firefighter – Cory Iverson, a father of one from San Diego whose wife was expecting another child. The blaze is now moving slower because of rain and less wind. State fire agency Cal Fire says the Thomas blaze is now 65% contained and expected to continue to slow. Controlled burns by firefighters may cause some temporary expansion, it said. Seven of California’s 10 largest fires on record have occurred since 2000. Two were in the 1970s and the earliest was in 1932 – the Matilija fire which, like the Thomas fire, burned through Ventura County.

Credit Suisse expects $2.3 billion write-down from U.S. tax changes‍​

FILE PHOTO: Switzerland’s national flag flies next to the logo of Swiss bank Credit Suisse at a branch office in Luzern, Switzerland October 19, 2017
 REUTERS A tax overhaul, signed into law by President Donald Trump on Friday, means Switzerland’s second biggest lender will have to reduce the vZURICH (Reuters) – Credit Suisse (CSGN.S) expects to take a write-down of 2.3 billion Swiss francs ($2.3 billion) during its 2017 fourth quarter following changes to the U.S. tax system, the Swiss bank said on Friday.alue of its deferred tax assets. The figure suggests Credit Suisse would make a net loss for the full year, which would be its third straight annual loss. It reported 1.1 billion francs in net income in the first nine months of 2017. The U.S. tax package, the largest such overhaul since the 1980s, slashes the corporate rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and temporarily reduces the tax burden for most individuals. Credit Suisse described the loss as a one-time accounting adjustment with a “minimal impact” on the bank’s regulatory capital position. It said the policy for returning capital to shareholders announced at its Investor Day remained unchanged.

The figure was higher than a previous estimate Credit Suisse gave earlier this month, when it said it expected the tax cuts to cost it 2.1 billion Swiss francs. Cross-town rival UBS (UBSG.S) said then it expected 3 billion francs in deferred tax asset write-downs due to the tax cut, according to its own estimates.

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Credit Suisse also said on Friday that it expected to face a bigger U.S. corporate tax liability due to the introduction of a new tax on services and interest payments to affiliated companies outside the United States. It added that it expected the tax changes to increase its activity levels in the United States, particularly in investment banking. It said it would give further details on the implications of the U.S. bill when it publishes its fourth quarter results on Feb. 14.

Bundesbank says no euro zone cryptocurrency in sight.. Trying to understand it

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Bundesbank board member Carl-Ludwig Thiele has ruled out the introduction of official digital money for the euro zone and warned of losses from investments in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, according to a German newspaper.Digital currencies allow users to make online transactions across borders instantaneously and have surged in popularity this year because of their eye-watering price rises. Bitcoin, the best-known, has increased in price around twentyfold since the start of the year.  But the cryptocurrency plunged by 30 percent to below $12,000 on Friday as investors dumped it after its sharp rise to a peak close to $20,000 prompted warnings by experts of a bubble.“We are seeing a rapid increase in value, which brings the risk of rapid losses,” Thiele said.  Decentralised digital currencies like bitcoin are still not widely accepted. Critics say they can easily be used for money laundering and the fact that they are unregulated makes them risky to use — hence the idea of an “e-” version of a physical currency that still has a central controlling authority.

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) said in September it was too soon to determine whether central banks should issue their own cryptocurrencies, as the risks could not yet be fully assessed and the technology underpinning them was still unproven.

Christoph Schmidt, head of Germany’s panel of economic advisers – known as the wise men – warned that private investors’ losses from bitcoin investments could have a ripple effect on financial markets if they were financed with debt. “If their losses affect others because they were financed with loans, then that would increase the risk of distortions on financial markets,” he told the German daily Rheinische Post. Some high profile individuals such as Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz have said the cryptocurrency should be outlawed. Schmidt said he did not favour making crytocurrencies illegal but that potential investors must have detailed information on the risks of investments in bitcoin. German financial watchdog BaFin president, Felix Hufeld, said that regulators must “stay on the ball” when it comes to cryptocurrencies but that they still had much to learn on the subject.

“We are all working on understanding the topic and building our know-how,” he told the German daily Bild.

US officials say lethal weapons headed to Ukraine

A US Marine from 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, Bravo company launches an FMG-148 Javelin anti-tank missile.
Dmitry Kostyukov | AFP | Getty Images A US Marine from 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, Bravo company launches an FMG-148 Javelin anti-tank missile
Ukraine will soon have more lethal American-made weapons to help it fight Russian-backed separatists. U.S. officials said Friday that the Trump administration approved a plan to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine, in a long-awaited move that deepens America’s involvement in the military conflict and may further strain relations with Russia.

The new arms include American-made Javelin anti-tank missiles that Ukraine has long sought to boost its defenses against Russian-backed separatists armed with tanks that have rolled through eastern Ukraine during violence that has killed more than 10,000 since 2014. Previously, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with support equipment and training, and has let private companies sell some small arms like rifles. The officials describing the plan weren’t authorized to discuss it publicly and demanded anonymity. The move is likely to become another sore point between Washington and Moscow, as President Donald Trump contends with ongoing questions about whether he’s too hesitant to confront the Kremlin. Ukraine accuses Russia of sending the tanks, and the U.S. says Moscow is arming, training and fighting alongside the separatists. Trump had been considering the plan for some time after the State Department and the Pentagon signed off earlier this year. President Barack Obama also considered sending lethal weapons to Ukraine, but left office without doing so. “U.S. assistance is entirely defensive in nature, and as we have always said, Ukraine is a sovereign country and has a right to defend itself,” Nauert said. Although the portable Javelin anti-tank missiles can kill, proponents for granting them to Ukraine have long argued they are considered “defensive” because the Ukrainians would use them to defend their territory and deter the Russians, not to attack a foreign country or seize new territory. The move comes as the United States and European nations struggle to break a long logjam in the Ukraine-Russia conflict that erupted three years ago when fighting broke out between Russian-backed separatists and government troops in the east. France, Russia and Germany brokered a peace arrangement in 2015 that has lowered violence but not stopped it, and a political settlement outlined in the deal hadn’t been fully implemented. The U.S. and other nations were cautiously optimistic when Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to send in peacekeepers. But there are major disagreements about how and where the peacekeepers would operate, especially about whether they’d be deployed only on the “line of conflict” between separatists and the government.

Top Marine general: ‘There’s a war coming’

Top Marine general: 'There's a war coming'
© Greg Nash

The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, told troops Thursday that “there’s a war coming” and urged them to be prepared. “I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming,” Neller told Marines stationed in Norway, during a visit there, according to Military.com. “You’re in a fight here, an informational fight, a political fight, by your presence,” he added.  The commandant pointed to Russia and the Pacific theater as the next major areas of conflict, predicting a “big-ass fight” in the future.  “Just remember why you’re here,” he said. “They’re watching. Just like you watch them, they watch you. We’ve got 300 Marines up here; we could go from 300 to 3,000 overnight. We could raise the bar.” Neller’s visit comes amid tensions between Russia and NATO allies. Russia warned neighboring Norway that the presence of American troops could hurt relations, after Norway decision to host a new unit of U.S. soldiers through the end of 2018.  The administration says the Marines are there to enhance ties with European NATO allies and train in cold-weather combat. In a question-and-answer session with the troops, Neller said the U.S. could shift its focus after years of fighting in the Middle East to Eastern Europe, citing Russia’s conflicts with Ukraine and Georgia.  On Monday, President Trump unveiled a new national security strategy that focused on the threats posed by Russia and China to U.S. inter

Bitcoin-mania stock volatility shows the fallacy of ‘efficient markets’

Strategist: Bitcoin is an investment rather than a currency
Strategist: Bitcoin is an investment rather than a currency

The extreme volatility in bitcoin or blockchain-related shares proves once again stock prices are not always efficient, but can be driven by human emotion instead of rational analysis. Several small stocks captured the speculative imagination of traders this week. Future FinTech soared as much as 200 percent intraday Tuesday as some speculated the company is moving into crypto-related business, even though there is no evidence it was real. Longfin surged 1,342 percent in two days through Monday to a market value of more than $3 billion after buying a cryptocurrency company with no revenue. The rally spurred the company’s CEO to say “this market cap is not justified.”
Perhaps most eye-popping of all, Long Island Iced Tea shares rose 183 percent Thursday after it announced it is changing its name to “Long Blockchain Corp.” The company said it will focus on investing in the technology behind bitcoin. These volatile moves are likely due to traders chasing the latest fad and price momentum, not the rational fundamental appraisal of an efficient market. “It’s a testament to greed,” Sal Arnuk, co-founder of Themis Trading, said Thursday. “For speculators today, the game is bitcoin. A few years ago it was marijuana stocks.” “Efficient market hypothesis” was created by Nobel Prize winning economist Eugene Fama. It stated securities market prices instantly reflect all the information on a company’s fundamentals and the economy. As a result, any out-performance from stock-picking is due to chance not investing skill, according to the efficient market believers. But how can this be true, when stocks such as Longfin traded down 50 percent and up 50 percent in time periods of minutes and hours Monday? It is far likely the volatile price moves is due to greed and human emotion. Warren Buffett blasted the theory in a 1984 column entitled “The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville.” The Oracle of Omaha pointed to the significant outperformance of a group of investors that bought stocks when they were undervalued.Buffett explained the reason why the markets are not efficient is due human emotion:

“I’m convinced that there is much inefficiency in the market. These Graham-and-Doddsville investors have successfully exploited gaps between price and value. When the price of a stock can be influenced by a ‘herd’ on Wall Street with prices set at the margin by the most emotional person, or the greediest person, or the most depressed person, it is hard to argue that the market always prices rationally. In fact, market prices are frequently nonsensical.”

Steve Bannon, former top Trump aide, asked to testify before House Intelligence Committee: Report

Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon attends a ceremony at the White House April 10, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon attends a ceremony at the White House April 10, 2017 in Washington, DC.

 

Steve Bannon, a former top White House strategist and a former chief campaign aide to Donald Trump, has been asked to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence panel next month, Bloomberg News reported. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, was also asked to testify in early January, Bloomberg reported on Friday, citing an official familiar with the committee’s schedule. Representatives for the committee did not immediately respond to inquiries for comment. The panel is probing alleged Russian meddling into the 2016 U.S. election.

Oil dips away from 2015 highs as rising US output weighs on outlook

Oil jack pumps are pictured in the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield, Calif.
Jonathan Alcorn | Reuters Oil jack pumps are pictured in the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield, Calif.

Oil prices on Friday dipped away from 2015 highs reached the previous session, weighed down by rising U.S. output and the expected January re-opening of the Forties pipeline in the North Sea. Dealt volumes of crude futures were declining fast as traders closed positions ahead of upcoming Christmas and New Year breaks. The dip on Friday was largely due to an outlook for rising supplies which triggered traders to sell out of long positions ahead of year-end. Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at futures brokerage Oanda in Singapore said there was “a lack of momentum as the holiday season subdues trading volumes”.Weighing on the oil price outlook more fundamentally is the expected return of the 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) Forties pipeline system in the North Sea in January.  The pipeline, which delivers crude underpinning Brent futures contracts, shut down earlier this month due to a crack. Operator Ineos said on Thursday it expected to complete repairs around Christmas and would gradually restart the system in early January. Longer term, analysts said rising crude production in the United States, which is fast approaching 10 million bpd, would also weigh on oil prices, undermining efforts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and a group of non-OPEC producers, including Russia, to tighten the market. “Supply is expected to grow further, paving the way to an oversupplied market, which can again exercise downward pressure on oil prices,” consultancy Rystad Energy said in a note. “In 2018 Rystad Energy estimates the (oil) liquids supply to grow around 1.9 million bpd … The return of OPEC volumes after the current cut agreement has expired, coupled with continued strong output growth from North American shale, could result in an oversupplied market in 2019, again putting downward pressure on oil prices,” Rystad said. The pact to withhold supplies started in January this year and is set to expire at the end of 2018.

Republicans warn Trump of 2018 bloodbath

The White House knows the midterm election will probably be bad. Behind the scenes, top aides are scrambling to avoid the worst.
Donald Trump and Ronna Romney McDaniel are pictured. | AP Photo
Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, pictured with President Donald Trump, presented the White House with a memo about the party’s poor standing with female voters several weeks before Alabama voters headed to the polls for the Dec. 12 special election. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo
 

A few weeks before Alabama’s special Senate election, President Donald Trump’s handpicked Republican National Committee leader, Ronna Romney McDaniel, delivered a two-page memo to White House chief of staff John Kelly outlining the party’s collapse with female voters. The warning, several people close to the chairwoman said, reflected deepening anxiety that a full-throated Trump endorsement of accused child molester Roy Moore in the special election — which the president was edging closer to at the time — would further damage the party’s standing with women. McDaniel’s memo, which detailed the president’s poor approval numbers among women nationally and in several states, would go unheeded, as Trump eventually went all-in for the ultimately unsuccessful Republican candidate.The backstage talks provide a window into how those closest to Trump are bracing for a possible bloodbath in the 2018 midterms, which could obliterate the Republican congressional majorities and paralyze the president’s legislative agenda. The potential for a Democratic wave has grown after Republican losses this fall in Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama, and as the president’s approval ratings have plummeted to the 30s.  In recent weeks, some of the president’s advisers have taken it upon themselves to warn him directly about the fast-deteriorating political environment. White House officials have convened to discuss ways to improve his standing with suburban voters. And on Wednesday, the president met with Kelly, political director Bill Stepien, communications director Hope Hicks, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and Brad Parscale, Trump’s digital director in the 2016 campaign, to discuss the political landscape. Lewandowski forcefully raised concerns about the party’s efforts, according to one attendee and another person briefed on the meeting. Among GOP leaders there is widespread concern heading into 2018. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said privately that both chambers could be lost in November. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has told donors that he fears a wave of swing district Republican lawmakers could retire rather than seek reelection. During a conference meeting last week, House Republicans listened as the past five chairmen of the party’s campaign arm addressed the political environment. One endangered lawmaker said his main takeaway was that incumbents should spend little time worrying about Trump or the White House and focus only on controlling what they can. Another person who was present came away with the impression that if lawmakers didn’t shore up their political standing now, they shouldn’t expect the national party to be able to save them down the road.

Trump is well aware of the dangers his party faces in 2018, those who’ve discussed it with him say. During political briefing sessions, top aides highlight positive developments — but also more concerning ones, such as his declining numbers among well-educated voters and higher earners. He has peppered advisers with questions about his approval ratings, and about whether he is getting enough credit for his accomplishments.

 

Senate delays $81B disaster aid package

Flooded homes are shown near Lake Houston following Hurricane Harvey August 30, 2017 in Houston, Texas.

Congress voted Thursday to avoid shutting down the government, but the Senate left a $81 billion disaster aid package on the table. The measure would have brought this year’s tally for aid to hurricane victims in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean, as well as fire-ravaged California, to more than $130 billion. Both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate want changes, and it was among the items Democrats sought to hold onto for leverage next year.  “Democrats want to make sure that we have equal bargaining, and we’re not going to allow things like disaster relief go forward without discussing some of the other issues we care about,” said powerful Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called it “wrong” the Senate didn’t pass the aid package. “Indeed, it’s maddening to those in the affected regions that the Senate is not taking up legislation today to give them what they need to continue to rebuild and recover,” Cruz said. Cruz said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott estimated that damages from Harvey alone are between $120 billion and $180 billion in that state. The bill passed the House 251-169, with help from 69 Democrats, including Reps. from California, Texas and Florida.  Congress passed the stopgap spending measure on Thursday that will keep the government funded through January 19. The legislation has traversed a tortured path, encountering resistance from the GOP’s most ardent allies of the military, as well as opposition from Democrats who demanded but were denied a vote on giving immigrants brought to the country as children and in the country illegally an opportunity to become citizens.  The wrap-up measure allows Republicans controlling Washington to savor their win on this week’s $1.5 trillion tax package – even as they kick a full lineup of leftover work into the new year. Congress will return in January facing enormous challenges on immigration, the federal budget, health care and national security along with legislation to increase the government’s authority to borrow money.

The Memo: Impeachment fervor fuels Dem tensions

The Memo: Impeachment fervor fuels Dem tensions
© Getty Images

Tensions between liberal grassroots activists and Democratic leaders over how hard to push for the impeachment of President Trump are intensifying. Senior Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) have all suggested that the time is not yet ripe to mount an impeachment effort.  But activists on the left outraged at Trump’s conduct have found an outlet, of a kind, in the campaign run by California billionaire Tom Steyer.  Steyer, a big Democratic fundraiser who has until now focused mostly on environmental causes, is spending around $20 million on TV and digital ads calling for Trump’s impeachment. An online impeachment petition has collected more than 3.6 million signatures, according to Steyer.

It is difficult to see how that effort stands any real chance of success before November 2018, at the earliest. 

That’s when Democrats will get a chance to win control of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the midterm elections. But even if they succeed, removing Trump from office would be an uphill battle. The process requires not just impeachment by a majority in the House, but a two-thirds majority for conviction in the Senate. Barring some outright cataclysm, there is no evidence that Republican lawmakers would even consider voting to impeach Trump. But the pressure appears to be nudging Democrats in Congress to take a more assertive position. Earlier this month, an impeachment effort on the House floor, spearheaded by Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), drew the support of 57 other Democratic lawmakers, more than many pundits had predicted. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released this week showed 41 percent of Americans would support Congress holding impeachment hearings. Fifty-four percent oppose the idea.

To more cautious Democratic leaders, those figures suggest that, while there is substantial support for investigating impeachment, such a push could also backfire.  Steyer, however, is adamant that leadership is being too timid. Trump’s “danger to the American people is not a secret. What he is doing on a daily basis is apparent to almost every American,” Steyer said in an interview with C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” that will air Sunday.

Robot growing pains: Two U.S. factories show tensions of going digital

COLUMBUS, Ind. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump has put bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States at the center of his economic and trade agenda.  But when jobs actually come – as they have here in southern Indiana – many factory workers are not prepared for them, and employers are having trouble hiring people with the needed skills. U.S. manufacturing job openings stand near a 15 year high and factories are hiring workers at the fastest clip since 2014, with many employers saying the hardest-to-fill jobs are those that involve technical skills that command top pay. In 2000, over half of U.S. manufacturing workers had only high school degrees or less, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Today, 57 percent of manufacturing workers have technical school training, some college or full college degrees, and nearly a third of workers have bachelors or advanced degrees, up from 22 percent in 2000. Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the digitalization sweeping the economy is forcing employers to hunt for a different mix of workers – and pay more in some cases for workers with technical skills.

Continue reading “Robot growing pains: Two U.S. factories show tensions of going digital”

Bitcoin, Ethereum and other major cryptocurrencies slip while Ripple briefly surges to third place

Ripple Alternative digital currency Ripple made some significant gains Friday, despite the wider market for cryptocurrencies seeing a sharp pullback. Also known as XRP, it soared to $1.24 at 1:14 a.m. ET, and was up 25 percent over a period of 24 hours, according to data from industry website Coinmarketcap. The digital currency reached the key psychological $1 mark for the first time Thursday, and hit an all-time high of $1.38 that same day. It briefly retook its place as the third-largest cryptocurrency, with a market value of $47 billion, a milestone it reached earlier this month. Ripple pared its gains later Friday morning. Its market capitalization fell bellow that of bitcoin cash, as XRP’s price slid to 95 cents by 3:25 a.m. ET. Interest in alternative cryptocurrencies — known as altcoins — tends to increase when there is too much activity congesting the blockchain network underpinning bitcoin, according to experts. But major altcoins including Ethereum, bitcoin cash and litecoin were also seen trading lower Friday. Bitcoin cash was surrounded in controversy earlier this week after cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase unveiled support on its service for buying and selling the bitcoin rival. Some accused the venue of insider trading with bitcoin cash trading higher hours before the service launched its new feature. Coinbase said it is currently investigating these claims, and would “not hesitate” to fire employees if it finds they violated its trading policy. Meanwhile, litecoin’s price fell after its creator Charlie Lee said he had sold and donated all of his holdings in the cryptocurrency. Lee said his sold stake was a “small percentage” of daily volume on the cryptocurrency exchange GDAX and that it “did not crash the market.” “There are rumors on social media that XRP will be the next coin to be listed on Coinbase,” Charles Hayter, chief executive of virtual currency comparison site Crypto Compare, told CNBC in an email. “Litecoin and bitcoin cash experienced large volumes and price pumps on the same announcements and investors are looking to pick the next one.”

XRP was created by Ripple, a blockchain firm, as a means of making international payments. The virtual coin is used to exchange high-value transactions from one fiat currency to another directly, and removes the need for fees normally associated with such transactions. The firm has said XRP transactions can be settled in four seconds. As a company, Ripple is backed by a number of big international banks and other financial institutions. Financial firms use its decentralized ledger platform, RippleNet, to make fast, cross-border payments. In November, Ripple teamed up with American Express and Santander on a blockchain pilot to speed up cross-border payments between the U.K. and U.S. In a phone interview at the time, Marcus Treacher, Ripple’s global head of strategic accounts, told CNBC its virtual currency would “come into play later” in blockchain pilots with its financial partners.

Apple sued after it admits to slowing down older iPhones

Apple is being sued after it admitted to slowing down older iPhone models to keep them running longer.  On Wednesday, the U.S. technology giant said that it has algorithms in place to help keep an iPhone running at optimal performance if there is an older battery inside that can’t keep up with the required power. The aim is to stop unexpected shutdowns of older iPhones and keep them running to the best possible standard. However, Stefan Bogdanovich and Dakota Speas brought a class action lawsuit in California — where they are residents — against Apple, an official filing revealed Thursday. They claim that Apple never requested consent from them to “slow down their iPhones.” Both plaintiffs are owners of an iPhone 7. Bogdanovich and Speas claim they “suffered interferences to their iPhone usage due to the intentional slowdowns.” Both people are also claiming damages from Apple because they said the company’s actions caused them to suffer “economic damages and other harm for which they are entitled to compensation.” Apple was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC. Bogdanovich and Speas are trying to get the case certified to cover all people in the United States who owned an Apple phone older than the iPhone 8. Apple explained on Wednesday why users may notice that some older iPhone models slow down. “Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices,” Apple told CNBC. “Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery charge or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components.”

Spanish stocks slump after separatists win Catalonia election

Reuters People react to results in Catalonia’s regional elections at a gathering of the Catalan National Assembly in Barcelona, Spain

Spanish stocks led European markets lower on Friday, after parliamentary elections in Catalonia handed a win to the separatist movement, rekindling fears of the re-emergence of tensions in Spain. The euro and Spanish stocks came under pressure after the three Catalan separatists parties won a majority in regional parliamentary elections in Spain on Thursday. The result was a rebuff to the central government and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, as he had called for the elections in a bid to quash the secessionist move after a chaotic and illegal independence referendum in October. Following October’s vote, Rajoy’s government seized power of the Catalan region, dissolved its parliament and jailed its leaders. Ex-regional leader Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium where he’s been campaigning in exile. Together for Catalonia, the party led by Puigdemont, got the most votes among the pro-independence parties in Thursday’s election, while Rajoy’s Popular Party got the least votes. The election, which saw a high turnout, is likely to reopen the debate about independence for the region, and potentially bring about fresh turmoil for Spain. “This result will not be welcomed by the Madrid government who were hoping this snap election would reduce the calls for independence, and today’s result will keep the issues on the table,” said David Madden, market analyst at CMC Markets U.K. “The results of the Catalan regional election are a wake-up call for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. He suffered two major defeats yesterday,” said Carsten Hesse, European economist at Berenberg, in a note.

U.S. third quarter economic growth lowered to 3.2 percent

WASHINGTON, Dec 21 (Reuters) – The U.S. economy grew at its fastest pace in more than two years in the third quarter, powered by robust business spending, and is poised for what could be a modest lift next year from sweeping tax cuts passed by Congress this week. Gross domestic product expanded at a 3.2 percent annual rate last quarter, the Commerce Department said in its third GDP estimate on Thursday. While that was slightly down from the 3.3 percent rate reported last month, it was the quickest pace since the first quarter of 2015 and was a pickup from the second quarter’s 3.1 percent rate. It also marked the first time since 2014 that the economy experienced growth of 3 percent or more for two straight quarters. But the growth pace for the July-September period likely overstates the health of the economy. An alternate measure of growth, gross domestic income, rose at a 2.0 percent rate in the third quarter. GDI was previously reported to have increased at a 2.5 percent rate.The average of GDP and GDI, also referred to as gross domestic output and considered a better measure of economic growth, increased at a 2.6 percent rate instead of the previously reported 2.9 percent pace.

 

Businesses accumulated inventories at a pace of $38.5 billion in the third quarter, instead of the previously reported rate of $39.0 billion. Inventory investment contributed 0.79 percentage point to third-quarter GDP growth, little changed from the previously reported 0.80 percentage point.

 Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy, was revised down by one-tenth of a percentage point to a 2.2 percent rate in the third quarter. Consumer spending increased at a robust 3.3 percent rate in the second qua

Bitcoin is the ‘gateway drug’ to cryptomania, no end in sight

Why bitcoin is like a 'gateway drug' to the cryptocurrency universe

Why bitcoin is like a ‘gateway drug’ to the cryptocurrency universe . Wall Street’s first analyst to cover bitcoin never thought it would reach such a fever pitch. “It is clear that all of the enthusiasm around bitcoin earlier in the year has now morphed into a general craze, if you will, for all things crypto,” Nick Colas said Wednesday on CNBC’s “Trading Nation.” “I think of bitcoin as kind of the gateway drug.”

The DataTrek Research co-founder has also been referring to the mania as the “Wild West.” It has been a heck of a breakout year. Bitcoin has surged nearly 2,000 percent during the past 12 months and is trading above $16,000. The cryptocurrency’s value has been constantly fluctuating as it battles volatility. Smaller competitors litecoin and etherium are going for around $300 and $786, respectively. Colas doesn’t see any shortcuts around the hefty price to pay for the cryptocurrencies. According to Colas, investors who are looking for a cheaper way to play them by targeting micro- and small-cap stocks tied to the mania could get hit hard. “People have seen cryptocurrencies, as you said, go 100 percent up in a matter of weeks. And, they think stocks could do the same thing. But it is very different,” he said. “The stocks have to have an underlying business principle today. The cryptos are going to give us a lot more in terms of a future runway. So, they’re not the same thing at all.” In the meantime, Colas is holding onto his cryptocurrency holdings — disclosing that he owns everything Coinbase allows people own. He got in before the meteoric rise. “It does feel like we have more room to go,” Colas said. “I think we’ll still bring new money in, but there will be a lot more rotation, just like we have in the stock market.”

Poll Suggests Democrats Have Significant Advantage In Midterm Elections

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While Republican lawmakers are celebrating their passage of sweeping tax reform legislation, the results of a Politico/Morning Consult poll suggest the GOP will be facing an uphill battle in next year’s midterm elections.

The poll showed Democrats with a double-digit lead over Republicans on a generic ballot, their largest advantage of the year.

Forty-four percent of voters said they would be more likely to support the Democratic candidate in their district, while 34 percent said they would be more likely to vote for the Republican candidate. Politico said most analysts suggest that a margin in the high single digits could be sufficient for Democrats to retake control of the House. The survey was conducted before the tax reform bill was passed, however, and Republicans have expressed confidence they will receive a boost when Americans feel the effects of the legislation. The poll also found that Democrats and liberals are as motivated as Republicans and conservatives to vote in next year’s elections, reversing the trend from recent midterms.

“Our polling indicates voter enthusiasm for next year’s midterms is high across party lines,” said Kyle Dropp, the co-founder and chief research officer of Morning Consult. He added, “Notably, 64 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of Democrats say they are very motivated to vote in next year’s elections.” The Politico/Morning Consult survey of 1,991 registered voters was conducted December 14th through 18th and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Subprime Auto Defaults Are Soaring, and PE Firms Have No Way Out

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Private-equity firms that plunged headlong into subprime auto lending are discovering just how hard it might be to get out.

A Perella Weinberg Partners fund has been sitting on an IPO of Flagship Credit Acceptance for two years as bad loan write-offs push it into the red. Blackstone Group LP has struggled to make Exeter Finance profitable, despite sinking almost a half-billion dollars into the lender since 2011 and shaking up the C-suite multiple times. And Wall Street bankers in private say others would love to cash out too, but there’s currently no market for such exits.

In the years after the financial crisis, buyout firms poured billions into auto finance, angling for the big profits that come with offering high-interest loans to buyers with the weakest credit. At rates of 11 percent or more, there was plenty to be made as sales boomed. But now, with new car demand waning, they’ve found the intense competition — and the lax underwriting standards it fostered — are taking a toll on profits. Delinquencies on subprime loans made by non-bank lenders are soaring toward crisis levels. Fresh investment has dried up and some of the big banks, long seen as potential suitors, have pulled back from the auto lending business. To top it off, state regulators are circling the industry, asking whether it preyed on borrowers and put them in cars they couldn’t afford.

Subprime delinquency rate for non-bank lenders back near recession levels

Saudi Arabia and Iran’s feud has entered a new ‘unpredictable’ phase

Saudi-Iran tension ‘is very new,’ analyst says
Saudi-Iran tension ‘is very new,’ analyst says

Recent changes in the dynamics of Yemen’s civil conflict — widely seen as a proxy war between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran — are making it very hard to predict what could happen next in the Middle East. Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran ramped up Tuesday following another missile launch from Houthi rebels in Yemen aimed at the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia said the blame for the missile, reportedly intercepted on its way to Riyadh, lay directly with Iran. “This hostile and indiscriminate act by the Iran-back Houthi armed group proves the continued involvement of the Iranian regime in supporting (the) Houthi armed group with qualitative capabilities,” a Saudi spokesman said Tuesday, according to the country’s press agency. Iran has denied the allegations. “We don’t know where it’s going and we can’t really talk about it like an established dynamic with established norms. This is a totally new situation for the region and I really struggle to predict what’s going to happen next,” Marcus Chenevix, Middle East and North Africa (MENA) analyst at TS Lombard, said Wednesday. “For a long time it was America and Russia, then it was just America and now there’s no one. So there’s a power vacuum and that power vacuum is pretty recent — the Iranians saw it first and Saudi Arabia has only really been engaging in this kind of rivalry for the last five years.”The missile launch on Tuesday came as Yemen’s civil war drags on. Saudi Arabia and Iran have taken opposing stands in an ongoing battle for power and dominance in the country that followed the “Yemeni Revolution” in 2011 which prompted regime change Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and the Western world back Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who became head of state after an uprising against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011. Meanwhile, the Houthi movement wanted Saleh back in power and, allegedly with Iranian support (which Tehran denies), took control of Yemeni capital Sana’a and government ministries, pushing the Hadi government into exile. The alliance between the Houthis and Saleh ended abruptly in November when the former president decided to end the allegiance. He was then killed by the Houthi group while trying to flee the capital.

US ‘plotting to launch MILITARY ATTACK’ on North Korea: ‘Punch Pyongyang in the nose’

THE US is preparing to launch an unprecedented military attack on North Korea after deciding diplomacy will not put a stop to Kim Jong-un’s warmongering, according to reports.

donald trump north korea us attack warGETTY

Trump’s administration is reportedly moving closer to launching a military attack on North Korea Tensions between North Korea and the US have soared since President Trump took office in January and with more missile launches expected in the new year, the White House has reportedly “dramatically” stepped up plans for a military solution.

Among the options under consideration are the destruction of one of North Korea’s missile launch sites, while weapons stockpiles may also be targeted. Any military action would be designed to warn the North Korean regime that the US is “serious” about putting an end to the series of missile and nuclear tests which has prompted major fears among neighbouring countries. One former US security official briefed on policy told the Telegraph: “The Pentagon is trying to find options that would allow them to punch the North Koreans in the nose, get their attention and show that we’re serious.” The US has been gradually building up its military presence over recent months and it now appears Washington could call upon its assets in the region to launch a debilitating attack on the regime.  It is thought that by attacking the missile test site or weapons stockpiles, the loss of life would be minimised and it could force Kim to come to the negotiating table. President Trump has repeatedly refused to take military action off the table and while his administration has always called for diplomacy, the increasing sophistication of Pyongyang’s arsenal has sparked fresh con ferns about the regime’s ability to strike anywhere in the world. Trump is reportedly tired of the lack of progress in removing the North Korean threat One UK source who recently left a briefing with Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, feeling alarmed. The source told the Telegraph: “The Americans said deterrence doesn’t work against North Korea and negotiation doesn’t work.  “Those who heard them left with the impression that military action is very much an option they were considering seriously.”

NYSE files to list bitcoin ETFs, bringing cryptocurrency a step closer to mainstream

Photo illustration of Bitfinex cryptocurrency exchange website taken September 27, 2017.
NYSE parent ICE files for bitcoin ETF
 

A bitcoin ETF took another step closer to reality after the NYSE filed with the SEC to list two funds tracking bitcoin futures. The NYSE wants to list the ProShares Bitcoin ETF and the ProShares Short Bitcoin ETF, two exchange-traded funds that would allow traders to bet on how the volatile cryptocurrency futures contracts will perform. ProShares, which has more than $29 billion in assets under management, filed its own documents with the SEC for the two bitcoin ETFs in September. The funds would track either the Cboe or CME bitcoin futures and would invest their assets in benchmark futures contracts with the option of investing in contracts outside the benchmark. As custodian for the funds, Brown Brothers Harriman would oversee investment assets and cash equivalents as well as prepare and make regulatory filings. Marc Chandler and Win Thin, two of the bank’s foreign exchange strategists, are widely followed among currency brokers.

Bitcoin

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Recent developments have been boosting the profile of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which are unregulated and highly volatile. Futures began trading this month, believed to be a way to draw professional investors and oversight. An ETF product would add further legitimacy. Despite bitcoin’s notorious volatility, the cryptocurrency has soared nearly 2,000 percent in the past year, according to Coinbase. Cboe futures were down 3.6 percent Wednesday.

“By being long Bitcoin Futures Contracts, the Fund seeks to benefit from daily increases in the price of the Bitcoin Futures Contracts,” according to the SEC filing. “The Fund will not be benchmarked to the current price of bitcoin and will not invest directly in bitcoin. When the price of Bitcoin Futures Contracts held by the Fund declines, the Fund will lose value.”

On the other hand, investors in the ProShares Short Bitcoin ETF would benefit when the daily value of the futures falls and, like the first fund, would not be directly invested in bitcoin.

Bitcoin fans have long wanted an ETF for the digital currency without much success. But turning that dream into reality appeared to become much more likely after two of the world’s largest options exchanges — Cboe and CME — launched bitcoin futures contracts within the past month. Nick Bit: How cool is that!!!! We will make fortunes off of these new instruments….. this is the greatest thing to come along ince the S&P500 index… Thank You GOD for this great gift!!!!!

Saudi Arabia is looking for a U.S. shale-oil deal

Aramco held initial talks with Tellurian, other producers

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Saudi Arabia is hunting for an energy deal in American shale country, as economic upheaval pushes it to seek its first international oil-and-gas production investments. Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Aramco, has had initial conversations about either taking a stake in Tellurian Inc. TELL, -1.22% a liquefied-natural-gas developer based in Houston, or agreeing to buy some of its fuel in the future, people familiar with the matter said. Separately, it has also inquired about acquiring assets in two giant U.S. oil and gas basins, the Permian and Eagle Ford, the people said. The talks haven’t reached an advanced stage, and the Saudis have talked to other, undisclosed U.S. companies about natural-gas export deals, the people said. A representative for Tellurian said: “We cannot comment on commercial dealings.” Aramco declined to comment.

Tax cut for Average American Family $70 a Month

WASHINGTON – Senate and House Republicans early Wednesday pushed through a major revision in the federal tax code which includes sizable tax reductions for corporations and small businesses while cutting taxes for most individuals. By a vote of 51-48, the Senate approved the tax bill just hours after the House voted 227-to-203 to pass the same measure. The Republicans made passage of the bill their top priority this year, with GOP lawmakers and consultants convinced that without a tax bill they would lose control of the Senate and House in elections next year. But by doing so, Republicans are running smack into intense opposition from voters. Polls show a sizable majority of Americans are against the bill, with many believing it will benefit wealthy taxpayers and companies while providing only token tax reductions to middle-class people.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center of Washington confirmed those fears Monday when it concluded that middle-income households will save an average of $900 in taxes in 2018 while those households with annual incomes ranging from $308,000 to $733,000 would save about $50,000 next year in taxes.

The bill could also lead to tax increases for upper-middle-income Americans who own expensive homes in Ohio as well as the high-tax states of California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland By contrast, Ryan said that Trump and congressional Republicans “have lied to the American people about the impact of this tax legislation from the beginning,” adding that the measure will “send our national debt skyrocketing.” The chief features of the bill are the slashing of the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and reduction of the tax rates for what are known as pass-through companies, which include small businesses and law firms. In essence, Republicans are gambling that companies will plow their tax savings into greater investment in factories and equipment while hiring more workers and paying them higher wages. They insist that will increase economic output to more than 3 percent a year. But a number of analysts contend that companies already are awash in cash and are more likely to funnel their savings into stock buybacks or dividends for shareholders. Even more alarming to budget analysts is that the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation has calculated that the bill will add $1 trillion during the next decade to the publicly held debt, which is money the government owes to private and public owners of Treasury bills and other federal notes “This bill will explode the deficit,” Brown said in his floor speech.

ICE Exchange Unit Seeking to List Bitcoin Futures ETFs

NYSE Arca has filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for a proposed rule change that would allow for the listing of two exchange-traded funds tied to bitcoin futures. Public records dated Dec. 19 show that the company wants to list two ETFs – the ProShares Bitcoin ETF and the ProShares Short ETF – that were originally proposed in September. According to the document, NYSE Arca, which is owned by Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), submitted the proposed rule change on Dec. 4. As indicated in the filing, the ETFs would track two recently launched futures contracts, released in the past week and a half by Cboe and, later, CME Group. “According to the Registration Statement, the investment objective of the Fund is to seek results (before fees and expenses) that, both for a single day and over time, correspond to the performance of lead month bitcoin futures contracts listed and traded on either [Cboe] or [CME],” the company wrote. The filing is a notable one, given the recent momentum behind financial products connected to the cryptocurrency market. While the past few months have seen several filings with the SEC related to cryptocurrency-tied ETFs, NYSE Arca’s submission suggests that at least some of those proposed products are entering the agency’s formal approval stage. NYSE Arca previously sought to list an ETF from startup SolidX, but the SEC denied the proposed rule change in March of this year. That move closely followed the rejection of another ETF proposed by investors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, though in that case, the SEC has since begun a review of that decision following a request from the Bats BZX exchange.

SHOCK North Korea warning: Is Russia and China teaming up to prevent Trump invasion?

NORTH KOREA has been ramping up their threat to the globe and fears have been raised that Russia and China could join forces with Kim Jong-un if Donald Trump invades.
President Donald Trump warned North Korea’s dictator that he would take “all necessary steps” against the hermit kingdom’s nuclear missiles.  The US President has also called on Russia and China to do more to pile on the pressure to stop Kim Jong-un’s nuclear programme. But it has been warned that Russia and China could team up against the United States if President Trump launched a pre-emptive strike, sparking World War 3 fears.  John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations was asked on Fox Business whether it was likely the countries would try to prevent an invasion from Mr Trump.  Mr Bolton told Fox Business: “Well they may be doing something together because of their obvious geographic proximity to North Korea.  “But the odds of them doing anything together if we do use pre-emptive military force against the North Korea nuclear programme are between slim and none.”  It was reported that China and Russia teamed up on drills this week aimed at countering a North Korea or US attack.  Mr Bolton added that there was still one last diplomatic solution for China to join the US to stop Kim Jong-un.  He said: “The fact is, even in China there have been public pieces written recommending joint Chinese and American military intervention in North Korea to bring down the Kim Jong-un regime.  “I think this is a serious point here. I think there is one diplomatic play left with China to say ‘you want to get rid of the North Korea nuclear threat, the way to do that is to get rid of that regime.  “My personal solution is to merge the two Korea’s but a fallback would be China to replace it with another regime, so long as they extract, along with us, all of the nuclear capabilities.” North Korea’s most recent missile test took place on November 29, and the regime said the Hwasong-15 missile flew 590 miles during its 53-minute flight before landing in the sea new Japan. After the missile test Kim Jong-un declared that the North had “finally realised the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force”.

Tax bill’s ‘pass-through’ rule will aid wealthy, not workers: critics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Wealthy business owners, such as President Donald Trump, stand to gain from a provision in the Republican tax bill that creates a valuable deduction for owners of pass-through businesses, Democrats and some tax experts say.

The provision creates a 20-percent business income deduction, with some limits, for sole proprietors and owners in partnerships and other non-corporate enterprises.

It was initially sold by Republicans as a way to help small businesses and create jobs. But the final formula for determining what types of businesses can benefit has widened to take in companies with few, if any, workers, critics said.“The president will try to tell the American people that his great political victory is a win for working people, but they see all the benefits going to his type of businesses: real estate pass-throughs,” Democratic Senator Jack Reed said on the Senate floor. Trump, a real estate developer, wants to sign the Republican tax bill into law this week, which would give Republicans their first major legislative victory of 2017. The House of Representatives and Senate were hurrying toward passage of the bill on Tuesday, with a final House vote set for Wednesday.  On House Speaker Paul Ryan’s website, he said pass-through businesses employed about half of U.S. private-sector workers. High tax rates, he said, “discourage investment and job creation, discourage business activity, and put American businesses at a competitive disadvantage.” Pass-through businesses’ profits “pass through” their books directly to owners, unlike corporations, which parcel out profits through dividends to stockholders. Under existing law, pass-through owners pay the individual income tax rate on those profits, not the corporate rate. Under the Republican bill, the corporate rate would be slashed to 21 percent, while the top individual income tax rate, which some pass-through business owners pay, would be 37 percent. To address the disparity, Republicans included tax relief for pass-through owners in their bill, allowing them to deduct 20 percent of their pass-through business income. Republicans put in anti-abuse measures to ensure owners of bona fide business operations claim the 20 percent deduction and prevent high earners from seeking to recategorize their income as pass-through income to take advantage of the deduction. Republicans also capped the income eligible for the full 20-percent deduction at $315,000 for married couples and $157,500 for individuals. But they included a “capital element” in the formula for determining eligibility beyond those thresholds, presenting a lucrative tax break for some, including wealthy owners of commercial property, said tax experts. “This seems ideally suited for commercial property businesses, where there aren’t a lot of workers, but there is a lot of valuable property around,” said Steven Rosenthal, senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a think tank.

 An assessment of the Republican bill by 13 tax experts, mostly academics, said the formula would “expand the ability of highly paid owners in certain industries – and particularly those heavy in property but light in employees, like real estate – to qualify for the pass-through deduction.”

Spain’s political crisis could be about to return as Catalonia goes to the polls

Moroccan Rif activists carry a Catalan independence flag during a demonstration outside the Catalan Government building, the Palau de la Generalitat on October 28, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. The Spanish government stripped Catalonia of its autonomy after the Catalan parliament voted yesterday to declare independence.
Jack Taylor | Getty Images Moroccan Rif activists carry a Catalan independence flag during a demonstration outside the Catalan Government building, the Palau de la Generalitat on October 28, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.
The Spanish government stripped Catalonia of its autonomy after the Catalan parliament voted yesterday to declare independence.

The rebel region of Spain that declared itself independent is holding parliamentary elections later this week that will be a major test for pro-independence politicians and parties. Catalonia’s citizens go to the polls Thursday in what is widely seen as the latest test of sentiment in the region but polls show the contest between pro-secessionist and unionist (also known as constitutionalist, pro-Spain) parties is too close to call, leading to a possible hung parliament where no one party has a majority. “It’s crucial to look at who will have a majority and it looks like no one will have a proper majority,” Borja Lasheras, policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and the director of the Madrid Office, told CNBC Tuesday. “You see a very divided society in Catalonia with extremely competing narratives and Catalonia will remain deeply fractured (whatever the result).” The election comes after a period of quiet following the chaotic and fast-moving scenes in October when the regional government declared independence following a referendum, held in defiance of Spain’s attempts to ban the vote, at the start of October.Polls suggest that voters will be broadly split between the pro-unity and pro-independence camp, however. The two parties expected to gain the most seats individually are the pro-unity Ciudadanos and Junqueras’ pro-independence ERC, seen level-pegging in polls with each potentially gaining 32 or 33 seats.

Saudi Arabia’s announced its largest budget ever in a major effort to reshape its economy

Saudi Arabia’s 2018 budget may be its largest ever but the government must focus on the quality of spending, not just the quantity, according to experts. The Kingdom is prepared to increase spending to record levels next year — 978 billion riyals ($261 billion) — as it looks to diversify its economy away from energy as part of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s bold reform agenda. This expansionary budget comes at a time of economic struggle — the country entered into recession this year, contracting 0.5 percent — but the government is optimistic, estimating growth to rebound to 2.7 percent in 2018.  Redesigning the economy is a crucial component of Vision 2030, a wide-ranging plan to make Saudi Arabia less dependent on oil, reduce subsidies and increase employment. The jobless rate among Saudi citizens stands around 12.8 percent.
A man holds a nozzle at a petrol station in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 8, 2017.
Faisal Al Nasser | Reuters A man holds a nozzle at a petrol station in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 8, 2017.

According to analysts, a key feature of the budget was the explicit focus on structural reforms accompanying the increased spending. “The key is to look at what they’re spending the money on and how effectively they spend it,” Khatija Haque, head of Middle East and North Africa research at U.A.E-based bank Emirates NBD, told CNBC on Wednesday. The government intends to cut energy subsidies next year, with the move widely expected to free up funds for other parts of the economy such as infrastructure. “It’s really now about the effectiveness of spending rather than just throwing money at the problem and having it disappear into private hands without actually delivering what was promised — that’s a process that needs to change,” Haque said. The introduction of a value added tax next year in addition to new excise taxes on tobacco and soft drinks, as well as recent levies on expatriates are widely expected to strengthen non-oil revenues next year. Riyadh forecasts non-oil income at 291 billion riyals in 2018, up from 256 billion riyals this year.  A cornerstone of the Kingdom’s economic strategy is an initial public offering of national oil giant Aramco, whose estimated valuation stands around $1 trillion. Riyadh “is trying to move very quickly to build jobs and address long standing issues” but progress may come a little more slowly than authorities hope, noted Ziemba. Nick Bit: they are broke and its US fracking that is wiping them out. Their grandiose cities in the sand will never be completed and oil will continue to drop. And anyone who buyes  into the Aramco IPO will get as screwed as his royal family members he stole billions from.

Exclusive: Russian oil firm Tatneft ran Crimea fuel station, despite sanctions risk

MOSCOW (Reuters) – One of Russia’s biggest oil companies, Tatneft, has been doing business in Crimea despite the risk of being placed on a U.S. sanctions blacklist, according to company documents and a source close to Tatneft.Most big Russian oil firms pulled out of Crimea after Washington imposed sanctions over Moscow’s annexation of the region from Ukraine in 2014 and threatened to put any company operating on the peninsula on its list of sanctioned entities.  But a company called ZAO firma KONTs that operated a fuel station in the Crimean city of Sevastopol until at least September is controlled by units of Tatneft, according to ownership records in the state tax registry and the state statistics service that were collated by the Russian database SPARK. In addition, a document dated Sept. 4 that was seen by Reuters at the Sevastopol fuel station stated the fuel on sale there had been supplied by Tatneft-AZS-Yug, which is listed in the official register of the tax service as a wholly owned subsidiary of Tatneft. By late November, documents issued by the fuel station showed KONTs was no longer the owner, and there was no ownership link between Tatneft and the new owner. Reuters was not able to establish whether a Tatneft subsidiary was still supplying the fuel. Tatneft said in a Sept. 18 statement to Reuters that it has no fuel stations in Crimea and cannot control where fuel products it sells end up. Tatneft “does not supply (its own or anyone else‘s) fuel to Crimea or Sevastopol,” it said. A security guard at the Moscow address said KONTs had never had an office there though a letter, he said, had once arrived addressed to the firm. Tatneft had an office in the same building until a year ago, he added. Tatneft AZS-YUG, which is based in the Krasnodar region of southern Russia, did not respond to a request for comment. Tatneft’s presence in Crimea would give the U.S. Treasury Department legal grounds to include it on a list of companies which U.S. entities are forbidden to do business with, according to two Moscow-based lawyers who specialize in sanctions law – one of them with an international law firm and another with a Russian law firm. The U.S. Treasury Department, whose Office of Foreign Assets Control enforces sanctions, declined to comment on Tatneft’s presence in Crimea and any implications for companies that do business with Tatneft. Nick Bit: Hear me well. The Treasury is doing everything possible to SHIELD Russia form sanctions. The Trump administration has been compromised by Russia because of collusion during the campaign, transition and now that Trump is temporarily in power. Our intelligence community is deeply concerned.

 

Bill Gates in 2014: Bitcoin is ‘better than currency’

A handful of top investors have weighed in on the bitcoin craze, with some warning to avoid it “like the plague” and others saying it’s OK to invest in if you’re prepared to lose that money.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates hasn’t been too vocal on the subject lately, but he has expressed a cautiously positive opinion in the past. “Bitcoin is exciting because it shows how cheap it can be,” the self-made billionaire told Bloomberg in 2014. “Bitcoin is better than currency in that you don’t have to be physically in the same place and, of course, for large transactions, currency can get pretty inconvenient. Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin can be used to buy things without a middleman, meaning there’s less need for a bank. While the traditional banking system can charge high transaction fees, bitcoin can allow global transactions to take place at a lower cost. Just because it’s “better than currency” doesn’t necessarily mean cryptocurrencies will replace old-fashioned money, of course. In a 2015 interview with Backchannel, Gates reiterated that bitcoin is a technology that can “make moving money between countries easier and getting fees down pretty dramatically,” but, he said, “bitcoin won’t be the dominant system.”As he put it, “We need things that draw on the revolution of bitcoin, but bitcoin alone is not good enough.”  Today, bitcoin is already running into some problems, including slow transaction times and the rising cost of transaction fees. Other experts agree that bitcoin won’t end up being dominant. It’s too volatile to be a reliable currency, “Shark Tank” star and investor Kevin O’Leary told CNBC Make It: “The fact is, it is so unstable — volatility is both directions, it’s up and it’s down — that nobody in a substantive transaction will take that risk. So it is a long way from being a currency. “However, is it an asset? Yes. It is one of the most successful assets on the planet right now because it’s a global speculation.” Its worth can be hard to pinpoint, too, which is why it’s smart to be cautious when investing in cryptocurrency. “I have no idea what its value is, and neither does anybody else,” O’Leary said. “The volatility makes it very difficult for me as an investor to put that into a portfolio. So to me, it is a speculation.” Nick Bit: The volatility will subside. it is common in disruptive technology. Look at the fun we are going to have and the money we are going to make i the Bitcoin wild ride…… In time Bitcoin will be as common as dirt………. its got to get through the wet and wild stare first

Rebels in Yemen Fire Second Ballistic Missile at Saudi Capital

Customers at a coffee shop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, looking at a cloud of smoke in the sky on Tuesday. Yemeni rebels said they had fired a missile at a royal palace in the city. Credit Tasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Rebels in Yemen fired a ballistic missile on Tuesday at Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, for a second time in two months, though Saudi officials said that it had been intercepted and that there were no casualties. Around midday, a large boom startled many in Riyadh, including customers at a cafe in the center of the city, where several ran outside to see a puff of gray smoke in the sky and black smoke rising from the ground nearby, presumably from the launch site of the defense systems. The Saudis are at the forefront of a coalition that has been waging a bombing campaign in Yemen for two and a half years against the rebels, known as the Houthis, that has contributed to a humanitarian crisis that United Nations officials consider among the worst in the world. Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of backing the Houthis with weapons and expertise, concerns shared by the United States government, and the Saudis said on Tuesday that they had been targeted by an “Iranian-Houthi missile.” A spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition said the missile had been aimed at residential areas and had been intercepted “without any casualties,” according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency. The spokesman, Turki al-Maliki, called the possession of such weapons by militant groups like the Houthis . The Houthis acknowledged firing the missile but said the target had been the a palace of King Salman, the Saudi monarch, according to their television station, Al Masirah. The attack came hours before King Salman was to lead a ceremony to announce the kingdom’s 2018 budget, and the timing suggested that the Houthis were attempting to spread fear in the capital and draw attention away from the Saudi leadership’s plans for governance and development. The war in Yemen began in 2014 when the Houthis allied with parts of the Yemeni armed forces and seized much of the country’s northwest, including the capital, Sana, later forcing the government into exile. In 2015, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states began a bombing campaign aimed at pushing the Houthis back and restoring the internationally recognized Yemeni government. Throughout the war, the Houthis and their allies have targeted communities along the Yemen-Saudi border with missiles and other projectiles, but they appear to be expanding their range. The Houthis fired a missile at Riyadh’s international airport on Nov. 4. Saudi officials said their missile defenses had brought it down, but an investigation by The New York Times found that the missile had hit near its target and that it was unclear whether the body of the projectile had been struck.

Herbal remedy ginkgo biloba ‘can help stroke recovery’

A study claims that the popular herbal extract ginkgo biloba may help the brain recover after a stroke. The herbal remedy, available in health food shops and some pharmacies in the UK, is used in China to aid memory and fight depression. In a trial of 330 stroke patients over six months in China, the supplement was linked with better cognitive skill scores on tests. Experts say the evidence for ginkgo is too weak to recommend it. Those behind the small study – published in the online journal Stroke & Vascular Neurology – admit that larger, longer and more robust trials are needed. It was carried out by Nanjing University Medical School, with patients from five Chinese hospitals. All 330 participants began the trial within a week of having an ischaemic stroke. The average age of the patients was 64.  Roughly half of them were given 450mg of ginkgo biloba daily, in addition to 100mg of aspirin, while the remainder were given only the aspirin. During a stroke, the blood supplying vital parts of the brain is interrupted, often leading to impaired memory and a decline in organisational and reasoning skills among stroke survivors. Researchers wanted to see if combining ginkgo biloba with aspirin might help lessen or halt the cognitive decline. Previous experimental studies in animals have suggested that ginkgo biloba protects against the nerve cell death associated with blood clots in the brain, possibly by increasing blood flow in the cerebral arteries

Bitcoin valuation is ‘exceptionally ambiguous,’ says Robert Shiller

Robert Shiller on valuing bitcoin
Robert Shiller on valuing bitcoin 19 Hours Ago | 01:18 It’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Otherwise known as bitcoin.

Bitcoin’s meteoric rise has captivated Wall Street and Main Street alike. Among one of the biggest unknowns surrounding the cryptocurrency is how to value it, and it’s stumped even the most veteran market watchers. Enter Robert Shiller, who has made an award-winning, legendary career of assessing asset prices; after all, that’s precisely what he won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for in 2013. But perhaps never before cryptocurrencies’ utter domination in the marketplace this year has he explored an asset’s pricing or valuation quite as ambiguous. In a recent New York Times column, “What Is Bitcoin Really Worth? Don’t Even Ask,” Shiller explored bitcoin’s value and what investors’ frantic sentiment surrounding the cryptocurrency says about our own psychology.
“I think that the value of bitcoin is exceptionally ambiguous,” he said. “There is the medium of exchange function that it’s offering, and there’s also a store of value function; that is, you can hide away your wealth in there. And it’s mobile; you can go anywhere, and get at it. How valuable is that, though? I don’t personally see any value to that. That’s the problem; they have a really clever technique to generate something, and it could be valued. But that’s why it’s especially likely to become a bubble, because when you see people valuing it, you start to wonder, ‘Maybe they’re right,'” Shiller said. “The fascination people have with bitcoin is partly because of the mystery of money itself. Why do these pieces of paper have value, and couldn’t something else have value? Plus, we all believe in a first-mover advantage. Bitcoin was first,” he said, referring to its status as the first-ever cryptocurrency, the idea first unleashed in 2008.
Bitcoin has continued to thrive under several psychological ideals, Shiller said; investors have embraced the cryptocurrency as the first in its class and the alluring tale of its mysterious creator, “Satoshi Nakamoto.” “People believe in ‘first mover,’ and so it sounds right to them. I can’t say that it’s definitely wrong, but it sounds like a flimsy argument,” he said. Bitcoin’s price has surged quadruple-digits this year and the cryptocurrency was launched this weekend on the world’s largest futures exchange.

Bitcoin is the ‘most crowded’ investment in the world, according to a widely followed investor survey

The Bitcoin cryptocurrency symbol on a stone sphere monument painted black by unidentified persons in Oktyabrskaya Square in Yekaterinberg, Russia.
Donat Sorokin | TASS | Getty Images The Bitcoin cryptocurrency symbol on a stone sphere monument painted black by unidentified persons in Oktyabrskaya Square in Yekaterinberg, Russia
More traditional money managers are worried about bitcoin than ever before. The soaring digital currency topped the list of “most crowded trades” — a measure of sentiment on which a popular investment could quickly reverse its gains — in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s December global fund manager survey released Tuesday. The survey found that 32 percent of respondents named bitcoin as the most crowded trade in the financial world, up from 26 percent in September when the digital currency first led the list. At the time, bitcoin had surged about 375 percent for the year to $4,600.
 But clearly that was not the top, despite a rocky September for bitcoin in which the digital currency briefly plunged more than $2,000 as China cracked down on cryptocurrencies and J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon called bitcoin a “fraud” that “won’t end well.”

 

Source: BofAML

Bitcoin has roughly quadrupled since September to briefly trade above $19,000 in the last week. Fueling part of the rally was the launch of bitcoin futures on the CME, the world’s largest futures exchange, and its competitor the Cboe’s Futures Exchange.Another crowded trade is betting on the stocks of U.S. and Chinese technology giants, 29 percent of respondents said. “FAANG,” or Facebook, Amazon.com, Apple, Netflix and Google’s parent, Alphabet, are each up nearly 37 percent to 60 percent this year, versus the S&P 500’s 20 percent gain. Chinese e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba has soared 97 percent, search engine Baidu has climbed nearly 47 percent, and Hong Kong-listed tech and gaming giant Tencent has leaped more than 110 percent. The term “FAANG” came about in reference to a handful of high-flying stocks in which much of the market’s gains were concentrated. The surge of the Chinese conglomerates has earned them the nickname “BAT.”

Bitcoin performance (July to December)

Source: CoinDesk

Technology stocks overall are the best performers in the S&P this year with gains of nearly 40 percent. However, investors are not overexuberant about the gains. The BofAML survey found that allocation to tech stocks in December fell to the long-term average of 24 percent overweight. Overall levels of cash holdings among the fund managers rose to 4.7 percent, slightly above the 10-year average of 4.5 percent and back into the territory signaling “buy,” BofAML said. Global money managers also called out short volatility, or betting on calm markets, as a crowded trade. Noted investors such as DoubleLine CEO Jeffrey Gundlach have said for months that a “massive amount of money” is short volatility indexes, and the extended period of subdued market performance should soon result in a sharp increase in volatility

China is reportedly having second thoughts about cracking down on country’s ballooning debt

Group of workers at a small parts manufacturing factory in China.
Mick Ryan | Getty Images Group of workers at a small parts manufacturing factory in China.

China is planning to relax its goal of cutting debt in its economic outline that’s set for release Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. The revised plan will instead clamp down on the rise in borrowing, sources told the WSJ. The move would fly in the face of the Chinese government’s mission to bring down the country’s soaring debt, a goal President Xi Jinping has made a cornerstone to his economic platform. The weakened priority may prove to be a concession by top Communist Party leaders that China’s economy may be more reliant on leveraged growth than the government would like. The Journal added that, by cooling its stance on debt, Beijing is hinting that it would rather fuel growth with higher debt than pursue austerity measures. Chinese debt levels jumped the most in four years in September, according to Reuters. There’s speculation that the size of China’s debt load may be three times its economy. China may be feeling pressure to keep its economy growing as the U.S. is set to pass its biggest tax overhaul in 30 years this week, which will lower the corporate tax rate to theoretically make more companies competitive with China. To be sure, Xi and the Communist Party have been hard at work to curb borrowing between banks, the Journal noted. But since the crackdown on intrabank lending, smaller banks have scaled risky borrowing.

Bitcoin madness: Small-cap Longfin soars 2,000% after acquiring blockchain company

Patriot Missile

As bitcoin mania reaches a fever pitch, many tiny stocks are maneuvering to capitalize on its run, likely leading to confusion for investors looking for legitimate ways to invest in the trend. Small-cap financial technology company Longfin (Ticker: LFIN) is the latest example, soaring in volatile trading the last two days after saying it was buying a blockchain company, Ziddu.com, on Friday. As a a part of the acquisition, Longfin agreed to buy Ziddu from Meridian Enterprises in exchange for 2.5 million shares of the company. Adding to the confusion and volatility surrounding this move is that the filing for the deal notes that Meridian Enterprises, which sold Ziddu to Longfin, is a private Singapore company that is 95 percent owned by Longfin’s CEO and chairman Venkat Meenavalli. The company’s stock closed up 230 percent Friday and was up more than fivefold at one point Monday, bringing its two-day surge to more than 2,000 percent. Monday was a particularly volatile day as investors tried to assess what this deal actually means. Longfin currently has 44 million shares outstanding, according to an email from the company’s investor relations spokesperson Lijie Zhu. That gives the stock a market value of between $2 billion and $3 billion. The company had its initial public offering on the Nasdaq on Dec. 13 and is based in New York. It describes itself as a technology company that uses artificial intelligence to deliver financial services for small companies. For its part, Ziddu.com “presents a blockchain solution for micro lending and warehouse financing,” according to a SEC filing. “It offers Trade and Micro finance in the form of warehouse Coins to the small and medium imports/exports against collateralization of traders warehouse receipts.” But the IPO filing also contains some interesting and unusual language. A risk factor warned “as an investor, you should be able to bear a complete loss of your investment.” Longfin also announced some executive changes last week. Both the company’s chief financial officer Krishanu Singhal and chief operating officer Raj Mondraty resigned on Dec. 11, according to the SEC filing. Daily average trading volume is also rising with 185,000 shares traded Thursday, 15.5 million shares traded on Friday and nearly 6 million shares traded through midday Monday. Bitcoin is up more than 2,000 percent in the last 12 months, according to Coinbase.

Mueller has the goods on basically everyone.

 Kushner, Bannon, Jr, Priebus, Sessions, Rohrbacher, probably Kelly, Ryan, and several others. If we can believe the chatter, there are multiple sealed indictments just sitting there like the Sword of Damocles. All they are doing now is dotting i’s and crossing t’s and finding out who will lie. My sources say they don’t even need to offer any more deals, they have everything they need.

Left out you might notice, is Pence and Trump himself. That’s because there are unlikely to be criminal indictments of them, but rather a referral to Congress. But multiple sources have indicated that there is so much evidence that Congress will not be able to avoid impeachment proceedings, so once it becomes obvious that Pence and Ryan are toast, Orrin Hatch and Rex Tillerson (if he hasn’t been fired by then) will have to go to Trump and tell him to resign or go through the process, which he will do, probably after smashing some office equipment.

We all know Mueller isn’t leaking anything, and their public statements are few and far between. Nevertheless, if you pay attention to places like Twitter, and maybe read between the lines a little here and there, it is easy to connect the dots and grasp the reality and the magnitude of what we are witnessing. Not only that, we should really honor the brave souls (anonymous or otherwise) willing to publish their speculation/analysis (attributed or not) based on their (unnamed) informed sources of information. It’s really quite remarkable. At a time when it is so hard to distinguish between facts and fiction, it’s a blessing to have people out there willing to do the critical thinking for us that is required to make sense of all this information.

Proof Fox News Really Doesn’t Understand How The Fourth Amendment Works

Nick Bit: i have published here the GAS notification see the part that says “FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY” THIS SYSTEM IS SUBJECT TO MONITORING. THEREFORE NO EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY IS TO BE ASSUMED!!!! See what  happened is the pompous prep school pricks Trump Junior and Kushner used the government email server during the transition to among other things collude (about lifting sanctions)  with the Russians. Those emails are in the hand of the prosecutors and the SCARED shit Trump administration in a futile attempt is trying t get them excluded. This is part of them trying to blow a blizzard of bulshit up conservatives asses……. thank you FOX news nice try …..

Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett posted an article yesterday which reveals a deeply confused understanding of the Fourth Amendment and the law. Fox News’ readership is likely to metabolize this erroneous understanding of the law. Whether that’s much of a concern for the conservative media outlet is another question. We’ll deal with the legal issues here. In his post, Jarrett takes aim at special counsel Robert Mueller on behalf of some upset members of President Donald Trump‘s Presidential Transition Team (“PTT”). Recall, it was recently reported that Mueller and his army of attorneys have obtained “tens of thousands” of emails from the PTT. Fox News have been whinging about Mueller’s newly-acquired email cache ever since. Many pro-Trump outlets and figures have tried to paper over their anger and disappointment by making pained attempts at citing to the Fourth Amendment. None of those attempts have really gone over well, however, Fox News has been leading the charge with its misleading explanations. Invocations of the constitutional provision protecting “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” are turning serious and powerful legal doctrines into a MAGA partisan pastiche of, well, nonsense. Jarrett’s piece sets the tone with this interesting error: “Under the law, the only remedy is Mueller’s dismissal from the case.” Jarrett, of course, doesn’t cite to any such law. And later efforts to use the basic skill of citation are appropriately embarrassing. USA Today law and justice reporter Brad Heath noted this somewhat bizarre chunk of text in Jarrett’s anti-Mueller broadside:

The case of Finn v. Schiller, 72 F.3rd 1182, 1189 spells out the required remedy for this violation of the law: “Courts have frequently used their supervisory authority to disqualify prosecutors for obtaining materials protected by the attorney-client privilege.” 

There are at least three (3) problems with Jarrett’s legal-ish attempt to bolster his case here: (1) Finn V. Schiller is never–ever–cited for Jarrett’ proposition; (2) privilege violations are not typically considered violations of the law–they’re semi-sacred legal principles that the U.S. government frequently frustrates at-will; and (3) Finn V. Schiller doesn’t contain any of the above-cited language.

First of all, Schiller concerns remedies for a prosecutor who disclosed confidential grand jury information–it’s not even a Fourth Amendment case–and has nothing to do with the attorney-client privilege. In other words, it has nothing to do with prosecutorial removal. Second, both the Fourth Amendment and the attorney-client privilege are considered to work in accordance with the following cliche: they are shields as opposed to swords. Violations of the Fourth Amendment or intrusions upon attorney-client communications can be used to diminish the government’s case–by disqualifying certain evidence from being used against a suspect. Finally, what can really be said about Jarrett citing to non-existent language in a case that never even touched upon the issues he thinks it touched upon in the first place? Par for the course. Nick Note: Their is no 4th Amendment right to privacy when people are using the GSA email server. In fact all people useing the server are told that its a goverment email server and ALL commincation is part of the public record

FBI Warned Trump in 2016 Russia Would Try to Infiltrate Campaign

Image: FBI Warned Trump in 2016 Russia Would Try to Infiltrate Campaign

The FBI warned Donald Trump in a high-level counterintelligence briefing soon after he became the Republican nominee in the summer of 2016 that foreign adversaries, including Russia, would probably try to infiltrate his campaign, NBC News reported on Monday.In the briefing, which is commonly given to presidential nominees and was also provided to Democrat Hillary Clinton, the candidates were urged to tell the FBI about any suspicious overtures to their campaigns, according to multiple government officials familiar with the matter.  By the time of the warning, at least seven Trump campaign officials had been in contact with Russians or people linked to the country, according to public reports, but there is no public evidence that the campaign reported any of that to the FBI.One such encounter was in June 2016, when Donald Trump Jr. held a meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin, and a Russian-American lobbyist. Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner were also there.  An email to Trump Jr. setting up the meeting promised incriminating information about Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help the Trump campaign.Former head of FBI counterintelligence Frank Figliuzzi, who is an NBC News analyst, said counterintelligence briefings “provide an opportunity for investigative subjects to be transparent with the bureau and to come back if such contacts are occurring because of admonishments by the bureau.”  If they do not do that, he said, “a couple of factors could be at play: They didn’t spread the message to the rest of the team or there is some form of guilty conscience that prohibits them.”The White House downplayed the report, with spokesman Raj Shah saying “That the Republican and Democrat nominee for president received a standardized briefing on counter-intelligence is hardly a news story. That NBC News hears about the contents of this classified conversation due to an inappropriate leak is a news story.”

Saudi crown prince ‘is secret buyer of US$300m French chateau’, world’s priciest home

The prince, who preaches austerity and is orchestrating a major anti-corruption crackdown, was also reportedly the secret buyer of the world’s most expensive artwork and a US$500m yacht

 Fortune magazine reported at the time of the 2015 sale that the Chateau Louis XIV – which has fountains that can be controlled by iPhone – had smashed records to become the world’s priciest home. On the outside, the Louveciennes mansion looks like a 17th-century chateau in the style of the palace at nearby Versailles, but it is in fact a new building that went up after its Saudi developer Emad Kashoggi bulldozed an existing 19th-century mansion. Its antique facades hide modern facilities including a cinema, deluxe swimming pool and a moat with a transparent underwater chamber that allows visitors to enjoy the sight of koi and sturgeon swimming.The 23-hectare estate includes manicured gardens, huge fountains and a maze, while the interiors are lavishly decorated with gilt and fresco ceilings.  The report comes after the prince had dozens of members of the Saudi elite including princes, ministers and tycoons locked up in Riyadh’s 5-star Ritz-Carlton hotel as part of an anti-corruption campaign. Many have since agreed to hand over allegedly ill-gotten gains in exchange for their freedom, Saudi attorney general Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb said earlier this month. In an interview with the Times in November, Prince Mohammed described as “ludicrous” reports equating the crackdown with a political purge to eliminate rivals before he becomes king. The Times reported that he bought the chateau via a firm managed through his personal foundation, Eight Investment Company, which also handled his 2015 purchase of a US$500 million yacht. Along with the chateau and yacht, the Times also reported earlier this month that a Leonardo da Vinci painting sold for US$450.3 million in November was sold to a Saudi prince acting on behalf of the crown prince. It was the most ever paid for an artwork. The yacht purchase, sealed with the help of an army of lawyers and accountants in Germany, Bermuda and the Isle of Man, was revealed through the Paradise Papers document leak.

Amazon Prime growth is slowing down in the US, says Morgan Stanley

Amazon Prime growth is slowing down in the U.S., says Morgan Stanley
Amazon Prime growth is slowing down in the U.S., says Morgan Stanley

Amazon Prime growth is plateauing in the U.S., showing the first signs of a slowdown in its oldest market, Morgan Stanley wrote in a note published this week. Prime, a paid membership program that gives free two-day shipping and access to other perks such as online video and music, is important for Amazon because Prime members tend to spend more on its e-commerce site. Amazon calls Prime one of the three pillars of its business, alongside the Amazon Marketplace, its site connecting buyers and sellers, and Amazon Web Services, its cloud computing business. Based on a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults in the third quarter of 2017, Morgan Stanley concluded that 40 percent of American consumers are currently Prime members — the same percentage seen in its survey from the fourth quarter of 2016.

“These data are the first evidence of potential Prime penetration limits in Amazon’s oldest market,” Morgan Stanley wrote in the note. Amazon doesn’t disclose the size of Prime or a breakdown of its demographics. Instead, the company shares revenue from “subscription services,” which includes Prime in the U.S. and overseas, as well as content subscriptions for things such as e-books and music. In the third quarter, subscription revenue grew 59 percent from a year ago, to $2.4 billion. The slowdown in the U.S. comes partly because membership to the program is nearing saturation in the higher-income market. Another survey by Piper Jaffray in June said that 82 percent of U.S. households with over $112,000 in income are already Prime members. Morgan Stanley said this means it’s important for Amazon to expand Prime to the lower-income and older households — both segments that have historically had lower Prime penetration rates. To go after the lower-income market, Amazon has recently launched monthly payment plans and special discounts for people receiving government assistance. As Amazon increases its offerings related to health care, that would help it target older consumers, the note said.

Russia’s Rosneft wins gas licences in Venezuela

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (L) greeting the head of the Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin

Venezuela has awarded licences to Russian energy giant Rosneft to develop two offshore gas fields.The deal allows its subsidiary, Grupo Rosneft, to export gas produced at the Patao and Mejillones fields in the Caribbean Sea for the next 30 years. Venezuelan authorities need to approve the deal before production can begin. Russia is a close ally of Venezuela, helping to prop up its economy as it seeks to expand its influence in Latin America. In August, Rosneft provided Venezuelan state energy company PDVSA with $6 billion as advance payment for oil supplies. In a statement, Rosneft estimated the total reserves at the two fields to be around 180bn cubic metres (bcm) of gas. Maximum annual production is expected to reach 6.5 bcm in the first 15 years. Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin signed the deal during a meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas over the weekend. The state-owned Russian energy giant is already involved in a number of joint projects in Venezuela, including the Petromiranda, and Petromonagas fields, which are estimated to hold more than 20.5bn tons of oil. Venezuela owes an estimated $140bn (£103bn) to foreign creditors. Russian capital and cash have been helping to keep Venezuela afloat after its oil-based economy collapsed, hit by falling oil prices and revenues, and the plummeting value of its currency, the bolivar. Last month, Russia agreed to restructure $3.15bn (£2.4bn) in debt owed by Venezuela. The deal allows Venezuela to make “minimal” repayments on its Russian obligations over the next six years.

Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner sued over info on financial disclosure forms

Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner sued over info on financial disclosure forms
© Getty Images Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are being sued for allegedly omitting information from their public financial disclosure forms, Politico reported Sunday.

The couple, who are both serving as advisers in the White House, are facing a lawsuit from lawyer Jeffrey Lovitky, who claims they both didn’t include assets from 30 investment funds they are a part of. He also alleges they both didn’t identify the income they received from two other investment groups. “The failure of Defendants to provide the information as herein described deprived Plaintiff of (a) an opportunity to make an independent judgment as to whether Defendants are or reasonably could be influenced by conflicts of interests, (b) information required to evaluate and judge the performance of Defendants in their official duties, (c) information required to determine whether trust in the integrity of Defendants is warranted, and (d) information required to participate in the political process in an informed manner,” the complaint reads. Lovitky also states that for several investment funds, Kushner did not list the assets because of a “preexisting confidentiality agreement.” “The EIGA does not allow a reporting individual to refuse to disclose the underlying assets of an investment vehicle, on the basis that such disclosure would violate a pre-existing confidentiality agreement. Nor does the EIGA allow a reporting individual to refuse to disclose the amount of income derived from any underlying asset of an investment vehicle, on the basis that such disclosure would violate a pre-existing confidentiality agreement,” the lawsuit reads. Kushner has amended his financial disclosure form multiple times since taking office, revealing dozens of assets that were initially left off the form. He has said the assets were “inadvertently omitted.” Both Trump and Kushner have been fined for submitting late financial disclosure forms. The lawyer filing the suit, Lovitky, has also sued President Trump over his financial disclosure form, alleging Trump failed to show how responsible he was for debts he listed on a form he filed during the 2016 campaign.

Crowd including ‘schoolchildren’ watch as 10 sentenced to death in public trial in China

A CHINESE court sentenced 10 people to a “barbaric” death in front of thousands of onlookers including school-children in a chilling trial, it has been revealed.

China-amnesty-international
GETTY William Nee at Amnesty International said it was ‘absolutely tragic’
In a “tragic” trial, residents in Lufeng in southern Guangdong province were invited to see the trial via an official notice on social media to see the sentencing of seven people accused of drug-related crimes and others found guilty of murder and robbery. After the sentencing – which took place in a huge stadium – eight of the accused were taken away and immediately executed. William Nee at Amnesty International said it was “absolutely tragic”. Speaking to MailOnline, Mr Nee said: “The mass sentencing rally that took place — including the execution of eight people involved in drug-related crimes — is absolutely tragic and barbaric. “Despite China continuously executing hundreds if not thousands of people per year for drug-related offences, China is actually experiencing a growth in drug manufacturing and trafficking — which obviously shows the limitations of the ‘kill the monkey to scare the chickens approach.’ “China should immediately end the use of the death penalty for offences that do not meet the threshold of ‘intentional killing’ in international law, and devise other ways to tackle the drug problem that does not perpetuate a cycle of violence.” The accused were brought to the stadium on the back of trucks and were each flanked by four officers wearing  They were brought to a small platform usually used as a running track one by one to have their sentences read, according to the video of the trial. Thousands watched the show trial and some reports say students in school uniforms attended, witnesses claimed. Some stood on seats while others crowded onto the centre of the field. Others filmed with their mobile phones while others chatted and smoked.

Paranoia grips Capitol Hill as harassment scandal spreads

Lawmakers and aides are consumed by one question: Who’s next?

The U.S. Capitol is pictured. | Getty Images
The raft of accusations and departures is prompting uncomfortable conversations all over the Capitol. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images
 

The details change almost daily, but the rumor won’t die: A credible news organization is preparing to unmask at least 20 lawmakers in both parties for sexual misconduct. Speculation about this theoretical megastory is spreading like wildfire across Congress and beyond, a lurking bad-press boogeyman that’s always described as on the verge of going public. And it’s far from the only worry that’s seeped into the collective psyche of Capitol Hill, where members and aides are now perpetually bracing for the next allegation to drop.Washington is also gripped by uncertainty over whether the nationwide awakening to workplace misconduct might be manipulated into a political weapon. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) went to law enforcement after being targeted last week by a forged harassment complaint against him, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) last month parried a false accusation of misconduct posted on Twitter. Lawmakers and aides are consumed by one simple question: Who’s next? That and, in this turbocharged news cycle of the Trump presidency, can actual misdeeds be distinguished from false smears? “You want to have a welcome environment to report abuse — you don’t want to deter victims,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in an interview. “But you’ve got to have enough due process and scrutiny to make sure it’s accurate.” “I think this environment is pretty crazy right now,” Graham added, and “what happened to Sen. Schumer is a concern to a lot of us.” Just this month, five members of Congress have been forced to resign or retire after being accused of sexual misconduct: Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Blake Farenthold (R-Texas). Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) also called it quits after graphic text messages sent by him were posted online. The raft of accusations and departures is prompting uncomfortable conversations all over the Capitol. Aides in one Democrat’s office were summoned recently to a meeting organized by a fellow staffer and asked whether they’d ever heard of an accusation against their boss, according to a source in the room. Other press secretaries have asked their bosses about any personal skeletons, wanting to unearth possible sexual land mines before they detonate in the media.The pervasive apprehension that’s taken hold risks adversely affecting some women’s careers. One Republican aide told POLITICO that she is advising members not to be alone with any women — whether they’re female staffers or female reporters.

Continue reading “Paranoia grips Capitol Hill as harassment scandal spreads”

Dem: Trump allies’ attacks on Mueller ‘invoke shades of creeping McCarthyism’

Dem: Trump allies' attacks on Mueller 'invoke shades of creeping McCarthyism'
© Greg Nash

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) in a tweet on Sunday said the attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling brought to mind the “Red Scare” of the 1950s, saying the criticisms “invoke shades of creeping McCarthyism.” “Attacks from Trump allies & the far right on the special counsel’s investigation & integrity invoke shades of creeping McCarthyism. We will continue to fight to allow Mueller’s independent investigation to continue,” Hirono said.

Her comments come as Republicans have pounced on Mueller’s investigation, claiming it could have an anti-Trump bias.  Text messages surfaced last week showing FBI agent Peter Strzok and colleague Lisa Page criticizing Trump during the campaign.  Strzok, who was dismissed from Mueller’s team earlier this year, had said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was “an idiot like Trump,” while Page called Trump “a loathsome human.”  “God, Hillary should win 100,000,000-0,” Strzok said in another message to Page. There is nothing in the FBI guidelines that would prevent agents from having or expressing a political opinion in a private setting. However, Republicans have called for an investigation into the matter.  House Intelligence Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy said on Sunday that the courts are responsible for handling complaints against Mueller.

Trump says he’s not planning to fire Robert Mueller

President Trump said Sunday he is not considering firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the wake of calls from some Republican allies to shut down the Mueller probe into Russian involvement in the 2016 over allegations of bias by FBI officials. “No, I’m not,” Mr. Trump told reporters upon his arrival back at the White House. Mr. Trump spent Saturday night at Camp David. Mr. Trump’s attorneys are embroiled in a fresh spat with Mueller, the former FBI director, over his team’s reported acquisition of thousands of emails from Mr. Trump’s transition team. Mr. Trump’s legal team wrote in a letter Friday that the emails had been obtained inappropriately from a federal agency and called for Mueller to return the documents. A spokesman for Mueller said all documents related to the investigation had been obtained through normal means.Mr. Trump said he was “quite sad” to see Mueller had obtained the emails but doesn’t think they contain any incriminating information.   “My people were very upset about it,” Mr. Trump said. “I can’t imagine there’s anything on them, frankly.”  He added that there was “no collusion whatsoever” between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives. Mueller’s probe has ensnared two former top Trump aides, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI earlier this month. Manafort was indicted by a federal grand jury in October on several charges related to his overseas business dealings. Flynn served as Mr. Trump’s short-lived national security adviser at the beginning of his administration, and Manafort ran the Trump campaign for several months in the summer of 2016.

Dem: Trump allies’ attacks on Mueller ‘invoke shades of creeping McCarthyism’

Dem: Trump allies' attacks on Mueller 'invoke shades of creeping McCarthyism'
© Greg Nash

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) in a tweet on Sunday said the attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling brought to mind the “Red Scare” of the 1950s, saying the criticisms “invoke shades of creeping McCarthyism.” “Attacks from Trump allies & the far right on the special counsel’s investigation & integrity invoke shades of creeping McCarthyism. We will continue to fight to allow Mueller’s independent investigation to continue,” Hirono said.

 

Her comments come as Republicans have pounced on Mueller’s investigation, claiming it could have an anti-Trump bias.  Text messages surfaced last week showing FBI agent Peter Strzok and colleague Lisa Page criticizing Trump during the campaign.  Strzok, who was dismissed from Mueller’s team earlier this year, had said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was “an idiot like Trump,” while Page called Trump “a loathsome human.”  “God, Hillary should win 100,000,000-0,” Strzok said in another message to Page. There is nothing in the FBI guidelines that would prevent agents from having or expressing a political opinion in a private setting. However, Republicans have called for an investigation into the matter.  House Intelligence Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy said on Sunday that the courts are responsible for handling complaints against Mueller.

Former federal prosecutors hit back at Trump charge that Mueller probe is tainted by bias

Reuters Before departing for a speaking engagement at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., on Friday, President Trump said, “It’s a shame what’s happened with the FBI.”

A pair of former federal prosecutors dismissed as groundless Saturday the argument from President Donald Trump, his allies and certain media outlets that the discovery of anti-Trump text messages exchanged by two FBI agents have done irreparable damage to the integrity of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election. Jill Wine-Banks, a Watergate prosecutor who went on to serve as general counsel to the U.S. Army, said possessing personal opinions and political views is only natural, but the professionalism of the FBI means that greater allegiance is paid to the search for truth. In her words:

‘The fact that people have opinions does not make them biased. It’s like being a juror. You can have an opinion. You just have to be willing to set it aside and to follow the evidence wherever it takes you.’

Jill Wine-Banks

Cynthia Alksne, a former U.S. prosecutor and now an MSNBC legal analyst, appearing on a separate Saturday news program, said the key was not letting political opinions affect prosecutorial decisions, offering a real-life illustration:

‘For example, I prosecuted the Klan. I don’t like the Klan. I never say anything nice about the Klan. And if you looked probably at my emails you would find that I’m very open about that. But when the time comes to make a decision about whether or not the Klan burned a cross in someboy’s yard , that’s a decision that’s straight gfacts. Either the guys were there and burned the cross or they didn’t.

Cynthia Alksne

It’s worth noting that the text messages between the agents, who were reportedly engaged at the time in an extramarital affair, not only contained negative commentary about Trump but also former Attorney General Eric Holder, a Democrat, and his successor, Jeff Sessions, along with Sen. Bernie Sanders, who ran for president as a Democrat, and even Chelsea Clinton. The Justice Department invited members of the press to review and report upon only the Trump-critical messages. The two agents, upon the discovery of the texts and earlier, were removed from roles with the Mueller probe.

Mueller team defends obtaining Trump transition emails

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office on Sunday defended its work after a lawyer for President Trump’s transition team accused investigators of improperly obtaining thousands of emails from transition officials. “When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process,” Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, said in a statement to The Hill. Axios reported Saturday that Mueller’s team is now in possession of tens of thousands of emails from the Trump transition team, including messages from Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, as well as other members of the transition’s political leadership and foreign policy team. Mueller’s prosecutors reportedly used the emails to question witnesses, and are also looking to the messages to confirm information and follow new leads. Axios reported that the special counsel obtained the emails from the General Services Administration, which managed the transition team’s email accounts. But in a letter to several members of Congress, a lawyer for Trump’s transition team, Trump for America (TFA), said that Mueller obtained the emails illegally. Kory Langhofer accuses the GSA of “unlawfully produc[ing] TFA’s private materials, including privileged communications, to the Special Counsel’s Office,” according to Reuters. Langhofer’s letter, which was sent to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, calls on the committees “to protect future presidential transitions from having their private records misappropriated by government agencies, particularly in the context of sensitive investigations intersecting with political motives.” Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has heated up in recent weeks after Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians. The investigation has also seen Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, indicted on multiple charges.

Trump Team Calls Mueller Action ‘Totally Illegal,’ Will Demand Return of Emails, Report Says

The Trump team are none too pleased about the special counsel obtaining emails from the transition. If this report bears out, then they are going to demand a retur

“What they did is totally illegal, and they need to fix it,” said a source close to the transition, according to Axios. This person reportedly said that the transition, which still exists in order to wind-down the operation, will send Special Counsel Robert Mueller a letter demanding investigators return the emails. They claim they are willing to hand over vetted messages. An Axios report from Saturday first reported that the Mueller team got their hands on emails from 12 accounts connected to the transition. This included messages belonging to son-in-law and Senior Adviser to the President, Jared Kushner, who himself served in the transition team and faced scrutiny in the special counsel’s Russia probe. The Trump team complained these were illegally obtained, but Special Counsel’s spokesman Peter Carr told various outlets that the process was perfectly legal. Transitions officials told Axios that the emails were used as the basis for questioning officials. Mueller’s probe into Moscow’s election interference so far netted two convictions. Trump campaign adviser George Papadoupolos and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, both for lying to the FBI about their conversations with Russians. The investigation involves whether the Trump campaign helped out in Kremlin-directed cyberhacking efforts to helped the president win the election. Trump has called the allegation a “witch hunt” by Democrats. His team has denied rumors that he will fire Mueller.

Fox News host called ‘irresponsible’ after suggesting US facing a ‘coup’ from Mueller

 

Fox News is facing fierce backlash on social media after host Jesse Watters suggested that a “coup” might be underway in the U.S. Waters on his show Saturday night stepped up his rhetorical attacks against special counsel Robert Mueller, claiming that now that there’s proof at least some agents on Mueller’s investigative team were biased against President Trump, there may be evidence of a “coup.” “We may now have proof the investigation was weaponized t to destroy [Trump’s] presidency for partisan political purposes and to disenfranchise millions of American voters,” Watters said on “Watters’ World.” “Now if that is true, we have a coup on our hands in America,” he added. Watters blasted veteran FBI agent Peter Strzok, who Mueller fired from his team after an investigation revealed that he had sent messages that appeared to be critical of Trump and supportive of his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Fox News hosts and conservatives have seized on the messages and are ratcheting up their efforts to discredit Mueller’s investigation as he begins to reach into the president’s inner circle in his investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow officials and the Trump campaign.  Trump’s defenders are suggesting Mueller stocked his team with Democrats and therefore his probe is flawed. Watters, however, escalated the attacks against the federal investigation by claiming that the biased agents indicate Mueller and his team are attempting to overthrow the government. He then began an interview with White House adviser Kellyanne Conway in which the chyron read, “A coup in America?” The suggestion led high profile individuals to take to Twitter to condemn the “coup” claims. Former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin slammed the chyron as “incredibly irresponsible rhetoric.”

Walter Shaub, the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, tweeted that Fox is trying to “distort the message” and “undermine” Mueller’s investigation.

Benjamin Wittes, a friend of former FBI Director James Comey who edits the blog Lawfare, also downplayed the controversy.

Kevin Baron, the executive editor for military outlet Defense One, said Fox News was “irresponsible” in their use of the word.

Baron’s remarks were echoed by other reporters who have covered the Middle East.

Why Cash Returning From Overseas Isn’t Likely to Create Jobs—and Might Even Reduce Them

Firms spent 94 cents of every dollar from 2004 tax holiday on share buybacks and dividends:

Republican lawmakers say their tax overhaul would spur companies to hire more employees and build factories in the U.S. Yet one key provision, which could free up hundreds of billions of dollars for companies to spend, probably would benefit shareholders, analysts say. The provision changes the tax rules on the profits that U.S.-based companies make overseas. Under current law, companies must pay a 35% tax on the earnings if they bring them to the U.S., though they can get credit for overseas taxes. To avoid the bill, companies have left $1.9 trillion abroad, according to Moody’s Investors Service. The GOP plan would eliminate the tax on ex-U.S. profits going forward, while requiring companies pay a levy on earnings currently offshore at a much-reduced rate.Tax experts predict companies would bring to the U.S. much of their overseas cash if the rate is cut.

Based on analyses of past programs to repatriate overseas corporate earnings, Wall Street analysts and tax experts expect companies would use the money for purposes such as buying back shares and mergers. Instead of adding jobs, they say, companies might cut them if they use their cash to buy rivals and then take out costs.

“There will be increased share repurchases, but limited impact on building new plants, real investment activity and employment,” said Dhammika Dharmapala, a University of Chicago law professor who has studied what U.S. companies have done with repatriated cash. Mr. Dharmapala co-authored a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research that found that after companies brought back cash during a tax holiday in 2004, they spent 79 cents of every dollar on share repurchases and 15 cents on dividends. There was no evidence of an increase in domestic investment, according to the working paper.“Shareholders will get the cash” from repatriation, said Kimberly Clausing, a Reed College economics professor and an expert in international tax policy. In the three years after the 2004 tax holiday, companies increased their spending on mergers and acquisitions by 47%, on buybacks by 37% and on paying down debt by 13%, according to a Credit Suisse HOLT analysis of how the 50 companies with the most earnings overseas at the time changed their spending.

Second bitcoin futures debut could lure volume to wild market

 NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bitcoin investors expect futures volumes to perk up when CME Group Inc, the world’s largest derivatives exchange operator, launches its own contract to wager on the cryptocurrency on Sunday. The second U.S. bitcoin futures launch is seen as another step towards big institutional investors warming up to a volatile asset that had until recently been accessible only via largely unregulated markets. Like the futures contract launched last week by rival Cboe Global Markets, CME’s will be cash settled. But it will be priced off an index of data from several cryptocurrency exchanges, instead of just one. “The CME contract is based on a broader array of exchanges,” said Matt Osborne, chief investment officer of Altegris, a $2.5 billion alternative investments provider based in San Diego, California. “So there is a possibility that the CME contract may generate more interest and more volume.” Bitcoin has drawn attention for its eye-popping price gains, but it is also notoriously volatile. Bitcoin exchanges and digital currency wallets meanwhile have struggled with issues like outages, denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and hacks. Bitcoin hit another record high on Friday near $18,000 on the Luxembourg-based BitStamp platform, and has soared roughly 1,700 percent so far this year.

 

Many professional traders use quantitative systems to identify trading opportunities and that requires a history of data which the bitcoin futures contracts do not yet have.

“Volumes are going to slowly increase as professional traders get comfortable with the price action and more importantly get comfortable with the volatility and the margin usage,” said Altegris’ Osborne.

UBS chairman warns of ‘bitcoin bubble’

Bitcoin has surged from $1,000 (CHF9,900) at the start of the year to above $20,000

Axel Weber, the board chairman of big bank UBS, has warned of a possible Bitcoin currency crash. With increasing numbers of small investors jumping on the cryptocurrency bandwagon, it is time for regulators to intervene, he says.

Bitcoin has surged from $1,000 (CHF9,900) at the start of the year to above $20,000. The risks are due to a design fault, which leads to huge currency swings in both directions, Weber said in an interview with the NZZ am Sonntagexternal link. “We as a bank have very consciously warned against this product, because we do not consider it valid and sustainable,” said Weber. As small investors are getting involved, the financial regulator should get involved to ensure that uncontrolled price swings are reined in, he added. His comments come after Swiss National Bank Chairman Thomas Jordan said on Thursday that virtual currencies like bitcoin presented no risks to monetary policy but warned that investors should be aware of the dangers from big price swings. Bitcoin is a digital currency that enables individuals to transfer value to each other and pay for goods and services bypassing banks and the mainstream financial system.

While banks have largely steered clear of bitcoin since it emerged following the financial crisis, the virtual currency has many supporters.

Meanwhile, Swiss regulator has given ample warning that crypto services, depending on what form they take, may end up meeting securities, banking and anti-money laundering laws.

S. Korean, U.S. forces hold drill for removing North Korea’s WMDs

The “Warrior Strike” exercise was held at Camp Stanley, located north of Seoul
South Korean and U.S. forces conducted a joint training last week for infiltrating North Korea and removing weapons of mass destruction in case of conflict, military sources said.

The “Warrior Strike” exercise was held at Camp Stanley, located north of Seoul, and other places from Tuesday to Friday, involving hundreds of soldiers from the two sides, they said. The U.S. 2nd Infantry Division said on Facebook on Friday that Gen. Jung Kyung-doo, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, and Lt. Gen. Thomas S. Vandal, commander of Eighth Army-Korea, visited the U.S. base and observed Warrior Strike training on the final day of the drill.

North Korea issues US threat: ‘WHOLE WORLD will plunge into NUCLEAR WAR’

NORTH Korea has sent a dire warning to the USA, telling president Donald Trump to prepare for “nuclear war” if he attempts a sea blockade of the hermit state.
 North Korea’s foreign ministry has issued a furious statement this weekend, saying American aggression “cannot be tolerated”. 

The fiery statement, which was issued in a Pyongyang-based propaganda newspaper yesterday, said Donald Trump was “terrified” of North Korea’s nuclear progress.  And it said any attempt to strangle North Korea with sanctions or a blockade would receive a furious response.The statement said: “The gang of Trump, being terrified by our accomplishment of the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, is driving the situation on the Korean peninsula more and more close to the brink of war, acting recklessly without any sense of reason.

North Korea

North Korea has sent a dire nuclear war threat to the USA

Puerto Rico gov: GOP tax bill ‘unconscionable’ punishment for struggling island

Puerto Rico gov: GOP tax bill ‘unconscionable’ punishment for struggling island
© Camille Fine
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is blasting Republican lawmakers’ sweeping rewrite of the nation’s tax code, accusing members of Congress of turning their backs on the U.S. territory with the new bill.  “It is devastating and unconscionable that Congress would do this at this juncture,” Rosselló told NBC News in an interview Friday. Republican negotiators unveiled the final version of their tax overhaul legislation on Friday, which they are hoping to pass and send to President Trump‘s desk by Christmas. Rosselló said that bill includes a 10 percent tax on companies’ profits abroad, as well as a 12.5 percent tax on “intangible assets” held offshore.  “They are treating Puerto Rico as a foreign jurisdiction so they are levying a full tax,” Rosselló told NBC News.  Puerto Rico’s economy has long struggled. But the situation worsened in September after the island was struck by Hurricane Maria, devastating businesses and infrastructure and prompting many residents to move to the mainland U.S. Even before that, however, a congressional task force charged with rebuilding Puerto Rico’s economy released a report last year that determined that the island “is too often relegated to an afterthought in congressional deliberations over federal business tax reform legislation.”

The task force report also advised “that Congress make Puerto Rico integral to any future deliberations over tax reform legislation.” Rosselló told NBC News, however, that the GOP’s tax bill does not take heed of that recommendation. He said that he felt that lawmakers, who had once vowed to help the island, had “turned a blind eye” to the issue. In particular, he said he was disappointed by Sen. Marco Rubio‘s (R-Fla.) decision to back the bill after GOP lawmakers agreed to expand the child tax credit under the legislation. “It is a devastating blow to the people of Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said. “Senator Rubio seemed to understand what it meant that it had a severe impact on Puerto Rico. So it is disappointing.”

Investors Are the Most Bearish Since Great Financial Crisis

Nearly seven in 10 investors say stocks are overvalued

 

Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg News By Chris Dieterich

For years, the historic run higher for U.S. stocks has been characterized as a “hated” rally, one that has consistently vexed investors with rising prices in the face of widespread skepticism. If anything, repeated record highs in 2017 have only made money managers more dour. Big investors are heading into 2018 with the most bearish perspective on stocks since the great financial crisis, according to Boston Consulting Group’s annual investor survey.Fully 46% of investors were pessimistic about equity markets for the next year, up from 32% a year ago and 19% in 2015; more than one-third were bearish about stocks over three years, more than double last year.  As global equity benchmarks have rallied, more investors see the market as richly valued. Fully 68% of respondents said the equity market is “overvalued,” more than double the 29% of respondents who thought as much last year. Nearly four-fifths of self-described bears cited “overvaluation” as the reason for their market pessimism, the survey found. As bears perk up, expected long-term returns are falling. The average expectation for total equity return, including dividends, over three years was 5.5%, the same as last year and tied for the lowest return expectation since the survey was initiated in 2009. Of course, diminished expectations haven’t slowed down the galloping pace of stock gains yet. Investor concerns stretch into the wider economy. Nearly 80% of respondents said that they expect an economic recession within three years and 53% said that they expect a recession within two years. The most frequently cited reason for the next recession was “rising interest rate levels,” a factor cited by 45% of bears. Another 40% cited the “U.S. political climate.” The survey, conducted over two weeks starting in late October, queried 250 investors with a collective $500 billion in assets. Nick Bit: The End is near!

Bitcoin to ‘soar to $60k’ before ‘Russia and China engineer crash’, Saxo Bank predicts

BITCOIN will collapse next year after Russia and China work together to “engineer a crash”, a major investment bank has predicted.

Economist predicts Bitcoin will BURST like Tulip mania bubble The cryptocurrency will continue to rise “during most of 2018” peaking at an eye-watering £45,000 ($60,000) until Moscow and Beijing begin a crackdown on digital currencies, according to Saxo Bank. Cryptocurrency experts made the forecast as part of the company’s “outrageous predictions” for 2018, events the Danish bank says are “highly unlikely” but “with under-appreciated potential” to send shockwaves through financial markets. As of 3pm GMT on Saturday, December 16, bitcoin is valued at $18,504 according to CoinDesk.  Saxo Bank predicts it will soar to its peak as investors become more comfortable tying up their money in digital currencies until more than £750billion ($1trillion) is invested worldwide. But forecast then turns grim as the “phenomenon finds the rug torn out from under it” following a predicted intervention by Russia and China. The forecast assumes a Russian crackdown taking the form of the Kremlin mining the cryptocurrency itself and “shifting the focus away from Bitcoin in an effort to keep more Russian capital onshore”. Meanwhile in China, Saxo Bank predicts a state-sanctioned virtual currency will be launched which requires less computing power – and less power – to mine.  Eventually, due to the “heavy hand of state intervention”, interest in cryptocurrencies decreases and “completely sidelines the Bitcoin and crypto phenomenon from a price speculation angle”.

Bitcoins and a market crash graphic

Financial experts are split over the ultimate fate of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, with some issuing grave warnings against investing while others highlight its potential.

Veteran investor Eric Schiffer has warned bitcoin could become the biggest financial danger of the 21st century, branding it a “financial bubble bigger than the tulip craze”.

He said: “I think bitcoin is a ‘tower of death’. It is going to result in the imminent death of your investment – a thermonuclear death.”

10,000 jobs Will Be Lost At Disney.. Somebody call the DON!

For Disney employees, the forecast on Friday was for pain. Lots of it. The expected synergies to come from Disney’s $52.4 billion purchase of most of Twenty-First Century Fox’s assets could mean job cuts of between 5,000 and 10,000 at the Mouse House once the deal closes, one media analyst said. Disney, in announcing the dramatic acquisition on Thursday, said it expected “synergies” in combining the Fox assets with its own to range up to $2 billion.

Synergies are often code for layoffs.

But BTIG media analyst Rich Greenfield, in a report, said the synergies could swell to $2.5 billion. The analyst explained that “a portion of the cost cuts will come from a reduction in film and television products as the combined company culls down to the best overall products with termination of projects resulting in less hiring.” To get to its $2 billion goal, Disney will have to cut well over 5,000 jobs, Greenfield said. That number could range as high as 10,000. Disney declined to comment on the job cut estimate. A source with knowledge of the deal said Greenfield “has zero Greenfield’s report also took aim at President Trump, who, according to White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, believes the media mega-deal “could be a great thing for jobs.” “We believe the vast majority of yesterday’s comments were #fakenews,” Greenfield shot back in his report, before turning to what he called another “disturbing” detail when it comes to the White House’s stance on the merger between AT&T and Time Warner. The Department of Justice is suing to block the massive $85.4 billion merger — which is the Trump administration’s first major antitrust enforcement action. “What makes yesterday’s Disney/Fox statements even more disturbing is that the government is suing to stop AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner,” Greenfield wrote on his firm’s blog Friday. The DOJ is suing to stop the AT&T-Time Warner deal, in part because it claims the combined firm would lead to higher prices. The analyst said the Disney-Fox deal “will most certainly lead to higher consumer prices, bigger and fatter video bundles, less upstart virtual multichannel video programming distributors competition and a meaningful reduction in jobs.”10

North Korea has stolen MILLIONS in cryptocurrencies, spy agency reveals

NORTH Korean hackers have stolen over £5million – now worth £62million – in cryptocurrencies in cyber attacks, it has been revealed.

It comes after experts revealed Kim Jong-un could be making a fortune with Bitcoin’s record-breaking surges using North Korean hackers to circumvent the sanctions placed on the despotic regime as the dictatorship continues its nuclear weapons programme. The £5.17million ($6.99million) includes operations that saw thefts from Yapizon, now called Yobit, and Coinis in April and September – both are exchanges of cryptocurrencies. The Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, stated that the £5million in cryptocurrencies are now worth a whopping £62million ($82.7million). The paper refers to the South’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) that revealed despot leader Kim Jong-un also requested £4.1million ($5.5million) from Bithumb in return for personal information the country had stole from the exchange.

Bitcoin

 

Hongkongers are going big on bitcoin

The massive rise in the cryptocurrency’s value has piqued investors’ interest, but insiders say many are not aware of what they are dealing with
 Bob Laberge, a data warehouse technical specialist in his 50s, invested in bitcoin for the first time on November 15 – when the digital currency was valued at about US$6,600 – knowing very little about it. He invested US$500 as a test – each individual bitcoin can be reduced into smaller pieces – and everything went smoothly.That US$500 investment is now worth about $1,350. Two weeks after his first punt Laberge decided to invest “tens of thousands more”. But when he did, the bitcoin exchange he was dealing with did not credit his bitcoin wallet for four days. “The way I dealt with the banks was exactly the mindset when I was getting into bitcoin,” Laberge, who is Canadian but lives in Hong Kong, said. He found a direct contact for the exchange’s compliance officer and was able get his bitcoin after filing some additional “know your customer” applications, through which the exchange strengthens its security by taking clients’ details. “For most exchanges it’s very difficult to get in touch with them. The only way to contact people, unlike a bank where you call their number and someone answers in a couple of minutes, is through a support ticket. And if they don’t answer the support ticket you are left hanging and it’s stressful when you’ve got a huge amount of money sitting there,” Laberge said. Laberge’s experience is not unusual for some new bitcoin users, but most are shocked when they are faced with this kind of scenario.

Bitcoin is the world’s best-known cryptocurrency. It is a secure digital token, which users store in digital wallets on phones or computers, to spend on all manner of items, mainly online but also at bricks-and-mortar shops. It is also prized as an investment, and its value is booming. Bitcoin’s price has shot up astronomically in the past year, from about US$1,000 per individual unit to as high as US$18,000, outperforming all other investments by a massive margin. Bitcoin bulls see the skyrocketing price and trading of bitcoin futures in the US, which began on December 11, as a rebuke to naysayers who had predicted its demise multiple times since its debut. Some traditional banking pundits have gone as far to say bitcoin could collapse the global economy. “There is certainly a big influx of new [bitcoin] users; the price increases give people an incentive to get in as fast as they can,” Hong Kong Bitcoin Association president Leo Weese said.