US oil production tops 10 million barrels a day for first time since 1970

Oil drill field pump
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U.S. oil production broke 10 million barrels a day for the first time in 48 years in November, according to new monthly data released by the government on Wednesday. While U.S. production has been rising as prices rose, the 10 million barrel mark is an important milestone that reinforces America’s place in the energy big leagues and also its aspiration to use its new oil dominance in diplomacy. The U.S. last produced 10 million barrels a day in November, 1970, just when production peaked before a very long decline, according to U.S. Energy Department monthly data. Unlike 1970, U.S. oil production in 2018 is on an upswing, and U.S. shale and other producers are expected to add more than 1 million barrels a day this year alone for an average production rate government forecasts put at 10.3 million barrels a day. “This is significant in market terms, and it’s very significant psychologically. The U.S. is back big time as an oil producer and could be by next year the largest in the world. We’re one of the big three now, and we could be number one,” said Daniel Yergin, vice chairman IHS Markit. Saudi Arabia was producing 10.6 million barrels a day before it cut back production to steady the oil price by reducing new supply, and Russia has been drilling about 11 million barrels a day. The U.S. produced 10.038 million barrels a day in November, and produced 10.044 million in November, 1970. In weekly EIA data that will be revised, the U.S. produced 9.92 million barrels a day last week, up sharply from 8.9 million barrels a day a year ago. “Just a decade ago, our net imports were 60 percent of total demand. Now, they’re 20 percent,” said Yergin. U.S. oil production, in fact, was half of what it is now a decade ago, during the financial crisis in 2008. But the high oil prices of 2008 were also the catalyst that propelled the U.S. shale industry, which has used evolving new technologies to extract oil from places once thought impossible.

Source: EIA

“The U.S. could add upwards of 2 million barrels a day from where we are today by the end of 2019,” said Yergin. Harold Hamm, Continental Resources CEO, said on CNBC Wednesday that the U.S. could be a net exporter of oil by 2020. “The Bakken’s demise was over exaggerated. The Bakken is back stronger than ever. The technology works better there than anywhere else,”  “What’s going to be very interesting is psychological when you hit that 10 million number, I think we’ve gone from energy dependence to self-sufficience to dominance,” said Helima Croft, head of commodities strategy at RBC. “When you think of yourself as dominant, that gives you the impetus for an even more active foreign policy.”

FBI says it has ‘grave concerns’ about accuracy of hotly debated FISA memo

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray

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Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray

The FBI on Wednesday said that a fiercely debated memo alleging abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in the Russia probe contains “material omissions of fact” that undermine its accuracy. The House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines this week to approve releasing the memo, assembled by panel Chairman Devin Nunes, to President Donald Trump and then to the public. The White House has not guaranteed that Trump will allow the memo to be released.

It is important to note that the statement was unsigned, not under the name of FBI Director Christopher Wray or anyone else. The New York Times later attributed the statement to Wray.

 

The statement is at odds with what White House chief of staff John Kelly said earlier Wednesday. The discrepancy is unusual. “It will be released here pretty quick, I think, and then the whole world can see it,” Kelly said in an interview with Fox News Radio.

The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI. We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to ensure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.

With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.

Various reports have said that Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein warned Kelly against releasing the memo.

U.S. washer tariffs put Samsung, LG supply chains through the wringer

FILE PHOTO: Samsung washing machines are seen in a store in Singapore January 26, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas White/File Photo

Last week’s decision by the U.S. government to impose tariffs of up to 50 percent on imports of washing machines and key components showed that wasn’t to be.

SEOUL (Reuters) – When South Korea’s Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics last year announced plans to build home appliance factories in the United States, they hoped to sidestep any fallout from President Donald Trump’s “America First” manufacturing and jobs mantra. The inclusion of hefty tariffs on components in particular had moved the goal posts in a long-running trade dispute, upending supply chains and threatening investment across other industries, officials from the companies and the South Korean government said.“It’s unprecedented and excessive, and will set alarm bells ringing for other companies doing businesses in the United States,” said one Samsung official, declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak to media.  After committing hundreds of millions of dollars to build the plants and bring jobs to South Carolina and Tennessee, the ruling caught the companies by surprise and was a “worst case” scenario, according to one executive. Samsung says it will use imported parts until its factory runs at full capacity and becomes ready to produce key parts, expected to be by the end of the year.Samsung, which relies on a sprawling manufacturing base in low-cost countries such as Vietnam has argued that a tight quota on overseas-made parts could deny it the supply chain flexibility it may need as its new U.S. production lines set up. The ruling on a quota for foreign components is also making other manufacturers and suppliers jittery.“Even if you bring your tier-1 supplier with you to … the U.S. manufacturing facilities, your tier-1 suppliers will have tier 2 and 3 suppliers which would source components from abroad. It makes it very complicated to calculate,” a senior executive at Korean automaker Hyundai Motor told Reuters.

 

Wal-Mart has announced thousands of layoffs since publicizing bonuses and benefits expansion

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Wal-Mart has announced bonuses and a minimum-wage increase along with layoffs.

Since Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced it would hand out bonuses and expand benefits to more than 1 million associates thanks to new tax reform measures, the retail giant has also laid out plans for store closures and thousands of layoffs at both the store and corporate level. Wal-Mart  confirmed about 1,000 layoffs in California on Monday, including 650 associates in Sam’s Club locations in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Orange County, and 359 at a Wal-Mart location in Sacramento. A company spokesperson said these cuts were part of the company’s effort to manage its fleet effectively. “We are working with our associates to help find them other local opportunities where possible, at either nearby clubs and stores, or elsewhere,” the company said in an email to MarketWatch. Last week, the company cut as many as 500 workers in the corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. More than 360 associates will be promoted into positions of “higher authority,” a company spokesperson said, with these promotions focused on areas of interest like online grocery. On Jan. 11, Wal-Mart announced that it would raise the minimum hourly wage for all associates to $11, expand maternity and parental leave benefits and offer a one-time bonus to eligible associates. Bonuses could total up to $1,000, but the maximum amount is reserved for those veterans with 20 or more years of service with the company. Wal-Mart said these benefits would impact more than 1 million hourly U.S. associates. The company had about 2.3 million associates around the world at the time of that announcement. “As you know, the president and Congress have approved a lower business tax rate,” wrote Chief Executive Doug McMillion in a note posted on the company website. “Given these changes, we have an opportunity to accelerate a few pieces of our investment plan. On the same day, it was revealed that Wal-Mart would cut about 10,000 jobs as a result of 63 Sam’s Club store closures.

SEC halts one of the largest ‘ICOs’ ever as it wades deeper into the murky world of cryptocurrency offerings

Jay Clayton, chairman of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Zach Gibson | Bloomberg | Getty Images Jay Clayton, chairman of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced Tuesday it has obtained a court order to halt and freeze the assets of what is likely the largest initial coin offering ever. The complaint was filed in Dallas, Texas, on Thursday and unsealed late Monday. The SEC said Dallas-based AriseBank “used social media, a celebrity endorsement, and other wide dissemination tactics to raise what it claims to be $600 million of its $1 billion goal in just two months.” The court approved an emergency asset freeze over AriseBank and its two co-founders. The SEC said that for the first time in connection to an ICO fraud, it has appointed a third-party custodian, or receiver, to secure the firm’s cryptocurrency holdings. Those assets include bitcoin, litecoin, bitshares, dogecoin and bitUSD. “The ICO is an illegal offering of securities because there is no registration filed or in effect with the SEC, nor is there an applicable exemption from registration,” the complaint said. Fundraisers for projects based on the blockchain technology behind bitcoin are called token sales or initial coin offerings. They have raised more than $3.7 billion, but more than 10 percent of those funds have been lost to hackers, according to a study from Ernst and Young. Filecoin, which is building a decentralized storage network, raised the equivalent of roughly $252 million in the largest ICO to date, according to financial research firm Autonomous Next. Overstock.com subsidiary tZero is in the middle of a $250 million token sale, down from initial plans to raise $500 million. The SEC alleges AriseBank “falsely stated that it purchased [a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation]-insured bank which enabled it to offer customers FDIC-insured accounts.” AriseBank calls itself a “decentralized bank” and announced Thursday it was correcting an announcement made the prior week about the acquisition of an FDIC-insured bank. Two websites for AriseBank were unavailable Tuesday morning, and lawyers for the firm couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The SEC seeks to recover the funds, and wants to bar the co-founders from serving as officers or directors of a public company, or offering digital securities in the future.

The good economy might not bail out Republicans in the midterms after all

Voters cast their ballots at the polling place at Fairfax Circle Baptist Church during Super Tuesday voting March 1, 2016 in Fairfax, United States.

In centering their midterm election strategy on a strong economy, Republicans face a challenge: history shows it doesn’t work. Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz has examined every midterm election since World War II. Among factors influencing partisan changes in the House, the state of the economy ranked low. “The correlation between economic indicators and seat-swings in midterm elections is very weak,” Abramowitz says. The president’s job approval rating, he adds, has been four times as powerful as economic growth in determining how his party fares. That helps explain why, despite solid growth, surging markets and falling unemployment, more than twice as many Republicans (34) as Democrats (15) have chosen to leave the House rather than seat re-election. Just 38 percent of Americans approve of President Donald Trump’s handling of his job in the Gallup poll preceding Tuesday night’s State of the Union, continuing his status as the least popular first-term chief executive in the history of survey research. Recent midterm elections demonstrate the point. Over the past half-century, the presidents who fared best in midterms during their second year were George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. For the elder Bush in 1990, the economy had fallen into recession. But following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, he boasted an 80 percent approval rating before his first State of the Union speech. His fellow Republicans went on to lose just eight seats, well below the average loss of 24.

Toys R Us poor holiday sales cast doubts on its future and could force renegotiation of loan terms

Goods at the Toys R Us store are marked down in price as the company faces bankruptcy.
Tony Margiocchi | Barcroft Images | Getty Images Goods at the Toys R Us store are marked down in price as the company faces bankruptcy.

Holiday sales this past year ballooned, but those riches didn’t extend to Toys R Us. The bankrupt toy store missed significantly on every number that mattered, sources say, likely forcing the retailer to renegotiate key lending terms. Sales were down more than hoped as was traffic and the amount of toys in stock it got out the door. Meanwhile, its profits were squeezed as Amazon and big-box retailers Target and Walmart slashed prices to reel in customers. For these retailers, toys could act as bait, with the hope that once shoppers came for the toys they would also purchase other items with higher profit margins. Toys R Us doesn’t have any such buffer. Toys R Us discounted roughly 10 percent more of its products in holiday 2017 compared with the prior year, according to Market Track. The company had a “material miss” on its holiday sales, said a person familiar with the results. This at the same time Amazon said it had its best year across the board. The poor holiday numbers may require Toys R Us to renegotiate the terms of its debt with its lenders, sources say. They will hover over Toys R Us as it works with debtholders over the next couple of weeks to draft its plans for moving forward. The lenders will have to determine if the Toys R Us business plan is supportable, said the sources. Toys R Us needs help from debtholders and the largest toy companies — Mattel and Hasbro — in order to emerge from bankruptcy protection by the summer as planned, sources say. Mattel and Hasbro need confidence not only in Toys R Us’ ability to emerge from bankruptcy, but also the retailer’s ability to escape the same fate twice. One Toys R Us bankruptcy filing already materially impacted both of their businesses.

US crude sinks 1.6%, settling at $64.50, amid broad sell-off in stocks and commodities

Oil
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

Oil prices fell on Tuesday, driven by ongoing evidence of rising U.S. crude output, while wary investors sold off stocks, bonds and commodities. U.S. West Texas Intermediate ended Tuesday’s trade down $1.06, or 1.6 percent, at $64.50 a barrel. Brent crude  fell 45 cents to $69.01 a barrel. “There are so many longs in the market that they’re now taking profits,” said Tariq Zahir, analyst at Tyche Capital Advisors, referring to traders who have placed wagers that oil prices will keep rising. “This could just be a one-day thing before we start to see a move to the upside again.” With oil’s negative correlation to the dollar reaching its strongest in a month, even continued signs of robust demand for crude were not enough to ward off profit taking following last week’s rise to three-year highs. “I do have the feeling that market optimism pushed prices perhaps a little bit too high, but … as long as (inventories) continue to decline, for me, personally, I’m more and more looking at a ‘buy-on-dips’ strategy, so I’m looking for a correction lower,” ABN Amro chief energy economist Hans van Cleef said. Oil’s inverse relationship to the dollar, whereby a stronger currency makes it more expensive for non-U.S. investors to buy dollar-denominated assets, has reasserted itself this week. Expectations for U.S. inventories to rise for the first time in 11 weeks may also be keeping oil under pressure, according to a preliminary poll by Reuters on Monday. U.S. production is already on par with that of Saudi Arabia, the biggest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Only Russia produces more, averaging 10.98 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2017.”The global trend seems to be indicating more oil is coming into the market despite best efforts by the Saudis and Russians to curtail output,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York.

U.S. output has jumped more than 17 percent since mid-2016 and is expected to exceed 10 million bpd soon.

The rising tide of U.S. oil output comes after prices rose following an agreement by OPEC producers, along with Russia and other countries, on output curbs. “As drilling activity now picks up again, oil production looks set to increase in the coming months. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects production in the U.S. to grow by just shy of 1 million bpd this year,” Commerzbank said in a note. “Since oil production is also on the increase elsewhere especially in Canada and Brazil non-OPEC supply is even likely to outpace global demand. This means OPEC will lose market shares and have no scope whatsoever for stepping up production.”

Experts question Trump decision to hold off on Russian sanctions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision not to impose sanctions on Russia for now, under a law overwhelmingly passed by Congress, represents a missed opportunity to deter the Kremlin’s aggressive behavior, former U.S. officials and Russia specialists said on Tuesday.

The Trump administration late on Monday said it would not immediately impose sanctions under the law, designed to punish Moscow for meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Russia denies doing so.

The administration also published a list of Russian oligarchs who could be sanctioned, as required by the law.Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday that the administration could still impose sanctions. “This should in no way be interpreted as we’re not putting sanctions on any of the people in that report,” Mnuchin told the Senate Banking Committee, referring to the list of oligarchs. Under the law, the administration faced a Monday deadline to impose sanctions on anyone who was determined to have conducted significant business with Russian defense and intelligence sectors. Those sectors already have been sanctioned for their alleged role in the U.S. presidential election. “I think the administration missed an opportunity to extend the use of sanctions” to deter Russia, said retired ambassador Daniel Fried, formerly the State Department’s top sanctions official. The report on Russian oligarchs “seemed to be assembled in haste, and seemed to be close to a cut-and-paste job,” said Fried, now at the Atlantic Council think tank. Trump criticized the sanctions law, which Congress passed last year with enough backing to override any presidential veto, and has seemed unenthusiastic about implementing it. In a statement late on Monday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the law by itself was deterring Russian defense sales. “Since the enactment of the … legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions,” she said.

While that explanation is “not preposterous,” said Lawrence Freedman, emeritus professor at King’s College London, “the main concern is clearly not wanting to upset Russia more.”

Second Trump-Russia dossier being assessed by FBI confirms kinky shit!

YOU need to use your brain. Listen to what the man says…. Listen to what he admits he does,,,,,,, It is plausible that SEX has compromised him with the Russians. We just got news of payoffs to a pron star. Connect the dots!

Exclusive: memo written by former journalist Cody Shearer independently confirms some of the allegations made by ex-spy Christopher Steele
Trump and his supporters have been seeking to cast doubt on the credibility of Mueller’s investigation.

 

The FBI inquiry into alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 US presidential election has been given a second memo that independently set out some of the same allegations made in a dossier by Christopher Steele, the British former spy. The second memo was written by Cody Shearer, a controversial political activist and former journalist who was close to the Clinton White House in the 1990s. Unlike Steele, Shearer does not have a background in espionage, and his memo was initially viewed with scepticism, not least because he had shared it with select media organisations before the election. However, the Guardian has been told the FBI investigation is still assessing details in the ‘Shearer memo’ and is pursuing intriguing leads. One source with knowledge of the inquiry said the fact the FBI was still working on it suggested investigators had taken an aspect of it seriously.

It raises the possibility that parts of the Steele dossier, which has been derided by Trump’s supporters, may have been corroborated by Shearer’s research, or could still be.

The Shearer memo was provided to the FBI in October 2016. It was handed to them by Steele – who had been given it by an American contact after the FBI requested the former MI6 agent provide any documents or evidence that could be useful in its investigation, according to multiple sources. The Guardian was told Steele warned the FBI he could not vouch for the veracity of the Shearer memo, but that he was providing a copy because it corresponded with what he had separately heard from his own independent sources.

Among other things, both documents allege Donald Trump was compromised during a 2013 trip to Moscow that involved lewd acts in a five-star hotel.

The Shearer memo cites an unnamed source within Russia’s FSB, the state security service. The Guardian cannot verify any of the claims. People who know Shearer say he is not just a Democratic party hack and there is no evidence that his memo was ever sought by Clinton campaign officials. Sources say that while he lacks the precision and polish of a seasoned former spy like Steele, Shearer has also been described as having a large network of sources around the world and the independent financial means to pursue leads. Steele’s dossier, his motives for writing it and his decision to share it remain controversial among Republicans. He says he approached the FBI about concerns he had about links between Russia and the Trump campaign after he was commissioned to investigate the matter by a private investigative firm called Fusion GPS on behalf of the firm’s clients. Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, told congressional investigators that Steele approached the FBI out of a sense of duty and concern for US national security. Nick Bit: Don’t let them wave the flag and a make American great T shirt and make a idiot out  of you. FOR A FACT Trump is a kinki mother. Pron stars and other have come forward…. YOU HEARD him talk about women on his little bus trip. Here is the real deal the inside story. FOR SURE WITHOUT A DOUBT TRUMP HAS BEEN COMPRIMISED BY THE RUSSIANS. They have video of him doing the most kinky things imaginable including yellow rain. I DON’T GIVE A SHIT!!! The problem is Trump is desperate for this NOT TO COME OUT! therefore he has been compromised by the Russians.. More on this in todays Radio Free Wall Street

 

Democrats have said the campaign against Steele is part of an effort to seek to discredit him in order to shift attention away from allegations about Trump and Russia.

 

Harley-Davidson Closing Plant in Missouri as Shipments Slump

Image: Harley-Davidson Closing Plant in Missouri as Shipments Slump
The logo of Harley-Davidson is pictured at the 38th Bangkok International Motor Show in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 28, 2017. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Harley-Davidson Inc. is closing its plant in Kansas City and consolidating manufacturing operations, the company said on Tuesday, noting that shipments fell to their lowest level in six years. The Milwaukee-based company forecast a drop in shipments to dealers this year as it expects retail sales in the United States – the company’s biggest market – to dip. Despite generally higher U.S. consumer spending, Harley is grappling with an aging customer base and younger, more price-sensitive buyers hesitant to embrace the iconic brand as previous generations have done.Its shares fell 8.5 percent to $50.59 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock fell nearly 13 percent in 2017.  Harley said it expects to ship 231,000 to 236,000 motorcycles this year after shipping 241,498 vehicles in 2017, the lowest number since 2011. That is at the low end of its previous forecast of 241,000 to 246,000 units. In the December quarter, Harley’s U.S. sales declined 11.1 percent from the year before and overseas sales dipped 7.7 percent. Overall sales in the quarter were down 9.6 percent. As it adjusts to lower demand, Harley said it will consolidate work at its motorcycle assembly plant in Kansas City, Missouri, into the one in York, Pennsylvania, eliminating about 800 jobs at the Kansas City plant but adding 450 at the York facility.Harley said the move would result in restructuring costs of $17 million to $200 million through 2019 but would save the company $65 million to $75 million a year after 2020.  It also announced the closure of its wheel operations in Adelaide, Australia, which will affect 100 employees.

 

U.S. President Donald Trump last year praised the motorcycle maker for its U.S. manufacturing presence and blamed global tariffs for making it “very hard” for the company to do business overseas.

 

The company has set out a turnaround strategy to attract 2 million new riders in the next decade by introducing new models.On Tuesday, Harley said it would invest $25 million to $50 million a year over the next several years to develop electric motorcycle technology and was on target to launch its first electric bike within 18 months.  Harley’s adjusted earnings for the fourth quarter, excluding some items, were 47 cents per share, just ahead of Wall Street’s average forecast of 45 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Revenue from motorcycles and related products rose to $1.05 billion from $933 million.

Jeff Bezos and his two friends just spooked health care stocks

Health care stocks came down with a bad case of competition-itis.
CVS-Aetna merger could transform health care industry
CVS-Aetna merger could transform health care industry

Shares of leading insurers and drug stores tanked after Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway announced they would enter the insurance business. They didn’t offer many details, but investors swiftly punished traditional health care companies anyway because of fears that the new venture could disrupt the industry. Top insurer UnitedHealth fell 3%, helping drive a more than 300-point drop in the Dow. Two other big insurers, Cigna and Anthem (ANT  dropped more than 5%. Aetna ( and Humana ( were each down about 3%. Drug store giants and Walgreens both declined more than 4%. Pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts plummeted nearly 7%. The clear worry: The alliance of Buffett, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon is only the beginning of big changes for the insurance business. “This is the start of a restructuring of the health care industry. This could be the catalyst for something bigger,” said Chuck Self, chief investment officer with iSectors. “It’s part of the Amazon-ization of the nation, but it’s now clearly more than just Amazon.” In some respects, the entry of big new corporate players into health care could be more disruptive than Obamacare ever was — or President Trump’s efforts to neuter it. But other analysts wondered whether the market was overreacting. It’s unclear just what Berkshire Hathaway Amazon and JPMorgan Chase plan to offer their employees — and how regulators will respond. “Considering the regulatory burden around every aspect of healthcare any new entrant in the space is at a huge disadvantage,” Moody’s vice president Mickey Chadha wrote in a report. Big insurers, pharmacies and drug distributors “already have large scale,” Chadha said. That allows them to negotiate for better drug prices with pharmaceutical giants. What’s more, some of the big health care companies are getting even bigger — and more deals could be on the way after CVS agreed last year to buy Aetna for $69 billion. That merger has led to speculation that other insurers could be a good fit for Walgreens as well as Walmart which operates a lucrative pharmacy business. So even though the threat from a Berkshire-Amazon-JPMorgan partnership is formidable, health care’s leading players aren’t exactly tiny companies that will roll over easily in the face of new competition.

S&P 500 snaps its longest streak ever without back-to-back 0.5% declines

Pull back
Tim Graham | Getty Images

The S&P 500 concluded Tuesday its longest stretch ever without back-to-back declines of at least half a percent. The broad index went 310 trading days without consecutive pullbacks of that magnitude, before falling 0.7 percent on Monday and 1 percent on Tuesday, according to data from Bespoke Investment Group. “Translation- bulls have been spoiled,” Paul Hickey, the company’s co-founder, said in a note Tuesday.

Source: Bespoke Investment Group

Stock investors had enjoyed an unprecedented period of low market volatility prior to this sell-off. The Cboe Volatility index  widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, closed below 10 more than 50 timse last year. It also failed to break above 20 at any time in 2017. Equities have been under pressure during the past two days as fears of rising inflation pushed the U.S. 10-year yield to its highest levels since 2014, thus giving investors pause about the market’s rally. Several strategists have also began calling for a pullback. Last week, Stifel strategist Barry Bannister predicted the Federal Reserve will cause a correction this quarter as it leads other central banks into tighter monetary policy. Meanwhile, a Goldman Sachs strategist said Monday there is a “high probability” the stock market experiences a correction in the coming months. Equities had kicked off 2018 with a bang. The S&P 500 had risen 7.5 percent prior to this week’s pullback. The index remains up 5.7 percent for the young year.

Billionaire investor Howard Marks on stocks: ‘This is not the time to take on more risk’

Howard Marks, co-chairman of Oaktree Capital Management
Billionaire investor Howard Marks: I wouldn’t call this market euphoria Howard Marks warned investors about investing more funds in the stock market at its current level.

“We are living in a low return world, characterized by significant uncertainty,” Marks said on CNBC’s “Halftime Report” Tuesday. “This is not the time to take on more risk. Things have been going awful well for almost 10 years. That’s not the time to turn up the wick.” The investor noted the market’s strong performance of a nearly 25 percent return in the past 12 months and the historic low levels of volatility. He said some of the tax cut bill’s benefits may already be discounted in the rally. “Is [the market] a bargain? Unlikely,” he said. The Oaktree co-chairman also cautioned his investors over the market’s elevated valuations last week.

“Most valuation parameters are either the richest ever … or among the highest in history,” Marks wrote in a note to clients Jan. 23. “In the past, levels like these were followed by downturns. Thus a decision to invest today has to rely on the belief that ‘it’s different this time.'”

Marks is known for his prescient investment memos, which warned about the financial crisis and the dot-com bubble implosion. Oaktree Capital has $100 billion of assets under management as of December 2017, according to its website.

There’s a Russia-sized cloud looming over Trump’s first State of the Union address

President Donald Trump sits at his desk after signing directives to impose tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, January 23, 2018.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters President Donald Trump sits at his desk after signing directives to impose tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, January 23, 2018
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The Russia scandal grew to even bigger dimensions this week, and it could not have come at a worse time for President Donald Trump. Fresh off a fairly well-received, if unexciting, sojourn to the globalist-friendly World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump is due to deliver his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. Yet the latest developments in the ongoing Russia investigation, at home and abroad, threaten to overshadow the president’s speech. Monday brought two major developments connected to the ongoing probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Trump’s camp and the Kremlin — and in both cases, it looks like Trump got exactly what he wanted, despite the backlash they generated.First, Andrew McCabe stepped down immediately as deputy director of the FBI, reportedly because he felt pressured by the bureau’s director, Christopher Wray, to take a demotion ahead of an inspector general’s report on the FBI’s investigations of both major party candidates in the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump has frequently targeted McCabe, accusing him of political bias toward Hillary Clinton, the president’s Democratic rival in the general election. McCabe’s wife reportedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from a group tied to Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe to help her bid for Virginia state senate in 2015. McCabe’s abrupt departure, which happened two months before his planned retirement, came a week after reports surfaced that Wray had threatened to resign due to pressure from Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire the deputy director. McCabe, who took over as acting FBI director after Trump fired James Comey in May until Wray was confirmed in August, is the second man who served as head of the bureau under Trump to be out of a job.

The president’s critics, such as former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, seized on the news as yet another instance of Trump improperly intimidating the Justice Department.

Continue reading “There’s a Russia-sized cloud looming over Trump’s first State of the Union address”

Andrew McCabe, FBI deputy director, quits after Trump criticism

Image copyright Reuter
Image caption The president complained that Mr McCabe’s wife had received donations from “Clinton Puppets”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s deputy director, whom US President Donald Trump repeatedly accused of political bias, has resigned. Andrew McCabe was forced to step down ahead of his official retirement date in March, reports CBS News. His exit from the top law enforcement agency comes a week after a report that Mr Trump wanted him out. It was also reported last week that the president had asked Mr McCabe during an Oval Office meeting whom he voted for. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Monday’s daily press briefing: “This decision was not made by the White House.” “The president wasn’t part of this decision making process,” she added. Mr McCabe briefly became acting FBI director last May after Mr Trump fired its previous chief, James Comey. Mr Comey had been overseeing the bureau’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Mr Trump eventually nominated Christopher Wray as the new FBI director, and he was confirmed by the Senate in August. Mr Wray recently threatened to resign after being pressured by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire Mr McCabe, Washington DC news outlet Axios reported last week. Mr McCabe, 49, who was already expected to step down in early 2018 upon becoming eligible for his pension, is now on leave ahead of his official retirement date, CBS News reports. Andrew McCabe had become a lightning rod for Republican criticism of the FBI’s handling of the investigation into possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. Now he’s heading for – or, perhaps, being pushed toward – the exits a bit earlier than he planned. Donald Trump had already been explicit in his criticism of the bureau’s second-in-command during the tumultuous 2016 presidential election season. In a late December tweet, the president essentially counted the days until Mr McCabe’s planned springtime retirement. FBI Director Christopher Wray reportedly threatened to resign rather than sack his deputy director. Something changed. Perhaps the political pressure from Republicans became too much. Or maybe, as Democrats have warned, this is the beginning of a political-tinged purge of the nation’s top law-enforcement agency.  The Republican president has previously criticised Mr McCabe because his wife, Dr Jill McCabe, ran as a Democrat for a Senate seat in Virginia. Recently released text messages indicate FBI officials felt Mr McCabe should have recused himself earlier from the Clinton email investigation owing to his wife’s political aspirations. In a 28 October 2016 exchange, FBI agent Peter Strzok wrote to colleague Lisa Page that the bureau’s chief of staff “very clearly 100% believes that Andy should be recused because of the ‘perception'”. Mr McCabe eventually did recuse himself from the Clinton probe a week before the November 2016 election.

CIA chief says China ‘as big a threat to US’ as Russia

Chinese efforts to exert covert influence over the West are just as concerning as Russian subversion, the director of the CIA has said. Mike Pompeo told the BBC that the Chinese “have a much bigger footprint” to do this than the Russians do. As examples he cited efforts to steal US commercial information and infiltration of schools and hospitals – and this extended to Europe and the UK. Mr Pompeo was a hardline Republican congressman before becoming CIA chief.

  • He expected Russia to try to disrupt US mid-term elections in November 2018. There had been no significant diminishing of Russian attempts at subversion in Europe and the US.
  • North Korea may have the ability to strike the US with nuclear missiles “in a handful of months”
  • Recent claims in the book Fire and Fury that Mr Trump was not up to the job were “drivel”.

“Think about the scale of the two economies,” Mr Pompeo said of Russia and China. “The Chinese have a much bigger footprint upon which to execute that mission than the Russians do.” The US spy chief told the BBC that countries could collectively do more to combat Chinese efforts to exert power over the West. “We can watch very focused efforts to steal American information, to infiltrate the United States with spies – with people who are going to work on behalf of the Chinese government against America,” he said. “We see it in our schools. We see it in our hospitals and medicals systems. We see it throughout corporate America. It’s also true in other parts of the world… including Europe and the UK.” China’s reach, the CIA director says, ranges from traditional espionage (human and cyber) through allegations it has used stolen intellectual property to helps its businesses. But it also includes the way in which it uses its economic weight to influence American companies seeking access to its marke. The CIA director said that Iran firing missiles at Saudi Arabia through a proxy force in Yemen was “unacceptable” and constituted “acts of war”.

Italy’s election is a ‘threat’ to stability , minister says

Calenda: Key priorities would be the same as Padoan’s

Calenda: Gentiloni more suited than me to be prime minister

March’s general election in Italy poses a threat to stability at a time when the economy is performing well, according to the country’s economic development minister. Carlo Calenda told CNBC on Monday that the prospect of a hung parliament following the March 4 election, when it is expected that no one party will gain an absolute majority allowing it to govern alone, was a risk. “It’s a threat and it’s clear that once we have a system that is based on three pillars (political parties) that this is very difficult to find a majority,” he said. “Although, I have to say that there is a government today that is in place, that has the trust of the Italian citizen, and I think that this is a positive backstop.” Calenda is an independent politician who first took the economic development ministry job in 2016, under the previous Matteo Renzi government. He stayed on in the role until December 2016, when Paolo Gentiloni took office after Renzi’s resignation following a failed referendum over constitutional reforms. Calenda has been tipped as a future finance minister and even a future prime minister of Italy, although he ruled himself out of the running for the top job when speaking to CNBC. A boy waves the Italian flag in front of the Ancient Colusseum “No, I think Gentiloni is much better and more skilled than me in doing this job. I’m more technical in working in the area of the economy and economic development… It is not something that is going to happen,” Calenda said. He expressed more interest in the finance ministry should current Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan leave the role. “If I share the program of the next government — because I’m free to go back to the private sector where I belong and this has been a fantastic experience (being in politics) — but what is very important for me is to remain free and independent,” he said. Calenda said he would prioritize boosting investment and reducing the deficit if he did become finance minister. Should the March election produce a hung parliament, there are concerns that any delays in forming a government could lead to political uncertainty and economic instability for the euro zone’s third-largest economy. Calenda said the Italian economy was performing well, but challenges surrounding productivity, labor markets and the banking system — including Italy’s banks large amount of non-performing loans — remained. Now what we need to do is (make) more companies to follow the same kind of path and this is our crucial task,” he said, adding that dealing with Italy’s non-performing loans was also the country’s “most important challenge.”

Financial risk facing China worse than in US before global crash, former finance minister says

Systems have become distorted and messy, National Social Security Fund Council chairman Lou Jiwei says

The level of risk facing China’s financial system could be higher than was seen in the United States before the global crash, according to a former Chinese finance minister.Speaking at a forum in Beijing over the weekend, Lou Jiwei, now chairman of the National Social Security Fund Council, also described the state of China’s financial sector as “messy”.

“The real risks and returns can only be determined after looking into the underlying assets.”

A transcript of Lou’s speech was published by Chinese business magazine Caixin, while his comments were also widely reported by other Chinese media, including Economic Information Daily. The 68-year-old, who helped to shape China’s economic reforms that began in the 1980s and served as finance minister from 2013-16, has been an outspoken figure since leaving the main policymaking arena and is generally regarded as a reformist. The country’s financial system had become “severely distorted”, he said, adding that the “likelihood of China generating systematic financial risks is pretty big”. The distortion was exemplified by the high cost of financing in China despite the loose monetary environment, Lou said. “China’s ratio of M2 [a broad measure of money supply] to gross domestic product has surpassed 200 per cent, which is more than twice that of the United States, yet the average Shanghai interbank offered rate is 4.09 per cent, far higher than the 1.1 per cent in the US.” According to official figures, the M2 money supply at the end of December was 167.68 trillion yuan (US$26.5 trillion), or 203 per cent of China’s nominal GDP in 2017.  Lou said also that the slowdown in growth seen in recent years suggested that the effect of monetary expansion on the economy was weakening.

‘Furious’ Melania was blindsided by report of Trump’s payoff to porn star: New York Times

The US First Lady cancelled a trip to Davos with her husband after news broke of his alleged affair with Stormy Daniels, but she is due to attend his first State of the Union address

Reports that porn star Stormy Daniels had been paid to keep quiet about an alleged affair she had with President Donald Trump over a decade ago blindsided and infuriated first lady Melania Trump, according to a report.The first lady has kept a low profile since The Wall Street Journal reported that Michael Cohen, the president’s lawyer, paid Daniels US$130,000 to cover up the affair in exchange for her silence just before the 2016 election.  She was furious with Trump amid the payoff reports, sources close to the couple reported. Melania Trump was absent from her husband’s trip to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum last week – but will be attending the president’s first State of the Union address on Tuesday, according to the Times. After skipping the Davos forum, she instead visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, before heading to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on Thursday.There, she spent part of her trip relaxing at a spa, the Times reported. Melania Trump had defended her husband even after he bragged about “grabbing women by the p****” in an Access Hollywood tape or when multiple women accused him of sexual harassment. But the first lady and her team were silent after the Daniels story broke. Her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham later defended the first lady after rumours swirled about her whereabouts. “The laundry list of salacious & flat-out false reporting about Mrs. Trump by tabloid publications & TV shows has seeped into ‘main stream media’ reporting. She is focused on her family & role as FLOTUS – not the unrealistic scenarios being peddled daily by the fake news,” Grisham tweeted Friday. Cohen has “vehemently” denied the affair or making any payment as reported by The Wall Street Journal. Daniels has acquired a measure of mainstream celebrity. Interviewed by CBS on Thursday, she refused to answer questions on the subject. She has been booked to appear on Jimmy Kimmel’s show after Trump’s state of the union address on Tuesday. Nick Bit: I’ll bet you that put a lot of heat in the ti-pie. Well look at the good part. Trump will have a lot more time to Twit from his bed!

CIA chief: Russians will meddle in coming US election

CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Russia will target US midterm elections later this year as part of the Kremlin’s attempt to influence domestic politics across the West, and warned the world had to do more to push back against Chinese meddling.  Russia has been accused of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the allegations, which Moscow denies, and whether there was any collusion involving President Donald Trump’s associates. In an interview with the BBC aired on Tuesday, US intelligence chief Pompeo said Russia had a long history of information campaigns and said its threat would not go away. We can watch very focused efforts to steal American information, to infiltrate the United States with spies Asked if Russia would try to influence the midterm elections, he said: “Of course. I have every expectation that they will continue to try to do that. “But I am confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election. That we’ll push back in a way that is sufficiently robust that the impact they have on our election won’t be great.” He also said the Chinese posed a threat of equal concern, and were “very active” with a world class cyber capability. “We can watch very focused efforts to steal American information, to infiltrate the United States with spies, with people who are going to work on behalf of the Chinese government against America,” he said. “We see it in our schools, in our hospitals and medical systems, we see it throughout corporate America. These efforts we have to all be more focused on. We have to do better at pushing back against Chinese efforts to covertly influence the world.”

The Kremlin, which under Vladimir Putin has clawed back some of the global influence lost when the Soviet Union collapsed, has denied meddling in elections in the West. It says anti-Russian hysteria is sweeping through the United States and Europe. In the interview, Pompeo also repeated his message that North Korea was close to developing missiles which could be used in a nuclear attack on the United States. “I think that we collectively, the United States and our intelligence partners around the world, have developed a pretty clear understanding of [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un’s capability,” he

House votes to release Nunes memo


As President Trump traveled to Davos last week aboard Air Force One, he was furious that the Department of Justice had warned that releasing a Republican memo from the House Intelligence Committee would be reckless, according to a source familiar with the matter. There were several phone calls about this issue to the Justice Department, including at least one call between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House chief of staff John Kelly. The memo, spearheaded by committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-California), alleges the FBI abused the FISA surveillance law over its use of the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia as part of the case to obtain a FISA warrant for former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. It cites the role of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and outgoing deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe for their roles in overseeing aspects of the investigation, according to a source briefed on the matter. The committee could vote as early as this evening to publicly release the memo. However, the committee has yet to tell its members whether it will hold such a vote.

US issues ‘Putin list’ of 210 top Russians but avoids more sanctions

Image caption Roman Abramovich (L) and Dmitry Medvedev are on the list

Congress passed the law in August imposing massive new sanctions against Russians, although President Donald Trump had opposed it. And is not enforcing it

The US has published a list of 114 Russian politicians and 96 oligarchs, some close to the president, as part of a sanctions law aimed at punishing Russia for meddling in the US election. The US stressed those named had not been hit with new sanctions, although some have already been targeted. Congress passed the sanctions law in August. President Donald Trump signed it while making his reservations clear. The Kremlin said the list could damage the reputation of those named. The good news for the Kremlin: this isn’t a sanctions list. But the good news ends there. Those Russian officials and oligarchs named by the US Treasury will worry their inclusion could signal sanctions in the future. The list reads like a Who’s Who of the Russian political elite and business world. Moscow won’t want that to become a Who’s Sanctioned. Informally known as the “Putin list”, those named by the US Treasury include 42 aides of President Vladimir Putin and cabinet ministers such as Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, along with top spy agency and business officials.  Among the high-profile oligarchs named are Roman Abramovich, Oleg Deripaska and Alisher Usmanov.
Under the US law, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (Caatsa), the list had to be delivered by Monday and it was released about 10 minutes before midnight.

Analysts say the timing reflects Mr Trump’s coolness towards the law and his opposition to the need to punish more Russians with sanctions.

The US Treasury document itself stresses: “It is not a sanctions list, and the inclusion of individuals or entities… does not and in no way should be interpreted to impose sanctions on those individuals or entities.” Earlier in the day, the US government argued the Caatsa law had already pushed governments around the world to cancel deals with Russia worth billions, suggesting that more sanctions were not required. There are 210 names on the US Treasury’s “Putin List”. Some individuals there have already been sanctioned. The others may worry that inclusion in the list means they could be sanctioned in the future.
— Steve Rosenberg (@BBCSteveR) January 30, 2018

 

Room Service May Come by Robot

Hotels around the country are introducing robots to handle repetitive tasks like room service deliveries, entertaining guests, and even giving directions.

Pepper, the Softbank Robotics humanoid robot at the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas.CreditLeinani Shak Photography

US Treasury says government borrowing will hit 8-year high

WASHINGTON (AP) — With the government’s budget deficit rising, the Treasury Department announced Monday that it expects to borrow $441 billion in the current January-March quarter, the largest amount in eight years. The Treasury said this figure compares to actual borrowing of $282 billion in the October-December quarter. It will be the largest borrowing need since the government borrowed $483 billion in the January-March quarter of 2010, a period when the government was using stimulus spending to try to lift the country out of the Great Recession and provide support to the banking system after the worst financial crisis in seven decades.The government’s borrowing needs have been rising as federal deficits have increased. The deficit for the 2017 budget year, which ended last September, totaled $665.8 billion. Private forecasters believe this year’s deficit will climb to around $765 billion, and some are forecasting deficits for next year could once again top $1 trillion. Those projections reflect growing costs for Social Security and Medicare as the baby boom generation retires and the costs of the big tax cut that President Donald Trump pushed through Congress last month, a package estimated to boost deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next decade. To cope with the higher borrowing needs, Treasury has asked Congress to raise the borrowing limit, which is currently $20.5 trillion. The government has continued borrowing money during the impasse but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s will run out of room to use various bookkeeping maneuvers to stay under the current debt limit probably by early March. Treasury on Wednesday will release the specific details of what types of securities it plans to sell this quarter to meet its borrowing needs.

Goldman Sachs: Autos to hurt the most if Trump pulls out of NAFTA

An employee works on a Ford Expedition sports utility vehicle on the assembly line at the Ford Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, Kentucky.
Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images An employee works on a Ford Expedition sports utility vehicle on the assembly line at the Ford Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, Kentucky.

Goldman Sachs warned investors that holding stocks with Mexico exposure could backfire if President Donald Trump decides to pull the U.S. out of NAFTA. “Stocks with high Mexico exposure have lagged the S&P 500 by 500 basis points since November alongside rising trade uncertainty,” David Kostin, Goldman Sachs chief U.S. equity strategist, wrote Friday. “Among industries, autos appear to face the largest risk from NAFTA withdrawal. Autos make up the largest portion of trade with Mexico by a wide margin and face high tariffs outside of trade agreements.” While automobiles may be uniquely vulnerable to a departure from the North American Free Trade Agreement, Kostin listed other major industries that could fall victim to such a withdrawal.

The ECB and the euro are the only glue holding parts of Europe together

Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank.
Getty Images Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank. Many German political observers estimate that, under the best circumstances, their country is unlikely to have a new three-party coalition government before Easter — April 1.

They realize that this might be an optimistic forecast given the fundamental differences separating those who want a status quo stability (two right-wing parties) and a radical change of “governing culture” (the left-wing Social Democratic Party of Germany).

Expectations are so dire, and so low, that the unfolding political events in Germany could mean the end of stability in the entire European Union. 

In spite of that, the euro was soaring last Thursday to $1.2537 during the press conference at the European Central Bank. That was the highest reading since the middle of December 2014. And that had little to do with the talking down of the dollar by a U.S. delegation having fun in the Alps. As of last Friday, the euro was up 16 percent against the dollar and 5.4 percent in trade-weighted terms since the Trump administration came to power a year ago. That puzzling paradox of a strong currency in a politically disintegrating economic system owes mainly to the euro area’s improving cyclical growth dynamics, engineered by a supportive monetary policy, and to trading bets ignoring the convulsions of the European project. The project in question has been a difficult work-in-progress for the past 59 years, as the relentless French-German rivalry failed to define mutually acceptable terms for a fairy tale called the European economic and political union. The euro is a result of such a political struggle between the two nations: Fearful of an overwhelming power of a reunited Germany, France insisted on a monetary union to dilute the influence of its erstwhile arch-enemy across the Rhine. Reluctantly, Germany accepted to part with the Deutsche mark while imposing a legal and institutional infrastructure that would make the euro a clone of it. And to make sure that happened, Germany dictated the rules for the ECB — a supra-national institution and the world’s only genuinely independent monetary authority.

Continue reading “The ECB and the euro are the only glue holding parts of Europe together”

U.S. consumer spending rises; savings drop to 10-year low

Customers shop in the produce section at the Whole Foods grocery story in Ann Arbor, Michigan, March 8, 2012. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer spending rose solidly in December as demand for goods and services increased, but the gain came at the expense of savings, which dropped to a 10-year low in a troubling sign for future consumption and economic growth.

The Commerce Department said on Monday that consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, increased 0.4 percent last month after an upwardly revised 0.8 percent increase in November.

Households continued to dip into savings to maintain spending amid sluggish income growth. Savings are now at levels last seen in December 2007, when the economy slipped into recession, and are a red flag for both consumer spending and economic growth.

Savings fell to $351.6 billion in December from $365.1 billion in the prior month. They declined to $485.8 billion in 2017, the lowest level since 2007, from $680.6 billion in 2016. The saving rate dropped to 2.4 percent, the lowest level since September 2005, from 2.5 percent in November. It decreased to 3.4 percent in 2017, the lowest level since 2007, from 4.9 percent in 2016. Personal income rose 0.4 percent last month after advancing 0.3 percent in November. Wages increased 0.5 percent last month. Income rose 3.1 percent in 2017, picking up from 2.4 percent in 2016.

 

The so-called core PCE increased 1.5 percent in the 12 months through December after a similar rise in November. The core PCE has missed the Fed’s 2 percent target since mid-2012.

Ken Starr: ‘It Would Have Been Armageddon’ If Trump Fired Mueller

Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” while discussing the report that President Donald Trump tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, former independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton Ken Starr said while it would not be obstruction of justice it would have been “Armageddon.” Starr said, “He can fire Jim Comey, or he can ask for Mueller to be fired for any reason. The president’s power is extremely broad. I have a different view of what would constitute obstruction of justice as long as he’s not engaged in discrimination or accepting bribes and the like. I have a very different perspective and a much more robust view of presidential power than many of the folks who have been speaking to this. But, that having been said, it would have been extremely unwise, and Senator Graham hit the nail on the head. It would have been Armageddon.”

Freed Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed says corruption detention was a ‘misunderstanding’

Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed in detention

 

Saudi Arabian billionaire businessman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has been freed after a high-profile detention during a crackdown on corruption, describing his arrest as a “misunderstanding.” Speaking to Reuters just ahead of his release, Alwaleed said that there were no charges against him following his arrest as part of a nationwide crackdown on corruption last November. “There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government. Rest assured this is a clean operation that we have and we’re just in discussion with the government on various matters that I cannot divulge right now. But rest assured we are at the end of the whole story. And I’m very comfortable because I’m in my country, I’m in my city, so I feel at home. It’s no problem at all. Everything’s fine,” he said.  In the November crackdown, the Saudi government arrested and detained several hundred businessmen, senior officials and Saudi royals like Alwaleed, many within the Ritz-Carlton hotel. Multiple reports, citing anonymous sources, have suggested that detainees handed over assets in order to buy their freedom. Alwaleed, the billionaire owner of international investment company Kingdom Holding, told Reuters that he had accepted the interview request with the news agency because he was upset by media reports that had suggested he’d been sent to prison and tortured. “All lies. It’s very unfortunate,” he said. The crackdown was overseen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is leading a reform drive in the country aimed at diversifying the economy away from oil and reforming Saudi society. Alwaleed told Reuters that there was “not necessarily” a settlement but added that he couldn’t divulge any information as to the terms of his release. However, he said that a Bloomberg report that the government wanted a “big percentage of Kingdom Holding and would like to get $6 billion” was false. Shares of the Riyadh-listed company jumped to its 10 percent daily limit in an unusually active session on Sunday. Alwaleed told Reuters the company would remain under his ownership and that no assets would be transferred to the state. Nick Bit: This is Royal Family intrigue. Anyone doing business in Saudi is asking to get screwed. They are headed for religious war! They are broke even thought they have enormous cash flow. Its a kingdom right out of the dark ages. They will never change in our life time. Their is no rule of law. No Constitution, No bill of rights. The CORRUPT kind rules by decree. And when the King changes so does the Ha Ha Ha law and the favorite Sheiks

Trump warns Davos on unfair trade, says U.S. ‘open for business’

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump took his “America First” message to the world’s elite on Friday, telling a summit of business and political leaders that the United States would “no longer turn a blind eye” to what he described as unfair trade practices. Trump became the first sitting U.S. President to address the annual conclave of the rich and powerful at the Swiss ski resort of Davos for 18 years, closing the summit with a mostly upbeat speech that declared the United States “open for business”. “Now is the best time to bring your money, your jobs, your businesses to America,” he said, singling out tax cuts and curbs to regulation as boosting the investment climate. “The world is witnessing the resurgence of a strong and prosperous America.” He said he would always promote “America First”, as he expected other world leaders to do on behalf of their own countries, but added: “America First does not mean America alone. When the United States grows so does the world.” But he swiftly turned to a theme of demanding tougher enforcement of trade rules, accusing unidentified countries of unfair practices, including stealing intellectual property and providing state aid to industry. “We will enforce our trade laws and restore integrity to the trading system. Only by insisting on fair and reciprocal trade can we create a system that works not just for the United States but for all nations,” Trump said.

“The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair trade practices,” he said. “We cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others.”

His speech was mostly met by polite applause, although he drew some jeers and whistles during a question and answer session, when he attacked the news media: “It wasn’t until I became a politician that I realized how nasty, how mean, how vicious and how fake the press can be,” he said.

 

On Thursday, Trump said he ultimately wanted the dollar to be strong. U.S. officials said there was no disagreement between Trump and Mnuchin, and the Treasury Secretary had been making a factual observation about the impact of a lower dollar, not announcing a policy preference to drive it down.

Trump to ask for $716 billion in defense spending in 2019 budget: U.S. officials

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to ask for $716 billion in defense spending in the 2019 budget he is to unveil next month, two U.S. officials said on Friday, representing a 7 percent increase over the 2018 budget. The $716 billion would cover the Pentagon’s annual budget as well as spending on ongoing wars and the maintenance of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The 2018 budget still has not passed through Congress, the U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity. One of the officials said the request would closely follow the priorities unveiled by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Friday in the National Defense Strategy. Mattis put countering China and Russia at the center of the new National Defense Strategy. The Pentagon’s unclassified, 11-page version of the National Defense Strategy did not provide details on how the shift towards countering China and Russia would be carried out, but defense spending requests were expected to reflect that aim. The U.S. military’s competitive edge has eroded “in every domain of warfare” Mattis said, partly because of inconsistent funding. Congress voted on Monday to end a three-day U.S. government shutdown, approving the latest short-term funding bill as Democrats accepted promises from Republicans for a broad debate later on the future of young illegal immigrants.

Oil Boom Gives the U.S. a New Edge in Energy and Diplomacy

A pumpjack in a Permian Basin oil field in west Texas. The area has been a focus of the shale drilling boom. Credit Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America

HOUSTON — A substantial rise in oil prices in recent months has led to a resurgence in American oil production, enabling the country to challenge the dominance of Saudi Arabia and dampen price pressures at the pump. The success has come in the face of efforts by Saudi Arabia and its oil allies to undercut the shale drilling spree in the United States. Those strategies backfired and ultimately ended up benefiting the oil industry. Overcoming three years of slumping prices proved the resiliency of the shale boom. Energy companies and their financial backers were able to weather market turmoil — and the maneuvers of the global oil cartel — by adjusting exploration and extraction techniques. After a painful shakeout in the industry that included scores of bankruptcies and a significant loss of jobs, a steadier shale-drilling industry is arising, anchored by better-financed companies. With the price of West Texas intermediate crude above $65 a barrel, a level not seen in almost three years, the United States is becoming a dominant producer. It is able to outflank competitors in supplying growing global markets, particularly China and India, while slashing imports from the Middle East and North Africa.

This year, the United States is expected to surpass Saudi Arabia and to rival Russia as the world’s leader, with record output of over 10 million barrels a day, according to the International Energy Agency.

“This is a 180-degree turn for the United States and the impacts are being felt around the world,” said Daniel Yergin, the economic historian and author of “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power.” “This not only contributes to U.S. energy security but also contributes to world energy security by bringing new supplies to the world.”

At the same time, the United States is becoming a major exporter of natural gas, another outgrowth of the shale revolution, undercutting Russian energy dominance over Eastern Europe.

The improving energy picture comes as the Trump administration is attempting to increase offshore drilling and loosen other regulations on fossil fuel development. But just as the surge in oil and gas production in shale fields during the Barack Obama administration had little to do with Washington, the current rise is the result of private companies responding to global markets. Shale fields can be developed relatively quickly and at modest costs relative to the giant projects, whether on land or offshore, that were once favored by big oil companies. That makes it easier to turn investment spigots on or off to adjust to market fluctuations. Companies like Exxon Mobil and Chevron are putting increasing amounts of capital in shale fields, particularly in West Texas and New Mexico. The results go far beyond the economic, offering Washington strategic weapons once unthinkable. The United States and its allies now have a supply cushion at a time when political turmoil in Venezuela, Libya and Nigeria is threatening to interrupt flows to markets. Only a few years ago, such threats — along with a recent pipeline failure in the North Sea and storms in the Gulf of Mexico — would have sent the price of crude soaring. Instead, the rise has been muted, and gasoline at the pump remains below $2.60 a gallon across most of the United States. The new energy power also relieves pressure on Washington to act militarily if tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia break out into war. And it gives Washington the leeway to apply sanctions on other producers — as it has in Russia, and may in Iran or Venezuela — with far less risk to the global economy. It is a striking contrast to the 1970s, when Arab oil boycotts forced motorists to line up for blocks to fill their tanks and the economy went into a tailspin. Even more recently, during the presidency of George W. Bush, domestic oil output was declining so rapidly that the country set a course to replace oil with biofuels like ethanol. Many environmentalists argue that by increasing oil and gas supplies and lowering prices for consumers, shale drilling is extending the life of fossil fuels to the detriment of the environment and the development of cleaner energy. The shale drilling revolution has remade the global energy market, with imports from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plunging by 20 percent from late 2016 to late 2017. At the same time, exports rose by hundreds of thousands of barrels a day. Nothing like the current situation was foreseen in late 2014, when rising domestic production began weighing on global oil prices.

Continue reading “Oil Boom Gives the U.S. a New Edge in Energy and Diplomacy”

Graham: Mueller should probe report Trump wanted to fire him

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday said special counsel Robert Mueller should take a look at reports that President Trump tried to fire him last summer.”I don’t know if the story is true or not, but I know this, Mueller should look at it,” Graham said on ABC’s “This Week.” Graham’s comments follow a New York Times report this week saying Trump wanted to fire Mueller last June. Trump reportedly backed off of the order when White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit. “Don McGahn, if the story is true in the New York Times, did the right thing, and the good news is the president listened,” Graham said.

“The investigation needs to go forward without political interference, and I’m sure it will,” he continued. “As a matter of fact, I think Mr. Mueller is the perfect guy to get to the bottom of all this, and he will.” “I see no evidence President Trump wants to fire Mueller now,” he continued. “I don’t know what happened back last year, but it’s pretty clear to me that everybody in the White House knows it would be the end of President Trump’s presidency if he fired Mr. Mueller.”  The president has called the report he wanted to fire Mueller “fake news.”  Graham and other lawmakers have since drafted legislation aimed at protecting special counsels from interference. Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling has come under intense scrutiny from various Republicans who have the said the investigation could be biased, citing text messages critical of Trump between two former FBI agents that worked with Mueller.The agents have since been removed from the probe. Despite the Republican backlash over the messages, Graham said he still has full confidence in the special counsel.  “All this stuff about the FBI and DOJ having a bias against Trump and for Clinton needs to be looked at, but I never believed it affected Mr. Mueller,” he said.

Italian Populist Leader Promises To Deport 500,000 Migrants

The Italian populist promised that if he is elected Prime Minister in the national election in March 2018 he will deport 100,000 migrants within his first year and half a million over the course of his five-year term, the Telegraph reports. “There are half a million irregular migrants in Italy. All of them need to be sent home,” Salvini said earlier this week. Salvini has been accused by many in the mainstream media of being xenophobic or even racist for his anti-mass migration stance. He addressed these detractors, saying: “The only antidote to racism is to control, regulate and limit immigration. There are millions of Italians in economic difficulty. Italians are not racist, but out-of-control immigration brings with it far from positive reactions. We want to prevent that.” Salvini and the Lega Nord have formed an electoral alliance with billionaire former four-time Prime Minister and leader of Forza Italia Silvio Berlusconi, and the conservative-nationalist Brothers of Italy party led by Giorgia Meloni. Who will become Prime Minister if this alliance wins the election will depend on which party garners the most votes. Currently, the Lega Nord lags only two percentage points behind Forza Italia in a recent poll by polling firm EMG.

The fiery comments are just the latest from Salvini, who is also known as a staunch eurosceptic. Earlier this month the Lega Nord leader said that the European Union “can go fuck itself” in an explosive interview. “Europe has been punishing us for the last 15 years and we are worse off than 15 years ago,” he said, adding: “European measures are the last thing I am interested in.” Italy has been burdened with hundreds of thousands of migrants who, until recently, were being ferried to Italy from only a few miles off the Libyan coast by pro-migration NGO “rescue” ships accused of working with people-smugglers. While the EU has tried to alleviate the pressure on Italy, as well as Greece, by forcing a migrant redistribution quota scheme, many countries including Czechia, Poland, Hungary, and now Austria are resisting the scheme, favouring deportations and strong borders and maritime patrols instead.

U.S. farmers have much to lose if NAFTA deal collapses

Farmer Blake Erwin drives a combine as he harvests corn on his farm near Dixon, Nebraska, U.S., October 26, 2017. Picture taken October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

CHICAGO/MONTREAL (Reuters) – A collapse of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to scrap, could create the most profound disruption for U.S. farmers who produce grains, meats and dairy products sold to Canada and Mexico. Blake Erwin, a third-generation American who raises cattle, corn and soybeans in Dixon, Nebraska, said on Saturday that he is not closely monitoring the negotiations, but that he hopes the outcome will support U.S. farmers who are struggling to make a living due to low commodities prices, rising healthcare costs and high property taxes. “A trade agreement has to be fair for the United States, but we also want to keep those exports going for the farmer,” said Erwin, 34. “We don’t want to mess up any good things we got going.” Erwin spoke to Reuters over the weekend as U.S., Canadian and Mexican negotiators met in Montreal for the sixth of seven planned rounds of talks to revamp the 1994 pact.U.S. farmers and exporters are fighting to preserve their exports at a time when Canada is finding customers in new markets. They also face strained relations between the United States and Mexico, a major buyer of U.S. corn, wheat, beef, pork and dairy products.  “The U.S. is behaving so badly it’s going to create opportunities for Canadian agriculture,” Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes said last week during a visit to Winnipeg.Trade flows have already begun to shift.  The United States remains the dominant grain supplier to Mexico. Yet Mexico imported 583,000 metric tonnes of corn from Brazil in 2017, a 980 percent jump from the previous year, according to Mexican government trade data. Mexican imports of U.S. soybean meal, used to feed chickens and livestock, fell 29 percent in the first 11 months of 2017, compared with the same period the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Trump’s animosity toward Mexico and complaints over trade imbalances have pushed longtime buyers to work with new suppliers and expand existing relationships in South America, the European Union and other regions, trade experts said. “You get partners who build a bond and get real comfortable working together. We’re starting to see that bond becoming more important than price for where countries are buying grains,” said Karl Setzer, risk management team leader for MaxYield Cooperative. Case in point: A rare 30,000-tonne shipment of Brazilian corn steamed its way in November to grain terminals in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, operated by agribusiness heavyweights Cargill Inc [CARG.UL] and Archer Daniels Midland Co.Despite a steep decline in U.S. corn prices, with stocks sitting at a historic high, the buyer paid a premium for the Brazilian grain – as much as $2 more per tonne, according to trade sources.  we have to have a number of trading partners, not just one,” said Ron Bonnett, a beef farmer and president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. The revised TPP, known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, will reduce tariffs on Canadian pork, beef and wheat to Japan and other markets, in some cases eliminating duties altogether. Darci Vetter, former U.S. chief agriculture negotiator, said if the talks dragged on past March they might not end until next year, making it more challenging to sell American farm products. “Other trade agreements will be implemented, buyers of U.S. products in Mexico and Canada won’t be sure that we are a good long-term bet, and so we’re likely to see our clients react accordingly,” she told a panel on NAFTA in Montreal on Friday.

Collins: ‘Wouldn’t hurt’ for Congress to protect Mueller

Collins: Wouldn’t hurt to protect Mueller

Washington (CNN)Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said on Sunday that Congress should pass legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller following reports President Donald Trump considered firing him last June. But at the same time, Collins said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” that she ultimately had faith in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has direct authority over the probe. “It probably wouldn’t hurt for us to pass one of those bills,” Collins said, adding, “There are some constitutional issues with those bills, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to put that extra safeguard in place given the latest stories, but again, I have faith in the deputy attorney general.” Collins’ comments came in response to news that last June Trump moved to fire Mueller, and that White House counsel Don McGahn refused the order. Collins said Sunday she understood the episode to be Trump having a “bad idea.” “He talked with his counsel, who explained to an angry and frustrated president why it was a bad idea,” Collins said. “And that was seven months ago and the White House counsel is still on the job, and Mr. Mueller is still aggressively investigating, and that’s as it should be.” 8 times since June the White House denied Trump was considering firing Mueller Collins said likewise that firing Rosenstein would be a “terrible mistake” and would recall the “Saturday Night Massacre,” where then-President Richard Nixon sought to remove the special prosecutor investigating him, prompting leaders of the Justice Department to resign rather than quash the probe. “That didn’t end very well,” Collins said, alluding to Nixon’s eventual resignation in disgrace. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said on ABC’s “This Week” that he saw “no evidence” Trump is currently trying to fire Mueller, but pointed to legislation he has sponsored to protect the special counsel. “It’s pretty clear to me that everybody in the White House knows it’d be the end of President Trump’s presidency if he fired Mr. Mueller,” Graham said.

White House counsel was ‘fed up’ with Trump: source

FILE PHOTO: Don McGahn, lawyer and Trump advisor, exits following a meeting of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s national finance team at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City, U.S., June 9, 2016.

(Reuters) – White House Counsel Donald McGahn threatened to quit last June because he was “fed up” after President Donald Trump insisted he take steps to remove the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.The New York Times reported on Thursday that Trump backed down from his order to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller after McGahn said he would resign rather than follow the directive, citing four people told of the matter  Trump on Friday denied the report.

“Fake news, folks, fake news,” the president told reporters when asked about the report in Davos, Switzerland, where he is attending the World Economic Forum of business and political leaders.

If Trump did try to fire Mueller, it could strengthen a case for obstruction of justice against the president based on whether he had “corrupt intent” in trying to hinder Mueller’s investigation, legal experts said. A person familiar with the situation told Reuters Trump sought to have Mueller removed over what the president perceived as conflicts of interest. These included Mueller’s relationship with James Comey, who succeeded Mueller as FBI director until Trump fired him in May, and Mueller’s resignation from one of Trump’s golf clubs over a fee dispute in 2011, other people said.The person told Reuters on Friday that Trump asked McGahn to raise what he said were Mueller’s conflicts with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because the president thought they were serious enough to remove Mueller. Rosenstein appointed Mueller after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and is the official overseeing the special counsel. McGahn, who could not be reached for comment, did not discuss the issue with Rosenstein and threatened to quit when Trump continued to insist that he do so, the person said. The lawyer did not issue an ultimatum directly to the president but told then White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and then chief strategist Steve Bannon he wanted to quit because he was “fed up with the president,” the person said. The source added that it was possible Bannon and Priebus did not know all the details of the Trump’s discussions with McGahn about Mueller at that time. Trump could be questioned about the incident by Mueller’s team, which sources say has been negotiating with the president’s personal lawyers about a possible interview in the coming weeks. Moscow has denied the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that it meddled in the election to help Trump. Mueller’s office is also investigating potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, something that Trump has repeatedly denied.

Deutsche Bank to hike bonuses to more than 1 billion euros for 2017: FAS

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Deutsche Bank will hike annual bonus payments to more than 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) despite posting its third consecutive annual loss in 2017, a German newspaper reported.The move comes amid concern another year of low bonuses could prompt investment bankers to defect to more generous competitors, German weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung said on Saturday, citing unidentified sources. A source had told Reuters in October that Deutsche Bank, which is struggling to keep pace with Wall Street firms, would pay higher bonuses in 2017 but that the exact level would depend on how its investment bank fared through the end of the year as well as on what its competitors pay.A return to bigger bonuses would be a relief for bankers at Deutsche Bank, where total bonus payments dropped from 2.4 billion euros in 2015 to around 500 million euros in 2016 after a multi-billion dollar legal fine for the sale of toxic debt.  But Deutsche Bank has to tread carefully on payout levels because credit rating agencies are keeping close tabs on them and shareholders are frustrated by its slow turnaround. The bank warned this month that weak trading, low client activity and a 1.5 billion euro hit from a tax overhaul in the United States would result in a “small” 2017 loss. “The bank must send positive signals in 2018, otherwise there will be a problem. The capital market is very impatient,” Ingo Speich, a fund manager at Union Investment, told Frankfurter Allgemeine. “There is no proof so far that Deutsche Bank’s strategy will ever lead to success,” he said.

DBKGn.DE

Germany’s biggest bank announced an overhaul in March last year that included integrating its Postbank retail bank with its in-house consumer bank in an effort to cut costs, as well as the partial sale of its asset management business. One source told Reuters on Saturday that Deutsche Bank aimed to go ahead with the flotation as soon as possible, which could be in March or April. The offering’s prospectus, which has to be approved by financial watchdog Bafin, has not yet been completed, the person added. Frankfurt Allgemeine earlier said that Deutsche Bank aimed to float the asset management business, which could achieve a total valuation of around 8 billion euros, in March at the latest. Nick Bit: they are so broke and deep into the derivatives casino black hole. Capital just keeps diapering off the balance sheet. when the shit hits the fan it will be a race to see who goes tits up first. them or  Goldman

Court Rules That Kushner Firm Must Disclose Partners’ Names

Image: Court Rules That Kushner Firm Must Disclose Partners' Names
(AP)

A federal judge ruled Friday that the family company once run by Jared Kushner isn’t allowed to keep secret the identity of its business partners in several Maryland properties. A U.S. district judge in the state rejected the argument that the privacy rights of the Kushner Cos. partners outweigh the public interest in obtaining judicial records in a lawsuit before the court. The decision means the company tied to President Donald Trump’s son-in-law might be forced to provide a rare glimpse into how it finances its real estate ventures. The ruling backed the argument by The Associated Press and other news organizations that the media has a “presumptive right” to see such court documents and the Kushner Cos. had not raised a “compelling government interest” needed by law to block access.U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar ruled that Westminster Management, a Kushner Cos. subsidiary, must file an unsealed document with the identity of its partners by Feb. 9. The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by tenants last year alleging Westminster charges excessive and illegal rent for apartments in the state. The lawsuit seeks class-action status for tenants in 17 apartment complexes owned by the company. Westminster has said it has broken no laws and denies the charges. In addition to its privacy argument, the Kushner subsidiary had said media reports of the Maryland dispute were “politically motivated” and marked by “unfair sensationalism.” Disclosure of its partners’ names would trigger even more coverage and hurt its chances of getting an impartial decision in the case, it had said.In Friday’s ruling, the judge said these are not “frivolous concerns,” but the public’s right to know is more important.  “Increased public interest in a case does not, by itself, overcome the presumption of access,” Bredar wrote. “In fact, it would logically strengthen it, particularly when the interest is due to the presence of important public figures in the litigation.” He added that he saw no reason to buck “the presumption, and tradition, that the Court conducts its business in the sunlight.”

Blumenthal: ‘Credible case of obstruction of justice’ against Trump

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) argued Friday that there’s a “credible case of obstruction of justice” against President Trump after reports that Trump tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last year. “There’s a credible case of obstruction of justice against the president of the United States,” Blumenthal said on CNN’s “OutFront.” “What we’re seeing, in fact, extraordinarily, is obstruction of justice in a sense unfolding right before us in real time with the actions and statements that [Trump] is making,” said Blumenthal, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “You referred earlier to his saying he is fighting back and that he has a right to fight back. He is entitled to make a defense, he has a right to present arguments and facts that exonerate him,” he continued. “He has no right to misuse the powers of his office to intimidate witnesses, to fire prosecutors, to withhold documents or destroy them, and that is a very clear line that evidently he doesn’t respect.” Blumenthal’s comments come after The New York Times reported Thursday that Trump attempted to fire Mueller last June, but backed off after White House counsel Don McGahn refused Trump’s order and threatened to quit. Trump also reportedly considered removing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department’s second-highest official, and appointing Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand to oversee Mueller’s team of prosecutors, but that option also never materialized. Trump reportedly said Mueller had conflicts of interest in his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, including a dispute over fees at Trump’s National Golf Club in Virginia and Mueller’s previous employment at a law firm that represents Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to the Times. Congressional Democrats quickly seized on the report to accuse Trump of what they say is obstruction of justice, and Blumenthal responded to the report by calling for the Senate to take up bills aimed at protecting Mueller from being fired by Trump. Trump on Friday dismissed the report that he attempted to fire Mueller last summer, calling it “fake news.”

Fake newsFake news. Typical New York Times. Fake stories,” Trump told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Nick Bit: Its not fake news and as i have been telling you odds are Trump wil be impeached

Billionaire Saudi Prince al-Waleed is freed after two months in detention

AFP/Getty Images Prince al-Waleed bin Talal

DUBAI—Saudi authorities on Saturday released billionaire Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, people familiar with the matter said, more than two months after he was detained in a widespread crackdown on corruption in the kingdom. Prince al-Waleed is already at his house in Riyadh and is expected to resume his business activities as normal, two people said. The 62-year-old prince was one of dozens of royals, senior government officials and businesspeople rounded up in early November, a wave of arrests the Saudi government billed as the first volley in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s campaign against graft but which was also seen by many as a bid to consolidate power. Saudi authorities demanded at least $6 billion from Prince al-Waleed to free him, people familiar with the matter have said, among the highest figures they sought from those detained in a makeshift prison at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton. It wasn’t clear if Prince al-Waleed agreed to any settlement for his release, but he has previously denied wrongdoing and fought allegations of bribery, extortion and money laundering, a person close to him has said. Nick Bit: Prince al-Waleed is someone Crown Prince Salaman feared.  HE could have blown up the IPO of Saudi Armico. I can tell you sources told that Wall Street came to al-Waleed rescue. They told Salaman  if they harmed or took money off him they would shoot down the  IPO. al-Waleed has a LOT of clout on Wall Street and is well know. To his credit he held out knowing his cousin cold not stand the bad publicity. I am told they did not torture him as the  did the relatively obscure other detainees who did not fair so well. The fix is in the biggest  ripoff IPO ever will now be done.

Trump did try to fire Mueller

WASHINGTON — President Trump pushed back against reports that he ordered White House lawyer Don McGahn to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last June. “Fake news, folks. Fake news. Typical New York Times fake stories,” Mr. Trump retorted dismissively when asked about it by reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The reports, first by the Times and then others, said Mr. Trump backed off on his attempt to fire the man who is investigating him, his election campaign’s Russian contacts and his firings of FBI Director James Comey and national security adviser Michael Flynn — but only after lawyer McGahn refused to relay his directive to the Justice Department and threatened to quit if Mr. Trump pressed the issue. McGahn reportedly told senior White House officials  firing Muellerwould be “catastrophic” for Mr. Trump’s presidency, but predicted that he would never follow through with it.  After the news came out Thursday night, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia quickly accused Mr. Trump of crossing “a red line” that should be met forcibly by lawmakers to protect the Constitution. Warner is the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee. But Republicans were quick to dismiss the report, pointing out that Mueller had not actually been fired. Some legal experts noted that presidents, like anyone else, can say things they don’t mean when angry. At the same time, others saw the alleged Mr. Trump order as part of a pattern of obstruction that could be pressed by Mueller, disrupting or even dooming Mr. Trump’s presidency. Jacob Frenkel, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor, said defense lawyers would argue that the conversation with McGahn “was an expression of frustration and irritation, not an intended personnel action.” A statement alone, without follow-up action, can be subject to different explanations and allow for reasonable doubt as to the intent, he indicated. “It may not be the conclusion that people want to reach, but sitting back and looking at it objectively, the fact that there was no firing means there was no obstruction,” Frenkel said. Andrew Leipold, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, concurred. “People say all sorts of things that they’re going to do, and then they calm down and they think better of it and they get talked out of it,” he said. “Some of this may just be no more than the president — as all presidents have done — racing their engines about things.” That said, this latest revelation isn’t the only example of presidential action that could be seen as an attempt to interfere with an investigation of Mr. Trump and his campaign. Another is the firing Comey as FBI director last May. Mueller was appointed special counsel by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions stepped aside because of his own close involvement with the Trump campaign. “It is easy to see where this would be an element or component to consider as part of an obstruction mosaic,” Frenkel said. This could be part of an obstruction case against Mr. Trump or others.  More than 20 White House employees have given interviews to the special counsel’s team investigating possible obstruction and Trump campaign ties to Russian election interference. John Dowd, one of Mr. Trump’s attorneys, said the White House, in what he called an “unprecedented” display of cooperation with Mueller’s investigation, has turned over more than 20,000 pages of records. The president’s 2016 campaign has turned over more than 1.4 million pages. The number of voluntary interviews includes eight people from the White House counsel’s office. An additional 28 people affiliated with the Trump campaign have been interviewed by either the special counsel or congressional committees probing Russian election meddling. Dowd did not name the people nor provide a breakdown of how many were interviewed only by Mueller’s team. Mr. Trump’s national approval numbers are low, but his conservative base has kept up its solid support through all the criticism he has come under in his first year as president. Why would this be any different? In Congress, Democrats have been quick to exploit the report. Warner called Mr. Trump’s actions “a gross abuse of power.” However, Republicans noted that the purported order came long ago and before Mr. Trump surrounded himself with new lawyers. Since then, his public demeanor toward Mueller has changed. Nonetheless, Senate Republicans were worried last summer, and GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham and Thom Tillis introduced legislation that would protect the special counsel. But that hasn’t gone anywhere. Mr. Trump has softened his public criticism of Mueller, White House officials say over and over that he has nothing to hide, and his lawyers have signaled they are cooperating, too. Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin says that since the legislation was introduced, “the chatter that the administration is considering removing special counsel Mueller has completely come to a halt.” Mueller’s investigators hope to interview Mr. Trump soon. This week, the president declared he was eager to do it — and under oath. “I’m looking forward to it, actually,” Mr. Trump said when asked by reporters. As for timing, he said, “I guess they’re talking about two or three weeks, but I’d love to do it.” His lawyers walked that back a bit. No interview has been agreed to, all sides agreed. The story of Mr. Trump’s alleged effort to sack Mueller added just one more question.

Jump in late mortgages after Harvey sparks foreclosure fears

Five months after Harvey flooded thousands of homes in the Houston area and along the Texas coast, reports by real estate and financial firms show the storm’s destruction caused a significant increase in mortgage delinquencies, prompting fears by nonprofit and legal aid groups about a possible wave of foreclosures in the coming months. Although some affected homeowners had sufficient flood insurance to rebuild, others had insufficient or no coverage and haven’t been able to get the federal aid or other assistance they need. Even some homeowners who were insured and got FEMA help have struggled financially because it took months to process their claims. In July, the month before Harvey came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane and battered the Texas coast and low-lying Houston farther inland, 5.5 percent of the state’s mortgages and 5.7 percent of Houston’s were delinquent. By December, those figures had jumped to 7.2 percent of the state’s mortgages and 10 percent of Houston’s, according to Black Knight, Inc., which provides data and analysis to the mortgage and real estate industries. Of the state’s 91,400 mortgages that were at least 90 days delinquent in December, about 40,000 were directly due to Harvey, the company said. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation/Episcopal Health Foundation survey released in December, 29 percent of affected residents said that since Harvey, they had fallen behind in their rent or mortgage. During last year’s hurricane season, mortgage financiers such as Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac encouraged lenders to offer homeowners a forbearance – a temporary suspension or reduction in their mortgage payments – for up to 12 months. Lerma got one from his lender. Mortgage and real estate experts say they don’t believe the rise in delinquencies will lead to a spike in foreclosures in the months ahead because the economy remains robust. Foreclosures are down across the country and in FEMA-declared disaster areas hard hit by hurricanes, including in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, they have held constant due in part to mortgage forbearances, according to Black Knight. “If you see strong loan performance, it’s usually supported by positive employment and good wage outlook, and we have both of those,” said Marina Walsh, vice president of industry analysis for the Washington, D.C.-based Mortgage Bankers Association. Amir Befroui, an attorney for the Foreclosure Prevention Project with Lone Star Legal Aid in Houston, said that although the forbearances have helped, he still expects a wave of foreclosures.

Brittani Groves, a single mother of four, didn’t have flood insurance. She’s trying to modify the loan on her home in the Houston suburb of League City, but it remains uninhabitable. She received $6,000 from FEMA for repairs, but it wouldn’t come close to covering the $65,000 in damage and she’s had to use it to cover other expenses, including rent on an apartment.

FEMA says its assistance isn’t meant to cover the cost of returning a damaged home to its pre-disaster condition and that the aid can be supplemented by a Small Business Administration loan. Groves said she was declined for a loan. “At this point, I still have my home. But I don’t know for how long I’m going to be able to hold on to my house,” said Groves, whose friend set up a GoFundMe page to help her with expenses. Landis Blackburn turned down a six-month forbearance on his Houston home’s mortgage because he’d have to pay all he owed at the end of the period. “In reality it does nothing for people,” he said of forbearances. Blackburn paid his mortgage and other bills but had to get help from family and friends, which he said was humbling. He is now on more stable financial ground because his insurance payment was recently finalized. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, whose agency is leading the state’s housing recovery efforts, has been working with lenders and the federal government to get homeowners help through forbearances and other programs, including one that provides affected residents with up to $20,000 in temporary repairs to let them live in their homes as they complete their renovations and another that offers up to $60,000 in repair work for more severely damaged homes.”The last thing (lenders) want are people handing back the keys to their home and having a run on the bank on distressed loans,” Bush said. Lerma said his family is “at a pretty bad point right now” as he’s maxed out credit cards and emptied his savings. Yet, he remains hopeful. “We know we’ll get through it. We’re just riding it out,” he said. Nick Bit: As we warned the day the hurricane hit a wave of foreclosures are coming!

Report: John Kerry Told the Palestinians that Trump Could Be Out of Office Within A Year

TEL AVIV — Former Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly attempted to sabotage the Trump administration’s attempts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, urging the Palestinian Authority not to “yield to President Trump’s demands,” and suggesting that President Donald Trump could be out of office within a year.

The report originated with Israel’s Maariv daily newspaper, and cited a senior Palestinian Authority official describing a meeting in London between Kerry and a close associate of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Hussein Agha.  Agha, who helped lead previous talks on behalf of Abbas, related the alleged details of the talk to PA officials, Maariv reported. Citing his own newspaper, Maariv columnist Ben Caspit wrote in the Jerusalem Post:

During the conversation, according to the report, Kerry asked Agha to convey a message to Abbas and ask him to “hold on and be strong.” Tell him, he told Agha, “that he should stay strong in his spirit and play for time, that he will not break and will not yield to President [Donald] Trump’s demands.”

According to Kerry, Trump will not remain in office for a long time. It was reported that Kerry said that within a year there was a good chance that Trump would not be in the White House.

A spokesman for Abbas did not immediately return a Breitbart News request seeking comment on Kerry’s alleged actionsFox News reported that the State Department declined to comment on the matter. In a statement, the Republican Jewish Coalition ripped Kerry’s alleged remarks as “reckless.” “John Kerry failed for four years as secretary of state to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. Now he wants a second bite of the apple, a bite the American people chose not to give him when they rejected the Obama/Kerry foreign policy in 2016,” said RJC executive director Matt Brooks. “John Kerry is no longer a representative of the American people and his action – conducting a shadow foreign policy – is reckless and undermines the possibility of achieving peace,” he said. “The American people chose President Trump, in part, because he promised to pivot away from the failed policies of John Kerry.”Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich expressed doubt that Kerry would have made such comments. “Kerry knows as a former secretary of state, a former U.S. senator, that kind of advice would be stunningly unpatriotic, and I don’t think John Kerry would do something like that,” Gingrich said during a segment on “Fox & Friends.” “I hope he wouldn’t. I would be very, very surprised if a former secretary of state, a former U.S. senator would have said anything that was that overtly anti-American.”

Three legs are propping up the oil rally, and one of them looks wobbly, says analyst

Oil prices could tumble as much as $8 a barrel in the coming weeks as one of the three legs propping up an unexpected rally looks “wobbly,” Societe Generale’s Mark Keenan warned on Friday.

The rally in oil prices has exceeded many analysts’ expectations, leading to a flurry of revised forecasts as benchmark crude futures surged by about $10 a barrel in the last six weeks to their highest levels since early December 2014. Brent crude oil touched a three-year high of $71.28 on Thursday, while U.S. crude topped out at $66.66 during the same trading session.

“We think of the oil market right now as a three-legged stool and all three of these legs have provided a degree of uplift to prices,” said Keenan, global commodities strategist and head of research for Asia-Pacific at Societe Génerale. The first leg, the fundamentals of supply and demand, remains positive, he told CNBC Asia’s “Capital Connection.” OPEC, Russia and other oil-producing nations continue to limit their output in order to shrink global crude stockpiles, while the simultaneous growth in economies around the world is boosting demand for energy. The second, geopolitical landscape, has also been supportive. Tensions in the Middle East; crisis-stricken Venezuela’s steadily falling output; and President Donald Trump’s threats to restore sanctions against Iran, OPEC’s third largest producer, are some of the risks to the oil market.

But the third leg, investor positioning, is the one that looks wobbly to Keenan. Traders have built up “massive” long positions, or bets that oil prices will keep rising, while short positions — wagers that futures will fall — are “nonexistent.”

Hedge funds recently raised their net long positions in crude and petroleum products to records, according to Reuters. That creates the chance of a “very dangerous” price correction, Keenan says. “There’s close to a billion barrels of speculative length out there that, when it unwinds, is going to cause the price to move down,” he said. Societe Generale believes Brent crude could tumble from about $70 a barrel to $62 within the first quarter of the year. The most obvious catalyst is a short-term drop in demand for crude oil as refineries throttle back activity for seasonal maintenance, says Keenan. Demand for refined products, which include home heating fuel, should also ease as the United States emerges from a cold spell.

 

Trump immigration plan hits wall of opposition

President Trump‘s immigration plan is running into heavy opposition on and off Capitol Hill, suggesting the much-anticipated framework has failed to move the needle as a bipartisan group of senators try to negotiate a deal.Trump’s one-page framework calls for granting a pathway to citizenship for nearly 2 million young  immigrants in exchange for tens of billions of dollars for his border wall and other policies that would dramatically restrict legal immigration in the coming years. The president wants the Senate to draft legislation based on his blueprint and introduce it by Feb. 5, just three days before funding for the government runs out. But the day-old plan is already taking heavy fire from both the right and the left.  For the bipartisan gang of 20 senators trying to hammer out an agreement to protect the “Dreamers,” it’s clear the Trump outline — intended as an olive branch to Democrats — gets them no closer to a deal. One of the key negotiators of the group, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), warned that Trump’s plan places the White House’s “hardline immigration agenda … on the backs of these young people.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who will need to sign off on any deal for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in the upper chamber, echoed those sentiments on Twitter on Friday. Trump is using DACA recipients as “a tool to tear apart our legal immigration system and adopt the wish list that anti-immigration hardliners have advocated for for years,” he wrote. Conservative outside groups, members of the House Freedom Caucus and other vocal immigration hard-liners all panned the White House plan, saying providing a path to citizenship for 1.8 million “Dreamers” amounted to “mass amnesty” for law breakers.  “Illegals have No Right to be here & have ALL violated our laws. This #Amnesty deal negotiates away American Sovereignty,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an immigration hawk, tweeted Friday.  Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for reduced immigration, had embraced an immigration proposal by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). That bill includes a path to legalization for nearly 700,000 DACA recipients — the first time since 1986 that NumbersUSA has supported any proposal along those lines.But the White House proposal goes too far for Beck.

“NumbersUSA has no choice but to oppose what is being suggested as the White House ‘framework’ for a mass amnesty,” Beck said.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin NOW says stronger dollar is in the best interest of the country

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, under fire for comments he made earlier this week seemingly advocating a weak dollar, told CNBC on Friday the U.S. has a long-term interest in a strong greenback. The dollar earlier had hit a three-week low on comments Mnuchin made Wednesday that the soft greenback would be better for the United States. Since then, he and President Donald Trump have said those remarks were taken out of context. Mnuchin and Trump spoke as they attended the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“I made the comment two days ago in a press gaggle in the morning. What I said was actually very even-handed and consistent with what I said before,” Mnuchin said Friday in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” He added a strong “long-term dollar” is in the country’s best interests.

However, comments from the president and Treasury secretary did little to boost the dollar. In early trading, the currency was down about 0.4 percent against a basket of its global competitors, though it was off the lows of the session. Mnuchin’s comments were nothing terribly new from the administration. Trump himself has said in the past that he prefers a weak greenback. For his part, the Treasury secretary repeated that he is not trying to influence the currency markets. “Had the news printed my entire transcript the first time as opposed to just taking out one little point and kind of imply that I was trying to talk down the dollar, which I wasn’t doing,” he said. “As a matter of fact I was very clear in my open, saying the dollar is the most liquid trading market in the world, and where the dollar is in the short term is not of concern to us, and we respect that the market sets where the dollar is.” He added that it is not the policy of the administration to intervene in the currency markets. Recent comments by President Trump would seem to confirm our read,” BofAML said in a note to clients.

For the final three months, the economy grew at a 2.6% annual rate.

“So we’re at 3.3 percent GDP. I see no reason why we don’t go to 4 percent, 5 percent, and even 6 percent.” Donald Trump

The economy grew 2.3% for the year, the Commerce Department said Friday.  It’s also below the 6% target President Trump has set for his first term A major increase in imports at the end of the year — the biggest since 2010 — pushed down growth because it increased the U.S. trade deficit.  Business investment didn’t rise as quickly at the end of the year. And inventories are high: Businesses still have a lot of products sitting on shelves in back rooms. That tends to ebb and flow every six months or so. For the final three months, the economy grew at a 2.6% annual rate.  Trump and other Republicans sold their tax cut last year by saying it would create jobs and boost growth even more. Many economists expect that the tax cuts could help boost growth this year, but that growth will gradually slip back to 2%, where it has hovered since the Great Recession. One big question mark for economic growth is Trump’s trade policy. The administration announced tariffs this week on imported washing machines and solar panels, a move seen by some experts as a harbinger of tariffs on other things, like steel and aluminum. Trump’s trade team is also renegotiating NAFTA, the trade pact between the United States, Canada and Mexico. Trump has threatened to withdraw altogether if negotiations don’t produce a deal he thinks will create American jobs. Experts say that if Trump takes drastic, protectionist steps on trade, it will hurt economic growth by raising consumer prices and cooling spending.

World stocks set for 10th straight week of gains, euro jumps

LONDON (Reuters) – World stocks were set for their 10th straight week of gains on Friday, while the euro jumped more than half a percent as comments by U.S. officials this week advocating their support for a weak dollar reverberated through currency markets;Stocks are headed for its 11th straight day of gains, the longest sequence since 2015, and also for seventh straight week of gains for the first time since 2010. World equity markets have rallied over the past year, buoyed by a synchronized uptick in global economic growth in a boon to corporate profits and stock valuations.The Dow and S&P 500 ended at their highest closing levels ever on Thursday although Wall Street relinquished bigger intraday gains after President Donald Trump said he wanted a stronger dollar.  Trump said on Thursday he ultimately wants the dollar to be strong, contradicting comments made by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin one day earlier. While Trump’s comments briefly helped the U.S. currency come off a three-year low, it had fallen further by early European trade on Friday as traders took the view that a protracted decline in the greenback may be likely. “While President Trump’s comments prompted a short covering rally in the U.S. dollar, they won’t have alleviated investors separate concerns about recent belligerent US rhetoric on trade,” said Michael Hewson, chief markets analyst at CMC Markets in London. With European Central Bank President Mario Draghi declining to lean against the recent euro rally and instead signaling that economic data pointed to “solid and broad” growth, investors were encouraged to push the currency higher. Draghi also warned that the surge in the euro was a source of uncertainty and said the ECB might have to review strategy if U.S. comments on the benefits of a weak dollar lead to a change in monetary conditions. Another big mover in currencies on Friday was Britain’s pound, which rose as much as 1 percent after stronger than expected GDP numbers for the fourth quarter.

Trump ordered Mueller’s firing, then backed off: New York Times

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump last June ordered Special Counsel Robert Mueller fired but backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than follow his directive, The New York Times reported on Thursday, citing four people told of the matter.White House lawyers and press officials did not immediately reply to Reuters requests for comment. Mueller, who is investigating allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, learned of the incident in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials in an inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice, the Times reported. Amid media reports that Mueller was looking into a possible obstruction case, Trump argued that the former Federal Bureau of Investigation director had three conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the probe, two of the people said, according to the Times report.First, Trump said that a dispute years ago over fees at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, had led Mueller to resign his membership, the newspaper reported.  The president also said Mueller could not be impartial because he had most recently worked for a law firm that previously represented the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Trump also said Mueller had been interviewed to return as the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation the day before he was appointed special counsel in May, the Times reported, citing the two people.White House counsel Donald McGahn said he would quit rather than follow through on the order to fire Mueller, the Times reported, citing the people.  McGahn disagreed with the president’s case for dismissing Mueller and told senior White House officials that firing him would have a catastrophic effect on Trump’s presidency and raise questions about whether the White House was trying to obstruct the Russia probe, according to the people cited by the Times. McGahn also told White House officials that Trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own, and the president then backed off his demand, according to the people, who the Times said spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a continuing investigation. Mueller was appointed special counsel in May by the Justice Department after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading the agency’s Russia investigation. Russia has denied any meddling and Trump has denied any collusion.

NAFTA negotiations grind on, little sign of quick breakthrough

 FILE PHOTO: Flags are pictured during the fifth round of NAFTA talks involving the United States, Mexico and Canada, in Mexico City, Mexico, November 19, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/File Photo

MONTREAL (Reuters) – U.S. negotiators are holding firm in their demands for a wide-ranging overhaul of NAFTA, sources close to the talks said on Thursday, raising questions about whether any real movement is happening at the latest round of negotiations on the treaty Officials from Canada, Mexico and the United States are in Montreal for the sixth and penultimate set of talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement. Major differences remain to be settled ahead of the end-March deadline. “We have brought flexibility, we have brought ideas, but the problem is that the United States has not moved an inch. They say, ‘It is my proposal or nothing’,” said one of the sources, who spoke to reporters on condition they not be named.The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which has repeatedly threatened to walk away from the 1994 pact, wants more North American content in autos and is pressing for a sunset clause that would allow one party to pull out of the treaty after five years.  Trump, who has made contradictory comments about the 1994 treaty in recent weeks, told CNBC, “NAFTA’s a horrible deal, we’re renegotiating it. I may terminate NAFTA, I may not – we’ll see what happens.”On Wednesday, Canadian negotiators unveiled what were termed “creative ideas” to address U.S. demands for a sunset clause and higher auto content. Canadian chief negotiator Steve Verheul – describing the mood at the talks as “still reasonably constructive” – said the U.S. side would be taking the auto proposals back to Washington. “I think it went reasonably well. There is a lot more thinking to do,” he told reporters on Thursday. Trade groups representing automakers and auto parts manufacturers say the U.S. demands for higher content would make the region’s car industry uncompetitive. Canada suggests North American content would be higher if the value of software and other high-tech equipment made on the continent were taken into account. Uncertainly over NAFTA’s future is weighing on some North American markets and policymakers. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz told CNBC on Thursday that NAFTA is the “number one” thing that keeps him up at night.

U.S. new home sales post largest drop in nearly 1-1/2 years

FILE PHOTO — A real estate sign advertising a new home for sale is pictured in Vienna, Virginia, U.S. October 20, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Sales of new U.S. single-family homes fell more than expected in December, recording their biggest drop in nearly 1-1/2 years, likely as the boost from the replacement of flood-damaged houses in parts of the South affected by hurricanes faded

The Commerce Department said on Thursday new home sales declined 9.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 625,000 units last month. The percentage decrease was the largest since August 2016.

November’s sales pace was revised down to 689,000 units, still the strongest performance since July 2007, from the previously reported 733,000 units.New home sales, which are drawn from permits, are volatile on a month-to-month basis. Sales plunged 9.8 percent in the South last month after jumping 6.6 percent in November amid reconstruction efforts following the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Sales fell 10 percent in the Midwest last month.  A strong labor market, which is near full employment, has unleashed demand for housing that has not been matched with an increase in supply. As a result, house price inflation has outpaced wage growth, pricing some first-time home buyers out of the market. A report on Wednesday showed sales of previously owned homes declined 3.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million units last month as inventory of houses dropped to a record low.

ECB hits out at Washington for talking down the dollar

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi took a swipe at Washington on Thursday for talking down the dollar, a move he said threatened a decades-old pact not to target the currency and might force his bank to change its own policy.Singling out the euro’s surge as a source of uncertainty, Draghi said any unjustified move could force the ECB to rethink its strategy as a strong currency could put a lid on inflation, thwarting its efforts to lift prices. He was speaking after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin this week said he welcomed a weak dollar because it was good for U.S. trade, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said “U.S. troops are now coming to the ramparts” in global trade wars.  That sentiment sent the euro to three-year highs against the dollar. Striking a moderately dovish tone, Draghi also pushed back on rate hike expectations, arguing there was almost no chance of a move this year, even as some investors were betting on a rise as early as December. But it was his comments on currency that resonnated most from a news conference following the ECB’s regular policy meeting.

“When someone says that basically a good exchange rate is good for exporters and it’s good for the economy and it’s good, that means it’s targeting the exchange rate,” Draghi said when asked about Mnuchin’s comments.

“That agreement (about not targeting the exchange rate), as subtle as you want, has been in place for decades now,” Draghi added. The ECB is especially sensitive to the euro’s moves as any big rise in the currency could cut into inflation, threatening to reverse the impact of the very stimulus the bank has been providing over the past three years. The euro had risen, Draghi argued, partly because of ”the use of language in discussing exchange rate developments that doesn’t reflect the terms of reference that have been agreed. “Several members of the Council expressed concern, and this concern was also in a sense was broader than simply the exchange rate, it was about the overall status of international relations right now,” he said.

 

Having bought more than 2 trillion euros worth of bonds over the past three years, the ECB has almost single-handedly depressed borrowing costs in the euro zone to kick start growth and lift prices.

 

Ray Dalio, manager of world’s largest hedge fund, rips Mnuchin’s weak dollar position as ‘a hidden tax’

Mnuchin gave the US dollar a push toward depreciation: Strategist

 

Hedge fund kingpin Ray Dalio ripped Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s advocacy of a weak dollar, saying the position threatens the economic recovery. In a brief LinkedIn post Thursday, the Bridgewater Associates head said a soft currency is exactly what the U.S. doesn’t need right now.

Dalio described a weak dollar as “a hidden tax on people who are holding dollar-denominated assets and a benefit to those who have dollar-denominated liabilities.”

In other words, while the greenback decline might make U.S. debt look cheaper on a relative basis, it also makes it less attractive to hold for foreign governments who are counted on to buy bonds and help keep the government running. More specifically, Dalio said a weakened dollar would: reduce Americans’ buying buyer around the world; devalue debt and hurt foreign holders; provide paper wealth to holders of assets like stocks; increase inflation; and boost domestic activity. “None of this is what the U.S. economy needs now,” he wrote. “While it’s described as a desirable and intended thing, it might not be a choice.” He further warned that dollar holdings are high right now “so rebalancings should be expected over time.” That could be perilous at a point where “U.S. dollar bonds look unattractive and trade tensions with dollar creditors intensify.” Mnuchin made comments advocating for a weak dollar on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos. On Thursday he tried to elaborate on his position, noting that the administration still backs a strong dollar in the long term. However, the dollar fell against its global competitors both days, reaching a 12-month low Thursday, and is down more than 11 percent over the past 12 months. President Donald Trump himself has said that a weak dollar is preferable for the U.S. economy at this point. Dalio, who runs the largest hedge fund in the world with $150 billion in assets, was not alone in his criticisms. Banking analyst Dick Bove of the Vertical Group also said Mnuchin’s comments threaten to unravel the economic recovery. Interestingly, Moody’s Investors Service said the dollar’s longer trajectory could be higher, despite the dive this week. “We expect to see dollar volatility as U.S. policy discussions progress, but overall for 2018 we expect the U.S .dollar to strengthen slightly given the continued tightening of US monetary policy,” said Elena Duggar, associate managing director at Moody’s.

Spokesman for Trump campaign adviser among 4 Americans killed in Kabul hotel attack

(CNN)Glenn Selig, spokesman for Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates, was killed in the weekend Kabul hotel attack, according to a statement from spokesperson for The Publicity Agency and Selig Multimedia Inc., his Florida-based companies. Four Americans were killed in the attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, according to the US State Department. “The United States strongly condemns the attack on January 20 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. We can confirm that there were four US citizens killed and two injured. We offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed and wish for the speedy recovery of those wounded. Out of respect for the families of the deceased, we have no further comment,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Selig represented Gates in recent months, as Gates faces criminal charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Selig also played a role in promoting a legal defense fund for Gates in December.
“Unfortunately, we have received confirmation Glenn Selig was killed during the attack on the Intercontinental Hotel,” the Selig Multimedia representative said in the statement. “Glenn was a tireless professional, loyal friend and pillar of the community, but most importantly he was a loving husband and wonderful father.
“The loss for his family and friends cannot be measured nor conveyed strongly enough, but we thank everyone for the outpouring of support we have received,” the statement added. “Moving forward we kindly request privacy and compassion as we process this terrible situation.” Selig’s firm’s spokesperson added: “Glenn was in Kabul on a potential success story involving Afghanistan and its steps to battle extremism. The focus was highlighting the country’s new president and constructing a democracy forum event for Afghani women.”
The spokesman declined to name Selig’s client for the Afghanistan work. At least 22 people were killed during a 12-hour standoff with security forces after gunmen raided the hotel, Afghan authorities said. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a statement Sunday condemning the attack. “The United States stands with the government and people of Afghanistan,” he said. “We remain firmly committed to supporting Afghan efforts to achieve peace, security, and prosperity for their country. Violence like what we witnessed yesterday has no place in Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world.”

Kushners drop much-criticised effort to raise US$150m from Chinese millionaire migrants

 The Kushner Companies, once headed by Trump adviser Jared Kushner, had come under fire for touting White House connections while seeking funds from Chinese investor migrants

The family real estate company once run by Jared Kushner is no longer seeking US$150 million from Chinese investors for a New Jersey building project after months of criticism that the company was playing up its White House ties to raise the money.A person familiar with the fundraising effort said this week that the company has stopped trying to raise money from wealthy Chinese to help pay for One Journal Square, a planned 66-story residential, retail and office complex in Jersey City, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan. The person was not authorised to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Ethics experts blasted the Kushner Companies last May after Jared Kushner’s sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, mentioned her brother at a presentation to prospective investors in Shanghai. The presentation included a photo of Donald Trump, and Chinese ads included vague promises that the project had “government support” and was “founded by celebrity developers The company, which cancelled other appearances in the country, denied it was seeking to benefit from its White House ties. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, resigned as CEO of Kushner Companies last year to become a senior adviser to the president.The Jersey City project is just one of several by the Kushner family company, but it has been thrown in the spotlight as a test of whether the people close to Trump are profiting from his presidency. The Kushner Companies and its partner, KABR Group, were trying to raise the money under the so-called EB-5 programme offering temporary US visas for foreign investors who put at least US$500,000 in certain projects to help revive economically struggling areas and create jobs. The programme has been criticised by lawmakers and others for targeting areas that don’t need it as well as for attracting fraudsters. Kushner Companies and KABR Group had previously raised tens of millions under the programme for another project in Jersey City along its thriving waterfront section. The project, called Trump Bay Street, has licensed the Trump name from the president’s company. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn reportedly subpoenaed documents from the Kushner Companies last year about its EB-5 financing. Charlie Kushner, Jared’s father, told The Washington Post on Monday that he was not concerned, but the news has come at a bad time as the company seeks to interest more investors and lenders

Warren Buffett’s bet on airlines lost more than $700 million in sector sell-off

Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

A bet on airline stocks by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway lost more than $700 million in value in a sector-wide rout, fueled by worries of an upcoming fare war between carriers. The value of the Berkshire’s stakes in United, Delta, Southwest and American was worth more than $11 billion as of Tuesday’s close, but fell by about $727 million in Wednesday’s sharp selloff, based on Berkshire’s latest disclosure of its holdings in November. Berkshire was not immediately available for comment. The sharp decline in the airline sector started after United Airlines executives outlined an aggressive expansion plan that outpaced economic growth and that of some competitors. The plan aimed to gain the confidence of investors that the airline could expand its profit margin and increase revenue, but instead stoked fears of low fares and higher costs. United shares fell more than 11 percent on Wednesday, while American lost 6 percent and Southwest and Delta each shed around 5 percent. In late 2016, Berkshire revealed a surprise bet on the sector, which Buffett had previously shunned. Years of post-bankruptcy consolidation among carriers and a decline in fuel prices has helped airlines rake in record profits in recent years. The Berkshire CEO told CNBC in February that airlines “had a bad first century.” They’re kind of like the Chicago Cubs,” he said. “And they got that century out of the way, I hope.” Now airlines are facing more competition from low-cost rivals as well as rising fuel prices, but strong economic growth and strong business travel demand is expected to be a tailwind for the sector. Investors will next focus on American Airlines and several of its competitors, including JetBlue and Southwest, which are scheduled to report their quarterly profits on Thursday morning.

Trump in Switzerland to play salesman at economic summit

President Donald Trump arrived in Zurich, Switzerland on Thursday. He boarded a helicopter for the Swiss Alps. Trump is expected to argue at the World Economic Forum that his “America First” agenda can go hand-in-hand with global cooperation. (Jan. 25)

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — President Donald Trump arrived in Switzerland on Thursday, ready to play salesman during his debut appearance at an annual economic summit in the Swiss Alps and argue that his “America First” agenda can go hand-in-hand with global cooperation. Trump arrived in Zurich ahead of schedule and immediately boarded a U.S. helicopter for the flight to Davos, where the World Economic Forum is being held. The approximately 40-minute trip took Trump over a snowy countryside dotted with houses, frosted mountains and a glistening lake. As Trump got off the helicopter, he gestured to aides who held him by the arms as he walked to his waiting car. While the president is expected to declare that the United States is open for business, the protectionist-leaning president’s attendance at the annual gathering for free-trade-loving political and business elites has raised eyebrows. His decision to sign new tariffs boosting American manufacturers this week has prompted fresh concerns about his nationalist tendencies. “I’m going to Davos right now to get people to invest in the United States,” Trump said Wednesday before the overnight flight to Europe. “I’m going to say: ‘Come into the United States. You have plenty of money.’ But I don’t think I have to go, because they’re coming, they’re coming at a very fast clip.” In a tweet sent before departing the White House Trump said, “Our economy is now booming and with all I am doing, will only get better…Our country is finally WINNING again!”

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross argued that new U.S. tariffs on imported solar-energy components and large washing machines are meant to deal with “inappropriate behavior” by other countries and are not protectionist. Still, Ross conceded that China could respond by imposing its own tariffs on U.S. products.

 

The president has criticized global pacts, withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership on trade, demanding changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement and announcing his intent to exit the Paris climate accord. Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn rejected the suggestion that the United States had pulled back from international cooperation.

 

Dow soars 200 points after blowout earnings from Caterpillar, 3M

 Twenty-percent of Dow components hit new all-time highs today  
 

U.S. stocks traded higher on Thursday on the back of stronger-than-expected quarterly results from Caterpillar and 3M. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 200 points. The S&P 500 rose 0.3 percent, with materials as the best-performing sector. The Nasdaq composite advanced 0.4 percent.

Shares of Caterpillar rose as much as 2.8 percent before trading 1 percent higher, while 3M gained 2.7 percent. Celgene and McCormick also reported better-than-forecast quarterly earnings and sales. “The numbers companies are releasing, along with the upbeat views from executives, is helping analysts lift their estimates and that’s helping stocks advance,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney. “You [also] have strong U.S. and overseas economic growth, and that is supportive for stocks.” Calendar fourth-quarter earnings and sales have mostly beat analyst expectations thus far. Of the companies that have reported quarterly results, 77 percent have beaten earnings expectations, while 79 percent have surpassed revenue estimates, according to FactSet.

A trader wears a Dow 20,000 hat as he works on the main trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) shortly before the opening bell of the trading session in New York, U.S., January 25, 2017.
A trader wears a Dow 20,000 hat as he works on the main trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) shortly before the opening bell of the trading session in New York, U.S., January 25, 2017.

“Thus far corporate earnings have been strong enough to keep momentum building, with the few high profile disappointments coming from franchises that had already been suffering from self-inflicted wounds for a number of quarters,” Michael Shaoul, chairman and CEO of Marketfield Asset Management. “It is still too early to declare the earnings season a clear winner, but thus far the news flow has confirmed the clear picture coming from global economic data in recent months, namely that demand accelerated meaningfully over the course of 2017 and in most sectors has not yet been met by a sufficient increase in supply,” Shaoul said. Investors in the U.S. also looked to Europe after the European Central Bank kept interest rates unchanged. The euro shot up 0.7 percent against the dollar to $1.249, briefly breaking above $1.25. “People were looking looking for dovishness out of [ECB President Mario] Draghi, and it wasn’t until the end of the news conference that he delivered that,” said Luke Bartholomew, investment manager at Aberdeen Standard Investments. The euro’s move added to the greenback’s recent losses. The U.S. currency is trading around its lowest levels since 2014. On Thursday, it fell 0.6 percent against a basket of currencies to 88.66. U.S. equities hit record highs on Wednesday before falling from those levels. A roll-over in tech stocks, valuation concerns and worries about protectionist U.S. policies knocked the major indexes from their records.

Trump administration backs bills to toughen foreign investment rules

U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration supports bipartisan bills in Congress to toughen U.S. foreign investment rules amid growing concern about Chinese efforts to buy U.S. high-tech companies, the White House said in a statement on Wednesday. The legislation would broaden the government’s power to stop foreign purchases of U.S. firms by strengthening the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).The bills “would achieve the twin aims of protecting national security and preserving the longstanding United States open investment policy,” the White House said.  The bills, introduced in November by Republican Senator John Cornyn and Republican Representative Robert Pittenger, have Republican and Democratic co-sponsors. The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing on the topic on Thursday. The legislation would expand CFIUS’ reach to allow it to review, and potentially reject, smaller investments and add new national security factors for CFIUS to consider. Those factors include whether information about Americans, such as Social Security numbers, would be exposed as part of the transaction or whether the deal would facilitate fraud. CFIUS already has a reputation for being tough on high-tech deals involving China in particular and has blocked transactions that involve sophisticated semiconductors. It has become more cautious since President Donald Trump was inaugurated a year ago amid growing political and economic tensions between the United States and China. The panel has balked at approving a broader range of deals from China since the inauguration, according to lawyers who specialize in representing proposed transactions to the board. Nick Bit: Sounds good.. But in reality this is creeping protectionism. Government wants to decide upon, approve and control and in reality stop foreign investment…. the life blood of the world economy…. After al this is a man that wants to build the Berlin Wall of America

Dollar slumps to a three-year low but it’s not worrying Europe … just yet

Europe is back: EU's Moscovici
Nothing out of control on dollar-euro trade: EU’s Moscovici

The U.S. dollar might have skidded to a three-year low but its depreciation is not worrying for Europe just yet, a top-ranking EU official told CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The euro was 0.2 percent higher against the dollar Thursday morning, trading at $1.2432. This after the dollar saw its biggest one-day drop in 10 months Wednesday — after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said a weaker greenback is good for the U.S. A weaker dollar could jeopardize European exports as U.S. consumers would likely shun more expensive goods from overseas, in favor of domestic products. “For the time being we see nothing which is absolutely out of control,” Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economic and financial affairs, told CNBC Thursday in Davos. “But we need to be of course vigilant, watching it, and because we need to strike the right balance especially between the dollar and the euro,” the former finance minister of France added.

President Donald Trump said before taking office that the dollar was “too strong” and American firms were therefore at a disadvantage when competing with others globally.

On Wednesday afternoon, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders sought to clarify Mnuchin’s earlier comments, telling reporters that Trump believes in a free-floating currency. In the last two years the euro has risen by around 14 percent against the dollar. Moscovici told CNBC that officials need to monitor the exchange rate in the medium-term, adding that “we need to address that with cool blood and (a) cool head.” Nick Bit: This is some crazy shit. You want a STRONG currency. And no way do you want a weak currency. In essence you are making your people poorer!

Trump says he is willing to testify under oath in U.S.-Russia probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would be willing to be interviewed under oath by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.“I‘m looking forward to it, actually,” Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said of an interview with Mueller, a former FBI director. “I would do it under oath.” Although Trump has pledged cooperation with Mueller’s probe before, Trump made his assertion as the White House and allies in Congress have stepped up attacks on the investigation’s credibility and Trump himself has hedged on whether he would answer questions. Trump’s attorneys have been talking to Mueller’s team about an interview, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation. “I would like to do it as soon as possible,” Trump said. Trump said, however, that setting a date certain for an interview would be “subject to my lawyers and all of that.” Asked whether he thought Mueller would treat him fairly, Trump replied: “We’re going to find out.” Ty Cobb, the lawyer in charge of the White House response to Mueller’s probe, said in a statement that Trump was speaking hurriedly to reporters before departing on his trip to Davos, Switzerland. Cobb said Trump emphasized that he remained committed to cooperating with the investigation and looked forward to speaking with Mueller. Cobb said Mueller’s team and Trump’s personal lawyers were working out the arrangements for a meeting.Sources told Reuters that senior U.S. intelligence officers including CIA Director Mike Pompeo had been questioned by the special counsel’s team about whether Trump tried to obstruct justice in the Russia probe. Such questioning is further indication that Mueller’s criminal investigation into purported Russian interference in the election and potential collusion by Trump’s campaign includes examining the president’s actions around the probe. In his remarks to reporters on Wednesday, Trump repeated past statements that there was no collusion between the campaign and Russia and “there’s no obstruction whatsoever.” The Kremlin has denied conclusions by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the election campaign using hacking and propaganda to try to tilt the race in Trump’s favor. Trump on Wednesday denied a Washington Post report that last year he had asked then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe whom he had voted for in 2016, which according to reports, left McCabe concerned about civil servants being interrogated about their political leanings.

Mnuchin says not seeking trade war

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – A day after sending the dollar reeling with comments supportive of a weak U.S. currency, U.S Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration was not seeking trade wars but would defend its economic interests.At a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mnuchin played down his comments on Wednesday that a weaker dollar was “good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities”, saying they had been “balanced and consistent”.

The remarks were seen by markets as a departure from traditional U.S. currency policy and a sign that U.S. President Donald Trump is stepping up his attack on China and other big trading partners as part of his “America First” agenda.

“I thought my comment on the dollar was actually quite clear yesterday,” Mnuchin told reporters. “I thought it was actually balanced and consistent with what I’ve said before, which is, we are not concerned with where the dollar is in the short term.” Mnuchin said there were “both advantages and disadvantages of where the dollar is in the short-term” and stressed that the United States wanted fair economic competition. “We want free and fair and reciprocal trade. So I think it’s very clear. We’re not looking to get into trade wars. On the other hand we are looking to defend America’s interests.”After Mnuchin’s remarks on Wednesday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross denied that his colleague was advocating a weaker dollar, but when asked about the risk of trade wars, he told CNBC: “Trade war has been in place for quite a little while, the difference is the U.S. troops are now coming to the ramparts.”

Speaking at the Thursday morning news conference, Ross said: “People are using some predatory practices against us and we’re not flinching from that.” Nick Bit: Sounds like fighting words to me as in trade war!

GE Posts Q4 Loss, Revenue Misses View

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General Electric (GE) reported a loss for the fourth-quarter, compared to profit in the prior year, reflecting charges for insurance-related items, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and industrial portfolio items. Quarterly revenues declined 5% from the previous year. Revenues missed analysts’ estimates. GE Chairman and CEO John Flannery said, “In the fourth quarter, EPS was at the low-end of guidance, excluding insurance-related items, U.S. tax reform, and industrial portfolio actions. Cash performance was above expectations and our visibility and execution on cash is improving…..….The team is focused on operational execution, capital allocation and deep cost reduction to position us for continued improvement in 2018.” Net loss attributable to common shareowners for the fourth-quarter of 2017 were $9.83 billion or $1.13 per share, compared to earnings of $3.49 billion or $0.39 per share in the prior year. Industrial Operating + Verticals loss was $1.23 per share, compared to profit of $0.46 per share in the previous year. Industrial operating + Verticals earnings, excluding the fourth-quarter charges not included in prior guidance, were $2.33 billion or $0.27 per share compared to $4.08 billion or $0.46 per share in the previous year. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected the company to report earnings of $0.29 per share for the fourth-quarter. Analysts’ estimates typically exclude special items.

Industrial + Verticals earnings were at low end of guidance excluding $1.49 of charges for insurance-related items $0.91, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act $0.40, and industrial portfolio items of $0.18. Total revenues and other income for the quarter declined 5% to $31.40 billion from last year’s $ 33.09 billion in the prior year. Wall Street expected revenues of $34.06 billion for the fourth-quarter. Separately, Baker Hughes, a GE company reported that its fourth-quarter revenue was $5.8 billion, up 7% sequentially and down 3% year-over-year on a combined business basis. GAAP net loss per share of $0.07 for the quarter, which included $0.22 per share of adjusting items. Adjusted earnings per share were $0.15. Baker Hughes’s Orders were $5.8 billion for the quarter, up 1% sequentially and down 2% year-over-year on a combined business basis.

Trump Mocks ‘Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, Says No DACA Without Wall

 

President Donald Trump said in a tweet Tuesday night that without a southern border wall, there would be “no DACA” as part of an immigration agreement. Mocking “Cryin’ Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), Trump responded to Schumer threatening to withhold wall funding as part of a bipartisan immigration deal. In Schumer’s telling, during negotiations before the brief government shutdown forced by Senate Democrats over the weekend, he offered Trump well north of the $1.6 billion originally requested to build the wall in exchange for protecting the “Dreamers,” the term for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) recipients, from deportation. The deal fell through, however, and Schumer now says the wall is no longer on the table. “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer fully understands, especially after his humiliating defeat, that if there is no Wall, there is no DACA. We must have safety and security, together with a strong Military, for our great people!” Trump wrote.

Building the wall would be a fulfillment of one of Trump’s most famous campaign promises, although he frequently said that the wall would be paid for by Mexico. The shutdown ended after less than three days on Monday when 33 Democrats joined almost all Republicans in passing a stopgap spending bill to fund the government through Feb. 8. In exchange, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) promised to allow an immigration bill to be brought before the chamber before then. Like the continuing resolution Democrats blocked on Friday, it had a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and no provisions regarding Dreamers, leading to charges the minority party “caved.” Left-wing advocates and House Democrats blasted Schumer for ending the shutdown without getting protections for Dreamers in the bill, although Schumer has said he got the best deal he could under the circumstances.

A weaker dollar is good for the US, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin says

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin during a press briefing at the White House in Washington.

 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. is open for business and welcomed a weaker dollar, saying that it would benefit the country. Speaking at a press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos Wednesday, he made a bid for investment into the U.S., saying the government was committed to growth of 3 percent or higher. “Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos, according to Bloomberg, adding that the currency’s short term value is “not a concern of ours at all.” “Longer term, the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency,” he said. On the eve President Donald Trump’s arrival at the event, he said that the U.S. delegation to Davos was its largest ever. “(The) size of the delegation to Davos this year is testament to the scale of Trump’s work over the past year,” Mnuchin said. “What’s happening in the U.S. (is a) reflection of programs being put in place. As we look at U.S. growth, it continues to look quite good and is a very attractive place to invest,” he added. The dollar dipped slightly after his comments and hit a session low, with the dollar index slipping 0.47 percent for the day. The British pound climbed to a post-Brexit vote high shortly after 8:30 a.m. London time. Mnuchin iterated that his country is “absolutely” committed to free and fair trade, according to the Associated Press. He added that strong U.S. growth was good for the economy and that there was no inconsistency with Trump’s “America First” agenda, according to the news agency.

CIA director interviewed in special counsel’s Russia probe: NBC

CIA Director Mike Pompeo delivers remarks at “Intelligence Beyond 2018,” a forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, in Washington, U.S., January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – CIA Director Mike Pompeo has been questioned by the special counsel’s office investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign, NBC News reported on Wednesday. The report comes one day after the Justice Department said Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week, a significant step in an inquiry that has overshadowed Trump’s first year in office.Mueller’s office also interviewed former FBI Director James Comey shortly after Trump fired Comey in May 2017, a person familiar with the matter has told Reuters. The firing led to Mueller’s appointment to take over the FBI’s Russia investigation. Comey’s dismissal is central to the question of whether Trump may have committed obstruction of justice related to the Russia investigation. NBC, citing people familiar with the inquiry, did not say when the interview with Pompeo occurred but said one person familiar with the inquiry called him a “peripheral witnesses” to Comey’s firing. Representatives for the CIA said the U.S. intelligence agency had no comment on NBC’s report. NBC also reported that former senior campaign aide and White House strategist Steve Bannon is expected to meet with Mueller’s team by the end of January. Bannon had earlier reached an agreement to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators instead of appearing before a grand jury. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign using hacking and propaganda to try to tilt the race in Trump’s favor. Russia has denied it. Trump has denied any collusion with Russia, and has called the Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.” Discussions have been under way about the possibility of Mueller’s team interviewing Trump, according to a person familiar with the talks. The Washington Post reported late on Tuesday that Mueller wants to interview Trump in coming weeks.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross: ‘There’s a good chance’ that NAFTA renegotiations will succeed

US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross addresses delegates at the Confederation of British Industry conference in east London, on November 6, 2017.
Daniel Leal-Olivas | AFP | Getty Images US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross addresses delegates at the Confederation of British Industry conference in east London, on November 6, 2017
.Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on CNBC Wednesday expressed optimism over U.S. efforts to renegotiate NAFTA. “There’s a good chance” of success, said Ross, who appeared on “Squawk Box” from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Ross is a key player in the Trump administration’s efforts to renegotiate the terms of NAFTA, the 1994 agreement among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
  President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he would pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if he thought it would lead to a better deal for the U.S. Before joining the White House, Ross made a future in the investment world, running W.L. Ross & Co., and buying stakes in distressed assets. Nick Bit:  This silly ole fool is going to start a trad  ar and depession.

The stock market is having a sugar high that could lead to a massive hangover, market watcher warns

 Not all market watchers have cheered Wall Street’s bounds from record to record this year. Max Wolff, chief economist at The Phoenix Group, sees a potential end for the S&P 500’s meteoric rise
The S&P 500 just posted two more remarkable records
The S&P 500 just posted two more remarkable records.

“A string of sugar highs feel better and look better than a longer sustainable kind of run, but a longer sustainable run has been elusive,” Wolff said on CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Tuesday. “My guess is the second half of 2018, you start having to pay for it, some of this partying is going to produce more hangover than bliss.” Wolff expects the current upward trend to hang on a little longer, though, especially given the sentiment surrounding this bull market. Just look at the market’s gains during the government shutdown drama, he said. The S&P 500 shook off any worries in the week heading into the Friday deadline for a deal to fund the government. Instead, the index clocked a weekly gain of nearly 1 percent. Then, when the shutdown was approaching its conclusion on Monday, the S&P rose another 0.8 percent to new records. “So long as you have that kind of sentiment and you have a little bit of magical thinking with really good numbers to back it up and everyone’s a little bit high at the party here, I think it goes a bit longer,” said Wolff.

Boris Schlossberg, managing director of FX Strategy at BK Asset Management, also harbors concerns over how quickly the S&P 500 has risen this year. “The S&P reminds me of bitcoin,” Schlossberg told “Trading Nation” on Tuesday, alluding to the cryptocurrency’s rapid rise to a December record before pulling back and languishing between the $10,000 to $11,000 mark in recent days. “We’re going to be able to see very soon if the S&P begins to crack, that some sort of an intermediate top is going to be set in.” Nick Bit: this market is doomed to its biggest crash ever!!!

Mortgage applications jump 4.5%

Prospective home owners tour a home in Jurupa Valley, California.
Nichola Groom | Reuters

Mortgage applications rose 4.5 percent last week from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted report. Application volume was 6.1 percent higher than the same week one year ago. Applications to purchase a home led the charge, rising 6 percent for the week to the highest level since April 2010. These loan applications are now 7 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances of $453,100 or less increased to 4.36 percent, its highest level since March. That’s up from 4.33 percent, with points remaining unchanged at 0.54, including the origination fee, for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio loans. The 15-year fixed rate climbed to its highest level since September 2013.

Mortgage applications to refinance a home loan also rose, up 1 percent for the week, despite higher rates. Refinance volume usually moves in the opposite direction of interest rates. Mortgage rates loosely follow the yield on the 10-year Treasury.

Nick Bit: You are going to love this. We are seeing home refinances so people can get  in on the stock market stampede… The end is near!

Jamie Dimon doesn’t ‘see any potholes’ for the U.S. economy

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon said he isn’t expecting any potholes ahead that could disrupt what has been a stellar run for the stock market and the economy.

‘I don’t see any potholes.’

—Jamie Dimon, CEO J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Speaking on CNBC during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the head of the world’s biggest bank by assets said that although he acknowledges he may “not be able to see the potholes,” that are actually there, he believes that pro-growth policies have positioned the economy and the market for success. Those policies follow a decadelong period of sluggishness that has been supported by the Federal Reserve and global central banks since the financial crisis brought much of the world-wide economy to its knees in 2007-08, he said. “We can’t believe that we are doing so well. It’s been a long 10 years,” Dimon said.

Of course, the bank boss said rising interest rates, among other factors, could be impediments. But he saw few reasons that could upend what is viewed as an upbeat economic growth trajectory.

On Tuesday, the S&P 500 index noted its 12th all-time closing record, marking the most record finishes for the broad-market benchmark, surpassing the 11 logged in January in 1964, according to WSJ Market Data Group.

Overall, the S&P 500 is up 6.2% so far in January, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average boasts a gain of about of more than 6% and the Nasdaq Composite Index has rallied more 8% so far this month. Dimon has been particularly bullish of late. On Wednesday, Dimon reiterated his call for stellar gross-domestic-product growth, which is a higher forecast than J.P. Morgan’s own U.S. economist. Dimon’s comments follow similarly bullish remarks from Bridgewater Associates’s Ray Dalio, who said “‘If [investors are] holding cash, you’re going to feel pretty stupid.”  Nick Bit: not only are investors not sitting on any cash with record debt levels. They have now started refinancing their homes to dump into the stock market. This will like last time end very badly

Kimberly-Clark to cut workforce by 12-13 percent, shut facilities

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Kimberly-Clark is seen in Maracay, Venezuela, July 10, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

(Reuters) – Kleenex and Huggies maker Kimberly-Clark Corp said on Tuesday it expects to eliminate 5,000-5,500 jobs, or 12-13 percent of its workforce, as part of its global restructuring program. The company said it expects to close or sell about ten manufacturing facilities and would exit or divest some lower-margin businesses.The restructuring is expected to broadly impact all the business segments of the company, it said. The cost-savings program, which will begin in the current quarter, is expected to be completed in two years and the company sees incurring related pretax charges of $1.7 billion to $1.9 billion over that period. Kimberly-Clark said the program would generate annual pretax cost savings of $500 to $550 million by the end of 2021. It expects cash costs for the restructuring, mainly related to workforce reductions, to be between $900 million to $1 billion. The company on Tuesday also reported a near 1 percent rise in fourth-quarter net sales to $4.6 billion, compared with a year earlier. Kimberly-Clark said it expects net sales in 2018 to improve by 1 percent to 2 percent.“Although we expect market conditions will remain challenging in the near-term, we plan to deliver better results in 2018 while we begin to implement our new restructuring”, Chief Executive Thomas Falk said in a statement.  Shares of the company, which also raised its quarterly dividend by 3.1 percent, were marginally up at $117.24 in early trading.

Trump: ‘Not at all concerned’ by Sessions interview in Russia probe

President Trump said Tuesday he is not worried about what Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during questioning by special counsel Robert Mueller‘s team in the Russia investigation.    “No, I’m not at all,” he told reporters. “I’m not at all concerned.”
The president said he has not spoken to Sessions about what he discussed with the special counsel’s office. “No, I didn’t. But I’m not at all concerned,” Trump said. Trump’s comment comes after the Justice Department confirmed that Sessions was interviewed last week as part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The meeting was the first time Mueller’s team is known to have interviewed a member of Trump’s Cabinet, a sign the Russia probe remains in full swing despite assurances from White House lawyers it is expected to wind down soon. Trump also denied reports that FBI Director Christopher Wray threatened to resign in response to pressure from Sessions to force out Andrew McCabe, the bureau’s deputy director. “No. He didn’t at all. He did not even a little bit,” Trump said. McCabe has come under withering criticism from Trump and other Republicans for his role in the Hillary Clinton email investigation and his relationship with former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired last year. Sessions recused himself last March from the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, a decision that angered Trump, who has said he wants his attorney general to protect him. The former Alabama senator was one of Trump’s earliest supporters during the 2016 campaign, but their relationship never recovered after Sessions’ recusal.

Saudi oil giant Aramco is ready for 2018 IPO, but waiting for OK from government, CEO says

Saudi Aramco CEO: Company is ready for IPO in second half of 2018
Saudi Aramco CEO: Company is ready for IPO in second half of 2018 14 Mins Ago | 02:02

Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest energy company, is fully prepared for a hotly anticipated public share offering in the second half of 2018, says Aramco president and CEO Amin Nasser. It is just waiting for one thing, says Nasser. The green light from its sole shareholder: the Saudi government. “In terms of readiness, we are ready. As we always said, the company by the second half of 2018 will be ready,” Nasser told CNBC in an interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The sale of roughly 5 percent of Aramco is expected to value the company at $1 to $2 trillion, making it the largest initial public offering ever. The IPO is the cornerstone of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to create the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund and diversify Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy. But rumors about delays to the share sale have long swirled, fueled by the slow drip of information on key aspects of the IPO, including where the shares will be listed. Amin al-Nasser, Chief Executive of state oil company Saudi Aramco. “It is all depending on the shareholder’s decisions where to list because we need to coordinate with the other markets when the decision is made,” Nasser said. “So from our side as a company, we are ready by the second half of this year, and the rest is on the shareholder’s hands,” he said. The IPO is complicated because Aramco underwrites the finances of the kingdom. Investors have wondered how much light the Saudi government will shed on its oil reserves and the future viability of its fossil fuels business. There are also questions about how Saudi Arabia will balance the national priorities and social welfare spending, funded by oil revenues, with Aramco’s duty to shareholders as a public company. Nasser told CNBC in an interview last year he believes the priorities of the Saudi government and Aramco’s future shareholders will be in alignment.

Schumer withdraws offer to boost funds for Trump’s border wall: report

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has reportedly withdrawn an offer he previously made regarding funding for President Trump‘s border wall. Schumer told the White House through an aide that he was withdrawing the offer to give more than $1.6 billion in funding for Trump’s proposed border wall, Politico reported. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). speaking on the reported offer, said Schumer “took it off.”

“He called the White House yesterday and said it’s over,” Durbin said, according to Politico.

Schumer and Trump met at the White House last Friday to talk about a potential deal ahead of the midnight deadline to avoid a government shutdown and Schumer reportedly offered an increase in funding for Trump’s proposed border wall. Schumer said this past weekend that he agreed to discuss the U.S.-Mexico border as part of negotiations with Trump, but wasn’t able to win him over. “During the meeting, in exchange for strong [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] protections, I reluctantly put the border wall on the table for the discussion. Even that was not enough to entice the president to finish the deal,” Schumer said from the Senate floor. Early Saturday morning, Schumer said the two had a “lengthy and substantive discussion,” and Trump appeared to be on board during their meeting. Schumer’s floor speech came after Democrats emerged from a closed-door caucus meeting on Friday evening, claiming the two men had been close to a deal but the president balked. A Senate aide this past weekend confirmed that Trump had walked away from a potential deal. One Democratic aide told Politico that Trump had “missed an opportunity to get the wall.” Even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke out against the deal, saying there was no reason to support it. “I don’t see that there’s any reason — I’m speaking personally and hearing from my members — to support what was put forth,” Pelosi said at a press briefing Monday shortly before Schumer signaled Senate Democrats would agree to it.

CIA believes North Korea weapons aimed at coercion, not just defense: Pompeo

CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Getty Images CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

The CIA believes North Korea’s missile program is aimed at coercion, not just self-defense, and that Pyongyang’s next logical step would be to develop an arsenal of weapons and the capability to fire multiple missiles, the agency’s director Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Pompeo said a key risk of allowing North Korea to develop its nuclear and missile program is proliferation to other countries. Pompeo added that U.S. President Donald Trump’s focus is on a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but the CIA is working to provide him with a range of other options.

Trump’s solar tariffs could put the brakes on rapid job growth in renewable energy

The solar power industry — which has created tens of thousands of jobs in recent years — is bracing for a shakeup after President Donald Trump slapped tariffs on imported solar panels and modules. The impact of the 30 percent tariff remains uncertain. The manufacturers that requested a trade investigation last year say the tariffs give them a fighting chance against foreign competitors. But much of the industry warns that they will push up project costs and make building solar energy farms less attractive. That could mean slower employment growth in a sector that has expanded at more than 20 percent annually in recent years. There were about 260,000 solar workers in the United States at the end of 2016 — five times the size of the coal mining industry — according to the Solar Foundation’s latest annual jobs census.

A slowdown in the deployment of big, utility-scale clean energy projects would come at a time when the White House is promoting planet-warming fossil fuels like coal and backing away from international efforts to fight climate change.”The fact is that if you put high tariffs on solar panels you’re going to kill demand for solar,” Abigail Ross Hopper, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, told CNBC in an interview prior to the decision. “We grew our jobs 17 times faster than the rest of the economy.” The tariffs apply to imported solar cells, the individual components that convert light into electricity, and solar modules, or groups of cells. In its decision on Monday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said China used a series of “state incentives, subsidies, and tariffs to dominate the global supply chain” and carve out a leading role in solar cell and module manufacturing.

 

 

French referendum LOOMING: Macron under pressure to hold vote as rivals attack president

MARINE Le Pen’s former aide is calling for Emmanuel Macron to hold a referendum on constitutional reform, urging the centrist leader to make good on one of his key election pledges. 

mac1

Emmanuel Macron is facing pressure to hold a referendum on constitutional reform Florian Philippot, far-right chief Marine Le Pen’s former strategist, said Mr Macron “promised” to hold a referendum, and he must now follow through on his pledge. In July, just two months after his landslide victory against Mrs Le Pen, the 40-year-old president laid out plans for deep constitutional changes, saying that he wanted to overhaul the country’s election system to allow smaller parties to be better represented.  He also said that he wanted to slash the number of lawmakers by a third in both houses of parliament, saying they would “legislate less” but “act faster,” before pledging to curb the executive’s role in naming magistrates.The measures, he said, would speed up lawmaking by shortening procedures and simplify the voting process. Mr Macron said that he would ask congress to approve the institutional reforms by summer 2018 or put them directly to voters in a referendum.  Mr Macron said during a parliamentary session at the Palace of Versailles: “In the past, procedures have taken preference over results, rules over initiative, living off the public purse over fairness… I want all these deep reforms that our institutions seriously need to be done within a year. These reforms will go to parliament but, if necessary, I will put them to voters in a referendum.” Mr Philippot told France’s RMC radio: “France has not held a referendum on constitutional reform in 12 years, and yet it would allow us to debate the role of our political institutions.” The head of the fledgling far-right The Patriots movement put Mr Macron under pressure as he declared France has no need for two assemblies, saying that the Senate was both “useless and unnecessary”. Mr Philippot also said that France should abolish its Senate, saying that there was no need for two assemblies.

 

Crunch time for NAFTA as negotiators open Montreal round of talks

MONTREAL (Reuters) – U.S., Canadian and Mexican negotiators opened a key week-long round of talks to modernize NAFTA on Tuesday amid persistent concerns the Trump administration is preparing to walk away from the trade deal, a move that could roil financial markets. Officials gathered in a Montreal hotel for the sixth and penultimate round of talks, which are supposed to conclude by the end of March to avoid a clash with Mexico’s general elections Insiders say the Canadian and Mexican governments are prepared to be flexible on a U.S. demand that the amount of North American content in autos be boosted to qualify for duty-free status in NAFTA.But Ottawa and Mexico City strongly oppose the proposal that autos produced on the continent should have 50 percent U.S. content. Differences also remain over how to address the U.S. push for changes to various dispute resolution mechanisms.  “The Montreal round … will be a high-noon moment I think for the agreement,” said James Moore, a former Canadian minister who is a member of a special council advising Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on NAFTA. Canadian officials are downbeat about the talks amid uncertainty over whether Washington really wants to negotiate or plans to walk away. “If you’re unsure where the other side wants to go it is really difficult to know what would please them unless you capitulate, and that’s not going to happen,” one person briefed on Ottawa’s negotiating stance said on condition of anonymity. U.S. chief negotiator John Melle and Canadian chief negotiator Steve Verheul declined to comment on Tuesday. Trump, who has vowed to undo what he describes as disastrous trade deals, expressed differing views in recent days on what he might do about NAFTA, unsettling investors who worry that one of the world’s largest trading blocs ultimately could be disrupted.

Canada, which sends 75 percent of its goods exports to the United States, has responded to the lack of clarity over the future of the 1994 agreement by attempting to diversify its trade. Earlier on Tuesday,

Canada and 10 other nations agreed to sign a reworked Asia-Pacific trade pact. The United States pulled out of an earlier version of the deal. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is currently attending the World Economic Forum meeting to drum up investment. Next month he will spend five days in India, which Canada sees as potentially a bigger trading partner.

Pence says Dems ‘failed’ in shutdown standoff

 
Pence says Dems 'failed' in shutdown standoff
© Greg Nash Vice President Pence declared Monday that Democrats “failed” in their efforts to shut down the government in order to extract concessions from Republicans on immigration.
“The Schumer Shutdown failed,” Pence said, referring to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Pence spoke at a news conference in Israel, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as part of a three-nation Middle East tour.  The vice president accused Democrats of making unreasonable demands that needlessly threatened crucial government operations.
 “A minority in the United States Senate chose to shut down the government, denying our soldiers benefits and wages that they earned, denying government services, just to advance an issue pertaining to illegal immigration,” he said. Democrats were pushing Republicans to pass protections for certain young immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children as part of a government-funding package.  They did not get what they wanted, instead agreeing to a three-week spending bill with a verbal promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to have an open immigration debate next month.”Now that the government is reopening, Congress can get back to work advancing the president’s agenda,” Pence said.

Chinese bank fined over multibillion-dollar bad-debt cover-up

Shanghai Pudong Development Bank’s internal controls failed to flag a major fraud at it Chengdu branch, banking regulator says

China’s banking regulator has slapped a 462 million yuan (US$72 million) fine on a bank branch over a massive shell company fraud, as Beijing continues to crack down on financial risks.The China Banking Regulatory Commission said Shanghai Pudong Development Bank’s Chengdu branch – which had long claimed to have “zero” non-performing loans – falsified loan applications and granted other unapproved funds to cover up its pile of bad debts.  In all, the branch issued 77.5 billion yuan in credit to 1,493 “empty shell” companies, in a scam that Chinese financial media group Caixin said could run to 10 billion yuan in losses. The branch’s former president and two vice-presidents were banned for life from banking and another 195 staff members were punished for the widespread fraud, the CBRC said in a statement on Friday. The Shanghai-based bank said in a statement on the weekend that it admitted the wrongdoings and fully accepted the punishment. It apologised to investors but added that the fine would not have a big impact on its business operations. The bank also said its Chengdu branch had complied with the CBRC’s request for remedial action to ensure that “overall risks were under control with no impact on client interests”. Neither the commission nor the bank said how much they expected the losses to total. The revelations come as the bank reported a net profit of 54.2 billion yuan for 2017, up by 2.2 per cent from 2016. According to its annual reports, its non-performing loans ratio rose to 2.14 per cent in 2017 from 1.89 per cent in 2016, 1.56 per cent in 2015, and 1.06 per cent in 2014.

But the scandal has renewed concerns about the quality of the lender’s loan data and that of the broader Chinese banking system.

According to the commission, the Chengdu branch had been extending questionable loans for years but the bank’s internal control systems failed to flag any risks. The branch “dressed up financial statements and made up profits” to improve its position within the bank, with the irregularities penetrating various operations from bank loans to interbank lending and borrowing and wealth management, the regulator said. The CBRC did not say which shell companies were involved or how they were used. But often when a borrower’s loans at a bank are likely to sour, the bank will ask a shell company to buy the borrower’s troubled loans and then make a new loan to the shell company. In doing so, a risky loan is covered up as a viable one. Nick Bit: China debt exceeds 300% of GDP. That is the debt we know about. The only Chinese miracle is the amount of debt it has racked up. When this bubble bursts China will be poorer then ever.

Warning to Brussels: Mess with Italian election and risk another EU upset, says Tajani

THE PRESIDENT of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani called for the European Commission to refrain from “counterproductive” attacks on Italy during the Italian election campaign.
Italian election 2018 EU European Parliament Salvini Berlusconi Tajani
European Parliament President strikes a stern warning to EU: ‘Stay out of the Italian election’
 Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament and a member of Silvio Berlusconi’s party Forza Italia, warned the European Commission, asking unelected figures in Brussels to refrain from commenting on the upcoming general election in Italy. 

In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Mr Tajani said the Commission has the right to demand stability from the next Italian Government, but that striking any attack against the running parties would be counterproductive.  He said: “I think the European Commission should limit its comments about Italy to generic ones to avoid reactions contrary to their objectives.“If they say Italy needs stability they are right. It’s clear Italy needs a stable Government. Just as they seek stability for Germany, they should do so in Italy as well, perhaps with different strategies.” In the interview, Mr Tajani said he is not worried about Northern League’s leader Matteo Salvini and his rallies against the European Union. He said: “Euroscepticism takes us outside of the continental games, but I think the messages against Europe are fading. The Northern League is going from being eurosceptic to eurocritic. I am more worried about the Five Star Movement in that sense.” Far-right party the Northern League and Silvio Berlusconi’s party Forza Italia have announced a pre-election coalition together with centre-right party Fratelli d’Italia.  In a newly published joint manifesto, the coalition promised a revision of the European treaties and vowed to concentrate on more politics and less bureaucracy in Europe.Italy’s Lega Nord leader Matteo Salvini vows to fight EU. The coalition also promised to reduce the annual contributions to the EU and to regain national sovereignty over European directives on the basis of the German model.

EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said the Italian vote is “a political risk for the European Union”.

During a conference in Paris, Mr Moscovici said: “Italy is preparing for elections whose results are more than uncertain. What majority will the vote return? What programme and commitment to Europe? In a contest where the Italian economic situation is not the best on a European level, happy are those who can forecast the results.”

Halliburton beats on fourth quarter profit, makes tax provision

 FILE PHOTO: Oil production equipment is seen in a Halliburton yard in Williston, North Dakota, U.S. on April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen/File Photo

(Reuters) – Halliburton Co  posted a much bigger than expected quarterly profit in the fourth quarter, benefiting from a shale-driven surge in U.S. oil production towards 10 million barrels per day.The company also made a $1.05 billion provision for income tax payments chiefly related to recently-passed changes in U.S. corporate taxation. Like cross-town rival Schlumberger last week, the company sounded upbeat about the health of the U.S. oil industry. “I am optimistic about what I see in 2018,” CEO Jeff Miller said in a statement. “Commodity prices are supportive of increasing activity in North America and I am encouraged by the increase in tender activity and the positive discussions we are having with our international customers.” Halliburton, which makes about 55 percent of its revenue from North American operations, said revenue rose to $5.9 billion for the quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with $4.02 billion last year. Revenue in North America came in at $3.4 billion, up from $1.8 billion last year. Schlumberger last week beat Wall Street forecasts and gave an upbeat outlook, predicting its international operations would grow in 2018 for the first time in four years.

Turkey invades Syria to attack US-backed Kurdish forces

Turkish troops face fierce battles in Syrian Kurdish enclave

HASSA, Turkey (AP) — Intense clashes erupted Monday as Turkish troops and their allies advanced on a Kurdish enclave in Syria, the third day of the Ankara offensive aimed at ousting the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia from the area, the militia and a war monitoring group said. The Turkish offensive on Afrin, codenamed Operation Olive Branch, started on Saturday, heightening tensions in the already complicated Syrian conflict and threatening to further strain ties between NATO allies Turkey and the United States. Turkey says it aims to create a 30-kilometer (20-mile) deep “secure zone” in Afrin, the Kurdish-controlled enclave that straddles its borders.  NATO said Turkey has suffered from terrorism and has the right to self-defense but urged Ankara to do so in a “proportionate and measured way.” NATO also said it has no presence in Syria but that as members of the coalition against Islamic State militants, “our focus is on the defeat” of the extremist group. The U.S-backed Kurdish militia said Monday it has repelled Turkish troops and their Syrian allies from Shinkal and Adah Manli, two villages they seized a day earlier in Afrin, the enclave they control in northwestern Syria. Afrin is encircled from all sides by Turkish-backed Syrian fighters, Turkish troops and Syrian government forces. The one road out of the enclave to government-controlled Aleppo has been closed by the Kurdish militia for security reasons. The Kurdish group, the People’s Defense Units or the YPG, said the Turkey-backed forces have opened a new front, pushing their way into two other villages in the district’s north. The militia said they are fighting to push back the advancing troops in Balia and Qarna in northwest Afrin.

 

Turkey considers the YPG a terror organization because of its affiliation to its own Kurdish insurgency. The militia formed the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, US’ ally in the war against the Islamic State militants in Syria.

. The Kurdish militia has meanwhile blamed Russia for the Afrin attack, saying Russian officials have urged them to hand over the enclave to the Syrian government to avoid the Turkish offensive. Russian troops stationed in Afrin district had redeployed ahead of the Turkish offensive, which also includes airstrikes. At least 18 civilians have been killed in Afrin so far, according to the Observatory. One Syrian refugee was killed in a Turkish border town following rockets launched from Syria. Nick Bit: The Kurdish forces were essential to defeating ISIS. Now the job is done and the US is throwing them to the wolves. A  old story with how the US military and CIA operate.

Frackers Could Make More Money Than Ever in 2018, If They Don’t Blow It

Oil companies, listening to investors, promise modest drilling as oil prices rise, but skeptics remain

A drilling rig near Midland, Texas, in 2014. U.S. oil companies are on track this year to generate more cash than they spend, a first in the age of shale.
A drilling rig near Midland, Texas, in 2014.
U.S. oil companies are on track this year to generate more cash than they spend, a first in the age of shale fracking boom. Crude prices have surged almost 40% in the past six months. Yet shale producers are so far touting cautious spending plans for 2018—in contrast with past price spikes, when companies mounted aggressive drilling campaigns that quickly increased supplies and pushed prices back down. While the companies have posted profits in the past, they have never done so while limiting spending to the amount of cash they generate from operations. Shale drillers are heeding growing calls from investors who have chastened the companies for pumping ever more oil and gas even as they incur losses doing so. But some investors and analysts remain skeptical that U.S. wildcatters will fulfill promises to live within their means, saying that higher prices have almost always led them to boost drilling. “These companies can say that, but will they follow through?” said Norm MacDonald, vice president and portfolio manager at Invesco Ltd. “Given what oil prices have done in the past few months, the proof will be in the pudding.”

Companies such as Anadarko Petroleum Corp. already have detailed plans to reduce 2018 spending on drilling and operating wells. Even oil giant Chevron Corp.  plan s to cut such investments almost 10%. Among smaller operators, spending is expected to rise about 8% in 2018, compared with a 55% increase in 2017, according to an analysis of over 20 companies by Jefferies. About one-third of the biggest producers have released preliminary spending guidance, and the rest are expected to do so in coming weeks.

Even as U.S. producers promise to curtail excesses of previous years, federal forecasters expect them soon to push U.S. oil output past the monthly record, set in 1970, of more than 10 million barrels a day. They are on pace to establish the record in the next few weeks, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency went a step further Friday, projecting that U.S. production in 2018 will surpass the output of Saudi Arabia and rival that of Russia, the top producer.

Nick Note: I told you so

US tax overhaul hits UBS earnings with a $3 billion writedown

 

Swiss bank UBS reported a net profit of 1.165 billion Swiss francs ($1.25 billion) for the whole of 2017, weighed down by a writedown in the fourth quarter that related to the new U.S. tax overhaul. The consensus from a Reuters poll was for a figure of 1.257 billion Swiss francs, below the 2016 number of 3.3 billion Swiss francs and below the 2015 figure of 6.2 billion Swiss francs. “2017 was an excellent year for us. We delivered stronger financial results and met our net cost reduction target,” Sergio Ermotti, the group’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. Speaking to CNBC about the results, Ermotti said the highlight of the year was more clarity on international banking regulation, and the fact that the bank reduced its litigation portfolio further. “We are now in a position to continue and implement our attractive capital return policy, we increased our ordinary dividend and announcing (a) share buyback program,” Ermotti told CNBC.

Net profit included a writedown of 2.865 billion Swiss francs in the fourth quarter of deferred tax assets due to the introduction a new tax cuts and the jobs act in the United States. 

It said that excluding this writedown, net profit would have increased by 26 percent year-over-year. UBS also said on Monday that it would increase its dividend for investors to 0.65 Swiss francs per share — an 8 percent jump from last year. The bank also introduced a three-year share buyback program of up to 2 billion Swiss francs. Ermotti foresees a pick up in volatility, particularly in the second part of the year, but he said the company needs to be wary about the kind of volatility that lies ahead. “We have to pay attention to what we are wishing for here, if volatility is triggered by sudden changes in the macroeconomic environment, which we don’t expect, more particularly geopolitical events, that wouldn’t be a welcomed volatility for sure,” he said.

“In general I am not comfortable (with the political backdrop). If I look at the radar screen of geopolitical events, I don’t think anybody in the world could be comfortable with what we see, because I see no issue disappearing from the radar screen and I see more and more stuff coming into the radar screen,” Ermotti noted.

Inequality gap widens as ‘world’s richest 1% get 82% of the wealth,’ Oxfam says

Superyachts and other smaller luxury vessels sit moored in the Port de Fontvieille in Monaco, on Monday, May 18, 2015.
Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images Superyachts and other smaller luxury vessels sit moored in the Port de Fontvieille in Monaco, on Monday, May 18, 2015

Just 42 people own the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50 percent worldwide, a new study by global charity Oxfam claimed. In a report published Monday, Oxfam called for action to tackle the growing gap between the super-rich and the rest of the world. Approximately 82 percent of the money generated last year went to the richest 1 percent of the global population, the report said, while the poorest half saw no increase at all. The report is timely as the global political and business elite gathers in snow-clad Davos for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting this week, which aims to promote responsive and responsible leadership. Oxfam said its figures, which some observers have criticized, showed economic rewards were “increasingly concentrated” at the top. The charity cited tax evasion, the erosion of worker’s rights, cost-cutting and businesses’ influence on policy decisions as reasons for the widening inequality gap. The charity also found the wealth of billionaires had increased by 13 percent a year on average in the decade from 2006 to 2015. Last year, billionaires would have seen an uptick of $762 billion — enough to end extreme poverty seven times over. It also claimed nine out of 10 of the world’s 2,043 billionaires were men. The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, saw his wealth balloon by $6 billion in the first 10 days of 2017 — leading to a flood of headlines marking him as “the richest man of all time.” Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said the statistics signal “something is very wrong with the global economy.” “The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hard-working people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food,” he added. Oxfam has published similar reports over the past five years. At the start of 2017, Oxfam said eight billionaires from around the globe had as much money as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world’s population. Improved data has seen last year’s figure revised to 61, but the charity said the trend of widening inequality was still evident. The report, “Reward Work, Not Health,” is based on data from Forbes and the annual Credit Suisse Global Wealth datebook, which has detailed the distribution of global wealth since 2000.

Reports on South Korea’s cryptocurrency plans keep rolling out, but many remain upbeat

This company is watching the swings in cryptocurrency prices

 

A lack of clarity in South Korea’s plans to regulate cryptocurrencies may be of concern, but experts continued to sound upbeat about developments in the space. In the latest twist in an ongoing saga, South Korea reportedly intends to make cryptocurrency operators exchange user data with banks, local media said on Sunday, citing a single unnamed government official. The plan, which will be a “measure of tax enforcement,” is expected to come into effect toward the end of January or at the beginning of February, Yonhap News Agency reported. A separate Yonhap report on Monday said the government would impose a tax rate not exceeding 24.2 percent on cryptocurrency exchange incomes this year. “Korea Financial Intelligence Unit announced that financial companies are in the process of drawing up a guideline to prevent cryptocurrency-related money laundering, although any specific measures are yet to be confirmed,” the Financial Services Commission said in a statement in response to the news. “The financial authorities have not looked into any measure to monitor cryptocurrency users’ transaction data,” it added. The South Korean government faced an outcry earlier this month after it said it would prepare a bill to ban cryptocurrency exchanges, although it subsequently qualified those remarks, adding that more consultation would be done before a decision was made. An online petition on the presidential office’s website against “unjustifiable regulations” in the space garnered more than 220,000 e-signatures as of Jan. 22. According to Pavel Bains, CEO and co-founder of decentralized database services start-up Bluzelle, the “mixed messages” were concerning to the company’s South Korean business partner, blockchain accelerator Hashed. But he added that a bigger problem was the lack of education among the “new people” coming into the market, which could result in the spread of scams or frauds. Despite the volatility in cryptocurrency prices earlier in the month, potential new regulations in the space were described as a step in the right direction. “We welcome that,” said Cedric Jeanson, CEO of Bitspread, a bitcoin-focused market maker with offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia. “What is really important for us is all the AML KYC (anti-money laundering and know your customer) regulation and that the processes on the exchanges actually fulfill those common, or natural, requirements … I think Korea is going to the right direction in this respect,” Jeanson told CNBC’s “The Rundown.”

EU BOMBSHELL: Macron admits France would vote to LEAVE EU if country held referendum

 FRENCH president Emmanuel Macron shocked Andrew Marr during their interview when he admitted that had France held a referendum on membership of the EU after Brexit, the French people would vote to leave.
Macron

Emmanuel Macron has sent shockwaves throughout Europe after he conceded that French voters would quit the EU if France held an in/out referendum on the Brussels-led bloc. No other European Union country has risked putting membership of the bloc to a public vote since Britain surprised member-states by voting to leave the bloc in 2016, Macron conceded that French voters would quit the EU if France held an in/out referendum. l;Macron admitted that he would lose a French referendum on EU membership. However, speaking to Andrew Marr on the BBC, Mr Macron admitted that he would lose a French referendum on EU membership. Asked about the Brexit vote, the candid president told Marr: “I am not the one to judge or comment on the decision of your people. “But, my interpretation is that a lot of the losers of globalisation suddenly decided it was no more for them.” Marr then pushed the French president, regarded by many as the EU’s new leader, on whether Britain’s decision was a one-off. The BBC journalist asked: “If France had had the same referendum, it might have had the same result?” Macron responded: “Yes, probably, probably. Yes. In a similar context. But we have a very different context in France.”

If France had had the same referendum, it might have had the French people would vote to leave

“My understanding is that middle classes and working classes and the oldest decided that the recent decades were not in their favour, and the adjustments made by the EU were not in their favour. “I think the organisation of EU went too far with freedom without cohesion, free markets without rules.” The French leader hit out at David Cameron for holding a referendum with a simple yes / no response on membership, instead of asking how to improve the situation.  Twitter lit up after the interview was aired, with many questioning if the French leader had just admitted that he “does not listen to his own people” since he has refused to hold a referendum on the EU.Nick Bit: is it not obvious the people do not want the EU. It is doomed!

Ryan Blasts Senate Democrats for Government Shutdown: ‘This Is Utter Madness’

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) lit into Senate Democrats on Saturday, blaming them for the “needless” government shutdown that he called “utter madness.” “One party in one house of this Congress is deliberately holding our government hostage,” Ryan said. An irate-sounding Ryan said on the House floor that the shutdown was pointless but it was important to dissect why it happened. The GOP-controlled House passed a spending bill Thursday to fund the government through Feb. 16, which also included an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years. However, all but five Senate Democrats voted against the bill Friday night, effectively guaranteeing a shutdown since 60 votes were needed to overcome a filibuster—Republicans hold a slim majority with 51 seats, and all but four of them voted for the bill. “We did our job, but Senate Democrats simply refused to do theirs,” Ryan said. Democrats largely held the line since it didn’t address the fate of “Dreamers,” the immigrants brought to the country illegally as children who were shielded from deportation by President Barack Obama’s 2012 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) executive order. President Donald Trump rescinded DACA in September, giving Congress until March to find a legal solution. “There is no reason for this shutdown,” Ryan said. “We have been and we continue to be willing to work together in good faith on immigration, but that deadline is weeks away.” Ryan said Democrats had no issues with anything in the spending bill, such as funding the military, funding for national parks, or CHIP. “They opposed a bill they don’t even oppose!” Ryan said. “We do some crazy things in Washington, but this is utter madness.” The White House has already stated it will not negotiate on immigration until Democrats reopen the government, and Ryan also criticized the Democrats’ position. He quoted Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) during the last government shutdown in 2013, when the Senate Minority Leader said that even passion about one issue shouldn’t lead to holding millions of people hostage. “He was right! You shouldn’t!” Ryan said. Republicans have dubbed the latest impasse the #SchumerShutdown, while Schumer and the Democrats lay the blame on Trump and the Republicans. “Senate Democrats shut down this government, and now Senate Democrats need to open this government back up,” Ryan said. “End this reckless shutdown that is inflicting needless uncertainty on our country. Let common sense and cooler heads prevail. Come to your senses. Do the right thing.”

Eric Trump says the shutdown is ‘a good thing for us,’ politically

Eric Trump

Eric Trump, President Donald Trump’s second eldest son, had a busy night on Saturday. In addition to filling in for his father at a high-dollar fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s private club in Palm Beach, Fla., the 34-year old also went on Fox News Channel’s “Judge Jeanine,” to defend the president’s accomplishments. Between accolades for his father, the younger Trump stumbled over a basic rule of politics: Never boast about how you will benefit politically from the misfortune of your constituents. “I think it’s a good thing for us,” Eric Trump said of the government shutdown that was triggered at midnight on Friday by the failure of congressional negotiators and the Trump White House to reach a deal to fund the government. The public, Eric Trump said, would blame Democrats for the paralysis in Washington, and for the forced furlough of hundreds of thousands of federal employees, who would be sent home without pay. Yet even if this prediction came true – and recent polling suggests otherwise – it could be seen as a stumble at a politically fraught time for his father and Republican lawmakers. To be sure, Eric Trump is not the sort of experienced politician who might be expected to navigate situations like these with traditional savvy. But neither is he the disinterested outsider that he promised to be in late 2016, as his father prepared to take office. In March 2017, weeks after the elder Trump’s inauguration, Eric Trump was still describing a “clear separation of church and state” between his father’s political career and the Trump Organization, the family real estate business that he and his brother Donald Trump Jr. are managing while their father is president. Yet almost from the start, both Eric and Donald Jr. have served as outspoken political advocates for the president and his policies. Saturday offered a perfect example of this ongoing tension. By calling in to Jeanine Pirro’s show a little after 9 p.m. ET, Eric Trump was serving as a both a de facto White House surrogate on prime-time TV and as a stand-in for his father at a gala fundraiser for Trump’s reelection campaign.

Whether Eric Trump’s boast will turn into a headache for the Trump White House remains to be seen. And it wasn’t the only miscalculation he made on Saturday night. During Saturday’s call-in with Pirro, Eric Trump sought to explain why Democrats deserve the blame for the current shutdown by highlighting how many Democrats voted against a bill to fund the government. “If you looked at the vote, you had 269 Republicans who voted to keep the government open. And you had 230 Democrats who voted to close government,” he said, “and they’ll say Trump wanted to close the government. … It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. And I’m pretty good at math.” Yet in the House, 230 Republicans voted for the measure, while in the Senate, 45 did, for a total of 275 GOP votes – not 269, as Trump claimed. On the Democrats’ side, 197 voted against the spending bill in the House, while 44 Democrats opposed advancing the measure in the Senate for a total of 241 – not 230. The White House referred CNBC’s questions to Eric Trump, but attempts to reach him late Saturday were unsuccessful.

BLOOMBERG: German Social Democrats Back Merkel Coalition Talks in Tight Vote

(BLOOMBERG) — Germany’s Social Democrats backed formal coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel after a divisive party convention, marking a potential breakthrough toward her fourth term and an easing of political uncertainty in Europe’s biggest economy.

A narrow majority of the 600 SPD delegates gathered in Bonn voted in favour of negotiations to renew the “grand coalition” with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led bloc. The ballot followed pleas by party and labour leaders to move forward with a joint policy outline reached on Jan. 12, rather than walk away from government. “If we can achieve something good for people in this country, if we can achieve something good for the peoples of Europe, then we should do it,” SPD Chairman Martin Schulz said in his closing appeal before the ballot. “I think this is the more courageous path to take.”

FBI flagged Moscow-connected Russians attending Trump inauguration: report

FBI flagged Moscow-connected Russians attending Trump inauguration: report
© Getty Images

Several Russians connected to the Kremlin attended events in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day last year, drawing the FBI’s attention, The Washington Post reported Saturday. Counterintelligence officials with the FBI reportedly expressed concerns about some of the half-dozen Russians, given the ongoing investigation into possible collusion between President Trump‘s campaign and Moscow. According to the Post, the event attendees included Viktor Vekselberg, a businessman who is friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin; Boris Titov, a politician running for president of Russia and Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer who attended a June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower. Veselnitskaya, who Trump Jr. said claimed to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton, attended a party hosted by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), the newspaper reported. Titov, meanwhile, told the Post that he attended several receptions, including a ball where the president danced. Special counsel Robert Mueller is leading a criminal investigation into Russia’s election meddling and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. So far, his probe has led to two indictments and two guilty pleas. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s former associate, Richard Gates, were indicted on money laundering and tax fraud charges. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.Trump has repeatedly claimed there was no collusion, calling Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.”  Multiple congressional committees are conducting separate investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Rand Paul: Ryan and McConnell Are Intelligence Community ‘Apologists’

Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” while discussing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were “apologists” for the intelligence community.

Paul said, “I think the intelligence community and their apologist which are Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell they want to give enormous power to the intelligence communities and I think there’s too much power. This program is supposed to let us spy on foreigners in foreign lands when a foreigner talks to an American they get caught up in the database.” He added, “If the president calls a foreign leader he’s in the database. If I call a foreign leader, I’m in the database. If you’re a businessman or woman and you call foreigners you may be in the database. If you’re a journalist and you send an e-mail, and you type in the words Al Baghdadi, and you type that in, you’re in the database. We have this enormous database. Your name can be typed in or my name without a warrant. Keep the program but get a warrant if you want to search an American’s name and this I think the vast majority of Americans would support if they knew the issue.”

Senate Dems: Trump making negotiations ‘impossible’

Senate Dems: Trump making negotiations 'impossible'
© Greg Nash
Senate Democrats knocked President Trump a day into the government shutdown, saying his penchant for changing his mind is undercutting the ability to get a deal.  “Let’s face it. This president at this point is impossible to negotiate with. It’s impossible,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said.  He added that the Senate couldn’t “wait for an approval stamp” from the president. Sen. Patrick Leahy  also questioned why Democrats should trust the president when he could change his mind on a myriad of outstanding issues that Congress needs resolved. “If we can’t take the word of the president when we know he is only one tweet away from changing his mind, why should we trust him when he says he will take care of our veterans or get serious about the opioid epidemic?” he asked.  He added that the Senate is “spinning our wheels in the Trump shutdown.”
 Senate Democrats, joined by four Republican senators, blocked a House-passed bill to fund the government through mid-February. Democrats separately said that Trump walked away from a deal with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer.  Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said he has “obviously considerable sympathy” for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell  for dealing “with a president who takes opposite positions within hours. How do you negotiate with that?”  But Whitehouse also knocked McConnell, saying he was turning the Senate into a “dead zone” where only GOP proposals or uncontroversial measures were moved through the chamber.
 “Dictating terms to the Senate minority as if this was the Soviet Duma is not justifiable and it is destroying the Senate,” he said.
 Several Democratic senators, including Schumer, spoke from the Senate floor on Saturday next to a sign that featured Trump’s face and his comments that the U.S. “needs a good ‘shutdown.’ “

Amazon’s automated grocery store will launch Monday after a year of false starts

A pedestrian passes in front of the new Amazon Go grocery store in Seattle.
After nearly a year’s delay, Amazon Go is finally opening to the public on Monday morning

Amazon’s first automated grocery store promises “no lines, no checkouts, no registers” — and it could be a game-changer for the grocery and retail industry. It’ll test whether the technology can deliver after reports that the automated check-out technology wasn’t working as planned early in 2017. It will raise questions of job creation and destruction by the e-commerce giant, and it’ll test whether consumers will warm to an omnichannel, technologically advanced retail experience. The single 1,800 square foot located in the middle of Amazon’s Seattle campus was first unveiled in late 2016, and was supposed to open to the public in early 2017, according to the website. Yet until now, it has remained in beta mode for Amazon employees only, reportedly due to the very thing that makes it so interesting: Technology that eliminates the cashier. Amazon calls it “Just Walk Out” technology and it uses computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion — many of the same advances being used to develop autonomous driving.

Amazon employees are pictured outside the Amazon Go brick-and-mortar grocery store without lines or checkout counters, in Seattle Washington, U.S. December 5, 2016.
Jason Redmond | Reuters Amazon employees are pictured outside the Amazon Go brick-and-mortar grocery store without lines or checkout counters, in Seattle Washington, U.S. December 5, 2016.

For customers, it’s simple: Scan your Amazon Go app as you walk into the store, pick up whatever you want, and simply walk out. On the back-end, Amazon’s technology detects everything you’re taking or returning to shelves, and keeping track in a virtual shopping cart. When you walk out, Amazon charges your account and sends a receipt. For now, Amazon is testing the concept on a limited basis and has no plans to implement the technology in Whole Foods. But an expansion of Amazon’s grocery technology could have enormous implications. According to the Department of Labor, more than 3.5 million Americans held cashier jobs as of May 2016. Nearly 900,000 of those were in grocery stores. The Amazon Go store eliminates the need for cashiers, and could thus make thousands of jobs redundant. Amazon Go does hire people to work in the store — a team of “associates” who prep ingredients, make prepared items, greet customers and stock shelves. Still, it could prove a tricky subject, given the current administration’s focus on creating jobs in America and President Donald Trump’s contentious relationship with Jeff Bezos. In e-commerce, Amazon has already been investing heavily in automation, running the gamut from delivery drones to warehouse robots. At the same time, it’s been hiring thousands of new employees each year, growing headcount by 40 percent year over year. With its purchase of Whole Foods last year for nearly $14 billion, it became the second biggest private employer in the country behind Walmart. However, an analysis published by Quartz last year looked at employment data for the retail industry as a whole and found that Amazon’s growth and hiring numbers don’t offset the overall retail job losses that it has helped cause. Nick Bit: the Casherless store is coming and robot  warehouse…. Kiss 5 million low skilled jobs goodbye! And t Shirts and Make America Great again caps will not feed these people!

Oil producers will cooperate beyond 2018, says Saudi Arabia

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih addresses a news conference after an OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria, November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

MUSCAT (Reuters) – Global oil producers are in agreement that they should continue cooperating on production after their deal on supply cuts expires at the end of this year, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Khalid al-Falih said on Sunday. It was the first time Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, had publicly stated OPEC and non-OPEC producers would keep cooperating after 2018.  The exact mechanism for cooperation next year has not yet been decided, Falih said, but if oil inventories increase in 2018 as some in the market expect, producers might have to consider rolling the supply cut deal into next year. “There is a readiness to continue cooperation beyond 2018… The mechanism hasn’t been determined yet, but there is a consensus to continue,” Falih said after a meeting of the joint ministerial committee which oversees implementation of the cuts.The committee comprises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Venezuela and Algeria, plus non-OPEC producers Russia and Oman. The United Arab Emirates was also present on Sunday as it holds the presidency of OPEC.  Before the meeting, Falih said extending the cooperation framework beyond 2018 wouldn’t necessarily mean sticking to countries’ current production targets.The agreement was launched last January and Saudi Arabia has accounted for by far the largest share of the output cuts. Falih said a deal on production levels after 2018 would be about “assuring stakeholders, investors, consumers and the global community that this is something that is here to stay. And we are going to work together.” Kuwait’s oil minister Bakheet al-Rashidi said Sunday’s meeting focused on compliance with the current agreement on output cuts, and discussion of the deal’s future was expected to occur in June, when OPEC and other producers led by Russia are next scheduled to meet on oil policy. “We are entering a low demand period seasonally, and we have to let that pass and see how inventories look in the second half before we consider any alteration” to current policy, he said. Falih and energy ministers from the UAE and Oman noted that the rise of the Brent oil price to three-year highs around $70 a barrel in recent weeks could cause an increase in supply of shale oil from the United States. Nick bit: Once they sell the suckers their 2 trillion dollar oil company without the oil they will end their HA HA HA cooperation!

Canadian prime minister to bypass Trump in visit to U.S. to rally support for NAFTA

Trudeau to visit L.A., Chicago, San Francisco – but not D.C.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is coming to the U.S. to drum up support for NAFTA, but he won’t be lobbying President Trump.

The prime minister of Canada is visiting three cities in the United States next month to drum up support for NAFTA, but Donald Trump’s Washington is conspicuously not one of them.

Justin Trudeau plans to visit Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago from Feb. 7 to Feb. 10 in an effort to “further strengthen the deep bonds that unite Canada and the United States,” as his office put it. The visit by Trudeau will come shortly after the latest round of negotiations by the U.S., Mexico and Canada to salvage NAFTA. Trump has warned he will pull out of the trade pact unless Mexico and Canada grant certain concessions that both countries have been resisting. The visit is part of a surprisingly aggressive strategy by Canada to forestall a U.S. exit and hit back at sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. Earlier this month, for example, Canada angered the White House by filing a broad complaint with the World Trade Organization against punitive trade measures imposed by the U.S. on certain foreign products, including Canadian lumber. Trudeau, for his part, has chosen some telling venues to deliver his pro-trade remarks. In Los Angeles, for instance, he will deliver a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. The 40th U.S. president, revered by Republicans, was generally a strong supporter of free trade. And in Chicago, Trudeau is scheduled to appear at the University of Chicago, long a bastion for free-market economics. Trudeau’s goal is obvious. Strengthen ties with various groups in the U.S. including big business, that support NAFTA. Many of these groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have been pressuring the administration to keep the trade agreement alive. “I look forward to meeting with government and business leaders in the United States again to explore new opportunities for collaboration and growth, so we can build a more prosperous future for people in both countries,” Trudeau said in a statement.

Deutsche Bank Looking Into ‘Suspicious’ Kushner-Related Transactions

Image: Deutsche Bank Looking Into 'Suspicious' Kushner-Related Transactions

 

Deutsche Bank is reportedly looking at evidence that companies related to White House senior adviser Jared Kushner may have moved “suspicious” money through the German lender. The German banking giant has informed a national finance supervisor about the transactions and will also inform special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian election meddling, Manager Magazin reported.Deutsche Bank’s board chairman Paul Achleitner’s “internal detectives were embarrassed to deliver their interim report regarding real estate tycoon Kushner to the financial regulator BaFin,” the story translated from German to English reported, according to Newsweek.

“Their finding: There are indications that [President] Donald Trump’s son-in-law or persons or companies close to him could have channeled suspicious monies through Deutsche Bank as part of their business dealings.”

“What BaFin will do about [the bank’s findings] is not the bank’s greatest concern,” the German magazine reported, according to Newsweek. “Rather, it’s the noise that U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller … will make in his pursuit of Trump. For he will likely obtain this information — a giant risk to [the bank’s] reputation.” The bank hasn’t commented about the content of the reported inquiries, but has said it is cooperating with authorities, the New York Daily News reported.Kushner has already been wrapped up in problems with Deutsche Bank. Federal prosecutors last month reportedly subpoenaed the bank for records relating to Kushner Companies, his family-run business. It was not known if the records involve Kushner or are tied to Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russians in the presidential election.Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon also was quoted in the book “Fire and Fury” that the Russia investigation “goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner s–t.”  A spokesman for Kushner Companies, from which Jared Kushner has partially disentangled himself, disputed Bannon’s statements, in which he also Kushner’s business “greasy,” the Daily News reported. “Steve Bannon has zero knowledge of our company, its finances or much else for that matter,” the spokesman told the News. “Kushner has a great track record and completed approximately $14 billion dollars of transactions in the last decade.”

Market is getting it wrong on Fed rate hikes, warns private equity giant KKR

KKR's Henry McVey on where to invest globally in 2018
Market is getting it wrong on Fed rate hikes, warns private equity giant KKR

The market is pricing in only half the number of Federal Reserve rate hikes that will likely come by the end of 2019, private equity giant KKR warned on Thursday. KKR anticipates five increases by that time, while the market is only pricing in 2.5, said Henry McVey, the firm’s head of global and macro asset allocation team. “Earnings are going to come in stronger, President Trump’s tax cut actually leads to more spending, and then in the second half of the year you end up with the Fed having to move a little more quickly,” he said in an interview with CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” The central bank has indicated it expects three increases in 2018. It last hiked rates in December, pushing the target range to 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent. KKR isn’t the only firm bullish on the Fed’s rate path. On Wednesday, Swiss bank UBS upped its projection of two hikes to three for 2018. It also anticipates two increases in 2019. To take advantage of central bank normalization, McVey said, KKR likes names that have “complexity” or have been “left behind.” He’d stay away from growth stocks. “We’ve been most struck by what’s going on in the growth part of the market. If you look at the Russell Growth it’s now back to ’99’s levels,” he said. Instead, assets such as MLPs — master limited partnerships — have been “left for dead,” he noted. “They’re the only instrument right now that has a yield above average.” McVey said he also likes mortgage servicing and financials and said KKR is still active in Japan.

British tourists warned to ‘stay in resorts’ in Jamaica security emergency

He shot the sheriff  the Deputy and anyone else that was standing around

British tourists are being warned they should stay inside their resorts in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The Jamaican government has declared a state of emergency in the St James parish, after a number of “shooting incidents”. The Foreign Office has told British tourists to stay in the confines of their hotels as a “major military operation” takes place. About 200,000 British tourists visit Jamaica every year. A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “[Tourists] should follow local advice including restrictions in selected areas, and exercise particular care if travelling at night.”[They] should stay in their resorts and limit travel beyond their respective security perimeters.” On Thursday the country’s prime minister, Andrew Holness, said the state of emergency was “necessary” in order to “restore public safety” in the St James area. Chief of defence, Major General Rocky Meade, said forces were targeting gangs, with “particular focus on those that are responsible for murders, lotto scamming, trafficking of arms and guns, and extortion”. He added: “We ask that you co-operate with the troops.”

Simon Calder, the Independent newspaper’s travel editor, said gang crime in the area had been “intensifying”. He told Radio 5 live: “Last year there were an average of six killings a week – and since the start of the year it has got even worse.”Jamaican newspaper the Gleaner reported that there were 335 murders in the St James parish in 2017.  It also estimated there had been 38 killings across the country in the first six days of 2018, compared with 23 over the same period last year. As the UK Foreign Office has not warned against travel to Jamaica, Mr Calder said holiday firms have no obligation to offer customers alternative destinations. Nick Bit: Having lived in the area and sailed into Montego Bay many many times. My best advise is stay away. They only report a fraction of the tourists killed raped and kidnapped. The poverty in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean is astonishing. The only real employment is the drug trade. And every year it gets worse!

 

US shutdown begins as Senate fails to pass new budget

The US government has begun shutting down many of its services after the Senate failed to agree on a new budget. A bill to fund the federal government until 16 February did not receive the required 60 votes amid a bitter dispute over immigration and border security. It is the first shutdown ever to happen while the same party, the Republicans, controls Congress and the White House. The impasse will affect hundreds of thousands of federal workers, and the recriminations have already begun. The White House accused Democrats of “[putting] politics above our national security, military families, vulnerable children, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans”. But the leading Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said President Trump had turned down two bipartisan compromise deals and “did not press his party in Congress”. The last government shutdown was in 2013, and lasted for 16 days. As of 00:01 Saturday many federal agencies are no longer open for business – although essential services will continue to run. Most staff in the departments of housing, environment, education and commerce will stay at home. Half of workers in the treasury, health, defence and transportation departments will also not be going to work on Monday. National parks and monuments could face closure, which provoked an angry public reaction during the 2013 shutdown Visa and passport processing could also be delayed. But essential services that protect “life or human property” will continue, including national security, postal services, air traffic control, inpatient medical services, emergency outpatient medicine, disaster assistance, prisons, taxation and electricity generation. The game of chicken ended with a head-on crash. Republicans are anxious to label this the “Schumer shutdown” and, essentially, they’re right. Chuck Schumer and his fellow Democrats (with the help of a few Republicans) blocked a bill that would have kept the government open – at least temporarily. Determining responsibility and apportioning blame, however, are two decidedly different endeavours. Democrats will argue that they had a deal with the president on their bipartisan compromise that included immigration reform – only to have him back away during that fateful obscenity-laden Oval Office meeting last week. Republicans will frame this as liberals putting undocumented immigrant protections over military readiness and health insurance for poor kids. The blame game began at midnight, and the winner has yet to be decided. Generally, the loser in these types of showdowns is the party entering the fight with the lowest popularity – bad news for Mr Trump and the Republicans. The good news, for both sides, is that their political bases will be thrilled they are playing hardball. Midterm election years, like 2018, tend to encourage this kind of rally-the-base manoeuvres.

Former Trump aide Omarosa may have taped White House discussions, fears Mueller wants to talk to her

epa05721859 epa05721855 American reality show contestant and US President-elect Donald Trump staff member, Omarosa Manigault is seen arriving in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, New York, USA, 16 January 2017. US President-elect Donald Trump will be sworn in as the US President 20 January 2017.  EPA/ANTHONY BEHAR/SIPA USA POOL  EPA/ANTHONY BEHAR/SIPA USA POOL

Former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman may have taped confidential West Wing conversations and fears being caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, sources told the Daily News on Thursday. The former reality TV star’s official last day in the Trump administration is Saturday — despite the abrupt announcement of her departure last month — and her next step seems to be lawyering up. The soon-to-be former assistant to President Trump and director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison has held exploratory meetings with several high profile attorneys for potential representation, a source told The News. Manigault-Newman has met with Harvey Weinstein’s former attorney Lisa Bloom and former Bill Cosby lawyer Monique Pressley, among others.

It’s unclear why Omarosa is seeking a lawyer, but those with knowledge of her removal from the White House say she is “very concerned” that she might become part of the Mueller investigation.

It is not immediately clear why the former “Apprentice” star is seeking legal help, but those with knowledge of her unceremonious removal from the White House say she is “very concerned” that trouble is on the horizon. The 43-year-old apparently believes she may become a fixture in Mueller’s investigation into possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia’s election meddling. “Everyone knows Omarosa loves to record people and meetings using the voice notes app on her iPhone,” a source disclosed. “Don’t be surprised if she has secret audio files on everyone in that White House, past and present staffers included.” A recent ban on personal cell phones in the West Wing, which followed the release of Michael Wolff’s explosive White House tell-all was related to Manigault-Newman’s track record of recording conversations, the source added. But a White House insider balked at the idea of Manigault-Newman being privy to any inside information that could be relevant to Mueller’s probe — or of interest to anyone else for that matter. Interest in a political memoir the exiled staffer has been “nonexistent,” according to the administration source. A recent report from Life & Style Weekly claimed Manigault-Newman could get upward of $10 million for a book deal. The White House and Manigault-Newman did not respond to requests for comment.

Tax overhaul leads AmEx to first loss in 26 years, buyback suspension

(Reuters) – Credit card issuer American Express Co posted its first quarterly loss in 26 years and said it would not buy back shares for the next six months, both due to the impact of the recently enacted U.S. tax reform. The company took a $2.6 billion charge to cover a new one-time repatriation tax on undistributed income of certain non-U.S. units and to adjust the value of its deferred tax assets and liabilities The charge lowered AmEx’s capital ratios and to rebuild that, the company said it would suspend share buybacks for the first half of 2018, but continue paying dividends, though only at current levels.“Buybacks are a meaningful contribution to earnings per share growth at AmEx, and the temporary restriction will require some analysts to revise their 2018 EPS forecasts lower,” Kyle Sanders, an analyst at Edward Jones, wrote in a note.  The $2.6 billion charge includes about $2 billion tax recognized on deemed repatriations of certain overseas earnings and roughly $600 million related to the remeasurement of U.S. net deferred tax assets. The credit card issuer said it expects 2018 tax rate of about 22 percent before discrete items. Net loss attributable to common shareholders was $1.20 billion, or $1.41 per share, in the fourth quarter, compared with a profit of $825 million, or 88 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding the charge, AmEx earned $1.58 per share, beating analysts’ estimates of $1.54 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Total revenue, net of interest expense, rose to $8.84 billion from $8.02 billion last year as the company’s customers spent more in the holiday season in the United States, its core market. That also topped analysts’ estimate of $8.72 billion.“I wouldn’t characterize Q4 as a high quality beat … but the guidance is quite solid, despite the share buyback reduction,” KBW analyst Sanjay Sakhrani said.  The company said it expects full-year 2018 earnings to be between $6.90-$7.30 per share, while analysts on average were expecting 2018 earnings of $7.04 per share. The company said it also expects to deliver 2018 revenue growth in the 7-8 percent range.

HSBC to pay $100 mln to settle U.S. probe into currency rigging

(Reuters) – HSBC Holdings Plc on Thursday agreed to pay $101.5 million to settle a U.S. criminal probe into the rigging of currency transactions, which has already led the conviction of one of its former bankers. The payment includes a $63.1 million fine plus $38.4 million in restitution to a corporate client, according to a deferred prosecution agreement filed on Thursday with the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York. In the settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, HSBC also agreed to bolster its internal controls, and admitted and accepted responsibility for wrongdoing underlying two criminal wire fraud charges filed on Thursday against the bank, according to the agreement. Deferred prosecution agreements let companies avoid criminal charges so long as they comply with the terms. Thursday’s sanctions came a month after HSBC was freed from a five-year deferred prosecution agreement over its alleged dealings with Mexican drug cartels and other money launderers, and conducting of transactions for customers in countries barred by U.S. sanctions. It was fined $1.92 billion in that case. In October, a federal jury in Brooklyn convicted Mark Johnson, the former head of HSBC’s global foreign exchange cash trading desk, of trading ahead of a $3.5 billion currency transaction by his client Cairn Energy Plc. Johnson has yet to be sentenced. Stuart Scott, HSBC’s former head of cash trading for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, was also charged in that case and has fought extradition. HSBC agreed to pay Cairn $8.08 million under a settlement reached in July, which the Justice Department said it credited as “full restitution” to that company. In a statement on Thursday, HSBC said the $63.1 million fine reflected a 15 percent reduction that took into account the bank’s cooperation and “extensive remediation” efforts. The case is U.S. v. HSBC Holdings Plc, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 18-cr-00030.

Oil prices fall as rising US output outweighs drop in crude stockpiles

A pump jack operates at a well site leased by Devon Energy Production Co. near Guthrie, Oklahoma.
Nick Oxford | Reuters A pump jack operates at a well site leased by Devon Energy Production Co. near Guthrie, Oklahoma

Oil prices slid 1 percent on Friday and were on track for the biggest weekly falls since October as a bounce-back in U.S. production outweighed ongoing declines in crude inventorie The International Energy Agency (IEA), in its monthly report, said that global oil stocks have tightened substantially, aided by OPEC cuts, demand growth and Venezuelan production hitting near 30-year lows.

IEA: Expect a volatile year for oil prices   7 Hours Ago | 03:29

But it warned that rapidly increasing production in the United States could threaten market balancing.”Explosive growth in the U.S. and substantial gains in Canada and Brazil will far outweigh potentially steep declines in Venezuela and Mexico,” the IEA said of 2018 production.

U.S. crude oil production stood at 9.75 million barrels per day (bpd) on Jan. 12, data from the Energy Information Administration showed. The IEA said it expects this to soon exceed 10 million bpd, overtaking OPEC behemoth Saudi Arabia and rivaling Russia.

Analysts also pointed to an expected demand slowdown at the end of winter in the northern hemisphere and excessive long positions in financial oil markets as a likely brake on any upward momentum in prices. ANZ bank said “an upcoming soft patch in demand and extreme investor positioning does open up the possibility of some short-term weakness.” The main price driver has been a production cut by a group of major oil producers around the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia, who started to withhold output in January last year. The supply cuts by OPEC and its allies, which are scheduled to last throughout 2018, were aimed at tightening the market to prop up prices. Nick Note: the more OPEC cuts the more the US producers bring to market. T is will end in a wipe out in oil prices. This is  all about keeping the price up so the Saudi’s can sell the suckers their oil company minus the oil.

SEC says it’s worried about ‘significant’ issues with cryptocurrency ETF plans

Jim Bourg | Reuters The Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission indicated Thursday it would not be open to approving cryptocurrency exchange-traded funds until concerns related to rules aimed at protecting investors are addressed. “We believe … that there are a number of significant investor protection issues that need to be examined before sponsors begin offering these funds to retail investors,” Dalia Blass, director of investment management at the SEC, wrote in a letter addressed to two U.S. trade groups. ETFs are investment funds, which track certain securities, that are traded on an exchange. Investors had been excited over the prospect of the introduction of bitcoin ETFs following the launch of bitcoin futures by the Cboe and CME last year. Two main issues raised by the regulator were the extreme volatility seen in the cryptocurrency market and questions about any funds’ liquidity with such products. ETFs require daily valuations and redeemability, which could be tested by digital currency assets. “Would funds have the information necessary to adequately value cryptocurrencies or cryptocurrency-related products, given their volatility, the fragmentation and general lack of regulation of underlying cryptocurrency markets, and the nascent state and current trading volume in the cryptocurrency futures markets?” the letter asks.

In another section of the message, Blass asks: “How would funds take into account the trading history, price volatility and trading volume of cryptocurrency futures contracts, and would funds be able to conduct a meaningful market depth analysis in light of these factors?”

The regulator concluded her letter saying that, “until the questions identified above can be addressed satisfactorily,” her agency did not believe “it is appropriate for fund sponsors to initiate registration of funds that intend to invest substantially in cryptocurrency and related products.”

‘The EU can go and F*** itself!’ Italian politician in SHOCK outburst as he rallies Italy

italian election 2018 matteo salvini juncker EU ItalyItaly election: Frontrunner Matteo Salvini rages against the EU in fiery TV interview “Europe has been punishing us for the last 15 years and we are worst off than 15 years ago.  “European measures are the last thing I am interested in.”

ITALIAN election frontrunner Matteo Salvini told the European Union to “go f*** itself” in a fiery TV interview as he rides a wave of anti-Brussels sentiment in the country. The leader of the League party, formerly known as Northern League, Matteo Salvini claimed the European Union should stop interfering with Italian politics as the measures taken by the bloc have crippled the Italian economy for the past 15 years.  Mr Salvini is the frontrunner in the upcoming Italian general election as ’s next Prime Minister.  In a fiery interview with Italian TV Channel Rete 4, the Italian politician said: “Europe can go f*** itself…. The Italian eurosceptic blasted EU Economic Affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici for interfering with the Italian election process.

Mr Moscovici said the European Union considers the Italian election one of the biggest “political risk” to the bloc because of the uncertainty of the results.

Mr Salvini criticised the eurocrat saying Italy will resume its power and take back its sovereignty from the EU with the March 4 vote. He wrote on Twitter: “Slaves of the European Union? No, thanks! I can’t wait for Italy, with our government, to regain its sovereignty to defendthe national interest in any way possible.

Sales of Trump properties suggestive of money-laundering: researcher

SHINGTON (Reuters) – Testimony to the U.S. Congress by the head of a political research firm indicates that the Trump Organization’s sales of properties to Russian nationals may have involved money-laundering, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said on Thursday.Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions attended a closed door interview with the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol in Washington, U.S., November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts  The panel released the transcript of a Nov. 14 closed-door interview with Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, whose firm hired a former British spy to research then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign ties to Russians and produced a dossier.“Those transcripts reveal serious allegations that the Trump Organization may have engaged in money laundering with Russian nationals,” Representative Adam Schiff said.  Another Democrat on the Republican-controlled committee, Representative Jim Hines, sought to temper Schiff’s comment, telling CNN that Simpson “did not provide evidence and I think that’s an important point. He made allegations.” The House of Representatives panel is conducting one of the three congressional investigations into possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is leading a separate probe by the U.S. Justice Department. Moscow denies the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that it interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump and Trump denies any collusion. In his testimony, Simpson said that his firm closely examined sales of condominiums in Trump properties in New York, Miami, Panama City and Toronto.“There were a lot of real estate deals where you couldn’t really tell who was buying the property,” Simpson said. “And sometimes properties would be bought and sold, and they would be bought for one price and sold for a loss shortly thereafter, and it really didn’t make sense to us.”  “We saw patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money-laundering,” he continued. Simpson, under questioning by Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, also said that Russia’s operation to influence U.S. politics included attempts to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other conservative organizations, such as groups promoting independence for the states of Texas and California. “They seem to have made a very concerted effort to get in with the NRA,” Simpson said, according to the transcript.

 

Turkey steps up Syria shelling as invasion of Afrin looms

Turkey has intensified its shelling of Kurdish militia in northern Syria, ahead of a threatened ground offensive aimed at driving them out of the area. The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) said 70 shells were fired overnight. Turkey has for months said it would clear YPG fighters from Afrin, under Kurdish control since 2012. Turkey regards the YPG as a terrorist group. Syria has warned against an incursion, threatening to shoot down Turkish jets. Turkish Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli said the shelling was the “de-facto start” of a planned invasion of Afrin. Turkey’s military and intelligence chiefs are in Moscow to try to get Russia’s agreement to allow Turkish planes to use the Russian-controlled airspace above Afrin. Russia’s acquiescence will be essential for any Turkish operation. It is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has a contingent of soldiers at the airport in the centre of Afrin. Turkey has intermittently shelled and carried out air strikes against the YPG in the Afrin area, from where fighters have fired rockets into Turkey. Ankara sees the militia as an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency in south-eastern Turkey. The YPG denies any direct links – an assertion backed by a US-led coalition whose air strikes and special forces have helped the militia and allied Arab fighters drive Islamic State militants from tens of thousands of square kilometres of Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly warned he will not allow a “terror corridor” linking Kurdish-controlled areas along the Syria-Turkish border. Afrin is currently isolated from two other self-declared Kurdish autonomous cantons – Kobani and Jazira. Turkish-backed rebel forces took over a 100km- (60-mile) wide area separating the territories after driving out the Islamic State (IS) group in 2016. Turkey has said the operation against Afrin will be a continuation of that seven-month offensive, known as Euphrates Shield, which ended in March 2017. Turkey has been alarmed at the expansion of the Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria as the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) emerged as one of the most effective forces fighting against IS. US support for the SDF has infuriated Turkey, a fellow Nato member. Ankara recently denounced a US plan to set up an SDF-led 30,000-strong border security force in Kurdish-controlled areas, purportedly to guard against a resurgence of IS.

Petrobras owes Brazil billions, unlikely to pay in 2018, minister says

 Brazil’s Planning Minister Dyogo de Oliveira reacts during launch ceremony of the “New School” (Novo Ensino Médio) at the Presidential Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian state-controlled oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA owes the government billions of dollars tied to offshore exploration rights but is unlikely to pay this year, a cabinet minister said. The government’s 2018 budget does not include any revenue from the so-called “transfer of rights” area that has sparked a dispute with the company also known as Petrobras, Planning Minister Dyogo Oliveira said in an interview on Thursday. In 2010, Brazil exchanged offshore exploration rights for equity in Petrobras. The government argues it is now owed money due to a reassessment of the value of the assets, but Petrobras says it is owed money by the government from the reassessment.Oliveira’s comments suggested the dispute could drag on despite the creation of a government commission comprised of representatives from several ministries this week to accelerate negotiations. There is a 60-day deadline to reach a deal.  “I don’t expect to see revenues from this process this year,” Oliveira told Reuters, though he said the government is working to reach an agreement as soon as possible.President Michel Temer’s administration has struggled to push austerity measures through Congress after spending political capital to fight off corruption charges. With Temer’s approval rating in the single digits, some investors doubt he can follow through on an agenda of market-friendly reforms, such as privatizing power utility Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras SA.  Oliveira said he sees little resistance from lawmakers to the plan to privatize Eletrobras through a capital increase or a related measure deregulating electricity prices, which would likely result in higher rates for consumers.

Trump: Democrats Could Force Shutdown Because ‘They Want Illegal Immigration’

Trump discusses Iran deal

Getty Images

President Donald Trump castigated Democrats on Friday morning and said they could force a government shutdown because they “want” illegal immigration. The House passed a continuing resolution with a vote of 230 to 197 on Thursday night to avoid a government shutdown, sending the bill to the Senate. “Government Funding Bill past [sic] last night in the House of Representatives. Now Democrats are needed if it is to pass in the Senate – but they want illegal immigration and weak borders. Shutdown coming? We need more Republican victories in 2018!” Trump tweeted.

House Republicans couldn’t count on many Democrats supporting the resolution because the short-term bill that funds the government through mid-February does not include a fix for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program, which expires in March. This meant that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) needed to pass the spending bill with mostly Republican votes. Ryan was able to reach a last-minute deal with the conservative House Freedom Caucus to support a short-term government funding bill after they previously threatened they had the votes to defeat it earlier in the day. The fate of the short-term spending measure is unknown because at least six Republican senators have publicly  come out against the measure, leading Senate Democrats to say they are confident they can block it from advancing, NBC News reported:

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has proposed a shorter stop-gap measure, lasting just four or five days, to be used as a hard deadline on an agreement on government spending levels and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program known as DACA.

In an animated and rare late-night debate on the Senate floor, Schumer and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sparred over the legislation, which would extend government funding for four weeks until Feb. 16. The measure would also fund the low-income children’s health insurance program, or CHIP, for six years and delay some taxes that are key sources of funding for Obamacare.

McConnell insisted that it’s unreasonable to demand an agreement on immigrants when there is no immediate deadline.

Poll: Trump ends first year with lowest approval of any modern president

Poll: Trump ends first year with lowest approval of any modern president
© Getty Images

 

The survey pegged Trump’s approval rating at 39 percent, lower than his three immediate predecessors at the same point in their presidencies. Fifty-seven percent of respondents disapprove of the job Trump is doing in office. That gives Trump the lowest first-year approval rating out of any modern president in the history of the NBC/WSJ poll. By comparison, President Obama ended his first year in office with 50 percent approval, President George W. Bush ended his with 82 percent and President Clinton came in at 60 percent, according to the NBC/WSJ poll. The poll is based on interviews with 900 U.S. adults and was conducted from Jan. 13-17. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. The survey was conducted after reports surfaced last week that Trump asked in a meeting with lawmakers why the U.S. should admit immigrants from “shithole countries,” like Haiti, instead of other countries, like Norway. The numbers in the NBC/WSJ poll are similar to those in the latest Harvard CAPS/Harris poll which found that 42 percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing while 58 percent disapprove. Trump’s approval rating has long lagged. According to RealClearPolitics’ presidential approval average, Trump came in at 39.5 percent as of Friday.

House votes to avert federal shutdown, Senate chances dim

On the edge of a government shutdown, a divided House voted late Thursday to keep the government open past a Friday deadline — setting up an eleventh-hour standoff in the Senate, where Democrats have vowed to kill the measure.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The partisan roadblock in the GOP-controlled Senate left just a day and little hope for negotiators searching for a way to avoid shuttering federal offices and keeping thousands of employees home from work. A closure, coming on the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, would be only the fourth such episode in roughly two decades and pose perils for both in parties in an election year. Still, Senate Democrats appeared ready to take the risk of shouldering the blame. Emboldened by a liberal base clamoring to challenge Trump, they’ve demanded concessions on immigration, chiefly protection for thousands of young immigrants facing deportation, and largely unified behind the effort. Leaders said Thursday they would have the votes to block the House-passed measure that would have funded the government for another four weeks.

Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that he’s confident that the GOP-controlled House will pass a stopgap government-wide funding bill, even as growing opposition from Senate Democrats made prospects in that chamber increasingly dicey. Republican leaders said the plan would give the White House and lawmakers more time to work through the disputes on immigration and spending that they’ve tangled over for months. Those talks were roiled last week by Trump’s comments questioning the need for immigration for “shithole countries” in Africa. With trust at a low ebb, Democrats said they weren’t willing to give Republicans that time to negotiate, arguing they could be back in the same standoff a month from now and push for a shorter extension that could keep the pressure on. Schumer asked how can senators negotiate when the president, who has to sign the legislation, “is like a sphinx on this issue, or says one thing one day and one thing the next?” Most Senate Democrats and some Republicans were expected to vote against the House plan, probably Friday.

Wells Fargo Glitch Leaves Customers With Empty Bank Accounts

Many Wells Fargo customers got a terrifying shock after finding their checking accounts drained due to a series of errors by the embattled bank. The Jan. 17 glitch reportedly emptied several customers’ accounts after processing their online bill payments twice and doubling transaction fees. According to CBS News, the banking error also triggered overdraft fees on many checking accounts as customers around the country were mistakenly informed they had a zero balance. The bank’s phone lines were reportedly jammed through the night as angry customers demanded answers for the embarrassing mistake. Wells Fargo later put out a brief statement on Twitter explaining the situation.

The social media outrage was immediate as customers replied to the statement, many who were left without a way to pay for any goods.

Wells Fargo gave an update on the situation on Jan. 18 as the issue is apparently still unresolved. “We are aware of the online Bill Pay situation which was caused by an internal processing error. We are currently working to correct it, and there is no action required for impacted customers at this time. Any fees or charges that may have been incurred as a result of this error will be taken care of. We apologize for any inconvenience,” Wells Fargo’s Steve Carlson said, via KCCI. The glitch is the latest black eye for the company, which was involved in a massive scandal in 2016 after it was discovered Wells Fargo employees opened millions of fake accounts to meet sales goals. Several high-level executives at the banking giant have lost their jobs since the scandal broke. Nick Note: Looks to me they are just practicing their latest scam to steal even more money from their customers

India Tests Ballistic Missile, Posing New Threat to China

  The rocket has a strike range of more than 3,000 miles and a payload of 1.5 tons, which is enough to transport a fusion-boosted fission weapon, a type of nuclear device. Credit Pallava Bagla/Corbis, via Getty Images NEW DELHI — India tested a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons on Thursday, paving the way for membership to a small list of countries with access to intercontinental missiles and putting most of China in its reach. The ballistic missile, called Agni 5, was launched from Abdul Kalam Island, off Odisha State in eastern India on Thursday morning, traveling for around 19 minutes and 3,000 miles. In a statement, the Indian Ministry of Defense said that all objectives of the mission had been “successfully met.” The firing of the Agni-5 comes months after the official end of a standoff between China and India over a remote sliver of land in the Himalayas, a squabble that lasted for more than two months and that was one of the worst border disputes between the countries in 30 years. The launch also comes during a tense period in India’s troubled relationship with Pakistan, its nuclear-armed neighbor. Nitin A. Gokhale, an independent national security analyst in New Delhi, said India did not previously have a missile capable of hitting “high-value targets” in China. But Thursday’s successful launch of the Agni 5 has changed the calculus, he said, putting most of China, including major eastern coastal cities such as Shanghai, in reach. “If there are hostilities, and if there are contingencies, then India has something which can deter China or at least make China think twice,” he said. The Agni 5 — Agni means fire in Hindi — is about 55 feet long and was developed in India. It is the most advanced missile in the Agni series, with a strike range of more than 3,000 miles and a payload of 1.5 tons, which is enough to transport a fusion-boosted fission weapon, a type of nuclear device. Coming after four previous tests, Thursday’s firing of the Agni 5 took India closer to incorporating the missile into its Strategic Forces Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile.Once that induction process is complete, India will join an elite group of countries with access to intercontinental ballistic missiles, a list that includes China, Russia and the United States, experts say.

Trump personally ordered restrictions for Bannon’s testimony, report says

President Donald Trump personally ordered Steve Bannon not to answer certain questions during his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee this week, Foreign Policy reported Thursday.
President Donald Trump and Senior Counselor to the President Stephen Bannon last January.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images President Donald Trump and Senior Counselor to the President Stephen Bannon last January.
The article said deputy White House counsel Uttam Dhillon presented legal rationale that the Trump administration might be able to limit the testimony of Bannon and others under executive privilege claims. That reasoning formed the basis of Trump’s decision to restrict Bannon’s testimony, sources with firsthand knowledge told Foreign Policy. The White House has acknowledged speaking with Bannon’s lawyer, Bill Burck, over the phone during his 10-plus-hour testimony to the House investigation on Tuesday, but maintained that it was “following standard procedure.” Burck told the committee that Bannon would not be answering any questions beyond those relating to the presidential campaign. However, Bannon mentioned that he discussed with fellow White House staffers the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting that included Donald Trump Jr., former Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort, Trump son-in-law and top aide Jared Kushner and alleged Russian operatives. Committee members then aggressively pushed Bannon to answer more questions about his time inside the White House, according to accounts of the hearing.

Trump: Vision of border wall ‘has never changed or evolved’

President Trump said that his vision of a border wall with Mexico has “never changed or evolved,” pushing back on his own chief of staff’s comments during a closed-door meeting with lawmakers. “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it,” Trump wrote in an early-morning tweet. The tweet came after lawmakers who met with White House chief of staff John Kelly told The Washington Post and other news outlets that the top aide said some of Trump’s campaign promises on immigration, including the wall, are “uninformed.” The Post reported that Kelly told lawmakers some parts of the border do not need a wall and there will be no physical barrier “that Mexico will pay for.” Trump tweeted that “parts will be, of necessity, see through” and wrote that the wall “was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water.” He added that it “will be paid for, directly or indirectly, or through longer term reimbursement, by Mexico, which has a ridiculous $71 billion dollar trade surplus with the U.S.”

The exchange marks a rare public break between Trump and Kelly, whom the president tapped as chief of staff last summer to bring stability to a White House that had been wracked by chaos.

Kelly’s claim that Trump’s views on immigration have evolved came as Congress struggles to broker a deal on shielding hundreds of thousands of immigrations from deportation. Those immigrants, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, benefitted from the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump scrapped last year. The program winds down on March 5. Trump and Republican lawmakers have said they would support protections for DACA recipients if they are tied to strict border security measures, including wall funding, and sweeping reforms to the nation’s legal immigration system. Democrats have balked at some of those demands. Kelly echoed his comments during an interview with Fox News, hours after he reportedly first made them during the meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “He’s very definitely changed his attitudes toward the DACA issue and even the wall once we briefed him,” Kelly said, referring to Trump Kelly said he told the Hispanic lawmakers that Trump has “evolved in the way he’s looked at things” and that all politicians “say things during the course of campaigns that may or may not be fully informed.”

U.S. Treasury official calls cryptocurrencies an ‘evolving threat’

Illicit finance risk from virtual currencies is a ‘high focus,’ Mandelker says
Bloomberg Sigal Mandelker, Treasury under secretary of terrorism and financial crimes, says U.S. is “ahead of the game” in regulating cryptocurrencies.

A senior U.S. Treasury official on Wednesday called cryptocurrencies an “evolving threat” that is a “high focus” for the U.S. government.“We’re concerned about the use of cryptocurrencies for illicit purposes all over the world,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes, in testimony to the Senate Banking Committee. “It is an area we are tracking very carefully,” she said. Mandelker said the U.S. has adequate regulations in place to oversee domestic cryptocurrency but was concerned that so few other countries have similar regulations in place. Last week, Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin warned against bitcoin becoming the next “Swiss Bank account.” Nick Bit: Your damn straight they should be worried! they are going to lose their little steal the masses wealth franchise!

Cryptocurrencies will replace ‘some or all’ paper money, investor James Altucher says

Bitcoin expert: More regulations will help legitimize digital currencies
Bitcoin expert: More regulations will help legitimize digital currencies

Bitcoin is on track to become a “valid,” “real” investment vehicle to hold in a portfolio — not a game for day-traders, according to advocate James Altucher. “Bitcoin is not a penny stock — it’s not something you buy one day and sell the next day for little gains,” Altucher told CNBC’s “Squawk Alley” on Wednesday. “You have to be a long-term believer that cryptocurrencies solve huge problems that paper currencies have.” Cryptocurrencies will replace some or all paper currencies in the long run,” he said. “Institutions aren’t yet in bitcoin, but they will be … we are in inning 0 of this asset class.” Altucher’s comments came as bitcoin has plunged, with its price sinking to as low as under $10,000 Wednesday, roughly 50 percent off its highs. Bitcoin bulls have praised it as a decentralized option for payments that are not tied to a nation’s government. But that doesn’t mean that it should be immune to regulation, Altucher said, since “98 percent of cryptocurrencies are scams or frauds.” “More regulation will happen, and that’s a good thing,” Altucher said. “I don’t think regulation will create downward pressure if it allows the 300 million people in the U.S. who don’t own bitcoin to say, ‘Oh, I need exposure to this asset class.'”

Tech investor Jillian Manus of Structure Capital told CNBC on Tuesday that some cryptocurrency trends, such as initial coin offerings, could be “very dangerous,” like “the Wild West without a sheriff.” But she, like Altucher, praised more innovative uses of the underlying technologies.

Altucher said he owns bitcoin and plans to continue buying tokens of the decentralized digital payment platform. While the price of bitcoin listed in Coinbase was down about 13 percent on Wednesday, he noted the dip could be a buying opportunity. Not everyone is so optimistic. Wells Fargo Securities’ Christopher Harvey told CNBC this week that the cryptocurrency market was “froth”-y, and a sell-off was not a matter of if, but when. But Altucher speculated that as regulation clears up the ambiguity in bitcoin, more investors will feel comfortable buying it. “This is a global phenomenon,” Altucher said.

Visa CEO: We won’t process transactions in bitcoin, because it’s not a payment system

Al Kelly
Visa CEO Alfred Kelly weighs in on tax cuts, bitcoin and global transactions… He even looks like a idiot, talks like a idiot.. must be a idiot

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, is not really money and Visa won’t touch it, the credit card giant’s CEO told CNBC.”I don’t view it as payment system player,” Alfred Kelly said in an interview recorded on Tuesday at the National Retail Federation conference in New York City.

Despite the emergence of bitcoin as digital money that can be used in a limited fashion to buy things, Kelly said, “We at Visa won’t process transactions that are cryptocurrency-based. We will only process fiat currency-based transactions.”

Fiat currencies, such as the U.S. dollar, are issued by governments as legal money. But, as Investopedia describes it, they are not backed by any physical commodity. Bitcoin, as CoinDesk explains, is not issued by anyone. It’s “mined” or “discovered” by powerful computers around the world competing with each other to solve certain algorithms. The miners then write those transactions to the online blockchain ledger, where all activity is recorded and shared with everyone. In the current environment, bitcoin acceptance as payment is rather limited, but as prices have soared, it’s become widely traded as a store of value like gold. Earlier Wednesday, on Bank of America’s post-earnings conference call with analysts, Chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan responded to a question about cryptocurrencies after the financial giant banned its advisors from buying bitcoin-related investments for their clients. “We basically told people they could buy at other accounts, not at Merrill Lynch,” Moynihan said. Nick Note: these corporate asshole are stupid idiots. Let me tell you a story:

In 1975, a 24-year-old engineer named Steven Sasson invented digital photography while working at Eastman Kodak by creating the world’s first digital camera. Kodak thought it was worthless and fired the engineer. Below is a picture of the worlds first digital camera


Sasson showed the new technology to a number of Kodak executives, but they couldn’t see the potential of what digital photography could become. This was their reaction, as told by Sasson to the New York Times:

They were convinced that no one would ever want to look at their pictures on a television set. Print had been with us for over 100 years, no one was complaining about prints, they were very inexpensive, and so “

At the time, Kodak was the dominant brand in the US photo industry, and Kodak didn’t want to cannibalize its film businesses. Kodak eventually in desperation did make the switch to digital… a mere 18 years later. It was to little to late. Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012. The same thing will happen to Visa, Master Card, American express, Discover and Western Union.

Apple didn’t say it was hiring 20,000 new workers, nor bringing back its overseas cash

At Apple, ‘creating’ jobs isn’t the same as hiring, and paying repatriation taxes doesn’t mean the money is coming home
Getty Images

Apple Inc. announced a series of plans Wednesday that were celebrated as promises to hire thousands of workers and bring home billions of dollars in cash. Well, not necessarily. Apple AAPL  said in its release that the company planned to “create over 20,000 new jobs through hiring at existing campuses and opening a new one.” The key word there is “create,” which Apple really likes to use when discussing jobs: The company even has a portion of its website dedicated to “job creation” that claims it is “responsible for 2 million jobs” in the United States, most of which are jobs “attributable to the App Store ecosystem.” Apple currently employs 84,000 people in the U.S., it said Wednesday, while an October filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission said that it has a total of 132,000 full-time employees worldwide, suggesting that about a third of its employees work abroad

A quarter of the 2 million jobs Apple claims responsibility for are positions through Apple’s U.S.-based suppliers. “From the people who manufacture components for our products to the people who distribute and deliver them, Apple directly or indirectly supports hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs,” Apple says on the page.

Apple’s job-creation site lists construction, manufacturing and retail as several areas where the company both has its own employees and also has “created” jobs through suppliers. Apple promised a new campus Wednesday, and building a facility can be a big job that takes years and a lot of workers, as was the case for the company’s recently opened Apple Park headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. However, the company seemed to tell Axios that its promise of a new campus would not be nearly as involved as the Apple Park project.

Apple did not respond to MarketWatch’s request for clarity on its job-creation claims.

Many also took Apple’s promise to pay $38 billion in repatriation taxes as a promise that Apple would bring home more than a quarter-trillion dollars it currently has overseas. However, Apple does not have to bring home that money, and much of it is tied up in long-term investments that would make it unlikely. The company has to pay taxes on overseas earnings whether it brings the money back to the United States or not, so paying the tax does not mean the money is coming home.

This Stock Market is a Stampede off a cliff

Stock market optimism among professional investors just keeps on surging, and is now at the highest levels since before the crash of 1987. Bullishness, or the belief that the market is heading higher, is now at 66.7 percent in the latest Investors Intelligence survey, a widely followed gauge of sentiment among investment newsletter authors.

That’s the highest level since early April 1986 — a potential warning sign that the rush into equities is getting overdone. After all, a year after the bulls had reached this level came the infamous Black Monday crash that sent the Dow Jones industrials down nearly 22 percent in a single day.

“Sentiment readings have roughly followed their 1986/87 pattern. Then the bulls peaked with initial market highs early that year and they returned to above 60% levels months later after more index records,” John Gray, editor of the Investors Intelligence weekly report, said in the latest issue Wednesday.

“In 1987 stocks crashed a few months after that. A repeat of that scenario suggests potential danger, especially as the market moves become parabolic,” he added. “Those recently holding cash appear to be chasing a rallying market, adding fuel to the fire.”

“The lessons of the last crash are being ignored. We are witnessing all the safety equipment being ripped out of the stock market by those in power,” Kuhn wrote.

Nervous Republicans fear they’ll pay if government shuts down

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is confident that Democrats will take the blame if the government shuts down this weekend or Congress fails to find a fix to prevent DACA recipients from being deported. But Republicans on Capitol Hill aren’t so sure. Many of them fear that voters will fault the GOP after looking at Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, his past flirtation with letting federal funding expire and the fact that Republicans are in control of the White House, the Senate and the House. “then there are shutdowns, our side usually takes the hit,” said Republican Rep. Charlie Dent, who is retiring from the competitive Allentown, Penn.,-based district he’s represented for nearly a dozen years. “It will be difficult for us to deflect the blame — whether we deserve it or not,” he added. And with Democrats showing unexpected strength in recent elections — the latest a victory Tuesday in a Wisconsin state Senate district that Trump carried easily in 2016 — Republicans know they don’t have much margin for error heading into this year’s midterm elections. On Tuesday, Trump laid out his argument that Democrats “don’t really want” to extend protections to DACA recipients and that they would be to blame for a shutdown.

But it was the Justice Department that announced in September that DACA would be canceled in March, creating a six-month window for Congress to write legislation protecting immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children or allow them to face deportation. In essence, Trump hung a sword over lawmakers and lit the cord holding it in place. Negotiations between a bipartisan Senate group and the White House broke down last week in an acrimonious meeting at which Trump reportedly expressed his preference for immigrants from Norway over those who hail from Haiti and African nations. Trump has responded that the media accounts are inaccurate and on Tuesday the president said he wanted immigrants to come to America from everywhere.

Pimco doubts U.S. will enact infrastructure spending, welfare reform in 2018

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Investment firm Pimco thinks it is unlikely that Washington will enact welfare reform or a major spending plan to improve bridges, roads and other infrastructure in 2018, Libby Cantrill, Pimco’s head of public policy, said on Tuesday. “While infrastructure was a key theme during the 2016 campaign and has strong support among Democrats on Capitol Hill, as of now, we do not see significant traction being made in 2018,” Cantrill wrote in a blog post. “We are similarly skeptical we will see anything meaningful passed on welfare reform,” she added.

Bank of America profit slumps 48% on $2.9 billion tax charge

BAC.N

(Reuters) – Bank of America Corp’s fourth-quarter profit nearly halved as it booked a $2.9 billion charge stemming from the new federal tax law.. Other large U.S banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup Inc, have also reported charges in their fourth-quarter results because the new law requires them to reassess their deferred tax assets and pay tax on profits kept abroad. Excluding the tax charge, Bank of America earned $5.3 billion, or 47 cents per share.  According to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, excluding the tax charge and another item, the company earned 48 cents per share compared with the average estimate of 44 cents.Total revenue, net of interest expense, rose about 2 percent to $20.44 billion as gains in interest income helped offset the tax charge and decrease in fixed-income trading revenue.

Trading revenue was weak for U.S. banks in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier when investors actively changed positions around the U.S. presidential elections. At Bank of America, adjusted trading revenue fell 9 percent from this quarter last year.

The bank’s net interest income rose 11.4 percent to $11.46 billion as rising interest rates helped it charge more on its loan. Bank of America’s large stock of deposits and rate-sensitive mortgage securities make the lender particularly responsive to a rise in interest rates. The bank’s non-interest expenses fell 1 percent to $13.27 billion. The lender’s net income, which includes the tax charge, fell to $2.37 billion, or 20 cents per share, for the quarter ended Dec. 31 from $4.54 billion, or 39 cents per share, in the year earlier period.

Bitcoin jolted by regulation worries, falls 7 percent

TOKYO/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Bitcoin extended its sharp tumble of the past 24 hours, skidding more than seven percent on Wednesday in a rapid downturn in fortunes as investors were spooked by fears regulators might clamp down on an asset whose value has skyrocketed in the past year The price of the world’s biggest and best known cryptocurrency fell to as low as $10,567 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange, not far from its six-week nadir of $10,162 touched the previous day. The session’s high was $11,794.07. It led the fall in cryptocurrencies, although others such as Ethereum and Ripple, have also slid sharply this week after reports South Korea and China could ban trading, sparking worries of a wider regulatory crackdown.“Cryptocurrencies could be capped in the current quarter ahead of G20 meeting in March, where policymakers could discuss tighter regulations,” said Shuhei Fujise, chief analyst at Alt Design. Tuesday’s decline followed reports that South Korea’s finance minister had said banning trading in cryptocurrencies was still an option and that the government plans a set of measures to clamp down on the “irrational” cryptocurrency investment craze.Separately, a senior Chinese central banker said authorities should ban centralised trading of virtual currencies as well as individuals.

 

‘Trump is a revolution, unfortunately, and I’m concerned’: Nobel Prize-winner Robert Shiller

Robert Shiller
Adam Jeffery | CNBC Robert Shille

President Donald Trump is synonymous with a “revolution” taking place in U.S. politics and society, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller, but not in a good way. Speaking to CNBC ahead of the World Economic Forum (WEF) where Trump will be a key attraction, Shiller, a renowned economist and academic who is also attending the Forum, said he was concerned about the changes in society and politics heralded by the president. “Trump is a revolution unfortunately, (and one) who’s reaffirming nationalism and he’s showing that Americans are no better than anyone else,” Shiller told CNBC ahead of the Forum. “It’s troublesome to me. I’m concerned.”
“So far we’ve gotten through a year of him and we’re optimistic that Congress will switch to a democratic majority in another year so he might be defanged,” the Yale University economics professor added.
Shiller said Trump’s reception by the Davos audience was going to be interesting to see. “He’s coming to Davos this year and he’s going to try out his rhetoric on the least sympathetic audience I can imagine. He likes sympathetic audiences so I don’t know how he’s going to manage this one.” While Davos does attract criticism, with some calling it a “talking shop” for the well-off that fails to bring about concrete change, Shiller was supportive of the event. He said the 2018 theme – “creative a shared future in a fractured world” – reflected the problems facing the world, namely what he saw as “the problems of the international growth of populism and nationalism, racism and religionism that is quite striking right now.” “Those fractures are re-assertions of traditional fractures and so it’s like we’re back to history again. We were in a period of enlightenment following the horrors of World War II and now the people who remembered that are disappearing so we’re going to go back and make the same mistakes,” he said.  Having won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2013 for his work on asset prices and inefficient markets, Shiller is attending a Nobel Prize-winner dinner at Davos in 2018. The Forum is also hosting a session based on his 2017 work on “Narrative Economics” and the effects that narratives and stories can have on the global economy

Steve Bannon plans to cooperate with special counsel

The subpoena compels Bannon to testify before a grand jury, skipping the voluntary interview with Mueller’s team that many in Trump’s orbit have elected to take. But Mueller may still leave open the option for an interview in lieu of grand jury testimony. Bannon is likely to accept such an option if it is made available, according to a source close to Bannon. Three people familiar with the special counsel’s investigation suggested Mueller moved to subpoena Bannon, rather than ask him to voluntarily appear for questioning, in order to thwart any potential attempt by the White House to pressure Bannon into refusing to cooperate. Bannon is expected to be more forthcoming with Mueller’s team. “He’ll answer any questions” Mueller wants, one source close to Bannon told NBC News.

Former Trump aide Bannon refuses to comply with House subpoena

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon declined on Tuesday to comply with a subpoena ordering him to answer questions from a U.S. House intelligence panel about his time at the White House as part of its investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election.

After Bannon initially refused to answer questions about the matter, Devin Nunes, the committee’s Republican party chairman, authorized a subpoena during the meeting to press Bannon to respond.

Even then, Bannon refused to answer questions after his lawyer had conferred with the White House and was told again to refuse to answer questions about the transition period immediately after Trump was elected, or Bannon’s time in the administration, according to Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee.

Separately, the New York Times reported that Bannon had been subpoenaed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury in a probe of alleged ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, on Tuesday.

It was the first time Mueller is known to have used a subpoena against a member of Trump’s inner circle, the Times said. It cited a person with direct knowledge of the matter. Bannon, a champion of Trump’s “America First” agenda, was among the Republican’s closest aides during the 2016 election campaign, the presidential transition and his first months in office. But the pair had a bitter public falling out over comments Bannon made to author Michael Wolff for his recent book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” In the book, Bannon is quoted as describing a June 2016 meeting between Trump associates, including the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a Russian lawyer, as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.” Bannon spent hours on Tuesday meeting behind closed doors with members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. He was the latest high-profile figure to appear before the panel as part of its investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election. Bannon refused to speak not only about his time at the White House, but also any conversations he had with President Trump after he had left the administration “that might be for the purpose of the President seeking his advice on anything,” Schiff said. “We expect to have Mr. Bannon back in, we hope very soon, with a different position by the White House,” Schiff said. Asked if the White House had told Bannon not to answer certain questions, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said: “As with all congressional activities touching upon the White House, Congress must consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material.”

“We’ve been cooperating fully with these ongoing investigations and encourage the committees to work with us to find an appropriate accommodation in order to ensure Congress obtains information necessary to its legitimate interests,” she said. Nick Bit: Not anymore!!!!!!

Asset Class of Vintage Cars Drops More than during 2008/2009

The asset class of beautiful machines is suffering. These assets range from a rare 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta, which sold for $38.1 million with impeccable timing in August 2014 before the peak, to American muscle cars that can be acquired for a few thousand bucks.According to the Hagerty Market Index, prices of vintage automobiles that sold at private sales and at auctions fell 3% from a month ago, are down 7% for the year, and are down 17% from the all-time high in August 2015. This 17% drop from the peak is worse than the 16% drop from peak-to-bottom during the Financial Crisis. The index in the January report, at 154.33, has now two declining years in a row under its belt. The index provider, Hagerty, specializes in insuring vintage automobiles. Its Hagerty Market Index, unlike stock market indices, is adjusted for inflation via the Consumer Price Index. So these are “real” changes in price levels. The chart below from Hagerty’s January report shows how the index surged 84% on an inflation-adjusted basis from August 2009 to its peak in August 2015, how it surged 54% on an inflation-adjusted basis above its prior peak, and how it has since given up one-third of those gains. The 16% drop during the Financial Crisis was triggered by financial panic. But there is no Financial Crisis today, and no financial panic. Instead, financial conditions in the markets are ultra-easy, and something else entirely is causing these price drops (dates added):

During the Financial-Crisis, the index peaked in April 2008 at 121.0 then plunged 16% in a little over a year to bottom out in August 2009 at 101.39. By then, the liquidity from the Fed’s zero-interest-rate policy and QE was washing across the world, and all asset prices began to soar, and the owners of those beautiful machines received a powerful boost from the Fed’s intention to create the “wealth effect,” as Bernanke himself called it. But this time it’s different. This time, there is no Financial Crisis and therefore no QE in sight. The drop has now been going on for over two years, in an all-too-orderly manner. The peak occurred just before the Fed embarked on its rate-hike cycle in December 2015. And now the Fed is getting more serious about tightening, and the QE Unwind is already underway. Nick Bit: their is no financial crises YET… Soon come. Out on your fire suit and crash helmet. The biggest stock market crash and depression is our life time is on the way

Fox News held story before election on Trump relationship with adult-film star: report

Fox News did not publish a story the network had on the alleged sexual relationship between President Donald Trump and porn actress Stephanie Clifford, who goes by the name Stormy Daniels, during the 2016 presidential election.

Fox News did not publish a story the network had on an alleged sexual relationship between President Trump and adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford during the 2016 presidential election, according to a new report. CNN reports that Fox News reporter Diana Falzone wrote a story a month before voters went to the polls in 2016 on the alleged relationship between Trump and Clifford, whose stage name is “Stormy Daniels.” People familiar with the story told CNN that Falzone had seen emails about a settlement between Trump and Clifford and had a statement from Clifford’s manager affirming that Clifford did engage in a sexual relationship with Trump. But CNN reports that Fox News ultimately did not publish the story, with one person familiar with the story telling the network that Falzone “had the story and Fox killed it.” Noah Kotch, Fox News’s digital editor-in-chief and vice president, told CNN in a statement that the network was “unable to verify all of the facts and publish a story.” “Like many other outlets, we were working to report the story of Stephanie Clifford’s account in October 2016 about then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump and a possible payment by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen,” Kotch told CNN. “In doing our due diligence, we were unable to verify all of the facts and publish a story.” CNN’s report follows a Wall Street Journal report that Michael Cohen, an attorney for the Trump Organization in 2006 and now Trump’s personal lawyer, arranged for Clifford to receive $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement one month before the 2016 presidential election. Clifford had previously told sources interviewed by the newspaper that she had a consensual sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, a year after he and Melania Trump were married. Cohen told the Journal in a statement that Trump “once again vehemently denies” the encounter, but did not comment on the alleged $130,000 payment. “This is now the second time that you are raising outlandish allegations against my client,” Cohen told the newspaper. “You have attempted to perpetuate this false narrative for over a year; a narrative that has been consistently denied by all parties since at least 2011.”  Cohen also sent the paper a statement signed by “Stormy Daniels” denying the sexual encounter with Trump and saying that the rumors are “completely false.” Clifford sent the same statement denying a sexual relationship with Trump to CNN this week. The White House declined to comment to the Journal about the alleged payment, but said that the allegations of the interaction between Trump and Clifford were “old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election.”

GE shares dive after ‘deeply disappointing’ $6.2 billion insurance portfolio charge

 

General Electric Chief Executive Officer John Flannery presents the company's new strategy and financial targets to investors at a meeting in New York, November 13, 2017.
General Electric to take $6.2 billion charge for legacy reinsurance business
 The bad news keeps piling up for General Electric shareholders as the company announces worse than expected insurance portfolio results. GE said on Tuesday after a review of its GE Capital insurance portfolio it will take a $6.2 billion after tax charge for the fourth quarter of 2017 and expects to contribute $15 billion over the next seven years to shore up the portfolio’s reserves. General Electric also said on a call with investors it will report 2017 earnings-per-share, ex-insurance charges, at the low end of its $1.05 to $1.10 guidance range versus the Wall Street consensus of $1.07. “At a time when we are moving forward as a company, a charge of this magnitude from a legacy insurance portfolio in run-off for more than a decade is deeply disappointing,” CEO John Flannery said in the release Tuesday.
 One Wall Street analyst is surprised at the size of the charge and reserve numbers. “After an analysis of the GE long term care exposure, we had thought an outsized charge was likely, but have to admit the $15B of additional capital ultimately being required was far in excess of our adverse case expectations, and is a negative read across for other insurers with sizeable long term care blocks in our view,” Evercore ISI analyst Thomas Gallagher wrote Tuesday.

General Electric shares significantly underperformed the market in the past year. The stock has declined 40 percent through Friday in the past 12-months versus the S&P 500’s 22.5 percent return. The company reduced its dividend and unveiled a restructuring plan during its November investor day. It was the company’s first investor day under CEO John Flannery, who replaced Jeff Immelt in August.

U.S. oil industry set to break record, upend global trade

 

And this new record, expected within days, likely won’t last long. The U.S. government forecasts that the nation’s production will climb to 11 million barrels a day by late 2019, a level that would rival Russia, the world’s top producer. The economic and political impacts of soaring U.S. output are breathtaking, cutting the nation’s oil imports by a fifth over a decade, providing high-paying jobs in rural communities and lowering consumer prices for domestic gasoline by 37 percent from a 2008 peak. Fears of dire energy shortages that gripped the country in the 1970s have been replaced by a presidential policy of global “energy dominance.”

3.2 million Americans lost health insurance in Donald Trump’s first year

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The number of Americans without health coverage, which declined for years after passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, shot up in President Donald Trump’s first year in office, according to data from a new national survey.At the end of 2017, 12.2 per cent of US adults lacked health insurance, up from 10.9 per cent at the end of 2016, as President Barack Obama was completing his final term. The increase of 1.3 percentage points, although modest, marks the first time since at least 2008 that the share of adults without insurance increased from the previous year, according to the report from Gallup, which conducts a widely followed survey asking Americans about their health coverage. The increase indicates that 3.2 million Americans lost health coverage in 2017, Gallup concluded. The decline in coverage was most pronounced among slices of the population on which the Obama administration and its allies had focused enrolment efforts: young adults, blacks, Latinos and households making less than $36,000 a year, Gallup found. The losses follow years of historic insurance gains driven by the health care law’s expansion of coverage, which started being fully implemented in 2014. It is unclear how much each of those actions contributed to the erosion in health coverage, but the Gallup survey indicates a decline in the percentage of adults who bought insurance on their own rather than got it from an employer or a government programme such as Medicare or Medicaid. That is the part of the insurance market that has been affected most by political turmoil surrounding the health law. “Further, media coverage of the policies to repeal and replace the health care law may have caused some consumers to question whether the government would enforce the penalty for not having insurance,” the Gallup report notes. And recent moves by the Trump administration to weaken insurance rules are expected to further destabilise insurance markets. “It seems likely that the uninsured rate will rise further in the years ahead,” the Gallup report notes. The survey was based on a random sample of 25,072 adults living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia who were interviewed between October 1 and December 31. The margin of error is plus or

Citigroup reports $18 billion loss on one-time tax items

(Reuters) – Citigroup Inc posted an $18-billion quarterly loss on Tuesday because of charges related to a new U.S. tax law, but its adjusted earnings beat Wall Street expectations and management signaled that the bank may soon lift financial performance targets.The law, signed by President Donald Trump last month, has made fourth-quarter earnings a messy ordeal for big banks. It forces them to take one-time hits on earnings held abroad and changes the treatment of deferred tax assets, both of which affect Citigroup in particular.  However, banks and other large U.S. corporations expect to benefit greatly from lower taxes and other provisions in the new law over the long term. Citigroup, the fourth-largest U.S. lender, stands to gain less than peers because it already earns about half of its profits in lower-tax countries abroad. Even so, it expects its tax rate to fall to about 25 percent this year from 30 percent in 2017. That could save the bank billions of dollars over the next few years. The changes will not only boost Citigroup’s profits, but allow the bank to generate higher returns and generate more capital, Chief Executive Michael Corbat said. The new law might also stimulate economic growth because it incentivizes companies to invest in their businesses and has led to wage hikes that could help consumers, he said. Citigroup’s institutional business, which includes investment banking and trading, fell 1 percent due to weakness in trading that has also affected Wall Street peers. Bond trading revenue fell 18 percent due to ongoing weakness in volatility, while equity markets revenue was down 23 percent because of $130 million worth of losses on a derivatives trade with one client.

Telegram To Establish Its Own Cryptocurrency Through $1.2 Bln ICO

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Private messaging app Telegram is planning a $1.2-billion Initial Coin Offering or ICO. The messaging app, with more than one hundred and seventy million monthly users, aims to find a prime place in the thriving cyrptocurrency arena. The company is reportedly planning to develop a blockchain to combat bitcoin and ethereum. Telegram mulls a private token sale in February and a public sale in March. The token sale is expected to raise around $600 million, which could beat the largest ever token sale of $257 million by Filecoin in September. Reports said, those qualified investors, who participate in pre-sale might get a discount of 68 percent in the public sale. According to a businessinsider report, Telegram’s ICO will be to support Telegram Open Network or TON blockchain platform which will host a new generation cryptocurrencies and decentralized applications. The investors participating in the ICO will receive TON tokens, known as Grams. The tokens might not be listed till 2019. Telegram is said to be planning to invest 80 percent of the funds to develop the TON ecosystem, bandwidth, co-location and user verification system, businessinsider said quoting a white paper. TON is projected to become an alternative for Visa or Mastercard and “can be regarded as a decentralised supercomputer and value transfer system.” Nick Bit: Another very very smart move..

GM to Take $7 Billion Write-Down as a Result of U.S. Tax Overhaul

General Motors Co. said 2017 pretax profit last year ended up at the high end of its previous forecast, but disclosed it will take a $7 billion non-cash write-down on deferred-tax assets stemming from the sweeping tax-overhaul bill passed last month. GM, which reports fourth-quarter results Feb. 6, said Tuesday that 2017 earnings per share should be “at the high end” of its previous $6.00-$6.50 forecast.

Mueller subpoenas Bannon To Appear Before a Grand Jury

Bannon was on Capitol Hill testifying before the House Intelligence Committee when the news broke that Mueller had issued the subpoena for the now-estranged associate of President Donald Trump to testify before a grand jury. Bannon’s testimony on the Hill Tuesday was his first appearance before any of the congressional committees investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election or potential coordination with Trump’s associates, and it comes just days after the White House broke with Bannon over comments attributed to him disparaging Trump and the Trump family. Nick Bit: Well Now the games begin. Bannon feels like Trump has destroyed him…… I smell payback!

Ex-Trump chief strategist Bannon to meet with House panel on Russia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon will meet behind closed doors on Tuesday with a U.S. House of Representatives committee that is probing whether Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.Former White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon arrives for an interview by the House Intelligence Committee investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts  The interview with the House Intelligence Committee comes after Bannon’s public falling out with the president over comments Bannon made to author Michael Wolff for his new book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”In the book, Bannon is quoted as describing a June 2016 meeting between Trump associates, including the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a Russian lawyer, as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”  The meeting came after Donald Trump Jr. was told in an email that the Russian government had dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, to which he replied: “I love it.”Bannon, a champion of Trump’s “America First” agenda, was fired by the White House in August and returned to the right-wing news website Breitbart News. He continued to speak with Trump and tried to promote the president’s agenda. But Trump accused Bannon of having “lost his mind” when news of his comments to Wolff surfaced earlier this month. Six days later, Bannon stepped down from his post as executive chairman at Breitbart News.Bannon is the latest high-profile figure to testify before the House committee as part of its ongoing investigation into allegations that Russia interfered in the U.S. election. Russia has denied meddling in the election and Trump has denied there was any collusion between his campaign and Moscow. Nick: Bit: Bannon will throw Trump under the bus. And back it up 3 or 4 times to make sure.

The Fed official most concerned about possible asset bubbles presses the alarm button (again)

In MarketWatch interview, Boston Fed’s Rosengren says ebullient asset prices make a soft landing harder to achieve
Bloomberg Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren

Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren has been concerned about a potential asset bubble in commercial real estate since late 2015. And he says that the problem of asset prices has gotten worse, not better. “For a while, real estate looked like the only asset class that was showing signs of having substantial variation from what the average valuation had been, but I think we’re starting to see more asset markets have that characteristic,” he says. This makes life hard for the central bank. For instance, it makes it more difficult for the central bank to engineer a soft landing for the economy, Rosengren said. It also means the Fed cannot pause in its gradual pace of rate hikes and should even pick up the pace a bit this year. The U.S. central bank might have to raise rates four times in 2018, he said, more than the median forecast of Fed officials or the two hikes the market expects. MarketWatch spoke with Rosengren as he was preparing to give his first speech of the year on the economic outlook. In his remarks, he said low inflation has so far allowed the Fed to pursue very gradual rate hikes.

Continue reading “The Fed official most concerned about possible asset bubbles presses the alarm button (again)”

As bitcoin’s price plunges, skeptics say the cryptocurrency has no value. But here’s why they may be wrong

Bitcoin’s price has been on a wild ride since its inception. 2017 alone saw massive gains, starting the year at under $1,000 and, at its peak, breaking $19,000, according to industry site CoinDesk. As bitcoin’s popularity surges and its price rises and falls, more and more people are asking the same question: How does bitcoin, something that’s essentially invisible and intangible, have value? In economics, something has value if it checks the following two boxes: scarcity and utility. Scarcity just means that something has a finite supply. In the case of bitcoin, the cryptocurrency has a set cap of 21 million bitcoins.Many analysts note that this set cap makes bitcoin more desirable than other assets, even gold. That’s because unlike with gold, there’s no need to worry about a digital Gold Rush. A treasure trove of bitcoin won’t ever be “discovered,” causing the crypto’s price to crash with an influx in supply. “There are potentially millions of times more gold underground than actually has been extracted,” said Tom Lee, head of research at Fundstrat Global Advisors. Lee was chief equity strategist at J.P. Morgan before co-founding Fundstrat in 2014. Ben Yu, a blockchain expert living in San Francisco, says technological advances are also making gold easier to mine. “Today we mine gold at four times the rate that we did just 100 years ago,” Yu said.So if bitcoin has scarcity, what about its utility? Many believe the cryptocurrency’s utility lies in its potential to be a more efficient commodity than we already have. Proponents of bitcoin like it for a number of reasons. First, bitcoin is decentralized, meaning no government, bank or single person has control over it; it can’t be toppled by corruption at the top. It’s also trivially divisible, meaning you can buy a small item like a doughnut with it as easily as you can buy a house or even a mansion. And finally, the code it’s built on is open source, meaning that it’s available for anyone to look at, scrutinize and even modify. This means bitcoin is constantly evolving and improving. But as you break down either of those claims, it becomes clear that gold and paper money don’t have that much intrinsic value either. “If you ask a baby boomer, ‘Can you justify the value of anything that’s a digital business?’ they probably don’t accept that Facebook, Google, Netflix, Amazon, Apple, these are the largest companies in the S&P 500 and they’re primarily digital businesses built almost purely on digital trust,” said Lee. “Anyone who thinks digital gold isn’t a store value is overlooking the fact that most businesses today are built around digital trust, including the financial If it were to replace gold entirely, one bitcoin could be worth $357,000. That’s calculated by taking the total value of all the gold ever mined in the world, which is about $7.5 trillion, and dividing that number by 21 million — the total bitcoins that can ever exist.Lee told CNBC it’s more realistic to assume bitcoin will replace 5 percent of gold within five years, making a single coin worth $25,000. Nick Bit: BUY bitcoin right NOW! $11,400 before the year is out bitcoin will have hit $50,000. A stock market crash is near. And when it occurs bitcoin will soar!!

US stock market is a bubble, but it may not burst for awhile

Komal Sri-Kumar: ‘Irrational exuberance’ tends to last a long time

Komal Sri-Kumar: ‘Irrational exuberance’ tends to last a long time

Komal Sri-Kumar, whose economic consultancy advises multinational firms and sovereign wealth funds, believes a stock market reckoning is coming. “I think it is a bubble,” the founder of Sri-Kumar Global Strategies told CNBC on Tuesday before the Dow Jones industrial average broke through 26,000 and the S&P 500 eclipsed 2,800 on the open, continuing the bullish start to 2018 and last year’s powerful rally. “You can have this bubble get bigger,” Sri-Kumar acknowledged. “But the question is how big does it get? Irrationality can last a long time.” “The true downside [now] is for the equities to continue to rise and to have a much sharper fall at some point in time,” Sri-Kumar predicted. A decline of “5 percent, or even 10 percent, is nothing,” he said. “You have to talk in terms of a 15 percent to 20 percent decline. But the question is when does it happen? The answer is the later it happens the bigger the magnitude of the decline.” Billionaire investor Sam Zell also sees “irrational exuberance” in stocks. The founder and chairman of Equity Group Investments told CNBC later Tuesday the record market rally is based on emotions not fundamentals.

Billionaire Sam Zell sees ‘irrational exuberance’ in the stock market and holds mostly cash

  • The seemingly unstoppable stock market rally is based on emotions not fundamentals, Zell says.
  • “I think the current situation seems like irrational exuberance,” he argues.
  • Zell says he does see a path to increased economic growth due to tax reform and deregulation.
Billionaire Sam Zell: I think opportunity to reach 3-percent growth is real
Billionaire Sam Zell on markets: I think the current situation seems like irrational exuberance

The seemingly unstoppable rally that’s pushed the stock market to record high after record high is based on emotions not fundamentals, billionaire investor Sam Zell told CNBC on Tuesday.

“I think the current situation seems like irrational exuberance,” said the founder and chairman of the property specialist firm Equity Group Investments. Referring to “irrational exuberance,” he was echoing a warning that then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan famously issued in 1996 about the market environment.

Zell said on “Squawk Box” that tech stocks and other highflyers, which have been largely responsible for the rally, belie the rather tepid returns from “average companies.” All assets, including stocks and property values, are too expensive, Zell said, adding he’s mostly in cash. On the real estate side, he said he’s been “selling stuff.” With a dearth of investment opportunities, he argued, the burden of holding cash is not as great as it would be otherwise.

Despite his rather pessimistic comments, Zell said he does see a path to increased economic growth due to the tax reform and deregulation policies of President Donald Trump.

“I think the opportunity for the country to grow at 3 percent is real,” but whether that happens remains to be seen, said Zell, who has described himself as socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Nick Bit: here me well their will soon be the biggest stock market crash ever….

 

 

Murders in Mexican resort of Tijuana top 1,700 in 2017 as rival drug gangs battle for control

After reaching a new high last year, the bloodshed in Tijuana has continued at an unrelenting pace in the first days of the new year as two powerful drug trafficking organisations battle for control of the city’s lucrative street drug sales. As murders soared to unprecedented levels across Mexico in 2017, Tijuana registered one of the steepest increases in the country. The tally for the year was a record 1,744 murders – almost double the record of 910 homicides set in 2016, according to figures from the Baja California Attorney General’s Office. The long-established Sinaloa cartel and a newer, aggressive group known as the cartel Nueva Generacion Jalisco, often abbreviated as CJNG, are fighting for supremacy in Tijuana. “The main issue right now with the power struggle is Sinaloa and the CJNG battling for street dealers, narcomenudeo,” said an official of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, speaking on condition of anonymity. “You have got to understand, the money that they make in Tijuana, that’s as much as crossing the border” with smuggled drugs. Though bullets have struck bystanders, the killings have been largely targeted and carried out in the city’s impoverished and working class neighbourhoods, authorities say. Close to 90 per cent of the victims are low-level operatives in the local drug trade, they said.

North Korea THREAT: Kim Jong-un could have as many 60 nuclear WARHEADS as WW3 fears brew

NORTH KOREA could have an atomic bomb capable of fitting on a missile, a nuclear scientist who has frequently visited the secretive state has warned
North Korea news Kim Jong-un Sig Hecker
Photos from 2016 show the rogue regime’s leader posing with what he claimed was a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a missile.
North Korea could have an atomic bomb and between 30 and 60 small mobile nuclear warheads, Sig Hecker has warned.  Hecker, who was the director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of America’s atomic bomb, warned that photos of Kim Jong-un posing with his nuclear arsenal could show an atomic bomb.  Speaking to CBS News’ 60 Minutes, he said: “What’s even more important than the 30 or 60, is how small can they make them.” North Korea leader Kim-Jong-un could have an atomic bomb, Hecker warned

This to me is one that I would call a spherical fission bomb, in other words, the atomic bomb

Sig Hecker

Asked what it looked like, Hecker said it resembled a fission bomb. He said: “This to me is one that I would call a spherical fission bomb, in other words, the atomic bomb.  “It looks like a simple bomb. However what I found most important about this is the size of it, it looks to be about 60 centimetres.  Hecker was was shown another photo of Kim’s weapons from September when North Korea unveiled a sleeker warhead design.

James Rubin: North Korea have ability to ‘hit any city in the US’

The regime said it was a much more powerful thermonuclear weapon. 

The nuclear expert said: “That shape is consistent with what we would call the two-stage thermonuclear weapon.  What that essentially means is sort of a modern hydrogen bomb.”
Asked whether it could be mounted to a missile, Hecler said: “They definitely want us to think so. In the background they actually show the warhead positioned in the nose cone of the missile which we interpreted to be an ICBM.” Kim Jong-un’s repeated tests of his atomic arsenal have caused tensions to heat up in Asia, bringing condemnation from numerous powers and fanned World War 3 fears.

Sweden predicted to become first country with own cryptocurrency

Sweden predicted to become first country with own cryptocurrency
A bitcoin ATM in Hong Kong. Photo: Kin Cheung/AP
Sweden could soon become the first country to launch its own cryptocurrency, an analyst at HSBC has predicted.

The Riksbank revealed in November 2016 that it was researching the possibility of launching its own digital currency in the form of an “e-krona”. Now, HSBC global economist James Pomeroy predicts Sweden will be the first country in the world to do so, and could launch within the next few years. One reason Sweden is particularly well positioned to be a leader in the field is that the card-friendly country is already more than comfortable with non-physical financial transactions. “Sweden is noticeably further ahead than the UK, mainland Europe and the US, which is a long way behind in this trend. Because of how technologically developed it is, you see a lot of new interesting things in economics quite a while before you see it elsewhere,” Pomeroy told The Local. “Sweden is really a standout in how cash usage is changing, with the use of cash for payments dwindling from about 40 percent in 2010 to about 15 percent in 2016. The Riksbank will publish more data on this this year and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it has fallen below 10.” The HSBC analyst thinks that it is no longer a question of whether Sweden will launch its own cryptocurrency or not, but rather, what specific form it will take.

Hedge funds intensify bearish dollar, U.S. bond bets: McGeever

Most of these bets are currently in the money. The dollar hit a three-year low on Monday, the 10-year Treasury yield last week rose to its highest since March, and the two-year yield is its highest since 2008.  But as U.S. currency and yields hit levels not seen in years, the size of bets needed to get them there is also growing. Many of these positions are getting stretched, in some cases close to record levels, casting doubt on how much more they can expand and therefore keep the current trends intact.  Data from the Chicago Futures Trading Commission show that hedge funds’ and speculative accounts’ short dollar position against a basket of major and emerging currencies virtually doubled in the week to Jan. 9, to $10.1 billion from $5.4 billion.That is the largest net short dollar position since the end of October last year.  The U.S. currency is on the slide, hitting a three-year low on a trade-weighted basis on Monday. It fell 10 percent last year, its worst year since 2003, but the New Year has brought no cheer – it’s down a further 1.8 percent in just two weeks.  Most of the FX market’s bearish view on the dollar is rooted in its bullish view on the euro. Net long euro positions leapt to a new record 144,691 contracts from 127,868, according to CFTC. That’s a $21.5 billion bet that the euro will strengthen. The latest CFTC data show hedge funds and speculators doubling down on short Treasuries positions, from short-dated two-year bonds out to longer-dated 10-year bonds.  Net short two-year Treasury futures positions rose to 267,622 contracts from just under 238,000 the week before. That’s the fourth largest short position since CFTC began compiling the data 20 years ago.

Ford is throwing $11 billion at its electric car problem

More than doubling its investment in EVs in bid to catch up with GM and other major automakers

Ford Motor Company said Sunday that it would more than double its investment in the production of electric vehicles, promising to spend $11 billion on the technology by 2022. The auto giant will roll out 16 fully electric cars within five years, the first of which would arrive in 2020. It was a dramatic escalation in Ford’s crosstown rivalry with General Motors, which has seen its stock prices rise thanks to its commitments to both electrification and autonomy. GM has said it plans to roll out at least 20 new electric cars by 2023, a goal that puts it in a position to bring battery-powered driving to the mainstream. Last week, it unveiled a concept autonomous car without steering wheel or pedals. Meanwhile, the Blue Oval has had a challenging 2017. It remains strongly profitable, but its sale are stagnant, its costs have increased faster than expected, and its margins have failed to meet targets. In May 2017, Mark Fields was replaced by Jim Hackett as CEO amid a larger management shuffle. Most of the big automakers have said in the past year that they plan on pivoting to all-electric lineups. Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, said it will produce electrified versions of all of its cars by 2022. Volvo announced it would phase out gas-only car production by 2019, while the Volkswagen Group is going to make everything electric in some shape or form by 2030. And China’s rising prominence in the auto market, in addition to that country’s restrictions on manufacturing fossil-fuel burning vehicles, is certainly putting pressure on the entire industry to go electric.Its certainly a significant increase in investment. In late 2015, Ford said it would spend $4.5 billion on its electrification program, which would translate into 13 electric cars on the road by 2020. Now, not only is the automaker doubling that promise, but it also said it would produce an all-electric sports car dubbed the “Mach 1.” Sunday’s announcement comes comes three months after Ford set up a group of employees, dubbed Team Edison, to study vehicle electrification. Basing these vehicles on nameplates that customers know, like Mustang, can help the company sell these vehicles, even as electric cars still only account for a fraction of annual sales, said Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford.