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.