Mueller asking if Trump knew about hacked Democratic emails before release

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is asking witnesses pointed questions about whether Donald Trump was aware that Democratic emails had been stolen before that was publicly known, and whether he was involved in their strategic release, according to multiple people familiar with the probe. Mueller’s investigators have asked witnesses whether Trump was aware of plans for WikiLeaks to publish the emails. They have also asked about the relationship between GOP operative Roger Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and why Trump took policy positions favorable to Russia. The line of questioning suggests the special counsel, who is tasked with examining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, is looking into possible coordination between WikiLeaks and Trump associates in disseminating the emails, which U.S. intelligence officials say were stolen by Russia. Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion and has described the special counsel’s investigation as “illegal” and a “witch hunt.”

In one line of questioning, investigators have focused on Trump’s public comments in July 2016 asking Russia to find emails that were deleted by his then-opponent Hillary Clinton from a private server she maintained while secretary of state. The comments came at a news conference on July 27, 2016, just days after WikiLeaks began publishing the Democratic National Committee emails. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said. Witnesses have been asked whether Trump himself knew then that Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, whose emails were released several months later, had already been targeted. They were also asked if Trump was advised to make the statement about Clinton’s emails from someone outside his campaign, and if the witnesses had reason to believe Trump tried to coordinate the release of the DNC emails to do the most damage to Clinton, the people familiar with the matter said.

The White House spokesman at the time, Sean Spicer, would later say that then-candidate Trump had been “joking” when he called on Russia to hack his opponent’s emails.

Investigators are also asking questions about Trump’s longtime relationship with Stone, the Republican operative, according to witnesses. Investigators have asked about Stone’s contacts with WikiLeaks during the campaign and if he’s ever met with Assange. “They wanted to see if there was a scheme. Was Stone working on the side for Trump?” after he officially left the campaign, one person interviewed by the special counsel’s office said, adding that it seemed investigators wanted to know, “Was this a big plot?” Russia stole emails from the DNC and Podesta, according to U.S. intelligence officials, and released batches of them through WikiLeaks starting in July 2016 and up until the election. As part of his plea agreement with the special counsel, former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos revealed that in a conversation in late April 2016, he was told by a professor with ties to Russian officials that they had “dirt’ on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” A 10-page memo from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released Saturday noted that the Justice Department’s October 2016 application for a FISA warrant on another Trump foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, included the fact that Russian agents had previewed their hack and dissemination of stolen emails to Papadopoulos. Investigators were interested in statements Stone made in the final month of the 2016 campaign that strongly suggested he was aware of information the group had before it became public and when it might be released. In one instance, he wrote on Twitter that “it would soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Weeks later Podesta’s stolen emails were released by WikiLeaks. As WikiLeaks was strategically publishing stolen emails in the closing months of the campaign, Trump also publicly said he loved the group. In 2017, President Trump’s CIA director, Mike Pompeo, would label the group a hostile nonstate actor.

Investigators also have shown interest in any connections Stone has to WikiLeaks and Assange, its founder. Stone has said he communicated with Assange and WikiLeaks through an intermediary he described as a journalist. The Atlantic reported this week that Stone exchanged direct messages on Twitter with WikiLeaks. Mueller’s team has asked witnesses if Stone ever met with Assange. Stone has denied ever communicating directly with Assange. Stone served briefly on the Trump campaign in 2015, leaving in August of that year. At the time he said he quit, while the campaign said he was fired. Investigators have asked witnesses about Stone’s time on the campaign and what his relationship was like with Trump after he left. “How often did they talk? Who really fired him? Was he really fired?” a witness said, describing the line of questioning. In a statement, Stone said he had “no advance knowledge of the content or source of information published by WikiLeaks.” “I have not been interviewed by the special counsel,” wrote Stone. “I never discussed WikiLeaks, Assange or the Hillary disclosures with candidate Trump, before during or after the election. I have no idea what he knew about them, from who or when. I have never met Assange.” Stone appeared before the House Intelligence Committee for four hours last September. In his prepared opening statement, which he also delivered publicly on the InfoWars YouTube channel, Stone denied that he ever engaged “in any illegal activities on behalf of my clients, or the causes which I support.” He denied having direct contact with Assange and called any exchanges with Guccifer 2.0, which took credit for hacking the DNC, “innocuous.” And he said his tweet predicting that Podesta would spend time in the “barrel” was in the context of the coverage of the resignation of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, whom he called his “boyhood friend and colleague,” over allegations about business activities in Ukraine. At that same July 2016 news conference where he referenced Clinton’s missing emails, candidate Trump said he was open to lifting sanctions on Russia and possibly recognizing its annexation of Crimea in Ukraine. The U.S. and its European allies had sanctioned Russia because of its intervention in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, which the Obama administration refused to recognize. Investigators have asked witnesses why Trump took policy positions that were friendly toward Russia and spoke positively about Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to people familiar with the probe. Investigators have also inquired whether Trump met with Putin before becoming president, including if a meeting took place during Trump’s 2013 visit to Moscow for his Miss Universe pageant. Trump has given conflicting responses on when he first met Putin.

At least one witness was asked about Trump’s business interests in Moscow and surmised afterward that the special counsel investigation may be focused on business dealings that took place during the campaign.

Witnesses also have been asked about Stone’s connections to Manafort. At least one witness has been asked about Trump aide Dan Scavino, specifically about any involvement he may have had in the campaign’s data operation. Scavino currently runs the White House’s social media operations and is one of Trump’s closest aides.

Officials from four countries discussed exploiting Jared Kushner

WaPo: Officials from 4 countries discussed exploiting Kushner 

Kushner security clearance is downgraded

Washington (CNN)Officials from at least four countries have discussed ways they could use Jared Kushner’s intricate business arrangements, lack of experience and financial woes to manipulate President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. The paper reported that it is unclear, based on current and former US officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter, that the countries — – Mexico, Israel, China and the United Arab Emirates — acted on the conversations. The revelation is the latest in a series that call into question Kushner’s ability to work in the White House given his complex business ties. Kushner security clearance is downgraded CNN reported earlier on Tuesday that Kushner has been stripped of his access to the nation’s top secrets after chief of staff John Kelly mandated changes to the security clearance system. Kushner had been working on a temporary clearance, but, under the new system, aides who previously had “top secret” interim clearances saw their access downgrade to the less sensitive “secret” designation. According to the Post, national security adviser H.R. McMaster told his deputies in spring of 2017 that he wanted all the intelligence reports on conversations where foreign leaders discussed interactions with senior Trump officials, including Kushner. The order came after McMaster learned that Kushner had contacts with foreign officials without coordinating with the National Security Council.

Top White House officials were worried Kushner was “naive and being tricked” by foreign officials, one former White House official told the Post.

The news of foreign interest in Kushner’s business ties and financial woes comes after CNN reported special counsel Robert Mueller has expanded his probe beyond Kushner’s contacts with Russia into his efforts to secure financing for his company from foreign investors during the presidential transition.

A source familiar with the matter says the FBI is expected to wrap up the Kushner background check within a month, but the source said the FBI would hand the findings to the White House for it to make the ultimate decision on his clearance.

Mueller team asks about Trump’s Russian business dealings as he weighed a run for president

Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him 

(CNN)Investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller have recently been asking witnesses about Donald Trump’s business activities in Russia prior to the 2016 presidential campaign as he considered a run for president, according to three people familiar with the matter. Questions to some witnesses during wide-ranging interviews included the timing of Trump’s decision to seek the presidency, potentially compromising information the Russians may have had about him, and why efforts to brand a Trump Tower in Moscow fell through, two sources said. The lines of inquiry indicate Mueller’s team is reaching beyond the campaign to explore how the Russians might have sought to influence Trump at a time when he was discussing deals in Moscow and contemplating a presidential run. Two of the sources said they do not know from the questions asked whether Mueller has concrete evidence to indicate wrongdoing.Investigators asked one witness when Trump became serious about running for President, a person familiar with the matter said, adding that investigators seemed very interested in when Trump actually decided to run and how that coincided with his business ventures.  The source said the witness told Mueller’s team his impression was that Trump was serious about running back in 2014. Trump tweeted earlier this month that he “didn’t know” that he was going to run for president in 2014. This witness was also asked whether Russians had been seen in the office at Trump Tower New York prior to 2015. The answer was no. Questions have also touched on the possibility of compromising information that Russians may have or claim to have about Trump, according to two sources familiar with the matter. That subject matter echoes claims in a controversial dossier written by a former British spy who was paid by an opposition research firm underwritten by Trump’s Democratic opponents. Several lines of questioning to witnesses have centered on the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which was held in Moscow, and unsuccessful discussions to brand a Trump Tower Moscow, two sources said. For the pageant, Trump partnered with Aras Agalarov, and his son, Emin Agalarov, billionaire real estate developers in Russia. In congressional testimony last year, Donald Trump Jr. said that “preliminary discussions” to build a tower in Moscow began between the Trump Organization and the Agalarovs after the Miss Universe pageant. Trump tweeted with excitement about the potential project, saying “Trump Tower-Moscow is next.” But the plans fell through. Rob Goldstone, a publicist for pop star Emin Agalarov, told Yahoo News last year that the Trump Tower deal was scrapped because “the economy tanked in Russia” from harsh sanctions imposed by Western countries.

Continue reading “Mueller team asks about Trump’s Russian business dealings as he weighed a run for president”

Top US diplomat QUITS as North Korea negotiator in major blow to peace talks

THE SHOCK resignation of a US diplomat responsible for paving the way to talks with North Korea has dealt a major blow to the chances of a peaceful solution to the standoff between the two nations, analysts have warned.
US special envoy to North Korea Joseph Yun
GETTY IMAGES

America’s special envoy to North Korea, Joseph Yun, announced his shock resignation Joseph Yun announced he was retiring from his post as the US special envoy to North Korea just hours after President Donald Trump reiterated he would not open dialogue with the rogue state unless there were guarantees the talks would result in Kim Jong-un’s regime giving up its nuclear weapons.

South Korean-born Mr Yun has long advocated a diplomatic solution to the tense situation and has been pursing direct diplomacy with the hermit kingdom since 2016. His departure has prompted fears Washington will be left without an experienced expert as the chance of talks between two nations reaches a crucial point. Frank Januzzi, an East Asia expert who heads the Mansfield Foundation, said on Twitter: “This is exceptionally bad news.

“Joe Yun is the only senior official left at State who has experience dealing with the complexities of North Korea policy.”

And former deputy assistant secretary of defence for East Asia Abraham Denmark said on Twitter that Mr Yun’s retirement was “a huge loss for the US government at a critical moment.” However the US State Department has insisted it has a “deep bench” of senior people who can take on the job. Speaking with US network CBS News after announcing his retirement, Mr Yun said: “It is really my decision. The time, I thought, was right. Mr Yun has 32 years of experience in the foreign service “There is a bit of a lull in activity and I thought it would be a good time to get out.” North Korea has signalled it may be willing to talk with the United States after a series of diplomatic contacts with South Korea during the Winter Olympics. As the games began, hopes of a breakthrough between the rival nations were raised after Kim Jong-un’s younger sister led a delegation from the North to meet with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in. The meeting ended with the prospect of a summit in Pyongyang. Nick Bit: That’s OK we have Ivanka… She can throw a fashon show…….

CNN Poll: 6 in 10 concerned Trump isn’t doing enough to protect US elections

Washington (CNN)About 6 in 10 Americans say Donald Trump is not taking seriously enough the investigation into Russian efforts to influence the US presidential election, and about the same share lack confidence the president is doing enough to prevent foreign interference in future elections, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS. Almost three-quarters (72%) say they are concerned about foreign government interference in US elections generally, including 90% of Democrats, 68% of independents and 53% of Republicans, and 60% say they are not confident the president is doing enough to prevent foreign countries from influencing future American elections. The poll followed a stretch in which special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, including spreading false information on social media, organizing political events, and communicating with “unwitting” people tied to the Trump campaign and others in order to coordinate political activities. Trump responded to the indictments with a string of tweets emphasizing that his campaign did not collude with Russian operatives, and suggesting that Russia had created discord by prompting an investigation after the election was over, writing, “they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.” Trump’s handling of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election continues to garner negative reviews: Just 30% approve of his handling of it in the new poll, the lowest level in CNN polling by one point. And most, 55%, now say they think the President has attempted to interfere in the investigation, up from 51% saying so in January. Overall, 61% say the Russia investigation is a serious matter that should be fully investigated, while 34% say it’s mainly an effort to discredit Trump’s presidency. As has been the case for some time, there’s a broad partisan gap on this question, with 89% of Democrats calling it a serious matter and 71% of Republicans saying it’s mainly an effort to discredit Trump. Partisan gaps are quite wide on concern about several aspects of Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 elections. Overall, 66% are concerned about Russian operatives’ contacts with people involved in Trump’s campaign, that includes 91% of Democrats and 63% of independents but just 36% of Republicans. Likewise, Democrats and independents express greater concern than Republicans on Russian-backed campaigns to spread disinformation to US voters (88% of Democrats, 69% of independents and 47% of Republicans) and to steal and release politically meaningful information (88% of Democrats, 67% of independents and 55% of Republicans). The gap in concern is narrower, however, on the political motivations behind investigations into that Russian interference, as majorities across party lines express concern about those motivations: 78% of Democrats, 69% of independents and 56% of Republicans concerned about that. Trump’s approval rating for handling national security more generally is also low: 40% approve, 50% disapprove.

Trump son-in-law, adviser Kushner loses access to top intelligence briefing: sources

 FILE PHOTO – White House senior adviser Jared Kushner 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, has lost access to the most valued U.S. intelligence report, the President’s Daily Brief, as the White House imposes greater discipline on access to secrets, two U.S. officials familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. Kushner, who has been operating under an interim security clearance for about a year, had his access to the highly classified briefing cut off in the past few weeks, said the sources.  A third official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recently passed new information to White House Counsel Don McGahn that led to the slowing or stopping of Kushner’s pending clearance application. The nature of that information was not clear. It also is unclear if and when Kushner’s access to the briefing, known as the PDB, which requires clearance higher than the Top Secret level, would be reinstated. Kushner, a wealthy New York businessman married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, has not received his full security clearance because of his extensive financial links, which have taken a long time to examine. He has revised his security clearance form, called an SF-86, several times.  New security clearance policies announced by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “will not affect Mr. Kushner’s ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the President,” Lowell said.Kelly, whose handling of the Porter case was heavily criticized, decreed on Feb. 16 that any interim security clearances for staffers whose background investigations had been pending since June 1 or before would be discontinued within a week. A source familiar with the matter said the situation had caused tensions between Kushner and Kelly.

New Fed chairman isn’t afraid to raise rates amid market turmoil

Powell, who was set to make his debut before Congress on Tuesday, takes the reins at the US central bank from predecessor Janet Yellen amid an improving economy and a stock market that’s been whipsawed by violent selloffs.

In his prepared remarks, however, he noted that he expects wages to rise and inflation to be higher this year than in 2017 — two conditions that would push the Fed to make borrowing money more expensive — in order to keep the economy from overheating.

“While many factors shape the economic outlook, some of the headwinds the US economy faced in previous years have turned into tailwinds: In particular, fiscal policy has become more stimulative and foreign demand for US exports is on a firmer trajectory,” he said in prepared remarks. In his coming out, he seemed to signal that turmoil in the stock market won’t have any effect on the trajectory of the Fed’s hiking interest rates. “Despite the recent volatility, financial conditions remain accommodative,” he said.

Loyal dog dies after protecting his master’s grave for a DECADE having REFUSED to leave

A COMMITTED dog who refused to leave his owner’s grave for a decade has died at the cemetery where the man is buried. Capitan, the 15-year-old German Shepherd, lived at the side of his master’s resting place for 10 years.

capitan loyal dog grave

Capitan, a German Shepherd, died at the cemetery where this owner was buried 10 years on

Capitan’s owner, Miguel Guzman, died in 2006 and was buried in the Municipal Cemetery of Villa Carlos Paz – a city in the Argentinian state of Cordoba. The German Shepherd went missing from the family home after his funeral. Guzman’s family were shocked to discover Capitan had set up beside his owner’s graveside months later as they assumed the dog had run away.No one is sure how Capitan found the cemetery. At the time, director of the Municipal Cemetery, Hector Baccega, said: “He turned up here one day, all on his own, and started wandering all around the cemetery until he eventually found the tomb of his master. “During the day he sometimes has a walk around the cemetery, but always rushes back to the grave. “And every day, at six o’clock sharp, he lies down on top of the grave and stays there all night.” Capitan lived in the cemetery for ten additional years and became something of a global phenomenon. Four years ago, Capitan was taken to the vet and diagnosed with kidney failure. The vet who treated the dog, Cristhian Sempels, told reporters: “Unfortunately, his age and this condition (kidney failure) meant he could not hold on. “We could have admitted him to the vet, but only so that he could die in the veterinary surgery, so we preferred to leave him and attend to him in the cemetery, where he lived and felt calm.” Mr Guzman bought Capitan as a present for his 13-year-old son Damian in 2005 but died unexpectedly in March the following year. It is not confirmed where Capitan is going to be buried. Reports say that local authorities suggested that the German shepherd should be cremated, with his ashes placed beneath a monument where locals could pay tribute. As the monument would be placed in a public space, this would need to be confirmed and passed on to local institutions. Members of the Foundation of Animal Protection (FUPA) requested Capitan’s remains to be buried next to his owner. Nick Bit: Now you know why you sometimes hear dogs barking in the background on my live shows. I love Shepard’s and they love me. If you don’t understand it forget it you never will. From one dog lover to another!

Wall St falls after Powell’s comments on strengthening economy

Fed’s Powell nods to “gradual” rate increases, close eye on inflation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, pledging to “strike a balance” between the risk of an overheating economy and the need to keep growth on track, told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday that the central bank would stick with gradual interest rate increases despite the added stimulus of tax cuts and government spending.Fed policymakers anticipate three rate increases this year, and Powell gave no indication in prepared remarks to the House Financial Services Committee that the pace needs to quicken even as the “tailwinds” of government stimulus and a stronger world economy propel the U.S. recovery.  “The [Federal Open Market Committee] will continue to strike a balance between avoiding an overheating economy and bringing … price inflation to 2 percent on a sustained basis,” Powell said in prepared remarks for his first monetary policy testimony to Congress as Fed chief.“Some of the headwinds the U.S. economy faced in previous years have turned into tailwinds,” Powell said, noting recent fiscal policy shifts and the global economic recovery. Still, “inflation remains below our 2 percent longer-run objective. In the (FOMC‘s) view, further gradual rate increases in the federal funds rate will best promote attainment of both of our objectives.” The testimony sent Powell’s first signal as Fed chief that the massive tax overhaul and government spending plan launched by the Trump administration will not prompt any immediate shift to a faster pace of rate increases. “Gradual” has been the operative word since the Fed began raising rates under Powell’s predecessor, Janet Yellen, in late 2015.The Fed is expected to approve its first rate increase of 2018 at the next policy meeting in March, when it will also provide fresh economic projections and Powell will hold his first press conference.  “This is a continuation of where this Fed was under Chair Yellen,” said Robert Albertson, principal and chief strategist at Sandler O‘Neill & Partners in New York.

Rick Gates Must Have Some Good Dirt for Mueller to Drop Charges

On Tuesday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed a motion to dismiss charges against former Trump deputy campaign chair Rick Gates that were part of an indictment filed in Virginia federal court. The indictment, filed last week, accused Gates and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort of tax and bank fraud related to money earned for past work for the Ukrainian government. Days after that indictment, Gates cut a deal with Mueller where he pleaded guilty in a separate case in D.C. federal court. Gates is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigation, and if the dismissal of the other case is any indication, he could be helping a lot already. Gates is already talking, and Mueller likes what he’s hearing. Mueller’s main investigation is regarding the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russian interference with the 2016 election, but it has taken some turns, as Gates’ cases show. The charges against Manafort still stand, and Mueller could be using Gates to get to him. If the Trump campaign was involved in any illegal activity, Manafort would know it, since he was the head of the operation, at least for a while. “The kinds of crimes Manafort is charged with … these are document-heavy crimes,” Abrams said. “Meaning, there’s a lot of evidence there. You don’t really need Gates to be able to prove the Manafort case.”

So if Mueller isn’t using Gates to get to Manafort, that means he’s probably talking to him about the Trump campaign itself. So far, there’s been a lot of smoke surrounding the campaign’s ties to Russia, but no fire.

We’ve seen emails from Donald Trump Jr. about meeting with a Russian lawyer to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, and we’ve had campaign members plead guilty to lying about their contacts with Russia. Whether Trump’s campaign truly did anything illegal still remains to be seen, but if they did, there’s a good chance Gates knows about it. With the dismissal of his case on Tuesday, Mueller might know about it too.

Does Steve Mnuchin really know this little about inflation?

 

The Treasury secretary tried to make the case last week that just because wages rise, it doesn’t mean inflation will result. “You can have wage inflation and not necessarily have inflation concerns in general,”

Nick Bit: BULLSHIT!!! Wages are the biggest driver of consumer inflation and everyone except for thsi JERK OFF damn well knows it.

President Trump’s appointee said to Bloomberg. The story didn’t mention whether or not Mnuchin said it with a straight face. Inflation, of course, is the main concern of the bond market right now. That concern has been ongoing for quite a while but was exacerbated a month ago when the Labor Department announced that average hourly wages rose a lot more than expected.

Increases in wages and inflation go hand in hand — just ask anyone.

While people like it when wages rise, the financial markets don’t because it means that interest rates will climb faster than the Fed desires. That’s especially true these days because the tax reductions that the Trump administration enacted are tripling this years budget deficit.. Mnuchin probably forgot about the effect the tax changes will also have on prices. A host of Federal Reservers have stepped forward to say how little they are concerned about rising interest rates — which, of course, means they are getting more and more concerned or they wouldn’t be repeatedly saying they aren’t. The next crisis for the market could come next week. Whether the markets will wait for the March 9 release of the February employment report or get spooked a day or two ahead of time is anyone’s guess. If the employment report is too strong or pay increases more than expected, hang on to your hats.

Saudi Arabia’s king announces the surprise sacking of his most senior generals on the eve of major visit to UK

Al-Bunyan (pictured) was retired after he inaugurated an arms exhibition this week in Riyadh by the Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), the state-owned defence company, which has drawn several global defence firms

Saudi Arabia’s most senior generals were sacked last night in a major shake-up on the eve of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Britain.      King Salman yesterday replaced top military commanders including the chief of staff, state media said. The monarch replaced the heads of the ground forces and air defences, as well as civilian officials including several deputy ministers, in a series of late-night royal decrees. No official reason was given for the sweeping overhaul, but it comes as Mohammed bin Salman pursues military reform and a bloody campaign against Yemen’s Iran-aligned Huthi rebels nears the end of its third year.   King Salman  yesterday replaced top military commanders including the chief of staff, state media said’  Termination of the services of General Abdul Rahman bin Saleh al-Bunyan, Chief of Staff,’ the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) announced, adding that Fayyad al-Ruwaili had been appointed as his replacement. It comes just a week before Mohammed bin Salman is due to tour Britain, France and the USA.  He is expected to meet Theresa May, Boris Johnson and senior members of the Royal Family.  Al-Bunyan was retired after he inaugurated an arms exhibition this week in Riyadh by the Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), the state-owned defence company, which has drawn several global defence firms. No official reason was given for the sweeping overhaul, but it comes as Mohammed bin Salman pursues military reform and a bloody campaign against Yemen’s Iran-aligned Huthi rebels nears the end of its third year  The Yemen conflict has led to what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than 9,200 people have been killed in the conflict and another nearly 2,200 Yemenis have died of cholera.  Saad Crown Prince Mohammed, the son of the monarch and heir to the throne, is the country’s defence minister and has been consolidating his grip on power in recent months while pushing major economic and social reforms. The young prince has pursued an assertive regional policy, including leading a military intervention in neighbouring Yemen since 2015 that is seen as a proxy war with arch-rival Iran. Nick Bit: Talk about a country that needs a military coupe.  The royal family is out of control. They feel the heat from Iran and their war in Yemen which  is going badly. AND oil prices low by their budget spending and production cuts have got the royals running scared!

US will overtake Russia as top oil producer next year says the International Energy Agency

The United States will overtake Russia as the world’s biggest oil producer by 2019 at the latest, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Tuesday, as the country’s shale oil boom continues to upend global markets.
Oil refinery
James Steidl | iStock | Getty Images Plus

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said at an event in Tokyo the United States would overtake Russia as the biggest crude oil producer “definitely next year”, if not this year.”U.S. shale growth is very strong, the pace is very strong … The United States will become the No.1 oil producer sometime very soon,” he told Reuters separately. U.S. crude oil output rose above 10 million barrels per day (bpd) late last year for the first time since the 1970s, overtaking top oil exporter Saudi Arabia. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said early this month that U.S. output would exceed 11 million bpd by late 2018. That would take it past top producer Russia, which pumps just below that mark. The soaring U.S. production is upending global oil markets, coming at a time when other major producers — including Russia and members of the Middle East-dominated Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) — have been withholding output to prop up prices. U.S. oil is also increasingly being exported, including to the world’s biggest and fastest growing markets in Asia, eating away at OPEC and Russian market share.

Meanwhile, U.S. net imports of crude oil fell last week by 1.6 million bpd to 4.98 million bpd, the lowest level since the EIA started recording the data in 2001, reflecting further erosion in a market OPEC has been relying on for decades.

Birol said production growth was not just strong in the United States. “Canada, especially the oil sands, and Brazilian offshore projects. These are the two major (non-U.S.) drivers,” he said. Nick Bit: By this fall the US wiLl be the worlds largest oil producer. In two years the US will be the worlds largest fossil fuels exporters. Talk about great again SCREW stupid ass coal.  America the OPEC of the world. CRUDE WILL BE UNDER  UNDER $10.00 BEFORE THE FAT LADY GETS SLIM ON OUR DIET PLAN.

Italian election: EU refuses to punish Italy on major issues in fear of fuelling Right

MIGRATION, debt and air pollution are all divisive issues the EU is avoiding before the Italian election in a bid to stop a eurosceptic backlash which could hand victory to populist or right wing parties in Italy.

Juncker and Five Star Movement leader GETTY

EU chiefs are ignoring the major issues in the run up to the vote for fear of the rise of the Right The has let Italy escape with far more than other countries ahead of the March election as it fears it could cause more people to vote for the eurosceptic parties such as the Five Star Movement and the Northern League.

Brussels is worried any rise in populist parties could jeopardise the stability of the bloc, especially from Italy, a founding member and the third largest economy in the eurozone.

Euroscepticism has grown in recent years in reaction to the migrant crisis and austerity policies imposed by Brussels. It has meant the two main issues forming candidates’ political campaigns are based on the economy and immigration. The European Commission has revealed Italy will not face any “procedural consequences” for failing to tackle the country’s high levels of public debt.

At 132 percent of GDP, Italy has the European Union’s worst debt ratio after Greece.

Rome only said how it would attempt to reduce the deficit by 0.1 per cent and not 0.3 per cent of its GDP, which the EU asked for. The whole EU could be rocked if the populist parties gain too much support The European Commissioner for economic and financial affairs, Pierre Moscovici, said: “What would have happened had we imposed a different strategy? “The right amount of firmness and flexibility on the basis of objective basis is necessary, and we’ve always worked on an objective basis”. The bloc has delayed the reform of the EU’s migration system from spring to summer, which Rome has said puts an unfair burden on Italy as it requires migrants to apply for protection in the first EU county they enter. Italians will cast their vote on March 4 Immigration has been a key campaigning vote in the election after Italy has absorbed more than 600,000 migrants over the last four years, with more than 180,000 arriving in 2016. The World Health Organisation has revealed that three Italian cities are the worst in Europe when it comes to air pollution and smog.

Why is the world silent about Xi Jinping’s power grab?

President, or Emperor? Xi Jinping pushes China back to one-man rule
Emperor Xi Jinping pushes China back to one-man rule

(CNN)Leaders in the West have been suspiciously quiet about the expected changes to the Chinese constitution that would remove the two-term limit on the presidency — which would allow President Xi Jinping to rule the country unchallenged for decades to come. Why the silence? Firstly, most countries that deal with China will have assumed that Xi was here to stay anyway. They know China is a one-party state, and that the Communist Party holds sway over everything. So unilaterally changing the rules its gives itself would not harm anyone. Most international observers will have been baffled the restriction was ever there in the first place. But there is also a more pragmatic reason for silence. For all the Western complaints about the parlous state of human rights, in their hearts they know they need a country which is stable and predictable — even if it is a stable and predictable autocracy. A China that contributed to uncertainty in a world where Donald Trump is US president, the UK is trying to leave the EU, where the Middle East looks like it is perpetually inflamed by unrest, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo seems to be slipping toward yet more civil war would be a truly scary place. A fifth of humanity could become refugees. The world’s key supply source for so many manufactured goods could be disrupted or shut down. An uncertain China would make the various crises the world faces today look tame. For all the West’s unease about a one-party state having such dominance at the moment, because of the stability it gives over such a crucial region, the Communist Party’s total control of China is something Western leaders buy into and support.

Rising mortgage rates hit new home sales hard, an ominous sign for builders

Home buyers increasingly can’t afford what they want. Higher mortgage rates, combined with the loss of homeowner tax breaks in some of the nation’s most expensive markets, are taking away buying power.
New home sales down 7.8% in January

New home sales down 7.8% in January   Sales of newly built homes are falling, and the culprit is clear. Homebuyers increasingly can’t afford what they want. Higher mortgage rates, combined with the loss of homeowner tax breaks in some of the nation’s most expensive markets, are taking away buying power.
Sales fell in December, when the new tax law was signed and then again in January, when mortgage rates moved higher. Sales are now at their lowest level since August of last year.

The government’s measure of new home sales is based on signed contracts during the month, reflecting the people who are out shopping and signing deals with builders. It is therefore a strong read on current reactions to home affordability. Mortgage rates moved a full quarter of a percentage point higher during January, from below 4 percent to about 4.25 percent. It then took off further from there. “It seems that the jump in mortgage rates in January had an immediate impact on contract signings,” wrote Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group. “You can’t get more interest rate sensitive when it comes to homes and cars with the associated cost to finance.” Builders are not only increasing prices, but they are also mostly focused on the move-up market, not the entry level where homes are needed most.  Supply rose to the highest level in four years, another sign that new construction is increasingly out of financial reach for today’s home buyers. Builders did note a drop in buyer traffic in January, according to a monthly sentiment survey from the National Association of Home Builders. That measure did not improve in February, when rates moved even higher. Sales of existing homes fell in January as well, with the blame laid squarely on a severe shortage of homes for sale.

Oil hits 2-week high as Saudi Arabia to keep output well below cap

Oil pumpjacks in the Permian Basin oil field are getting to work as crude oil prices gain.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images Oil pumpjacks in the Permian Basin oil field are getting to work as crude oil prices gain.

Oil prices extended gains to hit two-week highs on Monday, supported by comments from Saudi Arabia that it would continue to curb exports in line with the OPEC-led effort to cut global supplies. Both benchmarks earlier hit their highest since Feb. 7. “The rise in equities made it easier to buy risk assets such as oil,” said Tomomichi Akuta, senior economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting in Tokyo. “But amid worries over U.S. crude production at near record highs, oil is struggling to make a move.” Prices were supported after Saudi Arabian oil minister Khalid al-Falih on Saturday said the country’s oil production in January-March would be well below output caps, with exports averaging below 7 million barrels per day (bpd). Saudi Arabia hopes OPEC and its allies will be able to relax production curbs next year and create a permanent framework to stabilize oil markets after the current supply cut deal ends this year, Falih added.

March seasonal turnaround for crude around the corner  “A study is taking place and once we know exactly what balancing the market will entail we will announce what is the next step. The next step may be easing of the production constraints,” he told reporters in New Delhi. “My estimation is that it will happen sometime in 2019. But we don’t know when and we don’t know how”. U.S. energy companies last week added one oil rig, the fifth weekly increase in a row, bringing the total count up to 799, the highest level since April 2015, Baker Hughes energy services firm said on Friday. Hedge funds and money managers upped their bullish wagers on U.S. crude oil for the first time in four weeks, data showed on Friday.Meanwhile, Libya’s National Oil Corp said on Saturday it had declared force majeure on the 70,000 bpd El Feel oilfield after a protest by guards closed the field. Nick Bit: Silliness!!  A temporary strike by oil guards on a very small field and oil pops. They are spending a lot of money trying to stop oil from falling. They will get a rally back before the next plunge!

Axios: Trump pushing to have personal pilot run FAA

(CNN)President Donald Trump is pushing to have his longtime personal pilot, John Dunkin, to head the Federal Aviation Administration, according to a report from Axios. Dunkin, who flew Trump’s personal plane during the campaign, is reportedly on the short list for the top spot at the agency that oversees civil aviation in the United States. Dunkin has previously told people that he would often face delays while flying Trump around and that a pilot running the agency would prevent that. Administration officials have been pushing back against industry critics of the potential appointment. “John Dunkin isn’t just a pilot,” an administration official told Axios. “He’s managed airline and corporate flight departments, certified airlines from start-up under FAA regulations, and oversaw the Trump presidential campaign’s air fleet, which included managing all aviation transportation for travel to 203 cities in 43 states over the course of 21 months.” Dunkin has been interviewed for the post, with one source saying he was “impressive.” Other potential candidates for the job include Republican Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri and current acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell. He took over for Michael Huerta, an Obama appointee, whose term expired in January. Nick Bit: Just like in every third world shit hole. The Dictator elect brings his family and friends into power with him. What a joke. He is no more qualified to head the FAA then Melania the fashion queen is qualified to be a diplomat. Very sad!

Florida Gun Show Witnesses Record Attendance amid Dem Gun Control Push

The Florida Gun Show witnessed record attendance Saturday at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

The record attendance comes as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) push more gun control for gun shows. Other Democrats, like Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), are pushing an “assault weapons” ban, a bump stock ban, and universal background checks, among other controls. The public response to the gun control push was a record turnout at the Florida Gun Show. WTSP reports “almost 7,000” people attended the show Saturday, and they expected even more people to attend on Sunday. Gun show manager George Fernandez said he has never seen crowds so big. And he quickly admitted, “Some of the people attending are afraid that future legislation will impact their gun ownership rights.” Nick Bit: First of all like it or not gun ownership is a right! AND you better get them while you still can. The school shooting was not a matter of guns. But a matter of insufficient, inept security. Its easy to blame the guns. But the truth is government still is not securing public places. The world over public places are being secured. Not that hard airports all over the US  are secure. Now its time to get the schools up to speed.

After its $10-Billion Loss in Q4, GE “Restates” Earnings for 2017 and 2016

A classic Friday night bad-news SEC-filing dump.

It’s not like General Electric doesn’t already have enough existential problems, ranging from its $29-billion pension-fund “nightmare” to the $9.8 billion loss in Q4 that it reported in January. It’s in a massive restructuring, trying to shed $20 billion in assets. Some of its core businesses are deteriorating. And it’s being hounded for its famously opaque and purposefully confusing earnings reports. So to keep the damage to a minimum, GE disclosed on Friday after hours in an SEC filing that it will:

  • Have to restate the loss for 2017, making it even larger.
  • Have to restate its 2016 earnings per share and also take a big charge against “retained earnings.”
  • Face a Justice Department investigation into its now defunct subprime mortgage business.

This Justice Department investigation of its subprime mortgages originated between 2005 and 2007 by its now defunct unit, WMC Mortgage Corp, was listed under items that “could cause our actual results to be materially different than those expressed in our forward-looking statements.” And they may “affect our estimates of liability, including possible loss estimates.” Of note concerning those subprime mortgages: GE got bailed out by the Fed and the Federal government during the Financial Crisis. GE received bailout loans from TARP, a Federal program, and the FDIC guaranteed $139 billion of GE Capital debt. In addition, the New York Fed, which handled the Fed bailouts, handed GE large amounts of cheap loans (which GE has paid back). GE’s then CEO Jeff Inmelt was a director at the New York Fed during that period and was involved in the decisions of the Fed bailouts. At the same time, he was on CNBC hyping his company’s stock. But the restatements for 2016 and 2017 earnings are separate. They have to do with how the company accounted for revenues from long-term contracts. The SEC is already investigating GE’s accounting of its long-term service contracts. GE had previously disclosed this investigation. The new way of accounting for those long-term contracts “will simply more closely align revenue with cash,” GE explained. And this “we believe will be helpful to our investors.” So for 2016, this change of accounting for long-term contracts will generate a charge of $4.2 billion – $1 billion related to commercial aircraft engines and $3.3 billion related to services businesses in Power and Aviation – against retained earnings on its balance sheet. Thus, it will bypass the income statement. GE originally reported a profit of $8.2 billion for 2016 In addition, GE estimates that its 2016 earnings on its income statement, originally reported as $0.89 a share, will be cut by $0.13 to $0.76 a share; and that its 2017 loss of $0.72 a share (or $6.2 billion) will increase by $0.16 to a loss of $0.88 a share. As a reminder, GE also lost $6.1 billion in 2015. GE says it has adopted the new standard as of January 1, 2018. But everything remains uncertain: This accounting of revenues closer in line with cash than the prior numbers will also impact future periods “for years,” but to a lesser extent, and “this expectation is based on many variables, including underlying business performance, which are subject to change, making the effect of the standard on future periods difficult to estimate.” Nick Bit: GE is a dead broke piece of shit! They will be going bankrupt and a few of their assets will be sold off. The majority will be dismantled and liquidated. This is a example of a company that failed in the 2007/9 wipe out. Since that time they are walking dead men. Their are many more out their!

Catalonia Spain: Protests greet King Felipe at MWC

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Riot police faced off with Catalan protesters

King Felipe of Spain has been met with protests on his first visit to Catalonia since last October’s failed independence bid in the Spanish region. Police held back hundreds of people as the king arrived in Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress technology fair. Senior Catalan officials refused to attend a formal reception. Meanwhile, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola vowed to carry on wearing a yellow ribbon in support of imprisoned Catalan politicians. Guardiola, a former Barcelona midfielder, said this was because he was a “human being before a manager”. Earlier this week, he was charged by the Football Association for “wearing a political message”. In a setback for the pro-independence cause, a survey published by the respected Catalan Centre for Opinion Studies last week suggested support for independence had dropped sharply, with a majority of Catalans now against the idea. According to the poll, 53.9% reject independence while 40.8% support it – down from  On Saturday, protesters in Barcelona chanted anti-monarchist slogans as King Felipe arrived for the opening of the fair. Scuffles broke out between the demonstrators and riot police. Senior Catalan officials, including Barcelona Mayoress Ada Colau, refused to attend a formal reception. She said she was protesting against the king’s support for the repression of the independence movement. Pro-independence parties in the wealthy north-eastern region called a referendum on the issue in October, which was met with a heavy police crackdown and attracted global attention. The government in Madrid sacked the Catalan regional government, imposed direct rule and called new elections, but pro-independence parties returned with a slim majority. It is Spain’s biggest political crisis since democracy was restored in 1975. Several Catalan pro-independence politicians have been imprisoned in connection with the referendum, deemed illegal by Madrid. Others, including sacked regional President Carles Puigdemont, are in self-imposed exile in Brussels. Nick Bit: This is a big problem for Spain and a even bigger roblem for the European Union. This battle is far far from over. It will end up with Spain leving the EU.

Broward’s Cowards

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel speaks at CNN’s town hall meeting, February 21, 2018. (Michael Laughlin/Pool/Reuters)

It is impossible to imagine circumstances under which Broward County sheriff Scott Israel could attempt to perform his duties with the confidence of the public. He should resign immediately, and if, as he promises, he refuses to go quietly, then he should be shown the door by the people he professes to serve. The numbers tell the story: 23 sheriff’s calls involving the Parkland shooter; 18 sheriff’s calls involving the shooter’s behavior directly (some of the others were principally about his brother); four sheriff’s deputies, armed and trained, cowering outside the high school while the killer within carried out his massacre; 17 dead.In spite of having the school’s armed “resource officer” — an on-site deputy — and three other sheriff’s deputies outside the school during the massacre, no one lifted a finger to stop the shooting until police from Coral Springs arrived and entered the building, at which point the killer escaped, walking off the campus with the rest of the stunned students. He then walked down the street to a fast-food restaurant and ordered himself a drink, and wandered around the neighborhood for a while (past an elementary school) before being spotted by a Coral Springs police officer, to whom he surrendered without incident. He eventually made his way into the Broward County sheriff’s custody — when he was delivered there in handcuffs.

 

The sheriff’s department (and other law-enforcement agencies from Palm Beach County to the FBI) had every reason to believe not only that the killer was a danger to others but that he was specifically planning a school massacre. People who knew him called in with that specific worry, and the killer boasted online of his plan to become a school shooter. Those boasts were forwarded to the FBI, which did precisely nothing in response. The killer himself called police to tell them he had been having trouble after the death of his mother. Nick Bit: its not the back ground checks, its not the age you can buy a gun, its not checking for crazy people, its not the size of the magazines, it not even the weapon. Like at the airport, the court house, the federal building and the liberal move star house its a matter of the security. No security its a slaughter. Security means its a shoot out between armed gunmen.

 

 

U.S. Democrats’ memo charges Republicans trying to undermine Russia probes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic minority on the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee on Saturday released a response to Republican charges that the FBI and Justice Department have abused the law in their investigation of possible ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The Democrats’ 10-page memo, released on Saturday in partially-redacted form, calls an earlier Republican version “a transparent effort to undermine” the FBI, the Justice Department, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and congressional probes into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. The Republican memo, the Democrats allege, “also risks public exposure of sensitive sources and methods for no legitimate purpose.” The Democratic memo and a Republican counterattack that included a point-by-point refutation of the minority Democrats’ conclusions, are an escalation of the partisan feuding that Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, and other members of his party have said is sabotaging the House committee’s investigation.

The latest duel on Capitol Hill comes as Mueller’s investigation gathers steam, including a guilty plea on Friday from Richard Gates, Trump’s deputy campaign manager.

The Democratic memo charges that Republicans deliberately omitted facts from their document that undermine their allegation that the FBI conducted improper surveillance of one-time Trump campaign aide Carter Page, “whom the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government.”

The Justice Department’s request for a surveillance warrant “was based on compelling evidence and probable cause to believe Page was knowingly assisting clandestine Russian intelligence activities in the U.S.,” the memo says.

“The FBI had ample reason to believe that Carter Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power based on his history, including the fact that he had previously been a target of Russian recruitment, his travel to Russia and other information,” Schiff said in a statement.  The Democratic memo also disputes a Republican charge that the FBI initiated a counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 based on an unverified dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele and paid for by the Democratic National Committee through a law firm.

By then, the memo reveals, “the FBI had already opened sub-inquiries into a (redacted number of) individuals linked to the Trump campaign.” All the names except Page’s were blacked out, but a footnote names Gates, former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, campaign aide George Papadopoulos, and one-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

All but Page and Manafort now have pleaded guilty to federal charges and are believed to be cooperating with Mueller.

The FBI received Steele’s reporting in mid-September, more than seven weeks after launching its investigation of Page’s ties to Russia.

The requests ”made only narrow use of Steele’s reporting, “chiefly his suspected July 2016 meetings in Moscow with Russian officials.” The Democrats also said the Justice Department’s Oct. 21, 2016, application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for warrants to monitor Page and three subsequent renewals offered “a multipronged rationale for surveiling Page,” who by then had left Trump’s campaign.

The memo raises but does not answer questions about whether Page or other Trump affiliates might have helped Russia craft a politically sophisticated cyber campaign to help Trump win the presidency by targeting specific groups, prejudices, and areas. Mueller last week described those efforts in a detailed indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian companies for meddling in the 2016 election.

Trump urges national unity, investigation of ‘the other side’ amid Russia probe

US President Donald Trump speaks during the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, February 23, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Saying there were “no phone calls, no meetings, no collusion,” President Donald Trump on Saturday pushed for an investigation of “the other side” amid the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, while claiming “we need intelligence that brings our country together.”

“A lot of bad things happened on the other side, not on this side, but on the other side. And somebody should look into it, because what they did is really fraudulent and somebody should be looking into that and by somebody, I’m talking about you know who,” Trump told Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, a reference widely interpreted to mean Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In a free-ranging phone interview, Trump said the Democratic memo released by the House Intelligence Committee on Saturday afternoon was a “total confirmation” of the GOP memo released three weeks ago by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), even though the Democratic response purports to rebut Republican claims that the FBI and the Justice Department relied on the disputed Steele dossier in an application to spy on a Trump campaign adviser.

Trump has repeatedly said there was no “collusion” between his campaign and Russian officials and has publicly urged Sessions to investigate top officials at the FBI over their handling of the investigation.

Sessions’ recusal from overseeing what has become special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is reportedly a frequent sore spot in his relationship with the president. Trump added that the blame for not stopping “Russian meddling, if you want to call it that” in the 2016 presidential election rests with President Barack Obama, since he was in office when Russian interference occurred. But he added: “We should all be on the same team. We should all come together as a nation.”

Nick Bit: Sounds to me like a desperate man. Trump claims their were no phone calls, no meetings and no collusion between HIM directely  and the Russians. And i believe him.  That  was Flynn, Maliford, Trump Jr and Son in LAW from Hell kushners job. Which I believe will be Proven.

 

Fed’s Bullard warns that too many rate hikes this year could slow the economy too much

Fed's James Bullard on rate hike concerns

 

Central bankers need to be careful not to increase interest rates too quickly this year because that could slow the economy too much, St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard told CNBC on Thursday. Wall Street expects the Fed to raise rates at next month’s meeting, in the first of what’s seen as at least three total hikes in 2018. The Fed increased the cost of borrowing money three times last year to the current range of 1.25 to 1.50 percent. Hiking rates by a total of 1 percent this year, which would signal four increases of the typical 0.25 percent, would be “priced for perfection,” Bullard said. “The idea that we need to go 100 basis points in 2018, that seems like a lot to me,” he said. “Everything would have to go just right. The economy would have to surprise on the upside a bunch of times during the year. I’m not sure that’s a good way to think about 2018.” The Fed needs to follow the economy, which is showing strength but still little inflation, Bullard said, adding he doesn’t expect the years of below-target inflation to change rapidly. “We’ve got a ways to go on this inflation story.”

“One thing I’m concerned about is if [there’s] a bunch of hikes this year Fed policy will turn restrictive,” he said. “The neutral fed funds rates is pretty low.”

The fed funds rate is a key short-term interest rate that banks use to lend each other money overnight. Bullard appeared on “Squawk Box” one day after the release of the minutes from the Fed’s January policy meeting. Central bankers held interest rates steady last month but indicated optimism about the economy and inflation moving higher toward the Fed’s 2 percent target. “It was natural for us to be meeting in January and saying good things about 2017,” he said, considering the U.S. and the global economy surprised to the upside. The Fed should only move from a reactive to a proactive stance only if inflation moves to target with expectations of further price pressures on the horizon, said Bullard, who is not a voting member on the central bank’s policymaking Federal Open Market Committee. But he’s still part of the conversation. On Thursday, the central bank’s newest member, Fed Governor Randal Quarles, said Tokyo that below-target inflation should not stand in the way of future rate increases. “After assessing the recent data, my take is that the current shortfall in inflation from target is most likely due to transitory factors that will fade through 2018, pushing inflation back up to target,” said Quarles, who has an FOMC vote.

Investors and traders have been nervous lately about economic growth running too hot and inflation overshooting and whether those conditions might lead the Fed to increase rates more aggressively than planned.

Wall Street got off to an incredibly strong start in January after a banner 2017. But the stock market tanked in early February after a higher-than-expected wage number in January’s jobs report sparked fears of inflation and rising rates. Stocks on a closing basis eventually bottomed out on Feb. 8, briefly plunging into 10 percent correction territory. The market had been up for six-straight sessions before declines on Tuesday and Wednesday. While stocks were swinging all over the place, the 10-year Treasury yield was spiking to around four-year highs just below 3 percent.

Oil turns higher after unexpected inventory drop

 

Reuters An employee works on at the Centenario deep-water oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Veracruz, Mexico.

Oil futures turned higher after government data showed an unexpected drop in crude inventories last week. The Energy Information Administration said crude-oil stocks fell by 1.616 million barrels in the week ended Feb. 16. Analysts surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast a 1.9 million barrel rise. West Texas Intermediate crude oil for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange erased an early loss, jumping higher after the data and ending the day with a gain. Oil in storage in Cushing, Okla., the delivery point for Nymex WTI futures, continued to fall as well, declining by 2.7 million barrels. The drop in inventories comes even as refinery maintenance season gets under way, weighing on demand for crude. A rise in crude exports was also part of the picture, with the EIA apparently including the first export of a supertanker cargo loaded from the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at Clipper Data. “Even though refinery runs dropped below 16 million barrels per day for the first time since the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, lower net imports have resulted in a draw,” he said. “The big jump in crude exports appears to have been because the EIA included the first export cargo from LOOP in last week’s number.”  Through January, WTI scored five consecutive monthly gains, bolstered in part by “surprisingly high” compliance rates on production curbs agreed to by members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, and several other major producers, said Fawad Razaqzada, analyst at Forex.com, in a note. “If growth in demand does not keep up, crude inventories are likely to rise again. What’s more, the OPEC will not be able to keep its production agreement with other non-OPEC members for too long should the U.S. continue to win more market share,” he said.

Russia sends new stealth fighters for combat trials in Syria as Putin uses civil war to test latest military technology

Vladimir Putin has sent his fearsome new state-of-the-art Su-57 stealth fighters for combat trials in the Syrian war zone. Two of the fifth generation Sukhoi warplanes have been spotted landing at Russia's Khmeimim Air Base (pictured)

Vladimir Putin has sent his fearsome new state-of-the-art Su-57 stealth fighters for combat trials in the Syrian war zone. Two of the fifth generation Sukhoi warplanes were spotted landing at Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base, south-east of the city of Latakia. The aircraft made its maiden flight in December last year and there was surprise at its deployment in Syria during its testing phase. Putin has backed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in his battle against rebels and jihadists in the country.  Assad’s forces have launched a devastating bombing raid on rebel-held positions in eastern Ghouta in recent days, killing more than 300.  Vladimir Putin has sent his fearsome new state-of-the-art Su-57 stealth fighters for combat trials in the Syrian war zone.  The aircraft (file picture) made its maiden flight in December last year and there was surprise at its deployment in Syria during its testing phase

The ultra-modern warplane is designed for 'air superiority and attack roles', Russian defence chiefs claims

The ultra-modern warplane is designed for ‘air superiority and attack roles’, Russian defence chiefs claims. Earlier this month deputy Russian defence minister Yuri Borisov said: ‘We are buying Su-57 jets for combat trials. The first stage of state trials has been concluded.’  The ultra-modern warplane is designed for ‘air superiority and attack roles’. The fighter is also equipped with ‘airborne active phased array radar’, which allows it to ‘see’ air, ground and naval targets at distances far beyond most modern systems. Once in full service – expected next year – it will be capable of striking the enemy with a variety of modern weapons, including short, medium and long-range air-to-air, air-to-ground, and special anti-radar missiles. Built from composite materials, the ‘super manoeuvrable’ stealth fighter includes an in-flight refueling system.  It comes weeks after it emerged that Russia is developing a new generation of shockproof military ‘robo-balls’ that have been battle-tested in Syria.The cost £18,500 robo-balls are fitted with four video cameras allowing a 360 degree view to their controllers. They have diode lights as well as a microphone and transmitter working on radio signals. They can be thrown into trouble spots sending pictures and audio to receivers some 50 metres away. Syria ‘is where these devices went through combat trials,’ said a statement from the Kremlin.

United Nations Security Council Votes Unanimously for Syrian Cease-Fire

 The United Nations Security Council on Saturday broke its impasse on Syria and voted unanimously for a resolution demanding a 30-day nationwide cease-fire beginns
Resolution calls for humanitarian-aid access, medical evacuations and end to sieges on civilian areas

UNITED NATIONS—The United Nations Security Council on Saturday broke its impasse on Syria and voted unanimously for a resolution demanding a 30-day nationwide cease-fire begin “without delay.” The resolution, put forward by Kuwait and Sweden, calls for access for U.N. humanitarian-aid convoys, medical evacuation of the injured and a lifting of sieges on civilian areas such as Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus that has suffered with limited food, water and electricity while under heavy bombardment by Syrian government forces. The resolution makes an exemption for military operations against terrorist groups such as Islamic State, the Nusra Front and al Qaeda. Sweden’s Ambassador to the U.N. Olof Skoog told the council that, in the seven years of Syria’s conflict, “the situation has never been worse” and the resolution’s aim was to offer humanitarian relief and to “avert the disaster unfolding before our eyes.”“Our goal with this resolution is clear. The Assad regime needs to stop its military activities around Eastern Ghouta,” said U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Ms. Haley criticized Russia, Syria and Iran for holding up the resolution and said every hour the vote was delayed meant more Syrian mothers had lost their children.  After the vote, Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzya, said his country had drawn-out the negotiations to reach a “meaningful” text that wouldn’t be used as a “pretext for a military operation” in Syria. In response to Ms. Haley, Mr. Nebenzya said Russia demanded “an end to this reckless rhetoric,” and called for an end to military presence in Syria by antiregime coalition forces. He said that it was up to the parties on the ground to implement a cease-fire and ensure the resolution would be effective.Syria’s Ambassador to the U.N. Bashar Ja’afari told the council his government interpreted the resolution to apply to areas in Syria “controlled” by the U.S., which has special forces present in northern Syria; to Afrin, where Turkish military is fighting Kurdish groups; and in the Golan Heights, where Israel has a presence.

Mexican president’s planned visit to White House postponed after testy phone call with Donald Trump over border wall

A Mexican official said Trump lost his temper during the conversation

US President Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto postponed plans for the Mexican leader’s first visit to the White House, after a testy phone call involving Trump’s push for a border wall, a senior US official said.

“The two leaders agreed now was not the immediate right time for a visit but that they would have their teams continue to talk and work together,” the official said Saturday. Mexican officials had been talking about a summit between Trump and Pena Nieto in the next few weeks, without specifying when. The Washington Post, which first reported the delay earlier on Saturday, said the two leaders spoke for about 50 minutes on Tuesday. But the discussion led to an impasse when Trump would not agree to publicly affirm Mexico’s position that it would not fund construction of the wall along the US-Mexico border.

A Mexican official said Trump lost his temper during the conversation, the newspaper reported. But it said US officials described Trump as frustrated and exasperated, because he believed it was unreasonable for Pena Nieto to want him to back off his campaign promise of forcing Mexico to pay for the wall.

Mexico’s foreign ministry said it had nothing to say about the call, other than a statement on Tuesday that said Trump had expressed condolences for a helicopter crash in Mexico and both sides had committed to advancing the bilateral agenda of trade, migration and security. The wall, a key item for Trump’s political base of supporters, has become a sticking point in talks to keep alive a federal programme that protects from deportation young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children. Pena Nieto, who met Trump in July on the sidelines of a G20 summit, cancelled an earlier meeting after Trump threatened to impose a tax on Mexican imports to pay for the wall. Trump also met the Mexican president once during the 2016 election campaign.

370 miners to lose their jobs at Pennsylvania coal mine

Some 370 coal miners will lose their jobs, with layoffs starting next month, due to the planned closure of the 4 West Mine in southwestern Pennsylvania. On March 2, 191 miners will be thrown out of work when the 4 West Mine, located in Greene County, about 60 miles south of Pittsburgh near the West Virginia border, stops coal production. Another 175 miners will be laid off by June 1 after the company removes underground equipment and seals the mine. Another four miners will be let go when the mine officially closes on December 31. The mine is operated by Dana Mining Company, which is owned by Mepco LLC. It provided coal for a nearby power plant operated by a related company. The company said it was able to buy outside coal cheaper than could be produced at their own mine.

“The mine is being permanently closed because the aging of the mine and adverse geological conditions have impaired the productivity of the mine and forced higher costs of coal production,” Brian Osborn, senior vice president of operations at Mepco, told the Greene County Messenger.

“The 4 West Mine simply can’t compete in today’s steam coal market as most of our competitors have the advantage of better mining conditions and the higher production rates associated with longwall mining,” added Osborn. The closure will be another blow to workers living in the area, which already suffers from high unemployment and poverty. It is estimated that for every coal mining job destroyed, another five people will lose their jobs in supporting industries. Workers at the Bailey complex are also worried that their jobs may not last long. The Bailey complex consists of three underground mines: Bailey, Enlow Fork and the Harvey mine. They are the largest underground mines in the country, running five long wall and 15-17 continuous miner sections. The three mines are able to produce on average 26 million tons of coal each year.“We are just running coal, they are not spending anything on maintenance to keep the equipment going,” a miner at the Bailey complex told the WSWS. Greene County voted by nearly a 70 percent margin for Trump in the 2016 presidential elections, largely due to his demagogic promise to bring back coal jobs and anger at the Obama administration over mine closures and layoffs that have exacerbated the conditions of grinding poverty facing many in the area. Nick Bit: So much for making coal great again! Guess they won’t vote for Trump next time!!!! SUCKER!

Piece of shit hid as shooter mowed down the kids: Control the Cops NOT the Guns

 

Parkland School Shooting

Here is what you need to know about armed deputy who failed to act during school shooting

Scot Peterson stood outside during shooting, sheriff says

PARKLAND, Fla. – As gun fire erupted within Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the armed deputy who was tasked with protecting the children of the Parkland community is accused of taking cover to protect himself instead of doing what he had been paid and trained to do. When faced with the realization Thursday that he was going to be suspended without pay, Sheriff Scott Israel allowed Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Scot Peterson to resign/retire, which would make him eligible for whatever benefits and pay he might be entitled to receive. While Nikolas Cruz used an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle to kill 17 people, Peterson was armed and in uniform. Israel said he was seen “taking up a position” outside of the west side of building 12 during the massacre, “and he never went in.” According to a Coral Springs police officer, Peterson hid behind a concrete column near the stairs. Israel said Cruz began shooting at 2:21 p.m., and exited the building about 2:27 p.m. Peterson, who towers over 6 feet tall, was outside the building for four minutes, according to Israel.  His actions appeared to contradict what his superiors expected of him. They were also inconsistent with his most recent employee evaluation stating that he took “pride in protecting the students, faculty and staff” and “was dependable and reliable.”

Sgt. Greg Molamphy nominated him as the Parkland Deputy of the Year in 2017. In a memo Molamphy sent to Lt. Michael DeVita, he wrote Peterson handled “issues that arise with tact and solid judgment.” Records show he was transferred to the school resource officer program in 1991. Three years later, the Florida Association of School Resource Officers recognized him with the most outstanding school resource officer in the state award.  The 54-year-old veteran had been working at MarjoryStoneman Douglas High School since 2009, according to Parkland records. Israel said that he “resigned/retired” from his position as school resource officer Thursday, after learning from Lt. Barry Lindquist that he was under investigation. He received numerous awards during his tenure. In 2013, Parkland officials named him Broward County Sheriff’s Office Parkland employee of the year. The department recognized Peterson as SRO of the Year for proving “to be reliable in handling issues with tact and judgment” in 2014.  Records show his base pay was over $100,000 a year in 2013 and 2014, but dropped to about $75,800 in 2015. His overtime pay remained about the same during those three years.  After recognizing his 30 years of service in 2015, Israel wrote that Peterson’s “dedication and allegiance” were “the best illustrations of the service BSO provides.” That same year, the Sun Sentinel reported he was among the police officers who were living for free on school property in exchange for after-hours campus security. Records show he had been living at Atlantic Technical College in Margate since 2000 and applied for a home loan in 2015. Nick Bit: you can wipe your ass with those awards they issue like popcorn at a movie theater. The man is very very lucky one of my kids were not slaughtered as he hid behind a concrete wall. Screw gun control. Crazy people check lists, bump stops, Banning semi auto weapons. Get the 6 figure  pay “hero first responders” to do their freeging jobs…….. If you have armed security that is competent at all schools this crazy shit shoot em ups will end!!!

US Gross National Debt Spikes $1 Trillion in Less Than 6 Months

In the chart, note the somewhat technical jargon (marked in green) of what will happen going forward. The past week saw record issuance of Treasury debt, and that surge of Treasury debt issuance will continue. The Treasury department now expects that the debt will increase by $617 billion by mid-year.

As of the latest reporting by the Treasury Department, the US gross national debt rose by $41.5 billion on Thursday, February 22, to a grand total of $20.8 trillion. Here’s the thing: On September 7, 2017, five-and-a-half months ago, just before Congress suspended the debt ceiling, the gross national debt stood at $19.8 trillion. At that time, I was holding my breath waiting for the gross national debt to take a huge leap in a single day – as it always does after the debt ceiling gets lifted or suspended – and jump to the next ignominious level. It sure did the next day, when it jumped $318 billion.And it continued. Over a period of 8 weeks, the gross national debt jumped by $640 billion. Four weeks after that, it had ballooned by $723 billion, at which point Fed Chair Yellen – whose cheap-money policies had enabled Congress to do this for years – said that she was “very worried about the sustainability of the US debt trajectory.” Then Congress served up another debt ceiling – a regular charade lawmakers undertake to extort deals from each other, beat the White House into submission, and keep the rest of the world their on their toes. It goes like this: First they pass the spending bills, directing the Administration to spend specific amounts of money on a gazillion specific things spread around specific districts. Then they block the means to pay the credit card bill. That debt ceiling was suspended on February 8, at which point the gross national debt began to surge again, adding $1 trillion ($960.4 billion rounded to the nearest 100 million), a 5% jump in the gross national debt in just 5.5 months. The debt ceiling is like playing toss with a loaded gun: The gun will normally not go off because almost everyone is trying very hard to catch the gun without pulling the trigger. And historically speaking, it hasn’t gone off yet, and everyone hopes that it will never go off. It’s dramatic, and sound bites from those playing toss permeate the media, but what it really does is distract from the consequences of the fiscal policies that these same people are hammering out in Congress. Those consequences are best summed up over time in the gross national debt. The Treasury Department, in its Financial Report for fiscal 2017, which it just released, and which was silenced to death by the media, shows where that money came from and where it went. Now, just add the tax cuts and the ballooning Deficits will only get bigger. by Wolf Richter

Saudi oil minister hopes OPEC, allies can ease output curbs in 2019

Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih listens during a news conference after an OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria, November 30, 2017.

Saudi Arabia hopes OPEC and its allies will be able to relax production curbs next year and create a permanent framework to stabilize oil markets after the current supply cut deal ends this year, its oil minister said on Saturday.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is reducing output by about 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) as part of a deal with Russia and other non-OPEC producers.

The pact, aimed at propping oil prices, began in January 2017 and will run until the end of 2018. Khalid al-Falih said OPEC and its allies were committed to bringing balance and stability to the market and that he hoped it would be possible to ease output curbs next year.”A study is taking place and once we know exactly what balancing the market will entail we will announce what is the next step. The next step may be easing of the production constraints,” he told reporters in New Delhi. “My estimation is that it will happen sometime in 2019. But we don’t know when and we don’t know how”. Falih said OPEC was determined to translate the success of the deal to curb supply into a permanent framework with other major producers. “What we want is an evergreen framework that brings producers from OPEC and non-OPEC (countries) together in a market monitoring fashion that allows  Falih said compliance with the output cuts in January was “exceptional.” Oil prices have doubled from their lows in 2015-2016 after the cuts. Falih said the market had absorbed rising U.S. shale oil production, as output from countries such as Venezuela and Mexico had declined. He did not specify the size of stake Aramco will take in the west coast refinery, but added “the more the better.” Last year, Saudi Arabia pledged billions of dollars of investments in projects in Indonesia and Malaysia to secure long-term oil supply deals.

Curcumin has been used as a herbal remedy in arthritis and heart disease

Curry ingredient turmeric is MORE effective than paracetamol or ibuprofen at easing painful injuries, study finds

Turmeric is more effective than popular painkillers at easing the agony of sports injuries, new research suggests. After less than three weeks, taking a key component of the Indian staple spice, known as curcumin, eases injured rugby players’ discomfort just as much paracetamol or ibuprofen, but without their side effects, a study found. Study author Dr Francesco Di Pierro from the Milan-based pharmaceutical company Velleja Research, said: ‘This study suggests the naturally-derived, curcumin-based product could represent a promising safe, analgesic remedy in painful osteo-muscular conditions associated with intense, high impact, physical activities.’ The researchers believe curcumin may also benefit sufferers of inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis patients, without causing the complications associated with many existing treatments. Curcumin has been used as a herbal remedy in arthritis, cancer and heart disease. Turmeric is more effective than popular painkillers at easing the agony of sports injurie. Turmeric may prevent osteoporosis, research revealed in May last year. The popular Indian spice helps to build and repair bone mass in the elderly, a study by Genoa University found. Taking a turmeric supplement improves bone density by up to seven per cent over six months, the research adds. A compound in turmeric, known as curcumin, is thought to balance out cells that remove ageing parts of bone before it is replaced, according to previous findings. The researchers analysed otherwise healthy men and women with an average age of 70 who were all suffering declining bone density. Bones in their heels, jaws and fingers were measured at the start of the study using ultrasound scanning. Turmeric boosts memories by nearly 30%. This comes after research released last month suggested turmeric may boost people’s memories by nearly 30 per cent, as well as easing depression. Taking curcumin causes people to have significantly less protein build-up in the regions of the brain associated with memory and emotion, a study found. Past studies have linked the onset of Alzheimer’s disease to the accumulation of protein plaques in the brain. Curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow color, is thought to improve memory and boost mental health due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation has previously been linked to both dementia and severe depression. Study author Dr Gary Small from the University of California, LA, said: ‘These results suggest that taking this relatively safe form of curcumin could provide meaningful cognitive benefits over the years.’  Nick Bit: I have been taking a tea spoon full of Curcumin in yogurt for 2 years. I no longer take 25mg of Aspirin. Stuff really works.

Bond King Gundlach says it would be a ‘miracle’ if White House’s inflation view works out

Jeffrey Gundlach
David A. Grogan | CNBC Jeffrey Gundlach
  

The Trump administration is betting that wages can rise without sparking runaway inflation, but the world’s leading bond manager isn’t so sure. Fed policymakers and Wall Street economists have been in a hot debate over inflation, with minutes from the most recent Federal Open Market Committee meeting showing that members were divided over the current trend. Investors, meanwhile, recoiled earlier this month when Labor Department data showed that average hourly earnings over the past year rose at a 2.9 percent pace, the most since the Great Recession. The question for markets is whether wages can rise at a healthy pace without triggering broader inflation concerns. Stock market indexes briefly went into a correction after the wage data and the accompanying inflation fears, which are primarily that the Fed will be forced to raise interest rates more quickly than anticipated.

In a tweet Friday morning, Jeffrey Gundlach, billionaire founder of DoubleLine Capital, expressed doubt that income can rise appreciably without causing inflation pressures.

 

According to Gundlach’s thinking, rising wages can hurt either way — by cutting into profits if inflation doesn’t rise, or by pushing bond yields higher with a rise in inflation, which in turn would hurt stock valuations.  White House officials are leaning toward the impossible scenario where wages rise without inflation.

“There are a lot of ways to have the economy grow,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Bloomberg in an interview Thursday. “You can have wage inflation and not necessarily have inflation concerns in general.”

Markets have been nervous over how the scenario plays out. In addition to the stock market drop, government bond yields have spiked in recent days, with the benchmark 10-year Treasury note edging closer to 3 percent, considered a critical point. Fed officials discussed the issue in January, though that was days before the report on wage growth. According to the minutes, Fed officials still tend to adhere to the Phillips curve, which shows that higher wages generally do come with higher inflation.

Bank of America is worried about the threat of cryptocurrency to its business

Cryptocurrencies pose a competitive threat to Bank of America‘s business, the company said in a regulatory filing Thursday.
Yiannis Kourtoglou | AFP | Getty Images

“Clients may choose to conduct business with other market participants who engage in business or offer products in areas we deem speculative or risky, such as cryptocurrencies,” the bank said. Such increased competition may “negatively affect our earnings” or affect “the willingness of our clients to do business with us.” The comments were part of an annual 10-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about the bank’s operations and business risks. The bank said it had no further comment. Bank of America’s filing added that widespread adoption of new technologies in financial services, including cryptocurrencies, “could require substantial expenditures” in order to adapt to evolving industry standards and consumer preferences. However, Bank of America has not embraced the rise of interest in cryptocurrencies. The firm’s Merrill Lynch wealth management arm banned its roughly 17,000 financial advisors from buying bitcoin-related investments for clients. The bank also said earlier this month that customers cannot use its credit cards to buy cryptocurrencies. The development of cryptocurrency trading so far has seen the emergence of a new industry with rapidly growing businesses such as exchanges like Coinbase and bitcoin “mining” companies like Bitmain. Meanwhile, Bank of America has been quietly researching blockchain technology, as are other major banks. Nick Bit: Your damn straight Banks should be worried.. Because bitcoin will become the dominate technology in the near future.

Federal Reserve expects further rate increases

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve says it expects the ongoing strength of the U.S. economy to drive gradual increases in interest rates this year, delivering the same steady-as-it-goes message under new leader Jerome Powell as it had provided under Janet Yellen. The Fed’s projection on rate hikes came with the Friday release of its semi-annual monetary report to Congress. Powell will testify on the report before the House Financial Services Committee next Tuesday, his first public appearance since he took over as chairman earlier this month.

The report stated that the Fed expects steady economic gains will warrant “further gradual increases” in the Fed’s benchmark rate.

But it said the rate was likely to remain low enough to stimulate the economy over the next two years.The Fed’s key policy rate is currently in a range of 1.25 percent to 1.5 percent. The Fed raised rates three times last year, with the most recent hike occurring in December. In December 2008, the Fed had pushed the rate to a record low near zero, as it struggled to contain a severe financial crisis and the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It kept the rate unchanged for seven years until December 2015 and since that time has boosted the rate in five tiny quarter-point moves, including last year’s hikes.

At the December 2017 meeting, Fed officials signaled that they expected to raise rates another three times in 2018.

However, investors have grown concerned that signs of rising wages and inflation pressures might prompt the central bank to speed up the  hikes. Those fears were one of the factors leading to a series of stomach-churning days in the stock market earlier this month, a sell-off that began after the Labor Department reported that wage gains had accelerated in January.  The policy report released Friday noted that stock prices had declined after hitting record highs in January. It partially attributed the strong stock gains last year and into January to investor anticipation of a boost to after-tax earnings from corporate tax cuts that were included in the tax bill Congress passed in December. The report noted that even with the sell-off in recent weeks, the valuation of stocks, judged by the stock price related to company earnings, remained near the highest levels seen since the late 1990s.

Many economists now believe the Fed will end up raising rates four times this year with the first hike likely to come in March, which will be Powell’s first meeting as chairman.

KFC apologizes for chicken shortage with a hilarious hidden message

KFC has issued a high-profile, humorous apology for its chicken shortages in the UK. The bright red advertisement showed an empty bucket with the chain’s initials scrambled to say “FCK” on it, alongside an apology.

kfc apology uk 1
KFC took out full-page newspaper ads on Friday to apologize for its restaurant closures.

The fast-food chain used a full-page ad in British newspapers to apologize for shutting down hundreds of restaurants this week because it ran out of chicken.

“A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who traveled out of their way to find we were closed,” the ad said.

As many as 800 out of about 900 KFC locations were closed on Monday due to the logistical snafu. By Friday, the majority of the stores had reopened. “It’s been a hell of a week, but we’re making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants. Thank you for bearing with us,” the ad said. KFC, which is owned by Taco Bell and Pizza Hut parent Yum! (YUM), said the chicken shortage had been caused by a “couple of teething problems” after it switched to a new delivery partner, DHL (DPW), last week. DHL said a number of deliveries had been “incomplete or delayed” because of “operational issues.” The German company added that it is “not the only party responsible for the supply chain to KFC.”A KFC spokesperson said on Friday that some stores may remain closed this weekend and some locations “will operate with a reduced menu or shortened hours.” The cheeky apology was well received. “I think they’ve done a fantastic job,” said Rupert Younger, a PR expert and director of the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation. “It speaks to a business that understand that mistakes were made and they’re prepared to have fun at their own expense.”

 

KFC has a chicken delivery problem in the UK
KFC has a chicken delivery problem in the UK

The UK is KFC’s largest market in Europe, and one of its top five globally. Franchisees operate 95% of KFC’s outlets in the country. The company said Monday that it would pay its staff as normal, and it was encouraging franchisees to do the same. KFC did not say whether it would compensate its franchisee operators for lost business.

Trump: Behavior of Russia, Iran in Syria Is ‘Humanitarian Disgrace’

Citi will refund $335M to cardholders it overcharged

The refund — due to cardholders who once lapsed but then resumed making timely payments — will result in checks of about $190 apiece for 1.75 million customers who were wrongly penalized since 2011. The bank said it uncovered the error during a semiannual review of cardholders hit with increasing annual percentage rates for being delinquent or missing payments. “While we believed our methodology was sound, a periodic internal review identified potential flaws,”said Liz Fogarty, Citi’s head of public affairs for global consumer banking. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, which took effect in 2011, requires card issuers to reduce the APRs on previously lapsed cardholders who right their ways. Each review covered about 70 million accounts and, collectively, they’ve delivered $3 billion to Citi customers. Fogarty estimated that was about 90 percent of the interest-rate savings due Citi customers. However, on learning about the remaining 10 percent, Citi said in a regulatory filing on Friday that it informed its regulators, revised its methodology and set about “providing remediation.”

 

Trump-Russia: Manafort ‘paid European ex-politicians’

Image copyright EPA Mr Manafort insists he is innocent

Ex-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly paid unnamed former senior European politicians to lobby for Ukraine’s previous pro-Russia government, a new indictment filed by special counsel Robert Mueller says. Mr Manafort paid over €2m ($2.5m; £1.8m) to the ex-politicians, including a former European chancellor, it says. Mr Trump’s ex-deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, has admitted conspiracy and lying to investigators in a plea deal. Mr Mueller is investigating claims of Russian political meddling in the US. Mr Manafort faces new charges of conspiracy, money-laundering, failing to register as an agent for a foreign actor and making false statements. His alleged payments to former senior European politicians were made in 2012 and 2013, the new indictment says. He is also alleged to have created a body called the Hapsburg Group to give the former politicians’ lobbying efforts the appearance of independent analysis. The alleged paid lobbying was part of Mr Manafort’s work for the Ukrainian government, a pro-Russian party, the Party of Regions, and its leader Viktor Yanukovych, who was president between 2010 and 2014, the indictment says. Mr Manafort’s work is said to have continued after Mr Yanukovych was overthrown and fled to Russia in 2014 following anti-government protests. The indictment says Mr Manafort did not register as an agent of a foreign principal for this work as required by law. He is also alleged to have hidden millions of dollars made from his Ukraine work in offshore accounts. The new indictment was filed after Rick Gates pledged to co-operate in “any and all matters” with the Mueller inquiry. Nineteen people – including Mr Manafort and Mr Gates – have been indicted by the special counsel:

 

With rates low, Fed officials fret over next U.S. recession

NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Federal Reserve policymakers are fretting that they could face the next U.S. recession with an arsenal of policies little different from that used in the last downturn but robbed of much of their punch because interest rates are still low. In the midst of an unprecedented leadership transition, Fed officials are publicly debating how to prepare for the next downturn. Should they scrap their approach to inflation targeting? How big of a balance sheet should they retain? How much further can they raise interest rates and still keep the economy on a growth path?

All this comes against a backdrop of an unexpectedly large boost from tax cuts and government spending that will drive up deficits, leaving less room for a fiscal rescue in the next recession.

“The thing that keeps me up at night is that when that next recession happens, and hopefully not for a long time, I don’t think we have as strong a toolkit as we would like to have to respond to that,” San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams said Friday at a Town Hall Los Angeles event.

To pull out of the 2007-2009 recession, the Fed slashed short-term interest rates to near zero and bought $3.5 trillion in bonds to push down longer-term borrowing costs. Since late 2015 it has gradually reversed course. Its key rate is now in the range of 1.25 to 1.5 percent, and the Fed expects to end this year with rates between 2 percent and 2.25 percent.With an aging population slowing the economy’s growth potential, the Fed projects it can raise rates only to about 2.75 percent before borrowing costs will really start to brake the economy. Before the recession, most economists thought that neutral level was closer to 4 percent. With rates so low, there would be little room to cut them to provide stimulus when the world’s largest economy, which is heating up, eventually turns around. Rosengren, one of only a few sitting policymakers who also served during the last downturn, said the expanding U.S. deficits could further erode the government’s ability to help curb any future recession.

Since mid-December the Republican-controlled Congress and President Donald Trump aggressively cut taxes and boosted spending limits, which are expected to push the annual budget deficit above $1 trillion next year and expand the $20 trillion national debt.

That stimulus, combined with synchronized global growth, signs of U.S. inflation perking up, and unemployment near a 17-year low could set the stage for overheating that ends one of the longest economic expansions ever. William Dudley, president of the New York Fed, said at the conference, the ability to again purchase bonds if and when rates hit zero “seems like a good tool to have.”

The Fed’s approach to any economic slowdown, policymakers have said, would be to cut rates, pledge further stimulus and only then buy bonds.

Nick Bit: It is my firm belief the FED will in the coming recession/depression will be buying bonds. And they will take rates double digit negative. It will be the only real tool they will  have left. its a tool they will use they are not talking about. I believe the only option they will have is double digit negative interest rates. I believe we should help them and as they are buying bonds with double digit yields we should sell them some.

Self-driving cars with “remote” drivers could test on Calif roads in April: DMV

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Self-driving cars that back up their computerized system with a remote human operator instead of a fallback driver at the wheel could be tested on California roads as early as April, the state department of motor vehicles said. Relying on a remote human operator – who could control multiple autonomous vehicles from miles away – is a step that would allow a path to profitability in the nascent field of self-driving technology by eliminating California’s requirement for in-car minders.Experts believe early adopters of the technology will include ride-hailing services seeking to maximize paying passengers while eliminating paid backups traveling with them. The race to develop autonomous vehicles includes such global automakers as General Motors and technology giants like Alphabet Inc’s Waymo unit. If they are ready to deploy the remote monitor technology by April, it would be the first time they could test their cars on public roads in the state without physical drivers present.The remote control technology, already used by NASA and the military, is seen as a way to more quickly usher in the commercial rollout of self-driving cars. The new regulations are expected to be approved later this month, and take effect in April after a month-long public notice period.  Companies like Nissan, Waymo and startups Zoox, Phantom Auto and Starsky Robotics have been working on the technology, which allows for a remote operator to take control of a vehicle if the underlying autonomous system inside the car encounters problems, known in the industry as difficult-to-solve “edge” cases. “We think we have the ultimate backup system – which is a human,” said Elliot Katz, co-founder of Phantom Auto, which last month at the CES technology conference demonstrated how cars driving in Las Vegas could be remotely controlled from Mountain View, California, over 500 miles away. The presence of a remote operator also helps companies reassure lawmakers and the public, said Katz, who said he expected companies to deploy such technology on California roads soon after April. Getting rid entirely of drivers capable of taking the wheel in case of problems has concerned some lawmakers. U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have questioned the safeguards in an autonomous vehicle bill currently stalled in the Senate. During a January Senate hearing, Zoox Chief Executive Officer Tim Kentley-Klay testified that “teleoperations” technology would play a role in the overall system of the Silicon Valley startup. “When your model is to have autonomous vehicles deployed as a for-hire service in cities, you are still going to need a command center in that city that has a human-in-the-loop oversight of the fleet, both to deal with vehicles if they have an issue but also to deal with customers if they need help,” Kentley-Klay said.

Toys R Us expected to go bust NEXT WEEK

3,200 workers face losing their jobs at risk as retailer grapples with £15million VAT bill

Closing down: Sale signs outside the chain's Basingstoke store which has been earmarked for closure 

The children’s retailer is preparing to appoint administrators early in the week as the firm is reportedly days away from going bust. Senior bosses are understood to have alerted the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) today as filing for administration will mean thousands nationwide will risk losing their income security. Bosses had been scrambling to find a business to rescue the troubled couple in its eleventh hour but time is running out with the Revenue’s deadline earmarked as Tuesday. Closing down: Sale signs outside the chain’s Basingstoke store which has been earmarked for closure. The news comes as the US arm of toy giant plans to close a further 200 stores putting thousands of jobs at risk as it attempts to avoid a total collapse of the business. Toys R Us closed 182 stores in the US last year, hitting 4,500 employees. The decision to close another 200 stores would take the total to almost 400 – roughly half of its estate in the US. It comes after the retailer saw disappointing sales over the crucial Christmas period as demand for online shopping continues to hammer the High Street at home and in the US. The US arm filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year but claimed at the time that the incident would have no

Special counsel files new charges against Trump ex-aides Manafort and Gates

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The special counsel in the Russia probe filed new criminal charges on Thursday against President Donald Trump’s former campaign aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, stepping up pressure in a legal battle that started last year. The 32-count indictment filed by Robert Mueller in Alexandria, Virginia, federal court includes charges of bank fraud and lying on tax returns. It alleges that Manafort, with Gates’ assistance, laundered more than $30 million and duped banks into lending money. It says the pair used funds from secret offshore accounts to enjoy a life of luxury. Manafort and Gates already face criminal charges by Mueller’s office in federal court in Washington, D.C., that include conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to defraud the United States and failure to register as foreign agents for political work they did for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. The pair were among the first to be charged as part of Mueller’s ongoing investigation into whether the Trump presidential campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Russia has denied meddling in the campaign and Trump has denied any collusion took place. The probe has shadowed Trump’s year-old presidency. The latest charges against Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager for five months in 2016, and Gates, who was deputy campaign manager, do not mention their work for the Trump campaign. Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, said Manafort is innocent of the new charges which, he noted, “have nothing to do with Russia and 2016 election interference/collusion.” The new indictment charges wrongdoing as recently as January 2017 and alleges that Manafort and Gates were desperate for cash when their lobbying business dried up, after pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was forced to flee to Russia after being ousted from power

Reuters: Kelly, McMaster Mull Resigning

Image: Reuters: Kelly, McMaster Mull Resigning
Longstanding friction between U.S. President Donald Trump and two top aides, the National Security Adviser and the Chief of Staff, has grown to a point that either or both might quit soon, four senior administration officials said. Both H.R. McMaster and John Kelly are military men considered by U.S. political observers as moderating influences on the president by imposing a routine on the White House. They have also convinced Trump of the importance of international alliances, particularly NATO, which he has criticized as not equally sharing its burdens with the United States.However, all the officials were quick to add that the tensions could blow over, at least for now, as have previous episodes of discord between the president and other top officials who have fallen out of favor, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Asked about sources saying that either National Security Adviser McMaster or Chief of Staff Kelly, or both, might be leaving, White House spokesman Raj Shah on Thursday did not address the possibility. He said, “the president has full confidence in each member of the team.” Press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Tuesday that Trump “still has confidence in General McMaster.” Neither Kelly nor McMaster responded to requests for comment on whether they would remain in the administration.  Trump swatted McMaster in a Twitter post after his comments at a European conference last weekend that he was certain Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election campaign, which Trump has been reluctant to acknowledge. Kelly and McMaster have chafed at Trump’s treatment of them in public and in private, which both at times have considered insulting, said all four officials, speaking on condition of anonymity. The current and most potent irritant, they said, is Kelly’s effort, supported by McMaster, to prevent administration officials who have been unable to obtain permanent high-level security clearances from having access to the government’s most closely held secrets. Under pressure to act last week, Kelly strengthened the security clearance process in response to a scandal involving Rob Porter, a former official accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives. Staffers whose interim clearances have been pending since June would have them revoked on Friday. That would bar Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner from reading the president’s daily intelligence brief, which often contains information on covert operations and intelligence collected from spy satellites, spies, and close U.S. allies. “There have been running battles between Trump and his generals,” said one of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Kelly is a retired Marine general and McMaster an Army lieutenant general. After U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians, a Russian propaganda arm and two other firms on Feb. 16 with tampering in the election to boost Trump, McMaster said the evidence of Moscow’s meddling was “incontrovertible.” Trump publicly chastised McMaster in a Twitter post, saying McMaster “forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted by the Russians.”

China seizes control of Anbang Insurance as chairman prosecuted

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The Chinese government on Friday seized control of Anbang Insurance Group Co Ltd and said its chairman had been prosecuted, dramatically illustrating Beijing’s willingness to curtail big-spending conglomerates as it cracks down on financial risk. Anbang  had violated laws and regulations which “may seriously endanger the solvency of the company”, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) said in a statement announcing the seizure, without giving details. The CIRC also said Anbang’s chairman and key shareholder, Wu Xiaohui, had been prosecuted for economic crimes. Wu was arrested in June as troubles mounted for one of China’s most aggressive buyers of overseas assets. The Shanghai prosecutors office said in a statement Friday that Wu had recently been charged with fundraising fraud and abuse of his position, and that his case had been forwarded to the city’s intermediate court for prosecution. During the government takeover of Anbang Group, which will last for one year starting from Friday, the company will be managed by a group of officials from the CIRC, the central bank and other key financial regulators and government bodies. The takeover of Anbang, which claims 1.97 trillion yuan (222.37 billion pounds) in assets and ranks 139 on the Global Fortune 500 list, is a defining blow to a conglomerate best known for acquiring New York’s landmark Waldorf Astoria “The group has become too big to fail in some sense,” said the lawyer, who declined to be identified by

Armed officer on the Florida high school campus did nothing to stop the shooter

Multiple fatalities have been reported and several more injured at a high school northwest of Miami. According to law enforcement the suspect is in custody. Some media are reporting the suspect as former student, Nicolas Cruz.
School shooting in Parkland, Florida, USA – 14 Feb 2018

The Florida school where a former student shot and killed 17 people is grappling with word that the armed officer on campus did nothing to stop the shooter. That failure, plus reports of a delay in security camera footage scanned by responding police added to what the Florida House speaker described as an “abject breakdown at all levels.” The Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has reignited national debate over gun laws and school safety, including proposals by President Donald Trump and others to designate more people — including trained teachers — to carry arms on school grounds. Gun-control advocates, meanwhile, have redoubled calls for bans or further restrictions on assault rifles.

The school resource officer on Feb. 14 took up a position viewing the western entrance of that building for more than four minutes after the shooting started, but “he never went in,” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said at a news conference.

The officer, Scot Peterson, was suspended without pay and placed under investigation, then chose to resign, Israel said. When asked what Peterson should have done, Israel said the deputy should have “went in, addressed the killer, killed the killer.” The sheriff said he was “devastated, sick to my stomach. There are no words. I mean these families lost their children. We lost coaches. I’ve been to the funerals. … I’ve been to the vigils. It’s just, ah, there are no words.”

 

Trump Not Out of Woods Yet, Law Prof Says

The recent indictment against various Russian individuals and entities that alleged a massive scheme to interfere with the U.S. political system leading up to the 2016 election was eye-opening, not just for revealing just how big the alleged plot was, but for its lack of any allegations that President Donald Trump‘s campaign had anything to do with it. Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation’s main purpose was to investigate the Trump campaign’s connections to Russian interference efforts, but after these indictments, plus those of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, as well as multiple guilty pleas, Mueller has yet to charge anyone involved in Trump’s campaign with illegal acts involving collusion with Russia. According to George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley, however, a lack of collusion evidence doesn’t mean the president is out of the woods just yet. Mueller’s broad authority could lead to him discovering potential impropriety with Trump’s business dealings, even if it has nothing to do with his campaign. “Trump’s extensive holdings and deals maximize the risk of irregularities and violations,”

In particular, Trump’s business history with Russia is extensive, with Donald Trump Jr. acknowledging that the Trump family has received a significant amount of money in investments from Russia.

Trump Sr. had extensive dealings with Deutsche Bank, which has been implicated in Russian money laundering. A reported fear of Trump’s lawyers is that Mueller’s team wants a sit-down interview with Trump in order to see if they can get him to say the wrong thing that could result in similar charges. Even if Trump didn’t do anything that was technically illegal in the past, if he contradicts himself or isn’t completely truthful about something during such an interview, that could be enough for thee Special Counsel’s office to pounce on him.  Turley brought up the recent news of payments made to keep women from discussing alleged affairs they had with Trump. Most notable was Trump  attorney Michael Cohen‘s claim that he paid former adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to not talk about an affair she claimed to have had with Trump while he was already married to wife Melania. “Mueller could investigate the payments as possible campaign-finance violations within his mandate,” . Such charges wouldn’t put Trump’s administration in jeopardy, Turley said,  they are reasons for the president to remain concerned until the investigation reaches its conclusion.

 

Spain hit by HUGE protests: Thousands of retirees take to streets over pensions fears

Protesters
THOUSANDS of OAPs have been marching in Spain to demand “decent pensions” – even cutting access to the Spanish Parliament in Madrid and stopping traffic from passing.
The angry demonstrators managed to break the police cordon of the Congress building in Madrid to take their demonstration to the doors of the government building. The retirees are demonstrating across Spain, calling for higher pensions and demanding authorities ensure funding for social security. Protesters have been holding signs calling the 0.25 per cent increase in pensions this year “miserable” and saying it is not enough to keep up with inflation.

The pensioners have taken their fight to the main squares of 40 cities and towns across the country, including Bilbao, Barcelona, Seville and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. In Bilbao, thousands of pensioners surrounded the town hall shouting: “We are pensioners, not terrorists”. They have also been shouting in desperation: “What a shame, what a shame! They steal from us!”

Organisers of the protests, which includes the biggest workers’ unions in Spain, petitioned parliament to call on political parties to stop blocking changes to the laws on pensions. The government does not believe that the pensions payouts in Spain are sustainable with the ageing population and fewer workers contributing to the national social security fund.

Protester

The OAPs think the pensions should increase more in line with inflation The protest organisations are demanding the prime minister’s government to guarantee pensions for present and future generations. During a protest in Madrid, Workers’ General Union leader Mari Carmen Barrera said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy should explain why the Spanish economy is growing three percent while pensions are only growing 0.25 percent.

Mr Barrera said: “Last week, when the government’s president asked the Spanish people to save for their pension, he was implying that future pensions will not be enough to live.”

“That’s an intolerable situation.”

Total confident about Forties crude oil pipeline, North Sea future

Total’s exploration and production president Arnaud Breuillac says he is confident in the U.K.’s Forties crude oil pipeline after a crack was discovered in the line in December, and that the company is committed to expanding its North Sea and U.K. business. In an interview with Platts, Breuillac compares Forties to refineries that operate for 100 years, saying a pipeline might continue for many years if properly maintained and if it transports enough oil to earn its keep. He says TOT stands to double its resource base in the North Sea with the acquisition of Maersk Oil, which is due to be completed in the current quarter, and the acquisition of the Culzean gas and condensate project as part of the deal near TOT’s Elgin-Franklin field create potential synergies that should extend the life of existing assets. Breuillac also says TOT will continue working at risk-prone frontiers such as Russia and Iran partly because they bring higher returns.

Mexican Army Arrives in Tijuana to Quell Cartel Violence

Gabriel García Rincón, Commander of the II Military Region, stated that 400 arrived in Tijuana, Baja California, to support the local authorities responsible for security and the fight against organized crime which has been deemed responsible for the record-breaking violence. This announcement was made during a Day of the Army celebration according to local media outlets. Reports from social media indicate that military patrols have begun in the most affected areas where local law enforcement has been overwhelmed and are unable to stop daily killings between rival cartels. Helicopter surveillance patrols from the Baja California Attorney General’s office (PGR) have also been provided.Commander Gabriel García Rincón stated during a press conference, “Our troops are working day and night to prevent drugs from reaching our children and our youth.” According to government sources, the Mexican Army will be working jointly with municipal and state police with the goal of bringing a halt to the violence that has terrorized this border city. The escalation can be attributed to the hostilities between the Sinaloa Cartel and their one-time ally, Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG).

Muni bonds face ‘steep decline’ ahead, challenging Trump’s infrastructure plan

Bukharova | Getty Images
 The precipitous rise in bond yields is being felt across a number of markets but perhaps none more than municipal bonds, where the trend ultimately could help jeopardize a critical part of President Donald Trump’s economic agenda. For local and state governments, the cost to finance debt has spiked on some levels even more than the surge in Treasurys.

As a result, fixed-income experts are expecting a major drop in muni issuance. Already, January issuance fell 26 percent from the same period in 2017 and dropped 57 percent from December, which along with November saw a huge rush ahead of new tax laws taking effect.

“This pattern of request volume, layered on top of a secular trend of slowing municipal bond issuance, suggests that new muni volume in 2018 is indeed headed for a steep decline,” CUSIP Global Services said in a report this week.

Trump doesn’t have the money to spend on infrastructure. Troubles in the muni market extend beyond rates. Tax overhaul legislation that Congress passed in December represented a good news/bad news scenario for the $3.8 trillion U.S. municipal bond market. On the plus side, the legislation preserved tax-exempt private activity bonds, which are used to finance a slew of local projects including infrastructure and nonprofit entities including hospitals. But the industry, for now, is focusing on the loss of advanced refunding for munis, a key tool governments use to refinance old debt at lower costs.

“We’re still seeing fallout from the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act in our muni request volumes,” Gerard Faulkner, director of operations for CUSIP, said in a statement. “While lawmakers are currently reviewing a new bill that would restore the tax exemption for advance refunding bonds, for now, the marketplace is reacting to the tax reform by dramatically curtailing their pre-trade activity.” Top AAA-rated debt for a 10-year term now carries a yield of 2.4 percent, up from 1.98 percent at the end of 2017. The yield on 30-year debt has zoomed from 2.54 percent in December to 2.95 percent now. The surge in costs and drop in issuance comes at an inopportune time for the White House. The Trump administration has released the broad sketches for a program aimed at pumping in $1.5 trillion in new spending for America’s ailing infrastructure system. “Tax reform dealt three curveballs to the municipal market in 2017, and it is conceivable that more surprises could await in 2018,” S&P Global Ratings said in a report. “These potential sources of revenue may remain targets for budget drafters in the coming year.”

Mueller files new charges against Manafort and Gates

Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump, center, arrives at the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018.  Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump, center, arrives at the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(CNN)Special counsel Robert Mueller has filed new charges against former Donald Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. The 32-count indictment, filed in Alexandria, Virginia, includes tax and bank fraud charges.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

State treasurers call for restoring tax exemption to help fund infrastructure

State treasurers call for restoring tax exemption to help fund infrastructure
© Thinkstock
The National Association of State Treasurers (NAST) is urging Congress to reinstate a tax preference that was eliminated in the GOP tax-cut law, arguing that doing so would help state and local governments finance infrastructure projects. The group wants Congress to restore the tax exemption for advance refunding bonds, which state and local governments issue to refinance their debt. “Advance refunding bonds save money for taxpayers and free up money for additional infrastructure projects, by allowing state and local issuers to refinance bonds at a lower interest rate,” NAST wrote in a letter this week to House and Senate leaders of both parties. “Last year, more than $100 billion in advance refunding bonds were issued, saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that could then be reinvested back into vital infrastructure projects.” The group lent its support to legislation on advance refunding bonds that was introduced by Reps. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.).

“This bill would ensure state and local governments are not forced to pay higher borrowing costs or curtail critical infrastructure projects,” the group wrote. The letter comes one week after President Trump unveiled his long-awaited infrastructure proposal, which calls for state and local governments and the private sector to provide much of the funding for projects. “State and local governments finance more than 75 percent of all U.S. infrastructure projects, and as experts on infrastructure financing, we believe that reinstating the tax-exempt status of [advance refunding] bonds will be critical for state and local governments to properly execute any infrastructure proposal,” NAST wrote. Trump’s plan calls for the expansion of private activity bonds, a type of tax-exempt bond that can be used to finance projects with some private use. NAST praised the proposed expansion of private activity bonds, saying it “is a common sense solution that will result in more infrastructure built for the public good.”

Intel did not tell U.S. cyber officials about chip flaws until made public

(Reuters) – Intel Corp did not inform U.S. cyber security officials of the so-called Meltdown and Spectre chip security flaws until they leaked to the public, six months after Alphabet Inc notified the chipmaker of the problems, according to letters sent by tech companies to lawmakers on Thursday. Current and former U.S. government officials have raised concerns that the government was not informed of the flaws before they became public because the flaws potentially held national security implications. Intel said it did not think the flaws needed to be shared with U.S. authorities as hackers had not exploited the vulnerabilities.Intel did not tell the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, better known as US-CERT, about Meltdown and Spectre until Jan. 3, after reports on them in online technology site The Register had begun to circulate. US-CERT, which issues warnings about cyber security problems to the public and private sector, did not respond to a request for comment.Details of when the chip flaws were disclosed were detailed in letters sent by Intel, Alphabet and Apple Inc on Thursday in response to questions from Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The letters were seen by Reuters.  Alphabet said that security researchers at its Google Project Zero informed chipmakers Intel, Advanced Micro Devices Inc and SoftBank Group Corp-owned ARM Holdings of the problems in June. It gave the chipmakers 90 days to fix the issues before public disclosing them, standard practice in the cyber security industry intended to give the targets of bugs time to fix them before hackers can take advantage of the flaws. Alphabet said it left the decision of whether to inform government officials of the security flaws up to the chipmakers, which is its standard practice.

Intel, Alphabet and Apple could not immediately be reached for comment. Microsoft said that it did inform several antivirus software makers about the flaws “several weeks” ahead of their public disclosure to give them time to avoid compatibility issues. AMD said that Alphabet extended the disclosure deadline from the standard 90 days twice, first to Jan. 3, then to Jan. 9.

Sturm Ruger has cut 700 jobs in the last year

On Wednesday, the company reported a 21% sales decline for 2017. Thursday it disclosed that it has cut 700 jobs, or more than a quarter of its staff, over the last 13 months. That leaves it with 1,750 workers. “When we reduced production in 2017, we had to make some difficult decisions,” said CEO Chris Killoy, on a call with analysts Thursday. Many of the jobs were eliminated through attrition. The company also had 320 temporary employees a year ago who have since left the company. In January, the company needed to further reduce staff, prompting it to lay off an additional 60 workers. Gun sales have been sharply lower across the industry since President Donald Trump was elected. Fears that Hillary Clinton would win the presidency and seek tougher gun control laws drove record sales through 2016, and encouraged retailers to stock up on inventory. With the election of Trump and Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, those fears greatly abated. Killoy said that 2017 FBI background checks, which correspond roughly to purchases, fell 11%. Retailers also cut back on purchases to reduce inventory. “2017 was a challenging year for the firearm industry,” Killoy. But he said as a result of the job cuts, “we’re better positioned to compete in 2018.” There has been more talk about gun control in the week since the shooting of 17 students and staff at a Florida high school, led by many of the students and families from that school.

President Trump and some Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, have voiced new support for some gun control measures. But it’s too soon to say whether those efforts will affect gun sales. Killoy did not mention the gun control debate during his conference call, although he did express sympathy for victims of the Florida shooting. “Like all Americans, we struggle with the shock and sadness of these terrible events,” he said. Sturm Ruger is not the only company to report a drop in sales. Overall the industry has reported a sales decline of more than $600 million in 2017. Gun maker Remington has warned it plans to file for bankruptcy protection soon. Killoy was asked about whether Sturm Ruger would be interested in buying Remington, given that it has a strong balance sheet. Ruger’s cash on hand fell by nearly $24 million during the year, but it still has $63.5 million and no debt. He wouldn’t rule out a deal for Remington, but wouldn’t comment on it directly.

Two Year Treasury is back to levels it was at when Lehman failed

September 15, 2008, the day the 150-year-old Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy.

The two-year Treasury yield is the one to watch for Fed interest rate moves, and it’s been on the rise to a near-decade high — close to the level it reached around the time Lehman Brothers failed.

The Federal Reserve has been moving to normalize interest rates, boosting them five times since ending the long era of ZIRP — or zero interest rate policy, started at the end of 2008 in the heat of the financial crisis. “The two-year is by far and away the one that’s looked at most closely for the Fed,” said Andrew Brenner of National Alliance. “The two-year in May of 2008 was 3.04 percent. It started to go down, and we were having problems in 2008. Where we are right now coincides with September of 2008.” Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 15, 2008. In late Tuesday trading, the two-year Treasury yield hit a high of 2.28 percent, its highest since Sept. 19, 2008, when the two-year was as high as 2.31 percent, according to Tradeweb. The two-year was at 2.25 percent in Wednesday morning trading. “You better get used to two-years being even higher than this because short-term rates are going to continue to rise. The Fed is on a mission,” said Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies.

The demise of Lehman and near failure of other institutions resulted in a long period of extraordinary easing by the Fed, which it has been slowly moving away from. Late last year, the Fed started the slow process of shrinking its balance sheet, which ballooned to more than $4 trillion as it bought Treasury and other securities. In the months around the Lehman failure, markets were gripped by fear and the two-year yield fell under 1 percent and for the most part, stayed there until 2016. The Fed has forecast three interest rate hikes this year, and the market expects the first one at its March 21 meeting. Many economists are now forecasting a fourth rate hike. “If you’re going to have four Fed rate increase, it looks to me the next level is 2.5 percent. I think you’re going to grind higher in yields in the front end,” said Brenner. “It doesn’t look like it’s going to stop any time soon with supply and an aggressive Fed. The 10-year is reacting to a different set of metrics including overseas buying,” said Brenner. The widely watched 10-year is the bench mark Treasury, and it influences a whole range of business and consumer loans, including mortgages. Nick Bit: Follow the 2 Year because this is where the average trading banks costs of funds lye. Their average borrowing is at the 2 year treasury and they try to achieve the 20 to 30 year bond yield. As the 2 year goes up their costs of funds rise and their profits drop. When you understand their massive leverage you can see why it does not take much of a move to wipe them out. it was not just Lehman that wiped out the last time. That is why their was a 30 trillion dollar bail out in total. WARNING WARNING MR BANKER the yield curve is flatting and soon the 2 year will be way way above the 30 year and you will be dead meat!

 

Trump signals open to mileage tax with praise of Oregon program

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Wednesday praised an experimental program in Oregon that charges a mileage tax to volunteer drivers, adding to signals that President Donald Trump is open to finding new revenue sources to pay for his proposed infrastructure program.U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an interview with Reuters at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque In the annual Economic Report of the President, the White House described Oregon as a “pioneer” in transportation funding and highlighted its funding initiative, which began in 2015.  Volunteers are charged a fee of 1.7 cents for each mile driven on state roads. In return, drivers get rebates for state fuel taxes. As of the end of 2016, only about 700 people were participating in the program, which is intended to gather data and generate consumer feedback. “The program offers tangible evidence that a tax on vehicle miles traveled is a promising alternative to relying on fuel taxes,” the report said.  Trump last week called for using $200 billion in new federal spending over 10 years in an effort to stimulate $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending, largely through states shouldering most of the costs and relying on unspecified spending cuts to pay for repairs. The report also boosted the idea of driverless cars, saying widespread use of them could lift economic growth and create jobs. The idea of a transportation tax, however, could prove controversial with Trump’s fellow Republicans. Many of the party’s lawmakers dislike the idea. Nick Bit: This is a tax increase on the American people pure and simple. And it will take back all the HA HA HA middle class tax break,,, if you believe that shit. Bottom line this tax will hit the working commuter and small business HARD!

Ford’s president of North America is out over ‘inappropriate behavior’

raj nair ford

He’ll leave the company immediately, Ford (F) said Wednesday. The recent review found that “certain behavior” by Nair violated Ford’s code of conduct, the company added. “We made this decision after a thorough review and careful consideration,” CEO Jim Hackett said in a statement. “Ford is deeply committed to providing and nurturing a safe and respectful culture and we expect our leaders to fully uphold these values.” Nair has been head of Ford’s North America division since June 2017. Before that, he served as Ford’s head of global product development and chief technical officer. He first joined Ford in 1987 as an engineer, according to a company bio. In a statement released by Ford, Nair expressed regret for past behavior. “I sincerely regret that there have been instances where I have not exhibited leadership behaviors consistent with the principles that the Company and I have always espoused,” he said. “I continue to have the utmost faith in the people of Ford Motor Company and wish them continued success in the future.” The culture at Ford’s factories has also come under scrutiny following a lengthy investigation by the New York Times, which explored decades of misconduct at two Ford plants in Chicago. Accusations of sexual misconduct and assault have toppled many powerful men in media, entertainment, business and politics in recent months as the #MeToo movement has tak

JP Morgan’s David Kelly expects four rate hikes in 2018: ‘The Fed is more hawkish today’

With all that has happened over the last few weeks, the Federal Reserve is more hawkish now than it was during its January meeting, J.P. Morgan chief global strategist David Kelly told CNBC on Wednesday. Minutes from that meeting, held Jan. 30-31, were released on Wednesday. They indicated the Fed sees increased economic growth and an uptick in inflation as justification to continue to raise interest rates. The budget, which President Donald Trump signed into law on Feb. 9, includes a $300 billion boost in spending on military and domestic programs. “That budget agreement is highly stimulative. Also the risk of a government shutdown is gone. Also, we had a wage scare. Also, we had a CPI [Consumer Price Index] inflation scare. So however these minutes read, I think the Fed is more hawkish today,” Kelly said. Fears about inflation, which eats away at corporate profit margins and could force the Fed to hike rates faster than it anticipates, helped fuel the recent stock market sell-off. Kelly said that “unless there is some shock” he expects there will be four rate hikes this year. The market currently expects around three rate hikes for 2018, according to the CME Group’s FedWatch tool. Kelly expects this more hawkish tone to be on display in Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s first semiannual address to Congress, which starts Feb. 28. Powell took the helm of the central bank earlier this month. Danielle DiMartino Booth, president of Money Strong and a former advisor to the Dallas Federal Reserve, agreed there’s a possibility there will be a “sea change in the message from the Fed when Powell goes up in front of Congress next week.” Therefore, the market may start upping the chance of more rate hikes this year, she told “Power Lunch.”

Stocks end volatile session lower as rally collapses in wake of Fed minutes

U.S. stocks ended a volatile session on a downbeat note on Wednesday, as an afternoon rally quickly fizzled in the wake of the Federal Reserve releasing the minutes to its most recent meeting. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.67% fell 168 points, or 0.7%, to 24,797. The S&P 500 SPX, -0.55% lost 15 points to 2,701, a drop of 0.6%. The Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -0.22% sank 16 points, or 0.2%, to 7,218. All three had been solidly higher in afternoon trading, but they sharply retreated as investors struggled to digest the minutes, which pointed to a strong economy, but also the “increased likelihood” of more rate hikes ahead. The news pushed the U.S. dollar higher and sent the yields for the 10-year Treasury note to a four-year high of 2.95%. Recent trading on Wall Street has been driven by the prospect of inflation returning to the economy, and the Fed having to become more aggressive in raising rates to combat such a scenario.

Sessions weathers yet another Trump Twitter taunt

Trump publicly pressured Sessions on FBI leaders

Trump challenges Sessions to investigate Obama, Democrats on Russia

Washington (CNN)Attorney General Jeff Sessions is unlikely to go anywhere soon, despite President Donald Trump’s public and private dressing-downs.The former Alabama senator and longtime Trump supporter is still “extraordinarily loyal” to the President, a source close to the attorney general said. Trump’s long-smoldering anger towards Sessions bubbled over once again on Wednesday, laying bare the President’s chronic antipathy towards the top law enforcement official. Trump has nursed a sour relationship with Sessions ever since the attorney general recused himself from all investigations into the 2016 campaign, including special counsel Robert Mueller’s expanding investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives bent on meddling in the election. Even in the face of Trump’s ire, Sessions has proved to be a key Cabinet member in effectuating Trump’s policy priorities. He has steadily rolled back a bevy of Obama-era initiatives on criminal justice issues, immigration, marijuana and transgender rights, while simultaneously defending all of Trump’s controversial executive orders (and tweets) in federal court. Sessions has also continually given Trump credit — by name — for the initiatives he pursues. Another factor ensuring Sessions’ spot atop the Justice Department: any confirmation battle for a new attorney general would be a protracted and deeply partisan fight. The nominee would come before the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Chuck Grassley — who defended Sessions previously — but recently erupted in anger when the attorney general came out against a renewed effort for criminal justice reform championed by the Iowa Republican. Justice Department leaders from previous administrations also continue to have Sessions’ back. Edwin Meese III, who served as President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general, penned a USA Today op-ed titled “Jeff Sessions is the most underrated member of the Trump administration.”

Continue reading “Sessions weathers yet another Trump Twitter taunt”

Mueller asking if Manafort promised banker White House job in return for loans

Federal investigators are probing whether former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort promised a Chicago banker a job in the Trump White House in return for $16 million in home loans, two people with direct knowledge of the matter told NBC News. Manafort received three separate loans in December 2016 and January 2017 from Federal Savings Bank for homes in New York City, Virginia and the Hamptons. The banker, Stephen Calk, president of the Federal Savings Bank, was announced as a member of candidate Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers in August 2016. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is now investigating whether there was a quid pro quo agreement between Manafort and Calk.

Manafort left the Trump campaign in August 2016 after the millions he had earned working for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine drew media scrutiny.

The sources say the three loans were questioned by other officials at the bank, and one source said that at least one of the bank employees who felt pressured into approving the deals is cooperating with investigators. In court filings Friday related to Manafort’s bail, federal prosecutors said they have “substantial evidence” that a loan made from the bank to Manafort using the Virginia and Hamptons properties as collateral was secured through false representations made by Manafort, including misstatements of income. When asked by NBC News if Manafort had lobbied the Trump transition team or the White House for a position for Calk, the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Calk did not return multiple calls and e-mails over a period of several weeks requesting a response, nor did the CEO of the public relations firm that represents the bank, The Harbinger Group. Jason Maloni, a spokesperson for Manafort, referred NBC News to his previous statements saying that Manafort’s loans were over-collateralized and above-market rate. He would not respond to specific questions regarding the Federal Savings Bank loans. Mueller’s office declined to comment. Between the Hamptons property and the Brooklyn property the Federal Savings Bank loaned Manafort $16 million or 5 percent of all of the bank’s loans, according to records kept by the FDIC. The loans were first examined by investigators and prosecutors working for Mueller, two people familiar with the probe told NBC News.

Italian election: Italy faces debt crisis WHOEVER wins vote

ALL of Italy’s political parties are set to send national debt soaring by more than 130 percent of GDP despite promises to cut it down, according to analysis ahead of the election.

Italy election

Italy faces a debt crisis whoever wins the general election on March 4, according to new analysis

Scrutiny of the Italian parties’ election manifestos shows the cost of carrying out their pledges will dwarf current spending and make sovereign debt soar, making Italy’s financial crisis more “explosive” than ever. A study by Italian newspaper la Repubblica shows Matteo Renzi’s Partito Democratico (PD), for example, is expected to fall back on its promise to reduce debt from 131 percent to 118 in 2022, highlighting that debt would increase to 134 percent should he carry out his manifesto pledges. Antonella Guerrero, a journalist for the paper, said the reason the party cannot reach its 2022 target is because PD sounds unclear about the financial provision of its promises – after pledging expansionary fiscal policy measures for about £33.5billion (€38bn). The insight into the challenge Italy’s parties face to halt the country’s declining economy comes as registered overseas voters started to send back their completed ballots yesterday ahead of the March 4 general election.Writing on Twitter, Mr Guerrero said: “This study can explain why #Italy politics sounds so surreal sometimes. Everyone is promising everything without any credible financial cover.  “Moreover, party programs are kinda meaningless as no one will be likely able to govern alone. So subsequent coalitions will change all.” Mr Guerrero warned that European Union leaders who are following the election closely will not be content with the promises being made. Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI) made several unlikely promises according to the study, such as doubling all of Italy’s minimum pensions.

Mueller ups pressure on Trump campaign aides with a new charge

Special counsel Robert Mueller (2nd L) leaves after a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee June 21, 2017 at the Capitol in Washington, DC.
Getty Images Special counsel Robert Mueller (2nd L) leaves after a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee June 21, 2017 at the Capitol in Washington, DC.

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Tuesday stepped up pressure on two former Trump campaign aides to cooperate in his probe into possible collusion with Russia, unsealing a criminal charge against a lawyer for lying to Mueller’s investigators. The attorney, Alex van der Zwaan, the son-in-law of one of Russia’s richest men, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to a charge of lying to the Special Counsel’s office. A U.S. judge set his sentencing for April 3. The case involves work that van der Zwaan, a 33-year-old Dutch citizen, performed in 2012 about Ukraine for Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, senior officials in Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign. The two former aides have been charged with conspiracy to launder money and failure to register as foreign agents in connection with work for a pro-Russia Ukrainian party. The charge against van der Zwaan makes no reference to Trump’s campaign or the 2016 election.

But legal experts said the charge would put more pressure on the former Trump aides to cooperate with Mueller as he looks into whether Russia tried to influence the election in favor of Trump by hacking the emails of leading Democrats and distributing disinformation and propaganda online.

Last year, U.S. intelligence agencies found that Russia had meddled in the election and that its goals eventually included aiding Trump who won a surprise victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. The lawyer’s case appears to underscore the extent of Mueller’s probe and of his interpretation of how far and wide he can investigate. Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager for almost five months in 2016, and Gates, who was deputy campaign manager, pleaded not guilty last year to Mueller’s charges. Lawyer van der Zwaan’s father-in-law is Russian billionaire German Khan, the founder of the privately-owned Alfa Bank. Even if van der Zwaan “is only cooperating against Paul Manafort, that could be very valuable in the big picture. Prosecutors typically very methodically start with low-level offenders and try to work their way up the chain,” said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. “My guess is he is cooperating.”

A one-time associate of Mueller described the former Federal Bureau of Investigation director as a “boa constrictor,” whose investigative strategy involves progressively increasing the pressure on his targets. The associate spoke on condition of anonymity.

Continue reading “Mueller ups pressure on Trump campaign aides with a new charge”

GM proposes $2.8 billion, 10-year investment in South Korea: government official

FILE PHOTO: A worker checks cars made by GM Korea in a yard of GM Korea’s Bupyeong plant before they are transported to a port for export, in Incheon, west of Seoul August 9, 2013. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won/File Photo

SEOUL, Feb 21 (Reuters) – General Motors has proposed an investment of $2.8 billion into its loss-making South Korean operations over the next 10 years and has asked Seoul to provide its share of the funds, a South Korean government official said on Wednesday.The U.S. automaker announced last week it would shut down a factory in Gunsan, southwest of Seoul, and that it was mulling the fate of its three remaining plants in South Korea.  GM owns 77 percent of its South Korean unit GM Korea, while state-run Korea Development Bank (KDB) owns a 17 percent stake. GM’s main Chinese partner, SAIC Motor Corp Ltd ( controls the remaining 6.0 percent.The official, who had direct knowledge of the matter, said GM had asked South Korea to inject funds into GM Korea through KDB. On the basis of its shareholding, KDB would provide around $476 million in investment.  The $2.8 billion investment proposal is separate from a roughly $2.7 billion debt-for-equity swap GM is offering to get financial support and tax benefits from Seoul, the official and a lawmaker said. Reuters first reported the details of that part of the plan on Tuesday. South Korea’s trade minister, Paik Un-gyu, told parliament on Wednesday the government had first asked for an audit into GM’s “opaque” operations in the country, which directly employ some 16,000 workers. Nick Bit: SHIT! at first i though GM was going to spend 3 billion dollars in Detroit. SHIT that would make America great again. But then i looked a little closer and figured out GM was using that tax break money in KOREA. I am sure Donald will kick their ass whne he finds out. Talk about unAmercia……… KOREA?

The unwitting: The Trump supporters used by Russia

Who are the citizens hired by Russian trolls?

Harry Miller was paid as much as $1,000 by the Russians to build a cage that was used to depict a person dressed as Hillary Clinton in a prison cell at a rally in West Palm Beach, Florida in August 2016. The stunt was part of an elaborate scheme run by the Internet Research Agency, a troll group in St Petersburg, Russia with links to the Kremlin, that was designed to undermine the American political system, according to a new federal indictment. The agency and thirteen Russian nationals associated with it were named in the indictment, which was made public by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office on Friday. In early August 2016, the indictment says, the Internet Research Agency began reaching out to Trump supporters in Florida to organize a statewide “flashmob” that it dubbed “Florida goes Trump.” The group used its “Being Patriotic” Facebook page, which was designed to look like it was run by real Americans, along with Instagram and Twitter accounts, to organize and publicize the event. The people behind the “Being Patriotic” page reached out to Miller, a vocal Trump supporter who lived in Florida at the time. Miller agreed to build a cage on the back of his flatbed truck and was paid somewhere between $500 and $1,000 to cover the cost of materials, he told CNN. Miller said he had multiple phone calls with people from the group. He noticed that a man with whom he spoke did not speak English fluently, he told CNN, but assumed he was speaking to a first-generation immigrant who supported Trump.

Continue reading “The unwitting: The Trump supporters used by Russia”

S. Korea To Support ‘Normal Transactions’ In Cryptocurrencies

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South Korea apparently relaxed its stance on cryptocurrencies as the country’s financial services watchdog said the government will support “normal transactions” in such currencies. The comment by Choe Heung-sik, governor of the Financial Supervisory Service, boosted the sentiment in the market, sending prices of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin higher. Further, the top official said the government will encourage banks to make transactions with cryptocurrency exchanges, the state-funded Yonhap news agency reported. A leading market for cryptocurrency trading, South Korea adopted several regulatory measures to curb the excessive speculation in cryptocurrencies. Such moves caused concern in the cryptocurrency market, driving prices of Bitcoin and its peers down early this year. The country has witnessed intense interest in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin with its citizens, both young and old, investing heavily in these with the hope of making a quick profit. South Korea also hosts several cryptocurrency exchanges, which are largely unregulated. Prices of cryptocurrencies in the country tend to be much higher than elsewhere, reportedly over 40 percent, as buyers exceed those willing to sell. Such premium is called “Kimchi premium” in the local media, in an allusion to the famous Korean dish of spicy pickled cabbage. Late January, the government implemented regulations that require the use of real name accounts for digital currency trading.Consequently, local banks are reportedly reluctant to open virtual accounts for cryptocurrency trading, Yonhap said.

 

 

Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner unaffected by security clearance crackdown, White House says

White House Senior adviser Jared Kushner sits behind U.S. President Donald Trump during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 1, 2017.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters White House Senior adviser Jared Kushner sits behind U.S. President Donald Trump during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 1, 2017.

WASHINGTON — A crackdown on security clearances at the White House won’t have any impact on the work of Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law and senior adviser who’s been working on an interim security clearance for more than a year, the White House said Tuesday. “I can tell you that nothing that has taken place will affect the valuable work that Jared is doing,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday. “He continues, and will continue, to be a valued member of the team.” Attention focused on Kushner’s security clearance after White House Chief of Staff John Kelly announced changes to the security clearance process last Friday. That move followed revelations that former White House staff secretary Rob Porter — whose job gave him access to classified presidential paperwork — was allowed to work with an interim security clearance despite allegations of domestic violence. There have been no similar allegations against Kushner. But he has had to amend a national security questionnaire after failing to disclose contacts with Russian nationals and others. One official overseeing security clearances for the Office of Personnel Management told Congress last week he had “never seen that level of mistakes.” Sanders said Tuesday that doesn’t mean that there are necessarily any problems with his FBI background check. “First of all, I’m not aware of any red flags, and I think it’s irresponsible to suggest that without having seen any individual’s file,” she said. She declined to say whether President Trump would overrule any determination by the White House Personnel Security Office denying Kushner — or anyone else — a permanent clearance.Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, said he’s been told there are at least a dozen other senior White House officials also working on interim clearances, and that no specific concerns had been raised about Kushner’s application. Kushner’s national security portfolio includes the Middle East peace process. Late Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Kushner and Kelly clashed over the security clearance and that Kushner believed that Kelly had targeted him personally.

Kushner Resists Losing Access as Kelly Tackles Security Clearance Issues

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, is one of dozens of White House officials operating under interim security clearances because of issues raised by the F.B.I. during their background checks, officials say. Credit Tom Brenner/The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, is resisting giving up his access to highly classified information, prompting an internal struggle with John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, over who should be allowed to see some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets, according to White House officials and others briefed on the matter. Mr. Kushner is one of dozens of White House officials operating under interim security clearances because of issues raised by the F.B.I. during their background checks, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the clearances. The practice has drawn added scrutiny because of Rob Porter, the former staff secretary who resigned under pressure this month after domestic abuse allegations against him became public.  Now Mr. Kelly, his job at risk and his reputation as an enforcer of order and discipline tarnished by the scandal, is working to revamp the security clearance process, starting with an effort to strip officials who have interim clearances of their high-level access. In a memo issued on Friday, Mr. Kelly said he would revoke top clearances for anyone whose background check had been pending since June 1 or earlier, and review such clearances every month thereafter.

Mr. Kushner, frustrated about the security clearance issue and concerned that Mr. Kelly has targeted him personally with the directive, has told colleagues at the White House that he is reluctant to give up his high-level access, the officials said. In the talks, the officials say, Mr. Kushner has insisted that he maintain his current level of access, including the ability to review the daily intelligence briefing when he sees fit.

But Mr. Kelly, who has been privately dismissive of Mr. Kushner since taking the post of chief of staff but has rarely taken him on directly, has made no guarantees, saying only that the president’s son-in-law will still have all the access he needs to do his job under the new system. “As I told Jared days ago, I have full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio including overseeing our Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of our relationship with Mexico,” Mr. Kelly said in a statement the White House released on Tuesday in which he refused to address Mr. Kushner’s security clearance or elaborate on his memo.

The questions surrounding Mr. Kushner’s clearance are particularly acute because of the possibility that his extensive contacts with foreign actors — including travel, meetings with leaders overseas and multiple business ventures — might be relevant to the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Kushner initially failed to disclose scores of those contacts on the standard form required for all prospective government officials, and has since amended his submission, substantially delaying his background check. That meant that his background information was not submitted in its entirety until June, after the June 1 cutoff that Mr. Kelly set in his memo.

Russian Troll Farm Won Trump the Election

“How is it that these Russian operatives knew to focus on purple states like Michigan and Wisconsin? Because Trump Jr, Flynn and Kushner were directing the Russian troll farm.
US officials briefed on the probe had told CNN that points of focus related to Kushner, the White House senior adviser and son-in-law of President Donald Trump, included the Trump campaign’s 2016 data analytics operation, his relationship with former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Kushner’s own contacts with Russians. Mueller’s investigators have been asking questions, including during interviews in January and February, about Kushner’s conversations during the transition to shore up financing for 666 Fifth Avenue, a Kushner Companies-backed New York City office building reeling from financial troubles, according to people familiar with the special counsel investigation.
Bottom line: the Russians did collude with the Trump campaign. They did use their troll farm to win Trump the election. And the king and all the kings men did engage in a massive cover up.  That my friend is game, set and match. Trump will resign or be impeached. And yes he has been compromised by the Russians and that is why he refuses to issue ANY sanctions against the Russians.

Attorney admits he lied to Mueller’s federal agents

WASHINGTON (AP) — An attorney linked to a former Trump campaign official admitted Tuesday he lied to federal investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller. Alex van der Zwaan, who worked at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom until he was fired last year, appeared at the federal courthouse in Washington where he formally pleaded guilty to a single charge of making false statements.  The charge does not involve election meddling or relate to the Trump campaign’s operations. It stems from a part of the special counsel’s investigation into Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair, and Rick Gates, a former campaign aide and longtime business associate of Manafort. Manafort and Gates are accused of directing a covert Washington lobbying campaign on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian interests. The lobbying effort was part of political consulting work that Manafort and Gates carried out before they joined the Trump campaign.  Gates and Manafort were indicted last year and accused of conspiring to launder millions of dollars they earned from political consulting work in Ukraine. Both have pleaded not guilty. Van der Zwaan is accused of lying to investigators about his interactions with Gates during an interview with the FBI late last year, according to court papers.  Van der Zwaan’s plea comes on the heels of an extraordinary indictment from Mueller last week that charged 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies in a hidden social media effort to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by denigrating Democrat Hillary Clinton and boosting the chances of Trump. According to the court filing, prosecutors say van der Zwaan lied about his role in the production of a report on the trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. She is a political foe of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, whose political party was a client of Gates and Manafort.  Van der Zwaan is accused of lying during an interview with prosecutors and FBI agents on Nov. 3, 2017, about the timing of his last communication with Gates and an unidentified person described as “Person A.” Van der Zwaan told investigators that he last texted with Gates in mid-August 2016 and his last contact with Person A was in 2014 when he discussed the person’s family. But prosecutors say that wasn’t true.  In fact, they say he had discussed the Tymoshenko report with Gates and Person A in September 2016 during a phone call that he surreptitiously recorded. They also say Van der Zwaan deleted emails sought by the special counsel’s office, including one between him and Person A from September 2016. The Tymoshenko report was cited in the 12-count indictment against Manafort and Gates. It accuses the two men of acting as unregistered lobbyists in connection with the rollout of the report, which was commissioned by the Ukrainian government. According to the indictment, Manafort and Gates “used one of their offshore accounts to funnel $4 million to pay secretly for the report.”  The report was authored by the law firm, Skadden, Arps. Van der Zwaan’s now-defunct LinkedIn page lists him as an associate in the London office of the law firm. On Tuesday, Skadden Arps released a statement saying it had fired van der Zwaan last year. The firm said it “has been cooperating with authorities in connection with this matter.” It did not say what led to the firing. The charging document notes that the emails van der Zwaan is accused of deleting and withholding from the special counsel’s office were also sought by the law firm, which is referred to as “Law Firm A.” Last year, van der Zwaan married the daughter of Ukrainian-Russian billionaire German Khan, according to the Russian editions of Forbes and Tatler magazines.

Walmart profit drops, online sales slow in key holiday quarter

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – Retail behemoth Walmart Inc (WMT.N) on Tuesday reported a lower-than-expected quarterly profit and posted a sharp drop in online sales growth during the critical holiday period, sending its shares slumping more than 6 percent in premarket trade. Even as comparable sales in the U.S. market rose for the 14th consecutive quarter, Walmart’s online sales grew 23 percent in the holiday quarter, slower than the previous quarter’s 50 percent increase.The retailer said much of the online slowdown was planned as it continued to invest in growing the business but also cited operational problems around inventory replenishment that hurt sales growth.  Excluding special items that crimped profits such as restructuring charges and an impact from offering a one-time bonus to employees, earnings came to $1.33 per share in the fourth quarter ended Jan. 31. The average analyst estimate was $1.37 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.Net income dropped 42.1 percent to $2.18 billion from $3.76 billion. Consolidated operating income fell 28 percent to $4.5 billion.  In January, the retailer said it would raise the minimum wage for hourly employees to $11 an hour and offered a one-time bonus to store employees as it benefited from the new U.S. tax law. Analysts said the company’s price war with Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) also weighed on margins. In November, Walmart’s prices were within striking distance of matching Amazon’s for the first time. Sales at U.S. stores open at least a year rose 2.6 percent, excluding fuel price fluctuations, while the market expected a rise of 2 percent, according to Consensus Metrix. The retailer has recorded more than three straight years of U.S. growth, unmatched by any other retailer. Total revenue increased 4.1 percent to $136.3 billion, beating analysts’ estimates of $134.9 billion.

OPEC calls for $10 trillion in investment to guarantee adequate oil supply

Injection of trillions needed by 2040 as demand grows, says UAE’s Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui
AFP/Getty Images

The oil industry collectively needs at least $10 trillion in fresh investment by 2040 to ensure there is enough supply to meet demand from the world’s growing population, the president of OPEC said. Speaking in London on Tuesday, UAE Energy Minister Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui — who holds the presidency of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in 2018 — called for the investment as the market starts to rebalance after years of oversupply. “This year is going to be an interesting year, where we are expecting to achieve the balance in the market between supply and demand, and most important, to see some significant investments come into the sector,” al-Mazroui said at the International Petroleum Week conference. Money should go to projects such as replacing declining fields, he said, noting that OPEC is eager to begin, given the timeline. “We are talking about 22 years [until 2040], and we know it takes about five years from deciding to invest to finalize the project. So I think we as OPEC are keen to see this restoration in the market and to work with everyone,” he said. The producer group’s president’s comments come as BP PLC  released its annual energy outlook, which shows the peak in oil demand coming sooner than previously seen as renewables shoulder a bigger share of the burden. The global appetite for oil and other liquid fuels will keep increasing until about 2035 to reach 110.3 million barrels a day, BP said in its main outlook scenario Tuesday, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Demand will then flatline before dwindling in the years to 2040, it predicted. Previously, BP had forecast that demand for crude oil would keep growing until the 2040s. In its annual World Outlook published in November, OPEC said that the appetite for oil would hit 111.1 million barrels a day in 2040, driven by high population growth and a growing middle class in developing countries. Even as stepped-up U.S. shale-oil production threatens to hurt its efforts to rebalance the market, OPEC has committed to sticking with petroleum output cuts for the rest of 2018. The cartel and 10 allies, including Russia, renewed their pact to cut production in November, helping push prices  as high as $70 in January. Al-Mazroui said Tuesday there is an “aspiration” that OPEC and the group of noncartel countries in the output deal can continue their cooperation beyond 2018.

SpaceX gets U.S. regulator to back satellite internet plan

FILE PHOTO: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft onboard, launches from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2017. NASA/Bill Ingalls/Handout/Files via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Elon Musk’s SpaceX, fresh off the successful launch this month of the world’s most powerful rocket, won an endorsement on Wednesday from the top U.S. communications regulator to build a broadband network using satellites Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed the approval of an application by SpaceX to provide broadband services using satellites in the United States and worldwide. “Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach,” Pai said in a statement.SpaceX told the FCC in a Feb. 1 letter that it plans to launch a pair of experimental satellites on one of its Falcon 9 rockets. That launch, already approved by the FCC, is set for Saturday in California.  The rocket will carry the PAZ satellite for Hisdesat of Madrid, Spain and multiple smaller secondary payloads. Pai said after a staff review he was urging approval for SpaceX, saying: ”it would be the first approval given to an American-based company to provide broadband services using a new generation of low-Earth orbit satellite technologies.”Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said satellite internet service shows great promise. “They will multiply the number of satellites in the skies, creating extraordinary new opportunities …The FCC should move quickly to facilitate these new services while underscoring our commitment to space safety,” she said.  Over the past year, the FCC has approved requests by OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat to access the U.S. market to provide broadband services using satellite technology that, the FCC said, “holds promise to expand Internet access in remote and rural areas across the country.” The approvals are the first of their kind, the FCC said, for “a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems.” It said it is also processing similar requests.In January, Telesat launched a satellite operated by the Indian Space Research Organization to deliver “high-performing, cost-effective, fiber-like broadband anywhere in the world” and will conduct trials this year. The initial deployment will consist of approximately 120 satellites by 2021, said privately held Telesat, principally owned by Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investment Board and Loral Space & Communications Inc.

Exclusive: Mueller’s interest in Kushner grows to include foreign financing efforts

Washington (CNN)Special counsel Robert Mueller’s interest in Jared Kushner has expanded beyond his contacts with Russia and now includes his efforts to secure financing for his company from foreign investors during the presidential transition, according to people familiar with the inquiry. This is the first indication that Mueller is exploring Kushner’s discussions with potential non-Russian foreign investors, including in China. US officials briefed on the probe had told CNN in May that points of focus related to Kushner, the White House senior adviser and son-in-law of President Donald Trump, included the Trump campaign’s 2016 data analytics operation, his relationship with former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Kushner’s own contacts with Russians. including during interviews in January and February, about Kushner’s conversations during the transition to shore up financing for 666 Fifth Avenue, a Kushner Companies-backed New York City office building reeling from financial troubles, according to people familiar with the special counsel investigation. During the presidential transition, Kushner was a lead contact for foreign governments, speaking to “over fifty contacts with people from over fifteen countries,” according to a statement he gave to congressional investigators.One line of questioning from Mueller’s team involves discussions Kushner had with Chinese investors during the transition, according to the sources familiar with the inquiry.  A week after Trump’s election, Kushner met with the chairman and other executives of Anbang Insurance, the Chinese conglomerate that also owns the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, according to The New York Times. At the time, Kushner and Anbang’s chairman, Wu Xiaohui, were close to finishing a deal for the Chinese insurer to invest in the flagship Kushner Companies property, 666 Fifth Avenue. Talks between the two companies collapsed in March, according to the Times. Mueller’s team has also asked about Kushner’s dealings with a Qatari investor regarding the same property, according to one of the sources.

Kushner and his company were negotiating for financing from a prominent Qatari investor, former prime minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, according to The Intercept. But as with Anbang, these efforts stalled.
Kushner had bought the property in 2007 in a mostly debt deal valued at a record $1.8 billion. The building came under financial pressure during the housing crisis, and in 2011 Vornado Realty Trust stepped in with financing, taking on a 49.5% stake in the building. The office tower shoulders more than $1.4 billion in debt, according to a report Vornado released in March. Vornado last week disclosed its intention to sell its stake in a regulatory filing, saying, “We do not intend to hold this asset on a long-term basis.”
Representatives for Kushner and Anbang declined to comment.
Also during the transition, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, chairman of Russian state-run Vnesheconombank. Kushner testified on Capitol Hill that the meeting was for official US government purposes. But the Russian bank maintains that the sit-down in New York was part of their “roadshow of business meetings” and that Gorkov met Kushner because he ran Kushner Companies.
The Washington Post reported that Mueller’s investigators are scrutinizing this meeting. Last fall, Kushner turned over documents pertaining to the campaign and transition to both Mueller and congressional investigators, sources told CNN in November. Kushner spoke to investigators in November for less than two hours, and the dominant topic was Michael Flynn, according to two people familiar with the meeting who spoke to CNN at the time. Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with the investigation, attended some of Kushner’s meetings with foreign nationals. Under his plea deal, Flynn is obligated to tell Mueller’s investigators everything he knows about these meetings.

US Treasury Posts Gigantic $1.16 Trillion Shortfall in Fiscal 2017

Just add tax cuts and ballooning expenditures. The media chose to silence the report to death.  

Treasury Department’s “Fiscal Year 2017 Financial Report of the U.S. Government” February 15 release of the report:  Here’s a summary of the salient data points of the FY 2017 Financial Report of the U.S. Government (full PDF).

  • “Net cost” before taxes and other revenues rose by $129 billion year-over-year, or 2.9%, to $4.5 trillion.
  • Tax and other revenues grew by $29.3 billion year-over-year, or 0.9%, to $3.4 trillion.
  • The difference, the Net Operating Cost or the “bottom line,” as the report calls it, soared 10% year-over-year to $1.157 trillion.
  • The Budget Deficit, a different measure, grew by $78.3 billion, or 13.3%, to $665.7 billion.

The Budget Deficit increased for the second year in a row

And this is how the $4.5 trillion in costs were divvied up:

  • 24% Department of Health and Human services
  • 22% Social Security
  • 15% Department of Defense
  • 11% Department of Veterans Affairs
  • 22% All other
  • 6% Interest on Treasury Securities held by the public

That $1.156 trillion in Net Operating Cost occurred in fiscal 2017. But these are the good times, the boom years, if you will, when shortfalls should shrink into oblivion. So what will happen to the shortfall when the economy slows down or goes into a recession? That was a rhetorical question.

For fiscal 2018 and going forward, the tax cuts will lower revenues by about $150 billion per year on average over the next ten years. And for fiscal 2018 and 2019, Congress passed the two-year budget resolution that will add about $150 billion on average per year to the outlays. Both combined will drive up the deficit by about $300 billion a year on average.

Bill Bergman, at Truth in Accounting, chimes in again with “some takeaways” from the report, namely the government’s persistent inability to provide accurate and auditable financial statements, particularly the Defense Department and the Energy Department (which handles much of the expenditures related to nuclear weapons programs):

The GAO {Government Accountability Office] delivered another disclaimer of opinion on the government-wide financial statements. This was the 20th consecutive year for what is effectively a flunk on your audit. GAO cited material weaknesses in “accounting for intergovernmental activity,” an “ineffective consolidation process,” and “serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense” that prevent the statements from being auditable.

 Nick Bit: Their will be  four rate hikes this year. And it will drive the economy into a recession at least and I believe a deep dark depression.

JP Morgan slashes GDP estimate to 2.5% after ‘hotter than Hades’ inflation report

Economists mark down first-quarter GDP
Economists mark down first-quarter GDP 

J.P. Morgan slashed expectations for U.S. economic growth in the first quarter thanks to Wednesday’s “hotter than Hades” inflation reading and “ugly” retail sales numbers. The bank’s chief U.S. economist explained that the Labor Department’s “scorching” core consumer price index measure likely means an emboldened Federal Reserve. “While it is still early going, we are taking down our outlook for first-quarter gross domestic product from 3.0 percent to 2.5 percent,” wrote economist Michael Feroli. “Today’s inflation reading should probably cement in place the Fed’s intent to hike rates at the March FOMC meeting.”

The economist added that core CPI posted a 0.349 percent monthly gain, its largest month-over-month gain since 2005.

The odds of a March rate hike are now over 80 percent, according to the CME FedWatch tool. The Atlanta Fed also lowered its projection on Wednesday, calling for growth of 3.2 percent in the first quarter versus prior expectations of 4 percent on Feb. 9. Inflation fears have spooked investors in recent weeks after a strong January jobs report ignited interest rates and sent the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 into correction territory. Classical economics holds that excessive fiscal stimulus in the form of tax cuts or government spending temporarily elevates GDP while prices adjust to catch up to increased output. “We now also think the odds are moving up that [the Fed’s bankers] also revise their guidance at that [March] meeting from looking for three hikes this year to four, aligning with our view,” Feroli added.

The economist also took time to highlight an “ugly” January retail sales report. January retail sales fell unexpectedly in their biggest drop since last February, sliding 0.3 percent. Sales were revised down to flat in December and down to 0.8 percent in November, Feroli said.

“The revisions take our tracking of fourth-quarter GDP from 2.6 percent to 2.4 percent,” he added.

Fannie Mae to turn to taxpayers after $6.5 billion loss

A ‘great policy failure’ that the two institutions at the heart of the financial crisis are still in losing MONEY, says one observer
Shutterstock Fannie Mae’s headquarters on Wisconsin Ave. in Washington D.C.

Mortgage finance provider Fannie Mae on Wednesday reported a fourth quarter net loss of $6.5 billion, a step that means it will draw billions from the U.S. Treasury. Fannie’s losses were a result of the 2017 tax legislation that slashed the corporate tax rate, making tax credits it held on its balance sheet worth less, resulting in a $9.9 billion provision. Fannie had net revenues of $5.5 billion in the last quarter, versus $6.2 billion in the year-ago period. Many large companies have had similar profit hits in the fourth quarter thanks to the tax changes, but few are in the same precarious position as Fannie  and its counterpart, Freddie Mac . In 2012, Congress directed both government-sponsored enterprises to send quarterly profits to the U.S. Treasury, ultimately reducing their capital to zero by the end of last year. Despite being long-expected and well-telegraphed, Fannie’s need for taxpayer dollars was a stark reminder that two companies at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis still represent unfinished business. “It has been a great policy failure to allow these enterprises to operate without capital reserves,” said Rob Zimmer, acting executive director of the Community Mortgage Lenders of America.

Washington’s response to the crisis was to force financial institutions to hold more and more capital, Zimmer pointed out – yet an opposite policy has been applied to two housing giants that have come to define “too big to fail.”

“It will have an impact when it appears we’re in for a series of quarterly draws,” such as during a recession, Zandi said. Over the past decade, Washington has attempted – but failed – to find a permanent fix for housing finance, to replace the Band-Aid that was slapped on at the height of the financial crisis. Several recent efforts have raised hopes that 2018 might be the year for an overhaul, but they’ve petered out recently. Zandi thinks Congress might need a recession “to focus the mind,” as he puts it. “That’s when there will be pressure to do something. That’s when markets will start to respond.” Nick Note: 10 years since the Financial crises (the Last One) and they are still losing money. And the next crises has already started.

 

Indictment Leaves No Doubt: Russia Backed Trump. But Was It the Difference?

Hillary Clinton during a campaign rally at Grand Valley State University in Michigan on the eve of the presidential election in 2016. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The detailed indictment of 13 Russians for intervening in the 2016 presidential election has rekindled a debate that had never fully gone away and now seems destined to become one of the great unresolved questions in American political history: Did Moscow tilt the election to Donald J. Trump? The 37-page indictment, revealing a sophisticated network that sought to bolster Mr. Trump and undermine Hillary Clinton by staging rallies and purchasing incendiary ads on social media, handed Democrats ammunition to claim that Mr. Trump’s success was illegitimate because it was buttressed by a foreign power. Yet even as it offered Mrs. Clinton and her advisers some measure of vindication by making clear that the Russians had supported Mr. Trump’s candidacy — an assertion he has long dismissed as a “hoax” — the indictment was also vexing to both Democrats and Republicans. Opponents of Mr. Trump do not yet have any conclusive proof that he colluded with the Russians. And Mr. Trump’s supporters must continue to contend with questions about whether his upset for the ages was the result of foul play. That has left both sides grappling with a new twist in a debate that has consumed the political universe since the revealing final hours of election night: How did he do it? The dispute is especially raw because of the razor-thin margin in the election and the uncertainty over what exactly tipped the balance. Mrs. Clinton, who handily won the national popular vote, lost the Electoral College vote and therefore the presidency because Mr. Trump defeated her by less than a combined 80,000 votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Few Democrats believe that Mr. Trump won solely as a result of Russia’s intervention. But many think the meddling exacerbated Mrs. Clinton’s challenges, making her more vulnerable to what some believe was the decisive blow: the announcement by James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director at the time, just over a week before the election that he was reopening the investigation into her use of a private email server.

“Russia succeeded in weakening her enough so that the Comey letter could knock her off,” said Jennifer Palmieri, who was Mrs. Clinton’s campaign communications director.

But veterans of Mr. Trump’s campaign shake their head at what they believe is an abiding sense of denial among Clinton loyalists over her deficiencies. No single factor was determinative in an election that brought nearly 140 million Americans to the polls. And the nation’s intelligence agencies say they do not have any way to calculate whether the Russian effort swung the election. Yet it is difficult for Republicans to contend that the multimillion-dollar Russian intervention had no impact, with 126 million Americans being exposed to Russian-sponsored posts on Facebook alone. The interference was not limited to the actions laid out by Mr. Mueller in the indictment of the 13 Russians linked to a “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency. According to the intelligence community, the Russian government supported the email hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the personal account of John D. Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman, as well as the disclosure of Mrs. Clinton’s paid speeches. The committee emails, leaked just before the Democratic National Convention, helped increase the rancor between supporters of Mrs. Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders.

And the Podesta emails, leaked slowly over the month of October, were doled out selectively, with a number of exchanges held back, according to two Clinton campaign officials. While there were plenty of anodyne messages in the trove, the hackers made sure to reveal the messages that maximized the appearance of D.N.C. behavior unfairly favoring Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

Further, a major factor in Mrs. Clinton’s loss of the three crucial Rust Belt states, which every Democratic nominee had carried since 1992, was a drop-off in turnout and the performance of third-party candidates. To Democrats, though, Mrs. Clinton’s shortcomings were precisely what Russia preyed on to undercut her campaign. “We will never be able to know for certain if the massive Russian operation was the difference between victory and defeat,” said Representative Brendan F. Boyle of Pennsylvania. “But there is one thing we absolutely can say with certainty: It was a factor. The Russians wouldn’t have devoted hundreds of people and tens of millions of dollars on this operation if it wasn’t having an effect.” Nick Bit: This was the closest elections in US history. It sure as shit is very likely that the Russians with the troll farm and the Wiliki Leaks got trump the win.

Stormy Daniels’ manager says the porn star ‘is going to tell her story’

Trump’s Lawyer Says Payment to Porn Star was to Protect Him, But From Who? Here’s Why it Matters

Michael Cohen‘s admission that he paid $130,000 to former adult film star Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) could have serious legal repercussions, not just for himself, but for his client, President Donald Trump. Cohen said that he paid Clifford, who once claimed to have had an affair with Trump after his wife Melania gave birth to their son, out of his own pocket, without any reimbursement from the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization. The campaign was hit with an FEC complaint for the payment, alleging that it was an illegal campaign contribution because it exceeded the maximum allowed for donations. Cohen insisted that his payment should not be considered a campaign contribution, basing his argument on the involvement of the campaign, or lack thereof, but it could really come down to what exactly Cohen was trying to accomplish with the payment. It stands to reason that the payment to Clifford was to keep her from speaking out about the alleged affair, but who would Cohen have been trying to keep the story from: Democrats and voters, or Trump’s wife and family?

This is important, because the very definition of “contribution” is, “any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.”

Purpose matters. If Cohen made the payment to save Trump’s campaign, that could be a violation. If he did it to save his family, that’s another story. The story, and this issue, are uncannily similar to that of John Edwards, who faced criminal charges after payments were made to his mistress while he ran for president. Edwards denied having anything to do with the payments, and his defense team said at his trial that any desire to keep his affair secret was to keep it from his wife, not to protect his campaign. That question of intent was enough to keep a jury from convicting Edwards, and it could be enough to keep Cohen and Trump safe too. Cohen said in a statement the payment was meant to protect his client, even though the story of the affair wasn’t even true. “Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage,” he said. “I will always protect Mr. Trump.” But protect him from what? What kind of harm or damage is he talking about? The payment was made in 2016 before the presidential election, so one could easily assume that Cohen didn’t want the story to be all over the media because it could cost him votes. At the same time, the alleged affair took place right while Trump and his wife were married, right after Melania gave birth, so it would make sense that he wanted to keep it away from her.

The FEC has the opportunity to determine whether the payment might be an illegal contribution. In the Edwards case, there was enough evidence for the case to go to trial. So to, the question of whether Michael Cohen was trying to keep Clifford’s story from Trump’s opponents and potential voters, or his wife and kids could end up before a jury.

Trump’s Attorneys Are Turning on Each Other Over Mueller’s Russiagate Investigation

Two of President Donald Trump’s most trusted attorneys are increasingly at odds with one another–over personal and professional issues–and at least one of those attorneys has started to badmouth his colleague to the press. Donald “Don” McGahn and Ty Cobb were both brought into the Trump White House early on in the administration. McGahn was chosen for his allegiance to Trump and so-called scrappiness on the campaign trail. Cobb was brought in as a D.C. insider with a reputation for keeping things on an even keel. Each attorney would be instrumental as the Russiagate investigation moved forward. Hopes were high. But according to a Wednesday report in the Washington Post, the two aren’t quite getting along as planned. As the Russiagate investigation kicked into high gear, McGahn wanted Cobb to tell Robert Mueller ‘No.’ That is, McGahn tried to limit his personal exposure–and, of course, Trump’s exposure–to Mueller and his army of attorneys. Telling Mueller–or any investigator/prosecutor–‘No’ would have been a bit perfunctory for an attorney and theoretically simple enough. All Cobb had to do was assert attorney-client privilege or work-product privilege over White House Counsel staff and communications. This would probably have kept Mueller and his team at bay–at least for awhile. However, such a move–stonewalling Mueller–would likely have been extremely poor optics no matter how much it might have plausibly protected McGahn, his work and the White House at large. Ty Cobb ultimately did say ‘No’–but he said it to Donald McGahn. Instead, Cobb waived all potential privileges and told Mueller that McGahn and his staff would make themselves available for questioning and answer all of the special prosecutor’s questions without asserting any privileges whatsoever. So much for McGahn’s attempted stonewall. After two days of being grilled by Mueller in December, McGahn was apparently exhausted and then complained to friends that he’d been “thrown to the wolves” by Cobb. As a result of Cobb’s eagerness to cooperate with the special counsel investigation, Mueller and his team interviewed seven additional White House attorneys on top of McGahn. And that’s not all. McGahn’s beef with Cobb over the Mueller discussions is believed to be an illustrative anecdote. On numerous occasions McGahn has told people that Cobb “is not a careful lawyer,” according to the Washington Post. His reasoning? McGahn believes Cobb isn’t doing the proper due diligence viz. carefully reviewing documents. McGahn also apparently thinks Cobb is not sufficiently preparing individuals before they testify. But McGahn’s alleged antipathy toward Cobb goes far beyond legal wrangling and judgment calls. In private, McGahn has questioned out-loud whether Cobb is the source of negative stories about him being leaked to the media.

We can’t continue!’ Leaving the EU is the ONLY way to save France, warns Le Pen’s ex-aide

THE only way to save France is to follow in Britain’s footsteps and leave the EU, a former aide of Marine Le Pen has warned. Far-right chief Marine Le Pen’s former aide Florian Philippot has called for France to leave the EU, before hailing patriotism as the policy of the future. 
Marine Le Pen’s former aide Florian Philippot believes that France should hold a ‘Frexit’ referendum

Leaving the EU and organising a Frexit referendum “is our only route to salvation,” Mr Philippot, the head of the newly launched Les Patriotes (The Patriots) movement, told a crowd of supporters at the party’s first congress in the northern French town of Arras.  He said: “We cannot continue telling our fellow compatriots that reforming Europe will solve France’s problems, that we can make do with the euro or with Schengen.” Mr Philippot quit the Front National party last September over Mrs Le Pen’s decision to tone down her anti-Europe rhetoric following her crushing election defeat against president Emmanuel Macron last spring.  He also accused the FN of taking a “terrifying backward slide to its old demons,” sparking outage among Le Pen loyalists.  He said: “Patriotism is the future. Patriotism stands for peace and unity, Patriotism is the only thing that can reconcile what remains of the left and what remains of the right.  “Their love for France is the one thing [the French left and right] have in common.” The hardline conservative added extremist parties were a “dead end,” before slamming his opponents.  Mr Philippot said Emmanuel Macron’s ruling La République en Marche (La REM) party was a “big democratic marshmallow,” – a possible reference to the party’s alleged lack of substance –, adding the centre-right Les Républicains party was “more divided than ever” and that the FN was stuck in a rut and “pathetic”.  Le Pen campaign director: Frexit would bring more jobs to FranceMrs Le Pen ex-adviser also weighed in on the migrant crisis, saying that mass immigration “has to stop” because “it is sucking the country dry”.  Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, for his part, sent his French counterpart a video message wishing him “bonne chance” for his new role as the leader of Les Patriotes ahead of the party’s first congress, before urging him to “be patient” and to “never doubt” his ability to succeed.   

Our democracy is in serious danger.

Photo

President Trump in Washington on Friday. Credit Tom Brenner/The New York Times

President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool, or both, but either way he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy. That is, either Trump’s real estate empire has taken large amounts of money from shady oligarchs linked to the Kremlin — so much that they literally own him; or rumors are true that he engaged in sexual misbehavior while he was in Moscow running the Miss Universe contest, which Russian intelligence has on tape and he doesn’t want released; or Trump actually believes Russian President Vladimir Putin when he says he is innocent of intervening in our elections — over the explicit findings of Trump’s own C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. chiefs.

In sum, Trump is either hiding something so threatening to himself, or he’s criminally incompetent to be commander in chief. It is impossible yet to say which explanation for his behavior is true, but it seems highly likely that one of these scenarios explains Trump’s refusal to respond to Russia’s direct attack on our system

— a quiescence that is simply unprecedented for any U.S. president in history. Russia is not our friend. It has acted in a hostile manner. And Trump keeps ignoring it all. Up to now, Trump has been flouting the norms of the presidency. Now Trump’s behavior amounts to a refusal to carry out his oath of office — to protect and defend the Constitution. Here’s an imperfect but close analogy: It’s as if George W. Bush had said after 9/11: “No big deal. I am going golfing over the weekend in Florida and blogging about how it’s all the Democrats’ fault — no need to hold a National Security Council meeting.” At a time when the special prosecutor Robert Mueller — leveraging several years of intelligence gathering by the F.B.I., C.I.A. and N.S.A. — has brought indictments against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups — all linked in some way to the Kremlin — for interfering with the 2016 U.S. elections, America needs a president who will lead our nation’s defense against this attack on the integrity of

Goldman Sachs sees red ink everywhere, warns US spending could push up rates and debt levels

 Federal deficit spending is headed toward “uncharted territory,” the firm said on Sunday, suggesting that the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans may not be able to count on the economic boost of tax reform for very long.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies on 'The Annual Report of the Financial Stability Oversight Council' before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill February 6, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies on ‘The Annual Report of the Financial Stability Oversight Council’ before the House Financial Services Committee

Goldman Sachs sees a tidal wave of red ink — and it may drag the U.S. economy into its undertow. In the wake of an ambitious infrastructure plan and a budget that drew fire from virtually all sides, Goldman Sachs said in a note to clients that the federal deficit would reach 5.2 percent of U.S. growth by 2019, and would “continue climbing gradually from there.” The GOP is counting heavily on the fiscal stimulus provided by tax reform—many companies have announced investment plans and doled out bonuses, even as the majority of taxpayers enjoy lower rates—to insulate them from a restive public in November. Polls suggest that Republicans may lose control of Congress, and President Donald Trump’s own poll numbers hover below 50 percent in most polls. Goldman Sachs warned that the economic impetus from tax reform may have diminishing returns after this year. “The fiscal expansion should boost growth by around 0.7pp in 2018 and 0.6pp in 2019, but will likely come to an end after that”—listing a litany of reasons why spending and debt would conspire to undermine the world’s largest economy.

While tax cuts are partly responsible, Goldman stated that “projected increases in mandatory spending—this includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and income support programs—are primarily responsible” for an unsustainable surge in spending.

The dire fiscal backdrop comes against Trump’s spending plans, which have created plenty of critics on the right and left. In a weekly podcast, Caleb Brown, a scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute, branded the Trump administration spending and infrastructure spending “budget buster[s]” saying that overall spending was “very likely” to rise in the coming years despite isolated cuts. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the level of U.S. debt to gross domestic product (GDP) is currently around 77 percent. If current imbalances hold, Goldman Sachs expects the ratio to hit 85 percent of GDP by 2021. Last year, the CBO issued a dire forecast that the U.S. debt/GDP could skyrocket to 150 percent by 2047, if the trend was left unchecked.

Goldman’s analysts wrote that the “growth effect comes from the change in the deficit, not the level, and further expansion would put the U.S. onto an even less sustainable long-term trend. Second, some of the recent deficit expansion relates to changes unlikely to be repeated, such as the temporarily large effect of certain tax provisions.”

Lastly, “there is a good chance that control of Congress will change after this year’s midterm election, likely making it more difficult to further expand the deficit,” Goldman added. Recently, the Treasury projected a virtual sea of red government ink, saying it would have to borrow close to $1 trillion this year, and above that level in the years to come. Goldman underscored that fact by saying the Treasury is borrowing at record low rates, but couldn’t expect to do so indefinitely. “We expect rising interest rates and a rising debt level to lead to a meaningful increase in interest expense,” Goldman said. “On our current projections, federal interest expense will rise to 2.3 percent of GDP by 2021,” and could hit 3.5 percent by 2027.

Trump’s anger boils over with Russia probe

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump vented his anger with the Russia investigation late Saturday night and Sunday morning, declaring that “they are laughing their asses off in Moscow” over the ongoing probe into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election. In a remarkable burst of tweets sent from his Mar-a-Lago resort, the president blamed the Obama administration for not doing enough to deter Russia and claimed he never denied the meddling took place — all while undercutting his own national security adviser who said Saturday that the interference is now “beyond dispute.” “If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams,” Trump tweeted just after 8 a.m. “They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!” The tweets revealed the depth of Trump’s frustration following special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of more than a dozen Russians accused of meddling in the 2016 election in an effort to boost Trump’s campaig Trump has long bristled at the notion that he received help in defeating his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, and has resisted calls from members of both political parties to do more to disrupt the Kremlin’s plans to meddle in future U.S. elections. The president has not criticized Russia for its election-meddling scheme, opting to focus on the ways he believes Mueller’s indictment exonerates his campaign from colluding with the Kremlin. “We’re losing sight of what we’re going to do about the threat posed by Russians,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Sunday on CNN. “[Trump] never talks about that.” While the nearby town of Parkland, Fla., continues to grieve over this week’s school shooting, the Mueller indictments appeared to be on the top of the president’s mind in Palm Beach. He tweeted a dozen times over the past two days about the Russia investigation, and just once about the shooting victims. On Friday, he visited some injured victims and their families in the Florida hospital, as well as law enforcement involved in capturing the alleged shooter. Trump has stayed away from the golf course while he’s been in Florida, even though the weather in Palm Beach has been warm and sunny, in what aides said is an effort to respect the 17 people who were killed in the shooting. The president instead appears to be spending much of his weekend reacting to news coverage of the Russia indictments, which has riled him up. Late Saturday night, Trump accused the FBI of missing “all of the many signals” about the alleged Parkland gunman because “they are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.” The attack on the FBI appeared to alarm Trump’s critics the most. “It’s one thing for Trump’s cheerleaders on @FoxNews to take this ugly cheap shot against the FBI, but for the President to blame the FL shooting on their Russia investigation is disgusting,” tweeted former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) “Mr President, have you no shame? Wait. I know that answer.”

Others pointed out that while the FBI has admitted it missed a tip about the shooter, the offices responsible are not tied to the Russia probe.

Trump himself even praised the bureau on Friday night when meeting with law enforcement officials who responded to the Parkland shooting. “Really great job,” he told FBI special agent in charge Robert Lasky. “And you had a lot [of] FBI guys down here, quickly. So great job. Thank you very much.” The president also aired his grievances against a long list of opponents he believes are carrying out a “witch hunt” against him. That list included former President Obama, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), CNN and the Democratic Party. But his most surprising target was national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who spoke at length at a conference in Munich about threats posed by Russia. “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!” Trump tweeted. Trump was referring to Clinton and an explosive dossier of alleged ties between Trump and Russia compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, which was funded in part by Democrats tied to the 2016 nominee. Republicans charge that the unverified claims in the dossier helped launch the Russia investigation, a claim not supported by public documents. The president also dug up stories that have been focal points for Republicans, including Clinton’s paid speeches and allegations that she improperly approved the sale of a Canadian uranium mining company with holdings in the U.S. to Russia. Former administration officials have denied any wrongdoing. Trump has repeatedly focused on the fact that the Russian effort began in 2014, before he entered the presidential race, something he believes proves that the Kremlin’s effort was not designed to aid his campaign. He returned to that theme on Sunday in hitting Schiff, who has become a frequent punching bag for the president. “Finally, Liddle’ Adam Schiff, the leakin’ monster of no control, is now blaming the Obama Administration for Russian meddling in the 2016 Election,” Trump tweeted. “He is finally right about something. Obama was President, knew of the threat, and did nothing. Thank you Adam!” Trump appeared to be referring to an NBC interview in which Schiff said the previous administration should have done more to deter Russia and other foreign governments’ ability to carry out cyberattacks. Schiff hit back at Trump’s claims on Sunday, saying the indictments do not confirm the president’s claim there was no collusion. He pointed out the special counsel has made no conclusion on the questions of collusion and how much the Russian meddling affected the result of the 2016 contest.  “This is a president who claims vindication anytime someone sneezes,” Schiff said on CNN.  The California Democrat also said the Trump White House is making the same mistake Obama made in not aggressively countering Russian disinformation campaigns. “They can’t point the finger back when they’re sitting on sanctions that the Congress on a very bipartisan basis has said need to be imposed,” Schiff said.

Coons on Russia Investigation: ‘I Think It’s Getting Closer’ to Proving Collusion

Dem senator on Russian meddling: ‘Hard to say that this didn’t affect the outcome’

Sen. Christopher Coons (D., Del.) said Sunday of the Russia investigation that “I think it’s getting closer” to proving collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians, adding it was hard not to say Kremlin meddling efforts affected the election’s outcome. Coons appeared on “Face The Nation” in the wake of Friday’s announcement that special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals on various charges related to illegal “information warfare” tactics meant to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election. While the White House noted that no Americans were implicated in the charges and Trump said it proved there was “no collusion,” Coons said it neither proved nor disproved collusion. Coons pointed to the meeting on June 9, 2016, between Donald Trump Jr. and other senior campaign officials and Russians claiming to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. “That hasn’t yet been proven that there might have been collusion, but I think it’s getting closer,” Coons said. CBS host Nancy Cordes asked Coons what the chances were Russian meddling efforts affected the race’s outcome. “In a race that was this close, where moving … 150,000 votes in three states one way or the other could have changed the outcome, it’s hard to say that this didn’t affect the outcome,” Coons said. “It was an exceptionally close election … It’s not yet clear whether the Russians succeeded in actually changing votes.”

Ex-JPMorgan trader turned bitcoin fund manager: ‘There’s trench warfare going on between analogue and digital financial services’

LONDON – A former high-flying trader who has embraced the world of cryptocurrencies says there is a “trench warfare” going on between traditional financial services and digital upstarts. Danny Masters told Business Insider: “There’s something of a trench warfare going on between what I call analogue financial services companies and digital financial services companies.”

“The analogue financial services companies are not in this game at all. They don’t want to touch the core currency, which is bitcoin or ethereum, they’re suspicious about the industry itself. A lot of people think it’s a criminal enterprise and a Ponzi scheme and a scam.”

Masters said: “In my mind, the cryptocurrency landscape is like the fog of war. You might be able to see the few people around you, you can see the hill over there, but very few people can see the whole landscape. We’re in a very fortunate position because we touch so many different parts of it. For us, it is abundantly clear that we are in the midst of a true financial revolution.” Masters thinks that bankers are dismissive of cryptocurrencies because of the threat they pose to traditional banking. The crypto community is built on the principles of decentralization, displacing middlemen, and doing away with legacy systems. “[Banks] have gone from dismissive, to unified in their resistance. Why? Why is something they ridiculed three months ago now something they feel the need to unite against and try and kill? There’s been a lot of aggressive things from banks.” Masters believes that the crypto world has now reached “escape velocity” and the “analogue” rivals won’t be able to catch up or compete. In Masters telling, the new crypto reality will replace our current system. “Banks have sat on their laurels for 30 years. I just threw out my chequebook, it looks exactly the same as it did in 1985. Why should I still have it when I’m doing Uber instead of cabs, Airbnb instead of the Sheraton? They have absolutely failed to innovate in any way, shape, or form and now they’re paying the price.”

 

Visa says Coinbase is not at fault for overcharging cryptocurrency holders

The credit card company takes responsibility for reversing and recharging old transactions with a handful of new fees

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge 

It turns out that card issuer Visa is in fact the culprit in an increasingly messy Coinbase customer support nightmare that’s seen multiple users’ cryptocurrency accounts hit with multiple transactions, unauthorized withdrawals, and other unexplained fees. The issue began picking up steam in online crypto communities earlier this month, and Coinbase first responded last week citing a change in how credit card companies classify digital currency transactions. The company at the time said it had identified a solution. Late Friday, Coinbase disclosed on Twitter that it was Visa that was actually reversing multiple weeks’ worth of old transactions under a new so-called merchant category code, or MCC, which is used to classify a business or purchase by the type of service it provides and helps dictate how the Internal Revenue Service handles appropriate taxes for such purchases. According to Coinbase, Visa switched to a MCC “that allows large banks and card issuers to charge consumers additional fees,” resulting in what effectively looked like erroneous charges.

Visa owned up in a joint statement with payments processor Worldpay, which handles Coibase transactions, writing in no uncertain terms, “This issue was not caused by Coinbase.” It’s still unclear why Visa demanded the MCC change and what its intended purpose was. Coinbase is trying reassure customers that this won’t happen again in the future, but it’s doesn’t seem like a long-term fix is yet in place. “Coinbase is actively working with major card networks to create a new MCC for digital currency purchases,” Coinbase writes. “For the benefit of consumers, we hope that this will not have additional ‘cash advance’ fees. Cards provide wider access to digital currency than just bank accounts.” It still appears like there’s a fair amount of the blame game happening on both sides, however, as Coinbase customers flooded the replies to the company’s tweets to say that funds are still tied up by banks and card issuers and all parties seem to be pointing affected users in a different direction. Visa says it is working on refunding customers, but the onus is still on those who’ve had their accounts drained by this logistical fumble to pursue the appropriate party and figure out exactly what to do.All in all, not a great look for either Coinbase, Visa, or traditional banks, none of which seem to be working all that well together when it comes to handling cryptocurrencies.

Here’s Visa and Wolrdpay’s statement in full:

Over the last two days, some customers who used a credit or debit card at Coinbase may have seen duplicate transactions posted to their cardholder accounts.

This issue was not caused by Coinbase.

RBS admits FORGING an elderly customer’s signature which left her signed up to a product she didn’t want

The bank was forced to apologise after retired teacher Jean Mackay (pictured) came forward with paperwork that clearly showed her signature was faked on a bank document
The bank was forced to apologise after retired teacher Jean Mackay (pictured) came forward with paperwork that clearly showed her signature was faked on a bank document
The Royal Bank of Scotland last night offered a ‘sincere apology’ after admitting that staff had forged a customer’s signature.

RBS conceded that a fake signature had been used on an official document, which means a customer was signed up to a financial product she did not want. The confession comes only two weeks after The Scottish Mail on Sunday published claims by whistleblowers that bank staff had been trained to forge signatures.The allegations were strenuously denied by RBS. But for the first time it has publicly acknowledged an element of truth to the allegations of widespread malpractice. The bank was forced to apologise after retired teacher Jean Mackay came forward with paperwork that clearly showed her signature was faked on a bank document. The great-grandmother said RBS began charging her a fee for payment protection insurance (PPI) – even though she had declined to sign up for it. When Mrs Mackay, of Forres, Moray, challenged the bank, staff gave her a document purporting to show she had agreed to the fees. However, two signatures on the same document – one agreeing to take out a credit card, the other apparently agreeing to pay PPI – are markedly different. The bank later refunded her fees but refused to admit the document had been forged. Last night, as a graphologist confirmed the signatures are ‘not a match’, the bank finally apologised and offered £500 compensation.

Trump breaks with McMaster: Election results ‘were not impacted or changed by the Russians

Trump breaks with McMaster: Election results 'were not impacted or changed by the Russians'
© Getty Images President Trump broke with his national security adviser H.R. McMaster on Saturday after McMaster said that indictments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation show “incontrovertible” evidence of Russia’s election meddling.

“General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!” Trump tweeted.

Nick Bit: the election was extremely close. In fact Trump lost the popular vote. AND AND the states that swung the election were the very states that Russian Social Media trolls targeted. AND AND as we all know Trump asked the Russians to find and release the Hillary emails which i believe they did. The best we can say is that two things have  not been established yet. One weather or not Trump staff member that had long standing  Russian connections colluded with the Russians. Ans it has not been established yet either way if Russia spy agencies affected the outcome of the election. It seems to me TRUMP as he well should be is very very worried!

 

Trump’s comments come after McMaster, speaking at the Munich Security Conference, said “with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now incontrovertible” that Russia interfered in the election. McMaster also reportedly dismissed a question about future U.S. cooperation with Russia on cybersecurity. “We would love to have a cyber dialogue when Russia is sincere about curtailing its sophisticated form of espionage,” McMaster said.  Thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian groups have been charged with multiple counts of attempting to interfere in the 2016 election. The indictment alleges the goal of the Russians was to support then-candidate Donald Trump and hurt his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump has repeatedly denied the notion that his campaign coordinated with the Russians to influence the 2016 race and has accused Democrats of improper collusion with the FBI. Trump has responded to the indictments on Saturday, taking to Twitter to hit the investigation and the media for covering Mueller’s findings.

“Funny how the Fake News Media doesn’t want to say that the Russian group was formed in 2014, long before my run for President. Maybe they knew I was going to run even though I didn’t know!” the president tweeted earlier Saturday.  Nick Note: The Russians have been colluding in US  elections since Eisenhower. And like all collusion by the Russians they pick the man they can most manipulate and in this case i believe blackmail with sex tapes and money laundering.

Trump criticizes national security advisor HR McMaster’s comments about Russian meddling in the 2016 election

President Donald Trump, in a late-night tweet, criticized remarks his national security advisor made earlier Saturday about Russian interference in the 2016 election. H.R. McMaster, who is also a lieutenant general in the U.S. Army, told a conference in Germany that there was “incontrovertible” evidence that Russia had meddled in the U.S. election. He was citing Friday’s federal indictments, stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, that said Russian operatives conducted a sophisticated internet campaign to sow chaos in the American political scene. Trump eventually responded to his national security advisor by saying McMaster left out some details from his comments. “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems,” Trump tweeted late Saturday night. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Friday that these particular indictments did not include allegations that the Russian efforts affected the election’s results. Trump saw the latest development in the case as a vindication. The indictments released Friday allege, in part, that the Russians sought to disparage Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and help Trump win. The Russian operatives, according to the charges, attempted to convince some Americans to vote for third-party candidate Jill Stein over Clinton, and also sought to discourage minority turnout at the polls. McMaster’s comments Saturday were part of a testy exchange with a Russian delegate at the conference. “As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain,” McMaster said. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday dismissed reports of interference as “blather.” Trump has repeatedly denied that his campaign colluded with Russians to sway the election in his favor, and has often called the special counsel’s investigation a “witch hunt” and a “hoax.” Russian authorities have also rejected claims of collusion. The president’s tweet targeting McMaster came soon after he suggested in another tweet that the Russia probe had somehow distracted the FBI from seeing warning signs leading to Wednesday’s shooting massacre at a high school in south Florida.

Wilbur Ross Urges ‘America First’ Tariffs on Aluminum, Steel Imports to Protect U.S. Industries

On Friday, Ross announced multiple recommendations to Trump on how to deal with the massive amount of imported aluminum and steel flooding the U.S. market. For steel imports, Ross is asking Trump to impose:

  • A global tariff of at least 24 percent on all steel imports from all countries
  • Or, a tariff of at least 53 percent on all steel imports from Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam
  • Or, “a quota on all steel products from all countries equal to 63% of each country’s 2017 exports to the United States.”

Ross said in a statement that the steel tariffs are designed to increase domestic steel production to 80 percent from its current rate of 73 percent. For aluminum imports, Ross is asking Trump to impose:

  • A tariff of at least 7.7 percent on all aluminum imports from all exporter countries
  • Or, a 23.6 percent tariff on all products from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela, and Vietnam
  • Or, “a quota on all imports from all countries equal to a maximum of 86.7% of their 2017 exports to the United States.”

“Each of the three proposals is intended to raise production of aluminum from the present 48% average capacity to 80%, a level that would provide the industry with long-term viability,” the Commerce Department wrote in a statement. The trade recommendations by Ross are included in a report which found that China produces as much steel in one month as the U.S. produces in one year, as there are 169 antidumping and countervailing orders currently in place on steel. The Commerce Department also found that the importation of aluminum to the U.S. has been coupled with a 58 percent decline in aluminum industry employment in the U.S. between 2013 to 2016. Ross’s fair trade requests are part of a Trump administration effort to protect American industries from unfair trade practices and the detriments of free trade agreements like NAFTA, which have led to the gutting of working and middle-class American jobs. Nick Bit: The trade war has begum… and we will lose. Consumers will pay more and America agriculture will be devastated…. They did the same thing at the start of the GREAT Depression. We know how this will end up!

McMaster: Evidence is ‘incontrovertible’ that Russia interfered in 2016 election

McMaster: Evidence is 'incontrovertible' that Russia interfered in 2016 election
© Getty Images White House national security adviser
H.R. McMaster said a new round of indictments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation show “incontrovertible” evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, McMaster said “with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now incontrovertible” that Russia interfered in the election, according to The Associated Press. The consensus of the U.S. intelligence community is that Russians did seek to influence the 2016 presidential election, although the investigation has yet to reach a conclusion on whether Russia influenced the outcome. McMaster also reportedly dismissed a question about future U.S. cooperation with Russia on cybersecurity. “We would love to have a cyber dialogue when Russia is sincere about curtailing its sophisticated form of espionage,” McMaster said.

McMaster spoke at the conference immediately after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said the new Mueller indictments were “just blabber,” the AP reported, according to a translation. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the slew of indictments at a press briefing Friday. Thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian groups were charged with multiple counts of attempting to interfere in the 2016 election. The indictment alleges the goal of the Russians was to support then-candidate Donald Trump and hurt Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Some of the Russians allegedly posed as U.S. people and communicated with “unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.” Rosenstein noted that there is no allegation in the indictment that Americans had any knowledge of the operation. Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on Russian interference in the 2016 election, calling it a “hoax” crafted by Democrats. He’s also labeled Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt.” In a tweet following the release of the indictments, Trump claimed the indictment showed his campaign “did nothing wrong” and that there was “no collusion” with Russia. Nick Note: I am not a freeging idiot. We now know for sure the Russians did interfere in the elections. To help Donald Trump win. It has not been proven either way of their efforts got him elected. I believe that the very close election was won because of Russian interference AND part of that was the release of the hacked Hillary emails that Trump requested from the Russians. As far as the collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. A astonishing number of people on his campaign staff had a lot of long time relations with the Russians. Even during the campaign. And that is not settled business either way.

Kushner requests more intel info than almost all White House staff: report

President Trump‘s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner has reportedly requested more intelligence information than almost every other White House official. The Washington Post reports that Kushner, whose portfolio encompasses issues ranging from the Middle East peace process to modernizing the federal government’s use of technology, has put in more requests for U.S. intelligence information than any White House staffer not working for the National Security Council.Kushner holds a Top Secret/sensitive compartmented information (SCI) security clearance, the highest level, which allows him to review some of the nation’s most closely-guarded secrets and allows him access to the presidential daily briefing, according to the Post.He is one of reportedly dozens of White House officials who have been operating with temporary clearances during Trump’s first year in office, and his clearance could be in jeopardy following chief of staff John Kelly’s changes to the clearance process, the Post said.In a memo released Friday, Kelly outlined a series of changes to the clearance process amid the controversy surrounding former staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned over domestic abuse allegations. “The American people deserve a White House staff that meets the highest standards and that has been carefully vetted—especially those who work closely with the president or handle sensitive national security information,” Kelly wrote in the memo. “We should — and in the future must — do better.” The changes include calling on the FBI to specifically brief the White House counsel on any potential concerns flagged in a background check, aiming for the FBI to bring any problematic findings to the White House within two days of discovery, limiting new interim clearances to a maximum of 270 days and cutting off certain clearances for employees whose clearance investigations have been pending since before June 1, 2017. That change could impact Kushner, whose clearance has been pending since he began working in the Trump White House more than a year ago. But in a statement to the Post, Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said Kelly’s memo “will not affect Mr. Kushner’s ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the president.” Democrats and ethics groups have called on the White House to explain the delay in Kushner receiving his security clearance. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint Thursday calling on the White House to revoke Kushner’s clearance.

Russian indictments could set stage for more Mueller charges

FILE PHOTO: Special Counsel Robert Mueller (R) departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

(Reuters) – Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three organizations for allegedly interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election sets the stage for the prosecution of Americans who may have helped the Russian effort, some legal experts said. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters on Friday there was no allegation in the indictment that any American knew about the alleged scheme. It said Russians did contact “unwitting” members of the campaign of now President Donald Trump in a bid to support him while denigrating his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. The indictment said the Russians conspired “with persons known and unknown,” which could include Americans.

 “While they went to great pains to say they are not indicting any Americans today, if I was an American and I did cooperate with Russians I would be extremely frightened today,” said former federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter.

The White House took a different view, issuing a statement saying that Trump had been briefed on the matter and was “glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia.” Mueller has been silent on where the probe is headed. It has so far led to guilty pleas from Trump’s former national security advisor and a one-time campaign aide to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as indictments of his former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Manafort’s business partner Rick Gates.Moscow has denied meddling in the election. Leah Litman, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, said that meant the Russian government was extremely unlikely to turn over any of its nationals for U.S. prosecution. There is no formal extradition agreement between the United States and Russia.  “If there were meetings between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and the Trump campaign officials encouraged the Russians or guided them to particular types of work, or provided them assistance so that they could focus their interference, that would be collusion,” said Whiting, a former federal prosecutor The narrative set forth in the indictment could easily include many more participants. “The net is tightening,” he said. “They have moved up a whole other step on the ladder.”

Trump ex-aide Manafort accused of bank fraud in bail offer: document

Paul Manafort leaves U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has drawn a new accusation of bank fraud from U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office, according to court documents made public on Friday. The new accusation, related to a property Manafort owns in the Washington suburb of Fairfax, Virginia, comes on top of the indictment against Manafort last October for money laundering and failure to register as a foreign agent.In a court filing amid legal wrangling over Manafort’s $10 million bail package, prosecutors from Mueller’s office said Manafort submitted false information to a bank for a mortgage on one of three properties he is now proposing to pledge as security for his release. “The proposed package is deficient in the government’s view, in light of additional criminal conduct that we have learned since the court’s initial bail determination,” the prosecutors said in the filing, which disputes Manafort’s latest bail offer.  “That criminal conduct includes a series of bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies, including criminal conduct relating to the mortgage on the Fairfax property, which Manafort seeks to pledge.” Prosecutors said in the redacted filing that they had evidence that Manafort secured the $9 million mortgage from the Federal Savings Bank through false representations, including “doctored profit and lost statements” that overstated the property’s income by “millions of dollars.” The document does not level any new specific criminal charges against Manafort over the accusations. Manafort’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

EU CAN’T RELY on USA: Juncker snipes at Donald Trump as he claims NOTHING makes him happy

EU COMMISSIONER Jean-Claude Juncker took a swipe at NATO and the US claiming Europe cannot rely on its allies on matters of security and defence.
 The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said nothing Brussels did in relation to security kept Donald Trump’s administration happy.
Speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference, a leading global gathering of defence and security policymakers and experts, Mr Juncker said people in the USA fear the EU is becoming too independent on security. He said: “It’s not a surprise that people on the other side of the Atlantic think the EU will become too independent when it comes to defence matters and the most pressing security issues. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, issued a warning shot during a stark address in Brussels this week. The Norwegian warned Brussels against overstepping its mark as the European bloc pursues plans for a joint EU army.Speaking after a meeting of NATO defence ministers, Mr Stoltenberg said: “That will be the same as competiting with themselves. “They will really be the losers if they end up with two competing structures, with two competing capability targets and lists.”

‘Steamroller’ to bull market not that far away, warns market analyst

Closing Bell Exchange: Taking profits in market rebound
Positive market momentum should last as long as economic data remains strong, strategist Erik Ristuben

However, the market rally is late in the cycle, he pointed out. “Late-cycle investing, as you know, is picking up dollars in front of the steamroller, and it’s a really good idea to keep an eye on the steamroller — which we don’t think is imminent but we think it’s not that far away,” the chief investment strategist at Russell Investments said in an interview with “Closing Bell.” Therefore, he thinks investors should consider diversifying their assets with such things as real-estate trusts and commodities. Stocks have rebounded sharply from last week’s correction. On Feb. 8, the major averages closed 10 percent below all-time highs set last month. On Friday, equities closed higher, extending their winning streak to six days in a row. The S&P 500 had its best week since January 2013, while the Nasdaq had its best week since December 2011. The Dow Jones industrial average saw its biggest weekly gain since November 2016.The major averages were still down for February. Peter Costa, president of Empire Executions, called the rapid market moves “very unusual.””Normally when you see any kind of corrective action, it takes longer than a day and a half,” he told “Closing Bell.” “But this one took a day and a half to have that correction, get into corrective territory, and why wouldn’t the rally be the same?” He thinks it’s possible that it may take only eight days since the correction to be back to record highs. “This is a new dynamic. This is a new market,” Costa said. Therefore, investors are probably going to have to get used to these type of fast moves up and down, he noted. “The market dynamics and the market structure is set up so that when the markets slide there aren’t those points where buyers step in because the computers are telling them not to,” he said. Nick Bit: After they have their little rally back ditty another death plunge will soon come. Then the final curtain. Fortunes will be made and fortunes will be lost

Trump had AFFAIR with PAY BOY MODEL…..

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an announcement in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump had an affair with a Playboy model at the same time he was in a relationship with a porn star and the National Enquirer tabloid paid the model $150,000 to prevent her story being made public, the New Yorker reported on Friday. The magazine’s account of the relationship was based on notes handwritten by the model, Karen McDougal, who was Playboy’s 1998 Playmate of the Year. The New Yorker reported that McDougal confirmed that she had written the notes. The account had similarities with descriptions that adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, and other women have given of sexual encounters with Trump, including private dinners and offers to buy them real estate.The magazine reported that American Media Inc, publisher of the National Enquirer, paid McDougal $150,000 in 2016, soon after Trump became the Republican presidential nominee, for exclusive rights to her story, which it never published. The article noted that American Media head David Pecker has described Trump as a “personal friend.”

It reported that McDougal declined to discuss details of her relationship with Trump for fear of violating her agreement with American Media.

American Media told Reuters in a statement that the suggestion it “engages in any practice that would allow it to hold influence over the President of the United States, while flattering, is laughable.”

The New Yorker reported that American Media said it did not publish McDougal’s story because it did not find it credible. The payment to McDougal by American Media was originally reported by the Wall Street Journal on November 4, 2016. Trump allegedly began his affairs with McDougal and Clifford roughly three months after his wife Melania Trump gave birth to his youngest son Barron. The White House did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. The New Yorker reported that a White House spokesperson said in a statement that Trump denies having had an affair with McDougal and called it, “more fake news.” Trump has denied having an affair with Clifford. Earlier this week, Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen said he paid Clifford $130,000 from his personal funds during the 2016 presidential election campaign but said he was working alone and it was not a campaign expense. Other women have accused Trump of making unwanted sexual advances toward them over the years. Trump has denied the

Special counsel Mueller: Russians conducted ‘information warfare’ against US during election to help Donald Trump win

Deputy AG Rosenstein: Indictment involves 8 criminal counts
Deputy AG Rosenstein: Indictment involves 8 criminal counts
 

A federal grand jury has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential elections, during which they boosted the candidacy of Donald Trump, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office said Friday. The indictment says that a Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency sought to wage “information warfare” against the United States by using fictitious American personas and social media platforms and other Internet-based media.

While that effort was launched in 2014, by early to mid-2016 the defendants were “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump … and disparaging Hillary Clinton,” the eight-count indictment charges.

“Some Defendants, posing at U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities,” the indictment charges. As part of their, the defendants also allegedly encouraged minority groups to either not vote for in the election or to vote for a third-party candidate. Both actions would have hurt Clinton, who received significant support from minority voters. And after the election of Trump as president in November 2016, the defendants used fake personas to organize and coordinate political rallies in support of Trump, while also doing the same to create rallies “protesting the results” of the election, the indictment said.

Continue reading “Special counsel Mueller: Russians conducted ‘information warfare’ against US during election to help Donald Trump win”

Schiff says Bannon ‘likely’ to be held in contempt

Washington (CNN)The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Friday it’s likely that Steve Bannon will be held in contempt of Congress after refusing to answer questions before the panel, which is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election. “I think it’s likely that he will face a contempt citation,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, said at a Council on Foreign Relations event. The former White House chief strategist declined Thursday to answer a wide array of key questions pertinent to the Russia investigation, telling the panel he was instructed by the White House to invoke executive privilege on behalf of President Donald Trump.Bannon stonewalls House panel after WH advised him to invoke executive privilege  According to Schiff, Bannon would only answer 25 questions authorized by the White House and answered “no” to all of them. “I think there really is no choice for our committee but to move forward with contempt,” Schiff said Friday. He added, “I suspect that Mr. Bannon has been informed that (the White House) will only stonewall so far. They will never allow him to be fined or go to jail, but they do wish to draw the process as long as they can.” Rep. Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican who runs the panel’s Russia investigation, said Thursday he would discuss how to proceed with House Speaker Paul Ryan and House lawyers about the scope of executive privilege sought by the White House. He declined to say whether Bannon should be held in contempt of Congress, a process that could lead to months of legal wrangling.

U.S. ‘junk’ bond funds hit by second biggest cash withdrawals: Lipper

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. fund investors fled the riskier corners of the debt market, pulling the second-highest amount of cash on record from high-yield “junk” bonds during the latest week, Lipper data showed on Thursday.

The $6.3 billion in withdrawals from the funds during the week ended Feb. 14 mark a new sign that investors remain wary even as stocks have recovered a bit from a stomach-turning correction that pulled the S&P 500 down nearly 12 percent in just 10 trading days starting Jan. 29.

High-yield outflows this year now stand at $13.7 billion. Stocks and high-yield bonds often trade in sympathy with one another, and high-yield bonds are sometimes seen as an indicator of what stocks will do next.The mood around equities improved this week, with outflows of $4.6 billion, compared to a record $23.9 billion in withdrawals the week prior, Lipper said.  Still, inflationary pressures and the prospect of rising interest rates kept investors on edge. U.S. consumer prices rose more than expected in January, according to data on Wednesday, putting pressure on bonds whose value is eroded by inflation and the policy rate hikes it could engender. Meanwhile, retail sales posted their largest decline since February 2017, according to data released the same day, pointing to weaker economic growth than expected. Tom Roseen, the head of research services for Lipper, said stronger equities usually bode well for high-yield bonds but higher interest rates and mixed economic news is starting to spook the market. “People are worried about inflation,” he said. “We’re going to have volatility that pops around.” Investors want to see a higher yield to compensate for increased uncertainty, according to Roseen. Across the board, bond flows showed risk-averse sentiment.In the most recent week alone, $1 billion exited emerging market debt funds and $790 million flowed out of corporate investment-grade bond funds. In both cases, this was the largest outflows since November 2016. Treasury funds, however, invested in safer government debt, taking in $1.3 billion.

Bannon met with special counsel investigators two days this week

FILE PHOTO: Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon speaks during a campaign event for Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Judge Roy Moore in Fairhope, Alabama, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former White House adviser Steve Bannon answered questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team for two days this week, but then frustrated lawmakers by remaining tight-lipped during testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday. Three sources familiar with the Mueller proceedings said Bannon was interviewed for a total of about 20 hours by Mueller’s investigators and prosecutors. One said he had answered a range of questions, unlike his refusal to do so before the House intelligence panel. Another said Bannon was questioned on topics including his knowledge of President Donald Trump’s reasons for firing James Comey as Federal Bureau of Investigation director last year, as well as dealings with the Russian ambassador by former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.In contrast, leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation said Bannon, Trump’s former strategist and a key player in Trump’s 2016 election campaign, would answer only 25 questions approved by the White House.  Representative Adam Schiff, the panel’s top Democrat, called for the initiation of contempt of Congress proceedings against Bannon. Bannon also refused to answer many questions during his first appearance before the intelligence panel on Jan. 16.Declining to discuss with the committee the weeks after the November 2016 presidential election and before Trump’s inauguration, or his own time at the White House, Bannon claimed executive privilege and special protections for presidential communications in refusing to say more, lawmakers said.  A source familiar with his appearance before the committee said Bannon told lawmakers he was “not authorized to answer” about 35 times, and answered “no” to all of the 25 questions that had been authorized by the White House. U.S. intelligence agencies determined more than a year ago that Moscow sought to interfere in the campaign. The investigations by congressional committees and Mueller’s team have shadowed the first year of Trump’s campaign. Trump fired Bannon, the former head of the hard-right Breitbart News website, from his White House position in August. Bannon had been a close Trump associate since he joined the Trump campaign and helped the political novice defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Exclusive: A top Trump campaign adviser close to plea deal with Mueller

Washington (CNN)Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, indicating he’s poised to cooperate in the investigation, according to sources familiar with the case. Gates has already spoken to Mueller’s team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He’s had what criminal lawyers call a “Queen for a Day” interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors’ team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed. Gates’ cooperation could be another building block for Mueller in a possible case against President Donald Trump or key members of his team. Once a plea deal is in place, Gates would become the third known cooperator in Mueller’s sprawling probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It would also increase the pressure to cooperate on Gates’ co-defendant Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, who has pleaded not guilty to Mueller’s indictment and is preparing for a trial on alleged financial crimes unrelated to the campaign. Gates pleaded not guilty on October 30 alongside Manafort. “Nobody (who’s charged) goes in to provide incriminating information to the government unless it’s part of plea negotiations,” said a criminal defense attorney who represents a witness in the case. In a Queen for a Day interview, a defendant can typically admit to crimes with little additional consequences, unless he or she lies. After the interview, there’s a very small chance a defendant could turn back toward fighting the charges, according to several lawyers who specialize in federal criminal cases. It’s still unclear what Gates, who outlasted Manafort in the campaign and later worked on the Trump inaugural efforts, could share that would be of value to the Russian collusion investigators, outside the Manafort case. The value of what a defendant says factors into the plea negotiation as both sides finalize the deal.

Manafort and Gates were at the helm of the campaign during the critical summer 2016 period when senior campaign officials, including Manafort, met a group of Russians at Trump Tower who had promised damaging information on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. They were also in charge during the Republican National Convention when a handful of Trump campaign associates met with the Russian ambassador, and when Trump campaign officials intervened to change language on the platform about the Ukraine crisis. Gates often traveled with Trump during the campaign and grew close to other top advisers. When Manafort was ousted from the campaign in August 2016, Gates’ role was diminished, and he later stepped away from the campaign. But he remained in the Trump orbit and worked as a senior official for Trump’s inaugural committee.

Dollar heads for biggest weekly loss in 2 years

Getty Images

The U.S. dollar fell again on Friday, stacking up the losses for the U.S. currency, which is on pace for its worst weekly performance in two years. The ICE U.S. Dollar Index a measure of the currency against six main rivals, fell 0.2% to 88.383 on Friday. Down 2.3% as of Thursday, the index is on track for its worst weekly performance since the week ending Feb. 5, 2016, when it fell 2.6%, according to FactSet Research. The broader WSJ U.S. Dollar Index BUXX was down 0.2% at 82.57. Week-to-date it is down 1.8%, on pace to match a weekly low last hit in July, 29, 2016, when it fell 1.8%. The greenback once again declined against the Japanese yen USDJPY, dropping 0.3% to ¥105.77 to hover at the lowest level since November 2016. That compares with ¥106.01 late Thursday. The yen, considered a haven for investors in times of economic and financial turmoil, has been on the rise since last week’s global stock-market pullback. The British pound GBPUSD,  rose to $1.4131 from $1.4100. Meanwhile, the euro EURUSD,  climbed to $1.2536, from $1.2507.  The market is focusing more on the deterioration in the ‘twin deficits’ as the government budget deficit expands without end while the non-oil trade deficit hits a record.

Sears’ Sales Drop Biggest Yet, But Profit Is Expected Due to New Taxes

Sears suffered its biggest-ever sales drop in store sales but still beat analysts’ projections for the fourth quarter.
Image: Sears' Sales Drop Biggest Yet, But Profit Is Expected Due to New Taxes

Sears’ same-store sales showed its biggest-ever drop during the fourth quarter of 2017, but the company says it expects to turn a profit for the period because of the new tax laws passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in December. Sales for stores open at least a year fell 15.6 percent in the last part of 2017, with an 18.1 percent drop at Sears’ domestic stores and a 12.2 percent drop at Kmart locations,

Revenue in the fourth quarter, which ended Feb. 3, is expected to be $4.4 billion, down from $6.1 billion a year ago, 

Sears has closed hundreds of locations over the past two years and sales have fallen in the last 24 consecutive quarters.  Despite the dismal sales numbers, however, Sears said it expects to turn a profit of $140 to $240 million for the quarter because of a projected $445 million to $495 million benefit it will get from the new tax laws. The company also said that closing unprofitable stores, while it was responsible for a large part of the sales drop, has allowed the company to perform better overall. Besides closing the stores, Sears has begun to sell its Kenmore and DieHard products on Amazon.com as part of its effort to rely less on physical space in its sales.

Sears stock prices jumped more than 16 percent Thursday afternoon on the news, Business Insider reported. Nick Bit: This is some sick shit!

 

Only 13% of business’ tax cuts are going to workers, survey says

What Trump said on taxes during his SOTU speech
What Trump said on taxes during his SOTU speech

Yet that’s a small fraction of the 125.5 million Americans who work for a company. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi last month called the tax cut bonuses “crumbs” compared with “the bonus that Corporate America received.” “It’s so pathetic,” she said. “I think it’s insignificant.”

Republicans say workers stand to gain tremendously from corporate tax cuts. In his State of the Union address last month, President Trump predicted that the tax cuts would grow average American household income by $4,000. over 10 years! Though Trump’s estimate is at the very high end of what economists consider possible, his prediction could yet come to pass. Most economists assumed — and historical precedent suggests — that workers won’t gain a huge part of the tax cuts in the early years. That will go to shareholders, then maybe the businesses themselves, as Morgan Stanley’s analysts predicted.

Exclusive: Walmart in talks to buy more than 40 percent of India’s Flipkart

FILE PHOTO: The logo of India’s largest e-commerce firm Flipkart is seen on the facade of the company’s headquarters in Bengaluru, India July 7, 2017. 

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Walmart Inc is in talks to purchase a stake of more than 40 percent in Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart, a direct challenge to Amazon.com Inc in Asia’s third-largest economy, two sources familiar with the matter said on Friday. In what would be one of its biggest overseas deals, the U.S. retailer is looking at buying new and existing shares in Flipkart and due diligence is likely to begin as early as next week, the sources said. They declined to be named as the talks were private.Terms under discussion were not immediately available, but Flipkart would be valued at more than the $12 billion figure given when Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp’s Vision Fund took roughly a fifth of the firm last year for $2.5 billion, they added. A deal with Walmart would give Flipkart much needed muscle in its fight against Amazon, which has committed to investing $5 billion in India as it expands aggressively, including into online grocery deliveries.  It would be part of a huge e-commerce push that has seen Walmart acquire a slew of start-ups including paying roughly $3 billion for online retailer Jet.com. Last month it also said it was partnering with Japan’s Rakuten Inc in online grocery deliveries.

“As large as they are, Amazon has eaten away a significant chunk of their revenues and I think… they view India as the largest market possibly for this (taking on Amazon),” one of the sources said.

Walmart has for years tried to enter India but has remained confined to a ‘cash-and-carry’ wholesale business amid tough restrictions on foreign investment. It currently operates 21 such stores in India. Nick Bit: Does Donald know about this. Wall Mart is closing stores in AMERICA and Firing RED blooded AMERICANS. and investing those tax break bonanza Trillions  that AMERICANS will have to pay for in less corporate tax revenue in INDIA. Shit they don’t even eat hamburgers their!

U.S. market gurus who predicted selloff say current calm an illusion

 You ain’t seen nothing yet.

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., February 8, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

 

Some veteran investors who were vindicated in calling for a pullback in shares and a spike in volatility could now be cheering. Actually, they’re looking at the risks that still lie ahead in the current relative calm.The last week’s wild market swings confirmed that the market was in correction territory – falling more than 10 percent from its high. The falls were triggered by higher bond yields and fears of inflation but came against a backdrop of a stretched market that had taken price/earnings levels to as high as 18.9 percent. Adding to downwards pressure was the unwinding of bets that volatility would stay low.  The fall had come after a growing number of strategists and investors said a pullback was in the offing – although the consensus opinion was that the market would then start rising again. The big question is: what comes now?

“Do you honestly believe today is the bottom?” said Jeffrey Gundlach, known as Wall Street’s Bond King, last week, who had been warning for more than a year that markets were too calm. Gundlach had been particularly vocal in his warnings about the VIX, Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” which tracks the volatility implied by options on the S&P 500.

The sell-off in U.S. stocks derailed some popular short volatility exchange-traded products, which contributed to more downwards pressure on the market. Gundlach in May last year warned that the VIX was “insanely low.”Hedge fund manager Douglas Kass from Seabreeze Partners Management Inc was short SPDR S&P 500 ETF and said he “took a lot of small losses” last year but says he still sees more stress ahead. He said he is now re-shorting that ETF.

Continue reading “U.S. market gurus who predicted selloff say current calm an illusion”

Report: Opioid Manufacturers Paid $9 Million to Groups Promoting Opioids

Advocacy groups discounted downsides, side effects of chronic opioid use
OxyContin

 

Five major opioid manufacturers paid a combined $9 million over five years to groups that deemphasized the dangerous risks of opioid prescription, according to a new report released by the ranking minority member’s office of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee. The manufacturers—Purdue Pharma L.P.; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Mylan N.V.; Depomed, Inc.; and Insys Therapeutics, Inc.—paid an additional $1.6 million between 2013 and 2017 to individuals, including licensed physicians, affiliated with the advocacy groups, totaling more than $10 million in payments from 2012 onwards. The groups receiving funding from the pharmaceutical giants are primarily professional societies and patient advocacy groups, which purport to represent the interests of pain doctors and the pain-afflicted. These groups, the report notes, “have issued guidelines and policies minimizing the risk of opioid addiction and promoting opioids for chronic pain, lobbied to change laws directed at curbing opioid use, and argued against accountability for physicians and industry executives responsible for overprescription and misbranding.” For example, the American Academy of Pain Medicine and the American Pain Society issued a “consensus” statement in 1997 that endorsed the use of opioids for chronic pain treatment, and said that the risk of addiction for chronic users was low. The same group issued a statement in 2009 promoting opioids as “safe and effective,” with a “manageable” risk of addiction, regardless of past history of abuse. The American Academy of Pain Medicine received some $1.1 million in payments from opioid manufacturers between 2012 and 2017, while the American Pain Society received just under $1 million, the report noted. Advocacy groups also worked to block legislation aimed at reducing over-prescription, the practice of giving patients far more drugs than they need, leading to addiction or the sale of unused drugs to the general addict population. The Academy of Integrative Pain Management and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, for example, worked to protect a Tennessee law that required a doctor to refer a patient to another, “opioid-friendly” physician if the original doctor was unwilling to prescribe opioids.

Number of crypto hedge funds soars amid bitcoin volatility

Reuters Graphic

LONDON (Reuters) – The number of hedge funds focused on trading cryptocurrencies more than doubled in the four months to Feb. 15, despite sharp falls in the value of the virtual coins in recent weeks, data from fintech research house Autonomous NEXT showed on Thursday.Representation of the Ethereum virtual currency standing on the PC motherboard is seen in this illustration picture, February 3, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration  The firm recorded a record high of 226 global hedge funds with such a strategy, up from 110 global hedge funds as of Oct. 18. That itself was up from 55 funds at Aug. 29 and just 37 at the start of 2017.Assets under management hit between $3.5 and $5 billion, according to the firm. The surge in funds comes at a volatile time for the cryptocurrencies they trade in. After hitting a record high close to $20,000 in December, bitcoin BTC=BTSP lost 70 percent of its value to slip below $6,000 in January, posting its worst monthly performance in three years.  Bitcoin has since recovered some of those falls, but at just below $10,000 is still only worth around half what it was a month ago. Rival cryptocurrencies have also seen sharp declines. The so-called “market cap” of all virtual currencies – their price multiplied by the number of coins issued – currently stands at around $465 billion, according to trade website Coinmarketcap, down from more than $830 billion in early January. Against that backdrop, cryptocurrency hedge funds lost an average of 4.6 percent in January, according to data from industry tracker Eurekahedge. The funds made an average of 1,477.85 percent in 2017, showed Eurekahedge data.

US Bancorp to pay more than $600 million over federal charges it had lax anti-money laundering controls

US Bancorp failed to monitor suspicious transactions and other activities that should have raised money laundering alerts, and then its employees tried to hide the deficiencies from regulators, federal prosecutors in New York said Thursday. The Minneapolis-based bank, the nation’s fifth largest, will pay a total of $613 million, including $528 million in a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, who announced the bank had made two felony violations of the Bank Secrecy Act. The agreement also includes the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve Board and the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. US Bank will reform its compliance and monitoring program and has accepted responsibility for its conduct, the U.S. Attorney said in a statement Thursday. The government said it would seek dismissal of the charges in two years assuming the bank carries out the reforms. Shares of US Bank, a long-time holding of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, were unchanged in morning trading on Thursday. That makes it the second of Berkshire’s big bank holdings, Wells Fargo being the other, to face regulatory heat in recent years. US Bancorp said in 2015 it had entered a consent order with the Comptroller over anti-money laundering lapses. On Thursday it said it had already set the money aside to pay for resolving the matter.”We regret and have accepted responsibility for the past deficiencies” in the anti-money laundering program, US Bank’s president and CEO Andy Cecere said in a statement. “Our culture of ethics and integrity demands that we do better.”

Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska faces questions over links to British ex-spy behind Trump ‘dirty’ dossier

 Oleg Deripaska, who is said to be a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is considered one of Russia ‘s wealthiest men.

US senators have asked Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska if he worked with the former MI6 officer behind the the dossier containing salacious allegations about Donald Trump. Senator Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, has written to Mr Deripaska’s London-based lawyers to formally ask him if his client has worked with Christopher Steele.The allegation were made in a series of private memos before the 2016 election and included the claim Mr Trump asked prostitutes to perform a lurid act while in Russia. US senators have asked a lawyer representing Oleg Deripaska about the oligarch’s relationship with Christopher Steele. The President branded the dossier ‘a pile of garbage’ calling it a ‘tainted’ document that the FBI must not use as a basis for investigation. In his letter to lawyer Paul Hauser, which was sent last month, Mr Grassley asks whether there are any links between him, Mr Deripaska and Mr Steele, the Telegraph reported. He asked in the letter: ‘Have you ever hired or otherwise worked with Mr. Christopher Steele?’ or his companies and continues ‘if so, when, and what was the nature of the arrangement?’. Mr Steele’s 35-page dossier claims that Russia collected a file of compromising information on Trump including sex tapes with which to blackmail him. He was initially hired by a US political research firm FusionGPS by Republicans who wanted to stop Trump’s campaign to win the Republican nomination for the 2016 election. At the beginning of this month the House Intelligence Committee released a Republican memo which alleged the FBI relied on an unverified dossier compiled by Mr Steele that they used to look into any connections between Trump’s campaign and Russia. President Trump, who approved the release of the GOP memo, has so far declined to do the same with a second Democratic memo in its current form on the grounds it contains sensitive information. A spokeswoman for Mr Hauser’s law firm, Bryan Cave, declined to comment.

Mortgage rates rise to nearly four-year high on inflation concerns

 Freddie Mac says benchmark rate is highest since April 2014

Mortgage rates have climbed to the highest level in close to four years, according to data released Thursday. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.38% in the week ending Feb. 15, up from 4.32%, mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said.A year ago, the benchmark mortgage averaged 4.15%. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.84%, up from 3.77%, and the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 3.63%, up from 3.57%. The backup in rates has occurred on concerns about rising inflation pressure, with the latest increase coming after a stronger-than-forecast gain in consumer prices. “Inflation measures were broad-based, cementing expectations that the Federal Reserve will go forward with monetary tightening later this year,” said Len Kiefer, deputy chief economist. Fellow mortgage buyer Fannie Mae said it’s upped its 30-year fixed rate mortgage forecast for the fourth quarter by 30 points to 4.4%.

Trump’s gas tax would wipe out 60% of tax cut benefit for individuals, analyst estimates

 A 25-cent gasoline tax, reportedly endorsed by President Donald Trump, would help wipe out 60 percent of the benefit from the tax breaks he recently signed into law for individuals, according to Strategas Research.
A customer prepares to pump gasoline at an Arco gas station in Mill Valley, Calif.
Getty Images A customer prepares to pump gasoline at an Arco gas station in Mill Valley, Calif.

Daniel Clifton, Strategas head of policy research, said the increase in gasoline prices would also be nine times larger than the estimated $4 billion workers are receiving from employers due to the corporate tax cut. The gasoline tax, now 18.4-cents per gallon, has not been raised since 1993 when Bill Clinton was in the White House. Gary Cohn, White House economic advisor, has been discussing a gasoline tax raise. Government data already shows an increase in gasoline prices of 20-cents per gallon this year, costing consumers about $34 billion, he noted. “The proposed gasoline tax increase adds another $0.25 per gallon. The combined $0.45 per [gallon] increase in gasoline prices eats away $71.6 billion from the $120 billion in individual tax cuts, or 60 percent of the net tax savings for consumers,” Clifton wrote in a note. Trump reportedly endorsed hiking the federal gas and diesel tax by 25 cents. Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware said Trump said he’d be willing to provide leadership on the increase to pay for improvements to roads, highways and bridges. For an average family, the proposed 25 cent jump in the gasoline tax could become noticeable quickly. For instance, a 12-gallon fill up would cost $3 more with the new tax.

Trump endorses 25-cent gas tax hike

Their goes the $1.50 a week tax break. In fact it will eat away at the $80 a month tax break if you have to commute
Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images

President Trump endorsed a 25-cent gas tax hike to pay for infrastructure at a White House meeting this morning with senior administration officials and members of Congress from both parties, according to two sources with direct knowledge. Trump also said he was open to other ways to pay for infrastructure, according to a source with direct knowledge.   Trump’s gas tax idea appears dead on arrival. Republicans aren’t about to hike taxes for the Trump voters driving their pickup trucks to work every day. It’s a regressive tax and in Republicans’ minds would undo some of working and middle class tax cuts they just passed. Nick Note: Shit i thought the democrats were suppose to be the ones to tax and spend!

OPEC to stick with oil output cuts through 2018: Saudi energy minister

Reuters Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said Wednesday that the oil-rich kingdom and the OPEC cartel were committed to sticking with petroleum-production cuts for the rest of the year, even if they “overbalance the market a little bit.” The remarks by the top Saudi oil official, Khalid al-Falih, came a day after an International Energy Agency report contended that a new wave of U.S. crude production could undermine the kingdom’s efforts to raise petroleum prices with its output cuts.

“We believe we have to err on the safe side and make sure that the market has balanced,” Falih said at a news conference. “And if we have to overbalance the market a little bit, then so be it.”

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and 10 allies, including the world’s largest crude producer, Russia, began a long-term effort to draw down a global oversupply of oil by cutting their own production. The 1.8 million-barrel-a-day effort has helped drain oil in storage and contributed to prices rising as high as $70 a barrel last month.  Nick Bit: Overbalance… what kind of craziness is that. Reality is the cuts are not working and oil prices have slipped by over $10 a barrel. So now they are getting even more desperate. The more they cut the more the US will supply. They are totally underestimating US shale oil production potential. It will spell their demise!

U.S. Consumer Prices Rise More Than Forecast

U.S. consumer prices rose by more than projected in January, adding to signs of an inflation pickup that have roiled financial markets this month. The consumer price index rose 0.5 percent from the previous month, above the median estimate of economists for a 0.3 percent increase, a Labor Department report showed Wednesday. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, the so-called core gauge increased 0.3 percent, also above forecasts for 0.2 percent. It was up 1.8 percent from a year earlier, higher than the 1.7 percent estimate. The figures renews investor concerns that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates at a faster pace than anticipated, after wage figures earlier this month sent Treasury yields spiking and started a rout in equities that pushed them into the first correction in two years. The 1.7 percent monthly gain in apparel prices, which account for about 3 percent of the CPI, was the biggest since 1990. Other items contributing to the gain in CPI included rents and owners’ equivalent rent, which both rose 0.3 percent from December; medical care, up 0.4 percent; and motor vehicle insurance, which advanced 1.3 percent, the most since 2001.

The increase in the core CPI brought the three-month annualized gain to 2.9 percent, the fastest since 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Including all items, the main CPI gauge rose 2.1 percent from a year earlier, the same pace as in December and exceeding forecasts for a 1.9 percent increase. Policy makers look at the core index to better gauge underlying inflation because food and energy prices tend to be volatile. The latest report showed energy prices rose 3 percent from the previous month and food costs advanced 0.2 percent. Economists and investors have seen a Fed interest-rate hike in March as a near-certainty, the details of the latest CPI report could play a role in the timing and number of rate increases throughout 2018.  Powell, speaking Tuesday at his ceremonial swearing-in, suggested that the central bank would push ahead with gradual interest-rate increases, and that officials “remain alert to any developing risks to financial stability.” Nick Bit: Disasters are occurring all over the place. Yearly Budget deficit out of control. Inflation coming on. Retail sales slowing. i am sure you are getting the picture.

Trump still unsure Russia interfered in election: CNN sources

Trump still unsure Russia interfered in election: CNN sources
© Getty Images

President Trump remains unconvinced of the assessment from America’s intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, CNN reported Wednesday. Sources close to the president tell the news network that despite continued statements from top intelligence officials, Trump still links the issue of Russian election meddling to the investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia, believing the investigation to be merely an effort to prove Russia aided his election. Despite this, Trump’s Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other top officials testified Tuesday that Russia did indeed interfere in the 2016 election and accessed the voter rolls of an “exceptionally small” number of states. Trump’s view is particularly dangerous, experts warn, because Russia’s government continues to target America’s democratic institutions to this day with the intent on influencing future elections.

“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Coats testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

FBI Director Christopher Wray added in his testimony this week that Trump has not specifically ordered him to take action to counter Russian efforts ahead of the 2018 midterm elections in November. The president has frequently dismissed the “Russia story,” saying it was invented by Democrats to explain losing the 2016 presidential election and, while he has acknowledged his belief that Russia hacked U.S. systems during the 2016 election, he has frequently maintained that “other countries” were likely involved in similar efforts. The head of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity division told The Hill in a recent interview that she is worried Russia will continue to act against America’s institutions in the future. “I will always be worried about it and it is always something that entities are going to look to influence our democratic processes,” Jeanette Manfra said. “As a country, we should be in a position to counter that.”

Stormy Daniels: Trump lawyer admits paying porn star

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Porn actress Stormy Daniels alleged in 2011 that she had an affair with Mr Trump in 2006

The long-term personal lawyer of US President Donald Trump has admitted privately paying an adult film star $130,000 (£95,000) in 2016, in a statement to the New York Times.

It follows US media reports that the actress known as Stormy Daniels was paid to sign an agreement stopping her discussing an alleged affair. She first said she had a relationship with Mr Trump in a 2011 interview. The lawyer has previously said Mr Trump “vehemently denies” it occurred. “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford [Stephanie Gregory Clifford, her real name], and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Michael D. Cohen said in a statement to The New York Times. He said he told the Federal Election Commission the same after a watchdog group filed a complaint about the payment serving as an “in-kind” political contribution to Mr Trump’s campaign.”The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone,” Mr Cohen said. In a 2011 interview with InTouch magazine, the actress said she began a sexual relationship with Mr Trump in 2006, shortly after Melania Trump gave birth to his son Barron. The reports re-emerged in January when the Wall Street Journal reported that she was paid to sign a non-disclosure agreement in the run up to the 2016 election. Ms Clifford was believed to be in discussion with US media about an appearance to discuss Mr Trump at the time, the report said. The New York Times newspaper said Mr Cohen declined to answer questions on why the payment was made.

Trillion-dollar + deficits crises will hit sooner than expected

As you can see under Obama Deficits fell and are Soaring under Trump… the number don’t lie… Trump does! forget political bullshit get  rich!

Wall Street loudly celebrated after Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress delivered major tax cuts in December. At one point last month, the Dow was up 45% from the level it was at when Trump won the election. The index jumped 1,000 points in the space of just seven trading days in January. Optimism is also on the rise among smaller companies. A recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses found that owners of small firms say this is the best time in decades to expand.

For Blankfein, who became Goldman CEO nearly 12 years ago, the current upbeat mood is laced with memories of the heady days that preceded the global financial crisis.

“What could possibly go wrong? I haven’t felt this good since 2006,” he joked. Trump’s tax cuts backfiring on Wall Street. Investors have begun to worry about a potential hangover. Fears that inflation will force the Federal Reserve to end the party by aggressively raising interest rates sent the Dow plunging 1,300 points, or 5.2%, last week. It was the index’s biggest weekly drop in two years. “If the economy starts to overheat, and the Fed feels that it’s behind” on inflation, it will need to act, Blankfein said. Concerns about runaway inflation forced the Fed to scramble in 1994 by dramatically raising rates more than Wall Street anticipated. “I remember 1994,” Blankfein said. “That’s possible, too. That would be quite jarring to the economy.” Heavy selling has already lifted the 10-year Treasury yield from 2.4% at the start of 2018 to around 2.85% today. That’s critical because Treasuries help set the price for virtually every other asset. Higher returns for U.S. government debt, which is seen as an ultra-safe investment, could hurt demand for riskier assets like stocks. Washington’s spending binge will force the Treasury to borrow more by issuing more bonds. Those bonds will need to be sold at the same time that the Fed is winding down its past stimulus efforts, which were known as quantitative easing (QE), by offloading vast amounts of Treasury notes. “They have a competitor: the central bank,” Blankfein said. “They’re going to sell into the same kind of market to the same investors.” Nick Bit: we have soaring budget deficits up 300% in less then a year from the Obama low. Fed is withdrawing QE to the tune of 350 billion a year. And the Fed is raising rates. A recession cannot be avoided….. and a stock market crash. We will be lucky to have a recession try depression. And Trump has started a trade war with China and itching for one with Canada and Mexico.

Rob Porter’s lack of full security clearance raises concerns about backlog

Neither the White House nor the FBI is taking responsibility in the backlog of more than 700,000 security clearances. One investigator told CBS News that the White House security clearance process “is the peak of what the problem is throughout the government.” On Monday, the White House blamed delays in the security clearance process on the FBI, but in another sign of the strain between the bureau and the White House, the FBI responded in a statement that they just conduct the background check, they don’t grant security clearances, reports CBS News’ Jeff Pegues. Nearly 13 months into the Trump administration, more than a dozen top officials are working with an “interim security clearance.” Among them the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Rob Porter was on that list until he resigned last week amid allegations of domestic violence. “Well to me it suggests a breakdown in the security clearance system,” said Chris Swecker, former assistant director of the FBI.   He says some officials in the Clinton administration relied on interim clearances, but that it’s unusual for so many officials to not have full security clearances at this point. “To have someone with an interim security clearance for over a year seems very excessive. It sort of defeats the purpose of having a security clearance process in the first place,” Swecker said. Within FBI headquarters there is a special unit called SPIN or Special Inquiries. It handles White House security clearances, which are designed to be expedited in about 45 days. Once the FBI completes its investigation, its findings are handed over to the White House, which has discretion in deciding whether to approve a full security clearance. “My real question was about how — how he could be doing this job without a security clearance,” said Lisa Brown, a staff secretary in President Obama’s White House. You want to make sure that they aren’t working for foreign government, that they are an upright and honest person, that they aren’t somehow going to be susceptible to blackmail.” That is why the security clearance process is essential — especially for the White House. CBS News has been told that the FBI first turned over Rob Porter’s background check information to the White House at least eight months before his resignation.

CNN plans to lay off some digital workers

CNN is expected to eliminate fewer than 50 positions as part of a retrenchment among some of its digital properties, the latest media outlet to temper its outlook for growth in the medium. “We’ve been transparent about our strategy. In order to innovate, grow and experiment, we’ve added more than 200 jobs in the past 18 months. Not every new project has paid off so we will stop some activities in order to reallocate those resources and enable future experimentation,” the Time Warner-owned news outlet said in a statement. “Organizations that do not make big bets and continuously evolve are the ones that fail.” CNN recently announced it would shutter Beme, a project that involved YouTube influencer Casey Neistat. The company has also pulled back from efforts with Snapchat and scuttled a CNNMoney project known as MoneyStream. A person familiar with the matter said the number of employees affected was not immediately known, as some of those jobs may be “repurposed” in other parts of the organization

Equity holdings in biggest one-month fall in two-years: BAML survey

LONDON (Reuters) – Global investors cut equity holdings by the most in two-years in February, a Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey showed on Tuesday, as world shares had their worst week since early 2016. The BAML survey of 196 participants with a total of $575 billion under management was conducted between Feb. 2 and Feb. 8, when world equity markets fell by more than 5 percent.The sharp sell off followed higher than expected U.S. wage growth data which raised fears the U.S. Federal Reserve would have to tighten faster than previously anticipated.

In the poll, just 5 percent of fund managers said global interest rates would be lower in the next 12 months, with 80 percent expecting them to rise.

“The February fund manager survey allocation is positioned for higher rates and a weak U.S. dollar but is now less equivocally pro-cyclical and risk-on,” the bank said. Higher bond yields tend to hurt equities because they increase borrowing costs for companies and ultimately consumers. They also present an alternative to investors who may reallocate some cash from equities. Wall Street suffered a particularly turbulent week, with all its main indices in correction territory, meaning cumulative falls of more than 10 percent from their peak.

Perhaps not surprisingly, investors’ allocation to equities fell to a net 43 percent overweight from a net 55 percent overweight, the largest one-month decline since February 2016.

BAML said this 12 percentage point drop was short of the 16 percentage point monthly fall required to signal that a risk asset rout was complete, according to historical survey data. But it also noted a record 20 percentage point jump in the number of investors taking out protection against a sharp fall in equity markets in the next three months, to a net minus 30 percent in February. In another sign of caution, cash levels rose to 4.7 percent from 4.4 percent. But Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at BAML, said the cash and equity shifts did not move the needle enough to give the all clear to buy the dip. The top tail risk identified by investors for 2018 was an inflation-induced bond crash, chosen by 45 percent. A policy mistake by the Fed or the European Central Bank was next, cited by 18 percent.

In another pessimistic signal, 70 percent of investors surveyed now believe the global economy is in a “late cycle” phase, the highest level since January 2008.

China ramps up trade tiff over ‘dumping’ of US chemical

 Initial ruling in Chinese investigation calls for importers to pay ‘anti-dumping’ deposits for shipments of styrene, used to make foam packaging

Trade tensions between the world’s two biggest economies continued to simmer as Beijing took aim at imports of a key chemical from the United States, the latest move in a growing stand-off between the pair.China’s Ministry of Commerce announced on Tuesday it had found dumping of styrene imports from the US, Taiwan and South Korea in an initial ruling of an ongoing trade investigation into the chemical.  Dumping, or selling goods at unfairly low prices abroad, can undercut domestic markets at the expense of local industries. “Mainland China’s styrene industry has suffered substantial harm,” China’s commerce ministry said in a statement, adding that dumping was the cause of this harm. The initial ruling called for importers to place anti-dumping deposits of 5 per cent to 10.7 per cent with China’s customs administration. Those deposits will be applied to tariffs if the commerce ministry decides to levy duties in a final ruling. Styrene is the building block of many plastics, used to make foam packaging and many disposable plastics. Last year, China imported 3.2 million tonnes of the chemical from the US worth more than US$4 billion. The measures come a month after the Trump administration launched new tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels and washing machines. Analysts say Beijing is signalling it will take action in a tit-for-tat trade war. Last week it launched an anti-dumping investigation into sorghum imports from the US, worth almost US$1 billion last year. That was a sliver of the US$14 billion in US soybean imports, which a Chinese commerce ministry spokesman also hinted could be in Beijing’s cross hairs. Soybeans are America’s biggest export to China. The Trump administration has put levelling the trade playing field near the top of its agenda for Sino-US relations.

But in Trump’s first year as president the trade deficit swelled to a record high of US$375.2 billion by the US’s counting.

Bitcoin buyers should be aware of the risks and look after themselves, top exchange CEO says

Visual representation of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin on February 1, 2018.
Chesnot | Getty Images Visual representation of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin on February 1, 2018.

Traders tempted to invest in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin must carry the burden of responsibility, according to the CEO of a leading cryptocurrency exchange. “I think ultimately consumers need to look out for themselves, look into the fundamentals of any coin and not rely on any particular exchange to protect them from market volatility,” Jesse Powell, founder and CEO of Kraken, told CNBC on Tuesday. Speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Powell said Kraken conducted a “thorough” evaluation process to ensure every digital coin available on its San Francisco-based exchange was “almost certainly not a scam.” “We make no promises about the future of any coin, things can change when you raise $1 billion in 10 minutes,” he said.

On Monday, European Union regulators warned cryptocurrencies were unsuitable investments and should be viewed as “highly risky” assets.

The European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) for securities, banking and insurance and pensions said in a joint statement that the volatile nature of cryptocurrencies was showing “clear signs of a pricing bubble.”

 

Nick Spanos, CEO of Blockchain Technologies Corporation, said “I believe cryptocurrency is the people’s declaration of monetary independence,” he saidl at the World Government Summit.

Artificial Intelligence Is Edging Its Way Into Our Lives

Artificial intelligence is here. Robots were shown off recently at CES, the world’s largest consumer electronics show, in Las Vegas. Credit Roger Kisby for The New York Times

In Phoenix, cars are self-navigating the streets. In many homes, people are barking commands at tiny machines, with the machines responding. On our smartphones, apps can now recognize faces in photos and translate from one language to another. Artificial intelligence is here — and it’s bringing new possibilities, while also raising questions. Since Amazon bought a robot maker called Kiva Systems, it had built 100,000 of the robots. Amazon has also embedded A.I. throughout the company, he added, with technologists working together with people who run businesses. The company is using machine learning and deep learnings, which are different flavors of A.I., to upgrade internal algorithms, he said. As A.I. technology barrels ahead in Silicon Valley Uber is just one of many companies now competing with Waymo on driverless cars, and muchof this competition is driven by ex-Waymo engineers.

Trump’s US$4.4 trillion budget moves deficit sharply higher

President Donald Trump unveiled a US$4.4 trillion budget for next year that heralds an era of US$1 trillion-plus federal deficits and – unlike the plan he released last year – never comes close to promising a balanced ledger even after 10 years. The growing deficits reflect, in great part, the impact of last year’s tax overhaul, which is projected to cause federal tax revenue to drop. And Monday’s budget submission does not yet reflect last week’s two-year bipartisan US$300 billion pact that wholly rejects Trump’s plans to slash domestic agencies. Tax revenue would plummet by US$3.7 trillion over the 2018-27 decade relative to last year’s baseline estimates, the budget projects. Trump is requesting a record US$686 billion for the Pentagon, a 13 per cent increase from the 2017 budget enacted last May.The spending spree, along with last year’s tax cuts, has the deficit moving sharply higher with Republicans in control of Washington. Trump’s plan sees a 2019 deficit of US$984 billion, though US$1.2 trillion is more plausible after last week’s budget pact and US$90 billion worth of disaster aid is tacked on.

That is more than double the 2019 deficit the administration promised last year. All told, the new budget sees accumulating deficits of US$7.2 trillion over the coming decade; Trump’s plan last year projected a 10-year shortfall of US$3.2 trillion.

The 2019 budget was originally designed to double down on last year’s proposals to slash foreign aid, the Environmental Protection Agency, home heating help and other non-defence programmes funded by Congress each year. Trump would again spare Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare as he promised during the 2016 campaign. And while his plan would reprise last year’s attempt to scuttle the Obamacare health law and sharply cut back the Medicaid programme for the elderly, poor and disabled, Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill have signalled there’s no interest in tackling hot-button health issues during an election year. The proposal would allow US$1.2 trillion in discretionary spending in 2019, including US$23 billion for border security and immigration enforcement, US$21 billion for infrastructure, and $17 billion to combat the opioid epidemic. But while the budget proposal fully funds Trump’s own priorities, his budget proposes spending US$57 billion less in domestic spending than Congress authorised just three days ago.

Last year, Trump’s budget projected a slight surplus after a decade, but critics said it relied on an enormous accounting gimmick – double counting a 10-year, US$2 trillion surge in revenues from the economic benefits of tax reform. Now that tax reform has passed, the math trick can’t be used, and the Trump plan does not come close to balancing.

Trump will propose cutting entitlement programmes by US$1.7 trillion, including Medicare. The entitlement cuts over a decade are included in a White House summary of the budget. At a time when the prospect of rising annual budget shortfalls has spooked financial markets, the White House said in a statement – without explanation – that its plan would cut the federal deficit by US$3 trillion over 10 years and reduce debt as a percentage of gross domestic product.

Markets are reacting to an excessive monetary and fiscal stimulus of US economy

President Donald Trump, left, and Jerome Powell, the new chairman of the Federal Reserve on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017.
Carlos Barria | Reuters President Donald Trump, left, and Jerome Powell, the new chairman of the Federal Reserve on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017.

We are now witnessing a long-overdue asset repricing to reflect rising inflation expectations in an economy driven by excessive fiscal and monetary stimulation. Wage increases may be a more vivid event, but the last month’s 2.9 percent annual increase in hourly compensations that sunk the markets was nothing new. Wages and salaries rose 2.8 percent in the year to the fourth quarter, and, for all of 2017, they marked a steady annual growth of 2.6 to 2.8 percent. Those of you who still look at wages may wish to think of this: Wages don’t cause inflation, unit labor costs do. If a wage increase is substantially offset by rising labor productivity, costs per unit of output could remain stable, or of no particular consequence for corporate profit margins. President Donald Trump says that declining asset markets are making a “big mistake” because “we have so much good (great) news about the economy!” Here is why that news may not be as great as he thinks. The physical limits to America’s economic growth are currently estimated in the range of 1.5 to 1.7 percent. Those limits are set by the stock and quality of human and physical capital. And that particular growth rate that the effective supply of labor and physical plant can allow — without causing accelerating inflation — is called the economy’s growth potential, or the noninflationary economic growth. The actual growth rate of 2.3 percent observed last year exceeds the noninflationary growth potential by nearly an entire percentage point. One should also note that the economy’s pace of advance accelerated during last year from 2 percent in the first quarter to 2.5 percent in the fourth quarter. That’s frightening the markets. They now see an economy pushing well above its physical limits to growth being turbo-charged with a huge fiscal stimulus — tax cuts plus increasing public spending — and extraordinarily large and cheap credit flows. Indeed, the Fed’s long hesitation waltz must now give way to an accelerating pace of policy restraint to “normalize” the credit stance, and to balance out the policy mix in response to a strong fiscal easing. Meanwhile, the effective federal funds rate — the Fed’s key policy instrument — remained stable at 1.41 percent (well below the 1.50 percent target) since mid-December, while, over that period, the yield on the benchmark Treasury’s 10-year note rose 39 basis points, finishing the last Friday’s trading session at 2.85 percent. That sharply steepening yield curve is telling the Fed to get going — presto.

Bridgewater investment chief sees new era of volatility

World’s biggest hedge fund expects end of easy money to trigger market ‘shakeout’

The world’s biggest hedge fund has warned that global markets are entering a new era of volatility as the world adjusts to higher interest rates after a decade of ultra-loose monetary policy. Bob Prince, co-chief investment officer at Bridgewater, said last week’s market turbulence, which helped trigger record outflows from global stock funds, was set to continue. “There had been a lot of complacency built up in markets over a long time, so we don’t think this shakeout will be over in a matter of days,” Mr Prince, who runs Bridgewater’s $160bn of investments alongside the fund’s founder Ray Dalio, said in an interview:

“We’ll probably have a much bigger shakeout coming.”

Markets were thrown into a tailspin last week when rising bond yields triggered a sell-off in stocks that was exacerbated by the collapse of several complex volatility-linked funds and algorithmic trading strategies also tied to the level of stock market choppines . It just takes a little change in interest rates to have a bear market: Ray Dalio on monetary policy. US equities managed to stage a late comeback on Friday, lifting the S&P 500 index to a 1.4 per cent gain and paring what at one point looked set to be the worst week for stocks since the financial crisis. Instead, the US equity benchmark managed to pare back its weekly loss to 5.2 per cent, the biggest decline since early 2016. Mr Dalio has also become increasingly gloomy over the past year, concerned at the deepening political polarisation in Washington and a shift in central bank policy.

“We will have more volatility as we are entering a new macroeconomic environment.” -Bob Prince, Co-chief investment officer at Bridgewater

\At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, he said markets were still in a “goldilocks” period, but warned that the current cycle was in its final stages and would be acutely sensitive to shifts in expectations for interest rate increases.

Mr Prince doubted inflation would become a real problem, he expected central banks to start draining the global economy of some of the trillions of dollars they have pumped into the financial system in recent years — further challenging the post-crisis bull market.

That meshes with the view of Mr Levine at Goldman Sachs, who said that “longer term, I do believe this is a genuine regime change, one where you sell-the-rallies rather than buy-the-dips”.

OPEC hikes its 2018 forecast for oil supply growth on a flood of US crude

OPEC said Monday it expects demand for oil to grow faster than it originally expected in 2018, but the organization also sees supplies from beyond the producer group surging this year, driven by rising U.S. output. A monthly report also showed OPEC’s production was little changed in January as the group continues to limit its output for a second year in order to balance an oversupplied market. However, key members like Iraq raised their output in January. The 14-member cartel said it now sees non-OPEC production growing by 1.4 million barrels per day, up 250,000 bpd from its estimate in its last monthly report. It expects nations outside OPEC to pump a total of 59.26 million bpd this year, 320,000 bpd higher than its last forecast. The United States accounts for more than half of that upward revision. OPEC raised its 2018 U.S. supply growth forecast by 150,000 barrels per day.

Recent U.S. government data showed that American drillers began pumping more than 10 million barrels of crude oil daily in November, more than top OPEC producer Saudi Arabia.

“According to the most recent assessment, the steady oil price recovery since summer 2017 and renewed interest in growth opportunities has led to oil majors catching up in terms of exploration activity this year, both in the shale industry and offshore deep water,” OPEC said.

On the demand side, OPEC said it now expects the world’s appetite for oil to grow by 1.59 million barrels a day, up 60,000 bpd from last month’s forecast. That would put total global oil consumption at 98.6 million bpd in 2018.

The drivers behind OPEC’s forecast include steadily rising economic activity around the world, strong demand for transportation fuels like gasoline and jet fuel and a growing petrochemical industry, which turns byproducts from oil and natural gas into chemicals. In December, global stockpiles were about 109 million barrels above the five-year average, which is OPEC’s target.”In line with the existing overhang, the market is only expected to return to balance towards the end of this year,” OPEC said Monday. Nick Bit: OPEC is so full of shit! world demand at best is leveling off. Inventories will ON BALANCE build this year. And producers will increase production

OPEC hikes its 2018 forecast for oil supply growth on a flood of US crude

Workers position a section of pipe during drilling operations at a gas well outside Corpus Christi, Texas. Patterson-UTI Energy, Inc. is drilling the well for Decker Operating Company of Houston.
Eddie Seal | Bloomberg | Getty Images Workers position a section of pipe during drilling operations at a gas well outside Corpus Christi, Texas. Patterson-UTI Energy, Inc. is drilling the well for Decker Operating Company of Houston.

The recent uptick in oil prices is yet to convince investors that current levels will be sustainable, analysts at Goldman Sachs said Monday. Oil prices have skyrocketed almost 50 percent since the middle of last year, but investors were said to be unsure over a number of factors seen propelling the rally. U.S. producer discipline, healthy global demand and supply disruptions were all viewed with a sense of caution among investors, according to the investment bank. “Most importantly, investors remain unconvinced U.S. producer discipline will hold,” Goldman analysts said in a research note.

OPEC said Monday it expects demand for oil to grow faster than it originally expected in 2018, but the organization also sees supplies from beyond the producer group surging this year, driven by rising U.S. output.

Russia and Saudi Arabia are leading a joint OPEC and non-OPEC effort to try to reduce a global supply overhang and prop up prices. The deal between OPEC and its allied producers — which started to withhold output in January 2017 — is scheduled to last throughout the calendar year.

 

The price of oil collapsed from near $120 a barrel in June 2014 due to weak demand, a strong dollar and booming U.S. shale production. OPEC’s reluctance to cut output was also seen as a key reason behind the fall. But, the oil cartel soon moved to curb production — along with other oil-producing nations — in late 2016. Nick Bit: OPEC is so full of shit! They NOW  insist that oil demand will increase. Upping their demand forecast to absorb US increased production. BULLSHIT!! global demand at best will be flat and more likely fall. A disaster for their grandiose plan to boost oil prices. Reality is Russian producers are sick and tired of cutting production. They are putting enormous pressure on Putin to take the caps off. I have seen this over and over again. The OPEC production cuts will soon fail with massive cheating.

Barclays Bank faces fresh serious fraud office charges over £2.2bn loan given to Qatar in 2008

The charge is related to the issues that arose from Barclay's capital-raising in 2008. File photo

Regulators have charged Barclays Bank over a £2.2 billion loan given to Qatar as part of a side deal linked to its emergency fundraising in 2008. The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) extends a charge brought against the parent firm for ‘unlawful financial assistance’ last July. At the time, the SFO had not yet decided whether to charge the Barclays Bank unit over the loan as well. Barclays Bank has now been charged with the same offence. The charge is related to the issues that arose from Barclay’s capital-raising in 2008. File photo The SFO alleges that gave Qatar Holding the loan ‘for the purpose of directly or indirectly acquiring shares in Barclays’. The Companies Act deems it unlawful for banks to lend money to themselves. Both Barclays and its bank unit have said they will defend themselves against the charges. Barclays Bank Plc was today charged with unlawful financial assistance, which is contrary to the Companies Act 1985. The bank is accused of giving out a £2.2billion loan for the purpose of  directly or indirectly acquiring shares in Barclays Plc. In June 2017, the holding company, Barclays Plc, was charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and the provision of unlawful financial assistance contrary to the Companies Act 1985.

 ‘The emergency fundraising at the centre of the SFO case allowed Barclays to avoid the fate of its bailed-out rivals Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland. Barclays pulled off an £11.8 billion fundraising package from Qatari backers and other investors in 2008 to sidestep the need for a Government rescue, which left Lloyds and RBS part-nationalised. Money was pumped in by State-backed Qatari investors, as well as Abu Dhabi royals and investors from Singapore.Both Barclays and its bank unit have said they will defend themselves against the charges

Self-driving delivery robots could soon be hitting the streets of Phoenix

photo

– Starship Technologies is hoping to begin operating in the Valley, and help to revolutionize the way items are delivered. The company currently has operation centers in five countries, and their robots have had 11 million human interactions. Starship surveys the world of where they want to operate, and they said Phoenix is on the cutting edge of technology, and is the perfect market for their product. The company went before the state’s transportation committee on Wednesday, hoping for approval to operate self driving delivery robots in the Valley.  “Whenever you want something you would simply just as you would dial or order a pizza online, you would order the item online, you would select us as your delivery option, you’ll follow the device on your phone,” said David Catania with Starship Technologies. “It’s like an Uber for things. When it gets in front of your house, it sends you a text message. You go out, hit the button, it unlocks the device then it sends the device back to the home office.” The robots weigh about 50 pounds, and can carry about 20 pounds worth of goods, like pizza, groceries, packages and much more. They move at pedestrian speed, at about 4 miles per hour.  “The sweet spot for delivery is within 1.5 miles of the place of origin, and the reason for that is at its speed of about 4 miles per hour, we’re trying to get the product to the consumer within 30 minutes,” said Catania. The robots are 90 percent autonomous, and rely on GPS. Catania says the robots make delivery faster, smarter, more efficient, and are built from the ground up to be safe.  “There’s a great bubble of situational awareness,” said Catania. “It’s a combination of cameras and sonic sensors, so as it traverses, it can see you before you see it, and it will stop if an object is in front of it. Go around the object as people, property or things are along the side of it the software has it slow down.” Following a committee vote, this will then go to the full State House for a vote, and then to the Senate. If it passes all of those steps, it will then go to the Governor’s desk for approval, with the delivery robots in operation soon after the Governor’s approval. Nick Bit: 10 million people will be losing their jobs in the next TWO YEARS as deliver robots, Autonomous cars, Drivelers deliver trucks and Over the road vehicles start operating without people. Add Cashiers and hamburger flippers and pizza and food delivery people to the list of the starving unemployed.

Iran displays missile, Rouhani says U.S. regional policy a failure

FILE PHOTO: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani delivers remarks at a news conference during the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, U.S. September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith/File Photo

President Hassan Rouhani, addressing flag-waving crowds on central Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square, made no specific reference to Israel’s air strikes in Syria on Saturday which it said were aimed at air defence and Iranian targets. But he told the crowd: “They (U.S. and Israel) wanted to create tension in the region … they wanted to divide Iraq, Syria … They wanted to create long-term chaos in Lebanon but … but with our help their policies failed.”Iran backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war, supports Shi‘ite militias in Iraq, Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. U.S. President Donald Trump, who sees Iran as a rising threat to regional stability in the Middle East, has pledged to work with Israel and Iran’s key regional rival Saudi Arabia to curb what they say are Tehran’s attempts to extend its influence in the region.Israel has warned about the increased Iranian involvement along its borders with Syria and Lebanon.  Israel’s air strikes on Saturday which it said successfully hit air defence and Iranian targets represented the most serious confrontation between Israel and Iranian-backed forces in Syria in the seven-year civil war. The Syrian army claimed to have brought down an Israeli F-16 after Israel reportedly shot down an Iranian drone which it said had entered Israeli airspace. Iran has denied the Israeli claim, saying its presence in Syria is only advisory. In a show of defiance of Western pressure to curb its ballistic missile programme, Iran put its Ghadr ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 km (1,240 miles) on display in Tehran’s central Vali-ye Asr street. Iran says its missile programme is solely defensive in nature and is not negotiable as demanded by the United States and the Europeans. Iranian State television said “tens of millions of people” rallied to support the revolution across the country of 81 million, which faced its worst domestic crisis in nearly a decade in late December.

Justice Department’s No. 3 official to resign

Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand is stepping down from her post as the Justice Department faces intense criticism from President Trump.

The New York Times first reported  that Brand is resigning after nine months on the job. She is expected to take a job as general counsel in the private sector. As the No. 3 official at the Justice Department, Brand would be next in line to oversee special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which Trump has blasted as a “witch hunt.” That investigation is currently being overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the inquiry last year after it was revealed that he met with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the 2016 presidential election. At the time of the meetings, Sessions was serving as a Republican senator from Alabama and was a high-profile surrogate for Trump’s presidential campaign. “Rachel Brand is a lawyer’s lawyer,” Sessions said in a statement Friday, noting her work as a clerk at the Supreme Court, at the White House and in two previous administrations. “As Associate Attorney General, she has played a critical role in helping us accomplish our goals as a Department—taking on human trafficking, protecting free speech on campus, and fighting sexual harassment in public housing,” he said. “I know the entire Department of Justice will miss her, but we join together in congratulating her on this new opportunity in the private sector. She will always remain a part of the Department of Justice family.” Brand has served as a political appointee at the Justice Department in three presidential administrations. In her current role, she oversees the department’s civil division, civil rights division and antitrust division. The news of Brand’s resignation comes as Trump has in recent weeks stepped up his criticism of the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the election and whether members of the Trump campaign conspired with Moscow in an effort to sway the race. Fueling Trump’s criticism of the Justice Department is a memo released last week by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. That document alleges that FBI and Justice Department officials misused their authority to obtain a surveillance warrant on a former Trump campaign adviser. Media reports have also indicated that Trump has floated the idea of firing Rosenstein, though the White House has denied that notion. If the president did oust Rosenstein, Brand would have become responsible for overseeing the Russia investigation.

Senator seeking admin records on Trump’s sale of Palm Beach mansion to Russian

(CNN)A senator is asking the Treasury Department to turn over records of a lucrative real estate sale Donald Trump made to a Russian billionaire as the Senate Finance Committee looks into Trump’s ties to Russians. Sen. Ron Wyden, the committee’s ranking member, on Friday requested the financial records of the sale of Trump’s former estate in Palm Beach to Dmitry Rybolovlev. Wyden’s letter outlined how Donald Trump bought a 6.3-acre property in Florida for $41.35 million in 2004 and then sold that property to a company owned by the businessman four years later. The sale price to Rybolovlev more than doubled Trump’s initial investment, to $95 million. The property’s appraisal in 2008 fell short of that sale price by $30 million, Wyden said.

“In the context of the President’s then-precarious financial position, I believe that the Palm Beach property sale warrants further scrutiny,” the Oregon Democrat wrote. “It is imperative that Congress follow the money and conduct a thorough investigation into any potential money laundering or other illicit financial dealings between the President, his associates, and Russia.” The Palm Beach estate, called Maison de L’Amitie, sat vacant for years until Rybolovlev resold the land in parcels. He sold one of the three parcels for $37 million and another for $34.34 million, the South Florida Business Journal reported in October, meaning he would need to sell the remaining parcel for about $24 million to surpass the purchase price. Trump previously acknowledged the sale of the estate as one of his few financial links to Russia. “You know, the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach, Florida,” Trump said at a press conference in July 2016. “Palm Beach is a very expensive place. There was a man who went bankrupt, and I bought the house for $40 million, and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million, including brokerage commissions. So I sold it. So I bought it for 40 (million), I sold it for 100 (million) to a Russian.”
In later interviews, Trump said he bought the property at a bankruptcy auction and mentioned Rybolovlev’s wealth, which Forbes says is currently $6.8 billion.
“I never met him,” Trump said in an interview with Politico, referring to Rybolovlev. “He was represented by a broker. … I heard good things about him in many ways, and about his family. … He just happened to be from Russia. He’s a rich guy from Russia.” Aside from the real estate deal, Rybolovlev’s general whereabouts have crossed paths with Trump’s a few times. Late in the 2016 presidential campaign that year, Rybolovlev’s plane intersected twice with Trump’s when it was spotted in two US cities where Trump was campaigning, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and in Las Vegas, according to McClatchy.
Spokespeople for Trump and Rybolovlev say they have never met in person. Rybolovlev says he was in the US on business and the overlaps were a “pure coincidence.” The Trump campaign said at the time that it was unaware of the Russian’s presence.
Rybolovlev was named in a list of Russian oligarchs released late last month by the Treasury Department. Nearly 100 wealthy and well-connected Russians were placed on the list because of “their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth,” the department said.
A Bloomberg News report in July said Mueller was examining the transactions between Trump and Russians, including the Palm Beach estate sale.

US natural gas exports set to jump as Donald Trump-Xi Jinping summit deal kicks in

Cheniere Energy of the US will supply China National Petroleum with about 1.2 million tonnes of LNG annually through to 2043

The Cheniere deal may help to address this friction by bolstering the US’ entry into the LNG export market. The company is the US’ only LNG producer, having begun exporting LNG in 2016, after it completed its first LNG terminal in Louisiana. More US LNG producers will bring their export terminal projects online in the next two years, including Dominion Energy’s plant in Maryland.

Israel Launches ‘Large Scale Attack’ in Syria After Iranian Drone Infiltrates Jewish State

(ASSOCIATED PRESS) The Israeli military shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated the country early Saturday before launching a “large-scale attack” on at least a dozen Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria. Israel called it a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty” and warned of further action against the unprecedented Iranian aggression. The military said its planes faced massive anti-aircraft fire from Syria that forced two pilots to abandon an F-16 jet that crashed in northern Israel. One pilot was seriously wounded and the other lightly. Syrian officials reported large explosions in the center of the country and the Syrian counter fire set off warning sirens throughout northern Israel. The Israeli strikes marked its most significant engagement since the fighting in neighboring Syria began in 2011 and said Iran would be held responsible for its outcome. “This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said in a special statement. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.” Gen. Hossein Salami, acting commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, did not acknowledge Israel’s claim it shot down the drone. “We do not confirm any such news from Israel,” he said. But the joint operations room for the Syrian military and its allies denied the drone violated Israeli airspace, saying it was on a regular mission gathering intelligence on Islamic State militants. Syria’s Defense Ministry said in statements on its website that its air defenses responded successfully to the Israeli operation and hit more than one plane. “The Israeli enemy has once again attacked some of our military bases in the southern area and our air defenses responded and foiled the aggression,” it said. If the plane was in fact shot down by enemy fire, it could mark the first such instance for Israel since 1982 during the first Lebanon war. Israel has been warning of late of the increased Iranian involvement along its border in Syria and Lebanon. It fears Iran could use Syrian territory to stage attacks or create a land corridor from Iran to Lebanon that could allow it to transfer weapons more easily to Hezbollah.

Slide in ETFs that buy ‘safe’ stocks shows market volatility was no freakish VIX blip

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange

Investors hoping the sudden volatility would stop and the stock market would get back to its bull run are probably realizing that was wishful thinking. Many market watchers zeroed in on the role of inverse ETFs that short the VIX volatility index as a sign that this downturn was a freakish blip. But trading in ETFs designed to buy less volatile stocks, known as minimum volatility ETFs, are suggesting a trend more ominous right now: There’s no place in the market that’s safe to hide — at least not just yet. Stocks that fit a minimum volatility strategy are getting marked down almost as aggressively as the market as a whole. Based on trading history, the VIX itself has signaled that volatility will not vanish. In a note published Thursday, DataTrek Research took a look at the ETFs designed for minimum volatility and found they are selling off not just alongside the market but almost as much. That leads DataTrek to the conclusion that there’s no stock safe from big repricing. The past few days reveal a few troubling stats. The downside capture for USMV/SPLV from the January peak for the S&P 500 (Jan 26 close) to now: 93 percent to 94 percent. And the returns:

S&P: down 6.7 percent
USMV: down 6.3 percent
SPLV: down 6.2 percent

The downside capture over the last month was more than 100 percent. And the returns:

S&P 500: down 2.2 percent
USMV: down 2.9 percent
SPLV: down 3.4 percent.

From Dec. 15 to the end of the year to the Jan.y 26 closing highs, USMV/SPLV underperformed dramatically. The S&P 500 rose by 8.3 percent; the average performance of the two funds was just 3.9 percent (or 47 percent upside capture), DataTrek noted. Investors have noticed: USMV/SPLV show negative money flows over the past week to the tune of $770 million.

 

And DataTrek drew three broader conclusions:

1. The narrative about the effect of VIX-linked ETFs on the market isn’t enough. Investors seem to be repricing risk on an almost name-by-name basis.

2. This is limiting investors’ ability to hide from market volatility.

3. The minimum volatility strategy is a useful canary in the coalmine that is the U.S. equity market.

4. Monitoring these minimum volatility funds may be a good way to know whether volatility is truly ebbing.

“While it might be tempting to look at high-volatility stocks for a sign investor confidence has returned, it feels like a tall ask to expect those names to rally convincingly just now,” Colas wrote. “So keep an eye on how SPLV and USMV trade in the coming days — outperformance there will be a useful ‘tell’ about the health of the market as a whole.”

Oil books steep weekly loss as supply fears mount

 

Reuters Graphic
U.S. production gains have put it on track to overtake the current output in Saudi Arabia, the biggest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices fell for a sixth day on Friday, and were on track for their biggest weekly losses in 10 months, as record-high U.S. crude output added to concerns about a sharp rise in global supplies. Brent oil dropped  to its lowest close since Dec. 20.U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 dropped to its lowest close since Jan. 2.  “It has now become painfully clear for beleaguered oil bulls that the early-year rally was not justified,” PVM Oil Associates’ Stephen Brennock said in a note. “In its place is a deepening price rout that has quashed any lingering pockets of optimism.”

U.S. domestic crude production hit a record of 10.25 million barrels per day (bpd) for the most recent week, according to the U.S. Energy Information

Administration (EIA), while an outage on a key oil pipeline in the North Sea proved short-lived. OPEC member Iran also announced plans on Thursday to increase production within the next four years by at least 700,000 barrels a day, which Brennock said marked “a hat-trick of heartaches” for oil bulls. The U.S. increases have complicated efforts by OPEC and other producers, including Russia, to balance global markets and force down excess global inventories by cutting output. The group extended the production cut deal, which began in January 2017, until the end of 2018. As more U.S. oil is being exported, it is also challenging OPEC members’ market share in key regions, Like China.  Nick Bit: All the above is as we predicted.. Here is a wild one for you … In the next 5 years US combined Oil and Natural gs production will DOUBLE. the US will be the worlds largest oil exporter… We are already the worlds largest oil and natural gas producer..

Congress votes to approve 2-year budget deal and end government shutdown

Protest by Rand Paul led to short shutdown after midnight
Getty Images Sen. Rand Paul forced a delay on the budget bill, leading to the second government shutdown this year.

The House of Representatives voted early Friday for a two-year budget deal that raises both defense and domestic spending by hundreds of billions of dollars, approving a package that would also reopen the federal government after it shut down just past midnight. The House followed the Senate in approving the sweeping bill, which would also suspend the debt limit through March 1, 2019. President Donald Trump tweeted that he signed the bill, which will reopen the government.

Sen. Rand Paul forced a delay on the Senate’s vote until past midnight Thursday, leading to the second government shutdown this year. The Kentucky Republican said: “We have Republicans hand-in-hand with Democrats offering us trillion-dollar deficits. I can’t in all honesty look the other way.” He had demanded a vote to keep budget caps in place.

J.P. Morgan economists say the deal could send the budget deficit to 6% of GDP by 2019, which they said was “unprecedented” at a time of full employment.

The Senate voted 71 to 28 to approve the measure and send it to the House, where it passed 240 to 186. Conservatives objected to how much money it spends, and Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, voted against it since it excludes a deal on immigration.

 The agreement, announced Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, would raise overall spending caps by about $300 billion over two years. In addition to punting the next vote on the debt limit until after November’s midterm elections, the bill funnels billions of dollars to infrastructure projects and efforts to fight the opioid crisis. It also repeals a cost-control board set up by President Barack Obama’s health-care law.

 

Budget analysts warn that the deal will herald the return of trillion-dollar deficits.

 

The deal approved by Congress was included in a short-term funding bill keeping the government open through March 23. Lawmakers will now have six weeks to write detailed legislation with funding at the new levels.

Mortgage rates hit 14-month high as bonds sell off

So long, lower for longer Mortgage rate. Be prepared to pay the banker loan sharks in flesh and BLOOD!

Rates for home loans rose to the highest in more than a year, raising the prospect of a fresh headwind for housing that mortgage professionals think the market can handle — for now. The benchmark 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.32% during the week ending Feb. 8, Freddie Mac said Thursday. That was up 10 basis points from the prior week and leaves rates more than 30 basis points higher than where they started the year. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.77%, up from 3.68%. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 3.57%, up four basis points. Those rates don’t include fees associated with obtaining mortgage loans.

Mortgage rates track alongside yields on 10-year U.S. Treasurys TMUBMUSD10Y, -0.41%   — an investment that’s suddenly become a lot less desirable as the federal government plans massive deficit spending  Bond yields rise as prices decline, and vice versa. “The typical consumer may not have a very in-depth understanding of the interaction between the Fed Funds rate and the long end, but the buzz is, rates are going up,” said Steven Schnall, CEO of Astoria, New York-based Quontic Bank.

Trump budget to include $3 billion for border wall: official

FILE PHOTO: The top 3 of  U.S. President Donald Trump’s eight border wall prototypes are shown near completion along U.S.- Mexico border near San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s budget proposal to be unveiled on Monday will include a request for $3 billion as a down payment on building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, a senior administration official said on Thursday. The official, who briefed a small group of reporters on condition of anonymity, said the money would go toward purchasing private land in the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas and advance purchases of steel. The administration hopes to build 60 miles (96 km) of new steel bollard fencing along the border with 2018 funding and an additional 64 miles (103 km) with 2019 funding.The $3 billion will be on top of this year’s $14 billion request for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. The border wall was a signature issue for Trump in his 2016 presidential election campaign. He pledged that Mexico would pay for the wall, which the Mexican government has insisted it will not do. Democrats sharply oppose the wall, which Trump has said is aimed at keeping out illegal immigrants and drug smugglers. The new fencing would be constructed in areas known to be used by migrants crossing into the United States, the official said. Wall funding has been caught up in a debate over how to protect young “Dreamers,” people who were brought to the country illegally as children. Trump has offered to give the Dreamers protection from deportation and a pathway to citizenship over 10 to 12 years, in exchange for $25 billion in wall funding and tightened restrictions on legal immigration, but Democrats have balked at the terms.

Trump’s Soaring Budget Deficit Risks Intensifying Market Frenzy

The ballooning federal budget deficit under President Donald Trump will force the U.S. to borrow more than $1 trillion this year and risks worsening the frenzy behind the global sell-off in stock markets. Even beforehand, Bank of America Corp. senior U.S. economist Joseph Song warned in a report that the federal deficit was on track to exceed 5 percent of gross domestic product by 2019, by far the largest for the economy while at full employment since World War II.  That is “exactly the opposite of what the economic textbooks say lawmakers should be doing,” Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics Inc., said in an email.

“Deficit financed tax cuts and spending increases in a full-employment economy will result in more Fed tightening and higher interest rates.”

The combined impact on the deficit of the Republican tax cuts and the spending deal over the next two years will likely exceed the $580 billion President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus added in 2009 and 2010 during the depths of the recession.

Investors remained on edge Thursday as the resurgent threat of inflation and higher bond yields renewed concerns that rising interest rates will drag on the economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 1,000 points and the broader S&P 500 index fell 3.75 percent Thursday — down more than 10 percent since its Jan. 26 peak.

“An increase in debt instruments, people dumping bonds and concerns about higher inflation — that is a toxic combination,” said Alexis Crow, head of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP’s geopolitical investing group in New York. “Since the crisis, debt has not disappeared. It’s an unsustainable situation.”

White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah defended the Trump administration’s commitment to reducing the deficit at a press briefing Thursday.

Why U.S. Budget Deficits Are Facing a Fatter Future: QuickTake

“I know some of the numbers have more to do with the previous administration’s accounting than it has to do with this administration’s policies, but I would say we are committed to fiscal discipline and the budget next week shows that in greater detail,” Shah said.

In the short term, the combination of tax cuts and more government spending will throw fuel onto the economy, boosting growth, employment and probably wages. Zandi estimates the spending deal alone, if passed by Congress and signed by Trump, could add as much as 0.4 percent to economic growth this year and 0.2 percent next year, raising his growth forecast to 3.1 percent in 2018 and 2.3 percent in 2019.

But investors in Treasuries, which pay fixed payments over the life of the security, are wary of inflation, which erodes the value of their income. The 10-year Treasury yield, the key benchmark for global rates including many U.S. mortgages, reached 2.88 percent this week – its highest since January 2014 and up from 2.41 percent at the end of last year. The 30-year bond yield is now above 3 percent.

“Some participants that I’ve talked to have said, look, you know, they’re suddenly realizing that Treasury is going to be doubling the amount of debt issuance,” Patrick Harker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, told reporters Thursday. “I think that was not fully baked into some people’s thinking.”

A Treasury auction on Thursday underscored the concerns. The $16 billion 30-year U.S. bond sale drew a yield of 3.121 percent, higher than indicated before the offering. Indirect bidders, a class of investors that includes pensions and mutual funds, purchased 61.2 percent, the least since September.

The tax cuts and spending increases are kicking in as the deficit already was rising. The retirement of Baby Boomers adds to Social Security and Medicare costs. The Federal Reserve’s rate increases also raise the cost of interest payments on the U.S. debt.

Fed officials sound almost glib discussing stock-market correction

The problem is that ‘small potatoes’ can quickly become larger
Everett Collection Leslie Nielsen doing his William Dudley impression.

With stocks careening downward over the past week, Federal Reserve officials have tried to remain stoic, with one central banker, New York Fed President William Dudley. describing the drop — as least by mid-day Thursday — as “small potatoes.” In a similar vein, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard early in the week called the market’s fall “the most predicted selloff of all time.” Fed watchers said that Dudley and Bullard might have gone a little too far. Tim Duy, an economics professor at the University of Oregon, he understood that the Fed was trying to quash talk of a “Powell put” and that the central bank was going to run to the stock market’s rescue. However, Dudley’s comments translate as: “Quit whining at me. You got lazy making money,” Duy said.“That is not language I would have used. It seemed excessively dismissing of an excessively turbulent environment,” he said. Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust, said it looked to him like some important lessons about what central bankers should say during market downturns had been forgotten. “It has been a long time since we’ve had a 10% correction. Because it has been so long, perhaps our memories of what to say and when to say it may have atrophied,” Tannenbaum said. The problem is that small potatoes can get bigger. To avoid having to comment on every tic in the Dow, it is probably best to say relatively little, he added. Stocks had another volatile day on Friday, with the Dow Industrial Average down more than 300 points in the afternoon after surging in the morning.

 

Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said all week the Fed was speaking as it the stock market decline was just “blowing off the froth” of a slightly-overheated market. The late-day selloff on Thursday may force the central bank to “change the narrative.” The Dow fell more than 400 points in the last 30 minutes of the trading session. Whether the Fed moves “all depends if this is a blip or something more serious,” he said. Investors still see over a 70% chance the Fed will raise interest rates at their next policy meeting on March 20-21 and another by September.

How soaring U.S. oil exports to China are transforming the global oil game

FILE PHOTO: Pipelines run to Enbridge Inc.’s crude oil storage tanks at their tank farm in Cushing, Oklahoma, March 24, 2016. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

First, sharp drops in U.S. imports of crude oil eroded the biggest market that producers like OPEC had relied on for many years. Now, surging U.S. exports – largely banned by Washington until just two years ago – challenge the last region OPEC dominates: Asia. U.S. oil shipments to China have surged, creating trade between the world’s two biggest powers that until 2016 just did not exist, and helping Washington in its effort to reduce the nation’s huge trade deficit with China. The transformation is reflected in figures released in recent days that shows the U.S. now produces more oil than top exporter Saudi Arabia and means the Americans are likely to take over the No.1 producer spot from Russia by the end of the year.

The growth has surprised even the official U.S. Energy Information Administration, which this week raised its 2018 crude output forecast to 10.59 million bpd, up by 300,000 bpd from their last forecast just a week before.

When U.S. oil exports appeared in 2016, the first cargoes went to free trade agreement partners South Korea and Japan. Few expected China to become a major buyer. Data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows U.S. crude shipments to China went from nothing before 2016 to a record 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in January, worth almost $1 billion. Additionally, half a million tonnes of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) worth almost $300 million, headed to China from the U.S. in January. “With the Trump administration, the pressure on China to balance accounts with the U.S. is huge… Buying U.S. oil clearly helps toward that goal to reduce the disbalance,” said Marco Dunand, chief executive and co-founder of commodity trading house Mercuria.The energy sales to China are still modest compared with the $9.7 billion of oil shipped by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to China in January. But they are already cutting into a market dominated by the likes of Saudi Arabia and Russia – with the threat of much more competition to come.  China’s crude imports climbed to a record 9.57 million bpd in January, official data showed on Thursday. Meanwhile, U.S. imports have fallen below 4 million bpd, against a record 12.5 million bpd in 2005. U.S. exports would be even greater but for infrastructure constraints: no U.S. port can handle the biggest oil tankers, known as Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC). To address that, one of the biggest facilities in the Gulf of Mexico, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port Services (LOOP), is expanding in order to handle VLCCs soon. THE PRICE OF OIL For Chinese buyers, the main attraction of U.S. oil has been price. Thanks to the shale boom, U.S. crude is cheaper than oil from elsewhere. At around $60.50 per barrel, U.S. crude is currently some $4 per barrel cheaper than Brent, off which most other crudes are priced. Most OPEC producers sell crude under long-term contracts which are priced monthly, sometimes retro-actively. U.S. producers, by contrast, export on the basis of freight costs and price spreads between U.S. and other kinds of crude oil. This has led to a surge in traded volumes of U.S. crude futures, known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI), leaving volumes of other futures like Brent or Dubai far behind.