Macro Links Dec 14th – Hut Hut Hike
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MACRO LINKS TABLE OF CONTENTS (Click or Scroll Down)
- FED RAISES RATES
- GOP TAX PLAN
- ALABAMA SENATE UPSET
- NORTH KOREA, SAUDI ARABIA
- RUSSIA PROBE, FACEBOOK
- MACRO OP-EDS, INSIGHT, EVENTS AND TRENDS
- CENTRAL BANKS & MONETARY POLICY
- USA ECONOMY DATA, CITIES AND STATES
- GLOBAL ECONOMY DATA
- POSITIONING, INFLECTION, MARKET CALLS
- COLOR, EARNINGS, SENTIMENT, VALUATIONS
- DEALS, MERGERS, IPOs, LBOs, RESTRUCTURINGS
- HEDGE FUNDS, PRIVATE EQUITY, MONEY MGMT
- ENERGY NATURAL GAS, COAL
- BREXIT, SCOXIT, LONDON, UK ECONOMY
- GEOPOLITICS, CRIME, TERRORISM
- TRUMP WORLD
- ELECTORAL POLITICS
- BANKS, BROKERS, INSURANCE, EXCHANGES
- SILICON VALLEY, UNICORNS, STARTUPS, VC
- RETAIL APPAREL, SPECIALTY, DINING, BIG BOX
- AUTOS, ELECTRIC, SELF-DRIVING
- LUXURY, HIGH END, ASPIRATIONAL
- ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, DRONES, FUTURE TECH
- SCIENCE, NATURE, PSYCHOLOGY
FED RAISES RATES
The Federal Reserve raised short term interest rates for a third time this year and predicted more increases to follow in 2018 as Janet Yellen prepares to hand over the chair amid robust hiring and surging financial markets.
The US central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee increased the target range for the federal funds rate by a quarter point to 1.25-1.5 per cent. Policymakers’ median forecast was for another three quarter-point increases in 2018 and two in 2019, even as they acknowledged inflation is continuing to undershoot their target.
The Federal Reserve raised interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday, as anticipated, but left its rate outlook for the coming years unchanged even as policymakers projected a short-term acceleration in U.S. economic growth.
The Federal Reserve, buoyed by a steadily strengthening economy, raised interest rates for a fifth time since the financial crisis on Wednesday and predicted that a proposed tax cut moving through Congress would modestly increase economic growth for the next few years without stoking inflation.
In a key change to its statement announcing the decision, the Federal Open Market Committee omitted prior language saying it expected the labor market would strengthen further. Instead, Wednesday’s missive said monetary policy would help the labor market “remain strong.” That suggests Fed officials expect improvement in the job market to slow.
The Fed cast the decision as a positive sign of how much momentum the U.S. and global economies have right now as employers keep hiring and families and businesses continue to open their wallets and spend. This is the third rate hike this year and the fifth since the bank cut the rate to nearly zero during the financial crisis.
“Bitcoin at this time plays a very small role in the payment system,” Yellen said Wednesday during a press conference in Washington, appearing to downplay its ability to affect wider financial markets. She added that bitcoin is “not a stable store of value.”
The brokerage is capitalizing on clearing futures for clients while big banks have largely held back. ED&F Man has been working with CME Group Inc. for about seven months to prepare for the opening of the futures market, said Brooks Dudley, vice president of risk in the U.S.
The $7 offering price was communicated to potential buyers weeks ago — before the stock surged more than 3,000 percent to its $642 peak on Dec. 11, Poutre said in a phone interview. Crypto is the product of a reverse merger with a company that made water and radio-wave resistant sports bra pockets, according to a November filing.
A trio of fund companies in recent days have refreshed plans or filed for an ETF that tracks bitcoin futures. A separate pair of U.S. ETFs are also in registration, as is one in Canada. A futures-based ETF structure, analysts say, has a better chance to win regulatory approval than previous structures designed to own bitcoin directly. The Securities and Exchange Commission denied applications for such ETFs earlier this year over concerns whether bitcoin trading is sufficiently regulated.
As bitcoin raced to another record high on Tuesday, one of the biggest providers of digital currency wallets, Coinbase, went down under the weight of traffic, leaving many of its more than 10 million customers unable to access their funds.
At the same time, Bitfinex, the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange by trading volume, said it was under a heavy denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, meaning its servers had been intentionally flooded with junk online requests, taking down its website and crippling its services.
The latest outages show how the market infrastructure for an immature and volatile instrument that millions of investors have piled into may be ill-equipped to cope with sudden shifts in demand, which is worrying some investors.
“When thought of purely as a payment instrument, it seems more likely to be attractive to those who want to make transactions in the black or illegal economy, rather than everyday transactions,” Governor Philip Lowe said in a speech in Sydney Wednesday. “So the current fascination with these currencies feels more like a speculative mania than it has to do with their use as an efficient and convenient form of electronic payment.”
South Korea will move to rein in the frenzy around bitcoin by banning minors from opening accounts on exchanges, and possibly by taxing capital gains from the trading of cryptocurrencies. Reuters reported the proposals following an emergency government meeting on Wednesday. According to an earlier report, some within the South Korean justice ministry had been calling for an outright ban on cryptocurrency trading.
“They’ve all got bitcoin fever,” said Fred Grede, a former executive at the Chicago Board of Trade and Hong Kong Futures Exchange. “Existing markets are harder to trade, more competitive. They’re looking for more trading opportunities.”
With volatility and interest in commodities dwindling, some traders say they can’t afford to lose out on the bitcoin frenzy, even if the nascent market is rife with risks. With a finite number of bitcoins that can be created through “mining,” bitcoin isn’t exotic to commodities traders used to parsing supply and demand.
GOP TAX PLAN
House and Senate Republican leaders have reached an agreement in principle that would lower the corporate tax rate to 21 percent beginning in 2018, several people briefed on the plan said, a central component of the $1.5 trillion tax plan they hope to vote into law by next week.
House and Senate Republicans on Wednesday reached an agreement on the final version of a tax bill that would lower the top individual rate to 37% and set a corporate rate of 21%, while eliminating the corporate alternative minimum tax.
The core of the plan is a vast reordering of U.S. business taxation, not only for big corporations like Apple Inc. and Walmart Stores Inc. but also for millions of partnerships, limited-liability companies and other so-called pass-through companies that pay tax through individual rather than corporate returns.
The new pecking order of business and individual taxation could lead to a new era of business reorganization and tax-code gamesmanship with unknown consequences for the economy and federal revenue collection.
In some cases, the deductions can be substantial. For U.S. dairy farmers, who milk an average 210 cows each, the deduction worked out to about $100 per cow, according to Dave Buck, president of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, who raises dairy cows near Goodhue, Minn.
A provision to treat graduate school tuition waivers as taxable income won’t be in the final House-Senate tax package, according to Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana and one other person briefed on a tentative deal reached Wednesday.
As the U.S. Congress attempts to hammer out a final tax plan, Wall Street is fighting to limit the scope of a provision meant to discourage companies from sending money overseas to avoid taxes. Banks’ beef: The way the provision is written in the Senate version of the tax bill could make some key bank businesses much more expensive. These include transactions in the $2 trillion repurchase obligation, or “repo,” market, as well as the business of lending out stock that banks and other firms hold on behalf of customers. Foreign banks, too, say the tax provision will make their U.S. operations more expensive and reduce their ability to lend in the U.S.
President Donald Trump promised everyday Americans a “giant tax cut for Christmas” in a speech that the White House billed as his closing argument for a tax overhaul that congressional Republicans finished negotiating on Wednesday.
U.S. companies on balance already are paying well below the 20 percent tax level targeted in the Republican reform plan, according to an analysis by Yardeni Research. In fact, the typical effective tax rate — the amount paid minus deductions — could be as low as 13 percent over the past years, Yardeni concluded when looking at a cleaner number of how much the government is really collecting.
U.S. commercial real estate is a likely winner in the evolving Republican tax overhaul, which is poised to lower rates for property owners, spur new investment and increase demand for rental housing, according to a new report.
ALABAMA SENATE UPSET
President Trump does not readily admit defeat. Knocked to the mat in Alabama with the stunning loss of a Senate seat, he got right back up on Wednesday and defiantly claimed that he had known his candidate would lose all along. He may have been humbled by voters, but Mr. Trump does not exactly do humble.
They said they were motivated by the specific fears that Mr. Moore would help President Trump cut government aid programs, reduce access to health care and neglect criminal justice reform. But they also voted out of a more general concern that the country, in the Trump era, was going back to a place best left in the past.
Roy Moore’s failed run for Alabama’s Senate seat tested white evangelicals’ allegiance to the Republican Party. Would they vote for a candidate who shares their conservative views on social issues even though he was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women?
Exit polls suggest they did just that, with 80 percent of white evangelicals who voted selecting Moore in Tuesday’s special election, which was narrowly won by Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate.
Whilst 98% of black women voted for Jones, just 34% of white women did the same. In short, nearly two-thirds of white women voted instead for Moore, the Republican candidate whose campaign was riddled with allegations of child molestation. He has also been a strident voice against LGBT rights and called Islam a “false religion.” The exit polls also show that 93% of black men backed Jones, compared with 26% of white men.
The implications are enormous. If Mr. Trump’s message and personal power aren’t enough to win a state in the deep-red South, then mainstream Republicans will have little reason to think they can rely on those factors elsewhere. Nor will they think they are compelled to follow the lead of their own president on matters political.
Republicans were relieved that they will not face claims that one of their senators is an alleged paedophile. They also took solace in Mr Bannon falling at the first hurdle in his campaign to send anti-establishment conservatives to the Senate to oust Mitch McConnell as the Republican majority leader.
Peter King, a Republican congressman from New York, echoed the sentiment of many of his peers when he told CNN that Mr Bannon “looks like some disheveled drunk who wandered on to the national stage”.
“I think everything gets a little bit more complicated over here,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 3 Senate Republican, said in an interview Wednesday morning. “The margin’s narrower. It was already narrow. And every senator is a king or queen on almost every issue, and that probably only enhances that leverage that an individual senator has, going forward.”
The 2016 election victory of President Trump, who is deeply unpopular across Western Europe, appears to have severely damaged the United States’ status as a role model in Europe. Democrat Doug Jones’s victory over Moore, a Republican — who was dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct involving teenage girls decades ago — in Alabama’s special election to fill a U.S. Senate seat was interpreted by many in Europe as a reversal for Trump and a sign that all is not lost across the Atlantic.
In Europe, the Alabama election result was widely seen as a “notable setback for President Donald Trump,” in the words of France’s liberal Liberation newspaper. Its center-left competitor Le Monde declared the result a “referendum about Trump’s political agenda,” and Britain’s Financial Times agreed that it was “a big blow for Mr Trump.”
That sentiment was perhaps most pronounced in Germany, where confidence in Trump has been even lower than in France and Britain. The center-left German weekly Die Zeit framed the defeat as “the miracle of Alabama.”
“It’s all one big self-inflicted wound,” said Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff and one of his top political lieutenants, who described McConnell’s conversation with Strange. “This election never even needed to happen.”
Democrats have a 15-point advantage over Republicans on a generic 2018 ballot, according to a new poll from the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Pres. Trump’s current job rating stands at a net negative 32% approve and 56% disapprove. This marks his lowest rating in Monmouth’s polling since taking office in January. Prior polls conducted over the course of the past year showed his approval rating ranging from 39% to 43% and his disapproval rating ranging from 46% to 53%.
NORTH KOREA, SAUDI ARABIA
President Trump and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson are once again at odds over how to deal with nuclear-armed North Korea after Mr. Tillerson declared on Tuesday that the United States was ready to open talks with the North “without precondition.”
The secretary’s comments were remarkably conciliatory for an administration that has repeatedly threatened North Korea with military action, and ruled out any negotiations, if it did not curb its missile and nuclear programs. But a few hours later, the White House distanced itself from his overture.
The U.S. is concerned that a Chinese stake in Aramco would create a close bond between Beijing and Riyadh, a longstanding American ally, by cementing China’s status as a big and steady consumer of Saudi Arabian oil, one of the people familiar with the matter said.
China is the world’s top oil importer and is looking to secure a steady supply of crude as its economy continues to race ahead. Aramco holds around 16% of the world’s proven crude reserves and is one of the biggest oil exporters.
For Tokyo, any move that could potentially give China preferential access to Saudi Arabian oil is alarming, given Japan’s dependence on that crude for more than a third of its supply, another person familiar with the matter said.
“China will have a little bit bigger seat at the table in the Persian Gulf,” if the Aramco deal goes ahead, said Sarah Emerson, a principal at consultancy ESAI Energy LLC in Boston.
When Citigroup was battling to survive the financial crisis, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was quick to come to the aid of the US bank. As its shares tumbled, the Saudi billionaire publicly backed Vikram Pandit, Citi’s then-chief executive, and raised his stake in the group from 4 per cent to about 5 per cent. His intervention helped cement his reputation as the “Warren Buffett of Arabia”.
Now it is Prince Alwaleed who is engulfed in a crisis following his detention last month as part of Riyadh’s anti-corruption crackdown. But, in his hour of need, nobody has publicly come to his aid as billions of dollars have been wiped off his fortune and the investment firm he founded, Kingdom Holding Company, has been plunged into uncertainty.
RUSSIA PROBE, FACEBOOK
The deputy attorney general told the House Judiciary Committee that he had not seen good cause to fire Mueller, who he said was “running his office appropriately.”
Rod Rosenstein defended the integrity of the agency’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, telling Congress he was working with Robert Mueller to ensure the investigation wouldn’t be affected by the political affiliations of any of its prosecutors.
The British politician leading an inquiry into Russian disinformation in the UK has attacked Facebook for failing to provide enough information after the social media company admitted Russian accounts had bought ads in the run-up to the Brexit vote.
In a letter to the Electoral Commission on Wednesday, Facebook said that the same entity that used its platform to manipulate Americans during the 2016 presidential election had been active in the UK before the EU referendum last year. It said that, in the two-and-a-half months before the vote, 470 accounts associated with the Russia-linked Internet Research Agency (IRA) had paid for three ads, although the amount came to just $0.97. These ads appeared on approximately 200 news feeds.
However, Facebook only shared details about paid ads. It declined to comment on non-paid posts, which had been used to reach millions of voters in the US.
Facebook did not disclose what steps it had taken in its internal review, and the British lawmaker who had requested the information accused the company of searching too narrowly. It remained possible that Russia found other ways to use Facebook or other social media to influence the referendum, known as Brexit.
Laura Cram, a political scientist at the University of Edinburgh who studies the internet, said the extent of Russian interference was impossible to assess without the public disclosure of a list of Kremlin-linked accounts active in Britain. “We don’t either have the evidence yet to say that there was no set of users that targeted Brexit or indeed the U.K. general election,” she said in an email.
MACRO OP-EDS, INSIGHT, EVENTS AND TRENDS
There is no text on apocalyptic risk, but China’s long history of dynastic rises and falls is attributed to a powerful top-down idea of order that, focused so heavily on delivering a ‘great learning’, ignores the warning signals of risky situations on the ground, thus sowing the seeds of its own inevitable collapse.
An awareness of China’s vulnerability to apocalyptic risks can be traced back to the dawn of Chinese history. Having discovered the means of settlement, the early leaders divided: some insisted that it would henceforth be more efficient for a self-cultivated, single top-down mind to apply the knowledge for everyone’s security. Others insisted that the only thing that had been learned was that the cosmos was a mystery of changes that could only be divined by individuals who cultivated themselves.
The apocalyptic risk accumulates as time passes and moderate prosperity grows into great wealth. The sincerity of self-cultivation that characterised leaders early on in the dynasty then gives way to a brutal insistence on conformity that blinds rulers to the risks emerging on the ground.
Will Mr Xi succeed or fail? Chinese history suggests the collapse of top-down minds is inevitable. But, to be fair, world history seems to say the same of everything. Perhaps a better question is what comes next. And the answer to that question almost certainly lies as much in the outside world as within China.
We’ve said it many times before. As an actual payments mechanism, bitcoin sucks. It’s expensive to use and getting ever more so. It can be slow and unpredictable. It’s complicated and very user unfriendly (computer nerds will dispute this, but in doing so show how detached they are from the everyday needs of the average population). It depends on untested third parties for usability even more so than conventional electronic money. It’s prone to hacking. It demands users read Reddit all day every day to keep up with the latest exchange, transaction and wallet updates. It passes way too much responsibility to the average user (even the well-educated lose passwords). It sucks on the energy efficiency front. Its volatility makes it a crappy medium exchange. And finally, if not foremost, the more of a speculative asset it becomes the less useful it becomes as a currency.
But that was our opinion. The above was summed up in an even more compelling way by Philip Lowe, governor of the RBA, in a speech this week.
Writing first-person articles about using bitcoin for smallish transactions is one thing; being personally invested in bitcoin to the tune of $100,000 or more is something else entirely. In 2018, as bitcoin futures start being traded on established exchanges, the cryptocurrency is undeniably going to be a multi-billion-dollar asset class, and that’s going to raise some pointed questions in the world of journalism.
It’s easy to understand why many Chinese people would be attracted to Bitcoin. In China’s heavily regulated financial environment, speculating on the currency represented one of the few investment options for the retail investor, Kapron observes. In 2013, the Shanghai stock exchange had been underperforming for years. Real estate prices were too high for many ordinary people, but you could buy a fraction of a bitcoin for as little as one dollar. By mid-2013, Chinese exchanges were moving more than $35 million in bitcoins each day.
The speculative fervor threatened to get out of hand. Beijing was also worried about yuan leaving the country. China caps yuan outflow at $50,000 per person per year. While it’s not clear that large numbers of people were using Bitcoin to evade Chinese capital controls, the potential was there. People in China could buy bitcoins in yuan, sell them on an American exchange, and then withdraw the sum in dollars. In late 2013 Chinese authorities struck back, banning financial services companies from dealing with Bitcoin exchanges. People could no longer withdraw yuan from their bank accounts to directly buy bitcoins on Chinese exchanges.
There are legitimate roles for cryptocurrencies — even speculation in bitcoin futures on exchanges. But the fact they are settled through a blockchain ledger, the underlying technology, rather than by banks under the direct oversight of regulators, is part of their appeal. Just as Germans want privacy by using cash, bitcoin holders seek out the shadows.
This leaves a core deposit and payment system, which is tightly regulated and moving to cashless methods, alongside a growing periphery. Cash and cash-like platforms, some tied to banks and others operating at the technology frontier, form a poorly understood and regulated alternative.
Judging by their liking for cash, cryptocurrencies and mobile wallets, many people appreciate having a shadow system. Whether they know how it works, and the risks they are taking, is another question. From past experience of financial crises, it is likely that no one really does.
Perhaps the most important (and exciting) national political development ratified in Alabama yesterday is the power of the #MeToo movement. It is still too early to gauge where this overdue and ever-swelling tsunami of political and social change is going to lead. In the short term, it is imperative that Democrats and any brave Republicans out there keep after the president’s own admitted history of serial sexual assault. That Gillibrand’s call for Trump’s resignation provoked such a gross tweet in response revealed two things: (1) He is fearful of his accusers as they again are emboldened to go public with their stories; (2) He has no sense of how much momentum and power this movement has gathered in the months since his election. It may soon be incumbent upon even GOP senators like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski to join Democrats like Gillibrand. It remains essential that NBC and the producer Mark Burnett release any evidence of Trump criminality contained in videos or files from The Apprentice. We should not overlook the possibility that Trump’s history of sexual assault has as much potential to cripple or end his presidency as Mueller, the 2018 midterms, and Big Macs.
The Alabama result has two implications. The first is that Democrats will intensify their campaign against male predators. It is hard to imagine the #MeToo movement having gone viral to such an extent if Mr Trump were not president. It is now hard to imagine that it will stop. If even a diehard evangelical Christian state will vote for a liberal, the Democrats believe they have struck an electoral gold mine. Other Republican states could take note and put up more acceptable candidates. Indeed, the entire party could convert to feminism. But it cannot do anything to undo the fact that its president is accused of harassment by at least 16 women. Mr Trump’s accusers will now be emboldened. They will have an army of well-wishers urging them on.
A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush.
This isn’t about the policy differences we have with all presidents or our disappointment in some of their decisions. Obama and Bush both failed in many ways. They broke promises and told untruths, but the basic decency of each man was never in doubt.
Donald Trump, the man, on the other hand, is uniquely awful. His sickening behavior is corrosive to the enterprise of a shared governance based on common values and the consent of the governed.
I don’t think he hated anything more than the word “no.” The absurdity of his demands went from getting a furious call in the middle of the night asking me to fire my agent for a fight he was having with him about a different movie with a different client to physically dragging me out of the opening gala of the Venice Film Festival, which was in honor of “Frida,” so I could hang out at his private party with him and some women I thought were models but I was told later were high-priced prostitutes.
The range of his persuasion tactics went from sweet-talking me to that one time when, in an attack of fury, he said the terrifying words, “I will kill you, don’t think I can’t.”
The rise of economic nationalism is clashing with the open-market ideals of the EU’s original founders. Member states, including France and some in the east, are introducing new rules to favor domestic production and labor.
These new barriers are overturning a generation of moves toward trade liberalization—and driving countries further away from a well-functioning common market. Trade hurdles increase the cost of existing and potential new businesses, disrupt cross-border supply chains and discourage multinational investments.
“Sometimes, the local measures taken for naive reasons create lots of unintended consequences,” says Marco Settembri, the chief executive of Nestlé SA in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (Nestlé makes Baci). He worries that political leaders take the single market for granted.
Belgium’s system rewards local politicians for keeping the bulbs blazing, said Peter Reekmans, speaking from his experience as the mayor of the town of Glabbeek.
Streetlight consumption translates into profits for electricity producers, distributors and the state, he said. The profits of electricity distribution companies are paid out “in dividends to the local municipalities that own shares in them, and in salaries and stipends to the local politicians who sit on their oversight boards,” he explained.
The system has “built-in conflicts of interest” for local politicians deciding on energy policy, including about streetlights, he said. “It also makes politics in Belgium quite a profitable profession.”
Russia’s traditionally boom-and-bust economy risks something it hasn’t yet endured during President Vladimir Putin’s rule — stagnation.
The economy of the world’s biggest energy exporter is stalling without enough investment after draining Putin’s old growth model, based on channeling income from sales of oil and gas into domestic demand and riding a consumption boom that followed. After almost two decades of growth, interrupted by two recessions, the concern is that Russia will find it increasingly difficult to snap out of the torpor.
After an upswing following almost two years of contraction, Russia’s recovery sputtered last quarter and gains in industrial output ground to a halt in October. Investment growth halved in the third quarter from the previous three months, with Alfa-Bank estimating that three major state projects accounted for 90 percent of all capital spending this year. One of them, a bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia, could be finished already early next year.
Academics warn that Mr Macron might be the exception, not the rule. More than 11 weeks since the Bundestag poll, Ms Merkel has still failed to form a government, and may face repeat elections. It is not the most stable of foundations on which to build an effective defence of the EU’s liberal values.
Meanwhile, nativist ideas are continuing to infiltrate mainstream politics throughout Europe. Some warn that, as migratory pressures grow, the EU’s unity could come under threat.
“Many have misjudged the French presidential outcome, when in reality all the facts are pointing in the other direction,” says Patrick Moreau, a Berlin-based researcher at Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, a French state research institute. He identifies the 2015 refugee crisis as the turning point. “Since then, immigration and its perceived threat to national identity have been key factors to understand shifts in European politics,” adds Mr Moreau.
CENTRAL BANKS & MONETARY POLICY
On the eve of Janet Yellen’s second-last Federal Open Market Committee meeting as chair of the U.S. central bank, before handing over the reins to Jerome Powell, investors are showing the most confidence in nine months toward the prospect of higher interest rates next year.
The decision to raise interest rates and the central bank’s prediction for three increases next year was widely expected, so the reaction thus far has largely been centered on what factors will influence its policy course in the year ahead. Chief among them will be what path her expected successor, Jay Powell, will take — also, who will fill other vacancies on the Fed, how they will influence the central bank and what the annual change-over in voting membership will do to alter its policy course.
2017 will go down as a vintage year for Mario Draghi. The eurozone economy is firing on all cylinders and the European Central Bank deftly handled an extension to its landmark bond-buying scheme. But 2018 could soon prove taxing for the ECB president as the pressure grows to end quantitative easing once and for all.
The Bank of Japan should add more monetary stimulus to the economy now to help bolster inflation in advance of a sales-tax hike, according to a prominent reflationist. “Additional monetary easing is needed,” Masazumi Wakatabe, a Waseda University professor, said in an interview on Tuesday. “It’s highly unlikely that price momentum will be strong enough prior to the 2019 tax increase.”
USA ECONOMY DATA, CITIES AND STATES
The number of Americans severely behind on payments on federal student loans reached 4.6 million in the third quarter, a doubling from four years ago, despite a historically long stretch of U.S. job creation and steady economic growth.
Forecasters are increasingly optimistic the U.S. economic expansion could continue beyond the 2020 presidential election, aided by Republican tax legislation that is expected to lift growth. The slow-but-sturdy expansion that began in mid-2009 already is the third-longest in U.S. history and, if it continues into the second half of 2019, will exceed the 10-year record set by the 1990s economic boom.
Instead of waiting two weeks between paychecks, Walmart workers can now use an app to access a portion of wages for hours they have already worked. But Walmart’s new service also highlights, albeit unwittingly, the financial struggles of the low-wage workers in the retail and service industries. Even as the economy strengthens, many workers in stores and restaurants are not earning enough to make ends meet.
The move could address a painful reality of low-income hourly workers, whose cash flow is far from predictable. Income volatility has been increasing in recent years, according to research from the Pew Charitable Trusts, and studies from the Federal Reserve show a lack of emergency savings among many workers. The inability to weather an unexpected car repair bill or medical expense can send a low-income worker into a debt spiral, and financially stressed workers can be less engaged and not as productive.
GLOBAL ECONOMY DATA
Robust economic growth in the euro area is having a definite effect on the labor market. Joblessness is declining and the number of people in work has been rising consistently for the past four years — an improvement European Central Bank President Mario Draghi is proudly pointing out at every opportunity. The latest data show annual growth in employment in the third quarter was the best since before the financial crisis.
Never mind the three bears, it looks like Goldilocks has introduced global analysts to her friend Pollyanna. Forward earnings estimates for stocks across developed and emerging markets have risen to the highest on record, according to calculations by Bloomberg. The bullish consensus on future corporate profits is not limited to one particular region. For stocks from the U.S. to Europe, Asia Pacific to emerging markets, analysts have been increasing their 12-month forward earnings estimates all year.
POSITIONING, INFLECTION, MARKET CALLS
A common thread in the deteriorating sentiment lies with President Donald Trump, whose tax reform and trade policy focuses on domestic companies, not tech firms with their global footprint. Once the fiscal stimulus kicks in and the economy strengthens, the analysts argue, a decade-long winning streak will be jeopardized.
COLOR, EARNINGS, SENTIMENT, VALUATIONS
Board directors meeting on Thursday are seeking to contain damage from multiple international fraud investigations over commercial and military sales, while getting a grip on what could become a chain reaction of departures, insiders said. “You can’t rule out a change of governance before the end of the year,” a senior source close to the company said.
DEALS, MERGERS, IPOs, LBOs, RESTRUCTURINGS
The transaction, with a headline valuation of $60bn including debt, is expected to value the entirety of Fox at $40 a share, according to MoffettNathanson analysts. The Murdoch-led group’s remaining assets, including the Fox broadcast network and Fox News Channel will be spun off into a new company worth about $10 per share, said one person briefed on the terms.
The creation of a new Hollywood juggernaut combining Walt Disney and 21st Century Fox would change the balance of power between traditional media and internet streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, who would become more reliant on a single company for television shows and movies if the merger is completed.
Disney’s expected acquisition of Fox’s entertainment assets, which could be announced as soon as this week, follows its decision to end its current movie licensing deals with Netflix in 2019 to launch its own “over the top” streaming services.
HEDGE FUNDS, PRIVATE EQUITY, MONEY MGMT
The terms being discussed for Cohen’s new fund — which he could launch as soon as Jan. 1, when his ban on trading outside money expires — include locking up capital for one to three years, according to people familiar with the matter. During that time, regardless of how the fund performs, clients won’t be able to withdraw their money without paying an additional fee, said the people, who asked to not be identified because the information isn’t public.
Cohen himself will get more flexible terms, two of the people said. It’s a juxtaposition some potential investors have called onerous, and it’s sparking concern over whether investing in the highly anticipated fund will be worth the liquidity risk.
The potential for a housing crash in Sweden has Peak Asset Management surveying for opportunities. In particular there could be “developers that have come under pressure since housing prices have started to fall,” Per Djerf, co-founder and chief investment officer at the Stockholm-based hedge fund manager, said by phone on Tuesday. “It’s possibly a bit early but we’re looking at what could be the next interesting sector in the Nordics.”
The Swedish housing market has showed signs of a correction after prices surged amid record low interest rates. Housing prices fell 3 percent in October, the steepest decline since the global financial crisis of 2008, according to one report. On Thursday, Svensk Maklarstatistik AB and Valueguard will publish housing price data for November.
Ackman, who relishes being a contrarian, is by turns defensive, apologetic, and adamant. Wearing a crisp blue-striped shirt with the sleeves rolled up, he keeps his arms crossed for the first half-hour of our interview, insistent that the ADP vote could eventually turn into a big win. “We lost the battle, but we expect to win the war,” he says.
The normally upbeat activist becomes more animated as he pledges to make investors whole and to bulletproof the firm. “Are investors unhappy with our performance? I’m unhappy with our performance,” he says excitedly, his eyes popping as his arms open wide. “But if I recover the way I expect to from this, Pershing Square becomes much, much stronger. We’re never going to challenge it again.” There will be “no more Valeants,” he adds.
ENERGY NATURAL GAS, COAL
A shake-up in global coal trading has delivered some oxygen to the struggling American mining industry, driving up exports to energy-hungry countries. But the relief may not last.
United States coal sales abroad over the first three quarters of the year surpassed exports for all of 2016, according to government figures. Energy experts project an increase of 46 percent for the full year, adding more than $1 billion to coal companies’ revenues.
Those are crucial dollars for an industry trying to stabilize itself after nearly a decade of declining prices, expanding competition from natural gas and wind and solar energy, and bankruptcies. Domestic coal-fired power plants continue to close despite promises of regulatory relief by the Trump administration, making the exports all the more critical.
China’s war against smog is lifting prices for energy all over the world, according to analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and the International Energy Agency.
Policies promoting natural gas use have helped boost China’s consumption by 19 percent this year and raised it to the world’s second-biggest importer of liquefied shipments of the fuel, lifting prices for spot cargoes. Higher gas prices are boosting demand for coal, which has already seen prices rise because of separate Chinese policies restricting mine production, Goldman analysts including Christian Lelong said in a Dec. 12 research note.
Rising global energy prices are another ripple effect of China’s blue skies efforts, which have improved air quality in Beijing and other notoriously smoggy cities but also resulted in natural gas shortages in the country and a burgeoning heating crisis in some areas.
The shipment of the super-chilled cargo to the UK, which was originally expected to go to Asia, will be cheered in the Kremlin, where the Yamal LNG project has been held up as evidence that it can withstand western sanctions. Moscow has insisted that Europe will remain reliant on Russia for gas.
BREXIT, SCOXIT, LONDON, UK ECONOMY
Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a sharp political setback Wednesday when lawmakers approved a measure giving Parliament a greater say on the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Eleven rebels from her own Conservative Party joined opposition lawmakers to insert in the government’s flagship Brexit legislation a provision giving Parliament the power to reject whatever divorce terms Mrs. May negotiates with the EU. The government had previously offered Parliament a straight take-it-or-leave-it vote on the final withdrawal deal before Britain’s exit in March 2019.
The embarrassing reversal for the beleaguered British leader raises questions about whether she can muster enough backing for her vision of Brexit, whose convulsions have dominated U.K. politics for 18 months. While the recent focus was on striking a palatable agreement with the EU on the initial terms of the divorce, the greater challenge has always been on the home front.
The U.K.’s exit from the EU and adoption of World Trade Organization rules would shave 5 percent off potential economic output over 10 years, according to research by the RAND Corporation. The $140 billion hit would exceed that of the EU, which faces a potential gross domestic product reduction of 0.7 percent, or $97 billion. British GDP would also suffer even under a softer Brexit, such as a free trade agreement with the EU and a transitional deal, the analysis showed.
With Christmas on the horizon, British shoppers are tightening their belts. Grocery price inflation, at its highest level since 2013, is outpacing industry sales growth, according to researcher Kantar Worldpanel. That implies shoppers are trading down to cheaper alternatives — discounter Aldi’s sales rose 15 percent in the 12 weeks through Dec. 3 — or foregoing some purchases entirely. Grocery prices have risen throughout 2017 as a result of the Brexit-induced drop in sterling and rising commodity prices.
It is central London’s first new moated building since the medieval era. The new US embassy in Nine Elms is a paradox, a heavily defended delicate glass box. Its architect calls it a “crystalline radiant beacon”; in fact, it resembles a corporate cube.
It is also one of the world’s most expensive embassies, costing a cool $1bn. Remarkably, not a cent of US taxpayer money has been spent. Speaking at the press launch on Wednesday, Ambassador William Moser, principal deputy director of the Bureau of US Overseas Buildings Operations, confirmed that the new building “was entirely funded from the proceeds of real estate sales”.
Looking ahead to discussions about the future relationship with the U.K., senior EU officials and diplomats are warning that the bloc has numerous partnerships, including trade agreements, with many countries, and Brussels has no intention of diminishing those arrangements by offering London a sweeter package.
“If we aren’t ambitious now that we have stable and widespread growth across all the eurozone and we also have geopolitical voids to fill, we will really miss an opportunity and we will go back to questioning the strategic usefulness of the project,” he adds.
At his peak, Jia Yueting was among the brashest and most flamboyant figures on China’s frenzied technology scene. He charged into businesses as varied as smartphones, electric cars and sports broadcasting, vowing to challenge giants like Apple and Tesla.
Now, Mr. Jia is the highest-profile name on something else in China: an official online blacklist of credit defaulters. Being on the list means he can be blocked from flights and high-speed trains and even from making big purchases.
The publicly searchable database, maintained by China’s top court, is part of a growing effort by officials to rein in irresponsible borrowing — including by naming and shaming.
Mr. Jia was added to the blacklist this week over unpaid debt totaling $72 million, including interest and fees, that he owed to Ping An Securities, a brokerage. Two units of LeEco, the group of companies that Mr. Jia controls, had already been blacklisted for smaller unpaid amounts. LeEco’s ambitious, debt-driven expansion began running aground last year, causing angry creditors to stage sit-ins at the company’s Beijing office and leading courts to take action.
GEOPOLITICS, CRIME, TERRORISM
Dozens of Muslim countries said the US can no longer play a part in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as leaders signed a rare joint declaration on Wednesday. In a rebuke at Donald Trump, the 57 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, a pan-Islamic global body, agreed the move at an emergency summit in Turkey, where President Recip Tayyip Erdogan denounced the US and Israel in fiery terms.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday that the US could no longer act as a mediator in the Middle East peace process after Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In Burns’s account, he was standing behind Trump, who was seated at the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, when he noticed a white spider the size of a half-dollar making its way up the president’s back.
“I just thought I was dreaming,” recounted Burns in a telephone interview. “Is that really a spider running up the back of the president of the United States?” It was. Burns, for the record, hates spiders, but didn’t see any other choice but to step in. Before the spider got to the president’s neck, Burns whacked it — and Trump — with his bare hand.
“It made such a loud noise, and I think people were bewildered and were like, ‘What did you just do?’” said Burns, who then quickly tried to explain himself: “Security, please don’t shoot me! He had a spider on his back.”
Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former star of “The Apprentice” and one of President Donald Trump’s most prominent African-American aides, is leaving her post as a presidential adviser, the White House said Wednesday morning.
Former “Apprentice” star Omarosa Manigault Newman had to be dragged kicking and screaming from the White House Tuesday night after she refused to believe Donald Trump had fired her, according to reports.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the incident recounted a “ruckus” on Tuesday night involving Omarosa, the reality TV villain turned the communications director of the White House’s Office of Public Liaison. One White House official said she had even tried to “storm the residence” after learning that she was being forced out less than a year into Trump’s White House tenure. She was ultimately thwarted by staff. Reports later emerged that she had to be escorted from the campus on Tuesday.
The appointment of Ms. Smith, Minnesota’s lieutenant governor, followed weeks of debate over Senator Al Franken’s fate. The seat will be up for grabs in 2018.
BANKS, BROKERS, INSURANCE, EXCHANGES
The Palo Alto, California-based startup, which operates online as a brokerage like ETrade Financial Corp., announced Wednesday that it is offering free stock-options trading. Robinhood said it has more than 3 million customer accounts after three years in operation. It is working to keep attracting users whose uninvested cash generates interest for the firm, and who may graduate to its for-pay services.
SILICON VALLEY, UNICORNS, STARTUPS, VC
The Federal Communications Commission’s own chief technology officer expressed concern Wednesday about Republican Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to repeal the net neutrality rules, saying it could lead to practices that are “not in the public interest.”
The Federal Communications Commission is expected to vote on Thursday to roll back the net neutrality rules in the United States. While the European Union has such rules in place, telecom providers have pushed the boundaries at times in Sweden, Germany, Portugal and elsewhere, offering a glimpse at the future American companies and consumers may face if protections are watered down.
RETAIL APPAREL, SPECIALTY, DINING, BIG BOX
Target Corp. agreed to purchase grocery-delivery startup Shipt Inc. for $550 million, stepping up its challenge to Amazon.com Inc. by speeding the rollout of same-day shipping.
AUTOS, ELECTRIC, SELF-DRIVING
Chanos predicted Musk will depart Tesla in the coming years for another one of his companies, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said earlier this month he could envision Tesla merging with SpaceX as the rocket company becomes a more time-consuming focus for Musk.
Tesla has been successful because it was the first company to make electric cars fun and attractive, Chanos said. As German automakers like Porsche and BMW AG introduce competing models, Tesla’s advantage will disappear, he said.
“What Elon did was simple: He made EVs sexy,” Chanos said. “Prior to that you had to compromise and get something like a Prius. But now he has the entire auto world that has figured that out and is coming up with aspirational cars. He’s fighting a different fight.”
Thor Trucks’ custom models, due out in 2019, are meant for short hauls. For the moment, the startup is more of a vehicle customizer than a true manufacturer. It rips the diesel motor and related innards out of an existing vehicle and replaces them with an electric motor and batteries. Thor has focused on doing its own battery-pack research and manufacturing to cram hundreds of small lithium ion batteries into a tight, safe container, and its software engineers write applications that maximize the packs’ charging abilities and life spans. Look around the Thor warehouse, and you’ll see UPS-style trucks and extended-body pickups awaiting modification. The goal, according to Semler, is to work on a one-off basis, customizing clients’ fleets per their specifications.
LUXURY, HIGH END, ASPIRATIONAL
The Aria FXE is making an appearance at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show. If even the concept makes it to the road as planned, watch out. Its 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 four-wheel drive hybrid engine is slated to deliver 1,150 horsepower, hit 0 to 60 miles per hour in 2.7 seconds and have a top speed of 210 mph. Aria says it will deliver two variants, the FX and FXE, in 2019.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, DRONES, FUTURE TECH
The Silicon Valley company, which announced the center’s opening at a software developer conference in Shanghai, cited China’s growing academic and technical contributions to the A.I. field, and said the new center would be “working closely with the vibrant Chinese A.I. research community.”
The technology is seen as important for building out Apple’s vision for augmented reality, where digital images are placed in the real world. Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has predicted that AR could one day become a more significant technology than the smartphone. However, limited supply of these sensors has been blamed for holding up production of the iPhone X.
SCIENCE, NATURE, PSYCHOLOGY
Fossils from New Zealand have revealed a giant penguin that was as big as a grown man, roughly the size of the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The creature was slightly shorter in length and about 20 pounds (9 kilograms) heavier than the official stats for hockey star Sidney Crosby. It measured nearly 5 feet, 10 inches (1.77 meters) long when swimming and weighed in at 223 pounds (101 kilograms). If the penguin and the Penguin faced off on the ice, however, things would look different. When standing, the ancient bird was maybe only 5-foot-3 (1.6 meters).
“Here, we report direct and indirect evidence in 99 million-year-old Cretaceous amber showing that hard ticks and ticks of the extinct new family Deinocrotonidae fed on blood from feathered dinosaurs,” according to the study’s abstract.
Some 1,200 years ago, a wealthy noblewoman, at least 60 years old, was laid to rest in Peru—richly provisioned for eternity with jewelry, flasks, and weaving tools made of gold.
Now, more than five years after her tomb was found untouched outside of the coastal town of Huarmey, scientists have reconstructed what she may have looked like. “When I first saw the reconstruction, I saw some of my indigenous friends from Huarmey in this face,” says National Geographic grantee Miłosz Giersz, the archaeologist who co-discovered the noblewoman’s tomb. “Her genes are still in the place.”
“There’s a group of guys that we call ‘The Boys.’ George had called me and ‘The Boys’ and said, ‘Hey, mark September 27, 2013 on your calendar. Everyone’s going to come to my house for dinner,” Gerber recalled.
Gerber said he and “The Boys” arrived at Clooney’s home to find black designer luggage bags at each place setting on the table. When they opened the bags, they found “a million dollars in 20 dollar bills,” E! News reported.
“George begins to say, ‘Listen, I want you guys to know how much you’ve meant to me and how much you mean to me in my life,” the 55-year-old said. “‘I came to LA, I slept on your couch. I’m so fortunate in my life to have all of you and I couldn’t be where I am today without all of you. So, it was really important to me that while we’re still all here together, that I give back. So I want you all to open your suitcases.’”
Gerber added, “Every one of us – 14 of us – got a million dollars. Every single one of us. We’re in shock.”
“He goes, ‘I know we’ve all been through some hard times, some of you are still going through it. You don’t have to worry about your kids, you don’t have to worry about, you know, school, you don’t have to worry about paying your mortgage,’” he added.
At $1 billion, it is the most expensive embassy ever constructed. But its designers say the new American chancery on the Thames River marks a paradigm shift: The U.S. Embassy here will exude openness while hiding all the clever ways it defends itself from attack.
After decades of building American embassies that look brutalist or bland, like obvious fortresses, the soon-to-be-opened chancery in London is a crystalline cube, plopped down in the middle of a public park, without visible walls. The building does not shout, “Spies work here!” or “Stand back!” even though this city has been subjected to terrorist attacks. Instead, the vibe is modernist museum, which also happens to issue visas and might have a few hidden bunkers somewhere.
Instead of blast walls, there is a perimeter pond, with recycled-water waterfalls and deep trenches — and on the roof, arrays of solar panels that will produce enough juice to run the building and give extra watts back to the grid.
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