Macro Links Dec 21st – Final Approval
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MACRO LINKS TABLE OF CONTENTS (Click or Scroll Down)
- TAX PLAN FINALIZED
- NORTH KOREA, JERUSALEM
- UBER EU COURT RULING
- SAUDI ARABIA
- SEXUAL HARASSMENT
- RUSSIA PROBE, RT
- RATES, LIQUIDITY, SYSTEMIC RISK, BALANCE SHEETS
- MACRO OP-EDS, INSIGHT, EVENTS AND TRENDS
- CENTRAL BANKS & MONETARY POLICY
- USA ECONOMY DATA, CITIES AND STATES
- POSITIONING, INFLECTION, MARKET CALLS
- COLOR, EARNINGS, SENTIMENT, VALUATIONS
- DEALS, MERGERS, IPOs, LBOs, RESTRUCTURINGS
- ENERGY COMPANIES, NOCs, INDUSTRY
- ENERGY CRUDE OIL, OIL SANDS, SHALE
- COMMODITIES BASE METALS, MATERIALS
- POLLUTION, CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT
- BREXIT, SCOXIT, LONDON, UK ECONOMY
- DACA, TRAVEL BAN, IMMIGRATION, WALL
- GEOPOLITICS, CRIME, TERRORISM
- PRIVACY, HACKING, CYBERWAR, SURVEILLANCE STATE
- TRUMP WORLD
- ELECTORAL POLITICS
- SCANDALS, LAWSUITS, FINES, REGULATORY
- SILICON VALLEY, UNICORNS, STARTUPS, VC
- CONSUMER TECH, SOCIAL MEDIA, E-COMMERCE, MOBILE
- RETAIL APPAREL, SPECIALTY, DINING, BIG BOX
- MEDIA, CABLE, SPORTS, ENTERTAINMENT
TAX PLAN FINALIZED
The House, forced to vote a second time on the $1.5 trillion tax bill, moved swiftly to pass the final version on Wednesday, clearing the way for President Trump to sign into law the most sweeping tax overhaul in decades.
The most sweeping changes to the tax code in more than 30 years are on the way to President Donald Trump after the House passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut for a second time. But it was uncertain when the president would sign the bill into law.
The president’s chaotic first year in office was dogged by investigations, staff turmoil and legislative missteps. But with passage of the tax overhaul, Mr. Trump will enter his second year in office with a roster of Republican achievements that he and his party will attempt to sell to voters in the 2018 midterm elections: Lower taxes, more conservative judges, fewer regulations and more restrictive borders.
He is the unapologetic First Bull. He has crowed about the stock market at least once a week for the past two months. In two Twitter messages early Tuesday morning, the president cited a 5,000-point rise in the Dow Jones industrial average this year, and then said the market had more room to roar once the impact of tax legislation he is expected to sign this week becomes law.
The No. 2 Senate Republican said Tuesday that the GOP’s tax bill will make Obamacare “unworkable,” which he hopes will force Democrats into negotiations to replace the law. “Arguably, doing away with the individual mandate makes the Affordable Care Act unworkable — not that it was particularly great beforehand,” Cornyn said. “Hopefully this will precipitate the bipartisan negotiation on what we need to do as an alternative.”
The demise of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate will lead to higher premiums and lower enrollment in plans sold on the health law’s marketplace, Wendy K. Mariner, a professor of health law at Boston University, said Monday. But she added, “I don’t think we can say with any confidence” how much premiums will rise or coverage will decline.
Wall Street traders who rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year or more eagerly awaited a Republican overhaul of the U.S. tax code. Now, many are huddling with accountants and concluding the real gains will go to billionaires and other captains of the industry. Those in trenches — the merely wealthy — are grousing.
FedEx said that lower corporate taxes will provide a nice lift to earnings in 2018. It’s the first company to tout gains from President Trump’s tax bill and it probably won’t be the last. Other transports, retailers and financials could benefit.
The tax-code overhaul wipes out decades-old perks designed to encourage homeownership, meaning that there will be little difference between owning and renting. By almost doubling the standard deductions for individual and joint tax filers, the legislation blunts the advantage of the mortgage-interest deduction, which is often a key factor in home-buying decisions, particularly in pricey markets. The legislation also caps the deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000, a hammer blow to homeowners in high-tax states. Taken together, the changes significantly diminish the perks of homeownership built into the tax code.
The U.S. tax overhaul bill set to be signed into law this week is likely to push down home prices in high-cost markets such as Manhattan and Westchester County to the north as buyers demand discounts to cover higher carrying costs, said Jonathan Miller, president of appraiser Miller Samuel Inc.
The tuition tax proposal is just one in a growing list of graduate school benefits that House Republicans have in their legislative sights. Next up is an extensive rewrite of the law governing the nation’s higher education system, and again, Republicans hope to drastically curtail or end revenue streams that graduate students rely on to pursue advanced degrees.
The Republican tax plan is good news for nearly all companies. But one element of it will fundamentally change the way businesses think about financing themselves, and could put some at a disadvantage. The new rule also gets tougher after 2021, adding a layer of complexity for businesses.
The provision targets interest payments, which companies have historically been able to deduct on their taxes. Under the bill, the amount of interest expense companies can deduct from their taxes is limited to 30% of a measure known as earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation and amortization, or Ebitda, through 2021.
The full implications of the bill will take months to become apparent. The final text of the legislation was published only late on Friday afternoon, giving analysts minimal time to assess it. But economists at the Penn Wharton Budget Model at the University of Pennsylvania have published some early estimates of how the package might affect US companies.
The headline-grabbing move is the cut in the main rate of corporate tax from 35 per cent to 21 per cent. Other changes — in particular a temporary tax break allowing immediate expensing of some capital spending, and restrictions on interest deductibility — will also have a significant impact on the tax rates that companies face.
The number of people interested in how to use plastic to get into crypto has surged in December, according to Google Trends. Web searches for “buy bitcoin with credit card” skyrocketed to an all-time high this month as soaring cryptocurrency prices have captured the public’s attention.
Two cryptocurrency exchanges were hit by problems on Wednesday, with one forced into bankruptcy following a cyber attack, highlighting the growing regulatory and security concerns as such platforms become increasingly mainstream.
Yapian, which operates the Youbit exchange in South Korea, suspended trading on Tuesday after it was hacked, causing it to lose 17 per cent of its assets, according to a statement from the company.
San Francisco-based Coinbase, one of the world’s most popular exchanges for trading digital currencies, said on Wednesday that it was investigating its staff and contractors after a sudden surge in prices for “bitcoin cash”, a cryptocurrency using the same technology as bitcoin.
The launch of Bitcoin Cash contributed to the price on the original bitcoin falling about $2,000 in less than an hour, to below $15,700, before recovering. Bitcoin recently traded around $16,250 but has dropped from a recent high of nearly $20,000 this past weekend.
Coinbase Inc., one of the most popular U.S. cryptocurrency exchanges, is investigating allegations of insider trading on its platform in the hours before the company announced it would enable purchases of the bitcoin spinoff known as bitcoin cash.
Bitcoin was trading at $16,626.42 at 10:25 a.m. in Hong Kong, down about 15 percent from a record high on Monday. That’s the steepest decline since before futures were introduced on Dec. 10.
Charlie Lee, creator of the world’s fifth-biggest cryptocurrency, cashed in during a 75-fold rally this year. “Litecoin has been very good for me financially, so I am well off enough that I no longer need to tie my financial success to litecoin’s success,” Lee said. “For the first time in six+ years, I no longer own a single LTC” other than a few collector’s coins.
A bitcoin ETF took another step closer to reality after the NYSE filed with the SEC to list two funds tracking bitcoin futures. The NYSE wants to list the ProShares Bitcoin ETF and the ProShares Short Bitcoin ETF, two exchange-traded funds that would allow traders to bet on how the volatile cryptocurrency futures contracts will perform. ProShares, which has more than $29 billion in assets under management, filed its own documents with the SEC for the two bitcoin ETFs in September.
Just one of Wednesday’s examples: Furniture maker Nova LifeStyle Inc. quintupled after saying it’s starting a unit called “I Design Blockchain Technology Inc.” The list includes juicemakers, gold miners and a designer of sports bras.
Until recently, big-name hedge funds paid little attention to the digital currency. But the rollout of futures trading and soaring prices have some large firms considering whether it is time to wade into the market. The funds are looking to profit either by buying bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies or by betting against them. Their entry could provide a new jolt to bitcoin’s already volatile trading.
Investigators in South Korea are looking into North Korea’s possible involvement in a heist from a bitcoin exchange that collapsed on Tuesday, according to people familiar with the situation, as the regime develops new ways to circumvent sanctions and raise money.
As bitcoin’s value continues to rise, her profits have increased. Theodora estimates she makes between $7,000 and $10,000 a month in cryptocurrencies, in addition to the $10,000 a month she earns by making video hypnosis sessions and financial domination videos, and donations from clients in dollars. She’s amassed well over $1 million in cryptocurrencies as they have taken off.
NORTH KOREA, JERUSALEM
Japan’s military is laying the groundwork for batteries of antiship and antiaircraft missiles in a quiet, sugar-cane-filled valley here, as it girds to confront what Tokyo views as its greatest long-term threat: China.
Ishigaki is one of a string of subtropical islands in the far southwest of the Japanese archipelago—the closest is about 200 miles from China’s coast—that defense officials are fortifying with troop garrisons, new weapons and a radar installation.
As China becomes more powerful and assertive and North Korea builds up its nuclear arsenal, Japan is rethinking its approach to defense and moving away from the policies of strict pacifism it has followed since its defeat in World War II.
“If Japan were to have nuclear weapons, it would be like giving permission to any country in the world to have them,” Miharu Kobayashi, a high school messenger of peace from Hiroshima, said in an interview on Wednesday in Tokyo before she met with Japan’s foreign minister. “We are the country that knows how terrifying they are and how they should be abolished, so if we were to make the mistake of possessing them it would be unforgivable.”
Polls show about 80 percent of Japanese are against the country possessing a nuclear deterrent. That contrasts with fellow U.S. ally South Korea, where surveys suggest a majority supports having atomic weapons to counter Kim Jong Un’s regime.
“The whole ethos of anti-nuclear Japan is deeply embedded in the consciousness of Japanese people,” said Dan Sneider, a lecturer in East Asian studies at Stanford University, who researches U.S. foreign policy in Asia. He called it a “huge barrier” to Japan ever going nuclear.
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson let slip last week a few tantalizing details about one of the nation’s most secret military contingency plans: how the United States would try to race inside North Korea to seize its nuclear weapons if it ever saw evidence that Kim Jong-un’s government was collapsing.
On Tuesday, speaking from note cards, Mr. Tillerson said at a conference on the Korea crisis that the United States and China “have had conversations about in the event that something happened — it could happen internal to North Korea; it might be nothing that we from the outside initiate — that if that unleashed some kind of instability, the most important thing to us would be securing those nuclear weapons they’ve already developed and ensuring that they — that nothing falls into the hands of people we would not want to have it.”
He added, “We’ve had conversations with the Chinese about how might that be done.” He repeated his past assurance that the administration was not seeking “regime collapse” or “an accelerated unification of the Korean Peninsula.”
“We do not seek a reason to send our own military forces north of the demilitarized zone,” the dividing line between North and South, he said. But if America’s hand is forced, he added, “we have had conversations that if something happened and we had to go across a line, we have given the Chinese assurances we would go back and retreat back to the south of the 38th parallel” when conditions allowed.
President Trump threatened on Wednesday to cut off American aid to any country that votes in favor of a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly denouncing his recent decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Mr. Trump’s statement, delivered at his last Cabinet meeting of the year, followed a letter from the American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, in which she warned that the United States would take note of any country that votes in favor of the measure.
“All these nations that take our money and then vote against us at the Security Council or the assembly, they take hundreds of millions of dollars and billions of dollars and they vote against us,” Mr. Trump said. “Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”
President Trump will be watching a vote in the United Nations General Assembly “very carefully,” and has asked his ambassador to the world body, Nikki Haley, to “report back on those countries who voted against us,” Haley wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to some countries. The letter has been obtained by CBS News.
Haley also sent a tweet warning the U.S. would be “taking names” in Thursday’s scheduled vote, which is intended to show a United Nations unified around getting President Trump to withdraw his administration’s unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
UBER EU COURT RULING
The European Union’s highest court on Wednesday declared that Uber was a transportation business, not just a technology platform, another blow to a company already grappling with scandals and regulatory setbacks.
Uber had positioned itself as digital marketplace that connected drivers with riders, which tend to face a lighter regulatory burden. The ruling will now force Uber to comply with the bloc’s rules for taxis and other transport companies, meaning the company could face stricter licensing and other requirements.
The ruling applies only to the European Union, but it is likely to be scrutinized by regulators looking more broadly at the gig economy. Policymakers worldwide have been struggling with how to frame rules for this growing part of the work force, in which people operate as freelancers or on short-term contracts as opposed to holding permanent jobs.
For Uber, the ruling comes at a critical time, just days ahead of the deadline for the close of a complex deal in which a SoftBank-led consortium will inject between $7bn and $10bn in the San Francisco-based company.
Uber’s existing shareholders must decide next week whether to sell their shares to SoftBank for $32.96 per share, a 30 per cent haircut from Uber’s putative valuation last year, or whether to wait until at least 2019 for an initial public offering. At least 14 per cent of shares must be sold to SoftBank for the deal to close.
The case follows a complaint from a professional taxi drivers’ association in Barcelona that Uber’s activities in Spain amounted to misleading practices and unfair competition from Uber’s use of non-professional drivers – a service Uber calls UberPOP and which has since been suspended in Spain and other countries.
The decision clarifies for the first time that connecting people via an app to non-professional drivers forms an integral part of a transport service. It rejects Uber’s view that such services are purely digital and could fuel further scrutiny of other gig-economy firms. Paris regulators are already clamping down on Airbnb, treating the home-rental service more like a hotel, and British food-delivery start-up Deliveroo is in the spotlight for its treatment of workers.
Saudi Arabia is hunting for an energy deal in American shale country, as economic upheaval pushes it to seek its first international oil-and-gas production investments.
Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Aramco, has had initial conversations about taking a stake in Tellurian Inc., a liquefied-natural-gas developer based in Houston, or agreeing to buy some of its fuel in the future, people familiar with the matter said. Separately, it has inquired about acquiring assets in two giant U.S. oil-and-gas basins, the Permian and Eagle Ford, the people said.
Saudi Arabia is extending its timeline to cut energy subsidies as the government seeks to offset the impact of austerity measures on the stagnating economy, the Finance Ministry said on Tuesday.
Domestic gasoline prices will now reach parity with international levels gradually between 2018 and 2025 — compared to the previous target of 2020, according to the ministry’s 2018 budget statement. Local diesel prices will also be raised gradually to 90 percent of international prices over the same period.
Saudi Arabia announced plans to boost spending to record levels next year as it unveiled a budget intended to drag the economy out of recession. The finance ministry on Tuesday said expenditure would hit more than SR978bn ($261bn) in 2018, up from SR926bn the previous year.
The Saudi Arabian Oil Co., the world’s top crude exporter known as Aramco, is “on track” for plans to list shares on the local bourse Tadawul and possibly on foreign exchanges, Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said in an interview Tuesday in Riyadh. The state-owned company has previously said the initial public offering is scheduled for next year.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s effective deputy, Damian Green, resigned after an official investigation found that he’d made misleading statements about pornography on one of his parliamentary office computers, and left questions unanswered about his behavior towards a female activist.
A wave of allegations ranging from inappropriate behavior to rape have reverberated around Parliament, putting new pressure on the government and lawmakers to grapple with decades of pent-up frustration by women who feel their complaints haven’t been heard.
Mr. Thrush, who was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, will no longer cover the White House when he returns from his suspension in late January, The Times said.
RUSSIA PROBE, RT
As Gizmodo reports, internal documents show the transition team sought to arrange for Michael Flynn, an important figure during the early part of the Trump Administration who is now under indictment, to use Signal, which offers untraceable self-destructing messaging features.
Russia aggressively tried to hobble U.S. democracy during the 2016 election, and is still working to destabilize parts of the world with propaganda, a top Trump adviser said Tuesday. National security adviser H.R. McMaster said Russia’s goal was not merely to undermine the election, but also our way of life.
Minutes after it began broadcasting on Monday night, the new television channel RT France took aim at the country and its president, Emmanuel Macron.
“Ideally for the Russian authorities, the main goal remains to increase the public’s distrust toward their political elite and their media, in order to end up paralyzing the decision making process,” said Julien Nocetti, a research fellow who specializes in Russia at the French Institute for International Relations.
RATES, LIQUIDITY, SYSTEMIC RISK, BALANCE SHEETS
America’s new tax system will go into effect in just 12 days, and payroll companies are bracing for confusion as they figure out new withholding rules that will affect millions of American paychecks.
The Treasury Department and the IRS will have to quickly write new regulations to implement the new law, governing everything from the tax regime for businesses that don’t organize as corporations to the endowments of the nation’s elite universities and how multinational corporations are taxed on the profits they make abroad.
And while the vast majority of taxpayers would see a tax cut next year, Americans who are considering selling real estate or other types of capital assets, paying property taxes, taking out a mortgage or incorporating their businesses will have to quickly calculate whether these actions will cost them more or less in the coming year.
House Republicans are moving toward passage of a stripped down temporary funding measure to avert a government shutdown on Saturday as the prospects of a deal on a host of other issues faded.
A Senate measure intended to stabilize Obamacare markets was kicked to next year because of the political uncertainty, as were plans for an immigration deal. Ambitious plans to include full-year funding for the Pentagon, long-term extensions for a children’s health insurance program and a government surveillance program, among other items, are at risk of being pushed back as well.
US benchmark sovereign bond yields climbed to their highest in nine months while the dollar also remained under pressure as Republican tax plans were seen by investors as providing a boost to economic growth.
The passage of tax reform through the US Senate — finally completed in later session on Wednesday — has left investors considering the outlook for US inflation in the context of the fiscal stimulus the bill will provide. This has left the global stock rally, which came in anticipation of the measures, looking fully valued.
Natural and man made disasters caused $136bn of insured losses in 2017, the third highest on record, according to new estimates from Swiss Re.
The reinsurance group said on Wednesday that the 2017 total would be more than double the 2016 figure and well above the 10-year average of $58bn. Many of this year’s losses have come from the Americas, where insurers have been hit with claims from hurricanes in the Caribbean and southern US, earthquakes in Mexico, and wildfires in California, some of which are still burning.
AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier, said it will pay $1,000 bonuses to more than 200,000 employees and invest an additional $1 billion in the United States in 2018, once the tax reform bill is signed into law. An AT&T spokesman said the bonuses were unrelated to the $1,000 that 20,000 AT&T Mobility employees will receive as part of an agreement with the Communications Workers of America announced last week.
The U.S. is about to sell the most debt in eight years in 2018. JPMorgan Chase & Co. estimates net issuance at $1.3 trillion, more than double this year’s tally. That’s not exactly good timing, given the Federal Reserve’s plan to gradually step up the pace at which it shrinks its bond holdings. While central bankers may not care about the price they pay for government securities, investors do — and they may demand higher yields.
Four straight weeks of gains have pushed its price to 2.3 times sales, a level it hadn’t touched since the waning days of the Internet bubble. Even then it was far from standard: the S&P 500 traded at or above this valuation on 27 days in 1999 and 2000, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
Like many valuation indicators, price-to-sales has inflated during a year when stocks reached a record on average once every four days, though other measures such as price-to-earnings and price-to-book are still a ways away from their dot-com zenith. To a skeptic, that’s because there are fewer ways of juicing the sales line.
The biggest US banks got another boost from Washington on Tuesday when watchdogs gave them passing grades on a test designed to prevent the kind of meltdown triggered by the failure of Lehman Brothers.
The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation found that “living wills” drawn up by eight of the country’s largest and most complex banks, which show how they could be wound up in a crisis without taxpayer support, were satisfactory.
In the first 11 months of this year, 3,418 new venture-capital and private-equity funds in China raised 1.6 trillion yuan ($241.76 billion), more than double the amount of 2015 and more than 10 times that of 2006, according to consultancy Zero2IPO Group. It estimates about 12,000 investment firms manage 8.5 trillion yuan in capital, an increase from 8,000 firms managing 5 trillion yuan in 2015.
Internet businesses rank as the top investment target in terms of amount of funding and numbers of deals. It results in over-the-top valuations, intense competition for good startup targets and greater uncertainty for funders about whether or when their investments will pay off.
Mr. Su used to spend weeks and months researching companies and getting to know the founders. With founders now flush with offers, Mr. Su and his colleagues are under pressure to move much faster. In some instances, he says, he was negotiating with a startup in his office in Beijing while rival financiers waited downstairs in the building lobby with contracts in hand.
MACRO OP-EDS, INSIGHT, EVENTS AND TRENDS
The singular “price” of Bitcoin doesn’t exist — it’s a made-up number. It’s not a number you could expect to exchange a bitcoin for — it’s an average of the last sale price on a bunch of exchanges. (CoinDesk’s index uses Coinbase, Bitstamp, itBit and Bitfinex. Followers of crypto will have just exclaimed “what!” at that last one.)
If you look at the spread between exchanges — the different prices for one interchangeable bitcoin — you’ll see spreads of hundreds of dollars, and in volatile moments it can be in the thousands.
Quoting a number like “$19699.46” to seven significant figures when your data’s got a 5% spread would get your high school physics teacher slapping you upside the head. It’s entirely deceptive. It should say something like “$19,700 plus or minus $500 depending,” and that line graph should be a thick grey bar.
“Market cap” is even worse. It’s literally just whatever the last price was, multiplied by the number of tokens in existence. This is a bogus number that’s not actually applicable to anything — it’s not money that was put into the crypto, it’s not a realisable value like a company market cap, it doesn’t affect prices — it’s just an easily-calculated splashy-looking number that looks good in a headline. Trading is so thin in any crypto, even Bitcoin, that you could never realise a fraction of the number. It is literally just marketing.
The idea that there is an inherent conflict between democracy and the integrity of property rights is as old as democracy itself. Because the poor vastly outnumber the propertied rich — so the argument goes — if allowed to vote, the poor might gang up at the ballot box to wipe out the wealthy.
In the 20th century, and in particular after World War II, with voting rights and Soviet Communism on the march, the risk that wealthy democracies might redistribute their way to serfdom had never seemed more real. Radical libertarian thinkers like Rand and Murray Rothbard (who would be a muse to both Charles Koch and Ron Paul) responded with a theory of absolute property rights that morally criminalized taxation and narrowed the scope of legitimate government action and democratic discretion nearly to nothing. “What is the State anyway but organized banditry?” Rothbard asked. “What is taxation but theft on a gigantic, unchecked scale?”
Mainstream conservatives, like William F. Buckley, banished radical libertarians to the fringes of the conservative movement to mingle with the other unclubbables. Still, the so-called fusionist synthesis of libertarianism and moral traditionalism became the ideological core of modern conservatism. For hawkish Cold Warriors, libertarianism’s glorification of capitalism and vilification of redistribution was useful for immunizing American political culture against viral socialism. Moral traditionalists, struggling to hold ground against rising mass movements for racial and gender equality, found much to like in libertarianism’s principled skepticism of democracy. “If you analyze it,” Ronald Reagan said, “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.”
The hostility to redistributive democracy at the ideological center of the American right has made standard policies of successful modern welfare states, happily embraced by Europe’s conservative parties, seem beyond the moral pale for many Republicans. The outsize stakes seem to justify dubious tactics — bunking down with racists, aggressive gerrymandering, inventing paper-thin pretexts for voting rules that disproportionately hurt Democrats — to prevent majorities from voting themselves a bigger slice of the pie.
But the idea that there is an inherent tension between democracy and the integrity of property rights is wildly misguided. The liberal-democratic state is a relatively recent historical innovation, and our best accounts of the transition from autocracy to democracy points to the role of democratic political inclusion in protecting property rights.
The EU Court of Justice ruling isn’t new legislation. But if Uber is a taxi firm, then Airbnb starts to look a lot like a Hilton, as regulatory expert Innocenzo Genna notes. Stricter rules have already started to slow Airbnb’s growth.
There’s a broader warning here for startups hoping to connect punters with merchants at minimum cost—you know those guys who say they’re a “tech company” rather than a pizza deliverer or whatever and therefore have little obligation to the people who do the work. Regulators will be watching closely to see just how “non-professional” these services are, and how profitable. This relates to central parts of the EU court’s decision, which ruled it was fair to view unlicensed Uber drivers as breaching transport laws.
For Mr. Mundaray and his team of investigators, the massacre in this area east of Caracas in October 2016 was the most bloodthirsty of killings by security forces in a country riven by unspeakable violence.
Prosecutors, criminologists and human-rights groups say it was only one of many recurring and escalating lethal attacks carried out by police or soldiers. The full scope of the alleged atrocities is beginning to surface publicly now. Luisa Ortega, a former Socialist Party stalwart who was attorney general until fleeing to neighboring Colombia in August, is releasing data on the killings, as are independent human-rights groups and Venezuelan journalists.
“It’s a systematic policy against a social sector,” said Ms. Ortega. She said the police and armed forces enter poor barrios heavily armed in large numbers, “leveling everything that is in their way.”
A malfunctioning market with the potential to blow up does capitalism no favours. The question is what to do about it. It makes sense that investing on the basis of projected cash flows, however imprecise that knowledge, must be preferable, privately and socially, to investing simply on the basis of fund flows. Yet responding to fund flows is what benchmarkers do in part and momentum investors do entirely and these together account for the bulk of trades taking place today.
Exploitative momentum investing would shrivel in the absence of benchmarkers so the objective should be to wean investors off tight tracking to market indices. Most people in the industry have reservations about benchmarking yet nothing is done to address the issue. It is designed to incentivise fund managers and at the same time to circumscribe their freedom, so new ways must be found to achieve both objectives.
The best place to start is with an examination of the contracts and guidelines that pension funds and sovereign wealth funds agree with their external managers. These set the tone for the way securities markets function and capital is allocated.
The price Mosul’s residents paid in blood to see their city freed was 9,000 to 11,000 dead, a civilian casualty rate nearly 10 times higher than what has been previously reported. The number killed in the nine-month battle to liberate the city from the Islamic State group marauders has not been acknowledged by the U.S.-led coalition, the Iraqi government or the self-styled caliphate.
But Mosul’s gravediggers, its morgue workers and the volunteers who retrieve bodies from the city’s rubble are keeping count. Iraqi or coalition forces are responsible for at least 3,200 civilian deaths from airstrikes, artillery fire or mortar rounds between October 2016 and the fall of the Islamic State group in July 2017, according to an Associated Press investigation that cross-referenced independent databases from non-governmental organizations.
Millions of Americans have been caught up in a bitter debate over the repeal of net neutrality rules that prevented broadband providers from blocking websites or demanding fees to reach consumers. But the most vocal and committed activity may have come from generation internet, the digitally savvy teenagers in middle and high school who grew up with an open internet.
The repeal of net neutrality has gotten many of these teens politically engaged for the first time, with fears that the dismantling of rules could open the door for broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast to distort the experience of accessing anything online with equal ease. For them, a dry issue that has often been hard to understand outside of policy circles in Washington has become a cause to rally around.
CENTRAL BANKS & MONETARY POLICY
The Bank of Japan is expected to keep monetary stimulus unchanged when its board meeting concludes in Tokyo on Thursday, closing out the quietest year for policy since Governor Haruhiko Kuroda took the helm in 2013.
Thailand’s central bank kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged near a record low in the face of subdued inflation, and raised economic growth forecasts for this year and next.
Sweden’s Riksbank will start to bring an end to its quantitative easing programme at the end of the year but will maintain a heavy presence in bond markets for the next few years, it announced on Wednesday, signalling a very tentative move toward policy normalisation in light of the region’s recent economic strength.
USA ECONOMY DATA, CITIES AND STATES
Sales of previously owned U.S. homes rose in November to an almost 11-year high, indicating demand picked up momentum heading into the end of the year, according to a National Association of Realtors report released Wednesday.
POSITIONING, INFLECTION, MARKET CALLS
Analysts are looking to a 2018 of lower sales, a cooling China market, and a “narrative shift” in the industry to “technology enablers versus traditional industrials.”
Some hedge funds are starting to buy assets in Greece after a lengthy hiatus, betting the former sick man of Europe has been overlooked by most investors and offers potential bargains.
Wall Street doesn’t expect technology stocks to repeat 2017’s banner year that has seen the sector return almost twice as much as the S&P 500 index. After four consecutive years of outperformance, tech companies face mounting concerns about the potential for increased government regulation and continued rotation by investors into higher-taxed industries as a result of U.S. tax reform. Most analysts see the bull market continuing, but at a less ferocious pace.
COLOR, EARNINGS, SENTIMENT, VALUATIONS
The dreaded doughnut — or zero bonus — could be back in a big way on Wall Street, particularly for bond traders who have struggled to make money in listless, lacklustre markets.
Revenues from banks’ fixed-income sales and trading units have been falling all year, crimped by post-crisis rules curbing risk-taking and a general lack of volatility. Recent public remarks from big bank executives suggest that trend continued into the fourth quarter, meaning that bonus pools will be shallow and are likely to be dominated by “strong, up and coming” vice-presidents, said Oliver Cooke, head of Selby Jennings’s US recruitment practice.
DEALS, MERGERS, IPOs, LBOs, RESTRUCTURINGS
The chief investment officer of Muddy Waters Capital called the Beijing-based company “a fraud” in a report Wednesday. While China Internet Nationwide Financial Services says it makes money from lending, Block said almost none of its business is real and the only person taking out loans is the chairman, Jianxin Lin.
“Just in the name, the only thing accurate is China,” Block said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “There is nothing internet about it, there is nothing nationwide about it, and from our vantage point, it is a fraud and a total zero.”
Online styling service Stitch Fix’s shares plunged more than 10 percent after it reported its first earnings as a publicly traded company Tuesday afternoon. While earnings and sales just slightly surpassed analysts’ expectations, gross margins were hampered by investments into new categories, falling nearly 3 percentage points. In the near term, Stitch Fix said it continues to expect profit margins to decline as those investments ramp up.
ENERGY COMPANIES, NOCs, INDUSTRY
Republicans are poised to offer up a bevy of new opportunities for oil exploration in lands and waters owned by the government, but their efforts come at a time when a glutted oil market has companies less eager to find new sites to drill.
Some supporters in the oil industry do believe rising prices since this summer signal a turning point. Cutbacks have whittled away at surplus stocks this year, and a lack of investment could create shortages later that make big prospects like Alaska and offshore fields more alluring. Ms. Murkowski, speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday night, said getting ANWR ready now could help prevent major price spikes in the next decade.
Yet many investors and analysts expect only tepid interest if Congress and the Trump administration follow through on plans to lease out what some think are the biggest untapped oil fields left in the U.S. Though promising, the lands up for consideration in offshore ocean waters and the Alaskan Arctic haven’t been the sort to attract companies in recent years.
ENERGY CRUDE OIL, OIL SANDS, SHALE
China is preparing to launch its own yuan-based oil futures contract, a move set to shake up the 96 million barrel-per-day global crude market currently dominated by trading in London and New York.
No official launch date has been announced for the new contract, but traders and analysts in China say they expect trading in it to begin late this year or in early 2018. Trading will be based at the Shanghai International Energy Exchange, which has already conducted five test runs for the new contract, according to its website.
COMMODITIES BASE METALS, MATERIALS
Copper is on track to post its best year since 2010, supported by a favorable global economic backdrop and the prospect of mine disruptions across the globe.
The most actively traded copper contract is up 26% in 2017 and hit its highest level in three years in October. Steady demand for the industrial metal—often considered an economic indicator because of its use in everything from smartphones to vehicles—has supported prices, signaling investors’ confidence in this year’s rebound in global growth. All of the countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are on track to post growth this year for the first time since 2010.
“It’s just the synchronized nature of this expansion” that stands out, said François Bourdon, chief investment officer at Fiera Capital Corp. Mr. Bourdon said his firm recently sold its position in copper miners after a good run but might buy again next year if the global economy continues performing well.
POLLUTION, CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT
B.H.P. Billiton, the British-Australian mining company, said in a report Tuesday that it planned to withdraw from the World Coal Association, an international lobbying group, because of differences in climate and energy policies. The report also noted that B.H.P. would review its relationship with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in light of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
The move highlights the delicate considerations huge mining companies must contend with as they seek to balance profit with social and environmental awareness.
Last week, at a New Orleans conference center that once doubled as a storm shelter for thousands during Hurricane Katrina, a group of polar scientists made a startling declaration: The Arctic as we once knew it is no more.
The region is now definitively trending toward an ice-free state, the scientists said, with wide-ranging ramifications for ecosystems, national security, and the stability of the global climate system. It was a fitting venue for an eye-opening reminder that, on its current path, civilization is engaged in an existential gamble with the planet’s life-support system.
About 2,000 people have been displaced by flooding in the towns of Lentigione and Colorno as heavy rains swept across northeastern Italy causing nearby rivers to burst their banks. The Emilia-Romagna region, where the two towns are located, was one of the hardest hit.
BREXIT, SCOXIT, LONDON, UK ECONOMY
Pulling no punches, the IMF’s managing director said: “We feared that if Brexit was decided upon, it would most likely entail a depreciation of sterling, an increase of inflation and a squeezing in wages and a slowdown and probably a reduction of investment.”
“I know that some people at the time said, ‘Oh, it’s those experts,’ . . . but what we are seeing is that narrative we identified as a potential risk in May 2016 is actually being rolled out as we speak,” she said. “This is what we are seeing. It’s not experts talking, it’s the economy demonstrating that.”
A 300-year-old argument between Britain and Spain over a small piece of land is threatening to derail Theresa May’s plans to help businesses navigate Brexit.
U.K. officials fear Spain will threaten to veto a Brexit transition phase if the British prime minister refuses to negotiate a separate deal with the government in Madrid that covers the disputed territory of Gibraltar. While the peninsula has been in British hands since 1713, Spain maintains a claim over the 2.6 square miles (6.7 square kilometers) of land.
London’s economy grew at double the rate achieved by the country as a whole last year, while a third of the regions in the UK saw output per head fall in real terms. New figures from the Office for National Statistics provide the most comprehensive and timely picture to date of changes in real terms output for each region of the UK.
Britain should submit to the EU’s legal regime until December 31 2020 under a Brexit transition that strips the UK of influence and excludes it from trade deals, according to the EU’s opening stance for negotiations
European workers are showing signs of turning away from the U.K. as an employment destination, according to a network of businesses across the country monitored by the Bank of England.
Recruitment difficulties intensified this quarter, becoming more broadly based across sectors and skill levels, the BOE said in its Agents’ Summary published Wednesday. While jobs requiring less expertise were still easier to fill, some firms reported that even those had become more difficult, “notably those that relied heavily on seasonal workers, for example in horticulture and agriculture” and mostly from the EU.
The European Union raised the stakes against Poland over judicial overhauls Brussels calls undemocratic, laying the groundwork for an unprecedented punishment after months of acrimony. The EU’s executive body on Wednesday triggered a never-used sanctions procedure known as Article 7 and informally dubbed the “nuclear option,” taking an unprecedented step aimed at bringing Poland back into line.
However, the move risks alienating Warsaw even further from its European counterparts while exposing the EU’s weakness in enforcing its political vision. The final stage of sanctions—including a suspension of Polish voting rights in the EU—would likely be vetoed by at least one other member. Still, Poland faces the stigma of being deemed in breach of EU values by a majority of its peers.
Poland’s president signed sweeping legislation on Wednesday to overhaul the country’s judicial system, a move critics say fundamentally undermines the rule of law in a nation that only three decades ago broke free from the yoke of the Soviet Union to embrace democracy.
The new laws effectively put the Polish courts under the control of the right-wing governing party, Law and Justice. In signing them, President Andrzej Duda defied a formal warning delivered only hours earlier by the European Union, which called the legislation a “serious breach” of bedrock values like the rule of law.
Once viewed as a symbol for the successful integration of former Eastern Bloc countries into the West, Poland is now seen as portending a far darker trend — a turn toward right-wing populism and away from values like pluralism and respect for dissent.
China made “Xiconomics” the guiding principle for the world’s second-largest economy as it unveiled the first economic blueprint of President Xi Jinping’s second term. The plan came with strong political overtones, highlighting a theory bearing Mr. Xi’s name and emphasizing innovation and “high-quality” growth.
There were few signs Beijing will aggressively tackle crippling debt levels and state-sector bloat. Also missing in the blueprint were plans for a long-awaited property tax.
Instead, the plan released late Wednesday after a Communist Party economic conference rattled off a list of promises China has made in the past few years but that haven’t been fully delivered on, such as risk control, overcapacity cuts and broadening market access to foreign companies. It also talked up poverty alleviation and pollution control, which are among the political initiatives championed by Mr. Xi, as key economic tasks for next year.
China signaled its economic priorities on Wednesday at the end of a meeting of top Communist Party economic leaders with a statement indicating that President Xi is fully in charge. Labeled “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialist Economy With Chinese Characteristics,” the statement called for trimming industrial overcapacity, controlling the supply of money and other moves that have been staples of China’s other recent declarations.
Barely mentioned: China’s surging debt. Despite downgrades this year by two international credit rating firms and warnings from institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the statement issued at the conclusion of the Central Economic Work Conference called for controlling borrowing by local governments, but it otherwise glossed over a vast borrowing splurge in recent years, driven in large part by Chinese companies.
“Prudent monetary policy should be kept neutral, the floodgates of monetary supply should be controlled, and credit and social financing should see reasonable growth,” the statement said.
The statement illustrates both Mr. Xi’s growing clout and what economists say is a subtle shift in how China may address its debt pile — a shift that suggests leaders may be willing to tolerate even more debt if it will help growth.
DACA, TRAVEL BAN, IMMIGRATION, WALL
The Trump administration has pursued its immigration agenda loudly and noticeably, ramping up arrests of undocumented immigrants, barring most travel from several majority-Muslim countries and pressing the case for a border wall.
But it has also quietly, and with much less resistance, slowed many forms of legal immigration without the need for Congress to rescind a single visa program enshrined in the law.
Immigration and State Department officials are more closely scrutinizing, and have started more frequently denying, visas for people seeking to visit the United States on business, as well as for those recruited by American companies, according to lawyers representing visa seekers. Foreigners already in the United States whose employers wish to extend their stays are also facing new hurdles.
GEOPOLITICS, CRIME, TERRORISM
Iraqi Shiite militias that helped Baghdad oust Islamic State—some of which are loyal to Iran—now want to translate battlefield gains into greater political power in parliamentary elections scheduled for spring.
As diplomats began another round of peace talks over the civil war in South Sudan, the country’s military forces captured a rebel headquarters, further weakening the fractured rebel movement and prompting a mobilization of soldiers in a neighboring nation.
Taiwan is investigating four members of a small political party that advocates unification with China, on the suspicion that they gave Chinese officials classified information related to an espionage case. Beijing said it was watching the situation closely. The development comes as China is putting increasing pressure on Taiwan, which it considers a part of its territory that must eventually come under its control.
The war in rebel-held eastern Ukraine has escalated sharply this week, with the heaviest fighting in nearly a year, European observers and Western diplomats reported on Wednesday. Ukrainian authorities linked the escalation to the Russian military’s decision to withdraw officers from a joint Russian and Ukrainian liaison group that had assisted in monitoring the shaky cease-fire
deal, known as the Minsk 2 agreement.
PRIVACY, HACKING, CYBERWAR, SURVEILLANCE STATE
A bipartisan pair of senators vowed Wednesday to mount a filibuster of any long-term extension of a key surveillance law, complicating the efforts of congressional leaders to keep one of the most important spying tools in the government’s arsenal from expiring.
House Republicans abandoned plans on Wednesday to vote on a long-term reauthorization of a powerful government authority to conduct foreign surveillance on U.S. soil, apparently succumbing to internal party demands for time to negotiate an extension with more stringent limitations on when authorities can access Americans’ communications.
Over nearly three minutes, Pence offered plaudit after plaudit after plaudit, praising Trump’s vision, his words, his strategy and his results in light of the passage of tax cuts. By the end, Pence offered 14 separate commendations for Trump in less than three minutes — math that works out to one every 12.5 seconds. And each bit of praise was addressed directly to Trump, who was seated directly across the table.
Pence paused from praising Trump only briefly to also praise the other people seated around the table. But in doing so, he made clear that it was because Trump would want him to — and that these were members of a team that Trump was savvy enough to have assembled.
Donald Trump is hemorrhaging support among the American people, and now more than 40 percent of them think it’s time to start the process to impeach him, a new poll finds. The number is higher than the percentage of Americans who said they planned to vote for the president in the 2020 election.
According to the poll, 56 percent of respondents said they are most likely to vote Democrat in the midterm elections, while just 38 percent said they were likely to vote Republican. The numbers are dramatically different than last midterm election, when Democrats still controlled the White House. When the same question was asked in November 2013, 47 percent said they’d vote Democrat, while 49 percent said Republican.
“The Republicans have put a huge wager on this tax bill — the House rides on it, the Senate may ride on it,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group. “What is going to matter is whether the bill is successful in raising wages and serving as a catalyst for growth.”
SCANDALS, LAWSUITS, FINES, REGULATORY
An Italian judge ruled on Wednesday that two of the world’s largest oil companies, Royal Dutch Shell and Eni, the Italian company, must go on trial on charges of corruption over a $1.3 billion oil deal in Nigeria.
Subaru Corp. said Wednesday it was investigating whether workers at Japanese factories improperly altered some fuel-economy data, adding to a scandal that has damaged its Japanese business but not its core U.S. market.
The company’s statement came a day after it released a 53-page report about inspection problems at its factories—a report that didn’t mention fuel-economy data issues. Subaru said it held off because it hadn’t confirmed whether any data was faked, but its hand was forced after Japanese public broadcaster NHK raised the issue.
SILICON VALLEY, UNICORNS, STARTUPS, VC
Armed with a $3.1 billion commitment of new cash from SoftBank Group Corp.’s investment fund this summer, WeWork has ratcheted up pressure on an array of competitors, offering their tenants lucrative deals—and sometimes even free food—to convince them to defect.
Co-working companies around the globe, from small operators of a single space such as Wolf Bielas in San Diego to midsize competitors like Bond Collective in New York, say that this fall, WeWork embarked on a marketing blitz to lure large numbers of their tenants with a year of free rent with a two-year contract. The offer was so generous that these smaller companies say they would lose money if they matched it.
CONSUMER TECH, SOCIAL MEDIA, E-COMMERCE, MOBILE
About 49 percent of online shoppers visit Amazon first when searching for products, down from 55 percent in 2016, according to a consumer survey from San Francisco research firm Survata. Google and other search engines followed at 36 percent, up from 28 percent. Consumers visited individual retailers’ websites first only 15 percent of the time, compared with 16 percent last year.
RETAIL APPAREL, SPECIALTY, DINING, BIG BOX
Porch pirates have darkened people’s doorsteps for years. Law enforcement agencies say they think the crime is on the rise, along with the growth of online shopping. “There’s more packages for them to grab,” said Angela Sands, a spokeswoman for the Police Department in Lincoln, Neb.
And the rewards are especially attractive during the holiday season. United Parcel Service plans to deliver 750 million packages this season, up from 500 million five years ago.
Amazon is trying to ship each order in one correctly sized package instead of multiple boxes, responding to rising shipping costs and consumers’ concern about the environmental impact and general nuisance of all that cardboard. That means adding bubble envelopes, tweaking algorithms and negotiating with manufacturers to make smaller packaging specifically for online sales, not store shelves.
“There’s a lot of pressure to come up with solutions that eliminate a box,” said Ken Chrisman of Sealed Air Corp. , which designs packaging materials for retailers, manufacturers and logistics firms, including United Parcel Service Inc., XPO Logistics Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Kroger Co.
MEDIA, CABLE, SPORTS, ENTERTAINMENT
“Bright” is the company’s first attempt at a big-budget Hollywood production, bringing together a bona fide movie star in a fantasy, buddy-cop tale that could have come from any studio playbook. Directed by David Ayer, who also made “Suicide Squad,” it’s a warning shot to studios and theater owners that Netflix is targeting a big chunk of the $38.6 billion global box office. To underscore the commitment, the company has already ordered a sequel with Smith signed on.
It is almost as unusual for a collection of short stories to earn such a high sum on the market as it is for a single story to receive the attention that “Cat Person” did. Deborah Treisman, The New Yorker’s fiction editor, said of the reaction to the story, “We have not seen anything like that with fiction.”
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