Macro Links Feb 28th – NSA Warning
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MACRO LINKS TABLE OF CONTENTS (Click or Scroll Down)
- BITCOIN, CRYPTOCURRENCY, INITIAL COIN OFFERINGS
- FOREX, CARRY TRADES, EXCHANGE RATES
- BUDGET, INFRASTRUCTURE, HEALTHCARE, IMMIGRATION
- RUSSIA MEDDLING, RUSSIA PROBE
- NORTH / SOUTH KOREA, IRAN, NUCLEAR WEAPONS
- INFLATION, RATES, DEBT AND CREDIT, BALANCE SHEETS
- VOLATILITY, BLACK SWANS, LIQUIDITY, TAIL RISKS
- MACRO OP-EDS, INSIGHT, EVENTS AND TRENDS
- CENTRAL BANKS & MONETARY POLICY
- USA ECONOMY DATA, CITIES AND STATES
- COLOR, EARNINGS, SENTIMENT, VALUATIONS
- DEALS, MERGERS, IPOs, LBOs, RESTRUCTURINGS
- PRIVACY, HACKING, CYBERWAR, SURVEILLANCE STATE
- TRUMP WORLD
- ELECTORAL POLITICS
- CONSUMER TECH, SOCIAL MEDIA, E-COMMERCE, MOBILE
BITCOIN, CRYPTOCURRENCY, INITIAL COIN OFFERINGS
The so-called financial internet stands the Facebook business model on its head. With Facebook, users post content on the site and the company collects the money — last year, $41 billion in revenue. On Steemit, the money goes in the other direction. Facebook, with 2.1 billion monthly users, may not even see Steemit, which says 9 million users visit each month, in its rear-view mirror.
A growing number of crypto startups are adding former regulators and other government authorities to their payrolls, a practice that could help them head off or prepare for stricter rules. Ventures have snapped up ex-prosecutors, national security officials and at least one former senior diplomat — all of whom may prove handy as nations decide whether to embrace or outlaw digital money.
Pine agreed to a phone interview with the Chronicle on the condition that the article include no identifying information. In the interview, the donor said the run of giving was over. After combing through more than 10,000 applications for funding with the help of friends, Pine made more than $53 million in contributions, leaving a trail of delighted, often stunned nonprofit leaders.
Cryptocurrency companies have traditionally had a hard time finding banks to accept them as customers. Over the weekend, the Bangkok Bank terminated the account of the Thai Digital Asset Exchange, and in January of this year, several Indian banks suspended or limited the accounts of crypto exchanges.
China is opening a new front in its battle against cryptocurrencies, targeting platforms that allow the nation’s investors to trade digital assets on overseas exchanges, people familiar with the matter said. The measures are designed to cut off one of the few remaining avenues for Chinese citizens to buy digital assets. While the country was once home to the world’s most active cryptocurrency exchanges, authorities banned the venues last year and have since moved to block access to platforms that offer exchange-like services.
Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten is launching a cryptocurrency. Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani unveiled the “Rakuten Coin” initiative – which will be used as part of the company’s points-based loyalty rewards system – during this week’s Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona. Speaking Tuesday, Mikitani pitched the project as a way to help the company expand its international customer base.
Ostensibly there is a trend of support for the Petro. However, there are many who are calling this a paid-for propaganda campaign on platforms like Twitter. The hashtag #AlFuturoConElPetro, which means ‘To the Future With Petro’ has been used by governmental agencies and supporters alike, including the President.
The Venezuelan government has launched a free cryptocurrency training course to teach its citizens how to buy, sell and mine digital currencies, particularly the oil-backed Petro that has been recently issued by the state, local news outlet Telesur TV reported on Saturday, Feb. 24.
According to Mayorov’s own allegations, he was grabbed off of Isakovskogo Street by four men on Feb. 23 at 10:00 pm in Moscow, put into a Mercedes, and beaten while the men drove around the city. The men took the US dollars, which Mayorov had just exchanged for an upcoming trip to India, the iPhones, and his laptop with access to his crypto wallet with 300 BTC, worth a little over $3 mln today.
Israel’s Supreme Court has issued a temporary court order prohibiting Leumi Bank from restricting the banking activity of crypto broker Bits of Gold, Finance Magnates reported yesterday, Feb. 26. The Supreme Court’s decision, that has been described as “precedent-setting,” means that banks in general cannot limit accounts associated with the crypto industry.
“I had seven bitcoins stolen from me through fraud. Somebody bought them from me online through a credit card and they cancelled the credit card payment. It was that easy!” the publication quotes him as saying. Despite multiple publications subsequently picking up on the story, Wozniak has yet to confirm more information about the theft, and the unusual circumstances surrounding the loss.
FOREX, CARRY TRADES, EXCHANGE RATES
Japanese investors may be America’s bond bears. They are shifting toward selling U.S. Treasury bonds and other dollar-based debt after fears have picked up in recent weeks that the Trump administration’s budget and other policies add up to a weak dollar. The concerns expressed by asset managers could be short-lived and are hard to measure precisely in data, so far. Still, any questioning in Tokyo of the dollar or of the U.S. Treasury is significant because Japanese holders including the government own nearly $1.1 trillion in Treasury bonds, a close second to China.
BUDGET, INFRASTRUCTURE, HEALTHCARE, IMMIGRATION
The Senate’s No. 2 Republican cast doubt on whether Congress will be able to enact President Donald Trump’s plan to upgrade U.S. public works this year, raising questions about whether a top administration priority will be done before the November elections.
RUSSIA MEDDLING, RUSSIA PROBE
The U.S. intelligence community developed substantial evidence that state websites or voter registration systems in seven states were compromised by Russian-backed covert operatives prior to the 2016 election — but never told the states involved, according to multiple U.S. officials.
US Cyber Command chief Adm. Mike Rogers told lawmakers on Tuesday that he has not been granted the authority by President Donald Trump to disrupt Russian election hacking operations where they originate.
“What I see on the cyber command side leads me to believe that if we don’t change the dynamic here that this is gonna continue and 2016 won’t be viewed as isolated,” NSA Director Mike Rogers said at a Senate hearing.
A Ukrainian woman named Anna says Joseph Mifsud asked her to marry him in a restaurant overlooking the Kremlin. Later, he allegedly told a Trump campaign aide that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. She hasn’t heard from him since that news broke in October.
Presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner has had his security clearance downgraded — a move that will prevent him from viewing many of the sensitive documents to which he once had unfettered access. Kushner is not alone. All White House aides working on the highest-level interim clearances — at the Top Secret/SCI-level — were informed in a memo sent Friday that their clearances would be downgraded to the Secret level, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.
Since the beginning of the Trump administration, both Mr. Kushner, 37, and his wife, Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter, 36, have enjoyed a special status within the White House as both family members and assistants to the president. But the complicated finances surrounding Mr. Kushner’s family’s vast real-estate empire and his qualifications for the foreign policy responsibilities given to him by his father-in-law invited scrutiny from the start.
Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.
Anastasia Vashukevich, an escort service worker from Belarus who catapulted to a certain measure of fame after filming a yacht trip with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko, was detained in Thailand over the weekend in a police raid on her “sex training” seminar. While still in custody Tuesday, she published Instagram videos asking U.S. journalists and intelligence agencies to help her.
NORTH / SOUTH KOREA, IRAN, NUCLEAR WEAPONS
North Korea shipped 50 tons of supplies to Syria for use in building what is suspected to be an industrial-scale chemical weapons facility, according to intelligence information cited in a confidential United Nations report. The shipments are part of a steady stream of weapons-related sales by Pyongyang to Syria and to Mr. Assad’s patron, Iran, estimated by some experts to be worth several billion dollars a year.
The supplies from North Korea include acid-resistant tiles, valves and thermometers, according to a report by United Nations investigators. North Korean missile technicians have also been spotted working at known chemical weapons and missile facilities inside Syria, according to the report, which was written by a panel of experts who looked at North Korea’s compliance with United Nations sanctions.
INFLATION, RATES, DEBT AND CREDIT, BALANCE SHEETS
The dividend boosts, which come as companies report some of their best earnings and sales in years, are partly the result of last year’s $1.5 trillion tax cut that spurred corporations to put their extra cash to work. But they also coincide with a rise in bond yields that threatens to diminish the allure of stocks.
VOLATILITY, BLACK SWANS, LIQUIDITY, TAIL RISKS
“The markets are so good at the moment that clients can literally ask for whatever they want,” said an experienced deals banker. “People will buy anything so long as it offers them yield and diversification. They get bored of only being able to buy the same names and have also hit their limits for some of the more frequent names.”
The problem was that the life-insurance products were actually high-yielding debt instruments; investors could opt out of the insurance portion in as little as two years. With some products yielding more than 5 percent in the first three years, this essentially made Anbang a highly leveraged investor taking on significant risks to cover its cost of capital. Customers were basically extending loans to Anbang that it used to overpay for assets. Regulators finally stepped in to prevent a collapse that could have led to significant instability — with some 35 million customers demanding their money back.
MACRO OP-EDS, INSIGHT, EVENTS AND TRENDS
Having cast aside presidential term limits, China is bracing for relations with the United States to enter a dangerous period under the continuing leadership of President Xi Jinping, intending to stand firm against President Trump and against policies it sees as attempts to contain its rise, according to Chinese analysts.
By signalling his intention to remove the two-term limit on China’s presidency, he is not just discarding more than three decades of hard-won precedent aimed at institutionalising peaceful transitions of power. Mr Xi has also exposed a rift in Chinese society between those who fear the return of strongman rule, and those who welcome it. Essentially, China’s president and Communist party general secretary is betting that the latter outnumber the former. The unusual manner in which the amendment was announced on Sunday afternoon has invited speculation that the party is facing internal resistance from Mr Xi’s detractors, who may have deliberately flagged up the measure in an effort to subvert it.
The announcement, though anticipated, is still shocking. What seemed likely is now a fact. Mr Xi has discarded the attempt by Deng Xiaoping to institutionalise checks on the power of China’s leaders — itself a reaction to the wild excesses of the era of Mao Zedong. What is re-emerging is strongman rule — a concentration of power in the hands of one man. It now looks a bit like “Putinism with Chinese characteristics.”
The Kremlin’s online activities go far beyond election meddling. The U.S. needs to fight back. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is engaged in a low-intensity conflict not just against the United States, but against the civilized world, where commerce and prosperity are inextricably intertwined with digitally connected machines. Fearing that both democracy and free and fair economies represent an existential threat to his corrupt authoritarian regime, Putin’s Russia is increasingly responsible both for indiscriminate destructive cyberattacks and for harboring cybercriminals who harm the global online economy. It is impossible to confront threats to cybersecurity without addressing the Putin problem.
Both Le Pen and Putin focus on negative emotions such as fear and resentment, then point the finger at alien others to explain and legitimise them. For Le Pen, the dangerous others are Islamism (which she wilfully elides with Islam) and globalism. The latter, in the guise of western hegemony, is also Putin’s main enemy. His rhetoric of national renaissance feeds into a centuries-long Russian self-image of a distinctive Slavic culture constantly threatened by its western neighbours. In this world view, assertive nationalism is the key to peace, not conflict. Le Pen claims homogenising “vicious globalisation”, not nationalism, is “eager for a clash of civilisations.” For both the once-atheist Putin and the twice-divorced Le Pen, the return of nationalism to the centre of civic life entails the restoration of traditional religion. This return of the sacred is especially striking in two countries that were long associated with secularisation.
Hammer is the National Rifle Association’s Florida lobbyist. At seventy-eight years old, she is nearing four decades as the most influential gun lobbyist in the United States. Her policies have elevated Florida’s gun owners to a uniquely privileged status, and made the public carrying of firearms a fact of daily life in the state.
As consumers face rapidly rising drug costs, states across the country are moving to block “gag clauses” that prohibit pharmacists from telling customers that they could save money by paying cash for prescription drugs rather than using their health insurance. Federal and state officials say they share the pharmacists’ concerns, and they have started taking action. At least five states have adopted laws to make sure pharmacists can inform patients about less costly ways to obtain their medicines, and at least a dozen others are considering legislation to prohibit gag clauses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
SourceSage is a minnow in the global commodities market and Jian doesn’t see it as a major competitor to the established price-reporting giants, but rather as a platform for smaller players who can’t afford to pay a lot for market information. He subscribes to Clayton Christensen’s theory that disruptive innovation starts at the low-end of the market. The startup charges customers a subscription fee, which starts from $800 per month for individuals, and between $3,000 and $25,000 for companies. It also makes fees from brokerage services. Eventually, it seeks to develop a commodities exchange platform.
Unlike in stores or online, where an array of brands get plenty of exposure, voice-search assistants like Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa often steer shoppers to a single product, usually selected by an algorithm with no input from the sellers. That isn’t a big problem now, as voice searches account for a sliver of purchases. But it could be. “Of all the disruptions that are taking place in all the things technology is bringing into our space, voice is among the most disruptive,” said Graeme Pitkethly, chief financial officer of Unilever PLC. “In digital investment this is our biggest focus.”
On Tuesday, a German court ruled that Stuttgart, one of the country’s most polluted cities, can ban diesel cars from driving in downtown areas to improve air quality. The ruling could ultimately lead to bans in a host of cities in Germany, a country with millions of diesel cars on the streets. Unlike in the United States, where diesel cars are the exception, in Germany roughly one in three passenger vehicles runs on diesel. In few cities is the country’s environmental schizophrenia more stark than Stuttgart, capital of the wealthy state of Baden-Württemberg.
Passive has gotten so large that it’s killed everything in its path — including itself. Welcome to the “Passive Singularity.” There are now so many indexes that putting your money in an index-tracking fund is a move requiring an active decision, according to researchers at Sanford C Bernstein & Co. The industry’s growth has even forced active managers to focus on selecting indexes themselves — be that to invest in, or to benchmark against.
Newly prominent oil speculators are not necessarily reacting to news about supply and demand or utterances from Riyadh. Instead, they may be buying and selling oil based on moves in currencies, interest rates or the price of oil itself. “There are large investors in energy, and they don’t care about talking to people who deal with fundamentals. They have no interest in it,” says Ed Morse, global head of commodities research at Citigroup. His research team suggested in a note that so-called macro investors were becoming a “commodities whale”.
We’ve seen this story play out in the hedge fund industry; it doesn’t end well for investors. During the robust market environment of the 2000s, strong gross returns for hedge funds created insatiable demand. Investment capacity constraints caused competition for talent, and compensation for analysts rose, increasing the “cost of doing business.” As hedge funds captured share from traditional asset classes, the demand for their services appeared price-inelastic; annual management fees crept higher, from 1 percent to 1.5 percent to 2 percent. Allocators were price takers and accepted the deal because they believed the past success would continue indefinitely. They were wrong.
There are more jobs for forklift drivers, but fewer diners at the local BBQ joint. What’s happening here is part of a nationwide boom in warehouse construction reshaping economies that once relied on farms or factories. Between 2013 and 2017, developers added about 848 million square feet of warehouse space, or more than double the roughly 300 million square feet built over the five previous years, according to real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. The number of stock clerks and order fillers—which is the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ designation—expanded by almost 311,000 in the decade to 2016.
Across the country, in once-bustling manufacturing centers, breweries are giving new fizz to sleepy commercial districts. If alcohol-based businesses were blamed for a breakdown of society in the Prohibition era and beyond, breweries are now being seen as a force for good. “The economic ripple effects are definitely there,” said David Barnett, a Chicago-based senior research analyst for JLL, the commercial brokerage firm. Breweries “create a cool tourism aspect for out-of-towners, but it’s been good for residents as well.”
Someday soon, what Uber did for cars and Netflix for TV will happen with computers. Rather than buy a suite of gadgets—a PC, phone, Xbox, etc.—you could just access their features when you need them. They won’t need to be distinct, powerful devices with their own hefty allocations of processor and memory. Instead, you’ll have a single virtual computer with all your data and preferences. You’ll reach for a touch screen when you’re on the go, sit down to a larger one with keyboard and mouse when you’re at your desk. Maybe you’ll have a wall-size one, too.
CENTRAL BANKS & MONETARY POLICY
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, in his first public appearance as head of the U.S. central bank, vowed on Tuesday to prevent the economy from overheating while sticking with a plan to gradually raise interest rates. Testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Financial Services Committee, Powell acknowledged the economy had strengthened recently, a remark that prompted investors to increase bets on four rate increases in 2018.
Jay Powell gave a markedly bullish assessment of the US economic outlook in his first congressional testimony as Federal Reserve chair, triggering speculation that he could preside over a quicker pace of interest rate increases as the economy accelerates. Addressing the House financial services committee, Mr Powell said the economy had been stronger this year than he expected in December as he vowed to forge ahead with gradual increases in interest rates to avoid an “overheated economy”.
Central banks face a challenge getting things right a year or two down the road as they struggle to balance growth and inflation, said Ray Dalio, the billionaire founder of the world’s biggest hedge fund. “We are in the Goldilocks part of the cycle, where it’s not too hot and not too cold,” he said. “We have growth and we don’t have an inflation problem. That’s the beautiful part of the cycle.”
In her first public appearance since she left the Fed, Yellen said Tuesday that central banks should reassess their thinking on inflation in an era marked by slow economic growth and low interest rates. Yet she doubted Congress would go along and she worried that a transition to a higher target could unsettle what she called “well-anchored inflation expectations.”
USA ECONOMY DATA, CITIES AND STATES
Home prices continued to rise rapidly in the waning days of 2017, but there are early signs that price gains that have well outstripped wages and inflation could begin to ease this year. ”It is too early to tell if the housing recovery is slowing. If it is, some moderation in price gains could be seen later this year,” said David Blitzer, managing director at S&P Dow Jones Indices.
Foreign investors once flocked to trophy real-estate assets in the U.S. such as fancy hotels and sky-high towers. Now, as the commercial real-estate market enters the late innings of a bull market, foreigners are diving into a less exotic sector: student housing. In all, foreign capital has accounted for 42% of student-housing transactions so far this year, compared with 36% in all of 2017 and 21% in 2016, according to data from property investment advisory firm ARA Newmark.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that a new task force would target drug manufacturers and distributors for their roles in the opioid epidemic, raising the possibility of filing criminal charges against them. The Justice Department also said it would file a statement of interest in hundreds of lawsuits against drug companies brought by cities, counties and medical institutions seeking reimbursement for the cost of the drug crisis. Sessions said the Justice Department would seek repayment as well, arguing that the federal government has borne substantial costs.
COLOR, EARNINGS, SENTIMENT, VALUATIONS
JPMorgan Chase chairman and chief executive Jamie Dimon has denounced annual shareholder meetings as “a complete waste of time,” nine months after he was harangued at the bank’s yearly get-together in Delaware. Mr Dimon’s latest comments, delivered at the US bank’s annual investor day on Tuesday, are likely to stir debate over the usefulness of shareholder meetings, which tend to be the only opportunity for retail investors to connect with top managers.
Fidelity made a record $5.3bn in operating income last year, a 54 per cent jump from 2016, as buoyant financial markets and a turnround in performance of its fund manager lifted the investment group’s results. While Fidelity’s results improved last year, the company continues to be buffeted by a series of seismic shifts that are shaking the entire investment industry, such as the rise of cheaper passive investing, disruptive technologies and ongoing struggles to beat the returns of benchmarks.
Struggling to make money in the postcrisis world, Goldman is pushing into businesses it once dismissed as pedestrian and gimmicky, assembling a suite of banking products for the middle class it hopes will power growth. Goldman 18 months ago began making online loans of a few thousand dollars under the brand Marcus, named after founder Marcus Goldman. Individuals once needed $10 million to get the attention of Goldman’s elite private bankers. Today, customers can open a Marcus savings account with as little as $1.
DEALS, MERGERS, IPOs, LBOs, RESTRUCTURINGS
“Ring’s home security products and services have delighted customers since day one,” an Amazon representative said in a joint statement with Ring. “We’re excited to work with this talented team and help them in their mission to keep homes safe and secure.”
The Beijing-based company filed with an offering size of $1.5 billion, an initial placeholder amount that is likely to change, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. IQiyi is aiming for a public market valuation of as much as $10 billion, people familiar with the matter said last year.
The bid, plans for which were announced on Tuesday, seizes upon 21st Century Fox’s difficulties buying the piece of Sky that it does not already own. British regulators have expressed repeated concerns about giving Rupert Murdoch and his family more control over the country’s media, stretching the approval process out over more than a year and forcing 21st Century Fox to offer more concessions.
Comcast’s appearance in the already complex Sky drama could prompt Fox to make a higher offer or Disney to make its own direct bid for Sky. Fox remains committed to its cash offer announced in December, it said in a statement. Media owners have been forced into increasingly aggressive deals after online groups Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc prompted many customers to ditch subscriptions.
This is Sky’s essential appeal to both Comcast and Disney. It has a direct relationship with 23 million customers, not far from Comcast’s 29 million. And they are mainly in markets—the U.K. and Ireland—that are already familiar with the kind of English-language TV content that both Comcast and Disney own and produce. In this Sky has no real peers.
PRIVACY, HACKING, CYBERWAR, SURVEILLANCE STATE
For six years, the New Orleans Police Department has partnered with data-mining firm Palantir Technologies on what amounts to a predictive policing program. Predictive policing technology has proven highly controversial wherever it is implemented, and the secrecy surrounding the NOPD program raises questions about legality, transparency, and privacy.
A rights group said Tuesday that the “predictive policing” platform combines feeds from surveillance cameras with other personal data such as phone use, travel records and religious orientation and then analyzes the information to identify suspicious individuals.
Supreme Court justices on Tuesday wrestled with Microsoft Corp’s dispute with the U.S. Justice Department over whether prosecutors can force technology companies to hand over data stored overseas, with some signaling support for the government and others urging Congress to pass a law to resolve the issue.
The campaign on Tuesday said Brad Parscale was taking control “as the advanced planning for the 2020 race begins.” Mr. Trump formally filed to run for re-election on Inauguration Day last year, earlier than any president in modern history. No president who has served under modern campaign finance laws that date back to President Jimmy Carter has held a re-election fundraiser before entering his third year in office. Mr. Trump had eight in his first year.
The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has thrust gun rights into the midterm campaign, scrambling traditions in both parties as the debate shifts toward firearms restrictions. “This is a tipping point,” said Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State, the head of the Democratic Governors Association and one of those lawmakers who lost his House seat after voting for the 1994 ban.
Fifty-three percent of Florida voters disapprove of the job Rubio is doing in the Senate, according to the most recent survey. Rubio was criticized following a deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., earlier this month for his stance on gun control reform.
Despite improvements, Italy’s economy remains moribund for millions of working people — a source of contempt about approaching national elections. The country’s bleak prospects have improved in recent years, but not enough to meaningfully lift its citizens’ fortunes. Many companies are growing without hiring. What jobs have been created are largely temporary and part time.
The company was once at the heart of the mining-to-media empire established by the Gupta family that has been embroiled in South Africa’s biggest political scandal of the democratic era. Now its abandonment epitomises the three Indian-born brothers’ dramatic fall since Jacob Zuma lost a power struggle in the ruling African National Congress and was forced to step down as president this month.
CONSUMER TECH, SOCIAL MEDIA, E-COMMERCE, MOBILE
Ring is best known for a doorbell with a security camera inside. The device allows homeowners to monitor visitors at their front door through an app on their phone, even if they’re not at home. Amazon has made home automation a major focus because of the success of its Echo family of products, which allow users to control thermostats, surveillance cameras and other connected devices using voice commands.
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