Macro Links Oct 13th – Killing Obamacare
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MACRO LINKS TABLE OF CONTENTS (Click or Scroll Down)
- OBAMACARE SABOTAGE
- ABANDONING PUERTO RICO
- NAFTA, NORTH KOREA, IRAN
- BITCOIN $5,000
- GOP TAX PLAN
- KOBE STEEL
- LAS VEGAS SHOOTING, GUN LAWS
- FACEBOOK BACKLASH
- CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES
- WEINSTEIN, SEXUAL HARRASSMENT
- MUELLER PROBE, KUSHNER, KELLY
- 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
- HEDGE FUNDS, PRIVATE EQUITY, MONEY MGMT
- COMMODITIES BASE METALS, MATERIALS
- COMMODITIES AGRICULTURE & SOFTS
- POLLUTION, CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT
- CANADA, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND
- BREXIT, SCOXIT, LONDON, UK ECONOMY
- DACA, TRAVEL BAN, IMMIGRATION, WALL
- GEOPOLITICS, CRIME, TERRORISM
- PRIVACY, HACKING, CYBERWAR, SURVEILLANCE STATE
- PROPAGANDA, CORRUPTION, AUTHORITARIANISM
- TRUMP WORLD
- TRADE, PROTECTIONISM, REGULATION, OVERSIGHT
- ELECTORAL POLITICS
- SILICON VALLEY, UNICORNS, STARTUPS, VC
- AUTOS, ELECTRIC, SELF-DRIVING
- SCIENCE, NATURE, PSYCHOLOGY
- HEALTH, PRODUCTIVITY AND WELLNESS
The subsidies, which are worth an estimated $7 billion this year and are paid out in monthly installments, may stop almost immediately since Congress hasn’t appropriated funding for the program.
The decision, which leaked out only hours after Trump signed an executive order calling for new regulations to encourage cheap, loosely regulated health plans – delivered a double whammy to Obamacare after months of failed GOP efforts to repeal the law. With open enrollment for the 2018 plan year set to launch in two weeks, the moves seem aimed at dismantling the law through executive actions.
President Trump is throwing a bomb into the insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act, choosing to end critical payments to health insurers that help millions of lower-income Americans afford coverage. The decision coincides with an executive order on Thursday to allow alternative health plans that skirt the law’s requirements.
Trump has threatened for months to stop the payments, which go to insurers that are required by the laws to help eligible consumers afford their deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses. But he held off while other administration officials warned him that such a move would cause an implosion of the ACA marketplaces that could be blamed on Republicans, according to two individuals briefed on the decision.
President Donald Trump’s executive order on health care issued Thursday marks the first major salvo in what the White House promises will be an extensive, targeted campaign to unravel the Affordable Care Act administratively.
More steps are expected in coming months that seek to accomplish through executive action much of what a stalled congressional repeal effort failed to achieve, White House officials said.
The core idea behind Trump’s action Thursday was allowing health insurance companies in certain circumstances to sell less expensive policies with fewer benefits than Obamacare has required for the last seven years. Customers for those plans tend to be younger adults who, so long as they remain healthy, don’t need more than that.
In turn, however, that would increase costs for older, sicker customers who need the larger benefits that Obamacare policies provide. Removing healthier, cheaper customers from the Obamacare “risk pool” would make insurance companies raise rates to finance benefits for sicker, costlier ones.
The twin hits to the Affordable Care Act — on successive days — could unravel President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, sending insurance premiums soaring and insurance companies fleeing from the health law’s online marketplaces. After Republicans failed to repeal the health law in Congress, Mr. Trump appears determined to dismantle it on his own.
Without the subsidies, insurance markets could quickly unravel. Insurers have said they will need much higher premiums and may pull out of the insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act if the subsidies were cut off. Known as cost-sharing reduction payments, the subsidies were expected to total $9 billion in the coming year and nearly $100 billion in the coming decade.
“The government cannot lawfully make the cost-sharing reduction payments,” the White House said in a statement.
It concluded that “Congress needs to repeal and replace the disastrous Obamacare law and provide real relief to the American people.”
The moves — which critics call deliberate attempts to sabotage the law — come just weeks before Americans will be able to start signing up for coverage for 2018. They follow other steps the Trump administration has taken, such as slashing advertising and outreach budgets meant to get people to sign up, as well as planning outages of the website where people can enroll.
ABANDONING PUERTO RICO
The message was as stark as it was startling. Three weeks after a killer hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico, President Trump indicated on Thursday that he was losing patience. At least some of the blame for the continuing crisis is yours, he told the island territory, and the federal government will not stay “forever.”
While most residents endured another day without power and many without water or other basic services, Mr. Trump upbraided Puerto Rico’s leadership for mismanagement that predated the storm and said troops and emergency workers would eventually leave. Caught off guard, his advisers scrambled to reassure Puerto Rico that Washington was not abandoning it.
Under withering criticism from Puerto Ricans for his administration’s flawed response to the devastation there, Trump sought to hold the territory responsible for its own plight because of chronic mismanagement — prompting an immediate backlash from Puerto Ricans and mainland lawmakers in both parties.
Critics contrasted Trump’s comments about Puerto Rico and its leaders — during a visit there last week, he complained that the recovery had “thrown our budget a little out of whack” — with the empathy he showed after storms ravaged Texas, Louisiana and Florida.
On the island, residents and elected officials responded to Trump’s Thursday tweets with outrage and disbelief. Radio disc jockeys gasped as they read aloud the presidential statements, while political leaders charged that he lacked empathy and pleaded for help from fellow U.S. citizens on the mainland.
“I ask every American that has love, and not hate in their hearts, to stand with Puerto Rico and let this President know we WILL NOT BE LEFT TO DIE,” Cruz wrote. “I ask the United Nations, UNICEF and the world to stand with the people of Puerto Rico and stop the genocide that will result from the lack of appropriate action of a President that just does not get it because he has been incapable of looking in our eyes and seeing the pride that burns fiercely in our hearts and souls.”
Three weeks after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, the challenge of finding enough water to drink and cook with remains enormous across the island, even in its largest city. People here engage in a perpetual game of cat and mouse, scouring the city for any hints of places with water to sell.
People are so desperate that on Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency cited reports of residents trying to obtain drinking water from wells at hazardous Superfund sites. “E.P.A. advises against tampering with sealed and locked wells or drinking from these wells, as it may be dangerous to people’s health,’’ the agency said.
The demand has skyrocketed, according to grocery store managers, distributors and supply companies, because safe, drinkable tap water is still largely unavailable, and deliveries of water from the outside have not kept up with demand. Even Puerto Ricans who have been told that their local water is safe to drink are avoiding it because of reports that infectious diseases are spreading on the island.
The sight of water delivery trucks outside stores is prompting long lines to form. Crushes of customers snatch up new shipments even before store employees can restock empty shelves. Of 10 stores in San Juan that were visited on Tuesday and Wednesday, only one had bottled water: a Walmart store where two brawny men were loading cases of water directly off a shipping pallet into the shopping carts of people who had lined up in the back of the store. Signs posted on the walls declared a limit of one case per group.
NAFTA, NORTH KOREA, IRAN
The gloves are off as negotiators gather on Wednesday for a tough fourth round of talks on modernising Nafta — but the mood in Mexico has soured sharply on the prospect of a deal.
They are now starting to talk about the real possibility of Mexico walking out or talks collapsing, and the prospect of living without Nafta until Donald Trump is no longer in office.
The U.S. auto parts industry could lose up to 50,000 jobs if the North American Free Trade Agreement is terminated and companies must pay higher tariffs to ship products to Mexico and Canada, according to a new study set for release on Thursday.
A small earthquake rattled the area near North Korea’s nuclear testing field but it did not appear to be manmade, South Korea’s weather agency said on Friday, the latest to be observed after the North conducted its sixth and biggest nuclear test in early September.
President Donald Trump is expected to announce Friday that he won’t certify that Iran is complying with the 2015 international nuclear agreement and will take Tehran to task more broadly for practices ranging from missile tests to support of violent groups, U.S. officials said.
Bitcoin bubble or just the beginning? Or both? Those are the questions being asked on Wall Street to Main Street after the digital currency breached $5,000 for the first time, pushing this year’s gains to more than fivefold.
“This record is an exciting milestone and sign of market confidence in the outlook for bitcoin and the underlying technology,” said Iqbal Gandham, a managing director at eToro, a trading platform. “We expect many more milestones like this to come.”
Interest is growing by the day, as measured by searches on the Internet. SEMrush, a data analytics firm, found the price had a 96 percent correlation with Google searches on bitcoin, suggesting that growing interest in the cryptocurrency is helping to drive demand.
Bitcoin jumped to a fresh record high on Friday after breezing past the $5,000 mark on Thursday as the cryptocurrency rebounded after tumbling last month on increased scrutiny from regulators.
GOP TAX PLAN
Republicans are waiting to pass their tax-reform bill before they move to impeach Donald Trump, a former Republican member of Congress reportedly told a former US labour secretary. In a Facebook post, Robert Reich said the former senator, an old friend of his, told him Republicans are “just praying Trump doesn’t do something really, really stupid before the tax bill.”
Months after the White House proposed ending a tax break for people in high-tax states, President Donald Trump grew angry when he learned that the change would hurt some middle-income taxpayers, according to two people familiar with his thinking.
House Republicans are moving toward an agreement that preserves part of the federal deduction for state and local taxes, backing away from a controversial plan to abolish it. The aim, lawmakers say, is to keep the break for middle-income households while repealing it for higher-income households. One idea is to cut off the deduction for households whose incomes exceed a certain level.
The chief executive of Kobe Steel warned on Thursday that more quality data about the company’s products may have been falsified than has previously been disclosed, suggesting that fallout could widen further from a scandal that has already affected hundreds of companies worldwide.
“We are reviewing data, including from overseas. It is possible that there could be more cases of wrongdoing,” the executive, Hiroya Kawasaki, told reporters. He added, “Trust in our company has fallen to zero.”
Kobe Steel Ltd.’s fake data scandal expanded to its core business after the company admitted “inappropriate actions” related to steel wire produced overseas, triggering a fresh collapse in its shares and heightened speculation that the steelmaker may get broken up.
LAS VEGAS SHOOTING, GUN LAWS
Initially police credited Mr. Campos with distracting Paddock in the midst of the shooting, saying he arrived on the 32nd floor of the hotel to check an unrelated alarm. Paddock fired on the guard through the door, wounding him in the leg.
On Monday, Sheriff Joseph Lombardo of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department significantly changed the timeline, saying Mr. Campos was shot nearly six minutes before Paddock began firing on the crowd.
MGM on Wednesday said the company is “now confident that the time stated in this report is not accurate.” A spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department declined to comment on MGM’s statement.
The company said Paddock started firing on the crowd within 40 seconds of Mr. Campos reporting to his superiors that he was shot. The MGM statement added that Las Vegas police already happened to be on site with other Mandalay Bay security officers when Mr. Campos called to report the shooting, and said police and security “immediately responded to the 32nd floor.”
Sixty percent of respondents in the poll said they support tightening gun laws, while 36 percent said they are opposed to doing so. The support for stricter gun control tops the previous high of 54 percent in a June Quinnipiac poll.
Some other polls have pegged support for stricter gun control measures even higher than the Quinnipiac survey. A Politico/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday, for example, put support at 64 percent.
In the Quinnipiac survey, 73 percent said they support banning devices that allow gun owners to modify semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic weapons. Only 25 percent of voters oppose prohibiting such devices, commonly called bump stocks.
Facebook’s primary ad system plugs straight into the Facebook News Feed, the stream of information that serves as the primary interface for the social network. This system was created to deliver ads that could grab your attention as effectively as what internet companies call “organic content” — posts from your friends and family and other entities you are connected to on Facebook.
Indeed, ads are often the same as organic content, just with money behind them. “There is an ad-selling mechanism, but the ad itself isn’t really an ad. It’s content,” said Ron Berman, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school who studies online advertising, including the Facebook ad system.
For months, Facebook has been trying to counter criticism about its influence on the 2016 presidential election. The company has hired three crisis communications firms and has bought digital and newspaper ads. Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, has posted live video to the social network to explain how much he cared about election integrity.
This week, it sent Sheryl Sandberg to Washington to charm Congress and the public.
Ms. Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, acted as the giant tech company’s chief ambassador in the capital on Wednesday and Thursday — shuttling around to talk with dozens of lawmakers, and making numerous promises about how the company would change.
Facebook removed thousands of posts shared during the 2016 election by accounts linked to Russia after a Columbia University social-media researcher, Jonathan Albright, used the company’s data-analytics tool to examine the reach of the Russian accounts.
Albright, who discovered the content had reached a far broader audience than Facebook had initially acknowledged, told The Washington Post on Wednesday that the data had allowed him “to at least reconstruct some of the pieces of the puzzle” of Russia’s election interference.
Facebook’s decision to remove the posts from public view raised questions about whether the company could be held liable for suppressing potential evidence, given its role in the wide-ranging investigation of Russia’s election interference.
Facebook does not dispute it removed the posts, but it offers a different explanation of what happened. The company says it has merely corrected a “bug” that allowed Albright, who is research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, to access information he never should have been able to find in the first place. That bug, Facebook says, has now been squashed on a social media analytics tool called CrowdTangle, which Facebook bought last year.
In an interview Thursday with Axios, Ms. Sandberg acknowledged Facebook’s platform was manipulated in a way it shouldn’t have been during the election. She said the company was cooperating with Congress and planned to share with investigators more information about Russia-linked activity on the social network.
Those who have seen the Facebook ads describe them as being intended to sow chaos. But Ms. Sandberg stressed that had the ads been purchased by legitimate accounts, Facebook would have allowed them to run.
Some of the worst wildfires ever to tear through California have killed 31 people and torched a vast area of the state’s north this week, but the reach of the blazes is spreading dramatically further by the day, as thick plumes of smoke blow through population centers across the Bay Area.
Everything now smells burnt. Hills and buildings are covered in a haze. Residents nowhere near the front lines of the fires now venture out wearing air masks. On a hillside above the Russian River, a broad and menacing band of fire is turning a blue sky into a gray miasma of soot.
Air-quality, based on levels of tiny particles that can flow deep into the lungs, is rated “unhealthy” across much of Northern California, and smoke has traveled as far as Fresno, more than 200 miles to the south. The effects are many: schoolchildren are being kept inside during recess, the Oakland Raiders canceled their outdoor practice on Thursday to prevent players from breathing in the bad air, and doctors are reporting an increase in visits and calls from people with lung and heart trouble.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials said some 190,000 acres had been scorched across the state by Thursday afternoon as high winds and dry conditions spread the fires with frightening speed. Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, sustained the most damage, with 17 people confirmed dead and 400 reported missing; in the city of Santa Rosa, officials reported nearly 3,000 homes destroyed.
Taken together, the blazes have killed more people than the last disastrous fire to strike the state, the Oakland Hills fire in 1991. The death toll now exceeds that of the 1933 Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles — and is likely to rise as authorities continue to explore the wreckage.
WEINSTEIN, SEXUAL HARRASSMENT
The Weinstein Co. may have illegally fired Harvey Weinstein and it also tolerated sexual harassment in his contract.
TMZ is privy to Weinstein’s 2015 employment contract, which says if he gets sued for sexual harassment or any other “misconduct” that results in a settlement or judgment against TWC, all Weinstein has to do is pay what the company’s out, along with a fine, and he’s in the clear.
According to the contract, if Weinstein “treated someone improperly in violation of the company’s Code of Conduct,” he must reimburse TWC for settlements or judgments. Additionally, “You [Weinstein] will pay the company liquidated damages of $250,000 for the first such instance, $500,000 for the second such instance, $750,000 for the third such instance, and $1,000,000 for each additional instance.”
The contract says as long as Weinstein pays, it constitutes a “cure” for the misconduct and no further action can be taken. Translation — Weinstein could be sued over and over and as long as he wrote a check, he keeps his job.
Gavin Baker, a star stock picker at Fidelity Investments, was fired last month after being accused of sexually harassing a junior female employee. Mr. Baker “strenuously” denies the allegations, according to his spokesman.
The reports — related to an episode in London in the 1980s and in New York in 2004 — are preliminary, but point to the breadth of the legal challenges Harvey Weinstein could face.
Amazon.com suspended the head of its entertainment studio, Roy Price, in the wake of allegations of mismanagement and sexual harassment and criticism of his close business relationship with Harvey Weinstein.
MUELLER PROBE, KUSHNER, KELLY
‘The bulk of the heavy lifting is largely behind’ the White House, a source says—but it isn’t finished, with more follow-up requests and interviews to come from Mueller’s team.
Jared Kushner “enriched himself” by not revealing his ownership of a real estate tech business that raised millions of dollars while he served in the government, said a member of the House Judiciary Committee, calling it part of a pattern of unethical behavior that he believes should cause the White House Senior Adviser to be stripped of his security clearance.
The head of a government bureau responsible for clearing background checks told lawmakers Wednesday he has “never seen that level of mistakes” when asked about numerous omissions in Jared Kushner’s security clearance application.
The midtown Manhattan office tower owned by Kushner Cos. and Vornado Realty Trust is on track to lose $24 million this year, marking the worst performance for 666 Fifth Ave. since a 2011 refinancing.
RATES, LIQUIDITY, SYSTEMIC RISK, BALANCE SHEETS
Investors poured a record amount of money into global equity funds over the past week, as a host of regional risks, coupled with broad economic growth, increased their appetite for geographical diversification. Funds that invest in stock markets across the world took in $6.6bn of new cash, their highest ever weekly inflow, according to data from EPFR Global.
An inverted yield curve, a clear sign investors see an impending recession, may be just around the corner. And it’s all thanks to the Federal Reserve’s resolve to stick to its tightening path.
That’s the view of Lacy Hunt, chief economist at Hoisington Investment Management. A bond bull since 1990, he sees the Fed playing a dangerous game as it starts to unwind its $4.5 trillion balance sheet. It’s a move that Hunt says will likely choke off credit growth and curb excess reserves, slowing the economy and suppressing inflation, which is already stubbornly low.
Bottom line: Hunt gives the Fed five months before it pauses on balance-sheet reduction. But, if policy makers stay the course into late 2018, he sees a good chance the Treasury yield curve will invert entirely.
China announced today that it would sell $2 billion in government bonds denominated in US dollars. The offering will be China’s largest dollar-bond sale ever. The last time China sold dollar-bonds was in 2004.
Investors around the globe are eager to hand China their US dollars, in exchange for a somewhat higher yield. The 10-year US Treasury yield is currently 2.34%. The 10-year yield on similar Chinese sovereign debt is 3.67%.
So why does China want these $2 billion in US dollars? For one, they’re still cheap, given the low yield, which is expected to rise as the Fed has started to unwind QE. And two, China might be interested in creating a benchmark for dollar-bond trading in China that could help set prices for Chinese corporate debt denominated in dollars. And there’s a lot of it.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s push to lend more has taken it to some strange places for a storied, elite Wall Street firm. The latest: house flipping. Goldman is acquiring Genesis Capital LLC, a closely held Los Angeles firm that backs investors seeking to buy, spruce up and quickly sell homes. Genesis, founded in 2007, has been growing rapidly as the housing market continues to recover. It lent $1 billion last year, up from $50 million in 2013.
Goldman’s interest in a small house-flipping financier reflects both the buoyancy of the residential real-estate market and the Wall Street firm’s hunger for new profit engines as its core trading business remains stuck in a postcrisis slump.
China’s seemingly insatiable demand for foreign assets has driven up prices for everything from U.S. Treasury bonds to global companies to luxury real estate. Now, a combination of market forces and capital controls are choking off the flow of Chinese cash. Asset markets around the world will have to adjust.
As Chinese exports boomed starting in the early 2000s and foreign investment flooded into the country, the central bank recycled these inflows into foreign government bonds, mostly Treasurys, to keep the yuan from rising. The buying persisted for over a decade, driving bond prices up and driving yields down globally.
The China bid, or at least the expectation of one, sent prices of luxury properties soaring, fueled real estate bubbles from Vancouver to Sydney and pushed up prices of companies seen as desirable for Chinese buyers.
Alarmed by the outflow, Beijing began to tighten capital controls in 2015 and 2016, but the deal-making persisted until this year when the government cracked down on money transfers by individuals and discouraged companies from pursuing “irrational” deals abroad. So far this year, outbound mergers and acquisitions by Chinese companies are down 27% from the same period a year earlier, according to Dealogic.
“The short bubble of China bids is over,” says one M&A banker who has advised on Chinese acquisitions.
In the years ahead, financial markets around the world will have to live without the ever-present China bid. Whether China was a savvy investor or the dumb money, asset prices will likely be lower.
MACRO OP-EDS, INSIGHT, EVENTS AND TRENDS
The press is never perfect, and will never please all sides, but the idea of the leader of the free world revving up his mob to intimidate reporters or to use the awesome power of his office to shut down media outlets would have been repugnant to the Founders.
There are still far too many nations in this world that routinely suppress freedom of speech. Does this example from the leader of the allegedly free world make it more likely indigenous media in oppressed states will be more inclined to allow dissent or liberty to flourish? For Trump supporters, I say this: if those are your beliefs, I encourage you to relocate to Turkey, or Egypt, or Venezuela, or North Korea. In those nations, the liberal media know their place and only print what their respective Dear Leaders find pleasing to the eye.
In those nations, censorship and state control of the media are features of their political landscape. “I can’t believe the media is allowed to write anything they want” is the language of despots, third-world tyrants, and juntas. For this President to say those words, and to threaten the press, is a stain on the office.
The window for whispered criticisms has closed. The real problem has always been Trump’s fundamental unfitness for high office. It is not Trump’s indiscipline and lack of leadership, which make carrying a legislative agenda forward nearly impossible. It is not his vulgarity and smallness, which have been the equivalent of spray-painting graffiti on the Washington Monument. It is not his nearly complete ignorance of policy and history, which condemns him to live in the eternal present of his own immediate desires.
No, Corker has given public permission to raise the most serious questions: Is Trump psychologically and morally equipped to be president? And could his unfitness cause permanent damage to the country?
It is no longer possible to safely ignore the leaked cries for help coming from within the administration. They reveal a president raging against enemies, obsessed by slights, deeply uninformed and incurious, unable to focus, and subject to destructive whims. A main task of the chief of staff seems to be to shield him from dinner guests and telephone calls that might set him off on a foolish or dangerous tangent. Much of the White House senior staff seems bound, not by loyalty to the president, but by a duty to protect the nation from the president. Trump, in turn, is reported to have said: “I hate everyone in the White House.” And also, presumably, in the State Department, headed by a secretary of state who apparently regards his boss as a “moron.”
The time for whispered criticisms and quiet snickering is over. The time for panic and decision is upon us. The thin line of sane, responsible advisers at the White House — such as Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — could break at any moment. Already, Trump’s protests of eternal love for Kelly are a bad sign for the general’s future. The American government now has a dangerous fragility at its very center. Its welfare is as thin as an eggshell — perhaps as thin as Donald Trump’s skin.
Any elected Republican who shares Corker’s concerns has a political and moral duty to state them in public. If Corker is correct, many of his colleagues do have such fears. Their silence is deafening and damning.
Since the pact came into effect in 1994, United States trade with Mexico and Canada has more than tripled, growing more rapidly than American trade with the rest of the world. Mexico and Canada are now the second and third largest exporters to the United States, after China. And the two countries are the leading importers of American products.
Mr. Trump has criticized Nafta for creating an unfair playing field, allowing Mexico to steal jobs from the United States and opening the border to cheap, tariff-free goods. He wants to bring factory jobs back home.
But pulling out of the pact could have unintended economic consequences. Over the past quarter century, Nafta has reshaped the United States economy, and its demise could raise costs for American companies and consumers.
The mistaken stimulus has the unintended consequences of dissipating real wealth and increasing inequality. American household net worth is at an all-time high of five times GDP, significantly higher than the bubble peaks of 4.1 times in 2000 and 4.7 in 2007, and far higher than the historical norm of three times GDP. On the other hand, US capital formation has stagnated for decades. The outlandish paper wealth is just the same asset at ever higher prices.
The inflation of paper wealth has a serious impact on inequality. The top 1 per cent in the US owns one-third of the wealth and the top 10 per cent owns three-quarters . Half of the people don’t even own stocks. Asset inflation will increase inequality by definition. Moreover, 90 per cent of the income growth since 2008 has gone to the top 1 per cent, partly due to their ability to cash out in the inflated asset market. An economy that depends on asset inflation always disproportionately benefits the asset-rich top 1 per cent.
While Western central bankers can stop making things worse, only China can restore stability in the global economy. Consider that 800 million Chinese workers have become as productive as their Western counterparts, but are not even close in terms of consumption. This is the fundamental reason for the global imbalance.
The most likely cause for the bubble to burst would be the rising political tension in the West. The bubble economy keeps squeezing the middle class, with more debt and less wages. The festering political tension could boil over. Radical politicians aiming for class struggle may rise to the top. The US midterm elections in 2018 and presidential election in 2020 are the events that could upend the applecart.
So much for the lofty goals of the internet, breaking down information barriers and fomenting the free flow of ideas across the globe. China’s online population of 731 million gets a highly restricted internet, one that doesn’t include access to Google, Facebook, YouTube or the New York Times. There’s little coverage of the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square. Even Winnie the Pooh got temporarily banned. China is able to control such a vast ocean of content through the largest system of censorship in the world, aptly known as the Great Firewall of China. It’s a joint effort between government censors and technology and telecommunications companies that are compelled to enforce the state’s rules. The stakes go beyond China, which is setting an example that other authoritarian countries can imitate.
As the world’s largest and most profitable auto market, China has huge leverage over the industry and is not afraid to use it. It boasts a central planning mechanism designed to subordinate all other considerations — like profitability and consumer tastes — to government fiat. It has poured billions of dollars into subsidies and state investment in the sector.
Those interventions mean China is already the world’s largest maker of electric vehicles. Last year it sold 507,000, including buses and commercial vehicles, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, around 45 per cent of the world’s total. Yet Beijing has set a target to manufacture 7m battery cars and hybrid vehicles by 2025.
“They can order charging stations set up all over China, dictate driving and licence plate restrictions in major cities,” says one western car industry executive in Beijing adding that these are measures western governments would be hard pressed to emulate.
Picking winning industries has been a tried and tested strategy for rising Asian economies since the 1960s, and China’s efforts to jump ahead in electric vehicles resonate with the policy successes of Japan and South Korea. Electric vehicles are just one plank of Beijing’s ambitious policy known as “Made In China 2025”, which seeks to transform the country from a low-cost manufacturer to a high-tech power dominant in 10 advanced industries by the middle of the next decade — including robotics, semiconductors, and electric vehicles.
Tech companies are under fire for creating problems instead of solving them. At the top of the list is Russian interference in last year’s presidential election. Social media might have originally promised liberation, but it proved an even more useful tool for stoking anger. The manipulation was so efficient and so lacking in transparency that the companies themselves barely noticed it was happening.
The election is far from the only area of concern. Tech companies have accrued a tremendous amount of power and influence. Amazon determines how people shop, Google how they acquire knowledge, Facebook how they communicate. All of them are making decisions about who gets a digital megaphone and who should be unplugged from the web.
Their amount of concentrated authority resembles the divine right of kings, and is sparking a backlash that is still gathering force.
The real problem—for all political stripes—is understanding the set of conditions that led to Trump’s victory. The informational underpinnings of democracy have eroded, and no one has explained precisely how.
Whatever weird thing you imagine might happen, something weirder probably did happen. Reporters tried to keep up, but it was too strange. As Max Read put it in New York Magazine, Facebook is “like a four-dimensional object, we catch slices of it when it passes through the three-dimensional world we recognize.” No one can quite wrap their heads around what this thing has become, or all the things this thing has become.
Far-right leaders are correct that immigration creates problems; what they miss is that they are the primary problem. The greatest threat to liberal democracies does not come from immigrants and refugees but from the backlash against them by those on the inside who are exploiting fear of outsiders to chip away at the values and institutions that make our societies liberal.
Anti-Semitic and xenophobic movements did not disappear from Europe after the liberation of Auschwitz, just as white supremacist groups have lurked beneath the surface of American politics ever since the Emancipation Proclamation. What has changed is that these groups have now been stirred from their slumber by savvy politicians seeking to stoke anger toward immigrants, refugees and racial minorities for their own benefit. Leaders from Donald Trump to France’s Marine Le Pen have validated the worldview of these groups, implicitly or explicitly encouraging them to promote their hateful opinions openly. As a result, ideas that were once marginal have now gone mainstream.
CENTRAL BANKS & MONETARY POLICY
Singapore’s central bank left monetary policy unchanged on Friday, without re-committing that its neutral stance was appropriate for an extended period, giving itself room to tighten next year if necessary.
USA ECONOMY DATA, CITIES AND STATES
In the Bronx, which lost more residents to drug overdoses last year than any other New York City borough, the heroin epidemic has latched on to a vulnerable population.
Amid an apartment-building frenzy, the luxury rental market shows signs of softening. Now some buildings are offering incentives like signing bonuses and gift cards in a bid to attract renters.
General Motors plans to close a Detroit factory through the end of the year and deepen production cuts to slow-selling cars the plant manufactures, idling some workers and letting go others in response to weak sales.
POSITIONING, INFLECTION, MARKET CALLS
The trouble is how investors have reacted. The market is expensive on virtually every measure, which could be justified by strong earnings growth in the future. But when those earnings come through, the market ought to get less expensive. Instead, it’s become even pricier, meaning still-faster growth in profits is anticipated. The bull case is even harder to justify.
As it turns out, you only have to go back to — (drum roll) — the period after the 2012 election to find a comparable period of stock market strength. That’s right, the S&P 500 climbed 19.2% between Barack Obama’s reelection and October 11, 2013 — almost exactly the same as the move we’ve seen since Trump took office.
COLOR, EARNINGS, SENTIMENT, VALUATIONS
Growth in credit-card lending and a tight rein on costs boosted third-quarter profits at J.P. Morgan Chase and Citigroup offsetting downbeat trading results and a still-challenging interest-rate environment.
Samsung Electronics, continuing to see roaring demand for its components, is forecasting third-quarter profits will be the company’s highest ever.
Samsung Electronics Co. Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kwon Oh-hyun is stepping down after more than three decades at the company, saying that he’s making way for new leadership amid a corruption trial surrounding the de facto chief.
The earnings from both banks were stronger than analysts had forecast, but expectations had been lowered after top executives warned of trading woes in September. Financial markets were unimpressed, sending shares down in Citigroup 3.4 per cent and JPMorgan 0.9 per cent on Thursday.
HEDGE FUNDS, PRIVATE EQUITY, MONEY MGMT
Chanos, the founder of Kynikos Associates, lost about 1 percent in his Kriticos fund during September, bringing the decline to 10.7 percent this year, according to an investor document seen by Bloomberg. His Ursus strategy fell 2.2 percent last month and 6.5 percent in the first nine months of 2017.
Despite the drop, Chanos will get compensated for the performance because clients pay him if he’s down less than the market is up. The S&P 500 has returned about 16 percent this year.
The hedge fund manager, who oversees more than $2 billion, is one of the few still running a big fund oriented toward betting against stocks. Several money managers once revered for their short wagers are now struggling as U.S. stocks are up almost fourfold from their 2009 crisis-era low. Crispin Odey’s European long-short equity fund lost 14 percent this year through mid-September, following a 50 percent slump in 2016. David Einhorn, known for profitably shorting Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., has been frustrated by attempts to short a portfolio of momentum technology stocks that he’s called the “bubble basket.”
Chanos, who predicted the 2001 collapse of Enron Corp., has pounded the table on his bet against electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc., calling the company “structurally unprofitable” with an overly indebted capital structure. While Tesla shares have gained 68 percent this year, he’s never been more convinced of his thesis, even as the stock remains “a poster child for the hopes and dreams of this bull market,” Chanos told Bloomberg Television last month.
COMMODITIES BASE METALS, MATERIALS
For all the talk of coal’s comeback under President Donald Trump, the actual rebound in U.S. production started months before November’s election — and it may be fizzling out.
China kicked off the rally last year with its own production cuts, sending global prices for the fossil fuel skyrocketing. Since then, U.S. miners have benefited from a host of factors: Higher natural gas prices, Cyclone Debbie’s impact on Australian exports, and Wall Street’s nascent embrace of the sector as large miners including Peabody Energy Corp. emerged from bankruptcy and Trump began rolling back regulations.
But now, for the third time this year, U.S. weekly coal production has fallen short of last year’s tally, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. These latest figures are for the week ended October 7 and represent the second time in three weeks that a year-over-year decline was registered.
Among individuals, Mr. Agarwal’s bet rivals that of Glencore PLC Chief Executive Ivan Glasenberg, whose shares in his own company are worth about $5.9 billion—one of the largest personal stakes in a mining company. Big institutional investors like BlackRock Inc. also have significant stakes in a range of companies, including BHP Billiton PLC and Rio Tinto PLC.
“As an individual, this is a huge position in mining,” said Paul Gait, a mining analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. Mr. Agarwal and a spokesman for Anglo American declined to comment.
Mr. Agarwal’s roughly $6.6 billion position in two large mining companies comes amid a broad turnaround in the sector, fueled by demand in China, which consumes about half of most of the world’s major commodities. Prices for copper, iron ore, coal and other materials have clocked double-digit increases, luring back many investors who fled mining stocks in 2015. BlackRock’s world mining trust has more than doubled in size since January 2016.
COMMODITIES AGRICULTURE & SOFTS
Florida’s orange production will plunge 21 percent to a 71-year low after damage wrought by Hurricane Irma devastated the harvest, while output of cotton also suffered in storm-hit areas, government figures showed.
POLLUTION, CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT
A colony of about 40,000 Adélie penguins in Antarctica has suffered a “catastrophic breeding event” – all but two chicks have died of starvation this year. It is the second time in just four years that such devastation – not previously seen in more than 50 years of observation – has been wrought on the population.
The finding has prompted urgent calls for the establishment of a marine protected area in East Antarctica, at next week’s meeting of 24 nations and the European Union at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart.
Scientists working in and around Yellowstone National Park say that the supervolcano sitting under the tourist attraction may blow sooner than thought, an eruption that could wipe out life on the planet.
According to National Geographic, the researchers, from Arizona State University, analyzed minerals in fossilized ash from the most recent mega-eruption and found changes in temperature and composition that had only taken a few decades. Until now, the magazine reported, geologists had thought it would take centuries for the supervolcano to make the transition.
The discovery, which was presented at a recent volcanology conference, comes on top of a 2011 study that found that ground above the magma reservoir in Yellowstone had bulged by about 10 inches in seven years.
The researchers, The New York Times reported, have determined that the supervolcano has the ability to spew more than 1,000 cubic kilometers of rock and ash — 2,500 times more material than erupted from Mount St. Helens in 1980 — an event that could blanket most of the United States in ash and possibly plunge the Earth into a volcanic winter.
In the capital city of Antananarivo, 239 cases and 21 deaths have been reported. 82 percent of cases in the city and surrounding suburbs are pneumonic plague. In Toamasina, 147 plague cases have been reported,including 9 deaths recorded in the city.
Pneumonic plague is probably the most serious form of plague–it’s when the bacteria infect the lungs and cause pneumonia. It is contracted when the bacteria is inhaled (primary) or develops when bubonic or septicemic plague spreads to the lungs.
CANADA, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND
Torrid second-quarter growth of 4.5 percent belies what’s coming up next for the Canadian economy: an outright contraction. That’s the view of Macquarie Capital Markets analyst David Doyle, who’s calling for the fortunes of the fastest-growing Group of Seven economy so far this year to reverse sharply in the third quarter.
“Increasing evidence of softness in 3Q reinforces our conviction to maximum underweight Canada, particularly its banks and domestic focused consumer stocks,” the analyst writes.
It’s a call that’s far out of step with consensus. Doyle’s peers surveyed by Bloomberg are calling for growth of 2.5 percent; the Bank of Canada’s looking for an expansion rate of almost 3 percent. The analyst also expects the Bank of Canada to keep interest rates at 1 percent for the foreseeable future, while forwards imply that more than two hikes over the next twelve months are priced in.
BREXIT, SCOXIT, LONDON, UK ECONOMY
EU leaders will refuse to open talks with the UK on post-Brexit transition at next week’s summit because of the lack of progress on a divorce settlement, dealing a blow to British efforts to break a deadlock in negotiations.
However, the remaining 27 member states will recognise progress made so far by starting internal preparations for future trade talks with Britain, according to a draft summit statement seen by the Financial Times.
The reasons are simple. Britain could concrete over hectares of Kent building customs posts and lorry parks; the government could invest billions in new customs IT; it could train thousands of staff so they were ready to ensure imported goods comply with new UK regulations and charge value added tax, tariffs and duties; but it would be futile.
The system would still collapse on the first day because customs operations require co-operation between two countries. In an antagonistic “no deal” outcome, where Britain has walked away from our European partners, co-operation is exactly what would be missing.
Whitehall is planning to hire another 2,000 staff to deal specifically with Brexit in a sign of how its resources are being diverted towards the challenges of leaving the EU.
The Cabinet Office has already overseen more than 1,500 appointments since the EU referendum in June 2016 as the UK civil service gears up for the biggest administrative challenge for half a century.
Officials said a further 2,000 recruits were being haggled over by ministers, with departments still vying for their share of the extra personnel. They will include specialists in finance, accounting, law, digital, project management and trade negotiation and borders staff.
It is a striking trend in a country where departures from the norm, sexual or otherwise, have long been something to keep hidden — especially at work. Being openly gay was something for niche transgressive pop stars; for the average gray-suited “salaryman,” it was all but unthinkable. And when it comes to the government, marriage for same-sex couples remains off limits.
But a combination of evolving social attitudes and competition for talent is forcing businesses here to adapt. As Japanese companies expand overseas, and increasingly face off against Western businesses at home, they are having to change how they hire.
DACA, TRAVEL BAN, IMMIGRATION, WALL
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the current system for deciding immigrants’ asylum requests is being ‘gamed’ and called for a revamp of rules for pending cases including children.
GEOPOLITICS, CRIME, TERRORISM
The arrival of new U.S. troops in Poland has Russia pondering deploying additional nuclear-capable Iskander missiles right across the border.
Buddhist abbot the Ven. Wirathu has taken a leading role in spreading the anti-Muslim sentiment among Myanmar’s Buddhist majority that has underpinned the army’s campaign against the ethnic Rohingya minority.
An American woman, her Canadian husband and three children were freed in a dramatic raid after being held for five years by a Taliban faction, the Haqqani network.
The Palestinian Authority and Islamist movement Hamas reached an agreement to reconcile after a decade of mistrust, but offered few details on security arrangements in the Gaza Strip that had been key to negotiations.
PRIVACY, HACKING, CYBERWAR, SURVEILLANCE STATE
A cyberattacker nicknamed “Alf” gained access to an Australian defense contractor’s computers and began a four-month raid that snared data on sophisticated U.S. weapons systems.
PROPAGANDA, CORRUPTION, AUTHORITARIANISM
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines threatened on Thursday to expel the ambassadors representing the European Union, suggesting that he would give them 24 hours to leave his country.
“You think that we are a bunch of morons here,” Mr. Duterte said in an expletive-laden speech at the presidential palace. “Because we can have the diplomatic channel cut tomorrow. You leave my country in 24 hours. All. All of you.”
His remarks appeared to be a reaction to recent criticism of the country’s war on drugs, in which thousands of people have been killed by the police.
President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela received at least $35 million in bribes from a Brazilian construction company in 2013, according to a video posted on a blog run by the country’s former attorney general, who fled the country in August.
In the video, a man identified as Euzenando Prazeres de Azevedo, who managed the Venezuelan operations of the company, Odebrecht, said he was “asked for a large sum” by a representative of Mr. Maduro when he was running for the presidency in 2013.
“He asked for 50, and I accepted to pay him 35 million,” Mr. Azevedo said in the video, published on the blog of Luisa Ortega, who was ousted as attorney general after repeated clashes with the president as he tightened his grip on power and jailed opponents.
Donald Trump made a joke about TV ratings during a solemn military ceremony that honours the American flag. The US President was at the Air National Guard base in Pennsylvania when the “Retreat” bugle call started to play. Tradition dictates that civilians are expected to put their hands over their hearts during the 25-second tune.
TRADE, PROTECTIONISM, REGULATION, OVERSIGHT
Roy Moore, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, holds a promissory note backed by a mortgage on the property because of an unusual compensation arrangement he made while serving as the nonprofit’s president.
SILICON VALLEY, UNICORNS, STARTUPS, VC
Project Loon, the internet balloon project developed by Google parent company Alphabet, was listed as “Loon Inc.” in recent government filings.
With funding from Goldman Sachs and Google’s parent, the Chicago-based firm reported a $5.5 billion valuation. The company says it is reviewing allegations against employees and has strengthened policies.
Airbnb is stepping up its challenge to traditional hotel operators, launching branded, purpose-built apartments in Florida in a tie-up with a US real estate developer.
The partnership with Newgard Development Group marks the first time the San Francisco-based home-sharing group has worked with a property developer. It underscores how Airbnb is expanding beyond simply booking accommodation, its core service that has already hit hotel operators in cities across the world.
Amazon.com Inc. is willing to team up with competitors Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google if it would help improve customers’ experience with its Alexa voice-activated virtual assistant, an executive working on the platform said.
The online retailer, which is already working with Microsoft Corp. on productivity features for Alexa such as calendar interactions, will put the user first in pursuit of any other partnerships, said Toni Reid, Amazon’s vice president of Alexa and Echo devices, who has been on the team since 2014.
AUTOS, ELECTRIC, SELF-DRIVING
Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is investing in Hyperloop One, a company developing the super-fast transport system originally dreamed up by Elon Musk.
Hypleroop One is rebranding itself as Virgin Hyperloop One, and Branson is joining the board, the billionaire British investor and entrepreneur announced Thursday on CNBC from London. Virgin Hyperloop One will focus on a passenger and mixed-use cargo service. Last month, Hypleroop One raised $85 million in new funding, and that includes the investment from Virgin. Branson refused to provide numbers.
Electric carmaker Tesla Inc is recalling 11,000 Model X sport utility vehicles worldwide due to a faulty locking mechanism in their rear seats that raises the risk of the seats falling forward in a crash. Tesla said on Thursday a small number of cables in the second row fold-flat seats in some Model X vehicles, manufactured between October 28, 2016 and August 16, 2017, may need to be adjusted to fix the issue.
Waymo, formerly Google’s self-driving car project, has submitted a 43-page safety report to the Transportation Department, offering the most detailed description yet of how it equips and programs vehicles to avoid the range of mundane and outrageous problems that are part of driving in America.
“We’ve staged people jumping out of canvas bags or porta-potties on the side of the road, skateboarders lying on their boards, and thrown stacks of paper in front of our sensors,” according to the report, which was submitted Thursday and describes how company engineers use a 91-acre California test facility mocked up like a city, as well as computer simulations covering hundreds of thousands of variations of possible road scenarios.
SCIENCE, NATURE, PSYCHOLOGY
It sounds sort of like a mass of crickets. A high-pitched whine, but from what? It seems to undulate, even writhe. Listen closely: There are multiple, distinct tones that sound to some like they’re colliding in a nails-on-the-chalkboard effect.
The Associated Press has obtained a recording of what some U.S. Embassy workers heard in Havana in a series of unnerving incidents later deemed to be deliberate attacks. The recording, released Thursday by the AP, is the first disseminated publicly of the many taken in Cuba of mysterious sounds that led investigators initially to suspect a sonic weapon.
The recordings themselves are not believed to be dangerous to those who listen. Sound experts and physicians say they know of no sound that can cause physical damage when played for short durations at normal levels through standard equipment like a cellphone or computer.
What device produced the original sound remains unknown. Americans affected in Havana reported the sounds hit them at extreme volumes.
“If you ask somebody on the street, ‘What are the main differences between races?,’ they’re going to say skin color,” said Sarah A. Tishkoff, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania.
On Thursday, Dr. Tishkoff and her colleagues showed this to be a profound error. In the journal Science, the researchers published the first large-scale study of the genetics of skin color in Africans.
The widespread distribution of these genes and their persistence over millenniums show that the old color lines are essentially meaningless, the scientists said. The research “dispels a biological concept of race,” Dr. Tishkoff said.
A pioneering treatment that can reverse a form of childhood vision loss by inserting DNA directly into the eye is on track for regulatory approval in the US, after a panel of scientists endorsed unanimously the “gene therapy” being developed by Spark Therapeutics.
If the US Food and Drug Administration accepts the recommendation of its advisory committee, as it tends to, it would mark the agency’s first approval of such a treatment and herald a new era of medicine where diseases are tackled by inserting functioning copies of genes that are missing or mutated.
HEALTH, PRODUCTIVITY AND WELLNESS
The implication of these results, he says, is that “just running long distances is not enough to prepare the leg muscles for the great demands of an endurance event like the marathon.” Instead, he says, targeted strength training of the lower body might be needed to inoculate the muscles against the slight tearing and other damage that otherwise occurs during the hours of pounding in a marathon.
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