Macro Links Oct 20th – Minsky Moment
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MACRO LINKS TABLE OF CONTENTS (Click or Scroll Down)
- NORTH KOREA “MONTHS AWAY”
- NIGER INQUIRY
- CATALAN INDEPENDENCE CONFLICT
- BUSH AND OBAMA REBUKE TRUMP
- GOP TAX PLAN
- PUERTO RICO
- RUSSIA PROBE, PROPAGANDA, PUTIN
- BREXIT PRESSURE, BREXIT OPINION
- POLLING, PAUL RYAN, KELLY DEFENSE
- NEW ZEALAND GOVERNMENT
- SOFTBANK GOING NUTS
- WEINSTEIN, SEXUAL HARRASSMENT
- RATES, LIQUIDITY, SYSTEMIC RISK, BALANCE SHEETS
- MACRO OP-EDS, INSIGHT, EVENTS AND TRENDS
- USA ECONOMY DATA, CITIES AND STATES
- POSITIONING, INFLECTION, MARKET CALLS
- COLOR, EARNINGS, SENTIMENT, VALUATIONS
- DEALS, MERGERS, IPOs, LBOs, RESTRUCTURINGS
- HEDGE FUNDS, PRIVATE EQUITY, MONEY MGMT
- ENERGY CRUDE OIL, OIL SANDS, SHALE
- ENERGY RENEWABLES, NUCLEAR
- POLLUTION, CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT
- FRONTIER MARKETS
- EMERGING MARKETS
- DACA, TRAVEL BAN, IMMIGRATION, WALL
- GEOPOLITICS, CRIME, TERRORISM
- PROPAGANDA, CORRUPTION, AUTHORITARIANISM
- ELECTORAL POLITICS
- SCANDALS, LAWSUITS, FINES, REGULATORY
- SILICON VALLEY, UNICORNS, STARTUPS, VC
- RETAIL APPAREL, SPECIALTY, DINING, BIG BOX
- MEDIA, CABLE, SPORTS, ENTERTAINMENT
- AUTOS, ELECTRIC, SELF-DRIVING
- AEROSPACE, MILITARY & DEFENSE
- SCIENCE, NATURE, PSYCHOLOGY
NORTH KOREA “MONTHS AWAY”
CIA director Mike Pompeo has warned that North Korea could be just “months away” from developing the ability to strike America with a nuclear-armed ballistic missile.
Mr Pompeo, speaking at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Thursday, said the US had to deal with North Korea under the assumption that Kim Jong Un was “on the cusp” of being able to hit the US after a spate of missile tests that have helped his scientists improve their expertise.
“We ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving that objective,” he said when asked if Pyongyang was “perilously close” to developing that capability.
North Korea has again threatened a nuclear strike against the U.S. in reaction to ongoing joint military drills involving American and South Korean militaries on the peninsula.
An article carried by the state-controlled news agency KCNA warned the U.S. would face an “unimaginable” strike in retaliation for carrying out naval drills involving the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and for “creating tension on the eve of war” by conducting civilian evacuation drills in South Korea this weekend.
“What we are seeing from North Korea looks like some kind of stress in the ground,” said Paul G. Richards, a seismologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “In that part of the world, there were stresses in the ground but the explosions have shaken them up.”
The FBI has joined the investigation into how a group of militants thought to be Islamists killed four American soldiers in Niger two weeks ago, a move that comes as U.S. officials face criticism over their struggle to answer questions about the incident.
Questions about the operation, and the mission of the Green Berets in Niger, have been mounting. The questions center on whether the U.S. force had adequate resources and whether its mission was well-defined.
The U.S. troops in question depended on the French military for air support and used aircraft flown by contractors to evacuate the injured, Pentagon officials said. The U.S. force also relied on intelligence from a demoralized Nigerien military in communities where villagers feared that providing the government with information could lead to a death sentence from militants, a Nigerien official said.
“These four soldiers being killed and most people not knowing what they were up to is a game changer,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I’m concerned that we’re not regularly briefed about operations.”
Somehow, Chad ended up on Trump’s travel ban list. When it did, there was an uproar of foreign policy experts who warned this was a terrible decision because it would destabilize the region and isolate American troops fighting there. Both the State and Defense Departments were also opposed to Trump’s decision to put Chad on the list, because they knew it would cause military problems in the area. But the Trump administration demanded it.
Shortly after the “battle-hardened” Chad fighters left, four American soldiers were attacked and killed in an ambush by ISIS extremists in Niger. Chad announced it began pulling its troops out two weeks ago on Oct. 13, which Maddow said would put their timeline for withdrawal at the end of September.
“Which would be the Friday after the Trump administration made this decision to insult and harm our closest military ally in that region, against ISIS and Boko Haram where ISIS has been trying to establish another caliphate,” Maddow said. “But those Chadian troops were really doing something in Niger. They were protecting those villages in that whole region from ISIS militant groups being able to operate freely and be able to take more territory from there once again. And pulling those troops out had an immediate effect in emboldening those ISIS attacks.”
Within days of the Chadian soldiers beginning to pull out from protecting those villages from ISIS, four soldiers were ambushed.
“So, no wonder the president doesn’t want to talk about it,” she said. “The AFRICOM spokesperson from the U.S. military has said the death of the four American soldiers ‘was not expected.’ And troops had done more than two dozen patrols in the last six months with no problem. But this one was different. Certainly in it’s result. Potentially in it’s cause.”
CATALAN INDEPENDENCE CONFLICT
After weeks of threats, Spain’s government yesterday started the ball rolling on the inevitable: a process to enact direct rule in Catalonia. Mariano Rajoy, Spanish prime minister, will convene an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday after the rebel region’s leadership failed to rescind its threat to unilaterally declare independence.
The Spanish cabinet will be asked to take measures to restore the country’s “constitutional order”. That’s code for triggering Article 155 of the constitution — a legal tool allowing Madrid to “take all measures necessary” against any recalcitrant region which is failing to meet its obligations to the Spanish state and its citizens. The invocation — Madrid’s “nuclear option” — would be the first of its kind in the 42-year history of Spanish democracy.
The standoff over Catalonia intensified significantly on Thursday as the Spanish government said it would take emergency measures to halt a secessionist drive in the economically vital and politically restive northeastern region.
The announcement came almost immediately after the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, facing a second deadline to clarify Catalonia’s intentions since it held an Oct. 1 referendum on independence, warned that regional lawmakers were prepared to break from Spain.
The government in Madrid, in turn, announced that it would convene an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday “to defend the general interest of Spaniards, among them the citizens of Catalonia.”
The Spanish government on Thursday vowed to go ahead with taking direct control of Catalonia after accusing regional President Carles Puigdemont of failing to comply with an ultimatum to clarify whether he had declared independence.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government said in a statement that it will convene a Cabinet meeting on Saturday to propose a series of measures under the framework of Article 155 of the constitution — which allows “all measures necessary to compel” a region to abide by the law — and send them to the Senate for approval.
Article 155 has never been used in Spain’s 40-year democratic history and its triggering would be a radical response that would increase tension between Madrid and the Catalan government. Some analysts say Madrid may struggle to enforce some of the measures because of social unrest in Catalonia and it is possible that Catalan officials will simply refuse to obey the orders of the national government.
As Catalonia demands independence and Spain clamps down, Roberto Maroni is watching closely from his 35th floor office in Milan. Mr Maroni is president of the regional government in Lombardy, one of Italy’s richest regions, which this Sunday holds its own referendum to push the case for more autonomy from Rome. The prosperous north-eastern Veneto region is holding a similar vote.
Both regions are run by the anti-immigrant Northern League, which Mr Maroni helped to found and which for 30 years has been pressing for Italy’s richer north to pull away from its poor south. Events in Catalonia “signal the end of Spanish unity,”, says Mr Maroni, twice interior minister and twice labour minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s rightwing governments. “It is the end of Spain.”
BUSH AND OBAMA REBUKE TRUMP
In an extraordinary — albeit veiled — attack, former President George W. Bush delivered a scathing assessment Thursday of President Trump and his policies, suggesting he has promoted bigotry and falsehoods to the detriment of the country and its values.
Speaking at a policy seminar in New York, the nation’s 43rd president never mentioned Trump by name. But his target was unmistakable. “We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” Bush said. “We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism.”
“Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children,” he said at another point. “The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”
In separate and unrelated appearances, former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both warned that the United States was being torn apart by ancient hatreds that should have been consigned to history long ago and called for addressing economic anxiety through common purpose. While not directly addressing Mr. Trump, neither left much doubt whom and what they had in mind.
That Trump’s two most recent predecessors felt liberated, or perhaps compelled, to reenter the political arena in a manner that offered an implicit criticism of him is virtually unprecedented in modern politics, historians said.
Former President George W. Bush criticized the coarsening of U.S. politics under Donald Trump and said that Russia was trying to turn Americans against one another, in a speech that amounted to a barely veiled and remarkable rebuke of the current president.
GOP TAX PLAN
Despite having full control of the government, Republicans have so far been unable to produce a marquee legislative achievement in the first year of President Trump’s tenure, putting even more pressure on lawmakers to succeed in passing a tax bill. The budget’s passage could keep Republicans on track to approve a tax package late this year or early in 2018.
As early as next week, the House plans to take up the budget blueprint that the Senate approved on Thursday by a 51 to 49 vote. Doing so would allow for the tax overhaul to move ahead quickly.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan will need most House Republicans to back the blueprint without changes; in the Senate, Rand Paul of Kentucky was the lone Republican to vote against the measure on Thursday, in protest of what he deemed excessive spending. If House Republicans were to insist on negotiating a compromise that melds the Senate and House budget plans, tax legislation could be delayed.
The Senate’s late Thursday passage of the budget blueprint, in a 51-49 vote primarily along party lines, helps unlock a procedure that Republicans plan to use to rewrite the tax code with just GOP votes. It also allows the tax bill to lower projected revenue by up to $1.5 trillion over a decade. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the lone Republican to vote against the budget.
The next step will be for the Senate to work alongside the House to harmonise their budget documents. As things stand, the Senate resolution envisages up to $1.5tn of tax cuts, while the earlier House version sought a deficit-neutral tax framework alongside spending cuts.
The speed is striking — and strategic — for tax legislation that lobbyists believe could span 1,000 pages. Republicans hope the breakneck pace will help hold their narrow Senate majority together against what will almost certainly be a deluge of lobbying and Democratic criticism.
The last major tax overhaul, which passed in 1986, took nearly 11 months from introduction to presidential signature.
“Some have described Washington as the slowest town until it is the fastest town,” said Representative Peter Roskam, Republican of Illinois, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Tax Policy in the House Ways and Means Committee, “and I think that’s what’s going to happen here.”
“I would give myself a 10,” Trump said when asked by reporters how he would score his efforts, on a one to 10 scale.
Four weeks after Hurricane Maria, packing winds of up to 155 miles an hour, knocked out power to the entire island, 80 percent of Puerto Rico still does not have electricity. Some residents have not had power for 45 days — since Hurricane Irma brushed by after Labor Day.
The U.S. Navy sent a floating hospital to Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Yet the ship—staffed with roughly 800 personnel and 250 beds—has treated only about 150 since arriving Oct. 3 because few people knew about it.
An activist group has contacted institutions invested in Mr. Klarman’s Baupost Group to request they pressure the hedge fund into forgiving its portion of Puerto Rico’s distressed bonds, according to his letter. Baupost owns $911 million in bonds backed by Puerto Rico sales taxes.
“If the repayment obligation underlying a debt was uncertain, the market would quickly shut down, potentially for even the most creditworthy issuers,” Mr. Klarman’s letter said. “Expunging the debt would almost certainly eliminate any ability the commonwealth would have to borrow money in the future at reasonable rates.”
RUSSIA PROBE, PROPAGANDA, PUTIN
According to a new bombshell report by The Daily Beast, Members of Trump’s family and campaign staff, including Donald Trump Jr. and Kellyanne Conway, promoted tweets affiliated with a Russian “troll farm” during the 2016 presidential election.
Putin also defended Trump’s nontraditional, sometimes controversial approach to leading the country, calling the Republican’s unpredictable decisions a “reasonable response” to “great domestic resistance” that prevents Trump from delivering on electoral promises. Trump has made similar arguments, mostly blaming the media for what he considers to be an overtly negative portrayal of his administration.
An opposition lawmaker called on the British government on Thursday to investigate suspicions of Russian interference in Britain’s referendum on quitting the European Union, adding that there were “questions” about Arron Banks, one of the chief financial backers of the leave campaign.
Speaking in Parliament, the lawmaker, Ben Bradshaw of the Labour Party, said there was “widespread concern over foreign, and particularly Russian, interference in Western democracies.” He asked for assurances that “all the resources spent in the referendum campaign were from permissible sources.”
Mr. Bradshaw’s intervention follows the publication of what he called “very worrying” reports “on the role of dark money” in the plebiscite, which was held in June 2016 and in which 52 percent of those who voted opted to leave.
His comment suggested — falsely — that a report released by U.S. intelligence agencies in January had ruled out any impact that could be attributed to a covert Russian interference campaign that involved leaks of tens of thousands of stolen emails, the flooding of social media sites with false claims and the purchase of ads on Facebook.
A report compiled by the CIA and other agencies described that Russian operation as unprecedented in its scale and concluded that Moscow’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process and help elect Donald Trump.
But the report reached no conclusions about whether that interference had altered the outcome — an issue that U.S. intelligence officials made clear was considered beyond the scope of their inquiry.
Donald Trump has appeared to suggest, without providing evidence, that the FBI and Russia may have colluded to fund the infamous dossier that alleged links between his team and the Kremlin. Taking to Twitter, the US President said: “Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?”
United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley said Thursday that the Russian government committed “warfare” against the U.S. last year when hackers tied to Moscow meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
A group linked to the Russian troll farm behind thousands of fake Facebook ads paid personal trainers in New York, Florida, and other parts of the United States to run self-defense classes for African Americans in an apparent attempt to stoke fear and gather contact details of Americans potentially susceptible to their propaganda.
The founder of Russian cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab denies that Russian security services can use its popular anti-virus software for espionage, claiming he is the victim of a “media attack” as the company comes under pressure in the US.
Evgeny Kaspersky was responding to anonymously sourced reports in US media last week that Russian secret services had a backdoor into Kaspersky’s anti-viral software that allowed them to search for classified information and obtain data about US cyberdefence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin weighed in on the U.S. government’s scrutiny of Russian-funded news outlets RT and Sputnik, promising a “mirrored response” against U.S. media if those agencies are sanctioned.
Three years after Wisconsin passed its voter ID law in 2011, a federal judge blocked it, noting that 9 percent of all registered voters did not have the required forms of ID. Black voters were about 50 percent likelier than whites to lack these IDs because they were less likely to drive or to be able to afford the documents required to get a current ID, and more likely to have moved from out of state. There is, of course, no one thing that swung the election. Clinton’s failings, James Comey’s 11th-hour letter, Russian interference, fake news, sexism, racism, and a struggling economy in key swing states all contributed to Trump’s victory. We will never be able to assign exact proportions to all the factors at play. But a year later, interviews with voters, organizers, and election officials reveal that, in Wisconsin and beyond, voter suppression played a much larger role than is commonly understood.
BREXIT PRESSURE, BREXIT OPINION
U.K. retail sales fell more than forecast in September, leaving growth in the third quarter at its weakest in four years.
Sales dropped 0.8 percent from August, far more than the 0.1 percent estimated in a Bloomberg survey. Over the third quarter, annual growth slowed to 1.5 percent, the worst performance since October 2013, according to data from the Office for National Statistics in London.
Heading into this week’s EU summit, Theresa May has made a transition deal her top Brexit priority. But even as her fellow leaders consider the issue — and how to respond to the British prime minister’s request for the start of transition talks — problems are emerging with the very idea of keeping the status quo for two more years after Brexit in 2019.
“Transition is not what it seems,” says a senior eurozone official, who jokes that the concept almost amounts to “fool’s gold”.
A transition deal is a great prize for British negotiators because it provides business with two precious commodities: extra time and more regulatory certainty. Companies need legally binding assurances about the next 12 months.
The problem is that guarantees may be insufficiently binding to meet such needs. A UK-EU transition agreement could also cover less than proponents might hope while a two-year deal may only delay the challenges Britain confronts.
Theresa May has implored European leaders not to back her into a corner on Brexit, saying that there was a “clear and urgent” need to move exit talks to the next phase as her Eurosceptic critics began to mobilise.
Her plea to fellow leaders follows several days of frenetic diplomacy by May and her ministers, including phone calls with Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, plus a dinner in Brussels on Monday with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
The diplomatic push has been greeted with a mixture of sympathy and bemusement, but apparently little willingness to make extra concessions to ease May’s political problems. The attitude in most national capitals has been that Britain opted to leave, so it is up to the U.K. to come up with solutions to the problems created by Brexit.
EU leaders are aware of the fragility of May’s position — she’s trying to hold onto her job after a failed election and keep a squabbling Cabinet together. That’s why they offered her words of encouragement on Thursday, according to an EU official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Goldman Sachs’ chief executive has praised the attractions of Frankfurt in a Twitter message that heaped more pressure on Britain’s prime minister Theresa May as she kicked off crucial Brexit talks at this week’s European summit.
Lloyd Blankfein wrote: “Just left Frankfurt. Great meetings, great weather, really enjoyed it. Good, because I’ll be spending a lot more time there. #Brexit.”
The detailed survey of 4,000 voters by Ipsos Mori, conducted over the course of the past year and published on Tuesday, identifies the disparate groups that make up the Leave and Remain camps, as well as those who fall somewhere in between. Education levels, attitudes towards immigration and the rural-urban divide emerge the strongest factors when all groups are considered, while others, such as age, social class and party allegiance had a more nuanced effect on voter behaviour.
It is highly likely that the Brexit negotiations will fail, imposing an abrupt shock on the UK economy and ruining relations with its neighbours. This view is condemned by those who insist we must be more positive. That is like advising someone who has just jumped off a building that, if only he thought positively, he could fly. To understand the state we are now in we need to understand the zombie ideas that hold so many Brexiters in their grip.
The Brexiters’ demand for a walkout is unlikely to get very far as senior cabinet figures are already ruling it out. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, said this week that a no deal outcome was “unthinkable”. Philip Hammond, the chancellor, has refused to commit Treasury cash for a cliff-edge outcome. As for Labour, Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, says “threatening to walk away at this stage is irresponsible”.
The EU also knows that any threat to walk out of the talks lacks credibility because it would end in chaos — mainly affecting the British. The InFacts blog has set out 10 reasons why “no deal” would be “bonkers”. These include the prospects of price hikes as tariffs are placed on EU imports; customs chaos at Dover; planes grounded as the UK loses access to Europe’s Open Skies agreement; total confusion on citizens’ rights; and the inevitable return of a hard border in Ireland.
Central banks world-wide have been signaling an end to the era of ultra-easy money. That’s a challenge for the London market, which is heavy on dividend payers and defensive plays, says Mislav Matejka, JPMorgan’s U.K.-based head of global and European equity strategy.
POLLING, PAUL RYAN, KELLY DEFENSE
Forty-two percent of Americans think President Trump will be remembered as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history, according to a new Marist Poll. Another 16 percent think Trump will be remembered as a below average leader.
Only 18 percent of respondents expect Trump will be remembered as an above average president or one of the best presidents in history. Forty-eight percent of Republicans think Trump will be remembered as one of the best or an above average president.
“Every morning I wake up in my office and I scroll through Twitter to see which tweets I will have to pretend I didn’t see later on,” he added. “Every afternoon former Speaker John Boehner calls me up, not to give advice, just to laugh.”
“I know last year that Donald Trump offended some people, I know his comments, according to critics, went too far, some said it was unbecoming of a public figure and they said that his comments were offensive,” he said. “Well, thank God he’s learned his lesson.”
On what he has learned in Congress, Ryan said: “Tweeting after midnight is a really bad idea whether you’re President Trump or especially Anthony Weiner, or Ted Cruz for that matter.”
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson said White House Chief of Staff John Kelly misstated the facts during a Thursday press conference where he attacked the Miami Gardens Democrat without using her name.
In defending President Donald Trump’s comments to the widow of a slain soldier, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Thursday undercut a stunning allegation levied by Trump against a member of Congress a day earlier.
For whatever reason — some kind of miscommunication, the President’s own shortcomings — it did not land as intended. We know that because the family, not just the politician, told us. Cowanda Jones-Johnson told CNN Wednesday that Wilson’s account of the call was “very accurate.”
But rather than own up to it, apologize, or simply move along, Trump chose to attack the messenger. We know now, based on what Kelly said Thursday, that Wilson’s account was not “totally fabricated” — and are left with still more reason to believe Trump’s accusation was.
NEW ZEALAND GOVERNMENT
The surprise emergence of a Labour-led coalition government in New Zealand has pummeled the kiwi dollar as global investors contemplate a raft of potential changes to economic policy, including the targets of the country’s central bank.
Ms. Ardern’s ascension represents a remarkable rise for a woman who just months ago became Labour’s youngest leader ever, setting off “Jacindamania” among the party’s followers. Unconventional and described by colleagues as intensely focused, she has defied the norms of New Zealand politics and refused to be pinned down on whether she has considered having children, saying no male politician would be forced to answer that question.
The close result set off a scramble between the two groups to win the favor of New Zealand First, a populist party that won nine seats — enough to put either National, or the Greens and Labour, over the line in forming a government.
In the kingmaker position was New Zealand First’s leader, Winston Peters, an eccentric veteran politician who has long campaigned on cuts to immigration, curtailing foreign ownership of New Zealand land, and securing pensions and other benefits for retirees, who make up a large percentage of the party’s base of support.
After her stunning rise to power, New Zealand’s incoming leader Jacinda Ardern faces a pressing challenge: delivering economic change with a team that lacks credentials.
“The new coalition government is likely to be more interventionist in the economy than any government New Zealand has seen in decades,” said Dominick Stephens, chief New Zealand economist at Westpac Banking Corp. in Auckland. “Both Labour and New Zealand First’s rhetoric often sounds more mistrustful of markets than the previous government.”
SOFTBANK GOING NUTS
Softbank looks to be preparing follow on raises to its first ~$100BN Vision Fund. Speaking to Nikkei today CEO Masayoshi Son said: “The Vision Fund was just the first step, 10 trillion yen ($88BN) is simply not enough. We will briskly expand the scale. Vision Funds 2, 3 and 4 will be established every two to three years.”
The Vision Fund 1 was announced in October 2016 and its first close — of $93BN — was earlier this year, in May. The investment focus is generally artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.
Son has said his conviction that superintelligence AI is coming is what lies behind the fund — and explain his haste. “I truly believe it’s coming, that’s why I’m in a hurry – to aggregate the cash, to invest,” he said this February.
“We are creating a mechanism to increase our funding ability from 10 trillion yen to 20 trillion yen to 100 trillion yen,” he noted. All told, the funds “will probably have invested in at least 1,000 companies within 10 years,” Son added.
Vision Funds are expected to chiefly target “unicorns” — unlisted startups with an estimated valuation above $1 billion. Unlike venture capital firms that invest several million dollars in newly established enterprises, the funds will pick companies with sufficiently large operations. The average scale of investment will likely reach about $888 million.
These deep-pocketed financiers, which have traditionally invested in the public markets but are seeking better returns from private tech companies, have enabled startups to raise more money, stay private longer and spurn the regulatory hassles of an IPO even as they become larger than many public companies.
At The Wall Street Journal D.Live conference this week in Southern California, a number of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, IPO experts and dealmakers spoke with Reuters about the surprisingly low number of IPOs and pointed to investors such as SoftBank for changing the business of startup financing.
The result is a protracted IPO slump that has contributed to a 50 percent drop in the number of U.S. public companies over the last two decades, according to the Nasdaq. IPOs have fallen especially precipitously since 2014 – the year public market investors, including mutual funds, ramped up investment in private tech companies.
Sovereign wealth funds have been a feature on the start-up landscape for the past two or three years, ever since late-stage venture rounds started to top $1bn. They are now going one step further, setting up dedicated funds and local offices of their own in San Francisco.
The desire to get a seat at the local table is understandable. For the wave of sovereign cash hitting tech, the big challenge has been one of access. Putting very large amounts to work risks distorting the normal patterns of venture investing, and is particularly problematic for a group of investors without either close ties to the Silicon Valley network or much to offer other than cold, hard cash.
WEINSTEIN, SEXUAL HARRASSMENT
Quentin Tarantino, the Hollywood director most closely tied to Harvey Weinstein, has known for decades about the producer’s alleged misconduct toward women and now feels ashamed he did not take a stronger stand and stop working with him, he said in an interview.
“I knew enough to do more than I did,” he said, citing several episodes involving prominent actresses. “There was more to it than just the normal rumors, the normal gossip. It wasn’t secondhand. I knew he did a couple of these things.”
“I wish I had taken responsibility for what I heard,” he added. “If I had done the work I should have done then, I would have had to not work with him.”
Now that we are speaking, let us never shut up about this kind of thing. I speak up to make certain that this is not the kind of misconduct that deserves a second chance. I speak up to contribute to the end of the conspiracy of silence.
RATES, LIQUIDITY, SYSTEMIC RISK, BALANCE SHEETS
Hyman Minsky is an economist famed for his theory about the risk of a sudden collapse in asset prices triggered by excessive debt or credit growth. The recent surge in global equity and credit markets has been accompanied by a number of strategists warning of a Minsky scenario and that chorus has elevated in tone by Zhou Xiaochuan, the PBOC governor.
He reportedly expressed concern that corporate and household debt are rising too quickly and said China needs to defend itself from excessive optimism that could lead to a “Minsky Moment’’. Stocks in Hong Kong closed down 1.9 per cent, its biggest fall in two months, led by property companies, while havens such as US government bonds gained.
In a nutshell, a “Minsky Moment” is a collapse in market values following the exhaustion of a credit expansion. Debt can only build up in times of economic growth for so long before a correction, goes the theory.
“When there are too many pro-cyclical factors in an economy, cyclical fluctuations will be amplified,” Zhou said at an event on the sidelines of the 19th Communist Party Congress in Beijing. “If we’re too optimistic when things go smoothly, tensions build up, which could lead to a sharp correction, what we call a Minsky Moment. That’s what we should particularly defend against.”
Trading volumes have fallen steadily in recent months as ultralow volatility, a lack of market-moving news and the rising popularity of passive investment funds have kept many investors on the sidelines.
Some investors are mulling what the drop-off says about a global equity rally that has lifted many markets, including in the U.S., to new highs. The muted trading could signal that investors are holding back amid skepticism that stocks have further to climb—or that they are so confident they feel no need to sell.
Either way, the decline in equity volumes is another piece of bad news for banks, already beset by a steep falloff in fixed-income trading revenues.
Tezos’s struggles underscore the biggest flaw in the ICO market: Investors keep throwing capital at companies hoping to luck into the next bitcoin, even though most companies don’t have a working product and many have relied on “white papers” fleshing out their ideas to market their tokens, a strategy that has been surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) successful. To wit, ICOs have raised more than $3 billion this year according to Bloomberg, far surpassing Pitchbook analysts’ expectations for $1.7 billion by the end of the year.
With the SEC already having filed the first civil charges against a man who launched two ICOs that the agency claims were completely fraudulent. If Tezos were the subject of regulatory action – the company’s founders said they chose to base the project in Switzerland because it didn’t have “too much oversight” – or even if it were to collapse in a heap of broken promises, its collapse has the potential to crash the whole ICO market.
As the days pass, the perverse effects of central bank policies on the financial markets are getting more and more amazing. This includes the record-setting nuttiness now reigning in the European bond market, compared to the mere semi-nuttiness in the US bond market.
This chart, based on the BofA Merrill Lynch Euro High Yield Index via the St. Louis Fed, shows how the average euro junk-bond yield (red line) has plunged so far this year, on the way to what? Zero? The 10-year US Treasury yield (black line) has started rising in past weeks and, in late September rose above the euro junk bond yield for the first time ever:
A “secular increase” in African public debt has brought several governments towards a debt-servicing threshold beyond which they should not borrow, said Patrick Njoroge, governor of the central bank of Kenya.
While Mr Njoroge said that while debt levels, including in Kenya, were sustainable, he feared “shocks that could push us over”. Taking on debt was a “temporary manoeuvre”, he said in an interview with the Financial Times. “We cannot continue with this financing model.”
MACRO OP-EDS, INSIGHT, EVENTS AND TRENDS
Lost in the storm and anguish over John Kelly’s attacks today was a sobering reality. The ideological and rhetorical spine of his remarks was a paean to MAGA. The old days were good. We had real religion. Things were right with women. There was no abortion. Honor was sacred and respected. Now it’s all crap because of people like Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D), a showboater from Florida who transgressed our last sacred space.
Just what Kelly was saying wasn’t clear on first blush because he’s not a phony and a clown like President Trump – an unchurched libertine and draft dodger who wraps himself in traditionalism and military glory. If you’re eyes are open Trump is a joke against himself. Kelly is a bonafide general officer and combat veteran. When he speaks about military sacrifice we listen. We should. He speaks with some authority, from experience, unlike the President.
But his script turned out to be pure MAGA, pure Trumpism, in some ways more potent because it was wrapped in a lifetime of service but still no less odious.
Donald Trump and the campus multiculturalists want to organize people by ethnic tribe, which has always been the menacing temptation throughout our history. But McCain seeks to preserve our traditional rallying point — our ideals. My colleague Bret Stephens has already quoted from McCain’s speech on Monday at the National Constitution Center. I’d encourage you to read the whole thing because this should be the rallying cry around which the nation rediscovers its soul.
The temptation is to ignore the president’s ravings. Nine months of dealing with a capricious White House has seen allies turn to a policy of “workaround” — ignore the Twitter storms, deal with the grown-ups, notably US defence secretary Jim Mattis, and hope something can be preserved of the old multilateral system beyond the day of Mr Trump’s departure.
The strategy is running out of road. Mr Trump’s disavowal of the Iran nuclear deal threatens to tear up the most successful exercise in collective security for a generation. At best, it destroys the credibility of the US in international efforts peacefully to forestall further nuclear proliferation. Mr Trump might just as well have hung a sign on the White House declaring Washington can no longer be trusted by friends or adversaries alike.
At worst, it will put Iran back on the road towards a nuclear weapons programme, with all the immense risks that would imply for regional and global peace. Congress could avoid an open breach with America’s allies by declining to re-introduce sanctions against Tehran. The damage to the standing of the US, though, has already been done.
Mr. Neumann has dazzled tech investors by portraying WeWork as a Silicon Valley-style company that provides a “physical social network” for millennials. Top investors include SoftBank Group Corp. and its tech-focused Vision Fund, which added $4.4 billion in August.
Others in the real-estate industry and some Silicon Valley investors say the company’s well-crafted image belies the mundane nature of its business. WeWork takes on long-term leases for raw office space and builds out the interior with flexible spaces and modern design that it then subleases for terms as short as a month.
IWG PLC, an office-leasing company with a business model similar to WeWork’s, manages five times the square footage and has about one-eighth the market value.
The forces that drive regional disparities are built into the mechanisms of globalisation, which makes them hard to resist. It is true that globalisation could stall or go into reverse. Indeed the desire that it should do so was part of the reason that voters in north-east Pennsylvania swung heavily to Donald Trump in 2016, delivering him the state. It was in a similar spirit that areas of alienation in Britain, like Teesside, voted for Brexit and France’s economically battered north offered strong support to the Front National of Marine le Pen. But even if globalisation were to stop in its tracks, the regions it has weakened would not magically improve.
It is no coincidence that fissures opened within the rich world’s economies as poor countries began catching up. It was a predictable result of political and technological change—one that governments in the rich world largely ignored and that their advisers, and economists in general, made too little effort to point out.
When countries with lots of low-wage workers begin trading with richer economies, pay for similarly skilled workers converges. Those in poor economies grow richer while in rich countries workers get poorer. The effects are felt more in some places than others, and not only because the sort of people who lose out to trade tend to live in similar places. Globalisation did direct damage to many local and regional economies because of the way those regions work.
The segregation of cities into a small set of haves and a much larger set of have-lesses tends to mean that elites (in business and politics) rub elbows only with each other. That makes them ever less sensitive to the costs of regional inequality. The growing concentration of corporate offices in the vicinity of Washington, DC is a particularly obvious example of this.
Votes for Brexit and for Mr Trump were often cast as an expression of anger at a system that seems rigged. Unless policymakers grapple seriously with the problem of regional inequality, the fury of those voters will only increase.
If you think of voting rights as a wonky “process” issue that’s less important than health care or the environment or avoiding war with North Korea, think again. It’s entirely possible we wouldn’t be dealing with a President Trump at all if voting rights were regarded as a fundamental right of citizenship that should be strongly and universally encouraged.
Oct. 19, 1987, was one of the worst days in stock market history. Thirty years later, it would be comforting to believe it couldn’t happen again.
Yet that’s true only in the narrowest sense: Regulatory and technological change has made an exact repeat of that terrible day impossible. We are still at risk, however, because fundamentally, that market crash was a mass stampede set off through viral contagion. That kind of panic can certainly happen again.
Everyone’s a China-watcher these days, as red-blooded capitalists try to extract policy clues from hourslong speeches by aged Communist leaders. A more fruitful pursuit for investors might be to remind themselves of the two big lessons from recent history in China’s markets: Being early is as good as being wrong, and buying into a bubble doesn’t usually work out well.
Investors who bought into Chinese stocks when they first started listing in Hong Kong in the early 1990s can congratulate themselves on anticipating years of powerful economic growth. They can also kick themselves if they stuck with the trade, as mainland companies listed in Hong Kong, known as H-shares, or those incorporated outside the mainland but listed in Hong Kong, called red chips, were both lower a decade later.
The best way to profit from being early to China was similar to the smart way to trade new themes today: Sell out as soon as everyone else catches on to the idea. In 1996-97, everything China-related soared, with red chips peaking at 250% year-over-year gains around the handover of Hong Kong to China before collapsing as the Asian Tiger bubble popped.
Nationalism, an unchecked ethnic majority and support for authoritarian values have put Myanmar well down the road to becoming an “illiberal democracy.”
The civilian state, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is rapidly centralizing power as checks and balances erode. It is growing oppressive in some areas and weak in others, ceding public space to extremists. Meanwhile, the military still controls important government functions and a perpetual quota of Parliament seats.
The country appears to be converging on a democratic-authoritarian hybrid, formally known as illiberal democracy, which often resembles mob rule. It is a version of majority rule that excludes minorities, curtails freedoms and governs arbitrarily.
The Trump administration may be internally divided about many things, but it is absolutely united around one goal: supporting the US coal industry. It is a goal the administration has pursued with uncharacteristic focus and discipline. On this policy — maybe only on this policy — there is a consistent message and a consistent plan of action, across departments and agencies.
The irony is that this goal — the one goal around which this otherwise feckless administration is actually able to organize — is deeply and irrevocably futile. If you can look past all the venality and mendacity involved, it’s almost poignant.
New symbols of that decline are coming at such a torrid pace these days that they are getting difficult to keep up with — new policies, new milestones, new reports, all pointing in the same direction.
USA ECONOMY DATA, CITIES AND STATES
The latest period also encompasses the reporting week that the Labor Department surveys for its October employment figures. Claims are at the lowest level in more than four decades, indicating employers have little desire to cut staffing levels amid a shortage of qualified workers.
The most frequently mentioned potential winners include Denver, Dallas, Austin, Toronto, Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, all of which have applied. Moody’s Analytics puts Austin and Atlanta at the top of its list, which also includes Miami and Portland in the top 10.
POSITIONING, INFLECTION, MARKET CALLS
The reason he is so widely discussed is that the head of the People’s Bank of China saw to fit to warn of the risk of a Minsky Moment. He said: “If we are too optimistic when things go smoothly, tensions build up, which could lead to a sharp correction, what we call a ‘Minsky Moment’. That’s what we should particularly defend against.”
Minsky was most famous for his work diagnosing the instability of financial intermediation at the heart of capitalism. He held that periods of stability and low volatility would beget irresponsible lending, leading to a stage of Ponzi-like lending, and then a crash. The phrase “Minsky Moment” coined by the former Pimco economist Paul McCulley, refers to the psychological moment when participants in a market realise that lending has gone too far, and then a crash results. The phrase was never used in the FT until early 2007. It has now appeared more than 80 times. The reason for this is that the Lehman crisis provided us with a perfect, textbook example of a Minsky Moment.
In this context, a central banker talking about a Minsky Moment in public is the monetary policy equivalent of yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre. It should be construed as a very serious warning that the Chinese authorities intend to rein in their finance system.
The S&P 500 hasn’t seen a correction in almost two years. But a growing chorus of Wall Street strategists says one could be right around the corner. The most recent firm to sound the alarm is Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which forecasts a pullback of at least 10% — the historical definition of a correction — by Valentine’s Day.
And while the firm lays out a long list of sell signals, it highlights a couple of elements as the biggest market risks right now. BAML says the “most obvious catalyst” for a correction would be a spike in wage and inflation data that brings back “fear of Fed.”
That’s a reference to the bearish sentiment that would be likely to accompany a sudden acceleration of the Federal Reserve’s rate-tightening schedule, which includes rate hikes and a shrinking of the central bank’s massive balance sheet — two measures that would boost fixed-income yields.
“Foreigners have been too obsessed with the movements of the yen when it comes to investing in Japanese equities,” said Ben Luk, global macro strategist with State Street Global Markets in Hong Kong. “We are seeing early signs that flows have bottomed out in terms of foreign investment. We believe there’s more to go to support the broad market as political instability subsides while earnings momentum continues to improve.”
After a subdued week, stocks in Hong Kong suddenly plunged on Thursday afternoon, sending the benchmark Hang Seng Index tumbling by as much as 2.2 percent, the most in 11 months. The gauge eventually ended the session down 1.9 percent to 28,159.09.
COLOR, EARNINGS, SENTIMENT, VALUATIONS
Microsoft’s value is returning to tech-bubble peaks. The software giant closed with a market value of $600 billion Thursday for the first time since Jan. 3, 2000.
The firm is the third-largest S&P 500 company in market value, trailing Apple (about $800 billion) and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, (about $690 billion). In July, fellow technology and internet stalwarts Facebook and Amazon.com joined the trio as the only U.S.-listed companies valued at more than $500 billion.
Look past the hand-wringing over political tensions and natural disasters, and the global economy is performing at its best pace in a decade, according to the International Monetary Fund, fueled by years of rock-bottom interest rates. The IMF last week lifted its estimate for growth in the U.S., the euro area, Japan and China.
“Globally, the macroeconomic situation is a very solid backdrop for corporate profits,” said Sean Taylor, chief investment officer for the Asia Pacific region at Deutsche Asset Management, which oversees about $840 billion globally.
Analysts predict U.S. companies in the S&P 500 will report a 3.1 percent profit increase in the period, while JPMorgan Chase & Co. sees earnings for European companies climbing 6 percent. In Asia, earnings per share have surged 21 percent at 43 companies in the MSCI AC Asia Pacific index that have already reported, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
DEALS, MERGERS, IPOs, LBOs, RESTRUCTURINGS
In an escalation of its ride-hailing war against Uber, Lyft has begun to explore going public in 2018 and is trying to strengthen its position by raising more capital, including $1 billion in new financing led by an investment arm of Google’s parent company.
Lyft has had talks with investment banks about an initial public offering next year, according to two people briefed on the discussions, who asked to remain anonymous because the conversations are confidential. Lyft has not decided which bank may become its lead underwriter for an I.P.O., the people said.
HEDGE FUNDS, PRIVATE EQUITY, MONEY MGMT
Lee Ainslie’s $10 billion Maverick Capital Ltd. is offering 0% performance fees to some investors, the latest big-name hedge fund to debut lower fees after posting continued losses.
Maverick’s flagship stock-picking hedge fund is down 2% this year through September after losing roughly 10% last year, missing out on the rally this year that has propelled U.S. stocks to record highs. Maverick’s new “recovery share” class would let existing clients invest more money in its hedge funds at 1% management fees and no performance fees, compared with the 1.75% and 17.5% fees, respectively, its clients most often pay.
ENERGY CRUDE OIL, OIL SANDS, SHALE
Russia’s readiness to back an extension of the supply cuts agreement between Opec and its allies until the end of 2018 has prompted oil ministers to seek widespread support for the proposal, Opec’s secretary-general said on Thursday.
Mohammad Barkindo said Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Khalid al-Falih and his Russian counterpart Alexander Novak were taking their “cue” from Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and “engaging” the other participating countries.
After structuring roughly $3.5bn in cash-for-crude loans to Iraqi Kurdistan in the last three years, some of the biggest names in oil trading have spent the past week wondering just what they have got themselves into.
Glencore chief executive Ivan Glasenberg, feted as one of the greatest traders and dealmakers of his generation, admitted on Thursday that the takeover by Iraqi federal forces of disputed oilfields once run by the Kurds may delay repayment of their cash.
The troubles facing these luminaries of the commodities industry are a stark reminder that the oil market is rarely for the faint-hearted, and best laid plans can be upended by political events far beyond the control of even the most powerful traders.
The industry marks the nexus of high finance and geopolitics, where billion dollar deals in risky areas can reap huge profits, but are also at the mercy of shifting sands and alliances in the world’s capitals.
ENERGY RENEWABLES, NUCLEAR
The only thing certain in this life are death, taxes and the US department of energy’s massive underestimate of renewable energy capacity.
Every two years, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), America’s official source for energy statistics, issues scenarios about how much solar, wind and conventional energy the future holds for the US. Every two years, since the mid-1990s, the EIA is wrong. Last year, it was spectacularly wrong.
POLLUTION, CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT
Exposure to polluted air, water and soil caused nine million premature deaths in 2015, according to a report published Thursday in The Lancet. The causes of death vary — cancer, lung disease, heart disease. The report links them to pollution, drawing upon previous studies that show how pollution is tied to a wider range of diseases than previously thought.
Lake Baikal is undergoing its gravest crisis in recent history, experts say, as the government bans the catching of a signature fish that has lived in the world’s deepest lake for centuries but is now under threat.
Holding one-fifth of the world’s unfrozen fresh water, Baikal in Russia’s Siberia is a natural wonder of “exceptional value to evolutionary science” meriting its listing as a world heritage site by Unesco.
The FBI has opened an investigation into US links to South Africa’s Gupta family, escalating a political scandal over the three brothers’ alleged use of their friendship with President Jacob Zuma to control state business, according to people familiar with the matter.
A vote by Brazilian lawmakers that handed President Michel Temer another victory in his battle to avoid trial over bribe allegations has renewed criticism that the country’s long corruption investigation is losing momentum.
The constitutional and justice committee voted 39 to 26 on Wednesday evening that the president should not face trial on allegations that he discussed bribes with a businessman in a recorded conversation in March.
The game, offered by Tencent Holdings, operator of the WeChat messaging and social media platform, lets internet users show their appreciation for Mr. Xi’s address by quickly and repeatedly mashing their phone screens.
After it is opened inside WeChat, the game first plays a clip from the speech — about the “conflicts” in Chinese society, say, or about reducing rural poverty. Players then have 19 seconds to tap the bottom of the screen as many times as possible to make a pair of animated hands clap frenziedly. An image of the Great Hall of the People, where the speech took place, is in the background, giving players the impression of being among the 2,300 delegates.
The maximum possible number of claps in each round appears to be around a thousand. The game says players have clapped over a billion times in total so far.
Addressing a panel on the sidelines of the party’s national congress in Beijing on Thursday, Liu Shiyu, chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, accused a string of disgraced cadres of plotting to seize the reins of power.
Among those named was the former party boss of megacity Chongqing, Sun Zhengcai, once a front runner for a place in the inner circle – the Politburo Standing Committee.
“[Xi] addressed the cases of Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang, Ling Jihua, Xu Caihou, Guo Boxiong and Sun Zhengcai. They had high positions and great power in the party, but they were hugely corrupt and plotted to usurp the party’s leadership and seize state power,” Liu said, becoming the first senior official to accuse Sun of trying to take over the party.
The high-profile cutbacks, part of a broader restructuring that pharmaceutical companies are undertaking, contrast with the Chinese government’s push to speed the uptake of innovative drugs that’s spurred a rush of money into the industry. Life-science venture capital and private equity funds are poised to invest almost $11 billion in China this year, more than double the $5 billion they injected in 2016, according to ChinaBio Consulting.
Should Mr. Wang, now 62, finally join the party’s standing committee and take a more senior position in government, he would have more influence but still would be carrying out an agenda drafted by Mr. Xi. “Perhaps with Wang Yang,” said Mr. Lam, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, “they might be able to do a little more within the orders from Xi Jinping.”
Japanese manufacturers were once held in awe for their mastery of flexible manufacturing and a continuous improvement mantra that revolutionized business practices the world over. Even now, for example, Fanuc remains the preeminent maker of sophisticated robots, sought by manufacturers from China to the U.S. But an increasing number of companies in China, South Korea, and elsewhere have found success emulating—and often besting—Japan’s long-established enterprises, forcing them to scramble.
The latest sign of just how desperate many Japanese companies have become to stay ahead of foreign rivals: Kobe Steel Ltd.’s admission this month that for years it has faked data on the quality of its aluminum, copper, and steel products. Those metals have been used in high-precision products made by hundreds of Kobe’s customers, including cars from Toyota Motor Corp. and bullet trains from Hitachi Ltd. Now Kobe Chief Executive Officer Hiroya Kawasaki is leading an internal committee to probe quality issues. And the U.S. Department of Justice has requested that Kobe Steel submit documents related to the fake data, the company said, adding that it will cooperate.
The withdrawals came as Japanese equity markets have rallied sharply since early September, with the Topix index sitting at its best level since 2007, while the Nikkei 225 price weighted average at 21,457 has returned to a level last seen in 1996.
The rally in share prices reflects anticipation of a victory by prime minister Shinzo Abe. and a larger majority for his Liberal Democratic party and a personal mandate for reform. Many market participants, having been caught out by erroneous polling forecasts ahead of major elections in recent years, have opted for a defensive stance ahead of the vote.
“We are thinking Abe will get what Theresa May wanted, but did not get,” said Max Gokhman, head of asset allocation at Pacific Life Fund Advisors. “People are worried about elections because polls have often been incorrect.”
Japan’s young job-hoppers are feeling more secure than they have in years, and that is good news for the country’s political leaders, who face parliamentary elections on Sunday.
Many younger Japanese workers have never known the security of lifetime employment that was common to older generations. Their plight has become a source of economic anxiety in Japan. Now, though, their prospects are looking up thanks to Japan’s modestly — but steadily — growing economy.
DACA, TRAVEL BAN, IMMIGRATION, WALL
Nearly two dozen major companies in technology and other industries are planning to launch a coalition to demand legislation that would allow young, illegal immigrants a path to permanent residency, according to documents seen by Reuters.
Russia is accusing Canada of causing irreparable harm to their relations after Parliament formally passed the so-called Magnitsky Act targeting the actions of gross human rights violators.
GEOPOLITICS, CRIME, TERRORISM
American-backed forces have barely begun to clear the land mines from Raqqa after pushing the Islamic State from the city, the de facto capital of its self-declared caliphate.
But the militants’ defeat there is already setting the stage for a new round of conflict and instability in Syria’s long civil war. Fleeing jihadists are already regrouping in remote areas, rearming with the help of desert smugglers. Tensions are brewing over who will ultimately control Raqqa, where American-backed Kurdish and Arab forces declared victory on Tuesday.
And as the Islamic State threat wanes, the Syrian government is expected to return its military attention to the Syrian rebels, intensifying the kind of bombardment that has led to mass civilian casualties, with no sign of a political solution in sight.
The Colombian government has vowed to pull more coca plants out of the ground amid US concern that a government keen to secure peace with FARC, the country’s biggest and best known rebel group, has let the war on drugs slide.
Coca production has surged dramatically in recent years and the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House has added to pressure on Bogotá. Last month, the White House said it “seriously considered” putting Colombia on a blacklist of countries that are failing to crack down on the global drugs trade, putting it on a par with Venezuela and Bolivia. Colombia, Washington’s closest ally in Latin America, was outraged.
“No one has to threaten us to face this challenge,” said a government statement. “For more than 30 years Colombia has shown its commitment — paying a very high cost in human lives — to overcome the drugs problem. Colombia is without doubt the country that has done most to combat drugs and which has had the most success in this regard,” it added.
PROPAGANDA, CORRUPTION, AUTHORITARIANISM
In the aftermath of the catastrophic wildfires that killed at least 42 people and left thousands of Northern California homes and businesses in rubble and ruins, right-wing media outlets reported that an undocumented immigrant was arrested in connection to the fires.
Only problem: The reports are false. “There is a story out there that he’s the arsonist in these fires,” Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said at a press conference Tuesday. “That’s not the case. There’s no indication he’s related to these fires at all. … I wanted to kill that speculation right now, so we didn’t have things running too far out of control.”
Thad Cochran says he isn’t retiring, but Senate Republicans have to be concerned after the 79-year-old returned to D.C. this week from a medical absence so “disoriented” that he mistakenly kept saying “yes” on an amendment while an aide repeatedly told him to vote “no,” Politico reported.
The Mississippi senator, absent from Washington for about a month because of a urological issue, was reportedly “disoriented” and “frail” when answering questions from reporters in the hallway Tuesday, according to Politico. He also had to be escorted to the Senate chamber by an aide, who prevented the politician from wandering around to the wrong rooms.
SCANDALS, LAWSUITS, FINES, REGULATORY
A federal judge sentenced Thomas C. Davis, the former chairman of Dean Foods Co., to two years in prison for engaging in a long-running insider trading scheme with legendary Las Vegas gambler William “Billy” Walters.
SILICON VALLEY, UNICORNS, STARTUPS, VC
The CEO is increasingly boxed in by regulators, tech critics on both the right and the left, and even his own employees.
The company, which is announcing a private beta today after three years of secret development, makes a collaborative document editor that combines a word processor and a spreadsheet. It’s a versatile tool that Mehrotra hopes will find a home in companies where diverse teams need regular access to shared sets of data, but want to view and manipulate that data on their own terms.
Mehrotra’s pitch for Coda, which was built under the codename “Krypton,” goes like this: “It’s a document so powerful you can build apps in it.” Open it for the first time and you’ll see a blank canvas that will be familiar to anyone who has ever used Google Docs or Microsoft Word. But drop in a table, add a few rows and columns, and you’ll find a powerful engine underneath. Coda wrote its own, modern formula language design to integrate other services into your spreadsheets. Enter “GoogleDirections” into a formula, for example, and Coda will insert a Google Map with directions from an origin location to a destination.
RETAIL APPAREL, SPECIALTY, DINING, BIG BOX
Wal-Mart, seeking to ramp up e-commerce sales after years of sluggish growth, wants to turn walmart.com from a discount site into an online mall that would also feature higher-end brands, the people said. For Lord & Taylor, the alliance could bring a boost in web traffic at a time when fewer shoppers are visiting department stores.
Additional brands that eventually could be included in the project include men’s clothing company Bonobos and online retailer Jet.com, both of which are owned by Wal-Mart, as well as other traditional chains, one of the people said. Financial terms of the potential Lord & Taylor partnership couldn’t be learned.
MEDIA, CABLE, SPORTS, ENTERTAINMENT
Facebook is testing a new way to help publishers sell subscriptions with partners including The Economist and The Washington Post, as news organisations become increasingly dependent on the social platform for readers.
The world’s largest social network said on Thursday that it would be rolling out a test that will push readers of Instant Articles — the fast-loading stories that are served from Facebook’s infrastructure — to subscribe on the publishers’ websites.
AUTOS, ELECTRIC, SELF-DRIVING
The digging will start near Fort Meade, in Anne Arundel County, but there are few other details. Musk says the high-speed pod-and-tube transportation system will be able to make the trip between New York and Boston in 29 minutes.
AEROSPACE, MILITARY & DEFENSE
The U.S. Navy may soon ask Congress to green light purchasing two new aircraft carriers at once to help cut construction costs for the capital ships after President Donald Trump vowed to pay less for the service’s fleet.
Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said he asked companies to develop plans to reduce the cost of buying warships. The companies suggested that buying two aircraft carriers at the same time could yield savings, and the proposal is starting to look attractive enough for the Navy to back the plan, Mr. Spencer told the Wall Street Journal.
SCIENCE, NATURE, PSYCHOLOGY
A team of German archaeologists discovered a puzzling set of teeth in the former riverbed of the Rhine, the Museum of Natural History in Mainz announced on Wednesday.
The teeth don’t appear to belong to any species discovered in Europe or Asia. They most closely resemble those belonging to the early hominin skeletons of Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) and Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus), famously discovered in Ethiopia. But these new teeth, found in the western German town of Eppelsheim near Mainz, are at least 4 million years older than the African skeletons, which has scientists so puzzled they held off publishing for a year.
“They are clearly ape-teeth,” head of the team Herbert Lutz was quoted as saying by local online news outlet Merkurist. “Their characteristics resemble African finds that are four to five million years younger than the fossils excavated in Eppelsheim. This is a tremendous stroke of luck, but also a great mystery.”
In the press conference announcing the find, Mainz Mayor Michael Ebling claimed the find would force scientists to reconsider the history of early mankind.
“I don’t want to over-dramatize it, but I would hypothesize that we shall have to start rewriting the history of mankind after today,” Ebling was quoted as saying.
Archaeologists have uncovered nearly 400 previously undocumented stone structures they call “gates” in the Arabian desert that they believe may have been built by nomadic tribes thousands of years ago.
“We tend to think of Saudi Arabia as desert, but in practice there’s a huge archaeological treasure trove out there and it needs to be identified and mapped,” said David Kennedy, an archaeologist at the University of Western Australia and author of a paper set to appear in the November issue of the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy.
“You can’t see them very well from the ground level, but once you get up a few hundred feet, or with a satellite even higher, they stand out beautifully.”
Meditations is one the most influential works of Stoicism. There isn’t much left to be said about it that hasn’t been said before. It’s a timeless manual for living a balanced life. More than a philosophy, however, it also gives us insight into the clarity with which Marcus Aurelius thought. He very much saw the world as it was rather than as he hoped it would be. That may not sound like an accomplishment, but it’s rarer than most of us would like to think.
The declarations of victory played out across Iraq and Syria: The long campaigns to retake city after city from Islamic State militants had come to an end. But the hard-won battles left vast destruction in their wake, and the celebrations from atop the rubble of once-grand buildings are ringing hollow for hundreds of thousands of displaced residents.
Iraqis and Syrians return to cities that are ghosts of their former glory, lacking the infrastructure for normal life to begin again. Now they must grapple with how to rebuild.
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