Macro Links Oct 26th – Cult of Personality
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MACRO LINKS TABLE OF CONTENTS (Click or Scroll Down)
- NORTH, SOUTH KOREA
- CONSUMER LAWSUIT BAN
- SAUDI ARABIA
- PUERTO RICO
- CALATONIA CRISIS, OPINION
- GOP TAX PLAN
- RATES, LIQUIDITY, SYSTEMIC RISK, BALANCE SHEETS
- MACRO OP-EDS, INSIGHT, EVENTS AND TRENDS
- CENTRAL BANKS & MONETARY POLICY
- USA ECONOMY DATA, CITIES AND STATES
- GLOBAL ECONOMY DATA
- POSITIONING, INFLECTION, MARKET CALLS
- COLOR, EARNINGS, SENTIMENT, VALUATIONS
- FOREX, CRYPTOCURRENCY, EXCHANGE IMPACTS
- HEDGE FUNDS, PRIVATE EQUITY, MONEY MGMT
- ENERGY COMPANIES, NOCs, INDUSTRY
- COMMODITIES BASE METALS, MATERIALS
- POLLUTION, CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT
- FRONTIER MARKETS
- EMERGING MARKETS
- BREXIT, SCOXIT, LONDON, UK ECONOMY
- RUSSIA PROBE
- GEOPOLITICS, CRIME, TERRORISM
- TRUMP WORLD
- TRADE, PROTECTIONISM, REGULATION, OVERSIGHT
- ELECTORAL POLITICS
- SCANDALS, LAWSUITS, FINES, REGULATORY
- SILICON VALLEY, UNICORNS, STARTUPS, VC
- CONSUMER TECH, SOCIAL MEDIA, E-COMMERCE, MOBILE
- MEDIA, CABLE, SPORTS, ENTERTAINMENT
- AUTOS, ELECTRIC, SELF-DRIVING
- ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, DRONES, FUTURE TECH
- SCIENCE, NATURE, PSYCHOLOGY
NORTH, SOUTH KOREA
Diplomatic efforts between the United States and North Korea are in peril with Pyongyang shunning talks in response to President Donald Trump’s increased public attacks on Kim Jong Un, according to multiple U.S. government and congressional officials.
Joseph Yun, a top American diplomat to North Korea, has been warning of the breakdown in meetings on Capitol Hill and seeking help to persuade the administration to prioritize diplomacy over the heated rhetoric that appears to be pushing the two nuclear powers closer toward conflict, sources familiar with the discussions told NBC News.
Nuclear weapons analyst Dr Peter Pry, who testified before a US Homeland Security committee earlier this month, says his work validates past warnings that an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack could immediately wreak nationwide havoc.
“Rogue states or terrorists can blackout national electric grids and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures, topple electronic civilisation, and kill millions from sea to shining sea, with a single high-altitude nuclear detonation, generating an EMP field covering North America,” he says in a commentary published by The Washington Times.
The head of South Korea’s conservative opposition party is urging the Trump administration to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea to help counter threats from North Korea and change the dynamics on the peninsula.
CONSUMER LAWSUIT BAN
Republicans have handed US banks one of their biggest wins of the Trump era, striking down an Obama-era rule that would make it easier for consumers to sue them over wrongdoing.
Mike Pence, US vice-president, stepped in late on Tuesday to deliver the killer blow in the effort to scrap the rule, securing a landmark victory for Republicans in their campaign to undo regulations perceived to be anti-business.
The Senate overturned a rule to let companies like Equifax and Wells Fargo force wronged consumers into arbitration instead of class-action lawsuits that would be more expensive for the companies. Consumer groups and Republican and Democrat consumers are upset.
The government, in an effort led by the 32-year-old crown prince, has made some remarkable social changes recently, including promising women the right to drive and curtailing the powers of the religious police. But it has so far failed to make much progress on transforming the kingdom from a petro-state into a diverse, productive economy capable of growth at a time of cheap oil.
It remains unclear to what extent top-down decrees and dramatic announcements will spur meaningful change in a society long characterized by deep religious conservatism and heavy dependence on the state.
Saudi Arabia will allow foreigners to trade shares directly in its market for smaller companies as the kingdom gradually opens its market amid a wider drive to diversify its economy.
Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange aspires to be the exclusive venue for the listing of Saudi Aramco’s initial public offering, the exchange’s Chief Executive Officer Khalid al-Hussan said on Thursday.
Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund plans to nearly double its assets under management to $400bn by 2020 as it boosts overseas and domestic investment to kick-start weak domestic growth.
Yasir al-Rumayyan, managing director of the Public Investment Fund, told the Financial Times that funding would come from the proceeds of the privatisation of state assets, including Saudi Aramco, the oil company, government allocations, asset returns and debt.
A $300 million contract to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical infrastructure, which was awarded to a small, two-year-old Montana company that had only two employees when Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. territory, has sparked calls for an investigation from both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
In addition to its size and relative inexperience, the fact that Whitefish Energy Holdings is based in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Mont., is fueling questions about how Whitefish Energy Holdings secured the lucrative contract. The former Montana congressman’s son also had a summer job at a Whitefish construction site.
“It seems like what the Puerto Rican people are going to be paying for, or the American people are going to be paying for, is an intermediary that doesn’t know what is at stake here and that really has to subcontract everything. … What we need is somebody that can get the job done and that has the expertise to get the job done.”
The two-year-old energy company that was awarded $300 million to repair Puerto Rico’s crippled power grid threatened on Wednesday to pull its 44 workers from San Juan over Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz’s criticism of the contract.
The hospital offers services to some 3,000 young patients. Tesla’s solar system is reportedly providing the hospital with all the electricity it needs.
Franklin Resources, one of Puerto Rico’s largest creditors, sold hundreds of millions of dollars of the island’s bonds in recent days, part of an exodus of investors hurt by accelerating losses in the wake of recent hurricanes.
CALATONIA CRISIS, OPINION
Regional President Carles Puigdemont faces a make-or-break decision that could either ease tensions or see him unilaterally declare Catalonia a sovereign republic. It risks deepening the biggest constitutional crisis in western Europe’s fifth-largest country since an attempted coup in 1981.
“The scenario of independence is one that we cannot allow and which will not happen,” Economy Minister Luis de Guindos told Spanish radio on Thursday. He said there was already a “significant slowdown” in economic activity in the region. “They’re caught in a mousetrap. It seems their own decisions are producing vertigo.”
“We’ve got parallel story lines led by extremist representations that are filled with clichés,” said Enric Hernàndez, the editor of the Barcelona-based newspaper El Periódico. The central government in Madrid may soon try to align those narratives by taking charge of Catalonia’s public broadcasters, Catalunya Radio and its larger sister television company, TV3.
Every 15 minutes a company is leaving Catalonia… A total of 1,394 companies moved their headquarters from Catalonia to other regions of Spain between 2 and 23 October, according to data from the Association of Commercial Registrars of Spain. On Monday, a total of 92 companies emerged, after recording highs at the end of last week.
GOP TAX PLAN
Some 8.7m Americans live outside the US, excluding military personnel, according to the Association of Americans Resident Overseas.
For those expatriates, the first portion of their foreign earnings — about $100,000 in 2016 — is already shielded from US tax liabilities, but they have to pay tax on any income above that level to both the host authority and the US. The mooted change would therefore benefit those on six-figure salaries.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Wednesday that a sweeping Republican tax-cut plan is entering its toughest phase yet as lobbyists swarm Congress to try to protect valuable tax breaks.
Opposition from some moderate House Republicans to a proposal that would abolish state and local tax deductions inserted some last-minute drama ahead of a scheduled Thursday vote that’s considered a crucial first step for tax-overhaul legislation.
Republicans disagreed with the White House over tax treatment of 401(k) plans and sought to resolve differences over state and local taxes on the eve of a House vote that is crucial to their tax-cutting ambitions.
RATES, LIQUIDITY, SYSTEMIC RISK, BALANCE SHEETS
The European Central Bank appeared ready on Thursday to begin dismantling a decade’s worth of emergency measures that helped keep the eurozone from disintegrating during the financial crisis.
The bank’s action, widely expected to come after a meeting of its Governing Council, highlights the eurozone economy’s astonishing renaissance. But it could also expose weaknesses across the region — and perhaps even provoke a new bout of economic discord.
That is the difficulty the central bank faces. No one knows for sure what unpleasant surprises may lurk when it begins the process of so-called tapering — taking away the easy money that made it possible for banks to lend and governments to borrow even after investors had largely deserted them during the worst of the downturn.
It is decision time for the European Central Bank. After months of deliberation, the bank is finally expected to unveil the fate of its giant bond-buying program, known as quantitative easing.
“The markets have been amazingly resilient to episodes of risks,” Menon told Bloomberg Television’s Haslinda Amin. “There has been hardly a response to some of the risks that have been manifesting, so I do think those risks are being underestimated. Excessive exuberance is always, in and of itself, cause for concern.”
It was the day’s action in the bond markets that really caught the eye with analysts highlighting that they faced a potential “triple whammy” over the next week or so.
“President Trump could reveal a more hawkish Federal Reserve line-up, the European Central Bank could taper bond purchases back significantly, and the Bank of England could lift the base rate for the first time in a decade,” said Steve Barrow, head of G10 strategy at Standard Bank.
China’s Ministry of Finance has already attracted over $10 billion in orders, including interest from joint bookrunners, for its proposed $2 billion sovereign U.S. dollar bonds offering launched this morning.
A five-year tranche is indicated at Treasuries plus 30bp-40bp and a 10-year tranche is shown at Treasuries plus 40bp-50bp. The offering, China’s first in U.S. dollars since 2004, will be split into two equal $1 billion tranches.
MACRO OP-EDS, INSIGHT, EVENTS AND TRENDS
It is an article of faith for many in the west that countries democratise as they get richer. China is proving a glaring exception. As the Communist Party of China wrapped up a quinquennial congress on Wednesday, the country looked more like a dictatorship than at any time in 40 years.
Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass, who has been betting against the yuan and warning of a collapse in China’s banking system, said the nation will one day come to regret handing Xi Jinping more power than any leader in decades.
“Today Xi is celebrated in media reports, but when future historians look back, he will be blamed for recklessly building the Chinese economy on a foundation of sand,” Bass, founder of Hayman Capital Management, said in an email Wednesday. “Xi desperately seeks credibility, but true developed economies do not impose severe capital controls or move short-term rates hundreds of basis points overnight in attempts to manipulate their own currency.”
United Front declined interview requests for this article and its website yields only sparse insights. However, a teaching manual for its cadres, obtained by the Financial Times, sets out at length and in detail the organisation’s global mission in language that is intended both to beguile and intimidate.
It exhorts cadres to be gracious and inclusive as they try to “unite all forces that can be united” around the world. But it also instructs them to be ruthless by building an “iron Great Wall” against “enemy forces abroad” who are intent on splitting China’s territory or hobbling its development.
“Enemy forces abroad do not want to see China rise and many of them see our country as a potential threat and rival, so they use a thousand ploys and a hundred strategies to frustrate and repress us,” according to the book, titled the “China United Front Course Book”.
“The United Front . . . is a big magic weapon which can rid us of 10,000 problems in order to seize victory,” adds another passage in the book, which identifies its authors and editorial board as top-level United Front officials.
Mr. Xi is calculating that strongman rule will make it easier to add China to the ranks of rich, global powers and to project Chinese power globally. An early test of the latter comes in just a few weeks, when U.S. President Donald Trump is due to visit Beijing.
The risk is a political culture that rewards loyalty over initiative, in which it is harder for the leadership to astutely address complex challenges. “The biggest drawback of this power structure is that no one will dare to tell him the truth: There could be an emperor’s-new-clothes situation,” said Zhang Lifan, an independent historian and political commentator. “If there is a crisis in the future, he might not get the necessary information.”
Despite the fervor of President Trump’s Republican opponents, the president’s brand of hard-edge nationalism — with its gut-level cultural appeals and hard lines on trade and immigration — is taking root within his adopted party, and those uneasy with grievance politics are either giving in or giving up the fight.
In some cases, the retirement of an anti-Trump Republican could actually improve the Republican Party’s chance of retaining a seat. Senator Jeff Flake’s decision on Tuesday to not seek re-election was greeted with quiet sighs of relief in a party anguished by his plunging approval ratings.
But such short-term advantages mask a larger, even existential threat to traditional Republicans. The Grand Old Party risks a longer-term transformation into the Party of Trump.
The approach doesn’t necessarily mean China will abandon growth targets altogether, Chinese officials say. By de-emphasizing numeric goals, they said, the government will have more wiggle room in managing the economy. “It’s not that we don’t want speed in growth, but that we must generate growth with quality, efficiency and dynamism,” Mr. Yang said.
For decades, financial pundits in China have been placing Wang Chuanfu, the visionary green technology entrepreneur and chief executive officer of battery and electric vehicle maker BYD Co., at the doorstep of the pantheon of industrialists who dominate the global automotive industry. Nine years ago, mega-investor Warren Buffett took a 10 percent stake in BYD. But gasoline-powered vehicles continued their dominance in China and worldwide, leaving Wang in the shadow of auto chieftains such as Renault’s Carlos Ghosn, General Motors’ Mary Barra, and Volkswagen’s Matthias Müller.
Now, 22 years after he founded the company, Wang may finally be proved right. BYD’s shares are back to stratospheric levels as investors bet new environmental rules in China will supercharge sales at BYD, which has grown into China’s largest seller of electric vehicles.
The government said in September it’s working on a timetable for ending the production and sale of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles on the mainland and unveiled a cap-and-trade program that would force makers of gasoline-powered cars to buy credits from electric vehicle makers or step up their own efforts to make such vehicles. Either outcome could be a bonanza for BYD.
One thing is clear: As its politicians engage in face-saving, bluff-calling, and other machinations, and citizens on all sides anxiously hold their breath, Spain is careening through the most severe constitutional crisis of its recent democratic history. But it isn’t just constitutional; it’s also, perhaps more profoundly, a crisis of identity. Nations derive their cohesion and their strength from a sense of shared identity—from the story they tell themselves about who they are as a collective. When that sense of a shared story is eroded, the nation frays.
Perfectionism is everywhere in Tokyo, from docile commuters lining up precisely to board subways, to the immaculately groomed trees in the gardens of the Imperial Palace. Shinzo Abe’s re-election on Sunday as prime minister gives him a mandate for constitutional change, but it was also a vote from Japan’s conservative society for political continuity and order.
The scandals at Kobe Steel and other companies over falsified data are a profound breach of this order. The system is failing if Japan’s industry, famed since the country’s postwar renaissance not merely for high quality but an unsparing drive towards the perfection of products, cannot be trusted.
Among video game developers, it’s called “crunch”: a sudden spike in work hours, as many as 20 a day, that can last for days or weeks on end. During this time, they sleep at work, limit bathroom breaks and cut out anything that pulls their attention away from their screens, including family and even food. Crunch makes the industry roll — but it’s taking a serious toll on its workers.
In late 2011, as he was finishing up production on the role-playing game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the programmer Jean Simonet started feeling severe stomach pains. At first, doctors were perplexed. But on his third emergency room visit, he revealed that he’d been regularly staying at the office late and coming in on weekends to fix bugs and add features that he thought would take Skyrim from good to great, no matter how much sleep he lost along the way.
He took his doctor’s advice and took the next few weeks off work, trying to relax and acclimate to a normal sleep schedule. With this hiatus from crunch, “eventually the pain just disappeared,” he said.
Anecdotes like this are common in the video game industry, which generated $30.4 billion in the United States last year but has a human cost that can’t be calculated. The designer Clint Hocking described suffering memory loss as a result of the stress and anxiety of crunching on a game. Brett Douville, a veteran game programmer, said he once worked so long and for so hard that he found himself temporarily unable to step out of his car.
Modern video games like Mass Effect and Uncharted cost tens of millions of dollars and require the labor of hundreds of people, who can each work 80- or even 100-hour weeks. In game development, crunch is not constrained to the final two or three weeks of a project. A team might crunch at any time, and a crunch might endure for several months. Programmers will stay late on weeknights to squash bugs, artists will use weekends to put the final polish on their characters, and everyone on the team will feel pressured to work extra hours in solidarity with overworked colleagues.
Some technologies are over-hyped from the day they’re born. Some even appear on a Gartner Hype Cycle. But some appear relatively quietly and then accelerate directly into industries and specific problem domains. AI is the former and blockchain is the latter. When combined, these two technologies represent transformation. Track, pilot and assess them right now. Do not underestimate them. They will change your company and your industry. The toolsets are well within reach and becoming increasingly embedded in delivery platforms, especially cloud platforms: blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) is already here. Innovators and early adopters have already left the category: while not “mainstream,” blockchain and AI are already hard at work
Somehow it feels only appropriate that the remaining papers from one of history’s most infamous mysteries would be made public by the administration of a president who dabbles in conspiracy theories himself. After all, it was Mr. Trump who during last year’s campaign suggested that the father of his Republican rival, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, was somehow involved in the Kennedy assassination. And one of his longtime advisers, Roger J. Stone Jr., wrote a book blaming the killing on Lyndon B. Johnson.
Moreover, this is a president who, unlike most of those who have occupied the White House over the decades, has been in open war at times with the agencies that seem most worried that the release of documents may embarrass them by disclosing evidence of mishandling or even, some suspect, collusion of some sort.
“Of all the presidents since 1963, this is the one who would mind the least if the release of these documents damaged the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., two organizations that he’s very angry at at the moment,” said Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian.
So-called public posts, such as those from media organisation Facebook pages, are being moved to a separate “explore” feed timeline. As a result, media organisations in the six countries containing 1% of the world’s population – Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Bolivia, Cambodia, Serbia and Slovakia – have had one of their most important publishing platforms removed overnight.
“The Facebook explore tab killed 66% of our traffic. Just destroyed it … years of really hard work were just swept away,” says Dina Fernandez, a journalist and member of the editorial board at Guatemalan news site Soy502. “It has been catastrophic, and I am very, very worried.”
CENTRAL BANKS & MONETARY POLICY
Trump has privately told people at least twice in the last week that he would not appoint Cohn as Fed chair, according to two people who met with him. They asked not to be identified discussing private conversations with the president.
“No decision has been made and no candidate has been ruled out but Gary’s role is too crucial to getting tax reform done,” a senior administration official familiar with the president’s thinking said. It may be “too important for him to continue to be the lead, for him to announce a change at this time.”
USA ECONOMY DATA, CITIES AND STATES
U.S. new-home sales in September recorded the largest single-month increase since 1992, a sign the market remains resilient despite two major hurricanes and an ongoing inventory shortage.
Purchases of newly built single-family homes—a narrow slice of all U.S. home sales—increased 18.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 667,000 in September from the previous month, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That put new home sales at the highest level since October 2007.
GLOBAL ECONOMY DATA
Billionaire wealth increased 17 percent to $6 trillion in 2016, after a decline the previous year, UBS AG and PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a report issued Thursday. Led by China, the number of the region’s billionaires surpassed the U.S. for the first time.
But don’t shed a tear for the richest folks in the U.S.: American billionaires still control the most wealth at $2.8 trillion.
“It is becoming a familiar refrain. Another quarter, another set of upward revisions to our global growth forecasts, another downward revision to our global inflation forecasts,” said Janet Henry, global chief economist at HSBC.
“But for developed world central banks, the task is getting ever harder. Tackling both low inflation and rising financial stability risks will demand a delicate balancing act by central banks and a more nuanced approach to inflation targeting if the global expansion is to be sustained.”
POSITIONING, INFLECTION, MARKET CALLS
Once synonymous with large daily swings, Chinese stock markets are having one of their calmest stretches ever. The Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index, which tracks the fourth-biggest global stock market by market value, has moved more than 1% on 10 trading days this year. That’s down from 65 times for all of 2016 and 141 times in all of 2015.
The past 30 trading days, coinciding in part with the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party, have been the least volatile of any 30-day period since the Shanghai exchange reopened in the early 1990s, according to an analysis of FactSet data.
A number of factors help to explain the muted trading, ranging from record low stock volatility in the U.S. to a stable economic backdrop in China. Institutional investors, known for a longer-term focus, are taking on a greater share of trading in Chinese markets.
The developments have left China’s armies of retail investors—nicknamed “jiu cai,” after the leaves of Chinese chives that quickly regenerate—increasingly disillusioned. While lower volatility can serve the government’s goal of projecting an image of stability, it can sharply reduce the opportunities for quick profits that many traders depend on.
COLOR, EARNINGS, SENTIMENT, VALUATIONS
Alphabet, the parent of Google, Microsoft, Amazon — as well as chipmaker Intel — are among those due to unveil results. Alphabet, Amazon and Microsoft shares have posted advances this year of 24 per cent to 30 per cent.
For some investors, that kind of share performance leaves little room for error.
“To some extent tech has become the bellwether sector of the market,” says David Donabedian, chief investment officer of CIBC Atlantic Trust, a wealth manager. “There is a tremendous amount of focus and scrutiny and expectations relatively optimistic. If they fall short either from an actual earnings perspective or hesitance on the guidance [tech stocks] are subject to pullback.”
Boeing has raised its full-year earnings and cash flow guidance for the second time in six months after beating market expectations in the third quarter. However, the US aerospace and defense group also announced a further $329m in charges on the troublesome KC-46 military tanker aircraft programme, raising the total hit, after taxes, to $1.9bn so far.
Despite the rise in profit, the results show Germany’s biggest bank still has significant ground to cover to convince investors its rebuilding efforts will pay off after years of disappointment and deep cost-cutting.
Deutsche Bank AG reported a 30 percent slump in third-quarter trading revenue, twice as much as the decline at its U.S. peers, as Europe’s largest investment bank keeps losing ground to rivals.
Barclays has reported a 40 per cent jump in quarterly profits, as lower customer redress costs in its UK consumer bank offset a decline in bond and currency trading revenues at its investment bank.
Thanks to its steadily ascending stock price, Square’s value — as measured by the value of its outstanding shares — has been closing in quickly on Twitter, which has seen its stock price stuck in neutral for months. On Wednesday, Square was worth $12.62 billion, or just $3 million less than Twitter. Just a year ago, Square was worth less than half as much.
At Square, Mr. Dorsey has led one of Silicon Valley’s more understated success stories, built from the little plastic white square that allowed small businesses to accept credit card payments via their iPhones. Square has grown into a much broader financial services company, despite some hiccups, like a much-heralded partnership with Starbucks that flamed out.
Although Twitter’s overall revenue shrank 5 percent in the second quarter from the year before, expanding the company’s losses, at Square, revenue grew 26 percent, moving the company closer to profitability.
Qantas Airways warned on Thursday that tougher domestic competition and higher fuel costs would slow growth in the second half of the financial year.
FOREX, CRYPTOCURRENCY, EXCHANGE IMPACTS
Several variations on the original “legacy” version of bitcoin have popped up recently including Bitcoin Gold, which was trading this week at a value as high as $540 and on Wednesday at $134.
China is the world’s top oil importer, and so Beijing sees it as only logical that its own currency should price the global economy’s most important commodity. But beyond that, moving away from the dollar is a strategic priority for countries like China and Russia. Both aim to ultimately reduce their dependency on the greenback, limiting their exposure to U.S. currency risk and the politics of American sanctions regimes.
The plan is to price oil in yuan using a gold-backed futures contract in Shanghai, but the road will be long and arduous.
“Game changer it is not — at least not yet,” said Gal Luft, co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a Washington based think tank focused on energy security. “But it is another indicator of the beginning of the glacial, and I emphasize the word glacial, decline of the dollar.”
HEDGE FUNDS, PRIVATE EQUITY, MONEY MGMT
In 2015, Mr Odey wrote to his clients predicting that “this painful chasing after income by institutions and savers destituted by low interest rates must certainly end in a crisis”, arguing that equity markets were being propelled higher by “refugees” from fixed income markets who were being starved of yield.
In spite of ongoing losses, Mr Odey has stuck by his prediction that central bank bond-buying programmes and a build-up of debt in China will ultimately result in catastrophic losses for financial markets.
Money managers always parse through reams of financial data for clues on how a company is faring. But words matter too. Investment groups have become increasingly entranced at the potential of artificial intelligence to revolutionise their industry, and one of the hotter fields is called “natural language processing”, which involves teaching machines to understand the nuances of human language.
In the industry jargon, text is known as “unstructured” data because it does not come in numerical values and is therefore hard to turn into clean, tradeable signals. Yet swelling computing power and strides in programming has allowed data scientists to turn text into a potential goldmine for investors.
“With the rapid development and innovation in computing power and machine learning algorithms, processing unstructured textual information to generate useful numerical signals becomes increasingly important,” Yin Luo, vice-chairman and head of quantitative research at Wolfe Research, noted earlier this year.
ENERGY COMPANIES, NOCs, INDUSTRY
The five biggest oil producers generated about $34 billion of cash from operations in the third quarter, according to estimates from Jefferies LLC. That puts each of them at least on a par with tech giant Facebook Inc., a welcome return to the top tier of global business after three years on the skids.
The oil majors are reaping the benefits of deep cost cuts, but they’re still not doing quite enough. The target: being able to fully fund dividends and investments at $40, or even $30 a barrel, according to BP Plc Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley.
COMMODITIES BASE METALS, MATERIALS
POLLUTION, CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT
One of Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leaders threatened to break from the broad alliance of opposition parties on Tuesday, pushing the coalition to the brink of fracture and further deepening the nation’s political crisis.
Henrique Capriles, a two-time presidential candidate who narrowly lost to President Nicolás Maduro in 2013, coupled his threat with a full-throated demand for an overhaul of the alliance. “This is like when you go to the doctor and they detect a tumor,” Mr. Capriles said in a broadcast on the Periscope live-streaming application. “It’s time to remove the tumor and cure the patient, Venezuela.”
The thaw, which started to take shape quietly this year, has already loosened police controls on the population and is testing the limits of gradual political change in a region more noted for its revolutions, such as those that deposed authoritarian leaders in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
“I am hopeful,” Mr. Bekjanov said of the shift.
So far, the government has elevated the authority of locally elected councils, met with human rights observers and, this fall, freed thousands of students from the usual drudgery of picking cotton in state-owned fields for little or no compensation. It has also loosened the screws on political journalism, allowing a few live talk shows on television.
Capping a year of national mourning, Thailand will cremate its celebrated King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Thursday evening, in a $90 million ceremony that symbolizes both the bountiful devotion of his subjects and the earthly abundance of what many consider the world’s wealthiest monarchy.
BREXIT, SCOXIT, LONDON, UK ECONOMY
Britain’s tortuous Brexit negotiations are entering a crucial phase. The divorce talks are in stasis over money, both sides are only starting to define what they want from a future relationship, and calls to prepare for a “no deal” UK exit from the EU are growing ever louder.
Even though fundamental questions are still open there is barely a year left for negotiators to reach an exit deal. The passage of time and legal constraints are beginning to narrow their options.
Toyota has urged the UK government to lift the “fog” around Brexit negotiations, to safeguard the competitiveness of the Japanese carmaker’s factories in the country.
The drawn-out process surrounding the UK’s plan to leave the EU was creating “a lot of uncertainty”, said Didier Leroy, executive vice-president at Toyota, warning that an inability to secure free access to the European market could prompt the carmaker to reconsider the future of its Burnaston plant in the UK.
“There has been a clear shift to the right. In the old Bundestag there was still a narrow majority for the left,” says Bernd Riexinger, co-leader of Die Linke. “The leftwing bloc has never been weaker.”
For the first time in the postwar era, Japan has opened itself to a significant cohort of low-wage laborers from abroad, setting up a clash between Japan’s short-and long-term goals: trying to raise wages to help spur spending and growth while expanding the workforce.
The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on Wednesday that he had rebuffed a request for help last year from the head of a data firm that worked for Donald J. Trump and is now facing congressional scrutiny.
On Twitter, Mr. Assange said he had been approached before the 2016 election by Alexander Nix, the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Mr. Trump during the final months of the campaign. Mr. Assange did not disclose what kind of help Mr. Nix sought, only that he had declined the request.
“I can confirm an approach by Cambridge Analytica,” Mr. Assange wrote, “and can confirm that it was rejected by WikiLeaks.”
Key members of President Donald Trump’s campaign team scrambled Wednesday to distance themselves from the data mining and analysis company Cambridge Analytica, whose CEO reportedly reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the presidential campaign to offer help in finding Hillary Clinton’s “missing” emails.
The interchange between Nix—whose company made millions from the Trump campaign—and Assange represents the closest known connection between Trump’s campaign and Wikileaks.
A lawyer for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee funded research that was included in memos linking the Trump campaign and Russia.
The special prosecutor is reportedly working with the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office on a money-laundering case against the former Trump campaign chairman.
GEOPOLITICS, CRIME, TERRORISM
The confusion and delays in receiving and transmitting information between field commanders, through the U.S. Africa Command in Germany, to the Pentagon and then to the White House underscores the chaotic nature of the firefight. More broadly, it illustrates the difficulty of determining facts on faraway battlefields. In this case, the lack of firm information over so long a period was especially striking to those on the receiving end.
The lawmaker was known for pugnacious stands on the war in eastern Ukraine and heated attacks on Russia. His bodyguard was killed, and a commentator was wounded.
Iraq has been closely collaborating with the U.S. and Iran during its war against Islamic State—and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in an interview that he intends to keep it that way despite rising tensions between the two rivals.
For all the talk of the White House chief of staff as a moderating force, Mr. Kelly has strong feelings about patriotism and immigration that mirror those of his boss.
President Trump said he has successfully convinced the American people that the media is “fake news.”
The effort is designed to counter the ex-White House strategist’s insurrection against mainstream GOP lawmakers but does not include plans to target Trump.
The president says he has ‘one of the great memories of all time’ in disputing the account of several others on a condolence call.
TRADE, PROTECTIONISM, REGULATION, OVERSIGHT
A conservative columnist for The New York Times accused Republican leaders of choosing to “die in the dark” rather than stand up to President Trump after a pair of GOP senators lambasted Trump on Tuesday.
Generic ballots are considered an important bellwether.
SCANDALS, LAWSUITS, FINES, REGULATORY
Top poker player Phil Ivey has lost his case in the UK Supreme Court to recover £7.7m in winnings, with the gambler complaining that British judges have “no experience or understanding” of casinos.
The setback for Mr Ivey, who is a 10-time winner of the World Series of Poker and has career gambling earnings of more than $23m, is also a landmark judgment in the UK, overhauling how fraud cases are presented and potentially making it easier for prosecutors to secure fraud convictions, according to legal experts.
Mr Ivey won the £7.7m playing a version of the card game Baccarat known as Punto Banco at Crockfords Club in Mayfair in 2012.
Genting, the casino’s owner, refused to pay out, arguing that the 40-year old American had used an unfair technique called “edge-sorting” that allows a sharp-eyed player to exploit design irregularities in the cards.
SILICON VALLEY, UNICORNS, STARTUPS, VC
Three women engineers have sued Uber Technologies Inc for discrimination based of their gender and race, the latest blow to the ride-services company that is straining to overcome a year of controversies over its workplace culture.
The lawsuit describes an employee ranking system that is “not based on valid and reliable performance measures” and favors men and white or Asian employees. Women, Latino, American Indian and African American employees are given lower performance scores, making it more difficult for them to advance professionally and confining them to more menial tasks, according to the lawsuit.
CONSUMER TECH, SOCIAL MEDIA, E-COMMERCE, MOBILE
The program is called Amazon Key. Amazon on Wednesday announced the new program for Prime members that lets delivery people drop off packages inside of customer homes.
The online retailer is introducing a connected door-lock and security-camera system to let package carriers, guests and eventually dog walkers in and out of customers’ houses, all controlled via an app.
MEDIA, CABLE, SPORTS, ENTERTAINMENT
Bill O’Reilly, the former Fox News anchor, has been negotiating for a position with the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest television-station owner.
AUTOS, ELECTRIC, SELF-DRIVING
No matter when Full Self Driving becomes a reality or how the litigation ends, the legacy of over-promising and under-delivering has already besmirched the company’s success as an electric car maker and assisted-driving innovator.
Meanwhile, as Tesla tries to fulfill its promises, rivals haven’t been sitting still. General Motors Co., Volkswagen AG, Volvo AB, Daimler AG and a Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi alliance are all promising 2018 vehicles with the features that once set Tesla apart. “Tesla had an early start,” said Salim Morsy, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, “but there’s a huge amount” of money being pumped into autonomous electric vehicles now. “The releases we’re expecting from the Volkswagen Group or Volvo or Daimler in the next two years will have a big impact on Tesla,” he said.
Musk, well known for setting wildly aggressive deadlines and then missing them, averages being more than four months late on his predictions when it comes to Tesla. This “Musk Doctrine” of pushing the industry forward, while never setting a deadline he’s likely to meet, has worked in the past. Now, however, Tesla’s habit of falling far behind on promises is colliding with its first mass-market vehicle.
Employee dismissals at Tesla are continuing at its SolarCity subsidiary, according to six former and current employees, and are affecting SolarCity offices across the U.S.
Echoing reports from earlier this month, these SolarCity employees say they were surprised to be told they were fired for performance reasons, claiming Tesla had not conducted performance reviews since acquiring the solar energy business. Earlier this month, Tesla began firing hundreds of employees after it announced a recall of 11,000 Model X SUVs.
Having invested heavily in hydrogen, a technology derided by Tesla chief Elon Musk as “incredibly dumb”, Toyota Motor Corp is making a renewed push for fuel cell cars to fill a role in a future dominated by electric battery vehicles.
Japan’s biggest automaker believes both technologies – all-electric battery cars like the Tesla Model X on one hand and Toyota’s hydrogen Mirai on the other – will be needed to fully usurp gasoline cars.
“We don’t really see an adversary ‘zero-sum’ relationship between the EV (electric vehicle) and the hydrogen car,” Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada told Reuters ahead of the Tokyo auto show. “We’re not about to give up on hydrogen electric fuel-cell technology at all.”
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, DRONES, FUTURE TECH
The Japanese billionaire spoke from the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. In about 30 years, artificial intelligence will have an IQ of 10,000, Son says. By comparison, the average human IQ is 100 and genius is 200, according to Son. Mensa, “the High IQ society,” starts accepting members with an IQ score of 130.
The idea of machine learning becoming smarter than the human brain is often referred to as the “singularity.” When exactly this will happen is oft-debated among the tech community.
“Singularity is the concept that [mankind’s] brain will be surpassed, this is the tipping point, crossing point, that artificial intelligence, computer intelligence surpass [mankind’s] brain and that is happening in this century for sure. I would say there is no more debate, no more doubt,” Son says.
Son is particularly aggressive in his prediction of how soon the singularity will happen — in the “next 30 years or so,” he says.
The announcement is a victory for tech companies that have bet that drone deliveries will be a part of retail in the future, as well as entertainment companies that want to use the machines for filming. Amazon, Google, DJI, Intel and Hollywood lobbied the Obama administration to ease rules on commercial unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. Amazon even proposed a future highway system in the sky, in which lower altitudes would be reserved for lighter weight drones that could deliver packages.
But the Transportation Department has proceeded cautiously around allowing the machines to integrate into airspace shared by planes. Lawmakers and public interest groups have also raised concerns about privacy.
SCIENCE, NATURE, PSYCHOLOGY
The 6,000-year-old Aitape skull, found in Papua New Guinea in 1929, was excavated from sediments that contain telltale signs of ocean water left behind by a tsunami.
Genetics is having a moment in the sun. Last year, biologists at the University of Bath in England created mice with neon feet. Scientists edited human embryos for the first time in the United States in August, cutting out a mutation for a heritable heart disease. Earlier this month, research spearheaded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences produced leaner pigs — a harbinger, one imagines, of low-fat bacon.
Each of these feats required a laboratory tool called CRISPR-Cas9, often shortened to CRISPR. The gene-editing system hunts for a specific section of DNA and snips it out. CRISPR surged through molecular biology labs on a wave that began five years ago, when about 150 published scientific papers had CRISPR in their titles. By 2016, that figure was in the thousands.
And the geneticist’s toolbox has gained two shelves, researchers at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., announced Wednesday. One new method, reported in the journal Science, manipulates a different sort of genetic information: RNA, not DNA. The other method, reported in Nature, is capable of subtle DNA changes — a tweak of a single point rather than a chop through DNA’s double helix.
Fats Domino, the New Orleans rhythm-and-blues singer whose two-fisted boogie-woogie piano and nonchalant vocals, heard on dozens of hits, made him one of the biggest stars of the early rock ’n’ roll era, died on Tuesday at his home in Harvey, La., across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. He was 89.
Mr. Domino had more than three dozen Top 40 pop hits through the 1950s and early ’60s, among them “Blueberry Hill,” “Ain’t It a Shame” (also known as “Ain’t That a Shame,” which is the actual lyric), “I’m Walkin’,” “Blue Monday” and “Walkin’ to New Orleans.” Throughout he displayed both the buoyant spirit of New Orleans, his hometown, and a droll resilience that reached listeners worldwide.
He sold 65 million singles in those years, with 23 gold records, making him second only to Elvis Presley as a commercial force. Presley acknowledged Mr. Domino as a predecessor.
There is arguably no harder task in sports than hitting a major-league fastball. That’s especially true for the fastest of fastballs, many of which now exceed 100 mph. Yet the player who excels at this more than any other isn’t some towering slugger. At first glance, he looks more like a Little Leaguer.
Jose Altuve, the 5-foot-6 star second baseman for the Houston Astros, has become one of the best hitters in baseball by punishing the pitchers that throw the hardest. He is batting .433 on pitches clocked at 94 mph and above this season, including the playoffs, the highest mark among qualified hitters.
For years, his diminutive height—which puts him among the shortest MLB players on record—has been talked about as a disadvantage that he has somehow managed to overcome. But amid Houston’s run to the World Series, this aspect of Altuve’s brilliance raises another possibility: His pint-sized frame may actually work to his benefit.
With such a short-lever swing, he can get the barrel onto the ball much faster than the average hitter, a critical advantage when milliseconds are at a premium.
“He’s not real tall, so his arms are a little shorter and he’s able to get to a lot of pitches,” Astros hitting coach Dave Hudgens said. “It’s not a disadvantage for him.”
Opening your palms towards the audience connotes openness. Enumeratio, or numbered lists, can be greatly emphasised by ticking off points on the finger. Gestures that restrict space — measuring the air between thumb and fingers or blocking out space with the hands — can section off points of an argument. Moving your hands round in a wide arc and intermeshing your fingers can emphasise two points coming together to a conclusion. You can strengthen an antithesis by moving your hands from one side of your body to the other, as if moving a shoebox from a table. You can draw attention to personal experience with a clasped fist applied firmly to your sternum, and so on.
What all these things have in common, however you portion them out and whatever fancy names you give them, is that they control the space. Hand gestures need to be emphatic and deliberate. They need to underscore what you’re saying rather than distract from it.
During its heyday in the early 1990s, the Hong Kong stock exchange was among the world’s largest, and Mr. Tung worked among more than 1,000 shouting, jostling and gesturing traders. “Cigar King” was his nickname, a nod to the stogie he habitually chomped. “We were so busy,” he said. “I was doing so much business.”
As a 14 year-old from Shanghai with just four years of schooling, Mr. Tung started in stocks in 1945 and had a ringside seat for every peak and valley of the global postwar economy. This March, when he hung up his red broker’s jacket after more than 70 years, he was one of the oldest brokers trading on any floor anywhere, according to executives at major exchanges.
Now, the trading floor will close for good on Friday, leaving old-school brokers like Mr. Tung with only the memories.
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