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Wednesday 11.26.2014

Swiss Gold Update: What a “Yes” Vote on Nov. 30 Means for Gold Investors
A Swiss Gold Referendum will take place on Nov. 30, 2014 — just 5 days from now. Its terms prohibit the Swiss National Bank (the central bank) from selling any gold, require the bank to purchase gold up to the level of 20% of Swiss reserves and require that all Swiss gold held abroad be returned to Switzerland. If it obtains a majority “yes” vote, it becomes law despite the objections of bankers and politicians. This would deliver both a demand shock and a supply shock. The gold market and central banks are whistling past this graveyard. They may be in for a shock when the votes are counted. I have spoken to a number of economists, bankers, gold dealers and other people directly involved in the upcoming referendum. The one thing everyone says is that regardless of your view on the referendum vote, they will abide by the referendum results. There is certainly a large group in Switzerland that is opposed to the gold referendum.

U.S. to leave more troops in Afghanistan than first planned - sources
The United States is preparing to increase the number of troops it keeps in Afghanistan in 2015 to fill a gap left in the NATO mission by other contributing nations, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the situation. The final numbers are still being agreed, but there will be at least several hundred more than initially planned, one of the sources said. "If they hadn't done that, the mission would have lost bases," the source said. Under the U.S. commitment, described as a "bridging solution" until other nations fulfil their pledges later in the year or the troops are no longer needed, Washington may provide up to 1,000 extra soldiers. That figure was confirmed by all three sources, who said the final number was still under discussion and depended on when other countries stepped forward with their commitments. The additional U.S. troops will be assigned to a 12,000-strong NATO force staying in Afghanistan to train...

Wal-Mart's chief merchant leaves in management shakeup on eve of big holiday season
Wal-Mart's chief merchandising officer for its namesake U.S. division has left as the discounter makes leadership changes to perk up sales as the holiday shopping season revs up. According to a memo provided to the media, Duncan Mac Naughton decided to leave to "pursue new opportunities" effective Tuesday. According to the memo from Greg Foran, CEO of Wal-Mart's U.S. business since August, the company will not name a replacement immediately. The heads of each of the merchandise categories will report directly to Foran. "I would like to use this opportunity to get closer to the merchandising organization," Foran wrote. Foran, who had been CEO and president of Wal-Mart's Asia business, told investors in October that he was conducting a major review of the U.S. Wal-Mart business. The company will update investors on its plans early next year. Mac Naughton is leaving two days ahead of the Thanksgiving weekend sales bonanza.

ECB bond-buying: last action hero

This week’s OPEC meeting is the most important in years
For most of the past four years, OPEC has had an easy time. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries hasn’t had to do much to keep oil prices over $100 a barrel. Disruptions in supply — most notably the Libyan civil war — and rising demand have kept the cartel’s coffers full. It has been, say Barclays’ commodities analysts, the culmination of OPEC’s “golden age.” Is that golden age ending? High prices are often the seeds of their own destruction, providing incentives for new developments and alternatives. Now, over the past three months, global oil production has been outrunning consumption. The price of OPEC’s mix of crude oil has tumbled $32, or 30 percent, to the lowest level since 2012. And suddenly the 12-member group is bickering over who should cut oil output, and by how much, in order to prop up prices. That has made Thursday’s OPEC meeting in Vienna the groups’s most closely watched session in years...

The government wrote a 52-page report to show that people buy fast food to save time
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday released a study that examined years of data to reach the conclusion that people buy fast food because it’s faster, and they want to save time. That conclusion was quickly summarized near the top of the 52-page study: “Americans purchase fast food to save time.” The study was conducted by USDA’s Economic Research Service, even though it admitted that prior studies had already found that “budget and time constraints” were factors in people decision to buy fast food. Still, it said the study was the first to “extensively examine” the effects of time, budgets on people’s purchasing decisions. “Because fast food accounts for a large share of U.S. food expenditures and calorie consumption, a better understanding of the motivation behind trends in fast-food purchasing behaviors may help inform policies designed to improve the diet quality of Americans,” it said.

When Raising the Minimum Wage Isn't Enough
Vermont has some of the most progressive wage-and-hour laws in the country, but low-income workers are still struggling. Johann Kulsic arrived in this city with an optimistic feeling that he’d finally begun his ascendancy to the middle class. He’d been accepted into the University on Vermont with a partial scholarship, and he looked forward to leaving behind the poverty of his upbringing in Rhode Island, and making something of himself, perhaps studying computer science. But as the freezing cold of a Vermont fall turned into winter, it slowly dawned on Kulsic that he might need to make a detour. He’d taken out a loan of $16,000 to cover the remainder of his expenses, and couldn’t earn enough to make the requisite payments on it—so he dropped out of college and started working at a local grocery store for $8.75 an hour, pennies above the state’s minimum wage. After six months, he received a raise, to $8.85 an hour...

Darren Wilson Speaks Out For the First Time to George Stephanopoulos

If You Like Your Plan, You Can Keep It 2.0
During a town hall event on June 11, 2009 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, President Barack Obama made an unequivocal promise concerning the health insurance reform proposal then working its way through Congress. "If you like your doctor, you'll be able to keep your doctor," he said, "if you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan." This statement and others like it were endlessly repeated during the course of the debate over ObamaCare and after. Unfortunately, millions of Americans whose policies were canceled learned that President Obama wasn't leveling with them. In fact, he earned PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" for 2013, though retroactively. It's could all happen again if the Obama administration has its way. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is considering a new rule for 2016 that would change the automatic re-enrollment scheme that could put consumers who've purchased health plans...

Apple’s market cap just hit $700 billion for the first time
Apple hit a major symbolic milestone Tuesday morning as its market capitalization topped $700 billion for the first time. The tech giant’s market cap has doubled since Tim Cook took over as CEO three years ago when Steve Jobs stepped down from the role. The company’s stock has hit several new record highs lately on the heels of September’s wildly successful launch of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Apple AAPL shares have jumped by 21% since the company unveiled the new smartphones at a product event that also heralded the arrival of the much-hyped Apple Watch and the new Apple Pay mobile payments system. The Apple Pay service became available last month, while the Apple Watch will go on sale in 2015. But, the latest iterations of the iPhone have been driving up the company’s value since they went on sale in September and posted a record opening weekend by selling more than 10 million units.

Gold rebound coming in 2015: George Gero
It hasn't been a great couple of years to be a gold bug. Since peaking at $1,923.70 per troy ounce in September 2011, gold has lost nearly 40 percent of its value. And while gold hasn't dropped dramatically this year, it has failed to gain back. But according to George Gero of RBC Capital Markets, the bullion trade is set to turn around in 2015. "The decline from the $1,900s down to the $1,150s is a major decline, and it was reflected by all the funds fleeing gold and running into better-performing assets, whether it's equities or debt, and that's been continuing," Gero said Tuesday on CNBC's "Futures Now." In 2014, gold hasn't been helped by the dollar's rally. The greenback has shown serious strength against other currencies, which has reduced gold's attractiveness. After all, since gold is priced in dollars, an increase in the value of a dollar means a decrease in the value of an ounce of gold.

A group of military service members returning to Joint Base Lewis-McChord from Africa will spend Thanksgiving in isolation while the Army monitors their health for signs of Ebola.
A group of military service members returning to Joint Base Lewis-McChord from Africa will spend Thanksgiving in isolation while the Army monitors their health for signs of Ebola. The group arriving Tuesday evening includes 15 service members and one Defense Department civilian who built facilities in Liberia to fight the fatal disease, the Army said. They were not exposed to Ebola-infected patients and the risk that they picked up the fatal disease is very minimal, said I Corps Maj. Mary Ricks. Because they have no symptoms, the isolation is called controlled monitoring rather than quarantine, Ricks said Tuesday. They'll have their temperature taken twice a day during their stay, which won't be a full 21 days because they've already spent some time in Germany. Lewis-McChord is not their home base. They come from all over the country and one is stationed overseas, Ricks said.

Galbraith and Palley on big US growth numbers despite longer-term weaknesses

Why a house-price bubble means trouble
Buying a house is not just a big deal, it’s the biggest. Marriage and children may bring more happiness – or misery, if you’re unlucky – but few of us will ever sign a bigger cheque than the one that buys that big pile of bricks, mortar and dry rot. It would be nice to report that buyers and sellers are paragons of rationality, and the housing market itself a well-oiled machine that makes a sterling contribution to the working of the broader economy. None of that is true. House buyers are delusional, the housing market is broken and a housing boom is the economic equivalent of a tapeworm infection. As a sample of the madness, consider the popular concept of “affordability”. This idea is pushed by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and seems simple common sense: affordability asks whether potential buyers have enough income to meet their mortgage repayments.

Marijuana stores offer high holidays with $1 joints
Marijuana joints will go on sale in Colorado for just $1 each on America's biggest shopping day, 'Black Friday'. Cannabis sellers are gearing up for their first holiday season since recreational marijuana was legalised in the US state of Colorado. At Grass Station, a shop in Denver that sells $7 joints, $21 chocolate bars and even a $11 lip balm, the goal is to get the same kind of post-Thanksgiving sales bump as department stores or clothing chains. Some pot sellers have even renamed the traditional Black Friday shopping day "Green Friday". "We have really high expectations," said Grass Station owner Ryan Fox. "Now we've got the legal means for people to give marijuana as a gift, and that's never really been something that was feasible in the past." The shop expects a line at the door at 8am on November 28, the day after Thanksgiving, as tokers try to get their fingers on rationed specials.

Geo-engineering: Climate fixes 'could harm billions'
Schemes to tackle climate change could prove disastrous for billions of people, but might be required for the good of the planet, scientists say. That is the conclusion of a new set of studies into what's become known as geo-engineering. This is the so far unproven science of intervening in the climate to bring down temperatures. These projects work by, for example, shading the Earth from the Sun or soaking up carbon dioxide. Ideas include aircraft spraying out sulphur particles at high altitude to mimic the cooling effect of volcanoes or using artificial "trees" to absorb CO2. Long regarded as the most bizarre of all solutions for global warming, ideas for geo-engineering have come in for more scrutiny in recent years as international efforts to limit carbon emissions have failed. Now three combined research projects, led by teams from the universities of Leeds, Bristol and Oxford, have explored the implications in more detail.

Prisoners File $1 Billion in Fraudulent Tax Returns, Audit Finds
Inmates and their accomplices filed $1 billion in fraudulent tax returns in 2012, a six-fold increase from 2007, according to a report released Tuesday by the Internal Revenue Service's auditor. The audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration discovered the IRS has yet to comply with previous recommendations to shore up fraudulent activities so costly to taxpayers. "Refund fraud associated with prisoner Social Security Numbers remains a significant problem for tax administration," the report states. "The number of fraudulent tax returns filed using a prisoner's Social Security Number that were identified by the IRS increased from more than 37,000 tax returns in Calendar Year 2007 to more than 137,000 tax returns in Calendar Year 2012." The dollar amount involved jumped from $166 million to $1 billion in fraudulent returns to inmates. TIGTA found the IRS hasn't yet shared fraudulent prisoner tax return information...

Russia Takes Jabs At U.S. Over Ferguson Protests

School's $219,000 conference table vexes students
Students said the money could have been better spent on classroom desks, cafeteria improvements, parking, or lowering tuition costs. Students at New Jersey's Kean University are criticizing officials for splurging on a $219,000 conference table. Some students said they were shocked to learn the public university had spent the sum on the 22-foot oak table, which comes with built-in speakers and other electronic equipment designed to enable those sitting at the table to communicate with speakers from up to 25 international locations. "That's ridiculous," freshman Melrose Johnson said. "It's a table. You're just sitting around it." The 23-seat table was custom made by a company in China, where Kean recently opened a campus. School officials said the conference room housing the table at the Union, N.J., campus will be made available for rentals to help offset the cost.

Google Inc. Must Split - EU to Vote This Week
The European Union parliament is all set and ready to vote on the break-up of Google Inc.later this week at their headquarters in Brussels. It will be the first time the European Union will vote on the break-up of any company; this move is to show how serious the conflict between the European Union and Google is. Even if the vote does against Google on the break-up issue, the decision will remain a non-binding measure since the EU parliament has no power to break-up companies, which means vote against Google will have no impact on the company. However, it should act as a warning sign for Google that it must rethink its activities and reassess its strategies to avoid any potential problems in the future. The European Union and Google have had a long stand-off ever since the European commission announced back in 2010 that it was looking into Google’s business practices.

Coca-Cola’s next offering: milk
Got milk? Coca-Cola soon will. The beverage giant is preparing to compete in the dairy aisle with Fairlife, a new, premium milk product that will cost double the price of typical milk. For the extra money, you’ll get a drink that has been through “a proprietary milk filtering process” that will up protein by 50%, decrease sugar by 30%, and be lactose free, according to Coke senior vice president Sandy Douglas, who talked about the product at an investor conference last week. He didn’t say when the product would hit store shelves. Coke has struggled in recent months in part due to health concerns over the sugar-packed sodas and juices and artificially sweetened diet drinks that comprise a large chunk of the company’s product list. Mexico and parts of the US—per capita the first and third-largest consumers of Coke products...

Obamacare’s Gift To Big Business: The Largest Firms Can Offer The Skimpiest Health Plans
Have you ever wondered why the largest companies almost never criticize the Affordable Care Act? That may be because they are getting a deal that the rest of us aren’t getting. The mandate to provide health insurance to employees kicks in for large employers on January 1st and applies to smaller companies the following year. Surprisingly, firms that are large enough to self-insure (and pay employees’ medical expenses directly) can satisfy the mandate without covering hospitalization. They can also avoid paying for mental health care, the services of specialist doctors and even emergency room visits. In a nutshell, the largest firms can offer the skimpiest plans. Perhaps aware of the embarrassing implications of these loopholes, the Obama administration made an election eve announcement that there would be limits on the ability of firms to exploit them going forward.

Japan Is Running Out of Options
The New York Times recently lit up the Japanese Twittersphere with a cartoon that was a little too accurate for comfort. In it, a stretcher marked "economy" is loaded into an ambulance with "Abenomics" painted on the side; the vehicle lacks tires and sits atop cinder blocks. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks on nervously, holding an IV bag. The image aptly sums up Japan's failure to gain traction in its push to end deflation. The Bank of Japan's unprecedented stimulus and Abe's pro-growth reforms have yet to spur a recovery in inflation and gross domestic product growth, and the country is yet again in recession. Worse, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda is rapidly running out of weapons in his battle to eradicate Japan's "deflationary mindset." Minutes from the central bank's Oct. 31 board meeting, at which officials surprised the world by expanding an already massive quantitative-easing program...

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