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Monday 12.19.2016

After Outbreak Of Looting, Venezuela Delays Phase-Out Of Large Currency

Facing protests and looting over Venezuela's plan to pull its largest banknote from circulation amid soaring inflation, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro has delayed the move until January. The move comes one week after the surprise announcement of a plan to withdraw the 100-bolivar notes brought new chaos and uncertainty over Venezuela's economy.

In a short TV appearance Saturday night, Maduro told his nation that 500-bolivar notes that are meant to replace the 100-bolivar currency are delayed. He also extended border closures with both Brazil and Colombia — where currency changers had been doing brisk business with Venezuelans desperate to buy essential goods and preserve their savings by swapping bills.

"Violence erupted on Friday and Saturday in at least six cities," Bloomberg News reports, "including Maracaibo, where police put down looting near a bank building, and the south-eastern state of Bolivar, where mobs looted several businesses."

Bloomberg also quotes Maduro saying that the delay in getting the new 500-Bolivar notes is due to "an international sabotage." Punished by Venezuela's struggles to cope with a steep fall in oil prices, the bolivar has been in a freefall since 2015, hitting a new low of 3,480 bolivars to the U.S. dollar earlier this month, according to Today Venezuela. That's the rate attributed to the black market — the government's official exchange rate is around 10 bolivars to the dollar, but it comes with a transaction cap.

Ron Paul Wants a Spot on Federal Reserve Board of Governors

Ron Paul's group, "Campaign for Liberty," is trying to get him a spot on the U.S. Federal Reserve's Board of Governors, a senior politics editor with the Huffington Post reports.

Paul, a former GOP member of Congress from Texas, earlier this week criticized the Federal Reserve, saying it was manipulating the economy.

"We do not work on a free-market principle, we do not have sound money, it's all manipulated," he told Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business Network. "Prices are going to go up and the money's going to be so bent according to political reasons and not because of business decisions, so we want the government out of it, we want people to save money, create capital, but capital cannot come from the Federal Reserve working with a computer, that's the fallacy and that's why zero rates of interest didn't work because they weren't realistic."

The Board of Governors oversees the work of the Federal Reserve Banks and plays a major role in crafting U.S. monetary policy. There are seven members, all appointed by the president of the United States.

Political Road Map: The long, cold winter for California's pension funds is coming

For those who believe that California is in danger of breaking its promise of retirement cash for local and state government workers, this week marks another important milestone in taking stock of the effort to change course.

On Tuesday, directors of the nation’s largest pension fund, CalPERS, will consider the pros and cons of asking taxpayers next year to chip in more to cover those retirement promises — the second such discussion in just the last month.

Set aside the politics and pension math is pretty simple. There are only three sources for the cash that hundreds of thousands of government workers are expecting during their golden years: worker contributions, government contributions and investment profits from Wall Street.

The CalPERS investments — in all, about $299.7 billion — aren’t pulling their expected weight. Actual investment profits continue to lag the official benchmark, which was slightly reduced in 2012. Those who oppose ratcheting down that benchmark rate even further argue that long-term trends are still better than recent history and that even a handful of economic boom times can fill expected shortfalls.

Egon von Greyerz-There Will Be a Time Without Money

Kroger offers buyouts to 2,000 workers

In a concession to difficulties of the current operating environment, Kroger on Thursday said it was offering voluntary retirement buyouts to as many as 2,000 of its non-store employees.

The announcement is in support of the company’s “Customer 1st” strategy to reduce costs in areas not affecting the customer experience, such as in stores, CEO Rodney McMullen said in a statement.

“Kroger would not be the successful company it is today without the incredible efforts of all of our associates. We believe a generous voluntary retirement offering is in line with our company values and recognizes the long careers many of our associates have had with Kroger," McMullen said. "Kroger is committed to our operating model of lowering costs to invest in the areas that matter most to our customers."

Because the program is voluntary, savings and cost will be based on the number of associates who accept the offer between now and early March, when the consideration periods expire, Kroger said. Expenses related to the offer will be reflected in Kroger's first quarter 2017 results. The effect of this buyout plan was not included in the company's initial comments on its fiscal 2017 outlook.

Trump Talked, the Fed Listened: Let’s Shrink the Balance Sheet, Bullard Says

The Dow is titillating the entire world by verging for days within a hair of 20,000 without actually getting there. Hitting the Big One would be another reflection of what Trump had called during the campaign an “artificial stock market” in a “very false economy,” created by the Fed that had kept rates low “for political reasons.” The crowds ate it up.

He pointed out that “the only thing that’s strong is the artificial stock market,” which was “only strong because it’s free money because the rates are so low.” But there’d be a hitch: “At some point the rates are going to have to change,” he said.

“They’re keeping the rates down so that everything else doesn’t go down,” he told reporters when they asked him about a rate hike in September.

And the Fed listened. Now the Fed has raised the fed funds rate, after flip-flopping vociferously an entire year, and is playing with the idea of three more rate hikes next year. Even Fed doves are suddenly getting antsy, after luxuriating in eight years of ZIRP and six years of QE.

IranAir confirms cutting Airbus order, dropping A380s

IranAir has trimmed its planned order from Europe's Airbus to 100 planes, partly by dropping superjumbo A380s, the flag carrier's head said on Sunday, confirming an adjustment first reported by Reuters.

"Although the nominal value of the contract for 118 Airbus planes had been announced at US$25 billion, the A380 planes have been dropped from this contract, so the value of our Airbus contract will not be more than US$10 billion," said Farhad Parvaresh, quoted by the state news agency IRNA.

In June, Reuters reported that doubts were growing about Iran's planned purchase of 12 A380 planes as part of its proposed Airbus order. In September, an Iranian official told Reuters that Iran had reduced the number of airplanes it planned to buy from Airbus by a further six amid delays in U.S. regulatory approvals.

Separately, Iran's transport minister was quoted as saying on Sunday that Tehran expected the Airbus deal to be signed within days. "We expect the final contract to be signed this (coming) week," Abbas Akhoundi said, quoted by IRNA.

Debt Nation: The Problem, the Solutions

The world is drowning in debt—$152 trillion, or 225 percent of the world’s GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund. In the United States, total debt (including government and private) exceeds $62.5 trillion, or 334 percent of GDP, according to current Federal Reserve data—that’s $196,000 for every man, woman, and child in this country.

Debt itself isn’t a problem, if it’s spent and invested wisely. But rising debt-to-GDP ratios mean the debt hasn’t led to increases in output, so it cannot be paid down. If debt is not productive, it constrains economic activity, which is one of the reasons the recovery since the Great Recession has been the weakest on record.

Historically, debt levels of this magnitude have never been paid back in real terms. They were reduced through default or inflation, with sometimes devastating results. This time around, however, creative economists say there are ways to reduce the debt burden without disrupting the economy too much.

“Demand has fallen because of the high level of private debt we have. People don’t want to take out debt; banks aren’t willing to lend. This means no creation of new debt money and a lack of turnover of existing money,” said Steve Keen, a professor at Kingston University in London and author of “Debunking Economics.”

Bernie Madoff talks about his crimes

100 CEOs Have as Much Retirement Wealth as 41% of American Families

As President Obama prepares to ride off into the sunset, among the perks he can look forward to is a presidential pension. Every month for the rest of his life, he’ll receive a retirement check for about $17,142 — not bad for a guy with at least a few black hairs remaining on his head.

And yet this sum is paltry compared to the retirement assets enjoyed by most big company CEOs, including some whose nest eggs were feathered by taxpayer dollars.

Take, for example, Michael Neidorff, the CEO of Centene, which manages health plans for Medicaid recipients and other poor Americans. Since Obamacare began expanding health coverage in 2010, Neidorff’s company retirement account has grown 658 percent, to nearly $140 million. That’s enough to generate a monthly check of $744,000—43 times as much as Obama’s.

If you think that’s a big gap, consider the retirement divide between top business leaders and working families. A new report I co-authored for the Institute for Policy Studies finds that in 2015, the 100 CEOs with the largest nest eggs had $4.7 billion in their combined company accounts. That’s as much as the entire retirement savings of the 41 percent of American families with the smallest nest eggs.

Delivery robots are showing up in first U.S. cities

Designers of futuristic cityscapes envision delivery drones dropping off your packages from the sky and driverless cars taking you to work. But the robotic delivery invasion already has arrived in the form of machines that look like beer coolers on wheels scooting along the sidewalks.

The ground-bound robots, developed by the science fiction-sounding company Starship Technologies, will be showing up any day in the nation's capital and in Redwood City, Calif. They could soon be in up to 10 cities, ferrying groceries and other packages over what the company calls the "last mile," from a neighborhood delivery "hub" to your front door, all for as little as $1 a trip.

A second company, TeleRetail, plans to test its sidewalk robots in Washington and other cities, including Mountain View, Calif., next year. Like driverless cars, the delivery robots use cameras, GPS and radar to "see" their urban environment and navigate through it.

The robots are the first of what the companies foresee as a wave of inexpensive, high-tech, electricity-driven alternatives to gasoline car-driven shopping trips and delivery trucks that contribute to traffic gridlock and pollution. Urban futurists see the little robots as an integral part of a digitally based "smart city" landscape — although it will take time for humans to adjust to them, and they come with privacy concerns.

Berlin Warning and The Road To Ruin - Jim Rickards

L.A. County employees victim of phishing email that may have impacted 756,000

After seven months, Los Angeles County has disclosed that it was a victim of a phishing email attack. The cyber-security incident happened back in May, when authorities say over 100 employees responded to a phishing email allegedly sent by the suspect, described as a Nigerian national, reports CBS Los Angeles.

The workers provided the username and passwords to the alleged scammer through an email designed to look legitimate, officials said.

“Some of those employees had confidential client/patient information in their email accounts because of their County responsibilities,” the county said in a news release. “County officials learned of the breach the next day, and immediately implemented strict security measures.”

County officials say investigators requested the delay in telling the public what happened. “An exhaustive forensic examination by the County has concluded that approximately 756,000 individuals were potentially impacted through their contact with the following departments: Assessor, Chief Executive Office, Children and Family Services, Child Support Services, Health Services, Human Resources, Internal Services, Mental Health, Probation, Public Health, Public Library, Public Social Services and Public works,” the county said.

Poll: 50 percent of Americans approve of the way Trump is handling the transition

Half of Americans say they approve of the way President-elect Donald Trump is handling the transition and his preparations to take over the country's highest office, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has found.

The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted Dec. 12-15. It has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points. Forty-one percent of respondents said they disapprove of Trump's actions.

By party, 82 percent of Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing thus far, compared with 12 percent of Democrats. Fifty-three percent of independents supported his choices.

NBC News said in a press release Trump's approval score is significantly lower than current President Barack Obama's was in December 2008 -- which was 73 percent -- and Bill Clinton's in December 1992 -- which was 77 percent.

Uber Claims It Doesn’t Need California’s Permission For Self-Driving Cars

The public slapfight between Uber and the California Department of Motor Vehicles continued on Friday afternoon, with the ridesharing service declaring that it’s new self-driving cars don’t need a special permit to operate in San Francisco.

Uber launched the limited fleet of autonomous Volvo SUVs earlier this week, but did so without applying for a permit from the state DMV to test self-driving cars on public streets.

The DMV responded immediately, alerting Uber to the fact that these permits are required by state law, and if the company continued to test the SUVs without permission, Uber could face legal action. Then on Friday afternoon, Uber exec Anthony Levandowski held a press conference, effectively replying to the state with a “nuh-uh.”

“[W]e respectfully disagree with the California Department of Motor Vehicles legal interpretation of today’s autonomous regulations,” said Levandowski, “in particular that Uber needs a testing permit to operate its self-driving cars in San Francisco.”

Fed Fakes Confidence With Another Dec. 1/4 Point Rate Hike - Peter Schiff

Japan Overtakes China as Biggest Overseas US Debt Holder as Renminbi Drops

Mainland China has lost its status as the largest overseas holder of the US debt to Japan as the recent decline in the renminbi’s FX rate and the strengthening yen have affected the value of the two nations’ respective Treasury note portfolios.

The yen’s status as safe haven asset as fiscal stimulus effort have attracted investment capital to Japan, resulting in stronger yen, whilst China, struggling with low factory-gate inflation and weak international demand for manufactured goods, had to decrease its holdings of the US debt.

Japan, now the biggest foreign holder of US Treasury debt, held $1.13 trln worth of US bonds in October, whilst China’s holdings shrank to their six-year lowest at $1.12 trln, according to the data from the US Department of the Treasury. Beijing has been selling US bonds in order to alleviate the downward pressure on the renminbi’s FX rate stemming from lingering economic turmoil. Mainland China uses the dollars obtained from selling the Treasuries to buyback the renminbi, currently at its 8-year lowest in offshore trading.

Japan, however, had been selling Treasuries in early autumn, too, due to the uncertainty surrounding the US presidential election. The subsequent developments in the form of the election of Donald Trump and the plunge in Treasury bond value accompanied by the rising benchmark 10-year yield have proven selling Treasuries the right move, but the yen’s ongoing appreciation has made Japan the largest international US bond holder.

Canada Says Only 28 Americans Have Applied for Trump-Related Refugee Status

Before the election, plenty of celebrities—and average, everyday Hillary Clinton voters—pledged to pack their bags and take off for Canada if Donald Trump won. But since that fateful day, more than a month ago, Canada’s immigration services department has received only 28 requests for Trump-related refugee status. And none appear to have come from Hollywood, despite the large number of celebs who threatened to cross the northern border is Trump became president.

Canadian officials say that there was a “bump” in requests for refugee status following Trump’s election—or, at least, that there seemed to be a bump in November, which immigration lawyers attribute to the political change.

“The rhetoric coming from the (U.S. political) discussion… was filled with a lot of concerning language, including hate, exclusion, deportation,” one Canadian immigration lawyer told Canadian state news. “I could see why people would be concerned for their own safety, their own lives, and evaluate whether they could live (there).”

Of the 28 who applied, it’s possible none will be approved to relocate to America’s northern neighbor. The CBC found only two successful claims for asylum out of hundreds of cases filed from the U.S. since 2010. There was no successful claim out of the 170 filed in 2015.

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