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Wednesday 04.05.2017

Poll: Most young people say gov't should pay for health care

Most young Americans want any health care overhaul under President Donald Trump to look a lot like the Affordable Care Act signed into law by his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

But there's one big exception: A majority of young Americans dislike "Obamacare's" requirement that all Americans buy insurance or pay a fine.

A GenForward poll says a majority of people ages 18 to 30 think the federal government should be responsible for making sure Americans have health insurance. It suggests most young Americans won't be content with a law offering "access" to coverage, as Trump and Republicans in Congress proposed in doomed legislation they dropped March 24. The Trump administration is talking this week of somehow reviving the legislation.

Conducted Feb. 16 through March 6, before the collapse of the GOP bill, the poll shows that 63 percent of young Americans approve of the Obama-era health care law. It did not measure reactions to the Republican proposal.

Was that the sound of the economy hitting a brick wall?

Thump! It looks like economic conditions have deteriorated in the early months of 2017 which means the government’s efforts to ramp up its preparations for the budget on 9 May are being undermined. As Treasury works through the latest numbers on government revenue and spending, it is having to put in weak numbers into its forecasting spreadsheet that will constrain its efforts to get the budget back into surplus within the next few years.

The economic news is starting to be of such concern that perhaps the budget deficit is dropping down the order of policy concerns, particularly if, as seems likely, the looming housing slump acts as a trigger to undermine consumer spending and the economy more generally.

Of most concern has been the stalling in employment growth and rise in the unemployment rate to just below 6 per cent. Linked to that is the rise, to a record high, for the underemployment rate. Just under 2 million people are currently unemployed or underemployed which is not only a social problem, but a macroeconomic one. Not working at all or not enough hours means there is a significant part of the workforce being underutilized, not earning – and spending – their wage and in doing so, getting the perpetual motion of economic growth entrenched.

At the same time, growth in wages is at a record low which has feed into the slump in retail sales growth which in February which recorded one of its weakest months in almost 17 years. Business investment remains sluggish, despite reasonable levels of business confidence, and credit growth continues to weaken. The only bright area for the economy is the strong performance of export volumes.

Physical Gold/Silver: Premiums At Historic Lows

Payless Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, Will Close 400 Stores

It seems like every mall has at least one Payless ShoeSource, but the chain is about to become a little less ubiquitous: It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy today, as expected, and announced plans to close 400 of its 4,000 stores.

The retailer’s executives say now that their plan is to go through the Chapter 11 process, reorganize, and stay in business.

“This is a difficult, but necessary, decision driven by the continued challenges of the retail environment, which will only intensify,” Payless CEO Paul Jones said in a statement. “We will build a stronger Payless for our customers, vendors and suppliers, associates, business partners and other stakeholders through this process.”

While Payless has plenty of cash flow and thousands of stores, the company said in its initial filing that it has between $1 billion and $10 billion in debt.

Amazon is worth almost twice as much as Walmart

Shares of the e-commerce king, which is also now a cloud computing giant, connected-home leader, drone company, freight airline, Hollywood studio and even a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer, rose above $900 for the first time Tuesday. It's another all-time high.

Amazon (AMZN, Tech30) stock is on a seven-day winning streak. The shares have gained 7% during that stretch and more than 20% this year. As a result, Amazon is worth more than $430 billion. That's nearly twice the market value of its rival Walmart (WMT), which has a market cap of a mere $220 billion.

Only Apple (AAPL, Tech30), Google owner Alphabet (GOOGL, Tech30) and Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30) are worth more than Amazon. The Jeff Bezos-led company is now more valuable than Facebook (FB, Tech30) and Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRKB).

And with that $900 stock price, Amazon is approaching some rarefied air. The only company in the S&P 500 with a stock price in the quadruple digits is Priceline (PCLN, Tech30), which is trading at about $1,770 a share. The latest surge in Amazon stock comes after news last week that it is buying Middle Eastern e-commerce Souq.com.

Richmond Fed’s Jeffrey Lacker Is Resigning Over Leaks With Medley Analyst

Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker abruptly left the U.S. central bank on Tuesday after admitting a conversation he had with a Wall Street analyst in 2012 may have disclosed confidential information about Fed policy options.

The 2012 leak had triggered a criminal investigation and came as the Federal Reserve was laying the groundwork for a massive bond buying package that it rolled out later in the year. The information was disclosed by Medley Global Advisors one day ahead of the publication of the central bank's own minutes from its September meeting.

Lacker said in January he would retire in October. But on Tuesday he said he decided to make his departure effective immediately because he had confirmed confidential information to Medley. It was not clear if Lacker was pushed out of his post although the Richmond Fed said in a statement it took "appropriate actions" after learning the outcome of government investigations into the leak.

Lacker said he did not fully disclose details his 2012 discussion with a Medley analyst when he was interviewed by a Fed lawyer that year. He did, however, say in a 2015 interview with the Federal Bureau of Investigation that his discussion with the Medley analyst included confidential information.

Record U.S. Silver Imports As Consumption Declines… Where Did The Silver Go?

Something strange took place in the U.S. Silver market last year. It seems as if the United States imported a record amount of silver in 2016 while its apparent consumption decline considerably. This does not make sense. Which means, a lot of silver has been acquired and stored, over and above the quantity needed by the U.S. Market.

According to the most recently released data in the USGS 2017 Silver Mineral Commodity Summary, U.S. silver imports reached an estimated record high of 6,300 metric tons (mt) in 2016:

U.S. silver imports last year were 6% higher than 2015 and are 25% higher than the average for 2012-2014. This is quite interesting because apparent silver consumption declined considerably last year.

The USGS calculated that apparent U.S. silver consumption decreased from 8,000 mt in 2015 to 7,230 mt in 2016. This is nearly a 800 mt decline in U.S. silver consumption. However, U.S. silver imports increased nearly 400 mt last even as consumption declined.

Venezuelan president calls for international help with inflation crisis

Triple-digit inflation has left Venezuelans struggling for even basic necessities. This includes a wide range of medicines. For months, President Nicolas Maduro insisted there was no crisis. Now he’s asking the international community for help.

According to the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela, patients with HIV, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and even the flu cannot count on finding the medicine they need to survive.

Shortages of medicine have become more severe in recent months, with inventories down 85-percent. The Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela has said nearly 1,000 essential medicines are unavailable.

President Nicolas Maduro has asked the United Nations to “continue making permanent progress” in providing medicines for hospitals, but the president of the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela, Freddy Ceballos has said it’s too little and too late. Maduro has blamed the shortages on what he calls an economic war waged by the political opposition, the private sector and foreign powers.

Ralph Lauren to close stores, offices in turnaround effort

Upscale fashion retailer Ralph Lauren said Tuesday that it would cut jobs and shutter its Polo store on Fifth Avenue in New York City as it seeks cost savings amid a sputtering turnaround effort.

The company said the moves would save $140 million in annual expenses and would cost $370 million in one-time restructuring charges. The plans include an unspecified number of store closures, "a reduction in workforce" and closure of certain corporation operations, according to a public filing.

The company declined to release details, though it had already announced 50 store closures during the fiscal year ending March 31. But the moves follow a turbulent period defined by falling revenue, lower profit and the announced departure of the company's CEO, Stefan Larsson, who had creative differences with chief creative officer, executive chairman and company namesake Ralph Lauren. Larsson, whose departure was announced in February, officially exits May 1.

The retailer said Tuesday in a public filing that its latest moves were in addition to a plan announced in June 2016 to shed $180 million to $220 million in costs. The company's stock (RL) fell 2.1% to $79.66 at 9:52 a.m.

Ivy League Colleges Collecting More Than $41 Billion in Taxpayer Money, Report Says

Billions of taxpayer dollars could be helping to fund private universities and Ivy League schools which are already sitting on an inflated endowment.

According to a report Opens a New Window. compiled by the non-profit group Open the Books, America's Ivy League colleges’ payments and entitlements cost taxpayers more than $41 billion over a six-year period from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2015. This is equivalent to $120,000 per student in government aid or $6.93 billion per year.

House Ways and Means Committee Member Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) is looking to hold universities accountable, suggesting the schools can afford to take some of the burden off taxpayers.

“All we are asking is that this money go to working families in tuition reduction on the investment income that comes off these billions of dollars in a tax-free manner,” Reed said during an interview on FOX Business’ “After the Bell.” The New York congressman said the Ivy League schools’ argument is that taxpayer money allows their institutions to grow and become stronger.

This Economy Is Ruined For Many Americans

Here’s a mystery: Has this “wealth-effect” economy that the Fed so beautifully engineered since the Financial Crisis gotten a lot riskier, scarier, and uglier in some profound ways for lower-income Americans, those making $30,000 or less a year? One of the questions that Gallup posed was this:

Next, I’m going to read a list of problems facing the country. For each one, please tell me if you personally worry about this problem a great deal, a fair amount, only a little, or not at all? First, how much do you personally worry about –

Then came 13 issues, including “hunger and homelessness.” Turns out, among Americans making $30,000 or less a year, 67% worry “a great deal” about hunger and homelessness! Food and shelter, two of the most basic human needs. That’s the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s data series on this question going back to 2001. It’s up from 52% in 2001/2004; up from 56% in 2007/2008; and up from 51% in 2010/2011.

Median annual household income in February was $58,714, according to Sentier Research. On an inflation-adjusted basis, this was about flat with February 2016 and below February 2000. Median income means 50% make more and 50% make less. Other studies have shown that incomes have risen sharply at the upper end of the spectrum, but have fallen at the lower end, with the gap widening. Thus the median might have stagnated, but for many of those below the median, things haven’t turned out so well. And there are a lot of them!

EpiPen Recall

AP: Illegal Immigration in March Was Lowest in 17 Years, Says Wednesday Testimony by DHS Chief

The number of migrants illegally coming across the U.S. southern border in March dropped to the lowest level in 17 years, says a leaked agency statement given to the Associated Press.

The statement is included in testimony slated for delivery on Wednesday, April 5, by Gen. John Kelly, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Typically, routine testimony is provided early to the legislators so they can prepare questions for the witness, but it is rarely leaked.

According to the Associated Press: Secretary John Kelly said the steep decline in arrests is “no accident” and credited President Donald Trump’s approach to illegal immigration…

In his testimony for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Kelly said fewer than 12,500 people were caught crossing the border illegally last [in March]. That compares with more than 43,000 in December.

Thousands of Non-US Job Seekers Apply for H1-B Visas

Large numbers of job seekers from around the world are filing applications at U.S. federal offices as the season opened Monday for H1-B visas for foreign workers.

H1-Bs allow employers – mostly high-tech firms – to hire skilled foreign workers for jobs in the United States for three years. Eighty-five thousand slots are available - 65,000 for applicants with bachelor’s degrees and 20,000 for those with master’s or more advanced degrees.

In recent years, there have been so many applications that the U.S. government stopped accepting them within a week. Visa winners are chosen by a computer-generated lottery.

This year, there is additional pressure because the program's future is not clear. President Donald Trump has vowed that he will not allow American workers to be displaced by foreigners holding H1-B visas.

Housing Bubble 2.0: Homeowners tapping into equity at fastest rate in 8 years

Do you want another sign that the housing bubble is 2006 all over again? Here is one: homeowners are tapping into their equity at the fastest rate in eight years.

Thanks to the printing press at the Federal Reserve, home prices are surging, and this is providing homeowners with immense equity. In 2016, homeowners garnered a collective $570 billion, and nearly 40 million now have tappable equity.

Homeowners, particularly millennials, are tapping into that equity, says a new report from CNBC. Ostensibly, the report says, home equity lines of credit (HELOC), which are second loans outside of the main mortgage, are becoming a popular tool for so many homeowners. And millennials are utilizing HELOCs more than Baby Boomers or Generation Xers. A recent TD Bank survey found that one-third of millennial homeowners are considering applying for a HELOC within the next 18 months, which is double that of Gen Xers and nine times that of Baby Boomers.

You can blame low mortgage rates and a majority of borrowers having FICO scores above the national average for this trend.

US stocks little changed as investors eye Fed minutes

Dimon: FHA, servicing rules changes could add $300B in mortgages per year

Last year, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon painted a particularly unflattering view of the mortgage business in his yearly letter to shareholders, stating that the regulatory environment and the cost of doing business was pushing the bank away from mortgage lending.

So why does Chase stay in the mortgage business? According to Dimon’s 2016 letter, the bank remains in the mortgage business for the sake of its customers. “As a bank that wants to build lifelong relationships with its customers, we want to be there for them at life’s most critical junctures,” Dimon said last year.

But this year, Dimon’s tone toward the mortgage business is much different. In the 2017 version of his letter to shareholders, Dimon again noted the difficulty of regulatory overhang, but suggested that with some (significant) changes, the mortgage business could expand considerably in 2017 and beyond.

In the 2017 letter, Dimon writes that he recognizes that regulations needed to be added in the wake of the financial crisis, but adds that some of the rules went too far, are ill-conceived, or both. “We had a severe financial crisis followed by needed reform, and our financial system is now stronger and more resilient as a result,” Dimon writes.

Are 401(K) Holders About To Feel A Savers' Pain?

There’s an old truism people forget all too often. It has many variations and is attributed to even more. Its core meaning goes something like this: "If the government can give it to you, than it can also take it away."

Some of you might be wondering if I’m talking about the current “tax” advantages that have made these vehicles so popular over the years. To that I’ll say no, not at this current time. But I feel that will be the least of worries coming down the pike in the not so distant future.

No, what I’m directly addressing is what is now emanating from the one and only non-government, privately held institution, directed by a consortium of non-elected, Ivory Towered, policy wonks: The Federal Reserve.

And those emanations are anything but 401K holder-friendly. Let me explain. I know many are wondering how a government-inspired quote, a private institution, and their retirement account or savings account fit under one banner or are some how all connected.

NEWS to Disturb the Comfortable...

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