René Magritte The key to the fields 1936
Powel’s Fed started off promising, but now concedes that it doesn’t want functioning markets. Too risky for the rich.
• Dovish Fed Sparks Stock-Market Rally And Tanks The US Dollar (MW)
The Federal Reserve and its chairman, Jerome Powell, changed their tune Wednesday, striking a surprisingly dovish tone that sparked a stock-market rally, tanked the U.S. dollar and roiled other financial markets. The Fed hinted that it may be at the end of its rate-hike cycle and further surprised investors by issuing a separate statement regarding its balance sheet, indicating that its efforts to reduce the $4 trillion asset portfolio could end sooner than expected. The tone was seen as an about-face from the Fed’s hawkishly received December meeting when it delivered its fourth rate increase of 2018. “This is one of the most dovish turnarounds by a Fed chair that I have ever seen in my 30-year career,” said Tom di Galoma, managing director at Seaport Global Holdings.
And the initial reaction across markets appeared in keeping with the perceived shift. The message delivered by the Fed “just couldn’t be much better for both bonds and equities and for the credit markets that track Treasurys,” said Mark Grant, chief global strategist at B. Riley FBR, in a note. [..] Not everyone was popping the champagne. Some economists feared the Fed had eroded its credibility, caving in to market pressure. “Talk about a Fed put,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, in a note, referring to the idea that central bank policy makers have grown increasingly sensitive over the years to stock-market declines and stand ready to intervene in an effort to provide calm.
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Someone in Britain appears to be spreading rumors about Brussels willing to give in. Is that just so May will still be PM at the end of March? Are the Brits going to risk that based on rumors alone?
• Will The EU To Cave On May’s Brexit At The Very Last Minute? (ZH)
After a series of embarrassing Parliamentary defeats (and still more embarrassing triumphs over a series of no-confidence votes), Theresa May is we imagine reveling in what was a rare win for on Tuesday: MPs backed an amendment that calls for removing the backstop from her Withdrawal agreement and replacing it with a commitment to find something better after the prime minister vowed to ask the EU to reopen negotiations (something she has reportedly been trying to persuade the block to do behind the scenes for weeks now with little apparent success).
Now that she’s won what her cabinet believes is enough support for a modified version of the deal, having finally corralled a majority for something resembling her current deal, the hard work truly begins: Convincing the EU to reopen negotiations on the withdrawal agreement, something officials have publicly insisted will not happen (though there have been whispers that they have been slowly coming around to the idea). In a speech on Wednesday, European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker blasted the vote as irresponsible and once again insisted that removing the backstop from the agreement is out of the question. “This is not a game,” he said, according to Bloomberg.
If there’s anything new to take away from the developments of the past two days, it can be found in a Bloomberg report published Wednesday afternoon that effectively confirmed what many have long suspected: That there won’t be any movement on the deal – either from the EU or, likely, the UK, until the last possible minute. According to BBG, EU diplomats have pointed to a last-minute summit set for March 21 and March 22 – just a week before Brexit Day – as the likely time when a deal may finally be struck.
“The European Union is prepared to take Brexit down to a last-minute, high-stakes summit rather than cave into U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s demands over the next few weeks, diplomats said. Although May is getting ready to head back to Brussels to reopen the Brexit deal that she negotiated over the past 18 months, the EU isn’t planning to give her any concessions before she returns for a vote in the British Parliament on Feb. 14, according to the diplomats. Behind closed doors, European officials are sticking to their well-coordinated public line that they won’t rework the deal.”
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And that’s official numbers.
• China Manufacturing Contracted For The Second-Straight Month In January (CNBC)
China said on Thursday its manufacturing activity contracted for the second-straight month in January — another sign that the world’s second-largest economy is slowing down amid domestic headwinds and the ongoing trade dispute with the U.S. The official manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for January was 49.5, according to the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics. That’s higher than the 49.3 expected by analysts in a Reuters poll, and the 49.4 reported in the previous month when China’s manufacturing PMI fell into contraction territory for the first time since July 2016. The PMI — a widely-watched indicator — is a survey of businesses in a specific industry about the operating environment.
A reading above 50 signals expansion in the sector from the previous month, while one below 50 represents contraction. Meanwhile, China’s services PMI for January came in at 54.7 — better than the 53.8 reported in the previous month, according to official data. The services sector accounts for more than half of the Chinese economy and has helped cushion the impact of a slowing manufacturing industry. Despite the better-than-expected PMI numbers, some economists said the statistics — particularly the manufacturing data — still point to a weakening Chinese economy.
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See my article last night: Flash-Balls, Pitchforks And A Backstop
• Macron Has Declared War On The French People – Yellow Vest Activist (RT)
The French government won’t stop the Yellow Vests by force, but only by doing what the people demand, according to prominent protester Jerome Rodrigues, who may remain blind in one eye after being injured by the police. “The president [Emmanuel Macron] declared war on us and our injuries are battle wounds. The traumatic weapons are equipped with collimators [optical sights] – such equipment is used on the battlefield, at war,” Rodrigues told RT. “I never thought that such a thing could happen in France,” he added, describing what the country has been going through in recent months as “dark times.” The activist, who calls himself “a hyper pacifist,” was broadcasting live on Facebook from a rally in Paris last weekend when a police officer fired at him from an LBD 40 non-lethal gun.
A projectile hit him in the eye, leading to hospitalization and a medically induced coma. The man said “there are no guarantees that the injured eye will be able to see again.” Now we understand that by going to a rally we put ourselves at risk of becoming victims of the government. It happened to me, but could’ve well happened to anyone,” Rodrigues said. The French authorities are employing violence to scare the people off the streets, but “we won’t retreat,” he said. Rodrigues promised to resume protesting after he gets better, saying that his family fully supported him in this decision.
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The hurt is only starting.
• UK Consumer Borrowing Slowed Sharply In December, Says Bank of England (Ind.)
UK consumer borrowing slowed sharply in December, adding to the impression of weakening confidence among households ahead of Brexit. The Bank of England reported that the annual growth of unsecured lending in the month fell to 6.6 per cent, down from 7.2 per cent in November. This was the weakest figure since December 2014. Credit card lending growth slowed to 7.1 per cent, down from 7.9 per cent the previous month. Surveys have shown consumer confidence to be at a 5 year low due, in part, to concerns over Brexit.
The Bank of England’s credit conditions survey showed last week showed that demand over the next three months for such unsecured lending is expected by lenders to be the weakest since the survey began in 2007. Household spending accounts for around 60 per cent of the UK economy, and any weakening of the appetite for consumers to spend will be negative for overall GDP growth. The UK economy grew by 0.6 per cent in the third quarter of 2018 but GDP growth is likely to have fallen sharply in the final three months of the year as business investment and household spending fell.
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Good! Fewer cars!
• British Car Production Slumps To Five-Year Low (G.)
British car production dropped to a five-year low in 2018, as manufacturers warned that fears of a no-deal Brexit have prompted a slump in new investment. UK car factories produced 1.52m vehicles last year, 9.1% fewer than 2017, according to figures published on Thursday by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the UK auto industry lobby group. Production for the British market fell by 16.3%. Investment into British car manufacturing almost halved during the year to £588.6m, a fall which the SMMT blamed on Brexit uncertainty.
Publicly announced investments were lower than in any year since 2012, the first year comparable data was collected. “Investment is effectively stalled,” said Mike Hawes, the SMMT’s chief executive. “Industry is waiting to see what happens. Business is sitting on its hands in terms of investment.” The global automotive industry is already struggling with multiple challenges. Car sales in China fell in 2018 for the first time since the 1990s, while demand for diesel vehicles in Europe has been rocked by the regulatory backlash to Volkswagen’s emissions-cheating scandal.
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CITGO is a Venezuelan refiner.
• US Refiner CITGO Caught In Venezuela Political Upheaval (R.)
Citgo Petroleum Corp, the eighth largest U.S. refiner and Venezuela’s top foreign asset, is in the middle of a tug-of-war as the Trump administration tries to use the company as leverage to topple Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Following the U.S. decision to impose sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry this week, both sides have engaged in aggressive moves for control of Citgo, which has roots in the United States dating back 100 years, but has been owned by Venezuela’s state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela, or PVDSA, for three decades.
[..] As Guaido this week worked with Washington to wrest control of the company, Venezuela responded by ordering dozens of Citgo’s expatriate staff in the United States to return to Caracas by the end of February, people familiar with the matter said. Earlier in the week, Citgo sent a team of executives to Washington amid efforts by Guaido and the U.S. government to appoint a new board of directors for Citgo, the people said. PDVSA also has said it would pursue legal efforts to block a Citgo takeover. White House national security adviser John Bolton on Wednesday tweeted photos confirming the meeting with Citgo executives. “The United States is continuing to work to make sure that the economic benefits of Venezuela’s resources are not pilfered by Maduro and his cronies,” he wrote.
[..] The Houston-based company has accumulated cash and credit lines in recent months as dividends payments to Caracas have been blocked by U.S. sanctions imposed in 2017. [..] Citgo has been struggling to refinance a revolving line of credit, a task that must be completed by July
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Putin: So far, so soft.
• Russia Vows To Defend Its Venezuelan Oil Assets (RT)
Russia will defend its interests in Venezuela within the international law using “all mechanisms available to us,” Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, told Russian media on Tuesday. Russia has kept close ties with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and has extended loans to Venezuela, including oil firm Rosneft lending money to Venezuela’s state-held firm PDVSA. Rosneft has extended $6 billion of loans to PDVSA, which needs to be fully redeemed in crude oil supplies by the end of this year. According to S&P Global Platts, as of November 2018, Venezuela had $3.1 billion outstanding loan to repay to Rosneft. The Russian company also has five joint upstream projects with PDVSA in Venezuela.
However, the US Treasury slapped another round of sweeping sanctions against PDVSA on Monday, in order to “help prevent further diverting of Venezuela’s assets by Maduro and preserve these assets for the people of Venezuela.” The US backed last week Juan Guaido, the chairman of the National Assembly, as the legitimate president of Venezuela, after Guaido declared himself interim president. “The path to sanctions relief for PdVSA is through the expeditious transfer of control to the Interim President or a subsequent, democratically elected government,” Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin said. The Kremlin considers the sanctions against PDVSA as “illegal”, a sign of “unfair competition” and an attempt to interfere with Venezuela’s internal affairs, Peskov said on Tuesday. Russia is assessing the potential consequences of the sanctions on PDVSA for Moscow, Peskov added.
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Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal paint the picture.
• US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader
Before the fateful day of January 22, fewer than one in five Venezuelans had heard of Juan Guaidó. Only a few months ago, the 35-year-old was an obscure character in a politically marginal far-right group closely associated with gruesome acts of street violence. Even in his own party, Guaidó had been a mid-level figure in the opposition-dominated National Assembly, which is now held under contempt according to Venezuela’s constitution. But after a single phone call from from US Vice President Mike Pence, Guaidó proclaimed himself president of Venezuela. Anointed as the leader of his country by Washington, a previously unknown political bottom-dweller was vaulted onto the international stage as the US-selected leader of the nation with the world’s largest oil reserves.
Echoing the Washington consensus, the New York Times editorial board hailed Guaidó as a “credible rival” to Maduro with a “refreshing style and vision of taking the country forward.” The Bloomberg News editorial board applauded him for seeking “restoration of democracy” and the Wall Street Journal declared him “a new democratic leader.” Meanwhile, Canada, numerous European nations, Israel, and the bloc of right-wing Latin American governments known as the Lima Group recognized Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. While Guaidó seemed to have materialized out of nowhere, he was, in fact, the product of more than a decade of assiduous grooming by the US government’s elite regime change factories.
Alongside a cadre of right-wing student activists, Guaidó was cultivated to undermine Venezuela’s socialist-oriented government, destabilize the country, and one day seize power. Though he has been a minor figure in Venezuelan politics, he had spent years quietly demonstrating his worthiness in Washington’s halls of power.
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Amid reports that at least 50% of its accounts are fake.
• Facebook Reports Record Profit, Stock Surges 12% After Earnings (MW)
After weeks of controversy, Facebook Inc. reported record profits — about $1 billion more than any previous quarter — as the company beat Wall Street expectations for fourth-quarter earnings and revenue late Wednesday, sending shares soaring. Record profits, a growing user base and healthy top line suggest that Facebook’s base of advertisers is continuing to pour dollars into the social networking giant’s swath of apps and services that now attract 2.7 billion people a month around the world. The strong results cap weeks of negative news cycles that has evidently left Facebook relatively unscathed.“Facebook has had so much bad news — even this week,” Forrester analyst Brigitte Majewski said over the phone, referring to another scandal that surfaced this week.
“But you can’t deny the numbers. They’ve had an increase in daily active users, and growth in all regions.” The company reported $6.88 billion in net income for the fourth quarter, which amounts to $2.38 a share, up from $1.44 a share in the year-ago period. Analysts’ average estimates for fourth-quarter profits called for $2.18 a share, according to FactSet. Overall, Facebook logged sales of $16.91 billion, up from $12.97 billion in the year-ago period, beating Wall Street expectations for sales of $16.39 billion, according to FactSet. Facebook’s main source of revenue is ads, which brought in 93% of revenue, up from 89% in the year-earlier period.
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A few versions of the same thing, first CNBC and RT, different for obvious reasons, then Independent, who report what most others completely missed (NY Post is an exception), which is that Mueller claims the evidence was altered.
• Mueller: Evidence Against Russian Firm Used In Disinformation Campaign (CNBC)
Special counsel Robert Mueller claimed Wednesday that evidence in one of his criminal cases related to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign was recently used in an online disinformation campaign, apparently to discredit Mueller’s investigations. Mueller made that allegation in a court filing in his criminal case pending against Concord Management and Consulting, a Russian company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the oligarch who is known as “Putin’s chef.” The special counsel charged Concord Management last year with funding a multimillion-dollar social media disinformation campaign to bolster the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.
Mueller’s filing Wednesday objects to Concord’s request that the special counsel be compelled to disclose documents he has deemed “sensitive” to the defendant and its employees as it prepares for trial.Concord wants to be able to send that information to Russia for review by company officers and employees. But Mueller said in his filing that doing so “unreasonably risks the national security interests of the United States.” The special counsel said that Concord should not be given such sensitive material because of alleged misuse in October by an unknown party of “non-sensitive” materials already in Concord’s possession as a result of the normal discovery process that litigants use to share information during a court case.
Mueller said that “sensitive” materials identifies individuals and entities that have not been criminally charged, but whom “the government believes are continuing to engage in operations that interfere with lawful U.S. government functions like those activities charged in the indictment.” [..] The special counsel said that, “On October 22, 2018, the newly created Twitter account @HackingRedstone published the following tweet: ‘We’ve got access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller. You can view all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion. Enjoy the reading!'”
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What Mueller really wants is to stop Concord from fighting his probe. He never expected them to come to court. He thought they were just more anonymous Russians he could accuse of anything he wanted without being called on it.
• Mueller Claims Evidence Shared Leaked To ‘Discredit Investigation’ (RT)
In an apparent bid to shield his case against alleged Russian trolls from legal challenge, special counsel Robert Mueller claimed some evidence previously provided was hacked and published to discredit his probe. On Wednesday, Mueller filed a motion to oppose discovery in case against Concord Management and Consulting LLC, which he indicted last February on charges of running the Internet Research Agency, also known as the “St. Petersburg troll factory.” “Sensitive” evidence in the case cannot be turned over to Concord’s lawyers, because that would make it accessible to their clients in Russia – and back in October, Mueller claimed, someone claimed to have hacked Concord’s computers and posted evidence previously handed over online “as part of a disinformation campaign aimed (apparently) at discrediting ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the US political system.”
It was that claim that got the attention of the media and the ‘Russiagate’ crowd. What Mueller actually alleges is less headline-worthy and far more tenuous. Namely, on October 22 last year, a Twitter account @HackingRedstone claimed to have gained “access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller,” offering “all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion.” According to a footnote in the filing, Mueller’s team was informed of this by an unnamed reporter. However, the Twitter account referenced comes up as suspended, and aside from that notice there are no entries for it in the Internet Archive, making Mueller’s claim impossible to independently verify.
The webpage allegedly linked in the tweet is said to have contained “file folders with names and folder structures that are unique to the names and structures of materials… produced by the government in discovery.” Of the 300,000 files on the site, “over 1,000” matched the hashtag values of documents provided by Mueller to Concord, the filing said. Mueller argued these must have been obtained from Concord, because the FBI “found no evidence” that US government servers fell victim to any hack involving the files. Somewhat confusingly, the filing argued that many other file names used a reference to the Relativity database, which the US government “has not used” to store materials related to this case. Concord’s lawyers have informed the court that the company’s computers have not been hacked, but Mueller’s filing accused them of lying, saying that the webpage contained “actual discovery materials from this case.”
[..] To wit, Mueller is making an assertion based on a tweet and a webpage – that currently do not exist – to argue that it should not disclose further “sensitive” evidence to defendants in a Russiagate case.
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How did the majority of news outlets miss that Mueller claims the info was altered? They didn’t read it?
• Mueller Says Russians Are Altering Evidence From Investigation (Ind.)
Russians have obtained evidence from special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Moscow’s interference in US politics and altered it in a bid to discredit the probe, federal prosecutors have claimed. The files were shared with attorneys working for Concord Management and Consulting, a Russian company that allegedly funded hacking operations by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA), they said in a court filing. The sharing evidence and documents between prosecutors and defence lawyer as part of routine discovery is common legal practice. But the files shared by Mr Mueller’s investigation were later uploaded and disseminated on Twitter in October.
However, the files shared online, “appear to have been altered and disseminated as part of a disinformation campaign aimed (apparently) at discrediting ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the US political system,” the court filing states. A team had reviewed files to determine that roughly 1,000 files linked to by that account out of 300,000 available matched non-public evidence provided. “The fact that the file folder names and folder structure on the webpage significantly match the non-public names and file structure of the materials produced in discovery, and the fact that over 1,000 files on the webpage match those produced in discovery, establish that the person(s) who created the webpage had access to at least some of the non-sensitive discovery produced by the government in this case,“ the filing states.
Concord Management was among 13 Russian entities or people to be charged in connection with Mr Mueller’s investigation last February. Mr Mueller’s team has charged dozens of Russian individuals or entities for attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election, primarily through hacking Democratic Party email systems. The most recent filing argued that attorneys for Concord should not be given access to “sensitive” evidence gathered for the case. It said: “The person who created the webpage used their knowledge of the non-sensitive discovery to make it appear as though the irrelevant files contained on the webpage were the sum total evidence of ‘IRA and Russian collusion’ gathered by law enforcement in this matter in an apparent effort to discredit the investigation.”
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Amal Clooney told Greece in 2015 to take Britain to an international court. They didn’t.
The marbles stem from 2,500 years ago. Their splendor is unmatched, at least until the Romans, and the Middle Ages. They were stolen by Britain when the Ottomans had invaded Greece.
• Acropolis Museum Director: British Museum Not Owner Of Parthenon Marbles (K.)
The British Museum is not the legal owner of the Parthenon Marbles and therefore the long-running dispute with Greece over their fate could only be resolved with their unconditional repatriation and not with a lending plan, the director of the Acropolis Museum, Dimitrios Pandermalis, reportedly told German public radio on Wednesday. “The full return of the Parthenon Marbles is the only solution. Everything that is inextricably linked to the monument must be reunited,” he was quoted as telling Deutschlandfunk, adding that the sculptures exhibited in London form an integral part of the monument. He also said his museum would gladly offer something to the British Museum in exchange for the marbles’ return, without going into details.
Pantermalis was responding to Hartwig Fischer, the director of the British Museum, who dismissed the possibility of returning them to Greece, arguing that their exhibition in London is in “a context of world cultures.” “The Trustees of the British Museum feel the obligation to preserve the collection in its entirety, so that things that are part of this collection remain part of this collection,” he was quoted as telling Greek daily Ta Nea in an interview published on January 26. Asked if that is the reason why the Museum will not permanently return the Sculptures, he replied: “Yes”. In another part of the same interview he said they are “in the fiduciary ownership of the Trustees of the Museum.”
Fischer also said that the removal of the marbles from Greece in the 19th century could be seen as “a creative act.” The sculptures are the work of great Athenian sculptor Phidias who added them to the Parthenon in the fifth century BC. In the early 19th century, men working for the 7th Earl of Elgin dismantled a large part of the frieze and shipped the sculptures back to London.
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