May 032018
 
 May 3, 2018  Posted by at 8:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Daniel Garber Buds and Blossoms 1916

 

Stock Market Unimpressed By Best First-Quarter Results In 24 Years (MW)
Whole Thing Will Come Tumbling Down – Charles Nenner (USAW)
EU to Fight Back Against China’s Growing Trade Dominance (BBG)
China Shuns US Soybeans (BBG)
Elon Musk Acted Like A Jerk, And Tesla Stock Paid The Price (MW)
UK’s May Faces Local Election Losses As Key Brexit Tests Near (R.)
May in Crisis With Cabinet ‘Brexiteers’ Outgunning Her on Customs Plan (BBG)
UK MPs Vote Against Windrush Disclosures (BBC)
No Suspects Yet In Skripal Nerve Agent Attack, MPs Told (G.)
EU: Data-Harvesting Tech Firms Are ‘Sweatshops Of Connected World’ (G.)
North Korea Releases 3 US Detainees From Labor Camps (IBT)
Flooding the Voter Rolls in US and Greece (GI)
Frontex Signals Significant Increase In Arrivals To Greece From Turkey (K.)
Greece Vows To Reduce Number of Refugees On Islands (AP)
South American Armyworm Has Colonised Three-Quarters Of Africa (AFP)

 

 

Confidence.

Stock Market Unimpressed By Best First-Quarter Results In 24 Years (MW)

By at least one measure, corporate earnings are the best in nearly a quarter-century. However, the stock market is not enthused! Rather than rally on the back of upbeat results, the main equity benchmarks have sulked lower. According to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, of the 343 companies, or about 70%, of S&P 500 members that have reported earnings to date, 79.9% have reported earnings per share that were above analysts’ expectations, putting the season on track for the highest earnings beat rate on record, going back to 1994. So far, the first-quarter growth rate for EPS is 22%, compared with consensus earnings growth of 16.3% as of April 12, according to Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA.

Bell said recent quarterly results have seen outperformance of about 3 to 4 percentage points better than analysts’ consensus estimates on average, compared with the 5.7 percentage points earnings are currently running ahead. [..] Bell said what’s really impressive is that expectations were already lofty and this quarter represented the first in which the bar was raised to factor in fiscal stimulus measures such as corporate tax cuts, which took effect in late 2017. “It’s significant because we haven’t seen a change like this from the very beginning to (the) start of reporting season,” Bell said. She said the numbers have been cut for each quarter going back to the second quarter of 2006.

Read more …

“The mainstream media talking heads are telling you to buy, but never tell you to sell.”

Whole Thing Will Come Tumbling Down – Charles Nenner (USAW)

Renowned geopolitical and financial cycle expert Charles Nenner says, “The mainstream media talking heads are telling you to buy, but never tell you to sell.” Nenner says the time to sell stocks is getting close and explains, “It’s just a hopeless situation. I feel sorry for people who invest their money. We have had a nice ride, but soon the whole thing will come tumbling down. They listen to all these things and have no clue on how to invest . . . . I think soon . . . this will become the longest expansion in financial history. . . . So, this could be the longest expansion ever, what are you playing with? You are gambling with nonsense. So, it’s over.

Nenner goes on to say, “Then, you have the inflation story. The inflation story is brought about by people who don’t do their historical homework. They remember for the last 30 years, there was always inflation. So, they continue to talk about inflation. I proved that in most of the financial history that deflation is the norm. . . . They have talked about inflation for two years, and there is still no inflation. . . . Copper is going down. Crude is going down, and we have a deflation problem, not an inflation problem.”

Nenner is predicting interest rates “are going down” and not up in the foreseeable future. Nenner is also calling for the stock market to go on a “downward slide through the year 2020.” Nenner says, “I can’t explain it, but the cycle topped, and the cycle is down until 2021.” How bad will it be? Nenner says, “Very bad. I called for Dow Jones 5,000, and I still call for Dow Jones 5,000. . . . It’s going to be a blood bath, but as I said the last time, in the 1990’s when the Dow was 5,000, the world still looked okay.”

Is there a big debt reset coming? Nenner says, “The last time we were in this situation was when Roosevelt was President. It was very interesting because they paid off only 25% on the dollar because the inflation that came. Now, the problem is if you don’t have inflation, you still owe the whole amount of money. This is why they urgently need this inflation. So, the value of the money goes down, and you have to pay off less. There is no inflation. So, it is a big problem, but they can keep this going forever. I don’t think it’s a problem because countries can keep printing money as long as they want.” Then Nenner said, “I see the dollar becoming strong again.” Nenner is “dollar positive.” The other big cycle Nenner has been seeing is the so-called “war cycle.” Nenner says, “The next four or five years in this war cycle is very dangerous.” On gold and silver, Nenner is bullish, but “not until after this summer.”

Read more …

More protectionism.

EU to Fight Back Against China’s Growing Trade Dominance (BBG)

Europe is set to tighten controls over foreign investment, a sign of growing wariness of China’s efforts to use its $11 trillion economy to become a dominant global power. A Bloomberg survey of the European Union’s 28 member states found that at least 15 governments actively or tacitly support draft legislation that would screen investments from outside the bloc. With a majority prepared to wave it through, the proposal is on course for passage by the European Parliament, the bill’s next step to becoming law. The results show that Europe is waking up to the risks and not just the benefits of inward investment, predominantly from China.

A Bloomberg audit found that China has invested at least $318 billion in Europe over the past decade, from critical infrastructure to high-tech companies — more than in the U.S. over the same period. Europe’s pushback reflects a dilemma shared by governments worldwide as they grapple with China’s growing global clout. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is leading a delegation to Beijing this week amid disputes over trade, reciprocal market access and China’s state-driven economic model. As the U.S., Japan and Australia adopt rigorous screening programs, Europe risks becoming “the shop of last resort” for those seeking advanced technologies, the European Council on Foreign Relations warned in a December report.

Italy is among those pushing for tighter screening “because we believe that trade must be fair and investment must be productive,” Sandro Gozi, Italy’s junior minister for European affairs, said in an interview. “We have to assess whether investment by non-EU countries aims to do business, to promote growth, to create jobs in Europe, or whether it’s just aimed to acquire and then take the know-how of our businesses away from Europe.”

Read more …

They still have to get them somewhere, one would assume.

China Shuns US Soybeans (BBG)

The world’s biggest oilseed processor just confirmed one of the soybean market’s biggest fears: China has essentially stopped buying U.S. supplies amid the brewing trade war. “Whatever they’re buying is non-U.S.,” Bunge Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Soren Schroder said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “They’re buying beans in Canada, in Brazil, mostly Brazil, but very deliberately not buying anything from the U.S.” In a move that caught many in U.S. agriculture by surprise, China last month announced planned tariffs on American shipments of soybeans. As the market waited for the measure to take effect, there was some hope among traders and shippers alike that relations between the nations could ease in the meantime and the trade flow would continue.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least for now, according to Bunge. It’s “very clear” that the trade tensions have already stopped China from buying U.S. supplies, Schroder said. “How long that will last, who knows? But so long as there is this big cloud of uncertainty, that’s likely to continue.” Price volatility in farm goods has picked up in recent weeks as the saber-rattling between the U.S. and China intensifies. Other agricultural products caught up in the dispute include corn, pork and sorghum. Soybeans are the second-largest American crop and prices are heavily dependent on trade with the Asian nation, the world’s top importer. In the two weeks ended April 19, China canceled a net 62,690 metric tons of U.S. soybean purchases for the marketing year that ends Aug. 31, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.

Read more …

Free advertisement.

Elon Musk Acted Like A Jerk, And Tesla Stock Paid The Price (MW)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk held a long, odd earnings conference call Wednesday in which he insulted analysts, the media, federal regulators and people who died behind the wheel of his cars, and then told anyone concerned about volatility not to invest in his company. Unsurprisingly, volatility ensued, as Tesla shares dropped quickly during an increasingly bizarre call with the very analysts and media whom Musk attacked. Tesla on Wednesday disclosed the largest quarterly loss in the history of a company known far and wide for losing vast sums of money, with a net loss of almost $785 million. The numbers still managed to beat expectations that have been repeatedly lowered for more than a year, which led Musk to take a victory lap on Twitter after losing more than three quarters of a billion dollars in three months.

It only got weirder from there. In his conference-call introduction, Musk confused per-week and per-day production figures, described a “super complicated” robot Tesla designed and built before realizing it could not perform its unnecessary function, then mentioned offhandedly that he planned to restructure the company this month — a disclosure he never revisited to provide more information. When the question-and-answer session started, Musk turned vitriolic, and not even his fellow executives were safe. After Chief Financial Officer Deepak Ahuja referred to Tesla as “best in class” for batteries while responding to an analyst query, he was interrupted by Musk. “The best. It is not a class,” Musk interjected. “Yes, we’re the best. Sorry,” Ahuja replied.

“The best in a class of one,” Musk made sure to point out. Soon, Musk turned his ire toward the financial analysts who were asking the questions. When Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi attempted to ask about capital-expenditure spending and the money needed, Musk cut him off by yelling “Next!” When RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak then asked how many people with Model 3 reservations were actually taking delivery of their cars, Musk declined to answer any more “boring,” “dry” questions. “You’re killing me,” he said.

Read more …

Vote her into oblivion.

UK’s May Faces Local Election Losses As Key Brexit Tests Near (R.)

Voters will pass judgment on Prime Minister Theresa May’s party on Thursday in local government elections expected to show rising support for her opponents in London that will add to pressure on her position over Brexit. The elections will be viewed as a gauge of support for May at a time when she is facing a possible revolt over her Brexit strategy and a scandal over immigration policies that has already forced the resignation of one of her closest allies. A poor set of results is unlikely to spark internal calls for her resignation, but could weaken her authority over a party deeply divided about the right approach to Brexit ahead of several key parliamentary tests of unity on future customs arrangements with the EU.

“Winning elections keeps people together, losing causes dissent. Conservatives will need to avoid the ill-discipline of fighting like ferrets in a sack,” said Rob Wilson, a former Conservative lawmaker, writing for the party’s grassroots website ConservativeHome. Thursday’s vote will decide more than 4,400 council seats, determining the makeup of 150 local government authorities who are responsible for the day-to-day provision of public services. Just over 40 percent of the seats are in London. The headline-grabbing results in the capital are forecast to see a swing toward the opposition Labour Party, reinvigorated under socialist Jeremy Corbyn and fighting a campaign focused on the effects of eight years of Conservative-led spending cuts.

A Survation poll on Wednesday in London showed Labour 20 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives. May’s party could lose control of some of the eight London boroughs it currently runs out of 32 in total. This would reflect both weariness over cutbacks that affect citizens’ daily lives and broader issues like Brexit and the treatment of migrants.

Read more …

There doesn’t appear to be a compromise without heads having to roll.

May in Crisis With Cabinet ‘Brexiteers’ Outgunning Her on Customs Plan (BBG)

Theresa May is facing a crisis after pro-Brexit ministers paired up with Conservative hardliners to demand a clean break from the European Union’s customs system, rejecting her plea for a compromise solution. The U.K. prime minister was outnumbered at a meeting of her inner Cabinet on Wednesday, with ministers unable to agree on either of the middle-of-the-road customs options that May had proposed. Speaking afterward, one senior British official said that with both proposals apparently dead, she could have as little as a week to get a compromise or face the stark choice between staying in Europe’s customs union or leaving without a deal. Either could see rebels in her party destroy her government.

A day that started with a pro-Brexit group of Conservative lawmakers threatening to withdraw support from the prime minister if she insisted on her proposed customs relationship with the European Union ended with her newest appointee, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, weighing in against her plan, joining other senior ministers in defying her. It was a reflection of May’s impossible position: Before she can even start trying to sell a deal to the EU, she has to find a proposal that both her Cabinet and Parliament will support. Both are fundamentally split, with each side strong enough to block a plan, but not to push one through. May has so far survived by avoiding a final confrontation with either side. So it was no surprise that the so-called “War Cabinet” put off its decision once again on Wednesday afternoon.

Read more …

Who do you trust?

UK MPs Vote Against Windrush Disclosures (BBC)

MPs have voted against an opposition motion calling on the government to disclose papers on Windrush migrants. Labour had hoped to force the government to release documents about its immigration policy relating to people who came to the UK from Commonwealth countries. They arrived between the late 1940s and 1970s but some have been threatened with deportation in recent years. The government won the vote by 316 votes to 221. Of Labour’s 258 MPs, 180 voted in favour, while 306 Conservative MPs opposed the motion. Labour wanted the government to be made to hand over evidence, including emails and text messages, for scrutiny by MPs on the Home Affairs Committee.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott described the vote as “an opportunity for the Tories to start to right the wrongs they have done to the Windrush generation”. She accused Theresa May of ordering her MPs to “vote to cover up the truth of her involvement”. Ms Abbot said many people felt “all roads lead back to the prime minister”, with Mrs May having previously been home secretary at the time the government brought in changes to immigration rules in 2014.

Read more …

Still looking for a patsy. First Skripal ‘news’ in weeks.

No Suspects Yet In Skripal Nerve Agent Attack, MPs Told (G.)

Police and intelligence agencies have failed so far to identify the individual or individuals who carried out the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, the UK’s national security adviser has disclosed. The comments by Sir Mark Sedwill punctured hopes that the police and other security agencies had pinpointed suspects but were withholding the name or names from the public. Asked by an MP at a Commons defence committee hearing if he knew the individuals responsible, he replied curtly: “Not yet.” Sedwill, who coordinates the work of the MI6, MI5, the surveillance agency GCHQ and others, did not elaborate but among problems that have hampered the agencies is a lack of CCTV coverage in Salisbury compared with London. Known Russian spies based in Britain have also been investigated and ruled out.

[..] Sedwill made the rare move in April of releasing classified intelligence on the case. It allegedly showed Russia had tested whether nerve agents could be delivered through door handles and had targeted the email accounts of both the Skripals since at least 2013. He told the committee on Tuesday the decision to go public had been taken to help counter Russian disinformation. The attack raised questions about whether the police and MI6, which has a duty to protect agents, should have done more to protect the Skripals. Sedwill said the attack had changed the security services’ appreciation of which dissidents and defectors could be at risk from revenge attacks.

Read more …

“..these sweatshops of the connected world extract more than one’s labour, and while clocking into the online factory is effortless it is often impossible to clock off.”

EU: Data-Harvesting Tech Firms Are ‘Sweatshops Of Connected World’ (G.)

The European data protection supervisor has hit out at social media and tech firms over the recent constant stream of privacy policy emails in the run up to GDPR, calling them the “sweatshops of the connected world”. With the tough new General Data Protection Regulations coming into force on 25 May, companies around the world are being forced to notify their users to accept new privacy policies and data processing terms to continue to use the services. But Giovanni Buttarelli, the European data protection supervisor (EDPS), lambasted the often-hostile approach of the recent deluge of notifications.

“If this encounter seems a take-it-or-leave it proposition – with perhaps a hint of menace – then it is a travesty of at least the spirit of the new regulation, which aims to restore a sense of trust and control over what happens to our online lives,” said Buttarelli. “Consent cannot be freely given if the provision of a service is made conditional on processing personal data not necessary for the performance of a contract.” “The most recent [Facebook] scandal has served to expose a broken and unbalanced ecosystem reliant on unscrupulous personal data collection and micro-targeting for whatever purposes promise to generate clicks and revenues.

“The digital information ecosystem farms people for their attention, ideas and data in exchange for so called ‘free’ services. Unlike their analogue equivalents, these sweatshops of the connected world extract more than one’s labour, and while clocking into the online factory is effortless it is often impossible to clock off.”

Read more …

Winning.

North Korea Releases 3 US Detainees From Labor Camps (IBT)

Ahead of the planned meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and an unprecedented thaw in the relationship between North and South Koreas, Pyongyang decided to release the three Korean-Americans detained in the country’s labor camps Tuesday. Choi Sung-ryong, a representative of the families of the prisoners, told South Korean news outlet Naver: “We talked with a source in North Korea today. North Korean authorities released Kim Dong-cheol, Kim Sang-deok and Kim Hak-seong, who were in jail at the labor correction center in early April, and they are currently in a ‘course’ where they are treated and educated at a hotel outside Pyongyang.”

Choi added that the source revealed North Korea was negotiating with the United States about the best way to get the detainees back home. One of the ways involved was releasing them back on the day of the Trump-Kim summit, although no specific date has been finalized yet for the meeting. Newly appointed National Security Advisor John Bolton told Fox News on Sunday: “If North Korea releases the detained Americans before the North-US summit, it will be an opportunity to demonstrate their authenticity.” Dong-chul is a South Korea-born American pastor who was arrested and detained by North Korea in 2015 on the charge of spying. He was sentenced to 10 years hard labor in 2016. Hak-song and Sang-duk were both working at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, when they were detained last year on suspicion of “hostile acts.”

Read more …

“As a result, a total of 800,000 immigrants — almost one-tenth of the native Greek population — will soon become citizens. Transposed to the United States, that would be the equivalent of 32,000,000 new voters.”

Flooding the Voter Rolls in US and Greece (GI)

As Greece struggles with accelerating economic decline and an increasing lack of public faith in the political leadership, the ruling Syriza coalition appears to be adopting a strategy of garnering votes from immigrants by expediting their naturalization process. According to a recent report in the Greek daily Parapolitika, Interior Minister Panos Skourletis is laying the groundwork to enable hundreds of thousands of immigrants to become citizens and vote in the next elections. Although the mandate of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras ends in September 2019, some analysts have been predicting a call for elections by the end of 2018. Until now, candidates for Greek citizenship had to be vetted by a committee.

Under the new system, applicants will be granted citizenship automatically if they correctly answer 20 out of 30 questions online. In addition, the government is planning to allow immigrants over the age of 65 to obtain Greek IDs, without testing their knowledge of the Greek language. In other words, it will be easier to obtain Greek citizenship than a Greek fishing license. As a result, a total of 800,000 immigrants — almost one-tenth of the native Greek population — will soon become citizens. Transposed to the United States, that would be the equivalent of 32,000,000 new voters.

In principle, the idea is no different from George Soros’s 220-page guide, released by DC Leaks, seemingly to create a permanent voting majority for the Democratic Party by “enlarge[ing] the U.S. electorate by 10 million voters by 2018.” Easing citizenship requirements may be a calculated electoral ploy, but it is also in keeping with an overall European multiculturalism. The current leadership is not interested in the origins of the country’s illegal immigrants, many of whom hail from Afghanistan, Pakistan and sub-Saharan Africa and do not respect the Judeo-Christian roots and culture of modern Greek civilization. Nor does the government appear to concern itself with the danger involved in allowing huge numbers of migrants from terrorist-ridden Muslim-majority countries to become citizens, without vetting them.

Meanwhile, as its immigrant population increases, Greece is simultaneously undergoing a brain-drain. Over the past 8 years, for example, 500,000 skilled and educated young people left the country and have chosen to remain abroad rather than return home and contribute to the economy, the culture and society in general.

Read more …

Time for another deal with Erdogan?

Frontex Signals Significant Increase In Arrivals To Greece From Turkey (K.)

The influx of refugees from Turkey to Greece has increased significantly, the executive director of Frontex, the European Union’s border monitoring agency has told Germany’s Bild. In comments to Bild that were published on Wednesday, Fabrice Leggeri said arrivals of migrants from Turkey to Greece’s Aegean islands have increased by 17% in the past four to five weeks alone. According to Leggeri, the key reason for the increase is the spike in refugees leaving Iran, Iraq and Syria. The Frontex chief proposed the further bolstering of the border force as well as an increase in deportations. On a pan-European level, only 40% of repatriation decisions are carried out, he said. Despite the increase in migration flows, Leggeri said Frontext has the EU’s external borders “under control.”

Read more …

If only Merkel would let them.

Greece Vows To Reduce Number of Refugees On Islands (AP)

Greek officials on Wednesday vowed to reduce severe overcrowding at migrant camps on Greeces islands, amid mounting protests that the immigration crisis has hurt the vital local tourism industry for a fourth successive summer. Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas, who was visiting the island of Lesbos, said the government aimed to cut the number of migrants on five large Greek islands from the current level of 15,500 to 6,500 — equivalent to the capacity of refugee shelter facilities — by the end of September. The promised changes came despite a recent spike in daily arrivals at the islands and at Greeces land border with Turkey.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is due to visit Lesbos on Thursday, and islanders are planning street protests and a strike by businesses in the main port. As scores of police officers took up positions in the port Wednesday, protest organizers uses a van fitted with loudspeakers to urge local residents to join the strike. The overcrowding has triggered frequent flare-ups of violence at the sprawling Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, where many still live in squalid conditions. More than a dozen were injured when migrants were attacked with flares and burning trash bins during an anti-migrant protest organized in part by far-right groups on the island 10 days ago.

On Wednesday, Vitsas held a town hall meeting and spent several hours talking with Lesbos residents. Many angrily voiced their complaints and accused the government of abandoning the island. “I cannot say when everything will happen but we will move forward,” he said. “We are dragging out feet forward but hopefully that will improve.” He promised that several hundred additional staff would be hired over the summer to help clear a huge backlog of asylum claims.

Read more …

Rapidly developes resistance against anything thrown at them: pesticides, GMOs.

South American Armyworm Has Colonised Three-Quarters Of Africa (AFP)

On farms across Africa, a seemingly innocuous brown and beige caterpillar is waging a silent war, devastating rural incomes and posing a major threat to the continent’s food supply. In just two years, the so-called fall armyworm has colonised three-quarters of Africa, according to the British-based Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI). Its favourite food is maize, also known as corn, the staple on which over 200 million smallholder farming families depend for their livelihoods. The fall armyworm is believed to have made its bridgehead in West Africa after being accidentally brought in from South America, its native home, by sea or air cargo. It was first detected in Africa in 2016.

“Since then, it has very rapidly spread across the entire continent. It’s reportedly now causing damage in more than 40 countries,” said Boddupalli Prasanna, an expert at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico. The larval, or caterpillar, armyworm is perfectly adapted for destruction. Growing up to about 50 millimetres (two inches), it nestles in the leaves around the head of maize. The critter then attacks methodically, leaving behind shredded leaves and chewed or hollowed ears of corn. In one Kenyan county visited by experts last year, 30% of the crop was lost. The impact on farmers and on households can be huge.

Wycliffe Ngoda, a 64-year-old farmer from near Kisumu, in western Kenya, said he lost nearly a quarter of his income last year in an armyworm outbreak, and the price of a two-kilo (4.4-pound) bag of maize doubled in his area. “The attack was very fast and furious. In a short while, huge swathes of (crops) had been eaten,” he said. “I lost 50% of my crop, others up to 70%,” he said. “This is how we were introduced to armyworm: very rudely.”

Read more …

Apr 152018
 
 April 15, 2018  Posted by at 9:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


 

Russia Claims OPCW Manipulated Skripal Findings (AFP)
To Opt Out Of Facebook’s Tracking, I’m Going To Have To Join Facebook (Wired)
Tesla Is The Worst Car Manufacturer In The Developed World (F.)
New Lawsuit Alleges Musk Knowingly Lied About Model 3 Production (ZH)
Subprime Stages Comeback As ‘Non-Prime’ (CNBC)
247,977 Stories In The Vacant City (NYDN)
Judge Rules Exxon Can’t Stop Probe Into Whether They Lied For Decades (Ind.)
World May Hit 2ºC Warming in 10-15 Years Thanks to Fracking (NC)
‘There Is No Such Thing As Past Or Future’ (G.)
Time is Elastic (Rovelli)

 

 

Curiouser. You’d think Russia doesn’t just make up an entire Swiss lab.

Russia Claims OPCW Manipulated Skripal Findings (AFP)

Moscow on Saturday accused the chemical weapons watchdog of manipulating the results of its investigation into the poisoning of a former Russian spy, saying his samples had traces of a nerve agent used by the west. Britain says former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were last month targeted with a nerve agent of the novichok family, which was developed in the Soviet Union. The attack shredded ties between Russia and Britain and led to a crisis in relations between Moscow and the west including a huge wave of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has said it confirmed “the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical” without naming the substance involved.

On Saturday, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, claimed the UN-linked Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had sent the Skripals’ biomedical samples to Swiss experts who found they contained traces of the nerve agent BZ, used by the west. “According to the results of the examination, the samples had traces of toxic chemical BZ and its precursors,” Lavrov said, citing what he said was “confidential information”. “Russia and the USSR never developed such chemical substances,” he said. “In this regard we are asking the OPCW why the information which reflected the conclusions of specialists from the Spiez laboratory was completely omitted from the final document.”

Read more …

Not a discussion we should leave up to Facebook. Or Congress.

To Opt Out Of Facebook’s Tracking, I’m Going To Have To Join Facebook (Wired)

Now I know what you’re thinking. What kind of person has never been on Facebook? I’d like to tell you it was all about privacy, but the truth is, I just had a bad feeling about it. You see, I went to Cambridge, so I was one of the first to get the chance to join what you insist on calling your “community.” And almost instantly, it was clear that it turned people into wankers. (Bigger wankers. This was Cambridge, after all.) If I remember correctly, in the early days everyone was desperate to have a higher friend count. Then it was obsessive tagging in photos. Yes, even in its earliest days, your system brought out the worst in people.

It’s not easy, not being on Facebook. At first, it was the parties. At a certain point, people stopped sending email invites. They just assumed you were on Facebook – and, if you weren’t, you didn’t find out. I’m 35 now, so I don’t get invited to parties, unless they’re for small children. Instead, I miss out on work, because I can’t contact people or share my articles. When you finally make journalism pivot to Facebook Groups, I’ll be completely screwed. I considered joining many times. But every time I aired the thought, I got the same reaction: “Don’t! It’s the worst!” I wasn’t sure if I remembered this correctly, so I called a few people to check. All agreed: they hate your service, but they have to use it, because everyone else does. (One person objected. She works in your London office.)

Every other social network, even Twitter, has a core of fans that genuinely wish it well. You’re the sole exception. Then I got into tech, and privacy, and data protection, and I learned that you were throttling internet freedoms in developing countries, and letting random strangers see your users’ most intimate details, so I started becoming one of those paranoid people who uses a VPN all the time, and puts a scrap of torn-off Post-It note on their laptop camera. Just like you! But you probably knew all this about me anyway. Which brings me back to my question. In your testimony to Congress, you said: “Anyone can turn off or opt out of any data collection for ads, whether they use our services or not.”

But, as you should know, while that’s possible for someone on Facebook, for me, a non-Facebook user, it’s not. Your illegal trackers follow me across 30 per cent of the internet, building a “shadow profile” you store in a nonanonymised format in your “Hive” analysis database. You claim to do it “for security purposes” (let me tell you, if Facebook’s security requires you to surveil the world’s population, then you have made a desert and called it peace). But reporters – and people who used to work in your advertising team – say the information is collected to improve the friend suggestions you’ll give me in case I do ever sign up. It’s one more growth hack on a whole site of them.

What can I do to stop you? I’ve installed tracker blockers on my browser, but, since you killed the media business, a lot of my favourite sites make me disable them. And your trackers work in the apps on my phone. Unless I go full tin-foil hat (and it’s tempting), you’ve basically left me with one option. To opt out of Facebook’s tracking, I’m going to have to join Facebook. So yeah: fuck you. Because, of course, this is exactly your plan. Forcing people onto Facebook is what you’re all about.

Read more …

“..that is a terrible way to produce a consumer product, and a terrible way to generate returns for shareholders.”

Tesla Is The Worst Car Manufacturer In The Developed World (F.)

I visited my first auto plant in 1992, and have been fortunate enough to visit plants in most countries where cars are made. I have seen workers sleeping under half-finished bodies in Brazil, seen employees trying to make doors fit by using rubber hammers at a now-closed Ford facility in New Jersey and, noted, that, yes, they do have beer in the vending machines at many German auto factories. To see a rack of die castings sitting outside exposed to the weather at a facility that is, according to Google Maps, 10.7 miles away from the actual Tesla assembly facility in Fremont is just mind-boggling. Tesla is the worst car manufacturer in the developed world. Bar none. Note that I didn’t write “designer” or “marketer,” but manufacturer.

Musk had zero auto industry experience when founding Tesla and CTO J.T. Straubel—who according to Tesla’s 10-K filing personally holds Tesla’s important patents—developed a love for electric vehicles by rebuilding golf carts. It’s just astounding to me that the markets are affording a $50 billion valuation to a company that can’t perform the most basic task for which it was incorporated. Famed VW purchasing chief José Ignacio López de Arriortúa famously walked into a plant and repeatedly pointed at boxes of yet-to-be-used parts and yelled the word “capital.” When capital is tied up in byzantine manufacturing processes that stunts the development of cash flow. It’s all connected. This is why Tesla has such dire cash flow problems.

This is why I believe—sorry, Elon—Tesla is going to have to issue equity this year. My favorite automotive mantra is “quality is designed in.” That’s the most damning piece of information in the CNBC article, actually, more damning than the pictures of parts racks. Here is the quote: “Current and former employees from the company’s Fremont, Calif. and Sparks, Nevada factories blame Tesla for spending less time to vet suppliers than is typical in auto manufacturing. These people said the company failed to comprehensively test “variance specs” with some vendors before embarking on Model 3 production.”

Tesla has cut corners in building up to current production, and published reports this week indicated Tesla was alerting suppliers of an incredibly fast 19-month design-to-job one timetable on the upcoming Model Y crossover. So, it would seem corner-cutting is continuing, and that is a terrible way to produce a consumer product, and a terrible way to generate returns for shareholders.

Read more …

He better hope he wins this one.

New Lawsuit Alleges Musk Knowingly Lied About Model 3 Production (ZH)

A new securities class action lawsuit filed in late March 2018, which names Elon Musk as a defendant, alleges that the Tesla CEO knew that the Model 3 was not going to be able to be produced as the rates he claimed – and that the company was not going to be able to meet production goals due to – get this – the production lines not even being assembled. The lawsuit alleges that this didn’t prevent Elon Musk from going out and telling the investing public otherwise, hence the allegation of securities fraud. First, the allegation that Musk was told by his own employees that the Model 3 couldn’t be mass produced by the end of 2017, which was the company’s stated goal.

Then, after claiming in May 2017 that the company was “on track” to meet its mass production goal, it’s alleged the company hadn’t even finished building its production lines, clearly meaning it wasn’t “on track”. The lawsuit alleges that Musk knew the line was “way behind”. The suit alleges that the company was building Model 3’s by hand at a “pilot shop” at the same time Tesla claimed to be on track for “mass production”; it also claims that it was “evident to anyone who visited the facility” – including Elon Musk – that the line wasn’t built and that “construction workers were spending most of their shifts sitting around with nothing to do”. We also read in the lawsuit that Tesla’s Gigafactory, at the time in question, was allegedly capable of producing only one battery pack per day – and that the production of one battery pack took “two shifts” to complete.

The suit alleges that the company’s former CFO, Jason Wheeler – who is one of more than 50 key executives and VPs to have left the company over the last half decade or so – told Elon Musk personally that they wouldn’t be able to mass produce by the end of 2017. The entire lawsuit is available at this link and some of the most interesting content was first shared by critics of the company on Twitter. The drumbeat of accountability for Elon Musk continues to pound louder and louder as each day progresses, with some analysts calling for the SEC to investigate him if the company doesn’t meet its stated cash flow positive and “no capital raise” guidance for the back end of 2018.

Read more …

Got to find the last sucker.

Subprime Stages Comeback As ‘Non-Prime’ (CNBC)

They were blamed for the biggest financial disaster in a century. Subprime mortgages – home loans to borrowers with sketchy credit who put little to no skin in the game. Following the epic housing crash, they disappeared, due to strong, new regulation, and zero demand from investors who were badly burned. Barely a decade later, they’re coming back with a new name — nonprime — and, so far, some new standards. California-based Carrington Mortgage Services, a midsized lender, just announced an expansion into the space, offering loans to borrowers, “with less-than-perfect credit.” Carrington will originate and service the loans, but it will also securitize them for sale to investors.

“We believe there is actually a market today in the secondary market for people who want to buy nonprime loans that have been properly underwritten,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president of Carrington Mortgage Holdings. “We’re not going back to the bad old days of ninja lending, when people with no jobs, no income, and no assets were getting loans.” Sharga said Carrington will manually underwrite each loan, assessing the individual risks. But it will allow its borrowers to have FICO credit scores as low as 500. The current average for agency-backed mortgages is in the mid-700s. Borrowers can take out loans of up to $1.5 million on single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums.

They can also do cash-out refinances, where borrowers tap extra equity in their homes, up to $500,000. Recent credit events, like a foreclosure, bankruptcy or a history of late payments are acceptable. All loans, however, will not be the same for all borrowers. If a borrower is higher risk, a higher down payment will be required, and the interest rate will likely be higher. “What we’re talking about is underwriting that goes back to common sense sort of practices. If you have risk, you offset risk somewhere else,” added Sharga, while touting, “We probably are going to have the widest range of products for people with challenging credit in the marketplace.”

Read more …

It’s not about people, it’s about money. Fundamental flaw.

247,977 Stories In The Vacant City (NYDN)

There’s a hidden city in the five boroughs. Though its permanent population is zero, it is growing faster than any other neighborhood. Early numbers from the Census Bureau’s Housing and Vacancy Survey show the unoccupied city has ballooned by 65,406 apartments since 2014, an astonishing 35% jump in size in the three years since the last survey. Today, 247,977 units — equivalent to more than 11% of all rental apartments in New York City — sit either empty or scarcely occupied, even as many New Yorkers struggle to find an apartment they can afford. The Vacant City — let’s call it that, with a tip of the hat to the 1948 movie and old TV series “Naked City” — has tripled in 30 years.

A generation ago, there were just 72,051 apartments in the Vacant City. Back in 1987, when rents were cheap by today’s standards at a median $395 a month, the Vacant City made up less than 4% of rental apartments. Today, the median rent is $1,450, having risen twice as fast as inflation, even while the Vacant City tripled in size. The numbers just don’t add up the way conventional wisdom said they should. For years, development officials, the real estate industry and think tanks have told us that artificially low rents are holding the city back. Higher rents, the argument went, would free landlords to make a reasonable amount of money and serve as an incentive to increase the housing supply.

The new Census gleanings finally put the lie to that reasoning. We have higher prices for sure — but the only part of the city’s residential real estate that has grown is the Vacant City. More apartments are being held off the market than ever. Some remain vacant for legitimate reasons. Almost 28,000 of those unused units have been rented or sold but not yet occupied, or are awaiting a sale. Almost 80,000 are getting renovated, 9,600 tied up in court, and 12,700 vacant because the owner is ill or elderly or simply can’t be bothered. But that still leaves more than 100,000 units — 74,945 occupied temporarily or seasonally, and 27,009 held off the market for unexplained reasons.

Read more …

Shell, Exxon, they’ve all known all along. But they have lots of power.

Judge Rules Exxon Can’t Stop Probe Into Whether They Lied For Decades (Ind.)

A Massachusetts judge has ruled that ExxonMobil cannot stop a probe into whether the oil giant misled shareholders for decades about the dangers of climate change and its impact on their business. The judge, in a Friday ruling, found that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has grounds to pursue its civil investigation into the matter even though Exxon is not technically an in-resident corporation. The judgement follows after a federal judge in New York dismissed a similar lawsuit aimed at ending the climate change probe late last month. In that lawsuit, Exxon argued that Ms Healey and her New York counterpart, Eric Schneiderman, were pursuing their climate probes in bad faith. The judge dismissed the argument as “implausible”.

“For the second time this month, Exxon’s scorched earth campaign to block our investigation has been entirely rejected by the courts. In its decision today, our state’s highest court affirmed that Exxon is subject to our laws, and that our office has authority to investigate,” Ms Healey said in a statement following the decision. “Now Exxon must come forward with the truth, what it knew about climate change, when, and what it told the world. The people of Massachusetts — and people everywhere — deserve answers.” New York and Massachusetts first began their climate change probes after news reports in 2015 found that Exxon had known for years that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary to combat climate change impacts, but did not reveal those concerns to shareholders or the public.

Exxon has denied that their public policies were in any way inconsistent with what their scientists’ findings that climate change poses a serious risk to its business and to the environment.

Read more …

It’s used to be 2100. Now it’s 2030.

World May Hit 2ºC Warming in 10-15 Years Thanks to Fracking (NC)

In 2011, a Cornell University research team first made the groundbreaking discovery that leaking methane from the shale gas fracking boom could make burning fracked gas worse for the climate than coal. In a sobering lecture released this month, a member of that team, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Professor of Engineering Emeritus at Cornell University, outlined more precisely the role U.S. fracking is playing in changing the world’s climate. The most recent climate data suggests that the world is on track to cross the two degrees of warming threshold set in the Paris accord in just 10 to 15 years, says Ingraffea in a 13-minute lecture titled “Shale Gas: The Technological Gamble That Should Not Have Been Taken,” which was posted online on April 4.

That’s if American energy policy follows the track predicted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which expects 1 million natural gas wells will be producing gas in the U.S. in 2050, up from roughly 100,000 today. An average global temperature increase of 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) will bring catastrophic changes — even as compared against a change of 1.5° C (2.7° F). “Heat waves would last around a third longer, rain storms would be about a third more intense, the increase in sea level would be approximately that much higher and the percentage of tropical coral reefs at risk of severe degradation would be roughly that much greater,” with just that half-degree difference, NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained in a 2016 post about climate change.

A draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was leaked this January, concludes that it’s “extremely unlikely” that the world will keep to a 1.5° change, estimating that the world will cross that threshold in roughly 20 years, somewhat slower than Ingraffea’s presentation concludes.

Read more …

Hawking’s successor.

‘There Is No Such Thing As Past Or Future’ (G.)

Rovelli’s work as a physicist, in crude terms, occupies the large space left by Einstein on the one hand, and the development of quantum theory on the other. If the theory of general relativity describes a world of curved spacetime where everything is continuous, quantum theory describes a world in which discrete quantities of energy interact. In Rovelli’s words, “quantum mechanics cannot deal with the curvature of spacetime, and general relativity cannot account for quanta”. Both theories are successful; but their apparent incompatibility is an open problem, and one of the current tasks of theoretical physics is to attempt to construct a conceptual framework in which they both work.

Rovelli’s field of loop theory, or loop quantum gravity, offers a possible answer to the problem, in which spacetime itself is understood to be granular, a fine structure woven from loops. String theory offers another, different route towards solving the problem. When I ask him what he thinks about the possibility that his loop quantum gravity work may be wrong, he gently explains that being wrong isn’t the point; being part of the conversation is the point. And anyway, “If you ask who had the longest and most striking list of results it’s Einstein without any doubt. But if you ask who is the scientist who made most mistakes, it’s still Einstein.”

How does time fit in to his work? Time, Einstein long ago showed, is relative – time passes more slowly for an object moving faster than another object, for example. In this relative world, an absolute “now” is more or less meaningless. Time, then, is not some separate quality that impassively flows around us. Time is, in Rovelli’s words, “part of a complicated geometry woven together with the geometry of space”. For Rovelli, there is more: according to his theorising, time itself disappears at the most fundamental level. His theories ask us to accept the notion that time is merely a function of our “blurred” human perception.

We see the world only through a glass, darkly; we are watching Plato’s shadow-play in the cave. According to Rovelli, our undeniable experience of time is inextricably linked to the way heat behaves. In The Order of Time, he asks why can we know only the past, and not the future? The key, he suggests, is the one-directional flow of heat from warmer objects to colder ones. An ice cube dropped into a hot cup of coffee cools the coffee. But the process is not reversible: it is a one-way street, as demonstrated by the second law of thermodynamics. Time is also, as we experience it, a one-way street. He explains it in relation to the concept of entropy – the measure of the disordering of things.

Entropy was lower in the past. Entropy is higher in the future – there is more disorder, there are more possibilities. The pack of cards of the future is shuffled and uncertain, unlike the ordered and neatly arranged pack of cards of the past. But entropy, heat, past and future are qualities that belong not to the fundamental grammar of the world but to our superficial observation of it. “If I observe the microscopic state of things,” writes Rovelli, “then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between ‘cause’ and ‘effect’.”

Read more …

Extract from Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time.

Why do things fall? Because “..the movement of things inclines naturally towards where time passes more slowly..”

Time is Elastic (Rovelli)

Reality is often very different from what it seems. The Earth appears to be flat but is in fact spherical. The sun seems to revolve in the sky when it is really we who are spinning. Neither is time what it seems to be. Let’s begin with a simple fact: time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level. The difference is small but can be measured with precision timepieces that can be bought today for a few thousand pounds. This slowing down can be detected between levels just a few centimetres apart: a clock placed on the floor runs a little more slowly than one on a table. It is not just the clocks that slow down: lower down, all processes are slower. Two friends separate, with one of them living in the plains and the other going to live in the mountains.

They meet up again years later: the one who has stayed down has lived less, aged less, the mechanism of his cuckoo clock has oscillated fewer times. He has had less time to do things, his plants have grown less, his thoughts have had less time to unfold … Lower down, there is simply less time than at altitude. Einstein understood this slowing down of time a century before we had clocks precise enough to measure it. He imagined that the sun and the Earth each modified the space and time that surrounded them, just as a body immersed in water displaces the water around it. This modification of the structure of time influences in turn the movement of bodies, causing them to “fall” towards each other.

What does it mean, this “modification of the structure of time”? It means precisely the slowing down of time described above: a mass slows down time around itself. The Earth is a large mass and slows down time in its vicinity. It does so more in the plains and less in the mountains, because the plains are closer to it. This is why the friend who stays at sea level ages more slowly. If things fall, it is due to this slowing down of time. Where time passes uniformly, in interplanetary space, things do not fall. They float. Here on the surface of our planet, on the other hand, the movement of things inclines naturally towards where time passes more slowly, as when we run down the beach into the sea and the resistance of the water on our legs makes us fall headfirst into the waves. Things fall downwards because, down there, time is slowed by the Earth.

Read more …