WTI, RBOB Prices Slide After Biggest Inventory Build Since October

WTI (and RBOB) prices slid lower into the NYMEX close ahead of API's report tonight that showed further major builds in crude and products. Crude saw inventories rise 5.83mm barrels last week – the most since the end of October and while Cushing saw its 4th weekly draw in a row, Gasoline and Distillates both saw major builds.



  • Crude +5.83mm (+3mm exp)
  • Cushing -906k (-700k exp)
  • Gasoline +2.86mm
  • Distillates+2.27mm

The crude build is the biggest since October. This is the 5th weekly build in Gasoline in a row…


And despite WTI's seeming magnet to $53, the API data pushed both crude and RBOB lower…


The market “is starting to pay some attention to the fundamentals. It’s hard not to see U.S. production slowing down the impact of OPEC,” James Williams, an economist at London, Ark.-based energy-research firm WTRG Economics, says by phone

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Trump Will Announce Supreme Pick Soon, Expected to Be Gorsuch or Hardiman: P.M. Links

  • TrumpPresident Trump has invited his two finalists for the Supreme Court position—Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman—to come to Washington, D.C. He is expected to announce the pick tonight.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee has delayed its vote to confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.
  • Betsy Devos clears the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. The vote was strictly along party lines.
  • Some academics want to boycott U.S.-based conferences in protest of Trump’s executive order on immigration.
  • Trump’s next immigration order could make life miserable for Sillicon Valley.

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Ray Dalio Sours On Trump, Warns His Policies “Could Hurt The World Economy (And Worse)”

Less than a week after Donald Trump won the presidency, the head of the world’s biggest hedge fund, Ray Dalio, unexpectedly declared that he was a firm believer in Trump’s policies in a lengthy LinkedIn article in which he praised the coming age of Trump: “there is a good chance that we are at one of those major reversals that last a decade (like the 1970-71 shift from the 1960s period of non-inflationary growth to the 1970s decade of stagflation, or the 1980s shift to disinflationary strong growth)…. there’s a good chance that the economy/market will shift from what we have gotten used to and what we will experience over the next many years will be very different from that.”

It now appears that Trump’s honeymoon with some of the biggest asset managers is now officially over, because in his latest Daily Observations note, scooped by BBG, Dalio and co-CIO Bob Prince write that he’s becoming “more concerned that the damaging effects of President Donald Trump’s populist policies may overwhelm the benefits of his pro-business agenda.”

“We are now in a period of time when how this balance tilts will be more important to the economy, markets, and our well-beings than normally dominant drivers such as central bank policies,” Dalio wrote. The duo added that the current investment environment is marked by “exceptional uncertainty” and recommended avoiding concentrated bets, and holding easy-to-sell assets.

And, as Bloomberg puts it, Dalio is “turning sour” on the new leader following his ban on visitors from seven mostly Muslim countries and his proposed border tax on Mexican goods. Earlier this month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Dalio said it remains to be seen whether Trump is aggressive and thoughtful, or aggressive and reckless. So far the executives said they haven’t seen much thoughtfulness in Trump’s policy moves.

Voicing a tone of caution that has increasingly gripped markets as they shift away from the euphoria phase and revert back to reality, the Bridgewater authors write that “while there is a lot of potential to improve fiscal policies and make beneficial structural reforms (to enhance the business friendly environment, reduce regulatory inefficiencies, etc.), there is also significant risk that his populist policies could hurt the world economy (and worse),” Dalio and Prince said.

Their conclusion: “Nationalism, protectionism and militarism increase global tensions and the risks of conflict. For these reasons, while we remain open-minded, we are increasingly concerned about the emerging policies of the Trump administration,” they said.

As we will shortly show in a subsequent post, Wall Street disenchantment with Trump is growing fast – as expected – now that the market has failed to make new record highs in at least few days. The first correction, or worse, bear market, and the new president will suddenly find his hands full justifying his policies to the same Wall Street which until just a few weeks ago could not stop singing his praises… after completely failing to predict his victory, of course.

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Despite Late Panic-Bid, Stocks Slump Most In 4 Months Amid Currency Chaos

January was a tough month for some…


The S&P 500 just posted its least volatile January in at least 55 years. Avg high-low intraday range of 0.55%, smallest since at least 1961 (@CallieBost)

January was good for gold again – the 4th positive January in a row for Gold (and 8th positive January in the last 11 years)


The Dow managed to cling to gains for the month (the first positive January for The Dow since 2013)…

The last two days have seen the biggest drop in The Dow since September 26th.

The panic bid in Small Caps saved them from 4th January in a row of losses…


All thanks to yet another short-squeeze…


Dow 20k seems like a long way away again now…


VIX was once again the ramp-igniting ammo…


All of which is interesting given that the Presidential cycle signals Feb as a big loser


Energy stocks were January's biggest losers, banks broke-even, and tech led the way but faded most in the last 3 days…


Breadth remains ugly…


Notably S&P bank stocks underperformed Russell today… (As Bloomberg notes – blame The REITs)


As Bloomberg's Michael Regan noted earlier, it's tempting to blame Trump's latest statements for everything going on in the markets, but some big-name earnings make it obvious that equities would have struggled even if the President had taken today off. UPS showed the risk from the surging dollar last quarter and spoke of "continued softness in industrial production," while Exxon Mobil's $2 billion writedown shows that all the shoes from the oil bear market have yet to drop. Then there is Under Armour and Harley Davidson, which may not be sending any macro signals but are ugly stories regardless. About two-fifths of the way into the earnings season, the rate at which S&P 500 companies are beating estimates has slowed to 2.7% and the growth rate is 4%. A blockbuster earnings season may have helped the market look past the volatility in the White House, but at the moment it's not providing enough of a distraction.

Under Armor is probably the best example today…catching down to reality…


And the analysts nailed it…


"Most Shorted" Stocks are down 4 days in a row for a drop of over 5% – the worst since Brexit…


Does that mean it's time for a short squeeze?


After yesterday's brief MSFT issuance interruption, Treasuries resumed their rally, moving yields lower on the month (only 2Y remains very marginally higher in yield on the month)…

January closes at a record high of $227.45b in investment grade bond sales in at least three years – which likley explains the 3 big spikes in yields as rate-locks were piled on.



The Dollar index tumbled almost 3% in January – the worst month since March 2016… led by AUD and JPY strength…

The dollar index has erased the post-ECB and post-Fed gains.

The dollar demise appears to be following last year's analog rather well…


Today's double whammy on the Dollar as Navarro and Trump commented on currency manipulators. NOTE – as we pointed out perviously, the dump'n'pump pattern continues in the dollar…


As The Dollar tumbled, so Bitcoin broke out in China…


And January was the strongest for the Yuan since September 2010…


January was the worst month for US Macro Surprises since September.


Crude continues to oscillate around $53 as Copper has rallied…


Gold closed the month above $1200 (and Silver above $17.50)…


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Uneven Distribution of Wealth in the World

Where would you have to jump on a plane to in order to be able to see the most egalitarian country in the world? Where exactly would you need to go and could you take it living surrounded half the year with snow, or with a volcano ready to erupt? But, you might just put up with all of that just so long as the people had a greater and more even distribution of wealth between them.

It’s time that the rich stopped getting richer and the poor stopped having to slave away, isn’t it? If you did want that, then you would have to go to Iceland.

http://ift.tt/2jS37eAThe last time Iceland was in the news it was in 2008 when the Icelandic Financial Crisis started. It was the largest banking collapse experienced by any country in the world, relative to its economy. Perhaps though there are great lessons to be learnt from what happened to them. At least the Icelandic people came out of it with a greater spread of wealth in the country. What did the USA get out of the financial crisis? Just richer banks and wealthier 1%-ers. Perhaps now is the time to start learning from others rather than believing that we, the Americans, have done it, been there, seen it and heard it all before.

Gini Index

The Gini Index is a measurement of equality of wealth in a country and it has a base rate of zero, at which everybody has perfectly the same amount of wealth in society. A score of one (100%) means that there is extreme inequality in a country. Maximum inequality of 1 means that only one person possesses all income and means of consumption in a country. The Gini Index or the Gini Ratio was developed by an Italian statistician called Corrado Gini in 1912. The Index can be used to valuate also the before and tax distribution of wealth in a country. The USA comes out looking pretty dismally in the Index as it does very little to reduce inequality in the country between people.

In 2010, the then Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn stated in a speech: “But globalization also had a dark side. Lurking behind it was a large and growing chasm between rich and poor—especially within countries. An inequitable distribution of wealth can wear down the social fabric. More unequal countries have worse social indicators, a poorer human development record, and higher degrees of economic insecurity and anxiety. In too many countries, inequality increased and real wages stagnated—failing to keep up with productivity—over the past few decades. Ominously, inequality in the United States was back at its pre-Great Depression levels on the eve of the crisis.”

Inequality stops economic growth. Inequality prevents poor people from accessing the social fabric and it also diverts those people into other activities that are unproductive or illegal. Without sharing of economic growth within and without of a country, there will be a backlash one day from those that are not able to participate actively in the accumulation of the wealth.

So, where are the countries that are doing little to redistribute anything amongst the majority of people? Not as far from home as you may think! The following figures are taken from the study carried out on Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

Greatest Uneven Distribution of Wealth

10. Japan

Japan has a Gini Index (after tax and transfer) that stands at 0.336. It is therefore the 10th country with the largest unequal distribution of wealth in society. But, it’s way ahead of the USA, in 4th position as one of the worst countries in the world.

9. Greece

The Gini Index for this ailing economic country stands at 0.337 (post tax and transfers). Without taking taxes and transfers into account Greece would have had the 4th highest inequality of wealth in the OECD world. Many are prone to criticize the bad economics and finances of the country, but few are willing to look at their own country’s plight.

8. Spain

The Gini Index for Spain amounts to 0.338 (post tax and transfers) and so it is the 8th worst unequal country in the OECD world. Is the unequal distribution of wealth due to the relatively low rates of education (54% of Spaniards only aged 25 to 64 years old possess upper secondary education)? Spain has an unemployment rate that is still at 23.78% today.

7. United Kingdom

The distribution of wealth in the UK is the 7th worst in OECD countries, with a Gini Index (post tax and transfers) standing at 0.341. However, if we take into account pre-tax and transfers, then it has the 3rd worst unequal distribution of wealth. Will the UK’s position see a drastic change when the newly elected government of David Cameron decides to implement further cuts in allowances and family financial support that was announced during the election campaign? David Cameron was elected on making £12 billion in savings on the Welfare State. So far, they have only been able to account for where £2 billion is going to come from.

6. Portugal

This country has the 6th position and has a Gini (post tax and transfers) Index of 0.344 just ahead of the UK. Portugal has the lowest number of residents in an OECD country that has a tertiary degree (17.3%) and unemployment still stands at 13.7% in May 2015.

5. Israel

The Gini index (post tax and transfers) stands at 0.376 just behind the USA. It has the 4th lowest percentage of social spending to GDP ratio (15.8%). Unemployment in Israel, however, only stands at 5.3% today.

4. United States

The USA’s Gini (post tax and transfers) index stands at 0.38 and is one of the worst in the world (OECD). It has the 11th lowest social sending as a percentage of GDP (20%). It has the 3rd highest GDP per capita in the OECD. 42% of people aged between 25 and 64 have a tertiary degree . But, despite this, there is still great inequality in the country between the rich and the poor.

3. Turkey

The Gini (post tax and transfers) Index here stands at 0.411 and it is the 3rd worst country in the world. Only 14% of the population have a tertiary degree (ages 25 to 64). This is the lowest level of tertiary education in the OECD world.

2. Mexico

This country has a Gini (post tax and transfers) Index of 0.466 and it is the 2nd worst country for inequality in the world. It only spends 7.4% of GDP on social areas to try to reduce that inequality.

1. Chile

This country is the worst in the world for inequality amongst OECD countries. It has a Gini (post tax and transfers) Index that stands at 0.501 and its social spending as a percentage of GDP stands at 10.2% (the 3rd lowest in the world).  It currently has a GDP growth rate of 1.04% and yet it has great inequality in the country. The greatest.


It’s not surprising perhaps that Iceland is the country with the lowest gap between the rich and the poor. This is, after all, the country where the people in the wake of the financial crisis and the meltdown marched on their Parliament and demanded the resignation of the government. The protest came to be known as the Kitchenware Revolution or the Kitchen Implement Revolution because the people marched on the seat of the Icelandic government in Reykjavik on January 20th 2009 and banged on pots, pans and kitchenware until the government resigned. Then, a new government formed following an election and for the first time in the history of the country and in fact in the world 25 people with nothing to do with the political world whatsoever were elected from the people directly and formed a Constitutional Assembly that would see the writing of a new Constitution, this time one that came from the real people.

Who’s for marching on the Capitol with their baking tins?

Are you prepared to allow the USA still to have the 4th most uneven distribution of wealth between the rich and the poor? Wasn’t this the land of opportunity at one time, many eons ago? 


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Expert: Title IX Guidance Exists to Deprive Accused Male Students of Fair Hearings

DevosDefenders of the Education Department’s Title IX dictates usually insist that the point of the law is to provide female students equal access to education. Because the campus sexual assault epidemic had effectively denied women this opportunity, it was necessary for the federal government to step up Title IX enforcement, activists say.

But now and then, the mask slips.

Consider this interview with Andrew Morse, a director for policy and research at NASPA and consultant on higher education compliance issues. The interview is somewhat aimless, but the underlying point seems to be this: campus sexual assault policies in the states vary wildly, which could become an issue if Betsy DeVos becomes Education Secretary and reins in the Office for Civil Rights, the agency responsible for enforcing Title IX.

To recap, here is the full text of Title IX: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

With that in mind, consider some rather stunning admissions from Morse, an expert on governmental anti-sexual assault policy who is asked here to defend extra-legal, university-based adjudication systems for sexual crimes. I have bolded the most relevant passages:

And so, the aims of the court system are completely different than those of the campus-conduct system. A finding of responsibility on the part of the assailant in a campus-conduct system might mean that they are removed from the campus. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to prison, and it doesn’t also prevent that individual from seeking further study elsewhere after a period of time, perhaps.

But the point about the need for federal law and regulation that is trauma-informed and fair is that it can protect the rights to all parties involved in the adjudication process following a claim. … The lower threshold as articulated in guidance in 2011 by the Office for Civil Rights provides the foundation for a likely outcome of responsibility that will protect survivors of sexual violence while still not prohibiting the individual found responsible for seeking educational opportunities later. The point of campus-adjudication processes is to affirm the rights of individuals to educational opportunities. And the reason we need federal laws and regulations to protect that structure, is that absent federal law and regulation, there isn’t an established process to do that across the states.

The notion that OCR’s current interpretation of Title IX—which requires universities to adjudicate sexual misconduct under a preponderance of the evidence standard—does not significantly harm the accused students’ educational opportunities is ludicrous. A student found responsible for sexual misconduct and expelled from campus may not be headed to jail, but he will face any number of serious social consequences, including significant difficulties in finding a new school that will take him.

Of course, this is an explicit goal of Title IX activists, many of whom favor laws that would require colleges to make a note on an accused student’s transcript that he was involved in a sexual misconduct matter. The idea that accused students shouldn’t be able to simply move on to another school is foundational to the victims’ rights movement.

But Morse’s most telling statement is this: “The lower threshold as articulated in guidance in 2011 by the Office for Civil Rights provides the foundation for a likely outcome of responsibility.” It’s not about finding the truth, or administering justice. The purpose of the guidance is to make it more likely that accused students are found responsible, whether or not they have done anything wrong. OCR has tipped the scales in favor of alleged victims, because the lives of the accused matter less than the lives of the accusers.

How’s that for justice?

It is wrong to pretend that a student found responsible for sexual misconduct isn’t significantly burdened by the outcome. It’s downright malevolent to say that since the burden on the accused is small, biasing the process against him is not merely acceptable, but actually required under federal law.

What a spectacular misinterpretation of a law intended to foster equality between the sexes in education. We can’t be sure that DeVos actually intends to reform OCR, but we should be sure that reform is necessary.

For more Title IX insanity, read this story about a male student expelled from Amherst University—even though he has some evidence his female accuser was the perpetrator.

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The Other ‘Ban’ That Was Quietly Announced Last Week

Submitted by Simon Black via SovereignMan.com,

Most of the world is in an uproar right now over the travel ban that Donald Trump hastily imposed late last week on citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries.

But there was another ban that was quietly proposed last week, and this one has far wider implications: a ban on cash.

The European Union’s primary executive authority, known as the European Commission, issued a “Road Map” last week to initiate continent-wide legislation against cash.

There are already a number of anti-cash legislative measures that have been passed in individual European member states.

In France, for example, it’s illegal to make purchases of more than 1,000 euros in cash.

And any cash deposit or withdrawal to/from a French bank account exceeding 10,000 euros within a single month must be reported to the authorities.

Italy banned cash payments above 1,000 euros back in 2011; Spain has banned cash payments in excess of 2,500 euros.

And the European Central Bank announced last year that it would stop production of 500-euro notes, which will eventually phase them out altogether.

But apparently these disparate rules don’t go far enough.

According to the Commission, the presence of cash controls in some EU countries, coupled with the lack of cash controls in other EU countries, creates loopholes for criminals and terrorists.

So that’s why the European Commission is now working to standardize a ban on cash, or at least implement severe restrictions and reporting, across the entire EU.

The Commission’s roadmap indicates that forthcoming legislation, likely to be enacted next year.

This is happening. And it may serve as the perfect case study for the rest of the world.

A growing bandwagon of academics and policy makers in other countries, including the United States, UK, Australia, etc. has been calling for prohibitions against cash.

It’s always the same song: cash is a tool for criminals and terrorists.

Harvard economist Ken Rogoff is a leading voice in the War on Cash; his new book The Curse of Cash claims that physical currency makes the world less safe.

Rogoff further states “all that cash” is being used for “tax evasion, corruption, terrorism, the drug trade, human trafficking. . .”

Wow. Sounds pretty grim.

Apparently pulling out a $5 bill to tip your valet makes you a member of ISIS now.

Of course, this is total nonsense.

A recent Gallup poll from last year shows that a healthy 24% of Americans still use cash to make all or most of their purchases, compared to the other options like debit cards, credit cards, checks, bank transfers, PayPal, etc.

And the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco released a ton of data late last year showing that:

  • 52% of grocery purchases, along with personal care products, are made in cash
  • 62% of purchases up to $10 are made in cash
  • But even at much higher amounts over $100, nearly 1 in 5 purchases are still made using physical cash

This doesn’t sound life nefarious criminal activity to me.

It seems that perfectly normal, law-abiding citizens still use cash on a regular basis.

But that doesn’t seem to matter.

A bunch of university professors who have probably never been within 1,000 miles of ISIS think that a ban on cash would make us all safer from terrorists.

You probably recall the horrible Christmas attack in Berlin last month in which a Tunisian man drove a truck through a crowded pedestrian mall, killing 12 people.

Well, the attacker was found with 1,000 euros in cash.

The logic, therefore, is to ban cash.

I’m sure he was also found wearing pants. Perhaps we should ban those too.

This idea that criminals and terrorists only deal in bricks of cash is a pathetic fantasy regurgitated by the serially uninformed.

I learned this first hand, years ago, when I was an intelligence officer in the Middle East: criminals and terrorists don’t need to rely on cash.

The 9/11 attackers spent months living in the United States, and they routinely used bank accounts, credit cards, and traveler’s checks to finance themselves.

And both criminal organizations and terrorist networks have access to a multitude of funding options from legitimate businesses and charities, along with access to a highly developed internal system of credit.

A cash ban wouldn’t have prevented 9/11, nor would it have prevented the Berlin Christmas attack.

What cash controls do affect, however, are the financial options of law-abiding people.

These policymakers and academics acknowledge that banning cash would reduce consumers’ financial privacy. And that’s true.

But they’re totally missing the point. Cash isn’t about privacy.

It’s one of the only remaining options in a financial system that has gone totally crazy.

Especially in Europe, where interest rates are negative and many banks are on the verge of collapse, cash is a protective shelter in a storm of chaos.

Think about it: every time you make a deposit at your bank, that savings no longer belongs to you. It’s now the bank’s money. It’s their asset, not yours.

You become an unsecured creditor of the bank with nothing more than a claim on their balance sheet, beholden to all the stupidity and shenanigans that they have a history of perpetrating.

Banks never miss an opportunity to prove to the rest of the world that they do not deserve the trust that we place in them.

And for now, anyone who wishes to divorce themselves from these consequences can simply withdraw a portion of their savings and hold cash.

Cash means there is no middleman standing between you and your savings.

Banning it, for any reason, destroys this option and subjects every consumer to the whims of a financial system that is stacked against us.

Do you have a Plan B?

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JPMorgan Is Not Looking Forward To Today’s Apple Earnings

While hardly any analysts or traders expect Apple to report blockbuster earnings today on the back of slowing smartphone sales, challenging iPhone 7 adoption, rising competition in China, and generally a loss of Apple’s trademark creative spark under the “new management” which is far more interested in stock buybacks and M&A, few are as skeptical as JPM’s Rod Hall who, following last week’s downgrade by Barclays, came this close to losing his faith in the world’s largest company (he still has an Overweight rating… of course).

This is what he said to expect in today’s AAPL earnings:

Expecting a weak iPhone unit guide with variability from ASPs, FX and Airpods

We believe guidance for FQ2 to March is likely to be lower than many expect on weaker iPhone unit volume. ASPs could partially offset this but the negative FX impact is probably enough to make the two effects a wash. Airpods, however, could add a little kick as the tiny things are nearly impossible to find with leadtimes at 6 weeks globally. At the current share price we doubt Apple deals with short term hiccups well.

Having said that we believe the stock remains a strong value opportunity assuming the board will eventually pay a higher dividend. We also buy into the consensus view that the iPhone cycle should be better this year.

  • Higher Plus version mix could boost ASPs: Our supply chain checks indicate that the mix of the Plus version could be 45% – 50%, higher than our previous estimate of ~40%. A 10% increase in Plus version mix would result in an ASP boost of ~1.4%, as shown in the sensitivity analysis in Table 2.
  • FX headwind. We estimate that the US dollar strengthening since the last earnings could drive a ~1.5% negative impact to revenues, as shown in Table 3.
  • iPhone 7+ lead times better: In the top 10 iPhone countries, iPhone 7+ lead times improved materially in December as production caught up with demand. We don’t believe that the iPhone 7 saw any material supply shortages during the quarter. Overall, we believe that iPhone demand is progressing more or less in line with our below-consensus forecasts.
  • AirPods positive: According to Slice Intelligence, AirPods have taken ~26% share of the wireless headsets market since their availability on Dec 13. The lead time remains high at ~6weeks globally even though we suspect Apple has been increasing production. We estimate that every ~1m AirPods shipped in a quarter would result in a positive EPS impact of ~0.4%, as shown in Table 4. At a maximum we believe that the good Airpod momentum may have boosted EPS by ~1% in FQ1.
  • Share repurchases could be stronger than expected: Apple’s outstanding share count declined by 74m between Oct 14 and Dec 30. This decline is materially better than the 31m decline we saw in almost the same time frame last year. We are currently assuming only $7.5bn in repurchases (+9% Y/Y) in our model. Given the stronger decline in outstanding shares and flat average share price Y/Y in Q4, we wouldn’t be surprised to see better than expected buybacks in FQ1.
  • App revenue continued growth: On Jan 5, Apple announced that the App Store recorded New Year’s Day as its busiest single day ever, following a record-breaking holiday season. Apple said in 2016 developers earned over $20bn, up over 40% from 2015. Based on Apple’s app developer revenue disclosure, we estimate that iOS App revenue for Apple grew by ~29% Y/Y in CH2’16, following 58% Y/Y growth in CH1’16.
  • FQ1’17 Estimates/Guidance: We forecast revenue of $76.9bn (consensus $77.4bn, guidance $76bn – $78bn), GAAP gross margin of 38.3% (consensus 38.4%, guidance 38.0% – 38.5%), GAAP EBIT margin of 29.3% (consensus 29.4%) and GAAP EPS of $3.20 (consensus $3.22).

* * *

Will JPM’s harsh pessimism be accurate? For the results tune in at 4:30pm.

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Freedom Continues Its Decade-Long Retreat Around the Globe

PutinMariaoleinokovaDreamstimeFreedom House is a think tank devoted to promoting the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world. Every year, the organization releases a report updating how political and civil rights are faring in 195 countries. In its latest report, Freedom in the World 2017, the group finds that freedom has been receding for a decade after it peaked in 2006 when 47 percent of countries were free, 30 percent partly free and 23 percent were not free. The Freedom House analysts are particularly worried about the increase in tribalism, uh, nationalist populism, in Europe and the United States and crack-downs by emboldened autocrats, especially Xi in China and Putin in Russia.

Freedom House measures freedom in each country on a scale of 0 to 100. The countries with the worst aggregate civil and political liberties scores included Syria (-1), Eritrea, Uzbekistan, North Korea (3 each), South Sudan and Turkmenistan (4 each). The countries that received the highest scores are Finland, Norway, Sweden (100 each), Netherlands (99), Australia, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Uruguay (98 each). The United States’ aggregate score was 89 points. In comparison, China and Russia scored 15 and 20 points respectively.

In its 2006 report, Freedom House noted, “On the whole, the state of freedom showed substantial improvement worldwide, with 27 countries and one territory registering gains and only 9 countries showing setbacks. The global picture thus suggests that the past year was one of the most successful for freedom since Freedom House began measuring world freedom in 1972.”

The more somber 2017 report observes, “A total of 67 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2016, compared with 36 that registered gains. This marked the 11th consecutive year in which declines outnumbered improvements.” Overall, the percent of free countries fell to 45 percent and percent of not free countries rose to 25 percent and partly free countries held steady at 30 percent.


Back in 2011, independent political scientist Jay Ulfelder told my Reason colleague Jesse Walker that after period of making major gains the global trend toward greater freedom had plateaued and experienced some “minor slippage.” Now Ulfelder acknowledges, “It’s now getting to the point that talking about the erosion of freedom around the world is valid.” By rescaling and parsing the Freedom House data on a 10 point population weighted scale Ulfelder aims to quantify how the average individual on earth is faring with respect to civil and political liberties. He calculates that global freedom peaked at 5.321 points in 2005 and has now dropped to 5.098 points; that is about back to where it stood at the turn of the millennium.

In a more hopeful contrast, the latest Economic Freedom of the World report (using 2014 data) from the Fraser Institute found that “the economic freedom rating for advanced countries with ratings since 1985 has increased from 6.9 to 7.7 in 2014. The average chain-linked economic freedom rating for developing countries with ratings since 1985 has increased from 5.0 to 6.7 in 2014.” However, if autocracy and nationalist populism continue to rise, I predict that this trend will be reversed and more people will soon be both poorer and less free.

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The First Firestorm

Submitted by Patrick Buchanan via Buchanan.org,

That hysterical reaction to the travel ban announced Friday is a portent of what is to come if President Donald Trump carries out the mandate given to him by those who elected him.

The travel ban bars refugees for 120 days. From Syria, refugees are banned indefinitely. And a 90-day ban has been imposed on travel here from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

Was that weekend-long primal scream really justified?

As of Monday, no one was being detained at a U.S. airport.

Yet the shrieking had not stopped. All five stories on page one of Monday’s Washington Post were about the abomination. The New York Times’ editorial, “Trashing American Ideals and Security,” called it bigoted, cowardly, xenophobic, Islamophobic, un-American, unrighteous.

This ban, went the weekend wail, is the “Muslim ban” of the Trump campaign. But how so, when not one of the six largest Muslim countries — Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey — was on the list? Missing also were three-dozen other Muslim countries.

Of the seven countries facing a 90-day ban, three are U.S.-designated state sponsors of terror, and the other four are war zones. Clearly, this is about homeland security, not religious discrimination.

The criterion for being included in the travel ban appears to be that these places are the more likely breeding grounds for terrorists.

Yet there are lessons for the Trump White House in the media-stoked panic and outrage at the end of his first week in office.

First, Steve Bannon’s observation that the media are “the opposition party,” is obviously on target. While Sen. Chuck Schumer was crying on camera that the ban was “un-American,” the media were into the more serious business of stampeding and driving the protesters.

A second lesson is one every White House learns. Before a major decision is announced, if possible, get everyone’s input and everyone on board to provide what Pat Moynihan called the “second and third echelons of advocacy.” Those left out tend to leak.

A third lesson Trump should learn is that the establishment he routed and the city he humiliated are out to break him as they broke LBJ on Vietnam, Nixon on Watergate, and almost broke Reagan on the Iran-Contra affair.

While the establishment may no longer be capable of inspiring and leading the nation, so detested is it, it has not lost its appetite or its ability to break and bring down presidents.

And Trump is vulnerable, not only because he is an envied outsider who seized the highest prize politics has on offer, but because his agenda would cancel out that of the elites.

They believe in open borders, free trade, globalization. Trump believes in securing the Southern border, bringing U.S. industry home, economic nationalism, “America First.”

They want endless immigration from the Third World to remake America into the polyglot “universal nation” of Ben Wattenberg’s utopian vision. Trump’s followers want back the America they knew.

Our foreign policy elites see democratization as a vocation and an autocratic Russia as an implacable enemy. Trump instead sees Moscow as a potential ally against real enemies like al-Qaida and ISIS.

There is another reason for the reflexive howl at Trump’s travel ban. The establishment views it, probably correctly, as the first move toward a new immigration policy, built on pre-1965 foundations, and rooted in a preference for Western-Christian immigrants first.

When the Times rages that “American ideals” or “traditional American values” are under attack by Trump, what they really mean is that their ideology and agenda are threatened by Trump.

We are headed for a series of collisions and crises, and what has happened in Europe will likely happen here. As the Third World invasion and growing Islamization of the Old Continent — which the EU has proven unable to stop — has discredited centrist parties and continuously fed a populist-nationalist uprising there, so may it here also.

And Trump not only appears to have no desire to yield to his enemies in politics and the media, he has no choice, as he is now the personification of a surging Middle American counterrevolution.

Undeniably, there are great numbers of Americans who agree with the libels the Times showered on Trump and, by extension, his backers whom Hillary Clinton designated “the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic … deplorables.”

But by whatever slurs they are called, Middle Americans seem prepared to fight. And history shows that such people do not calmly accept the loss of what is most precious to them — the country they grew up in, the country they love.

They have turned to Trump to lead them. Why should he not, having been raised up by them, and knowing in his own heart what the establishment and the media think of him and would do to him?

Ten days in, and already it is “Game On!”

via http://ift.tt/2kOLAWd Tyler Durden