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Friday 10.31.2014

World Bank to cut 500 jobs in some units as part of revamp
The World Bank said it plans to cut 500 jobs over the next three years as part of a broad restructuring meant to make it more efficient but that has rattled employees. The long-expected layoffs, along with budget cuts and internal reorganization, have sparked regular staff protests and fears of a broader revolt at a time when the bank is trying to ramp up its work in fighting the Ebola outbreak and other global challenges, and maintain its relevance. The cuts, announced on Thursday, represent about an 11 percent reduction in the 4,500-employee workforce of the bank's internal-facing divisions, including finance, human resources, research and security. These divisions employ about a quarter of the bank's total staff. The bank also plans to cancel 70 vacant job openings, though it wants to hire 250 to 300 new people, largely in its Chennai, India office, which runs some of its administrative and other operations.

Greenspan upstages the Fed to offer some free investment advice
The Federal Reserve brought an end to a chapter of its unconventional monetary policy on Wednesday with little fanfare and no surprises. Well, almost. About the same time as Fed policymakers were preparing the announcement, former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan decided it would be an appropriate time to share a few of his own views about the state of the economy. Greenspan said he thought quantitative easing, the program the Fed ended Wednesday, hadn't done anything to stimulate the economy. That's fair enough. Plenty of economists agree. He went on to say he thought that the lingering effects of quantitative easing could lead to inflation more or less at any moment, and that inflation is now basically out of the Fed's control. Then he told his audience to buy gold. Apparently, Greenspan doesn't even think hiding your money in a mattress will keep it safe in the turmoil that's inevitably coming to global markets.

Citigroup sets aside $600 million more to cover legal costs
Citigroup Inc said it was setting aside an extra $600 million to cover legal expenses in the third quarter due to "rapidly evolving regulatory inquiries," while also disclosing that it was subject to foreign exchange market probes. Citigroup is one of six major banks that are expected to settle with Britain's Financial Conduct Authority by mid-November over allegations that the banks manipulated foreign exchange markets. The banks are aiming to settle for a total of around 1.5 billion pounds sterling, or $2.42 billion, sources have told Reuters. Barclays Plc, another of the six banks, said on Thursday it had set aside 500 million pounds for the third quarter to cover potential fines. Big banks have paid billions of dollars in recent years to settle investigations into their mortgage lending, commodities and interest-rate trading, and a wide range of other activities. Authorities have broadly been trying to hold banks accountable for the excesses that led to the financial crisis.

Why aren’t voters embracing the economic upswing?

Shadow Banking Assets Increase By $5 Trillion To Record $75 Trillion, 120% Of Global GDP
Call it Monitoring Universe of Non-Bank Financial Intermediation (MUNFI), Other Financial Intermediaries (OFI), non-bank financial intermediation or, easiest of all, by its widely accepted name, Shadow banking. Whatever you want to call it, the latest just released estimate by the Financial Stability Board of how many assets current exist outside of the regular banking system (and are thus in the shadows) around the globe should explain why these day the one thing central bankers are most worried about is the uncontrolled proliferation of shadow assets (technically it is liabilities, but that is a different discussion). The reason: according to the broadest measure of shadow banking, it grew by $5 trillion in 2013 to reach $75 trillion. This represents some 25% of total financial assets and when expressed in terms of global GDP, it amounts some 120% of global GDP. We are not exactly sure which is scarier: that total financial assets amount to about 500% of world GDP or that about $75 trillion...

FEMA conducts pandemic training in NY, NJ
Talk about timing. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is currently in the middle of a two-year pandemic training exercise with New York City and northern New Jersey. Titled “2013-14 Pandemic Influenza Continuity Exercise Strategy,” the FEMA training simulates a global pandemic of influenza that spreads from person to person, including in the U.S. The Obama administration, meanwhile, is under fire for its mishandling of the Ebola crisis, allowing infected people to enter the country and cause widespread panic and political turmoil as officials make claims and promises that turn out to be false. The FEMA training began last year, before the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has killed nearly 5,000 people. An overview of the training includes a list of assumptions such as that the “clinical disease attack rate will likely be 30 percent or higher in the overall population,” utilizing a prediction from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sources: Former Guantanamo detainees suspected of joining ISIS, other groups in Syria
As many as 20 to 30 former Guantanamo Bay detainees -- some of whom were released within the last three years -- are suspected by intelligence and Defense officials of having joined forces with the Islamic State and other militant groups inside Syria, Fox News has learned. The development has cemented fears that the U.S. military would once again encounter militants taken off the battlefield. The intelligence offers a mixed picture, and officials say the figures are not exact. But they are certain at least some of the released detainees are fighting with the Islamic State, or ISIS, on the ground inside Syria. Others are believed to be supporting Al Qaeda or the affiliated al-Nusra Front in Syria. A number of former detainees also have chosen to help these groups from outside the country, financing operations and supporting their propaganda campaigns. Sources who spoke to Fox News were not able to provide the identities of the fighters.

Ukraine, Moscow Clinch Deal on Russian Gas Supply
Moscow and Kiev on Thursday clinched a multi-billion dollar deal that will guarantee that Russian gas exports flow into Ukraine and beyond to the European Union throughout the winter despite their intense rivalry over the fighting in eastern Ukraine. EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, whose offices mediated the talks for months, said the EU will also help cash-strapped Ukraine with the payments through aid and guarantees. "There is now no reason for people in Europe to stay cold this winter," he said. Barroso added that he was "hopeful that the agreement can contribute to increase trust between Russia and Ukraine." EU energy chief Guenther Oettinger said that "we can guarantee a security of supply over the winter," not only for Ukraine but also for the EU nations closest to the region that stood to suffer should the gas standoff have worsened. A similar standoff in 2009 had caused serious disruptions in gas flowing from Russia into the EU and it was a prospect the bloc sought to avoid.

Jeb Bush and taxes—read my lips, part II
Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) is thinking seriously about running for president in 2016, according to his son, George P. Bush. According to Commentary magazine, Jeb Bush had an impressive record as governor, including tax reductions totaling $20 billion. Given that performance, why is Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, upset? Politico, and many others, assert it’s because of an answer Bush gave in 2012 to a hypothetical question posed by a member of the House Budget Committee, which resurfaced now as he contemplates running for president. Bush was asked if he could accept tax increases of $1 dollar for every $10 dollars in spending cuts. He said he could and seemed enthusiastic about the 10-for-1 formula. Norquist and other anti-tax advocates perhaps see in Bush’s comment a replay of his father’s pledge at the 1988 Republican National Convention: “Read my lips: No new taxes.” He violated that pledge when congressional Democrats promised to cut spending in exchange for tax increases.

Several Years Away From High-Yield Correction: Michele

Why Businesses Claim Their Employees Aren’t Employees
“The saying around the building was, ‘It’s their sandbox. We only get to play in it,’ former FedEx driver Agostino Scalercio told Bloomberg. Scalercio worked for the package delivery company five days a week for 10 years, and says he went to work every day at 6 a.m., put in 10-hour shifts, strictly adhered to the company’s policies on delivery times, vehicle maintenance, and employee grooming standards. He even deducted money from his paycheck to pay for his uniform. Scalercio was a model employee, except for this issue: FedEx never really considered him as one of its employees. He was just playing in the company’s sandbox. FedEx classifies its drivers as independent contractors instead of employees. Because of this, the company did not pay him overtime or contribute to Social Security benefits. Yet, the company was more than willing to treat contractors exactly like full-time staff members in nearly every other regard, including deducting money from its driver’s paychecks to pay for uniforms...

The Chipotlification of American Fast Food
How trends from the fast-casual craze are trickling down into the struggling fast-food universe. On Wednesday, Taco Bell launched a new mobile app that allows its customers to order and pay for their meals from the clinical distance of a smartphone. An app user would then be able to skip the line and pick up his or her "fourth meal" (Taco Bell speak for "snack") upon arrival. The app even offers special deals and saves customers' favorite orders and payment settings, neatly kept for future bingeing. The publicity rollout for the app employed typical Taco Bell panache the company downed its own website and blacked out its entire social media presence in promotion of the Live Más app. This funereal effect seemed to imply that Taco Bell was being reborn through its app. The video announcement was no less messianic. The Live Más app will "reinvent the way we interact with consumers," said Taco Bell resident disruptor Jeff Jenkins...

Denmark’s McDonald’s Workers Aren’t Demanding $15 an Hour—Because They’re Already Making $20
Imagine a world where fast food workers can pay their rent and utility bills, plus buy their children food and clothes. Well, you don't have to imagine it because such a place exists. It's called Denmark. A New York Times article on Tuesday chronicled the life of a Danish fast food worker named Hampus Elofsson, who works 40 hours a week at a Burger King in Copenhagen, and makes enough not only to pay his bills, but to save some money and enjoy a night out with friends. His wage: $20 per hour. Yep, you read that right. The base wage in Denmark is close to two and a half times what American fast food workers make. Elofsson's pay is the kind of wage that Anthony Moore, a shift manager in Tampa, Florida, can only dream about. He earns $9 an hour for his low-level management job, or about $300 per week, and like half of America's fast food workers, he relies on some form of public assistance to make up the difference between that wage and barely eking out a living.

Keiser Report: Unequal Justice System

Eurozone Economic Confidence Picks Up Unexpectedly
Economic confidence in the eurozone picked up in October from a 10-month low, with broad based improvement across sectors, the results of a survey by the European Commission showed Thursday. The economic confidence index rose unexpectedly to 100.7 in October from 99.9 in the prior month. The score was expected to fall to 99.7. Among the sub-indices, the industrial confidence index climbed to -5.1 from -5.5 in the previous month, while it was expected to remain unchanged at -5.5. The increase in industrial confidence resulted from managers' more optimistic views on future production and the current level of overall order books, while their assessment of stocks of finished products remained broadly stable. At the same time, the services sentiment index came in at 4.4, up from 3.2 in September. The marked improvement in services confidence was driven by managers' significantly brighter views on past demand and demand expectations.

Ca-Ching! Visa, MasterCard surge again
Consumers continue to ramp up spending -- and that's very good news for both Visa and MasterCard. Shares of the card giants popped Thursday after both logged strong quarterly profits and China announced it will open up its credit card and payment market. "People are using their credit cards a little bit more. That's actually healthy. Consumers have been extremely debt averse -- too much so," said James Friedman, an analyst who covers both companies at Susquehanna Financial group. Visa the largest credit and debit card company in the world, said consumers made $1.2 trillion of payments to merchants during its fiscal fourth quarter. That's an 11% increase in so-called payments volume from the year before. And it's not like all the strength was coming from fast-growing emerging markets. Visa CEO Charles Scharf noted particular strength in the U.S., where transactions grew 8% in the three months that ended September 30.

Wal-Mart: US retail giant to close 30 stores in Japan
The world's largest retailer Wal-Mart is closing 30 stores in Japan, the company has announced. The US retail chain said it would shut 30 underperforming stores to improve profitability of its business in the world's third largest economy. The stores operate under the Seiyu brand and account for 7% of Wal-Mart's 434 stores in Japan. News of the closures came after it cut its full-year profit forecast in August due to higher costs and investments. The retailer also announced plans to re-model about 50 existing Japanese stores next year and invest in online shopping. "The company will focus resources on driving continued strong performance in locations that are convenient for customers and allow for an improved shopping experience," Wal-Mart said in a statement. Wal-Mart entered the Japanese market in 2002 through an investment in the then struggling Seiyu supermarket chain and ended up taking full control of the company six years later.

Merk on Europe and the Fed and Keen on economics and asset price inflation

War and Terrorism Will Start Taking Place as Cyberattacks
Major attacks are coming to some part of the world in the next decade that will wreak havoc of epic proportions and cause an immense sum of life and tens of billions of dollars in damage. This may sound like a warning for a nuclear threat, but in fact, according to a new study, cyberattacks will be the cause of this destruction. A new study released by the Pew Research Center entitled “Digital Life in 2025” discovered that two-thirds of more than 1,600 technology experts are in agreement that cyberattacks will produce disruptions in various spheres of everyday life, such as banking, energy and healthcare, which all three will become a considerable element to war and terrorism. Web-connected security vulnerabilities are already quite ubiquitous in the aforementioned as well defense systems. Therefore, culprits would take advantage of and exploit this weakness. “Oh, sure it is possible. Although not at your defined level, there has already been a ‘Pearl Harbor’ event...

U.S. Bank tests new ways to fight bias against the long-term unemployed
After a health insurance company laid him off in 2012, John Columbus spent the next 20 months answering as many questions about gaps in his résumé as about his years of employment. Then a friend steered him to U.S. Bank, which was piloting a White House initiative for hiring the long-term unemployed. “There are some companies that ask you for any involuntary termination,” Columbus said. “Those companies never call back. U.S. Bank looked at me as a whole person with 30 years of experience.” If Columbus, a 53-year-old New Hope resident, embodies the woes of Americans out of work for more than six months, the Obama administration hopes a new hiring drill at Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank helps the nation address an ugly legacy of the Great Recession. Some recent research shows that businesses would rather hire people with no experience than experienced workers who have been out of work for a long time.

Time Warner Cable Cuts Sales Forecast on Drop in TV Users
Time Warner Cable Inc., the cable company awaiting regulatory approval to merge with Comcast Corp., reported earnings that trailed analysts’ estimates on more video subscriber losses. Third-quarter earnings, excluding some items, fell 4.3 percent to $1.86 a share, the New York-based company said in a statement today. Analysts estimated $1.90 on average. Time Warner Cable lost 184,000 video customers and gained 92,000 high-speed Internet subscribers, compared with losses of 306,000 for video and 24,000 for broadband a year ago. Time Warner Cable and Comcast are relying more on broadband users for revenue growth as new TV subscribers prove harder to come by. Netflix Inc.’s streaming service and HBO’s upcoming online subscription are going after younger viewers who prefer to watch shows over the Web rather than paying $50 a month or more for traditional cable.

USDA Pays $17,500 for College Students to Wear Fat Vests
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is paying a researcher $17,500 to make students at New Mexico State University wear a fat vest for “weight sensitivity training.” The 20-pound fat vest will be worn for an “empathy exercise” so non-obese students can experience what it is like to be obese. The premise of the project is to fight “weight prejudice.” “Weight prejudice (a.k.a. anti-fat prejudice and weight bias) is the presence of negative beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors toward individuals who appear to be overweight or obese,” a grant awarded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture explains. The grant claims that weight prejudice is on the rise, increasing by 60 percent over the last decade, and is on par with reported rates of racism and gender discrimination. Part of the project’s goal is to encourage social acceptance, which will be achieved by an “Experiential Empathy Exercise in which a 20 lb. fat vest will be worn by participants for a minimum of 12 consecutive hours.”

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