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Thursday 11.17.2016

War on Cash intensifies: Citibank to stop accepting cash at some branches

Less than a week after India’s surprise move to scrap its highest denomination cash notes, another front in the War on Cash has intensified down under in Australia. Yesterday, banking giant UBS proposed that eliminating Australia’s $100 and $50 bills would be “good for the economy and good for the banks.”

This isn’t the first time that the financial establishment has pushed for a cashless society in Australia (or anywhere else). In September 2015, Australian bank Westpac published its “Cash Free Report”, suggesting that the country would become cashless by 2022.

In July 2016, Australian payments firm Tyro published an enormously self-serving blog post touting the benefits of a cashless society and saying, “it’s only a matter of time.” Most notably, two days ago, Citibank (yes, THAT Citibank) announced that it was going cashless at some of its Australian branches.

The media and political establishments have chimed in as well. In February of this year, the Sydney Morning Herald released a series of articles, some of which were written by officials from Australia’s Department of the Treasury, suggesting that eliminating cash will “save billions”, and that “moving to a cashless society is the next step for the Australian dollar”.

The Peak & Decline Of International Reserves Warns Of Massive Asset Deflation Ahead

The world is sitting at the edge of a massive deflationary cliff. Even though Central Banks are desperately trying to keep the world’s financial assets from plunging down into the great depression below, signs suggest they are losing the battle.

One critical sign is the peak and decline of International Reserves. Hugo Salinas Price has been keeping an eye on International Reserves for quite some time. In his recent article, A Reversal In The Trend Of International Reserves, he stated the following:

International Reserves peaked on August 1, 2014, at $12.032 Trillion dollars, and as of October 28, 2016 they stood at $11.066 Trillion dollars. International Reserves stood at about $10 Trillion in 2011, but the rate of growth slacked off; the weekly increases in Reserves (which Bloomberg used to publish every Friday) stalled and became smaller, week by week. As mid-2014 came around, the increases were quite small. It was clear that the trend was for ever-smaller increases, and that could only mean that finally there would be no increase, which would be immediately followed by decreases in the total of International Reserves held by Central Banks. That is exactly what took place.

Mr. Price explains in the article, “that the increases of International Reserves take place when the Reserve Currency issuing countries effect payments to the rest of the world.” Basically, countries such as the United States that run trade deficits, exchange fiat money or Treasuries for goods from other countries. This shows up as an increase in International Reserves.

Office Depot Allegedly Diagnosing Computers With Nonexistent Viruses To Meet Sales Goals

Retailers upselling customers on services they don’t need is nothing new, but a new report claims that some Office Depot employees are falsely claiming computers are infected with viruses in order to meet sales goals.

According to KIRO-TV in Seattle, employees of the office supply retailer allege that pressure to sell protection plans and other services has led store staffers to misdiagnose computers with viruses.

“The PC Health Check doesn’t compute,” the employee says. “If they actually did what they said and cared about customers they wouldn’t have started this program. Customers are unaware they are being taken advantage of.” To investigate the claims, the station took six computers to various Office Depot stores in Washington and Oregon for PC Health Checks.

There technicians determined that four out of the six computers showed symptoms of malware. To fix the issues, the employees attempted to sell services costing up to $200. The only problem? The computers were out of the box new. A second test by a unaffiliated computer security firm found no symptoms of malware and no needs for repair.

Trump offers window into his plan to dismantle Wall Street regulation

It will be a new day at the Securities and Exchange Commission after President-elect Donald Trump installs his choice to run the agency.

With Trump’s transition team already in regulatory-relief mode and promising to revamp the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, some rules already are marked for death or dialback.

Trump’s decision to tap former Republican SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins to help manage the Trump team’s transition efforts at the SEC and other financial agencies offers a window into some other changes that could be in store. Atkins, the founder of the regulatory consulting firm Patomak Global Partners, is viewed by some to be a top contender for the position of SEC chairman itself, though as the transition head he could also recommend someone else for that job.

Atkins’ well-known conservative views on everything from enforcement penalties to corporate governance are likely to be reflected in the SEC’s agenda. Slated for changes under the Dodd-Frank law is the SEC’s newfound powers to reward whistleblowers who come forward with tips of corporate malfeasance.

Rob Kirby-Massive Fraud 8,000 Tons of Paper Gold Dumped on Market

Average American household approaching retirement has this much saved up

Boiling the average American household's retirement savings down to just a few numbers --and giving it meaning -- is a difficult thing to do. That's what I've discovered after writing about, reading, and talking with retirees from all walks of life for a number of years. Some couples feel the need to save up over $1 million to comfortably sleep at night, while others know that they'll survive, and thrive, just fine on Social Security alone.

That wide range in mind-sets is critically important, because two people can look at the numbers I'm going to present and come to completely different conclusions. Whereas some will see an alarming situation that needs to be fixed immediately, others won't understand what the big deal is. The conclusion that you, dear Fool, draw, probably speaks to your own frame of reference more than anything else.

Last June, the Government Accountability Office released a detailed report on, among other things, the current financial status of households between the ages of 55 and 64. The main goal was to measure the retirement savings for this group. Here's the distribution that researchers found.

This means the median household approaching retirement has a nest egg of between $10,000 and $20,000. This number is drawn down significantly because 41% of these households have no retirement savings whatsoever.

Awash in Gasoline, US Refiners Export Fuel at Record Pace

The U.S. has more gasoline than it knows what to do with.

Exports have risen above imports for three consecutive weeks as recurring pipeline outages and higher production levels by refiners caused Gulf Coast inventories to grow. Typically a net importer of gasoline, the U.S. has shipped a record amount of the motor fuel abroad and doesn’t show signs of stopping.

“Exports will have to be high to keep stocks under control,” Robert Campbell, head of oil products research at market consultant Energy Aspects Ltd. in New York, said in an e-mail. “Runs should be quite high on the U.S. Gulf Coast in the coming weeks.”

The abundance of gasoline pushed Gulf Coast gasoline prices to an eight-month low last week and spurred the longest losing streak since 2012 in futures, making U.S. gasoline an affordable buy. That has triggered some unusual moves by refiners and traders. Independent refiner Valero Energy Corp. shipped excess supplies to Canada instead of Colombia and Phillips 66 sent the first gasoline shipment in 16 months to Egypt, according to shipping data and people familiar with the transactions. Oil trader Mercuria Energy Group is said to be storing a 60,000-ton parcel of gasoline blending components produced in India at an offshore site in the Bahamas.

Got a boomerang kid? There's a contract for that

Before millennials decide to bounce back to their parents’ basement, they should see the handwriting on the wall: Their folks could demand a signed contract.

Parents who fear that the “boomerang” generation -- their adult children -- will come home from college and live in their old rooms or a comfy cellar apartment, now have a countermeasure. Make your child sign a “Welcome Home Contract.”

That’s the suggestion of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the organization that sets standards for insurance companies nationwide. The bar is set pretty high. The Welcome Home Contract -- just like an insurance contract -- is top-heavy with clauses full of conditions, such as keeping “noise to a minimum” and “overnight guests are not allowed unless cleared with Parents in advance.”

And right up at the top is the buzz kill: “the adult child will find a job no later than (fill in date) and is expected to work at least (fill in number) hours a week.” There’s also a term limit: “Adult child will be expected to move out by…”

Pay more, get less: Americans have the worst health among 10 wealthy nations

This picture of Americans' health is just sick. Adults in the United States — still — have the worst health compared with their counterparts in 10 other wealthy nations despite the fact that America spends far more on medical care than those countries, a new survey finds.

The Commonwealth Fund report released Wednesday also found that American adults are much more likely than people in those other countries to go without health care because of cost.

And U.S. adults were more apt than their counterparts to be frequently stressed out about being able to afford their rent or mortgage, or to pay for healthy meals. "The U.S. spends more on health care than any other country, but what we get for these significant resources falls short in terms of access to care, affordability and coordination," said Dr. David Blumenthal, president of The Commonwealth Fund.

The report, published online as a Health Affairs Web First article, echoes prior Commonwealth Fund reports that found similar lagging conditions for American health relative to other nations. The countries looked at included Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Who’ll Get Hit by Fallout from the $11-Trillion Commercial Property Bubble in the US?

Warnings about the loans, bonds, and commercial-mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) tied to the vast $11-trillion commercial property sector in the US have been hailing down for months. Moody’s Investor Services just warned about the rising delinquency rate of some $360 billion in CMBS it rates. Delinquencies of 60+ days jumped from 4.6% last year to 5.6% in September.

Fitch Ratings has been fretting about valuations in the sector, and CMBS, for months. “Valuation and lending trends are not sustainable in the medium term,” it said most recently in its November report. It pinpointed debt backed by apartment buildings as a particular trouble spot. But now it’s also fretting about construction loans, which “experienced the highest loss severity in the last crisis, and we expect a similar trend in the next downturn,” it said.

It’s worried about the banks, whose commercial real estate (CRE) lending has reached “record levels”:

All of the most concentrated banks – those with more than 300% of risk-based capital in CRE – have less than $50 billion in assets and most have assets below $10 billion. These smaller banks also have varying degrees of sophistication in their risk management practices.

Minneapolis Fed Chief Proposes Eliminating ‘Too Big to Fail’ Banks

Wall Street banks are still too big to fail, and the hundreds of thousands of pages of regulations created in the eight years since the crisis are not adequate protection against another financial shock, says Neel Kashkari of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Mr. Kashkari, a Republican who has run the Minneapolis Fed for about a year, delivered an unusually blunt and sweeping indictment of financial regulation in a speech before the Economic Club of New York on Wednesday.

Comparing banking to the nuclear power industry, Mr. Kashkari said regulators needed to take even more drastic steps to bolster capital levels at the big banks because the risk of another financial calamity outweighed the costs of increased regulation.

If it had come even a few weeks ago, Mr. Kashkari’s proposal might have been seen as a provocative but ultimately fruitless idea — the stuff that makes for a lively discussion of financial regulation over coffee and scrambled eggs in a wood-paneled, Upper East Side club, but one that goes nowhere in the real world.

Gallup Poll Finds Nation Unhappier Now Than Before The Election

Americans are more dissatisfied with the way things are going now than they were before Election Day, a Gallup survey released Wednesday indicated.

The poll of 1,019 adults Nov. 9-13 indicated only 27 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going, down 10 points from the decade-high 37 percent in a survey released Election Day.

Gallup has asked the question more than 300 times since 1979. The 27 percent result is average for 2016 but 10 points below the historical average for the survey.

The drop was caused by a sharp decline in satisfaction among Democrats. Before the election, 62 percent said they were satisfied. That dropped to 34 percent in the more recent survey. In October, 49 percent of Democrats were satisfied.

Bill Gross: No ‘bull market’ under Trump

Obama sending another $1 million to Kenya

A joint venture between the government of Kenya and private investors soon will receive a million-dollar grant from the Obama administration solely to study whether to build a solar power plant in Gitaru, Kenya.

Evaluation of the proposed Gitaru plant is the first of six feasibility studies in Kenya for which the U.S. Trade & Development Agency, or USTDA – an independent White House agency – separately will provide funds.

The studies, however, merely represent preliminary actions that the administration is taking to execute recent portions of its $7 billion “Power Africa” plan, a congressionally approved five-year project to deploy primarily “green” power capabilities across Kenya and other sub-Saharan nations.

Feasibility studies are carried out by USTDA-selected private-consulting firms, which must be U.S. entities under agency policy. If and when the consultancies give a go-ahead for the respective Kenyan endeavors, USTDA then typically recommends that other U.S.-funded entities such as the Export-Import Bank, or Ex-Im, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or OPIC, provide additional financing to grant recipients.

Media winter continues as layoffs hit Univision

Between 200 and 250 people are facing layoffs at the Spanish language conglomerate Univision, the company announced Wednesday, yet another reminder of the grim economic realities weighing down many newsrooms.

The layoffs, which were first reported by the Washington Post, will hit nearly 6% of the company's workforce, primarily affecting Fusion, Univision's millennial-focused news website that has struggled to find an audience.

In a memo to Fusion Media Group staff on Wednesday, Isaac Lee, Univision's digital, entertainment and news chief, announced the layoffs as part of a larger organizational shakeup.

"Unfortunately, as a result of some of these changes, and along with a broader streamlining of operations across Univision, some positions across FMG's business, operations, and editorial teams are being eliminated," Lee said in the memo. "Constantly adjusting our scale and our processes is a reality of the business we are all in, and is not unique to us.

Hello Technology, Goodbye Jobs

And now we can finally pay attention to more important matters… Top of mind: the future unemployment rate. It’s gonna be high. Very high. Painfully high.

So high that it sparks riots among people with no hope for employment — the young and agitated Americans for whom cheap accelerants such as alcohol and drugs are easily available while the American dream is not. They’re going to take to the streets to raise hell and destroy property and demand some sort of government intervention to lift them out of the misery to come.

That’s certainly not going to help the economy, regardless of this new president or the next one. It will, however, have sharp and painful impacts on you and me and our collective wallets. In the not-too-distant future, this is what will happen:

Your refrigerator will monitor the bar codes on the products inside, and it will know when your inventory falls below preset par levels. When you’re low on, say, malt liquor or mayonnaise, the fridge will automatically order refills from the local Grub-o-rama. Grub-o-rama’s automated systems will dispatch a drone to grab the items in a warehouse and pack them into a driverless delivery vehicle. That vehicle will arrive at your door ferrying a delivery bot with (quite literally) more technical aptitude than the entire Apollo space program that landed a man on the moon.

Cash crisis for Delhi traders

Workers were paid $4 an hour to make clothes for TJ Maxx, Forever 21, Labor Department says

Retailers including Forever 21, TJ Maxx and Ross Dress for Less have been supplied by independent Southern California factories that pay workers much less than the state minimum wage, the U.S. Labor Department announced Wednesday.

The department said that between April and July, it conducted 77 investigations of local garment companies that were supplying some of the biggest clothing stores in the nation. Investigators uncovered labor violations in 85% of the cases, the department said, and found that the companies cheated workers out of $1.1 million.

Workers were paid as little as $4 per hour, and they got $7 an hour on average — $3 less than the state minimum wage, according to the Labor Department.

The department said it has penalized the garment companies and some manufacturers that act as intermediaries between the factories and the retailers. Those companies were ordered to pay $1.3 million to workers in lost wages and damages. However, the retailers will avoid any repercussions for hiring factories that violate labor laws.

How American Manufacturers Are Working to Close the 'Skills Gap'

American manufacturers are leading an innovation revolution, transforming the products we make and how we make them. Boasting the globe’s most productive workforce, abundant energy and unparalleled technical capabilities, our country is poised to advance the promise of manufacturing in America. Companies are creating jobs in the United States, and foreign enterprises are investing at record levels. The manufacturing economy is $2 trillion strong and supports about one in six American jobs.

The entire world wants the products of manufacturing in the United States, from internet-connected electronics to lifesaving pharmaceuticals. The only missing piece—the next generation of skilled workers who will take up the mantle of manufacturing and transform the future.

Over the next decade, 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled. Even as our nation strives to get people back to work, a lack of trained workers—often those with trade and technical skills—leaves most manufacturing companies scrambling for talent.

This “skills gap” is a drag on the economy. A shortage of trained employees can slow the growth of our businesses and therefore our economy.

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