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Friday 03.17.2017

Trump Haters Spent Millions Making Protest Signs

Here’s one gauge of the rekindled American enthusiasm for political protest: Sales of poster boards, markers and other sign-making supplies jumped more than 30 percent in the week before Donald Trump’s inauguration and the Jan. 21 Women’s March, according to data from the NPD Group, which tracks sales of consumer goods.

That week, Americans spent an estimated $6 million on supplies—not insignificant considering that many of the individual items cost $1 or less. Sales of foam boards rose 42 percent. Poster board sales grew 33 percent, and in the week before the inauguration, stores sold roughly one-third of the 6.8 million poster boards sold in January. Paint markers and fabric paint for t-shirts also sold more briskly than normal, said Leen Nsouli, director of industry analysis for office suppliers at NPD.

The sale jump was an unexpected boon to office supply retailers, which had seen sales drop for 22 weeks with the exception of the week before Christmas, and the two weeks before the march. "You were seeing people use more traditional methods to express their thoughts, which was something that we hadn’t seen as much,” said Nsouli. In the past, “everything was always on the computer, on the phone. This was a really cool way to see it on paper, in pencil.”

The Women’s March drew record crowds to Washington D.C., and hundreds of thousands of people attended marches in other cities around the U.S. to protest President Donald Trump’s presidency and to advocate for women’s rights. Organizers estimated that 5 million people participated globally.

Fed rate hikes + low growth = recession, says stock-market strategist

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday lifted benchmark interest rates for only the third time in about a decade, and that has caused trepidation among some market participants.

Lance Roberts, chief investment strategist at Clarity Financial, makes the case in one chart that raising interest rates off ultralow levels during a period of tepid economic growth coincides with recessions in the following three to nine months (see chart below, which compares real, inflation-adjusted, GDP to Fed interest rate levels).

The Fed lifted key rates by a quarter-point Wednesday to a range of 0.75% to 1%. The rate increase comes as the U.S. economy has been growing at a lackluster pace. Government data show that gross domestic product—the official report card of economic performance—was growing at a seasonally adjusted pace of 1.9% in the fourth quarter compared with 1.6% in 2016 and 2.6% in 2015.

“Outside of inflated asset prices, there is little evidence of real economic growth, as witnessed by an average annual GDP growth rate of just 1.3% since 2008, which by the way is the lowest in history since…well, ever.”

Here Are The 365 Stores RadioShack Wants To Close Next

RadioShack recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the second time in just over two years, and the electronics chain has announced plans to close somewhere between 530 and all of its stores, making final decisions in the coming weeks. What we do know is that the company has begun another round of store closings, and a likely list of stores slated to close was filed in the Shack’s bankruptcy case.

The court filing lists 365 locations that RadioShack intends to shutter by early April. The company has not responded to our request for confirmation that these stores will close, but a spot check of dozens of locations on this list shows that the shutdown process has already begun.

Unlike the first round of RadioShack closings, some of the locations in this round may already have a new tenant lined up. Court documents list Sprint, which was part of the partnership born out of the previous Shack bankruptcy, as the primary tenant of many of these stores; some of them have already transferred their leases to Sprint.

However, the wireless carrier isn’t committing to anything publicly just yet. When Consumerist contacted the carrier to ask which of the stores on this list are slated to become Sprint stores, a spokeswoman told us, “The exact number of stores and locations are still being determined.” If you’re looking for amazing deals on electronics, these sales may not necessarily be the place to go. Sources who work in RadioShack stores have told Consumerist that the discounts aren’t that great, and that in some cases stores marked prices up before the massive “inventory reduction sales” began.

Dollar General looks to fortify strong sales growth with pay hikes

U.S. discount retailer Dollar General Corp reported better-than-expected quarterly sales and said it would raise wages for store managers, replicating similar moves by larger retailers such as Wal-Mart.

The dollar store chain said on Thursday it would hike compensation and provide more training for its store managers, a strategy that it hopes will improve service quality in stores over time but will pressure earnings this year. Wal-Mart in 2015 had said it would spend $2.7 billion on wages and training, a move it said has helped improve service quality and boost sales.

A tight labor market and rule changes related to overtime pay have made other retailers raise wages as well. Dollar General said stores where it had already introduced pay hikes for managers had seen higher sales and greater employee retention.

The moves come as Dollar General and larger rival Dollar Tree Inc (DLTR.O) face stiff competition from Wal-Mart and other grocery retailers, which have been discounting aggressively, even amid falling food prices, to win customers. "We don't see a further (price reduction) needed because we are priced very, very aggressively in most of our areas today, if not all," Dollar General Chief Executive Todd Vasos said on a post-earnings call with analysts.

Caterpillar hires former attorney general for aid in federal probe

Two weeks after federal officials executed a search warrant on three Caterpillar, Inc. facilities, the company has hired former U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr as outside counsel to bring a "fresh look" to the ongoing case.

Barr, who ran the Justice Department under George H.W. Bush, will be charged with "reviewing matters related to the search warrants executed at Caterpillar facilities on March 2, 2017, and assisting the company in appropriately addressing those matters," the company said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Barr was tapped for the job by company CEO Jim Umpleby as someone "with an impeccable track record, well known for his integrity and direct, honest advice," Umpleby said in a statement.

"I have asked Bill — who has no prior connection with Caterpillar — to draw on his experience and that of his colleagues at Kirkland & Ellis and other advisers, to take a fresh look at Caterpillar's disputes with the government, get all the facts, and then help us bring these matters to proper resolution based on the merits.

Are government leaders turning a blind eye toward debt?

12 Reasons Why The Federal Reserve May Have Just Made The Biggest Economic Mistake Since The Last Financial Crisis

Has the Federal Reserve gone completely insane? On Wednesday, the Fed raised interest rates for the second time in three months, and it signaled that more rate hikes are coming in the months ahead. When the Federal Reserve lowers interest rates, it becomes less expensive to borrow money and that tends to stimulate more economic activity. But when the Federal Reserve raises rates , that makes it more expensive to borrow money and that tends to slow down economic activity. So why in the world is the Fed raising rates when the U.S. economy is already showing signs of slowing down dramatically? The following are 12 reasons why the Federal Reserve may have just made the biggest economic mistake since the last financial crisis…

#1 Just hours before the Fed announced this rate hike, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s projection for U.S. GDP growth in the first quarter fell to just 0.9 percent. If that projection turns out to be accurate, this will be the weakest quarter of economic growth during which rates were hiked in 37 years.

#2 The flow of credit is more critical to our economy than ever before, and higher rates will mean higher interest payments on adjustable rate mortgages, auto loans and credit card debt. Needless to say, this is going to slow the economy down substantially…

The Federal Reserve decision Wednesday to lift its benchmark short-term interest rate by a quarter percentage point is likely to have a domino effect across the economy as it gradually pushes up rates for everything from mortgages and credit card rates to small business loans. Consumers with credit card debt, adjustable-rate mortgages and home equity lines of credit are the most likely to be affected by a rate hike, says Greg McBride, chief analyst at Bankrate.com. He says it’s the cumulative effect that’s important, especially since the Fed already raised rates in December 2015 and December 2016....

Wall Street bonuses are more than twice the US median household income

On Wall Street, bonuses never sleep. Since 1985, they have soared 890%, seven times the rise in the federal minimum wage. The average Wall Street bonus rose 1% to $138,210 last year, but fell 15% the year before, more than twice the median U.S. household annual income of $55,775. Bonuses in the New York securities industry were 1.6 times the combined annual earnings of all the nation’s 1 million-plus minimum wage workers in 2016, data released Wednesday by the New York State Comptroller and analyzed by the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-wing think tank in Washington, D.C., found.

“The much faster increase in Wall Street bonuses has contributed to racial and gender inequality, since workers at the bottom of the wage scale are predominantly people of color and female, whereas those in the financial industry’s upper echelons are overwhelmingly white and male,” the report noted. At the five largest investment banks, the share of executives and top managers who are white ranges from 84% to 87% and the share who are male ranges from 66% to 84%.

Other research suggests women are over-represented in low-paying jobs: Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers in the U.S. are women and the minimum wage falls far short of what it takes to live above the poverty line, according to the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C. Women of color earn even less than white women, earning 65 cents on the dollar versus white men. (The American Bankers Association was not immediately available for comment.)

The report, “Off the Deep End: The Wall Street Bonus Pool and Low-Wage Workers,” estimated that the 2016 bonus pool held enough dollars to lift all of the country’s 3.1 million restaurant servers and bartenders on a $15 per hour minimum wage, or 1.7 million home health and personal care aides, or all 3.2 million fast food preparation and serving workers.

Payment firm Square crashes across the US

Many people were left unable purchase lunch at their favorite local spot this afternoon, as Square payments system crashed for millions of merchants for several hours. The firm announced that there were issues with a back-end system that is affecting payments and other Square services, forcing stores to return to only accepting cash from customers.

Until the issue was fixed, sellers were advised to switch to offline mode, which will let them take payments through swiping - or rely on cash.

'One of our backend systems is currently experiencing issues that are affecting payments and other Square services, a Square spokesperson told DailyMail.com in an email.

We are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible and are providing real-time updates to our sellers on issquareup.com.' It seems that Square Cash is the only feature unaffected by the outage that hit some of the US around lunchtime.

San Diego Unified Approves $1.3 Billion Budget with 1,000 Possible Layoffs

A $1.3 billion tentative budget was approved Tuesday night by San Diego Unified School District trustees, but the accounting features $124.4 million in cuts that include more than 1,000 possible job losses, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The board voted 4-0 with Trustee Michael McQuary absent. About a dozen people spoke out against the possible job cuts at the start of Tuesday’s meeting, according to the U-T

“Our schools need and deserve stability,” San Diego Education Association President Lindsay Burningham said. “Laying off close to 1,000 educators is not stability.”

According to the U-T, “the district is looking at cutting 1,476 employees, including 891 in positions that include teachers, counselors nurses, school psychologists and other workers whose job requires a certificate or credential.”

Arizona Border Ranchers Torn in Support for Trump's Wall

Half of college grads earn less now than in 2000

Hiring is up, the unemployment rate is down and wages are growing again. Everyone should be feeling pretty good about the economy, right? Not so fast. Some groups are still earning lower wages than they were in 2000, when the economy was at the end of the previous economic expansion. During the current recovery, wages are finally growing, yet a new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute highlights how those benefits aren’t being equally shared among all demographic groups.

Among those left behind are lower-earning college-educated workers. The bottom half of college grads earned less in 2016 than they did in 2000, which raises questions about recent conventional wisdom that a bachelor’s degree will provide handsome dividends over time.

That doesn’t mean college-educated workers of all stripes aren’t earning more than their less-educated counterparts -- they are. But the data provides a more nuanced picture of the post-recession economy and the concept of a skills-based market, where more-educated workers are pulling ahead.

“I don’t think it’s a skills story,” said Elise Gould, senior economist at EPI and author of the report. “Even if we look at people with a college degree, the bottom half have lower wages than in 2000. There is a pulling apart at the very top.” It’s unclear whether those college grads earning less than in 2000 are in lower-paid fields or working in industries suffering from low growth or even cutbacks. Some evidence indicates that some college majors result in higher pay than others. The Hamilton Project found in a 2014 study that four science-related majors were linked with median lifetime earnings of more than $2 million, more than double that of early-childhood education grads.

Gold hoard found stuffed in old piano is ‘life changing’ stash of sovereign coins

When the piano’s new owners in Shropshire had the instrument returned and repaired before last Christmas, they discovered a hoard of gold stashed inside. Now, an inquest in Shrewsbury has heard that the collection consists of an undisclosed number of coins dating from 1847 to 1915.

Experts reckon they were ‘deliberately hidden’ inside the piano, and could be worth a ‘life changing’ sum of money, the BBC reported. The oldest coin in the hoard dates back to 1847, and bears the face of Queen Victoria. Shrewsbury Coroner’s Court, which also deals with the valuation of treasure, heard senior coroner John Ellery describe the piano’s origins.

He explained that the piano was made by Broadwood & Sons in London, and initially sold to Messrs Beavan and Mothersole from Saffron Walden in Essex in 1906. However, its ownership from then until 1983 – when it was bought by a family in that area who later moved to Shropshire – remains unknown.

The coroner is now hoping to find out where it was between 1906 and 1983, appealing for information from people from the Essex area. Ellery has deferred the conclusion of the inquest to allow more time for anyone with information to come forward. If the coroner finds they were hidden with the intent of future recovery, the coins will qualify as ‘treasure’ and become the property of the Crown.

U.S. Banks’ Real Estate Boom Could Be Signaling Next Crisis

Excessive real estate credit is the most common cause of banking booms, busts and collapses, throughout history, right up through the most recent financial crisis and around the world.

The U.S. commercial banking system has gotten much bigger relative to the U.S. economy than it used to be, although there are many fewer banks. The principal source of this growth is that banks have vastly increased their real estate exposure relative to the U.S. economy as a whole. This acceleration in real estate risk has fundamentally changed the nature of the banking system and its systemic risk.

Looking back to 1960, there were in the United States: 13,126 commercial banks and 18,962 depository institutions. By the end of 2016, depositories totaled only 5,913, of which 5,113 were commercial banks. That’s a 69 percent reduction in the number of depository institutions, and a 61 percent reduction in commercial banks.

On the other hand, in 1960, the total assets of the commercial banking system were only $256 billion. Though hard to believe, the entire banking system had total assets of only about one-tenth of today’s JPMorgan-Chase, and only 1.6 percent of today’s banking assets of $15.6 trillion. Citibank — which wasn’t Citibank then, but the dignified First National City Bank of New York — had less than $9 billion in assets. To our minds, now muddled by decades of constant inflation — including a central bank that has formally committed itself to creating perpetual inflation — these all seem like very small numbers.

GoPro Cuts More Jobs in Search of Profit

Ex-Wells Fargo exec's $53 million in stock options is likely to be clawed back

Tolstedt retired last year and gave up $19 million of unvested options in the process. Based on conversations with sources and revelations in the proxy statement, CNBC has learned that when Tolstedt was allowed to "retire" last year, it was on the agreement that all of her remaining options — whether vested and available to exercise or not — could be clawed back at a later date if the board deemed fit.

The value of those options at today's share price is $53.6 million. It is likely the full amount will be taken back. Wells Fargo was unable to comment on the review. Legal representation for Tolstedt was not immediately available.

The final results of the board review are due before the annual general meeting for shareholders on April 25, and likely to arrive a week or two before that.

While the proxy statement confirmed those options were available for the board to claw back, the same was not said for former CEO John Stumpf's outstanding options.

Freddie Mac: Mortgage rates increase again – don’t expect them to stop

Interest rates increased once again in anticipation that the Federal Reserve would increase interest rates Wednesday.

“As expected, the FOMC announced its first rate hike of 2017 and hinted at additional increases throughout the remainder of the year,” Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sean Becketti said. “Although our survey was conducted prior to the Fed’s decision, the release of the February jobs report all but guaranteed a rate hike and boosted the 30-year mortgage rate nine basis points to 4.3% this week.”

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage increased to 4.3% for the week ending March 16, 2017. This is up nine basis points from last week’s 4.21% and up from 3.73% last year. The 15-year FRM increased to 3.5%, up eight basis points from 3.42% last week and from 2.99% last year.

The five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage increased to 3.28%, up from last week’s 3.23% and last year’s 2.93%. After raising rates in December, when the Fed moved to raise rates from a range of 0.5% to 0.75%, the Fed elected to raise them another 25 basis points to a range of 0.75% to 1%. The Federal Funds Rate represents the overnight rate which financial institutions, such as banks, provide short-term lending to one another, and is a basis for capital markets liquidity.

A San Francisco real-estate developer wants to house the homeless in towers of stackable 'micro-units'

As many as 1,200 people are living on the streets of Berkeley, California, and the city has long been out of beds for them. Panoramic Interests, a San Francisco real-estate developer, wants to help end the street-living epidemic by converting shipping-container-like modules into new micro-apartments where homeless people can live.

The developer envisions a 100-unit residence that looks like a traditional apartment building, inside and out. It's made up of 160-square-foot, move-in-ready containers called MicroPads that are stacked on top of one another.

In February, the Berkeley City Council passed an initiative to install 100 micro-units on city-owned land that would serve as housing for seniors, people with disabilities, and Berkeley natives who have lost their homes. The city has yet to select a developer or design, but Panoramic Interests wants in.

Business Insider toured a prototype MicroPad in 2016. The module was small, but it contained all the necessities. The kitchen includes a food-prep area, fridge, stovetop, and microwave oven. A storage bed and an armoire provide plenty of space for stashing belongings during the day, while the desk has shelves for personal goods.

Dutch election has global effect

Anxious Equipment Makers Await Trump Spending Plan

Optimism is giving way to impatience among makers of excavators and heavy machinery that hope their businesses will benefit from President Donald Trump’s pledge to pump $1 trillion into infrastructure.

Some machinery makers are concerned over whether Mr. Trump will invest the time needed to win congressional backing for large road, bridge and rail projects. The president’s budget, released Thursday, contained scant details of how such a plan might unfold.

“There’s frustration that the infrastructure priority seems to be sliding,” said Glen Calder, co-owner of Calder Brothers Corp. a Taylors, S.C.-based maker of road pavers and graders. “It’s one of the campaign staples on both sides, and therefore you would expect that there’s a fair amount of agreement on what should and could and needs to be done.”

More public works projects could lift sales for equipment makers that have battled sluggish activity from construction, farming and mining clients in recent years. Stocks of companies that could benefit from a construction push rose sharply following Mr. Trump’s election: Machinery giant Deere & Co.’s (DE) stock is up 24%, crane and aerial work platform-marker Terex Corp. (TEX) 32% and construction management firm AECOM (ACM) 30%. Though those stocks are still up sharply from the fall, some have underperformed the broader S&P 500 this year as investors weighed the timing of more infrastructure spending.

Calpers slashes pensions for retirees of defunct agency

The California Public Employees' Retirement System on Wednesday approved cutting the benefits of a small group of retirees in the second such move in four months. The reduction, effective in July, was triggered by the failure of a defunct public agency, the East San Gabriel Valley Human Services Consortium, to pay Calpers the entire cost of covering the pensions of its former employees.

Most of the roughly 200 workers of the job-training service -- of which 62 are currently receiving pensions -- would see their benefits reduced by 63 percent, the rate by which the agency fell short of its obligations, according to meeting documents. "This is a terrible situation we all find ourselves in, but we have to protect the fund so we have to take this action," Calpers board member Bill Slaton said before voting.

The step is likely to be replicated as communities in California struggle to meet rising pension obligations, said Dane Hutchings, a lobbyist for the League of California Cities, before the board meeting. "It's incredibly unfortunate, but unless something can be done legislatively or by other means, retiree benefits are going to get cut significantly," he said.

Across the country, states and local governments have about $2 trillion less than what they need to cover retirement benefits -- the result of investment losses, inadequate contributions and perks granted in boom times.

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