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What We Read Today 10 April 2017

Econintersect: Every day our editors collect the most interesting things they find from around the internet and present a summary "reading list" which will include very brief summaries (and sometimes longer ones) of why each item has gotten our attention. Suggestions from readers for "reading list" items are gratefully reviewed, although sometimes space limits the number included.

This feature is published every day late afternoon New York time. For early morning review of headlines see "The Early Bird" published every day in the early am at GEI News (membership not required for access to "The Early Bird".).


Every day most of this column ("What We Read Today") is available only to GEI members.

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Topics today include:

  • Gallup Daily: Trump Job Approval 

  • Neil Gorsuch Commissioned - Timeline of the Approval Process

  • Why There Are So Many Zombie American Buildings Now

  • Trump sued for not releasing White House visitor logs

  • California Senate Passes 'Sanctuary State' Bill

  • Trump Takes Credit for Planned $1.33 Billion Toyota Spending

  • The EU27 and the Brexit negotiations - Hard-core, hard, and soft

  • Barclays CEO Twice Sought to Uncover Whistle-Blower in 2016

  • The Center May Hold in French Election

  • Russia knew in advance of Syrian chemical attack and then tried to cover it up

  • Sugar and vegetable prices are keeping the global food index in check

  • Junk-Bond Investors Can't Make Up Their Mind About Oil Prices

  • Top China Stock Picker Says Commodities Rally Isn't Over 

  • A Foreign Threat to U.S. Treasuries that Dwarfs Fed Balance Sheet

  • Summer Driving Expectations Get Oil Investors Excited Again

  • Cobalt: The Weak Link In Tesla's Supply Chain

  • Tesla Just Passed GM to Become America’s Most Valuable Carmaker

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • Junk-Bond Investors Can't Make Up Their Mind About Oil Prices (Bloomberg)  At the start of this year, credit investors undertook a conscious uncoupling from oil prices. As the cost of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate leaped in the wake of the production cut agreement announced by OPEC in November, a measure of junk-rated bonds lagged behind.  At the time, it looked like bonds sold by companies with more fragile balance sheets may finally have broken their ties to oil -- a link that had helped roil markets from late 2015. But since then, correlation between crude and the iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (NYSE:HYG) has surged back to 72%. That isn’t far from a high of 86% reached a little over a year ago, when a dramatic dip in oil spread turmoil through credit markets.


  • Gallup Daily: Trump Job Approval (Gallup)  President Trump's approval rating has rebounded from a low of 35% on March 28 to 40% today, after hitting a high of 42% last Tueday (04 April).


  • Supreme Court vacancy, 2017: An overview (Ballotpedia)  Neil Gorsuch was commissioned as an associate member of the Supreme Court today.  This article reviews the entire process of his appointment and confirmation, with a full detailed timeline.  Highlights:

  • Found in the wild: Vault7 hacking tools WikiLeaks says come from CIA (ars technica)  Hat tip to Roger Erickson.  Malware that WikiLeaks purports belongs to the Central Intelligence Agency has been definitively tied to an advanced hacking operation that has been penetrating governments and private industries around the world for years, researchers from security firm Symantec say.  Longhorn, as Symantec dubs the group, has infected governments and companies in the financial, telecommunications, energy, and aerospace industries since at least 2011 and possibly as early as 2007. The group has compromised 40 targets in at least 16 countries across the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Africa, and on one occasion, in the US, although that was probably a mistake.

Since WikiLeaks published its first Vault7 installment in early March, there has been no outside source to either confirm or refute the authenticity of the documents. The Symantec research establishes without a doubt that the malware described in the trove is real and has been used in the wild for at least six years. It also makes a compelling case that the group that's responsible is the CIA.

  • Why There Are So Many Zombie American Buildings Now (New York Post)  Hat tip to John O'Donnell, Online Tradng Academy.  Abandoned businesses and homes slowly decay everywhere across this country, in urban neighborhoods, suburbs, exurbs and rural areas — grand old mansions, more modest brick houses, ranch homes, practical farmsteads.  Businesses are not immune to this ghosting of property: Empty restaurants, florist and auto-body shops, beauty salons and motor lodges  line main streets and rural roads in cities, towns and boroughs across this country, like scenes out of an apocalyptic-zombie movie.  

It isn’t just a rural plague, either. The US Census Bureau has found 48,000 abandoned homes within the boundaries of Baltimore; a drive-through quickly shows sad facades with broken windows and missing doors encompassing entire city blocks.  

The Census Bureau estimates that millions of homes have been vacated across the country.

Sometimes people just walked away; sometimes the families couldn’t bear to sell the old home to strangers after their parents passed, and so they “loved” the home to death. Sometimes the last family member died and no one else wanted the old place; sometimes it was the surrounding neighborhood that died.

  • Trump sued for not releasing White House visitor logs (The Hill)  Three organizations are suing the Trump administration for not making public the logs that show who is visiting the White House.  The National Security Archive, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University have all filed a suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) calling for the release of the logs.  The suit has formally been filed against the Department of Homeland Security, as the organizations say the Secret Service has not provided the log information despite FOIA requests.  CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement:

“We hoped that the Trump administration would follow the precedent of the Obama administration and continue to release visitor logs, but unfortunately they have not.” 

  • California Senate Passes 'Sanctuary State' Bill (Time)   After heated debate, the California Senate passed a so-called “sanctuary state” bill on Monday. While many Republicans argued that the bill would lead to dangerous criminals being let loose on the streets — warning that the measure would draw the ire of President Donald Trump — Democrats said that California had to take a stand in defense of “hardworking” immigrants that have become part of the country’s cultural and economic backbones.  The bill, formally known as Senate Bill 54, would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from using resources to investigate, detain, report or arrest persons for the purposes of immigration enforcement.

  • Trump Takes Credit for Planned $1.33 Billion Toyota Spending (Bloomberg)  President Donald Trump took credit for Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE:TM) investing $1.33 billion in an existing U.S. factory, championing spending by a Japanese automaker he’s blasted for building a plant in Mexico.  The outlays in Georgetown, Kentucky, aren’t new -- they’ve been in the works for years. But the way they’re being marketed is. Instead of emphasizing cost efficiency, Toyota is highlighting ample spending and the previously announced addition of 700 jobs. The president has taken notice.  Toyota’s announcement “is further evidence that manufacturers are now confident that the economic climate has greatly improved under my administration”,  Trump said in the automaker’s statement Monday.

As part of the $10 billion that Toyota plans to invest in the U.S. over the next five years, the company’s spending in Kentucky paves the way for output of the redesigned Camry sedan later this year. The car will be the first in North America to adopt the Toyota New Global Architecture system for designing, engineering and manufacturing vehicles.


Click for large image.


  • Barclays CEO Twice Sought to Uncover Whistle-Blower in 2016 (Bloomberg)  Barclays Plc’s (NYSE:BCS) mishandling of anonymous letters that raised allegations against a senior employee came as U.K. regulators were strengthening whistle-blowing protections.  In June 2016, members of Barclays’ board of directors and a senior executive at the bank each received letters outlining what the senders described as concerns “of a personal nature” about a high-ranking employee, the bank said in an April 10 statement. The authors of the letters also flagged that Chief Executive Officer Jes Staley knew about the issues and had played a role in dealing with it when he and the person in question were both employed elsewhere, Barclays said.

Barclays said in the April 10 statement that Staley’s belief he had a right to know the name was “mistaken,” reprimanded him and cut his compensation by an undisclosed but “very significant” amount. Nevertheless, the board said it retained its “unanimous confidence” in the American to be reappointed as CEO at the upcoming annual meeting on May 10.


  • The centre can indeed hold in France’s presidential election (The Economist)  The French presidential campaign is in full swing, with the first round scheduled for April 23rd and a likely run-off between the top two finishers on May 7th. The election has received an unusual amount of international attention because Marine Le Pen, the National Front candidate, has consistently led the polls. Her success or failure will be widely interpreted as a measure of the continued strength of nationalist populist movements, which enjoyed two triumphs last year in the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump′s election.  The first few months of the race have been highly volatile. The stunningly unpopular incumbent president, François Hollande of the Socialist Party, chose not to stand for reelection rather than face certain defeat. François Fillon, the conservative standard-bearer of the other mainstream party, has seen his chances sink after a French newspaper revealed an ill-timed scandal involving payments to his wife.  Given the large number of candidates and the complexity of the two-stage vote, figuring out where the race stands is deceptively difficult. To provide readers with a clearer sense of what to expect, The Economist has built a statistical model to predict the outcome.  The probabilities of reaching the second round:  Le Pen, 78%; Macron 72%; and Fillon, 29%.




The official said a drone operated by Russians was flying over a hospital as victims of the attack were rushing to get treatment. Hours after the drone left, a Russian-made fighter jet bombed the hospital in what American officials believe was an attempt to cover up the usage of chemical weapons.

The official said the presence of the surveillance drone over the hospital couldn't have been a coincidence, and that Russia must have known the chemical weapons attack was coming and that victims were seeking treatment.

Other Scientific, Health, Political, Economics, and Business Items of Note - plus Miscellanea

  • Top China Stock Picker Says Commodities Rally Isn't Over (Bloomberg)  The rally in Chinese commodity producers has further to run for at least one top stock picker.  A gauge of raw materials shares on the MSCI China Index has jumped 24% this year, the second-best performance among 10 industry groups. Mandy Chan, who manages $8 billion worth of assets in Chinese and Hong Kong equities for HSBC Global Asset Management, says improving profits, increased government spending and output cuts will support the advance by commodities and machinery makers.

Investment, property and industrial drivers are helping to boost growth across the economy, with China’s official factory gauge rising to the highest in almost five years in March. As part of the Communist Party’s objectives for the year, Premier Li Keqiang said the nation will cut 150 million metric tons of coal capacity and 50 million tons from steel output.

  • A Foreign Threat to U.S. Treasuries That Dwarfs Fed's Debt Hoard (Bloomberg)  These days, it seems like everyone in the bond market is obsessed over what will happen when the Federal Reserve starts whittling down its mammoth, crisis-era investments in U.S. government bonds.  Yet lost in the hullabaloo is one little-noticed fact: there’s an even bigger debt pile that could draw buyers away from Treasuries at just the wrong time.  In overseas markets, more than $3 trillion of negative-yielding government bonds -- which all but guarantee losses for buy-and-hold investors -- have turned positive in recent months. And analysts say that number may grow over the next few years as brighter economic prospects and shifts in monetary policy lift trillions more out of sub-zero levels in Europe and Japan.

  • Summer Driving Expectations Get Oil Investors Excited Again (Bloomberg)  Summer may be a few months away but oil investors are already getting their hopes up that American drivers will do their part to rebalance the market.  Hedge funds increased bets on higher West Texas Intermediate crude prices for the first time in six weeks, shrugging off rising U.S. supplies, as the coming driving season is expected to help ease the glut. Their wagers on more expensive gasoline jumped the most since last year, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show.

  • Tesla cannot manufacture high-energy lithium-ion batteries for EVs or stationary energy storage systems without plentiful supplies of cobalt, a strategic metal that’s essential in a wide variety of high-value products.

  • NCA cells for EVs typically need about 200 grams of refined cobalt per kWh of battery capacity and NMC cells for Powerwalls typically need about 425 grams per kWh.

  • Depending on product mix, Tesla’s gigafactory will require 7,000 to 15,750 tonnes of refined cobalt per year to manufacture 35 GWh of cells.

  • 98% of the world’s ethical cobalt is produced as a byproduct of copper and nickel mining, which plays hell with normal supply and demand dynamics.

  • Cobalt demand growth is expected to outpace cobalt supply growth for the foreseeable future, setting the stage for persistent material shortages and far higher prices.




  • Tesla Just Passed GM to Become America’s Most Valuable Carmaker (Bloomberg)  Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc. briefly surpassed General Motors Co. (NASDAQ:GM) to become America’s most valuable carmaker, eclipsing a company whose well-being was once viewed as interdependent with the nation’s.  A week after topping Ford Motor Co., Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) climbed as much as 3.7% in early Monday trading, boosting its market capitalization to $51 billion. The company was valued at about $1.7 billion more than GM as of 9:35 a.m. in New York and the two jostled for the lead spot in subsequent trading.

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