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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Backdoor Gun Control Is Upon You, What Say Ye of Thy Rights?

 

“Former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., is joining the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups to warn about a back-door attack on the Second Amendment by the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency.

In a column posted on his website Sunday, West wrote about the Doe Run company’s lead-producing plant in Herculaneum, Mo., which is being forced to close after the EPA required it to spend up to $100 million on upgrades.

Doe Run, the last primary lead smelter in the United States, has been around since 1892 but is closing on Dec. 31.

West accused Obama of using the EPA to advance “backdoor gun control … while we are all distracted with Obamacare and Iran nuclear negotiations.”

West argued the Obama administration’s “new extremely tight air-quality restrictions” have led to the end of lead as the primary metal in bullets — making ammunition much more expensive and less accessible and leaving America no choice but to turn to overseas operations to produce lead bullets, a situation West says is akin to a federal power grab on guns.

“Come 2014, all ammunition sold to civilian gun owners in America will have to be imported, a result of President Obama’s crackdown on sulfur dioxide and lead emissions and accompanying harsh Environmental Protection Agency regulations,” wrote West….”

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Say Goodbye to Big Agribusiness

“A GROUNDBREAKING new Irish technology which could be the greatest breakthrough in agriculture since the plough is set to change the face of modern farming forever.

The technology – radio wave energised water – massively increases the output of vegetables and fruits by up to 30 per cent.

Not only are the plants much bigger but they are largely disease-resistant, meaning huge savings in expensive fertilisers and harmful pesticides.

Extensively tested in Ireland and several other countries, the inexpensive water treatment technology is now being rolled out across the world. The technology makes GM obsolete and also addresses the whole global warmingfear that there is too much carbon dioxide in the air, by simply converting excess CO2 into edible plant mass.

Developed by Professor Austin Darragh and Dr JJ Leahy of Limerick University’s Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science, the hardy eco-friendly technology uses nothing but the natural elements of sunlight, water, carbon dioxide in the air and the minerals in the soil.

The compact biscuit-tin-sized technology, which is called Vi-Aqua – meaning ‘life water’ – converts 24 volts of electricity into a radio signal, which charges up the water via an antennae. Once the device is attached to a hose….”

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U.S. Banks Shrink to an All Time Low, Are We Approaching An All Time High Risk Watermark?

“Updated Dec. 3, 2013 7:33 a.m. ET

 

The number of banking institutions in the U.S. has dwindled to its lowest level since at least the Great Depression, as a sluggish economy, stubbornly low interest rates and heightened regulation take their toll on the sector.

The number of federally insured institutions nationwide shrank to 6,891 in the third quarter after this summer falling below 7,000 for the first time since federal regulators began keeping track in 1934, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The decline in bank numbers, from a peak of more than 18,000, has come almost entirely in the form of exits by banks with less than $100 million in assets, with the bulk occurring between 1984 and 2011. More than 10,000 banks left the industry during that period as a result of mergers, consolidations or failures, FDIC data show. About 17% of the banks collapsed.

The consolidation could help alleviate concerns that the abundance of U.S. banks leads to difficulties in oversight or a less-efficient financial system. Meanwhile, overall bank deposits and assets have grown, despite the drop in institutions.

“Seven thousand is still an awful lot of banks,” particularly in an era where brick-and-mortar branches are becoming less profitable, said David Kemper, chief executive of Commerce Bancshares Inc., a regional bank based in Missouri. “There’s no reason why we need that many banks, especially if those smaller banks have a much lower return on capital. The small banks’ bread and butter is just not there anymore.”

Still, the falloff is raising alarms among boosters of community banks, who say such lenders—which represent the vast majority of U.S. banks—are critical to the economy because they are more likely to make small-business loans. The number of physical bank branches in the U.S. is also shrinking. From the end of 2009 through June 30 of this year, the total number of branches dropped 3.2%, according to FDIC data.

“All too often, the large banks use their models and their algorithms, and if you don’t fit in their boxes, you don’t get the loan,” said Sheila Bair, the former FDIC chairman who is now a policy adviser at the Pew Charitable Trusts think tank.

Unlike before the financial crisis, new startup banks aren’t rushing to take the place of exiting institutions. Every year from 1934 to 2009, investors in the U.S. chartered at least a few and sometimes hundreds of new banks, according to the FDIC data. The Bank of Bird-in-Hand opened in Bird-in-Hand, Pa., on Monday—it was the first new bank startup in the U.S. since December 2010.

The reticence stems from slim profits and rising regulatory costs as Washington tries to ensure banks won’t fail en masse as they did during and after the 2008 financial crisis, bankers and industry consultants say.

SNL Financial, a firm that tracks bank data, said the median loan-growth rate for banks with less than $100 million in assets was about 2% during the year ending Sept. 30, well behind the roughly 3.4%-to-7% rate for midsize banks, or those with assets as high as $10 billion.

FDIC researchers, in a study of community banks released in December 2012, found that, as net interest margins—the difference between the interest charged on loans and that paid on deposits—declined across the industry in recent years as interest rates dropped….”

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Those Who Believe That They are Protected From Loss by Central Bank Behavior, A Little History is in Order

“A world, in which former permabears David Rosenberg, Jeremy Grantham and now Hugh Hendry have thrown in the towel and gone bull retard, and where none other than the Chief Investment Officer of General Re-New England Asset Management – a company wholly-owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, has issued one of the direst proclamations about the future to date and blasts the Fed’s role in creating the biggest mess in financial history, is truly upside down.

While the topic of CIO John Gilbert is Twitter, and specifically the investors in the second coming of the irrational exuberance bubble, about which he says that “following such a crowd is an excellent hedge against ever being financially independent. Gravity wins in time“… what Gilbert is really talking about, is the Fed. To wit:

It should be obvious to everybody by now that such stock market largesse is made in Washington. The specific address is the Eccles Building on Constitution Avenue, home of the Federal Reserve. In fact as citizens and U.S. taxpayers, we think it would be an expression of gratitude if Twitter were to take a little pressure off of the Fed and buy some Treasury bonds themselves….

We may be seeing the leading edge of a wave of credit problems among corporate borrowers in emerging market economies. Lest one think it does not affect the U.S. and other developed market countries, recall the Asian crisis chronology. Thailand devalued its currency in the summer of 1997 and few outside of Thailand cared. But contracting Asian demand reduced demand for oil, and Russia (whose exports are 80% oil) defaulted in August of 1998. Risk spreads widened, and five weeks later, Long Term Capital Management was insolvent. That was a systemic event and caused disruption in markets in general, and a stock market decline.So for those who believe that they are protected from loss by central bank behavior, a little history is in order. As usual.

This is a major component of the downside to the Fed’s program. They have created a systemic risk in the world financial system for which they take little or no responsibility, because that which happens outside the U.S. is not their assignment. But as custodians of the reserve currency, it ends up that way.

Since we obviously agree with everything the GenRE CIO says we can only assume with absolute certainly that he does not speak for his ultimate employer: the man who according to many has benefitted the most from the Fed’s largesse: Warren Buffett.

Full letter below (pdf)

History Ignored, Again

It would seem fair if Twitter were to share. The company’s initial public offering was a staggering success, of course. Priced at $26, the stock closed its first day of trading at $45 per share……”

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Bears Beware: S&P 4000 by 2016

“Since stocks rise when the Fed is adding assets and tank when the Fed pauses…

Now that financial pundits are claiming the current stock market rally is good to go until 2016, it’s appropriate to see where the market will be in 2016 if current trends hold.

Let’s start with the well-known correlation between the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet and the stock market: stocks rise when the Fed is adding assets and tank when the Fed pauses. (Chart courtesy of STA Wealth Management)

Courtesy of Market Daily Briefing, let’s look a little closer at the Fed’s ballooning holdings of home mortgages (MBS) and Treasury bonds, and extend those trends into the future:

By mid-2016, the Fed will have nearly doubled its Treasury bonds from $2.16 trillion to over $3.5 trillion, and its mortgage holdings will double from $1.44 trillion to $3 trillion…..”

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The Argument Rages On, Is Bitcoin Worth Anything ?

“The virtual currency craze is on a tear, with new virtual currencies emerging every day. The New York Times just ran a series of articles about them last week. “Charles Ponzi would be so proud!” one person appropriately commented at the bottom of this article.

Before going any further, let’s learn a bit more about the bitcoin system (also here and here). There are three components to this system:

1. A unit of account—the Bitcoin (BTC)—in which all transactions are recorded and goods and services are priced.

2.  A payment system, supposedly secured and anonymous.

3. A means of payment—bitcoins—that is needed to complete all transactions in the payment system (there are coins of several denominations and the coin with a face value of one BTC is called the “bitcoin”).

Given the craze over bitcoins, their price in US dollars (USD) has soared with a BTC 1 coin going for as much as USD 1200 at one point, leaving Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal saying:

“At this point, I have zero idea what a ‘fair’ price for Bitcoin is.”

I have an answer to that question, but before I reveal it (pretend you did not read the title of this post), let’s spend a bit of time getting to know the Bitcoin, starting with its payment system.

All transactions that have occurred since the beginning of the bitcoin system are recorded on a ledger called the “blockchain.” The system is setup so that every ten minutes or so a new page—called a “transaction block,” or just “block”—is added to the ledger. This new page refers to all past transactions requests (by referring to the immediate previous block) and records all the new transactions requests.

The ledger is crucial to the system because it allows users to verify that a transaction request between two parties is not fraudulent. For example, Mr X. uses the bitcoin payment system to send a request to buy a pizza from Joe’s Pizza. Joe’s Pizza wants to make sure that this is a valid transaction.

That requires verifying that Mr. X holds enough bitcoins to pay for the pizza (the ledger will tell from which past transactions he got his bitcoins), and that he is not trying to double spend the bitcoins. This verification process is done by the accountants of the system, who are called the “miners.”

Usually Joe’s will wait for confirmation from several miners (the rule of thumb seems to be six confirmations) before agreeing to sell the pizza (“confirmation” means that a recorded transaction request is included in following blocks). Anybody can be a miner, you just need a computer.

Adding a page on the ledger is extremely difficult (more here) and requires time and CPU power. A miner can only add a page to the ledger after meeting a specific encryption requirement called the “proof of work.” The proof of work involves encrypting new transaction requests in the form of a 16-digit hexadecimal number—called “hash” or “digest”—that must be no greater than a target value set by the system.

For example…”

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Silicon Valley Catches the Bitcoin Fever

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Silicon Valley is starting to catch Bitcoin fever – though the entrepreneurs and venture capitalists being drawn to the virtual currency claim that the biggest profits will come from using it to build a new digital finance industry rather than just as a vehicle for speculation.

Digital currency companies that have attracted early rounds of venture capital in recent weeks include Circle Internet Financial, headed by Jeremy Allaire, a serial entrepreneur from the media technology industry, and Ripple Labs, whose founder, Chris Larsen, was behind pioneering peer-to-peer lending company Prosper.

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Prominent investors who have been drawn to the field include Jim Breyer, a partner at Accel and early backer of Facebook, as well as Google’s venture capital arm, which has invested in Ripple and Buttercoin, a Bitcoin exchange.

Bitcoin’s tech industry backers argue that the shared protocols and common technology standards on which it is based echo the open technologies that lie at the heart of the internet. That could make it the foundation for a low-cost, standards-based financial system independent of the traditional banking industry.

“It reminds me of the internet protocols in the mid-1990s,” said Mr Breyer, who is also a director of retailer Walmart. Bitcoin was an “enormous ecommerce opportunity” for merchants, because it could greatly reduce transactions costs and make it easier to buy online, said Mr Breyer, who contributed to a $9m investment in Circle – the biggest first-round financing for a payments start-up, according to the company.

“It’s sort of like we’re in 1996,” said Mr Larsen. That could make possible the same sort of disruption in finance that the media and communications worlds faced with the rise of the internet. While riding the Bitcoin wave, his company has also created its own virtual currency, Ripples….”

 

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Amazon Experimenting With Drones

(FORBES) “Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled a new plan by Amazon to deliver packages to customer’s homes within 30 minutes using drones.  The plan was announced on the CBS show 60 minutes, and Amazon has since posted a video:” Read More

 

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History Suggests Higher Indices in December

“It was an incredible November for stocks in what’s been an amazing year for the market. Will the rally continue in December?

The Dow Jones industrial average and the Nasdaq both ended November with a gain of about 3.5%. The S&P 500 advanced almost 3%. The Dow and S&P 500 are near record highs, while the Nasdaq rose above 4,000 last week for the first time in 13 years.

So far this year, the S&P 500 has soared nearly 27% in the latest phase of a bull market that started in March, 2009.

If history is any guide, stocks should head even higher in December. Over the past 30 years, the S&P 500 has gained in December 80% of the time, according to data from Schaeffer’s Investment Research.

Stocks often benefit in the last month of the year as fund managers bulk up on the best performers in an attempt to “window dress” portfolios.

But with prices at record highs, there are growing concerns that stock valuations are becoming stretched. The S&P 500 is currently trading at more than 15 times next year’s earnings estimates, which is slightly above the long-term average…..”

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McAlvany Financial Group: Markets Could Drop 40% in a Cascade Effect

“Among McAlvany’s worries is low stock market volume. Trading activity has dropped 50 percent to 60 percent from about five years ago, he says.

In addition, “we have more people speculating in the stock market with someone else’s money,” McAlvany said. Margin debt hit a record of $401 billion for members of NYSE Euronext in September.

Those borrowings “increase what appears to be an absolutely sure bet in terms of upside in the stock market,” McAlvany said.

But, “another way of looking at that is we’ve got $400 billion of hot money that can come out of the market very quickly, and that’s enough to precipitate a major decline,” he said.

“We’ve anticipated 15 to 20 percent as a minimal move lower in the stock market, with as much as 40 percent being there if we begin to take out stop losses and really see a cascade effect in that market.”

Another bearish factor is the aggressive insider selling that has occurred amid the stock rally, McAlvany says. There’s a conflict between corporate executives selling their personal holdings as quickly as possible and their companies buying back shares, he says….”

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Your Tax Dollars at Work

“The amount spent by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) since 2007 on a program to identify suspicious airplane passengers: $900 million.

The number of terrorists arrested as a result of this expenditure: zero.

That is the inescapable conclusion of a General Accountability Office (GAO) study released in November and subsequent congressional testimony by GAO’s director of homeland security and justice, Stephen M. Lord….”

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Evangelii Gaudium

“Pope Francis issued an apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) November 24 that explicitly condemned free market economics with an epithet against “trickle-down” economics, causing establishment socialists to gloat prolifically.

Evangelii Gaudium — largely about evangelization within the Catholic Church — touched on a sweeping variety of issues, including pastoral care, the mentality of evangelists, international immigration, why women can’t be priests, and many other issues. But the brief parts condemning the free market have caught the attention of the press.

Francis wrote:

Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.

“Trickle down economics” has never been a term ever used by supporters of a free market to describe their views, but rather it has always been an insult deployed by opponents of free markets to ridicule their opponents. Thus, the pope’s letter received choruses of amens from the Washington Post’s leftist Eugene Robinson and huzzahs from the far-left ThinkProgress; and The Atlantic cheered the “Vatican’s journey from anti-communism to anti-capitalism.”

The “apostolic exhortation” (which is not an “infallible” ex cathedra pronouncement, and is even lower in authority than an encyclical letter) is a teaching document issued by a pope to address Catholics, but it doesn’t define any doctrines. As such, Catholics are not bound to accept the details of the letter. In practice, however, many Catholics will be persuaded they must do so by the mainstream media.

But was Pope Francis….”

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The New American

“While what little remains of America’s middle class is happy and eager to put in its 9-to-5 each-and-every day, an increasing number of Americans – those record 91.5 million who are no longer part of the labor force – are perfectly happy to benefit from the ever more generous hand outs of the welfare state. Prepare yourself before listening to this… calling on her self-admitted Obamaphone, Texas welfare recipient Lucy, 32, explains why “taxpayers are the fools”…”

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OPEC is Finding it Hard to Cut Output

“Tensions are emerging within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries over which member countries should trim oil production to make room for a resurgence in Iraqi exports and the possible return of more Iranian crude to world markets if sanctions are eased.

There is no expectation of a decision to cut back at the OPEC cartel’s meeting in Vienna on Wednesday. The group of 12 of the world’s largest producers, though long riven by squabbling, has kept its overall production ceiling at 30 million barrels a day since December 2011.

OPEC expects overall demand for its crude to drop by about 300,000 barrels a day next year and some members are pushing to trim output, according to people familiar with the debate.

Members will have to decide whether to cut production as early as the first half of the year, with the risk that short-term global supply might build to a level where prices fall, an OPEC official said…..”

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