Individual Economists

Las Vegas Visitor Authority: No Convention Attendance, Visitor Traffic Down 49% YoY in October

Calculated Risk -

From the Las Vegas Visitor Authority: October 2020 Las Vegas Visitor Statistics
Visitor volume continued to ramp‐up in October as the destination hosted approx. 1.86M visitors, about half of last October's tally but up 9% from last month.

With continued hotel re‐openings at the end of Sep and in early Oct, the room tally of open properties in October represented 140,658 rooms. Total occupancy was 46.9% for the month as weekend occupancy reached 64.2% and midweek occupancy reached 38.6%.

Average daily rates among open properties reached $104.54 (‐3.3% MoM, ‐22.8% YoY) while RevPAR came in at roughly $49, down ‐59.7% vs. last October.
* Reflects weighted average of daily room tallies
Here is the data from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Las Vegas Click on graph for larger image.

The blue and red bars are monthly visitor traffic (left scale) for 2019 and 2020.   The dashed blue and orange lines are convention attendance (right scale). 

Convention traffic in October was down 100% compared to October 2019.

And visitor traffic was down 49% YoY.

The casinos started to reopen on June 4th (it appears about 94% of rooms have now opened).

Dallas Fed: "Texas Manufacturing Expansion Moderates" in November

Calculated Risk -

From the Dallas Fed: Texas Manufacturing Expansion Moderates
Texas factory activity expanded in November for the sixth consecutive month, though at a markedly slower pace, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, fell from 25.5 to 7.2, indicating a deceleration in output growth.

Other measures of manufacturing activity also point to slower growth this month, as the indexes remained positive but came in below last month’s readings. The new orders index dropped 13 points to 7.2, and the growth rate of orders index fell five points to 9.7. The capacity utilization index dropped from 23.0 to 6.9, and the shipments index fell from 21.9 to 13.7.

Perceptions of broader business conditions continued to improve in November, though the indexes retreated from their October levels. The general business activity index remained positive but fell from 19.8 to 12.0. Similarly, the company outlook index fell from 17.8 to 11.0. Uncertainty regarding companies’ outlooks continued to rise, though the index declined from 11.0 to 7.2.

Labor market measures indicated stronger growth in employment and work hours. The employment index ticked up three points to 11.7, suggesting a slight pickup in hiring. Twenty-five percent of firms noted net hiring, while 13 percent noted net layoffs. The hours worked index moved up from 3.7 to 9.7.
emphasis added
This was the last of the regional Fed surveys for November.

Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index:

Fed Manufacturing Surveys and ISM PMI Click on graph for larger image.

The New York and Philly Fed surveys are averaged together (yellow, through November), and five Fed surveys are averaged (blue, through November) including New York, Philly, Richmond, Dallas and Kansas City. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) PMI (red) is through October (right axis).

The ISM manufacturing index for November will be released tomorrow, December 1st. Based on these regional surveys, the ISM manufacturing index will likely decrease in November from the October level. The consensus is for a reading of 57.5%, down from 59.3%.

Note that these are diffusion indexes, so readings above 0 (or 50 for the ISM) means activity is increasing (it does not mean that activity is back to pre-crisis levels).

MiB: The Deals that Reshaped Wall Street

The Big Picture -

Consider all of these deals: The spinout of Blackrock from Merrill Lynch; the purchase of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America; the sale of the Miami Marlins baseball team; the conversion of the Rockefeller Family Office into a Wealth Management firm; even the sale of SALT – The Mooch’s firm – so he was free to work in the White House.

How is it that one person been involved in so many transformative Wall Street deals?

That was only part of my discussion with Greg Fleming. He is founding CEO of Rockefeller Capital Management which manages about $43 billion in assets. Previously, Fleming was President of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management and served as Chief Operating Officer of Merrill Lynch, where he ran Merrill’s Global Investment Banking business. Understanding how to be flexible, to create transactions where each party gets some of what they want has been the key to Fleming’s success.

We discuss how he put together a group headed by Yankee great Derek Jeter that successfully purchased The Marlins in 2017 despite some fierce competition. Jeter is operating as President and minority owner (along with other sports legends) and Fleming, who also owns a small percentage of the Marlins.

Fleming explains how the Rockefeller family office was converted into Rockefeller Capital management. He also discusses how the firm came to offer services that go far beyond asset management: They include Private Aviation, Health, Personal Security, Philanthropic and Global Rescue (!).

A list of his favorite books are here; A transcript of our conversation is available here .

You can stream and download our full conversation, including the podcast extras on iTunesSpotify, Stitcher, GoogleBloomberg, and Acast. All of our earlier podcasts on your favorite pod hosts can be found here.

Be sure to check out our Masters in Business next week with Catherine Keating, CEO of BNY Mellon Wealth Management. The group has more than $266 billion in assets, Previously, she was the Chief Executive Officer of Commonfund. Keating has been named to the “Most Powerful Women in Finance” list and one of the “Most Powerful Women in Banking” list by American Banker.

The post MiB: The Deals that Reshaped Wall Street appeared first on The Big Picture.

NAR: Pending Home Sales Decrease 1.1% in October

Calculated Risk -

From the NAR: Pending Home Sales Dip 1.1% in October
Pending home sales fell slightly in October, according to the National Association of Realtors. Contract activity was mixed among the four major U.S. regions, with the only positive month-over-month growth happening in the South, although each region achieved year-over-year gains in pending home sales transactions.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings, fell 1.1% to 128.9 in October, the second straight month of decline. Year-over-year, contract signings rose 20.2%. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001.
The Northeast PHSI slid 5.9% to 112.3 in October, a 18.5% increase from a year ago. In the Midwest, the index fell 0.7% to 119.6 last month, up 19.6% from October 2019.

Pending home sales in the South increased 0.1% to an index of 151.1 in October, up 21.0% from October 2019. The index in the West remained the same in October, at 116.8, which is up 20.8% from a year ago.
emphasis added
This was below expectations for this index. Note: Contract signings usually lead sales by about 45 to 60 days, so this would usually be for closed sales in November and December.

Bitcoin Tops $19k, Bounces Back From Black Friday FUD Fall

Zero Hedge -

Bitcoin Tops $19k, Bounces Back From Black Friday FUD Fall Tyler Durden Mon, 11/30/2020 - 08:41

Bitcoin’s recent tumble cleared some speculative “froth” but further declines remain possible, according to JPMorgan, and that appears to have been confirmed as Bitcoin roars back to $19,000 this morning...

And Ethereum is pushing back towards $600 (after plunging to $480 last week)...

Momentum traders such as commodity trading advisors and other quantitative funds likely played a big role in the slide by unwinding long Bitcoin futures positions, strategists led by Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou wrote in a Nov. 27 note.

“The previous froth in momentum traders’ positioning has been cleared to a large extent,” they wrote, while adding momentum signals will continue to deteriorate unless Bitcoin recovers quickly.

Amid last week's Black-Friday special slump in Bitcoin prices, cryptocurrency traders seemed beset on all sides by fear, uncertainty, and doubt. However, as CoinTelegraph's Andrew Thurman reports, Dermot McGrath, head of research at blockchain investment firm Sino Global Capital, said the firm prefers taking a long term view. 

Shortly after a Thanksgiving Bitcoin dip to $16,200, news broke that the Chinese government had seized $4.2 billion in cryptocurrencies as part of the Plustoken Ponzi scheme court proceedings. Rumors swirled that those tokens were poised to be dumped on the open market, crashing prices further.

However, Sino Global CEO Matthew Graham wrote on Twitter that he believed the majority of the Plustoken Bitcoin had been sold:

Additionally, whether the tokens have been sold or not, in an interview with Cointelegraph McGrath recommended that traders learn to look beyond immediate headlines. 

“In the crypto and blockchain ecosystems it is important to be able to ‘cut through the noise,’” he said. "We are long term bullish on Bitcoin and we continue to see the industry professionalize and mature as an asset class."

McGrath also weighed in on a common boogeyman for Western crypto traders — Chinese cryptocurrency miners. Many have speculated that Chinese miners could conduct a 51% attack on the network, and they’ve long been derided by some for controlling vast swaths of the BTC supply:

McGrath, however, rejects both notions.

“Some of the reason that “Chinese miners” have been a “boogeyman” to western traders is simply a lack of understanding,” he said. “In theory, of course we know that 51% attacks can occur, but the level of centralization/coordination and incentives simply does not exist among the Chinese miner community for top cryptos.”

“As far as dumping of mined coins, etc. It is possible that Chinese miners are impacted by external factors that would cause them to manage mined coins differently. This is to be expected across different geographies,” he added.

When asked about price targets, McGrath declined to make moonshot calls. He did, however, shed some light on Sino’s investment philosophy.

“Pick projects and teams in which you share a vision and have conviction. Invest for the long-term and don’t get caught up in day to day market fluctuations,” he said. “We invest in teams and projects where we share a vision and have conviction. If we can find, support, and incubate these projects – we’ve done our job.”

As cryptoasset prices resume their uptrend and we continue on into a new bull market, perhaps McGrath’s wisdom is worth considering.

*  *  *

Despite last week's drop, the gold-to-bitcoin rotation appears to be continuing...

...and as the following table shows, Bitcoin has a long way to go to equilibrate to Gold's 'market cap'...

As Bloomberg's Eddie van der Walt noted this morning, what doesn’t kill Bitcoin, appears to make it stronger.

Seven High Frequency Indicators for the Economy

Calculated Risk -

NOTE: Some of this data was impacted by Thanksgiving. For example, transit data is always down during holidays.

These indicators are mostly for travel and entertainment.    It will interesting to watch these sectors recover as the vaccine is distributed.   
IMPORTANT: Be safe now - if all goes well, we could all be vaccinated by Q2 2021.

----- Airlines: Transportation Security Administration -----
The TSA is providing daily travel numbers.

TSA Traveler Data Click on graph for larger image.

This data shows the seven day average of daily total traveler throughput from the TSA for 2019 (Blue) and 2020 (Red).

The dashed line is the percent of last year for the seven day average.

This data is as of Nov 29th.

The seven day average is down 61% from last year (39% of last year).  (Dashed line)

There has been a slow increase from the bottom, and appears to have increased for the Thanksgiving week holiday.
----- Restaurants: OpenTable -----
The second graph shows the 7 day average of the year-over-year change in diners as tabulated by OpenTable for the US and several selected cities.

Move Box OfficeThanks to OpenTable for providing this restaurant data:

This data is updated through November 28, 2020.

This data is "a sample of restaurants on the OpenTable network across all channels: online reservations, phone reservations, and walk-ins. For year-over-year comparisons by day, we compare to the same day of the week from the same week in the previous year."

Note that this data is for "only the restaurants that have chosen to reopen in a given market". Since some restaurants have not reopened, the actual year-over-year decline is worse than shown.

Note that dining is generally lower in the northern states - Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York - and only down slightly in the southern states.

----- Movie Tickets: Box Office Mojo -----
Move Box OfficeThis data shows domestic box office for each week (red) and the maximum and minimum for the previous four years.  Data is from BoxOfficeMojo through November 26th.

Note that the data is usually noisy week-to-week and depends on when blockbusters are released.

Movie ticket sales have picked up slightly over the last couple of months, and were at $12 million last week (compared to usually around $300 million per week during the Thanksgiving blockbuster period).

Some movie theaters have reopened (probably with limited seating).

----- Hotel Occupancy: STR -----
Hotel Occupancy RateThis graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.

The red line is for 2020, dash light blue is 2019, blue is the median, and black is for 2009 (the worst year since the Great Depression for hotels - prior to 2020).

This data is through November 21st. Hotel occupancy is currently down 32.6% year-over-year.

Notes: Y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the seasonal change.

Since there is a seasonal pattern to the occupancy rate, we can track the year-over-year change in occupancy to look for any improvement. This table shows the year-over-year change since the week ending Sept 19, 2020:

Week EndingYoY Change, Occupancy Rate 9/19-31.9% 9/26-31.5% 10/3-29.6% 10/10-29.2% 10/17-30.7% 10/24-31.7%10/31-29.0%11/7-35.9% 11/14-32.7% 11/21-32.6%
This suggests no improvement over the last 10 weeks.

----- Gasoline Supplied: Energy Information Administration -----
gasoline ConsumptionThis graph, based on weekly data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), shows gasoline supplied compared to the same week last year of .

At one point, gasoline supplied was off almost 50% YoY.

As of November 20th, gasoline supplied was off about 11.7% YoY (about 88.3% of last year).

Note: People driving instead of flying might have boosted gasoline consumption over the summer.

----- Transit: Apple Mobility -----
This graph is from Apple mobility. From Apple: "This data is generated by counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions in select countries/regions, sub-regions, and cities." This is just a general guide - people that regularly commute probably don't ask for directions.

There is also some great data on mobility from the Dallas Fed Mobility and Engagement Index. However the index is set "relative to its weekday-specific average over January–February", and is not seasonally adjusted, so we can't tell if an increase in mobility is due to recovery or just the normal increase in the Spring and Summer.

Apple Mobility DataThis data is through November 28th for the United States and several selected cities.

The graph is the running 7 day average to remove the impact of weekends.

IMPORTANT: All data is relative to January 13, 2020. This data is NOT Seasonally Adjusted. People walk and drive more when the weather is nice, so I'm just using the transit data.

According to the Apple data directions requests, public transit in the 7 day average for the US is at 44% of the January level. It is at 31% in Chicago, and 49% in Houston - and declining recently.

----- New York City Subway Usage -----
Here is some interesting data on New York subway usage (HT BR).

New York City Subway UsageThis graph is from Todd W Schneider. This is daily data for this year.

This data is through Friday, November 27th.

Schneider has graphs for each borough, and links to all the data sources.

He notes: "Data updates weekly from the MTA’s public turnstile data, usually on Saturday mornings".

OPEC Meeting Begins: Full Preview Of What To Expect

Zero Hedge -

OPEC Meeting Begins: Full Preview Of What To Expect Tyler Durden Mon, 11/30/2020 - 08:24

Submitted by NewsSquawk

  • OPEC and OPEC+ producers will meet November 30th and December 1st respectively, with Monday's meeting scheduled at 13:00GMT/08:00EST
  • Over the weekend, OPEC+ failed to agree on a delay to output hikes, with UAE and Kazakhstan reportedly opposing extensions
  • Market expectations are still leaning towards current cuts being extended following Sunday's meeting
  • Some sources suggested a 2-3 month extension, others three and the most recent 3-4 months, with some officials not on board with the full "plan"
  • OPEC+ failure to extend could trigger an oil price decline, whilst “buy the rumour, sell the fact” play cannot be dismissed


OPEC and OPEC+ producers are meeting November 30th and December 1st respectively, to discuss and draft a potential tweak to the current Declaration of Cooperation (DoC), rolled out in light of the pandemic to recalibrate the demand /supply imbalance. Monday's meeting is slated for 13:00GMT, subject to delays. The current DoC is split into three phases:

  1. 9.7mln BPD total output reduction between May and July 2020.
  2. 7.7mln BPD total output reduction between July and December 2020.
  3. 5.7mln BPD total output reduction between January 2021 and April 2022 (subject to review in December 2021).

Market expectations are still leaning towards the second tranche (7.7mln BPD cuts) being extended through Q1 2021, a view which was also backed by Goldman Sachs, ING and UBS, despite positive vaccine developments and amid rising production in Libya. Recent sources also noted OPEC+ is still leaning towards a rollover of the current tranche notwithstanding the recent oil price rally, albeit with some sources suggesting by 2-3 months and some through Q1 whilst the most recent sources suggested 3-4 months- with Russia also likely to agree to the full quarter if necessary. However, enthusiasm for cuts is not universal - with some OPEC+ officials cited by EnergyIntel not on board with the full "plan" on Sunday. Russia is also said to insists on gradual monthly increases in output from January, sources stated.


The informal consultation between the Russia, Saudi and JMMC heads was moved to Sunday ahead of the decision-making meeting. The panel of OPEC+ ministers could not reach an agreement on the extension of current cuts, with most participants reportedly supporting a delay of hikes through Q1 2021, but UAE and Kazakhstan opposing. Tass citing sources said the Russia and Saudi have reached consensus on extending the current level of cuts through the first months of next years, but the two producers still had to "coordinate 'certain details and the mechanism' of the extension". Meanwhile, sources cited via Argus Media on Sunday said "A rollover would most likely be for one quarter... This would avoid flooding the market in January-March - a period of typically slower demand."


The Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) statement on November 17th gave no detail on its recommendations but said it will be provided on December 1st. The Committee reiterated the “critical importance of adhering to full conformity and compensating the overproduced volumes, in order to achieve the objective of market rebalancing and to avoid undue delay in the process.” There was also chatter that OPEC+ is mulling deeper production cuts, though this was dismissed by delegates on Sunday who suggested no talk of collective deeper cuts.


Compliance among producers remain an issue as the latest October figures from the JMMC suggest sub-par conformity, namely from UAE, Nigeria, Iraq, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Azerbaijan for a total group cumulative overproduction of 2.346mln BPD (see Figure 1).

Some sources suggested that OPEC+ compliance could still be an issue, however, EnergyIntel's Bakr noted that "The expectation among delegates is that the "'catch up cuts' plan will be extended into 2021 to allow a number of states to reach their quotas"

Desks did not expect these compliance difficulties to be a near-term risk given the “vigilant and proactive” stance signalled by OPEC+ in recent meetings, with the group likely to reaffirm its stance on full compliance and specifics likely to be ironed out in the coming months with further compensation quotas.


The positively received vaccine updates from Pfizer/BioNTech (PFE /BNTX), Moderna (MRNA), AstraZeneca (AZN/Oxford) and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) have provided a rosier (or less dire) demand outlook for the complex due to the prospect of a recovery in activity and jet fuel demand. Still, re-emerging COVID-19 cases and uncertain timeframes for mass rollouts of approved vaccines continue to cloud near-term outlook. Analysts at Goldman Sachs indicate that this solidifies the argument for an extension of current cuts. Further, IEA’s November OMR also suggested “it is far too early to know how and when vaccines will allow normal life to resume. For now, our forecasts do not anticipate a significant impact in the first half of 2021.” Nonetheless, the vaccine fanfare this month has provided the crude market with a boost, resulting in the Brent curve edging back into backwardation (theoretically a near-term bullish signal) - Figure 2 below indicates the shallowing contango following the releases of each of the three major vaccine updates.

However, ING is sceptical about the recent Brent backwardation into early 2022 given the soft near-term demand outlook and fragile balance sheet over Q1 2021, whilst the WTI curve makes more sense, with timespreads in contango in the near term (reflecting weaker fundamentals) but with backwardation commencing from the May 2021 contract.

  • PRICE RALLY: The recent rally has prompted some to question the eagerness of some members to get onboard with extended cuts. “Clearly, if the market continues to strengthen between now and then, there is the risk that a growing number of members of the deal will become increasingly reluctant to rollover cuts”, ING says, "the group would likely be more open to rolling over cuts if prices were trading around the US$40/bbl level, however with Brent quickly approaching US$50/bbl, there might be some opposition within the group to delay an easing in cuts." Hence, the bank sees risk skewed to the downside - "it is unlikely that OPEC+ surprise with a six-month rollover given the latest move in prices, while the three-month rollover is already largely priced in. So anything less than a three-month extension will likely be seen as bearish."


The oil producers will have to factor in supply side developments since the rollout of the DoC, events that were not foreseen nor assumed at the time:

  • LIBYA: Libyan crude output has been on a steep upswing in the past couple of months following the lifting on blockades which saw exports from five key oil terminals halted in January, translating to an output slump to ~70k BPD vs ~1.1mln BPD pre-blockade, the latest Libyan production printed at ~1.2mln BPD. Libya is currently exempt from OPEC quotas, and the NOC head stated it will join the allocations once production reaches 1.7mln BPD. OPEC previously stated it will be keeping an eye on sustained production from Libya. On that note, an armed group attempted to break into the headquarters of Libya's NOC on November 23rd, in turn reigniting fears of the country’s fragile output.
  • UAE: Some desks are also eyeing potential complications by UAE to raise its baseline quota, thus translating to higher output from the nation. However, this risk is unlikely to materialise as the country’s energy minister recently noted “that all Opec-plus members should achieve full compliance with the existing agreement before the current level of cuts can be extended into next year”, according to EnergyIntel, whilst Goldman Sachs also warns unilateral production hikes will likely trigger a price war.
  • IRAN: A Biden administration has raised the likelihood of Iranian oil returning to the market as expectations are titled towards the Democrat unwinding some restrictions put in place by the Trump admin. That being said, this return is unlikely to take place until end-2021/22, ING believes, “by that stage, oil demand should have recovered enough for the market to be able to absorb additional supply”, contingent on COVID-19 and vaccine developments.
  • NIGERIA: Desks note that Nigeria has been complicating matters as it has advocated the exclusion of output from its Agbami oil field from its quota on grounds that its output should be clasified as condensate as opposed to crude oil.


Analysts at GS forecast Brent to average USD 47/bbl in Q1 2021 assuming a three-month extension of current cuts, whilst an adherence to the current DoC (i.e. a 2mln BPD production increase) would warrant USD 42/bbl in the period. “This illustrates once again how short-term revenue maximization always comes through production cuts, as a 2 mb/d production increase but $5/bbl negative price impact would end up reducing core-OPEC and Russia’s 1Q21 fiscal revenues by more than $5 bn”, GS says. Meanwhile, UBS sees a Brent average of USD 45/bbl in Q1 next year (see Figure 3 below), with the assumption of a vaccine rollout in 2021. “A 3-month extension protects price downside as policy struggles to mitigate winter virus waves. 2021 is a year of price recovery and normalization”, the bank states. 

The Newsquawk real-time social media OPEC monitoring tool is available here

Nikola Shares Pump'n'Dump As GM Steps Away From Equity Stake, Badger

Zero Hedge -

Nikola Shares Pump'n'Dump As GM Steps Away From Equity Stake, Badger Tyler Durden Mon, 11/30/2020 - 08:17

Update (0820ET): The initial kneejerk squeeze 40% higher in the pre-market has been entirely erased as 'humans' read the MOU and realized this is anything but a positive step forward for the NKLA/GM relationship on the day when Trevor Milton's lock-up expires.

*  *  *

Nikola signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with General Motors for a global supply agreement related to the integration of GM’s Hydrotec fuel-cell system into Nikola’s commercial semi-trucks.

While perhaps looking like a partnership in the way it was announced, the agreement appears to be little more than Nikola becoming a GM customer.

The announcement also comes on the same day Trevor Milton's lockup expires and the founder of the company can hit the bid with 91.6 million shares. In a CNBC interview last week, CEO Mark Russell "failed to assure" investors on both a GM deal and the idea that Milton wouldn't immediately hit the bid when given the chance. 

Notably, the MOU does not include the previously contemplated GM equity stake in Nikola or development of the Nikola Badger.

Full Nikola Press Release:

Nikola Corporation (NASDAQ: NKLA) today announced the signing of a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") with General Motors for a global supply agreement related to the integration of GM's Hydrotec fuel-cell system into Nikola's commercial semi-trucks. This supersedes and replaces the transaction announced on September 8, 2020.

Under the terms of the MOU, Nikola and GM will work together to integrate GM's Hydrotec fuel-cell technology into Nikola's Class 7 and Class 8 zero-emission semi-trucks for the medium- and long-haul trucking sectors. As previously announced, Nikola expects to begin testing production-engineered prototypes of its hydrogen fuel-cell powered trucks by the end of 2021, with testing for the beta prototypes expected to begin in the first half of 2022. In addition, Nikola and GM will discuss the potential for the utilization of GM's versatile Ultium battery system in Nikola's Class 7 and Class 8 vehicles.

"We are excited to take this important step with GM, which provides an opportunity to leverage the resources, strengths and talent of both companies," said Mark Russell, Chief Executive Officer of Nikola. "Heavy trucks remain our core business and we are 100% focused on hitting our development milestones to bring clean hydrogen and battery-electric commercial trucks to market. We believe fuel-cells will become increasingly important to the semi-truck market, as they are more efficient than gas or diesel and are lightweight compared to batteries for long hauls. By working with GM, we are reinforcing our companies' shared commitment to a zero-emission future."

The agreement between Nikola and GM is subject to negotiation and execution of definitive documentation acceptable to both parties. The MOU does not include the previously contemplated GM equity stake in Nikola or development of the Nikola Badger. As previously announced, the Nikola Badger program was dependent on an OEM partnership. Nikola will refund all previously submitted order deposits for the Nikola Badger.

The stock's immediate reaction was impressive (up over 40%) but has quickly faded to just around 9%...

Finally, we note that today is lock-up expiration (Milton can sell 92 million shares) - interesting timing for a short-squeeze-enabling press release - given the huge short interest...

There's no such thing as coincidence.

Trump Expands China Crackdown, Adds China's Top Chipmaker And Oil Producer To Defense Blacklist

Zero Hedge -

Trump Expands China Crackdown, Adds China's Top Chipmaker And Oil Producer To Defense Blacklist Tyler Durden Mon, 11/30/2020 - 08:10

In hopes of making a renormalization in relations with Beijing next to impossible for Joe Biden, the Trump administration is poised to add China's top chipmaker SMIC and national offshore oil and gas producer CNOOC to a blacklist of alleged Chinese military companies, Reuters reported citing a document and sources, curbing their access to U.S. investors and escalating tensions with Beijing.

The latest crackdown comes after a report from Reuters earlier this month that the Department of Defense (DOD) was planning to designate four more Chinese companies as owned or controlled by the Chinese military, bringing the number of Chinese companies affected to 35. A recent executive order issued by President Donald Trump would prevent U.S. investors from buying securities of the listed firms starting late next year.

It was not immediately clear when the new tranche, would be published in the Federal Register. But the list comprises China Construction Technology Co Ltd and China International Engineering Consulting Corp, in addition to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) and China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC), Reuters reported.

SMIC said it continued “to engage constructively and openly with the U.S. government” and that its products and services were solely for civilian and commercial use. “The Company has no relationship with the Chinese military and does not manufacture for any military end-users or end-uses.” Shares in SMIC closed 2.7% lower on Monday.

CNOOC’s listed unit CNOOC Ltd, whose shares fell by almost 14% after the Reuters report, said in a stock market statement that it had inquired with its parent and learnt that it had not received any formal notice from relevant U.S. authorities.

Later on Monday, Bernstein Research downgraded CNOOC Ltd’s stock to ‘market perform’ by applying a 30% discount to share price targets, citing sanction risks that range from a ban on U.S. funds owning CNOOC stock to prohibiting US companies from doing business with CNOOC.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, in response to a question about Washington’s planned move, that China hoped the United States would not erect barriers and obstacles to cooperation and discriminate against Chinese companies.

The upcoming move is seen as seeking to cement Donald Trump’s tough-on-China legacy and to box incoming Democrat Biden into hardline positions on Beijing amid bipartisan anti-China sentiment in Congress. The list is also part of a broader effort by Washington to target what it sees as Beijing’s efforts to enlist corporations to harness emerging civilian technologies for military purposes.

Reuters reported last week that the Trump administration is close to declaring that 89 Chinese aerospace and other companies have military ties, restricting them from buying a range of U.S. goods and technology.

The list of “Communist Chinese Military Companies” was mandated by a 1999 law requiring the Pentagon to compile a catalog of companies “owned or controlled” by the People’s Liberation Army, but DOD only complied in 2020. Giants like Hikvision, China Telecom and China Mobile were added earlier this year.

Futures, Global Stocks Dip On Last Day Of Record Month For Markets

Zero Hedge -

Futures, Global Stocks Dip On Last Day Of Record Month For Markets Tyler Durden Mon, 11/30/2020 - 07:55

US equity futures and world shares paused on Monday, dropping modestly on the back of weakness in oil and energy stocks even as they were set to finish a record-breaking month sparked by major progress toward a coronavirus vaccine and yet more free money from central banks.

Trading volumes were muted with European stocks holding steady, reversing an earlier loss while U.S. futures dropped as lows as 3,600 before rebounding. The MSCI World Index has soared 13% in November, the best performance on record. IHS Markit Ltd. jumped 16% in U.S. premarket trading. The research firm with more than 5,000 analysts, data scientists agreed to be bought by S&P Global Inc. for about $39 billion in stock.

Early downbeat sentiment was reversed by yet another case of "Medical Monday", after Moderna became the latest company to apply for emergency COVID vaccine approval in the US and Europe after new analysis showed the vaccine was highly effective in preventing Covid-19, with no serious safety problems. The news came after a weekend, in which U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said the federal government hopes to quickly review and approve requests from two drugmakers for emergency approval of their Covid-19 vaccines. The rapid pace to a vaccine has given investors the confidence to price in a return to normalcy and faster economic growth, helping lift shares of companies that were hardest hit by the pandemic.

Sentiment also got a boost from the latest Chinese PMI data showed manufacturing and service activity handily beat forecasts in November, even as the country’s central bank surprised with a helping of cheap loans.

On Monday, the rotation in equities showed signs of a slight reversal. Futures on the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 Index were little changed, while small-caps, banks and energy producers dropped, according to Bloomberg. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index sank 1.6%, the biggest loss in a month. The risk-on mood across markets has hurt demand for haven assets. Gold extended a retreat on Monday and is on course for its largest monthly decline in four years. The dollar is poised for a 2.7% drop in November.

"I suspect that investors have become cautious after big gains in the last few weeks that were driven by the vaccine news," said Peter Rosenstreich, head of market strategy at Swissquote Bank. "It’s a big positive as it’s really provided an endgame for Covid-19."

“Markets are overbought and at risk of a short term pause,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital. “However, we are now in a seasonally strong time of year and investors are yet to fully discount the potential for a very strong recovery next year in growth and profits as stimulus combines with vaccines.” Cyclical recovery shares including resources, industrials and financials were likely to be relative outperformers, he added.

Today's drop in oil and energy names notwithstanding, November's rush to value names benefited oil and industrial commodities while undermining safe-haven dollar and gold. “It has been a very, very strong month for markets, especially on the equity side but also on the fixed income side too,” said Rabobank’s Head of Macro Strategy Elwin de Groot. "And this market still remains very much supported by liquidity from the central banks,” De Groot added. With the ECB set to provide more stimulus next month “the market view seems to be, what can possibly go wrong?”

The positive developments on vaccines and swiftness with which they are likely to be rolled out had been key drivers.

European bourses boasted their best month ever with France up 21% and Italy almost 26%. The MSCI measure of world stocks is up nearly 13% for November, while the S&P 500 has climbed 11% to all-time peaks. The Stoxx is also having its best month on record.

After initially dropping as much as -0.7%, European stocks were unchanged after Moderna said it plans to request clearance for its coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. and Europe. The Eurostoxx 50 reversed an initial 0.6% drop to trade in the green. DAX and FTSE 100 lead peers. Peripheral indexes remain in the red, with Spain’s IBEX underperforming. Retail, chemical and healthcare stocks lead gains with banks, while oil & gas and travel the weakest sectors following Sunday's failure of OPEC+ to reach a preliminary deal on whether to extend output curbs. ABN Amro Bank NV fell as much as 6.5% in Amsterdam trading. The Dutch lender plans to cut about 2,800 jobs over four years as it retreats from large parts of its investment bank.

Earlier in the session, Asia closed November on a weak note with MSCI’s index of Asia-Pacific shares ex-Japan ending 1.5% lower on the day but was still up almost 10% for the month. The Topix lost 1.8%, with Toyota and Daiichi Sankyo contributing the most to the move. The Shanghai Composite Index retreated 0.5%, driven by China Merchants Bank and Kweichow Moutai. Chinese blue chips ended lower but up nearly 6% for the month. Trading volume for MSCI Asia Pacific Index members was 88% above the monthly average.  Japan’s Nikkei 225 eased 0.8%, but was still 15% higher on the month for the largest rise since 1994.

Emerging-market stocks fell on the last day of November, their best month since March 2016, as investors weighed the failure of an OPEC+ ministers panel to reach a supply agreement and renewed coronavirus restrictions from Hong Kong to Europe. MSCI’s gauge tracking developing-nation equities headed for the biggest daily drop this month.

The surge in stocks has put competitive pressure on safe-haven bonds but much of that has been cushioned by expectations of more asset buying by central banks. Sweden’s Riksbank surprised last week by expanding its bond purchase program and the European Central Bank is likely to follow in December.

In rates, European fixed income markets were relatively quiet, ignoring comments from ECB’s Lagard; Bunds bear flatten, semi-core spreads tighten marginally to core. German 10-year Bund yield were down 1.1 basis points at -0.598%, its lowest since Nov. 9. The rest of the core market also fell by around 1 bp.

Treasury futures were near session lows in early U.S. trading as stock futures pare declines, despite expectations that a large month-end index duration extension at the end of the day will support the long end. Yields were higher across the curve led by 10- to 30-year sectors, 10-year by nearly 2bp at 0.857%, slightly lagging bunds and gilts; front-end yields are little changed. As a result, U.S. 10-year yields are ending the month almost exactly where they started at 0.84%, a solid performance given the exuberance in equities.

The U.S. dollar has not been as lucky: "The idea that a potential Treasury Secretary (Janet) Yellen and Fed chair Powell could work more closely to shape and coordinate super easy monetary policy and massive fiscal stimulus that could drive a rapid post pandemic recovery saw the dollar under pressure," said Robert Rennie, head of financial market strategy at Westpac.

Against a basket of currencies, the dollar index was pinned at 91.771 having shed 2.4% for the month to lows last seen in mid-2018. The Bloomberg dollar index was headed for its biggest monthly decline since July, as G-10 peers tested multi-year highs against the greenback. The euro has caught a tailwind from the relative outperformance of European stocks and climbed 2.7% for the month to reach $1.1967. A break of the September peak at $1.2011 would open the way to a 2018 top at $1.2555.

Elsewhere, the pound rose the most in nearly a week on optimism a Brexit trade deal is close, though signs of caution showed up in the options market. GBP/USD rose as much as %0.4 to 1.3364 in its biggest move since Nov. 24. The U.K. and European Union are close to a breakthrough on fishing with an acceptance of a British proposal for a transition period on fishing rights after Jan. 1, the Telegraph reported. In Switzerland, the USD/CHF fell as much as 0.5% to 0.9019, its lowest since Nov. 9; The Swiss franc was initially supported as the nation’s voters rejected two proposals that had the potential to alter the corporate landscape of a country known for low taxes and light-touch regulation.

In commodities, one major casualty of the rush to risk has been gold, which was near a five-month trough at $1,771 an ounce having shed 5.6% in November, its largest monthly decline in four years.

Oil, in contrast, benefited nearly 30% from the prospect of a demand revival should the vaccines allow travel and transport to resume next year. Some profit-taking set in early on Monday ahead of an OPEC+ meeting to decide whether the producers’ group will extend large output cuts. Brent crude futures fell 52 cents to $47.66, while WTI dropped below $45 a barrel in New York on Monday. An informal meeting of OPEC+ ministers didn’t reach an agreement on whether to delay January’s oil-output increase. A full meeting of the cartel is planned for later today, where a deal is still seen as the most likely outcome.

As Bloomberg notes, looking at Monday's calendar, OPEC holds a virtual full ministerial meeting to make a final decision on whether a production supply hike should proceed as scheduled in January. Further into the week, the Reserve Bank of Australia holds a policy meeting on Tuesday, while Fed Chairman Jerome Powell testifies before Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday. The U.S. jobs report on Friday is expected to show more Americans headed back to work in November, though at a slower pace than last month.

Market Snapshot

  • S&P 500 futures down 0.2% to 3,628
  • STOXX Europe 600 up 0.01% to 393.28
  • German 10Y yield rose 0.5 bps to -0.583%
  • Euro up 0.1% to $1.1977
  • Italian 10Y yield fell 0.7 bps to 0.483%
  • Spanish 10Y yield rose 0.6 bps to 0.064%
  • MXAP down 1.6% to 189.96
  • MXAPJ down 1.5% to 625.40
  • Nikkei down 0.8% to 26,433.62
  • Topix down 1.8% to 1,754.92
  • Hang Seng Index down 2.1% to 26,341.49
  • Shanghai Composite down 0.5% to 3,391.76
  • Sensex down 0.3% to 44,149.72
  • Australia S&P/ASX 200 down 1.3% to 6,517.81
  • Kospi down 1.6% to 2,591.34
  • Brent futures down 1.8% to $47.30/bbl
  • Gold spot down 0.6% to $1,777.30
  • U.S. Dollar Index down 0.2% to 91.64

Top Overnight News from Bloomberg

  • Boris Johnson’s officials believe a Brexit trade deal could be reached within days if both sides continue working in “good faith” to resolve what the U.K. sees as the last big obstacle in the talks -- fishing rights
  • Boris Johnson is battling to convince his own Conservative Party colleagues to back plans to keep most of England under strict pandemic controls when the national lockdown ends this week
  • Germany can’t continue compensating businesses for lost sales beyond next month and more targeted measures will be needed instead, according to senior officials in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government
  • China’s economic rebound is gathering pace toward the end of the year, with an official gauge of manufacturing rising faster than expected in November, fueled by exports
  • China unexpectedly added medium-term funding to the financial system on Monday, as the central bank sought to ease liquidity tightness in the final weeks of the year
  • The Bank of England is seeing old fault lines open up as officials lock horns on whether to take interest rates below zero for the first time. That’s what the math on the nine-member Monetary Policy Committee is starting to look like, as the so-called “internals” on the panel with full-time operational roles at the central bank show the greatest signs of resistance to the measure. The minority of part-time “external” officials tend to be more open to subzero policy

Quick look at global markets courtesy of NewsSquawk

Asian equity markets began the week mixed amid tentativeness heading into month-end and this week’s key risk events, with the region also digesting a slew of data including better than expected Chinese Manufacturing and Non-Manufacturing PMI data. ASX 200 (-1.3%) underperformed as gold miners led the broad retreat seen across sectors after the recent slump in the precious metal and with Treasury Wine Estates hampered again by China’s anti-dumping measures on Australian wine, while Nikkei 225 (-0.8%) was initially kept afloat after Industrial Production data topped estimates but later succumbed to the headwinds from a firmer currency. Hang Seng (-2.1%) and Shanghai Comp. (-0.5%) initially diverged with the mainland bourse outperforming after Chinese official Manufacturing PMI printed its highest reading in more than 3 years and amid PBoC efforts in which it injected funds through Reverse Repo operations and the Medium-term Lending Facility. Conversely, the mood in Hong Kong was subdued with CNOOC and other blue-chip oil peers pressured after reports US President Trump is to add CNOOC and chipmaker SMIC to the defense blacklist, while Alibaba was also among the laggards amid suggestions the Ant Financial IPO faces narrow chances of going through next year. Finally, 10yr JGBs were lacklustre and attempted a breakdown of the psychological 152.00 level with price action failing to take impetus from the bull-flattening last Friday in USTs and the BoJ presence in the market today, while the central bank also recently announced its bond purchase intentions for December whereby it maintained the value amounts but reduced the frequency of buying in 1-3yr and 3-5yr maturities to 5 times from 6 times a month.

Top Asian News

  • Is Said to Mull E-Commerce Business Stake Sale
  • China Unexpectedly Injects $30 Billion Into Financial System
  • Meituan’s Sales Surge Alongside China’s Appetite for Takeout
  • H.K. Doctor Is Cleared in Massive Securities Fraud Probe

Major European bourses see a mixed performance (Euro Stoxx 50 Unch) after the region trimmed the modest losses seen at the cash open despite a lack of fresh fundamental catalysts, and with some suggesting month-end rotation for the earlier losses ahead of a number of key risk events for the week - including Brexit, OPEC and the US Labour Market reports. State-side futures also sees tepid trade in early European hours ahead of the US entrance from the long Thanksgiving weekend. Back to Europe, sectors kicked the week of with a defensive bias as Healthcare, Utilities and Staples initially performed better than the cyclicals, albeit thereafter, sectors re-calibrated to show more of a mixed picture, with no clear risk tone to be derived as things stand. Energy remains the straddler amid price action in the complex ahead of the OPEC confab, whilst Banks also retain their spot near the bottom amidst a lower yield environment, and as Brexit continues hang over UK financials heading into the crunch week. Further for the banking sector, HSBC (-2%) trades lower following reports the group is looking to exit retail banking in the US as part of a cost reduction plan, whilst ABN AMRO (-6.2%) sees more pronounced losses following its investor update whereby it sees some 15% workforce reduction by 2024. Elsewhere, on the M&A front - AA (-0.5%) trades modestly lower as its largest shareholder is set to oppose the takeover from Warburg Pincus and TowerBrook Capital Partners, with his stake just under the 25% needed to block the deal. Meanwhile, JD Sports (+6.3%) tops the FTSE 100 amid source reports that the group is less likely to make an offer for the Debenhams as its chairman is reportedly concerned that COVID restrictions have had a larger impact. Meanwhile, Siltronic (+9.1%) holds onto gains amid reports the Co. is said to be in talks to be bought by Taiwan's GlobalWafers for EUR 3.75bln. Finally, state-side S&P Global Inc confirmed it is in advanced talks to acquire IHS Markit for a deal worth around USD 44bln.

Top European News

  • Swiss Reject Business Liability Plan, Ban on SNB Investments
  • Lloyds Names HSBC’s Nunn as CEO to Replace Horta- Osorio
  • ABN Amro to Cut About 2,800 Jobs as Investment Bank Shrinks
  • Poland Upset With EU But Not Enough to Follow U.K. Exit Path

In FX, the Dollar remains downbeat irrespective of any safe haven demand that might ordinarily be warranted as stocks waver on the last trading day of the month, with bank models flagging a relatively strong sell strong signal against G10 currencies, bar the Yen. Hence, the DXY is depressed below 92.000 and just off a new 2020 low within 91.762-630 parameters and technically weak unless it can regain momentum and reclaim losses through a Fib retracement level at 91.729. Ahead, Chicago PMI before pending home sales and Dallas Fed manufacturing and a speech from Barkin.

  • NZD/CHF/EUR/GBP - More independent traction for the Kiwi as it targets 0.7050 vs its US counterpart in wake of improvements in the NBNZ business outlook and own activity readings for November, while the Franc has taken on board a pick up in Swiss retail sales and KOF’s leading indicator slowing less than expected this month rather than mixed weekly sight deposits to maintain gains above 0.9050. Elsewhere, the Euro is making steady measured progress towards 1.2000 after eclipsing resistance at 1.1975, albeit with some assistance from reported Eur/Gbp RHS interest for month end as the cross tests 0.9000 and Cable continues to trade heavy on the 1.3300 handle amidst ongoing Brexit uncertainty and conflicting UK data (BoE consumer credit weak, mortgage lending sub-consensus, but approvals considerably higher than forecast).
  • CAD/AUD - The Loonie is holding up pretty well between 1.3000-1.2970 parameters given another downturn in oil prices and Aussie also close to 0.7400 following contrasting business inventory and company profits, with similarly divergent external impulses via strength in Chinese PMIs to temper some of the pain inflicted by Beijing’s steep anti-dumping tax on wine and a fresh diplomatic twitter spat.
  • JPY - A major laggard on the aforementioned lack of demand for portfolio purposes vs the Greenback, as the Yen pivots 104.00 and comfortably inside recent extremes after a raft of inconclusive Japanese data overnight.
  • SCANDI/EM - The Nok is also displaying a degree of resilience against the backdrop of weaker crude and Sek is consolidating off post-Riksbank lows, while the Cnh has firmed from PBoC midpoint fix levels for the Cny with more reverse repo and MLF liquidity to compound the robust official PMIs and the Try has drawn encouragement from a more pronounced than anticipated GDP rebound in Q3, narrower trade deficit and cheaper oil.

In commodities, WTI and Brent futures trade on the backfoot in the run-up to the decision-making OPEC/OPEC+ meetings over the next two days, for which a full Newsquawk preview can be found here, whilst the Newsquawk OPEC Twitter Dashboard can be accessed here. In terms of where we stand, Sunday's impromptu meeting offered little in the way of a breakthrough, with the panel of OPEC+ ministers unable to reach an agreement on the extension of current cuts, but most participants are reportedly supporting a delay of hikes through Q1 2021. Market expectations are still leaning towards the second tranche (7.7mln BPD cuts) being extended through in the first three months of 2021, albeit with some sources suggesting an extension by 2-3 months, whilst the most recent sources suggested 3-4 months. Meanwhile, Russia is said to be advocating gradual monthly increases in output from January, according to sources. Nonetheless, futures contracts remain subdued awaiting concrete clarity, with the OPEC meeting set to commence at 13:00GMT/08:00EST and a drip-feed of to-and-fro sources likely. WTI Jan resides under USD 45/bbl (vs. high 45.42/bbl) whilst Brent Feb continues to lose ground sub-48.00/bbl (vs. high 48.04/bbl). Elsewhere, spot gold and silver trade lacklustre despite a lack of fundamental catalysts, but with month-end rotation to keep in mind - with the former struggling to gain ground after yielding the 1800/oz mark. Turning to base metals. Dalian iron ore and Shanghai copper futures extended on recent gains with traders pointing to upbeat economic data from China. LME copper meanwhile is catching tailwinds from the copper performance overnight coupled by somewhat of a recovery in stocks.

US Event Calendar

  • 9:45am: MNI Chicago PMI, est. 59, prior 61.1
  • 10am: Pending Home Sales MoM, est. 1.0%, prior -2.2%
  • 10am: Pending Home Sales NSA YoY, prior 21.9%
  • 10:30am: Dallas Fed Manf. Activity, est. 15.8, prior 19.8

DB's Jim Reid concludes the overnight wrap

Welcome to what has become “Vaccine Monday” and also the last day of what will very likely be a record month for many equity markets. We’ll give full details tomorrow in our monthly performance review. Everyone will be waiting with baited breath though to see if there is a new vaccine efficacy release before the markets open today. It feels like the next developed world candidates are many weeks behind the three who have reported so far so we’re not expecting anything today but it wouldn’t surprise me if traders were very reluctant to go short, if that was their desire, before noon GMT / 7am NYT. Staying with vaccines, reports suggest that the U.K. will be the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, perhaps even early this week, with a view to starting inoculations as soon as next Monday. Meanwhile, the US Surgeon General Jerome Adams has said that Pfizer/ BioNTech is scheduled to submit an Emergency Use Authorization request for their vaccine on December 10 followed by Moderna on December 18 while Anthony Fauci said that vaccines would likely roll out from the middle to end of December.

Overnight we saw China’s November official PMIs with manufacturing printing at 52.1 (vs. 51.5 expected), the highest since September 2017, with services at 56.4 (vs 56.0 expected) bringing the composite reading to 55.7 (vs. 55.3 last month). This beat is leading to Chinese bourses outperforming this morning with the CSI (+0.96%), Shanghai Comp (+0.74%) and Shenzhen Comp (+0.52%) all making advances. Other indices in the region however have largely turned red after opening higher with the Nikkei (-0.61%), Hang Seng (-1.12%) and Kospi (-0.84%) all trading lower. Futures on the S&P 500 (-0.63%) have also turned lower and European ones are also pointing to a weaker open. Elsewhere, Reuters has reported that the Trump administration is adding SMIC and CNOOC Ltd. to a blacklist of “alleged Chinese military companies”.

In other weekend news an informal side OPEC+ meeting last night has seemingly failed to agree a plan to maintain production cuts through Q1. So lots at stake as we head into a two day meeting of the full group today and tomorrow. Crude oil prices are down c. -1.30% overnight. Our Oil strategist Michael Hsueh wrote a piece over the weekend (link here) suggesting that the current oil price factors in maintaining the production curbs and if we don’t get them we could see a -10% fall. So one to watch after a big bull run. Elsewhere, Bloomberg has reported overnight that S&P Global is in advanced talks to buy IHS Markit for about $44 bn and an announcement towards this could come as soon as today. If true, the tie-up would be this year’s second-biggest deal.

Now turning to the latest on the virus and the underlying message continues to remain same with new infections slowing in Europe but continuing to remain high in the US. In France, the positivity rate has now fallen to 11.1%, just over half of where it was in early November and the number of ICU patients are also on a continued decline. A similar pattern to the U.K. and Italy. Meanwhile in the US, Los Angeles and San Francisco imposed tighter restrictions but NYC schools will begin to reopen from December 7 despite the 3% positive test rate breach which had led to closures in the last couple of weeks. Across the other side of the world, South Korea has tightened social restrictions outside of the Seoul area which already had tighter restrictions in place. Hong Kong has said that it will suspend face-to-face classes at kindergartens, primary and secondary schools as cases are on a clear rising trajectory in the city.

Looking forward now and It’s a fairly busy week for data but how much markets will care is a moot point as everyone knows we’re on a short-term path to a double dip but that the short to medium term is a path covered in potential golden vaccine petals.

Data releases include the US jobs report (Friday) and the November PMIs (tomorrow and Thursday), while Fed Chair Powell and ECB President Lagarde will both be speaking through the week. Otherwise, attention will remain on the Brexit negotiations, with just a month remaining until the year-end deadline and less time given any deal has to be ratified across the continent.

Looking into more detail, the US jobs report for October on Friday sees consensus at +500k and a fall in the unemployment rate to 6.8% from 6.9%. Though this would be further progress from the situation in the spring, it would still be the slowest monthly jobs growth since the massive contractions in March and April, and leave the total nonfarm payrolls number over 9.5m beneath its pre-Covid peak back in February. Of some concern is the recent weekly initial jobless claims trend which have risen more than expected for the last couple of weeks. So it feels like a difficult month or so ahead for the US economy.

Meanwhile on the PMIs, the flash readings we’ve already had showed a noticeable deterioration in Europe as much of the continent headed into renewed lockdowns. It’ll be interesting to gauge what’s happening in the countries where there aren’t flash readings however, including a number of emerging markets. Also in focus will be the Euro Area’s flash CPI estimate for November tomorrow as for the previous 3 months it’s been in deflationary territory.

Elsewhere on Brexit I won’t say this is a crucial week as I’ve said this many times before and nothing much has happened. However it probably is now that face to face talks are back and that we’ll are running low on days to ratify a deal. In terms of the current state of play, it has been reported that the last big remaining obstacle in the talks is fishing rights with the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab asking the EU to recognise that regaining control over British waters is a question of sovereignty for the UK. Meanwhile, on other key obstacles of competition rules and state aid, Raab said that he could see “a landing zone”. If fishing is truly now the only stumbling block this is very good news as the numbers here are minuscule compared to the cost of no deal. Sterling is up +0.21% to 1.3339 overnight.

Finally, there are a number of important central bank speakers this week, with Fed Chair Powell and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin appearing before the Senate Banking Committee tomorrow and the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday. Meanwhile ECB President Lagarde will be speaking today at the European Policy Center Forum, before she appears at an Atlantic Council event tomorrow. The Fed will also be releasing their Beige Book on Wednesday.

To recap the week just gone, risk assets had yet another strong performance and global equity markets soared to all-time highs, with markets buoyed by further positive vaccine news and increasing signs that there’ll be a smooth transition of power in the United States. By the end of the week, the S&P 500 had advanced +2.27% (+0.24% Friday) to hit a new record, as did the MSCI World Index which rose +2.42% (+0.44% Friday) in its 4thconsecutive week higher. In Europe, the STOXX 600 was up +0.93% (+0.41% Friday) at its highest level since the pandemic, while the DAX rose +1.51% (+0.37% Friday) to move back into positive territory on a YTD basis. The moves higher for risk assets coincided with increasingly subdued volatility (at least by 2020 standards), with the VIX index falling -2.86pts last week (-0.41pts Friday) to 20.84pts, which is its lowest closing level since late February. Furthermore, Bloomberg’s index of US financial conditions eased to its most accommodative level since late February too.

Core sovereign bonds saw little movement last week, with yields on 10yr US Treasuries up just +1.3bps (-4.4bps Friday) to 0.84%. That said, there were some notable moves in southern Europe, with yields on 10yr Italian BTPs falling to an all-time low of 0.59%, as yields on 10yr Portuguese debt closed just shy of negative territory at 0.01%. That’s a far cry from the peak of the sovereign debt crisis earlier this decade when the Portuguese 10yr yield spent more than a year above 10% in 2011/12. Some milestones were also reached in FX, where the dollar index fell -0.65% (-0.22% Friday) to reach a 2-year low, while the Euro strengthened +0.89% (+0.42% Friday) to reach a 2-year high against the US Dollar of $1.196. Finally there were some strong performances in the commodities sphere, with Brent Crude oil prices up +7.16% (+0.79% Friday) as they moved higher for a 4th consecutive week, while the industrial bellwether of copper climbed +3.30% (+2.72% Friday) to reach a 6-year high.

Finally Bitcoin declined -8.5% over the week with c. -10% coming through on Thursday/Friday partly due to worries over the prospect of tighter crypto rules in the US.

Moderna Applies For Emergency COVID Vaccine Approval In US & Europe

Zero Hedge -

Moderna Applies For Emergency COVID Vaccine Approval In US & Europe Tyler Durden Mon, 11/30/2020 - 07:20

In a repeat of the last three Mondays, positive COVID vaccine news has delivered a jolt to stocks as Moderna has confirmed that it has applied for emergency approval. The company will ask regulators in the US (the FDA) and Europe, as the vaccine is set to become the second COVID-19 vaccine to go into service.

According to the company, in the 30,000-person trial, 196 subjects developed COVID-19 with symptoms after receiving either the vaccine or a placebo. Of those, 185 had taken a placebo, while only 11 had gotten the vaccine, indicating it protects against the disease.

If the FDA clears the shot, distribution could start within weeks. "I think this vaccine is going to be really a game changer for this pandemic," said Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said in an interview with WSJ. "We think it can really prevent severe disease."

Minutes after the news broke, Bancel appeared on CNBC Monday morning to answer some questions. During the interview, he said the vaccine is "a premium product" intended for health-care workers, the elderly and others with "high risk". The company is in discussions with Covax, the international program to deliver vaccines to the developing world, to supply some of its vaccines to the program.

Moderna shares surged on the results, climbing more than 10% to their highest levels yet.

Bancel said that trials for minors - broken into two groups, teenagers and younger children - could start later this year and early next year.


Moderna two weeks ago reported preliminary results from the first 95 Covid-19 cases to emerge in the trial, indicating the shot was 94.5% effective and looking safe.

Since then, another 101 volunteers developed symptomatic disease, enough to finish the analysis and potentially satisfy regulators.

In the final analysis, the company said there were 30 severe cases among the 196 total cases of Covid-19, and that all of them were among people who had gotten the placebo.

The most common side effects, the company said, included pain around the injection site, fatigue and headache. Moderna said the reactions increase in frequency and severity after the second dose of the vaccine.

The company now has two months of safety data following the second dose for at least half of the study subjects—a threshold the FDA is requiring before authorizing any Covid-19 vaccine.

The 10-year old biotech company is based in Cambridge, Mass. Moderna expects to have 20 million doses by the end of the year, enough for about 10 million people. Pfizer also expects to have a limited supply of its vaccine this year.

S&P Global To Buy IHS Markit In $44BN Deal That Could Be 2020's Biggest

Zero Hedge -

S&P Global To Buy IHS Markit In $44BN Deal That Could Be 2020's Biggest Tyler Durden Mon, 11/30/2020 - 07:00

The quest to build a legitimate competitor to Bloomberg and its ubiquitous terminals continues Monday as IHS Markit and S&P Global confirmed reports about a buyout worth some $44 billion.

According to WSJ, S&P Global plans to buy its smaller rival to create "a powerful challenger to information powerhouses Bloomberg and Refinitiv," assuming the deal goes ahead.

The move would mark the latest round of consolidation among large data providers: A year ago, the London Stock Exchange moved to acquire Refinitiv - formerly known as Reuters' financial data business - for $27 billion a year ago. New York Stock Exchange owner Intercontinental Exchanges struck its largest deal ever after it agreed to buy US mortgage data provider Ellie Mae for $11 billion.

As the FT points out, the move would mark the latest round of consolidation among large data providers. New York Stock Exchange owner Intercontinental Exchanges struck its largest deal ever after it agreed to buy US mortgage data provider Ellie Mae for $11 billion. That followed the London Stock Exchange’s move to acquire Refinitiv for $27 billion a year ago.

The deal would bolster S&P Global's data business as the company struggles to compete with Michael Bloomberg's eponymous Bloomberg LP. IHS Markit, which was formed from the 2016 merger between IHS and Markit, would boost S&P Global’s data and analytics offerings, making it one of the biggest competitors for Bloomberg's data business.

The industry has seen a wave of consolidation that in turn has made some regulators anxious. In particular anti-trust agents in Brussels have applied intense scrutiny to this deal and the deal between Refinitive and the London Stock Exchange. We suspect the tie up between IHS and S&P Global could face similar obstacles.

10 Monday AM Reads

The Big Picture -

My back to work morning train WFH reads:

Goodbye, San Francisco. Hello, Austin. The question of who gets paid what, where, continues to drive a lot of these decisions. Reddit became the latest company to say it doesn’t matter: It’ll pay people the same no matter their hometown. But that argument is far from over. It might be really easy for well-connected, veteran tech execs to live anywhere they want. But for younger, newer folks, proximity to power might still be hard to beat. (Protocol)
Move Over, Millennials! Boomer Power Is Fueling Latest Leg of Stock Rally The older cohorts of retail investors that tend to use funds for their equity investments appear to have been partly responsible for the big swing in equity markets between October and November. Younger cohorts, including millennials that tend to invest directly in individual stocks or individual equity options, rather than via equity funds, appear to have played a rather modest role. (Barron’s)
Is Robinhood Good For Investors? Robinhood feels like a casino. In a casino, you gamble. In a casino, the longer you gamble, the more likely you are to lose. The opposite is true in the stock market. The longer you play, the less likely you are to lose. But that depends, of course, on what game you’re playing. And this is the issue. (The Irrelevant Investor)
How Wells Fargo Became Synonymous With Scandal The history of American business is littered with companies whose reputations fell apart overnight. But it’s rare for a company with a history as long and august as Wells Fargo’s to suffer so quick and thorough a fall. From its beginnings as a cross-country express service in 1852, the company evolved into a regional powerhouse, and from there, to one of the biggest retail banks in the world. But today, for many people, the name Wells Fargo stands for scandal. (Slate)
What’s in a name? A lot. After early successes with Apple’s PowerBook, Intel’s Pentium, and P&G’s Swiffer, Placek and his team have gone on to work with a number of modern names and startups that will be familiar to most readers. Examples include Sonos and Impossible Foods. (Om)
The Secret Origins of China’s 40-Year Plan to End Carbon Emissions A veteran Communist Party bureaucrat quietly changed climate history: The biggest emitter of planet-warming pollution managed to take almost the whole world by surprise. In a September speech to the United Nations, Chinese President Xi Jinping put a 2060 end date on his country’s contribution to global warming. No other nation can do more to keep warming below the 1.5C threshold set in the Paris Agreement. Yet diplomats, climate activists, and even policy experts inside China for the most part had not anticipated this pivotal turnabout.(Bloomberg)
Outdoor Design Ideas for Cold Weather Living Outdoor space, be it a backyard or a balcony, has become precious since the start of the pandemic. Homeowners don’t want to lose the extra square footage just because it is chilly. Homeowners hunkering down during coronavirus are figuring out ways to extend their time outside. (Wall Street Journal)
Parler, the “free speech” Twitter wannabe, explained Conservatives are flocking to a site where they can post things that Facebook and Twitter don’t allow. The numbers are still small compared to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which collectively boast billions of users. In the past month, posts mentioning Parler have racked up hundreds of thousands of “Likes” on Facebook. (Vox)
How 9 governors are handling the next coronavirus wave Here’s a look at how nine governors — from across the country and from across the political spectrum — are responding to what experts fear may become the deadliest coronavirus surge yet in the U.S. (Politico)
The Botanist Daring to Ask: What If Plants Have Personalities? The idea of plant intelligence is still controversial, but Rick Karban is already well beyond that. Thanks to advances in plant genetics and a new openness toward plant research once considered fringe, botanists have found that plants produce and respond to complex chemical signals. They can detect the slightest touch. They know when they’re shaded by a cloud or a fellow plant, and whether that plant is related to them. Several species can recognize their genetic kin and rearrange their bodies to avoid competing with siblings. They can manipulate predators to do their bidding and transmit electrical signals among their roots. (Green)

Be sure to check out our Masters in Business this week with Greg Fleming, founding CEO of Rockefeller Capital Management based on the prior Rockefeller Family Office. They have about $43 billion in AUM. Previously, Fleming was President of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management and served as Chief Operating Officer of Merrill Lynch, where he ran Merrill’s Global Investment Banking business.


Active U.S. Stock Managers trail S&P Composite 1500 for the 10th time in 13 years

Source: Bloomberg Radio’s Dave Wilson



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AirBnB, DoorDash Raise Share Price Targets As US IPO Market Booms

Zero Hedge -

AirBnB, DoorDash Raise Share Price Targets As US IPO Market Booms Tyler Durden Mon, 11/30/2020 - 06:00

Update (0810ET): DoorDash has just confirmed its pricing range, with 33 million shares priced at between $75 and $85 per share, roughly the same range printed by WSJ earlier.


* * *

DoorDash and Airbnb are seeking to take advantage of one of the hottest IPO markets in recent memory by asking for a premium from investors when they go public in December.

With stocks at record highs despite one of the worst underlying economic backdrops in memory, the two companies, which have benefited from the pandemic in different ways, are upping the valuation they're seeking from investors in a move that is faintly reminiscent of WeWork's quest for a higher valuation.

Here's more from WSJ:

Airbnb is planning to target a range of around $30 billion to $33 billion—using a fully diluted share count—when the home-rental startup kicks off its investor roadshow Tuesday, according to people familiar with the matter. That is greater than $30 billion people close to the offering had expected.

DoorDash, meanwhile, plans to target a range of around $25 billion to $28 billion on a fully diluted basis, excluding the more than roughly $3 billion in cash and proceeds expected after the IPO. That is greater than the $25 billion people close to the offering had expected. DoorDash’s roadshow is expected to begin Monday.

The naked cash grab is a notable departure from how companies typically handle IPOs, where valuations are initially set conservatively, then moved higher as more demand materializes.

Both companies are on track to list in mid-December, which is typically a quiet month for offerings, ending a banner year for IPOs with a bang. There has already been a record amount of money raised in new issues on US exchanges as soaring technology valuations entice more private companies to take advantage of the frothy demand.

So far this year, more than $140 billion has been raised in 383 initial public offerings on U.S. exchanges, far exceeding the previous full-year record high set at the height of the dot-com boom in 1999, according to Dealogic data that dates back to 1995.

Here's How Central Banks Will Finally Unleash Inflation: The Shenzhen Case Study

Zero Hedge -

Here's How Central Banks Will Finally Unleash Inflation: The Shenzhen Case Study Tyler Durden Mon, 11/30/2020 - 05:12

Back in 2009, when the Fed first launched QE, a majority of traders and strategists were convinced that the Fed would spark an inflationary inferno as a result of the hundreds of billions of dollars (back then, that was a big number) of liquidity injected into markets and which - using the Weimar Republic as an example - consensus expected would find their way to the broader economy triggering sharply higher prices as a result of global currency devaluation.

And while one part of this forecast turned out to be true, with asset prices indeed hyperinflating in the subsequent decade, the flood of central bank reserves did little to boost benign broader economy inflation, i.e., wages.

It's also why a decade later, with central banks now injecting a berserk $300BN each month, the 10Y continues to trade well below 1% - the simple reason is that having failed to spark broader inflation, the market is convinced that nothing the Fed and its central bank peers do can change this default dynamic.

But if consensus was dead wrong about the economic outcome of the first QE back in 2009, could consensus be just as wrong now, and with most expecting deflation no matter how big the QE, could central banks finally "succeed" in sparking runaway inflation?

The answer is yes and it will come in the form of digital currencies which we - and DoubleLine - have discussed extensively in the past year, which while the biggest economic and financial story of the year by far, has been successfully drowned in the noise surrounding covid and the US presidential election.

But before we get into the specifics of how, here is another take on why, courtesy of BofA Chief Investment Officer Michael Hartnett, who believes that the key theme of the next decade will be "Dollar Debasement & Digital Currencies", to wit:

2020 saw $21tn of global fiscal and monetary stimulus. The US federal deficit skyrocketed to 25% of GDP, second only to WWII (27%). Global debt is expected to hit $277tn or 365% of GDP by year end, an all-time high while global interest rates are at their lowest level in 5,000 years. In the coming decade, loss of central bank independence, shift towards digital currencies as conduits for policy (UBI, "helicopter drops", student debt forgiveness), introduction of Yield Curve Control & stealth Modern Monetary Theory, the end of era of “financial engineering” and considerable public sector deficits are all reasons we think the US will find it tougher to finance current account surpluses in coming years…the dollar likely will decline, bullish for commodities & EM.

But while all that sounds great in theory, the real question as always is how does it work in practice.

The answer, as so often happens when it comes to financial experimentation, comes from China which is the most advanced nation in the development and rollout of digital currencies. Culminating a monetary revolution process that has been 6 years in the making, China started ramping up trials with the digital yuan last April, when it ran a pilot program that reportedly included US companies like McDonald’s and Subway...

... and then in October, China launched one of the biggest real-world trials for its digital currency, when the government in Shenzhen carried out a lottery to give away a total of 10 million yuan (about $1.5 million) worth of the digital currency. Nearly 2 million people applied and 50,000 people actually won.


The winners are required to download a digital Renminbi app in order to receive a "red packet" worth 200 digital yuan ($30), which they can then spend at over 3,000 designated retailers in Shenzhen’s Luohu district, according to China Daily. After that, they’ll be able to buy goods from local pharmacies, supermarkets and even Walmart.

The idea was to not only test the technology involved, but boost consumer spending in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In short, China is not only subsidizing the centrally-planned economy by manipulating the supply-side of the question- it now can prop up demand by handing out digital currency to anyone (or everyone).

Of course, unlike traditional central bank account-based currencies such as reserves, or decentralized cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, China’s digital currency would be controlled by the country’s central bank and will be instantly made available at a moment's notice to anyone who can receive it.

China's adoption of digital central bank tokens is expected to be seamless as most of the nation's digital payments already pass through companies like TenCent and AliPay and are already very popular in the country.

The successful Shenzhen test means that a broad rollout is just a matter of time.

As we have discussed repeatedly in recent months, central banks around the world are rushing to roll out the idea of issuing digital currencies. In October, the Bank for International Settlements and seven central banks published a framework for central bank digital currencies, or CBDCs.

Needless to say, without any consumer-facing liability - it's not a loan or a debt - the propensity to spend the digital currency is virtually instant and without limitation. After all, it's money that the central bank (in this case PBOC) created out of thin air and has handed out to whoever it so chooses - a form of massive universal basic income or unprecedented population subsidy - in hopes of sparking higher prices.

Consider it a way for central banks to atone for the fact that their policies were unable to boost wages in the past decade; instead, they will now simply hand out money with little regard for the consequences, as long as the consequences are sufficiently reflationary they allow some of the global massive debt tsunami which is now at $277 trillion, or 365% of GDP, to be inflated away.

Finally timing: according to tentative estimates for the rollout of ISO 20022, which is the required universal transaction standard which will make payment in digital currencies possible, we are looking at a 2022 launch date.

Norway Criminalizes Hate Speech Against Transgender People... In Private Homes Or Conversations

Zero Hedge -

Norway Criminalizes Hate Speech Against Transgender People... In Private Homes Or Conversations Tyler Durden Mon, 11/30/2020 - 05:00

Authored by Jonathan Turley,

We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in Europe. The move to criminalize speech has led to an insatiable appetite for new limitations and broader prosecutions. Norway is an example of this headlong plunge into speech controls and crimes in the West. This week the legislature adopted (without even a vote) a new criminal law that punishes people for saying anything deemed hate speech toward transgender people in their own home or private conversations.

Minister of Justice and Public Security Monica Maeland  declared victory because speech regulation must be “adapted to the practical situations that arise.” The “practical situation” includes speaking to your own spouse or family.

Birna Rorslett, vice president of the Association of Transgender People in Norway added allowing people to speak out against transgender values or issues “has been an eyesore for trans people for many, many years.”

Such speech controls in Europe have led to a chilling effect on political and religious speech. In their homes, people will often share religious and political views that depart from majoritarian values or beliefs. This law would regulate those conversations and criminalize the expression of prohibited viewpoints.

As we recently discussed, a poll in Germany found only 18 percent of Germans feel free to express their views in public. Notably, over 31 percent of Germans did not even feel free expressing themselves in private among friends. Just 17 percent felt free to express themselves on the Internet and 35 percent said that freedom to speak is confined to the smallest of private circles.

The most chilling fact is that European-style speech controls have become a core value in the Democratic Party. Once a party that fought for free speech, it has become the party demanding Internet censorship and hate speech laws. President-Elect Joe Biden has called for speech controls and recently appointed a transition head for agency media issues that is one of the most pronounced anti-free speech figures in the United States. It is a trend that seems now to be find support in the media, which celebrated the speech of French President Emmanuel Macron before Congress where he called on the United States to follow the model of Europe on hate speech.

For free speech advocates, we need to educate the public on where this road leads in places like Norway. What is at stake is the very right that has long defined us as a nation. Once we cross the Rubicon into speech criminalization and controls, Europe has shown that it is rarely possible to work back to liberties lost.  We are moving into potentially the most anti-free speech period of American history — and possibly the most anti-free speech Administration. Many politicians are already arguing for citizens to give up their free speech rights in forums like the Internet. With the media echoing many of these anti-free speech sentiments, it will require a greater effort of those who value the First Amendment and its core place in our constitutional system.

EU Outrage After Hungarian Official's Op-Ed Calling George Soros The "Liberal Hitler"

Zero Hedge -

EU Outrage After Hungarian Official's Op-Ed Calling George Soros The "Liberal Hitler" Tyler Durden Mon, 11/30/2020 - 04:15

Amid Hungary and Poland's joining forces to block a controversial EU budget that conditions who gets funds based on whether they adhere to what Brussels deems as "democratic standards", European leaders are outraged over a Hungarian official's comparison of billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

Szilard Demeter, ministerial commissioner and head of the Petofi Literary Museum in Budapest, on Sunday published an op-ed in the popular news site Origo which draws on the reference. Origo is seen as staunchly pro-government to the point that it's often accused of being state propaganda. "Europe is George Soros' gas chamber," Demeter wrote.

George Soros, Chairman of Soros Fund Management, via EPA

He was lashing out at Soros' and EU technocrats' attempts to destroy national culture in the name of 'open borders multiculturalism' - a constant criticism of right-wing European political movements. He charged that "Soros is the liberal Führer".

"Poison gas flows from the capsule of a multicultural open society, which is deadly to the European way of life," he wrote further. "George Soros is the liberal Führer. And his Liberaryan army is worshipping him in an even more servile manner than Hitler’s worshipped him, back in the day. They have learnt nothing from the twentieth century," Demeter said according to an English translation.

Specifically he contextualized the EU budget fight in these terms after earlier this month Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told a state radio broadcaster that "Hungary can’t be blackmailed". Hungary and Poland have jointly pledged to veto the 1.8 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) budget given it has political strings attached which are seen aimed fundamentally at punishing Warsaw and Budapest. 

The op-ed drew predictable outrage from European Jewish organizations as well as even the Israeli Embassy in Budapest:

The comments drew outrage from Hungary’s Jewish community, including the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, which called the article "tasteless" and "unforgivable."

"(The article) is a textbook case of the relativization of the Holocaust, and is therefore incompatible with the government’s claim of zero tolerance for anti-Semitism," the group wrote in a statement.

And further as the AP reports there are growing demands for Demeter's immediate removal:

The government of Israel, a close ally of Hungary, condemned Demeter’s comments. The Israeli Embassy in Budapest tweeted, "We utterly reject the use and abuse of the memory of the Holocaust for any purpose… There is no place for connecting the worst crime in human history, or its perpetrators, to any contemporary debate.”

Gordon Bajnai, Hungary’s prime minister in 2009-2010, wrote on Facebook on Sunday that if Demeter isn’t removed from his post by Monday, “Hungarians and the rest of the world will obviously consider (his) statement as the position of the Hungarian government.”

Later in the day Demeter is reported to have grudgingly retracted the article amid the storm of pushback and criticism.

But this begs the question that very few are likely to ask: given that for months and years in Western and international press Donald Trump too has been compared to Hitler and likened to a Nazi on almost a daily basis, does this fall under the category of "abuse of the memory of the Holocaust for any purpose"?

As one Twitter-er observed about the fury over the Hitler comparisons, "Democrat politicians say it everyday about Trump."

Demeter's comments, as extreme as they may be, are not entirely surprising given that Hungary's Prime Minister has been feuding with Soros for years, with his government enacting legislation which pushed a university and a charity funded by the billionaire out of the country.

Dangerous Crossroads: NATO's Attempted Infringement Of Russia's Airspace Aand Maritime Borders

Zero Hedge -

Dangerous Crossroads: NATO's Attempted Infringement Of Russia's Airspace Aand Maritime Borders Tyler Durden Mon, 11/30/2020 - 03:30

Authored by Andrew Korybko via,

Recent attempted infringements of Russia’s airspace and maritime borders by NATO are very dangerous instances of de-facto brinksmanship intended to provoke the Eurasian Great Power into reacting in a way that could then be manipulated as the “plausible pretext” for imposing further pressure upon it.

It seems like almost every week that Russian media reports on NATO’s attempted infringement of Russian airspace and maritime borders, but two ultra-dangerous developments occurred over the past week which signify that this trend will intensify.

  1. The Russian Navy threatened to ram the USS John McCain after it aggressively passed into the country’s territorial waters near Peter the Great Bay off Vladivostok, after which it thankfully reversed its course.

  2. The second incident involved the US launching rockets into the Black Sea from Romania that are capable of reaching Crimea in a wartime scenario.

These two events deserve to be discussed more in detail because of their significance to NATO’s grand strategy.

The transatlantic alliance intends to provoke the Eurasian Great Power into reacting in a way that could then be manipulated as the “plausible pretext” for imposing further pressure upon it. It amounts to de-facto brinksmanship and is therefore incredibly dangerous since both parties are nuclear powers. Furthermore, it’s the definition of unprovoked aggression since Russia doesn’t partake in symmetrical provocations against NATO. If anything, every time that it’s been dishonestly accused of such was just the country carrying out military exercises within its own borders which just so happen to abut several NATO states after the bloc extended its frontiers eastward following the end of the Old Cold War.

It’s the eastern expansion of NATO and the alliance’s recent activities in the Arctic Ocean that represent the greatest threat to peace between the two. On the eastern front, the US is once again provoking Russia in order to craft the false impression among the Japanese that Moscow is a military threat to their interests. Washington is greatly perturbed by their past couple years of technically fruitless but nevertheless highly symbolic talks over signing a peace treaty to end the Second World War and resolve what Tokyo subjectively regards as the “Northern Territories Dispute”. Moscow’s reclamation of control over the Kuril Islands following that conflict was agreed to by the Allies, but then America went back on its word in order to divide and rule the two.

Their mutual intent to enter into a rapprochement with one another could in theory occur in parallel with a similar rapprochement between Japan and China, which might altogether reduce Tokyo’s need to retain as robust of an American military presence on its islands. That in turn would weaken the US’ military posturing and therefore reduce the viability of its grand strategic designs to “contain” both multipolar countries in that theater. As regards the Arctic and Eastern European fronts, these are also part of the same “containment” policy, albeit aimed most directly against Russia and only tangentially against China’s “Polar Silk Road”.

It’s understandable that the US will continue to compete with these two rival Great Powers, but such competition must be responsibly regulated in order to avoid the unintended scenario of a war by miscalculation. It’s for that reason why the world should be alarmed by American brinksmanship against them, especially the latest developments with respect to Russia that were earlier described. All that it takes is one wrong move for everything to spiral out of control and beyond the point of no return. Regrettably, while Biden might ease some pressure on China, he’ll likely compensate by doubling down against Russia.

Trump should also take responsibility for this as well since it’s occurring during his presidency after all, even if it might possibly be in its final months if he isn’t able to thwart the Democrats’ illegal seizure of power following their large-scale defrauding of this month’s elections. He capitulated to hostile “deep state” pressure early on into this term perhaps out of the mistaken belief that “compromising” with his enemies in the permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies would result in them easing their pressure upon him on other fronts, but this gamble obviously failed since it only emboldened them to pressure him even more.

It’s unfortunate that Trump was never able to actualize his intended rapprochement with Russia for the aforementioned reasons, but he could have rebelliously defied the “deep state” after this month’s fraudulent elections by reversing his currently aggressive policy against Moscow if he truly had the political will to do so. He doesn’t, though, and this might nowadays be due more to his support of the military-industrial complex than any “deep state” pressure like it initially was. After all, war is a very profitable business, and artificially amplifying the so-called “Russia threat” by provoking Moscow into various responses could pay off handsomely.

It’s therefore extremely unlikely that this dangerous trend will change anytime in the coming future. To the contrary, it’ll likely only intensify and get much worse under a possible Biden Administration. Nevertheless, Russia doesn’t lack the resolve to defend its legitimate interests and will always do what’s needed in this respect, albeit responsibly (so long as it’s realistic to react in such a way) in order to avoid falling into the Americans’ trap. The ones who should be the most worried, then, are the US’ NATO and other “allied” vassals who stand to lose the most by getting caught in any potential crossfire for facilitating American aggression.

France Passes New Law To Ban Discrimination Based On Regional Accents

Zero Hedge -

France Passes New Law To Ban Discrimination Based On Regional Accents Tyler Durden Mon, 11/30/2020 - 02:45

France, having solved all other major problems in its country, has found an untouched area of people's free speech for big government to weigh in on: stereotypes against regional accents.

In fact, people who make assumptions based on others' regional accents are committing a new type of prejudice that the French are calling glottophobie. The Assemblée Nationale "has adopted legislation making linguistic discrimination an offence along with racism, sexism and other outlawed bigotry," according to the Guardian.

The legislation was voted in 98 to 3. 

Despite the overwhelming vote, it was widely debated in the house. 

Jean Lassalle, a former presidential candidate, said of the law: “I’m not asking for charity. I’m not asking to be protected. I am who I am.”

But Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti said he was "super convinced" the law was necessary. 

The law was proposed by Christophe Euzet, who called accents a "grave matter". He commented: “At a time when visible minorities benefit from the legitimate concern of public powers, the audible minorities are the poor cousins of the social contract based on equality.”

While some arguing against the bill proudly spoke in their respective accents while debating, others "complained that many broadcasters with strong regional accents were pigeonholed into reporting on rugby matches or delivering the weather."

Perhaps someone should notify France that in many counties, including England, the United States, Ireland and Australia, people take pride in their respective regional accents. Often times there are "stereotypes" (for example, an accent from a port town might lead one to believe a person in a fisherman) - but stereotypes can also be objectively accurate.

Either way, it's freedom of speech that loses wholeheartedly with this overreach and waste of government resources to try and protect people from who they are and where they are from. 

UK Government Running 'Orwellian' Unit To Block Release Of "Sensitive" Information

Zero Hedge -

UK Government Running 'Orwellian' Unit To Block Release Of "Sensitive" Information Tyler Durden Mon, 11/30/2020 - 02:00

Authored by Peter Geoghegan, Jenna Corderoy, and Lucas Amin via,

The British government has been accused of running an ‘Orwellian’ unit in Michael Gove’s office that instructs Whitehall departments on how to respond to Freedom of Information requests and shares personal information about journalists, openDemocracy can reveal today.

Experts warn that the practice could be breaking the law – and openDemocracy is now working with the law firm Leigh Day on a legal bid to force Gove’s Cabinet Office to reveal full details of how its secretive ‘Clearing House’ unit operates.

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests are supposed to be ‘applicant-blind’: meaning who makes the request should not matter. But it now emerges that government departments and non-departmental public bodies have been referring ‘sensitive’ FOI requests from journalists and researchers to the Clearing House in Gove’s department in a move described by a shadow cabinet minister as “blacklisting”.

This secretive FOI unit gives advice to other departments “to protect sensitive information”, and collates lists of journalists with details about their work. These lists have included journalists from openDemocracy, The Guardian, The Times, the BBC, and many more, as well as researchers from Privacy International and Big Brother Watch and elsewhere.

The unit has also signed off on FOI responses from other Whitehall departments – effectively centralising control within Gove’s office over what information is released to the public.

Conservative MP David Davis called on government ministers to “explain to the House of Commons precisely why they continue” with a Clearing House operation that is “certainly against the spirit of that Act – and probably the letter, too.”

Labour shadow Cabinet Office minister Helen Hayes said:

This is extremely troubling. If the cabinet office is interfering in FOI requests and seeking to work around the requirements of the Act by blacklisting journalists, it is a grave threat to our values and transparency in our democracy.”

Details of the Clearing House are revealed in a new report on Freedom of Information published today by openDemocracy.

‘Art of Darkness’ finds that the UK government has granted fewer and rejected more FOI requests than ever before – with standards falling particularly sharply in the most important Whitehall departments.

The Clearing House circulates a daily list of FOI requests to up to 70 departments and public bodies that contains details of all requests that it is advising on. This list covers FOI requests about “sensitive subjects” as well as ‘round robin’ requests made to multiple government departments.

Press freedom campaigners have sharply criticised the Clearing House operation and have called for full transparency.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

“The existence of this clearing house in the Cabinet Office is positively Orwellian. It poses serious questions about the government’s approach to access to information, its attitude to the public’s right to know and the collation of journalists’ personal information.”

Jon Baines, a data protection expert at the law firm Mischon de Reya and chair of the National Association of Data Protection Officers, said that he was “far from assured that the operation of the Clearing House complies with data protection law.”

“Data protection law requires, as a basic principle, that personal data be processed fairly and in a transparent manner – on the evidence that I have seen, I do not feel that the Clearing House meets these requirements,” Baines added.

‘Art of Darkness’: the worst offenders

The new report published by openDemocracy paints a disturbing picture of the state of Freedom of Information in Britain.

In 2019, central UK government departments granted fewer and rejected more FOI requests than ever before. In the last five years, the Cabinet Office – as well as the Treasury, Foreign Office and Home Office – have all withheld more requests than they granted, according to the report.

The Cabinet Office – which is the government department responsible for Freedom of Information policy – has one of the worst records on access to information. Last year, Michael Gove’s department was the branch of Whitehall most likely to have its decisions referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which regulates information rights in the UK.

New analysis by openDemocracy also shows that some public bodies are cynically undermining requests for information by failing to respond to requests in any way – a tactic described in openDemocracy’s report as ‘stonewalling’. Decision Notices, which are issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) about stonewalling, have increased by 70 per cent in the last five years. Again, the Cabinet Office is a repeat offender.

The study reveals that the ICO fully or partially upheld complaints about mishandled requests in 48 per cent of its Decision Notices last year: the highest proportion in five years.

Yet the ICO’s capacity to investigate complaints and enforce the Act is diminishing. The regulator has seen its budget cut by 41 per cent over the last decade, while its complaint caseload has increased by 46 per cent in the same period.

The ICO’s enforcement may also be hampered by its governance structure – under which it is accountable on FOI to the Cabinet Office. Michael Gove’s department also is involved in setting the ICO’s annual budget.

Responding to openDemocracy’s questions about the Clearing House, a government spokesperson said:

“The Cabinet Office plays an important role through the FOI Clearing House of ensuring there is a standard approach across government in the way we consider and respond to requests.

“With increasing transparency, we receive increasingly more complex requests under Freedom of Information. We must balance the public need to make information available with our duty to protect sensitive information and ensure national security.”

‘Jenna Corderoy is a journalist’

openDemocracy has had first hand experience of how the Clearing House slows down or obstructs FOI requests, and profiles journalists, on a number of different occasions.

In February 2020, openDemocracy journalist Jenna Corderoy sent an FOI request to the Ministry of Defence about meetings with short-lived special advisor Andrew Sabisky. The MoD subsequently complained internally that “due to the time spent in getting an approval from Clearing House, the FOI requestor has put in a complaint to [the FOI regulator] the ICO”.

The MoD refused the Sabisky request after 196 days, which is more than six times the normal limit for responding to an FOI request.

Separately, when Corderoy sent a Freedom of Information request to the Attorney General’s Office, staff at the office wrote in internal emails:

“Just flagging that Jenna Corderoy is a journalist” and “once the response is confirmed, I’ll just need [redacted] to sign off on this before it goes out, since Jenna Corderoy is a reporter for openDemocracy”.

Today’s findings on the operation of the Clearing House add to mounting questions about the British government’s approach to transparency and press freedom.

Earlier this year, Number 10 was heavily criticised after it barred openDemocracy from COVID press briefings. The Ministry of Defence was also subsequently accused of ‘blacklisting’ DeclassifiedUK after the department refused to provide comment to the investigative website.

Edin Omanovic, advocacy director at Privacy International said that

“the point of Freedom of Information is to access information from individual authorities themselves, not from a centralised body within the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office should not be interfering.”

Silke Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch said,

“We’re appalled that such important information rights have been so disrespected by the government. The centralisation of difficult FOIs, the secrecy of this list and the fact that our names have been circulated around Whitehall is seriously chilling. This is a shameful reflection on the government’s attitude towards transparency.”

Long legal battle for transparency 

openDemocracy first asked for copies of the Clearing House lists back in 2018. The Cabinet Office refused this Freedom of Information request but, 23 months later, in July 2020 the ICO finally decided that the lists – including the advice that the Cabinet Office provides on dealing with FOI requests – should be disclosed to the public.

While the Cabinet Office eventually disclosed some material from the Clearing House list, it is keeping its advice to departments secret and is appealing against the ICO’s decision.

openDemocracy, represented by the law firm Leigh Day, will now be submitting evidence to an information tribunal hearing to determine whether this information about the Clearing House should be made public.

According to ICO guidance, a public authority can only look up a requester’s identity if the request is repeated – potentially a vexatious request – or whether the cost of two or more requests made by the requester can be aggregated under FOI.

The ICO has been aware of the Clearing House’s existence for some time. In 2005, the Clearing House’s annual budget was reported to be £700,000.

The Clearing House was initially housed within the then Department for Constitutional Affairs then later moved to the Ministry of Justice. In 2015, when the Cabinet Office took responsibility for freedom of information policy, the department also took over the Clearing House, despite concerns about its operation.

The Cabinet Office has previously advertised roles to work in the Cabinet Office’s Clearing House. Specific responsibilities listed for the positions included “creating a weekly FOI tracker of new cases and releases”, and “forwarding drafts for clearance, reverting to departments with advice and negotiating redrafted responses”.

But openDemocracy’s findings – and the upcoming tribunal case – have highlighted fresh and pressing concerns, including among rights advocates who campaigned for the initial, groundbreaking Freedom of Information legislation more than 15 years ago. The Campaign for Freedom of Information’s Katherine Gundersen has said: “It’s time the clearing house was subjected to proper scrutiny.”

Meanwhile Gavin Freeguard, head of data and transparency at the Institute for Government, said that, 15 years after the Freedom of Information act came into effect, it was not right that the public was still having to fight to access information.

“With delayed responses, more requests being rejected than ever before and these reports of a Clearing House it feels like we’re having to fight for the right to information all over again,” said Freeguard.

“And all this at a time when it’s vital for politicians, the press and the public to be able to scrutinise government.”

The Cabinet Office organises quarterly engagement meetings and biannual information rights forums with other government departments. openDemocracy sent an FOI requesting materials from these meetings and forums, but the request was denied.