Thursday, November 30, 2023

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NY governor slammed for rejecting retail crime task force while store owners lose billions to theft 


New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is under fire for vetoing a retail crime task force as retailers in the state report a loss of billions of dollars to shoplifting

The bill, which received bipartisan support, would have created a panel of experts to outline ways to respond to retail theft in New York State. Hochul rejected the bill last week, sparking outrage from retailers and lawmakers statewide.

“Retailers throughout the state are extremely disappointed to learn that Governor Hochul vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have established the New York State Organized Retail Crime Task Force,” Melissa O’Connor, the president and CEO of the Retail Council of New York State, wrote in a statement. “I spoke with Governor Hochul at length to discuss the need for immediate action and an effective, collaborative response to this problem. She made it abundantly clear that retail theft prevention will be a priority for her administration, and we look forward to working with her to achieve results.”

O'Connor's organization highlighted state retailers' self-reported loss of $4.4 billion to shoplifting in 2022 as reason to form the task force.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers also condemned Hochul for the move, arguing that passing the bill would have brought "relief" to store owners.

“I am disappointed the governor did not sign this legislation,” Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-Marcy, said. "It is important to support our hardworking local businesses and this task force would review solutions to creating a safer environment for business owners as well as customers.”

Retailers and law enforcement from the Capital Region have stressed the need for a statewide response to theft, noting that it is having a "devastating effect" on communities.

"When we see these organized retail theft operations, we've got to respond to it," Albany Police Department Chief Eric Hawkins told CBS6 Albany. "So, now we're diverting resources from places that's sorely needed."

New York City Mayor Eric Adams launched the city's own retail theft task force earlier this month, touting its “360-degree” capability to confront shoplifting.

“I am proud to convene this group of experts and practitioners as we continue to take a 360-degree approach to combatting retail theft and curbing this serious issue that plagues cities across the country,” Adams said. “Together, we recognize the importance of safeguarding our businesses, protecting jobs, and ensuring a safer and more vibrant city for all who live in, work in, and visit our great city.”

Organized retail crime is growing into a substantial threat for store owners throughout the U.S. Stores have lost a combined $112 billion in sales in 2023. Major retailers like Walmart and Cosco are beginning to rethink their self-checkout offerings, which they believe contributes to additional shoplifting and lost profits due to customer error.

Russian Stock Exchange Hit by U.S. Sanctions Files for Bankruptcy 

A petition for bankruptcy purportedly filed by the St Petersburg Stock (SPB) Exchange has been rejected, according to reports which come less than a month after the U.S. imposed sanctions on it.

However, media in Russia have reported that the request for insolvency by the country's second-largest bourse—behind the Moscow Exchange—may have been a fraudulent ploy by attackers to manipulate the market and that an investigation has been launched.

Rumors of an impending insolvency prompted a slump in the stock exchange's shares by more than a third (34.9 percent) before partially recovering as speculation mounts over whether the request was genuine, according to financial website

Newsweek has contacted Russia's Central Bank for comment.

On November 2, the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control added the SPB Exchange, which gives investors access to the international stock markets, to its sanctions list before suspending its trading in American securities.

The U.S. measures also targeted seven Russia-based banks and a banking executive to further punish the country over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and isolate it from the world's financial system.

On Monday, the brokerage denied media reports that filings with Moscow's Arbitration Court from November 24 showed it had applied for bankruptcy. The name of the applicant and the amount of the claim were not indicated on the application. The exchange said in a statement it "has a stable financial position and there are no signs of bankruptcy," according to the Moscow Court of Arbitration.

But the Moscow court said it had received an application from some source, according to media reports.

This was rejected because it violated the legal procedure by not being published on Russia's financial registry, Fedresurs, and did not contain the required evidence needed "to verify its validity," the court said. The ruling said that rejecting a petition does not prevent a request for bankruptcy from being filed again.

SPB Exchange issued a statement that it will "contact law enforcement agencies and initiate an investigation into a case of forgery of documents and unlawful filing of a bankruptcy petition by attackers."

The Bank of Russia said it would investigate whether there had been violations of legal requirements on insider trading and market manipulation and would examine the actions of investors with shares of the trading platform, the newspaper Vedemosti reported.

Meanwhile, the bank's head of consumer rights protection, Mikhail Mamuta, called for an investigation because there had been an "obvious manipulation" of the price of the stock exchange's shares.

"This is not an abuse of rights, this is close to a crime and it seems to me that law enforcement should figure out what happened," he said, according to business outlet RBC.

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Henry Kissinger Has Died at the Age of 100

Henry Kissinger Has Died at the Age of 100 

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a key figure in shaping U.S. foreign policy during the late 20th century, has died at the age of 100.

Mr. Kissinger died at his home in Connecticut on Wednesday, according to Kissinger Associates, Inc.

A German-born American diplomat, he served as secretary of state for two presidents. While serving under Republican President Richard Nixon in the 1970s, Mr. Kissinger, Ph.D., played a key role in many significant global events.

In his later years, the former U.S. diplomat faced restrictions on his travels as other nations sought to question or arrest him regarding past U.S. foreign policy decisions.

President Gerald Ford, who referred to Mr. Kissinger as a "super secretary of state," also acknowledged his prickly demeanor and self-assurance, which critics viewed as paranoia and egotism. President Ford once remarked that Mr. Kissinger "had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who served under former President Donald Trump, paid his respects to Mr. Kissinger on Wednesday.

"From the day he came to the United States as a teenager fleeing Nazi Germany, Dr. Kissinger dedicated his life to serving this great country and keeping America safe," Mr. Pompeo said.

"He left an indelible mark on America's history and the world. I will always be grateful for his gracious advice and help during my own time as Secretary," he continued. "Always supportive and always informed, his wisdom made me better and more prepared after every one of our conversations."

Born Heinz Alfred Kissinger on May 27, 1923, in Furth near Nuremberg, Germany, Mr. Kissinger relocated to the United States with his family in 1938 to escape the Nazi campaign targeting European Jews for extermination.

He anglicized his name to Henry and obtained U.S. citizenship in 1943. He served in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War Two and later attended Harvard University on a scholarship. He earned a master's degree in 1952 and a doctorate in 1954, subsequently joining Harvard's faculty, where he remained for the next 17 years.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Monday, November 20, 2023

China and Saudi Arabia sign a $7 billion currency swap agreement, adding to de-dollarization push 

  • China and Saudi Arabia signed a currency swap agreement worth around $7 billion.
  • It's yet another push towards dedollarization as countries attempt to wean off use of the greenback.
  • China's o utstanding balance of forex swap lines hit a record 117.1 billion yuan, Bloomberg reported.

China and Saudi Arabia reached a currency swap agreement worth around $7 billion, marking another step in the dedollarization trend as countries around the world shift away from the greenback.

The three-year deal allows for a maximum of 50 billion yuan or 26 billion riyals.

While relatively small, the deal could loom larger symbolically as Saudi Arabia is the world's top oil exporter, and most global oil trades are conducted in dollars.

And although Russia is China's top oil supplier, China imported $65 billion worth of Saudi crude oil in 2022, according to Chinese customs data cited by Reuters. That adds up to roughly 83% of the country's total exports to China.

More broadly though, China has been on a campaign to boost the internationalization of the yuan in an attempt to dethrone the dollar.

Last month, RBC reported that 25% of Russia's trade with countries other than China was settled with the renminbi. And a JPMorgan report in September said more and more of the oil trade is taking place with currencies other than the dollar.

Meanwhile, the o utstanding balance of China's foreign-exchange swap lines notched a new high of 117.1 billion yuan in September, according to data analyzed by Bloomberg.

China has signed other currency swap agreements this year with countries like Argentina. In fact, the Chinese central bank currently has 29 active swap agreements, topping 4 trillion yuan, according to a report released last month.

Beijing has also encouraged foreign investors to access Chinese markets through the issuance of panda bonds. At the latest Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese banks also signed a series of yuan-denominated loans for countries like Peru and Malaysia.

IMF Releases Digital Currency Handbook for World's Central Banks

IMF Releases Digital Currency Handbook for World's Central Banks 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released a handbook for global central banks regarding the development and implementation of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).

The IMF’s “Central Bank Digital Currency Virtual Handbook” published last week pointed out that the increased use of CBDCs can “reduce dollarization” of the global economy—a situation where countries move away from relying on the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency. De-dollarization would push up borrowing costs in the United States, making loans expensive for businesses and individuals, thus affecting economic growth. Stock market values can also crash, reducing the savings and investments of Americans.

In addition to de-dollarization, a CBDC “could increase risks of flight to safety from retail bank deposits in periods of market stress.” During times of market volatility, customers withdraw their deposits and move it into safe assets to avoid losing money in scenarios like bank collapses.

If CBDCs were available, pulling out funds from a bank and putting them in such assets will come across as a safe option for many people, thus triggering a bank run.

The organization pointed out that CBDCs could offer “a safe store of value and efficient means of payment, which can increase competition for deposit funding, raise banks’ share of wholesale funding, and lower bank profits.”

The IMF handbook was published as the organization’s Director Kristalina Georgieva promoted the use of CBDCs during the Singapore FinTech Festival on Nov. 15, arguing that such digital currencies could bring an end to the cash-based economy.

“CBDCs can replace cash, which is costly to distribute in island economies,” she said during a speech. “CBDCs would offer a safe and low-cost alternative to cash. They would also offer a bridge to go between private monies and a yardstick to measure their value, just like cash today, which we can withdraw from our banks.”

Back in May, Ms. Georgieva said that the world was heading towards widespread CBDC adoption without considering the risks involved in such a transition.

“What we are careful about is the choice between wholesale and retail CBDCs. We think that wholesale CBDCs can be put in place with fairly little space for undesirable surprises. Whereas retail CBDCs, they completely transform the financial system in a way that we don’t quite know what consequences it could bring,” she said during a discussion.

Wholesale CBDCs are meant to be used in interbank settlements as well as transactions between institutions and other market participants, while retail CBDCs are for use by the general population and other institutions.

A potential risk of retail CBDCs is that funds get pulled out from traditional commercial banks and deposited as CBDCs in central banks. The depletion of deposits will affect the lending ability of commercial banks, possibly worsening any banking crisis.

US Government CBDC

While the IMF pushes ahead with the promotion of CBDCs, Republican lawmakers are taking steps to prevent the U.S. government from issuing such digital currencies. In September, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) reintroduced the CBDC Anti-Surveillance State Act.

In a Sept. 12 press release, Mr. Emmer pointed out that unlike decentralized cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, CBDCs are designed and issued by a government “and [transact] on a digital ledger that is controlled by that government.” This could give the administration the power to “surveil Americans' transactions and choke out politically unpopular activity.”

The bill imposes the following prohibitions:
  • It prevents the U.S. Federal Reserve from issuing a CBDC directly to individuals, thus making sure that the Fed cannot mobilize itself as a retail bank and collect personal data of Americans.
  • It prohibits the Fed from indirectly issuing a CBDC to individuals via an intermediary, thereby blocking the central bank from launching a retail digital currency through a two-tiered financial system.
  • It bans the Fed from using any CBDC to implement its monetary policy. This ensures that the central bank is not able to use these currencies as a “tool to control the American economy.”
In March 2022, President Joe Biden signed an executive order asking the Fed to continue its ongoing research and experimentation of CBDCs and to evaluate the benefits and risks of a digital dollar.

Talking about the issue, Mr. Emmer said that “agency reports to that executive order have made it clear that the Biden Administration is not only itching to create a CBDC, but they are willing to trade American’s right to financial privacy for a surveillance-style central bank digital currency.”

“We’re not going to let this happen,” he said. The CBDC Anti-Surveillance State Act “ensures the United States digital currency policy is in the hands of the American people—not the Administrative State—so that it reflects our American values of privacy, individual sovereignty, and free market competitiveness.”

On Sept. 20, the House Financial Services Committee passed the bill.

Back in April, Federal Reserve Board member Michelle Bowman warned in a speech that a CBDC may pose “significant risks, challenges, and tradeoffs.”

There is a “risk that a CBDC would provide not only a window into, but potentially an impediment to, the freedom Americans enjoy in choosing how money and resources are used and invested.”

A CBDC could also lead to the politicization of the payments system, potentially undermining the independence of the Fed, Ms. Bowman said.

In May, Florida’s House of Representatives passed a bill banning the use of CBDCs in the state. The bill defined money to exclude CBDC. Weeks before the bill was passed, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had pointed to China as a potential example of how CBDCs could negatively affect people.

“Look no further than China, in seeing the impact of centralized digital currency,” he said. “The People’s Bank of China uses its central bank to monitor citizen behavior, allowing for the surveillance of spending habits and to cut off access to goods and services.”

EU Needs 'Big' Gas Storage Buffer at the End of Current Winter: EC Official 

The EU will need to have a “big buffer” of gas in storage at the end of the current winter to help prepare for the following winter, a senior European Commission official said Nov. 14.

Paula Pinho, energy security director at the EC’s energy directorate, said Brussels was maintaining a “very high level of monitoring and preparedness.”

“I think we are prepared but we really cannot just sit back and relax,” Pinho said in comments posted to the EC website.

“We know that storage facilities are now full, but we cannot afford to just use up all the gas during the winter,” she said.

“As at the end of last winter, we still need to have a big buffer to allow us to go through into the next heating season,” she said, adding that the EC was already preparing for winter 2024-2025. “We cannot lower our guard.”

EU gas storage sites were filled to 99.5% of capacity as of Nov. 12, according to Gas Infrastructure Europe data, having hit 99.6% fullness last week.

The past summer’s stock build was made considerably easier by the warm winter of 2022/23, which left the EU’s storage sites still 55.6% full as of the end of March.

The last winter even saw a period of net injections in January 2023 — typically a peak withdrawal month — as temperatures rose well above seasonal norms.

The still healthy stock level in March 2023 was in stark contrast to the end of the 2021/22 winter when stocks were drawn down to just 25.6% of capacity.

Pinho also said the EC remained vigilant in terms of key energy infrastructure in light of damage to the Balticconnector between Finland and Estonia last month.

“Our infrastructure is critical and because of that, it remains at risk and we cannot exclude the possibility of bad things happening to critical energy infrastructure,” she said.

“If our infrastructure is exposed, we can all of a sudden lose the means to supply the stored gas.”


Demand reductions

Pinho also said the EU had reduced gas demand by 18% compared with the average of the past five years. “We believe that a big part of that is the result of structural measures — and these will stay in place,” she said.

“This means we will be able to continue to simply consume less, which is also our objective, if it doesn’t mean destroying industrial output, and we have good signals in that sense.”

EU member states in July last year agreed to voluntarily cut their gas consumption between August 2022 and March 2023 by 15% compared to the five-year average, and beat the target with demand reduced by 17.7%.

The agreement was extended in March this year and is now set to continue until the end of March 2024.

The biggest cuts in consumption last year were in the autumn on the back of high gas prices and warm temperatures.

Platts, part of S&P Global Commodity Insights, assessed the benchmark Dutch TTF month-ahead price at an all-time high of Eur319.98/MWh in late August 2022.

Prices are now lower thanks to healthy storage levels and demand curtailments but remain historically high, with Platts assessing the TTF month-ahead price on Nov. 13 at Eur47.76/MWh.

The EU rules on demand reduction also provide the possibility for the EU to trigger a “Union alert” on security of supply, in which case the gas demand reduction would become mandatory.

Pinho said “everyone” had contributed to the demand cuts. “When we look at the reduction in gas demand, the contribution from households and industry is 50/50 — so it’s really something that pulled everyone together,” she said.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Cushing: 15 tank storage terminals (now with links to each facility) 

Mayor sets up legal defense fund amid corruption investigation 

NEW YORK -- Mayor Eric Adams has set up a legal defense fund amid a corruption investigation into his 2021 campaign.

The fund will be monitored by the city's Conflict of Interest Board, which is an independent agency.

According to the board, city employees are allowed to set up legal defense funds to raise money to pay for certain legal bills.

Adams has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The FBI is investigating the mayor's campaign financing and its possible ties to the Turkish government.

Earlier this month, agents searched the homes of three people in Adams' circle and briefly confiscated Adams' phone and devices.

American arrested in Venezuela just days after Biden administration eases oil sanctions 

A California man’s family is pleading for his release after they say he was wrongfully arrested in Venezuela and held for tens of thousands of dollars in ransom just days after the Biden administration eased crippling oil sanctions on the socialist-run government.

Savoi Wright’s Oct. 24 arrest, which had not been previously reported, has become the latest flashpoint in the tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Nicolás Maduro’s government that critics say should lead to a return to sanctions.

But all Wright’s family wants is for the 38-year-old businessman to be returned home. They know precious little about the circumstances of his arrest. No criminal charges have been filed, he has not been allowed to see a lawyer and the Venezuelan government hasn’t said where he is being held.

“It’s a nightmare. It’s like you’re watching a horror movie but you’re in it,” his mother, Erin Stewart, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from her Oakland home.
This undated photo provided by Erin Stewart and Moizeé Stewart shows Savoi Wright. Wright’s Oct. 24, 2023 arrest in Venezuela, which had not been previously reported, has become the latest flashpoint in the tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Nicolás Maduro’s government that critics say should lead to a return to sanctions. (Erin Stewart/Moizeé Stewart via AP)
This undated photo provided by Erin Stewart and Moizeé Stewart shows Savoi Wright. Wright’s Oct. 24, 2023 arrest in Venezuela, which had not been previously reported, has become the latest flashpoint in the tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Nicolás Maduro’s government that critics say should lead to a return to sanctions. (Erin Stewart/Moizeé Stewart via AP)

Wright joins at least seven other U.S. citizens who remain imprisoned in Venezuela. But his arrest stands out because it came on the heels of a politically risky move by President Joe Biden to roll back crippling oil sanctions against the OPEC nation in tandem with an Oct. 17 agreement in Barbados between Maduro’s government and its opponents to hold elections next year.

Almost immediately, Maduro seemed to disavow the deal when the nation’s Supreme Court, which is packed with loyalists, suspended the results of an opposition-run primary won by Maria Corina Machado, a pro-U.S. former lawmaker.

The Biden administration has said it is prepared to reinstate sanctions if Maduro wavers from his commitments, which include reversing bans preventing Machado and others from holding office, and starting to release political prisoners and wrongfully detained U.S. citizens by the end of November.
This undated photo provided by Erin Stewart and Moizeé Stewart shows Savoi Wright. Wright’s Oct. 24, 2023 arrest in Venezuela, which had not been previously reported, has become the latest flashpoint in the tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Nicolás Maduro’s government that critics say should lead to a return to sanctions. (Erin Stewart/Moizeé Stewart via AP)
This undated photo provided by Erin Stewart and Moizeé Stewart shows Savoi Wright. Wright’s Oct. 24, 2023 arrest in Venezuela, which had not been previously reported, has become the latest flashpoint in the tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Nicolás Maduro’s government that critics say should lead to a return to sanctions. (Erin Stewart/Moizeé Stewart via AP)

That position was reaffirmed Friday by the U.S. State Department in response to questions about Wright’s arrest.

“Failure to abide by the terms of this arrangement will lead the United States to reverse steps taken,” said spokesman Matthew Miller.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration ratcheted up sanctions on Venezuela in 2019 after accusing Maduro of staying in power through a fraudulent election, and then recognized instead the democratically elected opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate president.

Some former Trump administration officials say Wright’s arrest is just the latest example of Maduro acting in bad faith.

“Maduro playing games with American lives is unacceptable,” said Kimberly Breier, a former top U.S. diplomat to Latin America and an architect of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Maduro. “There will be bipartisan agreement in Washington in the coming days that the Barbados agreement, which is just a month old, is finished.”

Added Elliott Abrams, the Trump administration’s special envoy to Venezuela: “Maduro is calling Biden’s bluff.”

The State Department has repeatedly warned U.S. citizens not to travel to Venezuela because of the risk of kidnapping and extortion. Sophisticated criminal groups, sometimes in cahoots with government security forces, target unsuspecting men online or in neighboring Colombia with offers of romance.

Wright appears to be only the second U.S. citizen detained since Venezuela last year freed five oil executives from Houston-based Citgo and two other Americans in exchange for the U.S. government’s release of two nephews of Maduro’s wife who had been imprisoned on narcotics charges.

The 6-foot-10-inch (208-centimeter) Berkeley, California, native and Loyola Marymount University graduate has for more than a decade divided his time between Oakland, Miami and South America while working remotely as a mortgage loan officer, his family said.

“He loved the nomadic lifestyle,” said Stewart, who didn’t know her son was in Venezuela until she learned of his arrest. “Everywhere he went he was seen as a gentle giant, and immensely loved.”

Stewart says she has spoken to her son only once since his ordeal began, after family and friends scrambled to pay a hefty ransom to his captors that they could barely afford. Wright recounted how he was stopped by police while in a park with a woman who had drugs on her. His family suspects she was part of a set-up. Later, once police ruled out any criminal wrongdoing by Wright, they determined he had no stamp in his passport and handed him over to immigration authorities for deportation, Stewart says.

It’s unclear what happened next. But other inmates have told his family that Wright is being held in a former textile factory-turned detention center run by Venezuela’s feared military counterintelligence. Scores of former political prisoners have reported being tortured and abused in the facility’s basement, referred to menacingly by guards as the “House of Dreams.”

Stewart says she fears her son is also being subjected to psychological torture. Her son’s health is also a concern due to strict dietary restrictions caused by severe food allergies.

Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab didn’t provide any information about Wright’s case.

The other U.S. citizens detained in Venezuela include two former Green Berets — Luke Denman and Airan Berry — who were involved in an attempt to oust Maduro in 2019, as well as three men — Eyvin Hernandez, Jerrel Kenemore and Joseph Cristella — who were detained for allegedly entering the country illegally from Colombia.

Wright’s family is speaking out because they feel the U.S. government hasn’t done enough to free him. After complaining to the FBI that their son was being extorted, they were directed to the State Department, which has limited diplomatic tools to secure the release of Americans in a politically turbulent country where the U.S. Embassy has been shuttered since 2019.

The State Department didn’t respond to emailed questions about whether U.S. officials have raised Wright’s detention with Maduro’s government.

“As Americans, when a loved one is in this horrific situation, you think someone is going to be there to help and when they don’t it’s the worst feeling in the world,” said Moizeé Stewart, Wright’s sister. “It’s sickening that they would throw their hands up in the air and say we have no diplomatic relations with Venezuela so we can’t do anything.”

Antofagasta agrees lower 2024 copper charges with Chinese smelter at $80 per ton – sources

Zaldivar operation 

Chilean miner Antofagasta agreed to treatment and refining charges (TC/RCs) of $80 a metric ton and 8 cents per pound with Chinese smelter Jinchuan Group for copper concentrate supply next year, three sources said on Saturday.

The charges, paid by miners to smelters to process ore into refined metal, are 9% lower than the 2023 benchmark level, agreed around the same time last year, of $88 a ton and 8.8 cents per pound.

Antofagasta declined to comment and Jinchuan did not respond to a request for comment.

Global miners and China’s largest smelters typically negotiate their copper concentrate contracts and settle TC/RCs at this time of year for the following year.

TC/RCs rise when more supply is available and smelters can demand better terms on feedstock, and fall when supply tightens.

Jinchuan is China’s fourth-largest copper producer. It is not clear if other smelters will agree to the same pricing in their negotiations with Antofagasta and other miners.

A group of top smelters was due to discuss the issue on Saturday, said a source, declining to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue. 

This year’s copper charges, set by global miner Freeport-McMoRan Inc FCX.N and Chinese smelters, were at a six-year high. 

Participants in the market polled by Reuters prior to this week’s negotiations had largely forecast the 2024 TC benchmark to stay at or below this year’s level. 

Copper concentrate supply is expected to be adequate next year and China’s top copper smelters had already lifted their floor TC/RCs in the third and fourth quarter to a six-year high at $95/9.5c due to abundant supply.

However, a recent ore processing reduction at First Quantum Minerals’s FM.TO Cobre Panama mine due to protests had complicated negotiations for next year’s charges, sources told Reuters this week.

Uncertainty around how much supply from Freeport-McMoRan’s FCX.N Grasberg mine in Indonesia will be available from June next year after their export permits expire had also created some difficulty in forecasting the market balance.

(Reporting by Mai Nguyen in Hanoi, Julian Luk in London and Siyi Liu in Shanghai; Editing by William Mallard, Kirsten Donovan)

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Thursday, November 16, 2023

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Chinese Consulate Pays Demonstrators to Welcome Communist Leader in San Francisco

Chinese Consulate Pays Demonstrators to Welcome Communist Leader in San Francisco 

SAN FRANCISCO—Free hotel, free flight, free food: The Chinese Consulate in San Francisco hasn’t been tightfisted when it comes to the first visit to the United States in six years by the leader of Chinese communist regime.

Greeters who were on hand for Xi Jinping’s arrival in San Francisco pocketed hundreds of dollars along with an all-expenses-paid trip that brought some of them from the other side of the United States, according to some participants, observers, and screenshots of social media conversations ahead of the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

Many pro-Beijing demonstrators donned red caps or uniforms while waving red flags, saturating the blockaded streets with the color closely associated with communism. At least one person—a woman donning a black dress who was eating a boxed lunch while standing with her back against a building wall—was carrying a red tote bag, which suggests that she has ties to the Chinese Consulate in New York, according to a dissident who had trailed them.

There are more clues in the attire, the dissident said.

“Anyone with a red cap came from New York—I followed them from behind,” Qiao Jie told NTD, a sister media outlet of The Epoch Times, adding that these people were “hired” for the job, raking in—by her account—as much as $200 a day.

“They are also misled,” she said.

The woman, who also lives in New York, was part of a small group of petitioners holding a banner and staging a demonstration in front of the St. Regis hotel, where Mr. Xi will be staying during the week as he joins the closely watched meeting with President Joe Biden. As the woman spoke, swarms of Beijing supporters drew near, drowning out the petitioners' voices with chants of “welcome.”

Many sources point to money as the motivation for their enthusiasm.

A recording shared with The Epoch Times showed a man from China’s southeastern Fujian Province in his 60s, acknowledging that he was coming to San Francisco at no cost to himself. Screenshots circulating online also show a leader from the Chinese student group—the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at the University of Southern California—informing senior association members about the covered trip opportunity that the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles had just announced.

“This event carries significant responsibilities and a glorious mission,” the person wrote in the social media chat group, adding that those who registered would be transported by a van and that no one should travel on their own or act independently during the trip.

Another screenshot, which appears to originate from a Chinese student group, said that anyone who wants to welcome the regime's leader during the APEC gathering would get $100 for each of the three days that they attend.

Ling Fei, who has connections with Chinese associations in New York, confirmed the consulate funding of the trips. A friend of his had originally planned to partake in a store opening event in Brooklyn, but the event was canceled because of the groups going to San Francisco, he told The Epoch Times. The consulate would have these people travel with different groups to avoid drawing attention, he said.

Protesters apparently weren't the only beneficiaries. A reporter from a European media outlet, on condition of anonymity, told The Epoch Times that his colleague in China was sent to San Francisco on the expense of Chinese authorities.

A man wearing a green apron was among several people wheeling over lunch boxes to the protest site on Nov. 14. He was evasive when asked by The Epoch Times whether the lunches were destined for Mr. Xi's supporters.

“Maybe,” he said.

 Lunch boxes are being distributed to pro-Beijing supporters near the St. Regis hotel, in San Francisco, Calif., on Nov. 14, 2023. (Eva Fu/The Epoch Times)
Lunch boxes are being distributed to pro-Beijing supporters near the St. Regis hotel, in San Francisco, Calif., on Nov. 14, 2023. (Eva Fu/The Epoch Times)
The Chinese Consulate had been involved in funding similar demonstrations in the past. In 2015, during Mr. Xi's visit to Washington, a man allegedly running a secret Chinese police station in New York had helped to organize a counterprotest against demonstrations by the spiritual group Falun Gong, according to court documents unsealed in April. The group was calling for the regime leader to end the persecution of their fellow adherents in China.

Spotted among those leading the clash with the activists was Chen Shanzhuang, a New York-based Chinese front group leader with close ties to the Chinese Consulate. He has helped to facilitate local events featuring Chinese consular services or advancing the Beijing regime’s narratives.

In March, Mr. Chen was seen leading hundreds of Chinese demonstrators shouting slogans in protest against the visit of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. While he claimed that all of those present at the protest scene “all came on our own initiative,” Taiwan’s intelligence officials have disputed such saying, saying that Chinese consulates in New York and Los Angeles were paying $200 to entice participants.

 Activist Yu Dawei stands near the St. Regis hotel in San Francisco on Nov. 15, 2023. (Eva Fu/The Epoch Times)
Activist Yu Dawei stands near the St. Regis hotel in San Francisco on Nov. 15, 2023. (Eva Fu/The Epoch Times)

Yu Dawei, an 18-year-old activist, said that Chinese authorities forcibly tore down his business, and that his grandfather was sent to prison for asserting their rights and died after spending a year there.

“I just hope that everyone can have the opportunity to speak freely,” he told The Epoch Times, as shouts of “Xi Jinping, meet the petitioners” rang in the background. “This is what people want to say.”

Hannah Cai and NTD’s Iris Tao contributed to this report.

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Bonds go bonkers as the US government now pays more than Vietnam or Morocco to borrow

trader shocked 

  • The US government, with its AA+ credit rating, now must pay more than junk-rated Vietnam to borrow.

  • That's because Treasury bond yields have nearly tripled since 2021 due to Fed rate rises.

  • US 10-year bond yields are now about 4.5%, compared with about 2.8% in Vietnam.

Global debt markets are the system that moves big money between big borrowers and lenders — from governments and central banks to companies and financial institutions.

To give you a sense of its size and importance, cumulative global debt stood at $235 trillion at the end of 2022, according to the International Monetary Fund. That's almost 10 times the size of the entire US economy.

And it's all held together by trust, and a clear sense of pecking order.

Every borrower has their proper place in the market, based on their creditworthiness — or their ability to repay debt. Who can borrow how much, and at what cost — it's all very clearly understood.

For instance, the US is the world's biggest economy, with the biggest businesses, and is a magnet for global investors. Such unrivaled economic muscle would mean the American government can borrow money much more cheaply than other sovereign entities — especially, emerging-market nations with weaker credit ratings.

Or so we thought.

Upside-down bond dynamics

In a surprising development that upends some of the bond world's time-honored conventions, the US government's borrowing costs have surged past those of developing nations with much poorer debt ratings such as Vietnam, Morocco, and Bulgaria.

It's all due to the Federal Reserve's war on inflation, which has seen it raise rates at the sharpest pace since the 1980s. The Fed has lifted its benchmark rate, which forms the floor for all market interest rates by default, by more than 500 basis points over the past 20 months.

And that's driven up the rates on Treasury bonds, which represent the government's borrowing costs. Yields on benchmark 10-year Treasurys have nearly tripled since the end of 2021 to about 4.5%. They have retreated from a 16-year high of just above 5% reached last month.

The rate surged past the comparable measure in junk-rated Vietnam this year. Hanoi now pays only about 2.8% to borrow money for 10 years in the local bond market.US bond yields have risen above junk-rated Vietnam's

US bond yields have risen above junk-rated Vietnam'sTradingView

S&P Global ratings ranks Vietnam's debt at BB+ — which the credit assessor defines as the "highest speculative grade". The US is rated AA+, which reflects a very strong capacity to meet financial commitments.

"I'm not even sure what to say anymore," Jeff Weniger, head of equities at WisdomTree Asset Management, said in a recent post on X, highlighting the rise in American bond yields above Vietnamese equivalents.

US 10-year yields are now also higher than those in emerging markets such as Morocco and Bulgaria. Similar rates are at just 3.8% in Greece, the economy at the center of Europe's sovereign debt crisis a decade ago, and needed multiple European Union bailouts in the following years.

The high US yields also reflect investor concerns about America's deteriorating public finances. US total debt has more than doubled in the past decade to $33.7 trillion – or 25% more than the nation's GDP.

Moody's Investors Service lowered its outlook for the US credit rating last week to negative from stable, citing the growing mountain of debt and high interest rates. In August, Fitch Ratings downgraded its rating for long-term US debt to AA+ from AAA.

Massachusetts town approves proposal to fly Palestinian flag

Massachusetts town approves proposal to fly Palestinian flag 

A Massachusetts town approved flying the Palestinian flag for a month despite heated debates among its residents in the wake of Hamas terrorists’ attack on Israel in October.

The black, white, green and red flag of the Palestinian Liberation Organization was hoisted below both the American flag and POW-MIA flag on the North Andover Town Common flagpole.

I Was Trafficked Through The World's Deadliest Jungle

New Email Shows Fauci Adviser Suggesting He Destroyed Records 

A top deputy to Dr. Anthony Fauci indicated in a newly uncovered email that he purposefully did not keep records that he knew would be sought by the public and congressional investigators.

"I have retained very few emails or documents on these matters, and continue to request that correspondence on sensitive issues be sent to me at my gmail [sic] address," Dr. David Morens, the deputy, wrote in the June 17, 2021, missive.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) obtained the email and included it in a letter to Health Secretary Xavier Becerra.

Dr. Morens wrote to colleagues after senators, including Mr. Johnson, wrote to then-National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins asking for documents on how the NIH handled the COVID-19 pandemic, which started in a city that features a laboratory that ran risky tests with funds from the NIH.

"Based on this email, it appears that Dr. Morens may have intentionally deleted or destroyed records relating to the origins of COVID-19 given his admission that he has 'retained very few emails or documents on these matters," Mr. Johnson told Mr. Becerra. "Further, Dr. Morens' stated preference to receive correspondence on 'sensitive issues' through Gmail shows an apparent evasion of federal record keeping requirements and a complete disregard for transparency."

The Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the NIH, has repeatedly failed to hand over records that Mr. Johnson has requested, the senator noted. Dr. Morens' apparent actions "may have directly obstructed my oversight efforts," he wrote.

Mr. Johnson asked for all the records he has asked for as well as an outline of how federal officials will hold Dr. Morens accountable.

Mr. Becerra's agency did not respond to a request for comment.

Dr. Morens has not responded to inquiries.

Dr. Morens is the senior adviser to the director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an NIH institute that was headed until late 2022 by Dr. Fauci. Dr. Morens has worked for the agency for more than two decades.

Dr. Morens was writing to others who were part of the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene (AJTMH), including Dr. Peter Daszak, whose EcoHealth Alliance group helped funnel money from the NIH to the Wuhan laboratory.

Dr. Morens said he had retained correspondence relating to papers he wrote that were published online but had otherwise "retained no documents that might lead other members of AJTMH to be approached for similar document production."

The title of the email was "CONFIDENTIAL WITHOUT OUR SMALL GROUP, PLEASE," according to Mr. Johnson.

Earlier Email

In a missive obtained previously by the U.S. House of Representatives panel investigating the pandemic, Dr. Morens wrote to a group of scientists that "I try to always communicate on gmail [sic] because my NIH email is FOIA'd constantly."

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), members of the public can request information like emails from the federal government.

Dr. Morens disclosed in the July 9, 2021, email that his Gmail had been hacked and "until IT can get it fixed I may have to occasionally email from my NIH account."

"Don't worry, just sent to any of my addresses and I will delete anything I don't want to see in the New York Times," he also wrote.

Michael Chamberlain, director of the watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust, told The Epoch Times in an email that the missive showed "a pretty brazen effort to avoid public records requirements."

The panel in October subpoenaed the NIH for documents and communications on what it described as a potential federal records violation.

Federal law provides in part that people who attempt to conceal or destroy government records face criminal prosecution.

The National Archives and Records Administration asked the NIH to probe the matter and the NIH later told the administration that there was "no evidence that any federal records within their custody have been prematurely destroyed."

Reference to Grimm

Mr. Johnson, meanwhile, referred the matter to Christine Grimm, the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Mr. Johnson said Dr. Morens's email talking about deleting records "reveal an attempt to limit public access to certain communications directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, potentially in violation of federal record keeping requirements."

In a new letter this week, Mr. Johnson pressed Ms. Grimm on what action, if any, has been taken, while noting the email he had uncovered.

"Given Dr. Morens’ statements I shared with you in August 2023 and the June 17, 2021 correspondence above, the OIG must continue to conduct or immediately initiate a thorough investigation into Dr. Morens’ actions," he wrote. "In light of Dr. Morens’ apparent efforts to hinder HHS’s response to my June 11, 2021 letter, I am deeply concerned that HHS officials may have intentionally removed or destroyed responsive records on the origins of COVID-19 or on other aspects of the pandemic. I hope you and your office are taking this matter seriously."

A spokesperson for Ms. Grimm's office told The Epoch Times via email that the office received the letter "and are reviewing it to determine the appropriate response."

China’s state-backed iron ore giant says prices are too high 

Iron ore has reached “unreasonable” levels that are hurting Chinese steel mills, according to China Mineral Resources Group, the state-backed firm trying to boost Beijing’s sway over prices.

Elevated costs are squeezing margins at steelmakers in the world’s top producer, Guo Bin, President of China Minerals, said at an event in Shanghai during the China International Import Expo. There needs to be more effort to “improve” pricing systems for raw materials, Guo said.

Iron ore futures in Singapore notched their highest close since March on Monday in a rally largely powered by surprisingly resilient Chinese steel output. The global iron ore market is in deficit and more price gains are coming, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in a note on Tuesday.

While it’s far from unusual for Chinese steel officials to bemoan rising iron ore prices, the comments come at a sensitive time for miners like Rio Tinto Plc or BHP Group. CMRG was established last year with the aim of centralizing iron ore imports and raising China’s heft against global mining giants.

Mining executives in the audience at the Shanghai event included Dino Otranto, chief executive officer of Fortescue Metals Group Ltd., while Rio’s Chief Executive Officer Jakob Stausholm delivered a speech to the gathering by video.

“CMRG is quickly becoming a key player in the global iron ore industry and has an important role in increasing the high quality development of the steel industry,” Stausholm said. “Our partnership is going from strength to strength.”

At the same event, a senior official from the China Iron & Steel Association warned that high iron ore prices could stymie essential investment in areas including decarbonization. The world’s steel industry requires massive spending in coming decades to shift away from reliance on coal-fired blast furnaces.

“The ecological basis for the sustainable development of the iron ore supply chain is increasingly fragile,” said Jiang Wei, vice chair of CISA.

Read More: Iron ore price retreats as China’s bourse plans to limit trading volumes