Category: Financial


Bloomberg

French Recovery Fades as Manufacturing, Services Contract

Photographer: Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg

An employee removes excess felt from berets inside the factory of 174-year-old… Read More

French manufacturing and services unexpectedly shrank this month, highlighting President Francois Hollande’s struggle to revive the euro area’s second-largest economy.

A Purchasing Managers Index of factory activity dropped to 49.3 from 51.2 in April, while a services gauge fell to 49.2 from 50.4, Markit Economics said today in London. Economists had forecast readings above 50, the level that divides expansion from contraction.

Hollande is grappling with an economy that stagnated in the first quarter as both investment and consumer spending fell. After two years in office, his government has yet to achieve two consecutive quarters of expansion, a performance that has driven jobless claims to an all-time high of 3.3 million and his own popularity to a record low.

 

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French economy contracts while rest of eurozone keeps expanding

The headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Germany.

The strong pace of growth in the eurozone’s private sector eased very slightly this month, with drastic price cuts preventing any further slowdown, surveys showed yesterday.

Slower growth in activity at factories took the shine off an unexpected pickup in the service industry, although the bloc’s recovery appears to be gaining traction.

“This doesn’t change the picture of the eurozone having one of its best growth spells in the past three years. It’s broad-based – with the one exception being France,” said Rob Dobson, senior economist at survey compiler Markit.

Markit’s Composite Purchasing Managers’ Index, based on surveys of thousands of companies across the region and seen as a good indicator of growth, edged down to 53.9 from April’s near three-year high of 54.0, matching the forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts.

 

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Eurozone’s 18-month-long recession may be over, economic surveys suggest

French factories

The Osram factory in Molsheim. French factories returned to growth with their strongest performance in 17 months. Photograph: AFP/Getty

Hopes of a recovery in the eurozone were lifted after private sector firms across the region reported a rise in output for the first time in 18 months, leading to predictions that the single currency bloc is on the cusp of exiting recession.

A strong performance by German manufacturers and a halt to the headlong decline in French business activity gave the eurozone a much needed boost after the area slipped into reverse last year.

With the US manufacturing sector expanding at a faster pace in July, the main blot on the global economic recovery was a decline in manufacturing output in China that some economists have warned could force Beijing to renew its stimulus spending or risk a hard landing.

China’s manufacturing sector tempered the eurozone data, slowing to an 11-month low as new orders faltered and the job market darkened.

The flash HSBC/Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 47.7 this month from June’s final reading of 48.2, marking a third straight month below the 50 threshold between expansion and contraction for China.

As if to highlight concerns that global growth is slowing, Caterpillar, the US construction and mining business that is considered a bellwether of global business activity, downgraded its forecast for the pace of the global recovery this year and next.

Alexandra Knight, an economist at National Australia Bank, said the weak Chinese PMI posed a problem for countries that relied on exports to China.

“It adds to the concern about the outlook for demand, and brings into question just how strong Chinese commodities demand will be,” she said.

 

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An Irredeemably Bad Deal

Obama, Geithner and the Missing Six Trillion Dollars

by ROB URIE

Timothy Geithner, President Barack Obama’s first Treasury Secretary and chief architect of many of the various and sundry bank bailouts and associated programs carried out during Mr. Obama’s first term in office, recently wrote a book telling his side of ‘the story.’ To be clear, I haven’t read the book and have no intention of doing so. Life is short and the relevant side of the story, the economic consequences of Mr. Geithner’s policies, is the one of interest here. The prevailing storyline in the banker’s ghettoes of New York and London is of an indispensable and functioning financial system saved and a second Great Depression averted through Mr. Geithner’s necessary but unpopular programs to transfer public resources to nominally private corporations— Wall Street banks, in order to save them. Implied is that the travails Wall Street faced in 2008 – 2009 were the result of ‘natural’ forces and that its restoration is substantially related to restoration of ‘the economy.’ Mainstream economists have put forward variations on this latter claim through repeated assertion that ‘the economy,’ as measured by GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and the official unemployment rate, has ‘recovered’ to pre-recession levels.

urie1a

Graph (1): Contrary to the view on Wall Street and within the Western economic establishment restoration of Wall Street has not ‘fixed’ the economy. The policies of Mr. Geithner, the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve have ‘fixed’ profits, compensation and bonuses for Wall Street. The drop in median income is evidence of ongoing economic Depression for most citizens of the West. Assertions to the contrary by Mr. Geithner, the Obama administration and the ‘eternal sunshine of the spotless mind’ crowd of Western economists are evidence of whose interests they represent. Apparent in the recovery of financial profits without a recovery in household incomes is that Wall Street doesn’t need a functioning economy to earn ‘profits.’

 

 

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The Fed Is The Great Deceiver — Paul Craig Roberts and Dave Kranzler

 

Paul Craig Roberts and Dave Kranzler

Is the Fed “tapering”? Did the Fed really cut its bond purchases during the three month period November 2013 through January 2014? Apparently not if foreign holders of Treasuries are unloading them.

From November 2013 through January 2014 Belgium with a GDP of $480 billion purchased $141.2 billion of US Treasury bonds. Somehow Belgium came up with enough money to allocate during a 3-month period 29 percent of its annual GDP to the purchase of US Treasury bonds.

Certainly Belgium did not have a budget surplus of $141.2 billion. Was Belgium running a trade surplus during a 3-month period equal to 29 percent of Belgium GDP?

No, Belgium’s trade and current accounts are in deficit.

Did Belgium’s central bank print $141.2 billion worth of euros in order to make the purchase?

No, Belgium is a member of the euro system, and its central bank cannot increase the money supply.

So where did the $141.2 billion come from?

There is only one source. The money came from the US Federal Reserve, and the purchase was laundered through Belgium in order to hide the fact that actual Federal Reserve bond purchases during November 2013 through January 2014 were $112 billion per month.

In other words, during those 3 months there was a sharp rise in bond purchases by the Fed. The Fed’s actual bond purchases for those three months are $27 billion per month above the original $85 billion monthly purchase and $47 billion above the official $65 billion monthly purchase at that time. (In March 2014, official QE was tapered to $55 billion per month and to $45 billion for May.)

Why did the Federal Reserve have to purchase so many bonds above the announced amounts and why did the Fed have to launder and hide the purchase?

Some country or countries, unknown at this time, for reasons we do not know dumped $104 billion in Treasuries in one week.

 

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Collapse in pay lies behind Britain’s return to work: Self-employed are hidden victims of recession, report warns

The study by the Resolution Foundation think tank reveals the dark side of the sharp growth in self-employment, which has helped the Government to maintain its boast that unemployment is falling as more and more people find work.

Since the start of the recession five years ago, the number of self-employed has risen by 650,000 to 4.5 million. They now represent 15 per cent of the active workforce.

But the new analysis reveals that the average weekly income of someone in self-employment is 20 per cent lower than in 2008.  As a result, a typical self-employed worker now earns 40 per cent than a typical employee.  An Ipsos-Mori survey commissioned as part of the report also found that 27 per cent of those who became self-employed in the past five year do so because they had no other choice – up from 10 per cent five years ago.

Gavin Kelly, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, said: “Self-employment is often a highly precarious existence which isn’t that well supported by public policy. High levels of self-employment seem likely to be here to stay and policy-makers have some catching up to do.”

The grim truth about pay and living standards in some the regions of the UK has also been highlighted by official EU figures showing that parts of Britain are effectively poorer that countries from  former communist countries in Eastern Europe.

People in Cornwall and the Welsh Valleys are worse off than residents of Estonia and Lithuania, according to Eurostat figures comparing wealth across the EU using a measure known as “purchasing power standards” – which takes into account GDP per person and cost of living.

In addition, Durham and the Tees Valley, in the north east of England, are poorer than those in the wealthiest regions of Bulgaria and Romania, the two most deprived countries in the EU.

By contrast, the Eurostat figures show that London is the richest place in Europe.

According to the Resolution Foundation report, self-employed people are more likely than people in full time employment to complain of being under employed.

 

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Pension fears for rising number of self-employed

Higher levels of self employment have become a permanent feature of the UK economy as a result of Britain’s ageing workforce and a greater desire for Britons to “work for themselves”.

The Resolution Foundation said the increase in self-employment also presented a “worrying picture of the security and vulnerability of self employed people”, who have traditionally saved less for retirement than employees. Photo: PA

Higher levels of self employment have become a permanent feature of the UK economy as a result of Britain’s ageing workforce and a greater desire for Britons to “work for themselves”.

The number of people who are self employed has grown by 650,000 since the 2008 financial crisis, to 4.5m, meaning one in seven workers is now self employed.

While some of the shift towards self-employment has been caused by cyclical factors, the Resolution Foundation said 73pc of workers had chosen to become self-employed. “The high self-employment numbers are here to stay,” said Laura Gardiner, a senior policy analyst at Resolution Foundation.

The rise in self employment has attracted attention from the Bank of England, where policymakers have argued over whether the increase reflects structural changes in the UK economy or “disguised labour market slack” because many of these workers would prefer to be working full-time.

While the Foundation said there was less slack in the economy caused by self-employment than some policymakers believed, it said underemployment among these workers was “marginally worse than for employees”, representing a reversal of the pre-crisis trend.

 

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US attorney general says banks under investigation not ‘too big to jail’

Eric Holder announced in video address that Justice Department pursuing criminal investigations of financial institutions

Eric Holder
While Holder did not name any banks, he said he is personally monitoring the ongoing investigations into financial institutions. Photo: Matt Rourke /AP

The US Justice Department is pursuing criminal investigations of financial institutions that could result in action in the coming weeks and months, US attorney general Eric Holder said in a video, adding that no company was “too big to jail.”

The comments, made in a video posted on the Justice Department’s website on Monday, came as federal prosecutors push two banks, BNP Paribas SA and Credit Suisse AG , to plead guilty to criminal charges to resolve investigations into sanctions and tax violations, respectively, according to people familiar with the probes.

While Holder did not name any banks, he said he is personally monitoring the ongoing investigations into financial institutions and is “resolved to seeing them through.”

“I intend to reaffirm the principle that no individual or entity that does harm to our economy is ever above the law,” Holder said in the video. “There is no such thing as ‘too big to jail.'”

French bank BNP Paribas warned last week it faces fines from US authorities in excess of $1.1bn over allegations that it violated US sanctions against Iran and other countries.

The Swiss finance minister met Holder on Friday to discuss a US probe into Swiss banks that allegedly helped Americans evade US taxes, which includes Credit Suisse.

While units of financial institutions have agreed to plead guilty to breaking US criminal laws, such agreements have usually involved foreign subsidiaries who have little contact with US regulators.

Japanese units of UBS AG and Royal Bank of Scotland plc, for example, pleaded guilty in the past two years to resolve criminal charges that their traders manipulated the Libor benchmark interest rate.

A criminal conviction of an entity regulated in the United States could lead authorities to potentially revoke a charter or undertake other punitive measures.

 

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Reuters

People wait in line to meet a job recruiter at the UJA-Federation Connect to Care job fair in New York March 6, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

People wait in line to meet a job recruiter at the UJA-Federation Connect to Care job fair in New York March 6, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

 U.S. job growth jumps, but shrinking labor force a blemish

WASHINGTON Fri May 2, 2014 4:52pm EDT

(Reuters) – U.S. employers hired workers at the fastest clip in more than two years in April, pointing to a rebound in economic growth after a dreadful winter and keeping the Federal Reserve on track to end bond purchases this year.

The brightening outlook was, however, tempered somewhat by a sharp increase in the number of people dropping out of the labor force, which pushed the unemployment rate to a 5-1/2-year low of 6.3 percent. Wage growth also was stagnant.

Nonfarm payrolls surged 288,000 last month, the Labor Department said on Friday. That was largest gain since January 2012 and beat economists’ expectations for only a 210,000 rise.

“It lends significant legitimacy to the positive tone in the wide array of post-February economic reports, which have all been consistently pointing to a significant pick-up in economic growth momentum this quarter,” said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.

March and February’s data was revised to show 36,000 more jobs than previously reported.

U.S. stocks briefly rallied on the report, which was later eclipsed by rising tensions in Ukraine. Stocks ended lower, while safe-haven bids pushed the yield in the 30-year U.S. government bond to its lowest level in more than 10 months.

The dollar was flat against a basket of currencies.

About 806,000 people dropped out of the labor force in April, unwinding the previous months’ gains. That helped to push down the unemployment rate 0.4 percentage point to its lowest level since in September 2008.

The labor force participation rate, or the share of working-age Americans who are employed or unemployed but looking for a job, also fell four-tenths of a percentage point to 62.8 percent last month, slipping back to a 36-year low touched in December.

Overall, however, the data suggested the economy was gathering strength and led investors to pull forward their bets on when the Fed will start to raise interest rates.

The strong payrolls growth added to upbeat data such as consumer spending and industrial production in suggesting that sputtering growth in the first quarter was an aberration, weighed down by an unusually cold and disruptive winter.

 

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Reuters

Discouraged job seekers behind shrinking labor force

WASHINGTON Fri Apr 5, 2013 6:58pm EDT

People wait in line to meet a job recruiter at the UJA-Federation Connect to Care job fair in New York March 6, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

People wait in line to meet a job recruiter at the UJA-Federation Connect to Care job fair in New York March 6, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton


(Reuters) – Americans giving up the hunt for jobs were likely behind a sharp drop in the U.S. workforce last month, a bad sign for an economy that is struggling to achieve a faster growth pace.

The number of working-age Americans counted as part of the labor force — either with a job or looking for one — tumbled by 496,000 in March, the biggest fall since December 2009, the Labor Department said on Friday. That pushed the so-called workforce participation rate to a 34-year low of 63.3 percent.

March marked the second month in a row that the participation rate declined — 626,000 people have dropped from the work force since January.

Friday’s report showed a decline in the number of discouraged job seekers last month after a pop in February, which at first glance might suggest the drop in the workforce was mainly because of shifting demographics.

But a closer look at the underlying numbers raises questions about the notion that retiring baby boomers were the driving force behind the shrinking workforce.

“You have to think that it’s a large part demographics, but demographics are not really going to have such a big effect on month-to-month changes,” said Keith Hall, senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

Of the nearly 500,000 people dropping out, just 118,000 were aged 55 and older, meaning more than three-quarters of the increase came from below-retirement-age adults.

Also, the number of people 65 and older counted as part of the workforce actually rose by 27,000, which followed a 72,000 increase in February.

Hall said the sluggish economy was forcing some older Americans to continue working to rebuild retirement nest-eggs that were shattered during the 2007-09 recession.

Indeed, the participation rate for Americans between 55 and 64 years old held steady at a relatively high 65 percent. On the other hand, participation by the 25-29 age group was the lowest since record-keeping started in 1982.

“People are just giving up the search for work. A lot of them would like to work and they aren’t, that is a serious sickness in the economy,” said Peter McHenry, assistant economics professor at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The drop in participation helped to lower the unemployment rate by a tenth of a percentage point to 7.6 percent. If the workforce had not contracted, the jobless rate would have risen two-tenths of a percentage point to 7.9 percent in March.

 

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Yahoo Finance
In this April 10, 2014 photo, Jennifer Stickney, a recruiter for Right at Home, which provides in-home care and assistance, answers questions from nursing students at a job fair on the campus of Kaplan University in Lincoln, Neb. The Labor Department on Friday, May 2, 2014 said U.S. employers added a robust 288,000 jobs in April, the most in two years, the strongest evidence to date that the economy is picking up after a brutal winter slowed growth. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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In this April 10, 2014 photo, Jennifer Stickney, a recruiter for Right at Home, which provides in-home care and assistance, answers questions from nursing students at a job fair on the campus of Kaplan University in Lincoln, Neb. The Labor Department on Friday, May 2, 2014 said U.S. employers added a robust 288,000 jobs in April, the most in two years, the strongest evidence to date that the economy is picking up after a brutal winter slowed growth. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Any period of unemployment can have a crippling effect on a worker’s career and finances. But to be both young and unemployed in America presents its own set of unique challenges.

Workers under the age of 30 have contended with five solid years of double-digit unemployment — 19% for 16- to 19-year-olds and 10.6% for 20- to 24-year-olds at last count. The economy is slowly improving and there are jobs to be had again. The overall U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 6.3% in April as 288,000 jobs were added — the highest in two years, the Labor Department announced Friday.  But young people who haven’t been able to find work are now struggling to compete in a tough job market with little experience.

“The longer you’re not in the workforce, the harder it is to get back in,” says Rory O’Sullivan, deputy director of the Young Invincibles. “Employers look at resumes and there are a lot of young people working outside of their field of study. You can imagine all those things can make it harder to build a career.”

As many as one in five high school graduates and one in 10 college graduates are considered “disconnected youths,” those who are not working or enrolled in college, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank.

“There is little evidence that young adults have been able to ‘shelter in school’ from the labor market effects of the Great Recession,” the authors write. “Increases in college and university enrollment rates between 2007 and 2012 were no greater than before the recession began—and since 2012, college enrollment rates have dropped substantially.”

If these “idle” young people were factored into unemployment rates, it would raise the combined rate of unemployment for 16- to 25-year-olds from 14.5% to 18.1%.

And of those young people who have managed to find work, nearly half are considered to be underemployed, often working in part-time jobs that may have little or nothing to do with their chosen career path. What’s more, young people who graduate in 2014 will likely earn less than they would have if they had graduated in a stronger economy, the EPI report says.

Wages for high school graduates have dropped by 9.8% since the recession and wages for young college graduates fell by 6.9%.

Youth unemployment isn’t just a “young people” problem either. A recent report by the Young Invincibles estimates it has cost the U.S. economy nearly $9 billion in lost tax revenue since 2007. Each unemployed 18- to 24-year-old represents an estimated $3,200 in lost tax revenue, and each 25- to 34-year-old costs more than twice as much: $7,000.  And with nearly one-third of millennials living at home with their parents, parents who might have otherwise been enjoying the relief of an empty nest must instead continue their roles as financial guardians.

The reality is that young people are disproportionately impacted by economic downturns and no matter how much the U.S. economy improves, they will be feeling the effects of the recession for many years to come.

We spoke with several young people under the age of 30 — all solidly in the “underemployed” camp — who are struggling to launch their careers.

 

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Photo: Sara Beck

“My resume is a work of art.”

Sara Beck, 28, has spent the better part of a year trying and failing to find a full-time marketing position in Plymouth, Minn.

Her troubles have little to do with her lack of education or job skills: She has an MBA in international business, spent six years working abroad, and speaks perfect Spanish.

“My problem is that I’m either too experienced or not experienced enough for some of the jobs I want,” she says. “I had a really promising interview, but I got an email recently that they decided to go with candidates whose experience aligned more with the requirements. It was an entry-level position.”

While Beck pursues a career in the U.S., her husband, a Chilean national, stayed behind in Santiago to work on obtaining a work visa. She’s caring for their daughter on her own while living with relatives until she can find work.

“I can’t send my daughter to the daycare of my choice because I’m saving money,” she says. “I have more than $70,000 left in student loan debt. It’s insane to think about.

In the meantime, she has cobbled together enough freelance work to stay afloat — writing, editing and translating gigs that put food on the table but don’t necessarily improve her odds of landing a marketing job.

“I try to take a job in, say, content writing and apply it to a job as a business analyst,” she says. “My resume is a work of art.”

 

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Wall Street On Parade

Suspicious Deaths of Bankers Are Now Classified as “Trade Secrets” by Federal Regulator

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: April 28, 2014

It doesn’t get any more Orwellian than this: Wall Street mega banks crash the U.S. financial system in 2008. Hundreds of thousands of financial industry workers lose their jobs. Then, beginning late last year, a rash of suspicious deaths start to occur among current and former bank employees.  Next we learn that four of the Wall Street mega banks likely hold over $680 billion face amount of life insurance on their workers, payable to the banks, not the families. We ask their Federal regulator for the details of this life insurance under a Freedom of Information Act request and we’re told the information constitutes “trade secrets.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the life expectancy of a 25 year old male with a Bachelor’s degree or higher as of 2006 was 81 years of age. But in the past five months, five highly educated JPMorgan male employees in their 30s and one former employee aged 28, have died under suspicious circumstances, including three of whom allegedly leaped off buildings – a statistical rarity even during the height of the financial crisis in 2008.

There is one other major obstacle to brushing away these deaths as random occurrences – they are not happening at JPMorgan’s closest peer bank – Citigroup. Both JPMorgan and Citigroup are global financial institutions with both commercial banking and investment banking operations. Their employee counts are similar – 260,000 employees for JPMorgan versus 251,000 for Citigroup.

Both JPMorgan and Citigroup also own massive amounts of bank-owned life insurance (BOLI), a controversial practice that pays the corporation when a current or former employee dies. (In the case of former employees, the banks conduct regular “death sweeps” of public records using former employees’ Social Security numbers to learn if a former employee has died and then submits a request for payment of the death benefit to the insurance company.)

Wall Street On Parade carefully researched public death announcements over the past 12 months which named the decedent as a current or former employee of Citigroup or its commercial banking unit, Citibank. We found no data suggesting Citigroup was experiencing the same rash of deaths of young men in their 30s as JPMorgan Chase. Nor did we discover any press reports of leaps from buildings among Citigroup’s workers.

Given the above set of facts, on March 21 of this year, we wrote to the regulator of national banks, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), seeking the following information under the Freedom of Information Act (See OCC Response to Wall Street On Parade’s Request for Banker Death Information):

The number of deaths from 2008 through March 21, 2014 on which JPMorgan Chase collected death benefits; the total face amount of BOLI life insurance in force at JPMorgan; the total number of former and current employees of JPMorgan Chase who are insured under these policies; any peer studies showing the same data comparing JPMorgan Chase with Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup.

The OCC responded politely by letter dated April 18, after first calling a few days earlier to inform us that we would be getting nothing under the sunshine law request. (On Wall Street, sunshine routinely means dark curtain.) The OCC letter advised that documents relevant to our request were being withheld on the basis that they are “privileged or contains trade secrets, or commercial or financial information, furnished in confidence, that relates to the business, personal, or financial affairs of any person,” or  relate to “a record contained in or related to an examination.”

The ironic reality is that the documents do not pertain to the personal financial affairs of individuals who have a privacy right. Individuals are not going to receive the proceeds of this life insurance for the most part. In many cases, they do not even know that multi-million dollar policies that pay upon their death have been taken out by their employer or former employer. Equally important, JPMorgan is a publicly traded company whose shareholders have a right under securities laws to understand the quality of its earnings – are those earnings coming from traditional banking and investment banking operations or is this ghoulish practice of profiting from the death of workers now a major contributor to profits on Wall Street?

As it turns out, one aspect of the information cavalierly denied to us by the OCC is publicly available to those willing to hunt for it. On March 24 of this year, we reported that JPMorgan Chase held $10.4 billion in BOLI assets at its insured depository bank as of December 31, 2013.

We reached out to BOLI expert, Michael D. Myers, to understand what JPMorgan’s $10.4 billion in BOLI assets at its commercial bank might represent in terms of face amount of life insurance on its workers. Myers said: “Without knowing the length of the investment or its rate of return, it is difficult to estimate the face amount of the insurance coverage.  However, a cash value of $10.4 billion could easily translate into more than $100 billion in actual insurance coverage and possibly two or three times that amount” said Myers, a partner in the Houston, Texas law firm McClanahan Myers Espey, L.L.P.

 

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Insurance policies pertaining to bankers’ suicides classified as containing ‘trade secrets’

Published time: April 29, 2014 19:09

AFP Photo / John Moore

AFP Photo / John Moore

After a recent rash of mysterious apparent suicides shook the financial world, researchers are scrambling to find answers about what really is the reason behind these multiple deaths. Some observers have now come to a rather shocking conclusion.

Wall Street on Parade bloggers Pam and Russ Martens wrote this week that something seems awry regarding the bank-owned life insurance (BOLI) policies held by JPMorgan Chase. Traditional life insurance policies ensure that the loved ones of the deceased are compensated fairly in the event of a death, but banks are investing billions in policies that let them receive untaxed payment with the passing of each employee. While it’s not unusual for major banks to take out policies that compensate companies in the event of an employee death, the Martens wrote, attempts to find out more about that practice have been peculiarly hard and have raised a red flag among bloggers like those at Wall Street on Parade.

Four of the biggest banks on Wall Street combined hold over $680 billion in BOLI policies, the bloggers reported, but JPMorgan held around $17.9 billion in BOLI assets at the end of last year to Citigroup’s comparably meager $8.8 billion.

Both banks are global financial institutions with commercial and investment banking operations, the Martens wrote, and each employs close to a quarter-of-a-million employees. Nevertheless, they say that JPMorgan has experienced a far greater rate of suicide among employees in recent months, particularly in the midst of a series of news reports documenting unusual leaps off buildings and other bizarre deaths that have taken the lives of JPMorgan staffers.

 

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“The government and the media say the radiation has been cleaned up, but it’s all lies,” said Miyakoji villager Kim Eunja, with her husband, Satoshi Mizuochi. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

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MIYAKOJI, Japan — Ever since they were forced to evacuate during the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant three years ago, Kim Eunja and her husband have refused to return to their hilltop home amid the majestic mountains of this rural village for fear of radiation.

But now they say they may have no choice. After a nearly $250 million radiation cleanup here, the central government this month declared Miyakoji the first community within a 12-mile evacuation zone around the plant to be reopened to residents. The decision will bring an end to the monthly stipends from the plant’s operator that have allowed Ms. Kim to relocate to an apartment in a city an hour away.

“The government and the media say the radiation has been cleaned up, but it’s all lies,” said Ms. Kim, 55, who is from South Korea, and who with her Japanese husband runs a small Korean restaurant outside Miyakoji. “I want to run away, but I cannot. We have no more money.”

She is not the only one. While the central government and national news media have trumpeted the reopening of Miyakoji as a happy milestone in Japan’s recovery from the devastating March 2011 accident, many residents tell a darker story. They insist their homes remain too dangerous or too damaged to inhabit and that they have not received enough financial compensation to allow them to start anew somewhere else.

Photo

Yoshikuni Munakata works to repair his home, which was abandoned for three years after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

They criticize the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, for failing to reimburse them for the value of their homes, usually their family’s largest financial asset. Depending on where they lived, they say they have received amounts from half the preaccident value to just $3,000, a tiny fraction of the original value of their homes.

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Japan’s government deceives evacuees to return before radiation readings disclosed

flag-japanRadiation study on evacuation zones kept undisclosed for 6 monthhttp://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/kyodo-news-international/140416/radiation-study-evacuation-zones-kept-undisclosed-6-mo The  government kept undisclosed for six months a report on an individual radiation dose study in areas around the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, including a district recently released from an evacuation order.

The study, covering the city of Tamura and the villages of Kawauchi and Iitate, showed that the radiation level in many areas is still beyond 1 millisievert per year — a level the government is seeking to achieve at contaminated lands in the long term.

The government lifted an evacuation order imposed on the Miyakoji district in Tamura on April 1, but the content of the interim report, compiled in October, was not conveyed to the citizens or the local governments before the action was taken.

The government explained the content to local governments later, while the report was posted on the website of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Monday. It also plans to release a final report on Friday. A government team tasked with supporting people affected by the crisis said it did not initially plan to release the interim report but decided to make it public because of the “high attention among residents.”

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The Japan Times

Fukushima radiation report secret for six months

Dose study kept from returnees

Kyodo

The government kept a report about a study of individual radiation doses around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant — including an area recently released from an evacuation order — under wraps for six months.

The study, which covered the city of Tamura and the villages of Kawauchi and Iitate, showed that the radiation in many areas is still over 1 millisievert per year — a level the government is looking to achieve in the long term.

The government lifted an evacuation order on the Miyakoji district in Tamura on April 1, but the content of the interim report, compiled in October, was not conveyed to its citizens or local governments before the action was taken.

Skepticism about the government’s disclosure habits concerning radiation levels from the Fukushima crisis has been growing, and the latest incident is likely to amplify public health concerns.

The government explained the content to local governments later, and the report was posted on the website of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Monday. It also plans to release a final report on Friday.

A government team tasked with supporting people affected by the crisis said it did not initially plan to release the interim report but decided to make it public because of the “high attention among residents.”

 

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Nearly 60 people killed in Iraq bomb attacks

Civilians and security forces gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Iraq. (file photo)

Civilians and security forces gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Iraq. (file photo)
Mon Apr 28, 2014 9:25PM GMT

 

The deadliest incident on Monday occurred in the Kurdish populated town of Khanaqin where 30 people were killed and 50 others injured after a bombing targeted a political gathering.

People had gathered to watch television footage of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani casting his ballot in Germany.

“Suddenly we heard a big explosion. I wanted to turn my car around to go back home, but I couldn’t because people were running towards me. Most of their clothes were covered in blood,” a witness said.

According to reports, 27 members of the Iraqi security forces were also killed in a series of bomb attacks across the country on the same day.

 

 

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ENERGY TECH

Ahead of Iraq polls, oil still fuelling economic hopes


by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) April 28, 2014


Iraqi forces cast ballots ahead of wider poll
Baghdad (AFP) April 27, 2014 – Iraqi soldiers and policemen vote Monday ahead of the country’s first national election since US troops left with worsening sectarian ties and fears the country is slipping into all-out conflict.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, lambasted by critics for allegedly consolidating power and targeting minority groups, is bidding for a third term in Wednesday’s polls with Iraqis frustrated over basic services, rampant corruption and high unemployment.The month-long campaign has seen Baghdad and other cities plastered with posters and decked out in bunting, as candidates have taken to the streets, staged loud rallies and challenged each other in angry debates.Attacks on candidates, election workers and political rallies have cast a shadow over the election, and parts of the country that have been out of government control for months will not see any ballots cast.Many shops in central Baghdad have been boarded up and authorities have announced a week’s public holidays to try to bolster security for the election.

Iraqis living outside of the country began voting at overseas polling centres on Sunday.

Along with members of the security forces, hospital and prison staff will also cast their ballots on Monday ahead of wider polling on April 30.

Although voters have a long list of grievances, from poor electricity and sewerage services to pervasive graft and difficulties securing jobs, to say nothing of near-daily violence, the election has centred around Maliki and his efforts to retain power.

His opponents, who span the communal spectrum, accuse him of shoring up his power base, while minority Sunnis in particular say the Shiite premier discriminates against them.

Maliki contends that foreign interference is behind deteriorating security and complains that he has been saddled with a unity government of groups that snipe at him in public and block his legislative efforts.

But according to analysts and diplomats, with a fractious and divided opposition and no clear replacement, he remains the frontrunner in the first national election since 2010, and the first since US troops withdrew in December 2011.

No single party is likely to win an absolute majority, however, and as in previous elections, coalition talks are likely to take months.

 

With a budget languishing in parliament, crucial reforms on the back burner and a hamstrung private sector, prospects for Iraq’s economy after Wednesday’s election hinge heavily on the oil factor.

Iraq has some of the world’s largest deposits of oil and gas and aims to boost energy production dramatically, but a slow-moving bureaucracy and poor infrastructure are holding it back.

Complicating things further is Baghdad’s long-running dispute with the energy-rich autonomous northern Kurdish region, which has sought to sign deals with foreign firms and export without the express permission of the central government.

Any new government formed after Wednesday’s parliamentary election will have its hands full with these and other challenges.

Crude oil accounts for more than 90 percent of exports and government revenues, and 70 percent of gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Despite calls for Iraq to do more to diversify its economy, oil still fuels the country’s attempts to rebuild after decades of conflict.

“What Iraq should be focusing on is actually developing something more diverse as an economy that’s less dependent on oil production,” said Ayham Kamel, Middle East and North Africa Director for Eurasia Group consultancy.

“The challenge here is, given the security environment, it’s very difficult to achieve that.”

Only one percent of Iraq’s workforce is employed in the oil sector but the industry indirectly supports countless others, with revenues in particular helping to pay salaries in the public sector.

Meanwhile private firms, outside the oil sector, often complain they are hamstrung by an ageing banking system, with few loans available and outdated laws that make it hard to set up or maintain a business.

Rampant corruption and soaring costs due to electricity shortages and deteriorating security also complicate running a business in Iraq, which is mired in its worst period of bloodshed in years.

“Iraq’s economy suffers from structural weaknesses,” said a World Bank report.

It noted that although the oil sector was delivering strong growth, overall economic expansion “has not been broad-based enough to make major inroads on poverty and exclusion.”

 

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Violence Kills Nearly 50 in Iraq Ahead of Key Vote

 

Militants on Monday targeted polling stations across much of Iraq and a crowd of Kurds jubilantly dancing on the street as soldiers and security forces cast ballots two days ahead of parliamentary elections, officials said. The attacks, including a suicide bombing northeast of Baghdad, left at least 46 people dead.

The wave of attacks was an apparent attempt to derail the balloting process and discourage the rest of the country’s 22 million registered voters from going to the polls on Wednesday in the first nationwide elections since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The early balloting for police and soldiers is meant to free up the 1 million-strong military and security forces so they can protect polling stations and voters on election day.

More than 9,000 candidates are vying for 328 seats in parliament, which is widely expected to be won by an alliance led by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is likely to seek a third four-year term in office.

The day’s worst attack took place in the Kurdish town of Khanaqin, 140 kilometers (87 miles) northeast of Baghdad close to the Iranian border. A suicide bomber walked toward a crowd of Kurds performing a traditional dance and blew himself up, killing at least 25 and injuring 35, many of them in critical condition.

The Kurds were celebrating the appearance on TV of Iraq’s ailing President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who is being treated in Berlin since December 2012 following a stroke. The nearly 80-year-old Talabani was seen sitting in a wheelchair smiling and waving his index finger, stained purple, flanked by clapping relatives. Few details have been released about the severity of Talabani’s illness.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which bore the hallmarks of Sunni Arab militants.

Khanaqin is in Diyala province, a region where Arabs and Kurds context territory and where Sunni militants target Shiites and Kurds.

Iraq is experiencing a surge in sectarian violence, with Sunni militants increasingly chiefly targeting security forces, army troops and members of the nation’s Shiite majority. The resurgence of the bloodletting, which nearly tore Iraq apart in 2006 and 2007, underscores the precarious politics of a democratic, but splintered nation.

It also mirrors the three-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria, where the civil war pits forces loyal to President Bashar Assad whose powerbase stems from followers of a Shiite offshoot sect, against mostly Sunni Arab rebels whose ranks are dominated by Islamists and militants from al-Qaida-inspired or linked groups. Iraqi Shiite militiamen fight on the side of Assad’s forces.

Voters in Wednesday’s polls are widely expected to cast ballots along sectarian and ethnic lines.

But balloting will not take place in parts of the vast and mostly Sunni Anbar province west of Baghdad, where al-Qaida spin-off militants control parts of two cities, including the provincial capital, Ramadi.

Beside army troops and police, also voting on Monday were hospital patients, medical staff and detainees.

Abroad, Iraqi expatriates in more than 20 countries will also be able to cast ballots for a second day.

Authorities, meanwhile, announced the closure of Iraq’s air space, saying it will not reopen until after the polls close on Wednesday evening. Already, the government has decreed a weeklong national holiday to coincide with the elections, extending a previously announced three-day break. Such moves were common in past elections, chiefly to empty the streets and allow security forces faster access to attack sites.

 

 

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