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Weekend News Items.
17 August 2019. By John Ellis.
1. With interest rates on 30-year U.S. debt hitting all-time lows this week, the government is once again considering whether to start borrowing for even longer. The U.S. Treasury Department said Friday that it wants to know what investors think about the government potentially issuing 50-year or 100-year bonds, going way beyond the current three-decade maximum. The government stressed that no decision has yet been made on ultra-long bonds, explaining that it’s looking to “refresh its understanding of market appetite.” The idea was broached before, back in 2017, but was shelved after receiving a less-than-warm reception.
2. China's central bank today unveiled a key interest rate reform to help steer borrowing costs lower for companies and support a slowing economy that has been hurt by a trade war with the United States. The People's Bank of China (PBOC) said it will improve the mechanism used to establish the loan prime rate (LPR) from this month, in a move to further lower real interest rates for companies as part of broader market reforms.
3. Bank of America Corp., the biggest underwriter of state and local government debt, isn’t worried that municipal-bond yields will turn negative, even if they do in other parts of the U.S. fixed-income markets. Bond yields have been plunging fast, making it seem possible that American investors could actually wind up paying governments to lend them money -- as is already happening in Japan and much of Europe because of the escalating trade war with China, concerns about slowing global growth and stock market volatility.
4. It’s no secret that America’s young adults will take a long time to pay off their student loans. But few know that this generation of borrowers is chipping away at their debt so slowly that some may not escape it until they’re dead. That’s the grim assessment of a new Bloomberg Businessweek analysis, which found that U.S. student loan borrowers as a group are paying down about 1% of their federal debt every year.
5. Argentina was downgraded deeper into junk territory by two of the three biggest ratings companies as markets brace for a possible default after the populist opposition won a landslide victory in Sunday’s primary election. Fitch Ratings cut Argentina’s long-term issuer rating by three notches to CCC from B, putting the South American nation on par with Zambia and the Republic of Congo. S&P lowered the country’s sovereign rating to B- from B and slapped a negative outlook on it.
6. Under bursts of rain and occasional rumbles of thunder, protesters packed the streets in several areas of Hong Kong today, days after both the demonstrators and the police came under criticism for taking violence and mayhem to new levels. The events scheduled for the weekend, which began with a rally led by teachers, underscore the breadth and variety of the protest movement. The wave of demonstrations began in June to oppose a now-suspended bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China. But the movement has broadened to include other demands, including universal suffrage and an investigation of the police.
7. The Trump administration is pressing ahead with an $8 billion sale of new F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, a move likely to raise strong objections from China amid the deepening trade dispute between Washington and Beijing. The State Department submitted the package to Congress for informal review late Thursday, and it is not expected to meet opposition, according to several U.S. officials and other people familiar with the matter. It would be the largest and most significant sale of weaponry to Taiwan in decades.
8. The U.S. Commerce Department is expected to extend a reprieve given to Huawei Technologies that permits the Chinese firm to buy supplies from U.S. companies so that it can service existing customers, two sources familiar with the situation said. The “temporary general license” will be extended for Huawei for 90 days, the sources said.
9. India announced on Friday that restrictions in Kashmir, which has been locked down for nearly two weeks, would be eased over the next few days, with schools and government offices to reopen on Monday and phone service to be gradually restored. The Indian government unilaterally stripped Kashmir of its semiautonomous status last week. Anticipating unrest, the authorities had detained scores of regional politicians and civil servants, cut mobile and landline connections, and deployed thousands of troops to guard barricaded roads.
10. U.S. negotiators have made significant advances in recent talks with the Taliban, and the two sides are close to announcing an agreement on an initial U.S. troop withdrawal, along with plans to start direct discussions between the militants and the Afghan government, according to American and foreign officials.
11. Italy is used to political turmoil, but the latest government crisis -- triggered by League leader Matteo Salvini’s ambition to become prime minister -- is one of the most complex in recent history. Predicting the outcome is difficult. What’s certain is that, despite the summer vacation, markets will be focused on events in Rome next week. The crisis will impact assets in the euro area’s No. 3 economy and beyond and could help determine whether insurgent populist movements around the world gain traction or lose steam.
12. OPEC lowered its 2019 forecast for growth in oil demand for the second time in three months and cut its projections for global economic growth, pointing to uncertainties stemming from the trade war between the U.S. and China. In its closely scrutinized monthly oil market report released Friday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said it expected a deceleration in the rise of global oil demand this year, trimming its estimate to 1.1 million barrels a day.
13. Yemen’s Houthi movement launched drone attacks on oil facilities in a remote area of Saudi Arabia, the group’s Al Masirah TV said on Saturday, but there was no immediate confirmation from Saudi authorities or state oil giant Aramco. A Saudi-led coalition is battling the Iran-aligned Houthis to try to restore Yemen’s government, which was ousted from power in the capital Sanaa by the group in late 2014. The war has been in military stalemate for years.
14. In designing the flight controls for the 737 MAX, Boeing assumed that pilots trained on existing safety procedures should be able to sift through the jumble of contradictory warnings and take the proper action 100% of the time within four seconds. That is about the amount of time that it took you to read this sentence. Boeing bet nearly everything on those four ticks of the clock. The company’s belief in its engineering, and its reliance on pilots to be flawless cogs, enabled Boeing to speed the latest iteration of its most important airliner to market and ultimately saved money for its customers.
15. Alzheimer’s disease destroys command centers in the brain that keep people awake. That finding could explain why the disease often brings daytime drowsiness. Sleep problems can precede dementias, including Alzheimer’s, sometimes by decaes. But the new result, described online August 12 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, suggests that disordered sleeping isn’t just an early harbinger of Alzheimer’s. Instead, sleep trouble is “part of the disease,” says Lea Grinberg, a neuropathologist at the University of California, San Francisco. The findings may fundamentally refocus dementia research on sleep-wake centers in the brain stem.
16. An army of tiny magnetic coils could dissolve micro-plastics from water, and possibly help us clean up waterways and oceans. Lab tests have demonstrated a way to dissolve micro-plastic and turn it into carbon dioxide and water. This would release greenhouse gas, so it is far from perfect. But it would help avoid some of the damage plastic does to the environment.
17. Thrift shopping is going mainstream. And it’s as easy as hailing an Uber or renting a room through Airbnb Inc. Bargain hunting, environmental concerns and the sharing economy have erased the stigma of used goods at the same time technology has made thrift shopping more accessible, reliable and cool. Even Kim Kardashian West wears vintage designer duds.
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