Friday, March 31, 2006

Fed kills a key inflation gauge

The U.S. Federal Reserve made big news at the end of March. And almost nobody noticed.

Quick Overview

  • U.S. factory orders rose 0.2% in February following a decline the previous month, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

  • U.S. personal incomes were up 0.3% in February

  • Consumer spending rose 0.1% in February, the smallest increase in six months.

  • The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index rose from 86.7 to 88.9 in March.

  • The Chicago Purchasing Manager's index rose from 54.9 to 60.4 in March, the highest reading this year.

  • Australian Retail sales were up 0.7% in February, more than expected.

  • YoY Canada's GDP was up 0.2% in January and up 3.3%

  • YoY Japans consumer prices were up 0.4% in February.

  • The USDA's 2006-2007 planting estimate for:
    Corn is 78.0 million acres, down 5% YoY -- less than expected.
    Soybeans is 76.9 million acres, up 7% YoY and the most on record.
    Wheat is 57.1 million acres, down slightly YoY and the lowest since 1972.
    Cotton is 14.6 million acres, up 3% YoY.

  • As of March 1st, U.S. grain stocks of:
    Corn totaled 6.99 billion bushels, up 3% YoY.
    Soybeans totaled 1.67 billion bushels, up 21% YoY.
    Wheat totaled 972 million bushels, down 1% YoY.

  • The USDA said that there were 60.104 million hogs and pigs in the U.S. as of March 1, up 0.7% YoY.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Silver ETF moves closer to approval
The Securities and Exchange Commission has approved a rule change for a silver exchange-traded fund in registration from Barclays Global Investor that would allow the product to list on the American Stock Exchange.
The ETF, however, has not yet been cleared to launch by regulators.

Quick Overview

  • The U.S. producer price index fell 1.4% in February, the largest decline since April 2003, as food and fuel prices fell, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Excluding food and energy producer prices were up 0.3%.

  • The Associated Press said that Cyclone Larry ruined A$200 million of Australia's sugarcane crop or roughly 10% of the country's total production.

  • Canada's composite index of leading indicators was up 0.2% in February. Retail sales were up 1.4% in January.

  • YoY Consumer prices in the U.K. were up 2.0% in February.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Quick Overview

  • The Conference Board's index of U.S. leading indicators was down 0.2% in February, to 139.0.

  • With the steady trend of rising core inflation in Japan "here to stay," it's not too early for Japan to change its ultra-loose monetary policy stance, a Bank of Japan official said on Monday.

  • German producer-price inflation speeded up 5.9% in February -- the fastest pace in almost 24 years.

  • The U.K. posted a budget shortfall of 2.27 billion pounds

  • Statistics Canada said that foreign buys of Canadian securities totaled C$3.0 billion in January while Canadians bought C$3.7 billion in foreign securities.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Torture Judge
In a startling, ominous decision—ignored by most of the press around the country—Federal District Judge David Trager, in the Eastern District of New York, has dismissed a lawsuit by a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, who, during a stopover at Kennedy Airport on the way home to Canada after vacation, was kidnapped by CIA agents.
A Peculiar Politician
a naïf who voted against the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act. On principle!

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Boston Legal fan website
The James Spader monologue video "Stick It"can still be seen here.

Quick Overview

  • The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index was weaker than expected at 86.7.

  • U.S. Industrial production was up 0.7% in February.

  • Canada’s wholesale sales were up 1.8% in January.

  • North American-based semiconductor equipment sellers posted a book-to-bill ratio of 1.01 in February, up from 0.97 in January, according to the Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI) trade group. This is the first time above parity since August of 2004.

  • General Motors Corp.'s disclosures that it lost $2 billion more last year than previously reported and needs more time to sort out accounting errors.
GOP Senators Submit Bill Legalizing Warrentless Spying
Debt on top of debt
Congress raised the limit on the federal government's borrowing by $781 billion yesterday, and then lawmakers voted to spend well over $100 billion on the war in Iraq, hurricane relief, education, health care, transportation and heating assistance for the poor without making offsetting budget cuts.

(DEBT, n. An ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slave- driver. The Devil's Dictionary)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Commodity Strategists: Rally to Resume, Lehman Says
Growth, geopolitical risk and potentially higher energy prices point to the possibility of another rise in commodity prices,'' Malvey, Lehman's New York-based chief global fixed- income strategist, said today in an interview. ``It's too early to conclude that the upward ascent has ended. We are more likely in the midst of a pause.''
Commodity Strategists: Rally to Resume, Lehman Says
``Growth, geopolitical risk and potentially higher energy prices point to the possibility of another rise in commodity prices,'' Malvey, Lehman's New York-based chief global fixed- income strategist, said today in an interview. ``It's too early to conclude that the upward ascent has ended. We are more likely in the midst of a pause.''
Commodity Strategists: Rally to Resume, Lehman Says
``Growth, geopolitical risk and potentially higher energy prices point to the possibility of another rise in commodity prices,'' Malvey, Lehman's New York-based chief global fixed- income strategist, said today in an interview. ``It's too early to conclude that the upward ascent has ended. We are more likely in the midst of a pause.''

Quick Overview

  • The Philadelphia Federal Reserve's regional business index fell from 15.4 to 12.3 in March

  • U.S. Housing starts were at an annual rate of 2.120 million units in February, down 7.9% from January's pace.

  • Bank of Japan Governor Toshihiko Fukui sought on Thursday to calm market expectations of an early rate hike, saying the central bank will keep rates near zero for a while despite ending its ultra easy policy last week.

  • Retail sales in the U.K. were up 0.5% in February and up 2.1% YoY,

  • YoY Canada’s consumer prices were up 2.2% in February.

  • YoY consumer prices in the Euro zone were up 2.3% in February .

  • The Swiss National Bank raised rates from 1.00% to 1.25%

  • Assets of the nation's retail money market mutual funds rose by $2.45 billion in the latest week to $856.43 billion, the Investment Company Institute said Thursday.

  • The Green Coffee Association said that U.S. coffee stocks were at 5.193 million bags. Up 243,980 bags in February.

  • The US DoE said that underground supplies of natural gas were down 55 billion cubic feet to 1.832 trillion cubic feet. YoY supplies are up 32%.
Every Man Needs a Theory
While we shared many of their views, we saw the war as a historical necessity. Every empire needs to find a way to look ridiculous; it has to lose its pants, in other words, when the theory holding it up finally disintegrates. Nature loathes a monopoly. A successful empire has a monopoly on the use of organized force. Nature conspires against it, tries to undermine it and eventually ruins it. Every great empire also needs to take Baghdad at one time or another. The English took it. The Mongols took it. The Romans took it several times. Why shouldn't we?

Wouldn't that be a good way to weaken the empire, too? It would cost a fortune, stir up enemies, and tie up the imperial army in a futile campaign against nobody of importance. If you wanted to destroy the U.S. Empire, it would seem to be the perfect project. All nature needed to accomplish her dirty plans was an American administration foolish enough to undertake it. In Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, she found her stooges.
US backs first-strike attack plan
The US will not shy away from attacking regimes it considers hostile, or groups it believes have nuclear or chemical weapons, the White House has confirmed.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Quick Overview

  • The economy headed into the spring season with solid momentum, helping to generate more employment opportunities and keep factories humming, the Federal Reserve reported Wednesday.

  • The New York Federal Reserve's regional index increased from 21.0 to 31.2 in March, stronger than expected.

  • The U.S. Treasury said foreign purchases of U.S. securities totaled $78.0 billion.

  • The U.S. Department of Energy said that:
    Supplies of crude oil supplies were up 4.8 million barrels to 339.9 million barrels.
    Supplies of unleaded gasoline were down 900,000 barrels
    Supplies of heating oil were down 2.8 million barrels.

  • YoY the U.K.'s unemployment rate for November to January increased to 5.0% from 4.7% .

  • Canada's manufacturing shipments were down 0.7% in January to C$51.8 billion. Excluding motor vehicles and parts -- shipments were up 0.3%.

  • YoY China's industrial production was up 16% in the first two months of 2006.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

When Democracy Looks Like Civil War
Recent studies offer a damning assesment of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq. Thanks to US political and military failures, the country could soon become failed state. Experts warn that it's time to implement an emergency plan before civil war breaks out.
Farmers Face Immigrant Workers Shortage
"I wound up hiring some locals that weren't worth hauling to the field," he said. "It was the worst harvest labor in my life and I've been in the farming business 35 years. But we got it in."

Quick Ovevrview

  • The U.S. current account deficit totaled $224.9 billion in the fourth quarter, more than expected. For 2005, the current account shortfall totaled $804.9 billion.

  • Global trade imbalances are a market-driven phenomenon that government policies can do little to address, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a letter released on Tuesday.

  • February retail sales fell 1.3%, the first drop in six months, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. Excluding autos, sales were down 0.4%.

  • Business inventories rose 0.4% in January, and business sales rose by 1.3%, the Commerce Department said Tuesday

  • The U.S. government warned Venezuela on Tuesday it would suspend Venezuelan flights to the United States if Caracas carries out a threat to ban or restrict U.S. carriers flying to Venezuela.

  • The International Coffee Organization estimates the 2006-2007 world coffee production at 121 million bags, up from 107.2 million bags the previous year.

  • The International Energy Agency reduced its forecast of world demand growth in 2006 from 1.78 to 1.49 million barrels a day.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Former top judge says US risks edging near to dictatorship
Sandra Day O'Connor, a Republican-appointed judge who retired last month after 24 years on the supreme court, has said the US is in danger of edging towards dictatorship if the party's rightwingers continue to attack the judiciary.

Quick Overview

  • The Federal Reserve has moved U.S. interest rates up into a zone where policy-makers need to weigh the risk of raising them too far as they debate future moves, a top Fed official said.

  • Japan's GDP growth in the fourth quarter was revised down from an annual rate of 5.5% to 5.4%. Bank of Japan Governor Fukui said that he is not yet ready to discuss raising Japan's interest rate.

  • The U.S. Agriculture Department said on Monday a more advanced test showed an animal that tested "inconclusive" for mad cow disease during the weekend was positive for the illness.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Search for Katrina's dead stymied by bureaucratic wrangling
There is unfortunately little public pressure on government officials to speed up the search for Katrina's dead, said Peter Scharf, a criminologist at the University of New Orleans.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Health Report: Cheerful Men at Lower Risk of Heart Disease

Neil Osterweil, MedPage Today staff writer, reported recently that cheery, optimistic men are less likely to die of heart disease than sour, pessimistic men. When questioned about this theory, Mr. Osterweil cited the most visible people in the news today.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Quick Overview

  • The U.S. government ran a monthly budget deficit of $119.20 billion in February – this is an all-time monthly record. Last years Feb. deficit was 113.9 billion.

  • Canada's unemployment rate improved from 6.6% to 6.4% in February

  • Japan's machinery orders were down 6.2% in January, but up 9.8 YoY.

  • The USDA's 2005-2006 U.S. ending stocks estimate for:
    Corn was lowered from 2.401 to 2.351 billion bushels.
    Soybeans were raised from 555 to 565 million bushels.
    Wheat unchanged at 542 million bushels.
    Sugar was lowered from 1.661 to 1.510 million tons.
    Cotton was lowered from 7.00 to 6.60 million bales.

  • For 2006, the USDA estimates a 5% increase in beef production and a 3% increase in pork production.

  • The USDA reduced its estimate of the Florida orange crop from 158 to 154 million boxes with a projected yield of 1.58 gallons per box at 42.0 degrees Brix.
In a study released this week, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press says that, over a five-year period, D.C. defendants in more than 450 out of 2,600 criminal cases were indicted, tried, prosecuted and sentenced to jail in complete secrecy.
Gitmo: The Worst of the Worst?
On February 16, a British high court judge, Sir Andrew Collins, emphasized: "America's idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilized nations."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Much of Europe has painted itself into a corner on the censorship issue. What can Norway say to pro-censorship Muslims when it already has a hate speech law forbidding, among other things, "publicly stirring up one part of the population against another," or any utterance that "threatens, insults or subjects to hatred, persecution or contempt any person or group of persons because of their creed, race, color or national or ethnic origin ... or homosexual bent"? No insulting utterances at all? Since most strong opinions can be construed as insulting (hurting someone's feelings), no insults means no free speech.

Quick Overview

  • The International Monetary Fund is set to raise its forecast for global economic growth this year to 4.8 percent, Germany's Handelsblatt said.

  • U.S. Jobless claims were up 8,000 last week to 303,000, more than expected.

  • U.S. Exports rose from $111.6 to $114.4 billion while imports rose from $176.6 to $182.9 billion.

  • The Bank of Japan voted to end five years of loose monetary policy and eventually move to raise its interest rate from zero.

  • The unemployment rate in Australia improved from 5.3% to 5.2%.

  • Mexican consumer prices rose 0.15 percent in February, less than expected.

  • The U.S. DoE said that underground supplies of natural gas were down 85 billion cubic feet to 1.887 trillion cubic feet. YoY supplies are up 26%.

  • The Renewable Fuels Association reported the U.S. produced 3.904 billion gallons of ethanol in 2005, an average of 255,000 barrels a day. However demand is running at an even faster pace. December production was short of demand by 310,000 barrels a day. The 95 ethanol plants currently in operation have a 4.3 billion gallons-per-year capacity. There are 34 plants under construction that will add another 2.1 billion gallons a year incapacity

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Quick Overview

  • For 2005, U.S. business productivity was up 2.9%.

  • The Federal Reserve is widely expected to raise official interest rates again for the 15th consecutive time at its next meeting on March 27-28, which will be the first policy meeting chaired by Ben Bernanke.

  • Switzerland's Feb. Jobless rate falls to 3.8%. This is better than expected by markets and a further sign of the gradually improving state of the Swiss labor market.

  • The Bank of Canada raised its overnight rate by one quarter of a percentage point to 3.75 percent as expected on Tuesday, but signaled that its current tightening cycle may be drawing to a close.

  • The USDA sees declining crop condition ratings in the hard red winter belt. A full 87% of the Texas crop, for example, is rated poor to very poor while Oklahoma's wheat is 70% poor to very poor.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Harry Browne, RIP

The words of Harry Browne

Kind words from some of Harry's friends:

Quick Overview

  • U.S. Factory orders were down 4.5% in January, the biggest monthly drop in over five years. Excluding transport, factory orders were up 1.6% in January.

  • Retail sales volumes in the Euro zone were up 0.9% YoY.

  • YoY Japan's Finance Ministry said that capital spending was up 9.5% in the fourth quarter.

  • Chile's economy expanded 5.5 percent in January.

  • Brazilian exports of ethanol rose to 145.1 million liters in February, up 20.7% from 120.2 million liters a year ago. U.S. demand dominated sales.

  • Gold production in South Africa totaled 296.3 tons in 2005, down 13% YoY and the lowest production since 1923.

  • London inventories of copper are at 121,175 tons.

  • The Florida Citrus Processors said there were 92.3 million gallons of frozen orange juice concentrate in inventory on February 25th, down 35% YoY.
Patriot Act E-Mail Searches Apply to Non-Terrorists, Judges Say

Fidelity Estimates $200,000 Now Needed to Cover Retiree Health Care Costs; Five Percent Increase over 2005 Estimate of $190,000

Friday, March 03, 2006

Mother Of All Tax Shelters
Both supporters and opponents of the proposal said that the enhanced HSAs offer unprecedented tax advantages and may become more attractive than 401(k)s or individual retirement accounts as a way for the richest and healthiest Americans to build savings.

Quick Overview

  • Future moves in official U.S. interest rates will be closely tied to incoming data, but for now the Federal Reserve does not need to push rates beyond neutral, a top central bank official said on Friday.

  • The ISM index of services increased from 56.8 to 60.1

  • The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index dropped from 91.2 to 86.7

  • YoY consumer prices in Japan were up 0.5% in January.

  • An index of services in the Euro zone increased from 57.0 to 58.2

  • Informa Economics said expects the U.S. to produce 22.45 million bales of cotton in 2006-2007, down from 23.7 million bales the previous year. They forecast 119.7 million bales of world production in 2006-2007.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Willis Is Mad As Hell...
"I'm sick of answering this [expletive] question," he says. "I'm a Republican only as far as I want a smaller government, I want less government intrusion. I want them to stop [expletive] on my money and your money and tax dollars that we give 50 percent of... every year. I want them to be fiscally responsible and I want these [expletive] lobbyists out of Washington. Do that and I'll say I'm a Republican... I hate the government, OK? I'm a-political. Write that down. I'm not a Republican."
Bush Privatize Tax Collection
Members of the National Treasury Employees Union, visiting Washington from around the country for an organizing meeting, paraded in front of the IRS on Constitution Avenue during the lunch-hour rally, hoisting signs and chanting slogans such as "Hey hey, ho ho, bounty hunters gotta go" and "Don't be fooled by White House lies, it's not wise to privatize."
Bush Plan to Sell Public Lands To Fund Schools
Forest Service officials and Western lawmakers battled Tuesday over an administration proposal that would sell national forest lands to help pay for a rural schools program, as the vital 30-day public comment period began.
Armed forces are put on standby to tackle threat of wars over water
Across the world, they are coming: the water wars. From Israel to India, from Turkey to Botswana, arguments are going on over disputed water supplies that may soon burst into open conflict.

Quick Overview

  • U.S. Jobless claims were up 15,000 last week to 294,000, more than expected.

  • Top executives of U.S. companies expect to see continued strength in the nation's economy over the next six months, especially in new hiring, according to a survey released by the Business Roundtable on Thursday

  • The European Central Bank raised its interest rate from 2.25% to 2.50%.

  • Retail sales in Germany were up 2.7% in January more than expected.

  • Retail sales in Australia were up 0.8% in January.

  • The DoE said that underground supplies of natural gas were down 171 billion cubic feet to 1.972 trillion cubic feet. Supplies are up 21% YoY.

  • Silver futures closed above $10 an ounce Thursday, at the highest level in more than two decades, with traders upbeat about the prospects for a silver exchange-traded fund.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

FOX Ratings In Free Fall - O'Reilly Leads The Way Down
As we all know, the media is rampant with sycophantic, corporate shills and can't be trusted to deliver a pizza. But an intersting trend is developing that ought to shake their confidence in the suck-up school of journalism.
Gonzales Seeks to Clarify Testimony on Spying
"It seems to me he is conceding that there are other NSA surveillance programs ongoing that the president hasn't told anyone about,"

Quick Overview

  • U.S. Commerce Department said that Personal income increased 0.7 percent, consumer spending rose 0.9%.

  • The average U.S. home increased 12.95% in value in 2005, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight said Wednesday.

  • The ISM index rose to 56.7% in February from 54.8% in January -- more than expected.

  • U.S. Construction spending was up 0.2% from December's pace.

  • Australia's GDP was up 0.5% in the fourth quarter, weaker than expected. For 2005 the GDP was up 2.5%, the slowest in four years.

  • The unemployment rate in the Euro zone remained at 8.3% in January. For the EU-25, the unemployment rate was 8.5%.

  • Brazilian traders returned to work on Wednesday and lifted stocks to a record high on news that Standard & Poor's upgraded the country's credit rating -- the Real ended near a five-year high.

  • YoY consumer prices in the Euro zone have increased 2.3% in February.

  • Canada's industrial product price index rose 0.5% in January.

  • The Chinese economy grew 9.9% in 2005, up from 9.5% in 2004.

  • South Africa's GDP increased 4.9% in 2005, up from 4.5% in 2004.

  • The U.S. Department of Energy said that:
    Supplies of crude oil were up 1.6 million barrels to 328.3 million barrels.
    Supplies of unleaded gasoline were up 300,000 barrels
    Supplies of heating oil were down 2.1 million barrels.

  • The International Sugar Organization estimates world sugar production in 2005-2006 at 149 million tons and total use at 151.2 million tons. Resulting in a production shortfall of 2.22 million tons -- larger than previous estimates.

  • London copper inventories are at 115,275 tons.
Prodded to spend, China's consumers prefer to save
Fed Official Warns of Changes A top Federal Reserve official warned yesterday that the U.S. financial system is evolving faster than the ability of investors, lenders and regulators to evaluate and manage the risks involved