reality is only those delusions that we have in common...

Saturday, February 15, 2020

week ending Feb 15

 Fed Injects $79BN In Liquidity- Term Repo Most Oversubscribed Since Repo Crisis - The repo market was supposed to be fixed in September; then the year-end liquidity flood was supposed to definitely fix the repo market. But it is now mid-February and moments ago the Fed just reported it conducted the fourth oversubscribed term-repo operation as the liquidity shortage among dealers appears to persist. This means, that at a submitted to accepted ratio just shy of 2.0x, this was tied for the most oversusbcribed term repo operation since the September repo crisis as there clearly remains a big hole in dealer liquidity. And confirming that liquidity indeed remains quite scarce a month and a half after year-end, moments ago the Fed also conducted its overnight repo which saw $48.85BN in liquidity injected... ... and which together with the oversubscribed $30BN term repo conducted earlier, means the Fed has injected $79BN in liquidity for today's market needs. Ominously, the ongoing excess demand for term repo (which in February was cut by $5BN from $35BN to $30BN, and later today will be cut by another $5 billion or so when the Fed releases its upcoming monthly repo schedule) means that the liquidity crisis that continues to percolate just below the surface of the market and has clogged up the critical plumbing within the US financial system, is getting worse, not better, and today's massive oversubscription indicates that one or more entities continues to face a dire shortage of reserves, i.e., cash.

 Trump nominee for Fed seat gets cold shoulder from senators - — Senators from both parties expressed significant concerns about one of two pending nominees for the Federal Reserve Board, raising doubts about her confirmation.Judy Shelton, an adviser to President Trump, endured tough questioning from Democrats and Republicans at her Senate Banking Committee hearing Thursday. Lawmakers sounded skeptical of her views regarding the need for deposit insurance, whether the Fed should be independent from outside influence, and some of her past statements on monetary policy.Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said he has not made up his mind on how he will vote on Shelton's nomination and he is “not sure” if she has been consistent in her writings and comments. He joined two other Republicans who said they were undecided about Shelton. “I remained concerned she is an advocate for using monetary policy to devalue the dollar in what could easily devolve into a downward spiral,” said Toomey, the No. 2 Republican on the commitee. Judy Shelton testified along with Christopher Waller, research director of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, after the Trump administration announced plans last month to nominate both to open seats on the Fed board.Bloomberg News Shelton testified along with Christopher Waller, research director of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The Trump administration announced plans last month to nominate both to open seats on the Fed board.The committee focused their questions most heavily on Shelton, who follows other controversial names floated by the administration for the central bank that elicited skepticism in Congress.With at least three Republicans on the committee sounding unsure about her nomination, Shelton's confirmation could be in jeopardy. Republicans only have a 13-12 majority on the Senate Banking Committee, which needs to vote on her nomination before the full Senate votes. Following the hearing, some published reports suggested the administration may withdraw her name from contention.When asked by reporters about Shelton's nomination, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said, "I am concerned." Shelby is a former chairman of the committee.“I ask, is she an outlier or is she mainstream?” Shelby said. “Well, she could be an outlier.”

Trump nominee in doubt for Federal Reserve position - There is significant doubt as to whether Judy Shelton, President Trump’s nominee for a position on the governing board of the US Federal Reserve, will receive the endorsement of the Senate Banking Committee after its confirmation hearing on Thursday. The proceedings nevertheless cast light on some of the issues at stake in the deepening conflicts within the US political establishment. One of Shelton’s main attributes, in Trump’s eyes, is her demonstrated capacity to switch her positions in accordance with the political winds. During the Obama administration she was an opponent of the Fed’s quantitative easing program and interest rate cuts, only to change course after the election of Trump. Under the Trump administration she has become an advocate for the use of monetary policy to weaken the dollar and improve the competitive position of the US global markets—a position shared by the president. The Shelton nomination has attracted more attention than normal because she is viewed as a potential choice by Trump for the position of Fed chair if he wins re-election and decides to oust the current chair Jerome Powell when his term expires in 2022. In other words, for Trump’s opponents, the Shelton nomination is seen as another move by Trump to ensure that key sections of the state apparatus are placed in the hands of reliable political supporters. Accordingly, the Democrats focused their questions and criticisms on the issue of her independence. In his opening remarks, Senator Sherrod Brown, the senior Democrat on the committee, said Shelton had “too many alarming ideas”—a reference among other things to her previous support for a return to a gold standard—and that she had “flip-flopped” in her views. Clearly with one eye on the prospect that Shelton could be a future choice for Fed chair if she made it to the board of governors, he said: “A vote for Ms Shelton is a vote against Fed independence.” Democrat Senator Chris Van Hollen pointed to a statement by Shelton that the deficits incurred by the Obama administration were “unconscionable” and pressed her on whether she had the same attitude to deficits under Trump. He said her responses to present economic issues were totally inconsistent with what she had written in the past and “the only thing that has changed is who’s in the White House.” Questioned on whether she thought Trump’s frequent attacks on Fed chair Jerome Powell for not lowering interest rates fast enough were appropriate, Shelton maintained she would advance her own views. “Frankly no one tells me what to do,” she said. “I don’t think it’s the job of the Federal Reserve to accommodate political agendas” and that the Fed “operates independently as it should.”

Fed Chair Powell Is a Member of a Private Club with a History of Racism and Sexism -- Pam Martens - Congresswoman Katie Porter opened a hornet’s nest on Tuesday during a House Financial Services Committee hearing where Fed Chair Jerome Powell answered questions. As we reported, Porter held up a photo of Powell in black tie attending a lavish party for billionaires and politicians at the Washington D.C. home of one of the richest men in the world, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. As it turns out, that wasn’t even the worst part of the story. The real jaw dropper is that the Bezos party was the after-party for a secretive private club’s annual dinner. The so-called Alfalfa Club is a 107-year old, invitation-only club that bars the press from attendance and banned membership of blacks and women for the bulk of its existence. Fed Chair Powell is a member of that club.  The Fed knows from its own research that millions of people in America are working two and three jobs just to pay their rent and keep up-to-date on their high double-digit interest rate credit cards offered by the banks it “supervises.” The Fed knows from its own research that 40 percent of Americans could not come up with $400 in an emergency without borrowing. And the Fed knows from national polls that it’s in the top ranks of the least trusted institutions in America as a result of its tone-deaf attitude toward struggling Americans during the financial crisis as it pumped a cumulative $29 trillion to bail out Wall Street mega banks and their foreign derivative counterparties at loan interest rates often below 1 percent. With all that as background, how does one explain why Fed Chair Powell would accept an invitation to a party at the home of one of the richest men in the world who had been scandalized in the media for texting nude selfies to his girlfriend while still married to his wife. The party was at the end of January of this year at Bezos’ $23 million mansion in Washington, D.C., which sports 25 bathrooms. (That residence now feels more like a cottage, contrasted against the $165 million Bezos just paid for his Beverly Hills estate.) Powell knew that other tech and Wall Street billionaires were likely to be at that party, as well as members of the Trump crowd. Among the party attendees were: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump; Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway; Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan and billionaire, Jamie Dimon; Goldman Sachs partner and member of its management committee, Dina Powell, who served as the U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy in the Trump administration. Ms. Powell attended with her husband, David McCormick, co-CEO of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, one of the largest hedge funds in the world. Billionaire Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, was also in attendance. The Alfalfa Club has a history of racism and sexism. It’s been around since 1913 but blacks were not admitted until 1974 – a decade after passage of the Civil Rights Act. Women were not admitted until 1994 – 74 years after women won the right to vote in the United States. New members are referred to as “new sprouts.” Fed Chair Jerome Powell became a “new sprout” and was inducted into membership in the Alfalfa Club at its annual dinner in January 2018, three months after he was nominated for Fed Chair by President Donald Trump and thus became an important power player for corporate and Wall Street interests.

Q1 GDP Forecasts: 0.7% to 2.4% -From Merrill Lynch: The data cut our 4Q 2019 GDP tracking estimate by 0.1pp to 2.0% and our 1Q 2020 estimate by 0.3pp to 0.7% qoq saar. [Feb 14 estimate]  From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report: The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.4% for 2020:Q1. News from this week’s data decreased the nowcast for 2020:Q1 by 0.3 percentage point. [Feb 14 estimate].  And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the first quarter of 2020 is 2.4 percent on February 14, down from 2.7 percent on February 7. [Feb 14 estimate]CR Note: These early estimates suggest real GDP growth will be between 0.7% and 2.4% annualized in Q1.

Lying in State - ON FEBRUARY 4, 2020, that man-shaped puddle of toxic runoff known as Donald Trump was once again invited to stand at a large podium and serve the nation a big, fat helping of racist word salad. This time, his garbled vocal flatulence was accompanied by an extra layer of pomp and circumstance because it was time for the State of the Union, baby! This annual address has meant many things to many people since George Washington first delivered a progress report to Congress in 1790, giving U.S. presidents an opportunity to share positive news and calm the public’s fears during times of war but also serving as a gift-wrapped bully pulpit to quell dissent during periods of unrest or urge mindless unity on the denizens of a country built on genocide and slavery. Across the aisle, and across the board, presidents past and present have all used the SOTU to lionize that which has never been great. For Trump, this somber occasion is just another opportunity to do his favorite thing: put on a tie and lie on TV. And lie he did. I do not have the patience nor the wherewithal to outline the broad and awful scope of his lies in their entirety; Politicoand various self-important newspapers have helpfully done so already. But given the nature of this column, I wanted to break down exactly how much Trump’s administration has failed the workers he still pretends to respect, and how his nominally “pro-labor” policies have hurt the labor movement as a whole. As much as Trump blubbers over his Platonic ideal of blue-collar workers—i.e. the kind he has spent his career ripping off—he’s managed to screw them over mightily, alongside the rest of this country’s multiracial, multi-gender working class.The Economic Policy Institute, an independent economic think tank, recently released a primer that digs into the realities of what Trump’s regime meant for working people in 2019. One of the first sections I want to highlight concerns an assertion he made at the SOTU that “the unemployment rate for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans has reached the lowest levels in history.” As usual when it comes to Trump and race, he is lying; the EPI found that black workers are still twice as likelyto be unemployed as white workers. Furthermore, they are more likely to be unemployed than white workers at every education level, and only those black workers with some college or a higher educational level have an unemployment rate lower than the overall unemployment rate of white workers. Unlike the president, these graphs don’t lie. Many of Trump’s boldest claims concerning job creation, outsourcing, and unemployment rates are half-truths or outright bunk. In particular, the ill-considered trade war he launched with China has had a dire impact on farmers and blue-collar workers in regions that predominately supported him in 2016. U.S. consumers have also started feeling the sting. And Trump’s tariffs have not succeeded in reducing our trade deficit with China; in the first two years of his presidency, this deficit cost U.S. workers approximately seven-hundred thousand jobs—many of them in thebeleaguered manufacturing sector, which has been in a recession since August. In a press release issued last month, EPI Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Research Robert E. Scott called Trump’s recent partial truce with China “nothing more than a gift to Wall Street and Beijing.” A corresponding report found that trade with low-wage countries like China has suppressed wages for roughly 100 million U.S. workers without college degrees, a demographic Trump considers an important part of his base—for now.

Trump unveils $4.8 trillion budget that backtracks on deal with Congress - President Trump on Monday unveiled a $4.8 trillion budget proposal that includes spending cuts that would nullify a two-year deal negotiated with Congress last summer. The new budget for the 2021 fiscal year beginning in October includes $590 billion in non-defense spending and $740.5 billion in defense spending. The total $4.8 trillion figure also anticipates about $3.5 trillion in spending on Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements. The August deal hammered out by Trump in talks with the House and Senate raised spending for both defense and domestic spending. Under the new budget, the defense figure is the same, but the domestic spending is cut through changes to a slew of federal programs and agencies. Presidential budgets are annually ignored by Congress, so the two-year deal negotiated last fall is likely to remain in place. "Everyone knows the latest Trump budget is dead on arrival in Congress. It’s merely a political stunt to gratify extremists in his party," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who is pushing for to reform the budget process alongside retiring Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). But the new budget shows where the president's priorities are, both for this year and a second term if Trump wins reelection, and some of the proposals could turn into budgetary battles later this year. The Trump budget proposes slashing Commerce Department funding by 37 percent, the Environmental Protection Agency by 26 percent, the Department of Housing and Urban Development by 15 percent, the Department of Health and Human Services by 9 percent and the Education Department by 8 percent. It seeks an 8 percent cut to the Agriculture Department's budget, a 21 percent cut to the State Department and foreign aid and an 11 percent cut to the Labor Department. It would reduce funding for Energy Department by 8 percent. Though the budget forecasts a $1 trillion deficit for 2020 and a $966 billion deficit in 2021, it lays out a plan for eliminating the deficit over 15 years, a longer time frame than the typical decade-long budget window. To do so, Trump would cut domestic spending while reducing costs to Medicaid and Medicare. The administration would seek to reduce costs by capping or block granting Medicare benefits, adding work requirements to a slew of medical and anti-poverty programs or implementing changes that might otherwise lower the costs of Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats pounced on the $700 billion cut to Medicaid and limitations on other health and welfare programs, which the administration said resulted from savings and efficiencies.

Democrats pan Trump's budget proposal as 'dead on arrival'  --Democrats quickly panned President Trump's fiscal 2021 budget proposal on Monday, pledging that it is "dead on arrival" on Capitol Hill. The $4.8 trillion plan includes cuts that would break with a two-year budget deal agreed to by both the White House and congressional leadership.  Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Trump's proposal a "double-cross" of the Americans Trump promised to help during last week's State of the Union speech."As typical, President Trump’s budget shows his State of the Union address was lie upon lie to the American people," Schumer said in a statement. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who is pitching reforms to Congress's budget process, called the White House proposal "dead on arrival."  "It’s merely a political stunt to gratify extremists in his party," he added.Democrats are taking aim, in particular, at efforts in the proposal to eliminate the deficit over a 15-year period by cutting domestic spending and reining in how much funding goes to Medicaid and Medicare. That includes capping or block-granting Medicare benefits, adding work requirements to medical and anti-poverty programs or implementing changes that lower the costs of Medicare and Medicaid. Those would result in a $700 billion cut to Medicaid, though the administration said the decline in projected spending was the result of savings and efficiencies.  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 White House hopeful and the ranking member on the Budget Committee, blasted Trump's proposal as an "immoral document" and pledged that it would be "rejected by Congress." “The Trump Budget does not see a problem in this country it cannot somehow make worse. Unless, of course, the problem is that the wealthiest families and largest corporations in this country haven’t gotten enough tax cuts, or that the military-industrial complex isn’t raking in profits that are obscene enough," Sanders in a statement.

Fed chief issues stark warning to Congress on deficits - Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell called on Congress to reduce the U.S. federal budget deficit to ensure the central bank could adequately respond to a financial crisis or recession. Powell told a House committee Tuesday that lawmakers should curb federal spending while the economy is running strong before a downturn forces Congress or the Fed to pump stimulus spending into the U.S. “Putting the federal budget on a sustainable path when the economy is strong would help ensure that policymakers have the space to use fiscal policy to assist in stabilizing the economy during a downturn,” Powell said Tuesday before the House Financial Services Committee. “A more sustainable federal budget could also support the economy’s growth over the long term.” Powell’s comments come one day after President Trump proposed a budget for fiscal 2021 with a $1 trillion deficit that puts the U.S. on track to balance its spending in 15 years. Those projections assume the economy growing at a far faster rate than predicted by most economists. Powell, a Republican widely seen as moderate, has frequently called on Congress to reduce the deficit throughout his tenure as Fed chairman. The Fed chief is among several policymakers and economists concerned about how a combination of low interest rates and high debt could hamstring policymakers if the economy slows down. The Fed has historically responded to economic downturns with drastic interest rates cuts, reducing the cost of borrowing to stimulate the economy. The bank reduced interest rates to zero percent after the 2007 financial crisis and gradually raised them to a baseline range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent by December 2018. A global economic slump forced the Fed to reverse course last year, cutting rates to the 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent range. With rates well below the historic average of 5 percent, some economists fear that interest rates are currently too low for a swift rate cut to stave off a recession. That would likely boost pressure on Congress to pass a massive stimulus bill akin to the 2009 measure enacted by former President Obama. “The current low interest rate environment means that it would be important for fiscal policy to help support the economy if it weakens,” Powell said Tuesday. Fiscal advice is one of the few areas directly beyond the Fed’s mandate where Powell is willing to offer policy prescriptions. Before joining the Fed in 2012, the chairman was a crucial Republican advocate for raising the federal debt limit during the Obama administration as a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

 US Deploys Mini-Nuke In Deplorable Threat To World Peace The Pentagon confirmed this week that it has, for the first time, armed some of its submarines with long-range nuclear missiles which have a lower destructive power compared with existing warheads. These so-called “mini-nukes” represent – despite the diminutive-sounding name – an increased risk of nuclear war.The newly deployed W76-2 warhead fitted to the Trident missile system is reported to have an explosive yield of five kilotons, or about 1 per cent of the existing W76-1 weapon. The supposed lower-yield weapon is nevertheless an instrument of immense mass destruction, equivalent to approximately a third of the power of the bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945 which killed tens of thousands of people. That puts in perspective the seemingly more usable “mini-nuke” missile.However, with Dr Strangelove-type logic, Pentagon official John Rood, claimed...the new device “would make Americans safer because it would deter the danger of nuclear war happening.” The official US reassurance is not the view of the US-based Bulletin of Atomic Scientists who said the deployment of such weapons actually increases the risk of an eventual nuclear war. This is because the lower-yield W76-2 launched from US Ohio-class submarines will be indistinguishable from the existing Trident warheads. Therefore the danger of escalation to all-out nuclear war is increased.  Russia also condemned the US move. Sergei Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister, said: “The US is actually lowering the nuclear threshold and conceding the possibility of waging a limited nuclear war and winning this war… this is extremely alarming.” What is doubly perplexing is the wider context in which the Trump administration has abnegated arms controls treaties. Last year, the administration walked away from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, governing the use of short-range, or tactical, nuclear missiles. So far, Washington has shown every indication that it has no intention to extend the New START accord with Russia governing long-range strategic weapons, which is due to expire next year. The deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons as part of the strategic arsenal is bound to destabilize the global strategic balance. Moscow has repeatedly warned that Washington is trying to incite a new arms race. It points to the undoing of arms controls treaties and the US weaponization of outer-space as evidence of such an agenda of provoking global insecurity.

Exclusive: While The Press And Public Focus On Iran, US Military Prepares For War With Russia - During the height of tensions with Iran last year, the United States conducted an unprecedented series of war games. Over five months, from May until the end of September, 93 separate military exercises were held, with forces operating continuously in, above and around 29 countries. The games, which practiced everything from ground platoon tactics to cyber warfare, weren't held in the Mideast and weren't directed at Tehran. They were directed against Moscow—and constituted the most intense uninterrupted set of drills since the end of the Cold War. The activity was the culmination of a buildup that began after Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014. Though American armed forces were fighting several "hot wars" and engaged in crisis deployments in response to both Iran and North Korea, the shift to practicing "high end" warfare tasks dominated. The focus was also undeniably anti-Russia,with the number of European games ten times the number of China-related drills held at the same time. "In the shadow of the deteriorating European security environment, the size and scope of NATO and Russian military exercises have increased significantly—even dramatically," a NATO parliamentary committee reported in October. The committee worried that NATO doesn't possess sufficient ground troops in Eastern Europe to deter Russian inference or attack. It also pointed to Moscow's own high-profile war games, many involving scenarios that include the use of nuclear weapons in a European war. While the conventional view is one of Russian advantage, the new figures show that the United States and its European partners far outstrip Moscow. These "persistent heel-to-toe" operations, as the military calls them, where one exercise begins as another ends, emphasize rapid aircraft deployments and dispersal to forward bases. Much of the emphasis last year was on fighter aircraft and bomber scatterings, showcasing Western geographic advantages while also demonstrating combined air operations refined in two decades of Middle East fighting..These operations and exercises, then-NATO Commander Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti told Congress last Spring, were meant to "introduce operational unpredictability to our adversaries." The question is: at what cost? That is, are we provoking the very thing NATO hopes to avoid—a new Cold War? Or more concretely, in putting the two sides on a path where escalating military exercises and the intermingling of forces increases tensions while also providing more and more opportunities for miscalculation.

Space Force says Russian satellites are following American satellite - CNN -Russian satellites have been exhibiting the "unusual and disturbing behavior" of following a US satellite in orbit, according to the commander of the Space Force, the newest military service."Last November the Russian government launched a satellite that subsequently released a second satellite," US Space Command Commander and the Space Force's Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond said in a statement Monday."These satellites have been actively maneuvering near a U.S. government satellite and behaving similar to another set of satellites that Russia deployed in 2017, and which the Russian government characterized as 'inspector satellites.' "Raymond's comments mark the first substantive statement from the Space Force and come as the US has become increasingly concerned about what adversaries are doing in space -- one of the reasons why the US launched the new military branch, the first new military service since 1947, in December. The Trump administration requested $18 billion for the Space Force and other space activities on Monday as part of its Pentagon budget. The Russian satellite in question released a second satellite in December, according to the state-run TASS news agency."The purpose of the experiment is to continue work on assessing the technical condition of domestic satellites," the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement at the time.Raymond said Monday that Russia's recent actions place the county among nations that "have turned space into a warfighting domain.""Similar activities in any other domain would be interpreted as potentially threatening behavior," Raymond said. "This is unusual and disturbing behavior and has the potential to create a dangerous situation in space. The United States finds these recent activities to be concerning and do not reflect the behavior of a responsible spacefaring nation." Raymond also noted that when the Russian satellites "exhibited characteristics of a weapon when one of those satellites released a high-speed projectile into space" after being deployed in 2017, the United States raised the issue during the United Nations Conference on Disarmament the following year.

Russian spacecraft following US spy satellite in ‘disturbing’ manner, Space Force general says --The leader of the United States Space Force on Monday confirmed reports that a pair of Russian spacecraft have come very close to a U.S. spy satellite, saying that foreign satellites are showing “unusual and disturbing behavior.” “Last November the Russian government launched a satellite that subsequently released a second satellite. These satellites have been actively maneuvering near a U.S. government satellite ... which the Russian government characterized as ‘inspector satellites,’” U.S. General John Raymond said in a statement to CNBC. The extraordinary situation was noted by amateur spacecraft trackers last month, who pointed out that Russian satellite Kosmos 2542 had slowly made its way into the same area in orbit as USA 245 – a satellite the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) operates. The NRO is an agency within the Department of Defense and one of the five major U.S. intelligence agencies. Kosmos 2542 was not initially near USA 245. But, two weeks after launch, the Russian satellite split into two different objects. By the middle of January, Kosmos 2542 and Kosmos 2543 had moved in orbit and were closing in on USA 245. The Russian spacecraft were as close as 300 kilometers from USA 245, in clear view of the U.S. satellite. Additionally, the two Russian objects were able to see multiple sides of USA 245 due to the nature of their orbits – causing satellite trackers to speculate that Kosmos 2542 and Kosmos 2543 were indeed inspecting USA 245. Gen. Raymond, recently appointed as the head of the U.S. Space Force, compared the recent activities to Russian satellite tests in 2017. Those satellites “exhibited characteristics of a weapon,” Raymond said, because one of the spacecraft fired “a high-speed projectile into space.” He specifically called out Russia for developing technologies that could harm U.S. systems in space, saying the recent maneuvers could “create a dangerous situation in space.”

 Philippines scrapping military cooperation pact with US  - The Hill The Philippines will end a two-decade-long military agreement with the U.S., officials announced Tuesday. The nation’s announcement that it will terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement comes amid increasingly friendly relations with China and a cooling of the U.S.-Filipino relationship under President Rodrigo Duterte, as well as reluctance on the Philippines’ part to confront Beijing over South China Sea territorial disputes, The New York Times reported. About 300 joint exercises between the two nations’ militaries take place annually under the deal, with allows the U.S. to rotate military forces through Philippine bases. While the agreement is still in place, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said on Twitter that Philippine officials have delivered the notice to terminate to the American Embassy in Manila. The delivery will start a 180-day countdown after which the pact will officially lapse, the Times reported. “The deputy chief of mission of the United States has received the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” Locsin said. Duterte, who has become well-known for incendiary comments, has frequently made threats to the U.S. without following through, but has grown increasingly hostile toward the U.S. lately, due in large part to its denial of a visa to Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, a primary architect of the nation’s crackdown on drug dealers and users that, as of January, is estimated by human rights groups to have killed over 12,000 people. Locsin himself urged the Philippine Senate against pulling out of the deal last week, according to the Times, and has said that neither he nor the nation’s Defense Department were consulted. Locsin said the agreement was crucial in allowing Philippine troops to receive aid against threats such as terrorists, who seized the city of Marawi in 2017.

 Senate moves toward vote restraining Trump on Iran(AP) — A bipartisan measure limiting President Donald Trump's authority to launch military operations against Iran is moving toward approval in the Senate. The resolution, authored by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, asserts that Trump must win approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran. Eight Republicans sided with Democrats Wednesday on a procedural motion to force a vote on the issue as soon as Thursday. Kaine and other supporters said the resolution was not about Trump or even the presidency, but instead was an important reassertion of congressional power to declare war. Answering a claim by some of Trump's supporters — and Trump himself — that the measure sends a signal of weakness to Iran and other potential adversaries, Kaine said the opposite was true. "When we stand up for the rule of law — in a world that hungers for more rule of law — and say ‘this decision is fundamental, and we have rules that we are going to follow so we can make a good decision,’ that's a message of strength,'' Kaine said Wednesday. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah agreed. Lee supports Trump's foreign policy — including toward Iran — but said Congress cannot escape its constitutional responsibility to act on matters of war and peace. “What the American people and the entire world will see from the debate we're about to have in the Senate is that there is abundant support for the United States taking tough positions with regard to Iran,'' Lee said Wednesday. "And as part of that we want to make sure that any military action that needs to be authorized is in fact properly authorized by Congress. That doesn't show weakness. That shows strength.''’ While Trump and other presidents “must always have the ability to defend the United States from imminent attack, the executive power to initiate war stops there,'' Kaine said. "An offensive war requires a congressional debate and vote.''

 Trump pledges to veto war powers resolution, uses Pentagon funds to build border wall --Strengthened by the failure of the Democrats’ impeachment drive, President Donald Trump has accelerated his efforts to expand the powers of the presidency in every sphere. On Thursday, the Senate approved a symbolic bill instructing the White House to “terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran … unless explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force against Iran.” The bill is virtually certain to be passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, which passed its own version of the measure last month. In response, the White House stated categorically that Trump will veto the bill that emerges from Congress, arguing in effect for unlimited and unilateral presidential powers to wage war. The White House said the bill “should be rejected because it attempts to hinder the President’s ability to protect United States diplomats, forces, allies, and partners, including Israel, from the continued threat posed by Iran and its proxies.” During the Senate impeachment trial, which ended last week in Trump’s acquittal, the White House based its legal defense on an assertion of presidential powers beyond any significant congressional oversight or restraint. Trump’s lawyers argued that “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress” were not impeachable offenses, and that the White House would in principle be justified in taking any action provided the president believed it was in the national interest. Harvard law Professor Alan Dershowitz argued on the Senate floor that “if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” Jonathan Turley, the scholar who testified for Trump during the House impeachment inquiry, said of the White House defense in the Senate trial, “The president’s defense was then tied inextricably to this extreme and chilling argument.” The war powers resolution on Iran, which passed the Senate when eight Republicans joined the Democrats to vote for it, is toothless. It includes a loophole rendering meaningless the requirement for congressional authorization for military action against Iran. “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the United States from defending itself from imminent attack,” it states.

Sanders tells New York Times he would consider a preemptive strike against Iran or North Korea - Bernie Sanders has won the popular vote in both the New Hampshire and Iowa presidential primary contests in considerable part by presenting himself as an opponent of war. Following the criminal assassination of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani last month, Sanders was the most vocal of the Democratic presidential aspirants in criticizing Trump’s action. His poll numbers have risen in tandem with his stepped-up anti-war rhetoric. He has repeatedly stressed his vote against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, reminding voters in the Iowa presidential debate last month, “I not only voted against that war, I helped lead the effort against that war.”However, when speaking to the foremost newspaper of the American ruling class, the New York Times, the Sanders campaign adopts a very different tone than that employed by the candidate when addressing the public in campaign stump speeches or TV interviews.The answers provided by Sanders’ campaign to a foreign policy survey of the Democratic presidential candidates published this month by the Timesprovides a very different picture of the attitude of the self-styled “democratic socialist” to American imperialism and war. In the course of the survey, the Sanders campaign is at pains to reassure the military/intelligence establishment and the financial elite of the senator’s loyalty to US imperialism and his readiness to deploy its military machine.Perhaps most significant and chilling is the response to the third question in the Times’ survey. A Sanders White House, according to his campaign, would be open to launching a military strike against Iran or nuclear-armed North Korea to prevent (not respond to) not even a threatened missile or nuclear strike against the United States, but a mere weapons test. This is a breathtakingly reckless position no less incendiary than those advanced by the Trump administration.Sanders would risk a war that could easily involve the major powers and lead to a nuclear Armageddon in order to block a weapons test by countries that have been subjected to devastating US sanctions and diplomatic, economic and military provocations for decades.

 Coronavirus Will Kill Trump's Big Energy and Agricultural Trade Deals -  Energy trade was the centerpiece of U.S. President Donald Trump’s just-completed pact with China, seemingly matching soaring U.S. production of oil and natural gas with bottomless Chinese demand for fuel. While it was always going to be a stretch to meet the ambitious Chinese purchase targets laid out in the agreement, the recent explosion of the coronavirus and the impact it has had on China’s economic growth have now made those grandiose energy visions completely unrealistic—just as Trump takes to the campaign trail to tout the deal’s benefits ahead of his reelection bid.  And the uptick in the disease’s virulence has been matched by growing signs of its impact on China’s and the global economy: Cargo ships are piling up outside ports full of undelivered commodities; oil and petrochemical refineries are scaling back operations due to declining demand for their products; Chinese consumer spending is anemic; and supply chains worldwide are shuddering. Air freight, a key indicator of global trade, seemed on the uptick after a dismal 2019, until it collapsed again in January, a potential harbinger of a broader slowdown in cross-border trade flows. The International Energy Agency just underscored the dramatic impact the virus is having: For the first time since the financial crisis a decade ago, the world’s demand for crude oil will decline in the first quarter of the year, led by a precipitous fall in oil demand in China, the world’s biggest oil importer. The energy market impacts of the coronavirus will likely doom the $50 billion in additional oil and natural gas purchases that Trump was banking on as one of the few positive outcomes of his 18-month trade war with China, which resulted in slower growth in both economies, billions of dollars in new taxes for U.S. consumers, and lost markets for U.S. farmers and oil workers. To be sure, the virus may have read the last rites to the hoped-for energy trade, but the deal was already impossibly ambitious even before the disease suddenly upended travel and business throughout the world’s second biggest economy at the beginning of the year.   “Even before the virus, these goals were completely unrealistic. It’s as if children were writing those numbers, completely divorced from the way that business and international trade works,”  To be fair, the children were warned: The U.S. oil industry explained to the Trump administration that the energy targets were beyond the reach of even the surging American oil patch, with the extra crude shipments theoretically earmarked for China outstripping the entire projected growth of U.S. oil output. But Trump reportedly liked the sound of round numbers for his fantasy trade package and pulled objectives seemingly out of thin air.  On paper, before the virus hit, China was on track to gobble up as many as 600,000 more barrels of oil per day this year, making it seem like a good market for U.S. crude oil production, gushing at record levels and looking for buyers.  But China’s oil refineries are largely geared to the heavier grade of crude it buys from the Middle East, not the light oil America’s shale patch produces. In addition, China maintains import tariffs on U.S. crude oil, a lingering effect of the trade war. Finally, a lot of China’s current oil imports are either strategic in nature—such as those from Russia or Venezuela—or tied to long-term contracts, such as with Saudi Arabia, making it harder to ditch them for an influx of American crude. That combination already made the United States a less-than-ideal supplier for China.

 FBI is investigating more than 1,000 cases of Chinese theft of US technology - Members of the US government held a conference in Washington this week on the topic of Chinese theft of intellectual property from US technology firms and the US academic sector.Officials said the purpose of the conference -- named the China Initiative Conference -- was to bring the US private sector and the academic and research communities up to speed with the US government's investigations.For the duration of four hours, some of the highest officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) spent their time raising a sign of alarm and putting the private and academic sector on alert about the threats they are currently facing in terms of intellectual property (IP) theft from Chinese entities."The threat from China is real, it's persistent, it's well-orchestrated, it's well-resourced, and it's not going away anytime soon," John Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, opened the conference."This one to me really stands out as the greatest long-term threat to our nation's information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality," said FBI Director Christopher Wray. The FBI director says cases have been piling up since 2018, ever since the DOJ launched the China Initiative campaign to counter and investigate Beijing's economical espionage."The FBI has about a thousand investigations involving China's attempted theft of U.S.-based technology in all 56 of our field offices and spanning just about every industry and sector," Wray said.  John Brown, FBI Assistant Director for the Counterintelligence Division, said the bureau has already made 19 arrests this fiscal year alone on charges of Chinese economic espionage.  In comparison, the FBI made 24 arrests all last fiscal year, and only 15, five years earlier, in 2014.

  Trump's Border Wall Construction Is Blasting Native American Burial Sites - Native American graves are being blasted to clear the way for President Donald Trump's border wall. Construction crews began "controlled blasting" of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona last week, CBS News reported Friday. And Congressman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, who represents the area, says they did so without consulting the Tohono O'odham Nation which considers parts of it sacred. "This administration is basically trampling on the tribe's history — and to put it poignantly, it's ancestry," Grijalva told CBS News.Specifically, contractors began blasting in an area called Monument Hill, which includes important Native American burial sites, The Washington Post explained. "Where they were blasting the other day on Monument Hill is the resting place for primarily Apache warriors that had been involved in battle with the O'odham. And then the O'odham people in a respectful way laid them to rest on Monument Hill," Grijalva said in a video posted on social media Sunday.

 CDC prepares for coronavirus ‘to take a foothold in the US’ - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday it is preparing for the new coronavirus, which has killed at least 1,115 and sickened more than 45,000 worldwide, to “take a foothold in the U.S.” “At some point, we are likely to see community spread in the U.S. or in other countries,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call. “This will trigger a change in our response strategy.” Health officials had confirmed 13 U.S. cases of the virus, now named COVID-19, short for Corona Virus Disease. Messonnier said the CDC is talking regularly with manufacturers of medical supplies, such as masks and gloves, to ensure enough are available in case of an outbreak here. “At this time, some partners are reporting higher than usual demand for N95 respirators and facemasks,” she said. The CDC does not currently recommend the use of facemasks by the general public. Messonnier said people that are sick or under investigation should wear facemasks when around other people or with health-care providers. “When you are alone in your home, you do not need to wear a mask,” she said. The CDC said Tuesday that a mistake at a lab led U.S. health officials to release an infected coronavirus patient from a San Diego hospital. The patient was evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, on a government-chartered flight last week.

 Someone blew the whistle on Hookers for Jesus - The Department of Justice gives out grants to groups to help fight human trafficking. That's good! But this year, the DOJ decided to ignore the expected recipients, who both received high marks from grant application reviewers, and gave around $500,000 each to the Lincoln Tubman Foundation, a new organization founded by the daughter of a prominent Trump-supporting South Carolina Republican, and the Nevada-based Hookers for Jesus. Here's what Reuters, who broke the story, had to say about Hookers for Jesus: Hookers for Jesus, which received $530,190 over three years, is run by a born-again Christian trafficking survivor who has lobbied against decriminalizing prostitution, a policy position aligning with many in the Republican Party. Hookers for Jesus operates a safe house for female adult trafficking victims that, in 2010 and in 2018, maintained a policy of requiring guests to participate in religious activities, internal program manuals obtained by Reuters through public records requests show.The safe house’s manuals had rules that included a ban on reading “secular magazines with articles, pictures, etc. that portray worldly views/advice on living, sex, clothing, makeup tips.” Other rules limited everything from who victims could call to banning them from bringing their purses with them on weekly shopping trips. Rule-breakers could be penalized by being assigned chores such as washing windows. There are major issues here. First, that the policies around this particular grant forbid the government from funding any activity that is explicitly religious — that whole separation-of-church-and-state thing. Second, that the organizations that have received the grant in the past, and expected to receive it once again, were both involved in activities that were decidedly opposed to the Trump agenda. Chicanos Por La Causa has publicly disagreed with the administration's immigration policies, while the head of the Catholic Charities in Palm Beach has a history of involvement with the Democratic National Committee. According to the documents reviewed by Reuters, these two organizations once again submitted top applications, according to the grant review committee. So while perhaps one might argue that the DOJ just happened to decide to give someone else a shot at fighting human trafficking this year, the evidence suggests there was something else going on.

Democrats to plow ahead with Trump probes post-acquittal - House Democrats say even though President Trump was acquitted in the Senate, that doesn’t mean they are going to ease off their investigations into his administration.Democrats are weighing whether to pursue new leads of possible wrongdoing or press forward with probes that were already underway when an anonymous whistleblower's allegations last year sparked the impeachment inquiry.But no matter which route they take, Democrats are confident there is more wrongdoing to be uncovered — it’s just a matter of when and how grave.“Donald Trump, I still believe, is a one-man crime wave, and we can’t let him get away with all of his other offenses against the Constitution and the people,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee. The House impeached Trump on two charges in December, alleging he withheld nearly $391 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine as leverage to press Kyiv to open investigations to benefit his 2020 reelection, including into former Vice President Joe Biden, one of his main political rivals. Democrats say Trump then sought to cover up his actions. The GOP-controlled Senate acquitted Trump on Wednesday, with all but one Republican arguing his conduct was not an impeachable offense.But Democrats, pointing to Trump’s recent remarks maintaining that his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “perfect,” have expressed concern that Trump will feel even more untouchable after his acquittal, despite being impeached in the House and admonished by moderate Republican senators.   One day after Trump’s acquittal, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the House was awaiting the outcome of several lawsuits previously filed by Democrats, including those targeting Trump’s financial records at Deutsche Bank and former White House counsel Don McGahn.  "We will continue to do our oversight, to protect and defend the Constitution," she said during a press conference Thursday, vowing to continue to investigate allegations of administrative wrongdoing, wherever it arises.

 Prosecutors Rage Quit After Justice Department Appears To Intervene In Case On Trump’s Behalf - On Monday, federal prosecutors recommended that Roger Stone, a longtime confidant and informal advisor to Donald Trump, receive up to nine years in prison for obstructing a congressional investigation, witness tampering, and making false statements to federal investigators. On Tuesday, Trump took to Twitter to decry the “horrible” and “very unfair” treatment Stone was receiving. “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” he said. Not long after, the Justice Department swatted the prosecutors’ recommendation aside, suggesting a much more lenient sentence for the president’s pal. And that’s when all four of the prosecutors working on Stone’s case — Jonathan Kravis, Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, Adam C. Jed, and Michael J. Marando — decided they’d had enough. Three of the four prosecutors on the Stone case withdrew, and a fourth decided to quit his job outright. This is unheard of, according to the New York Times: David Laufman, a former chief of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence unit, said he could not recall another criminal case in which an entire team of prosecutors had resigned en masse, apparently to protest improper political interference. “This is a ‘break glass in case of fire’ moment,” he said. “We have now seen the political leadership of the department, presumably acting on the president’s desires, reaching down into a criminal case to withdraw a reasoned sentencing recommendation to the court.”A spokeswoman for the Justice Department claimed that Trump’s Twitter tantrum didn’t play a role in Stone’s new sentencing recommendation, and Trump reportedly said he hadn’t discussed the matter with the DOJ. You know something has gone incredibly wrong at the Justice Department when lawyers of this ilk — some former Supreme Court clerks, all career prosecutors — feel the need to do something this bold. It used to be that DOJ attorneys didn’t have to check their ethics at the door. Now, we’re not so sure about that anymore.

Barr: Won't be 'bullied' by Trump on Stone case; jurors appalled - (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General William Barr said on Thursday that President Donald Trump’s attacks on prosecutors, the judge and jurors in the trial of a longtime adviser undermined the Justice Department’s work, adding he would not be “bullied” by anyone. In an ABC interview, Barr, the country’s top law enforcement officer, said Trump’s criticism of those involved in the case of Roger Stone “make it impossible for me to do my job.” Barr spoke after his Justice Department abandoned prosecutors’ initial recommendation to give the veteran Republican operative seven to nine years in prison, prompting all four prosecutors to quit the case. Trump has weighed in on Twitter all week with comments that have aroused concerns his administration is weakening the rule of law. “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody ... whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board or the president,” Barr said. “I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me,” Barr said, adding: “I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases.” The White House said Trump was not bothered by Barr’s remarks. “The President has full faith and confidence in Attorney General Barr to do his job and uphold the law,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. Trump’s fellow Republicans also expressed support for Barr. “I think if the attorney general says it’s getting in the way of doing his job, maybe the president should listen to the attorney general,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News.

AG Barr Blasts Trump 'Roger Stone' Tweets For Making It Impossible To Do My Job - In an unusual break with the president, US Attorney General Bill Barr told ABC News that Trump "has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case” but should stop tweeting about the Justice Department because his tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job.”  Barr's comments come after the president demoaned the lengthy sentence demanded by prosecutors in the Roger Stone case, only to see the sentencing demands cut and the entire prosecution resign - offering a not-so-good optical for Barr. “I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr told ABC News Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas.Thomas then asked Barr if we was worried about the potential blowback from criticizing the president. Barr replied curtly "Of Course.":“I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody ... whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president,” Barr said. “I’m gonna do what I think is right. And you know … I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”We do note, however, that during the interview, Barr fiercely defended his actions and said it had nothing to do with the president.“I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody….whether it’s Congress, newspaper editorial boards, or the president," Bill Barr tells @ABC News. "I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.” https://t.co/gD4yPkrxxf pic.twitter.com/PznUGkiVUF— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) February 13, 2020  Barr added that it was “preposterous” to suggest that he “intervened” in the case as much as he acted to resolve a dispute within the department on a sentencing recommendation.

John Brennan Under DOJ Scrutiny, As John Durham's Criminal Investigation Expands - U.S. Attorney John Durham – charged with the criminal probe into the FBI’s Russia investigation of the Trump campaign – has been questioning CIA officials closely involved with John Brennan’s 2017 intelligence community assessment regarding direct Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to U.S. officials. In May 2017, Brennan denied during a hearing before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that its agency relied on the now debunked Christopher Steele dossier for the Intelligence Community Assessment report. He told then Congressman Trey Gowdy “we didn’t” use the Steele dossier.“It wasn’t part of the corpus of intelligence information that we had,” Brennan stated.“It was not in any way used as a basis for the Intelligence Community assessment that was done. It was — it was not.”However, DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz confirmed in his report that the dossier was used in the Obama administration’s 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA). As stated in the IG report, there were discussions by top intelligence officials as to whether the Steele dossier should be included in the ICA report.But upon careful inspection of Horowitz’s report, on page 179, investigators ask former FBI Director James Comey if he discussed the dossier with Brennan and whether or not it should be given to President Obama. According to the report, Comey told investigators that Brennan said it was “important” enough to include in the ICA — clearly part of the “corpus of intelligence information” they had.According to a recent report by The New York Times, Durham’s probe is specifically looking at that January 2017 intelligence community assessment, which concluded with “high confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016.”From the New York Times“Mr. Durham appears to be pursuing a theory that the C.I.A., under its former director John O. Brennan, had a preconceived notion about Russia or was trying to get to a particular result — and was nefariously trying to keep other agencies from seeing the full picture lest they interfere with that goal, the people said.”Sources with knowledge have said CIA officials questioned by Durham’s investigative team “are extremely concerned with the investigation and the direction it’s heading.” Brennan’s assessment stated that Putin wanted to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate former Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” It also stated that Putin “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

Orwell Goes to Iowa - I can’t leave the Iowa Caucus story without noting this. According to Trip Gabriel of the New York Times, the Iowa Democratic Party will not change even blatant errors in its report of results because it wants to “ensure the integrity of the process” — while at the same time saying that “The Iowa Democratic Party continues to be fully committed to ensuring the accuracy of the caucus data that we report”.You read that right. Mr. Orwell would be proud.Gabriel writes via Twitter, quoting the opinion of the IDP attorney:The incorrect math on the Caucus Math Worksheets must not be changed to ensure the integrity of the process. … The IDP’s role is to facilitate the caucus and tabulate the results. Any judgment of math miscalculations would insert personal opinion into the process by individuals not at the caucus and could change the agreed upon results. That action would be interfering with the caucus’ expression of their preferences.There are various reasons that the worksheets have errors and may appear to not be accurate, however changing the math would change the information agreed upon and certified by the caucus goers. If campaigns want further recourse they will need to work all of the way through the process to a Recount where the Presidential Preference Cards are opened and counted.But there’s a problem with those Presidential Preference Cards. Gabriel notes that “going back to the “presidential preference cards” that each caucus-goer was supposed to turn in — wouldn’t be definitive either. Random caucus chairs I interviewed said several people in the room who voted never turned in their cards for whatever reason.”As Gabriel notes in his NY Times piece on the same subject:“The incorrect math on the Caucus Math Worksheets must not be changed to ensure the integrity of the process,” wrote the party lawyer, Shayla McCormally, according to an email sent by Troy Price, the chairman of the party, to its central committee members. The lawyer said correcting the math would introduce “personal opinion” into the official record of results. It’s a “personal opinion” that 1+1=3 is incorrect?

Biden Calls Woman 'Lying Dog-Faced Pony Soldier' - What's the first thing a Democratic presidential candidate should do after suffering a monumental defeat in the first caucus of the season? If you're Joe Biden, call a woman who introduced herself as "Madison" a "lying dog-faced pony soldier" after she says she's attended a caucus. After a New Hampshire voter asks @JoeBiden why they should trust he can turn his campaign around, he asks if she’s ever been to a caucus before; when she says yes, Biden snaps: "No you haven’t. You’re a lying dog-faced pony soldier." pic.twitter.com/3uxOAu0Ues — Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) February 9, 2020   According to Yahoo News' Sharon Weinberger, Biden has previously used the phrase - from a John Wayne movie - to disparage Republicans. Sunday's outburst is the latest in a string of Bidenisms - which have included calling a voter fat and challenging him to a push-up contest or an IQ test. Joe Biden called Elizabeth Warren an elitist, but here he is insulting a man's weight ("sedentary" and "look, fat") and challenging him to an IQ test. Who's the real elitist here? There's no way the media would let Liz get away with something like this (she also wouldn't do it!) pic.twitter.com/QxvP643Cjt The clip was reminiscent of Biden's failed 1988 run for the White House, in which he challenged a reporter to an IQ test.

Manhattan DA's office to review Malcolm X assassination after Netflix documentary - Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s (D) office said that it will review whether to reinvestigate the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X amid questions a new Netflix documentary raises about the killing.  The documentary “Who Killed Malcolm X?” argues that two of the men convicted in the killing could not have been present. It points instead to four Nation of Islam members from Newark, N.J., one of whom appeared in an ad for now-Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) mayoral campaign, The New York Times reported. "I knew him well," Booker says in the documentary of William Bradley, who has since changed his name to Almustafa Shabazz. Booker adds that he was unaware that Shabazz, who died in 2018, was named as an accomplice in an affidavit by Talmadge Hayer, later Mujahid Abdul Halim, who admitted to his part in the killing. The D.A.’s preliminary review “will inform the office regarding what further investigative steps may be undertaken,” a spokesperson for Vance’s office told the Times last week. The team conducting it will include prosecutor Peter Casolaro, who played a major role in the exoneration of the five men wrongly convicted and imprisoned in connection with the rape and assault of a jogger in central Park in 1989.One of the men arrested in connection with the killing, Muhammad Abdul Aziz, then named Norman 3X Butler, was paroled in 1985 and continues to deny participating in the killing. He says that security would have blocked his entry to the Audubon Ballroom where the civil rights leader was killed, and that he had recently been the victim of a police beating that would have left him unable to either pull off the assassination or flee the scene.In the documentary, Aziz maintains his innocence, but is skeptical his name will be cleared.“I just don’t believe in these people,” he says.

Leveraged loans take center stage in upcoming stress tests - Leveraged lending is the boogeyman lurking in the latest round of stress testing for large banks.The leveraged loan market, spurred by a rise in collateralized loan obligations and low interest rates, has swelled in recent years and now tops $1 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Leveraged loans often get bundled into CLOs.That rise in popularity has drawn the attention of regulators, to the point that leveraged loans will play a key role in the Fed's annual Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review test. The Fed will use CCAR to pull in more data on how leveraged loans and CLOs will perform in a recession. The research is important because leveraged loans can be an early indicator of deteriorating credit quality, which in turn could hurt banks’ profitability and usher in an economic slump, industry experts said. “This kind of lending does often involve companies with questionable credit,” said Kevin Jacques, a finance professor at Baldwin Wallace University who previously worked on risk management matters at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.“We need to have a better understanding of what happens with these loans in a recession and, for instance, if rates change course and suddenly go up,” Jacques added. “That would raise the cost of borrowing and could trigger defaults.”This year’s CCAR includes a scenario where heightened stress on highly leveraged markets causes CLOs and private equity investments to endure notably larger market value declines than last year. Banks will also be required to look at what would happen if there is a spike in short-term interbank lending rates. The 2019 CCAR evaluated a decline in those rates. CLOs have been on the Fed’s radar for several months.Randy Quarles, the Fed’s vice chairman of supervision, said late in 2019 that the regulator was analyzing CLO exposure, particularly leveraged loans to companies with high debt levels. U.S. nonfinancial corporate debt reached a record high of nearly 50% of gross domestic product last year, according to the Fed.In a recent report, the Financial Stability Board warned about the heighted risk that leverage lending poses to the international financial system.

Pressure grows on Barclays CEO; JPM tightens rules on working with fintechs - The U.K. investigation into Barclays CEO Jes Staley’s dealings with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein was launched after financial regulators there “received a cache of emails supplied by JPMorgan Chase,” which “provided them to U.S. regulators, who passed it to their counterparts in the U.K.,” the Financial Times reports. “The emails between the two men — dating back to Mr. Staley’s time as an executive at JPMorgan when Epstein was a client of the bank — suggested their relationship was friendlier than claimed by Mr. Staley, who had categorized the association as professional.” “It is pretty much unprecedented” for the U.K.’s two top financial regulators “to launch an enforcement investigation into the chief executive of a big U.K. bank,” the paper says. “That they have now twice initiated a probe into [Barclays CEO] James E. Staley is jaw-dropping. They must broadcast loud and clear that the U.K. is not a cushy billet and that chief executives of banks, however international, are never too grand to be called to account.” “Four years ago, Mr. Staley twice tried to identify an anonymous whistleblower against advice. The following year he was censured by Barclays’ board. It took another year still for the U.K. regulators to conclude the investigation and fine him £640,000. It is harder to see how Mr. Staley can save his job this time. What was acceptable three years ago is much less so now. The watchdogs can’t be seen to bottle out this time.” But the Wall Street Journal warns investors about “overreacting” to the Barclays news. “It is a narrow investigation that seems unlikely to amount to much, either for the bank or the banker. Barclays’ board had commissioned its own inquiries and concluded Mr. Staley had been transparent.” “If Mr. Staley is edged out, he will leave a leaner, more focused and profitable company than he joined nearly five years ago. Barclays is now a diversified bank with modest growth ambitions for its full-service U.K. business, U.S. credit card unit and investment bank focused on London and New York. There is every reason to believe the latest investigation won’t send Mr. Staley overboard. But even if it did, Barclays can probably manage without him.”

Fed terminates enforcement actions against four large banks — The Federal Reserve announced Thursday that it had terminated four separate enforcement actions against JPMorgan Chase, Discover, Deutsche Bank and RBS. The Fed’s cease and desist order against JPMorgan Chase stemmed from a referral hiring program in place from 2008 to 2013 in the bank’s Asia-Pacific region investment group. The Fed had said officials from foreign governments and prospective clients were found to have referred job candidates that were offered jobs, internships and training “in order to obtain improper business advantages.” Those candidates, in most instances, were less qualified for those opportunities than candidates who had not been referred, according to the Fed’s 2016 enforcement action. The agency said JPMorgan Chase had since started a comprehensive compliance risk management program and evaluated its referral hiring practices. The Fed also terminated an order against Deutsche Bank that was originally issued in April 2017 after the agency had found that Deutsche did not have appropriate measures in place to comply with the Volcker Rule, as well as a 2015 written agreement with Discover that had cited deficiencies in the company’s Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money-laundering compliance program. The agency also ended a 2015 enforcement action against RBS that said the bank failed to ensure that its covered foreign exchange activities complied with safe and sound U.S. banking practices. The Fed had said RBS didn’t have policies and procedures in places to address and identify unsafe and unsound practices by its foreign exchange traders, particularly communication among those traders in chatrooms with traders at other banks.

Affordable housing cuts, CFPB funding: Takeaways from Trump budget — The Trump administration wants to eliminate several affordable housing programs and force some independent agencies to seek congressional funding, yet is also seeking to increase the funding for a division of the Treasury Department tasked with combating financial crimes.As part of the president's proposed 2021 budget released Monday, the government-sponsored enterprises would suspend their funding of the Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund, and the community development block grant program would be eliminated.The budget, which is more of a policy document than an accurate picture of funding levels, would also subject the Office of Financial Research, the Financial Stability Oversight Council and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to the appropriations process, which the Trump administration has pushed for in previous budget requests.Funding for community development financial institutions would also be reduced as the administration is increasingly looking for state and local governments to take on more responsibility for housing affordability.  Echoing the 2020 budget proposal, the Trump administration again called for eliminating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s contributions to the Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund. Fannie and Freddie are currently required to set aside an amount equal to 4.2 basis points of each dollar of unpaid principal balance to submit to both funds annually. But the White House believes that state and local governments “are better positioned” to address housing affordability, the administration said in this year’s budget.  In its 10-year projection for the federal budget, the administration estimated that the Treasury Department’s preferred stock in the government-sponsored enterprises will stay at $112 billion over the coming decade, despite ongoing efforts at the Federal Housing Finance Agency to revise the preferred stock purchase agreements and free Fannie and Freddie from government conservatorship.  Similar to previous proposals, the administration’s budget would establish a congressional appropriations process for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Financial Stability Oversight Council and Office of Financial Research. Currently, the CFPB derives its funding largely from the Federal Reserve. But under the budget proposal, Fed transfers to the CFPB would go down by $110 million starting next year, and congressional appropriations for the agency would begin in 2022.  Similar to past spending proposals, the president’s budget recommended eliminating the community development block grant program, which supports affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families. The 2021 budget referred to the CDBG program as “wasteful” and said state and local governments were better suited to address affordability issues. “The Budget eliminates CDBG, a program that has expended more than $150 billion since its inception in 1974, but has not demonstrated sufficient impact,” the budget says. “Studies have shown that the allocation formula, which has not been updated since 1978, is ineffective at targeting funds to the areas of greatest need, and many aspects of the program have become outdated.” 

Senate Republicans target banks refusing services to ICE contractors— Senate Republicans have introduced a bill targeting banks that refuse to offer depository services to contractors that operate facilities on behalf of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.The Financial Defense for Industrial Contractors Act, or FDIC Act, would remove FDIC insurance from banks with assets over $50 billion that refuse to provide banking services to firms with an active federal contract and are otherwise creditworthy and law-abiding. The legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “Banks have a right to deny funds to certain businesses, but they shouldn’t enjoy taxpayer-provided guarantees if they are undermining the public policy of the United States," said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. “Some of our nation’s largest banks have decided to cater to the radical left’s ‘woke’ agenda by abusing their systemic influence in our economy to deprive law-abiding federal contractors of banking services critical to their business,” Rubio said. “Banks have a right to deny funds to certain businesses, but they shouldn’t enjoy taxpayer-provided guarantees if they are undermining the public policy of the United States.”The bill is in response to six big banks’ decision to stop offering depository services to contractors that operate facilities on behalf of ICE. Those banks are Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Barclays and SunTrust.“The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency employs contractors to help enforce the immigration laws that keep Americans safe,” Cotton said. “By denying critical financial services to ICE contractors, big banks have hobbled ICE’s efforts to protect Americans. These banks shouldn’t receive public funding if they’re putting the public at risk.”  Republican senators have introduced similar legislation in response to certain banks’ refusal to provide financial services to certain firearms firms. Cramer and Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., introduced a bill in March 2019 that would ban banks from denying service to certain constitutionally protected industries, such as firearms.

 House lawmakers at odds over requiring banks to report diversity data— A House Financial Services Committee report on the diversity efforts at banks with over $50 billion of assets has sparked a dispute between Democrats and Republicans over whether the industry should be required to report diversity data.The staff report found that only 29% of banks' senior and executive level positions are held by women. Racial and ethnic minorities represented only 19% of the senior- and executive-level workforce at banks. However, the committee did not provide equivalent data on management diversity for the rest of the labor force for comparison, and some of the data in the report bolstered the industry's case that its diversity efforts are getting stronger.But lawmakers who met Wednesday to discuss the report focused most heavily on how transparent banks are about their diversity levels. The committee reported that 27 of the 44 banks examined in the report said they conduct internal reviews of gender pay equity, but only 15 report such information publicly. And 29 out of the 44 banks did not provide sufficient information on their investment with minority-owned suppliers.“This report confirms that America’s largest banks must be more transparent so that regulators, Congress and the American people can hold them accountable for real and intentional diversity and inclusion outcomes,” Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio., the chairwoman of the subcommittee on diversity and inclusion, said at the hearing.The report recommended legislation to require banks to share their diversity data with their regulators and the public, require banks to track their efforts at increasing the diversity of partner firms, and require banks to publicly disclose the diversity of their boards.“What we have learned is that discrimination and other kinds of reasons have caused a lack of opportunity for talented people who would like to be in the financial services space,” House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said at the hearing. “We intend to do everything that we can for transparency in all of the industries.”But as the banking industry says it is making progress in improving diversity, Republicans on the committee said it wouldn’t be appropriate for the government to step in and mandate diversity reporting requirements.

Does L.A.’s Homeless Crisis Require Federal Intervention? --Housing and homeless advocates are cautiously optimistic about a recent meeting between Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, believing that federal action — if it materializes — could help, and hoping it doesn’t come with onerous strings. Garcetti met with Carson in Washington, D.C., late last month with the intention, according to the Mayor’s office, of bringing “new resources to Los Angeles to house more of our homeless neighbors through the use of federal lands, new funds, and the wraparound support services they need to permanently come off the streets.” Garcetti did not specify how much money, what kinds of services and where the federal lands might be, nor what conditions, if any, HUD might demand. The Mayor’s office did not answer queries about the meetings with Carson and other officials.Carson’s invitation letter, however, indicated that the federal government might make stipulations, including empowering and utilizing local l aw enforcement and reducing housing regulations to expedite affordable housing construction. In a Fox News interview, Carson also mentioned the need to support law enforcement in protecting communities from “people on the street who are not orderly individuals.” It’s words like those that cause some homeless advocates to worry that the feds will take both a carrot and a stick approach to the city’s homelessness.

 Mortgage Delinquencies Decrease in Fourth Quarter of 2019 - The delinquency rate for mortgage loans on one-to-four unit residential properties decreased to a seasonally adjusted rate of 3.77 percent of all loans outstanding at the end of the fourth quarter of 2019, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's (MBA) National Delinquency Survey.The delinquency rate was down 20 basis points from the third quarter of 2019 and 29 basis points from one year ago. The percentage of loans on which foreclosure actions were started in the fourth quarter remained unchanged at 0.21 percent."The mortgage delinquency rate in the final three months of 2019 fell to its lowest level since the current survey series began in 1979," said Marina Walsh, MBA's Vice President of Industry Analysis. "Mortgage delinquencies track closely to the U.S. unemployment rate, and with unemployment at historic lows, it's no surprise to see so many households paying their mortgage on time." Added Walsh, "Signs of healthy conditions were seen in other parts of the survey. The foreclosure inventory rate - the percentage of loans in the foreclosure process - was at its lowest level since 1985. Furthermore, states with lengthier judicial processes continued to chip away at their foreclosure inventories, and it also appears that with home-price appreciation and equity accumulation, distressed borrowers have had alternative options to foreclosure."...Compared to last quarter, the seasonally adjusted mortgage delinquency rate decreased for all loans outstanding. By stage, the 30-day delinquency rate decreased 3 basis points to 2.17 percent, the 60-day delinquency rate decreased 5 basis points to 0.70 percent, and the 90-day delinquency bucket decreased 12 basis points to 0.90 percent....The delinquency rate includes loans that are at least one payment past due, but does not include loans in the process of foreclosure. The percentage of loans in the foreclosure process at the end of the fourth quarter was 0.78 percent, down 6 basis points from the third quarter of 2019 and 17 basis points lower than one year ago. This was the lowest foreclosure inventory rate since the third quarter of 1985.... The seriously delinquent rate, the percentage of loans that are 90 days or more past due or in the process of foreclosure, was 1.76 percent - a decrease of 5 basis points from last quarter - and a decrease of 30 basis points from last year. This is the lowest rate since the third quarter of 2000.

 MBA: Mortgage Applications Increased in Latest Weekly Survey -- From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey Mortgage applications increased 1.1 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending February 7, 2020.... The Refinance Index increased 5 percent from the previous week and was 207 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 6 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 0.3 percent compared with the previous week and was 16 percent higher than the same week one year ago....“The mortgage market continues to be active in early 2020, as applications increased for the third straight week. Rates also rose, but still remained close to their lowest levels since October 2016,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “The refinance index climbed to its highest level since June 2013, and refinance loan sizes also increased as a result of an active jumbo lending market.”Added Kan, “Last month was the strongest January for purchase applications since 2009, which is perhaps a sign that mild weather brought out prospective buyers earlier than normal. Despite a decline last week, purchase activity was still up almost 16 percent from a year ago.”...The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) increased to 3.72 percent from 3.71 percent, with points remaining unchanged at 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.

 NY Fed Q4 Report: "Household Debt Tops $14 Trillion as Mortgage Originations Reach Highest Volume since 2005" - From the NY Fed: Household Debt Tops $14 Trillion as Mortgage Originations Reach Highest Volume since 2005  The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Center for Microeconomic Data today issued its Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, which shows that total household debt increased by $193 billion (1.4%) to $14.15 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2019. This marks the 22nd consecutive quarter with an increase, and the total is now $1.5 trillion higher, in nominal terms, than the previous peak of $12.68 trillion in the third quarter of 2008. The Report is based on data from the New York Fed’s Consumer Credit Panel, a nationally representative sample of individual- and household-level debt and credit records drawn from anonymized Equifax credit data. ... Transitions into delinquency among credit card borrowers deteriorated in the fourth quarter compared to Q3 2019. “Mortgage originations, including refinances, increased significantly in the final quarter of 2019, with auto loan originations also remaining at the brisk pace seen throughout the year,”  “The data also show that transitions into delinquency among credit card borrowers have steadily risen since 2016, notably among younger borrowers.”Here are two graphs from the report: The first graph shows aggregate consumer debt increased in Q4.  Household debt previously peaked in 2008, and bottomed in Q2 2013. From the NY Fed: Mortgage balances shown on consumer credit reports on December 31 stood at $9.56 trillion, a $120 billion increase from 2019Q3. Balances on home equity lines of credit (HELOC) saw a $6 billion decline, bringing the outstanding balance to $390 billion and continuing the 10 year downward trend. Non-housing balances increased by $79 billion in the fourth quarter, with increases across the board, including $16 billion in auto loans, $46 billion in credit card balances, and $10 billion in student loans. Note that the large increase in credit card balances reflects, in part, a shifting of balances across debt types as portfolios have shifted by among lender. New extensions of credit were strong in the fourth quarter. Auto loan originations, which include both newly opened loans and leases, at $159 billion, were about flat with the previous quarter’s high level. Mortgage originations, which we measure as appearances of new mortgage balances on consumer credit reports and which include refinances, were at $752 billion, a large increase from the $528 billion in the third quarter and the highest volume in originations since the end of 2005. Aggregate credit limits on credit cards also increased, by $96 billion, continuing a 10-year upward trend. The second graph shows the percent of debt in delinquency. The overall delinquency rate was mostly unchanged in Q4.   There is much more in the report.

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Increases Year-over-year, Concerns about 2019-nCoV -- From HotelNewsNow.com: STR: US hotel results for week ending 1 February: The U.S. hotel industry reported positive year-over-year results in the three key performance metrics during the week of 26 January through 1 February 2020, according to data from STR. In comparison with the week of 27 January through 2 February 2019, the industry recorded the following:
• Occupancy: +1.7% to 57.6%
• Average daily rate (ADR): +2.2% to US$127.94
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): +4.0% to US$73.73
The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.The red line is for 2020, dash light blue is 2019, blue is the median, and black is for 2009 (the worst year probably since the Great Depression for hotels). 2020 is off to a solid start, however, STR notes that the new coronavirus could have a significant negative impact on hotels: As fears over an outbreak of the new coronavirus centered in Wuhan, China, continue to restrict travel, visits to the U.S. from China could drop by 25% in 2020, according to analysis by Tourism Economics.

US retail giant Macy’s announces closure of 125 stores and 2,000 job cuts - On Tuesday, US retail giant Macy’s announced it would close more than 125 stores and cut 2,000 jobs over the next three years. The company will close 28 of these stories by the end of this year. The total cuts represent one-fifth of all of Macy’s locations and 9 percent of its corporate and support positions. Jeff Gennette, Macy’s chairman and CEO, announced the cuts after disappointing sales figures for the 2019 holiday season. “We are making deep cuts that impact every area of our business,” Gennette said. “These changes are painful but they are necessary.” The changes will not be the slightest bit painful for Gennette himself, who raked in nearly $13 million, including $3.7 million in bonus and incentive pay in 2018, in spite of a series of store closures and a sharp decline in the company’s share values over the preceding years. The move is only the latest in a series of closures and job cuts by the department store giant. In 2015 the company closed 54 stores and laid off 4,800 employees. In 2016, company closed more than 100 stores and cut 10,000 jobs. Macy’s will now have 400 stores remaining, a decline of nearly 50 percent from its high of 773 stores in 2014. The recent closures are the latest in a series of setbacks for so-called “big box” retailers. In 2019, 9,200 retail stores closed across the US, exceeding the 5,437 closed in 2018. The closures themselves often cause a domino effect, whereby the loss of big box retailers spills over into smaller in-line mall tenants. JCPenney store sales dropped 7.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, and the company projects fiscal year sales declines between 7 to 8 percent. Market analysts project a strong likelihood that the 95,000 employee company may not survive the coming year. The iconic Sears and Kmart department store chains, which are both owned by holding company TransformCo, are still teetering on the brink after Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2018. Under bankruptcy the chains closed more than half of the stores, from 1,000 to little more than 400, over the course of a single year. Kmart itself was purchased by the now-defunct Sears Holding Corporation after it emerged from an earlier bankruptcy in 2003. Over the next 16 years the combined entity incurred massive debts under CEO and hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert, Last year, Sears sued its former chief executive, alleging Lampert had stolen more than $2 billion in company assets.  The mass closures of JCPenney, Kmart, Sears and Macy’s are connected to the downfall of US shopping malls, where their outlets are classified as “anchor stores” for their ability to attract smaller retailers who take advantage of increased foot traffic to and from the larger retailers. The current mall retail vacancy rate now stands at 10 percent, an all-time high, even higher than during the last two recessions according to Moody’s Analytics. Only 1,169 malls remain in the United States, and the international investment bank Credit Suisse predicts that 25 percent of US shopping malls could close by 2022.

Retail Sales increased 0.3% in January - On a monthly basis, retail sales increased 0.3 percent from December to January (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 4.4 percent from January 2019. From the Census Bureau report: Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for January 2020, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $529.8 billion,an increase of 0.3 percent from the previous month, and 4.4 percent above January 2019. Total sales for the November 2019 through January 2020 period were up 4.4 percent from the same period a year ago. The November 2019 to December 2019 percent change was revised from up 0.3 percent to up 0.2 percent. This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline). Retail sales ex-gasoline were up 0.3% in January.The second graph shows the year-over-year change in retail sales and food service (ex-gasoline) since 1993. Retail and Food service sales, ex-gasoline, increased by 3.9% on a YoY basis. The increase in January was at expectations, however sales in November and December were revised down.

 Retail Sales: Up 0.26% in January -  The Census Bureau's Advance Retail Sales Report for January was released this morning. Headline sales came in at 0.26% month-over-month to one decimal and was at the Investing.com forecast. Core sales (ex Autos) came in at 0.29% MoM (to two decimals). Here is the introduction from today's report:Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for January 2020, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $529.8 billion, an increase of 0.3 percent (±0.4 percent)* from the previous month, and 4.4 percent (±0.7 percent) above January 2019. Total sales for the November 2019 through January 2020 period were up 4.4 percent (±0.5 percent) from the same period a year ago. The November 2019 to December 2019 percent change was revised from up 0.3 percent (±0.4 percent)* to up 0.2 percent (±0.2 percent)*.Retail trade sales were up 0.1 percent (±0.4 percent)* from December 2019, and 4.0 percent (±0.7 percent) above last year. Gasoline stations were up 10.4 percent (±1.2 percent) from January 2019, and nonstore retailers were up 8.4 percent (±1.4 percent) from last year.[view full report]The chart below is a log-scale snapshot of retail sales since the early 1990s. The two exponential regressions through the data help us to evaluate the long-term trend of this key economic indicator.

Retailers predict sharp drop in imports amid coronavirus outbreak The coronavirus outbreak will cause a sharp drop in imports at major U.S. retail container ports, the National Retail Federation (NRF) announced on Monday. The U.S. should expect a 12.9 percent decrease in February compared to the prior year in imports from China, according to a Global Port Tracker report released by the NRF and Hackett Associates. About 1.41 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU), which is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent, are expected to be handled by U.S. ports this month. In December, the ports handled 1.72 million TEU and 1.82 million TEU in January. Before the coronavirus outbreak, U.S. ports were expected to handle 1.54 million TEU in February. Lunar New Year festivities as well as the ongoing trade war with China are also taking a toll on imports, researchers noted. “February is historically a slow month for imports because of Lunar New Year and the lull between retailers’ holiday season and summer, but this is an unusual situation,” NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a press release. He added that many Chinese factories "have already stayed closed longer than usual, and we don’t know how soon they will reopen." "U.S. retailers were already beginning to shift some sourcing to other countries because of the trade war, but if shutdowns continue, we could see an impact on supply chains,” he added.

Michigan Consumer Sentiment: February Near Interim Peak - The February preliminary came in at 100.9, near the interim peak of 101.4. Investing.com had forecast 99.5.Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin, makes the following comments: Consumer sentiment rose to 100.9 in early February to nearly match the expansion peak of 101.4, set two years ago in March 2018. The Expectations Index, the main gauge of future economic conditions, rose to 92.6, also its second highest level in this long expansion. Both measures were still significantly below the levels recorded twenty years ago when the Sentiment Index reached a peak of 112.0 and the Expectations Index peaked at 108.6. The early February gain was not uniform, however. Current personal finances as well as evaluations of the national economy each posted large gains, while consumers' views on buying conditions for household durables posted a significant loss. The overall balance still moved the Sentiment and Expectations Indexes higher. Net gains in household income and wealth were reported more frequently in early February than at any prior time since 1960 (see the chart). These gains in consumers' economic assessments have also been accompanied by a faint stirring of two powerful sources of uncertainty. First, the coronavirus was mentioned by just 7% when asked to explain their economic expectations in early February. Second, the runup to the presidential election is likely to focus on the vast changes to taxes and spending programs; in early February, only 10% of all consumers mentioned some aspect of the election as having a potential impact on their economic expectations. [More...] See the chart below for a long-term perspective on this widely watched indicator. Recessions and real GDP are included to help us evaluate the correlation between the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and the broader economy.

 Subprime Auto Loans Explode, “Serious Delinquencies” Spike to Record. But There’s No Jobs Crisis, These Are the Good Times - Auto loan and lease balances have surged to a new record of $1.33 trillion. Delinquencies of auto loans to borrowers with prime credit rates hover near historic lows. But subprime loans (borrowers with a credit score below 620) are exploding at a breath-taking rate, and they’re driving up the overall delinquency rates to Financial Crisis levels. Yet, these are the good times, and there is no employment crisis where millions of people have lost their jobs. All combined, prime and subprime auto-loan delinquencies that are 90 days or more past due – “serious” delinquencies – in the fourth quarter 2019, surged by 15.5% from a year ago to a breath-taking historic high of $66 billion, according to data from the New York Fed released today: Loan delinquencies are a flow. Fresh delinquencies that hit lenders go into the 30-day basket, then a month later into the 60-day basket, and then into the 90-day basket, and as they move from one stage to the next, more delinquencies come in behind them. When the delinquency cannot be cured, lenders hire a company to repossess the vehicle. Finding the vehicle is generally a breeze with modern technology. The vehicle is then sold at auction, a fluid and routine process.These delinquent loans hit the lenders’ balance sheet and income statement in stages. In the end, the combined loss for the lender is the amount of the loan balance plus expenses minus the amount obtained at auction. On new vehicles that were financed with a loan-to-value ratio of 120% or perhaps higher, losses can easily reach 40% or more of the loan balance. On a 10-year old vehicle, losses are much smaller.As these delinquent loans make their way through the system and are written off and disappear from the balance sheet, lenders are making new loans to risky customers, and a portion of those loans will become delinquent in the future. This creates that flow of delinquent loans. But that flow has turned into a torrent. Seriously delinquent auto loans jumped to 4.94% of the $1.33 trillion in total loans and leases outstanding, above where the delinquency rate had been in Q3 2010 as the auto industry was collapsing, with GM and Chrysler already in bankruptcy, and with the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression approaching its peak. But this time, there is no unemployment crisis; these are the good times:

Don't Get 'Juice Jacked' While Recharging In Public, Cybersecurity Expert Warns - Do you plug your phone into free public charging stations? Be careful! According to NBC News, you may get 'juice jacked' by hackers who have installed malware that can tunnel and copy your sensitive personal information!  "Depending on the vulnerability they exploit, they would have access to everything you would have access to on your phone," according to cybersecurity expert Jim Stickley. The practice, known as "juice jacking," occurs when people plug in to "juice" up their phones and hackers use malware in the charging station or USB cable to "jack" their information, such as phone numbers and passwords. The scam has prompted local authorities, including the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, to alert the public to think twice about plugging in at places like airports or malls. -NBC News Stickley showed NBC News how easy the practice is, setting up a simulation at the Port of San Diego in which he set up a homemade charging station which allowed him to watch and record everything being shows on the screen of an actively charging phone. "Now we get to the best part. She's actually entering in her credit card number," Stickley said of NBC News correspondent Vicky Nguyen's phone after she volunteered to be the first victim.  In four hours, dozens of people stopped at the makeshift charging station to power up their phones. Some expressed shock when they were told it was a setup.

BLS: CPI increased 0.1% in January, Core CPI increased 0.2% -- From the BLS:The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) rose 0.1 percent in January on a seasonally adjusted basis, after rising 0.2 percent in December, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 2.5 percent before seasonal adjustment....The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.2 percent in January after increasing 0.1 percent in December....The all items index increased 2.5 percent for the 12 months ending January, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending October 2018. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.3 percent over the last 12 months, the same 12-month increase as reported in the previous 3 months. Overall inflation was slightly lower than expectations in January. I'll post a graph later today after the Cleveland Fed releases the median and trimmed-mean CPI.

Consumer Price Index: January Headline at 2.49% -  The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the January Consumer Price Index data this morning. The year-over-year non-seasonally adjusted Headline CPI came in at 2.49%, up from 2.29% the previous month. Year-over-year Core CPI (ex Food and Energy) came in at 2.26%, unchanged from the previous month and above the Fed's 2% PCE target. Here is the introduction from the BLS summary, which leads with the seasonally adjusted monthly data:The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) rose 0.1 percent in January on a seasonally adjusted basis, after rising 0.2 percent in December, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 2.5 percent before seasonal adjustment.The index for shelter accounted for the largest part of the increase in the seasonally adjusted all items index, with the indexes for food and for medical care services also rising. These increases more than offset a decrease in the gasoline index, which fell 1.6 percent in January. The energy index declined 0.7 percent, and the major energy component indexes were mixed. The index for food rose 0.2 percent in January with the indexes for both food at home and food away from home increasing over the month.The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.2 percent in January after increasing 0.1 percent in December. Along with the indexes for shelter and medical care, the indexes for apparel, recreation, education, and airline fares all increased in January. The indexes for used cars and trucks, prescription drugs, motor vehicle insurance, and household furnishings and operations were among those to decline.The all items index increased 2.5 percent for the 12 months ending January, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending October 2018. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.3 percent over the last 12 months, the same 12-month increase as reported in the previous 3 months. The food index rose 1.8 percent over the last 12 months, while the energy index increased 6.2 percent over that period. [More…]Investing.com was looking for a 0.2% MoM change in seasonally adjusted Headline CPI and a 0.2% in Core CPI. Year-over-year forecasts were 2.4% for Headline and 2.2% for Core. The first chart is an overlay of Headline CPI and Core CPI (the latter excludes Food and Energy) since the turn of the century. The highlighted two percent level is the Federal Reserve's Core inflation target for the CPI's cousin index, the BEA's Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index.

Consumer Price Inflation Hotter Than Expected Despite Goods Deflation - After jumping in December, analysts expected a modest acceleration in headline consumer prices and small slowdown in core prices, but the headline CPI printed hotter than expected at +2.5% YoY (despite only rising 0.1% MoM) - that is the hottest since oct 2018. The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.2 percent in January, after rising 0.1 percent in December. The shelter index rose 0.4 percent in January, with the rent index increasing 0.4 percent and the owners’ equivalent rent index rising 0.3 percent. Notably the gap between CPI and The Fed's preferred indicator of inflation is at its highest since 2011... The medical care index rose 0.2 percent in January, with the index for hospital services increasing 0.8 percent. However, the index for physicians’ services fell 0.4 percent, and the index for prescription drugs also declined 0.4 percent over the month. The apparel index rose 0.7 percent in January following a 0.1-percent increase in December. The recreation index increased 0.3 percent over the month, as did the education index. The index for personal care advanced 0.7 percent in January after feclining 0.2 percent the previous month. The airline fares index rose 0.7 percent, after declining in each of the 3 previous months. The index for new vehicles was unchanged in January. The index for used cars and trucks continued to decline, decreasing 1.2 percent in January after falling 0.4 percent in December. The index for motor vehicle insurance fell 0.2 percent in January. The index for household furnishings and operations also declined in January, decreasing 0.1 percent. From the top-down, Services inflation is running at +3.1% YoY (the last time it was hotter was August 2016) while goods prices are deflating YoY...  Finally we note that Real Average Weekly Earnings are flat year-over-year...

Cleveland Fed: Key Measures Show Inflation Above 2% YoY in January, Core PCE below 2% - The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI and the trimmed-mean CPI this morning: According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the median Consumer Price Index rose 0.3% (3.7% annualized rate) in January. The 16% trimmed-mean Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% (2.9% annualized rate) during the month. The median CPI and 16% trimmed-mean CPI are measures of core inflation calculated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland based on data released in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) monthly CPI report. Earlier today, the BLS reported that the seasonally adjusted CPI for all urban consumers rose 0.1% (1.8% annualized rate) in January. The CPI less food and energy rose 0.2% (2.9% annualized rate) on a seasonally adjusted basis. Note: The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI details for January here. Motor fuel decreased at a 17.3% annualized rate in January.Energy expenditures as a percentage of PCE -- Note: Back in early 2016, I noted that energy expenditures as a percentage of PCE had hit an all time low. Here is an update through the December 2019 PCE report released last week. Below is a graph of expenditures on energy goods and services as a percent of total personal consumption expenditures through December 2019. This is one of the measures that Professor Hamilton at Econbrowser looks at to evaluate any drag on GDP from energy prices. Data source: BEA. The huge spikes in energy prices during the oil crisis of 1973 and 1979 are obvious. As is the increase in energy prices during the 2001 through 2008 period. In December 2019, energy expenditures as a percentage of PCE was at 4.05% of PCE, up somewhat from the all time low of 3.65% in February 2016.  Energy as a percent of GDP has been generally trending down, and historically this is a low percentage of PCE for energy expenditures.

 LA area Port Traffic Down Year-over-year in January -   The expansion to the Panama Canal was completed in 2016 (As I noted a few years ago), and some of the traffic that used the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is probably going through the canal. This might be impacting TEUs on the West Coast.Also, most of this traffic was prior to the widespread outbreak of COVID-19 in China. Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic. The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container).To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12 month average.On a rolling 12 month basis, inbound traffic was down 0.3% in January compared to the rolling 12 months ending in December. Outbound traffic was down 0.2% compared to the rolling 12 months ending the previous month. The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports). LA Area Port TrafficUsually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in February or March depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year (January 25th in 2020). In general imports both imports and exports have turned down recently - and will probably be negatively impacted by COVID-19 over the next couple of months.

 Industrial Production Decreased in January --From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization: Industrial production declined 0.3 percent in January, as unseasonably warm weather held down the output of utilities and as a major manufacturer significantly slowed production of civilian aircraft. The index for manufacturing edged down 0.1 percent in January; excluding the production of aircraft and parts, factory output advanced 0.3 percent. The index for mining rose 1.2 percent. At 109.2 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production was 0.8 percent lower in January than it was a year earlier. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector fell 0.3 percentage point in January to 76.8 percent, a rate that is 3.0 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2019) average.This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up 10.1 percentage points from the record low set in June 2009 (the series starts in 1967). Capacity utilization at 76.8% is 3.0% below the average from 1972 to 2017 and below the pre-recession level of 80.8% in December 2007. Nn The second graph shows industrial production since 1967. Industrial production decreased in December to 109.2. This is 25.4% above the recession low, and 3.7% above the pre-recession peak. The change in industrial production was below consensus expectations.

 BLS: Job Openings "Fell" to 6.4 Million in December - Notes: In December there were 6.423 million job openings, and, according to the December Employment report, there were 5.753 million unemployed. So, for the twenty-second consecutive month, there were more job openings than people unemployed. Also note that the number of job openings has exceeded the number of hires since January 2015 (almost 5 years). From the BLS: Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary  The number of job openings fell to 6.4 million (-364,000) on the last business day of December, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the month, hires and separations were little changed at 5.9 million and 5.7 million, respectively. Within separations, the quits rate and layoffs and discharges rate were unchanged at 2.3 percent and 1.2 percent respectively. ... The number of quits was little changed in December at 3.5 million and the rate was unchanged at 2.3 percent. Quits decreased in retail trade (-111,000) and arts, entertainment, and recreation (-20,000). The following graph shows job openings (yellow line), hires (dark blue), Layoff, Discharges and other (red column), and Quits (light blue column) from the JOLTS. This series started in December 2000. Note: The difference between JOLTS hires and separations is similar to the CES (payroll survey) net jobs headline numbers. This report is for December, the most recent employment report was for January. Note that hires (dark blue) and total separations (red and light blue columns stacked) are pretty close each month. This is a measure of labor market turnover.  When the blue line is above the two stacked columns, the economy is adding net jobs - when it is below the columns, the economy is losing jobs. Jobs openings decreased in December to 6.423 million from 6.787 million in November. The number of job openings (yellow) are down 14% year-over-year. Quits are up 2.9% year-over-year. These are voluntary separations. (see light blue columns at bottom of graph for trend for "quits"). Job openings are at a solid level, but have been declining - and are down 14% year-over-year.  Quits are still increasing year-over-year.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims Increase to 205,000 - The DOL reported:In the week ending February 8, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 205,000, an increase of 2,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 202,000 to 203,000. The 4-week moving average was 212,000, unchanged from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 211,750 to 212,000.
emphasis added
The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Why I expect further declines in manufacturing jobs - This is the week I highlight further information from last Friday’s jobs report.  One thing that struck me is that we’ve now had two months of declines in manufacturing jobs. This is something I have been anticipating since about the middle of last year, because the manufacturing work week had been declining significantly, and it has a reliable 80+ year history of leading manufacturing jobs. Here’s the entire history measured as YoY% changes:  The manufacturing work week is down -1.4% YoY. So in the next two graphs I’ve added +1.4% to that number so that it is exactly equal to the zero line. Here is that data split up into two 40 year intervals: There has literally *never* been a time, in all of that 80 year history, when hours have been down this much for this long, and manufacturing jobs have not gone down YoY. Further, leaving out one month YoY declines, in all but three occasions (1953, 1966, and 1995) a recession has resulted. That’s 11 out of 14 times total, with at least two of the other three being slowdowns. In short, I am expecting further losses in manufacturing jobs in the next few months.

 Two boys with the same disability tried to get help. The rich student got it quickly. The poor student did not. - Isaac Rosenthal was a fast talker with a big vocabulary. But when it came time to read, he couldn’t keep up with his classmates. He often mispronounced words whose meaning he knew (like “Pacific,” for which he’d substitute “the other ocean”).  Landon Rodriguez, four years younger than Isaac, was energetic and talkative at home but quiet and withdrawn at school. When he brought home reading assignments, Landon often confused Bs and Ds, and he labored through even short passages.  Both families ultimately realized their sons needed support the public schools could not provide, particularly when it came to the all-important task of teaching them to read.   But that’s where their similarities ended.  wealthier families who have the money to hire pricey lawyers and the time and savvy to do extensive research on how private placement works.  Indeed, once the two families made the decision that their sons’ needs could not be met in the public schools, their educational journeys could not have been more different.   Landon and Isaac both have dyslexia and need special schooling. The system they had to navigate to get that help favors students with economic means.In five of the seven states which reported the largest private placement enrollments, white students are significantly overrepresented. In California, Massachusetts and New York, for instance, the share of white students in private placement exceeds the share in public special education by about 10 percentage points. And in both California and Massachusetts, low-income students with disabilities were only half as likely to receive a private placement as their wealthier special education peers. Even though it’s technically free, private placement is less accessible to low-income families because securing one often requires lawyers, expensive outside evaluations or other out-of-pocket costs, said Jennifer Valverde, a law professor at Rutgers University who specializes in special education“Basically, if you’re poor, you’ve got second-class remedies available to you,” she said.  The stakes can be high: In New York City, only half of special education students graduate public high school within four years, and the city itself estimates 15% never receive all the services to which they’re entitled by law. With those odds for public school students, a spot in a specialized private school can be a lifeline.

 How Corporations Are Forcing Their Way Into America’s Public Schools -  - In the expanding effort to privatize the nation’s public education system, an ominous, less-understood strain of the movement is the corporate influence in Career and Technical Education (CTE) that is shaping the K-12 curriculum in local communities. An apt case study of the growing corporate influence behind CTE is in Virginia, where many parents, teachers and local officials are worried that major corporations including Amazon, Ford and Cisco—rather than educators and local, democratic governance—are deciding what students learn in local schools.  CTE is a rebranding of what has been traditionally called vocational education or voc-ed, the practice of teaching career and workplace skills in an academic setting. While years ago, that may have included courses in woodworking, auto mechanics, or cosmetology, the new, improved version of CTE has greatly expanded course offerings to many more “high-demand” careers, especially in fields that require knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Education policy advocates across the political spectrum, from Education Secretary Betsy DeVosto former First Lady Michelle Obama, have praised expansions of CTE programs in schools. Fast-tracking federal funds for CTE programs in schools has become the new bipartisan darling of education policy. CTE lobbyists and advocates have successfully pressed for expanded funding of their programs at federal and state levels. And a 2019 studyby the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., found that since 2004, mentions of CTE in U.S. media outlets “have grown over tenfold, and they have doubled since 2012.”    According to a September 2019 analysis from Brookings, “more than 7 million secondary school students and nearly 4 million postsecondary students were enrolled in CTE programming.” And a 2018 review of CTE programs by the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics found 73 percent of school districts offered CTE courses that give students both high school and postsecondary credit, a potential benefit for students and parents who want to reduce the cost of college.  What has folks in Chesterfield County, Virginia, concerned is the particular brand of CTE that has come to their district. At a September 2019 community event, middle school teacher Emma Clark and others mentioned the district’s collaboration with Ford Next Generation Learning (NGL), an offshoot of the Ford Motor Company that claims, according to its website, that it “mobilizes educators, employers, and community leaders to create a new generation of young people who will graduate from high school both college- and career-ready.”  Chesterfield parents I spoke with also pointed to the district’s collaboration with the Cisco Networking Academy, an offshoot of the computer networking giant that has its own branded course offering in the Chesterfield CTE curriculum.  Clark described the district’s collaborations with these companies as “new layers” of school privatization. First, corporations like these can use the rush to CTE to flood schools with new course offerings that require technology the schools have to buy. And another layer is the CTE programs businesses help to create provide them with free job training. The concern Chesterfield teachers and parents have about corporate influence in K-12 public school curricula is magnified enormously due to the entrance of Amazon into the equation.

No New School at Fort Campbell: The Money Went to Trump’s Border Wall - For almost two decades, families at Fort Campbell, the sprawling Army base along the Kentucky-Tennessee border, have borne the brunt of the country’s war efforts as a steady clip of troops with the 101st Airborne Division and from Special Operations units deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. This week, the families discovered that they would not get the new middle school they were expecting so that President Trump could build his border wall. The school is on the list of 127 projects, touching nearly every facet of American military life, that will be suspended to shift $3.6 billion to the wall. The Pentagon’s decision to divert $62.6 million from the construction of Fort Campbell’s middle school means that 552 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades will continue to cram themselves in, 30 to a classroom in some cases, at the base’s aging Mahaffey Middle School. Teachers at Mahaffey will continue to use mobile carts to store their books, lesson plans and homework assignments because there is not enough classroom space. Students stuffed into makeshift classrooms-within-classrooms will continue to strain to figure out which lesson to listen to and which one to filter out. And since the cafeteria at Mahaffey is not big enough to seat everyone at lunchtime, some students will continue to eat in the school library. Across the globe, projects like the Fort Campbell middle school have been shelved, including an elementary school in Wiesbaden, Germany, and a cyberoperations center in Virginia. Defense Department officials insist that military construction projects are not being canceled and said that their hope was to get Congress to replace the funding for the middle school and the other projects. But, privately, several department officials acknowledged that their position was tenuous. After circumventing the will of a Congress that refused to fund the wall, the department faces an uphill task trying to convince lawmakers that they should put money back into projects whose money has been diverted by the Pentagon to the wall.

Dozens of San Diego teachers receive “excess” notices as mass layoffs loom - Dozens of teachers in San Diego, California’s Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) received “excess” notices last week about upcoming job cuts and site transfers. As in other school districts around the country, authorities have blamed falling student enrollment for the reductions. Rather than reducing class sizes, the cutting of the number of educators and desperately needed resources will only make a further exodus of students inevitable. A so-called excessed teacher is removed from a school site at the end of the current school year but is supposed to be granted employment at another school site in the district the following school year. The scope of their work and even what they teach, however, depends on their credentials and the needs of whatever different site they transfer to. Excess lists were handed over to the district on Friday, January 31. Teachers with the least seniority at a given school site face a potential excess each year based on site allocations and projected enrollment. SUHSD is the largest secondary school district in California with 34 schools—13 high, 11 middle, three charter, three alternative education, and four adult schools. It has more than 1,500 teachers, 40,000 students, and 22,000 adult learners. The district will be implementing massive cuts for the upcoming school year because of a reported $26 million budget deficit. Due to site allocations and a projected decline in enrollment for next year, nearly every school site had a handful of teachers excessed this year. Given the number of supposed “surplus” teachers at almost every school site, not all will have a guaranteed position for the next school year. What’s worse, most of the excessed teachers will receive pink slips or layoff notices on March 15 due to their overall lack of seniority in the district. Despite claims by SUHSD that the pink slips are not inevitable, preparations for major cuts are already underway for the next school year. In January, the district sent budget allocations to each school site. Various services and positions such as curriculum specialists, Band/Orchestra, restorative justice, attendance coordinator, athletic director positions have been zeroed out, which means the funding for their positions is not guaranteed for the following school year. If funding is removed, not only will those vital services and positions be cut, those teachers sent back to the classroom to teach an equivalent number of periods will bump out teachers with less seniority in that department at each school site.

2 Big Teachers Unions Call For Rethinking Student Involvement In Lockdown Drills -  Ryan Pascal, a 17-year-old student at Palos Verdes High School near Los Angeles, says when her school holds active shooter drills, it's "chaos.".  "We had some students trying to stack up desks to blockade the door. We had some students sort of joking around because they weren't sure how to handle this. There are other students who are very, very afraid." On top of all the other stresses of high school, she says, some students are now on constant alert: "When the little bell before an announcement happens, or when the fire alarm goes off, you can see this fear in students' faces as they wonder, is this going to be a lockdown? Is this a drill? What's happening? There's so much anxiety just by a little trigger like that." About 95% of American public schools conduct some form of regular active shooter safety drill — sometimes called a lockdown or active threat drill — according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But concerns are growing that these drills have not been proven effective in preventing violence and that they may even traumatize some students. Now the advocacy group Everytown For Gun Safety is joining with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association — the nation's largest education unions, with several million members — in calling for schools to reassess the use of lockdown drills. In a white paper out Tuesday, the groups say they do not recommend active shooter training for students. And if schools do choose to do these drills with students, they shouldn't be unnecessarily realistic and schools should give plenty of warning. Plus, they should be done with age-appropriateness and sensitivity toward children with special needs or those who have experienced trauma.  The group Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety in America, part of Everytown, focuses on raising awareness about gun violence. But founder Shannon Watts said she was increasingly hearing from parents whose children were terrified by active shooter drills. So, she started to look at emerging evidence that "these drills cause trauma, whether it's anxiety or depression, sleeplessness, worsening school performance in kids."  In a 2019 research paper, James H. Price and Jagdish Khubchandani found a lack of empirical evidence in favor of active shooter drills and other "hardening" measures used in schools. Partly this is because gun violence in school remains very rare.  And yet, the school security industry is worth a reported $3 billion. Guy Grace with the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools, an educator and industry partnership, insists that twice a year active shooter drills for students are an important piece of violence prevention. "It's not about scaring kids or scaring staff. It's about empowering staff and being able to respond to a multitude of situations."  But he agrees that drills should not simulate violence — and that they should never be unannounced. "You should not do drills without a warning. It shouldn't be all pure chaos."

 Senators alarmed by study linking loan rates to college choice - Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, along with three other Democratic senators, have asked Upstart Network and other lenders that use education data in credit decisions to ensure that their underwriting practices comply with fair-lending laws.In a letter Thursday to Upstart CEO Dave Girouard, the senators cited a report released this month by the Student Borrower Protection Center that found Upstart charged higher interest rates on personal loans to graduates of historically black or predominantly Hispanic colleges.Specifically, the report claimed that a graduate of Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C., would be charged $3,499 more over the life of a five-year loan than a similarly situated graduate of New York University. “These findings raise serious concerns that Upstart’s use of educational data may have a disparate impact on borrowers of color,” the lawmakers stated in the letter. “While we encourage lenders to innovate to improve access to credit — particularly for marginalized borrowers who have been shut out of the credit system — all lenders must ensure that their underwriting practices comply with fair lending laws.” The Democratic senators raised concern about lenders potentially using data on where borrowers attend college in their underwriting models.Bloomberg News It is unclear whether banks could also be on the receiving end of questions by lawmakers.Upstart works with banks like Cross River, Customers Bank and First National Bank of Omahu, which use its platform to make unsecured personal loans. Upstart uses more than 1,600 data points in its AI-based model to set pricing and assess credit risk of consumers.In 2017, the online lender became the first company to obtain a so-called no-action letter from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, effectively stating that Upstart Network could develop its underwriting model without fear of enforcement or supervisory action from the regulatory agency.The Democratic senators — the other three were Kamala Harris of California and Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, both of New Jersey — also sent identical letters to four other student and personal loan providers and two service providers, none of which were cited in the report. They are Climb Credit, College Ave Student Loans, Social Finance Inc., Earnest Inc., MeasureOne and National Student Clearinghouse.

How much privacy are students surrendering to attendance-tracking app? - Late last month, soon after University of Missouri-Columbia students returned to school from winter break, stories began appearing about the university’s expansion of a program to track student attendance using an app owned by Arick LLC called “SpotterEDU,” which the university previously used in its sports programs. According to the university, the primary purpose of this app is to validate that students are attending class. The university claims the app saves teaching time by obviating the need for professors to take attendance. Likewise, the university proffered that poor attendance is often “a warning sign for poor grades and future struggles,” so use of this app will allow earlier interventions. It’s not just the University of Missouri; the app is now employed at nearly 40 schools nationwide — including universities like Syracuse, Auburn, Indiana and Columbia.  As one might expect, students, parents and privacy advocates raised concerns about the use of this Big Brother-like technology, not to mention concern about how the data might be employed down the road, should the university encounter situations where student location information might prove useful.So, as with many challenges that arise today in the context of balancing between technology and privacy, the primary question is, are the privacy trade-offs worth it?In all fairness, the Spotter app’s privacy policy does state that the data collected remains the property of the university: “. . . we consider the information we collect in connection with providing attendance and reporting Services to belong to our Institutions.” Likewise, Spotter’s privacy policy promises to use students’ information only for purposes of providing the services offered by the app and not to sell or otherwise distribute that information for marketing purposes (although they do reserve the right to utilize usage information, as well as deidentified/aggregated data). Like many apps today, however, Spotter works with third party analytic companies, and therefore disclaims responsibility for what those third parties might collect, which could include the personal Information of students who visit the Spotter service. So, while Spotter doesn’t affirmatively share this information with third parties, those parties may be able to help themselves to this smorgasbord of data. And while it’s true that students have the right to opt-out of using the app, what’s not completely clear is the ramifications to students who exercise this right. For example, are there institutional disadvantages to exercising this right? And how well is this right understood by students? 

 People with student debt are going on strike. Why they say they're refusing to repay their loans -Sandy Nurse doesn't see why she needs to be $120,000 in debt "just for trying to improve my understanding of the world." And so, after a decade of struggling to repay her student loans, she plans to stop trying. She hopes others will join her, too, in a national strike against the country's outstanding student loan debt, which is marching toward $1.7 trillion. "It's a way not to look at ourselves as failures because we're failing to pay back an excessive amount of money for knowledge," said Nurse, who has founded nonprofits and is currently running for a City Council seat in Brooklyn, New York. "It's a way to share our experiences and to think about how the system is failing all of us."Earlier this month, at the University of California, Los Angeles, the Debt Collective, an organization founded by a passel of activists who met during the Occupy Wall Street movement of nearly a decade ago, called on people with student debt to stop paying it. At the event, dozens of people lit their student loan bills on fire.The group's goal is to get all private and federal student loans canceled and to make public college free. Presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have vowed already to wipe out all or the majority of education debt should either make it to the White House. And the proposal has even picked up support from the right as of late.  The country's unpaid student loan debt has long surpassed credit card debt or auto loan balances, and is second only to mortgages. The average balance today is around $30,000, up from $10,000 in the 1990s.  As student loan bills have climbed, incomes haven't. The average hourly wage in 2018 had no more purchasing power than it did in 1978, according to the Pew Research Center. That math backs many borrowers into a corner."I have to either pay my rent and get health care, or pay down my loans," said Nurse, who got her bachelor's degree in political science from Emmanuel College in Boston. "It's one of the reasons I don't even think about having children. How can anyone afford it?"The Debt Collective wants people to stop having to make these choices. So far, the number of people officially on strike is just 359 (the group has a live counter), which is a drop in the bucket when you consider that 44 million Americans hold such debt.

Trump’s budget would kill the student loan forgiveness program - As student debt continues to climb, President Donald Trump on Monday released a budget for 2021 that would slash many of the programs aimed at helping borrowers. Student loan spending would be cut by $170 billion in Trump’s plan, titled “A Budget for America’s Future.” The reductions include “sensible annual and lifetime loan limits” for graduate students and parents and the end to subsidized loans, in which the government covers the interest for borrowers who are still in school or experiencing economic hardship. It would also reduce the number of repayment options for borrowers and nix the popular, if challenged, public service loan forgiveness program. That program, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007, allows not-for-profit and government employees to have their federal student loans canceled after 10 years of on-time payments. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that up to one-quarter of American workers are eligible. “The Trump Administration already has a reputation of being anti-borrower,” said Mark Kantrowitz, a higher education policy expert. “This just takes it further.” In all, Trump’s proposal would request $66.6 billion for the U.S. Department of Education, trimming the budget by $5.6 billion, or nearly 8%. The proposed cut is less steep than last year, when he called for a nearly 10% reduction in spending for the department. Still, any cuts to student loan relief programs are unlikely to sit well with many voters. Eighty percent of Americans agree that the government should make it easier for people with student debt to repay their loans, a study by The Pew Charitable Trusts found. Another poll found that nearly 60% of registered voters said they would support a plan to cancel all existing student loan debt. Meanwhile, leading Democratic presidential candidates on the campaign trail are vowing to cancel the majority or all of the country’s outstanding student loan debt. Bernie Sanders has proposed wiping out the country’s $1.6 trillion outstanding student loan tab. Elizabeth Warren’s plan would cancel $50,000 in student debt for borrowers with household incomes of less than $100,000. People who earn between $100,000 and $250,000 would be eligible for forgiveness on a sliding scale.

 Another Sign of Social Decay: Seniors Alone, Unable to Care for Themselves - The Wall Street Journal has a sobering new article on a phenomenon that heretofore had gone largely under the radar: the elderly, or per US-speak, seniors, isolated in their premises and either too feeble and/or too cognitively impaired to take care of themselves.  Although there were always individuals who still wound up in desperate circumstances and might wind up the mad person in rags begging in the town square, old people tended to be cared for by family members, often helping with child care and household tasks until they became infirm. Churches also would provide support for the poor and old who’d wound up on their own. Too many seniors don’t have close relatives nearby, or even if they do, they often can’t provide the level of support needed. And even though there are agencies and private services that can help (short of the costly solution of brining in home health care aides or going to a facility), many, by the time they need help, lack the energy and organization to investigate options, make choices, and get in their various systems. From the Wall Street Journal. Note the chart; I guarantee financial exploitation is grossly under-captured, since the main perps aren’t fraudsters who target seniors, but family members and caregivers: Rising numbers of older adults are unable to care for themselves, often leading to serious health problems and even death, according to state and local government agencies. So-called self-neglect cases generally involve the inability to perform essential self-care, such as providing oneself with food, shelter, personal hygiene, medication and safety precautions.Seniors who no longer drive, for example, are often unable to get to medical appointments, exacerbating health problems that can render them incapable of caring for themselves. A fall can result in a hip fracture leaving one bedridden and unable to care for oneself. Failure to pay bills for the phone or other utilities could lead to service cutoffs. Forgetting to pay rent could lead to the loss of a home…. The reasons seniors stop caring for themselves vary, including illness, dementia, depression and poverty. The loss of the spouse or a neighbor who previously kept an eye on an individual often triggers a decline into self-neglect, experts say.

Revealed: how drugs giants can access your health records  - The Department of Health and Social Care has been selling the medical data of millions of NHS patients to American and other international drugs companies having misled the public into believing the information would be “anonymous”, according to leading experts in the field. Senior NHS figures have told the Observer that patient data compiled from GP surgeries and hospitals – and then sold for huge sums for research – can routinely be linked back to individual patients’ medical records via their GP surgeries. They say there is clear evidence this is already being done by companies and organisations that have bought data from the DHSC, having identified individuals whose medical histories are of particular interest. Concerns that the data is not truly “anonymous” have been raised by senior NHS officials, who believe the public are not being told the full truth. But the DHSC insists it only sells on information after thorough measures have been taken to ensure the complete anonymity and confidentiality of patients’ personal information. In December, the Observer revealed that the government had raised £10m in 2018 by granting licences to commercial and academic organisations across the world that wanted access to so-called anonymised data. If patients do not want their data to be used for research they have to actively “opt out” of the system at their GP surgery. Access to NHS data is increasingly sought by researchers and global drugs companies because it is one of the largest and most centralised public organisations of its kind in the world, with unique data resources. Washington has already made clear it wants unrestricted access to Britain’s 55 million health records – estimated to have a total value of £10bn a year – as part of any post-Brexit trade agreement. Leaked details of meetings between US and UK trade officials late last year showed that the acquisition of as much UK medical data as possible is a top priority for the US drugs industry.

Judicial Watch Uncovers NIH Fetal Organ Purchases For 'Humanized Mice' Testing - The National Institutes of Health (NIH) paid nearly $20,000 to a California-based firm to purchase organs from aborted human fetuses for a program to create "humanized mice" for HIV research, according to Judicial Watch. The discovery was made after the conservative watchdog group received 676 pages of records as part of a March 2019 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, which revealed that NIH paid at least $18,100 between December 2016 and August 2018 to Alameda-based Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR) for at least 26 purchases of livers and thymuses from fetuses aborted in their second trimester. The orders were placed by Dr. Kim Hasenkrug, senior investigator at the NIH lab in Hamilton, Montana. Of note, ABR has been the subject of criminal referrals from House and Senate committees investigating whether Planned Parenthood or any other group was illegally profiting from aborted babies.Purchase orders associated with the transactions state: “These tissues, liver and thymus, are required [by] Ron Messer for ongoing studies of HIV in the Hasenkrug Lab. Our mice will be ready for reconstitution soon.”Beginning with a December 21, 2016, payment to ABR and running through April 2018, the records show that a fetal liver and thymus set costs $680, and payment was due upon receipt. On May 23, 2018, the cost increased to $750. -Judicial WatchIn addition, the records indicate "Tissue Acquisition Invoices" and sales receipts for credit card purchases.The lawsuit, (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department Health and Human Services (No. 1:19-cv-00876)), calls for the HHS contracts and related documentation between the FDA and ABR for the purchase of human fetal tissue for use in humanized mice research. Judicial Watch notes that federal law prohibits the transfer of fetal tissue for profit, with agency officials concluding in March, 2018 that "Federal regulations for the protection of human subjects do not apply to above named activity." The records include a November 2009 “Request for Review of Research Activity Involving Human Subjects” with the protocol title “Study of HIV infection and vaccine protection in mice reconstituted with a human immune system” that describes the development of a “cohort” of humanized mice using human fetal tissue:Recent reports have demonstrated that immunodeficient mice reconstituted with 17-19 week old human fetal tissue develop a human immune system and are susceptible to HIV infection and disease. The goal of this project proposal is to create such humanized mice to study the role of immune cell subsets and virus-neutralizing antibodies in vaccine protection. The experiments will entail the development of a cohort of mice all reconstituted with the same human cells so as to be histocompatible. This will require transplantation of the mice with 1 mm3 pieces of fetal thymus as well as reconstitution with stem cells isolated from cord blood and liver. Once the humanized mice have been established some will be vaccinated to prime distinct subsets of immune cells. Immune cell subsets from vaccinated mice will be adoptively transferred into naive mice, which will then be infected with HIV to test the antiviral activity of the immune cells. The goal of these experiments is to establish correlates of immunity against HIV.

 EPA fails to follow landmark law to protect children from pesticides in food  - The landmark Food Quality Protection Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency to protect children's health by applying an extra margin of safety to legal limits for pesticides in food. But an investigation by EWG, published this week in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, found that the EPA has failed to add the mandated children's health safety factor to the allowable limits for almost 90 percent of the most common pesticides.The study in Environmental Health examined the EPA's risk assessments for 47 non-organophosphate pesticides since 2011, including those most commonly found on fresh fruits and vegetables, and found that the required additional tenfold safety factor was applied in only five cases."Given the potential health hazards of pesticides in our food, it is disturbing that the EPA has largely ignored the law's requirement to ensure adequate protection for children," said the study's author, Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., vice president for science investigations at EWG. "The added safety factor is essential to protect children from pesticides that can cause harm to the nervous system, hormonal disruption and cancer."The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, or FQPA, requires the EPA to set allowable levels for pesticides in a way that would "ensure that there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result to infants and children from aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical residue." It was hailed as a revolutionary recognition of the fact that children are more vulnerable to the effects of chemical pesticides than adults. "Based on the strong consensus of the pediatric and the public health communities, the FQPA stated unequivocally that regulation of toxic pesticides must focus, first and foremost, on protecting infants and children," said Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and epidemiologist who is director of the Program in Global Public Health and the Common Good at Boston College. "When the EPA fails to apply this principle, children may be exposed to levels of chemical pesticides that can profoundly harm their health."

 Consumers May Be Wasting Twice as Much Food as Previously Thought - Consumers may waste more than twice as much food as previously thought, a new study has found.The study, published in PLOS ONE Wednesday, estimated that consumers wasted 527 calories per day per person, BBC News reported. That's more than double the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate of 214 calories per day per person."The problem is much worse than we think. We have to wake up. I hope it's a wake-up call," lead study author Monika van den Bos Verma of Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands told New Scientist.In 2005, the FAO estimated that about a third of food was wasted, a Public Library of Science press release published by Phys.org explained. But the FAO only based its data on food supply. The new study is different in that it takes the affluence of consumers into consideration. The researchers comprised a data set using information on human metabolism as well as data from the FAO, the World Bank and the World Health Organization and then used it to estimate food waste globally as well as on a country by country basis. They found that once consumers enjoyed spending power of $6.70 per person per day, the amount of food they wasted began to increase."Food waste is a luxury when you're poor, it's not when you're richer. The value of food, it goes down [as you get richer]. It's also availability: the more you have, the more you're likely to waste," Van den Bos Verma told New Scientist.The increased estimate of 527 calories wasted comes from 2005 data, so that it could be readily compared to FAO data from the same year. However, New Scientist pointed out that there were some weaknesses in the new study. It only covers 67 percent of the world's population and did not include any data from the U.S. and some other highly wasteful countries. The UK food waste group WRAP also said it had used a similar approach to calculate waste and found that it tended to overestimate the amount of food wasted. It said such models should be supplemented with data coming directly from consumers' kitchens. However, food waste remains a serious issue, and the researchers warned it could become more of one as less affluent countries grow wealthier and develop more wasteful habits.

Silent Threat of the Coronavirus: America’s Dependence on Chinese Pharmaceuticals –  As the new coronavirus, called 2019-nCoV, spreads rapidly around the globe, the international community is scrambling to keep up. Scientists rush to develop a vaccine, policymakers debate the most effective containment methods, and health care systems strain to accommodate the growing number of sick and dying. Though it may sound like a scene from the 2011 movie "Contagion," it is actually an unfolding reality. In the midst of all of this, a potential crisis simmers in the shadows: The global dependence on China for the production of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment. Today, about 80% of pharmaceuticals sold in the U.S. are produced in China. This number, while concerning, hides an even greater problem: China is the largest and sometimes only global supplier for the active ingredient of some vital medications. The active ingredients for medicines that treat breast cancer and lung cancer and the antibiotic Vancomycin, which is a last resort antibiotic for some types of antimicrobial resistant infections, are made almost exclusively in China. Additionally, China controls such a large market portion of heparin, a blood thinner used in open-heart surgery, kidney dialysis and blood transfusions that the U.S. government was left with no choice but to continue buying from China even after a contamination scandal in 2007. China is not only the dominant global supplier of pharmaceuticals, but it is also the largest supplier of medical devices in the U.S. These include things like MRI equipment, surgical gowns, and equipment that measures oxygen levels in the blood. Supplies of these essential products have not yet been severely disrupted by the coronavirus, but if China is no longer will or able to supply them to the U.S., thousands of Americans could die. More concerning still are the limited options available to the U.S. and the rest of the globe to make up the shortfall. It could take years to develop the necessary infrastructure to reestablish U.S. manufacturing capacities and obtain Food and Drug Administration licensure to overcome the loss of the Chinese supply. When a disease reaches epidemic levels, the first obligation for leaders in any country is to protect their own people. As this current crisis progresses, there may come a point when political leaders in China will face decisions on whether to prohibit the export of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and other vital medical components in order to treat or protect their own people.  While a total loss of active ingredient imports from China might seem far-fetched, we believe the increasing scale of the outbreak moves it closer to the realm of possibility. About six weeks into international recognition of the epidemic in China, there are already shortages of vital personal protective equipment in both China and the U.S. UPS has transported more than 2 million masks and 11,000 gowns to Wuhan to help alleviate the shortage. But what happens when everyone runs out of protective equipment?

Why We Are So Ill-Prepared for a Possible Pandemic Like Coronavirus  We were surprised in 2002 when a new coronavirus called SARS emerged from southern China and spread to 17 countries, causing more than 8,000 disease cases and nearly 800 deaths. We were surprised in 2009 when a new H1N1 influenza strain emerged in Mexico and caused worldwide panic. We were surprised in 2014 when Ebola virus broke out in three West African countries, with nearly 30,000 cases and more than 11,000 deaths. And here we are now, facing the 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak, on the verge of becoming a worldwide pandemic, within China reporting over 20,000 cases and nearly 500 deaths.  Three years ago in our book, Deadliest Enemy, a chapter on coronaviruses was entitled, “SARS and MERS: Harbingers of Things to Come.” We take no satisfaction in having been right. But the point is, why are we still surprised each time? The reality is, Mother Nature has the upper hand, and she is using the trappings of modern life – air travel, burgeoning population and low-income country megacities, encroachment on natural habitats, and an interconnected global just-in-time delivery system – to extend her reach. We’ve had fair warning, but as soon as each crisis is over, we just want to forget rather than use our collective experience.

Military preparing quarantine centers for coronavirus patients in US, Pentagon says  - Eleven military bases near major airports in the United States are setting up quarantine centers for possible coronavirus patients, the Department of Defense said.  The Department of Health and Human Services asked the Pentagon for quarantine space in case beds fill up at other coronavirus centers around the country, according to a DOD statement.   The Pentagon already agreed to house up to 1,000 people for quarantine after they returned to the United States from areas with the virus, the Associated Press reports.   As of Friday, more than 31,400 people have been infected with the 2019 coronavirus worldwide, with most in mainland China, according to the AP. More than 630 people have died from the virus, almost all in China, the AP reports.  “These are tertiary locations, and HHS already has primary and secondary locations identified that are not DOD facilities,” the Pentagon said.   Each base will be able to house up to 20 patients along with public health personnel and equipment. The agreement lasts until Feb. 22, the DOD said.  “DOD personnel will not be in direct contact with the evacuees and will minimize contact with personnel supporting the evacuees,” the Pentagon said. If anyone tests positive for the virus, public health officials with DHHS will move them to a civilian hospital, according to the statement. The new quarantine centers are:

  • JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii (HNL)
  • Great Lakes Training Center Navy Base, Illinois (ORD)
  • Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Texas (DFW)
  • March ARB, California (LAX)
  • Travis AFB, California (SFO)
  • Dobbins ARB, Georgia (ATL)
  • Fort Hamilton, New York (JFK)
  • Naval Base Kitsap, Washington (SEA)
  • Joint Base Anacostia, Washington DC (IAD)
  • Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey (EWR)
  • Fort Custer Training Center, Michigan (DTW)

The Department of Defense already has quarantine centers at Fort Carson in Colorado, Travis Air Force Base and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California, and Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

WHO cautions that transmission of the new coronavirus outside of China could increase - The World Health Organization’s director-general cautioned Saturday that transmission of the new coronavirus outside of China may increase and countries should prepare for that possibility. “It’s slow now, but it may accelerate,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference in Geneva. “So while it’s still slow there is a window of opportunity that we should use to the maximum in order to have a better outcome, and further decrease the progress and stop it.” Tedros’s warning came after health authorities in Singapore announced they haddiagnosed the infection in a man with no travel history to China and no known link to other cases in Singapore. Singaporean authorities suggested — but did not order — that large public events be canceled or deferred. If public events are held, temperature screening of attendees should be conducted and people who are unwell should be turned away, they said.In Germany, health officials announced the 12th case in a cluster of transmission of the new virus — known provisionally as 2019-nCoV — that began when a Chinese woman who works for a German car parts supplier traveled to the company’s head office in Bavaria for meetings. The latest case is the wife of an employee of the company, who himself was confirmed as having the infection last week.

A Stunning 400 Million People Are On Lockdown In China As Guangzhou Joins Quarantine -Guangzhou, the capital of China’s southwestern Guangdong Province and the country’s fifth-largest city with nearly 15 million residents, has just joined the ranks of cities imposing a mandatory lockdown on all citizens, effectively trapping residents inside their homes, with only limited permission to venture into the outside world to buy essential supplies.  The decision means 3 provinces, 60 cities, and 400 million people are now facing China’s most-strict level of lockdown as Beijing struggles to contain the coronavirus outbreak as the virus has already spread to more than 2 dozen countries.  That’s more than 400 million people forcibly locked inside their homes for 638 deaths? Just think about that: If there was ever a reason to believe that Beijing is lying about the numbers (and not just because Tencent accidentally leaked the real data), this is it. 曾錚 Jennifer Zeng@jenniferatntd Breaking: Guangzhou City (population: 14 M) locked down. All residential blocks be isolated from each other. So far around 400 million people locked down in #China to contain #coronavirus.#coronavirusOutbreak Original Chinese official report:http://m.xinhuanet.com/gd/2020-02/07/c_1125542462.htm …

400 Million Locked Down in China To Fight Coronavirus - First the latest update from Beijing:  At 04:00 on February 8th, 31 provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities) and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps reported that 2656 confirmed cases (2147 cases in Hubei) were newly added, 87 severe cases (52 cases in Hubei) were newly added, and There were 89 deaths (81 in Hubei, 2 in Henan, 1 each in Hebei, Heilongjiang, Anhui, Shandong, Hunan, and Guangxi), and 3,916 suspected new cases (2067 in Hubei). On the same day, 600 new patients were discharged from hospital (324 in Hubei), and 31,124 close contacts were lifted from medical observation.  As of 24:00 on February 8, according to reports from 31 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities) and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, there were 33,738 confirmed cases (including 6,188 severe cases), and a total of 2,649 discharged patients were cured (Heilongjiang reduced one) A total of 811 deaths have been reported, 37,198 confirmed cases have been reported (1 in each of Shanxi, Heilongjiang, Henan, and Hainan), and there are currently 28,942 suspected cases. A total of 371,905 close contacts were traced, and 188,183 close contacts were still in medical observation. A total of 53 confirmed cases were reported in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan: 26 in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (1 death), 10 in the Macao Special Administrative Region (1 in cured and discharged), and 17 in Taiwan (1 in cured and discharged).And the charts:  The most important news on the weekend was that Guangzhou (13m people) and Chengdu added draconian restrictions to their populaces and Apple assembly partner, Foxconn, was forced to close for another week.It’s become impossible to track how many Chinese are now locked down. Most of the country to one degree or another. Some are reporting 400m. That is plausible.  The upside is that the shutdown appears, for now, to have slowed the virus spread in China. That’s great news. If you believe it. The problem is, there are very good reasons to not do so. The epicenter of the outbreak in Hubei is clearly massively worse than is being made out. The number of deaths and other marginal indicators suggests 10x worse, via Bloomie:The new coronavirus may have infected at least 1 in 20 people in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicenter of the global outbreak, by the time it peaks in coming weeks, according to scientists modeling its spread.The typically bustling megacity, where the so-called 2010-nCoV virus emerged late last year, has been in lockdown since Jan. 23, restricting the movement of 11 million people. Trends in reported cases in Wuhan so far broadly support the mathematical modeling the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is using to predict the epidemic’s transmission dynamics.That’s half a million people infected… That discrepancy is indicating something else very important for the political response to the virus.

Satellite images show how coronavirus brought Wuhan to a standstill - On January 22, China took the extraordinary step of shutting down all transportation in the city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak first began. The measure effectively put 11 million people under quarantine, which is still ongoing as public health officials work to treat individuals who have fallen ill and stop the spread of the virus. As satellite images shared with MIT Technology Review by Planet Labs and Maxar Technologies show, the metropolis has ground to a halt. Bridges and roads are empty. The city’s train stations are deserted. Wuhan’s normally busy airport has completely ceased operations. The effect on air travel has been felt throughout the country—especially for international flights, which have dropped precipitously in the last month. On February 2, for example, the country saw a cancellation of 222 departures (16.7%) and 238 arrivals (18.2%), according to according to the airline tracking service FlightAware. But there has been a burst of activity in Wuhan in at least one aspect: construction. Two new hospitals came together in the city almost overnight to manage and treat sick people (so far there have been more than 28,300 reported cases and 565 deaths, and counting).

Video shows officials in protective suits dragging suspected coronavirus carriers from homes -Video showing a man suspected of having coronavirus desperately sprinting away from officials trying to put him in quarantine has emerged, as the communist regime starts rounding up suffers in Wuhan and taking them to camps. The clip, believed to be taken in Changqing Garden, Wuhan, shows a group of officials approaching the man who who is backed up against a wall. The man then runs away as officials chase after him. Officials run after him along nearly-deserted streets in Changqing Garden, Wuhan +42 The clip, shared to Twitter on Thursday, comes after China 's Vice Premier Sun Chunlan called on a 'people's war' against the fast-spreading epidemic Officials run after him along nearly-deserted streets in Changqing Garden, Wuhan. The clip, shared to Twitter on Thursday, comes after China 's Vice Premier Sun Chunlan called on a 'people's war' against the fast-spreading epidemic A group of around 10 officials pursue him. The clip then cuts to show the chase from a different angle, showing the nearly-deserted streets of Wuhan.As of Saturday more than 700 people have been killed by the virus, with 86 people dying on Friday alone. More than 34,500 globally have been infected. Another video, said to be taken in Suzhou near Shanghai, shows suspected coronavirus sufferers being forcefully dragged from their homes by officials in hazmat suits. Officials in protective suits are seen holding onto two people by their arms before a third more resistant man is picked up from the floor and carried away in one shocking clip shared online. In the video one person wearing a face mask is seen being quickly pulled along by officials and is soon followed by a woman in a winter jacket who is held underneath the arms by someone in a protective suit. However the officials have more trouble in removing a third person who is laying in a doorway and refusing to be picked up. Two people try to lift him, but after having no luck are they are joined by a man in a blue apron and then two other officials. Despite the manpower, the group still struggle to lift the man who kicks out at them and struggles from the floor. Eventually three of the men manage to pick him up and carry the suspected patient down the stairs.

Where did they go? Millions left city before quarantine (AP) — For weeks after the first reports of a mysterious new virus in Wuhan, millions of people poured out of the central Chinese city, cramming onto buses, trains and planes as the first wave of China’s great Lunar New Year migration broke across the nation. Some carried with them the new virus that has since claimed over 800 lives and sickened more than 37,000 people. Officials finally began to seal the borders on Jan. 23. But it was too late. Speaking to reporters a few days after the city was put under quarantine, the mayor estimated that 5 million people had already left. Where did they go? An Associated Press analysis of domestic travel patterns using map location data from Chinese tech giant Baidu shows that in the two weeks before Wuhan’s lockdown, nearly 70% of trips out of the central Chinese city were within Hubei province. Baidu has a map app that is similar to Google Maps, which is blocked in China. Another 14% of the trips went to the neighboring provinces of Henan, Hunan, Anhui and Jiangxi. Nearly 2% slipped down to Guangdong province, the coastal manufacturing powerhouse across from Hong Kong, and the rest fanned out across China. The cities outside Hubei province that were top destinations for trips from Wuhan between Jan. 10 and Jan. 24 were Chongqing, a municipality next to Hubei province, Beijing and Shanghai. The travel patterns broadly track with the early spread of the virus. The majority of confirmed cases and deaths have occurred in China, within Hubei province, followed by high numbers of cases in central China, with pockets of infections in Chongqing, Shanghai and Beijing as well. “It’s definitely too late,” said Jin Dong-Yan, a molecular virologist at Hong Kong University’s School of Biomedical Sciences. “Five million out. That’s a big challenge. Many of them may not come back to Wuhan but hang around somewhere else. To control this outbreak, we have to deal with this. On one hand, we need to identify them. On the other hand, we need to address the issue of stigma and discrimination.” He added that the initial spread of travelers to provinces in central China with large pools of migrant workers and relatively weaker health care systems “puts a big burden on the hospitals ... of these resource-limited provinces.”

Coronavirus prompts Beijing residential lockdown as millions return to work -- China’s capital Beijing has escalated measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus by ordering residential communities and villages to limit access for outsiders, as millions of workers return to the megacity after prolonged holidays. In a 10-point circular published on Sunday, Beijing’s municipal authority ordered that check points be established to examine body temperatures and only residents’ vehicles be allowed into each community. A complete lockdown could be imposed on the area if a confirmed coronavirus case was discovered. “As our city is facing the peak period of returning population, epidemic prevention is now at a critical stage,” the circular said. Beijing is one of China’s most at-risk cities from the coronavirus outbreak as millions are pouring in from extended Lunar New Year holidays. On Monday alone, some 600,000 were expected to arrive in the city by train and another 140,000 by air, according to government estimates, posing a serious challenge to authorities. The capital, which is home to more than 20 million people, had reported at least 337 confirmed novel coronavirus cases and 207 suspected cases as of Monday afternoon. The virus, which has been declared a global health emergency, has infected more than 40,000 people and killed more than 900, the overwhelming majority in mainland China. At the same time it is stepping up its defence against the outbreak, Beijing is also trying to resume normal economic activity. Cai Qi, the Communist Party secretary of Beijing, said the cityt must resume production in an “orderly and safe” fashion. Construction work on a theatre, a library and a museum in Tongzhou, the new location of the Beijing municipal government, started again on Sunday, according to the Beijing government. The latest notice endorsed a “no outsider” policy that has already been widely adopted by many residential compounds and villages in Beijing, which is expected to host the country’s biggest annual political gathering in three weeks.  . Beijing’s latest directive has required all those returning to Beijing to report to the local community officials on the day of arrival. Residents who had travelled to Hubei and other hard-hit areas, or who had close contact with people from there, within 14 days of arriving in Beijing would be put under home quarantine. Anyone deemed potentially infected by medical professionals would be put into centralised quarantine, according to the notice. Criminal charges could be made against people who refused to cooperate.

Coronavirus: 40,000 cases may be 'tip of the iceberg - 'The death toll from the new virus sweeping across China and surging around the globe closed in on 1,000 Monday amid warnings that the 40,000 known cases may be "the tip of the iceberg." Chinese health officials said 97 more deaths were reported Sunday, a spike after days of decline that put the global toll at 910. All but two of the deaths have occurred on the Chinese mainland, most in and around the city of Wuhan. Total reported cases rose to 40,573, more than 40,000 of them in China. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, warned that the numbers may not tell the entire story. "There’ve been some concerning instances of ... spread from people with no travel history to China," Tedros said. "The detection of a small number of cases may indicate more widespread transmission in other countries. In short, we may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg."  Containment remains the objective, but but all nations must prepare for an outbreak, he said.A WHO advance team led by Bruce Aylward, a Canadian epidemiologist and emergencies expert, was scheduled to arrive in China on Monday to review that nation's efforts to curb the outbreak. WHO declared a global emergency almost two weeks ago.WHO also has organized a two-day global forum beginning Tuesday bringing together 400 of the world’s leading experts to prioritize work on rapid diagnostics, a vaccine and effective treatments.  The number of infections in the U.S. remained at 12 on Monday. No deaths have been reported, although one American died in Wuhan last week.

Coronavirus death toll passes 900 as more Americans diagnosed on quarantined cruise ship - China confirmed a rise in the number of new coronavirus cases on Monday, quashing hopes after several days of declining infection rates that strict control measures could be paying off. The death toll from the new virus had jumped to 908 by Monday morning, more than were killed during the SARS virus outbreak in 2003. The number of confirmed infections in mainland China rose 15% Sunday to at least 40,171. More than 300 cases have been confirmed outside China, including 12 in the U.S., and global health officials have warned that could be just "the tip of the iceberg" as they learn more about how easily the disease spreads. Dozens of new cases were confirmed Monday on a quarantined cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan, meanwhile, including more Americans. The number of passengers already removed or soon to be removed from the Diamond Princess for treatment in Japanese hospitals stood at 136 Monday. That includes at least 23 American passengers, 11 of whom were among the 66 new cases confirmed Monday. Most of the 3,711 passengers and crew remained under isolation orders on the ship. The Chinese government's efforts to silence people who tried to raise the alarm about the outbreak early on — and allegedly ongoing efforts to stop people reporting on it — have created a mounting backlash on the country's heavily-censored social media.  There were scattered signs of normality returning in China on Monday. With the extended New Year holiday officially over, roads in Beijing and Shanghai had significantly more traffic and the southern city of Guangzhou said it would start to resume normal public transport. "Of course we're worried," said a 25-year-old man surnamed Li in a Beijing beauty salon that reopened Monday. "When customers come in, we first take their temperature, then use disinfectant and ask them to wash their hands." The Shanghai government suggested staggered work schedules, avoiding group meals and keeping at least one meter away from colleagues. Many were encouraged to work from home and some employers simply delayed opening for another week. 

Deaths Top 1,000; U.S. Reports 13th Confirmed Case: Virus Update - The death toll from the coronavirus climbed above 1,000, as the Chinese province at the epicenter of the outbreak reported its highest number of fatalities yet. The U.S. said a 13th confirmed case emerged in the U.S. China’s Hubei province, which added 103 more deaths, has removed two health officials from their posts, according to state television. The move comes as criticism mounts over China’s transparency and speed in handling the epidemic. President Xi Jinping made his first public appearance after the death of a doctor who became a hero for speaking out about the deadly coronavirus sparked public anger. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed another case of coronavirus in California, bringing the number in the U.S. to 13. Trump Sees Warm Weather Curbing Outbreak (11:31 a.m. HK) The U.S. has about a dozen people suffering from the coronavirus but all are expected to recover, U.S. President Donald Trump said. Trump, speaking to Fox Business Network on Monday, said he believes warm weather will curb the spread of the disease beginning in April, and that Chinese authorities have the outbreak under control. “I really believe that they’re going to have it under control fairly soon,” he said. Hong Kong Won’t Enact Mask Laws (11:12 a.m. HK) Hong Kong authorities have no plans to enact laws regulating the city’s supply of surgical masks, Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters at a weekly briefing. Lam has faced criticism from the public in recent days as a mask shortage sent people scrambling to form long lines at pharmacies, while residents distrustful of her administration after months of pro-democracy protests staged a run on toilet paper. She urged Hong Kongers to reduce their number of social interactions as the city works to ward off a wider outbreak.

Coronavirus May Infect Up to 500,000 in Wuhan Before It Peaks - The new coronavirus might have infected at least 500,000 people in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicenter of the global outbreak, by the time it peaks in coming weeks. But most of those people won’t know it. The typically bustling megacity, where the so-called 2019-nCoV virus emerged late last year, has been in effective lockdown since Jan. 23, restricting the movement of 11 million people. Recent trends in reported cases in Wuhan broadly support the preliminary mathematical modeling the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is using to predict the epidemic’s transmission dynamics. “Assuming current trends continue, we’re still projecting a mid-to-late-February peak” of virus cases in Wuhan, Adam Kucharski, an associate professor of infectious disease epidemiology, said by email Sunday. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, so I’m cautious about picking out a single value for the peak, but it’s possible based on current data we might see a peak prevalence over 5%.” That would potentially mean at least 1 in 20 people would have been infected in the city by the time the epidemic peaks, Kucharski said, adding that this may change if transmission patterns slow in coming days. The prediction doesn’t indicate a coming surge in cases in Wuhan, but that the current cumulative total doesn’t reflect all infections, especially mild ones, that have occurred. Health authorities in China and around the world are anxiously waiting to know whether the world’s largest known quarantine effort has been effective in slowing the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus in Wuhan and across other cities in Hubei province, a landlocked region of 60 million people. Kucharski, whose research focuses on the dynamics of infectious diseases, and colleagues have based their modeling on a range of assumptions about the 2019-nCoV virus. These include an incubation period of 5.2 days, a delay from the onset of symptoms to confirmation of infection of 6.1 days, and about 10 million people being at risk of infection in Wuhan. Based on that, a prevalence of 5% equates to about 500,000 cumulative infections. That’s many times more than the 16,902 cases provincial health authorities had counted in Wuhan as of midnight Sunday. Researchers will gauge the proportion of people in the population who have been infected with 2019-nCoV after a test becomes available that enables them to conduct a so-called serosurvey to identify those whose blood contains antibodies produced in response to exposure to the virus. There’s to be variation in the estimates, reasonably enough; compare this and this.

Researchers say the coronavirus may be more contagious than current data shows - Infectious disease specialists and scientists say the new coronavirus that’s shuttering companies across mainland China may be more contagious than current data shows. Emerging in Wuhan, China, about a month ago, the virus has spread from about 300 people as of Jan. 21 to close to 21,000 and killed more than 420 — with the number of new cases growing by the thousands every day. “The rapid acceleration of cases is of concern,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, said at a news conference last week before the agency declared a global health emergency. Chinese scientists worry the respiratory illness, which world health officials say likely came from a fish market, has mutated to adapt to its new human hosts far more quickly than SARS. Data on the virus is changing by the day, and some infectious disease specialists say it will take weeks before they can see just how contagious it is. What they’re seeing so far is concerning and leading U.S. and international scientists to believe the virus is more contagious than the current data shows, according to interviews with epidemiologists, scientists and infectious disease specialists. The disease is spreading quickly. China’s health minister, Ma Xiaowei, told reporters last month that there is evidence it’s already mutated into a stronger variation that is able to spread more easily among humans. World health officials know the respiratory disease is capable of spreading through human-to-human contact, droplets carried through sneezing and coughing, and germs left on inanimate objects. The illness is cable of spreading before symptoms show, and about 20% of patients become severely ill, leading to pneumonia and respiratory failure, health officials say. ″[The] continued increase in cases and the evidence of human-to-human transmission outside of China are, of course, most deeply disturbing,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news conference at the organization’s Geneva headquarters last week. “Although the numbers outside China are still relatively small, they hold the potential for a much larger outbreak.” The ‘R naught’ The so-called R naught of the disease, a mathematical equation that shows how many people will get sick from each infected person, is around 2.2, according to a report last week from the New England Journal of Medicine. That means two or more people will catch the virus from a person who already has it, making it more infectious than the seasonal flu and the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which had an R naught of about 1.8 and killed at least 50 million people across the world. The current R naught of the new virus is lower than the 2003 SARS outbreak, which had an R naught of between 2 and 5. World health officials caution that it may take months before the true R naught is known as more coronavirus cases come to light.

Scientists worry coronavirus could evolve into something worse than flu, says quarantined expert - The seasonal flu has killed more people than the coronavirus, but that is not why the outbreak is so concerning, infectious disease expert Ian Lipkin told CNBC on Monday. “It’s a new virus. We don’t know much about it, and therefore we’re all concerned to make certain it doesn’t evolve into something even worse,” said Lipkin, speaking from his New York home on a 14-day self-quarantine after traveling to China to work on the outbreak. Lipkin, the director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, was in Guangzhou and Beijing, where he advised local health officials. He said he did not travel to the city where the coronavirus emerged, Wuhan in central China, because it would have been more difficult to return to the U.S. Lipkin, who worked on the 2003 SARS outbreak, said it is true that seasonal flu presents its own kind of problem, noting that globally up to 650,000 people die from it each year. So far, more than 900 people who had the coronavirus have died. The coronavirus is “not nearly as challenging for us as influenza” when seen strictly by the number of deaths, Lipkin said. But that is not the only lens through which the outbreak should be viewed, he cautioned. “We don’t know much about its transmissibility. We don’t necessarily have accurate diagnostic tests. And we don’t really know where the outbreak is going to go,” Lipkin said on CNBC’s “The Exchange.” “The only thing we have at present, absent vaccines or drugs, is containment,” he added. The coronavirus emerged in Wuhan about a month ago and has since spread from about 300 people as of Jan. 21 to more than 40,000. New cases grow by the thousands each day, the vast majority of which are in China. Coronaviruses typically infect animals, but strains can sometimes evolve and spread to humans. Symptoms in humans can include fever, sore throat and shortness of breath. The respiratory disease is capable of spreading through human-to-human contact, world health officials say. The illness also is able to spread before symptoms materialize. Health officials estimate about 20% of patients become severely sick, leading to pneumonia and respiratory failure. Lipkin said he estimates the mortality rate of the coronavirus will ultimately be less than 1%. But the figure is “speculative” because more antibody tests need to be conducted “so we can figure out who might have been infected but not manifested signs of disease,” he said.

Chinatown Restaurant And Tourism Sales Plunge Over Coronavirus Fears - Despite the fact that there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in NYC, sales at Chinatown restaurants have plunged amidst the outbreak, which is looking more like a potential global threat with each passing day. Now Wah Tea Parlor's owner, Wilson Tang, said that on February 3, his restaurant saw an unprecedented 40% drop in business, according to Eater New York. It was a similar story out of critically acclaimed Sichuan restaurant Hwa Yuan, which also saw a steep plunge in sales this week. Tang said: “It sucks. The past couple days suck. We’ve been letting people go early, just to let them take some extra time off. It’s slow in general.” Other restaurants in China told the New York Times that sales have fallen by as much as 70% over the last 10 days. The city is also "suffering" from a decline in Chinese tourists, who make up the second largest group of international travelers to the city. In turn, the businesses that make a living off of these tourists, like restaurants, are seeing a loss of revenue attributable to tourism.  Elizabeth Chin, a travel agent in Fort Lee, N.J. told the NY Times: “It’s going to be a serious financial burden. The flights are canceled. The tour operators have canceled.” Bruce Zhu, the manager of China Tour Travel Services in Flushing, Queens said: “It’s a big problem. We have to cancel the bookings, cancel the hotels. We lose a lot of money on the bookings.” “It’s all stopped — zero,” another travel agent in Flushing lamented.  Sean F. Hennessey, an assistant professor at New York University who follows the travel industry, said the economic impact is going to be worse than SARS.  “New York will feel it, because not only have Chinese travelers become an increasingly large portion of the visitor base, but they are one of the most profitable portions of the visitor base, not just for hotels but for the city as a whole. They stay longer and they tend to spend more money,” he said.  And the aftershocks aren't just being felt in Chinatown in New York. For example, Martin Ma, the general manager of Jinli in London, said he is seeing a similar impact: “Compared to the last few months, we lost around 50 percent of our customers. The reason is the virus.”

Cruise ship refused entry by fifth port due to coronavirus fears — A Holland America Line cruise ship on Tuesday was refused entry to Thailand over fears of coronavirus. This is the fifth port to deny the ship to dock despite no cases of the virus having been confirmed on board the ship. Holland America Line tweeted Monday that its MS Amsterdam ship would be disembarking in Bangkok for travelers to head home, but on Tuesday the Thai health minister refused the ship’s entry. “I have issued orders. Permission to dock refused,” Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul reportedly said in a Facebook post. “We are aware of the reports regarding the status of Westerdam’s call to Laem Chabang (Bangkok), Thailand,” Holland America Line tweeted Tuesday. “We are actively working this matter & will provide an update when able. We know this is confusing for our guests and their families & we greatly appreciate their patience.” Four other countries or territories have denied entry to the ship, including ports in Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and Guam, Bloomberg News reports, citing the World Health Organization. Thai Deputy Transport Minister Atirat Ratanasate said in a Facebook post the country would “gladly help providing fuel, medicine and food,” although the ship is not allowed to dock in the country's port, Reuters reports. A separate cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, is quarantined in Japan and has a total of 130 confirmed cases on board as of Monday.

Coronavirus – The African Connection  - Like every issue of consequence, in our Age of Incomprehension, opinion about the truth concerning the  Corona virus outbreak is divided.  Either China is taking all prudent steps, the virus, while transmissible, has a low mortality rate and the West, with its travel bans, is over-reacting in a vaguely racist manner, or China has the virus far from contained, we don’t know just how transmissible it is nor its mortality rate because the figures from China can’t be trusted and therefore travel bans are a wise precaution. If travel bans to and from the infected parts of China turn out to have been justified then one country in particular may be worth watching, Ethiopia.  Ethiopia’s Bole International airport is the main African gateway to and from China. On average 1500 passengers per day arrive from China every day.  Ethiopia scans them all for symptoms which essentially means taking their temperature. Many of those passengers then fly on to other parts of Africa where Chinese companies are doing business. These are 2018 figures courtesy of Brookings.  The three main areas of Chinese business in Africa are transport, which generally means building airports and railways; energy which means building power stations; and grids and metals which means mines.One of the airports the Chinese funded and built is Bole International Airport in Ethiopia.The flights from China arriving at Bole International come from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hong Kong.  Just yesterday the Chinese government added China’s 5th largest city Guangzhou to its list of locked down quarantined cities.  Which strikes me as news.  For Guangzhou to have been quarantined means it must already have a large number of cases.  Guangzhou is not near to Wuhan, the source of the Corona virus outbreak. It is near to Hong Kong. It is linked to both by high speed rail and internal air travel. Guangzhou airport is in fact the  third busiest in China and the 13th busiest in the world handling over 65 million passengers per year. So… the spread of the  Corona virus in Guangzhou has got so serious that the Chinese government has quarantined it. Yet till now flights from there to Ethiopia were running. Of course I have no idea how many passengers were actually on those flights nor where they might have originated from.  But the rail and air links from Wuhan and other cities to Guangzhou and the fact that Guangzhou is therefore the hub to which any workers going to Africa would have passed through, does raise a few questions. Remember, 1500 per day on average (meaning in ‘normal times’ which these are not) through Bole international from China alone.

Canadian Scientist At Center Of Chinese Bio-Espionage Probe Found Dead In Africa? -- As GreatGameIndia.com detailed earlier, in a very strange turn of events, renowned scientist Frank Plummer who received Saudi SARS Coronavirus sample and was working on Coronavirus (HIV) vaccine in the Winnipeg based Canadian lab from where the virus was smuggled by Chinese Biowarfare agents and weaponized as revealed in GreatGameIndia investigation, has died in mysterious conditions. Frank Plummer was the key to the Chinese Biological Espionage case at Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory.

According to CBC, Plummer, 67, was in Kenya, where he was a keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the University of Nairobi’s collaborative centre for research and training in HIV/AIDS/STIs. Dr. Larry Gelmon, who helped set up that meeting, said Plummer collapsed and was taken to hospital in Nairobi, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. What is not mentioned in the CBC report however is that Plummer worked in the same National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg, Canada from where Chinese Biowarfare agent Xiangguo Qiu and her colleagues smuggled SARS Coronavirus to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology where it is believed to have been weaponized and leaked. Infact, as GreatGameIndia reported in our exclusive report on Coronavirus Bioweapon, as Scientific Director Frank Plummer was the one who acquired the SARS Coronavirus sample of the Saudi patient at the NML Winnipeg Lab from Ron Fouchier, a leading virologist at the Erasmus Medical Center (EMC) in Rotterdam, the Netherlands who was sent the virus by Egyptian virologist Dr. Ali Mohamed Zaki who isolated and identified a previously unknown type of Coronavirus from the Saudi patient’s lungs. Fouchier sequenced the virus from a sample sent by Zaki using a broad-spectrum “pan-coronavirus” real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) method to test for distinguishing features of a number of known coronaviruses known to infect humans. This Coronavirus sample arrived at Canada’s NML Winnipeg facility on May 4, 2013 from the Dutch lab received by Frank Plummer. The Canadian lab grew up stocks of the virus and used it to assess diagnostic tests being used in Canada. Winnipeg scientists worked to see which animal species can be infected with the new virus.

Coronavirus death toll passes 1,100 as China reports more than 90 new deaths - The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak topped 1,100 on Tuesday, after officials in the outbreak's epicenter reported more than 90 new deaths in the past 24 hours. The announcement came as top scientists gathered in Geneva to try and answer questions about the new disease, with the head of the World Health Organization issuing a plea for global unity against "a common enemy that does not respect borders or ideologies." In the U.S., a federal quarantine ended Tuesday for nearly 200 Americans who have been at a Southern California military base for the past two weeks, health officials announced. The group of 195 people was evacuated from the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China on a U.S.-chartered flight in January, and no one in the group was found to have the virus, Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the public health officer for Riverside County, told reporters. Authorities said there were 45,118 confirmed cases of the disease in China alone, with 395 more in 24 different countries. That includes a new case confirmed Monday in San Diego, the 13th person diagnosed in the U.S. Like most cases, that patient was recently in the Chinese city of Wuhan. All but one of the fatalities from the virus have been in mainland China. "With 99% of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, warned Tuesday, urging health officials and governments to "use the window of opportunity that we have now." The WHO has grown increasingly concerned about the virus being transmitted from people with no recent history of travel to China to others in their home countries. Tedros said Monday that this "community spread," which has been seen now in the U.K. and Spain, at least, could be the "spark" that lights a bigger fire. A Chinese worker wears a protective suit and mask as she scans groceries for a customer at a supermarket on February 11, 2020, in Beijing, China. 

Reporter's Notebook: Life and death in a Wuhan coronavirus ICU - In the coronavirus epidemic, doctors on the front lines take on the greatest risk and best understand the situation. Dr Peng Zhiyong, director of acute medicine at the Wuhan University South Central Hospital, is one of those doctors.In an interview on Tuesday with Caixin, Dr Peng described his personal experiences in first encountering the disease in early January and quickly grasping its virulent potential and the need for stringent quarantine measures.As the contagion spread and flooded his ICU, the doctor observed that three weeks seemed to determine the difference between life and death. Patients with stronger immune systems would start to recover in a couple of weeks, but in the second week, some cases would take a turn for the worse.In the third week, keeping some of these acute patients alive might require extraordinary intervention. For this group, the death rate seems to be 4 per cent to 5 per cent, Dr Peng said. After working his 12-hour daytime shifts, the doctor spends his evenings researching the disease and has summarised his observations in a thesis.The doctors and nurses at his hospital are overwhelmed with patients. Once they don protective hazmat suits, they go without food, drink and bathroom breaks for their entire shifts. That's because there aren't enough of the suits for a mid-shift change, he said.Over the past month on the front lines of the coronavirus battle, Dr Peng has been brought to tears many times when forced to turn away patients for lack of staffing and beds. He said what really got to him, though, was the death of an acutely ill pregnant woman when treatment stopped for lack of money - the day before the government decided to pick up the costs of all coronavirus treatments.Here's our interview with the ICU doctor:

China Ousts Officials as New Cases Soar by 15,000: Virus Update Two top Chinese officials at the center of the coronavirus outbreak were ousted, while new cases jumped by 15,000 as Hubei province revised its method for counting infections.The Communist Party secretaries for Hubei and the city of Wuhan were removed in the biggest political fallout so far from the epidemic. Fatalities in Hubei climbed by 242, with total deaths in China rising to 1,367. The number of infections in Hubei jumped by 14,840, sending the total number of cases in China toward 60,000. Japan confirmed 44 more cases on a quarantined cruise ship. Hong Kong extended the closure of schools until at least March 16, while the wireless industry scrapped its biggest annual showcase. China reported 15,152 additional coronavirus cases as of Feb. 12, with Hubei’s new method for counting infections accounting for the bulk of the additions.The Road to a Coronavirus Vaccine Runs Through Oslo The death toll rose by 254, the National Health Commission said at briefing. That brings the total fatality rate in mainland China to 1,367.The NHC said there are 8,030 severe cases, while 5,911 have recovered or been discharged.Outside of mainland China, two deaths have been reported, one in Hong Kong and the other in the Philippines.Australia will extend its ban on people entering the country from mainland China due to the coronavirus for an extra week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. The original 14-day ban was due to expire on Saturday. Australia’s National Security Committee will review the need for the ban on a week-by-week basis, Morrison told reporters in Canberra. China’s Hubei province, at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, is requiring that enterprises not resume work before Feb. 20, according to the local government.

Basic Coronavirus Facts in Wuhan Outbreak Still Aren't Clear -Questions about the coronavirus are coming thick and fast—but not answers. Today China reported a startling leap in cases, adding over 14,000—a third of the existing number—to the total in Hubei, the central Chinese province where the virus started. This seems to be in part the result of a broader methodology that has moved many cases from the suspected column into being clearly counted as confirmed—but much remains uncertain. As the death toll reaches over 1,300, the virus remains wrapped in a cloud of doubt. As would happen anywhere, the situation on the ground is chaotic, and much goes unreported or exaggerated. But there are also specific problems here. The Chinese Communist Party has a record of covering up or underreporting the toll of natural disasters from floods toearthquakes. Information is routinely concealed by officials from the public and their superiors for personal reasons. All this leads to an awful lot we don’t know. We don’t know how many coronavirus cases there are. The Chinese authorities are producing daily figures of confirmed and suspected numbers—but there are clearly many more out there. Just how many is a big question. Neil Ferguson, a prominent epidemiologist, estimated last week that as few as 10 percent of cases could be being detected. Other early modeling also showed the possibility of startling underestimates; one study suggested the number of cases in Wuhan alone had reached 75,000 by Jan. 25.Many factors could be causing cases to be missed. Some victims appear to have relatively mild symptoms, especially children. The sudden rise in cases today appears to have been a result of shifting – in Hubei but not elsewhere – patients clinically diagnosed by doctors but that had not been able to be fully tested into the ‘confirmed’ group. Because of fears of being isolated or stigmatized, some people showing symptoms may be avoiding the medical system, which is why the authorities have now restricted the sale of medication. In a country where out-of-pocket payments are the norm, people may be avoiding hospitals due to lack of money: Despite the government’s promise to cover costs, no clear mechanism is in place to compensate them, and some patients are paying many times their monthly income. We don’t know exactly how deadly the virus is.We don’t know exactly howdeadly the virus is. While the percentage of deaths among all known cases has remained steady in the official number at around 2.1 to 2.2 percent, there are several problems with that. Most of those diagnosed started experiencing symptoms only in the last week, and the disease hasn’t yet run its course. The number of deaths appears to be severely understated, with many reports of victims dying at home and being cremated before being counted in the official total. (Cremation is a contentious issue in China and not just during epidemics.)Deaths are also, so far, overwhelmingly concentrated in Wuhan itself, with the rate there nearing 5 percent.

China reports more than 15,000 new coronavirus cases overnight -  —  Political officials were fired and infection cases skyrocketed in China on Thursday, reminding a nation stuck at home and scientists watching worldwide just how little is known about the coronavirus outbreak that has infected at least 60,000 and killed more than 1,300 people.Previous numbers had been reassuring, with daily confirmations of new infections dropping from several thousand to around 1,000. Officials in Beijing, increasingly worried about the economic toll of the outbreak, urged people to go back to work. State media ran editorials about resuming international flights to China.But on Thursday the case numbers shot up. Chinese health authorities reported 15,152 new cases of COVID-19 — the World Health Organization’s new name for the viral disease — overnight. Hubei province, the epidemic’s epicenter, accounted for most of the increase: The number of infections went up by 14,840, more than nine times the 1,638 new cases reported there a day earlier.Then came the purge. Beijing announced that both the Communist Party chiefs of Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province were fired and replaced with officials known for “stability maintenance” and closely allied with party chairman and President Xi Jinping. The sackings followed earlier dismissals including the Hubei health commission’s party chief and its director. The new figures don’t indicate a rapid overnight spread of the virus in Hubei, but rather a change in the way patients are counted there, which may provide better access to treatment on the front lines. New cases of COVID-19 are being confirmed based on symptoms and a CT scan of the patient’s lungs. Previously, confirmations were based on time-consuming lab tests, which created huge backlogs. Many critically sick patients with symptoms but no confirmation of infection had complained of being turned away from hospitals. An unknown number have died without being diagnosed as having the virus. Nearly 90% of the new cases reported in Hubei on Thursday were “clinically diagnosed” under the new rules.The change reveals China had been undercounting its COVID-19 cases. It is also a troubling reminder that there is no clarity yet on the extent or severity of the outbreak.“The picture is evolving day by day ... it is a constantly moving target,” said John Nicholls, a pathologist at the University of Hong Kong who worked on the SARS outbreak in 2003. “We really have got no idea about the true number of cases.”Both Chinese and foreign epidemiologists believe that a large number of mild COVID-19 cases have still not been counted. The reasons abound: a shortage of tests, overwhelmed caregivers, and many infected patients whose symptoms aren’t severe enough to qualify for tests, which are not always reliable.

China accused of cover-up as coronavirus death toll soars - Beijing faced questions yesterday about its alleged efforts to cover up the extent of the coronavirus outbreak after it reported a huge rise in the number of deaths and infections and dismissed two top officials in its worst-hit province. A change in how the authorities count sufferers in the province of Hubei, to include those judged by a doctor to have the illness after a scan as well as those who have clinically tested positive, has increased numbers. The Chinese National Health Commission reported today that 121 people died yesterday and 5,090 new cases were detected. The virus has now claimed 1,380 lives and infected nearly 64,000 people in China. The nationwide tally jumped by 15,152 new cases on Wednesday, with the daily death toll hitting 254, the most so far. On Tuesday China reported 1,638 new cases and 108 deaths, raising hopes, now dashed, that the worst had passed. “Based on the current trend in confirmed cases, this appears to be a clear indication that while the Chinese authorities are doing their best to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the fairly drastic measures they have implemented to date would appear to have been too little too late,” Adam Kamradt-Scott, an expert in infectious diseases from the University of Sydney, said. Japan recorded its first death from the virus yesterday, an 80-year-old woman in Kanagawa prefecture, near Tokyo. The Japanese authorities pledged to step up testing and containment efforts.  President Xi demanded that all patients in Hubei be taken in for treatment after many complained that they had been denied access to medical services, which have been overwhelmed by the growing numbers. However, his edict appears to raise the prospect of suspected sufferers being taken involuntarily from their homes. Videos posted on social media in recent days have purported to show people being dragged from their apartments by teams dressed in hazmat suits or being chased through streets and hauled away. Tarik Jasarevic, a World Health Organisation spokesman, said that the agency was seeking more clarity from China on the updates to its case definition and reporting protocol. Ying Yong, 62, who was mayor of Shanghai and considered close to Mr Xi, has replaced Jiang Chaoliang, 62, as provincial party chief. Wang Zhonglin, 57, has replaced Ma Guoqiang, 56, as party chief for the city of Wuhan. Suisheng Zhao, a political scientist at the University of Denver, said that there was widespread criticism of the Chinese government’s response. It has quarantined about 60 million people.  The government has already faced accusations that it tried to suppress warnings of the emerging virus by doctors in Wuhan. One of those doctors, Li Wenliang, died from the virus last Friday.

Sudden Militarization Of Wuhan's P4 Lab Raises New Questions About The Origin Of The Deadly Covid-19 Virus - The reported militarization of Wuhan's P4 Lab has raised new questions about the origin of the Covid-19 virus and the apparent cover-up that has occurred since it was first made public. Following the removal of the most senior health officials in Wuhan yesterday, Chinese State Media has just reported that Chen Wei, China's chief biochemical weapon defense expert, is now to be stationed in Wuhan to lead the efforts to overcome the deadly, pneumonia-like pathogen.  According to the PLA Daily report, Chen Wei holds the rank of major general, and along with reports that Chinese troops have started to "assist", it strongly suggests that the PLA has taken control of the situation. As Epoch Times reports, before this latest report, Chen’s military rank and specialization was not widely known. She was first interviewed on Jan. 30 by the state-run China Science Daily. In a second interview the next day, she predicted that the outbreak in Wuhan would let up over the next few days, but could worsen again soon...  “We need to prepare for the worst-case scenario, find the best solutions, and be ready to fight the longest battle,” she said.  Amid constant propaganda from CCP officials, and widespread censorship, many - including US Senator Tom Cotton - have wondered if the virus was bio-engineered, and was ‘leaked’ from the lab (which just happens to be located at the epicenter of the virus).  The militarization, and bringing in of China's foremost bio-weapons expert raises the question once again of whether the Wuhan Strain of coronavirus (Covid-19) is the result of naturally emergent mutations against the possibility that it may be a bio-engineered strain meant for defensive immunotherapy protocols that was released into the public, most likely by accident.  A new report - a product of a collaboration between a retired professional scientist with 30 years of experience in genomic sequencing and analysis who helped design several ubiquitous bioinformatic software tools, and a former NSA counterterrorism analyst - suggests that this possible mistake may have been precipitated by the need to quickly finish research that was being rushed for John Hopkin’s Event 201 which was held this past October and meant to gameplan the containment of a global pandemic. Research may also have been hurried due to deadlines before the impending Chinese New Year – the timing of these events point to increased human error, not a globalist conspiracy. Beijing has had four known accidental leaks of the SARS virus in recent years, so there is absolutely no reason to assume that this strain of coronavirus from Wuhan didn’t accidentally leak out as well.

Smoking Gun? Chinese Scientist Finds "Killer Coronavirus Probably Originated From A Laboratory In Wuhan" - One week after the White House asked scientists to finally investigate whether the Covid-19 virus was bio-engineered (i.e., created in a lab), none other than CNBC jumped on the bandwagon and echoing a similar question by Senator Tom Cotton - and of course, Zero Hedge - said "maybe the coronavirus was man made."  All this is taking place as the mainstream media, whose purpose is similar to that of Beijing in minimizing public concerns and panic even if it means fabricating reality, presses on with the popular theory that the virus emerged from the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan (we recently showed why this appears very unlikely) while branding anyone who suggests that the coronavirus might have originated as a bioweapon developed in a secretive Wuhan lab as deranged conspiracy theorist  (a propaganda approach first popularized in the 1960s by the CIA to discredit controversial views). Indeed, just today, the FT reported that Trevor Bedford, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, "rubbished stories circulating on social media that Covid-19 was created at Wuhan Institute of Virology or elsewhere in China." Bedford is of course entitled to his opinion, which was only reinforced by the lack of any dissenting views from the scientific community, especially in "ground zero", China. That has now changed, however, with what may be a "smoking gun" report, first noted by Harvard to the big house, from a scientist at the prestigious South China University of Technology in Guangzhou China. A pre-print published by Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao, titled "The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus" whose abstract is the following... The 2019-nCoV has caused an epidemic of 28,060 laboratory-confirmed infections in human including 564 deaths in China by February 6, 2020. Two descriptions of the virus published on Nature this week indicated that the genome sequences from patients were almost identical to the Bat CoV ZC45 coronavirus. It was critical to study where the pathogen came from and how it passed onto human. An article published on The Lancet reported that 27 of 41 infected patients were found to have contact with the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. We noted two laboratories conducting research on bat coronavirus in Wuhan, one of which was only 280 meters from the seafood market. We briefly examined the histories of the laboratories and proposed that the coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory.  ... and an especially ominous conclusion: In summary, somebody was entangled with the evolution of 2019-nCoV coronavirus. In addition to origins of natural recombination and intermediate host, the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.  Who is Botao and should anyone listen to him? Well, yes: this is what we find about the research group of the Harvard post-doc:

"Maybe This Was Man Made" - CNBC Questions Coronavirus Origins As ZeroHedge Remains Banned On Twitter In keeping with our storied history of presenting readers with plausible theories and allowing them to make their own decisions often times weeks, months or years in advance of the mainstream media figuring them out and/or having the courage to finally touch on them, we're not surprised to see some of the critical questions we raised about the coronavirus origins weeks ago finally bleed into the mainstream media this morning.The idea of the coronavirus potentially being a man made virus was a question we raised several weeks ago in this post when we asked "Is This The Man Behind the Global Coronavirus Pandemic?". In that post, we asked questions about Zhou Peng, one of China's top virology and immunology experts who works at China's top-rated biohazard lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology. But the idea of their ever-so-beloved government covering up something from them or not having their best interest in mind was so disturbing the to snowflakes at Twitter, they lashed out by banning Zero Hedge from their platform with little color around why they took such drastic action. Their ban followed a BuzzFeed article claiming we had "doxed" the scientist involved by asking questions and posting the same information listed publicly on his website.  The ban was so questionable, it sent shockwaves across the mainstream media, even making it as far as CBS National News, who stated: "The financial website Zero Hedge is now barred from Twitter after publishing an article relaying a conspiracy theory that a Chinese scientist might be to blame for the coronavirus outbreak."But - as it often happens - the very same question that put us in our own social media "quarantine" simply can't be ignored. As we have found over the years, if it is an idea worthy of critical examination - or better yet, the truth - it often times can't be hidden, much to the chagrin of the government and/or beta male social media CEOs. This morning, CNBC's Eunice Yoon did an interview with Joe Kernen on Squawk Box where she offered an update on-the-ground in China. Among the topics discussed with Kernen was the origins of the virus. Yoon admitted in her discussion with Kernen that there was a "theory" going around China that the virus could be man made. "There are plenty of theories out there because Wuhan does have a P4 lab," Yoon says.  She continues:"There was a biochemical weapons expert who went from the Chinese military who went there - who is there now to look at some of the testing kits. Because she is there - maybe this was man-made and there’s a theory that this could have been part of a bioweapons program. But that’s just a theory.”We must give credit to Yoon, who has been on the ground in China since the beginning of the outbreak and whose reporting has been relatively objective and doesn't appear (too much) to be pandering to the CCP or the World Health Organization's token narrative. Yoon also references back to this interview during which she really exposes the reality on the ground in China...

WHO Turns On China, Demands To Know How Nearly 2,000 Doctors Were Infected With COVID-19 - Summary:

  • China says 1,716 medical workers have been infected
  • WHO demands to know more about sick doctors, insists group of 12 virus experts will reach Beijing over the weekend
  • Singapore reports largest daily jump in cases amid increased human-to-human transmission
  • Hong Kong reports 3 new cases
  • Hubei's new party boss orders quarantine tightened
  • President Xi touts new "biosecurity law"
  • Hong Kong Disney land offers space for quarantine
  • Chinese company says blood plasma of recovered patients useful in combating the virus
  • US mulling new travel restrictions
  • Japan reports 4 new cases; one patient recently returned from Hawaii.
  • CDC Director: Virus is "Coming" to the US.

 The WHO has just wrapped up its now-daily presser for Friday, and it appeared to focus on imminent plans to send a group of a dozen scientists and researchers to Beijing to figure out exactly what the hell is going on.  Much fuss has been made over the past week over China's continued refusals to allow Americans, or any other foreigners, for that matter, to offer assistance with the virus response. It's almost as if they're...hiding something...  Even after yesterday's big reveal about the change in their 'pro forma accounting standards' to reflect a higher death toll and number of confirmed cases (the jump alarmed global investors and prompted a selloff on equity markets), China still won't let Americans participate in a WHO-sponsored team of 12 researchers who are traveling to the mainland. It was a big deal earlier this week when Beijing said it would reluctantly accept the team, ending weeks of suspiciously standoffish behavior (though the WHO bigwigs did travel to Beijing for meetings). But as one analyst said earlier on CNBC: 'We want to see foreign boots on the ground before we simply take the Chinese at their word'.It's also notable how the WHO, initially a purveyor of what seemed like propaganda hot off the presses in Beijing, seems to have turned completely against its benefactor, now treating it with public suspicion.

First Mass Quarantine Outside Of China: Vietnam Puts Area With 10,000 Residents Under Coronavirus Quarantine For most of the past decade, Vietnam had benefited from China's r ising standard of living, higher wages, as companies seeking the lowest cost producer quietly but firmly transferred supply chains to originate out of China and into lower-cost locales such as Vietnam, whose devaluing currency (aptly named the dong) only helped boosting exports. Which is why it is painfully ironic that the same nation that indirectly helped Vietnam become a prominent player in global trade, now appears set to cripple Vietnam's fledgling export powerhouse. The culprit? Covid-19.With China's economy grinding to a halt as tens of thousands of people are infected and hundreds of millions are under quarantine from the coronavirus pandemic, a new viral hub may be emerging near Vietnam's capital, Hanoi.According to the Bangkok Post, villages in Vietnam with 10,000 people close to the nation's capital were placed under quarantine on Thursday after six cases of the deadly new coronavirus were discovered there, authorities said.The locking down of the commune of Son Loi, about 40 kilometres from Hanoi, is the first mass quarantine outside of China since the virus emerged from Wuhan.  "As of February 13, 2020, we will urgently implement the task of isolation and quarantine of the epidemic area in Son Loi commune," said a health ministry statement. "The timeline... is for 20 days".

Coronavirus Has Infected More Than 60,000 Worldwide, New Figures From Chi​na Reveal - As the world's leading health experts wrapped up a two-day forum about the coronavirus at the World Health Organization's Geneva headquarters Wednesday, new figures out of China over the past 24 hours revealed that the respiratory illness has now infected more than 60,000 people globally.During a Thursday press conference about COVID-19, as the virus is now officially known, Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO's Health Emergencies Program, emphasized that the new figures don't represent a spike in infections but rather reflect a change in the way China is counting cases.Since Wednesday, China has reported an additional 1,820 laboratory-confirmed cases as well as 13,332 clinically-confirmed cases in the Hubei province, Ryan said. Experts believe the virus outbreak started at a "wet market" in Wuhan, the province's capital and largest city, late last year.The new additions brought the total number of cases in mainland China to 59,804, with at least 1,367 deaths,according to The Associated Press. There are also 51 cases, with one death, in Hong Kong, and 10 cases in Macao, which are both special administrative regions of China.One public health expert suggested to the AP that China's new "clinical diagnosis case" classification likely reflects a backlog of samples from patients:   He said it wasn't unprecedented for case definitions to rely on doctors' diagnoses rather than wait for laboratory confirmation, and that these kinds of changes usually happen when there are simply too many patients to process in a fast-moving outbreak. "I'm not surprised that this has happened given the way the outbreak has been going in China," Woolhouse said. "You have to be pragmatic and take the concerns of the patient first and treat them as if they already have the disease, even in the absence of lab confirmation." While the vast majority of infections and deaths have been in China, particularly the Hubei province, relatively small numbers of infections and a few deaths have been documented in over two dozen other countries. Japan has the second-highest number of cases due to a quarantined cruise ship docked in Yokohama.Reuters reported Thursday that "elderly passengers on the Diamond Princess who have pre-existing conditions or are in windowless rooms would be allowed to leave starting from Friday, rather than the originally targeted date of Feb. 19. They will complete their quarantine onshore."That announcement came from Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato, who confirmed later in the day that a woman in her 80s from the Kanagawa prefecture had died after contracting the virus, marking the country's first death related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

China's Coronavirus Death Toll Rises Above 1,500 - An elderly Chinese tourist has died in France from the new coronavirus. The 80-year-old man, who died in Paris, is the first person in Europe to die due to complications from the virus that originated in China. In addition, the first African coronavirus infection has been reported, in Egypt. Officials in China's capital say all people returning to Beijing must self-quarantine themselves for 14 days. As China looks to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, the state-run Beijing Daily newspaper reports that those who refuse to seclude themselves or violate other containment rules "will be held accountable under the law." China’s National Health Commission said Saturday that 143 more people have died from the coronavirus, bringing the death toll to more than 1,500. The commission also confirmed another 2,641 new virus cases, however, that represents a drop from higher numbers in recent days. The previous day, China reported 5,090 new infections. China’s government recently changed its methodology for diagnosing and counting new cases, causing a spike in the number of reported cases. Under the new method, doctors can use lung imaging and other analysis to diagnose a patient instead of relying on laboratory testing. China’s National Health Commission said Saturday most of the new deaths were in Hubei's provincial capital of Wuhan, which is where the coronavirus outbreak is believed to have begun. The total number of confirmed cases in the country stands at 66,492 as of Friday night with the death toll at 1,523, according the commission. On Friday, the commission’s vice minister, Zeng Yixin, said 1,716 health workers have also been infected by the coronavirus and six of them have died.

New virus has infected more than 67,000 people globally - A viral outbreak that began in China has infected more than 67,000 people globally. The World Health Organization has named the illness COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it. The latest figures reported by each government’s health authority as of Saturday in Beijing:

  • - Mainland China: 1,523 deaths among 66,492 cases, mostly in the central province of Hubei '
  • - Hong Kong: 56 cases, 1 death
  • - Macao: 10 cases
  •   Japan: 337 cases, including 285 from a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, 1 death
  • - Singapore: 67 cases
  • - Thailand: 34
  • - South Korea: 28
  • - Malaysia: 22
  • - Taiwan: 18
  • - Vietnam: 16
  • - Germany: 16
  • - United States: 15 cases; separately, 1 U.S. citizen died in China

 The CDC is preparing for coronavirus 'to take a foothold in the US' - During a press call on Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told reporters that it is preparing for the coronavirus to have a greater impact in the U.S. than the 13 confirmed cases. On the phone with reporters was Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, who first offered her condolences to the family of the American who died from the virus while living abroad in China. She then continued to say that the CDC’s strategy to combat the virus will change and that the organization continues “to be flexible to meet public health challenges that the virus presents.” Messonnier also stated that the CDC is taking steps to prepare for the coronavirus to “take a foothold in the U.S.” “At some point, we are likely to see community spread in the U.S. or other countries,” she confirmed. Along with communicating with health care facilities and resources, Messonnier says that the CDC is in constant talks with the medical supplies manufacturers, distributors and other health care partners to ensure there are plenty of preventative devices like masks and gloves available in the U.S. in the event of a larger outbreak. Some of these partners have reported higher demand for N95 face masks and respirators. She also took the time to explain the CDC’s recommended use of any preventative supplies, especially face masks. Because the virus isn’t spreading through the community in the U.S., Messonnier only advises using face masks if “you are sick or under investigation and not hospitalized,” before one enters a health care provider’s office, or when caring for a potential infected patient. When alone and at home, however, Messonnier says that people do not need to wear a mask. 

CDC confirms 15th US case of coronavirus - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed the 15th case of the coronavirus in the U.S. The patient is among a group of Americans who had been evacuated from Wuhan, China, and is the first under federal quarantine at a military base in Texas. They are being isolated and receiving medical care at a nearby hospital. Nearly all of the confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. have been individuals who had recently traveled in China. The U.S. has evacuated and quarantined more than 800 Americans from Wuhan since the outbreak started last month. Nearly 200 evacuees were released from a quarantine site in California earlier this week. More than 600 evacuees from Wuhan are still in federal quarantine across the U.S. and are being closely monitored to contain the spread of the virus, the CDC said. About 45,000 cases of the coronavirus has been confirmed in China, and 441 others have been identified outside of the country. The Trump administration credits its “aggressive” measures with keeping the number of cases in the U.S. low, including declaring a public health emergency and banning the entrance of foreign nationals into the country who have recently traveled in China. The CDC will begin working with health departments in five cities to test individuals with flu-like symptoms for the coronavirus.

 CDC director: More person-to-person coronavirus infections in U.S. likely, but containment still possible - Health officials believe there is still opportunity to prevent widespread transmission of the coronavirus in the United States, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday, even as he warned that more human-to-human transmission here is likely. “We’re still going to see new cases. We’re probably going to see human-to-human transmission within the United States,” Dr. Robert Redfield said in an interview with STAT. He added that “at some point in time it is highly probable that we’ll have to transition to mitigation” as a public health strategy, using “social distancing measures” — for example, closure of certain public facilities — and other techniques to try to limit the number of people who become infected. “We’re not going to be able to seal this virus from coming into this country,” Redfield said. But, he added, “we do gain time by prolonging the containment phase as long as we can, provided that we still believe that’s a useful public health effort. “That’s where we are right now in the United States.” If the United States begins to see instances in several parts of the country in which a single case ignites four “generations” of human-to-human infection, Redfield said — meaning a person who contracted the virus infects a person, who infects another person, who then infects another person — then the CDC is likely to conclude containment of the virus has failed. “Once we get greater than three — so four or more is our view — [generations of] human-to-human transmission in the community … and we see that in multiple areas of the country that are not contiguous, then basically the value of all of the containment strategies that we’ve done now then really become not effective,” he said. “That’s when we’re in full mitigation.” The CDC director’s remarks came as a group of experts that advises the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program recommended that the world stay the current course of trying to halt spread of the new virus to stop it from becoming a human pathogen. That strategy, “containment for elimination,” was successful during the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak — though this epidemic is already nearly six times larger than SARS. During the SARS outbreak, roughly 8,000 people were infected and nearly 800 died. Redfield said that China, which has reported more than 45,000 cases to date, has not been able to contain the virus, despite massively restricting internal travel to try to stop it from spreading from Hubei province. The epicenter of the outbreak has been the city of Wuhan, located in Hubei. “Those countries that are still largely seeing cases that are really, like us, directly from Hubei province, there’s reason to still stay in the containment mode rather than turning that off and going right to mitigation. Because once you’re into mitigation, you will probably start to see more cases that may have been able to be contained,” Redfield said.

Chaos Is Coming- US To Start Testing People With Flu Symptoms - Brace for chaos: in a few weeks, the next person to sneeze may be arrested quietly pulled aside by the authorities and tested for coronavirus. People in the US experiencing flu-like symptoms will be screened for the latest coronavirus that originated from China, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced during a briefing on Friday, adding that it will roll out 5 labs, in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle, to screen patients through the ominously sounding "national flu surveillance program"; if that wasn't bad enough, they also said the program is likely to expand as more confirmed cases are expected in the coming days and weeks. Justifying the move, CDC officials said that there could be undetected cases of the mysterious illness in communities across the US, as the country experiences a dramatic spike in flu as the season approaches its halfway point. The agency plans to expand to more cities until it has achieved "national surveillance". "They are currently testing for influenza. The idea is they will test the influenza negative specimens," said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. There are now 15 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US and more than 600 people remain in quarantine. Which, of course is a prudent move, if only it weren't for the fact that tens of millions of Americans are about to get sick as we enter the peak of flu season, and every sneeze or cough will lead to panicked phone calls to the local ER (or police), and potentially in self-imposed quarantine as more and more Americans await an "all clear" signal before life returns back to normal. Alas, with the coronavirus pandemic running rampang in China, this may not happen for many month. Global cases of the virus have topped 64,000, including hundreds of health workers in China as it battles to contain the virus following its outbreak in Wuhan. In the US, there have been 15th confirmed coronavirus infections while more than 1,300 people have died in China (it would have been even more had China not somehow "double-counted" the dead). The latest case in the US involves a patient who was among a group of people under a federal quarantine order in Texas following a US government-chartered flight that evacuated US citizens from China earlier this month. Meanwhile, health officials report 26 million flu infections in the US so far this season, including 14,000 deaths.

 Coronavirus outbreak exposes a weak link in the U.S. drug supply – STAT - In the 21st century, Americans have found it far too easy to be complacent about public health emergencies like the ongoing coronavirus outbreak of the newly named Covid-19 that began in China and has since spread to other countries, including the U.S. To be fair, it has been more than 50 years since the last federal quarantine was issued, to control a deadly smallpox outbreak. A half-century gap is bound to instill a false sense of security, even when taking more recent threats into consideration. Fuzzy recollections are a symptom of a much larger problem: In the memory gap between outbreak and eradication lives a growing threat to health care delivery — and to national security. In October 2019, Dr. Janet Woodcock, the director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, testified before Congress that the United States “has become a world leader in drug discovery and development, but is no longer in the forefront of drug manufacturing.”Woodcock identified as a key health and security concern the cessation of U.S. manufacturing of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), the basic building blocks of medications. She testified that 72% of API manufacturing takes place outside the U.S., and that the number of facilities making APIs in China has more than doubled since 2010.The use of foreign-sourced materials “creates vulnerabilities in the U.S. supply chain,” Woodcock concluded.Her concerns are not unfounded. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission echoed Woodcock’s worries. In its 2019 report to Congress, the commission revealed “serious deficiencies in health and safety standards in China’s pharmaceutical sector.”The commission found a poorly regulated industry enabled by Beijing’s refusal to cooperate with routine FDA inspections. This stonewalling, coupled with the small number of FDA inspectors in the country to oversee a large number of producers and outright fraud perpetrated by Chinese manufacturers, is a recipe for disaster.The coronavirus outbreak is drawing much-needed attention to the possibility of a global health crisis. But awareness isn’t enough. Without action from policymakers, our dependence upon China for medications will continue to put American lives at risk. The number of Chinese facilities that make active pharmaceutical ingredients is still growing. Although we cannot yet quantify the U.S.’s dependence on pharmaceutical ingredients made in China, we do know that the more Chinese products flow into the U.S., the more potential there is for trouble.

Email scam uses coronavirus to target global industries: report - Hackers are using concerns about the how the coronavirus might affect global shipping to target various industries, new research released Monday from cybersecurity group Proofpoint found. Proofpoint found that hackers, most likely based in Russia and Eastern Europe, recently used malicious emails containing information on the impact of the coronavirus on the global shipping industry to target the manufacturing, industrial, financial, pharmaceutical, cosmetics and transportation sectors. As part of these emails, a Microsoft Word document was attached to the email, with the document containing an information-stealing malware virus known as “AZORult” that exploited an old vulnerability to install the malware on the victim’s system. Sherrod DeGrippo, the senior director of Threat Research at Proofpoint, said in a statement that the attacks show the hackers are “economically sophisticated” and are looking at the impact of the coronavirus on the global economy instead of just at related health concerns. “These attacks take Coronavirus-themed attacks in a direction people might not expect away from health-related concerns and towards secondary, economic-related concerns, in this case the possible impact of Coronavirus on global shipping,” DeGrippo said. The research was released two days after the global death toll from coronavirus officially hit 800, surpassing the number of people who died from the SARS virus in 2003. Both viruses originated in China, portions of which have been quarantined over the past few weeks to stop the spread of the coronavirus. As a result of fears surrounding the virus, misinformation online has spiked, with social media companies scrambling to contain the spread of false information and to direct users towards facts. DeGrippo cautioned that companies within the sectors targeted by the attackers should be cautious in opening anything related to the coronavirus.

The coronavirus is the first true social-media “infodemic” - On January 19—a week before the Lunar New Year—the local government had assured people that it would only affect those who visited a specific food market and contracted it directly from wild animals. But on the night of the 20th, Dr. Zhong Nanshan—the same doctor who first revealed the extent of SARS in 2003—went on national TV to correct the record. The virus could spread from person to person, he said. Panic ensued. Overnight, everyone in the city began wearing masks. Tang and his girlfriend placed themselves in a 14-day quarantine, leaving their apartment only once a day, with masks, to take out the trash.  On the third day of quarantine, Tang went into a panic when he opened the apps to see everything completely sold out.   On February 2, the World Health Organization dubbed the new coronavirus “a massive ‘infodemic,’” referring to ”an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” It’s a distinction that sets the coronavirus apart from previous viral outbreaks. While SARS, MERS, and Zika all caused global panic, fears around the coronavirus have been especially amplified by social media. It has allowed disinformation to spread and flourish at unprecedented speeds, creating an environment of heightened uncertainty that has fueled anxiety and racism in person and online.For its part, the WHO has attempted to address the issue by partnering with Twitter, Facebook, Tencent, and TikTok to clamp down on misinformation. It recently launched a Google SOS alert, for example, to push WHO information to the top of people’s search results for coronavirus-related queries. It has also been working with Facebook to target specific populations and demographics with ads that provide important health information. It has even gone so far as to reach out to influencers in Asia to try to keep disinformation at bay. Social-media and health organizations have also engaged in efforts of their own. TikTok has tried to remove purposely misleading videos, saying in a statement that it would “not permit misinformation that could cause harm to our community or the larger public.” Facebook has also worked to scrub posts with dubious health advice, and Tencent, the owner of WeChat has used its fact-checking platform to scrutinize coronavirus rumors circulating online. But the sheer avalanche of content has overwhelmed the coordinated efforts to clear out all the noise. This in turn has created a breeding ground for xenophobic content. Racist memes and slurs have proliferated on TikTok and Facebook. Some teens have even gone about faking a coronavirus diagnosis to earn themselves more social-media clout. This online toxicity has also translated into in-person interactions. Asians havefaced outright racism and harassment, and Chinatowns and Chinese restaurants have seen business lag

Coronavirus Oil Demand Destruction is Unprecedented - Oil traders often quip that if China sneezes, the oil market catches a cold. For the global crude market it is the undisputed leading importer of crude oil consuming on average 14 million barrels per day (bpd). Now China has indeed caught that metaphorical cold, and physically much more than that in the shape of the Coronavirus outbreak that has seen its government quarantine whole townships, shutter factories, shopping malls, offices and transportation hubs. The default implication is that there will be lower economic activity in China and therefore much lower crude consumption. Valid market fears that the first quarter of 2020 is likely to result in Chinese headline growth of 5% or less, has every international body from the International Monetary Fund to the International Energy Agency (IEA) scrambling to assess its impact on a global scale. Industry surveys are split on how much lower China’s crude oil demand could be with estimates pointing to a decline of between 18% and 25% over the quarter. Meanwhile, there are several reports of Chinese importers looking to sell off unwanted crude in transit to destinations elsewhere, lending credence to demand destruction in China no matter how temporary it eventually turns out to be. Even at the median market projection of a 21.5% decline, that still equates to 3.01 million bpd of crude oil that China will not need over the quarter. Benchmarked against the oil demands of selected G7 economies, the decline figure would be a mere 56,000 bpd more than Canada’s entire consumption rate in 2018, or 14,000 bpd more than that of the U.K. and Italy combined. And the implications for the crude market are not only related to China’s domestic issues. There is the domino effect to consider in terms of trade flows and its global impact. The outbreak has spread to over 20 countries and led to nearly 500 deaths. One obvious casualty would be aviation not just within and to/from China but globally, with fewer travellers, higher restrictions and global health related wariness over flying. There will inevitably be lower calls on jet fuel in Asia and many international air carriers have temporarily suspended flights to China.  According to Reuters, on the U.S. West Coast, jet fuel prices have taken a severe knock as cheaper supplies are being sent into the region from Asian markets. Jet fuel for delivery into Los Angeles JET-LA was down 25% on January, to $1.5997 on Monday (February 3) from $2.1266 a gallon, traders told the newswire.  While that might make airplanes cheaper to fill up, lower number of passengers and fewer flights in its wake would again drive consumption lower. Make no mistake, even if the global implications are sidestepped, and only China’s possible standalone loss of 3 million bpd or thereabout is countenanced, the global oil market has not seen a demand destruction event of this magnitude moving this quickly.

Airline growth hit as virus depletes Singapore Airshow -  (Reuters) - Asian airlines warned of “drastic” cuts in 2020 growth plans because of the coronavirus crisis, adding gloom to an already depleted Singapore Airshow as more firms dropped out. Asia’s top aerospace event is going ahead. But a purpose-built aero exhibition centre is pockmarked with empty spaces reserved for Chinese companies and others skipping the show because of the outbreak, whose death toll exceeds 900. Major suppliers Honeywell (HON.N) and Leonardo (LDOF.MI) joined a list of 70 no-shows on Monday amid concerns related to the new coronavirus, which first erupted in China. Although riddled with hype and pre-packaged announcements, air shows are widely seen as a litmus test of confidence in the aerospace industry and bring together tens of thousands of people to network around cabin mock-ups and arms stalls. But few deals are expected at the Feb 11-16 Singapore event, where the epidemic has triggered new safety measures and cast a shadow over airline profits and demand for airplanes. Fresh evidence of the impact emerged on the eve of the show as UK-based consultancy Ascend by Cirium said the number of flights scheduled to operate to, from and within China had dropped by 24% compared with expectations before the crisis. Worse, the number of flights actually operated was down by half compared with normal seasonal levels as many airlines continued to slash flights below their newly adjusted schedules. That means Asian airlines are bracing for a turbulent 2020. Cancellations bring costs in lost revenue and ticket rebates.

Coronavirus live updates: China smartphone shipments predicted to fall in Q1 - China’s smartphone shipments for the three months ending in March could decline by more than 30% from the same period a year ago, International Data Corporation said on Tuesday. The outbreak affected the Lunar New Year’s shopping season in late January and is also expected to have adverse effects in the following months, IDC said in a statement, adding that it expects “China’s smartphone shipments to drop more than 30% year-on-year in 2020Q1.” China’s movie theaters were ramping up for one of their biggest sales seasons of the year – hiring extra staff and buying more supplies — when the new coronavirus hit. Now most theaters have been closed for about two weeks, and it may be months before consumers have enough confidence to see the movies in theaters again. One theater manager says it’s the biggest shutdown in 20 years – even SARS in 2003 didn’t have such a great impact. Theater operators now have to negotiate with landlords over potentially tens of thousands of yuan a month in rent, and manage other costs without any income in the meantime. It’s just one example of how businesses are getting hit by virus-related disruptions, and how the Chinese government is now rushing to announce policies to support the privately run, small businesses that contribute to more than half of economic growth. Global energy research and consultancy group Wood Mackenzie said it estimated gas demand loss in China had reached 2 billion cubic meters (bcm) by the end of the first week of February. More than half of that loss was concentrated in the industrial sector, according to research director Robert Sims. Many factories had shut down production for an extended period after the Lunar New Year holidays as part of China’s efforts to stop the virus from spreading further. Experts have agreed that there will be a significant economic impact on China as well as the rest of the world for at least the three-months that end in March. Sims said the impact on Chinese gas demand will depend on both the severity and length of time required to contain the outbreak. “With a resumption in economic activity, although limited, we estimate a full-year gas demand reduction of between 6 bcm and 14 bcm in 2020,” he said in a report. Year-on-year growth rates are expected to also drop from the 8% outlook predicted prior to the outbreak.

Xi warned officials that efforts to stop virus could hurt economy: sources - (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping warned top officials last week that efforts to contain the new coronavirus had gone too far, threatening the country’s economy, sources told Reuters, days before Beijing rolled out measures to soften the blow. With growth at its slowest in nearly three decades, China’s leaders seem eager to strike a balance between protecting an already-slowing economy and stamping out an epidemic that has killed more than 1,000 people and infected more than 40,000. After reviewing reports on the outbreak from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and other economic departments, Xi told local officials during a Feb 3 meeting of the Politburo’s Standing Committee that some of the actions taken to contain the virus are harming the economy, said two people familiar with the meeting, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. He urged them to refrain from “more restrictive measures”, the two people said. Local authorities outside Wuhan - where the virus is thought to have first taken hold - have shut down schools and factories, sealed off roads and railways, banned public events and even locked down residential compounds. Xi said some of those steps have not been practical and have sown fear among the public, they said. China’s state council information office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The coronavirus fallout is 'battering' African economies, Capital Economics says -The indirect economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak is hitting Africa, with the sharp fall in commodity prices “battering” economies across the continent, according to Capital Economics. Much of the international ripple effect from China’s mass shutdowns has been concentrated in areas like tourism and manufacturing, which have been roiled by a ban on outbound tour groups and supply chain disruption arising from factory closures. However, port closures in China are causing oil importers to cancel purchases and forcing sellers to look elsewhere, John Ashbourne, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, highlighted in a note Friday. In Angola, state-owned petroleum and natural gas company Sonangol has already been forced to re-sell at a discount at least one shipment which was already en route, according to Ashbourne. “While the price effect will hit all of Africa’s commodity exporters, these trade disruptions will mostly affect West African oil exporters,” Ashbourne said. Brent crude prices have been in steep decline since the outbreak hit the headlines, down 16.96% since the turn of the year, and was trading at just over $54 a barrel on Monday afternoon. Other base metals heavily relied upon by the African export market, such as iron ore and copper, have also seen sharp depreciations in recent weeks. In terms of economic exposure, industrial commodity exports from Republic of the Congo amount to almost 70% of GDP (gross domestic product) with exports to China accounting for more than 50% of total GDP. Angola relies on Chinese industrial commodity exports for more than 20% of GDP. Other countries with significant exposure include Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Ghana. Though the virus itself has not yet been diagnosed on the continent, experts have warned that the subcontinent is susceptible given its strong ties to China. Last week, upon declaring the virus a global health emergency, World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Tedros Adhanom said the body’s “greatest concern” was the potential for it to reach countries with “weaker health systems.”

What Will Be the Spillover Effects of the Coronavirus on India Inc? Even as the business community across the globe is keeping its fingers crossed on the eventual impact of the coronavirus in China, a view is fast gaining ground that New Delhi has to be nimble-footed in not only blunting the virus’s effect on the country but also leveraging it to India’s advantage. A sense of apprehension is quite palpable as industry leaders have spoken out about possible disruption to the broader supply chain. In the last few days, major players in India’s pharma and mobile phones industries have noted how if the shutdown continues, local production and supply of everything from handsets to a few generic drugs may come to a halt. “The bigger issue is that the supply chain constraint is also likely to hit India. It will take at least 2-3 months for the supply chain to get back to the normal mode and hence, there will be some amount of disruption in the global supply chain till that time,” said the head of an auto component major in Chennai, who did not want to be named. “China is an integral part of the global supply chain, including for the automotive sector. The more advanced the technology, the more likely that those parts are being made in China. A lot of the players, including those in the passenger vehicles segment, are affected in the current scenario. While the Chinese government has said that factories can start functioning, the issue relates to third-party logistics services where the truck transporters typically use drivers who are migrants and the question is whether they will be allowed back immediately. A lot of the ports are fully blocked,” he continued. Given the issues relating to China, of late there has been a focus on de-risking, including in the automotive and hi-tech industries. Some of the businesses in the mobile phone space have already gone to Vietnam. “India has to pitch with the large MNCs who have factories in China to get a part of their businesses to India,” he added. Also read: Coronavirus Disrupted the Release of a Chinese Movie. Here’s How the Studio Responded. Auto industry sources also pointed out that China has not been as cost competitive as in the past. “For quite some time, global companies have been looking at options to build supply chain capabilities in India as an alternative to China. There is generally a move to look at de-risking. The fact that global companies are looking at non- Chinese options is an opportunity for India,” an auto industry source said. “The other option that the global companies are looking at is creating a manufacturing hub in India by recreating what they did in China in the past and using India as a manufacturing export base,” said a ranking official of an auto component company. “India is in a good position to take advantage of this, though the Chinese scale is huge. But there are some segments which are supply chain-based to create some kind of manufacturing hub. The government should look at job creation by expanding industries (even if MNCs create those jobs) within India. Trade-related competition from other countries should be viewed from the point of creating enough employment in the country. That is when India will grow faster,” the official said.

The Cow Dung Cure for Coronavirus – WSJ - India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote this week to Xi Jinping, offering the Chinese leader help in tackling the Wuhan coronavirus. Details of the assistance aren’t public, but Mr. Modi’s offer probably didn’t include supplies for a “treatment” that a senior Hindu fundamentalist advocated recently. Swami Chakrapani Maharaj, president of the Hindu Mahasabha—a century-old organization that advocates Hindutva (or “Hinduness”)—declared that “consuming cow urine and cow dung will stop the effect of infectious coronavirus.”...

Coronavirus Update: Virus May Push Germany Into Recession Due To Close Trade Links  - Germany, already reeling from a weakening manufacturing sector, could be pushed into a recession by the fallout from the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.Deutsche Bank warned in a report on Wednesday that Europe’s largest economy will experience a small contraction in the fourth quarter and is unlikely to witness a recovery in 2020.“The coronavirus presents a risk to the global recovery as it dampens hopes for a revival in the Chinese economy,” said Stefan Schneider, an economist at Deutsche Bank. “A technical recession… therefore seems increasingly likely.”Schneider estimated the virus will result in a 0.2 percentage point reduction in Germany’s gross domestic product for the three-month period through March – meaning two straight quarters of contraction, the definition of a recession. Germany’s export-heavy economy is very dependent upon China. Germany’s all-important automotive industry is particularly vulnerable to a Chinese slowdown -- about one-third of all German vehicle exports (5.2 million units) went to in China in 2019.In addition, German carmakers have about 30 production facilities in China, while German auto parts suppliers have more than 300 locations in China. However, Deutsche Bank also noted that “if the spread of the coronavirus soon peaks as expected, demand [for German products] may simply shift to the later course of 2020."

Royal Caribbean Cancels 18 Cruises As Thousands Remain Trapped Aboard 'Diamond Princess' - Cruise ship operators across the world, especially in Asia, are experiencing a crisis with few precedents.The Covid-19 outbreak that started in China has spread across the region, and around the world - it's currently confirmed to be present in nearly 30 countries and territories. For cruise lines, the outbreak has been one public relations disaster after another, with passengers quarantined on ships such as the World Dream in Hong Kong and Carnival Corp.'s Diamond Princess in Japan.Another incident involving a cruise ship with possibly infected passengers unfolded on Thursday, this time in Sydney. What would be the fifth cruise ship to face some level of quarantine (or some other form of trouble) since the outbreak went global last month is currently being held under a quarantine order in Sydney Harbor.The leading cruise ship operator in Asia, Carnival Corporation & plc, published a press release on Wednesday detailing that if it suspended all operations across Asia until the end of April due to the virus outbreak, then it would realize a severe financial impact. "…if the company had to suspend all of its operations in Asia through the end of April, this would impact its fiscal 2020 financial performance by $0.55 to $0.65 per share, which includes guest compensation." With the virus outbreak worsening, and China shockingly reporting a massive jump in new infections on Wednesday-Thursday due to a "change in the definition" of how it counted confirmed cases, resulting in a surge of nearly 20,000 cases over the two days, the outlook for cruise operators is only getting worse. This leaves the big cruise ship operators facing a serious dilemma:

Option 1) contain virus, preserve life & Cause serious Sharp Economic Slowdown
Option 2) Let virus spread & globally 50 - 100 Million could die, With Long, Slow, milder Economic impact

However, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. appears to have finally made the right call on Thursday evening after it announced it would suspend 18 lines. The short-term impact is a 65-cent-per-share hit on earnings for the year, but at least it would prevent further spreading of the virus and limit PR disasters such as what's happening on Carnival Corp.-owned 'Diamond Princess' - the ship currently trapped in Yokohama, Japan with more than 174 infected.Cruise ships, hotels, and restaurants in China have been roiled by the virus, even in surrounding countries. Travel restrictions to and from China by many of other countries have crippled the world's tourism industry as the outbreak continues to worsen with no vaccine for 18 months.Royal Caribbean also said that fears of the virus outbreak have spread beyond Asia. "While the early impact due to concerns about the coronavirus is mainly related to Asia, recent bookings for our broader business have also been softer," the operator said.

The Humanitarian And Business Impacts Of The Coronavirus - As of this writing, the virus has infected thousands and killed hundreds. With the situation growing grimmer each day, and talk of pandemic increasingly in the news, Chinese authorities have shut down the city of Wuhan (where the virus originated) as well as 16 other cities across the country – reportedly quarantining an estimated 50 million people.   It is estimated that 70% of the global supply of raw materials is controlled by China. Thus, when China starts shutting down its borders, the effects are felt everywhere. Already, the auto sector is starting to halt production due to an inability to obtain parts from Chinese sources. Hyundai, for example, has shut down production at 3 factories in South Korea because it can’t get critical wiring harnesses from a Chinese supplier. Within China, virtually all of the major car companies have shut down production. But the auto industry is not alone. Companies like Bosch have also halted production in China.     It’s instructive to look back on the SARS virus of 2003 and compare then to now. Just 17 years ago, China was significantly less globally integrated. For example, as China estimates, the number of trips taken by outbound tourists from China in 2003 stood at 16.6 million. By 2018, the number was 149.7 million. This 800% increase is just one of many measures that reminds us that global integration has increased dramatically over the past couple of decades. Today, supply chains are globally integrated like never before – and, like never before, they are uniquely susceptible to disruptions. Companies operating on the global stage need to be prepared for supply chain disruptions. These disruptions are happening now and will likely become more common moving forward. From trade wars and political unrest to climate change events and the threat of pandemics, change is here to stay.The rational response for any company in this situation is to do whatever possible to minimize risk by increasing supply chain agility. It’s difficult to tell what will happen with the spread of the coronavirus, but we can certainly understand what the virus is telling us in terms of how we deal with disruptions. Clearly, we need to find ways to keep goods flowing through vulnerable, globally integrated supply chains.

China cannot fight coronavirus and avert an economic crisis at the same time  - Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.  China must be nearing the point where the social and economic costs of trying to stamp out the coronavirus by totalitarian methods are greater than the trauma of letting it run.A normal country would eventually conclude that the more rational course is to accept that the disease can no longer be contained (given the three lost weeks of the Wuhan cover-up), treat it as a form of turbo-charged winter flu, and direct all efforts instead at managing care more coherently.The focus would then shift to a different objective: trying to lower the death rate from apparent 1918 Spanish flu levels of 2pc to plausible levels below 1pc – still 10 times influenza flu – through anti-virals, IV drips, oxygen, and all kinds of small frictions (yes, even face masks) to lower dose thresholds and potentially virulence.But China is not normal and the Communist Party cannot easily follow this logic. It has almost certainly gone beyond the point of no return by declaring a “people’s war” and imposing lockdowns of different sorts on more than 400 million people, and by implicitly making defeat of the contagion a test of its ruling legitimacy. It seems condemned to doubling down at this point since Guangzhou, Chongqing, and Changsha are already riddled with the virus. This political choice has big global economic consequences. Taoran Notes – the voice of Xi Jinping’s inner circle and the medium that China experts follow very closely – hinted last night at a very nasty policy of police/military coercion in Hubei and virus hotspots. Anybody who is possibly infected must be “rounded up and placed in quarantine centers”. It is going to be Uighur treatment for tens of millions, or indeed a page from Mao’s most demented moments of social and economic havoc. Taoran also says that Xi enforcer Chen Yixn – a sort of Beria for those familiar with Stalinism – is being sent to take over Wuhan and impose the new security regime. Regions making up two-thirds of Chinese GDP have been closed since late January. It appears that few people have actually returned to work this week. There are a number of proxy measures to keep track of this. One is traffic congestion across 100 cities published daily with a slight delay by AMAP, China’s version of Google maps. So far there is no visible rebound. Another is property sales in 30 big cities released every day (amazingly). Sales have collapsed to zero and have yet to show a flicker of life. Capital Economics updates each chart daily on its coronavirus page, open to the general public. Some 25 provinces and municipalities were supposed to go back to work this week but this clashed head on with virus control measures. Companies may not reopen plants unless they can track the exact movements and medical data of each worker, and comply with a 14-day quarantine period where necessary (we now learn the incubation may in fact be 24 days). Officials dare not be lenient after Xi Jinping’s latest tirade. The Guangzhou authorities have ordered plants to remain closed until early March in large parts of the city with warnings of ferocious penalties. Apple supplier Foxconn has yet to restart its core iPhone plants in Zhengzhou and Shenzhen. Just 10pc of its workers have turned up. Caixin reports that Foxconn may wait until March before restarting. Meanwhile the near complete shutdown of Shanghai’s manufacturing hub in Songjiang belied early claims that 70pc of plants were going back to work.

Hundreds of millions of chickens at risk of being wiped out with much of China locked down due to virus - Following its pork crisis, China’s poultry farmers are now in dire straits because of the coronavirus outbreak. Millions of chickens may soon perish in coming days as much-needed feed is not getting to them in time. The shutdowns in China’s provinces have hit supply chains, with transport restrictions preventing much needed animal feed such as soybean meal from getting delivered to poultry farms, according to analysts and Chinese state media. As the outbreak spread, Chinese authorities have shut roads and highways, and even halted long-distance buses. This is going to create massive problems in the livestock sector. Even if a local plant has resumed operations, it will still be longer than normal for delivery due to logistics problems. The supply of soybean meal is short to begin with, said financial services company INTL FCStone in a note on Monday, adding that the extension of business shutdowns will exacerbate the shortage. “This is going to create massive problems in the livestock sector. Even if a local plant has resumed operations, it will still be longer than normal for delivery due to logistics problems (lack of labor, road closures, road checks),” wrote Darin Friedrichs, senior Asia commodity analyst at company INTL FCStone. “I think in many regions the transport issue (is impacting) the chicken production. It is expected that not only Q1 production but Q2 would be impacted,” Chenjun Pan, senior analyst at Rabobank, told CNBC. Already, farmers in Hubei — the epicenter of the virus outbreak — are in a “very distressed” situation, Hubei’s poultry association wrote in a letter to the national-level China Animal Agriculture Association last week. The letter said transportation is basically paralyzed, and most large-scale farms will face severe shortage of feed soon, which will hit operations. The China Animal Agriculture Association asked feed producers to send 18,000 tons of corn and 12,000 tons of soybean meal to Hubei. According to China’s state-owned Global Times, there are around 348 million chickens in Hubei, which is the sixth largest poultry producing province in China. Hubei, also a key egg producer, slaughters about 500 million birds each year. Poultry businesses in Hubei are “in dire need” of feed, said Global Times in a piece over the weekend, adding that existing stocks would only last between three to five days. It cited farmers who said millions of chickens will soon die without new supplies. Some farmers have been reducing daily feeds in order to make supplies last longer, the report said.

Cross-State Air Pollution Causes Significant Premature Deaths in the U.S. - More than four in 10 deaths in the United States associated with air pollution can be attributed to emissions that came from states other than where the deaths occurred, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The easterly drift of emissions across the country is known as cross-state air pollution, the largest source of which has historically been fossil fuel-burning power plants. The new study identifies the key trends in cross-state air pollution from 2005 to 2018, including which sectors of the economy contribute the most pollution, which states are net exporters of pollutants, and which states suffer most from air pollution wafting across their borders. Overall, premature deaths associated with air pollution from fossil fuel combustion declined markedly, or by about 30 percent, over the 14-year period studied, thanks to a shift to renewable energy, curbs on particulate matter in the air, and greater fuel efficiency in automobiles. The percentage of premature deaths attributable to out-of-state pollutants also fell, from 53 percent in 2005 to 41 percent in 2018, according to the study, which was conducted by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and funded in part by the Environmental Protection Agency. The sector that showed the greatest reduction in deaths linked to its emissions was power generation. In 2005, emissions from electric utilities accounted for about one of every four early deaths linked to cross-state air pollution. By 2018, the industry accounted for about one of every eight deaths.

Half of U.S. Air Pollution Deaths Linked to Out-of-State Emissions, New Yorkers at Greatest Risk - On average, around half of all early deaths from poor air quality in the U.S. are associated with pollution produced out-of-state, a new study has found.The findings are especially concerning for New Yorkers: ozone and fine particulate matter from emitters in other states accounted for 60 percent of air pollution-related premature deaths, The New York Times reported, leading researchers to term the Empire State the "biggest importer of air pollution deaths." In 2018, that amounted to 3,800 deaths. On the other hand, the largest "net exporters" of premature deaths were mostly located in the northern Midwest, such as Wyoming and North Dakota, which have lower populations but higher emissions. "This situation is a bit like secondhand smoke, but on a national scale," study  The researchers said estimates show between 90,000 and 360,000 deaths per year in the U.S. are linked to air pollution.Experts have long been aware of air pollution's ability to spread far from its source. but this new study, published in Nature, is the first to model its spread and resulting health impacts according to its source,Bloomberg reported.The researchers developed a computer model of winds and chemical reactions in the atmosphere to track the movement of pollution created by the power generation, aviation, rail, road transportation, commercial and residential sectors, and other sectors to and from all 48 contiguous states. The model included U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports and health data to track air pollution and effects for the years 2005, 2011 and 2018. They found that after air pollution is created in one state, winds may carry as much as half of it across the border to another state hundreds of miles away, according to MIT News. A separate study in January found that even low levels of air pollution exposure can lead to deadly health effects.

EPA fails to follow landmark law to protect children from pesticides in food  - The landmark Food Quality Protection Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency to protect children's health by applying an extra margin of safety to legal limits for pesticides in food. But an investigation by EWG, published this week in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, found that the EPA has failed to add the mandated children's health safety factor to the allowable limits for almost 90 percent of the most common pesticides.The study in Environmental Health examined the EPA's risk assessments for 47 non-organophosphate pesticides since 2011, including those most commonly found on fresh fruits and vegetables, and found that the required additional tenfold safety factor was applied in only five cases."Given the potential health hazards of pesticides in our food, it is disturbing that the EPA has largely ignored the law's requirement to ensure adequate protection for children," said the study's author, Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., vice president for science investigations at EWG. "The added safety factor is essential to protect children from pesticides that can cause harm to the nervous system, hormonal disruption and cancer."The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, or FQPA, requires the EPA to set allowable levels for pesticides in a way that would "ensure that there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result to infants and children from aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical residue." It was hailed as a revolutionary recognition of the fact that children are more vulnerable to the effects of chemical pesticides than adults. "Based on the strong consensus of the pediatric and the public health communities, the FQPA stated unequivocally that regulation of toxic pesticides must focus, first and foremost, on protecting infants and children," said Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and epidemiologist who is director of the Program in Global Public Health and the Common Good at Boston College. "When the EPA fails to apply this principle, children may be exposed to levels of chemical pesticides that can profoundly harm their health."

Car ‘splatometer’ tests reveal huge decline in number of insects - Two scientific studies of the number of insects splattered by cars have revealed a huge decline in abundance at European sites in two decades.The research adds to growing evidence of what some scientists have called an “insect apocalypse”, which is threatening a collapse in the natural world that sustains humans and all life on Earth. A third study shows plummeting numbers of aquatic insects in streams.The survey of insects hitting car windscreens in rural Denmark used data collected every summer from 1997 to 2017 and found an 80% decline in abundance. It also found a parallel decline in the number of swallows and martins, birds that live on insects.The second survey, in the UK county of Kent in 2019, examined splats in a grid placed over car registration plates, known as a “splatometer”. This revealed 50% fewer impacts than in 2004. The research included vintage cars up to 70 years old to see if their less aerodynamic shape meant they killed more bugs, but it found that modern cars actually hit slightly more insects.“This difference we found is critically important, because it mirrors the patterns of decline which are being reported widely elsewhere, and insects are absolutely fundamental to food webs and the existence of life on Earth,” said Paul Tinsley-Marshall from Kent Wildlife Trust. “It’s pretty horrendous.” “Most naturalists who are out in nature have seen this coming over a long time,”  Insect population collapses have been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, and the first global scientific review, published in February 2019, said widespread declines threatened to cause a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”. Insects pollinate three-quarters of crops and another recent study showed widespread losses of such insects across Britain. The causes of decline are the destruction of natural habitat, pesticides and the impacts of the climate crisis. Light pollution has also been cited as a key“bringer of insect apocalypse”.  The survey in Kent analysed nearly 700 car journeys reported by volunteers from June to August 2019. The bug splats on the registration plate were counted to calculate the number of impacts per kilometre. This was 50% lower than an RSPB survey using the same methodology found in 2004.

‘Consistent With a Mass Extinction’: New Study Warns Climate Chaos Driving Rapid Decline of Bumblebees - The rising frequency of extremely hot temperatures tied to human-caused global heating is creating "climate chaos" that drives widespread declines of bumblebees, some of the planet's most important pollinators, according to a new study published in the journal Science. Researchers at the University of Ottawa in Canada and University College London in the United Kingdom developed a new measurement of temperature based on species' heat tolerance. "We have created a new way to predict local extinctions that tells us, for each species individually, whether climate change is creating temperatures that exceed what the bumblebees can handle," explained study co-author Tim Newbold. The team applied their technique to data on 66 different bumblebee species across North America and Europe collected from 1901 to 1974 and 2000 to 2014. They concluded that more frequent extreme heat "is increasing local extinction rates, reducing colonization and site occupancy, and decreasing species richness within a region, independent of land-use change or condition." "We found that populations were disappearing in areas where the temperatures had gotten hotter," said the study's lead author, Peter Soroye. "Using our new measurement of climate change, we were able to predict changes both for individual species and for whole communities of bumblebees with a surprisingly high accuracy." The researchers found that the rate at which bumblebees are declining is "consistent with a mass extinction." Over the course of a single human generation, the chances of a local bumblebee population surviving has fallen by an average of more than 30%. Soroye noted that the findings have implications for more than just the bees. "Bumblebees are the best pollinators we have in wild landscapes and the most effective pollinators for crops like tomato, squash, and berries. Our results show that we face a future with many less bumblebees and much less diversity, both in the outdoors and on our plates," he said. "If declines continue at this pace, many of these species could vanish forever within a few decades." Although the study serves as a bleak warning about the need for urgent action to address the declines of bumblebees, the authors are hopeful that their technique for gauging the impact of extreme events like droughts and heatwaves can also aid with conservation efforts for other species.

Africa in race against time to tackle locusts as footage emerges of swarm engulfing car  - Dramatic footage of a motorist driving through a vast swarm of locusts in Kenya has highlighted the crisis facing Africa as the United Nations warned that time is running out.The shocked driver can be heard shouting in disbelief as the insects turn the sky black and surround his car as he drives through the countryside.The video emerged as UN officials warned the international community that immediate action was required to stop a humanitarian catastrophe.  It is feared that a 40-mile-wide swarm of 360 billion locusts could grow 500 times bigger within the next four months. The desert locusts have already decimated vital crops in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, and damaged farmland in Djibouti and Eritrea before they flew into Uganda and Tanzania this weekend. Mark Lowcock, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said: 'In this region where there is so much suffering and so much vulnerability and fragility, we simply cannot afford another major shock. And that's why we need to act quickly.' He added: 'We do have a chance to nip this problem in the bud, but that's not what we're doing at the moment. We're running out of time. 'I'm calling on the countries concerned, the international community, the donors, to step up and to step up now. 'There is a risk of a catastrophe. Perhaps we can prevent it; we have an obligation to try. Unless we act now, we're unlikely to do so.'

India, Pakistan should brace for ‘TWIN INVASION’ of locusts from Horn of Africa & Iran, UN warns — Giant swarms of locusts may descend on both sides of the India-Pakistani border around spring-summer this year, a UN locust monitor said, amid an unprecedented plague already affecting the black continent.  Gargantuan tribes of desert locusts have been terrifying the residents of Yemen and Saudi Arabia and laying waste to countries in the Horn of Africa. UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calls the outbreak worst in 25 years for the Eastern Africa and worst Kenia in particular faces in 70 years.After multiplying in the Horn of Africa, the swarms may migrate to Hindustan, where they may deliver a twin strike together with freshly hatched locust from southern Iran, FAO's Senior Locust Forecasting Officer Keith Cressman told IANS news agency on Monday.  “There is a potential risk that the swarms can move from the Horn of Africa, starting in about mid-May until about some time in July to meet those monsoon rains that arrive in Rajasthan in India and Cholistan-Tharparkar in Pakistan,” he said. The worst-case scenario would require an early breeding season for locusts in Iran, which may be caused by warm weather and plentiful rains. The conditions in the Horn of Africa are currently favorable for fast replication of the pests, which is causing the ongoing infestation in the first place. If they remain as good for the insects, migration to India and Pakistan, which has not happened for quite some time, is likely this year, the official said.  Iranian locusts hit Pakistan and India the previous year. Cressman said he hoped the two nations are better prepared than countries like Somalia or Ethiopia to deal with the swarms. African nations lack security and funding to control and contain the plague that may soon seriously affect South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, according to FAO. The region is already suffering from food insecurity, so the crisis may lead to serious starvation. Desert locus is among the most dangerous pests. A 2-gram adult insect is capable of eating its weight worth of food in a day while a swarm usually consists of several tens of millions. They can also fly as far as 150 km in a day after eating crops in a particular area.

 Amazon Deforestation Is Causing 20% of Forests to Release More Carbon Than They Absorb -An extensive study that looked at a decade of carbon emissions found that nearly 20 percent of one of the world's largest carbon sinks is actually releasing carbon instead of capturing it, according to the BBC.  The decade-long study led by professor Luciana Gatti, a researcher at Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), measured carbon by flying airplanes equipped with carbon sensors over various parts of the forest every two weeks. The results, which have not yet been published, showed that around 20 percent of the forest, especially in the southeastern section, had become an emitter of greenhouse gases instead of a carbon sink, as The Inquistr reported.The southeastern part of the forest, which has been heavily logged and clear-cut, seems to have lost its ability to absorb carbon, according to the BBC.In recent years, millions of trees have been lost to logging or to wildfires. Growing trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere, while dead trees emit carbon. The rapid loss of young trees suggests that the Amazon rainforest may turn into a carbon source much faster than had been predicted, as the BBC reported.Recently, the 2019 wildfires in Brazil released nearly 392,000,000 metric tons of CO2 in 2019. That is without all the final numbers from last year. The total carbon emissions from last year's fires in Brazil's were equivalent to more than 80 percent of Brazil's 2018 greenhouse gas emissions, as Bloomberg reported. Carlos Nobre, who co-authored the study, called the observation "very worrying" because "it could be showing the beginnings of a major tipping point." He added that the findings point to a trend where more than half of the Amazon could shift from rainforest into savanna in the next 30 years, as the BBC reported."[The Amazon] used to be, in the 1980s and 90s, a very strong carbon sink, perhaps extracting two billion tons of carbon dioxide a year from the atmosphere," said Nobre to the BBC, who is also a researcher at the University of Sao Paulo's Institute for Advanced Studies and Brazil's leading expert on the Amazon. "Today, that strength is reduced perhaps to 1-1.2bn tons of carbon dioxide a year."That number does not account for deforestation and forest fires, which are both on the rise after Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro reversed efforts to crack down on clear-cutting the forest and opened up lands to loggers, ranchers and mining operations.

NOAA Offers $20,000 to Help Solve Brutal Florida Dolphin Murders - Government officials are offering an up to $20,000 reward for information that helps solve two brutal Floridadolphin murders. The first dolphin was discovered shot or stabbed late last week by biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission off of Naples, Florida, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries reported Tuesday. The second was found within the same week by experts at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, who discovered the animal on Pensacola Beach with a bullet in its left side."[These are] some of the worst cases we have seen," Tracy Dunn, who leads the law enforcement team of NOAA's southeast division, told The New York Times.The deaths bring the total for dolphins stranded in the southeastern U.S. up to at least 29 since 2002, according to NOAA. The dolphins appear to have been shot or stabbed with arrows or fishing spears. Four of these strandings occurred within the past year. This includes one dolphin who was found off Captiva Island, Florida in May 2019 with a fatal puncture wound in its head. The case remains unsolved, and authorities are also offering a separate reward for any information about that case.The underlying problem is that people feed dolphins illegally, NOAA officials explained."When dolphins are fed, their behavior changes. They lose their natural wariness of people and boats," NOAA bottlenose dolphin conservation coordinator Stacey Horstman told The New York Times.This means that when dolphins encounter boats, they adopt a begging position, Horstman further explained toNBC. They either stick their heads out of the water with their mouths open or look up at the boats while on their sides. When they do this, they are only one to two feet from a boat. It is thought both of the dolphins killed last week were in a begging position when they died."The best advice is not to feed them, not to reach out to them. The seemingly innocent act of feeding dolphins can lead to harm and something like this," Horstman told The New York Times.

Sardines shrink to half their size in a decade as the seas get warmer - French scientists have raised the alarm about a rapid shrinkage in the size of sardines in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, caused by the warming climate.Sardines in the Mediterranean have lost two thirds of their average mass over the past decade while those in the Atlantic waters off France have lost half their weight, according to Ifremer, the French oceanographic institute.Since the institute was alerted by Mediterranean fishermen in 2008, the fish there have shrunk in length from an average of 13cm to 10cm last year, it said. In the Bay of Biscay, their size dropped from an average of 18cm to 14cm last year.Experts at Ifremer ruled out overfishing, disease or the impact of predators and concluded that a rise in water temperature was the most likely cause. “For sardines and anchovies in the Bay of Biscay and in the [Mediterranean] Gulf of Lion, we are leaning towards environmental factors linked to the rise in temperature and the fall in the quantity of food available,” Clara Ulrich, a biologist, said. The shortage of food is also cutting short the lifespan of a sardine, with the average in the Mediterranean falling to one year from three a decade ago.

Storm Ciara’s hurricane-force winds batter UK transport network - . Hurricane-force winds and flooding have caused severe disruption across much of Britain, including damage to hundreds of properties and the cancellation of trains, flights and ferries. Storm Ciara brought heavy rain and winds of more than 90mph, knocking out power to homes in some areas. The upheaval is likely to last into the start of the working week and there is more bad weather to come. There is a possibility of blizzards in Northern Ireland and Scotland along with 20cm of snow. There is also a snow and ice warning in place for north-west England for Monday and Tuesday as temperatures drop sharply. Met Office meteorologist Alex Burkill said: ““It’s going to stay very unsettled. We have got colder air coming through the UK and will be feeling a real drop in temperatures.” Communities in the north of England that have suffered the brunt of flooding in recent years were hit again on Sunday, including Appleby in Cumbria, Bury in Greater Manchester and parts of West Yorkshire. Sirens were sounded early on in the market towns of Todmorden and Hebden Bridge in the Calder Valley, where high street shops were under water within hours. By Sunday evening more than 220 flood warnings remained in place across England, largely in the north and south-west. No trains were running on the west coast mainline between Manchester and Scotland and severely reduced services were running on many other routes. A major incident was declared in Lancashire, where North West Fire Control received 192 reports of flooding in Blackpool, Whalley, Longton and Rossendale. In West Yorkshire, the fire service said it attended 106 incidents between 8am and 2.15pm and received 671 emergency calls about flooding in Calder Valley, Kirklees, Bradford and Leeds. People in Calder Valley told of cars being swept away and water engulfing defences that had been built up at a cost of tens of millions of pounds since flooding in Christmas 2015.

NSW weather: residents evacuated from flooded areas and thousands left without power  - Devastating storms have swept through eastern New South Wales, forcing flood evacuations and leaving tens of thousands without electricity. Utility companies were on Sunday rushing to turn the lights back on for the more than 100,000 customers left without power. Residents in low-lying areas near the Narrabeen Lagoon in northern Sydney were on Sunday night ordered to evacuate by the NSW State Emergency Service. The SES said people risked being trapped without power and water if they didn’t leave the area. The south-west Sydney suburbs of Moorebank, Chipping Norton and Milperra were also ordered to evacuate. Flooding along the Hawkesbury River could disrupt gas and water deliveries to the north-west Sydney towns of Richmond and Windsor, the SES said. Emergency services have been swamped with calls since the deluge set in on Friday, while the extreme weather has caused transport chaos across Sydney. “This wet and windy weather is really wreaking havoc on our roads today, with paramedics responding to five car accidents every hour since Friday night,” NSW Ambulance spokesman Giles Buchanan said on Sunday afternoon. “We’ve responded to multiple trees that had fallen on to cars, trees into houses and units, and people trapped in cars in floodwaters.” NSW Maritime said a number of boats had been sunk by the turbulent conditions at sea. Four people were hospitalised on Sunday afternoon after a tree fell on their car in the Sydney CBD. A 16-year-old boy was also taken to hospital with suspected broken ribs after he was trapped between debris in waist-deep water for two hours in the Hunter region. The teen was rescued by emergency services after falling into Allyn River while canoeing at about 9am on Sunday. Utility company Ausgrid says more than 77,000 customers had lost electricity across Sydney, the Central Coast and Newcastle. Endeavour Energy said a further 26,000 customers were without power in Sydney, the Blue Mountains and southern highlands. “Crews are reporting extensive damage after very strong winds brought down power lines in many areas,” Endeavour Energy said. 

Rain deluge in eastern Australia set to extinguish NSW bushfires this week - A deluge of rain and wild weather could extinguish all remaining fires in New South Wales by the end of the week, the Rural Fire Service hopes. Torrential rain over three days in the state, which has been ravaged by bushfires and endured a prolonged period of drought, has already extinguished one megablaze, with the Gospers Mountain fire that has burned for months in the Hawkesbury declared out on Monday. Dams in the greater Sydney area, where water restrictions have been in place due to the drought, have also received more than their entire annual rainfall for 2019 in the space of a weekend. On Monday, Sydney’s water storage levels reached 64%, up 22 points on the previous week. While the rain has been welcome news for firefighters, it has created chaos elsewhere – causing flooding, power outages and property damage. Advertisement The NSW RFS said on Monday there were still 33 active fires in the state, with five of those uncontained. Only a week ago, more than 60 fires were burning across NSW and 33 of those were uncontained. The five fires that are still burning out of control are all in the Bega Valley and Snowy Valley area in the state’s south. They include the Border fire and the Big Jack Mountain fire. An RFS spokesman said that “all going well” it was likely those five fires would be out “in the next 48 hours”. He said it there was optimism that all remaining fires in the state would remain at a contained status by the end of the week. It was possible all of them could be extinguished. “It would be an absolute miracle. We hope so,” he said. “Certainly all contained. We’re hopeful to get to the stage where we can call them out.” Firefighters have faced an unprecedented season and have been battling blazes since July last year. On Monday, the RFS said some of the biggest fires were now extinguished. They include the Gospers Mountain fire in the Hawkesbury, the Currowan fire in the Shoalhaven, the Green Wattle Creek fire in Wollondilly, the Myall Creek Road fire (Richmond Valley), the Erskine Creek fire (Blue Mountains), the Kerry Ridge fire (Muswellbrook) and the Morton fire (Wingecarribee).

Hell and High Water in Australia - Australia has endured intense heat, severe drought, dust storms, and catastrophic fires burning their way through everything in their path, destroying wildlife and vegetation that could take decades to regrow. And in some places, the soil is so scorched it may not be able to support plant life in the future.While the fires are still going strong in some areas, the rainy season came. But rather than offering relief from misery, it brought wild winds, hail storms, and flash floods, toppling trees and causing landslides. Floods also wash huge quantities of ash into rivers, dams, and eventually the sea, where “they will likely pollute water supplies and kill aquatic wildlife.”  And here’s an additional horror: the heat and moisture brought a plague of poisonous spiders out into the open. What next? It’s impossible to keep up with the situation, for it seems to change every day.How does all this affect the rest of the planet?A swirling plume, about the size of the continental US, has completely circled the Earth,pumping around 400 millions tons of carbon into the planet’s stratosphere. This happens due to a mind-boggling phenomenon. Intense fire creates its own weather because smoke creates thunderstorms. Hot rising air mixes with ash and smoke that, in the cooler air above the fires, evolve into stormy pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCbs) clouds that “pull smoke up from near the ground like a chimney, and … inject it into the stratosphere.” (For a deeper analysis on how this works, please go here.) Could the smoke in the stratosphere cool the earth? David Peterson of the US Naval Research Laboratory said of the smoke, “It’s very likely on a volcanic scale.” But although a volcanic eruption can put enough aerosols into the atmosphere to have a cooling effect, “the different chemistry of pyroCbs means the impacts of the fires on global temperatures aren’t yet entirely clear.”  Because of Australia’s wildfires, the yearly rise in carbon dioxide may be 2 percent higher than it would otherwise be. Not all the CO2 emitted remains in the atmosphere. Normally, about half is taken up by the oceans and by plants and soil. But some say the ocean is now so saturated with carbon dioxide that it cannot absorb much more. Some say there won’t be enough plant life to absorb the CO2. Some say that, as the planet gets hotter and the soil becomes dryer, plants die and may absorb less CO2. Another grim thing to consider: when it’s warm, microorganisms in the soil produce more CO2.  Climate change leads to fires — and fires lead to more climate change.

 Traditional Ways of Paying for Fires and Floods Aren’t Cutting It --Fires and floods are sending some of the nation’s largest utilities to the bond market to cover huge, unexpected bills. California’s PG&E Corp., which was forced into bankruptcy a year ago after its equipment sparked the deadliest wildfire in state history, is seeking permission from the state to issue as much as $7 billion in bonds to cover claims. Meanwhile, North Carolina-based Duke Energy Corp. is putting together a bond deal to pay for almost $1 billion in repairs and other expenses from hurricanes and snowstorms that swept across Florida and the Carolinas. “In the past, storms haven’t been at this magnitude, or this cost,” said Chris Bauer, director for credit and capital markets at Duke. The deals underscore how climate change is driving up the expense of natural disasters for utilities. Power companies have always had to deal with wildfires and storms, but they’ve traditionally paid for the damages with modest rate hikes. As more extreme weather patterns trigger bigger and more frequent storms, the costs have skyrocketed. Utilities need a way to spread them out over years, and bonds—backed by a special line item charge on customers’ bills—are emerging as a potential strategy. Storms have typically cost Duke in the tens of millions of dollars—no small amount, but part of the cost of doing business in the U.S. Southeast. But a series of extreme weather events in 2018 and 2019 caused unprecedented damage, and adding the full cost to bills would shock customers. Instead, Duke is putting together a deal to securitize the costs, issuing a bond that would be paid back over 10 years. While ratepayers still have to pick up the tab, spreading it out over a longer period makes the monthly bite more bearable. And because the notes are backed by a charge added to customers’ bills, the bonds are likely to get favorable financing terms, further reducing costs. And Duke may consider using bonds to pay for closing coal-ash ponds in the Carolinas. Under a January settlement with state regulators, the project could cost up to $9 billion over 20 years. “The amounts are so large that if you tried to use traditional financing, the rate shock would be too high,”

Death toll in Camp fire probably includes 50 more people, report says -  Doctors and other experts say at least 50 more people, many of them elderly or ill, probably died as a result of the 2018 wildfire that devastated the town of Paradise, Calif., but were not counted in the official death toll, an investigation by the Chico Enterprise-Record found. Authorities have said the deadliest wildfire in California history killed 86 people. But the newspaper reported Tuesday that it had identified at least 50 more people whose deaths were linked to the fire but not attributed to it. The additional people lived in homes, retirement communities and nursing facilities in the towns of Magalia, Paradise and Concow, according to addresses on wrongful death claims filed as part of a legal case against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The utility’s equipment was blamed for starting the fire. Each claim was vetted by a medical expert and a lawyer, and claimants had to gather evidence showing the person would not have died were it not for the fire. Some claims were turned down, lawyers said, because the evidence would not necessarily stand in court. \ Attorneys said the online database used to record claims is not perfect, so the number may not be exact. Joe Earley, a lawyer representing several claims against PG&E and a survivor of the fire, called the list “the tip of the iceberg.” He said most of the people whose family members he represents had health issues, were elderly and died shortly after the fire. “I believe those people are just as much a victim as everyone else,” he said. Obituaries and GoFundMe pages offer an additional glimpse into their lives. A husband and wife who were deeply involved in Paradise community organizations died within a few months of each other. There was also a grandmother for whom losing her home was just too much stress. One person had a stroke after leaving anti-stroke medication behind when fleeing, Earley said.

You just lived through the warmest January on record - For 421 straight months, Earth has been warmer than average. January 2020 continued where 2019 left off, as the planet's relentless, long-term heating trend — stoked by skyrocketing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations — resulted in the warmest global January on record, according to the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service.January 2020 squeaked past January 2016 by just fractions of a degree (0.03 Celsius), but it's really the long-term heating trend that's important, not any individual month. Overall, 2019 was the second hottest year on record, 19 of the last 20 years are now the warmest on record, and high-temperature records now absolutely dominate low-temperature records.Europe was exceptionally warm, as natural climate variations kept frigid air confined to the Arctic and away from Europe. But, as with all high-temperature records today, the planet's added background warming gives these temperature fluctuations an extra boost, often resulting in broken records. Europe smashed its average January temperature record by over 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit (3.1C), with some areas experiencing temperatures that were a whopping 10 degrees (6C) warmer than average. Though Earth overall was markedly warmer than average in January 2020, some places, like Alaska, were profoundly colder than usual, underscoring that within a heating climate, there is still, and will always be, variable weather.  Overall, Earth has warmed by a little over 2 F  (1 C) since the 1880s. But, if carbon emissions continue rising with little to no efforts to slash fossil fuel use, the globe is currently on track to warm by around another 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit this century — if not more. Even with the warming we've had so far, the consequences have been extreme, and foreshadow even worse devastation.

 We Just Had the Hottest January in 141 Years of Record Keeping - In the Northern Hemisphere, temperatures were, on average, 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal last month, making it the warmest January on Earth since comprehensive records have been kept starting 141 years ago, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as The Guardian reported.In some places, the abnormal temperatures were extreme. Norway's capital, Oslo, which usually sees people skiing down snow-laden streets, was without snow in January, as Reuters reported. Boston, which is usually unbearable in January, saw back-to-back 70-degree days on the second weekend of the month, asWeather.com reported. The Swedish town of Örebro reached 50.5 degrees Fahrenheit, its hottest January temperature since 1858, according to The Guardian.The unusual warmth disproportionately affected Russia, Scandinavia and Eastern Canada, where temperatures were an incredible 9 degrees Fahrenheit above average, or higher, as The Guardian reported.This January's warming trend is especially surprising since it happened without an El Niño system in the tropical Pacific Ocean, according to NOAA. The government agency noted that a lot of regions were experiencing new records. "Record-warm temperatures were seen across parts of: Scandinavia, Asia, the Indian Ocean, the central and western Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and Central and South America. No land or ocean areas had record-cold January temperatures," NOAA said in its summary.NOAA also noted that the four warmest Januaries in the climate record have happened since 2016, while the 10 warmest have all occurred since 2002.This above-average trend is likely to continue in 2020, likely making this year one of the five hottest on record, according to statistical analysis done by NOAA, as CNN reported.The report also found extensive sea-ice melt. The warmer temperatures meant Arctic ice coverage was 5.3 percent below average. On the other end of the world, Antarctic sea ice coverage was reported to be 9.8 percent below average, according to The Hill. That trend is likely to continue since Antarctica just recorded its two hottest days ever this week, reaching nearly 70 degrees on Sunday.

 Antarctica Breaks 69°F for the First Time on Record -The Antarctic region just recorded a temperature higher than 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time. Brazilian scientists measured a temperature of 20.75 degrees Celsius (approximately 69.35 degrees Fahrenheit) on Seymour Island Feb. 9, one of the researchers told AFP Thursday."We'd never seen a temperature this high in Antarctica," Brazilian scientist Carlos Schaefer told AFP. The record was broken three days after the Antarctic continent recorded its highest temperature to dateat a balmy 18.3 degrees Celsius (approximately 64.9 degrees Fahrenheit). That measure was taken at Argentina's Esperanza station on the Antarctic peninsula that extends north towards South America.The Brazilian reading was taken on one of the islands that extends off that peninsula, according to BBC News. It breaks the previous record for the entire Antarctic region, defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) as all the land and ice south of 60 degrees. The previous record for the region of 19.8 degrees Celsius (approximately 67.6 degrees Fahrenheit) was recorded in 1982 on Signy Island.Schaefer was careful to point out that the temperature reading was not part of a larger study and so could not be used as evidence of a climate trend. "We can't use this to anticipate climatic changes in the future. It's a data point,"

Rising seas threaten to drown U.S. airports by 2100 (Thomson Reuters) - Some of the world's busiest airports, including in U.S. cities such as New Orleans, Palm Springs in California and Key West, could be underwater by the end of the century if unchecked global warming pushes up sea levels, researchers said Wednesday. An analysis by the Washington-based World Resources Institute (WRI) found that with 1 meter (3.3 ft) of sea-level rise, an estimated 80 airports globally would be swamped by 2100. "If you step outside and throw a dart blindfolded, almost anything will be impacted by climate change, including airports," said Noah Maghsadi, one of the authors. A 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that sea levels could rise by about 60-110 cm if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase strongly. But even if the Paris Agreement goal to limit the planet's temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times is met, the researchers estimated that 44 airports in low-lying areas could be flooded by likely sea-level rise of about half a meter. "Based on this analysis, even if we do curtail climate change, adaptation still needs to happen," said Maghsadi. Methods used to ward off flooding include building dikes, sea walls and underground spaces, said the analysis, which drew on data from research group Climate Central for sea levels and OpenFlights, an airline and route data company. Vulnerable airports also include some of the busiest in Asia and Europe, WRI said, such as Yancheng Nanyang International Airport in China's Jiangsu Province and Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. As the adverse impacts of climate change become clearer, airport managers in coastal regions have begun investing in measures including higher runways, sea walls and better drainage systems to protect immovable assets.

 NASA warns of 'potentially hazardous' asteroid - NASA has confirmed that an asteroid larger than the tallest man-made structures on Earth will miss the planet by a few million miles Saturday,the International Business Times reported.The asteroid is traveling toward Earth at a speed of almost 34,000 miles per hour, the outlet reported. A collision would likely trigger a nuclear winter and mass extinction, but the asteroid is set to pass the planet by approximately 3.6 million miles. NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies identified the asteroid as 163373 (2002 PZ39). It is estimated to have a diameter of approximately 3,250 feet, making it larger than the Burj Dubai, which is currently the tallest building in the world.The asteroid has been labeled a “Potentially Hazardous Asteroid” by NASA. It is an Apollo asteroid, which means it will intersect Earth’s path around the sun. According to NASA’s website, “Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are currently defined based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth.”   NASA currently estimates that the asteroid will pass by the planet on Saturday at 6:05 a.m. EST, the International Business Times reported.

Defying expectations of a rise, global carbon dioxide emissions flatlined in 2019 - News – IEA - Despite widespread expectations of another increase, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions stopped growing in 2019, according to IEA data released today.After two years of growth, global emissions were unchanged at 33 gigatonnes in 2019 even as the world economy expanded by 2.9%. This was primarily due to declining emissions from electricity generation in advanced economies, thanks to the expanding role of renewable sources (mainly wind and solar), fuel switching from coal to natural gas, and higher nuclear power generation. Other factors included milder weather in several countries, and slower economic growth in some emerging markets.“We now need to work hard to make sure that 2019 is remembered as a definitive peak in global emissions, not just another pause in growth,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “We have the energy technologies to do this, and we have to make use of them all. The IEA is building a grand coalition focused on reducing emissions – encompassing governments, companies, investors and everyone with a genuine commitment to tackling our climate challenge.” A significant decrease in emissions in advanced economies in 2019 offset continued growth elsewhere. The United States recorded the largest emissions decline on a country basis, with a fall of 140 million tonnes, or 2.9%. US emissions are now down by almost 1 gigatonne from their peak in 2000. Emissions in the European Union fell by 160 million tonnes, or 5%, in 2019 driven by reductions in the power sector. Natural gas produced more electricity than coal for the first time ever, meanwhile wind-powered electricity nearly caught up with coal-fired electricity. Japan’s emissions fell by 45 million tonnes, or around 4%, the fastest pace of decline since 2009, as output from recently restarted nuclear reactors increased. Emissions in the rest of the world grew by close to 400 million tonnes in 2019, with almost 80% of the increase coming from countries in Asia where coal-fired power generation continued to rise.  Across advanced economies, emissions from the power sector declined to levels last seen in the late 1980s, when electricity demand was one-third lower than today. Coal-fired power generation in advanced economies declined by nearly 15% as a result of growth in renewables, coal-to-gas switching, a rise in nuclear power and weaker electricity demand.

EIA projects total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions to be relatively flat through 2050 – EIA  In the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2020 (AEO2020) Reference case, which assumes no new laws and regulations, U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions decrease through the early 2030s before increasing to 4.9 billion metric tons in 2050. If realized, U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions in 2050 would be 4% lower than 2019 levels. Changes in the fuel mix for electricity generation and increasing activity in the industrial and transportation sectors are the main drivers of EIA’s U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions projections. energy-related co2 emissions Total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions decrease until 2031, then slowly increase. The U.S. electric power sector’s CO2 emissions experience the largest drop through 2025 as a result of coal power plant retirements and additions in renewable generation capacity. Beyond the coal-driven CO2 emissions decrease from 2019 to 2025, electric power sector CO2 emissions stay relatively constant throughout the projection period as the more economically viable coal power plants remain in service. In addition, CO2 emissions in the U.S. transportation sector decrease through the late 2020s. Rising fuel efficiency more than offsets the effects of increases in total travel and freight movements, and therefore petroleum-based energy consumption in the transportation sector decreases. Total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions resume growth after 2031 but remain 4% lower than 2019 levels by 2050. Increased activity in the transportation and industrial sectors leads to more consumption of petroleum and natural gas. Residential and commercial energy sector emissions remain largely unchanged throughout the projection period.  Other scenarios included in AEO2020 demonstrate the sensitivity of U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions projections to assumptions regarding variables such as economic activity, oil prices, renewable energy technology costs, and oil and natural gas resource estimates. Of the side cases in the AEO2020, energy-related CO2 emissions vary the most in the cases that modify economic growth assumptions. By 2050, CO2 emissions in the High Economic Growth case are 13% higher than in the Reference case (and 9% higher than 2019 levels). CO2 emissions in the Low Economic Growth case are 11% lower than in the Reference case and 15% lower than 2019 levels.

The Paris Agreement Set an Unrealistic Target for Global Warming. Now What? - It’s been a rallying cry for activists and a key talking point for diplomats. For decades now, 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming has been viewed as a “do not cross” line in climate policy, a temperature at which cataclysmic and potentially permanent damage to the planet would take hold.Countries that signed on to the 2015 Paris Agreement vowed to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius of warming since the Industrial Revolution. National policies and international agreements are evaluated for how well they can help meet this target. There’s a general sense that if the world’s governments work fast enough and hard enough, we can still avoid the worst.But what if that goal was not as realistic as many have assumed?“In no way should 2 degrees — from a scientific perspective — be seen as a safe target,” said Peter Frumhoff, chief climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. According to Frumhoff, 15 to 20 years ago climate scientists thought that 2 degrees of warming would avoid catastrophic climate change. “Our understanding of climate risks was that 2 degrees C would be a reasonably safe and achievable target.   ”Over time, however, more updated research — most recently the special report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — indicated that 1.5 degrees C is a safer, more scientifically robust, target. But even though activists and some governments have pushed for more stringent targets, 2 degrees has stuck. The Paris Agreement commits to “pursue efforts” to hold warming to 1.5 degrees, but 2 degrees has emerged as a kind of middle ground between countries feuding over climate change.The problem is, neither goal is currently possible without the massive, massive deployment of technologies that don’t exist yet. Yes, we’ll have to improve renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, and build better batteries to store it all. But the possibility of reaching that 2-degree target by reducing emissions alone has shrunk to essentially zero.At this point, it requires substantial investment into and development of so-called “negative emissions” technologies to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide emissions would need to reach net-zero by mid-century; which means we would need to start developing the technology, er, now. We only have a limited amount of carbon left to burn, so little that even with extraordinarily steep reductions in energy use and a rapid scale-up of renewables, keeping warming to 2 degrees isn’t possible. Unless there were somehow a way to turn back the clock and undo some of what the largest emitters have done.

 What Trump's fiscal plan means for the climate - The White House laid out its policy priorities for a second Trump term yesterday, and climate change wasn't on the agenda. In fact, the word "climate" didn't appear at all in the 138-page main budget document, which asked Congress for a total of $4.8 trillion to fund the president's priorities across the federal government in fiscal 2021. That figure would mean a slight increase in federal spending overall compared with the status quo and would enable the Trump administration to grow the military to include the U.S. Space Force and to fund favorite infrastructure projects like the border wall. But the agencies that are most responsible for addressing climate change at home and abroad — including EPA and the departments of Energy and State — would see steep cuts under the proposal. And programs within those agencies that deal directly with climate change would take the biggest hit. Congress, however, is almost certain to reject the budget blueprint as is. For one thing, it violates a bipartisan agreement on spending that Congress reached last summer. In addition — even before Democrats gained control of the House — Congress routinely would override Trump's efforts to slash funding for climate-related items such as EPA grants to states and DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a research and development program. The fiscal 2021 request would humble regulatory agencies. EPA, which is celebrating half a century of existence this year, would receive $6.7 billion for fiscal 2021 — a 27% cut compared with enacted levels. It also would slash its workforce by about 11%, to the lowest levels since 1985. The Energy Department would see a cut of 8% compared with 2020 enacted levels, to $38.5 billion. DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy is again proposed for elimination, but Congress previously has shown no willingness to kill the popular research and development program. The Interior Department would see its budget reduced 13% for fiscal 2021, to $12.8 billion.

Senate bill requires US to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 - A group of mostly Democratic senators has introduced a bill that would require the U.S. to phase out carbon emissions by 2050, placing their faith almost entirely in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to carry out the process. The Clean Economy Act, led by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), would require the EPA to chart the course for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, 2030 and 2040, reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. “Today’s legislation I’m offering centers our country on [an] aggressive and I think achievable path to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than later 2050,” Carper said in a call with reporters. “This is the quickest way we can, I think, jump-start government wide climate action by encouraging agencies to use the tools that they already have.” The bill is the first major piece of climate legislation to be introduced in the Senate this year, rolling out alongside similar efforts still developing in the House. House Democrats have released a more than 600-page discussion draft of their bill, envisioning the same target but with detailed efforts for reducing emissions from utilities, transportation and infrastructure to reduce emissions on an economywide scale. Carper said his bill would be an easier lift than that of his House colleagues. “It’s a much more comprehensive bill,” he said of the House version, but his version has a broader backing from environmental and labor groups, as well as the business community. Carper also defended the choice to rest decarbonization with the EPA, which under the Trump administration has rolled back a number of environmental regulations, including ones on coal-fired power plants that experts say could hasten climate change. “There are a lot of good people in the EPA,” he said, while noting a number of senate Republicans who have been more active on climate issues. Though Carper’s bill has the backing of a number of major environmental groups, a small handful have said it is not aggressive enough. “We need binding emission reduction targets, in line with what climate justice and historical responsibility demand, far sooner than 2050," environmental group Friends of the Earth wrote in a statement. "Unspecified interim targets are ill-suited to our moment of climate emergency and put too much faith in future administrations."

Oil giant BP says it wants to have net-zero emissions by 2050 --Oil and gas major BP said Wednesday it was aiming to become “a net zero company by 2050 or sooner,” adding that it also wanted to “help the world get to net zero.” In an announcement detailing its plans, BP listed a number of aims it had for the business. These included: Cutting the carbon intensity of products it sells by 50% by 2050 or earlier; installing methane measurement at its major oil and gas processing sites by the year 2023 and halving the methane intensity of operations; and upping the proportion of its investment in non-oil and gas businesses. In order to push the world toward net zero, BP said it would undertake actions such as “more active advocacy” for policies supportive of net zero, like carbon pricing. “The world’s carbon budget is finite and running out fast; we need a rapid transition to net zero,” new CEO Bernard Looney said in a statement. “We all want energy that is reliable and affordable, but that is no longer enough,” he added. “It must also be cleaner. To deliver that, trillions of dollars will need to be invested in replumbing and rewiring the world’s energy system. It will require nothing short of reimagining energy as we know it.” BP said its goal to be a net-zero business covered, on an absolute basis, greenhouse gas emissions from global operations as well as the carbon in the oil and gas it generates. “This is what we mean by making BP net zero,” Looney said. “It directly addresses all the carbon we get out of the ground as well as all the greenhouse gases we emit from our operations. These will be absolute reductions, which is what the world needs.” A note from Wells Fargo Securities’ Equity Research group described BP’s move as a “modestly positive event” for the company. “By directly addressing the ESG elephant-in-the-room with a clear forward path BP may see a greater universe of potential investors willing to kick the tires on this carbon-intensive sector,” the note said. “Alternatively, some investors that might have encountered pressure to dispose of direct investment in oil & gas may get a reprieve.” BP’s announcement did, however, spark questions from environmental groups. “BP’s ‘ambitions’ and ‘aims’ all seem to apply to Looney’s successors, and leave the urgent questions unanswered,” Charlie Kronick, oil advisor at Greenpeace U.K., said in a statement. “How will they reach net zero? Will it be through offsetting? When will they stop wasting billions on drilling for new oil and gas we can’t burn? What is the scale and schedule for the renewables investment they barely mention? And what are they going to do this decade, when the battle to protect our climate will be won or lost.”

 BP Announces Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Target, but Offers No Details - British-based oil and gas giant BP set the most ambitious climate goal of any company in its industry yesterday when it announced that it will eliminate or offset all of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,according to The New York Times. Its ambitious plans included offsetting the burning of oil and gas it takes out of the ground.The company's chief executive Bernard Looney, who stepped into the top job this month, said the 111-year-old company must "reinvent" itself, a strategy that will eventually include more investment in alternative energy, according to the BBC."The world's carbon budget is finite and running out fast," CEO Bernard Looney said in a statement, as CNN reported. "We need a rapid transition to net zero. We all want energy that is reliable and affordable, but that is no longer enough."The pledge is a tacit acknowledgement of the pressure that fossil fuel producers face from the public and from investors who are either divesting or demanding action to stop the global climate crisis. While the move is significant, Looney did not detail a plan for how BP would hit its ambitious target, as The New York Times reported."We are aiming to earn back the trust of society," Looney said at a news conference in London, as The New York Times reported. "We have got to change, and change profoundly."While the details are scant, Looney did acknowledge that much of BP's business model and its priorities will have to change in response to the climate crisis and to the changing demands of the market economy, which is looking for affordable renewable energy. "This will certainly be a challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity. It is clear to me, and to our stakeholders, that for BP to play our part and serve our purpose, we have to change. And we want to change - this is the right thing for the world and for BP," Looney said as the BBC reported.

Penn students press fossil fuel protest despite announcement - Lucy Corlett has been protesting against fossil fuels for years. As a freshman, she joined Fossil Free Penn, a student organization at the University of Pennsylvania demanding full divestment from fossil fuel industries. She’s a senior now. And finally, she and others in the group can celebrate a victory: The university recently announced that it does not hold any direct investments in coal and tar sands, and will not plan to hold them in the future. Coal and tar sands are considered some of the most harmful fossil fuels. That’s because extracting, transporting and using them pollutes the air, releases greenhouse gases and takes a major toll on the environment and on public health. Stephen McCarthy, vice president of university communications at Penn, said the statement doesn’t indicate a formal decision to divest. “The effect is very much the same, but divestment is a formal procedure requiring approval by the trustees that involves, among other things, liquidating holdings of particular investments,” McCarthy wrote in an email to WHYY. “Since the university did not directly own coal or tar sand investments and does not expect to own them in the future, the university did not go through the formal divestment process.” But students say they’re also worried about the impact of indirect investment. “A lot of our endowment is invested in private equity, U.S. equity, international equities,” said student coordinator Emma Glasser, referring to a chart mapping Penn’s portfolio. “And that’s what Fossil Free Penn is concerned about in terms of indirect investments since these bodies then will invest in whatever companies suit their financial organization.” McCarthy did not respond to further questions regarding Penn’s past holdings or indirect investments. Still, the students of Fossil Free Penn celebrated the announcement with what they called “a tiny party for a tiny victory.” Wearing minute paper party hats and holding small plastic cups, they toasted their success — and committed to keep demanding change from the university. Glasser, Corlett, and others say they’ll continue to hold weekly sit-in protests demanding that the university administration host a public town hall discussion to clarify the details of the announcement. On Thursday, Feb. 13, they’re organizing a Divestment Day demonstration in cooperation with hundreds of other students across the nation.

Indigenous Women Accuse Credit Suisse of Rights Violations for Continuing to Bankroll Fossil Fuels - Three Native American women have accused the global banking giant Credit Suisse of violating the human rights of Indigenous peoples, and have asked the firm to stop financing companies that are building and maintaining two oil pipelines in the United States. In a formal complaint filed in January with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the women said that Credit Suisse failed to ensure that the companies working on the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana, as well the multi-state Dakota Access Pipeline, followed the organization’s guidelines for consulting with and seeking consent from nearby Indigenous communities regarding the pipelines. They also charged that by continuing to finance fossil fuel companies, Credit Suisse is worsening the climate crisis. The complaint comes after two years of discussions with Credit Suisse, said Osprey Orielle Lake, executive director of the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network, which partnered with two other groups to file it on the women’s behalf, Divest Invest Protect and the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona. In keeping with OECD protocol, the women’s names have not been released publicly. "Every time we met with them they would say, ‘We are not investing in projects, we are only investing in the overall corporate structure of that company and giving them money — we have no say where that money goes.’ We are saying that's ridiculous. ” Lake said. “You cannot give to a company that is committing Indigenous or human rights violations and lift your hands and say, 'We have nothing to do with this because we're not involved with that project directly.'” Credit Suisse did not respond to a request for comment about the complaint. Environmental groups have criticized international lenders, including Credit Suisse, for continuing to finance fossil fuel companies and projects. According to a report released in 2019 by the Rainforest Action Network and other advocacy groups, Credit Suisse provided fossil fuel companies with nearly $57 billion in financing between 2015 and 2018, putting it in the top twenty global lenders to the sector.

Yet More Finance Profiteering: Green Bonds   – Yves Smith  - On the one hand, a new finance fad of “green bonds” shows that investors recognize that climate change is a risk. On the other, it simply perpetuates the convenient but false notion that the private sector by the virtue of cute packaging is a leader as opposed to a laggard in addressing climate change. In fact, confirming doubts about the ability of Wall Street to have good intentions, these green bonds are at best a gimmick to enrich middlemen at the expense of communities and investors and at worst, an exercise in finding new muppets.  A definition, courtesy Investopedia:A green bond is a type of fixed-income instrument that is specifically earmarked to raise money for climate and environmental projects. These bonds are typically asset-linked and backed by the issuing entity’s balance sheet, so they usually carry the same credit rating as their issuers’ other debt obligations.​ One of the early promoters of green bonds was International Finance Corporation, an affiliate of the World Bank. IFC’s claim to fame was making emerging economies safe for investment banks by encouraging them to develop capital markets, as in exposing them to destabilizing hot money flows. IFC was a very early promoter of green bonds, starting in 2010. The World Bank also lays claim to a Green Bonds program which it says goes back to 2008 (not sure how much of this is retrospective rebranding, nor is it clear how much of the IFC Green Bonds are under the World Bank scheme).  The Wall Street Journal reported today that green bonds are getting a following, albeit still small relative to the size of bond markets:  As debt investors clamor for more options to achieve their environmental, social and governance, or ESG, objectives, investment banks are expanding their offerings beyond green bonds, which focus on environmental projects. Social bonds fund programs with objectives such as health-care access, food security and equitable employment, while sustainability bonds combine green and social initiatives.

 EMISSIONS: An oil company wants to take CO2 from air. Here's why -- Friday, February 7, 2020 - Oil companies specialize in extracting carbon dioxide-laden hydrocarbons from the earth. But could they use their expertise to put that carbon back where they found it? The answer could decide the industry's future — and have important implications for the planet.Occidental Petroleum Corp., the Texas shale titan, has emerged as an early test case of whether an oil company can make the shift to carbon management. Since the beginning of 2018, the Houston-based oil producer has invested in an array of enterprises aimed at cutting carbon from factories, power plants and the atmosphere itself.In some ways, the moves represent an extension of Occidental's current business. It's already the world's largest handler of CO2 used for enhanced oil recovery, a process in which carbon dioxide is injected into flagging oil reservoirs to stimulate production. The pressing question is whether Occidental's investments will turn the carbon producer into a carbon manager.Vicki Hollub, Occidental's CEO, seems to think so. At industry conferences and in calls with investors, she speaks of the need to address climate change and preserve the industry's social license. She highlights Occidental's efforts to reduce flaring, the process where surplus gas produced at oil wells is burned off into the atmosphere, and the emissions benefits of enhanced oil recovery. The Occidental boss is fond of citing studies showing that 40% of carbon injected into oil reservoirs remains there, lowering the emissions intensity of every barrel of that oil."I think what we need to focus on now as an industry is what we do now for our Earth, what we do for climate," she told an energy conference at Columbia University last year. "And we're developing now the technology to start to have a smaller footprint, not only from a land perspective environmentally and on our fresh water, but also with respect to emissions. Our commitment is to do that more aggressively."Occidental's investments hint at a wider debate over the role oil companies should play in a transition to a low-carbon economy. Climate activists are deeply skeptical. Their concerns are championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a presidential candidate, who has advocated for holding fossil fuel companies criminally liable for climate damages and phasing out fossil fuels. But a significant number of climate researchers believe oil companies could play a key role in lowering emissions. Their arguments are twofold. First, even the most ambitious carbon-cutting scenarios envisioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change foresee continued oil consumption, largely thanks to demand from hard-to-green sectors of the economy like aviation and heavy industry. Enhanced oil recovery can lower the emissions associated with that oil, they argue.

US bill to expand tax credit for carbon capture projects — A bill introduced in the US House of Representatives Wednesday would eliminate the project construction deadline for the Section 45Q carbon capture tax credit as well as increase the credit amount for direct air capture facilities. The Section 45Q tax credit currently requires projects to begin construction before January 1, 2024, to be eligible for the credit, which was created by the Budget Act of 2018 to incentivize carbon capture and removal technology deployment. "This is very positive for the industry," said Claude Letourneau, president and CEO of Svante, a Vancouver-based carbon capture technology company. "The cycle of getting these projects approved is quite long, so this is quite significant." The bill also increases the tax credit for direct air capture technology to $62.50/mt from $50/mt for geologic sequestration, and to $43.75/mt from $35/mt for sequestration through enhanced oil recovery or other beneficial use. Brad Crabtree, the director of the Carbon Capture Coalition, which has promoted such legislation, said direct air capture, or DAC, technology is relatively young and would benefit from increased investment. He drew a parallel to the policy incentives that helped drive efficiency improvements and lower system costs for wind and solar technology. "Direct capture technology is even less developed than [carbon capture and sequestration] technology," said Crabtree, adding that the bill attempts to "provide more value for [DAC] technology that has even further to go along the development path." Crabtree noted that pulling CO2 from ambient air is possible with today's technology but because the concentration of CO2 is so low when compared with flue gas from a coal plant, the costs are high. Although the Section 45Q tax credit was passed in 2018, developers are still awaiting guidance from the Internal Revenue Service regarding implementation. Representative David Schweikert, Republican-Arizona, who introduced the bill along with Representative Brad Wenstrup, Republican-Ohio, wrote a letter to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin February 5 advocating the Treasury Department and IRS to issue such guidance "as soon as possible." "It has now been two years since the passage of this tax credit, and we have concerns that the delay could hinder the growth of this important new market," wrote Schweikert. "Financial certainty for potential investors in a new technology is required before construction begins."

CMP project could cost New England energy companies $1.8 billion, study says —  Fossil fuel and nuclear generation companies could lose millions of dollars in revenue annually — or $1.8 billion over 15 years — if Central Maine Power Co.’s hydropower corridor is approved, according to a new study released Monday. The $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect project, known as the NECEC, could lower wholesale energy prices paid to companies that generate electricity in New England and in turn lower prices for consumers, according to the report by Stepwise Data Research, an economic analysis firm in Yarmouth. While some consumers might welcome that news, lower wholesale prices would pressure struggling energy producers in Maine and across New England, making it more difficult for them to stay in business, experts say. The report for the first time estimates the dollar value of the project’s effect on existing energy-generation companies. The study was commissioned by Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs, a group of individuals, businesses and associations that support the CMP project. “This study quantifies the economic impact on existing fossil fuel and nuclear generators,” said Benjamin Dudley, director of the group. He said the analysis answers a fundamental question about why Calpine Corp., a natural gas-fired generator in Westbrook, opposes the project. “The answer: they and other fossil fuel generators across New England will lose a billion dollars in revenue once this clean hydroelectricity starts flowing into Maine,” he said.

The growth of ‘Made in China’ energy - — At an industrial park where Shanghai’s sprawl ends and this eastern Chinese city’s begins, the future of energy might already be here. Charging stations for electric vehicles outnumber gas stations. A solar manufacturer turns out photovoltaic panels at a fraction of the cost of a decade ago, bound for destinations around the globe. China’s largest truck manufacturer, partnering with a self-driving-technology startup, is making autonomous truck convoys, where a single manned vehicle leads five or six self-driving, electric trucks. “This is where things are happening,” said Jon Fold von Bulow, project manager at a joint venture between a Chinese startup and Danish chemical firm Haldor Topsoe to develop catalysts for batteries and refineries. “You can feel the energy around electric vehicles.” In oil fields across Texas, drillers are looking to China, with its massive population and juggernaut growth, to drive demand for their crude and natural gas for decades to come. But China, already the world’s biggest consumer of energy, is moving rapidly to develop its own energy sector. It is not only expanding its capacity to produce and process energy, but also transforming how energy is used when the world is looking to lower emissions to address climate change. How this plays out more than 7,000 miles from Houston may well determine whether multibillion-dollar bets made along the Gulf Coast during the past decade pay off. Liquefied natural gas and crude export terminals, sprawling petrochemical plants and miles of pipelines have all been built, in part, with the expectation that rapidly modernizing China would only increase its appetite for U.S. petroleum and natural gas. Within one week last summer, both Houston-based Plains All American and San Antonio’s Epic Midstream opened pipelines in West Texas to move up to an additional 1 million barrels a day to the Gulf Coast for export. In Port Arthur, Exxon Mobil and Qatar Petroleum are building what is to be one of the largest LNG export facilities in the world, creating 19,000 construction jobs by the time it opens in 2024. Off the coast of Brazoria County, Enterprise Products Partners, one of the nation’s biggest crude exporters, has proposed a multibillion-dollar offshore terminal to load massive tankers that can carry 2 million barrels of oil. But China’s authoritarian government might have other plans. Already the world’s dominant supplier of wind turbines and solar panels, China is looking to do the same with batteries and electric cars, pumping billions of dollars into new factories. The Chinese are constructing nuclear power plants, building expertise in the technology and advancing it as Europe and the United States fall behind. Where the United States, Europe and the Middle East dominated the energy industry in the 20th century, China is moving ahead in a 21st-century energy space where efficiency and reducing carbon emissions have become paramount for nations contending with climate change.

New wood pellet plant proposed for Lumberton, area already home to multiple pollution sources -- Active Energy Group, a publicly traded British company, has applied to the state Division of Air Quality to build and operate a wood pellet plant in Lumberton, raising environmental justice issues for the largely Native American community. If approved, the facility would annually produce 39,420 oven-dried tons of wood pellets, sourced from forests in North Carolina and the Southeast, at a plant located at 1885 Almac Road. From there, the pellets would be shipped to the United Kingdom and Europe, where they would be burned instead of coal. Even though wood pellets generate large amounts of carbon dioxide when burned, Europe and the UK are using them ostensibly to help attain their renewable energy goals. The Active Energy plant in Lumberton is near several pollution sources. NC Department of Environmental Quality’s Community Mapping Tool lists at least a dozen:

  • The Town of Lumberton’s solid waste landfill;
  • Two inactive hazardous waste sites;
  • Three above-ground storage tank incidents;
  • Two closed coal ash structural fill sites;
  • One unlined landfill;
  • Duke Energy’s former Weatherspoon plant, where the coal ash is being excavated;
  • A brownfields site, where solvents had been detected in the groundwater;
  • And a NC Renewable Power plant, a major pollutant source that burns poultry litter and wood waste; DAQ recently cited the facility for three exceedances of nitrogen oxide in 2018.

Other polluting facilities in Robeson County include the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and a related compressor station, as well as a liquified natural gas plant operated by Piedmont Natural Gas.According to federal data 1,633 people live within the census tract of the proposed wood pellet facility. Two-thirds of the population is non-white; nearly a third are below the federal poverty line. The area also has higher rates of heart disease, stroke and hospitalizations from asthma than the state average.The wood pellet industry has framed the fuel source as “renewable.” However, as Policy Watch has previously reported, the science shows that every step of wood pellet production carries significant environmental and climate consequences.When trees are timbered from North Carolina forests, they exhale carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, into the air. Replanting cannot keep pace with the timbering in terms of the carbon dioxide balance. Once abroad, when wood pellets are burned, they produce more carbon dioxide than coal, further contributing to climate change. In turn, those changes cause extreme weather, like Hurricane Florence, which devastated eastern and southeastern North Carolina in 2016 and 2018. A separate company Enviva already operates four facilities in North Carolina, all of them in or near communities of color or low-income neighborhoods: Garysburg, Hamlet, Faison and Ahoskie.

Rural Georgia fury over power plants burning railroad ties spurs legislation - Folks in a pair of northeast Georgia counties knew two new wood-burning power plants might mean nuisances or pollution — but they also knew the plant owners could be valuable taxpayers.But the noise, the chemical-laced logs and state environmental citations angered people enough in a rural area north of Athens that now some influential Georgia legislators are ready to change state law.Anything that stops the power plants burning railroad ties treated with creosote should solve some of the problems, said David Ramsey, one of the members of the Madison County Clean Power Coalition. His group is fighting a new biomass-fired power plantoutside Comer, owned by Alabama-based Georgia Renewable Power. Next door in Franklin County, a sister plant spawned a sister group of opponents in theFranklin County GRP Renewable Energy Plant Fallout Group.People in the community are used to holding their nose to  avoid the odor that the breeze carries from poultry farms dotting the countryside in Madison and Franklin counties, Ramsey said. “But it’s not the same as having a toxic pesticide being pumped out of that smokestack every day,” he said.

Bottled water and blood tests: Coal ash fears grow near Plant Scherer -  —John Dupree and his family of seven switched to bottled water a few weeks ago over fears that the water flowing from their faucet could be loaded with dangerous toxins. A recent at-home test confirmed he has reason to worry: It showed excessive levels of hexavalent chromium, which is a known carcinogen at the center of the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich. “My biggest concerns are, you know, what damage has it done,” said the 41-year-old father of five as his children played in the backyard. The Duprees live on Dames Ferry Road near Lake Juliette, the beloved local fishing hole that has fed water to Plant Scherer ever since the nation’s largest coal-fired power plant cranked out its first kilowatt in 1982. On a recent unseasonably warm afternoon, Dupree opened his door to Fletcher Sams, the executive director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper who has been using grant money to test the water in dozens of homes near the massive plant. Dupree represents Sams’ 77th test, but he’s hunting for the funding needed to test as many as a thousand homes in the area. So far, the organization says it has found coal ash contaminants, such as boron, strontium, vanadium and hexavalent chromium. “The main thing that I’m trying to ‘prove’ is that the same things that the (Georgia Power) monitoring wells that they are disclosing their data on – showing that these heavy metals are leaking out – are the same heavy metals that we’re finding in people’s wells,” Sams said later in an interview. “Now, proving in a court of law like, ‘Hey, this boron came from there, that cobalt came from there,’ I may not be able to do that, but these people don’t have any answers,” he said. After collecting the water sample from the Dupree home, Sams offered some sobering advice while John Dupree endures the month-long wait for an independent lab in North Carolina to produce the test results: Go to the doctor and request bloodwork for his young children.

Toxic coal ash is making its way to Florida from Puerto Rico -  The AES power plant in Puerto Rico generates 300,000 tons of coal ash, the toxic byproduct of coal burned to generate electricity, each year. The residents of the island, understandably, don’t want to be near the toxic elements, so they passed a law “to prohibit the deposit and disposal of coal ashes or coal combustion residues in Puerto Rico.” In addition, the law prevents the ash from being stored on the island for more than 180 days. So where does the coal ash go? A lot of it — tens of thousands of tons — makes its way to the mainland U.S. CBS News tracked one cargo ship, the Mississippi Enterprise, as it was hauling coal ash into Jacksonville, Florida. From there, the ash is taken to Chesser Island landfill in Folkston, Georgia, as reported by local Puerto Rican journalist Abner Dennis and Omar Alfonso. Lawyer and activist Ruth Santiago, who has been battling AES to provide better safeguards in disposing the coal ash, warned communities in Florida and elsewhere where the ash was being disposed: “They should not allow the import of the toxic coal ash to their communities.” Santiago claimed that people in the community of Miramar in Guayama, Puerto Rico, have been adversely affected by exposure to the ash, as well as those in other communities surrounding the plant. “People don’t want this coal ash waste to go anywhere else. It’s toxic. We know it’s gonna do harm wherever it goes other than a Subtitle-C landfill,” Santiago said, referring to landfills specifically designated to house hazardous solid waste. Her concern is shared by Puerto Rican residents who worry about the transportation of the coal ash. Exposure to the ash is concerning for Dr. Osvaldo Rosario, professor of environmental chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico. “When you look at what it’s made of, what are the key elements, chemical substances that make up the ash — you find horrendous things such as arsenic, selenium, chromium-6, vanadium. Many of these are toxic and carcinogenic materials,” he said. The metals in coal ash are particularly harmful due to the nature of burning coal. “These metals don’t burn off. They don’t evaporate,” Rosario explained. “But through the burning process, you have concentrated them — making it a more dangerous material to dispose of.” Rosario said exposure can lead to respiratory problems, higher levels of cancer and skin rashes. Multiple studies have shown the risks.

Documentary underscores lingering bad blood over coal plant  - Before We Energies expanded its Oak Creek Power Plant, area residents were already speaking out about concerns that they were being exposed to pollutants that were affecting their health. But the plant’s expansion from 2005 through 2010 and the subsequent doubling of its coal piles in 2015 ratcheted up tensions, as more people complained of finding coal dust in their homes and even at a public park. In his documentary titled “We Neighbors,” Tom Rutkowski, chair of the Sierra Club’s Southeast Gateway Group, interviews people living near the plant, many of whom have spoken out publicly before. The 20-minute film had its first screening on Jan. 22 in front of a full house at the River Bend Nature Center, 3600 N. Green Bay Road, Caledonia. The film highlights how the plant’s neighbors feel that their health concerns are not being taken seriously. “A lot of the time I feel like they’re dismissing us,” said Michelle Jeske from Oak Creek. “It’s like a flea that I feel like they’re trying to flick, honestly. Because if it wasn’t in the news, I doubt any of this (dust mitigation) would be happening.” We Energies spokesperson Brendan Conway said the company was not contacted about the documentary. “For years, a small handful of neighbors have been making baseless accusations related to our operations in Oak Creek,” Conway wrote in an email. “We take both our environmental and community responsibilities very seriously. All of our units operate with the latest emission controls and they are operating within the air permit limits. We publicly post results from air quality monitors we installed around the site and recently added a wind barrier, a berm and trees in response to input from our neighbors.” One of the interviewees is Charles Michna, who is living on land his family has owned for more than 150 years. They are the Michnas of Michna Road in Caledonia. “People ask me, ‘Why, if you don’t like the trains and all that, why don’t you leave?’ “ Michna said. “Well, part of it is because I’ve been here. I’ve been in this area all my life.” Michna’s land borders railroad tracks where coal is transported, which is another reason why he’s stayed. “They’ve been polluting my house with coal dust and the noise of the trains,” he added. “I can’t sell this.”

Utilities, regulators overlook recycling revenue options amid rising state tensions over coal ash: NARUC - Coal ash may present an increasingly complicated and controversial problem for utilities, regulators and ratepayers as tensions rise over the environmental impacts of the waste stream and federal regulations remain in flux, according to a new report. An estimated 110 million tons of coal ash are disposed of annually in the U.S., and though a rising portion of that waste is being recycled, many utilities are missing out on the opportunity to recycle the ash or put it to beneficial use, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) found in its January report. That waste stream could prove beneficial to the U.S. if optimized, according to the report's authors, including as a potential domestic supply chain for materials needed in construction and vehicle manufacturing. Tensions between environmentalists and utilities over coal ash regulations have risen in recent years as the Trump administration continues to weaken federal rules set under the Obama administration. Amid federal uncertainty, North Carolina and Virginia in 2019 set aggressive clean up timelines for utilities to excavate their coal ash ponds. Those states as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority have all been "early movers" in terms of being forced to take action on coal ash management, report co-author and Executive Director of CRISIS and Energy Markets Ken Malloy told Utility Dive in an email. "If these three leading situations resulted in intense scrutiny it is not a leap to expect that other states will eventually receive similar scrutiny," he said, particularly as parts of the federal rule remain in flux under a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, which found the Obama-era rules didn't go far enough in protecting public health and the environment. Under this atmosphere, cost remains the biggest concern for regulators and utilities as pressure mounts for action. In Georgia, for example, regulators approved an almost $2 billion rate hike, with the vast majority of the increase going toward coal ash clean up costs, according to the Public Service Commission.

Time for Georgia Power, shareholders to pay for safe cleanup of coal ash -  The recent deluge of rain replenishing groundwater supplies in Juliette, Georgia doesn’t provide much sense of comfort to local families relying on well water for their homes, gardens, and farms. Instead of turning on the faucet to make morning coffee, cook pasta, or take life-saving medicines, families are reaching for bottled water. Recent tests show concerning levels of metals such as cobalt, boron, sulfate, and other toxins that are known to be in Georgia Power’s unlined coal ash storage ponds and pits near their homes.In Georgia, 1.5 Million households relying on backyard wells serve as their own public works department for clean water in their faucets and properly maintained septic tank fields. No matter how hard they may work to maintain their sole source of drinking water, these rural families do not have any means of protecting their water source from coal ash waste contamination. Currently Georgia Power is allowed to heap that waste up in unlined pits and ponds.Six Democrats in the Georgia House, led by Rep. Robert Trammell of rural Meriwether County, his neighbor Rep. Debbie Buckner in Talbot County, and four metro Atlanta legislators, are working to protect families and farmers relying on wells for their water. The wide-lens view of their proposed legislation, House Bill 756, adds a significant measure of protection to both municipalities and family wells drawing water from rivers and aquifers at risk for coal ash contamination. The legislation aims to require Georgia Power to put all of its coal ash waste in lined storage ponds and pits. Duke Energy in North Carolina is pursuing this much safer and secure option for disposing of coal ash waste, as are all utilities in South Carolina. Virginia lawmakers passed legislation last year requiring lined disposal of Dominion Energy’s coal-fired waste. The Georgia bill is designed to put an end to the power company’s proposal to leave about 50 Million tons of its coal ash waste submerged as deep as 80 feet in groundwater at plants Hammond, Scherer, Wansley, Yates, and McDonough. If passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, Georgia Power will be required to put all of its profit-based coal ash waste in lined storage ponds and pits.

Duke Energy gets approval for permit to build Asheville coal ash landfill - The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has issued a permit to allow Duke Energy Progress to construct a new onsite, lined landfill to dispose of coal ash at the Asheville Steam Electric Plant. The Feb. 10 announcement comes a little more than a week after Duke officially shut down its last coal burning unit, after 56 years. It has now converted to natural gas-burning units. But it now needs a place to store the remaining coal ash produced at the site. In 2018, a Duke spokesperson said its units 1 and 2 consumed approximately 4,032 tons of coal per day when operating at full capacity. The permit allows Duke Energy to move forward with plans to construct and operate a lined industrial landfill to store coal ash now contained in an unlined impoundment on the property just south of Asheville and along I-26 and the French Broad River. The issuance of the permit aligns with the designation of the Asheville Steam Plant as high priority under the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014. This designation mandated full excavation of the onsite coal ash impoundments.

Tennessee grand jury wants criminal coal ash investigation (AP) — A grand jury in Tennessee said it would support a criminal investigation into claims that a Tennessee Valley Authority contractor failed to protect workers cleaning up a massive coal ash spill, many of whom later fell ill and some of whom died. More than 200 of the former cleanup workers have sued Jacobs Engineering in four separate lawsuits. They all blame the contractor for exposing them to ash they say caused a slew of illnesses, including cancers of the lung, brain, blood and skin. The first group of plaintiffs won a favorable verdict in November 2018 in the first phase of a two-part trial, but they won’t get monetary damages unless they can prove exactly what caused their specific illnesses. That second phase is on hold after the judge, alluding to workers’ urgent need for medical care, ordered mediation. No settlement has been announced. More than a hundred other plaintiffs await the outcome. On Tuesday, Roane County grand jurors filed a brief, handwritten addendum to their main report indicating they heard more than five hours of testimony from three witnesses about problems with the cleanup of the 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant spill that dumped more than a billion gallons of coal ash on the Swan Pond community. The report suggests the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation should look into the workers’ plight. “The grand jury concurred with the district attorney general’s recommendation for him to predicate a TBI investigation into certain issues pertaining to cleanup worker safety,” it reads. It goes on to allude to accusations made during first trial, including that air monitoring results and other environmental tests were tampered with and that workers were not properly informed of the dangers of coal ash or protected from it. In addition to the criminal investigation, it suggests the district attorney pursue any possible state claims under the U.S. Clean Water Act.

Anderson County couple say TVA poisoned their kids with coal ash - An Anderson County couple says the Tennessee Valley Authority’s pollution poisoned their young children. Cruze and Amber Tucker allege in a lawsuit filed last week in Anderson County Circuit Court that exposure to pollution — including radioactive material — generated at TVA’s Bull Run coal-fired plant poisoned their son and daughter. “As a result of the toxic exposure referenced in this complaint, minor Plaintiff Thomas Tucker was exposed to both pregestational and post gestational poison, as was minor Plaintiff Avril Tucker,” attorney Jim Scott wrote in the lawsuit. “This exposure caused the minor Thomas Tucker to suffer from heart defects, lung problems, skin problems, neurological and other severe health problems,” the lawsuit states. “Except for the heart problems, minor Avril Tucker suffers from same." Thomas, the lawsuit says, “has had to endure seven surgeries at a mere 19 months of age, while suffering from neurological, heart, lung, skin, and other severe health problems that will follow him for life. “Avril Tucker,” the lawsuit continues, “suffers from permanent severe injuries as well that include, but are not limited to, neurological. (Their) parents have also incurred health injuries, property damage, and understandably extreme emotional pain and suffering.”TVA spokesman Scott Brooks declined to comment on the parents’ allegations. The Tucker family lives less than a half mile from TVA’s Bull Run coal-fired plant in the Claxton community. They are among a growing number of Anderson County residents who are raising concerns about the potential health threat from chronic exposure to the waste produced at Bull Run, which includes toxic emissions from its smoke stacks and coal ash waste and wastewater.

U.S. energy secretary hopes Mexico, Canada will help export American coal - (Reuters) - U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said on Friday that Canada and Mexico could help export U.S. coal to Asia to get around the blocking of shipments by West Coast states concerned about the impact of the fuel on climate change. Brouillette said he expects the two U.S. neighbors will offer opportunities to export coal in talks that could be facilitated by the new North American trade agreement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, that President Donald Trump signed last month. “That’s why the USMCA was so important,” Brouillette said at an Atlantic Council event in Washington. “We hope to work more collaboratively with both Mexico and Canada to find export facilities to get the coal from Wyoming,” and other states in the U.S. West to Asia and other global markets. Wyoming is a top U.S. coal producing state, but its exports have been hampered. The states of California, Washington and Oregon have blocked permits for coal ports on concerns about coal’s impact on climate change. Some U.S. lawmakers have complained about a lack of environmental standards in the USMCA. “Nonetheless it’s not going to prevent the administration from working with our colleagues in Canada and Mexico to look for those types of opportunities,” Brouillette said. He said he met with Jason Kenney, the conservative premier of the Western Canadian province of Alberta, on Thursday. “We had a very wide ranging and extensive conversation about that very topic. I think there is a lot of interest in doing this on the part of the Canadians,” he said. Kenney’s spokeswoman Christine Myatt said Canada’s “ports and rail are Constitutionally under federal authority, as is bilateral cross-border trade.” The West Coast Canadian province of British Columbia already exports some U.S. coal. If there was an agreement between Washington and Ottawa to boost shipments, the coal would likely be sent through Alberta to a port in British Columbia. The office of Mexico’s Energy Secretary Rocio Nahle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Energy secretary announces coal research initiative - Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette on Friday announced a $64 million dollar initiative to fund research and development for coal, giving an assist to an industry that appears to be on the decline. Brouillette announced the so-called Coal FIRST initiative at an Atlantic Council event, saying that it was “going to help us produce more coal-based power more efficiently and transform it into a near-zero emissions energy source.” He particularly emphasized the idea of making coal plants smaller and more efficient, saying this would make it easier to make them cleaner. "Coal as a percentage of U.S. electricity generation is declining," he added. "The efforts that we're undertaking is not to subsidize the industry and preserve their status ... as a larger electricity generator. It is simply to make the product cleaner and to look for alternative uses for this product." Brouillette's announcement comes as coal-fired power generation becomes an increasingly smaller part of the U.S. energy sector. Figures announced last year from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that renewable energy production surpassed coal-fired generation for the first time in the U.S. A University of California, San Diego study published in the journal Nature last month showed that from 2005 to 2016, the period analyzed in the study, 334 coal-fired units were shut down. It also showed that reduced carbon emissions saved more than 26,000 lives in the U.S. Mary Anne Hitt, the senior director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, called the decision "ridiculous and wasteful" in a statement. "The DOE putting $64 million to research new ways to burn coal is like the Pentagon spending $1 billion for new ways to fire a musket ball," Hitt said. On Friday, Brouillette also commented on President Trump’s announcement that he no longer supports funding for a controversial nuclear waste repository in Nevada, saying that the administration will look for other solutions. "We're going to be working with our interagency partners to look for innovative solutions that might involve interim storage, it might involve other types of storage," he said.

Ohio Justices Uphold Tax On Pipeline Co.'s In-State Receipts - -- The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the operator of an interstate natural gas pipeline was not exempt from the state’s public utility excise tax on receipts earned from transporting gas solely within Ohio..

Ohio anti-protest bill could criminalize support for pipeline demonstrations - Activists say a bill advancing in the Ohio legislature could criminalize activities such as offering rides, water or medical aid to anti-pipeline protesters. Even chanting “stop the pipeline” could be construed as encouraging damage to critical infrastructure under the bill’s vague language, critics say. Trespass, willful destruction of property and various other actions are already crimes under Ohio law. But Ohio Senate Bill 33 calls for heavier penalties for trespass or property damage that might affect “critical infrastructure.” The Ohio Senate passed the bill last spring, and the House Public Utilities Committee reported out a substitute version on Jan. 30. The broad definition of “critical infrastructure” would cover most oil and natural gas facilities, including many areas relating to pipelines and facilities to handle materials derived from oil and natural gas. About half the critical infrastructure facilities covered by the bill would fall into those categories, said Ted Auch, Great Lakes program coordinator for the FracTracker Alliance. He made that estimate when a similar bill from sponsor Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, was pending in 2018. “This is not a necessary bill,” Auch said, noting that Ohio law already imposes liability for various trespass and property crimes. Critics say the bill’s heavier criminal penalties for individuals and its vicarious liability for organizations could have a chilling effect on First Amendment rights to freely speak and assemble. “Controversial infrastructure projects are far from the only public policy issues that generate mass mobilization, public protest, and deeply felt political expression,” said Elissa Yoder Mann, conservation manager for the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club, in her Jan. 28 testimony against the bill. “However, individuals and organizations who engage in similar activities on other political issues would not be subject to the same standard of financial and criminal liability.” For example, tampering with a “critical infrastructure facility” would be a third-degree felony. The potential prison term of up to three years would be two to three times as long as sentences for similar actions in other contexts, which might be no more than a fourth- or fifth-degree felony. Several of the bill’s terms may also be unconstitutionally vague. For example, the bill forbids anyone from improperly tampering with critical infrastructure, defined to mean changing its location or physical condition. “What about a temporary change to the surface of the property, such as graffiti [on] a pipe?” asked Rev. Joan VanBecelaere, executive director of Unitarian Universalist Justice Ohio in her testimony against the bill. “Does that constitute a change to its physical condition? Do we really want to charge people with a felony for non-violently putting graffiti on a pipe?”

Attempting to greenwash the cracker plant – Randi Pokladnik - One again, JobsOhio, an economic development organization in Ohio, has awarded a huge sum of money, $20 million, to the Thailand chemical company PTT Global Chemical America and its South Korean partner, Daelim Industrial Co. The $20 million grant is for additional site preparation for a potential ethane cracker plant to be built at Dilles Bottom in Belmont County. This brings the total amount of money given by JobsOhio to this project to a whopping $70 million.This announcement came shortly after a Columbus-based spokesperson for the company, Dan Williamson, attempted to assuage concerns of citizens by basically “greenwashing” the dangers associated with petrochemicals and the increase in single-use plastics production. He admitted in his interview that the company has been quiet thus far but “concerned residents staging protests against the project and meeting with state officials” made the company decide to get involved in the conversation on environmental issues.  He said the company would “assess reducing greenhouse gas emissions and use renewable materials instead of fossil fuels.” However, all plastics, since the 1950s have been made from coal, oil or gas, and all petrochemical processes produce enormous amounts of carbon dioxide. Shell’s Monaca ethane cracker is allowed to emit 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. Given these facts, Williamson’s proclamation seems disingenuous at best.  He touted the “initiation of an upcycling plastic waste projects to transform plastic waste into useful items such as clothing and bags” with programs such as, “Trash to Treasure” or “Wear your Own Waste.” This project creates a T-shirt from 14 beverage bottles. These initiatives will hardly make a dent in the current plastic crisis facing our planet, especially the 100 billion beverage bottles sold in the United States each year.  Recycling is now industry’s go-to answer for addressing the more than 300 million tons of plastic wastes created each year.  Plastic Oceans International said, “more than 500 billion plastic bags are produced, that’s about 1 million bags every minute.” Much of these wastes materials eventually end up in our oceans. A report in Jefferies Financial Inc. said “even if the world were able to reuse 50 percent of its plastic wastes in the next 10 years, it still will not be enough.” The report also stated, “the impact of plastics leaking into the environment, polluting oceans and entering the food chain, could potentially be almost as big a concern for civil society as climate change.” The United States currently only recycles 9 percent of its plastic wastes. Additionally, “most of the 8 billion tons of plastic ever produced continue to exist, either in landfills or in the environment,”according to Jefferies.

  Strs Ohio Lowers Stock Holdings in Chevron Co.-- Strs Ohio cut its position in shares of Chevron Co. (NYSE:CVX) by 4.8% in the 4th quarter, according to the company in its most recent Form 13F filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission. The firm owned 1,381,114 shares of the oil and gas company’s stock after selling 69,365 shares during the quarter. Chevron comprises about 0.7% of Strs Ohio’s holdings, making the stock its 22nd largest position. Strs Ohio owned 0.07% of Chevron worth $166,438,000 at the end of the most recent reporting period.  Chevron (NYSE:CVX) last posted its earnings results on Friday, January 31st. The oil and gas company reported $1.49 EPS for the quarter, beating analysts’ consensus estimates of $1.47 by $0.02. The firm had revenue of $36.35 billion during the quarter, compared to the consensus estimate of $38.98 billion. Chevron had a return on equity of 8.14% and a net margin of 2.00%. The company’s quarterly revenue was down 14.2% compared to the same quarter last year. During the same period in the prior year, the company earned $1.95 EPS. On average, sell-side analysts anticipate that Chevron Co. will post 7.07 earnings per share for the current year.

 Green pipeline panel issues final report— After months of discussion and four meetings, the city’s seven-member Pipeline Settlement Fund Advisory Committee has recommended three proposals for using the balance of the Nexus settlement funds.  Chairman Rod Moore presented the report to City Council this week. The proposals were set at $1.24 million, Moore said. The funds are what remains of the $7.5 million that Nexus gave to the city after a long court battle to keep the pipeline out of Green. Outside legal counsel advised city leaders to accept the settlement money because it had become apparent that Green couldn’t block Nexus.  Moore said the panel’s first $600,000 recommendation is to cover safety emergency preparedness and fire response associated with the Nexus natural gas pipeline route, which runs through the city to carry natural gas through Ohio and Michigan to Canada.  Another $600,000 was suggested for construction and maintenance of a right of way to connect the dead-end south end of Thursby Road with Boettler Park as a possible escape route for those residents who could be cut off from reaching Koons Road in the event of a catastrophe. He said the city engineer said the amount was probably more than enough for at least an aggregate pathway. Moore also suggested that any leftover funds be used for safe pathways throughout the city. He mentioned Comet Lane and similar areas. He said the panel suggested $40,000 be used to study pipelines and educate the community on the dangers related to them as well as general safety issues.

CNX Announces 7% Increase in Proved Reserves to 8.43 Tcfe- CNX Resources Corporation announced today total proved reserves of 8.43 Tcfe, as of December 31, 2019, which is a 7% increase, compared to the previous year. CNX organically added 1,648 Bcfe of proved reserves through extensions and discoveries, which resulted in the company replacing over 300% of its 2019 net production of 539 Bcfe. These extensions and discoveries were a result of our continued development within the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations.In 2019, drilling and completion costs incurred directly attributable to extensions and discoveries were $630 million. When divided by the extensions and discoveries of 1,648 Bcfe, this yields a drill bit F&D cost of $0.38 per Mcfe.Future development costs for proved undeveloped reserves (PUDs) are estimated to be approximately $942 million, or$0.26 per Mcfe. The following table shows the summary of changes in reserves: During the year, total net revisions were negative 564 Bcfe. The revisions included 709 Bcfe positive revisions due to improved well performance in both proved developed and proved undeveloped reserves, offset by 97 Bcfe negative pricing and other revisions primarily from decreasing natural gas prices compared to year-end 2018, 304 Bcfe of reductions due to the reclassification of PUD's through compliance with the SEC 5-Year rule, and 872 Bcfe negative revisions due to plans changes from our continued focus on portfolio optimization.

WV House of Delegates passes bill that takes aim at pipeline protesters – The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill on Thursday that is modeled after legislation in other states aimed at pipeline protesters. The legislation would increase penalties for people who engage in acts of civil disobedience in response to industrial activity. House Bill 4615, called the "Critical infrastructure Protection Act" and sponsored by Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, states that any person who "willfully and knowingly" trespasses on property contacting a "critical infrastructure" facility, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and punished by a fine of not less than $250 nor more than $1,000, or confined in jail not less than 30 days nor more than one year, or both fined and confined. If protesters intend to "willfully damage, destroy, vandalize, deface, tamper with equipment, or impede or inhibit operations of the critical infrastructure facility," they are guilty of a felony and could be fined not less than $500 nor more than $3,000, or imprisoned in a state correctional facility for not less than one nor more than three years, or both fined and imprisoned. The bill also states that any person who "willfully damages, destroys, vandalizes, defaces or tampers with equipment in a critical infrastructure facility" is guilty of a felony and maybe fined not less than $1,000 nor more than $5,000, or imprisoned in a state correctional facility for a term of not less than one year nor more than five years, or both fined and imprisoned. Oklahoma was the first state to pass a similar version of the bill, after activists said they planned to protest a pipeline slated to cross tribal land. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of lawmakers and representatives of corporations, then turned the bill into model legislation for other states to follow. The bill has been amended several times. Originally, most of the facilities that were categorized as "critical infrastructure" were related to oil and gas. The bill has since been amended to also include military facilities, Department of Highways facilities, and health care facilities. Previous versions of West Virginia's bill had no upper limit on fines. The bill also now includes provisions protecting "picketing at the workplace that is otherwise lawful and arises out of a bona fide labor dispute" and the "right to free speech or assembly, including, but not limited to, protesting and picketing." Del. John Shott, R-Mercer, said the bill is an effort to dissuade people "from going upon those types of infrastructures with the idea of creating either disruption or damage" but that Republicans "don't want to chill free speech." "If you're standing on property on which you have the right to be, or on public property on which you have the right to be, you can yell and holler and carry on all you want," he said.

A bill discouraging protests against pipelines and other "key infrastructure" has passed out of the Kentucky House of Representatives. - A bill discouraging protests against pipelines and other “key infrastructure” has passed out of the Kentucky House of Representatives after receiving an amendment quelling some advocates’ free speech concerns. The House approved the amended version of House Bill 44 on Monday to make tampering with the operations of a “key infrastructure asset” in ways that are dangerous or harmful a Class D felony punishable by up to five years imprisonment and up to a $10,000 fine. Rep. Jim Gooch sponsored the amended measure, which passed 71-17 with bipartisan support. The bill now moves to the Senate. Gooch drafted the amendment after speaking with labor and free speech advocates, who were concerned the bill’s original language would have a chilling effect on First Amendment rights. “We made sure in this bill, in this language, that it is clear that we are not infringing with people’s rights,” Gooch said. Democratic Rep. Terri Branham Clark of Catlettsburg thanked Gooch for the compromise language in the amendment. “By removing the words ‘inhibits’ and ‘impedes’ it eased a lot of concerns some of us had on infringing on rights to protest,” she said. “Living in a district where I am five minutes from an oil refinery and have railroad tracks running through my backyard, I really appreciate our effort in securing public safety.” A spokesman for the AFL-CIO said the union is neutral on the measure while the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky continues to oppose it. Advocacy Director Kate Miller said the ALCU appreciates that the amendment narrows the scope of the bill, but still believes HB 44 would limit protest. “We are still concerned that it could potentially chill First Amendment protected speech,” Miller said. “That doesn’t just include environmental advocates, of course we were thinking of folks who were protesting their wages not being paid.”

FT: Surge in plastics production defies environmental backlash - Royal Dutch Shell plc .com At a time when the oil industry is gripped by fears that demand for petrol will collapse in an era of electric vehicles, many hydrocarbon producers are betting on petrochemicals — and in particular, plastics — to fill the gap.Along the banks of the Ohio River in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, giant cranes whir overhead as thousands of construction workers toil away at what will be one of the largest plastic factories in the world.The multibillion dollar Royal Dutch Shell plant, on the site of an old zinc smelter in the American rust-belt, is the biggest investment in the state since the second world war… At a time when the oil industry is gripped by fears that demand for petrol will collapse in an era of electric vehicles, many hydrocarbon producers are betting on petrochemicals — and in particular, plastics — to fill the gap. But doubts are emerging about the wisdom of a huge expansion in capacity that will leave the world awash in products that can take hundreds of years to decay.

Natural gas production headed for a slow-down in 2020 - StateImpact Pennsylvania - The region’s Marcellus and Utica shale gas producers had a banner year in 2019. Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia together accounted for one-third of the nation’s natural gas production. But a likely slow-down is ahead in 2020. Marcellus and Utica shale drillers produced 30 billion cubic feet of gas in 2019. The increased supply has driven down prices to about $2 per million British thermal units. Compare that to the previous decade, when gas was selling at about $8 per million Btu. Penn State geologist Terry Engelder first reported on the abundance of shale gas in 2008. “These companies made their investments, anticipating six- to eight- to 10-dollar gas,” Engelder said. “No one ever dreamed it would stabilize at two-dollar gas. There’s just so much of it, particularly here in Pennsylvania, that the companies can’t sell it.” IHS Markit senior director for natural gas Charles Nevle says it’s not an indication natural gas production is going away, but it does mean production will be flat in 2020. “We can’t grow production in 2020,” Nevle said. “So we’re going from this really rapid growth period in 2019 to a year that will have to keep production essentially flat.” Major gas producer Chevron recently announced it is pulling out of the Marcellus and Utica shale plays. In parts of the country, gas production is so high, companies are burning it offrather than selling it. Nevle says producers in shale formations that also include oil, like the Permian Basin in Texas, have seen negative prices for natural gas. And that has also driven down prices nationwide. “So that makes it a very challenging environment when you are dependent on natural gas prices,” he said. Nevle says demand will also wane in 2020, and storage will be a challenge. You can burn it or put it back in the ground. If there’s no more room for storage, you just have to cut production. “That means less rigs operating, less wells being drilled, lower activity,” he said.

Trade unions support tax breaks for petrochemical manufacturers - The Pennsylvania Building Trades Unions on Monday intensified efforts to pass a hefty tax break for future petrochemical and fertilizer manufacturers using state natural gas. The Pennsylvania Building Trades Unions on Monday intensified efforts to pass a hefty tax break for future petrochemical and fertilizer manufacturers using state natural gas. The Pennsylvania General Assembly last week approved House Bill 1100 with overwhelming bipartisan support as western Pennsylvania, in particular, continues to debate the natural gas industry’s impact on climate and business. HB 1100 would establish multi-million-dollar tax breaks for companies investing at least $450 million to build a manufacturing plant that creates a minimum of 800 combined temporary and permanent jobs. The incentive is similar to what Shell Chemicals received years ago to build its petrochemical complex in Potter Township. The company agreed to invest at least $1 billion in Pennsylvania’s economy and create thousands of construction jobs in exchange for $1.6 billion in state subsidies over the course of 25 years. The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue estimates the new program would cost $22 million annually per plant in missed taxes until the strategy ends in 2050. It encourages the use of natural gas across the board, roping in fertilizer manufacturers. As part of a package of Republican-sponsored bills called Energize PA, the effort is just one of many established to help subsidize the natural gas and petrochemical industries. Although the bill passed through the state House and Senate with sweeping support, including from Beaver County’s state legislators, Gov. Tom Wolf plans to veto it. A spokesperson for the governor last week said the subsidies should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but there’s a chance legislators will attempt to override the veto. The bill includes language requiring companies to pay construction workers the prevailing wage rate and make “good-faith efforts” to employ local laborers, earning the support of building trade unions. “Let’s call a veto of HB 1100 what it really is – an attack on Pennsylvania’s blue-collar workers,”

Oil and gas industry, leaning on Pittsburgh region, punches back against fracking ban in messaging campaign - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  - Allegheny County Councilman Sam DeMarco, introducing himself to a crowd of 800 people drawn to a glitzy new entertainment district along the Potomac River, touted his home turf: “This is the region providing much of the energy making our country stronger and more self-reliant,” he said. “Tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians are enjoying the jobs, the safety and the comfort this industry is bringing.” Mr. DeMarco’s message — along with his Western Pennsylvania roots — is a central pillar of the oil and gas industry’s national campaign in 2020, unveiled in the face of rising political pressure to address climate change. The American Petroleum Institute used its annual policy event here to make clear it would punch back against calls for nationwide bans on fracking proposed by leading Democratic presidential candidates. The Pittsburgh region was among seven areas of the country that the industry trade association highlighted as places energy jobs are embedded into the fabric of the local economy. A ban on the drilling technique, an API report estimated, would mean 7.3 million lost jobs. “Here’s a glimpse at that vision: Millions of jobs lost, a spike in household energy costs, a manufacturing downturn, less energy security in the short run,” said Mike Sommers, the association’s president and CEO. “A fracking ban in America would quickly invite a global recession.” Mr. Sommers, in a conference call with reporters, said oil and gas companies have gradually lowered emissions, all while making the United States the top producer of oil and gas in the world. Energy independence has been the goal of the last seven American presidents, he pointed out. Mr. Sommers called fracking — which over the past two decades has unlocked pools of natural gas in Pennsylvania previously trapped by shale rock — “one of the most important environmental achievements in this country.” Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, and Pennsylvania’s shale drilling boom pushed down the cost of natural gas enough to replace coal as the country’s primary source of power generation.“We are stepping up to the plate to address the issue of climate change,” he said, by supporting “smart regulation” and laws to encourage carbon capture and storage technologies.Yet the group has pushed back against climate policies, drawing criticism from environmental advocates. The industry successfully pressed for a relaxation of Obama-era federal methane rules, which aimed to require natural gas operators to fix methane leaks and cut down on flaring. Methane is a significantly more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The oil and gas industry, by addressing its views on climate policies, previews the battle over a key issue in the 2020 presidential election and contested races for Congress.

Study funded in part by PA DEP finds no evidence fracking waste harming Pennsylvania streams - A new federal study failed to find evidence that oil and gas production in northern Pennsylvania has contaminated the commonwealth’s forest rivers and streams, providing a timely counterweight to the vows to ban fracking being made by some Democratic presidential candidates. The study, which was published Feb. 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals, concluded that there were no signs that chemicals or wastewater from fracking wells had entered more than two dozen streams running through the gas fields of the Marcellus Shale formation. There was also no evidence found that fracking had significantly altered the volume and makeup of the microscopic creatures in the water or had changed the chemical composition of the water itself. The study’s authors included experts from the Bureau of Forestry within the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Division of Water Quality at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.“No quantifiable relationships were identified between the intensity of oil-and-gas development, water composition, and the composition of benthic macroinvertebrate and microbial communities,” the study said. “No definitive indications that hydraulic fracturing fluid, flowback water, or produced water have entered any of the study streams were found.”Rebecca Oyler, the Pennsylvania Legislative Director for the National Federation of Independent Business, told Pennsylvania Business Report that the study shows that fracking can provide affordable energy for the state’s economy without significant environmental risk. “The study just released by PNAS confirms what we’ve known all along,” she said, “that the responsible development of Pennsylvania’s natural gas resources is not incompatible with protecting our environment.”

Pennsylvania fracking: Op-ed urges end to tax breaks for gas and plastics companies -   Pennsylvania is approaching a steep precipice, and the ramifications will be irreversible if we tumble over the edge and link our future to fracked gas, petrochemicals and plastics. The precipice, in this case, is the potential enactment of a new state law that passed in the General Assembly on Feb. 4 that could cement Pennsylvania’s economy as one beholden and inextricably linked to the fossil fuel industry for decades to come. Called House Bill 1100, the legislation is part of an overall package dubbed “Energize PA.” This bill will be a bonanza for the fracked gas, plastics and petrochemical industries, as our state seeks to attract more pollution and polluters to Pennsylvania with giant subsidies and regulatory rollbacks. Specifically, the bill establishes the same tax credit provided to Royal Dutch Shell, which is building a massive ethane-to-plastics cracker facility in Beaver County. Despite being one of the largest and wealthiest corporations on the planet, Pennsylvania lawmakers in 2012 saw fit to award the company a tax break equivalent to $1.6 billion over 25 years. Shell has anticipated that 600 full-time jobs will be created when the plant becomes operational, which means each job at the facility along the Ohio River carries with it a subsidy price tag of about $2.7 million. The price per job will become even more costly if the promised employment numbers do not pan out. [More Opinion] Readers React: It was a rough week for America » This courting of, and devotion to, the fossil fuel industry is nothing new for Pennsylvania, which has a centuries-long history of tethering its economy to extractive industries such as coal mining, oil and shallow gas. Elected officials promulgate tired ideas — in this case, extracting every last drop of Pennsylvania gas so that energy, petrochemical and plastics companies can derive profits from our natural resources. With the climate crisis worsening each day and the fact that those industries have a poor environmental record, a question begs to be asked: Why do Pennsylvania taxpayers owe those kind of companies our monetary largesse to expand here?

Some Lawmakers Think They Can Override Wolf's Veto On Manufacturing Tax Break Bill  - Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has said he'll veto a bill that would give tax breaks to manufacturers that use Pennsylvania natural gas. But Republicans—and a few others—are trying to see if they can override him. The bill passed with support from more than two-thirds of lawmakers in each chamber. That means if nobody changes their position, members can ensure the bill becomes law. It’s rare for lawmakers to override a governor’s veto — in part, because members of the governor’s party are often reluctant to vote against him. ​So, even if they voted for a bill, many tend to switch their vote to back their party leader. Luzerne County Senator John Yudichak is a staunch supporter of the bill who recently left the Democratic Party to become an Independent. He said he hopes Wolf reconsiders vetoing the bill. ​If Wolf does veto it, he said, he thinks trade unions — which support the measure — may be able to rally enough legislative support for an override. “The communication to me from my friends in the building trades—they are going to fight this and get this to the goal line,” he said. “They’re going to call on Democrats and Republicans to stand with the Pennsylvania building trades, stand with growing the economy in Pennsylvania, specifically in northeastern Pennsylvania. Yudichak and other lawmakers from the northeast are specifically expecting the tax breaks will help a methanol manufacturer in their region. Wolf has said he opposes the bill because he thinks these tax breaks should be decided on a case-by-case basis. Asked Friday if his mind had been changed by the House and Senate’s overwhelming support for the bill, he said he still plans to veto it. At least one company has said it would likely use the tax break to build a methanol plant in northeastern Pa. — Elis Energy, which is based in Connecticut. The commonwealth’s Department of Revenue has said the proposed program would probably cost about $22 million annually per plant. The initiative would last until 2050, unless lawmakers renew it. A spokesman for House Democrats said the caucus is still mulling the situation, and will discuss the bill further when they reconvene in March. A spokeswoman for Senate Democrats declined to comment.

Creditors urge judge to reject Philly refinery bankruptcy plan; Heap scorn on executive bonuses -The committee of unsecured creditors in the Philadelphia Energy Solutions bankruptcy case has served up a scathing denunciation of the refinery’s reorganization plan, saying two rival offers to buy the refinery are flawed, and heaping scorn on the refinery’s plan to pay millions of dollars in what it calls “bogus” bonuses for executives.The committee, which represents creditors to whom PES owes a total of more than $1 billion, called the reorganization plan “an artifice for doling out control, bonuses, and releases to insiders,” and asked U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin Gross to reject it at a confirmation hearing scheduled for Wednesday in Wilmington. The committee asked the judge to submit the plan instead to mediation or convert it to a Chapter 7 liquidation, which it argues would protect creditors more than the current Chapter 11 reorganization plan.If the judge approves the plan, the committee asked him to suspend implementation while it pursues an appeal.The committee’s objections, filed late Thursday, are one of more than 10 pleadings submitted by parties this week, suggesting that plans for the 1,300-acre South Philadelphia oil refinery are still very much in flux and contention. The refinery, which employed 1,100 people, shut down last June after a devastating fire. The committee said things have not proceeded correctly: "The facility occupies a massive percentage of the city of Philadelphia; it occupies a position of economic significance and national security; many political and special interests have asked this court to be especially deliberative and thoughtful as to how these cases should conclude, and the livelihood of thousands of people hangs in the balance. “Creditors were not given sufficient time to vote and, importantly, interpose objections and avail themselves of their rightful day in court. Due process is supposed to mean something. Confirmation should be denied.”

PES refinery shouldn’t reopen, worker-turned-filmmaker says -  Bilal Motley’s last day at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery was Sept. 22. He worked there for 13 years, going in through the vast Point Breeze facility to get to his job as a wastewater-treatment plant foreman. His coworkers were his family, Motley says — he spent more time at the refinery than at home. That’s why last Monday was a hard day, like a coming out. It was the first public screening of “Midnight Oil” — a 48-minute documentary Motley made about the last days of the refinery. And his coworkers were not happy. “They just found out about the screening tonight and things like that, and they’re calling me traitor and things like that.…I’m like, you guys know me, I’m not a traitor, I can’t tell my story?” Most of his former coworkers have either rallied to keep the refinery open or kept their thoughts private. Motley wants to speak up. He doesn’t think it would be good for Philadelphia if the complex were reopened as a refinery. “It’s painful to say this but … I don’t think it should be, I don’t. The community doesn’t want it. We can’t just do everything based on jobs, jobs, jobs. Like, come on, let’s just be forward-thinking,” Motley said. More than 1,000 people lost their jobs when the refinery stopped operating in June. Philadelphia Energy Solutions filed for bankruptcy in July, a month after an alkylation unit in the Girard Point section of the complex exploded and burst into flames, releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere and prompting PES to shut down operations. The company’s reorganization plan currently contemplates selling the 150-year-old refinery complex and its prime 1,300-acre location in South Philadelphia to a Chicago-based developer that, according to city officials and court documents, wants to permanently shut down the refinery and build warehouses and a logistics center instead.

Bankrupt PES says Philly refinery restart is a ‘fantasy’ and urges court to approve sale to developer -- Philadelphia Energy Solutions on Monday urged the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to approve the sale of its shuttered South Philadelphia refinery complex to a Chicago real estate firm that plans to redevelop the 1,300-acre site, saying efforts to promote a return to oil-refining were a “fantasy.” PES lawyers, in court filings, defended a proposed reorganization plan that includes a $240 million sale to Hilco Redevelopment Partners of Chicago. The plan promises “billions of dollars of investment into the site to transform the debtors’ business from a destroyed refinery complex to a mixed-use industrial site.” The refinery shut down following a June 21, 2019, fire and declared bankruptcy in July. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin Gross has scheduled a hearing Wednesday in Wilmington to confirm the reorganization plan. PES, in two filings that totaled more than 300 pages, attempted to clear the wreckage from a multi-car pileup of objections filed last week to its reorganization plan from the committee of unsecured creditors, the U.S. Trustee, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the United Steelworkers Union, and others. The fire-damaged refinery, after 150 years of producing fuel and chemicals from crude oil, and after going through three owners and two bankruptcies since 2012, may no longer be an attractive investment in a world oversupplied with oil. The bankruptcy “is the result of the tremendous damage caused by the accident and market realities, not the debtors,” PES said in its filing. The company called the Hilco offer the best and most realistic option it received after months of shopping the property to prospective buyers. No credible bidder offered to resume refining operations at the site, despite “extreme measures" to find a new refinery operator,” PES said.A bid by rival developer Industrial Realty Group of Santa Monica, Calif., was $25 million greater than Hilco’s, but came with only a $5 million deposit compared with Hilco’s $30 million deposit. Supporters of resuming refining operations have also characterized IRG’s proposal as a refinery restart, but PES said the bidder did not present it that way at the auction.

Bankruptcy judge approves Philadelphia Energy Solutions’ sale to a developer that has no plans to re-start a refinery - Study funded in part by PA DEP finds no evidence fracking waste harming Pennsylvania streams -  A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge has approved the sale of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions complex in South Philadelphia to a Chicago-based developer with no plans to re-start refinery operations. Also approved as part of PES’ Chapter 11 reorganization is a $29 million settlement with the company’s unsecured creditors that includes a $5 million severance fund for former refinery workers. The sale to Hilco Redevelopment Partners, which received tentative approval after a heated confirmation hearing Wednesday in Wilmington, likely means the end to 150 years of oil-refining activities in the city. PES filed for bankruptcy in July, one month after an explosion and fire destroyed parts of the 1,300-acre refinery complex. A week after the fire, the company shut down operations and laid off about 1,000 workers. The 335,000-barrel-per-day complex was the largest oil refinery on the East Coast, and the largest stationary source of air pollution in Philadelphia. Hilco offered $252 million for the complex, according to PES lawyers, representing the highest bid and the best opportunity for creditors to recover their claims. But the offer was valid only if confirmed by the court before Feb. 13. “I’m very much satisfied that the sale to Hilco is the highest bid and sale,” Judge Kevin Gross said Wednesday evening. “Clearly is in the best interest of the community as well, given the risks that were attended to the prior operations with the refinery, and a refinery frankly that had numerous and repeated problems over the years. And I see no reason to think that that wouldn’t have continued.” Initially objecting to the sale were PES’ unsecured creditors, including the United Steelworkers union, which represented about 600 former refinery workers. They argued that the backup bidder, Industrial Realty Group in partnership with former Philadelphia Energy Solutions CEO Phil Rinaldi, offered $25 million more than Hilco and an opportunity to restart refining operations and bring union workers back. But PES said Hilco’s bid still was “deemed superior.” Those differences were settled with the $29 million agreement, with $5 million going to former refinery workers.

Proposed liquid natural gas plant in N.J. draws heated opposition -— The prospect of a liquid natural gas export facility across the Delaware River in Gloucester County, New Jersey, drew about 100 persons to the Widener University campus Friday afternoon.   The terminal, being developed by Delaware River Partners, a subsidiary of Fortress Transportation and Infrastructure, would receive an LNG supply from a still pending processing plant in Bradford County in northern Pennsylvania. The plant is being planned by New Fortress Energy, an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group, parent of Fortress Transportation and Infrastructure. Transportation to Gibbstown would be handled by trucking and potentially by rail, as New Fortress subsidiary Energy Transport Solutions received a special permit from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in December 2019 for rail transport between the two sites. Carluccio laid our her group's opposition to the developers' proposal, claiming they planned the LNG terminal with minimum public knowledge, stating the Riverkeepers learned most of the planning information through Right to Know requests from state and federal agencies involved in the permitting process. The Repauno site, operated from 1880 until roughly 20 years ago, is still undergoing remediation. "This is a contaminated site … it’s one of the largest sources of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl, classified by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen) to the Delaware River and bay,” Carluccio said. “What is that going to do moving these pollutants around and perhaps moving them out in to the environment?” Speakers Jeff Tittel, senior chapter director for the New Jersey Sierra Club, and Jocelyn Sawyer, South Jersey organizer for Food and Water Watch, addressed the audience on safety and environmental concerns from their respective groups. “When these (LNG) tankers are in port … there’s major safety issues … whether it’s accidental or threat of terrorism,” Tittel said. “In Boston, when LNG tankers come in, they close bridges … they put the National Guard in. Logan Airport does not allow planes to take off,” he said, noting the proximity of the Commodore Barry and Delaware Memorial bridges, and Philadelphia International Airport, to the Gibbstown site.

Iroquois Gas to build system in Milford to help increase New York’s natural gas supply - A cooling system is planned for the Iroquois Gas Transmission System at 840 Oronoque Road, as part of a system-wide project to increase natural gas supply in New York. The Planning and Zoning Board unanimously recently approved a coastal area management site plan for the project . The board added the condition that a licensed Connecticut surveyor survey the property. The report assesses a project’s impact on coastal waterways, in this case, the Housatonic River. Project Director Robert Perless said the property is about 600 feet from the river, and said there would be no drainage to or impact on the river. According to City Planner David B. Sulkis, the project, as a utility, is exempt from zoning, but not from a coastal area management review. A building project typically requires site plan approval. In his report, Sulkis wrote, “The project does not appear to have any adverse impact on coastal resources.”

US state regulators hear notes of caution on municipal gas ban movement - — State regulators were served a strong dose of skepticism Sunday about municipal bans on natural gas hookups in new buildings from parties concerned about the consumer costs and the wisdom of setting key energy policies outside the state utility regulation construct. Depending on how widespread it becomes, the wave of bans, as well as other incentives for building electrification, could have broad implications for the residential fuel mix and the future of gas distribution infrastructure and demand. "My experience has been that the city councils aren't necessarily the source of balanced information, just and reasonable cost estimates, all the things that are part of the utility regulatory framework that makes determinations on the capital infrastructure investments," said Timothy Simon, a former California Public Utility Commission member. Simon, who currently represents several local distribution companies, was among panelists urging caution about the bans during a staff gas subcommittee meeting at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners winter policy summit. While residential energy use makes up only 7% of California's carbon dioxide emissions, "it's gaining the ire and the attack of city councils across my great state," he said. The "real culprit" in his view is transportation, which makes up 41% of CO2 emissions and is concentrated around big rig diesel trucks. Those trucks "generally don't run through Bel Air and Beverly Hills, he said. "They generally are running by black and brown communities that are in industrial sections near ports of entry and other areas." Beginning with a ban in Berkeley, California, municipal gas bans have spread through California and appeared in the Boston area and Washington state. Bill Malcolm, senior legislative representative from AARP, said that while his group does not favor one type of fuel over another, it has raised questions in several states about rate impacts for low and moderate income residents. "I just checked the numbers and natural gas is now at $1.85/MMBtu, and just to put that in perspective, in 2012 it was actually $12/MMBtu," he said. "So where is the new power for the new load going to come from?" he said.   "So the PUCs will most likely not weigh in on the issue until the courts decide," he said. Dianne Solomon, a New Jersey Board of Public Utilities commissioner, said she also sees a movement by states to empower their departments of environmental protection to "get into this space, take it out of the hands of the utility regulators and suggest that all projects going forward would have to have some environmental impact." Several state regulators suggested green groups have had the more effective messaging thus far. "I have heard a lot from the environmental advocates, Sierra Club and what have you, saying why we should have the natural gas bans," said Greer Gillis, a member of the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, adding it was important to get the views aired in the room out into the mainstream.  David Kolata with the Citizens Utility Board of Illinois, said he believed the issue was more complicated than the dialogue Sunday suggested. "It's pretty clear that in every blue state, we're going to need to deliver a plan" that keeps the increase in temperatures due to climate change under 2 degrees Celsius, he said, with the modeling showing the need to decarbonize electricity, heating and transportation. "Given that, how do we think about this from a consumer advocate point of view, where money spent on natural gas right now and natural gas infrastructure could very well be stranded?" he said.

Court rules against Narragansett Tribe in pipeline dispute (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled against a Rhode Island tribe Friday in a dispute over a natural gas pipeline built in Massachusetts on land with ceremonial stone groupings. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed a petition by the Narragansett Indian Tribe’s historic preservation office for lack of jurisdiction. The tribe argued that in authorizing the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. to build a pipeline across landscapes with sacred significance, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied it procedural protections of the National Historic Preservation Act. The tribe took issue with a nearly 4-mile-long pipeline segment near Sandisfield, Massachusetts. The court found the tribe lacks standing to seek relief because the ceremonial landscapes had been destroyed by the time it filed its petition for review,. The tribe sought to save 73 ceremonial stone landscapes in the pipeline’s path. Tennessee Gas proposed to remove them during construction and replace them later, but the tribe said that doing so would be equivalent to destroying the features because their spiritual work would be broken. The regulatory commission allowed Tennessee Gas to start construction in April 2017. The work was completed later that year, destroying more than 20 ceremonial stone landscapes, according to the court. 

Dominion Pipeline Clashes With Appalachian Trail at High Court - The Supreme Court hears oral arguments Feb. 24 in the high-stakes battle over the $7.8 billion Atlantic Coast pipeline. The justices must decide whether federal officials overstepped when they approved the project’s path across the Appalachian Trail. The pipeline, backed by Dominion and Duke Energy Corp., would stretch some 600 miles from West Virginia’s shale gas fields to electric utilities in Virginia and North Carolina, helping to feed power demand on the Eastern Seaboard—though critics question how strong that demand really is.  The Blue Ridge mountains and the adjacent trail stand between the pipeline’s start and end points. The planned route would cross the range here, about 40 miles southwest of Charlottesville, Va. Conservation groups are concerned about impacts to the environment and the Appalachian Trail experience. The resulting Supreme Court dispute is one of many clashes between the Trump administration’s quest for energy dominance and environmentalists’ efforts to protect the nation’s wild lands. More broadly, it spotlights a persistent challenge that transcends political winds: how to build America’s infrastructure without ripping up America.  Robert Percival, who heads the environmental law program at the University of Maryland, called the high court’s interest in the dispute “idiosyncratic,” given the case’s narrow focus on the Appalachian Trail. But, he said, the court’s conservative majority is likely to view it as an opportunity to telegraph broader leanings on the spread of energy infrastructure across the country. “I think the justices would be inclined to want to signal they don’t want legal obstacles in the way of pipeline development,” he said. The Appalachian Trail provides an iconic backdrop for the debate. Stretching more than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine, the “footpath for the people” meanders through the East Coast’s most prized mountain scenery and attracts hikers from around the world. The planned route crosses under the Appalachian Trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Builders plan to drill sideways through the mountain’s bedrock and basalt, threading the pipe through a nearly mile-long horizontal borehole 700 feet beneath the footpath. Atlantic Coast estimates it would take a year to complete that work. The trail would remain open throughout, but hikers would often hear the roaring sound of machinery instead of the trail’s typical soundtrack of woodpeckers and crunching leaves. With drilling rigs planted at the ends of the underground passage, each more than 1,000 feet from the trail, a hiker standing atop the junction wouldn’t see any evidence of a pipeline. Cameron, of the Virginia Wilderness Committee, says Atlantic Coast’s portrayal of the pipeline’s impact misses the bigger picture.  Millions of cubic feet of natural gas rushing deep underground may be imperceptible to hikers passing directly overhead, but they’d see the project soon enough, on nearby segments of trail where the pipeline corridor would jut into panoramic mountain views.

Dominion agrees to buy Southern stake in Atlantic Coast Pipeline as project costs soar  — Southern Company is out as an equity partner in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline after majority owner Dominion Energy agreed to buy its stake, amid ballooning costs and legal challenges that have stalled the 1.5 Bcf/d US Northeast natural gas project. Dominion disclosed the new ownership structure Tuesday as it released financial results for the final three months of 2019. It will own 53% and Duke Energy will own 47%, with Dominion acquiring Southern's 5% stake in the pipeline and gas transmission assets, which include an interest in a small LNG project in Florida, for $175 million. Southern will remain an anchor shipper on Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The 600-mile pipeline, which would run through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, moving Appalachian Basin gas to Mid-Atlantic markets, is now expected to cost approximately $8 billion, slightly above the high end of Dominion's previous guidance range of $7.3 billion to $7.8 billion. And while Dominion expressed confidence it will eventually finish the pipeline, it isn't talking about the pipeline's growth potential in the same way it has before. "We are confident there will be expansions over time, but right now we are focused on getting the base project completed," Diane Leopold, executive vice president and co-chief operating officer, said during a conference call with analysts. To achieve even that, the project developers will effectively have to draw an inside straight in the courts in the coming months. The Supreme Court is expected to decide by mid-2020 on the developers' appeal of a lower court ruling involving US Forest Service authorizations for the pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail. The pipeline also must resolve a challenge to US Fish and Wildlife Service authorizations related to four species potentially affected by the project. And last month, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a state air permit for a compressor station in Buckingham County, Virginia. Assuming everything goes as Dominion hopes, the operator is maintaining its target of completing construction by the end of 2021 and finishing commissioning in early 2022. At the time the operator filed its permit application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in September 2015, it was estimated that Atlantic Coast Pipeline would enter service by November 1, 2018, at a total cost of $5.1 billion. With the price tag having soared, talks continue with shippers to revise rates to reallocate how costs for the pipeline are shared, Dominion said. An agreement is expected to be formalized in the coming weeks, CFO James Chapman said on the investor conference call.

The NC Oil and Gas Commission: Pointless, obsolete and often surreal - Out in the woods in far northern Lee County, two natural gas wells have been idling, under pressure as much as 900 pounds per square inch, for nearly 22 years. Over several days in September 1998, Simpson 1 and Butler 3, as the test wells are known, were fracked by Amvest using nitrogen foam. While a small amount of gas flowed from the wells, the fracking ultimately failed. The wells have lain fallow since. The Oil and Gas Commission — or at least the two members who attended the Feb. 10 meeting — is concerned about fate of these wells and the potential dangers they pose to neighbors. The wells are grandfathered and not subject to current oil and gas inspection regulations. “The casing over time corrodes,” said Commission Chairman Jim Lister. “There could be a mechanical integrity issue.” “Are the wells inspected monthly?” Lister asked. No one at the state Geological Survey or Department of Environmental Quality knew. “Do they present a liability to the state or to residents?” Lister pressed. “What happens if there’s a problem with the well? With the groundwater? If they’re damaged? If there are leaks?” No idea. “Who spends the money to plug an abandoned well. The state?” Again, no one knew. Rebecca Wyhof Salmon, the only other commissioner physically present at the meeting, echoed Lister’s concerns about the well integrity. “If no one is inspecting them regularly,” said Salmon, who is also a Sanford City Councilwoman in Lee County, “we have a responsibility to the community.” Had this been a functioning commission — and had the legal information been available — this could have been an interesting, even productive discussion. But the question of the status of these wells was never resolved. (Russell Patterson of Patterson Exploration, which owns the wells, did not return a phone message from Policy Watch asking about the inspections.) The commission failed to have a quorum of at least five people, and thus could take no formal action. Members can call in, but too few of them did. Instead, like the two main characters in the absurdist play Waiting for Godot, Lister and Salmon were the only commissioners in the room, waiting for an answer to arrive. The commission has been dysfunctional since the legislature revived it in 2014. The fracking boom that the McCrory administration predicted was a pipe dream, much to the relief of residents of and Chatham and Lee counties who lived in the bulls-eye, their drinking water, health and property values at risk.

Deepwater oil spill was worse than thought, study says - The worst oil spill in U.S. history was much worse than had been thought, a new study suggests, as the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010 unleashed "toxic and invisible" oil into the Gulf of Mexico."According to our findings, the toxic extent of the spill may have been as much as 30 percent larger than satellite data previously estimated," said study co-author Igal Berenshtein of the University of Miami, in a statement.The findings revealed that a large part of the spill was invisible to satellites, and yet toxic to marine wildlife. On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 people and releasing 210 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico for a total of 87 days. Oil slicks from the blowout covered an area estimated at 57,000 square miles."While the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has been extensively studied, several fundamental questions remained unanswered," Berenshtein and study lead author Claire Paris, also of the University of Miami, told Newsweek. "What was the full extent of the oil spill? Does the satellite footprint account for the entire oil spill extent? And is there a part of the spill that extends beyond the satellite footprint but is still toxic to marine animals?"Satellites are typically the way researchers track oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon, but this method often underestimates the spill's actual environmental damage. The scientists in this study used three-dimensional computer simulations and previously published on-site measurements to focus on the oil that was invisible to satellites but toxic to organisms.  “We found that there was a substantial fraction of oil invisible to satellites and aerial imaging,” said Berenshtein, in a statement. “The spill was only visible to satellites above a certain oil concentration at the surface, leaving a portion unaccounted for.”

Deepwater Horizon Also Spilled 'Invisible Oil,' Harming Far More Marine Life Than Previously Known - Ten years after BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster sent hundreds of millions of gallons of oil across the Gulf of Mexico, researchers say the reach of the damage was far more significant than previously thought.In a study published Wednesday in Science, Claire Paris-Limouzy and Igal Berenshtein of the University of Miami revealed that a significant amount of oil was never picked up in satellite images or captured by barriers that were meant to stop the spread."Our results change established perceptions about the consequences of oil spills by showing that toxic and invisible oil can extend beyond the satellite footprint at potentially lethal and sub-lethal concentrations to a wide range of wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico," said Paris-Limouzy.The "invisible oil" spread across an area roughly 30% larger than the 92,500 square miles experts previously believed it had reached, the study says. "I think it kind of changes the way you think about oil spills," Berenshtein told The Washington Post. "People have to change the way they see this so that they know there's this invisible and toxic component of oil that changes marine life." The ocean protection group Blue Frontier Campaign expressed "disgust" at the revelation — but not surprise. Much of the spilled oil that Berenshtein and Paris-Limouzy detected in their research, using a model that allowed them to trace oil in the Gulf from its source, spread below the water's surface and became toxic enough over time to destroy 50% of the marine life it came across."When you have oil combined with ultraviolent sunlight it becomes two times more toxic than oil alone," Paris-Limouzy told the Post. "Oil becomes toxic at very low concentrations."’

 Massive Fire Breaks Out at Exxon Refinery in Baton Rouge - A massive fire that broke out at the Exxon refinery in Louisiana has been contained and was not the result of an explosion, officials said.Firefighters responded to the scene in north Baton Rouge shortly after midnight on Wednesday, ABC affiliate WBRZ reported.Jeremy Eikenberry, spokesperson for ExxonMobil, confirmed to Newsweek a volunteer fire crew had contained the blaze and no injuries were reported. He said crews are continuing to monitor the air quality around the facility."ExxonMobil volunteer fire team members have contained a fire at the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery. There are no injuries. The fire was contained to the area where it occurred," he said. "ExxonMobil is actively monitoring the facility fence line and surrounding areas of the North Baton Rouge community. Currently, all readings are non-detect. We will continue to conduct air monitoring as a precaution." He added: "We apologize for any inconvenience and concern this incident may have caused. We will continue to keep you updated with information as it becomes available. The safety of our workforce and community is ExxonMobil's highest priority."A spokesman for the Baton Rouge Fire Department confirmed the fire was not the result of an explosion. Curt Monte said the blaze had broken out inside the facility at around 11.30 p.m. on Tuesday, according to CBS affiliate WAFB. "There has not been any off-site impact. We sent Baton Rouge Fire Department hazmat teams out and they're continuing at this time to monitor outside air quality. They have not picked up any readings outside the facility," he said. The blaze lit up the night sky in Baton Rouge, with many taking to Twitter to express their concerns.

No injuries, off-site impact after significant fire at ExxonMobil - (WAFB) - A significant fire broke out at an ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge late Tuesday night.First reports of the fire began coming in around 11:50 p.m. on Feb. 11. The cause of the fire has not been determined.There were no injuries and no off-site impact, officials say. “The fire that occurred at the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery has been extinguished. There were no injuries much in part to the swift and safe response from our ExxonMobil volunteer fire team. ExxonMobil will continue to actively monitor the facility fence line and air quality in the surrounding areas of the North Baton Rouge community. All readings are non-detect. We apologize for any inconvenience and concern this incident may have caused,” The fire was extinguished around 6:40 a.m., according to ExxonMobil public and government affairs spokesperson, Megan Manchester.

Exxon Louisiana refinery restart depends on natgas supply: sources -  (Reuters) - Restarting Exxon Mobil Corp’s 502,500 barrel-per-day (bpd) Baton Rouge, Louisiana, refinery after an early morning fire will depend on how quickly natural gas supply can be restored to the crude distillation units (CDUs), said sources familiar with plant operations. The fire broke out in a natural gas pipeline supplying the units before midnight on Tuesday, the sources said. The fire was put out on Wednesday morning, the company said. No injuries were reported. Exxon had made preliminary plans to restart the Baton Rouge refinery’s large CDU, the 210,000 bpd PSLA-10, before the fire was extinguished, the sources said. The unit cannot be restarted until the natural gas supply is restored. Most of the refinery’s units, including the three CDUs, were shut early on Wednesday, the sources said. Exxon spokesman Jeremy Eikenberry declined on Wednesday to discuss the status of units at the refinery. He did say operations were continuing at the refinery and adjoining chemical plant.

Cheniere safety fixes not finished 2 years after LNG leaks -- Friday, February 14, 2020 -- Two years after leaks led federal regulators to shutter a pair of liquefied natural gas storage tanks at Cheniere Energy Inc.'s Sabine Pass export terminal in Louisiana, the company has met fewer than half the conditions for reopening.

Four LNG projects along Texas coast land non-FTA export permits - Four proposed liquefied natural gas export projects along the Texas coast won approval Monday to ship LNG to nations that aren't part of free trade agreements, such as Japan, South Korea and India. The Energy Department authorized the projects to annually send up to 47 million metric tons and to enter into contracts with utility companies and other customers in Europe, Asia and Latin America where natural gas prices are higher than those in the United States. But approval comes as LNG prices in Asia are at record lows amid a supply glut attributed to a mild winter and the coronavirus outbreak in China. Three of the four proposed projects are at the Port of Brownsville: Rio Grande LNG, by Houston-based NextDecade; Annova LNG, a Houston subsidiary of Chicago utility company Exelon; and Houston-based Texas LNG. The fourth is an expansion to Cheniere Energy's Corpus Christi LNG. Rio Grande LNG, Annova LNG and Texas LNG face stiff opposition from a coalition of Rio Grande Valley shrimpers, fishermen, environmentalists, neighbors and communities working under the banner Save RGV from LNG. Citing concerns about endangered species, climate and other issues, opponents of projects have asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reconsider permits issued for Rio Grande LNG and the other projects. FERC officials tabled the requests to reconsider the permits for Annova LNG and Texas LNG and denied the request to reconsider the permit for Rio Grande LNG, setting the stage for opponents to file a federal lawsuit. "This is a shameless attempt to prop up the fracked gas industry at the expense of our climate and communities," Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign Director Kelly Martin said in a statement.

Energy Markets Need Winter, and Climate Change Is Taking It Away - Even before the deadly virus struck, another menace confronted the global energy industry: the warmest winter anyone can remember. Russia’s winter was so balmy that snow was trucked into downtown Moscow for New Year, and bears came out of hibernation. In Japan, ski competitions were canceled and the Sapporo Snow Festival had to borrow snow. On the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago residents watched playgrounds and beaches disappear under the waves as warm weather swelled the water level. Norwegians basked in T-shirts in January. London’s spring daffodils have already flowered. For global energy markets it’s a disaster—and as the world continues to get hotter it’s something producers, traders and government treasuries will have to live with long after the acute dislocation of the coronavirus has passed. The industry relies on cold weather across the northern hemisphere to drive demand for oil and gas to heat homes and workplaces in the world’s most advanced economies. Climate activists might find a certain poetic justice in energy markets suffering from the global warming caused by fossil fuels. Burning natural gas, oil and other fuels to heat homes and businesses accounts for as much as 12% of the greenhouse-gas emissions blamed for raising the world’s temperatures. The loss in global oil demand due to mild temperatures is probably about 800,000 barrels a day in January, according to Gary Ross, chief investment officer of Black Gold Investors LLC and founder of oil consultant PIRA Energy.   The natural gas market has taken a similar hit. “The oversupply keeps coming and winter so far hasn’t really showed up,” Last month was the hottest January ever in Europe, the Copernicus Climate Change Service reported. Surface temperatures were 3.1 degrees Celsius (5.6 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than average. Northern Europe was particularly hot, with some areas from Norway to Russia more than 6 degrees above the 1981-2010 January average. Temperatures in Tokyo took until Feb. 6 to hit freezing point, the latest date on record. Globally, the last five years have been the hottest for centuries, as greenhouse gases change the Earth’s ecosystem. Natural gas prices have collapsed globally as the weather crimped the need for heating. U.S. futures are trading at the lowest levels for this time of the year since the 1990s. Asian spot prices for liquefied natural gas have crashed to a record as demand slumps in the world’s three biggest importers—Japan, South Korea and China.

Climate change fears put US gas utilities on defensive - US natural gas utilities are rallying against an emergent threat to their historically stable business as communities worried about climate change block new pipelines and gas connections for homes. As the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, natural gas reduced total US energy-related carbon emissions as it displaced coal at power stations. The majority of household heating, hot water and cooking is now fuelled by gas, while it is also the most-used input for US electricity generation, aided by cheap supplies from shale drilling. However, this has led annual emissions from gas to increase by nearly 500m tonnes in the past 10 years, including a 4 per cent rise in 2019, the Energy Information Administration estimates. This rise has stoked opposition against new pipelines and home connections, with climate activists saying energy demand could be better served by renewable sources. The city of Berkeley last year banned gas connections in new construction, sparking similar efforts in other communities. In New York state, regulators stopped a new pipeline sought by National Grid, causing the UK-based utility owner to halt gas hookups for new customers until the governor threatened to revoke its operating licence. These setbacks have led the American Gas Association to release its first climate change position statement. Its document published last month contained 10 commitments for a lower-carbon economy and eight principles, the last of which declares that public policy “should include the option of natural gas for consumers”. “We are seeing a growing velocity of efforts to remove natural gas from the system with very little regard to cost, scale, options and the current environmental contributions that natural gas is making today and will continue to make in the future,” said Karen Harbert, AGA chief executive, in an interview with the FT.  The AGA’s 200-strong membership includes gas utilities and their corporate parents including Berkshire Hathaway, CenterPoint Energy and Southern California Gas. They delivered 20tn cubic feet of gas in 2018, equal to two-thirds of US production. The annual report of Sempra Energy, the San Diego-based owner of SoCalGas, highlighted concerns by identifying “a substantial reduction or the elimination of natural gas as an energy source in California” as a business risk for its utilities in the state. Mark Brownstein, senior vice-president of energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, said gas utilities used to be able to take for granted the fact that they had a captive customer base. “They are now going to have to compete — and they’re going to have to compete not just on how well the product cooks food or heats homes, but how clean it is.”   

Natural-gas futures drop 5% to end at nearly 4-year low on mild winter weather - Natural-gas futures dropped by about 5% Monday to their lowest settlement in almost four years as a milder-than-usual winter continued to limit demand for the heating fuel. Natural-gas prices took “heavy losses to start the week…as mild weather outlooks continue to pressure prices lower,” said Christin Redmond, commodity analyst at Schneider Electric. The analyst said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts a high probability of warmer-than-normal temperatures across the Eastern and Midwest U.S. over the coming eight to 14-day period.“With the little remainder of winter waning away, the possibility of a late-season return to colder temperatures to prop up heating demand becomes bleak,” she wrote in a daily note. The winter season official ends on March 19, which marks the start of spring.On Monday, the front-month March natural-gas futures contractNGH20, +0.71%  lost 9.2 cents, or about 5%, to settle at $1.766 per million British thermal units. Prices, which have dropped 19% in the year to date, settled at their lowest since March 9, 2016, according to Dow Jones Market Data. U.S. production has also contributed to the loss in prices for the fuel. “Production has been slowly rising though not at quite the rate we saw in 2019,” said Marshall Steeves, energy markets analyst at IHS Markit. “Interestingly, production has risen not just from shale (primarily the Permian) but also from offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.”In a monthly report issued in mid-January, the Energy Information Administration estimated that U.S. dry natural gas production will average 94.7 billion cubic feet per day this year, up 2.9% from 2019. The government agency, meanwhile, said it expects combined residential and commercial consumption for natural gas to average 23.2 billion cubic feet this year, down 1% from last year, citing a lower forecast for space heating demand. Dry natural gas typically contains at least 85% methane and is used in heating and cooling systems as well as for power generation. A separate report from the EIA released Thursday revealed that domestic natural-gas supplies fell by 137 billion cubic feet for the week ended Jan. 31. That was less than the 228 bcf decline for the same week a year ago and below the five-year average reduction of 143 bcf, according to S&P Global Platts. “It’s really a combination of a very mild winter dampening demand with rising supplies,”

Natural Gas Tumbles to 4-Year Low on 'Epic' U.S. Demand Loss -- Natural gas futures sank to a four-year low as the latest U.S. forecasts all but eliminated bulls’ hopes for a late-winter cold push. Frigid weather in parts of the Midwest and West this week won’t stick around for long, according to Commodity Weather Group LLC. Mild temperatures are poised to blanket the eastern half of the country in late February, a shift from previous outlooks that showed a lingering chill. Unusually warm winter weather has wreaked havoc on gas demand, allowing an onslaught of supply from shale basins to overwhelm the market. American liquefied natural gas cargoes, a key outlet for production, are at risk of being curtailed as the coronavirus outbreak in China curbs consumption in the world’s second-largest economy. The resulting collapse in global gas prices is squeezing profits for U.S. exporters. “The lack of heating demand is epic. It’s a worst-case scenario,” John Kilduff, founding partner at hedge fund Again Capital LLC in New York, said by phone. “We continue to have a very weak demand environment that’s persisted all winter.” The gas glut has been especially severe in the Permian Basin, where local prices for March delivery have dropped below zero. Output from the West Texas and New Mexico shale play, where gas is extracted as a byproduct of oil drilling, is increasing so fast there isn’t enough space on pipelines to take it away. Gas futures for March delivery slid 9.2 cents, or 5%, to $1.766 per million British thermal on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest settlement since March 9, 2016. The premium for April gas over the March contract widened 0.4 cent to 3.8 cents, a sign that traders don’t expect an end-of-winter supply crunch.

US working natural gas in underground storage decreases by 115 Bcf: EIA — US working natural gas storage inventories fell by 115 Bcf to 2.494 Tcf for the week ended February 7, which was slightly more than the market expected, the Energy Information Administration data showed Thursday morning. However, Henry Hub futures still fell slightly following the release of the data. The pull was more than an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 108 Bcf withdrawal. It was also more than the 101 Bcf pull reported during the corresponding week in 2019 but less than the five-year average draw of 131 Bcf, according to EIA data. Massive storage volumes now tower 601 Bcf, or 31.7%, more than the year-ago level of 1.893 Tcf and 215 Bcf, or 9.4%, more than the five-year average of 2.279 Tcf. After significant production declines throughout January, Texas production estimates gained 700 MMcf/d week over week, further tipping the US balance towards the supply side, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. The lack of significant heating demand in 2020 so far has built up a sturdy inventory surplus which will be hard to chip away at during the shoulder season, extending the current bearish risks at least until power burn can ramp up during peak summer demand days. The NYMEX Henry Hub March contract was static at $1.84/MMBtu during trades following the weekly storage report, slightly recovering in the past two days after hitting a nearly four-year low for prompt month gas on Monday when it settled at $1.77. The forward curve continues to price successively higher each month over the next year, reaching $2.58 by January, before falling slightly in February. Expectations for a possible production pullback in the face of such low prices may not materialize in the near term, at least based on early production guidance that has started to roll in from leading US producers. Despite huge cuts to spending, producers are still targeting modest production growth in 2020 compared with 2019 levels, which may look more like a flattening-out due to the steady gains that accrued in the second half of last year. With this persistent amount of supply seemingly locked in, demand is more important than ever in keeping the market in balance. However, the warmer-than-normal winter has put inventories above normal levels and set the market on course for a possible bearish summer ahead. A forecast by Platts Analytics' supply and demand model expects a 118 Bcf draw for the week ending February 14, which is 18 Bcf below the five-year average. For the week in progress, demand is expected to have increased by 6.3 Bcf/d as supplies also grew by more about 1 Bcf/d. The demand gains have been fairly equally distributed across the Northeast, Midwest and Southeast regions. Upstream, total supplies are averaging 97.8 Bcf/d, with Texas production gains once again driving the majority of the overall supply increase.

Proposed Reroute Of Oil Pipeline In Northern Wisconsin Sows Division | Wisconsin Public Radio – Jan Penn fears their property may be part of plans by Canadian energy firm Enbridge to reroute its Line 5 pipeline.   Enbridge has been exploring alternative routes since the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa filed a lawsuit against the company aimed at shutting down and removing the pipeline from the tribe’s reservation. The line carries up to 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids per day from Superior to Sarnia, Ontario. As Enbridge explores possible routes, the pipeline has created division among neighbors and communities over the path it may take. And, federal and state regulators have no authority to weigh in on the siting of the proposed line. . The Marengo River is a major tributary of the Bad River Watershed that drains more than 1,000 square miles along the shore of Lake Superior. The Kakagon and Bad River sloughs — referred to as the "Everglades of the North" — lie at its mouth, comprising around 16,000 acres of internationally recognized wetlands. Billy Creek is a Class I trout stream that flows into the Marengo River, which drains into the Bad River Watershed. Some tribal and community members say Line 5 and a potential reroute of the pipeline threatens the region's water quality. Danielle Kaeding/WPR It’s part of the reason the couple rejected Enbridge’s requests to survey their land for a roughly 40-mile reroute of Line 5 running south of the reservation through Ashland and Iron counties. Jan fears any spill could harm the region’s water quality. While Jan hopes to preserve her land, others see the value their property may bring to their struggling families and communities as Enbridge seeks land. Mellen Mayor Joe Barabe has been eager to work with Enbridge. The city reached a deal to sell land north of Mellen not far from Copper Falls State Park for $1 million as part of rerouting Line 5. If the pipeline is built, Mellen would receive another $3.25 million. The city of roughly 700 is struggling financially after it installed a new lagoon at its wastewater utility that prompted sewer rates to climb roughly 73 percent for residents in recent years, Barabe said. He said Mellen owes about $1.2 million on the upgrade while an upcoming road project that includes more utility improvements may cost $1.7 million.

Trump's budget proposes sale from emergency oil reserve -  (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s 2021 budget released on Monday proposed a sale of 15 million barrels of oil from the emergency petroleum reserve to help pay for projects overseen by the Department of Energy. Budget documents said a sale from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, or SPR, which stores oil in a series of underground salt caverns on the Louisiana and Texas coast, would help raise funds for priorities including $242 million needed to fix a Naval Petroleum Reserve site in California. The budget is largely a political document that serves as a beginning point for negotiations with Congress. But with a long-standing boom in domestic drilling, lawmakers from both political parties have supported sales from the reserve this year and next to help fund drug research and improvements at the SPR, where machinery is exposed to moist, salty air. The sale would be less than the roughly 20 million barrels of oil the United States consumes in a day. The reserve currently holds 635 million barrels, more than required under international agreements seeking to ensure that there are enough global reserves to keep oil markets stabilized in the event of disruptions in petroleum-producing countries. Laws passed in 2015, before Trump was president, and in 2018 call for about 15 million barrels to be sold through this year and 2021.

Thanks to Trump, Keystone XL Is Back. The Anti-Pipeline Movement Is Ready. -- Keystone XL, which would pump some of Canada’s most dangerous oil products over nearly 1,200 miles of US land and Indigenous territories largely for export to other countries, is back: In January, thanks to Trump’s efforts to revive the project, TC Energy, the company behind the major oil delivery system, said that it would begin preparing for construction in Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska as soon as this month.  “We’ve been fighting this for ten years,” says Joye Braun, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and front-line organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network. Braun has long worked to mobilize Great Plains communities against oil pipeline construction, but the unique risks and history of this project gives it special weight. “Kesytone XL is the granddaddy of them all. Obama stopped it, Trump revived it, [while] tribes have said a very firm ‘no. Not on our land.'” Braun, along with other Indigenous organizers and their allies, are gearing up to once again resist. “I’m not going to tell anyone what our plans are, but we will exercise every right that we have available to stop this.”   Keystone XL would transport tar sands—which scientists have called the “dirtiest” fossil fuel because it creates toxic byproducts, causes extra carbon emissions when burned, and is harder to clean up when spilled—from Alberta, Canada, where the tar sands industry is especially destructive and is rapidly clearing precious boreal forests, to Steele City, Nebraska. From there, the oil would flow into a pipeline network that reaches export terminals on the Gulf of Mexico. Government data suggests that much of the product flowing through Keystone XL would never be available to American consumers, a notion that TC Energy disputes. “We will exercise every right that we have available to stop this.”  In order to cross the Canadian border, the pipeline needs a permit from the State Department, which is required under federal statutes like the National Environmental Policy Act to analyze the project’s environmental impacts.    The Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Fort Belknap Indian Community worked with the Native American Rights Fund to sue the Trump Administration in 2018 for what they call “numerous violations of the law in the Keystone XL pipeline permitting process,” including breaches of the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires that reviews take a “hard look” at environmental impacts. They also alleged violations of treaties in which the federal government promised to care for Native tribes’ ancestral lands.

Senate panel rejects Heinert plan on S.D. utility projects that haven’t been started  — An attempt failed Tuesday that would have required South Dakota regulators to reconsider a permit if a utility project hadn’t been built in 10 years. Senate Democratic leader Troy  Heinert of Mission brought SB 126 primarily because of the Keystone XL oil pipeline that is still in the preliminary stages.The state Public Utilities Commission granted a permit for the South Dakota segment of the XL project in February 2010 and determined the permit remained valid in January 2016.Construction on the South Dakota part could start later this year.TC Energy received initial approval in January from the state Water Management Board to draw from the Cheyenne, Bad and White rivers in western South Dakota.The water board meets February 26 to consider proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Heinert is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, one of several tribal governments, organizations and individuals who opposed granting the water permits. Many of them also opposed the utilities commission’s 2016 certification finding the pipeline permit was still good. The company, previously known as TransCanada, has one crude-oil pipeline running through eastern South Dakota. Keystone XL would go through more than 300 miles of South Dakota public and private properties in Harding, Butte, Perkins, Meade, Pennington, Haakon, Jones, Lyman and Tripp counties. The route skirts around several current Indian reservations. Indian tribes had received all land in Dakota Territory starting at the east bank of the Missouri River in the 1800s. But they were later put onto separate, smaller reservations, so that homesteaders could compete for open property.

South Dakota tribes speak against 'riot-boosting' penalties (AP) — Native American groups opposed to the Keystone XL oil pipeline told South Dakota lawmakers Wednesday that Gov. Kristi Noem’s plan to restore criminal penalties for urging riots would result in peaceful protesters being silenced. The Republican governor proposed updates to the so-called “riot-boosting” laws after a judge struck down efforts last year to allow the state and counties to prosecute disruptive demonstrations against the pipeline. Several Indian tribes in the state opposed the bill, putting a strain on the governor’s relationship with the tribes. The new proposal sailed through a House committee on Wednesday, as Native American groups testified, prayed and protested at the Capitol. The bill would update definitions of rioting and “incitement to riot” that are on the books and allow government entities to seek civil fines against people who “urge, instigate, incite, or direct” groups of three or more to using force or violence. The state agreed not to enforce parts of those laws in October as part of a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union. The Republican governor argues that the proposed laws are designed to protect people’s rights to protest peacefully and even includes language to make that clear. She has said the civil penalties would keep taxpayers from having to pay for damage caused by riots. Lester Thompson, the chairman of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, said the First Amendment already protects a person’s to protest. He said the law would put protesters in a defensive position, vulnerable to laws that do not make it clear what constitutes violence during a riot. “It could be me raising my fist,” said Derrick Marks, a committee member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. “Is that considered riot boosting? Is that considered violence?”

Bill that would add liquefied propane to ‘Dig Safe’ law advances - Portland Press Herald— A legislative committee Thursday gave its support to a bill that would include liquefied propane gas in Maine’s Dig Safe law, according to a news release. Every member of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee present voted in favor of the measure submitted by state Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, who serves as the House chairperson of the committee. He submitted the bill in response to the deadly explosion in Farmington on Sept. 16, 2019, at LEAP Inc.’s building. During a work session, an emergency preamble was added to the bill that will allow the legislation to go into effect immediately, if signed into law, according to the release. The explosion killed a Farmington firefighter, injured six others and critically injured LEAP Inc.’s maintenance supervisor who was in the building. The Office of the State Fire Marshal released its findings Jan. 24, revealing the explosion ignited days after an underground propane line was severed when one of four bollards was being drilled into the ground near the building, according to a release. Investigators concluded the propane leaked from the severed line and led to the explosion that leveled the building and damaged surrounding homes. The source of ignition that sparked the explosion could not be determined. Dig Safe laws prohibit digging around certain underground utility lines. In Maine, liquefied propane lines are not on the prohibited list, according to the release.

New Report Details Impacts of Oil and Gas Development on Public Lands   The American Petroleum Institute has rolled out a multibillion-dollar public relations campaign stating that oil and gas can help to solve climate change. The association is claiming that expanding the use of fossil fuelscan lower climate emissions that are trapping heat on our planet.If that sounds fishy, it's because it is.The campaign, which includes online ads, airport displays and billboards, credits oil and gas for the recent dip of 2.1 percent in the U.S. climate emissions. It also pushes the false narrative that fossil fuels — especiallynatural gas — are the energy sources of the future. Our new report, The Climate Report 2020: Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Public Lands, shows that couldn't be farther from the truth. Our experts found that on public lands alone, oil and gas development is set to generate a massive amount of climate emissions. Federal lands leased to the industry in the last three years could produce as much as 5.9 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases. That's more than half the emissions that China — the world's largest emitter — releases per year.You won't see that number in the industry's advertisements.The problem is that oil and gas are far from being clean energy sources. Even the most efficient natural gas plant still emits about half of the carbon dioxide emitted by a coal plant. That's still high considering the world needs to slash carbon emissions to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis, according to the United NationsFederal lands leased in the last three years could generate half of China's annual climate emissions.That's not all. The extraction of natural gas also releases methane, widely known as a climate change accelerant. The gas is released in smaller quantities than carbon dioxide, but it's 87 times more powerful in trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere.It's clear that by investing in oil and natural gas instead of coal, we're just replacing one emissions problem with another.It's also clear that oil and gas companies are not interested in solving climate change. For instance, methane leaks could be easily cut with cost-effective solutions. But the industry has done the opposite, spending heavily to block the passage of any regulations.

Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez bill would outlaw fracking by 2025 - A bill introduced last week by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) helped craft would ban fracking nationwide by 2025, according to its newly unveiled text. The legislation would immediately prevent federal agencies from issuing federal permits for expanded fracking, new fracking, new pipelines, new natural gas or oil export terminals and other gas and oil infrastructure. A House version of the legislation is being spearheaded by Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Darren Soto (D-Fla.). By Feb. 1, 2021, permits would be revoked for wells where fracking takes place and that are within 2,500 feet of a home, school or other "inhabited structure." The wells would be required to stop operations. Fracking for oil and natural gas would become illegal "on all onshore and offshore land in the United States" by Jan. 1, 2025. The legislation follows up on Sanders's campaign promise of a fracking ban if he's elected to the White House. It was introduced the week before Monday's Iowa caucus, which kicks off the 2020 presidential nominating contest. “Fracking is a danger to our water supply. It’s a danger to the air we breathe, it has resulted in more earthquakes, and it’s highly explosive. To top it all off, it’s contributing to climate change," Sanders said in a statement. "If we are serious about clean air and drinking water, if we are serious about combating climate change, the only safe and sane way to move forward is to ban fracking nationwide,” he added. In a statement, Ocasio-Cortez said fracking is a contributor to “our climate emergency.” "The science is clear: fracking is a leading contributor to our climate emergency. It is destroying our land. It is destroying our water and it is wreaking havoc on our communities' health,” Ocasio-Cortez said in the statement. The legislation is backed by environmentalists but has been slammed by industry groups. "Sen. Sanders’ fracking ban bill is desperately needed if we’re going to stop the climate crisis,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, in a statement. “This is the big, bold action that’s required so future generations can have a livable planet.”

Note to EIA: Major shale operator sending cash elsewhere - John Hess, CEO of Hess Corporation, a large U.S.-based independent oil producer, recently told a Houston audience where he's putting the company's money these days: Offshore drilling.  That should strike those who know of Hess Corporation's heavy involvement in the Bakken shale play (in North Dakota) as a bit strange. Hess says the company will "use cash flow from the Bakken to invest in longer-term offshore investments." Hess told his audience that "key U.S. shale fields are starting to plateau, calling shale 'important but not the next Saudi Arabia.'" Setting aside whether Hess is actually getting investable cash from the Bakken, the constant refrain from the U.S. oil industry has been precisely that shale plays ARE the next Saudi Arabia. Someone should send a note to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) that maybe it's not all going to work out. If Hess is right about a peak in U.S. shale oil production soon, that peak will come about a decade earlier than the peak forecast by the EIA.  None of this will come as a surprise to geologist David Hughes whose most recent update on U.S. shale oil and natural gas production suggests that not only will Hess be proven generally correct, but that production will fall much farther than the EIA believes in the coming decades. Hughes continues to rate EIA estimates of ultimate recovery from America's shale oil and natural gas fields as "extremely optimistic, and highly unlikely to be realized."U.S. shale oil production has been a major driver in the growth of world oil supplies. Last year the United States accounted for 98 percent of global growth in oil production. Since 2008 the number is 73 percent. It's not hard to imagine that a slowdown in U.S. oil production growth or worse yet a decline in overall U.S. production would mean trouble for the entire world.With 81 percent of global oil production now in decline, even a plateau in U.S. production would likely result in a worldwide decline. The world is simply not prepared for such an event—in part, because agencies such as the EIA are either unable or unwilling to grasp the plain facts and present them to policymakers and the public. When the real trouble arrives in the oil markets, the EIA and other forecasters will likely just shift their analysis and cite some "impossible to predict" factors that will have led to the stunning reversal of fortune. But those factors are in evidence right now, if only the EIA and others have eyes to see them.

Natural gas pipeline proposal fractures Oregon community | PBS NewsHour Weekend (audio & transcript) A protracted battle in Oregon over a proposal to build a 229-mile natural gas pipeline and processing terminal in the southern part of the state is pitting those hungry for economic development against those wary of the project's environmental risks. But as NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker reports, that fight is drawing closer to a conclusion. Read the Full Transcript: Since 2004, there has been a protracted battle underway in Oregon. It's a fight over a liquid natural gas export terminal, and the pipeline that would deliver the gas. Landowners and community members are wary of what they say is a risky proposition. But, as PBS NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker reports, it's a 15-year conflict that is finally inching closer to a conclusion.

Exxon Downplays Climate Risk to Oil and Gas in New Report - Climate change is not a crisis, according to ExxonMobil’s latest climate risk report to shareholders and the public. Despite ongoing record-setting global temperatures, wildfires, and other impacts, the oil and gas giant contends that growing climate instability does not rule out continued production of fossil fuels. The firm released its annual “Energy and Carbon Summary” on January 28, in the midst of a two-week slide that saw Exxon’s stock price hit its lowest point in a decade. Like previous editions of the report, Exxon's latest future-looking assessment outlines its plans for continuing to produce oil and gas while downplaying the risks of changing climate and energy regulations to its holdings. “Over the coming decades, oil and natural gas will continue to play a critical role in meeting the world’s energy demand,” the report states. But the firm’s stance that continued oil and gas production is a low-enough-risk proposition is misguided, said Andrew Grant, senior oil and gas analyst at Carbon Tracker, a London-based think tank that analyzes the impact of the energy transition on capital markets and fossil fuel firms. “In thinking about value risks, the danger isn’t just what if [Exxon] can’t develop new assets because they’re obviously uneconomic,” Grant said, “but also what if they do develop assets thinking that they will be economic but that subsequently turns out not to be the case.” The firm is not acknowledging that its oil and gas reserves could become such “stranded assets” over the next several decades, he said, and drop billions in value amidst a likely global transition to cleaner energy sources. “Ultimately, what Exxon is guilty of is being too certain about an increasingly uncertain future,” . “And it is betting billions of dollars in shareholder capital on its ability to be right.”

Hundreds rally in Metro Vancouver and Victoria in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en - Hours after police arrested dozens of protesters for blockading port entrances in Vancouver and Delta, B.C., marches were held in Vancouver and Victoria in support of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation and its fight against a pipeline. In Victoria, protesters blocked the Johnson Street and Bay Street bridges during afternoon rush hour while, in Vancouver, police warned drivers to expect delays as demonstrators blocked intersections and marched through the downtown core. In recent days, small-scale protests have emerged across Canada in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary leaders' opposition to the construction of a gas pipeline through their traditional territory in northern B.C. Over the weekend, the RCMP arrested 21 people blocking Coastal GasLink workers from accessing the site. On Monday morning, Vancouver police arrested 43 demonstrators at the Port of Vancouver as they enforced an injunction against those blocking access to the site. Dozens of officers arrived at the intersection of Hastings and Clark streets around 5:30 a.m. PT Monday, and the injunction was read several times over a loudspeaker. Police then removed barricades blocking access to the port, reopening the ramp to vehicles.Shortly after 6 a.m., about a dozen protesters remained around a fire burning in the roadway. Officers reminded people they would be arrested if they stayed in the road. By 8 a.m., the police had cleared all demonstrators from the intersection and put the fire out. At midmorning, police had removed all barricades, and traffic reopened. All of those arrested in Vancouver have been released on the condition they abide by the injunction, according to police. Whess Harman, a multidisciplinary artist from the Carrier Wei'at Nation, said non-Indigenous volunteers had remained in the roadway as a strategy to prevent Indigenous youth protesters from being arrested. Demonstrators had blocked two other port entrances in Vancouver, and the Delta port, where local police arrested 14 protesters early Monday morning. Delta police said an ambulance was called for one person "out of an abundance of caution." Protesters had first blockaded the port on Feb. 8. Meanwhile, protesters in New Hazelton, west of Smithers, B.C., continue to block railways, significantly affecting CN Rail service.

CN shuts eastern Canadian rail network - Canadian National (CN) said today it has begun to shut down its eastern Canadian rail network following delays caused by protests against a pipeline that have spread across three provinces.More than 400 trains have already been cancelled this week. The situation has worsened since CN said on 11 February that blockades in Belleville, Ontario, had forced it to curtail some deliveries. The protests are unrelated to CN. First Nations groups and others have used blockades to protest a Coastal GasLink pipeline under construction in British Columbia."A progressive shutdown of our eastern Canadian operations is the responsible approach to take for the safety of our employees and the protestors," CN chief executive Jean-Jacques Ruest said today.  The closure ends all transcontinental train movements, including some that are hauling propane, coal, crude, potash and pellets.CN is taking steps to ensure it is well set up for recovery, "which will come when the illegal blockades end completely," Ruest said.CN sought and obtained court orders to end the blockades. The blockades have ended in Manitoba and an end is imminent in British Columbia, the railroad said. But the orders of an Ontario court have yet to be enforced and continue to be ignored, CN said. The shutdown puts up to 6,000 workers at CN and other rail companies out of work, Teamsters Canada said.

Documentary on Alberta train derailment uncovers evidence of criminal negligence by CP Rail - A recently aired documentary that reveals corporate criminal negligence may have been responsible for a fatal train accident last year has prompted calls for an independent criminal investigation into CP Rail, Canada’s second largest railway. The 22-minute documentary, “Runaway Train,” was the product of a seven-month-long investigation undertaken by the CBC investigative program the Fifth Estate. Train 301 was travelling west to Vancouver when it derailed near the Alberta/British Columbia border at around 1 a.m. on February 4, 2019, killing the three crew members on board: conductor Dylan Paradis, locomotive engineer Andrew Dockrell and conductor trainee Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer. (See: “Canada: Train derailment kills three, exposes terrible working conditions”) Shortly after the accident, the federal government’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB), released its preliminary findings. It determined that the 112 loaded grain cars had been parked in –28C weather on a steep grade with emergency air brakes applied, but no handbrakes. The train had been parked for almost three hours when the replacement crew arrived. Soon after their arrival, the air brakes failed and the train “began to move on its own,” accelerating beyond the authorized maximum track-speed of 15 mph to a speed in excess of 51 mph, until it derailed into the mountainside. The timeliness of CBC’s exposure was underscored by a train derailment that occurred in Saskatchewan last Thursday. At around 6 a.m., a CP Rail freight train derailed near Guernsey, for the second time in as many months, forcing the evacuation of 80 people after oil tanker cars caught fire. Federal Transport Minister Mark Garneau subsequently announced a 40-kilometer-per-hour speed cap for all trains carrying dangerous goods for 30 days. The CBC documentary includes footage describing a “string of critical failures” on the part of the railway company, including in maintenance, inspections, and braking practices, and the “compelling case for criminal negligence.”

The Race For Arctic Oil Is Heating Up - Despite climate concerns and environmentalist backlash against exploration for oil and gas in pristine sensitive regions of the Arctic, companies continue to explore for hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic Circle, in Russia and Norway in particular. The largest Russian energy companies are looking to explore more Arctic oil and gas resources on and offshore Russia, while Norwegian and other Western oil firms are digging exploration wells in Norway’s Barents Sea. Those companies lead the development efforts to tap more Arctic oil and gas resources as legacy oil and gas fields both offshore Norway and onshore Russia mature.   Russia’s biggest energy firms Gazprom, Rosneft, Novatek, and Lukoil, and Norway’s oil and gas giant Equinor, as well as Aker BP and ConocoPhillips, are the top oil and gas producers in the Artic region, data and analytics company GlobalData said in a new report. Gazprom is the undisputed leader in Arctic oil and gas production, followed, at a long distance, by two other Russian firms, Rosneft and Novatek, GlobalData’s estimates show. Russian firms are ramping up exploration in Russia’s Arctic, while Equinor and other Western companies drill exploration wells in Norway’s Barents Sea, hoping for a significant discovery that could add to the Johan Castberg oilfield—a massive discovery which was made in 2011, but which hasn’t been replicated in the Barents Sea so far.  Yet, both Russia and Norway face specific challenges in getting the most out of their respective Arctic oil and gas resources.In Russia, the government has made Arctic oil and gas development a key priority and offers tax breaks for firms exploring in the area.Energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft dominate the exploration and development efforts in Russia’s Arctic. Offshore, Gazprom’s Prirazlomnoye field is currently the only producing Russian oil and gas project on the Arctic Shelf. But even with tax breaks, Russia may find it hard to develop its offshore Arctic resources, due to the U.S. sanctions banning collaboration on Russian deepwater, Arctic offshore, or shale projects with Gazprom, Gazprom Neft, Lukoil, Surgutneftegas, and Rosneft. These are the largest energy firms in Russia and they don’t have access to capital at western banks to develop such projects.  Although Russian firms downplay the effects of the U.S. sanctions on their development plans, and although domestic companies are focused on developing in-house technology solutions to replace foreign-sourced tech, analysts believe that 100-percent local content technology in challenging projects would likely take years to implement.

Russia is 'fearful' of US competition in the European gas market, official says - Europe can buy its natural gas wherever it wants, including Russia, but there should be more competition among suppliers, a top U.S. energy official told CNBC, adding that Russia was “fearful” of a rise in energy exports from America. “We expect that a lot of countries will continue to buy gas from Russia,” Frank Fannon, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for energy resources, told CNBC Tuesday. “That’s fine, that’s great, so long as it’s based on a competitive model — is there transparency in pricing, is there even a market, you can’t possibly have a market if you have one supplier — that’s not a market, there’s no competition.” The U.S., EU and Russia are engaged in an awkward triangle when it comes to gas with Russia and the EU integrated closely in terms of gas supplies, and the U.S. trying to gain more access to the EU market for its own liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, or what the U.S. Department of Energy has called “freedom gas.” Being Europe’s closest energy giant and neighbor, Russia has naturally become the largest gas supplier to the continent over the years and it has consolidated this position most recently with gas pipeline projects designed to increase its exports to the continent. One gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2, has proved so controversial to the U.S. that the Trump administration announced in December that it would slap sanctions on any firms involved in finishing (it is near completion) the pipeline. The pipeline runs from Russia to Germany, via the Baltic Sea floor and through the territories of several other countries. It is owned and will be operated by Russian energy giant Gazprom, which said in January that it would finish the pipeline alone due to sanctions; it is expected to be operation in early 2021. The U.S. has argued that the pipeline makes Europe less secure and more dependent on Russia for its energy needs but the EU and Russia have deplored the sanctions with the former saying it should be able to determine its own energy policy. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she is “opposed to extraterritorial sanctions” against the project and Russia said it could complete the pipeline alone. It also said that U.S. sanctions were protectionist and just aimed at increasing its own U.S. LNG sales to Europe, a huge potential market for the U.S.

EU Plans to Measure True Climate Impacts of LNG Imports From US Fracked Gas -- With growing evidence that the climate impacts of natural gas are comparable to coal, the European Commission is planning to study ways to reduce methane emissions across the life cycle of natural gas production and consumption, with potential implications for fracked gas producers in the U.S.  “Work has started on the methane emissions linked to the energy sector, including oil and gas production and transport, but also coal mines and we are planning on presenting the strategic plan still this year,” said an unnamed official working with European Union (EU) energy commissioner Kadri Simson, as reported by Euractiv.The EU obtains natural gas from many sources, both in gas form via pipeline and as liquefied natural gas LNG. One area of this EU study will be methane emissions over the life cycle of LNG imports from US fracked natural gas.The U.S.is awash in natural gas from fracked shale basins, which has caused prices to plummet — creating big losses for natural gas producers in America — and the nation has been rapidlyramping up exports of LNG to deal with this excess. Despite the big price drops and glut of natural gas — both in the U.S. and globally — that cast doubt on the economic viability of U.S. LNG exports, the Trump administration just approved permits for four new LNG export facilities in Texas alone. U.S.Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette commented on the new approvals, specifically mentioning the goal of exporting more U.S.LNG to Europe.The Trump administration recognizes the importance and increasing role U.S.natural gas has in the global energy landscape,” said Secretary Brouillette. “The export capacity of these four projects alone is enough LNG to supply over half of Europe’s LNG import demand.”Europe is currently a top destination for U.S.LNG exports, with Spain and France receiving the most out of European countries in 2019.  Bloomberg recently analyzed the climate impact of US LNG production production facilities and reported that “an analysis shows the plants’ potential carbon dioxide emissions rival those of coal.” Nevertheless, the oil and gas industry is putting serious ad dollars into positioning natural gas as a climate solution. As renewables have become more cost-competitive, the industry has shifted its language away from selling natural gas as a bridge fuel to renewables and toward gas as a “foundation fuel.” With the EU looking to quantify the full climate impact of US LNG, the biggest unanswered question is just how much methane is being vented and leaked during natural gas production, most of which involves fracking and horizontal drilling. What is known is that the level of gas flaring and venting has skyrocketed to the point that even oil company CEOs are admitting it’s a big problem.

Coronavirus affecting Woodside’s ability to sign gas deals - According to Reuters, Woodside Petroleum Ltd has announced that the coronavirus outbreak is affecting its ability to sign gas deals and sell stakes in a key growth project, reporting a 25% decrease in annual underlying profit.The fall in profit was reportedly in line with expectations because of both weaker output from Pluto LNG and lower oil and gas prices. However, Woodside claims the coronavirus outbreak is not only affecting prices, but also impacting broader sentiment.Speaking to Reuters, the head of Woodside, Peter Coleman, claimed the company will use this year to focus on its Scarborough project, and will put efforts to secure an agreement for the long-delayed Browse project to supply gas to the North West Shelf LNG plant on hold.According to Reuters, Scarborough and Browse are crucial to driving the company’s planned 6% growth per year in output through 2028. Woodside is now planning to make a final investment decision (FID) on Browse late next year. This is at least six months later than previously expected.Coleman commented: “We’ve pushed it really hard. We’ve just said it’s time for us to all just step back for a while.”He also noted that talks to reach gas agreements and sell part of its 75% stake in Scarborough to help it fund the project have been negatively affected by both low gas prices and travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Coleman said: “The longer the coronavirus goes on people will form the view that distressed assets may come on the market.”

North West Shelf LNG project to return to full production imminently -- According to Reuters, output from Australia’s largest LNG plant – the North West Shelf project – is set to return to full production in the next few days. This follows the announcement that a cyclone last weekend had affected the facility.Woodside Chief Executive Peter Coleman said that the cyclone was the worst to ever hit the facility in its 30 years of operation. Fortunately, Coleman added that there was only minor damage to the facility. Coleman also told analysts that the company had not seen any impact to its LNG shipments caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Coronavirus epidemic diverts LNG tankers - According to the latest Reuters report, four LNG tankers en route to North Asia have been diverted due to the Coronavirus outbreak in China.The Coronavirus epidemic has affected 60 000 people worldwide and has had a significant effect on energy markets and demand, particularly in China.In light of the circumstances, China’s top LNG buyer, China National Offshore Oil Corp’s (CNOOC), among others, has declared force majeure to suspend supply contracts with at least three LNG exporters.As a result of this action, Asian LNG demand has taken a notable hit, with prices falling below US$3 per million Btu (a record low). Reduced demand brought about by a mild winter has also been a contributing factor.Shipping companies are now scrambling to divert cargoes bound for Asia to more profitable destinations. For example, according to Reuters, three of four LNG tankers loaded in Qatar and Oman have been diverted from their original eastwards course. Two will reportedly now deliver their shipments to South Hook terminal, UK, while the other is returning to the Gulf of Oman. In addition to cargoes being diverted, several carriers have been flagged as floating storage. According to a Reuters source, there are 15 vessels currently flagged as floating; two in the Middle East, two in western Australia and 11 scattered across Asia. The source expressed that this number of floated LNG cargoes was unusual for this time of year.

Qatar re-routing cargoes to China after coronavirus -According to Reuters, Qatari energy companies are actively engaged in accommodating both rescheduling and re-routing requests on some deliveries of Qatari oil and gas cargoes to China after the coronavirus outbreak. In a statement, the chief executive of state energy company Qatar Petroleum, Saad al-Kaabi, said the company supports “its counterpart Chinese energy companies to meet any needs that can support China’s efforts to deal with the coronavirus and its impact.“All concerned Qatari energy companies are already working closely with their Chinese partners to assist in identifying and assessing potential support areas, and... are actively engaged in accommodating certain rescheduling or re-routing requests for deliveries of Qatari energy products.”

Gazprom hopes China will buy US LNG, not Europe -According to the latest Reuters report, after the signing of a trade deal between Washington and Beijing, Gazprom is hopeful that China will purchase the majority of US-produced LNG cargoes, not Europe.Speaking at a recent investor meeting, the head of Gazprom’s exporting arm, Elena Burmistrova, noted that weak European gas pricing might curb the company’s LNG supplies to the region, due to low prices and increased rivalry.As US gas producers look to expand their markets and continue their steady growth, LNG exports are proving to be a profitable avenue through which to offload large quantities of shale gas. This activity is a direct threat to Gazprom’s dominance in Europe.According to Reuters, China has recently restarted talks with US LNG exporters to purchase greater quantities of LNG, following the signing of a Phase 1 accord between the two countries. This move is very favourable for Gazprom, since the arrival of new US LNG cargoes in Europe has had a negative impact on gas prices in the region. However, the company is reportedly closely monitoring the situation, in light of China’s recent suspension of some LNG purchases due to weaker demand caused by the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.

China likely to shun US LNG despite multi-billion trade deal -An ongoing two-year long trade war between the US and China that has impacted the exports of both countries seemed to be closer to a resolution in January, when the two rivals sealed a deal that left the Asian nation committed to buy a total of US$26.2 billion in energy products this year.Amid a crisis caused by the coronavirus epidemic, China recently decided to halve the additional tariffs it imposed on US$75 billion worth of US goods from September 2019. However, this reduction has not affected the 25% tariff imposed on US LNG, and Rystad Energy does not consider any such imports commercially viable. With not a single US cargo sent to a Chinese terminal since 2Q19, Rystad Energy estimates that LNG imports will restart only once the tariffs are lifted or if political support is offered by the Chinese government.Rystad Energy expects a reduction or even a complete removal of tariffs on imports of US LNG. Nevertheless, the company’s calculations show that volumes will most likely remain relatively low, due to both the cost-competitiveness of other global supplies and to the coronavirus epidemic’s effect on Chinese LNG demand.To calculate the volumes, Rystad Energy identified three scenarios, the most conservative of which (low case) is thought to be the most likely outcome:

  • Low case: LNG imports in 2020 are kept at the 2018 level of around 2.5 million t, valued at US$1 billion.
  • Middle case: In 2017, before the trade war started, LNG represented 8% of all US energy product sales to China. Applying the same percentage would see China import 5.27 million t of US LNG for a total value of US$2.2 billion in 2020.
  • High case: The trade agreement did not specify any amounts of particular energy products such as crude oil, LNG, refined products and coal. As a result, LNG and especially crude oil, which will get a 2.5% tariff cut from February, could account for a larger proportion of Chinese energy purchases to meet the agreed target. LNG imports could potentially reach 8.4 million t, worth US$3.5 billion in 2020.

In the longer term, new LNG projects need to have long term contracts to secure financing for development, and the imports-reliant Chinese market will continue to be among the biggest sponsors for new developments – although probably very limited in the US, said Xi Nan, Vice President for Gas and Power Markets at Rystad Energy. “The cost of supply for new US projects is not as competitive as in Qatar, Mozambique and Australia, which gives Chinese buyers more commercial incentives to sign new contracts with non-US suppliers,” she said.

Structurally cheaper LNG should displace coal from Japan, and broader Asia: Russell - (Reuters) - The collapse in the spot price of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Asia is a short-term phenomenon that may well end up having a longer-term impact, especially on thermal coal. The spot price dropped to $2.95 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) for the week ended Feb. 7, the lowest price in records stretching back to 2010. It has lost 57% of its value since the pre-winter peak of $6.80 per mmBtu in mid-October, and is down 74% from the peak price in 2018 and 86% from the all-time high from February 2014. The reasons for the slumping price are well understood, with both demand and supply factors playing a role. On the demand side, growth in China has slowed from its breakneck pace as the world’s second-biggest buyer of LNG works to build the infrastructure needed for more coal-to-gas switching in both residential heating and industry. LNG demand in Japan, the world’s top buyer of the super-chilled fuel, has also been sluggish amid a warmer than usual winter and the restart of some of its nuclear fleet, idled after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. On the supply side, the commissioning of several new projects in Australia, which has overtaken Qatar as the top LNG exporter, as well as in the United States, has led to an abundance of cargoes. While it’s unlikely that spot LNG prices will stay at the current depressed levels indefinitely, the trend toward structurally lower prices appears sustainable. There is still no shortage of LNG projects being built, with 17 million tonnes of capacity due to be commissioned this year alone, and considerably more likely in the next five years, as projects from Russia to East Africa start to come on line. This supply surge is likely to have two impacts on prices. Firstly it will ensure that spot prices remain under downward pressure, and secondly, it will likely accelerate the shift away from long-term, oil-linked contracts to shorter-term, more flexibly priced deals. This change in the way LNG is priced should give pause for considerable thought to any would-be developers of thermal coal power projects based on imported fuel in Asia, especially Japan.

PetroChina to cut February crude runs by 320,000-bpd due to virus: company official - (Reuters) - PetroChina, China’s second-biggest state refiner, plans to reduce its crude throughput by 320,000 barrels per day (bpd) this month versus its original plan as the Wuhan virus hits fuel demand, a company official told Reuters on Monday. PetroChina’s planned February cut is equivalent to about 10% of the refiner’s average production rate of around 3.32 million bpd. This would bring total production scalebacks by state refiners, include Sinopec Corp and China National Offshore Oil Company, to around 940,000 bpd for this month. The cuts from PetroChina are likely to be deepened to 377,000 bpd in March, said the senior company official with direct knowledge of the matter. He declined to be named as he’s not authorized to speak to the press. Reuters reported last week that Sinopec Corp, Asia’s largest refiner, is cutting its throughput this month by 600,000 bpd, or 12% of its average crude runs, its deepest reduction in over a decade. Independent Chinese refiners in Shandong, meanwhile, have slashed output to below half their capacity. “The production cuts are mostly on refineries in northeast and north China, where demand is hit harder than in the western parts of the country,” said the PetroChina official. PetroChina started the production cuts at the beginning of the month, but deepened them on Monday, the official said. PetroChina did not immediately respond to a request for comment. PetroChina is talking with its key long-term suppliers such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates about possibly deferring cargo loadings or trimming loading volumes, the official said, without giving further details.

China's Hengli Petrochemical cuts refinery operations to 90%: spokesman -  (Reuters) - China’s private chemical giant and refiner Hengli Petrochemical has cut to 90% from this week its crude oil processing rate at a northeastern plant, down from 109%, as a spreading coronavirus hits demand, a spokesman said on Tuesday. The cuts at the 400,000-barrel-per-day refinery and petrochemical complex in Dalian will be equivalent to 17%, or 76,000 bpd, Reuters’ calculations show. Hengli also shut in a 3.2-million-tonne-per-year reforming unit, one of three it operates, because of a mix of technical and market problems. “We’ve been planning to shut down the unit for maintenance to fix some technical issues,” the spokesman told Reuters. “And now it seems the right time, as we are also worried about falling demand for both refined fuel and petrochemicals because of the epidemic.” As Hengli typically pre-markets fuel for more than two months, its refined fuel sales so far have been smooth, another company source said. In face of weakening demand for petrochemical products, Hengli also cut back operations at a newly started plant making purified terephthalic acid, or PTA, to half its capacity, from 80% earlier, the spokesman said. The facility has an annual capacity of 2.5 million tonnes of PTA, a chemical used to make polyester fiber.

The coronavirus is a 'black swan' for oil and energy markets, says Ned Davis Research - The outbreak of the coronavirus is a “true black swan” for the oil and energy market, and as crude prices continue to move lower the worst may not be over yet, Ned David Research said in a note to clients Monday. Analyst Warren Pies noted that the outbreak has reduced Chinese demand for oil by 2 million to 3 million barrels per day, which means “the oil market is looking down the barrel at no demand growth for the calendar year, and outright demand contraction is now on the table.” At the end of January the firm downgraded its outlook on oil from bullish to neutral, and Pies said that his best guess is that “crude oil and energy equities will see more weakness before this is over.” That said, he was quick to note that attempting to draw comparisons between the 2003 SARS outbreak, or attempting to forecast the spread of the disease are “fools errands,” arguing that investors should instead should rely on “objective indicators.” On Monday U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude fell to its lowest level in 13 months as traders continue to worry that a global economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus will weigh on demand. Both WTI and international benchmark Brent crude are coming off a fifth straight week of losses, and both are currently trading in bear market territory. Pies noted that in prior times of broad weakness in the energy sector refiners were sometimes a pocket of strength. But this time around that might not be true since this is a demand-driven decline, rather than the supply-driven declines of recent years.

Hedge funds sell oil as coronavirus stokes recession fear: Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge funds were heavy sellers of petroleum last week for the third time in four weeks, amid mounting anxiety about the impact of a coronavirus outbreak on oil consumption in China. Hedge funds and other money managers sold the equivalent of 131 million barrels in the six most important futures and options contracts in the week ending Feb. 4. Portfolio managers have sold a total of 367 million barrels since Jan. 7, reversing a large amount of the 533 million barrels bought during the previous 13 weeks (https://tmsnrt.rs/2UEBRTK).  Fears about a coronavirus-driven downturn in oil consumption have replaced earlier expectations about a cyclical recovery in oil demand growth. Selling has been concentrated in crude and the middle distillates used heavily in manufacturing and transportation, including aviation and shipping, the sectors most exposed to China’s economy and the coronavirus. Hedge funds were heavy sellers last week of NYMEX and ICE WTI (-56 million barrels), Brent (-50 million), European gasoil (-18 million) and U.S. heating oil (-8 million). In response to the coronavirus, PetroChina has said that it will cut crude processing at its refineries by 320,000 barrels per day in February, around 10% of its average production rate, with even deeper cuts to come in March. China’s state-owned refiners have now signalled production cuts totalling more than 900,000 bpd this month (“PetroChina to cut February crude runs by 320,000 bpd due to virus”, Reuters, Feb. 10). By contrast, fund managers made no net change in their position in U.S. gasoline last week, which is more focused on the United States and private motorists. The economic and oil market impact of the virus outbreak is similar to a severe recession centered on China, which is currently extremely deep but of uncertain duration, and where the full impact on other countries is unclear. The coronavirus-recession in China is driven by the success of primary infection control in Hubei province; the probability of secondary outbreaks in the rest of China and worldwide; and decisions by governments, businesses and individuals about the optimal trade-off between the need for infection control and the need to keep normal commercial activities operating. If the virus can be successfully contained while business activity is normalised, the coronavirus-induced recession could be very short, albeit severe, and localised mostly in China, though with impacts on the country’s supply chain.  However, if there are uncontained secondary outbreaks across the rest of China forcing an extended suspension of normal business activity, the recession could be much longer, with an inevitable worldwide effect. And if the virus cannot be contained within China, governments and businesses will face an even more uncomfortable choice about how to manage the trade-off between risks to human health and the need to maintain semi-normal operations.

Crude Oil Crashes to 13-Month Low Amid Devastating Supply Shock - Crude prices nosedived on Monday, as the rapidly spreading coronavirus dampened the demand outlook for oil’s biggest consumer market.Russia and Saudi Arabia are reportedly at odds over how to adjust supplies in the wake of the negative demand shock. The West Texas Intermediate (WTI) benchmark for U.S. crude prices fell nearly 2% to $49.42 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, its lowest in around 13 months. The futures contract is coming off its fifth straight weekly decline. Brent crude, the international futures benchmark, declined 2% to $49.42 a barrel on London’s ICE futures exchange.Commodity prices are also being pressured by a resurgent U.S. dollar. The dollar index (DXY), a broad measure of the greenback’s performance, peaked at 98.88 on Monday, the highest since October. DXY has gained in six straight sessions.China’s failure to contain the coronavirus outbreak has contributed to oil’s steep drop in recent weeks. Already in a bear market, oil prices could slide another 10% from current levels as the world’s second-largest economy grinds to a halt.That’s because Chinese demand for crude has plunged by around 20% in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic. It’s said that up to 400 million people across the country are under some kind of quarantine. This includes major economic centers like Shenzhen and Shanghai.Before the outbreak, China was the world’s largest energy consumer.The epidemic has already caused Chinese inflation to soar as businesses and supply chains faced disruption. The January consumer price index soared 5.4% annually, its highest in eight years.With demand plunging, energy producers are struggling to come up with an effective response to keep prices from crashing even further.Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies are reportedly seeking production cuts to the tune of 600,000 barrels per day. According to the New York Times, Russia has yet to endorse the recommendations.   As the de facto head of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Saudi Arabia wields enough power to push for compliance among its Gulf Arab neighbors. Russia, on the other hand, is an external partner that hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye on the need for deep and prolonged production cuts. Russia and OPEC members are expected to meet later this week to discuss potential market-balancing measures. According to Bloomberg, the oil market is experiencing the biggest demand shock since the global financial crisis of 2008 to 2009.

Oil Sinks as Traders Exploit Russian Bear Impact on OPEC – The Russian silence is costing oil bulls dearly. Crude prices fell for a third-straight day on Moscow’s hesitation to greenlight a 600,000-barrels-per-day output cut proposed by an OPEC technical committee to counter the coronavirus crisis. Brent, the London-traded benchmark for crude oil, settled down $1.20, or 2.2%, at $53.27 per barrel. New York-traded West Texas Intermediate, U.S. crude benchmark, closed down 75 cents, or 1.5%, at $49.57. Since hitting nine-month highs in the first week of January, crude prices have closed down each of the past five weeks. Brent and WTI are now down about 20% each on the year, falling into bear-market territory. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Friday his administration needed more time to decide whether to join additional oil output cuts proposed by the OPEC technical committee because it had reasons to believe U.S. crude production growth could slow while global demand appeared solid. Some analysts think Moscow is basically skeptical that even the 600,000 bpd of cuts proposed by OPEC would be enough to assuage and boost the market. If the cuts weren’t, then all the Russians would have done is lose more market share without getting corresponding price returns. “Russia wants to take some time before accepting anything, and it might also be that the 600,000 of additional cut is not convincing, even to Russia,” The Russian indecision came as top buyer China’s demand for oil was estimated to be falling by hundreds of thousands of barrels daily from the viral pandemic that had virtually crippled whole parts of its economy from travel to automobile assembly, among others. “The run cuts in China due to the coronavirus are coming at the same time that European and U.S. refineries go on maintenance turnarounds, and the pressure is starting to show in physical crude oil,” Jakob added. The OPEC technical committee meeting, which ended on Friday without a production cut deal was precursor to a more important two-day gathering scheduled March 5-6 among oil and energy ministers of OPEC+, a larger group comprising the 13-member OPEC and its 10 allies, which include Russia. Amena Bakr, deputy bureau chief in Dubai for markets advisory service Energy Intelligence, said in a tweet on Friday there was speculation that the March gathering could be brought forward to as early as Feb. 14-15. But if that meeting too passes without a deal, then Brent could seriously be at risk of breaking its $50 support level while WTI could fall to $45 or below, say traders. “Unless we see a substantive enough cut from OPEC, the forward curve in crude will move further into contango, encouraging storage in oil and even more price weakness ahead,” said Tariq Zahir, managing member at the oil-focused Tyche Capital Advisors in New York.

Oil drops 1.5% to 13-month low as weak Chinese demand weighs  - Oil prices fell to their lowest level since January 2019 on Monday on weaker Chinese demand in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and as traders waited to see if Russia would join other producers in seeking further output cuts. Oil has dropped more than 20% from a peak in January after the spreading virus hit demand in the world’s largest oil importer and fueled concerns of excess supplies. Brent crude slipped $1.14, or 2%, to $53.33 per barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate fell 75 cents, or 1.5%, to settle at $49.57 per barrel, its lowest settle since Jan. 7, 2019. That keeps both Brent and WTI in oversold territory for 13 days and 14 days, respectively, their longest bearish streaks since Nov. 2018. The premium of the Brent front-month over the same WTI contract, meanwhile, fell to its lowest since August 2019 in intraday trade. “The concern remains that the wider markets have yet to reflect the full impact of the disruption,” said Saxo Bank commodity strategist Ole Hansen. “With China being the world’s most dominant consumer of raw materials, the impact continues to be felt strongly across key commodities and the world is facing the biggest demand shock since the 2009 global financial crisis.” Beijing has orchestrated support for its companies and financial markets in the past week and investors are hoping for more stimulus to lift the world’s second-biggest economy. Worries over supply were not alleviated on Friday when Russia said it needed more time to decide on a recommendation from a technical committee that has advised the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies to cut production by a further 600,000 barrels per day (bpd). The group, known as OPEC+, has been implementing cuts of 1.2 million bpd since January 2019. Algeria’s Oil Minister Mohamed Arkab said on Sunday the committee had advised further output cuts until the end of the second quarter. Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Moscow needed more time to assess the situation, adding that U.S. crude production growth would slow and global demand was still solid.

The Jet Fuel Crack Killing Oil Won’t Last - Just when investors were beginning to come to terms with weak oil demand amidst a synchronized global economic slowdown, a deadly viral outbreak in the world’s most populous nation has put paid hopes for a quick recovery and placed the oil market in danger of a complete meltdown. Asian jet fuel refining margins have now seen their biggest monthly fall in over 10 years.  Global demand for jet fuel is expected to take a big hit after a series of carriers suspended flights to China amid the marauding coronavirus that has so far claimed 362 lives and infected another 17,300 people across the globe.Key international airlines that have cancelled or reduced flights to China include British Airways, Lufthansa, American Airlines, United Airlines, Austrian Airlines and Swiss International Air Lines. Jet crack spreads -- a metric that measures the differential between an oil product and the crude from which it is derived -- have already narrowed against Brent crude amid expectations of lower demand.Things could get a lot worse if more airlines follow suit.  China’s foreign ministry has slammed the United States for setting a “very bad example” after Washington temporarily banned foreign nationals who have traveled to China within the past two weeks entry into the country. Australia, Japan, Italy, Russia, Pakistan and Singapore have announced similar restrictions.   Cracks, or refining margins, are trouncing oil right now. In January alone, the jet fuel crack for JETSGCKMc1 (the benchmark Singapore refining margin) plunged 34%--a rate that hasn’t been witnessed since the spring of 2009, according to Refinitive Eikon data cited by Reuters.  As we explained in a previous article, crack spreads can be used to gauge demand with narrowing spreads a harbinger for weak demand. China is a major demand hub for jet fuel, with the IEA pegging Chinese jet/kerosene demand at 858,000 b/d in 2019, or 10.7% of global jet fuel demand of 8.01 million b/d. One jet fuel trader has told S&P Platts that further flight cuts could prove to be a game changer in an already depressed market with S&P Platts estimating that a single flight to China carries around 80-90 metric tonnes of jet fuel.The China situation has turned the oil outlook strongly bearish, with the European jet market already weighed down by weak demand due to seasonality. Platts Analytics has forecast a catastrophic drop in oil demand of 2.6 million b/d in February and 2 million b/d in March, in its worst-case scenario against global oil demand of 100.83 million b/d. A best-case sees demand dropping by 900,000 b/d in February and 650,000 b/d in March. The viral outbreak could wreak even more havoc by slowing down the world’s second biggest economy. IHS Markit estimates that the epidemic could lead to a 1.1-percentage-point reduction in Chinese economic growth from its baseline forecast of 5.8 percent growth this year. IHS Markit has based its estimates on a benchmark crafted during the SARS outbreak in 2003.

Oil rebounds amid broad market recovery; investors still wary - Oil prices rose more than 1% on Tuesday in sympathy with a rally in equity markets but investors remained jittery over the Wuhan virus that has now killed over 1,000 in China. Brent crude rose 70 cents, or 1.3%, to $53.97 a barrel by 0428 GMT, retreating from an intraday high of $54.13. U.S. West Texas Intermediate was up 61 cents, or about 1.2%, at $50.18 a barrel. “A broad positive sentiment across Asia markets seems to have boosted crude oil prices,” Margaret Yang, market analyst of CMC Markets, told Reuters. “The rebound is mild and might be short-lived as China’s energy demand is likely to remain soft in the near term due to virus impact. OPEC+ and Russia will need to come out with a cohesive output cut plan to shore up oil prices,” she said. The number of coronavirus deaths in mainland China have now reached 1,016, its National Health Commission said, and the number of cases has topped 42,600. The virus has also spread to two dozen other countries, with the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) cautioning on Monday that the cases outside of China could be “the spark that becomes a bigger fire”. Traders remain concerned that China’s oil demand could take a further hit if the coronavirus cannot be contained. Chinese state refiners have already said they will cut as much as 940,000 barrels per day (bpd) from their crude runs in February due to the virus. “China’s refiners are processing 15% less crude and that could get a lot worse if the virus doesn’t peak this month,” Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA, told Reuters. “OPEC+ appears to be stuck in a wait-and-see mode ... Russia can live with $40 oil (and) thus might not be so eager to play ball with the other OPEC+ members in delivering another 600,000 bpd in production cuts,” Moya said. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, a grouping known as OPEC+ and including Russia, proposed the additional cuts last week, but Russia said on Friday it needed more time to decide whether to join in any further output reductions. The coronavirus outbreak could trim China’s full-year economic growth rate by as much as 1 percentage point in 2020, said the Chinese government think tank National Institute for Finance and Development.

Oil Bounces Back from One-Year Low-- Oil bounced back from a one-year low in New York but the emergence of a glut since the coronavirus outbreak loomed over the market as traders looked to store excess crude on tankers. The world’s largest oil traders are seeking to hoard crude on vessels at sea as the industry tries to deal with the oversupply that’s developed as the outbreak wreaked havoc on Asia’s largest economy. Chinese energy importers are struggling to cope with swelling stockpiles, with one declaring force majeure, as travel bans and quarantines weigh on fuel demand. The growing glut and dithering by OPEC and its allies over how to respond have pushed the oil market into a structure known as contango, where near-term prices trade at a discount to future contracts. And, while oil rebounded somewhat on Tuesday amid a broader move up in financial markets, the contango for U.S. crude stayed near widest in four months. “Crude remains under pressure from worries over demand destruction from the coronavirus,” said Vandana Hari, founder of Vanda Insights. “Prices are likely to continue drifting lower in tandem with the progression of the epidemic.” West Texas Intermediate crude for March rose 1% to $50.07 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:28 a.m. in Singapore. It fell 1.5% on Monday to close at $49.57, the lowest in 13 months. Brent crude for April climbed 1% to $53.81 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange after dropping 2.2% in the previous session. The global benchmark crude traded at a $3.55 premium to WTI for the same month. Vitol SA, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Litasco SA are among firms asking about hiring supertankers for storage purposes as a sharp drop in Chinese demand due to the coronavirus prompts requests for cargo deferments, according to people familiar with the matter, shipbrokers and oil traders. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and it allies are unlikely to hold an extraordinary meeting this month to discuss the impact of the virus on oil markets, leaving the possibility of further production cuts up in the air, according to Azerbaijan’s energy minister. However, his Kazakhstan counterpart said Tuesday a meeting may be held around the end of February.

OPEC slashes oil demand outlook for 2020 as coronavirus outbreak stifles China - OPEC has dramatically lowered its forecast for oil demand growth this year, citing China’s coronavirus outbreak as the “major factor” behind its decision. In a closely-watched monthly report published Wednesday, the Middle East-dominated producer group downwardly revised its outlook for global oil demand growth to 0.99 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2020. That’s down by 0.23 million bpd from the previous month’s estimate. The amended forecast is likely to reinforce the case for OPEC and allied non-OPEC producers, including Russia, to impose additional output cuts sooner rather than later. “The impact of the Coronavirus outbreak on China’s economy has added to the uncertainties surrounding global economic growth in 2020, and by extension global oil demand growth in 2020,” OPEC said in the report. “Clearly, the ongoing developments in China require continuous monitoring and assessment to gauge the implications on the oil market in 2020.” International benchmark Brent crude traded at $55.06 at midday London time on Wednesday, up nearly 2%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $50.69, around 1.5% higher. Both crude benchmarks have each fallen around 20% since climbing to a peak in early January, dragged lower by concern over demand in China during the coronavirus outbreak. WHO says outbreak ‘holds a very grave threat’ for world The group, which consists of some of the world’s most powerful oil-producing nations, said the fast-spreading flu-like virus had necessitated a further downward revision to China’s oil demand forecast. Chinese oil demand was revised down by 0.2 million bpd in the first half of the year, when compared to OPEC’s previous month’s assessment. This has resulted in the producer group downwardly revising its global oil demand growth forecast to 0.4 million bpd through the first half of 2020 — hence a downward revision of 0.2 million bpd for the whole year.

Oil jumps more than 3% at high as Street eyes deeper production cuts, new coronavirus cases slow Oil jumped more than 3% on Wednesday as traders eyed deeper production cuts from OPEC, and as China reported the lowest number of new coronavirus cases since the end of January, easing concerns about a drop-off in demand for oil. “The market is keeping a close watch on the possible move by Russia and its oil companies to get on-board with the proposal to deepen the OPEC+ production cuts,” Again Capital’s John Kilduff said to CNBC. “The companies seem to be willing to extend the time frame of the deal, but not deepen. Any cooperation is a positive, however.” On Wednesday U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude gained 2.6%, or $1.30, to trade at $51.24 per barrel, while international benchmark Brent crude rallied 3.1%, or $1.69, to trade at $55.70 per barrel. Earlier in the session WTI traded as high as $51.73 per barrel. In a closely-watched monthly report published Wednesday, OPEC cut its forecast for oil demand growth this year, saying the coronavirus outbreak was the primary reason. The cartel said it now expects 2020 daily oil demand growth to be 990,000 barrels per day (bpd), which is 230,000 bpd below prior forecasts. This, in turn, could encourage OPEC and its allies, known as OPEC+, to implement additional production cuts. “The impact of the Coronavirus outbreak on China’s economy has added to the uncertainties surrounding global economic growth in 2020, and by extension global oil demand growth in 2020,” OPEC said in the report. An OPEC+ technical committee last week recommended expanding production cuts to put a floor under falling oil prices, although there was some resistance from Russia. RBC’s global head of commodity strategy Helima Croft said that oil’s move higher is “signs that we are getting close to Russia signing off on the OPEC+ deeper cut.” Prices also got a boost as China announced a slowdown in the number of new coronavirus cases. On Tuesday night China’s National Health Commission said there were 2,015 confirmed new cases of the coronavirus on the mainland and 97 additional deaths, bringing the total numbers to 44,653 confirmed cases and 1,113 deaths. Some of oil’s gains were pared, however, after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a larger-than-expected inventory build for the week ending Feb. 7. Stockpiles rose by 7.5 million barrels, ahead of the 3.2 million barrel build analysts had been expecting, according to estimates from FactSet.

Oil jumps more than 2% as slowdown in new China coronavirus cases eases fuel demand concerns - Oil prices climbed more than 2% on Wednesday as China reported its lowest daily number of new coronavirus cases since late January, stoking investor hopes that fuel demand in the world’s second-largest oil consumer may begin to recover from the epidemic. Brent crude was up $1.48, or 2.7%, at $55.47 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate rose $1.11, or 2.2%, to $51.05 per barrel. According to data through Tuesday, the growth rate of new coronavirus cases in China has slowed to the lowest since Jan. 30. Still, international experts remained cautious over forecasting when the outbreak might reach a peak. Travel restrictions to and from China and quarantines have cut fuel usage. The two biggest Chinese refiners have said they will reduce their processing by about 940,000 barrels per day (bpd) as a result of the consumption drop, or about 7% of their 2019 processing runs. “As the growth rate of new cases has decreased ... that has improved the (market) sentiment,” said Kim Kwang-rae, commodities analyst at Samsung Futures in Seoul. The demand concerns from the outbreak pushed Brent and WTI to their lowest in 13 months on Monday. Both benchmarks are down more than 20% from highs reached in January. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Tuesday cut its global oil demand growth forecast for this year by 310,000 bpd as the virus outbreak crimps oil consumption in China. Demand worries flipped the oil market into a contango last week, a market structure where prices for near-term contracts are lower than those for later contracts, indicating ample supplies. Contango spread in Brent is unchanged at 15 cents per barrel from a week earlier, while the WTI contango is at 24 cents a barrel, from 17 cents last week.  The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies including Russia, known as OPEC+, recommended a further cut of 600,000 bpd last week to stem the oil price fall. However, Russia has been hesitant to commit to the additional cut, while Saudi Arabia wanted global major oil producers to agree a quick oil supply cut. U.S. crude inventories rose by 6 million barrels in the week to Feb. 7 to 438.9 million barrels, beating analysts’ expectations for an increase of 3 million barrels, data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showed.

Global oil demand set to see first quarterly decline in over 10 years, IEA says - Global oil demand is now expected to see its first quarterly contraction in over a decade, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), as the new coronavirus and widespread shutdown of China's economy hits demand for crude.Demand is now expected to fall by 435,000 barrels a day (b/d) in the first quarter of 2020, down from the same period a year ago, and marking the first quarterly contraction in more than 10 years, the IEA said in its monthly oil market report Thursday.The expected decline in demand prompted the agency to cut its 2020 growth forecast by 365,000 b/d to 825,000 barrels a day, the lowest since 2011. Lower-than-expected consumption in the OECD countries trimmed 2019 growth to 885,000 b/d, it also said. The forecast downgrade comes as the coronavirus, which has infected over 59,000 worldwide and killed over 1,300 people, continues to weigh on global market sentiment and China's economic activity with factories and businesses closing and travel restricted both to and from China and within the country.The outbreak has also affected business elsewhere with economic forums and business conferences cancelled, the latest being the Mobile World Congress that was set to take place in Barcelona this month. The World Health Organization has said the outbreak "holds a very great threat for the world" and the International Monetary Fund's Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told CNBC Wednesday the new strain of coronavirus was "clearly more impactful" on the world economy than the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic. The negative impact on oil demand hit oil prices hard as the virus took hold in January with a barrel of Brent crude falling by around $10 to fetch below $55 a barrel.  But prices have risen this week on expectations that major producers OPEC and non-OPEC producers, led by Russia, could cut global oil output further to counteract the slump in demand (a slump that had already been around before the coronavirus due to the trade war between the U.S. and China). On Thursday, benchmark Brent crude was trading at $55.73 per barrel, whileU.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was trading at $51.21 per barrel.  The consequences of the new coronavirus, known now as "Covid-19," will be "significant" for global oil demand, oil prices and producers, the IEA said Thursday.

Trading Giants Seek Oil Storage at Sea as Virus Creates Glut (Bloomberg) -- Three of the world’s largest oil traders are seeking to store crude on tankers at sea as the industry tries to deal with a glut that’s emerged since the outbreak of the coronavirus in China. Vitol SA, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Litasco SA are among firms asking about hiring supertankers for storage purposes as a sharp drop in Chinese demand due to the coronavirus prompts requests for cargo deferments, according to people familiar with the matter, shipbrokers and oil traders. Two oil tanker owners said last week that there was rising demand to store, without identifying the companies making the requests. While the emergence of floating storage will come as little shock to an oil market whose main source of demand growth -- China -- has been hit hard by the virus outbreak, it shows the scale of the buying weakness in the Asian country. Storing doesn’t look profitable on paper and keeping barrels at sea would normally be more expensive than land-based options. For Shell and Vitol, the requests are simply to find ships to store barrels for a several weeks or months. Traders sometimes ask for regular cargo charters to include storage options. Officials from all three companies declined to comment. It’s not clear if any of the companies has booked a vessel yet, and traders will sometimes ask for prices to calculate the viability of a trade. Chinese refiners have cut the amount of crude they’re turning into fuels by about 15% -- a reduction of about 2 million barrels a day -- as the deadly outbreak hinders the movement of people and hits demand for travel. The fall in processing has prompted re-offers for grades such as Brazil’s Lula, as well as West African crudes as buyers try to back out of purchases. Costs of chartering a very-large crude carrier with capacity of 2 million barrels were $30,000-$33,000 a day, said two shipbrokers. While the 1-month contango structure of about 30 cents per barrel would be insufficient to offset the total cost of chartering the supertanker, it does partly cover the expenses.

 Oil jumps 1% on hopes of deeper OPEC+ production cuts - Oil prices moved higher on Thursday as investors focused on the possibility of deeper supply cuts from the world's biggest producers, whilst largely shrugging off reports which cut demand forecasts after the coronavirus outbreak in China, the biggest oil importer.Brent crude rose 86 cents, or 1.5%, to $56.65 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate rose 58 cents, or 1.2%, to $51.77 per barrel.Oil demand in China, the world's second-largest crude consumer, has plunged because of travel restrictions to and from the country and quarantines within it.Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, said on Thursday the number of new confirmed cases there jumped by 14,840 to 48,206 on Feb. 12 and that deaths climbed by a daily record of 242 to 1,310, reflecting changes to the diagnostic methodology.Oil refiner China National Chemical Corp said on Thursday it would close a 100,000 barrel per day (bpd) plant and cut processing at two others amid falling fuel demand.The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects oil demand in the first quarter to fall for the first time in 10 years before picking up from the second quarter. The agency cut its full-year global growth forecast to 825,000 bpd."(It's) worth noting that these forecasters are for now assuming a V-shape recovery in oil demand, with the bulk of the impairment concentrated in Q1, 2020," BNP Paribas analyst Harry Tchilinguirian told the Reuters Global Oil Forum. On the supply side, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) lowered its 2020 demand forecast for its crude by 200,000 bpd, prompting expectations the producer group and its allies, known as OPEC+, could agree further output cuts when they next meet, possibly as early as this month.Brent and WTI have fallen more than 20% from their January peak because of the disease outbreak.Lower fuel demand expectations because of the virus have also shifted the market structure for both Brent and WTI into a contango - where prompt prices are lower than those for later dates.The six-months spread of Brent futures contracts is at about minus 32 cents.Reflecting a well-supplied market, U.S. crude inventories in the week to Feb. 7 increased by a more than expected 7.5 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.Meanwhile, a report by consultancy Wood Mackenzie about Nigeria said cost increases and uncertainty could lead to a 35% decline in oil output there over 10 years.

 Oil jumps 1%, on course for weekly gain - Oil prices rose on Friday and were on track for their first weekly gain since early January as investors bet the economic impact of the coronavirus would be short-lived and hoped for further Chinese central bank stimulus to tackle any slowdown.Brent crude was up 92 cents or 1.7% at $57.27 per barrel. It has risen 4.4% since last Friday, its first weekly increase in six weeks.U.S. West Texas Intermediate gained 64 cents or 1.2% to trade at $52.07 a barrel, up 3.2% for the week."It would seem in our view that the oil price is on a more positive footing in the past couple of days, with improved sentiment reflected in Asian equity prices holding up," said BNP Paribas analyst Harry Tchilinguirian.More than 1,350 people have died from the coronavirus in China, which has disrupted the world's second largest economy and shaken energy markets. Brent has fallen 15% since the beginning of the year.However, market sentiment improved as factories in China started to reopen and the government eased its monetary policy.The World Health Organization also reassured traders by saying the big jump in China's reported cases reflected a decision by authorities to reclassify a backlog of suspected cases, and did not necessarily indicate a wider epidemic.Some officials and analysts were still hopeful that the demand impact would remain limited to China."Our baseline thesis remains that oil demand destruction remains largely a China story and has yet to spill over to impact global demand," said Helima Croft, head of commodity strategy at Citadel Magnus.U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told Reuters the coronavirus epidemic in China had had a marginal impact on energy markets and was unlikely to dramatically affect oil prices even if Chinese demand fell by 500,000 barrels per day.The International Energy Agency (IEA) said that first-quarter oil demand was set to fall versus a year earlier for the first time since the financial crisis in 2009 because of the coronavirus outbreak. 

 No need to panic about coronavirus impact on oil markets, US energy secretary says - The U.S. energy secretary does not believe the ultimate impact of China’s fast-spreading coronavirus is a cause for concern for markets. His comments come shortly after both OPEC and the International Energy Agency (IEA) dramatically lowered their oil demand growth forecasts this year as a result of the deadly flu-like virus. “I think we are going to pay close attention to what is happening with the virus itself. We are still analyzing, not only the actual virus to learn more about it, but also the response to it,” Dan Brouillette told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Friday. “So, we are looking to see if the Chinese government will be able to contain or at least help contain the spread of the virus. At this moment, while we are seeing some slight reductions in production as a result of the virus, we are not yet concerned about its ultimate impact.” International benchmark Brent crude traded at $56.40 Friday morning, up around 0.1%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $51.49, around 0.15% higher. Both crude benchmarks have fallen nearly 20% since climbing to a peak in early January, dragged lower by concern over demand in China during the coronavirus outbreak.

Oil rises over 1% on hopes demand will rebound from coronavirus effect - (Reuters) - Oil prices rose over 1% on Friday, posting their first weekly gain since early January as investors bet the economic impact of the coronavirus would be short-lived and hoped for further Chinese central bank stimulus to tackle any slowdown. Brent crude LCOc1 rose 98 cents, or 1.74%, to settle at $57.32 a barrel. It rose 5.23% since last Friday, its first weekly increase in six weeks. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures CLc1 gained 63 cents, or 1.23%, to settle at $52.05 a barrel. The weekly rise was 3.44%. “The massive liquidation process that drove prices sharply lower last month has likely been completed and is being replaced by accumulation as well as short-covering from speculators who have recently entered the market,” Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note. Brent has fallen around 15% year to date in part due to worries the coronavirus outbreak would stunt the global economy. More than 1,380 people have died from the virus in China. However, market sentiment improved as factories in China started to reopen and the government eased monetary policy in the world’s second largest economy. The World Health Organization said the jump in China’s reported cases did not necessarily mean a wider epidemic but reflected a decision to reclassify a backlog of suspected cases. The International Energy Agency (IEA) said the outbreak should knock first-quarter oil demand down from a year earlier for the first time since the financial crisis in 2009. In response to the demand slump, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allied producers, known as OPEC+, are considering deepening production cuts.

Oil prices end higher to notch their first weekly climb in six weeks - Oil prices ended higher on Friday to notch their first weekly rise in six weeks, as a report of oil purchases by Chinese refiners helped to ease worries about a slowdown in oil demand from the spread of COVID-19. Bloomberg News reported a "buying spree" among China's independent oil refiners. March WTI oil rose 63 cents, or 1.2%, to settle at $52.05 barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. For the week, prices rose 3.4%, according to FactSet data.

Oil snaps 5-week losing streak with best week of the year - Oil prices rose on Friday, on track for their first weekly gain since early January as investors bet the economic impact of the coronavirus would be short-lived and hoped for further Chinese central bank stimulus to tackle any slowdown. Brent crude was up 89 cents or 1.6% at $57.23 per barrel. It has risen 4.4% since last Friday, its first weekly increase in six weeks. U.S. West Texas Intermediate gained 63 cents or 1.2% to settle at $52.05 per barrel, up 3.3% for the week. “The massive liquidation process that drove prices sharply lower last month has likely been completed and is being replaced by accumulation as well as short-covering from speculators who have recently entered the market,” Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note. Brent has fallen 15% since the beginning of the year in part due to worries the coronavirus outbreak would stunt the global economy. More than 1,380 people have died from the virus in China. However, market sentiment improved as factories in China started to reopen and the government eased monetary policy in the world’s second largest economy. The World Health Organization also noted the big jump in China’s reported cases did not necessarily mean a wider epidemic but reflected a decision to reclassify a backlog of suspected cases. “Our baseline thesis remains that oil demand destruction remains largely a China story and has yet to spill over to impact global demand,” said Helima Croft, head of commodity strategy at Citadel Magnus. The International Energy Agency (IEA) said first-quarter oil demand was set to fall versus a year earlier for the first time since the financial crisis in 2009 because of the outbreak. In response to the demand slump, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allied producers, a grouping known as OPEC+, are considering deepening production cuts.

US Navy Intercepts Advanced Iranian Weapons Bound For Yemen In Arabian Sea --On Thursday the US Navy announced it has seized a vessel in the Arabian Sea bound for Yemen that was transporting advanced weaponry to Shia Houthi rebels. Crucially, a CENTCOM statement described the weapons as “of Iranian design and manufacture” and included such advanced arms as Iranian Dehlavieh anti-tank missiles, as well as at least three surface-to-air missiles, drone parts, and weapon scopes.The defense department statement said the intercepted weapons were similar or identical to prior shipments seized in the area, bolstering the US charge that Tehran has long been using Yemen's Houthis to wage a proxy war against the Yemeni government and the Saudis.  "Many of these weapons systems are identical to the advanced weapons and weapon components seized" in the Arabian Sea in November 2019, the statement continued. "The weapons seized include 150 ‘Dehlavieh’ anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), which are Iranian-manufactured copies of Russian Kornet ATGMs,""Other weapons components seized aboard the dhow were of Iranian design and manufacture and included three Iranian surface-to-air missiles, Iranian thermal imaging weapon scopes, and Iranian components for unmanned aerial and surface vessels” the statement described. "Those weapons were determined to be of Iranian origin and assessed to be destined for the Houthis in Yemen," it said. CENTCOM began releasing news of the weapons intercept even as the operation was still said to be "ongoing" by the USS Normandy. The vessel boarded was described as a small to medium-sized vessel. Importantly, the major haul comes after the Sept.14 Saudi Aramco oil facility attacks, which briefly crippled Saudi oil production, which Washington had promptly blamed on Iran. That attack had involved drones and surface-to-air missiles as well.Yemen's Houthis had claimed responsibility at the time, but the US blamed Iran for being directly behind the attack. But Washington has also long described the Houthis as taking direct orders from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - while some independent regional analysts have argued the Shia group is more independent than most in the West believe.

Tent Cities, Troop Surge & Tanks Pouring In- Reasons Why The 'Final War' For Idlib Has Begun - In the next weeks and months, Idlib is set to be front and center once again in world headlines. Not only have the Turkish and Syrian armies engaged in direct clashes since the weekend with dozens of casualties on each side ready for what increasingly looks like the final showdown over Idlib, but superpowers Russia and the US have again lined up on either side. Here are some indicators that dramatic escalation is on the immediate horizon.  An impressive, perhaps unprecedented build-up of seemingly endless columns of Turkish armored vehicles and tanks were seen amassing on the border this week:

  • 1) Turkey announced Thursday more soldiers are being deployed to Idlib after already previously amassing troops at the border. According to Turkey's Daily Sabah: The Turkish military has dispatched more soldiers and stationed multiple rocket launchers on the Syrian border as it continues to reinforce units and equipment at Turkey's observation posts in northwestern Idlib province.The rocket launchers were deployed in Hatay province, while commando squads headed to their units in armored vehicles.
  • 2) Turkish tanks, armored columns, and elite commandos are pouring in as state powers are on a collision course: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has put NATO’s second-largest army on a collision course with Russian-backed forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to try to prevent the fall of Idlib province, Syria’s last rebel stronghold.The Turkish military ordered hundreds of tanks and armored cars dispatched to Idlib and struck about 170 targets in Syria in retaliation for attacks by Syrian forces that killed at least 12 Turkish soldiers in the northwestern province this month. Russia demanded a halt to attacks on Russian forces and their allies in the northwestern province, who’ve been conducting a months-long advance on the opposition bastion. — Bloomberg
  • 3) Erdogan is erecting new "refugee cities" along Turkish-occupied Syrian border territory, in line with his 'solution' for the refugee crisis at a moment he's also threatened Europe with "opening the gates" if he doesn't receive EU funding to alleviate the burden:
  • 4) The United Nations is warning Idlib civilian displacement is now the worst over the nine-year total period of war in Syria. President Assad is being assisted by Russia in the fight to liberate all of Idlib province and insurgent holdout pockets of neighboring Aleppo from al-Qaeda faction Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. In the process pro-Assad forces are clashing with Turkish troops, which maintains 'observation posts' in and along Idlib provinces border areas.  All of this has created a massive refugee outflow toward the Turkish border: A wave of displacement that has seen around 700,000 people flee a regime offensive in Syria's Idlib region is the biggest of the nine-year-old conflict, the United Nations said Tuesday."In just 10 weeks, since 1 December, some 690,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Idlib and surrounding areas," a spokesman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
  • 5) The United States said it will "stand with its NATO ally Turkey" after the Syrian and Turkish armies engage in direct clashes, and after Erdogan threatened to begin downing Syrian aircraft. This brings the world back to a major international proxy war centered on Idlib, as almost happened before (especially in 2018).

Chinese Copper Buyers Cancel Orders Around The Globe As Economy Grinds To A Halt - While Beijing has been doing everything in its power to keep equity markets artificially supported to avoid a collapse in the precious "wealth effect" and investor sentiment, throwing the kitchen sink at equities and in addition to a record liquidity injection... .. rate and tax cuts, and various fiscal stimulus measures, outright banning the shorting of stocks, there is one indicator that Beijing has been unable to manipulate. Ominously, it is the one indicator that leads overall Chinese output and suggests that the world's 2nd largest economy has hit a brick wall.We are talking, of course, about Dr. copper, that age-old barometer for the health of the global economy, which after rebounding modestly from a record 13-day drop, has once again resumed sliding, in the process creating a gaping divergence with the US equity market, which so far has shown an immunity - so to speak - to any concerns about viruses or frankly anything else.But why is the price of copper plunging, and why has this most popular barometer for the state of the global economy disconnected from both Chinese stocks and the S&P500?Simple: while China's "National Team" still has enough firepower to intervene in the stock market, where it can just outright ban selling and print any amount of liquidity it needs to push stocks higher, it lacks the funds to offset the collapse in demand from Chinese copper buyers on the ground, who have seen the writing on the wall for China's economy - the world’s largest buyer of the orange metal - and have literally torn up contracts, or as the FT reports, "copper traders in China... have asked miners from Chile to Nigeria to cancel or delay shipments" due to a freefall in copper demand.According to the report, "multiple Chinese copper buyers said they had scrapped or postponed overseas orders by declaring force majeure since the end of January, when Beijing began to report a surge in coronavirus infections." As for the reason why copper demand is collapsing, China’s efforts to contain the virus, ranging from restricting highway traffic to extending the lunar new year holiday, have affected industrial activity and raised concerns about growth in the world’s second-biggest economy. In fact, as we reported on Friday, according to JPMorgan China's Q1 GDP is already set to plunge from 6% to 1%...  It's not just copper that is seeing an implosion in demand: Chinese buyers of liquefied natural gas have also considered declaring force majeure, a clause that identifies natural disasters or other unavoidable catastrophes as cause for not fulfilling a contract.

China Auto Sales Plunge In January; And February Could Be Much, Much Worse - Auto sales in China were crushed in January, declining 20.2% on a year over year basis, according to the government-backed China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. The country sold 1.94 million vehicles, according to the CAAM.  The decline is attributable, obviously, to the coronavirus outbreak in the country, combined with the lunar new year falling in late January, as opposed to early February, this year. And, unfortunately, there is literally no reason for optimism coming into February, as it was the end of January and early February when China was placed essentially on a full lockdown due to the outbreak of the virus. In fact, we just wrote yesterday that auto industry executives are admitting that the virus could "wreak havoc" on sales and production for the first quarter, according to the Asia Times. Automakers across the country have been forced to cancel sales targets and offer subsidies to hold over dealers during the outbreak. The coronavirus has now killed over 1,300 people (if you are to believe the CCP's likely understated numbers) and more than 60,000 people are now confirmed to be infected in China.Just days ago, we reported about a major inventory glut looming in the Chinese auto market, as well. Accordingly, we noted, traffic to showrooms has collapsed across the country since late January. A China Automobile Dealer's association poll shows that dealers predict a drastic drop in sales of 50% to 80% this month, compared to February 2019. 70% of dealers have said they have seen "almost no customers" since the end of January. The CADA said auto sales "show a cliff-like decline".   Sales of EV vehicles also plunged in January, falling 54% as a result not only of the outbreak, but Beijing becoming more hawkish on their subsidy policies heading into the back end of 2019.  We noted in December that NEV sales plunged 42% in November after Beijing first backed away. The government is ostensibly dedicating all of its efforts to deal with the country's ongoing outbreak, and so Beijing has not revisited its comments about EVs yet, and we are already halfway through Q1 2020.

China Is Disintegrating- Steel Demand, Property Sales, Traffic All Approaching Zero -  In our ongoing attempts to glean some objective insight into what is actually happening "on the ground" in the notoriously opaque China, whose economy has been hammered by the Coronavirus epidemic, yesterday we showed several "alternative" economic indicators such as real-time measurements of air pollution (a proxy for industrial output), daily coal consumption (a proxy for electricity usage and manufacturing) and traffic congestion levels (a proxy for commerce and mobility), before concluding that China's economy appears to have ground to a halt. That conclusion was cemented after looking at some other real-time charts which suggest that there is a very high probability that China's GDP in Q1 will not only flatline, but crater deep in the red for one simple reason: there is no economic activity taking place whatsoever.  We start with China's infrastructure and fixed asset investment, which until recently accounted for the bulk of Chinese GDP. As Goldman writes in an overnight report, in the Feb 7-13 week, steel apparent demand is down a whopping 40%, but that's only because flat steel is down "only" 12% Y/Y as some car plants have ordered their employee to return to work (likely against their will as the epidemic still rages).However, it is the far more important - for China's GDP - construction steel sector where apparent demand has literally hit the bottom of the chart, down an unprecedented 88% Y/Y or as Goldman puts it, "construction steel demand is approaching zero." But wait, there's more.Courtesy of Capital Economics, which has compiled a handy breakdown of real-time China indicators, we can see the full extent of just how pervasive the crash in China's economy has been, starting with familiar indicator, the average road congestion across 100 Chinese cities, which has collapsed into the New Year and has since failed to rebound.Parallel to this, daily passenger traffic has also flatlined since the New Year and has yet to post an even modest rebound.And the biggest shocker: a total collapse in passenger traffic (measured in person-km y/y % change), largely due to the quarantine that has been imposed on hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens. And while we already noted the plunge in coal consumption in power plants as Chinese electricity use has cratered... ... what is perhaps most striking, is the devastation facing the Chinese real estate sector where property sales across 30 major cities have basically frozen.Finally, and most ominously perhaps, as the economy craters and internal supply chains fray, prices for everyday staples such as food are soaring as China faces not only economic collapse, but also surging prices for critical goods, such as food as shown in the wholesale food price index chart below... ... which in a nation of 1.4 billion is a catastrophic mix.

Viral Alarm: When Fury Overcomes Fear China Files.  - In July 2018, the Tsinghua University professor Xu Zhangrun published an unsparing critique of the Chinese Communist Party and its Chairman of Everything, Xi Jinping. Xu warned of the dangers of one-man rule, a sycophantic bureaucracy, putting politics ahead of professionalism and the myriad other problems that the system would encounter if it rejected further reforms. That philippic was one of a cycle of works that Xu wrote during a year in which he alerted his readers to pressing issues related to China’s momentous struggle with modernity, the state of the nation under Xi Jinping and the mixed prospects for its future. Those essays will be published in a collection titled Six Chapters from the 2018 Year of the Dog by Hong Kong City University Press in May this year.Although he was demoted by Tsinghua University in March 2019 and banned from teaching, writing and publishing, Xu has remained defiant. His latest polemical work—“When Fury Overcomes Fear”—translated below, appeared online on February 4, 2020 as the coronavirus epidemic swept China and infections overseas sparked concern around the world.Xu‘s writing style combines elements of classical Chinese in which references to or quotations from philosophy, history and literature are seamlessly interwoven in an elegant but highly personalized literary form commonly employed by members of China’s élite from the late-19th to the mid-20th centuries. It is a prose free of Party jargon, although the author frequently makes mocking reference to officialese and to the kind of Europeanized Chinese popularized in the 1910s when the vernacular was promoted by political and cultural progressives. Although the written language became more expressive of modern ideas it was soon overwhelmed by a kind of Communist Partyspeak that now dominates China’s media.In translating Xu’s work I hint at the orotund style of the original and occasionally use capital letters and or quotation marks to emphasize terms that have a particular significance for the author. Xu never refers to Xi Jinping by name, rather he employs various classical (and sometimes cheekily arcane) terms to lampoon the “People’s Leader.” “When Fury Overcomes Fear” is translated and annotated here with the author’s permission.

End That Son Of A Bitch - Duterte Moves To Terminate Philippines' Military Pact With US --  President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte is moving to terminate the shaky US-allied country's military pact with the United States after Washington revoked former police chief and now Senator Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa's US visa last month. The close Duterte ally stands accused of widespread of widespread war crimes, including ordering extrajudicial killings of thousands during the Southeast Asian Pacific nation's brutal ongoing 'war on drugs' raging since 2016. An enraged Duterte had threatened last month: “I’m warning you… if you won’t do the correction on this, I will terminate the… Visiting Forces Agreement,” and declared provocatively "I'll end that son of a bitch" in reference to the pact which provides legal immunity to US military drills. Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin testified before the country's senate this past week that termination of the agreement will “negatively impact” defense and economic ties between Washington and Manila."The president said he is terminating the VFA," Defense Secretary of the Philippines, Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana told ABS-CBN News on Friday. “I asked for clarification and he said he is not changing his decision.”President Duterte previously gave Washington a month to fix its "mistake" related to punitive action against Dela Rosa and said he wasn't bluffing. The AP described the history of the key military pact as follows: The security accord, which took effect in 1999, provides the legal cover for American troops to enter the Philippines for joint training with Filipino troops.A separate defense pact subsequently signed by the treaty allies in 2014, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, allowed the extended stay of U.S. forces and authorized them to build and maintain barracks and other facilities in designated Philippine military camps.

Lone door led out as fire burned Indian factory of US denim (AP) — Shouting and crying, workers in an Indian denim factory struggled to claw their way up a ladder to a door, their only exit as a fire blazed through fabric and machinery, officials said. Seven people died in the weekend blaze, and families were still waiting Wednesday to recover their relatives’ bodies. “Smoke kept billowing from the building as workers trapped inside screamed for help,” said a witness who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was worried he’d lose his job. The factory where the fire occurred, Nandan Denim, has ties to major U.S. retailers, according to its website. Nandan says it supplies jeans, denim and other garments to more than 20 global brands including U.S. companies such as Target, Ann Taylor, Mango and Wrangler, and its sister company supplies Walmart and H&M. Some of the U.S. and multinational companies listed on the website said they were not actually customers, and many issued statements that strongly condemned dangerous work sites. Nandan Denim is one of the largest denim suppliers in the world. The fire broke out Saturday in its two-story factory on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, a fast-growing city of 8.6 million in western Gujarat state. The city’s industrial area, once covered with mountains of garbage, has slowly shifted into a hub for factories that make clothes sold to brands across the world. Rajesh Bhatt, a senior fire official at the scene, said the factory had just one door that could only be reached by climbing a steep ladder. The workers, Bhatt said, were resting after long shifts when the fire started. “There were hardly any means of escape from the blaze,” he said. Police investigators said the factory had violated multiple regulations and the owner, a manager and a fire safety officer have been arrested. Local safety and health authorities asked the company to close until further notice. Its licenses have been suspended, and Nandan Denim has agreed to pay the families of those killed a reported $14,000 each.

Pakistan Swiftly Passes Resolution Calling For Public Hanging Of Pedophiles --Pakistan’s parliament passed a resolution Friday that calls for the public hanging of convicted child killers and rapists. AFP reports that the resolution, which is non-binding, comes after a number of high-profile child sex-abuse cases have scandalized the South Asian nation in recent years, leading to major outbreaks of unrest and riots.Parliamentary affairs minister Ali Muhammad Khan, who presented the resolution in the lower house of the legislature, said that child killers and rapists “should not only be given the death penalty by hanging, but they should be hanged publicly.” “The Quran commands us that a murderer should be hanged,” the minister added.While the resolution was swiftly passed by a majority of lawmakers, human rights minister Shireen Mazari has emphatically stated that it does not enjoy the backing of the government.In a tweet, Mazari wrote:“The resolution passed in [the National Assembly] today on public hangings was across party lines and not a govt-sponsored resolution but an individual act. Many of us oppose it – our [Ministry of Human Rights] strongly opposes this. Unfortunately I was in a mtg and wasn’t able to go to NA.”Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry also condemned the passage of the resolution. Chaudhry tweeted:“Strongly condemn this resolution. This is just another grave act in line with brutal civilisation practices [sic]. Societies [should] act in a balanced way, [barbarity] is not an answer to crimes. This is another expression of extremism.”However, Pakistan has struggled to come to grips with rampant crimes of child sexual abuse.A child rapist was hanged in October 2018 after his crime in Kasur, near Lahore, sparked days of nationwide protests and unrest.Six-year-old victim Zainab Fatima Ameen was attacked by a 24-year-old man who later confessed to raping and murdering the young girl. In 2015, authorities busted a huge paedophilia ring in Kasur. In the massive scandal, it was found that at least 280 children were being sexually abused by a gang who blackmailed parents with threats to publicly release the videos.

Global Air Freight Just Suffered Worst Year Since 2009 -- The International Air Transport Association (IATA) published a new report on Wednesday that showed global air freight markets declined in 2019, suggesting the global economy continues to decelerate.  Global air freight measured in freight tonne kilometers (FTKs), plunged 3.3% in 2019 over the prior year while available freight tonne-kilometers (AFTK) rose 2.1%.  IATA warned this was the first year of contracting freight volumes since 2012, and the slowest growth in the industry since 2009.  Cargo volumes dropped in December by 2.7 Y/Y, while capacity rose 2.8%.  The performance of air cargo is a reflection of a global synchronized slowdown that continues to deepen. Slowing GDP growth across major manufacturing-intensive economies has dented consumer confidence, led to falling export orders, and, in return, has hurt the air freight industry. IATA said there are some signs that orders could bounce in 2020. It warned that a slowing global economy and coronavirus outbreak in Asia could lead to turbulence in 1H20. "Trade tensions are at the root of the worst year for air cargo since the end of the Global Financial Crisis in 2009. While these are easing, there is little relief in that good news as we are in unknown territory with respect to the eventual impact of the coronavirus on the global economy. With all the restrictions being put in place, it will certainly be a drag on economic growth. And, for sure, 2020 will be another challenging year for the air cargo business," said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's Director General and CEO.

The UK seems determined to alienate the EU before trade talks even begin - The tears of joy and sadness seen on Brexit Day had barely dried when the U.K. and EU were at each other’s throats again ahead of trade talks set to last until the end of the year. The U.K. and EU both set out their negotiating positions on Monday with Prime Minister Boris Johnson blithely stating that there was “no need” for the U.K. to accept EU rules as part of a free trade agreement, and if the EU won’t budge and give it a Canada-style free trade agreement, it could walk away. “There is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment or anything similar, any more than the EU should be obliged to accept U.K. rules,” the U.K. leader said. Meanwhile in Brussels Monday, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier stated practically the opposite: That while the EU wants an “highly ambitious” trade deal with U.K., with zero tariffs and quotas on all goods, such an offer was reliant on the U.K. agreeing to open and fair competition in the long-term and guarantees to ensure a “level playing field.” But no need to fear everyone: Johnson said Monday that the U.K. will prosper whatever trade deal it gets, likening the country to a “supercharged” free trade superman while at the same time promising that the country would not engage in some “cut throat race to the bottom” with the EU to undermine its economy. Expect more of the same for the next 11 months. In fact, the U.K. had barely exited through the EU’s gift shop this weekend when it started talking tough about the future relationship it was going to have with the bloc. This is just the spirit of goodwill and diplomacy you want to see ahead of any negotiating process. British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab insisted on Sunday that the U.K. had learned from negotiating the Brexit divorce deal, in which red lines were drawn then eventually crossed out in desperation, but then proceeded to say that following EU rules after 2021 “just ain’t happening.” Raab was duly accused of “saber-rattling” and of making “puerile” comments by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell while Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called on the U.K to dial down the “nationalist rhetoric.” The latter added that trade talks might get off to a better start if they did “not repeat some of the errors that were made in the last two and a half years.” “Let’s not set such rigid red lines that makes it hard to come to an agreement and let’s tone down the kind of nationalistic rhetoric,” Varadkar told the BBC. The British government appears to have dug its heels in already and trade talks have not yet even begun (they are not expected to begin in earnest until March). Johnson has talked of “unleashing Britain’s potential” post-Brexit but the British government’s current negotiating stance and dogmatic attitude could risk doing the opposite.

Cabinet reshuffle: Boris Johnson sacks Northern Ireland minister - Boris Johnson has sacked a number of prominent Brexiteers in a reshuffle of his cabinet. Attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox, housing minister Esther McVey, environment secretary Theresa Villiers, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom, all of whom have been consistent Brexit supporters, have been fired.Meanwhile Sajid Javid stood down as chancellor of the exchequer in a shock move after refusing to cave to demands from Downing Street to sack an entire team of aides. Here’s a list of all firings and hirings so far that will be updated throughout the day. Quit:

  • Sajid Javid, chancellor of the exchequer
  • Nicky Morgan, culture secretary

Fired:

  • Julian Smith, Northern Ireland secretary
  • Esther McVey, housing minister
  • Theresa Villiers, environment minister
  • Andrea Leadsom, business secretary
  • Sit Geoffrey Cox, Attorney General
  • Nusrat Ghani, transport minister
  • George Freeman, transport minister

Hired:

  • Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the exchequer
  • Alok Sharma, business secretary and and minister for climate conference COP26
  • Anne-Marie Trevelyan, international development secretary
  • Oliver Dowden, culture secretary
  • Suella Braverman, attorney general
  • George Eustice, environment secretary
  • Stephen Barclay, treasury secretary
  • Northern Ireland minister and former chief whipp Smith was the first to be given the sack on Thursday morning.
  • Sources indicate the PM is poised to promote a number of female MPs to junior positions, with the overall gender balance of the 22-strong cabinet expected to stay the same.

British finance minister Sajid Javid quits in Cabinet reshuffle - (UPI) -- A Cabinet reshuffle by British Prime Minister Boris JohnsonThursday resulted in the unexpected resignation of finance minister Sajid Javid.Javid resigned from his key government post as chancellor of the exchequer after rejecting an order from Johnson to fire all of his aides. He had previously been expected to keep his job during the Cabinet realignment despite ongoing clashes with Dominic Cummings, Johnson's chief political strategist.Javid, who has served as chancellor since July when Johnson was first appointed prime minister, was set to deliver the government's first budget within the month. With his resignation he became the shortest-serving British finance chief since 1970.He was replaced as chancellor by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak, the government said.Sunak's appointment is said to be part of an effort to align the treasury more closely with the prime minister's office.Other key ministers held onto their jobs, including Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove and Home Secretary Priti Patel.Also sacked Thursday were Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers and and Housing Minister Esther McVey.Besides Javid's exit, perhaps the greatest surprise in the Cabinet reshuffleis the firing of Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, who had success securing a deal to end a three-year suspension of the local government.

Cabinet reshuffle: Who is in Boris Johnson's new cabinet? - BBC News  - Prime Minister Boris Johnson has carried out a reshuffle of ministers in cabinet positions, two months after winning the general election.There was speculation ahead of the reshuffle about how diverse the new Cabinet would be, particularly considering women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Who's in what job? Here's a guide to the people that make up Mr Johnson's cabinet, with the latest new faces and who's changed places.

Stunning Sinn Féin Win Upends Ireland Politics - Yves here. Some brief notes. A key takeaway is that the Sinn Féin success upends a commonly-held view among political scientists: that poor economic times and widening inequality lead to political shifts to the right. Ireland took a huge bath after the crisis due to having its monster private sector housing debt bubble dumped on the government (there is a very long shaggy dog story as to why this was a choice as opposed to a necessity, with a turncoat central banker and US pressure playing significant roles. We did cover this in real time back in the day). One post-crisis factor that kept Irish unemployment lower than it would otherwise have been was meaningful numbers of young people left the country to find jobs.  Sinn Féin is solidly left-wing so this win is a welcome development. And if Sinn Féin is part of a coalition government, with current Prime Minister Leo Varadkar reaffirming that he won’t lead a coalition with Sinn Féin in it, Simon Coveney, the current Foreign Minister, is a top candidate to assume the helm. Coveney is widely seen as very smart and tough-minded, and would prove far more difficult for the UK to maneuver around than Varadkar.  Quick recap from the top of the Irish Times account:Sinn Féin candidates stormed to a series of spectacular victories in general election counts last night, reshaping Ireland’s political landscape as party leaders begin to turn their attention to how the next government might be formed.Though many seats remain to be filled and counts will continue this morning, a hung Dáil, which will be dominated by three big parties – Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – is inevitable. Sinn Féin candidates all over the country won huge victories, with many elected on the first count with huge surpluses, catapulting the party into the front rank of Irish politics and making it a contender for government. Fine Gael seems certain to suffer losses, while Fianna Fáil looks set to be the largest party in the new Dáil, analysts were projecting last night. Fu rther observations from PlutoniumKun:Yes, spectacular and completely unexpected day for Sinn Féin. Especially considering they had a terrible Euro and local election just 8 months ago. An enormous shock to the political system in what was supposed to be a boring ‘which centre right party will win’ election. Varadkar screwed up by not going in November when there was a window that he could bask in the glow of his Brexit work. A few cold and wet January weeks makes all the difference to the countries mood. Varadkar was always vulnerable – he may be the darling of the international and Dublin media, but regular Irish people, especially in rural areas, never warmed to him. Nothing to do with being gay/Indian, he lacks the human touch, even one of his own party members called him ‘autistic’, and she wasn’t joking. Coveney is much more popular with regular voters. FG lost touch when they elected him leader (he was voted in by elected members, regular party members voted for Coveney, who is much more popular outside of media circles). Exit polls show Sinn Féin’s vote was almost entirely under 35’s. Like Brexit, there is a complete generational split. The over 60’s all vote Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and Labour, the under 40’s all SF and Green and ‘anyone else’. The core issue is housing, the younger generation getting cut out of home ownership. Fine Gael will be cursing the Irish Central Bank for doing their job and clamping down on excess credit, this has made housing unaffordable for anyone without equity. A key reason for a lack of housing is a huge surge in immigration, but oddly this never came up as an issue, there are no anti-immigration parties apart from some minor fringe groups who all lost deposits.Other winners: The Greens did reasonably well and may hit 10 seats, and will be probably be invited into government as a moderating influence on Sinn Féin. So did the Social Democrats – a middling-left anti-austerity party of ex-Labour party members (probably 4 or 5 seats).Greens and SD’s will negotiate together, probably with Fianna Fáil (who will be very disappointed with their numbers, especially in the cities) and Sinn Féin to form a centre-left alliance which would have a comfortable majority. However, I think Fianna Fáil’s leader (who genuinely hates Sinn Féin) would rather do a deal with Fine Gael, but that looks unlikely – lots of Fianna Fáil grassroots supporters see Sinn Féin as natural allies, not Fine Gael.

UK Regulators Investigating Barclays CEO's Ties To Jeffrey Epstein - Barclays disclosed during Thursday's earnings report that financial regulators in Britain, including the Financial Conduct Authority (the British equivalent of the SEC) and the Prudential Regulation Authority, are investigating the bank's CEO over his 'friendship' with Epstein. The regulators are investigating "Mr. Staley's characterisation to the company of his relationship with Mr. Epstein and the subsequent description of that relationship in the company's response to the FCA."  Shareholders have nothing to worry about, the bank insisted, because Staley has been 100% transparent about the relationship since Epstein's arrest last year. Epstein committed suicide in August - or at least that's the 'official' story. Many suspect that the financier was secretly murdered by one of the many powerful people in his orbit, and this belief has since become one of the most widely accepted 'conspiracy theories' in the US, the AP reports. Barclays said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange that "as has been widely reported, earlier in his career Mr. Staley developed a professional relationship with Mr. Epstein." Since joining Barclays in December 2015, Staley hasn't had any contact with Epstein, the bank said. It added that Staley maintains "the full confidence of the board." "Mr. Staley retains the full confidence of the board, and is being unanimously recommended for re-election at the annual general meeting," the London-based bank said in a statement. Regulators said they are looking into Epstein's "characterization" of his relationship with Epstein when he gave information to the bank and regulators last year. Staley has insisted that he had no contact with Epstein in the years prior to his arrest.  Per WSJ: "Earlier in his career Mr. Staley developed a professional relationship with Mr. Epstein," the bank said. "In the summer of 2019, in light of the renewed media interest in the relationship, Mr. Staley volunteered and gave to certain executives, and the chairman, an explanation of his relationship with Mr. Epstein.  Mr. Staley also confirmed to the board that he has had no contact whatsoever with Mr. Epstein at any time since taking up his role as Barclays Group CEO in December 2015."