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

Saturday, June 13, 2020

week ending Jun 13

Fed Overnight Repos Continue To Rise As QE Shrinks -- After barely seeing any utilization for much of April and May after the Fed launched Unlimited QE, in the past three weeks there has been a clear rising trend in usage of the Fed's overnight (and term) repo operations, which on Friday rose to the highest since the March crisis, hitting $106.25BN alongside a $53.2BN in 20 day repos, and earlier on Monday saw another $67.05BN in overnight repo (across both TSYs and MBS). While there is some debate about the cause for this apparent tightening in financial conditions, the simplest explanation is that as the Fed continues to shrink its daily POMO, which this week averages just $4.5 BN per day, dealers have to find other means to extract liquidity and are increasingly turning to the Fed's repo operations. The question here is whether the Fed has shrunk its QE to a point that is unsustainable in light of surging treasury supply, which as a reminder, should amount to trillions more in the near term. One place where this theory has validation is in long-term yields, which spiked late last week, and sharply steepened the yield curve. Commenting on this, JPM's Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou said that “steepening of the U.S. Treasury curve reflects to a significant extent high (bond) supply versus QE." He then echoed a warning we posted some time ago, namely that "the Fed at $4-5 billion QE a day is not doing enough to offset supply. It would become more challenging for the Fed if the 10-year...yield approaches 1%."Of course, at that point the Fed can simply launch Yield Curve Control to make sure the Fed does not lose control, although according to a WSJ article over the weekend from the Fed's current "whisperer" Nick Timiraos, "Fed officials aren’t prepared to announce any decision on so-called yield caps when their two-day policy meeting concludes Wednesday." Perhaps, but that may change fast should the blow out in yields accelerate and the 10Y rise above 1%.

Fed’s Repo Loans to Wall Street Skyrocket by 230 Percent Week Over Week - Pam Martens - Between Monday and Friday of last week, the Fed made $304.20 billion in repo loans to Wall Street’s trading houses. That was 230 percent of what it made the week before and 700 percent of what it loaned the week before that. (See chart above.) This would suggest that the liquidity crisis is heating up and/or that it’s taking ever larger amounts to levitate the stock market as sellers come back in. The Fed has gone completely bonkers when it comes to its money spigot to Wall Street. On March 17, the New York Fed announced that it was going to be offering daily one-day loans of half a trillion dollars to Wall Street’s trading houses. That offer has been going on ever since but the daily amounts actually borrowed from the Fed have never gotten near that daily amount – thus far. The Wall Street banks that own the trading houses to whom the Fed is making the loans know that the Fed will likely be sued to release this information to the public. If they borrow too much from the Fed it will taint their reputation as a firm that was potentially insolvent or, at best, couldn’t get access to loans elsewhere.  The Fed gets the added advantage of frightening the shorts out of the market with that giant, daily, half a trillion dollars number. What short trader wants to compete against a potential daily influx of half a trillion dollars being levered up and going long. Not only is the size of what the Fed is offering to trading houses nuts, but the interest rate is crazy as well. Never before in history has the Fed made emergency loans to Wall Street’s trading houses at 1/10th of one percent interest, as it is presently doing on its repo loans. Why aren’t we reading about this in mainstream newspapers? It’s an outrageous subsidy to Wall Street with no comparable subsidy to the public. Private student loans are running as high as 12 percent while interest on credit card debt is even higher.  The Fed can’t seriously claim to be helping families while ignoring this interest rate disparity. Throughout the Fed’s history, which dates back to 1913, the concept of the Fed serving as lender-of-last-resort is that any emergency loans it makes should be at penalty rates to punish banks for getting into trouble and needing a bailout from the Fed. Not only is the Fed breaking a cardinal rule by not inflicting penalty rates on banks, but it’s loaning to trading firms instead of sticking to its knitting and making loans to commercial banks that can boost the economy with business and consumer loans. And the repo loans are only one of multiple bailout programs that the Fed has concocted for Wall Street.  On June 4, Derek Thompson at the Atlantic wrote this as one reason  the stock market is going up despite the worst unemployment since the Great Depression: “First, the economy is not really ‘broken,’ as it was in the Great Recession, when the U.S. housing market collapsed like a wobbly Jenga set as the stock market, labor market, and manufacturing industry all came clattering to the ground at once. Instead, a global pathogenic pulse, whose reverberations are being felt in every corner of the world, has suddenly interrupted an otherwise normally functioning economy.” An “otherwise normally functioning economy”? In point of fact, the U.S. economy has not been functioning normally since the onset of the 2007 to 2010 financial crisis. This is simply the second leg of that crisis.

The Fed Just Pulled Off Another Backdoor Bailout of Wall Street - By Pam Martens - The Federal Reserve has authorized 11 financial bailout programs thus far. Despite Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s reassurances at his press conferences that these programs are to help American families, a full 10 of these programs are actually bailouts of Wall Street banks or their trading units.The latest Wall Street bank bailout to come out of hiding is the Fed’s Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility (SMCCF). This program was supposed to buy up corporate bonds in the secondary market in order to help corporate bond markets regain liquidity. Thus far, the only thing the SMCCF has bought up are Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) holding investment grade and junk-rated bonds.The SMCCF program began operations on May 12. By May 18 the Fed had spent $1.58 billion buying up ETFs. The ultimate goal of the facility, at this point, is to spend $250 billion on ETFs and secondary market corporate bonds. The U.S. Treasury Department was supposed to hand over $25 billion of taxpayer money to eat losses on the SMCCF program. Instead, without explanation, the latest data from the Fed shows that the Treasury deposited $37.5 billion into the SMCCF, suggesting the program is expecting losses of greater than $25 billion.The bulk of the purchases of ETFs were those issued by BlackRock, the company to whom the New York Fed has outsourced the program. The Fed is allowing BlackRock to buy up its own, previously sinking, ETFs as well as those of other ETF issuers. The New York Fed gave BlackRock a no-bid contract to run the program as investment manager. But that’s far from the only outrage.Here’s where you need to pay close attention. The Fed released a list of the Wall Street firms that are selling these ETFs to the Fed’s bailout facility. (See chart above.) The majority of the sellers just happen to be the very same firms that create these ETFs under the title of “Authorized Participants.”  “Authorized participants (AP) are one of the major parties at the center of the creation and redemption process for exchange-traded funds (ETF). They provide a large portion of liquidity in the ETF market by obtaining the underlying assets required to create a fund. When there is a shortage of shares in the market, the authorized participant creates more. Conversely, the authorized participant will reduce shares in circulation when supply [exceeds] demand. This can be done with the creation and redemption mechanism that keeps share prices aligned with its underlying net asset value (NAV). “Authorized participants are responsible for acquiring the securities that the ETF wants to hold…In return, authorized participants receive a block of equally valued shares called a creation unit. Issuers can use the services of one or more authorized participants for a fund. Large and active funds tend to have a greater number of authorized participants. This also differs between various types of funds. Equities, on average, have more participants than bonds, perhaps due to greater trading volume. That phrase in the above paragraph, highlighting that authorized participants “have no legal obligation to redeem or create the ETF’s shares” is part of the train wreck that is happening right now on Wall Street.

FOMC Statement: "The coronavirus outbreak is causing tremendous human and economic hardship" --FOMC Statement: The Federal Reserve is committed to using its full range of tools to support the U.S. economy in this challenging time, thereby promoting its maximum employment and price stability goals. The coronavirus outbreak is causing tremendous human and economic hardship across the United States and around the world. The virus and the measures taken to protect public health have induced sharp declines in economic activity and a surge in job losses. Weaker demand and significantly lower oil prices are holding down consumer price inflation. Financial conditions have improved, in part reflecting policy measures to support the economy and the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses.The ongoing public health crisis will weigh heavily on economic activity, employment, and inflation in the near term, and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term. In light of these developments, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent. The Committee expects to maintain this target range until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals.The Committee will continue to monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook, including information related to public health, as well as global developments and muted inflation pressures, and will use its tools and act as appropriate to support the economy. In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the stance of monetary policy, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its maximum employment objective and its symmetric 2 percent inflation objective. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments. To support the flow of credit to households and businesses, over coming months the Federal Reserve will increase its holdings of Treasury securities and agency residential and commercial mortgage-backed securities at least at the current pace to sustain smooth market functioning, thereby fostering effective transmission of monetary policy to broader financial conditions. In addition, the Open Market Desk will continue to offer large-scale overnight and term repurchase agreement operations. The Committee will closely monitor developments and is prepared to adjust its plans as appropriate.

FOMC Projections and Press Conference (see tables) Statement here. Fed Chair Powell press conference video here starting at 2:30 PM ET. Here are the projections. GDP decreased at a 5.0% annual rate in Q1, and most forecasts are for an annual rate decline of 30% to 40% in Q2 - and for GDP to decline in 2020. The course of the economy will depend on the course of the pandemic, so the FOMC has to factor in their expectations of when the pandemic will subside and end (and no one knows at this time).GDP projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents, Change in Real GDP1 Projections of change in real GDP and inflation are from the fourth quarter of the previous year to the fourth quarter of the year indicated.The unemployment rate was at 13.3% in May.   The FOMC will revise up their Q4 2020 unemployment forecast significantly.   The FOMC projections for the unemployment rate at the end of 2020, 2021 and 2022 will be interesting.  Note that the unemployment rate doesn't remotely capture the economic damage to the labor market.  Not only were there 15+ million more people unemployed in May than at the end of 2019, but another 6+ million have left the labor force.   And close to 50% of households have seen a decline in income. Unemployment projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents, Unemployment Rate  Projections for the unemployment rate are for the average civilian unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of the year indicated.As of April 2020, PCE inflation was up 0.5% from April 2019.   With the economic stop in March, PCE inflation will be revised down significantly for Q4 2020.Inflation projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents, PCE Inflation  PCE core inflation was up 1.0% in April year-over-year.    Core inflation will also be revised down for Q4 2020. Core Inflation projections of Federal Reserve Governors and Reserve Bank presidents:

 Fed to keep interest rates near zero indefinitely - The US Federal Reserve Board has indicated interest rates will remain at virtually zero at least to the end of 2022 and that it will continue to pump money into the financial system. In response to a question at his press conference about whether the Fed would change its policy outlook if there was a surprise upturn in the US economy, Fed chairman Jerome Powell said: “We’re not thinking about raising rates. We’re not even thinking about thinking about raising rates.” In other words, the commitment is virtually indefinite. Reporting on the Fed announcements, the US business channel CNBC ran a banner “Zero interest rates forever?” Giving its first forecast on the direction of the US economy since last December – no forecast was provided at its last meeting on the basis that it was too early to assess the effects of the pandemic – the Fed indicated it would take years before unemployment came down to levels in the pre-COVID-19 period. It forecast the US economy would contract by 6.5 percent this year and unemployment would be 9.3 percent. In his opening statement to his press conference, Powell said the decline in GDP in the second quarter was “likely to be the most severe on record.” Powell said there was a group of people who would not be able to go back to work quickly and “that could be many millions of people.” The Fed’s policy statement said it was “committed to using its full range of tools to support the US economy in this challenging time” and it would keep interest rates close to zero until it was “confident the economy has weathered recent events.” Powell made clear throughout his remarks that the flow of central bank funds into financial markets would continue. The Fed said it would increase its holdings of government debt “at least at the current pace to sustain smooth market functioning.” It is currently buying around $20 billion worth of US Treasuries every week, an average of $4 billion per day. The Fed continually insists that its financial market interventions are not directed to bolstering the stock market and are directed to ensuring the smooth flow of credit to households and businesses in the broader economy. But as is widely recognized in financial circles, the rise of the stock market since its plunge in mid-March is entirely due to the massive intervention of the Fed to the extent that it is now the backstop for all areas of the financial system, from government bonds to student and credit card debt.

Fed Debates Whether to Reinforce Low-Rate Pledge With Yield Caps - To stimulate the economy in the past decade with interest rates pinned near zero, the Federal Reserve made promises about how long they would remain low.Now, Fed officials are thinking hard about a new tool that would reinforce such promises by committing to buy Treasury securities in whatever amounts are needed to peg certain yields at low levels.Fed officials aren’t prepared to announce any decision on so-called yield caps when their two-day policy meeting concludes Wednesday.With rates near zero and unlikely to go lower, two other policy questions must get resolved first: how to manage their pace of bond purchases and how to communicate their long-run intentions, using so-called forward guidance.Fed officials believe forward guidance helps stimulate demand after their policy rate is near zero because it sets public expectations about future policy, which influences the rates set by markets.How they calibrate those two tools could determine whether and how they cap yields, which would function as a hybrid of both. The Fed hasn’t capped yields on Treasury securities since 1951, when it dismantled a stimulus scheme used during World War II.Fed officials are closely studying the experience of Australia’s central bank, which in March set  atarget of 0.25% for the country’s three-year government-bond yield and which has so far managed to keep it there without significant asset buying.For the U.S., caps might work like this: If the Fed concludes it is likely to hold rates near zero for at least three years, it could amplify this commitment by capping yields on every Treasury security that matures before June 2023.While some officials don’t think caps are needed now because investors don’t expect the Fed to lift short-term rates for several years, caps could limit any unwelcome jump in Treasury yields due, for example, to a coming surge of government-debt issuance to finance virus-related economic relief.Reinforcing forward guidance with caps could also push back against the strong pressure to raise rates that officials faced last decade amid fears of an inflation upturn that never materialized, said Fed governor Lael Brainard in a speech last fall.

Trump Says Fed’s Forecasts Are Too Gloomy – WSJ - President Trump criticized the Federal Reserve on Thursday after its chairman, Jerome Powell, said Wednesday the economy faced a potentially long road to full recovery and that the central bank would provide more support as needed. “The Federal Reserve is wrong so often,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter. “I see the numbers also, and do MUCH better than they do. We will have a very good Third Quarter, a great Fourth Quarter, and one of our best ever years in 2021.” Mr. Trump’s statement followed a stock-market selloff Thursday. The Dow industrials tumbled as fresh concerns about a new wave of coronavirus infections sent investors out of risky assets. Mr. Trump also said on Twitter that “We will also soon have a Vaccine & Therapeutics/Cure” for the new coronavirus. “That’s my opinion. WATCH!” Even with the report last week that the economy added jobs in May, there are still nearly 20 million fewer Americans employed than there were in February. Mr. Powell said Wednesday it was possible that millions of people wouldn’t go back to their old job or their prior industry, given the potential for reduced demand for goods or services that require increased human contact. “It could be some years before we get back to those people finding jobs,” he said. Fed officials issued projections Wednesday that show they expect the economy to require interest rates near zero for years. Mr. Trump regularly attacked the Fed last year for not doing more to support the economy when it was stronger. Fed officials projected the unemployment rate to end the year just below 10%, down slightly from 13.3% in May. They projected the economy to contract between 4% and 10% this year, and that the economy could see anywhere from 7% growth next year to a further contraction of around 1%. Mr. Trump had railed at the Fed for almost two years until mid-March, when Mr. Powell led the central bank to cut rates to zero at two emergency meetings and to purchase vast sums of Treasurys and mortgage securities to avoid a financial panic. The Fed has also worked closely with the Treasury Department to provide loans to businesses, cities and states, providing a safety-net for credit markets that easily exceeds anything the central bank did after the 2007-09 financial crisis. Mr. Trump subsequently praised Mr. Powell, and last month referred to him as his “most improved player.”

Fed expands middle-market loan relief to attract more interest — The Federal Reserve is making a number of last-minute changes to a middle-market loan program in an apparent bid to boost its appeal among prospective participants. The Fed on Monday announced new flexibility on loan amounts for qualifying businesses, and that the central bank increase its stake to 95% on all loans made through the Main Street Lending Program. The program, aimed to help midsize business affected by the coronavirus crisis, is expected to be open for business shortly. It will be available to companies with up to 15,000 employees or $5 billion in annual revenue. But whereas the Fed had previously established a minimum loan amount of $500,000, that threshold has been halved to $250,000. The Fed also increased the maximum loan size for each of the three Main Street Lending Program facilities. In the Main Street New Loan Facility, borrowers will be able to get loans of up to $35 million (up from $25 million); for the Main Street Priority Loan Facility, the maximum is $50 million (up from $25 million); and for the Main Street Expanded Loan Facility, it is $300 million (up from $200 million). The Fed also made changes to offer borrowers greater flexibility in repaying Main Street loans, extending the loan terms from four to five years. The prepayment periods for all of the loans will also be extended, and the Fed will now allow borrowers to delay principal payments for two years instead of one. Additionally, the Fed said the Main Street Lending Program would now purchase 95% of each eligible loan. That amount is unchanged for the New Loan Facility and the Expanded Loan Facility, but is up from 85% for the Priority Loan Facility. The changes appear to be in response to concerns that the program as originally conceived could be too restrictive for companies to participate. The higher Fed stake in loans, in particular, could help to assuage some concerns banks had about participating in the program and holding extra risk on their balance sheets.

Amid Small Business Carnage, Fed Expands Eligibility Of Main Street Lending Program- With stocks recovering all 2020 losses, one would think that the economy is firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, based on the message just sent out by the Fed, nothing could be further from the truth.While the market still waits for the Fed to officially start making loans on its Main Street Lending Program, today at 330pm, the Fed announced that it expanded the eligibility criteria for this facility "to allow more small and medium-sized businesses to be able to receive support." The facility will be open for eligible lenders "soon," while the burden on banks that create the loans would be lessened.Changes to the eligibility criteria include:

  • Lowering the minimum loan size for certain loans to $250,000 from $500,000;
  • Increasing the maximum loan size for all facilities;
  • Increasing the term of each loan option to five years, from four years;
  • Extending the repayment period for all loans by delaying principal payments for two years, rather than one; and
  • Raising the Reserve Bank's participation to 95% for all loans.

In short: America's small businesses - and we mean really small business, those which desperately need as little as 250K to survive yet can't find willing bank lenders - are in such dire shape that only the Fed has the willingness to step in and bail them out as banks refuse to take on the credit risk.To juice bank interest in participating, going forward they will be required to hold only 5% of the loans on their balance sheet for all three facilities, far less than the 15% they had to hold previously.

Delay of Fed’s Main Street program hasn't hurt businesses, Powell says— Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell said he doubts the delay in rolling out the Main Street Lending Program has put businesses at a disadvantage.The central bank announced the MSLP in April to facilitate credit for small and medium-sized businesses struggling economically during the coronavirus pandemic, but the Fed only now is nearing the launch of the program.At a press conference Wednesday, Powell said despite the delay, credit has been widely available for companies needing cash. The Fed has established roughly a dozen liquidity facility since the virus outbreak in March, many of which are already operational. “Remember, lots and lots of companies are getting financed, the banks are lending, the markets are open [and] you have a much easier lending climate certainly than we had in February and March,” he said speaking at his monthly press conference after the meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. “We don't think it's too late.” Powell added that the latest set of changes the Fed made to the terms of the Main Street Lending Program earlier in the week were “very positive,” and were developed after the Fed received extensive feedback. The $600 billion Main Street Lending Program will make loans of at least $250,000 available to businesses with up to 15,000 employees or $5 billion in annual revenue. The Fed will use funding appropriated to the Treasury Department through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

 Powell- Fed Will Never Hold Back Support For The Economy Even If Asset Prices Are Too High -- In recent days there was speculation whether Powell would acknowledge frothy investor mentality as observed by the daily insanity on Robin Hood and other daytrading platforms, resulting from the massive surge in central bank liquidity resulting in a 40% spike in stocks, and whether it would prompt the Fed to at least concede that it is in the process of blowing another bubble. As a reminder, just yesterday SMBC Nikko analyst Masao Muraki said that "soaring risk asset prices (ie imbalances) have reached a point where the Fed may be forced into some kind of action." Alas, whereas this question did come up during the FOMC press conference, here is what Powell did say:"We’re not focused on moving asset prices in a particular direction at all, it’s just we want markets to be working and partly as a result of what we’ve done, they are working."He also said that "we are not looking to achieve a particular level” for any asset price, instead, “we want the markets to be working" and that's what Fed policy has been working toward as part of its effort to lift the economy. His conclusion, however, was ominous: "we want investors to price in risk like markets should" and explained that the Fed would never hold back support for economy because it thinks asset prices are too high: "We would be prepared to tolerate or I should say to welcome very low readings on unemployment without worrying about inflation."This comment was in the response to the final question in the presser, and confirms that the Fed doesn't care if they goose the stock market so long as they believe their actions are going to lead to progress on full employment and 2% inflation.

Fed Chair Powell Attempts to Blame U.S. Inequality on Globalization – Gets Smacked Down by Bloomberg Reporter -Pam Martens Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s press conferences are typically snooze sessions. Yesterday’s virtual press conference got off to a similar start with mainstream media reporters asking about inflation and monetary policy instead of the more critical questions they should have been asking in the midst of the worst labor market and business closures since the Great Depression and food pantry lines that stretch for blocks.Fortunately, two reporters shook things up at the very end of the press conference. Nancy Marshall-Genzer of Marketplace, which airs on public media stations, bluntly asked Powell this: “Is there more the Fed could do to deal with inequality, for example, use the Black unemployment rate as a benchmark.”Powell’s answer was an abomination. First Powell stated that inequality is not related to monetary policy. Next, he decided to target a more specific villain – globalization, saying this: “Globalization called for rising skills and aptitudes and education and U.S. educational attainment kind of flattened out, certainly relevant to our peers….” Powell said that has a lot to do with stagnant wages in the U.S.The reporter that followed Marshall-Genzer, Michael McKee of Bloomberg TV, challenged Powell on his answer, stating this:McKee: “Inequality is not just about wages. It’s also about wealth and a number of studies have suggested that by keeping rates low for so long and targeting the markets after the Great Financial Crisis, that the Fed did contribute to wealth inequality in this country. And I’m wondering if you think there is some tweak or some message that you could give that would affect that?”  Powell did not answer the question directly but gave a meandering answer on the role of the Fed. Powell has a poker “tell.” When he knows his answer is disingenuous, he starts repeatedly clearing his throat. He did a lot of that while bumbling through his non-answer to McKee’s question. The truth of what the Fed has done to dramatically exacerbate inequality in the United States goes well beyond its artificial manipulations to keep interest rates at the zero bound. But we’ll start with that.

Fed Has No Idea What Is Coming- Sees Unemployment Rate Between 7% And 14% This Year - While the Fed's summary economic projections showed a rather optimistic rebound in the average forecast for various economic indicators, including GDP surging from -6.5% in 2019 to 5.0% in 2021 and 3.5% in 2022, while unemployment slides from 9.3% to 6.4% in 2020 and more in 2021... ... the reality is that there appears to be a huge dispersion in opinions at the FOMC, with the unemployment rate seen between 7% and 14% this year, which means means at least one person at the Fed expects the unemployment rate to be higher at the end of 2020 than was reported last week. while GDP is seen in a huge range of -10% to -4.2%. And while things get a bit better in 2021, even here the range is surprisingly wide, with unemployment from 5.9% to 7.5% while GDP is expected to be in a range of -1% to 7%. As Bloomberg's Chris Condon notes, "that’s a tremendous gap and underscores the level of uncertainty facing policy makers. This continues in the 2021 projections. The range for unemployment there goes from 4.5% out to 12%. Remarkable."

NBER: February 2020 was Peak in US Economic Activity -- This was a quick call from NBER. Usually it takes many months, but this recession was obvious. Note that they think the recession will likely be shorter than previous recession (just meaning activity will start increasing from the bottom).  From NBER: Determination of the February 2020 Peak in US Economic Activity - The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research maintains a chronology of the peaks and troughs of U.S. business cycles.The committee has determined that a peak in monthly economic activity occurred in the U.S. economy in February 2020. The peak marks the end of the expansion that began in June 2009 and the beginning of a recession. The expansion lasted 128 months, the longest in the history of U.S. business cycles dating back to 1854. The previous record was held by the business expansion that lasted for 120 months from March 1991 to March 2001. The committee also determined that a peak in quarterly economic activity occurred in 2019Q4. Note that the monthly peak (February 2020) occurred in a different quarter (2020Q1) than the quarterly peak. The committee determined these peak dates in accord with its long-standing policy of identifying the months and quarters of peak activity separately, without requiring that the monthly peak lie in the same quarter as the quarterly peak. Further comments on the difference between the quarterly and monthly dates are provided below.   The usual definition of a recession involves a decline in economic activity that lasts more than a few months. However, in deciding whether to identify a recession, the committee weighs the depth of the contraction, its duration, and whether economic activity declined broadly across the economy (the diffusion of the downturn). The committee recognizes that the pandemic and the public health response have resulted in a downturn with different characteristics and dynamics than prior recessions. Nonetheless, it concluded that the unprecedented magnitude of the decline in employment and production, and its broad reach across the entire economy, warrants the designation of this episode as a recession, even if it turns out to be briefer than earlier contractions.

Recession in U.S. Began in February, Official Arbiter Says—The U.S. officially entered a recession in February, marking the end of the 128-month expansion that was the longest in records reaching back to 1854. While Monday’s announcement by the National Bureau of Economic Research didn’t come as a surprise to economists, the group typically waits until a recession is well under way before declaring it has started. But this time, the severity and breadth of the coronavirus-induced downturn prompted it to break with past practice, “even if it turns out to be briefer than earlier contractions,” the NBER’s Business Cycle Dating Committee said. Investors are betting on that outcome: The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 461 points on Monday, up 1.7% and just 6.7% shy of its February highs. The probable duration of the recession is a matter of debate among economists and policy makers and is likely to influence discussions on the need for additional economic relief. Congress has already provided $3.3 trillion in emergency spending and tax breaks to support the economy, prompting some worries about a ballooning budget deficit. Some policy makers, including Larry Kudlow, director of President Trump’s National Economic Council, have predicted that consumer and business spending will bounce back quickly once social-distancing measures are lifted. Others, including Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, have expressed concern about lasting economic damage. Karen Dynan, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and former Treasury Department official, said that while the recession will likely be much shorter than the previous one in 2007-09, the aftermath could be similarly long and slow, given the severity of the shock. “We fell into a gigantic hole, and even if we make substantial progress climbing out over the next few months, we’re still probably going to be considerably in the hole,” she said. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said last week the U.S. economy could take the better part of a decade to fully recover. Gross domestic product will likely be 5.6% smaller in the fourth quarter of 2020 than a year earlier, despite an expected pickup in economic activity in the coming months, and the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by the end of the year, the CBO said. The agency has said the federal budget deficit is likely to hit $3.7 trillion in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, fueled by stimulus spending and declining revenue.

The Longest Expansion In History Is Officially Over- The US Entered Recession In February, NBER Finds - While it should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who can fog a mirror, The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research  - the official arbiter of whether America is in recession or not - has issued a statement confirming that February 2020 marks the end of the expansion that began in June 2009 and the beginning of a recession. .  This was the longest period of economic expansion in US history at 128 months...  Full Statement from NBER: The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research maintains a chronology of the peaks and troughs of U.S. business cycles. The committee has determined that a peak in monthly economic activity occurred in the U.S. economy in February 2020. The peak marks the end of the expansion that began in June 2009 and the beginning of a recession. The expansion lasted 128 months, the longest in the history of U.S. business cycles dating back to 1854. The previous record was held by the business expansion that lasted for 120 months from March 1991 to March 2001.The committee also determined that a peak in quarterly economic activity occurred in 2019Q4. Note that the monthly peak (February 2020) occurred in a different quarter (2020Q1) than the quarterly peak. The committee determined these peak dates in accord with its long-standing policy of identifying the months and quarters of peak activity separately, without requiring that the monthly peak lie in the same quarter as the quarterly peak. Further comments on the difference between the quarterly and monthly dates are provided below. A recession is a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, normally visible in production, employment, and other indicators. A recession begins when the economy reaches a peak of economic activity and ends when the economy reaches its trough. Between trough and peak, the economy is in an expansion.Because a recession is a broad contraction of the economy, not confined to one sector, the committee emphasizes economy-wide indicators of economic activity. The committee believes that domestic production and employment are the primary conceptual measures of economic activity.

So when did this recession start, exactly? -  Frances Coppola - Is the U.S. in recession? If so, when did the recession start, and what caused it? The usual economic definition of "recession" is two successive quarters of negative GDP growth. But in Q1 2020, growth was positive, though it was apparently slowing sharply (more on this shortly): So using the standard economic definition, the U.S. is not yet in recession.But according to the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER), the U.S. entered recession in February: The committee has determined that a peak in monthly economic activity occurred in the U.S. economy in February 2020. The peak marks the end of the expansion that began in June 2009 and the beginning of a recession.  February? The New York Fed's nowcasting report for February showed no sign of recession. The most recent nowcast shows the economy dropping off a cliff at the beginning of April: Of course, even nowcasts have lagging data. The date of the collapse according to this chart is when the NY Fed reported it, not when it actually happened. But a collapse in February? Really?No, there was no GDP collapse in February. Quite the reverse, in fact.   in February, the growth rate peaked. The trend was downwards from then onwards - as the NY Fed's chart shows. NBER's announcement that the recession started in February is therefore entirely consistent with Fed nowcasts showing that it started as late as April. Yes, I know this is bizarre. But bizarre things happen when you define the same phenomenon in two different ways. Note that in NBER-world, the growth rate is positive at the start of the recession. Those of you who have read myprevious writing on rates of change (or are familiar with differential calculus) will recognise this as our old friend the second derivative - the point where the trend reverses. The economic definition, however, uses the first derivative - the point where the growth rate itself becomes negative. Since trend reversal precedes growth turning negative, recessions as defined by NBER start earlier than recessions defined using the economic definition. If this isn't clear, just imagine what happens when you take your foot off the accelerator while driving your car up a hill. The car slows down rapidly, but it continues going forward. It doesn't immediately start sliding down the hill. In NBER-world, the economy also emerges from recession sooner than in the economic definition. NBER takes the lower turning point, when growth is at its most negative, as the end of the recession, whereas the economic definition requires the growth rate to be positive. We can say, therefore, that the recession as defined in the standard way lags NBER's definition, possibly by several months. Thus, according to NBER the U.S. is already in recession, whereas according to the economic definition we don't even know yet if there will be a recession at all. I hope this makes sense. 

WSJ Survey: U.S. Recovery From Pandemic Shock to Begin by Third Quarter – WSJ - The U.S. economy will be in recovery by the third quarter of this year, economists said in a survey that also concluded the labor market will fare better than previously expected following the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. A monthly Wall Street Journal survey found that more than two-thirds of economists, 68.4%, expect the economic recovery to start in the third quarter. Just over a fifth, 22.8%, said it already began in the current, second quarter. The U.S. entered a recession in February, the National Bureau of Economic Research determined this week. Business and academic economists polled in the survey expect gross domestic product to shrink 5.9% this year, measured from the fourth quarter of 2019, a slight improvement from the 6.6% contraction economists predicted in last month’s survey. They also expect, on average, that the unemployment rate will be slightly lower by December, 9.6%, compared with last month’s forecast of 11.4%. In the June survey, 69% of economists said they expect the recovery to be shaped like a “swoosh.” So named because it recalls the Nike logo, it suggests a large drop followed by a gradual recovery. That was broadly unchanged from May.On average, economists expect the Fed will keep its benchmark short-term interest rate pinned near zero for the next two years, a forecast in line with the Fed’s own projections. The surveyed economists see one quarter-percentage-point increase by June 2022 and another by December 2022. Federal Reserve officials on Wednesday indicated that interest rates were likely to stay put through 2022 and said they were committed to providing more support to the economy following shutdowns to contain the coronavirus. Economists don’t think that support will include experimenting with negative policy rates, a remedy tried by the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank and the central banks of Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland. While President Trump has tweeted in favor of negative interest rates, Federal Reserve officials have indicated little appetite to cut interest rates below zero. Just 1.7% of economists expected the Federal Reserve will cut its benchmark policy rate below zero in the next two years. In response to a separate question, no economists in the survey said the Fed should go negative to provide further economic stimulus. “The Fed has been clear—the threshold for negative rates is extremely high, and they do nothing to cure what ails an economy hobbled by a pandemic,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton.

Signs of a V-Shaped Early-Stage Economic Recovery Emerge – WSJ - The first stage of the recovery looks V-shaped. After bottoming out in April, economic activity has continued to rise into early June, recapturing some of the collapse that occurred when most of the country locked down to contain the spread of Covid-19, according to a range of private data. Whether the recovery can continue at this pace remains clouded by uncertainty over future fiscal stimulus, resurgent infections and the drag of unprecedented job loss on consumer finances. Nonetheless, an L-shaped recovery, in which activity stays depressed, now looks remote. And while the overall recovery may not end up a V, it may also be less feeble than many had feared. The strongest evidence comes from consumer spending. In April, retail sales collapsed by 16%, the biggest one-month drop on record. The government reports May sales data on Tuesday, and economists expect a 7.9% jump, recouping 40% of April’s drop. Meanwhile, week-to-week patterns point to continued growth into early June. Department store sales in the week ended June 10 were actually above year-earlier levels, according to Facteus, which analyzes transactions by 16 million debit and credit card holders for banks. Grocery, discount, variety and general-merchandise store sales all recorded sales above year-ago levels. Restaurants and hotels were still down from a year earlier but not by nearly as much as in April. Movie theaters, airlines and amusement parks are still deeply depressed.The data aren’t weighted by geography and skew toward lower-income debit-card users, said Lorn Davis, vice president of corporate and product strategy at Facteus. Nonetheless, they line up with reports of surprisingly strong sales at reopened department stores.Karen Dynan, an economist affiliated with the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said she expected “the first part of the recovery would be rapid—a significant bounce after a deep plunge in activity as businesses that people can safely engage with reopen. I’m not too surprised to see what looks like a considerable pickup from the deeply depressed April numbers, but I also think the pace of recovery is going to slow way down after the businesses that can easily reopen do so.”Indeed, Mr. Davis attributed some of the rise in retail sales so far to pent-up demand driven by stimulus checks, which may not be sustained. Homebase, whose software handles scheduling for small businesses, said businesses reopened rapidly between mid-April and June 1, but reopenings have edged up more slowly since then.

Total US Debt Increases By $1 Trillion In One Month - It took the US over two centuries to accumulate its first trillion dollars in Federal debt, a number which was surpassed for the first time in the fourth quarter of 1981. Fast forward less then 40 years to today, when according to the US Treasury, total US debt just surpassed $26 trillion, or $26,003,751,512,344.91 as of June 9, to be exact. What is stunning, however, is the recent pace of increase: total debt was "only" $23.5 trillion on March 23, the day the Fed unleashed unlimited QE, meaning that in two and a half months, the US has added $2.5 trillion in debt. And the punchline: the US added the last trillion dollars in the shortest time on record, achieving this remarkable feat in just one month, since May 4, when total debt was just under $25 trillion. For context, here is total US debt since the start of the century. In light of this unprecedented helicopter paradrop of debt, something tells us that the Fed's schedule released today of monetizing "only" $80 billion in Treasurys each month, or about $1 trillion per year, will not be sufficient. 

Federal Budget Deficit Nears $2 Trillion—The U.S. budget gap more than doubled in May, pushing the deficit for the fiscal year to near $2 trillion, as federal revenues plunged and government spending soared to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. The federal deficit last month widened to $424 billion, more than twice what it was in May 2019, the Congressional Budget Office estimated Monday. For the first eight months of the fiscal year, which began in October, the deficit totaled $1.9 trillion, compared with $739 billion in the same period a year earlier, CBO said. For the past 12 months, the deficit as a share of gross domestic product stood at roughly 10%, the highest level since February 2010 when the U.S. was still climbing out of the last recession. CBO has estimated the deficit could reach $3.7 trillion for the fiscal year that ends in September, easily surpassing the high-water mark hit during the last downturn. Federal spending climbed 53% last month, to $598 billion, largely due to economic relief measures Congress has enacted amid widespread shutdowns of the economy. Outlays for unemployment benefits, stimulus checks and small-business lending fueled the rise, along with spending on grants for states and local governments and airlines. Federal revenue in May fell 25% from a year earlier to $175 billion. The drop in economic activity means that fewer people are working, so the government is collecting less in payroll and income taxes. In addition, Congress created some new tax breaks to help businesses and individuals weather the economic storm. Some of the revenue decline reflects a timing shift—a deliberate choice by the government to let taxpayers keep their money. Congress allowed employers to defer some payroll taxes throughout 2020 and let businesses and individuals delay some tax payments until July. The government should collect much of that money eventually. Furthermore, because of the delayed tax-filing deadline, some refunds that would normally be paid in April were made in May, which reduced last month’s revenue total. Until the pandemic hit, federal revenue was rising, up 6% for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1. Through May, however, receipts are down 11%, including 23% drops in individual and corporate income taxes.

Learn to Love Trillion-Dollar Deficits -- Our country’s myth about federal debt, explained. By Stephanie Kelton - Last week, a bipartisan group of 60 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to congressional leadership, raising concerns about mounting debt and deficits that have come as a result of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. “We cannot ignore the pressing issue of the national debt,” they wrote. The letter warned of “irreparable damage to our country” if nothing is done to stem the tide of red ink. Senator Mike Enzi, Republican of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, echoed their concerns. It’s an ominous sign for the smaller businesses and millions of unemployed Americans whose survival may very well depend on continued government support in this crisis. While these Democratic and Republican lawmakers stopped short of calling for immediate austerity measures, their remarks demonstrate that they have fallen prey to what I call the deficit myth: that our nation’s debt and deficits are on an unsustainable path and that we need to develop a plan to fix the problem. As a proponent of what’s called Modern Monetary Theory and as a former chief economist for the Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee, intimately familiar with how public finance actually works, I am not worried about the recent multitrillion-dollar surge in spending. In 2020, Congress has been showing us — in practice if not in its rhetoric — exactly how M.M.T. works: It committed trillions of dollars this spring that in the conventional economic sense it did not “have.” It didn’t raise taxes or borrow from China to come up with dollars to support our ailing economy. Instead, lawmakers simply voted to pass spending bills, which effectively ordered up trillions of dollars from the government’s bank, the Federal Reserve. In reality, that’s how all government spending is paid for. M.M.T. simply describes how our monetary system actually works. Its explanatory power doesn’t depend on ideology or political party. Rather, the theory clarifies what is economically possible and shifts the terrain of policy debates currently hamstrung by nagging questions of so-called pay-fors: Instead of worrying about the number that falls out of the budget box at the end of each fiscal year, M.M.T. asks us to focus on the limits that matter. At any point in time, every economy faces a sort of speed limit, regulated by the availability of its real productive resources — the state of technology and the quantity and quality of its land, workers, factories, machines and other materials. If any government tries to spend too much into an economy that’s already running at full speed, inflation will accelerate. So there are limits. However, the limits are not in our government’s ability to spend money or to sustain large deficits. What M.M.T. does is distinguish the real limits from wrongheaded, self-imposed constraints. An understanding of Modern Monetary Theory matters greatly now. It could free policymakers not only to act boldly amid crises but also to invest boldly in times of more stability. It matters because to lift America out of its current economic crisis, Congress does not need to “find the money,” as many say, in order to spend more. It just needs to find the votes and the political will.

The $700 Billion Gorilla In The Room - Zero Hedge - Earlier this week, we observed that as a direct result of a flood of Bill issuance in the past two months, the Treasury's cash balance which it will use to fund various stimulus programs and other fiscal initiatives, has exploded since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, hitting a record $1.5 trillion last Friday. This, we said, "is notable because in the Treasury's latest quarterly borrowing needs forecast which projected a funding need of $3 trillion for the current quarter, the Treasury also projected that the cash balance at the end of the quarter would be $800 billion." This also means that if indeed the Treasury's forecast is accurate, then over the next two weeks, the Treasury's cash balance has to drop by a record $700 billion to hit the $800 billion target!  Picking up on this quandary facing both the Treasury and the financial system, today Bloomberg writes that what the Treasury will do with its record $1.5 trillion pile of cash "has become the biggest wild card for funding markets as quarter-end approaches." That’s because, as we explained first last year when the Treasury's cash balance spiked in September, triggering the first repo crisis as system reserves were quickly drained, swings in the government’s cash on deposit at the Fed "effectively drain bank reserves as the amount climbs."As a quick aside, the Treasury General Account which is published daily by the Treasury, operates like the government’s checking account at the Fed. When Treasury increases its cash balance, that’s on the liability side of the Fed’s balance sheet, so as that goes up, it drains reserves from the system  In 2015, the Treasury instituted a policy of keeping at least five days’ worth of expenditures, or about $150 billion, in the account in case unexpected disruptions locked it out of debt markets. Before that, Treasury kept enough cash for just two days. But as the US budget deficit has begun to soar, the size of that buffer has grown. Echoing these our observations from Monday, today Bloomberg cautions that this dynamic "is taking on added meaning before quarter-end, with strains in the banking system already appearing to build in the lead-up to June 30. The big question now is whether the Treasury will stick to its end-of-June cash-balance target of $800 billion - about $700 billion below its current level." To be sure, unlike last September, and the massive cash build observed since March when the Treasury pre-funded much of the upcoming stimulus payments, the concern is now in reverse as shrinking the balance would help ease any quarter-end stress by adding liquidity to the banking system, however "uncertainty is complicating decisions for participants in this key segment of financial markets - from managers of money-market funds, to hedge funds using it to generate liquidity through repurchase agreements." Indeed, as BMO's rates strategist Jon Hill says, "It’s like the $700 billion gorilla in the room" adding that "the Treasury has created a multi-hundred billion dollar level of uncertainty for the Fed’s balance sheet going into quarter-end. This is one of, if not the biggest, question over the next three weeks on how the front end plays out with regard to liquidity conditions." In other words, the question on everyone's mind, as we put it on Monday, is whether "The Treasury Is About To Flood The US With $700 Billion Over The Next Three Weeks?"

Study Finds Trump Tax Cuts Failed to Do Anything But Give Rich People Money - The biggest effect of the Trump tax cuts is obvious: People who own businesses and other sources of concentrated wealth will have a lot more money, and the federal budget will have less. But the advocates of the tax cuts insisted it wasn’t about letting the makers keep their hard-earned money rather than handing it over to the takers. It was about incentivizing business to repatriate funds and ramp up its investments, thereby increasing growth and wages.The Congressional Research Service, a kind of in-house think tank for Congress, has a new paper analyzing the effects of the Trump tax cuts. It finds that none of those secondary effects have materialized. Growth has not increased above the pre-tax-cut trend. Neither have wages. After a brief and much smaller than expected bump, repatriated corporate cash from abroad has leveled off. It’s of course possible that the growth in wages would take longer than the year or so that has passed since the tax cut to show up. If the Trump tax cut had encouraged new business investment, it might take years for the new investment to bear fruit. But the study looks directly at business investment and finds … nothing: Supporters of the Trump tax cuts insisted not only that they would promote growth, but that they would promote so much growth the measure would pay for itself. Even moderates like Susan Collins repeated assurances by the party’s pseudo-economists that the plan would not increase the deficit. So far, the growth feedback from the tax cuts has made up about 5 percent of the plan’s revenue loss, a mere 95 percent shy of the predictions. The passage of the plan was met with a coordinated wave of corporate public-relations announcements of worker bonuses. But the paper finds no widespread increase in bonuses or worker compensation. When assessing these arguments, keep a close eye on the number of Republican officials or conservative policy-makers who revise their position on the Trump tax cuts in light of the data. If their true primary goal was to increase business investment, then the complete failure of a highly expensive program to achieve its stated goal would lead them to question their support. Why not cancel the Trump tax cuts and use the couple trillion dollars in lost revenue to fund a more effective growth-promoting policy? So far, the number of Republicans reassessing their support for the Trump tax cuts is, give or take, zero. What this suggests is that the alleged growth-incentivizing secondary effects of the plan were rationales, and the primary effect — giving business owners more money — was the hidden main goal all along.

 US Has Yet To Cut WHO Funding Despite Trump Move To Terminate Relationship - The Hill reports that as of the close of this week the United States still hasn't cut funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) despite President Trump controversially vowing to pull the plug on all US funding, which provides the bulk of the UN organization's budget.  Trump made the "final" statement on May 29 amid widespread international criticism against the global health body for essentially being asleep at the wheel while the coronavirus outbreak rippled across the world. US officials have also repeatedly charged the WHO is in Beijing's pocket, which they say is the reason WHO leaders dithered while the disease raged in Wuhan, soon spreading far outside China's borders, before it was belatedly labeled a pandemic.The US president had stated: "Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving, urgent global public health needs."WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had immediately urged the administration not the take the drastic action in the middle of a pandemic: "We regret the decision of the President of the United States to order a halt in funding to the World Health Organization," he said.And now, as The Hill reports, "Two weeks later, no steps toward a formal withdrawal have been taken. A WHO spokesman told The Hill that the agency had received no formal notification that the United States would withdraw.""Senior WHO officials said they continue their relationships with American agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH)," the report underscores.

Trump orders 9,500 US troops to leave Germany - Donald Trump has ordered the US military to remove nearly 9,500 troops from Germany in a move likely to raise concerns in Europe about the US commitment to the region. The move would reduce US troop numbers in Germany to 25,000, compared with the 34,500 currently there, a senior US official said. The official said the move was the result of months of work by America’s top military officer, General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and had nothing to do with tensions between Trump and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who thwarted Trump’s plan to host a G7 meeting this month. A second senior administration official said the 9,500 troops would be sent elsewhere: some to Poland, some to other allied countries, and the rest would return home. The official said there was less need for the large contingent in Germany because of overall increased defence spending by the US-led Nato military alliance. The second official said the change was ordered in a memorandum signed recently by Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien. The official said the United States started working on the plan last September and had just now got the pieces in place. The move is the latest twist in relations between Berlin and Washington, which have often been strained during Trump’s presidency. Trump has pressed Germany to raise defence spending and accused Berlin of being a captive of Russia due to its energy reliance. About 17,000 US civilian employees support the US troops in Germany. It is believed the United States also has nuclear warheads there.

U.S. decision to withdraw troops from Germany unacceptable - Merkel ally - (Reuters) - Germany’s coordinator for transatlantic ties has criticised U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw thousands of troops from Germany. Trump has ordered the U.S. military to remove 9,500 troops from Germany, a senior U.S. official said on Friday. “This is completely unacceptable, especially since nobody in Washington thought about informing its NATO ally Germany in advance,” Peter Beyer, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, told the Rheinische Post newspaper. Following Trump’s decision, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a newspaper interview that he regretted the planned withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Germany, describing Berlin’s relationship with the United States as “complicated”.

Trump authorizes sanctions over ICC Afghanistan war crimes case (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Thursday issued an executive order authorizing U.S. sanctions against International Criminal Court employees involved in an investigation into whether American forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan. In announcing the action, Trump administration officials said the Hague-based tribunal threatens to infringe upon U.S. national sovereignty and accused Russia of manipulating it to serve Moscow’s ends. “We cannot, we will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in announcing the move. Rights activists assailed Trump’s move. Andrea Prasow, the Washington director for Human Rights Watch, said the action “demonstrates contempt for the global rule of law” and represents a “blatant attempt at obstruction.” Trump’s order authorizes Pompeo, in consultation with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, to block assets in the United States of ICC employees involved in the probe, according to a letter sent by Trump to U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi accompanying the order. It also authorizes Pompeo to block entry into the United States of these individuals as well as their family members. ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda wants to investigate possible crimes committed between 2003 and 2014 including alleged mass killings of civilians by the Taliban, as well as the alleged torture of prisoners by Afghan authorities and, to a lesser extent, by U.S. forces and the CIA. The ICC investigation was given the go-ahead in March. The ICC was established in 2002 by the international community to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. It has jurisdiction only if a member state is unable or unwilling to prosecute atrocities itself. The United States has never been a member of the court.

Pompeo on ICC: U.S. won't be threatened by 'kangaroo court' - (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that Washington would not allow Americans to be threatened by “a kangaroo court,” after President Donald Trump authorized sanctions against an International Criminal Court investigation into whether U.S. forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan. Pompeo told a news conference sanctions could extend to family members of ICC officials to prevent them from visiting the United States. “We cannot, we will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court,” Pompeo said.

Bases named for Confederates changed to Afghan War generals, continuing tradition of naming bases after losers — Following a growing chorus of people calling to remove Confederate generals from the names of Army bases, the Pentagon today announced their intentions to rename posts for a different set of generals who lost a military campaign, sources confirmed today. “We have a longstanding tradition of honoring generals who squandered vast amounts of resources who were ultimately left with nothing to show for it,” said Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The 10 bases are located in southern states and were named after Confederate generals during the Jim Crow era, presumably to affirm white supremacy by members of the Lost Cause movement. Calls to rename the bases have increased after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in police custody, and nationwide protests against police brutality. “Our generals who led our forces in Afghanistan cost our country in excess of two trillion dollars over the last 18 years, only to inevitably cede all our gains back to the Taliban as soon as we completely withdraw, and all for the cause of maintaining our nation’s enslavement to the military-industrial complex,” added Esper. “Frankly, their profligate accomplishments dwarf those of the Confederacy, and we are proud to inscribe their names on the gates of our military installations.” Fort Bragg, North Carolina, has already been renamed Fort McChrystal, and plans are underway to rename Fort Hood, Texas to Fort Petraeus, and Fort Lee, Virginia to Fort Sinclair.

Over 1,300 Chinese Medical Suppliers to U.S.—Including Mask Providers—Use Bogus Registration Data – WSJ -More than 1,300 Chinese medical-device companies that registered to sell protective gear and other equipment in the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic listed as their American representative a purported Delaware entity that uses a false address and nonworking phone number, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. All foreign manufacturers of medical devices are required to have a representative with a real address in the U.S. and somebody available during business hours. Such U.S. agents serve as a point of contact between the Food and Drug Administration and these overseas companies, to coordinate inspections, recalls or other urgent needs.  At least 1,300 registered Chinese companies have listed CCTC Service Inc. as their U.S. agent. No company by that name exists in the U.S., according to databases of corporate records. CCTC’s purported address is a three-bedroom brick house in Wilmington, Del., whose tenants and landlord say they know nothing about CCTC or any Chinese companies. In the FDA’s rush to respond to the pandemic, regulatory holes have appeared in the agency’s emergency-use authorization program. The Journal’s findings highlight flaws in the FDA’s medical-device database, where a listing is commonly cited by sellers of protective masks as proof of legitimacy. The FDA in May withdrew permission for dozens of manufacturers in China to export N95-style masks to the U.S., reversing emergency approvals the agency had granted the month before.  The FDA declined to comment on CCTC. A spokeswoman said its registration database is a helpful tool for the public but doesn’t represent FDA approval, and the agency doesn’t certify registration information. Federal prosecutors last week filed a criminal complaint against a Chinese manufacturer that listed CCTC as its U.S. agent, charging that the listing was part of false registration documents.

Exclusive: Canada, U.S. set to extend border closure to end-July - sources -  (Reuters) - Canada and the United States are set to extend a ban on non-essential travel to late July as both countries seek to control the spread of the coronavirus, according to three sources familiar with the matter.Washington and Ottawa introduced month-long restrictions in March and renewed them in April and May. The ban, currently due to expire on June 21, does not affect trade. Canadian and U.S. sources said although the governments had not yet taken a final decision, a further extension was highly likely. “It’s going to be a clean rollover” on June 21, said a U.S. source who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation. “We will want to look at it again in July.” The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was not immediately available for comment. Data show that while the outbreak is slowing across the 10 Canadian provinces, new cases show little sign of abating in Toronto and Montreal, the country’s two largest cities. A majority of provinces have privately told Ottawa they are reluctant to resume non-essential travel, said a second source. Several provinces have clamped down on travel within Canada, and a third Canadian source said these inter-provincial restrictions would make it hard to lift the ban on non-essential travel with the United States. More than 110,000 people have died of the coronavirus in the United States, one of the world’s worst-hit nations. Canada reported 7,835 deaths, and 96,244 coronavirus cases on June 9. A spokeswoman for Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who has overall responsibility for ties with the United States, said both sides agreed the ban had worked well.

Evidence Grows of Lockdowns’ Toll on Employment – WSJ - Yes, lockdowns cost jobs. That might seem obvious, given the May increase in U.S. jobs, which economists attributed to both relaxed business restrictions in some states and government payments to companies that rehired workers. In fact, the economic costs of lockdowns have been debated since the start of the pandemic. Since many people voluntarily stayed home and kept their distance from others to avoid coronavirus infection, it isn’t clear how much difference mandated social distancing makes. Conceivably, there might be no trade-off between lives and livelihoods if, without lockdowns, there would be more infections and just as much social distancing. But evidence is growing that there is a trade-off. This doesn’t mean the lockdowns are mistakes: The imperative to save lives might warrant such measures despite their economic costs, especially during the early days when so much about the infection wasn’t clear. Nor do we yet know what impact the current easing of restrictions will have on infections and economic activity. “Just because a state reopens does not mean everybody is going back to the way they were in early March,” said Kosali Simon, an economist at Indiana University. “On the other hand, if you thought these laws don’t matter at all, we’re finding they do have an impact.” Pinning down the effect of lockdowns is difficult because voluntary and mandated social distancing often occurred simultaneously, and because almost every U.S. state and country has had some form of social distancing and suffered an economic hit. A team of researchers led by Ms. Simon and Ohio State University economist Bruce Weinberg tackled this by studying mobility data of people at work and Google searches related to unemployment, and compared them to when states imposed stay-at-home orders and closed nonessential businesses. They then examined hard data on weekly claims for unemployment insurance and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly employment surveys. Their study, released last month, found that work-related mobility dropped notably after the imposition of a stay-at-home order, and unemployment related searches rose sharply after the closure of nonessential businesses. Initial claims for unemployment insurance rose sharply immediately after stay-at-home mandates. Weaker employment is correlated with stay-at-home mandates and business closures.

White House officials downplay chance of COVID-19 'second spike' - -  White House economic officials on Friday downplayed concerns about recent spikes in cases of the novel coronavirus in several U.S. states amid fears on Wall Street about a new wave of COVID-19. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on “Fox & Friends” that the developments did not signify a “second spike” nationally of COVID-19, citing conversations with White House health experts the evening prior. Speaking later on Fox News, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett described some “embers flaring up” in various states, pointing to troubling data in South Carolina and Arizona, but he insisted that cases nationally continue to decline. “The battle is not over but the trends that have been so positive in recent weeks have not really deviated sharply … although there are still some hotspots around the country,” Hassett said. The average number of confirmed cases over a two-week period has doubled or more in Arizona, Arkansas, Oregon and Utah. South Carolina, Nevada, North Carolina and Florida have all set new highs over a seven-day rolling average. Oregon and Utah have paused their reopenings amid rising cases. Oregon reported 178 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, an all-time high for the state, while Utah confirmed a new high of 556 new cases last Friday. Both states were in the process of phased reopening plans but will not move forward while they investigate the increases. "This is essentially a statewide ‘yellow light.’ It is time to press pause for one week before any further reopening,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said in a statement Thursday evening.7:58 PM

Tables turned: USAID asks relief groups around the world for protective gear for U.S. use — The U.S. government's main international relief agency has issued an "urgent request" to aid groups around the world that work with refugees and impoverished people asking them to find personal protective gear and medical supplies that could be made available to the federal government, according to an internal email obtained by NBC News.The U.S. Agency for International Development's appeal offers yet another sign of how the Trump administration is scrambling to secure badly needed medical equipment amid shortages of gear at American hospitals due to the coronavirus epidemic. The USAID email was first reported by CNN.It's unclear how much medical equipment the aid groups have to spare, and how the request could affect relief work with refugees and other vulnerable populations around the world. Humanitarian aid groups have already issued warnings that the coronavirus outbreak could have a devastating effect on refugees who often lack access to clean water and are living in crowded conditions. USAID has already ordered a suspension of any shipments of personal protective equipment abroad to safeguard supplies needed in the U.S., as reported previously by NBC News and Politico.The March 27 USAID email, titled "Urgent Request for Inventory of Available PPE and Medical Equipment Resources," asks groups that carry out USAID-funded projects overseas to take stock of all medical supplies that could be of use to the federal government in its fight against the coronavirus outbreak. The organizations were asked to fill out a spreadsheet with the relevant information and respond by the end of the day.

Document NH’s Sen. Hassan demanded reveals FEMA asking nurses to reuse masks, gowns - Internal Federal Emergency Management Agency data show that the government's supply of surgical gowns has not meaningfully increased since photos first emerged in March of nurses wearing trash bags for protection. "The demand for gowns outpaces current U.S. manufacturing capabilities," a document released Tuesday says. The document confirms the fears of nurses and other health care providers. After months of pressure on federal officials to use wartime powers to mobilize U.S. plants, the document's slides show that domestic manufacturing of gowns and surgical masks has ticked up by a few thousand per month since the pandemic hit, falling far short of need. The United States still does not manufacture any nitrile rubber gloves. Five months after the pandemic first hit U.S. shores _ and after weeks of lockdown and economic collapse to prepare for a surge of cases - critical personal protective equipment such as surgical gowns and masks continues to face a national shortage. The slides show FEMA's plan to ramp up supply into June and July hinges on the reusing of N95 masks and surgical gowns, increasing the risk of contamination. Those are supposed to be disposed of after one use. The plan to reuse supplies will likely rile many nurses, who have raised safety concerns. Hundreds of health care workers have died from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The concerns come amid a growing increase in demand for PPE as states reopen and elective surgeries and dental procedures resume. Long-term care facilities still face widespread shortages. The internal slides were given to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday night ahead of a hearing Tuesday on inadequate distribution of supplies. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., demanded the slides be made public Tuesday.

Mnuchin says more financial help for the economy will be needed. - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told lawmakers on Wednesday that the next round of economic stimulus legislation must be targeted to help industries that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic and that the focus must be on creating incentives to get jobless workers rehired. Testifying before the Senate’s small business committee, Mr. Mnuchin said that he was pleasantly surprised that the economy added 2.5 million jobs last month and that he believed the economy would improve dramatically in the second half of the year. But the Treasury secretary also said that there is still “significant damage” to parts of the economy that need to be addressed. The White House has held off on negotiating with Congress over another economic relief package, saying that they want to more thoroughly assess how the existing measures are working. However, Mr. Mnuchin made clear that the work of stabilizing the economy is not done. “There’s no question that small businesses in many industries are going to need more help,” he said.  Mr. Mnuchin said that the administration will be looking at measures that will encourage businesses to rehire. It is also considering the need for more direct payments to Americans and adjustments to unemployment insurance benefits to ensure that people don’t have incentives to remain jobless. The Treasury secretary sounded cool to the idea of a capital-gains-tax holiday. The Treasury secretary appeared with Jovita Carranza, the administrator of the Small Business Administration, to update lawmakers on the status of the Paycheck Protection Program, a lending initiative that was created in March as a lifeline for small businesses but that was initially plagued by glitches, delays and changing rules.

Steven Mnuchin Says White House Considering Second Round of Stimulus Payments - WSJ—The Trump administration is weighing getting behind a second round of stimulus payments for Americans as part of an economic-relief package Congress is likely to consider next month, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday.Mr. Mnuchin said he had discussed with President Trump the idea of additional stimulus payments, though no decision had been made yet on whether to advocate for them in the next bill.“It’s something that we’re very seriously considering,” he told reporters during an online question-and-answer session Thursday.Congress provided an initial round of onetime payments of $1,200 for most adults and $500 for children under age 17 as part of the Cares Act enacted in March. The Internal Revenue Service said it has distributed payments to all eligible Americans for whom it has sufficient information, totaling $267 billion. That money helped households fill holes in their budgets and propped up consumer spending as the economy struggled in April and May. The House of Representatives voted for a second round of payments last month as part of its $3.5 trillion economic-relief package. Those payments would be larger, offering $1,200 each for up to three children instead of $500. The Democratic proposal also covers groups left out of the first round of payments, such as college students, adult dependents and households that include undocumented immigrants.Mr. Mnuchin also said it is extremely unlikely that parts of the U.S. economy would need to shut down again, despite a surge in coronavirus cases in some parts of the country. Mr. Mnuchin said he expected officials will make sufficient medical progress between now and the end of the year, including more widespread testing and effective viral treatments, that will support safe reopening of the economy.

Navarro floats $2T price tag for next coronavirus relief bill - White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said the next coronavirus relief package could provide funding up to $2 trillion as Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill debate what should be included in the next round of legislation. Navarro said the next package should focus on the manufacturing sector with the motto of “buy American, hire American.” “It’ll simultaneously create more manufacturing jobs, which tend to pay much higher wages, and it’ll also help the ripple effect to create a lot of those service sector jobs, which we are going to lose to dislocation as we adjust. So the phase four, when you talk about a $3 trillion program by [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.], you hear from [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.] only $1 trillion, the president is very interested in something on the order of at least $2 trillion,” Navarro said Friday on Fox Business. Navarro said the “bulk” of a future package should be focused on the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies and equipment. The remarks come as Congress grapples with further action on the coronavirus while cases spike in more than a dozen states across the country. House Democrats last month unveiled a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package that includes funding for food assistance and state and local governments, which members of the lower chamber say will address the dwindling state budgets that have been used to fight the pandemic. It also includes another round of direct stimulus payments to individuals, hazard pay for essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic and money to help voters mail in ballots for the November elections. Republicans have dismissed the legislation as a grab bag of liberal priorities and have instead adopted a wait-and-see approach, particularly after the economy added jobs in May. The Senate GOP has said it does not expect to be able to pass another coronavirus relief bill until mid-July or later. Still, Navarro expressed confidence that the White House would be able to helm a successful economy regardless of what kind of legislation is ultimately passed. “The economic crisis we’re facing, we can deal with. We have a president who in three years built the most beautiful economy in modern history. We can do it again, but it’s going to be a different strategy than the last time,” he said. “First-time tax cuts, deregulation, cheap energy and above all fair trade deals. We’re going to do all of that, but we’ve got to do more. We’ve got to focus on this buy American, hire American, make it here so that all around this great country we’re going to have Americans making stuff with high technology.”

Congress Confronts Summer Deadlines for Stimulus Spending Decisions – WSJ —With the Federal Reserve pledging to do whatever it can to pull the U.S. out of a recession, it is now up to Congress to decide how much more of a spending boost the economy needs, and what form it should take. Important deadlines are looming. Millions of jobless Americans will see their extra unemployment benefits disappear at the end of July unless Congress extends them. Deferred tax payments are due July 15. And many state and local governments must complete annual budgets by June 30. They are counting on more federal aid to close gaping deficits that have forced them to cut spending and lay off workers. Decisions on additional spending depend largely on differing views of the outlook for a recovery. While an unexpected drop in unemployment in May to 13.3% suggested a nascent upturn might be under way, some economists warned not to place too much faith in a single month’s numbers. “I’m concerned this will be interpreted as the all-clear signal—that the economy will recover on its own,” said Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz. “The first steps of coming out of the lockdown look like a very sharp recovery, but then it gets a lot tougher.” Chairman Jerome Powell on Wednesday committed the Fed “to do whatever we can for as long as it takes” to support the economy. Fed officials projected no plans to raise interest rates through 2022 and said they would maintain the recent pace of securities purchases, effectively ending gradual reductions. Asked at a news conference if more government spending was warranted, Mr. Powell said: “Of course if there were more fiscal support, you would see better results sooner. But that’s a question for Congress.”

 Senate Democrats seek simpler loan forgiveness process for PPP — Senate Democrats are calling on the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration to simplify the process for businesses applying for loan forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program. In a letter Friday to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, all 47 Senate Democrats said they have heard “significant concerns” from small businesses that the current 11-page application to have coronavirus relief loans forgiven is “especially burdensome, time-consuming, and costly.” “Small businesses should not need to spend precious resources on an accountant or attorneys to finalize their forgiveness application,” wrote the senators, led by Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the top Democrat on the Banking Committee, and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., among others. “The government should simplify the process such that these experts are not necessary." Businesses receiving PPP loans can qualify for full loan forgiveness if they spend at least 60% of the proceeds on payroll. Partial forgiveness is available for companies that spend less than that amount. Specifically, the senators are calling for a streamlined forgiveness process for small loan amounts, such as an easy-to-use form that requires a simple attestation on fund use and minimal documentation. The senators are also asking Treasury and the SBA to develop online tools, such as “how to” videos and reporting calculators, for small businesses to navigate the loan forgiveness process. And they are asking the two agencies to set up a “well-staffed” helpline for lenders and borrowers to talk through any challenges with the loan forgiveness process. They further urged the SBA and Treasury to move to the first page of the loan forgiveness application a section for reporting demographic information about Paycheck Protection borrowers. The section is currently on the last page.

 Hospitals Got Bailouts and Furloughed Thousands While Paying C.E.O.s Millions   Dozens of top recipients of government aid have laid off, furloughed or cut the pay of tens of thousands of employees. - HCA Healthcare is one of the world’s wealthiest hospital chains. It earned more than $7 billion in profits over the past two years. It is worth $36 billion. It paid its chief executive $26 million in 2019. But as the coronavirus swept the country, employees at HCA repeatedly complained that the company was not providing adequate protective gear to nurses, medical technicians and cleaning staff. Last month, HCA executives warned that they would lay off thousands of nurses if they didn’t agree to wage freezes and other concessions. A few weeks earlier, HCA had received about $1 billion in bailout funds from the federal government, part of an effort to stabilize hospitals during the pandemic. HCA is among a long list of deep-pocketed health care companies that have received billions of dollars in taxpayer funds but are laying off or cutting the pay of tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and lower-paid workers. Many have continued to pay their top executives millions, although some executives have taken modest pay cuts. The New York Times analyzed tax and securities filings by 60 of the country’s largest hospital chains, which have received a total of more than $15 billion in emergency funds through the economic stimulus package in the federal CARES Act. The hospitals — including publicly traded juggernauts like HCA and Tenet Healthcare, elite nonprofits like the Mayo Clinic, and regional chains with thousands of beds and billions in cash — are collectively sitting on tens of billions of dollars of cash reserves that are supposed to help them weather an unanticipated storm. And together, they awarded the five highest-paid officials at each chain about $874 million in the most recent year for which they have disclosed their finances. At least 36 of those hospital chains have laid off, furloughed or reduced the pay of employees as they try to save money during the pandemic….

A Maine factory says it will have to discard all coronavirus swabs made during Trump's factory tour --Puritan Medical Products, a medical swab manufacturer, says it will have to discard all of the swabs made in the background of President Donald Trump's visit to the factory on Friday.  While workers on the factory floor wore lab coats and personal protective equipment, Trump did not wear a mask while touring the facility or visiting with employees.  In a statement to USA TODAY, Puritan did not disclose either its reasoning for dumping the coronavirus swabs or the number of coronavirus tests that would be lost.  Puritan, which the White House said received nearly $80 millionfrom the federal government to double its production capacity, is one of only two companies in the world that make the kind of swabs needed in coronavirus testing.

 House Dems unveil $494B transportation infrastructure bill  - Moves to reauthorize the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) ramped up Wednesday as House Democrats unveiled a new $494 billion plan for the nation's transportation. The FAST Act, which expires on Sept. 30, provides long-term funding to surface transportation infrastructure like highways, vehicle safety and public transit. In preparation of this expiration, leading Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee got the ball rolling on the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act, which would authorize an additional $494 billion over five years for infrastructure needs. That proposal, which they called a "key component" of Democrats' Moving Forward Framework infrastructure plan, would spend $411 billion from the Highway Trust Fund on improvements to highways, transit, safety and research, and $60 billion on rail. Those figures represent a 46% and 400% increase, respectively, over current spending levels under the FAST Act.A major tenet of the INVEST in America Act is restoring the nation’s transportation infrastructure to a state of good repair, in part by addressing transit’s $100 billion maintenance backlog. The bill also provides grants for alternative fuels and electrification, and looks to address the effects of climate change through enhancing resiliency and using more modern building materials."It would be a dereliction of duty if we were not referencing climate change in a 21st-century transportation bill," Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Chair Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-DC, said on a call with reporters. The bill would also provide funding to Complete Streets programs in a bid to enhance street safety, and would provide $250 million in grants to encourage local governments to innovate and cut congestion. The bill is expected to be marked up in committee in two weeks, then hit the House floor for a vote in early July. But Republicans on the committee are unconvinced by the plan, calling it "partisan" and saying it would add uncertainty to transportation given the disruption of COVID-19, among other problems. "[T]oday's partisan bill lacks critical flexibility for the states, its outsized funding increases for urban areas will leave rural America even further behind, and numerous new green mandates and extreme progressive goals are woven throughout the fabric of new and existing core programs," Republican committee and subcommittee leaders wrote in a joint statement.

Protests About Police Brutality Are Met With Wave of Police Brutality Across US  - The nationwide anti-police brutality protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in the US have been marked by widespread incidents of police violence, including punching, kicking, gassing, pepper-spraying and driving vehicles at often peaceful protesters in states across the country. The actions have left thousands of protesters in jail and injured many others, leaving some with life-threatening injuries. From Minnesota to New York, Texas, California, Washington DC and many places beyond, from small towns to big cities, police officers have demonstrated just how problematic law enforcement is in the US, drawing condemnation from international groups as well as domestic civil rights organizations. The International Crisis Group, which monitors unrest around the world, said the police had used “excessive force”. The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, said: “All police officers who resort to excessive use of force should be charged and convicted for the crimes committed.” Numerous incidents of police violence have been exposed in disturbing videos and press accounts in recent days, with little sign that police are adjusting their tactics. New York City alone has seen numerous incidents. On Saturday 30 May, officers in a police SUV drove at a crowd of protesters in Brooklyn, knocking several to the ground. A day earlier, a police officer was caught on camera violently shoving a woman to the ground during a demonstration. The woman, Dounya Zayer, was taken to hospital and said she suffered a seizure and concussion.At another New York protest, an officer yanked a facemask from an African American man who was standing with his hands in the air, then pepper-sprayed him in the face. In Buffalo, in western New York state, two officers shoved a 75-year-old man to the ground. A video showed the man hitting his head on the ground, causing his blood to spill on the sidewalk. He is now gravely ill in hospital. On Thursday, a video posted to Twitter showed a group of police beating peaceful protesters in Philadelphia. One officer is seen using a baton to hit a man on the head, before he and another officer pin him to the ground.

Trump got into a shouting match with a top Pentagon official after demanding 10,000 troops be deployed to the streets of Washington DC -- Trump demanded that 10,000 soldiers be deployed to the streets of Washington DC to quell anti-racism protests, according to multiple reports.  However top Pentagon officials Mark Esper, the defense secretary, and Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Attorney General Bill Barr, all resisted the request, a top administration official told ABC News. Milley was involved in a "shouting match" with the president over the request, a senior military official told the New Yorker, telling Trump, "I'm not doing that. That's for law enforcement." The president eventually backed down. The White House disputed the account. Chief of staff Mark Meadows told the publication, "there was no shouting match, in terms of any directions or any operational decision that was made." In the end, 1,600 active-duty troops were deployed on standby in the US capital, and 5,100 National Guard troops mobilized to reinforce DC police, Parks Police, and the US Secret Service during the protests.  The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reports.

The Story Behind Bill Barr’s Unmarked Federal Agents - Few sights from the nation’s protests in recent days have seemed more dystopian than the appearance of rows of heavily-armed riot police around Washington in drab military-style uniforms with no insignia, identifying emblems or name badges. Many of the apparently federal agents have refused to identify which agency they work for. The images of such military-style men in America’s capital are disconcerting, in part, because absent identifying signs of actual authority the rows of federal officers appear all-but indistinguishable from the open-carrying, white militia members cosplaying as survivalists who have gathered in other recent protests against pandemic stay-at-home orders. To understand the police forces ringing Trump and the White House it helps to understand the dense and not-entirely-sensical thicket of agencies that make up the nation’s civilian federal law enforcement. With little public attention, notice and amid historically lax oversight, those ranks have surged since 9/11—growing by roughly 2,500 officers annually every year since 2000. To put it another way: Every year since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the federal government has added to its policing ranks a force larger than the entire Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.Nearly all of these agencies are headquartered in and around the capital, making it easy for Attorney General William Barr to enlist them as part of his vast effort to “flood the zone” in D.C. this week with what amounts to a federal army of occupation, overseen from the FBI Washington area command post in Chinatown. Battalions of agents were mustered in the lobby of Customs and Border Protection’s D.C. headquarters—what in normal times is the path to a food court for federal workers. The Drug Enforcement Administration has been given special powers to enable it to surveil protesters. It is the heaviest show of force in the nation’s capital since the protests and riots of the Vietnam War.As large as the public show of force on D.C.’s streets has turned out to be—Bloomberg reported Thursday that the force includes nearly 3,000 law enforcement—it still represents only a tiny sliver of the government’s armed agents and officers. The government counts up its law enforcement personnel only every eight years, and all told, at last count in 2016, the federal government employed over 132,000 civilian law enforcement officers—only about half of which come from the major “brand name” agencies like the FBI, ATF, Secret Service, DEA and CBP.

Defiant Washington DC mayor has ‘Black Lives Matter’ painted on street near White House - The mayor of Washington, DC, had the slogan "Black Lives Matter" painted in massive yellow letters on a street leading to the White House on Friday in tribute to victims of police brutality as she sparred with US President Donald Trump.  Mayor Muriel Bowser's defiant message came as tensions remained high across the nation over the death of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis police custody nearly two weeks ago, prompting political leaders in that city and elsewhere to announce new restrictions on law enforcement.  Bowser and Trump, a Republican, are at odds over the president's use of federal law enforcement agencies and military police to put down demonstrations. US Park Police fired smoke grenades and chemical irritant "pepper balls" to break up a protest on Monday night so Trump could walk from the White House to a nearby church for a photo opportunity.  "We want troops from out-of-state, out of Washington, DC," Bowser, who has called for the District of Columbia to be granted US statehood, told reporters on Thursday.  The city also installed a street sign for "Black Lives Matter Plaza" at the intersection of H and 16th Streets.  "The incompetent Mayor of Washington, DC, @MayorBowser, who's budget is totally out of control and is constantly coming back to us for 'handouts', is now fighting with the National Guard, who saved her from great embarrassment," Trump responded on Twitter. "If she doesn't treat these men and women well, then we'll bring in a different group of men and women!"

Trump claims 75-year-old man shoved by Buffalo police could be part of 'set up' - President Trump on Tuesday shared an unfounded conspiracy theory that an incident in which an elderly man was pushed to the ground by police in Buffalo, N.Y., during a protest over the police killing of George Floyd could be a "set up." The president cited right-wing One America News Network (OANN) in making the incendiary claim, which comes amid a national debate over police brutality. "Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment," Trump tweeted, appearing to refer to a report on OANN. "I watched, he fell harder than was pushed," the president added. "Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?" Two Buffalo police officers were charged with assault after video went viral of them shoving Gugino after he approached them during the protest. The 75-year-old staggered and fell backward, hitting his head on the concrete and lying motionless as blood pooled on the sidewalk and the officers walked away. The department originally claimed Gugino "tripped and fell." The officers, Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe, have pleaded not guilty in the incident. Gugino is still in the hospital. The president's tweet was widely condemned by Democrats, including those in New York. "He should apologize for that tweet," Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said at a news conference, calling the president's comments "reprehensible" and "dumb."

"Gasoline Is Awfully Cheap": Police Action Against 'Ace Burns' Raises Free-Speech Concerns - We have often discussed how advocating for free speech often places us in troubling company.  Those who are targeted for arrest are often the loudest and most obnoxious among us.  Ace Burns is one of those people.  Burns, 34, whose real name is Israel Burns,, is the self-proclaimed leader of the “FTP movement (which he defined in various ways including “Fire To Property”). Burns was taken into the police station after eluding to the possibility that the Diamond District in New York would be burned to the ground.  It is a prototypical violent speech case and, as many on this blog will not be surprised to read, I believe it raises a serious concern for free speech. Ironically, we previously discussed the issue of violent speech in a column where I argued against charging Michael Brown’s stepfather during the Ferguson rioting.Burns told a reporter with Fox News “You know I’m a leader of this ‘FTP’ movement. It means a lot of things. It can mean free the people, it can mean for the people, it can also mean ‘fire to property.’ You know that’s very possible … Today, I’m giving a demonstration from Barclay’s Center at 6 p.m. to City Hall, and that’s the first stop — and we’re hoping [Mayor] De Blasio and [Gov.] Cuomo come out and talk to us and give the youth some direction. But if they don’t, then [the] next stop is the Diamond District,” he said, referring to a block on Manhattan’s 47th Street known for jewelry shops. “And gasoline, thanks to Trump, is awfully cheap. So, we’re giving them a chance right now to do the right thing.” The police responded by saying that they searched for the man in the interview and “took him in.” It was then reported Burns, 34, whose real name is Israel Burns, has been charged with one count each of making terroristic threats, aggravated harassment, and false reporting. The case raises the issue of violent speech, a controversial area of prosecution.  I do not believe that these comments would satisfy the standard established by the Supreme Court in 1969 in Brandenburg v. Ohio as advocating imminent violence. Violent speech is protected under the Constitution absent such a threat of imminent violence. I have previously written about the dangerous line of criminalizing speech. I currently have a case in the federal court on this issue in United States v. Al-Timimi. The Burns case is reminiscent of Watts v. United States, where the defendant spoke at a rally against the military draft and said, “If they ever make me carry a rifle, the first man I want to get in my sights is L.B.J.”  He was prosecuted under a federal statute that prohibited “any threat to take the life of or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States.” The Supreme Court overturned the conviction and held that the words were not a “true ‘threat” but “political hyperbole.”

Stephen Miller’s Racist Fix for Race Relations - Sandwichman - Word is circulating that Stephen Miller is writing Donald Trump’s speech on race relations. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Trump’s “solution” to the current malaise in the U.S. will involve extending a ban on immigration and expanding enforcement and expulsion of undocumented individuals. This seems like a safe bet to me because Miller really is a one-trick pony and Trump relishes rehashing his greatest hits. Maybe Miller will toss in some “enterprise zones” or other ornamental trivia but the meat will be anti-immigration.The playbook for this will be Miller’s Immigration Handbook for a New Republican Majority that he wrote for Jeff Sessions in 2015. Footnote 21 of that handbook states that, “Amnesty and uncontrolled immigration disproportionately harms African-American workers, and has been described by U.S. Civil Rights Commission member Peter Kirsanow as a ‘disaster.'” The handbook also cites a poll commissioned by Kellyanne \Conway, one finding of which was that “86% of black voters and 71% of Hispanic voters said companies should raise wages and improve working conditions instead of increasing immigration.”Two years ago, I posted a couple of pieces discussing Miller’s handbook in more detail: The Lump That Begot Trump and Goebbels or Gompers?: A Closer Look at Stephen Miller’s Immigration Manifesto. I hope these pieces provide some insight into just how dangerous and effective Miller’s and Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric can be, especially given the hypocrisy of neo-liberal promotion of immigration as exemplified by Tony Blair’s and Gerhard Schroeder’s “Third Way” advocating “a new supply-side agenda for the left“. To put it bluntly, “Third Way” immigration policy was intended to create jobs by keeping wages low through an abundant supply of labor. The transfer of income from the working class to the wealthy would provide ample funds for “investment.”In short, Miller’s and Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is dangerous and effective because Blair and Schroeder (and Clinton and Obama) enacted right-wing, supply-side economic policies in the name of “the [‘responsible’] left.”

The Democratic Party Exists to Co-Opt and Kill Movements -- Caitlin Johnstone – In the Samuel Beckett play Waiting for Godot, one of the two main characters suggest leaving, the other agrees, followed by the stage direction that both remain motionless until curtain.  This is also the entire role of the Democratic Party. To enthusiastically agree with American support for movements calling for real changes which benefit ordinary people, while making no actual moves to provide no such changes. The actors read the lines, but remain motionless.  Barack Obama made a whole political career out of this. People elected him because he promised hope and change, then for eight years whenever hopeful people demanded changes he’d say “Yes, we all need to get together and have a conversation about that”, express sympathy and give a moving speech, and then nothing would happen. The actors remain motionless, and Godot never comes.  Democratic Party leaders are currently under fire for staging a ridiculous performative display of sympathy for George Floyd by kneeling for eight minutes while wearing Kente cloth, a traditional African textile. The streets of America are filled with protesters demanding a total overhaul of the nation’s entire approach to policing. The Democratic Party’s response is to put on a children’s play using black culture as a prop, and advance a toothless reform bill whose approach we’ve already established is worthless which will actually increase funding to police departments. Meanwhile it’s blue states with Democratic governors and cities with Democratic mayors where the bulk of the police brutality people are objecting to is occurring. The Democrats are going out of their way to spin police brutality as the result of Trump’s presidency, but facts in evidence say America’s violent and increasingly militarized police force would be a problem if every seat in every office in America were blue.I don’t know what will happen with these protests. I don’t know if the demonstrators will get anything like the changes they are pushing for, or if their movement will be stopped in its tracks. What I do know is that if it is stopped, it will be because of Democrats and their allies.

Trump officials to roll back LGBTQ protections - The Trump administration will scrap ObamaCare's nondiscrimination protections for sex and gender identity under a final rule released Friday. In a statement, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said the government's interpretation of sex discrimination will be based on "the plain meaning of the word 'sex' as male or female and as determined by biology." According to HHS, the new policy makes clear that "the substantive protections prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, and sex remain in effect." The move was announced amid Pride Month but has been long-anticipated by religious providers, who argue the administration needs to reinforce their right not to provide treatment that is against their beliefs. The administration has been working on the rule for well over a year. Advocates and health groups said the policy will make it easier for doctors, hospitals and insurance companies to deny care or coverage to transgender and nonbinary patients, as well as women who have had abortions. "HHS respects the dignity of every human being, and as we have shown in our response to the pandemic, we vigorously protect and enforce the civil rights of all to the fullest extent permitted by our laws as passed by Congress," said Roger Severino, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights. The administration has argued that removing the protections, based on Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, is largely moot because a federal judge in Texas vacated much of the rule last year. The Obama-era rule made it illegal for doctors, hospitals and other health care workers to deny care to someone whose sexual orientation or gender identity they disapproved of. The Obama administration did this by expanding the health law's definition of sex discrimination to include gender identity for the first time, but those expansions were blocked by a federal judge in 2016. The Trump administration has worked to weaken the rules before they could take effect. The Trump administration’s rule is wide-ranging and goes beyond the Obama-era protections by rolling back nondiscrimination protections contained in other health provisions as well. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the rule removes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 10 existing regulations.

Susan Collins vows to overturn Trump rule rolling back LGBT patients' protections - Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced Saturday she would work to overturn Trump Administration's new rule rolling back LGBT patients' protections in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). "The Trump Administration's decision to eliminate protections for transgender patients is simply wrong. I'll work to overturn this discriminatory policy," Collins tweeted. The announcement comes one day after the the administration said it would abandon Obama Adminstration nondiscrimination protections for the LGBT community under the Affordable Care Act. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a statement Friday announcing the government's interpretation of sex discrimination would be based on "the plain meaning of the word 'sex' as male or female and as determined by biology." Health groups and LGBT advocates alike have said the latest interpretation to the discrimination policy would make it easier for hospitals, doctors and insurance companies to deny healthcare coverage to transgender and nonbinary patients, as well as women who have had abortions. Collins's statement comes as the veteran senator, who has held her office since 1997, prepares for what is probably the most enduring reelection campaign of her career. According to RealClearPolitics, her Democratic opponent, state House Speaker Sara Gideon, is running neck-and-neck with Collins in the polls. Collins has received harsh criticism in 2018 after the moderate lawmaker voted to confirm then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. The incumbent senator has also faced significant criticism for her vote to acquit the president during the Senate impeachment trial earlier this year.

America's billionaire wealth jumps by over half a trillion during COVID-19 pandemic: report (Reuters) - The combined wealth of America's billionaires, including Inc founder Jeff Bezos and Facebook Inc CEO Mark Zuckerberg, jumped over 19% or by half a trillion since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, according to a report published by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). During the 11 weeks from March 18, when U.S. lockdowns started, the wealth of America's richest people surged by over $565 billion, while 42.6 million workers filed for unemployment, the report said. "These statistics remind us that we are more economically and racially divided than at any time in decades," said Chuck Collins, a co-author of the report. During the 11 week period, Bezos saw his wealth soar by about $36.2 billion while Zuckerberg's fortune surged by about $30.1 billion. Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) Chief Executive Elon Musk's net worth also rose $14.1 billion. The past week also saw the wealth of U.S. billionaires jump by $79 billion, according to the report.

‘Banks are the infrastructure’: OCC leader on pandemic, recovery, CRA - — Brian Brooks was handed the leadership baton at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency at a time when banks grapple with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, and the nation as a whole tries to deal with its racial divisions.One of Brooks’s first actions as acting comptroller was sending a letter to mayors and governors warning them about the risks that “essentially indefinite” lockdowns — intended to combat the spread of the pandemic — could have on the economy and in turn national banks. The move drew a rebuke from House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters.In an interview with American Banker, Brooks described how the national banking system as well as policies such as reforming the Community Reinvestment Act can be forces for good during such a tumultuous time.“Banks are the infrastructure the rest of society is built on, and we need them to be strong and sound and do that work,” said Brooks, who has spent time as a banker as well as the top lawyer at Coinbase and Fannie Mae.Brooks discussed some of his ambitious plans for the agency in the months ahead, including his intent to defend the OCC’s authority to issue bank charters for fintechs. “At the OCC, our main job — and a job that only we have — is to charter banks. The OCC has, historically, been a statutorily authorized agency to say what a bank is for any given generation,” Brooks said. “We understand absolutely where we have to collaborate with the other agencies. But we also know there's a certain role that only we play, and that is determining what a bank is in any given generation.”Brooks also reflected on the death of George Floyd, which has sparked nationwide protests over policing policies and racial inequities. The acting comptroller argued that the OCC’s now-finalized plan to reform the Community Reinvestment Act could be a critical component of expanding access to the banking system to people who have been historically denied it.“There are different views of the Community Reinvestment Act,” Brooks said. “But I do think that people of goodwill can agree that if there's one thing that the George Floyd tragedy teaches us is that not enough people have had enough access to the system that have made others of us better off, and we have to unblock those opportunities.”The following is from a conversation with Brooks that has been edited for length and clarity.

Fed sets date for release of 2020 stress tests, COVID-19 analyses— The Federal Reserve announced Tuesday it will publish the results from both of its annual stress tests June 25, as well as supplemental analyses to assess bank capital under different coronavirus-related scenarios.Thirty-four banks — each with more than $100 billion of assets — are subject to the Fed’s Dodd-Frank Act stress tests and Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review examinations this year. Unlike in previous years, the Fed will publish the results from both tests simultaneously. Banks subject to the stress tests are required to submit data from their balance sheets as of yearend 2019. The Fed tests those balance sheets against baseline and severely adverse scenarios. However, many have already discounted this year’s stress tests, noting that the current economic shock that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic is in many cases worse than the Fed’s hypothetical severely adverse scenario. Banks’ balance sheets are likely to have changed substantially since the end of 2019, before the onset of the coronavirus. But the Fed had said previously it would conduct “sensitivity analyses” to examine banks' responses to the pandemic. That addendum will consist of “alternative scenarios and certain adjustments to portfolios to credibly reflect current economic and banking conditions.”Under normal circumstances, the standard stress test results dictate a firm’s planned capital distributions for the year. Some have speculated that the Fed could use the supplemental sensitivity analyses to inform decisions on capital distributions.

 How long will banks have to keep padding loan-loss reserves? - Credit-related costs could weigh on banks’ bottom lines into at least early next year.That was one of the key takeaways from banker presentations at a virtual investor conference hosted by Morgan Stanley this week.Banks set aside billions in loan-loss provisions in the first quarter to cushion the economic blow dealt by the coronavirus pandemic. With the end of the second quarter less than three weeks away, executives warned that the buildup isn’t over. “Fundamentally, our credit remains sound. However the economic outlook has deteriorated since quarter-end and remains highly uncertain,” Huntington Bancshares Chief Financial Officer Zach Wasserman said Wednesday. “This will result in elevated provisioning and additional reserve building in the second quarter and most likely for the next few quarters.” Investors got the message. Huntington shares dropped more than 5% on Wednesday, a day when the overall market was off about 1%. Shares of Wells Fargo fell nearly 9%, and U.S. Bancorp’s declined 6.6%, after they issued similar outlooks.Despite a rosier than expected unemployment report for May and the reopening of local economies around the U.S., internal forecasts that banks are using to map out the rest of the year are still indicating trouble ahead, said Brian Klock, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.“The cadence has been that the second quarter will be the high water mark” for provisions, Klock said in an interview.Yet banks are expected to continue tacking on provisions even into 2021 as the economy tries to pull out of this monthslong standstill. Banks may not start taking off reserves until 2022, Klock said. Klock added that loan charge-offs are expected to peak in the fourth quarter when forbearance periods granted in recent months run out and emergency loans to small businesses come due. Throw in the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 cases this fall, and predictions for how much a bank will ultimately need to guard against potential losses become little more than a guessing game.

 Banks urged to foster rise of minority-owned businesses - After more than a week of national unrest over racial injustice and inequities, a Boston bank convened a panel of civil rights leaders to brainstorm ways banks can foster economic opportunity. The discussion, organized by Berkshire Bank, centered on how banks in combination with other private-sector and public-sector players can close the gap in wealth between the black and white communities. Lenders were urged to focus on providing greater access to capital for minority business owners and helping them weather the coronavirus pandemic. “When we looked at the wealth gap, we found a couple ways families get on that ladder: home equity, homeownership and business ownership,” said Malia Lazu, Berkshire’s chief culture and experience officer. “How do we grow capital in order to support minority businesses, in order to think about homeownership? One leads to the other.” As if on cue, U.S. Bancorp in Minneapolis — the epicenter of nationwide demonstrations that in some instances turned violent — on Friday pledged $116 million to address racial inequality in its markets, including $100 in new capital for black-owned businesses. Bankers have begun to speak out on their industry’s role in perpetuating systemic racism and inequality. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon recently said that the virus should be a “wake-up call” to address economic inequalities. Bank of America on Tuesday announced a $1 billion commitment to communities of color suffering disproportionately from the pandemic. The wealth gap between white and African American households in the United States means that black people have vastly fewer resources to call upon when trying to start a business. To help solve that problem, the $13.2 billion-asset Berkshire worked with the nonprofit Runway Project to launch a Friends and Family loan pilot program to help jump-start minority entrepreneurship. The new loan program was just one topic of discussion on Thursday at a virtual town hall event hosted by the bank. Lazu initially organized the panels — “Reimagining the Black Economy” on Thursday and “Reimagining the Latinx Economy” on Friday — out of a concern for the fate of minority-owned small businesses in a post-COVID-19 world. U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat from Massachusetts, was originally slated to join the discussion but had to miss it to attend a memorial for Floyd. In a prerecorded video message, Pressley discussed a bill she introduced Wednesday along with Sen. Maxine Waters, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee. The Saving Our Streets Act is meant to address the issue of the inability of minority-owned businesses, many of them microbusinesses, to get equal access to Paycheck Protection Program loans. It would establish a grant fund for businesses with less than 10 employees, with three-quarters of the funds reserved for historically underrepresented businesses.

 Digital banking's explosive growth compounds cyber risks, FBI warns - A new FBI reminder about an old cyber threat should be a code red for bankers: With so many newcomers to mobile banking, financial institutions need to protect customers from unwittingly downloading malicious apps. To be sure, hackers have long tried to trick consumers into downloading trojans hidden in fake banking or gaming apps in order to steal their usernames and passwords to online banking services. But the FBI, in issuing a warning to the public about such attacks this week, argued they could skyrocket along with what it says has been a 50% increase in mobile banking since the coronavirus pandemic began. “As the public increases its use of mobile banking apps, partially due to increased time at home, the FBI anticipates cyber actors will exploit these platforms,” the warning said. Rick Cooney, director of fraud strategy at Axcess Financial, a financial services provider that owns Check ‘n Go check cashing stores, agreed with that prediction. “A lot of the people who are moving toward more mobile banking weren't early adopters of it, obviously,” said Cooney, who previously managed anti-fraud efforts at Citibank and Synchrony Financial. “So they may not be quite as sophisticated as the folks who have been doing it for years. In that kind of environment, it's more likely you will have an increased number of victims to those types of scams.” The FBI did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment for this article. Others questioned whether the FBI should be focused on other schemes, such as efforts to intercept people’s stimulus checks or unemployment insurance payments. “It's not that the conditions aren't really ripe for fraudsters to increase their attacks in the post-pandemic world — it's more, how they would do it,” said Trace Fooshee, senior analyst at Aite Group. “We certainly have seen increases in phishing attacks, and there’s no shortage of bot attacks and human farm attacks. I have not yet heard of increases in trojans or fake apps.” Still, the FBI’s warnings are useful. It's never a good idea to allow malware onto a device that could harvest mobile banking credentials.

Are banks doing enough to fight unemployment benefit fraud? - When state governments began expanding unemployment benefits for people affected by the coronavirus quarantine in March, fraudsters quickly got to work trying to steal the aid.About 10% of unemployment insurance payments are improper under the best of times, “and we are in the worst of times,” Scott Dahl, the inspector general for the U.S. Labor Department, told the House subcommittee on government operations on June 1. Dahl estimated that at least $26 billion in benefits could be wasted, most of it going to scammers pretending to be deserving citizens who lost their jobs. Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Washington and Wyoming have all been hit with unemployment fraud, according to the security research firm Agari. The state of Washington has been hit the hardest. On Thursday, state officials said they had clawed back about $333 million of the estimated $550 million to $650 million made to fraudsters. Banks and prepaid card providers are said to be unwitting participants in the phony transactions. Unemployment insurance is deposited in bank and prepaid accounts set up by money mules who, knowingingly or not, are helping the scammers.One of the big questions is: Are banks doing enough to stop this from happening?  Agari says it first discovered Scattered Canary, which it describes as a West African-based fraud ring behind most recent unemployment fraud, when the group impersonated a senior Agari executive in an email to the firm's chief financial officer and tried to trick him into sending a wire transfer. This type of email attack, which is called business email compromise, is a specialty of the group.Scattered Canary typically assumes the identities of people who are still employed and therefore won’t notice that they’re not receiving unemployment benefits, and apply for unemployment insurance in their name. The fraudsters obtain the basic information they need to apply in three ways:

  • They sometimes buy it on the dark web, where the ill-gotten gains of past data breaches are available for sale.
  • They conduct business email compromise campaigns in which they send a convincing email that appears to be from a colleague asking for information.
  • And they seek tax-filing-related data, impersonating a high-ranking executive such as the CEO of a company in an email asking employees to provide their W-2 documents immediately. Sometimes they simply look up public records to get the information they need.

Once a state government has accepted their applications, the fraudsters arrange to have the unemployment pay deposited into an account they’ve set up or more likely, that of a money mule they’ve recruited. Sometimes they get people to act as mules through a romance scam, in which they pretend to be a love interest. In some cases, the mules are allowed to keep 10% or 20% of the proceeds.  One victim realized her identity had been used to file for unemployment benefits in mid-May when her state government sent her a request to verify her identity. That same day, she received prepaid cards from Netspend and GreenDot in the mail. She realized that fraudsters had concurrently opened up prepaid accounts in her name with Netspend and Green Dot and immediately reported the fraud to both companies and the government. The fraudsters probably planned to use virtual card numbers issued by the companies to collect the money, but they used the target’s actual address in their application. If they had thought it through, they probably would have provided a post office box.

 As PPP deadline approaches, a few lenders make a final push - As most banks and credit unions shift focus from making Paycheck Protection Program loans to having them forgiven, a few lenders continue aggressively pursuing new originations. The number of loans made under the program has increased just 4.6% since May 16, to about 4.5 million, while aggregate volume is down slightly after some earlier loans were returned. About $131 billion in PPP funding remains, according to the Small Business Administration. Against that backdrop, lenders like Customers Bancorp in Wyomissing, Pa.; Cross River Bank in Fort Lee, N.J.; and Fountainhead Capital in Lake Mary, Fla., are still looking to make as many loans as possible before the looming June 30 deadline for applications.   Fountainhead, a nonbank lender, is turning a small profit on its originations at a time when demand for traditional SBA loans is tepid, said CEO Chris Hurn. “It’s definitely the big game in town,” Hurn said. Active participation represents a change of heart for Hurn, who was sharply critical of the program’s initial rollout. He said the process has become smoother during PPP’s second phase. “It definitely got off to a rocky start, but round two has been better,” Hurn said. Fountainhead is on pace to make about 2,500 program loans by the time the program’s origination window closes. It has purchased another 2,500 loans from other PPP lenders. “The play for us is to buy them at a discount, then bet that the forgiveness process will be less cumbersome,” Hurn said. “We’re comfortable with the asset. I’m not crazy about the [1%] interest rate, but with the cost of funds as low as it is [borrowing through the Federal Reserve’s Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility], I’ve got a positive rate of carry. We’re making a little money.” Lenders caught a few breaks last week when a newly enacted law allowed for more non-payroll-related spending and expanded the covered period for forgiveness from eight to 24 weeks. The $12 billion-asset Customers has made more than 80,000 Paycheck Protection loans. Its originations jumped from $380 million in the program’s first round to more than $4.6 billion in the second phase.The Paycheck Protection Program was included in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus program that was signed into law March 27. Small businesses with 500 or fewer employees can borrow up to $10 million.

Why 'Frankenstein' fraud costs U.S. companies over $6 billion a year - SectorWatch - Synthetic identity theft, also known as 'Frankenstein' identity fraud, is on the rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Using manipulated information, cybercriminals can now create synthetic identities that are more difficult to trace. Here's what you need to know.

Hertz Wins Court Approval To Sell Worthless Stock In World's First Initial Bankruptcy Offering - This is how fucked up our financial reality is: on Monday, when the market hit its absolute blow off top phase and Robinhooders sent the stock of bankrupt Hertz as high as $6.25, resulting in a market cap of just under $900 million, we joked that "we hope the company sells a few hundred million worth of stock - after all there is apparently endless demand for its shares - just so we can test the so-called "price discovery" of Powell's latest and greatest FOMO bubble."Just five days later this absurdity is now fact.Bringing us one stop closer to what we called "The Most Absurd Moment In The History Of Capital Markets", Hertz just won bankruptcy court approval to sell (or at least try) up to $1 billion in worthless stock to maniac daytraders. Not even Enron tried this.  As Bloomberg reports, Judge Mary Walrath ruled that Hertz can go ahead with the offering, which we reported last night, could take in as much as $1 billion according to underwriter Jefferies. And kudos to Jefferies: with the company set to receive 3% on the offering, if the bank finds enough Robinhood teenagers to sell the full billion, it will make $30 million from selling worthless garbage to idiots.  There is still some chance that the SEC will stop this travesty, especially after the company told the court it would warn buyers that "the common stock could ultimately be worthless", although we wouldn't hold our breath.

 House Democrats launch bid to overturn OCC's CRA rule— House Democrats introduced a resolution to throw out a rule by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency reforming the Community Reinvestment Act, escalating their fight with the agency over the anti-redlining law. “The Community Reinvestment Act is an essential law that was put in place to prevent redlining and to require banks to invest and lend responsibly in the communities where they are chartered,” House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters said in a press release.Yet the resolution announced late Thursday is a largely symbolic gesture in the current political environment. Lawmakers have the ability to overturn recent regulations under the Congressional Review Act, but any measure blocking a rule requires a majority vote from both chambers of Congress as well as a presidential signature. The Trump administration and GOP-run Senate are unlikely to back the resolution. Still, Waters objected to the OCC's reforms, which were finalized in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. “It is completely unacceptable for the OCC to use the cover of a pandemic to rush out a rule that will be harmful to communities that are already suffering during this crisis,” she said. “This resolution we introduced today will right that wrong.”The OCC, led by former Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting, finalized its reform of the Community Reinvestment Act in late May, capping off a contentious rulemaking process that often came under scrutiny from Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee.With the 2020 election just months away, Thursday’s resolution could still be a warning shot should Democrats win the White House, and the new administration appoints regulators who attempt to write a new CRA rule. The current rule, meanwhile, is subject to a Congressional Review Act challenge within 60 legislative days of the rule’s publication.

GSE capital plan would make buying a home more expensive, critics say — Housing experts are increasingly concerned that the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s new proposal to require ample amounts of more capital for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could make it harder to own a home. The plan released last month, which came after the FHFA had shelved a prior capital proposal drafted under the agency's former leadership, would go into effect whenever the two government-sponsored enterprises are released from their federal conservatorship. It would require the GSEs to hold more than $234 billion combined in capital — over five times the amount they are currently allowed to hold. But some critics say that jump in capital combined with added costs imposed on the companies for transferring some of their credit risk could undermine the GSEs' goal of preserving affordable homeownership. Depending on when the plan were to go into effect, some suggested it would help prolong the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. “I'm concerned it's an ideological assault on the housing economy, and it will result in extending the recession significantly,” said David Dworkin, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference. “Housing has been a historic component of post-recession recovery and this rule makes that impossible.” Many see the proposed capital framework as effectively raising guarantee fees, which the GSEs charge lenders in order to cover potential losses and administrative costs. Lenders usually pass on the cost of guarantee fees to the borrower. “G-fees would definitely have to rise,” said David Stevens, CEO of Mountain Lake Consulting and a former commissioner of the Federal Housing Administration, on an investor conference call with Capital Alpha. “I think we would come up with this very steep curve that would hurt first-time homebuyers.” Mike Calhoun, the president of the Center for Responsible Lending, estimated that the proposal would translate into an increase in guarantee fees by 15 or 20 basis points, or a 30-40% increase in mortgage costs for borrowers.

MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Increases to 8.53%" of Portfolio Volume - Note: To put these numbers in perspective, the MBA notes "For the week of March 2, only 0.25% of all loans were in forbearance."  From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Increases to 8.53%: The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance increased from 8.46% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 8.53% as of May 31, 2020. According to MBA’s estimate, almost 4.3 million homeowners are now in forbearance plans....  “The overall share of loans in forbearance increased by only 7 basis points compared to the prior week. With the job market beginning to gradually improve, more homeowners are exiting forbearance, and we are seeing declines in forbearance volume among some servicers,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “However, this week’s findings did reveal divergence among servicers. The share of loans in forbearance decreased for depository servicers but continued to increase for IMBs.”  Added Fratantoni, “While servicers reported only a 1-basis-point increase in the forbearance share for GSE and Ginnie Mae loans, the increase for private-label securities and portfolio loans rose to over 10 percent, which is higher than the rate on GSE loans.” The MBA notes: "Forbearance requests as a percent of servicing portfolio volume (#) dropped across all investor types for the eighth consecutive week relative to the prior week: from 0.20% to 0.17%."

What happens to struggling homeowners when CARES Act relief ends?— Congress tried to address the immediate financial hit of the coronavirus on homeowners when it passed a sweeping $2 trillion stimulus package in March, but lawmakers are increasingly focused on the potential economic burdens facing mortgage borrowers when many of the legislative provisions expire as early as July.A Senate Banking Committee hearing Tuesday with two housing policymakers focused in part on what happens to borrowers when relief such as loan forbearance plans and enhanced unemployment compensation end."We have to extend unemployment compensation, because many of the people who are still paying [their loans back] are doing so only because they're getting enhanced unemployment compensation,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stability Act added $600 a week for unemployment insurance, provided homeowners with a 60-day foreclosure moratorium on federally backed properties, froze evictions of for 120 days on federally backed multifamily properties, and allowed borrowers with a government-backed mortgage to request up to 12 months of forbearance if they have encountered financial hardship because of COVID-19. Lawmakers grilled Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on the possibility of an imminent housing cliff approaching in August, with fear evident on both sides of the aisle but no clear consensus about what comes next. “We have already seen a huge number of mortgage borrowers enter forbearance, while many landlords are struggling to make ends meet, and countless renters are unsure whether they will be able to make their next payment,” said committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho. While Calabria and Carson spoke positively about the performance of the housing market during the pandemic thus far, the two also underscored the uncertainties going forward and hesitated to give an “all clear.” “It's obviously going to be very important for us to monitor the situation, see how much recovery is going on, and obviously we are not going to sit idly by and watch millions of Americans suffer for something that's not their fault,” Carson said. The CARES Act did not specify how or when borrowers would make skipped payments after a forbearance period ends, but numerous agencies and some servicers have suggested homeowners can wait the whole the life of the loan.

Black Knight: Number of Homeowners in COVID-19-Related Forbearance Plans Declines Slightly for the second consecutive week - Note: Both Black Knight and the MBA (Mortgage Bankers Association) are putting out weekly estimates of mortgages in forbearance. From Black Knight: The number of homeowners in active forbearance on their mortgages fell for the second consecutive week. Overall, the number of active forbearance plans is down 77K from last week, and 112K from the peak the week of May 22. As of June 9, 4.66 million homeowners remain in forbearance plans, representing 8.8% of all active mortgages, down from 8.9% last week. Together, the 4.66M represent just over $1 trillion in unpaid principal ($1,028B). Some 7% of all GSE-backed loans and 12.2% of all FHA/VA loans are currently in forbearance plans. GSE loans saw the greatest reduction, with forbearances falling by 47K week-over-week, but decreases were seen across all investor classes – as compared to last week, which saw a decline among government-backed mortgages partially offset by a rise in portfolio and PLS mortgages.

Black Knight Mortgage Monitor for April - Black Knight released their Mortgage Monitor report for April today. According to Black Knight, 6.45% of mortgages were delinquent in April, up from 3.47% in April 2019. Black Knight also reported that 0.40% of mortgages were in the foreclosure process, down from 0.50% a year ago.  This gives a total of 6.85% delinquent or in foreclosure.Press Release: Black Knight: Just One in 10 Homeowners in Forbearance Hold 10% or Less Equity in Their Homes; Share Much Higher Among FHA/VA Loans  As Black Knight reported on June 5, forbearance volumes fell for the first time since the crisis began between May 26 and June 2. As Black Knight Data & Analytics President Ben Graboske explained, the focus of industry participants – especially servicers and mortgage investors – must now shift from pipeline growth to pipeline management and downstream performance of loans in forbearance.  The good news is that equity positions among homeowners in forbearance are by and large strong. Nearly 80% of homeowners in active forbearance have 20% or more equity in their homes, providing homeowners, servicers and regulators with options for helping to avoid downstream foreclosure activity and default-related losses. Just 9% have 10% or less equity – typically enough to cover the cost of a sale of a property – with another 1% underwater on their mortgages. Of course, this leaves a population of nearly half a million homeowners who may lack the necessary equity to sell their homes to avoid foreclosure in a worst-case scenario. Just 22% of those in forbearance as of May 26 have made their May payment, signaling another rise in the national delinquency rate is likely to be reflected in May’s data. With expanded unemployment benefits set to end on July 31, it remains to be seen what impact that may have on both forbearance requests and overall delinquencies.” Here is a graph from the Mortgage Monitor that shows the National Delinquency Rate. From Black Knight:

• Just three months after hitting a record low in January 2020, the national delinquency rate is now at its highest level since 2013
• After falling more than 1.5% below its pre-Great Recession average in early 2020, the national delinquency rate is now 2.25% above that benchmark and may be poised to climb higher in May
• April's rise - the largest single-month increase on record - was nearly 3X the previous record from November 2008, during the heart of the Great Recession
• During the Great Recession, it took more than two years for the national delinquency rate to increase by the 3.1% seen in April 2020 alone
The second graph shows the number of active forbearance plans:

 CoreLogic: 1.8 Million Homes with Negative Equity in Q1 2020 --From CoreLogic: CoreLogic Reports Borrowers Gained Over $6 Trillion in Home Equity Since the End of The Great Recession CoreLogic® ... today released the Home Equity Report for the first quarter of 2020. The report shows U.S. homeowners with mortgages (which account for roughly 63% of all properties) have seen their equity increase by 6.5% year over year, representing a gain of $590 billion since the first quarter of 2019. In the latter half of the first quarter of 2020, the coronavirus (COVID-19) began to spread across the country, with immediate economic impact not fully realized until the end of March. As the pandemic continued to unfold and shelter-in-place orders were extended, unemployment reached double digits within a few short weeks and left many homeowners scrambling to cover mortgage payments. However, home prices continued to rise, which added to borrower equity through March. Negative equity, also referred to as underwater or upside down, applies to borrowers who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. From the fourth quarter of 2019 to the first quarter of 2020, the total number of mortgaged homes in negative equity decreased by 3.1% to 1.8 million homes or 3.4% of all mortgaged properties. The number of mortgaged properties in negative equity in the first quarter of 2020 fell by 16%, compared to the first quarter of 2019, when 2.2 million homes, or 4.1% of all mortgaged properties, were in negative equity. Because home equity is affected by home price changes, the number of borrowers with equity positions near (+/-5%) the negative equity cutoff is most likely to move out of or into negative equity as prices change. Looking at the first quarter of 2020 book of mortgages, if home prices increase by 5%, 310,000 homes would regain equity, and if home prices decline by 5%, 420,000 would fall underwater. This graph from CoreLogic compares Q1 to Q4 2019 equity distribution by LTV. There are still quite a few properties with LTV over 125%.

 Mortgage credit availability hits a 6-year low -  Mortgage credit availability has tightened to the lowest level in six years as looming doubts about the strength of a coronavirus-impacted housing market caused originators' appetite for risk to wane. The Mortgage Banker Association's Mortgage Credit Availability Index slid for the sixth consecutive month, falling 3.1% to 129.3 in May from 133.5 in April and 189.5 the year before. This is the tightest credit's become since June 2014. Moves by the GSEs have likely contributed to the tightening of credit since, in early May, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac suspended bulk sales and limited their remaining secondary market purchases in order to curb negative financial impacts from the pandemic."Mortgage lenders in May responded accordingly to the increased risk and uncertainty in the economy," Joel Kan, the MBA's associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, said in a press release. "There was a reduction in supply across all loan types, driven by further pullback in investors' appetites for loan programs with low credit scores and high LTVs. Credit tightening was observed at both ends of the market, with less availability of low down payment programs designed for first-time homebuyers, as well as for conforming and nonconforming jumbo loans."By product segment, the conventional MCAI fell 5.7% from April, driven by a 6.9% drop in the conforming product component, while the jumbo index declined 4.4%.Meanwhile, the government MCAI, which measures Federal Housing Administration, Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Agriculture products, fell by 0.8%. Government mortgage credit availability has tightened most months since April 2017. The MBA calculates MCAI using loan program data from Ellie Mae's AllRegs Market Clarity database with a benchmarked value of 100 based on conditions in March 2012.

Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey -Mortgage applications increased 9.3 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending June 5, 2020. The previous week’s results included an adjustment for the Memorial Day holiday. .. The Refinance Index increased 11 percent from the previous week and was 80 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 5 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 15 percent compared with the previous week and was 13 percent higher than the same week one year ago...“Fueled again by low mortgage rates, pent-up demand from earlier this spring, and states reopening across the country, purchase mortgage applications and refinances both increased. The recovery in the purchase market continues to gain steam, with the seasonally adjusted index rising to its highest level since January. Purchase activity increased for the eighth straight week and was a notable 13 percent higher than a year ago,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Refinances moved higher for the first time in nearly two months, with both conventional and government applications rising and the overall index coming in 80 percent above year-ago levels.”.. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) increased to 3.38 percent from 3.37 percent, with points remaining unchanged at 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

NMHC: Rent Payment Tracker Finds Most People Paying Rent in June --From the NMHC: NMHC Rent Payment Tracker Finds 80.8 Percent of Apartment Households Paid Rent as of June 6 The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC)’s Rent Payment Tracker found 80.8 percent of apartment households made a full or partial rent payment by June 6 in its survey of 11.5 million units of professionally managed apartment units across the country. This is a 0.7-percentage point decrease in the share who paid rent through June 6, 2019and compares to 80.2 percent that had paid by May 6, 2020. These data encompass a wide variety of professionally managed market-rate rental properties across the United States, which can vary by size, type and average rental price.“These are trying times for the country, and we are reminded on a regular basis how crucial safe and secure housing is during a period of uncertainty and upheaval, so we are glad to see that residents who live in professionally managed properties continue to pay their rent,” said Doug Bibby, NMHC President. “While our Rent Payment Tracker metric continues to show the resilience and strength of the professionally managed apartment industry, it does not necessarily tell the whole story, as it doesn’t capture rent payments for smaller landlords or for affordable and subsidized properties, and according to Harvard, more than half of renters with at-risk wages due to the pandemic live in single-family and small multifamily rentals with 2–4 units.” CR Note: It appears people are still paying their rent at about the same rate as last year (down just 0.7 percentage points from a year ago).   The disaster relief has been key to helping people pay their bills, especially the extra unemployment benefits and the PPP.  

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Declined 45.3% Year-over-year, Eighth Consecutive Week of Slightly Higher Demand - From STR: US hotel results for week ending 6 June:  STR data ending with 6 June showed another small rise from previous weeks in U.S. hotel performance. Year-over-year declines remained significant although not as severe as the levels recorded previously.  31 May through 6 June 2020 (percentage change from comparable week in 2019):
• Occupancy: 39.3% (-45.3%)
• Average daily rate (ADR): US$85.01 (-35.9%)
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): US$33.43 (-65.0%)
“Not much different from previous weeks, occupancy continued to climb toward the 40% mark with noticeably higher levels on Friday and Saturday,” said Jan Freitag, STR’s senior VP of lodging insights. “The lower end of the market continued to lead, with economy properties finally selling more than half of their rooms again, although all hotel classes were comfortably above 20%. Drilling down to the submarket level, the highest occupancy levels were recorded in various pockets of New York City as well as popular leisure spots in Florida, Texas and South Carolina. Thanks to higher demand, one submarket, West Palm Beach, showed a 21.0% year-over-year ADR increase for the entire week.  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). Usually hotel occupancy starts to pick up seasonally in early June. So even though the occupancy rate was up slightly compared to last week, the year-over-year decline was actually worse this week than last week (45.3% decline vs. 43.2% decline last week).

Fed's Flow of Funds: Household Net Worth Decreased $7.4 Trillion in Q1 -- The Federal Reserve released the Q1 2020 Flow of Funds report today: Flow of Funds.The net worth of households and nonprofits fell to $110.8 trillion during the first quarter of 2020. The value of directly and indirectly held corporate equities decreased $7.8 trillion and the value of real estate increased $0.4 trillion. Household debt increased 3.9 percent at an annual rate in the first quarter of 2020. Consumer credit grew at an annual rate of 1.6 percent, while mortgage debt (excluding charge-offs) grew at an annual rate of 3.2 percent.The first graph shows Households and Nonprofit net worth as a percent of GDP.  Even with the decline in stock prices in March, household net worth, as a percent of GDP, was higher than the peak in 2006 (housing bubble), and above the stock bubble peak. Net Worth as a percent of GDP decreased in Q1. This includes real estate and financial assets (stocks, bonds, pension reserves, deposits, etc) net of liabilities (mostly mortgages). Note that this does NOT include public debt obligations. This graph shows homeowner percent equity since 1952.Household percent equity (as measured by the Fed) collapsed when house prices fell sharply in 2007 and 2008. In Q1 2020, household percent equity (of household real estate) was at 64.8% - up from Q4. Note: about 30.3% of owner occupied households had no mortgage debt as of April 2010. So the approximately 50+ million households with mortgages have less than 64.8% equity - and about 1.82 million homeowners still have negative equity.

U.S. Households’ Net Worth Had Record Fall in First Quarter – WSJ —The net worth of U.S. households saw a record decline in the first three months of this year as the coronavirus pandemic sent shock waves through the economy and caused equity prices to plummet. Household net worth fell 5.6% in the first quarter from the previous three months to a seasonally adjusted $110.79 trillion, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. That was the largest single-quarter drop in records going back to the early 1950s. The figures, published in a quarterly Fed report known as Flow of Funds, show the beginning of the pandemic’s impact on the U.S. economy, which entered a recession in February. Gross domestic product contracted at an annualized rate of 5% in the January-to-March period, as lockdowns prompted consumers to reduce spending and companies to hold back investment. The downturn deepened in the second quarter, economists say, as companies and governments laid off more than 20 million people in April. Most of the decline in household net worth in the first quarter resulted from a $7.8 trillion drop in the value of directly and indirectly held corporate equities, the Fed said Thursday. Fears about the virus and its impact on the economy, as well as a severe liquidity shortage in swaths of the financial system, caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to fall some 23% in the first quarter, decimating household investment portfolios. Corporate debt excluding financial companies posted its sharpest quarterly increase on record, rising 4.7% to $16.81 trillion, the Fed said. Companies took advantage of low rates to build up cash buffers amid falling sales and looming uncertainty. While the report showed that federal government debt rose 3.6% to $19.74 trillion in the first quarter, it didn’t capture most of the roughly $3.3 trillion of tax cuts and spending that Congress authorized in March and April to fight the coronavirus and its economic effects. Since April, the Treasury Department has issued $267 billion of stimulus checks to nearly 159 million households. In addition, workers laid off during the pandemic began receiving an extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits, a program that, as of May, had disbursed another $91 billion.

Consumers ‘More Optimistic’ About Economy’s Future in May, New York Fed Says -- Americans are growing more upbeat about what lies ahead for the economy, even as they brace for what they see as a rise in inflationary pressure, a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Monday. “Consumers grew comparatively more optimistic about labor market outcomes with earnings growth, job finding, and job loss expectations all slightly improving,” the bank said in its May Survey of Consumer Expectations. But the bank noted that whatever improvement there has been, key readings in the survey still remain “far below” where they were before the coronavirus pandemic took hold earlier this year. The New York Fed found households’ expectations of inflation on the move. Projections of where inflation will be a year from now jumped from 2.6% in April to 3% last month, even as expected inflation three years from now held steady at 2.6%. The report noted there is considerable uncertainty around the inflation outlook and households are bracing for “sharp” gains in food and energy costs. The inflation reading might cause some concern for the Fed. With the pandemic slamming economic activity and forcing an unprecedented support effort from the central bank and government, Fed officials have been confident that already tepid inflation pressures will remain low. But they also have said they would be keeping an eye on inflation expectations, because a rise there could signal real-world price pressures might prove stronger than expected. The New York Fed survey arrives in the wake of the May jobs report. While that still showed unemployment at levels not seen in the post-World War II period, that data nevertheless showed an unexpected surge in payrolls as parts of the country are starting to reopen to business. Some of that was reflected in the New York Fed data. It showed a “significant decline” in expectations that the unemployment rate will be higher a year from now. Expectations of losing a job declined, while expectations of finding new work rose, the report said. The New York Fed said consumers’ view of their personal finances remained “depressed” in May but showed some improvement. Nearly half of respondents said credit is harder to get, but the median expectation of household income growth a year from now ended a three-month declining streak, and climbing to 2.1% in May from 1.9% in April, the bank said.

U.S. Consumer Sentiment Rebounded in Early June - Americans’ view of the economy improved in early June as the country continued to reopen while trying to contain the coronavirus pandemic, according to a University of Michigan survey released Friday. The survey’s index of consumer sentiment rose to 78.9 in the two weeks ended June 10, from 72.3 for the previous four weeks. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected a reading of 75.0. The index’s rise showed that a growing share of U.S. consumers expected the economy to improve, said Richard Curtin, the survey’s chief economist. “The turnaround is largely due to renewed gains in employment, with more consumers expecting declines in the jobless rate than at any other time in the long history of the Michigan surveys,” he said. The index of current conditions rose to 87.8, compared with 82.3 the prior month, while the expectations index climbed to 73.1, from 65.9 in May. Respondents’ views on the economy varied with their political-party affiliation. Consumer sentiment among Republicans jumped 11 points since May, compared with a 0.7 point rise among Democrats. The index of independents ticked up 7.2 points. However, nearly half of consumers said they expected another downturn, said Mr. Curtin, adding that a coronavirus resurgence was the most often cited cause among these respondents. The survey was conducted between May 27 and June 10. During that time, all 50 states had begun easing restrictions on businesses. Americans filed at least 3 million applications for unemployment insurance benefits over that two-week period.

BLS: CPI decreased 0.1% in May, Core CPI decreased 0.1% -- From the BLS: The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) declined 0.1 percent in Mayon a seasonally adjusted basis after falling 0.8 percent in April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 0.1 percent before seasonal adjust ment.Declines in the indexes for motor vehicle insurance, energy, and apparel more than offset increases in food and shelter indexes to result in the monthly decrease in the seasonally adjusted all items index. The gasoline index declined 3.5 percent in May, leading to a 1.8-percent decline in the energy index. The food index, in contrast, increased 0.7 percent in May as the index for food at home rose 1.0 percent.The index for all items less food and energy fell 0.1 percent in May, its third consecutive monthly decline. This is the first time this index has ever declined in three consecutive months. Along with motor vehicle insurance and apparel, the indexes for airline fares and used cars and trucks declined in May. The indexes for shelter, recreation, medical care, household furnishings and operations, and new vehicles all increased. The all items index increased 0.1 percent for the 12 months ending May. The index for all items less food and energy increased 1.2 percent over the last 12 months; this compares to a 2.4-percent increase a few months ago (the period ending February). Overall inflation was at expectations in May. I'll post a graph later today after the Cleveland Fed releases the median and trimmed-mean CPI.

Core and Overall Consumer Price Index Both Fall 0.1 Percent in May – Dean Baker -Over the last three months, prices of food in stores have risen 4.1 percent, compared to 0.7 percent for restaurants.Both the core and overall Consumer Price Index (CPI) dropped 0.1 percent in May. It was the third consecutive month of decline for both indexes. The overall CPI has fallen 1.3 percent over the three months since the pandemic began to have a major economic impact, while the core index has dropped 0.6 percent.The pandemic has had sharply divergent impacts, as would be expected. The price of food purchased in stores rose 1.0 percent in May, while restaurant prices only rose 0.4 percent. Over the last three months, the price of store-bought food has risen 4.1 percent, while restaurant prices have risen just 0.7 percent. Before the pandemic, restaurant prices were increasing 1-2 percentage points more rapidly than the price of store-bought food largely due to rising wages for restaurant workers.Hotel prices and airfares continued to plummet in May, dropping 1.8 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively. Hotel prices have fallen 16.7 percent over the last three months, while airfares are down by 29.5 percent. Apparel prices have also plummeted due to the pandemic, as people have hugely cut back their clothes purchases. Apparel prices fell 2.3 percent for the month and are down 8.8 percent since February.Gas prices were reported as again dropping in May, falling another 3.5 percent. They are now down 31.5 percent for the last three months. This drop will almost begin to be reversed in the June data, as world oil prices have substantially recovered from the lows hit in April and many measures show gasoline prices rising.[Graph]Auto insurance prices fell 8.9 percent in May, after dropping 7.2 percent in April. These declines reflect rebates that most insurers are giving customers due to the fact that accidents have sharply fallen as a result of less driving during the shutdowns. Auto insurance has a large weight in the CPI, accounting for 1.6 percent of the overall index and almost 2.0 percent of the core index. This is because the CPI uses a gross measure of insurance payments, rather than netting out the settlements paid to customers. It uses the opposite approach with health care insurance, where the index only measures administrative costs and profits, netting out the payments to providers.Health care insurance prices continued to rise rapidly in May, increasing 1.1 percent. They are now up 19.7 percent over the last year. The price of health care services more generally rose by 0.6 percent in May. They have risen by 1.6 percent over the last three months. There is no clear evidence of any changes in the pace of rental inflation, with both the rent proper and owners’ equivalent rent index rising 0.3 percent in May. Over the last year, they are up by 3.5 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively. New vehicle prices rose 0.3 percent in May, after being flat in April. They are down 0.3 percent over the last year. The May increase is likely the result of buyers coming back into the market with the shutdown ending and low inventories due to factory shutdowns.

Coronavirus Continues to Weigh on U.S. Consumer Prices – WSJ —U.S. consumer prices dropped for a third straight month in May as the coronavirus pandemic kept shoppers and travelers at home, but the rate of decline in inflation eased as the cost of groceries, rent and medical services rose.The consumer-price index, which measures what Americans pay for everything from alcohol to lawn mowers, fell a seasonally adjusted 0.1% in May after comparable declines of 0.8% in April and 0.4% in March, the Labor Department said Wednesday.Excluding volatile food and energy categories, so-called core prices fell 0.1% compared with a 0.4% decline in April, marking the first time that index has declined in three consecutive months, according to the Labor Department.  Economists said the worst of the coronavirus-related hit to inflation should be over, with states reopening and shopping demand returning.“The narrow group of categories that’s really been driving the weakness for the last several months were places where activity wasn’t going on,” such as airfares, apparel, motor-vehicle insurance and hotels, said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities. In the 12 months through May, the consumer-price index rose 0.1%, the weakest year-over-year increase since September 2015. Core prices were up 1.2% on the year, the Labor Department said.Some categories posted outsize gains. Grocery costs climbed as shoppers prepared more meals at home during the pandemic. The cost of food bought for home consumption climbed 1% in May following April’s increase of 2.6%, which was the largest month-over-month jump in grocery prices since 1974.A report Wednesday from Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks both online and in-store spending with all forms of payment, found retail sales for May were down 5.6% year over year compared with a decline of 14.1% in April, suggesting the pandemic’s hit to consumer spending is beginning to lessen. The tally excludes automobiles. Clothing prices have declined sharply since March, as many malls and stores remained closed due to the pandemic. Apparel prices were down 7.9% on the year in May, according to the Labor Department, the steepest year-over-year decline in that category since December 1932, during the Great Depression.

 Cleveland Fed: Key Measures Show Inflation Soft in May --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% (3.2% annualized rate) in May. The 16% trimmed-mean Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% (2.5% 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 fell 0.1% (-0.6% annualized rate) in May. The CPI less food and energy fell 0.1% (-0.7% annualized rate) on a seasonally adjusted basis. Note: The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI details for May here. Motor fuel decreased at a 35% annualized rate in May.This graph shows the year-over-year change for these four key measures of inflation. On a year-over-year basis, the median CPI rose 2.8%, the trimmed-mean CPI rose 2.3%, and the CPI less food and energy rose 1.2%. Core PCE is for April and increased 1.0% year-over-year. Inflation will not be a concern during the crisis.  Interesting, both the median CPI and trimmed-mean CPI actually increased in May.

May inflation steadies: meanwhile, an artificial all time high in “real” wages - In May, overall consumer prices declined by -0.1% (blue in the graph below), while consumer prices excluding energy (gas) rose +0.1% (red): Note that in 2015 when gas prices collapsed, prices otherwise continued to increase, showing the underlying strength of the economy. But in March and April of this year, even prices outside of gas declined, showing underlying weakness. This is a typical recessionary scenario. May’s increase in prices ex-energy may be a good sign. YoY inflation is now only +0.2%, while YoY inflation ex-energy is up +1.6%: Last month I didn’t look at “real” inflation-adjusted wages. As it turns out, an important milestone was made – but was totally an artifact of the relative decimation of lower wage jobs. “Real” inflation-adjusted wages for non-managerial employees rose to an all time high in April, finally surpassing the previous peak of January 1973: May declined -0.5% from the April peak. I suspect as more people are recalled to work, April will prove to have been a short-lived spike More importantly, here are “real” aggregate payrolls for all non-managerial employees YoY: This is the worst drop in the entire history of this series. That consumer prices steadied in May is a good sign. We will probably have to wait for the quarterly Employment Cost Index, which normalizes for the mix of jobs in the economy and won’t be released till the end of July, to find out what “really” has happened with wages during the pandemic.

May Producer Price Index: Core Final Demand Down 0.1% MoM - Today's release of the May Producer Price Index (PPI) for Final Demand was at 0.4% month-over-month seasonally adjusted, up from a 1.3% decrease last month. It is at -0.8% year-over-year, up from -1.2% last month, on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. Core Final Demand (less food and energy) came in at -0.1% MoM, down from 0.2% the previous month and is up 0.3% YoY NSA. MoM consensus forecasts were for 0.1% headline and -0.1% core.Here is the summary of the news release on Final Demand:The Producer Price Index for final demand rose 0.4 percent in May, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. This increase followed declines of 1.3 percent in April and 0.2 percent in March. (See table A.) On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index decreased 0.8 percent for the 12 months ended in May.In May, the advance in the final demand index is attributable to prices for final demand goods, which climbed 1.6 percent. In contrast, the index for final demand services fell 0.2 percent.Prices for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services edged up 0.1 percent in May, following three consecutive declines. For the 12 months ended in May, the index for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services moved down 0.4 percent, the largest 12-month decrease since the index began in August 2013.Coronavirus (COVID-19) Impact on May 2020 Producer Price Index Survey Data  The Producer Price Index (PPI) response rates for May were consistent with those of April and no changes in estimation procedures were necessary. Additional information is available at More… The data for these new series are only constructed back to November 2009 for Headline and April 2010 for Core. Since our focus is on longer-term trends, we continue to track the legacy Producer Price Index for Finished Goods, which the BLS also includes in their monthly updates. As this (older) overlay illustrates, the Final Demand and Finished Goods indexes are highly correlated.

U.S. import prices post largest gain in more than a year  - U.S. import prices increased by the most in more than a year in May, driven by higher costs for petroleum products and food, which could further diminish fears of deflation as the economy battles a recession. The Labor Department said on Friday import prices rose 1.0% last month, the largest gain since February 2019, after falling 2.6% in April. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices, which exclude tariffs, increasing 0.6% in May. In the 12 months through May, import prices decreased 6.0% after dropping 6.8% in April. The report followed data this week showing consumer prices falling moderately in May and producer prices rebounding. Deflation is a decline in the general price level, which is harmful during a recession as consumers and businesses may delay purchases in anticipation of lower prices. The National Bureau of Economic Research, the arbiter of U.S. recessions, declared on Monday that the economy slipped into recession in February. In May, prices for imported fuels and lubricants surged 20.5% after declining 31.0% in the prior month. Petroleum prices jumped 21.7% after plunging 32.6% in April. Imported food prices rebounded 2.2% last month after dropping 1.6% in April. Excluding fuels and food, import prices dipped 0.1% last month after falling 0.5% in April. The so-called core import prices declined 0.7% in the 12 months through May. The cost of goods imported from China was unchanged in May after gaining 0.1% in the prior month. Prices declined 1.0% year-on-year in May, the smallest drop since March 2019. The report also showed export prices increased 0.5% in May as higher prices for nonagricultural products offset lower prices for agricultural goods. That followed a 3.3% drop in April. Export prices declined 6.0% on a year-on-year basis in May after dropping 6.8% in April.

Wolf Richter: The Chilling Things Delta Said about the Airline Business, the 90% Collapse in Q2 Revenues, and Why Some Demand Destruction May Be “Permanent” - Delta Airlines came out with the mother of all revenue-warnings when it said in an SEC filing this morning that its revenues in the second quarter, ending June 30, would collapse by 90% compared to the second quarter last year. In addition to the collapse of demand, it has “experienced significant ticket cancellations” (refunds are counted as negative revenues), and it has waved change fees, which used to be a big profit center, and it is giving out “other refunds,” and they all “have negatively affected our revenues and liquidity, and we expect such negative effects to continue.” And it cannot predict the effects of this unpredictable future, not even the near-term effects. “The longer the pandemic persists, the more material the ultimate effects are likely to be,” Delta said. “It is likely that there will be future negative effects that we cannot presently predict, including near term effects.” It added a slew of dismal data points and warnings, along with the hoops it has already jumped through and still needs to jump through to stay in business, including billions of dollars in help from the taxpayer. It was a doom-and-gloom report that not even a sworn doom-and-gloomer would have been able to imagine not too long ago. Delta’s shares dropped 7.4% during regular hours, and another 7.0% after hours, to $29.40, after having already dropped 7.6% yesterday. It seems, some people knew yesterday what Delta would announce this morning. Over those two days combined, including after hours today, shares have plunged 20.3%. Delta’s 90%-revenue collapse in Q2 came even as travel restrictions have begun “to ease,” it said. In response to the collapse in demand, Delta has cut its capacity system-wide by 85%. As demand returns, it plans on rebuilding its flight schedule. This is an industry-wide problem. According to the TSA, checkpoint screenings at US airports – a measure of how many people are getting on a plane – were still down 86.1% yesterday, compared to the same weekday last year. This has been inching up only in tiny increments. TSA checkpoint screenings over the Memorial Day weekend were down around 87%.. During the worst days two months ago, screenings were down 95%:  Delta said that “we believe” that there will be a “modest continued demand recovery, particularly with domestic leisure travel beginning to return as states lift shelter-in-place orders.” But it expects international demand to “lag” domestic demand.

Small Business Optimism Increased in May, "Bad news for job creation" --Most of this survey is noise, but there is some information, especially on the labor market.
From the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB): May 2020 ReportThe Small Business Optimism Index increased 3.5 points in May to 94.4, a strong improvement from April’s 90.9 reading. Eight of the 10 Index components improved in May and two declined. The NFIB Uncertainty Index increased seven points to 82. Reports of expected business conditions in the next six months increased 5 points to a net 34%, following a 24-point increase in April. Owners are optimistic about future business conditions and expect the recession to be short-lived..May Survey respondents reduced employment by 0.17 workers per firm in the prior three months, down from an addition of 0.09 workers per firm in the April report. … May’s survey was bad news for job creation. A seasonally-adjusted net 8 percent plan to create new jobs, up 7 points.Note that the "single biggest problem" is "poor sales".This graph shows the small business optimism index since 1986.

 COVID-19 Lockdowns Spark 41% Collapse In Black-Owned Businesses In America - Widespread lockdowns across the country shuttered many small businesses for months. Stores, factories, and many other companies closed due to government-enforced public health orders or because of a rapid shift in demand. A new report from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) provides the first analysis of lockdown impacts on small businesses, makes a shocking discovery that African-American owned businesses plunged by 41%.   NBER commissioned the new report titled "The Impact of Covid-19 on Small Business Owners: Evidence of Early-Stage Losses from the April 2020 Current Population Survey" -- shows active business owners in the US declined by 3.3 million or 22% from February to April because of "unprecedented" economic impacts of lockdowns. The decline in small business owners was the "largest on record," and losses felt across all industries.  The report said African-American businesses were hit the hardest, recorded a 41% decline of black owners from February to April. Next were Latino owners, fell 32%, and Asian business owners dropped by 26%. Immigrant business owners plummeted 36%, and female-owned businesses fell by 25%. These findings of early-stage losses to small businesses, so far, outlines how minority businesses were crushed during the lockdowns. "The negative early-stage impacts on minority- and immigrant-owned businesses, if prolonged, may be problematic for broader racial inequality because of the importance of minority businesses for local job creation," said the report's author, Robert Fairlie of the University of California at Santa Cruz Department of Economics.In a separate report, we noted how the virus-induced economic downturn could result in at least 52% of small businesses closing up shop in the next six months. For readers, it's essential to understand that nearly half of all US jobs originate from small businesses. This all suggests the quick economic recovery narrative pitched by the Trump administration and Wall Street is bullshit. ​​​​​​

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decrease to 1,542,000 - The DOL reported: In the week ending June 6, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 1,542,000, a decrease of 355,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 20,000 from 1,877,000 to 1,897,000. The 4-week moving average was 2,002,000, a decrease of 286,250 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 4,250 from 2,284,000 to 2,288,250. The previous week was revised up. This does not include the 623,073 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

 Initial jobless claims decline further, but continuing claims fail to make meaningful progress - Weekly initial and continuing jobless claims give us the most up-to-date snapshot of the continuing economic impacts of the coronavirus to the average worker. Twelve weeks after calamity first struck, the theme remains “less awful.” First, here are initial jobless claims both seasonally adjusted (blue) and non- seasonally adjusted (red). The non-seasonally adjusted number is of added importance since seasonal adjustments should not have more than a trivial effect on the huge real numbers: There were 1.542 million new claims , which after the seasonal adjustment became 1.537 million. This is a -355,000 decline from last week’s number, and the lowest so far since the virus struck - but still almost twice as bad as the worst week during the “Great Recession.” Since we are more than a month after some States “reopened,” these new claims primarily represent spreading second-order impacts. Unfortunately, the “less bad” trend has not continued in continuing claims, which lag one week behind. In the past three weeks, both the non-seasonally adjusted number (red), and the less important seasonally adjusted number (blue) have remained nearly stationary. This week the former declined by 339,000 to 20.929 million, but was 88,000 above the 20.841 reading of two weeks ago; while the latter declined by 179,000 to 18.920 million, 58,000 above its 18.861 reading two weeks ago: This tells us that the spreading new damage is about equal to the callbacks to work from various sectors “reopening.” On a more long-term note, historically continuing claims have peaked at the end of or just after the end of recessions. Here’s the graph showing that from the beginning of the series through 2009: Depending on what happens with the King of Coincident Indicators, industrial production, when it is reported next week, it is possible that the NBER could call an end to a very short recession. But since the virus has not gone away, and indeed new cases are increasing again, I suspect we may see renewed restrictions implemented in many parts of the country in the next few months.

 While welcome gains, job losses since February still total 19.6 million - After falling by 22.1 million between February and April, payroll employment rose by 2.5 million in May. This is likely due to the fact that 31 states started lifting stay-at-home orders, or easing restrictions, within the reference period. While these are welcome gains (as long as the health consequences aren’t offsetting), jobs losses since February still total 19.6 million, and are currently 13% below its February level. It is imperative that policymakers do not take this as a sign that it’s time to stop providing necessary relief to workers, their families, and state and local governments. The economic pain will be long-standing without additional aid.Given the re-opening of the economy, it is not surprising that many of the job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, construction, education and health services, and retail trade. Of particular concern are the public sector job losses. Employment continued to decline in government employment; local government education accounted for most of the decrease, with a loss of 310,000 jobs. Over the last three months, state and local government jobs have declined by 1.6 million, nearly half of them (759,000) in local government education (public K-12). These losses in public K-12 education are large, even when public schools were still in session, albeit from home, during the reference period. Further, it’s important to remember that public sector austerity in the recovery from the great recession meant that public school employment never regained its 2008 levels. Without sufficient relief to state and local governments, more cuts will come. The unemployment rate declined to 13.3% in May, but is still up a whopping 9.8 percentage points since February. The figure below illustrates how the economic devastation was widespread but did not hit groups equally. Even with the mild improvement in May, the unemployment rate of all groups is still higher than the highest level the overall unemployment rate hit at the height of the Great Recession, when it reached 10.0% in 2009. The unemployment rates are higher for Black workers and Hispanic workers than for white workers. Research has shown that historically higher unemployment rates, lower wages, higher poverty rates, and lower liquid savings make job losses even more devastating for African American workers and their families. The unemployment rate for Latina workers was significantly higher than any other group, hitting 19.0% in May.

Interpreting the unemployment numbers - The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Friday that 2.5 million more Americans were working in May than in April. That’s the biggest monthly increase since 1946, both in terms of the number of workers and as a percentage of the workforce. The unemployment rate dropped from 14.7% in April to 13.3% in May, the biggest monthly drop since 1950. All this is very good news. But there are also indications that we are in a deeper hole than the headline numbers suggest. Here I explain why I believe the true unemployment rate in May was a number more like 19.8%. The strong employment report shocked many observers, since so many other indicators had been very discouraging. Bill McBride, as always incredibly insightful, suggested that the good news on employment may have come from small businesses rehiring in order to take advantage of the half a trillion dollars that has been lent through the Paycheck Protection Program.The New York Times and Marketplace quoted some business owners who said PPP funds made all the difference for them.Some analysts worry that PPP can’t be a sustained source of support for the labor market. But it doesn’t have to be. The whole idea was to keep workers on the payroll until customer demand picked back up as restrictions on activity begin to be relaxed. About half the May gains came from the leisure and hospitality sector. It’s hard to imagine that restaurants, bars, theaters, and hotels will see anything like their previous level of activity even after all official restrictions are lifted. And the employment gain in May did not come anywhere close to making up what was lost in April. But so far, so good. But there are some other details of the May employment report, particularly those coming from the separate survey of individual households, that are hard to square with available facts. According to the BLS survey of households, 21 million Americans were still unemployed as of the second week of May. But during that week, states reported that 2.7 million new people filed for unemployment compensation, in addition to the 24.9 million who were already collecting. Not everyone who is unemployed is eligible for compensation, and not everyone who is eligible applies. In a typical month, the number of people unemployed is about three times as big as the number collecting compensation. But now in May, the number collecting is somehow larger than the total number who are unemployed. The headline unemployment numbers do not seem consistent with what we know about how many people are collecting unemployment compensation.

Dentists’ offices are responsible for 10 percent of jobs regained last month -- The economy is finally brushing up.  In a twist that shocked many of the nation's top economists, the U.S.'s May jobs report released Friday showed the country added 2.5 million jobs last month, lowering the unemployment rate from 14.7 percent to 13.3 percent. A large chunk of that gain stemmed from the health care industry, which regained 312,000 jobs between April and May. Around 244,000 of those jobs stemmed singularly from dentists' offices, making that industry responsible for a full tenth of May's jobs gains.  As freelance business reporter Matthew Zeitlin noted, pretty much all of the job gains last month came from temporarily laid off workers heading back to work. The number of unemployed people on temporary layoff decreased by 2.7 million to 15.3 million in March, but the number of permanent job losses rose by 295,000 to 2.3 million in May.  University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers called the shrinking temporary job losses the "good news" of the May jobs report. And while there's still some "bad news" in permanent job loss, it seems clear that the overall unemployment "hole isn't getting any deeper."

BLS: Job Openings decreased to 5.0 Million in April --From the BLS: Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary The number of total separations decreased by 4.8 million to 9.9 million in April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Despite the over the month decline, the total separations level is the second highest in series history. Within separations, the quits rate fell to 1.4 percent and the layoffs and discharges rate decreased to 5.9 percent. Job openings decreased to 5.0 million on the last business day of April. Over the month, hires declined to 3.5 million, a series low. The changes in these measures reflect the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and efforts to contain it ... 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. Note that hires (dark blue) and total separations (red and light blue columns stacked) are usually 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 April to 5.046 million from 6.011 million in March. The number of job openings (yellow) were down 31% year-over-year. Quits were down 49% year-over-year. These are voluntary separations. (see light blue columns at bottom of graph for trend for "quits"). Job openings decreased sharply in April, and hires were at a series low. Quits declined almost 50% YoY - as expected, a very weak report.

The U.S. economy remains in an enormous jobs deficit: The labor market was down 15.9 million jobs at the end of April (JOLTS data), and down 19.6 million at the middle of May (jobs data) - This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data for April, showing the second-highest number of job separations on record (March was the highest) and the lowest level of hires on record. One important thing to understand about JOLTS data is the timing. JOLTS data provide information from the end of one month to the end of the next, whereas the monthly employment numbers provide information from the middle of one month to the middle of the next. The JOLTS data showed that 6.4 million jobs were lost from the end of March to the end of April. The monthly employment numbers straddle these numbers, showing that 20.7 million jobs were lost from mid-March to mid-April, and 2.5 million jobs were gained from mid-April to mid-May. Together, the JOLTS data and the monthly employment numbers paint a picture of the peak of job loss in this recession being in late March or early April, and people beginning to go back to work by the beginning of May. But no matter how you measure it, the U.S. economy remains in an enormous jobs deficit—we were down a total of 15.9 million jobs at the end of April (according to the JOLTS data), and down a total of 19.6 million at the middle of May (according to the monthly employment data). The human suffering and lost productive potential represented by these numbers is immeasurable. Congress must act by extending the expanded unemployment insurance benefits until the labor market sufficiently recovers and provide additional aid to state and local governments, which continued to face job losses in May and most certainly will face even more drastic budget cuts without more assistance. In the pre-coronavirus period, there were typically around 1.8 million layoffs every month as a result of natural churn in the labor market. In April, there were 7.7 million layoffs. This is nearly three times the worst month of the Great Recession. Before the coronavirus, there were also typically around 5.9 million hires every month, as businesses started up or expanded. In April, that dropped to 3.5 million, a 40% drop from the pre-virus period, as business formation and growth cratered. Pre-coronavirus, there were typically around 3.5 million voluntary quits each month. A large number of quits signifies a healthy labor market where people can leave their job to find one that is better for them. In April, quits dropped to 1.8 million—a 50% drop from the pre-virus period. And it’s likely quits would have dropped even further if not for the fact that people who had to, for example, leave a job to take care of a child whose school closed as a result of the virus are still counted as a voluntary quit.

 Census: Household Pulse Survey shows 48.3% of Households lost Income; No improvement yet - From the Census Bureau: Measuring Household Experiences during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicThe U.S. Census Bureau, in collaboration with five federal agencies, is in a unique position to produce data on the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on American households. The Household Pulse Survey is designed to deploy quickly and efficiently, collecting data to measure household experiences during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Data will be disseminated in near real-time to inform federal and state response and recovery planning.…Data collection for the Household Pulse Survey began on April 23, 2020. The Census Bureau will collect data for 90 days, and release data on a weekly basis. This will be updated weekly, and the Census Bureau released the fifth week of survey results today. This survey asks about Loss in Employment Income, Expected Loss in Employment Income, Food Scarcity, Delayed Medical Care, Housing Insecurity and K-12 Educational Changes.

Fed Report Says Coronavirus Shock Has Hit Low-Wage Workers Hardest – WSJ - The Federal Reserve said severe disruptions in the U.S. labor market related to the coronavirus pandemic were hitting workers with lower earnings, including minorities, especially hard. Employment had fallen nearly 35% from February to mid-May for workers who were previously earning wages in the bottom fourth of wage earners, the central bank said Friday in its semiannual report to Congress. Higher-wage earners, by contrast, had seen employment fall by 5% to 15%. Because lower-wage earners are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic, unemployment has risen more sharply for those groups. “The path ahead is extraordinarily uncertain,” the report said. “The pace of recovery will ultimately depend on the evolution of the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States and abroad and the measures undertaken to contain it,” the Fed said, referring to the disease caused by the virus. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday, after the Fed’s policy meeting this week, that the central bank was preparing additional ways to support the economy after slashing interest rates to zero and purchasing trillions of dollars of government debt to improve financial market functioning. Officials this week projected they would hold rates near zero through 2022. Mr. Powell is scheduled to deliver the report and testify on Capitol Hill next Tuesday and Wednesday. The report said if economic activity remained weak due to virus-related disruptions, including because consumers aren’t confident to resume previous spending patterns even as states and counties lift stay-at-home orders, more businesses could fail or resume operations at a diminished scale, leading more temporary layoffs to become permanent.

 White lawyer in Wisconsin arrested, facing charges after spitting on black teen during protest - A white lawyer in Shorewood, Wisc., has been arrested and is facing charges after she was seen in now-viral footage spitting on a black student at a local protest over the weekend, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. Stephanie Rapkin, 64, was taken into police custody on Saturday and could be charged with battery and disorderly conduct after she was seen on video spitting on a black high school student, Eric Patrick Lucas III, 17, at a protest on Saturday, according to the newspaper.The demonstration against racism was reportedly organized in part by Lucas and comes as a number of similar protests have taken place across the nation and around the world over the past two weeks following the police killing of George Floyd. According to the newspaper, Rapkin had parked her car on a street earlier on Saturday in an effort to impede the local demonstration. In footage that appeared to be taken afterward, protesters can be seen walking toward Rapkin, repeatedly telling her to move the car. Moments later, Rapkin, who had also been seen yelling at the protesters, can be seen spitting on Lucas. Shortly after, protesters separate the two, with a group pulling Lucas away. Another protester, a white man, is also seen flipping off Rapkin as others appear to try to urge her to leave before the clip ends seconds later.The video has drawn more the 460,000 views since it was first uploaded to Facebook on Saturday. Lucas told the local paper on Monday that he is still “mentally and physically shaken” after the ordeal. "To be assaulted by an adult in my own community during a pandemic was traumatic," he continued. "Again and again, I am viewed not as a child but as a color."Since Rankin’s arrest, p eople in the local community have reportedly called for the lawyer’s disbarment. Some leaders have also called for Rapkin to be charged with a hate crime after the incident.

Minnesota Police Officers Slashed the Tires of Dozens of Parked Cars During Protests - (videos) Minnesota authorities on Monday admitted that state patrol troopers and Minneapolis police officers slashed the tires of dozens of parked cars late last month during protests over the killing of George Floyd, leaving demonstrators, medics, and journalists stranded.   The Minnesota Department of Public Safety confirmed that the tactic was used after videos posted to social media showed officers dressed in military uniforms using knives to puncture the tires of idle vehicles as protests against police brutality and racial injustice erupted across Minneapolis.Bruce Gordon, spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said in a statement that “state patrol troopers strategically deflated tires” in an effort to “stop behaviors such as vehicles driving dangerously and at high speeds in and around protesters and law enforcement.”Gordon said state patrol officers targeted cars that were carrying “items used to cause harm during violent protests,” without providing any evidence that the cars contained such items.Anoka County Sheriff’s Lt. Andy Knotz acknowledged Monday that Minneapolis police officers joined the state patrol troopers in slashing the tires of parked cars. Knotz said the officers were following orders from the state Multi-Agency Command Center. As Common Dreams reported Sunday, a veto-proof majority of Minneapolis City Council members have committed to disband the Minneapolis Police Department over its conduct in recent years, including the killing of Floyd on May 25.New Yorker reporter Luke Mogelson, whose rental car tires were slashed as he covered a May 31 protest in Minneapolis, told Mother Jones that officers “were laughing” and “had grins on their faces” as they told him his tires were punctured.Documentary producer Andrew Kimmel returned to a K-Mart parking lot in Minneapolis on May 31 to find that police had slashed all four of the tires of his rental car as he covered protests in the city.“They’ve also slashed every other car,” Kimmel said in a video posted on Twitter. “Every car that’s parked here has their tires slashed. Every single car. Unbelievable.”In an interview in the K-Mart parking lot later that same morning, a tow truck driver told Kimmel that he was “so busy” towing cars that had their tires slashed.“Medics over there. News crews. Random people that were just here to protest and—tires slashed,” the driver said. “It’s unbelievable.”

 "A Police-Free Future" - Minneapolis City Council Votes To Abolish Police Department --In a stunning harbinger of things to come across the country, on Sunday afternoon, amid calls for defunding police departments countrywide, the Minneapolis City Council members went one further, and announced their intent to disband the city’s embattled police department, which has endured relentless criticism in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.  Here is the somewhat unbelievable statement from the Minneapolis City Council describing their "veto-proof majority" plans to create a utopian "police-free future"..

  • 1. Decades of police reform efforts have proved that the Minneapolis Police Department cannot be reformed, and will never be accountable for its actions.
  • 2. We are here today to begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department and creating new transformative model for cultivating safety in Minneapolis.
  • 3. We recognize that we don't have all the answers about what a police-free future looks like, but our community does. We're committing to engaging with every willing community member in the City of Minneapolis over the next year to identify what safety looks like for you.
  • 4. We'll be taking intermediate steps towards ending the MPD through the budget process and other policy and budget decisions over the coming weeks and months.

 Federal Judge Bars Denver Police From Using Chemical Weapons on Protesters - A federal judge late Friday issued a temporary order barring the Denver Police Department from using projectiles and chemical weapons such as tear gas against peaceful demonstrators, condemning the conduct of some officers against protesters across the nation in recent days as "disgusting." "The time is past to rely solely on the good faith and discretion of the Denver Police Department and its colleagues from other jurisdictions," wrote Judge R. Brooke Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado in his 11-page order. "The Denver Police Depart has failed in its duty to police its own." The restraining order, which took effect immediately, comes in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of four Denver protesters who said the use of "pepper spray, pepper balls, rubber bullets, flashbang grenades, and tear gas" by city police during a May 28 demonstration against the killing of George Floyd violated their constitutional rights. Jackson's ruling came just hours after Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, a Democrat, imposed a 30-day ban on police use of tear gas, which is banned in warfare. "If immediate relief is not granted, plaintiffs' speech would be chilled and outright denied over the next several days or weeks of demonstrations," Jackson wrote. "Indeed, irreparable harm has already occurred in the form of physical injury and the suppression of speech." "People have an absolute right to demonstrate and protest the actions of governmental officials, including police officers," Jackson continued. "It is one of the many freedoms on which this country was built ... Citizens should never have to fear peaceful protest on the basis of police retaliation, especially not when protesting that very same police violence."

 TV show 'Cops' canceled amid George Floyd protests -- Apparently, no one will be comin’ for “Cops” anytime soon.After decades on television, the once-popular series has been canceled, according to The Hollywood Reporter. A spokesperson for Paramount Network told the outlet on Tuesday that the show “is not on the Paramount Network and we don’t have any current or future plans for it to return.” According to the outlet, prior to the move, the network, which acquired the series when it was known as SpikeTV in 2013, had stopped airing the show recently after widespread protests against police brutality erupted in the nation following the police killing of George Floyd.   Then, a week before it was expected to air new season of the series, the network confirmed on Tuesday that it would be cancelling the program.  The reported cancellation comes after Variety reported that A&E had also held off on airing episodes of “Live PD” this past weekend amid protests in the nation. In a statement to Variety at the time, A&E said, “Out of respect for the families of George Floyd and others who have lost their lives, in consultation with the departments we follow, and in consideration for the safety of all involved, we have made the decision not to broadcast ‘Live PD’ this weekend.”

Demonstrators in Atlanta protest police killing of black man who fell asleep in drive-thru - (Reuters) - Demonstrators took to the streets in Atlanta on Saturday protesting the fatal shooting by police of a black man who had fallen asleep in his car while waiting in line at a fast food drive thru south of downtown. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said it was probing the killing of Rayshard Brooks, 27, of Atlanta. Police said he resisted arrest after failing a field sobriety test during the Friday night incident. Protests over Brooks’ killing began Saturday afternoon in Atlanta, and were expected to continue through the day. The president of the Georgia NAACP, the Rev. James Woodall, has called for the firing of Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper. The killing of Brooks came after weeks of intense racial equality protests across the United States following the death of George Floyd, a black man killed in Minneapolis police custody when an officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The Georgia investigators said video taken by an eyewitness was aiding their probe. The video, posted on social media, shows Brooks on the ground outside his car, struggling with two police officers.  After a few seconds, Brooks broke free from the officers and began to run. One officer then used a Taser on him. The pair then run out of the frame of the video. Gun shots are heard along with someone yelling “I got him!” The video then shows Brooks prone on the ground.

Raimondo: Rhode Island students will return to school Aug. 31 - Governor Gina Raimondo said Wednesday that she expects all Rhode Island public schools to reopen on Aug. 31, but she acknowledged that students will have some distance learning days scheduled throughout the year. Gina Raimondo standing in front of a laptop: Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and state education commissioner Angélica Infante-Green.© Kris Craig/Providence Journal Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and state education commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. Raimondo also said schools “will look different” than they have in the past because of the coronavirus, with more cleaning, desks spread further apart, staggered start times, fewer students on buses at one time, and a mask requirement for most adults and many students. “We owe it to our children to have no disruption in their learning,” Raimondo said. The governor also said that individual infections should not force entire schools to close because the state now has a better ability to pinpoint cases and rapidly test those who have been exposed to the virus. The state also released a schedule that all districts will be required to follow, complete with an Aug. 31 start date, a week off in December for Christmas break, a week off each in February and April, and a tentative graduation date of June 4. While all districts are required to follow the same schedule, Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said superintendents will be asked to submit plans to the state for how their schools will function at full capacity, in a hybrid model where there is some in-class learning and some distance learning, and in a fully remote setting. The state is setting aside $42 million in funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to assist districts with the increased expenses that will likely come from reopening, including changes to bus schedules and the need for more cleaning supplies.

35,000 sign petition to provide full funding to Randolph schools in Massachusetts - Randolph Public School District, located in a working-class area in the Greater Boston, Massachusetts region, has sent reduction in force (RIF) or nonrenewal notices to all of their arts, music, and physical education (PE) teachers, along with five social workers and six K-8 guidance counselors. These cuts, overseen by Superintendent Thea Stovell, have provoked a mass outcry. A petition to save the threatened programs has quickly amassed over 35,000 signatures, reaching its goal in only a week.  A petition signer wrote, “This decision will have long term ramifications for the school, the culture of the community, and the quality of education will diminish greatly. By cutting these programs you are massively and irreparably destroying your students’ life experiences and learning opportunities.”  The petition, addressed to Massachusetts State Senator Walter Timilty, describes the poor social conditions facing the town: “Randolph is a low-income district where funding has always been an issue, but the pandemic has made this far worse and allowed for the district to justify these extreme losses. The students of Randolph deserve a quality and well-rounded education, which would be impossible to give them without these essential parts of the curriculum… The Legislature is exploring a 10% or 20% local aid reduction for FY 21, which would be a drastic cut for Randolph.”State budgets across the US are facing massive cuts due to the economic crisis produced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the totally inadequate financial assistance given to states by the federal government, which stands in sharp contrast to the skyrocketing of the stock market back to its pre-pandemic heights.

Virtual charter schools and online learning during COVID-19 - Brookings - We recently published a peer-reviewed study in Educational Researcher in which we examine the effects of attending a virtual charter school in Indiana on student outcomes in grades 3-8. In the study, we analyze longitudinal student records provided by the Indiana Department of Education from 2011-2017. As of the 2016-17 school year, Indiana had 10,984 K-12 students enrolled in four virtual charter schools. Because the state maintains administrative records in concert with annual assessments (called the ISTEP), we were able to analyze the performance of students in virtual charter schools. We do this by identifying students who switch from traditional public schools to virtual charter schools. We match these students to their traditional public school classmates with similar characteristics (i.e., race/ethnicity, sex, poverty status, and achievement), and then compare their performance in virtual charter schools to their former peers.[1] We find the impact of attending a virtual charter on student achievement is uniformly and profoundly negative, equating to a third of a standard deviation in English/language arts (ELA) and a half of a standard deviation in math. This equates to a loss of roughly 11 percentile points in ELA and 16 percentile points in math for an average virtual charter student at baseline as compared to their public school peers (see Figure 1 above). There is no evidence that virtual charter students improve in subsequent years. We could not “explain away” these findings by looking at various teacher or classroom characteristics. We also use the same methodology to analyze the impact of attending brick-and-mortar charter schools. In contrast, we find that students who attended brick-and-mortar charters have achievement no different from their traditional public school peers (see Figure 2 below). Our confidence in these results is further buoyed by other studies of virtual charter schools in Ohio and nationwide having similar findings.

Colorado Bill Requires "Re-Education" For Parents Who Refuse The COVID-19 Vaccine - Colorado has introduced a bill that would “re-educate” parents who refuse to vaccinate their child with the coronavirus vaccine.The bill forces all doctors and medical staff to give vaccinations with no exemptions, even if they are in a situation where they believe it would not be in that child’s best interest. The bill’s current version, however, does not list any sanctions or punishments for medical staff that refuse, according to Life News. The bill just passed through a committee in Colorado (20-14) to reduce available exemptions on vaccinations for school-age children (making vaccines mandatory). This bill offers “online education modules” for parents who want a different vaccination schedule than what the state demands. Submitting a “certificate of completion” from the re-education classes is one way to receive the state-sanctioned vaccine exemption. This plandemic was never about health, it was about forcing everyone to get a vaccine: an injection of whatever the hell the ruling class decided to put in the vaccine.

Why do wealthy college students get more financial aid? -   Students in the highest 25% income range received a greater amount of non-federal financial aid ($11,300) on average compared with all other income levels, including those in the lowest 25% income range ($7,500), according to a 2019 report on non-federal aid by the National Center for Education Statistics. Affluent students get more school aid compared with students with financial need because colleges are actively pursuing them, experts say. Schools are offering non-need-based merit aid in order to attract students with wealth, especially if they’re high-performing.  It’s a race for prestige, says Martin Van Der Werf, associate director of editorial and postsecondary policy at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.“Better prepared students, higher graduation rates and a better chance of attracting students who will later give back to the college — that’s the reward system that’s in place,” says Van Der Werf, adding that there’s no similar reward system for helping low-income students.Colleges tend to choose students who will boost their rankings, and rich students often have characteristics that fit the bill.Rankings are always partially based on performance metrics: U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings, for example, take into account academic success and high SAT scores. Wealthier students tend to perform better on SATs, according to an assessment of SAT results by the Brookings Institution.Another factor in rankings is college completion — national data show students from low-income schools are slightly less likely to graduate compared with students at high-income schools.

The fate of international students in the US in the era of COVID-19 -Under the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, US higher education is facing a shakeout, with many colleges and universities expected to close whole departments or shutter entirely. This crisis makes the fate of the nearly 1.1 million international students attending US schools highly precarious. Alongside the Trump administration’s increasingly bellicose campaign to scapegoat China for its own criminal response to the pandemic, it is deliberately stoking up xenophobia against international students and workers throughout the US. Trump has recently escalated his anti-China campaign by considering a policy that would result in the expulsion of a significant portion of Chinese graduate students. Around 3,000 of the 360,000 Chinese students in the US would be affected by the policy. For students, educators, and scientists, the ability to collaborate with international students is not just valuable, but essential to move humanity and knowledge forward. Principled diversity in ideas and approach are the cornerstone of the intellectual and technological development of mankind. The treatment of these students by colleges in response to the pandemic has exposed the fact that they are primarily viewed as cash cows. Over 70 percent of US colleges expelled such students from university housing, with most under mandatory lockdowns and unable to fly home. There has been an explosion in the numbers of international students studying in the US over the past decade, rising from 2,540 newly-admitted students in 2009 to 18,304 in 2019. This has been closely tied to the rise of exorbitant and highly exploitative tuition fees. The University of California (UC), for example, charges $13,226 for students from California, whereas out-of-state and international students pay $42,218 for the very same classes. UC’s enrollment of 41,202 international students in 2019 generated $1.75 billion in tuition fees alone. In 2018, UC Irvine enrolled 6,615 international undergraduates, over double the number it accepted in 2013. Similarly, UC San Diego enrolled 8,473 in 2018, compared to 4,228 in 2013. The UC system is not unique. State universities tend to have the biggest discrepancies in the rates of international students, with Michigan and Penn State also leading the way. In other words, international students are an incredibly lucrative business. According to the US Department of Commerce, these students contributed $44.7 billion to the national economy in 2018 alone, a rise of 5.5 percent from the previous year..

 UCLA Prof Suspended, Under Police Protection After Refusing To Exempt Black Students From Final - Gordon Klein, an accounting professor in the Anderson School of Business has taught at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) for almost 40 years. He is now suspended and under police protection in his home. The reason?Klein refused to exempt black students from his final exam and sent a pointed rebuttal to students asking for the “no harm” exam. Parts of the response was certainly mocking in tone, more so than I would have considered appropriate.  The school has launched a formal discrimination investigation.However, the suspension, investigation, and death threats against Klein reinforce the fear of many in the academy of a rising orthodoxy on campus and a lack of support for faculty involved in controversies.According to Inside Higher Ed, a group of students asked Klein for a “no-harm” final exam that could only benefit students’ grades as well as shortened exams and extended deadlines.  They cited recent “traumas, we have been placed in a position where we much choose between actively supporting our black classmates or focusing on finishing up our spring quarter . . . We believe that remaining neutral in times of injustice brings power to the oppressor and therefore staying silent is not an option.”  They specifically noted that this was not “a joint effort to get finals canceled for non-black students”  “but rather an ask that you exercise compassion and leniency with black students in our major.”Klein wrote back to one student that he was being asked to make a distinction that he could not possibly make. This is the entirety of the message: Thanks for your suggestion in your email below that I give black students special treatment, given the tragedy in Minnesota.Do you know the names of the classmates that are black? How can I identify them since we’ve been having online classes only? Are there any students that may be of mixed parentage, such as half black-half Asian? What do you suggest I do with respect to them? A full concession or just half? Also, do you have any idea if any students are from Minneapolis?I assume that they probably are especially devastated as well.I am thinking that a white student from there might be possibly even more devastated by this, especially because some might think that they’re racist even if they are not.My TA is from Minneapolis, so if you don’t know, I can probably ask her. Can you guide me on how you think I should achieve a “no-harm” outcome since our sole course grade is from a final exam only? One last thing strikes me:Remember that MLK famously said that people should not be evaluated based on the “color of their skin.” Do you think that your request would run afoul of MLK’s admonition?

Alarming Study Finds US Public Pensions To Run Out Of Money By 2028 -At a moment a number of US public pension plans have barely recovered - if at all from the 2008 financial crisis - now to be hit with continuing economic fallout from the corona-crisis and domino effect of historic unemployment, an alarming report in FT warns that seven major public pension plans are due to deplete their assets by 2028."The correction in the US stock market has increased the long-term structural problems across the entire US public pension system, particularly for the weakest funds," FT observes. A new, detailed study attempting to forecast the near term struggles of public pensions at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found: “Public plans with extremely low funded ratios in 2020 may face the risk of running out of assets in the foreseeable future if markets are slow to recover,” according to researcher Jean-Pierre Aubry.The depletion would impact many hundreds of thousands of Americans and their retirement, assuming a potential slow recovery for the US stock market. FT summarizes the Center for Retirement Research's analysis according to the following study highlights:

  • Over 320,000 members of the New Jersey Teachers and Chicago Municipal public pension plans: "A slow recovery for the US stock market could result in Chicago Municipal’s funded position falling from 21 per cent this year to just 3.6 per cent by 2025. This would leave assets to cover just three months of the fund’s retirement payments..."
  • New Jersey Teachers: "...funded position projected to decline from 39.2 per cent to 23.2 per cent over the next five years. By that time, New Jersey Teachers would have assets to cover 19 months of retirement payments."
  • Police and fire departments: "public pension plans of Kentucky and Providence along with Dallas Police and Fire, Charleston Fire and Chicago Police could all end up with less than three years of retirement benefit payments saved as assets."
  • “Chicago has particularly high pension risks. The city has built up very large unfunded liabilities through years of very weak pension contributions,” a senior credit officer at Moody’s.

Of course, the structural weaknesses existed long before the coronavirus crisis, only to be exacerbated in the covid-lockdown domino effect of debt problems most expect to cascade in the next years. 

 States Sue Drug Companies and Execs for Generic Price-Fixing; Is the Tide Turning on Willingness to Allow Big Pharma a Get Out of Jail Free Card for its Egregious Behavior?Jerri-Lynn Scofield - Connecticut state attorney general William Tong led a coalition of 51 state attorneys generas and territories yesterday in: filing the third lawsuit stemming from the ongoing antitrust investigation into a widespread conspiracy by generic drug manufacturers to artificially inflate and manipulate prices, reduce competition, and unreasonably restrain trade for generic drugs sold across the United States. This new Complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, focuses on 80 topical generic drugs that account for billions of dollars of sales in the United States. The Complaint names 26 corporate Defendants and 10 individual Defendants. The lawsuit seeks damages, civil penalties, and actions by the court to restore competition to the generic drug market. Permit me to quote from the Connecticut press release at length, as it is both more complete and accurate than the secondary press coverage:  “These generic drug manufacturers perpetrated a multibillion-dollar fraud on the American public so systemic that it has touched nearly every single consumer of topical products. Through phone calls, text messages, emails, corporate conventions, and cozy dinner parties, generic pharmaceutical executives were in constant communication, colluding to fix prices and restrain competition as though it were a standard course of business. But they knew what they were doing was wrong, and they took steps to evade accountability, using code words and warning each other to avoid email and detection. Our case is built on hard evidence from multiple cooperating witnesses, millions of records, and contemporaneous notes that paint an undeniable picture of the largest domestic corporate cartel in our nation’s history. Our investigation is ongoing and expanding, and we will not rest until competition is restored and those responsible are held fully accountable,” said Attorney General Tong. The Complaint stems from an ongoing investigation built on evidence from several cooperating witnesses at the core of the conspiracy, a massive document database of over 20 million documents, and a phone records database containing millions of call detail records and contact information for over 600 sales and pricing individuals in the generics industry. Among the records obtained by the States is a two-volume notebook containing the contemporaneous notes of one of the States’ cooperators that memorialized his discussions during phone calls with competitors and internal company meetings over a period of several years. This action by most US states and territories is the third lawsuit in a similar vein, with prior actions that remain pending in 2016 and 2019. It targets 26 drug companies, and accuses the defendants of conspiring to rig the market between 2009 and 2016 for more than 80 drugs, according to Reuters, U.S. states accuse 26 drugmakers of generic drug price fixing in sweeping lawsuit.

Coronavirus, Economic Toll Threaten to Worsen Black Mortality Rates – WSJ -The new coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout threaten to exacerbate mortality rates for African-Americans, which have risen in recent years for blacks in middle age. Blacks are dying at disproportionately high rates from the coronavirus, and their unemployment rate has tripled as a result of the pandemic. The financial stress, along with long-simmering racial tensions highlighted by the May 25 killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police, may compound stressors that have been shown to worsen the health of African-Americans, according to health experts and researchers. “I am concerned that given the current national climate we could see this trend of increasing mortality in middle-aged African-Americans continue,” said Monica Webb Hooper, deputy director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, who has studied the issue. Economists have drawn attention to a rise in death rates among middle-aged whites that helped push down U.S. life expectancy during the last decade. Blacks near the same age have seen an equally sharp rise in mortality. Between 2012 and 2017, death rates for black Americans ages 25 to 44 rose 21%, federal figures show. The level is identical to the mortality increase for whites in that age group over that time. That increase among blacks helped end more than a decade of progress on African-American mortality. Although black adults die at higher rates than whites and Hispanics, their mortality rate declined 22% between 2000 and 2012. The decline cut their death-rate gap with whites almost in half. Sally Curtin, a statistician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, said that an increase in accidents including drug overdoses and traffic fatalities was a main driver of stalled mortality improvements among blacks aged 25 and over. African-Americans also have seen small increases in age-adjusted death rates for Alzheimer’s disease, strokes and suicide that started early in the last decade. Those trends were partially offset by lower death rates for cancer among blacks. Heart disease and cancer, respectively, are the leading causes of death for both black and white Americans; those killers rank in the opposite order for Hispanics. Assault including homicide is the seventh leading cause of death among blacks; it ranks 12th for Hispanics and 20th for whites. Death rates for assault among blacks have been rising since 2014 after almost a decade of leveling off. More than 20,000 black Americans have died of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, accounting for 23% of all U.S. deaths, while African-Americans make up 12.5% of the population, according to NCHS. Black Americans are more likely to have chronic health conditions, reside in densely populated areas and live in multigenerational households—all of which make them more susceptible to the virus, researchers say. A black person born around 2017 on average will live 3.6 years less than whites and 6.9 years less than Hispanics, according to the most recent NCHS statistics.

Gargling with bleach? Americans misusing disinfectants to prevent coronavirus, survey finds -  (Reuters) - More than a third of Americans misused cleaners and disinfectants to try to prevent infection by the coronavirus, according to a survey taken shortly after President Donald Trump publicly asked whether injecting such products could treat COVID-19. Washing food with bleach, using household cleaning or disinfectant products on bare skin, and intentionally inhaling or ingesting these products were some of the most commonly reported “high-risk” practices in a May 4 online survey of 502 U.S. adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. The survey’s lead author said it was undertaken following a “sharp increase” in calls to poison control centers for exposure to cleaners and disinfectants during the pandemic. In late April, Trump asked scientists during one of his coronavirus task force briefings whether inserting disinfectant into the bodies of people infected with the virus might help clear the disease, horrifying health experts. Makers of household cleaners were compelled to urge people not to drink or inject their products. Some 39% of people surveyed reported intentionally engaging in at least one high-risk practice not recommended by the CDC to prevent coronavirus infection, including using bleach to clean food or misting the body with a disinfectant spray. Four percent drank or gargled with diluted bleach solutions, soapy water or disinfectants. A quarter of those surveyed reported having at least one adverse health effect during the previous month that they believed resulted from using these products. The CDC suggested that official COVID-19 prevention messages that currently focus on hand hygiene and frequent cleaning should also include instructions on proper usage of cleaners and disinfectants, and storing chemicals out of reach of children. .

WHO Data Suggests Asymptomatic COVID-19 Carriers Actually Not Very Infectious- Live Updates - Following a report in today's WSJ noting new data showing SARS-CoV-2 spreads more quickly in sparsely populated areas where homes are more crowded (perhaps because more extended family members live together) than densely populated but affluent areas like Manhattan and North Brooklyn, the World Health Organization has just announced another epic flip flop. In an announcement that highlights once again how little scientists understand about the new coronavirus, the WHO announced that asymptomatic carriers of the virus apparently don't infect nearly as many others as we once thought. Early evidence indicated that the virus could spread via person-to-person contact, even if the carrier didn’t have symptoms. But WHO officials now say that while asymptomatic spread is certainly possible, it's not the main route of transmission. "From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual," Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said during a Monday briefing from the WHO's Geneva headquarters. "It’s very rare.” Of course, if scientists continue to see data showing asymptomatic spread isn't a main factor in transmission, it could have dramatic implications for containment policy, including diminishing the need for social distancing, and allowing students and workers to return to the workplace in much larger numbers. The data cited by the WHO was apparently gleaned from early contact tracing work. If it's true that asymptomatic spread isn't a major factor, than the importance of contact tracing has been vastly overstated. To be sure, more research and data are needed to “truly answer” the question, Van Kerkhove added. "We have a number of reports from countries who are doing very detailed contact tracing," she said. "They’re following asymptomatic cases. They’re following contacts. And they’re not finding secondary transmission onward. It’s very rare." 

Who Says Asymptomatic Spread of Coronavirus Is 'Very Rare,' but What Does That Mean? - Asymptomatic transmission of the new coronavirus appears to be "very rare," a World Health Organization(WHO) official said in a media briefing Monday.However, don't throw away your mask just yet. Public health experts pointed out that it is still possible to shed the virus when you don't know you are sick.The initial statement was made by WHO technical lead for coronavirus response and head of the emerging diseases and zoonoses unit Maria Van Kerkhove."From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual," Van Kerkhove said, as CNN reported.Van Kerkhove said the data came from member countries and that most of it was not yet published."We have a number of reports from countries who are doing very detailed contact tracing. They're following asymptomatic cases, they're following contacts and they're not finding secondary transmission onward. It is very rare," she said.CNBC wrote that her statement had major public policy implications because it appeared to reverse a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report published in April, which cited the fact that people could spread the virus before falling ill as a key reason for social distancing measures.However, experts urged caution in responding to Van Kerkhove's remarks, saying they likely hinged on the difference between presymptomatic cases, mild or atypical "paucisymptomatic" cases and truly asymptomatic cases.Harvard Global Health Institute Director Dr. Ashish K. Jha tweeted that around 20 percent of those infected with the new coronavirus truly never develop symptoms. However, the remaining 80 percent of people can still infect others before they get sick. Some models have suggested that 40 to 60 percent of the virus' spread comes from people passing it on before they fall ill."If folks without symptoms truly 'very rarely' spread virus, would be huge," Jha wrote. "But such a statement by @WHO should be accompanied by data."

Healthcare Triage Podcast: COVID-19 and Immune Symptoms in Kids – Dr Aaron Carroll talks with Dr. Jim Wood about his research as a physician scientist at Indiana University School of Medicine and pediatric infectious disease doctor at Riley Hospital for Children. You’ll learn more about COVID-19 and some of the immune syndromes we’ve seen in children who seem to have had COVID-19. We’ll also hear about lessons learned so far through the pandemic, as well as what we may be able to expect for the next few weeks, months and even years, as treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 are developed and optimized.

Reduced humidity linked to increased COVID-19 risk - A study conducted in Sydney during the early epidemic stage of COVID-19 has found an association between lower humidity and an increase in locally acquired positive cases. Researchers discovered a 1 percent decrease in humidity could increase the number of COVID-19 cases by 6 percent.The research is the first peer-reviewed study of a relationship between climate and COVID-19 in the southern hemisphere."COVID-19 is likely to be a seasonal disease that recurs in periods of lower humidity. We need to be thinking if it's winter time, it could be COVID-19 time," said Professor Ward.The study is published today in Transboundary and Emerging Diseases.Further studies - including during winter in the southern hemisphere - are needed to determine how this relationship works and the extent to which it drives COVID-19 case notification rates.Previous research has identified a link between climate and occurrence of SARS-CoV cases in Hong Kong and China, and MERS-CoV cases in Saudi Arabia, and a recent study on the COVID-19 outbreak in China found an association between transmission and daily temperature and relative humidity."The pandemic in China, Europe and North America happened in winter so we were interested to see if the association between COVID-19 cases and climate was different in Australia in late summer and early autumn," Professor Ward said."When it comes to climate, we found that lower humidity is the main driver here, rather than colder temperatures," Professor Ward said. "It means we may see an increased risk in winter here, when we have a drop in humidity. But in the northern hemisphere, in areas with lower humidity or during periods when humidity drops, there might be a risk even during the summer months. So vigilance must be maintained."

23andMe finds evidence that blood type plays a role in COVID-19 - Preliminary data from 23andMe’s ongoing genetic study of COVID-19 appears to lend more evidence for the importance of a person’s blood type — determined by the ABO gene — in differences in the susceptibility to the virus.  23andMe is still recruiting for its massive study, most recently seeking 10,000 participants outside of 23andMe who have been hospitalized and diagnosed with COVID-19. 23andMe researchers have yet to finish looking at what the genetic data indicate.  But a first blush look at the information from the more than 750,000 participants in the study shows the following:

  • The preliminary data suggest that O blood type appears to be protective against the virus when compared to all other blood types.
  • Individuals with O blood type are between 9-18% percent less likely than individuals with other blood types to have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the data.
  • There appeared to be little differences in susceptibility among the other blood types.
  • These findings hold when adjusted for age, sex, body mass index, ethnicity, and co-morbidities.
  • Although one study found the blood group O only to be protective across rhesus positive blood types, differences in rhesus factor (blood type + or -) were not significant in 23andMe data. Nor was this a factor in susceptibility or severity in cases.
  • Among those exposed to the virus — healthcare and other front line workers — 23andMe found that blood type O is similarly protective, but the proportion of cases within strata is higher.

Bald Men At Greater Risk with Covid - New research is showing why a larger percentage of men—particularly bald men—are having worse Covid-19 outcomes than women.Researchers at Brown University point to androgens, the group of hormones which causes hair loss in men. They’ve determined androgens are linked to severe cases of Covid-19 and suggest their discovery could be called the “Gabrin Sign,” named for the first U.S. physician to die of Covid-19 in the United States. Dr. Frank Gabrin was bald.Lead author Dr. Carlos Wambier said, “We think androgens or male hormones are definitely the gateway for the virus to enter our cells. We really think baldness is a perfect predictor of severity.”Wambier and his team conducted two studies in Spain. The results of one of thosestudies, published in the American Academy of Dermatology, showed that 79% of 122 men who tested positive for Covid-19 and admitted to three hospitals in Madrid were bald.A separate study of 41 patients in Spain showed that 71% of them were bald.  Could androgens also signal a problem for some female patients? The study that was published in the American Academy of Dermatology says, “it would be interesting to observe for severe Covid cases in female patients who present with increase androgens, for example, females with metabolic syndrome or whom are using birth control methods with progestogen hormones that bind to androgen receptor. Additionally, there are many medical conditions that could increase androgen activity in females and might correlate with increasing vulnerability to Covid-19.”

Shutdowns Stopped 60 Million COVID-19 Infections in the U.S., New Research Finds --  A new study has confirmed the efficacy of wide-scale shutdowns and restrictive social distancing measures to contain the outbreak of the novel coronavirus that leads to COVID-19.The study, published in the journal Nature, found that government-ordered shutdowns of industry and schools stopped 530 million new COVID-19 cases in just six countries: China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France and the U.S.The staggering numbers of cases that would have been experienced and further overwhelmed the health care system include 60 million in the U.S. and 285 million in China, according to the study.In addition to the 340 million cases the U.S. and China avoided, the study estimated that without restrictive policies in place from January through April, there would be:

  • 38 million more total infections in South Korea
  • 49 million more total infections in Italy
  • 54 million more total infections in Iran
  • 45 million more total infections in France

While the study period ended on April 6, the orders to shelter-in-place long after April 6 have likely led to many millions more infections avoided, the study's lead author, Solomon Hsiang, a professor and director of the Global Policy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a press release on Monday, as CNNreported."The last several months have been extraordinarily difficult, but through our individual sacrifices, people everywhere have each contributed to one of humanity's greatest collective achievements," Hsiang said in the press release, according to CNN.

Researchers around the world are developing more than 125 vaccines. Here’s where they stand. - Researchers around the world are developing more than 125 vaccines against the coronavirus. Vaccines typically require years of research and testing before reaching the clinic, but scientists are hoping to produce a safe and effective vaccine by next year.The New York Times is following the status of those that have reached trials in humans.There are three phases before a vaccine is approved for use, but some projects have combined early phase trials to speed up the process. Some coronavirus vaccines are now in Phase I/II trials, for example, in which they are tested for the first time on hundreds of people.Additionally, the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed program has selected five vaccine projects to receive billions of dollars in federal funding and support before there’s proof that the vaccines work. Work began in January with the deciphering of the SARS-CoV-2 genome. The first vaccine safety trials in humans started in March, but the road ahead remains uncertain. Some trials will fail, and others may end without a clear result. But a few may succeed in stimulating the immune system to produce effective antibodies against the virus.

The Elevator Arises As The Latest Logjam In Getting Back To Work -When the American Medical Association moved its headquarters to a famous Chicago skyscraper in 2013, the floor-to-ceiling views from the 47th-floor conference space were a spectacular selling point. But now, those glimpses of the Chicago River at the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed landmark, now known as AMA Plaza, come with a trade-off: navigating the elevator in the time of COVID-19. Once the epitome of efficiency for moving masses of people quickly to where they needed to go, the elevator is the antithesis of social distancing and a risk-multiplying bottleneck. As America begins to open up, the newest conundrum for employers in cities is how to safely transport people in elevators and manage the crowd of people waiting for them. If office tower workers want to stay safe, elevator experts think they have advice, some practical, some not: Stay in your corner, face the walls and carry toothpicks (for pushing the buttons). Not only have those experts gone back to studying mathematical models for moving people, but they are also creating technology like ultraviolet-light disinfection tools and voice-activated panels. “When there is risk of disease spreading from human to human, continuing to maintain a clean and safe vertical transportation system is critical to help people return to work and safe living,” said Jon Clarine, head of digital services at Thyssenkrupp Elevator, in an email. After all, most elevators are inherently cramped, enclosed spaces that can barely fit two people safely spaced 6 feet apart, much less the dozen or more that elevators in commercial and residential buildings were designed to hold. They’re a minefield of buttons and surfaces tempting to touch. Air circulation is limited to what a few vents and the opening doors can manage. Plus, they’re usually mobbed during the morning, lunchtime and evening rushes.

Coronavirus spreads among fruit and vegetable packers, worrying U.S. officials -  (Reuters) - From apple packing houses in Washington state to farm workers in Florida and a California county known as “the world’s salad bowl,” outbreaks of the novel coronavirus are emerging at U.S. fruit and vegetable farms and packing plants. A rising number of sick farm and packing house workers comes after thousands of meat plant employees contracted the virus and could lead to more labor shortages and a fresh wave of disruption to U.S. food production. The Trump administration said last month it may extend an executive order to keep meat plants operating to fruit and vegetable producers as well, a sign it is concerned fresh produce could be the next sector hit. While social distancing can be more easily implemented for workers harvesting fruits and vegetables in fields and working outside may reduce some risks for virus spread, plants that package foods such as apples and carrots resemble the elbow-to-elbow conditions that contributed to outbreaks at U.S. meat packing plants. By late May, there were more than 600 cases of COVID-19 among agricultural workers in Yakima County, Washington. Of those, 62% were workers in the apple industry and other packing operations or warehouses, according to a Reuters review of data from county health officials.With 4,834 known cases as of June 10, the county had the highest per-capita infection rate on the West Coast. “The (production) line moves super fast. And you’re working side by side and back to back,” said Edgar Franks, political director with local farmworker union Familias Unidas por la Justicia in Washington state. Workers at six fruit packing sites in Yakima County went on strike in May due to concerns they were not being provided adequate protection from COVID-19, Franks said. The health department in Monterey County, California, known as “the world’s salad bowl” for its sprawling vegetable farms, reported 247 agricultural workers had tested positive for coronavirus as of June 5, 39% of county’s total cases. Monterey is one of only a handful of health departments in nearly 30 of the largest U.S. fruit and vegetable producing counties that tracks virus cases among agricultural workers, Reuters found. In adjacent Kern county, Martin Baca, a 53 year-old forklift operator at carrot grower Grimmway Farms died on April 30, according to his obituary. His family said they believe he contracted the virus at work.

Public Health Officials Alarmed By Rebound In New COVID-19 Cases As Protests Continue - Largely thanks to the overwhelming profit motive of corporatized media, Americans suffer from an entrenched myopia that has become a major stumbling block to all manner of reform. We could spend hours parsing various theories about the provenance and nature of this endemic short-termism, which permeates everything from the priorities of corporations, the media and the average man on the street. Whether you believe us or not, scientists and public health officials who have been on the front lines of the pandemic are alarmed by the resurgence in new coronavirus cases following 2 weeks of protests spanning more than 30 states. Moreover, many of the same critics who attacked GOP governors and the Trump administration for pushing for a "premature" reopening are now arguing that the coronavirus is no longer a concern. As US stock benchmarks power higher, it seems investors are choosing to ignore warning signs like Johns Hopkins University data showing a sharp jump in new cases last week, compared with the week before, according to a WSJ analysis of the data. This attitude seems at odds with the advice from experts including Dr. Fauci and UK Secretary of Health Matt Hancock, who warned that the demonstrations risked sparking a resurgence in new cases. Robert Redfield, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, joined Gov Cuomo in urging protesters to get tested immediately. “I do think there is potential, unfortunately, for this to be a seeding event,” Dr. Redfield said. While New York, New Jersey and a handful of the other most hard-hit states have reported continued success, states like Florida, Tennessee and even Texas have seen a jump in new cases. And while expanded testing capacity is undoubtedly one contributing factor, many fear that increased human interaction is mostly to blame.

The virus is increasing in 21 states amid efforts to reopen.- The number of cases is increasing in 21 states, as Americans try to return to their normal routines. And at least 15 cases nationally have been linked to protests, including five National Guard members and one police officer in Nebraska. Health officials on Tuesday in Parsons, Kan., and Stevens Point, Wis., also announced new cases involving people who attended protests.Total case numbers in Yakima County, Wash., surpassed 5,000 on Tuesday, with 1,100 since the beginning of June. And new cases continue to be identified by the hundreds each day in the Phoenix area. More than 4,000 of Maricopa County’s 14,374 total cases are from June alone. Across the state in the past week, there have been more than 7,000 new cases with upticks in Yuma and Santa Cruz Counties.In Alaska, where new case reports had slowed to a trickle in May, the number of new cases is among the state’s worst since the start of the pandemic. There have been more than 100 new cases in the past week alone, bringing the state’s total since the beginning of March to 620. Recent outbreaks have been reported among seafood workers and ferry crew members. The state reported its first coronavirus death in more than a month on Tuesday. Some parts of the South are finally showing signs of progress. New case reports have started trending downward in Alabama and have leveled off in Mississippi. But persistent growth continues in Arkansas, North Carolina and Florida. And in South Carolina, there have been nearly 1,000 new cases in the past two days.

America Fails the Marshmallow Test   We lack the will to beat Covid-19. By Paul Krugman --The marshmallow test is a famous psychological experiment that tests children’s willingness to delay gratification. Children are offered a marshmallow, but told that they can have a second marshmallow if they’re willing to wait 15 minutes before eating the first one. Claims that children with the willpower to hold out do much better in life haven’t held up well, but the experiment is still a useful metaphor for many choices in life, both by individuals and by larger groups. One way to think about the Covid-19 pandemic is that it poses a kind of marshmallow test for society. At this point, there have been enough international success stories in dealing with the coronavirus to leave us with a clear sense of what beating the pandemic takes. First, you have to impose strict social distancing long enough to reduce the number of infected people to a small fraction of the population. Then you have to implement a regime of testing, tracing and isolating: quickly identifying any new outbreak, finding everyone exposed and quarantining them until the danger is past.This strategy is workable. South Korea has done it. New Zealand has done it.But you have to be strict and you have to be patient, staying the course until the pandemic is over, not giving in to the temptation to return to normal life while the virus is still widespread. So it is, as I said, a kind of marshmallow test.And America is failing that test.New U.S. cases and deaths have declined since early April, but that’s almost entirely because the greater New York area, after a horrific outbreak, has achieved huge progress. In many parts of the country — including our most populous states, California, Texas, and Florida — the disease is still spreading. Overall, new cases are plateauing and may be starting to rise. Yet state governments are moving to reopen anyway. This is a very different story from what’s happening in other advanced countries, even hard-hit nations like Italy and Spain, where new cases have fallen dramatically. It now looks likely that by late summer we’ll be the only major wealthy nation where large numbers of people are still dying from Covid-19.

Fauci Warns That the Coronavirus Pandemic Is Far From Over - In a wide-ranging talk to biotech executives, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci delivered a grim assessment of the devastation wrought around the world by the coronavirus. Covid-19 is the disease that Dr. Fauci always said would be his “worst nightmare” — a new, highly contagious respiratory infection that causes a significant amount of illness and death. “In a period of four months, it has devastated the whole world,” Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Tuesday during a conference held by BIO, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. “And it isn’t over yet.” His discussion with a moderator was conducted remotely and recorded for presentation to conference participants. Although he had known that an outbreak like this could occur, one aspect has surprised him, he said, and that is “how rapidly it just took over the planet.” An efficiently transmitted disease can spread worldwide in six months or a year, but “this took about a month,” Dr. Fauci said. He attributed the rapid spread to the contagiousness of the virus, and to extensive world travel by infected people. Vaccines are widely regarded as the best hope of stopping or at least slowing the pandemic, and Dr. Fauci said he was “almost certain” that more than one would be successful. Several are already being tested in people, and at least one is expected to move into large, Phase 3 trials in July. But much is still unknown about the disease and how it attacks the body — research that Dr. Fauci described as “a work in progress.” He said that he had spent much of his career studying H.I.V., and that the disease it causes is “really simple compared to what’s going on with Covid-19.” The differences, he said, include Covid’s broad range of severity, from no symptoms at all to critical illness and death, with lung damage, intense immune responses and clotting disorders that have caused strokes even in young people, as well as a separate inflammatory syndrome causing severe illness in some children. “Where is it going to end? We’re still at the beginning of really understanding.” Another looming question, he said, is whether survivors who were seriously ill will fully recover. He described the pandemic as “shining a very bright light on something we’ve known for a very long time” — the health disparities and the harder impact of many illnesses on people of color, particularly African-Americans. The coronavirus has been a “double whammy” for black people, he said, first because they are more likely to be exposed to the disease by way of their employment in jobs that cannot be done remotely. Second, they are more vulnerable to severe illness from the coronavirus because they have higher rates of underlying conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and chronic lung disease. Given the disparities, he said, it is essential to focus more resources to control the coronavirus in the areas with high-density African-American populations. But the longer-term solution will take decades, he said, to address the socioeconomic and dietary factors that contribute to so many of the health problems in racial and ethnic groups that have been most affected by the virus.

Fauci says protests could cause a spike and the gatherings are the ‘kinds of things we were concerned about.’ Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned on Wednesday that the protests sweeping the nation could lead to a spike in infections — and said that it is not enough that many people marching against police violence are wearing masks. “Masks can help, but it’s masks plus physical separation and when you get congregations like we saw with the demonstrations, like we have said — myself and other health officials — that’s taking a risk,” Dr. Fauci said on the ABC program “Good Morning America.” He added, “Unfortunately, what we’re seeing now is just an example of the kinds of things we were concerned about.” Dr. Fauci said a report that members of the D.C. National Guard had become infected after the protests “is certainly disturbing but is not surprising.” The host, Robin Roberts, later said, “People are very passionate about what they’re fighting for and it’s very evident that they feel it’s worth the possible risk.” Dr. Fauci nodded his head. A group of more than 1,000 people working in health and medicine have argued recently that the protests are “vital” to public healthas the longtime discrimination of black Americans is itself a public health crisis. Some protesters have said they weighed the health risks against the need to protest and decided the movement against police brutality and racism was worth the risk. In California, Jarrion Harris, 32, wore a cloth mask for a march in Hollywood on Sunday. “I’m definitely not out here because I think Covid-19 has gone into the shadows,” Mr. Harris said. “It’s worth the risk.” Typically, symptoms of the virus can take up to two weeks to appear after a person is exposed, and it is too soon to see any real change in the number of cases in areas where there have been large gatherings.

D.C. National Guard members test positive for COVID-19 after responding to protests - Members of the D.C. National Guard who were responding to protests in the nation’s capital over the death of George Floyd have tested positive for COVID-19, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.The service members were part of the 1,300 D.C. National Guard members called up to help law enforcement respond initially to rioting on May 31, that was followed by days of peaceful protests. A Guard spokeswoman did not identify how many positive tests the unit has recorded.“We can confirm that we have had COVID-19 positive tests with the DCNG,” said D.C. National Guard spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. Brooke Davis. “The safety and security of our personnel is always a concern, especially in light of the COVID-19 era.”The news follows reports that two members of the Nebraska National Guard who were activated in response to protests in Lincoln, Neb., have also tested positive.The D.C. National Guard was supported by approximately 3,900 additional Guardsmen from Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah to protect national monuments and ensure peaceful demonstrations as tens of thousands of protesters took to district streets last week.In the largest protest Saturday, participants squeezed past each other, some with masks, some not, as they chanted and sang near the White House.Members of two National Guard units from Missouri and Mississippi on Saturday were not wearing masks, and while they tried to maintain social distance, at times it was not possible as the crowds swelled or engaged with them.

 70 coronavirus test sites were destroyed during George Floyd protests, which US officials worry could lead to a spike in infections -Seventy coronavirus testing sites have been destroyed during George Floyd protests, leaving the top US COVID-19 official warning of a spike in infections, The Daily Beast reported. In leaked audio, Dr Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, told Vice President Mike Pence and state governors that testing has subsequently dipped, The Daily Beast reported. "Scramble now to make sure there is testing available in urban areas," Birx reportedly said on Monday. The damage meant there was a drop in testing numbers, which Pence said "is a concern" and "an issue our team is following." It is not clear which sites were destroyed and in which cities. Birx expressed concern that because protesters were shouting so much, that could "negate the health benefits of wearing a mask," The Daily Beast also reported. In a separate call with governors and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on June 3, Birx said protests would likely lead to a spike in infections. "This could result in a fight over the next two weeks," she said, according to audio of that meeting, also leaked to The Daily Beast. BLM Black Lives Matter protests New York City NYC Police at a Black Lives Matter protest in New York City on May 8, 2020. Claire Molloy/Business Insider Birx also told governors it was "absolutely critical" that law enforcement who worked at the protests but did not wear masks get tested as well. 

 Researchers Find At Least 7 Different Strains Of Coronavirus Circulated In California - The latest research published last night by the journal Science repudiated prior claims that early incidences of the virus in the US petered out, and instead found that at least seven different strains of the virus that have been circulating in California since the early days of the outbreak, suggesting that the outbreak in the US didn't have one source, but evolved from a large number of travelers spreading the virus to the US. As we noted earlier, new satellite data suggests the virus emerged in Wuhan much earlier than Beijing has acknowledged. The analysis found that the cases of the disease, including travelers coming from Europe and Asia, spread in Washington and California, before the virus spread from those states across the rest of the country, though it's probably fair to assume that a similarly diverse number of strains traveled to New York. "While the sample size is small, this study suggests that there may have been multiple introductions of the virus into the United States," Brandon Brown, an associate professor of social medicine population and public health at the University of California-Riverside, told UPI."The findings may actually leave us with more questions than answers regarding the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S.," he added. Brown was involved with the study. The study published in Science was conducted by a team of California public health officials and international researchers analyzing viral samples from 36 patients spanning nine counties and the Grand Princess cruise ship, which docked in San Francisco Bay in March after an outbreak occurred on board. A detailed genetic analysis revealed that at least seven different SARS-CoV-2 strains spread in California, and these strains showed some overlap with Washington State.

Coronavirus: more than a dozen US states see record high of new cases - A total of 14 states and the US territory of Puerto Rico have recorded their worst week yet for new coronavirus infections, with Texas hitting a record high in Covid-19 hospitalizations, all while restrictions to curb the pandemic are being relaxed across America. A resurgence in new infections has been detected in states including Florida, Texas and California, as authorities allow certain businesses and public places to reopen. According to data tracked by the Washington Post, since the start of June, 14 states and Puerto Rico have experienced their highest seven-day average of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. The states are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. The surge in cases, which public health experts have described as worrying, and had warned about repeatedly, shows that while Covid-19 is now in retreat in New York City and other major urban centres, it is sweeping across rural areas, infecting smaller towns. Figures from the Texas department of state health services showed that 1,935 people were hospitalized for coronavirus-related reasons on Monday, up from a previous record of 1,888 on 5 May. Officials in Dallas said the city hit its highest ever one-day total for new infections on Thursday, at 285, while Houston has also recorded climbing numbers. On Sunday, Florida recorded more than 1,000 newly diagnosed Covid-19 cases for the fifth day of the previous week, with Thursday’s total of 1,413 the highest since the state started providing daily updates in March.California saw a 40% rise in cases last week, with large cities including Los Angeles, which has the highest number of cases in the state, and San Francisco lifting restrictions on travelling and access to beaches.Arizona, meanwhile, has seen one of the largest jumps in the country, with the daily total in new cases breaking the state record on four separate occasions over the past week.

U.S. Coronavirus Cases Top 2 Million as All 50 States Start Reopening  The number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose past two million Wednesday night, according to Johns Hopkins University data reported by CBS News.As of early Thursday morning Eastern Time, there were a confirmed total of 2,000,464 cases and 112, 924 deaths in the country that remains the world leader for both metrics. The news comes as all 50 states are reopening to some degree and 17 states report an uptick in the daily average of new cases compared with two weeks ago. President Donald Trump has been criticized for his handling of the pandemic, as he both downplayed the initial risk and suggested ingesting bleach as a potential cure during a live briefing.  "From the beginning there has been misrepresentations and fabrications from the White House," director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University Irwin Redlener told The Guardian. "Whatever the opposite of 'mission accomplished' is, that's what this is. It's essentially been an American fiasco."The disease claimed its first known U.S. life in California just five months ago and quickly spread across the country following an initial outbreak in Washington state, CBS News reported. The U.S. recorded one million cases 14 weeks into the outbreak, and now two million six weeks after that, according to The Guardian. But public health experts warned that the country was still in the early stages of the outbreak. The disease will not be controlled until at least 60 percent of the population has antibodies, either from being vaccinated or from falling ill and recovering, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told The Guardian. And he said that milestone was a long way off."At most, perhaps 5% of people have been infected," he said. "If all that pain, suffering and economic destruction got us to 5%, what will it take to get us to 60%? That's a sobering thought. All of that suffering and death is just getting started. People haven't quite got that yet." Harvard Global Health Institute leader Ashish Jha told CNN that the U.S. could see 200,000 deaths by September even if the number of new cases just holds steady, Reuters reported.   "And that's just through September," Jha said. "The pandemic won't be over in September." While initially hard hit states like New York and New Jersey are getting the virus under control, others are seeing their caseload rise. Since June began, 14 states and Puerto Rico have reported their highest weekly average yet for new cases, The Guardian reported Tuesday. Those states are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. Texas broke its record for coronavirus hospitalizations and Arizona reported one of the steepest upticks in the country.

Second U.S. Virus Wave Emerges as Cases Top 2 Million -A second wave of coronavirus cases is emerging in the U.S., raising alarms as new infections push the overall count past 2 million Americans.

  • Texas on Wednesday reported 2,504 new coronavirus cases, the highest one-day total since the pandemic emerged.
  • A month into its reopening, Florida this week reported 8,553 new cases -- the most of any seven-day period.
  • California’s hospitalizations are at their highest since May 13 and have risen in nine of the past 10 days.

A fresh onslaught of the novel coronavirus is bringing challenges for residents and the economy in pockets across the U.S. The localized surges have raised concerns among experts even as the nation’s overall case count early this week rose just under 1%, the smallest increase since March. “There is a new wave coming in parts of the country,” said Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It’s small and it’s distant so far, but it’s coming.”  Though the outbreaks come weeks into state reopenings, it’s not clear that they’re linked to increased economic activity. And health experts say it’s still too soon to tell whether the massive protests against police brutality that have erupted in the past two weeks have led to more infections.In Georgia, where hair salons, tattoo parlors and gyms have been operating for a month and a half, case numbers have plateaued, flummoxing experts.Puzzling differences show up even within states. In California, which imposed a stay-at-home order in late March, San Francisco saw zero cases for three consecutive days this week, while Los Angeles County reported well over half of the state’s new cases. The White House Coronavirus Task Force has yet to see any relationship between reopening and increased cases of Covid-19, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said on a podcast. But in some states, rising numbers outpace increases in testing, raising concerns about whether the virus can be controlled. It will take a couple of weeks to know, Toner said, but by then “it’s going to be pretty late” to respond.

Risk of new lockdowns rises with fear of second COVID-19 wave -  (Reuters) - Fears of a second wave of COVID-19 infections shut six major food markets in Beijing on Friday, while India, which opened up this week, recorded a record daily increase and half a dozen U.S. states said their hospital beds were filling up fast. Health officials worldwide have expressed concerns in recent days that some countries grappling with the devastating economic impact of lockdowns may lift restrictions too swiftly, and that the coronavirus could spread during mass anti-racism protests. “We must be ready to roll back relaxation of measures if needed,” the European Union’s health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said after urging its 27 members to plough ahead with testing the population as they reopen schools and businesses. In China, where the new coronavirus originated, two new cases of COVID-19, the disease it causes, were recorded in the capital. Authorities closed part or all of six big wholesale food markets which the two men had recently visited but it was not known how they had become infected. India opened most public transport, offices and malls this week after nearly 70 days even though health officials said it was weeks away from flattening the rising infection curve. The official death toll, at 8,498, is relatively small, but the health ministry said registered cases rose by 10,956 on Friday, a record, with many in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the head of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, one of India’s biggest mosques, ordered a halt to congregations until the end of the month. “What is the point of visiting mosques at a time when the virus is spreading so fast?” he said. ADVERTISEMENT

Washington State sounds alarm over rising coronavirus cases - Health officials in Washington are warning that the coronavirus is spreading more widely throughout the state, an increase likely driven by transmissions that took place over Memorial Day Weekend. In a report issued Saturday, the state Department of Health pointed to two distinct hotspots, both of which are showing worrying signs of increased spreading. Confirmed COVID-19 cases are rising fastest in four counties east of the Cascade Mountains, mostly rural and agricultural areas that were spared from the first substantial outbreak in Washington. Both cases and the rate at which tests are coming back positive are increasing in Yakima, Spokane, Franklin and Benton counties. Projections in three of those counties show they are at risk of recording hundreds of new cases a day by the end of the month; Yakima County is already recording cases at that rapid rate. The outbreaks east of the Cascades are now comparable to the worst days of the coronavirus epidemic in King County, home to Seattle, in mid-March. Though they are much more sparsely populated, there are as many cases per capita now in the eastern counties as there were in Seattle during the height of its outbreak. King County has a population 2.25 million and has recorded 8,611 coronavirus cases, according to state Health Department figures, or a little under four cases per 1,000 residents. Yakima County, population 250,000, has recorded 5,129 confirmed cases, a per capita ratio five times higher than King County. The state Health Department also said they were concerned about a growing number of cases confirmed in Western Washington. Models maintained by epidemiologists at the University of Washington show the estimated reproductive threshold — the average number of people someone infected with the virus infects — rising above the 1.0 threshold needed to keep cases on the decline. Washington, the state that suffered the first confirmed coronavirus case back in January, is now beginning to reopen its economy. In a statement Saturday, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said the new report was cause for concern. “The report estimates cases and deaths will soon increase substantially if COVID-19 continues to spread at current levels,” Inslee said. “This data will force us to look for some creative solutions and strengthen our strong local - state partnerships to address the disease activity.”

Texas, Florida, California hit highs for COVID-19 infections in last two weeks  - Three of the nation’s most populous states have all hit new highs for daily confirmed coronavirus cases in the past two weeks as states grapple with a resurgence of the virus. Texas, Florida and California recorded record numbers of new cases, a concerning sign as the country continues to ease restrictions put in place to try to blunt the spread of COVID-19. Texas now has more than 83,000 cases, Florida has nearly 71,000 cases and California has just shy of 142,000 cases. As all 50 states move to relax restrictions and about two weeks after people ventured to Memorial Day celebrations, hot spots have emerged in states such as South Carolina and Missouri and cities such as Houston and Phoenix. Week-over-week case counts are on the rise in half of all states, and only 16 states and the District of Columbia have seen their total case counts decline for two consecutive weeks. However, in a sliver of good news, previous hot spots such as New York have reported consistent declines in new cases, potentially providing a road map for how to grapple with new outbreaks. “Whenever you loosen mitigation, you can expect you’ll see new infections; I think it would be unrealistic to think that you won’t,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on ABC News’s “Powerhouse Politics” podcast. “The critical issue is how do you prevent those new infections that you see from all of a sudden emerging into something that is a spike, and that’s the thing that we hope we will be able to contain.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday projected that the U.S. was on pace to reach 124,000 to 140,000 COVID-19 deaths by July 4 and that more fatalities could be expected in Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, North Carolina, Utah and Vermont in the next month versus the last month. However, despite the rise in cases, most governors across the country have shown little appetite to halt their reopening process, in apparent recognition of the steep toll restrictions have taken on their states’ economies. “Americans are on the move and they can’t be tied down and they can't be restrained, unless they make a voluntary decision that this is right for me and my health or my family,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), whose state has seen a spike in new cases, said. Thus far, only the governors of Oregon and Utah are hitting pause on reopening their states after seeing a sudden rise in new cases.

Nine U.S. States Seeing Spikes in COVID-19 Hospitalizations - In another troubling sign that the spread of coronavirus might be accelerating, new U.S. data shows hospitalizations in at least nine states have been on the rise since Memorial Day. In Texas, North and South Carolina, California, Oregon, Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah and Arizona, increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients are showing up at hospitals, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. For example, Texas has reported two consecutive days of record-breaking coronavirus hospitalizations. The state, which was one of the first to reopen, has seen a 36 percent increase in new cases since the end of May, with a record 2,056 hospitalizations recorded by Tuesday afternoon, the Post reported. The hospitalization data challenges the notion that the country is seeing a spike in new coronavirus cases solely because of increased testing, the Post reported. By Wednesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count neared 2 million as the death toll passed 112,000. On Tuesday, another Post analysis showed that parts of the country that had been spared the worst of the coronavirus pandemic are now tallying record-high cases of new infections. Since the start of June, 14 states and Puerto Rico have recorded their highest seven-day average of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, data tracked by the Postshows. Those states are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.On Tuesday, the country's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, described COVID-19 as his "worst nightmare" and delivered a warning, The New York Times reported. "In a period of four months, it has devastated the whole world," Fauci said. "And it isn't over yet.""Where is it going to end? We're still at the beginning of it," he said, the Post reported.

Arizona reactivates hospital emergency plans as COVID-19 infections rise in 19 states - Arizona’s state health director, Dr. Cara Christ, sent an urgent letter to Arizona hospitals, asking them to activate their COVID-19 emergency plans. The Arizona Department of Health Services tweeted Tuesday night, “We know COVID-19 is still in our community, and we expect to see increased cases.” The Arizona DHS reported Wednesday that the rising number of hospitalizations for coronavirus infection had raised the occupancy rate for the state’s hospitals to 83 percent, up from 76 percent Monday, past the 80 percent figure that triggers a halt in elective surgeries. The state reported 1,556 cases on Wednesday, a new daily high, bringing total cases statewide to nearly 30,000, half of them in Maricopa County (Phoenix), with 1,095 deaths. Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the chief clinical officer for Banner Health, told, “I definitely think we are seeing an increase in community prevalence and spread. What the proximal cause is, it is hard for me to state what that is, but certainly a number of activities that have happened since the executive stay-at-home order expired” on May 15. According to Marcy Flanagan, executive director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, the county has seen nearly 500 new cases daily in each of the last four days, compared to 200 new cases per day previously before. With over 2 million total cases, persistent daily cases over 20,000+ on a seven-day average, and 112,629 deaths in the United States, according to the database of the New York Times, the outbreak is currently spreading in the southern and western states as government restrictions have been eased and back-to-work orders carried out. California has had more than 2,000 daily cases since May 25. Missouri, Washington, and North Carolina are seeing a new surge of cases. Florida has now consistently over 1,000 cases each day, with Saturday’s total of 1,426 positive cases the most since early April. Coronavirus hospitalizations in North Carolina have hit a new high of 774. Arizona is only one of 19 states where the COVID-19 infection rate is rising, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. These include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont and Washington.

Growing anger among US workers as COVID-19 rips through workplaces - Manufacturing facilities, warehouses and other large workplaces in the United States continue to be major vectors for the spread of COVID-19, with the number of infections and hospitalizations rising sharply in many areas of the country. In their reckless rush to reopen the economy and restart the flow of corporate profits, the Trump administration and state and local authorities from both parties have all but abandoned any public health measures to contain the virus. Driven by the premature back-to-work push by US corporations, a mood of anger and opposition is taking hold within the working class in the United States. This is merging with outrage over the police murder of George Floyd, massive levels of unemployment and economic insecurity, and demands by corporations, including many that received government bailouts, for wage and benefit cuts. In recent days, health care workers have joined the demonstrations, aiding injured protesters. Public transit workers in New York City—where 139 co-workers have died of COVID-19—and other cities have refused to transport cops and protesters arrested by the police. The strikes, job actions and other protests by workers in the US are part of a growing international wave of struggles, from German meatpacking workers and Polish coal miners in Silesia—who make up 10 percent of the country’s COVID-19 cases—to Bridgestone tire workers in Brazil and Panamanian workers who struck against the reopening of the economy. Hundreds of meatpacking workers in Logan, Utah demonstrated Wednesday afternoon to demand the closure of their facility, operated by Brazilian conglomerate JBS. The workers are also demanding that they be compensated for time off during the shutdown. At least 287 at the facility, or more than 20 percent of the total workforce, tested positive during a screening held on the weekend of May 30. This is possibly the largest single outbreak in the state, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Hundreds of Philadelphia sanitation workers protested in front of City Hall Tuesday morning to demand protective equipment, access to regular testing for COVID-19 and hazard pay bonuses. Nearly 60 Philadelphia sanitation workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and another 50 have self-quarantined after being exposed, according to local union officials. The city’s 1,100 sanitation workers, whose median salary is $36,000, face the constant threat of infection as they collect trash from the hundreds of thousands of households and businesses in the city of 1.5 million. After wildcat strikes forced a halt to production in mid-March, the automakers prepared a return to work with a media blitz, fully supported by the United Auto Workers union, which touted the wholly inadequate safety measures being adopted after over two dozen autoworkers died. Reports of new infections in the plants began as soon as production reopened on May 18. Management at the Elon Musk-owned electric carmaker Tesla, which defied local lockdown orders to reopen its massive plant in northern California last month, has admitted to workers that there have already been several confirmed cases at multiple facilities. Industry outlet Automotive News admitted this week that testing by the companies has not been on a scale sufficient to identify new infections.

 COVID Spreads To 60 Plants, Sparks Fear Of US Food Shortages As 2nd Wave Strikes - A new report reveals the severity of COVID-19 spreading beyond meatpacking plants to food processing facilities across the US.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) outlines this new reality of how the fast-spreading virus has infected 1,200 food processing workers at 60 plants from mid-March to early June. To compile these statics, EWG reviewed news articles of outbreaks and noticed many of the infections were seen at Kraft Heinz, Birds Eye, Conagra, and the Campbell Soup Company's Pepperidge Farm, as well as those of smaller plants, like Fairmont Foods and Ruiz Foods.  Cases Bloomberg elaborated on EWG's findings and said: "These are the first national numbers of their kind. The advocacy group compiled its figures using local media reports because there are no federal agencies reporting the data. The true total is almost certainly higher." Bakers, dairy workers, fruit and vegetable packers, many of whom are deemed "essential" have worked through the pandemic, sometimes laboring in tight quarters. "At our workplace, we were not ready for this virus. We didn't talk about it. We didn't know about it," Paula Zambrano,61, who packs fruit at Borton & Sons in Yakima, Washington. She was so concerned back in April of an outbreak at her plant that she stayed home for three weeks. Low on money, she returned to work to support her family. "People are infected, and they come to work. They keep quiet about it," Zambrano said. "We live from our work. We are surviving from our wages. If we have children, how will we feed them?"In a piece titled ""Cold, Damp & Crowded" – How America's Meat Plants Are Breeding Grounds For Covid" -- we described how meat processing plants had become a breeding ground for the virus -- and with EWG's report this week, similar conditions have been seen across many other types of food processing plants. EWG estimates at least 1.8 million Americans work in food processing plants. Many of the workers are low-income and minority, their labor in tight workspaces make them susceptible to infection.America's food suppliers have seen some of the worst outbreaks of the virus. Dozens of folks at meatpacking plants across the country have died with thousands infected. The ongoing human tragedy at meat and food processing plants expose the vulnerability of the food supply chain.

Dr. Amy Acton steps down as Ohio Department of Health Director  -Dr. Amy Acton has stepped down as the Ohio Department of Health Director, Governor Mike DeWine announced on Thursday.Acton will continue to serve as DeWine's Chief Health Advisor. Lance Himes will serve as the Ohio Department of Health's Interim Director, a role he had previously held.A native of Youngstown, Acton took over as the Ohio Department of Health Director in February 2019 and later became one of the faces of the state's response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in March 2020. Acton received praise both locally and nationally for her calm demeanor and measured approach, with a New York Times video column calling her "the leader we wish we all had."But while Acton was lauded by many, she also faced criticism from those who believed the state's response to the coronavirus, which included a stay-at-home order that lasted throughout April, was too severe. In May, the Ohio House of Representatives passed legislation that would curb Acton's ability to issue orders longer than 14 days (the bill failed to pass in the state senate), while some protesters demonstrated outside of her personal residence.On Thursday, DeWine reiterated that any order issued by Acton came at his directive. Asked why she chose to resign, Acton said she couldn't do justice to what had become performing three jobs at once during the state's continued coronavirus response.Asked about the backlash she's received in her role, Acton sa  id, "that was not my focus."

US Postal Service covers up COVID-19 death toll in New York City - A staggering 17,000 workers, or 3 percent of the United States Postal Service workforce, have been quarantined since the start of the pandemic, according to a recent report by Government Executive magazine. To date, around 70 percent of those quarantined have been cleared to come back to work. Management acknowledges that 2,830 workers have tested positive for COVID-19, out of a total workforce of approximately 630,000. However, USPS officials have not made publicly available the number of deaths. The report by Government Executive, published May 21, was able to confirm that 126 federal workers had died to date from the coronavirus pandemic, including 60 USPS workers. However, these figures represent only a “non-comprehensive tally.” The World Socialist Web Site recently spoke with a USPS worker in New York City who was concerned by rumors that there had been a significant number of fatalities at his workplace. He works at the Morgan Processing and Distribution Center, one of the largest mail processing facilities in the country. Following up on this, the WSWS contacted the New York City USPS postmaster on Monday to request up-to-date statistics on (1) the number of postal worker deaths in New York City, (2) the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus among postal workers in the city, and (3) the number of workers in the city who were quarantined. This information was requested to be broken down by facility and borough. The WSWS also requested information regarding whether facilities with confirmed cases were closed for deep cleaning and for how long. The US Postal Service is a public enterprise and an agency of the executive branch of the federal government, so the requested information is subject to public disclosure. The postmaster’s meager reply, transmitted by USPS Communications Specialist Xavier C. Hernandez, consisted in its entirety of the following: “With a workforce of more than 630,000 employees there have been 2,830 postal employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, with some deaths (I don’t have other numbers to provide you, sorry).”

In 'Totalitarian' Move, Brazil's Bolsonaro Removes Death and Case Totals From Coronavirus Website - Brazil's Health Ministry removed the total number of coronavirus cases and deaths from a government website Saturday, Reuters reported. And health ministry employees told local media that the scrubbing was ordered by far-right PresidentJair Bolsonaro, according to The Guardian.  "The manipulation of statistics is a manoeuvre of totalitarian regimes," Supreme Court Judge Gilmar Mendes tweeted in response. "The trick will not exempt responsibility for the eventual genocide." The government coronavirus tracking website was taken down Friday and reloaded Saturday with only data on cases, deaths and recoveries in the past 24 hours, according to Reuters.  "The cumulative data ... does not reflect the moment the country is in," Bolsonaro tweeted, as Reuters translated. "Other actions are underway to improve the reporting of cases and confirmation of diagnoses."  However, the website change comes as Brazil battles one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world, BBC News reported. It has more than 640,000 confirmed cases, behind only the U.S., and more than 35,000 deaths, the third largest death toll after the U.S. and the UK. The move also came after the country reported more than 1,000 deaths for four days in a row.   The website change was widely condemned by journalists, members of Congress and public health officials. "The authoritarian, insensitive, inhuman and unethical attempt to make those killed by Covid-19 invisible will not succeed. We and Brazilian society will not forget them, nor the tragedy that befalls the nation," the president of Brazil's national council of state health secretaries Alberto Beltrame said in a statement reported by The Guardian. Bolsonaro has consistently downplayed the pandemic, calling it a "little flu" and arguing against lockdown measures, according to BBC News. On Friday, he threatened to exit the World Health Organization.   Before the website change, the government was also criticized for pushing back the publication of its daily virus update from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., according to Reuters.

Brazil's COVID-19 death toll becomes second-highest in the world - Brazil’s coronavirus death toll is now the second-highest in the world, surpassing the United Kingdom's death toll and trailing only the United States. The two most populous countries in the western hemisphere now have the highest number of recorded cases and deaths in the world. According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, Brazil has 828,810 confirmed cases of the virus and 41,828 deaths as of Saturday afternoon. By comparison, the U.S. has recorded 2,066,993 cases and 115,206 deaths. The grim statistic comes as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has widely rejected social distancing measures recommended by scientists. The Brazilian government stopped posting coronavirus statistics on their site last week, but was forced to put them back up after an order from the country's Supreme Court. This week, India also surpassed Britain in terms of number of deaths from the disease as the nation with the fourth-highest number of cases globally, according to the Johns Hopkins tally. This comes after India experienced the most new cases in a single day on Friday. As of Saturday morning, there have been at least 308,900 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in India and 8,884 deaths, according to the country's Ministry of Health and Welfare. The increase in cases comes as some countries have begun relaxing mitigation efforts like shutdowns and social distancing measures and as coronavirus testing has become more widespread in some places.

Mexico's President Refuses to Take Coronavirus Test After Coming in Contact with Infected Admin Member -- Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is attempting to allay any suspicions about his health after a high-ranking member of his administration he’d recently been in contact with was infected with the coronavirus. Lopez Obrador told reporters Monday, that he is fine and that he will not get tested because he doesn’t have symptoms. He said, Zoé Robledo, director of Mexico’s social security system, is now in quarantine after testing positive following an appearance at an event in the Tabasco state capital of Villahermosa, with the president’s security cabinet. In response to critics López Obrador had been traveling too much recently, promoting the reopening of the country, he is considering a video conference rather than a White House visit when the new free trade agreement with the United States and Canada takes effect July 1. The president said, he is following the recommendations of the doctors, which everyone should follow regardless of their position. Mexico is among the leaders in Latin America, with more than 120,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 14,000 deaths.

India sets another record single-day jump in virus cases, tops Spain — India registered 9,971 new coronavirus cases in a fresh single-day record jump, passing Spain as the country fifth worst-hit by the pandemic, government data released Sunday showed. The spike comes as India allows the reopening of malls, restaurants, hotels and places of worship, with restrictions on large gatherings, from Monday. The total number of infections rose to 246,628, the health ministry said in its daily update. The cases have been rising sharply, by 8,000 or more, for several days now. The caseload crossed Spain with a tally of 241,310 and India was only behind the US, Brazil, Russia and Britain in terms of number of confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins University in the United States. India’s COVID-19 fatalities at 6,929, have been relatively low compared to countries like Italy, ranked seventh worst-hit, which has 33,846 COVID-19 deaths. Indian officials contend that the more than two month-long lockdown, the largest in the world, kept the mortality rates down. They also cite effective clinical management and less severe infections in India, which has a population that skews younger. However, experts warned India, the second-most populous country with 1.3 billion inhabitants, had yet to see the peak of the pandemic. India’s main cities, national capital New Delhi and the financial hub of Mumbai are the epicenters of the outbreak in India, accounting for 46,000 and 27,000 cases respectively.

India sees record jump of Covid-19 cases at 11,458 in one day -- India, the fourth worst-hit country in the world, recorded more than 11,000 cases of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and 386 deaths in the last 24 hours, according to the Union health ministry on Sunday. There were 11,458 new Covid-19 cases and 386 deaths between Friday and Saturday, taking India’s infection tally to 308,993—with the latest 100,000 cases added in just the last 10 days—and its toll to 8,884. The previous 100,000 cases took 15 days and the first 100,000 cases took 78 days after the coronavirus disease was reported in the country in late January. A little under a quarter of all cases have been reported just in the last week and the cases doubling in the last 17 days. Also read: Covid-19 infection rate jumped by 21% in 12 days in Delhi, recovery rate dropped According to the health ministry’s dashboard, 154,329 patients have recovered from Covid-19 or nearly 50% of people who contracted the respiratory disease have been discharged from hospitals so far. The active cases stood at 145,779 and the number of recovered patients in the country has been outnumbering that of active cases since Tuesday now. The United States, Brazil and Russia are the other countries to report more than 300,000 cases of Covid-19. Most of India’s Covid-19 cases have been reported from four states of Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. Also read: Govt reviews use of HCQ and antibiotic combo in treating Coronavirus cases Maharashtra has breached the one lakh-mark and now has 101,141 infections with 3,717 deaths. In Tamil Nadu, there are 40,698 Covid-19 cases and 367 fatalities, while Delhi has reported 36,824 infections and 1,214 deaths so far. Gujarat has a higher number of deaths than the national capital at 1,415 but its case tally is 22,527. West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have also seen a rising number of Covid-19 cases. More than 7.6 million infections of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, and 425,330 deaths has been reported across the world since the virus was first reported in China’s Wuhan in December last year. 

'Ticking time bomb:' Lack of beds slows Delhi's virus fight - In New Delhi, a sprawling capital region of 46 million and home to some of India's highest concentration of hospitals, a pregnant woman’s death after a frantic hunt for a sickbed was a worrying sign about the country’s ability to cope with a wave of new coronavirus cases. “She kept begging us to save her life, but we couldn’t do anything,” Shailendra Kumar said, after driving his sister-in-law, Neelam, and her husband for hours, only to be turned away at eight public and private hospitals.Two and a half months of nationwide lockdown kept numbers of infections relatively low in India. But with restrictions easing in recent weeks, cases have shot up, rising by a record of nearly 10,000 on Thursday, raising questions about whether authorities have done enough to avert catastrophe.India’s tally has reached 286,579, the fifth highest in the world, with 8,102 deaths. In Delhi, which has reported 32,810 cases including 984 deaths, the rate of infection is higher than the national average, doubling every 12 days. Private hospitals in Delhi — a wider territory that encompasses New Delhi — report that all of their sickbeds and ventilators are in use. Severely ill people have been turned away from public hospitals, too. The explosion of cases has made it far more difficult for patients with other life-threatening diseases to receive care, Bhan said, a problem as India enters the monsoon period, which brings malaria, dengue and a host of other mosquito and water-borne diseases.

Ardern dances for joy after New Zealand eliminates coronavirus - (Reuters) - New Zealand lifted all social and economic restrictions except border controls after declaring on Monday it was free of the coronavirus, one of the first countries in the world to return to pre-pandemic normality. Public and private events, the retail and hospitality industries and all public transport were allowed to resume without the distancing rules still in place across much of the world. “While the job is not done, there is no denying this is a milestone ... Thank you, New Zealand,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference, saying she had danced for joy at the news. “We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now, but elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort.” New Zealand’s 5 million people are emerging from the pandemic while big economies such as Brazil, Britain, India and the United States continue to grapple with spread of the virus. Its 75 days of restrictions included about seven weeks of a strict lockdown in which most businesses were shut and everyone except essential workers had to stay home. “Today, 75 days later, we are ready,” Ardern said, announcing that social distancing restrictions would end at midnight. Ardern said she had done a “little dance” when she was told there were no more active COVID-19 cases in New Zealand, surprising her two-year-old daughter, Neve. “She was caught a little by surprise and she joined it having absolutely no idea why I was dancing around the lounge.” New Zealand has reported 1,154 infections and 22 deaths from COVID-19 since the virus arrived in late February. Ardern had vowed to eliminate, not merely contain, the virus, which meant stopping transmission for two weeks after the last known case was cleared. For now, everyone entering the country will continue to be tested and quarantined.

 Beijing district in 'wartime emergency' after virus cluster at major food market - (Reuters) - A Beijing district put itself on a “wartime” footing and the capital banned tourism and sports events on Saturday after a cluster of novel coronavirus infections centred around a major wholesale market sparked fears of a new wave of COVID-19. Forty-five people out of 517 tested with throat swabs at the Xinfadi market in the city’s southwestern Fengtai district had tested positive for the coronavirus, Chu Junwei, a district official, told a briefing. None were showing symptoms of COVID-19, he said, but added that 11 neighbourhoods in the vicinity of the market, which claims to be the largest agricultural wholesale market in Asia, had been locked down with 24-hour guards put in place. “In accordance with the principle of putting the safety of the masses and health first, we have adopted lockdown measures for the Xinfadi market and surrounding neighbourhoods,” Chu said. The district is in a “wartime emergency mode,” he added. The closure of the market and new restrictions come as concerns grow about a second wave of the pandemic, which has infected more than 7.66 million people worldwide and killed more than 420,000. They also underline how even in countries which have had great success in curbing the spread of the virus, clusters can sometimes easily arise. The entire Xinfadi market was shut down at 3 a.m. on Saturday (1900 GMT on Friday), after two men working at a meat research centre who had recently visited the market were reported to have the virus. It was not immediately clear how they had been infected.

Scientists Around the World are Already Fighting the Next Pandemic - If a two-year-old child living in poverty in India or Bangladesh gets sick with a common bacterial infection, there is more than a 50% chance an antibiotic treatment will fail. Somehow the child has acquired an antibiotic resistant infection – even to drugs to which they may never have been exposed. How?Unfortunately, this child also lives in a place with limited clean water and less waste management, bringing them into frequent contact with faecal matter. This means they are regularly exposed to millions of resistant genes and bacteria, including potentially untreatable superbugs. This sad story is shockingly common, especially in places where pollution is rampant and clean water is limited.For many years, people believed antibiotic resistance in bacteria was primarily driven by imprudent use of antibiotics in clinical and veterinary settings. But growing evidence suggests that environmental factors may be of equal or greater importance to the spread of antibiotic resistance, especially in the developing world.Here we focus on antibiotic resistant bacteria, but drug resistance also occurs in types of other microorganisms – such as resistance in pathogenic viruses, fungi, and protozoa (called antimicrobial resistance or AMR). This means that our ability to treat all sorts of infectious disease is increasingly hampered by resistance, potentially including coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.  Overall, use of antibiotics, antivirals, and antifungals clearly must be reduced, but in most of the world, improving water, sanitation, and hygiene practice – a practice known as WASH – is also critically important. If we can ensure cleaner water and safer food everywhere, the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria will be reduced across the environment, including within and between people and animals. As recent recommendations on AMR from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and World Health Organization (WHO) suggest, to which David contributed, the “superbug problem” will not be solved by more prudent antibiotic use alone. It also requires global improvements in water quality, sanitation, and hygiene. Otherwise, the next pandemic might be worse than COVID-19.

  American Cities Becoming 'A Big Toilet' For Lack Of Public Restrooms Amid COVID-19 -  Over the past months of COVID-19 lockdowns across nearly all states, and as many counties and cities observed and enforced strict social distancing policies, America has seen a rise in public urination. The reality is that whether walking in downtown urban spaces, or on long distance travel, people are facing a dilemma of either encountering no available public restrooms given businesses and restaurants were closed - or alternately not feeling comfortable enough going into places like gas station given pandemic fears.The New York Post this week describes this rising phenomenon in the city aptly with the title: With no public bathrooms, the Big Apple is now ‘the Big Toilet’. Yes, the city is starting to come back to life, but with some draw backs as not everything has caught up, as the report begins: But this re-emergence has come with a stream of issues — mainly a steady flow of revelers freely peeing in public since most bathrooms remain closed. And now, with thousands of protesters taking to the streets each day, more people than ever are contributing to NYC’s No. 1 problem by whizzing in the wild. “Last night, my co-worker saw some guy just coming down the street and pulling down his pants [to urinate],” Spano tells The Post. “She was like, ‘Nah, not here, man.’It's a bit of a Catch-22: on the one hand public urination remains a minor offense punishable with a small fine (after a few years ago the city moved the decriminalize such low level offenses), and on the other people remain skittish about using potentially germ-infested public toilets. This also as many shops now opening still have a “no bathroom” edict, especially given they are subject to occupancy limitations and are trying to prevent unnecessary potential exposure amid the coronavirus crisis. So often the only "safe" option is to pee on the street or in an alley: “There’s definitely been an uptick on this street, from what I’ve seen. But most people at least go in a corner or have friends cover them up,” one New Yorker told The Post.

Western Colorado Water Purchases Stir Up Worries About The Future Of Farming  - For five years, Zay Lopez tended vegetables, hayfields and cornfields, chickens and a small flock of sheep here on the western edge of Colorado's Grand Valley—farming made possible by water from the Colorado River.    A few years ago, he noticed a strange new phenomenon. Much of the irrigated agricultural land sold in the valley—such as parcels just down the road from his farm—wasn't being bought by another farmer. Instead, his new neighbor was Water Asset Management, a New York City-based hedge fund with deep pockets. When Lopez and his wife Leah grew tired of trying to make ends meet, they, too, sold their 26-acre farm to WAM.    "Selling the farm wasn't really a choice. We had to do it."  Lopez's recent sale is the continuation of a trend that has made some in the agricultural communities west of Grand Junction nervous; has created a buzz among water managers; and has led state lawmakers to pass a bill looking at strengthening Colorado's anti-water-speculation law. WAM is buying irrigated land as an investment in the future potential value of the water. Although the company isn't doing anything illegal, its actions have rekindled deep-seated and long-held fears about water in the West—that it could hasten the death of agricultural communities' way of life and create an unregulated market for water that would drive up prices and drive out family farms. Because of these sensitive issues, many people in the Grand Valley are reluctant to talk about WAM and what it is doing. Meetings have erupted in anger, some who have sold have become social pariahs, and top water officials from the valley's canal companies refuse to talk to reporters on the record. For a while, a local rancher was actively updating a "wall of shame" website for people involved in Grand Valley water deals.

New Report Documents Global Insect Decline and Calls for Reforming Industrial Agriculture - A new report released Tuesday draws attention to the worldwide decline in insects and calls for global policies to boost the conservation of both agriculture and the six-footed creatures.The publication, entitled Insect Atlas, comes from two progressive networks: Brussels-based Friends of the Earth and Berlin-based Heinrich Böll Foundation."The global loss of insects is dramatic," Heinrich Böll Foundation president Barbara Unmüßig said in a statement.The report points to various studies documenting that loss, including 2018 research finding 41% of insect species are in decline and that one-third of all insect species are threatened by extinction. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimated that 10 percent of insect species are endangered, and another study cited in the new analysis found that at least one in 10 bee and butterfly species in Europe is threatened with extinction. While there's no definitive count of the global loss of insects, Insect Atlas says the trend is unmistakable.That decline has major impacts on food. "Three-quarters of the world's most important crops exhibit a yield benefit from pollinators: they contribute directly to around one-third of global food production," says the report. The methods used for that production have a huge impact on insects. "Alongside climate change and light pollution, the spread and intensification of farming is by far the most important cause of the global decline in insect numbers," the report adds. This type of farming is dependent upon expanding pasture—often at the expense of destroying Indigenous land and wild animal habitat—and prioritizes monocultures and therefore insect-killing pesticides, the use of which has steadily increased for the past nine decades, the economic profits of which are predominantly flowing towards just four entities: BASF, Bayer, Syngenta, and Corteva.

World faces worst food crisis for at least 50 years, UN warns The world stands on the brink of a food crisis worse than any seen for at least 50 years, the UN has warned as it urged governments to act swiftly to avoid disaster.Better social protections for poor people are urgently needed as the looming recession following the coronavirus pandemic may put basic nutrition beyond their reach, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, said on Tuesday.“Unless immediate action is taken, it is increasingly clear that there is an impending global food emergency that could have long-term impacts on hundreds of millions of children and adults,” he said. “We need to act now to avoid the worst impacts of our efforts to control the pandemic.”Although harvests of staple crops are holding up, and the export bans and protectionism that experts feared have so far been largely avoided, the worst of the impacts of the pandemic and ensuing recession are yet to be felt. Guterres warned: “Even in countries with abundant food, we see risks of disruption in the food supply chain.”About 50 million people risk falling into extreme poverty this year owing to the pandemic, but the long-term effects will be even worse, as poor nutrition in childhood causes lifelong suffering. Already, one in five children around the world are stunted in their growth by the age of five, and millions more are likely to suffer the same fate if poverty rates soar.Guterres laid out a three-point plan to repair the world’s ailing food systems and prevent further harm. These are: to focus aid on the worst-stricken regions to stave off immediate disaster, and for governments to prioritise food supply chains; to strengthen social protections so that young children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and other at-risk groups – including children who are not receiving school meals in lockdown – receive adequate nutrition; and to invest in the future, by building a global recovery from the pandemic that prioritises healthy and environmentally sustainable food systems.  Maximo Torero, the chief economist of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, said the world’s food systems were under threat as never before in recent times, as the pandemic and lockdowns hampered people’s ability to harvest and buy and sell food. “We need to be careful,” he said. “This is a very different food crisis than the ones we have seen.”

Air pollution in China back to pre-Covid levels and Europe may follow - Air pollution in China has climbed back to pre-pandemic levels, and scientists say Europe may follow suit. Air pollution causes at least 8m early deaths a year, and cleaner skies were seen as one of the few silver linings of Covid-19. Experts have called for action to help retain the air quality benefits of lockdowns, and measures taken to date have included expanding cycle lanes and space for walking in cities. Data from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (Crea) shows concentrations of fine particles (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) across China are now at the same levels as one year earlier. At the height of the country’s coronavirus response in early March, NO2 levels were down by 38% from 2019 and levels of PM2.5 were down by 34%.“The rapid rebound in air pollution and coal consumption levels across China is an early warning of what a smokestack industry-led rebound could look like,” said Crea’s lead analyst, Lauri Myllyvirta. “Highly polluting industries have been faster to recover from the crisis than the rest of the economy. It is essential for policymakers to prioritise clean energy.” The energy consultancy group Wood Mackenzie predicts China’s oil demand will recover to near normal levels in the second quarter of 2020. In Wuhan, the city at the centre of the epidemic, NO2 levels are now just 14% lower than last year, having briefly dropped by almost half. In Shanghai, the latest levels are 9% higher than last year. European cities have also seen a big dip in air pollution during the virus outbreak. Data from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (Cams), which tracks pollution in 50 European cities, shows that 42 of them recorded below-average levels of NO2 in March. London and Paris had 30% reductions in NO2, a pollutant that is mostly produced by diesel vehicles. “We do expect pollution to rebound, but we have not been able yet to show that,”

 Conservation 'Game-Changer': China Removes Pangolin Scales From Traditional Medicine List -- China has offered a lifeline to the world's most trafficked non-human mammals by removing pangolin scales from its official list of traditional medicines."This is the single greatest measure that could be taken to save the pangolins," WildAid CEO Peter Knights told National Geographic. "This sends a clear message that there are alternatives in traditional Chinese medicine and so you don't need to use pangolins."China raises protection for #pangolins by removing scales from medicine list. Campaigners hope the move will help end global trade in the scaly anteater, identified as a possible host for COVID-19. — WildAid (@WildAid) June 9, 2020All eight species of pangolin are at risk from extinction. Tens of thousands are killed every year for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam, and their scales, which are used for medicinal purposes. Three of the four species native to Asia are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list, according to The Guardian.The delisting of the pangolin from the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) pharmacopoeia comes a week after the State Forestry and Grassland Administration (SFGA) raised their protection status. They are now at Class 1, the highest conservation level also enjoyed by pandas, National Geographic p ointed out. It means almost all domestic trade and use of the animals is now prohibited.

Four poachers arrested for killing endangered silverback gorilla - Four poachers have been arrested for their alleged role in the killing of a beloved silverback gorilla in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where gorilla treks are a popular attraction for tourists. Uganda Wildlife announced Friday that four people had been arrested in connection with the death of Rafiki, the leader of a famous gorilla group, the Nkuringo. He was believed to be about 25 years old, and the group he led is one often visited by tourists on safari. Rafiki's body was found on June 2, a day after he had been reported missing, and is believed to have been killed with a spear. Officials say one of the poachers arrested, Byamukama Felix, admitted to killing Rafiki with a spear but said it was in self-defense after the gorilla charged him. The four men are being held in prison and awaiting trial, though the statement on Friday did not make clear their exact charges. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to nearly half the world's mountain gorilla population, a critically endangered species. According to a 2010 report from the United Nations, their numbers are dwindling and projections estimate they will mostly disappear from the Congo Basin before 2030 without action to preserve their habitat and stop poachers.

Trump Administration Hunting Rule Change: Making it Easier to Execute Alaska’s Bears in National Parks - Jerri-Lynn Scofield - While doing a troll through the excellent website, I noticed the following hunting rule change,  US National Park Service removes prohibitions on hunting practices in Alaska :The US National Park Service (NPS) published a new rule in the Federal Register on Tuesday that will remove certain prohibitions against hunting and trapping practices that are otherwise allowed by Alaska state law.The NPS is removing paragraphs (f) and (g) of 36 C.F.R. § 13.42, which deal with the taking of wildlife in national preserves. While most of the methods prohibited by paragraph (g) were also prohibited by the State of Alaska, the NPS found that some conflicted with authorizations by the State of Alaska. Among other practices, hunters can take black bears with artificial light at den sites, take wolves and coyotes during denning season, and take swimming animals under the new rule.The rule was originally published on May 22, 2018 for comments, and the comment period was open for 168 days. The NPS received approximately 211, 780 pieces of correspondence on the proposed rule. The NPS also consulted with the State of Alaska and Alaska Native tribes and corporations.The new rule will take effect on July 9.Now, I’m not a hunter, but the first thing that struck me. Are the now allowed practices fair?Sporting, even? It’s one thing to execute the animalls, but still… To repeat: “Among other practices, hunters can take black bears with artificial light at den sites, take wolves and coyotes during denning season, and take swimming animals under the new rule.”

Taxpayers Paid Over $75K So Trump Jr. Could Kill a Rare Sheep - Donald Trump Jr.'s hunting expedition to Mongolia last summer, where he had the distinction of killing a rare breed of sheep, cost taxpayers at least $76,859.36, according to documents unearthed by a watchdog group.Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, originally received Secret Service documents in March that showed that Secret Service protection for the trip cost at least $17,000, a fraction of the more than $75,000 it actually cost taxpayers. However, those numbers looked fishy to CREW, since it did not make any mention of flight costs, nor it did it account for Trump Jr.'s trip to Mongolia's capital city, Ulaanbaatar, where he had a secretive meeting with Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, according to CREW."If just one of Don Jr's trophy hunting trips cost more than $75,000, it's staggering to think how high the Trump family's total bill with taxpayers must be," CREW tweeted while sharing a picture of an argali sheep. As ProPublica originally reported, the trip was pockmarked with corruption. Trump Jr. did not actually have the proper permits to hunt rare argali sheep, the largest species of sheep, noted for their giant horns. The government of Mongolia issued him a permit retroactively, after Trump Jr. had already killed one and left the region. He also killed a red deer, which also needed a special permit. Also, Trump Jr. was accompanied by a major Republican donor, oil and gas company CEO Kevin Small.The trip was arranged through a tourism company owned by a politically connected member of the Mongolian president's party, according to CREW, as HuffPost reported. The company helped arrange the special permit after the hunt had already taken place.As CNN noted, argali are considered a near-threatened species, according to the Red List of Threatened Species, in large part due to trophy hunting. Trump Jr. is a proud trophy hunter, often using his social media accounts to share images from his hunting and fishing trips to locations across the globe, including hunting elephants. His pride in big game hunts has netted him harsh criticism from animal rights' groups and conservationists.

Trump to open Atlantic marine national monument to commercial fishing - National Geographic - PRESIDENT TRUMP VOWED Friday to open the nation’s only national monument in the Atlantic Ocean to commercial fishing, saying he was giving Maine back part of its history and the fishermen their industry. He signed a proclamation declaring the opening after attending a roundtable discussion with commercial fishermen in Bangor, Maine, that included a wide-ranging conversation about unwanted regulations and tariffs on the seafood trade. “We’re opening it today,” Trump said. To the fishermen, he added: “We’re gonna solve your fishing problem....Basically, they took away your livelihood. It’s ridiculous.” Trump’s move to open fishing in the Northeastern Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument will surely open a new front in the ongoing legal battle over the limits of presidential powers regarding national monuments. Native American tribes and environmental groups are already challenging administration efforts to reduce the size of two monuments in Utah. In this case, as some who attended the Maine meeting pointed out, the president is not seeking to change the marine monument’s boundaries. Environmental groups nonetheless immediately vowed to sue the Trump administration. “A significant change to the monument or its protections—such as allowing commercial fishing—must be done by Congress, not by the president,” Brad Sewell, senior director of Oceans for the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. “The Antiquities Act gives the president power to protect special areas for future generations, not the opposite power, to abolish those protections.” He added: “We are prepared to sue the Trump administration.” Enric Sala, a marine biologist and founder of National Geographic’s Pristine Seas program, who helped to create marine monuments in the Pacific and elsewhere, says leaving the boundaries intact makes little difference if commercial fishing is allowed. “National monuments, by law, are to preserve the integrity of America’s natural and historical sites,” he says. “We need pristine areas set aside so that we can see nature as it was before we overexploited it, and understand the true impact of fishing. If commercial fishing were allowed in a monument, it would become just a name on a map, and no different than any other place in the ocean.” The Seamount marine monument, created by President Obama in 2016, sprawls over nearly 5,000 square miles of the Atlantic, about 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. It protects a collection of underwater canyons and mountains, including four extinct volcanoes, and is home to sea turtles, endangered whales, and deep-sea, cold-water corals.

COVID-19 Masks Are Polluting Beaches and Oceans --As if the Texas-sized gyre of plastic floating around the Pacific Ocean was not troubling enough, now there is a new scourge polluting the world's waters: face masks and sanitary gloves.The COVID-19 detritus has meant that discarded face masks floating like jelly fish and latex gloves lining the seafloor are adding to the world's plastic waste crisis, as The Guardian reported.In an effort to clean up the Mediterranean Sea, divers from the French non-profit, Opération Mer Propre(Operation Clean Sea) found dozens of gloves, masks and bottles of hand sanitizer beneath the waves of the Mediterranean, mixed in with the usual litter of disposable cups and aluminum cans, according to The Guardian.While the amount of personal protective equipment found in the Mediterranean was admittedly small, the uptick in pollution from those items signals an ominous trend. Disposable masks, for instance, may feel like soft cotton, but they're almost all made from non-biodegradable material such as polypropylene. That means when the non-biodegradable material is discarded into a storm drain, it empties out into the rivers and seas, as the CBC reported.  "With a lifespan of 450 years, these masks are an ecological timebomb given their lasting environmental consequences for our planet," Éric Pauget, a French politician, wrote last month in a letter to Emmanuel Macron, calling on the French president to do more to address the environmental consequences of disposable masks, as The Guardian reported. As EuroNews reported, land-based activity accounts for 80 percent of ocean pollution, with 50 percent a direct result of single-use plastics. Now, we must act to avoid making the situation worse, say experts from environmental non-profit City to Sea in the UK. That's a tall order as efforts to curtail single-use plastics and plastic bags have been put on hold due to concerns about hygiene. The Centers for Disease Control's recent recommendations for reopening offices even advocated a dramatic increase in single-use plastics, arguing that communal snacks and coffee should be replaced by individually wrapped items, as EcoWatch reported. "It's the promise of pollution to come if nothing is done," said Joffrey Peltier of Opération Mer Propre, to The Guardian.

 'Plastic Rain' Is Pouring Down in National Parks -The plastic crisis has polluted the world's oceans and created mountains in landfills. Microplastics have been identified wafting on the sea breeze and raining down on top of the Pyrenees. They travel on the winds and slowly drop down from the skies. Now, a new study has found that some of the most untouched areas of the U.S. are seeing 1,000 tons or more of microplastics rain down every year, according to The New York Times.The study examined airborne microplastics in national parks in the American West. That means those hikes through the untouched land in Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon or Joshua Tree National Park are not providing the pristine, fresh air we thought they do. The researchers found that nearly one-fourth come from nearby cities, while the rest drift through the air from far-flung locations. The findings, the first to discern the plastics' geographic origins, add to mounting evidence that microplastic pollution is a worldwide scourge, as Science reported. The new study was published on Thursday in Science magazine and titled "Plastic rain in protected areas of the United States." The researchers noted that microplastics are found in "nearly every ecosystem on the planet."To conduct the study, the researchers collected rainwater and air samples for 14 months to calculate how many microplastic particles fall into 11 protected areas in the west each year. They found tiny plastic particles in 98 percent of the 339 samples they collected. Microplastics made up 4 percent of the dust particles that were tested, according to The New York Times. The 1,000 metric tons, or over 2.2 million pounds, that drops over 11 protected areas every year is equal to of over 120 million plastic water bottles, according to Wired.

‘Forever Chemicals’ Are Building Up in the Arctic—and Likely Worldwide  - The Arctic can appear to be a pristine, isolated frozen land. But human pollution has reached even this remote corner of the world—which the World Wildlife Fund has called “the chemical sink of the globe.” Now researchers have discovered that a virtually indestructible type of chemical has been building up in the region since the 1990s. The presence of these “forever chemicals” is undoubtedly growing worldwide, scientists say. And the potential impacts on the health of humans and ecosystems are not yet fully known.  The problem paradoxically started because of an effort to fix another environmental issue: the hole in the ozone layer. Under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, countries agreed to phase out ozone-destroying chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). But industry needed something to replace those substances, which were used in a vast range of products ranging from refrigerators to hair spray. Manufacturers turned to chemicals such as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).  When these replacements rise into the atmosphere, however, they react with other chemicals to form several types of substances known as short-chain perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (scPFCAs). These compounds then drop down and deposit on Earth’s surface. Because of this process, scientists have suspected since the early 1990s that scPFCAs would increase in the environment. But until now, researchers did not have enough data to understand what was occurring with them over time.  To see whether scPFCAs had started accumulating after the Montreal Protocol, Young and her colleagues sampled ice cores from two locations in the Canadian Arctic. Such samples can act as time capsules, recording the chemicals that fall out of the atmosphere and become encased in the ice layers that build up year by year.  Through their analysis, Young and her colleagues found that the amount of scPFCAs in the Arctic has grown significantly, starting in 1990—right around the time the Montreal Protocol took effect. For example, she says that for one of the scPFCAs they looked at, the amount deposited in the Arctic every year is now 10 times greater than it was prior to the treaty. Through computer modeling and comparing trends in chemical production, the team also concluded that the replacement chemicals for CFCs were either the exclusive cause of this increase or one of its major sources.  Their results were published in April in Geophysical Research Letters.

Sea-level rise likely to swallow many coastal mangrove forests - Coastal mangrove forests aren’t adapting rapidly enough to escape rising sea levels, and many could disappear by 2050 in much of the tropics, according to recent research published in Science. Authors of a study reported June 5 used sediment cores from 78 sites on five continents to determine when mangroves first appeared over the past 10,000 years, as sea-level rise had slowed once Earth fully emerged from the Ice Age. They found that mangrove ecosystems did not develop unless relative sea-level rise was less than 6 to 7 millimeters* per year. (The term “relative” is used because the rate of sea-level rise is determined by the increase in water volume of the oceans plus subsidence or uplift of coastal land).The global rate of sea-level rise has doubled from 1.8 millimeters per year over the 20th century to approximately 3.4 millimeters per year in recent years. In many coastal areas, the rate of relative sea-level rise is much higher as a result of subsidence resulting from human causes, such as groundwater pumping and fossil fuel extraction. For example, the Mekong Delta of Vietnam is subsiding at a rate of 6 to 20 mm/year and the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta by 1 to 7 mm/year. At the same time, sediment supply to the coast has declined as a result of damming of rivers and mining and export of sediment, further increasing the vulnerability of mangroves to sea-level rise. Coastal wetlands act as natural levees against storms as a result of their ability to reduce water velocity and wave turbulence. Moreover, wetlands accumulate sediments that provide protection against rising sea levels and local subsidence. In the U.S., per square kilometer, wetlands save $1.8 million per year in storm damages. A March 17, 2020, study in PNAS, Coastal wetlands reduce property damage during tropical cyclones, showed just how valuable wetlands are in reducing storm damage. The researchers analyzed property damage caused by 54 tropical storms and 34 hurricanes hitting the U.S. between 1996 and 2016. They found that counties with more wetland coverage experienced significantly less property damage: a 1% loss of coastal wetlands was associated with a 0.6% increase in property damage. (Side note: a 1% increase in wind increased damages by 7%, and counties on the storm path’s right side experienced 140% more damage than those on the left.)

Palm Oil Industry Leaves Indonesian Village Struggling With Loss and Regret -- Just like his father and grandfather, Alfian has spent his whole life working as a fisherman on the banks of the Batang Hari river in Rukam, Indonesia.  The natural environment has long sustained the life of this village on the island of Sumatra. But now 48-year-old Alfian is struggling. "The fish are gone from the river," he says. "It's barely enough for daily survival." Alfian remembers when many fish species lived in the peatlands. He could feed his family for a week with the money from one day's catch.The fate of both Alfian's daily catch and Rukam itself is intertwined with that of an estimated US $60 billion-dollar industry.Indonesia sits at the heart of the global palm oil trade. In 2002, it arrived on the banks of Rukam when the Indonesian company PT Erasakti Wira Forestama (EWF) offered the villagers a one-time payment for their land.Some villagers resisted. Syafei, a 68-year-old who was chief of Rukam at the time, advocated for joint ownership and management of the lands between villagers and the company. But he says some residents pressured him to accept the terms.They were offered roughly €55,000 (700 million Rupiah, $62,333 according to conversation rates at the time) for approximately 2,300 hectares (5684 acres) in total."At that time, that amount of money was really huge," says Syafei. The villagers were "yearning for the compensation." In the end the community sold the land. Valuable peatlands were converted to plantations — and the repercussions of the decision are still felt today.

 For Indigenous Protesters, Defending the Environment Can Be Fatal - Adán Vez Lira, a prominent defender of an ecological reserve in Mexico, was shot while riding his motorcyclein April. Four years earlier, the renowned activist Berta Cáceres was shot dead in her home in Honduras by assailants taking direction from executives responsible for a dam she had opposed. Four years before that, Cambodian forest and land activist Chut Wutty was killed during a brawl with the country's military police while investigating illegal logging.These are some of the most prominent examples of violence faced by environmental activists in recent years — but, according to a new report, they are not unusual. As police crack down on protests demanding justice and equity in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in the U.S., it's clear that activism in general comes at a heavy price. Environmental activists specifically — particularly indigenous activists and activists of color — have for years faced high rates of criminalization, physical violence, and even murder for their efforts to protect the planet, according to a comprehensive analysis by researchers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, which was released last Tuesday.The researchers analyzed nearly 2,800  social conflicts related to the environment using the Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas) database, which they created in 2011 to monitor environmental conflicts around the world. The study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, found that 20 percent of environmental defenders faced criminal charges or were imprisoned, 18 percent were victims of physical violence, and 13 percent were killed between 2011 and 2019. The likelihood of these consequences increased significantly for indigenous environmental defenders: 27 percent faced criminalization, 25 percent were victims of physical violence, and 19 percent were murdered.

Mining Giant BHP Pauses Plans to Blast 40 Aboriginal Heritage Sites -- Anglo-Australian mining company BHP said it would pause plans to destroy 40 Aboriginal heritage sites as part of its expansion of an iron ore mine in Western Australia (WA).The plans were first revealed by The Guardian Australia Wednesday and come on the heels of the controversial destruction by rival mining company Rio Tinto of 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelters at Juukan Gorge.The traditional owners of the 40 sites are the Banjima people, who wrote in December that they would "suffer spiritual and physical harm if they are destroyed," The Guardian reported."[We are] worried about the cumulative impact of so many sites being the subject of a single notice for destruction and that not one of the sites is deemed worthy of protection in situ by BHP," the Indigenous title holders wrote.  BHP won approval to destroy the sites from WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt on May 29, days after the blasting of the Juukan Gorge sites, Australia's ABC News reported.At least 40, and as many as 86 sites, were identified in BHP's application to expand its $4.5 billion South Flank iron ore mine in Pilbara, WA, according to The Guardian.An archeological survey conducted by the company revealed rock shelters between 10,000 and 15,000 years old and evidence of human presence in the area dating back approximately 40,000 years. The documents revealed by The Guardian also show the company was aware of Aboriginal opposition to the sites' destruction.The company wrote it had "taken into account the views and recommendations provided by the Banjima representatives during the consultation and inspection," but it was "not reasonably practicable for BHP to avoid the eighty-six (86) potential archaeological sites." While the Banjima people wanted the sites preserved, section 18 of the Western Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act prevented them from formally registering their opposition because they had already signed an agreement with BHP to support the mine in exchange for financial and other benefits.

US B-52 Bomber 'Loses' Experimental Hypersonic Missile Over California --Amid growing media speculation over details of the Pentagon's hypersonic weapons program pursued in c onjunction with Lockheed Martin and DARPA, a shocking headline appeared Tuesday in the respected aviation journal Aviation Week, namely that a US B-52 bomber lost an experimental hypersonic missile in mid-air over California. The report, also picked up in The New York Post and others described that, “A scramjet-powered missile developed under the joint DARPA/U.S. Air Force Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program was destroyed in a recent test accident, Aviation Week has learned.”The aviation monitoring site reports further details: “The missile is believed to have inadvertently separated from a B-52 carrier aircraft during a captive-carry flight test, according to sources familiar with the evaluation,” and added, “The cause of the mishap, which is thought to have involved an aircraft from the 419th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, California, is under investigation.”The weapon reportedly separated from the Boeing B-52 carrier aircraft and was soon after destroyed, meaning it either detonated in the air or when it struck the ground below.The Air Force refused to comment for the report while DARPA didn't deny the accident, only saying “Details of those flight demonstrations are classified,” in an apparent tacit admission that experimental tests are indeed taking place.

Earth has hottest May on record, with 2020 on track to be one of the top 10 warmest years - The Earth had its hottest May ever last month, continuing an unrelenting climate change trend as 2020 is set to be among the hottest 10 years ever, scientists with the Copernicus Climate Change Service announced on Friday. It's virtually certain that this year will be among the top hottest years in recorded history with a higher than 98% likelihood it will rank in the top five, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "The last month has been the warmest May on record globally and this is unquestionably an alarming sign," said Freja Vamborg, a scientist at Copernicus Climate Change Service, an intergovernmental agency that supports European climate policy. "Even more concerning is the fact that average temperatures of the last 12 months have become one of the hottest 12-month periods ever recorded in our data set," she said. An aerial view of low water levels in the Llwyn-on reservoir in Taf Fawr valley on May 29, 2020 in Merthyr Tydfil, United Kingdom. The Met Office have said May is on course to be the driest in 124 years with only 14.3mm of rain since the month began - 17% of what is normally expected. Matthew Horwood | Getty Images The most above-average temperatures were recorded over parts of Siberia — where temperatures were up to 10 degrees Celsius above average — as well as Alaska and Antarctica, according to the new research. The last 12-month period, from June 2019 to May 2020, was nearly 0.7 degrees Celsius (about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than average. Globally, May was 0.63 degrees Celsius (about 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the average May recorded from 1981 to 2010. The continuous upward trend in global temperatures results from greenhouse gas emissions that change the climate. 2019 was the second-hottest year ever, capping off the world's hottest decade in recorded history. And six of the warmest years on record were during the past decade. The rising temperatures are accompanied by countless climate disasters, including rapid ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica, devastating wildfires from Australia to California and more intense and frequent hurricanes and heat waves. Human-caused global warming shows no signs of decline. Nations in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change vowed to cap emissions to curb global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, but they are nowhere near on track to meet that goal.

10 Wildfires Ignite Around Los Angeles in Unseasonable Wind and Heat - Unusually strong winds for June fanned the flames of 10 wildfires around Los Angeles County Monday, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.The largest of the blazes was the Equestrian Fire in Castaic, which was propelled by some of the strongest winds in the area, LAist reported. Wind speeds in the region reached 65 miles per hour."It's rare to have the Santa Ana winds in June, which is why we should be ready for wildfires at all times of the year," NBC4 forecaster Belen De Leon said.The fire ignited early Monday near the Jack Bones Equestrian Center off the 5 freeway, the Los Angeles Times reported. Firefighters used water-dropping helicopters to help fight the flames, NBC4 reported. As of 3 p.m. Monday it had spread to 86 acres and was 70 percent contained, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Fire Department told the Los Angeles Times."There are still crews there, but they're just mopping up the hot spots," L.A. County Fire Department Inspector Henry Narvaez told the paper.Other fires that ignited in Elysian Park, Eagle Rock, El Sereno, Lake View Terrace, the Sepulveda Basin and other areas were mostly contained to a few acres, LAist reported.However, the fires were notable for the unseasonable weather that encouraged them."Typically we're talking about June Gloom. Cool conditions along the coast," National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Eric Boldt told LAist. "This is an unusual weather system. We usually don't see this strong of winds and the Santa Anas like we're seeing today."The Santa Ana winds typically arrive in the fall, during peak fire season.In addition to the winds, temperatures are above average this week, with highs more than 20 degrees above normal projected for Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times. High temperature records were broken Monday at the Los Angeles, Long Beach and Camarillo airports, NWS reported. A red flag fire warning was issued for the area through Monday night. "The weather conditions combined with the fuels — the grasses and vegetation — are ripe for more extreme fire spread and behavior if one were to start," NWS Oxnard meteorologist Mike Wofford told the Los Angeles Times.

 New Orleans Activists Call out Environmental Racism Alongside Police Brutality in Week of Protests | DeSmog - On June 3, just hours before New Orleans police tear-gassed a group protesting racial violence, Jesse Perkins, a Black veteran, called out the many shades of racism and violence his community faces daily. “What they inflicted on us was a slow violence. What is happening every day to these Black men on the street every day is violence. But it is all relative,” said Perkins, who lives in a house built on a toxic Superfund site in the Upper 9th Ward’s Gordon Plaza, a Black neighborhood. “That is why I’m here connecting the dots. Violence is violence. Racism is racism, whether it is environmental racism, whether it is racial profiling, whether you walk on the streets and get your brains knocked out by some guy who has taken an oath to uphold the law.”  Perkins was among the New Orleans activists connecting environmental racism and police brutality during a week of local protests sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police and focused on the Black Lives Matters movement. These protests, and the many others like it around the country, are taking place in the midst of theCOVID-19 pandemic, whose death toll has disproportionately affected African Americans and illuminated racial disparity in the United States.  Gordon Plaza, where Perkins lives, is part of a subdivision developed by New Orleans in 1981 on top of the Agriculture Street landfill, which had served as a dump for decades. In 1994 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added the site to its Superfund list for cleanup due to the contaminated soil and groundwater. At the time of its development, however, no one disclosed to the buyers that their brand-new homes were built on top of a dump that was closed permanently in 1965.  New Orleans activists are demanding police reform as well as a fully funded relocation for residents of Gordon Plaza, who aren’t satisfied with the EPA’s cleanup and remediation efforts of the 1990s. “Most environmental issues are human made and must be corrected and prevented,” their platform states. New Orleans has never taken responsibility for its role inbuilding low income housing on land that residents say the city knew was toxic. Despite winning a partial class action lawsuit in 2015, the Gordon Plaza community was unable to secure enough money to relocate.

Tropical Storm Cristobal Brings Flooding and Tornadoes to Gulf Coast - Tropical Storm Cristobal made landfall in Louisiana Sunday as the third earliest named storm on record in the Atlantic Basin. The storm brought flooding to parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida and caused tornadoes in the Sunshine State, The Associated Press reported. While it made landfall well below hurricane strength with winds of 50 miles per hour, it was predicted to pour as many as 12 inches of rain in some areas and generate storm surges of up to five feet. "The flash flooding mixed with the storm surge could be a disaster in some areas," National Weather Service Baton Rouge meteorologist Danielle Manning told The New York Times. "Areas that can't handle that amount of rainfall." Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared an emergency ahead of the storm Thursday and on Friday asked President Donald Trump to do so as well. Trump said he would declare an emergency on Twitter Sunday. The storm brought three to five feet of flooding along the Louisiana coast and into Mississippi, Manning said. New Orleans suburb Jefferson Parish called for voluntary evacuations of low-lying areas, according to The Associated Press. It was unclear how much New Orleans would be impacted as it depended on whether the city's aging drainage system would keep streets dry. The storm made landfall between the mouth of the Mississippi River and the barrier island of Grand Isle, which was evacuated. Flood waters washed over the only road to the island. In Mississippi, water flooded coastal roadways in Biloxi. In Hancock County, Mississippi, 100 employees of the Silver Slipper Casino had to be rescued Sunday afternoon when five-foot flood waters trapped them in the building, AccuWeather reported. A family also had to be rescued from the casino hotel Sunday night.In Florida, the outerbands of the storm spawned several tornados, one of which came close to downtown Orlando Saturday. Another twister uprooted trees and downed power lines near Lake City, Florida Sunday, The Associated Press reported. The wind storm did not injure anyone, but Cristobal claimed two lives when two brothers, aged eight and ten, were carried away by a rip current when swimming at a Grand Isle beach Friday, according to AccuWeather. The storm had weakened to a tropical depression by early Monday morning, but the risk of flooding, tornados and strong wind continued for the lower Mississippi Valley and Central Gulf Coast. It should reach Arkansas by Monday evening, according to the National Weather Service. In addition to its arrival early in hurricane season, Cristobal was also notable because it developed from the remnants of Tropical Storm Amanda, the first named storm of the Pacific hurricane season, which battered El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Tropical Storm Cristobal Moving Inland Across Southeastern Louisiana; Flooding Rain, Storm Surge, Gusty Winds Continue  - Tropical Storm Cristobal is now moving inland over southeastern Louisiana, but threats of flooding rainfall, storm-surge flooding, tornadoes and gusty winds will continue along the Gulf Coast into Monday. Cristobal is also expected to spread heavy rain and gusty winds through the lower Mississippi Valley and upper Midwest early this week.The National Hurricane Center said Cristobal made landfall along the coast of southeastern Louisiana between the mouth of the Mississippi River and Grand Isle at 5 p.m. CDT Sunday evening. Maximum sustained winds at the time were estimated near 50 mph.Bands of heavier rain are affecting areas from southeastern Louisiana into southern Mississippi, southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.Rainfall rates of 3 to 6 inches per hour Sunday morning triggered significant flash flooding in parts of downtown Jacksonville, Florida, trapping cars.Farther west, one observer near Hopewell, Florida (Madison County), reported 12.09 inches of rain in the 48 hours ending 5 p.m. EDT Sunday. Topping that total, a weather station in Suwannee Springs, Florida, reported 13.03 inches of rain between midnight and 8 p.m. EDT Sunday.Water levels were running about 6.2 feet above normal tide level Sunday afternoon at Shell Beach, Louisiana, along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, southeast of New Orleans near the southern shore of Lake Borgne.In New Orleans, storm surge was surpassing 3.5 feet on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain Sunday afternoon, causing water to pile up on Lakeshore Drive. Storm surge caused water to cover roads near Waveland and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where water levels were nearly 6 feet above normal Sunday afternoon.

Flooding Disproportionately Harms Black Neighborhoods - When Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas in 2017, the neighborhood that suffered the worst flood damage was a section of southwest Houston where 49% of the residents are nonwhite. When Hurricane Katrina hit southeast Louisiana in 2005, the damage was the most extensive in the region’s African American neighborhoods. Of the seven ZIP codes that suffered the costliest flood damage from Katrina, four of them had populations that were at least 75% black, government records show. Flooding in the U.S. disproportionately harms African American neighborhoods, an E&E News analysis of federal flood insurance payments shows. The concentration of flood damage in urban areas with large black populations may contrast to images of hurricanes hitting affluent coastal areas and riverine floods swamping rural, largely white communities. But urban flooding and its disproportionate impact on minorities and low-income residents are becoming a growing concern as climate change intensifies floods. At the same time, urban development is creating more impervious surfaces in cities, and aging municipal sewer systems are overwhelmed by the increasing water. “The [flood] risk to the nation is concentrated in the metro areas,” flood expert Doug Plasencia said yesterday at a national conference on flooding. “Socially vulnerable populations add to the complexity.” A major concern about flooding in cities is that the residents who are most vulnerable—those who live in the lowest-lying areas or in neighborhoods without green space to absorb water—are often poor and members of minority groups.Urban flooding has the potential to exacerbate the racial inequality that is an undercurrent of the nationwide protests over the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a black man in custody by Minneapolis police. Some protesters have denounced broad and persistent societal inequalities including the disproportionate number of blacks dying from COVID-19. “Urban flooding is a growing source of significant economic loss, social disruption and housing inequality,” Texas A&M University flood expert Sam Brody told yesterday’s flood conference. Research has shown that in states such as Illinois and Michigan, the costliest flood damage occurs in Chicago and Detroit—major cities with large black populations.

Michigan to seek federal disaster declaration over broken dams - Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said Monday she will request a federal disaster declaration over damage caused by two dams that failed last month. Whitmer said she will send a letter to the federal government within the next week requesting the declaration for impacted areas after the dams failed in Midland County. “When the president approves our full request, federal assistance will be unlocked to help people and businesses get back on their feet and repair some of the damage that this flooding has caused,” Whitmer said during a visit to Midland County, according to video reported by Michigan Live. “A declaration helps us provide everything from crisis counseling services to individuals to debris removal and road repair as well as opening up access to low-interest loans for homeowners and renters, businesses, farms, and nonprofits that have been impacted by this event,” she added. The failure of the two dams damaged about 2,500 houses and businesses and caused more than $200 million in damage, Mark Bone, chairman of the Midland County Board of Commissioners, reportedly said. Bone said only about 8 percent of the homes impacted by flooding had flood insurance coverage, according to Michigan Live. He reportedly said that, based on current estimates, about 150 homes were completely destroyed and about 790 homes suffered major damage. “It’s unlike anything seen in 500 years, I feel like I’ve said that many items over the course of the last three months. We’re going through something unlike anything any of us have seen in our lifetime, and yet here we are,” Whitmer said. “Getting back to normal is going to be a herculean undertaking, but with the federal government’s help, we can get it done and we will.” In May, President Trump approved Whitmer’s request for a disaster declaration for the impacted areas.

Trump's latest environmental rollback threatens minority communities, experts warn  - President Trump’s latest executive order, lifting environmental review of major projects, will have a disproportionately harmful effect on minorities, experts warn. The order signed on Thursday relies on emergency authorities to sidestep a suite of environmental laws, allowing for the fast-tracking of major construction projects in a bid to boost the economy. That could mean rapid approval of not just highways but also pipelines, oil and gas projects and other polluting industries that have historically landed in communities of color.  Advocates point to a growing body of research that details the impacts of polluting infrastructure that is often found in or near black, Latino, and Native American communities. A 2018 EPA study found black Americans are subjected to higher levels of air pollution than whites, while a 2011 study found that communities of color and low-income populations are disproportionately exposed to chemical releases. Others have found that minority and low income communities were more likely to be near hazardous waste sites. Those same communities often have worse health outcomes, with black populations presenting higher rates of asthma and cancer deaths. But Trump’s order closes a number of avenues that have been used by communities to fight back against unwanted projects, and his move comes amid historic protests over injustices faced by blacks and other minorities. The order also slashes requirements in a number of landmark environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires rigorous environmental review before building new infrastructure like highways or pipelines. NEPA usually requires community feedback -- a process that would be nixed under emergency authorities that are typically used to respond to natural disasters like floods. “Our first and arguably our only environmental justice law we have on the books is NEPA because it provides an opportunity for affected citizens and communities to object before the federal government approves a project that may have a dramatically negative impact on their community. It’s a disclosure and empowerment statute that is the granddaddy of all environmental laws,” said David Hayes, executive director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at New York University's School of Law. “Here we are in the midst of an epidemic that affects your respiratory system and communities that are concerned about respiratory health are losing a voice to stop projects that exacerbate serious health issues.”

The Energy 202: Minority areas already have high pollution. Trump's coronavirus response makes it worse, critics say. - A pair of recent administration actions in response to the viral outbreak may deprive African Americans, Native Americans and other groups of a voice in major decisions that affect air and water quality near them and end up allowing pollution to go unchecked in their communities. The administration's moves come against the backdrop of tens of thousands of Americans marching in the streets to protest racial inequality after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. “When we say, ‘I can’t breathe,’ we literally can’t breathe,” Mustafa Santiago Ali, who helped found the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental justice program, said during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday, echoing some of Floyd’s final words as a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kept his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Earlier this month, the president signed an executive order allowing major infrastructure projects to move forward without significant environmental review. Under the order, federal agencies are now able to waive some requirements under the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that projects such as refineries and highways be scrutinized for their potential negative impact on the environment. Those sorts of projects are often built in or through low-income communities, such as those in Detroit or Houston, with few resources to fend off unwanted development. Without environmental review, people who live in those communities may have no way of formally registering their discontent with federal authorities.“NEPA has historically been a major tool for holding developers accountable,” said Robert Bullard, a scholar credited as the father of environmental justice — the idea that poor and minority communities bear the brunt of environmental hazards.

House panel advances measure to thwart Pennsylvania’s entry into carbon trading program – A Pennsylvania House panel approved a measure Tuesday that would limit the governor’s ability to enter the state into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. House Bill 2025 advanced along party lines in the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee after Republican prime sponsor Rep. Jim Struzzi said the legislation “gives a voice” back to the coal plant workers in his Indiana County district who will lose their jobs if the state joins RGGI in 2022 as scheduled. “I think everyone understands that we, as elected representatives of the people, should have a say in entering any type of multistate faction, particularly one that could have a devastating effect on our economy,” he said before the vote Tuesday. In October, Gov. Tom Wolf directed the Department of Environmental Protection to draft a plan for joining RGGI, a 10-state coalition that charges power producers for the pollution they emit in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of climate change. The proceeds are reinvested into participating states’ economies. Pennsylvania, a leading energy exporter nationwide, has long been a holdout in the program. Struzzi’s bill would halt the DEP’s regulatory process and instead require legislative approval before moving ahead. An amendment to the bill lays out additional hurdles the DEP must clear – from submitting a draft bill to the Legislative Reference Bureau for public comment to holding at least four public hearings to itemizing a list of costs associated with joining RGGI – before a lawmaker could move a corresponding plan through the normal legislative process.

ELECTRIC VEHICLES: EV supply chain could see years of shortages — report -- Tuesday, June 9, 2020 -- The coronavirus pandemic could cut supplies of key metals needed to produce electric vehicle batteries, and low prices of one metal could help stall EV projects for years, according to a new report.

 U.S. Electricity Demand This Summer to Be Lowest Since 2009, Says EIA - U.S. electricity demand is expected to total 998 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) between June and August, a 5% decline compared with the same period last year and the lowest level of summer electricity consumption the country has experienced since 2009, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Most of the expected decline will come through the commercial and industrial sectors, which EIA forecasts to be 12% and 9% lower, respectively, than summer 2019. The agency also expects residential electricity sales to grow by 3% this summer as the Covid-19 pandemic forces people to work from home and follow social-distancing practices. “Normally, weather is one of the primary factors in determining electricity demand in the residential and commercial sectors,” EIA said. “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts that U.S. cooling degree days -- an indicator of demand for air conditioning -- for June, July, and August 2020 will be 1% lower than last summer. “This summer, however, other factors are affecting electricity demand more than temperature. Although state and local governments are relaxing stay-at-home orders, social distancing guidelines will likely result in Americans spending more time at home than usual this summer. In addition, many people that had worked in offices are now working from home, shifting electricity demand from the commercial sector to the residential sector.” Natural gas-fired power plants will generate an estimated 467 billion kWh this summer, slightly higher than last summer (460 billion kWh), EIA said. “Forecast natural gas prices remain low this summer, making it relatively more economical than coal for power generation. EIA forecasts natural gas’ share of electricity generation to increase from 41% last summer to 44% this summer,” the agency said. EIA forecasts coal-fired power plants will generate 178 billion kWh this summer, down from 272 billion kWh in summer 2019. “Coal continues its downward trend in its contribution to U.S. power generation, and EIA expects its generation share will fall from 24% of the electricity generated during summer 2019 to 17% this summer. EIA forecasts the amount of coal generation to be lower than nuclear generation this summer (207 billion kWh). At the same time, EIA expects that U.S. wind’s share of electricity generation will grow to 7% and utility-scale solar will grow to 3% this summer.

Who pays Michigan utilities’ coronavirus costs: customers or investors? -In late March, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued stay-at-home orders that required tens of thousands of factories, offices, stores, restaurants and other buildings that represent the state’s largest energy consumers to quickly empty. Within days, industrial and commercial energy use in Michigan plummeted to what industry observers have characterized as unprecedented lows. As investor-owned utilities, like DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, distributed less power to customers throughout the state, their revenues dropped. Meanwhile, the companies absorbed new expenses that came with protecting staff from COVID-19 and from uncollected or extended customer payments during the lockdown.For Consumers, that’s meant expenses and revenue shortfalls totalling up to $28 million per month, it said, with pandemic-related losses in the industry expected to be substantial.Though earnings are down, utilities’ shareholders in recent years have come to expect a nearly 10-percent return on investment, and state regulators have ordered companies to track their losses. In response, Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office and consumer advocates raised concerns that utilities plan to pass on revenue losses to customers, as other states are considering. Doing so would, in effect, force Michiganders to pay for energy the companies never sold, consumer groups say. They and the attorney general’s office preemptively filed objections with regulators, setting up a battle in Lansing over who should take the hit — customers or shareholders. Amy Bandyk, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Michigan (CUB), a utility watchdog group, said the situation raises an ethical question — should utilities be permitted to saddle customers with all the risk of adverse events such as a pandemic while guaranteeing shareholders uninterrupted dividends? Investors “can't reap the rewards in good times without also taking a hit in bad times, or there wouldn't be any risk. They can't have their cake and eat it, too,” Bandyk said.

Nature Conservancy maps places where wind turbines pose minimal danger to wildlife » Producing more wind energy in the U.S. can help reduce carbon pollution. But wind farms can harm wildlife, especially birds.Joe Fargione of the Nature Conservancy says golden eagles, for example, watch the ground while hunting.“They’re not looking where they’re going and they run into the turbines,” he says.The spinning blades also kill thousands of bats each year.And wind farms can even be a hazard for ground-dwelling birds like sage grouse that avoid nesting near the turbines.So to find a solution, Fargione and his team looked at data and maps for 17 central U.S. states. They identified over 140,000 square miles of land that are optimal for wind but pose little danger to sensitive species.“Happily, our conclusion is that there’s plenty of wind that can be sited in low-impact, low-conflict areas,” he says.The research shows that these locations have the potential to produce more than 10 times the amount of wind energy currently generated in the U.S. So if wind development expands in these areas, Fargione says he and his team are “quite optimistic that we can have both renewable energy that we need to fight climate change and habitat for our important wildlife species.”

America's Oil & Gas Capital Is Turning To Renewables - When we think of Texas, we think of Big Oil. Even more so in its largest city, Houston. Home to some of the world’s largest private energy companies, Houston lives and dies on oil. But it is also the biggest buyer of….renewable energy. The city of Houston has committed to purchasing 100% renewable energy as a part of a renewed collaboration with NRG Energy. Throughout the seven-year agreement, the city predicts seeing the cost of electricity for the community falling, resulting in $9.3 million saved every year. Mayor Sylvester Turner noted, “All they see in the city of Houston is Chevron and Shell and Exxon. They kind of look past the city of Houston, but there are some incredible things that are happening in the city of Houston when we start talking about renewables.” This new deal is just the most recent in a string of initiatives helping to push the city in a more eco-friendly direction. In addition to the renewables pledge, the city is also building new bike lanes and encouraging the use of electric cars. It's even proactively courting Elon Musk to move Tesla Inc. and SpaceX to the "Space City" in hopes the offer will help other businesses see Houston for what it really is, rather than simply the global capital of the oil & gas business. The strategy also looks to expand Houston's investments in its own renewable resources, with the goal of powering the city with 100% renewable energy by 2025, rather than purchasing it. Houston is currently the biggest customer of renewable energy in the country, according to the United States EPA. Houston’s chief sustainability officer Lara Cottingham explained, “As a city, we have a really long and strong history of sustainability. From a sustainability perspective, we’ve been the largest municipal user of renewable energy for some time now.”

Broad Reach Power to Build 15 Battery Storage Projects in Texas - Broad Reach Power, a rapidly growing energy storage independent power producer (IPP) based in Houston which owns a three-gigawatt portfolio of utility-scale solar andenergy storage power projects in Montana, Wyoming, California, Utah, and Texas, has announced that it will build 15 utility-scale battery storage plant sites in areas near Houston and Odessa by the end of 2020. As per the firms’ announcement – six sites are expected to be online and operating this summer, and it is anticipated that the others will be under construction this fall. Each site will contain battery systems capable of storing and distributing up to 10 megawatts of power.“Despite the turmoil of 2020, US demand for lower cost and emission-free generation sources such as solar and wind is increasing, and this is fuelling the need for more battery storage assets,” said Broad Reach Power Managing Partner and Chief Executive Officer Steve Vavrik.“While many parts of the country grapple with economic challenges created by COVID-19, Texas is uniquely poised for continued industrial growth in the near future. Thanks to the state’s rapidly expanding and affordable clean power resources, reliable grid, deep talent base and business-friendly policies, Texas will be a prime location for data centres, manufacturing and pharmaceutical companies looking to expand their US operations. However, the abundant, cheap and emission-free in-state generation resources these companies want, or sometimes even require, will need complementary storage assets to ensure the grid’s continued reliability.”In addition to making the grid more resilient, these storage projects also provide utilities and grid operators with more options to bring the grid back online after an emergency such as a hurricane or tropical storm. They are emission-free, do not use scarce water resources, and are both small as well as modular so they can be constructed near customers with minimal intrusion. Each site is being developed using local civil and electrical engineers, surveyors, civil contractors, electrical contractors, and project managers.

Concerns Raised About Proposed Power Plant on OSU Campus - Several local environmental organizations are sounding the alarm and trying to raise awareness about a power plant proposed for the campus of The Ohio State University.Officially known as the Combined Heat and Power Plant (CHP), the facility would have a capacity of 105.5 megawatts, power that would be generated – for the first decade of its operation, at the very least – through the burning of natural gas. The plant is proposed for a piece of OSU-owned land at the northeast corner of Tharp Street and Herrick Drive, across the street from the OSU Veterinary Hospital and directly south of the Department of Food Science and Technology.The building that would hold the facility would be about 60 feet tall, with two cooling towers extending an additional 27 feet above the roof.  The site – which currently holds several green houses – was selected for its proximity to both central campus and the proposed west campus “innovation district,” where early plans call for dozens of new mid-rise buildings and apartments for as many as 4,000 residents. The plant would provide electricity and heating to buildings in both areas, utilizing the heat created by the power-producing turbines to make steam (which is in turn used to heat buildings in the winter and to humidify and regulate temperatures in buildings year-round, and for other tasks in labs and medical facilities).

 California plans for future of gas system amid 'patchwork' of electrification policies - As a wave of local governments in California roll out policies that promote the electrification of buildings, the state’s energy regulators have been saddled with a complicated task: planning for the future of its natural gas system.  Around 30 cities in California have passed building codes that reduce their reliance on gas, according to the Sierra Club, the most recent being Santa Cruz, which in March passed an ordinance to “eliminate natural gas infrastructure and associated greenhouse gas emissions in new buildings where all-electric infrastructure can be most practicably integrated.” But while it’s "fantastic" that individual municipalities are showing leadership, this is a patchwork approach, Michael Colvin, director of regulatory and legislative affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) California energy program, told Utility Dive.  “So you’re going to need the state to figure out, how do you accommodate the individual cities and their individual climate goals and their individual building code goals, etcetera — but ensuring that costs are equitable for the remaining customers,” he said. Gas utilities service more than 11 million customers in California, the majority of which are in the Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) and Pacific Gas & Electric territories. And natural gas plays a key role in maintaining grid reliability, according to Christopher Guith, senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute. As more intermittent resources come online, “essentially you’re making yourself overly reliant on gas —​ which is what California has done. They understand that and so, as a matter of policy… the CPUC, in coordination with the state energy agency, are looking at finding ways to alleviate that,” he said. State utilities are procuring storage resources to address some of these needs. Last year, the CPUC issued a decision seeking retirement extensions for 4.8 GW of gas generation units, and identifying the potential for resource adequacy shortages beginning in 2021. In response, both Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison have proposed a series of battery storage projects to address these challenges.

EIA: 2020 U.S. coal production to total 530 million tons, down 25% from prior year - The U.S. Energy Information Administration further lowered its coal production forecasts for 2020, predicting a 25% drop in domestic coal production from 2019 levels in its most recent “Short-Term Energy Outlook.” As the coronavirus pandemic battered electricity demand and brought construction sites and manufacturing plants around the world to a pause, the EIA began to revise down its outlook, predicting a 22% drop in April and then a 24.3% decline in May. Continuing that trend, the agency said in a June 9 report that U.S. coal mines would produce 530 million tons in 2020 from an estimated 705 million tons in the prior year, citing a compilation of negative market factors including slipping demand for coal-fired power generation and faltering steel and metallurgical coal demand overseas. Global steel and coking coal demand have diminished met coal output, resulting in a projected 35% decline in output from mines in the Appalachian region of the U.S., the report stated. Meanwhile, production in the Western region is expected to see a 25% drop due in part to reduced thermal coal demand from key export destinations including India and lower coal-fired electricity demand in the U.S., according to the report. U.S. metallurgical coal exports are expected to fall 32.3% in 2020 to 37.3 million tons from an estimated 55.1 million tons in 2019, according to EIA’s outlook. Thermal coal shipments overseas are similarly anticipated to sink 30.2% to 26.3 million tons from approximately 37.7 million the previous year. EIA maintained a view stated in May that production will recover in 2021 to roughly 549 million tons and that U.S. met coal and thermal coal exports will also rebound, a projection some market observers have disagreed with. In addition, the average delivered coal price will decrease from an estimated $2.02/MMBtu in 2019 to $1.98/MMBtu before increasing to $2.03/MMBtu in 2021, according to the report.

Southern Illinois Power Co-op plans to shutter its largest coal-fired unit this fall  - Southern Illinois Power Cooperative plans to retire its largest coal-fired generator as early as this fall, a move that is expected to save $125 million over a decade. President and CEO Don Gulley said the tentative decision is the result of analysis and negotiations that have been ongoing since late 2019. Gulley said SIPC utilized outside consultants to help it perform a comprehensive review of operations and determine the best path forward. The decision to close Unit 4, as it is known, was based on two primary factors, he said: sustained low energy prices in the wholesale power market, and increasingly costly environmental regulations for coal-fired generators. As a result, up to 26 of the plant’s 82 employees are expected to face layoffs. Those employees are to receive a severance package under the terms of an agreement ratified by the IBEW Local 702, which represents workers, Gulley said. SIPC is a generation and transmission cooperative located on the shores of Lake of Egypt that provides wholesale electric power to seven member distribution cooperatives, and the city of McLeansboro. It is jointly owned and governed by the distribution cooperatives, which are: Egyptian Electric Cooperative Association; Clinton County Electric Cooperative, Inc.; Monroe County Electric Co-Operative, Inc.; SouthEastern Illinois Electric Cooperative, Inc.; Southern Illinois Electric Cooperative; Tri-County Electric Cooperative, Inc.; and Clay Electric Co-operative, Inc. Those distribution cooperatives have a combined 80,000 metered customers across 29 counties — which are considered member-owners — throughout rural Southern Illinois.

Lawmakers ready bills for ethylene oxide transparency, coal ash fee hike - Several environmental bills – including a high-profile ethylene oxide spill reporting measure – have been teed back up in a House committee for action. The House Natural Resources and Environment Committee heard initial testimony from state senators on a handful of environmental measures that cleared the Senate by Crossover Day. It was one of the latest signs that lawmakers will take up some of the bills that had at one point appeared doomed for this year when the legislative session was abruptly suspended because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The budget, which will be cut by 11%, is still expected to be the main focus when the session resumes on June 15. One closely watched bill would require facilities using the cancer-causing chemical ethylene oxide, which is used to sterilize medical equipment, to report any leaks that violate their permit to the state within 24 hours. That information will then be posted online for the public to see. “One of the problems we still have had, though, is there still are leaks and there still are spills and what citizens were having to do is constantly send an open records request to EPD to find out about these violations of the permits,” said Sen. Brian Strickland,  “And that’s not good for anybody,” he added. “It’s not good the citizens to have to constantly submit open records requests to know what’s going on in their backyard and it’s not good for EPD to have to constantly deal with open records requests either.” The bill, SB 426, passed unanimously in the Senate. The House also signed off on its version of the same proposal, although some House lawmakers had pressed earlier for a more scaled down proposal.

IPL's Petersburg plant is the worst water polluter in state, violates permit 120 times -- IPL’s Petersburg power plant has violated its permit more than 120 times in the last three years. That's the most of any such facility in Indiana. And, now, they will have to pay for it. State environmental regulators and IPL are negotiating an agreement that will require the utility to create a plan to keep the southwest Indiana plant in compliance and also pay a fine of $78,300. An environmental law group says that's not enough. They say the penalty — for what is the state’s worst offender, according to EPA's enforcement database — does little to deter future such violations from IPL or other facilities around the state. But even more, the group doubts that the settlement will do enough to address, let alone fix, the problem — a problem that results in dangerous chemicals being released into a nearby waterway, often multiple times a month. IPL told IndyStar that it is committed to compliance. The utility also stressed that the coal-burning Petersburg facility, located roughly 50 miles north of Evansville, became subject to more stringent limits in its most recent permit. Jeff Hammons, an attorney with the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Group, said that is true. He also says that's not an excuse. IPL knew of the more stringent limits several years before they became enforceable in 2017 and 2018, he said, giving the company ample time to make changes and make sure they complied. “They had a long time to come up with a solution to this, and they still haven’t solved it,” Hammons said. “And now they just have a settlement to submit yet another plan.” The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is currently in negotiations with the company about the settlement. The agency said that the intent of all enforcement actions is to address the violations and to bring the facility back into compliance. IDEM would not make anyone available to speak with IndyStar because the situation is ongoing, an agency spokesman said.

Man attacks Little Village protesters as coal plant demolition resumes - Chicago Sun-Times - The demolition of the old Crawford power plant in Little Village resumed early Friday morning as protesters chanted, blocked traffic on a busy section of South Pulaski Road and drew the wrath of a truck driver who stepped out of his vehicle and began attacking community organizers in the middle of the street.The chaotic scene was calmed a short time later after Chicago police officers arrived to direct traffic and keep the more than two dozen protesters confined to the sidewalk across the street from the demolition site.Organizers are furious that demolition continues after the botched implosion of an almost 400-foot smokestack that blanketed the community in a thick cloud of dust Easter weekend. They’ve asked Mayor Lori Lightfoot to stop the demolition during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that the majority-Latino neighborhood has an inordinately high number of coronavirus cases and deaths, but the mayor has said the partially destroyed structure is unstable and must come down.  The coal plant is being torn down to make way for a distribution warehouse that will be leased to retailer Target. Community organizers, who fought years ago to shut down the coal power plant, complain that the new facility will inundate the community with hundreds of diesel-fueled trucks every day, polluting a community that already is among the worst in the state for poor air quality. They have called for the city to stop the development, led by Hilco Redevelopment Partners, but Lighftoot has said the project will go forward.

Coal’s collapse under COVID-19 adds urgency to just transition movement - As COVID-19 erupted into a pandemic, the National Mining Association wrote a plea to President Donald Trump in March for relief from a federal tax that funds black lung treatment for coal miners. The letter weighed mere ounces but landed like a house-size boulder in Appalachian coal country. Instead of being crushed by that news, however, officers of 12 Black Lung Association chapters in Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia coalesced. They crafted a counter response asking congressional leaders to extend the black lung excise tax to help ex-miners afflicted with the incurable disease and prompt the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration to establish emergency standards to protect working miners. “We sacrificed our lungs and our health to feed our families and power America,” they wrote in a two-page April letter. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a new hazard that threatens our health and the health of working miners. We urge you to protect mine workers, protect the black lung excise tax … and to provide support for our local businesses, and our hard-working families, neighbors, and friends.” Refusing to give up because of physical distancing restrictions, the officers united via telephone and social media. “They are shouting out, ‘We need justice, we need health care and we need benefits,’” said Dodson, the advocacy group’s Central Appalachian field coordinator, based in Norton, Virginia. “Maybe they’re getting overshadowed by the National Mining Association, but that doesn’t stop their determination and their right to be here.” If anything, the novel coronavirus has accelerated the demise of coal that began with competition from natural gas and, now, cheaper renewable energy. Upward of 300 coal-fired power plants have been phased out in the last decade. Fear of the disease prompted owners to shut down some Appalachian mines, at least temporarily, in March. This year, coal production is expected to slump 22% from 2019 — and that’s on top of an almost 30% drop between 2014 and 2019, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. Appalachian Voices and other organizations already on the ground to help fossil fuel-reliant communities find their footing are now doubling down on those efforts.

SUPREME COURT: Wash. urges justices to reject coal export fight -- Wednesday, June 10, 2020 -- The Supreme Court shouldn't "waste its valuable time" considering constitutional claims against Washington for denying a water quality permit for a coal export project, state officials told the justices yesterday.

 Murray Energy issues WARN notices; up to 1,500 coal miners could be out of work on June 17 -– More than 1,500 people working in the coal industry in the Northern Panhandle will be without jobs next week after multiple subsidiary companies for Murray Energy announced mass layoffs recently, according to federal notices filed by the mining company. According to a federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification filed in late May, 1,522 workers at four Murray Energy locations in Ohio and Marshall counties will terminated as of June 17. They include 854 workers at Marshall County Coal Co. in Cameron and 447 employees at Ohio County Coal Co. in Dallas, along with 139 workers at Anchor Longwall & Rebuild Inc. and another 82 employees at Kanawha Transportation Center Inc., both of which are located at Industrial Park Drive in Wheeling. Two other Murray subsidiaries in Marion County – Harrison County Coal Co. and Marion County Coal Co. – also notified a combined 931 workers would be laid off next week at those facilities, according to the WARN notice issued May 28.  Murray Energy cited billions in debt and a declining demand for its primary product of steam coal when the company filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in late October after failing to make payments to creditors. The company announced in court filings it planned to change the bankruptcy filing to Chapter 7, which drew an outcry from the United Mine Workers union that said it would lead to the closure of mines and layoff of thousands of workers. The case remains in federal court on the Western District of Ohio.  Murray is largest underground coal producer in the United States with 15 active mines, some of which have been idled. The company also operates 10 coal transloading facilities and five mining and equipment factory and fabrication facilities.

Southern’s Nuke Project ‘Highly Unlikely’ to Meet Deadlines - Southern Co.’s long-troubled project to expand its Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia is “highly unlikely” to meet state deadlines and is apt to face additional budget overruns, according to a local monitor. The company is no longer on pace to complete the two reactors by November 2021 and November 2022 deadlines approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission, Don Grace, a vice president of engineering for the Vogtle Monitoring Group, said in filed testimony. He also estimated that the project’s cost would exceeded its current $17.1 billion target. It would be yet another blow for the Vogtle expansion, which began in 2009, has already doubled in price and is running more than five years behind schedule. The monitoring group’s analysis doesn’t even take into account the impact of the coronavirus. It was completed in mid-March, before Southern and its partners slashed the workforce by 20% in April after dozens fell ill. Jeff Wilson, a spokesperson for Southern’s Georgia Power unit, said Vogtle remains on schedule and at budget. “The project is continuing its strategy of utilizing an aggressive site work plan as a tool to help us achieve the November regulatory-approved dates,” Wilson said in an email. “The total project capital cost forecast remains unchanged.” Yet the monitoring group said Southern’s strategy to speed up testing before finishing much of the construction at the plant led to inefficiency and higher costs, according to the report. The company “erroneously concluded that deviation from normal industry practice would shorten the schedule,” Grace said. The staff of Georgia Public Service Commission also disputes more than $1.2 billion in costs that Southern plans to pass along to customers immediately after the completion of Unit 3 of the project, according to separate filed testimony. The utility wants to start recouping $2.3 billion of costs in rates in the month after Unit 3 begins operation.

 Georgia nuclear project: monitor says more Vogtle delays, costs -- There’s potentially bad news for virtually anyone who pays an electric bill in Georgia: Once again, it is “highly unlikely” the long-troubled expansion of Plant Vogtle will be completed when scheduled, say state regulatory staff and independent monitors. According to their recently submitted written testimony, even if Georgia Power does finish on its latest timeline, the nuclear project will be $1 billion over its current budget, which was already billions of dollars higher than when the project began. Construction costs are expected to increase monthly electric bills of customers of Georgia Power and other Georgia electricity providers, virtually all of which have partnered on the massive plant.Still, the new findings could understate the challenges of the project, the only commercial nuclear power plant expansion underway in the United States. The authors based their assessments on a period before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the construction site south of Augusta. Meanwhile, government staff and monitors wrote that they were “shocked” by an “astounding 80%” failure rate for new components installed at the site. The results meant the components, when tested, “did not initially function properly and required some corrective action(s) to function as designed.”The regulatory staff and power industry experts serving as monitors were assigned by the Georgia Public Service Commission to provide independent analysis. They have been correct in predicting past delays and cost overruns that Georgia Power and parent Southern Company had not yet acknowledged. Georgia Power spokesman Jeff Wilson, in an emailed statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday, wrote that the company “continues to expect that we will achieve the in-service dates of November 2021 and November 2022 for Vogtle units 3 and 4, respectively. The project is continuing its strategy of utilizing an aggressive site work plan as a tool to help us achieve the November regulatory-approved dates.” The company did not directly answer questions from the AJC about component failure rates or concerns raised by monitors about the company’s current strategy for the project.

Ex-SCE&G executive to plead guilty for defrauding customers over failed $9B nuclear project -- The former chief operating officer of South Carolina Electric and Gas has agreed to plead guilty to defrauding utility customers who paid billions of dollars in high power bills for a nuclear power plant that was never completed.And more charges are coming after a three-year investigation by the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office Of South Carolina, prosecutors made clear in filings Monday.Steve Byrne, SCE&G’s second-in-command who oversaw the $9 billion V.C. Summer Nuclear Station expansion project before its sudden collapse in July 2017, is pleading guilty to wire and mail fraud, according to court filings.The filings echo accusations that Byrne and other executives hid damaging information and documents about the project’s flaws from investors and the public even as customers’ electric rates soared to pay for it. The charge against Byrne is the first to emerge out of the federal criminal investigation that began shortly after construction on the twin reactors in Fairfield County north of Columbia was canceled by SCE&G and its partner, Santee Cooper.But prosecutors indicated it won’t be the last. “The United States anticipates filing additional criminal charges against other members of the conspiracy,” prosecutors wrote in Monday’s filing. “The criminal investigation is ongoing.”  The massive V.C. Summer venture was supposed to usher in a renaissance of carbon-free nuclear power amid predictions of greater energy demand in South Carolina. Company leaders in 2007 persuaded S.C. lawmakers to rewrite the regulatory rulebook so they could embark on the project with limited state oversight, win approval for rate hikes as needed and charge customers upfront for the plant, ostensibly saving them money in the long run.  The project’s abandonment set off one of the largest economic crises in the history of the state. SCE&G’s 731,000 electric customers had already paid nearly $2 billion in the form of higher monthly power bills and will be charged about $2.3 billion more to pay off the project’s debt over the next two decades.

 CNX to ease production shut-in in Appalachian Basin -- CNX Resources has shut-in 375 million cubic feet per day of natural gas production in the Appalachian Basin, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and low commodity prices, Kallanish Energy reports. The volume of natural gas shut-in is expected to decline to about 300 MMcf per day by July, said the company. The company, with headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said it would adjust as conditions warrant. Shutting-in production began May 1, it said. That action It will result in more than $30 million in incremental free cash flow over the next few years, assuming the wells are turned back online by Nov. 1 and using current forward strip pricing will allow the company to advantage of the large positive spread between summer and winter natural gas prices, CNX said in a statement. It said it has monetized hedges in summer 2020 and added new hedges in winter which locked in a significant portion of the free cash flow improvement. CNX said it saved $2.4 million on diesel fuel costs at the eight-well Marcellus Shale pad, RHL 99, in southwest Pennsylvania. That savings came from contractor Evolution Well Services’ electric fracking fleet using 140,000 Mcf of natural gas to power the fleet in lieu of diesel. It also reported that it drilled two Utica Shales in southwest Pennsylvania at a record high pace and record low cost. The costs decreased from $957 per foot to $447 per foot, or a drop of 53%, with drilling times decreased by 22%, it said. It said the total wells costs for those two Utica wells to be about $1,375 per lateral foot, far below the $1,800 per foot assumed in the company’s plans. It also reported that it has drilled its most successful Utica well, the Bell Point 6, in Central Pennsylvania. Its estimated ultimate recovery is estimated to be 4.5-5.0 Bcfe per thousand feet. The company has about 100,000 acres in its Central Pennsylvania Utica and that area holds great future promise, the company said. The company also reported significant midstream build-out in 1Q 2020 in southwest Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale area.

House Speaker Turzai Accepted $11K Flight From Businessman With Fracking-Related Companies -Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, an outspoken advocate for the state’s fossil fuel industry, accepted an $11,000 plane ride last year from a Pittsburgh-area businessman involved in two fracking-related companies.In an ethics disclosure, Turzai said he gave a scheduled speech to the Shale Insight Conference in Pittsburgh at 9 a.m. on Oct. 23, but had to make it back to Harrisburg, a four-hour drive, to gavel in the state House at 11 a.m.There were no commercial flights in that time frame, the disclosure said. “Thus so, he had to secure a private flight.”The disclosure said the price for the flight, $10,988.44, was higher than normal because President Donald Trump traveled to Pittsburgh that day to speak at the same shale industry conference. The price was “a result of the security and other logistical concerns related to the arrival of the President that day.” Stephen Frobouck, who paid for the flight, said he made the offer while talking to Turzai’s staff about having the Speaker visit a liquid fuels facility Frobouck is planning to build in Westmoreland County.  Frobouck co-founded Reserved Environmental Services, which operates a fracking wastewater treatment plant at the site in New Stanton, Pa., and is president and CEO of another gas-related venture, American GTL, which hopes to create liquid fuel from Marcellus shale gas at the site.

Marcellus LNG Firm Sees Permian and Bakken Opportunities --EXCO Resources has selected Edge Gathering Virtual Pipelines 2 LLC (Edge LNG) to capture and liquefy natural gas from a stranded well in the Marcellus Shale, Edge LNG reported Wednesday.“We are proud to be expanding our footprint in the Marcellus, which we’ve identified as an important region given its large number of stranded wells,” Edge LNG CEO Mark Casaday commented in a written statement emailed to Rigzone.  In its deal with EXCO, Edge LNG will deploy its mobile, truck-delivered LNG equipment to the Marcellus site. The firm stated the equipment includes three trailer-based “Cryobox” liquefaction units. It explained the process – created by Galileo Global Technologies and deployed exclusively by Edge LNG in North America – requires minimal investment from the site owner and can be delivered to any site with road access. It also noted the process can start producing LNG within hours and needs no pipeline infrastructure.Under the agreement, Edge LNG will produce the LNG and purchase it from EXCO. The firm noted that it will then sell the LNG and deliver it to customers through its truck-based “virtual pipeline,” providing the fuel for homes and businesses in the Northeast. Each Cryobox unit can convert 1 million British thermal units of gas per day into approximately 10,000 gallons of LNG during the period, the company maintains. “We have a lot of interesting projects underway and we expect to have our technology deployed and producing LNG in the Permian and the Bakken, in addition to the Marcellus, before the end of this year. The environmental and cost efficiencies the Edge LNG solution can bring are considerable and it is great to see producers recognizing this.”

Delaware River Basin Commission faces pressure to reject PennEast pipeline - The PennEast pipeline fight has now entered a new phase, but its old foes — environmentalists and residents from both sides of the Delaware River — are still ready for battle. At the Delaware River Basin Commission’s first virtual session since the coronavirus shutdown began — a second-quarter business meeting open to the public Wednesday morning — the panel covered a report on hydrologic conditions, a COVID-19-related budget resolution, and more. But for environmental advocates and leaders, the topic of the day was a request by PennEast to construct a natural gas line across dozens of waterways and beneath the Delaware River. The $1 billion project would carry Marcellus Shale gas 116 miles from Luzerne County, Pa., to Mercer County, NJ. For an hour after the meeting officially adjourned, public commenters decried the pipeline project and called for the DRBC to reject it. Nearly 20 speakers from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the New Jersey Sierra Club, the Clean Air Council, and the New Jersey Forest Services, as well as local residents and a retired Lehigh University chemistry professor, spoke about the environmental threat of pipeline construction and requested a more robust review process. “The decision you render on PennEast is setting the precedent for all future pipelines that pass through the Delaware River watershed,” Maya K. van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, told the commission. The DRBC’s listening session was just the latest episode of public outcry over the PennEast pipeline, which has been pushing for approval for nearly six years. The interstate pipeline gained approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as well as Pennsylvania, but ran into trouble with New Jersey regulators. PennEast, a group of five energy corporations, now proposes to build the gas pipeline in two sections, or phases: one in Pennsylvania, and one in New Jersey.

A Powerful Petrochemical Lobbying Group Advanced Anti-Protest Legislation in the Midst of the Pandemic - ONE DAY AFTER West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s shelter-in-place orders went into effect, the governor quietly signed into law the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the law created new felony penalties for protest actions targeting oil and gas facilities, as the state continues to confront opposition to two massive natural gas pipelines designed to cut through delicate forests, streams, and farmland.  Now, a person who trespasses on a West Virginia property containing “critical infrastructure” with the intention of defacing or inhibiting operations could face a felony charge carrying up to three years in prison and a $3,000 fine. The law creates another new felony and fines of up to $20,000 for any person or organization that conspires with someone to deface or vandalize such properties. “Critical infrastructure” is defined as an array of oil and gas facilities including petroleum refineries, compressor stations, liquid natural gas terminals, and pipelines. West Virginia’s critical infrastructure law mimics a model policy promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, a shadowy group that encourages state lawmakers to pass industry-friendly legislation. Records provided to The Intercept by the Energy and Policy Institute reveal the natural gas industry’s hand in advancing the bill. A network of local lobbyists for Dominion Energy, which owns the Atlantic Coast pipeline; the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association; and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, an industry group representing the refineries and processing plants that are the final destinations for the natural gas pipelines, spent months working behind the scenes to ensure the bill’s passage. West Virginia isn’t the only state to advance such anti-protest measures in the midst of the pandemic. Andy Beshear, Kentucky’s Democratic governor, who has been widely praised for his response to Covid-19,signed a similar critical infrastructure law on March 16, and South Dakota’s governor signed another on March 30. Alabama’s bill passed the state Senate on March 12 and is currently being considered by the House;Mississippi’s passed the House on March 4 and awaits action from the Senate. Particularly striking is a new amendment to Louisiana’s existing critical infrastructure law, now awaiting the governor’s signature, which would prescribe up to 15 years’ imprisonment for entering a critical infrastructure property without authorization during a state of emergency.

During construction hiatus, MVP changes plans for Roanoke River crossing - Builders of the Mountain Valley Pipeline can bore under the Roanoke River to set the pipe at that location instead of an earlier plan to dam the water and dig a trench, energy regulators say. Mountain Valley cannot currently undertake the river crossing in eastern Montgomery County, however, because of a lack of federal authorizations. Construction began in 2018 but has been on hold since fall. On May 20, Mountain Valley asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval to change methods for its planned crossing of one of the region’s major rivers. Its application described the creation of pits on opposite sides of the river where the pipeline route and river intersect in Lafayette. One pit would be nearly 31 feet deep, the other nearly 22 feet. A crew would bore horizontally 316 feet and install the 42-inch pipe directly behind the boring machine, passing at least 6 feet beneath the river bottom, the application said. The project could be completed in 90 days, the filing said. Mountain Valley spokeswoman Natalie Cox, asked for the company’s reason for the change, said variances to use boring “for specific crossings” would allow Mountain Valley to “complete final restoration work for larger sections” of the pipeline’s right of way. In giving its consent May 27, FERC said the decision to bore rather than block the river and lay pipe in a trench “will result in a reduction in impacts on aquatic resources by avoiding impacts to the stream bank and channel.” The earth in that location is dominated by shale and limestone with a high percentage of gravel and cobbles, conditions that will require the application of clay solution to lubricate the cutting process, the application said. MVP plans to obtain 500,000 gallons of water from a municipal source and not use river water. MVP said it “does not anticipate conditions” that would cause drilling fluids to be released into the environment. The drilling fluid was described in the application as non-petroleum based, non-hazardous and “non-toxic to fish” at the low concentrations contemplated by MVP’s plan, the application said. David Sligh, a former senior engineer with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, warned that the fluid could leak out and damage aquatic life. Environmental safety depends on MVP complying with its plan and government rules, but “MVP’s atrocious record of noncompliance in VA and WV provides no assurance that this will happen,” according to an email written by Sligh, conservation director at Wild Virginia, a litigant in legal challenges designed to stop the project.

 EQM Midstream Nears Mountain Valley Pipeline Completion -- EQM Midstream Partners, LP’s EQM Mountain Valley Pipeline project work is around 92% complete. The 303-mile natural gas transmission line is now expected to come online by early 2021. The project has faced delays and cost adjustments due to additional regulatory reviews. The pipeline is expected to meet the rising demand for natural gas in the mid-Atlantic and southeast regions of the country from Marcellus and Utica shale output. The project is waiting for the Biological Opinion and a green signal from the FERC. The project cost is expected to further rise 5% from its present estimate of $5.4 billion. Construction of the pipeline had started in February 2018, with original project cost estimation of $3.5 billion. The long-delayed pipeline’s three compressor stations and three original certificated interconnects are fully complete. Notably, 80% of the pipeline is completed by EQM Midstream that incorporates 264 miles of pipe welding and other major completions. The interstate underground pipeline system connects northwestern West Virginia with southern Virginia. EQM Midstream is the operator of the project with a 45.7% stake. It has NextEra Capital Holdings, Con Edison Transmission, WGL Midstream and RGC Midstream as partners in the project. 

Pipeline projects draw criticism for ‘environmental racism’ -- Virginians calling in to the State Corporation Commission on May 12 pulled few punches: “environmental racism,” “sacrifice zone,” an “unfair and unjust project.” Many struggled to get through, repeatedly dropped from the call-in queue for public comment by technical glitches. But they kept calling back, hammering against a proposal to install yet more natural gas infrastructure in the state — 24 miles of 30-inch pipe, three compressor stations and two large gas plants. The $346 million Header Improvement Project (HIP) proposed by Virginia Natural Gas would impact neighborhoods in the city of Chesapeake and several counties — Fauquier, Prince William, Hanover, New Kent, Caroline and Charles City — as well as about 68 streams and rivers, 150 acres of wetlands and 313 acres of forest. It would particularly impact majority-minority communities where residents claim they’re sidelined in the decision-making. They want to know why the infrastructure is being foisted on them and what health and environmental repercussions would be visited on their families because of it. This is the essence of environmental justice, a concept that grew from activism in the 1960s and gained its name in the 1980s. Environmental justice is now at the heart of debates over how pollution, climate change and environmental hazards disproportionately impact the vulnerable and the voiceless. Recent actions in Virginia have emphasized environmental justice, too. In March, Gov. Ralph Northam established a permanent advisory Council on Environmental Justice, and in January a federal appeals court tossed out an air permit to build a compressor station in Union Hill, a historic African-American community in Buckingham County founded by freedmen and freedwomen after the Civil War. Now in the fight over the HIP, the SCC heard the public testimony as well as an evidentiary hearing for industry representatives the next day.Because of the technical difficulties during the hearing, though — held virtually because of COVID-19 restrictions — the SCC extended the public comment period and will schedule another virtual public hearing.

FERC prohibits pipeline construction, allows land seizures as court weighs 'legal purgatory' of rehearing delays - Federal regulators, under scrutiny from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, issued an order Wednesday prohibiting natural gas pipeline developers from beginning construction on a project until regulators act on rehearing requests. The order addresses in part issues raised during the court's April en banc hearing in Allegheny Defense Project v. FERC. The case centers on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) practice of continuously delaying requests for rehearing under the Natural Gas Act. Petitioners argued in part that the commission has been delaying requests for rehearing indefinitely, while allowing construction on controversial pipeline projects to proceed.FERC Commissioner Richard Glick dissented in part to the order. Though the order is "a step in the right direction," it does not address the concern that pipeline developers can still begin to condemn private land before the landowner is able to challenge the developer's ability to do so, he said.  Language in the Federal Power Act (FPA) and the Natural Gas Act (NGA) prevents litigation on an order until the commission makes a ruling on requests for rehearing, but FERC is able to delay those requests through tolling orders. Critics say the practice has led to a legal "purgatory" of opposition to critical orders on wholesale power markets, and favors pipeline developers by allowing projects to move forward dispute despite legal challenges. "Tolling is a Kafkaesque process that should have no place in how FERC operates. It makes no sense to allow land to be seized and construction to proceed before a FERC decision can be challenged in court," John Moore, director of the Sustainable FERC Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Utility Dive in an email.Though the Allegheny case focuses on the NGA and pipeline construction in particular, advocates say a favorable interpretation of the gas law would likely lead to a change in policy on the FPA as well.FERC reasoned in its April defense that the commission needs to preserve its ability to address complex requests in longer timeframes if necessary, an argument backed by utility trade group Edison Electric Institute.  "The rehearing process serves as a mechanism for the Commission to carefully consider the arguments presented, in order to resolve disputes or bring its expertise to bear on complex, technical matters before they are potentially presented to the courts," according to FERC. But in response to "the serious concerns posed by the possibility of construction proceeding prior to the completion of Commission review" FERC on Wednesday determined developers would not be able to proceed with construction while such a review is pending. "This rule ensures that construction of an approved natural gas project will not commence until the Commission has acted upon the merits of any request for rehearing, regardless of land ownership," the commission wrote in its order.

EPA Water Rule Won’t Speed Up New Oil, Gas Pipeline Projects - A new EPA water rule to curtail state vetoes won’t necessarily ease the path for new oil and gas interstate pipeline projects, energy analysts and lawyers say. They say this is partly due to the sharp decline in oil and gas linked to the coronavirus pandemic. But the hurdles also come from a federal court’s suspension of the Clean Water Act Nationwide Permit 12, or NWP 12, that would allow developers to dredge and fill wetlands and stream crossings in order to lay pipelines. Without a nationwide permit, pipeline builders have no choice to seek the more time-consuming and expensive individual Clean Water Act permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that apply to each water crossing. Forcing applicants to pursue individual permits—pending the outcome of a months-long Ninth Circuit review of the nationwide injunction—will increase costs and delays in project approvals, according to Sarah Peterman Bell, a Farella Braun + Martel LLP attorney said June 4. A year ago, the Environmental Protection Agency’s water quality certification rule, released June 1 (RIN: 2040-AF86), would have been welcome, said Larry Liebesman, a former Justice Department environmental lawyer. But with the suspension of Nationwide Permit 12, “everything is up in the air,” said Liebesman, now at the environmental and water permitting firm of Dawson & Associates.

Sentencing of utility behind 2018 Mass. gas explosions delayed over probation issue - The sentencing of a NiSource Inc-owned utility company linked to catastrophic gas explosions in Massachusetts in 2018 hit a snag on Monday after a federal judge questioned whether its plea deal called for a term of probation inconsistent with the law. Columbia Gas of Massachusetts had been set to be sentenced by a federal judge in Boston as part of a deal with the U.S. Justice Department in which it would pay a $53 million fine and NiSource would sell its Massachusetts operations. To read the full story on Westlaw Practitioner Insights, click here:

US Natural Gas Permitting in May Falls Most in Decade while Permian Suffers Largest Monthly Decline  -The Permian Basin in May reported the largest monthly decline in oil and gas permits ever, down 47% from April, as applications by large-cap operators fell to their lowest levels in history, off by almost three-quarters, Evercore ISI said Tuesday. In Evercore’s monthly permit report covering U.S. activity across the country and in the Gulf of Mexico, analyst James West and his team said domestic activity plummeted to 1,072, off by 53% month/month and 63% year-to-date.Only 102 natural gas permits were issued in May, down by 40% from April and the “lowest count in a decade,” Evercore analysts said.  The gas permit decline primarily came from the Marcellus Shale at 52, which was 41 fewer than in April. In the Utica Shale, only 14 permits were issued. The Haynesville Shale’s permit count dropped to 49, driven by a slowdown in Louisiana, down 34 from April, while activity in the Texas portion of the play was flat at 18.Year-to-date, natural gas permits totaled 986 at the end of May, off 47% year/year, driven lower by the Marcellus and the Haynesville Shale. The Marcellus is down 44% year/year at 409, with the Haynesville at 383, a decline of 31%.The sharpest declines were in the West Texas portion of the Permian by large-cap exploration and production (E&P) companies, as well as from lower activity in New Mexico’s Permian, where permitting fell by 125 from April.E&Ps also cut back in the Eagle Ford Shale of Texas, with permit filings at 43, down by 51 from April.The year-to-date oil permit count stood at 8,837 at the end of May, off 65% from a year ago, according to Evercore.While permitting fell back sharply in the Permian, it’s been no picnic in the Rockies, which has suffered the biggest decline since the start of the year. Permits stood at 1,174 through May, or 93% lower year/year. “The collapse in the year-to-date permit count is also related to the downward activity in the Permian,” off 29%, and in the Eagle Ford, down 49% since the end of December, analysts said.Permits granted to private operators represent the 45% of May’s total in the Bakken Shale, which contrasts with the Permian, where privates held around 34% of the applications.Meanwhile, permits for water disposal and well plugging have intensified, analysts sasid.In the Bakken Shale, injection well permits climbed from zero in April to three in May, while well plugging was up by one to 15. Plugging permits also rose month/month in the Haynesville to three from zero.Well plugging permits in Texas jumped to 1,893, up 361 month/month, while wells permitted for water disposal and brine were at seven, down by eight. Through May, year-to-date plugging permits totaled 132, down 59 year/year.

 Despite LNG Worries, Natural Gas Futures Gain Ground on Increased Cooling Demand Outlook - Natural gas futures rallied early Wednesday and held in positive territory throughout the trading day on forecasts for a relatively hot June and expectations that rising temperatures will drive seasonally robust energy demand to power air conditioners.The July Nymex contract settled at $1.780/MMBtu, up 1.3 cents day/day. August rose seven-tenths of a cent to $1.870.NGI’s Spot Gas National Avg. rose 2.0 cents to $1.620. “We see a little more heat in today’s medium-range forecast,” said Bespoke Weather Services, noting that models showed higher temperatures taking hold next week.The firm expects a cooler period Friday through Tuesday in the eastern United States before more heat returns in the middle of next week, increasing the likelihood of greater gas-weighted degree day (GWDD) totals for June overall. The current month is “on pace to rival 2018 and 2016 for the highest June GWDD count since June 2011,” and that is “notable given the tendency for hotter summers over the last 10 to 15 years.” Genscape Inc. said Lower 48 power burns have ramped up since late May “as summer begins in earnest.” The firm said burns breached 35 Bcf/d on June 3 and then did so again Tuesday and Wednesday. Though temperatures have fluctuated in some regions this month, cooling degree days (CDD) are expected to increase up to 3.7 average CDDs above normal between June 19 and June 22, Genscape said. By extension, it expects power burns to exceed 37 Bcf/d for the first time on June 18 and sustain that level on ensuing days. On the storage front, EBW Analytics Group said Thursday’s report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) “could be important” since it may provide “more insight into how the supply/demand balance is shifting at a time when supply and demand are both in flux.” A lower-than-expected build for the week ended June 5 could signal increased industrial demand as factories formerly idled amid the pandemic reopen and drive power usage. A Bloomberg poll of nine analysts found injection estimates ranging from 91 Bcf to 99 Bcf, with a median of 94 Bcf, on par with the five-year average. A Wall Street Journalsurvey produced an average of a 93 Bcf injection. NGI estimated a 96 Bcf build. Last year, the EIA recorded a 107 Bcf increase in storage for the similar week. On Tuesday, the EIA said in its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook that it expects gas demand to increase next winter while production eases, creating upward price momentum and resulting in Henry Hub spot prices averaging $3.08/MMBtu in 2021. Henry Hub prices this year, however, are expected to average just $2.04/MMBtu.

US working natural gas volumes in underground storage increase by 93 Bcf: EIA - — US natural gas storage inventories increased by 93 Bcf for the week ended June 5, the US Energy Information Administration reported June 11, as power burn demand offset continued declines in LNG export demand. The injection was just below an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 95 Bcf build. Responses to the survey ranged from injections of 84 Bcf to 106 Bcf. The injection measured below the 107 Bcf build reported during the same week a year ago and the five-year average build of 94 Bcf, according to EIA data. At 2.807 Tcf, storage volumes now stand 748 Bcf, or 36%, more than the year-ago level of 2.059 Tcf, and 421 Bcf, or 17.6%, more than the five-year average of 2.386 Tcf. The weekly injection total was the first below triple digits since mid-May. US balances trended tighter as small gains across all supply sectors outmatched gains in gas-fired power generation demand, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics data. Total supplies rose by 600 MMcf/d to average 90.9 Bcf/d over the period, led by a combined 300 MMcf/d increase in onshore and offshore production, as well as nominal gains in Canadian imports. Downstream, demand changes were mixed, as LNG feedgas demand continued to slide, falling 900 MMcf/d week on week. Power burn demand increased by 3.1 Bcf/d, lifting total US demand 2.2 Bcf/d higher overall. LNG feedgas demand started out 2020 setting record highs, nearing 9 Bcf/d, but the softened global demand picture has cut feedgas deliveries in half. After the onset of the coronavirus, Platts Analytics' forecast cut 3 Bcf/d of LNG exports between June and October. While exports have provided a new outlet for the abundance of US gas over the last few years, the uncertainty from LNG demand has reflected the trade-offs that come from bursting the North American natural gas bubble, which has opened up domestic markets to new levels of global volatility. The NYMEX Henry Hub July contract rose 1 cent to $1.79/MMBtu in trading following the release of the weekly storage report. Henry Hub balance-of-summer prices were trading mostly flat at an average of $1.90/MMBtu, while the winter strip softened slightly, dipping 1 cent to $2.80/MMBtu from November through March. The massive spreads between summer and winter will likely continue to encourage a high rate of storage injections through the balance of summer. Platts Analytics' supply-and-demand model currently expects an 85 Bcf injection for the week ending June 12, which would be in line with the five-year average. Lower production related to shut-ins in the Gulf of Mexico from Tropical Storm Cristobal looks to help balance supply and demand for the week in progress.

U.S. natgas up as output slows, despite weaker demand forecast - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures rose on Thursday as output continues to slow despite forecasts for demand to decline, lower liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and a weekly storage build in line with estimates. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said utilities injected 93 billion cubic feet of gas into storage during the week ended June 5. That matched analysts' estimates in a Reuters poll and compares with an increase of 107 bcf during the same week last year and a five-year (2015-19) average build of 94 bcf for the period. Front-month gas futures rose 3.3 cents, or 1.9%, to settle at $1.813 per million British thermal units. Looking ahead, futures for the balance of 2020 and calendar 2021 were trading about 24% and 48% over the front month, respectively, on hopes the economy will snap back as state governments lift coronavirus-linked travel restrictions. Refinitiv said production in the Lower 48 U.S. states fell to an average of 88.5 billion cubic feet per day so far in June from a one-year low of 89.2 bcfd in May and an all-time monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November. With milder weather expected in mid-June, Refinitiv forecast U.S. demand, including exports, would slide from 82.6 bcfd this week to 79.6 bcfd next week. The amount of pipeline gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants fell to an average of 4.2 bcfd (43% utilization) so far in June, down from an eight-month low of 6.4 bcfd in May and a monthly record high of 8.7 bcfd in February. Utilization was about 90% in 2019. U.S. LNG exports dropped in recent months as buyers canceled dozens of cargoes for the summer with U.S. gas prices trading mostly higher than in Europe since late April due to global demand destruction from the coronavirus and record-high European stockpiles.

US natgas fall to 2-week low on mild weather, falling LNG exports -  US natural gas futures fell on Friday to a two-week low on forecasts for milder weather and weaker cooling demand than previously expected, and declining liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. Front-month gas futures fell 8.2 cents, or 4.5%, to settle at $1.731 per million British thermal units, their lowest since May 27. Refinitiv said production in the Lower 48 US states fell to an average of 88.6 billion cubic feet per day in June from a one-year low of 89.2 bcfd in May and an all-time monthly high of 95.4 bcfd in November. With milder weather expected in mid-June, Refinitiv forecast US demand, including exports, would slide from 82.5 bcfd this week to 79.1 bcfd next week before rising to 85.4 bcfd in two weeks as the weather warms again. The amount of pipeline gas flowing to US LNG export plants fell to an average of 4.1 bcfd (42% utilization) in June, down from an eight-month low of 6.4 bcfd in May and a monthly record high of 8.7 bcfd in February. Utilization was near 90% in 2019. US LNG exports dropped in recent months as buyers canceled dozens of cargoes for the summer with US gas prices trading mostly higher than in Europe since late April due to demand destruction from the coronavirus and record-high European stockpiles. Those higher US prices prompted some energy firms to send LNG to the United States for storage.

In brief: natural gas production in USA – Lexology  (legal brief) In contrast to the oil sector, in which some companies are active in all segments, it is more common for companies in the natural gas sector to concentrate on two or three segments (eg, production and gathering or transmission and storage). Ownership of pipeline transportation capacity is separated from ownership of the natural gas transported via pipeline, although some Canadian producers also own pipelines that cross from Canada into the US. The federal government does not participate directly as a party in private natural gas production transactions. However, in fiscal year 2018, approximately 9 per cent of all natural gas and 6 per cent of natural gas liquids produced in the US occurred on federal or native lands. The federal government derives value for gas produced on federal lands through royalties, annual rentals and bonus payments. The Office of Natural Resources Revenue, an agency within the DoI, is responsible for the management of production revenues. Production on state lands is managed by the appropriate state agency. In addition, government agencies impose a variety of taxes and charges. For example, FERC is authorised to recoup its entire budget appropriation through the imposition of annual charges and filing fees. The relevant statutory and regulatory framework for natural gas exploration and production depends largely on whether the activity is conducted on federal, state or private lands, and whether it occurs onshore or offshore. Enforcement generally occurs through administrative processes with the right to seek court review.The BOEM and the BSEE oversee the management of the mineral resources generally located more than three miles from the coast on the outer continental shelf (OCS). The BOEM is responsible for managing development in an environmentally and economically responsible manner, and the BSEE is responsible for enforcing safety and environmental regulations. The DoI prepares a five-year programme that specifies the size, timing and the location of areas to be assessed for federal offshore natural gas leasing. Bids are usually solicited on the basis of a cash bonus and a royalty agreement, with the highest bidder awarded the lease. OCS leases contain decommissioning obligations requiring lessees to return the leased area to the legally required condition, and the BOEM requires lessees to post security to ensure the decommissioning and other lease obligations are met.  Additionally, federal regulations require open access to OCS pipelines. The open access rule provides complaint procedures for shippers of oil and gas produced on federal leases on the OCS who believe that they have been denied open and non-discriminatory access to an OCS pipeline.

Trump’s New Clean Water Act Rules Could Affect Embattled Natural Gas Projects on Both Coasts -Just weeks after the state of New York cited climate change among its reasons for blocking a natural gas pipeline to be built beneath New York Harbor, the Trump administration finalized changes to federal regulations aimed at limiting states' ability to stop federally approved pipelines and other infrastructure under the Clean Water Act. The rule change, which Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler signed on June 1, will restrict states and authorized tribes from citing anything other than a narrow pollution discharge when denying a permit to a federally approved infrastructure project, such as a pipeline or dam. The new rule will also limit the permitting process to a year for states and tribes, which would waive their rights to block a project if they exceeded that time limit. For years, Republicans supporting fossil fuel development have cried foul over states' use of the Clean Water Act's Section 401, which gave state and tribal governments broad authority to block federally approved infrastructure projects that threaten their waters. States like New York and Washington have in recent years used the authority under that section to block high-profile natural gas pipelines, coal terminals or other fossil fuel infrastructure—often in the name of larger environmental goals like tackling climate change. "Now you won't be able to use 401 in the future going forward citing climate change as the reason," Wheeler said in a press call announcing the changes, adding that no longer would states "hold the nation's energy infrastructure hostage." But the changes, which Wheeler first proposed in August 2019, have for months been condemned by environmentalists who see this as the latest move by the Trump administration to disregard environmental law and prop up the fossil fuel industry. State officials, including from New York, California and Washington, also lambasted the move, signaling that legal challenges are soon likely to follow. "With the stroke of a pen, EPA intends to handcuff Washington's ability to protect our waters, our environment and our communities," Laura Watson, director of the Washington State Department of Ecology, said in a statement. "It makes a mockery of the federal-state partnership that has protected our waters for nearly 50 years ... and it will not stand." Many environmental legal scholars see the new rule as highly problematic, going against a past Supreme Court decision and decades of deferring to states to enforce the Clean Water Act. Some believe the new rule could even encourage developers to revive past projects once thought dead.

Federal court upholds Enbridge's Great Lakes spill plans(AP) — Enbridge has produced legally acceptable plans for dealing with a potential spill from oil pipelines that cross a Michigan channel linking two of the Great Lakes, according to a federal appeals court.A panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week overruled a district judge who had agreed with an environmental group that the pipeline company’s plans failed to adequately consider potential harm to fish and wildlife in the Straits of Mackinac.Enbridge, a Canadian company based in Calgary, Alberta, developed the strategy as required under the Clean Water Act in case of failure of its Line 5. The pipeline carries oil and natural gas liquids used in propane from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario. A four-mile (6.4 kilometer) segment divides into two pipes that lie across the bottom of the straits, which connect Lakes Huron and Michigan.Enbridge says the 67-year-old segment has never leaked and remains in good condition. But the company plans to build a replacement in a tunnel that would be drilled through bedrock beneath the straits. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is a critic of Line 5, which state Attorney General Dana Nessel is seeking to shut down in a lawsuit pending in state court. The National Wildlife Federation sued, contending the agency failed to make sure that approving the plans would not jeopardize fish or wildlife listed under the Endangered Species Act.Nor did the agency prepare an environmental impact statement as required under the National Environmental Policy Act, the wildlife federation said.District Judge Mark Goldsmith in Detroit ordered the pipeline administration to comply with both laws.But in a 2-1 ruling last Friday, the federal appeals panel said the agency could not consider them because the Clean Water Act has specific criteria “by which to evaluate the ‘correctness’ of the plans.” The agency found that Enbridge had met those standards, Judges Amul Thapar and Joan Larsen wrote in their majority opinion. They primarily involve having enough personnel and equipment to respond to a worst-case discharge, as well as testing and drills.

Chesapeake Prepares To File Bankruptcy After Stock Surges 300% - How insane is this "market"? So insane that shale pioneer Chesapeake, which for weeks has been rumored to be on the verge of bankruptcy, exploded by over 300% from Friday's closing print of $25 to $84.75 after the close. Well, the daytrader gambler who bought at $84.75 after hours in hopes of finding an even greater idiot to sell to - such as Jerome Powell perhaps - will be disappointed because as Bloomberg reported shortly after the close, Chesapeake is preparing a bankruptcy filing that could hand control of the oil and gas company to its senior lenders, as in no value to existing equity, which as of the close on Thursday had a market cap of $684 million, an increase of over 425% in the past two days! The timing of these Bloomberg headlines is without doubt the best testament to the absolute idiocy that the moron in charge of the Marriner Eccles buildings has unleashed. According to the Bloomberg report, the shale driller which was once the largest American gas producer before things turned south, including the March 2016 suicide of founder Aubrey McClendon, owes about $9 billion in debt and is debating whether to skip interest payments due on June 15 and invoke a grace period while it talks with creditors. The company has also begun soliciting lenders to provide debtor-in-possession financing to fund its operations during bankruptcy, according to one of the people. The Oklahoma City-based producer is negotiating a restructuring support agreement that could see holders of its so-called FILO term loan take a majority of the equity in bankruptcy, the people said, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential matters. The support agreement remains fluid and the terms could change, the people said.

Chesapeake Energy, a Fracking Pioneer, Is Reeling - The New York Times — Shares of Chesapeake Energy, a pioneer in extracting natural gas from shale rock that came to be known for its excesses, including a scheme to suppress the price of oil and gas leases, went on a wild ride on Tuesday amid reports that it was preparing a bankruptcy filing. Trading was halted for more than three hours in the morning. After buying and selling resumed, the trading was quickly interrupted again by circuit breakers. The company’s shares closed just below $24 for a loss of about 66 percent for the day.  Chesapeake’s successes at using hydraulic fracturing to produce gas helped convert the United States from a natural gas importer into a major global exporter. But the company overextended itself by amassing a large debt and has been struggling to survive over the last decade. It is the latest of more than a dozen heavily indebted oil and gas businesses to seek bankruptcy protection since the coronavirus pandemic took hold and Saudi Arabia and Russia flooded the global market with oil this spring. The company hired advisers to explore bankruptcy in recent months after reporting a loss of $8.3 billion in the first quarter, and said it had just $82 million in cash at the end of March. Chesapeake was forced to write down the value of oil and gas assets by roughly $8.5 billion this year. With $9.5 billion in debts at the end of last year, it has bond payments of $192 millions that are due in August.  Under its swashbuckling former chief executive Aubrey McClendon, the company drilled across Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Wyoming and Louisiana, borrowing billions of dollars along the way. Mr. McClendon was audacious as he aggressively outbid competitors on land leases and explored widely in the early 2000s, although he also drilled many wells that disappointed investors. By 2011, he and others who followed in his footsteps produced a glut of natural gas that sent Chesapeake and other companies to the brink of collapse.  But Mr. McClendon was also known to cut corners, which got him and his company in trouble. He was charged in 2016 with conspiring to suppress prices for oil and natural gas leases. The indictment said he had orchestrated a conspiracy in which two oil and gas companies colluded not to bid against each other for several leases in northwestern Oklahoma from late 2007 to early 2012.

IEEFA report: Texas oil producers burned through $749.9 million flaring gas in 2018 - Texas oil producers burned a record $749.9 million by flaring or venting unneeded natural gas into the air, according to a report released today by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).  The Texas Railroad Commission, the chief industry regulator in the state, passed up the opportunity to curb flaring last month when it rejected a proposal to cut oil production by 20 percent. The 2-1 vote against taking action occurred even as oil and gas prices plunged because of oversupply conditions exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and a price war with Saudi Arabia and Russia.  “The Railroad Commission failed to adopt production cuts and closed its eyes to the declining financial conditions of the oil and gas sector and its impact on the Texas economy,” said Tom Sanzillo, IEEFA Director of Finance and a co-author of the report. “Their decision was driven by looking in the rear-view mirror, and they are heading for a crash. The hard issues will haunt them going forward, but the commission is unwilling and unprepared to address them.” Reducing or eliminating flaring would help address oversupply issues that have plagued the oil and gas industry for years. Even so, the report found that the oil and gas regulator failed to fulfill its responsibilities on multiple fronts:

  • The commission voted against curbing production, even though state law requires it to take prompt action when the supply of oil and gas exceeds reasonable demand.
  • The commission is required to adopt rules and orders to “conserve and prevent the waste of gas,” yet has taken no action directly or indirectly that could reduce the wasteful flaring of gas.
  • The commission’s failure to take action flies in the face of U.S. Supreme Court rulings ordering it to consider the impact of the oil industry on the entire state, especially the revenue that it produces for the state’s university, school, general revenue, transportation and rainy-day funds.

Flaring is only one of multiple problems troubling the industry. These troubles include low demand for existing reserves, high debt levels, declining credit ratings, bankruptcies, poor stock performances, market competition and the instability of state-owned enterprises. Removing waste from oil and gas production is not only a legal requirement; it’s also a profit-making proposal. 

 Natural gas supply from Oklahoma to Upper Midwest plummets over past month | S&P Global Platts— The massive drawdown in active rigs in Oklahoma's SCOOP/STACK plays has prompted pipeline flows out of the region to plummet over the past month, adding upward pressure to Midwest prices.  Falling production receipts along the four largest pipelines running through Oklahoma has led to lower natural gas supply from the Midcon Producing region to reach Upper Midwest markets, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics data. Flows between Oklahoma and the Upper Midwest have averaged 2.6 Bcf/d over the past 30 days. This is down 1 Bcf/d from the 30 days prior. The declines are spread among Northern Natural Gas Pipeline, Panhandle Eastern Pipeline, Natural Gas Pipeline and ANR Pipeline.  Northern Natural has seen some of the steepest drops. Falling receipts in both Oklahoma and Texas have lowered these flows, with Oklahoma taking slightly more of the losses. Receipts in Oklahoma fell 284 MMcf/d the past 30 days from the thirty days prior, more than the losses seen in Texas which fell 203 MMcf/d. Within Oklahoma, multiple delivery points appear to be splitting the losses, with none losing more than 74 MMcf/d. Texas, however, still provides the bulk of flows on the pipeline, with Texas receipts averaging 1.7 Bcf/d the past thirty days compared to Oklahoma's 78 MMcf/d.  The falling supply has helped uplift regional prices. NGPL Midcon basis has averaged 9 cents/MMBtu behind Henry Hub over the last 30 days. That is up from minus 22 cents/MMbtu the thirty days prior. However, as receipts and flows return, this should once again weight down on Midwest prices, according to Platts Analytics.  Panhandle Eastern has seen a 268 MMcf/d decline between the last 30 days and the 30 days prior. It is now averaging 589 MMcf/d. Here, however, falling Oklahoma receipts are contributing to virtually all of the declines. Receipts in Oklahoma have averaged 428 MMcf/d, down from 654 MMcf/d the thirty days prior. Receipts from Texas, however, only declined 55 MMcf/d during this time.  NGPL has seen slightly lower declines. At Station 106 on the Kansas and Nebraska border flows have declined by 175 Mmcf/d. Again, the bulk of the drop has come from Oklahoma supply. Flows out of the Permian have remained relatively flat at around 350 MMcf/d, while Oklahoma receipts onto the pipeline across the state fell 322 MMcf/d, according to Platts Analytics. Lastly, ANR flows from the Midcon Producing to the Midcon Market have averaged 510 MMcf/d the past 30 days. This is down 146 MMcf/d from the 30 days prior.

Illinois rejects bid to delay decision on Dakota Access Pipeline expansion - (Reuters) - Illinois regulators on Thursday unanimously rejected a request by environmental groups to delay a decision on Energy Transfer LP’s Dakota Access Pipeline expansion due to the coronavirus pandemic. Save Our Illinois Land and Sierra Club, which oppose the expansion, told the Illinois Commerce Commission the oil price downturn caused by the pandemic lessened a need for the expansion, and that market data used to justify the project had become outdated. The ICC still must rule on Energy Transfer’s application to increase capacity on its 570,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) crude oil pipeline by adding a series of pumping stations. The project has received approvals from several other U.S. states. Measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus have cut global fuel demand as much as a third, knocking U.S. crude prices down nearly 40% since the start of the year and spurring widespread production cuts. The environmental groups asked the commission to delay a final decision on the expansion application and order a hearing to introduce new evidence related to oil market conditions. They also cited a recently ordered federal environmental review of a segment of the pipeline. Texas-based Energy Transfer countered that the pandemic’s impact on oil demand would be short-lived and not reduce the future need for the pumping facilities, which are expected to enter service in late 2021.

Cristobal makes USGC landfall as nearly 35% of Gulf crude comes offline | S&P Global Platts — Energy producers shut down almost 35% of the US Gulf of Mexico's crude oil production and more than 32% of natural gas supplies ahead of Tropical Storm Cristobal making a southern Louisiana landfall on June 7. More than 635,000 b/d of crude and 878 MMcf/d of gas were shut in ahead of Cristobal's move onshore, according to the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, as operators evacuated 188 platforms and rigs in the Gulf -- roughly 30% of the US Gulf's total platforms with working personnel. Cristobal battered southern Mexico and shut down ports over the past week, before moving through the Gulf and spreading heavy rainfall from Louisiana to Florida. The storm is hitting just as oil prices are moving up with the OPEC+ group agreeing to extend deeper production cuts at least through July and front-month NYMEX WTI flirting with hitting $40/b for the first time since early March. BP, Occidental Petroleum and other Gulf producers were busy temporarily shutting oil and gas production from their platforms that are near the path of the storm. Total Gulf oil production was nearly 2 million b/d before the coronavirus pandemic cratered global demand and oil prices. BSEE is now estimating Gulf oil production at closer to 1.85 million b/d. However, S&P Global Platts Analytics data estimates that Gulf crude oil production will fall to an estimated 1.62 million b/d average for June as some producers reduced their volumes because of lower prices. After Cristobal passes, offshore oil and gas facilities will be inspected and, once the standard checks are completed, production from undamaged facilities will be brought back online immediately, BSEE said. Facilities sustaining damage may take longer to bring back online. BP said June 3 it was reducing output at its Thunder Horse, Atlantis and Na Kika platforms. Those three BP-operated platforms churn out more than 200,000 boe/d. Royal Dutch Shell has evacuated nonessential workers but hadn't reduced production volumes as of early June 7. "There are currently no impacts to our production, and we expect minimal impacts to our drilling operations," Shell said in a prepared statement. The last major hurricane to significantly interrupt production from the US Gulf of Mexico was Barry, which made landfall last July. Barry caused the shut-in of close to 1.4 million b/d of crude oil, about 73% of the US Gulf crude output, according to BSEE. On a monthly basis, Barry caused US Gulf production to dip by about 330,000 b/d for the month.

Energy firms prepare to resume U.S. Gulf of Mexico output after storm passes -  (Reuters) - Energy companies on Monday began preparations to resume oil and gas production in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, a day after Tropical Storm Cristobal blew through with high winds and heavy rains. Producers had evacuated 182 offshore facilities and shut in about a third of oil and gas production in U.S. Gulf of Mexico wells as of Monday. Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Murphy Oil Corp and BP Plc were among the companies that said on Monday they were starting to resume normal operations and return workers to offshore facilities. Energy companies typically inspect platforms after a storm passes and return evacuated workers once it is safe to do so. U.S. Gulf Coast spot gasoline prices strengthened slightly on Monday, traders said, up 0.25 cent per gallon from Friday. Cristobal has weakened to a tropical depression after making landfall in Louisiana on Sunday with 50 mile-per-hour (80 kph)winds. It led producers to shut 34% of oil and 35% of gas output in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore regulator Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said. The region provides about 1.93 million bpd of oil. Exxon Mobil Corp, Shell and PBF Energy Inc kept their oil refineries in Louisiana in operation as Cristobal hit over the weekend, people familiar with the operations said. PBF declined to comment. Exxon and Shell were not immediately available to comment.

About 23% of US Gulf oil, gas still offline after Cristobal: BSEE | S&P Global Platts— About 23% of US oil and natural gas production from the Gulf of Mexico remained offline on June 10 after Tropical Storm Cristobal swept through the region during the weekend. Another 140,000 b/d of crude came back online from June 9 to June 10, according to daily updates from the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Nearly 35% of the US Gulf production was shut-in in advance of the storm. After a peak of 635,781 b/d was shut in, BSEE said 435,767 b/d remained down on June 10, or 23.55% of total US Gulf oil production. BSEE decreased its gas shut-in estimate from 898 MMcf/d down to 619 MMcf/d, keeping 22.84% of the offshore gas volumes offline. BP, Occidental Petroleum and other producers that shuttered some volumes said they are working to resume operations and production volumes. Ahead of Cristobal's move onshore, BSEE said, operators evacuated 188 platforms and rigs in the US Gulf — roughly 30% of the region's total platforms with working personnel — and relocated several drillships. BSEE said 61 platforms remained evacuated on June 10. BP reduced output at its Thunder Horse, Atlantis and Na Kika platforms in the US Gulf. Those three BP-operated platforms churn out more than 200,000 boe/d. BP's Mad Dog platform was not affected. "BP has started to resume normal operations at its four operated platforms in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico," BP said in a June 8 statement, declining to give further updates. Others such as Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron said they had not reduced their US Gulf production volumes during the storm. Cristobal battered southern Mexico and shut down ports over the past week, before moving through the Gulf of Mexico and depositing heavy rainfall from Louisiana to Florida. The storm hit just as oil prices were moving up, with the OPEC+ group agreeing to extend deeper production cuts at least through July and front-month NYMEX WTI flirting with $40/b for the first time since early March. Total US Gulf oil production was nearly 2 million b/d before the coronavirus pandemic cratered global demand and oil prices. BSEE was estimating US Gulf oil production at closer to 1.85 million b/d before Cristobal.

Yearslong lull looms for Louisiana's energy sectors hit by economic slowdown, energy slump - A lull in industrial construction in Louisiana could stretch out several years with some proposed projects likely being postponed or even canceled because of the global economic slowdown and an energy sector slump that could affect producers in the years ahead. David Dismukes, who runs the LSU Center for Energy Studies, told business owners on a call hosted by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber that the outlook is not bright for energy producers and related industries at least until 2025. He said a lull in industrial construction that set in last year after the completion of numerous multibillion-dollar projects will continue until there is more demand for crude oil and petrochemical projects following the economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. Dismukes estimates that only about $131 billion may come to fruition out of $195 billion of energy manufacturing and export capital investments that were expected to occur between 2019 and 2029 along the Gulf Coast. In Louisiana alone, during that same period, only about $82 billion of the $116 billion of projected investment is expected to be completed — a big portion of that tied to proposed liquefied natural gas terminals. Of the $88 billion in LNG investments anticipated, only about $55 billion in LNG projects might actually happen, Dismukes said, on top of $27.6 billion in other industrial projects expected to continue. The potential for more than a dozen large-scale LNG projects is much less likely — at least until 2025, he said. Buyers of LNG overseas have already canceled 20 tanker ship loads in June and July. It's expected that 125 tankers from the U.S. might be canceled by the end of the summer. "There's not enough need for natural gas globally; all the cargoes have slowed down pretty dramatically," Dismukes said. "The incremental (capital) investment in 2022 and 2025, that's probably not going to be the case now. I think you are going to see that a lot of these projects are getting canceled or having problems."

In Louisiana, Stepping onto Oil and Gas Industry Land May Soon Get You 3 Years or More in Prison --Sharon Lavigne has spent the last two years fighting a petrochemical complex planned near her community, in St. James, Louisiana. Over the last six months, the 68-year-old-retired teacher has walked onto the property to lay flowers on a burial site that may contain the remains of the slaves she's descended from, and recorded live-stream videos from the levee overlooking the land.But unless Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, vetoes a bill sitting on his desk this week, those acts could soon be punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison. The bill, which passed the state Legislature in May, amends existing law that already makes it a felony to trespass on "critical infrastructure," a list expanded two years ago to include oil and gas facilities, amid a fight over an oil pipeline that terminates in St. James. The new bill will expand the list to include flood control infrastructure, and further stiffen the penalties for trespassing to three to 15 years if the parish or state is under an emergency order. Louisiana is under multiple such orders, including one for the storm that just roared across the state, and another declared by Edwards in response to the coronavirus pandemic.The bill's author, state Rep. Jerome Zeringue, a  Republican, said he introduced the legislation at the request of the Association of Levee Boards of Louisiana, "to put more teeth into current legislation."  But civil libertarians and environmental advocates say the bill expands an already vague law that imposes unconstitutional constraints on the rights of residents like Lavigne, who have been fighting petrochemical infrastructure.

 Formosa Plastics Opponents Ask Louisiana Governor to Veto Bill Over Harsh Sentencing Concerns | DeSmog -- On Friday, June 12, Louisiana's Democratic governor John Bel Edwards is expected to sign off on a piece of legislation, House Bill 197, that would make it a more serious crime to trespass on Louisiana's so-called “critical infrastructure,” including the state's system of flood-control levees, fossil fuel pipelines, and sprawling network of petrochemical plants and refineries.  But if you ask Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James, a Louisiana community group, what House Bill 197 means to her, the answer that comes back isn’t about floodgates or water pumps or pipelines. It’s about the legacy of slavery in the United States — and how that legacy echoes in criminalization efforts today.“It means that I cannot go and visit the gravesites,” Lavigne told DeSmog on Wednesday, June 10, referring to recently discovered slave cemeteries on former plantations now owned by petrochemical giant Formosa. The Taiwanese company plans to build a massive plastics manufacturing site in St. James Parish where Lavigne lives. “I have to go on the property to go to the gravesite. That affects me because my ancestors are in that grave.”House Bill 197, which was approved by the state’s legislature and is slated for the governor to sign or veto by Friday, would transform some types of trespassing — generally a low-level violation that leads to a small fine — into a felony carrying a minimum sentence of between three and 15 years. And because that sentence would be a mandatory minimum, a judge would have no legal discretion to lower the penalty for anyone convicted under that law, even in the face of compelling extenuating circumstances.“Mandatory sentencing laws disproportionately affect people of color and, because of their severity, destroy families,” a Families Against Mandatory Minimums primer explains. A 2013 Yale Law Journal study found that prosecutors were twice as likely to charge Black defendants under statutes carrying mandatory minimum penalties as white defendants who committed similar crimes. The battle over House Bill 197 and more broadly, the Formosa plastic plant’s construction, touches not only on the legacy of enslavement in the United States, but also on environmental racism, the fossil fuel industry, and how impacted communities are policed and criminalized today. For foreign investors watching events play out, the battle also offers insight into risks associated with the petrochemical projects in the U.S., particularly given the petrochemical industry’s history of pollution both on the Gulf Coast and worldwide.

DNR to hold virtual hearing on Enbridge plans for oil pipeline through northern Wisconsin -- The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is planning a virtual public hearing on a Canadian company’s plans to reroute an oil pipeline around a Native American reservation in northern Wisconsin. As a result of a lawsuit filed by the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe, Enbridge Energy is planning to remove a 12-mile segment of its Line 5 pipeline from the Bad River Reservation and bypass the reservation with about 42 miles of new pipe.    The DNR will hold a hearing at 4 p.m. July 1 -- accessible by telephone or through the online platform Zoom -- on Enbridge’s applications for permits to cross dozens of public waterways and fill wetlands and on the scope of the environmental impact review that will be required of the project. Construction of the proposed pipeline would affect 109 acres of wetlands, resulting in the conversion of 29.5 acres of wooded wetland to non-wooded wetland and the permanent loss of 0.06 acres. Enbridge would use trenching or dredging to install pipe under 87 public waterways and would need to temporarily bridge 185 waterways during construction.

EPA faces lawsuit alleging failure to update flaring requirements - A coalition of environmental groups is taking legal action against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the agency’s alleged failure to update requirements for an industrial process for burning pollutants. The groups alleged in a notice of intent to sue that the EPA has not updated its requirements for the process, called flaring, since 1986 despite a requirement to do so every eight years. Flaring is a process used in industries such as the oil and gas industry as well as the petrochemical industry in which companies attempt to burn waste gases, which can include some that can harm health and the environment. “The problem is that the current standards for flares are very outdated, they’re 34 years old at this point and they don’t look at certain things that are really necessary to make sure flares are operating properly,” Adam Kron, a lawyer on the case, told The Hill, adding that he would like to see improved monitoring requirements. Data from around the time that the 1986 flaring rule was put forth indicated that flares destroyed about 98 percent of pollutants. More recently, however, the agency found that ethylene flares only destroy about 90.4 percent. The lawyer said that one of the biggest health risks from exposure to flaring is respiratory issues.

Living Near Oil and Gas Wells Linked to Low Birthweight in Babies -Living near active oil and gas wells during pregnancy increases the risk of low-birthweight babies, especially in rural areas, according to the largest study of its kind.Researchers analyzed the records of nearly 3 million births in California to women living within 6.2 miles (10km) of at least one oil or gas well between 2006 and 2015. It is the first such study to look at birth outcomes in rural and urban areas, and to women living near active and inactive oil and gas sites.Proximity to a well and the level of production were found to be significantly associated with poor birth outcomes.Specifically, the study found that in rural areas, pregnant women residing within a mile (1km) of the highest producing wells were 40% more likely to have babies with low birthweights and 20% more likely to have babies who were small for their gestational age compared with people living farther away from wells or near inactive wells only.Even among full-term births, babies born to mothers living close to wells were on average 1.3 ounces (36 grams) smaller than those of their counterparts.Newborns are deemed to have low birthweight when they weigh less than 5lb and 8oz. It can lead to multiple short-term development issues as small babies often struggle to eat, gain weight and fight infections. Studies also suggest small- and low-birthweight babies are more likely to have medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and intellectual and developmental disabilities in later life.About one in 12 babies in the US have a low birthweight.The study found a link between oil and gas wells and small babies born in urban areas, but it was significantly less marked than in rural communities. Differences in air quality, maternal occupation and housing conditions may have contributed to the urban-rural divide. The findings, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, add to a growing body of evidence linking proximity to oil and gas wells to a variety of adverse birth outcomes, including premature birth, heart defects and low birthweight.

U.S. Oil Drillers Restart Production As Prices Recover - Shale drillers are bringing some shuttered oil production back online as the glut eases. The total amount of shut-in production in the Bakken stood at 475,000 bpd on May 28, a total that was 7 percent smaller than the week before, according to Bloomberg. A couple of high-profile shale companies voiced optimism at the start of June. EOG Resources said it plans to “accelerate” production in the second half of 2020, finding prevailing oil prices sufficient to step up drilling activity. The company also reduced its hedging exposure, a sign that the company is bullish about the trajectory of prices. In addition, in an investor presentation, Parsley Energy also said that it is bringing back the “vast majority” of its curtailed production in June. Parsley shut down around 400 wells in March. Oil prices have shot up from negative territory in April to the mid-$30s by early June. The extreme supply overhang has mostly been corrected by steep production cuts, aided by the bounce back in demand. The three-month slump and the near total halt drilling activity has ratcheted up the pressure on shale drillers. Debt has not gone away, so there is a need for cash flow. Drillers are clearly itchy to begin bringing output back online again. WTI rising to the mid-$30s may be just enough to entice oil back onto the market. “We see more evidence that the horizontal oil rig count is approaching the bottom of this down cycle,” Bjornar Tonhaugen, Head of Oil Markets at Rystad Energy, said in a statement. “However, what will determine the short term trajectory for US oil production is how quickly operators bring back parts of our estimated 1.65 million bpd of shut-in well production.” .

U.S. crude oil inventories increase by 5.7 million barrels - U.S. commercial crude oil inventories (excluding those in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve) increased by 5.7 million barrels from the previous week. At 538.1 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories are about 14% above the five year average for this time of year, according to the EIA crude oil and petroleum weekly storage data, reporting inventories as of June 5, 2020. U.S. crude oil refinery inputs averaged 13.5 million barrels per day during the week ending June 5, 2020, which was 178,000 thousand barrels per day more than the previous week’s average. Refineries operated at 73.1% of their operable capacity last week.

  • Gasoline production increased last week, averaging 8.1 million barrels per day.
  • Distillate fuel production increased last week, averaging 4.8 million barrels per day.

U.S. crude oil imports averaged 6.9 million barrels per day last week increased by 0.7 million barrels per day from the previous week. Over the past four weeks, crude oil imports averaged about 6.4 million barrels per day, 13.3% less than the same four-week period last year.Total motor gasoline imports (including both finished gasoline and gasoline blending components) last week averaged 629,000 barrels per day, and distillate fuel imports averaged 177,000 barrels per day.

  • Total motor gasoline inventories increased by 0.9 million barrels last week and are about 11% above the five year average for this time of year.
  • Finished gasoline and blending components inventories both increased last week.
  • Distillate fuel inventories increased by 1.6 million barrels last week and are about 29% above the five year average for this time of year.
  • Propane/propylene inventories decreased by 1.0 million barrels last week and are about 6% above the five year average for this time of year.
  • Total commercial petroleum inventories increased last week by 9.7 million barrels last week.
  • Motor gasoline product supplied averaged 7.4 million barrels per day, down by 22.7% from the same period last year.
  • Distillate fuel product supplied averaged 3.2 million barrels per day over the past four weeks, down by 18.1% from the same period last year.
  • Jet fuel product supplied was down 63.8% compared with the same four-week period last year.

  EIA Raises Oil Price Forecasts - The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has raised its oil price forecasts for 2020 and beyond, its latest short term energy outlook (STEO) report has revealed. The EIA now expects the Brent spot price to average $38.02 per barrel this year and $47.88 per barrel in 2021, according to its June STEO. Back in the EIA’s May STEO, the Brent spot price was expected to average $34.13 per barrel this year and $47.81 per barrel next year. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) spot prices are expected to average $35.14 per barrel in 2020 and $43.88 per barrel in 2021, the EIA’s June STEO shows. These prices were forecasted to average $30.10 per barrel this year and $43.31 per barrel next year in the EIA’s previous STEO. “The forecast of rising crude oil prices reflects expected declines in global oil inventories during the second half of 2020 and through 2021,” the EIA stated in its June STEO, which was released on Tuesday. “EIA expects high inventory levels and spare crude oil production capacity will limit upward price pressures in the coming months, but as inventories decline into 2021, those upward price pressures will increase,” the EIA added. The EIA now expects global oil inventories will begin declining in June, a month earlier than previously forecasted. The sooner than expected draws are the result of sharper declines in global oil production during June and higher global oil demand than previously expected, according to the EIA. Global oil inventories at the end of May stood 1.4 billion barrels higher than they were at the end of 2019, the EIA estimates.

What the Data Tells Us: US Oil Needs $70 Per Barrel to Sustain Operations  Over the past three weeks, there has been some celebration as oil prices have “recovered” due to oil companies cutting production and some global demand beginning to return.  This is normal. The low extremes of April have created a sense of hope in $30 territory.  However, while an $70 per barrel gain—from -$37 to $33 per barrel—is great, we are nowhere near a price to sustain US operations. This is a harsh reality for some. I heard this said just last week, “At $50, we had 800 rigs running in the US, right?  So if we can get back into the high 40’s, we should be close, right?”Wrong.The fact is, drilling rigs are a real-time indicator of activity. But they are not aleading indicator. For that, drilling permits are a better measure. Now, it is true that permits and drilling rigs do not always move perfectly in sync. But if they are off, it is usually because drilling rigs are being laid down but permits continue to be applied for. After all, it only costs a couple thousand dollars to get a drilling permit, so companies can easily continue to ask for them, even if they may wait a year to drill. In addition, one may not need a new permit if a well is being recompleted. That said, over the past five years, drilling permits have been a relatively consistent leading indicator of rig count and workload, although it can take 3 to 9 months for them to sync up. So, using public data for WTI price, rig count, and drilling permits from the Texas Railroad Commission, we can examine the trends prior to March of 2020 and the demand destruction of COVID-19 lockdown. In doing so, there is a striking correlation: The data PRIOR to coronavirus shows us that even $55 per barrel was going to lead to a downturn.  This graph shows the levels correlated to prices: From March to October of 2019, WTI prices were trending up nicely, and averaging right at $69 per barrel. During that time and for a couple of following months, US and TX Rig count hung just above 1,000 and 500 respectively. After October of 2018, oil prices took a hit, but then popped back up in a few months and averaged $56 per barrel from June of 2019 to February of 2020. During this time, US rig count trended down and leveled off at 800, while TX rig count leveled off at 400. In short, an average price drop from $69 to $56 (19%), correlated to a 20% drop in rigs.  And while the similarity in these numbers is coincidence, the overall trend makes sense.But now let’s examine drilling permit count. When oil prices averaged $69 per barrel, TX was issuing an average of 317 permits per week, and showing a slight downward trend.  But after oil prices dropped, the trend down was substantial, and in the six-month period of Sept 19 to Feb 20, the permits leveled off and averaged 209 per week. Oil prices had lost 19%, rig count lost 20%, and permits dropped by 33%.Unfortunately, it appears that in order to sustain US production and keep people employed, we need to be issuing around 300 permits a week. And this data shows that is questionable, even at $70 per barrel. So, for the hundreds of companies hoping to avoid bankruptcy, and the tens of thousands of workers being furloughed, $35, $45, even $55 per barrel does not signify a return to production.

US Shale Faces Bankruptcy Wave Amid Long And Arduous Global Downturn - The US shale industry could be on the verge of destruction due to the drastic decline in demand and falling energy prices brought on by coronavirus pandemic, a new report says. The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) published its 14th edition of the Global Peace Index on Wednesday -- outlining how the virus-induced downturn of the energy market and a price war between Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia -- could result in a "collapse" of US shale."The sharp fall in oil prices will affect political regimes in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, which may result in the collapse of the shale oil industry in the US, unless oil prices return to their prior levels," IEP warns.The report goes on to say "this global recession will be long and arduous," outlining how weakness in commercial, travel and industrial activity will persist for an extended period, indicating oil prices will remain subdued:  "These markets were already effected by an over-supply, emanating from Russia and Saudi Arabia who could not agree on production curbs. On April 20 the price of crude oil turned negative for the first time in history, as seen in Figure 1.9. Demand had collapsed so rapidly that overstocked producers were willing to pay buyers to take away excess inventory. The negative price was a short-lived technicality, due to the way futures contracts are written; with oil prices soon returning to positive territory. Nevertheless, the unprecedented episode highlighted the severity of demand collapsing worldwide."   Crude prices stabilized in April after OPEC+ agreed to production cuts. Last weekend, an extension of the 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) cuts were seen through July. The cuts equal about 10% of global supply, which has led to a 172% rise in Brent crude futures over the last 33 trading sessions. Despite the extension in cuts, Brent crude prices have stalled in the 43-40 level, now at risk of reversing.  The oil market only moved into deficit late May and still faces the daunting challenge of normalizing a billion barrels of excess inventories. Yet, the oil relief rally remains unfazed, with prices doubling and exceeding our year-end price target just six weeks after the likely cycles lows.

Report: Oil bust is catching up to pipeline companies -  An oil and gas industry bust caused by the coronavirus pandemic is beginning to spill into the pipeline and storage tank business, a new report from New York credit rating firm Moody's shows.Moody's downgraded its outlook for the midstream sector, which includes pipeline and storage terminal operators, to negative from stable. The rating marks the first time that the firm has given a negative outlook for the midstream sector."Although midstream cash flow is largely insulated from the full brunt of commodity price and volumetric instability, the rapid pace and the magnitude of production declines have finally spilled into the midstream sector, compromising its aggregate credit quality," Moody's said. Record low oil prices caused by the pandemic and a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia prompted producers to slash their budgets while oil field service companies laid off tens of thousands of people.The midstream sector put plans for several new pipeline projects on hold, but earnings largely had been insulated from the downturn as oil companies sought to move and store crude until higher prices return.Moody's now projects that oil production curtailments have been so sharp that pipeline and storage tank operators are expected to see earnings before income tax, depreciation and amortization fall by 5 percent this year.Crude oil pipeline operators are expected to feel the most pain while interstate natural gas pipelines operate with regulated, fee-based contracts have little price or volume risk, Moody's said.

CEOs Bank Big Bonuses As Oil Companies Go Bankrupt -When public oil and gas companies are doing relatively well, many are happy to adopt a pay-for-performance model to reward CEOs and executives. However, the tables are quickly turned when things go to the dogs. When these companies go bankrupt, the misery is shared by employees who lose their jobs; retirees see their benefits and pensions go up in smoke, while shareholders and bondholders get wiped out. In sharp contrast, it’s very common for blue-chip executives who have run their companies to the ground to receive multi-million dollar golden sendoffs. Indeed, top executives of oil and gas companies going through Chapter 11 frequently receive very fat payouts in the form of cash bonuses, stock grants, and other benefits that often exceed payments during the good times.It’s not any different this time around.  At a time when hundreds of thousands of employees in the U.S. shale industry have lost their jobs, Bloomberg has reported that some 35 executives at Whiting Petroleum Inc.(NYSE:WLL), Chesapeake Energy Corp.(NYSE:CHK) and Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc.(OTCMKTS: DOFSQ) are set to receive nearly $50 million after their companies declared bankruptcy or are on the verge of doing so. It’s the manner in which these head honchos continue to award themselves fat bonuses despite federal legislation to crack down on the practice that really grates.The board at Whiting, an oil and gas producer that filed for Chapter 11 in April, approved a $6.4M bonus for CEO Brad Holly just days before the company went under, exceeding his previous annual compensation package by nearly a million dollars.In May, California Resources Corp. (NYSE:CRC) warned investors about “…a substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern…” but still went ahead and guaranteed company executives their 2020 bonuses.According to Kelly Mitchell, an analyst at corporate watchdog group Documented, companies do it so as to incentivize these executives to stick around because they understand the company better and, ostensibly, have better odds of pulling them through. Never mind the fact that their decisions are very often to blame for the company’s sad situation in the first place. They also do it in a bid to cut costs and maximize value for creditors using tools such as tax credits or untapped resources. You could argue that this practice is not unique to the energy industry and is, in fact, common in corporate America–and you would be right.   Last year, former Equifax CEO Richard Smith, walked away with a very generous ~$19.6 million in stock bonuses, $24-million pension and $50,000 in tax and financial planning services after the credit agency suffered one of the worst data breaches in the history of the U.S.

Energy Industry Jilts Trump as Oil’s Crash Curbs Donations - The oil and gas industry, long one of the most reliable sources of campaign cash for Republican candidates at all levels, is turning a cold shoulder to President Donald Trump. Reeling from the worst oil-price crash on record and wary of Trump at the best of times, energy companies and their employees are donating far less to his re-election campaign than they did to his first run, and also much less than they’ve showered on Republican presidential candidates in the past. As Trump faces widespread criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and of the protests over police brutality, the slump in donations from a once-reliable ally is more evidence of a troubled re-election campaign. Trump raised $1.1 million from oil and gas company employees between May and November in 2016, the only period he actively raised donations during his first presidential run. But in the 40 months since, when he’s relentlessly been raising re-election cash, they’ve given him $654,103. The reasons vary from slimmer wallets after the oil-price collapse and some of Trump’s rhetoric during Saudi Arabia’s oil price war with Russia, to the Covid-19 lockdown, during which he cheered cheap gasoline as “a tax break for Americans.” Trump’s tariffs on foreign steel, which affect refinery infrastructure, are also unpopular in the industry -- and for some, so was his treatment of Rex Tillerson, the former chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., who served as Trump’s first secretary of state but was fired in a tweet and later publicly derided by the president as “dumb as a rock.”

North America’s largest pipeline company aims to pivot to natural gas and renewable energy  – Enbridge Inc., North America’s largest pipeline company, is shifting its asset mix to reflect the energy transition underway across the world. Al Monaco, chief executive officer of the Calgary-based company, said his company is taking a “gradual” approach to energy transition. While it will continue to invest in oil pipelines, the company will also invest increasingly larger proportions of its capital to natural gas and renewable energy projects as consumers around the world demand lower-emitting forms of energy. “If you look at the energy supply/demand balance globally, we as a company kind of mirror that. We have a meaningful part of our business in renewables — the base is probably 5 per cent of our assets,” Monaco said in an interview with the Financial Post. Currently, 55 per cent of the company’s earnings are generated from its liquids pipeline business, roughly 40 per cent from its gas transmission and storage business and 4 per cent from renewables, which consist primarily of offshore wind projects in the U.K. and Germany. Enbridge has identified offshore wind opportunities in North America as well, but Monaco said the company currently believes there’s a better supply chain and more attractive power-purchase agreements in Europe. “Supply chains are now extremely well developed in (Europe) in terms of engineering, equipment and the sheer know-how of how to deal with offshore wind projects. We also know that from a public policy perspective, Europe is quite advanced and we see very good commercial models there,” Monaco said.

Goldman Made $1 Billion As Oil Plunged Below Zero -Back in late March, Goldman stunned commodity traders when its energy strategist Jeffrey Currie predicted that landlocked oil (such as WTI, and unlike Brent) could trade negative in the very near future as a result of the massive demand plunge in oil and gasoline consumption resulting from the coronavirus shutdowns coupled with the supply surge unleashed by Saudi Arabia as part of its brief market-share war with Russia.This forecast was impressive for two reasons: just 20 days later, the prompt WTI contract indeed plunged into negative territory for the first time ever as those who were set to receive delivery of WTI barrels had no space to store it and ending paying buyers to take it off their hands, sending the price of the maturing contract to as low as negative $40. The second reason, is that Goldman's trading desk actually took Goldman's advice and prepared for oil to crater.As a result, while countless of (most retail) traders suffered massive losses as oil plunged from $15 to -$40 in one session, Goldman made a killing. According to Bloomberg, Goldman's commodities desk generated more than $1 billion in revenue this year through May, benefitting from oil's wild swings for its best start in a decade.The unprecedented mayhem in oil markets sent crude plunging below zero, left corporate risk managers scrambling and forced retail investors to unwind bets. But it presented an opportunity for Wall Street traders to score big gains. The windfall is a redemption for the unit, which less than two years ago faced an uncertain future under new boss David Solomon, who frowned upon a business that wasn’t making enough money. As Bloomberg adds, much of the boost came from oil trading overseen by Anthony Dewell and Qin Xiao, "who correctly positioned their desks for the collapse in prices" by which Bloomberg means they actually read and traded on Goldman's own in house research - which is traditionally meant to lure clients to take positions opposite to the house's own prop positions  but in this case actually was spot on - such as this report from March 30 which laid out precisely what would happen.

Exclusive: Oil major BP to cut 15% of workforce - (Reuters) - BP will cut about 15% of its workforce in response to the coronavirus crisis and as part of Chief Executive Bernard Looney’s plan to shift the oil and gas major to renewable energy, it said on Monday. Looney told employees in a global online call that the London-based company will cut 10,000 jobs from the current 70,100. “We will now begin a process that will see close to 10,000 people leaving BP – most by the end of this year,” Looney said in a statement. Reuters had earlier reported the planned job cuts, citing three company sources. The affected roles will be mostly senior office-based positions and not front-line operational staff, the company said. About a fifth of the job cuts will take place in Britain, where BP employs 15,000 people, a company spokesman said. Like all the world’s top energy companies, BP has cut its 2020 spending plans after the coronavirus pandemic brought an unprecedented drop in demand for oil. BP has flagged a 25% cut to $12 billion this year and said it would find $2.5 billion in cost savings by the end of 2021 through the digitalisation and integration of its businesses. On Monday, however, Looney said the company is likely to need to cut costs even further. BP is giving no pay rises to senior employees until March 2021 and said it is unlikely to pay any cash bonuses this year.

Hoard of North Sea Oil Is Starting to Diminish-- A glut of benchmark North Sea oil that’s been sitting on ocean-going tankers for weeks is starting to diminish. Millions of barrels of the region’s unwanted crude have been stashed on oil tankers since the coronavirus caused a demand collapse. But now the volumes are starting to shrink sharply, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Anchored on vessels everywhere from the U.K., to France and the Netherlands, the floating hoard reached 12 million barrels at the end of May. That figure has now dropped by 35%. The decline in the region’s floating storage is important because the grades in question help shape the Dated Brent benchmark that’s used to settle millions of barrels of physical oil transactions between producers and refineries. Nations including Saudi Arabia and Russia are leading a global push to limit output and have cut deliveries into northwest Europe. That’s lifted oil prices and eliminated what traders call a super-contango, a pricing structure that had made it highly lucrative to store. “The incentives to build floating storage have greatly diminished,” said Harry Tchillinguirian, oil strategist at BNP Paribas SA. “The holders of the storage are probably keeping an eye out for opportunistic sales where we see pockets of demand recovery.” While a diminishing floating stockpile of benchmark grades offers producers cause to be optimistic that their cuts are effective, there’s still a lot of work to be done to eliminate a surplus in the global market. There were also 180 million barrels of crude stored at sea worldwide last week, according to data from Vortexa Ltd., a data analytics firm. That’s the highest since at least 2016. On-land stockpiles in Europe’s key storage hub of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp, known as ARA, jumped to their highest level in two years last week, according to Genscape Inc. That includes non-benchmark grades from all over the world. Shipments tracked by Bloomberg show that deliveries into ARA from the region’s main supplier regions dropped to 1.28 million barrels a day so far this month, down by about 360,000 barrels a day compared with the average between March and May. While supplies from producers in the North Sea and the Mediterranean jumped so far in June, those from Russia fell sharply, tracking a similar drop in export programs. Just a sliver have reached northwest Europe so far this month from the Persian Gulf.

No source yet identified as oil spill near Postville continues to dissipate - The slick discovered in the waters off Postville, Labrador earlier this week continues to dissipate. That’s according to the Canadian Coast Guard which is in the area with its Environmental Response Team. A recent surveillance flight showed approximately 350 litres of pollution remaining on the surface of the water. Officials say the continued reduction in the size of the sheen indicates a light product that evaporates and disperses relatively quickly—such as diesel. Samples of the product have been collected, and booms have been placed at strategic points to contain the pollution and recover any residual product. Transport Canada and the federal department of Environment and Climate Change are continuing their investigation into the cause of the spill. Residents started noticing a strong smell and a sheen on the water around the time of a fuel delivery to the community. Officials have not yet identified the source of the pollution.

Oil spill Russia - Images captured from space show diesel in Arctic Circle - A major oil spill that took place in Russia and affected the Arctic Circle was spotted from space by two satellites of the European Space Agency (ESA). While the Russian officials claimed that the spill had been stopped, this incident prompted the country's government to declare a state of emergency.The incident took place on May 29 after a power plant's reservoir in the city of Norilsk in Siberia collapsed. In this incident, about 20,000 tons of diesel leaked into an Arctic Circle river.  Satellites spot major oil spill in the Arctic Circle (photos) — (@SPACEdotcom) June 5, 2020 According to reports, the ESA was able to monitor the incident from space through its Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. The mission, consisting of the twin satellites Sentinel-2A and Sentinel-2B, had two separate launches in 2015 and 2017. The goal of the mission is to study Earth by taking images from orbit.  The ESA was able to spot the areas affected by the oil spill. As seen in the images obtained by the agency, the red-colored oil traveled down the Ambarnaya River before flowing into Lake Pyasino. Responding to this, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency. He also slammed the power planet known as NTEK, which is a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, for the delay in informing the government regarding the incident.  Almost a week following the incident, officials from Russia confirmed that the oil spill had been stopped and contained. As of June 5, Russia's Emergencies Ministry confirmed that it has already removed 200 tons of fuel in the affected region.

 U.S. offers help in cleaning huge Arctic Circle fuel spill - The United States on Saturday offered to help Russia clean up a vast fuel spill that has fouled an Arctic river in northern Siberia.“Saddened to hear about the fuel spill in Norilsk, Russia,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter. “Despite our disagreements, the United States stands ready to assist Russia to mitigate this environmental disaster and offer our technical expertise.”On May 29, a diesel-fuel tank at a power plant belonging to the giant Norilsk Nickel mining group collapsed near the Siberian industrial city of Norilsk, sending some 15,000 tons of diesel into a nearby waterway and pouring an additional 6,000 tons onto surrounding land.The spill — deemed the worst ecological catastrophe of the sort to ever hit the region — Colorado remote tundra waterways with bright red patches visible from space.  President Vladimir Putin declared an emergency and said he expects the company to pay for the clean up, which could take years.Clean up work however has been complicated by marshy ground amid a springtime thaw and the shallow depths of the nearby Ambarnaya River, which prevents boats from reaching the scene. Russian officials said Friday that the spill was probably caused when long-frozen permafrost under the fuel tank melted and gave way, and ordered a review of infrastructure in vulnerable zones.

Disastrous Russian oil spill reaches pristine Arctic lake -A 21,000 tonne (approximately 23,000 U.S. ton) oil spill that prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to declare an emergency last week has now reached a pristine Arctic lake, and there are concerns it could contaminate the Arctic Ocean.Environmentalists and local officials have raised alarms about the disaster, which they say is the worst of its kind in the Russian Arctic, according to BBC News. So far, the oil has spread 12 miles from the initial spill site, a fuel tank that collapsed May 29. "The fuel has got into Pyasino as well. This is a beautiful lake about 70 kilometres (45 miles) long. Naturally, it has both fish and a good biosphere," Krasnoyarsk region governor Alexander Uss told Interfax news agency Tuesday, as AFP reported.Lake Pyasino flows into the Pyasina river, which in turn flows into the Arctic Ocean's Kara Sea, BBC News explained. Greenpeace Russia director Vladimir Chuprov told AFP it would be a "disaster" if 10,000 tonnes (approximately 11,000 U.S. tons) of fuel or more had reached the lake. He said he feared it would reach the Kara Sea as well, which would have "harmful consequences."Uss, however, was committed to preventing that from happening. "Now it's important to prevent it from getting into the Pyasina river, which flows north. That should be possible," he said, as BBC News reported.But regional officials told a different story."We can see a large concentration of diluted oil products beyond the booms," Krasnoyarsk region deputy environment minister Yulia Gumenyuk said, according to BBC News. Norilsk Nickel, the company that ultimately owns the power plant where the tank collapsed, denied that any oil had reached the lake.The spill has also contaminated rivers and soil. So far, cleanup efforts have removed 812,000 cubic feet of contaminated dirt, according to BBC News. "[The spill] will have a negative effect on the water resources, on the animals that drink that water, on the plants growing on the banks," Vasily Yablokov of Greenpeace Russia said, according to BBC News.The polluted Ambarnaya and Daldykan rivers may take ten years to clean, The Guardian reported.

Siberian oil spill contaminates Arctic lake - An oil spill that sparked a state of emergency has contaminated a freshwater lake in the Russian Arctic, the regional governor said Tuesday, a claim denied by Norilsk Nickel, the metals giant linked to the leak. Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency last week after 21,000 tons of diesel leaked from a fuel reservoir that collapsed May 29 outside the Arctic city of Norilsk. The spill has polluted the ground and waterways, triggering a major clean-up effort. Norilsk Nickel owns the power plant where the spill originated and its head Vladimir Potanin told Putin last week his company would pay for clean-up efforts estimated at $146 million. A spokeswoman for the taskforce in charge of the accident clean-up told AFP last week that the spill had been contained. But officials in the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk this week said that high concentrations of polluted water had been discovered beyond floating barriers set in place to stop the fuel from spreading. "The fuel has got into Pyasino as well. This is a beautiful lake about 70 kilometers (45 miles) long. Naturally, it has both fish and a good biosphere," said Krasnoyarsk region governor Alexander Uss, according to Interfax news agency. He added that it was important to prevent spilled fuel from reaching the Pyasina River, a vital waterway for the region that flows from the lake into the Kara Sea. At a video conference on Tuesday, Norilsk Nickel denied that the diesel had polluted the lake or risked reaching the Kara Sea. "Our samples at the Pyasino Lake show 0.0 percent contamination results," said Sergei Dyachenko, the company's first vice-president and chief operating Officer. "The distance from Pyasino Lake to the Kara Sea is more than 5,000 kilometers," he added.

Concerns oil spill from Siberia could reach Arctic Ocean {}- video - A Russian environmentalist has warned that a recent oil spill in Siberia could reach the Kara Sea, which forms part of the Arctic Ocean. The spill happened on May 29 at a power plant about 2,900 kilometers northeast of Moscow. An estimated 18,143 tonnes of diesel fuel was spilled from the power plant's storage facility, contaminating waterways.

 Russian oil spill leads to charges against plant director - The director of an Arctic power plant faces five years in jail after a major oil spill. Some 20,000 tons of diesel have flowed out of a collapsed storage structure, polluting waterways in Russia's north. Russian investigators have charged the director of an Arctic power plant after a major oil spill, authorities announced on Monday. Investigative Committee spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko said they had charged Vyacheslav Starostin with violating environmental protection rules. He faces up to five years in jail if found guilty. More than 20,000 tons of diesel has leaked into the ecologically fragile area in the Norilsk region since a storage tank collapsed on May 29, prompting fears for the environment and wildlife. The oil has contaminated local waterways and is threatening to reach the Arctic Ocean. Prosecutors partly blamed thawing permafrost for the collapse. Emergency workers have deployed booms to block the fuel from spreading further into the Ambarnaya River, a tributary of Lake Pyasino. That lake feeds a river that flows into the Kara Sea arm of the Arctic. The head of Russia's natural resources agency Rosprirodnadzor, Svetlana Radionova, denied that any fuel has reached the lake, but local inspectors say the tests being performed aren't adequate, and that fuel has likely poured into the body of water. "If a storm comes, (the fuel) will settle down on the banks and will slowly poison the ecosystem of Norilsk and Pyasino. The consequences won't be immediate. It might also reach the Kara Sea,'' regional inspector Vasily Ryabinin told The Associated Press.

 Nigeria records 1,300 oil spills in two years - Over 1,300 oil spill incidents occurred in various parts of Nigeria between 2018 and 2019, latest figures compiled by the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency have revealed. It was also gathered that most of the oil spills were caused by the activities of vandals who break pipelines to steal petroleum products. The Director-General, NOSDRA, Idris Musa, said findings by his agency showed that an average of five oil spills was recorded daily in Nigeria. Musa, who spoke to journalists in Abuja, said, “In 2018 we had about 600 oil spill incidents and in 2019, we had over 700 oil spill-impacted sites across the country. “These were oil spill incidents recorded in Nigeria that we’ve compiled and it is based on the fact that by law if there is an oil spill, you must report it. You must report any oil spill, no matter how small.” On the major cause of the spills, the DG said, “Most of the spills that occur are as a result of oil theft by those who go to pipelines to install valves. We had a similar incident about two weeks ago.”Musa observed that it was difficult to record the type of oil spills that were recorded in Nigeria in any other part of Africa. “In fact, aside from Mexico, which is not an African country anyway, you will hardly find such situation anywhere else,” he stated. The NOSDRA boss added, “Whenever we go for international conferences and we say we record over 700 oil spills in Nigeria, people ask how it happened. “When you tell them that people go to oil pipelines to install valves to fetch oil like water, they will ask you if the people who fetch the products are crazy. This is because the pressure inside the pipes is so huge and it can cause severe damage if ruptured.” Musa further noted that the agency had realised that the underground tanks of many filling stations in the downstream oil sector leaked products into their surrounding environment. This, he said, was not healthy for the environment, adding that NOSDRA had started taking inventory of defaulters. He said, “If your tank spills oil as a downstream operator, you will have to clean it up. We have noticed that for some of them who have already spilled products, they find it difficult to clean up.”

Clean-up operations following Barrackpore oil spill - An oil spill in Barrackpore caused by a busted line resulted in the spillage of three barrels of oil on a portion of land and into a watercourse. The discovery was made on Saturday and on Sunday mop-up operations continued at the site near Wilson Road. In a statement, Heritage Petroleum stated that the company received reports of the spill around 1 pm on Saturday. "Upon investigation, it was quickly discovered that the spill was emanating from a 4” pump line. The leak was isolated and clamped by 3:00 PM on the same day. Heritage has estimated that approximately three (3) barrels of oil was spilled." The company stated that it engaged the services of a contractor to clean up the spill and booms have since been reinforced along nearby watercourses to restrict migration of spillage to further downstream. In addition, company officials also visited the owner of nearby agriculture lands which may have been impacted and the parties will continue discussions on Monday. The company has since informed the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries of the incident and will keep officials appraised of related containment and recovery. Barrackpore West councillor Nicholas Kanhai said he visited the site and observed that clean up operations were being undertaken. He said workers were able to contain the oil in the river from going downstream. He said the spill occurred in an unpopulated area and he has received no reports of damage to agriculture produce or harm to animals.

Put new gas wells on hold until OIL has a disaster plan -- A preliminary report by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) on the environmental damage caused due to Oil India Limited’s (OIL) gas well blowout at Baghjan in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district, which started on May 27, has found that oil has leaked into adjoining Lohit river, polluting the water and adjoining Maguri-Motapung wetland with toxic pollutants. Maguri-Motapung is located less than 10 km from Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and is a part of the Dibru-Saikhowa Biosphere Reserve (DSBR). The report, which has been submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and seen by HT, has recommended that the approved new wells and further exploration in the area should be put on hold until OIL authorities put in place their disaster-handling capabilities. The report said a WII team conducted the survey from May 29 to June 4 and found several dead fish and insects that may have died due to oxygen depletion in the water following the oil spill. The survey found the presence of at least five endangered Gangetic dolphins in the 20-kilometre stretch of the Lohit river, a tributary of the Brahmaputra river, indicating that the species will be at grave risk from the ongoing spill. The team has collected samples of tissue and blubber from a Gangetic dolphin carcass found in Maguri beel, which is being analysed for presence of various contaminants. “The toxic fumes and oil coating has universally affected the area’s flora and fauna. The contaminants and oil are continuing to be released in the surrounding areas and immediate steps are needed to contain this spillover. The released toxins are known to have long-term persistence in soils and sediments, which will not only affect current life conditions, but due to sustained release, pose a serious health risk for a longer-term,” the report said. The WII team has also gathered from the local residents that OIL authorities did not have a mitigation plan for such a disaster, and consequently suggested a comprehensive impact assessment of their field operations in the biodiversity-rich Dibru Saikhowa National Park. “It’d be not only prudent but also essential for the well-being of all life forms that the approved new wells and further explorations in this area should be initiated only after a thorough investigation of potential impact, as well as evaluating disaster handling capabilities in place, with appropriate technology and trained manpower,” the report added.

More insurance cover needed for marine oil spills - Maritime NZ has published guidelines about a major increase required in insurance cover or other financial security for marine oil spills from offshore installations. Amendments to the Marine Protection Rules Part 102 now require owners of offshore installations to have insurance or another form of financial security from a third party of up to $1.2 billion. This is an increase from approximately $28 million. Maritime NZ Director Keith Manch says the insurance or other form of financial security is in addition to the unlimited liability imposed by the Maritime Transport Act for spill response costs and compensation for pollution damage to property. The certificate of insurance provides assurance that the money that would be needed is available to meet the costs of clean up and compensation for damage to property in case of an oil spill. Marine Protection Rules Parts 131 and 102 regulate offshore installations. They require an oil spill contingency plan and insurance or another form of financial security to cover the costs of clean up and damage to property. Part 131 requires an offshore installation operating in New Zealand continental waters and in the internal waters of New Zealand have an oil spill contingency plan approved by the Director that will support an efficient and effective response to an oil spill at sea. The amendments to Part 131 require the Director to be satisfied the operator will have the ability to implement the oil spill contingency plan when approving it. 

  Global gas demand on course for biggest annual fall on record: IEA - (Reuters) - The coronavirus crisis and a very mild winter in the northern hemisphere have put global natural gas demand on course for the biggest annual fall on record, the International Energy Agency said in its annual outlook on Wednesday. Global gas demand is expected to fall by 4%, or 150 billion cubic metres (bcm), to 3,850 bcm this year – twice the size of the drop following the 2008 global financial crisis. Major global gas markets have experienced price falls to record lows as lockdowns and reduced industrial output due to the COVID-19 pandemic have stunted demand. The oil and gas industry is cutting spending and postponing investment decisions. Although a rebound in demand is expected in 2021, the IEA does not expect a quick return to pre-crisis levels. For the full year, more mature markets across Europe, North America and Asia are forecast to see the biggest drops in demand, accounting for 75% of the total fall in 2020. “Global gas demand is expected to gradually recover in the next two years, but this does not mean it will quickly go back to business as usual,” said Fatih Birol, IEA executive director. “The COVID-19 crisis will have a lasting impact on future market developments, dampening growth rates and increasing uncertainties,” he added. The IEA forecasts 75 bcm of lost annual demand by 2025 - the same amount as the increase in global demand in 2019.

Exclusive: Oil tankers turn away from Venezuela as more sanctions loom (Reuters) - Oil tankers that were sailing toward Venezuela have turned around and others have left the country's waters as the United States considers blacklisting dozens of ships for transporting Venezuelan oil, according to shipping data and industry sources. The threat of tighter sanctions is already disrupting the global shipping market. Chinese oil firms are considering whether to decline to charter any tanker that has visited Venezuela in the past year, no matter where the ship is now or for what voyage, four shipping sources told Reuters on Tuesday. Washington is seeking to oust the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro by choking the oil exports that provide its main source of income. The measures have contributed to a fall in Venezuelan oil exports to a 17-year low and deepened the country's economic crisis, but Maduro has held on - to the frustration of U.S. President Donald Trump's administration. The United States may add dozens more tankers to an existing blacklist, U.S. sources told Reuters last week. That would make it more difficult for state firm PDVSA to deliver oil to refineries abroad. Exports dropped to about 452,000 barrels per day in May, the lowest since a national strike paralyzed the economy and hit exports between 2002 and 2003. Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on Twitter on Tuesday that Washington was attacking Venezuela's economy by blocking foreign revenue that could be used to import humanitarian goods, including food and medicine. The U.S. State Department did not immediately comment.

Country With World's Largest Oil Reserves Has Only One Rig Left - The collapse in oil prices and the tightening U.S. sanctions against Venezuela have accelerated the decline of the oil industry in the country sitting on the largest crude oil reserves in the world. As of May, Venezuela’s rig count plunged to just two, data from Baker Hughes shows, as production slipped by 16 percent to 645,700 barrels per day (bpd), Bloomberg reported on Thursday, citing documents containing production data it has seen. Of the two active rigs in Venezuela last month, one was working at an oilfield and another one was drilling for gas, according to Bloomberg. Those rigs are working in the Orinoco oil belt, where Venezuela’s state oil firm PDVSA operates oilfields in joint ventures with foreign firms, sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. Venezuela’s oil industry was collapsing even before the oil price crash and the pandemic, due to the increasingly stricter sanctions in the U.S. maximum pressure campaign against Nicolas Maduro’s regime and its sources of revenues. Oil income is pretty much the only hard currency that Maduro gets, so the U.S. is looking to stifle as much of Venezuela’s oil trade as possible. In addition, PDVSA is severely cash-strapped and hasn’t invested in repair and maintenance of oil facilities and refineries in years. The price crash and the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the crisis in Venezuela’s oil sector and PDVSA started shutting oilfields because of fewer international customers for Venezuelan oil, Bloomberg reports. In March, Venezuela had 25 operational oil and gas rigs, according to the Baker Hughes international rig count data. Venezuela has seen some reprieve recently in its fuel shortage problem, after Iranian tankers shipped gasoline and refining components to the Latin American country in an open defiance of the U.S. sanctions. Maduro’s regime tried to alleviate the fuel shortage in the country home to the world’s biggest oil reserves, but a new scheme of subsidized gasoline failed to put an end to the long lines in which Venezuelans queued to fill their cars with fuel. 

The Saudi-Russia oil price war was a 'very big mistake,' Qatar energy minister says -- Qatar's Minister of State for Energy Affairs shared his thoughts on some of the major oil producers' market moves in recent months, shedding disapproval on the March decision by Saudi Arabia and Russia to launch into a price war, which sent oil prices into free fall. "I think it was a very big mistake," Saad al-Kaabi told CNBC's Hadley Gamble from Doha. Al-Kaabi is also CEO of Qatar Petroleum. "You know, flooding the market is what caused us to go to a very low level. And then the pandemic basically took it almost to a very dangerous area where people could not afford to produce anymore. And we saw, you know, negative pricing in (U.S. oil benchmark) WTI." The markets were already being devastated by the crushing drop in demand due to global coronavirus lockdowns. The call to open the taps on oil production pulled the floor from under the market as Saudi Arabia slashed its selling prices and increased production after Russia refused to join its plan to further cut output and boost prices in early March. The hit to producing countries revenue was harsh enough to bring OPEC and its non-OPEC allies — known as OPEC+ — back to the negotiating table. In April, they agreed to the largest production cuts in history at 9.7 million barrels per day.   "Now, I think the actions that have been taken by the same group really is to agree what was agreed in the past and keep more sensible … to cater for the supply and demand that we're seeing," al-Kaabi said. Qatar left OPEC in January 2019 after six decades with the organization. The country's state oil producer, Qatar Petroleum, is slashing 30% of its spending this year due to the downturn.  But the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus will continue to weigh on the energy outlook, including liquid natural gas prices. S "We may be more prepared for it and have less lockdowns around the world. If that's the case, then we'll see a much quicker recovery, maybe in six months to a year. If there is a second wave, then it could take a little bit longer," he said. Al-Kaabi added, however, that he isn't worried about the long term because it has largely been "short-term events that have affected" prices. Still, he warned the coronavirus could have "some long-lasting effects" on travel and means of doing business. "I think you'll see less people doing business by traveling and more using video conferencing and other means that we got used to now and working from home and so on. So, I think there will be some change in our attitude about whether it's business traveling or working from home," al-Kaabi said.

Why Saudi Arabia Will Lose The Next Oil Price War - Saudi Arabia has instigated two oil price wars in the last decade and has lost both. Given its apparent inability to learn from its mistakes it may well instigate another one but it will lose that as well. In the process, it has created a political and economic strait-jacket for itself in which the only outcome is its eventual effective bankruptcy. outlines why this is so below. The principal target for Saudi Arabia in both of its recent oil price wars has been the U.S. shale industry. In the first oil price war from 2014 to 2016, the Saudi’s objective was to halt the development of the U.S. shale sector by pushing oil prices so low through overproduction that so many of its companies went bankrupt that the sector no longer posed a threat to the then-Saudi dominance of the global oil markets. In the second oil price war which only just ended, the main Saudi objective was exactly the same, with the added target of stopping U.S. shale producers from scooping up the oil supply contracts that were being unfilled by Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom complied with the oil production cuts mandated by various OPEC and OPEC+ output cut agreements. In the run-up to the first oil price war, the Saudis can be forgiven for thinking that they stood a chance of destroying the then-relatively nascent U.S. shale sector. It was widely assumed that the breakeven price across the U.S. shale sector was US$70 per barrel and that this figure was largely inflexible. Saudi Arabia also held record high foreign assets reserves of US$737 billion at the time of launching the first oil war. As it transpired, of course, the Saudis had disastrously misjudged the ability of the U.S. shale sector to reshape itself into a much meaner, leaner, and lower-cost flexible industry. After two years of attrition, the Saudis caved in, having moved from a budget surplus to a then-record high deficit in late 2015 of US$98 billion. It had also spent at least US$250 billion of its precious foreign exchange reserves over that period that were lost forever.The even more enduring legacy of this first oil price war, though – and part of the reason why the Saudis could never hope to win the last one, or any future oil price war either – is that it created the resilience of the U.S. shale sector as it now stands. This means that the U.S. shale sector as a whole can cope with extremely low oil prices for a lot longer than it takes Saudi Arabia to be bankrupted by them.

Saudi Arabia says 'no room whatsoever' for noncompliance over OPEC+ production cuts - OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC leader Russia said Monday that the success of the energy alliance's latest production cuts relies on all members complying with the terms of the deal. The statement comes shortly after OPEC and non-OPEC allies, known as OPEC+, agreed to extend its deepest round of production cuts in history to take roughly 10% of oil supplies off the market through to the end of next month. "We have no room whatsoever for lack of conformity," Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said during a virtual press conference on Monday. Those that failed to conform to the OPEC+ deal in May and June should compensate with extra cuts from July through to September, Prince Abdulaziz said. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said via a translator that he fully agreed with his Saudi counterpart. "I can say that overall conformity levels are extremely high, considering the magnitude of the cuts and how bad the situation is." "We have spent a lot of time discussing full conformity and how this will be compensated because the success of the deal and the success of our efforts rests on all countries doing their part," he added. International benchmark Brent crude futures traded at $41.72 a barrel, down around 1.3%, while West Texas Intermediate futures stood at $38.88, over 1.6% lower. Both contracts pared gains after rising to their highest level since March 6 earlier in the session, climbing to $43.41 and $40.44, respectively. What has been agreed? Oil prices have surged since some of the world's most powerful oil producers brought in a production cut of 9.7 million barrels per day from May 1. The move was designed to prop up prices at a time when the coronavirus pandemic had led to an unprecedented demand shock in energy markets. The International Energy Agency estimated that roughly 25% of demand was drained from the market in April as confinement measures brought mobility to a near standstill for billions of people across the globe. The output cuts from OPEC+ were initially scheduled to be scaled back to 7.7 million barrels per day from July 1 through to the end of the year. But the new deal, secured over the weekend, means the group will now cut 9.6 million barrels per day through to the end of July. The figure is 100,000 barrels per day lower than the previous agreement because Mexico said it remained committed to the terms of the original deal and subsequent reduction in cuts.

Iraq Asks Buyers to Forgo Oil Cargoes-- Iraq has asked some Asia refiners to consider forgoing prompt shipments of its Basrah crude, a potential signal the country is trying to meet the output-cut pledges it made to OPEC at the weekend. State-owned marketer SOMO sent requests to several customers asking if they would consider not taking some contracted cargoes for June and July loading, said people with knowledge of the matter. At least one buyer was unwilling to forgo shipments citing downstream commitments, while another will likely agree and seek replacement cargoes in the spot market, the people said. Suppliers such as Iraq and Nigeria that have traditionally been lax at complying with output curbs are coming under increased scrutiny following the latest OPEC+ agreement. The alliance agreed to extend record output cuts for another month on condition that Baghdad doubles down on efforts to rein in production and also makes up for previous non-compliance. Nobody responded to emails and text messages sent to SOMO seeking comment. The company typically sells two grades -- Basrah Light and Basrah Heavy -- to Asian customers in 1 million or 2 million-barrel shipments. Efforts by OPEC+ and involuntary supply cuts in the U.S. have been instrumental in helping oil prices recover from virus-induced lows in April. However, there’s speculation the rally could be stymied as the speed of the rebound entices producers to raise output before demand fully recovers. Iraq will be fully committed to the OPEC+ agreement, the country’s oil ministry said in a statement. The nation produced 4.2 million barrels a day in May, about 15% more than it was meant to under the previous OPEC+ deal struck in April. Iraq is set to release its official selling prices for July-loading crude exports in the coming days. Earlier, Saudi Aramco hiked official selling prices for all grades in a move that shocked buyers across Asia.

Saudi Arabia to end voluntary cuts on top of OPEC+ pact - (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia will boost output in July to match its output OPEC quota while ending deeper, voluntary cuts amid signs of global demand recovering, the Saudi energy minister said on Monday. OPEC, Russia and other producers agreed on Saturday to extend record output cuts of 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) into July, curbing global supply by almost 10% amid a steep slump in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic. For June, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had pledged to cut by 1.18 million bpd on top of that, with Riyadh forfeiting 1 million bpd. Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said that this would not continue in July, when Saudi Arabia will pump its OPEC quota, amid signs of demand recovery as nations around the world lift strict lockdown measures. “The voluntary cut has served its purpose and we are moving on. A good chunk of what we will increase in July will go into domestic consumption,” Prince Abdulaziz told an OPEC+ virtual news conference. Saudi crude use for power generation typically increases in the hot summer months, the minister noted. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, and Russia have to perform a balancing act as they push up oil prices to meet their budget needs while not driving them much above $50 a barrel to avoid encouraging a resurgence of rival U.S. shale production. Producers must also weigh the recovery in global demand against a possible return of supply from Libya after months of a blockade that shut off most of its crude production as well as weak compliance with promised cuts from producers such as Iraq and Nigeria. “The market has to absorb millions of barrels of oil that will be released from storage. As prices rise, U.S. production will continue to fall month on month due to steep base declines, but the pace of declines is set to ease markedly,” Energy Aspects analysts said in a note. On Sunday, Saudi state oil company Saudi Aramco hiked its July selling prices for crude grades to all destinations in a move likely to discourage buying for storage but rather could help to lower inventories.

Global Oil Demand Rises  -  Barkley Rosser - Back on April 20 we saw briefly the bizarre appearance of negative oil prices in certain markets. Today for the first time in many months Brent crude briefly topped $40 per barrel, although it fell back below that level (WTI is tending to be about $3 behind it, despite a single day recently when for the first time in years it nearly matched Brent crude at only 18 cents lower). However, it looks like the recent trend of global oil prices rising will continue some more, with prices likely to go above $40 and stay there. How far beyond that I shall not forecast. But this is a price level where many oil exporting nations can get out of immediate financial crisis, with many of them actually making money, if not as much as they would with still higher prices. One element of this price rise is on the supply side, especially with Saudi Arabia and Russia apparently maintaining a production cut agreement they have. Rumors from suggest there may be cheating on these agreements to come. But for now these two are holding the line on the supply side. More important has been the increase on the demand side, which looks set to continue rising for at least the near future. I have posted previously on how global carbon emissions appear to have bottomed around April 7, with them rising since, if still well below pre-pandemic levels. Burning fossil fuels is a major source of these emissions, so it is quite possible that oil demand has been rising since around then, even though it was 10 days after then that oil prices did their brief plunge into negative territory. According to it is China that is leading this increase in oil demand. It was the first economy to drop due to the pandemic, with its oil demand declining about 40% during February. However, it looks that China’s demand has returned as of May to a level 92% of its peak prior to the pandemic. That is substantial, while leaving more room for further growth. Another nation with a large economy making an even sharper turnaround is India. In early April at the beginning of its two month lockdown its demand declined by 60%, but now it is estimated that in June its demand will return fully to its pre-pandemic level.

 Brent crude will need to work through oversupply issues despite the OPEC+ output cut, says analyst - Brent crude needs to work through its oversupply issues before it can punch through its current price range of between $40 and $50 per barrel, according to Thom Payne, director at Westwood Global Energy Group. That's despite the latest agreement by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its oil-producing allies to extend a historic oil production cut until the end of July. The alliance cut production by 9.7 million barrels per day at the start of May 1, and the cuts — which have helped push up crude prices in the last two months — was initially set to decline on July 1. "If you take February to May, you've got an average built position, oversupply of 14 million barrels a day. So we've effectively built about 2 billion barrels of additional storage," Payne told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Monday. "We definitely need to drain that before we can see prices move materially above that kind of ($40 to $50) price structure," Payne said. His comments came after the group, known collectively as OPEC+, on Saturday agreed to extend its record oil production cut for another month as it seeks to balance the global oil market. Commenting on the recent OPEC+ agreement, JPMorgan's Head of Asia Pacific Commodities Research, Scott Darling, said: "I'd take some positives out of this — you've got compliance." "I think you've also got now monitoring on a month-by-month basis and it also feels there's not just near-term views on oil but gradually a sort of longer-term vision around where they want oil to go," he added. Oil prices have seen a partial recovery since seeing a plunge in April due to several concerns — ranging from uncertainty over demand due to the coronavirus pandemic that was spreading rapidly, to issues with crude oversupply. In the afternoon of Asian trading hours on Monday, international benchmark Brent rose 1.49% to trade at $42.93 per barrel. Similarly, U.S. crude futures gained 1.34% to trade at $40.08 per barrel. Looking ahead, Payne from Westwood Global said: "What's likely to happen is that the oil markets move to a net draw or undersupply position by around July, August of this year." This would be "very supportive" of the current $40-50 per barrel price range for Brent, he added. For his part, Darling said that JPMorgan sees Brent at $40 dollar per barrel this year and $47 per barrel for next year.

Hedge fund buying dries up after oil prices double - Kemp -  (Reuters) - Hedge funds have started to temper their bullishness towards oil after crude futures prices have doubled since late April.  Crude prices are nearing levels expected to see some shale production restart and there are concerns the rally is outrunning the recovery in demand.Hedge funds and other money managers purchased the equivalent of just 6 million barrels in the six major petroleum futures and options contracts in the week to June 2.Portfolio managers have bought petroleum derivatives in nine out of the last ten weeks, increasing their bullish position by a total of 324 million barrels since late March ( purchases last week were the smallest for nine weeks (if the single week when funds were actually net sellers is excluded), indicating the buying wave may be fading.Position changes were mostly insignificant with purchases of NYMEX and ICE WTI (+7 million barrels) and European gasoil (+8 million) but sales of Brent (-2 million) and U.S. gasoline (-8 million) and no change in U.S. diesel. But there were some tentative indicators the rally in crude prices may be running out of steam, while funds try to anticipate an improvement in the relative price of distillates, where margins have become uneconomic: Portfolio managers added new short positions in petroleum last week and their ratio of bullish longs to bearish shorts dipped for the first time since the end of March.Fund buying in WTI was some of the smallest since portfolio managers started to accumulate positions in U.S. crude in March. Funds were net sellers of Brent for only the second time in nine weeks.Funds have been net buyers of European gasoil for three weeks running, and last week’s purchases were the largest yet, indicating traders are trying to position themselves ahead of an anticipated improvement in distillate margins.None of these is a strong signal and there is a big risk of over-interpreting them. But taken together they suggest a possible pause or even a future reversal in fund buying.

Saudis Raise Oil Prices by Most in 20 Years-- Saudi Arabia increased prices for some crude exports by the most in at least two decades, doubling down on a strategy to bolster the oil market after OPEC+ producers extended historic output cuts over the weekend. The steepest jump in July exports will hit buyers in Asia, state producer Saudi Aramco’s largest market, according to a pricing list from the company on Sunday. The increases erase almost all of the discounts the kingdom made during its price war with Russia earlier this year. Saudi Arabia is using all the tools at its disposal to turn around the oil market after prices plunged in March and April with the spread of the coronavirus. As the price setter in the Middle East, its increases may be followed by other producers. Unprecedented output cuts led by the Saudis and Russia boosted prices in May, and the OPEC+ group decided Saturday to extend those limits through July. Brent crude has more than doubled since late April, though its still down 35% this year. It rose 1.7% to $43.02 a barrel by 6:55 a.m. in London Monday. Still, oil refiners’ profits are being squeezed by crude’s rally, and the sharp Saudi hikes are likely to exacerbate that problem. Representatives for refineries from Europe and Asia expressed concern and said the new pricing would crush their margins. The month-on-month increase in the official selling price for flagship Arab Light crude to Asia, which accounts for more than half of Saudi oil sales, is the largest in at least 20 years. Aramco raised Asian Arab Light by $6.10 a barrel from June to a premium of 20 cents over the benchmark. The company increased all grades to Asia by between $5.60 and $7.30. That compares with an expected increase of about $4, according to a Bloomberg survey of eight traders and refiners. Buyers in the U.S., the Mediterranean region and northwest Europe will also pay more for oil. Arab Light for northwest Europe was raised to a 30 cent premium over the benchmark from a discount of $3.70. Aramco made the steepest increases in its lighter grades, which are the easiest to process into gasoline. That suggests the company sees good prospects for the fuel’s revival, “though refinery margins remain very weak,” Mills said.

Oil rally and Saudi price spikes could hurt refiners, stifling market recovery - Oil prices pared gains on Monday, despite the weekend announcement by OPEC and its allies, known as OPEC+, that historic production cuts of 9.6 million barrels per day across the group would continue through July as the coronavirus pandemic continues to weigh on demand. The move spurred hopeful talk of a recovery for oil prices, which are down about 30% year-to-date after a 56% recovery for international benchmark Brent crude in the month of May. But data from refineries across several regions shows weak margins, or "crack spreads" — the difference between the price of crude that refiners buy versus the price that the market is paying for the refined products. Higher crude costs without increased returns for the products refineries are selling suggests demand growth isn't in line with the growth in prices, and could force refineries to buy lower crude volumes, translating into lower crude prices. "One word of caution is if we look at the rally we've seen in crude oil prices, it's been amazing, but the big uncertainty is if you look at refinery margins, they are very weak across the board across all regions," Warren Patterson, head of commodities strategy at ING. "And what that suggests is that maybe demand isn't recovering as quickly as many had anticipated, or at least it's not keeping up with the move higher that we've seen in crude oil prices." The crack spread for refined products in the U.S. was at $9 last week, compared to $21 at the same time last year, Reuters reported, citing Refinitiv Eikon data. Margins for European diesel reached a record low of $2.90 per barrel last week. "Very poor refining margins and the recent sharp decline in U.S. crude bases now comfort us in our sequentially bearish outlook," analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote this week. They see Brent pulling back to $35 per barrel in the coming weeks, compared to spot prices at $43. And soon to pressure refineries further is Saudi Aramco's announcement over the weekend that it's raising official selling prices (OSPs) for all of its customers in July, and for some the highest increases in twenty years. Saudi selling prices will spike next month by $5 to $7 per barrel just for Asian buyers, for instance — "again further hitting refining margins," Patterson said. What refineries need is for the demand side to match up with the steady revival of crude prices, expected to gradually improve as economies reopen and lift their lockdowns meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus. "Refiners are facing weak cracks (margins) at the moment and the current pick-up in crude prices will only make them worse,"

Oil falls 3% despite OPEC+ cuts as Gulf ends voluntary curbs - Oil fell more than 3% on Monday after OPEC+ nations agreed to extend output cuts, but Saudi Arabia and two other Gulf producers said they would not maintain supplemental reductions that amount to more than a million barrels of daily supply. Brent crude fell, breaking a seven-day streak of gains. Brent futures fell $1.50, or 3.6%, to settle at $40.80 a barrel. US West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI), meanwhile, fell $1.36, or 3.4%, to $38.19. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other producers agreed in April to cut supply by 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) in May and June to support prices as coronavirus lockdowns caused demand to collapse. The group, known as OPEC+, agreed on Saturday to sustain those cuts, equal to about 10% of global supply, through July. However, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said on Monday that the kingdom and Gulf allies Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates would not continue an additional 1.18 million bpd in reductions. "It would be too good to be true to have a total of nearly 11 million bpd in voluntary cuts extended for a month at times when we see supply deficits," said Bjornar Tonhaugen, analyst at Rystad Energy. US shale producers, meanwhile, have started to reopen closed wells as prices have rebounded. Analysts said this could undercut the fragile demand recovery, and undermine OPEC's efforts to shore up prices. Saudi Arabia, in addition, raised prices for its crude, anticipating stronger demand. "US production is returning to the market, and there is speculation that the huge increase in Saudi (prices) will kill already struggling refiner margins in Asia," said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho in New York. China, the world's largest crude importer, said purchases hit a record high of 11.3 million bpd in May.

Why Oil Prices Didn’t Rally After The OPEC+ Extension - OPEC+ agreed to extend the production cuts for another month, but with the extension mostly baked into market expectations, it has done little for oil prices at the start of the week. Meanwhile, the U.S. officially entered an economic recession in February.. Even as OPEC+ agreed to extend the production cuts for another month, Saudi Arabia said that it would end the extra supply cuts that it had imposed in the second quarter. “The voluntary cuts served their purpose and we are moving on,” Prince Abdulaziz said in a press briefing on Monday. Revenues from Saudi oil exports plunged by nearly 22 percent in the second quarter, a decline of $11 billion. Saudi Arabia increased the official selling price for its oil by the most in two decades, with Saudi Aramco raising prices of Arab Light to Asia by $6.10 per barrel. The move is a sign that Saudi Arabia wants to continue to boost the oil market by erasing all the discounts it offered at the start of the price war several months ago. Weak refining margins could kill the oil price recovery, according to a new report from Goldman Sachs. If refiners pull back on processing, crude will pile up, pushing down prices. Other analysts see the same trend. “One word of caution is if we look at the rally we’ve seen in crude oil prices, it’s been amazing, but the big uncertainty is if you look at refinery margins, they are very weak across the board across all regions,” Warren Patterson, head of commodities strategy at ING, told CNBC. The retreat of the Libyan National Army from the siege on Tripoli could pave the way for more Libyan oil to hit the global market. On Saturday, Libya restarted production at its largest oil field, the Sharara, which could bring 300,000 bpd back online. But a day later, the field shutdown after an armed group stormed the facility.. Tropical Depression Cristobal forced 34 percent of U.S. offshore oil production to be temporarily taken offline.

 Goldman Sachs says an oil price correction as deep as 20% 'may already be underway' - Goldman Sachs sees a correction in oil prices on the horizon even amid a significant recovery in the last month and the recent decision by OPEC and its allies to extend historically large production cuts through July. "With oil now above $40/bbl, supplies will be incentivized to return, but we believe the risks to the downside have increased substantially and are now looking for a 15-20% correction which may already be underway after Monday's modest sell-off," Goldman Sachs' commodities research team led by Jeffrey Currie wrote in an analyst note on Tuesday. "Despite the rally, we have been hesitant to recommend a long position this early in the cycle for several reasons," the analysts wrote. For one, it's because of surplus inventory that still very much exists — by an estimated 1 billion barrels, piled up as the world's economic activity and travel remains largely at a standstill amid coronavirus fears. Goldman also describes the commodities rally as having gotten "ahead of fundamentals" with metals the only exception, and noted that returns on commodity indexes are still well behind spot price growth — and you can't invest in spot commodity rates. That disparity is exemplified by the fact that fund inflows from retail investors since the start of April "have generated a -20% return despite a 95% rally in spot WTI prices." Some analysts believe it could take until the middle of 2021 to reverse the inventory build, and that's assuming that demand does recover and OPEC sticks to its cutting quotas.

Energy investing is 'speculative gambling,' says pro with 20 years in the industry - Since dropping into negative territory for the first time on record in April,West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. oil benchmark, has staged a record rebound and now trades around the $39 level. But David Ramsden-Wood, who has 20 years of experience in the industry and was previously COO of OneEnergy Partners, said the recent run is nothing to cheer about, and investors should steer clear of the sector. "I have a hard time seeing oil above $40, and I would probably say it averages $30 for the next 12 to 18 months as supply around the world, and in particular in the U.S. and Canada, comes down to match global demand," he said Tuesday in discussion with CNBC's Brian Sullivan during the latest installment of the LIVE PRO Talk series.

 Oil Prices Fall As EIA Confirms Crude Inventory Build  Crude oil prices accelerated their fall today after the Energy Information Administration reported a rise in U.S. crude oil inventories of 5.7 million barrels for the week to June 5 and an increase in fuel inventories.A day earlier, the American Petroleum Institute reported a crude oil inventory build of 8.42 million barrels, which caused prices to dive after several days of gains. Analysts had expected the EIA to report an inventory decline of 1.45 million barrels for last week. A week earlier, the EIA reported a decline in crude oil inventories, at 2.1 million barrels.In gasoline, the authority reported an inventory increase of 900,000 barrels for the week to June 5, down from a build of 2.8 million barrels a week earlier. Gasoline production last week averaged 8.1 million bpd, compared with 7.8 million bpd a week earlier.In distillate fuels, inventories went up by 1.6 million barrels last week, which compared with a hefty 9.9-million-barrel increase a week earlier. Distillate fuel production averaged 4.8 million barrels daily, compared with 4.7 million bpd a week earlier.Refinery runs rose last week, to average 13.5 million bpd. This compared with 13.3 million bpd a week earlier. Capacity utilization averaged 73.1 percent, compared with 71.8 percent a week earlier.Before the API shocked traders with its estimated inventory build, oil was trendinghigher on hopes the market would soon rebalance. However, there was downward pressure following news that U.S. producers were restarting production and worry that some Middle East producers, notably Iraq, will continue to produce more than their OPEC+ quota calls for. At the time of writing, Brent crude was trading at $40.40 a barrel, with West Texas Intermediate at $38.10 a barrel, both down by about two percentage points from opening today.

 US Crude Oil Stockpile Reaches Record High, Production Hits 20-Month Lows  - WTI is trading lower this morning after API's report signaled a surprise jump in crude inventories, underscoring the market’s patchy road to rebalancing. All eyes now focused on the official data to see if API's data was right (both crude and distillates which saw a big build - not a good sign in working off the stubborn diesel glut that is holding back the oil market’s broader recovery... DOE:

  • Crude +5.72mm (-1.2mm exp)
  • Cushing -2.279mm
  • Gasoline +866k (-200k exp)
  • Distillates +1.568mm (+2.9mm exp)

DOE data confirmed API's reported surprise crude build, but at 5.72mm it was less than API's. Distillates also saw another build - the 10th weekly build in a row)...    Notably, as Bloomberg's Julian Lee explains, with space in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve being rented out to producers, it is vital to include movements of crude into and out of the reserve in assessments of stockpile movements at this time.  And total crude stockpiles, including commercial and SPR inventories, rose by 8 million barrels last week, that’s the second largest build in the past six weeks.  Graphs Source: Bloomberg  EIA actually reports that U.S. Crude Oil inventories rise to record highs at 538.1M Bbl.

 Oil prices finish higher, with the U.S. dollar weaker on Fed plan to keep interest rates near zero - Oil futures finished higher on Wednesday, buoyed by weakness in the dollar that followed the Federal Reserve’s announcement that it plans to keep interest rates at near zero through 2022.The U.S. dollar got hammered after the Fed’s statement, pushing crude prices toward the highs for the day “after a bearish-tilted EIA report,” said Matt Smith, director of commodity reach at ClipperData.The Fed said that it would do what it takes to support the economy—easing worries about energy demand.The news from the central bank helped to offset earlier pressure from U.S. government data that showed a weekly climb of nearly six million barrels for U.S. crude inventories and a grim forecast from the OECD on the global economic outlook.“The fact that the Fed expects zero interest rates through 2022 supported financial markets including energy futures,” Marshall Steeves, energy markets analyst at IHS Markit, told MarketWatch.Also providing support, in the latest U.S. petroleum data showed that demand is “starting to perk up with refinery utilization recovering to satisfy higher demand for gasoline and distillates,” he said. The revival in demand, combined with an extension of production cuts by major producers through July, “are adding up to a global market rebalancing.” West Texas Intermediate crude for July delivery CL.1, -2.50% CLN20, -2.50%, the U.S. benchmark, rose 66 cents, or 1.7%, at $39.60 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after touching an earlier low of $37.73. The settlement was the highest since March 6, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Record US Crude Stockpiles Reveal Cracks in Oil Market Recovery-- Swelling U.S. oil stockpiles are signaling that a difficult path lies ahead for OPEC and its allies who are trying to stabilize the market with record output cuts. Just weeks after American explorers began shutting in wells in the wake of a slump in demand, a recent recovery in crude is prompting some producers to turn the taps back on at a time when a fresh onslaught of the virus challenges pockets across the country. A month into the state’s reopening, Florida this week reported the most coronavirus cases of any seven-day period. In Texas, hospitalizations on Tuesday jumped to the highest since the pandemic emerged, rising for a third consecutive day. California’s hospitalizations are at their highest since May 13. Those gains in cases are leading to concern that oil’s rebound may unwind if governments implement lockdowns again. The OECD is forecasting a sharp contraction in the global economy this year that could get worse if there’s a second wave of virus infections. “Demand isn’t coming back fast enough, and supply is coming down more slowly than the market needs,” said Rob Haworth, senior investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Seattle. American oil stockpiles reached 538.1 million barrels last week, the highest level in data going back to 1982, according to Energy Information Administration data, even though American production has fallen by at least 2 million barrels a day since mid-March. In the U.S., more excess oil is being sent for storage to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which rose by 2.2 million barrels last week to the highest level since November 2018. Rising inbound crude shipments drove stockpiles to a record in the Gulf Coast, with the region accounting for the lion’s share of the inventory increase. Net petroleum imports stand at the highest since August.

Oil Slides After US Crude Stockpiles Expand -- Oil slumped in New York as an increase in American crude stockpiles to a record high raised fresh concerns about excess supply, while the Federal Reserve forecast a long road to recovery for the U.S. economy. Futures lost 4.1% to trade near $38 a barrel, erasing all of the gains from the past two sessions. Crude inventories unexpectedly rose last week, even as oil production fell, while gasoline stockpiles also saw a surprise expansion. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the pandemic could inflict longer-lasting damage on the economy and the central bank signaled it would keep rates near zero possibly for years to come. There are also fears that a second wave of infections in the U.S. may derail its fragile recovery. Global supply cuts and the easing of lockdowns in some countries has pushed prices higher after oil plunged below zero in April. However, the recovery is expected to be fragile and uneven, and there are concerns that producers may pump more with crude above $30 a barrel, adding to a glut. A new wave of coronavirus infections pushed the overall count in the U.S. past 2 million cases, with hospitalizations in Texas jumping. “Prices may have run ahead of themselves over the last month or so,” Howie Lee, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. in Singapore, said by phone. “As we approach the second half of the year, there will be some rethinking about how far this rally can continue given the high volume of stockpiles that still exists.” West Texas Intermediate for July delivery fell $1.61 to $37.99 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:10 a.m. London time after rising 1.7% on Wednesday Brent crude for August delivery lost 3.5% to $40.26 on the ICE Futures Europe exchange after adding 1.3% in the previous session U.S. crude stockpiles rose by 5.72 million barrels last week to 538.1 million barrels, according to the Energy Information Administration. That’s the highest level in data compiled by Bloomberg since 1982. Still, oil production fell for a 10th week, while supplies at the key storage hub of Cushing, Oklahoma, dropped below 50 million barrels.

 Oil drops more than 10% as fears over second wave of coronavirus cases hit the market -- Oil prices dropped more than 8% on Thursday amid a broader market sell-off as fears over a second wave of coronavirus cases led to investors shedding assets. West Texas Intermediate crude futures, the U.S. oil benchmark, fell 10.25%, or $4.00, to trade at $35.60 per barrel. International benchmark Brent crude slid 8.7%, or $3.56, to trade at $38.17 per barrel. Oil has been rallying on the back of an uptick in demand paired with record supply cuts, but data on Wednesday from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed a surprise build in inventory, suggesting that the demand recovery may have stalled. For the week ending June 5, inventory rose by 5.7 million barrels to a record high of 538.1 million barrels. Another key driver of WTI's recent recovery, which has seen prices jump more than 50% in the last month, has been producers curbing output. Over the weekend, OPEC and its oil-producing allies agreed to extend its record production curb — equivalent to about 10% of pre-coronavirus global demand — through the end of July. In the U.S., production has pulled back from a record of over 13 million barrels per day in March as historically low prices prompted companies to reduce output. But with oil moving higher in recent weeks, some producers have begun to open the taps once again, which could send prices lower. "The higher price levels that we experienced lately have motivated producers to restart some of their shut-down production, in effect reversing a bit the positive price effect that lower production had created," said Paola Rodriguez Masiu, senior oil markets analyst at Rystad Energy. "How prices develop further will depend a lot [on] how much and how quickly this shut production will come back to business," she added. "The global economy is still in a precarious position," noted Cailin Birch, global economist at The Economist Intelligence Unit. "The dip in oil prices in recent days most likely reflects the end of the price boost that came from the initial economic re-opening. The global economy is now settling in for a long, slow recovery process, which we only expect to pick up in late 2021, assuming a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available then," she added.

Oil prices slump 8% as virus-related demand concerns resurface -  (Reuters) - Oil prices tumbled about 8% a barrel on Thursday, fuelled by renewed concerns about demand destruction as new cases of coronavirus tick up globally, while crude inventories hit a record in the United States. U.S. coronavirus cases surpassed 2 million on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally, and new infections are rising slightly after five weeks of declines. While most states have loosened restrictions on movement that shackled demand, fuel consumption remains 20% below typical levels, as consumers remain cautious. The U.S. Federal Reserve has expressed concern that this will continue, limiting demand. “A series of local spikes could have the effect of undermining people’s confidence in travelling, in restaurants, entertainment,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said on Wednesday. Brent crude LCOc1 futures fell $3.18, or 7.6%, to settle at $38.55 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 fell $3.26, or 8.2%, to settle at $36.34 a barrel. Brent and WTI posted their worst daily drops since April 21 and 27, respectively. The weakness extended to other asset classes. Equity markets dropped, with the S&P 500 Index down 4% on the day, while U.S. Treasury bonds rallied. Crude futures have gained in recent weeks as government-imposed lockdowns eased, prompting optimism that fuel demand would recover. In parts of Asia and Europe, where the lockdowns were more severe, demand has recovered more sharply.

Oil Falls the Most in Six Weeks, Signaling a Fragile Recovery-- Oil fell the most since late April as economic uneasiness iced U.S. stock markets, threatening to spoil crude’s recovery from a historic drop below zero. The market is grappling with record high U.S. oil inventories and an uneven demand rebound as signs mount that a second wave of the pandemic could be taking hold in some states. U.S. jobless claims remained high, underscoring longer-term macroeconomic challenges a day after the Federal Reserve provided a grim outlook for the economy. Oil’s recovery has been driven by production cuts and the easing of pandemic-related lockdowns. “It was very fast, driven by historically unprecedented OPEC+ cuts and central bank and government support on the demand side,” said Bart Melek, head of commodity strategy at Toronto Dominion Bank. “We should not be surprised to see a pullback, following such a violent rally,” he said. On the supply side, higher prices have pushed some producers to turn on the taps. U.S. crude stockpiles rose last week to 538.1 million barrels, according to the Energy Information Administration. That’s the highest level in data compiled by Bloomberg since 1982. “The surprisingly bearish stats, particularly on crude, the relatively dour comments by the Fed yesterday and fears of a resurgence of the coronavirus have all added to the price weakness today,” said Thomas Finlon, of Houston-based GF International. West Texas Intermediate for July delivery fell $3.26 to settle at $36.34 a barrel in New York, the biggest drop since April 27. Brent crude for August delivery dropped $3.18 to close at $38.55 a barrel, the biggest decline since April 21. Crude’s inability to sustain prices over $40 a barrel is leaving many companies across the industry in dire straits. “A couple months ago, the sector was in complete survivor mode, and it still needs to be, quite frankly,” said Jennifer Rowland, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co. “Even at $45, there will be a lot of companies that can’t survive,” she said. “Companies are still going to be bleeding cash at this level.”

 Oil prices extend slump as U.S. coronavirus cases climb - Oil prices slid early on Friday, extending heavy overnight losses on a surge in U.S. coronavirus cases this week that has raised the prospect of a second wave of the outbreak slamming demand in the world's biggest consumer of crude and fuel. West Texas Intermediate was down $1.32, or nearly 4%, at $35.02 a barrel by 0011 GMT, after slumping more than 8% on Thursday. Brent crude was down $1.15, or 3%, at $37.40 a barrel, having dropped nearly 8% the previous session. A rally off April's lows has come to a shuddering halt this week as the market faced the reality that the coronavirus pandemic may be far from over globally, with cases in the United States alone passing 2 million this week. The oil benchmarks are heading for their first weekly decline in seven, with Brent dropping about 12%, while U.S. crude is heading for a loss of more than 10%. "A sustainable rally needs to include improving gasoline demand, reducing inventories, increasing product margins to the point where refiners kickstart runs," RBC Capital Markets said, noting that "U.S. driving patterns are far from normal." While producers have been cutting supply, demand remains constrained by the outbreak, with gasoline stockpiles in the U.S. last week rising more than expected to 258.6 million barrels, according to government data. U.S. crude inventories rose against forecasts by 5.7 million barrels to a record 538.1 million barrels, as cheap imports from Saudi Arabia flowed into the country. In the meantime, states including Texas and Arizona are struggling to cope with a rising number of coronavirus patients filling hospital beds. In Houston, Lina Hidalgo, the senior official for the county that includes the city that is the heart of the U.S. oil industry, warned "we may be approaching the precipice of a disaster". More than 7.43 million people have been infected by the novel coronavirus around the world and more than 400,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Oil prices end slightly lower, post first weekly loss in 7 weeks -  Oil futures settled at a modest loss on Friday, with U.S. and global benchmark prices suffering their first weekly decline in seven weeks on worries about oversupply and a resurgence of coronavirus cases in the U.S. Oil is likely to “remain vulnerable and exposed to downside shocks thanks to coronavirus-related concerns,” said Lukman Otunuga, senior research analyst at FXTM. “The possibility of renewed lockdowns and delayed global economic recovery is bad news for oil, which remains one of the biggest causalities of the coronavirus menace,” he told MarketWatch. Although OPEC+ agreed to extend production cuts by another month, in the grand scheme of things this may offer little support to oil, which is in “a losing battle with COVID-19 and world growth fears,” he said. West Texas Intermediate crude for July delivery CL.1, +0.82% CLN20, +0.82%, the U.S. benchmark, fell 8 cents, or 0.2%, to settle at $36.26 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange—the lowest finish for a most-active contract since June 1, according to Dow Jones Market Data. The contract tumbled 8.2% on Thursday to mark the sharpest one-day fall since April 27. Global benchmark Brent oil for August delivery BRNQ20, +0.80%, however, added 18 cents, or 0.5%, to end at $38.73 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, following a 7.6% plunge Thursday, its steepest such slide since April 21, that took it to its lowest finish since June 1. For the week, WTI marked weekly slide of 8.3%, while Brent saw a decline of 8.4%. That represented the first weekly losses for the two crude benchmarks since the week ended April 24.

OPEC+ mostly met cutting targets in May, but future compliance — and its enforcement — is uncertain - The 23 member states of OPEC+, comprised of OPEC and ten of its oil-producing allies, for the most part delivered on record production cuts agreed to by the alliance through the month of May, a new report shows. "OPEC's 13 members dropped their output to 24.32 million b/d, for a compliance rate of 82% with their prescribed cuts," S&P Global Platts found in a survey released Wednesday. The ten non-OPEC members, which include Russia, pumped a combined 13.89 million barrels per day comprising 91% of their cuts, bringing OPEC+'s collective compliance to 85%, Platts reported. Following the coronavirus pandemic-induced plunge in oil prices, OPEC+ embarked on the largest coordinated oil production cut regime in history in May. They agreed to cut 9.7 million bpd in an effort to support the market, amounting to about 10% of global oil supply. In total, Platts found that the coalition managed to reduce its output by a combined 8.28 million bpd for the month. The OPEC+ alliance agreed over the weekend to extend the cuts through July, with Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman asserting that this time there would be "no room whatsoever for lack of conformity." But the pacts have traditionally been difficult to enforce, with some members — particularly Iraq and Nigeria — falling behind on their cutting commitments, and OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia shouldering the overwhelming majority of cuts, often slashing their output by more than their required quota. Iraq, OPEC's second-largest producer, was the group's biggest offender, pumping 4.19 million bpd in May — some 600,000 bpd over its agreed limit. Nigeria, Angola and Gabon, as well as non-OPEC states Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, were among the other laggards. The group's most recent agreement included a promise by non-compliant countries to compensate for any barrels they didn't cut in May or June by making deeper reductions between July and September. Iraq's oil ministry said this week it is "fully committed" to cutting its production from June onward in accordance with the OPEC+ deal.

Mediterranean Oil Tensions Are Boiling Over - Under pressure in Libya - where it’s gone head-to-head with General Haftar in an ongoing battle to decide who gets to ultimately control the country’s oil revenues - and floundering in Syria, Turkey is once again upping the ante in the Mediterranean, this time preparing to issue new oil and gas exploration licenses in direct confrontation with the European Union. It’s not just about Cyprus, anymore. Turkey’s state-run oil and gas company has been given licenses from the Turkish government to explore for oil and gas in 24 locations in the East Mediterranean. Seven of those locations are just off the coast of key Greek islands.  It’s a direct provocation that has Greece infuriated, and experts are worried that this could lead to direct clashes once Turkey starts exploration drilling.   Last weekend, Turkey released a draft plan for Turkish Petroleum’s exploration license.   On Monday, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said in a statement that the country “stands ready to deal with this provocation should Turkey decide to implement this decision”.  The draft plan explicitly violates Greek sovereignty, and it is designed to take advantage of a new maritime boundary agreement Erdogan wrangled last year with the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya. This was the trade-off for Libya’s aid in fighting back General Haftar in his push to take the Libyan capital, Tripoli.  The maritime boundary is meant to perform a pincer movement against Cyprus, which is drilling offshore in its EEZ where Turkey has also provocatively deployed drillships. In the Greek Cypriot EEZ alone, there are an estimated 120 billion cubic meters of natural gas, for which drilling began in 2011. The first license here was granted in 2008 to American Noble Energy (the same company behind the massive Israeli discoveries).  Erdogan’s desperation is born out of the fact that Turkey is being squeezed out of a role in the oil and gas riches of the Mediterranean, which is arguably the world’s next biggest, untapped oil and gas hotspot. His latest move to issue more exploration licenses, even encroaching on Greek maritime territory, comes after Israel, Greece and Cyprus signed an agreement to build an underwater pipeline to carry Israeli gas to Europe, cutting out Turkey altogether.

Libya's National Oil Corp declares force majeure on largest oil field after militia shutdown - Libya's National Oil Corporation has declared force majeure on exports from its largest oil field Tuesday, after a militia group shut it down just days after it resumed production following a six-month blockade. "The armed group, which came from Sebha, stormed the Sharara oil field and pulled their guns on civilian unarmed workers, coercing them to stop production at the field at dawn," the state oil company said in a statement. Workers at the massive Sharara oil field have shut it down at the demands of the armed group's leader Mohamed Khalifa, who is linked to the renegade general Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army, the instigator of a violent power struggle with Libya's UN-recognized government that's lasted more than a year. Haftar's forces pulled back in May after a prolonged campaign to capture the capital Tripoli failed. Oil prices saw a slight "last-minute injection of upward buying pressures" Tuesday on the Libya news and worries over its stability, Stephen Brennock, an oil analyst at PVM Oil Associates, wrote Wednesday morning. "A few days after returning from a multi-month shutdown, the Sharara field went offline only to restart and suffer a second stoppage in the space of a few hours." "Simply put, a sustained recovery in Libya's oil production is not currently on the cards." Libya's southwestern Sharara field previously had a 300,000 barrel per day output, and was resuming production gradually after reopening on Saturday. It's now in renewed jeopardy after a long period of shutdown that began in January amid fighting that took the majority of the OPEC state's oil production offline. As warring factions within the country attempted to use the key commodity to seize control, output in Africa's third-largest oil producing nation plummeted in late January from around 1.2 million bpd to just over 320,000 bpd and is now estimated to be around a mere 90,000 bpd. The crisis exempted Libya from OPEC's production cut agreement meant to stabilize oil prices. The country's petroleum sector represents 95% of its export earnings and 60% of its GDP.

The purveyors of death cough up loose change for Yemen - A so-called humanitarian aid conference for Yemen last week raised a paltry $1.35 billion, some $1 billion short of the target and less than half the $3.2 billion raised last year. The Saudi monarchy, which has spent $5 to $6 billion per month for the last five years on a criminal war against Yemen, primarily fought from the air, pledged just $500 million. Riyadh insisted $200 million of its donation would be spent through Saudi aid programmes, not those sanctioned by the United Nations (UN). It later emerged that this was not new money but money that had been pledged earlier and not delivered. The US, UK, Norway and Germany contributed most of the remainder, small change compared to the sales value of their weaponry—supplied to the Saudi Arabian military—that has devastated the Arab world’s poorest country. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), the other major participant in the war, made no commitment to the UN’s aid appeal. Dr. Abdullah al-Rabiah, the head of the King Salman Centre for Relief and Humanitarian Aid in Saudi Arabia that co-hosted the virtual conference, ascribed the shortfall to the impact of coronavirus on national budgets, omitting to say that every one of the participants had made billions available to their own corporations and financial institutions, including their arms manufacturers. Unless more money was raised, said Mark Lowcock, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Yemen “will face a horrific outcome at the end of the year”. He added, “Yemen is now on the precipice, right on the cliff edge, below which lies a tragedy of historic proportions.” The irony of appealing to the very forces that had produced this “tragedy of historic proportions” seems to have escaped him and the world’s press reporting on a conference that served to absolve the major participants of their crimes. It came as no surprise that the response to the aid appeal was a noxious combination of hypocrisy, indifference and bullying.

Palestinians come out in force to protest US-backed Israel plan -Hundreds of Palestinians have rallied in the city of Hebron in southern West Bank against a United States-backed Israeli plan to annex huge swathes of the occupied territory. The rallies were held on Friday on the anniversary of Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel occupied the territories during a Western-backed war that year. It was forced to leave Gaza in 2005 but keeps the coastal sliver under a crippling siege. Across the West Bank, Israel has illegally built over 230 settlements that house more than 600,000 Israelis. The rallies that had been called by West Bank-based Palestinian political factions took place in protest against a plan announced by Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex the areas where the settlements have been built and the Jordan Valley. The areas that are targeted by the regime’s scheme comprise 30 percent of the West Bank. Netanyahu announced the plan emboldened by a hugely-controversial plot that was detailed and backed by US President Donald Trump on January 28. The protesters on Friday chanted anti-Israeli and anti-Washington slogans, waved Palestinian flags, and held up banners some of which read, “No to the policy of annexation of the West Bank. No to division of Hebron.” “Today is a day for general mobilization in all of the country’s governorates against the annexation deal, which was announced by Netanyahu, and in rejection to Trump’s ‘deal of the century,’” one demonstrator said, referring to the US plot by the ironic name that has been assigned to it by the US president. If you want to continue to read our work and help us produce more news and reports from Palestine, click here for our fundraising campaign The participants, the protester said, were seeking “to send a message to the world, especially Israel, that the people will not accept any solution less than a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem to be the capital.” Another participant said the protest was one that “rejects and condemns all Israeli measures and is against the American administration’s bias in favor of Israel.” The US plot also re-endorsed Washington’s incendiary recognition of as Israel’s “capital.” The recognition that came during Trump’s presidency flies in the face of Palestinians’ age-old demand that the city’s eastern part serve as the capital of their future state. Since the US’s unveiling of the plot, Palestinians have stopped recognizing any intermediary role by Washington in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

China to cut teapot refining capacity as plans for mega complex  (Reuters) - China’s oil hub Shandong has embarked on a plan to shut down capacity of half a million barrels per day shared among small, independent refiners to make way for a giant complex that should spur economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis. Reuters exclusively reported last week that China, the world’s largest oil consumer after the United States, was going ahead with the $20 billion Yulong Petrochemical complex. The planned 400,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery and 3 million tonne-per-year ethylene plant in Yantai, Shandong, the country’s hub for independent refineries, sometimes referred to as teapot refineries, had long failed to get approval as China struggled with excess refining capacity. The drop in demand because of coronavirus lockdowns, as well as expectations climate concerns will reduce conventional motor fuel use, is likely to increase over-supply in the near term. But state approval was granted last week for a new mega refining complex, weighted towards petrochemical production whose demand is expected to be relatively robust. That has prompted Shandong to accelerate a plan dating from 2018 to close 500,000 bpd in capacity over the next two-to-three years, Shandong-based industry officials and consultancies said.That amounts to 20% of Shandong’s capacity, made up of more than 60 small plants.

China suspends debt repayment for 77 developing nations, regions  - China has announced the suspension of debt repayment for 77 developing countries and regions as the nation is working with other G20 members to carry out the G20 debt relief initiative for low-income countries, Chinese officials said at a press briefing at the State Council Information Office on Sunday.China announced in May that it would provide $2 billion over two years to help other countries respond to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.Ma Zhaoxu, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that the fund will not only include medical supplies, but also support other countries restart their economies and development. Ma made the comment at the press briefing to release the white paper titled “Fighting COVID-19 China in Action.” The fund includes both bilateral aid and multilateral donations, according to Ma.

No ethnic group should be left behind in China’s poverty eradication: Xi— Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, on Monday said all ethnic groups are part of the big family of the Chinese nation and no ethnic group should be left behind in the country’s fight against poverty, in its building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects and in its drive toward modernization.Xi made the remarks when he talked with residents on the square of the Jinhuayuan community in the city of Wuzhong during his inspection in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.The community is home to more than 13,000 permanent residents, nearly half of whom are of ethnic minority groups.It represents the fine tradition of the Chinese nation and the great strength of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics to enable people of all ethnic groups to walk hand in hand into a moderately prosperous society in all respects, Xi said. “With the continuous efforts of the Party and the government as well as the tireless endeavors of the people, the days ahead will surely be better and happier,” he added.

 China New Car Sales Fall 10% Year-Over-Year And 20% Sequentially For The First Week Of June  - It's going to be tough to peddle the narrative that things are back on an upswing with the auto industry in China after retail car sales fell 10% year over year - but more importantly 20% from the same period in May - in the first week of June. This comes after what looked like the beginning of a rebound for the industry in May, to the extent that we can trust the numbers coming out of Beijing. According to Bloomberg, China's PCA now expects that retail sales will decline in June in part to what is being called "seasonal factors". This news comes despite better than expected results in May, where sales showed a 12% increase year over year. According to The Detroit Bureau, premium and luxury passenger car retail sales led the charge in May, rising 28% last month compared with year-ago results. Those vehicles accounted for 1.61 million of the month's 2.14 million vehicles sold. Tesla helped along with China's May luxury sales number, selling 11,065 Model 3's during the month compared to just the 3,635 vehicles it sold in April. However, that hasn't stopped the company's VP of Business Development in China, Robin Ren, from leaving the company, according to Bloomberg. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, or CAAM, had predicted an 11.7% jump for May, including commercial vehicle sales in its results. Predictions for June look ominous: the CPCA has said that June sales will decline in part because June 2019 was such a strong month for the industry.

China Urges Citizens to Shun Australia as Virus Dispute Simmers | Voice of America - - China is advising its citizens not to visit Australia, citing racial discrimination and violence against Asians, in what appears to be Beijing's latest attempt to punish the country for advocating an investigation into the coronavirus pandemic. A notice issued by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism late Friday said there has “been an increase in words and deeds of racial discrimination and acts of violence against Chinese and Asians in Australia, due to the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.” “The ministry advises Chinese tourists to raise their safety awareness and avoid traveling to Australia,” the notice said. As part of its perceived retaliation, China has already effectively ended imports of Australian barley by putting tariffs of more than 80 percent on the crop, accusing Australia of breaching World Trade Organization rules by subsidizing barley production and selling the crop in China at below production costs. That came a week after China banned beef imports from Australia's four largest abattoirs over labeling issues. Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham on Tuesday said the country did not want a trade war,but said China “has made errors of both fact and law” in applying WTO rules, adding that there was no evidence that Australia was engaged in dumping of products. Australian has been among countries pushing for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and responses to it. Beijing has denied its measures against Australian beef and barley were related to those calls. The World Health Organization has bowed to calls from most of its member states to launch an independent probe into how it managed the international response to the virus, which was first found in China late last year. The evaluation would stop short of looking into contentious issues such as the origins of the virus. Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye's has told Australian media that the country might face a Chinese boycott of its tourism and exports of wine, beef and other goods if the government pressed for a coronavirus inquiry. China is the No. 1 market for Australian beef, accounting for about 30 percent of exports. It's also the biggest foreign buyer of Australian barley. Beijing has regularly used access to its huge market to punish governments from Norway to Canada in political disputes. Chinese officials routinely refuse to confirm a trade disruption is related to a political clash but make it clear Beijing wants concessions.  

Kim Jong Un's sister threatens military action against Seoul over declining relations  - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister threatened military action against South Korea over declining diplomatic relations with Seoul and what she said was its inability to stop leaflets from defectors from pouring over the border.Kim Yo Jong, who is first vice department director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, panned South Korea as the “enemy” and said public opinion has determined that the South should pay the “dearest price.”“Getting stronger day by day are the unanimous voices of all our people demanding for surely settling accounts with the riff-raff who dared hurt the absolute prestige of our Supreme Leader representing our country and its great dignity and flied rubbish to the inviolable territory of our side and with those who connived at such hooliganism, whatever may happen,” Kim said in a statement carried by state media outlet KCNA. “The judgment that we should force the betrayers and human scum to pay the dearest price for their crimes and the retaliatory action plans we have made on this basis have become a firm public opinion at home, not part of the work of the field in charge of the affairs with enemy," she continued. "It is necessary to make them keenly feel what they have done and what inviolability they hurt amiss.”Kim added that North Korea “will soon take action” and that she ordered the military to “decisively carry out the next action.”"If I drop a hint of our next plan the south Korean authorities are anxious about, the right to taking the next action against the enemy will be entrusted to the General Staff of our army," she said. "Our army, too, will determine something for cooling down our people's resentment and surely carry out it, I believe." The statement is the latest indication that relations between Seoul and Pyongyang have soured over activist groups in the South sending anti-government leaflets across the border into North Korea.

UN Warns of Impending Food Crisis - The United Nations issued a dire warning on Tuesday that the world stands on the brink of the worst foodcrisis in the last 50 years, according to The Guardian.The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the world is facing an "impending global food emergency" that could impact hundreds of millions of people as the coronavirus pandemic threatens already strained supply chains, according to Hong Kong-based Asia Times. He warned that the recessions that follow the pandemic will put basic nutrition out of reach for millions."Our food systems are failing, and the Covid-19 pandemic is making things worse," the UN chief said in astatement accompanying a report by the UN. "More than 820 million people are hungry. "Some 144 million children under the age of five are stunted – more than one in five children worldwide."That's particularly troubling as malnutrition has lifelong consequences. If the number of children who suffer from malnutrition grows, it is likely to cause increased stunting and provide a future strain on health care systems.Guterres warned that "this year, some 49 million extra people may fall into extreme poverty due to the Covid-19 crisis," according to Asia Times."Unless immediate action is taken, it is increasingly clear that there is an impending global food emergency that could have long-term impacts on hundreds of millions of children and adults," as The Guardian reported. "We need to act now to avoid the worst impacts of our efforts to control the pandemic."  The UN Secretary-General provided a three-point plan for attacking the hunger crisis: focus aid on the worst-stricken areas to avoid immediate disaster, to improve social safety nets so children, pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers along with other at-risk group receive adequate nutrition, and to invest in healthy and sustainable food systems and supply chains for the future, according to Guterres' statement.  The latest data in the report, The Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition, found that the food security of 135 million people is at crisis level or worse. That number could nearly double before the end of the year due to the impacts of COVID-19. The report also expects harvests to slow down, since many seasonal laborers are unable to work or travel for work. Meanwhile, despite the impending crisis, food waste is surging as farmers are finding themselves in the unenviable position of dumping perishable food because of supply chain problems, as The Guardian reported.

Coronavirus Pandemic Fuels Mobile Money Transactions in Nigeria   With Nigerian businesses struggling because of coronavirus lockdown measures, the use of mobile money and “no touch”, cashless transactions in business is growing rapidly. The use of mobile money grew by almost 15 percent in March, and experts say the practice is expected to become even more common as the pandemic continues. "Cashless Payments Only" is an inscription at the entrance of Washme laundry in Nigeria's capital, Abuja. Laundry manager Paul Godiya says it’s a recent measure to limit physical contact with cash to prevent the spread of COVID-19. "There are different people that come here from different places and money is generally accepted which is coming from different people and is circulating from different angles. It may be that Mr. A has this disease or Mr. B has this disease. So, in the process of circulating it may get to me and affect me," Godiya said. With more businesses like this Abuja laundry switching to payment technology to ensure health and safety during the coronavirus pandemic, the mobile money industry is experiencing significant growth. Analysis by the Nigeria Interbank Settlement Scheme (NIBSS) shows mobile money transactions went up by 14.5 percent between February and March - a period when the virus was first reported in Nigeria. Mobile money agents like Isaac Odah, whose business has been booming say the trend has continued to increase since the pandemic. "We are rendering essential services, so our services are not something you can do without because people transact, people pay for one or two things every day, and will need money to carry out such transactions. That's why our services are booming during this pandemic," Odah said.

The global economy faces the worst downturn in a century, a new report says.   -The world economy is facing the most severe recession in a century and could experience a halting recovery with a potential second wave of the virus and as countries embrace protectionist policies, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned in a new report.A grim economic outlook released by the O.E.C.D. on Wednesday depicted a world economy that is walking on a “tightrope” as countries began to reopen after three months of lockdowns. Considerable uncertainty remains, however, as the prospects and timing of a vaccine remain unknown. Health experts fear that the spread of the virus could accelerate again later this year.“Extraordinary policies will be needed to walk the tightrope towards recovery,” said Laurence Boone, the O.E.C.D.’s chief economist. The O.E.C.D., which comprises 37 of the world’s leading economies, predicts that the global economy will contract by 6 percent this year if a second wave of the virus is avoided. If a second wave does occur, world economic output will fall 7.6 percent, before rebounding by 2.8 percent in 2021. The two scenarios are viewed as equally plausible. The report is slightly more ominous than other recent forecasts from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Global Economic Prospects -World Bank - COVID-19 has triggered the deepest global recession in decades. While the ultimate outcome is still uncertain, the pandemic will result in contractions across the vast majority of emerging market and developing economies. It will also do lasting damage to labor productivity and potential output. The immediate policy priorities are to alleviate the human costs and atenuate the near-term economic losses. Once the crisis abates, it will be necessary to reaffirm credible commitment to sustainable policies and undertake the necessary reforms to buttress long-term prospects. Global coordination and cooperation will be critical. COVID-19 has delivered an enormous global shock, leading to steep recessions in many countries. The baseline forecast envisions a 5.2 percent contraction in global GDP in 2020—the deepest global recession in decades. Per capita incomes in most emerging and developing economies will shrink this year. The pandemic highlights the urgent need for policy action to cushion its consequences, protect vulnerable populations, and improve countries’ capacity to cope with similar future events. It is also critical to address the challenges posed by informality and limited safety nets and undertake reforms that enable strong and sustainable growth.The rapid rise of COVID-19 cases, together with the wide range of measures to slow the spread of the virus, has slowed economic activity precipitously in many EMDEs. Growth forecasts for all regions have been severely downgraded. Many countries have avoided more adverse outcomes through sizable fiscal and monetary policy support. Despite these measures, per capita incomes in all EMDE regions are expected to contract in 2020, likely causing many millions to fall back into poverty.  COVID-19 is expected to lead to the deepest global recession in decades, with baseline forecasts envisioning a 5.2 percent contraction in global growth this year. Click on the button to download data into Excel.

April’s Historic Economic Plunge Points to Steep Climb for the World Economy – WSJ —Economic numbers coming in from around the globe are laying bare a stark truth: April was the cruelest month. Coronavirus-driven lockdowns implemented in countries world-wide were at their strictest then, and drove a global contraction that has little parallel in history. The depth of the decline will make the climb back more challenging, and it means that even a sharp initial rebound could leave the global economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The U.K. was the first large economy tomeasure the output lost to April lockdowns,but others are likely to suffer similar fates. Cumulative change since December 2015 inU.K. GDP, measured monthly Source: Office for National Statistics On Friday, Britain—the world’s sixth-largest economy and one of the few that reports monthly gross domestic product—said output in April was down 20% from March and 25% from a year earlier. Scaled globally, that would be equivalent to a $1.15 trillion loss in output during those 30 days, or roughly the annual output of Indonesia, a country of 270 million people. That underscores how steep the climb ahead is to return to pre-pandemic levels of activity, given that the damage to business and household incomes is likely to delay a complete recovery. Officials at the U.S. Federal Reserve expect the national economy to shrink between 4% and 10% this year. Next year, the economy could see anything from 7% growth to a further contraction of around 1%. A Fed report released Friday said that if virus-related disruptions, such as weak consumer confidence, continued to weigh on economic activity even after lockdowns end, more businesses could fail or scale back their activities. That could lead more temporary layoffs to become permanent. The evidence of the depth of economic pain in April is stark. India recorded no new auto sales in April, according to the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations. In the U.K., only 197 autos were made, compared with about 70,000 in April 2019. Exports from Germany, one of the world’s manufacturing powerhouses, fell by a third. In Bosnia and Croatia, no steel was produced. Clothing sales in France, the home of fashion, were down 67.4%. “The shock was huge,” said Helene Baudchon, an economist at BNP Paribas in Paris. “Even this word is not enough to qualify the scale. We are back to the 1980s in terms of household consumption of goods.”

Exclusive: ECB prepares 'bad bank' plan for wave of coronavirus toxic debt - (Reuters) - European Central Bank officials are drawing up a scheme to cope with potentially hundreds of billions of euros of unpaid loans in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters. The project, which comes as Europe mobilises trillions of euros to bolster the region’s economy, is aimed at shielding commercial banks from any second fallout from the crisis, if rising unemployment chokes off the income needed to repay loans. One of the people familiar with the plan said the ECB had set up a task force to look at the idea of a “bad bank” to warehouse unpaid euro debt and that work on the scheme had accelerated in recent weeks. The ECB declined to comment on whether it was working on a bad bank scheme. The amount of debt in the euro zone that is considered unlikely to ever be fully repaid already stands at more than half a trillion euros, including credit cards, car loans and mortgages, according to official statistics. That is set to rise as the COVID-19 outbreak squeezes borrowers and could even double to one trillion euros, weighing on already fragile banks and hindering new lending, the people familiar with the ECB plans said. While the idea for a euro zone bad bank was discussed and shelved over two years ago, the ECB, under its new President Christine Lagarde, has consulted banks and EU officials about a scheme in recent weeks, one of the people said.

The European Union Still Hasn’t Considered an Economic Proposal That Can Save It - Marshall Auerback - On May 5, Germany’s constitutional court ruled that parts of the European Central Bank’s bond buying operations to avert a mounting economic depression were illegal. In the wake of that decision, many new proposals have surfaced. First, the European Central Bank (ECB) added a further €600 billion to its earlier announced pandemic emergency purchase program (PEPP) to support Europe’s rapidly faltering economy. This brings the total bond buying up to €1.35 trillion. Additionally, a €500 billion “Next Generation” recovery fundwas introduced by the governments of France and Germany, a figure that was later increased to €750 billion by European Commission (EC) President Ursula von der Leyen. The numbers behind these programs sound impressive, but taken in aggregate, the proposals simply tweak the legal and fiscal status quo. The ECB proposals blithely ignore the problematic legal issues raised by the May 5 German constitutional court decision. And the Next Generation fund, although on the surface not suffering the same legal deficiencies as the ECB’s actions, is insufficiently large to yank the EU out of its COVID-19 depression, which will require trillions of euros to compensate for the lost economic output, not billions. Almost daily, the continent is experiencing record collapses in economic output—even powerhouses like Germany, as well as the periphery nations of the south. The problem is that at this stage, the EU can ill afford any more baby steps if it wants the European Union to survive as a workable political construct, or the euro to survive as a viable currency. Unlike the latest ECB announcement, the Next Generation proposal at least has the virtue of being structured with a view toward avoiding potential future legal challenges, precisely because it does not mutualize existing national debts. And the fact that it has Germany’s backing is not insignificant. Jörg Kukies, Germany’s deputy finance minister (and one of the architects of the initiative), explicitly acknowledged that true European sovereignty could not evolve “as long as fiscal union remains incomplete.” But the fact remains that this particular structure does not really advance that cause (even Kukies himself acknowledges that the Next Generation fund does not mutualize national debts). The new initiative likely passes legal muster but at a cost of failed economic effectiveness.

Revealed: Nearly 400,000 British Companies Evade Anti-Money Laundering Checks -- Nearly 400,000 British companies do not, will not or cannot say who controls them, according to research carried out by openDemocracy.In 2016, the UK’s more than four million firms were ordered to identify who controls them, in an attempted crackdown on anonymously owned shell structures often used to wash dirty money through the international financial system.However, a detailed analysis of millions of filings at Britain’s corporate registry, Companies House, shows almost 10 per cent of UK firms still do not declare who their beneficiaries are – often thanks to what campaigners believe is a legal loophole that could facilitate crime, corruption and tax evasion.Most forms of British corporate entities have to name a “person of significant control” – a beneficiary with a stake of 25 per cent or more. The idea was introduced in 2013 by David Cameron, the then prime minister, who pledged to attack the “small minority” of companies that had “hidden their business dealings behind a complicated web of shell companies”.But openDemocracy’s analysis shows almost 400,000 businesses still under opaque ownership with no named PSC, exactly what the Tories said they wanted to avoid. The 25 per cent threshold means that vast numbers of companies are able to leave their beneficiaries unidentified, without explanation, and perfectly legally. Other companies illegally ignore the requirements, or say they cannot comply with them.Tina Mlinaric, a campaigner at Global Witness, which aims to tackle corruption and environmental and human rights abuses, said: “The PSC register has been effective in combating the use of UK companies in money laundering but in some cases criminals and the corrupt have still been able to avoid filling or, in some cases having been filing inaccurate information, that ultimately still hides company ownership.”Opposition politicians have previously accused the UK Government and Companies House oflacking resources to check the accuracy of filings, including on PSCs. There is a system of fines in place for corporate entities which flout rules but government officials insist their aim is to boost compliance rather than seek prosecutions.

Canada indigenous chief battered during arrest  - Video of an indigenous chief's violent arrest has shocked Canada, turning a spotlight on systemic racism in the country's police force. The footage shows Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam being floored and repeatedly punched by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer. The confrontation took place in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on 10 March. Protests demanding police reform have spread across Canada recently after spilling over from the US. Although RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki initially said she "can't say for sure" whether systemic racism is a problem with the police, on Friday afternoon she released a statement saying "systemic racism is part of every institution, the RCMP included". "Throughout our history and today, we have not always treated racialised and Indigenous people fairly," she wrote. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for an independent investigation.Before the public release of the footage on Thursday night, the local RCMP division said they had reviewed it and found the officer's actions "reasonable".

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