#TheCastPodcast Ep. #19 feat. Maritza Merk @Maritza_Merk: Sister Soul-jah *New Ep. Alert*

26 March 2021

1) The U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous 8-0 ruling in a civil procedure case, has made corporations suffer a huge loss by making it easier to sue over defective and dangerous products. The basic thrust of the controversies is actually fairly simple in the case of Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court. The state court held that it had jurisdiction over Ford Motor Company in a product liability suit stemming from a car accident, since the accident happened in the state where suit was brought, and the victim was one of the state’s residents. Furthermore Ford did substantial business in the state with advertising, selling, and servicing the model of vehicle the suit claims is defective. Ford contends that jurisdiction is improper because the particular car involved in the crash was not sold in the state where Ford was sued, nor was it designed or manufactured there. The Supreme Court has essentially staked out two methods for bringing lawsuits against huge corporations: 1) general jurisdiction, and 2) specific jurisdiction. When minimum contacts are found to be sufficiently related to the cause of action, a given court may exercise jurisdiction over such claims.

2) Taiwan and the U.S. plan to deepen maritime security ties in view of China’s escalating ‘gray-zone’ threats. The Chinese government has made vast maritime claims in the South China Sea and also claims sovereignty over the Japanese controlled Senkaku Islands, which it calls Diaoyu. Until Beijing enacted its new coast guard law last month, the country relied on its myriad of armed fishing militia to harass the vessels of other regional claimants. However, China’s neighbors have raised concerns about the revised maritime police legislation, which allows coast guard ships to fire upon foreign vessels deemed to be intruding in Chinese territorial waters. Manila and Tokyo, both who are U.S. defense treaty allies with the U.S., have expressed concern at the potential consequences of the law.

3) Google’s systems infrastructure group calls their new Systems on Chip (SoC) the motherboard on a chip. The cloud computing giant, who is always in need of more computing power for its servers, until now relies on the motherboard as an integration point, where CPUs, networking, storage devices, custom accelerators and memory all come together. To gain higher performance and to use less power, workloads demand even deeper integration into the underlying hardware. With the SoC, the latency and bandwidth between different components can be orders of magnitude better, with reduced power and cost compared to traditional motherboards.

4) Stock market closings for – 25 MAR 21:

Dow Jones 32,619 up by 199.42
NASDAQ 12,978 up by 15.79
S&P 500 3,910 up by 20.38

10 Year Yields: up at 1.635

Oil: down at 61.84

25 March 2021

1) There is a large backup of freighters parked in the San Francisco Bay and in Long Beach, which are awaiting an opening at the Port of Oakland. This is because of a trade bottleneck, a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, thereby leaving U.S. businesses anxiously awaiting goods from Asia. The pandemic has wreaked havoc with the supply chain since early 2020, because it forced the closure of factories throughout China. The problem arose last March, when Americans stayed home, thus dramatically changing their buying habits. Instead of clothes, they bought electronics, fitness equipment and home improvement products. In turn U.S. companies responded by flooding the reopened Asian factories with orders, which then lead to a chain reaction of congestion at ports and freight hubs as the goods began arriving. Ships with as many as 14,000 containers have sat offshore, some of them for over a week, with as many as 40 ships waiting.

2) The manufacturing crisis with automakers continues to grow, with the auto industry bracing for more chip shortages after a fire at a plant owned by Japanese chipmaker Renesas. The company makes chips for Toyota, Nissan and Honda, and expects production at one of the buildings at its Naka Factory in Hitachinaka to be halted for a month. Renesas said the fire started when some equipment overheated and ignited, though it isn’t known what caused it to overheat. Renesas said two-thirds of the products made in the building could be produced elsewhere, although due to the recent increase in demand for semiconductors, the situation does not allow for all products to be immediately produced alternatively. This further reduction in semiconductor production will further reduce production of automobiles worldwide.

3) North Korea tells China they should team up as ‘Hostile Forces’. North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un reportedly praised his country’s close ties with neighboring China, looking to boost their ties to counter the hostile policies of the United States. China and North Korea’s close ties date back to the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, then the outbreak of the Korean War a year later. In the war, Chinese troops supported North Korean forces with the backing of the Soviet Union, against South Korea and a U.S. led United Nations coalition. However, the fighting ended in a stalemate with an armistice but no official peace, which continues to this day. The North Korea considers that the world is now undergoing transformations rarely seen in a century, which is also overlapped by the ‘once in a century’ pandemic. What this portents for China and North Korea’s future actions . . . only time will tell.

4) Stock market closings for – 24 MAR 21:

Dow Jones 32,420 down by 3.09
NASDAQ 12,962 down by 265.81
S&P 500 3,889 down by 21.38

10 Year Yields: 1.6280

Oil: up at 64.41

24 March 2021

1) The CLEAN Future Act, a nearly 1,000-page piece of legislation, is meant to curb greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution that’s emitted from the petrochemical facilities that produce plastics or the raw materials used to make plastics. More significantly, the bill would impose a temporary pause on air pollution permits needed for approval of new plastics production facilities. But Republican lawmakers are raising concerns that provisions in the sweeping climate bill from top house democrats would stifle the plastics industry. The EPA regulations also require any permit for a plastics production facility to be accompanied by an ‘environmental justice assessment’, which would include consulting with the people living in the region where the facility is located.

2) Canadian Pacific Railway announced its plan to acquire the Missouri-based Kansas City Southern Lines rail company, which operates railroads in Mexico, Panama, and the United States. The new agreement will result in the first ever rail network to span the length of the North American continent to create the first rail network spanning from Canada to Mexico.
The CP values KCS at $29 billion dollars and agrees to assume $3.8 billion in outstanding debts as part of the agreement. The deal awaits final approval from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

3) President Biden’s economic advisers are preparing to recommend spending as much as $3 trillion dollars aimed at boosting the economy, reducing carbon emissions and narrowing economic inequality, including a giant infrastructure plan that may be financed in part through tax increases on corporations and the rich. Rather than trying to push a mammoth package through Congress, Biden has separated his plan into legislative pieces. The bill includes money for rural broadband, advanced training for millions of workers and 1 million affordable and energy efficient housing units. Additionally there is nearly $1 trillion dollars in spending on the construction of roads, bridges, rail lines, ports, electric vehicle charging stations and improvements to the electric grid and other parts of the power sector. But Republican support will depend in large part on how the bill is paid for.

4) Stock market closings for – 23 MAR 21:

Dow Jones 32,423 down by 308.05
NASDAQ 13,228 down by 149.85
S&P 500 3,911 down by 30.07

10 Year Yield: unchanged at 1.69%

Oil: down at 60.62

23 March 2021

1) Some analysts expect Tesla Inc. stock to hit $3,000 by 2025, up from its current price of $655. This would make the company worth almost $3 trillion dollars. This is based on expectation of a 50% chance of Tesla achieving fully autonomous driving systems within five years. This would allow the company to scale up its planned robotaxi service quickly. Additionally, Tesla’s insurance business adds value to the company, believing the offering could be rolled out to more states in the next few years with better than average margins, thanks to highly detailed driving data the company collects. Presently, their insurance is currently available only in California. Forecasts are for Tesla’s unit sales to be between 5 million and 10 million vehicles in 2025, assuming increased capital efficiency.

2) Intel made small waves by launching an ad campaign featuring none other than the “I’m a Mac guy” himself . . . Justin Long to explain why PCs are better than Macs. Intel’s five YouTube videos have racked up over a million views, but the ad campaign extends to a website extolling the benefits of PC over Mac. In the real world, a PC with an 11th Gen Intel Core mobile processor offers users more, with real research and test results to prove it. Many Apple M1 claims don’t translate to real world usage and appear questionable. When compared to a PC with the 11th Gen Intel Core mobile processor, the M1 MacBook features just don’t stack up.

3) After years of outcry about corruption and wasteful spending, Congress banned earmarks, the legislative maneuver of having special budget items that allow members to funnel money to projects in their districts. Earmark spending went away in 2011 after corruption scandals, but now it’s back on the table. Leaders in both parties are taking steps to allow limited earmarks on spending legislation, opening the door to the sort of ‘horse trading’ that Democrats hope could lead to GOP support for Biden initiatives on issues ranging from infrastructure to the annual federal agency funding bill. Republicans are leery of what type of taxes and revenue-raising devices the Democrats are considering to finance a legislative package that could top $1 trillion dollars. With $28 trillion dollars worth of debt, and on the way to a $30 trillion debt, the Congress ought to be focused on how to save money.

4) Stock market closings for – 22 MAR 21:

Dow 32,731.20 up by 103.23
Nasdaq 13,377.54 up by 162.31
S&P 500 3,940.59 up by 27.49

10 Year Yield: down at 1.69%

Oil: up at 61.47

22 March 2021

1) The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an antitrust investigation into the practices of renowned credit card company Visa regarding debit-card transactions. The DOJ is looking into the rules for routing transactions, both in stores and online. In its suit against Visa last year, the Justice Department claimed Visa already possesses monopoly power in the market for online debit-card transactions, arguing that roughly 70% of such transactions in the U.S. are routed over the firm’s network. At the heart of the Justice Department’s issues with Visa is the 2010 law known as the Durbin Amendment, which requires banks to include two networks on their debit cards. Merchants are then supposed to be given the choice of routing over a major network versus a smaller alternative such as Pulse, Star or NYCE. Those alternative networks can be cheaper for merchants.

2) The Federal Reserve stated that while the U.S. economy has been steadily rebounding from the pandemic recession, the recovery is far from complete and needs continued support from the Fed. About half the 20 million jobs that were lost to the pandemic have been recovered, and the outlook is brightening as vaccinations are more widely administered. The central bank’s policymakers forecasts are sharply upgraded, with the economy expected to accelerate quickly this year. At the same time, their forecast showed that the benchmark rate remains near zero through 2023, despite concerns in financial markets about potentially higher inflation.

3) Flipping houses in America is an easy way to make a quick buck. With the real-estate market red hot, profits on flips are at a record high, averaging some $66,000 per home. There are more than 60 banks and other financing companies catering to flippers. Memories of the 2007 real-estate bust are fading, and with interest rates on most fixed income investments still so paltry, lenders are desperate for anything that provides higher returns. The 7.9% average annual rate on a fix-and-flip loan is more than twice the 3.09% rate that a bank can earn on a 30-year mortgage. But there aren’t that many houses to purchase, the inventory of existing homes for sale is at its lowest since 1999, so now more flippers are chasing fewer transactions. Almost 68% of all home flippings last year sold for $300,000 or less.

4) Stock market closings for – 19 MAR 21:

Dow 32,627.97 down by 234.33
Nasdaq 13,215.24 up by 99.07
S&P 500 3913.10 down by 2.36

10 Year Yield: unchanged at 1.75%

19 March 2021

1) American military officials are warning that, in the next few years, China could invade Taiwan. The island nation has long been a sore subject of U.S.-China relations. China’s rapid military build-up, are recent indications that Taiwan could unilaterally declare its independence from the mainland. An invasion could throw the whole region into chaos and potentially culminate in a shooting war between China and the United States, who is treaty bound to help Taiwan defend itself against Beijing. The Chinese army’s capabilities have matured to such a degree that this is no longer a dilemma we can afford to brush off. The Biden administration must signal its willingness to ‘go to the mat’ for Taiwan and help ensure the island can defend itself, but without further spooking Beijing. China has commissioned 25 advanced new ships, including cruisers, destroyers and ballistic missile submarines, with capabilities designed to keep America and its allies, who might interfere on Taiwan’s behalf, at bay. Meanwhile, China is integrating its new equipment into an increasingly sophisticated force

2) Production at U.S. manufacturers unexpectedly declined in February, representing a pause in recent momentum as factories were beset by severe winter weather and supply-chain challenges. The 3.1% decrease in output was the first since April, following an upwardly revised 1.2% gain in January. Total industrial output reflected a 7.4% surge at utilities, that was the largest advance since March 2017, also driven by increased demand for heating. Manufacturers continue to battle supply shortages and shipping challenges, but lean business inventories, steady demand from consumers and solid capital spending should push manufacturing back up.

3) A Tesla Model Y electric car, with its Autopilot engaged, crashed into a Michigan police car that had pulled over with its lights on. The driver was using Tesla’s Autopilot system when he crashed into the police vehicle, but there were no injuries, according to police. The 22-year-old driver was issued citations for failure to move over and driving with a suspended license. Tesla’s Autopilot system allows the car to brake, accelerate, and steer automatically. The electric car maker also sells its full self-driving software as a $10,000 one-off add-on and plans to release it as a subscription model this summer.

4) Stock market closings for – 18 MAR 21:

Dow 32,862.30 down by 153.07
Nasdaq 13,116.17 down by 409.03
S&P 500 3,915.46 down by 58.66

10 Year Yield: 1.73%

Oil: down at $59.53

18 March 2021

1) Griddy Energy, the Texas power retailer, filed for bankruptcy, becoming the latest casualty of the cold weather blast and sweeping blackouts that pushed electricity prices to historic highs. The company, after its customers received exorbitant power bills, blamed its downfall on Texas’s grid operator Ercot who is blamed for destroying Griddy’s business. Griddy is at least the third to file for bankruptcy. Ercot owes more than $29 million dollars, making the grid operator Texas’ largest unsecured creditor. Texas is unusual in the U.S. in that homeowners and businesses can choose from a number of power providers. Griddy charges wholesale prices instead of fixed ones, and knowing that rate structure would mean massive bills for its customers as power prices climbed, the company made the unusual move of pleading with customers to switch to another provider in mid-February, but some customers who didn’t switch in time were stuck with bills for thousands of dollars.

2) The world’s three biggest consumers of coal, the most dirty of the fossil fuels, are getting ready to boost usage so much that it’ll almost be as if the pandemic-induced drop in emissions never happened. The U.S. power plants will consume 16% more coal this year, and then an additional 3% in 2022. China and India, which together account for almost two-thirds of coal demand, have no plans to cut back in the near term. This means higher emissions, and in the U.S., the gains may undermine President Biden’s push to reestablish America as an environmental leader and raise pressure for him to quickly implement his climate agenda. Coal consumption at U.S. power plants is almost returning to 2019 levels. While in recent years, China has reduced the share of coal in their energy mix, total power consumption has risen, so its usage has also climbed. China has the world’s largest number of coal-fired power plants, so it’ll be tough to shift to alternatives. India is also a very long way from a clean grid, with coal continuing to account for around 70% of its electrical generation. Consumption at their power plants will rise 10% this year, and is set to increase every year through at least 2027.

3) Although little known to most people, sand is another natural resource becoming scarce. So China has launched a crackdown on illegal sand mining operations on the Yangtze river, which have made large parts of central China more vulnerable to drought. Sand mining in the river and its connecting lakes and tributaries has also affected shipping routes and made it harder for authorities to control summer floods.

4) Stock market closings for – 17 MAR 21:

Dow 33,015.37 up by 189.42
Nasdaq 13,525.20 up by 53.64
S&P 500 3,974.12 up by 11.41

10 Year Yield: up at 1.64%

Oil: down at $64.63

17 March 2021

1) One part of the U.S. infrastructure that America can invest in now is the recycling infrastructure. The recycling infrastructure and related new technologies hasn’t been updated for roughly 20 years, in particular the massive growing plastics waste problem. Several years ago, China’s National Sword policy ended its role as a recipient of western waste, leaving the west with a seriously growing waste problem. Some consider the up coming bill on infrastructure upgrade will present an opportunity to leap ahead of the plastic problem with money for developing new technologies.

2) As if the American economy hasn’t suffered enough with the pandemic and record snow storms across the land, one more massive snow and ice storm system is sweeping across the nation again. Not only is there heavy snow, torrential rain and severe weather, but also there were 14 reported tornadoes, and additionally, wind gusts reaching as high as 87 mph in the Texas Panhandle with the region experiencing baseball-sized hail. Over 6 inches of rain has been reported in southern Missouri and over 4 inches of rain reported in Kansas and Nebraska, with all three states seeing flooding due to the storm. Snowfall rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour in Colorado and Wyoming, with up to 4 inches per hour locally in the foothills and mountains, closing highways and freeways. Totals of 1 to 4 feet of snow is expected in parts of the Rockies from this storm with 6 to 12 inches from Denver to Rapid City.

3) The microchip shortage continues with GM forced to shut down its Chevy Camaro Production. The global microchip shortage will force some automakers to prioritize the production of only their most important models. For GM, this means that Chevrolet Camaro and Cadillac CT4 and CT5 production must be temporarily paused. Whatever microchips GM has access to, will be diverted to those factories remaining in production, leaving other lines to fight for what’s left. This problem comes just when automakers are trying to climb out of the financial disaster from the pandemic, when makers are needing to make every auto sale they can get, to bring in much needed revenues. Many automakers are now delaying or pausing their development programs, the debut and on-sale dates receding, thereby further aggravating long range revenues. The microchip shortage was caused by semiconductor production stoppages early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Automakers underestimated the rate at which sales would recover, and so, it left them behind all the other companies that rely on microchips. It’s unclear when the shortage will end. Many major automakers, from Honda to Mercedes-Benz have had to either pause or cut production over these shortages, so GM isn’t unique here.

4) Stock market closings for – 16 MAR 21:

Dow 32,825.95 down by 127.51
Nasdaq 13,471.57 up by 11.86
S&P 500 3,962.71 down by 6.23

10 Year Yield: up at 1.62%

Oil: down at $64.91

16 March 2021

1) The technology known as carbon capture and storage, a concept that has been around for at least a quarter century to reduce the climate damaging emissions from factories, is being pursued by major international oil companies. The idea sounds deceptively simple, just divert pollutants before they can escape into the air, and bury them deep in the ground where they are harmless. But the technology has proved to be hugely expensive, and so has not caught on as quickly as advocates hoped. Exxon Mobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell plus lesser known Norway’s Equinor, France’s Total, and Italy’s Eni are investors in capture and storage projects.

2) Reports are, that amid all the trillion dollar spending, the White House is now starting to consider how to pay for the programs meant to bolster long term economic growth with investments in infrastructure, clean energy and education. The challenges are twofold: 1) how much of the bill is paid for with tax increases and 2) which policies to finance with more borrowing. The administration hasn’t decided whether to pursue a wealth tax. With interest rates so low, U.S. borrowing costs are manageable right now. The federal government currently collects the biggest chunk of its revenue, about half in 2019, from individual income taxes, which now tops out at 37% of income above $518,000 per year. For now, there are few signs of inflationary spiral or fiscal crisis that policy makers thought would accompany debt levels like today’s. The Congressional Budget Office this month projected that the national debt would double as a proportion of gross domestic product over the next 30 years. But the cost of borrowing is rising for the government and across the economy so the large debt could mean trouble in the future.

3) India’s foreign-exchange reserves has surpassed Russia’s to become the world’s fourth largest, as India central bank continues to hoard dollars to cushion the economy against any sudden outflows. Reserves for both countries have mostly flattened this year after months of rapid increase. India’s reserves, enough to cover roughly 18 months of imports, have been bolstered by a rare current-account surplus, raising inflows into the local stock market and foreign direct investment. India’s foreign currency holdings fell by $4.3 billion to $580.3 billion as of March 5, edging out Russia’s $580.1 billion pile. China has the largest reserves, followed by Japan and Switzerland on the International Monetary Fund table.

4) Stock market closings for – 15 MAR 21:

Dow 32,953.46 up by 174.82
Nasdaq 3,459.71 up by 139.84
S&P 500 3,968.94 up by 25.60

10 Year Yield: down at 1.61%

Oil: down at $65.29