Emerging Market Currencies Fluctuate Greatly

Emerging market currencies were hit hard recently, with Brazil, Turkey and South Africa plumbing new lows against the US dollar due to pessimism over the outlook for the global economy.

The Financial Times states that the Brazilian real came down 1.2 per cent to R$4.22, which was its lowest since it was introduced in 1994.

The decline was just as notable in South Africa and Turkey, where the rand and the lira hit record lows, while Indonesia’s rupiah and Malaysia’s ringgit also tumbled.  This week, emerging market currencies are up slightly.

What are the reasons for the great changes in the value of these currencies?

This month, the Fed did not raise interest rates. However, The Financial Times states that there is a global recoil from emerging markets in anticipation of rising U.S. interest rates.

There are also collapsing commodity prices and escalating concerns over China’s economy.

FT writes:

“In a further parallel, the stronger dollar is encouraging money to flow out of risky, emerging Asian economies and into the rich world, with the biggest losers likely to be those countries with the largest current account deficits.”

FT writes that Brazil’s bonds have received a junk credit rating in recent weeks by Standard & Poor’s.  That sent the Brazilian currency 6.8 per cent lower against the dollar.

Other currencies in the Latin American region went down, too, including the pesos of Colombia, Chile and Mexico, all down at least 0.8 per cent.

Asian economies are being affected by slowing growth and ebbing demand in China for the raw materials that led to a boom in commodity prices.

Hopes that an economic recovery in the developed world can counteract the impact of China are also faltering with the International Monetary Fund cutting its global growth forecast for 2015 from 3.5 per cent to 3.3 per cent.

Global asset managers are already feeling the pinch. UK fund house Aberdeen Asset Management recently reported the ninth quarter of outflows from its emerging market funds and a drop in assets under management.

In other economic news, Robert Shiller, the economist who foresaw the coming of the tech and real estate bubbles in the past decade, said earlier this year that the U.S. is potentially headed for a bond-market bubble. High-end housing and art markets also seem to be headed in the same direction.

Investing.com states that the bubbles are triggered by the hundred-billion dollar debt in the energy sector, and particularly in the fracking business.

Oil prices may have a doubled value today, but most borrowing companies were not cash-flow positive. The current trend of production oversupply makes the situation comparable to the 1980s, writes investing.com. At that time, companies kept on producing an over-supply of crude due to desperate measures.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/business/economy/fed-interest-rates.html?_r=0

http://www.dailyfx.com/forex/market_alert/2015/09/23/Emerging-Market-Currencies-Extend-Dive-Versus-USD-Amid-Fed-Risk-Talk.html

http://www.investing.com/analysis/it%E2%80%99s-time-for-a-rate-hike-265275

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-24/emerging-stocks-set-for-fourth-day-of-losses-as-thai-baht-slides

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/dc618e48-62c4-11e5-9846-de406ccb37f2.html#axzz3mzea5YGS

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/eb94d9b6-3519-11e5-bdbb-35e55cbae175.html#axzz3nEL3iVUp

FollowTheMoney.org, OpenSecrets.org

FollowTheMoney.org is a website dedicated to informing people about the amount of campaign contributions each politician has received.

OpenSecrets.org is similar, but also gives other information about such things as news, events, and personal wealth and net worth of each candidate or politician.

It is unclear how often the information is updated.  The information does not always match what we see in the news articles.

Below are the websites for both.  They are interesting to browse.

Update: Maplight.org is another good resource on money in politics.

(Updated)

http://maplight.org/

http://www.opensecrets.org/

http://www.followthemoney.org/

Does Retirement in Mexico Deserve a Fresh Look?

A happy senior couple sits on the front of a sail boat on a calm blue sea.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Mexico was perhaps the original overseas retirement destination for Americans.  Americans have been relocating south of the border for retirement for decades. More than a million American expatriates and retirees call Mexico home.

In recent years, Mexico has been overshadowed by countries in Central and South America. These other destinations also offer appealing options for a sunny, coastal retirement on a small budget. Mexico has recently suffered some bad press, including the swine flu epidemic of 2009 that fizzled after a few cases and the drug violence in some border cities and beyond that has affected the perception of the entire country.

It’s true that some parts of Mexico don’t belong on any list for retirement.  However, there are good places at cheap prices.

It’s time to take a fresh look at this old favorite. Housing markets in many areas of Mexico are depressed. The great recession took its toll, especially in areas popular as second home markets.   In many markets, prices still have not recovered. Mexico is not the ultra-cheap destination it was in the 1950s and 60s, but it’s still a very affordable lifestyle option, especially at the current exchange rate.

Today’s dollar buys 15.38 pesos, making the cost of living in Mexico cheaper than it’s been in a long time for anyone with dollars in his wallet.

In addition, Mexico is also a culturally familiar neighbor and is accessible.  Americans can drive back and forth or take a short flight

Mexico is a big country, with many diverse retirement lifestyle choices.

One particularly appealing coastal retirement option is Mazatlán. This city opened its first tourist hotel and restaurant in 1850 and has been a major international tourist destination since the 1940s.  In the 1970s, Mazatlán began to fall out of favor, as more travelers to Mexico’s west coast opted for its cousin city, Puerto Vallarta, some 270 miles to the south.

One reason these places are popular among North Americans is its excellent winter weather. From December through March, daytime temperatures hover in the high 70s, with lows in the low 60s and little to no rain. Between July and October, temperatures average around 90, with most rain falling between July and September.  Today’s prices in Mexico make these destinations worth a look.

Low-Level Campaign Finance Win

According to The Huffington post, in a 5-4 decision on Wednesday, the Supreme Court upheld the right of states to ban elected judges from soliciting campaign contributions for their own campaigns. The majority decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by the court’s four liberal justices, writes the HuffPost.

So, states have the right to ban elected judges from receiving money for their campaigns.

Oddly, the decision comes after a long string of court rulings that overturned campaign finance regulations, among them the well-known 2010 Citizens United and the 2014 McCutcheon cases. The ruling, by contrast, maintains the ability of the states to uphold campaign finance reform in regards to elected judges. It does so by making a strong distinction between the role of the judiciary and the role of elected legislative and executive officials.

The distinction seemed weak. Roberts, writing for the majority, said: “A State’s interest in preserving public confidence in the integrity of its judiciary extends beyond its interest in preventing the appearance of corruption in legislative and executive elections. As we explained in [Republican Party of Minnesota v. White], States may regulate judicial elections differently than they regulate political elections, because the role of judges differs from the role of politicians.”

In the case before the court, Florida judicial candidate Lanell Williams-Yulee had signed her name to a fundraising solicitation letter while running for office in 2009. She did so despite Florida’s ban on fundraising solicitation by judicial candidates.

Candidates like Williams-Yulee are allowed to raise money through campaign committees, but they may not ask for the funds themselves. Williams-Yulee challenged the law as a restriction of her First Amendment right to free speech.

Clinton Says She Supports Amendment To Get Money Out Of Politics

NPR claims that Hillary Clinton has said she supports the idea of a constitutional amendment to restrict or eliminate big money in politics.  But will she “walk the walk?”

The notion of amending the Constitution has been discussed for decades, but Clinton is joining a new, if small, chorus of prominent politicians who are mentioning it.

“We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccounted money out of it, once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment,” she said at a roundtable discussion at Kirkwood Community College near Monticello, Iowa.

Campaign finance reform is one of four pillars, “four big fights,” of her campaign, she said, along with help for families and communities; a stronger, more balanced economy; and a strong national defense.

Clinton Hires Former Wall Street Regulator As Campaign’s CFO

Gary Gensler is shown. | AP Photo

Hillary Clinton recently recruited Gary Gensler, a former top federal Wall Street regulator, as her campaign’s chief financial officer, and it was meant to show donors she is serious about avoiding the overspending that plagued her 2008 presidential campaign, according to The New York Times.  Financial managers usually play a role in political campaigns, states the Times.

It was also supposedly an indication that Mrs. Clinton is prepared to take a tougher stance toward the financial industry.

Mr. Gensler, 57, was an under secretary in the Treasury Department in the Clinton administration, whose early deregulation of the financial industry, some economists say, contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.

Mr. Gensler also spent 18 years at Goldman Sachs, becoming a partner at 30 and rising to its co-head of finance. His recruitment tightens Mrs. Clinton’s ties to the firm, which frequently works with the Clinton Foundation in philanthropic efforts and has lent its Lower Manhattan auditorium to the Clintons for briefings with foundation donors.

So, is he a Wall Street insider or a Wall Street regulator?

The New York Times:

“Mr. Gensler, as chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 2009 to 2014, overhauled the commission from one of Wall Street’s most lax regulators to one of its most aggressive, and campaigned to rein in risk-taking in response to the financial crisis.”

The Wall Street Journal wrote in 2013:  “If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Massad would fill the role vacated by Gary Gensler, who has spent more than four years pushing back against Wall Street in a bid to bring more transparency and stricter rules to the multi-billion-dollar derivatives market.”

Politico:

“The CFTC has been at the center of several contentious battles involving the implementation of Dodd-Frank, with reform advocates cheering on Gensler’s efforts to write tough new rules while Wall Street bankers and other business executives warn that the agency is being overzealous. Massad will likely face twin pressures as his nomination moves through the Senate. Liberal lawmakers will press him to commit to carrying forward the approach laid out by Gensler and Republicans and some moderate Democrats will look for him to be more accommodating to the concerns of industries such as agriculture and other end-users that use derivatives to hedge risk.”

Gensler’s hiring was was first reported Thursday by Bloomberg.

After losing the Democratic nomination to Senator Barack Obama, she had to raise money to pay down her debt — including $11.4 million she had lent her campaign herself and $9.5 million owed to vendors. She also had to liquidate more than $23 million in contributions her campaign had set aside for the general election.

Mr. Gensler is also someone whose email practices – as the head of a federal agency – were the subject of sharp criticism, states the New York Times.

The Times notes that Mrs. Clinton angered some of her wealthiest donors in 2008 by pushing for increased regulation of Wall Street and its most complex financial products.

However, In January, Clinton reiterated her support for the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-regulation law, writing on Twitter, “Attacking financial reform is risky and wrong.” Mr. Gensler helped put the law together.

And this week, Mrs. Clinton hinted that she would again propose tougher rules on the financial sector. “There’s something wrong when hedge fund managers pay less in taxes than nurses or the truckers I saw on I-80,” she said Tuesday in Monticello, Iowa.

Her current campaign manager, Robby Mook, assured donors on a recent conference call that he was “a bit of a cheapskate” and would be frugal with the operation’s funds.

(Updated article)

Campaign Finance Group Helps Pass Bill In Delaware Senate


TYT Network

Wolf PAC is an organization founded by TYT Network that attempts to stop campaign finance money from controlling our politicians (and our lives.) Wolf PAC has moved through several states already and recently helped pass a bill in the Delaware senate to create an Amendment to the Delaware constitution that would limit the money corporations can give to politicians.

How Important Is The Word ‘Patience’ For The Fed?

Federal Reserve officials entered a self-imposed blackout on March 10th, in which they stopped making public comments about the economy and monetary policy.  They then engaged in intensifying discussions about the statement that will come out of their policy meeting this week, states the Wall Street Journal.

This Wednesday, the Federal Reserve will release the statement from its two-day Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, and investors are keeping a sharp lookout for whether the word “patient” still appears in the statement.  The word “patient” is a key reference to when the Fed will begin hiking interest rates, states MarketWatch.

That one detail is crucial for how stocks fare this week.

The Wall Street Journal claims that it is clear that officials intend at the March 17-18 meeting to drop the “assurance” that they’ll be “patient” before raising short-term interest rates.

Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester effectively gave her support for such a move in comments Monday, March 9th, saying she wanted to have the option to raise rates in June.  To have such an option, officials need to remove the word “patience” from their statement in March, states WSJ.

The Fed has received two signals in the last couple of weeks which reinforce its confidence about removing the “patience assurance,”  claims the WSJ.

First, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen signaled in her testimony to Congress an inclination to drop the word “patience,” and the market took the comments fine.  Officials had been worried that interest rates would jump and stocks tumble when they dropped the “patience assurance,” effectively bringing forward interest rate increases before the Fed is actually ready to raise rates. When the market didn’t respond, the Fed got a signal the coast is clear.

On Friday March 6th, the Labor Department reported another drop in the unemployment rate to 5.5%, meaning the economy is closer to a state of “full employment” when more people are employed and inflation bubbles up.

So incoming economic data are supporting the Fed’s forecast for the economy, another reason to take a small step in the long march move toward rate increases later this year.

“The biggest short term question with regard to the March FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) is whether the committee chooses to include the ‘patient’ term in their policy statement or drop it,” said Guy LeBas, chief fixed income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott, in a recent note.

LeBas believes the Fed will leave “patient” in its statement, signalling a rate hike closer to September than June.

“In terms of impact, retaining the word would imply a first rate hike would be most probable after June and by September 2015,” he said.

For quite a while, the consensus estimate had been that the Fed would start hiking rates in June, but analysts and economists are increasingly nudging the move out to September.

China’s Central Bank Cuts Interest Rates: A Sign Of Slowing Economic Growth?

China’s central bank cut interest rates for the second time in less than four months, in a fresh sign that the country’s leadership is becoming more aggressive in trying to stop the slowdown of economic growth, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The rate cut by the People’s Bank of China was announced Saturday, and it came sooner than some analysts and investors had expected.  It reflects growing worries over the world’s second-largest economy as it struggles with certain difficulties: a slumping property market, more money being sent offshore and growing risks of falling prices that, in effect, are pushing up borrowing costs for businesses.

The cut, effective Sunday, lowers by a quarter percentage point the benchmark one-year loan rate, to 5.35%, and the one-year deposit rate, to 2.5%. In a statement accompanying the announcement, the central bank singled out increasing deflationary pressure as a trigger for the move, saying that plunging commodity prices world-wide “provided room” to spur growth by lowering interest rates.

ALTIVIA Acquires Axiall’s Texas Chemical Plant

ALTIVIA today announced that it has signed a definitive agreement for a takeover of the Specialty Phosgene Derivatives business’ assets – including the chemical production facilities – from Axiall Corporation. The production facilities are in La Porte, Texas.

axiall logo 315

“As we refine our portfolio, we are pleased to reach an agreement with ALTIVIA, where we believe our phosgene business will be a better strategic fit,” said Atlanta-based Axiall President and CEO Paul Carrico in a statement, according to The Atlanta Business Chronicle.

As part of the acquisition, ALTIVIA will hire the 120 employees who operate the facility.

More:

http://money.cnn.com/news/newsfeeds/articles/prnewswire/DA41783.htm