Don’t Believe The Hype. Congress Can’t Play Nice.

Next time congressional leaders suggest they’re ready to bury the political hatchet and work together in good faith toward a common goal, take their words with a grain of salt. In fact, make it a block.

Take this week’s immigration “debate.” When Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) agreed to reopen the government last month, he did so on a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to debate a key Democratic agenda item: Legislation to protect the 1.8 million “Dreamers,” immigrants brought to the United States illegally as minors. McConnell vowed an “amendment process that is fair to all sides.” Continue reading “Don’t Believe The Hype. Congress Can’t Play Nice.”

U.S. at Odds with Friends and Foes in Syria

As the fight against ISIS winds down, America is deepening its involvement in Syria’s bloody civil war, risking conflict with friends and foes alike.

The Trump administration has committed the U.S. to Syria for the long haul, despite President Trump’s apparent misgivings about U.S. military spending in the Middle East.

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Will Tech Companies Have to Divulge AI Secrets?

Tech companies are facing mounting pressure to show what’s under the hood of their artificial intelligence tools, which guide driverless cars, enable facial recognition apps, decide what ads to show internet users and much more. The decision-making software that automates such tasks is usually a closely guarded secret. Advocates for transparency say that tech companies should reveal more information about how these systems work when they are used to guide public policy. Continue reading “Will Tech Companies Have to Divulge AI Secrets?”

What To Make Of the Oil Market Stumble

It’s not just the stock market that tumbled this week. Crude oil prices are down sharply, too. But is this the end of the “epic price rally” that I wrote about two weeks ago?

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude has fallen by more than 10% from its Jan. 26th peak of $66 per barrel. Much of that selloff has coincided with the sudden drop in stock prices that began a week ago. This week, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average saw its two biggest single-day point drops in history, WTI came along for the ride. Continue reading “What To Make Of the Oil Market Stumble”

Nunes Memo Won’t Hinder Trump-Russia Probe

The controversial “Nunes memo” – named for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA), who spearheaded it – has been made public, and Washington is in a frenzy trying to prove or disprove its explosive allegations of bias against President Trump at the top levels of the FBI and Justice Dept. (For our take, check out the latest issue of The Kiplinger Letter).

Further muddying the waters is the potential release of committee Democrats’ rebuttal memo, which Trump would also have to authorize.

Continue reading “Nunes Memo Won’t Hinder Trump-Russia Probe”

Higher Shipping Rates Will Have Staying Power

Shippers will pay more to trucking companies for a while. A “perfect storm” of surging demand, a driver shortage, cold weather, and tighter safety regulations boosted rates in January by as much as 40% from a year ago. Although the extremely cold weather requiring temperature-controlled trucks has eased, the other factors are still pressuring shipping costs. Spot rates will keep rising, though at a slower pace, until mid-year, but contract rates will rise until mid-2019, according to Avery Vise, vice president for trucking research at FtrIntel.com.

The driver shortage is worsening, when the country is already down approximately 50,000 drivers, as estimated by the American Trucking Association. New safety regulations requiring electronic logging devices (ELDs) on trucks that record actual driver hours, which make it easier to enforce hour limits, are one factor. Larger trucking companies have already adopted these, but many independent truckers will delay until enforcement starts in April. This additional squeeze on driver availability is the reason the shortage may get worse before it gets better. Continue reading “Higher Shipping Rates Will Have Staying Power”

Trump’s State of the Union Charts Uncertain Path

Presidents come and go, but the annual State of the Union address endures. It’s mostly an opportunity for political grandstanding but can offer insight into an administration’s goals for the year.

President Trump delivered his first official entry into this historic canon Tuesday. In typical fashion, he took the occasion to celebrate his achievements—major tax legislation, extensive deregulation, the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq—and call for national unity and bipartisanship.

Continue reading “Trump’s State of the Union Charts Uncertain Path”

Mr. Trump Goes to Davos

The idea of Donald Trump attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is a bit like mixing oil and water.

Like many on the Davos guest list, the U.S. president is both a prominent world leader and billionaire businessman. Unlike most of them, he also champions nationalism and economic protectionism, views that rarely receive a platform at the world’s largest annual celebration of globalization and the global elite who love it.

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Looking For Interest In Smaller Places

Interest rates on certificates of deposit at small banks, internet banks and credit unions are now a full 1 to 1.5 percentage points higher than at big banks. While all financial institutions have raised the lending rates they charge their borrowers in response to Federal Reserve rate hikes, only the smalls have been raising deposit rates.

Previously, most financial institutions were reluctant to raise deposit rates because their profit margins had been so squeezed by the ultralow rates that prevailed before the Fed finally started hiking at the end of 2016. But now, competitive pressures to attract deposits are forcing small banks, internet banks and credit unions to raise their full range of CD deposit rates in line with the increase in Treasury bill rates (though offerings on lowly savings accounts are still paltry). Continue reading “Looking For Interest In Smaller Places”

What’s Fueling Oil’s Big Rally?

If you follow the energy markets at all, you already know that crude oil is enjoying an epic price rally. In mid-July of last year, benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude was trading at $45 per barrel. Six months later, WTI has zoomed to $64 per barrel: A heady 40% advance, which makes the stock market look positively pedestrian by comparison.

So, what gives? And more importantly, can the rally continue? Continue reading “What’s Fueling Oil’s Big Rally?”