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As Jared Kushner ascends White House ladder, Senate Russia inquiry adds scrutiny

Trumps son-in-law will lead Office of American Innovation to privatize certain government functions, as he agrees to testify in Russia election investigation

Jared Kushner, Donald Trumps son-in-law and senior adviser, found himself back in the spotlight for better and for worse on Monday.

As the US president appointed him to a new White House role, it was revealed that Kushner would testify before a Senate committee investigating Russian interference in last years election.

With Kushner at its helm, Trumps White House Office of American Innovation is designed to overhaul the federal government with input from the private sector, it was announced on Monday. The venture, which will bring together a team of former executives to privatize certain government functions, will follow through on the presidents business-minded approach to running the country.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/27/jared-kushner-white-house-office-trump-russia


Ivanka Trump’s expanded White House role raises ethical issues

With a West Wing office but no specific title and no precedent for adult children whose father is president the rules Trump is subject to are under dispute

After months of attending meetings of world leaders and visiting factories with her father, the role of first daughter Ivanka Trump is officially expanding creating new ethical issues for an administration that has been heavily criticized over its potential conflicts of interest.

She will not have a specific title, but Trump will have an office in the West Wing, a government-issued phone and computer and security clearance to access classified information, and she will advise her father.

While there is no modern precedent for an adult child of the president, I will voluntarily follow all of the ethics rules placed on government employees, she told Politico in a statement.

But following the ethics guidelines should not be voluntary, said Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who served as chief ethics lawyer for George W Bush between 2005 and 2007.

Given what shes going to do, I dont think she has any choice, he said. She has a West Wing office, she has equipment, she has a White House email address, shes going to be doing policy work, said Painter.

For purposes of the conflict of interest statute, I believe she is a government employee, he added.

Ivanka Trumps lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, argues that since she will earn no salary and not be sworn in, she does not count as a government employee. There is no precedent for adult children whose father is president working in the White House, although two presidents Andrew Jackson and James Buchanan had their nieces serve in the role of first lady since Jackson was a widower and Buchanan a bachelor.

Trump has handed control over the day-to-day running of her eponymous clothing business to an executive and its assets are maintained by a trust managed by two of her husbands siblings.

As part of the trust rules, outlined in the New York Times, Trump can veto any potential business deals for her clothing company that might create a conflict with her political work.

That means, points out Painter, that Trump has to know about any new deal that might put her at risk of breaking the statute, meaning she can be held responsible.

Shes got accountability on that stuff. She cant just blame the trustee, he said.

Trumps marriage to her fathers senior adviser, the real estate developer Jared Kushner, poses additional potential problems, because both could benefit financially from each others businesses.

Painter warned that the pair should avoid official political discussions involved with trade agreements regarding textiles, real estate and even bank deregulation, since that can affect real estate.

That means if the premier of China visits the White House most of Ivanka Trumps clothing line is made in China and Hong Kong it is fine for her to attend the meeting, but she should not mention trade and if the discussion begins to focus on trade, she should excuse herself, says Painter.

The ethics expert noted approvingly that Ivanka Trump engaged Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, the same legal services used by the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, former head of ExxonMobil, to handle issues of conflict of interest. Kushner also used the DC-based lawyers to manage his potential conflicts of interest with his family business after taking the role of adviser in the Trump administration.

Its a criminal statute, so people better not mess up under it. But I think shell do the right thing, said Painter.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/21/ivanka-trump-white-house-office-administration-role-ethics


Forbes billionaire list: Trump loses $1bn as elite club gets 233 new members

Post-US election boom in stock markets and continued rise in oil price help bring global total of billionaires to nearly 2,300 individuals

US president Donald Trumps fortune has fallen by about $1bn to $3.5bn over the past year, as measured by Forbes magazine in its annual list of the worlds billionaires.

However, overall it has been a good 12 months for the worlds wealthiest individuals, with a record 233 moving into the billionaire bracket, taking the global number of people with nine-zero fortunes to 2,043 the most in the 31-year history of the list.

The billionaires in Forbes list are worth a combined $7.67tn (6.18tn) more than three times the UKs annual gross domestic product (GDP).

Kerry Dolan, co-editor of the Forbes billionaires list, published on Monday, said the gains are mostly the result of booming stock markets and the rising price of oil over the past 12 months.

Number of billionaires

Global markets have hit record highs due to the so-called Trump bump following Trumps election, with the Dow Jones soaring above 20,000 points for the first time and the UKs FTSE 100 closing at a record 7,415 points last week.

The fall in Trumps net worth is due to a drop in the value of office space in Midtown Manhattan, where the president owns about 10 buildings. Forbes said Trump had fallen from the worlds 324th-richest person to 544th.

Forty percent of Donald Trumps fortune is tied up in Trump Tower and eight buildings within one mile of it, Forbes said. Lately, the neighbourhood has been struggling (relatively speaking).

Trump has refused to publish his tax returns to show the true scale of his wealth, but during the campaign he claimed he was worth in excess of $10bn.

Dolan said that in previous years the real estate tycoon had challenged Forbes for underestimating his fortune. We contact everyone we can to give them the opportunity for feedback. Over the last 31 years we have been compiling this list Trump has given us a lot of feedback, believe me, You guys are too low I am worth far more than you say, she said. He didnt call back to dispute our estimate. I would hope that running the country is more important to him right now than Forbess value of his net worth.

The richest person in the world remains Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who saw his fortune grow by $11bn to $86bn. He is followed by investor Warren Buffett, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who was this years biggest gainer with a $27.6bn increase in his fortune to $72.8bn.

Top 10 richest

The US accounts for the biggest population of billionaires with 565, up 25 on last year. But China is catching up with 319 billionaires, and a further 68 if Hong Kong and Macau are included. Germany is third with 114 billionaires.

The number of UK billionaires increased from 50 to 54, with new entrants including Philip Day, the man behind Edinburgh Woollen Mill, and Simon Nixon, the co-founder of moneysupermarket.com.

The richest people in the UK are the Hinduja family, who control a conglomerate of businesses including cars and banks and are worth $15.4bn. Property and internet investors David and Simon Reuben come second with a $15.3bn fortune. The third richest, and among the biggest gainer, is Jim Ratcliffe the founder and chairman of chemicals group Ineos.

UK richest

Among the biggest British losers is Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley whose fortune dropped by 25% to $2.6bn. His wealth, which is largely held in Sports Direct shares, has roughly halved over the past two years as shares collapsed following the Guardian expos of Victorian workhouse-style conditions in its distribution warehouses.

Sir Philip Green and his wife, Tina, the owners of Arcadia, which owns Topshop and once owned BHS, also lost just over $1bn, with their fortune slumping to $4.8bn. They fell more than 100 places to 339th.

Oxfam said the creation of so many new billionaires in one year was a sign of economic sickness rather than health.

Our warped economic model leads to more unequal societies that trap millions of people in poverty – it allows an elite group to accrue extreme wealth while one in nine people go to bed hungry every night, Max Lawson, Oxfams head of inequality policy, said. We need to build a more human economy where the super-rich pay their fair share of tax, workers earn a living wage, and governments invest in decent healthcare and education to give everyone a good start in life.

The number of women on the list increased to 227, from 202 in 2016. A record 56 of the women are self-made billionaires the highest ever. All but one of the 15 newly self-made female billionaires came from the Asia-Pacfic region, including Vietnams first self-made female billionaire Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao who took her budget airline VietJet Air public last month.

Yoshiko Shinohara, who started her temp agency in her one-bedroom Tokyo apartment, became Japans first self-made female billionaire. She enters the list due to a 50% surge in the stock price of her company Temp Holdings, which is designed to get more women into the workforce.

The richest woman on the list is Frances Liliane Bettencourt, who inherited a stake in LOreal from her father. Shes worth $39.5bn.

There are just 10 black people on the list, a drop of two from last year. The richest black person is Nigerian cement tycoon Aliko Dangote with an estimated fortune of $12.2bn. There are only three black women on the list, including Oprah Winfrey who has a $3bn fortune.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/mar/20/forbes-billionaire-list-trump-loses-1bn-as-elite-club-welcomes-233-new-members


The financial benefits of the EPA data Trump doesn’t want you to know about

Making EPA data easily accessible to the private sector plays a significant role in many billion-dollar industries, from renewable energy to auto manufacturing

For more than 25 years, Walter Hang has helped local governments, engineers and homeowners make sense of hazardous waste. To do that, he digs into the enormous data vault maintained by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and pinpoints information that is useful for his clients to assess the health and financial risks from nearby industrial properties and toxic waste sites.

Hang, who runs Toxics Targeting, now fears this trove of knowledge will become more difficult to access as the EPAs newly minted chief, Scott Pruitt, begins a broad rollback of regulations and shrinks the agencys staff. President Trump has vowed to weaken the EPA, contending that its rules for protecting public health stifle business development. The Trump administration has already eliminated or buried some information on EPA websites and moved to muzzle agency employees.

What Trump doesnt acknowledge is that EPA data isnt just an enforcement tool. The agency employs more scientists than any other government agency except Nasa. Decades of work by those scientists have generated valuable information about air and water pollution, chemical toxicity and hazardous waste cleanup. This information has enabled businesses to develop new products and services and create jobs in the process.

No one has estimated the financial benefits of making EPA data easily accessible to the private sector. But anecdotal evidence shows it plays a significant role in many billion-dollar industries, from lending and real estate to renewable energy development and auto designs and manufacturing. For example, chemical companies use the data to come up with less toxic compounds for dyeing textiles.

Banks wont loan money to a property developer without ensuring that the land is free of contamination, which can be an expensive liability. They rely on pollution data from the EPA, says Hang, who compiles the information into reports for companies in real estate development and transaction.

We are trying to make sure we get as much data as we can, and were trying to make sure we dont have data gaps, Hang says.

Hang isnt alone in worrying about access. Several campaigns, carried out mostly by university professors and students, to download and secure EPA data have sprung up since the November election. One of the first of such efforts began not in the US but in Canada. Matt Price, a history professor at the University of Toronto, helped organize guerrilla archiving events in December. Offering free pizza and coffee, these events recruited a small army of volunteers who began downloading EPA data to secure servers.

Price says he and his colleagues sprang into action after experiencing their own war on science by former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, a conservative who slashed funding for science and ended important environmental monitoring projects. Price and others stepped up to preserve Canadian environmental data during that crisis.

We probably focused immediately on the EPA because of the extremely hostile language that came out of the Trump campaign around the EPA, says Price. We have put a kind of faith in the state as the long term guarantor of the integrity of scientific data. I think that faith may be misplaced.

Many companies rely on the agencys data to build products that tackle some of the biggest health and environmental problems. They sign research and development agreements with the EPA, which provides technical assistance in return for a share of any sales a company generates as a result.

EPA had 97 such contracts active in 2015, which yielded $232,318 in royalties for the agency. The previous year, 129 contracts produced royalties of $438,786.

Aclima, a San Francisco company that develops air-quality sensors and software, is working with the EPA to improve the devices sensitivity in detecting pollution. EPA air pollution data, gathered for decades at a regional scale, serves as an important reference and quality check for the company. Aclima has partnered with Google to collect air quality data by putting its mobile sensors on the StreetView cars that Google uses to create its maps. It plans to offer the resulting data to the public later this year.

Aclima CEO Davida Herzl says the EPAs air pollution data plays a foundational role in everything the company does. Anytime we lose information that is important to public health, that is a concern, Herzl says. It would be a massive blow to the business community in ways that arent always discussed. Innovation and private sector research is happening on top of that foundation of science that EPA has been developing for over 30 years now.

Even businesses that are set to benefit from Trumps plan to loosen environmental regulations are worried about losing access to EPA data, which they need for complying with state or local laws and for their own internal accounting of efficiency and performance, says Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Center for Science and Democracy, a program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The American Gas Association, which represents natural gas distribution utilities, recently notified members to download any EPA data they need in case it is removed from the agencys website. Pam Lacey, the associations chief regulatory counsel, says gas utilities use EPA data and other online resources to track methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas. The data shows distributors have cut methane emissions by 74% since 1990.

They continue to do more work and theyd like to be able to keep the data that demonstrates what theyve done and what theyre doing on an ongoing basis, Lacey says. Also, some companies have their own internal goals for sustainability, and they would want to use that official EPA data.

None of the EPA data has been restricted or eliminated yet, say the scientists involved in the data backup campaigns, but they arent taking any chances. Their concern stretches beyond protecting existing EPA data, however. Major budget cuts, if implemented, means the agency may be unable to collect new data.

EPA officials within the Trump administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Their goal is to defund programs that gather data, says Jared Blumenfeld, former administrator of EPA Region 9 (California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii), who left the agency in May 2016. Its much, much harder in a digital age to get rid of data. Its a lot easier to not fund science so you dont have the data in the first place.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/mar/15/epa-data-trump-benefits


US Federal Reserve raises interest rates to 1% in bid to hold off inflation

Fed chair says US economy in strong health as she announces third rate rise since 2008 and the first of several expected this yearJanet Yellen discusses interest rate rise live updates

The US Federal Reserve has sought to head off rising inflation with a third interest rate rise since the 2008 financial crash and the second in three months, taking the base rate from 0.75% to 1%.

The central bank set aside concerns about the impact of higher interest rates on consumer spending to confirm analyst projections that it is prepared to increase rates several times this year to keep a lid on inflation as it rises above its 2% target level.

The Feds chair, Janet Yellen, said a wide range of indicators showed the US economy was in rude health, allowing its interest rate setting committee to push rates back towards historically normal levels. Policymakers voted nine to one to raise rates.

Speaking after the decision, Yellen said she had met Donald Trumps treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, a couple of times but had only been introduced to the president himself.

I fully expect to have a strong relationship with secretary Mnuchin, she said. We had good discussions about the economy, about regulatory objectives, the work of the FSOC [Financial Stability Oversight Council] global economic developments, and I look forward to continuing to work with him. She said she had had a very brief meeting with Trump and appreciated that as well.

Earlier in the day the Department of Commerce said retail sales had inched up by 0.1% in February, and that they had been better than it had previously estimated in January.

US interest rates

The Department of Labor said consumer prices were 2.7% higher in February than a year earlier. After excluding the costs of food and energy, inflation was 2.2%. A housing market index from the National Association of Home Builders also surged to its highest level since 2005.

US stock markets moved up on the news, rising 90 points in the minutes after the decision, and US crude rose 2%. The increases were modest following Yellens signals in December that interest rates were on an upward path. Investors were also caught out by Yellens bullish comments in the wake of the announcement and by projections showing that 11 of her 17 policymaking colleagues saw borrowing costs rising another three times in 2017.

Dennis de Jong, the managing director of the currency trader UFX.com, said: Given the bloating effect Donald Trumps presidency has had on US inflation, it would have been more of a surprise had Fed Chair Janet Yellen not announced a rate hike at todays Federal Reserve meeting.

Trumps grand plans for American infrastructure spending have signalled an about-turn for US economic policy after just one rate increase in ten years, weve now seen two in the space of three months, and plenty more are expected for 2017.

This all spells bad news for US borrowers, who will likely have to foot a larger bill over the coming months. With at least three more hikes on the cards by the end of the year, todays news could hit many where it hurts the most the pocket.

US CPI

Some economists argue that weak wages and productivity growth in the US will limit the Feds rate increases to a handful before reaching a peak at around 2%.

Gus Faucher, the deputy chief economist at the stockbroker PNC, said: I think the concern, in terms of why the Fed is raising rates now, is that inflation is picking up. The unemployment rate is 4.7% and thats putting upward pressure on prices.

He told the Guardian economic forces were acting against a return to interest rate levels of 4-5% seen before the 2008 crash.

We have slower labor force growth because of the ageing of the baby boomers, [and thus] slower productivity growth in terms of output per worker, he said. That has reduced the potential for long-run growth, its reduced inflationary pressures, and I think rates in the future will be lower than they have been in the past.

US retail sales

Faucher also said further interest rate rises could dent consumer spending, which has come to rely on cheap loans.

I do think eventually that higher interest rates are going to have an impact on rates for car loans, so that may be a problem for automakers. It may be a problem for big-ticket durable items, home appliances, stuff like that. There is a ceiling on those effects, though, and Faucher doesnt think they will affect home loans.

There isnt much bleed over into mortgage rates; its mostly the short-term borrowers, he said.

Fed policymakers are known to be concerned that the tax cuts and extra government spending Trump has demanded could overheat the economy and lead to a deep recession. Should that happen, the Fed will want to have substantial interest rates in place.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/mar/15/us-federal-reserve-raises-interest-rates-to-1


Q&A: What will happen if the US Federal Reserve raises interest rates?

Janet Yellen, the Fed chair who has been criticised by Donald Trump, is set to raise rates for third time since financial crash

The US central bank is poised to raise interest rates for only the third time since the financial crash of 2008. With its headquarters just round the corner from the White House, the Federal Reserve and its chair, Janet Yellen, are in Donald Trumps sights.

On the campaign trail Trump said Yellen should be ashamed of the Feds low interest rate policy, and accused the bank of creating a false stock market. Trump has called for higher rates, but Yellen can not take a positive presidential reaction for granted.

The reaction of markets across the world is even less predictable. So what is the likely impact on the US and the global economy?

What is the Fed expected to do?

The Federal Reserve raised the base interest rate by a quarter of a percent in December last year and is expected to follow with a further rate rise on Wednesday. Some analysts expect a quarter-point rise, though most of the betting is now on a half point, pushing the base rate to a range of 1% to 1.25%.

Why will it raise rates?

The US economy has grown for the last 30 quarters and shows no sign of slackening off. Consumer spending is robust and the latest jobs numbers showed employment increasing and unemployment staying low.

Fathom Consulting, an economic forecaster, said spare capacity in the labour market was disappearing fast and it would not be long before wages started to rise rapidly. Wage rises push up demand, and that triggers higher prices.

The Fed has a remit to control inflation, but also to mintain high levels of employment. By raising rates, it will appear to do both.

How will consumers and corporate America react?

The Fed is betting businesses will shrug off the extra cost of borrowing, continue to invest in the US economy and create jobs.

Setting aside concerns about Brexit and a string of potentially destabilising elections on the continent, Fed policymakers have judged that the strength of the economy is enough to override a series of rate rises, possibly taking the base rate to almost 2% by the end of next year.

Consumers have embraced the Trump rhetoric of tax cuts and deregulation to continue spending, undeterred by the prospect of higher mortgage costs.

How will the market react?

Central banks like to signal their intentions, albeit in opaque language, to prevent investors being spooked. This rise was heavily trailed in recent weeks and has been priced in as a certainty by market participants in New York, London and Tokyo though some would be surprised by a half-point rise.

Turbulence could come from the foreign exchange markets if the dollar rises following a slump in the Turkish lira, Indonesian rupiah, Mexican peso or other developing world currency. More importantly, the bond markets could overreact.

Why do the bond markets matter?

Much of the world borrows money in dollars or seeks to lend to the US government and US corporations in dollars. A rise in interest rates would encourage an influx of funds into the US, pushing up the dollar relative to other countries. A rise in the Fed funds rate would also increase the cost of borrowing.

When the Fed first hinted in 2013 that it planned to stop pumping funds into the financial system, the prospect of higher borrowing costs for those holding dollar debts spooked the bond markets. Turkey and Russia were highlighted as countries with corporate sectors that expanded quickly based on heavy borrowing using dollar-denominated bonds. It was clear that much of Turkeys corporate sector could go bust if its interest bill jumped too far or fast.

Such was the strength of the reaction, Ben Bernanke, who at the time chaired the Federal Reserve, abandoned his plan. A similar reaction preceded a rate rise in December 2015, and while markets regained their composure, the extra costs imposed on Turkey and Russia hit their economies hard and arguably shored up the position of their authoritarian leaders.

Is a currency war possible?

Trump has already attacked China for artificially depressing its currency, even when Beijing was doing all it could to close the gap between the yen and the dollar. Now China is letting the yen fall and with interest rate rises in the US pushing up the dollar, the gap will widen, increasing the cost of US exports and reducing import prices.

Trump can only complain about the currency, but he could make good on threats to impose tariffs on Chinese goods, sparking a trade war.

Is there any reason to keep rates on hold?

Annual US GDP growth since the 2008 crash has averaged 2.1%. This might seem like a healthy rate, but it is the slowest recovery from recession since the second world war. Business investment remains low and productivity in the US, as elsewhere in the developed world, is growing sluggishly. To boost borrowing and demand, the Fed needs to keep credit cheap.

But Trump plans to make up for the tightening of monetary policy by cutting taxes and running up a huge budget deficit. He also plans to take his shears to corporate and consumer regulations, unleashing a surge in economic activity.

Bloomberg said investors expect three more rises before the end of the year. Fathom Consulting said there was enough momentum in the economy for rate increases of 25 basis points seven times between now and the end of next year.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/mar/14/us-federal-reserve-interest-rates-janet-yellen-donald-trump


Greek activists target sales of homes seized over bad debts

Protests thwart plans to hold around 25,000 auctions as banks struggle to sell properties to settle shortfalls

The cavernous halls of Athens central civil court are usually silent and sombre. But every Wednesday, between 4pm and 5pm, they are anything but. For it is then that activists converge on the building, bent on stopping the auctions of properties seized by banks to settle bad debts.

They do this with rowdy conviction, chanting not a single home in the hands of a banker, unfurling banners deploring vulture crows, and often physically preventing notaries and other court officials from sitting at the judges presiding bench.

Poor people cant afford lawyers, rich people can, says Ilias Papadopoulos, a 33-year-old tax accountant who feels so strongly that he has been turning up at the court to orchestrate the protests with his eye surgeon brother, Leonidas, for the past three years.

We are here to protect the little man who has been hit by unemployment, hit by poverty and cannot keep up with mortgage payments. Banks have already been recapitalised. Now they want to suck the blood of the people.

The tall, bearded brothers were founding members of Den Plirono, an activist group that emerged in the early years of Greeces economic crisis in opposition over road tolls. The organisation, which sees itself as a peoples movement, then moved into the power business restoring the disconnected electricity supplies of more than 5,000 Greeks who could not afford to pay their bills. Auctions are their latest cause. Solidarity is the only answer, Papadopoulos insists.

Rich people have political influence. They can negotiate their loans and are never in danger of actually losing the roof over their heads.

The protests have been highly effective. In law courts across Greece, similar scenes have ensured that auctions have been thwarted. Activists estimate that only a fraction of auctions of 800 homes and small business enterprises due to go under the hammer since January have actually taken place. Under pressure to strengthen the countrys fragile banking system, Athens leftist-led government has agreed to move ahead with around 25,000 auctions this year and next. In recent weeks they have more than doubled, testimony, activists say, to the relaxation of laws protecting defaulters.

There is not a Greek who does not owe to the banks, social security funds or tax office, says Evangelia Haralambus, a lawyer representing several debtors. Do you know what it is like to wake up every morning knowing that you cant make ends meet, that you might lose your home? It makes you sick.

Seated in the fourth floor office of the United Popular Front (Epam), a framed picture of Che Guevara behind her, the lawyer belongs to the growing numbers who believe Greece would be better off out of the eurozone.

We see our country as a country under occupation. It is inadmissible what has happened to Greece, she splutters. These vulture crows, homing in on the properties of the poor, are all part of the larger plan to control us.

Epam is among the fringe groups on both the left and right seeking to capitalise on the outrage over auctions as anti-euro sentiment mounts.

Few issues have highlighted prime minister Alexis Tsipras volte-face over austerity more than this. Resistance to home foreclosures was a rallying cry of the leftist leader before he assumed power in January 2015.

Tsipras decision to enforce some of the harshest austerity measures to date the price of a third bailout programme to avert default and debt-stricken Greece exiting the eurozone has exacted a heavy toll. Amid accusations of betrayal, his own popularity and that of his Syriza party, have plummeted.

The leaders much-vaunted promise that not a single home would be seized from Greeks unable to keep up with mortgage payments has become the stuff of satire played on radio shows to emphasise what is widely perceived as Tsipras hypocrisy.

But seven years into the crisis, any government would ignore non-performing loans (which will never be repaid, in full or at all) at its peril. A slowburning 106bn fuse under the Greek economy the equivalent of 50% of GDP they are regarded as the biggest risk to the banking systems stability. Some 41.3% of mortgage holders are estimated to have defaulted on loans.

Non-performing loans now account for 45% of all loans which is very high, said the Bank of Greeces governor Yannis Stournaras. It is imperative for the survival of Greek banks and the Greek economy that they are reduced. Our plans is to reduce them by about 40bn in the next three years, he added, blaming the weekly court dramas, squarely, on strategic defaulters. There are strict income criteria and property criteria that protect the poor.

In an atmosphere that has become increasingly explosive, as anti-austerity protesters again take to the streets , the anti-auction activism has also turned ugly.

Attacks against public notaries who are processing the sales have soared. Recently the downtown office of a prominent notary was ransacked by masked men belonging to an anti-establishment group who said they wanted to send a message to the crows. In court the officials are abused and booed out of the room by baying crowds.

We have been wrongly singled out, said notary Athina Karamanlis, struggling to speak above the din of protesters taunting her.

Our association has stated clearly that it will not condone the auction of primary residences. But it is our duty to follow the law. There are auctions that people want for all sorts of reasons.

The drama has forced the government to rethink its strategy. Fears are mounting that if the banks fail to recover losses, a Cypriot-style bail-in could follow and the government has announced that it will pushed ahead with electronic auctions. But the prospect of mass auctions at a click of a button has only incensed critics further.

It will create huge tensions and destabilise Greek society, said Papadopoulos, claiming that laws protecting the poor had been increasingly whittled down. They will have to evict people from their homes and that wont be easy. The people will react in unforeseeable ways.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/11/greek-activists-target-sales-of-homes-seized-over-bad-debts


China gives initial approval of Trump trademarks for hotels and escort services

Ethics lawyers raise alarm over constitutional violation if president given special treatment in quickly securing 38 new trademarks to develop potential businesses

China has granted preliminary approval for 38 new Trump trademarks, paving the way for Donald Trump and his family to potentially develop a host of branded businesses from hotels to insurance to bodyguard and escort services, public documents show.

Trumps lawyers in China applied for the marks in April 2016, as Trump railed against China at campaign rallies, accusing it of currency manipulation and stealing US jobs. Critics maintain that Trumps swelling portfolio of China trademarks raises serious conflict of interest questions.

Chinas Trademark Office published the provisional approvals on 27 February and Monday.

If no one objects, they will be formally registered after 90 days. All but three are in the presidents own name. China already registered one trademark to the president, for Trump-branded construction services on 14 February, the result of a 10-year legal battle that turned in Trumps favor after he declared his candidacy.

Ethics lawyers across the political spectrum say that if Trump receives any special treatment in securing trademark rights, it would violate the US constitution, which bans public servants from accepting anything of value from foreign governments unless approved by Congress. Concerns about potential conflicts of interest are particularly sharp in China, where the courts and bureaucracy are designed to reflect the will of the ruling Communist party.

Dan Plane, a director at Simone IP Services, a Hong Kong intellectual property consultancy, said he had never seen so many applications approved so expeditiously.

For all these marks to sail through so quickly and cleanly, with no similar marks, no identical marks, no issues with specifications boy, its weird, he said.

Given the impact Trumps presidency could have on China, Plane said he would be very, very surprised if officials from the ruling Communist party were not monitoring Trumps intellectual property interests.

This is just way over your average trademark examiners pay grade, he said.

The trademarks cover businesses including branded spas, massage parlors, golf clubs, hotels, insurance, finance and real estate companies, retail shops, restaurants, bars, and bodyguard and escort services though its unclear whether any such businesses will actually materialize in China.

Trump has pledged to refrain from new foreign deals while in office, and many companies register trademarks in China only to prevent others from using their name inappropriately.

Spring Chang, a founding partner at Chang Tsi & Partners, a Beijing law firm that has represented the Trump Organization, declined to comment specifically on Trumps trademarks. But she did say that she advises clients to take out marks defensively, even in categories or subcategories of goods and services they may not aim to develop.

I dont see any special treatment to the cases of my clients so far, she added. I think theyre very fair and the examination standard is very equal for every applicant.

She said government relations are an important part of trademark strategy in China and said she has worked with officials from both the US and Canadian embassies to help her clients. The key, she said, is you should communicate closely with the government to push your case.

Governmental discretion is exactly what US ethics lawyers fear could turn a trademark into an opportunity to exercise leverage over the US president.

Every American should be profoundly concerned by this enormous expansion of President Trumps entanglements with China, said Norman Eisen, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer for President Obama. If the president is receiving these flows of benefits from China, how can he be trusted to staunch the flow of jobs from the United States to that country?

Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics lawyer for President George W Bush, said the volume of new approvals raised red flags.

A routine trademark, patent or copyright from a foreign government is likely not an unconstitutional emolument, but with so many trademarks being granted over such a short time period, the question arises as to whether there is an accommodation in at least some of them, he said.

Eisen and Painter are involved in a lawsuit alleging that Trumps foreign business ties violate the US constitution. Trump has dismissed the lawsuit as totally without merit.

Chinas State Administration for Industry and Commerce, which oversees the Trademark Office, and Trump Organization general counsel Alan Garten did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Three of the new China trademarks are for Scion, a hotel brand Trumps sons are looking to expand in the US. Unlike almost all of Trumps China trademarks, they are registered in the name of a Delaware company called DTTM Operations LLC, rather than Donald J Trump himself. The Trump Organization has transferred ownership of dozens of trademarks from the president to DTTM Operations LLC since its incorporation in January 2016.

In an earlier email to the Associated Press, Garten said: The decision to assign the portfolio to DTTM is also consistent with the Presidents pledge to separate himself fully from the Trump Organization and hand over complete control to his children and senior executives in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest even though none of these steps were required by law.

Trump has said he assigned all his business interests to a trust overseen by one of his sons, Donald Trump Jr, and a longtime Trump Organization executive, Allen Weisselberg. However, Trump retains the ability to revoke the trust at any time and as the sole beneficiary stands to benefit financially from it. As of May 2016, Donald Trump owned 100% of DTTM Operations LLC, according to his Federal Election Commission disclosure. Its current ownership structure is unclear.

Delaware public records do not disclose the management of DTTM Operations LLC, though they do show that Trumps sons and Weisselberg served as directors of a related company.

Democratic senators have protested Trumps acceptance of a valuable trademark from the Chinese government without congressional approval. Some also questioned the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, about potential political influence, including any involvement of the US embassy, in Trumps China trademarks in a February letter.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/08/china-approves-trump-trademarks-businesses


Deportation orders threaten Trump’s own turf: the real estate market

Immigrants represent a large share of the demand supporting house values, says a demographics expert amid warnings the system could be tested

Is Donald Trump, the property tycoon turned president, about to bust the housing market? Thats potentially one of the unanticipated impacts of the Trump administrations crackdown on illegal immigration, according to demographics experts and immigrants rights groups.

The effect of the mass deportations outlined in Department of Homeland Security memos released this week may not only affect real estate values at the lower and middle end of the housing market, they warn: they could resonate up to the top of the housing chain, testing the entire system in ways that are both novel and not clearly understood.

There are consequences for the economy and the whole of society, and the public doesnt understand the value immigrants bring to the housing market, warns Dowell Myers, director of the Population Dynamics Research Group at the University of California.

They represent a large share of the demand supporting house values. If you were to subtract any part of that demand, it would jeopardize house values across the board.

In a comprehensive 2013 study, Immigrant Contributions to Housing Demand in the United States, Myers estimated that in this decade, immigrants nationwide will account for 32.2% of the growth in all households, 35.7% of growth in homeowners and 26.4% of growth in renter households.

The study found that the volume of growth in foreign-born homeowners has increased each decade, rising from 0.8 million added immigrant homeowners in the United States during the period from 19801990 to 2.8 million in the current decade.

While immigrants were once concentrated in a few gateway states, such as California, New York and Florida, the pattern of immigration after the 2007 economic crash is less concentrated, making the economic effect of mass deportation less easy to predict.

According to Alex Nowrasteh, a policy analyst for the Cato Institute, the effect of an immigrant crackdown on property values has already been seen, albeit on a small scale, after Arizona passed its controversial SB 1070 and Legal Arizona Workers Act.

Two hundred thousand people left because of those immigration laws at the same time as we had a housing collapse. So Phoenix suffered more than any other city except for Las Vegas, Nowrasteh says. We saw a huge increase in rental vacancies and a decline in home prices immediately after these laws were passed.

Immigrants, he says, have a disproportionate effect on the housing market because they rent property and buy houses. So now Trump wants to do nationally what the Arizona immigration laws did to the Phoenix housing market.

In California, the state with the largest immigrant population, a sustained crackdown on immigration could not only affect the lower end of the market but, in some areas, the top end of the market as well.

Its pretty clear what will happen, warns Myers. One way that people afford houses is by pooling incomes. So if you were to deport one of the three mortgage payers, that can destabilize the whole rest of the household. Immigrants are so interwoven into many communities that when you unravel one thread, you can destabilize it entirely.

House values, he considers, are like a pyramid. If you pull out a chunk from the bottom, the pyramid starts to collapse. The loss of the immigrants coming in at the bottom end doesnt directly affect prices in Beverly Hills or Silicon Valley but it will undermine the whole structure of pricing in a way that hasnt been tested before.

Myers report, published by the Research Institute for Housing America, corresponds with a report issued last year by the real estate website Trulia that found that the homeownership gap between native-born and immigrant homeowners has shrunk over the past two decades.

That gap is about 15 percentage points, down from nearly 21 points 15 years ago. While the rate of US homeownership stands at 66%, homeownership for foreign-born nationals has risen about 2.3 percentage points to more than half.

Critics of the Trump immigration orders say the value of the immigrant housing market is often overlooked, in part because undocumented workers who nonetheless qualify for mortgages are frequently not identified as such in official figures.

Further analysis by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute found that 33%, or 3.4 million, of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US own their homes or live with family members or friends who do.

In a separate study, the Migration Policy Institute estimates that about a million undocumented immigrants in the US hold college-level degrees.

Its wrong to think of undocumented homeowners as people working in low-skilled jobs and living together in a marginal neighborhood, says the institute director, Michael Fix. A large share, around 60%, of college-educated undocumented immigrants are working in middle- or high-skilled jobs.

The real danger here is the long-term chilling of immigration flows, legal and illegal, into the country, and that would be felt in our housing market, and people do not properly appreciate that almost half the number of recent immigrants to the US are college graduates.

A further consideration, says Fix, is that infrastructure projects, including a border wall, could be complicated by immigrant deportation efforts. Undocumented immigrants, in particular men, typically enjoy very high rates of employment as high as 95%.

While its residential projects that typically hire unauthorized immigrants, there will still be ripple effects on big public projects. They may not be undone, but they will certainly be complicated, Fix says.

According to a Pew Research projection, future immigrants and their descendants will account for 88% of the US population increase, or 103 million people, between 2015 and 2065.

Those figures alone should give the administration pause for thought, say analysts, since immigrant-driven housing demand will be needed to buoy the market as native-born baby boomers as move into retirement.

The housing market may not be the first concern, but President Trumps immigration orders could destabilize whole communities, says Myers. Were not playing around here. This is a serious business. Its pretty clear what could happen.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/23/trump-deportation-immigrants-real-estate


Deutsche Bank fined $630m over Russia money laundering claims

Authorities in US and UK issue fine after saying bank used offices in Moscow and London to move $10bn out of country

Deutsche Bank has been fined more than $630m (506m) for failing to prevent $10bn of Russian money laundering and exposing the UK financial system to the risk of financial crime.

The UKs Financial Conduct Authority imposed its largest ever fine 163m for potential money laundering offences on Germanys biggest bank, which it said had missed several opportunities to clamp down on the activities of its Russian operations as a result of weak systems to detect financial crime between 2012 and 2015.

A US regulator, the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS), also fined the bank $425m as it listed problems at Deutsche including one senior compliance officer stating he had to beg, borrow, and steal to get the resources to combat money laundering. As part of the settlement, the DFS has imposed a monitor, who will police the behaviour inside the bank for two years.

The latest run-in with regulators comes as Deutsches chief executive, John Cryan, tries to clean up the bank. Last month it paid $7.2bn to settle a decade-old toxic bond mis-selling scandal with the US Department of Justice .

The German bank admitted that the investigations into its Russian operations over so-called mirror trades had not yet finished. It said it was cooperating with other regulators and law enforcement authorities. The DoJ is reported to be among them.

Deutsches share price has been extremely volatile in recent months over concerns about the banks ability to pay fines, at one point dipping to less than 11 last autumn . Its share price before the financial crash was 117.

As the latest penalties were announced, the shares fell by 0.5% to 18.52 valuing the bank at 25bn, which is less than half that of the UKs Lloyds Banking Group, for example.

In a memo to staff Karl von Rohr, chief administrative officer of Deutsche,said: We deeply regret the banks role in the issues cited. He added that the number of staff employed to fight crime had risen 30% in 2016 and now stood at 700. Another 450 will be hired this year.

The FCA said Deutsches anti-money laundering (AML) controls were not tough enough to stop the bank being used by unidentified customers to transfer approximately $10bn from Russia to offshore bank accounts in a manner that is highly suggestive of financial crime. Money was moved via Deutsche Bank in the UK, to obank accounts overseas, including onesin Cyprus, Estonia, and Latvia, the FCA said.

Mark Steward, director of enforcement and market oversight at the regulator, said: Financial crime is a risk to the UK financial system. Deutsche Bank was obliged to establish and maintain an effective AML control framework. By failing to do so, Deutsche Bank put itself at risk of being used to facilitate financial crime and exposed the UK to the risk of financial crime.

The size of the fine reflects the seriousness of Deutsche Banks failings. We have repeatedly told firms how to comply with our AML requirements and the failings of Deutsche Bank are simply unacceptable. Other firms should take notice of todays fine and look again at their own AML procedures to ensure they do not face similar action.

The penalties relate to the bank failing to obtain information about its customers involved in mirror trades ones which mirror each other and have no economic purpose which allowed Deutsche Banks Russia-based subsidiary (DB Moscow) to execute more than 2,400 pairs of trades between April 2012 and October 2014.

Shares in major Russian companies were paid for in roubles through the Moscow office and then the same stock would be sold through London, sometimes on the same day, for a related customer, the New York regulator said. The sellers were registered in offshore locations and received payment for the shares in dollars. A dozen entities were identified.

The FCA said the purpose of $6bn mirror trades was the conversion of roubles into US dollars and the covert transfer of those funds out of Russia, which is highly suggestive of financial crime.

The regulators found almost $3bn in 3,400 suspiciousone-sided trades also occurred. The FCA believes that some, if not all, of these formed one side of mirror trades. They were often conducted by the same customers involved in the mirror trading.

This Russian mirror-trading scheme occurred while the bank was on clear notice of serious and widespread compliance issues dating back a decade. The offsetting trades here lacked economic purpose and could have been used to facilitate money laundering or enable other illicit conduct, and todays action sends a clear message that DFS will not tolerate such conduct, said New Yorks financial services superintendent, Maria Vullo.

The FCA described Deutsche Bank as being exceptionally cooperative and having committed to solve the problems in its AML systems. The bank received a 30% discount for its cooperation. This is a contrast to 2015 when the bank was fined for rigging Libor and accused of being obstructive towards regulators in their investigations into the global manipulation of the benchmark rate.

Last year, Deutsche said, it had taken disciplinary measures with regards to certain individuals in this matter and will continue to do so with respect to others as warranted.

Five previous Deutsche fines

January 2017 500m for Russian money-laundering offences.

January 2017 75m to resolve a US government lawsuit over hiding tax liabilities to the Internal Revenue Service in 2000.

December 2016 5.9bn for toxic bond mis-selling scandal.

November 2015 200m for breaching US sanctions with Iran and Syria.

April 2015 1.7bn for rigging Libor.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jan/31/deutsche-bank-fined-630m-over-russia-money-laundering-claims


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