Morning in Arizona

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Rainbows over Canyonlands - Dave Stoker

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Monday, April 04, 2016

#Panama Papers

Financial Review

 #Panama Papers

DOW – 76 = 17,630
SPX – 8 = 2056
NAS – 28 = 4499
10 Y – .01 = 1.78%
OIL – 1.02 = 36.77
GOLD – 6.70 = 1216.20

On Sunday, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published a massive leak of documents, which are being called the Panama Papers. An anonymous source gave the documents to Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung and the newspaper shared them with ICIJ. Other media organizations that reported on the documents include the BBCThe Guardian and McClatchy.

The documents are from a Panama-based law firm called Mossack Fonseca, the world’s fourth biggest provider of offshore services. It has acted for more than 300,000 companies. There is a strong UK connection. More than half of the companies are registered in British-administered tax havens, as well as in the UK itself. The firm won’t discuss specific cases of alleged wrongdoing, citing client confidentiality. Mossack Fonseca says it complies with anti-money-laundering laws and carries out thorough due diligence on all its clients.

The documents show corruption and questionable business practices of the world’s politicians, billionaires, entertainers, athletes, drug barons, and others. The papers show Mossack Fonseca helped its clients launder money, dodge sanctions, and avoid paying taxes. Offshore services are not always illegal, but the documents appear to reveal a clandestine web of shell companies, their real owners concealed under layers of secrecy, and connections to firms in different tax havens. An Oxfam briefing paper dated March 14, 2016 says anonymous ownership, is “a consistent feature of international corruption cases, including money laundering and the theft of public assets”.

The names of people in more than 200 countries and territories. The 11.5 million records reveal the offshore holdings of 12 national leaders, among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.

A $2 billion trail leads all the way to Vladimir Putin. The Russian president’s best friend, a cellist named Sergei Roldugin, is at the center of a scheme in which money from Russian state banks is hidden offshore. Some of it ends up in a ski resort where in 2013 Putin’s daughter Katerina got married. the documents allege a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bank Rossiya, a Russian bank that has been blacklisted by the U.S. and the EU, laundered hundreds of millions of dollars. The Russian president is never named in the files. The Kremlin said Putin is the target of attempts to destabilize Russia through the publication of reports.

Among national leaders with offshore wealth are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt’s former president; and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson.

Iceland is already calling for snap elections and calling for the PM’s resignation. An offshore investment fund run by the father of British Prime Minister David Cameron avoided ever having to pay tax in Britain by hiring a small army of Bahamas residents to sign its paperwork. The documents also reveal offshore companies linked to the family of Xi Jinping, China’s president who has cracked down on corruption in the country.

Also political leaders or associates of leaders, past or present, from: Iraq, Qatar, Jordan, Georgia, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Sudan, Argentina, Morocco, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Ghana, Malaysia, South Africa, Spain, Peru, Columbia, Bolivia, Chile, Australia, and others. At least 57 people already linked to Brazil’s huge Petrobras corruption scandal opened offshore companies through Mossack Fonseca.

Some of the largest banks in the world were identified in the leaked documents, including: HSBC, Credit Suisse, UBS, and Societe Generale. More than 500 banks in all requested that Mossack Fonseca and a predecessor firm create shell companies for their clients from 1977 through the end of 2015, according to the ICIJ. Some of those banks, including HSBC, UBS, and Credit Suisse had entered into deferred prosecution agreements with the US Department of Justice for wrongdoing related to money laundering, rate rigging, tax evasion, and other things. It certainly looks like they might have violated their deferred prosecution agreements.

Now, consider that there are several legal firms working on creating shell companies to hide money; Mossack Fonesca is only considered the fourth largest. So, the leaked documents today are just the tip of the iceberg. In a report from 2010, the Tax Justice Network, estimate there are over 80 tax havens in the world hiding somewhere between $21 trillion and $32 trillion. To put that in perspective, the World Bank estimated the Gross World Product – adding up the GDPs of all countries – at about $62 trillion that year. Further consider that not all illegal money gets funneled through tax havens and shell corporations.

Here are some other numbers in connection with the Panama Papers. The leak includes 11.5 million documents dated from 1977 to 2015, involving 214,488 businesses and 14,153 clients. It involves 12 current or former country leaders, 61 relatives or associates of country leaders, 128 politicians or public officials, and 29 Forbes-listed billionaires in 202 countries.

The US Justice Department said this morning that it is reviewing the Panama Papers to determine whether the documents point to evidence of corruption and other violations of US law. The “Panama Papers” are being called the largest ever leak of secret data, and articles about the offshore bank accounts of the ultra-rich worldwide. There will be attempts to sweep this under the rug. And there is good reason to be suspicious.

No names of US tax evaders have been published, and one explanation is that the 2010 United States – Panama Trade Promotion Agreement included a taxation clause that effectively shut down any chance of rich Americans using Panama as a tax shelter. But the documents go back for many years and not all the documents have been published.

One article I read today suggested that Americans are more honest than the rest of the world and we just don’t want to be bothered with the difficulty of setting up tax haven accounts. That goes beyond naïve to the realm of pure bull. Another possible explanation is that the “International Consortium of Investigative Journalists” is funded and organized entirely by the USA’s Center for Public Integrity, which is funded by the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Endowment, Rockefeller Family Fund, Kellogg Foundation, and George Soros’ Open Society Foundation.

The people named in today’s release reads like a who’s who of people at odds with the US in one way or another. At least 33 people and companies listed in the documents were blacklisted by the US government for wrongdoing. The selective release of the leaked documents presents an opportunity to smear or blackmail or otherwise incriminate. More than 1,000 Germans are named in the leaked Panama Papers; it would be incredibly naïve to imagine no US politicians or business leaders have been involved in tax haven schemes.

It seems it will just be a matter of time until we hear some big names from the US. In a tweet this morning, the Editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung responded to the lack of U.S. individuals in the documents, saying “Just wait for what is coming next”.

OK, I just hope I don’t have to wait too long.

Factory orders fell 1.7%, marking the third fall in four months. The Commerce Department reports orders for durable goods were revised to show a 3% decline instead of the previously reported 2.8% fall. Orders for equipment in the hard-hit mining sector, which includes the oil field and gas field machinery segment dropped by 20.1%. Those for nondefense aircraft dropped by 27.2%, and for defense aircraft by 28%. Shipments fell 0.7%, the tenth drop in 11 months. Inventories fell 0.4%, the eighth straight monthly decline.

Iran’s oil minister said the country’s oil exports jumped in March to surpass 2 million barrels a day and Iran will continue increasing oil production and exports until it reaches the market position it enjoyed before the imposition of sanctions. Saudi Arabia, which spearheaded an initial proposal in February for producers to limit output, said last week that it would not join any effort to do so unless Iran were on board, while Russia reported its highest oil production in 30 years.

The US Supreme Court rejected Wal-Mart’s bid to throw out a more than $150 million class action judgment over the retailers’ treatment of workers in Pennsylvania. The justices declined to hear a Wal-Mart appeal, leaving intact a 2014 ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that largely upheld a lower court judgment awarding $187 million to the plaintiffs. The case affects about 187,000 Wal-Mart employees who worked in Pennsylvania between 1998 and 2006. The Pennsylvania court mostly upheld a 2007 lower court ruling in favor of the employees, who said the company failed to pay them for all hours worked and prevented them from taking full meal and rest breaks.

Alaska Air has agreed to pay $2.6 billion for Virgin America, beating rival JetBlue’s bid (and leapfrogging the carrier) to become the fifth-largest U.S. airline by traffic. Alaska’s offer of $57 per share in cash represents a premium of about 47% to Virgin’s Friday’s close, and will allow it to heavily expand its presence on the U.S. West Coast. Virgin America is 54% owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and New York-based Cyrus Capital Partners.

Network gear maker Brocade Communications Systems says it will buy Ruckus Wireless in a cash and stock deal worth about $1.5 billion to add Ruckus’s Wi-Fi products to its enterprise networking business. Based on Friday’s closing prices, the deal values Sunnyvale, California-based Ruckus at $14.43 per share, a premium of 44 percent.

Blackstone Group is buying a majority stake in Indian IT outsourcing services provider Mphasis Ltd. from Hewlett Packard Enterprise in a $1.1 billion all-cash deal. India’s IT and software services export revenue is likely to grow by 10-12 percent in the fiscal year beginning on April 1 to as much as $121 billion.

After successfully hacking the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone last week, the FBI has assured law enforcement across the US that it will help unlock mobile devices involved in investigations when it is allowed by law and policy. But according to Apple engineers, the agency’s method for breaking into the locked iPhone 5c is unlikely to stay secret for long. Once it is exposed, the company will try to plug the encryption hole to help insure customer’s privacy.

Orders for Tesla Motors’ new Model 3 electric sedan topped 275,00 by the end of Saturday, a fast start for the company’s first mass-market vehicle, which may not begin to reach customers for another 18 months or more. With a base price of $35,000, the weekend pre-orders for the model are bound to put another $10 billion in Tesla’s bank account.

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