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By Saving the Market Today – The Fed Threatens Destruction Tomorrow

To Save The Stock Market, The Fed Threatens Destruction Of Trillions In Middle-Class Retirement

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This article was originally published by ZeroHedge.

To Save The Stock Market, The Fed Threatens Destruction Of Trillions In Middle-Class Retirement Tyler Durden Fri, 10/23/2020 - 22:20
Authored by Allan Sloan via ProPublica, The Federal Reserve, which these days seems to be the only major part of the federal government capable of operating drama-free, has done a lot to help keep our economy afloat. It has cut interest rates to unprecedented low levels, bought billions of dollars of corporate IOUs, helped stabilize the debt markets and helped rescue a stock market that had begun falling sharply in mid-February when the COVID-19 recession started and that seemed headed for a crash. In the process, the Fed has indirectly provided support to house prices and to the vital home construction business by forcing down mortgage interest rates to all-time lows of about 3%. Given that home equity is a major asset for many middle-class Americans, supporting home prices is especially important. As is supporting the home construction industry, which is a major source of blue-collar jobs. But if you dig deeper, you’ll see that the Fed is unintentionally worsening economic inequality by providing the most help to Americans who are least in need of it. And it’s also putting stress on the middle class’ most important asset: retirement benefits. Higher stock prices are great for people (including me) who own a lot of stocks, but those people are primarily the top 10% of the country, in terms of wealth. According to Fed statistics, more than half of stocks — 52% — are owned by the wealthiest 1% of Americans, and 88% are owned by the top 10%. To show you a different aspect of helping the upper class but not the working class, the Fed’s securities purchases include buying debt issued by firms that are laying off workers while paying substantial dividends to shareholders. And for some imprudent or troubled corporate borrowers, the Fed’s moves have been hugely helpful. But those moves are hurting prudent savers of modest means by greatly reducing the income they can earn on Treasury securities and other no-risk investments such as bank certificates of deposit. That tends to drive people seeking income into the stock market, where their capital is at risk. By contrast, if you buy a Treasury security, you’re sure of getting your money back when the security comes due, even though the security’s market value will fluctuate both up and down while you hold it. Interest rates are so low that they’ve largely erased the key benefit — income — Treasury bonds are theoretically supposed to provide over stocks. If you own a low-cost Standard & Poor’s 500 index fund, you’re getting much more income from dividends than the interest you’d earn having the same amount invested in a 10-year Treasury note. For example, the dividend yield (a year’s worth of dividends divided by the current market price) on Admiral shares of Vanguard’s S&P 500 fund is more than double the interest yield of a 10-year Treasury. It’s even higher than the yield on a 30-year Treasury bond, something that you rarely see. The yield on the Vanguard fund was 1.65% as of Sept. 30, the most recent available date. As I write this, the yield on a 10-year Treasury, the security it generally makes the most sense for a retail investor to buy and hold to maturity, was 0.76%. The yield on the 30-year Treasury was 1.56%. Despite its good intentions, the Fed is setting the stage for huge problems down the road for pension funds and, therefore, for potential pension recipients. There are also going to be problems for insurance companies and for other firms onto which many corporate employers have offloaded their pension obligations in order to clean up their balance sheets and minimize their future financial risks. The firms that have assumed the responsibility for paying these pensions typically own bond-heavy portfolios. And while bond prices have risen because interest rates have fallen — I’ll explain how that works some other day — rates seem much more likely to rise from their current low levels in the future than to fall even lower. And when rates rise, it will decrease the market value of the bonds held by the firms that have assumed responsibility for paying pensions. What it all adds up to: The Fed is trying to salvage the present by pumping trillions of dollars into the U.S. and world financial systems but in the process is putting our economic future at risk.
“We’re bailing out the present and making the future pay for it,” said Gene Steuerle, a co-founder of the Tax Policy Center.
Please note that I’m not blaming the Fed for what it’s doing. It’s trying to fulfill its mandate to keep employment high, inflation relatively low, the dollar reasonably stable and interest rates at what it considers an appropriate level. The Fed’s job, which is already difficult in strange and uncertain economic times like these, is being made much harder by the lack of new economic stimulus packages from Congress and the White House. These packages, as we saw when they were in effect earlier this year, not only help individuals but also stimulate the economy when recipients spend the money they’ve gotten. The Fed, by contrast, can help the financial markets and the economy but can’t directly help individual people. Now, let me show you how the Fed’s near-zero rates, the culmination of a dozen years of ultralow rates and which Fed Chair Jerome Powell says will continue indefinitely, are undermining the long-range future of the U.S. retirement system. This matters — a lot — because Fed statistics show that retirement benefits (not including Social Security) are hugely important to the middle class. Prof. Edward Wolff of New York University, who specializes in studying income and wealth inequality, told me that Fed statistics show that pension wealth accounts for 70.3% of the net worth of the middle class, which he defines as people ranking in the 20th through 80th percentiles in terms of wealth. By contrast, he said, retirement benefits are only 2.2% of the upper class’ wealth. This makes the middle class particularly vulnerable to rising rates in the future. Let’s take this piece by piece. For starters, near-zero rates are making the financial problems of the already-stressed Social Security system worse than they would otherwise be by sharply reducing the interest that Social Security can earn on its $2.9 trillion trust fund. That trust fund consists entirely of Treasury securities and is legally barred from owning stocks. That means that the fund’s interest yield is falling and it’s not benefiting from the 50% rise in stock prices since the market bottomed on March 23. The near-zero rates also affect private pensions. David Zion of Zion Research estimates that the pension funds of the Standard & Poor’s 500 companies, which he says were underfunded by a total of $279 billion at the end of 2019, were underfunded by $407 billion as of June 30. “The main driver of the increase is lower interest rates,” he said. (I’ll explain the math behind lower rates raising pensions’ underfunding in a bit.) Large as it is, the S&P companies’ total shortfall is only a fraction of the underfunding afflicting state and local government pension funds. Keith Brainard, director of research for the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, estimates that the 5,332 retirement funds sponsored by state and local governments were $1.96 trillion underwater as of June 30, the most recent available number, up from $1.90 trillion as of year-end 2019. This has happened, he said, even though the funds’ assets totaled about $4.65 trillion, an all-time high. What’s more, if you use dispassionate math rather than the generous accounting principles that public pension funds are allowed to use, you see that lower long-term interest rates are doing much more damage to these funds’ financial status than the numbers from Brainard’s organization suggest. For instance, Steve Church of Piscataqua Research estimates that the shortfalls of the 127 public pension funds that he follows, which have a total of about $4 trillion of assets, are about $7.44 trillion. That’s more than quadruple the funds’ reported $1.53 trillion shortfall. This huge difference stems mostly from different assumptions about interest rates and different ways of calculating how much money a fund needs to have on hand today to meet a future obligation. A public pension fund comes up with how much it needs to have on hand today based on the income it expects to earn on its portfolio. Corporate pension funds engage in the same process, but they are required to make far less optimistic assumptions. They have to set aside enough money to meet that obligation if the money were invested at the interest rate on high quality, long-term risk-free bonds. Let me give you one example of the difference. If a pension fund expects to pay someone $10,000 in 10 years and anticipates it will earn 7% a year, compounded, today’s cost of that benefit — what numbers crunchers call its “present value” — shows up on its books as a liability of $5,083. If, however, the fund predicts it will receive 3% per year, which is about the rate that corporate pension funds use these days, the fund would need to set aside $7,441. All of this is leading private and public pension funds to take on more risk. “When yields are low, you go looking for income somewhere else,” Zion told me. That means putting money into stocks and various aggressive (and high-cost) Wall Street schemes such as private equity and venture capital funds. In addition, some public pension funds are borrowing money to try to earn what financial types call “spread income” by investing the borrowed money in assets whose returns exceed the funds’ borrowing costs. “When the risk-free rate is zero and you need seven, that’s what prompts plans to move outside their traditional comfort zones,” Steve Foresti, chief investment officer of Wilshire Consulting, said. Foresti, who advises numerous public pension funds, says that the use of borrowed money, alternative investments and such began getting more popular about a decade ago. That’s about when the Fed knocked rates to near zero and has pretty much kept them there. One prominent example of a fund trying to borrow its way out of trouble is the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the nation’s largest government pension fund. It’s considering borrowing up to $55 billion more than it has already borrowed, hoping that its return on the assets it will buy with that borrowed money exceeds what it will pay in interest. The fund, which says it currently has about $25 billion of borrowed money for which it’s paying an average interest rate of 0.18%, now has authority to borrow up to 20% of its assets. That’s roughly $80 billion. CalPERS says borrowing has helped it because it’s been earning more on the assets it bought with the borrowed money than the interest it’s paying.
“It’s a moderate use of leverage. We will do it opportunistically and gradually,” Marcie Frost, CalPERS’ chief executive, told me. “We can tie up our capital for a long time. …We are able to be opportunistic.” However, as Frost readily acknowledges, “Leverage can exacerbate your losses.”
Or let’s look at another big fund, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, which last year lowered the assumed rate of return on its investment portfolio to 7.25% from the previous 8%. Among other things, that lower assumption is indirectly responsible for teachers, school districts and the state of Texas having to increase their future contributions to the pension fund to avoid the fund having to slash future benefits. Jase Auby, TRS’ chief investment officer, says the fund has been borrowing 4% of its assets for about a year. The idea, he said, is “to diversify away from equity risk” — the danger that stock prices will fall — caused by low interest rates. “Equity risk is greater because interest rates are low,” he said. The fund says its borrowing cost is currently about 0.25% a year. TRS says there were no specific assets financed by its borrowings​, but it’s ahead so far because its ​total fund return has exceeded its borrowing costs. If, however, the value of the assets bought with the borrowed money goes down, the fund obviously will be worse off than if it hadn’t borrowed the money. By forcing bond yields down sharply and helping drive up stock prices, the Fed’s low-interest rate regime has made 401(k) and 403(b) and other individual retirement accounts more valuable — for now — by boosting the market values of both stocks and bonds. However, these low rates are now exposing those individual accounts to considerably more risk than if stock prices were lower and bond yields higher. Why do I say this? Because high stock prices can fall — we’ve had two 50% market drops in the past 20 years — and low-yielding Treasury securities will lose value if interest rates move higher. How can U.S. Treasury securities lose value, given that the federal government can create as many dollars as it needs in order to redeem its obligations? Let’s say that you spend $10,000 to buy a 10-year Treasury note yielding 0.76%, the current rate. You’d collect $76 in interest a year, $760 over the issue’s lifetime, before getting your $10,000 back in 2030. But let’s say that a year from now, despite Fed Chair Powell’s predictions, the rate on such a security has risen to 1.76%, around where it was for parts of last year. The market value of your now-nine-year security would be only about $9,174, according to my handy-dandy online bond calculator. That $826 decline in value is more than the total interest you stand to collect over the Treasury note’s lifetime. You can take your loss directly by selling your security, or you can take it indirectly by collecting $76 of annual interest for 9 years rather than the $176 that holders of market-rate securities would be getting. I’d love to be able to quote Fed people to give you the Fed’s side of all of this. Alas, none of the people I’ve talked with or approached, some of whom I’ve known for years, are willing to be quoted by name. Privately, various Fedniks past and present readily agree that there are serious downsides to what the Fed has been doing since then-chair Ben Bernanke (who declined, through a spokeswoman, to talk with me) first cut rates to near zero in 2008 and successfully ended the stock market meltdown and financial panic. These Fedniks are also familiar with the risks that ultralow rates pose to the retirement system and the impact these rates have on economic inequality by sharply raising the values of financial assets, which are owned disproportionately by high-net-worth people, while doing relatively little for the less well off. But they won’t talk about it publicly. Still, the issue needs to be recognized. If we don’t do something to offset the damage to our retirement system, today’s problems could end up looking like a rounding error compared to what the future holds.

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University of Kentucky researchers develop online portal to show how biases in RNA sequences affect gene expression

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 29, 2022) — A recent publication from researchers at the University of Kentucky explains the importance of identifying and understanding…

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 29, 2022) — A recent publication from researchers at the University of Kentucky explains the importance of identifying and understanding how differences between tissues and cells alter gene expression without changing the underlying genetic code.

Credit: Pete Comparoni | University of Kentucky Photo

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 29, 2022) — A recent publication from researchers at the University of Kentucky explains the importance of identifying and understanding how differences between tissues and cells alter gene expression without changing the underlying genetic code.

Introductory biology classes teach that DNA is transcribed into RNA, which is then translated into proteins. However, many cellular processes affect how quickly transcription and translation occur. Gene expression looks at the differences in RNA concentrations within a cell, and it can help scientists know which genes are active within that tissue or cell.

“Changes in gene expression can significantly affect various diseases and disease trajectories,” said Justin Miller, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UK College of Medicine’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Miller, who is also affiliated with the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and Biomedical Informatics, says he and his colleagues previously developed the first algorithm to identify ramp sequences from a single gene sequence. Through their recent work, Miller and fellow UK co-authors Mark Ebbert, Ph.D., and Matthew Hodgman created an online version of that algorithm and showed that ramp sequences change between tissues and cells without changing the RNA sequence.

A ramp sequence is part of the RNA sequence that slows translation at the beginning of the gene by using codons (sequences of three DNA or RNA nucleotides) that are not easily translated. Ramp sequences counterintuitively increase overall gene expression by evenly spacing the translational machinery and preventing collisions later in translation.

In their recent publication in NAR Genomics and Bioinformatics, the researchers present the first comprehensive analysis of tissue- and cell type-specific ramp sequences and report more than 3,000 genes with ramp sequences that change between tissues and cell types, which correspond with increased gene expression within those tissues and cells.

“This research is the first time that variable ramp sequences have been described. Our comprehensive web interface allows other researchers to creatively explore ramp sequences and gene expression,” said Miller.

The research team says this work is important because while there are multiple ways for our RNA to encode the same proteins, the specific RNA sequence is important to regulate protein and RNA levels.

“Essentially, a ramp sequence works like an on-ramp to a freeway so that ribosomes do not crash into each other, but the length and speed limit of that onramp can change depending on the cell and the available resources within that cell,” Miller explained.

He says he enjoyed working on this project not only with his colleagues at UK but as well as his former colleagues at Brigham Young University and his brother, Kyle Miller, at Utah Valley University. Together, the group created a web interface for people to see how ramp sequences correspond with human and COVID-19 gene expression in different tissues and cells.

Miller says he believes this work will eventually impact patient care. “We created an online interface for researchers to query all human genes and see if a specific gene has a ramp sequence in a given tissue and how that gene is expressed within that tissue,” said Miller. “We also show that various COVID-19 genes and human entry factors for COVID-19 have ramp sequences that change between different tissues. Ramp sequences are much more likely to occur in tissues where the virus is known to proliferate.”

So, the researchers believe that COVID-19 genes have genetic biases (ramp sequences) that allow them to use the available cellular machinery to increase their expression. “Our research may help us better predict which tissues and cells new viruses will infect and also provides a potential therapeutic target to regulate tissue-specific gene expression without changing the translated protein,” said Miller.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health under Award Numbers P30AG072946 and R01AG068331, and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R35GM138636. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

This work was also funded by the BrightFocus Foundation, under awards A2020118F and A2020161S, and the Alzheimer’s Association, under award 2019-AARG-644082.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for” three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes’ list of “America’s Best Employers.”  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.


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White House Is Quietly Modeling For $200 Oil “Shock”

White House Is Quietly Modeling For $200 Oil "Shock"

While the Biden administration is hoping and praying that someone – anyone – will watch…

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White House Is Quietly Modeling For $200 Oil "Shock"

While the Biden administration is hoping and praying that someone - anyone - will watch the comical "Jan 6" kangaroo hearsay court taking place in Congress and meant to somehow block Trump from running for president in 2024 while also making hundreds of millions of Americans forget that the current administration could very well be the worst in US history, it is quietly preparing for the worst.

As none other than pro-Biden propaganda spinmaster CNN reports, when it comes to what really matters (at least according to Gallup), namely the economy, and specifically galloping gasoline prices, the White House is in a historic shambles.

For an administration that ended last year forecasting a leveling off of 40-year high inflation and eager to tout a historically rapid recovery from the pandemic-driven economic crisis, there is a level of frustration that comes with an acutely perilous moment. Asked by CNN about progress on a seemingly intractable challenge, another senior White House official responded flatly: "Which one?"

The suspects behind the historic implosion are well known: "soaring prices, teetering poll numbers and congressional majorities that appear to be on the brink have created no shortage of reasons for unease. Gas prices are hovering at or around $5 per gallon, plastered on signs and billboards across the country as a symbolic daily reminder of the reality -- one in which White House officials are extremely aware -- that the country's view of the economy is growing darker and taking Biden's political future with it."

"You don't have to be a very sophisticated person to know how lines of presidential approval and gas prices go historically in the United States," a senior White House official told CNN.

A CNN Poll of Polls average of ratings for Biden's handling of the presidency finds that 39% of Americans approve of the job he's doing. His numbers on the economy, gas prices and inflation specifically are even worse in recent polls. What CNN won't tell you is that Biden is now polling well below Trump at this time in his tenure.

The CNN article then goes into a lengthy analysis of what is behind the current gasoline crisis (those with lots of time to kill can read it here) and also tries to explains, without actually saying it, that the only thing that can fix the problem is more supply, but - as we first explained - this can't and won't happen because green fanatics and socialist environmentalists will never agree to boosting output.

Which brings us to the punchline: as CNN's Phil Mattingly writes, "instead of managing an economy in the midst of a natural rotation away from recovery and into a stable period of growth, economic officials are analyzing and modeling worst-case scenarios like what the shock of gas prices hitting $200 per barrel may mean for the economy."

Well, in an article titled "Give us a plan or give us someone to blame", this seems like both a plan, and someone to blame.

But unfortunately for Biden - and CNN which is hoping to reset expectations - it's only going to get worse, because as we noted moments ago, while nobody was paying attention, Cushing inventories dropped to just 1 million away from operational bottoms at roughly 20MM barrels. This means that the US is officially looking at tank bottoms.

But wait, there's more... or rather, it's even worse, because as even Bloomberg's chief energy guru Javier Blas notes, over the last 2 weeks, the US gov has drained 13.7 million barrels from the SPR, "and yet, commercial oil stockpiles still fell 3 million barrels over the period."

Just imagine, Blas asks rhetorically, "if the SPR wasn't there. Or what would happen post-Oct when sales end."

And here is the punchline: at the current record pace of SPR drainage, one way or another the Biden admin will have to end its artificial attempts to keep the price of oil lower some time in October (or risk entering a war with China over Taiwan with virtually no oil reserve). This means that unless Putin ends his war some time in the next 5 months, there is a non-trivial chance that oil will hit a record price around $200 - precisely the price the White House is bracing for - a few days before the midterms. While translates into $10+ gasoline.

And while one can speculate how much longer Democrats can continue the "Jan 6" dog and pony show as the entire economy implodes around them, how America will vote in November when gas is double digits should not be a mystery to anyone.

Tyler Durden Wed, 06/29/2022 - 13:05

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European Commission says it doesn’t have texts between president Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla

Under fire from the European ombudsman, the Commission said on Wednesday that it hasn’t found any text messages between president Ursula von der Leyen…

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Under fire from the European ombudsman, the Commission said on Wednesday that it hasn’t found any text messages between president Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer chief Albert Bourla regarding the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines.

The messages became of interest last April, when the New York Times reported that a series of texts and calls between von der Leyen and Bourla led to Pfizer’s largest vaccine deal — 900 million doses of the current vaccine and a vaccine adapted to variants, with the option to purchase an additional 900 million doses through 2023.

Emily O’Reilly

Upon a public access request made by a journalist, the EC responded that it had no record of them. However, it was later revealed by ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, the EU’s internal watchdog, that the EC never explicitly asked the cabinet to look for the texts.

Instead, the EC requested other documents that fall under its internal criteria for recording, which doesn’t include text messages.

O’Reilly accused the Commission of “maladministration,” and urged the administration to conduct a more thorough search.

“When it comes to the right of public access to EU documents, it is the content of the document that matters and not the device or form,” she said in a statement back in January. “If text messages concern EU policies and decisions, they should be treated as EU documents.”

On Wednesday, the EC claimed to side with O’Reilly: “The Commission and the Ombudsman agree that what matters is the content of a document,” a spokesperson said in an email to Endpoints News. 

However, the Commission maintained that the texts were not registered as documents “due to their short-lived and ephemeral nature.”

“Text and instant messages in general do not contain important information relating to policies, activities and decisions of the Commission, nor are they in the possession of the institution,” the EC shared in a letter.

The administration added that it intends to issue further guidance on the use of “modern communication tools” such as text and instant messages to clear up any confusion.

“The Ombudsman could equally be invited to participate in those discussions, if she wishes to do so,” the statement said.

Pfizer declined to comment on the content of the text messages.

Stella Kyriakides

The EC struck its third vaccine deal with Pfizer and BioNTech last May, after its other major supplier AstraZeneca ran into production issues and announced it would significantly reduce deliveries.

The contract, which called for up to 1.8 billion doses through 2023, also reserved the EU right to resell or donate doses to countries in need.

“We need to be one step ahead of the virus. This means having access to adapted vaccines to protect us against the threat of variants, booster vaccines to prolong immunity, as well as protecting our younger population,” commissioner for health and food safety Stella Kyriakides said at the time.

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