JBS CEO Art Thompson's weekly video news update for November 21-27, 2011.

Moody’s rating service warned on Monday that France’s coveted triple-A credit rating is in jeopardy as a result of the country’s “elevated borrowing costs … amid a deteriorating growth outlook.” Senior credit officer Alexander Kockerbeck said “As we noted in recent publications, the deterioration in debt metrics and the potential for further liabilities to emerge are exerting pressure on France’s creditworthiness and the [current] stable outlook of the government’s Aaa debt rating.”

In May of this year Fitch Ratings confirmed France’s triple-A rating with a “stable” outlook but warned that “continued fiscal consolidation is needed to stabilize and then start to reduce public debt, which reached 81.7 percent of GDP as of [the end of] 2012.”

 

According to the Swiss newspaper The Local, last week "[t]he European Union said ... it is helping Greece negotiate with Switzerland in a bid to claw back some of the €60 billion [$81 billion] in unpaid taxes believed to be hidden in Swiss banks."

Horst Reinchenbach, the German head of a task force advising Greece on its economy, acknowledged that the group of European Union experts had made "few concrete steps" forward, adding, "Solutions are being explored to provide Greece with an adequate way to increase tax revenue....

Another EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated, "We want Greece to get the best deal possible using EU and IMF [International Monetary Fund] experience and legal support." The official commented that of the missing €60 billion in taxes, just half is "theoretically collectible" and only €8 billion is likely to be recovered "sooner or later."

 

In 2006, Democratic Representatives Louise Slaughter and Tim Walz introduced the STOCK Act (Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge), intended to stop members of Congress from benefiting from insider knowledge of stocks. The legislation was placed on the congressional backburner — that is, until it was featured on CBS’s 60 Minutes. Now the bill has moved to center stage and has garnered a significant number of co-sponsors in the Congress.

The 60 Minutes episode aired on Sunday, November 13, and by the following Friday, the number of co-sponsors of the bill had shot from 9 to 91.

The CBS report incriminated congressmen on both sides of the aisle, specifically citing three: Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and John Boehner (R-Ohio). According to 60 Minutes, Spencer Bachus bet on option funds which would increase in value after the stock market dropped. He took that action after having sat in on several confidential meetings in September of 2008 regarding the nation’s financial crisis.

Likewise, Nancy Pelosi, 2007-2010 Speaker of the House, invested in a stock offering from Visa in 2008 while simultaneously preventing a bill on tough Visa regulations from making it to the House floor for a vote.

When Jack Daniel founded a whiskey distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, in 1875, he could little have guessed that over a century and a quarter later, the company would be so wildly successful or have remained in the same county the entire time. But now, nothing less than taxes might drive it to another state.

Jack Daniel’s is the largest employer in Moore County (pop. 5,740) and accounts for a third of its tax base. According to FoxNews.com Oct. 21, 60 percent of the price of a bottle of the company’s whiskey is some form of tax. The company is also the largest sales-tax generator in the county. As such, Senior VP and General Manager Tommy Beam said the company is contributing its fair share. Yet a private citizen is leading the effort to increase the distiller’s taxes by another $10 per barrel. Charles Rogers claims “We are entitled to more money from the only industry in the county — Jack Daniel’s distillery. They (Jack Daniel’s) created the image of this little old hamlet down here being the place where this fantastic whiskey is being made. And the people didn’t realize what was going on. They were being marketed all over the world as ‘the place.’ ” Rogers says the Daniel’s image comes from the town and that the community is entitled to the money the same way a film company pays “usage fees” for a location.

Beam said, “It’s a job killer because it ups our costs. We’re competing in a global marketplace.” The tax would cost the company an additional $4 million a year, a cost that would undoubtedly be passed on to the consumer. Or, as Beam says, “We have been able to hire 25 or 30 people in the last four or five months. And if our costs go up $4 or $5 million dollars, that’s probably going to make us a little less competitive. So, we might not grow as much.”

On Wednesday Wells Fargo released the results of its survey of 1,500 individuals between ages 25 and 75, titling it “80 is the New 65 for Many Middle Class Americans” while another study in June by three financial service non-profits showed three-quarters of those surveyed planning to work beyond age 65.

The first survey focused on middle class (incomes between $25,000 and $100,000 a year) citizens while the second concentrated on higher net worth individuals (those between ages 55 and 75 with investable assets of $100,000 or more) but the results were remarkably similar.

The Wells Fargo study found that one quarter of middle class Americans say they will “need to work until at least 80” to pay their bills, while three-quarters are expecting to work at least part time to help with the bills.  And when those between ages 40 and 60 were quizzed, more than half say they will “need to work” after age 65.

When asked about reforming Social Security and Medicare, the younger Wells Fargo respondents were willing to accept future cuts to help reduce the country’s debt burden. The study also revealed expectations from those younger respondents about actually receiving anything from Social Security at all: more than a quarter of those in their 20s and 30s expect to receive nothing at all while others surveyed expect significant reductions in benefits by the time they qualify for them.

Barring a miracle, the Supercommittee will announce Monday morning its failure at coming up with legislation to reduce the projected combined federal budget deficits over 10 years by $1.2 trillion, or $120 billion per year, starting in January 2013. Without enactment of these cuts, under the Budget Control Act the automatic option, called a sequester, will kick in, with $600 billion of the $1.22 trillion in cuts coming from defense spending. Social Security, Medicaid, and other low-income programs are exempt from the cuts, and cuts to Medicare would be modest.

Of course, there is the slim possiblity that the Supercommittee could come up with the cuts, in which case Congress would be expected to vote the legislation up or down without amendment. There are other possibilities too. The Supercommittee could “split the baby” and come up with a bipartisan deal that cuts less than the $1.2 trillion, leaving Congress to find the balance before the automatic cuts kick in. The Supercommittee could even hand Congress a package that includes tax increases as well as spending cuts.

But as of this writing, these possibilities appear unlikely. What appears more likely to happen is that, following a failure of the Supercommittee to present a bill, Congress will abolish the Supercommittee and its automatic cuts and once again begin exercising its constitutional authority regarding spending.

Expressions of joy were muted on Wall Street at Friday's release of the latest report from the Conference Board (CB) showing its Leading Economic Index (LEI) jumping 0.9 percent in October, following just a 0.1 percent gain in September. Economic analysts had a field day trying to read the CB’s tea leaves heading into the Christmas holidays and the new year.

Economists at the Conference Board were guardedly optimistic. Ataman Oxyildirim said, “The October rebound of the LEI largely due to the sharp pickup in housing permits suggests that the risk of an economic downturn has receded.”  Added Ken Goldstein, “The LEI is pointing to continued growth this winter, possibly even gaining a little momentum by spring. The lack of confidence has been the biggest obstacle in generating forward momentum, domestically or globally. As long as it lasts, there is a glimmer of hope.”

 

Thursday’s article in The New York Times by writers Jack Ewing and Nicholas Kulish about the “rift” between factions over the role of the European Central Bank (ECB) was a distraction and misdirected attention from what is really happening there. The piece makes it sound as though the ECB is standing firm against pressures to have it buy up the debt from Greece and Italy in order to keep the debt “contagion” from spreading elsewhere.

For instance, the article quotes Spain’s Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, as saying that he expected the ECB to do whatever was necessary, for “this is what we transferred power for … [to] defend the common policy and its countries.” Of course Zapatero would have to say that or he would be gone, just as unelected bankers replaced elected leaders in Greece and Italy. Just a reminder as to who is in charge was reflected by the recent rise in Spain’s borrowing costs, the highest since 1997, and exceeding the “default” level of 7 percent on its 10-year bond. But nothing was said in the article that Zapatero’s comments reflected a desire to save his skin.

In fact the ECB has been taking an active role economically and politically by buying up the debt of those countries in massive amounts, already in excess of $250 billion, and manipulating interest rates to favor the newly installed rulers Mario Monti in Italy and Lucas Papademos in Greece. But authors Ewing and Kulish prefer to present the ECB as being run by “fiercely conservative stewards” who have “steadfastly resisted letting it take up the mantle of lender of last resort.” And to support that falsehood the authors enlisted the help of experts closely tied to the creation of the ECB and to its ultimate purpose as a tool to install a European dictatorship.

When considering what is the “establishment” in America, college students are never told that this group includes powerful labor unions, the news media, or state-supported academia. Hence, why the “Occupy D.C.” encampment, an offspring of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, and other "Occupy" movements are leaning heavily upon big labor to support their protests despite the fact that big unions, in a fashion similar to big finance, buy off politicians in return for government action that is not in the interest of the public at large, but only to the benefit of unions — such as the National Labor Relations Board's attacks on Boeing at the behest of unions for opening a plant in a right-to-work state.

On November 15, demonstrators from Occupy D.C. were removed from the Victor Building in Washington, but the Washington Times reports that big labor unions have provided accommodations to that group.

The Service Employees International Union has given Occupy D.C. portable toilets. The AFL-CIO headquarters has a gym with showers, and as Jeff Hauser of that union says: “We happen to have a few showers associated with our small gym…. We make those available. It happened kind of naturally. We’ve talked with them about the needs they’ve expressed. This really helps them and it’s not a heavy lift on our part. “The rise of inequality, the job crisis — we’re thankful their creative energy and persistence has helped elevate these critical issues. We want to be supportive.”

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