Greek bank deposits rise 3.5 percent, Euro zone future uncertain

“Greek business and household bank deposits rose for a fourth consecutive month in December as uncertainty over the country’s future in the euro zone membership, central bank data showed on Monday.

Bank of Greece data showed deposits increased by 3.5 percent to 161.36 billion euros at the end of December from 155.89 billion euros in the previous month, the biggest monthly inflow in four years. Since reaching a bottom in June 2012, 11.3 billion euros have returned to the banking system,” Harry Papachristou reported for Reuters in Athens yesterday. Papachristou continued, “Banks lost about a third of their deposits since the country’s debt crisis erupted in late 2009, partly due to capital flight on fears of a euro zone exit. The shrinking deposit base added to strains on Greek lenders, which lost access to international funding markets and have come to depend on central bank funding for their liquidity. Banks saw deposit inflows over the past few months as confidence grew that Greece’s European partners would continue bankrolling the country to keep it in the euro zone.” Article link. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS

One step closer to searching for extra-terrestrial microorganisms

“An American attempt to bore down into Lake Whillans, a body of water buried almost 1km under the Antarctic ice, has achieved its aim.  Scientists reported on Sunday that sensors on their drill system had noted a change in pressure, indicating contact had been made with the lake. A camera was then sent down to verify the breakthrough. The Whillans project is one of a number of such ventures trying to investigate Antarctica’s buried lakes,” BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos wrote on the news outlet’s website yesterday. Amos continued, “…The intention, now that the hole is secure, is to lower various sampling tools and sensors into the lake to study its properties and environment. Some of the samples will be assessed onsite at the ice surface in temporary labs, and others will be returned to partner universities for more extensive analysis… …These under-ice environments may also provide fascinating insights into the potential habitability of some moons in the Solar System. Europa, a satellite of Jupiter, and Enceladus, which orbits Saturn, both have large volumes of liquid water buried beneath their icy crusts.  Astrobiologists think such moons are promising places to go look for extra-terrestrial microorganisms. Dr David Pearce from the UK’s Ellsworth team described the Whillans breakthrough as ‘exciting’. ‘I always viewed the projects as very complementary,’ the British Antarctic Survey researcher told BBC News. ‘The Ellsworth project was very much in the Trans-Antarctic Mountains, at the highest point. Vostok was on the plateau region in the central East Antarctic, and the Whillans project was towards the coast in a delta region; and between the three projects, they would have given us a really good understanding of what’s happening under the ice,’ he explained.” Read the full article here. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS

Orca documentary screens at Sundance, probes $2 billion SeaWorld

“Three weeks after SeaWorld issued an initial public offering on Wall Street, a new movie at the Sundance Film Festival stands a good chance of putting the $2-billion theme park out of business.

Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a 12,000-pound orca linked to the death of three people, the details of which remained sketchy until director Gabriela Cowperthwaite decided to dive into a bloody pool of controversy, commerce and human-animal dynamics in her new documentary. The results are dramatic and feature some of the most horrific footage unspooling here in Park City. From never-before-seen images of trainers being dragged underwater by the orca, to clips of killer whale captures, Blackfish is making a splash big enough to transform public opinion about all animal captivity.” Katherine Monk wrote for Postmedia News, republished by the National Post earlier in the week. Monk continued, “Cowperthwaite says she is not an activist, and had no intention of proselytizing when she set out to make her feature. A veteran documentarian who has worked with ESPN and National Geographic, she says she felt there was a compelling story to tell in the wake of Dawn Brancheau’s death in February 2010. Brancheau was a veteran trainer who was dragged and killed by Tilikum after a ‘Dine with Shamu’ show. According to the 911 call we hear in the opening frames of the film, the whale also ate her arm. ‘I had a burning question: Why would a 15-year veteran SeaWorld trainer come to be killed by a highly intelligent animal?’ Cowperthwaite says. ‘She’d worked with the whale for years. You hear of pit bulls mauling other people but not their masters, so why would a whale bite the hands that feed it? That was my entry point.'” Read the full article here. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS

Bank of Canada senior member speaks of oil infrastructure investments

“Just because the Bank of Canada hasn’t altered interest rates for more than two years doesn’t mean policy makers have been idle.

With little room to manoeuvre on policy, Governor Mark Carney and his deputies have been conducting something of a stress test on the Canadian economy. Their speeches, interest-rate announcements, and quarterly reports have become the most important sources of insight into Canada’s economic strengths – and more importantly, its weaknesses,” Kevin Carmichael wrote for The Globe and Mail on Wednesday. Carmichael continued, “There is no more galling weakness than the gap between the world price of oil and the much lower price Western Canadian oil fetches in the United States. It’s the opportunity cost of all opportunity costs. Back in April, when the central bank brought the price difference to a wider audience, the world price of oil was about $35 (U.S.) a barrel higher than Western Canadian Select. According to Charles St-Arnaud, a former Bank of Canada economist who now works for Nomura in New York, the spread now is about $50, a shift that is costing Canada about $1.5-billion a month… …’Our challenge is to develop our commodities intelligently and sustainably and to ensure that the whole country benefits,’ Tiff Macklem, the Bank of Canada’s senior deputy governor, said in a speech earlier this month in Kingston, Ont. “Infrastructure investments in pipelines and refineries to get Western heavy oil…to Central Canada and to foreign markets would bring more of the benefits of the commodity boom to more of the country.” Read the full article here. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS

Dissecting US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

“His stewardship of the US government finances came during some of its most stormy periods. As Timothy Geithner leaves the treasury, how will he be remembered? When Mr Geithner took office as America’s treasury secretary in January 2009, the economy was a shambles.

The country was haemorrhaging jobs (almost 600,000 that month), home foreclosures were up 18% from the previous year, and the banking sector was in the midst of a deep crisis,” Michelle Fleury wrote for a BBC News online article last week. Fleury continued, “Is it any surprise that Mr Geithner has opted not to stay on for a second term? Now, as he packs his bags and prepares to leave Washington, Mr Geithner leaves behind a decidedly mixed legacy. Recycling ideas? In his early days on the job, his major priority was to help rebuild America’s shattered financial system. If Wall Street wasn’t fixed, he argued, the broader economy would struggle. Those fixes, however, would prove controversial.

On 10 February 2009, he outlined proposals to stabilise banks by having the federal government and the private sector buy some of the more toxic, hard-to-sell assets that were dragging those institutions down financially. He also mandated that they undergo stress tests to determine if they had enough capital on hand.”

Read the full article here. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS

Excitement over Detroit car show exposes Michigan troubles

“Car sales are soaring, carmakers are hiring thousands of workers, and memories of the recent bankruptcies of two of Detroit’s “big three” companies already seem like distant memories – even though fewer than four years have passed since the crisis. So it is a buoyant industry that is gathering at the Detroit motor show, which is scheduled to feature the unveiling of more than 50 new cars,” Jorn Madslien wrote in a BBC online article earlier this week. Madslien continued, “‘I think in Detroit you see things of an international nature that you don’t necessarily see at other shows,’ Mark Reuss, president of General Motors North America, tells BBC News. But with light trucks – both pick-ups and sports utility vehicles (SUVs) – remaining central to GM’s success, there will also be models on show that will be sold mainly in the US market, such as the upgraded Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra models, according to Mr Reuss. Ford’s F-150, the best-selling vehicle in the US for decades, is set to be the chief rival… …But as 2013 gets under way, it is clear that the industry’s revival is not reflected by the economic health of the city that hosts the show.

For years, Detroit has been a depressed city in a recession-hit state Detroit has long been struggling to tackle a £327m budget deficit and it appears to be constantly on the verge of running out of cash.

The situation is so serious that the State of Michigan government is considering intervening by appointing an emergency manager to take charge of the city’s finances. Measures such as job cuts, pay cuts and changes to benefits for city employees are currently being pushed through to prevent this, as it is seen as a step only just short of bankruptcy,” the article continued. Read the full article here. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS

Harper extends $250 million auto fund citing investment benefits

“The federal government announced a five-year extension of its $250-million Automotive Innovation Fund Friday that was immediately deemed by some industry observers as the ongoing cost of Canada’s continued participating in the North American auto industry. Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the announcement at Ford Motor Co.’s plant in Oakville, Ont., alongside federal labour minister, Lisa Raitt,” Scott Deveau wrote for the Financial Post late last week. Deveau continued, “Mr. Harper said the decision was made to extend the funding because, to date, it has returned six times what the government has invested to the Canadian economy. ‘We’re in a globally competitive economy where there’s real fierce competition for the central core of this business, which is the assembly plants and the activities they undertake, because those things spin off a whole wide range of economic activity,’ he said at a press conference. ‘Any analysis of this fund [shows that] what we have invested from taxpayer dollars has been paid back many, many times,’ he added. The Automotive Innovation Fund was originally established in the 2008 federal budget to provide $250 million in federal funding over five years to automotive companies in support of strategic, large-scale research and development projects and other investments aimed at producing greener and more fuel-efficient vehicles. Read the full article here. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS

Mexico City government aims to tame and transform

“The plan is as big as this mammoth city: Turn a seedy metro hub into Mexico City’s Times Square; clear swarms of feisty vendors and remodel the historic Alameda Central; illuminate the plazas and walkways of a park twice the size of New York’s Central Park. Mexico City’s government is trying to transform one of the world’s largest cities by beautifying public spaces, parks and monuments buried beneath a sea of honking cars, street hawkers, billboards and grime following decades of dizzying urban growth,” Adriana Gómez Licón wrote for The Associated Press, republished by The Globe and Mail last week. Licón continued, “Despite the challenges, the ambitious, multimillion-dollar program carried out by former centre-left mayor Marcelo Ebrard and continued by his successor, Miguel Angel Mancera, is winning praise from urban planners and many residents. And it’s turning the metropolis into an experiment in how to soften urban sprawl. ‘It’s time to tame the city,’ said Juan Carlos de Leo Gandara, head of the Iberoamerican University’s sustainable urban projects. ‘Today is about giving the city back to pedestrians.’ In the Alameda, concrete sidewalks were replaced by marble, and makeshift vendor stands were kicked out – a renovation that cost about $18.7-million. Instead of a motley patchwork of folding tables and tarps, the newly opened park is a sea of greenery and calm in the midst of racing traffic. In the Alameda, concrete sidewalks were replaced by marble, and makeshift vendor stands were kicked out – a renovation that cost about $18.7-million. Instead of a motley patchwork of folding tables and tarps, the newly opened park is a sea of greenery and calm in the midst of racing traffic.

‘It used to be very dark, with no lighting. It really wasn’t a place to bring my son,’ said Alma Rosa Romero, a 32-year-old housewife standing by the new dancing-water fountains, holding her child’s hand. ‘Now it’s beautiful.’ Other completed projects include a once-neglected plaza with an Arc de Triomphe-style monument to Mexico’s 1910 revolution, which has been remade at a cost of $28.6-million from a homeless encampment to an oasis where families frolic and children run through spurts of water gushing out of the pavement. The copper dome of what started out as the country’s Congress building is newly polished and gleaming.” Read the full article here. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS    

US Senate votes to ‘avoid imminent tax hikes and spending cuts’

“The Senate moved the U.S. economy back from the edge of a “fiscal cliff” on Tuesday, voting to avoid imminent tax hikes and spending cuts in a bipartisan deal that could still face stiff challenges in the House of Representatives. In a rare New Year’s session at around 2 a.m. EST (0700 GMT), senators voted 89-8 to raise some taxes on the wealthy while making permanent low tax rates on the middle class that have been in place for a decade,” David Lawder and Richard Cowan wrote for Reuters from Washington today. Lawder and Cowan continued, “But the measure did little to rein in huge annual budget deficits that have helped push the U.S. debt to $16.4 trillion. The agreement came too late for Congress to meet its own deadline of New Year’s Eve for passing laws to halt $600 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts which strictly speaking came into force on Tuesday. But with the New Year’s Day holiday, there was no real world impact and Congress still had time to draw up legislation, approve it and backdate it to avoid the harsh fiscal measures. That will need the backing of the House where many of the Republicans who control the chamber complain that President Barack Obama has shown little interest in cutting government spending and is too concerned with raising taxes. Read the full article here. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS

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