Repo Commentary-02/03/19

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I am honored to have been selected to be the Chairperson of the upcoming 25th (Silver Anniversary) IMN Beneficial Owners’ International Securities Finance & Collateral Management Conference 2/5-2/6 in Fort Lauderdale at the Ritz-Carlton, and to add my disruptive touch to make it fresh again. I hope to see all of you readers there, particularly all of the customers, who can attend for FREE. It is less than a week away, so you are running out of time to register and escape the bitter cold weather up north!

The focuses (or foci) will be on women on Wall Street, alternative repo efforts, financial technology, repo reinvestment (not just securities lending), and regulatory reforms (not only the ones approved after the Financial Crisis by the G20, FSB, and FSOC, but also new ones that have emerged in the last year, like SFTR, MiFID II, etc.)

My Repo Commentary is posted on my website: http://www.repocommentary.com. It also pops up on LinkedIn, the Global Investors Group (ISF Magazine) website, and on CentralBanks.com as an op-ed.

If you need to reach me, my cell is still 646-753-1300, my email for work is jeffkidwell82@gmail.com, and you can also hit me up on LinkedIn.

Since its inception in 1982, the Repo Commentary does not represent the views of any of my former firms and reflects only my opinion and includes only publicly available information. I make a strong effort to attribute any quotes or thoughts that are not my own, I do not make any marketing spiels, and I really am more interested (70-80%) in entertaining you than boring (20-30%) you with too much market info. Feel free, as always, to send me information or pictures. Also, please send me feedback, as I want to make it better all the time.

02/03 Holidays or Events:

• Day of the Virgin of Suyapa (Honduras)
• Four Chaplains Day (US Episcopal Church)
• Communist Party of Vietnam Foundation Anniversary
• Heroes’ Day in Mozambique
• Martyr’s Day (Sao Tome and Principe)
• Setsubun (Japan)
• Veterans’ Day (Thailand)
• Dump Your Significant Jerk Day
• Elmo’s Birthday
• National Cordova Ice Worm Day
• National Patient Recognition Day
• National Carrot Cake Day
• National Missing Persons Day
• National Wedding Ring Day
• National Women Physicians Day
• Take a Cruise Day
• The The Music Died
• Super Chicken Wing Day
• Popcorn Day
• Feed the Birds Day

Some Famous People Born 02/03 in History:

• 1338-Joanna of Bourbon
• 1809-Felix Mendelssohn, German pianist, composer, conductor
• 1857-Giuseppe Moretti, Italian sculptor
• 1859-Hugo Junkers, German engineer who invented the Junkers aircraft used in WWII
• 1874-Gertrude Stein, American novelist, poet, playwright
• 1894-Norman Rockwell, American painter and illustrator
• 1904-Pretty Boy Floyd, American gangster
• 1907-James Michener, American author and philanthropist
• 1914-Mary Carlisle, American actress, singer, and dancer
• 1918-Joey Bishop, American actor and producer
• 1920-Henry Heimlich, American physician and author and inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver
• 1940-Fran Tarkenton, American NFL player
• 1943-Blythe Danner, American actress and mother of Gwyneth Paltrow
• 1945-Bob Griese, American NFL player
• 1949-Jim Thorpe, American golfer
• 1950-Morgan Fairchild, American actress
• 1952-Fred Lynn, American MLB player
• 1956-Nathan Lane, American actor and comedian
• 1965-Maura Tierney, American actress and producer
• 1966-Vlade Divac, Serbian-American NBA player
• 1969-Retief Goosen, South African golfer

Fun Fact of the Day:

The South Pacific (and seismically very active) island of Vanuatu banned the imports of Western junk food, as a way to combat future health problems.

Daily Affirmation/Thought/Pun/Quote:

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”—Pablo Picasso

International and Commodity Markets:

Oil prices closed at $74.34/barrel on 10/5, $47.66/barrel on 12/23, $48.63 on 01/07, $52.31/barrel on 01/16, and $55.26 on 2/3. The price of gasoline at my new West Palm Beach station moved from $1.86/gallon on 01/07 to $1.97/gallon on 01/16 and now to $2.09. The USD has been taking a beating versus other currencies, due to the budget impasse and current US government shutdown. versus the Yen was trading at $112.20 on 12/24, was $108.60 on 01/07, 109.07 on 01/16, and 103.18 on 02/03. The USD was at $1.1426 versus the Euro on 12/24, but on 01/07 was at $1.1478, and a bit stronger on 01/16 at $1.1396. On 02/03 it is $1.2047, quite a bit weaker again. The USD was at $1.2655 against the British Pound on 12/24, but on 01/07 was at $1.2770, and even weaker on 01/16 at $1.2880. It is even much weaker on 02/03 at $1.3758. The USD versus the CAD was $1.3442 on 12/24, but at $1.3297 on 01/07, and at $1.3255 on 01/16. It is much weaker on 02/03 at $1.2492. Gold closed 10/5 at $1204.10/ounce, 12/24 at $1256.70/ounce, 01/07 at $1288.85/ounce, 01/16 at $1293.50, and 02/03 at $1,322.10, reflecting the continued uncertainty of the markets and flight to gold. Bitcoin was trading at $8,185.21 on 7/25, at $6,350 on 10/5, and $3,774.97 on 12/24. On 01/07 it was at at $3,7774.97. On 01/16, it took some more of a beating, down to $3,598.90. Today, it is down more, to $3,421.10. So, it appears that PM May is now facing a potential historic defeat on Brexit and the EU is telling her that “time is almost up.” EU has expressed horror that UK Parliament defeated the Brexit deal agreed to by May in a new Brexit vote and has refused to renegotiate the deal. Analysts and the EU fear that the likelihood of the UK just ‘tumbling’ out of the EU without a negotiated deal is a higher prospect now. High-level talks between the US and China are reportedly “going well”, but there won’t be a deal until the two leaders meet, according to President Trump. They have to come up with some deal before March 1, when US tariffs on Chinese goods will increase to 25%. Meanwhile, the DOJ has charged the CFO and daughter rof CEO of Hauwe of illegally doing business with Iran, ignoring US sanctions, as well as copyright infringement.

Global Financial News:

Some headlines just write themselves (this to the several journalists who read the Repo Commentary), as “General Electric Says It Sees A Brighter Future For The Company”. A light bulb just blinked ‘on’ over my head. CEO Larry Culp delivered the good news, while delivering the weak Q4 profit news. The company is still in the middle of a $30 billion turnaround plan. In order to raise more cash, the Financial Times says GE will sell its stake in oil company Baker Hughes, as well as selling almost half of its healthcare business. I’m just noting that this turnaround plan has seen a lot of selling off of a lot of other businesses that were very different from the key businesses of the industrial giant, kind of a counterpoint to the answer is to always diversify revenue sources I guess. I saw on Bloomberg yesterday that a good friend of mine and former colleague, Bob Hershy, has just retired after 30 years at Morgan Stanley. I remember the day he started. I’m jealous! Goldman Sachs executives could lose $millions in bonuses over Malaysia scandal.

US Market News:

The Dow Jones closed at 26,656.77 on 9/20, closed at 26,447.05 on 10/5, closed at 21,792.20 on 12/23, closed at 21,712.53 on 12/26, closed at 24,207.16 on 01/16, and closed Friday at 25,063.89, still roaring back. S&P 500 also gave up its all-time high on 9/20 of 2,930.66, closing on 10/5 at 2,885.58, then on 12/26 at 2,467.70, then on 1/7 at 2,549.69 close, then on 01/16 at 2,616.10. It closed Friday at 2,706.53. Nasdaq too gave up its 8/28 high of 8,030.04, closing 10/5 at 7,788.45, then 12/26 at 6,554.36, then 01/07 at 6,823.47, then 01/16 at 7,034.70. It closed Friday at 7,263.87.

US Treasury yields had gotten much higher on 9/20, in advance of the 9/26 FOMC meeting, rose still higher after the meeting and then plummeted with the drop in Equities, and have continued to drop and even invert since. On 10/5, 2years closed at 2.88%, closed 12/18 at 2.65%, closed 01/07 at 2.53%, closed 01/16 at 2.55%, and Friday at 2.52%; on 10/5, 3years closed at 2.99%, closed on 12/18 at 2.64%, closed 01/07 at 2.47% (inverted to 2years), closed 01/16 at 2.53%, still inverted, and closed Friday at 2.50%, still inverted; on 10/5, 5years closed at 3.07%, closed on 12/18 at 2.65%, closed 01/07 at 2.49%, closed 01/16 at 2.54%, and closed Friday at 2.51%; on 10/5, 7years closed at 3.18%, closed at 2.74% on 12/18, closed on 01/07 at 2.60%, closed 01/16 at 2.62%, and closed Friday at 2.59%; on 10/5, 10years closed at 3.23%, closed at 2.82% on 12/18, closed on 01/07 at 2.70%, closed 01/16 at 2.73%, and closed Friday at 2.70%; and on 10/5, 30years closed at 3.40%, closed at 3.07% on 12/18, closed at 2.99% on 01/07, closed at 3.07% on 01/16, and closed Friday at 3.03%.

Housing News:

US Home Sales plummeted in December by almost 11% and the annual price growth rate showed the smallest increase in 6 years, according to data from Redfin. Inventories are starting to increase and buyers are taking more time and clearly now have the upper hand. One possible silver lining which could help going forward, is that 30-year mortgage rates peaked in November at 4.94%, up a full percentage point since the beginning of 2018, but have since fallen to 4.45%. Perhaps, with lower mortgage rates, affordability will increase and lead to higher demand. The most expensive home in US history, called a “billionaire’s bunker”, has just been purchased for $238 million, in NYC. The four-story condo was purchased by a hedge fund manager, Ken Griffin, on Central Park South. He also owns a $58.75 million condo in Chicago, a $60 million penthouse at Faena House in Miami, $250 million worth of land in Palm Beach, and a $122 million mansion in London. His neighbors to the massive 24,000-square-foot apartment, in the same building, will be Sting and Trudie Styler. If you are in the market to buy a new home, experts at Realtor.com say you should watch for 7 red flags in a neighborhood:

1. Too many houses are on the market on the same street.
2. The schools are enrolling fewer students.
3. The area is leaning towards industrial.
4. There are many empty storefronts.
5. The houses are all identical, even down to the decorative details.
6. There’s no parking.
7. The surrounding homes are not well-maintained.

Repo News:  

A little more about year-end 2018. I didn’t bring it up this time. It turns out that the Financial Times did a piece today on the implications of the year-end funding squeeze of 2018, and I am honored that they used my Repo Commentary quotes to kick off a very deep discussion about regulatory impact and alternative repo impact on GSIBs’ opportunistic use of excess liquidity. The author does a great job of describing how GSIBs now can become proxy central banks in these moments, mostly because of the regulations forced on them (an intended or unintended consequence of regulators) and dole out cash as they see fit (not necessarily at IOER or at Fed target rates) when rates get high enough to make it profitable. I had been addressing liquidity, instigated by Steve Malekian’s article on how banks were now doling out liquidity to ‘platinum’ customers. So, even though liquidity was greater, the mechanism had changed for who gets the liquidity. The FT author, Izabella Kaminska (she’s also quite a good writer), addressed the limits on liquidity from the banks’ perspective. The FT article is worth a read “Don’t fear the year-end funding squeeze” at https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2019/01/29/1548762302000/Don-t-fear-the-year-end-funding-squeeze/

I’ve been writing that it has been a sign that liquidity is not necessarily as great or as ‘normal’ as it was reported to be, and that both cash providers and collateral providers found themselves having a difficult time getting their jobs done on year-end. You would think only one side would have a problem, usually the collateral provider, which is why rates spiked to 6.125%. Year-end Turn was quoted a week before as 12/31-1/2 at 3.10%/3.00%. It was higher than GC was trading on 12/24 at 2.60%, but not ridiculously higher. We hadn’t seen a major year-end spike since the Financial Crisis of 2008. Broker/dealers had plenty of cash around to finance themselves and to finance collateral providers, it seemed. But, when this year-end arrived, that cash quickly evaporated and rates shot up. In the old days, and remember I’ve been doing this since 1982 when we had year-ends of 20.00% rates, rates spiked on year-end, because broker/dealers wanted to “dress up their balance sheets” for their annual financials and for regulators. Now, with pressure from new Basel III and GSIB regulations, “window dressing” may be more important, basically the reduction of balance sheet and trading book for a ‘snapshot’, to prove that they can operate with less capital and to boost returns to shareholders.

It was an unusual year-end, because while some collateral providers found cash from some broker/dealers, who were opportunistically doling it out, rates stayed high because others were unable to find cash. Also, SOFR rate stayed low, as did the offering rates of collateral to cash providers from banks, pushing some of the Money Funds to take collateral from the previously almost dormant Fed’s RRP program, at even lower rates. Rates were volatile and disjointed, partly because of the monopoly on liquidity by a few GSIB banks and partly because of the increase in alternative repo mechanisms (Direct Repo, CCPs, sponsored repo, peer-to-peer repo, etc.). There are a lot of dynamics in play and it will be interesting to see how they work themselves out. I am still curious to see how SOFR can be tweaked to better represent actual overnight repo rates and not just overnight triparty repo rates from a few dealers.

I’m hearing from several sources that the sponsored repo program at FICC, Direct Repo at AVM, Elixium electronic platform, GLMX electronic platform, Wematch.com, HQLX, EUREX CCP, peer-to-peer OTC financing, and BONY’s DBVX are all making headway and volumes are up, although still below 5% of the overall European and US repo markets. I don’t think these alternative repo platforms are going away, as I think this will become a permanent part of the landscape, although there may be some further consolidation and also some new entrants, with whom I am speaking. Of course, you know that this has been my main thrust since 2008, and I hope to return to the market in some fashion soon to see it through.

Let’s look forward in the regulatory crystal ball for 2019. So, after the Financial Crisis, and over 350 financial regulations initiated by Dodd-Frank, FSOC, FSB, G20, and other regulators, it seemed that things had cooled down on the regulatory front. But, things are heating up again. We just experienced the implementation of MiFID II and we have SFTR ahead of us to implement. SFTR, if you don’t know, is the FSB’s attempt again to address the elusive Shadow Banking, among other things. Most of the other regulatory initiatives now on the table to implement are related to Basel III and the completion of three major European projects: the Banking Union, the Capital Markets Union, and the Digital Single Market. We are also still addressing LIBOR replacement (particularly in the US with the development of SOFR) and reform of Euribor and Eonia reference indices. Of course, there is always fintech stuff to deal with and to regulate and, lest we forget, there is the mess of Brexit. Financial regulation in 2008-2012 had a very unified global approach. But, that seems to have declined since, and jurisdictional differences are rearing up and making implementation more complicated. While the Banking Package in Europe has come along way regarding what are prudential measures and how to share risks in the banking industry for recovery and resolution, including backstop plans by the ECB and the EC, there has been little progress made on the Banking Union, except to establish a Single Resolution Fund through the ESM, but no agreement on the EDIS. Likewise, the Capital Markets Union effort has seen only small progress. Lastly, while the industry in 2018 saw consolidation of the digitalization of the financial sector, there has been no concrete regulatory framework negotiated to deal with the growing change. Plus, we still have that EU Reform deadline coming up 3/31, as iMoneyNet reminds me.

Securities Lending Times reports that my old buddy, David Raccat, will oversee the entire Wematch offering for EMEA. They also just reported a shuffling today for EquiLend, in which newly hired Paul Lynch, formerly of eSeclending, has been appointed global head of products. Global Investor Group announced that Pirum has added US triparty repo connectivity. Also, LSE has taken a stake in Euroclear. I see that the former international head of securities lending, Sunil Daswani, has taken a position at TRAX, which is part of MarketAxess, which just moved into its new headquarters at 55 Hudson Yards.

I still see the Repo and Securities Lending market as having changed in many permanent ways. We traditionally had a credit intermediator, the broker/dealers (originally just the primary broker/dealers) and later prime brokers, who were the pipeline through their respective repo matched books for collateral providers to trade with cash providers, without the two sides ever knowing about each other or facing each other. That lack of knowledge of the other side of the repo matched book came at a couple of costs, first, the bid/offer spread that went to the dealers and second, the defaults of the Financial Crisis and the impact on some of the dealers that then cost their clients. Not knowing who the other clients were and who could bring down the intermediary dealers was costly for many clients. Clearly, with that pipeline of intermediation becoming severely crimped by post-Financial Crisis regulatory reforms, consolidation and bankruptcies, and the resulting drop of about 60% in balance sheets being used for broker/dealer respective repo matched books, new pathways/pipelines needed to be found for cash provider and collateral provider clients. AVM’s Direct Repo™ was the first of one of such pathways. Since then, other pathways to these markets have been created, including: the Federal Reserve’s RRP program with cash providers, peer-to-peer financing as reported on Treasury OFR’s website between MMFs and Insurance Companies, As Agent repo through seclending agents and now some prime brokers, direct lending from beneficial owner to hedge funds who are short, indemnified As Agent repo, buyside to buyside Triparty Repo through two international clearing organizations of their custodial clients, electronic all-to-all repo on a few electronic trading platforms like Elixium, GLMX, Tradeweb, and BNY DBVX, FICC’s sponsored repo and cleared repo products to entice certain sectors of the buyside into that CCP, and other Repo and/or Seclending CCPs (several still being worked on, particularly in Europe, like Eurex, LCH, OCC, etc.). I believe this evolution will continue and eventually we will see all of these pathways used, including the traditional pathway (to probably a lesser than historical degree) through the broker/dealers and prime brokers. Some of that balance sheet has returned, as I mentioned above, but may be for only select ‘platinum’ clients and may come at a higher bid/offer spread or in specific, more profitable products/securities.

Upcoming Repo Industry Conferences:
 

• Deutsche Borse/Clearstream is holding its annual conference this week in Luxembourg, which I attended last year.
• IMN 25th Beneficial Owners International Securities Finance and Collateral Management Conference will be held in Fort Lauderdale, FL on 2/5-2/6. I have been chosen as the Chairperson.
• Finadium will hold a new conference on the Business of Collateral Trading in Frankfurt, Germany on 2/21.
• IMN will hold its annual Fixed Income Investor Network in Las Vegas on 2/24.
• iMoneyNet will hold its annual MMExpo in Middleburg, VA 3/4-3/6.
• PASLA/RMA will hold its 16th annual Conference on Asian Securities Lending in Sydney, Australia 3/5-3/7.
• GIOA will hold its 15th annual conference in Las Vegas 3/20-3/22.
• Finadium will hold its 3rd annual Investors in Securities Lending Conference in NYC on 5/2-5/3.
• Securities Lending Times will hold its annual Securities Finance Technology Symposium in London on 5/9.
• IMN will hold its annual Global ABS conference in Barcelona, Spain on 6/11-6/13.
• Worldwide Business Research will hold its annual Fixed Income Leaders USA Summit in Philadelphia, PA on 6/18-6/20.
• Worldwide Business Research will hold its annual Fixed Income & FX Leader Summit in Singapore on 9/17-9/19.
• IMN will hold its annual ABS East conference in Miami Beach, FL on 9/22-9/24.
• Finadium will hold its 3rd annual Investors in Securities Lending Conference Europe in London on 9/24.
• National Association of State Treasurers will hold its annual conference in Naples, FL on 10/6-10/9.
• Worldwide Business Research will hold its Fixed Income Leaders conference in Barcelona on 10/7-10/9.
• RMA will hold its 37th annual Repo & Securities Lending Conference in Boca Raton, FL in October.
• American Financial Professionals (AFP) will hold its annual conference in Boston, MA on 10/20-10/23.
• Risk.net will hold its 25th annual Risk USA conference in NYC in November.
• SIFMA will hold its annual Meeting in Washington, DC on 11/18-11/20.

Federal Reserve News:

Fed Funds, which trade mostly between some banks and GSEs, opened today at 2.40%, 10bp below the top of the target range.

The next FOMC meetings are: yesterday, 3/20/19, 5/1/19, 6/19/19, 7/31/19, 9/18/19, 10/30/19, 12/11/19, 1/29/20 (reflecting the Fed’s just announced tentative schedule for 2019).

The Federal Reserve’s Reverse Repo Facility (RRP), which has over 300 approved participants (16 banks, 14 GSEs, 101 money market funds from various fund families), is now set at the rate of 1.75%. The Fed is currently only repoing out US Treasuries from its portfolio and typically only Overnight. Remember when RRP was trading at year-end for $465 billion? Well, on 5/15, there was only $20 million in bids submitted. MMF cash and GSE cash has moved out of the Fed’s RRP and into the Repo market, but it hasn’t really brought down the GC repo rate, which is strange.

If you are wondering about RRP, it is nearly extinct. In July, excluding month-end, volume averaged only $2.8 billion per day. It has just become a mechanism for the Fed to supply collateral when its scarce for money market funds on month-ends and quarter-ends, as dealer balance sheets dry up at those times.

But, at year-end, due to liquidity dislocation, particularly for cash providers, the Fed’s RRP program was tapped for $31 billion, coming back to life, if only temporarily.

According to FOMC members, the Federal Reserve signaled that it would raise the benchmark Fed Funds rate to 2.50% at the December FOMC meeting, 3.00% in 2019, and 3.50% in 2020. If you are keeping score, the Federal Reserve raised the Fed Funds target rate on these dates so far:

12/15/15 to 0.50%
12/14/16 to 0.75%
3/5/17 to 1.00%
6/14/17 to 1.25%
12/13/17 to 1.50%
3/21/18 to 1.75%
6/13/18 to 2.00%
9/26/18 to 2.25%
12/13/18 to 2.50%

Quantitative Easing was ‘tapered off’ in 2013. The Fed still had $4 trillion of debt in 2017 on its books from that QE. In October 2017, it began allowing those holdings to gradually decline. For fun, the Fed Funds target rate was 5.25% before the Fed cut of 9/18/2007.

The FOMC met 1/30/19. They kept the Fed Funds target rate at 2.25-2.50%, as expected. They also released a statement and held a press conference that clearly show a pivot towards a more dovish stance, which appears to be all about supporting the stock market.

Earthquakes and Volcanoes:

The USGS updated its 2005 rankings of the 161 volcanoes that pose the most threat to American lives. Since 2005, that total number has dropped by 8. The 18 very highest threat volcanoes are in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington. 39 other volcanoes are high threat, 49 are moderate, 34 are low, and 21 are very low threat. The United States is one of Earth’s most volcanically active countries. Since 1980, there have been 120 eruptions and 52 episodes of notable volcanic threat at 44 US volcanoes. Using 24 factors to determine the threat to people and evaluate the US volcanoes, the USGS came up with the entire list. Here are the 18 very highest threat volcanoes:
• Akutan Island-Alaska
• Augustine Volcano-Alaska
• Makushin-Alaska
• Redoubt Volcano-Alaska
• Mount Spur-Alaska
• Mount Baker-Washington
• Glacier Peak-Washington
• Mount Ranier-Washington
• Mount St. Helens-Washington
• Crater Lake-Oregon
• Mount Hood-Oregon
• Newberry Volcano-Oregon
• Three Sisters Volcano-Oregon
• Lassen volcanic center-California
• Long Valley Caldera-California
• Mount Shasta-California
• Kilauea-Hawaii
• Mauna Loa-Hawaii

Weather:

The Atlantic Hurricane Season began Friday, June 1st and ended November 30th. For 2018, Colorado State University experts had predicted that this season would be a busy, above average hurricane season. They had predicted 14 named Tropical Storms, of which 7 would become Hurricanes. Both are above the averages of 12 and 6, respectively. There were 15 named Tropical Storms, of which 8 were hurricanes, and 2 of them major. In 2017, they were way off the wrong way as well, with way more storms. They had predicted 11 Tropical Storms, of which 4 would be Hurricanes. Instead, we had 17 Tropical Storms and had 10 Hurricanes. Here were the 2018 Storm names:

Alberto done
Beryl done
Chris done
Debby done
Ernesto done
Florence done
Gordon done
Helene done
Isaac done
Joyce done
Kirk done
Leslie done
Michael done
Nadine done
Oscar done
Patty
Rafael
Sara
Tony
Valerie
William

The Pacific Hurricane Season started 5/1/18 and ended 11/1/18. Okay, that’s the last Repo Commentary with the hurricane data, because even I get tired of seeing it.

As for the weather, we have a major, deadly polar vortex swooping down from Canada and bringing temperatures in the majority of the country down to record lows, below freezing, with windchills that could cause frostbite in 3-10 minutes, depending on where you live. I am looking at a live camera view of the Chicago River, which is completely frozen over and the temperatures is -16 degrees with a windchill of -40 degrees! Along with the arctic bitter cold, snow arrived to many parts of the Midwest, MidAtlantic, and Northeast too. Many roads are icy throughout the country, causing very dangerous travel conditions and closing many businesses, schools and offices. 15 different major cities suspended delivery by United Postal Service workers, something that almost never happens (through rain, sleet, snow, etc.). Many colleges in the Midwest have cancelled classes because of the danger of frostbite for students. Airports have massive delays and cancellations. Even Florida has been unusually cold, down in the 40s at night and 50s and 60s during the day. Yet, the temperature differential between South Florida and Minnesota hit 123 degrees yesterday morning, as it was -58 degrees in Minnesota and 65 degrees in Florida. The National Weather Service issued a Warning for Life-Threatening Wind Chills to continue across the North and Central US. Temperatures are averaging 20-45 degrees below average over the Upper Midwest and into the Ohio Valley. Wind chill values are 25-55 degrees below zero in portions of the Upper Midwest and Ohio Valley. Lake effect snow will be very heavy east of the Great Lakes. In California, major rain is moving in on Thursday morning from the coast and will head to parts of the Southwest by Friday. According to NOAA, as of 1/31/19, Lake Michigan was 40% frozen over. Saturday morning, in Chicago, Lake Michigan had a fog over it, which meteorologists call ‘ice smoke’. As of this morning, 2/1/19, 21 people have died because of the Polar Vortex in the US, which has affected 120 million people, cancelled or delayed over 6,000 flights, burst pipes in Chicago O’Hare Airport, and brought record low temperatures to over 100 cities. It has warmed up slightly on Friday and is expected to continue to warm up on Saturday and Sunday. In fact, the warmup itself may be a record temperature SWING, as much as 100 degrees warmer in Chicago (from -58 degrees to +42 degrees) and New York possibly hitting as high as 60 degrees OVER zero by Monday or Tuesday. Florida is continuing to get warmer as well, moving from 40s and 50s to now 70s, but is still plagued by frequent waves of thunderstorms. You’ll see in the picture gallery that this morning’s temperature (without windchill was -13 degrees in Detroit, exactly the same temperature as in Antarctica. Now, I am not wading into the long-standing debate about Global Warming, but the President and others have said that the Polar Vortex proves that Global Warming isn’t as bad as conservationists claim, while conservationists claim that Global Warming is precisely why the Polar Vortex weakened and travelled South instead of staying put in Canada. I have no idea.

Okay, now on to REAL weather, Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, on 2/2 did NOT see his shadow. That is supposed to mean that we are in for an early Spring (as opposed to six more weeks of wintry weather). This is only the 19th time, out of 123 times in recorded history, that Phil hasn’t been able to find his shadow. There were 10 years where no records were found though. Typically, the rodent is wrong, and after this week’s Polar Vortex, most meteorologists are ignoring him. Meanwhile, it pains me to report this, because I’ve not been a huge fan of this guy since he purports himself to be a national meteorologist, but is technically merely a weather reporter with a journalism degree, Al Roker of NBC is tangling with a Governor over whether windchilll and cold temperatures should necessitate closing schools. I have to agree with Al that this Governor has no idea what he is talking about and when windchills get to the point of frostbite in minutes for children, that someone should be in charge and closing those schools. He should have had enough sense to do it without being lectured by a non-meteorologist like me, or Al.

Sports News:

MLB:

The MLB regular season ended in November with the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers. But, fear not baseball fans, as the MLB has announced the earliest Opening Day ever for 2019, with all 30 teams playing on 3/28/19. They are not counting the first game of the season, between the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics, that will occur in Tokyo on March 20-21. The World Series Champion Boston Red Sox will play the Yankees in London, for the first-ever MLB games in Europe, on 6/29-6/30. Spring Training will begin 2/21 with the first game between the Mariners and the A’s in the Cactus League. The Grapefruit League kicks off 2/22 with a game between the Rays and the Phillies.

Several of you have asked and, yes, I am once again auditioning to sing the National Anthem for Spring Training, this Saturday 2/2, for Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach (Nationals and Astros) and Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter (Cardinals and Marlins). I have now sung for 133 MLB games (National Anthem and/or “God Bless America”), during WBC, Spring Trainings, Major League seasons, and Minor League seasons. I am also going to once again send my mp3 and resume out to MLB teams for regular season games, although I am reducing the number I send from 30 to 9 now (Red Sox, Marlins, Nationals, Reds, Indians, Mets, Orioles, Pirates, and Cubs).

Many people are wondering whether Oklahoma QB and Heisman Trophy winner, Kyler Murray, will choose MLB or NFL, after the A’s chose him with the No.9 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft and gave him a signing bonus of almost $5 million. Well, he has now declared for the NFL Draft. I think he’s making a big mistake, as baseball players tend to have longer careers and less concussions. The top 5 remaining free agents who aren’t Bryce Harper or Manny Machado are reportedly: Gio Gonzalez, Marwin Gonzalez, Mike Moustakas, Dallas Keuchel, and Craig Kimbrel. Dodgers’ Joc Pederson reportedly has “a number of teams” wanting to deal for him. He was compared by Don Mattingly and others to baseball greats and has had moments of briliiance, even record moments like in the postseason. Yet, he has been inconsistent and just signed a one-year deal for $5 million with the Dodgers to avoid arbitration. The Dodgers just signed A. J. Pollock, another center fielder, in free agency. I don’t think I remember a team since 1964 that has had more center fielders in the last decade than the Dodgers. Speaking of the Dodgers, but this time the Brooklyn Dodgers, superstar, Jackie Robinson’s, 100th birthday just passed. Red Sox No.2 starter David Price has changed his jersey number from No.24 to No.10 this season, fueling rumors that the Red Sox are going to finally retire Dwight Evans’ No.24. Five teams are still in the running for Marlins’ J.T. Realmuto, one of the last good assets to be sold off. I can’t tell you how angry Marlins fans are at new management, after Loria fleeced the city of Miami for $600 million in taxes when he sold the team and then Jeter and the other owners traded away all of the best players, like Giancarlo Stanton. I know it’s a business, but Florida, aside from the Dolphins, doesn’t really have native fans. Everyone moved here from somewhere North and keeps routing for those teams of childhood (like I do). The Rockies signed Nolan Arenado to a record $26 million deal in arbitration. Astros sign starter Wade Miley to a 1year deal. The Padres and Bryce Harper have reportedly set a meeting. The Padres are also in the mix for Manny Machado and Mike Moustakas. HOFer Frank Robinson is reportedly in “failing” health. Unsigned free agent, 40-year-old Peter Moylan, is ripping Red Sox minor-league deal for formerly banned rhp Jenrry Mejia of the Mets. “How’s my offseason going? This guy had a lifetime ban and still signed before me!!!” Moylan wrote. Blue Jays signed SS Freddy Galvis to a one-year deal. The Rangers agreed to one year contract with A’s rival pitcher Shawn Kelley.

The MLB announced the class of the six 2019 inductees into the Hall of Fame and they are: Harold Baines, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez (finally), Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, and Lee Smith. The ceremony will be on 7/21 in Cooperstown, NY. Baines and Smith were elected to the Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Era Committee. Baines, an ESPN analyst, will go in as a White Sox, Halladay will go in without a logo, Martinez will go in as a Mariner (kind of insuring that his fellow DH, David Ortiz, will make it too), Mussina will go in without a logo (I’m surprised), Rivera (the greatest reliever of all-time) will go in as a Yankee, and Smith (one of the greatest relievers of all-time) wil go in as a Cub.

Soccer:

In soccer/football, the AFC Asian Cup ended with Qatar beating Japan in the Final.

Golf:

The PGA Tour season began with its swing through Hawaii. Then they landed on the continent in California and have since moved over to Arizona, playing the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. Branden Grace had a hole-in-one on the 193-yard 7th hole on Friday (with a 7-iron!). He changed clubs at the last minute from an 8-iron. He added an eagle and 5 birdies, to jump on top of the leaderboard after two rounds. Archie Bradley, a reliever for the Arizona Diamondbacks, has played in the Phoenix Open pro-am for a few years, but this year, someone stole his clubs. The Phoenix Open is known to get wild crowds. Do you remember last year, when a man went streaking across the 17th hole during the Wednesday pro-am round? The drunk 24-year-old said it was totally worth it, even after getting fired from his job as an area bartender. Meanwhile, the European Tour is playing the Royal Greens Golf and CC for the Saudi International. Dustin Johnson is atop the leaderboard there. The Web.com tour is playing the Bogota Open in Colombia. The Sunshine Tour is playing the Eye of Africa PGA Championship. Alice Dye, the First Lady of golf course architecture, has died at age 91.

NCAA Basketball:

The college basketball season is starting to look ahead to March Madness (well, at least fans are looking ahead), as we are about 20-22 games into a 32(?) game season. Kansas Silvio De Sousa has been ruled ineligible by the NCAA until after next season. There were no significant upsets Thursday night. However, Wednesday night, Rutgers beat Indiana, unranked Texas beat No.11 Kansas, Virginia snuck by NC State, Wisconsin surprised Nebraska, and UNLV lost to Nevada. Of course, the upset of note for me was Purdue beating Michigan State. Here is the AP Poll as of 01/27/19 (which does not include the most recent upsets and has no movement in Top 6):

1. Tennessee (19-1)
2. Duke (18-2)
3. Virginia (19-1)
4. Gonzaga (20-2)
5. Michigan (20-1)
6. Michigan State (18-3)
7. Kentucky (17-3) up from No.8
8. Nevada (20-1) down from No.7
9. North Carolina (16-4) up from No.11
10. Marquette (19-3) up from No.12
11. Kansas (16-5) down from No.9
12. Virginia Tech (17-3) down from No.10
13. Houston (21-1) way up from No.17
14. Villanova (17-4) way up from No.18
15. Louisville (16-5) way way up from No.23
16. Texas Tech (17-4) down from No.14
17. Purdue (15-6) way up from unranked
18. Buffalo (19-2) way down from No.14
19. LSU (17-3) way up form No.25
20. Iowa State (16-5) way up from No.24
21. Maryland (17-5) way way down from No.13
22. Mississippi State (15-5)
23. NC State (16-5) down from No.21
24. Wisconsin (15-6) up from unranked
25. FSU (15-5) up from unranked

NCAA Football:

College football season kickoff was on 8/25 finally ended with the upset in the CFP Championship by No.2 Clemson over No.1 Alabama, 44-16. Although it’s not professional sports, the SEC distributed $43.1 million to each member school for 2017-18, up more than $2 million from last year. Missouri has been banned from any bowl game next year, after an NCAA probe. Maryland president has reversed his retirement decision, apparently didn’t like golf all that much, and will remain. USC has hired another former Texas Tech QB as offensive coordinator. Shilo Sanders, Deion’s son, has committed to South Carolina. QB Josh Jackson has joined the Virginia Tech exodus, saying he felt “disrespected”. A former Utah State football player convicted of sexually assaulting 6 women. Oklahoma transfer QB Austin Kendall enrolled at WVU.

AP released the final poll on 1/7/19:

1. Clemson (15-0) up from No.2
2. Alabama (14-1) down from No.1
3. Ohio State (13-1) up from No.5
4. Oklahoma (12-2)
5. Notre Dame (12-1) down from No.3
6. LSU (10-3) up from No.11
7. Georgia (11-3) down from No.6
8. Florida (10-3) up from No.10
9. Texas (10-4) up from No.14
10. Washington State (11-2) up from No.12
11. UCF (12-1) down from No.7
12. Kentucky (10-3) up from No.16
13. Washington (10-4) down from No.9
14. Michigan (10-3) down from No.8
15. Syracuse (10-3) up from No.17
16. Texas A&M (9-4) up from No.21
17. Penn State (9-4) down from No.13
18. Fresno State (12-2) up from No.19
19. Army West Point (11-1) up from No.22
20. West Virginia (8-4) down from No.15
21. Northwestern (9-5) up from unranked
22. Utah State (11-2) up from unranked
23. Boise State (10-3)
24. Cincinnati (11-2) up from unranked
25. Iowa (9-4) up from unranked

NFL:

The 99th NFL regular season is nearing its end, as this Sunday is the 53rd Super Bowl in Atlanta, GA. Unexpectedly, the New England Patriots beat the favored Chiefs in OT to become the AFC participant, sending QB Tom Brady to his NFL record 9th Super Bowl. Also, in the NFC Championship, the referees missed 4 penalties on one play near the end of the game between the Rams and the Saints, sending it into OT, where the Rams unexpectedly prevailed. So, the Patriots face the Rams, who the Patriots beat in 2001, to start their long dynasty in the Super Bowl. In Las Vegas, the Patriots opened up as 1 point underdogs, but that has quickly flopped and by Friday morning were now 4 point favorites. After much deliberation (I have about a dozen jerseys), I have decided to go with the throwback red Gronkowski jersey and throwback white with red brim and old logo hat for Sunday. Gladys Knight said she is very excited to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, despite many people criticizing her for doing so. Somehow, I guess she was supposed to boycott singing our National Anthem, as some solidarity for Colin Kaepernick? Did you know that of the 28 franchises that have played in a Super Bowl, 20 have actually won the game? The Steelers have won the most, with 6, and the Patriots, Cowboys, and 49ers each have won 5. The Bills and the Vikings have the dubious distinction of both being 0-4 in Super Bowls. The Patriots are appearing in their 10th Super Bowl, the most of any NFL team. This will be QB Tom Brady’s 9th Super Bowl and 40th playoff game, of which he has won 29. He has also passed for 73 TDs in the playoffs, well ahead of No.2 Joe Montana with 45. I love weird facts: Brady threw his latest TD pass to Phillip Dorsett in the AFC Championship game and Dorsett was just 9-years-old when Brady won his first Super Bowl! The University of Georgia is well-represented in the Super Bowl this year, with Rams RB Todd Gurley and Patriots RB Sony Michel. Okay, I wrote this all Friday-Sunday, but here is am near midnight to give you the update: THE PATRIOTS WON THEIR RECORD 6th SUPER BOWL, 13-3, OVER THE RAMS, WHO THEY BEAT FOR THEIR FIRST SUPER BOWL IN 2001. IT WAS NOT PRETTY AND A HUGE DEFENSIVE BATTLE THAT CERTAINLY DIDN’T LIVE UP TO THE 54-POINT OVER/UNDER, BUT IT WAS A WIN. TECHNICALLY, BOSTON BEAT LOS ANGELES FOR THE SECOND TIME IN A WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP 3 MONTHS APART, TWO OF FOUR MAJOR SPORTS! WR JASON EDELMAN WON THE MVP TROPHY FOR HIS CLUTCH 10 RECEPTIONS AND TOM BRADY GOT HIS SIXTH RING. IF YOU ARE KEEPING COUNT, BOSTON HAS WON SINCE 2001, 6 NFL CHAMPIONSHIPS, 4 MLB CHAMPIONSHIPS, 1 NBA CHAMPIONSHIP, and 1 NHL CHAMPIONSHIP FOR A TOTAL OF 12 CHAMPIONSHIPS IN 18 YEARS. WE HAVE BEEN VERY FORTUNATE.

So, Kyler Murray, who was chosen by the A’s in the first round (9th overall) of the MLB Draft and given a signing bonus of $5 million, has registered for the NFL Draft too, and doesn’t seem to know which way he is going to go. When pressed about it by Dan Patrick on ESPN, he was very awkward in the interview. On this day, 2/1, the Seahawks blew Super Bowl 49 to the Patriots on the final play, by trying to pass for 2 yards instead of running with the leading NFL rusher that year. They were intercepted. Steelers legend Hines Ward blames coach Mike Tomlin for team’s “circus of woes.” Panthers star, Julius Peppers, has retired after 17 NFL seasons. Rick Smith, who took leave as Texans GM, lost his wife, Tiffany, to cancer. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett says he’s not on “shaky ground” but the Cowboys have said they have no plans to extend his contract. A judge has rejected Saints fans’ class-action lawsuit to replay the end of the Rams game, after the referees missed 4 penalties on one play. The Saints say that commissioner Roger Goodell lied about talking to them regarding blown call. Did you know that since 1980, the underdog NFL team has beaten the spread in 52% of all NFL games? Okay, he may not be in the Super Bowl, yet, but QB Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs was named the AP MVP Saturday night and NFL offensive player of the year. He is really something to see and I think will be a huge star in the NFL. The Governors of California and Massachusetts have made a friendly wager on the Super Bowl, in which the official whose team loses (along with his staff) has to do a community service project while wearing the winning team’s jersey. By the way, it is estimated that more than 17 million people will miss work on Monday, the day after the Super Bowl, costing the US economy $4 billion.

Let’s look at the new Hall of Fame class, which includes Tony Gonzalez, Ed Reed, Kevin Mawae, Champ Bailey, Johnny Robinson, Pat Bowlen, Gil Brandt, and Ty Law.

NHL:

The puck dropped on the regular season, for some teams, on 10/3. We are past the halfway point now, having played 48-51 games out of 82. The NHL will mark Black History Month for the first time, with special initiatives and museum tour. My Bruins need to get rid of 6’9” defenseman Zdeno Chara, who once was great, but now looks like a cone with a stick, as skaters blow by him and score. It’s said when a truly great player stays in the game too long and takes a spot that could yield another Torey Krug. Tuesday night, he single-handedly cost the Bruins a win in regulation against the Jets. He followed up Thursday night by doing exactly the same thing against the Flyers. NHL teams are drooling over US National Team Development Program’s Jack Hughes, the top prospect in the NHL Draft, considered a potential franchise superstar. Both of his parents were star hockey players. His brother, Quinn Hughes, was picked 7th overall in the NHL Draft by the Canucks. His younger brother, Luke, has committed to play hockey for Michigan. The Penguins sent Derick Brassard to the Panthers in a 4-player deal. Blackhawks Antoine Vermette, 36, has retired after a 14-season NHL career. Predators forward Austin Watson has been suspended indefinitely for alcohol abuse. The Hurricanes signed Jordan Martinook to a 2year extension. The NBC hired Kendall Coyne Schofield after NHL All-Star Skills Challenge. Maple Leafs acquired defensemen Jake Muzzin from Kings. The Stars acquired Jamie Okeksiak from Penguins for 2019 draft pick.

At this point in the season: the Eastern Conference has the Lightning firmly in first place (way ahead of every team in the NHL), followed by the Islanders, Leafs, and Bruins/Canadiens; while the Western Conference has the Flames in first place, followed by the Jets, Sharks, and Predators.

NBA:

The NBA season officially began on 10/3 as well. We are around 43-45 games in of the 82-game season. Pelicans’ Anthony Davis boldly declared that he wanted to be traded, as they are going nowhere and unlikely to pay his megacontract when he is eligible in a year. It turns out that that’s ‘tampering’ and he got a $50,000 fine from the NBA. The Celtics say they have “little to no concern” that star Kyrie Irving will leave for the Lakers, despite LeBron’s wooing. Irving has said that he would be open to re-signing with Boston, but another report said that he would be open to rejoining his pal LeBron too. Now, why is Anthony Davis saying he wants to be traded ‘tampering’, but LeBron picking out players on other teams that he wants to come to the Lakers not ‘tampering’? And then, LeBron James sends a fake Instagram post about Anthony Davis trade to Lakers, and ESPN falls for it. Actually, the team that worries the Celtics about Irving is the Knicks. The Knicks are pressing hard on getting Kevin Durant, which might encourage Irving to join him. I used to think Free Agency was good, give the players what they deserve and give them a chance to get on a better team. But, the way it’s evolved into 2 or 3 superstars colluding and going to a team to make it a championship team seems to have tainted the intent. It’s so obvious and rampant that I don’t even have to give you an example, without you thinking of 3 or 4 yourselves. Draymond Green, always a class act after joining the NBA (see kicking people in groin), is now mocking Rudy Gobert for crying about being snubbed for the NBA All-Star Game. Speaking of which, the NBA All-Star Game rosters were just released yesterday. Mike Budenholzer will coach Team Giannis vs Team LeBron. I’m guessing the over-under must be like 270 points. As we slide into NBA Free Agency, the Bulls waived Carmelo Anthony (didn’t everyone want him a couple of years ago?). Social media is punishing the Knicks for trading franchise-caliber player, Kristaps Porzingis, to Mavericks. I’m sure it’s botching that name though, since most people on social media can’t get ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ right. The Nuggets are off to their best 50-game start since joining the NBA. The Warriors say their 11-game winning streak come to an end Thursday against the 76ers. I forgot to mention that King James is back from his 16-game disabled list stint. Of course, he flirted with a triple-double in his first game back. Clippers and Nets are expected to pursue Jimmy Butler. Celtics’ Jabari Bird faces more charges from alleged domestic assault. So, after 50-53 games of an 82-game regular season, the Eastern Conference is led by the Bucks, then the Raptors, then the 76ers, then the Pacers tied with the Celtics; while the Western Conference is led by the Warriors, then closely the Nuggets, then the Thunder, then the Blazers and Spurs. The Knicks are 10-40 and in the cellar in the East and the Suns are 11-42 and in the cellar in the West.

Tennis:

The first Grand Slam of the season has completed down under, with the Australian Open. Although Serena Williams knocked off the No.1 seed, Halep (who fell to No.3), she did not make it to the Finals. Shockingly, Roger Federer was knocked out in an early round. His world ranking has now dropped to No.6. Novak Djokovic won his record 7th Australian Open beating nemesis Rafael Nadal in the Finals. On the women’s side, soon-to-be No.1 Naomi Osaka won over No.2 Petra Kvitova in a very close match. That was Osaka’s 2nd Grand Slam in a row, after winning the US Open over Serena Williams. Herbert and Mahut completed a career Slam by winning the Australian Open doubles. The Connecticut Open is officially moving to Zhengzhou City, China. Hmmm…HOLA! Magazine revealed that Rafael Nadal is engaged to his girlfriend of 14 years, Maria Francisca Perello, and he is apparently really mad about the leak. Really? After 14 years?

Boxing:

Boxer Carmine Tommasone proposed in the ring. Nice touch. Unfortunately, he waited until after he suffered a TKO loss to Oscar Valdez. It was his first loss, to his credit. Still, post-victory proposals usually are the norm, but his girlfriend said ‘yes’ to the loser. Hey, I don’t write this, it writes itself.

Racing:

Last year’s champion, his first, for the NASCAR Cup Series was Joey Logano, who beat Martin Truex Jr. in the final 15 laps of the final race at Homestead. Truex Jr. won the crown in 2017. NASCAR’s 2019 season is about to start with Daytona 500 to kick it off, as it does every year. Here is the schedule of races just released for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup in 2019 (they don’t have the sponsors or formal names of all of them yet):

2/17 Daytona 500 at Daytona International in Florida
2/24 Atlanta
3/3 Las Vegas
3/10 ISM Raceway
3/17 Auto Club
3/24 Martinsville
3/31 Texas
4/7 Bristol
4/13 Richmond
4/28 Talladega
5/5 Dover
5/11 Kansas
5/18 All-Star Open Charlotte
5/26 Charlotte
6/2 Pocono
6/9 Michigan
6/23 Sonoma
6/30 Chicago
7/6 Daytona
7/13 Kentucky
7/21 New Hampshire
7/28 Pocono
8/4 Watkins Glen
8/11 Michigan
8/17 Bristol
9/1 Darlington
9/8 Indianapolis
9/15 Las Vegas playoff
9/21 Richmond playoff
9/29 Charlotte playoff
10/6 Dover playoff
10/13 Talladega playoff
10/20 Kansas playoff
10/27 Martinsville playoff
11/3 Texas playoff
11/10 ISM Raceway playoff
11/17 Miami-Homestead final playoff

Formula One begins with F1 Car Launch Dates for the various teams from 2/12 through 2/15 for Renault, Racing Point, McLaren, and Ferrari. That is followed by Pre-Season Testing schedule 2/18-2/21 and 2/26-3/1, both in Catalunya, Spain. Here is the 2019 Formula One 21 Race calendar:

3/17 Australia Grand Prix in Melbourne
3/31 Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir
4/14 China Grand Prix in Shanghai (this will be the 1000th Grand Prix)
4/28 Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku
5/12 Spain Grand Prix in Barcelona
5/26 Monaco Grand Prix in Monaco
6/9 Canada Grand Prix in Montreal
6/23 France Grand Prix in Le Castellet
6/30 Austria Grand Prix in Spielberg
7/14 Great Britain Grand Prix in Silverstone
7/28 Germany Grand Prix in Hockenheim
8/4 Hungary Grand Prix in Budapest
9/1 Belgium Grand Prix in Spa
9/8 Italy Grand Prix in Monza
9/22 Singapore Grand Prix in Singapore
9/29 Russia Grand Prix in Sochi
10/13 Japan Grand Prix in Suzuka
10/27 Mexico Grand Prix in Mexico City
11/3 USA Grand Prix in Austin, TX
11/17 Brazil Grand Prix in Sao Paulo
12/1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in Yas Island

Then, there is the IndyCar Racing circuit and its 2019 calendar (Indy cars are generally considered faster than F1 car along straight lines, mostly because their races are on oval tracks, while F1 tracks are more intricate, requiring better brakes and more aerodynamic grip than Indy cars):

3/10 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
3/24 Circuit of the Americas
4/7 Grand Prix of Alabama
4/14 Grand Prix at Long Beach
5/11 Grand Prix of Indianapolis
5/26 Indianapolis 500
6/1 Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Race 1
6/1 Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Race 2
6/8 Texas Grand Prix
6/23 Road America
7/14 Honda Indy Toronto
7/20 Iowa 300
7/28 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio
8/18 Pocono Grand Prix
8/24 Gateway Grand Prix
9/1 Grand Prix of Portland
9/22 Grand Prix at Laguna Seca

Travel News:

January 28th marked the anniversary of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, which exploded on re-entry, killing all 7 astronauts, including teacher Christine McAuliffe. As I listen to fighter jet flyovers here in Palm Beach, as President Trump is scheduled to touch down here and go to Mar-a-Lago, a small aircraft just crashed 23 miles off of Palm Beach moments ago. I wasn’t sure where to put this, but LEGO seems to pop up in weird places all over the world. Their promotions are unique. They have a LEGO installation of a replica Queen Mary ON the Queen Mary. There is a replica LEGO windmill in the offices of wind turbine company Vestas. Most of the installations are actually artwork. Apparently, they now have a pop-up bar in London. Whatever you do, don’t have a pint and then step on a LEGO! There are currently 28 countries that the US does not want you to visit. Carnival just introduced a new giant ship, the Mardi Gras. Boeing is seeing more airplane buyers paying cash and financing than ever before. Disneyland has closed off iconic Space Mountain (indoor roller coaster) ride, after a visitor jumped off mid-ride. Disneyland Paris will host official LGBTO Pride celebration, a first for Disney parks. A flight made an emergency landing after cabin pressure left a passenger bleeding from the ears.

Health News:

The silence may be deafening on this one, but controversial e-cigarette maker Juul Labs made crossed the $1 billion in revenue mark in 2018. How impressive is that? Well, it had revenue of about $200 million in 2017. The controversy is heating up though, as only half of the states that have raised the age to purchase cigarettes to 21-years-old have raised the age to purchase e-cigarettes from 18-years-old. Some states, including Florida, are now preparing bills to ban e-cigarette smoking in the workplace and at restaurants (except in already designated smoking areas). In somewhat related news, noticing the trend, Marlboro manufacturer Altria (oddly similar to altruistic) bought a 35% stake in the e-cigarette maker in December. If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em. Pizza Hut is apparently READY for the Super Bowl. The chain plans to expand its new BEER delivery service. It will be available, along with Pizza delivery, by this coming summer at 1,000 stores! It’s currently available at 300 stores in 7 states. Ah, the millennial demand for convenience…actually, you can get food from any restaurant here from GoCrazy, Delivery Dudes, UberEats and others, groceries from Whole Foods via Amazon Prime, groceries from Publix via Shipt, and liquor from ABC Liquors via Shipt. Or, so I heard, ahem, since I am clearly NOT a millennial. A TSA agent died on Friday after jumping from a Hyatt Hotel into the atrium area of the Orlando airport. He was alive when transported to the hospital, but died thereafter. Authorities are looking at his death as an apparent suicide. As you’ve no doubt read, US birth rate has plummeted to the lowest point in 30 years and the fertility rate in the US has declined for the 7th year in a row. What you may not have known is that we are 16% below the level needed for the US population to replace itself. Scientists now believe a big factor in our infertility is economic stress. OMG, I’m getting old! I just deleted what I thought was a hysterical rejoinder about obvious scientific studies and realized it was kind of like saying “get off of my lawn!” According to USA Today, the worst foods for you during Super Bowl are: the fatty sauce on Buffalo Wings, Meat Lover’s Pizza from Pizza Hut at 440 calories a slice, pigs-in-a-blanket, chips and dip, brownies, and craft beers. Okay, I guess I won’t have anything. No, wait, another article I read listed the keto diet friendly foods you could have at your Super Bowl party, and they are: skewers of meat or cheese (rather than on bread), chili, naked chicken wings, chicken fingers with almond flour breading, taco lettuce wraps, cauliflower hummus, Portobello mushroom crust pizza, almond flour (again) brownies, and clear cocktails, A recent study found that people who lived in areas with higher amounts of 2 types of pollution were more likely to have sleep apnea and bad moods. General Mills has recalled flour over a salmonella concern. In a recent study, researchers believe that muscle memory is real. Don’t you love when they announce findings of a 10-year, $50 million study that you know already through common sense? Okay, well maybe this study was worth SOME money… researchers at the University of Bristol assessed airborne survival of bacteria in aerosol droplets from coughs and sneezes and found the average sneeze or cough can send about 100,000 contagious germs into the air at speeds up to 100mph. Those germs, which included viruses such as influenza, RSV, adenoviruses, bacteria, streptococcus pneumonia, haemophilus influenzae, etc. are spread within the first few minutes after a sneeze or cough occurs. Given the small size of the droplets (some less than the width of a human hair), they can remain suspended in the air for seconds to weeks. Scientists have now designed a new device, CELEBS, to study these droplets. The FDA warned Costco and Walmart shoppers about a Listeria fruit recall. There’s a new debate about birth control regarding whether or not women should still take placebos for a week while taking daily birth control pills. I think I noticed sometime in the 90s or 00s that the packets had placebo pills. A measles outbreak has again appearing in a US region, the Northwest, despite the fact that the CDC declared it “eliminated”. Indiana attorney general is calling New York’s planned extreme pro-abortion law, in which the fetus can be aborted in a very late term, as backward and barbaric. This happens too often, a McDonald’s customer called 911, after an employee put onions on his Big Mac, and when police arrived, they arrested the customer. Burger King is now trolling McDonald’s with a new menu featuring “Not Big Macs”. The CDC says young kids are overusing toothpaste.

Animal News:

I thought the cheetah, with bursts up to 70 mph, was the fastest animal in the world. I’m sure most of you don’t know, but I grew up wanting to be a zoologist. It turns out that scientists now believe the tiny Dracula ant has set the record for the fastest known animal movement. A dolphin has received the first spinal tap for a dolphin. Paleontologists now believe that there was an actual “lizard king”, an iguana-sized reptile, that ruled Antarctica 250 million years ago, during the Triassic epoch, before dinosaurs. A new study shows that sonar can actually scare whales to death. Denmark is building a $12 million border wall for wild pigs and boars, to keep them out. Trevor, the only duck on the small west Pacific island of Niue (population of 1600 humans) has been found dead, alone, as he lived his life. Speaking of sharks, 2018 had only 66 documented unprovoked shark bites on humans, down from 88 in 2017. Scientists are no longer sure what the largest dinosaur was. A rare fish sighting in Japan has sparked earthquake fears. SeaWorld is “deeply saddened” and PETA is outraged by the death of beloved Kayla the orca (killer whale). She was 30-years-old and had become sick over the weekend. She was the first killer whale born in captivity at SeaWorld in San Antonio, TX in 1988 and was the second-oldest orca born in captivity. Her calf, Halyn, was just 3-years-old when she died in 2008. Wild orcas can live up to 80 or 90 years, which leads to PETA’s outrage, where a baby dies at 3 and her young mom dies at 30. SeaWorld stopped its orca breeding program in 2016, after pressure from animal rights groups, following the documentary BLACKFISH in 2013. The documentary was about the life of Tilikum, an orca that killed its trainer during a performance in Orlando in 2010. Tilikum died in 2017 at only 33-years-old. Kayla was one of the last orcas at SeaWorld’s Orlando park, there are only 5 left there, 5 in San Antonio, and 10 in San Diego. The Heathrow Airport hawk has been stolen outside the hotel it was calling home. In Alabama, a hunter fired 2 rounds at a buck merely a few yards from a fisherman. In Minnesota, officials had to shoot a mule deer who was exhibiting “strange behavior.” An Alaska fisherman was attacked by a sea lion and nearly dragged into water. I hate these news items: a woman was bitten by a 5-foot snake while on the toilet. The snake was a carpet python and the location was Brisbaine, Australia. A handler came and removed the snake and it is fine. A South Carolina fisherman hooked a massive great white shark and said, “It’s like hooking an elephant.” A Maryland fisherman broke a state record last week, by reeling in a 17.9-pound longnose gar. He was actually fishing for blue catfish. After getting an official weigh-in, the fisherman kept the gar alive for two days and returned it to the water. Longnose gar typically grow to about 4 feet. The world record was set in Mississippi, with a gar that was 60 inches long and weighed 48 pounds. Select canned dog food has been recalled over vitamin D levels, per the FDA, who is now fully back to work.

Entertainment News:

There are something like 36-40 major entertainment awards shows and I think we are in the middle of it, having just had the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, and the Peoples Choice Awards. Super Bowl ads are the big topic this week. Michelob apparently has experimented with autonomous sensory meridian responses, the tingly feeling some people get when they hear certain sounds, and will incorporate them in an ad during the Super Bowl. It is supposed to affect a pleasure area of the brain. Cardi B has been spotted with Offset at a Super Bowl party (which hasn’t happened yet) after confirming they’re “working it out”. I’m sorry, but are these actually names of people? Oprah Winfrey was handing out tequila shot on a cruise in her pajamas. I might have had a similar odd dream. Rami Malek, the star of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, which I finally saw and I give it a 9 out of 10 for awesomeness, says the experience working with Bryan Singer on the movie was “not pleasant”. Okay, this is odd. Singer was fired by the film’s studio, Twentieth Century Fox, in December 2017 during filming for his “unexpected unavailability”, but there were rumors of sexual misconduct at the time. Wait, I just want to go back to ‘unexpected unavailability’ which is a really cool way of saying ‘not showing up for work’, isn’t it? 31-year-old rapper, Bow Wow (here we go with weird names again), was arrested on suspicion of Battery Substantial Harm in a fight with a woman. Luke Wilson says he is ready to reunite with Reese Witherspoon in LEGALLY BLONDE 3. Wait, I love Reese Witherspoon, and actually met her in L.A., but do we really need a 3rd instalment of that movie? Is there no NEW creativity in Hollywood anymore? Olympian Aly Reisman supports The Bachelor contestant Caelynn but she is not watching her ex, Colton Underwood’s, season. 20-year-old Paris Jackson denies reports that she had a “meltdown” during Michael Jackson documentary controversy. I believe this is the 5-hour documentary being featured at the Sundance Film Festival that was done by the two kids who accused MJ of sexual abuse and lost, so they made a movie? Sharna Burgess is honored to be joining Australia’s Dancing With the Stars as a judge. Roger Mathews (missing a T) proposed a “truce” to Jenni ‘JWoww’ (ugh, here we go again, it’s like onomatopoeia) Farley. Lily Adlridge welcomed a second child with Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill. Hmm, that would have been more interesting than Kidwell. In an interview, singer Josh Groban said, when asked about his early fame, that he should have had a shrink. Packers great QB Brett Favre surprised a Marine veteran with Super Bowl tickets. Empire’s Jussie Smollett was attacked in some kind of alleged hate crime incident. Jerry Seinfeld is being sued over the sale of a $1.5 million 1958 Porsche which is now alleged to be fake. A porn star has been fined for filming a threesome on a London subway train. Lenny Kravitz, not known for shying away from controversy himself, has made some comments on daughter Zoe’s racy nude Instagram photo. Pete Davidson and Kate Beckinsale were spotted leaving an LA comedy club together after the comedian’s performance. Johnny Cash’s former property, featured in the movie WALK THE LINE, is selling for $3.95 million. I can’t believe that I have 2 news items about Al Roker in the same Repo Commentary! Jillian Michaels has called out Andy Cohen and Al Roker over keto diet feud. Justin Bieber fans are upset over price of his clothing line. Designers for upcoming New York Fashion Week are being urged not to hire minors.

The 50th Anniversary New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival announced its lineup for 2019. It begins on 4/25-28 and ends on 5/2-5/5. It’s a SICK list of entertainers:
• The Rolling Stones
• Dave Matthews Band
• Katy Perry
• Jimmy Buffett & The Coral Reefer Band
• Chris Stapleton
• Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
• Pitbull
• Van Morrison
• Al Green
• Logic
• Earth, Wind & Fire
• J Balvin
• Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue with Nevilles
• Glady Knight
• The Revivalists
• Leon Bridges
• John Fogerty
• Chaka Khan
• Herbie Hancock
• Tank and the Bangas
• Tom Jones
• Bonnie Raitt
• Ciara
• Alanis Morissette
• Irma Thomas
• Gary Clark Jr.
• The O’Jays
• The Head and the Heart
• The Doobie Brothers
• Jimmy Cliff
• Ziggy Marley
• Aaron Neville
• Boz Scaggs
• Galctic
• Jerry Lee Lewis
• Indigo Girls
• Rebirth Brass Band
• Mavis Staples
• Los Lobos
• Ellis Marsalis Family with Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo, and Jason with Ellis
• Big Freedia
• Kamasi Washington
• Rita Coolidge
• Buddy Guy
• Preservation Hall Jazz Band
• Better Than Ezra
• Taj Mahal & the Phantom Blues Band
• Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk
• Maze
• Ani DiFranco
• The Radiators
• Hurray for the Riff Raff
• Jonathan Butler and Gerald Albright
• Shirley Caesar
• Little Feat
• Gregory Porter
• Anders Osborne
• North Mississippi Allstars
• Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe
• The Mavericks
• The Robert Cray Band
• The Subdudes
• Samantha Fish
• Jupiter & Okwess of Congo
• Kermit Ruffins & The Barbecue Swingers
• Big Sam’s Funky Nation
• Sweet Crude
• Naturally 7
• The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
• The Rance Allen Band
• Boyfriend
• Regina Carter’s Southern Comfort
• Terrence Blanchard
• The Bahamas Revue Band
• Cecile McLorin Salvant
• Marc Broussard
• And about 60 others

2018 was a record year at the domestic box office. Ticket sales were almost $11.9 billion, of which Disney pulled in a record $3.092 billion with BLACK PANTHER ($700mm), AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR ($678.8mm), and INCREDIBLES 2($608.6mm). JURASSIC WORLD 2 pulled in $417.7mm and AQUAMAN pulled in $320mm.

This past week’s box-office was really weak. GLASS stayed at No.1 with $18.9mm in its second week; THE UPSIDE stayed at No.2 with $11.9mm in its third week; AQUAMAN stayed at No.3 in its sixth week with $7.3mm (total of $316.4mm); THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING debuted at No.4 with $7.2mm; and SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, in its 7th week, held on to No.5, with another $6.1 million (total $169 million on budget of $90 million). SERENITY debuted at No.9 and BTS WORLD TOUR: LOVE YOURSELF SEOUL debuted at No.13.

The number of movies coming out this week is very low, with: MISS DALA, ARCTIC, ST. BERNARD SYNDICATE, and THE WILD PEAR TREE.

Technology & Space News:

I guess this is a Public Service Announcement, I was told by Google today that, pursuant to their December 2018 public announcement, Google will be shutting down Google+ for consumers in April 2019, “due to low usage and challenges involved in maintaining a successful product that meets consumers’ expectations.” This will affect any content (like photos and videos) you may have in your Album Archive. NASA satellites first spotted a volcanic island forming a few years ago, but most ‘newborn’ islands are washed away in a matter of month. But, this one has survived long enough that scientist went and visited it. Apple says it has fixed the Group FaceTime bug. Foxconn recommitted to $10 billion Wisconsin plant after a call from President Trump. Facebook removed accounts of fake news group in Indonesia. Samsung is going to sell 1 TB smartphones. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ private investigators are questioning mistress’ brother over leaked texts. Safety groups are urging caution as yet another possibly unconscious driver in moving Tesla was caught on camera. Elon Musk may make a cameo appearance in the upcoming Star Wars TV show. Musk says a Nevada-built Tesla Model Y is coming in 2020.

US News:

The longest US government shutdown in history is now temporarily over, as they agreed to kick the can down the road for 3 weeks. Meanwhile, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, re-invited President Trump (after dis-inviting him) to give his State of the Union Address to Congress on 2/5. A 31-year-old Louisiana motorcycle policeman who survived being shot in the face last year was just killed in a collision Friday escorting a funeral procession. $2 million worth of drugs were seized in Arizona. 9/11’s youngest victim would be 20-years-old now and there is optimism about justice for him. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s yearbook photo has caused an enormous amount of backlash, including the Virginia lieutenant governor and President Trump. Speaking of President Trump, he is at Mar-a-Lago, here in Palm Beach this weekend and already golfed Saturday with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. A high school basketball team bus flipped over, but all aboard were not badly hurt. Meth and marijuana worth $2 million were seized in an Arizona drug bust. An Iowa crowd’s rendition of the National Anthem at a high school basketball game has gone viral. In Ohio, a sheriff’s deputy was killed, another one was injured in a police standoff, and the 23-year-old suicidal suspect is in custody. A teenager told Siri that he wanted to shoot up a school and was arrested. In the “El Chapo” trial, evidence has been presented that he drugged and raped girls as young as 13, whom he picked from a catalog of photos.

International News:

Two bombs at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Philippines, killed at least 20 people and left more than 100 more injured. The top Venezuela general has rejected Maduro’s legitimacy and thrown his support behind the interim President. Archaeologists say some ancient carved “drums” give exact Stonehenge measurements, adding another mystery on top of the long-standing mystery. Plans have been laid for the evacuation of Queen Elizabeth and the royal family, should Brexit unrest break out. The Pope has arrived in the United Arab Emirates for the first-ever visit by a Pope. Nissan is having second thoughts about a UK-made SUV, due to Brexit worry, and has scrapped the plan. Senior US and South Korean officials met Sunday to discuss expected second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Australia announced today that the last child refugees held on the Pacific atoll of Nauru will soon be sent to the US, ending the banishment of children under the harsh asylum-seeker policy of the country. Australian police disabled and arrested a man in an airport standoff. He claimed to have a bomb and was menacing a woman with a knife. A former French lawmaker’s defamation lawsuit against 6 women who accused him of sexual misconduct and 4 journalists who reported the allegations is going to trial. The head of Ukraine’s new Orthodox Church has assumed office. Israel has started reinforcing its border fence with the Gaza Strip, erecting a galvanized steel barrier 20 feet high that will run the entire length of the territory. Syria says a US-led coalition hit its forces in the Eastern part of Syria. Nordic nations have swept the top 4 prizes at the world’s most prestigious culinary competition in France. Team Denmark took the gold medal. Iran’s space research center had a fire which killed 3 scientists. A bus crash south of Moscow killed 7 people and injured 32 others. Heavy snow in Germany forced the World Cup to cancel the last race before the World Championships. The death toll from the collapse of a dam holding back mining waste in southeastern Brazil has risen to 121 people. Another 226 people are missing. The US, and now Russia, have pulled out of a decades-old INF nuclear arms pact, but Russia will only deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles if the US does so in Europe. 14 armed groups have reached a peace deal with the Central African Republic government, ending years of conflict. Italy’s main Alpine highway into Austria, Germany and other areas of northern Europe has been hit by heavy snow, creating a 7.5-mile-long traffic jam.

Florida:

If you are interested in seeing more famous bands or solos in concert than my Generation Gap or Elvis Presley performances (or Spring Training National Anthems), there are many coming to Florida, perhaps when you will be visiting (I’ve added some concerts since the last Repo Commentary):

The Temptations-Fort Lauderdale, January 31
Don McLean-Immokalee, January 31
Michael Bolton-Fort Lauderdale, February 2
The Four Tops and the Temptations-West Palm Beach, February 2
Melissa Manchester-Aventura, February 8
Michael Bolton-West Palm Beach, February 8
The Commodores-Miami, February 9
Patti LaBelle-Fort Myers, February 11
Duran Duran-Miami Beach, February 12
Franki Valli & the Four Seasons, Hollywood, February 14
Andrea Bocelli-Miami, February 14
Dave Mason-Fort Lauderdale, February 15
Little River Band-Fort Myers, February 15
Michael Buble-Sunrise, February 16 (I would like to go)
Alan Parsons Project-Fort Lauderdale, February 18
Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes-Bonita Springs, February 20
Art Garfunkel-Fort Lauderdale, February 20
Fleetwood Mac-Sunrise, February 20
Sarah Brightman-Hollywood, February 20
PGA Honda Classic-PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, February 28-March 2
Pink-Sunrise-March 1 (I might have to go)
Sara Mclachlan-March 1, West Palm Beach
Paul Anka-Fort Lauderdale-March 4
Elton John-Sunrise, March 16
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band-Sunrise, March 17
Steve Miller Band-Hollywood, March 17
Palm Beach International Boat Show-West Palm Beach, March 28-March 31
Jackson Browne-West Palm Beach, April 3
The Rolling Stones-Miami, April 20
Ariana Grande-Orlando, May 29
Train & Goo Goo Dolls-West Palm Beach, July 6
Queen & Adam Lambert-Sunrise, August 17

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