Repo Commentary-01/17/20

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First, I hope you and your families had a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and a Happy New Year! I started this Repo Commentary almost 2 weeks ago, but keep getting interrupted from completing it.

I am still NOT retired. I will have news about that very very soon. Separately, I have been asked to moderate/speak on a panel at the upcoming IMN Securities Finance conference in Fort Lauderdale in February, so will likely see many of you there.

My Repo Commentary is posted free (it’s actually always been free) 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. I’m trying to make it more frequent, but I’ve been swamped with the holidays and guests.

If you need to reach me, my mobile is still 646-753-1300, my email for work is currently 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. As many of you know, it used to be a daily Repo Commentary back in the 80s and for a long time. But, then again, I used to be younger. I don’t know how I typed this by hand (still do) every single day (and didn’t get fired) and even re-wrote some 200 song lyrics to current market activity.

It was Elvis Presley’s 85th Birthday last week (01/08) and I didn’t get a chance to honor him in the Repo Commentary. As an Elvis Presley Tribute Artist since 1989, I am honored to and have had the pleasure of performing as Elvis Aaron Presley, the “King of Rock and Roll”. In his short, 42-year life, Elvis changed music forever, bringing together many genres of music (gospel, blues, R&B, country, jazz, folk) and created his own genre. He recorded 711 songs, a record 115 in Billboard’s Top 40, a record 152 in Billboard’s Top 100, a record 38 Top 10 hits (tying him with Madonna), and 18 No.1 hits (2 behind The Beatles, and tied for second with Mariah Carey. Elvis spent a record 80 weeks at No.1 on the charts, had the most (129) albums charting on Billboard’s Top 200 (well ahead of No.2 Frank Sinatra with 82), the most (117) Gold record albums (well ahead of No.2 Barbra Streisand with 51), the most (67) Platinum albums, the most (27) Multi-Platinum albums, the most (54) Gold singles, and the 4th-most (27) Platinum singles (behind Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and Chris Brown). He also had a record 77 jumpsuits, many of which he wore at some of his 1,684 concerts, which were all sold out!

Holidays or Events (01/16):

¥ National Religious Freedom Day (United States)
¥ Teacher’s Day in Myanmar
¥ Teacher’s Day in Thailand
¥ Appreciate a Dragon Day
¥ Book Publishers Day
¥ International Hot and Spicy Food Day (I think I celebrated that a day early, ugh)
¥ Get to Know Your Customers Day
¥ National Good Teen Day
¥ National Fig Newton Day
¥ National Nothing Day
¥ National Without a Scalpel Day
¥ Prohibition Remembrance Day (it would have turned 100-years-old today)
¥ Psychiatric Technician’s Day
¥ Monday will be Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States, and many markets and government offices will be closed.

Some Famous People Born on 01/16 in History:

¥ 1853-Andre Michelin, French businessman and co-founder of the Michelin Tyre Company.
¥ 1900-Edith Frank, German-Dutch mother of Anne Frank.
¥ 1908-Ethel Merman, American actress and singer.
¥ 1910-Dizzy Dean, American baseball player.
¥ 1932-Dian Fossey, American zoologist and anthropologist
¥ 1933-Susan Sontag, American novelist.
¥ 1935-A.J. Foyt, American race car driver.
¥ 1943-Ronnie Milsap, American singer and pianist.
¥ 1948-John Carpenter, American director, producer, screenwriter, and composer
¥ 1950-Debbie Allen, American actress, dancer, and choreographer
¥ 1959-Sade, Nigerian-English singer-songwriter and producer.
¥ 1969-Roy Jones Jr., American boxer
¥ 1974-Kate Moss, English model and fashion designer
¥ 1980-Albert Pujols, Dominican-American baseball player.
¥ 1985-Joe Flacco, American football player.
¥ 1988-Mark Trumbo, American baseball player

I don’t remember these Repo Commentaries taking 2-3 days to type up, but I guess I wasn’t getting as interrupted all those years. Anyway, today, which is actually 1/17, actress Betty White turns 98 years old!

This Day in History (01/16):

In the interest of not holding up this Repo Commentary any further (and having all the news go stale), I’ll suspend this section until the next Repo Commentary.

Daily Weird Facts:

Many of Denny’s restaurants were built without locks, which was problematic when they decided to close down for Christmas.

Daily Affirmation/Thought/Pun/Quote:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Currency 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
$55.26/barrel on 2/3
$55.41/barrel on 2/26
$73.77/barrel on 4/29
$63.28/barrel on 5/17
$54.07/barrel on 6/18
$55.96/barrel on 7/24
$58.31/barrel on 9/10
$53.50/barrel on 10/2
$59.10/barrel on 12/8
$58.81/barrel on 1/17

The price of gasoline at my new West Palm Beach station just jumped in the past week by 12 cents, to $2.39/gallon. Most of the other stations in the area are 20-60 cents more per gallon.

One USD versus the Yen was trading at (these are all Repo Commentary dates):

112.20 on 12/24
108.60 on 01/07
109.07 on 01/16
103.18 on 02/03
104.86 on 2/25
103.86 on 5/17
102.59 on 6/18
102.43 on 7/24
101.72 on 9/10
102.16 on 10/02
102.96 on 12/06
104.30 on 01/17

One Euro was trading on:

12/24 at $1.1426
01/07 at $1.1478
01/16 at $1.1396
02/03 at $1.2047
02/25 at $1.1955
05/17 at $1.1761
06/18 at $1.1825
07/24 at $1.1740
09/10 at $1.1623
10/02 at $1.1504
12/06 at $1.1688
01/17 at $1.1721

One British Pound was trading on:

12/24 at $1.2655
01/07 at $1.2770
01/16 at $1.2880
02/03 at $1.3758
02/25 at $1.3728
05/17 at $1.3427
06/18 at $1.3157
07/24 at $1.3070
09/10 at $1.2959
10/02 at $1.2882
12/06 at $1.3819
01/17 at $1.3753

One USD versus the CAD at:

1.3442 on 12/24
1.3297 on 01/07
1.3255 on 01/16
1.2492 on 2/03
1.2492 on 2/25
1.2800 on 5/17
1.2740 on 6/18
1.2480 on 7/24
1.2520 on 9/10
1.2560 on 10/02
1.2530 on 12/06
1.2390 on 01/17

Gold closed on 9/09 at $1504.90/ounce. On 10/02, it closed at $1498.70/ounce. On 12/6, it closed at $1,464.40. Today, it closed at $1557.30/ounce.

Bitcoin was trading at (Repo Commentary Dates):

$8,185.21 on 7/25
$6,350 on 10/5
$3,774.97 on 12/24/18
$3,7774.97 on 01/07
$3,598.90 on 01/16
$3,421.10 on 02/06
$3,826.44 on 02/26
$8,100.00 on 05/16
$7,215.79 on 05/17
$9,088.59 on 06/18
$11,919.30 on 06/25
$9,790.37 on 07/24
$10,183.90 on 09/10
$8,235.46 on 10/02
$7,470.41 on 12/06
$8,876.87 on 01/17/20

After rebounding dramatically since the beginning of the year, although certainly not to its $19,000 highs, Bitcoin hit a wall at the beginning of the Summer, rallied during the Summer, and recently has tumbled again in the past three months.

Global Financial News:

The US has threatened to cut off Iraq from crucial bank account with the Federal Reserve. Regulators in Europe are reminding us that Shadow Banking is still growing and remains opaque, which are risks for the global economy. Fed’s Quarles is calling for transparency, accountability and fairness in bank supervision. The top six US banks, some of which posted record profits earlier this week, have benefited from a $32 billion boost from tax cuts signed into law in 2017 by President Trump. Those banks paid an average effective tax rate of 18% in 2019, according to Bloomberg. Because of these bank profits, JPMorgan’s CEO’s campaign of anti-regulation remarks that regulations are too onerous, are meeting skepticism now, according to FT. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is changing the “lockup” procedure for economic data to keep the information secure from algorithmic traders before its public release, including removing computers which can provide machine-readable news in the Washington newsroom on March 1st. This change follows a 2014 recommendation from the Labor Department inspector general. Wait, it took six years to implement? Morgan Stanley Q4 profit was $2.2 billion, beating analysts’ expectations and helping it achieve record annual revenue of $41.4 billion. Not all banks reported record profits, as BNY Mellon’s profit was hampered by low rates. IPO talks continue to swirl around Ant and show a value of $200 billion. Pay-later company Sezzle has been given approval by California for a direct-to-consumer lending license, allowing it to make small, interest-free installment loans, per Reuters. Bank of America says it intends to double its number of high-net-worth advisers in 2020, or 600, and markets to 40. Last year, BOA grew assets under management to a record $288 billion, per Reuters. Democratic members of the House Financial Services Committee have asked the GAO for information on how alternative data such as utility bills is used to make credit decision and whether any of such practices might conflict with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Fair Housing Act. The FDIC and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are encouraging banks to be vigilant regarding their cybersecurity controls, saying there is now a heightened risk of an attack. They won’t say if there is a specific threat. However, other agencies have warned that Iran might go after US financial institutions. Schwab assets have climbed past $4 trillion on zero-commission trades, and I don’t think that includes their recent acquisition of TD Ameritrade. After the signing of “phase one” of the new trade deal with China, US financial firms now have access to Chinese markets, which should be a huge reward for both sides. China will scrap foreign equity limits in the securities, fund management, futures and insurance sectors and open up its payment system to US firms. The US firms should seen increases in business and profits, while it should also be beneficial to the Chinese economy by further modernizing their capital-markets system and banking system. Chinese economic growth hit its lowest level in 29 years, at 6.1% in 2019. Jackson will step down from the SEC. The World Economic Forum convenes next week again in Davos, Switzerland, and political leaders intend to discuss climate change, foreign policy, and trade. The UK Financial Conduct Authority and the Bank of England have announced a series of deadlines for the LIBOR phaseout. The first deadline is 3/2/20, when there will be a shift to the Sterling Overnight Index Average. ECB says it will monitor Eurozone stimulus measures. BOE’s Carney said he will advise PM Boris Johnson on climate change. BlackRock’s new Green ETF (iShares ESG MSCI USA), which focuses on environmental, social and governance criteria, received $1.15 billion on Wednesday, a record one-day inflow. The US Senate voted 89-10 in support of the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, which replaces the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

SIFMA has recommended a Fixed Income market close for Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

US Market News:

The data shows that CPI rose in 2019 at the fastest pace in 8 years, yet inflation is still low. In the past 10 years, the US job market has not had a single month with a decline in the overall number of jobs. Remarkably, more than 22 million jobs have been created since the lower point for employment during the last downturn. The US retail sector posted steady holiday sales, as US consumer spending continued to increase, even through the end of the holiday shopping season. In regards to stocks, the price-earning to growth ratio, which gauges whether a stock is properly valued, is at the highest reading since Bank of America tracking began in 1986. Any reading above 1 for a stock indicates overvaluation, and the ratio is at an average of 1.8, as reported by CNBC.

The Dow Jones (global stocks as well), along with other stock indices, were up this morning, after yesterday’s record highs, eclipsing the records set in July 2019.

The Dow Jones closed at (Repo Commentary Dates):

26,656.77 on 9/20/18
26,447.05 on 10/5/18
21,792.20 on 12/23/18
21,712.53 on 12/26/18
24,207.16 on 01/16/19
25,063.89 on 2/06/19
26,106.47 on 2/25/19
25,862.68 on 5/16/19
26,465.54 on 6/18/19
27,269.97 on 7/24/19
26,793.09 on 9/10/19
26,229.31 on 10/02/19
28,015.06 on 12/06/19
29,348.10 on 01/17/20

S&P 500 has had a long upward climb with very little volatility. It has risen 27% during the past 12 months. It has risen or fallen less than 1% since mid-October, showing one of the longest periods of low volatility. It has closed on:

10/5/18 at 2,885.58
12/26/18 at 2,467.70
01/07/19 at 2,549.69
01/16/19 at 2,616.10
02/06/19 at 2,706.53
02/25/19 at 2,799.34
05/16/19 at 2,876.32
06/18/19 at 2,917.75
07/24/19 at 3,019.56 new all-time high
09/10/19 at 2,969.04
10/02/19 at 2,906.94 down 33.31
12/06/19 at 3,145.91
01/17/20 at 3,329.62

Nasdaq too gave up its 8/28/18 high of 8,030.04, closing on:

10/5/18 at 7,788.45
12/26/18 at 6,554.36
01/07/19 at 6,823.47
01/16/19 at 7,034.70
02/06/19 at 7,263.87
02/25/19 at 7,561.87
05/16/19 at 7,898.05
06/18/19 at 7,953.68
07/24/19 at 8,321.50 new all-time high
09/10/19 at 8,043.58
10/02/19 at 7,809.22
12/06/19 at 8,656.07
01/17/20 at 9,388.95

US Treasury yields have been in free-fall since hitting highs in October 2018. The US Treasury announced that it will start selling a 20year bond during the first half of 2020, in an attempt to help with the budget deficit.

2 YEAR NOTES closed on:

10/5/18 at 2.88%
12/18/18 at 2.65%
01/07/19 at 2.53%
01/16/19 at 2.55%
02/06/19 at 2.52%
02/22/19 at 2.48%
05/16/19 at 2.20%
06/18/19 at 1.86%
07/24/19 at 1.83%
09/09/19 at 1.58%
10/01/19 at 1.56%
12/06/19 at 1.61%
01/17/20 at 1.58%

3 YEAR NOTES closed on:

10/5/18 at 2.99%
12/18/18 at 2.64%
01/07/19 at 2.47% (inverted to 2years)
01/16/19 at 2.53%
02/06/19 at 2.50%
02/22/19 at 2.46%
05/16/19 at 2.15%
06/18/19 at 1.80%
07/24/19 at 1.79%
09/09/19 at 1.52%
10/01/19 at 1.51%
12/06/19 at 1.64%
01/17/20 at 1.58%

5 YEAR NOTES closed on:

10/5/18 at 3.07%
12/18/18 at 2.65%
01/07/19 at 2.49%
01/16/19 at 2.54%
02/06/19 at 2.51%
02/22/19 at 2.47%
05/16/19 at 2.18%
06/18/19 at 1.83%
07/24/19 at 1.82%
09/09/19 at 1.49%
10/01/19 at 1.51%
12/06/19 at 1.67%
01/17/20 at 1.63%

7 YEAR NOTES closed on:

10/5/18 at 3.18%
12/18/18 at 2.74%
01/07/19 at 2.60%
01/16/19 at 2.62%
02/06/19 at 2.59%
02/22/19 at 2.55%
05/16/19 at 2.28%
06/18/19 at 1.93%
07/24/19 at 1.93%
09/09/19 at 1.57%
10/01/19 at 1.59%
12/06/19 at 1.78%
01/17/20 at 1.74%

10 YEAR NOTES closed on:

10/5/18 at 3.23%
12/18/18 at 2.82%
01/07/19 at 2.70%
01/16/19 at 2.73%
02/06/19 at 2.70%
02/22/19 at 2.65%
05/16/19 at 2.40%
06/18/19 at 2.06%
07/24/19 at 2.05%
09/09/19 at 1.83%
10/01/19 at 1.65% dramatic drop in one month!
12/06/19 at 1.84% dramatic rise in two months!
01/17/20 at 1.84%

30 YEAR BONDS closed on:

10/5/18 at 3.40%
12/18/18 at 3.07%
01/07/19 at 2.99%
01/16/19 at 3.07%
02/06/19 at 3.03%
02/22/19 at 3.02%
05/16/19 at 2.84%
06/18/19 at 2.55%
07/24/19 at 2.58%
09/10/19 at 2.11%
10/01/19 at 2.11%
12/06/19 at 2.29%
01/17/20 at 2.29%

US Treasury yields have stayed constant over the last month, despite the Fed’s continued intervention in the target rate..

Housing News:

Jumbo mortgages are still haunting the housing market. Fed Governor Bowman spoke yesterday on the Outlook for the Housing market to a gathering of home builders. She pointed out that the overall US economy is currently in a good place and that the FOMC sees moderate growth in GDP over the next few years, with unemployment at the lowest it has been in 50 years, and a muted inflation rate, likely not to exceed the FOMC’s 2% objective. After the Housing Crisis of more than a decade ago, both new and existing home sales did not increase again until 2012, and they have remained at modest levels since then. In the past few years, the Fed sees some encouraging signs that the strength of the economy is easing these housing market headwinds. She believes that the higher rate of household ‘formation’ will eventually result in higher demand for housing and encourage further increases in homebuilding. Lately, the inventories of both new and existing homes for sale have drifted back to relatively low levels and both new and existing home sales have moved up strongly in the second half of 2019. She pointed out two challenges for the housing sector. One was that homebuilders are having difficulty finding and retaining qualified skilled workers. The second is the declining presence of community banks in the consumer real estate mortgage market, partly due to regulatory burdens. The housing market is not a rosy picture everywhere thought. In Boston, housing costs are a problem and rent control has not been the answer, and in fact has been leading to a reduced supply of housing. Okay, how about some exciting news about concrete? I know, seems counter-intuitive. However, researchers say they’ve created a “living” concrete that can grow and potentially heal itself. The material combines cyanobacteria, sand and a gelatin hydrogel. The material could eventually help build future structures on Mars.

Repo News:

The Federal Reserve has continued pumping billions of dollars into the Repo market to keep the short-end liquid, especially through the year-end volatility. They have not only been doing overnight repo operations, but also have an aggressive schedule for term repo operations. These have not only pushed GC repo rates lower, but also have narrowed the spread between GC repo and Fed Funds, below the recent norm of 13-15bp.

Well, “repo” is the lubricant of the money market system, particularly the issuance of US Treasuries and other bonds, and it only comes up in conversation among non-participants when the gears start squeaking or fail to function, like yelling for WD 40. And, the last time the general public heard about “repo” it was during the Financial Crisis.

I know you’ve seen many articles on the subject of current repo market illiquidity and volatility, I’ve read them too. I think I can summarize them all and add my now 37 years of experience in the Securities Finance market to lay out the causes and possible solutions.

To look at the WHY, one need look at what has happened since the Financial Crisis.

¥ The regulators, particularly the Federal Reserve, instituted emergency liquidity programs for different sectors of the money market (CP, Corporate Bonds, Broker/Dealers, GSEs, etc.). They eventually unwound those many programs.
¥ They opened up for a brief time the Discount Window to more participants and without the previous stigma attached, for collateral providers to access cash.
¥ They put FNMA and FHLMC into conservatorship.
¥ They began easing Monetary Policy massively for years.
¥ They began Quantitative Easing and built up the Fed’s balance sheet to $4.5 trillion. They added to it by buying more securities every month from the paydowns on their MBS portfolio.
¥ They propped up some broker/dealers, allowed some to fail, and helped others to consolidate/merge.
¥ The Repo Market shrunk in the US from about $7 trillion to $3 trillion, before recent increase to about $3.6 trillion.
¥ Regulators instituted mountains of new reforms, especially the 310 new rules of Dodd-Frank, globally to decrease the likelihood of systemic risk in the financial system and to force, particularly the broker/dealers and GSIB banks to hold more capital/reserves for liquidity.
¥ The market began looking for alternatives to financing through broker/dealers via CCPs, peer-to-peer financing, Sponsored Repo, and electronic trading platforms.
¥ The Fed began its much hailed RRP program, which added over 300 cash providers from the Repo market to finance the Fed’s balance sheet and provide ‘liquidity’ for those cash providers.
¥ The Fed stopped QE and began reducing their balance sheet down to $2.5 trillion.
¥ The US Treasury began ramping up issuance to the tune of about $1 trillion more, which is funneled through the 24 primary broker/dealers and the central banks.
¥ The Fed began tightening monetary policy and tinkering with new measures of repo rates and LIBOR replacement. They also began tinkering with the Interest on Excess Reserves (IOER) from banks and credit unions, to try to create higher reserves.
¥ The Fed did an about face and began easing monetary policy. They also lowered IOER.
That’s not everything that happened, but that gives you the broad strokes. And just in those bullet points, I see many of the contributing factors of the recent dislocation of the repo market. And, by the way, that actually refutes Mr. Memani’s later comment that “Nothing much has happened in the money markets since financial crisis. A lot more happened in those 11 years than happened in the 26 years that I was in the money markets.

I believe the reasons we had dislocations last quarter come down to a major imbalance of bank reserves, behavior not consistent with expectation, illiquidity in the repo market (rather than the highly touted increase in liquidity), concentration risk, a corporate tax date that removed cash from the repo market, humongous new supply of US treasuries being issued, many Repo market participants out of the Federal Reserve direct loop, and a mountain of hundreds of new regulations that broker/dealers (and others) are trying to still absorb and position reserves/capital, personnel, and trading strategies for. As you can see, there are a lot of balls in the air!

I’m not sure why participants and regulators didn’t foresee an imbalance (lack of) bank reserves. The piles of new regulations that regulators gave to the money markets fundamentally required banks to hold more reserves versus balance sheets (which repo is the major contributor to), the low yields may have encouraged banks to use reserves elsewhere in more profitable areas than repo (they are profit-motivated, as they should be), and the Fed lowered the IOER which may have disincented banks from depositing reserves at the Fed. The decrease in the Fed’s balance sheet came at the cost of the market absorbing those securities. The US Treasury issuing phenomenal amounts of securities that have to be taken by the 24 primary dealers (already full up on balance sheets they are trying to reduce) and the central banks/swfs (who already have $14 trillion of US Treasuries, should have been know as a potential clog in the system. Plus, with the Fed lowering rates, the returns on those US Treasuries would be lower for those new owners. And the central banks ownership of US Treasuries is another complicated story, one of ripple effects. They can’t really sell US Treasuries into this market, without having some issue with the US Government, whichever branch. But, yet, many of them need to support their currency, particularly against the US Dollar. So, some of them enter the Repo market to repo the US Treasuries to receive US Dollars to then buy their own currencies with, propping up their currency by kicking the can somewhat down the road, until their GDP rises or oil prices rise (raising their specific GDP). Layer over that macroeconomic soup a topping of trade wars and tariffs, it becomes rather complex to predict. And, that brings me to my last observation, that unintended consequences arose from the hundreds of regulations foisted on the money market, mainly because market behavior is not that predictive. Regulators thought that if they made the system safer, more investors would come in, but yet the repo market didn’t grow that much, but yet supply from the Fed and from the US Treasury increased dramatically. Regulators thought that if the banks had more reserves and capital, they would pass that on to the buyside, but that didn’t take into account their profit motivations and individual bank idiosyncricies. Lastly, the regulators didn’t expect the perfect storm of added supply, taxes withdrawn, cash out of the system, reserves lower, and tools that would work directly only on the 24 primary dealers and the 300 cash providers in RRP. I’ve been remarking for years, since the RRP, that there was not a comparable program for collateral providers/leveraged players in the Repo market. Steve Malekian went further to say, a year ago, that the newly touted liquidity of the Repo market was “only for Platinum accounts.” It was only for select buyside clients.

So, the Fed needs to do something. And, I don’t mean just the Overnight operations with the 24 primary dealers. I can’t even predict what those dealers’ positions are or how the added liquidity would flow to the buyside clients. The extra cash could be used to fund their Swaps desk, the Repo Desk, other outright traders, Platinum accounts, or speculatively with leveraged accounts (as a few savvy broker/dealers have seen that opportunity and gone short to reverse in at higher rates from leveraged accounts and supply balance sheet). The point is that the mound of regulations and the open market operations and the tinkering with the IOER are supposed to impact banks and broker/dealers in such a way to induce certain behavior, but behavior is unique. So, the Fed needs to go back to its ample toolkit (and get people who have been there at least 10 years) to:
¥ Implement more term RPs, to give the market some faith and reduce Fed reputational risk
¥ Purchase securities, either US Treasuries or Agency MBS, increasing the Fed balance sheet (although this may be difficult because there were probably several good reasons why they decreased it.)
¥ Open the Discount Window to more participants, with NO stigma attached (it used to be how one in the market knew who was having a liquidity crisis), and other sectors represented.
¥ Create a collateral provider facility, similar to RRP, or help reduce the hurdles, like CCLF for CCPs and Sponsored Repo type ventures to increase liquidity.
¥ Tinker the IOER rate UP, rather than down, to increase the Reserves at the Fed.
¥ Support/encourage Repo done outside of the 24 primary dealers, helping collateral providers find cash providers, when certain broker/dealers are balance sheet full and capital restrained from the very regulations that the Fed was involved in. I hope that didn’t come out too angry. I think systemic risk reduction is a huge priority and I am worried about firesale risk (although I don’t think moving the sale down the road to 7 days or 30 days changes firesale risk, it just changes the date of the firesale).
¥ Have the Fed be a permanent backstop to the Repo market.
The bottom line is that the money markets, particularly the securities finance market (Repo & Securities Lending) is still trying to find its footing, particularly as the Repo market has shrunk, while Treasury supply has increased.

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 ALL 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 dealers’ repo matched book came at a couple of costs, first, the bid/offer spread that went to the dealers, which has been volatile but certainly widened since the Financial Crisis, and second, the defaults of the Financial Crisis, which not only subjected clients to dealer defaults and wider spreads, but in many cases directly impacted clients by making them suddenly the outright traders of repo collateral. Some of that collateral, on top of it, was very illiquid. Not knowing who the other clients were on the other side of the dealers’ repo matched book, and who could potentially bring down those intermediary dealers was costly for many clients. Clearly, with that pipeline of is intermediation becoming severely crimped by post-Financial Crisis regulatory reforms, consolidation and bankruptcies, and the resulting drop of about 60% in balance sheets (which has recovered partially with new entrants to the market and international banks’ increases due to regulatory arbitrage) being used for broker/dealer respective repo matched books, new pathways/pipelines needed to be explored for cash provider and collateral provider clients. My former baby, AVM’s Direct Repo™, was the first of one of such pathways, over 10 years ago. Since then, many other liquidity 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 Agented repo through seclending agents and some prime brokers to buyside clients, direct lending from beneficial owners to hedge funds who are short via their agents, 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 (BNY DBVX, State Street’s Cash Cross), FICC’s sponsored repo and cleared repo products for certain sectors of the buyside into that CCP, dealer to dealer and some clients electronic trading platforms (like GLMX, HQLA, and Tradeweb), other Repo and/or Seclending CCPs (particularly in Europe, like Eurex, LCH, OCC, CME, etc.), total return swaps platforms (like WeMatch.com), and collateralized loan exchanges like AFX/CBOE. There have still been other firms that have created some king of product that mimics a repo, but yet doesn’t show up on dealers’ balance sheets (so helps them), and/or provides better credit counterparties (so helps clients), and can take many forms. I believe this overall evolution will continue and eventually we will see all of these pathways used in some part, 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 maybe for only select ‘platinum’ clients and may come at a higher bid/offer spread or in specific, more profitable products/securities, as other market observers/experts have said. The US tariffs on China have strangely had little effect on Import Prices.

Securities Finance Industry Conferences:
 

• Deutsche Borse/Clearstream/Securities Lending Times held their annual GFF Summit in Luxembourg, 1/28-1/30/20, which I attended two years ago.
• IMN 26th Beneficial Owners International Securities Finance conference will be held in Fort Lauderdale, FL on 2/12-2/13/20. I was the Chairperson in 2019 and will be a moderator/speaker this year. I hope to see many of you there!
• iMoneyNet/Informa has yet to announce its annual MMExpo, after the merger. I have spoken at this one several times.
• PASLA/RMA will hold its 17th annual Conference on Asian Securities Lending in Tokyo, Japan on 3/3-3/5/20.
• GIOA will hold its 16th annual conference in Las Vegas 3/18-3/20/20. I have spoken (and sung) at this one. I may attend.
• Crane Data will hold its annual Bond Fund Symposium in Boston, MA on 3/23-3/24/20.
• IHS Markit will hold its annual Securities Finance Forum in London, England on 3/24/20.
• Finadium will hold its 4th annual Investors in Securities Lending Conference in NYC on 5/13-5/14/20. I’ve spoken and sponsored this one.
• GFOA will hold its gigantic 114th (wow!) annual conference in Los Angeles on 5/17-5/20/20. I have attended this one in the past.
• IMN/AFME will hold its annual Global Bank ABS (West) conference in Barcelona, Spain on 6/16-6/18/20.
• Worldwide Business Research will hold its annual Fixed Income Leaders USA Summit in Nashville, TN on 6/8-6/10/20.
• ISLA will hold its 29th Annual Securities Finance and Collateral Management conference in Vienna, Austria on 6/23-6/25/20. I have spoken (and sung) at this one before.
• Crane Data will hold its annual Money Fund Symposium on 6/24-6/26/20 in Minneapolis, MN. I heard there were 580 attendees in Boston last year. I have spoken at this conference before.
• National Association of State Treasurers will hold its annual conference in San Diego, CA on 9/13-9/16/20. I’ve spoken and sung at this one.
• IMN will hold its annual European Securities Finance conference in London, England on 9/15-9/16/20. I’ve attended this before.
• Worldwide Business Research will hold its annual Fixed Income & FX Leader Summit in Singapore on 9/22-9/24/20.
• IMN will hold its annual ABS East conference in Miami Beach, FL on 10/5-10/7/20. I’ve attended this before and might again.
• Worldwide Business Research will hold its annual Fixed Income Leaders 2020 conference in Barcelona, Spain on 10/12-10/14/20.
• RMA will hold its 38th annual Conference on Securities Finance and Collateral Management in Amelia Island, FL on October 12-15. I saw many of you last year in Boca Raton. It was my 37th RMA I’ve attended.
• Crane Data has yet to announce its annual European Money Fund Symposium.
• Finadium has yet to announce its 4th annual Investors in Securities Lending Conference Europe.
• American Financial Professionals (AFP) will hold its large annual conference in Las Vegas, NV on 10/18-10/21/20.
• Finadium has yet to announce its Rates & Repo conference in New York. I’ve spoken and sponsored this one.
• Risk.net has yet to announce its 26th annual Risk USA conference. I’ve chaired this one.
• SIFMA has yet to announce its annual Meeting.

Federal Reserve News:

The Fed Funds rate, which is still the target rate of Federal Reserve monetary policy and changes to which are made by and announced by the FOMC at regularly scheduled meetings, is currently set at 1.50-1.75% (remember, the Fed has been using a target ‘range’ for a while), after the FOMC lowered it on 7/31/19 and again on 9/18/19 and again on 12/4/19. The Effective Fed Funds Rate (EFFR), as reported by the Federal Reserve, was 1.88% on 10/1/19.

For you youngsters, particularly the ones freaking out about the Fed doing daily RP operations, the Federal Reserve used to not telegraph what it was doing in monetary policy. It would simply come in (and not on scheduled dates like FOMC meetings) and add or drain reserves by announcing a Customer RP, System RP, or Matched Sales. We would then all scramble, as the market absorbed the news, and try to figure out how much they did and where the Fed Funds rate would settle.

The Overnight Bank Funding Rate (OBFR), is also published by the NY Fed to capture the volume-weighted median of overnight federal funds transactions, Eurodollar transactions, and the domestic deposits reported by banks. That rate on 10/1/19 was 1.85%.

The Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) is supposed to be a broad measure of the cost of borrowing cash overnight collateralized by US Treasury securities. It is also reported by the NY Fed on its website. It has been controversial and has been considered as a possible replacement for LIBOR. SOFR includes trades in the Broad General Collateral Rate of Repo plus bilateral Treasury Repo transactions cleared through the DVP services at CCP FICC, ostensibly filtering out issues trading Special. However, critics (and I am one) say that it only picks up the Offered Side of Repo (not a median), that it only picks up the small amount of DVP transactions cleared at FICC and Triparty Repo done at Bank of NY, ignoring the growing amount of bilateral (non-Triparty) repo being done peer-to-peer, dealer-to-dealer, and client-to-dealer, outside of FICC. It is a good representation of where Money Funds (except for a few savvy ones who trade peer-to-peer) are paid on their cash versus US Treasuries in Repo each day by broker/dealers. It almost completely ignores other sectors, particularly buyside clients with collateral. That all being said, the current SOFR reported by the Fed for 10/1/19 was 1.88%.

The next FOMC meetings (and they are all two-day meetings so these are the second day, when they actually announce) are: 1/29/20, 3/18/20, 4/29/20, 6/10/20, 7/29/20, 9/16/20, 11/5/20, and 12/16/20.

The Federal Reserve’s Reverse Repo Facility (RRP), which has over 300 approved participants (mostly banks, GSEs, and MMFs) is used as a tool by the Federal Reserve, along with its Fed Funds target-setting monetary policy, and IOER for depository institutions, to help control short-term interest rates. 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 5/15/19, 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. So, if RRP is not extinct, it is certainly now dormant, occasionally coming out of hibernation for year-ends and quarter-ends, when liquidity becomes very strange.

In December 2018, at the FOMC meeting, 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%

But, then the Federal Reserve paused. Suddenly, on 7/31/19, the Fed eased the Fed Funds target rate to 2.25%, and then did another rate cut by 0.25% to 2.00% on 9/17/19. Technically, that rate is the top end of a 25bp rate spread that the Fed considers its current target rate (1.75%-2.00%). The reversal in monetary policy is expected to continue, with perhaps one more rate cut by the Fed in 2019. The FOMC actually held an unscheduled meeting on 10/4/19, but did not change monetary policy at that meeting. But, on 12/11/19, the Fed, somewhat expectedly, lowered the Fed Funds target range to 1.50-1.75%, down another 25bp.

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 reference, the Fed Funds target rate was 5.25% before the Fed cut of 9/18/2007, at or near the beginning of the Financial Crisis.

Some experts feel that the Federal Reserve is stuck in quantitative-easing hell, again. Fed’s Kaplan worries that investors put on more risk, after recent interest rate policy cut. Fed’s George says that 2019’s interest rate cuts may need to be reversed. President Trump plans to nominate Shelton and Waller to the Federal Reserve. Fed officials believe that the US economy will avoid a recession, beause of last year’s rate cuts by the Fed. Fed’s Clarida says while the economy is in a good place, he thinks inflation could rise to 2%. Bernanke says that the Fed has the right tools to fight the next recession. While Yellen says that regulators need new powers and more tools to stave off potential asset bubbles.

Earthquakes and Volcanoes:

The major 6.4 earthquake (and subsequent aftershocks) last week in Puerto Rico, which knocked out power again on the island again, was a very rare occurrence, something that happens in 75-450 years.

1/17 5.9 Ascension Island Region
1/16 5.5 Off Kamchatka, Russia
1/16 5.6 North of Ascension Island
1/15 5.6 Timor Region, Indonesia
1/12 5.6 Bouvet Island Region
1/10 5.5 New Zealand
1/9 6.0 Eastern Siberia
1/7 5.6 Tallaboa, Puerto Rico
1/7 5.8 New Britain Region, Papua New Guinea
1/7 5.5 Puerto Rico Region
1/7 6.3 Puerto Rico Region
1/7 5.5 North of Svalbard, Greenland
1/6 5.8 Indios, Puerto Rico
1/6 5.6 North of Ascension Island
1/6 5.6 Oaxaca, Mexico

Weather:

The Atlantic Hurricane Season begins June 1st and ends November 30th. For the 2019 storm season, CSU, which has been the most used, forecast a near-average season of 13 named storms, 5 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes. It turned out to be the 4th year in a row of above-average damaging seasons. We had 18 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes. It became the 7th year that there were multiple Category-5 hurricanes in one season.

The Pacific Hurricane Season starts 5/1/20 and ends 11/1/20.

As for the weather, Florida finally has moderate temperatures after an entire December of record rain and high winds. That followed a Summer of record heat. We are in the 70s and going down to 50s at night. The rest of the country has seen unusually warm temperatures followed by bouts of snow, and the whole country was recently impacted by a 2,000-mile-long storm. Another sprawling Winter storm will bring hazardous travel from the Plain states to the Northeast this weekend. Snow could get heavy over much of the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and the Northeast. Freezing rain is expected from the southern Plains into the Mid-Atlantic region.

Sports News:

MLB:

The MLB regular season began 3/28 last year and ended on 9/30 (more than 6 months). The World Series went 7 games, and the Washington Nationals, who were in the Postseason for the first time, beat the Houston Astros, who won the World Series in 2017, 4 games to 3 games. The cool thing, from my perspective, is that they share the same brand new Spring Training facility right here in West Palm Beach, FL, and I sing the National Anthem for both teams several times during Spring Training.

Speaking of Spring Training, catchers and pitchers don’t even report until February and games don’t start until March. But, the face of baseball has forever changed this week. MLB, which had been investigating allegations of cheating by the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros and 2018 World Series champion Boston Red Sox, came down with harsh punishments for the Astros: a fine of $5mm, loss of their next first round and second round draft picks, and suspension for one year of their manager and their GM. The Astros immediately fired both men, after the announcement. That will have a huge impact on the team that came in 2nd place in 2019. The common denominator between the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox was then Astros’ bench coach and now Red Sox manager, Alex Cora. He was allegedly instrumental in the method of cheating using technology to steal signs from other teams, and brought that method and lack of respect for the game of baseball with him to the Red Sox in 2018. Red Sox management obviously feels so too, as they just fired him, even before he is disciplined by MLB. There are many analysts who think he should get a lifetime ban, like Pete Rose received for probably a lesser offense. MLB is definitely showing that it means business and will not tolerate this type of cheating, with huge consequences if any team does. It is having more ripple effects too, as today (Thursday), Carlos Beltran, a former Astros’ player in 2017, and new coach of the Mets, resigned even before his first season as coach. He was the only player who was named as allegedly participating in the cheating while with the Astros. I was about to tell you all the new MLB managers for this season, and then suddenly 2 get fired and one quits. Hard to replace a manager (and a GM) right before Spring Training. There is a rumor that the Red Sox may pick their former catcher and captain, Jason Varitek, to manage. Another crowd favorite would be Dustin Pedroia, but he still wants to play again. By the way, at the end of the season, the Red Sox also fired their President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, because of their poor 2019 season. Chaim Bloom replaced him and now has to hire a manager. The Astros have interviewed Buck Showalter for the manager job. The Twins have landed 3B Josh Donaldson from the Braves for 4years/$92 million. The Pirates’ new manager is Derek Shelton. The Giants’ new manager is Gabe Kapler.

The Hall of Fame Committee will decide the 2020 class of inductees next Tuesday. It’s almost guaranteed that Derek Jeter will be inducted on his first year of eligibility. Is it finally going to be time for Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds? Probably not yet. Now, the 2020 BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot features 32 candidates. Results from this vote will be announced on 1/21/20.

The Modern Baseball Era ballot featured 10 candidates for consideration:

Dwight Evans (one of my favorites)
Steve Garvey
Tommy John
Don Mattingly (another favorite of mine)
Marvin Miller
Thurman Munson (beloved)
Dale Murphy
Dave Parker
Ted Simmons
Lou Whitaker
Matt Kelly

“Modern Baseball” is one of four rotating eras considered by the Hall of Fame’s Veteran Committee, not the writers. It evaluates candidates whose primary contributions to baseball came between 1970-87. The list was compiled by 11 veteran baseball historians. A 16-member group of veterans decided in December. You needed 75% of the vote to get in. They gave enough votes for Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons, so they will be inducted in July 2020.

Now, the 2020 BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot features 32 candidates. Results from this vote will be announced on 1/21/20.

Golf:

The 2019-2020 wraparound PGA Tour season began in Australia, then moved to Hawaii. Now, it has moved to the California desert. Today, the American Express tournament started in La Quinta, CA on the Stadium Course. Course designer Pete Dye has died at age 94. The PGA Tour announced significant enhancements to pace-of-play policy. I’m still trying to get used to the revolutionary change of letting players leave the pin in on putts on the green. Phil Mickelson says that he will eventually play on PGA Tour Champions tour. He better not take my spot. On the Korn Ferry Tour (I think this is another developmental tour, like the Web.com Tour), Tommy Gainey won the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay. He has had 200 career starts on the PGA Tour, but lost his Tour card in 2014. Of greater note, Gainey was one of 124 people arrested in a 6-day undercover sting in early December targeting prostitution, human trafficking and child predators in central Florida. Human trafficking is an issue that I have become very involved in this past year, helping in fund-raising events for anti-human trafficking groups, like Movies Making A Difference.

The European Tour unveiled its schedule for 2020 season:

¥ 11/28-12/1/19 Hong Kong Open
¥ 11/28-12/1/19 Alfred Dunhill Championship
¥ 12/5-12/8/19 Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open
¥ 12/19-12/22/19 Australian PGA Championship
¥ 1/9-1/12/20 South African Open
¥ 1/16-1/19 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
¥ 1/23-1/26 Omega Dubai Desert Classic
¥ 1/30-2/2 Saudi International
¥ 2/6-2/9 ISPS Handa Vic Open
¥ 2/20-2/23 WGC-Mexico Championship
¥ 2/27-3/1 Oman Open
¥ 3/5-3/8 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters
¥ 3/12-3/15 Magical Kenya
¥ 3/19-3/22 Hero Indian Open
¥ 3/25-3/29 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play
¥ 4/9-4/12 The Masters
¥ 4/16-4/19 Maybank Championship
¥ 4/23-4/26 Volvo China Open
¥ 4/30-5/3 Estrella D. Andalucia Masters
¥ 5/9-5/10 GolfSixes Cascals
¥ 5/14-5/17 US PGA Championship
¥ 5/21-5/24 Made in Denmark
¥ 5/28-5/31 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open
¥ 6/4-6/7 Trophee Hassan II
¥ 6/11-6/14 Scandinavian Invitation
¥ 6/18-6/21 US Open
¥ 6/25-6/28 BMW International Open
¥ you have to believe that I had no idea this would be so long and that I just wanted to be helpful/informational…
¥ 7/2-7/5 Open de France
¥ 7/2-7/5 WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational
¥ 7/9-7/12 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open
¥ 7/16-7/19 The 149th Open (British Open)
¥ 7/30-8/2 Betfred British Masters
¥ 7/30-8/2 Olympic Men’s Golf Competition
¥ 8/6-8/9 UK event
¥ 8/20-8/23 D+D Real Czech Masters
¥ 8/27-8/30 Omega European Masters
¥ 9/3-9/6 Porsche European Open
¥ at least I can keep this in the Commentary and just update it for the next year…
¥ 9/10-9/13 BMW PGA Championship
¥ 9/17-9/20 KLM Open
¥ 9/25-9/27 The 2020 Ryder Cup
¥ 10/1-10/4 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship
¥ 10/8-10/11 Italian Open
¥ 10/15-10/18 Mutuactivos Open de Espana
¥ 10/22-10/25 Portugal Masters
¥ 10/29-11/1 WGC-HSC Champions
¥ 11/5-11/8 Turkish Airlines Open
¥ 11/12-11/15 Nedbank Golf Challenge
¥ 11/19-11/22 DP World Tour Championship

NFL:

The 99th NFL regular season ended with the New England Patriots beating the Los Angeles Rams in a defensive battle 13-3 in the Super Bowl. The 100th NFL season is midway through the Playoffs. Let’s just deal with the lead story right off the bat, so I can breathe easier. My 12-4 Patriots did not last long in the playoffs, losing a close Wild Card Round game to the Titans in New England. I’m not making excuses for the now (he had a birthday Saturday) 42-year-old QB Tom Brady (who threw a pick-6 as potentially the last pass of his career), who now becomes a free agent, and the fact that he didn’t have TE Rob Gronkowski this year, so no extra blocking protection, blocking for running backs, extra punch on the goal line, and great target, but they lost. The Titans were better. So, Tom Brady has to decide if he will retire (and many think he should have after winning his 6th Super Bowl in 2018), whether he wants to have another go at it and not be remembered for a pick-6, or whether he may want to go to another team besides the Patriots. As I write this, the NY Times, People magazine, and NFL.com all reported that he has signed a $70 million extension with the Patriots for 2 years more. That would be nice, if the Patriots are finally paying him back for all those years that he took a salary cut, so the team could pay for wide receivers and people that protect Brady. However, Sports Illustrated and ESPN have yet to confirm that and are still trying to guess which team he will play for next year.

Okay, sorry for the rant, just had to get that out of the way. Let’s move on to the NFL Playoffs. There have been a few surprises. Not only did the Titans knock off the Patriots, but then last Saturday, they knocked of the No.1 seed high-scoring Ravens 28-12, with an overwhelming defense. Also, in the AFC, the Chiefs had no problems wiping out the Texans’ early 24-point lead, winning 51-31, on Sunday. On the NFC side, on Saturday, the No.1 seed 49ers handled the Vikings 27-10. Then, on Sunday, a battle broke out between the Packers and the Seahawks, and the Packers prevailed 28-23. So, that sets up this Sunday’s AFC Championship game between the Titans and Chiefs (the Chiefs are favored by 7 points), and the NFC Championship game between the 49ers and the Packers (the 49ers are favored by 7 points). The winners of these 2 games will face each other in the Super Bowl, which will be held this year in Miami.

New Orleans police have issued an arrest warrant for Odell Beckham Jr., after he handed out real cash to LSU players in the locker room. NFL executives are predicting that the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes will become the first $40 million-a-year QB. Speaking of the Super Bowl, Demi Lovato will be singing the National Anthem (I was snubbed again!). The Giants hired the Patriots’ WR coach Joe Judge and are now interviewing Cowboys’ former coach Jason Garrett for OC job. They had fired head coach Pat Shurmur. He was finally let go by the Cowboys and replaced by Mike McCarthy. The Bears are hiring DeFillippo as QB coach. Free agent, Antonio Brown’s, agent fired him. The Cardinals announced that WR Fitzgerald will play a 16th season. Panthers’ Kuechly surprised other players by retiring at 28. Jimmy Johnson was told on the air, in front of his TV announcing buddies and his former QB and now announcer Troy Aikman, that he is going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Both he and Troy were very choked up. The Browns fired Freddie Kitchens and hired current Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski as head coach. The Redskins are replacing their head coach, Jay Gruden, with Ron Rivera. The Panthers are replacing their head coach, Ron Rivera, with Matt Rhule.

NCAA Football:

After about 100 bowl games (it seems) over many weeks, the College Football Playoffs came down to 4 teams: No.1 and unbeaten LSU made easy work of No.4 Oklahoma 63-28 on 12/28, and No.3 Clemson won a close battle over No.2 Ohio State 29-23, on the same day. That left LSU to play Clemson for College Football National Championship, which they did this week on Monday. Despite LSU playing in the New Orleans Superdome (so, a home field/crowd advantage), and having the Heisman Trophy-winning QB Joe Burrow, they were down in the 2nd quarter 17-7 to Clemson star QB Trevor Lawrence, but came roaring back by halftime, and won 42-25, winning their first National Title since 2007. Seven LSU players already are entering the NFL Draft. Clemson won the National Title last year and this was their 4th time in 5 years of being in the Finals. Virginia Tech’s Fuente is out of running to coach Baylor. LSU’s coach Ed Orgeron won Bryant Award as top college coach.

Here is the post-bowl, final AP Top 25 Poll:

1. LSU 13-0
2. Clemson 14-1
3. Ohio State 13-1
4. Georgia 12-2
5. Oregon 12-2
6. Florida 11-2
7. Oklahoma 12-2
8. Alabama 11-2
9. Penn State 11-2
10. Minnesota 11-2
11. Wisconsin 10-4
12. Notre Dame 11-2
13. Baylor 11-3
14. Auburn 9-4
15. Iowa 10-3
16. Utah 11-3
17. Memphis 12-2
18. Michigan 9-4
19. Appalachian State 13-1
20. Navy 11-2
21. Cincinnati 11-3
22. Air Force 11-2
23. Boise State 12-2
24. UCF 10-3
25. Texas 8-5

NCAA Hockey

You know if I am adding a sport to this section, that I must have an agenda. Near the halfway point of the college hockey season, analysts are seeing Cornell University (my alma mater) and North Dakota as legitimate national title contenders to be in the Frozen Four.

NCAA Basketball

The college basketball season tipped off, with No.1 Michigan State facing No.2 Kentucky and losing by 5 points. It’s like déjà vu all over again, as this seems to be MSU’s recipe every year, playing a Top 3 team and losing by 5 points. Coach Izzo thinks this prepares his guys for March Madness and they won’t fear these teams when they face them. I don’t know if I agree, although his record speaks for itself. What I see is that they lose and plummet in the rankings. They also lost to Duke, another brutal opponent. Then, this weekend, they were pummeled by Purdue by 29 points. Here is the current AP Top 25 about halfway through this regular season:

1. Gonzaga 18-1
2. Baylor 13-1
3. Duke 15-1
4. Auburn 15-0
5. Butler 15-1
6. Kansas 12-3
7. San Diego State 17-0
8. Oregon 14-3
9. Florida State 14-2
10. Kentucky 12-3
11. Louisville 13-3
12. West Virginia 13-2
13. Dayton 14-2
14. Villanova 12-3
15. Michigan State 13-4
16. Wichita 15-1
17. Maryland 13-3
18. Seton Hall 12-4
19. Michigan 11-5
20. Colorado 13-3
21. Ohio State 11-5
22. Memphis 13-3
23. Texas Tech 10-5
24. Illinois 12-5
25. Creighton 13-4

NHL:

Last season ended in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals on 6/12, when the St. Louis Blues beat my Bruins 4-3 in the Finals. The puck dropped on this season on 10/2/19. The Bruins and Blues started out this season how they finished last season, on a tear. Bruins star goalie Tuuka Rask suffered a concussion in loss to the Predators the other night. Flyers goalie Hart will be out 2-3 weeks with an injured abdomen. The Golden Knights have fired coach Gallant and hired former Shark coach DeBoer. Surgery has sidelined Sabres’ Thompson for the season. The NHL All-Star game is coming up soon.

I know that the season is 82 games (we are around the halfway point), followed by a seemingly endless playoff that should end again in June, but here are the current/early standings. In the Eastern Conference: in the Atlantic Division, the Bruins are in first with a smoking 27-9-12 record (3rd best in NHL), with the Lightning in second; in the Metropolitan Division, the Capitals are in first with a 31-11-5 record (2nd best in the NHL), followed by the Penguins in second. In the Western Conference: in the Central Division, the Stanley Cup Champion Blues are in first place at 30-10-8 (the best in the NHL), followed by the surprising Stars in second and the surprising Avalanche in close third; in the Pacific Division, the shocking Coyotes (one of the or the worst teams in NHL for past several seasons) lead with a 26-18-5 record. The worst team in the NHL right now are the Red Wings, boasting a dreadful 12-32-3 record.

NBA:

This year, the NBA season did not start until 10/22/19, 18 days later than last year. We are halfway through the season already. The Hawks acquired Jeff Teague in a trade with the Timberwolves. LeBron James remains in the lead in fan-voting for the AllStar game. Looking at the Standings, midway through the season, in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks lead and the Celtics slid back to a battle for 2nd with the Heat. In the Western Conference, the Lakers are on top, with the Nuggets and Jazz tied for 2nd, just 4 ½ games back. The Clippers are right on their heels. The Atlanta Hawks have the worst record at 9-32.

Fighting:

Conor McGregor returns to UFC to fight Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone this Saturday at UFC 246. In boxing, Evan Holyfield, yes, son of Evander Holyfield, is set for his 3rd fight. Yafai will defend his WBA belt against Chocolatito.

Tennis:

I held the door open at the gym for Venus Williams last week. The 2020 Australian Open is upon us, the first major of the season. The wildfire smoke forced some tennis players to withdraw from the courts.

Horse Racing:

The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council has voted to support partial Lasix use, which is a reversal of their previous position. Dennis’ Moment is an early favorite for the 2020 Kentucky Derby. The death of Mongolian Groom in Breeders’ Cup could have been prevented, according to authorities. House of Representatives Congressmen are signing on to this Horseracing Integrity Act.

Racing:

In the NASCAR Cup Series of 2019, Kyle Busch won in the last race at Homestead. In 2018, the winner 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. The 2020 regular season will begin in February with the Daytona 500. Here is the complete schedule of races for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup in 2020 and the results:

2/16 Daytona 500
2/23 Las Vegas, Jiffy Lube Pennzoil 400
3/1 Auto Club 400
3/8 Phoenix, FanShield 500
3/15 Atlanta, Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
3/22 Homestead, Dixie Vodka 400
3/29 Texas, O’Reilly Auto Parts 500
4/5 Bristol, Food City 500
4/19 Richmond, Toyota Owners 400
4/26 Talladega, GEICO 500
5/3 Dover, NASCAR Cup Race at Dover
5/9 Martinsville, NASCAR Cup Race at Martinsville
5/16 Charlotte, NASCAR All Star Open
5/24 Charlotte, Coca-Cola 600
5/31 Kansas, Kansas 400
6/7 Michigan, FireKeepers Casino 400
6/14 Sonoma, Toyota/Save Mart 350
6/21 Chicagoland, Chicagoland 400
6/28 Pocono, Worry-Free Weather Guarantee 350
7/5 Indianapolis, Big Machine Vodka 400
7/11 Kentucky, Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart
7/19 New Hampshire, Foxwoods Resort Casino 301
8/9 Michigan, Consumers Energy 400
8/16 Watkins Glen, Go Bowling at The Glen
8/23 Dover, Drydene 400
8/29 Daytona, Coke Zero Sugar 400
playoffs:
9/6 Darlington, Southern 500
9/12 Richmond, Federated Auto Parts 400
9/19 Bristol, Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race
9/27 Las Vegas, South Point 400
10/4 Talladega, Alabama 500
10/11 Charlotte, Bank of America ROVAL 400
10/18 Kansas, Hollywood Casino 400
10/25 Texas, Texas 500
11/1 Martinsville, NASCAR Cup Fall Race
11/8 Phoenix, NASCAR Cup Series Championship

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 will be followed by Pre-Season Testing schedule. Here is the 2019 Formula One 21 Race calendar and results (it might be easier to just say which races were not won by Lewis Hamilton). I will be posting the 2020 Formula One calendar in the next Repo Commentary:

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

Here is the IndyCar Racing circuit and its 2019 calendar and results (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). The season just ended, with Josef Newgarden coming in 8th in the last race, to just edge out Simon Pagenaud for the championship. I will be posting the 2020 calendar in the next Repo Commentary:

3/10 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg-Josef Newgarden
3/24 Circuit of the Americas-Colton Herta
4/7 Grand Prix of Alabama-Takuma Sato
4/14 Grand Prix at Long Beach-Alexander Rossi
5/11 Grand Prix of Indianapolis-Simon Pagenaud
5/26 Indianapolis 500-Simon Pagenaud
6/1 Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Race 1-Josef Newgarden
6/1 Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Race 2-Scott Dixon
6/8 Texas Grand Prix-Josef Newgarden
6/23 Road America-Alexander Rossi
7/14 Honda Indy Toronto-Simon Pagenaud
7/20 Iowa 300-Josef Newgarden
7/28 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio-Scott Dixon
8/18 Pocono Grand Prix-Will Power (I love that name!)
8/24 Gateway Grand Prix-Takuma Sato
9/1 Grand Prix of Portland-Will Power (that’s all it takes)
9/22 Grand Prix at Laguna Seca-Colton Herta

Travel News:

Boeing’s woes regarding its B-737 MAX planes, with currently over 450 aircraft grounded by the FAA, have gotten worse. Not only did they have a software glitch that led to pilot difficulties and fatal crashes (and ultimately to the CEO being fired), which the FAA has yet to confirm the computer correction for, but now there appears to be a completely different, mechanical problem plaguing the planes. Street drag racing in Austin, TX killed one driver, as a second driver ran away. In unrelated news, two drag racing drivers avoided jail, after destroying their Ferrari and Porsche in a crash. Heinz is willing to pay your flight change fee if your favorite team doesn’t make the Super Bowl. Anthony Bourdain’s unpublished Travel Guide will be released this Fall. A Delta Airlines plane dropped fuel, in a move to make an emergency landing return to LAX airport, unfortunately right on an elementary school and its children. Venice, Italy is in trouble. It has been sinking for some time, but scientists believe the unusual record flooding will become a pervasive problem and early indicator of climate change, some of which has already ruined historic treasures. I read an interesting article comparing US military aircraft (F-35, F-15, F-16, F-18, JAS-39 Gripen, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, and F-22) and the F-35 has been beating all of the others in recent exercises, despite the bad reputation it had gotten because of flaws that have now been fixed. One thing that it excels at is its sensor system, which is a generation ahead of the F-22 and Eurofighter, similar to that of a stealthy AWAC. By the way, the US military intends to fly a stealth B-2 bomber over the Super Bowl for a flyover. In addition to the flaws being fixed, the F-35 price has plummeted to below the Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and the F-15 Silent Eagle. Airbus’ newest plane looks exactly like a beluga whale:

Health News:

An Israeli researcher has developed a molecule to block lupus. A new study shows that college students in states that have legalized recreational marijuana are more likely to smoke marijuana and smoke it more frequently, while binge drinking less. Lung injuries attributable to vaping have topped 2,600, but fewer cases are now being reported. Officially, there have been 2,668 hospitalized EVALI cases, with 60 deaths, reported to the CDC. Even with a new generic drug on the market, Multiple Sclerosis drug prices have tripled in 7 years. New research shows that women’s blood vessles age more quicky, leading to earlier heart disease. Researchers say about half of millennials haven’t received a flu shot, and a third don’t plan to get the vaccination. Experts say that, while fast-food companies hope people think Impossible Meat options are healthier choices, the trend is misleading and not necessarily healthier. The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, a law sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and passed in 2017 is now set to increase accessibility for people with hearing disabilities and will hopefully reduce the very high costs for prescription hearing aids. Expanding Medicaid programs has helped, along with the use of methadone in those states that adopted the expanded programs, but it has not solved the opioid crisis. A new study suggests that marathon running may reverse a risky part of the aging process. A preclinical study using cell cultures has found that some antibiotics may help treat a genetic mutation associated with forms of early onset dementia. In other news, experts say that younger adults can lower their risk of early dementia (frontotemporal dementia) by moderate exercise. In mice, researchers have created a technology that can deliver proton radiation, killing cancer cells while preserving healthy tissue. I’ve had to deal with this recently…the GOP was unable to defeat Obamacare, but it did eliminate the IRS penalty for not having it in 2019 and beyond. However, Obamacare 2020 enrollment has held steady, dropping only about 5%. Researchers say that toxic chemicals in the household can lower a child’s IQ. The chemicals are found in electronics, furniture, and even some foods. The mysterious viral outbreak in China has been identified by Chinese authorities as Coronavirus, a respiratory illness that is similar to a 2002 outbreak of SARS. Canopy, the largest cannabis company by market value, decided to delay the roll out of its cannabis-infused drinks. It feels it is not quite able to ramp up commercial production to the scale necessary. The delay comes at a bad time, since the company DID roll out yesterday its online store, which sells cannabis edibles and drinks, in Ontario, Canada, which sold out within hours. Ben & Jerry’s is now doing a co-branding effort with Netflix, which now means that a lot of Netflix shows will be the names of new flavors of ice cream. Did you know that no one has had a real New York bagel since 1967? Many people have debated whether food can truly be defined by where its made, and bagels were offered as one of the examples. Well, it turns out that the bagel industry, by 1967, once dominated by old, Jewish men passing down traditional recipes, had been overtaken by newcomers who started creating their own fatter bagels that don’t become stale as quickly. So, ironically, the bagel became more popular among urban areas across the US with large Jewish populations, but was really not like the original Jewish versions at all. Researchers may have uncovered a clue to solving one of the biggest mysteries surrounding the pathology of Alzheimer’s. The study suggests treatments should be designed to target the norepinephrine pathway that triggers a toxic buildup of tau.

Animal News:

Scientists have discovered a huge Greenland (non-predatory) shark that is 512-years-old! They are studying the species to understand its slow growth to maturity (150 years), and amazing lifespans. In Australia, the bushfires have destroyed over 2,000 homes, killed at least 27 people, and killed an estimated 1 billion animals (some may now go extinct), and are still out of control in some parts. US fire fighters just arrived in Australia to join the fight. Rains hit the Northwest, cheered on by firefighters. Gale force winds are hampering firefighters’ efforts on two of the massive blazes, and combined the two into a “mega blaze” near Snowy Mountain. The Irwins, the family of the late animal advocate, Steve Irwin, have saved some 90,000 animals from the fires. Metallica just donated $750,000 to animal relief efforts in Australia. The Jerusalem Zoo has sent money and specialists to Australia to help in animal relief. The worst-hit areas are New South Wales and Victoria. Kangaroo Island, which houses some 25,000 koala bears, along with kangaroos, and many other species, was wiped out. Although the series of some 130 massive bushfires have been fueled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought, they were originally set by dry lightning (thunderstorms that don’t produce rain) and some humans. There has been a viral report that 200 arsonists had been arrested in connection with starting the blazes. But, actually, 24 people have been arrested for intentionally starting bushfires in Australia, since September 2019. The fires have led to horrendous smoke pollution as well, with air quality in the Australian capital Canberra rated the 3rd worst air quality of all major global cities on January 3rd, according to Swiss-based group AirVisual. Plumes of ‘black carbon’ have travelled more than 7000 miles from the fires. This substance is harmful to human health and contributes to climate change. Since July 1, 2019, an estimated 10 million hectares (100,000 square kilometers) have burned across Australia. That is nearly the size of England. Thankfully, on Thursday, five days of rain started, blanketing most of the areas on fire. Just today, it put out 30 bushfires in Australia. Scientists believe that wombats have been actually inviting other animals into their large burrows to escape the brushfires. Snopes says that this is only partially true. The wombats aren’t actively rescuing animals. However, an Australian sheepdog has been credited with saving hundreds of animals, by herding them away from the fire. The Charleston Animal Society sent a team to help animals found at a SC puppy mill. In Chicago, coyotes bit a 5-year-old boy multiple times near my old neighborhood in Lincoln Park, and a 32-year-old man near downtown in Streeterville. This is not a common occurrence in the US 3rd-largest city. However, authorities have estimated that there are a whopping 4,000 coyotes in Cook County. A squirrel got into the home of a family on vacation and trashed the place and the family’s homeowners insurance will not pay for the damage. A woman in Illinois has been charged with animal cruelty, after hundreds of animal carcasses were found in shallow graves at her nonprofit animal sanctuary that she founded. She allegedly “intentionally caused the deaths of multiple companion animals.” Arizona’s wildlife agency said last Wednesday that it killed 3 mountain lions who had fed on human remains found on a canyon trail. The lions are not suspected of killing the victim, but they were “lethally removed” due their “abnormal” behavior. Mountain lions are not normally scavengers, and those that show that behavior are more likely to attack a human being in the future. The 3 catamounts also did so in an open area, only 50 yards from a popular hiking train, within sight of homes, and showed no fear of responding officers. A German zoo fire killed over 30 animals, including apes, monkeys and bats. The governor of North Carolina is seeking help for critically endangered red wolf. SeaWorld Orlando plans to end its centerpiece killer-whale show at the start of 2020. A man was caught trying to smuggle 200 live scorpions from Sri Lanka to China! Diego, the 130-year-old Tortoise, famous for single-handedly repopulating his endangered species, is retiring. Did you know that there’s no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog? It turns out that all dogs produce proteins that can trigger allergic reactions in people. However, not all people with dog allergies are allergic to the same proteins.

Entertainment News:

The Golden Globes show host, Ricky Gervais, not one to shy away from controversy, shocked viewers and Hollywood attendees, by ripping them about their long-standing habit of thinking that just because they win an award or make millions of dollars, they now are the moral compass for the country and should use the opportunity to speak out about a number of subjects, like politics. He told them to grab their award, thank the appropriate people, and shut up and go sit down (a little more colorfully than I can include in the Repo Commentary). I wholeheartedly agree, and it seems that so does the public. However, the Golden Globes announced days later that Ricky Gervais would be replaced as the host by returning comedy duo Tina Fay and Amy Poehler. Prince Harry and Princess Meghan are in trouble with the Royal Family for their interviews and candid comments about Royal duties and desire to ‘step down’ from the role as “senior members” of the Royal family (and the duties incumbent on them) to focus on just their charities. Apparently, the Queen is furious, and Prince Charles and Prince William are trying to broker some agreement with Prince Harry, while Meghan vacations in Canada. She, herself, announced her plans to “step back” and become “financially independent” from the Royal family. Prince Harry may be thinking back to when the Royal family did not pay for or provide security for his mother, Princess Diana. In unrelated news, Kate Middleton said that Prince Harry doesn’t want any more children. Christopher Tolkien, the son of J.R.R. Tolkien and keeper of his legacy, has died at age 95. Britney Spears isn’t getting her own art show in France, after all. Selena Gomez is worried she has gone to “desperate” lengths for her album Rare. The 27-year-old released the album on 1/10 and has been going to many record stores to buy as many copies as she can to boost the record’s chances of reaching the No.1 album spot. I thought that was a job for your mother or the rest of your family? Jessica Biel’s Limetown and Elizabeth Olsen’s Sorry for Your Loss have been cancelled as Facebook Watch is focusing on more unscripted shows. I reported above that Demi Lovato will sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl. The halftime extravaganza (referred to as the Pepsi Super Bowl bash) will feature Harry Styles, Jennifer Lopez, and Shakira. Ariana Grande has just been sued by singer/songwriter Josh Stone, claiming she ripped of his song in “7 Rings”. Kala Gerber has split from Pete Davidson. Justin Bieber is receiving IV drips to treat his Lyme disease. Sean Penn, 59, and girlfriend Leila George, 27, look “very much in love”. On TV, I was very happy to see the new season of Manifast begin, but then felt that same frustration with the writing of the many-tentaciled plot and constant ‘jumping the shark’, as well as the over-acting. The premise held such promise, but the writers and actors are killing it. I might have to drop this show. I was happy to see Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, and Chicago PD return, and loving Fire, enjoying Med, and not into PD again yet. Lately, I’ve also been binging mostly sports, Datelines, 20/20, 48 Hours, Below Deck: Thailand, and occasionally watching America’s Got Talent. I had to watch the 13-year-old’s performance about a dozen times on AGT, when she performed an amazing version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, about a ¼ the length of the original and starting in the middle of the song. It is breathtaking and earned a golden ticket from Heidi Klum. Eminem dropped a surprise album Music to be Murdered By and first music video Darkness, all of which calls for stricter gun laws in America. I guess he didn’t listen to Ricky Gervais. Watchmen will not be getting a second season, after creator Damon Lindelof ends it on his own terms. Jennifer Lawrence is offering her swank Upper East Side penthouse with panoramic NYC views for $12 million, after buying it for $15.45 million in 2016. Vanessa Hudgens split from Austin Butler. Famous tattoo artist Kat Von D has sold her 11-year-old cosmetics company, to focus on singing, motherhood, and her shoe company. Mariah Carey was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Chip and Joanna Gaines have finally set a launch date for their own lifestyle network. I do watch all of their shows, also that one about fix it or sell it, and of course, the cooking competition shows. King of Queens actress, Norma Michaels, has died at age 95, following a six-decade career in show business.

This will shock a lot of you, after years of going to up to 98 movies a year and reviewing them for you in the Repo Commentary, I’ve averaged only about a dozen a year for the past 5-7 years. Yet, I managed to get out during the New Year’s weekend and see the new STAR WARS movie. I’ve now seen all 9 of the movies and read most of the 226 books and short novels (I also now am hooked in to Youtini app to keep track of which ones I’ve read and haven’t read). Anyway, this last STAR WARS was one of the best movies of all of them, certainly right up there with NEW HOPE and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (the first 2 movies, although later chapters). It combined many elements from all the movies, with cameos from the Ewoks to Han Solo, to Luke Skywalker, to AT-ATs, to Lando Carissian, to the Emperor, to Darth Vader, and many more. It also poignantly handled the death of Princess Leia (as actress Carrie Fisher died during filming). The news is that Disney is not done, although originally they reported this would be the last STAR WARS film. They intend to do spin-offs of certain characters and keep the STAR WARS universe alive, which thrills this STAR WARS fan! I also rented the movie JUDY, with Renee Zellweger fabulously performing the tragic story of Judy Garland. It was amazing and sad! I was familiar with much of the story, growing up, but was unaware of how MGM treated Judy as a child actor/singer and how abnormal her life was, almost as an abused prisoner.

This past weekend’s box-office was pretty strong, and Universal’s 1917 (which I absolutely must see) about WWI, pulled in $36.5 million to take the No.1 spot in its 2nd week, helped along by its two Golden Globe wins. Globally, it has already made over $60 million. No.2 was Disney’s STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, which made $15 million, bringing its cumulative US total to $478.2 million, after 4 weeks of release. The global tally is already a whopping $989.6 million! It will be Disney’s 7th 2019 movie that makes at least $1 billion globally. Sony’s JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL finished No.3 with an estimated $14 million, in its 5th week of release. It’s global total is $414 million. In No.4, was the debut of Paramount’s LIKE A BOSS, falling shy of its pre-weekend hype, with only $10 million. It tied with Warner Brothers’ JUST MERCY. Fox’s UNDERWATER debuted just outside the top 5, also short of studio’s expectations, delivering only $7 million.

We are in the midst of awards season, with Golden Globes just handed out and Monday’s announcement of Oscar nominations. Sony’s BAD BOYS FOR LIFE set a January Preview record of $6.36 million Thursday night. This is the 3rd or 4th film of the BAD BOYS franchise of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. That was well ahead of Universal’s DOLITTLE, with Robert Downey Jr., which posted $925,000 on Thursday night’s preview. I want to see DOLITTLE and its $175 million production. Other pictures coming out today are: FROZEN 2 SING-A-LONG, WEATHERING WITH YOU, MIRACLE IN CELL NO.7, PATTAS, AJAAM PATHIRA, BIG BROTHER, MY HINDU FRIEND, FEEDBACK, CASHING OUT, THE WAVE, THE HOST, DISTURBING THE PEACE.

Technology & Space News:

A 17-year-old student from Scarsdale, NY, on only his 3rd day of internship at NASA, discovered a new planet! No, he was not in the ‘satellite program’ and it is surprising that NASA hadn’t noticed a planet that resembles the fictional STAR WARS’ Luke Skywalker home planet of Tatooine with 2 suns/stars and is 8 times larger than Earth. Sadly, they named the planet a bunch of letters and numbers and not his name. However, on the bright side, he is waiting to hear from Stanford and MIT about their offers for him to attend college at one of the outstanding schools. Scientists announced that presolar stardust grains in the Murchison meteorite formed five to seven billion years ago, and are the oldest solid material found on Earth to date. Scientists have discovered a potential Super-Earth around the star closest to our Sun. Because of the surge in the stock market, Alphabet is now a $1 trillion company. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took a gamble at his meeting of key employees this week, by inviting Elon Musk to speak via video, and then asked the outspoken entrepreneur and Twitter user what he would do to improve Twitter if he were running it. He responded with something that Twitter is not proficient at doing, apparently, identifying and possibly removing bots and other fake accounts. Sometimes, it is better to know the answer before asking the question. Of course, Musk has his own issues at Tesla, as the National Transportation Highway Safety Administration is looking into a complaint that alleges 127 Tesla cars accelerated on their own. Researchers in Europe have developed a way to create oxygen from simulated moon dust. If they are able to replicate the process with real moon dust, lunar exploration and human settlement would be a lot easier. Visa has acquired Plaid.

Google parent Alphabet Inc. became the fourth U.S. company ever to achieve a $1 trillion market value Thursday… The search-engine giant joins peers Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. as the only firms to reach the threshold during intraday trading. Apple and Amazon accomplished the feat in the summer of 2018, while Microsoft hit $1 trillion for the first time in April of last year. Amazon never closed above $1 trillion and has fallen well behind Apple and Microsoft, which have rocketed past that level recently. WSJ

US News:

The House of Representatives, including 3 Republican Congressmen, voted that President Trump should not have the ability to wage war under certain parameters without Congressional approval. This move by the House is not that unusual, when a President, of any party, in the past has used Executive Authority to take certain military actions, particularly retributions, without informing Congress, controlled by any party, or leaking the info to the media. Congress still has the ultimate power to wage war for the United States. The Articles of Impeachment of President Trump, approved by the House of Representatives have now moved over to the Senate. The Senate has opened the Trump impeachment trial, as new Ukraine revelations emerge. Senators accepted the promise to deliver “impartial justice” and installed Chief Justice John Roberts as the presiding officer yesterday.

I want to say to some of my readers, who happen to be acquaintances or friends of mine in the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg for the US Army, who may have been, may be, or may not be deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, or Iran in the past several days or future days, that my prayers are with you, that you return home safely and you perform exactly how you imagined when you were trained, and I thank you so much for doing this for us.

International News:

Last Friday, Iran decided it was time to move the heavy equipment, bulldozers and excavators, in and clean up the crash site of the still-to-be-investigated crash of the Ukrainian Airliner, B-737-800, with 176 souls on board, that came crashing to the ground early Wednesday morning, minutes after takeoff from Tehran’s airport, and moments after one or two missiles were seen exploding into the aircraft on video. Iranian officials had denied claims that they mistakenly shot down the Ukrainian passenger jet and accused the United States of “spreading lies” about intelligence that suggested they did. However, over the weekend, Iran admitted that it HAD shot down the passenger plane, thinking it was a “cruise missile” close to its no-fly zone. Most of the people killed in the crash were Iranian and Canadian nationals. None were military personnel from any side. Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau said that his country has intelligence from its own agencies pointing to Iranian missiles hitting the jet. I have a naïve question: if there is a war-zone, or Iran is on high alert for an American retribution for the missile attack on American soldiers’ housing in Iraq by Iran the previous day, why is ANY commercial aircraft flying in the zone? Have we not learned from the recent, long grim history of civilian planes shot down by a military? How about the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shot down on 7/17/14 by (allegedly) Russian intelligence, killing 298 people; the Siberian Airlines Flight 1812 shot down 10/4/01 during a Ukrainian air defense exercise off the Black Sea’s Crimean coast, killing 78 people; Iran Air Flight 655 shot down on 7/3/88 by a US Navy warship in the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people; Korean Air Lines Flight 007, shot down 9/1/83, by a Soviet fighter jet, killing 274 people; Korean Air Lines Flight 902 in 1978, which was also shot down by the Soviets, killing 2 people; and Itavia Flight 870 shot down 6/27/80 possibly by the Italian government’s military, killing 81 people. Why are civilian airlines oblivious to warzones and military tension or aren’t warned? Why do militaries still make mistakes on identifying aircraft as friend, foe, or neutral? We can do amazing things in space exploration and even in cellphone technology, but we still can’t recognize a passenger plane on SAM installation radar or jet fighter radar? Why am I suddenly getting angry? Why isn’t everyone getting angry? Once Iran admitted the mistake, its own people, some one million became angry and protested the Iranian government offices. Nations of Iran crash victims are seeking compensation for families. Meanwhile, Iran’s President, on Thursday, said that there is “no limit” to the country’s enrichment of uranium, following its decision to abandon the commitments under the 2015 nucelar deal. In Malta, Robert Abela replaced Joseph Muscat as PM, in the wake of protests over the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Vladimir Putin has fast-tracked constitutional changes that could extend his rule in Russia well past the end of his term in 2024, while Russian lawmakers approved his choice of a new PM.

Florida:

The snowbirds are firmly entrenched here in Florida again, and they are making travel and restaurant reservations tough. But, is a boon for Florida, which relies on tourism. As long as they don’t come sick, we are ecstatic to welcome them!

I am usually singing a National Anthem, singing in my 6-part harmony group Generation Gap, and/or doing an Elvis Presley gig, each week here in Palm Beach County, FL. I had many gigs in November and December. That has quieted down some, although now we may be getting into more private parties and weddings, and away from restaurants. If you were inclined to see much more famous bands or solos in concert than my Generation Gap or Elvis Presley performances, there were many acts which came to Florida this in 2019, and these are expected to come in 2020 (below). A public service announcement about the outdoor amphitheater in West Palm Beach (currently adjacent to the South Florida Fair), it has been very confusing with all the name changes, and it has happened again. It was originally called the Coral Sky Amphitheater, then was changed to the Cruzan Rum Amphitheater, then to Perfekt Vodka Amphitheater, then back to Coral Sky Amphitheater, and was changed again this week to iThink Financial Services Amphitheater. None of the names have been particularly catchy and all those changes occurred only in the last 11 years!

SOUTH FLORIDA 2020 SCHEDULE (next 2 months):

Celine Dion-Miami, January 17
Queensryche-Fort Lauderdale, January 17
Brian Wilson-Miami, January 17
Mary Wilson-Bonita Springs, January 19
Starship-West Palm Beach, January 22
Steve Martin & Martin Short-Hollywood, January 25
Guns N Roses-Miami, January 31
Jason Aldean,Riley Green,Morgan Wallen-Orlando, January 31
Maroon 5-Miami, February 1
Zac Brown Band-Sunrise, February 1
Styx-Port St. Lucie, February 1
Andrea Bocelli-Miami, February 11
Kool and the Gang & Village People-Key West, February 21
John Fogarty-Fort Lauderdale, February 22
Foreigner, Kansas, and Europe-West Palm Beach, September 6

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