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4.28.17 - Economic Growth Stalls in Q1 2017

Gold last traded at $1,268 an ounce. Silver at $17.26 an ounce.

NEWS SUMMARY: Precious metal prices held steady Friday amid dollar weakness after disappointing Q1 GDP data. U.S. stocks slipped on downbeat economic data despite strong earnings reports this last week.

U.S. Economy Grew 0.7% in First Quarter, Slowest in Three Years -Bloomberg
"The U.S. economy expanded at the slowest pace in three years as weak auto sales and lower home-heating bills dragged down consumer spending, offsetting a pickup in investment led by housing and oil drilling. Gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced, rose at a 0.7 percent annualized rate after advancing 2.1 percent in the prior quarter, Commerce Department data showed Friday in Washington. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 1 percent gain. Consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy, rose 0.3 percent, the worst performance since 2009....Though the first-quarter figure isn’t a verdict on President Donald Trump’s policies, economists are generally skeptical that growth will reach his goal of 3 percent to 4 percent on a sustained basis....While some of the slowdown may be temporary, inflation is eating into consumers’ wallets."

gold Warren Buffett Hates Gold... But Here's Five Reasons You Need To Own It -Forbes
"'[Gold]...has no utility.' Buffett is correct - gold doesn't produce earnings or pay dividends. There are, however, some good reasons gold should be an essential part of every investor’s portfolio. #1: Real Interest Rates Are Still Negative; Even with the Fed raising nominal interest rates, real rates - that is, the nominal interest rate minus inflation - are still in negative territory....#2: The Dollar’s Value Has Collapsed; The U.S. dollar may be rising against other currencies like the euro and yen. Nonetheless, in the last 50 years, its purchasing power has fallen by 86%....#3: Gold Is Money; In other words, gold is payment in and of itself, but the dollar is only a promise to pay....#4: Negative Correlation to Stocks and Bonds; To keep all your eggs 'out of one basket' - buy gold....#5: No Counterparty Risk; Once you have physical gold in your possession, you don’t depend on someone else to fulfill a contract or keep a promise for it to retain its value.... Since the beginning of 2017, gold is up over 10%, making it one of the best-performing assets of the year. And this is no anomaly."

When it comes to wealth preservation, gold is in a class of its own. Gold is the ultimate form of trustworthy money, instantly liquid worldwide. Read our 2017 Gold Report and 2017 Silver Report to discover why owning gold and silver in 2017 is not a luxury, but rather a necessity!

Markets Are Priced for Perfection -Rickards/DailyReckoning
"Today’s stock market is priced for perfection. The Dow’s once again up around 21,000 - a good 12% higher than election night. Either growth will rebound based on 'animal spirits' and the Trump stimulus working better than expected or markets will collapse once they realize the growth is not coming. By 'collapse,' I mean a violent stock market correction, a falling dollar and major rallies in bonds and gold. I expect the latter. Financial crises are not mainly about the business cycle. They’re about investor psychology, sudden shocks and the instability of the financial system. Right now investors have been lulled into complacency. But numerous shocks are waiting to happen and the system is highly unstable due to over-leverage and non-transparency....For now, investors should not stand in front of a moving train. Keep cash ready and be prepared to move into gold, bonds and the euro. In fact, it’s not too soon to leg into those positions now. Instead of watching the tape or short-term trends, my advice is to stay focused on the long-term trends."

Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Wary of Auto Loans, Pack Them in Bonds -Bloomberg
"Depending whose money they’re using, Wells Fargo & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. either love subprime car loans or fear them. Both banks have grown more reluctant to make new subprime loans using money from their own balance sheets. Wells Fargo tightened its underwriting standards and slashed the volume of all loans it made to car buyers in the first quarter by 29 percent after greater numbers of borrowers fell behind on payments. JPMorgan’s consumer and community banking head Gordon Smith earlier this year said the bank had cut its new lending for subprime auto loans 'dramatically.'....Wall Street banks packaged more loans from finance companies into bonds in the first quarter than the same period last year, and Wells Fargo and JPMorgan remained two of the top underwriters of the securities....Investment banks took heat after the 2008 financial crisis for bundling debt into bonds that later soured....Subprime borrowers are falling behind on their car loan payments at the highest rate since the financial crisis."

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4.27.17 - Trump Tax Plan: The Good and Bad

Gold last traded at $1,265 an ounce. Silver at $17.33 an ounce.

NEWS SUMMARY: Precious metal prices steadied Thursday on a firmer dollar ahead of Friday's 2017 Q1 GDP data. U.S. stocks rose modestly, led by upbeat earnings anticipation for tech giant's Alphabet, Amazon.com, Intel and Microsoft.

Atlanta Fed Throws In The Towel: Cuts Final Q1 GDP Forecast To Just 0.2% -Zero Hedge
"Well that was fast: literally seconds ago we posted JPM's Q1 GDP forecast revision, saying 'while we wait to see if the Atlanta Fed will cut its final Q1 GDP estimate ahead of tomorrow's official print to 0% or negative.' At precisely the same time as we hit the publish button, the Atlanta Fed came out with its revised forecast and it's a doozy: after starting its Q1 GDP Nowcast at 2.5%, rising as high as 3.4%, and plunging recently as low as 0.5%, the Atlanta Fed has 'thrown in the towel' on the quarter in which the Fed hiked rates, and while not negative - or 0.0% - it was about as close as it could go without the Fed losing all credibility for having hiked in a contraction quarter. From the Atlanta Fed: 'The final GDPNow model forecast for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the first quarter of 2017 is 0.2 percent on April 27, down from 0.5 percent on April 18.' Some more context: if the Atlanta Fed is right, and tomorrow the BEA confirms that GDP was around 0.2% , this will be the lowest GDP quarter in which the Fed has hiked rates since Q4 1980."

Trump Good and bad news about Trump’s massive tax plan -NewYorkPost
"There’s much to like about President Trump’s tax plan, including the fact that he’s going back to his campaign promises to do something big and beautiful - not build a wall, but slash rates Ronald Reagan-style for both individuals and corporations. That’s the good news, but there will be plenty of bad news in the days and weeks ahead, as business interest groups lobby Congress to keep their loopholes, Democrats argue that the White House and Republicans are throwing money at the rich - and more than a few Republicans demand that the whole thing not add a cent to the budget deficit, even if the evidence of the Reagan years is that lowering taxes on people and businesses can grow tax revenues and, with some budget restraint, pay for itself....But there will be nothing quick or easy about getting this tax cut plan through Congress; market reaction wasn’t very positive. Stocks sold off a bit, but even more telling, bond prices just rose as Mnuchin and Cohn began their press conference, which means investors are betting the plan will be watered down, producing lower economic growth and lower inflation - both positives for bonds. And here’s why: For starters, there are plenty of GOP deficit hawks who are weary of supply-side dogma and might not want to take the corporate tax rate down to 15 percent, or give upper-income people any tax break whatsoever. Meanwhile, I’m hearing from even prominent Republicans in high-tax states like New York that the closing of all those loopholes (minus, as stated, the mortgage and charitable deductions) will be a deal-killer."

Cashless society getting closer, survey finds -Reuters
"More than a third of Europeans and Americans would be happy to go without cash and rely on electronic forms of payment if they could, and at least 20 percent already pretty much do so, a study showed on Wednesday....The trend was also clear. More than half of the European respondents said they had used less cash in the past 12 months than previously and 78 percent said they expected to use it even less over the coming 12 months. Ian Bright, managing director of group research for ING wholesale banking, said he did not believe people would quit cash entirely, but the direction was obvious....Cash-loving Germans, for example, have been concerned that a move by the European Central Bank to phase out the 500 euro note by the end of next year is the start of a slippery slope."

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Bet on gold with a long-term horizon, say experts -EconomicTimesIndia
"Investors may bet on the long side for gold as it is a safe haven asset in uncertain global environment, feel analysts. With the first round of the contentious French elections over, investors will be eyeing the outcome of the final round in May which will be followed by the people’s referendum to stay or leave the EU....'The investment demand has been a real indicator of how gold prices will behave in the longer run and it presents a good story for initial three months of 2017...the ETF demand will outsmart even in 2017 and bring in support for gold prices,' said Prathamesh Mallya, chief analyst, non-agri commodities & currencies, Angel Commodities Broking."

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4.26.17 - Gold is Outperforming Stocks

Gold last traded at $1,264 an ounce. Silver at $17.43 an ounce.

NEWS SUMMARY: Precious metal prices stabilized Wednesday as gold prices rebounded despite a firmer dollar. U.S. stocks traded higher following details of Trump's proposed tax reform plan.

The White House outlines tax plan. Here's what's in it -CNBC
"Top White House officials outlined President Donald Trump's tax plan Wednesday, a proposal they said would be the 'biggest tax cut' in U.S. history....Trump's plan will cut the number of income tax brackets from seven to three, with a top rate of 35 percent and lower rates of 25 percent and 10 percent. It is not clear what income ranges will fall under those brackets. The proposal will chop the corporate tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent. It would eliminate all tax deductions except for the mortgage and charitable contribution deductions. The White House said there will be a 'one-time tax' on the trillions of dollars held by corporations overseas. The plan would get rid of the estate tax, otherwise known as the 'death tax.'"

price changes It's not your imagination: Things are more expensive than they were 10 years ago -CNBC
"If your sense is that most of what you pay for month to month, from child care to health care, costs way more than it did a decade ago, even accounting for inflation, you're right. An infographic originally published on the blog of the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute makes clear that while a few items have gone down, proportionally, in price, a lot of the things that matter have gotten more expensive....'Housing, health care, and education cost the average family 75 percent of their discretionary income in the 2000s. The comparable figure in 1973: 50 percent.'....Given that incomes were flat for so long, it's no wonder Americans are finding it so hard to save."

A new Swiss America Special Report, THE INFLATION SOLUTION, explains how inflation gradually debases every dollar you own by increasing your cost of living. Politicians and the Federal Reserve are both seeking higher inflation this year - even if it means debasing your wages, savings and investments!

Gold Is Crisis Insurance -LiveTradingNews
"Gold is known as an inflation hedge, but its role as a crisis hedge is even more important. Gold is anti-fragile, to use the term coined by risk analyst and bestselling author Nassim Taleb. When currencies collapse and economies falter, Gold can ensure your survival, financially and literally....Whether there is hyperinflation or a banking collapse, Gold has historically been the asset to own in times of turmoil. Given its intrinsic value and safe-haven status, there is no doubt that Gold will remain a wealth preservation tool during financial crises.The reaction of the Indian people to a potential Gold ban is the latest reminder of why owning Gold is important. Crises do not come along often, but when they do, it is better to be safe than sorry."

We've Had a Big Stock Rally, but Gold Is the Winner -RealMoney/TheStreet
"There's been a lot of hoopla surrounding the stock market rally of late. Many of you have probably already forgotten that last year I was pounding the table to buy stocks when most were bearish. They were afraid of falling oil prices, which I said would rebound -- and they did....On Dec. 15, 2015, the day before the Fed raised rates for the first time in nine years, gold was at $1,050 per ounce. The Dow was at 17,500, S&P at 2,040 and Nasdaq at 5,070. Fast forward to today: Three rate hikes later and a huge bull market in stocks that has occurred since the November elections. The Dow is at 21,000, the S&P at 2,388 and the Nasdaq is at 6,020. And gold is at $1,270. Guess who won? Gold. Gold scored a 17.3% gain, while the Dow came in with a 16.7% gain and the S&P and Nasdaq scored gains of 14.6% and 15.8%, respectively."

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4.25.17 - Poll: Americans Want More Government(!)

Gold last traded at $1,267 an ounce. Silver at $17.59 an ounce.

NEWS SUMMARY: Precious metal prices retreated Tuesday amid short-term speculative profit-taking and a weaker dollar. U.S. stocks rallied for a second day as investors cheered upbeat earnings and increased geopolitical stability.

Will French Voters Shatter the European Union? -PontificationBlog
"On Sunday, French voters rejected the elitists of all the ruling parties, right and left, and for the first time in generations chose two outsider candidates to contend for President in a May 7 runoff. Marine Le Pen, 48, of the nationalist, anti-European Union party the National Front, came in second with roughly 22 percent of votes. And two points ahead of her was Emmanuel Macron, 39, who has never held elective office. The media are quick to tell us that Macron is 'neither left nor right' and is a 'centrist' who must win against 'far right' Ms. Le Pen. But Macron is the former economy minister of socialist President Francois Hollande, who wrecked the French economy and sent hundreds of thousands of the brightest young French to Great Britain and other lands seeking opportunity....The EU, as Craig R. Smith and I explain in our latest book Money, Morality, & the Machine, was devised after World War II by French intellectual Jean Monnet. Monnet wanted it to replace European nations by melting them into one government, so no such war could happen again." Full story

big government New Poll: Record number of Americans want MORE government in their lives -Black/SovereignMan
"In a poll conducted a few days ago by NBC News / Wall Street Journal, a record 57% of Americans responded that they want MORE government in their lives, and that the government should be doing more to solve people’s problems. That’s the highest percentage since they started asking this question in 1995. In fact, 57% is nearly double what people responded in the mid-90s. First- more government is nearly an impossibility. As I’ve written several times in the past, the US federal government already spends almost all of its tax revenue on mandatory entitlements like Social Security, and interest on the debt....According to the US government’s own financial statements, their net operating loss in 2016 was an unbelievable $1.05 TRILLION....Since the end of World War II, US federal government tax revenue as a percentage of GDP has been nearly constant at 17%....If the government’s slice of the pie never seems to change no matter how high or how low tax rates are, shouldn’t they focus on making the pie bigger? Duh....The Land of the Free is truly becoming the Land of Getting Free Stuff."

Definitely Bullish Signals For Gold -Seeking Alpha
"Gold bulls should be satisfied. Last week the US big speculators increased their long bets on gold prices. According to the Commitments of Traders report, their net long position in gold futures jumped by 23.1 thousand contracts....Summarizing, although the paper silver market is overcrowded now, a bullish thesis on silver is supported by increased acquisitions of silver bullion by one of the largest players in the silver market, JPMorgan....Both gold markets, the paper and physical one, are sending bullish signals. Speculators are increasing their long bets on gold prices without any signs of excessive optimism and gold bullion is hoarded by a few large gold ETFs, JPMorgan and the Chinese."

Bi-Weekly Economic Review: "Market Skepticism Growing" -AlhambraPartners
"It wasn’t a very good two weeks for economic data with the majority of reports disappointing. Most notable I think is that the so called 'soft data' is starting to reflect reality rather than some fantasy land where President Trump enacts his entire agenda in the first 100 days of being in office. Politics is about the art of the possible and that is proving a short list for now. Republicans can’t agree among themselves and Democrats are following the golden rule of politics – never interfere when your opponent is busy self-destructing. I said after the election that tax reform would be a 2018 event at the earliest. I may have been too optimistic....Overall, the economic environment is still fairly weak. It isn’t a-recession-is-right-around-the-corner weak but still, a lot less than the economic bulls were hoping for....The dollar topping process continues, just another reflection of weak growth expectations for the US....The recent dollar weakness has been a positive for gold, another sign of growth skepticism. Gold resumed its long term uptrend in 2016 and the short term trend is now higher too...The gold uptrend is supported by 5 year TIPS yields that recently turned negative again....I don’t know if the Trump administration will be able to enact any major reforms this year but clearly skepticism in the market is growing....And, in my opinion, the physical market is definitely supporting a bullish thesis on gold and silver prices."

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4.24.17 - A Trump Economic Slowdown?

Gold last traded at $1,277 an ounce. Silver at $17.86 an ounce.

NEWS SUMMARY: Precious metal prices dipped Monday despite a sharply lower dollar as investors bet on 'Frexit' worries easing. U.S. stocks had a relief rally after Sunday's French vote did not foment fears of France leaving the EU.

France Braces for Runoff Between Nationalism and Globalism -Bloomberg
"The far-right Le Pen and centrist Macron both took just under a quarter of the vote in a contest with 11 candidates. Now they must convince the rest of the population that they have what it takes to lead the country after the May 7 runoff. The next round will see two radically different visions. Macron embraces globalization and European integration, Le Pen channels the forces of discontent that triggered Brexit and brought Donald Trump to power....While Le Pen’s signature pledge on taking France out of the euro has served to keep her fractious party in line during the campaign, it will stop her winning because most voters want to keep their currency, said Dominique Reynie, a professor of political science at the Sciences Po institute in Paris. In her final rallies, Le Pen at times backed away from her euro pledge and steered toward the other themes that most strike a chord with her electorate: Islam, immigration, national identity and terrorism."

JP Morgan In Today's Fiat Money Financial System, 'The House' Always Wins -Zero Hedge
"Perhaps the rules of the game have always favored the bankers....However, the extreme maltreatment of individual depositors and borrowers that has persisted following the 2008 credit crisis is a downright disgrace....The prime rate, based on The Wall Street Journal’s consensus survey of the 30 largest banks, is presently at 4 percent. For perspective, the typical credit card rate these days has an annual percentage rate (APR) on the order of 16 percent – or more. This is all well and good, of course. No one’s twisting the consumers’ arms and forcing them to take on debt. To the contrary, consumers are eager and addicted to the readily available credit card debt the banks offer. Still this doesn’t change the fact that main street depositors and lenders continue to get a raw deal....The typical annual percentage yield (APY) on savings deposits is not 1 percent. It’s not even 0.1 percent. Rather, it’s about 0.01 percent; which is effectively less than zero after inflation....Conversely, the banks have never had it so good. They borrow from the Fed at less than 1 percent interest. Then they buy U.S. Treasury notes – currently the 10-Year note is yielding 2.24 percent....The point is in today’s fiat money financial system, where debt is money and money is debt, the house always wins. Place your bets accordingly."

Hedge Funds Jump on Gold for Life Raft as Dollar Ship Sinks -Bloomberg
"There’s no stopping the gold bulls. Hedge funds increased their wagers on a gold rally to the highest since November, betting that this year’s 11 percent advance has more to go. Investors are also loading up on the metal through exchange-traded products, pouring $487 million into SPDR Gold Shares on Wednesday. That was the biggest daily inflow into the world’s top bullion ETF in seven months....Gold is shining bright as the dollar trades near the lowest since November, lifting the appeal of alternative assets....'There’s an appetite for storehouses of wealth at this point,' said Peter Sorrentino, the Dallas-based chief investment officer of Comerica Asset Management Group, which oversees $43 billion, including gold ETFs. 'Rather than run the risk of having your dollars eroded on a relative basis, you can use gold as a life raft to sort of avoid a sinking ship.'....'The important thing about gold is it provides a huge geopolitical hedge whether it’s North Korea or its French election risks, or wherever else it comes,' Francisco Blanch, the head of commodities research at Bank of America, said in a Bloomberg TV interview last week. 'People are going to rush into gold.'"

Gold and silver represent the best value buy in 2017 for all of the reasons quoted above. What are you waiting for? This is your gold-plated invitation to jump into the world's safest haven. For more insights into the precious metals bull market of 2017, read our 2017 Gold Report and 2017 Silver Report.

A Trump Economic Slowdown? -New Yorker
"During the election campaign, Donald Trump promised to jump-start the American economy and generate annual Gross Domestic Product growth of four per cent, which would represent roughly a doubling in the rate that we’ve seen since the Great Recession ended. At times, Trump made four per cent sound like a conservative estimate. 'My great economists don’t want me to say this, but I think we can do better than that,' he said, in September of last year....Yet reality seems about to intrude on this Trumpian narrative. At the end of next week, the Commerce Department will release its initial estimate of how the U.S. economy did in the first three months of 2017, a period in which Trump was President for all but nineteen and a half days. Far from showing a quantum leap in G.D.P. growth, the official figures are expected to show a slowdown....With retail sales softening and auto production falling, the widely followed Blue Chip consensus of forecasts projects that first-quarter growth will come in at under 1.5 per cent - and some experts believe even that number could be overestimated. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s G.D.P. Now model, which combines various economic statistics to provide a 'nowcast' of G.D.P. growth, puts the annualized growth rate at just 0.5 per cent. It’s always dangerous to rely on economic forecasts."

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4.21.17 - U.S. Housing Bubble 2.0?

Gold last traded at $1,289 an ounce. Silver at $17.85 an ounce.

NEWS SUMMARY: Precious metal prices traded mixed Friday, with gold rising on geopolitical uncertainty despite a firmer dollar. U.S. stocks slipped as French election worries overshadowed earnings enthusiasm.

Time To Own Some Gold -Seeking Alpha
"While gold may have just extended its run to nearly $1300 per ounce and then pulled back, we don't necessarily think the flight to the precious metal is going to be over anytime soon, and we consider gold a great buy here for the course of the long term, but especially over the course of the next 5 to 10 years. We admit that we like holding gold in basically any and all circumstances. We also like holding other precious metals like silver and platinum, mostly for the same reasons that we like to hold gold. We like gold because it is a hedge against many things. It is a hedge against owning securities, it is a hedge against inflation, it is a hedge against all different asset classes and it is the number one go to for investors when equity markets begin to capitulate. We also enjoy silver and platinum, not only because they are similarly situated hedges, but also because they each have manufacturing purposes which help contribute to their demand. The reason that we think gold is a good asset to own right now is because we are coming to the end of a seven or eight year debt cycle that started at the end of the 2008 financial crisis....If you want to be diversified across asset classes and you want to protect your wealth, you absolutely must own at least a little gold."

housing bubble Existing Home Sales Soar To 10-Year Highs -Zero Hedge
"Following February's 3.9% drop, March existing home sales roared back (up 4.4% MoM - the fastest growth since Dec 2015) to the highest since Feb 2007 at 5.71 million SAAR. Inventories tumbled (for the 22nd month in a row) and prices rose (for the 61st month in a row) as affordability issues remain ignored (for now). It seems, unlike 2013, that rising rates are not affecting demand for existing homes at all... (yet)....The median existing-home price for all housing types in March was $236,400, up 6.8 percent from March 2016 ($221,400). March's price increase marks the 61st consecutive month of year-over-year gains. With the high-end dominating the price appreciation....'This is a very broad-based recovery' in the housing market, Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said at a press briefing accompanying the report...Policy changes could 'quickly change' the direction of housing in the second half, he said."

Fears shroud French election after Champs Elysees attack -AFP/Yahoo
"The killing of a policeman on Paris's Champs Elysees claimed by the Islamic State group rocked France's presidential race Friday with just two days to go before voting in the closest election for decades. Bloodshed had long been feared ahead of Sunday's first round of the election after a string of attacks since 2015, and the shooting propelled the jihadist threat to the fore. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen -- who is locked in a tight four-way contest with centrist Emmanuel Macron, conservative Francois Fillon and Communist-backed firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon -- moved quickly to present herself as the toughest of the four on terrorism. The 48-year-old National Front leader called for France to 'immediately' take back control of its borders from the European Union and deport all foreigners on a terror watchlist. 'This war against us is ceaseless and merciless,' she said in a sternly-worded address, accusing the Socialist government of a 'cowardly' response to the threat....France has been under a state of emergency for nearly a year and a half, with more than 230 people killed in jihadist attacks since the start of 2015."

This Do-Nothing Congress Is A Travesty -Investors
"Agenda: Shortly after Donald Trump won the election, House Speaker Paul Ryan said that Republicans had to 'go big, go bold, and do things.' So far, the GOP has not delivered. 'They have the House, they have the Senate, they have the presidency - and nothing's happening,' lamented PJ Media co-founder Roger Simon earlier this week. 'Nothing, that is, that Donald Trump doesn't do by himself. ... The Republicans in the legislature are a disgrace.' Congress did pass, and Trump signed, 13 bills to undo last-minute Obama administration regulations. And the Senate approved Trump's Supreme Court pick. But what about actually advancing long-awaited Republican legislative priorities, like ObamaCare repeal and tax cuts? Nada....Now tax reform is slipping off the table, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying that getting reform done by August is 'highly aggressive to not realistic.'....There's plenty of blame to go around for the GOP's lack of achievements so far. But Ryan has been the biggest disappointment, since the House is where things get rolling....If Ryan can't figure out how to do this, and soon, he should consider handing the Speaker's gavel to someone who can 'go big, go bold, and do things.'"

Venezuela says inflation 274 percent last year, economists say far higher -Reuters
"Annual inflation in crisis-hit Venezuela last year reached 274 percent, according to data the central bank provided to the International Monetary Fund, although many economists believe the true figure is far more alarming....Venezuelan consultancy Ecoanalitica says inflation was 525 percent last year and New York-based investment bank Torino Capital - using one popular food item as a proxy - put it at 453 percent. Maduro himself last year increased the minimum wage by 454 percent, saying the rise was to offset inflation. Purchasing power has eroded and salaries annihilated as a result. On the black market, $1,000 in savings when Maduro was elected in 2013 would now be worth less than $5. The bolivar currency fell further against the U.S. dollar on Thursday and is now at its lowest value ever against the dollar, down 99.5 percent since Maduro came to power."

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