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CBD Smokes Brand COAST Enters Into Distribution Deal With Midwest Food And Tobacco Group

CBD smokes brand COAST entered into a partnership with Midwest Food and Tobacco Group for a long-term distribution deal. The group is one of the premier tobacco and smokeables distributors in the US which gives COAST the opportunity to expand beyond their strong West Coast footprint. read more.....»»

Category: blogSource: benzingaMay 13th, 2022

A Brief History Of West African Slavery

A Brief History Of West African Slavery Submitted by ICE-9 via The Burning Platform Slave [sleyv] from Middle English, from Old French sclave, from Medieval Latin sclāvus (“slave”), from Late Latin Sclāvus (“Slavic Person”), from Byzantine Greek Σκλάβος (Sklábos), from Proto-Slavic slověninъ … The seminal image many 50+ year old Americans have regarding the West African slave trade’s operating model can be traced back to the 1977 television miniseries Roots.  Some of you may recall sitting in front of your CRT television screen unknowingly watching the roots of a future social justice movement unfold before your eyes as a gang of European men magically appear deep within the Heart of Darkness wielding nets, superior numbers, and incredible brutality and snatch up a young and happy Kunta Kinte from his ancestral homeland. Like me, I bet the knot in your gut got tighter at each stage as Kunta Kinte was first shipped off in chains to a slave depot, sold at auctioned, and finally sent to America where his foot got cut off and he was renamed Toby.  The miniseries was a monumental success at implanting those first seeds of suburban white guilt into what had previously been infertile terrain.  Afterwards, many Americans could never innocently watch OJ Simpson run through airports in quite the same way. Roots was the initial vector that dug its pernicious roots into the formerly oblivious white collective consciousness.  It succeeded where back in the 1960s continuous years of three minute lead story action clips on the Six O’clock Evening News showing groups of helpless southern Negroes getting pummeled by police truncheons and slammed with water cannons had failed.  Thus those January nights back in 1977 unleashed the power of humanized myth that unequivocally proved superior to the old ways of cold impersonal facts.  It was through this new found power of myth and the visceral emotions it conjured that a primordial wokeness was spawned. Today, when discussing even the most oblique references to slavery in America, the emotions ignite, misguided passions reign supreme, facts equate to racism, and the phenomenology of history devolves into one where history becomes but a construct derived to aid and abet a white supremacist patriarchy.  Case in point – according to current woke orthodoxy, evil cis-male Europeans just up and sailed 3,500 miles south to forgotten lands like Zenaga, trekked hundreds of miles inland without roads, maps, or logistic support, and – according to some extraordinary unverified estimates – kidnapped up to six million innocent Africans. But was this the reality on the ground in West Africa circa 1619, or did Europeans instead rely on intermediaries to conduct their dangerous, high opex dirty work and if so, who were these intermediaries?  Do Americans have an accurate understanding of the West African slavery supply chain, or have they instead meekly decided to go along to get along and ingest without question a toxic narrative that is an antipathy encumbered product tainted by a combination of pop culture and political agenda?  And last, did slavery in West Africa materialize out of thin air with the first appearance of Europeans, or did it exist long before their arrival? The answer to this last question is both morally and legally significant, as it could nullify any and all claims to both tangible and ethical debts of reparation borne by ancestral liability.  For if Caucasian Americans are collectively guilty – including those who immigrated here after the Civil War – as a result of their ancestors’ theoretical participation in the West African slave trade, would not a basis be equally established to extend slavery’s collective culpability to African Americans if it were shown that their ancestors too participated to an equal degree in the West African slave trade?  Would not equal culpability on both ancestral sides of the Atlantic nullify any and all claims by one party against the other?  Further still, if slavery in West Africa was shown to be prevalent long before the arrival of Europeans, based on the premise of hereditary culpability, then slavery in America could no longer exist as some kind of alleged “Original Sin”. The forthwith exposition can be considered a template for countering the unreasonable and fanciful woke dogma surrounding the realities of West African slavery and specifically, the false claims regarding Europe’s and America’s sole complicity in this industry.  It is an attempt – described here in broken wokespeak – to deconstruct the prevailing narrative derived to aid and abet a People of Color aligned, non-binary, trans-supremacist heterarchy.  Let us begin our journey of enlightenment. The Songhai Empire as Gateway to Europe’s Appetite for African Slaves Between the 4th and early 16th centuries AD, through a succession of kingdoms that included Wagadou (Ghana), Mali, and Songhai, the West African Sahel was among the wealthiest regions on earth during a period when most of Europe wallowed in medieval feudalism.  Prior to the discovery of the Americas, West Africa was the world’s largest source of gold – so much gold in fact that when the Malian king Mansa Musa visited Mecca during his 14th century hajj, his 60,000 strong retinue (including 12,000 slaves) distributed so much gold that he crashed its value and created a decade of economic chaos on the Arabian peninsula. The Niger River during this time possessed six times more arable land than the Nile.  In the adjacent Sahara to the north, Africans operated extensive salt mining operations.  With the arrival of the Arabs in the 8th century AD, a prodigious iron smelting and blacksmithing industries occupied entire villages from one end of the Sahel to the other.  The West African political economy was such that no king ever enforced strict ownership over the entirety of his realm, so after the millet harvest an African peasant could earn good extra income panning for alluvial gold, mining iron ore, harvesting trees to make charcoal fuel for iron smelting, or travelling north to labor in the salt mines. The Sahel during this period was awash in food and gold and large prosperous cities like Gao grew into architectural wonders.  So what happened that would drain not only the wealth of an established long-standing power center yet leave nothing behind but piles of dirt from what were formerly majestic structures of timber and adobe brick?  The short answer is that it all fell to pieces due to horses. In the 9th and 10th centuries AD, trade caravans from what are today Morocco and Algeria began regularly making their way south through the Sahara desert during the winter months. These caravans initially brought with them manufactured goods and luxury items to exchange for gold, ivory, specialty woods, animal skins, and salt.  But during the 13th century these caravans started supplying a vital military component to the various competing rulers of the Sahel – Barb horses.  Ownership of horses gave each ruler a cavalry, and ownership of large herds could facilitate military superiority over rivals. The Malian, Hausa, Mossi, Bornu, Kanem and Songhai cavalries regularly battled each other for over three hundred years to what could be considered an equilibrium sometimes punctuated with transient victories and an occasional ebb or flow of juxtaposed borders.  Continuous combat was made possible only by a steady supply of Barb horses from the Maghreb, a market that traders were happy to oblige as the supply of gold from the Sahel appeared endless. But with its monsoonal climate and tropical diseases like trypanosomiasis, the Sahel Africans found it difficult to breed horses – the local Dongola sub-breed had a short life expectancy – and thus a steady flow of imported Barb horses were required to both replenish the high equine mortality rates and maintain at least military parity with the surrounding kingdoms. These imported horses were expensive and were initially paid for with alluvial gold, which was starting to go into productive decline during the 15th century at about the same time the Songhai king Sonni Ali Ber led a successful campaign to defeat his enemy Mali and consolidate rule over the Sahel from Lake Chad to the Cap-Vert peninsula.  So the height of Songhai power coincided with maximum operating costs to retain that power just as alluvial gold production from the Niger River went into decline. Saddled with the mounting expense of maintaining many cavalry regiments stretching across an 1,800 mile expanse, the Songhai lords began to launch slave raids upon the various Sahel peoples.  So as the 15th and 16th centuries progressed, slaves rather than gold became more and more the medium of exchange between the Songhai lords and the horse traders of the Maghreb.  As these traders brought more and more slaves to the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, most were purchased by Arabs but many were sold on to Europeans where they were employed as domestic servant in wealthy cities like London and Antwerp and were considered a high status symbol – the “negars and blackmoores” of 16th century Elizabethan England.  So it was not the Europeans that first procured slavery in West Africa, but the Songhai themselves that introduced Europe to African slaves via Arab and Berber intermediaries.  Europeans at this time were a minor end customer, where the primary slave demand was provided by Arabs. As the 16th century ground out successive years, the gold really began to play out.  Continuous and devastating slave raids depopulated the Niger River goldfield regions – crashing not only gold but also food production – and drove its inhabitants onto marginal lands that had been earlier deforested to manufacture charcoal for the formerly prodigious iron smelting industry.  Over a period of 200 years the once prosperous Sahel was transformed into a land inhabited by subsistence food scavengers and all powerful cavalry lords where the incessant demand for horses laid economic waste to this once prosperous region. With Songhai power in the late 16th century at its nadir as a result of internecine strife and succession wars among the dead king Askia Daoud’s many sons, the Sultan of Morocco, Ahmad al-Mansur, took advantage of the ensuing political instability and sent a military expedition across the Sahara and in 1591 these 4,000 Moroccans and their cannons defeated the Songhai at the battle of Tondibi. Thus with the defeat of the powerful Songhai Empire the coast of West Africa south of the Arab stronghold Nouakchott was left wide open to European maritime exploitation.  By 1625 the Dutch had established a permanent settlement at Gorée and the Portuguese likewise at Portudal, both located in modern day Senegal.  These initial European forays onto West African soil provided the vital resupply anchorage that enabled further permanent settlements along the entirety of the Gulf of Guinea and as far south as Namibia.  And it is at this point where the Kunta Kinte mythology begins with the permanent settlement of Europeans on African soil who allegedly trekked hundreds of miles inland into dangerous areas they did not control to randomly kidnap happy Africans into slavery.  Was this the reality on the ground in Africa back in 1619?  The Angolan experience provides the answers. The Angolan Model of Contracted Slave Procurement The gradual encroachment of European settlements down the Atlantic coast of West Africa did not lead to immediate mass colonization as malaria and tsetse flies kept out all but the hardiest and most rapacious adventurers.  But how did these Europeans procure so many slaves to service the burgeoning and incredibly profitable sugar and tobacco charters of the Caribbean?  The Kunta Kinte procurement model would have eventually led to depopulation of the local areas as the traditionally semi-mobile Africans would have just up and moved out of reach like they did to avoid the Songhai lords, and Africans were beginning to adopt European weapons in their defense.  So – how did so many Africans end up as slaves in the Americas despite their overwhelming numbers back in Africa? The answer lies in the Angolan model which was by no means confined to this region alone.  During the first half of the 16th century the Portuguese established a permanent trading station at the port of Soyo, a province within the Kingdom of Kongo on the south bank at the mouth of the Congo River.  The significance of Soyo was it established the first European occupation in West Africa outside the provenance of the tsetse fly, and with trypanosomiasis absent, colonists could settle and import European livestock for the first time on the African Atlantic coast.  Entire families of Portuguese colonists began to arrive and by 1575 the city of Luanda was founded, followed by Benguela in 1587.  With Angola’s drier, more temperate climate, these early European colonists got to the business of building homes, clearing land, farming, fishing, and raising their livestock.  But one thing they did not do was get to the business of travelling hundreds of miles inland to hunt down and capture slaves.  They left that to others – and these others weren’t Europeans. Soon after the Portuguese planted their flag at Soyo, they granted a trade monopoly to the Kingdom of Kongo which ruled over what is now northwestern Angola.  But as Portugal established colonies to the south of Soyo, these new colonies were located in lands claimed by Kongo but occupied by Ambundu peoples of the N’Dongo and Kisama states within the Kwanza River valley.  Because of the trade monopoly specifics granted to Kongo, the Bakongo could sweep through the Kwanza River valley and capture the local Ambundu and sell them into slavery to the Portuguese, but the Ambundu could not capture these Bakongo raiders and sell them into slavery to the same customer.  This egregious injustice incensed the N’Dongo king to the point of declaring war on – not the Portuguese – but the Bakongo in an attempt to break the discriminatory trade monopoly.  The Ambundu were successful and in 1556 they defeated the Bakongo in a war fought not to end the enslavement of their fellow Africans, but to extend to themselves the right to capture, enslave, and sell their Bakongo neighbors to the Portuguese. Despite the N’Dongo victory and elimination of Kongo influence in the Kwanza River valley, the Portuguese insisted on upholding their original trade agreement, so the Kongo trade monopoly remained in place with the Ambundu still cut out of all commercial activity with the Portuguese.  Realizing they had prosecuted a war for nothing, the N’Dongo spent the next several decades threatening colonists and harassing Portuguese interests up and down the Kwanza River valley without any penetration into the colonial economy.  In 1590 N’Dongo had had enough of the commercial status quo so it allied itself with its eastern Ambundu neighbor Matamba and together they declared war on all Portuguese interests across Angola. This war led the Portuguese to construct a network of fortalezas up and down the Angolan coastline and after years of protracted violence the Portugal finally defeated the N’Dongo in 1614.  Portugal’s first act after victory was to invite their old trading partner – the Bakongo – to commence mop-up operations across the Kwanza River valley in order to clear out the defeated Ambundu and bring them in chains to the new network of fortalezas, which not only served as troop garrisons and acropoli for the local inhabitants, but also as slave depots that accommodated the swelling numbers of captured Ambundu before being auctioned off and sent to Brazil. With the defeat of the Ambundu the N’Dongo matriarchal dynasty fled east to their ally Matamba.  There, a royal refugee named N’Zinga M’Bandi betrayed the hospitality shown her by Matamba and began secret negotiations with Luanda for a return of the Ambundu to the Kwanza River valley.  N’Zinga M’Bandi secured agreements that not only deposed the sitting Matamban queen – handing her the crown by subterfuge – but also convinced the Portuguese to nullify their long standing trade monopoly granted to the Kingdom of Kongo which, in effect, established the Ambundu peoples in the slave procurement business. The new Matamban queen made haste regarding her political and business affairs and quickly consolidated N’Dongo and the neighboring Kasanje states under her rule.  By 1619, Queen N’Zinga had grown her realm into the most powerful African state in the region using the wealth generated from her industrial scale slave procurement undertaking.  Within a few decade of Queen N’Zinga’s ascension, the regions surrounding central Angola were depopulated of not only the rival Bakongo peoples, but of its Ovimbundu, Ganguela, and Chokwe peoples too. The lucrative Angolan slave trade not only flourished under female African leadership, but grew scientific and efficient and continued unabated until the Portuguese crown outlawed the colonial slave trade in 1869.  However, avarice and ingenuity always prevail so after this slavery prohibition a vibrant slave black market continued unabated as abolition only served to drive up the price of slaves and therefore the incentive to procure them in the field.  These lucrative smuggling operations from Angola lasted up until the day its primary customer Brazil abolished slavery in 1888. Today the dominance of the Ambundu peoples in the business, political, and military affairs of modern day Angola is directly traced to the business acumen, organizational skills, and operational efficiency that the Ambundu peoples’ developed during their 269 year monopoly over slave procurement in Angola.  From the tens of thousands of their fellow African “brothers” and “sisters” that the Ambundu sold into slavery, they accumulated incredible wealth that enabled them to occupy a position of respect, influence, and near equality in colonial Angola unparalleled anywhere in colonial Africa.  They became, in a sense, the “Master Ethnicity” of the region. Twilight of the Woke Idols The irony behind the etymology for the word slave, lost upon the woke and the allies of Critical Race Insanity, is that slave derives from ancient words describing Caucasian Slavic peoples.  If slavery were at the core of the “American Experience”, America long ago would have adopted a word for slave that describe African peoples just as the Romans employed Sclāvus to describe a Slav.  But in the 402 years since 1619, Americans have not made this linguistic transition because there is an older and deeper collective history of slavery that can be traced back millennia to Eastern Europeans who constitute a large proportion of the American population. Yet somehow this deeper history has not affected Caucasians of eastern European descent – even the generational poor – in the same way it has tormented the collective psyche of African Americans.  Maybe these demons are not so much the product that African Americans were once slaves, but instead a manifestation of the incessant bombarded of acerbic messages from the Academia-Media-Technocracy Complex demanding that African Americans play the role of perpetual victims and that they deserve some abstract redress from those who themselves have never benefitted from systemic anything. Or is there a deeper pathological diagnosis, a sepsis of personal ontology whereby the current woke narrative is a desperate attempt at mass cognitive dissonance to blot out the humiliating reality that one’s ancestors were traded in bulk by one’s own kind for the likes of a horse? Africans were one of many peoples in a long line of slaves procured by Europeans but they are the last group before the prohibitions of the Utilitarian campaigns of universal human rights put an end to the practice. Thus it is this ‘Last In, First Out” queuing that gives African Americans claim to their title of “systemic victims” without regard to the broader history of European slavery during the preceding two millennia – including Medieval feudalism.  The reality on the ground for centuries in Europe was that slave relations were between Caucasian Master and Caucasian slave. And with the advent and maturing scientific efficiency of institutions such as central banking, nation states, denominational religions, non-governmental organizations, together with the application of mass psychology, one finds upon further scrutiny that this predominant relationship between Master and slave has changed little over the millennia.  We Americans are, in a sense, all slaves – caught in a systemic nexus of control with few options of escape.  Therefore, claims of “systemic injustice” and demands for redress are nothing more than demands to be promoted from field hand to domestic slave unless the true, invisible system of enslavement is abolished for all Americans. Slavery existed for millennia throughout the entirety of the Bantu populated African continent prior to the arrival of Europeans.  African slaves were captured, worked hard in the millet fields, scolded, beaten, sold multiple times, raped, and murdered well before the first European footprint was impressed on a West African beach.  Slavery was the natural African social condition, it continued as Europeans colonized the continent, and in some places it continues today after most Europeans have left.  Thus any conception of an “Original Sin” borne by Americans through ancestry lies not with Caucasians, but with those of African ancestry as Africans themselves were the origination point for the West African slavery supply chain where they occupied the roles of contractor, planner, procurer, and transporter to distribution hubs. The indigenous Africans were, in modern terms, the Chief Operating Officers of the West African slave trade.  Europeans played the roles of wholesale customer, clearing house, and retail distributor of a product offered to them by brazen and entrepreneurial local rulers who amassed great wealth from their endeavors and whose ancestors today are the beneficiaries of an “ethnic privilege” derived from this wealth and societal status as former Masters. The truth is that this seminal enduring image created with Kunta Kinte’s abduction is a fraud and was fabricated to not only impugn the Caucasian audience and henceforth brand them evil and complicit through ancestry, but was also consciously constructed to expiate the guilt surrounding the ugly and brutal truth that Africans themselves were the culpable party.  Had indigenous Africans not captured and sold so many of their brethren into slavery, there would likely be very few African Americans today. Epilogue The woke will never mention the 800 years of an East African slave trade conducted by Arab merchants up and down the Indian Ocean coast.  The woke won’t utter a word regarding present day slavery across the Sahel countries of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Sudan.  One hears only silence from the woke when one mentions the “Systemic Ethniscism” that permeates every Bantu nation where wealth and power are concentrated into the hands of a dominant ethnic group. The woke ignore the 3,000+ freed African slaves who show up in the ante bellum US census who were granted manumission, inherited plantations from their former owners, and kept the slaves.  No woke person ever admits that American Indians owned African slaves nor will they / them accept that slavery permeated Nahuatl culture even as they / them espouse the virtues of Greater Aztlán.  And the woke will never accept that it was Europeans who eventually stamped out slavery within the Bantu cultural world despite it being the natural human condition there for centuries. And, most importantly, the woke will never acknowledge that all Americans are trapped in a nexus of corporate, bureaucratic, technological, and psychological control where the true “American Experience” has devolved into one where everyone is a slave serving invisible Masters. Until these Masters’ hands are removed from every lever of power and influence in our nation – by any means necessary – abstractions like “equality” and “equity” are nothing more than job promotions on the American plantation.  The woke will never become unwoke because they love their servitude, it has opened the door for them to serve an irresponsible existence free of rationality, logic, true meaning in their existence.  Through their wokeness, they have essentially been freed from Freedom – they can place no hope in death, and their blind lives are so abject that they are envious of every other fate.  The world should let no fame of theirs endure; both true Justice and Compassion must disdain them. One final comment about those 4,000 Moroccans at the Battle of Tondibi.  The invading Moroccan army was commanded by a one Judar Pasha, but he was not always known by this name.  Judar was born Diego de Guevara, an inhabitant of the Spanish region of Andalusia who as a boy was captured by Arab slave raiders, packed off in chains to Morocco, and sold into slavery to the Moroccan Sultan.  And just like Kunta Kinte, Diego’s name got changed, but where Kunta Kinte had his foot cut off, Judar was castrated and forced to serve this foreign Sultan as a eunuch.  But we will never see a TV miniseries where an Arab slave wrangler hangs one Diego de Guevara upside down by his ankles, thrashes him with a bull whip, and screams repeatedly, “Your name is not Diego, your name is Judar!” Tyler Durden Fri, 11/19/2021 - 23:40.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeNov 20th, 2021

She Made Jeans for Americans. When They Stopped Shopping, She Turned to Sex Work

This piece is published in partnership with The Fuller Project. After Anna tucks her five children into bed each weeknight, she walks out the door to a grass patch behind her home. The former seamstress searches for the flat, heavy stone under which she’s buried her uniform for tonight: a camouflage miniskirt. For five years,… This piece is published in partnership with The Fuller Project. After Anna tucks her five children into bed each weeknight, she walks out the door to a grass patch behind her home. The former seamstress searches for the flat, heavy stone under which she’s buried her uniform for tonight: a camouflage miniskirt. For five years, the 30-year-old mother stitched Levi’s jeans at a garment factory in Lesotho, a small landlocked country within South Africa. The salary wasn’t much; she occasionally had sex with a male colleague for an extra $20 a month to support her family. But as the garment industry, one of the country’s largest employers, crumbled during the coronavirus pandemic, she found herself on the end of mass layoffs. In April of this year, management announced that the factory would be closing, due to reduced orders from U.S. brands and other pandemic-related issues. She was let go in August. [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] A week later, she turned to sex work full time. “I don’t want my husband to know, so I leave home dressed normally, and then I change into a short skirt that shows my thighs,” she says. “My children don’t have clothes; I don’t have food. I have to do this.” Anna, who asked to be identified by her middle name only for safety reasons, is one of over 6,000 garment workers who recently lost a job with the Nien Hsing group. The Taiwanese company—Lesotho’s largest garment sector employer—owns five major factories, three of which have closed in the past 16 months. Nien Hsing has been a major supplier to Levi’s, Kontoor Brands (owners of Wrangler) and the Children’s Place, but the company has reduced production amid COVID-19 pandemic headwinds. In a country whose faltering economy relies heavily on the garment sector, the U.S. is the largest recipient of Lesotho’s clothing exports. A mostly female workforce—roughly 90% are women—once stitched denim for some of America’s most famous brands. Many are single parents and their families’ main breadwinners. Globally, garment workers like Anna face continued pandemic-era fallouts from disrupted financial markets, upended supply chains and clogged ports. As the virus kept consumers at home and shuttered shops, people bought less, and Western fashion brands canceled or delayed billions of dollars’ worth of orders. At garment factories around the world, staffers, the majority of whom, like Nien Hsien’s staff, are female, were laid off or sent home without pay. Since the start of the pandemic, some 1.6 million garment workers have lost their jobs in seven Asian countries, including Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign. After plunging to historic lows last year, U.S. clothing sales have since hit record highs. Apparel stores took the biggest hit, with a 78% drop in April 2020, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Eighteen months later, October sales at clothing and accessory stores were up 25.8% from the same point in 2020. More from TIME Read More: Exclusive: Workers in Factory That Makes Kate Hudson’s Fabletics Activewear Allege Rampant Sexual and Physical Abuse Retail markets may have begun to bounce back, but for already low-paid and vulnerable workers in factories in Lesotho and larger garment-producing countries such as India and Cambodia, those gains can take time to trickle down. Ongoing disruptions continue to cause havoc in a period when retailers remain uncertain about the future. With few alternatives, women already working in an already unstable industry face abject poverty, spiraling debt and scant job prospects, industry experts say. “The clothing supply chain is run on a knife edge,” says Neil Saunders, managing director at research firm GlobalData Retail. “Margins are so thin because of this continual pattern of deflation and consumers wanting to pay less in Western markets. There’s just no room for error. You can’t say, ‘We’ll take a hit, it’ll be fine.’” In India, there is still a “great deal” of uncertainty about orders in Chennai, an industrial hub on the southeastern coast, says Sujata Mody, president of the Garment and Fashion Workers Union. She estimates that 10% of the multibillion-dollar industry’s approximately 200,000 workforce in Chennai are still unemployed. Many factories remain closed, she adds, while those still working face longer hours, higher expected targets and increased incidents of violence. DeLovie Kwagala for TIMEDuring the day, the streets in the heart of Maseru, Lesotho’s capital, boom with business. At night, women wait patiently among the empty market stalls. DeLovie Kwagala for TIME India makes up about 16% of textile imports to the U.S. and about 5% of apparel and accessories, according to an analysis of U.S. International Trade Commission data by the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “The women who work in these industries are very marginalized. They are dependent on their incomes and really vulnerable. And so nobody really bothers about them,” says Mody. “These women are not just invisible—it’s like they don’t exist.” Female garment workers over 40 have been hit particularly hard, she adds. Viewed as less productive, they were targeted when factory owners downsized during the pandemic, says Mody, who has spoken to hundreds of women who reached out to the union. Some have been able to find temporary low-paid cleaning work, while others are struggling to find anything at all, she says. For Sam Phary, a 40-year-old garment worker in Cambodia, her soaring debts are keeping her awake at night. A single parent to three children, she owes $10,000 to a microfinance lender. As COVID-19 infections rose in mid-April of this year, Cambodia once again shut clothing factories, leaving thousands of workers without income. While she was unemployed, Phary borrowed money from relatives to make her monthly $350 payments. She is back sewing at a factory in Phnom Penh, the capital, but earns less due to reduced orders, she says, and is concerned she’ll lose her home if she continues to default on her repayments. Last year, Cambodia’s $7 billion garment sector, the country’s largest employer with roughly one million (mostly female) workers, was dealt a double blow by the pandemic and by European Union tariffs imposed over human rights abuses. By mid-May of this year, an estimated 102 garment factories in Cambodia had permanently closed, said Heng Sok, Secretary of State of Industry, Science and Innovation, in an interview with local media. Nearly three-quarters went bankrupt because of a lack of orders or suspensions, he added. Lesotho’s garment industry has also long been ravaged with problems. In May, TIME and the Fuller Project reported on vast sexual abuse and harassment taking place at Hippo Knitting, another Taiwanese company in Lesotho’s capital, Maseru. The factory predominantly supplied one brand, Fabletics, a popular U.S. athletic apparel line co-founded by actor Kate Hudson. After a three-month pause, the brand resumed production in August while taking steps to improve workers’ rights. But roughly 600 workers are reportedly expected to be permanently laid off early next year, according to Sam Mokhele, general secretary of the National Clothing, Textile & Allied Workers’ Union in Lesotho. When asked about a reduction in orders at Hippo Knitting, Fabletics said in an emailed statement that orders over the last few months have been greater than or equal to those placed last year. The factory owners declined to comment on looming job cuts. DeLovie Kwagala for TIMEThe Taiwanese company Nien Hsing owns five major factories in Lesotho, three of which have closed in the past 18 months. DeLovie Kwagala for TIME “The workers are free of harassment,” says one seamstress who asked to remain anonymous due to job security concerns. “But we’ve already gone on Christmas break, and we don’t know what’s going to happen when we come back. Our jobs are hanging in the balance.” Less than four miles away, thousands of women from the Nien Hsing factories already face this stark reality. In a matter of months, the company’s estimated 10,000-strong workforce dropped by more than half and lost over $50 million this past year, according to Louis Rouillon, Nien Hsing’s former social responsibility director. He says that in addition to Wrangler and the Children’s Place cutting orders by roughly 30% this year, rising transport costs, recent wage protests in Lesotho and fluctuating Covid infection rates have all played roles in the company’s decline. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Children’s Place said Nien Hsing informed the retailer earlier this year that it was “scaling back operations,” and that the terms of their relationship “did not fit” the Taiwanese company’s new business model. Levi’s said the brand had maintained—and at times increased—its order volume with the Nien Hsing group over the past year.Wrangler did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Each month at the factory, Anna was paid less than the price of two pairs of Levi’s—about $133—but it wasn’t enough to cover her family’s basic costs, she says. No one at the factory knew about her arrangement with her male colleague, she adds. When he was let go, her monthly income dropped. Now, sex work nets Anna roughly $6 to $19 per night. Her family thinks she has found a cleaning job. She’s vague on the details, but worries that her husband has suspicions. “My husband is quite thin,” she explains. “Maybe he’s not gaining weight because he’s harboring all these emotions. When he confronts me about his suspicions, I sometimes leave the house, go to the outside toilet and cry. It’s really painful for me, seeing my husband like that.” Given the company’s three-decade history in Lesotho, Ricky Chang, Nien Hsing’s administration manager, says he remains hopeful some factories will reopen next year. “But it’s hard to tell,” he said. “Look at what just happened in South Africa [with the Omicron variant]—people are in panic again … If the environment does not allow you to stay, you have to seek something else. Right now, ​I am concerned about the entire future of Lesotho’s garment industry.” Anna, meanwhile, has spent five months looking for customers in the dark—five months of feeling in constant danger, she says. Asked what he would like to say to women in her position, Rouillon doesn’t know quite how to answer. “It breaks my heart,” he says. At 4 a.m., Anna jumps into a taxi to return home. The work she does now takes a toll, she says. She gave birth earlier this year. Several months ago, her cesarean wound became so painful she needed to rest for two weeks to recover. “I couldn’t believe it was me doing that,” Anna recalls of her first night of sex work, her voice soft. “I have dreams.” Once home, she slips back into her jeans. She carefully replaces the miniskirt under the flat, heavy stone, ready for tomorrow night. With additional reporting by Sineat Yon in Cambodia.....»»

Category: topSource: timeDec 15th, 2021

General Mills (GIS) to Sell Helper Business, Reshape Portfolio

General Mills' (GIS) deal to divest the Helper main meals and Suddenly Salad side dishes businesses goes in tandem with the company's Accelerate strategy. General Mills, Inc. GIS has been focused on its Accelerate strategy, part of which is related to reshaping the portfolio. Moving on these lines, the company unveiled that it inked a deal to offload its Helper main meals and Suddenly Salad side dishes businesses to Eagle Family Foods Group (which is a portfolio firm of Kelso & Company). Anticipated to conclude in the first quarter of 2023, the contract is valued at about $610 million.This highlights the company’s focus on reshaping the portfolio and concentrating on areas with higher growth potential. Management stated that this divestiture goes in tandem with General Mills’ Accelerate strategy and enhances the company’s North America Retail unit’s growth profile. The sale of these businesses will help the company increase its focus on categories and brands with better opportunities.Net sales from these businesses came in at roughly $235 million in fiscal 2021. Management at GIS anticipates the sale of these businesses to be dilutive to its bottom line by nearly 10-11 cents in the first 12 months post closing, before considering any probable gain from the use of sale proceeds. Accelerate Strategy Looks PromisingGeneral Mills is focused on its Accelerate strategy (unveiled in February 2021), which aids the company in making the choices of how to win and where to play to boost profitability while enhancing shareholder returns in the long run. Under the how to win principle, General Mills is focused on four pillars that are designed to provide competitive advantage. These include brand building, undertaking innovations, unleashing scale and maintaining business strength. The where to play principle is outlined to enhance the company’s capabilities to generate profitability through geographic and product prioritization along with portfolio restructuring. This includes prioritizing investments, investing in five Global Platforms, driving growth in Local Gem brands and reshaping the portfolio.General Mills is focused on reshaping the portfolio to accelerate growth. Recently, the company signed a definitive agreement to acquire TNT Crust – a manufacturer of high-quality frozen pizza crusts for regional and national pizza chains, foodservice distributors and retail outlets. The company also concluded the acquisition of Tyson Foods’ pet treats business on Jul 6, 2021. The acquired business is a pioneer in natural meat treats for pets. General Mills noted that the acquisition bodes well amid growing pet-food category trends stemming from the humanization of pets, especially in the pandemic.In November 2021, General Mills divested a 51% controlling interest in its European Yoplait operations to Sodiaal. On Nov 24, 2021, GIS unveiled plans to offload its European dough businesses to a leading ready-to-bake dough solutions company – Cerelia. The transaction includes General Mills’ branded and private-label dough businesses in Germany, the United Kingdom and Ireland, including the Knack & Back and Jus-Rol brands. These divestitures put the company a step closer to achieving Accelerate strategy priorities.We believe that the abovementioned factors, as well as a focus on core priorities, are likely to keep this Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) company’s growth story going. Shares of the company have increased 10.7% in the past six months compared with the industry’s rise of 4.1%.Looking for Consumer Staple Stocks? Check TheseSome better-ranked stocks are Sysco Corporation SYY, McCormick & Company MKC and Medifast MED.Sysco, which engages in the marketing and distribution of various food and related products, carries a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) at present. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.The Zacks Consensus Estimate for Sysco’s current financial-year sales and earnings per share (EPS) suggests growth of 32% and 122.9%, respectively, from the year-ago reported number. SYY has a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of 9.1%, on average.McCormick, the manufacturer, marketer and distributor of spices, seasoning mixes and condiments, currently carries a Zacks Rank #2.The Zacks Consensus Estimate for McCormick’s current financial-year sales and EPS suggests growth of nearly 5% and 3.9%, respectively, from the year-ago reported figure. MKC has a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of around 1.3%, on average.Medifast, which manufactures and distributes weight loss, weight management, healthy living products and other consumable health and nutritional products, currently carries a Zacks Rank #2.The Zacks Consensus Estimate for Medifast’s current financial-year sales and EPS suggests growth of nearly 19% and 11.5%, respectively, from the year-ago reported figure. MED has a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of 12.9%, on average. Just Released: Zacks Top 10 Stocks for 2022 In addition to the investment ideas discussed above, would you like to know about our 10 top buy-and-hold tickers for the entirety of 2022? Last year's 2021 Zacks Top 10 Stocks portfolio returned gains as high as +147.7%. Now a brand-new portfolio has been handpicked from over 4,000 companies covered by the Zacks Rank. Don’t miss your chance to get in on these long-term buysAccess Zacks Top 10 Stocks for 2022 today >>Want the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report General Mills, Inc. (GIS): Free Stock Analysis Report McCormick & Company, Incorporated (MKC): Free Stock Analysis Report Sysco Corporation (SYY): Free Stock Analysis Report MEDIFAST INC (MED): Free Stock Analysis Report To read this article on Zacks.com click here. Zacks Investment Research.....»»

Category: topSource: zacksMay 26th, 2022

Big Bottle: Breaking Down The Baby Formula Nightmare

Big Bottle: Breaking Down The Baby Formula Nightmare Authored by Matt Stoller via BIG, Big Bottle and the Baby Formula Apocalypse As anyone with an infant knows, there is a major crisis in the feeding of America’s babies right now, because parents in some areas can’t get baby formula. A few months ago, a major producer of formula - Abbott Labs - shut down its main production facilities in Sturgis, Michigan, which had been contaminated with the bacteria Cronobacter sakazakii, killing two babies and injuring two others. Abbott provides 43% of the baby formula in the United States, under the brand names Similac, Alimentum and EleCare, so removing this amount of supply from the market is the short-term cause of the problem. (Abbott and Mead Johnson produce 80% of the formula in the U.S., and if you add in Nestle, that gets to 98% of the market.) The problem is not, however, that there isn’t enough formula, so much as the consolidated distribution system creates a lot of shortages in specific states. First, it’s hard to convey what a nightmare this situation is for parents, especially those whose children require special kinds of formula because of gastrointestinal issues or food allergies. “The shortage has led us to decide to put a feeding tube in our child,” said one parent, who simply could not get the specialized formula her daughter needs. Baby formula is not just food, but the primary or sole nutrition for a vulnerable person in a stage of life in which very specific nutritional requirements are necessary for growth. Baby formula was created during the 19th century as we developed modern food preservation techniques. Before this remarkable innovation, baby starvation was common if a mother couldn’t breastfeed her infant (which happens a lot). The invention of industrialized formula was one of those creations we take for granted, but like antibiotics and other medical and scientific advances, it was one that fundamentally changed parenthood and the family. This shortage is showing just how reliant we are on industrialized formula. The causal factor behind the crisis is poor regulation and a consolidated and brittle supply chain. Imports from Europe are often prohibited, even if there were excess productive capacity elsewhere. I spent a bit of time calling around to people who work in formula, and the industry is basically on a war footing. Everyone is panicking, because the situation is, in short, a nightmare. I’m going to try and lay out the situation, and explain the market structure. There are two basic mechanisms that have created a concentrated and brittle market. The first is that regulators are tough on newcomers, but soft on incumbents. And the second is that the Federal government buys more than half of the baby formula in the market, and under the guise of competitive bidding, it in fact hands out monopoly licenses for individual states. That makes it impossible to get newcomers of any scale into the market, along with the more resiliency that such competition brings. It also makes it hard to address shortages in one state with extra formula from elsewhere. But first, let’s start by following the money. Financial Returns or Your Baby’s Life The simplest way to understand why there’s a shortage is to look at the incentives for the CEO of Abbott Labs. Here’s a Reuters report coming out of the company’s investor call in April, after the factory shutdown was underway. Keep in mind, the executives on this call are the people responsible for managing this vital resource, and here’s how seriously they took the problem. “Abbott called the recall a "short-term hindrance" and said it was working closely with the regulator and has begun implementing corrective actions and enhancements to the facility. Abbott shares rose 2.4% to $122.90 in morning trade as some analysts said the comments during the conference call allayed worries over the recall. Despite the recall and supply chain issues, Abbott beat quarterly profit and revenue estimates in the first quarter.” Not a single Wall Street analyst asked about the recall. Why? In some ways, it’s because it doesn’t matter that much to the bottom line. Abbott Labs is a diversified medical devices and health care company, and its nutritional segment is a relatively small part part of its business. But also, if you need baby formula, which is highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and distributed by a monopoly-friendly system run by the Department of Agriculture, where else are you gonna go? And that’s the problem. Baby formula is a shared monopoly, and we are at the mercy of Abbott Labs, Read Johnson, and Nestle. And their execs know it. So how does this shared monopoly work? Let’s start with the regulators. The Failed Priesthood at the FDA Entering the baby formula market is a difficult process, and takes years of work. For instance, Bobbie, which makes European-style formula with a contract manufacturer, is the first firm to come into the market in five years. Bobbie is also a direct to consumer niche firm, so it doesn’t have the scale to address the market dislocation at hand. It was a rough road getting started; the firm faced a recall and a shut down purely for manufacturing in Germany, and it had to go through millions of dollars of capital and a steep learning curve to get its product accepted by the FDA. The reason for regulatory hurdles seems good, on the surface. Manufacturing formula is very specific, it’s not like a snack bar, it fits in somewhere between medication and food in the regulatory spectrum. Congress put extremely detailed instructions in the Infant Formula Act of 1980. To get a product approved, an entrant needs protein efficiency studies, thousands of quality tests from raw ingredients to the end product, nutritional tests to make sure it is suitable for infants, and approvals for new suppliers. There are specialized forms of formula for babies with different conditions. Naturally, starting a new formula firm takes a massive amount of time, patience, and capital. And that’s if you just want to make a product and can even find a contract manufacturer to produce it for you. There is just one contract manufacturer of baby formula in the U.S. - Perrigo Nutritionals, and it requires a large initial order volume, which adds a hurdle to new potential firms. What about new factories? Earlier this year, a nutrition company ByHeart became just the fourth infant formula brand to have its own factory, something no one else had done in fifteen years. Certifying a factory for infant formula, like making a new product, is difficult and expensive. Is this expense necessary? Not entirely. The institutional risk tolerance of the FDA is extraordinarily low. FDA officials see themselves as an elite priesthood, pursuing excellence merely by dint of being at the FDA. From this perspective, there is zero incentive to let new players into the baby formula market when, in their view, there are already excellent quality companies serving the market, such as Abbott Labs, Mead Johnson, and Nestle. It’s true that baby formula is overpriced in the U.S., costing about twice as much as it does throughout much of Europe. But to an FDA official, price is incidental. The thinking goes, who wants to be the official that accidentally lets a reckless entrepreneur poison a bunch of babies, just so that there’s some competition in a market that is already delivering good products? When there is no problem at hand, there is no reason to allow innovation in the industry, or additional capacity. The problem, of course, is that the FDA is harsh to newcomers, but deferential to incumbents. According to Healthy Babies Bright Futures, baby formula made by the big guys in the U.S. is full of dangerous brain-altering heavy metals. HBBF tested thirteen different baby formulas, and every single one had “detectable levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead and/or mercury,” which are all considered to be neurotoxic, interfering with brain development and “causing permanent IQ reductions in children.” Moreover, FDA inspections of Abbott plants are obviously a disaster. Abbott had old and dirty equipment making formula, falsified records, deceived regulators, had bad product tracing, and did not fix problems after discovery. FDA inspectors noticed problems with the plant in September, but ignored them. Then, a whistleblower told the FDA of these problems in October, but regulators didn’t even bother to interview him/her until December. Moe Tkacik, in a viral Twitter thread, persuasively laid out parallels to the Boeing/FAA disaster. So, the origin of the baby formula pocalypse was Abbott management's refusal to repair dilapidated and failure-prone drying machines turning the plant into proverbial petri dishes for cronobacter, because... They needed that $5.73 billion for stock buybacks, obvs pic.twitter.com/GBmn3n4SWn — moe tkacik (@moetkacik) May 11, 2022 So that’s the regulatory problem. Then there’s the market structure, which creates a lumpy distribution system when there’s a shortage. Rebates and Scams The biggest buyer of infant formula in the U.S. is WIC, or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which is run by the Department of Agriculture. Roughly half of women get formula from WIC. Rather than food stamps, which is a set amount of cash that can be used for most products, most states only allow women to buy formula from one company, though each company offers a bunch of different brands. To save money, the government requires states to hold auctions to get the lowest price for formula. The problem is, state agencies use a complex rebating system to give the contract for the entire state to one manufacturer, and that contract can only be changed once every four years. Here’s the USDA explaining the program. Typically, WIC State agencies obtain substantial discounts in the form of rebates from infant formula manufacturers for each can of formula purchased through the program. In exchange for rebates, a manufacturer is given the exclusive right to provide its product to WIC participants in the State. These sole-source contracts are awarded on the basis of competitive bids. The brand of formula provided by WIC varies by State depending on which manufacturer holds the contract for that State. This rebate system distorts the entire market in a state, because it’s just not worth having alternative formulas on a retail shelf if half of the buyers simply cannot purchase those formulas. As a result, the market tips to the WIC supplier, and that supplier raises prices on non-WIC recipients, and does so by between 26-35%. Here’s what happened to the baby formula market in California when the WIC contract changed hands. This whole scheme, done under the guise of welfare, is essentially a transfer of wealth from the middle class to the poor, done by enriching the baby formula cartel. The monopoly friendly program design was peddled by the anti-poverty group the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which is both on the center-left of the political spectrum and aligned with Wall Street. This brings us back to the shortage. According to Truthout, Abbott is the monopoly provider of formula for 34 states, seven Indian tribal organizations, four territories and Washington, D.C. So that’s where we’d expect the shortages to be focused. Because of the design of the program, it’s not particularly easy to move different kinds of formula to WIC recipients. And that, perhaps more than any actual national shortage, is the problem. Here’s the Wall Street Journal today. “The FDA said overall the nation’s infant formula manufacturers are making enough to meet demand even w/out Abbott’s main factory online. The industry sold more formula in April than it did the month before the recall, the FDA said." The White House echoed these claims, asserting that “more infant formula has been produced in the last four weeks than in the four weeks preceding the recall.” There’s a well-known black market in formula, which speaks to the dysfunction of the distribution system. The shortages are concentrated in certain areas even if nationally there might be enough to get by. According to Heather Bottemiller Evich, there are just “6 states that had baby formula out-of-stock rates higher than 50 percent: Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota were 50-51%. Missouri was 52%. Texas was 53% and Tennessee was 54%.” But nationally, it’s not so bad. However, not all data sets suggest outages this high. @iriworldwide, which pulls information directly from retailers, found that the average in-stock rate is currently about 79% across the U.S. — far below the pre-pandemic norms of 95%, but not critically low. — Helena Bottemiller Evich (@hbottemiller) May 11, 2022 In some ways, the problem is that there’s baby formula, but it’s not in the right place (though the Sturgis factory was a monopoly producer of lots of specialized formulas, so the actual shortage itself is a huge problem). The simplest solution here is to get aggressive and capable leadership around logistics, and then move the formula where it needs to go. We’ll have to open up imports temporarily, and move supply around the country while allowing WIC recipients to buy non-contract brands. I suspect at some point the Biden administration will get their hands on the situation, and fix it. There will be Congressional hearings, and Abbott’s CEO will get yelled at. Longer-term, I hope there will be consequences. First, we need to explore forcing Abbott to break off its nutritional division from the rest of the firm, since it’s fairly obvious that there’s little corporate focus on making sure the baby formula division is run well. Conglomerates are usually inefficient. Second, Congress should really restructure the WIC program so that the auctions don’t create monopolies, and lumpy distribution patterns that induce regional shortages. Finally, the FDA needs wholesale reform, since this kind of crisis seems to happen a lot. I mean, the relationship between the FDA and Abbott Labs was also behind the rapid Covid testing scandal, where FDA official Tim Stenzel - who had worked at Abbott - then approved Abbott as one of two firms to make those tests, and blocked all other entrants. That’s why rapid Covid tests were both in shortage and much more expensive in the U.S. than they are in Europe. The FDA needs to be broken up so that its drugs and food divisions are separate, and it needs to take its mandate seriously for a resilient supply chain. In some ways, this baby formula crisis is the same problem as United having passenger David Dao being beaten up in 2017 and removed from the plane, to public horror and Congressional rage. United’s stock went up after the incident. Or it’s like nurses wearing garbage bags at the beginning of the pandemic because of our dependence on China, and the sad reality that policymakers in the last two years have refused to stop sourcing from China. Hopefully, these kinds of failures, and the public rage, are laying the groundwork for wholesale reform of our government. At every level of policymaking, we have a systemic bias against people who focus on making things, in favor of well-branded monopolists and cloistered regulators who are obsessed with fanciness instead of actual critical thinking. And that’s no way to run a democracy. Tyler Durden Fri, 05/13/2022 - 16:20.....»»

Category: worldSource: nytMay 13th, 2022

Watch These 4 Soft Drink Stocks to Get an Insight on Industry Trends

The Beverages - Soft Drinks industry witnesses headwinds from supply-chain disruptions and higher input costs. Innovative product introductions are likely to aid companies like KO, PEP, KDP and MNST. The Zacks Beverages – Soft Drinks industry has been witnessing continued pressure from higher supply-chain costs, including transportation and commodity costs, particularly steel and aluminum. Additionally, players are spending more on marketing and advertising to capture a share in the recovering markets. Elevated operating and other costs are likely to strain margins in the near term.However, industry players are poised to benefit from the introduction of innovative products to suit consumers’ needs like functional drinks and naturally prepared drinking options that support an active lifestyle. Industry participants have been steadfastly investing in product innovations to include healthy ingredients in beverages and introduce ready-to-drink variations. Players like The Coca-Cola Company KO, PepsiCo Inc. PEP, Keurig Dr Pepper Inc. KDP and Monster Beverage Corporation MNST are well-poised on robust innovation efforts.About the IndustryThe Zacks Beverages - Soft drinks industry comprises companies that manufacture, source, develop, market and sell non-alcoholic beverages. Soft drinks mainly include sparkling drinks, natural juices, enhanced water, sports and energy drinks, as well as dairy, and ready-to-drink tea and coffee beverages. Notably, some industry players like PepsiCo produce and sell handy food with flavored snacks, which complement their beverage portfolio. The companies sell products through a network of wholesalers and retailers that include supermarkets, department stores, mass merchandisers, club stores and other retail outlets. Some of them also offer products via company-owned or controlled bottling, independent bottling partners and partner brand owners.What's Shaping the Future of Beverages - Soft Drinks Industry?Raw Material Cost Inflation and Supply Constraints: The beverage industry is plagued with higher supply-chain costs, including higher commodity input costs and transportation expenses. Raw material cost inflation, particularly steel and aluminum, has led to increases in packaging costs. The ongoing supply constraints in the aluminum can industry have been other headwinds. The companies are also witnessing delays in the procurement of certain ingredients, both domestically and internationally, leading to shortages of some goods. The industry players have been facing freight inefficiencies as well as significant increases in domestic and international freight costs. Logistic issues, as well as higher input costs and freight inefficiencies, have resulted in higher cost of sales and operating expenses, impacting both gross and operating margins. Most players expect commodity cost inflation and higher transportation costs to persist in 2022.Industry Dynamics: The soft drinks industry has been witnessing transformed trends more than ever, as health-consciousness, personal well-being, natural ingredients, varied flavors and better taste experiences are changing consumers’ consumption patterns. There has been an increased consciousness for an active lifestyle and healthy eating habits, which have given prominence to natural, plant-based and organic ingredients in food and beverages. Soft drinks with no preservatives or added colors, low sugar content, and no artificial sweeteners are the clear choices nowadays. Drinks with plant extracts, natural fruit flavors and not-from-concentrate juices are also gaining popularity. Consumers are increasingly choosing “functional drinks” over their high-calorie counterparts, with a focus on ingredients like vitamins and minerals to support a balanced diet. Such trends have led soft drink companies to innovate to meet consumers’ needs, while introducing more healthy and naturally prepared drinking options. Industry players are vying to grab the market share in on-trend categories like tea, coffee, energy drinks, juices and sparkling water. Companies are adopting more transparency toward the disclosure of ingredients to gain consumers’ confidence. The industry players are also exploring ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages and CBD-infused drinks, which have been gaining popularity lately.Evolving Trends: The increased at-home consumption trend due to the coronavirus outbreak has led to the demand for more sustainable packaging, and functional and convenient beverage formats. While the away-from-home channel is gradually opening up, industry experts believe that at-home consumption trends will continue to have a share in the overall sales of beverage companies. Beverage companies have been witnessing robust volumes, driven by recovery across the majority of the markets, investments and the cycling of last year’s pandemic-led impacts. The return of normalcy in the away-from-home channel is anticipated to be a boon for soft drink makers, as the away-from-home channel accounts for the majority of their revenues.Zacks Industry Rank Indicates Bleak ProspectsThe Zacks Beverages - Soft Drinks industry is housed within the broader Consumer Staples sector. It carries a Zacks Industry Rank #233, which places it in the bottom 8% of more than 250 Zacks industries.The group’s Zacks Industry Rank, which is basically the average of the Zacks Rank of all the member stocks, indicates dull near-term prospects. Our research shows that the top 50% of the Zacks-ranked industries outperforms the bottom 50% by a factor of more than 2 to 1.The industry’s positioning in the bottom 50% of the Zacks-ranked industries is a result of a negative earnings outlook for the constituent companies in aggregate. Looking at the aggregate earnings estimate revisions, it appears that analysts are gradually losing confidence in this group’s earnings growth potential. In the past year, the industry’s earnings estimates for 2022 have declined 2.9%.Before we present a few stocks that you may want to consider for your portfolio, let’s take a look at the industry’s recent stock-market performance and valuation picture.Industry vs. Broader MarketThe Zacks Beverages – Soft Drinks industry has outperformed the S&P 500 Index and the Consumer Staples sector in a year.The stocks in the industry have collectively gained 9% compared with the sector’s growth of 0.2% and against the S&P 500’s decline of 6%.One-Year Price Performance Industry's Current ValuationOn the basis of the forward 12-month price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio, which is commonly used for valuing soft drink stocks, the industry is currently trading at 22.54X compared with the S&P 500’s 17.02X and the sector’s 19.84X.Over the last five years, the industry has traded as high as 23.71X and as low as 18.52X, with a median of 22X, as the chart below shows.Price-to-Earnings Ratio (Past 5 Years) 4 Soft Drink Stocks to WatchNone of the stocks in the Zacks Beverages – Soft Drinks industry currently sport a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) or Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). We have highlighted four stocks with a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) from the same industry. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here. Let’s take a look.Coca-Cola: The soft drink behemoth is poised to gain from strategic transformation and ongoing worldwide recovery. The streamlining of portfolio and accelerating investments to expand the digital presence position the company for growth in the long term. It has been witnessing a splurge in e-commerce, with the growth rate of the channel doubling in many countries. It is strengthening consumer connections and piloting numerous digital-enabled initiatives through fulfillment methods to capture online demand for at-home consumption.The company has been gaining from increased consumer mobility and the reopening of economies in several parts, leading to the reopening of the away-from-home channel. The improvement in the away-from-home volume is expected to result in a strong price/mix and margin acceleration across the company. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for its 2022 earnings has moved up 0.8% in the past 30 days. The company’s shares have gained 17.9% in the past year.Price and Consensus: KO PepsiCo: The stock of this Purchase, NY-based leading soft-drink company has risen 16.5% in the past year. Resilience and strength in the global snacks and foods business, as well as growth in the beverage category, have been aiding the company. It is poised to benefit from investments in brands, go-to-market systems, supply chain, manufacturing capacity and digital capabilities to build competitive advantages. Within the snacks/food business, Frito-Lay remains focused on offering more choices to meet customers’ changing needs and preferences. Some of these are expanding variety pack offerings, continuous flavor and brand innovation, and introducing healthier snacking alternatives.In the beverage category, PepsiCo expects strong growth and market share gains for energy drinks, driven by the increased depth and breadth of its portfolio, and improved distribution capabilities. The company continues to invest in its Zero Sugar products and other functional beverages in the carbonated and non-carbonated categories to offer more choices to consumers. The consensus estimate for the company’s 2022 EPS has moved down 0.4% in the past 30 days. Price and Consensus: PEP Keurig Dr Pepper: Packaged Beverages and Coffee Systems businesses have been driving sales for this beverage and coffee company based in the United States and Canada. Robust market share gains and in-market performances across categories and brands have been the growth drivers. The Packaged Beverages segment is witnessing improved volume/mix due to an increase in at-home consumption trends and strong market share growth.The company expects increased household penetration across hot and cold beverage portfolios to continue. Its market share growth is being supported by efficient marketing and product innovation strategies. The company is also investing in boosting distribution platforms and e-commerce operations. Shares of this producer, distributor and seller of a range of non-alcoholic ready-to-drink beverages have gained 2.3% in the past year. The consensus estimate for its 2022 EPS has been unchanged in the past 30 days.Price and Consensus: KDP Monster Beverage: The leading marketer and distributor of energy drinks and alternative beverages based in Corona, CA, remains committed to product launches and innovation to boost growth. Management is optimistic about strength in the energy drinks category, with the Monster Energy brand growing significantly. It remains on track to launch a number of additional products and product lines in domestic and international markets this year. Product launches across the Monster family are expected to drive the company’s overall top and bottom lines in the coming quarters.Management doesn’t expect any material impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the functioning of its co-packers and bottlers/distributors, who manufacture and distribute products, respectively. The company has declined 7% in the past year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for its 2022 earnings has declined 4.3% in the past seven days. Price and Consensus: MNST Zacks Names "Single Best Pick to Double" From thousands of stocks, 5 Zacks experts each have chosen their favorite to skyrocket +100% or more in months to come. From those 5, Director of Research Sheraz Mian hand-picks one to have the most explosive upside of all. It’s a little-known chemical company that’s up 65% over last year, yet still dirt cheap. With unrelenting demand, soaring 2022 earnings estimates, and $1.5 billion for repurchasing shares, retail investors could jump in at any time. This company could rival or surpass other recent Zacks’ Stocks Set to Double like Boston Beer Company which shot up +143.0% in little more than 9 months and NVIDIA which boomed +175.9% in one year.Free: See Our Top Stock and 4 Runners Up >>Want the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report CocaCola Company The (KO): Free Stock Analysis Report PepsiCo, Inc. (PEP): Free Stock Analysis Report Monster Beverage Corporation (MNST): Free Stock Analysis Report Keurig Dr Pepper, Inc (KDP): Free Stock Analysis Report To read this article on Zacks.com click here. Zacks Investment Research.....»»

Category: topSource: zacksMay 13th, 2022

With World Gripped By Fertilizer Crisis, Biden Admin Clings To "Climate-Inspired Utopian Food-Production Fantasies"

With World Gripped By Fertilizer Crisis, Biden Admin Clings To "Climate-Inspired Utopian Food-Production Fantasies" Authored by Nathan Worcester via The Epoch Times, Samantha Power: ‘Never let a crisis go to waste.’ Do the World Economic Forum and China agree? “Fertilizer shortages are real now.” Uttered by USAID’s Samantha Power in a May 1 ABC interview with former Democratic advisor George Stephanopoulos, the words briefly drowned out the din of the news cycle. They were not unexpected to some. Power, who served as U.N. ambassador under Obama, mentioned fertilizer shortages after weeks of hints from the Biden administration. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki repeatedly alluded to challenges obtaining fertilizer in recent press briefings. So did President Joe Biden himself in a joint statement with EU President Ursula von der Leyen. “We are deeply concerned by how Putin’s war in Ukraine has caused major disruptions to international food and agriculture supply chains, and the threat it poses to global food security. We recognize that many countries around the world have relied on imported food staples and fertilizer inputs from Ukraine and Russia, with Putin’s aggression disrupting that trade,” the leaders stated. In an April report titled, “The Ukraine Conflict and Other Factors Contributing to High Commodity Prices and Food Insecurity,” the USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service acknowledged that “for agricultural producers around the world, high fertilizer and fuel prices are a major concern.” While political rhetoric has often focused on Russia, the rise in fertilizer prices did not begin with its invasion of Ukraine. An analysis from the Peterson Institute of International Economics shows that fertilizer prices have rapidly climbed since mid-2021, spiking first in late 2021 and again around the time of the invasion. Industry observers have pointed out that commodity prices are not solely affected by Vladimir Putin. Max Gagliardi, an Oklahoma City oil and gas industry commentator who cofounded the energy marketing firm Ancova Energy, told The Epoch Times that the war and sanctions have helped drive the upward climb of natural gas prices in Europe. A worker walks at the Yara ammonia plant in Porsgrunn, Norway, on Aug. 9, 2017. (Lefteris Karagiannopoulos/Reuters) Natural gas is used in the Haber-Bosch process, which generates the ammonia in nitrogen fertilizers. Those fertilizers feed half the planet. Gagliardi thinks the picture is more complicated at home, where environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) has become a controversial tool of stakeholder capitalism, often used to force divestment from fossil fuels or other industries disfavored by the left. “It’s a combination of record demand domestically and from LNG [liquid natural gas] exports combined with less than expected supply, in part due to the starving of capital for the O&G industry due to the ESG/green movement pressures on capital providers, plus pressure from Wall Street to spend less capital and return value to shareholders,” he said. Language from Power Echoes Green Activists, EU, WEF In the case of increasing costs for oil, natural gas, and coal, some politicians and green activists have argued that those fast-rising prices mark an opportunity to accelerate a move from hydrocarbons to wind, solar, and electrification. “Big Oil is price gouging American drivers. These liars do nothing to make the United States energy independent or stabilize gas prices. It’s time we break up with Big Oil and ignite a clean energy revolution,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said on Twitter in March. “I say we take this opportunity to double down on our renewable energy investments and wean ourselves off of planet-destroying fossil fuels[.] Never let a crisis go to waste,” said former Joe Biden delegate and political commentator Lindy Li in a Twitter post about ExxonMobil’s exit from Russia’s Far East. Meanwhile, Mandy Gunasekara, an environmental lawyer who served as the Environmental Protection Agency’s chief of staff under President Trump, said in an interview with The Epoch Times, “It’s always been part of their plan to make the price of traditional energy sources go up, so then wind and solar could actually compete with them.” Describing how fertilizer shortages could actually help advance a particular agenda, Power sounded much like Li. She even used an identical phrase: “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Intentionally or not, this echoed a line from another high-profile Obama alum, Rahm Emanuel: “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Emanuel was talking about the 2008-2009 financial meltdown. “Less fertilizer is coming out of Russia. As a result, we’re working with countries to think about natural solutions, like manure and compost. And this may hasten transitions that would have been in the interest of farmers to make anyway. So, never let a crisis go to waste,” Power told Stephanopoulos. Power’s language of setting crisis as opportunity parallels similar statements from environmental groups. Writing to EU President von der Leyen and other EU bureaucrats, a group of European and international environmental organizations urged the union to stay the course on environmental policy. “The crisis in Ukraine is yet another reminder of how essential it is to implement the Green Deal and its Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies,” the letter states. The Farm to Fork Strategy confidently asserts that its actions to curb the overuse of chemical fertilizers “will reduce the use of [fertilizers] by at least 20 percent by 2030.” “Ploughing more farmland, as is currently being put forward, to grow crops for biofuels and intensive animal farming by using even more synthetic pesticides and [fertilizers] would be absurd and dangerously increase ecosystem collapses, the most severe threat to social-ecological stability and food security,” the activists’ letter argues. “The European Union must tackle the current challenges by accelerating the implementation of its strategies to reduce the use of synthetic pesticides and [fertilizers], to preserve its natural environment and the health of its citizens.” Numerous publications from the World Economic Forum (WEF), known for its role in orchestrating the global response to COVID-19, have made similar arguments. A 2020 white paper from WEF and the consulting firm McKinsey and Company warns of greenhouse gas emissions and potential runoff from fertilizers, advocating for an end to fertilizer subsidies in developing countries and praising China for its efforts to reduce fertilizer use. A 2018 WEF white paper, co-authored with the consulting firm Accenture, claims that “a 21st century approach to organic farming” should strive to close the gap in yields between organic and conventional farming. WEF’s vision of 21st century agriculture comes into greater focus in another 2018 report titled, “Bio-Innovation in the Food System.” It advocates for the bioengineering of new microbes to fix nitrogen more efficiently in plants. “This offers the prospect of lowering and more optimally applying nitrogen fertilizer,” WEF’s report states. WEF has also pushed the use of “biosolids”—in other words sewage sludge—as fertilizer. Urine, it notes, “makes an excellent agricultural fertilizer.” Gunasekara, formerly of the EPA, said that fertilizer overuse and runoff presents serious risks, giving rise to toxic algal blooms in the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. However, “generally speaking, the farmers are very, very efficient with their fertilizer use. They have a built-in incentive not to waste something that is a high input cost,” she told The Epoch Times, adding that in her experience, industry and communities could work out positive solutions with regulators. Heavy-handed restrictions, she argued, are not the solution. The UK Absolute Zero report, produced by academics at top British universities, goes even further than some other reports in its opposition to nitrogen-based fertilizers and conventional agriculture more generally. This photo shows sheep feeding on lush grass on the property of Australian farmer Kevin Tongue near the rural city of Tamworth in New South Wales, Australia, on May 4, 2020. (Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images) It anticipates a phaseout of beef and lamb production, with “fertilizer use greatly reduced,” in order to meet net-zero emissions targets by 2050. “There are substantial opportunities to reduce energy use by reducing demand for [fertilizers],” the report states. It also envisions cuts to energy in the food sector of 60 percent before 2050. That imagined energy austerity, with its many unforeseeable consequences for human life, apparently will not last forever. The report claims that after 2050, energy for fertilizer and other aspects of food production will “[increase] with zero-emissions electricity.” “A food crisis/famine advances the long-term goal of more centralized control of energy, food, transportation, etc., as advanced by the Davos crowd of the WEF. Governments must expand their powers to ‘handle’ crises, and that is what progressives love more than anything,” Marc Morano, proprietor of the website Climate Depot, told The Epoch Times. Sri Lanka’s Organic Experiment a Stark Warning Though Power’s remarks were consistent with talking points from Democrats, WEF, the EU, and similar factions, they came at a particularly inconvenient moment for advocates of organic fertilizer—Sri Lanka’s recent experiment with abandoning chemical fertilizer has plunged the island nation into chaos that shows no signs of letting up. According to a 2021 report from the USDA Foreign Agriculture service,  Sri Lankan agricultural economists warned that a rapid shift from chemical to organic fertilizers “will result in significant drops in crop yields.” The country has since had to compensate one million of its farmers to the tune of $200 million, as reported by Al Jazeera. With food shortages now a reality, anti-government protests prompted Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to declare a state of emergency on May 6—the second in two months. “[Sri Lanka is] now literally on the verge of famine, because they’ve had massive crop failures,” Gunasekara said. A farmer prepares a paddy field for sowing in Biyagama on the outskirts of Colombo on October 21, 2020. (Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP via Getty Images) “This administration wants to use this as an opportunity to push their Green New Deal-style farming tactics, which we’ve seen implemented elsewhere, that cause significant problems beyond what we’re currently facing from our farmers’ perspective and what consumers are going to be facing,” she added. “Manure cannot compete with modern chemical agriculture for high yield farming that the world depends on,” Morano of Climate Depot said. Rufus Chaney, a retired USDA scientist known for his research on sewage sludge-based fertilizers, echoed Morano’s skepticism about making up for missing chemical fertilizers with organic alternatives. “There are not enough useful (and not already being used) organic fertilizers to change the balance of any chemical fertilizer shortages,” Rufus told The Epoch Times via email. “Nearly all organic fertilizers are built on livestock manure and can only be shipped short distances before it becomes cost-prohibitive,” he added. These realities underscore another apparent contradiction in green policy—even as climate activists push for cuts to chemical fertilizer use and greater reliance on organic alternatives, they are working assiduously to cull the livestock populations that provide manure for those fertilizers. In Northern Ireland, for example, a newly passed climate Act will require the region to lose a million sheep and cattle. The EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy even states that work on fertilizers will be focused “in hotspot areas of intensive livestock farming and of recycling of organic waste into renewable fertilizers.” “For years we were warned that ‘climate change’ would cause food shortages, but now it appears that climate policy will be one of the biggest factors in causing food shortages,” Morano told The Epoch Times. Bails of hay sit in a paddock containing a failed wheat crop on farmer Trevor Knapman’s property in Gunnedah, NSW, Australia, on Oct. 4, 2019. (David Gray/Getty Images) He cited research suggesting that a move to organic farming in the United Kingdom could actually raise carbon dioxide emissions, as the decrease in domestic yields can be expected to boost carbon-intensive imports. “What the Biden admin is doing is seizing on ‘crises’ to advance their agenda. Greta [Thunberg] famously said, ‘I want you to panic.’ Because when you panic, you don’t think rationally and calmly, and you make poor choices. The only way they can sell these climate-inspired utopian energy and food production fantasies is during times of COVID crisis or wartime crisis,” he added. China’s Role Scrutinized Still, others see the focus on Russia as a distraction from China’s maneuvering on the world stage. In 2021, China limited exports of both phosphate and urea fertilizers. The country has also stepped up its fertilizer imports. China’s export restrictions came after it rapidly emerged as “the most important and most influential country in the fertilizer business,” according to an outlook document from the Gulf Chemicals & Petrochemicals Association. The Peterson Institute’s analysis shows that as global fertilizer prices shot upward in 2021 and 2022, China’s fertilizer prices mostly leveled off. Although the USDA’s April report did note the impact of China’s fertilizer export restrictions and heavy fertilizer imports, its executive summary drew greater attention to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. That summary did not mention China by name among the “countries imposing export bans and restrictions.” Stanford University’s Gordon Chang, a China expert, warned on Twitter on May 6 that China has been “buying chemical companies whose products are needed for fertilizer and, more generally, food production,” citing comments from onshoring advocate Jonathan Bass. The Epoch Times has reached out to Chang and Bass for additional details. We must, as a national priority, protect our farmland, ranches, processing facilities, distribution channels, and all the other elements that support agriculture and the food chain. #China’s regime is seeking control. Its intentions are undoubtedly malign. #CCP — Gordon G. Chang (@GordonGChang) May 7, 2022 China has also been buying up American farmland as well as ports around the world, including ports in the now-food insecure Sri Lanka. Physicist Michael Sekora, a former project director in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), told The Epoch Times that worldwide fertilizer shortages could reflect China’s long-range technology strategy. A key element of that strategy, he argued, is undercutting the United States whenever and wherever possible. “Our ability to produce food is very much under attack right now. Some people say, ‘Oh, it’s just a coincidence.’ It’s China,” Sekora said. “China has been very strategic in making sure they shore up what they have and restricting access throughout the rest of the world,” Gunasekara said. “When you have people come in that are very anti-development and anti-growth, China can put its finger on the global market, making it that much harder, and then try to use that as an example to exert more authority and have access to greater power.” Pain Felt Around the World “It’s been hectic,” said South African tobacco farmer Herman J. Roos. Roos told The Epoch Times that fertilizer prices near him have jumped since the invasion of Ukraine, on the heels of steep increases over the previous year. He was able to buy all the fertilizer he needs for this year before the latest price shock. Yet, he expects shortages of urea, monoammonium phosphate (MAP), and other fertilizers to strain a population of farmers already under significant stress. Copper theft, lack of government support, and the ever-present threat of physical violence are all pushing Roos and producers like him to the brink. Yet, for all the challenges in South Africa, Roos anticipates the fallout will be worse elsewhere in the continent. “The economy will be hit harder in countries like Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe—countries where your agricultural system is more focused on subsistence farming,” Roos added. They and other sub-Saharan African countries are heavily dependent on South Africa for their food supply. Roos prays food riots won’t come to South Africa. The country is still recovering from a wave of riots in summer 2021, prompted by the arrest of former South African President Jacob Zuma. He does predict that some farmers in the country will go bankrupt. Let the master gardeners foot the bill and do all the work, then show up to get in on the harvest. (StockMediaSeller/Shutterstock) Back in the United States, Connecticut landscaper Adam Geriak does not yet face such stark choices. He told The Epoch Times that fertilizer prices near him are up, in line with estimates a Connecticut garden store provided to The Epoch Times. “I do primary garden work and use organic fertilizers, which primarily come from poultry manure,” Geriak said, adding that the price of poultry manure fertilizer may have risen too. He does not think fertilizer price increases will have much of an effect on him. Yet, other facets of the current economic picture are worrisome to him as tries to manage his small business most effectively. “I’m having a hard time planning for the future because of the uncertainty, and I think other owners are feeling this too. In the previous two years, clients seemed to have open coffers. They wanted more projects done and there seemed to be a lot of money going around. Clients seem to be a bit tighter now, asking how they can save money on certain projects and such,” Geriak said. “Being on the verge of a recession, and retirement accounts down may be leading to these issues,” he added. The USDA report on Sri Lanka’s organic experiment states that the country’s government made impossible promises to different parties. It informed farmers it would handle the cost of moving away from chemical fertilizers while telling consumers that rice on their shelves would not become pricier, all while attempting to realize environmental and public health benefits through a breakneck transition to organic fertilizers. “If you put too much emphasis on environmental issues, and you ignore the very real impact that can have to people’s daily lives, it can have dire consequences,” Gunasekara told The Epoch Times. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing it in the most dire of circumstances, which is a suppressed food supply. I think that situation is only going to get worse because of the rise in prices for fertilizers and diesel and everything else that’s going to make it harder for farmers in the U.S. to produce, then also globally.” Josh, a farmer in Texas who raises small livestock, also believes things will get worse before they get better. He did not want to share his last name. “I personally think that we haven’t even begun to feel the effects of inflation in our grocery store bills, because last year, the costs to produce were 1/3 to 1/2 the cost farmers and ranchers are having to pay this year. That cost has to be absorbed by the buyer to make it feasible for them to even continue,” he said in a message to The Epoch Times. “My family is preparing now and stocking up our freezers and pantry because we are really concerned how bad it can get this next year.” He estimates that fertilizer prices near him have increased 200 or even 300 percent, “dependent on what program you are running.” The rise in diesel prices has hurt him the most. “Farm equipment runs on diesel,” he pointed out. According to AAA’s gas price website, diesel in Texas is running at an average of $5.231, up from $2.820 a year ago. “I can’t imagine how anyone would profit or sustain raising crops or cattle with all these price increases that effect your overhead,” Josh said, saying he has heard about other ranchers and farmers culling their herds to avoid losses. “Food shortages are a great way to collapse the current system and install a Great Reset,” Morano, of Climate Depot, told The Epoch Times. Tyler Durden Mon, 05/09/2022 - 20:30.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeMay 9th, 2022

Escobar: Terror From Balochistan - A Menacing Tool To Disrupt Sino-Pakistani Economics

Escobar: Terror From Balochistan - A Menacing Tool To Disrupt Sino-Pakistani Economics Authored by Pepe Escobar via The Cradle, A Baloch suicide bombing targeting Chinese workers in Karachi comes a mere month after the US-backed ousting of PM Imran Khan. Pakistan is a critical BRI hub in Beijing's vast Eurasian connectivity project, and it looks like CPEC is the ultimate target of this disruption. This is the concise story of how a suicide bombing may carry the potential to subvert the whole, ongoing, complex process of Eurasia integration. Recently, the Balochistan Liberation Movement (BLA) had released an ISIS-influenced video threatening “Chinese officials and installations” in Pakistan’s vast province. Yet what actually happened in late April was a suicide bombing outside of the University of Karachi’s Confucius Institute – not Balochistan – and targeting Chinese teachers, not “officials and installations.” The suicide bomber was a woman, Shaari Baloch, alias Bramsh, who detonated her vest just as a van carrying Institute staff members approached the entrance. The attack was claimed by the BLA’s Majeed Brigade, which stressed that this was the first time they used a female suicide bomber. Shaari Baloch was a schoolteacher with a Zoology degree, enrolled to pursue a second Master’s degree, married to a dentist and professor at Makran Medical College in her hometown of Turbat, in southern Balochistan. Her three brothers include a doctor, a deputy director at a government-funded project, and a civil servant. So Shaari Baloch was far from being a mere destitute online-indoctrinated Salafi-jihadi. The Pakistani Foreign Office had to stress the obvious: this was a “direct attack on the Pakistan-China friendship and ongoing cooperation,” always qualified, by both sides, as “iron brothers.” Pakistan is an absolutely key node of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to connect the Eurasian landmass. This was no standard terrorist attack. Its reverberations are immense – not only in one of Pakistan’s provinces and South Asia regionally, but for the whole of Eurasia. It may be a harbinger of serious turbulence ahead. Shaari Baloch’s act of desperation should be seen, to start with, as the embodiment of a deep-seated Baloch alienation felt by the educated middle classes, from lawyers and traders to students, constantly permeating the complex relationship with a distant Islamabad. A significant part of the puzzle is that 26 Pakistani intel agencies never saw it coming. Baloch leaders instantly made the point that the best possible reaction would be to call a Grand Jirga – modeled on the Shahi Jirga practiced at the time of the partition of the subcontinent – that would unite all tribal elders to address the most pressing local grievances. Round up the usual suspects Balochistan, geostrategically, is as valuable as rare earth minerals: an immense desert positioned east of Iran, south of Afghanistan, and boasting three Arabian Sea ports, including Gwadar, practically at the mouth of the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Comprising nearly 48 percent of Pakistan’s area, Balochistan is rich in uranium and copper, potentially very rich in oil, produces more than one-third of Pakistan’s natural gas, and sparsely populated. The Baloch account for the majority of the population, followed by Pashtuns. Quetta, the large provincial capital, for years was considered Taliban Central by the Pentagon. Gwadar, the port built by China on the southwestern Balochistan coast of the Arabian Sea – directly across from Oman – is the absolute key node of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and doubles as the essential link in a never-ending pipeline saga. The Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline, previously known as the “peace pipeline,” with plans to cross from Iranian to Pakistani Balochistan (India still has not made up its mind) is absolute anathema to Washington since the George W. Bush era. CPEC remains an endless source of controversy even inside Pakistan. Beyond all the links planned between Gwadar and Xinjiang by the year 2030, most of this ambitious connectivity corridor deals with energy, industrial zones and road and rail projects in different parts of the country – an overall improvement of its lagging infrastructure. The Chinese, for years, have quipped that in fact “all of Pakistan is a corridor.” The US security establishment, predictably, has been planning for years to instrumentalize an insurgency in Balochistan to – what else – “disrupt” first the possibility of an energy pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang, and then the overall CPEC project. Usual suspects like the US’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED) are very much present in Balochistan. WikiLeaks had revealed a great deal of the game back in 2015. A Carnegie Institute report noted how “many Baloch nationalist leaders now come from the urbanized districts of Kech, Panjgur, and Gwadar (and to a lesser extent from Quetta, Khuzdar, Turbat, Kharan, and Lasbela). They are well connected to Karachi and Gulf cities, where tribal structures are non-existent. In fact, while there is violence all over the province, the insurgency seems to concentrate mainly in these urbanized areas.” Suicide bomber Shaari Baloch came from Turbat, the province’s second largest city, where the BLA is very much active. From the point of view of the usual suspects, these are choice assets, especially after the death of important tribal leaders such as Akbar Bugti. The report duly noted how “the educated and middle-class Baloch youth are in the forefront” of the insurgency. The anti-China instrumentalization of the BLA also ties in with the regime-change parliament operation in Islamabad that recently deposed former prime minister Imran Khan, who was always a fierce adversary of the American “Forever War” in Afghanistan. Khan resolutely denied Pakistan’s use in “over the horizon” US military ops: that was one of the key reasons for him to be ousted. Now, with a pliant, Washington-approved, new regime in town, a miracle has just happened: the Pentagon is about to clinch a formal agreement with Islamabad to use Pakistani airspace to – what else – keep interfering in Afghanistan. Beijing, as well as other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), won’t be amused. Only weeks before the white coup, Khan had met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and once again underscored how Pakistan and China are “iron brothers.” Imran Khan was a serious thorn in the side of the west because he kept impressing on Pakistanis that the Forever War in Afghanistan was militarily unwinnable. He knew how all the proxies – including the BLA – that destabilized both Afghanistan and Pakistan for decades were, and continue to be, part of US covert operations. Not an Iran-India plot Balochistan is as deeply tribal as the Pashtun tribal areas. Local tribal chiefs can be as ultra-conservative as Islamabad is neglectful (and they are not exactly paragons of human rights either). Most tribes though bow to Islamabad’s authority – except, first and foremost, the Bugti. And then there’s the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which both Washington and London used to brand as a terrorist group, and then forgot about it. The BLA operated for years out of Kandahar in Afghanistan (only two hours away from Quetta), and already in the previous decade – simultaneous to the announcement of the New Silk Roads and CPEC – stressed it was getting ready to attack non-Balochis (code for the government in Islamabad as well as Chinese foreigners). Balochis are inclined to consider the BLA as a resistance group. But Islamabad has always denied it, saying their support is not beyond 10 percent of the provincial population. An ample controversy has raged in Pakistan for years on whether the BLA was totally hijacked by the CIA, the MI6 and the Mossad. During a 2006 visit to Iran, I was prevented from going to the Sistan-Balochistan province in southeast Iran because, according to Tehran’s version, infiltrated CIA from Pakistani Balochistan were involved in covert, cross-border attacks. It was no secret to anyone in the region that since 9/11 the US virtually controlled the Baloch air bases in Dalbandin and Panjgur. In October 2001, while waiting for an opening to cross to Kandahar from Quetta, I spent quite some time with a number of BLA associates and sympathizers. They described themselves as “progressive, nationalist, anti-imperialist” (and that would make them difficult to be co-opted by the US). They were heavily critical of “Punjabi chauvinism,” and always insisted the region’s resources belong to Balochis first; that was their rationale for attacks on gas pipelines. Stressing an atrocious, provincial literacy rate of only 16 percent (“It’s government policy to keep Balochistan backward”), they resented the fact that most people still lacked drinking water. They claimed support from at least 70 percent of the Baloch population (“Whenever the BLA fires a rocket, it’s the talk of the bazaars”). They also claimed to be united, and in coordination with Iranian Balochis. And they insisted that “Pakistan had turned Balochistan into a US cantonment, which affected a lot the relationship between the Afghan and Baloch peoples.” Two decades later, and after the whole ISIS saga in Syria and Iraq, it’s a completely different story. BLA sympathizers may still be prepared to remain within a Pakistani confederation, although with infinitely more autonomy. But now they seem to be willing to use western imperial help to strike not only at the central government in Islamabad, but also at the “near abroad” foreign profiteer (China). After the Karachi suicide bombing, a narrative started to emerge in some Pakistani circles that Iran and India were in cahoots to destabilize Balochistan. That makes absolutely no sense. Both Tehran and Islamabad are tightly linked to Beijing through several nodes of the New Silk Roads. Iran would draw less than zero benefit to collude with India to destabilize an area that borders Afghanistan, especially when the SCO is fully engaged in incorporating Kabul into the Eurasia integration process. Moreover, the IPI has its best chances ever to come to fruition in the near future, consolidating an umbilical cord from Southwest Asia to South Asia. During the late years of Barack Obama’s administration, the BLA, though still a fringe group with a political wing and a military wing, was regrouping and rearming, while the chief minister of Balochistan, Nawab Raisani, was suspected of being a CIA asset (there was no conclusive proof). Already at the time, the fear in Islamabad was that the government had taken its eye off the Balochistan ball – and that the BLA was about to be effectively used by the US for balkanization purposes. That seems to be the picture right now. Yet the heart of the matter – glaringly expressed by the Karachi suicide bombing – is that Islamabad still remains impervious to the key Baloch grievance: we want to profit from our natural wealth, and we want autonomy. Tyler Durden Sun, 05/08/2022 - 07:00.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeMay 8th, 2022

For The Narrative-Creators, The Play Is You... And You Are Not Real

For The Narrative-Creators, The Play Is You... And You Are Not Real Authored by 'Mr.Smith' via PeakProsperity.com, Shakespeare’s famously gory “Titus Andronicus” is replete with violence, including fourteen deaths. Yet it continues to be performed, and audiences continue to sign up for a frisson of fear and pity, because this is not real. After the play, the actors get up, wash off the fake blood, and join the playwrights and directors for drinks or dinner. If, like me, you’ve been wondering about why things are the way they are in today’s world, and how this relates, this is my explanation: For the actors, writers and directors who create real world narratives, the play is you. And you are not real. Actors and Reality Much has been made of the jarring dissonance between the heroic stand of the president and the people of Ukraine and the facile signaling of the Social Justice crowd. Feel free to pick your favorite exemplar, from the merely stupid banning of Russian cats and renaming of White Russian cocktails to the more sinister cancelling of Russian performers, or the horrific threats and vandalism to places serving Russian food. There’s no shortage of content here. And, as we’ll get to shortly, that’s the point. Ukraine’s policy goals do not map fully to those of the United States (think Azov Battalion, for starters), and we can and should carefully consider our response with that awareness. But this does not change Ukrainian heroism. Zelensky wants planes, a no-fly zone, and he would no doubt love NATO boots on the ground. Prudence may dictate we provide him none of these, but it is worth noting that any of us in his circumstances would likely be asking for the same things. Any of us who stayed during the onslaught, that is. Clearly, Putin’s bet from the beginning included Zelensky on the first plane out to serve as the leader of the Ukrainian government in (comfortable) exile, after which the dismemberment of that nation would rapidly become a fait accompli. Zelensky was having none of it. He stayed, and continues to stay, at great personal risk to himself and his family. He is, unquestionably, a hero. It is the contrast between these two extremes (the banning of Russian-themed menus et al vs. Zelensky’s stand) that provides ample opportunity to reflect on the idea that many Americans are just not serious people. Unsurprisingly, their response to events in Ukraine has been to simply cut and paste from the outrage-of-the-week playbook: change profile picture, use a hashtag, find some people to cancel, and congratulate oneself on how virtuous one is. In the real world, rational people are tempted to say, “None of this ‘support’ matters”. It’s just empty signaling. So why is it happening, why has it become so pervasive, and how should we contend with it? Examination of a few high-salience topics can shed some light. Consider this first in the context of Covid and the by now well-known case of the Lab Leak Theory. Peter Daszak of the Eco-Health Alliance was the prime mover behind the infamous Lancet Letter branding any lab leak speculation uninformed conspiracy. This makes perfect sense when considering his incentives. Daszak (and Fauci, and others) had something to lose here. Perhaps a lot to lose. U.S. funding of Gain of Function research in Chinese labs resulting in a global pandemic is, to put it mildly, not a very good look and could be costly both financially and criminally. Explaining is not excusing. But while we can wish for better, observing actors respond to their incentives is nothing if not proof that the world works in an orderly way. Indeed, the conservative position that we are and should be a nation of laws, norms, and standards implicitly concedes the point that our better angels are not always ascendant. If some people had enormously large reasons to attempt a coverup of something, it’s hardly controversial that some would choose to do so. And that’s where those laws, norms, and standards come in. In an environment with many disinterested actors, those entities without skin in the game would easily out-produce the relatively small number of individuals invested in a particular narrative. In that environment, the idea that zoonotic transmission and escape from a biolab in the same city where researchers were known to be working on bat viruses were both very real possibilities would be obvious. But that is not at all how it went down. Instead, the idea that it might be prudent to investigate what role the lab in Wuhan may have played in the pandemic became roughly equivalent to arguing Flat Earth Theory. What the hell was going on here? Did everyone in the American media landscape owe Daszak a favor? Did Fauci have a secret cache of compromising emails and photos to dangle J. Edgar Hoover style over the heads of troublesome journalists? Why on earth would hundreds or thousands in the media run cover for these guys and for the Chinese government to the extent of making claims that mere investigation of the possibility of a lab leak was racist? More puzzling still is the idea that there is nothing about either potential source of the pandemic that presupposes an explicitly liberal or conservative position. Indeed, one could easily flip the script and imagine a campaign urging people to “follow the science” rather than resorting to xenophobic tropes about savages in wet markets. Until, that is, Donald Trump and other conservatives brought it up, which was like Christmas came early for Daszak and his co-conspirators. For the progressive left, the endorsement of anything by President Trump was more than sufficient cause to oppose it, and thus the wheels began to turn. None of this should be surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention. At its heart, this is an expression of the luxury of operating without consequences. The luxury of not having to think operationally. To be clear, what I am saying is that Daszak and his cronies were able to leverage a system in which those with the loudest megaphones literally did not and do not care where and how Covid originated. For them, it just doesn’t matter. The pandemic is just background noise. That may seem like a strong statement. So, why and in what sense did they not care? Gain Not Trust In a recent episode of Bari Weiss’ podcast Honestly, journalist and academic Yuval Levin articulated a theory of the change from institutions-as-formational to institutions-as-platforms. In his view, institutions of all types formerly served to develop the individuals inside them. If for example, you worked at the New York Times as a young journalist, you would be shaped by the ethos of that institution, informed by the repository of values developed over time within that structure. According to Levin, this has been replaced by the notion of institution-as-platform, the idea is that these structures exist as a launching pad for one’s personal brand. Understood from this perspective, the great Lab Leak crackdown suddenly makes a great deal of sense. One of the baseline branding positions operating was “not-Trump.” I am completely persuaded that if Trump had spoken out in favor of the wet market theory, we’d all have been loudly advised to “follow the science” in precisely the opposite direction. It is also worth noting that these personal brands are rivalrous goods. Having a “take,” even the right one, is necessary, but not sufficient. Your take must outcompete the other signals in the marketplace in order to claim disproportionate attention. And this explains why the Lab Leak Theory had to be, “conspiracist,” “anti-science,” and eventually, of course, “racist.” The more extreme the position is, the more effective it is in gaining audience-capture. And this is not part of the story; it’s the entire story. There is effectively nothing behind the curtain. Because of these powerful incentives, what has happened without us realizing it is the creation of a public dialogue between a small, privileged elite that is fixed on in-group signaling and status-capture. The policy concerns or post-pandemic reforms that should differentially apply depending upon the origin of the disease diminish in importance to the extent that they functionally do not matter at all. And people impacted by those decisions by extension do not matter either. They are extras and scenery. The Damaging Script This goes a long way toward explaining the persistence of the otherwise bewildering advocacy that has permeated American life. Democratic New York Mayor Eric Adams noted that the Defund the Police crowd “are a lot of young white affluent people.” Of course they are. Poll after poll reveals that those who live in high-crime neighborhoods want more police, not less. Like any other sane person, those citizens also want their police officers to be professional and not corrupt, but “I want my police officers to fight crime and be professional” is just not an exciting take. From this perspective, insanity like Defund the Police isn’t surprising, but rather inevitable. It is the position pushed to its logical extreme. And that is why arguing with this group is useless. If you wonder why the obvious fact that increased crime disproportionally affects black and brown people remains unpersuasive to them, the reason is maybe scarier than you think. It is not that they are stupid; it is that they just don’t care, and they never will. They are completely unconcerned about the consequences of implementing this policy in the real world. And to take it a step further, they don’t even care about the policy itself. The proclamation and the signaling is the whole story. In a fundamental sense, any person killed or otherwise victimized by increased crime is just not real. Extras and scenery. Nothing to see here. Perhaps nothing is more indicative of this trend than the increasingly unhinged claims emerging from the trans-activist community, as LGB became LGBT and now for some is properly expressed as LGBTQQIP2SAA, in order to be “inclusive” to intersex, pansexual, asexual, and two-spirit people. For an outsider, it can all seem like satire. How could anyone engage in these abbreviation acrobatics unironically? It is no surprise that all of this has continued to expand since the 2015 Obergefell ruling which legalized gay marriage. Effectively, the war was over, and the gay community won. Resoundingly. Despite that, it is instructive to note here that there’s no incentive to just take the W, as the kids say, and move on. Satisfaction, and even victory, simply does not move the needle. Outrage is the play when competing for eyeballs and clicks, and thus we have incomprehensible acronyms, death threats to J.K. Rowling, of all people, for having the temerity to state flatly that men and women are different, and an epidemic of medical intervention involving children is something for which future societies will likely judge us very harshly, with good reason. For outsiders, the criticism seems insane. That is because, once again, we are not the audience. What we are seeing is a process of in-group jousting for status, where increasingly bizarre formulations become predictable and indeed necessary to gain attention. “I disagree with J.K. Rowling” is hardly a winning message, especially compared with “J.K. Rowling threatens my right to exist!” Thus, once again, appeals to reason, biology, or even compassion for a generation of children we are harming irrevocably do not and will not work. No one affected by these positions exists in any meaningful way because, again, they are not real. By far the best example of this phenomenon is Black Lives Matter, a marketing triumph that proved beyond all doubt that these tactics can work, work well, and most importantly, be monetized. The familiar script is here, but no one has ever executed it better, as activists turned their rallying cry into a movement indistinguishable from religion. No nuance or difference of opinion was tolerated. Even to remain silent was proof of apostacy. The net result? More than $60 million, most of which remains unaccounted for, and a series of high-end real estate purchases by the activists behind the whole thing. No policy achievements of any kind, because of course those were never the point from the beginning, as was obvious to anyone paying attention. Inside BLM co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ million-dollar real estate buying binge. Photo source: New York Post An attempt at real policy change involves engaging stakeholders, broadening your base, creating consensus, and finding ways to deliver wins for various groups in your coalition. Which to be fair, is a lot of work. It’s much easier to simply use any police shooting of a black citizen, regardless of the circumstances, as a fundraiser. Does anyone seriously believe BLM grifters wanted fewer police shootings? On the contrary, I promise you they wanted more, because each shooting represented an economic event. As in the examples above, BLM created an extremely effective in-group dialogue that served to funnel money into their pockets without any requirement to pursue or achieve any tangible outcomes. And the downstream impacts have been significant, as reduced public trust in law enforcement and plummeting morale among officers have contributed to a dramatic increase in crime which, again, disproportionately affects minority communities. The response to this from BLM? Condemn the black reporter who exposed their murky finances and questionable real estate transactions as racist, smear the black Harvard economist as a sexual predator, and suggest that even the financial reporting required of non-profits is, you guessed it, racist. It’s not that hard to parse this: BLM activists are not friends or allies of black communities whatsoever. Instead, we come back to the same point: everyone outside of the in-group are just extras and scenery. Including those for whom they purport to advocate. None of them are real. Luxury Beliefs Rob Henderson calls all of this a symptom of “Luxury Beliefs.” According to Henderson, these are “ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost while taking a toll on the lower class.” What we have is a catechism, a portfolio of dogma that operates as a signaling mechanism among the elite. And so, in addition to “Follow the Science” on Covid, “Trans Women are Real Women”, and “Black Lives Matter”, we have a host of other statements expressed as moral imperatives, including things like “Healthy at Any Size”, “All Family Structures are Equal”, “Open Borders”, etc. All of this can be considered an unexpected and unwelcome consequence of our own success. The complex, exquisitely-tuned supply chains that funnel us goods and services have become so remarkably effective they are essentially invisible. Elites don’t have to worry about how things get done, how X leads to Y, or how thing A gets to place B. It just happens. Magically. Invisibly. How the sausage is made is a question for smaller minds. In my view, Henderson gets one thing wrong about his theory. Luxury Beliefs are not in fact, the provenance of the rich, but rather of the educational elite, some of whom are also rich in the bargain. Journalists, other media members, academics, and activists typically have little to no experience in actual business and even less incentive to ever gain any. The effortless flow of goods and services they experience allows them the freedom from having to think operationally or consequentially. Over the past two years, COVID revealed and supercharged the insular status of these elites. If you talk to business owners, no matter how wealthy they may be, who vitally need to think operationally and consequentially every day, you find considerably less support for these elitist notions. All of this is bad enough when locked in some academic ivory tower, but as we’ve seen, this has escaped into the American Wild with terrifying effect. Crime, inflation, record border crossings, education, and more. Pick your topic, as the list goes on and on. The Final Act Which brings us back to Ukraine as the setting for the ridiculous virtue signaling and posturing by these same luxury elites. It is jarring when juxtaposed against actual tanks and soldiers, but it is just more of the same. I stated earlier that these are not serious people, but that is not entirely accurate. They are extremely serious, just not about anything other than their own internal conversations. Which then brings us back to “Titus Andronicus” and the reason behind the reason. These people will not change, and they will not be persuaded by your arguments, your statistics, and your facts. Because the people who make any of the things elites consume and the people elites purport to stand up for are all equally irrelevant. Performance is the point. The performance is the whole thing, and the actors, playwrights and directors aren’t taking suggestions from you, the extras and the scenery. Which leads us to the final act: maybe it’s time to think about shutting down the whole play. Tyler Durden Mon, 04/25/2022 - 05:00.....»»

Category: smallbizSource: nytApr 25th, 2022

Post Holdings (POST) Provides Adjusted EBITDA View for FY22

Post Holdings (POST) offers the adjusted EBITDA guidance for fiscal 2022, which takes into account the labor market and the input cost scenario and the latest avian influenza-related announcement. Post Holdings, Inc. POST, which recently distributed 80.1% of its interest in BellRing Brands, Inc., offered its adjusted EBITDA guidance for fiscal 2022. Also, the company informed about an avian influenza case at one of Michael Foods’ owned egg-laying facilities. An egg-laying flock owned by Michal Foods in Nebraska tested positive for avian influenza. The facility has around two million egg-laying hens, indicating roughly 4% of Post Holdings’ controlled supply.Speaking of the adjusted EBITDA guidance, management expects fiscal 2022 adjusted EBITDA in the range of $910-$940 million, excluding BellRing for the entire fiscal. The historical results of BellRing will form part of the company’s discontinued operations. The view includes all variables, such as those related to the labor market and input costs, as well as the latest avian influenza-related announcement. However, the company does not anticipate offering any other update to its guidance until its second-quarter earnings results.Image Source: Zacks Investment ResearchWhat Else to Know?Of late, Post Holdings has been benefiting from the recovery in its foodservice business. Sales in the foodservice unit increased 23.7% to $438.6 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2022, including the benefits of $12.7 million from the Almark acquisition. Volumes rose 13.3%, including a 150-basis point (bps) benefit from the Almark buyout. The upside in volumes can be attributed to higher away-from-home egg and potato demand. Egg volumes rose 6.5% (including a 190-bps benefit from Almark) and potato volumes rallied 49.7%.On its earnings call, management highlighted that volumes in certain channels and product categories in the foodservice business have almost fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels. In aggregate, overall foodservice volumes are still below pre-pandemic levels. That said, the company expects the foodservice business to return to pre-pandemic profitability in fiscal 2023.POST has been benefiting from its focus on acquisitions, which has been helping the company expand its customer base. In the first quarter of fiscal 2022, the company’s top line included $97.8 million in net sales from acquisitions. This includes the Private label ready-to-eat cereal business, the Egg Beaters liquid egg brand, the Almark Foods business and related assets and the Peter Pan peanut butter brand. Post Holdings acquired Almark Foods (or Almark) on Feb 1, 2021. Also, on Jan 25, Post Holdings acquired Conagra Brands’ Peter Pan peanut butter brand. The Peter Pan peanut butter is one of the leading brands that cater to a diversified customer base in key channels.However, the Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell) company has been witnessing labor shortages, input and freight inflation and other supply-chain disruptions. This led to higher manufacturing costs and hurt sales to some extent in the last reported quarter. Elevated per unit product costs escalated, while service levels and fill rates remained below normal levels along with lower inventories. These factors are likely to persist in fiscal 2022. Apart from this, POST’s SG&A expenses increased 2.5% year over year to $257.3 million. The persistence of the trend is a concern.Shares of the company have tumbled 8.1% in the past three months compared with the industry’s dip of 0.4%.A Renowned Consumer Staple StockA popular pick from the broader Zacks Consumer Staples sector is Altria Group, Inc. MO, which has also been benefiting from its strong pricing power and a focus on oral tobacco products, such as on!. For 2022, Altria envisions 4% to 7% growth in the bottom line, which is likely to be more weighted toward the second half.  This tobacco giant currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Shares of MO have increased 9.9% in the past three months. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for the company’s current financial-year earnings per share (EPS) suggests growth of around 5% from the year-ago reported figure.Let’s Check These Solid BetsSome better-ranked stocks are Sysco Corporation SYY and Flowers Foods FLO.Sysco, which engages in the marketing and distribution of various food and related products, carries a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) at present. Shares of Sysco have jumped 6.6% in the past three months. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.The Zacks Consensus Estimate for Sysco’s current financial-year sales and EPS suggests growth of 30.4% and 120.1%, respectively, from the year-ago reported number. SYY has a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of 3.7%, on average.Flowers Foods, the producer and marketer of packaged bakery products, currently carries a Zacks Rank #2. Shares of Flowers Foods have declined 7.3% in the past three months.The Zacks Consensus Estimate for Flowers Foods’ current financial-year sales and EPS suggests growth of 7.2% and roughly 4%, respectively, from the year-ago reported figure. FLO has a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of around 9%, on average. Zacks Names "Single Best Pick to Double" From thousands of stocks, 5 Zacks experts each have chosen their favorite to skyrocket +100% or more in months to come. From those 5, Director of Research Sheraz Mian hand-picks one to have the most explosive upside of all. It’s a little-known chemical company that’s up 65% over last year, yet still dirt cheap. With unrelenting demand, soaring 2022 earnings estimates, and $1.5 billion for repurchasing shares, retail investors could jump in at any time. This company could rival or surpass other recent Zacks’ Stocks Set to Double like Boston Beer Company which shot up +143.0% in little more than 9 months and NVIDIA which boomed +175.9% in one year.Free: See Our Top Stock and 4 Runners Up >>Want the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report Altria Group, Inc. (MO): Free Stock Analysis Report Sysco Corporation (SYY): Free Stock Analysis Report Flowers Foods, Inc. (FLO): Free Stock Analysis Report Post Holdings, Inc. (POST): Free Stock Analysis Report To read this article on Zacks.com click here. Zacks Investment Research.....»»

Category: topSource: zacksApr 13th, 2022

The Anatomy Of Big Pharma"s Political Reach

The Anatomy Of Big Pharma's Political Reach Authored by Rebecca Strong via Medium.com, They keep telling us to “trust the science.” But who paid for it? After graduating from Columbia University with a chemical engineering degree, my grandfather went on to work for Pfizer for almost two decades, culminating his career as the company’s Global Director of New Products. I was rather proud of this fact growing up — it felt as if this father figure, who raised me for several years during my childhood, had somehow played a role in saving lives. But in recent years, my perspective on Pfizer — and other companies in its class — has shifted. Blame it on the insidious big pharma corruption laid bare by whistleblowers in recent years. Blame it on the endless string of big pharma lawsuits revealing fraud, deception, and cover-ups. Blame it on the fact that I witnessed some of their most profitable drugs ruin the lives of those I love most. All I know is, that pride I once felt has been overshadowed by a sticky skepticism I just can’t seem to shake. In 1973, my grandpa and his colleagues celebrated as Pfizer crossed a milestone: the one-billion-dollar sales mark. These days, Pfizer rakes in $81 billion a year, making it the 28th most valuable company in the world. Johnson & Johnson ranks 15th, with $93.77 billion. To put things into perspective, that makes said companies wealthier than most countries in the world. And thanks to those astronomical profit margins, the Pharmaceuticals and Health Products industry is able to spend more on lobbying than any other industry in America. While big pharma lobbying can take several different forms, these companies tend to target their contributions to senior legislators in Congress — you know, the ones they need to keep in their corner, because they have the power to draft healthcare laws. Pfizer has outspent its peers in six of the last eight election cycles, coughing up almost $9.7 million. During the 2016 election, pharmaceutical companies gave more than $7 million to 97 senators at an average of $75,000 per member. They also contributed $6.3 million to president Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign. The question is: what did big pharma get in return? When you've got 1,500 Big Pharma lobbyists on Capitol Hill for 535 members of Congress, it's not too hard to figure out why prescription drug prices in this country are, on average, 256% HIGHER than in other major countries. — Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 3, 2022 ALEC’s Off-the-Record Sway To truly grasp big pharma’s power, you need to understand how The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) works. ALEC, which was founded in 1973 by conservative activists working on Ronald Reagan’s campaign, is a super secretive pay-to-play operation where corporate lobbyists — including in the pharma sector — hold confidential meetings about “model” bills. A large portion of these bills is eventually approved and become law. A rundown of ALEC’s greatest hits will tell you everything you need to know about the council’s motives and priorities. In 1995, ALEC promoted a bill that restricts consumers’ rights to sue for damages resulting from taking a particular medication. They also endorsed the Statute of Limitation Reduction Act, which put a time limit on when someone could sue after a medication-induced injury or death. Over the years, ALEC has promoted many other pharma-friendly bills that would: weaken FDA oversight of new drugs and therapies, limit FDA authority over drug advertising, and oppose regulations on financial incentives for doctors to prescribe specific drugs. But what makes these ALEC collaborations feel particularly problematic is that there’s little transparency — all of this happens behind closed doors. Congressional leaders and other committee members involved in ALEC aren’t required to publish any records of their meetings and other communications with pharma lobbyists, and the roster of ALEC members is completely confidential. All we know is that in 2020, more than two-thirds of Congress — 72 senators and 302 House of Representatives members — cashed a campaign check from a pharma company. Big Pharma Funding Research The public typically relies on an endorsement from government agencies to help them decide whether or not a new drug, vaccine, or medical device is safe and effective. And those agencies, like the FDA, count on clinical research. As already established, big pharma is notorious for getting its hooks into influential government officials. Here’s another sobering truth: The majority of scientific research is paid for by — wait for it — the pharmaceutical companies. When the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published 73 studies of new drugs over the course of a single year, they found that a staggering 82% of them had been funded by the pharmaceutical company selling the product, 68% had authors who were employees of that company, and 50% had lead researchers who accepted money from a drug company. According to 2013 research conducted at the University of Arizona College of Law, even when pharma companies aren’t directly funding the research, company stockholders, consultants, directors, and officers are almost always involved in conducting them. A 2017 report by the peer-reviewed journal The BMJ also showed that about half of medical journal editors receive payments from drug companies, with the average payment per editor hovering around $28,000. But these statistics are only accurate if researchers and editors are transparent about payments from pharma. And a 2022 investigative analysis of two of the most influential medical journals found that 81% of study authors failed to disclose millions in payments from drug companies, as they’re required to do. Unfortunately, this trend shows no sign of slowing down. The number of clinical trials funded by the pharmaceutical industry has been climbing every year since 2006, according to a John Hopkins University report, while independent studies have been harder to find. And there are some serious consequences to these conflicts of interest. Take Avandia, for instance, a diabetes drug produced by GlaxoSmithCline (GSK). Avandia was eventually linked to a dramatically increased risk of heart attacks and heart failure. And a BMJ report revealed that almost 90% of scientists who initially wrote glowing articles about Avandia had financial ties to GSK. But here’s the unnerving part: if the pharmaceutical industry is successfully biasing the science, then that means the physicians who rely on the science are biased in their prescribing decisions. Photo credit: UN Women Europe & Central Asia Where the lines get really blurry is with “ghostwriting.” Big pharma execs know citizens are way more likely to trust a report written by a board-certified doctor than one of their representatives. That’s why they pay physicians to list their names as authors — even though the MDs had little to no involvement in the research, and the report was actually written by the drug company. This practice started in the ’50s and ’60s when tobacco execs were clamoring to prove that cigarettes didn’t cause cancer (spoiler alert: they do!), so they commissioned doctors to slap their name on papers undermining the risks of smoking. It’s still a pretty common tactic today: more than one in 10 articles published in the NEJM was co-written by a ghostwriter. While a very small percentage of medical journals have clear policies against ghostwriting, it’s still technically legal —despite the fact that the consequences can be deadly. Case in point: in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Merck paid for 73 ghostwritten articles to play up the benefits of its arthritis drug Vioxx. It was later revealed that Merck failed to report all of the heart attacks experienced by trial participants. In fact, a study published in the NEJM revealed that an estimated 160,000 Americans experienced heart attacks or strokes from taking Vioxx. That research was conducted by Dr. David Graham, Associate Director of the FDA’s Office of Drug Safety, who understandably concluded the drug was not safe. But the FDA’s Office of New Drugs, which not only was responsible for initially approving Vioxx but also regulating it, tried to sweep his findings under the rug. "I was pressured to change my conclusions and recommendations, and basically threatened that if I did not change them, I would not be permitted to present the paper at the conference," he wrote in his 2004 U.S. Senate testimony on Vioxx. "One Drug Safety manager recommended that I should be barred from presenting the poster at the meeting." Eventually, the FDA issued a public health advisory about Vioxx and Merck withdrew this product. But it was a little late for repercussions — 38,000 of those Vioxx-takers who suffered heart attacks had already died. Graham called this a “profound regulatory failure,” adding that scientific standards the FDA apply to drug safety “guarantee that unsafe and deadly drugs will remain on the U.S. market.” This should come as no surprise, but research has also repeatedly shown that a paper written by a pharmaceutical company is more likely to emphasize the benefits of a drug, vaccine, or device while downplaying the dangers. (If you want to understand more about this practice, a former ghostwriter outlines all the ethical reasons why she quit this job in a PLOS Medicine report.) While adverse drug effects appear in 95% of clinical research, only 46% of published reports disclose them. Of course, all of this often ends up misleading doctors into thinking a drug is safer than it actually is. Big Pharma Influence On Doctors Pharmaceutical companies aren’t just paying medical journal editors and authors to make their products look good, either. There’s a long, sordid history of pharmaceutical companies incentivizing doctors to prescribe their products through financial rewards. For instance, Pfizer and AstraZeneca doled out a combined $100 million to doctors in 2018, with some earning anywhere from $6 million to $29 million in a year. And research has shown this strategy works: when doctors accept these gifts and payments, they’re significantly more likely to prescribe those companies’ drugs. Novartis comes to mind — the company famously spent over $100 million paying for doctors’ extravagant meals, golf outings, and more, all while also providing a generous kickback program that made them richer every time they prescribed certain blood pressure and diabetes meds. Side note: the Open Payments portal contains a nifty little database where you can find out if any of your own doctors received money from drug companies. Knowing that my mother was put on a laundry list of meds after a near-fatal car accident, I was curious — so I did a quick search for her providers. While her PCP only banked a modest amount from Pfizer and AstraZeneca, her previous psychiatrist — who prescribed a cocktail of contraindicated medications without treating her in person — collected quadruple-digit payments from pharmaceutical companies. And her pain care specialist, who prescribed her jaw-dropping doses of opioid pain medication for more than 20 years (far longer than the 5-day safety guideline), was raking in thousands from Purdue Pharma, AKA the opioid crisis’ kingpin. Purdue is now infamous for its wildly aggressive OxyContin campaign in the ’90s. At the time, the company billed it as a non-addictive wonder drug for pain sufferers. Internal emails show Pursue sales representatives were instructed to “sell, sell, sell” OxyContin, and the more they were able to push, the more they were rewarded with promotions and bonuses. With the stakes so high, these reps stopped at nothing to get doctors on board — even going so far as to send boxes of doughnuts spelling out “OxyContin” to unconvinced physicians. Purdue had stumbled upon the perfect system for generating tons of profit — off of other people’s pain. Documentation later proved that not only was Purdue aware it was highly addictive and that many people were abusing it, but that they also encouraged doctors to continue prescribing increasingly higher doses of it (and sent them on lavish luxury vacations for some motivation). In testimony to Congress, Purdue exec Paul Goldenheim played dumb about OxyContin addiction and overdose rates, but emails that were later exposed showed that he requested his colleagues remove all mentions of addiction from their correspondence about the drug. Even after it was proven in court that Purdue fraudulently marketed OxyContin while concealing its addictive nature, no one from the company spent a single day behind bars. Instead, the company got a slap on the wrist and a $600 million fine for a misdemeanor, the equivalent of a speeding ticket compared to the $9 billion they made off OxyContin up until 2006. Meanwhile, thanks to Purdue’s recklessness, more than 247,000 people died from prescription opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2009. And that’s not even factoring in all the people who died of heroin overdoses once OxyContin was no longer attainable to them. The NIH reports that 80% of people who use heroin started by misusing prescription opioids. Former sales rep Carol Panara told me in an interview that when she looks back on her time at Purdue, it all feels like a “bad dream.” Panara started working for Purdue in 2008, one year after the company pled guilty to “misbranding” charges for OxyContin. At this point, Purdue was “regrouping and expanding,” says Panara, and to that end, had developed a clever new approach for making money off OxyContin: sales reps were now targeting general practitioners and family doctors, rather than just pain management specialists. On top of that, Purdue soon introduced three new strengths for OxyContin: 15, 30, and 60 milligrams, creating smaller increments Panara believes were aimed at making doctors feel more comfortable increasing their patients’ dosages. According to Panara, there were internal company rankings for sales reps based on the number of prescriptions for each OxyContin dosing strength in their territory. “They were sneaky about it,” she said. “Their plan was to go in and sell these doctors on the idea of starting with 10 milligrams, which is very low, knowing full well that once they get started down that path — that’s all they need. Because eventually, they’re going to build a tolerance and need a higher dose.” Occasionally, doctors expressed concerns about a patient becoming addicted, but Purdue had already developed a way around that. Sales reps like Panara were taught to reassure those doctors that someone in pain might experience addiction-like symptoms called “pseudoaddiction,” but that didn’t mean they were truly addicted. There is no scientific evidence whatsoever to support that this concept is legit, of course. But the most disturbing part? Reps were trained to tell doctors that “pseudoaddiction” signaled the patient’s pain wasn’t being managed well enough, and the solution was simply to prescribe a higher dose of OxyContin. Panara finally quit Purdue in 2013. One of the breaking points was when two pharmacies in her territory were robbed at gunpoint specifically for OxyContin. In 2020, Purdue pled guilty to three criminal charges in an $8.3 billion deal, but the company is now under court protection after filing for bankruptcy. Despite all the damage that’s been done, the FDA’s policies for approving opioids remain essentially unchanged. Photo credit: Jennifer Durban Purdue probably wouldn’t have been able to pull this off if it weren’t for an FDA examiner named Curtis Wright, and his assistant Douglas Kramer. While Purdue was pursuing Wright’s stamp of approval on OxyContin, Wright took an outright sketchy approach to their application, instructing the company to mail documents to his home office rather than the FDA, and enlisting Purdue employees to help him review trials about the safety of the drug. The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires that the FDA have access to at least two randomized controlled trials before deeming a drug as safe and effective, but in the case of OxyContin, it got approved with data from just one measly two-week study — in osteoarthritis patients, no less. When both Wright and Kramer left the FDA, they went on to work for none other than (drumroll, please) Purdue, with Wright earning three times his FDA salary. By the way — this is just one example of the FDA’s notoriously incestuous relationship with big pharma, often referred to as “the revolving door”. In fact, a 2018 Science report revealed that 11 out of 16 FDA reviewers ended up at the same companies they had been regulating products for. While doing an independent investigation, “Empire of Pain” author and New Yorker columnist Patrick Radden Keefe tried to gain access to documentation of Wright’s communications with Purdue during the OxyContin approval process. “The FDA came back and said, ‘Oh, it’s the weirdest thing, but we don’t have anything. It’s all either been lost or destroyed,’” Keefe told Fortune in an interview. “But it’s not just the FDA. It’s Congress, it’s the Department of Justice, it’s big parts of the medical establishment … the sheer amount of money involved, I think, has meant that a lot of the checks that should be in place in society to not just achieve justice, but also to protect us as consumers, were not there because they had been co-opted.” Big pharma may be to blame for creating the opioids that caused this public health catastrophe, but the FDA deserves just as much scrutiny — because its countless failures also played a part in enabling it. And many of those more recent fails happened under the supervision of Dr. Janet Woodcock. Woodcock was named FDA’s acting commissioner mere hours after Joe Biden was inaugurated as president. She would have been a logical choice, being an FDA vet of 35 years, but then again it’s impossible to forget that she played a starring role in the FDA’s perpetuating the opioid epidemic. She’s also known for overruling her own scientific advisors when they vote against approving a drug. Not only did Woodcock approve OxyContin for children as young as 11 years old, but she also gave the green light to several other highly controversial extended-release opioid pain drugs without sufficient evidence of safety or efficacy. One of those was Zohydro: in 2011, the FDA’s advisory committee voted 11:2 against approving it due to safety concerns about inappropriate use, but Woodcock went ahead and pushed it through, anyway. Under Woodcock’s supervision, the FDA also approved Opana, which is twice as powerful as OxyContin — only to then beg the drug maker to take it off the market 10 years later due to “abuse and manipulation.” And then there was Dsuvia, a potent painkiller 1,000 times stronger than morphine and 10 times more powerful than fentanyl. According to a head of one of the FDA’s advisory committees, the U.S. military had helped to develop this particular drug, and Woodcock said there was “pressure from the Pentagon” to push it through approvals. The FBI, members of congress, public health advocates, and patient safety experts alike called this decision into question, pointing out that with hundreds of opioids already on the market there’s no need for another — particularly one that comes with such high risks. Most recently, Woodcock served as the therapeutics lead for Operation Warp Speed, overseeing COVID-19 vaccine development. Big Pharma Lawsuits, Scandals, and Cover-Ups While the OxyContin craze is undoubtedly one of the highest-profile examples of big pharma’s deception, there are dozens of other stories like this. Here are a few standouts: In the 1980s, Bayer continued selling blood clotting products to third-world countries even though they were fully aware those products had been contaminated with HIV. The reason? The “financial investment in the product was considered too high to destroy the inventory.” Predictably, about 20,000 of the hemophiliacs who were infused with these tainted products then tested positive for HIV and eventually developed AIDS, and many later died of it. In 2004, Johnson & Johnson was slapped with a series of lawsuits for illegally promoting off-label use of their heartburn drug Propulsid for children despite internal company emails confirming major safety concerns (as in, deaths during the drug trials). Documentation from the lawsuits showed that dozens of studies sponsored by Johnson & Johnson highlighting the risks of this drug were never published. The FDA estimates that GSK’s Avandia caused 83,000 heart attacks between 1999 and 2007. Internal documents from GSK prove that when they began studying the effects of the drug as early as 1999, they discovered it caused a higher risk of heart attacks than a similar drug it was meant to replace. Rather than publish these findings, they spent a decade illegally concealing them (and meanwhile, banking $3.2 billion annually for this drug by 2006). Finally, a 2007 New England Journal of Medicine study linked Avandia to a 43% increased risk of heart attacks, and a 64% increased risk of death from heart disease. Avandia is still FDA approved and available in the U.S. In 2009, Pfizer was forced to pay $2.3 billion, the largest healthcare fraud settlement in history at that time, for paying illegal kickbacks to doctors and promoting off-label uses of its drugs. Specifically, a former employee revealed that Pfizer reps were encouraged and incentivized to sell Bextra and 12 other drugs for conditions they were never FDA approved for, and at doses up to eight times what’s recommended. “I was expected to increase profits at all costs, even when sales meant endangering lives,” the whistleblower said. When it was discovered that AstraZeneca was promoting the antipsychotic medication Seroquel for uses that were not approved by the FDA as safe and effective, the company was hit with a $520 million fine in 2010. For years, AstraZeneca had been encouraging psychiatrists and other physicians to prescribe Seroquel for a vast range of seemingly unrelated off-label conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, anger management, ADHD, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and sleeplessness. AstraZeneca also violated the federal Anti-Kickback Statute by paying doctors to spread the word about these unapproved uses of Seroquel via promotional lectures and while traveling to resort locations. In 2012, GSK paid a $3 billion fine for bribing doctors by flying them and their spouses to five-star resorts, and for illegally promoting drugs for off-label uses. What’s worse — GSK withheld clinical trial results that showed its antidepressant Paxil not only doesn’t work for adolescents and children but more alarmingly, that it can increase the likelihood of suicidal thoughts in this group. A 1998 GSK internal memo revealed that the company intentionally concealed this data to minimize any “potential negative commercial impact.” In 2021, an ex-AstraZeneca sales rep sued her former employer, claiming they fired her for refusing to promote drugs for uses that weren’t FDA-approved. The employee alleges that on multiple occasions, she expressed concerns to her boss about “misleading” information that didn’t have enough support from medical research, and off-label promotions of certain drugs. Her supervisor reportedly not only ignored these concerns but pressured her to approve statements she didn’t agree with and threatened to remove her from regional and national positions if she didn’t comply. According to the plaintiff, she missed out on a raise and a bonus because she refused to break the law. At the top of 2022, a panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit against Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Roche, and GE Healthcare, which claims they helped finance terrorist attacks against U.S. service members and other Americans in Iraq. The suit alleges that from 2005–2011, these companies regularly offered bribes (including free drugs and medical devices) totaling millions of dollars annually to Iraq’s Ministry of Health in order to secure drug contracts. These corrupt payments then allegedly funded weapons and training for the Mahdi Army, which until 2008, was largely considered one of the most dangerous groups in Iraq. Another especially worrisome factor is that pharmaceutical companies are conducting an ever-increasing number of clinical trials in third-world countries, where people may be less educated, and there are also far fewer safety regulations. Pfizer’s 1996 experimental trials with Trovan on Nigerian children with meningitis — without informed consent — is just one nauseating example. When a former medical director in Pfizer’s central research division warned the company both before and after the study that their methods in this trial were “improper and unsafe,” he was promptly fired. Families of the Nigerian children who died or were left blind, brain damaged, or paralyzed after the study sued Pfizer, and the company ultimately settled out of court. In 1998, the FDA approved Trovan only for adults. The drug was later banned from European markets due to reports of fatal liver disease and restricted to strictly emergency care in the U.S. Pfizer still denies any wrongdoing. “Nurse prepares to vaccinate children” by World Bank Photo Collection is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 But all that is just the tip of the iceberg. If you’d like to dive a little further down the rabbit hole — and I’ll warn you, it’s a deep one — a quick Google search for “big pharma lawsuits” will reveal the industry’s dark track record of bribery, dishonesty, and fraud. In fact, big pharma happens to be the biggest defrauder of the federal government when it comes to the False Claims Act, otherwise known as the “Lincoln Law.” During our interview, Panara told me she has friends still working for big pharma who would be willing to speak out about crooked activity they’ve observed, but are too afraid of being blacklisted by the industry. A newly proposed update to the False Claims Act would help to protect and support whistleblowers in their efforts to hold pharmaceutical companies liable, by helping to prevent that kind of retaliation and making it harder for the companies charged to dismiss these cases. It should come as no surprise that Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Merck, and a flock of other big pharma firms are currently lobbying to block the update. Naturally, they wouldn’t want to make it any easier for ex-employees to expose their wrongdoings, potentially costing them billions more in fines. Something to keep in mind: these are the same people who produced, marketed, and are profiting from the COVID-19 vaccines. The same people who manipulate research, pay off decision-makers to push their drugs, cover up negative research results to avoid financial losses, and knowingly put innocent citizens in harm’s way. The same people who told America: “Take as much OxyContin as you want around the clock! It’s very safe and not addictive!” (while laughing all the way to the bank). So, ask yourself this: if a partner, friend, or family member repeatedly lied to you — and not just little white lies, but big ones that put your health and safety at risk — would you continue to trust them? Backing the Big Four: Big Pharma and the FDA, WHO, NIH, CDC I know what you’re thinking. Big pharma is amoral and the FDA’s devastating slips are a dime a dozen — old news. But what about agencies and organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), World Health Organization (WHO), and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)? Don’t they have an obligation to provide unbiased guidance to protect citizens? Don’t worry, I’m getting there. The WHO’s guidance is undeniably influential across the globe. For most of this organization’s history, dating back to 1948, it could not receive donations from pharmaceutical companies — only member states. But that changed in 2005 when the WHO updated its financial policy to permit private money into its system. Since then, the WHO has accepted many financial contributions from big pharma. In fact, it’s only 20% financed by member states today, with a whopping 80% of financing coming from private donors. For instance, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is now one of its main contributors, providing up to 13% of its funds — about $250–300 million a year. Nowadays, the BMGF provides more donations to the WHO than the entire United States. Dr. Arata Kochi, former head of WHO’s malaria program, expressed concerns to director-general Dr. Margaret Chan in 2007 that taking the BMGF’s money could have “far-reaching, largely unintended consequences” including “stifling a diversity of views among scientists.” “The big concerns are that the Gates Foundation isn’t fully transparent and accountable,” Lawrence Gostin, director of WHO’s Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, told Devex in an interview. “By wielding such influence, it could steer WHO priorities … It would enable a single rich philanthropist to set the global health agenda.” Photo credit: National Institutes of Health Take a peek at the WHO’s list of donors and you’ll find a few other familiar names like AstraZeneca, Bayer, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck. The NIH has the same problem, it seems. Science journalist Paul Thacker, who previously examined financial links between physicians and pharma companies as a lead investigator of the United States Senate Committee, wrote in The Washington Post that this agency “often ignored” very “obvious” conflicts of interest. He also claimed that “its industry ties go back decades.” In 2018, it was discovered that a $100 million alcohol consumption study run by NIH scientists was funded mostly by beer and liquor companies. Emails proved that NIH researchers were in frequent contact with those companies while designing the study — which, here’s a shocker — were aimed at highlighting the benefits and not the risks of moderate drinking. So, the NIH ultimately had to squash the trial. And then there’s the CDC. It used to be that this agency couldn’t take contributions from pharmaceutical companies, but in 1992 they found a loophole: new legislation passed by Congress allowed them to accept private funding through a nonprofit called the CDC Foundation. From 2014 through 2018 alone, the CDC Foundation received $79.6 million from corporations like Pfizer, Biogen, and Merck. Of course, if a pharmaceutical company wants to get a drug, vaccine, or other product approved, they really need to cozy up to the FDA. That explains why in 2017, pharma companies paid for a whopping 75% of the FDA’s scientific review budgets, up from 27% in 1993. It wasn’t always like this. But in 1992, an act of Congress changed the FDA’s funding stream, enlisting pharma companies to pay “user fees,” which help the FDA speed up the approval process for their drugs. A 2018 Science investigation found that 40 out of 107 physician advisors on the FDA’s committees received more than $10,000 from big pharma companies trying to get their drugs approved, with some banking up to $1 million or more. The FDA claims it has a well-functioning system to identify and prevent these possible conflicts of interest. Unfortunately, their system only works for spotting payments before advisory panels meet, and the Science investigation showed many FDA panel members get their payments after the fact. It’s a little like “you scratch my back now, and I’ll scratch your back once I get what I want” — drug companies promise FDA employees a future bonus contingent on whether things go their way. Here’s why this dynamic proves problematic: a 2000 investigation revealed that when the FDA approved the rotavirus vaccine in 1998, it didn’t exactly do its due diligence. That probably had something to do with the fact that committee members had financial ties to the manufacturer, Merck — many owned tens of thousands of dollars of stock in the company, or even held patents on the vaccine itself. Later, the Adverse Event Reporting System revealed that the vaccine was causing serious bowel obstructions in some children, and it was finally pulled from the U.S. market in October 1999. Then, in June of 2021, the FDA overruled concerns raised by its very own scientific advisory committee to approve Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm — a move widely criticized by physicians. The drug not only showed very little efficacy but also potentially serious side effects like brain bleeding and swelling, in clinical trials. Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a Harvard Medical School professor who was on the FDA’s scientific advisory committee, called it the “worst drug approval” in recent history, and noted that meetings between the FDA and Biogen had a “strange dynamic” suggesting an unusually close relationship. Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, told CNN that he believes the FDA started working in “inappropriately close collaboration with Biogen” back in 2019. “They were not objective, unbiased regulators,” he added in the CNN interview. “It seems as if the decision was preordained.” That brings me to perhaps the biggest conflict of interest yet: Dr. Anthony Fauci’s NIAID is just one of many institutes that comprises the NIH — and the NIH owns half the patent for the Moderna vaccine — as well as thousands more pharma patents to boot. The NIAID is poised to earn millions of dollars from Moderna’s vaccine revenue, with individual officials also receiving up to $150,000 annually. Operation Warp Speed In December of 2020, Pfizer became the first company to receive an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA for a COVID-19 vaccine. EUAs — which allow the distribution of an unapproved drug or other product during a declared public health emergency — are actually a pretty new thing: the first one was issued in 2005 so military personnel could get an anthrax vaccine. To get a full FDA approval, there needs to be substantial evidence that the product is safe and effective. But for an EUA, the FDA just needs to determine that it may be effective. Since EUAs are granted so quickly, the FDA doesn’t have enough time to gather all the information they’d usually need to approve a drug or vaccine. “Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Event” by The White House is licensed under CC PDM 1.0 Pfizer CEO and chairman Albert Bourla has said his company was “operating at the speed of science” to bring a vaccine to market. However, a 2021 report in The BMJ revealed that this speed might have come at the expense of “data integrity and patient safety.” Brook Jackson, regional director for the Ventavia Research Group, which carried out these trials, told The BMJ that her former company “falsified data, unblinded patients, and employed inadequately trained vaccinators” in Pfizer’s pivotal phase 3 trial. Just some of the other concerning events witnessed included: adverse events not being reported correctly or at all, lack of reporting on protocol deviations, informed consent errors, and mislabeling of lab specimens. An audio recording of Ventavia employees from September 2020 revealed that they were so overwhelmed by issues arising during the study that they became unable to “quantify the types and number of errors” when assessing quality control. One Ventavia employee told The BMJ she’d never once seen a research environment as disorderly as Ventavia’s Pfizer vaccine trial, while another called it a “crazy mess.” Over the course of her two-decades-long career, Jackson has worked on hundreds of clinical trials, and two of her areas of expertise happen to be immunology and infectious diseases. She told me that from her first day on the Pfizer trial in September of 2020, she discovered “such egregious misconduct” that she recommended they stop enrolling participants into the study to do an internal audit. “To my complete shock and horror, Ventavia agreed to pause enrollment but then devised a plan to conceal what I found and to keep ICON and Pfizer in the dark,” Jackson said during our interview. “The site was in full clean-up mode. When missing data points were discovered the information was fabricated, including forged signatures on the informed consent forms.” A screenshot Jackson shared with me shows she was invited to a meeting titled “COVID 1001 Clean up Call” on Sept. 21, 2020. She refused to participate in the call. Jackson repeatedly warned her superiors about patient safety concerns and data integrity issues. “I knew that the entire world was counting on clinical researchers to develop a safe and effective vaccine and I did not want to be a part of that failure by not reporting what I saw,” she told me. When her employer failed to act, Jackson filed a complaint with the FDA on Sept. 25, and Ventavia fired her hours later that same day under the pretense that she was “not a good fit.” After reviewing her concerns over the phone, she claims the FDA never followed up or inspected the Ventavia site. Ten weeks later, the FDA authorized the EUA for the vaccine. Meanwhile, Pfizer hired Ventavia to handle the research for four more vaccine clinical trials, including one involving children and young adults, one for pregnant women, and another for the booster. Not only that, but Ventavia handled the clinical trials for Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax. Jackson is currently pursuing a False Claims Act lawsuit against Pfizer and Ventavia Research Group. Last year, Pfizer banked nearly $37 billion from its COVID vaccine, making it one of the most lucrative products in global history. Its overall revenues doubled in 2021 to reach $81.3 billion, and it’s slated to reach a record-breaking $98-$102 billion this year. “Corporations like Pfizer should never have been put in charge of a global vaccination rollout, because it was inevitable they would make life-and-death decisions based on what’s in the short-term interest of their shareholders,” writes Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now. As previously mentioned, it’s super common for pharmaceutical companies to fund the research on their own products. Here’s why that’s scary. One 1999 meta-analysis showed that industry-funded research is eight times less likely to achieve unfavorable results compared to independent trials. In other words, if a pharmaceutical company wants to prove that a medication, supplement, vaccine, or device is safe and effective, they’ll find a way. With that in mind, I recently examined the 2020 study on Pfizer’s COVID vaccine to see if there were any conflicts of interest. Lo and behold, the lengthy attached disclosure form shows that of the 29 authors, 18 are employees of Pfizer and hold stock in the company, one received a research grant from Pfizer during the study, and two reported being paid “personal fees” by Pfizer. In another 2021 study on the Pfizer vaccine, seven of the 15 authors are employees of and hold stock in Pfizer. The other eight authors received financial support from Pfizer during the study. Photo credit: Prasesh Shiwakoti (Lomash) via Unsplash As of the day I’m writing this, about 64% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and 76% have gotten at least one dose. The FDA has repeatedly promised “full transparency” when it comes to these vaccines. Yet in December of 2021, the FDA asked for permission to wait 75 years before releasing information pertaining to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, including safety data, effectiveness data, and adverse reaction reports. That means no one would see this information until the year 2096 — conveniently, after many of us have departed this crazy world. To recap: the FDA only needed 10 weeks to review the 329,000 pages worth of data before approving the EUA for the vaccine — but apparently, they need three-quarters of a century to publicize it. In response to the FDA’s ludicrous request, PHMPT — a group of over 200 medical and public health experts from Harvard, Yale, Brown, UCLA, and other institutions — filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act demanding that the FDA produce this data sooner. And their efforts paid off: U.S. District Judge Mark T. Pittman issued an order for the FDA to produce 12,000 pages by Jan. 31, and then at least 55,000 pages per month thereafter. In his statement to the FDA, Pittman quoted the late John F. Kennedy: “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” As for why the FDA wanted to keep this data hidden, the first batch of documentation revealed that there were more than 1,200 vaccine-related deaths in just the first 90 days after the Pfizer vaccine was introduced. Of 32 pregnancies with a known outcome, 28 resulted in fetal death. The CDC also recently unveiled data showing a total of 1,088,560 reports of adverse events from COVID vaccines were submitted between Dec. 14, 2020, and Jan. 28, 2022. That data included 23,149 reports of deaths and 183,311 reports of serious injuries. There were 4,993 reported adverse events in pregnant women after getting vaccinated, including 1,597 reports of miscarriage or premature birth. A 2022 study published in JAMA, meanwhile, revealed that there have been more than 1,900 reported cases of myocarditis — or inflammation of the heart muscle — mostly in people 30 and under, within 7 days of getting the vaccine. In those cases, 96% of people were hospitalized. “It is understandable that the FDA does not want independent scientists to review the documents it relied upon to license Pfizer’s vaccine given that it is not as effective as the FDA originally claimed, does not prevent transmission, does not prevent against certain emerging variants, can cause serious heart inflammation in younger individuals, and has numerous other undisputed safety issues,” writes Aaron Siri, the attorney representing PHMPT in its lawsuit against the FDA. Siri told me in an email that his office phone has been ringing off the hook in recent months. “We are overwhelmed by inquiries from individuals calling about an injury from a COVID-19 vaccine,” he said. By the way — it’s worth noting that adverse effects caused by COVID-19 vaccinations are still not covered by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Companies like Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are protected under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, which grants them total immunity from liability with their vaccines. And no matter what happens to you, you can’t sue the FDA for authorizing the EUA, or your employer for requiring you to get it, either. Billions of taxpayer dollars went to fund the research and development of these vaccines, and in Moderna’s case, licensing its vaccine was made possible entirely by public funds. But apparently, that still warrants citizens no insurance. Should something go wrong, you’re basically on your own. Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine business model: government gives them billions, gives them immunity for any injuries or if doesn't work, promotes their products for free, and mandates their products. Sounds crazy? Yes, but it is our current reality. — Aaron Siri (@AaronSiriSG) February 2, 2022 The Hypocrisy of “Misinformation” I find it interesting that “misinformation” has become such a pervasive term lately, but more alarmingly, that it’s become an excuse for blatant censorship on social media and in journalism. It’s impossible not to wonder what’s driving this movement to control the narrative. In a world where we still very clearly don’t have all the answers, why shouldn’t we be open to exploring all the possibilities? And while we’re on the subject, what about all of the COVID-related untruths that have been spread by our leaders and officials? Why should they get a free pass? Photo credit: @upgradeur_life, www.instagram.com/upgradeur_life Fauci, President Biden, and the CDC’s Rochelle Walensky all promised us with total confidence the vaccine would prevent us from getting or spreading COVID, something we now know is a myth. (In fact, the CDC recently had to change its very definition of “vaccine ” to promise “protection” from a disease rather than “immunity”— an important distinction). At one point, the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) and former Governor Andrew Cuomo prepared a social media campaign with misleading messaging that the vaccine was “approved by the FDA” and “went through the same rigorous approval process that all vaccines go through,” when in reality the FDA only authorized the vaccines under an EUA, and the vaccines were still undergoing clinical trials. While the NYS DOH eventually responded to pressures to remove these false claims, a few weeks later the Department posted on Facebook that “no serious side effects related to the vaccines have been reported,” when in actuality, roughly 16,000 reports of adverse events and over 3,000 reports of serious adverse events related to a COVID-19 vaccination had been reported in the first two months of use. One would think we’d hold the people in power to the same level of accountability — if not more — than an average citizen. So, in the interest of avoiding hypocrisy, should we “cancel” all these experts and leaders for their “misinformation,” too? Vaccine-hesitant people have been fired from their jobs, refused from restaurants, denied the right to travel and see their families, banned from social media channels, and blatantly shamed and villainized in the media. Some have even lost custody of their children. These people are frequently labeled “anti-vax,” which is misleading given that many (like the NBA’s Jonathan Isaac) have made it repeatedly clear they are not against all vaccines, but simply making a personal choice not to get this one. (As such, I’ll suggest switching to a more accurate label: “pro-choice.”) Fauci has repeatedly said federally mandating the vaccine would not be “appropriate” or “enforceable” and doing so would be “encroaching upon a person’s freedom to make their own choice.” So it’s remarkable that still, some individual employers and U.S. states, like my beloved Massachusetts, have taken it upon themselves to enforce some of these mandates, anyway. Meanwhile, a Feb. 7 bulletin posted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security indicates that if you spread information that undermines public trust in a government institution (like the CDC or FDA), you could be considered a terrorist. In case you were wondering about the current state of free speech. The definition of institutional oppression is “the systematic mistreatment of people within a social identity group, supported and enforced by the society and its institutions, solely based on the person’s membership in the social identity group.” It is defined as occurring when established laws and practices “systematically reflect and produce inequities based on one’s membership in targeted social identity groups.” Sound familiar? As you continue to watch the persecution of the unvaccinated unfold, remember this. Historically, when society has oppressed a particular group of people whether due to their gender, race, social class, religious beliefs, or sexuality, it’s always been because they pose some kind of threat to the status quo. The same is true for today’s unvaccinated. Since we know the vaccine doesn’t prevent the spread of COVID, however, this much is clear: the unvaccinated don’t pose a threat to the health and safety of their fellow citizens — but rather, to the bottom line of powerful pharmaceutical giants and the many global organizations they finance. And with more than $100 billion on the line in 2021 alone, I can understand the motivation to silence them. The unvaccinated have been called selfish. Stupid. Fauci has said it’s “almost inexplicable” that they are still resisting. But is it? What if these people aren’t crazy or uncaring, but rather have — unsurprisingly so — lost their faith in the agencies that are supposed to protect them? Can you blame them? Citizens are being bullied into getting a vaccine that was created, evaluated, and authorized in under a year, with no access to the bulk of the safety data for said vaccine, and no rights whatsoever to pursue legal action if they experience adverse effects from it. What these people need right now is to know they can depend on their fellow citizens to respect their choices, not fuel the segregation by launching a full-fledged witch hunt. Instead, for some inexplicable reason I imagine stems from fear, many continue rallying around big pharma rather than each other. A 2022 Heartland Institute and Rasmussen Reports survey of Democratic voters found that 59% of respondents support a government policy requiring unvaccinated individuals to remain confined in their home at all times, 55% support handing a fine to anyone who won’t get the vaccine, and 48% think the government should flat out imprison people who publicly question the efficacy of the vaccines on social media, TV, or online in digital publications. Even Orwell couldn’t make this stuff up. Photo credit: DJ Paine on Unsplash Let me be very clear. While there are a lot of bad actors out there — there are also a lot of well-meaning people in the science and medical industries, too. I’m lucky enough to know some of them. There are doctors who fend off pharma reps’ influence and take an extremely cautious approach to prescribing. Medical journal authors who fiercely pursue transparency and truth — as is evident in “The Influence of Money on Medical Science,” a report by the first female editor of JAMA. Pharmacists, like Dan Schneider, who refuse to fill prescriptions they deem risky or irresponsible. Whistleblowers, like Graham and Jackson, who tenaciously call attention to safety issues for pharma products in the approval pipeline. And I’m certain there are many people in the pharmaceutical industry, like Panara and my grandfather, who pursued this field with the goal of helping others, not just earning a six- or seven-figure salary. We need more of these people. Sadly, it seems they are outliers who exist in a corrupt, deep-rooted system of quid-pro-quo relationships. They can only do so much. I’m not here to tell you whether or not you should get the vaccine or booster doses. What you put in your body is not for me — or anyone else — to decide. It’s not a simple choice, but rather one that may depend on your physical condition, medical history, age, religious beliefs, and level of risk tolerance. My grandfather passed away in 2008, and lately, I find myself missing him more than ever, wishing I could talk to him about the pandemic and hear what he makes of all this madness. I don’t really know how he’d feel about the COVID vaccine, or whether he would have gotten it or encouraged me to. What I do know is that he’d listen to my concerns, and he’d carefully consider them. He would remind me my feelings are valid. His eyes would light up and he’d grin with amusement as I fervidly expressed my frustration. He’d tell me to keep pushing forward, digging deeper, asking questions. In his endearing Bronx accent, he used to always say: “go get ‘em, kid.” If I stop typing for a moment and listen hard enough, I can almost hear him saying it now. People keep saying “trust the science.” But when trust is broken, it must be earned back. And as long as our legislative system, public health agencies, physicians, and research journals keep accepting pharmaceutical money (with strings attached) — and our justice system keeps letting these companies off the hook when their negligence causes harm, there’s no reason for big pharma to change. They’re holding the bag, and money is power. I have a dream that one day, we’ll live in a world where we are armed with all the thorough, unbiased data necessary to make informed decisions about our health. Alas, we’re not even close. What that means is that it’s up to you to educate yourself as much as possible, and remain ever-vigilant in evaluating information before forming an opinion. You can start by reading clinical trials yourself, rather than relying on the media to translate them for you. Scroll to the bottom of every single study to the “conflicts of interest” section and find out who funded it. Look at how many subjects were involved. Confirm whether or not blinding was used to eliminate bias. You may also choose to follow Public Citizen’s Health Research Group’s rule whenever possible: that means avoiding a new drug until five years after an FDA approval (not an EUA, an actual approval) — when there’s enough data on the long-term safety and effectiveness to establish that the benefits outweigh the risks. When it comes to the news, you can seek out independent, nonprofit outlets, which are less likely to be biased due to pharma funding. And most importantly, when it appears an organization is making concerted efforts to conceal information from you — like the FDA recently did with the COVID vaccine — it’s time to ask yourself: why? What are they trying to hide? In the 2019 film “Dark Waters” — which is based on the true story of one of the greatest corporate cover-ups in American history — Mark Ruffalo as attorney Rob Bilott says: “The system is rigged. They want us to think it’ll protect us, but that’s a lie. We protect us. We do. Nobody else. Not the companies. Not the scientists. Not the government. Us.” Words to live by. Tyler Durden Sat, 04/09/2022 - 22:30.....»»

Category: personnelSource: nytApr 9th, 2022

Green U.S. Supply-Chain Rules Set To Unspool And Rattle The Global Economy

Green U.S. Supply-Chain Rules Set To Unspool And Rattle The Global Economy Authored by Vince Bielski via RealClear Investigations (emphasis ours), Making a box of Cocoa Puffs is a complicated global affair. It could start with cocoa farms in Africa, corn fields in the U.S. or sugar plantations in Latin America. Then thousands of processors, transporters, packagers, distributors, office workers and retailers join the supply chain before a kid in Minnesota, where General Mills is based, pours the cereal into a bowl.  Now imagine the challenge that General Mills faces in counting the greenhouse gas emissions from all of these people, machines, vehicles, buildings and other products involved in this Cocoa Puff supply chain – then multiply that by the 100-plus brands belonging to the food giant. Thousands of public companies may soon have such a daunting task to comply with a new set of climate rules proposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Hailed by prominent environmental groups as a long sought victory, the sweeping plan released in late March would force companies to grapple with the unpredictable impact of climate change by disclosing reams of new information to investors. What are your company’s climate risks, such as severe weather, and the possible financial impacts? How have the threats affected your business strategies and what’s the plan to avoid the dangers? The most consequential and controversial piece of the SEC’s proposed regulations would require corporations to calculate their total greenhouse gas footprint, including from the supply chain. The regulations also carry political weight for Democrats in the runup to the midterms in November. The Biden administration and centrist Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia are trying once again to breathe life into clean energy legislation that died earlier this year amid a feud between them. If this latest effort at compromise fails – with Manchin reportedly looking for federal support for fossil fuels as well as renewable energy – then much of President Biden’s ambitious climate agenda will be left riding on the SEC proposal. SEC head Gary Gensler says shareholders are demanding climate risk disclosures to make smarter investment decisions and hold companies accountable for “greenwashing” their operations. The regulations will also provide investors in the Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) movement more leverage in their ongoing campaigns to pressure companies to reduce their carbon footprints. While many companies like Walmart and business groups like the Chamber of Commerce generally support the idea of required climate disclosures, they object to what they see as the SEC’s heavy-handedness in standardizing rules across the economy. The Chamber is calling for flexibility so companies can customize their climate disclosures based on what’s relevant to their businesses and investors.  Measuring the global supply chain is a tall order -- "mind-boggling and certainly unprecedented.” (Pixabay) Counting Supply Chain Emissions The biggest beef from companies is the rule that would require them to calculate and disclose supply chain emissions, called Scope 3. Big companies have thousands of suppliers operating in hundreds of countries, making the task of coming up with a reasonable accounting enormously complicated. First of all, many suppliers of products and services are private companies not under the control of the SEC. They may refuse to cooperate in a count because of the costs and the implications that they might have to change their business practices to reduce emissions, said Professor Gerald Patchell, who has analyzed the problems of supply chain reporting. Another obstacle is that many smaller suppliers, like General Mills’ cocoa farmers in Africa, don’t have the capacity to measure the emissions from their own fertilizers, tractors and farming practices. So companies will have to rely on broad country or industry averages that likely don’t reflect the actual emissions created by the suppliers, according to researchers. “The data that companies will be asked to collect from thousands of suppliers is mind-boggling and certainly unprecedented,” said Patchell, who researches environmental policy and business. “It’s an idealized concept of what can actually be done by a company.” The upshot is that regulations meant to bring clarity to investors on climate risk may end up providing highly unreliable emissions disclosures, leaving them “worse off,” wrote SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce, a Trump appointee who voted against the 500-page proposal. It “forces investors to view companies through the eyes of a vocal set of stakeholders, for whom a company's climate reputation is of equal or greater importance than a company's financial performance." The SEC rules would turn scattershot voluntary reporting to this outfit into a mandatory regime. Birth of the Investor Campaign Two decades ago, the international environmental group CDP pioneered the strategy of organizing institutional investors to pressure companies around the world to reveal at least a piece of their carbon footprint. The CDP pitch: If companies figure out which parts of their sprawling global operations produce the most emissions – from farming and manufacturing to distribution and consumer use – they are better able to reduce them. For automakers, most emissions come from driving vehicles, not making them. For tech firms, it’s the opposite. Manufacturing devices is a bigger climate issue than using them. CDP’s campaigns have made grinding progress over the years. In 2021, it gathered more than 160 global investment firms, including bond giant Pimco, Harvard Management Company and hedge fund AQR Capital Management, to target 1,300 companies worldwide. They are asked to make a long list of climate-related disclosures on CDP’s platform. Some companies have resisted the pressure while others likely have been shamed into making rudimentary examinations of their emissions to appease investors. In all, about 570 U.S. public companies – an estimated 15% of the total – have reported a bit of climate data to London-based CDP, with Intel and PepsiCo among the dozens that earned high marks for transparency. More recently, some companies have come to see climate change as a direct threat to the bottom line, particularly those that depend on commodities like General Mills. It didn’t require much pushing from investors to begin studying its own supply chain to find that farming is by far its biggest emissions hot spot, mostly through the use of chemical fertilizers and tilling of the soil which releases sequestered carbon. In a candid 2021 Global Responsibility Report, the company said extreme weather events were already hurting its ability to deliver quality food products. With the backing of CDP and investment goliaths like BlackRock, the SEC now wants to turn this scattershot voluntary reporting into a mandatory regime for most public companies. The easier pieces force companies to report emissions from operations they own or control such as a corporate headquarters (Scope 1), and the energy they use (Scope 2). Some firms already send this data to CDP without much trouble. The Scope 3 rule on counting emissions from the chain of thousands of suppliers, on the other hand, may be a world of trouble. The agency acknowledges that it doesn't have a handle on the costs but that they may be “significant” as companies hire consultants, accountants and data specialists to do the job. But since the vast majority of emissions come from supply chains, environmental groups are advocating that Scope 3 remain in the final SEC regulations after the 60-day public comment period. Big companies could start making disclosures to the agency as early as 2024, although lawsuits challenging the authority of the SEC to make climate rules are likely.    “We see the disclosure of Scope 3 emissions as essential in order to make sure that companies have plans to be able to address those emissions,” said Julie Nash, a senior program director at Ceres, another prominent investor advocacy group. “Disclosure is the essential first step.” Appetizing? Not the complex emissions and sparse data challenging global food giants like McDonald's. Lessons From the Food Industry Ceres, however, also knows how tough it will be for companies to calculate supply chain emissions from its own campaign focusing on the food industry. The industry is the perfect target. It produces a third of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to a UN agency. For many of these companies, the supply chain generates about 80% of their total emissions. Last year, Boston-based Ceres organized more than 30 institutional investors, including giants such as Allianz Global Investors, to press 50 food companies to report Scope 3 emissions. Ceres used the same reporting requirements – called the Greenhouse Gas Protocol – as the SEC proposes in its rules. The protocol covers 15 reporting categories from the beginning of a product’s creation to the end of its life. McDonald’s, for instance, would have to account for emissions from the production of beef it buys from many countries. The disclosures would include processing and transporting the ingredients, packaging the products, disposing of waste and burning energy along the way. Then there are emissions from business offices, the commuting of 200,000 employees and the operations of 40,000 restaurants globally. So how is Ceres' young campaign going? So far, few if any of the 50 companies are fully reporting their supply chain emissions. Only 23 disclose some of them, according to Ceres. Nash says the complexity of counting emissions and the lack of data pose big obstacles for food companies. Consider how a food company would have to account for beef supplied from Brazil. The cattle may move to five different ranches before reaching the slaughterhouse. The company would need to know precise details of the operations of each of those ranches. What did the cattle eat at each ranch? How efficiently did the animals turn food into meat? Did their grazing cause the destruction of forests, which store carbon in trees and soil?  Each of these factors, which differ depending on the ranch and the country, significantly affects the carbon footprint of cattle. “It’s very difficult for companies to trace this information because there are so many different stages in the supply chain,” said Nash, a Ph.D. who directs Ceres’ food and forest program. “So there’s a great deal of work that's needed to improve traceability and transparency to have the most accurate numbers for a Scope 3 analysis.” General Mills won't send bean counters to every cocoa farm in Ghana. Instead it'll use computer models. General Mills’ Emissions Count General Mills stands out among the 50 companies. A spokesperson for the company, which makes breakfast cereals, soups, pizza, and pet food, says it follows almost all of the reporting protocols in its quest to reduce its emissions 30% by 2030. The company’s Scope 3 calculations revealed that 54% of its emissions come from growing and transporting crops and turning them into food ingredients, according to its website. General Mills breaks out 28 categories of emissions, including packaging at 8%, and consuming its products, such as shopping and cooking, at 17%. But how accurate are any of these emissions numbers? It’s impossible to say. The maker of Cocoa Puffs doesn’t send bean counters to every cocoa farm in Ghana and Cote d’lvoire to find out the precise types of fertilizers, tractors, fuel and agricultural practices they use. That would be prohibitively expensive, given that the company has suppliers operating in more than 100 countries. Instead, General Mills and other companies use Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) computer models to tally emissions. But these models, like those used in everything from economics to climate science, are only as accurate as the consultants who design them and the data that’s fed into them. The data is the biggest problem. General Mills hired the consulting firm Quantis to calculate its supply chain emissions. Quantis uses national averages for particular businesses like cocoa farms in Ghana that may be several steps removed from the actual farms that supply General Mills, creating uncertainty about the accuracy of the estimates. Nor do computer models typically include some of the biggest sources of emissions, such as the release from tilling the soil and from converting forests and grasslands, which sequester carbon, to crops. Quantis didn’t respond to a request for an interview. “We need a more accurate estimate of our baseline emissions,” Steven Rosenzweig, a soil scientist at General Mills, told the U.S. Department of Agriculture in February. “Using these databases means our current footprint is static, it doesn’t change from year to year. It also might be based on the global average that isn’t very relevant to the practices that farmers in our supply sheds are using.” To make better Scope 3 estimates, Rosenzweig said, companies need to develop more sophisticated data tracking systems, which will require satellites to monitor changes to land use. In the meantime, General Mills is taking the ambitious step of attempting to transform the agricultural practices of its farmers in the U.S. and abroad who supply key ingredients like wheat, oats, dairy and cocoa. The company and industry partners are financing efforts to support and train farmers in regenerative agriculture. It uses less fertilizer and tilling to reduce emissions and other methods to improve the health of soil, which is rapidly degrading worldwide. General Mills has more than 115,000 acres enrolled in its regenerative management programs and aims for one million acres by 2030. “We consider regenerative agriculture to be our greatest opportunity for meeting our commitment to reduce our climate footprint by 30% by 2030,” Rosenzweig said. Unpredictable: Companies are expected to report severe-weather risks and possible financial impacts. Seeking Principle-Based Rules Advocates of the SEC proposal say today’s reporting flaws will be improved as more companies develop Scope 3 expertise and collect better data to share with each other. The number of companies that disclose emissions to CDP continues to grow every year, showing it’s just a matter of time. Professor Patchell disagrees, saying that forcing companies to make such elaborate disclosures is a waste of resources. Big firms already have a general understanding of the main sources of their emissions, such as agriculture in the food industry. The money needed to produce a precise accounting of emissions, he says, would be better spent on actually reducing them. McDonald’s, for instance, didn’t need a full accounting of its greenhouse gas footprint to pledge to reach net-zero by 2050. Given the difficulties in determining supply chain emissions, the SEC has carved out a few exemptions. For instance small firms, such as those with less than $100 million in revenue, won’t have to comply. The companies also will be shielded from lawsuits for passing on faulty data provided they have a reasonable basis for disclosing it. The SEC says it will help investors judge the reliability of the disclosures by requiring companies to reveal the sources of the data, including economic and government studies, suppliers, consultants and other third parties. Asking investors to wade through all those footnotes is a tall order, but it’s not unlike what they already do with other financial disclosures, said Michael Lepech, a Stanford professor of environmental engineering who has worked with LCA models. “When you read a financial statement, businesses talk about significant uncertainties associated with the assets and liabilities,” he said. “It’s just buried in the extensive notes. And carbon accounting is in many regards no different than that.” But the Chamber of Commerce, a business lobby, says the Scope 3 mandate may leave investors more confused than informed. The Chamber is pushing for an open-ended reporting mandate based on general principles to determine what’s relevant for investors rather than precise rules, such as the Scope 3 protocol. Companies and their investors should be left to determine the necessary metrics, which means some may choose to report Scope 3 and others won’t, said Evan Williams, director of the chamber’s center for capital markets. Critics of this principles-based approach say it’s so vague that companies will find ways to avoid any meaningful accounting of their carbon footprint.  “There is that concern,” Williams said. “But what we have seen is that companies are responsive to their investors, and if they demand more information on climate risks, the companies have provided it.” Tyler Durden Fri, 04/08/2022 - 06:30.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeApr 8th, 2022

These 3 Refining & Marketing MLP Stocks Are Worth a Closer Look

Notwithstanding high gasoline prices and supply chain challenges, the Zacks Oil and Gas - Refining & Marketing MLP operators like Targa Resources (TRGP), Western Midstream Partners, LP (GLP) and Sunoco LP (SU) should enjoy some upside momentum. Elevated pump prices are raising worries of a demand destruction for the Zacks Oil and Gas - Refining & Marketing MLP industry as certain low-income consumers mull over tightening their belts to deal with the higher cost of daily commutes. Operators have also not been immune to supply-chain disruptions and cost inflation. But the defensive nature of the stocks and their fee-based business models, together with built-in inflation protection, have held up rather well. In this context, investors might want to focus on Targa Resources TRGP, Western Midstream Partners, LP WES and Sunoco LP SUN for attractive returns and cash flow growth.Industry OverviewMaster limited partnerships (or MLPs) differ from regular stocks since interests in them are referred to as units, and unitholders (not shareholders) are partners in the business. Importantly, these low-risk hybrid entities bring together the tax benefits of a limited partnership with the liquidity of publicly traded securities that earn a stable income. The assets that these partnerships own are typically oil and natural gas pipelines and storage/infrastructure facilities. The Zacks Oil and Gas - Refining & Marketing MLP industry is a sub-sector of this business model. These firms operate refined products' terminals, storage facilities and transportation services. They are involved in selling refined petroleum products (including heating oil, gasoline, residual oil, jet fuel, etc.) and a plethora of non-energy materials (like asphalt, road salt, clay and gypsum).3 Trends Defining the Oil and Gas - Refining & Marketing MLP Industry???s FutureHigh Motor Fuel Price Impacting Consumer Demand: Operating results of the energy refining and marketing MLPs, which own oil and natural gas pipelines and storage facilities, are highly sensitive to prices for motor fuel. With prices at the pump skyrocketing after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, consumption of gasoline seems to have weakened. Apart from fuel demand, any increase in petroleum costs also impacts convenience merchandise. Coupled with elevated inflation in the United States, the surge in gasoline prices is starting to influence consumer decisions that might lead to some kind of demand destruction. On top of that, higher petrol prices would spur even higher inflation, acting as a significant threat to usage.Supply Chain and Labor Constraints: Despite the bullish energy landscape and improved demand environment, the industry has not been immune to supply chain disruptions and cost inflation. Macro issues like higher transportation expenses, driver scarcity and labor shortages have limited MLPs’ (or the energy infrastructure providers, also called the midstream group) ability to ship packaged volumes to their customers. Most operators have also felt the impact of inflation, which is rolling through the cost structure. What’s worse is that these headwinds across the system and the subsequent hit to profitability (due to difficulty in passing through the increased costs to clients) are expected to continue in the near future.Distribution Growth Beneficial in Inflationary Environment: Investors are typically attracted to MLPs, thanks to reliable distributions and defensive characteristics. The major refining and marketing midstream players — being largely insulated to fluctuations in commodity prices — maintained their distribution levels through the crisis-stricken 2020. Now, with the energy space displaying secular demand growth, their relatively steady coverage should represent a more predictable midstream payout scenario in the near future, improving commodity price visibility. Meanwhile, as a response to the energy downturn, a number of these entities have been highly effective in managing cash outflows. Adjusting costs with the prevailing business activity, the partnerships have focused on the generation of free cash flow (post distribution payment) to lower debt and strengthen their financial position. The growing free cash flows could be used to boost investor returns through buybacks and distribution hikes. Finally, the distribution growth can also help investors to offset some of the impacts of high inflation. Zacks Industry Rank Indicates Gloomy OutlookThe Zacks Oil and Gas – Refining & Marketing MLP is a 7-stock group within the broader Zacks Oil – Energy sector. The industry currently carries a Zacks Industry Rank #242, which places it in the bottom 4% of more than 250 Zacks industries.The group’s Zacks Industry Rank, which is basically the average of the Zacks Rank of all the member stocks, indicates challenging near-term prospects. Our research shows that the top 50% of the Zacks-ranked industries outperforms the bottom 50% by a factor of more than 2 to 1.Despite the dim near-term prospects of the industry, we will present a few stocks that you may want to consider for your portfolio. But it’s worth taking a look at the industry’s shareholder returns and its current valuation first. Industry Outperforms Sector & S&P 500The Zacks Oil and Gas – Refining & Marketing MLP industry has fared better than the broader Zacks Oil – Energy sector as well as the Zacks S&P 500 composite over the past year.The industry has gained 73% over this period compared to the S&P 500’s rise of 13.5% and the broader sector’s increase of 45.6%.One-Year Price Performance Industry's Current ValuationSince midstream-focused oil and gas partnerships use fixed-rate debt for most of their borrowings, it makes sense to value them based on the EV/EBITDA (enterprise value/ earnings before interest tax depreciation and amortization) ratio. This is because the valuation metric takes into account not just equity but also the level of debt. For capital-intensive companies, EV/EBITDA is a better valuation metric because it is not influenced by changing capital structures and ignores the effect of non-cash expenses.On the basis of the trailing 12-month enterprise value-to EBITDA (EV/EBITDA) ratio, the industry is currently trading at 10.33X, lower than the S&P 500’s 14.98X. It is, however, well above the sector’s trailing-12-month EV/EBITDA of 5.46X.Over the past five years, the industry has traded as high as 17.75X, as low as 5.79X, with a median of 11.11X, as the chart below shows.Trailing 12-Month Enterprise Value-to EBITDA (EV/EBITDA) Ratio (Past Five Years)  3 Oil and Gas - Refining & Marketing MLP Stocks to Focus OnSunoco LP: This downstream operator focuses on motor fuel distribution to convenience stores, independent dealers and commercial customers. A participant in the transportation and supply phase of the U.S. petroleum market across 30 states, Sunoco enjoys stable demand for its services.SUN pays out 82.55 cents quarterly distribution ($3.302 per unit annually), which gives it an 8% yield at the current unit price. Sunoco beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate for earnings twice in the trailing four quarters, the average being 44.4%. Valued at around $4.1 billion, the Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) SUN has gained some 37.7% in a year. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here. Price and Consensus: SUN Targa Resources: A leading provider of integrated midstream services in North America, Targa Resources’ fractionation ownership position in Mont Belvieu is among the company’s best midstream assets. The facility has connectivity to supply, storage, terminalling infrastructure, as well as to end markets through petrochemical complex and exports. The company also has state-of-the-art LPG export facilities on the Gulf Coast at its Galena Park Marine Terminal, which is interconnected to Mont Belvieu.The 2022 Zacks Consensus Estimate for this Houston, TX-based firm indicates 73% year-over-year earnings per share growth. Targa Resources beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate for earnings in two of the last four quarters. The Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) stock has a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of roughly 61.1%, on average. TRGP shares have surged around 150.3% in a year.Price and Consensus: TRGP Western Midstream Partners: WES is engaged in gathering, processing, compressing, treating, and transporting natural gas, condensate, natural gas liquids, and crude oil. Western Midstream Partners’ top-class asset portfolio, financial strength and ability to generate stable cash flows should boost unitholder returns.  The 2022 Zacks Consensus Estimate for The Woodlands, TX-based firm indicates 19.3% year-over-year earnings per share growth. Western Midstream partners pays out 32.70 cents quarterly distribution ($1.308 per unit annually), which gives it a 5.2% yield at the current unit price. Valued at around $10.1 billion, the Zacks Rank #3 WES has gained some 39% in a year.Price and Consensus: WES   Just Released: The Biggest Tech IPOs of 2022 For a limited time, Zacks is revealing the most anticipated tech IPOs expected to launch this year. Concerns about Federal interest rates and inflation caused many private companies to stay on the bench- leading to companies with better brand recognition and higher growth rates getting into the game. With the strength of our economy and record amounts of cash flooding into IPOs, you don’t want to miss this opportunity. See the complete list today.>>See Zacks Hottest IPOs NowWant the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report Targa Resources, Inc. (TRGP): Free Stock Analysis Report Sunoco LP (SUN): Free Stock Analysis Report Western Midstream Partners, LP (WES): Free Stock Analysis Report To read this article on Zacks.com click here. Zacks Investment Research.....»»

Category: topSource: zacksApr 5th, 2022

Newell Brands (NWL) Divests Home & Security Unit to Resideo

Newell Brands (NWL) completes the sale of the CH&S unit to Resideo to focus on core categories. The move will help reduce debt and fund share repurchases. Newell Brands Inc. NWL completed the divestment of the Connected Home & Security business (“CH&S”) to Resideo Technologies, Inc. REZI in a deal worth $593 million. Being a global provider of home security solutions as well as a distributor of commercial and residential security, Resideo will gain from CH&S’ wide portfolio of smoke alarms, carbon monoxide (“CO”) alarms, connected fire and CO devices, fire extinguishers, fire suppressants, and other home safety solutions. These products are sold under the BRK, Onelink and First Alert brands.In 2021, the CH&S business raked in sales of approximately $395 million. Notably, the addition of the First Alert brand is anticipated to complement REZI’s prevalent sensor solutions offering. Also, First Alert’s distribution channel, experienced workforce, and robust e-commerce and retail businesses will be accretive.The net proceeds from this sale are likely to be used to reduce Newell Brand’s debt and fund share repurchases to maintain its current leverage ratio. Keeping in these lines, NWL has announced a $375-million share repurchase program, effective immediately. The divestiture move will also help Newell Brands to focus on core categories. However, the divestment is expected to have a neutral impact on the company’s normalized earnings per share in 2022.What’s More?Newell Brand has been gaining from solid demand, product innovation and robust core sales growth. In fourth-quarter 2021, net sales grew 4.3% year over year, driven by core sales growth of 5.8%, as six of the eight business units and each key region witnessed higher core sales. This marked the sixth successive quarter of core sales growth. On a two-year basis, core sales witnessed growth in every business unit.This Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) company is witnessing continued online strength, backed by the buy online and pick up in stores, and ship from store services. As a result, the e-commerce business witnessed low-double-digit sales growth, accounting for nearly 22% of total sales in 2021.Healthy consumption trends in the United States also bode well. Domestic consumption increased across all eight business categories of the company on a two-year basis, with double-digit growth in Writing, Food, Baby, Commercial, Home Appliances and Home Fragrances in the fourth quarter.Driven by the above-mentioned factors, management issued the guidance for the first quarter and 2022. The company anticipates net sales of $9.93-$10.13 billion for 2022, with core sales of flat to up 2%. The normalized operating margin is expected to be 11.5-11.8%. Normalized earnings per share are estimated to be $1.85-$1.93 for 2022.For the first quarter, net sales are envisioned to be $2.25-$2.30 billion, with core sales growth of 2-4%. For the quarter, the company expects a normalized operating margin of 8.9-9.3% and normalized earnings of 26-28 cents per share. Image Source: Zacks Investment Research Although shares of NWL have lost 1.1% year to date, they came ahead of the industry’s decline of 14%.Here’s How Better-Ranked Stocks FaredSome better-ranked stocks in the Consumer Staples sector are Flower Foods FLO and McCormick & Company MKC.Flower Foods is involved in baked food products and produces a wide range of bread, buns, rolls, snack cakes and tortillas. It currently has a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.The Zacks Consensus Estimate for Flower Foods’ current financial-year sales and earnings suggests growth of 7.2% and 4%, respectively, from the year-ago period’s reported figures. FLO has a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of 9%, on average.McCormick is one of the leading manufacturers, marketers and distributors of spices, seasonings, specialty foods and flavors. It also currently carries a Zacks Rank #2.The Zacks Consensus Estimate for McCormick’s current financial-year sales and EPS suggests growth of 5% and 3.9%, respectively, from the year-ago period’s reported figures. MKC has a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of 7.3%, on average. Just Released: Zacks Top 10 Stocks for 2022 In addition to the investment ideas discussed above, would you like to know about our 10 top buy-and-hold tickers for the entirety of 2022? Last year's 2021 Zacks Top 10 Stocks portfolio returned gains as high as +147.7%. Now a brand-new portfolio has been handpicked from over 4,000 companies covered by the Zacks Rank. Don’t miss your chance to get in on these long-term buysAccess Zacks Top 10 Stocks for 2022 today >>Want the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report Newell Brands Inc. (NWL): Free Stock Analysis Report McCormick & Company, Incorporated (MKC): Free Stock Analysis Report Flowers Foods, Inc. (FLO): Free Stock Analysis Report Resideo Technologies, Inc. (REZI): Free Stock Analysis Report To read this article on Zacks.com click here......»»

Category: topSource: zacksApr 4th, 2022

Kraft Heinz (KHC) Buys Hemmer to Grow Taste Elevation Platform

Kraft Heinz (KHC) acquires a majority stake in Hemmer to accelerate its Taste Elevation platform and expand its presence across emerging markets. The Kraft Heinz Company KHC is committed to accelerating its international growth strategy, which focuses on the Taste Elevation platform. On similar lines, the company acquired a majority stake in a Brazil-based condiments and sauces company — Companhia Hemmer Indústria e Comércio ("Hemmer"). KHC had announced the deal in September 2021.The buyout will widen Kraft Heinz's International Taste Elevation platform with its focus on condiments and sauces. The move will also fuel the company’s strategy to enhance its presence across emerging markets. Hemmer will gain from Kraft Heinz's distribution network and go-to-market model across Brazil, which includes the budding foodservice channel. The acquisition of Hemmer will support Kraft Heinz's plan to become one of the biggest food players in Brazil.Shares of the Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) company have increased 7.7% in the past six months compared with the industry’s growth of 4.6%. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.Image Source: Zacks Investment ResearchAcquisitions Driving GrowthKraft Heinz is committed to its goal of becoming a major player across the taste elevation category worldwide. In January 2022, Kraft Heinz acquired an 85% stake in Germany-based Just Spices GmbH (“Just Spices”). The buyout enhanced its direct-to-consumer operations and go-to-market expansion. Management acquired sauces-focused business — Assan Foods — from privately-held Turkish conglomerate Kibar Holding in October 2021. Through this buyout, the company expects to accelerate its retail and foodservice growth across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.Several other companies in the food space are benefiting from acquisitions like Post Holdings, Inc. POST, Hormel Foods Corporation HRL and The Hershey Company HSY. During the first quarter of fiscal 2022, Post Holdings’ top line included $97.8 million in net sales from acquisitions. This includes the Private label ready-to-eat (PL RTE) cereal business, Egg Beaters liquid egg brand, Almark Foods business and related assets as well as the Peter Pan nut butter brand.Hormel Foods is strengthening its business on the back of strategic acquisitions. In June 2021, the company acquired the Planters snacking portfolio. Prior to this, the company acquired Texas-based pit-smoked meats company Sadler's Smokehouse in March 2020. The buyout is in sync with Hormel Foods’ initiatives to strengthen its position in the foodservice space.Hershey is undertaking buyouts to augment portfolio strength and boost revenues. In December 2021, Hershey acquired Dot’s Pretzels LLC — the owner of Dot’s Homestyle Pretzels — a leading brand in the pretzel category. The addition of Dot’s Pretzels is a perfect match for Hershey’s growing salty snacking portfolio. The company also acquired Pretzels Inc. from an affiliate of Peak Rock Capital. The acquisition expands Hershey’s snacking and production capabilities.Coming back to Kraft Heinz, we believe that the abovementioned buyout is likely to help the company keep its growth story going. Just Released: Zacks Top 10 Stocks for 2022 In addition to the investment ideas discussed above, would you like to know about our 10 top buy-and-hold tickers for the entirety of 2022? Last year's 2021 Zacks Top 10 Stocks portfolio returned gains as high as +147.7%. Now a brand-new portfolio has been handpicked from over 4,000 companies covered by the Zacks Rank. Don’t miss your chance to get in on these long-term buysAccess Zacks Top 10 Stocks for 2022 today >>Want the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report Hershey Company The (HSY): Free Stock Analysis Report Hormel Foods Corporation (HRL): Free Stock Analysis Report Post Holdings, Inc. (POST): Free Stock Analysis Report The Kraft Heinz Company (KHC): Free Stock Analysis Report To read this article on Zacks.com click here. Zacks Investment Research.....»»

Category: topSource: zacksApr 4th, 2022

Edging Towards A Gold Standard

Edging Towards A Gold Standard Authored by Alasdair Macleod via GoldMoney.com, Commentators are trying to make sense of Russian moves... However, there is a back story which differs from much of the speculation, which this article addresses. The Russians have not put the rouble on some sort of gold standard. Instead, they have repeated the Nixon/Kissinger strategy which created the petrodollar in 1973 by getting the Saudis to agree to accept only dollars for oil. This time, nations deemed by Russia to be unfriendly will be forced to buy roubles – roughly 2 trillion by the EU alone based on last year’s natural gas and oil imports from Russia — driving up the exchange rate. The rouble has now doubled against the dollar from its low point of RUB 150 to RUB 75 yesterday in just over three weeks. The Russian Central Bank will soon be able to normalise the domestic economy by reducing interest rates and removing exchange controls. The Russians and Chinese will be acutely aware that Western currencies, particularly the yen and euro, are likely to be undermined by recent developments. The financial war, which has always been in the background, is emerging into plain sight and becoming a battlefield between fiat currencies, and it is full on. The winner by default is almost certainly gold, now the only reliable reserve asset for those not aligned with Russia’s “unfriendlies”. But it is still a long way from backing any currency. Putin is losing the battle for Ukraine President Putin is embattled. His army as let him down — it turns out that his generals lack the necessary leadership qualities, the squaddies are suffering from lack of food, fuel, and are suffering from frostbite. It is reported that one brigade commander, Colonel Yuri Medvedev, was deliberately run down by one of his own men in a tank, a measure of the chaos at the front line. And Putin is not the first national leader to have misplaced his confidence in military forces. Conventional wisdom (from Carl von Clausewitz, no less) suggested Putin might win the battle for Ukraine but would be unable to hold the territory. That requires the willingness of the population to accept defeat, and a lesson the Soviets had learned in Afghanistan, with the same experience repeated by America and the UK. But Putin has not even won the battle and word from the Kremlin is of accepting a face-saving fall-back position, perhaps taking Donetsk and the coast of the Sea of Azov to join it up with Crimea. There was little doubt that if Putin came under pressure militarily, he would probably step up the commodity and financial war. This he has now done by insisting on payments in roubles. The mistake made in the West was to believe that Russia must sell commodities, and even though sanctions harm the West greatly, the strategy is to put maximum pressure on the Russian economy for a quick resolution. It is obviously flawed because Russia can still trade with China, India, and other significant economies. And thanks to rising commodity prices the Russian economy is not in the bad place the West believed either. Besides nations representing 84% of the world’s population standing aside from the Western alliance’s sanctions and with some like India sorely tempted to buy discounted Russian oil, we would profit from paying attention to some very basic factors. Russia can certainly afford to sell oil at significant discounts to market prices, and there are buyers willing to break the American-led embargoes. The non-Western world is no longer automatically on-side with American hegemony; that is a rotting hulk which the Americans are desperately trying to keep afloat. Observing this, the Kremlin seems relaxed and has said that it is willing to accept currencies from its friends, but Western enemies (the “unfriendlies”) would have to pay for oil in roubles or, it has also been suggested, in gold. On 23 March the Kremlin drew up a list of these unfriendly countries, which includes the 27 EU members, Switzerland, Norway, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea. Payment in roubles is easy to understand. We can assume that all oil and natural gas long-term supply contracts with the unfriendlies have force majeure clauses, because that is normal practice. In the light of sanctions, the Russians are entitled to claim different payment terms. And it is this that the Russians are relying upon for insisting on payment in roubles. Germany, for example, would have to buy roubles on the foreign exchanges to pay for her gas. Buying roubles supports the currency, and this was the tactic that created the petrodollar in 1973 when Nixon and Kissinger persuaded the Saudis to take nothing else but dollars for oil. It was that single move which more than anything confirmed the dollar as the world’s international and reserve currency in the aftermath of the temporary suspension of the Bretton Woods Agreement. That’s not quite the objective here; it is to not only underwrite the rouble, but to drive it higher relative to other currencies. The immediate effect has been clear, as the chart from Bloomberg below shows. Having halved in value against the dollar on 7 March, all the rouble’s fall has been recovered. And that’s even before Germany et al buy roubles on the foreign exchanges to pay for Russian energy. The gold issue is more complex. The West has banned not only Russian transactions settling in their currencies but also from settling in gold. The assumption is that gold is the only liquid asset Russia has left to trade with. But just as ahead of the end of the cold war Western intelligence completely misread the Soviet economy, it could be making a mistake again. This time, intel seems to be misled by full-on Keynesian macro analysis, suggesting the Russian economy is vulnerable when it is inherently stronger in a currency shoot-out than even the dollar. There is no need for Russia to sell any gold at all. The Russian economy has a broadly non-interventionist government, a flat rate of income tax of 13%, and a government debt of 20% of GDP. There are flaws in the Russian economy, particularly in the lack of respect for property rights and the pervasive problem of the Russian Mafia. But in many respects, Russia’s economy is like that of the US before 1916, when the highest income tax rate was 15%. An important difference is that the Russian government gets substantial revenues from energy and commodity exports, taking its income up to over 40% of GDP. While export volumes of energy and other commodities are being hit by sanctions, their prices have risen substantially. But it remains to be seen what form of money or currency for future payments will be used for over $550bn equivalent of exports, while $297bn of imports will be substantially reduced by sanctions, widening Russia’s trade surplus considerably. Euros, yen, dollars, and sterling are ruled out, worthless in the hands of the Central Bank. That leaves Chinese renminbi, Indian rupees, weakening Turkish lira and that’s about it. It’s hardly surprising that Russia is prepared to accept gold. Putin’s view on the subject is shown in Figure 1 of stills taken from a Tik Tok video released last weekend. Furthermore, Russia’s official reserves are only a small part of the story. Simon Hunt of Simon Hunt Strategic Services, who I have found to be consistently well informed in these matters, is convinced based on his information that Russia’s gold reserves are significantly higher than reported — he thinks 12,000 tonnes is closer to the mark. The payment choice for those on Russia’s unfriendly list, if we rule out gold, is effectively of only one — buy roubles to pay for Russian energy. By sanctioning the world’s largest energy exporter, the effect on energy prices in dollars is likely to drive them far higher yet. Additionally, market liquidity for roubles is likely to be restricted, and the likelihood of a bear squeeze on any shorts is therefore high. The question is how high? Last year, the EU imported 155 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia, valued at about $180bn at current volatile prices. Oil exports from Russia to the EU were about 2.3 million barrels per day, worth an additional $105bn for a combined total of $285bn, which at the current exchange rate of RUB 75.5 is RUB 2.15 trillion. EU Gas consumption is likely to fall as spring approaches, but payments in roubles will still drive the exchange rate significantly higher. And attempts to obtain alternative sources of LNG will take time, be insufficient, and serve to drive natural gas prices from other suppliers even higher. For now, we should dismiss ideas over payments to the Russians in gold. The Russian gold story, initially at least, is a domestic issue. Though it might spill over into international markets. On 25 March, Russia’s central bank announced it will buy gold from credit institutions at a fixed rate of 5,000 roubles per gramme starting this week and through to 30 June. The press release stated that it will enable “a stable supply of gold and smooth functioning of the gold mining industry.” In other words, it allows banks to continue to lend money to gold mining and related activities, particularly for financing new gold mining developments. Meanwhile, the state will continue to accumulate bullion which, as discussed above, it has no need to spend on imports. When the RCB’s announcement was made the rouble was considerably weaker and the price offered by the central bank was about 20% below the market price. But that has now changed. Based on last night’s exchange rate of 75.5 roubles to the dollar (30 March) and with gold at $1935, the price offered by the central bank is at a premium of 7.2% to the market. Whether this opens the situation up to arbitrage from overseas bullion markets is an intriguing question. And we can assume that Russian banks will find ways of acquiring and deploying the dollars to do so through their offshore facilities, until, under the cover of a strong rouble, the RCB removes exchange controls. There is nothing in the RCB’s statement to prevent a Russian bank sourcing gold from, say, Dubai, to sell to the central bank. Guidance notes to which we cannot be privy may address this issue but let us assume this arbitrage will be permitted, because it might be difficult to stop. And if Russia does have undeclared bullion reserves more than those allegedly held by the US Treasury, then given that the real war is essentially financial, it is in Russia’s interest to see the gold price rise in dollars. Not only would Eurozone banks be scrambling to obtain roubles, but the entire Western banking system, which takes the short side of derivative transactions in gold will find itself in increasing difficulties. Normally, bullion banks rely on central banks and the Bank for International Settlements to backstop the market with physical liquidity through leases and swaps. But the unfortunate message from the West to every central bank not on Russia’s unfriendly list is that London’s or New York’s respect for ownership rights to their nation’s gold cannot be relied upon. Not only will lease and swap liquidity dry up, but it is likely that requests will be made for earmarked gold in these centres to be repatriated. In short, Russia appears to be initiating a squeeze on gold derivatives in Western capital markets by exploiting diminishing faith in Western institutions and their cavalier treatment of foreign property rights. By forcing the unfriendlies into buying roubles, the RCB will shortly be able to reduce interest rates back to previous policy levels and remove exchange controls. At the same time, the inflation problems faced by the West will be ameliorated by a strong rouble. It ties in with the politics for Putin’s survival. Together with the economic benefits of an improving exchange rate for the rouble and the relatively minor inconvenience of not being able to buy imports from the West (alternatives from China and India will still be available) Putin can retreat from his disastrous Ukrainian campaign. Senior figures in the Russian army will be disciplined, imprisoned, or disappear accused of incompetence and misleading Putin into thinking his “special operation” would be quickly achieved. Putin will absolve himself of any blame and dissenters can expect even greater clampdowns on protests. Russia’s moves are likely to have been thought out in advance. The move to support the rouble is evidence it is so, giving the central bank the opportunity to reverse the interest rate hike to 20% to protect the rouble. Foreign exchange controls on Russians can shortly be lifted. Almost certainly the consequences for Western currencies were discussed. The conclusion would surely have been that higher energy and other Russian commodity prices would persist, driving Western price inflation higher and for longer than discounted in financial markets. Western economies face soaring interest rates and a slump. And depending on their central bank’s actions, Japan and the Eurozone with negative interest rates are almost certainly most vulnerable to a financial, currency, and economic crisis. The impact of Russia’s new policy of only accepting roubles was, perhaps, the inevitable consequence of the West’s policies of self-immolation. From Russia’s failure in Ukraine, Putin appears to have had little option but to go on the offensive and escalate the financial, or commodity-currency war to cover his retreat. We can only speculate about the effect of a strong rouble on the international gold price, but if Russian banks can indeed buy bullion from non-Russian sources to sell to the RCB, it would mark a very aggressive move in the ongoing financial war. China’s position China will be learning unpalatable lessens about its ambition to invade Taiwan, and Taiwan will be encouraged mightily by Ukraine’s success at repelling an unwelcome invader. A 100-mile channel is an enormous obstacle for a Chinese invasion that Russia didn’t have to navigate before Ukrainian locals exploited defensive tactics to repel the invader. There can now be little doubt of the outcome if China tried the same tactics against Taiwan. President Xi would be sensible not to make the same mistake as Putin and tone down the anti-Taiwan rhetoric and try the softer approach of friendly relations and economic integration to reunite Chinese interests. That has been a costless lesson for China, but another consideration is the continuing relationship with Russia. The earlier Chinese description of it made sense: “We are not allies, but we are partners”. What this means is that China would abstain rather than support Russia in the various supranational forums where the world’s leaders gather. But she would continue to trade with Russia as normal, even engaging in currency swaps to facilitate it. More recently, a small crack has appeared in this relationship, with China concerned that US and EU sanctions might be extended to Chinese entities in joint ventures with Russian businesses linked to sanctioned oligarchs and Putin supporters. The highest profile example has been the suspension of a joint project to build a petrochemical plant in Russia involving Sinopec, because of the involvement of Gennady Timchenko, a close ally of Putin. But according to a report from Nikkei Asia, Sinopec has confirmed it will continue to buy Russian crude oil and gas. As always with its geopolitics, we can expect China to play its hand with great care. China was prepared for the consequences of US monetary policy in March 2020 when the Fed reduced its funds rate to zero and instituted quantitative easing of $120bn every month. By its actions it judged these moves to be very inflationary, and began stockpiling commodities ahead of dollar price rises, including energy and grains to project its own people. The yuan has risen against the dollar by about 11%, which with moderate credit policies has kept annualised domestic price inflation subdued to about 1% currently, while consumer price inflation in the West is soaring out of control. China is not therefore in the weak financial position of Russia’s “unfriendlies”; the highly indebted governments whose finances and economies are likely to be destabilised by rising energy prices and interest rates. But it does have a potential economic crisis on its hands in the form of a collapsing property market. In February, its response was to ease the credit restrictions imposed following the initial pandemic recovery in 2021, which had included attempts to deleverage the property sector. Property aside, we can assume that China will not want to destabilise the West by her own actions. The West is doing that very effectively without China’s assistance. But having demonstrated an understanding of why the West is sliding into an inflation crisis of its own making China will be keen not to make the same mistakes. Her partnership with Russia, as joint leaders in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, is central to detaching herself from what its Maoist economists forecast as the inevitable collapse of imperial capitalism. Having set itself up in the image of that imperialism, it must now become independent from it to avoid the same fate. Gold’s wider role in China, Russia, and the SCO Gold has always been central to China’s fallback position. I estimated that before permitting its own people to buy gold in 2002, the state had acquired as much as 20,000 tonnes. Subsequently, through the Shanghai Gold Exchange the Chinese public has taken delivery of a further 20,000 tonnes, mainly through imports from outside China. No gold escapes China, and the Chinese government is likely to have added to its hoard over the last twenty years. The government maintains a monopoly on refining and has stimulated the mining industry to become the largest national producer. Together with its understanding of the West’s inflationary policies the evidence is clear: China is prepared for a world of sound money with gold replacing the dollar’s hegemony, and it now dominates the world’s physical market with that in mind. These plans are shared with Russia, and the members, dialog partners and associates of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation — almost all of which have been accumulating gold reserves. Mine output from these countries is estimated by the US Geological Survey at 830 tonnes, 27% of the global total. The move away from pure fiat was confirmed recently by some half-baked plans for the Eurasian Economic Union and China to escape from Western fiat by setting up a new currency for cross-border trade backed partly by commodities, including gold. The extent of “off balance sheet” bullion is a critical issue, because at some stage they are likely to be declared. In this context, the Russian position is important, because if Simon Hunt, quoted above, is correct Russia could have more gold than the US’s 8,130 tonnes, which it is widely thought to overstate the latter’s true position. Furthermore, Western central banks routinely lease and swap their gold reserves, leading to double counting, which almost certainly reduces their actual position in aggregate. And if fiat currencies continue to decline we could find that the two ringmasters for the SCO have more monetary gold than all the other central banks put together — something like 30,000-40,000 tonnes for Chinese and Russian governments, compared with perhaps less than 20,000 tonnes for Russia’s adversaries (officially ,the unfriendlies own about 24,000 tonnes, but we can assume that at least 5,000 of that is double counted or does not exist due to leasing and swaps). The endgame for the yen and the euro Without doubt, the terrible twins in the major fiat currencies are the yen and the euro. They share much in common: negative interest rates, major commercial banks highly leveraged with asset to equity ratios averaging over twenty times, and central bank balance sheets overloaded with bonds which are collapsing in value. They now face rising interest rates spiralling beyond their control, the consequences of the ECB and Bank of Japan being trapped under the zero bound and being in denial over falling purchasing power for their currencies. Consequently, we are seeing capital flight, which has accelerated dramatically this month for the yen, but in truth follows on from relative weakness for both currencies since the middle of 2021 when global bond yields began rising. Statistically, we can therefore link the collapse of both currencies on the foreign exchanges with rising bond yields. And given that rising interest rates and bond yields are in their early stages, there is considerable currency weakness yet to come. Japan and its yen The Bank of Japan has publicly stated it would buy an unlimited amount of 10-year Japanese Government Bonds at a 0.25% yield to contain the bond sell-off. A higher yield would be more than embarrassing for the BOJ, already requiring a recapitalisation, presumably with its heavily indebted government stumping up the money. Figure 2 shows that the 10-year JGB yield is already testing the 0.25% yield level (charts from Bloomberg). Fig 2. JGB yields hits BoJ Limit and Yen collapsing As avid Keynesians, the BOJ is following similar policies to that of John Law in 1720’s France. Law issued fresh livres which he used to prop up the Mississippi venture by buying shares in the market. The bubble popped, the venture survived, but the livre was destroyed. Today, the BOJ is issuing yen to prop up the Japanese government bond market. As the issuer of the currency, the BOJ is by any yardstick bankrupt and in desperate need of new capital. Since it commenced QE in 2000, it has accumulated so much government and corporate debt, and even equities bundled into ETFs, that the falling value of the BOJ’s holdings makes its liabilities significantly greater than its assets, currently to the tune of about ¥4 trillion ($3.3bn). Ignoring the cynic’s definition of madness, the BOJ is doubling down on its commitment, announcing on Monday further unlimited purchases of 10-year JGBs at a fixed yield of 0.25%. In other words, it is supporting bond prices from falling further, echoing Mario Draghi’s “whatever it takes” and confirming its John Law policy. Last Tuesday’s Summary of Opinions at the Monetary Policy Meeting on March 17 and 18 had this gem: “Heightened geopolitical risks due to the situation surrounding Ukraine have caused price rises of energy and other items, and this will push down domestic demand while raising the CPI. Under the circumstances, it is necessary to improve labour market conditions and provide stronger support for wage increases, and therefore it is increasingly important that the bank persistently continue with the current monetary easing.” No, this is not satire. In other words, the BOJ’s deposit rate will remain negative. And the following was added from Government Representatives at the same meeting: “The budget for fiscal 2022 aims to realise a new form of capitalism through a virtual circle of growth and distribution and the government has been making efforts to swiftly obtain the Diet’s approval.” A virtuous circle of growth? It seems like intensified intervention. Meanwhile, Japan’s major banks with asset to equity ratios of over twenty times are too highly geared to survive rising interest rates without a bank credit crisis threatening to take them down. It is hardly surprising that international capital is fleeing the yen, realising that it will be sacrificed by the BOJ in the vain hope that it can continue to maintain bond prices far above where they should be. The euro system and its euro The euro system and the euro share similar characteristics to the BOJ and the yen: interest rates trapped under the zero bound, Eurozone G-SIBs with asset to equity ratios of over 20 times and market realities forcing interest rates and bond yields higher, as Figure 3 shows. Furthermore, Eurozone banks are heavily exposed to Russian and Ukrainian debt due to their geographic proximity. Fig 3: Euro declining as bond yields soar There are two additional problems for the Eurosystem not faced by the BOJ and the yen. The ECB’s shareholders are the national central banks in the euro system, which in turn have balance sheet liabilities more than their assets. The structure of the euro system means that in recapitalising itself the ECB does not have a government to which it can issue credit and receive equity capital in return, the normal way in which a central bank would refinance its balance sheet by turning credit into equity. Instead, it will have to refinance itself through the national central banks which being insolvent themselves in turn would have to refinance themselves through their governments. The second problem is a further complication. The euro system’s TARGET2 settlement system reflects enormous imbalances which complicates resolving a funding crisis. For example, on the last figures (end-February), Germany’s Bundesbank was owed €1,150 billion through TARGET2, while Italy owed €568 billion. It would be in the interests of a recapitalisation for the Italian government to want its central bank to write off this amount, while the Bundesbank is already in negative equity without writing off TARGET2 balances. Germany’s politicians might demand the balances owed to the Bundesbank be secured. This problem is not insoluble perhaps, but one can see that political and public wrangling over these imbalances will only serve to draw attention to the fragility of the whole system and undermine public trust in the currency. With Germany’s CPI now rising at 7.6% and Spain’s at 9.8%, negative deposit rates are wildly inappropriate. When the system breaks it can be expected to be sudden, violent and a shock to those in thrall to the euro system. Conclusion For decades, a showdown between an Asian partnership and hegemonic America has been building. We can date this back to 1983, when China began to accumulate physical gold having appointed the Peoples’ Bank for the purpose. That act was the first indication that China felt the need to protect itself from others as it ventured into capitalism. China has navigated itself through increasing American assertion of its hegemony and attempts to destabilise Hong Kong. It has faced obstacles to its lucrative export trade through tariffs. It has been cut off from Western markets for its advanced technology. China has resented having to use the dollar. After Russia’s ill-advised invasion of Ukraine, it now appears that the invisible war over global financial resources and control is intensifying. The fuse has been lit and events are taking over. The destabilisation of the yen and the euro are now as certain as can be. While the yen is the victim of John Law-like market-rigging policies and likely to go the same way as France’s livre, perhaps the greater danger is for the euro. The contradictions in its set-up, and the destruction of Germany’s sound money principals in favour of the inflationism of the PIGS was always going to be finite. The ECB has got itself into a ridiculous position, and no amount of conjuring and cajoling of financial institutions can resolve the ECB’s own insolvency and that of all its shareholders. History shows that there are two groups involved in a currency collapse. International holders take fright and sell for other currencies and assets they believe to be more secure. They drive the exchange rate lower. The second group is the public in a nation, those who use the currency for transactions. If they lose confidence in it, the currency can rapidly descend into worthlessness as ordinary people accelerate its disposal for anything tangible in a final crack-up boom. In the past, an alternative currency was always the sounder one, one backed by and exchangeable for gold coin. That is so long ago that we in the West have mostly forgotten the difference between money, that is gold and silver, and unbacked fiat currencies. The great unknown has been how much abuse of money and credit it would take for the public to relearn the difference. Cryptocurrencies have alerted us, but they are not a widely accepted medium of exchange and don’t have the legal standing of gold and gold substitutes. War is to be our wake-up call — financial rather than physical in character. Western central banks and their governments have been fiddling the books, telling us that currency debasement is good for us. That debasement has accelerated in recent years. But by upping the anti against Russia with sanctions that end up undermining the purchasing power of all the West’s major currencies, our leaders have called an end to the reign of fiat. Tyler Durden Sat, 04/02/2022 - 14:30.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeApr 2nd, 2022

SiriusXM (SIRI) Inks Multi-Year Ad Deal With Crooked Media

Sirius XM (SIRI) enters an agreement with Crooked Media for exclusive global and sales rights to the latter's extensive lineup of podcasts. SiriusXM SIRI recently signed a multi-year agreement with the independent progressive media company, Crooked Media.Per the agreement, SiriusXM network will have Crooked Media’s top-ranked podcasts, including Pod Save America, Lovett or Leave It and Pod Save the World.The agreement also provides SiriusXM’s subsidiary SiriusXM Media with exclusive global and sales rights to Crooked Media’s podcast portfolio, starting May 2022. The deal also gives Sirius XM Media sales and sponsorship rights to any content produced by Crooked Media, including digital video, social media and live events.Sirius XM Holdings Inc. Price and Consensus  Sirius XM Holdings Inc. price-consensus-chart | Sirius XM Holdings Inc. Quote Acquisitions & Partnerships to Aid User GrowthSiriusXM’s focus on building a strong content portfolio is likely to help it expand user base.Recently, SiriusXM announced the launch of a limited engagement channel, The Joni Mitchell Channel, featuring the music of the iconic musician and songwriter. Earlier this year, SiriusXM announced the launch of its new, limited-engagement channel, David Bowie Channel, to celebrate the artist’s life and music.SiriusXM continues to bolster its content offerings by adding content from all genres, including news, sports, podcasts, music and politics, to its platforms.In December 2021, SiriusXM started providing subscribers access to an extensive schedule of live games this football playoff season along with all Division I FBS bowl games — including the College Football Playoff Semifinals and National Championship — the FCS Football Championship game and other postseason All-Star games.Also, an expanding partner base bodes well for SiriusXM.On Mar 10, SiriusXM entered into an exclusive distribution and sales agreement with the leading global digital audio network company — reVolver Podcasts.Through the multi-year deal, the New York-based radio broadcasting service provider’s advertising revenue organization, SXM Media, will gain exclusive global ad sales rights to the Texas-based company’s extensive podcasts.In December 2021, SiriusXM partnered with Discovery DISCA, offering its Platinum VIP subscribers a 12-month subscription to discovery+.As part of the deal, SiriusXM will offer eligible new and existing customers who upgrade to its Platinum, Music and Entertainment and Streaming Platinum packages with a complimentary three-month subscription to Discovery’s discovery+.Expanding podcast efforts sync well with the existing advertising-led focus on Pandora and AdsWizz.Late 2021, SiriusXM signed a deal with comedians Tom Segura and Christina P’s YMH Studios.The multi-year agreement will incorporate the YMH Studios staff into Sirius’s radio streaming service Stitcher. After the incorporation, YMH Studios will continue to operate Your Mom’s House podcast and the rest of its acclaimed podcasts.Per the deal, SiriusXM, its subsidiaries Pandora and Stitcher and YMH Studios will develop additional content, which will be available on multiple platforms.SiriusXM had partnered with Marvel Entertainment to launch Marvel Podcasts Unlimited, a premium audio entertainment subscription for global Marvel fans. The subscription will be available exclusively on the new Marvel channel on Apple’s AAPL Apple Podcasts.Customers can access the free Marvel channel on Apple Podcasts, which feature popular Marvel + SXM Podcasts original series, including Marvel's Wolverine: The Long Night and the sequel Wolverine: The Lost Trail. The Marvel Channel on Apple Podcasts also features the first installment of the new Marvel’s Wastelanders series and Marvel's Wastelanders: Star-Lord.The availability of SiriusXM’s content on Alexa, Google Assistant and Amazon Echo is expected to further drive growth of its subscriber base.Despite stiff competition from the likes of iHeartMedia IHRT and Apple, this presently Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) company is likely to sustain its growth momentum driven by strong content.SiriusXM’s shares have moved up 4.1% in the trailing 12-months against the Zacks Broadcast Radio and Television’s decline of 24.5% and the Consumer Discretionary sectors fall of 24.5%. SiriusXM has also underperformed its peers iHeartMedia and Apple.In the trailing 12-month period, iHeartMedia’s shares have returned 9.1% compared with Apple’s rally of 41.2%.You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here. Just Released: Zacks Top 10 Stocks for 2022 In addition to the investment ideas discussed above, would you like to know about our 10 top buy-and-hold tickers for the entirety of 2022? Last year's 2021 Zacks Top 10 Stocks portfolio returned gains as high as +147.7%. Now a brand-new portfolio has been handpicked from over 4,000 companies covered by the Zacks Rank. Don’t miss your chance to get in on these long-term buysAccess Zacks Top 10 Stocks for 2022 today >>Want the latest recommendations from Zacks Investment Research? Today, you can download 7 Best Stocks for the Next 30 Days. Click to get this free report Apple Inc. (AAPL): Free Stock Analysis Report Sirius XM Holdings Inc. (SIRI): Free Stock Analysis Report Discovery, Inc. (DISCA): Free Stock Analysis Report iHeartMedia, Inc. (IHRT): Free Stock Analysis Report To read this article on Zacks.com click here. Zacks Investment Research.....»»

Category: topSource: zacksMar 24th, 2022

US Equity Futures Reverse Overnight Decline, Turn Positive As Oil Surges

US Equity Futures Reverse Overnight Decline, Turn Positive As Oil Surges U.S. equity futures and European bourses stocks reversed modest overnight losses and turned higher as US traders got to their desks on Monday as crude oil extended a climb and investors monitored diplomatic efforts to bring an end to Russia’s almost month-old war in Ukraine.  S&P futures rose 0.07% or 3 points after earlier sliding almost 30 points; Nasdaq futures were flat. Focus on Monday will be on a speech by Fed Chair Jerome Powell after the central bank kicked off a rate-hiking cycle last week.  Powell is set to speak at the annual meeting of the National Association for Business Economics at 12pm ET; text release and Q&A are expected. In addition to concerns about Russian crude supply, which Russia's deputy prime minister Novak said could surge to $300/bbl if Russian oil is shunned, also jumped after Saudi Arabia announced a “temporary reduction” in oil output at an Aramco facility after Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched multiple cross-border attacks on Sunday .A drone assault on the YASREF refinery, in the Yanbu Industrial City on the Red Sea, has “led to a temporary reduction in the refinery’s production, which will be compensated for from the inventory,” the energy ministry said in a statement. WTI rose as high as $108, surging $15 from prices hit last Tuesday, with Brent trading around $113. The S&P 500 last week had its biggest gain since November 2020 and European equities recouped all of their losses triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a month ago as peace negotiations and the lure of cheap valuations drew investors back. But that optimism may not be justified, given the “increasingly brutal measures that Russian forces are taking,” according to  Michael Hewson, chief analyst at CMC Markets in London. “There appears to be a growing disconnect between what markets are doing and what is happening on the ground in Ukraine,” he said in a report. “Commodity markets continue to chop wildly” and “concerns about inflation are still posing awkward questions for central banks,” Hewson wrote. A key question is whether last week’s stock rebound and drop in volatility are durable. European equities have recouped all of their losses triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a month ago as optimism around peace negotiations and the lure of cheapened valuations draw investors back. But a historic spike in commodity prices on supply concerns shows little sign of easing, keeping traders on high alert over inflation and shaking their faith in the Federal Reserve to douse price pressures while keeping the economic recovery on track. “The Fed comes out last week and basically tells you they have to do more -- into higher inflation but slowing growth,” Brian Weinstein, head of global fixed income at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “It certainly looks like the market is afraid of a traditional Fed goes too much, slows the economy down, and we don’t get the much-anticipated soft landing.” In premarket trading, Boeing stock tumbled 6.6% after a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800NG (yes, THE 737 MAX) plane carrying 132 people crashed in southwestern China. Additionally, US-listed Chinese stocks slumped in premarket trading Monday, following their Asian peers lower, as investors were disappointed after Chinese banks left the loan prime rate unchanged despite expectations of some easing. Large-cap technology stocks are leading the decline including Alibaba -5.6%, JD.com -6%, NetEase -5.7%, Pinduoduo -5.6% and Baidu -3.4%. Among other China stocks listed in the U.S. that are lower this morning: Nio -2%, Li Auto -4.2%, XPeng -4.3%, Didi -5.9%, KE Holdings -6.4%, Lufax -3.2%, Trip.com -6.2%, Bilibili -7.6% and Tencent Music -7.5%. Other notable premarket movers: Anaplan (PLAN US) shares jump 27% in U.S. premarket after Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire U.S. enterprise software company in a deal valued at $10.7 billion, adding to a string of deals this year by cash-rich private equity firms. Nielsen Holdings (NLSN US) shares decline in U.S. premarket after it rejected an acquisition proposal from a private equity consortium, valuing the company at $25.40/share, a price that doesn’t “adequately compensate shareholders for Nielsen’s growth prospects.” Uber (UBER US) shares are slightly lower in U.S. premarket trading after price target is lowered at RBC Capital Markets, with broker less positive on the ride-hailing giant versus peer Lyft following proprietary driver supply analysis. Alleghany Corp. (Y US) shares could be active as Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is buying it for $11.6 billion in cash. In the latest developments, Ukraine rejected a Russian demand that its forces lay down their arms Monday and leave the besieged southern port of Mariupol, which has been under intense Russian bombardment. Morgan Stanley’s chief U.S. equity strategist Michael Wilson said the recent rebound in U.S. stocks is an opportunity to sell and position more defensively.  Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden will speak with European leaders ahead of his trip to the continent this week. Senior U.S. officials will also meet with executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and other firms about the impact of the invasion and sanctions.  European equities had a subdued start to the week with most indexes opening flat. Euro Stoxx 50 and DAX rise slightly, while the FTSE MIB outperformed gaining 0.7%. Energy and mining stocks lead gains, tech and travel are in the red. Commodity-linked stocks are the biggest gainers on the Stoxx Europe 600 as prices rally with the war in Ukraine nearing the end of its first month with no conclusion in sight. The basic resources sub-index rises 1.8% as the energy sub-index gains 1.5%. Rio Tinto, Glencore and Anglo American are among the miners rising while Shell, BP and Equinor lead gains among energy stocks. Meanwhile, Europe’s formerly “unstoppable” luxury stocks are facing a swath of new challenges, from rising rates, war in Ukraine and China risks, leaving investors and analysts divided on whether valuations have fallen far enough yet. The MSCI Europe Textiles Apparel & Luxury Goods Index is down 14% this year, following three years of outsized gains. Hermes, the maker of $10,000 Birkin bags, is among top decliners, down 21% after a whopping 75% jump last year. Louis Vuitton owner LVMH, meanwhile, recently lost its crown as Europe’s biggest company to food giant Nestle. Investors were already dumping pricey luxury stocks in favor of cheaper shares amid concerns about rate hikes, while the war in Ukraine added further uncertainty. Valuation-wise, the group now trades at about a 60% premium to the broader market, near pre-pandemic levels and below its 5-year average. Asia stocks fell after China’s lenders kept borrowing costs unchanged. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index was down 0.5% as of 3:13 p.m. in Singapore, erasing an earlier gain of 0.4%, weighed by declines in financials and communication services. The regional benchmark’s bumpy day followed its best week since February 2021. “Some may have clung to expectations for an LPR cut today, which I think will come later when they assess the growth drag from the outbreak,” said Wai Ho Leong, strategist at Modular Asset Management. “Peace talks and the Xi-Biden call also did not deliver substantive outcomes.” Stocks climbed last week as China pledged to stabilize its markets, and some traders had expected some help from banks’ loan prime rate announcement Monday. Talks between Xi Jinping and Joe Biden held Friday also failed to excite investors, although China’s top envoy to Washington pledged his country “will do everything” to de-escalate the war in Ukraine.  Hong Kong Lifts Overseas Flight Ban; Cuts Hotel Quarantine Shares slid in China and Hong Kong, erasing earlier gains. Stocks in South Korea and Malaysia led declines in the region. Japanese markets were closed for a holiday. India’s stocks took a breather on Monday after a sharp rally last week, as a drop in financial and consumer goods companies weighed on the indexes. The S&P BSE Sensex fell 1% to 57,292.49 in Mumbai, while the NSE Nifty 50 Index dropped by an equal measure. The gauges posted their biggest single-day drop since March 15. All but three of the 19 sector sub-indexes compiled by BSE Ltd fell, led by a gauge of utility companies. “Slowing rural sector is a risk even as urban consumption is showing signs of relatively better performance,” according to JM Financial analyst Dhananjay Sinha. Lower than expected growth and higher inflation are a key risk to Indian companies’ profitability, he added. Metal stocks were among gainers as Vedanta, Hindalco Industries and Coal India rose on the back of rising prices and worsening demand-supply scenario.   ICICI Bank contributed the most to Sensex’s decline, decreasing 1.3%. Out of 30 shares in the Sensex, 25 fell, while 5 declined. In FX, most FX majors are range-bound, as the DXY hovers on 98.000 handle awaiting speeches from Fed’s Bostic and chair Powell. Loonie underpinned by strong oil prices -Usd/Cad straddling 1.2600. Franc firm ahead of SNB policy assessment as Swiss sight deposits suggest less intervention; USD/CHF near 0.9300 and EUR/CHF sub-1.0300. Euro straddles 1.1050 with hawkish ECB commentary supportive, but hefty option expiries capping the upside (almost 2.8bln at 1.1100) Aussie unwinding recent gains on technical grounds and in wake of defeat for PM Morrison’s liberal party in local election - Aud/Usd back below 0.7400. Sterling still smarting after last week’s dovish BoE hike - Cable around 1.3150 and Eur/Gbp probing 100 DMA at 0.8415. In rates, Treasuries followed wider losses across gilts while front-end leads the move lower, flattening the curve.  2Y-5Y yields cheaper by ~4bp, flattening 5s30s spread by ~3bp; 10-year yields around 2.18%, higher by ~2bp vs ~4bp for U.K. 10- year. Bunds and gilts bear steepen, cheapening roughly 3bps across the back end. Cash USTs open bear flatter with short dated yields up close to 5bps. Peripheral spreads are slightly wider to core. In commodities, crude futures extend Asia’s gains; WTI adds ~4% to trade just shy of a 109-handle. Spot gold trades a narrow range in small positive territory near $1,924/oz. Base metals are mixed; LME nickel trades limit down for the fourth straight session. LME aluminum gains 3.8%, trading just off the late-Asia highs after Australia, the world’s biggest exporter of alumina, announced a ban on shipments to Russia. Bitcoin is modestly pressured but contained within last week's parameters overall, holding above USD 41k. Today's calendar is relatively quiet, with just the Chicago Fed National Activity Index on dex (exp 0.5, down from 0.69). Powell speaks at NABE at 12pm although it is unlikely he will make any monetary policy comments. Market Snapshot S&P 500 futures up 0.1% to 4,448.75 STOXX Europe 600 little changed at 455.00 MXAP down 0.5% to 177.54 MXAPJ down 0.7% to 579.14 Nikkei up 0.7% to 26,827.43 Topix up 0.5% to 1,909.27 Hang Seng Index down 0.9% to 21,221.34 Shanghai Composite little changed at 3,253.69 Sensex down 0.8% to 57,428.60 Australia S&P/ASX 200 down 0.2% to 7,278.55 Kospi down 0.8% to 2,686.05 Brent Futures up 3.8% to $112.03/bbl Gold spot up 0.2% to $1,924.77 U.S. Dollar Index little changed at 98.27 German 10Y yield little changed at 0.39% Euro little changed at $1.1048 Brent Futures up 3.8% to $112.03/bbl Top Overnight News from Bloomberg Ukraine rejected a Russian demand to surrender of the embattled southern port city of Mariupol, and an aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian forces are using “more destructive artillery.” More talks on ending the war are expected on Monday after Turkey said the two sides had made progress on key points Chinese banks left borrowing costs unchanged in line with expectations as the focus shifts to other possible easing measures from the central bank after top leaders pledged to boost the economy European Central Bank Vice President Luis de Guindos has yet to see any indication that soaring inflation rates are leading to higher wage demands, according to an interview with Handelsblatt Oil rose for a third day as the war in Ukraine neared the end of its first month with no end in sight, and Iranian-backed rebels attacked energy facilities in key exporter Saudi Arabia Hong Kong will lift a ban on flights from nine countries including the U.S. as of April 1, and cut the time incoming travelers need to spend in hotel quarantine in half provided they test negative, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said China and Russia’s trade relationship has become more complicated since the war started more than three weeks ago, raising questions about the future flow of energy, metals and crops between the two powerhouses A more detailed look at global markets courtesy of Newsquawk Asia-Pac stocks were choppy with sentiment clouded amid the uncertain geopolitical climate and higher oil prices. ASX 200 was indecisive as outperformance in tech was offset by losses in financials and with PM Morrison’s Liberal Party defeated in South Australia's state election, raising concerns for the government ahead of the federal election in two months Nikkei 225 was closed for the Vernal Equinox holiday. Hang Seng and Shanghai Comp. swung between gains and losses with an early surge in Hong Kong tech stocks ahead of a widely speculated relaxation to COVID restrictions after the city’s daily cases fell to a threeweek low and with China’s tech hub of Shenzhen resuming normal work output. However, the gains were wiped out with the mainland hampered as Shanghai tussles with a COVID-19 outbreak, while the PBoC also kept its Loan Prime Rates unchanged, as expected. Top Asian News Indonesia Ends Quarantine Requirement for Overseas Travelers Asia Stocks Edge Down as Concerns Linger on China Policy Support Russia’s War Lifts Default Risk for Distressed Economies China Confirms Ambassador Met With Russian Defense Official European bourses are contained and haven't differed too far from the unchanged mark overall, Euro Stoxx 50 +0.1%, as we await updates on Russia-Ukraine. Developments throughout the morning have been limited, and commentary from the Kremlin is predominantly infitting with last-week's/weekend updates. US futures are pressured, ES -0.2%, awaiting geopolitical catalysts with Fed speak, including Chair Powell, ahead. China Eastern airlines passenger jet flying from Kunming to Guangzhou on Monday experienced an accident in Guangxi, via State Media; unknown injuries/deaths from the accident. Craft was a Boeing (BA) 737 . Subsequently, China's Aviation Regulator confirms the crash of the China Eastern airlines passenger jet carrying 132 people. Boeing -8.3% in the pre-market Berkshire Hathaway (BRK/B) is to purchase Alleghany Corp (Y) for USD 848.02/shr (vs. close USD 676.75 /shr) in a USD 11.6bln transaction. Top European News ECB’s Lagarde Says She’s Not Seeing Elements of Stagflation Now LSE Group to Sell BETA+ to Motive Partners, Clearlake: Sky S&T CEO’s Grosso Tech to Offer EU15.30/Shr for ~5.5m S&T Shares Julius Baer Says Sanctioned Clients in ‘Low Single Digits’ In FX, DXY hovers on 98.000 handle awaiting speeches from Fed’s Bostic and chair Powell. Loonie underpinned by strong oil prices -Usd/Cad straddling 1.2600. Franc firm ahead of SNB policy assessment as Swiss sight deposits suggest less intervention; USD/CHF near 0.9300 and EUR/CHF sub-1.0300. Euro straddles 1.1050 with hawkish ECB commentary supportive, but hefty option expiries capping the upside (almost 2.8bln at 1.1100) Aussie unwinding recent gains on technical grounds and in wake of defeat for PM Morrison’s liberal party in local election - Aud/Usd back below 0.7400. Sterling still smarting after last week’s dovish BoE hike - Cable around 1.3150 and Eur/Gbp probing 100 DMA at 0.8415. In commodities, WTI and Brent have been dipping from best-levels, but remain underpinned on the session amid weekend geopolitical premia.; albeit, the European morning's developments have been more limited. WTI May resides around USD 107/bbl (vs high ~108.20/bbl) while its Brent counterpart trades just under USD 112 /bbl (vs high ~112.75/bbl). Saudi-led coalition reported that Yemen Houthis targeted a gas station in Khamis Mushait on Saturday which resulted in material damage to civilian cars and homes but no casualties, according to the state news agency. Saudi-led coalition also said it destroyed an explosive-laden boat to thwart an attack on shipping in the Red Sea, while it was also reported that Aramco’s petroleum products distribution plant in Jeddah was attacked and production at a Saudi oil refinery in Yanbu declined momentarily after an attack by Houthis. Saudi Aramco reported FY net income USD 110.0bln vs prev. USD 49.0bln Y/Y, while the CEO expects oil demand to return to pre-pandemic levels by year-end and said they are seeing healthy demand especially in Asia. Saudi Aramco's CEO also noted that there is limited spare capacity which is declining every month with global spare capacity around 2mln bpd and that the market is very tight in terms of available barrels. US Event Calendar and Central Bank speakers 8am: Fed’s Bostic Gives Speech at NABE Conference 8:30am: Feb. Chicago Fed Nat Activity Index, est. 0.50, prior 0.69 12pm: Fed Chair Powell speaks at NABE DB's Jim Reid concludes the overnight wrap After a few weekends with some dramatic news of late, this weekend was relatively sparse in terms of new incremental news flow. The conflict and negotiations continue but without any major developments. Last week was the best for US and European equities since November 2020’s US election week; so markets are coming to terms with the current state of the conflict. Over the weekend, Ukrainian officials rejected an offer given by the Russian military for its forces and civilians to surrender the city of Mariupol as shelling continued in Kyiv. Separately, the White House announced that President Joe Biden will travel to Poland in his upcoming trip to Europe for urgent talks with NATO and European allies. Mr. Biden is also hosting a call with his counterparts in the UK, Germany and Italy today at 11am UK time. Overnight, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu indicated that Ukraine and Russia are close to an agreement following progress in peace talks and is hopeful for a ceasefire if both the sides do not backtrack from their current positions. However there is no other developments on the current state of negotiations. Asian equity markets have started the week on a weaker footing with the Hang Seng (-0.69%), reversing its early morning gains after it rose more than 1%. Mainland Chinese stocks are also dipping as I type with the CSI (-0.66%) and Shanghai Composite (-0.10%) lower after the PBOC kept the one-year loan prime rate unchanged at 3.7%. Elsewhere, markets in Japan are closed for a holiday. Moving on, stock futures in the DMs are also falling, as contracts on the S&P 500 (-0.42%), Nasdaq (-0.60%) and DAX (-0.58%) are all down. Oil prices are up this morning with Brent futures advancing +3.08% to $111.25/bbl while WTI futures are up +3.23% at $108.08/bbl, as I type. Elsewhere, today's holiday in Japan means no USTs trading in Asia. One of the key events this week will be Thursday’s March flash PMIs from around the world where we’ll see the first impact of the Russia/Ukraine conflict on activity, especially in Europe. Outside of that, UK CPI data on Wednesday is going to be very interesting after the BoE warned on both growth and inflation last week in their surprisingly dovish hike. See our UK economist’s review here. There is also the Spring UK (Budget) Statement on Wednesday (preview here) where all things fiscal will be in focus. Wednesday's new home sales, Friday's pending home sales and Thursday's durable goods are the main economic releases in the US. There's plenty of Fed speak to sharpen up the message from last week's FOMC but don't expect a chorus line singing from the same song sheet. The dot plot showed the range of YE '22 Fed funds rates, as forecast by the committee, was a historically wide 1.4% to 3.1%. Boston (non-voter hawk) and Chair Powell himself are up today with the latter also on the docket on Wednesday. Williams (dove) will be on a panel tomorrow but also gives a speech on Friday. Daly (non-voter / dove) speaks tomorrow, Wednesday and Friday. Mester (voter / hawk) speaks tomorrow. Bullard (voter / hawk) is up on Wednesday and remember he was the lone 50bps dissenter last week. Kashkari (non-voter / dove), Governor Waller (hawk) and Chicago President Evans (non-voter / dove) speak on Thursday. Barkin (non-voter / hawk) concludes the Fed's business for the week on Friday. Looking back at last week now and the conflict raged on but peace negotiations between Ukraine and Russia continued, with the headlines presenting a staccato back and forth about Ukrainian and Russian leaders’ current perceptions of the negotiation outlook. Markets seemed to look through this back-and-forth and took solace that negotiations were even happening, which was a material step up from where we were but a short time ago. In particular, both sides reported common ground on Ukraine’s neutral status and lack of NATO membership as a positive. Another positive came on Friday after Presidents Biden and Xi Jinping spoke. China’s support for Russia remained a key unknown, but following the call both sides expressed aspirations for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and for tensions to not escalate any further. Ahead of the meeting, US diplomatic officials warned that the US would impose costs on China were it to support the Russian invasion. Russian sovereign bond payments made their way to creditors via custodians, despite some uncertainty, avoiding a default. Nevertheless, S&P cut the rating on Russian sovereign debt another notch, considering it at high risk of default. However, Russia’s remaining interest repayments this month will keep investors anxious as a $447 million payment is due on March 31, followed by a $2 billion payment as a bond comes due on April 4. Dragging on sentiment were American intelligence reports that President Putin was prepared to re-engage in nuclear sabre rattling should the conflict drag on. That drove futures lower at the time of release but was not enough to drag risk negative on the week. That said it was a good week for risk with the S&P 500 and STOXX 600 gaining +6.16% (+1.17% Friday) and +5.43% (+0.91% Friday) over the week, respectively. That marked the best weekly performance for both indices since the week of the US Presidential election in November 2020. Financials and mega cap tech stocks performed even better. The S&P and STOXX bank indices gained +6.60% (-0.15% Friday) and +8.72% (+0.22% Friday), respectively, while the FANG+ gained +13.61% (+3.37%). That was the best weekly performance ever for the FANG+, which also put in its best daily performance ever on Wednesday following the Fed meeting, and more positive Chinese state support news (the index contains Baidu and Alibaba), gaining +10.19%. Speaking of the Fed, after two years at the zero lower bound, the FOMC raised policy rates by 25 basis points, with the dots projecting an additional 150 basis points of tightening this year, in line with DB expectations. Further, the Fed’s projections put policy into an explicitly restrictive stance by 2023. Despite the tightening, Chair Powell did not place particularly high risks on a recession occurring in the next year, which was apparently enough to help equities, with the S&P gaining +2.24% the day of the meeting in addition to the gangbusters day for the FANG+ index. The Fed also announced plans to start reducing their bond holdings at a coming meeting. Chair Powell noted the asset holding reductions would roughly equate to an additional 25 basis points of tightening this year and could commence as early as the FOMC’s next meeting in May. Money markets ended the week pricing around 167 basis points of additional policy rate tightening, suggesting some probability of a 50 basis point hike this year, which the Chair did not rule out. 10yr Treasury yields gained +15.8bps (-2.1bps Friday) on the week, driven entirely by real yields, which increased +22.7bps (+1.5bps Friday). The 2s10s yield curve continued its flattening, as 2yr yields gained +18.8bps (+2.2bps Friday), bringing the level to 20.5bps, the lowest since early March 2020. The Bank of England also hiked rates, raising the Bank Rate by 25 basis points in an 8-1 decision. The lone dissenter preferred to keep policy rates on hold, in contrast to the four dissenters in the February meeting which voted for a 50 basis point increase. Forward guidance added to the dovish tone, as it emphasised two-sided risks around the outlook, with downside impacts to growth featuring as prominent as upside risks to inflation, in contrast with recent advanced economy central bank communications. In line, 10yr gilt yields lagged other DM yields, gaining +0.6bps (-6.8bps Friday), as 10yr bunds increased +12.4bps (-1.2bps Friday). 2yr gilt yields priced out hikes, falling -10.9bps (-8.9bps Friday). Markets are pricing the Bank Rate to end the year at 1.87%, as opposed to 2.0% a week ago. Meanwhile, the Bank of Japan left policy unchanged, and warned of downside risks to growth stemming from the invasion of Ukraine, picking up the BoE’s dovish mantle. In line with the improvement in risk sentiment, crude oil prices fell a modest -3.97% over the week (+1.21% Friday), but still put in some large intraday swings. Prices also eased following reports that progress on the Iran nuclear deal would not be handcuffed by sanctions on Russia. European natural gas also fell -23.42% (-0.65% Friday). Given the volatility in energy markets, French President Macron warned the state may need to seize control of some energy firms. Elsewhere, sentiment was boosted by reports that China would actively introduce policies that benefit markets and take steps to avoid the most spartan lockdown measures. Tyler Durden Mon, 03/21/2022 - 07:52.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeMar 21st, 2022

Tattooed Chef Reports Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2021 Financial Results

Record 2021 Full Year Revenue;Expanded Manufacturing Capacity and National Retail Presence;Provides 2022 Guidance PARAMOUNT, Calif., March 16, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Tattooed Chef, Inc. (NASDAQ:TTCF) ("Tattooed Chef" or the "Company"), a leader in plant-based foods, today announced financial results for the fourth quarter and full year ended December 31, 2021, as well as full year 2022 guidance. 2021 Fourth Quarter Financial Overview Compared to Fourth Quarter of 2020 Revenue rose 32.2% to $52.3 million Tattooed Chef branded product revenue increased 21.7% to $29.2 million, or 56% of total revenue Net loss was $13.1 million Adjusted EBITDA(1) loss was $11.4 million 2021 Full Year Financial Overview Compared to Full Year 2020 Revenue rose 43.7% to a record $213.4 million Tattooed Chef branded product revenue increased 56.7% to a record $132.5 million, or 63% of total revenue    Net loss was $87.4 million Adjusted EBITDA(1) loss was $26.1 million(1)   Adjusted EBITDA is a non-GAAP financial measure defined below under "Non-GAAP Measures." Please see "Adjusted EBITDA Reconciliation" at the end of this press release. 2021 Operational Highlights Ended the year with 78 branded SKUs, up from 38 branded SKUs at the end of 2020. Expanded branded distribution to more than 160 retailers with approximately 14,000 locations, up from 4 retailers and approximately 4,000 locations at the close of 2020. Acquired New Mexico Food Distributors and the assets of and certain liabilities of Belmont Confections Inc., which together added three new production facilities, accelerated the Company's entrance into new product categories, and provided scale for future margin accretion. Commenced enterprise-wide investments in automation, internal R&D, and cold storage to support anticipated growth and drive efficiencies beginning in 2022. Launched first national media campaign to elevate brand awareness and drive sales. "2021 was a milestone year for Tattooed Chef," said Sam Galletti, President and CEO. "We grew our revenue by approximately 44%, consummated two transformative acquisitions, expanded our national presence, diversified our channel and customer mix, and broadened our product line. That these financial and operational achievements were realized against a backdrop of supply chain stresses and pricing pressures is a testament to our team, the resiliency of our vertically integrated infrastructure, growing interest in our plant-based offerings, and a validation of the investments we are making in our people, products, and processes. "We expect the recently acquired Belmont Confections facility to begin transitioning to the manufacture of Tattooed Chef branded bars beginning in the second quarter of 2022 and we expect that the two facilities acquired as part the New Mexico Food Distributors transaction will be fully operational and manufacturing both private label and Tattooed Chef branded products during the second quarter of 2022. We have also taken steps to strengthen the vertically integrated nature of our operations by initiating company-wide investments in automation, staffing, cold storage facilities, and internal R&D. We believe that these improvements will support our anticipated revenue growth, deliver operating efficiencies, accelerate our ability to achieve scale, and enhance margins. We look forward to our future with great confidence." Sarah Galletti, Chief Creative Officer, added, "After nearly doubling the number of Tattooed Chef branded SKUs in 2021, we are planning to introduce new, innovative products during 2022, including Mexican-inspired foods, refrigerated plant-based snack bars, and wood-fired pizzas.   Tattooed Chef's plant-based products are attracting a wide range of dynamic, engaged and passionate consumers who #GiveACrop about what they eat, how that food is produced, and the values of the company that creates it." Fourth Quarter 2021 Results Revenue increased 32.2% to $52.3 million during the fourth quarter of 2021 ("Q4 2021") from $39.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2020 ("Q4 2020"), the result of a 21.7% increase in "Tattooed Chef" branded products and a 23.0% increase in private label products and legacy products for select private label retailers when compared to the comparable prior year period. With the acquisition of New Mexico Food Distributors there were also food service sales of $4.2 million due to some holiday items that were already scheduled.   Higher branded product sales were driven by a significant increase in U.S. distribution points in late 2020 and during 2021, increased volume at existing retail stores, and new product introductions. Gross profit declined to $1.1 million, or 2.1% of revenue, from $4.4 million, or 11.1% of revenue, in Q4 2020. Gross profit in Q4 2021 included significantly higher freight and container costs compared to Q4 2020, a promotional allowance accrual that did not occur in Q4 2020, and one-time slotting fees. Gross profit and gross margin were also impacted by the manufacture of lower margin private label products at the two facilities that comprise New Mexico Food Distributors, which the Company acquired in May 2021. Increased capacity at the New Mexico Food Distributors and Belmont Confections facilities, coupled with the sale of comparatively higher margin Tattooed Chef branded products planned for 2022, are expected to partially offset fixed manufacturing expenses and generate improved gross margin. Operating expenses decreased to $14.8 million from $19.0 million in Q4 2020, due primarily to $13.6 million in one-time, merger related expenses recognized in Q4 2020, partially offset by increased sales and marketing spend during Q4 2021 that was directed at supporting the Company's overall growth initiatives. The loss before provision for income taxes was $13.5 million compared to Q4 2020 income before provision for income taxes of $23.5 million. In Q4 2020, the Company recognized a nonrecurring gain of $37.2 million from the settlement of a contingent consideration derivative liability upon the release of the Holdback Shares to certain stockholders. Income tax benefit in Q4 2021 was $0.4 million compared to an income tax benefit of $42.1 million in Q4 2020. The income tax benefit in Q4 2020 included a deferred tax asset of $39.3 million, which the Company recorded a full valuation allowance against in Q2 2021. Net loss was $13.1 million in Q4 2021 compared to net income of $65.3 million in Q4 2020, which included the tax items mentioned above. Adjusted EBITDA loss was $11.4 million in Q4 2021 compared to Adjusted EBITDA loss of $1.7 million in Q4 2020. The quarter-over-quarter variance was due primarily to the cost items that resulted in lower gross margins, as discussed above.         Full Year 2021 Results Revenue increased 43.7% to a record $213.4 million in 2021 from $148.5 million the prior year, the result of a $47.9 million increase in Tattooed Chef branded products and a $12.7 million increase in private label products and legacy products for select private label retailers when compared to 2020. Higher branded product sales were driven by a significant increase in U.S. distribution points in late 2020 and during 2021, increased volume at existing retail stores, and new product introductions. Gross profit was $22.1 million, or 10.4% of revenues, in 2021 compared to $21.7 million, or 14.6% of revenues, the prior year. The decline in gross margin in 2021 was primarily due to annual freight and container expenses (included in cost of goods sold) of $31.3 million, up $12.9 million, or 70%, from 2020 costs of $18.4 million and a promotional expense accrual of $4.1 million. Gross margin was also impacted by the manufacture of lower margin private label product at the recently acquired New Mexico Food Distributors and Belmont Confections facilities, partially offset by higher revenues and improved production capacity. Operating expenses increased to $59.1 million in 2021 from $31.6 million in 2020, due to increased marketing expenses of $12.0 million, advertising expenses of $5.0 million, and payroll and recruiting expenses of $4.2 million. The 2021 loss before provision for income taxes was $39.5 million compared to 2020 income before provision for income taxes of $28.7 million. The income tax expense in 2021 was $47.9 million compared to an income tax benefit of $40.3 million in 2020. The income tax expense in 2021 reflected a $47.5 million full valuation allowance, while the income tax benefit in 2020 reflected a deferred tax asset of $47.5 million.    Net loss was $87.4 million in 2021 compared to net income of $69.0 million the prior year; net loss in 2021 included the $47.9 million income tax expense while net income in 2020 included the income tax benefit of $40.3 million. Adjusted EBITDA loss was $26.1 million in 2021 compared to Adjusted EBITDA of $8.5 million in 2020, with the variance driven by lower gross margins and higher operating expenses, as discussed above. Financial Condition At December 31, 2021, cash and cash equivalents were $92.4 million and total debt was approximately $700,000. Net cash used in operating activities was $51.3 million for full year 2021 compared to net cash used in operating activities of $13.4 million the prior year. Capital expenditures increased to $63.8 million in 2021 from $7.0 million the prior year and primarily reflected $16.9 million to purchase property, plant and equipment, and $46.9 million used to fund acquisitions. Full Year 2022 Outlook Highlights of the Company's outlook for 2022 include: Revenue of $280- $285 million, driven by a combination of new product introductions, an increase in retail distribution via new relationships and penetrating existing accounts compared to 2021, and contributions from acquisitions consummated in 2021. Gross margin of 10-12% Marketing expenses of $27- $32 million Capital expenditures of approximately $20 million, with investments focused on automation and robotics at our manufacturing facilities. Conference Call and Webcast The Company will host a conference call today at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time. Investors interested in participating in the live call can dial: (877) 407-9753 from the U.S. (201) 493-6739 internationally. The call will be webcast and available on the Investors section of the Company's website at www.tattooedchef.com. The webcast will be archived for 30 days. About Tattooed Chef Tattooed Chef is a leading plant-based food company offering a broad portfolio of innovative and sustainably sourced plant-based foods. Tattooed Chef's signature products include ready-to-cook bowls, zucchini spirals, riced cauliflower, acai and smoothie bowls, and cauliflower pizza crusts, handheld burritos, and quesadillas, which are available in the frozen food sections of leading national retail food and club stores across the United States as well as on Tattooed Chef's e-commerce site. Understanding consumer lifestyle and food trends, a commitment to innovation, and self-manufacturing allows Tattooed Chef to continuously introduce new products. Tattooed Chef provides approachable, great tasting and chef-created products to the growing group of plant-based consumers as well as the mainstream marketplace. For more information, please visit www.tattooedchef.com​. Follow us on social: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and LinkedIn and Taste the Jams on Spotify. Forward Looking StatementsCertain statements made in this release are "forward-looking statements" within the meaning of the "safe harbor" provisions of the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. When used in this release, words such as "estimates," "projected," "expects," "anticipates," "forecasts," "plans," "intends," "believes," "seeks," "may," "will," "should," "future," "propose," "trend," "accelerate," "expansion," "new," "leverage," "continues," "opportunities," "outlook," "next," "increase," "beyond," "potential," "growth," "pipeline," "guidance" and variations of these words or similar expressions (or the negative versions of such words or expressions) are intended to identify forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance, conditions or results, and involve a number of known and unknown risks, uncertainties, assumptions and other important factors, many of which are outside Tattooed Chef's control, that could cause actual results or outcomes to differ materially from those discussed in the forward-looking statements. Important factors, among others, that may affect actual results or outcomes include: uncertainty surrounding the ultimate success of Tattooed Chef's e-commerce platform; the need to prove Tattooed Chef's ability to build brand awareness and continue to launch innovative products; continued acceptance of Tattooed Chef branded products by new retail customers; Tattooed Chef's ability to increase in-store count and points of distribution; the outcome of any legal proceedings that may be instituted against Tattooed Chef; Tattooed Chef's ability to effectively and efficiently integrate New Mexico Food Distributors and Belmont Confections' business; competition and the ability of the business to grow and manage growth profitably; the impact of inflation, particularly with respect to freight and container expenses; the effect of possible supply chain disruption; and other risks and uncertainties indicated from time to time in our annual report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2020 filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the "SEC"), including those under "Risk Factors" therein, and other factors identified in past and future filings with the SEC, available at www.sec.gov. Some of these risks and uncertainties may be amplified by the COVID-19 outbreak or hostilities in the Ukraine. Tattooed Chef undertakes no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as required by law. Non-GAAP Measures The Company seeks to achieve profitable, long-term growth by monitoring and analyzing key operating metrics, including Adjusted EBITDA. The Company defines EBITDA as net income before interest, taxes, and depreciation. Adjusted EBITDA further adjusts EBITDA by adding back non-cash compensation expenses, non-recurring expenses, and other non-operational charges. The Company's management uses this non-GAAP financial metric and related computations to evaluate and manage the business and to plan and make near and long-term operating and strategic decisions. The management team believes this non-GAAP financial metric is useful to investors to provide supplemental information in addition to the GAAP financial results. Management reviews the use of its primary key operating metrics from time-to-time. Adjusted EBITDA is not intended to be a substitute for any GAAP financial measure and as calculated, may not be comparable to similarly titled measures of performance of other companies in other industries or within the same industry. The Company's management team believes it is useful to provide investors with the same financial information that it uses internally to make comparisons of historical operating results, identify trends in underlying operating results, and evaluate its business. CONTACTS INVESTORSStephanie Dieckmann, CFOTattooed Chef(562) 602-0822 Devin Sullivan, SVPThe Equity Group(212) 836-9608 / dsullivan@equityny.com Karin Daly, VPThe Equity Group(212) 836-96 / kdaly@equityny.com   TATTOOED CHEF, INC.CONSOLIDATED STATEMENTS OF OPERATIONS AND COMPREHENSIVE (LOSS) INCOME (in thousands, except per share information)           Three-Months Ended December 31,   Twelve-Months Ended December 31,     2021 2020     2021     2020   NET REVENUE $ 52,336     $ 39,595     $ 213,430     $ 148,498                           COST OF GOODS SOLD   51,240       35,199       191,318       126,818                           GROSS PROFIT   1,096       4,396       22,112       21,680                           OPERATING EXPENSES   14,807       19,043       59,109       31,633                           (LOSS) INCOME FROM OPERATIONS   (13,711 )     (14,647 )     (36,997 )     (9,953 )                         Interest expense   (102 )     (166 )     (261 )     (735 ) Other (expense) income   314       38,321       (2,222 )     39,434                           (LOSS) INCOME BEFORE PROVISION FOR INCOME TAXES   (13,499 )     23,508       (39,480 )    .....»»

Category: earningsSource: benzingaMar 16th, 2022

eXp’s Fine Living Group Expands D.C.-Area Team

Tyler Nguyen & Associates, part of The Fine Living Group at eXp since 2021, announced that real estate agent Jay Vu has joined their expanding team. “We are proud to welcome an energetic and dedicated agent like Jay Vu to our team,” said Jon Lahey, team leader of the Fine Living Group at eXp. “Jay […] The post eXp’s Fine Living Group Expands D.C.-Area Team appeared first on RISMedia. Tyler Nguyen & Associates, part of The Fine Living Group at eXp since 2021, announced that real estate agent Jay Vu has joined their expanding team. “We are proud to welcome an energetic and dedicated agent like Jay Vu to our team,” said Jon Lahey, team leader of the Fine Living Group at eXp. “Jay adds a fresh perspective and a great deal of talent to the Virginia team, and we are eager to witness all that he achieves.” Vu serves homebuyers and sellers in the Northern Virginia, D.C. and Maryland area. He was drawn to the Fine Living Group’s knowledge of and experience within the real estate market around the D.C. area. “The Fine Living Group brings a tremendous value of training to members in terms of experience in generating leads, marketing our brand and also bringing the most value to our client,” said Vu. “I’m looking forward to improving my skills and also learning from one of the real estate teams in the region.” Lahey moved The Fine Living Group to eXp’s cloud-based brokerage in 2021 to support his vision of expanding his team nationwide and around the globe. The group has since grown to 55 agents working coast to coast in California, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Georgia and New York. Lahey employs a business model centered on a six-step system that utilizes a dedicated support team, influential marketing techniques and his own technology to give agents more time to focus on providing the best customer experience. “Motivation and honesty are the foundation for my business,” said Lahey. “These attributes have helped me build a successful team, so my agents can create lasting experiences for our clients.” To learn more, visit www.thefinelivinggroup.com or www.teamtylernguyen.com.  The post eXp’s Fine Living Group Expands D.C.-Area Team appeared first on RISMedia......»»

Category: realestateSource: rismediaMar 15th, 2022

Insiders say RAINN, the nation"s foremost organization for victims of sexual assault, is in crisis over allegations of racism and sexism

22 current and former staffers said that RAINN, which has deep ties to Hollywood and corporate America, is facing an internal reckoning. Scott Berkowitz, RAINN's co-founder and CEO, began his career in politics, advising former Sen. Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign at just 14 years old.RAINN; Kris Connor/Getty Images; Alyssa Powell/Insider22 current and former staffers say the organization favored by Hollywood and corporate America is in crisis. 'How can RAINN be helping survivors externally, when they're traumatizing survivors and their own employees internally?'April Cisneros says the first time she was sexually assaulted at her private Christian college was in 2015, while she was playing piano in the school's conservatory. A music tutor came into the small practice room and began to touch her. The second time, one year later, she remembers waking up in a hotel room near campus after drinks with classmates. One man was forcing his hand into her pants while another ejaculated on top of her. The incidents were devastating, and further compounded by a conservative religious community that lacked empathy for her pain or a framework to understand it. "Maybe it's demons attached to you that attracted this fate," she recalls one pastor telling her. Others placed the blame on her, wondering if she set the right boundaries with men. While studying abroad at Oxford University in 2016, in an effort to get far away from what she suffered back home, Cisneros attempted to take her own life.Soon after, she Googled for help, and the website for the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, or RAINN, flashed across her computer screen. RAINN, which was founded in 1994 as a nonprofit, bills itself as the nation's largest anti-sexual-violence organization, operating a 24-hour hotline for victims and pushing for state and federal policies to punish sex offenders and support survivors. It has deep ties to corporate America and Hollywood, partnering with Google and TikTok and media like "I May Destroy You" and "Promising Young Woman," both of which center on sexual assault. (Insider itself utilizes RAINN's hotline; our publishing system automatically appends a referral link to RAINN at the bottom of every story about sexual assault.) In 2019, it reported nearly $16 million in revenue. It says its programs have helped 3.8 million people, and 301,455 people called its hotlines last year.The organization was a beacon in a difficult time, and Cisneros soon threw herself into supporting it. She cycled 1,500 miles across the country for a fundraising drive; later, after the Trump administration rolled back Title IX protections for campus-sexual-assault victims, she decided to get involved more directly. April Cisneros biked across the US to raise money for RAINN.April Cisneros"I was so angry," Cisneros told Insider. "I just remember thinking, 'Well, why don't I just, like, go try to be a part of the solution?'" She began working for RAINN in 2018 as a communications associate.But she soon discovered that it looked very different from the inside. Instead of the supportive, inclusive victims' advocacy organization that offered her hope in the depths of her depression, Cisneros found herself in a demoralizing workplace overrun by what she described as racism and sexism. She recalled that during the filming of a video about survivors' stories, her boss asked a participant to smile while recounting a sexual assault. "If you don't," Cisneros remembered her boss saying, "it'll look like you have a bitch face."Cisneros is among 22 current and former RAINN staffers who spoke to Insider and described a roiling crisis over race and gender in the over-200-person-strong nonprofit. These people described a culture in which a routine training was beset by racist caricaturing, executives ignored employees' requests for change, and people who were deemed political risks — including sexual-assault survivors — were silenced. According to these accounts, in one instance, a supervisor badgered an employee during the time she took off to recover from an abortion. In another, an Asian staffer was replaced on a project with a white man after their boss deemed him a better fit because of his race and gender. One staffer sent a resignation letter, obtained by Insider, in which she bemoaned "toxic managerial behavioral patterns" and worried that "young employees like myself, many of them survivors themselves, are currently being treated like their rights at work do not matter, like their comfort and security and health at work doesn't matter, like the skills they bring to work are worthless."RAINN declined to make its founder and president, Scott Berkowitz, available for an interview. In a statement, the group said it had made great strides in diversifying its workplace and addressing the concerns of its employees of color. It accused the current and former staffers who came forward to Insider of providing "incomplete, misleading, and defamatory" information about "a handful of long-outdated and disproven allegations.""RAINN is proud of the work our committed staff do, day in and day out, to support survivors of sexual violence," the statement read. "As an organization, we owe it to our committed staff to provide a work environment where they feel safe, appreciated, and heard … Over the last several years, like most organizations, RAINN has worked to expand and implement comprehensive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies and goals. We regularly update staff on our progress toward achieving those goals, and solicit feedback on potential areas of improvement. While there is always room to build on our efforts, we are continually working to foster an open dialogue between employees and leadership to ensure ideas and concerns can be heard and addressed."RAINN hired Clare Locke LLP, a boutique libel law firm that has gained a reputation for representing clients facing #MeToo allegations, including Matt Lauer and the former CBS News executive Jeffrey Fager, to respond to Insider's inquiries. During Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing, the firm's cofounder Libby Locke came to his defense, writing: "No wonder Judge Kavanaugh is angry. Any man falsely accused of sexual assault would be."When Insider asked RAINN whether Clare Locke's work was consistent with the organization's mission and values, the firm's partner Thomas Clare emailed a statement attributed to RAINN: "Given your questions contained outright lies about RAINN and our staff, and publication of those claims is potentially defamatory, we hired defamation counsel. We recognize we have a right to legal representation, and our attorneys have helped us disprove your ridiculous and libelous allegations."Some RAINN employees fear that the corporate dysfunction has poisoned the work of the largest sexual-violence organization in the country, which they continue to view as crucial, despite their own experiences. "How can RAINN be helping survivors externally when they're traumatizing survivors and their own employees internally?" Cisneros said.How RAINN became Hollywood and corporate America's go-to partner Through savvy marketing and hard work, RAINN has become to sexual assault what Planned Parenthood is to reproductive health: the premier, full-service resource for people struggling with a crisis and the ultimate destination for donations to help people who have been victimized.The global embrace of the #MeToo movement, and the contemporary focus on the depth and pervasiveness of sexual assault, has further aided RAINN's ascension. Companies in crisis often turn to the organization to telegraph their commitment to social responsibility. After dozens of women sued Lyft, claiming they were assaulted by its drivers, the company worked with RAINN to roll out extensive safety initiatives and contributed $1.5 million to its coffers.Hollywood has also embraced the organization. RAINN was cofounded by the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Tori Amos, who promoted the organization's hotline at her concerts and sat on its advisory board. In 2018, Timotheé Chalamet pledged his earnings from Woody Allen's "A Rainy Day in New York" to groups including RAINN, as did Ben Affleck from productions affiliated with Harvey Weinstein. Christina Ricci, a star of Showtime's breakout hit "Yellowjackets," has served as an official spokesperson since 2007, and the platinum-selling pop artist Taylor Swift has donated to the organization, something it publicized from its social-media accounts.—RAINN (@RAINN) April 8, 2021 But Berkowitz has largely stayed out of the public eye. He began his career as a political wunderkind, advising Sen. Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign at just 14 years old. A profile in his grandparents' hometown newspaper in Pennsylvania said he was personally responsible for collecting $100,000 in donations for Hart — a feat achieved in between classes at American University, where he was already a sophomore. After graduation, Berkowitz continued to work in and around politics. His experience in the field, he said in a 2019 interview with RAINN, taught him about the "extent of the problem" of sexual violence in the United States and the opportunity to fill this "service gap.""I knew next to nothing about the issue," Berkowitz said. "It just seemed like a good idea." Christina Ricci has been a RAINN spokeswoman since 2007.Michael Kovac/WireImage/Getty ImagesEarly on, Berkowitz ran the day-to-day operations, and his early fundraising prowess served him well. After a series of sexual assaults at the infamous Woodstock '99 festival, promoters and record labels did damage control by giving RAINN 1% of the proceeds from the festival's CD and video releases. "In raw self-interest, the money and attention that would come from it would allow RAINN to promote the hotline better, provide more counseling, print more brochures," Berkowitz told the Village Voice. RAINN's budget swelled in tandem with its brand. Total revenue rocketed from more than $1.2 million in 2009 to nearly $16 million in 2019. Berkowitz's compensation grew from $168,000 to over $481,000 over the same period. Even though RAINN's tax returns list Berkowitz as its president and indicate that he was paid nearly a half a million dollars in the year ending in May 2020, RAINN says that he is not in fact an employee and does not receive a salary. Instead, for reasons that RAINN did not explain, he is paid through A&I Publishing, a company solely owned by Berkowitz that contracts with RAINN. "Scott Berkowitz is paid solely as an independent contractor through A&I Publishing and does not receive any salary or benefits," it said. "He has never received any employee compensation from RAINN."RAINN's tax records tell a slightly different story. The group has reported paying a total of $561,500 in consulting fees for "strategic and financial oversight" to A&I Publishing from 2001 to 2006, during which time Berkowitz drew no salary from RAINN. Since 2007, though, RAINN has reported directly paying Berkowitz a total of $3,529,000. (RAINN says he "is recused from all board consideration of his compensation.")Over the same period, RAINN also began reporting payments to A&I to service $288,000 in debt that it owed the consultancy at 5% interest. RAINN's tax records don't reflect that the organization ever received any cash from A&I; instead, the loan is described in its 2006 tax return as "issuance of debt for prior year services." RAINN says the loan, which has been repaid, stems from "deferred payment for fees" that RAINN owed A&I "for a number of years."'How does an organization like RAINN make such an egregious mistake?'With the Woodstock '99 deal, Berkowitz struck on a highly successful strategy — corporate penance — and he would often return to it. But he also looked to the public sector for funding opportunities.One of RAINN's largest sources of revenue — $2 million a year — is its contract to run the Department of Defense's Safe Helpline, which offers confidential, anonymous counseling to members of the military who have been affected by sexual violence. Multiple staffers who spoke with Insider said Berkowitz was exceedingly sensitive about maintaining the contract. They said that he had gone to great lengths to stay in the Department of Defense's good graces and that they believe RAINN has at times been overly deferential to its interests. Michael Wiedenhoeft-Wilder in February 2022.Evan Jenkins for InsiderMichael Wiedenhoeft-Wilder, a former flight attendant and roller-rink operator who previously served in the Navy as a medic, said that in 1982, just months after he enlisted, a Navy physician raped him. The doctor, who outranked Wiedenhoeft-Wilder, threatened him with prison time if he came forward. Wiedenhoeft-Wilder said it was the first of multiple sexual assaults he suffered, all of which resulted in a diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder.Wiedenhoeft-Wilder stayed silent about the assault for nearly 30 years. He became depressed and experienced paranoid suspicions that the government was spying on him, ready to silence him if he ever told the truth about his assault.But decades of therapy empowered Wiedenhoeft-Wilder to eventually come forward. He discovered the Safe Helpline, which then led him to RAINN's Speakers Bureau, a roster of more than 4,000 volunteer survivors who share their stories with the media, student groups, and other organizations. When Wiedenhoeft-Wilder signed up with the bureau, his story was selected for publication on RAINN's website. In October 2019, he worked with April Cisneros, who helped manage the Speakers Bureau, to prepare the story.But the story was abruptly killed. Cisneros said Berkowitz decided to pull Wiedenhoeft-Wilder's account once he realized that it involved an officer assaulting an enlisted man."Once we actually wrote up his story, Scott was like, 'No, we're not even getting into this,'" Cisneros told Insider, adding that Berkowitz refused to send the story to the Department of Defense for review, as it routinely did with accounts of military sexual assault. Cisneros said Berkowitz told members of the communications team that promoting the testimony of a man who had been assaulted by one of his superiors could harm the military's reputation and upset the Department of Defense. Cisneros told Insider she believed that Berkowitz did not want to risk losing the government's funding.Wiedenhoeft-Wilder was shocked. He had spent time with Cisneros revisiting the details of an assault that haunted him for 30 years, all for nothing."I've spent the last several days trying to deal with the devastating news that the article about my military sexual trauma being canceled for someone else," he told Cisneros in an email on October 31 that Insider reviewed. "How does an organization like RAINN make such an egregious mistake? Do you have any idea how this mistake has affected me? It's absolutely devastating. Just one more failure for me.""I feel victimized all over again," he wrote. "What did I ever do to you people to deserve this!"Cisneros, worried about Wiedenhoeft-Wilder's mental health, forwarded the exchange to Berkowitz and Keeli Sorensen, then the vice president of victim services, she said. "Maybe you just tell him you made a mistake," Cisneros recalled Sorensen telling her. She felt Sorensen's suggestion was, in effect, to "[fall] on my sword for RAINN."Cisneros told Insider that she told Wiedenhoeft-Wilder a lie about a scheduling conflict and blamed the mix-up entirely on herself. Wiedenhoeft-Wilder didn't believe her. "I know she wasn't telling me the truth," he told Insider. "I knew it wasn't her fault. It was a really weird, very strange thing to do to someone."Cisneros was heartbroken. She felt that she'd betrayed Wiedenhoeft-Wilder's trust and was distressed because she felt an anti-sexual-violence organization had asked her to deceive a rape victim. "What's so sad is people treat him like he's so paranoid about being silenced by the military, but that paranoia is at least … legitimate," Cisneros said. "And it happened again at RAINN."Sorensen denied having any involvement in the incident and said she was "not authorized in any way to instruct Ms. Cisneros in this matter," adding that Berkowitz had "total authority" with respect to the publication of Wiedenhoeft-Wilder's story. She said she did not know why Berkowitz pulled the testimony."I had no part in the matter," Sorensen said, "but it's my recollection, based on my conversation with Ms. Cisneros, that she had promised Mr. Wiedenhoeft-Wilder that she would publish their story before having secured final approval from Mr. Berkowitz."RAINN also said that if Cisneros had promised Wiedenhoeft-Wilder a spot on its website, it had "no knowledge of that and she was not authorized to make that commitment."Cisneros disputed that. She said that she provided Berkowitz with details of Wiedenhoeft-Wilder's story before reaching out and that he approved. "Scott gave me the greenlight to move ahead with the process if [Wiedenhoeft-Wilder] expressed interest," Cisneros said."We have no recollection as to why this survivor's story did not run in the fall of 2019," RAINN said, adding that some isolated quotes from Wiedenhoeft-Wilder's interview — stripped of their military context — were shared on RAINN's social-media accounts. The statement pointed to other stories from survivors of sexual assault in the military that RAINN had published; none of those featured scenarios in which an attacker outranked their victim.Evan Jenkins for Insider"We are not aware of the Department of Defense expressing concern over RAINN's coverage of military survivors," RAINN said, "nor is it standard practice for RAINN to consult with [the department] regarding the material and resources it publishes unless they directly mention Safe Helpline. RAINN frequently publishes the stories of military survivors and will continue to do so as it works to carry out the organization's mission to eradicate sexual violence from every corner of society."Anxiety around RAINN's relationship with the Department of Defense came up again in 2019. Six former staffers said one RAINN employee felt compelled to frantically retract public comments she had made in support of Black trans victims of violence amid the Trump administration's efforts to expel trans people from the military. The woman suddenly and mysteriously departed the organization on the day her remarks were published.(The woman's identity is known to Insider, which is not naming her because doing so may expose her to professional harm. The woman declined to comment for the record.) On March 7, 2019, to mark International Women's Day, the employee was one of "8 everyday women" featured by The Lily, a women-focused website published by The Washington Post. The Lily post listed the woman's age, background, position at RAINN, and responses to a questionnaire about her favorite fast-food chains and movies. But she came to fear that her seemingly uncontroversial answer to one question could become a professional liability.InsiderThe answer came a few months after the Trump-era transgender military ban went into effect, reanimating debates over trans rights. Two sources told Insider that the woman told them that RAINN's leadership expressed alarm over her contribution to the article and was frustrated that the woman had spoken to the media without getting consent from leadership.One source told Insider that Jodi Omear, then RAINN's vice president of communications, said minutes after reading the article that it was "too controversial" and that she worried it "could jeopardize our contract with the Department of Defense." The source said Omear escalated the article to Berkowitz and the human-resources director, Claudia Kolmer, because she was confident they would feel the same.Omear told Insider that because the former staffer had been under her supervision, it would be "inappropriate" to comment on her exit from the organization.On the day the questionnaire was published, the woman called the reporter at The Lily who'd conducted the interview and asked her to remove the reference to RAINN, as well as her comments about trans people, according to four sources familiar with the situation. The writer agreed. Insider viewed an original version of the interview that contained the employee's affiliation and comments about trans rights; the version currently published online does not.Two former employees said the woman was escorted out of the office by human resources the day the story was published. RAINN said that "it is standard practice that an employee separating from the organization is accompanied by a RAINN human resources representative when leaving the premises in order to collect their office keys, security fob and other credentials," adding that it "reached a separation agreement" with the woman a week after the story was published.One staffer who sat near her described the woman as a "fabulous" employee who was heavily invested in the projects they were set to work on together."It was one of the reasons why it was so shocking," the staffer said. "Like, where'd she go?"In its statement, RAINN claimed that the woman's remarks were an unauthorized attempt to speak on behalf of the Pentagon. "[The RAINN staffer] spoke with a Washington Post reporter on-the-record, on behalf of RAINN and the Department of Defense Safe Helpline, which she was not authorized to do," the statement said. "Contractually RAINN is barred from speaking on behalf of the Department of Defense or Safe Helpline." The Lily billed the interview as an opportunity to "step inside the lives of 8 everyday women." Aside from identifying her employer and job description — a format applied to other women featured in the post — the woman's interview did not touch on RAINN or the Department of Defense. Instead, she answered questions about her favorite body part and what she would change about her upbringing if she could.Still, RAINN said, the woman broke the rules: "The issue at hand centered around a clear violation of RAINN policy. RAINN supports all transgender survivors and has worked to remove the barriers to reporting sexual violence in LGBTQ communities, and to elevate the stories of transgender survivors, particularly for transgender persons of color for whom sexual violence is all too prevalent."Asked why, if that were the case, the woman would ask The Lily specifically to remove her comments about trans victims, RAINN said it was "unaware of any evidence indicating [the woman] was pressured to retract or remove" the comments. "RAINN is always mindful of honoring its contractual obligations not to speak on behalf of the DoD and the Safe Helpline," it said. "The fact someone commented on other subject matter or issues was irrelevant."A white male staffer was deemed a better fitJackii Wang joined RAINN's public-policy team in 2019, hopeful that she could use her experience working in national congressional offices to advance legislation that would help sexual-assault survivors. But she said her boss, RAINN's vice president of public policy, Camille Cooper, instead saddled her with administrative responsibilities like writing greeting cards. Wang said Cooper regularly discounted her ideas and "berated" her when they disagreed on issues the younger staffer considered minor. It became "psychologically terrifying," Wang said. Wang didn't immediately view that as discriminatory — multiple staffers said many of Cooper's employees complained of similar treatment. But during a performance review in December 2019, Wang said, Cooper attempted to explain her perception of Wang as defiant by rattling off stereotypes that Wang felt were "very targeted towards my Asian identity.""Camille asked me questions like, you know, 'Is your family very strict?' 'Do they expect perfectionism from you?' ... 'What was your childhood like?' Do I have problems with authority because of my family background?" Wang told Insider. What started as an implication became explicit, Wang said, when Cooper announced she would pull Wang off a lobbying assignment.Jackii WangDaniel Diasgranados for InsiderAt the time, RAINN was working on a Florida bill that would close a loophole in the state's statute of limitations for teen survivors. Cooper called Wang and another staffer into her office and told the two women she had decided to send a white male colleague in Wang's place, Wang said. Wang asked why."And she was like, 'Well, you know, because he's a white male,'" Wang recalled.Wang was mortified. While she had experience working with Florida legislators, her male colleague wasn't even registered to lobby in the state. Wang and the other staffer said Cooper argued that he would connect better with white conservatives in the state."He can talk about baseball. He can really, like, connect with these men," Cooper said, according to Wang and the other staffer present. "And these men really hate women.""Her reasoning for picking a white man over me for the project is that he'll be received better," Wang said. "But if that's the logic that she's following, then, like, I guess I shouldn't work anywhere because white men are received better everywhere."Neither Cooper nor the man responded to requests for comment.Wang said she reported the incident to Kolmer, the human-resources director, and Berkowitz in March 2020, along with a detailed recounting of other complaints about Cooper's leadership. But Wang said Kolmer never took serious action. When Wang quit that June, she sent Berkowitz a blistering resignation letter. "As you know, she has harassed and bullied every single person on our team, including an intern, and has blatantly discriminated against me," Wang wrote.Berkowitz thanked Wang for her time and for informing him, and asked Kolmer to discuss the issues Wang raised. Cooper continues to serve as a vice president, the face of RAINN's policy arm.RAINN said that Wang was too junior a staffer to lead a statewide lobbying effort and called her claims of discrimination "false and defamatory.""RAINN took Wang's allegations seriously and investigated the matter thoroughly," the statement said. "Ultimately it was determined that the basis of Wang's claims of discrimination were unfounded."RAINN did not deny Wang's claim that Cooper told her a white man would connect better with conservative legislators.Cooper wasn't the only executive to receive complaints. One current staffer and one former staffer described a meeting in which Jessica Leslie, the vice president of victim services, defended Berkowitz's unwillingness to address the concerns of staffers of color."You have to understand where he's coming from," they remember Leslie saying. "I mean, he's a white man, and you're all people of color — like, he's really nervous around you."One of the staffers was furious. "We just wanted to have a conversation. We're not about to berate the man," she told Insider. "This is not true," RAINN said. Its statement said that at a Safe Helpline shift managers meeting, a group of managers asked Leslie if Berkowitz would meet with them. When Leslie asked them to craft an agenda first, RAINN said, the shift managers asked Leslie if Berkowitz wanted an agenda because he was "uncomfortable talking to women of color." "The shift managers created this narrative," RAINN said, "not Leslie."Through an attorney, Leslie said she agreed with RAINN's responses and called the allegations against her "demonstrably baseless."A racist training, a pay disparity, and an email uprisingStaffers of color told Insider that they were often underpaid compared with their white counterparts; one, a nonwhite Latina woman who asked to remain anonymous, said she made $35,000 a year and lived in public housing to keep her head above water. After she quit for a higher-paying opportunity, RAINN filled her job with a white staffer who earned roughly $20,000 more, Cisneros said, adding that the white staffer disclosed her salary. (Three additional sources with knowledge of her salary corroborated Cisneros' account.) RAINN said the salary discrepancy was a result of both the role being "restructured" to include "significantly more responsibility" and the fact that the white staffer had an advanced degree.Four current and former RAINN staffers recalled that after RAINN's white office manager left for a new job, her replacement, a Black woman named Valinshia Walker, was asked to perform janitorial tasks that were not in her predecessor's job description — including scrubbing floors on her hands and knees, washing dishes, and disinfecting conference rooms. "Let me be very clear: [Walker's predecessor] never washed dishes from the sink. Ever," one former staffer said. "Val? You would come in, and Ms. Walker was cleaning the conference room. Like, wiping down all the tables. Spraying down the chairs. Doing the kitchen, she's washing dishes from the sink … You would see her walking around with the mask on and gloves because she literally cleaned. Like a cleaning lady."Walker declined to comment for the record. "The beliefs of your sources are simply not true," RAINN said, adding that Walker was hired as the "office coordinator," which had a different set of responsibilities than the "office manager" she replaced. "Maintaining a clean office has always fallen under the responsibilities of the HR and admin staff as a whole, this includes the office manager and office coordinator," the statement said. "We are not aware of any instances where Walker was asked to handle cleaning responsibilities beyond those that were part of the office coordinator's regular duties."Staffers also recalled what became a notorious and hamfisted mandatory sexual-harassment training in early 2020 led by an outside employment attorney hired by RAINN. According to more than a dozen employees, the attorney used a series of racist stereotypes to illustrate examples during the training."So let's just say, you know, there's Nicki [Minaj] and Cardi B are employees, and they're at their desks, and they start twerking," Cisneros recalled the lawyer saying. "Is that inappropriate workplace behavior?"At one point, Cisneros said, the lawyer proposed a hypothetical scenario in which a Latino-coded man — participants recalled his name was "Jorgé" or "José"—  kissed a coworker. The lawyer asked if the behavior could be appropriate "because this is Latino culture." "Your information regarding this training is inaccurate," RAINN said. "The examples in this legal training were all past legal cases using fictitious names." It added that staff concerns "were immediately addressed and the training was subsequently modified based on their feedback."Sarcia Adkins, a shift manager for the Department of Defense Safe Helpline who attended the training, was furious. She wrote an email to multiple executives, including Sorensen, Kolmer, and Berkowitz, on March 5 demanding action from the organization. "I wanted to get up and walk out at various points and it was one of the more traumatic experiences I've had at RAINN as a woman of color," she wrote. Kolmer acknowledged her complaints and promised to meet with Adkins alongside Berkowitz and Sorensen to discuss changes to the training and her issues with the nonprofit's culture.Adkins said that Kolmer didn't follow up that March but that Sorensen did reach out to schedule a one-on-one meeting. RAINN said Adkins agreed to meet Sorensen but "did not show up, without notification or explanation," and "did not follow up after she skipped the meeting." Several months later, after a former colleague intervened, Adkins did meet with Berkowitz and Sorensen. Adkins told Insider she was underwhelmed. "They pick what they want you to talk about," she said.The dysfunction came to a head during the summer of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd sparked a series of bitter internal conversations about RAINN's track record on race. In June 2020, Berkowitz sent an email with the subject line "A Note to the RAINN Family" to the entire staff. In it, he acknowledged the unrest and pledged to support the company's Black staffers.Sarcia Adkins replied to the email with a list of demands and copied the entire organization. She asked for mandatory cultural-competency training and a commitment to hiring Black employees for leadership positions. (RAINN says that 43% of its top seven staffers are people of color.) Adkins — who has been with RAINN since 2014 — asked Berkowitz why he hadn't reached out following the deaths of Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and dozens of other victims of police violence."RAINN has never been a place [that] acknowledges or uplifts their black staff, not just people of color, and the injustices we face in the world and within the structure of RAINN," Adkins wrote.Following the police killing of George Floyd in 2020, Scott Berkowitz sent an email to staffers acknowledging the resulting unrest and pledging to support the company's Black staffers. But employees at RAINN began responding en masse, including one person who asked why a similar message was not sent after other police killings of Black people.Provided to InsiderIn 2021, in response to the outrage over the George Floyd email, the organization began internally releasing draft proposals on diversity, equity, and inclusion with goals the organization planned to achieve or had already accomplished. The laundry list of objectives, which Insider reviewed, included a plan to "develop new relationships to ensure a diverse pool of internal and external candidates for all open positions" and "collect more data to identify the causes of turnover."But people working in the organization say little has been achieved, or even attempted."Hiring practices are not getting better," said a current RAINN staffer, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. "There's been no management training. Turnover is horrendous." In its statement, RAINN recounted the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts it began implementing in 2021, including "expanded recruiting," "revised exit interviews," and "researched training on DEI-related issues.""The summer of 2020 sparked important cultural conversations in companies and organizations across the United States, RAINN among them," the statement said. "As we've seen nationwide, there is more work to be done. Over the past two years, RAINN worked with experts and garnered input from staff to develop and implement Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies and goals … Changes implemented to date include increasing diversity within senior management to better reflect our staff diversity and the people we serve, implementing an anonymous third-party ethics hotline where employees can voice concerns without fear of reprisal, offering expanded professional development and internal promotion opportunities, and increasing health and mental health benefits for employees, the four top priorities identified by staff."As evidence of its success in addressing the concerns of its employees of color, RAINN provided Insider an email that Aniyah Carter, a staffer on the Department of Defense Safe Helpline, wrote to the vice president of communications, Heather Drevna, in June 2020. Carter, who is Black, had been one of the most outspoken staffers demanding change at RAINN after Berkowitz's George Floyd email fiasco. When Drevna sent a follow-up email to staff announcing an employee survey and more personal and sick days, Carter replied with a note of thanks."I just want to personally thank you and the senior team for this," she wrote. "It's one thing to listen to and hear us. It's another thing to take action. I am proud of the responses of my colleagues and I am grateful for the swift action from leadership. It is my sincere hope that we continue to make a necessary shift in the right direction. Please let me know if there is any way I can be of assistance."Scott Berkowitz at the "Tina The Tina Turner Musical" Cocktail Reception, co-hosted by Anna Wintour in support of RAINN, on January 31, 2020.Tiffany Sage/BFA/ReutersWhen Insider asked Carter about the email, she said any movement in the right direction quickly stalled."They sent an email and that was it," Carter told Insider. "So my 'sincere hope' was crushed. It's so insulting for me. When this first happened and you were optimistic and gave us the benefit of the doubt, you say it here," she said, mocking RAINN's use of her email. "And it's like, OK, but two years later here we still are. And I've mentioned how I'm frustrated, but you're going to take words from two years ago feeling optimistic about the future and spin it as if that applies to today? Seriously? That was very upsetting because it makes me feel like this is more about optics than, like, how your staff really feels."'OK, well, who's gonna do the press clips?'When April Cisneros arrived at RAINN, she began working for Jodi Omear. Cisneros said she quickly ran up against Omear's domineering management style, which often seemed dismissive of and belittling to other women. Besides the "bitch face" comment, Cisneros said, Omear joked about how office dress codes could reduce the risk of sexual assault by preventing people from wearing provacative outfits. "I understand we're not supposed to blame the victim," Cisneros recalled Omear saying, "but, like, what do you expect to happen if you're in a dimly lit room and people of the opposite sex [are] wearing pants with holes in them?" Omear did not deny making either comment but told Insider that when training people who lacked experience with on-camera work, she directed them to "over-exaggerate facial expressions." She also said she "advocated for casual professional attire across the organization."Cisneros' low point at RAINN occurred in January 2019, when she unexpectedly became pregnant. She decided to take a sick day to visit a doctor. She told Insider she informed Omear the day before and outlined when her unfinished work would be completed.Omear became angry, Cisneros said, demanding to know why she didn't give more notice and insisting on further details. Omear called Cisneros at 9 p.m. demanding answers. Cisneros broke down and told her boss about the surprise pregnancy. According to Cisneros, Omear replied, "OK, well, who's gonna do the press clips?"The next day, as Cisneros met with her doctor, her phone buzzed with calls and texts from Omear. Between the stress of an unplanned pregnancy and Omear's incessant check-ins, Cisneros said, she "started bawling" under the stress.  A day later, Cisneros received a prescription for a two-day medical abortion. She requested an extra day off to recover, but Omear continued to pester her, texting and calling Cisneros for updates on RAINN's monthly marketing report. Cisneros said she finished the report from home while waiting for the bleeding to die down. (A RAINN staffer who was familiar with the incident corroborated Cisneros' version of events.)Omear told Insider that it would be "inappropriate" to comment on Cisneros specifically and did not directly answer a series of questions about Cisneros' allegations. "In general, when working with communications staff, especially in a fast-paced environment on such an important issue, it is/was important to ensure that other team members were able to cover assignments to meet any potential deadlines and organizational needs," she said in an emailed statement.RAINN said that it "was not aware of this incident happening in real time" and that it "supports employees taking time off and does not support managers encroaching on sick time."Omear's conduct was the final straw for Cisneros, and she wrote to human resources to complain. Cisneros said Claudia Kolmer told her in a meeting that the conflict "was a big misunderstanding" and that she should have come clean about her pregnancy sooner. (RAINN said that Kolmer told Cisneros that different managers have different preferences about how they should be notified of sick time and that "Cisneros was never asked to share sensitive personal or medical information.")Dissatisfied, Cisneros unloaded on Omear to Kolmer, accusing her boss of making inappropriate complaints about the loud breathing of a colleague who used a wheelchair and the habit of another colleague, who was blind, of walking into Omear's office by mistake, Cisneros said. (Another former RAINN employee corroborated the complaints to Insider.) Cisneros also said she told Kolmer that Omear made lewd remarks about the attractiveness of a sexual-assault victim set to make a public-service announcement. Omear denied making the lewd comments. She also denied complaining about disabled colleagues but said that she did recall "thanking one of my staff for helping" a blind colleague "when she couldn't find her way around the office."Cisneros rallied the entire RAINN communications department to put together a detailed list of other allegations of inappropriate behavior by Omear, which she collected in a memo for Kolmer and Berkowitz.Omear left RAINN that July, ostensibly to launch her own communications consulting firm. But Cisneros said Berkowitz told her that he had pushed Omear out in response to Cisneros' efforts. "We want you to know we're letting her spin her own story," Cisneros said Berkowitz told her. "But this is a direct result of the conversation you all have with us."The experience nonetheless angered staffers. Cisneros left RAINN the next year.Another colleague, Martha Durkee-Neuman, wrote a scathing resignation letter shortly after Omear announced her exit, addressing it to Omear, Berkowitz, and Kolmer."Jodi leaving of her own accord with no accountability is not justice," Durkee-Neuman wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Insider. "It is not justice for the countless people that she has fired or driven from RAINN. It is not justice to pretend that nothing has happened, that staff were not forced to go to HR over and over and over until something was finally done." "I do not believe any of this work of justice or restoration will happen at RAINN, so unfortunately, this is no longer the right organization for me," she added."After the communications team raised concerns [about Omear] with Claudia Kolmer," RAINN said, "RAINN worked swiftly and diligently to investigate the staff's complaints. RAINN took appropriate action to address the findings of that investigation and Omear separated with RAINN shortly thereafter."Martha Durkee-Neuman's resignation letter.Martha Durkee-Neuman'What is left?' On November 19, 2021, Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of charges related to the shooting deaths of two people at a civil-rights rally in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Some time later, Leslie, then the interim vice president of RAINN's victim-services department, addressed the organization's Black staffers. "I am deeply saddened by the pain and violence that has continued to plague our Black neighbors and communities," she wrote. "I want to recognize how this may be affecting you, as you navigate your day and the work you do at RAINN." She then touted the racial diversity of the victim-services department.Nearly 18 months had passed since the organization sent around its email about the death of George Floyd. Despite various promises and initiatives, in the eyes of many staffers, little had changed. But here it was again, another email promising to listen to staffers of color. Employees were enraged.Aniyah Carter, the Safe Helpline worker whose email RAINN provided to Insider, reminded her boss that nearly two weeks had passed since the verdict. "By now, we have already had to check in with ourselves so that we can continue our day-to-day lives," she wrote. "And while the opportunity to check in with managers is still absolutely available (and encouraged), the reminder to do so would have been more beneficial if it occurred when this took place." Carter also highlighted the gap she saw between leadership's stated commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and its on-the-ground support of its employees of color, a sentiment echoed by other staffers who spoke to Insider.Daniel Diasgranados for InsiderFor Cisneros, the repeated failure of the organization to address the concerns of its staff speaks to something darker, and she is worried about how the culture at RAINN is affecting its ability to help abuse survivors."If church can't help, if school can't help, if the police can't help, if the hospital can't help, if my family can't help, my friends can't help — and now this nonprofit that is specifically saying that it's here to help people like me can't help?" she said."Like, what is left?"Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderFeb 25th, 2022