Trump Responds To Obama Wiretap Question: “At Least Merkel And I Have Something In Common”

Following today’s latest developments over Trump’s allegations that the UK’s GCHQ may or may not have helped Obama to wiretap the Trump Tower, an allegation which the infuriated British Spy Agency called “utterly ridiculous” and prompted it to demand an apology from the White House, a German reporter asked Trump for his current opinion on whether Obama had indeed wiretapped Trump. The president’s response: he gestured to Angela Merkel and said “on wiretapping by this past administration, at least we have something in common.”

Merkel’s reaction was similarly amusing: almost as if she had heard for the first time that in 2010, and for years onward, Barack Obama had been wiretapping her and countless other heads of state.

 

For those unsure what the exchange was about, we suggest you read the Telegraph’s “Barack Obama ‘approved tapping Angela Merkel’s phone 3 years ago’…  President Barack Obama was told about monitoring of German Chancellor in 2010 and allowed it to continue, says German newspaper.”

And incidentally, in yet another change in the official narrative, after both Sky News and the Telegraph reported earlier today that the White House had apologized to Britain over the accusation that its spy agency had helped Obama spy on Trump, the NYT reported that the White House has said there was no apology from either Spicer or McMaster, and that instead the Administration defended Spicer’s mention of the wiretapping story.

Finally, as Axios adds, after Trump and Merkel left the stage reporters again asked Sean Spicer whether he apologized for repeating an anonymously sourced Fox News claim that British intelligence helped in wiretapping Trump Tower. His response: “I don’t think we regret anything.

Home-Flipping Profits Just Hit An All Time High: These 10 States Offer The Highest Return Potential

That most distinct remnant of the 2006 housing bubble – home flipping – is not only back, it is more profitable than ever.

According to a new report by ATTOM Data Solutions and RealtyTrac,193,009 single family homes and condos were flipped — defined as sold in an arms-length transfer for the second time within a 12-month period — in 2016, up 3.1% from 2015 to the highest level since 2006, when 276,067 single family homes and condos were flipped.

Home flips in 2016 accounted for 5.7% of all single family home and condos sales during the year, up from 5.5 percent in 2015 to a three-year high but still well below the peak in 2005, when 338,207 single family homes and condos were flipped representing 8.2% of all sales.

The report also shows that 126,256 entities — including both individuals and institutions — flipped homes in 2016, up less than 1 percent from 2015 to the highest number since 2007, when 143,266 entities flipped properties.

Meanwhile, the share of flipped homes that were purchased by the flipper with financing increased to an eight-year high of 31.5% in 2016 while the median age of homes flipped increased to 37 years — a new high going back to 2000, as far back as data is available — and the median square footage of homes flipped decreased to 1422 — a new record low going back to 2000.

“Home flipping was hot in 2016, fueled by low inventory of homes in sellable or rentable condition along with a flood of capital — both foreign and domestic — searching for the returns and stability available with U.S. real estate,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions. “The combination of more home flips and a greater share of financing for flip purchases resulted in a 19 percent jump in the estimated dollar volume of financing for home flip purchases, up to $12.2 billion for the flips completed in 2016 — a nine-year high.”

“Investors in search of flipping returns are increasingly willing to move to secondary and tertiary housing markets and neighborhoods with older, smaller properties that are available at a deeper discount,” Blomquist continued. “Given that many of these markets are more affordable, we are also seeing a higher share of the flipped homes sold to FHA buyers, with that share reaching a four-year high of 19.6 percent in 2016.”

Perhaps what is most interesting in the 2016 data, is that homes flipped last year, sold for a median price of $189,900, a gross flipping profit of $62,624 above the median purchase price of $127,276 and representing a gross flipping return on investment (ROI) of 49.2%.  Both the gross flipping dollar amount and ROI were the highest going back to 2000, the earliest home flipping data is available for this report.

Among 117 metropolitan statistical areas with at least 250 home flips in 2016, there were 11 with an average gross flipping profit of $100,000 or more in 2016: San Jose, California ($145,750); Boston, Massachusetts ($140,000); San Francisco, California ($140,000); New York, New York ($127,250); Los Angeles, California ($127,000); San Diego, California ($111,000); Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, California ($105,000); Seattle, Washington ($102,000); Vallejo-Fairfield, California ($101,000); Baltimore, Maryland ($100,500); and Washington, D.C. ($100,000).

“Our strong wage growth is still supporting rising home prices, which when combined with the historically low number of homes for sale in Seattle, gives home flippers substantial returns on their investments,” said Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate, covering the Seattle market. “I believe flipping serves as a negative for any housing market because it further erodes housing affordability, but if there’s a demand for it in the market, it’s a trend we will continue to see.”

Highest gross flipping returns in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Louisiana metros

Among the 117 metro areas analyzed in the report, those with the highest gross flipping ROI were East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania (241.5 percent); Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (130.0 percent); Cleveland, Ohio (116.2 percent); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (107.1 percent); Toledo, Ohio (102.0 percent); and New Orleans, Louisiana (101.2 percent).

Along with Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Philadelphia and New Orleans, other metro areas with a population of at least 1 million and a gross flipping ROI in 2016 of 75 percent or higher were Baltimore (96.6 percent); Cincinnati (87.2 percent); Buffalo (85.8 percent); Rochester (76.2 percent); Oklahoma City (76.1 percent); Chicago (75.9 percent); Jacksonville, Florida (75.8 percent); Memphis, Tennessee (75.6 percent); and Grand Rapids, Michigan (75.0 percent).

Highest home flipping rates in Tennessee, California and Florida metros

Among 117 metropolitan statistical areas with at least 250 home flips in 2016, those with the highest home flipping rate as a percentage of all home sales were Memphis, Tennessee (11.7 percent); Clarksville, Tennessee (10.1 percent); Visalia-Porterville, California (10.1 percent); Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida (9.9 percent); and Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, Florida (9.9 percent).

Along with Memphis and Tampa-St. Petersburg, other metro areas with a population of at least 1 million and a 2016 home flipping rate of at least 7 percent were Las Vegas (9.2 percent); Miami (8.8 percent); Orlando (8.3 percent); Phoenix (8.0 percent); New Orleans (7.9 percent); Jacksonville, Florida (7.7 percent); Virginia Beach (7.6 percent); Baltimore (7.4 percent); Birmingham (7.4 percent); St. Louis (7.1 percent); and Nashville (7.1 percent).

Biggest increase in home flipping rates in Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and New York metros

Among 117 metropolitan statistical areas with at least 250 home flips in 2016, those with the biggest year-over-year increase in the home flipping rate were Reading, Pennsylvania (38.8 percent); Lincoln, Nebraska (38.6 percent); East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania (36.6 percent); Rochester, New York (31.8 percent); and Allentown, Pennsylvania (29.3 percent).

Along with Rochester, other metro areas with a population of at least 1 million and an annual increasing in home flipping rate of at least 10 percent were New Orleans (up 26.5 percent); San Antonio (up 25.2 percent); Dallas (up 20.9 percent); Boston (up 16.4 percent); New York (up 16.0 percent); Columbus, Ohio (up 14.6 percent); Oklahoma City (up 13.8 percent); Philadelphia (up 11.6 percent); Cincinnati (up 11.5 percent); Grand Rapids, Michigan (up 11.3 percent); Charlotte (up 10.5 percent); Kansas City (up 10.4 percent); and Cleveland (up 10.2 percent).

39 zip codes where at least one in five home sales was a flip in 2016

Among 5,625 U.S. zip codes with at least 10 homes flipped in 2016, there were 39 zip codes where at least 20 percent of all home sales during the year were home flips, including zip codes in Texas, Tennessee, Florida, California, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Washington, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York and New Jersey.

In the Los Angeles metro area, which accounted for six of the 39 zip codes with a home flipping rate of at least 20 percent in 2016, the best opportunity for flipping is in lower-priced neighborhoods with properties that need significant repairs, according to Brett Chotkevys, co-founder of Helpful Home Solution, which flips properties in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California.

We do pretty much a full gut on the houses we buy. Most of those we buy are pretty nasty … they’re falling down, there are druggies living there,” said Chotkevys, noting that a typical rehab for his LosAngeles flips will run $40,000 to $50,000, and it’s not “inconceivable” for him to spend six figures on a Los Angeles fix-and-flip. “We like south central (Los Angeles) a little bit more. The barrier to entry is lower. We can pick up properties in the 200s. … There are normal people not making gobs of money that can afford to buy these houses.

With us being where we are in the cycle, and us being very near the top, we’re not buying any big properties, anything close to a million, and trying to flip those,” Chotkevys added.

* * *

Finally, for those who may be looking to get in the game, even at this late stage, the following infographic lays out the 10 states that have the highest “flipping” gross return on investment. 

Demand For Physical Gold Is Collapsing

Authored by Simon Black via SovereignMan.com,

I serve on the Board of Directors of a large Singapore-based company that’s in the gold and silver business.

And, last night during our quarterly conference call, the management team gave me a lot of intriguing information.

Sales of physical gold and silver are collapsing across the entire industry.

At the US Mint, for example, sales of US Eagle gold coins fell by 67% between February 2016 versus February 2017.

And sales of US Eagle silver coins are down 75% over the same period.

The World Gold Council’s data also shows a substantial decline in physical precious metal demand in 2016, particularly with bars, coins, and jewelry.

Suppliers and refiners in the precious metals business are echoing these numbers, lamenting that sales are extremely slow and margins are falling.

For our Singapore company, this decline is irrelevant.

They have their own proprietary, state-of-the-art storage facility and a number of cutting-edge service like bullion-backed peer-to-peer loans, so business is great.

But I would expect that a number of other bullion dealers will probably go bust if this downturn lasts much longer.

The one conundrum is that this trend does NOT correlate with the price of gold.

In US dollar terms, the gold price is up 16% since the beginning of 2016.

So it would be reasonable to conclude that sales of physical bars and coins are up as well.

But they’re not.

The reason is because there’s a HUGE difference between physical gold and “paper” gold.

When people talk about the gold price, they’re really quoting the price of gold contracts at exchanges around the world in London, Shanghai, Chicago, etc.

Traders aren’t actually buying and selling physical gold.

These gold contracts are merely paper financial instruments, like stocks and bonds, that traders use for speculation.

When some conflict breaks out in Africa, the knee-jerk reaction is for traders to buy gold contracts.

And when central bankers announce that the economy is totally awesome, traders dutifully dump their gold contracts.

But they’re really just buying and selling highly leveraged paper assets. Nothing physical changes hands.

It’s the same with gold ETFs; these are merely financial instruments to gamble on the paper price of gold.

Investors who truly understand the benefits of owning gold, and don’t simply want to speculate on the price, buy physical bars and coins from a dealer.

And quite often there’s a massive difference in fundamentals between the demand for physical coins and the paper price.

During the 2008 financial meltdown, the paper price of gold and silver plunged.

Speculators and traders were hit by margin calls and forced to sell their contracts.

But demand for physical coins was incredibly strong; savvy investors were looking for a safe haven.

There was a total disconnect between the paper price and physical demand.

That’s now happening again, but in reverse. The paper price is rising, but physical demand is falling.

Management told me last night that they’ve been invited to speak at several investment conferences attended by family offices and high net worth individuals.

But they told me that there’s very little interest in owning physical precious metals among these wealthy investors.

Everyone seems to want to dump all of their money in US stocks or real estate, expecting that they’ll easily make 20% despite both markets being at all-time highs.

This strikes me as total madness. Few people ever prospered buying what was popular and expensive.

There seems to be no fear in the market… no regard for sense or safety.

And my contrarian instincts tell me that this complacency is a great reason to own physical gold and silver right now.

Remember that gold is primarily a form of savings.

You could hold your savings in a bank account, denominated in paper currency like dollars or euros or renminbi.

Or you could hold savings in physical cash. You could even own government bonds.

Each of these is a form of savings.

But so is gold and silver. (And cryptocurrency, for that matter.)

The difference is that gold and silver cannot be conjured out of thin air by a central bank.

And unlike cash, or money in a bank, precious metals actually keep pace with inflation over time.

I remember having a conversation once with a famous investor who told me that he didn’t know what was going to happen in the future…

… and THAT’S why he owned gold– for the “I don’t knows.”

Will there be a trade war with China in the next few years? A shooting war? A major debt crisis? Another terrorist attack? “I don’t know.”

Gold and silver are fantastic insurance policies against the “I don’t knows” due to the metals’ 5,000 year history of value and marketability.

There’s no need to go overboard and keep 100% of your net worth in precious metals.

But given the obvious risks on the horizon that we discuss regularly, and these bizarre demand trends, it’s a great time to consider adding to your physical precious metals savings.

Do you have a Plan B?

These Are The Most Dangerous Countries For American Tourists

By Priceonomics Data Studio

Each year, the State Department issues dozens of advisories with the intent of keeping Americans safe as they travel abroad. What countries are targeted by these advisories, and what risks do Americans face by visiting them? Are State Department advisories effective in keeping American travelers safe?

We decided to investigate what are the most dangerous countries for American to visit as measured by State Department warnings and also by actual deaths. We used data from Priceonomics customer data.world, a platform that ties many different data sets together so it's easy to analyze them (you can download their dataset here).

We found that Mexico, Mali, and Israel have been targeted by the most travel advisories in recent years, but that Americans are more likely to face life-threatening danger in Thailand, Pakistan, and Honduras. Indeed, warnings and deadly violence are correlated on the whole. And fortunately, some travelers – at least those headed to the Philippines or Egypt – seem to heed these advisories, as those countries see dropoffs in tourism following warnings.

***

We began by identifying the countries that are most often targeted by U.S. State Department travel advisories. The State Department has multiple mechanisms for advising American travelers, but we focused just on Travel Warnings, which are issued when lasting turmoil in a country poses such a danger that the State Department discourages any travel there at all. 

We filtered out warnings that had been issued for natural disasters, then ranked countries based on the number of Travel Warnings issued against them in an 8-year period between 2009 and 2017. We display the top 25 below.

Source: data.world

Mexico tops the list with 28 warnings in an 8-year period. It’s worth noting that these warnings are regionally specific, targeting sites where crime syndicates are particularly active. Popular tourist destinations like Mexico City and the Yucatán peninsula (including Cancún) are generally regarded as safe.

Most other countries on this ranking are participants in ongoing international conflicts (e.g., Israel, Pakistan, Afghanistan), or are sites in which extremist groups regularly carry out terrorist attacks (e.g., Mali, Nigeria, Syria).

North Korea is an interesting exception, as the government itself presents a danger to American travelers. According to the State Department, foreigners are liable to be jailed for unspecified reasons, or for seemingly innocuous infractions like interacting with the locals or taking unauthorized photos. 

How do State Department warnings square with the actual likelihood of crime abroad? Reliable, global data on crime is difficult to come by, but the State Department tracks the incidence and causes of American deaths abroad. We used that dataset to identify countries where Americans are most likely to experience life-threatening danger while traveling.

In the table below, we rank the foreign countries in which the most Americans were killed between 2009 and 2016. Before ranking, we filtered the data to include only homicides, executions, deaths in terrorist attacks, and drug-related deaths. 

Source: data.world

In general, a violent death abroad is extremely unlikely. Between 2009 and 2013, 1,151 Americans – out of a population of 316 million – were killed abroad. For comparison, 15,809 homicides occurred in the U.S. in 2014 alone.

Of the 1,356 killings that occurred abroad, 1,193 (88%) happened in the 25 countries listed above. And just one country, Mexico, accounted for 50% of those deaths.

Of course, more Americans die in Mexico because vastly more Americans travel to Mexico than any other country. This holds true to a lesser degree for some of the other countries near the top of this ranking, including the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

With that in mind, we adjusted our ranking to account for the volume of tourism from the U.S. We calculated the number of Americans murdered in a country per 100,000 American tourists, using travel numbers from a dataset gathered by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. We excluded any country that received fewer than 100,000 American visitors between 2009 and 2016. 

Source: data.world

Adjusting for travel volume shuffles our ranking, if not drastically changing it; 16 of the 25 countries listed here also appear on our ranking of countries by absolute number of American deaths.

Pakistan and Thailand jumped to the top of the list, each with a handful of deaths in a relatively small pool of tourists. 

Surprisingly, there is only modest overlap between this ranking and the set of countries receiving the most travel warnings. Of the top 10 countries ranked here, only 4?—?Pakistan, the Philippines, Nigeria, and Mexico?—?were among the top 25 countries targeted by travel warnings.

This led us to wonder about the connection between State Department warnings and American death abroad. Does the State Department issue more warnings for a country if Americans are more likely to be killed there? To find out, we correlated the number of Travel Warnings issued for each country with number of Americans (per 100,000 travelers) killed there. 

Source: data.world

On the whole, there is a significant relationship between the number of American deaths abroad per capita and the number of travel warnings a country receives (r = 0.56, p = <.001).

But within this chart, we identified some interesting patterns. In some countries, the number of Travel Warnings a country receives does scale with the number of deaths. In others, no warnings are issued even while the risk of death is relatively high. In still others, many warnings are issued even though most Americans pass through the country intact. 

In which countries are warnings well correlated with the risk of death? In which are they not? In the rankings below, we identify 5 countries that exemplify each pattern.

Source: data.world

A relatively high number of American travelers die in the countries in the left-most ranking above. Accordingly, these nations are often targeted by State Department warnings.

The center ranking features countries where warnings are “under-issued;” the risk of death is relatively high for Americans, but no warnings were issued in the 8-year period we examined. This ranking consists mainly of Central and South American countries where roughly 1 in every 100,000 U.S. travelers will be killed.

Finally, the countries in the right-most ranking are often targeted by warnings, but Americans have a low risk of facing life-threatening danger while visiting them. This may have to do with a regional pattern of unrest; in Turkey, for instance, tourists visiting the southeast may be subject to terrorist attacks spilling over from Syria, while travelers to Istanbul are comparatively safe.

Alternatively, few Americans may die in these countries because they are heeding the high number of Travel Warnings these nations receive. This raises the question of how travel advisories impact tourist behavior. Does traffic to a country drop after the State Department targets it with a Travel Warning?

To find out, we again put the Bureau of Transportation Statistics dataset to work, this time comparing travel numbers in the 6-month periods immediately preceding and immediately following the issuance of a Travel Warning. For this analysis, we only considered countries that had received at least 3 warnings.

Source: data.world

Egypt sees the largest drop-off in travel after a warning is issued with a 34% decrease in travel. Thailand travel appears to follow a similar trend; when warnings are issued, American travel to Thailand drops by 15%.

Travel declines modestly in Israel and Venezuela after the issuance of a warning, even though neither country lands a spot on our top 25 nations by American deaths per capita.

And strangely, travel to Ukraine, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia rises by more than 10% after a warning is issued.

Overall, American don’t appear to be especially sensitive to State Department warnings. Of the 16 countries we featured here, double-digit travel change was seen for seen for only 5, and those changes could be driven by many other factors.

***

For simplicity, we restricted our analysis to just one advisory mechanism – the U.S. State Department Travel Warning – and one outcome measure – American deaths abroad. It’s possible different trends would have emerged if we had considered other data sources. But given these constraints, what did we see?

In absolute terms, more American tourists are killed in Mexico than in any other foreign country. This is partly owing to the strong flow of tourism between the U.S. and Mexico; when figures are adjusted to account for the volume of tourism, Pakistan rises to the top of the heap, with roughly 4 deaths per 100,000 travelers.

Despite this, Thailand does not rank among the top 25 countries for travel warnings. In general, warnings are not strongly correlated with American deaths abroad: countries like Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are relatively safe despite being subject to numerous warnings, and the converse is true in Belize, Guatemala, and Guyana.

Even warnings that are well correlated with violence are only valuable if travelers heed them, and tourism appears largely insensitive to travel advisories. In approximately half the countries we considered, tourism shifted by no more than 2% after issuance of a warning.