A Record 37% Of Small Business Owners Are Raising Wages

A record net 37% of owners reported they are raising overall compensation in hopes of hiring and retaining employees in what is increasingly cited as the tightest labor market in decades, according to NFIB’s latest monthly jobs report. This surpasses the previous record of a net 35% in May 2018.

The competition for qualified workers is pushing up compensation as there are currently 660,000 more job openings than job seekers.

“There is extraordinary competition for workers in this historically tight labor market. Small business owners are investing more in their employees to attract and keep qualified workers,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita D. Duggan. “Thanks to the recent tax cuts and regulatory reform, owners are able and comfortable investing more in their employees and businesses which further strengthens the economy.”

Down one point from last month, 61 percent of owners reported hiring or trying to hire, with 87 percent of those reporting few or no qualified workers. A separate survey asked about typical reasons for why an applicant was unqualified and 26 percent owners identified the lack of specific skill and 16 percent identified a poor work history. Owners also cited social skills, attitude, and appearance as disqualifiers.

Thirty-eight percent of owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period, unchanged from last month. Reports of job openings were the most frequent in construction (56 percent), manufacturing (54 percent), transportation (51 percent), wholesale trades (44 percent), and retail (43 percent).

“The lack of qualified workers is having an effect, and owners are raising compensation to attract the right workers.” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg.  “Hopefully this will also induce more individuals to enter or re-enter the labor force and take a job.”

According to the NFIB, the labor market is tight for both skilled and unskilled workers, with 36% reporting openings for skilled workers and 15% reporting openings for unskilled workers. Down three points from last month, 14% reported using temporary workers.

A testament to the fiscally-stimulated economy, a seasonally-adjusted net 23% of owners are planning to create new jobs, down three points from last month. Twenty-four percent plan to increase total compensation at their firm and six percent plan reductions. Firms in construction (net 26%), wholesale trades (net 28% ), and manufacturing (net 34%), account for the strength in hiring plans.

Meanwhile, job creation picked up in September, rising to a net addition of 0.15 workers per firm. A seasonally-adjusted 13 percent reported increasing employment an average of 4.6 workers per firm and 11% reported reducing employment an average of 1.9 workers per firm.

Hot Economic Warfare: Scrambling For Rare-Earth Minerals

Authored by Wayne Madsen via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

Just like the gold rushes of California between 1848 and 1855, Canada’s Klonike of 1896 to 1899, and Western Australia’s of the 1890s, the world is experiencing a frenzy to obtain mining rights in pursuit of today’s “gold,” namely rare earth minerals. Used for components of electric vehicle batteries, mobile telephones, flat-screen televisions, flash drives, cameras, precision-guided missiles, industrial magnets, wind turbines, solar panels, and other high-tech items, rare earth minerals have become the type of sought-after commodity that uranium and plutonium were during the onset of the atomic age.

Rare earth minerals do not easily roll off one’s tongue in the same manner as gold, silver, and platinum. For example, yttrium oxide and europium, while sounding unimportant, are what provide the red hue in color televisions.

Nations around the world are scrambling to secure reserves containing rare earth minerals. China, where one-third of the planet’s rare earth minerals are currently found, has severely restricted the export of the minerals to friends and competitors. One of the largest known reserves of rare earths is the Bayan Obo deposit in China’s Inner Mongolia.

China’s export restrictions have sent nations around the world on search missions to secure both known and untapped rare earth deposits. One such mother lode of rare earth minerals has been discovered in the eastern southern Pacific Ocean. The estimates are that the deep ocean region contains twice the amount of rare earths than found in China.

Some of these deposits are in undersea geologically active zones, where deep sea floor vents spew rare earth minerals from expulsions of lava and hot gases. The discovery that the South Pacific region is rich in rare earths has led European nations, including France and Britain, which maintain colonies in the area, re-staking their colonial footprints.

France, for example, is reticent to grant further autonomy or independence to New Caledonia, where an independence referendum is scheduled for November 8, French Polynesia, and Wallis and Futuna. Similarly, Britain has showed a renewed interest in the Pitcairn Islands, where a handful of descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers continue to live.

In 2015, Australia stamped out self-government of Norfolk Island, turning the island into a hybrid municipality of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. New Zealand has vetoed ambitions by two of its elf-governing “associated states” – the Cook Islands and Niue – for full membership in the United Nations. For these colonial powers, it is not what is about what lies above the sea – island resorts – but what lies under the sea within the marine borders of the territories and that is rare earth minerals.

With the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, rare earth reserves have been discovered in Greenland, a “self-governing” territory of Denmark. Moves by the Greenland government to seek independence from Denmark and permit Chinese companies to mine rare earth minerals have met with stiff opposition from Denmark, the United States, and NATO.

Other countries possessing significant deposits of rare earths include India, Russia, Vietnam, Malaysia, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Brazil, and the United States. These nations, as well as China, all have varying degrees of the necessary political, economic, and military might to protect their rare earth resources.

However, some developing nations, where rare earths have been discovered, are candidates for ruthless exploitation by multinational firms, some under the direction of governments, to secure exclusive mining rights. In fact, Toyota, which has a tight relationship with the Japanese government, bought a rare earth mine in Vietnam to ensure such exclusivity rights.

Japan may not have to worry about Vietnam as its major source of rare earths. Earlier this year, a deposit of some 16 million tons of rare earth mineral oxides was discovered in deep sea mud located 1150 miles southeast of Tokyo. The deposit contained much of the rare earths upon which Japan’s consumer electronics industry is reliant: yttrium, dysprosium, terbium, and europium.

In countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, columbite-tantalite, a mineral used in the manufacture of semi-conductor chips, is such a hot commodity that rival warlords, some acting on behalf of outside players, including Rwanda, Uganda, Israel, Japan, China, and the United States battle one another for control of the mineral’s extraction and export.

The Rwanda Mines, Petroleum, and Gas Board signed a deal in 2017 with a major Japanese rare earth extraction firm for the exploration and mining of rare earths, as well as tungsten, in Rwanda. However, Rwandan President Paul Kagame is known to have backed fellow Tutsi rebels in the DRC, who exploit rare earth mines in South and North Kivu provinces and send the stolen minerals to Rwanda. There have been attempts to curtail the trade in “conflict minerals” in the Great Lakes region of Africa, but they have all come to no avail.

Currently, US and Chinese firms are waging a political and economic influence “war” for access to lithium, cassiterite, and cobalt reserves in the DRC.

Next door to the DRC, in civil war-ravaged Burundi, there was a discovery of exceptionally high-grade “main vein” of rare earth minerals in 2017. Burundi, which was once a German colony, saw Germany’s ThyssenKrupp move in to exploit the mineral resources. ThyssenKrupp also began building a processing plant in Burundi. The German government has come under attack from human rights groups that accuse it of backing the German mining venture, known as the Gakara Project, even though Burundi’s president, President Pierre Nkurunziza, was dubiously elected to a third term in office. German business groups have countered with the argument that if Germany was not mining Burundi’s rare earths, China would be doing so.

The French government is not only concentrating its rare earth mining activities in its traditional Francophone sphere of influence in Africa – Morocco, Burkina Faso, Niger, Madagascar, Guinea – but further afield, including the pursuit of joint venture mining activities in Kazakhstan.

In the United States, the Pentagon has recognized the military importance of rare earths. The Defense Logistic Agency’s Strategic Materials department is tasked to ensure a continued supply of rare earths to US defense contractors. The US Energy Department tracks rare earth discoveries and mining operations around the world, thanks to a constant infusion of intelligence from the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency. The Trump administration has moved to open US federal wildlife areas, national parks, and other lands to exploration and mining of rare earths to private companies, much to the chagrin of environmentalists and Native American tribal governments.

In a rush to lessen dependence on Chinese exports of rare earths, which have, in any event, been restricted by Beijing, nations and companies around the world have launched a cut-throat competition to gain leverage over the rare earth market. What peaks the interest of gatherers of economic intelligence are references in email, video conferences, phone calls, faxes, and financial documents to such terms as europium, terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, samarium, and other rare earths.

As the world becomes more dependent on high-tech and an “Internet of things,” consisting of computers, mobile phones, appliances, televisions, security systems, automobiles, etc., the economic war for control of rare earth minerals will increase. There is the extreme possibility that economic warfare could turn into shooting wars, as has already been the case in the DRC.

Bioweapon? Scientists Sound Alarm Over DARPA Plans To Spread Viruses Using Insects 

A team of scientist sounds the alarm in a new Science Policy Forum report about a mysterious US government program that is developing genetically modified viruses that would be dispersed into the environment using insects. The virus-infected or ‘Frankenstein’ insects are being developed as countermeasures against potential natural and engineered threats to the US food supply. The program is operated by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) could be viewed as an attempt to develop an entirely new class of bioweapons that would prompt other nations to seek similar weapons, they cautioned.

The researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology and the University of Freiburg both in Germany, and the University of Montpellier in France suggest DARPA’s program could likely breach the Biological Weapons Convention, the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning the development, production, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons.

Dubbed the “Insect Allies” program, DARPA began modifying insects in 2017, with the plan to produce more resilient crops to help farmers deal with climate change, drought, frost, floods, salinity, and disease, said Gizmodo. The technology at the center of the program is an entirely new method of genetically modifying crops. Instead of modifying seeds in a lab, farmers would send swarms of insects into their crops, where the genetically modified bugs would infect plants with a virus that passes along the new resilience genes, a process known as horizontal genetic alteration. Hence the technology’s name—Horizontal Environmental Genetic Alteration Agents (HEGAA).

For HEGAA to work, Gizmodo explains that DARPA labs develop a virus that is inserted into the chromosome of a target organism. Scientists would use leafhoppers, whiteflies, and aphids genetically altered in the lab using CRISPR, or a variant of a gene-editing system, to carry the virus into crops. Each plant would then be infected by the insect, triggering the intended effects of protecting crops from natural and or human-made threats.

However, the lead author of the report, Richard Guy Reeves from the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, says DARPA’s Insect Allies program is disturbing and an example of dual-use research in which the US government, in addition to aiding farmers’ crops, is also developing a biological weapon.

Insect Allies is reportedly backed by $27 million of funding. According to Gizmodo, there are four academic research teams currently working on the project, including researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute in New York, Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University and the University of Texas at Austin. DARPA maintains that “all work is conducted inside closed laboratories, greenhouses, or other secured facilities,” and that the insects have built-in lifespans to limit their spread. By 2020 or 2021, DARPA is planning on testing the virus-infected insects on crops inside greenhouses at undisclosed locations.

Reeves said the use of insects as a vehicle for genetic modification is a horrible idea because they cannot be controlled and indicates that traditional overhead sprays to deliver HEGAAs is the safest bet. DARPA says insects are the only practical solution, as overhead spraying of HEGAAs would require increased farming infrastructure — something that is not available to all farmers.

The report specifies how there is currently no global regulatory framework to support this new way of transporting HEGAAs to crops, which if not supervised correctly, could lead to potential mishaps.

The scientists of the report interpret DARPA’s insect program as “an intention to develop a means of delivery of HEGAAs for offensive purposes,” such as conducting biological warfare.

These genetically modified bugs could be implanted with a dangerous plant-killing disease that the Trump adminstration could unleash over farmland in Venezuela, Syria, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and or even China, that would decimate the countries’ food supply.

The introduction of this potentially dangerous technology, the scientists argue, would usher in an entirely new class of biological, insect-dispatched weapons that could be considered weapons of mass destruction. Scientists warn that this technology would spur rival nations to develop similar insect programs.

In response to a Gizmodo question, a spokesperson for DARPA said it welcomes academic dialogue about the Insect Allies program, but criticizes the conclusion of the report, saying it is “misleading and peppered with inaccuracies.”

Blake Bextine, DARPA Program Manager for Insect Allies, rejects many of the claims made by Reeves.

“DARPA is not producing biological weapons, and we reject the hypothetical scenario,” Bextine told Gizmodo.

“We accept and agree with concerns about potential dual use of technology, an issue that comes up with virtually every new powerful technology. Those concerns are precisely why we structured the Insect Allies program the way we did, as a transparent, university-led, fundamental research effort that benefits from the active participation of regulators and ethicists and proactive communication to policymakers,” said Bextine.

The purpose of Insect Allies program, he states, is to prepare for a new era of emerging threats to US agriculture. Brextine added that DARPA is evaluating the potential environmental impacts of HEGAAs.

“DARPA is extraordinarily sensitive to environmental risks and off-target effects, and has structured the Insect Allies program to identify and mitigate them,” he said. “DARPA has mandated multiple levels of biosafety and biosecurity at each stage of the program.”

If DARPA’s program succeeds, they will have developed gain-of-function treatments that can be delivered to the “right plants” and the “right tissue,” he said. In other words, DARPA wants precision guided biological weapon insects.

Jason Delborne, an Associate Professor at North Carolina State University, an expert in genetic engineering, says the concerns seem “appropriate.”

“The social, ethical, political, and ecological implications of producing HEGAAs are significant and worthy of the same level of attention as exploring the science underpinning the potential technology,” Delborne told Gizmodo.

“The authors argue persuasively that specifying insects as the preferred delivery mechanism for HEGAAs is poorly justified by visions of agricultural applications. The infrastructure and expertise required for spraying agricultural fields—at least in the U.S. context—is well established, and this delivery mechanism would offer greater control over the potential spread of a HEGAA.”

DARPA could be on the cusp of obtaining a new biological weapon that would most certainly be used against Venezuela, Syria, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and or even China, to cripple the countries’ food supply and lead to a regime change without firing a signal shot — this the future of warfare.

We’ve “Ruled Out” Satan: Officials Baffled By Mysterious Flaming Hole In Arkansas

Authored by Mac Slavo via SHTFplan.com,

Experts are still trying to determine the cause of flames that shot out of a hole in the ground in Midway, Arkansas, last month.

The fire in the hole seemingly erupted spontaneously, shooting out flames of up to 12 feet high.

Fire chief Donald Tucker responded to the early morning emergency call on September 17.

He told the Springfield News-Leader what he saw when he got to the scene:

“When I got there, there were flames 8 or 9 feet high shooting out of a hole about 2 feet in diameter. It burned that way for 30 to 45 minutes before it went out.”

Tucker told Motherboard that although news reports have said the flames initially reached 12 feet high, he never saw them get to that level. The fire burned red-orange, at about two feet in diameter, Tucker said.

Why didn’t Tucker take pictures of the fire? “With a fire like that, you don’t know what it is, so you don’t put yourself in danger,” he told Motherboard.

Apparently, the mysterious fire somehow extinguished itself.

Before the fire retreated into the hole, it shrunk to a flame about waist high for a few minutes, Tucker said:

“Then it just went down the hole and went out. For a little bit, there was just a little bit of glow of fire down in the hole.”

Mickey Pendergrass, the county judge in Baxter County, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that officials are still investigating the mysterious Midway hole, but one possible suspect has been cleared:

“As far as the spiritual Satan goes, we’ve ruled that out. He didn’t come up and stick his pitchfork in the ground and blow that hole out.”

Good to know.

The volleyball-sized hole has been there for at least 10 years, according to a man who used to mow the grass on the private property along Arkansas 5.

“It’s kind of like an old groundhog hole, burrow, or armadillo’s,” Pendergrass said. “But it’s been there a long time.”

What caused the fire remains a mystery, however.

So far, the following possible causes of the fire have been ruled out:

  • Meteorite

  • Lighting strike

  • Natural gas

  • Utility-related problem

  • Leaking gasoline or propane tanks

  • The Devil

Could someone have started the fire intentionally? It is possible, Pendergrass said:

“What kind of fuel did they use to make it so clean and no soot and no damage? And what was used to strike the fire to start with? There are just too many questions for it not to have been done on purpose, whether it was for fun or for giggles. Somebody will talk someday and have to brag about it, and then we’ll find out who did it.”

Soil samples were taken from the hole, and officials hope that analysis will provide clues. If gasoline or anything else was put in the hole, or if groundwater contamination caused the fire, the soil should help experts determine that.

It is possible, however, that we will never know what caused the hole to burst into flame.

“I’ve never seen it before. I hope I never see it again,” Tucker said. “What it was, I have no idea.”

Realtors Warn Metro Denver Housing Market Is “Now Pulling Back In A Big Way”

Home sales in the metro Denver region collapsed in September, forcing sellers to heavily discount asking prices which boosted inventory of properties available for purchase at an unprecedented rate, according to the Denver Metro Association of Realtors (DMAR), as per The Denver Post.

“The housing inventory and home price adjustments are normal and expected,” said Steve Danyliw, chairman of the DMAR Market Trends Committee, in the report. “What’s not normal? Sales of single-family homes priced over $500,000 dropping 33% from August to September. For those sellers, that’s real turbulence.”

Earlier this summer, DMAR Market Trends Committee saw indications the housing market was cooling but was shocked when it completely froze in September:

“The number of single-family homes sold in September, across all price ranges, dropped 30.5% from August and is down 21.4% compared to September 2017. Condo sales fell a dramatic 42.9 % on the month and are down 17.3% year-over-year,” said The Denver Post.

For years, millennial buyers in metro Denver were plagued with the lack of affordability. When home sales dropped in September, the Denver Post notes that very little buyers showed up.

The inventory of condos and homes available for sale at the end of September shot up to 8,807, an increase of 7.04% from August and about 16% move y/y.

The median price of a single-family home in metro Denver declined to 3.8% from August to $428,000 but remains up 6.1% y/y. Condos, which are popular with millennials, continued to show gains, as its median price rose 1.73% to $301,625 last month and is up 12.8 YTD.

Most of the carnage hit the luxury end of the market. Sales of those homes worth more than $1 million collapsed 44.4% between August and September.

Last month, Bank of America rang the proverbial bell on the US real estate market, saying existing home sales have peaked, reflecting declining affordability, greater price reductions and deteriorating housing sentiment. The report was published by BofA chief economist Michelle Meyer, who warned: “the housing market is no longer a tailwind for the economy but rather a headwind.”

“Call your realtor,” the BofA report proclaimed: “We are calling it: existing home sales have peaked.”

Chart 1 shows there is a leading relationship between the trend in affordability and in home sales — a simple regression suggests the lead is about three months. In major cities, affordability continues to be a significant problem for many Americans amid a rising interest rate environment and elevated home prices, existing home sales should remain under pressure for the foreseeable future.

Chart 2 indicates that the share of properties with price discounts is on the rise, suggesting that sellers are unloading into weakening demand. The data from Zillow reveals that 15% of listings have price reductions, the highest since mid-2013 when home sales tumbled last.

The University of Michigan survey reveals a worsening mood in the perception of buying conditions for homes. Respondents noted that home prices have become too high while rates have become restrictive.

While BofA makes clear the housing market is starting to stall, the Federal Reserve is conducting quantitative tightening and rapidly increasing interest rates to get ahead of the next recession. In other words, liquidity is being removed from the system and the cost of borrowing is headed higher – an environment that is not friendly to real estate and could be the key factor explaining the weakness in metro Denver housing and abroad.