Welcome to The Free Press Report’s Weekly Digest. This week a lot has happened – Biden visited the Middle East, the army thinks that printers cost a million dollars, and Italy faced a unique political dilemma. Read on for more of the stories you might have missed.
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Biden secures only empty rhetoric at Arab summit. The U.S promised to remain active in the Middle East, including pledging $300 million in aid for Palestine. Saudi Arabia, the largest economy in the region, put a stop to U.S ambitions of a regional security alliance including Israel. Biden downplayed criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, reneging on his promise to make the country into a “pariah state” after the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It seems that Biden places too high a value Saudi Arabia’s oil production – it is therefore disappointing that he was unable to secure any pledge for the gulf nation to increase output in the face of skyrocketing prices. [Reuters]
Amazon gave customers’ videos to police without consent, despite promises that it would not share private information. The company handed over videos from Ring doorbells eleven times this year without consent from the users or a warrant from police. This is concerning to human rights groups – in 2020, Los Angeles police forces requested Ring footage of Black Lives Matter protests. Senator Edward Markey warned that “it has become increasingly difficult for the public to move, assemble and converse in public without being tracked and recorded.” [Guardian]
Army bases can’t account for over 23,000 items, a Department of Defense watchdog finds. An audit of two U.S camps in Kuwait revealed that tens of millions of dollars of Government-furnished equipment had not been properly registered. Botched records included twelve printers mistakenly valued at $1.1 million apiece and seventeen refrigerators valued at $650,000 each. The DoD promised “resolution” of these issues by no later than 2026. [Reason]
Ivana Trump dies after falling down stairs. The 73 year-old businesswoman was the first wife of former president Donald Trump, with whom she had three children. Her body was discovered at the bottom of her New York apartment's staircase next to a spilled cup of coffee. Her death was ruled as accidental. [BBG]
Bill Clinton endorses marijuana for first time. During his 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton infamously admitted to experimenting with marijuana, but insisted that he “did not inhale”. This week, Clinton celebrated the “very encouraging” evidence that CBD helped to relieve postoperative pain, stress and anxiety. [WFB]
Social and Business
JPMorgan shares suffer on disappointing results amidst warning of economic “hurricane”. The largest U.S bank suspended share buybacks after second quarter earnings fell short of expectations, driven by a 54% drop in investment banking fees. Trading revenue rose 15%, although this was still short of the predicted 17% increase. JPM shares fell 4.9% on open. [BBG]
Bank of America fined $225mm for “botching” unemployment benefits payments. Regulators found the bank’s “faulty” fraud detection system had mistakenly frozen customer accounts associated with prepaid debit cards, preventing them from accessing their mandated unemployment benefits during the pandemic. Bank of America responded by explaining that the government’s hasty benefits expansion “created unprecedented criminal activity where illegal applicants were able to get states to approve tens of billions of dollars in payments.” [CNBC]
East 53 Capital closing after failed Twitter bet. The trading team at hedge fund Millennium Management is being disbanded after failed arbitrage-focused trades on Twitter and Citrix, which are each in the process of acquisition talks. East 53’s portfolio had a $3 billion risk cap, which had reportedly been breached by recent trades. [BBG]
Mario Draghi told he cannot resign in Italian political fiasco. Draghi, the former head of the ECB, has been Prime Minister of a unity government since February 2021. But with the coalition fracturing, Draghi offered his resignation on Friday. In an unusual move, President Sergio Mattarella rejected the resignation. Draghi is now expected to speak in parliament on Wednesday, and if he can win back the support of the populist Five Star party, may in fact remain in power. [WSJ]
British MP abandoned car crash in leather mini skirt and pearls. Jamie Wallis, 38, who was born a man, was arrested six hours after fleeing from an accident in which he drove his Mercedes E-Class into a telegraph pole. He has been found guilty of failing to report the accident and banned from driving. [Times]
Russia ramps up Ukraine invasion, as renewed bombardments kill 40 in three days. On Saturday, Russia vowed to step up military operations on all fronts in Ukraine. Although Russia insists that it has only been bombing military targets, Ukraine reports that most deaths have occurred in towns and cities. Russia appears to be regrouping its forces for an offensive against the culturally important city of Sloviansk. [Reuters]
Swiss Central Bank will raise rates by up to 75bps at next scheduled monetary meeting in September. Swiss inflation hit its highest level in 29 years after five months of exceeding the bank’s 0-2% target range. Insiders expect base rates to raise from -0.25% to at least 0.25%, and maybe even higher if inflation persists. [Reuters]
Bitcoin mining costs drop to $13,000, JPMorgan strategists estimate. At the start of June, the cost of electronically minting one BTC was $24,000. Now it has almost halved, as miners roll out more power-efficient systems. This may act as a bottom to the market – if prices fall below $13,000, mining will dry up, reducing supply and supporting prices. This suggests prices could fall another 40% before finding their natural bottom. [Decrypt]
Circle attempts to win back trust in stablecoins after Terra collapse spooks market. Circle runs the proprietary stablecoin USDC, which tracks the dollar. In its first monthly report, Circle disclosed $13.58 billion in cash and $42.12 billion in three-month Treasury securities, representing a complete asset backing for USDC. [Block]
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