US senators urge stricter crypto regulation after a flood of ransomware attacks

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Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) on January 30, 2020 and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) on February 3, 2020 both in taken in Washington, DC.

Two US senators called for stricter cryptocurrency regulation after a flood of ransomware attacks that plagued the country in the past months.

Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told NBC Meet the Press on Sunday that regulators need to scrutinize the cryptocurrency loopholes that help criminals carry 0ut cyberattacks.

“There was some good things coming out of distributed ledger technology, but we are seeing now some of the dark underbelly,” Warner said. “If a company is paying, if there’s not some transparency of that payment, the bad guys will simply find another way to hide it.”

The senator said while there has been some progress when it comes to bipartisan legislation, the debate about cryptocurrencies and ransomware is “just starting.”

In May, the Colonial Pipeline paid DarkSide Ransomware a $5 million ransom to restore services, Bloomberg reported. The transaction was said to be untraceable.

The following month, JBS, the largest meat supplier in the US, revealed it was hit by a cyberattack that affected some of its systems. Whether there was a payment of ransom or not remains unclear.

Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, also a member of the Intelligence Committee, said regulators need to demand more transparency when it comes to attacks like these to protect the American financial system.

“Nobody wanted to report that they had been hacked. That was a fight we’ve been having now for almost a decade,” he told NBC Meet the Press. But “the only way you can begin to get on top of this is to know how pervasive the problem is.”

He continued: “We have a lot of cash requirements in our country, but we haven’t figured out in the country or in the world how to trace cryptocurrency.”

“There ought to be more transparency if a company does pay, so we can go after the bad guys,” Warner said. “Right now what’s happening around ransomware, not only are the companies often not reporting that they are attacked, but they’re not reporting the ransomware payments.”

The Biden administration is reportedly looking at how to increase oversight of the cryptocurrency market to protect retail investors, sources told The Washington Post. The administration is also analyzing potential gaps that may be used to finance illicit activities, sources said.

US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen has been critical of cryptocurrencies in the past, calling out their misuse, which she described in February as “a growing problem.”

“I see the promise of these new technologies,” the former Federal Reserve chief said. “But I also see the reality: cryptocurrencies have been used to launder the profits of online drug traffickers; they’ve been a tool to finance terrorism.”

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Big Tech and government officials have praised the ‘significant, unprecedented’ G7 deal to back a global corporate tax rate of at least 15%

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Group of Seven finance ministers in London on Saturday.

  • Tech companies signaled approval of a “significant” deal to back a 15% global minimum corporate tax.
  • Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said it was a “significant, unprecedented commitment.”
  • Facebook welcomed “the important progress made at the G7,” VP Nick Clegg told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As finance ministers from the Group of Seven countries agreed on Saturday to back a 15% global minimum corporate tax rate, the world’s biggest tech companies signaled approval.

“Facebook has long called for reform of the global tax rules and we welcome the important progress made at the G7,” said Nick Clegg, vice president for global affairs at Facebook, in an emailed statement.

The agreement announced in London between the wealthy G7 nations marked a meaningful step toward closing often-used international tax loopholes, which have allowed the biggest companies in the world to sidestep taxes at home and aboard.

The official announcement via the UK government called the deal a “seismic agreement,” adding that it meant the “largest multinational tech giants will pay their fair share of tax in the countries in which they operate.” It did not name specific companies that would be affected.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the deal marked a “significant, unprecedented commitment.”

“That global minimum tax would end the race-to-the-bottom in corporate taxation, and ensure fairness for the middle class and working people in the US and around the world,” said Yellen, who is in London for the talks.

UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the deal was a “huge prize” for British taxpayers.

An Amazon spokesperson told Reuters: “We believe an OECD-led process that creates a multilateral solution will help bring stability to the international tax system. The agreement by the G7 marks a welcome step forward in the effort to achieve this goal.”

A Google spokesperson told Reuters: “We strongly support the work being done to update international tax rules. We hope countries continue to work together to ensure a balanced and durable agreement will be finalized soon.”

Clegg, of Facebook, added, “Today’s agreement is a significant first step towards certainty for businesses and strengthening public confidence in the global tax system. We want the international tax reform process to succeed and recognize this could mean Facebook paying more tax, and in different places.”

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said the bloc had been pushing for “modernisation & more international cooperation on business taxation.”

“This agreement is a big step towards fairness and a level-playing field,” she added.

Others were less enthusiastic. Oxfam, for example, said the G7 deal as “setting the bar so low that companies can just step over it,” according to Reuters.

“It’s absurd for the G7 to claim it is ‘overhauling a broken global tax system’ by setting up a global minimum corporate tax rate that is similar to the soft rates charged by tax havens like Ireland, Switzerland and Singapore,” the charity said.

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Stronger inflation will linger throughout 2021 and fade soon after, Treasury Secretary Yellen says

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Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks during a news conference following the Federal Open Market Committee meeting in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017

  • Inflation will stay elevated through 2021 but fade to healthier levels after, Tres. Sec. Janet Yellen said.
  • The jump in price growth “is temporary” and “not something that’s endemic,” she added.
  • Yellen supported spending on infrastructure, noting historically low rates ease debt concerns.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Historically strong price growth will be with the country into 2022, but Americans still need not worry, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Thursday.

The US economy is in the midst of an inflation conundrum. The relaxing of economic restrictions and stimulus passed by Democrats in March have supercharged the recovery. Yet the resulting bounce in demand and a slew of supply bottlenecks have driven inflation to its highest levels in more than a decade.

The Federal Reserve and the Biden administration have maintained their forecast that, as supply chains heal and the economy settles into a new normal, inflation will fade to healthier levels.

Yellen reiterated the White House’s outlook in a hearing with a House Appropriations subcommittee.

“My judgment right now is the recent inflation we’ve seen is temporary. It’s not something that’s endemic,” the Treasury Secretary told lawmakers during the virtual hearing. “I expect it to last, however, for several more months and to see high annual rates of inflation through the end of this year.”

Republicans, however, have recently gone on the offensive. Members of the party this week pinned accelerated price growth to President Joe Biden’s spending plans and raising concerns around economic overheating.

The Consumer Price Index – a popular measure of broad inflation – surged 0.8% in April from the month prior, the Census Bureau said earlier this month. The index also notched a 4.2% year-over-year gain, the largest since September 2008. The April uptick was primarily fueled by a 10% month-over-month gain for used car prices.

To be sure, year-over-year measures are somewhat skewed by year-ago readings. Inflation turned negative at the start of the pandemic and remained historically weak for months after. Those levels serve as a lower bar to clear for present-day readings.

Yellen also rebuked Republicans’ argument that Biden’s follow-up spending proposals will further accelerate inflation. Historically low interest rates mean the government can spend now with little immediate pressure to repay its debt, the former Fed chair said. The US will need to reach a sustainable path for spending after the recovery, but debt concerns shouldn’t keep the government from spending on infrastructure and other investments, she added.

Americans will get their next glimpse at nationwide inflation when the government publishes Personal Consumption Expenditures data Friday morning. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect core PCE to jump 0.6% month-over-month in April.

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US and European stocks reverse losses as Yellen signals inflation won’t hurt recovery and commodities rally

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US stocks rose slightly on Wednesday after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she doesn’t expect inflation to be a problem, underplaying previous comments that it may be necessary to raise interest rates to prevent economic overheating.

Futures on the Dow Jones, S&P 500, and Nasdaq rose 0.3%, suggesting a higher start to trading at the market open.

Yellen’s remarks the previous day were likely about longer-term rates, rather than breaking historic convention and commenting on monetary policy, Deutsche Bank strategists said. She also seemed to project the Fed has the necessary tools to address inflation if it were to occur.

But her initial comments prompted a sell-off in tech shares and sent longer-dated Treasury yields higher.

“So it seems like a small matter-of-fact statement has been magnified around financial markets, which just shows how sensitive we all are to rates and inflation,” Deutsche’s strategists said.

A decline in large-cap Wall Street tech darlings led the Nasdaq 1.6% lower at Tuesday’s close as investors dumped their shares on concerns of rising interest rates.

With the S&P 500 around 1% away from record highs, UBS Global Wealth Management says plenty of good news is priced into the market, suggesting stocks are potentially vulnerable to disappointments.

Chief investment officer Mark Haefele said such worries can continue to be seen as a source of volatility rather than developments that are likely to end the equity rally.

“Investors can brace for future bouts of volatility through diversification, and use market swings as an opportunity to build long-term exposure,” he said. “We believe the backdrop of accelerating growth and continuing policy support means that markets can advance further.”

Investors in Europe initially took their cue from the weakness across the US market, but those losses reversed with another busy start to corporate earnings and a burst higher in the commodities complex. Results from car manufacturer Stellantis, insulin-maker Novo Nordisk, and Danish shipping company AP Moller-Maersk are due.

Surging commodity prices pushed up mining stocks in the region, as recovery sentiment lifted. UK mining stocks including Rio Tinto, BHP, and Anglo American each rose about 2% alongside copper prices rising past $10,000 a tonne for the first time in years.

London’s FTSE 100 rose 1%, the Euro Stoxx 50 rose 1.3%, and Frankfurt’s DAX gained 1.4%.

Asian shares were largely muted as markets in China, Japan, and South Korea are still closed for public holidays. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.5%, led by weakness in the tech sector.

Oil prices climbed against the backdrop of easing lockdowns in the US and Europe. Brent crude futures rose 3%, to $69.70 per barrel, and West Texas Intermediate rose 1.1%, to $66.45 per barrel.

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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says Americans can expect a ‘big return’ from Biden’s $4.1 trillion spending proposal

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Treasury secretary Janet Yellen pushed for stimulus checks

  • President Biden’s spending plans can offer a “big return,” Tres. Sec. Janet Yellen said Sunday.
  • The measures should be paid for while interest rates sit at historic lows, she added.
  • If inflation rises more than expected, the government “has the tools to address it,” Yellen said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reiterated her support for President Joe Biden’s spending plans on Sunday, pitching the measures as strong investments in the country’s future.

The president on Wednesday rolled out a $1.8 trillion spending proposal that includes funding for paid family and medical leave, universal pre-K, and childcare. The measure follows the March passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package and joins the president’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan as his latest step in big-government economic policy.

Republicans and some moderate Democrats have balked at the follow-up plans cost, saying the measures would dangerously inflate the government’s debt pile. Yellen countered on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” saying it’s a better time than ever to spend on such projects.

“We’re in a good fiscal position. Interest rates are historically low… and it’s likely they’ll stay that way into the future,” the Treasury Secretary said. “I believe that we should pay for these historic investments. There will be a big return.”

That’s not to say the government shouldn’t offset the multitrillion-dollar price tag. The Biden administration rolled out a handful of tax hikes and stronger enforcement to cover the spending, but those proposals were swiftly rejected by Republicans. The GOP has criticized Biden’s public-works plan and a proposed corporate tax increase, calling it a “slush-fund” and a “Trojan horse” for Democratic priorities.

The economy is poised to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic throughout 2021 and, in turn, bring in greater tax revenues. That stronger growth justifies some spending, but the safest and most sustainable way to spend on infrastructure and care involves equitable tax increases, Yellen said.

Stricter tax compliance would also play a critical role. The country is currently estimated to lose $7 trillion through tax underpayment over the next decade. Stepping up compliance efforts and adequately funding the IRS can also boost tax collection, Yellen added.

The Treasury Secretary also rebuffed concerns of the massive spending fueling a sharp rise in inflation.

Administration officials and the Federal Reserve already anticipates the latest stimulus and economic reopening to drive a sharp but temporary bout of stronger inflation. While Biden’s latest proposals are far larger than the March stimulus, plans to spend them over eight to 10 years cuts down on the risk of rampant inflation, Yellen said.

“I don’t believe that inflation will be an issue, but if it becomes an issue, we have tools to address it,” she added. “These are historic investments that we need to make our economy productive and fair.”

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Dow drops 308 points as rising COVID-19 cases cloud economic-recovery optimism

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on November 20, 2019 in New York City
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

  • The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average mark their third declines in four sessions.
  • European COVID-19 cases are rising and spurring more lockdowns in the region.
  • US economic recovery continues but is ‘far from complete,’ says Fed Chairman Powell.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

US stocks dropped Tuesday as a rise in COVID-19 cases in Europe stoked concerns about the path for recovery in the global economy from the pandemic.

All three of Wall Street’s major indexes fell, with losses picking up pace in afternoon dealings. The S&P 500 and the Dow industrials declined for the third time in four sessions. Tech stocks as tracked on the Nasdaq Composite lost grip of earlier gains.

Stocks struggled in the face of rising coronavirus cases in Europe. The higher case counts have prompted Germany, Europe’s largest economy, to order lockdown measures over Easter and France has enacted more restrictions in the country.

Here’s where US indexes stood at the 4 p.m. ET close on Tuesday:

Meanwhile, Italy has issued new lockdowns. In the UK, the government in an effort to control cases is seeking to impose a £5,000 fine ($7,000) on people traveling outside of England without a valid reason. The worsening conditions in Europe pressured the demand outlook for oil, sending Brent oil prices sharply lower.

The US economy is seeing a lower amount of COVID-19 cases compared with Europe, alongside encouraging data and an improved rate of vaccinations, said Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Tuesday.

“But the recovery is far from complete,” he cautioned in remarks prepared for testimony to the House Financial Services Committee. The Fed “will continue to provide the economy the support that it needs for as long as it takes.”

AstraZeneca shares fell after US health officials raised questions about the drugmaker’s COVID-19 vaccine, saying the company could have used some outdated trial data in its update about the formula.

GameStop fell before the video game retailer late Tuesday releases its first quarterly financial report since its Reddit-fueled rally in January. Meanwhile, Melvin Capital, the hedge fund at the heart of the GameStop frenzy, is facing nine lawsuits from retail investors who alleged a conspiracy to limit trading caused them to lose money.

While stocks have pulled back in recent session, the market’s fear gauge, the Cboe VIX Volatility Index, is back at pre-pandemic lows, and it’s signaling big upside ahead, says Fundstrat’s Tom Lee.

Anthony Scaramucci’s SkyBridge Capital and investment firm First Trust Advisors have applied for regulatory approval for a bitcoin exchange-traded fund.

Oil prices tumbled, with West Texas Intermediate crude down 6% to $57.60 per barrel. Brent, oil’s international benchmark, was down 6.5% to $60.47.

Gold fell 0.6% to $1,727 per ounce as US treasury yields eased.

Bitcoin lost 2.5%, to trade at $55,328.

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EVs and clean tech are bubbles that will deflate as economic recovery prompts rethinking of ‘aspirational’ sectors, says JPMorgan

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Elon Musk talks to journalists at the construction site of the Tesla Giga-Factory in Grünheide near Berlin, Germany, September 3, 2020.

  • Bubbles in EV and clean-tech technology portions of the market began forming when the COVID-19 pandemic was growing in early 2020, says JPMorgan 
  • Investors are reassessing a “reset” agenda as economic recovery takes hold and bidding up oil and travel stocks. 
  • Tesla shares continued to selloff during Tuesday’s session. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Bubbles in electric-vehicle and clean-technology stocks will deflate as investors look for exposure to a recovery in the world’s largest economy, with oil and hospitality stocks emerging among such plays, said JPMorgan on Tuesday.

The bubbles trace back to February and early March 2020 when the coronavirus crisis began tightening its grip on US markets. Rallies were tied to the outlook for certain technologies, ideologies and policies and “only to a smaller extent to retail paycheck and popularity and momentum chasing,” said Marko Kolanovic, head of macro quantitative and derivatives strategy at JPMorgan, during a Tuesday conference call held by the investment bank.

“Really they took off with COVID. There was this premise that we’re going to close and reinvent and redesign the world and reimagine,” he said.

He noted that the bubbles were not directly related to classical economic cycles and rather driven “by a reset agenda.”

But with economic activity accelerating, “what you’re seeing is oil moving up, copper moving up, retail names,” and gains in shares of cruise lines and airlines, said Kolanovic. He pointed out that the energy sector is still down by 50% over the year.

“As the real economy is recovering some of these, call it, aspirational market segments are probably going to deflate,” he said.

Oil prices and hospitality stocks were hit hard as the pandemic forced businesses worldwide to temporarily close, and in some cases multiple times, to curb the spread of the virus.

Retail investors “may get disillusioned a little bit with some of these names” in the bubbles. “You obviously had a lot of short-squeezing along the way last year. [Treasury Secretary] Janet Yellen had some comments about crypto yesterday so I think you may see some ‘pouring the cold water’ on the whole innovation angle,” rather than a “pop that takes out everything,” said Kolanovic.

JPMorgan during the conference call did not specify any particular stocks at risk of a correction.

But broader EV-sector weakness was seen in Tuesday’s session, with Tesla, Nio and Nikola all down. Tesla in particular has seen an eye-popping rally.  Shares climbed by more than 450% since early March through last Friday. The stock on Monday was hammered down 8.6% and continued to sell off on Tuesday.

Tesla’s slide also comes alongside a drop in bitcoin this week following a massive February rally, during which the car maker announced it had made a $1.5 billion investment in the cryptocurrency. Yellen on Monday told CNBC that bitcoin is “an extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions, and the amount of energy that’s consumed in processing those transactions is staggering.”

 

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AOC says women are disproportionately scrutinized after Biden’s Treasury pick Janet Yellen reveals she was paid $7 million in speaking fees

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

  • Janet Yellen, President-elect Joe Biden’s Treasury nominee, made more than $7 million by giving speeches on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley.
  • In a 21-page financial disclosure form, Yellen lists 64 different income types, including her benefits from the University of California, Berkeley, where she’s a professor emeritus.
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter: “Probably an unpopular take but I think it’s important the public knows what their public servants’ financial & income streams are, regardless of gender or party.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Janet Yellen, President-elect Joe Biden’s Treasury nominee, made more than $7 million by giving speeches on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley.

In a 21-page financial disclosure form, Yellen lists 64 different income types, including her benefits from the University of California, Berkeley, where she’s a professor emeritus. The bulk of her income, however, comes from speaking fees that climb well into six figures. 

ING and PwC both paid her $225,000. Zurich-based Credit Suisse paid her $292,500. The list of other banks and investment firms that paid for Yellen to speak includes UBS, Citi, Standard Charter, BNP Paribas, Bank of America, and Stifel Financial. 

Big tech companies also invited Yellen to speak, with Salesforce paying her $67,500 and Google paying her $112,500. 

It’s not at all uncommon for ex-government staffers on both sides of the aisle to cash in by speaking at private events after leaving office. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, ex-President Barack Obama, and ex-Senator Hillary Clinton each moved seamlessly from politics to the lucrative lecture circuit. 

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Janet Yellen speaks in Wilmington, Delaware.

But public and media scrutiny of financial information “gets disproportionately wielded on women,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter on Friday. Her current and former financial situations have long been a topic of conversation.

It was still important, however, for the public to know Yellen’s Wall Street ties, she added.  

“Probably an unpopular take but I think it’s important the public knows what their public servants’ financial & income streams are, regardless of gender or party,” Ocasio-Cortez said in another tweet

 

Yellen served formerly as Federal Reserve chair during Obama’s presidency. She had been on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. 

If confirmed as Treasury secretary, Yellen would be responsible for economic policy and enforcement decisions likely to effect organizations that have paid her. 

“There has never been anyone more qualified to be Treasury Secretary than Janet Yellen. Period,” Biden said on Twitter in early December.

He added: “I trust her knowledge and look forward to working with her to build our economy back better.”

 

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