This edition of the Blind Spot Wrap was compiled by Izabella Kaminska.
Business and Finance:
- Elon Musk and Tesla had the last laugh as the EV maker reported record profits and sparked a short squeeze in its stock.
- Bank of Canada expects a law change to ease its mounting losses.
- Microsoft gave a downbeat outlook on fears its cloud business, one of its main growth engines, was slowing amid economic uncertainty.
- Shortsellers Hindenburg Research came out against Adani Group, the corporate vehicle of the world’s third richest man, Gautam Adani. The group has lost $50bn in value since the report was released.
- The CEO of Dutch chipmaker ASML warned that the bifurcation of the world into new socioeconomics blocs could see chip availability reduced for a long period.
- Europe is facing a rapid contraction in mortgage lending.
- The BoJ spent $32bn on its fixed-income ops, dwarfing Fed QT — implying global QE was rising at its fastest pace since mid-2021.
The Japanese debt market is beginning to experience very strange anomalies, such as, according to Bloomberg, the fact that the BoJ now owns more than 100 per cent of certain bond issues. This is down to the securities merry-go-round and double counting that transpires when the BoJ lends out its debt securities to the market. The below chart is worth digesting:
The IMF has warned it is concerned about the scale of the BoJ’s bond purchases, especially now that Japanese inflation has hit 4 per cent.
- Party City filed for bankruptcy citing high helium prices and shortages as a contributing factor.
- EU technical regulations aimed at ending the scourge of greenwashing led to mass “dark green” fund downgrades in the last three months of 2022, according to a Morningstar report.
New “regulation technical standards”, which came into force in January, require managers to disclose more information on their funds’ ESG approaches, sustainability risks, and impact in pre-contractual documents and periodic reports. The added transparency ensures it will be harder for funds that only qualify on an article-8-level (known as light green) to pass themselves off as article-9-level funds (dark green).
The affair has led to a downgrade shakeup. As Morningstar noted: “Article 8 funds went back into the black in the fourth quarter of 2022, gathering €10.7bn of net new money. Article 9 funds pulled in the lowest inflows on record, €5.1bn, partly due to the recent wave of downgrades.
- 3M to lay off about 2,500 employees due to 2023 economic outlook.
- Chipmaker Intel announced it was cutting hundreds of jobs in California.
- Amazon disclosed a fresh wave of Bay Area job cuts.
- Spotify said it would cut its workforce by 6 per cent.
- Wayfair prepared to cut more than 1,000 jobs.
- The US said it hopes to replicate the success of an e-governance app, used in Ukraine, in other countries, reports Axios.
- Stablecoins will have credit ratings according to a scoop from Bloomberg’s Emily Nicole.
- The ECB’s Fabio Panetta realised that blockchains were mostly solutions looking for problems and reassured people that an ECB CBDC would not impose any significant limitations on users.
- Belief in CBDCs did not waver. The UK Treasury decided to look for a CBDC Head as it continues to explore a digital pound. And a senior adviser at Accenture, Ousmène Jacques Mandeng, double downed on the narrative that CBDCs are set to transform how payments are made.
- Switzerland sent 524 tonnes of gold to China last year.
- Yellen warned that setting price caps on Russian refined oil products was complicated.
- The UK steel industry is a whisker away from collapse, according to trade union Unite.
- Fake meat was supposed to save the world but it became just another fad.
- Burkina Faso ordered French troops to leave amidst massive protests.
- ICYMI, a controversial but influential Australian cardinal, called George Pell died earlier in the month.
- Some elements of “Tradcath” Twitter decided that Pope Benedict’s posthumously published book offered a glimpse into what the pontiff was too scared to write about while he was alive. Check out our deep dive into the context and background of the affair with our own special correspondent from Rome, Ben Munster.
- Izzy and the Blind Spot are joining forces with Politico.
- FT Alphaville shut down its Mastodon server.
- Twitter was sued for millions at its San Francisco HQ after failing to pay the rent.
- Matt Taibbi continued his fight to convince the world that the Twitter Files need everyone’s attention.
The latest reveal is an important one. It highlights the contradiction at the heart of the usual cancellation defence that “X social media platform is a private company and can deny access to whoever they want”. As Taibbi argues, “what it wants to do” doesn’t cut it when it’s actually “the US government and US intelligence community” determining what the thing it “wants” to do is. It’s one thing for a private company to decide on its own accord that it doesn’t want to provide a service to x or y. But it’s another thing entirely for the government to be guiding that policy. In the latter case, government interventions are supposed to be guided by democratically-generated legislature.
Yes, banks are legally obligated to deny access to all sorts of people. But these policies are mostly overt and understood, even if they are sometimes subjectively applied. What’s more, it’s hard to imagine how a KYC/AML-type rulebook could be applied to social media platforms against anything other than strictly illegal speech. In the US, due to the first amendment, there’s not a lot of that. And even here in the UK, where there are hate speech laws, consider the public outcry that’s currently being caused by the online safety bill.
- Matt Taibbi’s latest Twitter Files drew light on “Hamilton 68”, a mechanism used to justify the “Russian bot” and “Russian influence op” panic on Twitter. Hamilton 68, however, turned out to be nothing more than a list of bona fide non Russian human accounts that had different opinions.
- Conservative commentator Dave Rubin was next in the line to receive the keys to the Twitter systems. He wanted to figure out why the improvement most people experienced in engagement, in the days after Elon took over, has seemingly come to an end. He discovered that shadowbanning ghosts of Twitter regimes past still lurk undetected in the system.
I definitely feel like my account has suffered from a lack of engagement recently. I’m not seeing half as many replies (from real people I should add!). I was especially shocked by how little engagement the @davosdeville account got during the week of Davos. It could be down to the fact that she was blocked by the @wef account. But then again, it could be that the joke has run dry.
- Silvergate, the crypto industry’s favourite bank, fell into even deeper trouble.
- The Dutch central bank, the DNB, fined Coinbase €3.3mn for operating in the Netherlands for almost two years without authorisation, during which time it benefited from an unfair competitive advantage.
States of Corruption:
- Putin was supposedly plotting to grab the weapons the US left behind in Afghanistan, following its evacuation.
- Eric Weinstein, physicist and MD at Thiel Capital, hinted he was concerned about how academic institutions were contributing to global stagnation.
If you’re puzzled by the significance of the peer-review chart, you haven’t been keeping up with the “What happened in 1971?” meme. Don’t worry, I was a bit puzzled too. Someone familiar with Eric’s thinking, however, was on hand to explain. What Eric is trying to insinuate is that academics and universities – rather than being centres of diversity and critical thinking – have, since the 1970s, turned into cartel structures that use the peer review system to protect their turf and reinforce gate-keeping by incumbent leaders. As a consequence, peer reviewed publication has become a type of prestige currency for grants, promotions, recruitment of graduate students and appointment to the gate-keeping cartel committees. This has created a system that fears any non-confirming or uncomfortable ideas. Academia is a cartel.
- A major corruption scandal broke out in Ukraine, implicating many elements of the Ukrainian government.
Zerohedge was quick to point out that dozen of officials have been fired for “mismanaging aid funds for purchasing food, to embezzlement, to driving expensive cars while common people suffer under wartime conditions”. The alt press, for obvious reasons, went much bigger on the story than the MSM. Meanwhile, independent journalist Michael Tracey highlighted that Zelensky was happy to thank BlackRock, JP Morgan, Starlink and Goldman Sachs for their support while waxing lyrical about how great a business opportunity supporting Ukraine is for US corporations. “Everyone can become a big business by working with Ukraine.”
From the “Fake News” Zone:
- Project Veritas, the controversial American revival of the UK’s Cook Report, set up a sting operation on a Pfizer executive who didn’t cope very well with the revelation that he was actually being filmed.
During the secret filming, the exec bragged about how Pfizer was mutating viruses so that it could get ahead of them by pre-emptively developing vaccines. The wording implies Pfizer may be engaged in gain-of-function work. But while the work is controversial, it is not illegal. The NIH lifted its moratorium on gain of function research in 2017.
- Citizen journalists took up the challenge of verifying Jordon Trishton Walker’s identity.
- The Daily Mail at first covered the Jordon Trishton Walker story, but a few hours later the story disappeared.
- US House Representative Jim Jordan wants to know why US tax dollars were ever being used to fund gain-of-function research at a lab in Wuhan, China.
- I took part in an UnHerd Lates debate with man-of-the-hour Konstantin Kisin this week. We discussed his Oxford Union speech on wokeism, which went viral, what the WEF is really like, and our views on Ukraine. I argued (as I often do) that the West needs to learn to tell better and more inspirational stories about itself.