Leonardo DiCaprio tied to “Wolf of Malaysia,” DOJ

You can file this under the heading of life imitating art

On Thursday the Justice Department seized a Picasso and Basquiat paintings given to Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as rights to two Hollywood film comedies, in complaint filings to claw back $540 million they say was “stolen” from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB.

The high-end art work was given to DiCaprio by Jho Low — a Malaysian financier — who the feds charged with laundering more than $400 million stolen from 1MDB through an US  account.

Low used the ill-gotten gains to fund a film production studio called Red Granite to live the life depicted in DiCaprio’s “Wolf of Wall Street” where he and his friends used the money to pay for lavish parties, gambling and yachts.

The DOJ’s filing also sought to claw back the assets of two other Red Granite films, which the federal investigators say were financed by money from the 1MDB fund.

“Dumb and Dumber To” starring Jim Carrey in the 2014 comedy, and 2015 comedy “Daddy’s Home” starring Will Ferrell.

Last year, the DOJ also tried to seize the rights to “The Wolf of Wall Street” although the Red Granite Pictures said on Thursday it was “actively engaged in discussions with the Justice Department aimed at resolving these civil cases and is fully cooperating.”

“Mr. DiCaprio initiated return of these items, which were received and accepted by him for the purpose of being included in an annual charity auction to benefit his eponymous foundation,” the actor’s people said in statement on Thursday. “He has also returned an Oscar originally won by Marlon Brando, which was given to Mr. DiCaprio as a set gift by Red Granite to thank him for his work on ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,'” the statement added.

Low also had connections with a former Goldman Sachs Far East director Tim Leissner, who helped the government set up the sovereign wealth fund and profited from its many bond offerings to allegedly funds airports, roads  and other infrastructure projects.

Leissner also had a Hollywood connection with his second wife Kimora Lee Leissner, the ex-wife of Russell Simmons, the cofounder of Def Jam Records. Leissner resigned from Goldman in 2016 has been barred from the securities industry in Malaysia for 10 years.

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Climate on Wall St. over Trump nixing Paris Agreement

The US participation in the Paris Agreement, which is the United Nations-backed pact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming, was nixed last week, by the Trump Administration as it is written now.

First, let me say I do not agree that climate change is “settled science” since I am old enough to remember when climatologists said in the 1970’s that we were headed into an ice age due to human development .

Secondly, climates don’t change in decades, climate takes 10’s of centuries to work through its progressions. The climate science we are looking at now is similar to looking at one photograph of a marathon runner.

You have no context of how long the race is, or how the runner did in the race. It’s one step in a 26-mile race. And yet some scientist look at this photo and not only know who won the race, but also the time it took the runner to finish.

Thirdly, the climate cycles we have experienced over the last 50 years have all been attributed to man-made emissions whether it was drought or flooding, cold temperatures or warm temperatures, strong hurricanes or weaker storms.

It’s my belief that the sun and the reduction of sun spot activity over the last decade has more influence over our atmosphere than anything we are doing on Earth. However you don’t see that mentioned too much in this debate and I’ll get to why in a second.

So that’s my take on climate change and this is why I agree with the White House on not signing on to the pact as written.

One thing the Paris Agreement does do well is create one of the greatest wealth transfer in history. Through what’s called carbon credit trading the pact sets up an exchanged — run by Wall Street banks — to take cash from US firms and so they can by third-world carbon credits to offset the companies emissions.

It’s a tax on productivity, with Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and other firms taking its piece. Why do you think Goldman’s chief Lloyd Blankfein broke onto Twitter for the first time to denounce Trump’s decision?

Not for fear of warming, but because Goldman is working with former Vice President Al Gore and David Blood, who is the former chief of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, to jump-start this trading platform through their firm Generation Investment Management. And if the largest buyer of your credits is not in the market, how do you make money?

Why would Tesla boss Elon Musk quit the White House advisory role? His whole company is created and funded by no emission vehicles. And if there’s no subsidies or future carbon credits for you and I for his cars than why buy them.

You see the Paris accord is not only aimed at US companies, it will get down to you and I and how we “manage our own carbon footprint”, through additional government fees and taxes.

So why is science not looking at the solar cycle as a cause? How can you tax the sun?

While the Paris Agreement is a feel good issue — who wants to destroy the planet — its mechanisms and funding structures are too one-sided against the US. China has very little restrictions on growth and emissions, despite being the No. 1 consumer of coal in the world.

So for the White House to say no we want a better deal than ex-President Obama agreed to is not out of the question. Besides if this is a treaty, Congress would have to approve it, before Trump could sign off on it.

I’m afraid Apple missed the aspirational shopper craze with $1,000 iPhone

Apple may have missed the boat on tapping into the aspirational shopper — by about three years to be precise.

The iPhone maker is allegedly looking to roll out a $1,000 model with its next release, probably in late September, according to a Goldman Sachs report.

In the report Goldman raised its price target on Apple, despite slowing smart phone sales leading into the debut of the new iPhone model.

If the analysis is true, it shows that Apple — or at least Goldman if not true — have lost touch with the retail market. Sure Apple may be able to sell a $1,000 phone set to the rich and famous, but there are no large-scale buyers out there for a $1,000 unsubsidized model.

The aspirational consumer has certainly left the building over the last two years as witnessed by Michael Kors, Coach, Ralph Lauren and may other retailers hawking higher-priced merchandise to wanna-be “in” people.

Somehow, this may be the tipping point for Apple –the high-water mark for the stock — as far as smart phone sales go. The company needs to move forward. Like when it came out with the iPod and moved from computers or when it came out with the original iPhone.

Never the first mover but it did it better and sleeker.

Where is the next “thing”? I don’t get paid enough to come up with that.

But the company is sitting on tremendous pile of cash, so perhaps it’s not organically grown, but my bet would be a new gadget for the home. Siri on steroids that would put Amazon’s Alexa in the same category as Microsoft’s Zune music player as garage sale merchandise

That’s what takes the stock over the $1,000 a share price, not a gold-encrusted iPhone.


If the US markets are doing so well, then why are so many Wall Street chiefs talking doomsday?

The VIX or “fear” index is clearly in the complacency zone at below 11, yet Ray Dalio head of Bridgewater, the largest hedge fund with assets under management of more than $100 billion.

“So we fear that whatever the magnitude of the downturn that eventually comes, whenever it eventually comes, it will likely produce much greater social and political conflict than currently exists,” Dalio wrote in a post on LinkedIn over the weekend.

While Dalio does not see this unraveling occurring in the nearest term, he does believe it could happen before Trump’s first term ends.

I usually put these types of comments about market doomsaying in the camp of fear porn to generate clicks on YouTube channels to sell precious metals, but Dalio is on the inside of the room, so I feel it has some importance.

Cohn at Fed would give Goldman excessive power

A report came out Tuesday from a banking analyst suggesting the Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic adviser would more than likely replace Fed chief Janet Yellen.

Should this move happens it would give Goldman Sachs the top two economic and monetary positions in the Trump administration. Cohn heading the Fed would join Treasury’s head Steve Mnuchin.

So much for draining the swamp. If you add senior counselor Steve Bannon you have a hat trick for the white shoe firm.

In October  2010, Yellen  began a 14-year term as a member of the Federal Reserve Board that will expire in January 2024. However the position serves at the president’s pleasure, so Trump can replace her at anytime.

 

 

Prime Minister May signs EU divorce papers

British Prime Minister Theresa May signed the EU divorce papers on Tuesday.

Brexit has officially begun as foreign exchange response seems to be muted as both the pound and euro traded off slightly against the dollar. US equities and bonds were also nonplussed by the much-anticipated move by the Brits.

City of London bankers from US banks such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan are still awaiting news whether they will be moving before March 29, 2019 to the continent in order to smoothly transition to servicing EU-based clients.

Now May has to deal with the Scots wanting independence to rejoin the EU.