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Oil markets may have to brace for ‘greater disruption,’ says strategist

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Meanwhile, Washington continues to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran, with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday labeling Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization — the first time America has formally labeled another country’s military a terrorist group.

Tensions between the two countries have sizzled since the U.S. withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, with Iran. The administration also reimposed sanctions on Tehran’s crude exports, dealing a blow to the Iranian economy.

Commenting on recent statements made by individuals such as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the “complete obliteration of Iranian exports,” Driscoll said that goal was “unrealistic” and “possibly even delusional.”

“As oil prices rise, it’s going to be harder to keep that oil off the market,” he said. “It will find an outlet.”

Driscoll said that in the “black swan event” that Tehran loses patience with Washington and attempts to close the Strait of Hormuz — a critical sea passage for crude oil shipments, it would result in the loss of a “critical choke point where 30 percent of the world’s oil and gas passes.”

Oil prices scaled to new 2019 highs on Monday, with the international benchmark Brent crude futures contract adding 1.1 percent to settle at $71.10 per barrel. U.S. crude futures also rose 2.1 percent to settle at $64.40 per barrel.

In Asian afternoon trade on Tuesday, Brent rose fractionally to $71.13 and U.S. crude futures increased by 0.2 percent at $64.53 per barrel.

“When I was on the show a month ago, I said we are going to breach $70 on Brent but it will be short-lived,” Driscoll said.

“Well, let me amend that, I think this one has got a bit more legs,” he said. “Libya has come back into play, Iran, Venezuela, it’s all getting stronger.

— Reuters and CNBC’s Natasha Turak contributed to this report.

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Facebook hired people to transcribe voice calls made on Messenger

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaves the Elysee Palace after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Aurelien Meunier | French Select | Getty Images

Facebook contractors were listening to and transcribing select voice conversations that were held using its Facebook Messenger chat platform, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday. The company reportedly had the contractors transcribe chats in an effort to improve artificial intelligence.

Facebook shares dipped slightly after Bloomberg published its story, but shares were still up more than 1% for the day.

A Facebook spokesperson was not immediately available to comment.

Facebook has since halted the practice, the company told Bloomberg. “We paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” the company said, according to the report. Other companies have or are doing the same thing to improve voice recognition in products such as Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri.

Apple recently halted a program that allowed employees to listen to a small percentage of Siri voice requests, which are often otherwise handled directly on the device. Google stopped doing the same in Europe where, as in the U.S., Google Assistant queries are sent to the cloud for processing. Amazon does the same for Alexa, but recently rolled out tools that let users opt-out of having their questions analyzed by humans.

Facebook doesn’t have a public voice assistant like Alexa or Siri, however, which makes the report a bit more concerning. Its portal device uses Amazon Alexa, for example. The company has been working on one since 2018, however.

Read the full Bloomberg story here.

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Trump just blinked, giving China a possible edge in trade war: Chanos

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In backing off on China tariffs Tuesday, President Donald Trump showed just how much pain the U.S. could tolerate — and China may use that to its advantage, key voices on Wall Street say.

Markets rallied on the announcement by the U.S. Trade Representative office that certain items were being removed from the new tariff list, while duties on others would be delayed until mid-December.

The short-seller Jim Chanos, who tweets under the alter ego “Diogenes,” hinted that Chinese President Xi Jinping may take this as a sign that the U.S. may cave with enough pressure.

“So then tell me why Xi should not continue to wait out The World’s Greatest Negotiator, who keeps ‘dealing’ with himself?” tweeted Chanos, founder and managing Partner of Kynikos Associates.

Some investors took Tuesday’s announcement as a sign that despite the White House’s claim that China would bear the brunt of tariff impacts, the trade war was indeed hurting consumers. The products in the group exempt from tariffs include cellphones, some apparel, and video games — all of which are crucial to the U.S. consumer market, especially during the holiday shopping season. Trump announced on Aug. 1 that 10% tariffs would go into effect on Sept. 1 on the remaining $300 billion worth of Chinese imports that had not been slapped with U.S. duties.

Trump told reporters Tuesday afternoon that he postponed tariffs for the Christmas season “in case it had an impact on shopping” and the delay would “help a lot of people.”

China has not publicly backed off. It announced last week that it would not resume buying U.S. agricultural products, despite assurances otherwise by Xi to Trump at the June G-20 summit. It also has retaliated with its own tariffs on U.S. goods and set off more worries about the trade war on Friday by letting its currency weaken.

John Rutledge, chief investment officer of global principal investment house Safanad, said the trade war is causing pain on both sides. In China, Rutledge said Xi is feeling pressure to show strength in the trade war, while Washington is grappling with mounting political pressure and costs to consumers.

But that can change quickly, Rutledge said, based on which of Trump’s trade advisors have his ear at the moment.

“There’s a battle of the bands among advisors — this may be just a tick up as the rational group prevailed,” Rutledge said, referring to White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, whom he calls “market thinkers” in opposition to trade hawk and advisor Peter Navarro.

Still, Rutledge said its nearly impossible to predict the White House’s next move and investors should take this as “one day and one data point.”

“We shouldn’t extrapolate or draw a trend, since it might get revered,” Rutledge said.

The president’s top priorities — a strong stock market and a tough China trade deal — have been at odds. Uncertainty around the trade war has weighed on financial markets. Stocks saw their worst day of the year on Aug. 5 after China let its currency weaken below 7 yuan to the dollar and made its announcement about U.S. farm products.

“The White House is now delaying the tariffs and removing some items. Did some acronym called the SPX cause someone to blink?,” David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff & Associates, said in a tweet.

China’s Commerce Ministry said Vice Premier Liu He had a phone call with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lightizer and Mnuchin. Trade talks are set to continue in two weeks. According to Chinese news outlet CGTN, the call for the world’s two largest economies to meet again on trade came from Lighthizer, not China.

So far, the pain felt by the stock market has not been that exaggerated. At its low point for this sell-off, the S&P 500 was down only a little more than 6% from its high.

“These developments are modestly positive, especially compared to the recent torrent of negative news, but we caution against viewing the tariff delay as anything more than an attempt to partially shield the American consumer heading into the holiday season,” Isaac Boltansky of Compass Point Research wrote in a note to clients. “We continue to believe that a broad deal will not emerge prior to the 2020 election.”

Trump, himself, accused China last week of trying to wait out the 2020 election for a trade deal.

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Bugatti’s $18.7M La Voiture Noire makes US debut at Pebble Beach

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Bugatti’s La Voiture Noire

Source: Bugatti 2019.

The world’s most expensive new car makes its North American debut this week at the world’s premier luxury auto show, the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance, which kicks off Tuesday in Monterey, California.

Bugatti debuted its one-of-a-kind $18.68 million La Voiture Noire, which translates to The Black Car, at the Geneva International Motor Show in March. The car pays homage to the art deco design of the Type 57SC Atlantic, one of the most coveted classic cars in the world. Designed in 1934 by Jean Bugatti, eldest son of company founder Ettore Bugatti, only four were made. Three are accounted for while the fourth one, which was lost in World War II, would be valued at well over $100 million if found today.

The new La Voiture Noire packs 1,500 horsepower and 1,180 pound-foot of torque that propels it from 0 to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds. It has a quad turbo W-16 engine with a top speed of 261 mph.

“We produced a true one-off, a single unit car that we call automotive haute couture,” said Achim Anscheidt, Bugatti’s design director. “It’s not just a car anymore, it’s really more like a piece of art in line with the highly exclusive fashion and luxury brands in France.”

Bugatti’s La Voiture Noire

Source: Bugatti 2019.

Bugatti limited the La Voiture Noire’s top speed to give it more touring refinement. The company’s previous limited-run model, the Divo, also traded top speed for a focus on cornering.

“High-speed mode was not relevant for these cars because they had a much different focus. The Divo is made for corners and La Voiture Noire is a Grand Turismo,” said Tim Bravo, a Bugatti spokesperson.

The car at Pebble Beach has already been purchased, but Bugatti isn’t saying who owns it. Rumored buyers have included soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo and Ferdinand Piech, former chairman of the Volkswagen, which owns Bugatti.

“As soon as a customer makes a public claim, then we can refer to that, but other than that we will honor a customer’s anonymity and he will decide whether or not he wants to remain anonymous,” said Bravo.

Whoever it is, he won’t be driving the car any time soon. Bravo said Bugatti still needs about 2½ years to finish and deliver the car.

Bugatti’s La Voiture Noire

Source: Bugatti 2019.

Bugatti has been making one-of-a-kind and custom-made cars for its ultra-wealthy clients for more than 100 years. The average Bugatti buyer owns roughly 42 vehicles, five homes, three private jets, three helicopters and a yacht, according to Bugatti.

“When you’re wealthy, the thing that you want most after your wealth is to feel special and unique — and someone who pays $18 million for a car gets to claim ‘I bought the most expensive car ever, see how special I am,'” said Karl Brauer, an analyst for Autotrader.

After becoming a part of the VW Group in 1998, the company scrapped custom models in favor of more mass produced, but still incredibly limited, super cars.

In the years that followed, the company produced 450 Veyron super cars launched in 2005 and recently completed 200 of 500 planned Bugatti Chirons, which start at $3 million.

The French super car maker envisioned something more exclusive than that for its loyal customers and returned to its coach building roots to offer the Bugatti Divo at the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours.

That $5.8 million super car, which was based off the Chiron, was shown to a select group of Chiron customers at Pebble Beach last year. The limited production of 40 Divos sold out that same day, Bugatti said at the time.

“I think it’s brilliant on their part because they’re making a claim that they’re going back to their roots and once upon a time when cars came out they were almost all coach built and they were hard to afford and it was a fairly premium experience,” said Brauer.

Bugatti’s La Voiture Noire

Source: Bugatti 2019.

La Voiture Noire represents another step in the return to that ultra exclusive heritage.

How exclusive? Well, Bugatti only approached one customer with the sketches and idea for the car.

The company says he bought it on the spot.

“The idea of La Voiture Noire was 100% born within Bugatti, it doesn’t come from the customer. However, with it being a one of one, the customer enjoys the freedom to create specific detailing with us,” said Anscheidt.

Some of those specifics include the car’s six tailpipes, the same as the Type 57SC, a detail recommended by the buyer’s wife.

Bugatti’s La Voiture Noire

Source: Bugatti 2019.

The buyer also had total design control over is the interior.

Notably, the show car revealed in Geneva sported blacked out windows obscuring the interior. The French carmaker says it’s because the car doesn’t have one yet.

“As to the interior, we wanted to make sure the customer that decided to buy that car could really create the interior to his own gusto,” said Anscheidt. “So, our designers are working hand in hand with the customer to make that interior just 100% like he wants,” he continued.

Bugatti’s La Voiture Noire

Source: Bugatti 2019.

Despite the price tag, custom car building is a sound business strategy according to analysts like Brauer, since it minimizes the risks associated with designing new models. Put simply, if the buyer is already known, there’s no speculation for what demand for it might be.

“These guys didn’t have to spend hardly anything. It was a phone call and some sketches to a customer to say ‘how about $18 million for this.’ Before they ever had to fire up a metal production machine or hand-stitch the leather, they had a sale,” said Brauer.

Hans Wurl, a specialist at classic car auction company Gooding, called it a “shocker of a valuation.” For collectors, valuing a car like La Voiture is difficult because it’s one of a kind and has never been publicly auctioned before, making it hard to estimate how much someone would pay for it.

“I think that if it came to an open auction today, there’s a very good chance it would not reach the number that it sold for new,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s not a great investment over a period of decades.”

Bugatti’s La Voiture Noire

Source: Bugatti 2019.

The company showed the new Bugatti at Geneva and the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in Italy in May. But this is the first time it’s being displayed in the U.S.

The Concours at Pebble Beach is the industry’s most prestigious car show with automakers often using the six days in Monterey to debut their priciest new cars and concept vehicles.

It also may be one of the few times La Voiture Noire isn’t the most expensive car on the lot.

A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO was sold at last year’s Pebble Beach car week for a record $48.4 million.

Bugatti’s La Voiture Noire

Source: Bugatti 2019.

“As ridiculous as it may sound to a normal person like you and me, La Voiture Noire is a very reasonably priced car,” said Bravo.

Bugatti has plans to roll out at least four more custom-built cars in the coming years, with another super car rumored to be somewhere between the Divo and La Voiture Noire expected to be revealed at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours.

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