Fed officials signal rate hike
Most Federal Reserve officials said they would likely vote to hike interest rates again if economic information continued to show signs of a strengthening U.S. economy, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday. The Federal Open Market Committee’s May 2-3 meeting minutes point to a rate hike at the FOMC’s mid-June meeting as long as a recent slowdown in economic activity was temporary. That will gradually shrink the nation’s $4.5 trillion balance sheet which has ballooned since 2008, when the U.S. lowered its benchmark interest rate to virtually zero to stimulate the economy during the Great Recession. A banking economist at UniCredit Bank AG in New York told Bloomberg the potential rate hike is likely to be “data dependent.”
OPEC slashes production as it battles market forces
Fighting to bolster oil prices amid the rise of renewable energy sources and U.S. shale producers, the world’s major oil-exporting nations voted to cut output on Thursday. The New York Times reported the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries voted to extend production cuts through March 2018 at a meeting in Vienna. The decision was encouraged by Saudi Arabia and Russia. The move is likely to stall, rather than stop market forces that threaten both OPEC and global oil markets. Prices that once soared above $100 a barrel in 2014 may have helped pave the path for present situation. Sky-high oil prices in 2014 encouraged more U.S. companies to invest in fracking and production from shale rock. That’s upending the global oil order and OPEC’s power.
Is the world running out of sand?
The New Yorker reported that one of the world’s basic natural resources, sand, could be threatened. That’s because most sand in the industrial world isn’t just beach sand, it’s aggregate, a category that includes gravel, crushed stone, and various recycled materials. The New Yorker reports that natural aggregate is one of the world’s second most heavily exploited resource after water. The amount of mined sand is spiking because of rapid growth in Asia. In fact, a Swiss scientist told the BBC last May that China’s rapid development had consumed more sand in the previous four years than the U.S. used in the past 100 years. In India, the scarcity has spurred the rise of “sand mafias” and organized crime cartels that sell material taken illegally from rivers and other sources. In the U.S., that’s created concern over a shortage of sand used to fortify coastal areas from flooding, erosion and landslides.
Bill Gates, Vulcan Capital bet on drone technology
On Monday, Business Insider reported that Bill Gates and his Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital were likely investing $29 million in the startup Echodyne. That’s the second time Gates has invested significant capital in the company, which is betting that it can build better sensors to power drones and self-driving cars with systems that work in difficult and rainy weather conditions. Amazon and Google’s sister company, Waymo, is also making big bets on drones and self-driving cars. Echodyne’s biggest invention yet is a radar product that is small enough to mount on a drone, but with much more powerful technology than existing sensors.
Tech companies show their might
Six of the the nation’s biggest tech companies showed their strength after reporting first-quarter results, according to Re/code on Saturday. Alphabet (Google’s parent), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Netflix all grew in both year-over-year revenue and profit during the first quarter, according to data from FactSet. Combined, the companies grew by $18 billion in total year-over-year revenue and $4.5 billion in profit last quarter to generate a total $146 billion in total revenue and $25 billion in total profit.
GM, like Volkswagen, under scrutiny
General Motors Co. is in hot water over accusations the car company, like Volkswagen AG, rigged hundreds of thousands of diesel trucks with software that ensured the vehicles passed U.S. emissions tests, Reuters reported on Thursday. A proposed class-action lawsuit against GM was filed on Thursday and covers people who own or lease more than 705,000 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups fitted with “Duramax” engines from the 2011 to 2016 model years. GM said the lawsuit is without merit and that the company will “vigorously” defend itself. The lawsuit adds to GM’s previous legal problems, including about $2.5 billion in penalties and settlements over faulty ignition switches tied to 124 deaths,.