Washington, Jan 5 (AP/UNB) — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Friday that he will not resign if asked to do so by President Donald Trump, and that he is prepared to be patient in deciding when to raise interest rates again.
Both of those messages cheered stock market investors who had been worried about Trump's repeated attacks on his hand-picked choice to lead the nation's central bank and also the Fed's seemingly inexorable march to higher rates.
"There is no pre-set path for policy," Powell said during an appearance at a conference of economists in Atlanta. "With the muted inflation readings we have seen coming in, we will be patient as we watch to see how the economy evolves."
Private economists viewed Powell's comments as a strong signal that the Fed, which in December had projected another two rate hikes in 2019, may end up deciding to pause hikes for several months.
"With Chairman Powell's remarks today, I would say they will do just one hike or maybe no hikes this year," said Sung Won Sohn, chief economist at SS Economics. "Powell is definitely trying to calm the markets."
Wall Street, which opened sharply higher after a report showing 312,000 jobs gained in December, surged even higher during Powell's appearance. The Dow Jones industrial average finished the day up 746 points or 3.3 percent.
Powell called the jobs report "very strong" and said he was also encouraged by the rise in the labor force participation rate and gains in wages, which he said "for me at this time does not raise concerns about too high inflation."
Trump has complained that the Fed has pushed rates higher despite the fact that there is no evidence that inflation was getting out of control.
The president's attacks had become so intense that they had raised concerns that he might be considering firing Powell, a development which could send the market into a tailspin.
Trump would appear to be on shaky legal ground if he tried to fire Powell. Under the law that governs the Federal Reserve, a president can only remove a Fed chairman for cause. Courts in cases that involved other agencies have interpreted that language to not cover policy differences.
Asked if he would resign if Trump asked him to do so, Powell responded with a short "no."
Powell's willingness to be flexible on interest rates was welcome news to investors, many of whom worried that Fed chair risked cutting off the current economic expansion by continuing to raise interest rates despite signs the U.S. economy was cooling off a little.
On Friday, Powell said, "We are always prepared to shift the stance of policy and to shift it significantly if necessary" to meet the goals of maximum employment and stable prices.
Powell gave as an example the fact that in 2016, when Janet Yellen was Fed chair, the central bank began the year with a projection that it would raise rates four times that year but ended up raising rates only once because the economy hit a soft-patch.
Appearing on a panel with his two predecessors — Yellen and Ben Bernanke — Powell also said that the Fed could alter its approach to trimming its huge balance sheet if it determines such a change is needed.
The pace of Fed rate hikes and the lowering of the balance sheet, which tends to put upward pressure on interest rates, had both been concerns of investors in recent months. The stock market has seen stomach-churning declines since October, a development that Trump has blamed on the Fed's continued rate hikes, although the president's trade dispute with China as well as concerns about global economic growth also played a part in the market volatility.
The Fed had increased the size of its balance sheet four-fold to a record $4.5 trillion in an effort to push long-term interest rates lower. But it has been gradually reversing that stance over the past year, although the balance sheet still remains above $4 trillion. But some investors have worried that that process could push long-term rates higher at a time when the economy was slowing.
Powell on Friday stressed that the Fed was prepared to adjust the pace at which it trimmed the balance sheet if necessary to support economic growth.
While Trump has sent out a number of tweets criticizing Powell and calling the Fed the biggest threat to the economy, Powell said that he had not received any direct pressure from the White House. Asked if he had had any face-to-face meetings with Trump, Powell said he had not although he said previous Fed leaders have had discussions from time to time with previous presidents.
Asked if any future meeting with Trump was scheduled, Powell said, "I have no news on that. Nothing is scheduled."
Berlin, Jan 5 (AP/UNB) — Twitter suspended on Friday an account that posted links to sensitive personal data and documents stolen by hackers from hundreds of German public figures and politicians — from every political party but the far-right Alternative for Germany.
The exposed material included addresses, cellphone numbers and chat records, along with banking, credit card and other financial information, German news media said.
The breach, discovered by journalists on Thursday, affected politicians at all levels, including the European, German and state parliaments as well as municipal officials, said Martina Fietz, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel. She said the country's cyber-defense agency was investigating.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said an initial analysis suggests that the material was obtained from cloud services, email accounts or social networks. He said there was no indication that federal government or parliament computer systems were compromised.
Fietz told reporters that "it appears, at first sight, that no sensitive information and data are included in what was published, including regarding the chancellor."
The German news agency dpa reported that the information included a fax number and email address belonging to Merkel and several letters to and from the chancellor.
Cybersecurity analysts compared the hack in scale and affected population to that of prominent U.S. Democrats including Hillary Clinton presidential campaign workers and other Americans targeted by state-backed Russian hackers in 2015-2016.
"This hack clearly isn't about extortion or financially-motivated. This is about attempting to destabilise Germany society," British security expert Graham Cluley blogged.
Some experts cautioned journalists not to link to or publish the exposed information, saying it would serve the interests of hackers and hurt the victims.
Public broadcaster RBB said there appeared to be no method to what was posted via a Twitter account. However, security experts and journalists who examined the documents said multiple copies were posted on mirror sites, indicating a serious investment of energy and time.
Although the data reportedly include information such as internal party communications and in some cases personal financial records and credit card details — some of the data years old — RBB said there appeared to be no politically sensitive documents.
The Twitter account listed as located in Hamburg was taken offline at midday Friday after gaining about 17,000 followers. It had been active since mid-2017. A related blog was also suspended by Google.
A Twitter spokesperson would not comment other than to say the incident was under investigation. The spokesperson said the company recently updated its rules to prohibit the posting of "hacked material that contains private information, trade secrets or could put people in harm's way."
The links it posted led to information on politicians from all parties in parliament except Alternative for Germany that had been shared in daily batches before Christmas along with data on YouTubers and other public figures that media reports said included journalists, comedians and artists. The last post was on Dec. 28.
The head of Germany's IT security agency, Arne Schoenbohm, said authorities had been aware of individual cases in December but material was posted online on a large scale Thursday evening. He said the agency believes data on about 1,000 people were involved, and confirmed that one party in parliament wasn't affected — though he wouldn't name it.
Schoenbohm said "a high two-digit number of attacks" were very successful, with accounts infiltrated and data and documents extracted. His agency was still working to figure out how the attack started and who was behind it. He said authorities couldn't rule out fake data having been mixed in with genuine information in the leaked data.
Germany has seen mounting cyberattacks on government and parliament computer systems since 2014 in which Kremlin-backed hackers were suspected. Berlin has been a leading backer of sanctions against Russia over its aggression in Ukraine.
German officials didn't comment Friday on whether there were any indications foreign intelligence services were involved, citing the ongoing investigation.
Tom Kellermann, the chief cybersecurity officer of Carbon Black, was among analysts saying the hack had all the hallmarks of Russian state-backed hackers.
He said it made perfect sense that none of the targets in this hacking campaign was from Germany's far right, and that it appeared aimed at "undermining the German political process and essentially stoking fires of the mob."
"It's in Russia's best interests for the far-right politicians to be successful," Kellermann added.
Washington, Jan 5 (AP/UNB)— The White House said Friday it is exploring ways to prevent a pay raise for top administration officials during a government shutdown that has left hundreds of thousands of federal workers without pay.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that the administration "is aware of the issue" and "exploring options to prevent this from being implemented while some federal workers are furloughed."
The raises are the result of a pay freeze for top federal officials, including the vice president and cabinet secretaries, that has been passed repeatedly by Congress but is now on the verge of expiring because of the shutdown.
Trump told reporters at a press conference earlier Friday that he "might consider" asking cabinet secretaries and other top officials to forgo the raises. Vice President Mike Pence committed to doing so.
The raises, which were first reported by The Washington Post, appear to be an unintended consequence of a shutdown that is affecting hundreds of thousands of federal employees, forcing many to work without pay. Trump and congressional leaders met again Friday to try to hash out a resolution, but emerged no closer to a deal. Trump is demanding billions of dollars for his long-promised wall along the southern border. Democrats refuse to give him the money.
Sanders, in her statement, called the raises "another unnecessary byproduct of the shutdown" and put the onus on Congress, saying it "can easily take care of this by funding the government and securing our borders."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote on the measures passed by the House Thursday night to re-open the government and provide back pay to those affected by the shutdown.
"It is outrageous that Vice President Pence and hundreds of President Trump's political appointees will each receive a $10,000 raise while denying paychecks to 800,000 federal employees as they keep the government shut down," Hoyer said.
The cap has maintained salaries for those top officials at 2013 levels.
The Office of Personnel Management did not respond to a request for comment.
Washington, Jan 5 (AP/UNB) -President Donald Trump has declared he could keep parts of the government shut down for "months or even years" after he and Democratic leaders again failed to resolve his demand for billions of dollars for a border wall with Mexico.
They did agree to a new round of weekend talks between staff members and White House officials.
Trump met in the White House Situation Room with congressional leaders from both parties as the shutdown hit the two-week mark amid an impasse over his wall demands. Democrats emerged from meeting, which both sides said was contentious at times, to report little if any progress.
Trump says he could declare a national emergency to build the wall without congressional approval, but would first try a "negotiated process."
The Trump administration says it's exploring ways to prevent a pay raise for senior White House staff and cabinet officials during the government shutdown.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says the administration "is aware of the issue" and is "exploring options to prevent this from being implemented while some federal workers are furloughed."
The raises are the result of a pay freeze for top federal officials that is expiring because of the shutdown. They were first reported by The Washington Post.
Trump had told reporters earlier in the day that he "might consider" asking cabinet secretaries and other top officials to forgo the raises. Vice President Mike Pence said he would.
President Donald Trump says he's considered using executive authority to get a wall built on the southern border.
Trump told reporters Friday that he could officially declare a national emergency to build a border wall but wants to try to negotiate a border wall with Congress.
Trump said: "I can do it if I want. We can call a national emergency. I may do it."
He says he thinks the standoff over the border wall, which has resulted in a partial government shutdown, is going to be over sooner than people think.
President Donald Trump says that he told congressional leaders the partial government shutdown could go on for months or years. But he said he didn't think it would.
The government is in its 14th day of a partial government shutdown over Trump's insistence for funding of his proposed wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters their nearly two-hour meeting with Trump was "somewhat contentious." Trump called it "productive."
In the Rose Garden after the meeting Friday, Trump said he wouldn't end up reopening the closed government agencies until he gets border security. "We have to get a structure built," he said.
President Donald Trump says he has designated a team that will meet over the weekend with lawmakers to resolve the standoff over his demand for a border wall that has led to a partial government shutdown.
Trump spoke in the Rose Garden on Friday after emerging from more than two hours of somewhat contentious talks with Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. Vice President Mike Pence says there is a crisis at the border.
Trump said that the official ports of entry are strong, but there are miles and miles of unprotected areas along the border where drug and people smugglers enter the United States. He says the only way to stop it is to have a solid concrete or steel structure to close off the open areas.
The government is in its 14th day of a partial government shutdown.
President Donald Trump told congressional leaders he'd keep the government closed "for a very long period of time, months or even years." That's according to Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who was among those meeting with Trump at the White House on Friday.
The partial government shutdown over Trump's demand for money to build a border wall with Mexico is in its 14th day.
Schumer said the Democratic leaders "told the president we needed the government open. He resisted."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it a "lengthy and sometimes contentious" meeting. She said, "We cannot resolve this until we open up government."
Trump convened the Democratic and Republican leaders for the second negotiation this week. The president is insisting on $5 billion for the border wall, but legislation for that does not have support from Congress.
Congressional leaders are arriving at the White House to meet with President Donald Trump amid an extended partial government shutdown over his funding demands for a border wall.
Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi both arrived at the White House Friday for another meeting on the 14th day of the shutdown. Democratic Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Republican Minority leader Kevin McCarthy also arrived for the meeting.
Leaders came to the White House earlier this week for a briefing on border security that ended in impasse. Trump and Democrats are at odds over funding for Trump's proposed wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The meeting comes as GOP senators up for re-election in 2020 voiced discomfort with the extended shutdown.
On their first day in the majority, House Democrats have passed a plan to re-open the government without funding President Donald Trump's promised border wall.
The largely party-line votes Thursday night came after Trump made a surprise appearance at the White House briefing room, pledging to keep up the fight for his signature campaign promise.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump and Senate Republicans should "take yes for an answer" and approve the border bill, which was virtually identical to a plan the Senate adopted on a voice vote last month. Pelosi told reporters: "We're not doing a wall."
President Donald Trump has taken just as firm a stance not to re-open the government unless money is provided for a wall on the border.
Amid signs of Republican unease over the prolonged partial government shutdown, congressional leaders planned to meet Friday with President Donald Trump after House Democrats muscled through legislation to fund the government but not his border wall.
The impasse over paying for Trump's proposed wall at the U.S.-Mexico border extended the shutdown into a 14th day, but some GOP senators up for re-election in 2020 voiced discomfort. Several are from states where voter views on Trump are mixed.
Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said Congress should pass bipartisan bills to fund government "while we continue to fight for more border security money." And Republican Susan Collins of Maine said she saw "no reason why the bills that are ready to go and on which we've achieved an agreement should be held hostage to this debate over border security."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the measures are non-starters on his side of the Capitol without the president's support.
Adding to the unease are economic jitters as analysts warn of the risks of closures that are disrupting government operations across multiple departments and agencies at a time of other uncertainties in the stock market and foreign trade.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump and Senate Republicans should "take yes for an answer" and pass the legislation — without money for the wall — that the Senate approved on a voice vote last month.
"We're not doing a wall. Does anyone have any doubt that we're not doing a wall?" Pelosi said Thursday night.
But the White House line was still firm. Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News late Thursday, "Bottom line, if there's no wall, there's no deal."
In their first votes of the new Congress, House Democrats approved bills Thursday night to re-open government at previously agreed upon levels. Several Republicans crossed over to join them.
Friday's White House meeting with Trump includes eight leaders — the top two Democrats and Republicans of both chambers. A session earlier in the week produced finger pointing with no breakthroughs.
Republicans said the new round of talks might be more productive now that Pelosi is speaker. But Democrats said the problem isn't with them but with Trump, who once boasted of the shutdown but now must try to explain blocking the effort to re-open government with bills Republicans had earlier approved.
Trump on Wednesday told the leaders he would "look foolish" for conceding without money for the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Thursday, Trump made a surprise appearance at the White House briefing room, pledging to keep up the fight for his signature campaign promise.
"You can call it a barrier, you can call it whatever you want," Trump said. "But essentially we need protection in our country. We're going to make it good. The people of our country want it."
Trump is demanding billions of dollars to build his wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Asked if she would give Trump $1 for a wall to reopen the government, Pelosi said: "One dollar? Yeah, one dollar. The fact is a wall is an immorality. It's not who we are as a nation."
Polls show a majority of Americans oppose the border wall, although Republicans strongly support it.
White House and Department of Homeland Security officials have spent recent days trying to make both a public and private case that the situation at the border has reached a crisis point that demands more money than Democrats have offered.
Trump tweeted an ominous video Thursday with images of what appeared to be migrants trying to rush the border and clashing with law enforcement, beneath the words "crisis at the border," ''drugs" and "crime." The video concludes with footage of Trump at the border along with audio from one of his rallies in which he vows to build his promised border wall and the crowd chants "Build the wall!"
Trump has said the partial shutdown, which began Dec. 22, will last "as long as it takes" to get the funding he wants.
The White House said he made calls Thursday to the family of Cpl. Ronil Singh, the Newman, California, police officer shot to death during a Dec. 26 traffic stop. The suspected shooter is a Mexican man accused of living in the U.S. illegally. Republicans have seized on the case to call for tougher border security.
Nakhon Si Thammarat, Jan 4 (AP/UNB) — Rain, wind and surging seawater from a tropical storm buffeted coastal villages and world-famous tourist resorts on southern Thailand's east coast on Friday, knocking down trees and utility poles and flooding roads.
One person was reported dead and another missing after a fishing boat with a crew of six capsized in high waves, but there were no reports of major damage by nightfall. It appeared that Tropical Storm Pabuk caused aggravation during the country's high tourist season but less damage than had been feared.
Airlines and boat operators suspended operations for safety reasons and tourists were forced to change travel plans.
Beaches were closed, but even with the bad weather approaching, tourists on the popular island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand continued to patronize bars and restaurants catering to them.
That was good fortune for the tourism industry, whose safety problems were highlighted last July when 47 Chinese tourists drowned after their boat sank in rough seas near the popular resort of Phuket.
Ahead of this week's storm, more than 6,100 people in four provinces were evacuated, according to the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.
The Meteorological Department said the storm had maximum sustained winds of 65 kilometers (40 miles) per hour at late afternoon, down from 75 kph (47 mph) when it hit land shortly after noon.
It continued to warn of strong winds and waves 3-5 meters (10 to 16 feet) high in the Gulf of Thailand and 2-3 meters (6 to 10 feet) in the Andaman Sea. It advised all ships to stay ashore through Saturday and warned of possible storm surges on the Gulf coast.
"We can expect heavy rain and downpours, flooding and flash floods in the area throughout the night," department Director-General Phuwieng Prakhammintara said.
Evacuation efforts were especially intense in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, about 800 kilometers (480 miles) south of Bangkok, where authorities sent trucks through flooded streets with downed power lines, urging people in danger zones to leave.
"You cannot stay here. It's too dangerous," they repeated from truck-mounted loudspeakers.
Koh Samui appeared to have been spared much of the brunt of the storm.
Rain there stopped by Friday evening, said Joe Kieta, and American visitor, "so it seems like the worst is past us."
Kieta, editor of California's Fresno Bee newspaper, said in an email that roads on the island had light debris, his hotel's beach area was closed and guests were discouraged from going out.
Southern Thailand also has popular resort destinations on its west coast on the Andaman Sea, and they now await the storm.
The navy said Thailand's sole aircraft carrier, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet, was on standby at its base east of Bangkok, prepared to sail to help with relief efforts at a moment's notice.
PTT Exploration and Production Public Co. Ltd. said it inspected its offshore gas platforms in the Gulf of Thailand and plans to resume production on Sunday. It said all staff were safe.
There had been fears that the storm would be the worst to hit Thailand since 1989, when Typhoon Gay left more than 400 people dead. A tropical storm in 1962 killed more than 900 people in the south.