Exclusive: U.S. shale firms offer $100 million to aid Texas, New Mexico

HOUSTON (Reuters) – More than a dozen top U.S. energy companies have pledged $100 million toward easing stresses on health care, education and civic infrastructure from the shale oil and gas boom in West Texas and New Mexico, the group said on Sunday.

Chevron, EOG Resources, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell are among 17 companies backing the Permian Strategic Partnership, as the consortium is called, Don Evans, a former U.S. government official and energy executive helping launch the group, told Reuters on Saturday.

The group seeks to address labor and housing shortages, overtaxed health care and traffic congestion caused in part by companies descending on the Permian Basin, the nation’s largest oilfield, where they hope to pump billions of dollars’ worth of oil and gas in coming decades, experts said.

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“It’s a significant amount of money, but these are huge challenges,” said Evans, a former U.S. Secretary of Commerce who lives in Midland, Texas, the epicenter of the shale oil revolution. “We don’t have enough teachers. We don’t have enough doctors.”

The group aims to work with regional and federal officials, companies, nonprofit groups and educators in New Mexico and Texas, said Evans, who started in the Permian and became CEO of producer Tom Brown Inc before joining the administration of former President George W. Bush.

The group is assembling plans to hold meetings in communities across the region, so “everyone have a voice” in the undertaking. There is no timetable or plan for how the initial contribution will be spent. The group is recruiting staff and searching for office space, he said.

In the last decade, the region’s many pockets of oil and low production costs have led to gold rush-like conditions in the Permian. Companies are pouring staff and equipment into the oilfield, which is expected to pump 3.7 million barrels of oil per day by December, four times its rate in 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That boom has local employers, including restaurants and school systems, under pressure from staff leaving for oilfield jobs. Midland’s unemployment rate was 2.1 percent in October, compared to the nation’s 3.7 percent rate.

The last decade’s shale boom also has led to school overcrowding, soaring traffic fatalities, drug abuse and strains on the power grid because of the activity.

“Our roads are not designed to handle the amount of truck traffic we have,” said Jeff Walker, transportation training coordinator at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs.

Drug charges in Midland more than doubled between 2012 and 2016, to 942 from 491, according to police data. Traffic accidents also jumped 18 percent between 2016 and 2017 in Midland County, and 29 percent in nearby Ector County, according to Texas Department of Transportation data.

“They all agree that scaling up infrastructure is going to be a huge challenge,” said Bob Peterson, a partner at consultancy Arthur D. Little who advises producers. “There’s a common agreement that there’s a whole bundle of problems.”

Dollar bulls wary after biggest weekly drop in two months

LONDON (Reuters) – The dollar steadied on Monday after posting its biggest weekly drop in two months last week as investors grew cautious about the near term outlook for the greenback after dovish comments by U.S. policymakers.

Against a basket of its rivals, the greenback was broadly steady at 96.48 after falling nearly half a percent last week, its biggest weekly drop since late September.

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The dollar has been the surprise winner of 2018, having risen nearly 10 percent from April lows thanks to a combination of interest rate hikes and strong data. But the growing view that U.S. economic growth may have peaked has begun to eat away at these gains.

“Dovish Fed comments on Friday gave some encouragement to investors to take profits on dollar positions which have risen in recent weeks,” said Jane Foley, head of FX strategy at Rabobank based in London.

Richard Clarida, the Fed’s newly appointed vice chair, cautioned about a slowdown in global growth, saying “that’s something that is going to be relevant” for the outlook for the U.S. economy.

Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Robert Kaplan, in a separate interview with Fox Business, also said he is seeing a growth slowdown in Europe and China.

Their comments come at a time when long dollar positions have swelled to their biggest levels in nearly two years despite a modest decline last week, according to futures data.

Latest U.S. Treasury holdings data also weighed on the dollar. China and Japan, the two biggest foreign U.S. creditors, cut their U.S. Treasury holdings further in September as foreign appetite for Treasuries declined.

Despite the dollar’s weakness, the euro failed to rally significantly above the $1.14 levels as concerns over negotiations between Brussels and Rome over Italy’s budget plans sapped broader appetite. It was changing hands at $1.1422.

Elsewhere, sterling remained in the spotlight with the currency expected to remain under pressure until the market gets more clarity on the progress of the Brexit deal.

It was 0.2 percent firmer against the dollar at $1.2864 after a 1 percent drop last week as British Prime Minister Theresa May’s draft EU divorce deal has met with stiff opposition with several ministers resigning.

Global stocks push higher, dollar sapped by rate hike uncertainty

LONDON (Reuters) – World shares started the week on the front foot on Monday, amid conflicting signals of a potential truce in the China-U.S. trade dispute, while the Federal Reserve’s new-found concerns over the global economy sapped the dollar.

Asia took a while to warm up but made a strong finish [.T][.SS] and Europe started well too as a 1 percent jump in mining, tech and bank stocks helped traders shrug off last week’s Brexit woes. [.EU]

In the currency market, the pound saw some respite as the dollar went limp. E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 also turned higher, having dithered in Asia.

Wall Street had firmed on Friday after U.S. President Donald Trump said that he might not impose more tariffs on Chinese goods after Beijing sent a list of measures it was willing to take to resolve trade tensions.

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The comment stoked speculation of a deal when Trump meets Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Argentina this month.

However, Chinese-U.S. tensions were clearly on display at an APEC meeting in Papua New Guinea over the weekend, where leaders failed to agree on a communique for the first time ever.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in a blunt speech that there would be no end to U.S. tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods until China changed its ways.

“The comments from Trump were seen as offering a glimmer of hope that further tariff action could be held in abeyance,” said NAB’s head of FX strategy, Ray Attrill.

“The exchange of barbs between Pence and Chinese President Xi Jinping in PNG on the weekend continues to suggest this is unlikely.”

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Also uncertain was the outlook for U.S. interest rates.

Federal Reserve policymakers are still signaling rate increases ahead but also sounded more concerned about a potential global slowdown, leading markets to suspect the tightening cycle may not have much further to run.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs chimed in, saying it expected the pace of U.S. economic growth to slow toward the global average next year.

As a result, it now sees a broad dollar decline next year. It revised its long-standing bearish view on the Japanese yen and tipped Latin American currencies, the Swedish krona, the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars and the Israeli shekel to rise.

“We see several changes to the global economic backdrop which, combined with a few negative medium-run factors, point to more downside than upside to the broad dollar in 2019,” Goldman analysts said in a macroeconomic outlook report.

That will focus attention on an appearance by New York Fed President John Williams later on Monday to see if he echoes the same theme.

Investors have already lengthened the odds on further hikes, with a December move now priced at 73 percent, down from over 90 percent. Futures imply rates around 2.74 percent for the end of next year, compared to 2.93 percent early this month. <0#FF:>

Yields on U.S. 10-year paper have duly declined to 3.08 percent, from a recent top of 3.25 percent.

The dollar followed to hover at 96.416 against a basket of currencies, down from a peak of 97.693. The euro was parked at $1.1417, while the dollar backed off to 112.72 yen.

Sterling edged higher to $1.2854 after political turmoil over Brexit caused steep losses last week.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday that toppling her would risk delaying Brexit as she faces the possibility of a leadership challenge from within her own party.

With both pro-EU and pro-Brexit lawmakers unhappy with the draft agreement, it is not clear that she will be able to win the backing of parliament, increasing the risk that Britain will leave the EU without a deal.

In commodity markets, gold found support from the drop in the dollar and held at $1,1220.19.

Oil prices suffered their sixth straight week of losses last week, but have found some support from expectations that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will cut output.

Brent crude was up 54 cents at $67.30 a barrel, while U.S. crude gained 70 cents to $57.16.

Marilyn Monroe’s Golden Globe sells for record $250,000 at auction

(Reuters) – Marilyn Monroe’s Golden Globe Award sold for a record-breaking $250,000 at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, California, auction officials said late Saturday.

The 1961 award statue for World Film Favorite Female from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association made history as the highest selling Golden Globe sold at auction.

Monroe’s raven black two-seater, 1956 Ford Thunderbird, which was auctioned for the first time, fetched $490,000 at Icons & Idols: Hollywood, which took place Friday and Saturday.

Monroe, one of the most collectible celebrities, was pictured driving in the car with her husband, playwright Arthur Miller, shortly after their June 1956 wedding.

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The movie star owned the vehicle for six years until shortly before her death in 1962.

Darren Julien, president of Julien’s Auctions, said the car was “not only part of automotive history but comes with an aura of glamour, romance and tragedy of a true Hollywood legend.”

Monroe gifted the Thunderbird to the son of her acting coach, Lee Strasberg, in 1962.

The current owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, tracked the vehicle down through registration and other documents. The car has undergone restoration but retains many original parts.

Monroe’s copy of Playboy’s first issue with her on the cover, signed by publisher Hugh Hefner, sold for $32,000 along with almost a dozen other items owned by the iconic actress.

The auction also included items from other celebrities including pop stars Tina Turner and Cher.

‘Star Wars’ producer Kennedy wants new movie voices ‘to bring world to its senses’

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – “Star Wars” producer Kathleen Kennedy on Sunday accepted a lifetime achievement award from the organizers of the Oscars and said she hoped it would open the door for new voices in the movie industry who “might bring the world back to its senses.”

Honored with her producer husband Frank Marshall, Kennedy was the first woman to receive the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ annual Irving. G. Thalberg award.

In 2012, Kennedy became president of LucasFilm, reviving the sci-fi saga and producing multi-billion dollar movies “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” that have made her one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood.

“I am very proud to be the first woman to accept this award. But I am also not the first to deserve it and I am 100 percent sure I am not the last,” Kennedy said to wild applause at a gala dinner attended by studio executives and many of Hollywood’s biggest actors and directors.

Nigeria’s ‘Mona Lisa’ shown at home for first time since it resurfaced

LAGOS (Reuters) – The Nigerian Mona Lisa, a painting lost for more than 40 years and found in a London flat in February, is being exhibited in Nigeria for the first time since it disappeared.

“Tutu”, an art work by Nigeria’s best-known modern artist, Ben Enwonwu, was painted in 1974. It appeared at an art show in Lagos the following year, but its whereabouts after that were unknown, until it re-surfaced in north London.

The owners – who wished to remain anonymous – had called in Giles Peppiatt, an expert in modern and contemporary African art at the London auction house Bonhams, to identify their painting. He recognized Enwonwu’s portrait.

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“It was discovered by myself on a pretty routine valuation call to look at a work by Ben Enwonwu,” said Giles Peppiatt, director of contemporary African art at Bonhams. “I didn’t know what I was going to see. I turned up, and it was this amazing painting. We’d had no inkling ‘Tutu’ was there.

How it got there remains a bit of a mystery, Peppiatt said.

“All the family that owned it know is that it was owned by their father, who had business interests in Nigeria. He traveled and picked it up in the late or mid-70s.”

The family put the portrait up for sale, and it was auctioned for 1.2 million pounds ($1.57 million) in February to an anonymous buyer. The sale made it the highest-valued work of Nigerian modern art sold at auction.

“Tutu” was loaned to the Art X Lagos fair, held from Friday to Sunday, by Access Bank, the organizers said in a statement. Peppiatt said Access arranged the loan but is not the painting’s owner.

“‘Tutu’ is referred to as the African ‘Mona Lisa’ by virtue of this disappearance and re-emergence, and it is the first work of a modern Nigerian artist to sell for over a million pounds,” said Tokini Peterside, the art fair’s founder.

The original Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, was stolen from the Louvre in 1911. The thief, Vincenzo Peruggia, eventually took it to Italy, where it was recovered and in 1914 returned to the Louvre.

The Nigerian painting is a portrait of Adetutu Ademiluyi, a grand-daughter of a traditional ruler from the Yoruba ethnic group. It holds special significance in Nigeria as a symbol of national reconciliation after the 1967-70 Biafran War.

Enwonwu belonged to the Igbo ethnic group, the largest in the southeastern region of Nigeria, which had tried to secede under the name of Biafra. The Yoruba, whose homeland is in the southwest, were mostly on the opposing side in the war.

Enwonwu painted three versions of the portrait. One is in a private collection in Lagos, while Peppiatt is hunting the third in Washington D.C., the expert said. Prints first made in the 1970s have been in circulation ever since and the images are familiar to many Nigerians. Enwonwu died in 1994.

David Hockney pool painting soars to $90 mln, record for living artist

NEW YORK(Reuters) – An iconic 1972 painting by British artist David Hockney soared to $90.3 million at Christie’s on Thursday, smashing the record for the highest price ever paid at auction for a work by a living artist.

With Christie’s commission, “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures),” surpassed the auction house’s pre-sale estimate of about $80 million, following a bidding war between two determined would-be buyers once the work hit $70 million.

The previous record for a work by a living artist was held by Jeff Koons’ sculpture “Balloon Dog,” which sold for $58.4 million in 2013. Hockney’s previous auction record was $28.4 million.

The 1972 work by the 81-year-old British artist, one of Hockney’s most famous paintings which depicts a man in a pink jacket looking down on another figure swimming underwater in a pool, was reported to have been consigned by British billionaire currency trader Joe Lewis.

Christie’s did not identify the seller or the successful bidder, who was bidding via telephone during a nearly 10-minute contest for the work.

Morgan Long, senior director of art investment house Fine Art Group, hailed “a great result for Christie’s,” saying it achieved its predicted $80 million price “through a combination of clever marketing and what looked like sheer determination on the part of (a) phone client to take the painting home.”

In a virtually unprecedented move for such a valuable painting, “Portrait of an Artist,” which was on exhibition at Tate Britain, the Pompidou Centre and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art over the past two years, was sold with no reserve, the minimum price at which the consignor agrees to sell a piece.

The price went far to boost the success of Christie’s post-war and contemporary art auction, which took in a total of $357.6 million, roughly the middle of its expected range, with 41 of the 48 lots on offer finding buyers.

“What we have learned from this week is that demand for great art remains global, with strong participation from American bidders and good activity from Europe and Asia,” Chief Executive Guillaume Cerutti said after the sale.

Other sale highlights included Francis Bacon’s “Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing,” which sold for $21.7 million against a pre-sale estimate of $14 million to $18 million, and Alexander Calder’s “21 Feuilles Blanches,” which more than doubled its high estimate, selling for just under $18 million.

Finnish president denies ever discussing ‘raking’ with Trump

The leader of Finland denied on Sunday that he’d ever told President Donald Trump that the small Nordic nation relies upon “raking” its forests to prevent wildfires — even though Trump promoted the dubious conservation method during a visit to flame-ravaged California over the weekend.

“You look at other countries where they do it differently, and it’s a whole different story,” Trump said Saturday, standing alongside Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom of California among the charred ruins of the Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park in the town of Paradise.

“I was with the president of Finland, and he said, ‘We have a much different — we’re a forest nation.’ He called it a forest nation,” Trump continued. “And they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem. And when it is, it’s a very small problem. So I know everybody’s looking at that to that end. And it’s going to work out, it’s going to work out well.”

But President Sauli Niinistö of Finland told Ilta-Sanomat, the country’s second-largest newspaper, on Sunday that he never discussed raking with Trump during their brief meeting in Paris last weekend, where the leaders attended various commemorations marking the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I.

“I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network,” Niinistö said, adding that he recalled telling Trump: “We take care of our forests.”

The Camp Fire in Northern California, the deadliest and most devastating wildfire in the state’s history, has resulted in at least 76 deaths and nearly 1,300 people missing. The fire, which is 55 percent contained, has destroyed nearly 10,000 homes and set ablaze 233 square miles, according to The Associated Press.

While in California, the president was reluctant to blame the effects of rising global temperatures for a series of increasingly devastating wildfires. Asked by reporters whether his visit to the fire zone had altered his opinions on climate change, Trump replied: “No. No. I have a strong opinion: I want great climate. We’re going to have that, and we’re going to have forests that are very safe.”

The president has instead largely attributed the natural disasters to forestland mismanagement by California’s leaders. He was widely criticized by local officials last week for a tweet in which he threatened to withhold the state’s federal funding.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump wrote online. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

On Saturday, the president continued to emphasize the importance of working with environmental groups to improve forest maintenance, and pledged to “take care of the floors, you know, the floors of the forest.”

“I think everybody’s seen the light, and I don’t think we’ll have this again to this extent. We’re going to have to work quickly,” Trump said. “But a lot of people are very much — there’s been a lot of study going on over the last little while, and I will say I think you’re going to have — hopefully this is going to be the last of these because this was a really, really bad one.”

As news of Niinistö’s contradiction of Trump disseminated across social media on Sunday, Finns took to Twitter to post videos, pictures and memes accompanied by the word #haravointi, which translates from Finnish to English as “raking.”

Republicans battle to defend Trump from threat of impeachment

The audition to become President Donald Trump’s most visible defender in Congress — and lead the fight against any impeachment proceedings — is in full swing.

One of Trump’s fiercest allies, Rep. Jim Jordan, on Friday began flirting openly with a bid to serve as the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, the panel where a flood of Democratic-led investigations, and potential impeachment, will begin.

“We’re still looking at it,” the Ohio Republican said when asked whether he would run for the post. “I’ve always been one who’s going to fight to get the truth out no matter what role I have. So we’ll just wait and see.”

Republicans’ pick will be critical for Trump and his party. The new House Democratic majority has detailed a long list of targets for investigation, from Trump’s business entanglements to his decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey. Even after Republicans were routed in the midterms, GOP leaders are vowing to aggressively defend against Democratic probes, which they’ve labeled “presidential harassment.”

The top slot on the Judiciary Committee also comes with a powerful policy portfolio. The committee has jurisdiction over immigration, gun control and abortion, as well as oversight of the Justice Department and FBI. But with Capitol Hill polarized over the president, the next ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee will likely be spending more time fighting for Trump than legislating with Democrats. It’s a reality that is already coloring the jockeying for the job.

Trump, in fact, has already given Jordan a boost — calling incoming GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and urging him to ensure Jordan, a longtime McCarthy adversary, got a top committee post next year. That led to whispers and speculation that Trump wanted Jordan in the Judiciary slot, though Trump has declined to explicitly endorse him.

“I would like to see Jim in a high position ’cause he deserves it,” Trump told the Daily Caller on Wednesday. “He’s fantastic, but I haven’t gotten into the endorsement or not.”

Jordan’s interest in the role has scrambled the calculus for the other GOP lawmakers eyeing the job, including Rep. Doug Collins, who’s widely perceived as the front-runner.

Collins has spent a year maneuvering meticulously to become the lead Republican on the committee. The affable Georgian has crisscrossed the country fundraising for colleagues, forged relationships with Republicans in House leadership and showcased his legislative chops by partnering with Democrats to advance high-profile legislation.

But since Election Day, when rumors of Jordan’s interest in the position began to surface, Collins has taken pains to emphasize all the ways he’s backed up Trump in investigations and on the House floor over the last two years.

Collins’ allies note that he has taken on the Justice Department over GOP allegations that senior officials were biased against Trump — an issue Jordan has championed for a year. And Collins himself says that even as he considers ways to collaborate with Democrats, he’ll relish the chance to beat back any “overreach” in their investigations of the president.

Initial report shows Pentagon EHR rollout still has big problems

A team of independent Pentagon investigators gave another poor grade to the MHS Genesis electronic health record implementation in the Pacific Northwest, according to sources familiar with an executive briefing on the report.

The Initial Operational Test and Evaluation at Madigan Army Medical Center, just outside Lakewood, Wash., found MHS Genesis remains “not effective and not suitable” — conclusions similar to those reached in an April report on three other sites, in Spokane and the Puget Sound. The latest report also said MHS Genesis was “not interoperable,” according to two individuals who saw a summary briefing provided to Stacy Cummings, the DoD official in charge of the project.

Despite the negative assessment, the surgeons-general of the four military branches have signed off on moving forward with MHS Genesis, which is running at the four Northwest sites and is planned to go live at three additional bases in California and one in Idaho next year, the two sources said.

A Pentagon official said that while Cummings has been briefed on the findings, the final report was not finished. “I expect the report to recognize significant system improvement” in response to problems that were broadcast in the April report, said David Norley, Cummings’ executive assistant.

Officials planning the next stage of the implementation are increasing training of clinicians and will have more Cerner experts on site to assist with problems. Already, officials running the implementation have reduced the average time required to respond to complaints from 84 days to fewer than six, Norley said.

But one Pacific Northwest doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the fixes still required too much time. Military clinicians who attended Cerner’s annual conference in Kansas City earlier this month were impressed by the company’s capabilities, the doctor said, “but we’re lagging way behind where we should be because our processes aren’t agile enough. We’ll get there, but it’s going to take time and money.”

It isn’t clear how much the military intends to change MHS Genesis in response to complaints about usability and other issues, but Norley said the current version will be improved. In any case, he said, “the baseline solution allows more data sharing, greater patient safety features, and more cyber security protection than the legacy system it replaces.”

A Cerner spokesperson declined to comment on the report.

VA and Defense secretaries on Sept. 26 signed an agreement pledging to “align their plans, strategies and structures as they roll out a EHR system that will allow VA and DoD to share patient data seamlessly” for 18 million people covered by the two systems. They also promised to create a new organizational structure that will put the power to resolve differences in a single office.

It’s not clear how much the systems will be allowed to diverge. More similarity could mean easier transmission of patient data between DoD and VA facilities. Yet the two services meet drastically different needs for active-duty troops and veterans.

To this point, the chief of the House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee overseeing the EHR deal complained in an Oct. 10 letter to acting VA Deputy Secretary James Byrne that the VA appeared to have abandoned its Lighthouse project, an in-house project to create an open API platform into the VA’s health system.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) wrote that it was important for the VA to “future-proof” its Cerner acquisition with the technology so it can import software and apps that may go beyond what Cerner can provide.

VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the agency would respond to Banks’ request for information about whether the agency was still committed to the open API pledge.

VA recently issued a list comparing the Cerner modules in its contract with those in MHS Genesis.

Notably, the VA has enhanced specialty services like radiology, labs and cardiology, more interoperability functions as well as prescription drug monitoring, population health and administrative software, largely absent from MHS Genesis.

The VA contract with Cerner and its partners is approximately $10 billion, while the DoD contract currently is $4.3 billion.