Friday, January 15, 2016

GLOBAL ECONOMIC MELTDOWN: Precursors To A Global Financial Collapse - Stock Markets Suffer Worst Start Of Year SINCE GREAT DEPRESSION; World's Richest Down $305 BILLION As Markets Extend Global Rout; Retail Sales In U.S. Decrease To End Weakest Year Since 2009; Wal-Mart To Shutter 269 Stores, 154 Of Them In The U.S.; World Bank Issues "PERFECT STORM" Warning For 2016!

The Shanghai market was the worst performer. 
Imaginechina / Splash News
January 15, 2016 - GLOBAL ECONOMY - The start of this year has been the worst for financial markets since the onset of the Great Depression, with stock prices slumping around the world amid mounting concern over the situation in China.

Markets suffer their worst start to the year since Great Depression

A wave of selling has swept the world’s leading financial centres over the past two weeks, with the value of Britain’s leading companies falling by more than £110 billion since the start of the year the year.

The FTSE 100 index of Britain’s biggest quoted companies fell 114 points, or 2 per cent, to 5,804 yesterday — the lowest close since November 2012. Indices in Europe and America have fared even worse: the Shanghai market was the worst performer, closing down 3.6 per cent, taking its total losses to 18 per cent for 2016. This was prompted by the price of a barrel of Brent crude dipping below the $30 mark, for the third time this week. In America the Dow Jones industrial average closed down 391 points, or 2.4 per cent, at 15,988.

The FTSE 100 index of Britain’s biggest quoted companies fell 114 points, or 2 per cent, to 5,804 yesterday — the lowest close since November 2012. In America the Dow Jones industrial average closed down 391 points, or 2.4 per cent, at 15,988.

The Shanghai market was the worst performer, closing down 3.6 per cent, taking its losses for the year so far to 18 per cent. This was prompted by the price of a barrel of Brent crude dipping below $30 for the third time this week.

David Buik, of Panmure Gordon, the investment bank, suggested that the “financial carnage” in stock markets in the first two weeks of the year was the worst since 1928.

Investors seeking safe havens have turned to gold, sparking a 2 per cent recovery in its price to $1,094 an ounce.

George Osborne underlined the pessimistic mood by warning last week of grave threats to the British economy, the chancellor saying that it could be “the year we look back at the beginning of the decline” if the country abandoned his agenda. Fears of another crash were heightened by a research note by an economist at RBS advising clients to “sell everything except high-quality bonds”.

Some economists have said, however, that the risk of contagion from China has been exaggerated. It is only Britain’s sixth-largest export market, representing no more than 3.6 per cent of overseas sales, behind the Republic of Ireland.

In China, interventions by the Communist party to prop up markets have done little to reassure investors, and the plight of the world’s second-largest economy is gripping markets. There is strong evidence of a slowdown, after an unprecedented boom between 2000 and 2014, when the size of the Chinese economy ballooned by a factor of eight. The Beijing authorities have set a growth target of 6.5 per cent for this year, but scepticism over the accuracy of its economic data is growing.

Fathom Consulting, an economic forecaster, thinks that growth in China could be as low as 2.4 per cent, rather than the official 6.8 per cent. The difference between those figures, in dollar terms, equated to more than the entire economy of the United Arab Emirates, suggesting that a severe jolt is in store for the rest of the world.

The Chinese government’s botched interventions in local stock exchanges have heightened the nervousness, and added to the steep fall in the price of oil. It tumbled to below $29 a barrel yesterday, its lowest since 2004. - The Times.

World's Richest Down $305 Billion as Markets Extend Global Rout

Plunging stock markets are exacting a toll on the world’s biggest fortunes.

The 400 richest people have lost $305 billion from their combined net worth this month as global equities tumbled for the worst start to a year on record on mounting concern that worldwide growth is faltering.

The billionaires lost more than $115 billion this week, with 76 taking hits of at least $1 billion in January, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Seven shed more than $1 billion on Friday alone as the Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 391 points, European stocks fell into a bear market and the Shanghai Composite Index wiped out gains from an unprecedented state-rescue campaign. Inc. founder Jeff Bezos led decliners on the Bloomberg index, losing $8.9 billion since Jan. 1 and $1.9 billion Friday when the Internet retailer declined 3.85 percent. Bill Gates, the world’s richest person, has lost $6.8 billion of his net worth this year and Wang Jianlin, China’s richest person, is down $6.4 billion.

Only nine of the 400 billionaires have increased their net worth in 2016, led by Indian oil billionaire Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Mumbai-based Reliance Industries Ltd., who’s added $620 million.

The combined net worth of the 400 billionaires is $3.6 trillion, a 16 percent decline from their peak of $4.3 billion on May 18, 2015. - Bloomberg.

Retail Sales in U.S. Decrease to End Weakest Year Since 2009

Sales at U.S. retailers declined in December to wrap the weakest year since 2009, raising concern about the momentum in consumer spending heading into 2016.

The 0.1 percent drop matched the median forecast of 84 economists surveyed by Bloomberg and followed a 0.4 percent gain in November, Commerce Department figures showed Friday in Washington. For all of 2015, purchases climbed 2.1 percent, the smallest advance of the current economic expansion.

The slowdown, including electronics stores, clothing merchants and grocers, indicates Americans probably preferred to sock away the savings from cheaper fuel instead of splurging during the holiday season. While hiring has been robust in recent months, faster wage gains remain elusive, one reason household spending may have a tougher time accelerating as the new year gets under way.

“There isn’t anything encouraging in this report,” said Thomas Simons, a money-market economist at Jefferies Group LLC in New York. “It’s very disappointing. The labor market is in good shape, which suggests the outlook is probably better than this.”

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey for retail sales ranged from a decline of 1 percent to a 0.3 percent advance. The November tally was revised up from a previously reported 0.2 percent increase.

Weak 2015

The increase for all of 2015 followed a 3.9 percent gain the prior year. It was the smallest advance since demand slumped 7.4 percent in 2009, when the recession ended in June of that year.

A separate report from the Labor Department showed inflation remained contained at the wholesale level. The producer price index decreased 0.2 percent in December from the prior month and was down 1 percent year-over-year.

The retail sales report showed six of 13 major categories showed declines in demand in December from the prior month, with a 1 percent slump at general merchandise stores that was the biggest since February, the report showed.

Receipts at gasoline stations dropped 1.1 percent. The Commerce Department’s retail sales data aren’t adjusted for prices, so lower fuel costs depress filling-station receipts.

Regular gasoline at the pump has dropped to a seven-year low, falling below $2 a gallon this week to reach $1.93 on Thursday, according to AAA, the biggest U.S. motoring group.

Clothing, Electronics

The retail report also showed sales decreased 0.9 percent at clothing chains and 0.2 percent at electronics stores.

Automobile dealers’ sales were little changed.

Industry figures earlier this month showed purchases of cars and light trucks came in at a 17.2 million annualized rate in December, the slowest since July, after an 18 million pace the prior month, according to Ward’s Automotive Group. Even so, industry sales data shows 2015 was a record year for automakers.

The figures used to calculate gross domestic product, which exclude categories such as food services, auto dealers, home-improvement stores and service stations, unexpectedly dropped 0.3 percent, the biggest decrease since February, after the prior month’s 0.5 percent increase in the so-called retail control group that was smaller than previously estimated.

Warm December

Warmer than usual weather last month probably curtailed purchases of winter gear including clothing. This was the warmest December on record for the contiguous U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Some economists may lower estimates for fourth-quarter gross domestic product and consumer spending following the retail sales results. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey shows household purchases rose at a 2.2 percent annualized rate from October through December, after a 3 percent pace in the prior three months.

Recent reports had signaled the November-December holiday season was a mixed one for retailers. Same-store sales fell in the two months for chains ranging from Macy’s Inc. to Best Buy Co. while those who snagged an increase included J.C. Penney Co. Same-store sales for the industry as a whole account for about 17 percent of total retail sales, which make up almost half of consumer spending.

Beige Book

“Growth of consumer spending ranged from slight to moderate in most Districts,” according to the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book economic survey based on reports from late November to early January by regional Fed banks. “Auto sales were somewhat mixed, as activity has begun to drop off from previously high levels in some Districts.”

Employers added 292,000 workers in December and payrolls for the previous two months were revised higher, the Labor Department reported last week. The jobless rate held at a more than seven-year low of 5 percent. Wages stagnated, with average hourly earnings unchanged from November and up 2.5 percent from a year earlier. They’ve been in the 2 percent range since the expansion began in 2009. - Bloomberg.

Wal-Mart to shutter 269 stores, 154 of them in the US

In this Thursday, June 4, 2015, photo, shoppers walk from the checkout at a Wal-Mart Supercenter store in Springdale, Ark. Wal-Mart announced Friday, Jan. 15, 2016,
that it is closing 269 stores, more than half of them in the U.S. and another big chunk in its challenging Brazilian market. The store closures will start at the end of January.
(AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

Wal-Mart is doing some rare pruning.

The world's largest retailer is closing 269 stores, including 154 in the U.S. that includes all of its locations under its smallest-format concept store called Wal-Mart Express. The other big chunk is in its challenging Brazilian market.

The stores being shuttered account for a fraction of the company's 11,000 stores worldwide and less than 1 percent of its global revenue. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said the store closures will affect 16,000 workers, 10,000 of them in the U.S. Its global workforce is 2.2 million, 1.4 million in the U.S. alone.

The store closures will start at the end of the month.

The announcement comes three months after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. CEO Doug McMillon told investors that the world's largest retailer would review its fleet of stores with the goal of becoming more nimble in the face of increased competition from all fronts, including from online rival

"Actively managing our portfolio of assets is essential to maintaining a healthy business," McMillon said in a statement. "Closing stores is never an easy decision. But it is necessary to keep the company strong and positioned for the future."

Michael Exstein, an analyst at Credit Suisse, described the moves as "baby steps" in his report published Friday, but he believes they are positive ones. He noted that this is the first mass closing that Wal-Mart has announced in at least two decades.

"It is a sign that Wal-Mart has begun the process of dealing with unproductive locations in a much more tangible and coherent way," he wrote. "But we continue to believe that Wal-Mart needs a much larger restructuring of its store base in order to narrow its focus as it seeks to improve its sales and returns, especially internationally."

Wal-Mart has seen sales perk up for a key revenue measure for the last few quarters in its U.S. business. But it warned last October that its earnings for the fiscal year starting next month will be down as much as 12 percent as it invests further in online operations and pours money into improving customers' experience in the stores. The company has been building bigger fulfillment centers devoted to e-commerce orders and expanding online services.

Of the 154 store closures in the U.S., 102 of them are under the Wal-Mart Express name, which were opened as a test in 2011. The company operates more than 5,000 stores overall in the U.S.

Wal-Mart Express marked the retailer's first entry into the convenience store arena. The stores, which sold essentials like toothpaste, were meant to be a solution to the threat of the fast-growing dollar stores. Wal-Mart Express intended to be a two-pronged strategy: stores in small towns that aren't big enough to support a full-size Wal-Mart and stores in big cities where building a supercenter was impractical. But the concept never caught on as the stores served the same purpose as Wal-Mart's larger Neighborhood Markets: fill-in trips and prescription pickups.

Also covered in the closures are 23 Neighborhood Markets, 12 supercenters, seven stores in Puerto Rico, six discount stores and four Sam's Clubs.

More than 95 percent of the stores set to be closed in the U.S. are within 10 miles of another Wal-Mart. The Bentonville, Arkansas, company said it is working to ensure that workers are placed in nearby locations.

Wal-Mart will now focus in the U.S. on supercenters, Neighborhood Markets, the e-commerce business and pickup services for shoppers.

The retailer said it also closed 60 loss-making locations in Brazil, which accounts for 5 percent of sales in that market. Wal-Mart, which operated 558 stores in Brazil before the closures, has struggled as the economy there has soured. Its Every Day Low price strategy has also not been able to break against heavy promotions from key rivals.

The remaining 55 stores are spread elsewhere in Latin America.

Wal-Mart said that it's still sticking to its plan announced last year to open 50 to 60 supercenters, 85 to 95 Neighborhood Markets and 7 to 10 Sam's Clubs in the U.S. during the fiscal year that begins Feb. 1. Outside the U.S., Wal-Mart plans to open 200 to 240 stores.

The financial impact of the closures is expected to be 20 cents to 22 cents per share from continuing operations, with about 19 cents to 20 cents expected to affect the current fourth quarter. The company is scheduled to release fourth-quarter and full-year results on Feb. 18.

In a separate move, Wal-Mart said that it's merging its Arkansas-based team that creates technology for its stores with its Silicon Valley team that does the same for e-commerce. The move is expected to help Wal-Mart create a more seamless shopping experience for customers who are jumping back and forth between stores and their mobile phones.

Shares of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. fell $1.13, or 1.8 percent, to close at $61.93 amid a broad market sell-off. - AP.

World Bank issues 'perfect storm' warning for 2016

 Russia’s Vladimir Putin (L), India’s Narendra Modi (3rd L), Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff (4th L), China’s Xi Jinping (4th R) and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma (R).
Photograph: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

The risk of the global economy being battered by a “perfect storm” in 2016 has been highlighted by the World Bank in a flagship report that warns that a synchronised slowdown in the biggest emerging markets could be intensified by a fresh bout of financial turmoil.

The Bank said the possibility that Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – the so-called Brics economies – could all face problems simultaneously would put in jeopardy the chances of a pick-up in growth in the coming year.

It added that the impact would be heightened by severe financial market stress of the sort triggered in 2013 by the announcement by the Federal Reserve that it was considering reducing the stimulus it was then providing to the US economy.

Launching its annual Global Economic Prospects, the Bank said activity in 2015 had failed to live up to its expectations – the fifth year in a row that growth has undershot the forecasts made by the Washington-based institution, which lends to the world’s poorest countries.

The Bank said growth had slowed to 2.4% in 2015, from 2.6% in 2014, but added that a stronger performance in developed countries should lead to 2.9% growth this year.

“Downside risks dominate and have become increasingly centred on emerging and developing countries,” it said.

The Bank is predicting that recessions in Brazil and Russia will bottom out in 2016, that China will experience only a modest growth slowdown from 6.9% to 6.7% and that India will continue to expand at a robust pace.

The report said that, in a development unmatched since the 1980s, most of the largest emerging market economies were slowing at the same time. Sharp declines in commodity prices, subdued global trade, weaker capital flows and currency pressures had combined last year to create a “particularly challenging external environment for commodity exporters”, where most of the growth slowdown had occurred.

The Bank has estimated that growth in developing countries reached a post-crisis low of 4.2% in 2015, down from 4.9% in 2014, and warned that 2016 could be another difficult year.

In the event that growth in the Brics economies fell one percentage point short of expectations, the Bank said this would knock 0.8 points off growth in other emerging markets and reduce growth in the global economy by 0.4%.

But the Bank also highlighted the risks of what it called a perfect storm. “Spillovers could be considerably larger if the Brics growth slowdown were combined with financial market stress.

“If, in 2016, Brics growth slows further, by as much as the average growth disappointment over 2010-14, growth in other emerging markets could fall short of expectations by about one percentage point and global growth by 0.7 percentage points.

“If such a Brics growth decline scenario were to be combined with financial sector turbulence, emerging market growth could slow by an additional 0.5 percentage points and global growth by an additional 0.4 percentage points.”

Jim Yong Kim, the Bank’s president, said: “More than 40% of the world’s poor live in the developing countries where growth slowed in 2015. Developing countries should focus on building resilience to a weaker economic environment and shielding the most vulnerable. The benefits from reforms to governance and business conditions are potentially large and could help offset the effects of slow growth in larger economies.”

The Bank said it expected the growth rate in the Middle East and North Africa region to more than double as a result of the ending of sanctions against Iran and an end to declining oil prices. “Growth is forecast to accelerate to 5.1% in 2016 from 2.5% in the year just ended, as the expected suspension or removal of economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran will allow that country to play a larger role in global energy markets. Growth is expected to pick up in other oil exporters as well, predominantly on the assumption that oil prices will stabilize.” More stable commodity prices should also help Africa, the Bank added, predicting growth to pick up from 3.4% in 2015 to 4.2% in 2016. - The Guardian.

GEOLOGICAL UPHEAVALS: Alarm As A Beach That Has Protected Devon Residents In England From Storms For Generations DISAPPEAR OVERNIGHT - Thousands Of Tons Of Shingle Have Been Gouged Out, Leaving Only A Layer Of Ancient Peat Behind?!

Hallsands beach devastated by storms leaving only a layer of ancient peat behind.© APEX

January 15, 2016 - ENGLAND - Residents on the picturesque Devonshire coast are enduring sleepless nights as a beach that has protected them for generations disappears overnight. Storms have battered Hallsands, in Devon, gouging out thousands of tons of sand and shingle - leaving only a base-layer of ancient peat behind. The peat is rapidly eroding and local councillors have warned that the whole of the exposed east-facing coast of that corner of the county is under threat.

South Hams District and Devon County councillor Julian Brazil said: ''Hallsands is where you can see this problem at its worst. But the erosion over the past three weeks has happened all along this stretch of coast. The continual storms have been eroding the shore like we've never see before. You've got the beach at North Hallsands but you can also see damage at Beesands where more of the road to the left of the village has been eroded. And at Torcross a lot of the beach has disappeared and all that's left is the piling. The houses are vibrating when the waves hit," said Mr Brazil.

"Residents are very concerned and tell me they can't sleep at night because of the booming." Mr Brazil added: "It is alarming. The base-layer of peat is washing away every day. In the middle of the beach there is a big fisherman's winch and that until recently stood 20-foot proud from the bottom of the shore. Now it's down on the peat and the cottages are under threat."

Among the people campaigning for Hallsands to be protected is Blur and Gorrilaz frontman Damon Albarn. The singer and songwriter used to live in the tiny village and it is believed to have inspired the album Plastic Beach released by Gorrilaz.

Before: Hallsands quaint shingle beach looks like a postcard scene.© APEX

It was also exactly 99 years ago this month that Hallsands made national news when a combination of easterly gales and exceptionally high tides breached defences. The storms in 1917 wrought so much destruction that, by the end of that year only one house remained habitable. Blame for the disaster was placed firmly at the door of Plymouth's naval dockyard the building of which required thousands of tons of gravel to be extracted from the Skerries Bank just off Hallsands. Mr Brazil said: 'Two years ago the rock armouring that was there was tossed around by the sea and the road was wiped out. "Local residents kicked up a stink then - and works were done. The rock armour was put back and the road resealed. But now that is not going to be with us for long as it's being washed out beneath."

A South Hams District Council spokesman said that government funding to save the area could be hard to secure. She explained the management of all local beaches was guided by a Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), and said: "The part that covers Hallsands was subject to consultation ahead of formal publication in December 2010. The classification for Hallsands is 'no active intervention'. Government policy for allocating funding for coastal protection works is normally based on the protection of properties and securing value for money," she explained.

"In general terms the higher the number of properties protected, the greater the possibility of attracting funding. This was reviewed by representatives from the Environment Agency (EA), South Hams District Council and Dr Sarah Wollaston MP after the storms in 2014 - and it was agreed then that the classification of Hallsands appears reasonable when considering the wider picture of coastal erosion and the need for prioritisation of coastal protection works in circumstances of limited available finance."

Mr Brazil added: "It falls to the Environment Agency to do something - they have government funding for this sort of thing."

A spokesman for the EA said that its official flood map for the area indicated 'no risk of flooding' to any of the (nine) properties at North Hallsands but admitted there was risk to road infrastructure due to erosion in the short term and property in the longer term. "Due to the low risk to a small number of properties, the preferred option in the Shoreline Management Plan is no active intervention for the next 100 years."

- Daily Mail.

INFRASTRUCTURE COLLAPSE: Suspected Gas Leak In Italy Completely Destroys Apartment - 5 People Killed!

Firefighters work on the rubbles of a collapsed building after an explosion blamed on a gas leak has killed
five people in the apartment building in Arnasco, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016.

© Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP

January 15, 2016 - ITALY
- An explosion blamed on a gas leak has killed five people in the apartment building where they lived in northwest Italy.

Firefighters say they removed the bodies of four men and a woman from the collapsed building in Arnasco, near Savona, after the pre-dawn blast Saturday.

A woman who survived was severely burned.

Arnasco Mayor Alfredo Gallizia says the four-story building, where three families lived, was "saturated with gas and everything came down."

The cause of the gas leak is being investigated. - CP24.

GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS: Severe Drought Hits Zimbabwe - Over 7,000 Cattle Dead!

Livestock are dying in Zimbabwe

January 15, 2016 - ZIMBABWE - Severe water shortages are also affecting the Midlands and Matabeleland South.

As South Africa shoulders its own major water crisis, other countries in the region haven't been spared the hardships of the El Niño-induced drought.

In Zimbabwe, reports say around 7,000 cattle have died in its southern provinces.

The worst hit areas are in the south of the country, nearest to South Africa.

The Chronicle says that Masvingo province is the hardest hit, with around 5,000 cattle reported to have died there since temperatures went up in October.

Severe grazing and water shortages are also affecting the Midlands and Matabeleland South.

As in South Africa, where five provinces have been declared drought disaster areas, the El Niño effect on the climate has played havoc with this year's rainy season.

It's a grim reminder of 1992, the worst drought to hit Zimbabwe in living memory. - Eyewitness News.

DELUGE: Widespread Flooding In Parana State, Brazil - Over 150,000 People Affected; Over 10,000 Homes Destroyed Or Damaged; Several Landslides In 5 Municipalities; Over 2,000 Forced To Evacuate; 5 People Injured And 1 Missing! [PHOTOS + VIDEOS]

Flood damage in Paraná state, Brazil

January 15, 2016 - BRAZIL - The civil defence authority in the Brazilian state of Paraná, Defesa Civil do Paraná, report that heavy rain between 09 and 12 January, 2016, has caused widespread flooding in 49 municipalities of the state. The heavy rain has also caused several landslides in 5 municipalities.

According to latest figures, the floods have affected over 150,000 people, and forced over 2,000 to evacuate their homes. Five people have been injured and one is missing.

Defesa Civil do Paraná say that 74 homes have been completely destroyed, leaving 198 people homeless. A further 10,057 homes have been damaged.

A landslide in Campo Largo affected 405 people and displaced five. Landslides were also reported in Campina Grande do Sul, Fazenda Rio Grande, Santana do Itararé and Ponta Grossa. Arapongas, Rolândia and Londrina

The municipalities of Arapongas, Rolândia and Londrina, all within a few kilometres of each other, are among the worst affected areas.

Over 90,000 of those affected are in Arapongas municipality near the city of Londrina in the north of the state of Paraná. Only 25 people have been displaced however.

Bridge and Road destroyed on Rio Pirapó, Maringá. © Orlando Kissner/ANPr

Flood damage in Paraná state, Brazil

In Rolândia, as many as 1,000 have been displaced. Over 9,000 homes have been damaged and 50 destroyed. In total, 36,240 people have been affected by the flooding in Rolândia.

Over 1,700 have been affected by floods in Londrina, with 337 homes damaged and 50 people displaced.

27 cm of Rain in 2 Days

Londrina recorded 180 mm of rain in 24 hours
between 11 and 12 January 2016 and 91 mm the day before.

The city is close to the Tibagi River, a tributary of the Paranapanema River, which in turn runs to the Paraná. Further downriver, the overflowing Paraná has flooded wide areas of Paraguay, and Argentina since late December 2015. The heavy rain in Londrina and other Paraná catchment areas does not bode well for those already suffering in Paraguay and Argentina.

Bridge and Road destroyed on Rio Pirapó, Maringá

Carlos Alberto "Beto" Richa, Governor of Paraná, visited some of the affected areas on 14 January 2016 to see the damage for himself, including the destroyed broad bridge across the Rio Parapó between Iguaraçu and Maringá. Rio Grande do Sul State

WATCH: Flooding in Parana State, Brazil.

Flooding affected wide areas of Rio Grande do Sul state in Brazil in late December 2015 after a period of heavy rain. As many 2,000 families (around 9,000 people) were forced to evacuate in 12 municipalities including Uruguaiana, Alegrete, Rosário do Sul and São Borja.

Civil defence authority in Rio Grande do Sul said earlier this week that 56 municipalities suffered damage. Of these, 43 have declared an emergency, with the remainder under evaluation and proof of damage.

Several rivers in the state have overflowed, in particular the Uruguay River in Uruguaiana municipality. According to the latest reports from Rio Grande do Sul civil defence, river levels were at 11.18 metres on 27 December, which is over 3 metres above alert levels and over 6 metres above normal levels. - Floodlist.

GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS: South Africa Suffered Its Driest Year On Record In 2015 - Threatening Food Security!

© Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

January 15, 2016 - SOUTH AFRICA - South Africa's national weather service has announced that the country is experiencing the lowest rainfall and driest summer in more than 110 years. Adding that the country suffered its driest year on record in 2015, threatening food security.

According to the weather service, average rainfall was 403 mm, about a third less than the 608 mm annual average and the driest since records began in 1904.

The agricultural sector is being hammered by weeks of heat waves that have scorched grazing land, forcing livestock owners to kill or sell animals.

The rural farming town last saw rain on December 15 and has had a severe water shortage for the past three months, with residents having to queue for water. Large parts of the country are facing their worst drought and highest temperatures in decades.

Africa's most advanced economy, a maize exporter, may need to import as much as 5 million tonnes this year, roughly half of its requirements.

A farmer in the maize-producing town of Hoopstad,Chris Skoenwinkle said they are two months late in planting.

Agricultural analysts said the cost of maize imports to make up for lack of crops will be a big burden.

"We've got to import about, in the vicinity of about four million tonnes of maize if it doesn't rain and the rain just stays away. That means we will have to import about 12 billion rands worth of maize," said agricultural economist Ernst Janovsky.

However, the Food and Agriculture Organisation said the natural disasters are hampering efforts to eradicate hunger.

South Africa's five provinces including KwaZulu-Natal, have been declared disaster areas following a persisting drought.

Maize is a staple food in southern Africa and a key source of high calorie intake for lower income households.

Analysts predict consumers will have to tighten their belts and spend more wisely to counter the effects of the weakening rand and unfavorable weather conditions. - Africa News.

THE WAR ON MOTHER NATURE: Record Lows Recorded For Six California River Fish Species - Corporate Plundering Of Water Resources Blamed!

Fish species ranging from endangered Delta Smelt to Striped Bass continued to plummet to record low population levels in 2015 in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River
Delta, according to the annual fall survey report released on December 18 by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
© California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

January 15, 2016 - CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - Only 6 Delta Smelt, an endangered species that once numbered in the millions and was the most abundant fish in the Delta, were collected at the index stations in the estuary this fall. The 2015 index (7), a relative number of abundance, "is the lowest in history," said Sara Finstad, an environmental scientist for the CDFW's Bay Delta Region.

The Delta Smelt, a 2 to 3 inch fish found only in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, is an indicator species that demonstrates the health of the Delta, an estuary that has been dramatically impacted by water exports to corporate agribusiness interests and Southern California water agencies during the record drought, along with other factors including increasing water toxicity and invasive species.

The Fall Midwater Trawl Survey, used to index the fall abundance of pelagic (open water) fishes most years since 1967, conducts monthly surveys from September through December. The 2015 sampling season was completed on December 11.

"In September, the only Delta Smelt collected were from index stations in the lower Sacramento River," said Finstad. "In October the only Delta smelt collected came from a non-index station in the Sacramento Deep Water Shipping Channel."

In November, no Delta Smelt were collected - and in December, the only Delta Smelt collected were from index stations in Montezuma Slough and the lower Sacramento River, according to Finstad.

The population of striped bass, a popular gamefish, has also declined to record low levels. The 2015 abundance index (52) is the second lowest in history. Only 42 age 0 striped bass were conducted at the survey stations, noted Finstad.

Likewise, Longfin Smelt, a cousin of the Delta Smelt, declined to the lowest abundance index (4) in the history of the survey. Only 3 longfin smelt were collected at the index stations throughout the three-month period.

The abundance index (806) for Threadfin Shad, an introduced species from the East Coast that provides forage for larger fish, reached its eighth lowest level in survey history. The biologists collected 634 Threadfin Shad at the index stations.

Finally, the 2015 abundance index (79) for American Shad, a relative of the Threadfin Shad that is pursued by anglers on Central Valley rivers every spring, is the lowest in history of the survey. Only 59 American shad were collected at the index stations.

Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), said the fall survey shows the "continuing collapse of the estuary caused by the failure of the state and federal regulatory agencies to comply with the law."

"Every survey conducted, including the 20 mm Delta Smelt, spring Kodiak trawl, summer tow net, and the fall midwater trawl surveys, shows record low levels of the fish surveyed," said Jennings.

He emphasized that in spite of the continuing record drought conditions, that water exports south of the Delta through the state and federal pumping facilities averaged 7500 cubic feet per second (cfs) over the past week. "The State Water Project pumps are averaging 5154 cfs, while the Central Valley Project Pumps are averaging 2360 cfs," said Jennings.

As fish populations continue to collapse, the California Department of Water Resources and Bureau of Reclamation are going forward with permit petitions to the State Water Resources Control Board to change the point of diversion on the Sacramento River to implement Governor Jerry Brown's Delta Tunnels Plan, the so-called "California Water Fix."

Jennings and other public trust advocates point to these latest fish survey results — and the state and federal water agencies' permit petitions to divert more water from the Sacramento River at new diversion points — as just more evidence of the "capture of the regulators by the regulated."

The current collapse of Delta fish species occurs as part of a long-term decline. The operation of the state and federal water projects by the California Department of Water Resources and Bureau of Reclamation Reclamation has brought fisheries to historic lows.

Since 1967, abundance indices for striped bass, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, American shad, splittail and threadfin shad have declined by 99.7, 97.8, 99.9, 91.9, 98.5 and 97.8%, respectively. according to Jennings.

The natural production of Sacramento winter-run and spring-run Chinook salmon has declined by 98.2 and 99.3%, respectively, and are only at 5.5 and 1.2 percent of doubling levels mandated by the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, California Water Code and California Fish & Game Code. To make matters even worse, over 95 percent of endangered juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon perished in lethally warm water conditions on the upper section of the Sacramento River in 2014 and 2015, due to mismanagement by the state and federal water agencies. - Counter Punch.

ICE AGE NOW: Global Cooling Continues Relentlessly - Snow Covers The Road To Mecca In Saudi Arabia?! [VIDEO]

Snow on the road to Mecca

January 15, 2016 - SAUDI ARABIA - Al Jazeera confirms snow in Saudi Arabia. January 15, 2016

Video .. snow coats the migration route.

(One part of the Al Jazeera story says snow, a different part says hail. I'm guessing hail, but it still must have been a real shock to the drivers.)

WATCH: Snow covers the road to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Hailstones falling heavily between Mecca and Medina covered various parts of the region, which has taken on white.

A researcher at the weather, climate and member of the Committee naming distinctive climatic conditions said "snow seen on the migration route between Medina and Mecca formed as a result provide good moisture for the layers of the upper atmosphere led to the emergence of huge Cumulus.

Thanks to Argiris Diamantis for these links

"This news item is only in Arabic and cannot be found on the English spoken website of Al Jazeeera," says Argiris. - Ice Age Now.

RATTLE & HUM: Mysterious Sounds Heard Across The Planet - Strange Sounds Heard In Singapore, Hungary And California?! [VIDEOS]

January 15, 2016 - EARTH - These three videos of strange sounds from the sky were captured in January 2016 around the world.

The strange sky trumpets were recorded in Singapore, Budapest and California. What's going on?

Yahoo news shared a video posted by Youtuber Muhammad Luqman Mohamad Hakim on 2 January 2016, and captioned it:
"A Singapore resident recently captured footage featuring bizarre unexplained noises coming from the sky on January 2nd, 2016. According to him, the sounds were heard for almost 2 hours. Can you explain it?"

WATCH: Strange sounds in Singapore - Part 1.

There is another video uploaded in Youtube, 2 days ago by Richard Ong and he titles his video, "Strange Sounds Heard in Singapore Night Sky - 13 Jan 2016". The eerie noise in his video sounds like a trumpet.

WATCH: Strange sounds in Singapore - Part 2.

But such weird noises have been heard here before.

In January 2012, RobbieJohnson18 uploaded a video which he claims is shot in the northern part of Singapore, and said, "I woke up to this strange sound at around 9 in the morning, and then it ended 5 minutes later. It was like a whirring sound you hear for kettles, but in this case it's not, because the sound was everywhere, and it's extremely loud and deafening. *There was no kettle in my kitchen. *This is pure footage with no edits. *I'm using an iPhone 4S".

WATCH: Strange sounds in Singapore - Part 3.

Then on Christmas Day 2013, Youtuber Gayzel Yerro captured an unexplained strange sound in Tampines:

WATCH: Strange sounds in Singapore - Part 4.

And in May 2015, Norisham Yahya shared this video:

WATCH: Strange sounds in Singapore - Part 5.

Strange sound from the sky on January 9, 2016, in Budapest, Hungary.

WATCH: Strange sounds in Hungary.

Strange noises from the sky in Bakersville, California on January 8, 2016.

WATCH: Strange sounds in California.

From America, to Australia, to Europe, such eerie noises have been heard across the globe for almost ten years but experts cannot exactly say what the noise is.

A British publication, Daily Mail, reporting the unexplained global phenomenon in 2013 said that, "encounters with the noise has even caused some people to have vivid nightmares for days after the event".

These sounds are all different. And this makes me think they are legit. But of course you decide. And why are they increasing these days along with loud booms?

Trying to explain such strange noises from the sky, Youtuber 2FriendsPlayMinecraft (commenting on Gayzel Yerro's video) exclaimed ,"THE END IS NEAR , THE END IS NEAR , THE ENNNDD IS NEEEAAARRR"!

- Strange Sounds | The Independent.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Migratory Patterns And Disaster Precursors - Dead Humpback Whale Found In Northwest Mexico!

An official with the Profepa federal environmental protection agency inspects the carcass of a juvenile humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) that washed up on
a beach north of Ensenada, a resort city in the northwestern Mexican state of Baja California, on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.

January 15, 2016 - MEXICO - Inspectors examined the carcass of a whale that washed up on a beach north of Ensenada, a resort city in the northwestern state of Baja California, Mexico's Profepa federal environmental protection agency said.

The dead marine mammal was a juvenile humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), a protected species in Mexico.

Profepa inspectors examined the whale's carcass and determined that fishing nets and human activities did not cause the whale's death.

The inspectors were unable to obtain tissue samples due to the animal's advanced state of decomposition, making it difficult to determine the reason why the whale beached itself and died.

Officials decided to leave the carcass on the beach due to the heavy surf and strong winds in the area, the environmental protection agency said.

Humpback whales, which can grow to 17 meters (55 feet) and weigh around 45 tons, live in all of the world's oceans.

The marine mammals spend the months of November to May in the Pacific off Mexico, drawing large numbers of ecotourists to coastal resorts. - FOX News.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Mount Egon Volcano Rattles Flores Island, Indonesia - Residents Ordered To Evacuate Area!

Evacuation ordered as volcano on Flores rumbles to life.

January 15, 2016 - INDONESIA - Residents living around the base of Indonesia's Mount Egon were ordered to evacuate as the Flores Island volcano began to rumble because of rising magma.

A 2-mile exclusion zone was established around the 4,487-foot volcano, which last erupted in 2008, forcing more than 10,000 people to flee.

Egon is the only one of six volcanoes in Indonesia currently on an alert level of 3 or 4 that is not currently erupting.

The vast archipelago has 127 active volcanoes, more than any other country on the planet. - Earthweek.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Rare Winter Hurricane Alex Forms In The Atlantic - First Such Storm In January Since 1978; Only Second Time Since 1851; Season Doesn't Officially Begin Until June 1?!


January 15, 2016 - ATLANTIC OCEAN - January was already shaping up to be a weird month, what with a hurricane out in the Pacific, but it just got weirder: Say hello to Hurricane Alex, a rare January storm in the Atlantic and the first storm of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season.

A season that doesn't officially begin until June 1.

Alex is the first such storm to form in January since 1978 and only the fourth January storm formation on record going back to 1851. The climatological average first date for the first named storm in a season is July 9.

While it's decidedly not hurricane season, the official June 1-Nov. 30 dates of that season are artificial ones, chosen because they encompass the bulk of tropical cyclone activity. But when conditions are right, storms can, and do, form outside of those bounds.

Alex formed from a system that first developed in the warm waters off the east coast of Florida last week and has tracked eastward across the ocean, gradually becoming stronger and more organized.

On Wednesday, it was finally pulled-together enough that the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami officially designated it a subtropical storm. This is a hybrid type of storm that has some of the attributes of a tropical cyclone, which have a warm core and derive their energy from convective clouds, and the type of frontal system, or extratropical cyclone, we typically see sweep across the country.

Alex was likely able to form because the prevailing winds in the area were fairly favorable, said hurricane expert Philip Klotzbach of Colorado State University.

Forecasters don't expect Alex to strengthen over the coming days as it moves northward over increasingly colder waters. It is expected to be fully extratropical by the time it reaches the Azores, though its winds will still pack a punch and it could drop heavy rains that could lead to flooding.

Such an early storm doesn't tell forecasters anything about any further pre-season storm activity or how the season itself may turn out.

"These types of oddball systems happen from time to time," Klotzbach said in an email, adding that there were likely January storms that were missed prior to the satellite era, and possible even since their advent.

Meanwhile, over in the Pacific, Pali is still a hurricane and has come within just a few degrees of the equator, an exceedingly rare feat for a tropical cyclone. Only two other storms have been stronger closer to the equator, according to Klotzbach.

Pali is expected to weaken back to a tropical storm over the next few days and doesn't pose any threats to land.

But while both storms are still going, the NHC and the Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Hawaii are both issuing advisories on storms in January for the first time in their history. Like we said, a weird month. - Discovery News.

RATTLE & HUM: Strange Sounds Are Back - "Sky Trumpets" Heard In The Netherlands, The UK And Morocco?! [VIDEOS]

January 15, 2016 - EARTH - In the last couple of weeks, Dutch citizens have reported hearing strange sounds in the sky. Martijn Mastenbroek from Pijnacker, a town in the Dutch province of South Holland, was at home on the evening of January 10th when he suddenly heard a peculiar sound.

"It sounded like trumpets," he recalls. "It lasted about five seconds. No, it wasn't coming from the washer. It really came from outside. My girlfriend heard it too."

Residents in other towns (Bleiswijk, Moordrecht, Lichtenvoorde and Beek) and cities (Gouda, Almere and Heerlen) reported on social media that they also heard these strange trumpet-like sounds. One resident from Gouda was able to record the sound with a camera (see below). Another video of the sound was posted on Facebook by user 'Jeff Afca', who was in Almere at the time.

WATCH: Strange sounds heard over the Netherlands.

A week earlier, on the evening of January 3rd, residents in Casablanca, Agadir, Tangier and other Moroccan cities also heard similar strange sounds, 'coming from the sky.' Several citizens were able to catch the sound on film and posted recordings on YouTube:

WATCH: Strange sounds heard over Morocco.

The following day, on January 4th, a British man - Youtube user 'Stevie B' - recorded the same kind of sound in Bristol, southwest England:

WATCH: Strange sounds heard over the UK.

We suspect that these sounds are some kind of transduced extra-low frequency radio waves. While we wouldn't normally be able to hear them, due to changes in our near-space and the broader cosmic environment, they seem to interact with other electromagnetic factors in, on and around the planet, causing them to be amplified and converted into sound waves.

Although nobody knows for sure what these sounds are, they are almost certainly related to each other, and together they constitute a new natural phenomenon. Well, not exactly. There are ancient and historical records of such sounds that are described in almost identical terms - trumpets, moaning, metallic, sky noises. - SOTT.