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January 4, 2018

The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged past 25,000 in Thursday morning trading, the first time that threshold has ever been crossed. A sunny outlook for global growth and surprisingly strong U.S. economic data powered the bull market to yet another record after a historic 2017. While many investors see no sign of the market turning bearish, others are less sanguine; MarketWatch reported Thursday that some analysts are warning that the skyrocketing market is due for a "melt-up." Read more at MarketWatch and Bloomberg. Nico Lauricella

1:11 p.m.

Before health insurance brokers pitch a plan to employers, the brokers are pitched by the insurance companies themselves — and the pitches come with promises of luxury vacations, $100,000 bonuses and in one instance, the chance to play baseball with former New York Yankee Mariano Rivera.

The lucrative health insurance business doles out commissions and bonuses to independent brokers who are working with employers, reports ProPublica. But these additional incentives are ultimately paid for by the employers and the employees who purchase the plans. One major insurer, Health Care Service Corporation, spent $816 million on broker bonuses and commissions in 2017.

When insurance brokers sign up more employers, they receive commission based on the price of the premium, often upwards of $50,000 per client. Commissions increase for costlier plans, therefore creating a lack of incentive to promote more cost-effective options, per ProPublica. The average cost of employer-sponsored health insurance premiums has reportedly tripled since the 1990s.

Insurers foot the bill for commissions, but these payments are ultimately factored in to the price of the premiums that employers pay. Some insurers offer additional non-financial incentives to brokers, and these are often not revealed by brokers to the employers they are advising unless specifically asked for. Read more about the lucrative brokering business at ProPublica. Marianne Dodson

12:42 p.m.

Southern California has been emerging from its most recent drought cycle thanks to one of the wettest winters the long-parched southern half of the Golden State has experienced in years — 18 trillion gallons of rain have fallen in February alone.

The rest of the state is doing pretty well, too. No area "is considered to be in extreme or exceptional drought," the Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday.

But don't expect these storms to come to the rescue when — not if — more intense droughts return to the region. All that rain water? Climatologist Bill Patzert estimates that 80 percent of it winds up in the Pacific Ocean.

"When you look at the Los Angeles River being between 50% and 70% full during a storm, you realize that more water is running down the river into the ocean than what Los Angeles would use in close to a year," said Mark Gold, associate vice chancellor for environment and sustainability at University of California, Los Angeles.

There are other reasons run-off evades capture in the region — for example, it's been so arid the last few years that the rainwater falls victim to exceptionally thirsty roots and soil before it can even get to any basins. That means less water for household use even as storms bring record rainfall. "What a waste of water supply," said Gold.

There have been increased efforts to retain more rainwater, which have proved to be more successful this year, and a new property tax passed last year will create funding necessary for better capturing practices. Read more at the Los Angeles Times. Tim O'Donnell

12:26 p.m.

Southwest Airlines took a $60 million revenue loss from the recent partial government shutdown, reports CNBC.

The airline lost money because fewer government workers and contractors were traveling during the shutdown, which stretched between December and January. The closure also halted plans to introduce new jets and routes, per CNBC. The company last estimated the loss to be between $10 million and $15 million, but since then has "continued to experience softness in passenger demand and bookings" due to the shutdown, reports CNBC.

Shares in the airline were down by more than 5 percent on Wednesday after Southwest projected a lower revenue outlook for the quarter. Both Delta and American Airlines saw a drop in shares as well, per CNBC. Aside from hurting air travel profits, the 35-day shutdown cost the American economy $11 billion, $3 billion of which will never be recovered. Marianne Dodson

11:24 a.m.

Democrats are already Berning some cold, hard cash.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced his Democratic bid for the presidency on Tuesday, and 24 hours later, his campaign had already pulled in a massive $6 million. Those donations came from 223,047 different people, each donating an average of $27, the campaign tells The New York Times.

Sanders' campaign haul looked promising just 12 hours after his announcement, with his campaign saying it had raised $4 million by 8 p.m. In fact, it took him just four hours to trounce Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-Calif.) earlier one-day record of $1.5 million for this cycle. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), meanwhile, reported a $12.8 million Senate fundraising stash in early January — a near-record for a senator that far from Election Day.

It seems likely that Sanders will continue to beat out current candidates' fundraising totals, seeing as $600,000 of Tuesday's donations will recur every month. That means "the campaign can easily factor into budget planning," the Times' Shane Goldmacher writes — and that Sanders may end up with more than the $228 million he raised in his last primary run.

Check out how Sanders' cash stash compares to other 2020 Democrats at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:22 a.m.

Man-made climate change has completely eradicated its first mammal species, reports CNN.

The Bramble Cay melomys, a small brown rat, once inhabited an island off northern Australia and had not been seen for the last decade, per CNN. A 2016 report suggested the animal had gone extinct, but that finding was not confirmed by the Australian government until this week.

According to the report, the extinction's cause was "almost certainly ocean inundation" due to rising sea levels caused by climate change.

As many as several hundred rats lived on the tiny island in the 1970s, but the population rapidly declined in the following decades and the melomys was classified as endangered by 1992, reports CNN. Now that the species has been declared extinct, the Australian government will end its endangered species protections. Marianne Dodson

10:14 a.m.

President Trump's favorite bank apparently doesn't think he's too good with his money.

Deutsche Bank, "Trump's go-to lender for decades," grew very "concerned" that Trump wouldn't repay his $340 million in loans after he was elected, Bloomberg reports. So concerned, sources say, that the bank considered extending his repayment deadlines until after a "potential second term in 2025."

Trump had long had a problem finding banks who'd lend to him after several bankruptcies, Bloomberg notes. But Deutsche Bank kept working with the Trump Organization, providing funds for the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. — one loan reportedly included in the $340 million total. When Trump was elected, though, Deutsche Bank's management board immediately feared he'd default, and stressed over "the public relations disaster they would face if they went after the assets of a sitting president." To avoid that, managers reportedly considered stretching loans with 2023 and 2024 due dates for another year or two.

Deutsche Bank eventually decided against the repayment extension, but did elect to stop working with Trump while he was in office, one source told Bloomberg. And even during the Trump campaign, Deutsche Bank denied a loan request for a similar reason: If Trump defaulted, "Deutsche Bank would have to choose between not collecting on the debt or seizing the assets of the president of the United States," The New York Times reported earlier this month.

Deutsche Bank declined to comment on the story, and the White House didn't respond to requests for comment. Eric Trump, the president's son, called the story "complete nonsense" in an email. Read more at Bloomberg. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:09 a.m.

Following a new bombshell report from The New York Times, one former prosecutor is breaking out the Richard Nixon comparisons.

CNN on Wednesday morning discussed a report from the Times that President Trump asked then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to get an ally installed as head of the Southern District of New York's investigation into the president's former attorney, Michael Cohen. The ally in question had already recused himself. This, CNN analyst and former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Elie Honig concluded, is a big deal.

"If this is not an attempt to obstruct justice, I don't know what is," Honig said. "This is old-school, textbook, almost Nixon-style obstruction."

Honig said the only "rational, reasonable read" on Trump's reported request is that he wanted to "put a lid on the investigation" before it affected him. He also pointed to Trump's previous berating of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his recusal from the Russia investigation, saying this all adds up to a "fairly obvious pattern of obstruction." Trump has denied the reported conversation with Whitaker took place.

It wasn't only CNN analysts concluding this report looks bad for Trump — Fox News' Andrew Napolitano said that if the report is true, it clearly shows an "attempt to obstruct justice." Some did come to Trump's defense, though, with former Republican senator Rick Santorum saying the attorney Trump wanted to appoint was "not someone who would not normally be someone you would suggest would be in charge." He also said Trump's reported conversation with Whitaker was not "improper," although it also was not "wise."

Watch Honig's comments below. Brendan Morrow

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