Your Evening Briefing
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Maybe you’re shopping. Maybe you’re nursing a holiday hangover, perhaps soaking up all that eggnog with 2017’s dish of the year. Maybe you’re in line to prepay next year's property taxes. Maybe you, like a lucky few of us, are working. Whatever you’re up to, we’d hazard a guess that you’re not too busy to read about what’s going on today, or what went on yesterday that you may have missed. —Sam Schulz
Blockchain is pumping new life into old-school companies like IBM. Demand for the technology, best known for supporting bitcoin, is growing so much that it will be one of the largest users of capacity next year at about 60 data centers worldwide that IBM rents out to other companies. IBM is encouraging startups to try the technology on its cloud for free. That the 106-year-old company is going all in on blockchain shows just how far the digital ledger has come.
Donald Trump’s wall is in pieces in the desert—all 80 yards of it. Nearly a year into Trump’s presidency, the border wall he ran on amounts to just eight prototypes, each no more than 10 yards long, outside San Diego. Congress has appropriated no funding for it. There’s no final design. And Mexico, of course, is not about to pay for it. Still, the wall, the cornerstone and symbol of Trump’s anti-immigration candidacy, is getting new attention now as Congress prepares for a battle over federal spending next month.
Is bitcoin back? It rebounded past $16,000 Tuesday after a five-day slump. That’s welcome relief for cryptocurrency bulls, after a drop that’s been seen as a major test for the nascent digital currency industry. The rally suggests that, even as financial authorities warn of the risks of a bubble in the asset class, investor interest is intact—at least for now. “The most important question facing it is whether the recent price correction will prove to be what market participants refer to as ‘healthy,’” Mohamed El-Erian writes in a Bloomberg View column.
Vladimir Putin is using the threat of new U.S. sanctions to urge rich Russians to bring home some of their overseas assets—more than $1 trillion, by one estimate. “People should feel comfortable and secure, and it shouldn’t involve additional expenses,” the Russian president said Tuesday at a Cabinet meeting where he ordered officials to finalize plans for a new capital amnesty program. However, a similar move during the Ukraine conflict “didn’t work as well as we’d hoped,” Russia’s finance minister said.
There’s a not-so-new alternative to opioids for millions of Americans: once-overlooked medical devices that use electricity to counteract pain signals. Recent innovations from global device makers like Abbott to smaller specialists have made the implants, which stimulate the spinal cord, more powerful and effective. Those improvements, coupled with a crackdown on pain-pill prescriptions, are spurring demand, and the market may double to $4 billion in 10 years, according to a research firm.
Bond investors’ next big trade is betting Americans won’t default on their mortgages. This year, money managers piled into relatively new Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds known as credit-risk transfer securities—in part because they’re floating rate, a boon when the Fed is projecting three rate hikes in 2018. And given recent economic growth and low unemployment, it’s reasonable to bet that homeowners will keep making their mortgage payments, according to a portfolio manager.
The dish of the year is a loaf of bread. Forget the gluten-phobes and starch scolds. Is there anything truly better than really great bread (OK, besides maybe the butter we slather on it)? For all the fancier foods attracting chefs’ attention and snobs’ money, it’s bread that’s really standing out right now—and it’s everywhere, from fine-dining temples to Brooklyn beer bars to unassuming bakeries to epic new cookbooks.