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Richest 1% gained $6.5 trillion in wealth last year



Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos

Lacy O’ Toole | CNBC; Getty Images

The wealth of America’s wealthiest people, such as Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos, increased by a total of $6.5 trillion last year, mainly driven by soaring stock prices and financial markets, according to the Federal Reserve.

The total wealth of the 1% reached a record $45.9 trillion at the end of the fourth quarter of 2021, said the Federal Reserve’s latest report on household wealth. Their fortunes increased by more than $12 trillion, or more than a third, during the course of the pandemic.

“The numbers are astounding,” said Edward Wolff, professor of economics at New York University. “The pandemic wealth boom certainly ranks at or near the top of all the wealth booms over the last 40 years.”

The top 1% owned a record 32.3% of the nation’s wealth as of the end of 2021, data show. The share of wealth held by the bottom 90% of Americans, likewise, has declined slightly since before the pandemic, from 30.5% to 30.2%.

The wealth growth at the top has potentially stalled or declined slightly so far this year due to stock declines.

The main drivers for the richest Americans last year were stocks and private businesses. About $4.3 trillion of the overall gains for the 1% last year came from corporate equities and mutual fund shares, according to the Fed data. The stock portfolios of the top 1% are now worth $23 trillion, and they own a record 53.9% of individually held shares, according to the central bank.

Despite claims of a democratization of the stock market, with millions of new retail investors opening trading accounts on Robinhood and other platforms, stock ownership in America has actually become more concentrated than before the pandemic. The top 10% owned a record 89% of individually held corporate equities and mutual fund shares at the end of 2021.

A Gallup in 2021 found that 56% of Americans owned at least some stock – slightly above the average of 55% in 2019 and 2020, but still down from the 62% high before the 2008 financial crisis.

More wealth inequality

Soaring stock prices have created a “feedback cycle” for wealth and inequality, said Wolff, the NYU professor. Because stock ownership is tilted toward the top of the wealth ranks, rising stock prices shifts more money to richer Americans. Since the wealthy can afford to save and invest a larger share of their added wealth, more of the nation’s wealth gains flow to the stock market. That raises stock prices even further.

“Rising wealth inequality drives the stock market, which then drives more wealth inequality,” Wolff said.

Private businesses have also been a powerful engine of wealth for those at the very top. The 1% own 57% of private companies, according to the Federal Reserve. The value of private businesses held by the wealthiest increased by 36%, or $2.2 trillion, last year.

“Small business is really key when you talk about the sources of their wealth,” Wolff said.

The 1% have also benefitted modestly from rising real-estate values. Their real-estate holdings increased by just under $1 trillion during the pandemic, to reach a high of $5.27 trillion.

But their share of the nation’s real-estate actually fell slightly during the pandemic, as home prices and home ownership also increased for rest of the country. Real estate is far more broadly owned than stocks, so the rising in home prices has helped the middle class slightly more than the wealthy. The top 1% owned 14% of the nation’s real estate at the end of 2021, down from 14.5% before the pandemic at the end of 2019.

The bottom 90% of Americans added $2.89 trillion to their wealth last year from real estate.

“The housing boom has benefitted the middle class,” Wolff said. “If it hadn’t been for that, wealth inequality would have grown even more than it did.”

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Fiji fires police commissioner and end security deal with China



Police operate a security check point in the Fijian capital of Suva in December following general elections. The Pacific island nation has played an important regional role amid competition between China on the one side and Australia, New Zealand and the United States on the other.

Saeed Khan | Afp | Getty Images

Fiji’s president on Friday suspended the commissioner of police following a general election saw the first change in government in the Pacific island nation in 16 years, after the military earlier warned against “sweeping changes.”

President Ratu Wiliame Katonivere said Commissioner of Police Sitiveni Qiliho had been suspended on the advice of the Constitutional Offices Commission, “pending investigation and referral to and appointment of, a tribunal.”

The Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem was also suspended by the commission, the statement said.

Qiliho declined to comment to local media because he said he will face a tribunal over his conduct. He was seen as being close to former prime minister Frank Bainimarama, who led Fiji for 16 years before a coalition of parties narrowly won December’s election and installed Sitiveni Rabuka as leader of the strategically important Pacific nation.

The day before a coalition agreement was struck, Qiliho and Bainimarama called on the military to maintain law and order because they said the hung election result had sparked ethnic tensions, a claim disputed by the coalition parties.

The Pacific island nation, which has a history of military coups, has been pivotal to the region’s response to competition between China and the United States, and struck a deal with Australia in October for greater defence cooperation.

No more China policing deal

On Thursday, Fiji Times reported that Rabuka said his government would end a police training and exchange agreement with China.

“Our system of democracy and justice systems are different so we will go back to those that have similar systems with us,” the prime minister was quoted as saying, referring to Australia and New Zealand.

The prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Republic of Fiji Military Forces Commander Major General Jone Kalouniwai earlier this month warned Rabuka’s government against making “sweeping changes,” and has insisted it abide by a 2013 constitution which gives the military a key role.

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Inventory glut and underused factories



Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, with U.S. President Joe Biden (not pictured), announces the tech firm’s plan to build a $20 billion plant in Ohio, from the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, January 21, 2022.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Intel’s December earnings showed significant declines in the company’s sales, profit, gross margin, and outlook, both for the quarter and the full year.

Investors hated it, sending the stock over 9% lower in extended trading, despite the fact that Intel did not cut its dividend.

The earnings report, which was the eighth under CEO Pat Gelsinger’s leadership, shows a legendary technology company struggling with many factors outside of its control, including a deeply slumping PC market. It also highlights some of Intel’s current issues with weak demand for its current products and inefficient internal performance, and underscores how precarious the company’s financial health has become.

“Clearly, the financials aren’t what we would hoped,” Gelsinger told analysts.

In short: Intel had a difficult 2022, and 2023 is shaping up to be tough as well.

Here are some of the most concerning bits from Intel’s earnings report and analyst call:

Weak and uncertain guidance

Intel didn’t give full-year guidance for 2023, citing economic uncertainty.

But the data points for the current quarter suggest tough times. Intel guided for about $11 billion in sales in the March quarter, which would be a 40% year-over-year decline. Gross margin will be 34.1%, a huge decrease from the 55.2% in the same quarter in 2021, Gelsinger’s first at the helm.

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But the biggest issue for investors is that Intel guided to a 15 cent non-GAAP loss per share, a big decline for a company that a year ago was reporting $1.13 in profit per share. It would be the first loss per share since last summer, which was the first loss for the company in decades.

An inventory glut

Dropoff in gross margin

Underpinning all of this is that Intel’s gross margin continues to decline, hurting the company’s profitability. One issue is “factory load,” or how efficiently factories run around the clock. Intel said that its gross margin would be hit by 400 basis points, or 4 percentage points, because of factories running under load because of soft demand.

Ultimately, Intel forecasts a 34.1% gross margin in the current quarter — a far cry from the 51% to 53% goal the company set at last year’s investor day. The company says it’s working on it, and the margin could get back to Intel’s goal “in the medium-term” if demand recovers.

“We have a number of initiatives under way to improve gross margins and we’re well under way. When you look at the $3 billion reduction [in costs] that we talked about for 2023, 1 billion of that is in cost of sales and we’re well on our way to getting that billion dollars,” Gelsinger said.

The not-so-bad news: Dividend and self-driving

Long-term investors have always closely watched how the company balances the near-term need to placate shareholders with the massive capital spending needed to stay competitive in the semiconductor manufacturing business.

If Intel is cutting costs and still needing to invest in chip factories to power its turnaround, analysts say it may want to reconsider its dividend. Intel spent $6 billion on dividends in 2022, but did not cut its dividend on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the company said it wants to cut $3 billion in costs for 2023 and analysts believe it wants to spend around $20 billion in capital expenditures to build out its factories.

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Gelsinger was asked about this dynamic on Thursday.

“I’d just say the board, management, we take a very disciplined approach to the capital allocation strategy and we’re going to remain committed to being very prudent around how we allocate capital for the owners and we are committed to maintaining a competitive dividend,” Gelsinger replied.

There was at least one bright spot for Intel on Thursday.

Mobileye, its self-driving subsidiary that went public during the December quarter, reported earlier in the day, showing adjusted earnings per share of 27 cents and revenue growth of 59%, to $656 million. It also forecast strong 2023 revenue of between $2.19 billion and $2.28 billion. Shares rose nearly 6% during regular trading hours Thursday.

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China’s reopening will boost these retail names, Wells Fargo says



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