Next Glyphosate Lawsuit Likely Postponed, Bayer Says

Reuters writers Ludwig Burger and Patricia Weiss reported this week that, “Germany’s Bayer said the next U.S. lawsuit scheduled to be heard over claims that its glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup causes cancer would likely be postponed.

“Bayer, which acquired the weedkiller as part of its purchase of Monsanto last year, was initially scheduled to face its first trial outside California in St. Louis, Missouri, on Aug. 19, brought by Illinois resident Sharlean Gordon, who blames her non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on using Roundup at home.

“‘We anticipate that this court case will be postponed but we have not received any written decision,’ a Bayer spokesman said. He would not comment on how Bayer was informed of the delay or on the reason for it.”

The article noted that, “Bayer has seen its market value slashed by about 30 billion euros since August last year, when a California jury in the first such lawsuit found that Monsanto should have warned of the alleged cancer risks.

“The company, which says regulators and extensive research have found glyphosate to be safe, is banking on U.S. appeals courts to reverse or tone down the first three court rulings that have so far awarded tens of millions of dollars to each plaintiff.”

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Mortgage Rates Sink to 3-Year Low

Diana Olick reported earlier this week at CNBC Online that, “Escalating tensions over a trade war with China sent investors rushing to the relative safety of the bond market late last week. That pushed the yield on the 10-year Treasury, which mortgage rates loosely follow, down sharply.

“The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage hit 3.70% on Friday, the lowest since November 2016, according to Mortgage News Daily. That rate will likely dip even lower Monday, as bond yields continue to fall.

“The drop last week meant that 8.2 million 30-year mortgage holders could likely qualify for a refinance and save at least 0.75% off of their current interest rate by doing so, according to a new tally by Black Knight, a mortgage software and analytics company.”

The CNBC update added that, “The size of that population, however, is still very sensitive to even the slightest rate moves, since so many borrowers have already refinanced to very low rates. Just a one-eighth of a point move lower could add another 1.5 million borrowers to the eligible refinance pool, and the same move in the other direction would knock 1.3 million out.”

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Delgado Bill to Aid Family Farmers Passes Both Chambers of Congress, Goes to President for Signature

A news release last week from Rep. Antonio Delgado (D., N.Y.) stated that, “Before adjourning for the August in-district work period, the U.S. Senate passed [Rep. Delgado’s] bipartisan legislation to ease the process of reorganizing debt through Chapter 12 bankruptcy rules to assist farmers during this down farm economy. The legislation now awaits President Trump’s signature. Rep. Delgado introduced H.R. 2336, the Family Farmer Relief Act in April along with House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Reps. TJ Cox (D-CA), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD). The House passed H.R. 2336 on July 26, following Rep. Delgado’s testimony on the floor.

“‘Farming in Upstate New York is a way of life and the current down turn in the farm economy threatens this time-honored tradition for thousands of family farms in our district. I am so pleased to see the Senate vote to pass the Family Farmer Relief Act which will bring relief to struggling family farmers and allow them the flexibility to continue operations.’ Delgado continued, ‘This legislation was a bipartisan, cooperative effort from the beginning and I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for joining me to champion this important cause. I urge President Trump to sign this vital legislation soon so we can bring family farmers in Upstate New York much needed relief.'”

The update added that, “The Family Farmer Relief Act was introduced with a Senate companion led by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Doug Jones (D-AL), Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Tina Smith (D-MN). The bill expands the debt cap that can be covered under Chapter 12 bankruptcy from $3,237,000 to $10,000,000. The changes reflect the increase in land values, as well as the growth over time in the average size of U.S. farming operations and are meant to provide farmers additional options to manage keep their doors open during downturns in the farm economy. The legislation is endorsed by: American Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, National Corn Growers Association, National Milk Producers Federation, the National Pork Producers Council, and American Bankruptcy Institute.”

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No Sign Changes in Mortgage-Interest Deduction Has Brought Down Home Prices

New York Times writers Jim Tankersley and Ben Casselman reported yesterday that, “The mortgage-interest deduction, a beloved tax break bound tightly to the American dream of homeownership, once seemed politically invincible. Then it nearly vanished in middle-class neighborhoods across the country, and it appears that hardly anyone noticed.

“In places like Plainfield, a southwestern outpost in the area known locally as Chicagoland, the housing market is humming. The people selling and buying homes do not seem to care much that President Trump’s signature tax overhaul effectively, although indirectly, vaporized a longtime source of government support for homeowners and housing prices.

“The 2017 law nearly doubled the standard deduction — to $24,000 for a couple filing jointly — on federal income taxes, giving millions of households an incentive to stop claiming itemized deductions.”

The Times’ article noted that, “As a result, far fewer families — and, in particular, far fewer middle-class families — are claiming the itemized deduction for mortgage interest. In 2018, about one in five taxpayers claimed the deduction, Internal Revenue Service statistics show. This year, that number fell to less than one in 10. For families earning less than $100,000, the decline was even more stark.

The benefit, as it remains, is largely for high earners, and more limited than it once was: The 2017 law capped the maximum value of new mortgage debt eligible for the deduction at $750,000, down from $1 million. There has been no audible public outcry, prompting some people in Washington to propose scrapping the tax break entirely.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “Skylar Olsen, an economist at Zillow, said that the slowdown in the housing market probably had little to do with the tax law. Home prices have risen much faster than wages in recent years, creating an affordability crisis in many cities that probably made slower growth in prices inevitable.”

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Ernst Calls for Rollback of Obama-era WOTUS Rule to Be Codified Into Law

A news release yesterday from Sen. Joni Ernst (R, Iowa) stated that, “[Sen. Ernst] introduced legislation to codify into law the Trump Administration’s rollback of the Obama-era ‘Waters of the United States,’ or ‘WOTUS,’ rule.

“‘The Obama-era WOTUS rule threatened Iowa’s farmers, manufacturers, and small businesses by giving the federal government authority to regulate water on 97 percent of land in our state,’ said Senator Joni Ernst. ‘President Trump and his administration have taken tremendous steps to roll back this overreaching regulation and provide for more certainty with a new, clearer definition of WOTUS. But it’s the job of Congress to make a new, reasonable definition permanent, and that’s what this bill does—it ensures more predictability and workability for Iowans for years to come.’

“In late 2018, the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposed rule to replace the Obama Administration’s 2015 WOTUS rule. The Define WOTUS Act would codify a definition of ‘Waters of the United States’ and reassert Congressional responsibility to define this important term. The definition in the Define WOTUS Act also makes substantial improvements over various administrative attempts to define the term by clearly outlining what is, and is not, a federally regulated waterway.”

The release added that, “Senator Ernst introduced the bill with Senator Mike Braun (R, Ind.).”

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Plea Agreement Reached in Biodiesel Fraud Case

DTN writer Todd Neeley reported late last month that, “The former owners/operators of a biodiesel plant in Utah have reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in a biodiesel tax and renewable identification numbers, or RINs, fraud case, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah in Salt Lake City on July 18.

“Washakie Renewable Energy Chief Executive Officer Jacob O. Kingston, Washakie Chief Financial Officer Isaiah Kingston, Special Projects Manager Rachel Kingston, Jacob Kingston’s wife and Compliance Manager Sally Kingston, pleaded guilty to multiple charges.

“According to the indictment in the case, the Kingstons conducted an illegal scheme that led to the company receiving $511 million from the federal government.”

Mr. Neeley indicated that, “According to court documents, Washakie Renewable Energy produced little or no actual biodiesel. Instead, the plea agreement outlines a scheme that involved buying biodiesel and other commodities from other companies and misrepresenting the biofuel as its own.

“Jacob O. Kingston admitted in the plea agreement to conducting such a scheme. He could be imprisoned for a maximum of 30 years. His brother, Isaiah, could face up to 20 years in prison.”

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Bayer CEO Would Consider a ‘Financially Reasonable’ Settlement Over Roundup Litigation

Bloomberg writer Tim Loh reported yesterday that, “Bayer AG Chief Executive Officer Werner Baumann said he’d consider a ‘financially reasonable’ settlement of litigation over the weedkiller Roundup as the caseload swells and the company’s shares slump anew.

The number of lawsuits from people in the U.S. who say the herbicide caused them to develop cancer rose by about 5,000 to 18,400, Bayer said in a statement. The company also revealed more troubles at its crop-science division on Tuesday after bad weather curbed demand from farmers.

“Quarterly sales and earnings missed estimates and the German company questioned its ability to meet its full-year forecast. The shares fell 3.4 percent in Frankfurt.”

The Bloomberg article stated that, “Baumann said on a conference call that he is open to a settlement as long as it resolves all Roundup litigation. He repeated that the herbicide is safe, that the cases have no merit and that the company is ‘constructively engaging’ with court-appointed mediator Ken Feinberg.

“After the call, Bayer declined to say how much a ‘financially reasonable’ sum would be or whether Baumann was referring only to the current load of cancer cases or the possibility of future Roundup suits tied to other ailments.”

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A Look at the Stress of Startup Success

Wall Street Journal writers Shalini Ramachandran and Rolfe Winkler reported recently that, “This year is set to be a huge one for startup IPOs. Going public is a cinematic moment for founders, CEOs and early employees, one that can turn years of hard work into immense wealth. But off-camera, the startup world has a dark side. Under the veneer of fancy parties and multibillion-dollar valuations, many founders and early-startup executives are striving to build pioneering businesses while wrestling with issues like anxiety, drug addiction, insomnia, depression and binge eating.

“Stress, of course, is a part of any leadership role, and startup leaders often have more resources than most to cope with mental-health woes. But it is also becoming clear that the swashbuckling creativity that pushes many startup founders to take bold leaps often comes with inner demons.

“Entrepreneurs were 50% more likely to report having a lifetime mental-health condition and reported significantly higher rates of depression, attention-deficit disorder, substance abuse and bipolar disorder than a control group, according to a 2016 paper by researchers at the University of California San Francisco, UC Berkeley, and Stanford University, who surveyed more than 200 founders.”

The Journal writers indicated that, “Some entrepreneurs have ‘a high degree of energy, a low need for sleep, a drive that seems far beyond ordinary driven people and a vivid imagination,’ says Kerry Sulkowicz, a New York psychoanalyst who advises CEOs. These traits allow them to ‘keep going when everybody tells you what you’re doing is crazy’ but also makes them vulnerable to mental-health issues, he says.”

The article also pointed out that, “An oft-cited issue in tech circles is that many startups fail because of people problems, not business issues. In a 2016 study, 92% of more than 13,000 venture capitalists surveyed by the National Bureau of Economic Research identified the management team as the most important factor in startup failures. ‘It is shocking how often startups fail because of the personality flaws and deep-seated traumas of their founders and execs,’ said Garry Tan, managing partner at startup investor Initialized Capital, in a tweet.”

“A few venture-capital firms are now focusing more on developing founders as human beings rather than just CEOs,” the Journal writers said.

Alpha Bridge Ventures has created a program to help support founders’ well-being. Kari Sulenes, its executive director, says digestive and autoimmune disorders can be exacerbated by stress. Founders’ ‘expectations for health are so low that even when they have something like Lyme disease, they think that’s just something to push through,’ Dr. Sulenes said.”

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House Passes Delgado’s Bipartisan Legislation to Ease Chapter 12 Bankruptcy Rules for Family Farmers

A news release last week from Representative Antonio Delgado (D. N.Y.) stated that, “Today, the U.S. House passed [Rep. Delgado’s] bipartisan legislation, H.R. 2336, the Family Farmer Relief Act, introduced with House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), and Reps. TJ Cox (D-Calif.), Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) and Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), which would ease the process of reorganizing debt through Chapter 12 bankruptcy rules. Rep. Delgado previously testified before the House Judiciary Committee on this bipartisan legislation, and applauded its bipartisan passage through the Committee.

“Following passage Rep. Delgado said, ‘Farming in Upstate New York is a way of life and the current down turn in the farm economy threatens this time-honored tradition for thousands of family farms in my district. Today, I am proud the House voted to pass the Family Farmer Relief Act which will bring relief to struggling family farmers and allow them the flexibility to continue operations. This legislation was a bipartisan, cooperative effort from the beginning and I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for joining me to champion this important cause. I urge its swift passage in the Senate.'”

Last week’s update quoted Rep. Delgado as saying, “This is the 5th year on record of declining net farm income; prices are low, inputs are high, and current trade policies make the future for farms unknown. 2018 marked the fourth consecutive year of rising bankruptcy rates as a proportion of the farm population. This farm economy is exacerbated by an outdated bankruptcy filing cap that leaves farmers without options to restructure or repay their debt. Chapter 12 was created specifically to provide repayment flexibility and reorganizational advantages for family farms during poor economic times. Unfortunately, this outdated debt cap has rendered Chapter 12 an inaccessible tool to thousands of farm families.”

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Roundup Verdicts Trimmed

Wall Street Journal writer Sara Randazzo reported yesterday that, “Bayer AG succeeded in getting a third large trial verdict substantially reduced in litigation over the safety of its signature weedkiller, Roundup.

“A California state court judge in Alameda County on Thursday trimmed a more than $2 billion award to $86.7 million in the case of a local husband and wife who each blamed non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnoses on Bayer’s product.

“Last week, a federal judge in San Francisco reduced a more than $80 million verdict to $25.3 million in the case of a Northern California resident with similar allegations.”

The Journal article noted that, “Bayer said Thursday the reduced verdict is ‘a step in the right direction,’ but that the company continues to believe the verdict and damages ‘are not supported by the evidence at trial and conflict with the extensive body of reliable science and conclusions of leading health regulators.'”

Several more Roundup trials are scheduled in the coming months, including one slated to begin in August in St. Louis County, home to much of the legacy Monsanto business,” the Journal article said.

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