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Sunday, April 30, 2017

First working “mini brains”

Scientists confirm that they have grown the first working 'mini-brains' in a dish which could provide future treatments for autism and epilepsy.The lab-grown organs have their own brain cells, formed into circuits similar to those of a two-month-old baby in the womb. Repots indicate that is the first time a human forebrain has been seen in action outside the body.

Despite ones position on these matters, the creation is scientifically thrilling nonetheless. The Daily Mail reports that scientists hope to use the mini-brains to watch in real time the triggers for epilepsy, when brain cells become hyperactive, and autism, where they are thought to form bad connections. Scientists have grown the first working 'mini-brains' in a dish which could provide future treatments for autism and epilepsy.

The brains in a dish are the latest advance for stem cell science. Human skin cells are transformed into pluripotent stem cells, capable of becoming any part of the body, using four genes in a petri dish. The 'culture', or nutrient-rich broth they are grown in, is then altered to determine which type of cell they will become – in this case brain cells, or neurons.

The result is a 60-day old forebrain like a baby's in the womb, although more scrambled in its connections. It includes the cerebral cortex, the most highly evolved 'thinking' and decision-making part of the brain.

It could pave the way for drugs to treat these conditions, as well as schizophrenia. It is also the next step towards a real-life Frankenstein, suggesting scientists may one day be able to grow an entire human body in the laboratory. Researchers at Stanford University grew two forebrain circuits, measuring only a sixteenth of an inch across, using only human skin cells.Then scientists at Harvard University went a step further, growing a mini-organ for more than nine months to create a human retina – the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye.

Dr Selina Wray, Alzheimer's Research UK senior research fellow at UCL Institute of Neurology, said: 'This technology will provide researchers with insights into brain development and disease which have not previously been possible.'

Dr Sergiu Pasca, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, said:

'We've never been able to recapitulate these human-brain developmental events in a dish before.

Dr Francois Guillemot, group leader and head of division of molecular neurobiology at the Francis Crick Institute in London, said the 'self-organising' ability of stem cells to become brain cells was 'remarkable'.

He said: 'I would not call these studies game-changers because previous organoid papers had already hinted at this. However they represent large steps forward. This is after all the first time that human neural circuits can be observed in action.'

Back in 2013 a similar scientific breakthrough made headlines. That research however, seems to have been a long way from the working "mini brains" scientists at Harvard University have just revealed.

Credit to:

The Daily Mail / TRUNEWS summary.

See more at: http://www.trunews.com/article/first-working-mini-brains-in-a-dish#sthash.wb9jMBNu.dpuf

NATO pushing for new Balkan war

Panic Bank Run Leaves Canada's Largest Alternative Mortgage Lender On Edge Of Collapse

After two years of recurring warnings (both on this website and elsewhere) that Canada's largest alternative (i.e., non-bank) mortgage lender is fundamentally insolvent, kept alive only courtesy of the Canadian housing bubble which until last week had managed to lift all boats, Home Capital Group suffered a spectacular spectacular implosion last week when its stock price crashed by the most on record after HCG revealed that it had taken out an emergency $2 billion line of credit from an unnamed counterparty with an effective rate as high as 22.5%, indicative of a business model on the verge of collapse .
Or, as we put it, Canada just experienced its very own "New Century" moment. 
One day later, it emerged that the lender behind HCG's (pre-petition) rescue loan was none other than the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP). As Bloomberg reported, the Toronto-based pension plan - which represented more than 321,000 healthcare workers in Ontario - gave the struggling Canadian mortgage lender the loan to shore up liquidity as it faces a run on deposits amid a probe by the provincial securities regulator. Home Capital had also retained RBC Capital Markets and BMO Capital Markets to advise on “strategic options” after it secured the loan. 
Why did HOOPP put itself, or rather its constituents in the precarious position of funding what is a very rapidly melting ice cube? The answer to that emerged when we learned that HOOPP President and CEO Jim Keohane also sits on Home Capital’s board and is also a shareholder. But how did regulators allow such a glaring conflict of interest? According to the Canadian press, Keohane had been a director of Home Capital until Thursday, but said he stepped away from the boardroom on Tuesday to remove the conflict of interest when it became clear HOOPP might step in as a lender.
Keohane further clarified on Friday that he doesn’t view the Home Capital investment as risky because the pension plan will be provided with $2 worth of mortgages as collateral for every $1 it lends to Home Capital.
“We take comfort from the underlying asset portfolio, so we are not looking at Home Capital as a credit,” said Mr. Keohane in an interview with Business News Network television. He added that a correction in the housing market is not of great concern, since the values of homes would need to plummet by more than 65 per cent for the fund to make no return beyond the value of its principal commitment.
Furthermore, it appears that Canada's pensioners are priming all other company lenders: Keohane also said that the funding syndicate would rank above Home Capital’s other lenders.
“We have security interest in the collateral we’ve received, so we have the right to sell that collateral if we don’t get paid. And then the balance that’s left over would go to recovery for other creditors.”
The implication is that as long as HCG's mortgages dont suffer greater than 50% losses, HOOPP's pensioners should be money good. Of course, if this is indeed Canada's "subprime moment", any outcome is possible. As for other lenders, or the prepetition (because there will be a petition here, the only question is when and in what form) equity, that's some $4 billion in assets that was just stripped from existing collateral.
"The Best Price May Come From Breaking Up The Company"
In any case, the company's frenzied, emergency measures to stabilize the near-insolvent mortgage lender were not nearly enough, and despite HCG stock posting a modest rebound on Friday between hopes of a rumored sale and a short squeeze, those hopes may be dashed soon because as the Globe and Mail reports, the depositor bank run that gripped Home Capital Group in the past week, only got worse after the company revealed just how precarious its funding situation had become. 
First, any hope the company, or rather its investors may have held of a sale, appear dashed. Investment banking sources cited by the G&M said "the best possible price may come from breaking up the company and selling portions of its mortgage portfolio to regional financial institutions." Which also implies that aside from a few select assets, there is no equity value left, or in other words, any potential buyer is now motivated to wait until HCG liquidates, and then picks off the various assets in bankruptcy court.
There are structural limitations as well: Home Capital currently holds $18-billion in home loans outstanding, "a portfolio that would be difficult to swallow for rivals in the alternative mortgage sector, such as credit unions, small mortgage lenders, Montreal-based Laurentian Bank and Edmonton-based Canadian Western Bank." These institutions, along with private equity firms, could still bid for pieces of Home Capital, the G&M admits. The only question is why they would do so before a bankruptcy filing.
While one prominent name features on the list of potential buyers, that of PE giant J.C. Flowers whose CEO J. Christopher Flowers earlier this year said he expected to expand the company’s Canadian real estate lending business, Canada’s six big banks are notable for their absence on a list of bidders. The reason is that Home Capital lends money to home buyers who have been turned down by the major banks and none of these institutions is expected to enter the alternative mortgage sector by acquiring the company. 
National Bank of Canada proactively called the equity analysts who follow the company this week to say it would not bid on Home Capital after being asked if it was a potential buyer. Needless to say, the big banks would be quite delighted if one of their "bottom picking" competitors would suddenly go bankrupt.
"When you have a bank run people get spooked"
Which brings us to the most imminent risk facing Home Capital Group, and its subsidiary, Home Trust.
Recall, that on Thursday we observed that as concerns about HCG's viability mounted, depositors were quietly pulling their funding from from savings accounts at subsidiary Home Trust. By Wednesday, when Home Capital revealed it was seeking a $2-billion loan to backstop its sinking savings deposits, shareholders ran for the exits, driving down the company’s share price by 65 per cent on Wednesday alone, and heightening the sense of panic.
On Friday, the company revealed that high-interest savings account balances fell another 36% to $521-million by Friday morning, down by a whopping $293 million from $814-million Thursday and more than $2-billion a month ago.
In other words, had it not been for the emergency HOOPP loan, the company would likely be insolvent as of this moment following what may be the biggest bank run in recent Canadian history; which also explains why the interest rate on the loan is above 20%.
“When you have a run on the bank, people get spooked and they sell and ask questions later,” said a Bay Street investment banker. “It’s investor psychology that takes over.”
As is usually the case, regulator appeared on the scene.... just one day too late.
Canada’s banking industry regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), has gathered data from other financial institutions this week, both to monitor for signs of a broader depositor panic and to track where funds are moving as they leave Home Trust. 

OSFI sent an urgent request Wednesday to several smaller and mid-sized financial institutions and credit unions to provide the regulator with up-to-date information about their savings accounts, according to a source. Specifically, OSFI wanted to know the institutions’ most recent account totals for high-interest savings accounts, as well as data on recent redemptions and current levels of high-quality liquid assets.
The request, which the OFSI said had to be fulfilled "as soon as institutions are able", is seen as an attempt to take the pulse of the market by tracking where deposits flowing out of Home Capital may be going, and to gauge whether there is any contagion among other institutions. In recent days, some smaller and mid-sized institutions have also struck up early-stage discussions about whether multiple institutions could join together to explore a deal to buy some of Home Capital’s assets.
As for Canada's big banks, they have already decided that HCG won't survive. Several months ago, Canaccord Genuity Group Inc. told its financial advisers they could no longer steer investors to high-interest savings accounts at Home Capital or rival alternative mortgage lender Equitable Bank. Client money already placed with either bank had to be moved within 60 days.
Then, after Home Capital revealed in March it was under investigation by the Ontario Securities Commission over its disclosure practices, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce introduced a cap of $100,000 per client for purchases of Home Capital guaranteed investment certificates (GICs), which is the maximum level covered by Canada’s deposit insurer.
A spokesperson from Royal Bank of Canada said that, “several weeks ago” the bank introduced a $100,000 cap on Home Capital GICs bought through a full-service broker, although there were no limits for purchases through the firm’s discount brokerage. On Thursday, RBC also released the following entertaining price target scenario: it still has a price target of $8 but fear not, even if RBC is wrong, it promises at least $4/share in residual value. We are not quite as optimistic.
Additionally, late last week, Bank of Nova Scotia said it would stop selling all GICs sold by Home Trust, but said Monday that policy was amended to a limit of $100,000. Bank of Montreal’s brokerage unit also confirmed it has a $100,000 limit on Home Trust GICs but would not say when it went into force.
As G&M adds, the OSC news shook investors, but the panic was heightened as news of the banks' moves to cap investor deposits slowly seeped through Bay Street in subsequent days, raising concerns that major financial institutions were pulling away from Home Capital.
Credit to Zero Hedge

Breaking North Korea vows to sink US nuclear submarine

Duterte Warns Trump: "That Guy Kim Simply Wants To End The World"

In a rare comment on the deteriorating North Korean situation, outspoken Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte urged the US to show restraint after North Korea's latest missile test and to avoid playing into the hands of leader Kim Jong Un, who "wants to end the world". The notoriously blunt Duterte said on Saturday that the Southeast Asia region was extremely worried about tensions between the United States and North Korea, and said one misstep would be a "catastrophe" and Asia would be the first victim of a nuclear war.
"There seems to be two countries playing with their toys and those toys are not really to entertain," the president said quoted by Reuters during a news conference after the ASEAN summit in Manila, referring to Washington and Pyongyang. “One miscalculation of a missile, whether or not a nuclear warhead or an ordinary bomb, one explosion there that would hit somebody would cause a catastrophe."
Duterte also warned the United States, Japan, South Korea and China that they are sparring with a man who was excited about the prospect of firing missiles. Duterte's speech, which was delivered in his capacity as chairman of ASEAN, was due to speak by telephone to U.S. President Donald Trump later on Saturday. He said he would urge Trump not to get into a confrontation with Kim.
"You know that they are playing with somebody who relishes letting go of missiles and everything. I would not want to go into his (Kim's) mind because I really do not know what's inside but he's putting mother earth, the planet to an edge.
Ahead of his phone call with the US president, Duterte appealed to Trump saying it was incumbent upon the US as the a responsible country to not rise to Kim's provocations. He said he was sure Trump had cautioned his military not to allow the situation to spiral out of control; what Duterte may have ignored is that it may be precisely Trump's intent to provoke Kim into a first move, giving the US a carte blanche to retaliate.  "Who am I to say that you should stop? But I would say 'Mr. President, please see to it that there is no war because my region will suffer immensely'," Duterte said. "I will just communicate to (Trump), 'just let him play... do not play into his hands'."
He added: "The guy (Kim) simply wants to end the world, that is why he is very happy. He is always smiling. But he really wants to finish everything and he wants to drag us all down."

Ironically, Duterte has joined China and Russia in pleading with the leaders of North Korea and the U.S. to tone down their nuclear brinksmanship, even as he agreed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that negotiations to end the standoff would be useless.

Credit to Zero Hedge

Former Central Banker Just Signaled That The Economy Is About To Crash