Business, Featured

Wells Fargo faces $1 billion fine to settle loan abuses

(Reuters) – Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) has been offered a penalty of $1 billion by regulators to resolve outstanding investigations related to auto insurance and mortgage lending abuses, the third-largest U.S. bank by assets said on Friday.

Reuters reported on Monday that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency were preparing a fine of up to $1 billion for Wells Fargo’s auto insurance and mortgage lending abuses.

The bank said it may have to revise its quarterly results to reflect the final settlement.

“The CFPB and OCC have collectively offered to resolve for an aggregate of $1 billion in civil money penalties,” the bank said in a statement.

“At this time, we are unable to predict final resolution of the CFPB/OCC matter and cannot reasonably estimate our related loss contingency.”

Wells Fargo is reeling from heavy costs and penalties related to the sales practices scandal, which came to light in 2016 and led to the ouster of ex-CEO John Stumpf and other senior management. Executives were grilled in several appearances before the U.S. Congress.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has also imposed restrictions on the bank’s growth, forbidding it to expand its balance sheet beyond 2017 levels until it makes internal changes that addressed its board and risk management.

The restrictions on balance sheet growth will cut its annual profit by $300 million to $400 million this year, Wells Fargo said.

Chief Executive Officer Tim Sloan has sought to reassure investors that the bank was stable despite the regulatory restrictions.

“I’m confident that our outstanding team will continue to transform Wells Fargo into a better, stronger company; however, we recognize that it will take time to put all of our challenges behind us,” Sloan said in the bank’s first-quarter results statement on Friday.

The bank recently said it was examining its wealth and investment management business for possible customer abuse, including overcharging and inappropriate referrals, after inquiries from government agencies.

Despite its ongoing woes, the bank reported a 6 percent jump in profit, saying net income applicable to common stock rose to $5.53 billion, or $1.12 per share in the quarter ended March 31, from $5.23 billion, or $1.03 per share a year ago.

Analysts on average were looking for $1.06 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Wells Fargo’s shares were up 0.9 percent at $53.16 in premarket trading.

Total revenue fell 1.4 percent to $21.93 billion.

Total loans slipped 1.2 percent to $947.3 billion, hurt most by a decline in average loans in its community banking unit, which includes consumer banking, the area most closely tied to the sales practices scandal.

Noninterest income from mortgage banking, an area where the bank supersedes its peers, fell 23.9 percent due to rising interest rates.

Total noninterest expenses rose 3.3 percent to $14.24 billion.

Reporting By Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Patrick Graham, Bernard Orr

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Facebook isn’t tapping your microphone

Facebook isn’t tapping your microphone

Facebook users have continuously worried that the social media platform’s mobile apps, including Instagram, listen in on our conversations. It’s such a widespread concern that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had to address it in a congressional hearing on privacy this week, where he called the notion a “conspiracy theory.”

I hate to break it to everyone, but as far as we can tell, Facebook’s eavesdropping is a myth. Although I understand why the myth exists. People see eerily exact, targeted ads — sometimes about things they just discussed with friends — and they have to question what’s really happening behind the scenes. How does Facebook know what I’m talking about, and why am I getting served these ads at this exact moment?

It’s not your actual conversations that lead to ad targeting; it’s everything else that you do offline and online. The company knows your browsing habits because of trackers like its own Facebook Pixel and those “Like” buttons all over the internet that report back your web activity. It also knows your self-identified demographics; your location because of its app permissions; your friends and family; your real-world purchases; and what you look like because of your uploaded photos. The company knows a lot about you! Just not what you say, exactly. Plus, it would violate wiretapping laws, and Facebook really doesn’t need to go that far to confirm what it already knows about us.

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Private: NASA Posts Stunning 4K Tour of the Moon
Featured, Science

NASA Posts Stunning 4K Tour of the Moon


You have undoubtedly seen the moon, but have you ever seen it up close in glorious 4K resolution? Probably not, but you can see it right now on YouTube. NASA has uploaded a new video, created mostly from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) observations. The video takes you on a tour of several different regions, some of which still present tantalizing mysteries for future exploration.

The LRO has been orbiting the moon since 2009, sending back the highest quality images we’ve ever had of the lunar surface. The spacecraft’s main imaging device consists of several different cameras, all of which have contributed to the new video. There are two narrow-angle cameras that can capture images a 0.5-meter scale across a 3.1 mile (5 kilometers) swath of the surface. The wide-angle camera can capture 100-meter scale images in seven color bands across a 37.2 mile (60 kilometers) area.

The new 4K video takes you on a virtual tour of some of the most interesting areas of the moon. It might be a lifeless chunk of rock, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be fascinating. For example, there’s the Orientale Basin, a giant preserved impact crater the size of Texas. The video includes topographic data from LRO and gravity measurements from the GRAIL spacecraft. The Orientale Basin might be big, but it’s not the biggest crater on the moon. That honor goes to the South Pole-Aitken Basin featured later in the video. It’s hiding over on the dark side of the moon, with a diameter of more than 1,300 miles (2,200 kilometers).

On the near side of the moon is a smaller crater called Tycho — it’s one of the most famous structures on the moon. You can see the crater structure in astounding detail thanks to the LRO data. It’s only 100 million years old, so the central peak is still quite visible. There’s also a strange boulder in the center, the origin of which is still unknown.

The video also includes high-resolution images of the Apollo 17 landing site in the Taurus-Littrow valley. The resolution is so high, you can make out the tracks left by the rover. The lander’s platform is still sitting there as well.

The data used to make this video is the same data NASA will rely upon as it plans future lunar surface exploration, possibly including manned missions. NASA has a Tumblr post with details on all the sites covered in the video. In other news, NASA has a Tumblr page. Who knew?

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Private: China says ‘it is only polite to reciprocate’ to US tariffs
Business, Featured

China says ‘it is only polite to reciprocate’ to US tariffs

Containers are stacked at a port on March 1, 2016 in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province of China
China Foto Press | Getty Images

Containers are stacked at a port on March 1, 2016 in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province of China

China on Tuesday condemned the U.S. announcement of tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports and said it would “take corresponding measures of equal scale and strength against U.S. products.”

“The Chinese side strongly condemns and firmly opposes the unfounded Section 301 investigation and the proposed list of products and tariff increases based on the investigation,” a Chinese embassy statement said.

“As the Chinese saying goes, it is only polite to reciprocate. The Chinese side will resort to the WTO dispute settlement mechanism and take corresponding measures of equal scale and strength against U.S. products in accordance with Chinese law.”

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Woman Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison for Voting in 2016 Presidential Election While on Probation
Featured, Politics

Woman Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison for Voting in 2016 Presidential Election While on Probation

(FORT WORTH, Texas) — A Texas woman was sentenced to five years in prison for voting in the 2016 presidential election when she was ineligible because she was on probation.Crystal Mason, 43, will appeal the punishment handed down this past week in Fort Worth, according to her attorney. Mason is a former tax preparer who was previously convicted in 2012 on charges related to inflating refunds for clients.

She testified that she didn’t know people convicted of felonies can’t vote until they complete their sentence, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported . She told the newspaper last year following her indictment that she had gone to vote at her mother’s encouragement and wasn’t told when released from federal prison that she could not cast a ballot.

Mason’s illegal voting case was prosecuted in Tarrant County, the same place where a Mexican national last year was sentenced to eight years in prison over illegal voting. Voting illegally in Texas is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Mason used a provisional ballot to vote, and it was not counted. She has said that she believes she was being targeted for prosecution because she voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Donald Trump for president. Tarrant County leans Republican.

Mason’s attorney, J. Warren St. John, did not immediately return a phone message Saturday.

Voter fraud convictions are rare, but Texas Republicans leaders have zealously pursued a crackdown on illegal voting in recent years. A federal judge has twice blocked Texas’ voter ID law, including a revised version last year that was backed by the Trump administration.

At the time of the 2016 election, Mason was on probation after pleading guilty to defrauding the federal government in 2011. She served nearly three years in prison on a five-year sentence. After her prison release, she was put on a three-year term of supervised release. She also had to pay $4.2 million in restitution, according to court documents.

Mason testified that when she voted in November 2016, she signed a provisional ballot affidavit stating that she had not been convicted of a felony. Prosecutors said she signed the form with the intent to vote illegally, but Mason’s attorney called it a mistake.

image: getty images

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