Last advice for 2015

Dear friends

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BMW 7-series on the road

In 2016, BMW will uncovered their 7-Series sedan. It’s the car Bimmer uses as a medium for unleashing its newest and best technological offerings on the rest of the world. IDrive made its debut here, as did ABS and the active body control systems that monitor the movement of the car in relation to the road. Now those are de rigueur on all BMW cars, but at the time they offered us the first taste of something exciting and new.

Which is to say, don’t let the understated styling of the 2016 BMW 750i xDrive nor the faint aesthetic changes it has over last year’s offering deceive you. This vehicle is a harbinger of things to come—and the future is friendly.

The 7-Series is the biggest and (with upgrades) the most expensive non-SUV that BMW makes. (The model I drove starts at $97,400 base.) It was introduced as the brand’s flagship in 1977, comes only in four-door-sedan form, and is meant to show the ultimate level of what a high-end German driving sedan can achieve. BMW pours massive resources into making it great; the brand is currently on pace to sell more cars than ever in 2015, and the 7-Series will be part of that success, according to company figures. 

While this year’s version offers scant exterior changes—it’s slightly wider and lower, with narrower LED headlights and larger kidney grilles—it does permanently alter the sedan’s lineage, ditching the long-wheelbase “L” signifier from the American lineup. (In Europe, where the 7-Series is available along with an optional short wheel base, the long version has the “L” label. In the U.S., that moniker is now deemed superfluous.)

Less noticeably (until you drive it) is the fact that BMW added carbon bracing to its skeletal structure, which otherwise consists of steel and aluminum. According to BMW, that adjustment alone, including new carbon fiber tubing along the roof, saves nearly 90 pounds over the previous generation 750i xDrive. The car does not feel as heavy as it looks.

Would that BMW had done more to improve fuel efficiency, though: The 750’s 16 mpg city rating falls short of similar big sedan offerings from Mercedes-Benz and Porsche and embarrassingly short of the Tesla Model S, for obvious reasons.

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Those changes alone, imperceptible from the outside, give this car notable performance distinction from almost anything else. Driving the 750i is a lesson in perfect physics, like how it feels on days when everything goes your way, when you’re in the zone on the court, on the track, on the fairway. It feels as slinky as the best dress you could slip into (or out of), or the drape of your favorite T-shirt. It moves like quicksilver across lanes, around corners, down the last stretch of road on your way home. You never feel how large it is until you lay down in the back. Or try to park it. (The novel self-parking mode is currently illegal and unavailable in the U.S.—but you can activate it abroad.)

The New Investment In Kazakhstan

The real estate investment is one of most profitable businesses around the word, And no wonder that many investors are trying to log in to it.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan Looks to Private Equity for Help With Its $93 Billion Cash Pile.

Central Downtown Astana, Kazakhstan

KKR & Co. founder Henry Kravis, Blackstone Group LP Chairman Stephen Schwarzman and Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein were among the guests when Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev hosted a dinner in New York.

Apart from the dining at the Four Seasons Hotel, there was access to a possible $93 billion on the table as Nazarbayev, who presides over Central Asia’s biggest energy exporter, seeks to boost returns on the country’s wealth funds. The $64 billion National Fund has struggled to achieve an average of 2 percent annually for the past five years.

After President Nazarbayev, who spoke about investment opportunities in Kazakhstan and institutional reforms the nation embarked on this year, speakers from the U.S. including former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke took the floor to talk about global geopolitical and economic challenges.

As the price of oil flirts with an 11-year low and returns from commodities slump to levels last seen in 1999, new inflows into the $7.1 trillion of assets controlled by the world’s sovereign wealth funds from Kazakhstan to South Korea are in jeopardy. Norway’s $840 billion fund posted its biggest loss in four years in the second quarter as global markets were roiled by a selloff in Chinese stocks and the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates.

“We are sitting on a huge pile of cash and not making real returns,” said Berik Otemurat, who organized the September dinner and who helps manage $800 million of the Kazakh Central Bank’s reserves as chief executive officer of National Investment Corp. “It’s especially urgent to address this, given the gloomy outlook for oil prices and reduced inflows into the National Fund.”

Officials at KKR, Blackstone and Carlyle Group declined to comment on the dinner.

Kazakhstan now plans to increase investments in real estate, private equity and hedge funds as it seeks to boost returns. Facing a similar predicament, Arabian Gulf funds are switching their investments out of financial services and into hotels and retail, as well as funding infrastructure in Africa, where yields are higher, Moody’s Investors Service said in a Nov. 12 report.

Nigeria sues MTN

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MTN Africa encounter a big problem with the Nigerian Government this month and will enforce a Dec. 31 deadline for MTN Group Ltd. to pay a $3.9 billion fine even after Africa’s biggest wireless operator said it would challenge the penalty in a Lagos court, according to a spokesman for the communications ministry.

“MTN has the right to seek the court’s interpretation if it feels unsatisfied with the action of the regulator but nothing would stop the government action on the fine,” Victor Oluwadamilare, the spokesman for Communications Minister Adebayo Shittu, said in an e-mailed response to questions on Tuesday. Nigeria won’t consider an extension to the deadline, he said.

MTN said Dec. 17 it will ask the court to rule on the fine, saying that the penalty wasn’t within the powers of the country’s telecommunications regulator to impose. The Johannesburg-based company’s shares have declined 26 percent since the fine was made public almost two months ago. They gained 4.5 percent to 141.16 rand by the close in the city, valuing the company at 261 billion rand ($17.1 billion).

The Nigerian communications regulator imposed the penalty on MTN for failing to meet a deadline to disconnect 5.1 million unregistered subscribers as security agencies seek to fight crime in a country with poor identity records. The initial fine of $5.2 billion was reduced by 25 percent earlier this month following talks with the regulator led by MTN Chairman Phuthuma Nhleko. MTN has said it continues to engage with the Nigerian authorities even as it seeks a resolution in court.

 

Clear Warning To America

The cowboy moves near the China’s South China Sea islands disturbing the red dragon, and the more showing off its military might is a disrespect to China.

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“The world is facing multifaceted challenges and needs multi-party cooperation to handle that,” Wang said in a phone conversation Sunday with Kerry, according to a foreign ministry statement. “While the U.S. is seeking Chinese cooperation, it also should respect China’s core interests and major concerns.”

Wang’s comments follow a report in the Wall Street Journal that a U.S. B-52 bomber mistakenly flew within two nautical miles of Cuarteron Reef in the disputed Spratly Island group in the South China Sea. China dumped tons of dredged sand onto the reef, turning it into an artificial island in the summer of 2014, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a website devoted to tracking maritime security issues in Asia.

The U.S. and China have been at loggerheads since October when the U.S. sailed a warship within 12 nautical miles of an island China built on a previously semi-submerged reef. China’s claim to more than 80 percent of the waters is contested by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

China’s foreign ministry in a statement urged the U.S. “to reflect upon and correct its mistake, take effective measures to prevent similar dangerous and provocative actions from happening and stop doing anything that hurts China’s sovereignty and security interests.”

Bad weather had contributed to the pilot of the B-52 flying off course and into the area claimed by China, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing Pentagon spokesman Bill Urban. The Pentagon is investigating why one of two B-52s on a routine patrol unintentionally flew into the airspace, he said.

China’s Defense Ministry said Dec. 19 that both B-52s had flown into Chinese airspace on Dec. 10, in a “serious military provocation” that prompted troops on the island to go into high alert, and warn the planes to leave.

Wang also requested that the U.S. stop selling arms to Taiwan, an island China regards as a province. The U.S. last week said it would sell $1.83 billion in arms to Taiwan, its first such sale in four years.

The Wang-Kerry conversation followed the unanimous adoption Saturday by the United Nations Security Council of a resolution endorsing a political transition to end Syria’s civil war. Wang said China hopes this will be a good opportunity to press ahead with a political solution to the Syrian issue.

Google and The Individuals’ Data

The US government still putting more pressure on Google to release more data but for less number of clients like last year.

The Alphabet Inc. subsidiary said Thursday that it saw a 4 percent decrease in U.S. government data requests for criminal investigations in the first half of 2015 compared with a year earlier, but a 45 percent increase in the number of individual accounts being targeted as part of those requests.

The Mountain View, California-based search giant also began providing finer-grained information than before on the number of U.S. government requests and is now releasing national security demands in ranges of 500, rather than the previous range of 1,000.

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Google asked the U.S. government in June 2013 to let it disclose more information on national security requests in its transparency report. As a result of litigation, the company in 2014 gained the right to report the volume of national security demands in ranges of 1,000. Under the USA Freedom Act passed earlier this year by Congress, the company can now disclose requests in the narrower range of 500.

“Transparency is necessary to bring legitimacy to laws that otherwise operate concealed from the public,” Google said in a blog post. “As we take stock of the progress made toward providing greater transparency, we should also recognize that further reforms are necessary to promote better oversight over, and insight into, the implementation of government surveillance laws.”

From Hacker to Self-Driving Car Builder

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More than 10 years project to build a Self-Driving car, But it was not a car manufacturer project, I was Mr. Hotz dream, The scrawny 17-year-old known online as “geohot,” Hotz was the first person to hack Apple’s iPhone, allowing anyone—well, anyone with a soldering iron and some software smarts—to use the phone on networks other than AT&T’s. He later became the first person to run through a gantlet of hard-core defense systems in the Sony PlayStation 3 and crack that open, too. Over the past couple years, Hotz had been on a walkabout, trying to decide what he wanted to do next, before hitting on the self-driving car idea as perhaps his most audacious hack yet.

A few days before Thanksgiving, George Hotz, a 26-year-old hacker, invites me to his house in San Francisco to check out a project he’s been working on. He says it’s a self-driving car that he had built in about a month. The claim seems absurd. But when I turn up that morning, in his garage there’s a white 2016 Acura ILX outfitted with a laser-based radar (lidar) system on the roof and a camera mounted near the rearview mirror. A tangle of electronics is attached to a wooden board where the glove compartment used to be, a joystick protrudes where you’d usually find a gearshift, and a 21.5-inch screen is attached to the center of the dash. “Tesla only has a 17-inch screen,” Hotz says.

He’s been keeping the project to himself and is dying to show it off. We pace around the car going over the technology. Hotz fires up the vehicle’s computer, which runs a version of the Linux operating system, and strings of numbers fill the screen. When he turns the wheel or puts the blinker on, a few numbers change, demonstrating that he’s tapped into the Acura’s internal controls.

After about 20 minutes of this, and sensing my skepticism, Hotz decides there’s really only one way to show what his creation can do. “Screw it,” he says, turning on the engine. “Let’s go.”

“Hold this,” he says, dumping a wireless keyboard in my lap before backing out of the garage. “But don’t touch any buttons, or we’ll die.” Hotz explains that his self-driving setup, like the autopilot feature on a Tesla, is meant for highways, not chaotic city streets. He drives through San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood and then onto Interstate 280.

With Hotz still holding the wheel, the Acura’s lidar paints a pixelated image on the dash screen of everything around us, including the freeway walls and other cars. A blue line charts the path the car is taking, and a green line shows the path the self-driving software recommends. The two match up pretty well, which means the technology is working. After a couple miles, Hotz lets go of the wheel and pulls the trigger on the joystick, kicking the car into self-driving mode. He does this as we head into an S curve at 65 miles per hour. I say a silent prayer. Hotz shouts, “You got this, car! You got this!”

The car does, more or less, have it. It stays true around the first bend. Near the end of the second, the Acura suddenly veers near an SUV to the right; I think of my soon-to-be-fatherless children; the car corrects itself. Amazed, I ask Hotz what it felt like the first time he got the car to work.

 

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After the impact of VW’s scandal

The European Autos market shocked strongly by the VW’s scandal this year, but seems that he recovery process will not be fast as it is suppose to be.

The European car market’s growth is set to slow from its fastest pace in at least 10 years as consumers increasingly choose alternatives to owning a vehicle, sapping a recovery from a two-decade low.

New-car registrations in Europe are set to rise 8 percent this year to more than 14 million vehicles for the first time since 2009. That growth rate will slow to about 2 percent next year, and the market isn’t likely to reach the 2007 peak of 16 million vehicles before the end of the decade, according to market researcher IHS Automotive.

“Structurally, things have changed,” said Carlos Da Silva, manager for European vehicle sales forecasts at IHS. “People that should have been among the pool of buyers will never come to it,” including retirees facing lower pensions amid government budget cuts as well as a growing number of people who live in cities with good transport networks and who decide they don’t need a car.

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Europe’s limited prospects show the strains facing automakers as they seek to offset a slowdown in China as well as slumps in Russia and Brazil. Volkswagen AG is particularly exposed. Europe’s biggest automaker has been losing market share in its home region after a scandal over cheating on emissions tests battered its image.

Buoyed by rising business and consumer confidence, 11-month new-car registrations in the region increased 8.6 percent to 13 million vehicles. That included a 14 percent surge to 1.12 million cars in November, according to figures released Tuesday by the trade group ACEA. Volkswagen’s market-share losses accelerated in November, with the carmaker suffering its biggest drop since the test manipulation became public in September.

Ford Motor Co., Daimler AG and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV have been winning customers from Volkswagen with the help of new sport utility vehicles. Growing by rolling out another model in the segment may become more difficult as “we’re expecting that segment to get pretty crowded,” said Anil Valsan, a London-based automotive analyst at consulting company EY.

Adding to the choices facing consumers is the advent of alternative transport services, including ride- or car-sharing options such as Uber Technologies Inc., Daimler’s Car2Go or BMW AG’s DriveNow. That indicates slower gains in auto sales after this year’s surge.