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WASHINGTON — In the wake of an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, Iranian military fast-boats prevented privately owned tug boats from salvaging one of the damaged vessels, two U.S. officials aware of the situation told CNBC.

The latest conflict from the world’s most important oil choke point brought oil prices up about 1% on Friday and as much as 4% the day prior on renewed fears of conflict in the Middle East leading to global oil supply disruptions.

America’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, blamed Iran for Thursday’s attacks without citing specific evidence as to why Tehran was responsible.

“Iran is lashing out because the regime wants our successful maximum pressure campaign lifted,” Pompeo said Thursday. “No economic sanctions entitle the Islamic Republic to attack innocent civilians, disrupt global oil markets and engage in nuclear blackmail.”

Iranian Revolutionary Guards drive speedboats in front of an oil tanker at the port of Bandar Abbas 

Atta Kenare | AFP | Getty Images

President Donald Trump said Friday that if Iran were to block the Strait of Hormuz, “it’s not going to be closed for long,” but did not elaborate on what potential steps the U.S. would take in response. “They’re not going to be closing [the strait],” Trump reiterated during a telephone interview with Fox News.

Earlier this year, Iran threatened to close the strait in response to a U.S. decision to end waivers on reimposed sanctions for companies that export oil from Iran. The Strait of Hormuz is a gateway for almost a third of all seaborne crude oil.

In an exclusive interview with CNBC on Friday, Trump’s energy secretary called Iran the “bad neighbor in the neighborhood.”

“Iran should be thinking about how do we maintain our market share, how do we act like good neighbors, how do we continue to be a part of the global community instead of these obvious acts of treachery in the Strait of Hormuz,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said.

At the Pentagon, acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan called the matter an “international problem,” adding that his role would be to “set the conditions for diplomacy.” He added that he was in close coordination with U.S. Central Command to verify whether forces in the region had necessary resources and support for their missions.

In a statement Friday, the board of directors for Frontline Ltd. said that all 23 crew members of the Front Altair oil tanker were unharmed and that the cause of the explosion is unknown. “The incident will be thoroughly investigated by the Company along with third parties, including governmental officials, to determine the cause,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the Japanese owner of one of the oil tankers said the vessel was damaged by a projectile, not by a mine, which is what U.S. officials assessed as the source of the blast.

“We received reports that something flew towards the ship,” Yutaka Katada, president of Kokuka Sangyo, said at a press conference Friday. “I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship,” he said, adding that a projectile landed above the waterline.

On Thursday, U.S. Central Command said in a statement that the Japanese oil tanker, Kokuka Courageous, had an “unexploded limpet mine on their hull following an initial explosion.”

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

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Trump loses appeal to keep his secret bank records away from Congress



President Donald Trump listens during a listening session on youth vaping of electronic cigarette on November 22, 2019 in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong | Getty Images

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Deutsche Bank and Capital One can hand over years of President Donald Trump’s financial records in compliance with House Democrats’ subpoenas.

The ruling in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals offers another judicial loss for Trump, who has fought off attempts to obtain his financial records, including his tax returns, through multiple lawsuits.

Neither the White House nor a lawyer for Trump immediately responded to CNBC’s request for comment on the ruling.

In May, U.S. District Court Judge Edgardo Ramos ruled that the two banks can comply with subpoenas issued by the Democrat-led House Intelligence and Financial Services Committees to hand over financial records related to Trump, his businesses and members of his family.

Trump appealed Ramos’ ruling two days later.

Tuesday’s decision was issued by a divided three judge panel made up of two Republican appointees and one Democratic appointee. 

Circuit Judge Jon Newman, a Carter appointee, wrote in the court’s decision that the House committees interest in “pursuing their constitutional legislative function is a far more significant public interest than whatever public interest inheres in avoiding the risk of a Chief Executive’s distraction arising from disclosure of documents reflecting his private financial transactions.”

Newman also emphasized in the opinion that the issues raised by the lawsuit “do not concern a dispute between the Legislative and Executive Branches” because the subpoenas sought Trump’s personal, rather than official, records. 

But in a partial dissent, Circuit Judge Debra Ann Livingston, a George W. Bush appointee, rejected that argument, and called the subpoenas “deeply troubling.”

“I cannot accept the majority’s conclusions that ‘this case does not concern separation of powers,’ and that there is ‘minimal at best’ risk of distraction to this and future Presidents from legislative subpoenas of this sort,” she wrote.

The case is likely destined for the Supreme Court, where the president has already appealed two other lower court decisions requiring the disclosure of his financial records.

The two other cases involve subpoenas issued to the president’s longtime accounting firm Mazars USA.

The justices are likely to decide soon whether to hear the cases. On Thursday, the president’s private legal team is expected to submit its formal petition to the top court asking it to review a decision by the federal appeals court in Washington that ordered Mazars to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Oversight Committee.

The justices will meet in private later this month to discuss the petition in the other case, over a subpoena issued to the firm by state prosecutors in New York.

Trump’s lawyers have argued in multiple lawsuits that the various requests for his financial records have no “legitimate legislative purpose” and are being pursued merely as an attempt to embarrass the president for political gain.

That legal argument has so far failed to sway judges in New York and Washington and was similarly rejected by the three-judge panel in the Second Circuit.

Trump has defied calls to publicly release his tax returns and provided a variety of explanations for his failure to do so. He is the first president in more than 40 years not to voluntarily make his tax records public.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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Germany is the most financially secure country in Europe, finds poll



People in Germany are the most financially secure of any country in Europe, according to a wide-ranging poll.

Debt collection firm Intrum asked 24,000 consumers across Europe about their ability manage household finances.

It then scored each country’s level of “financial wellbeing” on a scale of 0-10, according to respondents’ ability to pay bills on time, save for the future as well as their credit freedom and financial literacy.

Germany had an overall financial wellbeing score of 6.89 out of 10, helped mainly by consumers’ ability to pay bills on time, on which it scored 7.82 out of 10.

This level of financial security in meeting bill commitments, reflected “a healthy economy and strong saving culture,” Intrum stated in the report.

Austria came in second for financial wellbeing, scoring 6.77 out of 10, also thanks to consumers’ diligence at paying bills on time.

Nordic countries

Nordic countries like Sweden, Denmark and Norway were also among the highest scorers for financial wellbeing, with EU data confirming that these countries benefitted from a healthy level of disposable income.

Sweden ranked top on saving for the future, with 15% of Swedish respondents saying they set aside more than fifth of their salary each month — the largest group of consumers in any country managing to save this much regularly.

Intrum said this was linked to the high levels of financial literacy shown by Swedish consumers, with a third (32%) of those surveyed saying they had received excellent financial education and felt confident managing complex financial matters.

Finland came first for financial literacy and nearly all (92%) Finnish consumers polled who had children said they would teach their kids how to handle money.

However, Nordic nations were among the wealthier European countries suffering from increasing amounts of debt, resulting in them scoring poorly for “credit freedom.”

Denmark was at the bottom of the list in this category, with Eurostat data showing it had the highest household debt-to-income ratio in Europe.

Hungary, on the other hand, had the lowest debt-to-income ratio in Europe according to Eurostat, putting it top for “credit freedom.” More than three-quarters (76%) of consumers in Hungary had not borrowed money, apart from a mortgage, or reached their credit card limit in order to a pay bill, over the past six months.

Greece had the lowest financial wellbeing score overall, at 5.39 out of 10, with it also coming last for consumers’ ability to pay bills on time and saving for the future.

Intrum pointed out Greece’s average wage was among the lowest in Europe, while unemployment was the highest.

“The disparity between wage growth and rising living costs is ramping up the pressure on Greek consumers yet further,” said Intrum, as over three-fifths (61%) said bills were rising at a faster rate than their income.

Wider Europe

More broadly, nearly half (45%) of Europeans said their bills were rising at a faster rate than their income, with a similar number (43%) saying this was negatively affecting their wellbeing.

Three-quarters of respondents are managing to save each month but more than half (52%) are dissatisfied with the amount they’re putting aside.

Almost half (44%) of European were worried that a weakened European Union would have a negative effect on their finances, up slightly from the 42% who said so in 2018.

This figure increased among countries which took longer to recover from the financial crisis, such as Portugal (64%), Greece (63%) and Spain (62%), the study found.

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Why loneliness lowers your performance at work



John Krasinski as Jim Halpert in the NBC show “The Office.”

NBC | Getty Images

Loneliness has become known as a “modern epidemic,” despite there being more ways than ever to connect with friends, family and even colleagues.

In fact, nearly half (46%) of people feel lonely some or all of the time, according to a survey of 20,000 U.S. adults conducted last year by insurer Cigna and market researcher Ipsos.

Another study published last year by Wharton Professor Sigal Barsade and California State University Professor Hakan Ozcelik found that loneliness also has a detrimental effect on performance at work.

The field study, called “No Employee an Island: Workplace Loneliness and Job Performance,” surveyed 672 employees and their 114 supervisors from a range roles in the U.S.

There were two reasons why loneliness hurt workplace performance, said Barsade.

The first was that “people who were lonelier became less effectively committed to their organization,” meaning they cared less and were not motivated to work as hard which lowered performance, she explained to CNBC.

Another reason was that co-workers found those colleagues suffering from loneliness “less approachable.”

This had a negative effect on work performance as a lack of interaction meant less information was shared with co-workers, meaning those suffering from loneliness were less likely to get the resources they needed, Barsade explained in another interview with online business analysis journal Knowledge@Wharton.

This finding was “counter intuitive” to what people typically thought about loneliness, assuming from an “evolutionary and motivational” point of view that someone feeling lonely would reach out to others.

“But what we know about loneliness is, unfortunately, is that when it passes a certain threshold it actually causes us to become more cautious, more protected,” she said.

She pointed out that given the well-established link between co-workers and professional performance, in terms of offering feedback and advice, it actually made sense their perception of a lonely person would have a negative impact.

The Cigna-Ipsos study found workplace loneliness had an impact on health. Nearly nine in 10 (89%) of people who said they had positive relationships with co-workers purported to be in good health, versus two-thirds (65%) of those with fair or poor connections with colleagues.

How to help workplace loneliness

The contagion effect of emotions at work means that to help employees feeling lonely employers need to first take note of their company’s emotional culture, said Barsade.

“That’s like a tide that raises all boats because you can’t just target the lonely person,” she said. “You do it for everybody — you show affection, caring, compassion and tenderness for everyone.”

One mistake employers can make is assuming loneliness is the fault of the individual, when they should be considering if it is a reflection of an organizational issue, she said.

“When people seem to have (problems) that are intrapsychic, we’re like ‘that’s just their issue’,” she commented.

Looking at whether a company’s culture unintentionally leaves people out is one factor to consider, suggested Barsade. Another mistake would be lumping lonely people together, she said.

The study found that this assumption that “misery loves company” actually only made the situation worse, with Barsade explaining that people who are lonely can lose their social skills.

She added that a common misconception about lonely people is that they inherently have poorer social skills, when loneliness is actually situational.

“You can be lonely at work and absolutely not lonely in your personal or romantic life,” Barsade pointed out.

“It’s only where you’re feeling kind of lonely and rejected that you start to kind of shut down and then lose your ability to interact.”

Equally employers should not try to enforce socializing, she said, but instead start smaller even by just interacting more with employees showing signs of loneliness, by asking for their advice at work, for example.

This can help foster feelings of trust and inclusion, by bringing them “into the work fold,” Barsade said.

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