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Billionaire Eric Sprott dishes on his golden investment spree: 'It’s like being at a table with a winning run' – Financial Post

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The Financial Post takes a look at 11 people and companies we’ll be watching closely in the new year.

One week before Halloween, Canada’s biggest gold enthusiast, the septuagenarian billionaire Eric Sprott, wearing a neatly pressed tuxedo, bounded onto a stage in a downtown Toronto ballroom and accepted his induction into Canada’s Investment Industry Hall of Fame.

He declared himself both humbled and honoured, and then rollicked into the wee hours of the night at his home in a nearby tower with expansive views of the city’s sparkling skyline. The next morning, though 75 and technically retired, he showed up at his office, grumbling about a lack of sleep, but dressed in a magenta-coloured, paisley button-up, ready for a 9 a.m. meeting with a penny stock exploration company.

“I keep reading that people are never making (gold) discoveries, the rate of discoveries is going down,” he said, occasionally rubbing his temples and closing his eyes. “The funny thing, well, I guess I’m the sucker then because I keep buying guys who say they’re making discoveries.”

But Sprott added he believes there are discoveries, not by the major miners, but by junior gold and silver explorers.

Just as the price of gold often moves in the opposite direction of the stock market, Sprott has a strong contrarian streak that means he also often moves in the opposite direction of the market. For example, this past spring, after years of middling precious metal prices and declining discoveries had led most investors to abandon Canada’s gold and silver explorers, he decided to go all-in.

Sprott launched an investment blitz, the likes of which the junior mining precious metals sector had seldom seen, doling out somewhere between $200 and $300 million in a matter of just a few months to acquire large stakes in about two dozen companies, most of which have never earned a dollar of revenue.


Eric Sprott in Toronto on Oct. 24, 2019.

Peter J. Thompson/National Post

His investments between May and July accounted for about one in every four dollars raised by junior miners, according to Vancouver-based market research firm Oreninc. During that time, gold prices started to rise, breaking through US$1,400 in June for the first time in six years, bringing some investors back to the major miners — exactly where Sprott doesn’t want to be.

“They’re the worst place to put money, okay?” he said.

Putting his money where his mouth is, he has been selling his position in Kirkland Lake Gold Ltd., one of, if not the lowest-cost gold producers and one of the best-performing stocks on the S&P/TSX Composite Index since 2016.

Sprott was an early investor in Kirkland Lake, was appointed chairman in 2015, and one year later helped engineer its merger with Newmarket Gold Inc., a small gold producer in Australia. Not long after, the newly merged company discovered high-grade veins at two mines, which propelled its stock upwards to $63 per share.

Many investors pride themselves on not selling when a stock hits a bump, but Sprott said it is equally important to not sell when the stock rises, at least not until it’s gone up five or even 10 times, a so-called tenbagger.

“I’ve had lots of tenbaggers and the important thing is to stay in it,” he said.

But when his stake in Kirkland Lake reached about $1.3 billion earlier this year, and it looked like gold prices would keep rising, Sprott said he decided it was time to sell.

“Here’s what I say to the management of Kirkland Lake: you will not be the No. 1 performing stock this year,” he said during an interview in October. “You will not be, because companies like Eldorado (Gold Corp.) and Detour (Gold Corp.) are going to kick your butt.”

In November, Kirkland Lake announced it was buying Detour Gold Corp., and its stock fell by 15 per cent in a day, wiping out what he estimated to be around $140 million of his net worth.

And yet, Sprott — who found out about the deal on a day he was meeting with a junior mining company seeking investment — elected to support the deal, and waxes enthusiastic about Detour.

A gold pour at a Kirkland Lake Gold production site.

A gold pour at a Kirkland Lake Gold production site.

Handout/Kirkland Lake Gold

Sprott’s logic for why higher-cost producers may shine now is straightforward. Since June, the price of gold has risen by approximately US$200, or 15 per cent, to around US$1,467 per ounce. The gold miners that could barely cut a profit when gold was worth less than US$1,200 per ounce because their costs were too high could now be in line to double or triple their thin profits. But lower-cost producers, already reaping huge profits, will see only incremental gains from gold’s price increase.

It’s one of the reasons why Sprott doesn’t much care about Canada’s major gold miners.

The best-run companies might provide 20- or 30-per-cent returns, or maybe 100 per cent in a few cases, but Sprott would rather invest in a company that might strike gold and give him a 500-per-cent return, or even a coveted 1,000-per-cent return.

Indeed, as merger activity heats up in the gold space, another one of Sprott’s investments, Continental Gold Inc., announced a $1.4-billion cash buyout at $5.50 per share.

In July, Sprott had bought about 10 million shares at $3.10, meaning he made about $25 million or a 75-per-cent return in just a few months. But he was nonplussed, saying the buyout may have come a little early.

“You’ve got to have the dream, right?” he said. “You’ve got to have the dream you’re going to find something.”

Therein lies Sprott’s biggest paradox: he’s eager to believe that junior gold miners are on the verge of striking the motherlode, but skeptical of nearly everything else related to the gold industry.

You’ve got to have the dream, right? You’ve got to have the dream you’re going to find something

Eric Sprott

After a five-decade career in the financial services industry, during which he worked as an investment banker and founded an eponymous empire that includes fund and asset management firms, a brokerage firm, bullion storage and more businesses, he is skeptical of commercial banks, major precious metals miners, central banks, the stated rate of annual inflation and, perhaps above all, gold and silver prices.

“One of the things about the media, they never talk about the gold conspiracy,” he said. “Look at the guys who are paying fines for spoofing the precious metals markets. Every two weeks some guy’s paying a fine.”

Case in point, U.S. prosecutors in September filed criminal charges against three JPMorgan Chase & Co. bankers for allegedly spoofing the precious metals market, which means placing fake orders and then quickly cancelling them to manipulate the price. The indictment alleged a decade-long conspiracy.

Sprott believes the futures market — where investors can buy options that essentially allow them to place bets on the price of gold or silver without actually having to own any of the metals — allows commercial banks to exert way too much influence on the market for physical metals.

Stacked gold bars in Germany.

Stacked gold bars in Germany.

Michaela Handrek-Rehle/Bloomberg files

As someone who stockpiles bullion, and often gives it out as a gift, he watches the prices of silver and gold so closely it often colours his mood.

This fall, Sprott was out fishing for grouper on a staffed boat somewhere warm on a Friday when he normally records his podcast. In spite of his idyllic circumstances, he sounded distinctly downtrodden when he called in to the podcast.

“I’ve had better days, you know, it’s a bit of a tough one,” he said.

As the podcast progressed, it soon became clear that gold and silver prices were both down, about four and six per cent, respectively, and options market manipulation appeared to be the reason to him.

Juan Carlos Artega, director of investment research at the World Gold Council, is skeptical that banks are having a significant effect on gold or silver prices through the futures market, but believes options do have an impact on short-term prices.

As someone who stockpiles bullion, and often gives it out as a gift, he watches the prices of silver and gold so closely it often colours his mood

“What you find is that the gold price is responding to demand-and-supply dynamics including those on the (options) market, but it’s only one component,” he said.

Artega said central bank and consumer buying, production numbers, recycling, investment in gold-backed exchange-traded funds and a host of other factors play a role in determining long-term prices.

Sprott would hear none of it, and said he’s long disagreed with the World Gold Council about many things. His skepticism of the futures market ties in to his skepticism of the financial market writ large.

“We have a weird financial system; it doesn’t make any sense to a rational thinker,” he said.

Gene McBurney, co-founder of GMP Securities LP, once a competitor of Sprott Inc. in the investment business and now a friend, said part of the key to understanding Sprott is that he enjoys entertaining other people with provocative comments.

Fine gold coins at a bullion dealer in London.

Fine gold coins at a bullion dealer in London.

Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg files

“He’s told people there’s no gold in Fort Knox; that kicks off an interesting conversation,” he said.

But McBurney added that he believes Sprott is extremely well versed in the companies in which he invests, and he has even given some of his personal money to Sprott to manage.

Peter Grosskopf, chief executive of Sprott Inc., the asset management firm Sprott founded and a mentee, said Sprott is always covered as being this “unbelievable gold bug,” but there’s a lot more to it than that.

“I mean, he’s a savant at what he does,” said Grosskopf, who added that it’s not easy to explain how Sprott does what he does.

That’s mainly because Sprott is investing in companies that have no revenue, which means standard investment metrics, such as internal rate of return, aren’t necessarily useful, never mind that he said they’re not something he would use.

He’s a savant at what he does

Peter Grosskopf, chief executive of Sprott Inc.

Instead, he attempts to value companies based on whether they are likely to discover a deposit of precious metals.

Of course, even if a company discovers a deposit, it would still need to figure out whether it makes economic sense to extract the deposit, including how much it would cost to build and operate a mine, which requires further calculations about energy costs, transportation, processing and refining, and so on.

Sprott said he focuses solely on the deposit and how big it could be. Though he has no education in geology, he said he has devised his own valuation method, which involves looking at a few variables to determine the potential size of a deposit.

“I want to turn it into numbers, like, okay, what could this thing earn?” he said. “You know, you multiply the strike by the depth by the width by 2.7 specific gravity times the ounces — it’s just four or five things you’ve got to multiply, five things.”

People close to him said he studies junior mining companies and can recall the details of his investments better than most fund managers.

“The guy gets up at ungodly hours, he might get up at 2 a.m. studying,” said Conor O’Brien, a former capital markets manager who joined Sprott in May to help with the investment blitz. “Neither one of us are geologists, we’re just financial people that can do mathematics, as opposed to the geology. We more kind of conceptualize, and dream and kind of multiply.”

Putting his latest investment spree of more than $200 million in perspective, the TSX Venture Exchange’s junior mining sector through August was on course to raise $2 billion for all of 2019, about 27 per cent less than it did in 2009.

Sprott takes a birdshot approach to investment that spreads his money far and wide, so that his portfolio contains companies exploring for high-grade and low-grade mines, potential open-pit and potential underground mines, and so on.

“Most of them won’t make it,” he said. “But what about the ones that do? If I’m in early and I stay the ground, I press the bet. It’s like being at a table with a winning run, you keep doubling down.”

Peter Grosskopf, chief executive of Sprott Inc.

Peter Grosskopf, chief executive of Sprott Inc.

Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg files

Grosskopf said Sprott calls it “stealing value,” not because he’s conning anyone, but because he’s investing in assets the market has mispriced. He said the billionaire is an expert trader, adept at sizing up an opportunity and timing his entrance and exit.

And because of his outsized profile, recently juiced by his epic returns while chairman of Kirkland Lake, there are hordes of investors who will follow his lead, Grosskopf said.

Not all of Sprott’s bets work out, of course. In 2017, Sprott said he invested in Garibaldi Resources Corp., a nickel explorer, based on comments he read on an online chat board.

Its stock surged 1,731 per cent that year, and Sprott has continued to invest even though two years later, its stock has declined from a peak above $4 in late 2017 to 87 cents today.

“They’re for sure drilling, we know that, and they’ve announced some holes, and they’ve got more to go,” Sprott said. “They haven’t found the motherlode they’re looking for. Even I’ll say that.”

Sprott’s vast ownership may also have a downside: It’s not easy to liquidate his positions in companies without attracting attention. But his vast wealth also means he’s relatively insulated from a lot of threats, such as dilutive financings or litigation, that smaller investors can’t afford to participate in.

He also owns a private gold mining company in Nevada called Jerritt Canyon Gold LLC, which he said made its first profit in the third quarter.

Kevin Small, vice-president of operations at that mine, said Sprott likes to be generous. In April, he said Sprott showed up at the site and handed out silver coins to several hundred people who work there.

“He said when you guys make lots of money, I’ll give you each a gold coin, but he hasn’t been back yet,” Small said.

Eric Sprott at his induction into Canada’s Investment Industry Hall of Fame in October.

Eric Sprott at his induction into Canada’s Investment Industry Hall of Fame in October.

Peter J. Thompson/National Post

But he added that Sprott has been investing heavily in the operation, which has a capacity to produce 280,000 ounces of gold per year, and predicted the company would soon be well known.

Colleagues also add that he can be unrelenting when judging a company’s financial performance. Case in point, one of his biggest gripes with Kirkland Lake is that he wants it to increase its dividend, an issue he once again raised in October after the miner posted solid quarterly results.

Kirkland Lake pays a quarterly dividend of four cents, and chief executive Tony Makuch said he may consider raising it, but the company still needs to spend money on exploration so it can improve its reserves of gold.

“We’re not an industry people should be buying for dividends,” Makuch said. “You should be buying bank stocks or something else. If you look at our share price, that comes from investing in new projects.”

It’s a sentiment that Sprott would likely agree with.

“I still have a lot of money in Kirkland and it’s a great company, but it’s not a tenbagger from here,” he said. “And I like tenbaggers as opposed to 100 per cent. It’s just my nature.”

Financial Post

• Email: gfriedman@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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Investment regulator imposed $14M in enforcement penalties in latest fiscal year

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TORONTO — Canada’s investment product regulator says it imposed more than $14 million in fines and other financial enforcements in its last fiscal year.

The Canadian Investment Regulatory Organization (CIRO) says the total also includes imposed costs and the forced return of ill-gotten profits.

The regulator says it also ordered suspensions and permanent prohibitions in a significant proportion of proceedings against individuals.

Enforcement efforts included a $2 million fine against Fortrade Canada for recommending a high-risk product to unsophisticated retail clients, and a $1.7 million fine and permanent ban on securities-related business against Paul Walker for a range of misconduct including soliciting more than $1.5 million in investments for an outside business activity.

CIRO was created at the start of 2023 through a combination of the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada and the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada.

The new self-regulatory organization says it is focused on harmonizing its regulatory approach to create more consistency and timeliness with enforcement action.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 16, 2024.

The Canadian Press

 

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Conditions on Simandou investment now satisfied

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LONDON, July 15, 2024–(BUSINESS WIRE)–All conditions have now been satisfied for Rio Tinto’s investment to develop the Simandou high-grade iron ore deposit in Guinea, including the completion of necessary Guinean and Chinese regulatory approvals. The transaction is expected to complete during the week of 15 July 2024.

Along with the recent approval by the Board of Simfer1, this allows Simfer to invest in and fund its share of co-developed rail and port infrastructure being progressed in partnership with Winning Consortium Simandou2 (WCS), Baowu and the Republic of Guinea.

More than 600 kilometres of new multi-use trans-Guinean railway together with port facilities will allow the export of up to 120 million tonnes per year of mined iron ore by Simfer and WCS from their respective Simandou mining concessions in the southeast of the country3. Together, this will be the largest greenfield integrated mine and infrastructure investment in Africa.

Rio Tinto Executive Committee lead for Guinea and Copper Chief Executive Bold Baatar said: “We thank the Government of Guinea, Chinalco, Baowu and WCS for their partnership in reaching this milestone towards developing the world class Simandou project.

“Simandou will deliver a significant new source of high-grade iron ore that will strengthen Rio Tinto’s portfolio for the decarbonisation of the steel industry, along with trans-Guinean rail and port infrastructure that can make a significant contribution to the country’s economic development.”

Under the terms of the transaction, Simfer will acquire a participation in the WCS project companies constructing rail and port infrastructure, commit to perform a portion of the construction works itself and commit to funding its share of the overall co-developed infrastructure cost, in an aggregate amount of approximately $6.5 billion (Rio Tinto share approximately $3.5 billion)4.

Chalco Iron Ore Holdings Ltd (CIOH) has now paid its share of capital expenditures incurred or required by Simfer to progress critical works up to completion. A first payment of approximately $410 million, for expenditures until the end of 2023, was made on 28 June 2024, and a second payment of approximately $575 million, for 2024 expenditures, was made on 11 July 2024. These amounts settle all expenditures incurred up to date.

The co-developed infrastructure capacity and associated cost will be shared equally between Simfer, which will develop, own and operate a 60 million tonne per year5 mine in blocks 3 and 4 of the Simandou Project, and WCS, which is developing blocks 1 and 2.

Under the co-development arrangement, Simfer and WCS will deliver separate infrastructure scopes to leverage expertise. Simfer will construct the approximately 70 kilometre Simfer spur rail line and a 60 million tonne per year transhipment vessel (TSV) port, while WCS will construct the dual track approximately 536 kilometre main rail line, the approximately 16 kilometre WCS spur rail line and a 60 million tonne per year barge port.

Once complete, all co-developed infrastructure and rolling stock will be transferred to and operated by the Compagnie du Transguinéen (CTG) joint venture, in which Simfer and WCS each hold a 42.5% equity stake and the Guinean State a 15% equity stake6.

First production from the Simfer mine is expected in 2025, ramping up over 30 months to an annualised capacity of 60 million tonnes per year5 (27 million tonnes Rio Tinto share). The mine will initially deliver a single fines product before transitioning to a dual fines product of blast furnace and direct reduction ready ore.

Simfer’s capital funding requirement for the Simandou project as a whole is estimated to be approximately $11.6 billion, of which Rio Tinto’s share is approximately $6.2 billion, broken down as follows.

US dollars in billions (nominal terms) Simfer

capex

  Rio Tinto
share
Mine and TSVs, owned and operated by Simfer
Development of an initial 60Mt/a mine at Simandou South (blocks 3 & 4), to be constructed by Simfer $5.1 $2.7
Co-developed infrastructure, owned and operated by CTG once complete
Simfer scope (funded 100% by Simfer during construction)

Rail: a 70 km rail-spur from Simfer mine to the mainline, including rolling stock
Port: construction of a 60Mt/a TSV port

$3.5 $1.9
WCS scope (funded 34% by Simfer during construction)

Port and rail infrastructure including an approximately 552 km trans-Guinean heavy haul rail system, comprised of a 536 km mainline and a 16 km WCS rail spur

$3.0 $1.6
Total capital expenditure (nominal terms) $11.6 $6.27

Rio Tinto’s share of expected capital investment remaining to be spent from 1 January 2024 is to be $5.7 billion. Rio Tinto’s expected funding requirements for 2024 and 2025 are included in its share of capital investment guidance for this period, with project funding expected to extend beyond this timeframe.

Further details on the Simandou project can be found in the 2023 Investor Seminar presentation at https://www.riotinto.com/en/invest/investor-seminars.

As Chinalco, Baowu, China Rail Construction Corporation and China Harbour Engineering Company are Chinese state-owned entities, and given Chinalco indirectly holds 11.2% of shares in the Rio Tinto Group, they, and WCS, may be considered to be associates of a related party of Rio Tinto for the purpose of the UK Listing Rules. Rio Tinto’s funding commitment pursuant to the infrastructure co-development arrangement (Rio Tinto share $3.5bn) is a smaller related party transaction for the purposes of Listing Rule 11.1.10R and this announcement is, therefore, made in accordance with Listing Rule 11.1.10R(2)(c).

___________________________
1 Approval has been granted by the Board of Simfer Jersey Limited, a joint venture between the Rio Tinto Group (53%) and Chalco Iron Ore Holdings Ltd (CIOH) (47%), a Chinalco-led joint venture of leading Chinese SOEs (Chinalco (75%), Baowu (20%), China Rail Construction Corporation (2.5%) and China Harbour Engineering Company (2.5%)). Simfer Infraco Guinée S.A.U. will deliver Simfer Jersey’s scope of the co-developed rail and port infrastructure, and is, on the date of this notice, a wholly-owned indirect subsidiary of Simfer Jersey Limited, but will be co-owned by the Guinean State (15%) after closing of the co-development arrangements. Simfer S.A. is the holder of the mining concession covering Simandou Blocks 3 & 4, and is owned by the Guinean State (15%) and Simfer Jersey Limited (85%).
2 WCS is the holder of Simandou North Blocks 1 & 2 (with the Government of Guinea holding a 15% interest in the mining vehicle and WCS holding 85%) and associated infrastructure. WCS was originally held by WCS Holdings, a consortium of Singaporean company, Winning International Group (50%) and Weiqiao Aluminium (part of the China Hongqiao Group) (50%). On 19 June 2024, Baowu Resources completed the acquisition of a 49% share of WCS mine and infrastructure projects with WCS Holdings holding the remaining 51%. In the case of the mine, Baowu also has an option to increase to 51% during operations. After Closing, Simfer will hold 34% of the shares in the WCS infrastructure entities during construction with WCS holding the remaining 66%.
3 WCS holds the mining concession for Blocks 1 and 2, while Simfer S.A. holds the mining concession for blocks 3 and 4. Simfer and WCS will independently develop their mines.
4 A true-up mechanism will apply between Simfer and WCS to equalise most of their costs of constructing the co-developed rail and port infrastructure. The figures shown here are pre-equalisation.
5 The estimated annualised capacity of approximately 60 million dry tonnes per annum iron ore for the Simandou life of mine schedule was previously reported in a release to the Australian Securities Exchange dated 6 December 2023 titled “Simandou iron ore project update“. Rio Tinto confirms that all material assumptions underpinning that production target continue to apply and have not materially changed.
6 Ownership of the rail and port infrastructure will transfer from CTG to the Guinean State after a 35 year Operations Period, with Simfer retaining access rights on a non-discriminatory basis and at least equivalent to all Third Party Users.
7 By the end of 2023, Rio Tinto spent $0.5 billion (Rio Tinto share) to progress critical path works. Rio Tinto’s share of expected capital investment remaining to be spent from 1 January 2024 was $5.7 billion.

This announcement is authorised for release to the market by Andy Hodges, Rio Tinto’s Group Company Secretary.

View source version on businesswire.com: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20240621382292/en/

Contacts

Please direct all enquiries to media.enquiries@riotinto.com

Media Relations,
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Matthew Klar
M +44 7796 630 637
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M +44 7787 597 493

Media Relations,
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Matt Chambers
M +61 433 525 739
Jesse Riseborough
M +61 436 653 412
Alyesha Anderson
M +61 434 868 118
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M +61 458 609 322

Media Relations,
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Simon Letendre
M +1 514 796 4973
Malika Cherry
M +1 418 592 7293
Vanessa Damha
M +1 514 715 2152

Investor Relations,
United Kingdom
David Ovington
M +44 7920 010 978
Laura Brooks
M +44 7826 942 797

Investor Relations,
Australia

Tom Gallop
M +61 439 353 948
Amar Jambaa
M +61 472 865 948

Rio Tinto plc
6 St James’s Square
London SW1Y 4AD
United Kingdom
T +44 20 7781 2000
Registered in England
No. 719885

Rio Tinto Limited
Level 43, 120 Collins Street
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T +61 3 9283 3333
Registered in Australia
ABN 96 004 458 404

riotinto.com

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BlackRock Pulls Ad Featuring Trump Rally Shooter Thomas Matthew Crooks

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A screengrab of Thomas Crooks from the BlackRock ad that aired in 2022.

Thomas Matthew Crooks, the 20-year-old who shot at former president Donald Trump at a rally in Pennsylvania, had briefly appeared in a 2022 advertisement for BlackRock Inc, the world’s largest money manager.

The ad, filmed at the Bethel Park High School in Pennsylvania, featured Crooks and several other unpaid students in the background, said the investment giant in a statement. Crooks graduated from the school in 2022.

BlackRock said it has pulled the ad but the video will be available to authorities. The ad, however, is being widely shared by social media users.

“The assassination attempt on former President Trump is abhorrent. We’re thankful former President Trump wasn’t seriously injured, and thinking about all the innocent bystanders and victims of this awful act, especially the person who was killed,” the company added in its statement.

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BlackRock, whose earnings figures are expected today, has faced scrutiny after shooting incidents since some of its index funds own shares in gunmakers.

Trump Assassination Attempt

Trump survived an assassination attempt on Saturday after a gunman opened fire at him at a rally in Pennsylvania ahead of the Presidential elections. The attack left him with a bloodied face as the former president said the bullet pierced his “upper part of right ear”.

Latest and Breaking News on NDTV

A bystander died in the attack while shielding his family and Crooks – a registered Republican – was shot dead by a Secret Service sniper.

Trump, whose Republican candidature will be finalised today, shared a message of unity after the attack and said Americans must not allow “evil to win”. “It was God alone who prevented the unthinkable from happening,” he said on social media.

Biden, too, appealed to the nation to “lower the political temperature” in a rare Oval Office address. “Politics must never be a literal battlefield, God forbid a killing field,” he said.

The US markets are expecting Trump trades to gain momentum after the attack. It has already been pinning hopes for the return of Republicans, especially after Biden’s poor performance in last month’s debate. Those trades are likely to take deeper hold as the attack sparks a wave of sympathy and support for Trump.

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