OVERNIGHT FINANCE: Obama eases travel, trade with Cuba

TOMORROW STARTS TONIGHT - - BIZ CHEERS OBAMA ON CUBA. Justin Sink and Tim Devaney tee it up for the hometown paper: "Americans can now visit Cuba with little resistance from the U.S. government as part of President Obama’s bid to normalize relations with the communist nation for the first time in a half century. 

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"The eased travel restrictions come as part of sweeping regulations detailed Thursday by the White House, and just weeks after Obama announced an agreement to restore relations with Havana. The regulations, meant to relax travel and trade rules, begin to take effect Friday." Story: http://bit.ly/1zjUfAZ.

-- TREASURY SECRETARY LEW: "Today’s announcement takes us one step closer to replacing out of date policies that were not working and puts in place a policy that helps promote political and economic freedom for the Cuban people...

"Cuba has real potential for economic growth and by increasing travel, commerce, communications, and private business development between the United States and Cuba, the United States can help the Cuban people determine their own future."

Travelers to the island will be able to use U.S. credit and debit cards.

-- SCOTT TALBOTT, vice president of government affairs at the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) tells us: "The expansion of access to payments products will benefit the citizens of Cuba, who will be able to access the reliability of the payments industry. We applaud the expansion of access to the payments system."

-- BUT GOPers ARE LESS ENTHUSED. Alexander Bolton for The Hill: "Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge GOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump Democrats introduce bill to rein in Trump on tariffs MORE (R-Tenn.), Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said Thursday he plans to hold intensive hearings to examine President Obama’s decision to ease sanctions on Cuba." http://bit.ly/1ByoKD0

THIS IS OVERNIGHT FINANCE, and tomorrow is Friday. Tweet: @kevcirilli; email: kcirilli@thehill.com; and subscribe:http://thehill.com/signup/48. Hope everyone has a great weekend.

JONI ERNST PREPS FOR PRIME TIME. Alexander Bolton for The Hill: "HERSHEY, Pa. — Freshman Sen. Joni Ernst (Iowa) will deliver the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address next week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Dems prep for Mueller report's release McConnell touts Trump support, Supreme Court fights in reelection video Why Ken Cuccinelli should be Trump's choice for DHS MORE (R-Ky.) announced the news at a joint press conference with Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerTrump appears alongside Ocasio-Cortez on Time 100 list Resurrecting deliberative bodies Trump's decision on health care law puts spotlight on Mulvaney MORE (R-Ohio) during the GOP retreat at the Hershey Lodge... 

"Ernst rose to national fame last year by running an ad touting her experience castrating hogs while growing up on an Iowa farm. She defeated then-Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce Lowell BraleyOPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP Ten years later, House Dems reunite and look forward Trump: Ernst wanted 'more seasoning' before entertaining VP offer MORE (D-Iowa) to capture the seat long held by former Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinStop asking parents to sacrifice Social Security benefits for paid family leave The FDA crackdown on dietary supplements is inadequate Wisconsin lawmaker refuses to cut hair until sign-language bill passes MORE (D-Iowa)." http://bit.ly/1IP4WLR.

QUOTABLE, Senate GOP Whip John CornynJohn Cornyn Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Trump struggles to reshape Fed Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks MORE (Texas), to reporters today at the GOP retreat in Hershey"Under no circumstances will we see any shutdowns." Alexander Bolton reports: http://bit.ly/1CsqQ5E

2016 WATCH - - EX-HEWLETT-PACKARD CEO FOR PREZ? Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina will tell Neil Cavuto on Fox Business Network's "CAVUTO" tonight airing at 8 p.m. ET that she is considering running for president.

-- FIORINA SAYS: "Well, I haven’t made that decision yet, but what I can tell you is that I’m very seriously considering running... I think we need different experience, different perspective and a different voice."

TALK OF THE TOWN: SCALISE FACES MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT SLAVERY BILL. Scott Wong for the hometown paper: "The minutes from a 1996 Louisiana House committee meeting show the efforts that then-state Rep. Steve Scalise took to water down — and try to kill — a resolution apologizing for the role slavery played in the state’s history." Story: http://bit.ly/1598QlI Read the minutes: http://bit.ly/1u7naXG.

HEDGE FUNDS SCORE AN ASSIST FROM - - Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOvernight Defense: Reports detail effect of transgender military ban | Watchdog auditing 8 billion submarine program | Warren questions top general on climate change Booker calls for sweeping voting rights reforms Warren praises Ocasio-Cortez in Time 100 MOREMy latest for the hometown paper: "Hedge fund managers have found some unlikely allies in President Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Obama is threatening to veto GOP-backed legislation opposed by Warren that would delay a contentious regulation, known as the Volcker Rule, from the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law."

"The bill would force banks to sell off or refinance high-risk assets known as collateralized loan obligations (CLOs) in 2019, a two-year delay from the Volcker Rule’s current 2017 deadline. And that could lead to a tidy profit for hedge funds, which are expected to swoop into the market in droves to buy up the estimated $50 billion CLO market ahead of the regulatory deadline." Story: http://bit.ly/1DIjWwQ

-- BATTLE LINES: "Liberals argue the Volcker Rule keeps big banks with government-backed insurance out of the risky CLO market, thereby protecting against another financial crisis. But Republicans and some Democrats argue that CLOs help businesses of all sizes gain access to capital — an estimated $350 billion in financing for U.S. businesses —during what’s been a slow economic recovery.

-- Aaron Klein, financial services director at the centrist Bipartisan Policy Center: "Forcing a fire sale of assets is the wrong approach to improve financial stability... Is a transfer of wealth to hedge funds what the Volcker Rule intended?"

-- A senior Democratic aide to a House member who opposed the legislation said Republicans are trying to make the hedge fund industry the "boogey man." "We’re moving risky activity out of banks and, yeah, it will go somewhere else, mainly hedge funds... But that’s a good thing because big banks have access to the federal safety net. This is a feature of the Volcker Rule, not a bug."

WHIP LIST: KEYSTONE XL EDITION. Marianna Sotomayor and Alison Thoet report: "Senate fault lines on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline appear set as lawmakers begin their debate on authorizing the controversial energy project. The upper chamber is expected to approve the bill but fall short of the 67 votes needed to override President Obama’s threatened veto." Keep count with The Hill: http://bit.ly/152F5n4

GOP KEEPS BUDGET OPTIONS OPEN. Rebecca Shabad: "Congressional Republicans at their bicameral retreat on Thursday didn’t appear to nail down how to use the budget reconciliation process this year, but they said keeping options open is the best approach, said a GOP aide who attended the discussion." http://bit.ly/1uaymx6

WHAT DOES YOUR STOCK PORTFOLIO SAY ABOUT YOUR POLITICS? A fun read from CNBC's data wiz Eric Chemi: "You are what you eat, as the common saying goes. But the stocks you own may reveal a lot more about you than your diet does. Age, income, and politics can be inferred in a big way just by the tickers in your portfolio... According to data provided by SigFig, based on the $350 billion in assets in more than 2.5 million portfolios that the company tracks:

-- TESLA IS FOR LIBERALS; WAL-MART FOR GOP. Chemi reports: "Tesla is the 'blue-est' stock of all... Blue state residents also love tech names like Apple, Twitter, Yahoo, eBay, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Microsoft... Don't be surprised to see that red state stock owners tend to prefer Walmart and big energy names like Southern, Duke, Kinder Morgan, ConocoPhillips, and Phillips 66. And not to belabor the point, but you can keep listing red state energy stocks: also Halliburton, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Apache." Fun read: http://cnb.cx/1DIM4Qj

BEST BET? CYBER INSURANCE BOOMING. Cory Bennett: "Demand for cybersecurity insurance is booming as a string of high-profile hacks and data breaches spurs explosive growth in what has suddenly become a $2 billion industry.

"The recent cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, which brought losses and public embarrassment to the company, has only accelerated years of steady growth that is expected to expand into new sectors of the economy in 2015." http://bit.ly/1Cb8FB1

MEANWHILE...

CITI STOCK PLUNGES - - FED TO BLAME? Tanya Agrawal and David Henry for Reuters: "Citigroup Inc said its quarterly profit dropped 86 percent, hurt by legal settlements and falling bond trading revenue, sending the bank's shares down more than 4 percent... The profit setback comes as the Federal Reserve considers the bank's plan to return capital to shareholders, through some combination of share buybacks and dividends."

"Corbat and Chief Financial Officer John Gerspach expressed optimism that the Fed would approve the bank's capital plan. An earlier plan was rejected due to concerns about the processes Citi uses to determine how its business would be hit by stressful situations." http://reut.rs/14FqnRS

HOUSING MARKET SPIKES, via Joe Light for The Wall Street Journal: "On Wednesday, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that mortgage applications rocketed 49 percent in the week ended Jan. 9 from the prior week. They were also up about 30 percent from the same week a year ago." Story: http://on.wsj.com/152Er9e

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