…..FBI investigating Trump-Russia ties. No wiretapping. Gorsuch hearing. Tryancare vote Thursday, maybe. Brexit Article 50. G20 protectionism, yea sure. Gates-Trump. Greece misses again. Deutsche Bank finds greater fools. Vodaphone has an Idea. Albertsons Sprouts. Unilever dumps butter. Twitter full o’ bots. Uber exit. BAML’s big list of everything YTD. Italy is healthiest; Norway is happiest; US is fat and grumpy.
Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 03-20-2017
DOW – 8 = 20,905
SPX – 4 = 2373
NAS + 0.53 = 5901
RUT – 7 = 1384
10 Y – .03 = 2.47%
OIL – .55 = 48,23
GOLD + 5.10 = 1234.90
The directors of the FBI and NSA appeared before a rare open congressional intelligence committee hearing today. FBI Director James Comey confirmed the FBI is investigating Russia’s interference in the US election and also investigating possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Comey said the FBI has “no information” to support President Trump’s allegation that Barack Obama wiretapped him. NSA chief, Admiral Mike Rogers, weighed in as well, saying that he had no knowledge of anyone asking the British or any other ally to wiretap Trump. That seemed to refute another claim made by the White House.
Confirmation hearings for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee kicked off today. Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, 49, to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016.
Meanwhile, Wall Street also braced for a contentious House vote on the GOP health care bill slated for Thursday. The bill’s passage is considered a first step toward enacting tax reform, but it has faced criticism from both sides of the aisle.
The Trump administration appealed Friday a temporary restraining order against its revised travel ban policy. The reworked executive order (which halts the issuance of visas to six majority-Muslim countries for 90 days and suspends the refugee resettlement program for 120 days) was set to go into effect on March 16, but federal judges and Hawaii and Maryland blocked it from going forward. The Justice Department filed an appeal in the Maryland case, which will take that fight to the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, Va. Meanwhile, a federal judge in Hawaii declined a request from the Justice Department to narrow the injunction. That ruling clears the way for the Trump administration to appeal the judge’s initial decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Bill Gates met with Donald Trump today. An agenda wasn’t been released, but a statement from the Gates Foundation said it has “a long history of working with officials” on issues like domestic education and global health and development. Gates and Trump also met in December to discuss innovation. On March 16, the Gates Foundation said that it was “deeply troubled” by the president’s 2018 budget request, released that morning. The proposal included deep cuts to both the EPA and non-military overseas aid. The next day, Gates responded with an article on the Gates Notes blog, “How Foreign Aid Helps Americans.”
The meeting of the Group of 20 in Germany over the weekend featured an apparent win for the US after the communique produced by the talks omitted warnings about protectionism. One thing that was repeated was the pledge to overhaul bank-capital rules, with the statement urging the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision to finalize the Basel III reforms. Away from the G-20, German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in calling for a concerted effort to defend free trade.
Nine months after Britain voted to leave the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May is planning to open divorce proceedings on March 29. May will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU’s guiding document, which details how a country leaves the bloc. It’s never been activated and is only about 260 words long. It gives the departing country up to two years to negotiate “its future relationship with the Union.” If May has her way, the actual split will occur around April 2019.
Greece missed another deadline for unlocking bailout funds today, edging closer to a repeat of the 2015 drama that pushed Europe’s most indebted nation to the edge of economic collapse. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had promised the latest bailout’s long delayed review would be completed by March 20, but many see that reaching an agreement even in April is now considered a long shot.
Deutsche Bank will issue 687 million new shares at a 35 percent discount to Friday’s closing price — to raise €8-billion-euros of fresh capital. In its annual report published today the bank said it expected revenue to remain broadly unchanged this year, while revealing that the bonus pool was slashed to €500-million-euros in 2016.
Britain’s Vodafone Group and Idea Cellular agreed to merge their Indian operations in a $23 billion deal. The combined entity would have almost 400 million customers, accounting for 35% of the market share.
Albertsons, the grocery-chain operator backed by Cerberus Capital Management, has held preliminary talks to merge with Sprouts Farmers Market. Bloomberg reports the discussions, which took place in recent weeks, are at an early stage and may not lead to a deal. The talks have involved a plan to take organic grocer Sprouts private and add it to Albertsons’ portfolio, which includes the Safeway store brand.
Unilever is preparing a $7.4 billion sale of some of its food brands, British newspapers reported on Saturday. The British-Dutch company is planning to sell Flora margarine and Stork butter brands. Unilever rebuffed a surprise $143 billion takeover offer from Kraft Heinz last month, saying the bid undervalued the company.
Pressure is growing on Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to step down, according to the Sunday Times, after a report from the University of Southern California and the University of Indiana alleged that up to 48 million of its accounts – equal to 15% of its users – were robots not people (that’s nearly twice the company’s own estimate).
The number of executive departures from Uber is growing. President Jeff Jones is quitting the company, citing “incompatibility with leadership,” while Brian McClendon, a VP responsible for the company’s mapping program, is leaving to return to his home town in Kansas. Uber has been recently plagued by allegations of sexual harassment and the combative behavior of CEO Travis Kalanick.
Bullish bets on West Texas Intermediate crude prices fell by a record amount in the week ending March 14, with wagers on further price falls doubling. Energy lender Arab Petroleum Investment Corp. sees oil prices remaining below $60 a barrel for the rest of the year.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch has published a giant list of asset class returns for the year so far. Here’s a quick rundown. Looking at global asset classes, the Pacific Rim, excluding Japan is up 9.6%, matched by Emerging Market equities, Industrial metals up 7.6%, US equites (7.2%), global equities (up 6.7%) And Euro stocks (up 4.9%).
By country; Russia’s stock market is the laggard this year after being one of the best performers in the world in 2016. India is the leader, year-to-date, up 14.5%, followed by South Korea (up 13.3%) and Brazil (up 12.8%). China and Hong Kong round out the Top Five. Russia is down 9%.
By sector, Biotech is the leader (up 11.9%), followed by information technology (up 11.6%), healthcare (up 9.3%), banks (up 7%), with consumer discretionary and financials both up 6%.
The strongest currencies against the US dollar are the Mexican peso, which took a hit following the US election in November, but has gained 7.8% against the dollar since the start of the year; followed by the South African rand, and the Australian dollar.
Natural gas prices have tumbled amid unseasonably warm weather, which implies weaker demand for heating. The US had its second-warmest February ever on record, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. Crude oil is also a big loser, likely to the dismay of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The top gainers among commodities include iron ore (up 15.3%), lead (up 12%), aluminum (up 11.1%) and cotton (up 10.5%). Nat gas is down 20% and WTI crude is down 9%.
Or, if you want to keep it simple, Apple hit a record high today, and it is up about 23% from the start of the year. Of course, you still must decide if you want to run with the bulls or buy the dips.
Italy is ranked the healthiest country on Earth in the Bloomberg Global Health Index of 163 countries. A baby born in Italy can expect to live to be an octogenarian. Even though economic growth in Italy has stagnated for decades, and almost 40 percent of its youngsters are out of jobs and it’s saddled with one of the world’s highest debt loads relative to the size of its economy; Italians are in way better shape than Americans, Canadians and Brits, who all suffer from higher blood pressure and cholesterol and poorer mental health. Italy also has “an excess of doctors.” Then there is the diet, rich in vegetables and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. Each country in the index was graded based on variables such as life expectancy, causes of death and health risks ranging from high blood pressure and tobacco use to malnutrition and the availability of clean water. Iceland, Switzerland, Singapore and Australia rounded out the top five most-healthy countries in the index. The U.S. placed No. 34 with a health grade of 73.05 out of 100. It’s ranking for prevalence of overweight people is 67.3 — tipping the scale as one of the world’s heaviest nations.
Norway is now the world’s happiest country, according to the 2017 World Happiness Report. The Central African Republic was the least happy of 155 countries. The report was prepared by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, an international panel of social scientists convened by the United Nations. Researchers used a scale of zero to 10, covering six areas: gross domestic product per capita, life expectancy, support from relatives or friends, charitable giving, freedom to make life choices, and perceived levels of government and corporate corruption. Norway and several other Nordic countries dominated the top of the list. America’s rank on the happiness scale is falling. Even as the country pulled off an economic turnaround, with increases in income and unemployment falling to historic lows, Americans are becoming less happy. When it comes to happiness, the US ranked 19th among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development in 2016, down from third among 24 countries on a similar measure in 2007.
And today is the first day of Spring. Enjoy.