Financial Review

Big Number

…Apple hits $1 trillion. Trade war backs China into a corner. EPA proposes rolling back fuel efficiency standards. Tesla squeezes shorts.

Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 08-02-2018

DOW – 7 = 25,326
SPX + 13 = 1827
NAS + 95 = 7802
RUT + 12 = 1682
10 Y – .02 = 2.99%
OIL + .04 = 69.00
GOLD – 8.30 = 1208.20


Stocks started the morning in negative territory; the broader market turned positive, but the Dow Industrials struggled, dropping more than 200 points, then finishing the session down 7. Another big day for Apple, pushed market capitalization above $1 trillion – the first company ever to hit the trillion mark. Apple has seen a very impressive rally over the past couple of days, following a strong earnings report, the company has tacked on $80 billion in market capitalization; that was enough to lift the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq – and it added about 30 points to the Dow today. Apple rose 3% to close at 207.39.


In the more than four decades since Steve Jobs founded the company in a California garage, Apple has become nearly synonymous with personal computing and mobile devices. After launching the iPhone — arguably its most famous product — in 2007, Apple now churns out over 40 million of the devices every quarter, helping it rake in $254.63 billion in revenue last year. Adjusted for splits, Apple’s stock price has risen nearly 40,000% since its initial public offering in 1980. For context, passing the $1 trillion mark means Apple now has a value greater than the gross domestic product of all but 26 major countries; its value is higher than the GDP of Argentina, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland, among others. One trillion, it is just a number, a very big number – other companies will probably follow: think Amazon and Alphabet, maybe Microsoft. Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia, has reportedly been eyeing a public offering that could value it near $2 trillion, but a potential listing has been mired in delays. And at some point we might wonder if some of these companies are getting too big.


Yesterday, Trump threatened to more than double proposed tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25%, up from an original 10%. The administration didn’t provide specific reasons for such an increase, but the potential for an intensification has helped to unsettle markets during what is typically considered an unfavorable month for stock-market gains. One of China’s premier equity benchmarks, the Shanghai Composite Index fell 2% on the day and has dropped 21% since a recent peak in January. So, it may sound like China is losing the trade war but this just means the battle is getting serious and dangerous. China is getting backed into a corner and you might not like how they respond.


For the most part, the markets have been avoiding the trade wars. This is still an amazingly strong market, with an earnings season that has been pretty darn good, but it’s difficult for the markets to rise when you continually hear how bad things are. Throughout the second-quarter earnings season, S&P 500 firms across the spectrum have weighed in on Trump’s tariffs on steel, aluminum, Chinese goods, and more. Companies ranging from Apple to Stanley Black & Decker to BlackRock have discussed the tariffs on their quarterly conference calls with investors and analysts.An analysis by CB Insights found that mentions of the word “tariff” on earnings calls hit a record high in the second quarter, even before the most recent round of threats between the US and China. Yesterday’s ISM report on manufacturing featured comments from several companies expressing concern that the trade war is resulting in substantial reductions to new export orders. China has all but stopped taking orders, causing inventories to build up in the US.


In one of its most significant efforts yet to curtail policies designed to address climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed freezing fuel efficiency standards at 2020 levels, removing the requirement that cars and light trucks be able to travel more than 46 miles per gallon of fuel by 2026. The 2020 standard would be around 32 miles per gallon. The change would also revoke California’s waiver to set its own rules under the Clean Air Act, rules that 13 other states and the District of Columbia also follow. The transportation sector is now the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the United States, so going further with less fossil fuels would reduce the country’s impact on the global climate. Vehicles are also the largest source of air pollution, so reducing what comes out of tailpipes would save lives. The Obama-era standards would avert 570 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, equivalent to stopping 140 typical coal-fired power plants for a year, the Union of Concerned Scientists has estimated. They’d save consumers money too. According to the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, the fuel savings alone through 2025 would add up to $1.7 trillion.


Here’s some brief history: After the 2008 financial crash and the ensuing economic crisis, Chrysler and General Motors were on the ropes and came to Congress with their hands out looking for a bailout. They received cheap loans and financial assistance under Presidents Bush and Obama totaling almost $80 billion, with a net cost to taxpayers of $9.3 billion. So the Obama administration told US car companies they needed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and improve their efficiency to better compete with foreign automakers, marking the biggest increase in fuel economy regulations in 30 years.


This manifested as a combination of rules across the EPA, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, and the California Air Resources Board finalized in 2012. The key target was that automakers would have to reduce their average greenhouse gas emissions from the passenger cars and light trucks they sell to 163 grams per mile by 2025. A subtle point here is the EPA estimated meeting this goal with just fuel efficiency improvements means car companies would have to achieve an average economy of 54.5 miles per gallon across their offerings, assuming more cars than trucks are sold. That doesn’t mean that 54.5 mpg is the actual benchmark for all car companies. A big reason US car companies were foundering was that gas prices suddenly shot up and US automakers, who for years were making bigger, thirstier cars, were suddenly facing a cash-crunched, fuel-abstemious market. So if people buy more SUVs, a car company is allowed to have a lower average fuel economy. On the other hand, this can push carmakers to build larger and larger vehicles (witness the growth of crossover SUVs). Based on current trends and projections, the EPA estimates that the current rules will require a real-world average fuel economy of 36 miles per gallon by 2025, up from 24.7 miles per gallon in 2016.


Since Tesla only makes electric cars, it can sell a variety of state and federal credits to other automakers who are having a harder time meeting the goals. They come in three mutually exclusive categories: zero-emissions vehicle credits, greenhouse gas emissions credits, and fuel economy credits. They can leverage the same car in multiple categories. Other carmakers like Honda and Toyota also sell credits since they are beating the current standards. Tesla made about $360 million last year from selling these credits. The EPA’s fuel economy proposal will now be open to a 60-day review and the agency is taking public comments. The EPA and NHTSA will also hold three public hearings on the revisions. Dates have not been announced yet.


Shares of Tesla closed 16% higher. The stock ended at $349.54, its highest close since June 28, and notched its largest one-day percentage gain since December 2013. It was the best performer on the Nasdaq 100 today. Tesla late Wednesday reported a loss of $718 million, or $4.22, in the second quarter, compared with a loss of $336 million, or $2.04 a share, in the year-ago period. The good news – CEO Elon Musk assured shareholders that Tesla was on track with Model 3 production goals, that demand for the mass-market sedan was healthy and that the company does not need nor anticipates tapping capital markets in the near future.


American International Group Inc. posted a 17% decline in second-quarter net income, weighed down by a $200 million pretax restructuring charge, lower investment income and another weak showing for its big business of selling property-casualty policies to corporate clients. AIG’s overall net profit sank to $937 million.


Symantec missed Wall Street earnings estimate; shares fell more than 12% after hours, following a 2.2% rise to close the regular session at $20.88. Symantec shares are now down 26% for the year.


Remember that ridiculous plan to change the name to of IHOP to ‘IHOb’ International House of Pancakes became the house of burgers. Ridiculous. A cheap marketing ploy. We smart, savvy consumers couldn’t possibly fall for something as shameless and inane as flipping a letter on a sign, right? Wrong. In fact, according to the restaurant’s quarterly earnings report, the chain’s hamburger sales quadrupled after the name change.


Tomorrow is a jobs report Friday. Most estimates call for about 190,000 to 200,000 new jobs in July – which would be great. The payroll-processing giant ADP, for example, said companies in the private sector added 219,000 new jobs in July. The ADP tally sometimes is way off compared to the government’s official sum, but economists predict the Bureau of Labor Statistics will report a gain of close to 200,000. So far this year, the U.S. has generated an average of 215,000 new jobs a month. But the most important number to watch tomorrow is wages. If the labor market really is getting tight, it will eventually have to show up in wages…, eventually.

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