Financial Review

Black Monday + 30

…..Dow and S&P hit record high closes. Jay Powell possible Fed head. ACA fix maybe. Amazon’s HQ2 and slobbering cities. The lies of fossil fuels. Black Monday + 30 years.

Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 10-19-2017

 

DOW + 5 = 23,163
SPX + 0.84 = 2562
NAS – 19 = 6605
RUT – 3 = 1502
10 Y – .02 = 2.32%
OIL – .64 = 51.40
GOLD + 9.20 = 1290.70

 

Somehow, the Dow managed to pull another record out of the hat. Major market indices were down most of the day – the Dow was down 105 points this morning – but the Dow and S&P clawed back to positive in the final minutes of trading.

 

Janet Yellen went to the White House today for a meeting with Trump, billed as some sort of job interview. If Yellen was smart, and she is, she probably let it be known that she was ready to move on when her term as Fed Chairwoman ends in February and she maybe offered a little advice on how not to blow up the economy. The meeting lasted about 30 minutes.

 

Politico reports Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell is the leading candidate to become the chair of the Fed. Powell has been heavily favored by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is leading the Fed chair search for Trump. Other finalists include former Fed Governor Kevin Warsh, Stanford economist John Taylor and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn. I don’t know why the major stock indices moved into positive territory at the end of the day but it happened to coincide with the news about Powell. A decision is expected in a few days.

 

Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander announced bipartisan support for an on-off-on again fix for Obamacare. Twelve Republicans and 12 Democrats signed on to the bill, which would continue ObamaCare’s insurer subsidies for two years and give states more flexibility to waive ObamaCare rules. Trump announced last week he was canceling the payments, arguing the previous administration lacked the authority to make them. But Democrats, and some Republicans, including Alexander, have pushed for Congress to temporarily fund the payments as a way to stabilize the ObamaCare markets. If they don’t, Alexander said, “there will be chaos in this country and millions of Americans will be hurt.”

 

Amazon.com wants to build a second headquarter. It would be a big deal. Amazon plans to spend $5 billion and employ about 50,000 workers. Cities are slobbering for that kind of economic development. For its second campus, Amazon wants a metropolitan area of more than a million people with good education, mass transit and likely lower costs than its home base in Seattle. Amazon said it will need 8 million square feet in a second region, making it the biggest economic development target in decades. Amazon has said it will announce a decision next year. Applications for the gig are due today. New Jersey proposed $7 billion in potential credits against state and city taxes if Amazon locates in Newark and sticks to hiring commitments. New Jersey might be better served sending politicians to classes in remedial math. Tucson hauled a 21-foot saguaro cactus to Amazon’s main Seattle headquarters via a truck. The plan didn’t turn out the way that Tucson’s economic group had hoped: Amazon refused to accept the gift. Canada is trying to lure the company, and in Ottawa, they instructed hockey fans to cheer for Amazon between periods. Pittsburgh is offering free sandwiches to every Amazon employee who ends up working there. Four bids from New York, including the city and areas upstate. Tonight, New York City will be lit up all orange – it is not a Halloween drill. The mayor of the Atlanta suburb of Stonecrest said his city would use 345 acres of industrial land and create a new city called Amazon. Bezos would be its mayor for life. That’s just sad.  The frontrunners are Austin, Atlanta, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and Boston. Each public stunt is just the wrapping on a package of tax breaks, promises, and other giveaways enclosed in the bids, many of which cities, counties and states have decided to keep private. Most cities will lose and have nothing to show for their self-debasement.

 

When Amazon announced plans for HQ2 they were fairly specific about their requirements: Amazon is looking for existing buildings of at least 500,000 square feet and total site space of up to 8 million sq ft. It would like the site to be within 30 miles of a population center and within 45 minutes of an international airport. It prefers metro areas with more than 1 million people. Amazon is prioritizing “stable and business-friendly regulations and tax structure” in its considerations.  Also, good public transit, close to freeways, bus and light rail, bike lanes and even pedestrian access, good wi-fi and mobile phone infrastructure, an educated workforce with a solid university system in place. And more generally, it needs affordable housing and a good cultural fit. Now forget Amazon for a minute, and you have a blueprint for local government to follow when they consider investing in a strong business environment.

 

For a company trying to fend off activist investors targeting bloated corporate spending, General Electric has seemed particularly clueless about how it spends money. Along with paying executives astronomical salaries for lousy results, it has showered them with perks that read like a caricature of executive excess. Perhaps the most egregious example is the one revealed yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. It reports that the company often sent an empty aircraft to follow then-CEO Jeffrey Immelt around as he traveled the world on another corporate jet, just in case his primary plane (no doubt equipped with GE aviation equipment) broke down during one of his business trips. GE has a long history of bloated executive compensation. When former CEO Jack Welch retired in 2001, he was left with a retirement package valued at almost $420 million, and included items like the use of an $50,000-a-month Manhattan apartment, choice seats for the Yankees, Knicks, Red Sox, and at Wimbledon, and the use of GE’s airplanes. The size and excess of Welch’s golden parachute only came to light in his divorce filings, and its non-disclosure to shareholders became the subject of a SEC enforcement action. But while Welch’s haul was embarrassing, it came when GE was still making money for investors, so nobody cared.

 

Every two years, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), America’s official source for energy statistics, issues scenarios about how much solar, wind and conventional energy the future holds for the US. Every two years, since the mid-1990s, the EIA is wrong.  Last year, it was spectacularly wrong. The Natural Resources Defense Council and Statista recently teamed up to analyze the EIA’s predictions for energy usage and production. It found that the EIA’s ten-year estimates between 2006 to 2016 systematically understated the share of wind, solar and gas. Solar capacity, in particular, was a whopping 4,813% more in 2016 than the EIA had predicted it would be. Meanwhile, EIA estimates regularly overstate US fossil fuel consumption, which some see as an attempt to boost the oil and gas industry.

 

Spain’s central government said it would suspend Catalonia’s autonomy and impose direct rule after the region’s leader threatened to go ahead with a formal declaration of independence if Madrid refused to hold talks. In an act unprecedented since Spain returned to democracy in the late 1970s, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he would hold a special cabinet meeting on Saturday that could trigger the move. The Socialist opposition said it backed the government but suggested the measures should be limited in scope and time. Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, ignoring a 10 a.m. deadline to drop his secession campaign, wrote a letter to Rajoy threatening a formal declaration of independence. The war of words increased uncertainty over a standoff that has raised fears of social unrest, cut growth prospects for the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy and rattled the euro.

Apple shares fell nearly 3 percent on signs of weak demand for the iPhone 8. Wireless carriers in the United States and Canada have reported slow third-quarter customer upgrades. While some expect a pickup after the iPhone X goes on sale in November, others cautioned that phone’s high price tag could weigh on demand. The uncertainty about demand was coupled with a Taiwan media report of a cut in iPhone 8 production.

 

Verizon Communications reported quarterly revenue topped Wall Street analyst estimates and the company added more phone subscribers than expected.

 

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Black Monday – the Crash of 87. On October 19, 1987 the Dow Industrial Average dropped 508 points or 22.6%, nearly double the percentage loss for Black Friday in October 1929, which ushered in the Great Depression. A 22.6% loss today would be more than 5,200 points – slamming the Dow back under 18,000. In 1987, Black Monday wiped out $500 billion of stock market wealth. A similar percentage drop today would wipe out $ trillion. Program trading offered a way of quickly hedging bets when markets got rocky. As with so many other things that initially appear to make our lives easier, though, the whole system dramatically backfired when it led to too many people scrambling for the exit at the same time. There are many theories behind Black Monday, some better than others, but the truth is we don’t know exactly why the markets melted down 30 years ago. And that is a problem.

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