Financial Review

A Boatload of Economic News and Earnings Reports

Financial Review

DOW + 216 = 16,677
SPX + 23 = 1950
NAS + 69 = 4452
10 YR YLD + .05 = 2.28%
OIL + 1.33 = 81.85
GOLD – 9.10 = 1232.90
SILV + .02 = 17.30

The S&P 500 has risen five times in the past six days, pushing the gauge up 4.9 percent since Oct. 15 and recouping about half the losses from a selloff that began in mid-September; the S&P is still down about 3 percent from a record.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which tracks deals involving mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said home prices in August were up 4.8% from the year-earlier period; and up a seasonally adjusted 0.5% in August from July. The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage was 3.92 percent, down from 3.97 percent last week. The average 15-year rate dropped to 3.08 percent from 3.18 percent. Mortgage rates are now at the lowest levels since the summer of 2013. Refinancing applications jumped 23 percent in the week ended Oct. 17 to an 11-month high.

The number of people who applied for US unemployment benefits rose by 17,000 last week to 283,000, but initial claims remained below the key 300,000 level for the sixth straight week.

The Conference Board’s leading economic index rose 0.8% in September, after no change in August. The index points toward improving employment and income growth which are expected to support moderate economic expansion for the remainder of the year. The leading index is composed of 10 forward-pointing indicators. Nine of the 10 indicators showed strength in September, with the biggest positive contribution coming from a favorable spread of low interest rates. The only negative was average consumer expectations for business conditions.

The Chicago Fed’s national activity index rose to positive 0.47 from negative 0.25 in August. The three-month average stayed positive and accelerated, to 0.25 from 0.16 in August; indicating the economy grew at an above-trend pace in September, recovering after a slower August.

The Markit Economics flash manufacturing purchasing managers index for the US fell to a 56.2 reading in October from 57.5 in September. The index is at a three-month low. The rise in new orders was the slowest in nine months. A number of businesses expressed caution about export sales, perhaps due to the stronger dollar. Input cost inflation eased to its weakest level in six months.

Markit’s Eurozone Composite Flash Purchasing Managers’ Index rose to 52.2 in October from 52 in September. Germany’s private sector saw faster growth this month, France’s business slump deepened, with business activity hitting an eight-month low. In Britain, retail sales fell more than expected in September. Eurozone inflation slipped to its lowest for five years in September. The Flash Index is just a subset of the broader economy. For example, today, Spain reported the number of people without a job dropped by 195,000 in the third quarter, and the unemployment rate dropped to 23.7%, which is still incredibly lousy.

China’s flash HSBC/Markit manufacturing PMI edged up to a three-month high of 50.4 from a final reading of 50.2 in September.

Russian stocks have been falling sharply this week. Standard & Poor’s is scheduled to release a review of Russia tomorrow and it is widely expected that they will cut Russia’s credit rating to junk. Last week, Moody’s Investors Service cut Russia’s debt rating, citing concerns over the Ukraine crisis and the international sanctions.

The European Central Bank is scheduled to release the results of its stress test for Eurobanks on Sunday. The test of 130 lenders is aimed at answering the questions many investors still have about the health of the region’s banking system in the wake of the financial crisis. It is expected that most of the mega banks will pass the test but there are estimates that as many as 20 mid-sized banks might fall short.

The Federal Reserve will put US banks through a stress test, and the methodology was released today. US banks will have to show they can withstand a scenario where the unemployment rate jumps to 10%, the stock market dives by 60%, and oil prices reach $110 a barrel. The Dodd-Frank Act requires these tests of 31 of the largest banks, with $50 billion or more in assets, before the Fed signs off on stock buybacks and dividends. The 8 largest banks will also have to test for counterparty defaults, and 6 with large trading operations will have to test for a “global market shock scenario” that it hasn’t yet released. All the banks must submit these capital plans by January 2015.

Last year, Citi, Zions Bancorp and three foreign banks failed the tests, and Bank of America was forced to suspend a planned increase in its dividend and a stock buyback after finding it had erroneously reported $4 billion more in capital than it actually had.

After a sharp fall, crude oil seems to be finding support at $80 a barrel. Last week, the intraday price dipped below $80 but we have not seen a closing price under $80. Today, the price dipped down to $80.05 and then rallied. The past ten sessions have created a symmetrical triangle on the charts, and within the next few days, we should see a break from that pattern. Whichever way the market breaks out, or breaks down from that triangle pattern could be the way the trend goes for a long period. There is a tendency to go out of this pattern the same way we came in, which would be going down; but right now the prudent move is to wait and let the market tell us whether it can hold this important level of support.

General Motors disclosed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that its GM Financial unit was served with additional investigative subpoenas to produce documents from state attorneys general and other governmental offices relating to its subprime auto finance business and securitization of subprime auto loans.

General Motors said it earned $1.4 billion in the third quarter on strength in North America and China, where newly introduced models are more profitable than the ones they replace. That’s up from $700 million, or 45 cents a share, in the 2013 third quarter. Revenue was $39 billion, down slightly from the year-ago $39.3 billion. The earnings equaled 81 cents a share, lower than the 97 cents analysts expected. But the 81 cents is minus a special charge of 16 cents primarily for repairing flood damage at the Technical Center in Michigan and charges in Russia for lost value of long-term assets.

It is earnings reporting season.

3M reported strong growth in US sales and raised its full-year earnings forecast higher. In the latest quarter, profit totaled $1.30 billion, or $1.98 per share, up from $1.23 billion, or $1.78 per share. Sales grew 2.8% to $8.14 billion. Wall Street had expected earnings of $1.96 per share.

Caterpillar reported third-quarter net income rose to $1.63 a share from $1.45 a year earlier. Excluding one-time items, profit was $1.72, surpassing the $1.35 average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Caterpillar said per-share earnings excluding one-time items for this year are expected to be $6.50, 30 cents more than previously projected.

In a sign that earnings do still matter to the stock market, just look at 3M and Caterpillar today. 3M was up $6.10 at $145.05; that added about 25 points to the Dow Industrial Average. Caterpillar was up $4.97 at $99.27; adding about 45 points to the Dow. Two stocks, about one-third of the Dow movement.

Microsoft reported earnings of 54 cents per share on revenue of $23.2 billion, beating Wall Street estimates of 49 cents per share on revenue of $22 billion. Microsft was up about 4% today.

Amazon reported a third-quarter loss and revenue that missed analysts’ expectations; and then salt on the wound, Amazon projected weaker-than-expected sales for the important holiday quarter. The company posted a loss of 95 cents per share, compared to a loss of 9 cents per share in the year-earlier period. Three months ago, analysts thought the company would lose 7 cents a share in the third quarter. Then, after Amazon ratcheted down expectations, the estimated loss swelled tenfold, to 74 cents; and today, they missed that by 21 cents. Revenue for the quarter came in at $20.58 billion, against the comparable year-ago figure of $17.09 billion. Amazon tanked in after-hours trading, down about 13%.

Even with Amazon likely to hit $100 billion a year in revenue in 2015, it is having a hard time making a profit. It is getting to be a familiar story. The last time Amazon made a profit in the third quarter was in 2011.

Sears is closing 77 Sears and Kmart stores and cutting 5,300 jobs. And that’s not even the worst news. Most of the store closures will happen before Christmas, which makes it look like Sears is just throwing in the towel. Even the stores that won’t close until after the holidays are already holding going out of business sales rather than gearing up for seasonal promotions. Sears Holdings was up 4.4% on the news today. Go figure.

American Airlines, earned a $942 million profit in the third quarter. The company said it was its biggest profit ever for a quarter, and it was an 87 percent increase over the amount that American and US Airways earned separately last year before their December 2013 merger. Doug Parker, the airline’s chief executive, predicted more records for fourth-quarter and full-year earnings.

United Continental posted net income of $924 million, up from $379 million a year earlier. Excluding one-time items, its adjusted profit was a record $1.1 billion. Southwest profit rose 27 percent to $329 million.

All three companies beat Wall Street expectations for earnings. The airlines increased ticket prices back in April, and since then fuel prices have dropped by about 20%, and that works out to millions in savings: United cut its fuel bill by $13 million. Southwest saved $64 million. And the airlines are likely to save even more on fuel costs in the fourth quarter.

But if you are thinking those fuel savings will be passed along to fliers in the form of lower fares, well, that’s just hilarious. Recent mergers have reduced competition and helped the airlines limit the number of flights, making it easier to increase fares. And the big airlines have just pushed through a fare increase on domestic routes.

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