Financial Review

Chips and Salsa

Financial Review by Sinclair Noe

DOW + 20 = 18,058
SPX + 4 = 2112
NAS + 20 = 5056
10 YR YLD – .02 = 1.95%
OIL + 1.32 = 57.48

Record highs on Wall Street today. On March 10, 2000 the Nasdaq Composite Index reached an intraday high of 5,132 and closed at 5,048. It only took a little over 15 years to get back to those levels. The Nasdaq is now up 6.8% for 2015. The Nasdaq Composite now trades at 30 times earnings, versus a multiple of 190 in March 2000; not exactly a value play, but not dot-com frothiness. The S&P 500 hit a new intraday high but could not take out the 2117 record close from early March.


The number of people who applied for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits ticked up 1,000 to 295,000 in the week that ended April 18. Also, the government said continuing claims, which show the number of people already receiving weekly unemployment checks, rose 50,000 to 2.33 million in the week that ended April 11.


Sales of new single-family homes dropped 11.4% to 481,000 in March, hitting the slowest pace since November.  Sales of new single-family homes increased about 19% over the past year. However, sales still remain almost 40% below a long-term pace set over 20 years.


Financial data firm Markit said its preliminary U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index fell to 54.2 in April from the final March read of 55.7. A reading above 50 indicates growth in the sector. And as the manufacturing sector in the US expands, it is contracting in China.


China’s factory activity declined at its fastest pace in a year, according to HSBC/Markit’s Purchasing Managers Index. China said it will open up bank card processing to foreign firms, sending shares of Visa and MasterCard higher. Morgan Stanley thinks the firms could begin operations in China in late 2016 or early 2017. China said Thursday it will scrap export duties on rare earths and some metal products, including molybdenum, tungsten and some aluminum products, effective May 1. Beijing is attempting to boost exports, which fell 15% year-over-year in March.


Tensions continue to escalate in the Middle East. Earlier in the week, Saudi Arabia announced a cease fire in Yemen; that lasted about one day and then the Saudis resumed their airstrikes. The Saudi escalation of its Yemen campaign is producing exactly the kind of geopolitical tensions that push oil prices higher. Toss in US aircraft carriers and a few destroyers in close proximity to Iranian Navy boats that look like they are trying to deliver arms to the Houti rebels in Yemen, and it makes for a volatile mix. Oil prices are near the highs for the year.


The world is still a crazy place. Reuters reports the Russian Defense Ministry claims US troops are now in the conflict zone of eastern Ukraine to train Ukrainian combat troops. And the Taliban has announced that it will launch its annual spring offensive in Afghanistan later in the week; like it’s a supermarket opening or something.


Meanwhile, five years ago to the day, Greece officially submitted a bailout request…Today, Tsipras chats with Merkel. The Greek and German leaders will meet in Brussels in an attempt to reach a deal on Greece’s debt. The longer these negotiations have dragged out, the closer the opposing sides get to some sort of resolution; they haven’t worked it out yet, but they are closer, maybe.


U.S. and British regulators fined Deutsche Bank $2.5 billion and its British subsidiary pleaded guilty to criminal wire fraud for its role in a scam to manipulate the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) and its Euribor cousin – together benchmarks for hundreds of trillions of dollars of financial products and loans worldwide.


Brazil’s state-controlled oil giant, Petrobras, reported its long-delayed quarterly and annual results, which have been stalled by a corruption investigation. The overall loss was $7.2 billion in 2014; Petrobras is writing off $15 billion in overvalued assets and $2 billion for bribery related costs. Federal prosecutors have accused the former executives of illegally “diverting” billions from the company’s accounts for their personal use or to pay off officials. More than 80 people have been charged with bribery and money laundering during the criminal investigation, dubbed “Operation Car Wash.”


Dozens of senior officials and politicians are still under investigation. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was chairwoman of Petrobras during many of the years when the alleged corruption took place. She denies any knowledge of the corruption. Her popularity has sunk to record lows because of the scandal and Brazi’s poor economic performance. Dozens of other companies including construction and transportation firms are implicated in the scandal, and over 750 projects are now under investigation. And there is a class action suit, of course.


The Comcast-Time Warner merger is in jeopardy. The FCC has called for a hearing on the Comcast-Time Warner merger. According to The Wall Street Journal, the hearing is a sign the FCC feels the $45 billion deal is not in the best interest of the public. The Department of Justice has also recently spoken out against the deal. And today, Bloomberg reported that Comcast will drop the deal.


Today is one of the busiest sessions for earnings reports, so let’s dig in:

After the close, Google reported weaker-than-expected first-quarter profits, hurt by slowing growth and the rising U.S. dollar. (note – this is becoming a common theme.) Google reported revenue of $17.2 billion, up 12% from $15.4 billion in the year-ago period. Profit of $3.6 billion, up from $3.4 billion. On a side note; today marks the tenth anniversary of the first YouTube video. YouTube’s co-founder, Jawed Karim, posted the video of his visit to the zoo. Google now owns YouTube.

Microsoft revenue rose 6.5% from a year earlier to  $21.7 billion, thanks to the inclusion of sales from Nokia’s mobile-phone business, which Microsoft didn’t own a year ago. Microsoft reported net income of $4.9 billion, or 61 cents a share – in line with estimates. That was down from net income of $5.6 billion, or 68 cents a share, a year earlier.

Amazon posted a sales jump of 15% to $22.7 billion, compared with $19.7 billion a year earlier. And they still managed to lose $57 million.

Starbucks reported same store sales were up 7% in the Americas. Earnings and revenue jumped 18%; profits matched estimates.

General Motors came up short on both the top and bottom line; the problems came from Russia, Europe and South America. Despite ongoing legal problems with deadly ignition switches, GM reported strong sales in North America. The big seller is the Tahoe, a big SUV; no rebates, no incentives, 18 MPG. How quickly we forget $100 a barrel oil.

Caterpillar earnings and revenue came in well above estimates thanks to cost cutting and improved sales in North America. CAT raised its earnings per share outlook for the year.

PepsiCo posted net income was flat at $1.2 billion. Revenue fell 3.2% to $12.2 billion. Earnings per share were 83 cents, missing estimates of 79 cents. PepsiCo says currency exchange rates cut its profit by 11 percentage points this year.

3M revenue and earnings missed estimates with sales down 3% from a year earlier. They blamed a stronger dollar.

Procter & Gamble posted quarterly earnings in line with expectations. But revenue came up short for the fifth straight quarter.  P& G blames the strong dollar and warns foreign exchange rates will continue to be a drag on both sales and profit this year.

Southwest Airlines said its first-quarter profit nearly tripled but forecast a decline in unit revenue for April.

Freeport-McMoRan reported a first-quarter loss of $2.5 billion as it recorded one-time charges of $2.4 billion, mainly for the reduction of the carrying value of its oil and gas properties.


A common theme in earnings reports is a strong dollar hurting sales and profits of US companies. Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest consumer-products maker gets the majority of its sales outside North America, leaving the company vulnerable to a dollar that has gained against a number of currencies. 3M, the maker of Post-it notes and Scotch tape earns almost two-thirds of its revenue outside the U.S. General Motors’ struggled with overseas sales. Freeport-McMoRan grappled with lower commodity prices, directly tied to a strong dollar. You might think that a strong dollar is about to destroy corporate America, and yet the stock market is hanging out in record high territory. Even though we know that companies use a stronger dollar as a scapegoat, it really doesn’t tell us much about their earnings. It is extremely difficult for an individual investor to know if a company was really hurt or just a little hurt by currency exchanges. You don’t know how much a company actually buys in the local currency; for example, if McDonald’s buys its beef and makes its bread in the same country where they sell hamburgers, then it shouldn’t be a big hit to profits. For others, it might be a very big deal indeed. More often than not, it just muddies the earnings news.


Of the 169 Standard & Poor’s 500 companies that have reported so far, 71 percent beat earnings estimates, according to data from Thomson Reuters; and most estimates had been ratcheted lower. But they did so with help from share buybacks, cost-cutting and other measures, instead of strong sales growth. Despite those beats, analysts are now trimming their profit and sales expectations for the second quarter. Revenue in the first quarter has disappointed – just 44 percent of the early reporters topped analysts’ forecasts – and sales are expected to have dropped 3.3 percent from a year ago. Of the early reporting companies for the first quarter, 59 have beaten earnings estimates but missed on sales, with the trend seen in a wide range of sectors.


Second-quarter S&P 500 earnings could slide 1.6 percent from a year ago. That is down from an April 1 forecast for a decline of 0.5 percent. Sales are forecast to fall 3.9 percent in the second quarter, compared with an April 1 estimate for a 2.8 percent decline. Third- and fourth-quarter estimates are also down since the reporting season began. There could still be negative surprises ahead, and most S&P 500 energy companies have yet to post results, and it’s a safe bet that there will be some ugly numbers in the oil patch.  Stay tuned.





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