Financial Review

Diminished Expectations

…State of the Uniom review. Fed FOMC, Yellen’s last. ADP jobs beat. Earnings: Microsoft, Facebook, AT&T, Qualcomm, Boeing.

Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 01-31-2018


DOW + 72 = 26,149
SPX + 1 = 2823
NAS + 9 = 7411
RUT – 7 = 1574
10 Y – .01 = 2.72%
OIL + .36 = 64.86
GOLD + 6.90 = 1346.00
As Wall Street opened for trading this morning, the Dow Industrial Average bounced from 2 consecutive losing sessions; early on, the Dow was up about 260 points. The initial enthusiasm did not last, and the Dow trickled lower. Shortly after the Federal Reserve released its statement on the FOMC monetary policy meeting, the trickle turned into a downpour and the Dow turned negative.


Last night was the State of the Union speech. On immigration, Trump outlined a four-point proposal that includes both a path to citizenship for people who entered the US illegally as minors and an end to the so-called chain-migration policy, which allows immigrants to sponsor extended-family members. The plan is unlikely to result in a deal. Congressional Republicans and Democrats will spend the greater part of the next two weeks out of Washington on retreat: the annual meetings that give parties time to strategize their legislative priorities for the year ahead. That means 3 working days for Congress before the next government shutdown deadline.  That is not enough time to begin to schedule a debate on immigration. And with a continuing resolution on the budget hanging on the debate, the most likely scenario now is that when the CR ends, it will be replaced with another continuing resolution. On top of immigration, Congress still has to strike a permanent spending deal for 2018.  The parties still haven’t agreed on new budget caps. Without budget caps, any massive spending bill risks triggering a sequester — across-the-board cuts to domestic and military spending.


Trump didn’t discuss the national debt, once a standard talking point for Republican leaders. He also didn’t mention climate change though he did wax eloquent about beautiful coal (only about 100 years too late) and he did go into detail about the natural disasters – though nothing on Puerto Rico, which is still struggling to restore electricity.


Trump touted the state of the economy. Almost without exception, Republican strategists believe rising voter optimism about the economy represents the party’s greatest asset this year. It also represents their best cause for optimism that voters’ assessments of Trump’s job performance will improve through 2018, lifting their own chances with it. The economy can be fickle, and the markets can be cruel. Polls show that roughly as many Americans credit former President Obama as Trump for the good economy. There’s good reason for that verdict: On most fronts, the economy’s performance under Trump represents a continuation of its improving health over Obama’s second term—not a radical improvement in its trajectory. And by some metrics, the economy under Obama was more robust. From January through December 2017, for instance, the economy added 2.06 million jobs. But it added more jobs in each of the final six years of Obama’s presidency, and significantly more in both 2014 (3 million) and 2015 (2.7 million). Pending final revisions, the economy grew 2.3 percent in 2017. That generally tracks with Obama’s recent record: It’s less than its annual growth in 2014 and 2015, and slightly more than its improvement in 2013 and 2016.


There was almost no mention of China and Russia. He boasted about America’s successful military campaign against ISIS. He highlighted his displeasure with the Iran nuclear deal. He reaffirmed his desire to further fund the military. And he also discussed his new executive order to keep Guantanamo open, a point he’s raised in the past but never acted on until now. He barely touched on the everlasting war in Afghanistan, and not much on the still-unresolved problems in Syria. Trump discussed North Korea’s “depraved regime,” he didn’t mention diplomacy. And shortly before the address, the administration withdrew its nomination of Victor Cha to be the ambassador to South Korea, after Cha expressed reservations about military strikes on the North.


Trump promised to invest $1.5 trillion on the nation’s roads and bridges but offered few other specifics. Little is known about the plan outside of a leaked memo that outlined where some of the funding would go and said it would include $200 billion in federal spending with the other $1.3 trillion coming from state, local, and private investment. By proposing less federal money, Trump is playing a shell game, pushing the responsibility to raise taxes to governors and mayors, and right after signing a tax bill that eliminates the deductibility of state and local taxes, making it just about impossible to raise taxes. In other words, don’t hold your breath for an infrastructure plan to happen.


There was plenty more to the State of the Uniom speech, it went on and on for an hour and 20 minutes.


We will now move on to the Federal Reserve, which wrapped up a 2-day FOMC policy meeting today and wrapped up Janet Yellen’s time as chair of the Fed, and announced no change to monetary policy. There were some interesting points in the Fed’s published statement. The central bank said it expects inflation “to move up this year” in a sign it’s likely to hike rates at its next meeting in March. The central bank said inflation is likely to stabilize around its 2% target, dropping prior language about a recent decline in prices. In another notable tweak, the Fed said “market-based measures of inflation compensation have increased in recent months.” At the same time, the Fed repeated language saying that “near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced.”  In a unanimous vote, the Fed left its benchmark short-term rate at a range of 1.25% to 1.5%. Consider this: In 2000, the U.S. unemployment rate hit a low of 3.8 percent, while the Fed funds rate held at 6 percent. Then, in 2007, unemployment fell to 4.4 percent, while the fed funds rate sat at 5.25 percent. In 2018, the unemployment is 4.1 percent but the fed funds rate remains at its crisis-era level of 1.25 percent. A change in Fed leadership generally fogs the outlook for rates and historically pressures the market. On average, the Dow has been negative in the 6 months after a new Fed chair assumed the position. There should be no ambiguity now – the Fed is on track to raise rates 3 times in 2018. In December, the central bank projected it would raise rates three times in 2018. And the March meeting of the FOMC should result in a rate hike.


Following the Fed announcement, stocks erased gains and Treasury yields popped to 4-year highs. The yield on the 10-year U.S. note rose to as much as 2.75 percent, the highest since April 2014. Earlier, the Treasury raised the amount of long-term bonds it will sell this quarter with the budget deficit worsening. The dollar briefly rallied before retracing losses.


The ADP national employment report showed 234,000 private sector jobs were added in January compared with 185,000 expected by analysts. The report was published ahead of the more comprehensive report from the U.S. Labor Department on Friday.


Analysts expect fourth-quarter S&P 500 earnings growth of 13.7 percent, up from 12 percent expected at the start of the month. So far, 37 percent of companies in the index have reported and 80.5 percent of them have come in above consensus estimates.


After the closing bell, Microsoft and Facebook announced earnings. Microsoft reported a quarterly loss, hurt by a $13.8 billion charge related to US tax reform. Revenue climbed 12 percent to $28.9 billion, including 98 percent growth in Azure, Microsoft’s flagship cloud product. On an adjusted basis, earnings came in at 96 cents per share, vs. 86 cents per share as expected by analysts. Microsoft stock is up around 11 percent since the beginning of the year.


Facebook reported adjusted fourth quarter earnings and revenue on that beat estimates, as it made more money than expected from each user. But shares fell as much as 4.5 percent after hours after the company said it had made changes, including a crackdown on viral videos, that reduced the amount of time users spent on its social network. Facebook posted $2.21 per share, beating estimates of $1.87. Revenue of $12.9 billion topped estimates of $12.5 billion. That’s compared to earnings of $1.41 per share on revenue of $8.81 billion in the year-ago period. Usership also rose about 14 percent from a year ago on both a daily and monthly basis.


AT&T posted fourth-quarter results that bested Wall Street expectations. The company said it saw strong wireless customer growth as well as fewer subscriber cancellations than the Street had projected. AT&T also gave strong guidance for fiscal 2018. The stock rose more than 3 percent in after-hours trade.


Qualcomm’s earnings and revenue topped Wall Street forecasts for the first fiscal quarter as demand surged for its chips used in smartphones and cars.


Boeing forecast full-year profit well above Wall Street estimates as it looks forward to its busiest year ever for plane deliveries. Boeing said it aims to ship between 810 and 815 commercial aircraft in 2018, as much as 7 percent more than the industry-record 763 jets it delivered in 2017, putting it ahead of Airbus for the sixth year in a row. For the fourth quarter, Boeing’s core earnings nearly doubled to $4.80 per share from $2.47 a year earlier.


Better-than-expected earnings from Anthem helped lift shares of health insurers. Anthem reported fourth quarter profits of $1.29 per share, 2 cents above estimates. Revenue of $22.4 billion also topped expectations.


Tomorrow will be super busy. The day in earnings will start with Chinese tech giant Alibaba and end with U.S. tech leaders Apple, Amazon and Alphabet. Also on what will be a frantic day for quarterly reports, Visa, Mastercard, and UPS will also come out. Meanwhile, General Motors, Ford and other carmakers will report monthly U.S. sales figures.

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