…Waiting for Super Thursday. Testimony today on Capitol Hill reveals nothing. Trump pushes infrastructure plan. NSA intelligence on Russia hack attempt on voting featuring Reality Winner. Bill Gross and high risk. Bankruptcies rise. Oil tumbles on inventory new. Book a flight to Europe – you can afford it. Toshiba sale. Don’t forget Canada.
Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 06-07-2017
DOW + 37 = 21,173
SPX + 3 = 2433
NAS + 22 = 6297
RUT + 1 = 1396
10 Y + .03 = 2.18%
OIL – 2.10 = 45.88
GOLD – 6.80 = 1287.80
Major stock, bond and currency markets did little more than drift higher ahead of what many are calling Super Thursday. That’s when the U.K. holds a very important general election, the European Central Bank announces its decision on monetary policy, former FBI director James Comey testifies to the Senate about Russian meddling in the U.S. election, and Brazil’s Electoral Court may issue a decision on campaign corruption that could unseat President Michel Temer.
The Senate Intelligence Committee held public hearings today, with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers repeatedly said they would not discuss their private conversations with President Donald Trump. Coats and Rogers said they did not feel the public setting of the Senate intelligence committee’s hearing was an appropriate venue to discuss their conversations with Trump. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe invoked the probe of special counsel Robert Mueller, when McCabe said he wouldn’t comment on issues in the special counsel’s lane. Fired FBI Director James Comey is scheduled to appear before the committee tomorrow. Today, Comey released his written prepared opening remarks, saying the President had demanded his loyalty, pressed him to drop a probe into ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn and repeatedly pressured him to publicly declare that he was not under investigation. The document provides a detailed account of Comey’s private meetings with the President, included direct quotes from Trump and revealed the former FBI chief’s discomfort with the President’s behavior.
President Trump took to Twitter early this morning to break the news about his pick for FBI director. The nominee is Christopher Wray, a private attorney specializing in the defense of individuals and corporations in white-collar criminal cases. He represented New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during the “Bridgegate” investigation.
This afternoon, Trump traveled to Cincinnati to pitch his 10-year, $1 trillion infrastructure outline as part of a week’s worth of events emphasizing progress on the proposal, though it has yet to be fully fleshed out. Over the past week, Trump has often undercut and confounded his own aides as they try to shift the conversation toward the infrastructure plan, he was tweeting out new attacks on the news media and feuding with his own Justice Department over its defense of his targeted travel ban. So far, the infrastructure proposal is not much more than an outline, short on details and specifics, other than a plan announced this week to privatize the nation’s air traffic control. The plan, conceived by the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, and economic advisor Peter Navarro, calls on the federal government to spend $200 billion in cash and tax credits that would, they say, result in $800 billion in additional private investment. In congressional testimony this year, the transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, predicted that a more detailed proposal would be released by late May. But last week she would say only that it was “coming soon.”
Russian hacking of the 2016 U.S. election included sophisticated targeting of state officials responsible for voter rolls and voting procedures, according to a top secret U.S. intelligence document that was leaked and published this week, revealing another potential method of attempted interference in the vote. The month-old National Security Agency document outlined activities including impersonating an election software vendor to send trick emails to more than 100 state election officials. However, there is no evidence that hackers were able to manipulate votes, or the vote tally. Analysts at the NSA believed the hackers were working for the Russian military’s General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU. The document’s publication by The Intercept received particular attention because an intelligence contractor, Reality Winner, was charged the same day with leaking it.
According to Bill Gross, who manages the $2 billion Janus Henderson Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, markets are at their highest risk levels since before the 2008 financial crisis because investors are paying a high price for the chances they’re taking. Speaking at a Bloomberg Investors conference in New York, Gross said, “Instead of buying low and selling high, you’re buying high and crossing your fingers.” Central bank policies for low and negative interest rates are artificially driving up asset prices while creating little growth in the real economy and punishing individual savers, banks and insurance companies. Despite being concerned about high asset prices, Gross said he feels required to stay invested and sees value in some closed-end funds.
Consumer and business bankruptcies are rising again, after declining for years since the financial crisis. That’s not a propitious sign. For bankruptcy filings by businesses from large corporations to tiny sole proprietorships, the dance started in November 2015. At first it was the energy bust. But bankruptcies of energy companies have tapered off with new money surging into the oil & gas sector once again. Now bankruptcies in the retail sector are steadily worsening, and other sectors too have picked up the slack. So here we go again. Total US business bankruptcies in May rose 4.7% year-over-year to 3,572 filings, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. That’s up 40% from May 2015 and up 10% from May 2014. And there’s another concern: Bankruptcy filings are highly seasonal. They peak in tax season – March or April – and then fall off. The decline in April after the peak in March was within that seasonal pattern. Over the past years, filings dropped in May. But not this year. This year, they jumped.
Sears is closing 72 more stores, in addition to the more than 180 closings that had already been announced this year. The closings will bring Sears’ store count to about 1,200, down from 2,073 five years ago.
OPEC and other oil producing nations have cut back production in hopes of shrinking a global oil glut. Today, the U.S. government reported an unexpected increase in inventories of crude and gasoline. Crude stocks in the United States grew 3.3 million barrels to 513 million barrels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Gasoline inventories also unexpectedly rose, imports increased, and exports dropped. The EIA report pegged total product demand at 19.340 million barrels a day. That included a drop of 505,000 barrels a day for gasoline demand and 520,000 barrels a day for distillate demand from a week earlier. A 1.4 million barrel-per-day petroleum-demand drop is the kind of shift one associates with a catastrophic storm or economic plunge. Even more shocking, the rise for crude inventories came despite a decline in domestic production and the biggest weekly drop in Saudi imports ever. Oil has traded below $50 for the past couple of weeks amid speculation that rising U.S. output will counter supply curbs by OPEC and its partners, including Russia. U.S. crude production will average more than 10 million barrels a day in 2018, breaking a record almost five decades old.
Low-cost, long-haul air travel has taken off across the Atlantic. Transatlantic routes are among the industry’s most popular and profitable, and budget carriers are trying to grab a slice of that business by boosting capacity on them by 68 percent this summer. And that means the flying public may see price wars. Like Boston to London, round trip for under $300. Norwegian Air Shuttle and Icelandic rival Wow have grabbed headlines with one-way fares as low as $69 and $55 this summer, although Wow’s flights involve a stop in Reykjavik. Lufthansa’s Eurowings budget carrier is in its second year of long-haul flying, while Air France is planning to launch a lower-cost long haul brand this fall in a project dubbed Boost. International Airlines Group launched low-cost long-haul brand Level on Thursday with surprisingly strong ticket sales.
Toshiba aims to name a winner for its prized semiconductor business next week. Sources told Reuters the choice has narrowed to one bid from U.S. chipmaker Broadcom and U.S. tech fund Silver Lake and another from Toshiba chip partner Western Digital and Japanese government-related investors. Toshiba is rushing to find a buyer for the world’s second-largest producer of NAND chips, which it values at $18 billion or more, to cover billions of dollars in cost overruns at its now-bankrupt U.S. nuclear business Westinghouse Electric.
The British pound sterling gained ground today as the UK saw the final day of campaigning ahead of Thursday’s general election. Polls suggest that Theresa May’s Conservative Party hold a lead of around six points over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, although outliers suggest that lead could be as big as 12 points, or as small as one point. While a big move in the price of sterling is expected once results start to come out on Thursday evening, investors in Britain’s currency were largely in wait and see mode ahead of the vote. The polls have been notoriously wrong in recent voting.
Yes, there’s a lot going on tomorrow, but don’t forget to keep an eye on Canada. The Bank of Canada will release its semi-annual Financial System Review and investors will be watching for what the central bank says about the nation’s red-hot housing market. Toronto home prices rose almost 30 percent last month from a year earlier. In Vancouver, the country’s most expensive real estate market, they’ve climbed 58 percent over four years. Meanwhile, household debt is at record levels, surpassing gross domestic product for the first time. Fitch said Wednesday that banks with greater exposure to those two cities are more sensitive to a market correction. In the last FSR in December, the Bank of Canada listed elevated household indebtedness, housing market imbalances and fixed-income liquidity as the three main risks to the financial system, and the focus should be similar this time.