…..Trump visits Phoenix, hilarity ensues. New home sales down. Lowe’s earnings miss. WPP miss. Google & Walmart v Amazon. Good luck.
Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 08-23-2017
DOW – 87 = 21,812
SPX – 8 = 2444
NAS – 19 = 6278
RUT – 1 = 1369
10 Y – .04 = 2.17%
OIL – .06 = 48.35
GOLD + 5.90 = 1291.30
Stocks fell for the first time in three days, the dollar slumped and Treasuries gained.
So, Trump was in Phoenix yesterday. Maybe you heard about that. He spoke for a little over an hour at a campaign rally at the Civic Center. We won’t try to recap everything he said (full transcript here), but there were a couple of important lines that have received particular attention. First, in what almost seemed like an aside, Trump said, “If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall. One way or the other, we’re going to get that wall.” Needless to say, that’s not what markets wanted to hear. Congress needs to pass a spending measure by September 30 to keep the government open —the same time it’s facing a deadline to raise the nation’s debt limit. Failure to do so could cause a multitude of problems, as we have seen in the past. Fitch Ratings warned the country risks a review of its sovereign rating if it fails to raise the limit next month. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there was zero chance of a government default on its debts; today the chance of a default is significantly higher than zero. Whether it was just a bluff or not, one thing is clear – it doesn’t look like Mexico will pay for the wall.
Trump also spoke about the difficulty in trying to negotiate a better trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, saying: “So I think we’ll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point, OK? Probably.” There were no details on what a post-NAFTA world might look like or how it might affect American business. There was a brief mention of tax reform but absolutely no details of an actual plan. The Dollar Index dropped .039% today, continuing a sharp downtrend for the year as investors have been looking for alternative safe havens in other markets, from Switzerland to Japan.
Trump spent about half the speech blasting the media and denying he is a racist, while recapping his response to Charlottesville and completely omitting his remarks of Tuesday, August 15. He went on to suggest that he would pardon convicted former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio but did not make a formal pardon. Then he ripped into Arizona’s two Republican senators, without naming names. However, it was clear he was talking about Senator Jeff Flake when he said, “nobody wants me to talk about your other senator, who’s weak on borders, weak on crime.” Last week Trump tweeted: “Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake.”
McCain cast the deciding vote that led to the Senate’s rejection of the “skinny repeal” bill, a watered-down version of a plan to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act. McCain, who has been diagnosed with brain cancer, was one of three Republican senators who voted against the bill. And Trump decided to blast McCain, the longtime senior senator, former Republican presidential candidate, and war hero who is currently undergoing treatment for brain cancer. If you thought you would never live long enough to hear a president mock a guy going through chemo for brain cancer, congratulations. You made it.
So, I guess vacation time is over. And after a visit to Reno, it is back to work on tax reform, infrastructure, funding the government, not defaulting on the debt, passing the defense authorization bill, NAFTA and all that. These are important issues and there is no room for legislative error. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports the relationship between Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises. What was once an uneasy governing alliance has curdled into a feud of mutual resentment and sometimes outright hostility. In a series of tweets this month, Trump criticized McConnell publicly, and berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match. A Republican “super PAC” aligned with McConnell released a web ad on Tuesday assailing Kelli Ward as a fringe-dwelling conspiracy theorist.
West Texas Intermediate crude dipped 6 cents to settle at $48.35 a barrel. The EIA reported today that oil stockpiles have dropped every week since late June and gasoline inventories also fell, while crude production climbed for a second week. Meanwhile, Harvard University researchers have published a study showing Exxon Mobil misled the public about climate change for years even as its research echoed the growing scientific consensus that global warming is real and caused by human activity. The findings potentially add grist to the mill as a number of attorneys general continue to investigate whether Exxon misled shareholders. The Securities and Exchange Commission is also probing how the oil major values its fossil fuel reserves in light of global warming.
New-home sales tumbled in July. The Commerce Department reports sales of newly-constructed homes were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 571,000. That was 9.4% lower than an upwardly-adjusted June rate of 630,000, and 8.9% below the year-ago level. The median sales price in July was $313,700, 6.3% higher than a year ago. At the current pace of sales, it would take 5.7 months to exhaust all supply, among the highest ratios of the past few years. The median sales price in July was $313,700, 6.3% higher than a year ago. At the current pace of sales, it would take 5.7 months to exhaust all supply, among the highest ratios of the past few years. Newly built homes are more expensive than they’ve ever been before. They are also more expensive when compared to similar existing homes than they’ve ever been before. So, that’s why.
Lowe’s, the home-improvement retailer, dragged down the S&P 500 after it reported profit and revenue for the latest quarter that were weaker than analysts expected. It gave a profit outlook for the year that fell short of Wall Street’s forecast, and its stock fell 3.7 percent.
WPP is the world’s largest advertising agency and today the company lowered its full year forecast for net sales growth to 1 percent or even less, blaming the pull back on lowered spending by packaged goods companies. The packaged goods sector has become a battleground between online shopping giant Amazon and other e-commerce sites and traditional brick-and-mortar grocery stores and discount retailers. Price wars and changing consumer tastes have turned some of the once mainstay brands into virtual commodities, with less supermarket shelf space and now less marketing clout. Weakness in advertising spending by major consumer product companies rippled through the global media industry. And WPP shares dropped about 10 percent.
Amazon has become the 800-pound gorilla of online retail, with the spillover effect of shutting down brick and mortar retailers. Who could fight such a behemoth? How about two 800-pound gorillas? Google and Walmart are testing the notion that an enemy’s enemy is a friend. The two companies said Google would start offering Walmart products to people who shop on Google Express, the company’s online shopping mall. It’s the first time the world’s biggest retailer has made its products available online in the United States outside of its own website. The two companies said the partnership was less about how online shopping is done today, but where it is going in the future. They said that they foresaw Walmart customers reordering items they purchased in the past by speaking to Google Home, the company’s voice-controlled speaker and an answer to Amazon’s Echo. The eventual plan is for Walmart customers to also shop using the Google Assistant, the artificially intelligent software assistant found in smartphones running Google’s Android software. Walmart customers can link their accounts to Google, allowing the technology giant to learn their past shopping behavior to better predict what they want in the future. Google said that because more than 20 percent of searches conducted on smartphones these days are done by voice, it expects voice-based shopping to be not far behind. There are more than 50 retailers on Google Express, including Target and Costco. Walmart is partially repurposing its stores into e-commerce fulfillment centers. Customers can now order their groceries online and then pick them up at hundreds of stores. For some items that they purchase online and pick up in a store, customers receive a discount. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission said today it’s decided not to pursue an investigation of Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods – so, no antitrust problem.
Samsung announced the successor to the ill-fated Note 7 smartphone today, an updated phone named the Note 8. The new phone resembles a larger version of Samsung’s flagship devices, the S8 and S8+, but is slightly larger and includes a stylus called an “S pen,” which slips into the device. The Note 8 is really big for a phone; it is also really important for the success of Samsung. The most important thing is that it doesn’t explode, hopefully.
The Powerball jackpot for Wednesday’s drawing is up to a little more than $700 million. After taking the lump sum and paying the taxes, you would end up with less than half that amount, but that’s still a lot of money. Even if you had to split the jackpot with another winner, it is still a lot of money. Your odds of hitting the jackpot are about 292-million to one, so you really don’t have to worry about what to do if you win. Good luck.