Milk and Cookies. Enjoy While You Can.
Financial Review by Sinclair Noe
DOW + 15 = 18,224
SPX – 1 = 2113
NAS – 0.98 = 4967
10 YR YLD – .02 = 1.97%
OIL + 1.75 = 51.03
GOLD + 2.90 = 1205.20
SILV + .22 = 16.64
Another record high for the Dow Industrial Average. These are the days of milk and cookies.
Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen continued her semi-annual Humphrey-Hawkins testimony today in front of the House Financial Services Committee. The prepared opening remarks were identical to the testimony yesterday in the Senate. The Q&A session became a bit testy today as Yellen was accused of political bias. Republicans questioned Yellen about an October speech on inequality, just before the midterm elections, as evidence she was leaning toward the Obama administration and Democrats. Methinks they doth protest too much. There were also calls for an audit of the Fed, historically a nonstarter with Federal Reserve Chairs. It made for generally poor political theater.
The important part of the testimony was fairly easy to find. Keep in mind the Fed has a dual mandate of maximum employment and price stability. So the key statement from Yellen was when she said: “Provided that labor market conditions continue to improve and further improvement is expected, the Committee anticipates that it will be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate when, on the basis of incoming data, the Committee is reasonably confident that inflation will move back over the medium term toward our 2% objective.”
So, higher rates will come with higher inflation, indicating that disinflation and deflation are still a concern for now. The Fed believes that inflation is going to move lower before it moves higher because of oil prices and import prices. As for the timing of when we will see inflation and possible interest rate hikes, Yellen said: “We expect inflation over the medium term — the next two or three years — to move up to our 2% target.”
Greek stocks and bonds surged yesterday, with Athens’ main stock exchange closing almost 10% higher on the day after Eurozone financial ministers approved a four-month extension to the country’s bailout program. Although the list of proposals were accepted, the ministers warned that the reforms must be expanded in detail before new bailout funding would be released.
The German government is now selling five-year bonds with a negative yield. That means investors will pay to lend money to the country for five years. Germany auctioned 3.28 billion euros ($3.72 billion) of bonds due in April 2020 at an average yield of negative 0.08%.
Today the Senate moved to avert a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security. The upper chamber voted 98-2 on a procedural hurdle that would pave the way for a “clean” funding bill to be brought to the floor. It remains unclear when the Senate will vote on final passage on the funding bill. If the Senate passes a clean bill, it would then move over to the House, and it is uncertain if House Speaker John Boehner would allow a vote on such a bill. DHS funding runs out in 2 days.
The White House says President Obama would veto a House Republican effort to rewrite the federal “No Child Left Behind” law. The House bill is expected to pass the chamber later this week. Senate Republicans are working on their own version of No Child Left Behind, which expired in 2007.
New homes sold at annual rate of 481,000 last month, essentially unchanged from December. The Commerce Department reports sales were 5.3% higher in January compared to a year earlier; this despite a drop of 51% in the Northeast, where bad weather kept buyers away. The median price for a new home was up 9% from a year ago.
For all the talk about how lower oil prices would reduce supplies, it hasn’t happened yet. Just the opposite. According to EIA weekly data released today, crude oil in storage in the US jumped 2%, or 8.4 million barrels, to 434 million barrels. Oil storage is bursting at the seams and inventories remain at their highest levels in at least 80 years. The rate of growth of production is slowing slightly but production continues at the highest rate since 1972, for now.
Southwest Airlines took 128 of its jets out of service late Tuesday, or roughly one-fifth of its fleet, after informing federal regulators that it “inadvertently omitted” required maintenance checks on the planes’ backup hydraulic systems. Dozens of flights were immediately canceled as a result, while officials from Southwest and the FAA discussed plans to complete the maintenance checks and return the planes to service.
American Express will raise interest rates on about one million customers. Annual rates will climb by an average of 2.5 percentage points to at least 12.99%. The firm sent letters saying it’s making adjustments after finding their rates were below those for rival cards held by borrowers “with similar credit profiles.” Typically banks make large scale changes in response to broader shifts in interest rates or risk.
Anthem, which earlier this month reported that it was hit by a massive cyberbreach, has concluded that the personal information of 78.8M customers was exposed in the attack, including 8.8M-18.8M people who were members of independently run Blue Cross Blue Shield plans. Anthem still believes the hacked data was restricted to birthdays and Social Security numbers, among other data, but doesn’t appear to have involved medical information or financial details.
Another company that had problems with cybersecurity is Target, but it doesn’t seem to have hurt their most recent results. Target saw a higher-than-expected jump in its fourth-quarter earnings and is forecasting modest growth for the first quarter of 2015. Exiting Canada, as the company recently announced it will do, will cost it $5.1 billion.
Earlier this month Wal-mart announced they would be paying workers at least $9 an hour, increasing to $10 an hour next year. Wal-Mart is of course the largest retailer, and we thought this might ripple out through other retailers. Sure enough. T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and other chains owned by TJX Cos. will be increasing the pay of US workers to at least $9 an hour beginning in June, increasing to $10 an hour next year.
Now for today’s edition of “Banks Behaving Badly”; yet another foreign currency scandal, Reuters reports that BNY Mellon is in settlement talks with the DOJ and New York AG over claims that it defrauded clients in foreign exchange transactions. The bank faces several lawsuits, including class actions, stemming from allegations that it misled clients about how it determined currency exchange rates for certain transactions.
HSBC has a “terrible list of problems,” so says the chairman of HSBC, Douglas Flint. And he admits that he couldn’t rule out further scandals emerging at the bank along the same lines as the tax evasion schemes at HSBC’s Swiss private bank, but he said: “I sincerely hope there are no more skeletons.”
A British parliamentary committee questioned Flint and CEO Stuart Gulliver after the tax evasion schemes were revealed by several news organizations. The news story only came to light 4 years after a former HSBC employee turned over bank files. Some of the clients whose details HSBC’s Swiss operations were sheltering included arms dealers and politicians who were part of discredited regimes, like that of Bashir-al-Assad in Syria. Earlier, when asked why some HSBC clients reportedly came to Switzerland with wads of cash, Flint was lost for words. Still to be determined is why the bank should not be broken up.
Move over Alibaba, you could have company next year. Postal Savings Bank of China, the country’s sixth largest lender by assets, is seeking an initial public offering in 2016 that could make history by bringing in some $25 billion .
In a new S-1, GoDaddy declared plans to list on the NYSE under the symbol “GDDY” and announced IPO underwriters including Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Citi and others. GoDaddy is a fast-growing company which posted revenue of $1.4 billion in 2014, up 23% from 2013 levels, according to the filing. But it’s also a big money loser. The company posted a loss of $143.3 million in 2014, which is the fourth annual loss in a row.