Monday, June 16, 2014 – Manic Monday
by Sinclair Noe
DOW + 5 = 16,781
SPX + 1 = 1937
NAS + 10 = 4321
10 YR YLD – .01 = 2.59%
OIL – .12 = 106.79
GOLD – 4.20 = 1272.70
SILV un = 19.77
It’s Monday, and that means mergers. Today’s acquisition news comes from Medtronics, the medical device maker, announcing it will acquire Covidien for nearly $43 billion. Medtronics was founded in a garage in Minneapolis in 1949, but they will change their headquarters to Ireland, which is where Covidien has been headquartered since 2009. Covidien is actually a Massachusetts company, and they operate out of Massachusetts. Medtronics will continue to operate out of Minneapolis; the whole deal is about a lower tax rate, and for Medtronics, the ability to repatriate $20 billion in offshore profits, without paying tax.
Meanwhile, the IPO market remains white hot, and 14 companies will come to market this week. So far this year 124 companies have priced in the US, up 57% from a year ago. Total proceeds raised come to $25.8 billion, up almost 41% from 2013.
Data today showed industrial production climbed more than forecast in May. Output at factories, mines and utilities rose 0.6% after a revised 0.3% drop in April that was smaller than previously estimated. In a separate report, the New York Fed’s Empire manufacturing report rose to 19.28, better than expectations.
The Fed FOMC meets later this week to determine monetary policy. After their meeting concludes Wednesday, Fed officials will release their updated projections for interest rates, growth, inflation and unemployment, and also are likely to trim their bond-buying program by an additional $10 billion a month.
The latest report from the International Monetary Fund, the IMF, might suggest the Fed doesn’t need to be in a hurry to exit a Zero Interest Rate Policy. Of course, the IMF doesn’t set Fed policy, but the latest IMF forecast for the US economy cuts the outlook for growth to 2% from the 2.8% predicted back in April; the lower forecast is mainly a result of the weakness in the first quarter. The IMF kept if 2015 forecast unchanged at 3%. The forecast says the economy is starting to rebound but will remain below historical averages as the population ages and productivity growth slows. Their forecasts show we won’t return to full employment until the end of 2017, with inflation remaining low.
The IMF suggests the US raise the minimum wage as one way to boost the economy; other suggestions include more spending on infrastructure and education, plus changing parts of its tax system, including boosting the federal gasoline tax and reinstating the tax credit for research and development, to help spur growth. In the future, policymakers should also reform corporate taxes, introduce a carbon tax and move toward a federal value-added tax.
IMF Director Christine Lagarde says the oil shock that could result from the current tension in Iraq might affect the economy but for that to happen, the shock would have to be rather deep and rather long-lasting. You’ll probably start seeing the price increase at the pump, as prices hover just below $107 a barrel. And oil prices are being whipsawed by the headlines; if we see fighting in Baghdad, we could easily see prices pop up to $120 a barrel.
Iraq, excluding the Kurdish region, holds 150 billion barrels in proven crude reserves, the world’s fifth-biggest deposits. A pipeline from the Kirkuk region to Turkey has been shut down since March, and now Kurdish troops are defending the Kirkuk oilfields from ISIL rebels. Even if the rebels are turned back, the Iraqi government in Baghdad may have a hard time displacing Kurdish troops in the future.
Meanwhile, Ukraine said Russia cut natural gas supplies after demanding fuel payments be made in advance, the first time shipments have been affected in this year’s crisis in relations between the two countries. Tensions escalated over the weekend with 49 servicemen killed when pro-Russia fighters shot down an aircraft.
British climate change economist Lord Nicholas Stern says our current models “grossly underestimate” the economic damage that will be wrought by climate change. In 2006 Stern wrote a scientific paper that estimated the externalized costs of burning fossil fuels will impact the world economy by five per cent to 20 per cent of global GDP, which would work out to between $2.3 trillion and $9.1 trillion each year. Now, Stern says he “got it wrong on climate change; it’s far, far worse.” So, Stern and a colleague, Simon Dietz just published a new preliminary paper that makes a few key updates, and now Stern believes that “climate change is the greatest markets failure the world has ever seen.”
The old model looks at any point in time, measures the economy’s productive capacity, and then gauges how much climate change will dampen that productivity in that moment. But climate change can also reduce that productive capacity itself. Stronger storms can damage infrastructure; sea level rise can force people to abandon homes, businesses or equipment; and climate damage can channel more investment into repairs and away from creating new capital. Stern and Dietz account for that, and the result is a double hit: at any given moment, the effects of climate change are reducing the economy’s ability to produce wealth, but they’re also reducing the economy’s overall capacity to produce wealth at future moments.
Other factors in modeling climate change’s economic effects are what scientists call “tipping points”; moments when global warming kicks off feedback loops in the planetary ecology that cause the effects to speed up. Examples of tipping points include the polar ice melting in a way that results in sudden huge collapses rather than gradual melting; or melting permafrost in the northern hemisphere releasing underground methane that in turn speeds up global warming even more. They can also include second-order social effects that damage economies: drought and food scarcity kicking off wars or mass refugee movements, for instance.
June is a big month for the Supreme Court and several major rulings are expected in the next few weeks, and some cases have already been decided.
Last Thursday, the Supremes announced opinions on only two of the 22 cases it has in front of it: POM Wonderful v. Coca-Cola which deals with whether a company can sue another one for unfair competition based on false or misleading product descriptions; and Clark v. Rameker, which weighs whether individual retirement account (IRA) inheritance can be exempted from Chapter 7 bankruptcy under the “retirement funds” exemption.
In the POM case, the court ruled that POM, a company that makes pomegranate juices, had the right to sue Coca-Cola for falsely advertising one of its juices as being made mostly of pomegranate and blueberry juice when it was actually made of apple and grape juices. POM, which makes a special pomegranate-blueberry juice blend, claimed it lost sales as a result of Cola-Cola’s false labeling. The ruling reversed a decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which essentially said POM lacked the legal standing to sue because of a conflict with state and federal law.
In Clark v. Rameker, the court ruled that IRA inheritance funds do not meet the “retirement funds” exemption and must be included as part of the estate in the bankruptcy process. Because an IRA is intended for the retirement of the person who originally put the funds into the account, and an inherited IRA functions essentially as a fund that can be used at any time and not just for retirement, the exemption does not apply.
Today, the Supreme Court handed Argentina two major defeats in cases brought by bondholders who refused to accept reduced payments after the country’s 2001 default. The Supremes decided against hearing Argentina’s appeal of an order requiring it to pay holders of defaulted notes from 2001 when making payments on its restructured debt. The next payment on those bonds comes due June 30. Shortly after the first decision, the Supremes handed down another ruling allowing the bondholders to issue subpoenas to banks in an effort to trace Argentina’s assets abroad.
The inaction by the Supreme Court is a victory for the minority of investors, led by a hedge fund controlled by billionaire Paul Singer, who have refused to exchange their defaulted bonds for about 30 cents on the dollar. Argentina calls those investors “vultures” because they bought many of the bonds post-default at a discount, angling to eventually collect a windfall; in other words, they bought the bonds for pennies on the dollar, refused to accept 30 cents on the dollar, and the Supremes say they now must be paid the full face amount of the bonds.
In response to today’s decisions, lawyers for Argentina wrote: “Since Argentina lacks the financial resources to pay the holdouts in full (what would amount to $15 billion) while also servicing its restructured debt to 92 percent of bondholders, Argentina will have to face, objectively, a serious and imminent risk of default.”
Argentina claimed that lower-court rulings misread Argentina’s bond agreements and violated its immunity as a sovereign nation. In court filings, the Argentine government has said it would comply with lower-court rulings. But in public pronouncements, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has vowed not to pay a group of creditors she has referred to as “predators.”
Also today, the Supremes dealt a rare blow to the gun lobby Monday by ruling that purchasers must report when they are buying firearms for other people.
Other rulings expected this week might include Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, which deals with whether a for-profit company has to provide contraceptive care for its employees if the owner has a religious objection, even though the employees are entitled to it through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.
Also, American Broadcasting Company v. Aereo, which should be of interest if you watch TV over the internet. Aereo is a Web startup company that allows consumers to pay an $8 or $12 subscription fee to watch their local TV networks live on any Internet-connected device. The major broadcasters say this amounts to theft of their product.
And a couple of cases that deal with the Fourth Amendment: Riley v. California, and United States v. Wurie; both cases are about whether the police have to obtain a warrant to search an individual’s cellphone when an arrest is made.