Financial Review

More on the Panama Papers

ISM report, JOLT survey, trade deficit, home prices – plus the Panama Papers claims its first PM.

Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 04-05-2016

DOW – 133 = 17,603
SPX – 20 = 2045
NAS – 47 = 4843
10 Y – .05 = 1.73%
OIL + .86 = 36.56
GOLD + 15.90 = 1232.20

 

Companies in the U.S. service sector such as health care providers and retailers grew in March at the fastest pace since December. The Institute for Supply Management said its nonmanufacturing index rose to 54.5% in March from 53.4% in February. Readings over 50% signal more businesses are expanding instead of contracting.

 

Companies reduced the number of job openings but hired more aggressively in February. The Labor Department’s JOLT survey shows the number of job openings fell to 5.45 million from 5.6 million in January. That’s still the second highest level since July. The hiring rate recovered, to 3.8% from 3.6% in January. The quits rate, a measure of the willingness to leave one job for another, also recovered, to 2.1% from 2% in January.

 

The U.S. trade deficit widened 2.6% in February largely because of an uptick in imports, marking the third increase in a row and the biggest gap since the end of last summer. The deficit increased to a seasonally adjusted $47.1 billion from a revised $45.9 billion in January. The rise in imports suggests Americans may have boosted spending a bit.

 

Corelogic reports home prices nationwide, including distressed sales, increased year-over-year by 6.8 percent in February 2016 compared with February 2015 and increased 1.1% month-over-month in February 2016 compared with January 2016. The two states with the biggest yearly price gains in February were Washington and Colorado. Home prices there rose 12.4% and 10.5%, respectively, over the previous 12 months. Arizona posted a 6.6% gain over the past 12 months.
Chicago Fed President Charles Evans has repeated his call for just two U.S. interest-rate hikes this year, stating that the risks to his forecast for economic growth are weighted to the downside. “A very shallow funds rate path, such as the one envisioned by the median FOMC participant in March, is the most appropriate.” Evans, who does not vote on monetary policy this year, expects the U.S. economy to expand by 2%-2.5% in 2016.

 

Authorities across the globe have opened investigations into the activities of the world’s rich and powerful after leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm showed possible wrongdoing using offshore company structures. The “Panama Papers” have cast light on high profile politicians and public figures and the companies and financial institutions they use for purposes of tax evasion or money laundering. Among those named in the documents are friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin and relatives of the leaders of China, Britain, Iceland and Pakistan, and the president of Ukraine. France, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands are among nations that have commenced investigations, and some other countries, including the United States, said they were looking into the matter.

 

Today, Iceland’s Prime Minister, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, has become the first major casualty of the Panama Papers; as protesters took to the streets, he stepped down today. Gunnlaugsson’s office said in a statement that he was not resigning, but “handing over the office of prime minister for an unspecified time”. Gunnlaugsson once owned – and his wife still owns – an offshore investment company with multimillion-dollar claims on Iceland’s failed banks. He failed to disclose his stake in the company when he became prime minister in 2013.

 

So far, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has only been able to identify 211 people with U.S. addresses who own companies in the data (not all of whom we’ve been able to investigate yet). We don’t know if those 211 people are necessarily U.S. citizens. And that figure covers only data from recent years available on a Mossack Fonseca internal database – not all 11.5 million files from the leak. It is expected that many more names will be released. So far no well-known US politicians, or business leaders have been named.  McClatchy DC, reported that in four separate cases the Panama-based law firm helped register offshore companies for individuals who are now either accused or convicted of serious financial crimes.

 

One of the more shocking aspects of the documents is that Mossack Fonseca had a subsidiary to create American offshore corporations in Nevada. Legal papers filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas claimed that the Panama-based law firm had created 123 companies in Nevada that had been used by a crony of Argentina’s former president to steal millions of dollars from government contracts. A subpoena demanded that Mossack Fonseca turn over details about any money that had flowed through the Nevada companies. Mossack Fonesca didn’t want to provide this information. For a firm that specializes in setting up hard-to-trace offshore companies for clients around the world, confidentiality is a must. The law firm tried to block the subpoena by denying that its Las Vegas operations. But secret records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists show that the Nevada subsidiary was wholly owned by Mossack Fonseca and the firm took steps to wipe potentially damaging records from phones and erase computer files to keep details of their clients from the United States justice system. Destruction of documents with the intent to impede or obstruct an investigation is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in jail under US law.  The Department of Justice says they are aware of the reports and take them seriously.

 

Offshore companies aren’t illegal—not inherently, anyway. But using them to hide assets from tax authorities, thwart investigations, and protect criminals is. Offshore corporations have one main purpose – to create anonymity. Recently leaked documents reveal that some of these shell companies, cloaked in secrecy, provide cover for dictators, politicians and tax evaders.

 

So, while we wait for more names to be revealed, the strange thing is how muted the reaction has been in the US. Very little media coverage; maybe that will change when names of US clients of Mossack Fonseca are revealed. Why should you care? The money the law firm helps to hide should be used to pay for your schools, your highways, your hospitals; instead, you get stuck with the tax bill. The criminals it works with run the most violent illegal organizations in the world, including here in the US or that threaten the US. The politicians who have taken and made bribes, dodged taxes, and amassed fortunes of unimaginable scale are your politicians; and those politicians aren’t working for you, they work for the people paying the bribes.

 

 

Shares of Allergan dropped 20% in heavy volume after the US Treasury announced new rules to curb corporate tax inversion that could complicate the company’s $160 billion takeover by drug giant Pfizer. Late Monday, the Treasury Department said it is stepping up the battle to make it less attractive for US companies to relocate overseas and pay a lower tax rate without making significant changes in their business operations. Allergan is based in Dublin, Ireland, while Pfizer is based in New York; Pfizer planned to move its global headquarters to Ireland after the deal but keep its administrative headquarters in the US.

 

Valeant Pharmaceuticals said a special ad hoc board committee has found no additional accounting issues at the company that would require more restatements, and that it plans to file its annual report on or before April 29. The committee was also looking into Valeant’s now-terminated relationship with the mail-order pharmacy Philidor Rx Services LLC, after a short seller raised questions last year about whether it was using Philidor to inflate sales.

 

Succession planning at the world’s largest media company has fallen into disarray after Tom Staggs, Walt Disney’s chief operating officer and the heir apparent to CEO Robert Iger, unexpectedly said he would step down. Staggs decided on the move because he didn’t receive assurances from the board that he would succeed Iger. Although he’ll stay on as a special advisor, Disney will evaluate a “robust slate of candidates” to select a new COO.

 

A federal judge in New Orleans has granted final approval to the $20 billion settlement from the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, resolving years of litigation over the incident. The deal, first announced in July, includes $5.5 billion in civil Clean Water Act penalties, and billions more to cover environmental damage and other claims by five Gulf states and their local governments. The money will be paid over a 16-year period.

 

Banks are paying more attention to large cash transfers that could be a sign of money laundering or other shady activity. JPMorgan Chase has now capped ATM withdrawals at $1,000 per card daily for noncustomers across its 18,000 locations nationwide. However, the move doesn’t affect the bank’s own customers, whose maximum daily withdrawals are set depending on the client’s account type.

 

Peugeot Citroen plans to re-enter the U.S. market after a more than two decade absence as part of an ambitious global push to move away from its overreliance on Europe. The French automaker, whose turnaround under chief executive Carlos Tavares brought it back from the brink of disaster, has unveiled a six-year plan to boost profits and margins: cost-cutting, fresh technology, new markets, self-driving and electric cars, and investments in ride-sharing startups.

 

In the first three months of 2016, not a single technology company went public, according to data compiled by Dealogic. Since 1993, when the firm started collecting data, tech initial offerings have been absent from only three quarters: the third quarter of 2002, the first quarter of 2003 and the first quarter of 2009; in other words, periods of severe market corrections. Why no IPOs in the first quarter of 2016? Who knows?

 

 

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