Financial Review

November Gains

…Stocks eke out gains for week and month. G20 hopes for and end to trade wars. Trump meets Xi. Putin meets MbS. NAFTA signed but not a done deal. Marriott breach. More Deutsche Bank raids.

Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 11-30-2018

DOW + 199 = 25,538
SPX + 22 = 2760
NAS + 57 = 7330
RUT + 7 = 1533
10 Y – .02 = 3.01%
OIL – .73 = 50.72
GOLD – 1.80 = 1222.10

The Dow Industrials were down more than 80 points at session low. A rally into the close helped to finish the best week for the Dow in more than 2 years. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq posted their biggest weekly percentage gains in nearly 7 years. All three major U.S. indexes recorded modest monthly percentage gains for November. For the week, the Dow gained 4.7%, the S&P was up 4.5%, and the Nasdaq popped for a 5.2% gain.  For the month of November the Dow gained 1.3%, the S&P was up 1.5%, and the Nasdaq was down 0.1%. Year to date, all three indices are back in positive territory, with the Dow and the S&P both up 2.9%, and the Nasdaq Composite up 5.7% since the start of the year. Crude oil posted its biggest monthly loss since October 2008, with prices slumping more than 20% in November. Safe haven investors have moved to Treasuries, pushing the 10-year yield to critical levels of support;  that leaves the spread between the 2-year and the 10-year at just 21 basis points.


The Group of 20 Summit is on, and world leaders plan to discuss the global economy and security, and possibly some discussion about some of the more erratic members. Trump is to meet with China President Xi Jinping. Trump is facing pressure from lawmakers on both sides at home to take a tougher stance against the Saudi crown prince, Muhammed bin Salman, rather than defend him as a reformer and a facilitator of lower oil prices for the U.S. economy. Trump also didn’t pay much attention to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who found himself snubbed for the second time in a month after Trump used Twitter to torpedo their planned meeting in Argentina. Trump cited Putin’s recent provocations against Ukraine, although the optics of him meeting the Russian leader at a time of renewed focus on his business dealings with Moscow were potentially not great. The world will have to wait a little longer for an update on how Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are getting on. They are scheduled to meet over dinner on Saturday as they seek to keep trade tensions from erupting into a full-throttle Cold War.


Another question is whether leaders can agree on a final communique and, if they do, whether it’s so watered down as to be meaningless. The meeting comes against the backdrop of populist governments and Trump’s questioning of the system of trade rules that has underpinned global commerce for decades. European leaders like Macron have led the push to preserve that multilateral system. Twice this year the entire communique process has collapsed. At June’s Group of 7 meeting in Canada, Trump withdrew U.S. support for the document he had just agreed to, upset about the treatment by his host Justin Trudeau amid bilateral tensions over trade. No final statement was reached at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea this month, as China and the U.S. clashed, again over trade.


Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is the president-elect of Mexico. Tomorrow is the inauguration. During the campaign, Lopez Obrador gave every impression that he planned to work with international investors to attract capital to Mexico.


When Lopez Obrador won office by a landslide on July 1, the peso and the stock market rose, buoyed by his conciliatory tone. The rally continued when Mexico and the United States reached a deal to rework the NAFTA trade pact in late August. But the mood has since changed. Lopez Obrador, who takes office on Saturday, began saying in September that Mexico was “bankrupt.” When he canceled a new $13 billion Mexico City airport on Oct. 29 on the basis of a widely-derided referendum, investors took flight. Decisions such as the airport cancellation have fed investors’ concerns he could push Mexico toward a more authoritarian, arbitrary and partisan form of government. Mexico’s S&P/BVM IPC stock index has tumbled 18 percent since the market’s post-election peak on Aug. 28, while the peso has fallen around 8 percent against the dollar. Over the same three-month period, the MSCI Emerging Markets index has fallen about 7 percent. Bond yields on Mexican 10-year sovereign debt have jumped 121 basis points, a sign investors see it as a riskier bet.


Lopez Obrador wants to revive Pemex, increase pensions and spur development in the poorer south to contain illegal immigration. He has targeted 4% GDP growth. Lopez Obrador says rooting out corruption will free up billions of dollars, while he intends to save more with pay cuts for civil servants. Before Lopez Obrador takes office, we have action on NAFTA,  or USMCA. The G20 economic summit kicked off in Buenos Aires this morning with Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and outgoing Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, signing the North American trade pact after 14 months of acrimonious negotiations. Trudeau emerged from his “special place in hell” to mildly celebrate the trade pact. The Canadian news media presented the deal as a sign that, at least for now, a full-on trade skirmish had ended, however Canada had been “reluctant to have a celebratory signing of a free trade deal marred by tariffs that suggest anything but true free trade.” Trudeau urged Trump to remove punishing tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Canada, saying they imposed a “major obstacle” on the Canadian economy. We don’t yet know if Mexico’s new president Lopez Obrador has any specific trade requests. Back home, the revised NAFTA deal still requires the approval of Congress. With Democrats having won control of the House in the midterm elections, the president faces the challenge of convincing skeptics in both parties that he made enough improvements to NAFTA.


The latest incarnation of the trade deal still needs work. Trump and Democrats could reach a deal next year to ensure passage of the agreement but that it would need to go further to address labor, environmental and outsourcing concerns. Of course, all sorts of crazy, non-NAFTA things could happen between now and then. Another way of saying that despite the official signing – NAFTA is not a done deal.


There seems to be one thing that we can count on, with infallible accuracy – corporations will not protect the personal information of customers. The latest data breach comes from the Marriott hotel chain. The database of its Starwood reservation system was hacked and the personal details of up to 500 million guests going as far back as 2014 was compromised. The hotel group, which runs more than 6,700 properties around the world, was informed in September about an attempt to access the database, and an investigation this month revealed that unauthorized access had been made on or before Sept. 10. Hackers also obtained encrypted credit-card information for some customers, but it was unclear if the hackers would be able to use those payment details. Marriott said it wasn’t sure how many passport numbers and dates of birth were stolen but said that it was a “subset” of the larger number of affected consumers, since this information is not a part of every reservation. Marriott shares dropped 5.6% today. At some point, I keep thinking corporate America will step up and address the issues of customer privacy, but that might be wishful thinking. The reality is that there is almost zero deterrence, and until that changes, don’t expect the abuse of your privacy to change.


Marriott’s filing with the SEC on Friday said it was alerted by an internal security tool on Sept. 8 of a potential breach to its U.S. database. The company began an investigation that found the Starwood guest database may have been compromised since 2014. Marriott acquired Starwood in September, 2016. This is not the first cyber breach at Starwood. Hackers stole payment-card information during a data breach in 2015 that lasted nearly eight months at 54 locations. Marriott filed its most recent quarterly report with the SEC on Nov. 6 for the period ending Sep 30, 2018. The company’s filing occurred after it was alerted of a potential breach on Sept. 8 and began an investigation, but it did not contain any mention of the breach, only a description of generic cyber risk factors. The SEC’s updated 24-page interpretive release on cybersecurity disclosures acknowledges that there is no existing requirement in the securities laws that explicitly refers to cybersecurity risks and cyber incidents. The updated guidance says that companies are required to disclose “material” information, that may be necessary to make the required financial statements, “not misleading.” So, no legal requirement to protect customers, but a legal requirement not to lie to shareholders.


A second day of police raids at Deutsche Bank targeted the offices of its management board as German authorities said they’re making “very rapid” progress investigating suspected money laundering. All eight members of the panel had their offices searched. In a statement late Friday, the firm said neither current nor former board members have been accused of wrongdoing. Yet with the bank’s leadership now drawn closer to the probe, its shares tumbled to a record low. The firm’s supervisory board is set to gather Tuesday, and the latest developments are likely to top its discussions. The inquiry touches the bank’s private wealth unit, part of the expansive Private & Commercial Bank division run by Christian Sewing before he rose to chief executive officer in April. According to the company, prosecutors are targeting employees who failed to report money laundering.

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