Pick a Lane
Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 11-17-2015
DOW + 6 = 17,489
SPX – 2 = 2050
NAS + 1 = 4986
10 YR YLD – .01 = 2.26%
OIL – .95 = 40.79
GOLD – 12.30 = 1070.80
SILV – .06 = 14.29
Global equity markets moved higher today, following the rally yesterday on Wall Street and brushed off concerns related to Friday’s terror attacks in Paris. In their final communique from a summit in Turkey, the leaders of the world’s largest economies stuck to a goal of lifting their collective output by an extra 2% by 2018, even though growth remains uneven and weaker than expected globally. G20 leaders also endorsed plans to address Syria’s refugee crisis, taxation, climate change, cyber security and inequality.
France launched another set of airstrikes on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria early Tuesday as the country steps up its response to last week’s deadly attacks. The bombings follow a second night of home searches in France and Belgium to catch those responsible and linked to the killings. President Francois Hollande is now looking to expand his powers under France’s state-of-emergency statute and has called on the U.S. and Russia to form a “big unified coalition” to destroy ISIS.
Meanwhile, Russian officials said they had found evidence that the passenger jet that crashed in Egypt last month was downed by a bomb, the first time those investigating the crash have cited proof of a terrorist attack. Russia’s military doubled its attacks in Syria on Tuesday. President Putin ordered Russian naval forces in the Mediterranean to work as allies with French warships in attacking ISIS targets in Syria; not necessarily a France-Russia alliance, but certainly greater military coordination.
The consumer price index increased by a seasonally adjusted 0.2% in October. The CPI measures prices at the retail level and is used to determine cost of living adjustments. The cost of housing and medical care, two of the biggest expenses for most families, climbed again and are running above a 3% annual rate. Rents rose 0.3% in October and medical care jumped 0.7%, the biggest increase in five months. Food prices, meanwhile, rose just 0.1%, marking the smallest gain in five months. Energy prices advanced 0.3%, even though the price of gasoline was down last month. The discrepancy comes from seasonal adjustments. Overall inflation is up 0.2% in the past year. Core prices, excluding food and energy, are up 1.9% in the past 12 months.
Separately, a new report from Aon Hewitt shows health insurance costs for employees of midsize and large companies averaged $4,700 in 2015; that’s up 130% from $2,001 in 2005. The report shows 38% of employers have increased their participants’ deductibles and/or copays in the last year, and another 46% may do so in the future. Employers are making cutbacks in health coverage in other ways, too. Some 18% of companies are reducing subsidies for covered dependents, and 17% are adding a surcharge for adult dependents who have access to other health coverage. Plus, 43% of companies are considering using unitized pricing, in which employees pay per person instead of individual versus family.
So there are some signs of inflation in some areas but no indication that inflation is overheating, at least according to the headline inflation numbers. Still, for most of us, it seems like there is inflation; housing and rents have increased, health care, education, and food prices seem to be on the rise. Even wages are starting to show gains. The economy has added jobs at a rapid pace over the past few years, putting some upward pressure on wages and reducing the unemployment rate to 5%. The government said real, or inflation-adjusted, hourly wages advanced 0.2% in October. Real wages have climbed 2.4% in the past 12 months.
You’re not just imagining it. Prices are going up, except for commodities. And the price of energy has an oversized influence on the annual inflation rate. The Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation is the Personal Consumption Expenditures index, or PCE, which is running at a 1.3% annualized pace; still below the Fed’s target of 2% inflation but likely to rise quickly with expected increases to health care premiums over the next few months.
Now add fiscal policy to the mix. After years of gridlock the government has finally approved a 2 year budget, and it actually includes some spending; it will likely add 0.3% to gross domestic product, rather than subtracting 2% from growth; it might even result in a few government jobs, rather than cutting government jobs. And those government workers will go out and spend their paychecks on Main Street, adding to demand and circulating money through the economy. Next year will be the first since 2010 that fiscal policy adds to growth. For years, Fed Chair Bernanke (and more recently Chair Yellen) complained about headwinds from fiscal policy, or the lack thereof. Now we are about to see a shift from monetary policy alone to fiscal policy – a passing of the baton, which is always the most perilous part of a relay; too early or too late, and the race comes to a grinding halt.
The next concern is whether fiscal policy is capable of running with the baton (to extend the analogy), and staying in the correct lane. If government spending goes to projects that improve productivity – things like infrastructure and education – then it will likely improve growth. French President Francois Hollande said he will step up spending on security in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, but this type of spending is not likely to result in economic growth. So, it’s not just a matter of changing from monetary policy to fiscal policy, it is important that something is actually accomplished with the stimulus. This has been the big drawback of monetary policy; the Fed dropped money on Wall Street but it never made it to Main Street.
A new Reuters analysis shows that corporate spending on buybacks and dividends has surged relative to investment in long-term growth through R&D and other forms of capital spending, in a troubling sign that corporate America may be undermining itself. Almost 60% of the 3,297 publicly traded non-financial U.S. companies examined bought back their shares since 2010. In fiscal 2014 alone, the total amount returned to shareholders (including share repurchases and dividends) reached $885 billion, way more than the companies’ combined net income of $847 billion. And the spending on buybacks, or financial engineering squeezes out investments in R&D, which has dropped.
Industrial production fell 0.2% in October but manufacturing output advanced 0.4% in October. Overall production was held down by a drop in mining and utility output. In addition, the Fed revised August production higher to a 0.1% gain from previous estimate of a 0.1% drop. As a result, industrial production was up at a 2.6% annual rate in the third quarter.
The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo housing market index pulled back 3 points to 62, slightly below expectations but up from 58 a year ago. A reading over 50 signals improvement. Builders have reported strong results in the most recent earnings season. D.R. Horton, the largest US homebuilder, reported a 44% jump in profit in the most recent quarter, with orders up 19%. Lennar, the number-two builder by volume, also reported profit and revenue that were better than expected. Orders rose more than 10%.
Greece has reached a preliminary deal with its international lenders on home foreclosures reform, removing a major obstacle holding up fresh bailout loans for the debt-laden country. The changes will see Athens qualify for a €2-billion-euro sub-tranche of new financial aid to pay off state arrears and €10-billion-euro in funds to help recapitalize the country’s four main banks.
Walmart beats. Walmart earned $1.03 per share from continuing operations in the third quarter, but $0.99 excluding adjustments to its leases. Still, that was marginally higher than the $0.98 expected by analysts. Comparable-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, at Walmart’s US stores were up 1.5%. E-commerce sales were up by 10%.
Home Depot beats. The do-it-yourself home-improvement chain earned $1.36 per share in third quarter, beating expectations for $1.32. This was driven by a healthy 5.1% gain in comparable-store sales, which was better than the 4.6% expected by analysts.
Urban Outfitters missed. Urban Outfitters reported record third quarter sales that missed estimates, and earnings per share matched estimates, but comparable-store sales climbed by just 1% during the period, missing expectations for 3.4% growth. The news came after shares dropped 7.4% following the company’s announcement that it acquired a group of restaurants including the fast-casual chain Pizzeria Vetri. Apparently I’m not the only one who fails to see the synergy between retail clothing and pizza.
Shares of Dick’s Sporting Goods are getting clobbered. Dick’s reported third quarter adjusted earnings of $0.45 per share, missing expectations by a penny. Same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, were up 0.4% in the quarter across the company, less than the 1.9% increase that was expected. And then the salt on the wound: the company lowered fourth quarter guidance.
A New York state judge denied a temporary restraining order sought by daily fantasy sports companies DraftKings and FanDuel in an effort to keep operating in the state after NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman deemed the games to be illegal gambling. The government will now move for an injunction against the companies which will be heard in court on Nov. 25. DraftKings continues to operate as usual in New York despite the pressure from Schneiderman’s office, but FanDuel stopped taking new deposits from state players on Friday.
A US House of Representatives investigative panel plans to hold a 2016 hearing on skyrocketing drug costs. Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging launched a probe into drug pricing at Valeant and Turing, signaling growing bipartisan agreement over the need to review prescription medicine costs across the nation.