Financial Review

Populist Airlines

…..3Q finishes on bullish highs. GOP tax scheme doesn’t add up. Tom Price flies into sunset. Consumer spending barely budges. PCE slips. Equifax freeze. Whole Food hack. Puerto Rico’s credit vultures. VW pays more. EVs cost less. Musk’ BFR.

Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 09-29-2017

 

DOW + 23 = 22,405
SPX + 9 = 2519
NAS + 42 = 6495
RUT + 2 = 1490
10 Y + .02 = 2.33%
OIL + .02 = 51.58
GOLD – 7.30 = 1280.40

 

The S&P, Nasdaq and Russell 2000 closed at records for the third straight day and the benchmark S&P index posted its sixth straight month of gains. Add another notch in the over 8-year old bull market. Today marked the 38th session in 2017 in which the S&P 500 hit an intraday record level. September is normally a bad month in the markets but not this year. For September, the Dow gained 2.1 percent, the S&P rose 1.9 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 1.05 percent. Of the 11 primary S&P 500 sectors, nine posted positive returns over the month. And while Apple has stumbled in September, it remains the biggest contributor to the S&P for the year to date. Even the dollar posted a monthly gain for the first time since February.

 

 

 

And the third quarter numbers are good across the board with basically all regions, sectors, commodities, and bond categories seeing gains over the period. The S&P 500 and the Dow Industrials have posted 8 consecutive winning quarters. The S&P has gained a little over 33% in that 2 year stretch and the Dow is up about 37%. The fourth quarter is historically the strongest of the year. Since 1950, the S&P gains an average of 3.9% over the quarter, and the final three months of the year are positive nearly 80% of the time. For the third quarter, the Dow gained 4.9%, the S&P up 4%, the Nasdaq Composite was up 5.8%, and the Russell 2000 added 5.4%.

 

A couple of days since Trump unveiled his tax proposal, claiming it would be the “biggest ever” tax cut. He called it a “middle class miracle”. The only miracle would be if the middle class saw the tax cuts. We are now getting analysis of the proposal. The Tax Policy Center crunched the numbers to come up with a preliminary estimate of the plan’s costs and beneficiaries. The biggest winner would be the richest 1 percent of U.S. taxpayers, who would get more than half of the benefits of the plan. Over time, the plan would increase the tax burden on about 28 percent of middle-class workers. And, if enacted, the package would blow a $2.4 trillion hole in the federal budget. The deficit hawks and austerity mongers have fallen strangely silent. The tax legislation can advance only after House and Senate passage of the budget blueprint. The Senate Budget Committee intends to vote on its plan next week. A companion measure is headed for a House vote next week as well. The new budget plan would permit the upcoming tax measure to add $1.5 trillion over the coming decade to the $20 trillion national debt. The Tax Policy Center finds the GOP tax plan would reduce federal revenues by $2.4 trillion over the next decade. That means the plan will most likely have to change substantially to make the math work. One option would be to further eliminate deductions to squeeze another $700 billion in tax revenue into the plan. It is going to be hard to find offsets, and many proposals will meet stiff resistance from interest groups.

 

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has resigned his post just a week after it was learned he was a frequent flyer on chartered and military flights that cost American taxpayers more than $1 million. Politico first reported that Price had frequently chartered private jets to travel around the country, breaking a long-standing precedent from his predecessors who often flew commercial. There were dozens of private flights, costing more than $400,000, since May. Plus, Price also flew to Africa, Europe and Asia this spring on military aircraft at a cost of more than $500,000.  Price’s departure comes as several other members of the Trump administration are under fire for their proclivity for using private jets. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have all used such aircraft at taxpayer’s expense.

 

Consumer spending barely rose in August likely as Hurricane Harvey weighed on auto sales, while annual inflation increased at its slowest pace in nearly two years, pointing to a moderation in economic growth in the third quarter. Consumer spending edged up 0.1 percent last month, which followed a 0.3 percent increase in July. Part of the weakness is likely attributable to hurricane Harvey. However, the government could not separately quantify the total impact of Harvey on the data. Inflation remained muted in August, with the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index excluding food and energy rising 0.1 percent. The so-called core PCE has advanced by the same margin for four straight months. As a result, the annual increase in the core PCE price index slowed to 1.3 percent in August after advancing 1.4 percent in July. That was the smallest year-on-year increase since November 2015. The core PCE is the Fed’s preferred inflation measure and has been undershooting its 2 percent target since 2012. When adjusted for inflation, consumer spending slipped 0.1 percent in August, the first drop since January.

 

In the wake of the Equifax security breach, where the credit reporting company just forgot to protect 143 million American’s personal information – people have rushed to freeze their credit reports to prevent fraudulent activity. It’s a smart move. But what happens if everybody freezes their credit reports? You can un-freeze your report if you want to open up a new line of credit to buy something but that’s a bit of a hassle. The time required to remove restrictions could thwart issuance of new credit cards, especially store credit cards that offer instant discounts on purchases. Second thoughts could lead drivers to spend less on cars when they reconsider how much they will have to borrow for more expensive models.

 

Another day, another hack. Whole Foods is facing a credit-card security breach. The grocery chain, which Amazon acquired for $13.7 billion in late August, announced it “recently received information regarding unauthorized access of payment card information.” People who only shopped for groceries at Whole Foods should not be affected, according to the company, which said only venues such as taprooms and table-service restaurants located within stores — which use a different point-of-sales system — were affected.

 

Puerto Rico is still trying to dig out from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The situation is horrible and aid is not getting to people in need, not nearly fast enough anyway. It was just a matter of time before the vultures started circling. Puerto Rico has rejected a bondholder group’s offer to issue the territory additional debt as a response to the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Officials with Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority said the offer was “not viable” and would harm the island’s ability to recover from the storm.

 

The PREPA (Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority) Bondholder Group made the offer on Wednesday, which included $1 billion in new loans, and a swap of $1 billion in existing bonds for another $850 million bond. These new bonds would have jumped to the front of the line for repayment, and between that increased value and interest payments after the first two years, the bondholders would have likely come out ahead on the deal, despite a nominal $150 million in debt relief.

 

Indeed, the offer was worse in terms of debt relief than one the bondholder group made in April, well before hurricanes destroyed much of the island’s critical infrastructure. Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority suggested that profit motive rather than altruism was the bondholder group’s real goal. The fiscal agency said creditor groups should “refrain from making unsolicited financing offers at the expense of the people of Puerto Rico.”

 

Volkswagen is taking another $3 billion charge to fix diesel engines in the United States, lifting the total bill for its emissions-test cheating scandal to around $30 billion. Last year, VW agreed with U.S. authorities to spend up to $15.3 billion to buy back or fix up to 475,000 2.0-litre polluting diesel cars. On Friday, VW said it was setting aside an additional $3.0 billion as hardware fixes for the models were proving tougher than expected and would take significantly longer.  Meanwhile in Germany, prosecutors said they had arrested a former Porsche management board member, the first top executive within the group to be detained amid a widening probe into cheating at VW’s Audi brand.

 

Electric vehicles now account for six of the ten fastest selling used car models in the US. Compared to the 33.4 days that conventional cars sit on the market, electric and plug-in electric hybrid vehicles now sell within 24.6 days on average, or 27% faster than gasoline cousins. Although EVs accounts for just 1% of total US new car sales, their low price and rising reputation is leading to a brisk business. The FIAT 500e was the fastest selling used EV this year, in part due to its low average selling price of $9,055

 

Elon Musk has finally explained how SpaceX could make money: through a rocket that can both deliver goods to space and fly people from New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes. Musk made big promises for the reusable “B.F.R.” (the “B” stands for “big” and the “R” for “rocket”), as unveiled at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia. He said it will be able to:  Land on the moon;  Ferry cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station;  Fly people around the world in less than an hour. And he claims he’ll do it for the price of economy on a regular plane.

 

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