Financial Review

Pottery Barn Rules

….Nasdaq record high. Trump tries to undermine ACA by stopping cost-sharing reductions. Trump decertifies Iran deal. CPI up. COLA will be 2%. Retail sales up. Consumer confidence up. BAC beats. WFC misses. The last Flight 666 to HEL.

Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 10-13-2017

 

DOW + 30 = 22,871
SPX + 2 = 2553
NAS + 14 = 6605
RUT – 2 = 1502
10 Y – .04 = 2.28%
OIL + .80 = 51.40
GOLD + 10.20 = 1304.30

 

The Dow Industrials hit an intraday high but then faded to close just below Wednesday record closing high. The Nasdaq closed at a record high.

 

For the week, the Dow was up 0.4 percent and the S&P 500 was up 0.2 percent, pushing the Dow and the S&P 500 to a fifth straight week of gains. The Nasdaq rose 0.2 percent for the week, registering a third week of gains.

 

Yesterday we told you that Trump had signed an executive order that makes it easier for individuals and small businesses to buy alternative types of health insurance with lower prices, fewer benefits and weaker government protections. Yes, the policies would cost less, but they are basically don’t get sick plans. Still, these junk plans sold through associations could siphon young and healthy patients out of the ACA’s exchanges and create an individual-market death spiral. But the order is vague and subject to likely legal challenges.

 

The administration announced late last night that Trump will immediately halt cost-sharing reductions. These $7 billion in annual subsidies to health insurers allow around 7 million low-income Americans to afford coverage. The ACA requires that insurers subsidize the out-of-pocket health-care costs of some low-income patients, and the government reimburses them — until now. You might think that ending the subsidies to insurers would cut costs, but no. The move could actually force the government to dole out almost $200 billion more on health insurance over the next decade. Here’s why: The insurer payouts Trump cut off aren’t the only government funds financing the program. Consumers also can get help with their insurance premiums. When the insurer subsidies are discontinued, those premiums are pushed higher — and because the consumer subsidies are far bigger than those given to insurers, that’s a costly trade. More than eight in ten individuals who buy Obamacare plans get help paying their premiums directly from the federal government. Those subsidies effectively cap how much people have to pay for insurance as a percentage of their income.

 

Even if premiums climb, people who receive those benefits won’t pay more out of their own pockets. The subsidies are available to people making as much as four times the federal poverty level, or just over $97,000 for a family of four. That means that those most likely to be hurt by the president’s action aren’t low-income people who will still get help with their costs. Instead, consumers who make too much money to qualify for subsidies will now have to pay a much higher price for their health plans. It all adds up to a hefty bill for taxpayers for as long as the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that ending the cost-sharing payments would increase the U.S. fiscal shortfall by $194 billion over the next decade as subsidy outlays jump.

 

The uncertainty about what Trump would do has already driven premium prices higher for 2018. Now it’s going to get worse.  The fifth year’s open-enrollment season for consumers to buy coverage through ACA exchanges will start in less than three weeks, and insurers have said that stopping the cost-sharing payments would be the single greatest step the Trump administration could take to damage the marketplaces. Ending the payments is grounds for any insurer to back out of its federal contract to sell health plans for 2018. After the failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, there was some talk about trying to find ways to make the ACA better, but instead, this is intentionally destroying the marketplace. Obamacare had its problems but it was working and he had a chance to fix those problems. Yes, this is a bargaining tactic to try to revive repeal and replace – the problem is the GOP has not been able to come up with a better replacement. And as a bargaining position, it might not work. The Congressional Budget Office ran projections for just such a possibility. They figure about one million people could lose insurance coverage and the price hikes will be passed along to the federal government. But they also calculate that individual states will figure out schemes to overcome the loss of subsidies. An unusually broad alliance of interests has urged Congress to appropriate the money, signaling just how disruptive their loss could be. Or Congress could decide to just pay the subsidies. Trump tried to shift blame, tweeting that the Democrats Obamacare is imploding. Not true. Remember the Pottery Barn rules: Yes, the plate you just shattered had some cracks in it. But if you throw it on the ground, the store is going to blame you. You break it, you own it.

 

Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign against the Iran nuclear deal came to a head today, when he refused to certify that Iran was in compliance with the agreement. Trump stopped short of withdrawing from the deal or of reimposing sanctions on Iran himself, instead sending the deal back to Congress, which will have 60 days to decide whether to reimplement sanctions or alter legislation that covers US participation in the accord.

 

The consumer price index rose 0.5% in September, the second big increase in a row and the largest in eight months. Three-fourths of the increase in the cost of living stemmed from higher prices at the gas pump as Hurricane Harvey knocked refineries off line. If food and energy are stripped out, core CPI rose a much smaller 0.1%. The recent energy-driven rise in CPI pushed the yearly rate of inflation to 2.2% from 1.9% to match a six-month high. Yet the more closely followed core rate was unchanged at 1.7% for the fifth month in a row. Adjusted for inflation, hourly wages fell 0.1%. Over the past year “real” wages have risen just 0.7%.

 

The Social Security Administration announced today that more than 65 million recipients will get a 2% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2018, after receiving a measly 0.3% boost in 2017 and no increase for inflation in 2016. That means the average benefit for a retired worker will rise by $27 a month to $1,404 in 2018 while the average benefit per retired couple will grow $46 a month to $2,340.  But many recipients will find most or all of that increase eaten up by a jump in the Medicare Part B premiums deducted from their monthly Social Security checks. The COLA affects benefits for more than 70 million U.S. residents, including Social Security recipients, disabled veterans and federal retirees. That’s about one in five Americans.

 

Retail sales in the U.S. leapt 1.6% in September—the largest increase in 2½ years. The boost came from new autos and trucks. Excluding autos, sales rose 1%. And sales excluding autos and gasoline climbed a smaller but still robust 0.5%. Sales of cars and trucks surged last month after a disappointing August. Part of the rebound reflected the purchase of replacement vehicles after many were damaged by hurricane-related flooding in Texas and Florida. Home-supply stores also got a bump in the cleanup that followed the storms. Higher gasoline prices lifted sales at gas stations dealers as well. We weren’t buying more gas, just paying more.

 

The University of Michigan said its consumer sentiment index climbed to a 13-year high of 101.1 in October from 95.1 in September. There were big gains in both the index for current economic conditions, which rose to 116.4 from 111.7, and expectations, which rose to 91.3 from 84.4.

 

Bank of America picked up where JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup left off on Thursday when it reported strong core banking numbers and lackluster trading revenue. Bank of America reported earnings per share of 48 cents on revenue of $22.07 billion. Both numbers topped consensus analyst estimates of 45 cents and $21.97 billion, respectively. BAC also reported a 22 percent decline in fixed-income trading revenue, which dropped to $2.152 billion. Bank trading revenues have suffered in 2017 thanks to historically low volatility in global financial markets.

 

 

Wells Fargo reported third quarter revenue that missed expectations Friday. The bank reported: Earnings per share of $1.04, ex-items, vs. the $1.03 a share expected by analysts. Revenue of $21.93 billion, vs. $22.4 billion expected. Revenue fell 2 percent from the same quarter last year. Shares fell more than 3 percent in trading Friday. The adjusted earnings per share excludes 20 cents of charges related to litigation for a mortgage-related regulatory case from before the financial crisis – not related to the fake account schedule. The litigation cost of $1 billion contributed to an operating loss of $1.3 billion in the third quarter.

 

BASF has agreed to buy seed and herbicide businesses from Bayer for $7 billion in cash, as Bayer tries to convince competition authorities to approve its planned acquisition of Monsanto. BASF, the world’s third-largest maker of crop chemicals, has so far avoided seed assets and instead pursued research into plant characteristics such as drought tolerance, which it sells or licenses out to seed developers. But Bayer’s $66 billion deal to buy Monsanto, announced in September 2016, has created opportunities for rivals to snatch up assets that need to be sold to satisfy competition authorities.

 

And finally, for triskaidekaphobics, we finish with a story from Finland, where FinnAir – the airline of Finland – has been routinely flying for several years from Copenhagen Denmark to Helsinki Finland. The one-hour flight had somehow been assigned the Flight number 666. The airport code for Helsinki is HEL. Well, that left a more than a few travelers nervous, and so FinnAir is changing the Flight number to AY954. Today, Friday the 13th was the last time to catch flight 666 to HEL.

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