Financial Review

Some Sunshine

…..Harvey heads north. Oil down, gas up, jet fuel flies. GDP pops to 3%. Buffett: “Harder to find bargains.” Talk to the fridge. FDA approves immunotherapy for fighting cancer.

Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 08-30-2017


DOW + 27 = 21,892
SPX + 11 = 2457
NAS + 66 = 6368
RUT + 7 = 1391
10 Y un = 2.14%
OIL – .47 = 45.97
GOLD – .50 = 1309.10


Let’s start with the latest news on Harvey. The Associated Press reports the number of confirmed deaths from Harvey had reached 21; some authorities in Texas say the number is closer to 38. The number will rise in coming days. Tropical storm Harvey is heading northeast, dumping even more rain as it moves into Louisiana. Beaumont and Port Arthur Texas are underwater, basically the entire cities, underwater. As the rains spread to Louisiana, it appears New Orleans will be spared severe flooding on the 12th anniversary of Katrina.  Areas around Houston recorded more than 51 inches of rain over the past few days. That may be the most in recorded history for a tropical cyclone in the contiguous US, breaking a mark also set in Texas back in 1978. More than 32,000 people were in shelters in Texas, and 30,000 shelter beds were available. Houston still faces the threat of dam and levee failures but today there was some sunshine, and some drying and drainage, some streets reopened, and there were cars on the interstate highways again. There are still widespread power outages. It will take a long time for flood waters to recede because rivers are still flowing south toward the coast even as the storm surge backed up waterways and because of possible damage to drainage systems. Risk-modeling company RMS estimates $70 billion to $90 billion in losses from wind, storm surge and flood damage, most of it in the Houston metropolitan area. That would make the storm among the world’s most costly catastrophes since at least 1970. Texas Governor Greg Abott is asking for $125 billion in federal aid.


The storm shut an estimated 4.4 million barrels a day of refining capacity due to flooding and port closures. Floods caused by the storm forced several refineries to close along the Gulf Coast; that is creating a shortage of gasoline. Gasoline futures were up 5.9 percent today. AAA said retail gasoline prices were up 6 cents from a week ago at $2.404 per gallon of regular gasoline nationwide. On the flip side, refineries buy crude oil and they aren’t buying right now. One byproduct of Tropical Storm Harvey that isn’t getting a lot of attention but will have implications for markets has been the surge in jet fuel prices – up 16% in the past week. Prices had been moving higher even before Harvey, and are now up 41 percent since June 21. Not only does this augur higher ticket prices for plane passengers, but it will likely dent the third-quarter earnings of US airlines. The airlines hedge fuel prices, but not 100%, and not all airlines hedge. United Continental, American, Delta Air Lines and Spirit had no hedges as per their second-quarter filings, which may lead to higher fuel costs and reduced earnings. Plus, there have been thousands of flight cancellations because of the weather.


Trump says “talking is not the answer” to North Korea’s missiles. The Trump administration delivered mixed signals on the latest provocation, a missile launched by North Korea on Tuesday that soared over Japan. The president dismissed the idea of negotiating with Kim Jong Un’s regime, while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the U.S. hasn’t exhausted its diplomatic options. Trump traveled to Missouri today, where he promised aid to Texas to rebuild after the devastation of Harvey. Trump said he wants a 15% corporate tax rate. White House officials had indicated he wasn’t going to go into details, as it’s leaving it up to Congress to write a tax plan after articulating principles. The current rate is 35%, though there a number of loopholes companies can exploit to lower their payments. A cut to 15% would make it challenging to create a plan that is deficit neutral, which it would have to be to pass in the Senate with only Republican votes. Trump warned Congress not to miss a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to boost the economy with a massive overhaul of the tax. The speech was light on details, and when it comes to tax reform, the devil is in the details.


The Commerce Department said the economy expanded at an annual rate of 3 percent in the second quarter of the year, better than initially estimated, and a substantial acceleration over the first quarter’s lackluster 1.2 percent pace. The improvement was driven in large part by strong consumer activity, with purchases of durable goods like automobiles and appliances rising strongly. Increased business spending also helped lift the latest estimate above Commerce Department’s initial reading of 2.6 percent for the quarter.


Besides wild cards like Hurricane Harvey’s impact on a broad swath of the Gulf Coast, and political uncertainty about issues like tax reform, traders are also keeping an eye on the Federal Reserve. Expectations for third quarter GDP growth are running at, or slightly above 3%, but Hurricane Harvey could lower that number by 0.25 to 0.5%. The Commerce Department offers three estimates of growth as more data becomes available, with the final figure for second-quarter economic activity to be released on Sept. 28.


Adding to the positive sentiment, ADP reports private-sector employers beat economists’ expectations as they hired 237,000 workers in August, marking the biggest monthly increase in five months.


The number of stocks on the New York Stock Exchange that fell to 52-week lows outnumbered those that reached highs in 10 out of the last 15 trading days. Are growing concerned that all the potential good news for equities is priced in and they are hesitant to push prices much higher without evidence the Trump administration will be able to deliver on tax reform or that and companies will be able to keep the recent momentum in earnings growth going. Earnings growth will be a challenge; since the beginning of July, earnings per share forecasts for members of the S&P 500 Index are down 0.6 percent for the second half of the year. Remember that in the first half of 2016, earnings were in decline, in the second half of last year, earnings growth picked up – so year-over-year comparisons are going to be more difficult.


Warren Buffett probably said it best when he was interviewed today by Bloomberg TV, Buffett said the rally in markets over the last several years has made it harder to find bargains. Specifically, when asked why cash has been piling up at Berkshire, he said, “It tells us stocks aren’t as cheap as they’ve been most of the time.” Buying shares after the 2008 financial crisis, Buffett said, was like “shooting fish in a barrel.” There is one redeeming value for equities, according to Buffett — at least they’re a better bet than bonds. Given that bond yields are still close to historical lows, one might call that a backhanded compliment.


We all talk to inanimate objects. You can admit it. You’ve talked to your refrigerator. I know I have. I ask questions. Standing with the fridge door open I ask, “where is the butter?” or “how old is the milk?” The fridge does not reply, but that’s about to change. Google’s push to place its digital assistant, the search giant’s new product centerpiece, inside every consumer appliance imaginable is edging forward. Today, Google announced that its voice-based chat service is now compatible with a wave of home devices, including speakers and everyday household appliances like refrigerators. After arriving on Google’s smartphone and speaker in 2016, the company hopes its chat-bot can field regular search queries and become a vehicle for online commerce. LG Electronics, the first Android handset to use Google’s assistant, announced at a conference in Berlin that it plans to bring the service to upcoming washing machines and refrigerators. Google said the assistant would soon be in things like sprinklers and vacuum cleaners. The company also unveiled new speakers with the feature — the first beyond Google’s own Home device — made by Panasonic. Noticeably absent from the partner list is Samsung, which is developing its own voice assistant; and Amazon, which is also trying to spread its digital assistant Alexa. Today Amazon and Microsoft announced a deal to make their digital assistants talk to each other. Later this year, people using Alexa will be able to ask Microsoft’s Cortana do a range of tasks, including reading work emails. Cortana users will be able to ask Alexa to buy stuff from Amazon.


The Food and Drug Administration has  approved the first-ever treatment that genetically alters a patient’s own cells to fight cancer, a milestone that is expected to transform treatment in the coming years. The new therapy turns a patient’s cells into a “living drug,” and trains them to recognize and attack the disease. It is part of the rapidly growing field of immunotherapy that bolsters the immune system through drugs and other therapies and has, in some cases, led to long remissions and possibly even cures. The therapy, marketed as Kymriah (kihm-REYE’eh) and made by Novartis, was approved for children and young adults for an aggressive type of leukemia — B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia — that has resisted standard treatment or relapsed. The F.D.A. called the disease “devastating and deadly” and said the new treatment fills an “unmet need.” Novartis and other companies have been racing to develop gene therapies for other types of cancers, and experts expect more approvals in the near future. Kymriah, which will be given to patients just once and must be made individually for each, will cost $475,000. Novartis said that if a patient does not respond within the first month after treatment, there will be no charge. The company also said it would provide financial help to families who were uninsured or underinsured.



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