Financial Review by Sinclair Noe
DOW – 178 = 17,966
SPX – 15 = 2108
NAS – 37 = 5122
10 YR YLD – .04 = 2.37%
OIL – .74 = 60.27
GOLD – 3.00 = 1179.00
SILV + .04 = 15.98
The American economy shrank in the first quarter by a smaller amount than previously reported. Gross domestic product declined by 0.2% annual rate from January to March. Previously the Commerce Department had estimated a seasonally adjusted 0.7% drop. This is the third and final revision to first quarter GDP; so this final estimate, while still negative, isn’t as bad as we thought. Household spending was revised up to 2.1% from 1.8%. Consumers spent more at restaurants and on transportation. Private sector investment also rose a bit more, up 2.4% vs. a prior 0.7% estimate; and digging deeper, most of the move in private investment came from residential investment – up 6.5% in the final reading. Now this indicates signs of life in the housing market, but we still aren’t seeing enough in the way of business investment. Companies seem to have piles of cash and all they do is buy back their own stock.
Inflation as measured by the PCE price index fell at a 2% annual rate. The core rate that excludes food and energy was up 0.8% in the same span, well below the Federal Reserve’s preferred rate of inflation. Now we know the inflation numbers are a bit skewed because of the volatility in oil prices, but even stripping out energy we are not seeing inflationary pressures; that means we are not seeing wage push inflation and there is still plenty of slack in the labor market. This would indicate that the natural unemployment rate is well below 5%.
The Atlanta Fed, which nailed the first-quarter flop, sees the economy bouncing back in Q2 with 1.9% growth. And at the last FOMC meeting, the Fed revised full year forecasts to between 1.8 percent and 2 percent, from 2.3 percent to 2.7 percent. It is easy to write off the soft patch in the first quarter as an aberration; blame it on the weather or on the West Coast Port closure, but even after you adjust for one-off events the data does not scream for rate hikes.
Eurozone finance ministers are meeting in Brussels tonight with the aim of presenting a final Greek agreement to EU leaders, who begin a two-day emergency summit tomorrow. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reportedly told his government that the country’s international creditors have rejected Athens’s latest reform proposal. Greece submitted the proposals on Monday morning in the latest bid to unlock financial aid. And if you have been following what seems like a never-ending Greek drama, you might have recognized that when talks are positive, the markets tend to go up; when it looks like talks are collapsing, the markets sell-off, like today. However this turns out, it will almost certainly impact markets.
Japan’s Nikkei soared to an 18-year high today, ramping up the gains to around 20% since the start of the year. During the session, the index rose to 20,942, its highest since December 1996. It is, however, still roughly half the peak hit in the bubble era a quarter of a century ago. The Nikkei closed at a record 38,915.87 on December 29, 1989, before the bursting of the asset bubble that led to Japan’s “lost decade”.
Lawmakers have approved legislation key to securing a Pacific trade deal. After a six-week congressional battle including two brushes with failure, some fancy legislative footwork and myriad backroom deals to keep the legislation alive, the Senate voted 60 to 38 to grant Obama the power to negotiate trade deals and send them on a fast track through Congress. The bill next goes to Obama for his signature. A deal on the TPP could be wrapped up within weeks.
Dutch food retailer Royal Ahold and Belgium’s Delhaize have agreed to merge, creating one of the largest supermarket operators in the US. Ahold operates the Stop & Shop and Giant chains, as well as online grocery store Peapod, while Delhaize operates the Food Lion and Hannaford banners. Under the new deal, Delhaize shareholders will receive 4.75 Ahold shares for each share held. Ahold investors will own 61% of the $29 billion combined company and Delhaize shareholders will own the rest.
Darden Restaurants plans to separate part of the company into an independent, publicly traded real estate investment trust. Darden, which owns Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, among other other restaurants, will spin off about 430 of its more than 1,500 restaurants into the REIT. The plan is to lease most all of them back to Darden.
The IPO market is heating up again, with four new companies announcing intentions for public offerings later this year. Among them: Indoor cycling fitness chain SoulCycle, Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas, packaging company Ardagh and plus-sized retailer FullBeauty. June is expected to bring forth 32 deals, just one less than the IPO-swamped prior year.
Lake Mead touched a record low Tuesday night by falling below the point that would trigger a water-supply shortage if the reservoir doesn’t recover by January. Lake Mead is at about 37% capacity. Water managers expect the lake’s elevation level to rebound enough to ward off a 2016 shortage thanks to a wetter-than-expected spring. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would announce a 2016 shortage this August if it projects that Lake Mead won’t rise above 1,075 feet by January. Much of the Southwest received substantial spring rains, but that is still not enough to end the 15 year drought.
Google has launched a free, ad-supported Google Play Music service that offers curated playlists organized by genre, mood, decade or activity. Users will still pay the $9.99 a month fee to skip the ads, listen to songs on demand or create playlists. Google’s move comes as Apple Music nears its June 30th launch.
Ford is jumping into the car-sharing market, launching a pilot program in six U.S. cities and London, England. The new program will enable owners of vehicles financed by Ford Motor Credit to offer their car, SUV or truck to pre-screened clients for short-term rentals. Think of it as AirBnB for cars. Last month, Ford launched a pay-as-you-go network of shareable, on-demand cars in London, called GoDrive. Ford is also testing a “multi-modal” mobility solution called MoDe:Flex that includes an electric bike that can be folded up and carried in a car; the bike charges while stored in the vehicle and then an app helps identify the most efficient and cost-effective mode of transportation for a trip. The MoDe:Link app, for example, might suggest you drive your car to the train station, ride the train to the city, then ride your bike the final mile to the office.
Meanwhile, Ford is getting closer to autonomous vehicles. Ford’s new Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, California, is working on driverless car technology. Earlier this year, Ford donated a Fusion Hybrid to Stanford University’s engineering program to test driverless car algorithms. Ford now says it’s moved from the “test” phase to the “advanced engineering” phase of its driverless car program — the last stage before producing and selling vehicles.
Some other ideas include new camera technology that can help see around corners. And Ford announced it is partnering with Carbon3D to print parts like bumpers and grommets.
Next stop Lexus, which did not unveil a flying car but the next best thing, a hoverboard. Basically a skateboard, minus wheels, that floats about an inch off the ground using magnet technology and superconductors cooled by liquid nitrogen. No, you may not buy one. It is being used to promote cool technology in online videos. Lexus says it really works but only in a controlled environment. Sorry McFly, it is not for sale. Apparently the whole cost to social benefit equation doesn’t yet pencil out.
Hoverbikes, however, are attracting attention for their potential to offer more than the fun of air-borne transportation. These machines lift into the air with propeller technology and can be ridden like a motorcycle. Defense research firm SURVICE announced last week that it signed a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to design hoverbikes with engineering company Malloy Aeronautics that could accomplish the tasks of traditional helicopters.
Yes, the auto industry is changing, and there is some amazing new technology. Now if they can just figure out how to make an airbag inflate without killing the passengers.
A new survey from Goldman Sachs finds Millennials don’t trust the stock market. The survey found only 18 percent of the young adults (age 18 to 34) trusted the stock market as “the best way to save for the future.” More than 20 percent of the respondents said they didn’t know enough about it, while another 16 percent said stocks are either too volatile or the marketplace isn’t fair for small investors.
A new Gallup poll finds that only 28% “have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the banks.” Even though that’s up from the 21% lows in 2012’s poll, it’s well below the 40% average the banking industry held for the past 35 years. And it’s still well below the peak year of 1979’s 60% rating. The survey shows that 67% of Americans have confidence in small business, but just 21% have confidence in “big business.” There are many reasons to dislike big banks: they made wild bets and drove the economy into the ground, scooped up massive bailouts, paid out big bonuses, foreclosed on more than 4 million homeowners, and rigged every market from Libor to Forex to maybe even US Treasury bonds. And after all that the big banks are bigger than ever, which is part of the problem; they have little competition and therefore no incentive to improve conduct or service. For banks to regain public confidence, Gallup suggests some common sense: treat customers better. An interesting though unlikely prospect.