Financial Review


…Tariffs signed – 25% steel, 10% aluminum – Canada & Mexico get a reprieve. TPP signed – minus US. Cigna buying Express Scripts. Tomorrow is 9-year anniversary of market bottom – tech has been the leader in the bull market.

Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 03-08-2018

DOW + 93 = 24,895
SPX + 12 = 2738
NAS + 31 = 7427
RUT – 2 = 1571
10 Y – .02 = 2.87%
OIL – .82 = 60.33
GOLD – 3.10 = 1322.80


Trump has signed a proclamation ordering tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on aluminum. Canada and Mexico will be excluded for now, as the U.S. discusses its national security relationships and the North American Free Trade Agreement with both countries. Tariffs could be modified for other countries, such as Australia, which Trump called a “long-term partner” at a cabinet meeting. The tariffs will go into effect 15 days. The tariffs are being implemented by proclamation, under a law that allows action to defend national security; both materials are considered critical to the U.S.’s defense industrial base. The tariffs could be problematic for China but also for US allies such as South Korea, Japan, Germany, Turkey and Brazil. More than 100 Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Trump on Wednesday imploring him to drop plans for sweeping tariffs. Their letter came a day after Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, announced his resignation. Foreign leaders warned of a potential trade war that could escalate to other industries and be aimed at American goods. Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, said that a plan to impose broad tariffs that hit allies was “dangerous” and could undermine national security. At a news conference in Frankfurt, Draghi said: “If you put tariffs against your allies, one wonders who the enemies are.”


The European Central Bank wrapped up a policy meeting today, and Draghi dropped a pledge to buy more financial assets if the economy deteriorates and he didn’t upset markets. In fact, his comments sent stocks and bonds higher. The STOXX Europe 600 Index gained 1%, capping the biggest four-day rally since April 2017. Perhaps even more remarkable is that euro zone government bonds rose across the board. Draghi emphasized that inflation is expected to hover around 1.5%, well below the 2% target. The message of stronger growth and low inflation means that the central bank won’t need to withdraw stimulus at a faster-than-expected rate. In other words, the Goldilocks-like environment for markets should continue.


A trade pact originally conceived by the United States to counter China’s growing economic might was signed today by a group of 11 nations – but not the US. Trump withdrew the United States from an earlier version of the agreement, then known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a year ago as one of his first acts in office. The resuscitated deal is undeniably weaker without the participation of the world’s biggest economy, but it serves as a powerful sign of how countries that have previously counted on American leadership are now forging ahead without it. In its original incarnation as the TPP, the pact was conceived as a counterweight to China. Not only does the TPP lower trade barriers, it could also prod Beijing to make changes to enjoy the same benefits. The new agreement — known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership — drops tariffs drastically and establishes sweeping new trade rules in markets that represent about a seventh of the world’s economy. It opens more markets to free trade in agricultural products and digital services around the region. While American beef faces 38.5 percent tariffs in Japan, for example, beef from Australia, New Zealand and Canada will not.


Cigna said it had agreed to buy Express Scripts, the largest pharmacy benefit manager in the United States, in a $52 billion deal that would further reshape the health care industry. The offer represents a 31% premium over Express Scripts close yesterday. Express shares were higher today but still about 12% below the offer, suggesting the deal might be tricky to close. The deal is the latest in a recent wave of consolidation across the health care sector. Express Scripts is responsible for the drug plans of more than 80 million Americans. Express Scripts has long pitched itself as an independent player whose main focus is lowering medical costs by striking deals with drug companies on behalf of insurers and large employers. Its major competitors are CVS Health, which owns retail pharmacies and itself recently announced a merger with the health insurer Aetna; and OptumRx, which is owned by the insurance giant UnitedHealth Group. Last year, Express acknowledged that it had parted ways with its largest customer, Anthem, after the insurance giant sued in 2016, claiming that Express was overcharging for drugs. The model of a pharmacy benefit manager has come under scrutiny as members of the public and politicians — prodded by the pharmaceutical industry, which has been trying to deflect criticism on drug costs — have questioned whether benefit managers are profiting from higher drug prices by keeping a percentage for themselves.


Tomorrow marks the ninth anniversary of the financial crisis bottom, and since that period—by one measure, the start of the current bull market. The two top-performing exchange-traded funds since March 9, 2009, both track the internet sector. The PowerShares Nasdaq Internet Portfolio PNQI, has jumped more than 900% since the market’s bottom, while the First Trust Dow Jones Internet Index Fund FDN, is up more than 850%. The S&P 500 SPX is up 303% from its March 9, 2009, low, while the Dow DJIA  is up 278% over the same stretch.


If you are looking for market leadership over the past month or so, consider the semiconductor stocks. Since the market high of Jan 26, the S&P 500 dropped into correction territory but recovered, at least partially – the S&P is still down 4.5% from the highs. The Semiconductor index has fully recovered – up 1.7% above the January 26th highs. Tech stocks overall are doing better than the rest right now — the Nasdaq is up 7.2%, versus a 2% gain for the S&P 500 year-to-date — tech is where the earnings are, plus companies in the sector have less debt. Plus, corporations that get tax breaks might spend some of that money on enterprise software and computer upgrades, or they might spend the tax savings on share buybacks.


Kroger announced fourth-quarter earnings that were in-line with street estimates, but its profit outlook for 2018 disappointed investors. Kroger shares dropped about 12%.


Burlington Stores gained 6%, after the off-price apparel retailer beat fiscal fourth-quarter profit and sales expectations and provided an upbeat outlook.


L Brands, the parent for Victoria’s Secret, lost 5% after saying that February sales rose 11.5% to $853.9 million from $765.5 million in the same period a year ago, while same-store sales grew 3% for the month. Separately, the company said it had authorized a new $250 million stock-repurchase program.


Shares of American Eagle Outfitters slipped 9% after the apparel retailer reported a fiscal fourth-quarter profit that matched expectations but beat on sales, provided an upbeat outlook and raised its dividend.


Wynn Resorts shares gained about 6%, as the casino operator reported strong preliminary results for the quarter through February and upped its dividend. This comes on the heels of two directors leaving the company in the wake of the Steve Wynn misconduct scandal.


Oil logged a second straight decline, pressured by a report that showed U.S. oil production hit a new weekly record. Also, in related news, the Energy Department announced the sale of up to 7 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, with bids due March 21. That’s part of a previously announced SPR drawdown plan. Crude oil briefly dipped below $60 a barrel and traded at the lowest level in 3 weeks.


Data released by the Federal Reserve today showed that household debt increased at a 5.2 percent annual rate in the final three months of 2017, the most since the fourth quarter of 2007 — just before the financial crisis hit. The pace of household debt accumulation during the quarter reflects the Fed’s previously reported outsize 7.8 percent annualized rise in consumer credit, along with a 3 percent gain in mortgage borrowing. Tomorrow we’ll find out if consumer’s confidence is justified in in taking on all that extra debt – as the Labor Department releases the non-farm payroll report. We’re looking for about 220,000 new jobs in February, and the consensus estimates call for a 0.2% increase in wages. If the economy keeps adding 200,000 -plus jobs per month, the unemployment rates should dip below 4%, for the first time in 17 years and it could head even lower. That will keep investors — and the Federal Reserve — on edge.


Today is International Women’s Day. The World Economic Forum now estimates global pay parity will be achieved in 2118.

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