Financial Review

Ticking Away

….Trump’s first year in stocks, good but not great. Waiting on the government shutdown – what to expect. 10-year yields at 4 year high. Consumer sentiment drops. Amazon hikes for prime. General Electric demotion. IEA says US is now a petrostate. SEC wary of bitcoin.

Financial Review by Sinclair Noe for 01-19-2018


DOW + 53 = 26,071
SPX + 12 = 2810
NAS + 40 = 7336
RUT + 20 = 1597
10 Y + .03 = 2.64
OIL – .39 = 63.56
GOLD + 4.20 = 1331.60


A late rally lifted stocks into positive territory in the final hour or so of trade. For the week, the Dow rose 1.04 percent, the S&P 500 added 0.86 percent and the Nasdaq gained 1.04 percent.


The stock market has rallied during Trump’s first year in the White House, with the S&P 500 up nearly 24%. But here’s a surprise: It did even better during President Obama’s first year, rising 35.3%. And how did US markets stack up against the rest of the world. Based upon returns in the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Investor (VTSMX) and the Vanguard Total International Stock Market Investor (VGTSX), international stocks turned in a 29.8% return. U.S. stocks lagged international stocks by more than 5 percentage points.


Presidents are quick to take credit when the stock market and the broader economy perform well under their watch. Here’s the thing, though: Presidential policies have a lot less to do with financial markets and the underlying economy than politicians and their supporters like to think. The same goes for downturns in the economy.


It is also worth noting that government shutdowns do not seem to have a big impact on the stock market. The government has shuttered its doors for non-essential business 18 times since 1976 and the stock market never suffered a big drop despite all the political drama. And there’s still a chance Republicans and Democrats will cut a budget deal in time to avoid a shutdown this weekend. The largest decline was a 4.4% dip for the Standard & Poor’s stock index in fall 1979, when a shutdown lasted 11 days. The reason for the small impact is that shutdowns are usually resolved in fairly short order. If it drags out for an extended period, it might be different. One way this is different – this is the first time we might have a shutdown when one party controls both the legislative and executive branches of government. Beyond that, the economy is pretty solid, earnings have been coming in good – a short shutdown is not likely to derail a 9-year old bull market. Investors have been piling into stocks, in a FOMO trade – that’s “Fear of Missing Out.” Over the past 4 weeks, investors have poured $58 billion into global equity trades; that is perhaps more alarming than a government shutdown.


Here is what will be affected in a partial shutdown: Social Security payments will still be sent out, mail will still be delivered, air traffic control will continue to control, active duty military is still on watch, and federal courts will continue to adjudicate. Meanwhile, national parks, museums, and several federal agencies, including: EPA, Education, and IRS will be partially or fully shuttered. This could affect tax returns, mortgage applications, small business loans, and possibly even the CDC’s ability to help fight a nationwide flu epidemic. Staffers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they’ve heard nothing about what specific protocols to follow if the government has to close, or even whether they’re considered “essential” employees. Instead, the acting secretary of Health and Human Services sent out an email, just before 3 pm today, saying the agency was “working to update our contingency plans.”  A shutdown would cause statistic-keeping agencies such as Labor and Commerce to furlough most of their workers, stop collecting economic data and leave their work unfinished. GDP growth? Who knows? But of course, Congress will still get paid for not putting together a budget – oh they’ll still have to work for their paychecks – and they will be busy trying to lay blame on the other side of the aisle. And while a shutdown may or may not have a big impact on Wall Street, make no mistake, a federal government shutdown will be an expensive, demoralizing inconvenience felt all across the nation, not just in Washington.


But wait, there’s more: Congress also needs separately to raise the debt ceiling before that becomes a binding constraint, as it almost did in 2011 and 2013. Failing to raise the borrowing limit ultimately could cause the U.S. to default on debt payments, a move that would cascade through the economy. Government bond yields would surge and cause the cost of borrowing to soar as government debt loses its sterling credit rating. The real risk is that a partial shutdown now makes it harder for Congress to agree on a deal to raise the debt ceiling in time.


While there have been many distractions this past week, the boring old bond market was anything but. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note jumped from 2.54% to 2.63%, the highest level since the summer of 2014.  Bond market heavyweights have been firing off warnings for weeks. Jeff Gundlach, CEO of DoubleLine, has been looking for higher rates this year and has said tax cuts could help send them higher, as growth picks up. Bill Gross declared last week that after more than 25 years, the bond bear market has begun. In a tweet from his investment firm, Janus Henderson Group, he noted key trend lines were broken in the 5-year and 10-year, confirming a bear market.


And remember the 10-year note is the touchstone for mortgage rates. Mortgage rates, which sat near record lows for the bulk of 2017, are suddenly rising. The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed is up a quarter of a percentage point since the start of this year to around 4.25 percent, according to Mortgage News Daily. The expectation is that they will continue to move higher as the Fed raises rates and investors move away from the bond market. There are 10 percent fewer homes for sale compared with a year ago, and in the hottest markets, where prices are appreciating fastest, there are up to 40 percent fewer homes for sale, according to Zillow. Low supply last year caused home prices, which were rising already, to accelerate, and that continues now. Prices are increasing far faster than incomes, even as the economy and employment improves.


The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index fell in January to a reading of 94.4, the worst reading since July. Consumers are still confident about future buying plans, and this survey suggests the public thinks tax cuts will help them to some extent. Tax reform was spontaneously mentioned by 34% of all respondents; 70% of those who mentioned tax reform thought the impact would be positive, and 18% said it would be negative. Consumers are less confident about the future, with particular concerns about pricing pressures – which is to say, inflation. is hiking the monthly fee for its fast-shipping and video-streaming service, Amazon Prime. Amazon increased the fee for its monthly plan to $12.99 from $10.99, while maintaining the annual fee at $99. It was the first increase of Prime fees in almost four years. Rival Netflix raised their fees in October. As of September, Amazon had about 90 million Prime members in the United States; that’s just an estimate – the company does not release official figures.


Shares of General Electric have been falling for 5 straight sessions – down almost 15%, to the lowest level in more than 6 years. Price is important for the keepers of the 121-year old Dow Jones Industrial index, because the index is price weighted, meaning the higher the price of the stock, the more influence it has on the index’s price. For example, a 1% move in GE’s stock has about a 1-point effect on the Dow, while a 1% move in Boeing shares moves the Dow by about 23 points.


Schlumberger reported fourth-quarter and full-year 2017 results before the opening bell. The oil field services firm reported adjusted diluted quarterly earnings per share of $0.48 on revenues of $8.18 billion. In the same period a year ago, Schlumberger reported adjusted EPS of $0.27 on $7.11 billion in revenues. Schlumberger beat estimates on the top and bottom lines. Looking at the oil market, the strong growth in demand is projected to continue in 2018.


Separately, the International Energy Agency reports US crude oil production this year is expected to surpass output in Saudi Arabia and rival that of Russia, the world’s two largest oil producers. Boosted by a resurgent shale industry, U.S. crude production will likely climb above 10 million barrels a day in 2018, a high not seen since 1970. The IEA said in its monthly report that global oil stocks have tightened substantially, aided by OPEC cuts, demand growth and Venezuelan production hitting near 30-year lows.


Wall Street banks posted their fourth quarter earnings this week; the common themes were large one-time charges as they write down deferred tax rates, big losses to one single mystery client that turned out to be Steinhoff International, and a really bad quarter for their trading desks. Despite a super loose new financial regulatory culture, and a tax code that makes it harder to lose money, Wall Street is doing some belt-tightening and that seems to include no longer incentivizing losers: As a result, bonuses could be 10 percent to 20 percent lower than the prior year, and traders who sit on desks that posted losses could get nothing at all. Zero bonus. Try not to smirk.


The SEC says it is concerned about the safety of bitcoin-themed investments, telling the fund industry they want answers to their concerns before endorsing more than a dozen proposed products based on cryptocurrencies. The SEC sent a letter to two trade groups representing fund managers who unleashed a range of proposals for funds holding bitcoin or related assets.The SEC’s division of investment management demanded answers to at least 31 detailed questions about how mutual funds or exchange-traded funds based on bitcoin would store, safeguard, and price that asset.


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