Financial Review

To Be Fair

Financial Review by Sinclair Noe

DOW – 6 = 18,105
SPX – 1 = 2104
NAS – 3 = 5007
10 YR YLD – .02 = 1.88%
OIL + 12 = 56.51
GOLD – 3.70 = 1198.90
SILV – .04 – 16.37


Yesterday the ECB pledged to fulfill its €1 trillion-euro bond-buying program; today Eurozone government borrowing costs slid to new lows. Germany’s 10-year yield fell almost a basis point to 0.087% in early trade, while yields on all German government debt out to January 2024 were negative. Other notable levels include France’s 30-year yield, which fell below 1%, and the yield on two-year Portuguese bonds, which is on its way below zero.


The price of Greece’s three-year notes dropped the most since February and Greek corporate bonds also slumped. Credit-default swaps suggested there was a 79 percent chance of the country being unable to repay its debt in five years. Greece’s three-year yield is at a multiyear high, up 359 basis points at 27.7%. Expectations are low that Greece can reach a deal with its creditors at next week’s Eurogroup meetingStandard & Poor’s has downgraded Greece’s credit rating to CCC+ with a negative outlook, citing a substantial risk of a default due to the country’s drawn out negotiations with its creditors. Greece has been pushed a step closer to default and potential exit from the euro after one of its main lenders, the International Monetary Fund, all but ruled out allowing the cash-strapped country to delay repaying the €1 billion-euro due next month. Today, the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, said delaying the payments would be an unprecedented action that would only make the situation worse. Her comments followed a report that the Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, had sounded out the IMF over whether Athens could ask for a delay on the payments it is struggling to afford. Varoufakis denied asking for leniency. So Greece might default, that’s nothing new, but there are still plenty of options; some more realistic than others; we might not expect an enlightened solution to the Greek problem, but with any luck there will be something creative.


The Labor Department reports jobless claims increased by 12,000 to 294,000 in the week ended April 11. Fewer than 300,000 American workers filed applications for unemployment benefits for the sixth consecutive week. The total number of people currently receiving benefits was the lowest since 2000.


The pace of home construction rebounded slightly last month after being snowed out in February. Construction starts on new homes increased 2% in March at an annualized rate of 926,000.


Congressional leaders unveiled a bipartisan bill today that gives president Obama fast track authority to negotiate a trade deal with 11 other Pacific nations. The bill gives Congress the power to vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership once it’s completed, but they could not amend the deal. It would essentially be an up or down vote. The legislation would also make any final trade agreement public for 60 days before the president signs it, and up to four months before Congress votes. If the agreement fails to meet the objectives laid out by Congress – on labor, environmental and human rights standards – a 60-vote majority in the Senate could shut off fast track trade rules and open the deal to amendments.


Former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has accepted an adviser role at a hedge fund. Bernanke will join Citadel Investment Group as a senior adviser.  Bernanke reportedly chose Citadel because it is not regulated by the Federal Reserve and he won’t be doing lobbying. So, in a way he’s gone from one hedge fund to another. And this is just another example of the revolving door between government and business, but in fairness, when Bernanke was Chairman of the Fed he couldn’t even refinance his mortgage.


Netflix  announced first quarter earnings late yesterday; net income fell to $24 million, or 38 cents a share, from $53.1 million, or 86 cents, as the strong dollar contributed to losses outside the U.S. But Wall Street isn’t paying attention to that, rather the focus is on subscriber growth; and Netflix added 4.8 million new subscribers worldwide.

Goldman Sachs posted the highest earnings per share in more than five years as all of its major businesses topped analysts’ estimates and the firm paid out a smaller portion of revenue to compensate employees. Net income surged 40 percent to $2.8 billion, and trading accounted for much of the increase. That means the improved returns come at a higher risk.

Citigroup reported its highest quarterly profit in nearly eight years. Citi has been slowly getting its house in order by cutting costs and shedding assets that are not critical to its main businesses. It has sold retail operations in many countries and shrunk its US branch network. Adjusted net income rose 16% to $4.8 billion, or $1.52 per share, beating average analyst estimates of $1.39 per share. Adjusted revenue fell 2% to $19.81 billion.

American Express reported a 6.3% rise in quarterly profit, helped by higher spending by card holders and an increase in net interest income.

UnitedHealth reported earnings and revenue that beat expectations. The company also raised its 2015 earnings forecast.


McDonald’s Japan forecast sharp losses. The 49%-owned subsidiary expects an operating loss of $210 million this year after a damaging series of food safety scandals, a costly french fry shortage, and fierce competition in the coffee sector. The operator of McDonald’s in Japan announced it would close 131 restaurants and renovate 2,000 more as part of its restructuring plan.


Yesterday more than 60,000 workers in 200 cities joined in what organizers claimed was the largest protest by low-wage workers in US history. The demonstrations, calling for a $15 per hour minimum wage, were the latest in a series of strikes that began with fast-food workers in New York in November 2012. The movement has since attracted groups outside the restaurant industry: Wednesday’s protesters included home-care assistants, Walmart workers, child-care aides, airport workers, adjunct professors and other low-wage workers. It also sparked international support, with people protesting low wages in Brazil, New Zealand and the UK.


Despite a slow start to IPO debuts so far this year, three big companies went public today. Etsy, the Brooklyn-based online marketplace for artisanal goods, opened for trading at $31 a share on the Nasdaq stock market. That is nearly double its initial offering price of $16 a share. Not bad for an e-commerce platform that so far hasn’t posted a profit and sells handmade items. Etsy is all about potential; it boasts more than 1 million active sellers, with access to 19.8 million active buyers on the site. And the company says it has achieved just shy of $2 billion in gross sales last year, with buyers or sellers in nearly every country.


Meanwhile, Virtu Financial, the big high-frequency trading firm, opened at $23 a share, about 21 percent higher than its $19 offering price. This is the second effort at going public in two years for Virtu. It postponed the stock sale last spring because of controversy about high-frequency trading prompted by the publication of Michael Lewis’s book “Flash Boys.” Virtu doesn’t help its case when they publish a chart showing one single day of losses in six years of trading activity; which is impossible unless you are gaming the trade.


The retailer Party City opened for trading at $20.40, above its offering price of $17 a share. Party City is going public three years after the private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners bought control of the nearly 70-year-old seller of party goods. So far this year, 38 companies have gone public in the US, about 60% fewer than at the same time last year.


Bombardier has hired UBS and Citigroup to advise on a potential IPO or sale of its rail unit, which could be valued at about $5 billion. Splitting off the rail unit would allow management to focus on turning around Bombardier’s aerospace division, which posted a 2014 loss of $995 million.


A New York federal bankruptcy judge has blocked most lawsuits against General Motors related to defective ignition switches. The judge ruled that plaintiffs could not sue the company for at least 84 deaths caused by an ignition fault because they predate GM’s 2009 bankruptcy.  The liability shield included in the 2009 agreement that lifted GM from bankruptcy should be allowed to remain in place, even though the company has acknowledged that many employees knew about the defective switch at the time but failed to alert owners of the cars that they might have a potential claim against the company. The ruling shuts down not only lawsuits stemming from accidents that took place before July 10, 2009, but also most of the suits seeking economic damages for the loss in value of the defective cars. Lawyers had estimated that the economic loss claims potentially totaled $7 billion to $10 billion. Economic loss cases will be allowed to go forward, the judge ruled, only if they can be tied solely to actions by the post-bankruptcy company, known as New GM.


Last year the auto industry issued more recalls involving old models than ever before; more than 60 million vehicles have been recalled in the United States, double the previous annual record in 2004. In all, there were about 700 recall announcements last year, an average of two a day, affecting the equivalent of one in five vehicles on the road.


WikiLeaks has published 30,287 documents and 173,132 emails stemming from last winter’s cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. The hack was reportedly initiated by North Korea in response to the studio’s decision to release “The Interview,” a comedy that centered on an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. That resulted in a series of embarrassing revelations, exposing correspondence between top executives and producers that ultimately led to the ouster of studio chief Amy Pascal. The correspondence released today exposes Sony’s political fundraising and its lobbying activities on behalf of anti-piracy. In particular, WikiLeaks cites emails detailing how members of the studio set up a “collective” in order to get around campaign donation limits and send money to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, because of his support for state film and television tax incentives and work cracking down on piracy.


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