Wednesday, March 05, 2014 – Not Much Change

Not Much Change
by Sinclair Noe
DOW – 35 = 16,360
SPX – 0.1 = 1873
NAS + 6 = 4357
10 YR YLD + .01 = 2.70%
OIL – 2.40 = 100.93
GOLD + 2.40 = 1337.80
SILV + .02 = 21.26
ADP, a payroll processing company, reports its own monthly jobs estimate each month, just before the government comes out with its monthly jobs report. Today, ADP said the economy added 139,000 new jobs in February; they revised the January number down to 127,000 from the previously reported 175,000. When the Labor Department reports on jobs Friday morning the best guess is about 150,000 jobs and the unemployment rate holding at 6.6%. So, the ADP report is reasonably close.
Separately, initial jobless claims for the past week did not point to any improvement in the labor market with initial claims up 14,000 in the February 22 week to a 348,000 level.
In other news, the Institute for Supply Management’s non-manufacturing index slipped to 53.5 in February from 54 the previous month.
This afternoon the Federal Reserve published its Beige Book, which is a compilation of reports and observations from the 12 Fed districts. Growth slowed in Chicago and activity was stable in Kansas City. While the other eight districts reported growth, the Fed said it was characterized as “modest to moderate” in most cases, an overall downgrade from its last report on January 15, which showed “moderate” growth in nine regions. Business contacts were still upbeat, and real estate activity picked up in some areas, and travel and tourism remained strong. Retail sales growth softened in most districts, partly due to weather. Factory output and sales were affected in regions including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, and Dallas, where the weather was blamed for utility outages, disrupted supply chains and a slowdown in hiring.
So, the latest Beige Book still reflects weather disruptions. If you were waiting for clean data, this wasn’t it. We might not get clean data from the Friday jobs report. We may need to rethink our idea of data clean from weather disruptions because it seems we are experiencing bad weather with regularity, whether it be the polar vortex or ice storms or drought or hurricanes or tornadoes. If it’s not one thing it’s another.
The big brouhaha in Ukraine seems to be a bit calmer today. The European Union is ready to provide $15 billion of financial support to Ukraine over the next couple of years by way of a series of loans and grants. The assistance would be delivered in coordination with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank, and is in part contingent on Ukraine signing a deal with the International Monetary Fund. Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kiev to offer moral support and a $1 billion aid package to a Ukraine fighting to fend off bankruptcy. Money soothes the savage beast. And so, there is no fighting today; that’s good.
In time we will probably find out more and more details about who and how this Ukrainian revolution came to be and why; and the best guess is that it was not quite an organic uprising of the masses; and it was probably not a coincidence that a nostalgic stroll along old Cold War paths coincided with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s proposal to cut back Pentagon spending. This is not to say there are no problems in the Ukraine, there are. Internal divisions in Ukraine are real and enduring. Russian aggression in Ukraine is bad, and there really is no justification for this kind of military intervention. US credibility and security is not at stake and there really isn’t anything we can do anyway, short of a full-fledged return to the Cold War. Some people may want that but I don’t much care for the notion.
It’s a good story to imagine the downtrodden Ukrainian everyman fighting for freedom from the Russian overlords, but there’s a better chance that the real story will be told by following the money trail.
In 1998, Washington state voters raised the state’s minimum wage and linked it to the cost of living. Over the past 15 years, the minimum wage in Washington has climbed to $9.32 an hour, the highest in the country. Payrolls at Washington’s restaurants and bars, portrayed as particularly vulnerable to higher wage costs, expanded by 21%. Poverty has trailed the US level for at least 7 years.
According to a Congressional Budget Office report published February 18, increasing the minimum wage would lift 900,000 people out of poverty and add $31 billion to the earnings of low-wage Americans, but it might reduce employment by up to a million jobs; actually that last point is an area where the CBO report was fuzzy, saying it might cost up to a million jobs or it might not reduce  employment; as a result, most people split the difference and say it will reduce employment by 500,000, but that’s not what the report says, and it’s  not what the data from Washington state says.
One possible explanation is that businesses have plenty of ways besides job cuts to absorb the costs of a minimum-wage increase: price increases, reductions in profits and savings from lower turnover can help soak up the shock.
As of January, 21 states and the District of Columbia had a higher minimum wage than the federal floor. Cities including San Francisco and Santa Fe, New Mexico, require even higher hourly earnings than the proposed federal level, at $10.74 and $10.66 respectively.
New Jersey voters in November approved increasing the minimum wage by $1 an hour to $8.25, tying future increases to the consumer price index. In January, after the raise took effect, private employers added 8,320 jobs in New Jersey, according to ADP Research Institute. That was the fastest pace of job growth since December 2012.
Today, the Center for American Progress issued a report showing that raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour would reduce federal food stamp spending by $4.6 billion a year. Last year, a report done by researchers at Berkeley and the University of Illinois asserted that taxpayers are spending nearly $7 billion a year to supplement the wages of fast-food workers, many of whom earn the minimum wage or close to it.
Now, let’s get caught up on banks behaving badly. The latest news on this front regards Citigroup which disclosed on Friday that it had been defrauded of $400 million in a scheme involving a financially shaky oil services company in Mexico. And while that was going on, a Citigroup affiliate based in Los Angeles received a grand jury subpoena from federal prosecutors in Massachusetts related to anti-money-laundering compliance. The focus of the subpoenas is unclear.
The affiliate has also received a subpoena from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation related to its anti-money-laundering program and the Bank Secrecy Act. The affiliate, Banamex USA, provides banking services to individuals and small businesses in the United States and Mexico. Until recently, it was a large player in transferring money across the border between family members.
Apparently the two issues, one involving fraud and the other involving money-laundering compliance, are unrelated.
In 2006, the bank’s computer systems got fouled up and certain business units failed to process Citi’s foreign transactions to ensure compliance with anti-money laundering regulations for about 4 years until the computer error was fixed. In 2012, Banamex USA entered into a consent order with the FDIC and California Department of Financial Institutions to improve its oversight and tracking systems. In 2013, Citigroup entered into another consent order with the Federal Reserve and agreed to take companywide actions also intended to bolster its compliance efforts. Now we have subpoenas in the case.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that the Treasury Inspector General believed that JP Morgan had used attorneys to “investigate” its conduct in dealing with Bernie Madoff with the intent of impeding regulatory scrutiny and allowing staff to get away with perjury. In this case it goes back to the idea of what JP Morgan knew about Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and when did they know it.
We know that JPMorgan was Madoff’s banker. JPMorgan hired lawyers to investigate, or maybe they hired outside law firms as a way to put a shield around the questionable activity, to impede regulators from getting to the bottom of criminal or merely potentially costly conduct. This raises the question of attorney client privilege.
Federal regulators at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency sought copies of the lawyers’ interview notes, hoping they would open a window into the bank’s actions. The issue gained urgency in 2012, when the comptroller’s office conducted its own interviews with JPMorgan employees and discovered a “pattern of forgetfulness.”
Suspicious that the memory lapses were feigned, the regulators renewed their request for the interview notes held by JPMorgan’s lawyers. But JPMorgan, which produced other materials and made witnesses available to the comptroller’s office, declined to share those notes. In its denial, the bank cited confidentiality requirements like the attorney-client privilege. The inspector general argued that the lawyers’ interviews were essentially “made for the purpose of getting advice for the commission of a fraud or crime.” The reporters also stress that the use of attorneys as an information shield for banks is already troublingly widespread.
But the Department of Justice will not pursue subpoenas of the potential perjury or potential obstruction of justice, because, according to a DOJ letter the action would “risk developing negative precedent that could result in harm to the long-term institutional interests of the United States.”

Just in case you were wondering, too big to fail and too big to jail is still the law of the land. 
Previous post

Tuesday, March 04, 2014 - Everybody Clap Your Hands

Next post

Thursday, March 06, 2014 - Energy as Arsenal

No Comment

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.