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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - Curb Your Enthusiasm

Financial Review with Sinclair Noe

DOW + 61 = 17,113
SPX + 9 = 1983
NAS + 31 = 4456
10 YR YLD - .01 = 2.46%
OIL - .17 = 104.42
GOLD – 4.70 = 1308.50
SILV + .04 = 21.07

We start with a couple of economic reports. The National Association of Realtors reports existing home sales were up 2.6% in June to a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.04 million, compared to 4.91 million in May. Sales in June were 2.6% higher than last month, but were 2.3% below the June 2013 rate. Total inventory rose 2.2% in June to 2.3 million existing homes for sale; unsold inventory is up 6.5% from a year ago.

At June’s pace of sales, there was a 5.5-month supply of homes for sale. The Realtors’ group considers a 6-month supply to be a balanced market. Higher supplies favor buyers and lower supplies favor sellers. The Federal Housing Finance Agency says home prices in May rose 0.4% from the prior month and were 5.5% above their level of May 2013. Distressed sales accounted for just 11% of sales in June, down from 15% last year, 25% in 2012, and 30% in 2011. Fewer distressed sales probably explain why there were fewer sales than June of last year.

The Consumer Price Index, or CPI, measures inflation at the retail level; the CPI increased 0.3% in June. The core CPI looks at prices excluding food and energy, which is important for people who don’t eat food or drive cars or use electricity; core CPI was up 0.1% in June. On a year over year basis, CPI is up 2.1%, and the core CPI is up 1.9%. The big driver for the increase in June was higher prices for gasoline.

In earnings reports:
Quarterly profit at McDonald's fell more than expected. Second quarter net income fell almost 1% to $1.3 billion, or $1.40 per share. Sales at McDonald’s restaurants in the US dropped for a third straight quarter.

Coca Cola’s 2Q net income dropped to $2.6 billion from $2.68 billion a year earlier.

Verizon reported second quarter earnings nearly doubled, but it was a confusing report because Verizon paid for Vodaphone shareholders in the quarter, plus they sold some of their wireless spectrum to T-Mobile; cutting through the clutter, Verizon added 1.4 million devices; Verizon added three tablets for every new smartphone. Earnings were just a smidge above expectations.

Comcast reported net income of almost $2 billion for the second quarter, with total revenue of $16.8 billion, up 3.5% from the same period last year. The revenue increase came from high-speed internet service. Comcast lost cable video customers, as more people bypass cable and satellite subscriptions in favor of cheaper streaming alternatives.

Credit Suisse reported a second quarter loss of $779 million, the largest loss since 2008; reflecting the charge of $2.6 billion related to the settlement with US law enforcement for a guilty plea to conspiring to aid tax evasion in helping American customers hide money in Swiss accounts. On the other hand, another way to look at it, they were one criminal conviction away from a $1 billion quarterly profit. Credit Suisse also announced it would exit the commodities trading business.

Meanwhile, it looks like bond traders are exiting the bond trading business. Trading in US government bonds has dropped 25% in the past few weeks compared to the same period a year ago. Since the end of the second quarter, trading in investment grade bonds has dropped 17% and trading in junk bonds has dropped 8%.

Last week, Fed Chair Janet Yellen talked about overvaluation in the biotech and social media sectors. One of the most common measures of value is the P/E, or price to earnings ratio; there are certainly other measures of value, but PE is common. Generally, a low PE can point toward value, while a high PE might indicate overvaluation, or even an unprofitable company. Currently the S&P 500 trades at 16.1 times forward 12-month consensus earnings per share. Therefore, you might think a PE of 165 would mean a stock was extremely overvalued, ready to crash; or not. In September 2003, Apple had a PE of 165; since then it has gained about 6,000%.

After the close of trade today, Apple posted fiscal third quarter results. Revenue came in at $37.4 billion versus $38 billion expected; EPS was $1.28 versus $1.23 expected; iPhone sales were on track; iPad sales were a little weak; Mac sales were a little better than expected. Apple posted profit of $7.75 billion, up from $6.9 billion in the year-ago period. Apple announced a new iPhone 6, not yet available, but ready to swamp stores before the end of the year; it will have a bigger screen. Curb your enthusiasm.

Also after the close, Microsoft posted profit of $4.6 billion, or 55 cents a share, on revenue of $23.4 billion. During the year-ago period, the world's largest software company earned $4.97 billion, or 59 cents a share, on $19.9 billion in sales. So, sales were up, profit was a slight miss, due to the Nokia acquisition. Bing search ad revenue is up 40%, and Bing now has about 20% of the market share for search engines. Microsoft is big in the cloud, where revenue is up almost 150%, topping 4 billion.

Hedge fund manager Bill Ackman went on CNBC yesterday and promised he would deliver the deathblow against Herbalife. Ackman has been shorting the stock for about a year; a $1 billion bet the company would crash. Then he delivered a 3-hour diatribe with 250 slides in his PowerPoint presentation, alleging that Herbalife is not just a multi-level marketing nutritional club, it is a pyramid scheme preying on minorities, and the biggest fraud since Enron. Ackman did not present a great deal of evidence. Today the stock was up 15%, for no apparent reason, other than surviving an Ackman deathblow.

There were two rulings from two federal appeals court panels on Obamacare today. The question was whether the government could subsidize health insurance premiums for people in states that use the federal insurance exchange; 36 states use the federal exchange, while the other states set up their own state exchanges. This goes back to wording in the original law that says subsidies can be applied to state exchanges.

 The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that the government could not subsidize insurance for people in states that use the federal exchange. That decision could potentially cut off financial assistance for more than 4.5 million people who were found eligible for subsidized insurance in the federal exchange, or marketplace.

A couple of hours later, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, upheld the subsidies, saying that a rule issued by the Internal Revenue Service was “a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion.”

For now, nothing changes, with the exception that there will be many more billable hours for the attorneys.

Bloomberg reports that regulators are ready to label MetLife a potential threat to the financial system, subjecting the insurer to oversight by the Federal Reserve. MetLife, the biggest US life insurer, could be subjected to stricter capital, leverage and liquidity requirements as a result of Fed supervision. A decision by the Financial Stability Oversight Council may come as early as July 31, and MetLife would have 30 days to request a hearing before the FSOC to contest the decision.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is now 4 years old, even though it isn’t really in effect; just 52% of the rules mandated under Dodd-Frank have been finalized by regulators; Another 23% have been proposed but they’re still working out details, and regulators haven’t even gotten around to 24% of the rules. A recent report by consumer watchdog Public Citizen called out the Securities and Exchange Commission as a particularly egregious delayer, noting that it had pushed back the deadlines for 13 of the 23 rules it was supposed to finalize this year.

City workers and retired city workers in Detroit have agreed to pension cuts to help bailout the city from bankruptcy. General retirees would get a 4.5% pension cut and lose annual inflation adjustments. They accepted the changes with 73% of ballots in favor. Support for the pension changes triggers an extraordinary $816 million bailout from the state of Michigan, foundations and the Detroit Institute of Arts. The money would prevent the sale of city-owned art and avoid deeper pension cuts.

Most people travel to or from Israel by air, and the major airport, really the only airport is Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv; last year, 14 million people went through Ben Gurion Airport, in a country with a population of 8 million.  Yesterday a rocket from Gaza landed about one mile from the airport; we don’t have further details on that rocket; it did not hit the airport; it was a mile away. When news spread, Delta diverted a flight to Paris. United airlines cancelled flights. The Federal Aviation Administration banned all US passenger and cargo flights to and from Tel Aviv for at least the next 24 hours. European airlines cancelled flight to Israel. The possibility of a passenger jet being shot down over a war zone is a very realistic and fresh memory.

US and United Nations diplomats are in Israel, trying to broker a ceasefire of some sort. Israel continues to pound targets across the Gaza Strip. It does not appear a ceasefire is near. If there is any light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel will be destroyed.

The European Union today threatened Russia with harsher sanctions if Russia does not cooperate in the investigation of the downing of the Malaysian flight 17 and if Russia does not stop sending weapons to Russian backed separatists in Ukraine. However, it was just a threat, and they will get together later in the week to draft proposals for sanctions.

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