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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - Another Day Another Dollar

Financial Review with Sinclair Noe

DOW – 26 = 17,086
SPX + 3 = 1987
NAS + 17 = 4473
10 YR YLD un = 2.46%
OIL = 103.12
GOLD – 3.50 = 1305.00
SILV - .06 = 21.01

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose to an all-time high, as Apple boosted technology companies and health-care shares rallied through another busy day of earnings reports. The Dow was lower, mainly due to Boeing – we will get to that in a moment. Apple hit its highest level since 2012, based on earnings reported after the close yesterday.

Profits at S&P 500 members probably rose 6.2 percent in the second quarter, while sales gained 3.3 percent. Let’s knock out a few earnings reports:

Facebook posted $791 million in net income, or 30 cents a share compared with $333 million or 13 cents a share in the second quarter of 2013; revenue totaled $2.9 billion compared to $1.8 billion in the year ago period. Mobile advertising represented 62% of its ad revenue; they have figured out Facebook on a smartphone. Facebook now claims 1.32 billion monthly users.

AT&T was once the telephone company, now it’s the second largest US mobile provider; they earned  $3.6 billion or 68 cents per share in the second quarter, down from $3.8 billion or 71 cents per share a year ago; even as revenue increase from $32.1 billion to $32.6 billion.

Biogen Idec rallied 11 percent after raising its full-year forecast, while Intuitive Surgical jumped 18 percent as results topped estimates.

At first blush, Boeing’s numbers looked good; the aerospace giant earned $2.40 per share, easily beating estimates of $2 per share; the company lifted its earnings outlook for the rest of the year. Shares dropped about 2%. Revenue growth disappointed. Commercial airline sales were up less than expected; there was a substantial charge for a military tanker. Boeing is one of the dogs of the Dow – down 7% year to date.

Delta Air Lines said its second-quarter earnings were up 17%, driven by higher passenger and operating revenue as traffic increased. Delta has said it plans to reinvest about 50% of its operating cash flow back into the business, resulting in $2 billion to $3 billion of capital expenditures annually through 2018, with $2.3 billion planned for 2014.

Another day, another General Motors recall; the only difference is that today’s recall does not involve ignition switches; it is a problem with the seats. Today’s recalls total 717,950 vehicles covering six models; bring the total for the year to about 29 million. If you own a GM vehicle, call the dealer. The problem with ignition switches has not gone away, just today, it moved to Jeep-Chrysler, which announced nearly 800,000 vehicles would be recalled for ignition switch problems.

Another month, another downward revision from the IMF. In June, the International Monetary Fund forecast US economic growth would be about 3% to 3.5% for the rest of this year, and then they revised forecasts down to 2%. Today, the IMF said US economic growth would be about 1.7%. The IMF says lower growth expectations should contribute to continued slack in the labor market for the next three to four years, with the United States remaining below full employment until 2018.

The IMF says the Federal Reserve could keep its benchmark interest rates at zero beyond the middle of 2015, the date implied by policymaker forecasts, as long as inflation and financial stability concerns remain subdued. Future US growth could be disappointing if interest rates rise too quickly, or if there is a broader and concerted slowdown in emerging markets, or if increasing geopolitical tensions in Iraq and Ukraine prompt higher energy prices and severe financial and trade disruptions. The IMF also warned that an aging US population meant the economy would not be able to grow above 2% long term without significant reforms, including tax and immigration changes, more investment in infrastructure and job training, and the provision of childcare assistance, which could help lure more Americans into the workforce. Even without these measures, the IMF said there is "a strong case" for more government spending to support the economic recovery in the near-term, as long as there is a plan to deal with high entitlement spending later on.

Meanwhile, the IIF, the Institute of International Finance says investors have been willing to take on more risk, pushing borrowing costs down and stock prices higher, based in part on strengthening confidence in the US and global recoveries, but with perhaps too much exuberance. Investors do not seem to be taking adequate account of the uncertainties around economic growth and monetary policy, and that point to a pullback in markets. With uncertainty likely to increase on both fronts, a correction from current ultra-low levels of volatility could continue, accompanied by a correction in asset valuation. The IIF’s concerns echo those of some Federal Reserve officials, who said at their June meeting that low volatility levels and increased risk-taking signaled “market participants were not factoring in sufficient uncertainty about the path of the economy and monetary policy.”

Another day and the fighting continue in the Middle East. The latest count has 687 Palestinians killed in the conflict. Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv remains closed to US airlines, and many other global carriers. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to negotiate a ceasefire but it looks unlikely.
In the Netherlands, a day of mourning as the bodies of the victims were returned for identification. Most of the passengers were Dutch. Two military planes, one Dutch and the other Australian, carrying the first 40 coffins landed at Eindhoven air base. They were met by members of the Dutch royal family, the Prime Minister and hundreds of victims' relatives. In Kiev, the Ukrainian government reports two Ukrainian military jets were shot down within 20 miles of the crash scene.

The downing of a civilian jetliner might turn out to be the Lusitania moment that could draw the US and Russia into a new world war, but for now, it does not seem likely. The more likely reaction will be an increase in sanctions against Russia, which the US has already done; the EU is more reticent. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, will put forward its proposals to a committee of the 28 EU member governments in Brussels tomorrow. The bloc’s foreign ministers this week called for plans for measures that could hit “access to capital markets, defense, dual-use goods, and sensitive technologies, including in the energy sector.” Russia supplies 30% of the natural gas to Europe, and it is a major trade partner. Yesterday, France delivered a $1 billion dollar warship to Russia, saying the Russians had paid for it and it was scheduled for delivery. Business drives the truck; coffins are placed in the back.

Events in Gaza and Ukraine have, for the time being, taken global attention away from the Syrian civil war and the ISIS’s advance through Iraq. Last Thursday and Friday were the two bloodiest days yet in Syria’s civil war, with more than 700 people killed in fighting between the Syrian government and ISIS, the Sunni militant group. An ISIS suicide bombing killed 31 people, mainly civilians, in Baghdad yesterday. ISIS appears to be consolidating its newly acquired territories. The government in Baghdad appears to be struggling to cobble together something that would actually pass as a government. The civil wars in Syria and Iraq are growing increasingly chaotic and there does not seem to be much hope for resolution.

The Gaza and Ukraine conflicts are not likely to draw greater powers into a major conflict. One reason is that Gaza and Ukraine are not major oil producers. The conflict that represents the largest potential threat to markets is still the ISIS invasion of Iraq; there oil supply could be severed and the jockeying among regional middle powers could possibly lead to a wider scale conflagration between Sunni and Shia sponsor states.

So, one of the indicators that things are getting better or worse will be reflected in the price of energy. Think of it this way: Everything you did this morning involved energy consumption: Waking up to your smart phone (charging overnight), putting on the coffee, pouring the cold milk from the fridge, taking a shower, driving the car to work and walking into your air-conditioned office. Likewise, the rest of your day will be one big consumption of energy. Anything that disrupts that supply of energy disrupts the work you do.

Right now, there is probably a $5 to $10 fear premium built into the price of oil, and that seems to be acceptable. The signal from the energy market about the demand of energy and the risk of getting enough of it is clear: Prepare for less growth, less certainty and more geopolitical risk. The market, however, maintains a steady hand: Israel will be contained more or less; Russia and Ukraine will find a solution or just fade away. The non-acceptance of Black Swans is clear for everyone to see. The market is “perfect” in its information, zero interest rates will save us and we have all been fooled into believing that the real world no longer matters. Unemployment, social inequality, wars, innocents being killed, and TV images of people fighting to live another day are not relevant. Maybe, after 13 years of war, the US is just weary of any threat.

At some point the fear premium could pop and oil prices could jump to $150 or $200 a barrel, and if that happens the IMF forecast is way too high; if that happens the economy comes to a grinding halt; if that happens, everybody in the US and Europe will wake up and scream bloody murder, but for now, it’s just another day, another dollar.

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