The S&P 500 dropped below its 50-day moving average last week and has yet to move back above that level. Coincidentally, the S&P 500 has been sliding for a few weeks, going back to September 19, which was the day of the Alibaba IPO, just coincidentally. The Dow is also trading below its 50 day moving average. Welcome to the start of earnings season.
In the past 3 months the US dollar has jumped by 8% against the euro. That makes American goods more expensive relative to European goods. And it wasn’t just the dollar against the Euro, but against a basket of foreign currencies. It is estimated that a 5% rise in the dollar versus the euro results in a drop of about $1 for full-year Standard & Poor’s 500 Index per-share earnings; current estimates for the S&P are running around $118. Partly because of the dollar and the related decline in oil prices, earnings estimates have seen one of the largest downward revisions over the last few years aside from the weather-beaten first quarter of this year.
Earnings-per-share are projected to have grown 4.9% in the third quarter, that’s down from 7.8% earnings growth 3 months ago. At the end of March, third quarter earnings were forecast to grow 9%. The strong dollar may have an even greater impact on guidance for the fourth quarter. Alcoa marks the unofficial start of the earnings season with their report after markets close tomorrow.
US job openings hit a 13-year high in August. According to a report published by the US Labor Department, there were 4.84 million open jobs to fill in the US in August, up from 4.61 million the previous month. The good news is economists were only expecting 4.7 million job openings. The bad news: Hiring in August dropped to 4.6 million from 4.9 million in July.
Americans boosted their use of credit in August by the slowest rate in nine months. Consumers increased borrowing by a seasonally adjusted $13.5 billion in August, or by a 5% annual rate. The gain was the smallest since last November and marks a big deceleration from the 8.1% increase in July. Consumers took out more loans to buy cars or pay for college, with non-revolving credit rising by 7%. Yet Americans actually cut credit-card use a touch, as revolving credit dropped 0.2%. Consumer credit increased by an annual pace of 6.2% in 2012 and 6% in 2013 and it’s on track to grow even faster in 2014 despite the slowdown in August.
A gauge that tracks delinquencies in eight major types of closed-end loans, such as credit to buy cars or pay for property improvements, dropped in the second quarter to 1.57%, the lowest rate in the data’s four-decade history; the data does not include home purchase mortgages.
The International Monetary Fund trimmed its forecast for global economic growth to 3.3%, down from the earlier forecast of 3.4%, forecast in July. The IMF predicts the US economy will grow at a 2.2% pace, which is up from the July forecast. The 17-nation euro zone is expected to expand by just 0.8% this year. If you are thinking you’ve heard this story before, and I’m just repeating myself, well, not exactly; the IMF has developed a nasty habit of missing economic forecasts, and when the misses are exposed, they are forced to revise.
Three scientists win a Nobel for making the world a little brighter. Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura won the Nobel Prize for physics for their discovery of how to produce blue light from semi-conductors, which allowed for the creation of white-light LEDs. So, the Nobel goes to the inventors of a new light bulb, but that is a major deal.
Nearly a fourth of global electricity consumption is used to brighten dark spaces. Traditional incandescent and fluorescent lights are notoriously inefficient with much of the energy used to produce light lost in the form of heat. Meanwhile, LED lamps last longer and use a fraction of the energy to produce the same, if not more, light. That has huge consequences for the developed world, and cities, offices, and homes are already swapping out old bulbs for the brighter, more efficient LEDs. But the technology has perhaps even greater significance for the more than 1.5 billion who lack access to electricity grid. In Sub-Saharan Africa, that’s two out of three people. By requiring less power, LEDs perform better than traditional lights on portable, scale solar energy, which makes spreading electricity to rural, off-grid regions much easier.
Federal officials asked a group of large banks and other financial institutions last month to check if they had seen indicators associated with the cyberattack that resulted in the theft of account information for millions of JPMorgan customers this summer. A number of financial institutions responded that they had seen traffic from the suspect computer addresses linked to the hackers, but that they didn’t believe they had been breached. Rather, the hackers, whose identity remains unknown, appeared to be “probing,” or searching for weaknesses on the firms’ digital perimeters. So, who has the weakest cyber security? Either the other financial institutions have been hacked and they just don’t realize it yet, or JPMorgan was a pathetically weak link.
The New York Times reports that the Department of Justice is preparing to charge several of the world’s biggest banks with colluding to alter the price of foreign currencies; essentially rigging the Forex market. Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and UBS are among the dozen or so banks under investigation. Prosecutors are reportedly planning to indict individual bank employees for currency manipulation. They will not be going after the bank executives, but rather the traders. That is a familiar story. Everyone knows that the CEOs of big banks know absolutely nothing about what’s actually going on in their banks. The execs offer up a sacrificial lamb and go on with their unsavory practices, but this time might be different.
The idea is that prosecutors would use the currency rigging to reopen earlier settlements in the Libor interest rate rigging cases. Those rate rigging cases have already led to settlements with 5 banks, and part of the deal there was not to do bad things like rig markets. Meanwhile, some banks also remain under investigation. In the last major rate-rigging case against a bank, prosecutors are discussing the possibility of forcing Deutsche Bank or one of its subsidiaries to plead guilty to manipulating Libor. And the Libor case could quite easily result in criminal charges, if the DOJ has the spine for it. That remains to be seen. So far the Department of Justice has been afraid of the impact of a wounded bank on the world economy, and so they have done little more than levy “slap-on-the-wrist” fines, essentially taking a cut of the ill-gotten gains; like allowing a Cocaine Cartel to pay its criminal fines in crack.
The AIG bailout trial started last week. The trial is largely the result of former AIG CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg arguing that AIG wasn’t treated as well as the banksters when it came time to pass out taxpayer bailouts. The banksters got sweetheart deals, and for AIG, the government demanded 80% of the company stock, and used it as collateral against the loan, and charged 12% on the loan, and later, started sweeping all the dividends. Greenberg and his companies, notably Starr International, were the biggest AIG investors at the time, and the government’s bailout effectively crushed their shares.
Of course, AIG had been playing fast and loose with derivatives of subprime mortgages, and they had been forced to restate earnings, and their entire operation was a big, greedy hot mess that likely would have collapsed without a taxpayer bailout. AIG had become the industry leader in credit default swaps, essentially insuring the big banksters on large swaths of toxic mortgage deals. If AIG did not unravel all that credit default insurance, the entire banking structure likely would have collapsed.
Yesterday, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson admitted that certain firms were treated differently than others; AIG was treated tougher than Citigroup; Paulson said that circumstances warranted it because those banks were more essential to keeping the financial system afloat. He said that the government had to treat AIG harshly to win political support. Of course, the government didn’t treat AIG that harshly, gifting them a carryover tax benefit worth $35 billion and letting their executives take bonuses in 2009. Hank Greenberg argues that AIG could have survived; that other potential suitors were ready to step in with offers, but the government made them an offer they couldn’t refuse, and then the government changed the terms of the offer. There has been no testimony that a gun was held to anyone’s head. AIG took the deal at the time.
Today, Tim Geithner took the stand; Geithner was the president of the New York Fed in 2008, before he succeeded Paulson as Treasury Secretary. Geithner admitted that he had described an AIG bankruptcy as an unacceptable option and that the company represented a “systemic risk” in September 2008 that required government intervention. And that seems to be Greenberg’s argument; that the bailout of AIG was punitive and confiscatory. And it looks like it probably was. That’s what it should have been. AIG was forced to pay the credit default swap insurance, the banks survived; the taxpayers were paid back for their bailout of AIG, and now Hank Greenberg and Starr International want an extra $40 billion.
Of course, AIG might have gone completely bust, they could have dragged down the banksters with them, and the entire financial system could have melted down, and Hank Greenberg could be scrounging for a meal in the dumpster. Instead, he was left with a few billion, just enough to hire some high priced lawyers to spit in the face of taxpayers who saved his bacon. Thanks Hank.