Flip Flop Fedspeak
DOW – 40 = 16,413
SPX – 8 = 1917
NAS – 46 = 4487
10 Y – .06 = 1.76%
OIL – .12 = 30.54
GOLD + 22.30 = 1231.70
After spending 2015 calling for rate hikes St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said Wednesday evening in a speech on monetary policy that it would be unwise for the Federal Reserve to continue raising interest rates given declining inflation expectations and recent equity market volatility.
Bullard, who is a voting member of the Fed’s rate-setting committee this year, said he now feels key assumptions supporting higher rates have been undermined. Bullard’s big concern is inflation expectations, and inflation has been trending lower, and Bullard believes stock market expectations have a big impact on inflation. In contrast to Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen or Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, Bullard doesn’t think labor market conditions have much impact on inflation as the traditional “Phillips curve” suggests.
Today, San Francisco Fed President John Williams gave a speech in LA, where he said the economy “is, all in all, looking pretty good.” Williams said his views of the economy haven’t changed much from December: “When I look at my December forecast and compare it with my outlook for unemployment and core inflation today, there’s virtually no change” Williams said he was aware of potential risks facing the economy but added that that watching a stock ticker “isn’t the way to gauge America’s economic health.”
The Federal Reserve’s next policy move is much more likely to be a rate hike than a rate cut, although over the next two years a return to zero rates is a rising possibility – that according to a New York Fed survey of primary dealers. The regular monthly survey of 22 primary dealers, or those that do direct trading with the Fed, see about a 75 percent chance that the Fed’s next policy move will be a rate hike, with just over half expecting that rate hike to take place at the Fed’s March meeting; an 8 percent chance the next move will be a rate cut, and a 17 percent chance of no change in rate in 2016.
Ray Dalio, founder of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, in a new letter to investors says history is in the making, as central banks have backed themselves into a corner with monetary policies that are about to run out of steam. Dalio expects central banks to keep trying new ideas to stimulate economies, including negative interest rates and more money printing. Dalio says investors should expect to experience lower than normal returns with greater than normal risk.
The Organization for Economic Growth and Development say governments in the US, Europe and elsewhere should take “urgent” and “collective” steps to raise their investment spending and deliver a fresh boost to flagging economic growth. In its most forceful call to action since the financial crisis, the OECD said the global economy is suffering from a weakness of demand that can’t be remedied through stimulus from central banks alone.
The OECD cut its global growth forecasts, saying global gross domestic product will expand 3.0 percent in 2016, the same pace as in 2015 and 0.3 percentage point less than predicted in November. The OECD urged governments that can borrow at very low interest rates to boost their spending on infrastructure. The OECD said that if governments work together, fresh borrowing could have such a positive impact on growth that it would reduce rather than increase their debts relative to economic output.
The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly declined last week to a three-month low. Initial jobless claims dropped by 7,000 to 262,000 in the week ended Feb. 13. Last week coincided with the period that the government surveys businesses and households to calculate payrolls and the jobless rate for February.
High stake talks to keep Britain in the European Union will take place over the next 36 hours, as Prime Minister David Cameron heads to Brussels to hammer out a deal he can sell to British voters. He has called for reform in four areas: measures to curb migration, safeguards to protect London’s financial district, Britain to be excluded from an “ever closer union” and for greater competition in the bloc. Most officials expect a referendum to be held in late June.
The US government’s Energy Information Administration said crude stockpiles rose 2.1 million barrels last week, to a peak of 504.1 million barrels in the third week of hitting record highs in past month. The EIA also cited record high gasoline inventories.
Standard & Poor’s has downgraded the credit ratings of several Middle East nations, in its second mass cut of large oil producers in almost exactly a year. Citing pressures from the drop in crude prices, the ratings agency lowered Saudi Arabia by two notches to A- stable, and stripped Bahrain of its investment grade status. S&P also cut the ratings of Bahrain and Oman to reflect lower oil price assumptions.
Anglo American’s credit rating was cut to junk by Standard & Poor’s, following similar downgrades by Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings this week. Anglo became the first major London-based miner to be rated junk. They are trying to sell off coal and iron ore assets to pay down debt.
Bloomberg is reporting Citigroup plans to exit retail banking in Argentina and Brazil, where the company has maintained operations for more than 100 years. Citi announced plans in October 2014 to drop consumer banking in 11 markets, including Peru, Costa Rica and four others in Central and South America.
Marriott and Starwood have scheduled separate shareholder meetings to consider Marriott’s $12.2 billion buyout bid that will create the world’s largest hotel business. If approved, the transaction could close in mid-2016. After the bell yesterday, Marriott posted earnings; revenue fell short of estimates.
Chinese conglomerate Tianjin Tianhai is acquiring electronics distributor Ingram Micro for $6 billion, or $38.90/share in cash (representing a 31% premium to Ingram Micro’s close on Wednesday). Ingram Micro will maintain its headquarters in California, but they will suspend their dividend and buyback programs.
IBM has agreed to purchase Truven Health Analytics for $2.6 billion, its fourth health data-related acquisition in less than a year. Closely held Truven provides cloud-based data management and analytics to more than 8,500 health-care clients, including hospitals, insurers and government agencies
Boeing engineers and technical workers approved a six-year contract extension that brings better salary, plus vacation, layoff and retirement benefits. Boeing reaffirmed its outlook for strong growth and cash flow over the next five years, and defended accounting practices for the 787 Dreamliner.
This morning Walmart reported fourth quarter profit topped projections, and revenue fell as sales growth slowed at its US stores during the holiday quarter. The 0.6 percent increase in sales at U.S. stores open more than a year marks the chain’s sixth straight three-month period of growth after a long run of decreases.
Walmart lowered its annual sales forecast, saying it now expects to see flat sales instead of 3 to 4 percent growth. The chain said the change in expectations is because of the continued strength of the U.S. dollar and the impact of the decision it announced it January to close 269 of its stores across the globe.
Walmart has been ramping up its efforts in the last year to become a more serious rival in e-commerce to Amazon.com. And yet, some of the numbers in today’s earnings report only serve to showcase how much Amazon is still pummeling Walmart in the category. Walmart said its online sales growth for the full year was 12 percent, with a total e-commerce sales haul of $13.7 billion.
That may sound like a healthy increase, until you consider that Amazon’s total e-commerce sales during the same period were north of $83 billion. Walmart reported $130 billion in revenue in the quarter, a 1.4 percent decrease from the same quarter last year. Profit dipped 8 percent to $4.5 billion. Earnings per share were $1.49, slightly better than the $1.46 that analysts had expected.
Also before the opening bell, MGM Resorts reported a $1.4 billion loss for the fourth-quarter; that compares to a loss of $287 million in the year-earlier period.
In other earnings news: Barrick Gold shares dropped despite a smaller quarterly loss. Newmont Mining posted weaker than expected earnings. CF Industries reported fertilizer prices weakened. GoDaddy said a strong dollar weighed on results. Noble Energy posted an unexpected profit. Nvidia reported higher chip demand, and offered strong guidance. Priceline said hotel bookings increased.
And T-Mobile tripled profits. Virgin America reported a higher fourth-quarter profit that met analysts’ estimates amid lower fuel costs, and said it expects passenger unit revenue to continue to decline in the first quarter. Nestle missed forecasts with a 4.2 percent rise in annual underlying sales and predicted only a similar outcome this year, saying it was getting harder to raise prices in a tough economic environment. DISH Network reported lower net income in 2015 from a year earlier, as pay-tv subscriptions dropped. Dish shares down more than 4 percent.
The FCC has just voted to break the chains that bind you to your cable TV set top box. The FCC vote allows third-party manufacturers to make set-top boxes that deliver cable television. The proposal also requires cable and satellite companies to make their content available for these alternative boxes. According to a July Senate study, more than 99 percent of cable customers in the United States currently rent a box from their cable company for $231 per year on average.
The idea of the FCC proposal is that third-party devices like Nexus Players or Apple TVs could eventually provide cable alongside other streaming apps and Internet services. You can see why the cable industry isn’t keen on this change. Opening the market could drive down cable box prices and push cable companies to spend money improving their set-top tech. Don’t return your cable box just yet though. The rule will now go into the comment period—in which businesses and customers can now weigh in—before the final vote.