That’s Her Story
DOW – 99 = 15,914
SPX – 0.35 = 1851
NAS + 14 = 4283
10 Y – .02 = 1.70%
OIL – .64 = 27.30
GOLD + 8.00 = 1197.80
Fed Chair Janet Yellen delivered her semi-annual Humphrey-Hawkins testimony in Washington today in her first major appearance since the Fed’s rate hike last December. In prepared testimony, Yellen said there are good reasons to believe the United States will stay on a path of moderate growth that will allow the Fed to pursue “gradual” adjustments to monetary policy.
Family incomes and wealth are rising, domestic spending “has continued to advance,” and business investment outside the oil sector accelerated in the second half of the year, she said. Yellen said she expects the labor market to continue to improve and inflation eventually rise towards the Fed’s target despite a recent drop in inflation expectations.
Yellen said that financial conditions “have become less supportive to growth.” If these conditions persist, they could weigh on the economy. In addition, Yellen said there are “downside risks” largely stemming from uncertainty about the health of the Chinese economy. “Should any of these downside risks materialize, foreign activity and demand for U.S. exports could weaken and financial market conditions could tighten further.”
The Fed chairwoman did not come out and say anything about the U.S. central bank’s own forecast, made in December, that it would raise interest rates four times in 2016. She stressed the Fed was not in automatic tightening mode. Yellen said, “Monetary policy is by no means on a preset course.”
With Wall Street off to an ugly start to the New Year, there has been some speculation the Fed might have to reverse course and cut rates; Yellen addressed this in her Q&A session, saying: “I think we want to be careful not to jump to a premature conclusion about what is in store for the U.S. economy. I don’t think it is going to be necessary to cut rates.” Rather, she said she expected continued US growth would allow the Fed to pursue its plan of “gradual” rate hikes.
To boil it down for you, Yellen essentially said that we won’t see a rate hike in March and we won’t see 4 rate hikes in 2016. Tomorrow, Yellen will repeat the story before the Senate.
Treasury 10-year note yields fell two basis points, or 0.02 percentage point, to 1.70%. Two-year note yields rose one basis point to 0.70%. The difference between two- and 10-year note yields fell to the lowest on an intraday basis since January 2008; just 100 basis points. A shrinking gap is known as a flattening yield curve.
The decline in longer term yields probably doesn’t signal the expectation that short term rates might go even lower, but rather, it signals that bond market participants are seeing the possibility of rates going higher as diminishing. The upside, which in this case is a healthy economy with a healthy demand for money, is being perceived as less likely.
A possible side effect is that low rates equate to cheap money. Now that doesn’t mean that interest rates are dropping everywhere; corporate bond rates have not been dropping, largely because quality has been dropping. And don’t expect to see lower rates on credit cards in the foreseeable future; but mortgage rates are cheap.
Calculatedriskblog reports mortgage applications increased 9.3 percent from one week earlier; purchase applications are up 25% year-over-year; and refinancing applications increased 16% from the previous week. The average contract interest rate for a 30-year fixed rate conforming mortgage dropped to 3.91%, the lowest level since April 2015.
We had a similar flight to safety causing Treasury bond rates to plunge during the Euro-crises of 2012 and early 2013. Those low rates gave rise to the biggest increases in housing construction and jobs during the entire US expansion.
Japanese stocks extended a heavy selloff today, the Nikkei dropped 2.3%, closing in the red for six of the past seven sessions, despite a festive atmosphere across East Asia for the Lunar New Year holiday. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s handling of the economy, and said it was up to the central bank to decide what policy instruments to use.
The Supreme Court temporarily blocked the administration’s effort to combat global warming by regulating emissions from coal-fired power plants. The order was not the last word on the case, which is most likely to return to the Supreme Court after an appeals court considers an expedited challenge from 29 states and dozens of corporations and industry groups.
But the Supreme Court’s willingness to issue a stay while the case proceeds was an early hint that the program could face a skeptical reception from the justices. The 5-to-4 vote was unprecedented; the Supreme Court had never before granted a request to halt a regulation before review by a federal appeals court.
The challenged regulation, which was issued last summer by the Environmental Protection Agency, requires states to make major cuts to greenhouse gas pollution created by electric power plants, the nation’s largest source of such emissions. The plan could transform the nation’s electricity system, cutting emissions from existing power plants by a third by 2030, from a 2005 baseline, by closing hundreds of heavily polluting coal-fired plants and increasing production of renewable, clean energy.
Though the first emission reduction obligations do not take effect until 2022, the states said they had already started to spend money and shift resources; and any judicial review will be completed well before 2022.
The Treasury Department reports the federal government ran a budget surplus of $55 billion in January, compared with a deficit of $18 billion in the same month a year ago. Including the monthly surplus, the government is running deficit of $160 billion for the fiscal year to date. That’s 17% less than the first four months of the last fiscal year, which ended in September.
Deficit hawks shouldn’t get too excited by the lower year-to-date number, however. The Congressional Budget Office is projecting a deficit of $544 billion for fiscal 2016, which would be more than $100 billion above the shortfall for 2015. The CBO pegged that expected bigger deficit partly on some tax breaks being made permanent.
China has confirmed its first case of the Zika virus in a man who recently traveled to Venezuela. The World Health Organization declared Zika a public health threat on Feb. 1, and raised the possibility that there could be up to 4 million cases of the virus in the Americas alone.
Deutsche Bank shares recovered about 5% today, leading a surge in European bank shares. Deutsche Bank is considering a bond buyback to help ease investor concerns about its debt. The stock remains down over 30 percent since the start of 2016.
HSBC has been sued by the families of U.S. citizens murdered by drug gangs in Mexico, claiming the bank let cartels launder billions of dollars to operate their business. HSBC already paid nearly $2 billion in penalties in December 2012 to resolve charges that it failed to stop hundreds of millions of dollars in drug money from flowing through the bank from Mexico.
Just last week, the Justice Department announced that it had reached a $470 million settlement with HSBC related to mortgage lending and foreclosure fraud that led to the economic collapse of 2008.
MetLife, the same insurance behemoth that advertises how it is a huge international powerhouse, now says that it really isn’t so big after all, and to prove it, they sued the US government over whether regulators can designate non-banking firms as “too big to fail.” Today, the case went to trial.
Non-bank firms designated systemically important must hold more capital and comply with rules intended to stave off the need for a federal bailout should they fail. The rules have yet to be finalized. Last month, MetLife said it plans to split up due to the “regulatory environment” and pressure is mounting on other firms to also shrink and shed the “too big to fail” designation.
A significant barrier to Google’s plan to put driverless cars on the roads has been removed, after the NHTSA supported its interpretation that a robot could meet the legal definition of a driver. Do they get a driver’s license?
Google has also filed for another potential use of its artificial intelligence system in a patent award that described an “autonomous delivery platform” for trucks. The driverless transport vehicle would carry several lockers that could only be opened by the recipient of a package, using a PIN code or credit card.
Time Warner reported a bigger-than-expected drop in quarterly revenue as subscription revenue for its cable channel HBO and Turner television network disappointed. Time Warner dropped about 4% on the day.
Cisco Systems reported its second-quarter earnings rose to $3.1 billion from $2.4 billion in the same quarter last year. Revenue was flat at $11.9 billion. Cisco beat estimates on the top and bottom line. Shares moved higher in after-hours.
Whole Foods Market said profit declined in its latest quarter, same store sales were down and gross margin continued to deteriorate, but they still topped estimates. Shares moved higher in after-hours.
Twitter said it had 320 million average monthly active users in the quarter, lagging a forecast for 323 million users from RBC Capital Markets. Revenue rose 48% to $710 million in the quarter. Twitter posted earnings of 16 cents per share, versus estimates of 12 cents. But the takeaway is that user growth stalled. Shares moved lower in after-hours.
Tesla reports it will be cash flow positive in 2016, and will turn a profit. Just not today. Tesla posted a loss of $320 million, its 11th straight quarterly loss. But good times are right around the bend. Tesla shares moved higher in after-hours.