Wake Me When It’s Over
DOW – 65 = 18,481
SPX – 11 = 2175
NAS – 42 = 5217
10 Y + .02 = 1.56%
OIL – 1.30 = 46.80
GOLD – 13.10 = 1324.80
Today’s marks the first anniversary of a chaotic day in the markets. The S&P 500 lost 77.7 points, or 3.9%, and China’s Shanghai Composite crashed more than 8%, less than a week after the People’s Bank of China announced it was devaluing its currency.
Investors are turning their attention to Fed chair Janet Yellen to see whether she will endorse recent comments from other central-bank officials that indicated rates could rise as early as next month. Yellen is scheduled to speak at the Jackson Hole Wyoming economic symposium on Friday. Recent economic news in the US has been pretty good. Several Fed policymakers have made some hawkish comments in the past few days suggesting the Fed will hike rates in September.
Predictably the idea that the Fed is contemplating a rate rise while all the other major central banks are looking to provide more stimulus led to a stronger US dollar and weaker commodity prices. Odds of an increase in September have climbed to 28 percent, from 10 percent a month ago, while bets on a December hike have risen to 51 percent from 36 percent at the end of July.
With earnings season almost complete, stocks have barely budged in the past 32 trading sessions, but yesterday the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq hit intra-day record highs. The S&P 500 index rose almost 20% since reaching a 22-month low in February, and trades near its highest valuation in more than decade, based on estimated income.
Meanwhile, the CBOE Volatility Index (or VIX) is close to a two-year low. At a mean level around 12 this month, the measure of market turbulence known as the VIX is the lowest for any August since 1994, and has been below 15 for 35 days, the longest stretch of calm since July 2014.
The National Association of Realtors says sales of existing homes fell 3.2% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.39 million. The decline marks a reversal from rising demand that pushed sales in June to their highest level since February 2007. Fewer homes are coming onto the market, putting a cap on sales growth. The number of listings dropped 5.8% from a year ago to 2.13 million, and so it is tougher to find the right property. The median home sales price was $244,100 in July, up 5.3% from a year ago.
The American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade group, reported on Tuesday that U.S. crude inventories rose 4.5 million barrels in the week ending Aug. 19 versus market expectations for a draw of around 500,000 barrels. Crude inventories climbed by 2.5 million barrels in the week ended Aug. 19, according to an Energy Information Administration report. Crude oil dropped about 3% today.
Better-than-expected demand for Samsung’s new Galaxy Note7 has caused the South Korean company to delay the launch of the premium smartphone in some markets. The demand for the large-screen “phablet” (that’s a combination of phone and tablet) follows good reviews since it was launched last Friday in the U.S., South Korea and other countries.
The European Commission is expected to levy a judgment against Apple in the next few months that could total in the billions of euros. The Financial Times reports Apple could be on the hook for as much as$19 billion. The commission is accusing Apple of striking a sweetheart tax deal with Ireland, in which the Apple would move its profits to wholly owned Irish subsidiaries to reduce its corporate taxes. Congress investigated Apple’s tax arrangements in 2013, which led to CEO Tim Cook testifying before the US Senate.
Apple has billions of dollars held offshore that it would love to bring back to the US, but Cook has said that he thinks the system is unfair. And yes, it is legal. In a white paper commissioned by US Treasury secretary Jack Lew, the US warned that the Euro Union was overstepping its powers and becoming a “supranational tax authority”.
The white paper warned that, “The US Treasury Department continues to consider potential responses should the Commission continue its present course. A strongly preferred and mutually beneficial outcome would be a return to the system and practice of international tax cooperation that has long fostered cross-border investment between the United States and EU member states.”
So, why is the US Treasury backing Apple in what looks like a somewhat sleazy, if technically legal, tax dodge? The US Treasury warned that American taxpayers could end up footing the bill if the commission goes ahead and demands back taxes from Apple and other US companies as the firms may be able to offset the EU-demand taxes against US tax payments. It described this potential outcome as “deeply troubling, as it would effectively constitute a transfer of revenue to the EU from the US government and its taxpayers”.
So, the basic controversy at the root of this is, people really aren’t arguing that Apple should pay more taxes. They’re arguing about who they should be paid to. And so there’s a tug of war going on between the countries of how you allocate profits.
Tesla’s new versions of the Model S and Model X will come with improved acceleration and battery packs. The new battery improves the driving range on both models to over 300 miles, with the extra power cutting the 0-60 mph time on a Tesla Model S to 2.5 seconds. We told you about that yesterday. Electric cars can be very, very fast. But the cool part is that Tesla extended the range from about 200 miles per charge to 315 miles without increasing the size of the battery packs.
Instead of changing the external pack shape or size or cell chemistry for the 100 kilowatt-hour battery pack, Tesla created a whole new battery cell cooling system and rearranged the battery cell architecture and electronics. It is likely Tesla added in more battery cells to the same shape pack, but it was able to still place the cells in a position where they could be adequately cooled while charging and discharging. Still, it’s quite a breakthrough. No other company is producing electric cars on a production basis with a 315-mile range.
The world’s largest aircraft, the Airlander 10 airship, has crashed and suffered damage on its second test flight. Today the prototype Airlander 10 undertook its second test flight and flew for 100 minutes, completing all the planned tasks but crashed when it tried to land. Both pilots and ground crew are “safe and well”. The Airlander 10, which looks like a couple of giant blimps tied together, is vying to become a leader in an industry that could be worth $50 billion over the next 20 years, according to the companies building the aircraft.
The inflated flying structures are making a comeback with big players and new challengers promising to develop airships for anything from luxury travel to transporting cargo to remote parts of the world. Hybrid Air Vehicles’ blimp costs around $40 million to buy. As a comparison the cheapest Airbus, the A318 has an average list price of $75.1 million.
The US government is buying 11 million pounds of cheese because no one else will. The US Department of Agriculture is buying $20 million worth of cheese to help alleviate a surplus that is at a 30-year high. The US cheese market has had a significant oversupply problem for most of the year because foreign buyers have looked elsewhere for their dairy products as a result of the strong dollar.
Before this slowdown in exports, many farmers had ramped up their production because of record-high prices. It’s not just a matter of government intervention in the free market for cheese; the surplus will be distributed to food banks across the country and they will get the high-protein food to the tables of those most in need.
A World Bank arbitration tribunal has ordered Venezuela to pay Canada’s Rusoro Mining over $1.2 billion after ruling that the government unlawfully expropriated the company’s gold mines in 2011. It is far from clear whether Venezuela will comply with the order; while Gold Reserve said this month that it had reached a settlement in a similar case, Venezuela has said it will fight an order that it pay $1.4 billion to Crystallex International over similar claims.
In June, a California man filed a proposed class action suit alleging that customers ordering cold beverages from Starbucks received less liquid than advertised as ice could take up as much space as 10 ounces in the cup. Since the lawsuit was first filed, Starbucks has insisted that ice is an “essential component of any ‘ice’ beverage”.
The company also reiterated that any customer unhappy with their beverage could alert their barista and get a new one. Customers are also welcome to ask for light ice or extra ice when placing their order. A judge has issued a ruling, writing in his decision that the cups are clear and customers can see how much ice they are getting, and that even children understand that if you add ice, you have less room for the liquid. Case dismissed. And you thought the justice system was broken.