Morning in Arizona

Morning in Arizona
Rainbows over Canyonlands - Dave Stoker

The Headline Animator

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Go Placidly

Financial Review

Go Placidly

DOW + 141 = 20,804
SPX + 16 = 2381
NAS + 28 = 6083
RUT + 6 = 1367
10 Y + .01 = 2.23%
OIL + 1.18 = 50.53
GOLD + 8.80 = 1256.60

Stocks finished with triple digit gains but well off session highs as news headlines once again rattled traders. The Dow gave back more than 50 points and the S&P 500 saw gains cut in half following an afternoon news dump. The Washington Post is reporting that a current White House official is a significant person of interest in the law enforcement investigation.

Separately the New York Times reported that Trump told Russian officials at the White House that firing FBI Director James Comey relieved “great pressure” from an ongoing probe into Russia and the election. The Times report cited a document summarizing the meeting.

Trump is on the first leg of a ten-day overseas trip that starts in Saudi Arabia, then moves to Israel, the Vatican, Brussels (for a NATO summit), and then Sicily for a G7 summit. The Trump administration planned to announce $110 billion in sales of advanced military equipment and training to Saudi Arabia this weekend.

Despite the firing of James Comey, and a general sense from the mainstream media that the Trump White House is in disarray, and the lowest public approval ratings since the inauguration, Wall Street continues to trade near record highs.  For the week, the Dow and S&P dropped 0.4 percent and Nasdaq was down 0.6 percent.

The dollar index lost 1.6 percent in the five days, the worst week since July 2016. Gold capped its best week in a month. The yield on 10-year Treasuries climbed less than one basis point to 2.23 percent, after rising as much as three basis points earlier in the session. It fell nine basis points this week.

Oil prices rose. West Texas crude rose 2.2 percent to settle at $50.53 a barrel in New York, for a weekly increase of 5.4 percent, the most since March and the second week of gains, on growing expectations that OPEC and other producing countries will agree next week to extend output cuts.

OPEC and other producers including Russia are scheduled to meet on May 25. They are expected to extend output cuts of 1.8 million barrels a day until the end of March 2018. U.S. crude production has climbed 10 percent since mid-2016 to 9.3 million barrels per day as shale producers have taken advantage of higher prices to boost activity.

Iran holds its first round of presidential elections this weekend. If President Hassan Rouhani remains in office, it should encourage Western investment and boost Iranian oil production. If the winner is Ebrahim Raisi, a critic of Iran’s nuclear deal with the West, then it is possible that new sanctions could be imposed, which could reduce the oil supply from Iran.

After two weeks chock full of retailers’ earnings — largely disappointing Wall Street and missing analysts’ expectations — the S&P 500’s Retail ETF (XRT) finished the week down about 3.5%. Leading the declines were names like Ascena Retail Group, Foot Locker, American Eagle and Sears.

Ascena — the parent of clothing companies such as Ann Taylor and dressbarn — saw its shares plunge more than 30 percent earlier in the week, after it adjusted its second-half outlook to reflect worse-than-expected business conditions. Meanwhile, Foot Locker’s same-store sales fell short of expectations.

Off-price retailer TJX, which operates T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods stores, was expected to be an upbeat outlier for the week, but even its first-quarter comparable sales couldn’t match Street estimates. Gap reported a surprise rise in quarterly same-store sales, bucking the trend of dismal results in the U.S. retail industry, as the company benefited from the robust performance at its Old Navy brand.

Campbell Soup’s quarterly sales and profit missed analysts’ estimates, hurt by higher promotions and weak demand for its condensed soups, broths and V8 vegetable juices, and the company warned that its full-year sales could decline.

Deere & Co raised its full-year sales and profit forecast for the second time, as demand improves for its farm and construction equipment, particularly in South America, sending its shares to a record high of $122. The company said it expected fiscal 2017 industry sales of tractors and combined harvesters in South America to be at the high-end of its earlier forecast of about 15-20 percent rise.

While farmers in South America have been complaining about low prices, they have enjoyed big gains in corn and soybean output.

Brazil’s Supreme Court released explosive plea-bargain testimony today accusing President Michel Temer, along with former presidents Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, of receiving millions in bribes. The testimony raises serious doubts about whether Temer, who replaced the impeached Rousseff last year, can maintain his grip on the presidency.

The testimony implicates both ruling and opposition parties and indicates that Temer, a conservative, accepted $4.6 million in bribes from JBS, which ranks as the world’s largest meat processor. It also alleges that Lula, who is already facing five corruption trials, received $50 million in bribes in offshore accounts from JBS, while Rousseff took $30 million in bribes.

Temer said he would not resign from the presidency. The Supreme Court released an audio tape of Temer, approving the payment of hush money to former lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha, who last year orchestrated Rousseff’s impeachment and was later convicted for corruption.

Many politicians fear that if Cunha should turn state’s witness, his testimony could implicate scores of congressmen and members of the executive branch.

About 37,000 AT&T workers, or less than 14 percent of the company’s total workforce, began a three-day strike after failing to reach an agreement with the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier over new contracts. This is the first time that AT&T wireless workers are on strike, which could result in closed retail stores during the weekend.

The workers on strike are members of the CWA Communications Workers of America union. The workers are demanding wage increases that cover rising healthcare costs, job security against outsourcing, affordable healthcare and a fair scheduling policy.

Slightly over half of the workers on strike are part of the wireless segment and the rest wireline workers, including a small number of DirecTV technicians.

Fiat Chrysler plans to update software that it expects will resolve the concerns of U.S. regulators about excess emissions in 104,000 older diesels. The software update would begin rolling out once the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board approved.

In January, the EPA and California accused Fiat Chrysler of illegally using undisclosed software to allow excess diesel emissions in 104,000 U.S. 2014-2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks in a notice of violation.

The Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board announced approval of a fix for about 84,000 older Volkswagen diesel vehicles that can emit excess emissions. Volkswagen agreed last year to offer to buy back up to 475,000 2.0-liter diesel vehicles that had been sold in the United States or offer fixes if regulators approved.

Friday’s announcement covers a fix for 84,000 2012-2014 Passat diesel vehicles with automatic transmissions. A fix for vehicles with manual transmissions has not yet been approved. In January, regulators approved a fix for 67,000 2015 model diesels, leaving around 325,000 older vehicles still awaiting approval for a fix.

The federal government has, in recent years, paid debt collectors close to $1 billion annually to help distressed borrowers climb out of default and scrounge up regular monthly payments. New government figures suggest much of that money may have been wasted.

Nearly half of defaulted student-loan borrowers who worked with debt collectors to return to good standing on their loans defaulted again within three years, according to an analysis by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For their work, debt collectors receive up to $1,710 in payment from the Department of Education each time a borrower makes good on soured debt through a process known as rehabilitation.

They keep those funds even if borrowers subsequently default again. What constitutes rehabilitation? Nine months of on-time payments, even if the borrower only pays $5 a month. That means that in many cases, the government pays $38 to collect one dollar. The department has earmarked more than $4.2 billion for payments to its debt collectors since the start of the 2013 fiscal year.

Seven years into an economic recovery, nearly half of Americans didn’t have enough cash available to cover a $400 emergency. That’s according to the latest findings from the Federal Reserve’s annual economic well-being of U.S. households, which found 44% in 2016 said such an expense would have to be covered by borrowing or selling something.

That’s a similar percentage to what was found in past Fed surveys. Of the group that can’t pay in cash, 45% would use a credit card to pay off the expense over time, about a quarter would borrow from friends of family, another 27% just couldn’t pay the expense and smaller fractions would turn to selling items or using a payday loan.

We now know where all the money is hiding. Retirees who are usually expected to spend that hard-earned nest egg are instead cutting their spending and living frugally, according to a University of Michigan survey analyzed by software company United Income. The median retiree spends 8 percent less than they comfortably could afford; the result, retirees now hold assets totaling more than $25 trillion.

Spending money, besides being a boost for the economy, could help retirees be more active, if they physically get out of the house to do it. Meanwhile, younger Americans, whose incomes are falling behind those of previous generations, aren’t saving enough.

So, the moral of the story is get out and spend some money this weekend, you might feel younger.

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