Morning in Arizona

Morning in Arizona
Rainbows over Canyonlands - Dave Stoker

The Headline Animator

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Death by a Thousand Cuts

Financial Review

Death by a Thousand Cuts

DOW – 54 = 21,574
SPX + 1 = 2460 (record)
NAS + 29 = 6344 (record)
RUT – 3 = 1427
10 Y – .05 = 2.26%
OIL + .30 = 46.32
GOLD + 8.30 = 1243.00
BITCOIN + 0.45% = 2338.41 USD
ETHEREUM – 9.33% = 225.56

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq closed at records.

Last night, two Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas, issued statements declaring that they would not vote for the revamped BCRA health care bill. The two senators timed the release of their statements and made clear that modest tinkering around the edges of the legislation drafted by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell would not be enough to meet their demands.

They joined a pair of GOP colleagues in calling for a complete redrawing of the legislation that would take many months, short-circuiting McConnell’s wish to end the debate this month. So, the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare is dead, at least for the foreseeable future. Trump tweeted: “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate.”

And so, this morning, McConnell started to push for a repeal only bill; an idea that would immediately push insurers out of the marketplace. The repeal plan never got off the ground. Three senators said they would not support a motion to proceed on the efforts to repeal without a ready-made replacement. So, repeal and replace is dead, and repeal-only is dead.

What next? Insurance companies are asking the same question and they are facing an uncertain future. Obamacare’s insurance markets still have problems, with insurers pulling out of some areas and raising premiums in others. Trump has many powers at his command to undermine them further, and has threatened to do so.

And there’s no map and no timeline by which lawmakers might find a resolution. Individual markets continue to spiral downward partly because of the inherent issues in Obamacare’s market architecture and partly because of Republican efforts to make things even worse. In some states, Obamacare is doing relatively well, but in others it’s struggling and even starting to fail.

Many insurers have stopped bleeding money from sicker-than-expected enrollees, but they remain wary about continuing to play on the exchanges. The number of insurers filing initial applications on the federal marketplace dropped 38% for 2018. That figure could grow if more insurers get spooked by Washington’s indecisiveness. Insurers aren’t locked into participating in 2018 until late September. Open enrollment begins November 1.

The next deadline comes this week, when the Trump administration must decide whether to keep paying what are known as cost-sharing subsidies. The subsidies help low-income people afford co-payments and cost-sharing on medical services, and their legitimacy is the subject of a legal dispute. The Trump administration has threatened to stop making them.

Obamacare might not implode but it could still die a death of a thousand cuts.

Meanwhile, Congress still need to find agreement on next year’s budget, an increase to the government debt ceiling, as well as promised tax reform. A hard fight over the budget resolution process would portend hurdles to moving forward on reconciliation and tax legislation.

The health-care bill is only one piece of the tax puzzle. Congressional Republicans want to use reconciliation rules to pass a tax bill since it appears unlikely that there will be enough Democratic votes in the Senate to reach the 60-vote hurdle. However, using reconciliation is predicated on Congress passing a budget resolution — no budget resolution means no reconciliation, which means no tax bill.

The National Association of Realtors released a report that said foreign buyers and recent immigrants spent an estimated $153 billion on American properties in the year ending March 2017. That was a 49% increase over the previous year and the highest level since record-keeping began in 2009. The purchases accounted for 10% of the total value of existing home sales in the U.S. The report did not include new homes.

Canadian real estate investors nearly doubled their purchases of American homes over the period because of the relative affordability of properties in the States. Many Canadians have been squeezed out of property markets in cities like Toronto and Vancouver that have experienced rapid price gains. Canadians were the second biggest foreign purchasers of homes after the Chinese.

Buyers from China shelled out nearly $32 billion over the period, while Canadians spent $19 billion. Nearly half of all foreign sales were in three states: Florida, California and Texas. Canadians gravitated to Florida. Chinese buyers focused on California. And Texas was the preferred state for Mexican buyers. New Jersey and Arizona were the fourth and fifth most popular states.

The monthly confidence gauge from the National Association of Home Builders fell two points to a reading of 64. The index now stands at the lowest level since before the election. Any reading over 50 signals improvement. The traffic component of the index broke above the neutral 50 line after the election for the first time since the housing bubble, but has since moderated.

Home-builders are increasingly concerned over rising material prices, particularly lumber. The price of lumber is soaring. Lumber in June cost 17% more than it did just a year earlier, and it’s even more expensive than during the building boom last decade.

Strong demand is one reason for rising lumber prices. Housing starts are up 3% this year compared with the same period last year, according to the Census Bureau. And building permits are up twice as much. The Trump administration has also proposed a tariff of up to 24% on Canadian lumber.

The administration says the Canadian government creates an unfair advantage by subsidizing the lumber industry. A tariff could drive up the price of an average home by $3,000. The tariff has not been imposed, but the threat alone has driven up the price of lumber.

Also, more than 375 fires have swept across British Columbia, burning forests and forcing sawmills to shut down or evacuate. While the impact on supplies is minimal so far, there are concerns that the blazes will continue to spread amid hot, dry conditions.

An even bigger problem is a growing labor shortage. Government statistics show fewer unemployed construction workers were available to be hired last year than at the height of the housing boom. Many workers left the field after the housing bust or just retired.

Americans say they love U.S.-made goods. They are less enthusiastic, however, about paying a premium for them. A Reuters/Ipsos poll finds 70 percent of Americans think it is “very important” or “somewhat important” to buy U.S.-made products. Despite that sentiment, 37 percent said they would refuse to pay more for U.S.-made goods versus imports. Twenty six percent said they would only pay up to 5 percent more to buy American, and 21 percent capped the premium at 10 percent.

California legislators have voted to extend the cap-and-trade emissions system a further 10 years until 2030. The emissions-lowering system, the second-largest of its kind in the world, aims to help the state reach its target of cutting planet-warming gases 40% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

The cap-and-trade program, established in 2006 under then governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, sets a limit on emissions and requires polluters to either reduce their output or purchase permits from those who have. As the limit steadily becomes stricter, it nudges businesses to take the more financially attractive option of cutting their pollution.

California’s pioneering attitude to climate change action was underlined by separate court action launched on Monday, aimed at holding fossil fuel companies accountable for global warming. Marin and San Mateo counties, along with the City of Imperial Beach, filed a lawsuit in the California superior court to complain that 37 oil, gas and coal companies knew burning their products would increase carbon pollution and cause sea levels rise.

The municipalities are claiming damages from the fossil fuel firms, echoing a strategy used against the tobacco industry in the 1990s that resulted in multi-billion dollar payouts. The companies targeted in the lawsuit include Shell, Exxon Mobile, Chevron and BP. According to the municipalities, these businesses have caused around 20% of all industrial carbon dioxide and methane pollution since the 1960s.

Bank of America and Goldman Sachs posted better than expected earnings today, one had record income from lending while the other had better-than-expected trading. The surprise is which was which. Goldman reported revenue from institutional clients was down 17% compared with a year ago, led by a whopping 40% decline in trading in fixed income, currencies, and commodities.

Investment banking fees were also down, by a more modest 3%. In a strange twist of events, Bank of America reaped more revenue from trading — $3.4 billion—than Goldman Sachs, which earned $3.1 billion. The banks haven’t totally swapped identities. Goldman’s interest income won’t be confused with Bank of America’s $11 billion anytime soon. And trading accounts for 16 percent of revenue at BofA, compared with 40 percent at Goldman.

Bank of America dropped 0.5% today, while Goldman was down 2.3%.

While Goldman was a drag on the Dow Industrials, Netflix helped to lift the Nasdaq Composite. After the close on Monday, Netflix reported a surprise jump in international subscriber numbers. Today the shares jumped 13% to a record high of $183.60, which puts the company’s price to earnings ratio at 197, which some people might consider a bit high, while other people might get a nosebleed at those heights.

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