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Friday, July 15, 2016

Progress Not Perfection

Financial Review

Progress Not Perfection

DOW + 10 = 18,516
SPX – 2 = 2161
NAS – 4 = 5029
10 Y + .06 = 1.60%
OIL + .27 = 45.95
GOLD – 3.80 = 1331.80

Another record high close for the Dow Industrials; six straight winning sessions, and since the June 27 lows following the Brexit vote, the Dow Industrials have added just over 1453 points, or an 8.5% gain in less than 3 weeks.

Consumer prices rose in June for the fourth straight month as the cost of gasoline, rent and medical care continued to go up. The consumer price index increased a seasonally adjusted 0.2% last month; the CPI is a measure of inflation at the retail level. Overall inflation remains low. The consumer price index has risen 1% in the past 12 months. And the multi-year trend is disinflationary. Real or inflation-adjusted hourly wages, meanwhile, fell 0.2% in June to mark the second drop in three months. Hourly pay has risen a scant 1.5% in the past 12 months.

The higher cost of gas accounted for much of the increase in inflation in June. Energy prices rose 1.3%. What’s also helping households is the biggest sustained drop in grocery prices since 2010. The so-called food at home index fell 0.3% in June, and it’s down 1.3% in the past 12 months. The core rate that excludes food and energy rose 0.2% in June and increased at a 2.3% annual pace. Yet other key expenses for consumers such as housing and medical care have gotten costlier. Rents rose 0.4% in June and the price of prescription drugs jumped 1.3%. Rent in particular is denting the pocketbooks of consumers, especially people moving into new apartments. Longtime home owners with low mortgages are faring much better.

Retail sales rose a seasonally adjusted 0.6% to mark the third straight strong gain. The surge in spending was led by home-and-garden centers and online stores. Online retailers led by Amazon boasted a 1.1% increase in sales in June. Gas stations and even department stores, lately the industry laggards, also recorded strong sales. Gas prices increased in the spring and early summer, though prices have since leveled off. Sales at apparel stores fell 1%, restaurants lost business and sales at purveyors of electronics and appliances were flat. Auto dealers registered a 0.1% increase. Purchases of new cars and trucks were softer than expected last month.

 Industrial production in June grew 0.6%, the fastest monthly rate in eleven months. Despite the gains, the factory sector is still struggling. For the second quarter as a whole, industrial production fell at an annual rate of 1%, its third consecutive quarterly decline and the fifth out of the past six. Compared to a year ago, production was down 0.7%. Manufacturing has been hurt by the strong dollar and the drop in oil prices.

The University of Michigan said its consumer sentiment index fell to 89.5 in July, a three-month low, from 93.5 in June. Prior to the Brexit vote, virtually no consumer thought the issue would have the slightest impact on the U.S. economy. Following the Brexit vote, it was mentioned by record numbers of consumers, especially high income consumers.

Three Fed policymakers
, James Bullard, Robert Kaplan and Dennis Lockhart, all expressed the view yesterday that there’s no hurry to raise interest rates in the wake of the Brexit vote, despite signs that the U.S. is near full employment. Kansas City Fed President Esther George differed on the outlook, stating she would keep an eye on recent market volatility, but stressed that rates were too low for the strength of the economy.

Companies have begun announcing earnings for the second quarter, and the results are not expected to be pretty over the next few weeks. Analytics firm FactSet estimates profits of companies in the S&P 500-stock index will fall 5.6 percent compared with a year ago; the fifth straight quarter of decline. The contraction has been so prolonged that investors consider it an “earnings recession.” LPL Financial, analyzed the S&P’s 12 earnings recessions since 1954. Nine of them were accompanied by economic recessions a year before or after, although the depth and duration of the downturns varied widely. Three earnings recessions have not been tied to broader distress. The first two occurred in 1967 and 1985. The third is the one we’re in right now, and it is not done playing out.

Citigroup reported quarterly earnings and revenue that easily beat analysts’ expectations, even as earnings and revenue dropped from the year-earlier quarter. The company posted second-quarter earnings per share of $1.24, compared with $1.51 a share in the year-earlier period. Revenue for the quarter came in at $17.5 billion, against the year-earlier figure of $19.1 billion.

Wells Fargo reported net income fell from $5.4 billion to $5.2 billion, even as revenue was higher. That’s a bad combination – it means net margins are down or expenses are up, or both. Part of the problem for Wells Fargo is that they have to set aside more provisions for loan losses.

The Federal Trade Commission settled with Herbalife, effectively determining that the nutritional supplement marketer is not a pyramid scheme. However, the FTC did warn Herbalife that it will need to prove that its business model is legitimate going forward. Separately, the company said Carl Icahn and his interests have retained the right to boost their ownership stake of Herbalife to 34.99 percent, up from a previous maximum of 25 percent. Icahn currently owns about 18 percent of Herbalife’s outstanding common shares.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is investing more than $1 billion in its assembly plants in Illinois and Ohio, retooling them to boost production of its Jeep Cherokee and Wrangler. Sales of Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep brand rose 17% in June and accounted for 42.5% of the company’s total U.S. sales.

The gavel is finally poised to drop in the drawn-out auction for Yahoo’s core internet business. Final bids for the services, which include its search, email, advertising and media operations, are due Monday, with the board set to make a decision soon afterward.

Costs from BP’s deadly 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill will rise by an additional $5.2 billion and ultimately cost $62 billion in pay-outs for one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. The pretax charge for BP’s second quarter will also likely be the last from the Deepwater Horizon accident to have a “material impact” on its financial performance.

A federal appeals court sided with Microsoft in a case over whether the U.S. government could force the company and other tech companies to hand over customer emails stored overseas. The decision reverses a 2014 court order that required Microsoft to turn over email content stored on a server in Ireland. The court found that the federal Stored Communications Act only applies to data stored in the United States — and thus can’t be used to force a company to produce information from servers outside the country. Without the warrant, the government has to go through a much lengthier process set up through a mutual legal assistance treaty with the Irish government to obtain the data. Ireland filed a brief supporting Microsoft in the case, as did many tech companies, including Apple and Cisco.

There is no question that we live in amazing times. You can use your cell phone to look at a map of almost any place in the world, and not just look at the map, but zoom in to street level to look at the trees and buildings. Google Street view has even gone to Mount Everest and the Great Barrier Reef. Still, there are some places…, such as the Faroe Islands, an archipelago between Scotland and Iceland. They have streets and a few cars, but so far, no Google Street View. If Google Street View won’t come to the Faroe Islands, the Faroe Islands will bring 360-street views to them and the world. The islands’ tourism board is strapping 360 degree cameras onto sheep. Each minute, photos and GPS coordinates taken from the sheep are sent back to the tourism board. They’re then uploaded to Google Street View. Progress, not perfection.

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