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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Wound Tight

Financial Review

Wound Tight

DOW – 15 = 18,456
SPX + 3 = 2170
NAS + 15 = 5154
10 Y un = 1.51%
OIL – .82 = 41.10
GOLD – 5.10 = 1335.60

The Federal Reserve FOMC wrapped up their FOMC policy meeting yesterday, announcing no change in interest rates – no surprise there. The Fed’s statement said, “Near-term risks to the economic outlook have diminished”; a signal that the Fed is considering a rate hike in September, although it is doubtful they actually will hike rates in September.

Traders cut their bets on a September Fed move from 20% just before the announcement to just 17%. Benchmark 10-year U.S. government bond yields fell back to 1.5%.

The dollar took its biggest tumble in almost two months and stocks were mixed as cautious sounds from the Fed left focus firmly on Japan’s next round of money-printing measures. The greenback was down 0.5% against six other major currencies. The yen notched its fourth rise in six days, as news that Tokyo had unveiled a $265 billion fiscal stimulus package left traders wondering how aggressive the Bank of Japan would be when it meets tomorrow. Costs to insure against dollar/yen swings hit their highest in 8 years.

Tomorrow is going to be a very interesting day as the Bank of Japan monetary policy meeting wraps up, we’ll also get results of the stress tests on Eurozone banks, plus new growth figures from the Eurozone, plus the first estimate of second quarter GDP in the US. We also continue with earnings reporting season and we had a couple of big reports after the closing bell, which will surely influence tomorrow’s trading – more on that in a moment.

So, maybe tomorrow will be a big day, one way or the other, on Wall Street. Something has to give; the market is wound tighter than a 2-dollar watch. LPL Financial, noted on Twitter  that today marked the 11th straight day the S&P 500 closed inside a 1% trading range, the first time this has ever happened in at least 45 years.

Meanwhile, the VIX index — also known as the “fear index” and measures market volatility — is approaching a low hit back in January 2007 and is well below its long-run average. Typically, this kind of consolidation is followed by a move to the upside, but we are entering into the August-through-October period, which is typically the most volatile for the markets. The dog days of summer don’t last. So, enjoy the calm while you can.

The nation’s trade gap widened in June to $63.3 billion, as imports rose faster than exports. Meanwhile, wholesale inventories were unchanged and retail inventories inched higher.

The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week rose by 14,000 to 266,000, that’s bouncing off historic lows, and still a low number that reflects a fairly strong labor market. Whatever the case, claims have been below the key 300,000 benchmark for 73 weeks and counting — a feat last duplicated in the early 1970s. The nation’s official unemployment is 4.9% – in the range generally considered as maximum employment or the full employment level.

In a June 6 speech, Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen said that “the economy is now fairly close to the FOMC’s goal of maximum employment.” And there was a minor change in the wording of yesterday’s FOMC policy statement. In describing the jobs market, the FOMC chose not to refer to “underutilization of labor resources” – a phrase it’s used in the past to suggest the U.S. was still short of maximum employment. Instead, it pointed to “some increase in labor utilization.”

In other words, the Fed is signaling that the labor market is in good shape; they are saying they have fulfilled their mandate for maximum employment; that, in and of itself, is not a reason to raise interest rates, but it is no longer a restriction.

Oil markets continued to slip today, pushing crude prices back to fresh three-month lows; down about 20% from the highs of early June. Low oil prices continued to weigh on European oil majors Royal Dutch Shell and Total in the second-quarter of 2016. Royal Dutch Shell said profit crashed by more than 70% in the second quarter to $1 billion, while Total’s adjusted net income fell 30% to $2.2 billion. Between late May and the middle of June, the price of Brent crude rose above $50 per barrel, but has since come off to trade in the low $40s.

Oracle has agreed to acquire NetSuite, a cloud company, in a deal valued at $9.3 billion. Oracle is paying $109 a share. The deal is expected to close in 2016, subject to regulatory and shareholder approval. Oracle expects the acquisition to be “immediately accretive” to earnings. The NetSuite purchase is at the heart of Oracle’s fight to remake itself for the modern world of cloud computing. This transition has shaken up the software business for the last several years, as companies like Google, Microsoft and Amazon have created markets worth billions, and older companies like IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Oracle have struggled to change the way they make and sell their products.

This was a big afternoon for earnings reports from mega-tech companies. Let’s start with Alphabet, Google’s parent, posted a 21.3% increase in second-quarter revenue, exceeding analysts’ expectations, driven by strong advertising sales on mobile devices and for video content.

The strong revenue growth suggests that Google is successfully navigating the transition to mobile. Advertisers typically pay less for user clicks on mobile ads than on desktop ads, Google’s traditional strength, but the strong earnings performance suggest that is beginning to change.

Alphabet’s consolidated revenue rose to $21.5 billion in the quarter, from $17.7 billion a year earlier. Net income rose to $4.88 billion, or $7 per Class A and B common stock, from $3.93 billion, or $4.93 per share. Google’s ad revenue increased 19.5%. Alphabet gained about 5% in after-hours trade at around $804 per share. reported a 31% rise in quarterly revenue, powered by blockbuster growth in its cloud services unit and an increase in subscriptions for its Prime loyalty program. Net sales rose to $30.4 billion from $23.2 billion a year earlier. The company’s net income rose to $857 million, or $1.78 per share, from $92 million, or 19 cents per share, a year earlier.

That doesn’t sound like strong margins but remember that Amazon continues to plow money back into the business. It’s a beat across the board, with Amazon setting another record-high quarterly profit for the third consecutive quarter. Amazon gained about 2% in after-hours trade.

On Tuesday, Apple reported better than expected earnings; today Apple rose, giving the S&P 500 its biggest lift. Yesterday, Apple announced it had sold its billionth phone, but that left plenty of market share for Samsung. Strong sales of its flagship Galaxy S7 propelled Samsung Electronics to its most profitable quarter in two years. Operating profit rose 18%. Samsung anticipates solid earnings to continue in the second half and is expected to unveil its new Galaxy Note smartphone next week – before Apple launches new iPhones in September.

Ford Motor reported weaker-than-expected profit in the second quarter, and said its full-year earnings forecast was at risk with U.S. auto sales expected to fall in the second half, sending shares tumbling. Auto sales in the United States and China were lower than anticipated in the quarter, and Ford reported its first quarterly loss in the Asia Pacific in three years.

It’s worth noting that Ford notched its most profitable first half in North America in company history. Still, Ford dropped about 8% today. The dynamics of the US market are getting more sluggish. New car and truck sales are still good — on track to come in over 17 million for the year, a bit lower than last year, but millions above a so-called replacement-rate market — but the automakers are beginning to smell a downturn, so incentive spending has been creeping up.

Toyota is in danger of losing its crown as the world’s biggest automaker this year as sales fall behind Volkswagen. Toyota, which has held the title for four years running, sold 4.99 million vehicles in the six months through June, compared to the 5.12 million of VW (despite the German automaker’s emissions scandal). General Motors holds third place with 4.76 million vehicles sold in the first half of 2016.

The U.S. homeownership rate fell to the lowest in more than 50 years as rising prices put buying out of reach for many renters. The Census Department says the share of Americans who own their homes was 62.9% in the second quarter, the lowest since 1965. It was the second straight quarterly decrease, down from 63.5% in the previous three months.

First-time buyers have been struggling to find affordable properties as low mortgage rates and an improving job market spur competition for a tight supply of listings. Home prices rose 5.2% in May from a year earlier, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index released this week.

The largest publishing event of the summer isn’t a novel or a tell-all biography. It’s a script. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the top pre-order for both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, is slated to hit shelves on Sunday.

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