Morning in Arizona

Morning in Arizona
Rainbows over Canyonlands - Dave Stoker

The Headline Animator

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

91 Days

Financial Review

91 Days

DOW + 32 = 20,775
SPX – 2 = 2362
NAS – 5 = 5860
RUT – 6 = 1403
10 Y – .01 = 2.42%
OIL – .76 = 53.57
GOLD + 2.50 = 1238.90

Another record high for the Dow. S&P and Nasdaq, not so much.

91 straight trading days — that is how long the S&P has gone without closing lower by 1% or more. The S&P 500 ended 1.2% down on Oct. 11 — more than four months ago — and hasn’t clocked out on such a negative note since then.

The result has been a slow, steady slog to record highs. Hardly the stuff of investor euphoria or irrational exuberance; more like climbing a wall of worry. Stocks are expensive by almost any measure, and Mom and Pop investors seem skeptical, but the reality is that they have few good options but to stand on the edge of the cliff.

In mid-December, Bloomberg polled Wall Street analysts for their full-year predictions.  The average forecast for 2017 was calling for growth of 5.2 percent. The S&P 500 is already up 5.5 percent year-to-date. The average estimate was 2,364. The index touched 2,366 yesterday.

The Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee held a meeting January 31 – February 1. The Fed stood pat at that meeting, and today they released the minutes from that meeting. Policymakers seemed confident that the labor market was strong, and even though there were signs of inflation, that didn’t seem to worry them.

Fed officials wrestled with uncertainty on issues ranging from the Trump administration’s fiscal stimulus plans to the headwinds a rising dollar may pose. A few participants “noted that continuing to remove policy accommodation in a timely manner, potentially at an upcoming meeting, would allow the committee greater flexibility in responding to subsequent changes in economic conditions.”

The minutes included several references to “downside risks” to the economy. However, the meeting was held before data releases on jobs and inflation early in February that crushed estimates. The takeaway is that they seem ready to raise rates “fairly soon”.

The next policy meeting is March 14-15, and the more likely chance for a rate hike is the policy meeting in June. Still, the Fed is holding to the idea of 3 rate hikes for 2017, so March is on the table.

The National Association of Realtors reports existing home sales jumped 3.3% in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.69 million.  January’s sales pace is 3.8 percent higher than a year ago. The median existing-home price for all housing types in January was $228,900, up 7.1 percent from January 2016 and marks the 59th consecutive month of year-over-year gains.

Total housing inventory at the end of January rose 2.4 percent to 1.69 million existing homes available for sale, but is still 7.1 percent lower than a year ago, and has fallen year-over-year for 20 straight months. And of course, tight inventory combined with higher mortgage rates, means less affordable housing.

Not surprising that lower-price, or starter homes were a sweet spot for buyers. First time buyers rose slightly to 33% of sales in January. For Phoenix, the median listing price was $307,000. And the average time on market was 66 days. Compared to an average of 50 days nationally.

The US has approximately 200,000 unfilled construction jobs, which represents an 81% increase over the last two years, according to estimates from the National Association of Homebuilders. Home-builders like Lennar and Toll Brothers have cited a shortage in construction workers as a major reason they’ve had to slow down home construction.

Toll Brothers reported quarterly profit of 42 cents per share, 7 cents above estimates, while the luxury homebuilder’s revenue beat forecasts by a wide margin. However, overall profit was down 3.8 percent from a year ago, impacted by lower average selling prices.

Shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac plunged by more than 30 percent on Tuesday following a ruling by a US appeals court dismissing hedge funds’ claims that the government seized Fannie’s and Freddie’s profits after their taxpayer bailout.

Fannie and Freddie went into conservator-ship during the 2008 financial crisis, receiving a nearly $188 billion bailout from the federal government. In return, Fannie and Freddie were required to pay a 10 percent dividend to the government. In 2012, the terms of the bailout were amended — the Third Amendment — forcing Fannie and Freddie to forward all their profits to the U.S. Treasury.

On Friday, Fannie and Freddie announced they were sending a combined $10 million in dividends to the U.S. Treasury. Fannie reported a $5 billion profit for the fourth quarter, while Freddie reported a $4.8 billion fourth-quarter profit. Because Fannie and Freddie’s profits have been going to the government, there was nothing left for the investors, who cried foul.

OPEC and Russia will need to prolong their production-cut deal in order to trim the global inventory that is keeping a lid on prices. ABN Amro Bank warned that crude prices could plunge towards $30 a barrel if the cuts are not extended beyond the first half of this year.

Saudi Aramco names 3 underwriters for its IPO. JPMorgan Chase & Co, Morgan Stanley, and HSBC have been selected as the lead underwriters for what is expected to be the world’s largest initial public offering of all time.

Facebook is in discussions with Major League Baseball to air one game a week. Social networks believe their platforms are a “second screen” that sports fans rely on while watching games, and are eager to test the popularity of combining the viewing of video and the commentary that takes place on social networks into a single feed.

Lloyds reported its highest annual profit in a decade, helped by a reduction in payment protection insurance provisions. Pre-tax profits increased by 158%, a level last seen in 2006 before the financial crisis. The UK government’s stake in Lloyds has also fallen below 5% and it wants to return the bank to full private ownership sometime in May.

First Solar  beat fourth-quarter estimates by 27 cents with adjusted quarterly profit of $1.24 per share, and the solar company’s revenue also beat estimates; even as sales fell to $480 million in the quarter from $942 million a year ago. Tempe-based First Solar also tweaked higher its expectations for 2017 sales to between $2.8 billion and $2.9 billion.

First Solar said the more than 300-megawatt Tribal Solar project, which was planned for the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation in Arizona, would not be built. The company’s contract to sell the power to California utility Southern California Edison was canceled. Executives described the cancellation as a one-time event due to the unique concerns of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe and said the company had several opportunities to offset the impact of the cancellation, including new business in Japan.

Verizon Communications says it will offer its high-speed wireless 5G network to certain customers in 11 U.S. cities in the first half of 2017. Verizon will begin pilot testing 5G “pre-commercial services” in cities, including Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Miami, Seattle and Washington, D.C. – Phoenix is not on that list.

New 5G networks are expected to provide speeds at least 10 times and up to maybe 100 times faster than today’s 4G networks, with the potential to connect at least 100 billion devices with download speeds that can reach 10 gigabits per second.

That got me thinking about how the US compares with other countries for internet speed on mobile devices, and the results are not good. South Korea has the fastest mobile internet speeds, followed by Norway and Hungary. The US ranked 36th on the list, just a bit slower than Romania and Slovenia.

In a big win for rural delivery, UPS just tested a delivery drone on a farm outside of Tampa, Florida, with the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV, returning to the roof of the truck. The big feat? The vehicle already moved 2,000 feet down the road. UPS says the “Drones won’t replace our uniformed service providers,” just provide extra assistance. The company also announced it would roll out Saturday ground delivery starting in April.

If you were planning to make a purchase from, today might be good. For today only, Amazon is offering $8.62 off orders of $50 or more. To take advantage of the discount, just enter the promo code “BIGTHANKS” when you check out.

A discount of $8.62 might seem super random, but Amazon has a good reason for that seemingly arbitrary figure. The company ranked No. 1 in the annual Harris Corporate Reputation Poll, earning a score of 86.27 percent, so it’s offering the discount as a thank you to customers.

Watch your mailbox, early-bird filers: Your tax refund should be arriving soon.  So far, the IRS has distributed more than 14 million refunds as of the week ending Feb. 10. The average amount has been $2,058. Both figures are expected to rise as the agency processes more returns.

However, if you will owe tax this year, well…, the current Powerball jackpot is worth $403 million. If you choose the lump sum option, the cash payout is $243.9 million, minus taxes of course.

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