Morning in Arizona

Morning in Arizona
Rainbows over Canyonlands - Dave Stoker

The Headline Animator

Monday, February 27, 2017


Financial Review


DOW + 15 = 20,837
SPX + 2 = 2369
NAS + 16 = 5861
RUT + 13 = 1407
10 Y + .05 = 2.37%
OIL + .06 = 54.05
GOLD – 5.00 = 1252.90

Another up day, another record close for the Dow and the S&P; this was the 12th record close in a row for the Dow. For the month of February, the Dow is up about 970 points. The S&P up 91 points and the Nasdaq up about 250.

The White House will propose boosting defense spending and slashing funding for the Environmental Protection Agency in a set of marching orders to agencies as it prepares its budget for the coming fiscal year.

Tomorrow, Trump will address a joint session of Congress and he is expected to propose boosting defense spending by $54 billion in his first budget plan and offset that by an equal amount cut from the rest of the government’s discretionary budget. Most federal agencies other than those involved in security will see their budgets reduced to make room for 10 percent higher spending on defense.

Discretionary spending makes up about 30 percent of the $4 trillion budget. President Trump’s proposal for the 2018 budget year won’t make significant changes to Social Security or Medicare, per Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Trump campaigned on a promise of 4% economic growth, but Mnuchin walked back that pledge to 3%.

And this is an important point, because that forecast for 3% underpins Trump’s tax reforms – the idea being that Trump can deliver tax cuts without an explosion in deficit spending by growing the economy. And we can get to 3% growth because of tax cuts and deregulation.

The problem is, in interview after interview, Trump and his surrogates have demonstrated that they have no idea how to get there. Take for example Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’, confirmation hearing. He told Senators that a combination of tax reform, a more self-sufficient energy policy, and increasing exports would do the trick.

GDP growth is a function of how many workers enter the workforce, and how productive those are. It has nothing to do with energy consumption or how much we export unless that manages to bring more workers. And right now, the workforce is shrinking due to demographics of the boomer population transitioning to retirement.

Also, the unemployment rate is 4.8%, meaning that most people who were looking for jobs have jobs. And the productivity part of the equation – well, all we need something twice as big as the internet boom of the 90’s.

Trump called his plan a “public safety budget” focused on increasing law enforcement and keeping out terrorists. He also promised that “we’re going to start spending on infrastructure, big,” without giving details. Infrastructure-linked stocks, such as construction materials and steel producers, were among the best performing industries in the S&P 500 index today. Congress ultimately controls the government purse strings, and the White House budget is a baseline on negotiations to set a federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year. You can bet Wall Street will be look for details that it can sink its teeth into.

Trump reiterated his pledge to repeal and replace the Obamacare law in remarks at a black-tie dinner for the National Governors Association on Sunday. The president will offer details on how he would like to overhaul the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday. The administration has said the repeal and replace of Obamacare is its priority ahead of a tax overhaul. He also seemed to express surprise at the complexity of the reform process. “I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” Trump said. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

Trump is expected to sign a new refugee and immigration executive order on Wednesday, one day after addressing lawmakers at a joint session of Congress. Meanwhile, the president’s pick for secretary of the Navy, Philip Bilden,  has pulled out from consideration, citing concerns about privacy and separating himself from his business interests. Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross is headed toward confirmation as Commerce secretary. The Senate is set to vote on his nomination tonight.

Mexico’s top trade negotiator doubled down on threats to break off talks to rework NAFTA, saying his country will walk away if the U.S. insists on slapping duties or quotas on any products from south of the border. Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said: “The moment that they say, ‘We’re going to put a 20 percent tariff on cars,’ I get up from the table. Bye-bye.”

Orders for durable goods rebounded in January, a sign companies remained upbeat at the start of the year. Bookings for goods meant to last at least three years rose 1.8 percent after a 0.8 percent decrease in December. Bookings for non-military capital goods excluding aircraft — a proxy for future business investment — fell 0.4 percent.

Pending home sales fell by 2.8% in January, per the National Association of Realtors. Buyer demand for housing is as strong as it’s been since the recession, the NAR said. However, “the significant shortage of listings last month along with deteriorating affordability as the result of higher home prices and mortgage rates kept many would-be buyers at bay,”

Warren Buffett struck an upbeat tone on American business and what he called a “miraculous US economy” in part because of a “tide of talented and ambitious immigrants.” In his annual letter to Berkshire shareholders, the Oracle of Omaha urged a long-term view of the markets, saying a collection of conservatively financed companies are “virtually certain” to be worth more in the future.

He also defended share buybacks and spent a sizable section of the letter attacking investment fees. He estimated that investors wasted more than $100 billion on high-fee Wall Street money managers over the past 10 years.

He declared an early victory in his decade-long bet that a basket of hedge funds would fail to keep pace with an S&P 500 Index fund. He has a bet with a hedge fund, with the proceeds going to charity. He gave an update: A $1 million investment in the bundle of hedge funds would have generated a $220,000 gain in the nine years through 2016, compared with the index fund’s $854,000 increase.

That means it’s a near certainty Buffett will win when the bet ends on Dec. 31. Buffett estimated that about 60 percent of the gains that the hedge funds produced during that period were eaten up by management fees, which he called a “misbegotten reward.”

Buffett wrote, “The bottom line: When trillions of dollars are managed by Wall Streeters charging high fees, it will usually be the managers who reap outsized profits, not the clients.”

March may be the best month to work at Warren Buffett‘s Berkshire Hathaway, especially for college basketball fans. Buffett said his company will give $1 million a year for life to any employee who guesses which teams will play in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s round of 16, or “Sweet 16.”

Also, this weekend, Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric wrote America “will be less of a leader in trade” in the coming years. And “We’re in an era when some very basic assumptions about the global economy are being tested,” he said in his annual letter to shareholders. “There is deep skepticism toward the ideas that powered economic expansion for a generation.” That said, globalization is not coming to an end, according to Immelt.

However, “It is the end of the ‘global elite,’ those who see the world only from financial centers or a website. Most ‘Global Institutions’ are 70 years old and must be modernized to address contemporary global challenges.”

The pound dipped below $1.24 in early trading after reports that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s team is preparing for the possibility that Scotland calls a second independence referendum. Scotland held an independence referendum in 2014, with 55% of Scots voting to remain a part of the UK. But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon argues that Britain’s planned departure from the EU — which most Scots voted against — has significantly altered the terms of the national relationship.

A mega-merger between two European stock exchanges is in peril. Plans to combine the London Stock Exchange with Deutsche Boerse, which runs the main German stock market, have been in the works for more than a year. But late Sunday, the London exchange warned that the deal has run into trouble with European regulators.

Europe’s biggest tech showcase, Mobile World Congress, kicked off in Barcelona today with global smartphone makers launching devices. But the notable absence was a flagship smartphone from Samsung, which has its own event scheduled for late March to debut the S8.

Sony has announced a $1,587 projector that turns any surface into a touchscreen, and the first ever smartphone with a 4K high dynamic range screen.

Alphabet’s Google unit will implement its digital assistant to all smartphones running the latest version of the Android operating system, not just phones made by Google.

A series of bills in at least four U.S. states, Georgia, Maryland, Illinois, and Tennessee, could prevent Uber or Google from operating self-driving cars. The measures would only allow a network of self-driving cars to operate on public roads if the cars were owned by an automaker.

Walmart is running a new price-comparison test in at least 1,200 U.S. stores and squeezing packaged goods suppliers in a bid to close a pricing gap with grocery chains. Walmart launched the price test across 11 Midwest and Southeastern states, focusing on price competition in the grocery business that accounts for 56 percent of the company’s revenue. Wal-Mart’s tests are aimed at finding the right price point across a range of products that will attract more shoppers, and then adjusting prices as needed.

Favorite “La La Land” was mistakenly awarded the best picture Oscar, only to have it taken away from the cast and crew and handed to indie upstart “Moonlight” in an unprecedented Oscars mix up. And the loser is … PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The global accounting firm has apologized for the embarrassing envelope mix-up that resulted in mistake. Meanwhile, 2 streaming services and one television network went home with Oscar statuettes on Sunday night. The wins for Amazon, Netflix and ESPN showcase the evolving and expanding shape of the movie business.

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