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Thursday, March 09, 2017

Quiet, Almost Too Quiet

Financial Review

Quiet, Almost Too Quiet

DOW + 2 = 20,858
SPX + 1 = 2364
NAS + 1 = 5838
RUT – 5 = 1360
10 Y + .05 = 2.60%
OIL – .53 = 49.75
GOLD – 7.20 = 1201.80

Stocks dipped in afternoon trade but held on for minor gains, next to nothing really. Another quiet day. The S&P 500 and the Dow Industrials have not suffered a 1% decline in 102 trading sessions, dating back to October 11.

The longest stretch of trading days without a 1% decline since Dec. 18, 1995 for the S&P 500 and the longest since Sept. 20, 1993, for the Dow. It’s quiet, almost too quiet.

Another drop in oil prices weighed on energy shares while financial shares pared some of their early gains. When asked during a briefing whether President Donald Trump still backs his campaign pledge to restore the Glass-Steagall Act, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that he did.

The law, which separated commercial and investment banking, was repealed in 1999 and, if reinstated, would mainly apply to larger banks, which have been market leaders in the past few months. Much of the gain for financials has been built on the idea of deregulation.

The European Central Bank left interest rates unchanged. The Governing Council left the main refinancing rate at 0%, while the rate on deposits parked overnight at the bank remains at minus 0.4%. The rate on the bank’s marginal lending facility remains at 0.25%.

In a statement, the bank repeated that it expects rates to remain “at present or lower levels for an extended period and well past the horizon” of its bond-buying program, which is scheduled to run through at least December. The ECB also repeated that it stands ready to extend the size or the duration of the bond-buying program if the outlook deteriorates.

The Labor Department reports imports rose 0.2 percent in February, above the expected gain of 0.1 percent, after climbing 0.4 percent a month earlier. Export prices, meanwhile, rose 0.3 percent.

Outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported employers announced plans in February to cut 36,957 jobs, a 19 percent decline from January. Per Challenger, employers said they would hire 166,266 workers in the first two months of 2017, the highest January-February on record.

The retail sector once again planned the most cuts as companies closed brick-and-mortar locations and steered business online. Retailers said they would cut 11,889 jobs in February. The energy sector saw a massive year-over-year drop in job cuts, announcing only 5,930 compared with 45,154 in February 2016.

The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits jumped by 20,000 to 243,000 in early March, but layoffs remained near a 45-year low. The four-week average of initial claims, meanwhile, rose by 2,250 to 236,500. Continuing jobless claims dropped by 6,000 to 2.06 million. Tomorrow, the government is expected to report a gain of about 210,000 new jobs in February.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Labor published the state jobs report for January and it shows the Arizona unemployment rate unchanged at 5%, however the state lost 53,600 jobs in January. The biggest job losses per sector were in Trade, Transportation, and Utilities (-18,000 jobs); Professional and Business Services (-16,400 jobs); and Government (-13,700 jobs). Arizona Non-farm employment grew by 2.0% (53,700 jobs) over the year in January.

If you are looking for entertaining analysis of the markets, it’s tough to beat Bill Gross’ monthly investment letter. Gross, who runs the Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, characterized the run-up as the “Trump bull market and the current ‘animal spirits’ that encourage risk.”

Details on Trump’s plans remain scarce, however, and equity gains have moderated on growing concerns that stock valuations may be high. The S&P 500 is trading at about 18 times forward earnings estimates against the long-term average of about 15 times.

Gross said the global economy has created more credit relative to GDP than that at the beginning of 2008’s great credit recession. Gross said: “In the U.S., credit of $65 trillion is roughly 350 percent of annual GDP and the ratio is rising,” adding, “our highly levered financial system is like a truckload of nitro glycerin on a bumpy road.

One mistake can set off a credit implosion where holders of stocks, high yield bonds, and yes, subprime mortgages all rush to the bank to claim its one and only dollar in the vault.” It happened in 2008, Gross said, noting central banks could drastically lower yields and buy trillions of dollars via Quantitative Easing (QE) to prevent a run on the system. “Today, central bank flexibility is not what it was back then.”

You may recall that back in January, Bill Gross said that if the yield on the 10-year Treasury note crossed 2.60%, that would be the critical level both to the bond market and to stock prices. “If 2.6 percent is broken on the upside … a secular bear bond market has begun,” Gross said.

“Watch the 2.6 percent level. Much more important than Dow 20,000. Much more important than $60-a-barrel oil. Much more important than dollar/euro parity at 1.00. It is the key to interest rate levels and perhaps stock prices in 2017.”

Gross said the 10-year yield has been in a downward trend line since 1987. If that channel is broken, look out. Today, the 10-year note closed at 2.60%.

House Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee staged a marathon fight to slow down the GOP’s Obamacare replacement, but ultimately failed to stop the bill. After a 27-hour delay, the Energy and Commerce committee approved the American Health Care Act in a party line vote. The bill will next be considered by the House Budget committee. The Congressional Budget Office is expected to score the bill next week.

As part of a plan to reshape its business, Royal Dutch Shell is selling its oil sands interests in Canada in a two-part deal worth $7.25 billion. It will offload stakes and reduce its share in the Athabasca Oil Sands Project for $8.5 billion in shares and cash, while jointly purchasing Marathon Oil Canada Corporation with Canadian Natural Resources for $1.25 billion.

Oil drops below $50. West Texas Intermediate crude oil plunged more than 5% on Wednesday after Department of Energy data showed US inventories swelled to a record-high 528 million barrels. That selling has continued day, with WTI dropping below $50 a barrel, its lowest since the end of November.

PPG’s bid to buy Dutch paints and chemicals rival Akzo Nobel was rejected. A deal would have created a global behemoth in specialty chemicals that would have made ingredients for products including skin creams, car paint and iPhone coatings. Akzo said the unsolicited $22.1 billion cash and stock offer undervalues the company and isn’t in the best interests of shareholders.

The French waste and water company Suez Environnement said it has partnered with a Canadian pension fund manager to acquire General Electric’s water treatment technology business in an all-cash deal that valued the business at about $3.4 billion.

GE put its Water and Process Technologies unit on the sales block in October after it agreed to merge its oil and gas division with a fellow services provider, Baker Hughes. The GE business provides water treatment and process services to industrial clients and reported revenue of $2.1 billion last year, with about half of that in North America.

Sears reported a narrower loss in the fiscal fourth quarter than the period a year earlier, but revenues continued to fall, as they continue to close stores and sales continue to decline at its remaining stores. The company’s long-term debt obligations nearly doubled from the prior year, despite the chain’s efforts to raise cash by selling off assets.

Sears took a $381 million charge during the quarter to write down the value of its trade name. Sears completed the sale of its Craftsman brand to Stanley Black & Decker for an initial upfront cash payment of $525 million with additional payments over time.

The Great Recession and the housing bubble left many homeowners underwater, with negative equity in their homes, they were stuck – under house arrest; they couldn’t sell, they couldn’t move, and many homeowners could not keep up important maintenance, much less upgrades. That’s good news for home flippers.

In 2016, the median age of a flipped home was 37 years, per a report out from Attom Data. That’s the oldest in the nearly two decades, and about double the median age of homes flipped before the downturn. The median size of flipped homes was the smallest on record in 2016, at 1422 square feet.

There were 3.1% more flips in 2016 than 2015, and 0.5% more flippers. And flippers could sell their properties for a median of $189,900 in 2016, offering a median gross profit of $62,624, or 49.2%, the highest on record. So, it looks like flippers still have legs.

Gallup-Healthways has released its  Community Well-Being Index . Researchers analyzed 350,000 interviews to rank 189 communities by physical, emotional, financial, community and social health; basically, a look at the happiest and healthiest cities in America. They found that living near the beach doesn’t guarantee your happiness — but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Communities in the Southeastern US and industrial Midwest were generally ranked lower in well-being, partly due to health problems including higher smoking and obesity rates. Topping the list: Naples, Florida. Phoenix ranked 47 out of 189.

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