Morning in Arizona

Morning in Arizona
Rainbows over Canyonlands - Dave Stoker

The Headline Animator

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Financial Review


DOW – 4 = 20,656
SPX – 2 = 2345
NAS – 3 = 5817
RUT + 7 = 1353
10 Y + 2 – 2.41%
OIL – .37 = 47.67
GOLD – 3.60 = 1245.60

Wall Street was closely watching developments on the bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The White House said it was confident the bill will pass and warned there was no “Plan B”.

Those backing the plan continue to work toward securing the votes needed to pass the health care bill led by House Speaker Paul Ryan. President Donald Trump met this morning with the House Freedom Caucus as GOP leaders offered a late tweak to their health-care bill to try to get the conservative group on board, including repealing the so-called essential benefits requirements in Obamacare for the individual market only, not for employer-based plans.

The essential health benefits mandate included in ObamaCare was intended to require insurance companies to provide coverage in 10 areas, including mental health, pediatric services, ambulance services, substance abuse treatment, and vision care, maternity care, and prescription drugs.

The idea behind the move was to prevent insurers from offering skimpy plans that would leave people on the hook for thousands of dollars in costs if their plan doesn’t cover certain services. Republicans argue the requirements drive up premium costs by preventing insurers from offering less-generous plans. They say consumers should be allowed to pick cheaper plans and that a single man, for example, has little need for maternity coverage.

Getting rid of the essential health benefits would almost certainly lower premium costs, though it could also leave many consumers holding health insurance that might not cover various maladies. With no required benefits, some (like mental health or maternity) would be very expensive because only people who need them would buy them.

 Republicans want to deregulate, but they also feel they must offer some refundable tax credit to sell the bill to moderates and the public. If they deregulate through law, though, the policy analyzers will show that more people might use the tax credit and the Congressional Budget Office spending score would blow up.

But apparently, repealing the essential benefits requirement was not good enough – the vote, scheduled for today, has been postponed, until probably tomorrow. The obvious explanation is that there were not enough votes to pass the repeal legislation. The big question is whether they can whip up a few more votes by tomorrow, and if so, what other tweaks will be required to buy those votes.

Yet as Trump and Ryan pick up conservative members with some of the potential changes, they risk losing moderates. Freedom Caucus members said White House officials made the pitch that conservatives should pass the bill so that the Senate can amend it and address their concerns, but several lawmakers said they weren’t buying it.

And even if they do get the votes tomorrow, or in the not-so-distant future, that still might not be enough. Does it matter if they vote on this tomorrow or next week? They have until the Easter recess to vote on this. If this doesn’t happen by then, this gets to be an issue.

The plan to repeal essential health benefits will almost certainly not be permissible under Senate reconciliation rules. It will require 60 votes to repeal these protections, and the votes just aren’t there in the Senate.

And if bill is dead on arrival in the Senate, then that opens the door for House members to take a firm stand against it – if only for political posturing, or to rake in a few more campaign dollars from groups opposed to the new plan.

Of course, there could still be a deal and there could still be a successful vote, but postponed vote means that right now, President Trump’s first major legislative priority is on thin ice. And Trump has stated that this needs to get done before moving on to other issues such as tax reform and infrastructure spending; also, not simple issues.

And so, the financial markets were just kind of frozen today. Waiting to pop up or break down. Light volume; uncertainty; waiting. Waiting.

New US single-family home sales jumped to a seven-month high in February, suggesting the housing market recovery continued to gain momentum despite the challenges of high prices and tight inventories.

The Commerce Department said new home sales increased 6.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 592,000 units last month, the highest level since July 2016. Sales were up 12.8% compared to February 2016. The median price for a new home fell 4.9% to $296,200 in February from a year ago.

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose last week, but remained below a level associated with a strengthening labor market. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 258,000 for the week ended March 18. Claims have now been below 300,000, for 80 straight weeks. That is the longest stretch since 1970.

Data from the Energy Information Administration showed US gasoline stocks fell by 2.8 million barrels in the week ended March 17, marking a fifth straight drawdown. Gasoline demand is expected to increase as we get closer to the summer driving season.

Even with the small dip in stocks, crude oversupply continues. Late today Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry said crude exports to the United States in March will fall by around 300,000 barrels per day from February, in line with OPEC’s agreement to reduce supply. The Saudis currently supply about 1.3 million bpd.

The European Central Bank offers its last Targeted Longer-Term Refinancing Operation, which gives banks four-year loans at zero percent interest. The size of the uptake by banks vary hugely, from 30 billion euros to as high as 750 billion euros. The size of the update will be viewed as a gauge of lenders’ thinking as pressure mounts on the central bank to reduce its accommodative monetary stance.

US relations with North Korea, which had already been under pressure, may be about to take another turn for the worse. Investigators looking into the theft of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank account at the New York Fed are checking for links to North Korea as the hack used to access the funds was similar to one used previously by North Korea.

Failed brokerage MF Global Holdings and accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers announced they have settled their high-profile lawsuit in which the brokerage contended bad accounting advice from PwC was a factor in its 2011 collapse. Terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed. MF Global’s bankruptcy administrator had sought $3 billion in damages and interest from PwC in the case, which was in its third week of trial in federal court in New York.

Beginning next week, Wells Fargo depositors can withdraw money using a smartphone at any branded ATM, the first U.S. bank to roll out cardless machines across its entire network.

AT&T and Verizon joined a growing number of companies pulling much of their advertising from Alphabet over placements on websites and YouTube videos containing objectionable content.

Meanwhile, Google unveiled a new set of features for its popular Maps app that lets users share their locations with friends and contacts in real time. Thanks to this update, Google Maps users will now be able to quickly let friends know if they’re running late to a meeting or stuck in traffic. It’s a compelling idea.

And if you’re wondering why Google hadn’t thought of this earlier, the answer is: It did. In 2009, when smartphones were still in their infancy, Google introduced something called Latitude; which had almost the exact same feature Google is now touting as the hot new thing.

Apple has acquired a company named Workflow, a small company that develops an app under the same name. Workflow is available for iOS devices, including the iPhone and iPad, and allows you to automate certain actions. Workflow first caught the eye of Apple first in 2015. In a rare move, the company is keeping the app alive in the App Store and setting its price to free. It previously cost $2.99.

Apple’s year-and-half old iPhone 6s was the best-selling smartphone globally last year.  Apple shipped around 60 million iPhone 6s units in 2016, IHS Markit data showed, but the company declined to provide the exact figure.

The iPhone 7 was the second most-shipped smartphone model with just over 50 million units, while the iPhone 7 Plus was next with just over 25 million. Samsung’s flagship model, the Galaxy S7 Edge was in fifth place with around 25 million units shipped.

Suppliers to Sears Holdings are reportedly taking defensive measures, such as reducing shipments and asking for better payment terms, to protect against the risk of nonpayment as the company warned about its finances.

Sears, whose roots date back to 1886, said on Tuesday that “substantial doubt exists related to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.” The company’s disclosure turned the focus to its vendors as tension is expected to mount ahead of the key fourth-quarter selling season and rising concern about a potential bankruptcy.

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