Morning in Arizona

Morning in Arizona
Rainbows over Canyonlands - Dave Stoker

The Headline Animator

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Settling a Score

Financial Review

Settling a Score

Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 13:15 — 7.6MB)

DOW + 74 = 21,012
SPX + 5 = 2404 (record)
NAS + 24 = 6163
RUT + 1 = 1382
10 Y – .02 = 2.26%
OIL – .15 = 51.32
GOLD + 7.90 = 1259.60
BITCOIN + 4% = 2537.16
ETHEREUM + 1.83% =  185.00

After 5 straight winning sessions, the S&P 500 closed at a new record high. The Nasdaq Comp is near a record.

The Federal Reserve released minutes of their May 3rd FOMC policy meeting. The statement points toward a rate hike as soon as the Fed’s meeting in mid-June. According to minutes: “Most participants judged that if economic information came in about in line with their expectations it would soon be appropriate for the committee to take another step in removing some policy accommodation.”

Officials opted at the May meeting to leave the target range for their benchmark lending rate unchanged at 0.75 percent to 1 percent. They have projected three rate increases in 2017. They made the first rate hike in March. If they follow with 2 more hikes this year, we would be looking at rates around 1.25% to 1.5% by the end of the year, with a strong possibility for 4 more hikes next year.

Fed officials discussed a brightening global economic picture and viewed recent soft inflation and output data as likely caused by transitory factors. Growth slowed in the first quarter to an annualized pace of 0.7 percent, although the Fed expects the economy to bounce back in the second quarter.

Unemployment continued to decline. Labor Department data released two days after the meeting showed the jobless rate in April fell to 4.4 percent, the lowest reading since 2007 and beneath most economists’ estimates of the lowest sustainable level, or what might be considered full employment.

Policy makers have also said they would like to start shrinking their $4.5 trillion balance sheet by year-end, a move that may lift longer-term borrowing costs and dampen growth. It sounds scary to think that the Fed will soon reduce its war chest of bonds. Still, today after the minutes were released, Treasury values rose and longer-term yields fell.

One interpretation is that traders aren’t taking the Fed seriously. But another is that investors just received an unexpectedly concrete sense of the Fed’s methodology for unwinding its balance sheet, and it clearly indicates moving at a slow, gradual, incremental pace.

Fed members said they favored a method that included allowing a certain amount of their holdings to pay down without reinvesting the proceeds. The Fed would cap the amount of debt they’d allow to roll off at a certain level, and then would adjust that level every three months. Officials agreed they should provide additional details of the plan “soon.”

The dollar weakened slightly. Oil prices posted their first decline in six sessions. US crude supplies fell a seventh week in a row. Following the supply data, the price action became a function of positioning ahead of the OPEC meeting tomorrow. OPEC is expected to extend production cuts for 9 months, until March of 2018.  Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration Wednesday showed that domestic crude supplies fell by 4.4 million barrels for the week ended May 19.

The last time the Congressional Budget Office scored the Republican health care bill back in March, it forced lawmakers to make major changes in order to prevent millions of Americans from losing their health coverage and lower premiums for the elderly. Amendments were added and another vote was held, this time without waiting for a CBO analysis – and the bill passed in the House.

The Congressional Budget Office today released their updated score for the American Health Care Act (AHCA), and the results are just as ugly as the first time. The report from the CBO on the amendments added just before the AHCA was passed by the House shows that 23 million more Americans could be uninsured by 2026 compared to the current healthcare system, slightly lower than the 24 million estimated under the previous iteration of the bill.

The CBO estimates that 14 million people who are currently covered would be uninsured as soon as the House plan were to be signed into law. And another nine million people would lose coverage over the course of the next decade. The AHCA, would also spike coverage costs in many states for people with pre-exiting conditions, especially for older Americans.

Importantly, the score projects that the AHCA will cut the federal deficit by $119 billion, $32 billion less than the $151 billion cut in the previous report. This was key because Republicans plan to consider the bill under the reconciliation process in the Senate. By these rules, the bill must shave off at least $2 billion from the federal deficit to be considered.

The Senate is expected to craft their own version of a healthcare bill instead of using the current form of the AHCA. The practical ramifications of the CBO’s latest report were more limited than its immediate political implications.

The House bill, as written, will not become law. Whatever proposal the Senate comes up with will have significant differences and will need a separate assessment by the CBO before a vote.

President Trump today continued his overseas tour with a visit to the Vatican. Pope Francis gave Trump a medallion engraved with the image of an olive tree – a symbol of peace, he explained.

Francis also presented Trump a signed copy of “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home”, the first papal encyclical focused solely on the environment. The two men spoke privately for about an hour-and-a-half. Next stop, Brussels.

Testifying to the House Budget Committee, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney suggested the government’s borrowing limit may need to be raised earlier than originally anticipated, citing “slower-than-expected” tax receipts.

The latest monthly budget report from the Treasury shows receipts are up almost 1% for the fiscal year to date. The year before, receipts were up about 1.2% through April, and the year before that, nearly 9%.

Sales of previously-owned homes sputtered in April after a strong first quarter. Lean inventory continued to constrain demand. The National Association of Realtors said existing-home sales ran at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million.

That was a 2.3% decline from March’s selling pace, which was revised down a tick but still stood at a 10-year high, though 1.6% higher compared to a year ago in April.

The median national sales price was $244,800 in April, a gain of 6% compared to a year ago. It was the 62nd-straight month of annual price gains. Despite that, first-time buyers managed to stage a small comeback.

They represented 34% of all buyers in April, up from 32% in March, though still below their long-time average of about 40%. NAR’s report also showed that 52% of homes sold in April were on the market for less than a month, which is a new high.

Sentier Research reports that median annual household income, adjusted for inflation, was $59,361 in April, a big 1% gain from March and a statistically significant move. For the first time since the U.S. entered the worst recession of the post-war era, the typical U.S. household has more income than it did when the century started.

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded China’s sovereign rating one notch to A1, which is two grades above junk status. The previous ratings cut was in November 1989 in the wake of Tiananmen Square.

In a statement, Moody’s said, “The downgrade reflects Moody’s expectation that China’s financial strength will erode somewhat over the coming years, with economy-wide debt continuing to rise as potential growth slows.” China’s total debt is estimated at around 220% of gross domestic product as of 2015, with a large chunk of it owed by corporations.

Global financial markets shrugged off the news because it is more confirmation than revelation.

Ministerial buildings were set ablaze in the Brazilian capital today as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against government corruption, renewing calls for Brazilian President Michel Temer to step down.

The federal government filed a lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler, accusing it of using illegal engine-control software to enable its diesel-powered vehicles to pass emissions tests. The filing occurred days after Fiat Chrysler proposed a modification to the software to ensure correct test results in hopes of resolving the issue.

The Environmental Protection Agency accused Fiat Chrysler in January of installing the software on about 104,000 Ram pickup trucks and Jeep Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicles sold from 2014 through 2016.

The Fiat Chrysler problem is very like the legal woes of Volkswagen, which admitted to using “defeat device” software to enable its cars to pass emissions tests while spewing far more pollutants than allowed in normal driving. Volkswagen ended up paying billions of dollars in fines, several of its executives have been investigated or charged with crimes.

Facebook has signed deals with news and entertainment creators Vox Media, BuzzFeed, ATTN, Group Nine Media and others to make shows for its upcoming video service, which will feature long and short-form content. It is an attempt to deliver on Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg’s remarks to investors earlier this month that the company was looking for so-called “anchor content” that would draw people to the video tab on Facebook’s app.

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