22 March 2021

1) The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an antitrust investigation into the practices of renowned credit card company Visa regarding debit-card transactions. The DOJ is looking into the rules for routing transactions, both in stores and online. In its suit against Visa last year, the Justice Department claimed Visa already possesses monopoly power in the market for online debit-card transactions, arguing that roughly 70% of such transactions in the U.S. are routed over the firm’s network. At the heart of the Justice Department’s issues with Visa is the 2010 law known as the Durbin Amendment, which requires banks to include two networks on their debit cards. Merchants are then supposed to be given the choice of routing over a major network versus a smaller alternative such as Pulse, Star or NYCE. Those alternative networks can be cheaper for merchants.

2) The Federal Reserve stated that while the U.S. economy has been steadily rebounding from the pandemic recession, the recovery is far from complete and needs continued support from the Fed. About half the 20 million jobs that were lost to the pandemic have been recovered, and the outlook is brightening as vaccinations are more widely administered. The central bank’s policymakers forecasts are sharply upgraded, with the economy expected to accelerate quickly this year. At the same time, their forecast showed that the benchmark rate remains near zero through 2023, despite concerns in financial markets about potentially higher inflation.

3) Flipping houses in America is an easy way to make a quick buck. With the real-estate market red hot, profits on flips are at a record high, averaging some $66,000 per home. There are more than 60 banks and other financing companies catering to flippers. Memories of the 2007 real-estate bust are fading, and with interest rates on most fixed income investments still so paltry, lenders are desperate for anything that provides higher returns. The 7.9% average annual rate on a fix-and-flip loan is more than twice the 3.09% rate that a bank can earn on a 30-year mortgage. But there aren’t that many houses to purchase, the inventory of existing homes for sale is at its lowest since 1999, so now more flippers are chasing fewer transactions. Almost 68% of all home flippings last year sold for $300,000 or less.

4) Stock market closings for – 19 MAR 21:

Dow 32,627.97 down by 234.33
Nasdaq 13,215.24 up by 99.07
S&P 500 3913.10 down by 2.36

10 Year Yield: unchanged at 1.75%

14 January 2021

1) Bitcoin, the digital currency, hit an all time high of $41,000 per coin, but Bitcoin as well as the other cryptocurrencies, has a history of volatility and is unregulated. After hitting a record high in December of 2017, Bitcoin plunged 50% the first month of 2018. There are now warnings that Bitcoin is a massive bubble waiting to collapse in the near future. There are upsides to cryptocurrencies, such as the need to not deal with a bank, but it also makes the currency’s future uncertain. The biggest risk to owning Bitcoin is the possibility of being banned, and this has already been done with other cryptocurrencies. The IRS considers Bitcoin property, not currency, which means there are tax consequences. If you hold the bitcoin for a year or less, any trading profits are taxed as short-term gains, at the same rates as ordinary income. But if you hold it for more than a year, your profits are taxed as long-term capital gains, at rates of 0% to 20% in 2021 depending on your income level. The IRS has more recently been going after cryptocurrency holders who aren’t reporting their digital currencies.

2) Fears of a Bitcoin bubble bursting increased as Bitcoin fell with $170 billion dollars wiped out in 24 hours as Bitcoin pulls back by over 11% from a day earlier to $35,828.06. The sell off of cryptocurrencies comes after a huge rally and perhaps signaling some profit-taking from investors. The $40,000 mark could have been a trigger for profit-taking.

3) Americans are asking what really happens when there’s a 50-50 split in the senate? With the vice president a democrat, the democrats hold the narrowest possible majority which leaves some major obstacles and mine fields for the party. The senate cloture rule requires 60 members to end debate and vote on most topics, which in practice will allow the republican to filibuster much of the democrats’ legislative agenda. This is how the 50-50 split is likely to work in real life, the first hurdle is the organizing resolution, which determines everything from committee membership and staff budgets, to who gets the best office space. But in these hyper-partisan times, agreeing on even the rules of the road may be tricky. In theory, senate democrats could change the cloture rule and abandon the need for 60 votes, which would kill the filibuster. There will be further problems when the votes are not along party lines, and senators vote their minds.

4) Stock market closings for – 13 JAN 21:

Dow 31,060.47 down by 8.22
Nasdaq 13,128.95 up by 56.52
S&P 500 3,809.84 up by 8.65

10 Year Yield: down at 1.09%

Oil: down at $52.87

11 January 2021

1) Boeing Aircraft Co. has reached a $2.5 billion dollar agreement to settle the criminal charge that it defrauded the U.S. government by concealing information about the troubled 737 MAX. This is the ill-fated jet airliner involved in two fatal crashes that killed 346 people. The airline manufacturer entered into a deferred prosecution agreement and in turn, the Justice Department will dismiss the charge against Boeing. This settlement caps a two-year criminal investigation into the two MAX crashes. This settlement will have no bearing on any pending civil litigation. In addition, Boeing will pay a $243.6 million criminal penalty. With the penalty and the fund for relatives, Boeing says it expects to pay an additional $743.6 million dollars for the fourth quarter of 2020.

2) The cryptocurrency Bitcoin is at an all-time high in 2021, one coin now worth $36,000. It has doubled its value in 30 days. Bitcoin is the first and biggest cryptocurrency, which started up in January 2009, and eleven years after its invention, the total value of all Bitcoins in the world is around $359 billion. The Bitcoins are long, unbreakable codes stored in clouds or computers. Bitcoins were invented at the height of the 2008-9 financial crisis. The idea is a type of money that didn’t depend on the traditional banking systems. Cryptocurrency is popular in countries with inflation.

3) Venture capital backed companies in the United States raised nearly $130 billion dollars last year, setting a record despite the COVID-19 pandemic, up 14% from 2019, while the number of deals is down 9% to 6,022. The so-called mega-rounds, which are deals that are $100 million dollars or higher, also hit a record amount and number, with $63 billion dollars raised in 318 deals. However, there is a big drop in the very early stage investment called the seed money stage. The trend of big investments doesn’t look like it will slow in 2021 as there is a lot of capital chasing investments. It’s expected that 2021 is going to be a banner year for many tech companies.

4) Stock market closings for – 8 JAN 21:

Dow 31,097.97 up by 56.84
Nasdaq 13,201.98 up by 134.50
S&P 500 3,824.68 up by 20.89

10 Year Yield: up at 1.10%

Oil: up at $52.73

3 July 2020

1) The aircraft manufacturer Boeing Aircraft is discontinuing production of it’s iconic 747 jumbo jet after a fifty year run. The last 747-8 will be completed in two years. This marks the end of an era of giant airliners with Airbus also discontinuing its A380 production. The number of routes in the world which requires a jumbo jet are few, with airline companies preferring the twin engine aircraft for long range flights. The 747 made its debut in 1970, and went on to rack up 1,571 orders over its production life, a record seconded only by the wide body 777. Boeing has lost 40$ million dollars for each 747 since 2016, with production down to just 6 units a year. The last 747 for passenger service was Air Force One. With air travel curtailed by the Covid-19 crisis, air carriers don’t expect air travel to recover fully until the mid decade, so airlines are culling out aging jetliners and four engine jumbos from their fleets to limit spending.

2) With interest rates near zero, the most used tool for the Feds to stimulate a sagging economy is becoming ineffective in reversing the pandemic induced recession. Therefore, the Feds are considering using quantitative easing or large scale assets purchases. This is where the U.S. central bank buys hundreds of billions of dollars in assets, most of which are U.S. Treasury and mortgage backed securities. By taking bonds (mostly 2 and 10 year Treasuries) off the market it replaces them with cash in the system, meaning there is now more cash available for lending to consumers, businesses and municipalities.

3) The Senate is considering a bill which would punish retailers for refusing cash payments. Retailers have been pushing for electronic payments to reduce the risk of virus contamination from contact of paying cash. The objective of the bill is to prevent disenfranchise of minorities who have limited to no banking access.

4) Stock market closings for – 2 JUL 20:

Dow 25,827.36 up 92.39
Nasdaq 10,207.63 up 53.00
S&P 500 3,130.01 up 14.15

10 Year Yield: down at 0.67%

Oil: up at $40.32

17 June 2020

1) As restaurants start to reopen, they are finding a serious problem- it takes cash to reopen again, cash that many don’t have in the bank. The cost of food, staff, cleaning and training for new sanitary protocols is proving daunting, with one independent owner calculating he needs $80,000 cash to reopen. The suppliers are facing a similar problem since many of their restaurant customers still own them money, but need supplies on credit to reopen, so many suppliers are threatened with bankruptcy too. And if that’s not enough, restaurants that had opened in some major cities are threatened with another shutdown as the virus pandemic re-emerges again, and so not only face another loss of sales revenue, just when they need the money the most, but also have additional cash outlays for reopening. The closing of restaurants has shed more than 8 million jobs.

2) In a month filled with economic bad news, retail sales have posted their largest monthly jump upwards ever. With the cornonavirus lockdown coming to an end, consumers are out shopping again making a 17.7% headline gain including food sales, which beat the previous record of October 2001. Clothing and accessories were the biggest gains of 188%. This gain reverses the 16.4% plunged from a month ago. While very encouraging, the economy still has a lot to regain.

3) There is a faster than expected turnaround in home buyer demand, after a sharp drop-off at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index jumped 21 points in June to 58, where above 50 indicates a positive market. In April, the index dropped a record 42 points to 30. Builders report increase demand for families seeking single family homes in inner and outer suburbs featuring lower density neighborhoods.

4) Stock market closings for – 16 JUN 20:

Dow 26,289.98 up 526.82
Nasdaq 9,895.87 up 169.84
S&P 500 3,124.74 up 58.15

10 Year Yield: up at 0.76%

Oil: up at $37.76

15 June 2020

1) The Independent Restaurant Coalition estimates that 85% of the independent restaurants may go bust by the end of 2020. The independent restaurants comprise 70% of all the restaurants in America. These restaurants rely more heavily on dine-in revenue, which the franchise chains don’t because of their drive up and take out business is well established, while also having a corporate safety net or support system to fall back on. It will be a long time before dine-in revenue returns to pre-pandemic levels because independents depend on densely packed dinning rooms to generate sufficient revenue to meet expenses, something that social distancing prevents. Most owners just don’t have the cash reserves to survive.

2) J.C. Penny stores will begin their ‘going out of business’ sales having just received bankruptcy court approval to begin liquidation sales at those stores closing permanently. There are 242 stores closing leaving about 600 stores to continue. Sales could start as early as this weekend. J.C. Penny is the largest company to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy since the pandemic started. Penny faces a crucial deadline of 15 July for a business plan, which without one, the company is expected to pursue a sale instead, which could mean total liquidation.

3) Some are proposing negative interest rates for U.S. bonds as some European countries are doing. The rational for negative interest rates is they spur economic growth, which is controversial among economist with evidence that it really works being mixed. Lowering interest rates encourages businesses and individuals to invest and spend more, which helps the economy grow. The doubts about negative interest rates is companies and individuals would rather hold cash which cost nothing rather than pay to park their money in the bank. This encourages the money to be loan out rather than be parked, which often means riskier loans. While there are studies made of how effective negative interest rates are, so far the results are mixed.

4) Stock market closings for – 12 JUN 20:

Dow 25,605.54 up 477.37
Nasdaq 9,588.81 up 96.08
S&P 500 3,041.31 up 39.21

10 Year Yield: up at 0.70%

Oil: up at $36.56

18 May 2020

1) The federal government has warned that the financial sector faces significant vulnerabilities because of the coronavirus pandemic. Both businesses and households are struggling with fragile finances and will be for the foreseeable future. So far, the banking system has withstood the initial downturn, but there are significant risk if the virus crisis proves to be lengthy and/or more sever than hoped for. The financial stress will continue to build if the crisis persists from households and businesses being deprived of wages and revenues. No sectors would be immune from the risk they face from default on debt, being forced to sell off assets, bankruptcy or having value of assets dwindled. Forceful early interventions have been effective in resolving liquidity stresses. There are fears that what might start out as a cash crunch could spiral into something worse, that few if any parts of the economy are safe.

2) The retail industry has been devastated by the coronavirus crisis with April sales diving down 16.4% (Manufacturing is also down by 13.7%) with major retailers such as J.C. Penny, J Crew and Neiman Marcus filing for bankruptcy recently. However, discount retail chains such as Dollar General and Aldi seem to be thriving as consumers cut back on discretionary spending while continuing to spend on food and household essentials. The Dollar style stores are gaining because of their low prices and close proximity to customers, with people buying things they have run out of between their larger routine shopping trips. In recent years, the Dollar style stores have significantly increased their number of stores thereby enabling them to capture more retail sales from the traditional retailers.

3) Some are predicting that the pandemic has permanently changed the auto industry, with some automakers made stronger while others are left too weak to survive. The pressure from the electric automobiles will become stronger with fewer conventional automakers able to make the transition. There are fears that people have discovered they need to travel much less, that they can get a surprisingly amount done from home. This translates into lower demand for automobiles. Demand for new cars was expected to be low before the pandemic, now things are expected to get very brutal for survival of some automakers.

4) Stock market closings for – 15 MAY 20:

Dow 23,685.42 up 60.08
Nasdaq 9,014.56 up 70.84
S&P 500 2,863.70 up 11.20

10 Year Yield: up at 0.64%

Oil: up at $29.78

7 April 2020

1) Ten million people have rushed to file unemployment claims only to find a system swamped to the point of being nonfunctional. State websites are buckling, their phone lines jammed with backlogs mounting from jobless people seeking benefits, needing help. To make matters worst, the federal government has not dispersed all the necessary monies to states so there isn’t enough money for benefits. While the coronavirus is concentrated in a few areas of the country, the economic havoc has been nation wide.

2) Wells Fargo bank is bowing out of the new federal program aimed at helping small businesses retain workers and pay bills. The bank is no longer accepting new loan applications under the Paycheck Protection Program, which is part of the $2.2 trillion dollar economic relief package. The bank had committed $10 billion dollars to the loan program, but has already reached more than that amount in applications. Last year, Wells Fargo arranged more small business loans than any other lender. The Paycheck Protection Program offers 1% interest loans to business with fewer than 500 workers, and if borrowers don’t lay off workers in the next eight weeks, they will have their loans and interest forgiven. The program allots $350 billion dollars, but as of Friday only 17,000 loans have been approved for a total of $5.4 billion dollars.

3) Jamie Dimon, CEO for JP Morgan Chase, predicts a ‘bad recession’ as a result of the coronavirus, where the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) could plunge as much as 35% annual rate in the second quarter with a down turn lasting the rest of the year. Furthermore, the unemployment rate could spike as high as 14% during this recession. Because of the extension of new credit, a major recession means we are exposing the bank to billions of dollars of additional credit losses in helping businesses through this setback.

4) Stock market closings for – 6 APR 20:

Dow 22,679.99 up 1627.46
Nasdaq 7,913.24 up 540.16
S&P 500 2,663.68 up 175.03

10 Year Yield: up at 0.68%

Oil: down at $26.73