24 July 2020

1) The parent company of Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant clothing chains, the Ascena Retail Group Inc., will close more than half its stores, a total of more than 1,000 stores. The troubled retailer was struggling like many other retailers to remain afloat, but the Covid-19 crisis tipped the scales into bankruptcy. Ascena has about 40,000 employees and there’s the expectation of cutting its 2,800 stores down to just 1,200 with significant losses of jobs. The chapter 11 will erase about $1 billion dollars in debt from its $12.5 billion dollars of liabilities, which includes $1.6 billion dollars of funded debt. Retailers have been among the hardest hit by Covid-19 lockdowns coupled with online shopping, which drained revenues and pushed so many retailers into bankruptcy.

2) Almost 16,000 restaurants have closed permanently from the Covid-19 pandemic, an indication of just how deeply the virus has affected the food industry, especially the restaurants. So far, about 60% of the restaurant closures have been permanent, with the number increasing with time. Restaurants now surpass the retail industry in the highest total business closures since the start of the pandemic. Bars and the night life industry has met the same fate, with 5,454 total business closures of which 2,429 are considered permanent closures, or 44% lost.

3) There is mounting evidence that America’s fragile economic recovery is faltering even as the pandemic seems to be leveling out. Reservations for restaurants are waning, air traffic is leveling off and foot traffic at stores is dwindling again. With rising infections in California, Texas and Florida, there is a growing sense that the recovery is fading. Small businesses have suffered the worst, having limited cash reserves and ability to obtain loans, and therefore are failing at record numbers. To compound the problem, there is weaker spending by consumers. Hopes for a real recovery depend more and more on an effective vaccine being created and available. Until there is one, there appears little hope that the economic will make any real lasting progress towards recovery.

4) Stock market closings for – 23 JUL 20:

Dow 26,652.33 down 353.51
Nasdaq 10,461.42 down 244.71
S&P 500 3,235.66 down 40.36

10 Year Yield: down at 0.58%

Oil: down at $41.21

12 June 2020

1) The markets took a sharp drop over fears of another shutdown as the number of Convid-19 cases began rising from states starting to opening up for business. The Dow Jones dropped over 1,800 points, closing on the worst day sell-off since March. It appears that this pandemic is going to linger longer than was anticipated. Texas has reported three consecutive days of record breaking Covid-19 hospitalizations. Nine counties in California are reporting spikes in hospital admissions from the virus. The U.S. now has topped 2 million cases in this pandemic. Also, oil prices have taken a sharp downward slide.

2) Inventories of unsold diamonds are increasing, with the five largest diamond producers having stockpiled excess inventories of about $3.5 billion dollars and could go as high as $4.5 billion dollars. World wide demand for diamonds has plummeted, with the renowned diamond supplier De Beers reporting diamond sales in May of about $35 million dollars, compared to last year’s $400 million dollars. The world wide lock down has closed jewelry stores across the world thereby reducing sales to a small fraction of normal. The diamond market resembles the diamond slump of the 2008 financial crisis.

3) More than 1.5 million Americans filed new jobless claims for the first week of June, again decreasing from the previous week of 1.9 million. This is in contrast to the 6.9 million claims in April, with a stead decline each week since then. There was 2.5 million jobs added to the American economy, largely due to 2.7 million workers returning from furloughs. Still, more than 40 million Americans have lost their jobs because of the pandemic forcing shutdowns of so many businesses across America. But the gradual improvement of employment is boosting hopes for a quick economic recovery, however, there remains the problem of technology displacement of jobs. In times of economic stress, businesses are seeking ways and means to cut operating cost, and that gives a niche for entry of new technologies that eliminate the human. Experts in Artificial Intelligence estimate that as much as 50% of the jobs will disappear in 15 to 25 years.

4) Stock market closings for – 11 JUN 20: The stock market is like a rectal thermometer- it’s rude and crude but surprisingly effective at showing sickness.

Dow 25,128.17 down 1861.82
Nasdaq 9,492.73 down 527.62
S&P 500 3,002.10 down 188.04

10 Year Yield: down at 0.65%

Oil: down at $36.17

12 May 20:

1) Economic advisers are urging the reopening of the economy as quickly as possible to reduce unemployment rates, which they fear are already above 20%. But despite the risk of permanent economic damage, public health experts warn that reopening nonessential businesses could lead to a flare up of the pandemic. This could mean unemployment worst than the 1930’s great depression with a true unemployment rate reaching 25%. However, there are early reports that China is experiencing a recurrence of the coronavirus after they’ve started their reopening process, so the warnings of health experts isn’t to be taken lightly. While some officials state that 80% of the unemployment is from furloughs and expect very rapid re-employment with the ending of the shutdown, there remains the very real problem of how fast they can be rehired. With a large portion of businesses now strapped for cash, they will have to restart slowly as money permits. No doubt, many will have gone bust during the shutdown, having already run out of money, while many more will be cash starved for weeks, months or even years, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

2) Toyota Motor company plans to cut North American production by about a third before October, with expectations that it will be some time before production is restored to present levels. The company will build about 800,000 vehicles in the United States, Canada and Mexico, a number which is down 29% from the same time last year.

3) The electric automaker Tesla, controlled by Elon Musk, has filed a federal lawsuit Saturday against Alameda County in California to reverse the closing of the auto plant. The Tesla’s plant in Fremont, California was closed by health orders from the county and remain closed for social distancing reasons. Additionally, Musk is threatening to move the manufacturing plant to a more business friendly state such as Texas or Nevada, considering the regulation to be the last straw. In the last few years, California has faced a ‘business drain’ as significant number of businesses and skilled/educated workers move out of California for states offering more opportunity.

4) Stock market closings for – 11 MAY 20:

Dow 24,221.99 down 109.33
Nasdaq 9,192.34 up 71.02
S&P 500 2,930.32 up 0.52

10 Year Yield: up at 0.73%

Oil: at up at $25.38

20 April 2020

1) The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent ‘sheltering in place’ is changing the American supermarkets. Online shopping of groceries had been somewhat of an awkward luxury service, that was growing ever so slowly, despite efforts of retailers to promote the new service. But the lockdown, stay at home orders have catapulted the service forward by up to a fifty times (not percent) increase in usage. Stores have been left struggling to meet the demand with many unable to keep up with that demand. When the pandemic ends, it will have forever changed the supermarket for many Americans, for once customers have used and got use to the service, then they will most likely continue using online grocery shopping, at least in part. But online shopping eliminates one of the big mainstays of modern supermarkets, the psychology of shopping with the browsing and impulse buying. The counter to this is automation which reduces the staff and labor cost of traditional retail stores, just as Amazon has done with dry goods.

2) The Chinese maker of driverless cars, Pony.ai, has launched a delivery service in Irvine California using its robot cars to deliver to people stuck at home from the virus. Teaming up with the e-commerce site Yamibuy, orders from Yamibuy get delivered to the customers homes. Each car can deliver between 500 to 700 packages a day. A year ago the company launched a robo-taxi service in Irvine, but with the ‘shelter in place’ order, their taxis were repurposed for deliveries.

3) Everyone is baffled over how the stock market continues to hold, even climbing, with what is happening today. For example-
a) Unemployment is now at 22 million and still climbing
b) Threat of large numbers of businesses going bankrupt
c) Recession starting, which most expect will last at least 12 months
d) Automation expected to eliminate up to 50% of jobs in 15 to 25 years
e) Global coronavirus cases surpass 1.5 million and continue growing
At a time when the markets would normally be crashing down from all the uncertainty, what is holding them up? Experts think because of the quick reaction of the government in passing the $2.2 trillion dollar economic stimulus waylaid market fears by showing something is being done. Also, Warren Buffett’s axiom, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy only when others are fearful.” Finally, the ‘social distancing’ measures seems to be controlling the virus, thereby lessening its economic effects in the long run.

4) Stock market closings for – 17 APR 20:

Dow 24,242.49 up 704.81
Nasdaq 8,650.14 up 117.78
S&P 500 2,874.56 up 75.01

10 Year Yield: up at 0.65%

Oil: down at $18.12

9 April 2020

1) The electric auto maker Tesla announced it is furloughing workers as well as cutting employee salaries as a result of the coronavirus shutdown of its facilities. Furthermore, the virus pandemic has slashed demand for cars and forced several other automakers to furlough workers. Barring any significant changes, Tesla plans to resume normal operations on May 4. Salary reductions will start on April 13 and remain in place until the end of the second quarter. Workers salaries are cut by 10%, directors by 20% and vice presidents by 30%. The company considers it has sufficient cash reserves to weather the shutdown.

2) Nuro’s driverless delivery vehicles has received another approval. California’s DMV has given a permit for Nuro to operate in specific parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. While test have been permitted since 2017, a human monitor was required, but these vehicles will be fully autonomous having no humans. This is another step in the rapidly changing retail market, which is embracing wide spread automation in its sales, as robots become more involved in consumerism activities.

3) The number of deaths projected for the coronvirus has been lowered, but there are fears of a ‘second wave’ to follow. The pandemic model has scaled back its projected death toll by 26% to 60,000 however, if social distancing practices are not maintained, a second wave of infections may ensue. So far, about 400,000 coronavirus cases have been reported with roughly 13,000 deaths. But even the revised forecast suggest months of infection troubles for the United States. About 94% of the population has been ordered to stay at home.

4) Stock market closings for – 8 APR 20:

Dow 23,433.57 up 779.71
Nasdaq 8,090.90 up 203.64
S&P 500 2,749.98 up 90.57

10 Year Yield: up at 0.76%

Oil: up at $26.14

18 February 2020

1) In order to help contain the Chinese coronavirus outbreak, China’s central bank has started deep cleaning and destroying potentially infected cash. The virus appears able to survive on surfaces for many hours which is why buildings in affected areas are regularly disinfecting elevator buttons, door handles and other commonly touched surfaces. Since cash money changes hands multiple times in a day, it too is a potential media to transmit the virus. The cash is disinfected with ultraviolet light and high temperatures, then stored for seven to fourteen days before returning to circulation.

2) The price of wine is expected to drop to its lowest levels in five years, in part because of a surplus of grapes in California. Additionally, there is a decreased demand for wine, with the lower prices lasting up to three years. Vineyards began planting thousands of acres of new vines in 2016, plus more efficient harvesting methods have combined to increase the supply of grapes.

3) GM (General Motors) has decided to pull out of Australia, New Zealand and Thailand as part of their strategy to exit markets that don’t produce adequate returns on investments. The car maker has 828 employees in Australia and New Zealand and another 1,500 in Thailand which will be eliminated.

4) Stock market closings for – 17 FEB 20:

Dow 29,398.08 down 25.23
Nasdaq 9,731.18 up 19.21
S&P 500 3,380.16 up 6.22

10 Year Yield: down at 1.59%

Oil: down at $51.92

12 February 2020

1) The demise of the big box and department stores in malls, has spawned a move to trendy local shops. These are standalone small format stores designed to experiment with new retail strategies and increased foot traffic. These stores tend to be positioned closer to neighborhoods away from the malls. The department stores and big box retailers grew rapidly and over saturated the market, while the small format stores have less investments and lower lease costs.

2) Boeing Aircraft company reported zero new orders for this January, while Airbus tallied 274 orders for commercial airplanes in the same month. The company did deliver 13 new airplanes in January, six were 787 Dreamliners, two 777s, two 767 and three 737NG. Boeing is anticipating re-certification of its 737MAX by the middle of 2020.

3) California is now estimated to have 150,000 homeless people, reaching record numbers, of which two-thirds are living on the streets. There are more than 100 homeless camps across Oakland, in which authorities are in the process of dismantling. The homeless scratch out a living doing odd jobs, focus groups or medial trials. The rising cost of housing is the prime force driving people to homelessness, the number increasing each day despite the soaring stock market and record low unemployment rate.

4) Stock market closings for – 11 FEB 20:

Dow 29,276.34 down 0.48
Nasdaq 9,638.94 up 10.55
S&P 500 3,357.75 up 5.66

10 Year Yield: up at 1.59%

Oil: up at $50.07

2 January 2020

1) The ride sharing business Uber has filed a lawsuit against California, in response to a landmark gig worker law as being unconstitutional. The new law is designed to upend gig economy companies such as Uber and Lyft. Uber claims the new law unfairly targets workers and companies in the on-demand economy, treating them differently than traditional companies. The law forces on-demand companies to reclassify their independent contractors as employees, which would break up their businesses. With Uber actively researching auto-driving cars, this point may soon become mute.

2) In the wake of continual losses despite rising postal rates, America’s postal system, as a public government run entity, may be coming to a end as early as this year. New leadership is being brought into the USPS tasked with creating a package of large structural changes intent on privatizing and selling pieces of the public service off. One proposal is that the postal service stops delivering packages, since there are already several successful businesses who are already doing that.

3) Department stores and apparel retailers continue to shrink as customers continue their migration to Amazon. For the last several years, retailers such as Sears, Macy’s and the Gap have struggled to survive and prosper by closing their retail outlets with even more closures are forecast for this next year. One additional loss of retail revenues is the lost of store credit cards.

4) Stock market closings for – 31 DEC 19:

Dow                28,538.44    up    76.30
Nasdaq            8,972.60    up     26.61
S&P 500           3,230.78    up        9.49

10 Year Yield:    up   at    1.92%

Oil:    down   at     $61.21

31 December 2019

1) The automaker of electric cars Tesla has made its first deliveries of their Model 3 that were manufactured in China. The gigafactory in Shanghai is Tesla’s first outside the U.S., which is expected to significantly boost Tesla sales in China, which Tesla considers will become its largest market for the Model 3. Production will soon be 1,000 cars a week, eventually reaching an annual production of 150,000 a year.

2) The national average price for gasoline increased by 1.6 cents to $2.57 a gallon. Gas prices had been dropping for seven consecutive weeks prior to the upswing. The price increase is a result of the drop in oil inventories while oil prices are above $61 a barrel. Gas prices are above $3 a gallon in Hawaii, California, Nevada, Alaska and Washington, while Missouri, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana are the five states with the lowest priced gas states.

3) Vietnam is switching from producing and selling raw robusta beans on the commodity markets, to producing instant coffee for the burgeoning Asian market. Instant coffee brings more profit with less risk while also bringing protection from large swings in international commodity prices. Vietnam aims to overtake Nestle as Vietnam’s biggest pure instant coffee supplier in the next five years, and doubling its coffee exports to $6 billion dollars a year.

4) Stock market closings for – 30 DEC 19:

Dow              28,462.14    down   183.12
Nasdaq           8,945.99    down     60.62
S&P 500          3,221.29    down     18.73

10 Year Yield:    up   at    1.90%

Oil:    down   at    $61.68

4 December 2019

1) Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal raised it’s ugly head again with the German public prosecutors raiding VW Wolfsburg headquarters looking for documents. The scandal broke in 2015, but there are still questions about newer engines which succeeded the diesel engines with fraudulent testing for emissions. So far, Volkswagen’s cheating test has cost the company about $33 billion dollars in fines, vehicle refits and legal costs.

2) Richmond California is moving to ban the export of coal through their port facilities citing coal dust pollution in parts of the town. Coming from western states such as Wyoming, the coal is shipped to China, India and other far east countries still making heavy use of coal fired electric generation plants. However, the city may be facing legal challenges against the city ban. Richmond, Stockton, Los Angeles and Long Beach are now the only major west coast ports that handle coal.

3) President Trump has suggested that the trade war with China could drag on for some time, that it might be better to wait until after the 2020 election to sign a trade agreement. The next deadline is 15 December when 15% levies on an additional $160 billion dollars in Chinese goods. The news cause another drop in the stock markets, in addition to the drop from news about metal tariffs on Brazil and Argentina.

4) Stock market closings for – 3 DEC 19:

Dow              27,502.81    down    280.23
Nasdaq           8,520.64    down      47.34
S&P 500          3,093.20    down      20.67

10 Year Yield:    down   at    1.71%

Oil:    up   at    $55.99