22 September 2020

1) Bad news from the conronavirus continuing to pile in with a just-released report that 60% of the small businesses that have closed because of the virus, and will never open again. Of nearly 163,700 businesses that have closed since March 1, about 98,000 say they’ve shut their doors for good. This is a 23% increase from July. About 32,100 of these businesses are restaurants, with close to 19,600, or about 61%, closing permanently. The National Restaurant Association says 100,000 restaurants have closed, either permanently or long-term, with a lose of $240 billion in sales this year. Restaurants operate on razor-thin margins even in the best of times, and so are less likely to make it through the disruption. Consumers are spending less on dining-out, while the disposable income for Americans is shrinking. Retail stores are also struggling with about 30,400 shopping and retail establishments closing since March 1, and of these 17,500, or 58% of them are permanent.

2) Many of the workers now working at home, are engaged in day trading to counter boredom for both entertainment and profits, but with growing fears that this trend could end badly. Most of these individual investors do not have the wealth, time or temperament to make money and sustain losses for any period of time. Major companies can have big rallies on the market, only to suddenly turn around with big losses. These casual investors are competing with large investors who have technology that allows them to trade on information before most people have time to read about it. In the long run, small investors, with about 30 stocks, have only a 40% chance of doing as well as the overall market.

3) The incredibly low interest rates have caused a rush of home sales in 2020 as people take advantage of the low interest rate, and in turn all these new mortgages have flooded the bond market as investors scoop them up. But it’s not just home sales, because 69% of the new mortgages are refinances of old mortgages. Many of these mortgages are then sold to government sponsored agencies such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae, who then repackage the loans into mortgage backed bonds or securities. These bonds often have higher returns than traditional Treasurys. Additionally, the bonds are often backed by government guarantees meaning there is little risk to the investors.

4) Stock market closings for – 21 SEP 20:
Dow 27,147.70 down 509.72
Nasdaq 10,778.80 down 14.48
S&P 500 3,281.06 down 38.41
10 Year Yield: down at 0.67%
Oil: down at $39.72

21 September 2020

1) Michael Farr of CNBC claims the problem with the U.S. economy is there are too many poor people, that the poor and middle class don’t have enough money. His contention is that until employment and wages increase, the U.S. economy will remain bogged down or worst . . . digging a deeper hole. The American economy is the world’s largest with nearly 70% driven by consumer spending. With the vast majority of consumers in the lower middle class and poor, it stands to reason that with more money in their hands, it would make for a more viable economy. He contends that until their lot is improved by having more money, the economy will remain sluggish. But as is often the case, he ignores the ‘obsolete people’ problem of machines with technology displacing those workers. The pay of people reflects the value of people to society, and as technology continues to lower their real value it makes it hard to increase their wages.

2) Wayfair, the giant on-line home furnishings retailer, has announced they are launching two new credit cards while retiring their Comenity Bank card. There will now be the Wayfair Mastercard and the new Wayfair Credit Card. These cards will have no annual fee and offer the choice of earning rewards on spending or receiving no-interest financing for up to 24 months. Wayfair is partnering with Citi Retail Services for the two credit cards.

3) Facebook, the social media giant, is searching for a director of remote work as part of its plan for a more permanent shift of working from home. The company has been making a major shift towards permanent remote work and now needs management dedicated to permanently establishing this method of work in the corporate structure. Facebook is expecting as much as half of its 48,000 workforce to be working at home in the next ten years. Several other large companies are exploring the work-at-home strategy as a way of reducing cost of labor as well as allowing a larger pool of workers to draw upon, since home workers can be thousands of miles away from the home office. There are many consequences to the economy from a large work force working at home, the first is reducing spending on automobiles and service, plus sales of clothing.

4) Stock market closings for – 18 SEP 20:

Dow 27,657.42 down 244.56
Nasdaq 10,793.28 down 117.00
S&P 500 3,319.47 down 37.54

10 Year Yield: up at 0.69%

Oil: up at $40.98

5 August 2020

1) The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has issued a 36 page document detailing the fixes and training that Boeing needs to implement so the 737 MAX can return to commercial service. The document was in the works before the planes were grounded in the spring of 2019, a result of two air crashes. There were few requirements that Boeing management wasn’t already aware of, and it’s considered a milestone in the certification process. The document only applies to 737 MAX aircraft flying in the U.S., and it is expected the changes will be adopted by aviation regulators around the world. Once done, all 737 MAX jets will undergo an operational readiness flight prior to returning each airplane to service. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency is waiting on doing its flight test as the FAA moves ahead.

2) The oil company giant Exxon Mobil Corp., is seeking the dismissal of a climate change lawsuit brought on by the Massachusetts attorney general. The lawsuit alleges that Exxon defrauded consumers and investors by the company’s public position on climate change, that Exxon hid its early knowledge of climate change and misled investors about the projected financial impact of global warming on its business. Exxon claims the law suit amounts to improper retaliation against the company over its views on climate change. The bases for Exxon’s challenge is the state’s anti-Slapp law which prohibits the use of litigation to punish a defendant for statements on matters that are under consideration by a legislative or judicial body.

3) The Department of Labor has come down hard on social investing or EAG, proposing rules that strongly limit such activities for private pension plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). They consider that pension fund investing is not the place to solve the ills of the world, that it is unlawful for a fiduciary to sacrifice return or accept additional risk to promote a public policy, political or any other nonpecuniary goal.

4) Stock market closings for – 4 AUG 20:

Dow 26,828.47 up 164.07
Nasdaq 10,941.17 up 38.37
S&P 500 3,306.51 up 11.90

10 Year Yield: down at 0.52%

Oil: up at $41.53

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

11 February 2020

1) Senator Josh Hawley (R) aims to overhaul the Federal Trade Commission to counter the power wielded by big tech companies like Google and Facebook. He proposes dismantling the current agency tasked with protecting US consumers and place it under the Department of Justice. The Missouri senator says the current FTC lacks the teeth needed to hold high tech companies accountable for data breaches or lost of consumer information as well as privacy issues.

2) The genetic testing business for consumers, which has been growing over the past decade, now seems to be slowing because of concerns for privacy and market saturation. One major company announced a 6% layoff of employees with another laying off 14% as a result of slowdown of demand over the last eighteen months. Cost for testing is becoming another factor, especially for amateur genealogical researchers.

3) The U.S. is using technologies such as drones to scout for potential rare-earths reserves at home and aborad. Presently, America is almost 100% dependent on foreign supplies for the critically needed natural resource, most coming from China. Rare-earths are used in applications such as cellphones, wind turbines and missiles. While the U.S. does mine some rare-earths, it all must be shipped overseas, principally China, to be processed. America doesn’t have any processing plants of her own.

4) Stock market closings for – 10 FEB 20:

Dow 29,276.82 up 174.31
Nasdaq 9,628.39 up 107.88
S&P 500 3,352.09 up 24.38

10 Year Yield: down at 1.55%

Oil: down at $49.65

4 February 2020

1) All ready shaken by the trade war, China is now being racked by the coronavirus, with fears of the virus pushing the Chinese markets down by $393 billion dollars on the first day of trading since the Lunar New Year. This is an 8% drop on the Shanghai composite index, the biggest drop in more than four years. This is despite the biggest cash injection of China’s financial system since 2004. Additionally, commodities contracts have all posted sharp drops, a strong indication of an economic slowdown.

2) The shopping malls are dying as shopping habits of consumers change over to the internet. It’s estimated that 25% of American malls will shut their doors by 2022, and more of the 9,300 retail stores that closed in 2019 were in malls. Mall owners are searching for ways to halt the trend of shrinking retailing in malls, including buying major retail companies such as Forever 21 and Aeropostale.

3) As traditional brick-and-mortar stores continue its slide downwards, a number of companies are considered at risk of bankruptcy this next year. Stores like Neiman Marcus ply their way in red ink, including J. Crew, Francesca’s, Rite Aid, JCPenny, Pier 1, Dressbarn, Destination Maternity, Men’s Wearhouse and Stein Mart. Companies heavy into cloths and fashion ware are the ones struggling the most to avoid the bankruptcy courts.

4) Stock market closings for – 3 FEB 20:

Dow              28,399.81    up    143.78
Nasdaq          9,273.40    up     122.47
S&P 500         3,248.92    up       23.40

10 Year Yield:    unchanged   at    1.52%

Oil:    down   at    $49.91

24 January 2020

1) After two friendly attempts to merge with HP, Xerox is launching a hostile takeover bid. Xerox will nominate eleven new directors to replace all of HP board members, thus leaving Xerox in control of the company. HP claims that Xerox’s proposal significantly undervalues HP and creates risk for the HP shareholders, while Xerox claims combining the similar companies will create significant cost savings.

2) The number of claims for unemployment benefits for mid January rose slightly, but layoffs remain near a fifty year low. There are no signs of the strongest U.S. labor market in decades deteriorating. The number of people actually collecting unemployment benefits has fallen by a small amount. The U.S. economy is still growing but at a slower rate.

3) Fair Isaac Corp. announced changes on their scoring of consumer credit, the making of their FICO score. Soon, they will start scoring consumers with rising debt levels and those who fall behind on loan payments with lower scores. The changes will create a bigger gap between consumers considered good and bad credit risks. Also, scores are considering bank account balances and utilities payments. The new FICO changes reflect a shift in U.S. lenders’ confidence in the economy.

4) Stock market closings for – 23 JAN 20:

Dow              29,160.09    down    26.18
Nasdaq           9,402.48          up    18.71
S&P 500          3,325.54          up      3.79

10 Year Yield:    down   at    1.74%

Oil:    down   at    $55.66

10 January 2020

1) HP’s board has rejected Xerox’s $33 billion dollar takeover bid, for the same reason as Xerox’s previous offer, that the proposal significantly undervalues HP. Xerox first moved to acquire HP in November, but was rejected because HP stock holders would lose much of their value in the company. HP is a 2015 spinoff of giant Hewlett-Packard who has a market value of $300 billion dollars that dwarfs Xerox’s value of 7.7 billion dollars.

2) Mack Trucks, the manufacturer of large commercial trucks, announced plans to layoff 305 employees, which is about 13% of their payroll. After two years of high volumes of production, marked demand has dropped so the company must adapt to the lower demand. There are expectations of the truck market in America being down 30% this next year.

3) The American consumer continues to shun the traditional big department stores. Despite the monster holiday shopping season, America’s biggest department stores still lost money. This is a trend that has been in progress for several years as typified by Sears’ decline. Department stores such as JCPenny, Kohl’s and Macy’s continue to decline with dropping sales and store closings. Consumers are now going to big box stores and the internet commerce to save money, signaling a fundamental change in American consumerism.

4) Stock market closings for – 9 SEP 20:

Dow              28,956.90    up    211.81
Nasdaq           9,203.43    up      74.18
S&P 500          3,274.70    up      21.65

10 Year Yield:    down   at    1.86%

Oil:    down   at    $59.59

6 January 2020

1) The U.S. manufacturing sector contracted the most in December, more than for a decade. Order volumes crashed to a near eleven year low with factory employment falling for a fifth straight month. The index of national factory activity fell to 47.2 last month from 48.1 for November and is the lowest reading since June 2009. A value of 50 or above indicates expansion, while below is contraction.

2) The electric auto maker Tesla sold more cars in 2019 than the two previous years combined. Tesla sold 367,500 cars in 2019, although its on the low end of the 360,000 to 400,000 cars the company estimated at the beginning of 2019. Its newly opened plant in China will sell its Model 3 automobile in China thus avoiding transport and import cost. China promises to be a major increase in Tesla sales for next year.

3) Despite worries by experts expecting a decline of spending by American consumers, many consider the consumer will keep the economy humming through the next year. This Christmas shopping season appears it will set new records in spending, despite trade tensions, Washington being absorbed in impeachment and oil prices creeping up. With the economy always on the minds of voters, a good economy bodes well for incumbents with 2020 being a presidential election year.

4) Stock market closings for – 3 JAN 20:

Dow              28,634.88    down    233.92
Nasdaq            9,020.77    down       71.42
S&P 500         3,234.85    down      23.00

10 Year Yield:    down   at    1.79%

Oil:    up   at    $63.04