12 October 2020

1) With the recession from the Covid-19 came predictions of waves of bankruptcy filings as businesses, large and small, failed. But that wave of bankruptcy has not materialized, and so far, there’s no sign that it will, indeed bankruptcies are down a little from last year. This is a good sign that companies and households are not as stressed as many economist feared. However, bankruptcy filings aren’t a perfect measure of hardship, with many companies barely hanging on, so bankruptcies may still be coming. Many small businesses and households go bust without ever formally filing for bankruptcy.

2) The four massive high tech companies, Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook are under investigation at Federal and State levels for antitrust. These investigations are spurred by concerns that competition is being stifled by the domination of these companies, but there are concerns that the big tech is trying to also stifle conservative voices. Google is facing a relatively narrow complaint from the Justice Department that it seeks to disadvantage rivals in search and advertising. The focus on Apple is their apps store with accusations that Apple introduces new products and then put out apps that compete with them. Facebook has raised concerns over how they treat some of their app developers on its platform and therefore engaged in unlawful monopolistic practices. Amazon is suspected of conflict of interest in competition with small sellers on its marketplace platform.

3) Silicon Valley companies are thinking about the future of work taking actions from pay cuts to permanent work-from-home as they strive to cope with the coronavirus crisis. The big tech companies have formed various plans for the future of work. Some companies, (Twitter and Slack), said their employees never need to return to the office, while others, such as Microsoft, are adopting a hybrid model where employees report to the office only a few days a week. Amazon and Salesforce are adopting new benefits to help out working parents, such as subsidized back-up childcare and extended paid leave, while Facebook, employees may work from home permanently. However, if they leave the Bay Area for a less expensive city, they’ll may face a pay cut. Silicon Valley may bear little resemblance to the thriving hub before the pandemic. Tech companies have largely shut down their sprawling campuses and asked employees to work from home — in some cases, forever. When those offices reopen office life is unlikely to resemble the past. Companies may change their real estate plans, opting instead for a new type of office, or none at all.

4) Stock market closings for – 9 OCT 20:

Dow 28,586.90 up 61.39
Nasdaq 11,579.94 up 158.96
S&P 500 3,477.13 up 30.30

10 Year Yield: up at 0.78%

Oil: down at $40.52

7 October 2020

1) Ikea, the big Swedish world wide modular furniture manufacture, has experienced a surge in sales from the pandemic as people turned homes into offices and schools. Their online sales are up 45% over the last 12 months to August, with 4 billion visits to their website. Outdoor furniture is the fastest growing category, followed by office furniture. While many of their stores were forced to close from the virus, their online sales remain high even as stores reopen. The furniture retailer has added 6,000 new employees world wide to make a total work force of 217,000. Online sales account for about one fifth of total sales.

2) Job openings in America fell in August for the first time in four months, indicating a moderation in hiring as the crisis continues. Available positions slipped down to 6.49 million from July’s 6.7 million. These numbers do not include recalls from layoffs or positions that are offered only internally. However, layoffs and discharges are at a low for August, although there are still 13.6 million Americans unemployed, which means there are about 2 unemployed competing for each job opening. There are fewer vacancies in construction, retail and health care industries, while vacancies increased for manufacturing, food service and government.

3) Federal reserve Chairman Jerome Powell says America is on the long road to economic recovery from the pandemic induced recession, but still there are other problems on the horizon. There are fears of the economy shifting into reverse once again, especially if a resurgence of the virus comes with cold weather . . . the flue season. Such a resurgence could significantly limit economic activity leaving many unemployed stranded with no jobs for many more months. Powell is calling for the passing of the second stimulus bill presently being debated in the Congress. He considers the risk of pouring too much money into the economy far lower than the risk of not spending enough, despite the already sky high federal budget. While he considers the debt is on an unsustainable path, and has been for some time, but this is not the time to address it.

4) Stock market closings for – 6 OCT 20:

Dow 27,772.76 down 375.88
Nasdaq 11,154.60 down 177.88
S&P 500 3,360.95 down 47.68

10 Year Yield: down at 0.74%

Oil: up at $39.83

24 August 2020

1) Despite being in a major recession with unemployment hovering around 22 million, the home sales market is on fire, last month setting a record 24.7% increase compared with June. While the housing market was all but frozen this spring, surprisingly it has rebound from the effects of the pandemic crisis. The previous record for sales was set in 1968 with a 20.7% rise. Furthermore, all regions of the country reported strong sales of homes. One factor is considered that all the work at home has homeowners looking for larger houses. The strong sales is driving prices upward, with the median price of homes up 8.5% from July, now at $304,100. This is the 101st straight month of increasing prices.

2) AI (Artificial Intelligence) has made significant inroads in competing with humans to do tasks better and faster. In a field most people would consider as strictly a human endeavor- Dog fighting, or aerial combat where fighter aircraft chase each other through the sky trying to shoot each other down, now has AI systems to replace people. An AI system developed by Heron Systems went against a human F-16 fighter pilot in simulated air combat and defeated him 5-0. The simulation was limited to the nose cannon only, no missiles allowed. A couple of years ago, Boeing Aircraft said they were developing robot airliners which flew by themselves- no pilots!

3) Researchers have created a minuscule robot beetle, weighing only 88 milligrams, that can operated for two hours without a battery. The machine runs on liquid methanol that powers its artificial muscles allowing it to carry 2.6 times its body weight. The artificial muscles are called ‘catalytic artificial micro-muscle’, that uses special metals that allows the use of methanol to generate power to a micro-machine. While the RoBeetle is just a demonstration of a technology, it shows that power can be derived without the use of conventional batteries, which limit the size and weight of micro-robots.

4) Stock market closings for – 21 AUG 20:

Dow 27,930.33 up 190.60
Nasdaq 11,311.80 up 46.85
S&P 500 3,397.16 up 11.65

10 Year Yield: down at 0.64%

Oil: down at $42.25

31 July 2020

1) The American economy last quarter is the worst on record, with a 32.9% annual rate contraction (April – June). American business ground to a halt from the pandemic lockdown this spring, leaving the country in its first recession in eleven years. This wipes out five years of economic gains in just months. From January to March, the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) declined by an annualized rate of 5%. While the unemployment is declining as states open up from the shutdown, there are still about 15 million unemployed workers. Americans are spending less money during th lockdown, partly because of lost of jobs. Consumer spending is the biggest driver of the economy, and it declined at an annual rate of 34.6% for the second quarter.

2) While Walmart has posted surging sales for each month, it is still taking cost savings measures. The retailer has laid off hundreds of workers including store planning, logistics, merchandising and real estate. Also, Walmart is reorganizing its 4,750 stores by consolidation of divisions and eliminating some regional manager roles. Walmart is performing well because of high demand and low prices during the pandemic. The company isn’t opening as many new stores in the U.S. anymore, so Walmart doesn’t need as many people to find new locations and so design them.

3) Job postings in technology are 36% down from 2019 levels. This is attributed to increased competition, low priority in hiring and uncertainty over the pandemic. Therefore, the tech industry is also feeling the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Sending a very significant portion of its workers remote to work at home, there were predictions tech jobs would lead the recovery with increase job numbers. The ‘work at home’ was thought to show tech jobs might be available outside the traditional hubs. Neither has proved to be true. In short, the tech jobs are faring worst than the overall economy.

4) Stock market closings for – 30 JUL 20:

Dow 26,313.65 down 225.92
Nasdaq 10,587.81 up 44.87
S&P 500 3,246.22 down 12.22

10 Year Yield: down at 0.54%

Oil: down at $40.45

27 July 2020

1) Another indication of the contraction of the oil business is the oil services company Schlumberger who cut 21,000 jobs or about one fifth of its 105,000 global employees. This is a direct result of an expected 25% drop in the number of oil wells drilled worldwide. Revenues fell 58% from last year for north American operations. The world wide cornavirus crisis caused a massive drop in oil demand, which collapsed the price of oil.

2) Boeing aircraft is facing another trouble, this time with their older Boeing 737 jets. The FAA was warned of corrosion which could cause dual-engine failure, and has ordered inspections. The corrosion problem is a result of hundreds of aircraft now in storage that have been idled because of the drop in air travel from the virus. The order requires aircraft that have not been operated for a week or more must be inspected which will impact about 2,000 aircraft. The corrosion is in engine valves, which has caused single-engine shutdowns which resulted from engine bleed air valves being stuck open.

3) Junk bonds are back again, but are packaged in a format met to appeal to investors, avoiding their seamy 1980s era reputation. Low interest rates driven by the Federal reserve is encouraging companies to borrow, which has lead to a record $51.5 billion dollars worth of junk bonds issued in June. Junk bonds are bonds with high yields (interest rates) but having a lot higher risk. The high risk comes from companies fiscal ability to pay out the bond on maturity or dividends. In a recessionary environment awash in cheap money, a troubled company can collapse under the weight of their debt. But extensive use of junk bonds pose the same dangers of the mortgage backed securities in 2008 with massive failing of businesses pulling the already fragile economy down.

4) Stock market closings for – 24 JUL 20:

Dow 26,469.89 down 182.44
Nasdaq 10,363.18 down 98.24
S&P 500 3,215.63 down 20.03

10 Year Yield: up at 0.59%

Oil: up at $41.34

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

19 June 2020

1) Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the U.S., has been surprised by a 92% gain in its e-commerce sales. The giant has lagged behind its competitors like Walmart, Amazon and Target with e-commerce, but the coronavirus has provided the motivation for people to use the service to stay at home and do their cooking during the pandemic. The grocer has been working hard to expand into the electronic marketing area, including working with a robotics company for automated ‘stores’ to fill orders for delivery. With the pandemic changing shopping habits of Americans, now is the time for Kroger to establish its position for the future. The question now is can Kroger maintain this increased sales of e-commerce as the virus crisis subsides. Kroger had $41.55 billion dollar revenues compared with $37 million a year ago.

2) Looking back at the 100 days of the Convid-19 crisis and shutdown, we find the American economy has endured an extraordinary upheaval. Americans have endured over 2.1 million people suffering with Covid-19 which resulted in 117,000 deaths. The closing of non essential businesses sent the economy crashing into a deep recession, with record numbers of layoffs and a skyrocketing unemployment rate. This in turn made for record drops in household spending and manufacturing. Businesses such as automobile manufacturing, the airlines and hotels came to a near complete standstill. Small businesses such as restaurants were stopped dead in their tracks with fears than a large portion would not survive. The feds cut the interest rates to near zero, while pumping in trillions of dollars to stabilize the economy and support businesses until recovery starts.

3) Unemployment claims for last week were 1.5 million more people, up from the expected 1.3 million. This is the thirteenth straight week that claims were above one million. The elevated claims continue even as the country starts to open up and resume business. The real question is how many of those jobs will return and how many will be replaced by technology. Times of economic stress is when automation makes significant inroads as companies look for ways to cut cost to survive.

4) Stock market closings for – 18 JUN 20:

Dow 26,080.10 down 39.51
Nasdaq 9,943.05 up 32.52
S&P 500 3,115.34 up 1.85

10 Year Yield: down at 0.69%

Oil: up at $38.84

11 June 2020

1) This last April, the government offered $349 billion dollars to small businesses, in their stimulates package called the Paycheck Protection Program or PPP, as a way of limiting the economic damaged from the shutdown orders and pandemic. This money was gone in just 13 days, so Congress approved a second round of $310 billion dollars, but so far there is $130 billion dollars left with more monies being returned than borrowed. Thousands of companies sent loan money back because loan terms were too restrictive, or the criteria for loan forgiveness was too murky. There has been about $3 billion dollars in loans that have been canceled or returned. Congress has moved to loosen the program’s rules giving businesses more flexibility in spending their aid. Nevertheless, many small businesses are facing closure amid the uncertainty of the economy and what the future holds.

2) America is on track for another 2008 class financial crisis with threats of financial collapse. The 2008 crisis forced banks to rethink their risk taking, and new regulations were put through designed to limit the risk that banks take in making loans. Already facing a prolong recession, the balance sheets of big banks could precipitate a collapsed of the financial sector, as almost happened in 2008. The last crisis was caused by CDO (Collateralized Debt Obligations) where sub-prime home mortgages were packaged and given ratings of high quality mortgages. When these over-rated CDOs began to default, the banks were on the verge of collapse, but the feds stepped in and saved the day . . . just barely. The banks have fallen back into their old habits now by using CLO (Collateralized Loan Obligations) which are like CDOs, however they are for businesses instead of home mortgages, but still having the high risk. With the threat of many small businesses failing from the coronavirus crisis, these CLOs could default causing the big banks to collapse, bringing the American economy down.

3) A record number of retail stores are expected to permanently close this year as consumer demand for discretionary items stalls and people shift to online shopping. As many as 25,000 retail stores could fold up, with more than 4,000 having all ready given up the ghost. It is anticipated the closures will snowball from the recession, adding to the effects of unsustainable debt levels. The retailers were struggling to stay afloat before the pandemic struck.

4) Stock market closings for – 10 JUN 10:

Dow 26,989.99 down 282.31
Nasdaq 10,020.35 up 66.59
S&P 500 3,190.14 down 17.04

10 Year Yield: down at 0.75%

Oil: up at $38.78

9 June 2020

1) The worst U.S. economic downturn since the Great Depression has been officially declared a recession by the National Bureau of Economic Research. While the recession had been a foregone conclusion for most people since the coronavirus outbreak shut the economy down, the NBER declaration makes it a fact, adding that the different characteristics and dynamics makes this recession different from previous recessions. The recession is officially to have started in February.

2) The child care businesses are the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown with a third of the child care workers laid off or furloughed nation wide. Only the hotel and restaurant industries were hit harder, but because child care providers operate on such thin margins, many are going out of business. With parents unable to find day care for their children, they are unable to return to work, as much as they would like to. So this in turn is another hindrance to economic recovery for America. Therefore, Congress is proposing as much as $100 billion dollars for the child care industry in the next stimulus package.

3) A ten year long treasure hunt has come to an end with the finding of a treasure chest filled with jewels and gold coins worth a reported million dollars. An estimated 350,000 treasure hunters have been searching in the Rocky Mountains since 2010, a ten year long treasure hunt. Hidden by Forrest Fenn, an 89 year old art dealer, who confirmed the treasure was found by an anonymous person from the east. Thousands have spent considerable time and resources searching for the treasure, some even giving up their jobs to search full time. Some have claimed the entire enterprise is an elaborate hoax and have filed lawsuits. Clues to the treasure’s location were in a cryptic 24 line poem that Fenn wrote and published in his book, “The thrill of the Chase”, published in 2010.

4) Stock market closings for – 8 JUN 20:

Dow 27,572.44 up 461.46
Nasdaq 9,924.74 up 110.66
S&P 500 3,232.39 up 38.46

10 Year Yield: down at 0.88%

Oil: down at $38.51

4 June 2020

1) The stock market continues to climb, with some saying this signals the end of the recession. The S&P 500 has a return of 37.7% over the past 50 trading days, which is the largest 50 day rally in history. This rally is attributed to the quick response of the Federal Reserve, with a record $2 trillion dollar federal stimulus package. Another factor is the unlimited asset purchases by the Federal Reserve. While the shutdown depressed retail and airlines businesses, other parts of the economy saw a boost, such as Netflix, Amazon and Facebook. But there is still the record high of over 40 million workers idled by the pandemic, while the weakening in the Chinese’s economy coupled with the tensions between China and America could have a telling effect to the economic recovery.

2) There are fears of another round of layoffs in the later part of 2020, amid questions of where the economy will go in the next six to twelve months. Businesses are now reluctant to expand and hire new people, and may decide to contract thus being better able to weather economic hard times. There is also the unspoken problem of continued automation taking jobs as AI (Artificial Intelligence) and automation that experts predict will continual to sap jobs for the next decade. Automation gives companies an added advantage in surviving when the economy slows down, but a second wave of layoffs may trigger that slowdown.

3) The giant movie theater chain AMC has announced they doubt they can remain in business after the effects of the coronavirus shutdown. The company has problems with their liquidity, their ability to generate revenue and the timeline for reopening its theaters. The chain expects to lose $2.1 to $2.4 billion dollars for the first quarter, with the second quarter to be even worst. With all its theaters closed down, AMC is generating zero revenues. The major problem in reopening is having enough cash for operations until cash starts coming in again, and there is still questions of when theaters will be able to open again, especially if there are flare-ups of the virus.

4) Stock market closings for – 3 JUN 20:

Dow 26,269.89 up 527.24
Nasdaq 9,682.91 up 74.54
S&P 500 3,122.87 up 42.05

10 Year Yield: up at 0.76%

Oil: down at $36.75