14 July 2020

The restaurant chains were in trouble before the pandemic struck, which is now driving many out of business. Big well known names such as Steak ‘n Shake, which has closed 50 of its restaurants permanently and is trying to sell off the remaining 300 as franchises. Fuddruckers, a subsidiary of Luby’s, is closing 17 restaurants to leave 40, while Red Robin is closing up. The wine and burger Sinburger is closing 18 to leave just 8 restaurants. Wendy’s 400 franchises are in trouble, as well as 1,200 Pizza Huts, both icons of eating out. Although not as well know, Roy Rogers is closing.

2) Wall Street is bracing for some bad numbers from the big banks this week, from huge drops in their profits. The mass unemployment, waves of bankruptcies and the pandemic crisis coupled with near zero interest rates is leaving banks like JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup with an expected drop in profits of 50%. The banks are expecting significant loans to go bust and so are setting aside cash to weather the eventuality. Banks around the world could ultimately suffer a credit loss of trillions of dollars. Banks make money off the spread between interest charged on loans and that paid on deposits, but with the near zero interest rate, that spread is very narrow leaving less profits.

3) The tech giant Google intends to invest $10 billion dollars in India over the next five to seven years to grow the company’s business in a fast growing market. Google plans to partner up with other companies in India, as well as investing in its infrastructure, operation and ecosystem and startup scene. The company will focus on artificial intelligence in health, education and agriculture. They will open digital services for locals so they can use their own languages such as Hindi, Tamil and Punjabi. India has a population of more than 1 billion people, with half of them not yet online. The more people on the internet, the more customers Google has for its services.

4) Stock market closings for – 13 JUL 20:

Dow 26,085.80 up 10.50
Nasdaq 10,390.84 down 226.60
S&P 500 3,155.22 down 29.82

10 Year Yield: up at 0.64%

Oil: down at $39.25

6 July 2020

1) Newest job report is out with America gaining 4.8 million jobs as people return from the shutdown to work again. This gives an unemployment rate of 11.1%, which is still in the recession category, but is coming down over time. These returning jobs were mostly in the restaurant, hotel and retail sectors. There remains the question of how many restaurant jobs will finally return, with significant numbers of privately own businesses failing financially because of the shutdown.

2) The cornerstone of Ford’s reorganization, its F series Ford pickups, has dropped 22% in sales. Most of these are the F-150 full size pickups, with a new version just recently released. Total Ford sales are down 33.3%, with Ford executives making it clear just how critical the F-150 is to the future of Ford. Before the pandemic crisis set in, Ford had implemented a major restructuring of its operations intent on remaining a strong profitable company, and had expected to pay for this plan in part with the strong sales of the F-150. The F series models have been a part of Ford’s product line since 1948.

3) It’s reported that the developing world loses billions of dollars in money from migrant workers. These migrant workers range from Polish farmhands in the fields of southern France, to Filipino workers on cruise ships in the Caribbean, almost all of them losing their jobs because of the pandemic shutdown. These workers routinely sent cash home, so the third world economy is suffering too. Migrant workers comprise tens of millions of Indians, Filipinos, Mexicans and others from the developing countries, who sent a record $554 billion dollars back home last year. This is more than three times the development aid from foreign governments. Family members depend on this cash to pay for food, fuel and medical care. This drop in money sent home is four times the fall in the 2008 Great Recession.

4) Stock market closings for – 3 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: unchanged $40.32 back home

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

22 May 2020

1) Again, there is additional unemployment this week with 2.4 million people filing for unemployment benefits this last week. This brings the total U.S. unemployment during the pandemic up to 38 million, with continuing claims at 25.07 million, the highest level on record. The good news is the filings continue to decline from previous weeks. So far, there’s no indications that the easing of the lockdowns is having any effect on the unemployment dilemma.

2) The apparel retailer chain ‘The Gap’ is accelerating its implementation of robots in warehouses to assemble online orders, thus avoiding the use of human contact during the pandemic. The Gap is tripling the number of item picking robots in use to 106 by the fall. With the pandemic forcing the closure of its stores nationwide, their online sales shot up just when social distancing rules reduced their staff. Each robot does the work of four humans in a warehoused that was already highly automated. This is an example of increased automation occurring during times of economic shock, leaving fewer jobs for when the economy improves. These are times when employers shed less skilled workers by replacing them with technology and higher skilled workers thereby reducing their labor cost.

3) The second crisis for the American economy is arriving. The pandemic is having sever consequence for state and local governments with lockdowns eviscerating their finances. Monies needed to pay for public services and infrastructure have withered leaving governments to do triage of the services they provide. Basic services such as police, fire fighting, health, trash and water/sewer services are threatened with curtailment for lack of monies to pay salaries and supplies such as gasoline. Such actions is politically dangerous which can fuel political extremism that threatens democracy. Losses of state and local revenues are estimated to be 15 to 45 percent, or an overall loss of $1.75 trillion dollars a year. With growing doubts of re-employment after the crisis passes, this economic crisis is long term.

4) Stock market closings for – 21 MAY 20:

Dow 24,474.12 down 101.78
Nasdaq 9,284.88 down 90.90
S&P 500 2,948.51 down 23.10

10 Year Yield: down at 0.68%

Oil: up at $33.82

21 May 2020

1) The Federal government is moving to address the record deficits that America has amassed. One method is to stretch out the time over which the deficit is paid off. Part of that plan is the reinstating of the 20 year bond, which was last issued in 1986. The Feds will auction off $20 billion dollars worth of bonds Wednesday, with an expected return of 1.21% verses 0.70% for the 10 year bonds and 1.42% for the 30 year bonds. The government is also considering 50 and 100 year bonds, but there doesn’t seem to be any demand for such financial instruments. It’s expected that the deficit will be $3.4 trillion dollars for fiscal 2020 and $2 trillion dollars for 2021.

2) The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) estimates the nation’s unemployment rate will exceed 15% through September then remain above 11% for the rest of the year. For 2021, they estimate an average of 9.3%. For the second quarter of 2020, the labor market is projected to see the steepest declines since the 1930’s. These high unemployment rates are expected to persist despite lawmakers’ efforts to counter with injections of cash into the economy. Further layoffs are expected despite the $660 billion dollar Paycheck Protection Program, but a partial rebound is possible in the last three months of the year, with as much as 30% of laid off workers being rehired.

3) Housing sales are way down, the lack of inventory has propped up prices with bidding wars from the limited availability of properties. The health guidelines have made it more difficult to market homes, another fallout of the pandemic. Since the pandemic began, the demand has fallen off, with the number of sellers also contracting, therefore the limited availability of properties. Despite the economic uncertainty, the supply shortage prior to the Covid-19 crisis still remains. Nevertheless, the housing market has cooled, with sales of existing homes projected to fall 20% in April compared to March, which had a 8.5% drop. Construction of new houses is down as contractors wait out the virus. While loan interest rates are low, lending institutions have tightened up their loan standards.

4) Stock market closings for – 20 MAY 20:

Dow 24,575.90 up 369.04
Nasdaq 9,375.78 up 190.67
S&P 500 2,971.61 up 48.67

10 Year Yield: down at 0.68%

Oil: up at $33.52

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

8 May 2020

1) The shutdown orders are being lifted in many states, which also includes the shopping malls, but those malls remain eerily quite, almost void of humans, where once mobs crowded and surged in the hallways. People are electing to do a minimum of shopping or to shop online instead. The change is in part from fears of the virus and in part because of the high unemployment and fears of the economy floundering. There are questions of how much the American shopping ethos will return, or if consumerism is experiencing a fundamental change. The big department stores and big box stores were already suffering from changes in shopping habits and the virus may have accelerated that trend, plus many malls across America had already closed up before the pandemic. With consumerism accounting for half the economy, the future of shopping is a serious question.

2) A second major retailer has filed for bankruptcy during the coronavirus crisis. The 113 year old chain Neiman Marcus Group, which has been struggling with a $5 billion dollar debt much of it from leveraged buyouts in 2005 and 2013. With having to close 43 of its stores and laying off most of its 14,000 worker, the pandemic forced reduction of revenues that made the debt unsustainable. And that’s what broke their financial back. More than 263,000 stores in America have had to closeup leaving them with little to no revenues while their monthly fix cost remained unchanged, so questions abound of how many others will follow in the next few months, particularly if jobs don’t quickly return. On the positive note, restaurants doing takeout service, like Papa John’s Pizza, have done quite well.

3) The number of jobless Americans reached 33 million with the addition of another 3.2 million filings for unemployment benefits. This is over a seven week period, while previously 200,000 a week had once been the norm. There just doesn’t seem to be any letup in unemployment in sight from the virus crisis, with deepening fears a recession could be a long affair. On a positive note, this is the fifth week where the jobless claims have fallen, but still there are worries that the total number may go over 40 million before returning back to normal.

4) Stock market closings for – 7 MAY 20:

Dow 23,875.89 up 211.25
Nasdaq 8,979.66 up 125.27
S&P 500 2,881.19 up 32.77

10 Year Yield: down at 0.63%

Oil: down at $23.81

1 May 2020

1) The numbers are in for the weekly jobless claims, with another 3.84 million people losing their jobs. This brings the total to over 30 million in the past six weeks. Expectations were for about 3 million, so the news was not upsetting. The claims peaked at 6.87 million so officials feel the worst is over with declines each week since, but still this has been the worst employment crisis in U.S. history. While some states are starting to bring their economies back on line, much of the key American infrastructure remains on lockdown. Predictions are for the second quarter to decline worse than anything America has ever seen. The unemployment rate is anticipated to be about 15.1%.

2) The crash of the oil market continues across the globe, with the American shale or fracking oil industry being hit the hardest. The shale oil industry had been fueled by lots of easy money, almost unlimited borrowing allowing companies to dramatically ramp up production, despite what the market demand was. Many companies had been in trouble before the coronavirus hit, and that combined with the Russian and Saudi Arabia oil dispute, oil prices have dropped by three-quarters since early January. There is $43 billion dollars of energy junk bond defaults coming in 2020 with hundreds of oil companies facing bankruptcy. The problem isn’t just American, with Shell Oil Co. announcing a cut in their dividends for the first time since World War II. Finally, the pandemic appears to be making fundamental changes to the oil market and consumption so the oil market may never fully recover.

3) The virus pandemic has adversely affected more than just traditional businesses, large and small. Dirty money from the illegal drug business is piling up in Los Angeles because the money laundering systems has also been put on hold by ‘closing orders’ of non-essential businesses. The businesses used by the drug trade to launder their money have been forced to close up, thereby ceasing operations leaving the drug dealers with growing stacks of cash that cant be used until cleaned.

4) Stock market closings for – 30 APR 20:

Dow 24,345.72 down 288.14
Nasdaq 8,889.55 down 25.16
S&P 500 2,912.43 down 27.08

10 Year Yield: down at 0.62%

Oil: up at $18.64

29 April 2020

1) The ‘consumer confidence index’ dropped in April by the largest amount on record. The index dropped from 118.8 in March to 86.9, while the ‘present conditions index’ plunged from 166.7 to 76.4, its 90 point drop the largest on record. The ‘expectations index’, which is based on the future outlook, improved slightly from 86.8 to 93.8. The sharp drops are a result of the sudden massive unemployment from the shelter in place orders met to contain the coronavirus. But business is stirring with retailers starting to open up again. Simon Property Group, which is the largest mall owner in the U.S., is opening 49 of its malls and outlet centers in May across the country.

2) Another housing economic crisis could be building for the near future. The mortgage market has been disrupted with millions of borrowers having to postpone payments because of the pandemic and shelter in place, a result of massive layoffs. While some mortgage companies are allowing deferment of payments during the business shutdown, there’s the rising question of how to make up those payments after returning to work. Experts expect a repeat of the 2008 fiscal crisis with mortgages, because borrowers are already stretched thin financially, now having extra debt, but not the resources to service it. There could be another wave of foreclosures coming.

3) As nations scramble to get cash for economic stimulus efforts, they are selling off bonds at a frantic rate, much of it being bought by central banks. This is particularly true for the Asian bond market, with many experts saying this hasn’t come too soon, despite the long term risks. This frenzy in government selling bonds has cause a ‘whip-saw’ reaction in yield rates. Many central banks could be in big trouble if stimulus spending fails to avoid economic recovery, or worst yet an economic collapse.

4) Stock market closings for – 28 APR 20:

Dow 24,101.55 down 32.23
Nasdaq 8,607.73 down 122.43
S&P 500 2,863.39 down 15.09

10 Year Yield: down at 0.61%

Oil: up at $13.27