30 September 2020

1) American businesses have suffered stress that is breaking many, including some in the grocery chains. Like some popular restaurant chains, some grocery chains were filing for bankruptcy before the pandemic, but the virus crisis forced others over the brink. Five specialty and health forward chains have been forced to file for chapter 11. They are Earth Fare, Lucky’s Market, Fairway Market, Kings Food Markets and Balducci’s. The niche marketeers are finding it very difficult to survive in these changing economic hard times.

2) The U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Stout has set a new record for consecutive days at sea when it reached 208 days at sea on the 26th of September. The previous record was 207 days, held by the USS Eisenhower and USS San Jacinto, both records set this year too. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the Navy to cancel port visits to prevent sailors from being exposed to the virus while ashore. More than 1,000 sailors were infected with the virus on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt at the start of the pandemic, with one sailor dying. Furthermore, the carrier was off line for weeks anchored in Guam until the virus ran its course. While the elimination of port calls and longer sea deployments has arrested the virus, it has put more stress on the crew members.

3) The ‘indoor food grower’ AppHarvest is going public by joining with Novus Capital Corp. (NOVS) and will soon be traded on the Nasdaq exchange. AppHarvest is developing large scale, efficient indoor farming technology, and their first farm is a 60 acre controlled environment in Kentucky. This facility is within a days drive of 70% of the American population and is now producing tomatoes. Right now, 60% of all fresh tomatoes in American are imported. Controlled environment agriculture facilities use far fewer resources to grow far more produce, however this method of agriculture requires far more capital, where conventional farms are themselves capital intensive enterprises.

4) Stock market closings for – 29 SEP 20:

Dow 27,452.66 down 131.40
Nasdaq 11,085.25 down 32.28
S&P 500 3,335.47 down 16.13

10 Year Yield: down at 0.64%

Oil: down at $39.16

25 September 2020

1) Tim Kendall, former Facebook director of monetization, says that Facebook “took a page from Big Tobacco’s play book, working to make our offering addictive at the outset.” The greater the usage of Facebook by people, the greater Facebook’s revenues, so it behooves the company to make its service as addictive at possible, as soon as possible with new people. But this drive to maximize engagements entails building algorithms that facilitate the spread of misinformation, encourages divisive rhetoric thereby laying the groundwork for a mental health crisis. While met to be a device for entertainment, Facebook is in fact tearing people apart with alarming speed and intensity. He fears that American’s are pushing ourselves to the brink of civil war. Presently, Section 230 is a law that makes social media platforms immune to legal liability for the content of users’ posts. But there are growing number of people calling for reforms.
2) California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed an executive order that bans the sale of all but electric and fuel cell cars by 2035. But legal experts say the order is ‘borderline worthless’, that there isn’t anyway to enforce it. The objective is to do away with the internal combustion engine in California by mandating an increasingly larger percentage of new car sales must be zero emissions machines starting with 2% for 1998, 5% by 2001, 10% for 2003 and etcetera. California auto dealers challenged the order in court and got it somewhat diluted. Nevertheless, it’s another step in the race to electrify California’s cars.
3) Half the people who lost their jobs from the pandemic are still unemployed, while 60% who did return to work have taken a cut in pay. As of 12 September, 12.6 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, with an unemployment rate at 8.4%. The lower income workers are more likely to still be unemployed. The bottom line, the virus crisis lead to a unprecedented loss of jobs and six months later, America is still a long ways from recovery. The crisis has caused a split in America’s labor force, the higher earners are going one direction while the lower paid ones are going another.
4) Stock market closings for – 24 SEP 20:
Dow 26,815.44 up 52.31
Nasdaq 10,672.27 up 39.28
S&P 500 3,246.59 up 9.67
10 Year Yield: down at 0.67%
Oil: up at $40.28

23 September 2020

1) After Amazon’s Prime Day was postponed by the virus in July, it was tentatively reset for the fourth quarter. Amazon didn’t want their Prime Day to overlap with Black Friday, which set an upper limit to the date, so now the company is planning for the 13th and 14th of October. Prime Day is a very big retail day for Amazon, with their 2019 Prime Day grossing about $6 billion dollars in sales.

2) Another round of stimulus still remains on the burner and with the fall elections now closing in, both sides are saying they want a new stimulus bill with a second direct payment to the people. But the bill remains in limbo with no agreement on the details of the bill. The question on everyone’s minds is the direct payment checks to the people and how much they will be. No settlement on that question, but the rumors are this one will be based on each person’s income instead of the single lump sum of last time, with an upper limit of $1,200 per individuals. Only time will tell how much, or even if there is a personal payment, because if not passed before the elections, the possibility of passing will rapidly decrease.

3) The coronavirus has been a big stimulus for e-commerce from the stay at home shopping it stimulated, but surprisingly the home shopping boom has also been a boom for the shipping industry. Those huge ocean going ships stacked high with intermodal containers, their transpacific sea freight shipping rates have been sent to the highest on record, helping the container shipping industry in Asia. Household appliances imports have jumped 51% in August from last year, climbing for a third consecutive month. Shipments of computers, notebooks and other associated electronic gadgets has soared 169%. This increase consumer demand has shipping rates almost triple from this year’s low in March, when the pandemic led to border closures and a near halt in economic activity. With much of the world’s people housebound, the demand for electronic goods and do-it-yourself items has skyrocketed. There is also the coming Christmas holidays and therefore the stocking up in anticipation of sales.

4) Stock market closings for – 22 SEP 20:

Dow 27,288.18 up 140.48
Nasdaq 10,963.64 up 184.84
S&P 500 3,315.57 up 34.51

10 Year Yield: down at 0.66%

Oil: down at $39.55

14 September 2020

1) With 13 million Americans unemployed and their unemployment benefits running out, many will have only seasonal jobs to turn to. But with such wide spread unemployment, getting hired for seasonal work wont be easy. With the coming holidays, seasonal jobs traditionally mushroom with major companies already hosting hiring events to fulfill their temporary ranks. Companies like Michael’s will hire over 16,000 temporary people, with UPS expecting to hire over 100,000 for holiday package delivery. Retailers doing e-commerce, such as Amazon or Walmart are expected to need many seasonal workers and therefore are good places for job seekers to apply.

2) Fears are growing that the coronavirus crisis could cause a double dip recession, that the recession could end up looking like a roller coaster of ups and downs. The upsurge in virus cases is eroding consumer confidence and leading to renewed limits on certain businesses. Economic recovery can bloom then fade away only to repeat again. Some economic factors point to a recovery, yet others point downwards, with the picture further complicated by the ‘what ifs’ of the coronavirus and just how it will play out, where a second wave of the virus could be just as economically disruptive as the first one, maybe even more so. Additionally, a significant portion of the economy has been destroyed. Half the businesses in America are small businesses and at the start of the crisis, about half of those had cash reserves of just fifteen days or less . . . meaning by now they have gone bust! No one knows what the repercussion from such massive losses of business will ultimately have on the economy in general.

3) Mechanical breakdown insurance, which isn’t an extended warranty, but rather is insurance that pays for mechanical auto repairs of a car’s power train, much as accident insurance pays for the repair of body damage. It will have some amount for a deductible, then pays the remainder of a mechanic’s bill for repair, both labor and parts. Usually, any mechanic can be used. Most major insurance companies who offer auto insurance will also offer breakdown insurance too. Prices range from $20 to $100 a year.

4) Stock market closings for – 11 SEP 20:

Dow 27,665.64 up 131.06
Nasdaq 10,853.54 down 66.05
S&P 500 3,340.97 up 1.78

10 Year Yield: down at 0.67%

Oil: up at $37.39

11 September 2020

1) The new jobless numbers indicate the U.S. job losses persist with claims higher than was forecasts. Jobless claims were unchanged at 884,000 for last week, with the total number of people on unemployment rising by 93,000 to a total of 13.4 million people. Prior to the pandemic, new claims were about 212,000 a week with 1.7 million people on unemployment. What is concerning is the pace of layoffs has not slowed with the economy opening up, adding to fears of a second round of Convid-19 outbreaks. It appears that millions of Americans are heading for long term unemployment with most running out of unemployment benefits after 26 weeks.

2) Quantafuel AS, a Norwegian company established in 2014, who makes diesel fuel from plastic waste, is a success having tripled its value, which is now at $1 billion dollars. This is a time when the world is struggling over what to do with the monumental qualitites of plastic waste that continues to grow at an alarming rate. Even more welcomed is Quantafuel addressing the demand for fuel oils. Their process is more environmentally friendly than incineration of plastic. The company is increasing the production of its present plant and has plans to build additional plants with the goal of boosting production 100 fold in the next decade. No doubt, the Chinese will be showing great interest in this process because of their very limited oil resources.

3) One side effect of the coronavirus pandemic is limiting efforts to root out slavery across the world, because companies and investors are unable to visit factory floors in many countries. Even before the pandemic started, there was an estimated 40 million people working in slave like conditions, with the economic shock of the virus making people more vulnerable to exploitation. Companies are facing increasing legal obligations to ensure their supply chain doesn’t include slave labor.

4) Stock market closings for – 10 SEP 20:

Dow 27,534.58 down 405.89
Nasdaq 10,919.59 down 221.97
S&P 500 3,339.19 down 59.77

10 Year Yield: down at 0.68%

Oil: down at $37.00

25 August 2020

1) With the two storms in the Gulf of Mexico, off shore oil production rigs have been forced to suspend operations and evacuate their crews until the bad weather passes. This curtailment in oil production has caused oil futures to rise as much as 1.3%. The shutdown has closed 58% of crude oil output, or more than 1 million barrels a day. Additionally, oil refineries along the Gulf coast have shut down their operations until the oil returns. But still, the storms are anticipated to have little real damage to onshore and offshore oil production facilities, and so a quick recovery in the markets is anticipated.

2) About one third of companies are anticipating having half or more of their employees work remotely after the Convid-19 crisis ends. While previously, 1 in 30 companies had anticipated continuing work at home after the crisis passed, surveys now show it’s 1 in 3. The pandemic has forced companies across the world to rethink how they do business, with 72% saying they offer flexibility around hours and work scheduling. While 49% have implemented flexible policies on how work is done and what technology is used.

3) The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to e-commerce by five years. In many ways, the pandemic has reshaped our world, with our shopping habits being one of the prime ways. The fears of contracting the virus is forcing more people to shop online in the safety of their homes instead of going out into crowds of people to the traditional brick and mortar stores. This is causing the department stores to accelerate their decline. Sales of stores have declined by 25% in the first quarter of 2020, which grew to a 75% decline in the second quarter. Department stores are expected to decline by over 60% for the full year, while e-commerce is expected to grow by nearly 20%.

4) Stock market closings for – 24 AUG 20:

Dow 28,308.46 up 378.13
Nasdaq 11,379.72 up 67.92
S&P 500 3,431.28 up 34.12

10 Year Yield: up at 0.65%

Oil: down at$42.39

18 August 2020

1) A good sign for the U.S. economy, the American shale oil companies plan to restore nearly all oil production by the end of the third quarter. This will return production to nearly what it was when the shut down came resulting in the oil crash. As oil prices raised to $30 to $40 per barrel range, oil production started to rise. By September, nearly all of the production is expected to be restored. There were fears that shutting down shale oil wells prematurely could hamper future production, but nearly all of the restarted wells are producing normally because of a buildup of pressure. Most companies report a smooth return of operations.

2) Pizza Hut is closing up to 300 locations as part of a deal between the pizza chain and its largest franchisee, NPC International, who is filing for bankruptcy. These will be under performing restaurants, mostly with dine in facilities. The franchisee will put its remaining 927 Pizza Hut locations up for sale. NPC also operates nearly 400 Wendy’s restaurants, but has had to file for chapter 11 protection because of its $1 billion dollar debt. In recent years, Pizza Hut has drawn away from the dine-in business and concentrated more on delivery and takeout. Final determinations has not been made as to which locations will close or when.

3) In an indication of just how quickly the virus can pop up, the Oklahoma State sorority Pi Beta Phi has had 23 members test positive for the coronavirus, resulting in the entire sorority being put in quarantine. So far, none of the girls have been hospitalized and any who are ill are experiencing minor effects from the virus. The sorority members moved into the sorority house (off campus) between August 2 and 6, with all testing negative for the Covid-19. Then on 11 August, a small group of members who reside outside the house joined the chapter for a short informal gathering at the house. Within just a few days, the members in the sorority house tested positive. There has been a major spike in the pandemic, with the number of cases surpassing the previous peak levels on 31 of May, with 78% of new cases in the Sun Belt states.

4) Stock market closings for – 17 AUG 20:

Dow 27,844.91 down 86.11
Nasdaq 11,129.72 up 110.42
S&P 500 3,381.99 up 9.14

10 Year Yield: down at 0.68%

Oil: up at $42.77

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

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

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