European Central Bank policymakers are meeting today in Malta. ECB President Mario Draghi announced no change to interest rates or asset purchases, but he warned that emerging markets are hurting Eurozone growth prospects, and he hinted the central bank may lower the deposit rate further or expand its quantitative easing at its December meeting. Markets just love an accommodative central bank.
The European Economics Commission says “Greece has done a certain number of reforms, and we are going to give them money, €3 billion-euro in all,” and in the course of November, December, the commission will deal with the issue of the recapitalization of Greek banks and Greek debt.”
Chinese stocks recovered today as the People’s Bank of China added liquidity to the market. After the close on Wednesday, the PBOC injected $16.6 billion into 11 financial institutions via medium-term lending facilities. Meanwhile, the government’s anti-corruption campaign continues with a crackdown on golf, considered a lavish extravagance. Or in my case, cruel punishment.
New applications for U.S. unemployment benefits inched up by 3,000 to 259,000 in the week ended Oct. 17. This is the first gain after two straight large declines. Claims had fallen by 20,000 in the prior two weeks.
Existing home sales rose 4.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.55 million, the second-highest monthly level since Feb. 2007 and an 8.8% rise from the same month of 2014. The National Association of Realtors attributed the improvement in the housing market to low mortgage rates, an improving jobs environment and a slight thawing in credit availability. There were 2.21 million available homes for sale, down 3% from August. The number of listed properties in August was the second-lowest for that month since 2002.
The White House is making a push to solve the debt crisis in Puerto Rico, pressing Congress to amend bankruptcy code, instate a financial control board and extend tax credits as the commonwealth struggles with $72 billion in debt. On Wednesday, the Government Development Bank, the island’s de facto fiscal authority, ended talks with a group of its bondholders and their advisers after failing to reach a deal on restructuring the debt.
The U.S. Treasury said it will postpone the two-year note auction previously scheduled for Tuesday, as an impasse over the debt limit constrains the nation’s borrowing and inflicts the first ceiling-related auction delay in a decade. The Treasury sent an e-mail saying: “Due to debt ceiling constraints, there is a risk that Treasury would not be able to settle the two-year note” on Nov. 2. The five-year note auction on Oct. 28 and the seven-year note auction on Oct. 29 will proceed as planned.
The yield on the two-year Treasury note slid after the announcement, as it means less supply than had been expected in this sector. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said he is concerned that “last-minute brinkmanship” in Congress could lead to a legislative “accident” in which lawmakers would fail to raise the debt ceiling before a Nov. 3 deadline. With $12.9 trillion in marketable securities, the U.S. is considered the world’s most reliable debt issuer. The last time an auction was delayed due to the borrowing limit was in November 2004.
And part of the reason why this is noteworthy is because the Treasury markets are supposed to be boring, incredibly boring and completely predictable, regular, and consistent. This consistency has allowed the government, and by extension the US dollar, to become the safe harbor for investors. Predictability translates into decreased borrowing costs for the US, roughly $27 billion in savings over the past 17 years, simply attributed to the predictable, consistent bond market schedule.
Remember the debt ceiling fight of 2011 was behind the credit rating downgrade that stripped the US of AAA rating. And now we are preparing for another fight over the debt ceiling, and the clock is ticking, and the most boring part of the markets just got important.
The median stock in the US has been flat for 2015. That is actually a big improvement from about one month ago when the median stock was down 8%, so we’ve seen a nice rally, but at the current pace we are on track for the worst performance since 2008. And it doesn’t look like stocks are going to rally on earnings news; third quarter reports are coming in and we are on track for a two consecutive quarters of declining earnings, or an earnings recession.
The bad news is that when we have an earnings recession we tend to get a real recession. This is a statistic not lost on the Fed. Historically there has been a very high correlation between changes in the Fed Funds rate and the profit cycle. The Fed traditionally begins a tightening cycle when profits are moving higher and begins easing when profits decelerated. The notion that the Fed would raise rates in a profits recession, well, it has never happened before.
United Auto Workers members have ratified a new 4-year labor contract with Fiat-Chrysler. UAW members sacrificed gains in a 2011 contract and two years earlier made concessions to allow the former Chrysler to go through bankruptcy. The new contract, effective as of next Monday, provides a clearer path to top pay for so-called “second-tier” workers in a two-tier wage system established in 2007, which pays newer workers less than those hired before 2007. The new contract allows newer workers to earn wages more in line with veteran employees. Next up, negotiations with Ford and GM.
A swift plunge in the stock price of Valeant Pharmaceuticals cost some of Wall Street’s top names billions of dollars on Wednesday but Pershing Square’s Bill Ackman took the meltdown as a buying opportunity. Ackman bought 2.1 million additional shares as the company plummeted as much as 40% on a report from Citron Research that alleged it fraudulently inflated revenues. The report goes so far as to call Valeant the “pharmaceutical Enron.” Today, the stock dropped 10% more.
Let’s take a look at earnings reports:
McDonald’s reported quarterly earnings and revenue that topped estimates. Global sales at established restaurants were up a much better-than-expected 4 percent in the third quarter, ending six straight quarters of flat or falling results. McDonald’s share hit an all-time high on the report.
American Express posted quarterly earnings and revenue that missed analysts’ expectations on Wednesday, citing continued headwinds from a stronger U.S. dollar and a rise in marketing spending.
3M, the maker of Scotch tape and Post-it notes, reported disappointing net sales for the third quarter and said it would cut about 1,500 jobs next year, hurt by a strong dollar and a global economic slowdown.
Caterpillar delivered quarterly earnings and revenue that fell short of expectations on Thursday. The company also lower its earnings outlook for this year and sharply increased its estimates on restructuring costs for 2015.
Southwest Airlines posted an 83% jump in third-quarter profit, boosted by lower fuel prices and cost controls.
Daimler, the owner of Mercedes-Benz, reported a net income of $2.7 billion, a 13% drop compared with a year earlier, but Mercedes car sales rose by 18% in the period.
Hyundai reported a 23% fall in net profit to $1.1 billion on falling China sales, missing estimates.
Freeport-McMoRan will further cut copper and molybdenum output as it posted a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss. The Phoenix-based company said it remains confident in the longer-term outlook for copper, but will halve operating rates at its Sierrita mine in Arizona as prices continue to drop. Freeport reported an adjusted loss of $156 million, or 15 cents a share, lagging analysts’ expectation for an 8 cent loss.
Three big earnings reports came out after the closing bell: Microsoft, Amazon, and Google parent Alphabet.
Microsoft reported a profit of $4.6 billion, or 57 cents a share, up from $4.5 billion, or 54 cents a share, a year earlier. Profit beat estimates, despite a decline in earnings. For the first time, Microsoft broke out financial results based on three operating division, including its mobile and cloud business.
Amazon posted a profit, always a bit surprising, a profit of $79 million, or 17 cents a share, compared with a loss of $437 million, or 95 cents, a year earlier. You’ll remember that last year’s results included a big whiff with the Fire phone. In the most recent quarter revenue gained 23 percent to $25.4 billion, pushed by Amazon Prime Day, which was even better than Black Friday.
As Amazon has been transformed from an online bookstore into a vast conglomerate, its video-streaming service competes with Netflix Inc. and its third-party logistics business rivals UPS. Its cloud business, with revenue growing 78%, competes with Google and Microsoft to rent storage and computing power. Meanwhile its core e-commerce business challenges brick-and-mortar chains such as Wal-Mart and Target. It has all worked well for CEO Jeff Bezos; with today’s gains Bezos saw his net worth climb to $55 billion, making him the third richest man in America.
Google parent Alphabet reported better-than-projected sales and profit in the latest quarter. Revenue was up 15% to $15.1 billion. Third-quarter net income was $2.74 billion. Total clicks on ads up 23 percent, even as the average price for an ad fell 16 percent. But Alphabet is now more than an online search engine. Other initiatives range from computers and fast-Internet services, to projects such as like product-delivering drones, life sciences products, airborne wind turbines and self-driving cars. While the new areas have yet to bring in sales to rival Google’s core operations, they’re being given room to operate as distinct units under a new operating structure.