For the week, the Dow was down 0.4 percent, the S&P 500 was down 1.4 percent and the Nasdaq was down 2.9 percent.
Thursday afternoon we told you about Janet Yellen’s speech in Massachusetts; Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen says that an initial rate hike is likely to be appropriate this year. Yellen said she expects inflation will return to 2% over the next few years as temporary factors currently holding it down will wane. Signs of weak growth overseas won’t prove large enough to have a significant impact on policy. Yellen said: “Most FOMC participants, including myself, currently anticipate…an initial increase in the federal funds rate later this year, followed by a gradual pace of tightening thereafter.”
Near the end of her speech, Yellen kind of froze up; she went silent for a while, stumbled over her words, and seemed to be having a hard time. After the speech paramedics checked her out and gave her a clean bill of health. Later attributed the incident to dehydration. She was back at work today.
Friday morning we heard reports House Speaker John Boehner would resign his position as Speaker of the House and his seat in Congress at the end of October. Boehner held a press conference to confirm. The abrupt decision comes after he faced heavy pressure from conservatives in his party to take a harder line on their causes. Boehner also told the lawmakers that Pope Francis’ visit to Congress the day before was a crystallizing moment.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 2 House Republican, quickly became the leading contender to replace Boehner as speaker. McCarthy has been loyal to Boehner during his frequent tussles with conservatives, but is also close to Tea Party conservatives and in recent months has tacked to the right. Boehner declined to endorse anyone as his successor, but told reporters McCarthy “would make an excellent speaker.”
Boehner told reporters he was stepping aside to avoid another brewing House battle over his leadership, but before he leaves, Boehner will have at least one big battle. With only a few days left until a possible government shutdown, Congress is in overdrive to keep federal funds flowing despite partisan divisions over Planned Parenthood. The issue has ignited the latest crisis in U.S. budget wars and has forced the Obama administration to prepare for a potential repeat of the 2013 shutdown, which lasted 16 days and suspended the salaries of 800,000 federal employees. Boehner’s resignation appeared to ease the threat of a government shutdown next week. Many Republicans said it would free him to forge ahead with a “clean” spending bill. At least that’s one theory; the other line of thought is that Boehner will find it increasingly difficult to herd cats as a lame duck. I’m sure he’ll make a fine lobbyist.
Next on the news docket: Chinese president Xi Jingping is in Washington for an official state dinner at the White House. President Xi announced that China will start a national pollution-trading system to cut global-warming emissions for its most polluting industries. That’s in addition to previous Chinese commitments to bring its emissions to a peak by 2030 and radically scale up solar and wind power. China even promised $3.1 billion to help poorer countries move away from fossil fuels. The move should also add pressure for a global climate change accord in Paris this December. At a joint news conference with President Obama, Xi said there was no reason to expect China’s yuan currency to depreciate against the U.S. dollar over the long run, saying the exchange rate was “moving toward stability.”
Pope Francis was in New York on Friday. He started the day with a speech before the United Nations General Assembly. Pope Francis strongly condemned the craving for material gains and power, telling world leaders gathered at the United Nations that greed is destroying the Earth’s resources and aggravating poverty. The spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics condemned the “grave offense” of economic and social exclusion. An attack on the environment was an assault on the rights and living conditions of the most vulnerable, he said, warning that at its most extreme, environmental degradation threatened humanity’s survival. Then he led multi-religious prayer services at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum site, followed by a ride through Central Park in the Popemobile, a visit to a school in Harlem, and then a mass at Madison Square Garden. And you thought you had a busy Friday.
Gross domestic product — the value of everything a nation produces — rose at a 3.9% annual rate from April to June, according to the government’s second update of how fast the nation’s economy expanded during the spring. Previously the Commerce Department had said GDP increased 3.7%. The figures get revised as the government gets more data on how the economy performed. Consumer purchases jumped 3.6%, up from a prior estimate of 3.1%. Americans spent more on services such as health care and transportation. Businesses also invested more in structures such as office buildings and plants than the government initially reported. Investment on structures rose 6.2%, double the earlier estimate. Outlays on equipment also rose slightly instead of declining. And spending for home construction climbed 9.3% instead of 7.8%. After-tax corporate profits jumped 2.6 percent to double BEA’s estimate of 1.3 percent.
S&P 500 companies, excluding financial companies, collectively had $1.43 trillion in cash reserves sitting on the sidelines in the second quarter (April to June) of this year. That’s the second highest level in 10 years, and just a tad lower than the 1.45 trillion high set in the fourth quarter last year. Tech companies especially have much more cash than they did during the dot-com bubble era. Tech leads all sectors in its cash holdings by a long mile.
Some cash numbers are remarkable. Microsoft (MSFT) has $96 billion in cash, Google (GOOG) holds $70 billion and Cisco (CSCO) has $60 billion. The good news is that it reflects very healthy balance sheets. The bad news is that it shows a reluctance to spend by corporate executives, which signals pessimism and that they aren’t seeing enough growth opportunities to invest in.
The final read of consumer sentiment was revised higher to 87.2 from a preliminary tally of 85.7, according to the latest University of Michigan reading. This was down from the August final reading of 91.9.
The Brazilian real enjoyed a massive rally on Thursday after the governor of Brazil’s central bank vowed to use “all instruments” available to policymakers to stem the currency’s recent slide. Busting a five-day losing streak, the real rallied as much as 7% intraday, its biggest gain since November 2008. On Wednesday, the bank announced plans to auction $2 billion worth of currency swaps over two days – restarting a program that was scrapped earlier this year.
Japan has dropped back into deflation for the first time since April 2013 in a symbolic setback to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic stimulus. Core inflation, excluding fresh food, was down by 0.1% compared with a year ago in August, as slumping global energy prices outweighed headline prices. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda continues to insist Japan can reach a 2% inflation target by the middle of next year, but most analysts think that goal is now out of reach.
Volkswagen (VLKAF) has a new CEO, Matthias Mueller, head of the company’s Porsche brand. Volkswagen has blamed its emissions scandal on a “small group” of people and said suspended a number of staff. Müller pledged to leave “no stone unturned” and “maximum transparency” in an investigation into how the company cheated emissions tests on diesel cars. However, the new VW boss did not reveal how many staff have been suspended or who they are. Bloomberg reported that key parts of the faked emissions tests had been overseen by VW executives based in the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg.
The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus go on sale in many countries today, including the U.S., U.K., China, Australia, Canada and Germany. Shoppers who purchase the devices in an Apple (AAPL) store can opt in to the new iPhone Upgrade Program, which includes Apple’s warranty plan and the option to upgrade to a new handset every year. Analysts expect 12 million to 13 million phones to fly off the shelves over the weekend, up from more than 10 million last year – when the iPhone 6’s launch was delayed in China.
Google is back under U.S. antitrust scrutiny as officials ask whether the tech giant stifled competitors’ access to its Android mobile-operating system. The Federal Trade Commission reached an agreement with the Justice Department to spearhead an investigation of Google’s Android business. FTC officials have met with company representatives who say Google gives priority to its own services on the Android platform, while restricting others.
Facebook’s Oculus and Samsung Electronics have unveiled a new version of Gear VR for $99, saying the virtual reality headset would ship in time for Black Friday. The new device is 22% lighter and will work with all of Samsung’s 2015 line of smartphones, in contrast to the highly anticipated Oculus Rift, which will need to be wired to an expensive gaming computer. Users will additionally be able to cast 360-degree videos from Facebook’s (FB) newsfeed into the Gear VR, and Netflix, Vimeo and Hulu support is also on the way.
A rare astronomical phenomenon Sunday night will produce a moon that will appear slightly bigger than usual and have a reddish hue, an event known as a super blood moon. It hasn’t happened since 1982, and won’t happen again until 2033. A so-called supermoon, which occurs when the moon is closest to earth in its orbit, will coincide with a lunar eclipse, leaving the moon in Earth’s shadow. Individually, the two phenomena are not uncommon, but they do not align often. The moon may appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter, but the difference is subtle to the plain eye. But the reddish tint from the lunar eclipse is likely to be visible throughout much of North America. You’re basically seeing all of the sunrises and sunsets across the world, all at once, being reflected off the surface of the moon.