Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wednesday, July 02, 2014 - Milk and Cookie Binge

Milk and Cookie Binge
by Sinclair Noe 

DOW + 20 = 16,976
SPX + 1 = 1974
NAS – 0.92 = 4457
10 YR YLD + .07 = 2.63%
OIL – 1.18 = 104.16
GOLD + 1.10 = 1328.20
SILV + .18 = 21.25

Record highs for the Dow and the S&P 500. We celebrate with milk and cookies. It’s good, it’s wholesome.

Unlike Goldman Sachs, which apparently likes to celebrate with binge drinking at strip clubs; at least that’s the accusation by 2 former Goldman employees suing Goldman for discrimination against women. Support for their claims includes statements of former Goldman Sachs employees, expert statistical analyses and evidence on earnings and promotions from the firm’s own records. According to filings with the court, female vice presidents earned 21 percent less than men and female associates made 8 percent less, the former employees claimed; about 23 percent fewer female vice presidents were promoted to managing director of the bank relative to their male counterparts.

We’ll stick with milk and cookies.

Tomorrow we’ll get the monthly jobs report, one day early due to the holiday shortened weekend. Today we got the ADP Employment Report showing private nonfarm payrolls increase 281,000 in June. That’s the best ADP report since the fall of 2012. That would be a very good number indeed if it translates to the government report tomorrow. The ADP report should not be used as a predictor of the government jobs report. Both reports tend to move in the same direction in the long term, but month to month fluctuations can be quite pronounced. It is expected tomorrow’s report will show 215,000 net new jobs in June.

Here’s another indicator; the ISM manufacturing employment index was unchanged in June at 52.8%; the historical correlation between the ISM employment index and the BLS employment report suggest the economy lost about 5,000 manufacturing jobs in June; the ADP report showed the economy added 12,000 manufacturing jobs last month.

The best way to boost the economy is to have more people working, which then equates to more people spending. Even though the unemployment rate has dropped to 6.3%, that’s still high; and long term unemployment is still a problem, and indicates there is still slack in the labor market. Just as important as the number of jobs created is the quality of the jobs created. For several years, the trend has been for lower paying jobs, where wages are below the average of $24.38 an hour. There has been some improvement this year, with 61% of the 1.07 million new jobs in 2014 paying above the average hourly wage. So, keep an eye on wage growth in tomorrow’s report; it will be a critical component in overall GDP growth.

So, as we wait for the jobs report, we are left to question whether the economic recovery is really gaining traction. Dr. Copper says yes. Copper closed at its highest price in more than 4 months. Copper for September delivery gained 6 cents, or 1.9 percent, to settle at $3.27 a pound. Since copper is an industrial metal used in everything from buildings to cars, it’s considered a good economic indicator, however it might be a better indicator of growth in China, the world’s largest buyer  of copper.

Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen delivered a speech to the International Monetary Fund and she says the Fed has the right focus on jobs and inflation, and should leave stability concerns to regulation. Many economists and investors are concerned the Fed’s policies have fostered potential financial asset bubbles. Yellen said today: “I do not presently see a need for monetary policy to deviate from a primary focus on attaining price stability and maximum employment, in order to address financial stability concerns.”

Yellen said she saw pockets of increased risk-taking across the financial system that could warrant a more "robust macroprudential approach" if those concerns grew.

BNP agreed on Monday to pay almost $9 billion while admitting criminal violations of United States sanctions. BNP admitted to funneling and hiding some $30 billion in transactions to Iran, Sudan, and Cuba. The bank will also be barred from clearing any financial transactions in dollars for a year starting in January. Credit Suisse and a subsidiary of UBS also pleaded guilty recently to tax avoidance and interest-rate rigging, respectively. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and other United States banks have paid billions of dollars in penalties but have, so far, avoided criminal liability. The French government says that’s not fair.

And while it might be easy to dismiss the French for whining, they are correct. New research suggests that overseas firms like BNP Paribas do in fact pay bigger fines and plead guilty more often than United States companies. United States criminal fines from 2001 to 2010 were about five times greater on average for foreign firms than for their American counterparts. The average penalty was 22 times bigger for foreign companies after adjusting for the type of crime and whether the company was listed. One reason may be that prosecutors single out only the most serious cases abroad. Another reason might be because prosecutors are afraid of hurting a domestic business. Another reason might be that prosecutors are spineless wimps in the face of the political clout of US banks.

What we have learned is that businesses and investors don’t seem to care about the criminal convictions of Credit Suisse and BNP and that might signal that if a conviction will not shut down the company, then there’s no reason not to convict, international or domestic.

Yesterday we told you about that creepy experiment by Facebook, designed to make you feel good or bad by filtering out good or bad content. Facebook faces a government investigation in Europe over its study of whether manipulating people's news feeds could change their emotions. Facebook won't be helped by the fact that the company didn't alter its terms of service to disclose to users that their posts would be used for research until four months after the experiment took place.

The implementation of the European Union's so-called "right to be forgotten" policy is already having a worrying impact on the media, with at least two outlets revealing on Wednesday that links to articles of theirs have been scrubbed from Google. A European court ruled in May that Google must remove links to articles from its search engine if the subjects of the post asked it to. The court specified that links could be scrubbed if they were "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed."

When the ruling came down, some worried that it would place too much power in the hands of public figures who wished to have unflattering information about themselves hidden. On Wednesday, the Guardian and the BBC both disclosed that just such an occurrence seemed to have taken place with stories of theirs. The Guardian case involved 6 articles that were taken down from Google’s European platforms. The BBC case involved Stan O’Neal, the former head of Merrill Lynch, implicated in the subprime mortgage scandal. Is the data in the BBC report "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant"? Hmm.

Solar installers SolarCity and SunRun have filed a lawsuit against Arizona’s revenue department over the state’s decision to apply property taxes to third-party solar-power systems. SolarCity and SunRun have popularized leasing, rather than owning, residential rooftop systems. The companies install and maintain the systems in return for monthly payments that are generally less than a homeowner’s monthly power bill. 

Arizona’s revenue department last year decided to tax leased solar panels, resulting in $152 extra in property taxes for the first year of a homeowner’s leased $34,000 solar panel array, a charge that would decrease as the value of the array goes down; still it’s a large enough increase to wipe out most or all of the savings from going solar. Until last year, both owners and leasers of solar panels didn’t have to pay property taxes. There are concerns that applying taxes on systems would wipe out the savings from solar leasing and stunt solar-power growth in Arizona.

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